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´╗┐Title: Once to Every Man
Author: Evans, Larry, -1925
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 "Once to Every Man" ***

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[Illustration: "IT WAS FOR ME--YOU WENT. DON'T YOU--DIDN'T YOU KNOW IT
WAS--JUST BECAUSE OF YOU--THAT I WANTED THEM--AT--ALL?"]



ONCE TO EVERY MAN

BY

LARRY EVANS

ILLUSTRATED BY

ANTON OTTO FISCHER

GROSSET & DUNLAP

PUBLISHERS :: NEW YORK



Copyright, 1913, by

The Metropolitan Magazine Company.

Copyright, 1914, by

The Metropolitan Magazine Company.

Copyright, 1914, by

The H. K. Fly Company.



TO

MINE OWN PEOPLE



ILLUSTRATIONS

 "It Was for Me--You Went. Don't You--Didn't You Know
     It Was--Just Because of You--That I Wanted
     Them--At--All?"                                    _Frontispiece_
 "Hold Me Tight--Oh! Hold Me Tighter! for They Forgot
     Me, Too, Denny; They Forgot Me Too!"                           53
 "Dryad, It's All Right--It's Always Been All
     Right--With Us! They Lied--They Lied and They
     Knew They Were Lying!"                                         85
 "What You Need, Gentlemen, Is a Trifle Wider
     Readin'--Just a Trifle! for You Ain't Bein' Well
     Posted on Facts!"                                             149



ONCE TO EVERY MAN

CHAPTER I


The most remarkable thing about the boy was his eyes--that is, if any
man with his spread of shoulder and masculine grace of flat muscled
hips could be spoken of any longer as a boy, merely because his years
happened to number twenty-four.

They, however--the eyes--were gray; not a too light, off-color,
gleaming gray, but more the tone of slate, deep when one chanced
to find oneself peering deep into them. And they were old. Any
spontaneity of youth which might have flashed from them at one
time had faded entirely and left a sort of wistful sophistry
behind, an almost plaintive hunger which made the pity of his
shoulder-stoop--still mercifully only a prophecy of what the next
twenty years of toil might leave it--an even more pitiful thing. His
sheer bigness should have been still unspoiled; instead it was
already beginning to lose its rebound; it was growing imperceptibly
slack, like the springy stride of a colt put too soon to heavy
harness.

Late afternoon was giving way to nightfall--a long shadowed twilight
that was heavy with the scent of spring in spite of the scattered
patches of wet snow that still lurked in the swamp holes. As the boy
stood, facing toward the east and the town that sprawled in the
hollow, his great, shoulder-heavy body loomed almost like a painted
figure against the cool red background of the horizon. Even in spite
of the pike-pole which he grasped in one hand and the vividly
checkered blanket coat that wrapped him, the illusion was undeniable.
Stripped of them and equipped instead with a high steeple-crowned hat
and wide buckled shoes, his long half-saddened face and lean body
might have been a composite of all the Puritan fathers who had
wrestled with the rock-strewn acres behind him, two hundred years and
more before.

Denny Bolton was waiting--Young Denny, the townsfolk preferred to call
him, to distinguish him from Old Denny of the former generation.
Somehow, although he had never mentioned it to anybody, it seemed to
him that he had always been waiting for something--he hardly knew just
what it was himself--just something that was drearily slow in the
coming.

His home, the farmhouse of the Boltons, for which the straggling
village of Boltonwood below had been named, was nearest of all the
outlying places on the post route, yet last of all to be served, for
when the rural delivery had been established they had begun delivery
at the other end of the circle. Young Denny had never been able to
understand quite why it was so--but it was, for all that. And with
the minister, too, it happened, although not so often, for the
minister of Boltonwood called at almost every door on his rounds and
stayed longer at each, so sometimes for months at a time he never got
around to the shabby place on the hill at all. But the boy believed
that he did understand this and often he smiled to himself over it,
without any bitterness--just smiled half wistfully. He lived alone in
the tumble-down old house and did his own cooking and--well, even a
most zealous man of the gospel might have beamed more heartily upon
better cooks than was Denny, without any great qualms of conscience.

One other reason existed, or at least Young Denny imagined that it
did, but whenever he stopped to think about it--a thing he had come to
do more and more often in the last few months--he never smiled.
Instead, his lips straightened until the wistful quirk at the corners
disappeared into a straight line and his eyes smouldered ominously.

There was a select circle of white-haired old men--the village old
guard--which sat in nightly session about the fat-bellied old
wood-stove in the Boltonwood Tavern. It convened with the first
snowfall of the winter and broke up long after the ice had gone out in
the spring; and this circle, when all other topics had been whipped
over at fever heat, until all the zest of bitter contradiction was
gone from them, always turned at last with a delightful sort of
unanimity to the story of the night when Old Denny had died--the
Bolton of the former generation.

An almost childish enthusiasm tinged their keen relish for the tale.
They squirmed and puckered their wrinkled old faces and shivered
convulsively, just as a child might have shivered over a Bluebeard
horror, as they recalled how Old Denny had moaned in agony one moment
that night, and then screamed horribly the next for the old stone
demijohn that always stood in the corner of the kitchen. They
remembered, with an almost astonishing wealth of detail, that he had
frothed at the mouth and blasphemed terribly one instant, and then
wept, in the very same breath--wept hopelessly, like the uncouth,
overgrown, frightened boy who knelt at the bedside.

The strangest part of the whole thing was that not one of them had
realized at the time, or ever recalled since, that Old Denny's eyes
were sane when he wept that night and blurred with madness when he
cursed. But then, too, that would have smashed the dramatic element of
the whole tale to flinters. They never missed a scene or a sob,
however, in the re-telling, and they always ended it with an ominous
tilt of the head and a little insinuating crook of the neck toward the
battered, weather-torn old house where Young Denny had lived on alone
since that last bad night. It was very much as though they had said
aloud, "He's the next--he'll go just like the rest."

Perhaps they never really thought of it, and perhaps it was because
Young Denny's failure to fulfil their prophecy had really embittered
them, but the whole village had given the boy plenty of solitude in
the last few years in which to become on terms of thorough intimacy
with the demijohn which still occupied its place in the kitchen
corner.

And yet that stone demijohn was almost the only tangible reminder
there was left of the Bolton who had gone before. There were a few in
the village who wondered how, in the three intervening years, the big
silent, shambling boy had managed to tear from his acres money enough
to clear the place of its debt--the biggest thing by far in his
heritage. Eight hundred dollars was a large sum in Boltonwood--and
Denny's acres were mostly rocks. Old Denny would have sold the last
scythe and fork in the dilapidated barn to fill the stone jug, save
for the fact that fork and scythe had themselves been too dilapidated
to find a purchaser.

But the same scythe had an edge now and a polish where the boy's hands
had gripped and swung it, and it took a flawlessly clear-grained piece
of ash to make a shaft that would stand the forkfuls of hay which his
shoulders heaved, without any apparent effort, into the mow. The
clapboards on the house, although still unpainted, no longer whined
in the wind; they were all nailed tight. And still the circle around
the stove in the Boltonwood Tavern tilted its head--tilted it
ominously--as if to say: "Just wait a bit, he'll come to it--wait now
and see!" But the prophecy's fulfilment, long deferred, was making
them still more bitter--strangely bitter--toward the boy, who stood
alone at sundown watching the road that wound up from the village.

All this Young Denny knew, not because he had been told, but because
the part of him that was still boy sensed it intuitively. He was just
as happy to be let alone, or at least so he told himself, times
without end, for it gave him a chance to sleep. And tonight as he
stood at the crest of the hill before the dark house, waiting for Old
Jerry to come along with the mail, he was glad, too, that his place
was the last on the route. It gave him something to look forward to
during the day--something to expect--for although he rarely received a
letter or, to be more exact, never, the daily newspaper was, after
all, some company. And then there were the new farm implement
catalogues and seed books, with their dyspeptic looking fruits and
vegetables. They made better reading than nothing at all.

But it was not the usual bundle of papers which came at the end of
each week for which Young Denny was waiting. Old Jerry, who drove the
post route, and had driven it as long as Denny could remember, was
late tonight--he was even later than usual for Saturday night--and
Denny's hand tightened nervously upon the shaft of the pike-pole as he
realized the cause of the delay.

For many weeks he had heard but little else mentioned on the village
streets on his infrequent trips after groceries and grain. The winter
sledding was over; the snow had gone off a month back with the first
warm rain; just that afternoon he had made the last trip behind his
heavy team down from the big timber back on the ridges, but during
that month the other drivers with whom he had been hauling logs since
fall had talked of nothing but the coming event.

From where he stood, looking out across the valley, Young Denny could
see the huge bulk of the Maynard homestead--Judge Maynard's great box
of a house--silhouetted against the skyline, and back of it high piles
of timber--framing and sheathing for the new barn that was going up.
For Judge Maynard was going to give a barn-raising--an old-fashioned
barn-raising such as the hill country had not seen in twenty years.

Already Young Denny knew that there were to be two team captains who
would choose from among the best men that the country boasted, the
very pick of strength and endurance and daring. And these, when the
word was given, would swarm up with mallet and lock-pin over their
half of the allotted work, in the race to drive home the last spike
and wedge into place the last scantling. For days now with a grave
sort of satisfaction which he hardly understood himself, Young Denny
had time after time put all his strength against a reluctant log,
skidding timber back on the hillside, and watched the lithe pike-pole
bend half double under the steadily increasing strain. Somehow he felt
very sure that one or the other of the captains would single him out;
they couldn't afford to pass him by.

But in that one respect only was Judge Maynard's barn-raising to be
like those that had passed down into history a score of years back.
Every other detail, as befitted the hospitality of the wealthiest man
in the hill country, was planned on a scale of magnificence before
unheard of, and Denny Bolton stood and touched furtively with the tip
of his tongue lips that were dry with the glamour of it all.

It was to be a masquerade--the dance which followed on the wide, clean
floors--not the kind of a masquerade which the church societies gave
from time to time to eke out the minister's salary and which, while he
had never attended, Young Denny had often heard described as
"poverty-parties," because everybody wore the oldest of his old
clothes--but a marvelously brilliant thing of hired costumes. It did
not mean so much to him, this last, and yet as he thought of it his
tight lips twisted into a slow smile and his eyes swung from their
hungry contemplation of the great Maynard house to a little clump of
brushwood which made a darker blot against the black shadow of the
hill from the crest of which the Judge's place dominated the
surrounding country. Little by little Denny Bolton's lean face lost
its hint of hardness; the lines that ran from his thin nose to the
corners of his lips disappeared as he smiled--smiled with whimsical
gentleness--at the light that glimmered from a single window through
the tangled bushes, twinkling back at him unblinkingly.

There was a tiny cottage behind that light, a little drab cottage of a
half dozen rooms. It stood, unpainted and unkempt, in a wedge-shaped
acre of neglected garden which, between high weeds and uncut
shrubbery, had long before gone to straggling ruin. And that
wedge-shaped acre which cut a deep fissure in the edge of the
immaculate pastures of Boltonwood's wealthiest citizen was like a
barbed thorn in Judge Maynard's side.

The latter was not a judge in reality; partly the size of the cash
balance which rumor whispered he carried at the county bank, partly
the fact that he was the only lawyer in that section, had earned him
the title. But every trick of his tricky trade which he could invent
he had brought against the owner of that little, dilapidated cottage
in a vain effort to force him to sell. And yet the acre of neglect
and ruin still clung like an unsightly burr to the hem of his
smooth-rolling acres.

The people of Boltonwood were given to calling John Anderson a fool,
and not alone because he persisted in his senseless antagonism of a
man as great in the township as was Judge Maynard. There was at least
one other reason. It was almost twenty years now since the day when
John Anderson had first appeared in the stern old hill town, bringing
with him a frail slip of a woman with great, moist violet-blue eyes
and tumbled yellow hair, whose very white and gold prettiness had
seemed to their puritanical eyes the flaunting of an ungodly thing.
There was a transparent pallor in her white skin and heavy shadows
beneath her big dark eyes that made them seem even larger and duskier.
A whispered rumor went around that she was not too strong--that it was
the brisk keen air for which John Anderson had brought her to the
hills.

The little drab cottage had been white then and there was scarcely a
day but what the passers-by saw the slender girl, in soft fluttering
things that contrasted painfully with their dingy calico, the thick
gleaming mass of hair that crowned her head wind-tossed into her eyes,
standing with her face buried in an armful of crimson blossoms in the
same garden where the weeds were now breast high, or running with
mad, childish abandon between the high hedgerows. And many a night
after it was too dark to see they heard the man's heavier bass
underrunning the light treble of her laughter which, to their
sensitive ears, was never quite free from a tinge of mockery.



CHAPTER II


For a year or more it was like that, and then the day came which, with
dawn, found John Anderson changed into a gray-haired, white-faced man,
whose eyes always seemed to be looking beyond one, and who spoke but
seldom, even when he was spoken to. During the month that followed
that night hardly a person in the village heard a word pass his lips,
except, perhaps, those members of the church societies who had
volunteered to help care for the baby.

He locked himself up in the small shop which occupied the back room of
the house and day after day he worked there alone in a deadly quiet,
strangely mechanical fashion. Sometimes far into the night they heard
the tap-tap of his mallet as he chipped away, bit by bit, on a slender
shaft of white marble, until more than one man in those days shook his
head dubiously and vouchsafed his neighbor the information that John
Anderson "wa'n't quite right."

A month passed during which the steady chip-chip scarcely ever ceased;
and yet, when the work was finally finished and set up over the fresh
little mound in the grounds behind the church, and they came to stand
before it, they found nothing ready for them to say. For once the
tongues of the hillsfolk were sobered into silence.

It was like her--that slim little white statue--so like her in its
pallor and frailty of feature and limb that they only gasped and then
fell to whispering behind their hands at the resemblance. And somehow,
too, as they stared, their faces failed to harden as they had always
hardened before, whenever they rebuked her slim, elfish untidiness,
for upon the face of stone, which was the face of his wife, John
Anderson's chisel had left a fleeting, poignantly wistful smile that
seemed touched with the glory of the Virgin Mother herself.

They merely stood and stared--the townsfolk--and yet they only half
understood, for when it was noised about the street a few days later
that John Anderson had given up forever his occupation of chiseling
tombstones for the bleak Boltonwood cemetery--an occupation which at
least had yielded him a bare living--and had locked himself up in that
back room to "putter with lumps of clay," he was instantly convicted
of being queer in the eyes of the entire thrifty community, even
without his senseless antagonism of the Judge in the years that
followed to clinch the verdict.

After the first few weeks that followed that night the village saw
less and less of the man who went on living alone in the small white
cottage with only the child to keep him company--the girl-child whom
he had named Dryad, perhaps in a blind, groping hunger for beauty,
perhaps in sheer revolt against the myriad Janes and Anns and Marthas
about him. His hair was snow white before she was half grown; he was
an old man, wrinkled of face and vacant of eye, who bent always over
the bench in his back-room shop too engrossed with his work even to
note that, day by day, her face and slim body and tumbled yellow hair
grew more and more like the face which was always smiling up at him
from the shaping clay or marble.

Months passed before he opened his lips again for speech. Then he
began to talk; he began to murmur little, disjointed intimate phrases
of endearment to the stone face growing under his fingers--phrases
that were more than half unintelligible to strange ears--until as the
habit grew there came long periods, days at a time, when he carried on
an uncannily one-sided conversation with the empty air before him, or,
as the villagers often hinted, with some one whom his eyes alone could
see.

But as the years went by even this novelty lost its spice with long
familiarity. The cottage at the edge of town went from straggling
neglect to utter ruin, but John Anderson still clung to it with a
senseless stubbornness over which they often shook their heads in
pity--in heartfelt commiseration for the Judge who had to endure this
eyesore at his very doors, in spite of all his shrewdness or the
reputed size of his balance at the County National.

But if time had dimmed their interest in the father, it had only
served to whet their keen curiosity over the girl, who, in the
intervening eighteen years, had changed from a half-starved, half-clad
child that flashed through the thickets like a wild thing, into a long
slender-limbed creature with wide, duskily violet eyes and shimmering,
tumbled hair--a creature of swift, passionate moods who, if they could
only have known it, was startlingly like the wild things for which he
had named her.

They were not given to the reading of heathen mythology, the people of
Boltonwood, and so they could not know. But with every passing day
they did realize that Dryad Anderson's fiercely wistful little face
was growing more and more like that of the little statue in the
grounds behind the church--the stone face of John Anderson's frail
bride of a year--long since turned a dull, nondescript gray by the sun
and weather.

She had the same trick of smiling with her eyes when there was no
mirth lurking in the corners of her full lips, the same full-throated
little laugh that carried the faintest hint of mockery in its thrill.
Year by year her slim body lost its unformed boyishness in a new soft
roundness which her long outgrown skirt and too scant little waist
failed completely to conceal. And the hillsfolk were given to shaking
their heads over her now, just as the generation before had done, for
to cap it all--the last straw upon the back of their toleration--Dryad
Anderson had "took up" with Denny Bolton, Young Denny, the last of his
name. Nothing more was needed to damn her forever in the eyes of the
hills people, although they could not have explained just why, even if
they had tried.

And Young Denny, waiting there in the thickening dusk before his own
dark place, smiled gravely back at that single blinking light in the
window of the cottage squatting under the hill--he smiled with
whimsical gentleness, a man's smile that softened somehow the hard
lines of jaw and lip. It was more than three years now since the first
night when he had stood and watched for it to flash out across the
valley before he had turned and gone to set a lamp in the dark front
windows behind him in answer to it.

He could never remember just how they had agreed upon that signal--there
had never been any mutual agreement--but every Saturday night since
that first one, three years back, he had come in from his week's work,
ploughing or planting or teaming back in the timber and waited for
it to call to him, just at dusk, across the valley.

His hand went tentatively to his chin, absently caressing his lean
cheeks as he remembered that day. Late in the afternoon he had found a
rabbit caught fast in a snare which he had set deep in the thicket,
and the little animal had squealed in terror, just as rabbits always
squeal, when he leaned and took it from the trap. And when he had
straightened to his feet with it clutched fast in his arms, to look
for a club with which to end its struggles quickly, his eyes had
lifted to encounter the stormy eyes of the girl who had flashed up
before him as silently as a shadow from the empty air.

Her two small brown fists were tight clenched against her breast; she
was breathing in short irregular gasps as if she had been running
hard.

At first Denny Bolton had been too amazed to do more than stare
blankly into her blazing eyes; then before that burning glare his face
began to redden consciously and his gaze dropped, wavering from her
face to the little blouse so long outgrown that it strained far open
across the girl's round throat, doubly white by contrast below the
brown line where the clear tan ended.

His glance went down from the fierce little face to the tight skirt,
shiny from long wear and so short that the hem hung high above her
slim ankles; and from there down to the cracked, broken shoes,
string-laced and sized too large for her fine drawn feet. They were
old and patched--the stockings--so thickly darned that there was
little of the original fabric left, but for all the patches there were
still wide gashes in them, fresh torn by the thorns, through which the
flesh beneath showed very white.

Her face colored, too, as Young Denny's uncomfortable scrutiny passed
over her. It flamed painfully from throat to hair and then went very
white. She tried vainly with one hand to close the gap at her throat,
while the other struggled to settle the dingy old skirt a little lower
on her childish hips. But her hot eyes clung unwaveringly to the boy's
face. Suddenly she lifted one hand and pointed a quivering finger at
the furry mass palpitating in his arms.

"What are you going to do with it?" she demanded.

Young Denny started at the question. The uncompromising directness of
the words startled him even more than had her first swift, silent
coming. Involuntarily, spasmodically his arms closed until the rabbit
squealed again in an ecstasy of terror.

"Why, I--I reckon to eat him!" he blurted at last, and then his face
grew hotter than ever at the baldness of the answer.

It was hard to follow the change that flashed over her face as she
became conscious of his blundering, clumsy embarrassment. It came too
quickly for that, but the angry light faded from her eyes and her
lips began to curve in the faintest of quizzical smiles. She even
forgot the too short skirt and gaping blouse to raise both hands
toward him in coaxing coquetry.

"Please let him go," she wheedled softly. "Please let him go--for
me!"

Young Denny backed away a step from her upturned face and outstretched
hands, grinning a little as he slowly shook his head. It bewildered
him--puzzled him--this swift change to supplication.

"Can't," he refused laconically. "I--I got to have him to eat."

His voice was calmly final and for no other reason than to learn what
she would do next, because already the boy knew that the soft creature
throbbing against him was to have its freedom again. No one, at least
since he could remember, had ever before smiled and asked Denny Bolton
to "do it--for me." For one flashing instant he saw her eyes flare at
his candid refusal; then they cleared again with that same miraculous
swiftness. Once more the corners of her lips lifted pleadingly, arched
with guileful, provocative sweetness.

"Please," she begged, even more softly, "please--because I ask you
to!"

Once more Young Denny shook his head.

Standing there before his dark house, still smiling vaguely at the
light across the valley his fingers tentatively caressed his lean
cheeks where her fingernails had bit deep through the skin that day.
He never remembered how it had happened--it all came too swiftly for
recollection--but even before he had finished shaking his head the
tempting smile had been wiped from her lips, her little face working
convulsively with rage, before she sprang at him--sprang with lithe,
lightning, tigerlike ferocity that sent him staggering back before
her.

Her hands found his face and tore deep through the skin before he
could lift his wide-flung arms to protect it. And then, almost before
he realized what had happened, she stood back, groping blindly away
from him until her hands found a birch sapling. She clung to it with a
desperately tight clasp as if to hold herself erect. A little spot of
red flecked her own lip where her locked teeth had cut through. She
swayed a moment, dizzily, the too-tight little waist gaping at her
throat as she struggled for breath.

"There--there!" she gasped at him voicelessly. "There," she whispered
through her white lips, "now will you let him go?"

And Denny Bolton had stood that afternoon in wondering silence, gazing
back into her twitching, distorted face without a word while the blood
oozed from the deep cuts in his cheeks and dripped noisily upon the
dry leaves. Once he turned and followed with his eyes the mad flight
of the rabbit through the underbrush; and then turned slowly back to
her.

"Why, he's gone already," he stated with a gentle gravity that was
almost ponderous. And with a deliberation which he meant more to
comfort than to conciliate: "I--I aimed to let him go, myself, right
from the first time you asked me--after a while!"

She cried over him that afternoon--cried not as he had known other
girls to cry, but with long noiseless gasps that shook her thin
shoulders terribly. Her eyes swam with great drops that hung from her
lashes and went rolling silently down her small face while she washed
out the cuts with one sleeve ruthlessly wrenched from her blouse and
soaked in the brook nearby.

But in almost the same breath while she crooned pityingly over him she
bade him--commanded him with a swift, fierce passionate vehemence--to
tell her that it did not hurt--did not hurt very much! And before she
would let him go that day she made him promise to come back--she
promised herself to set a light in the front window of the shabby
little cottage to tell him that she had found the plaster--that there
was enough left to close the cuts.

There had never been any spoken agreement between them, but since that
night, three years ago, Denny Bolton had learned to watch each week
end, just at dusk, for the signal to appear. From the first their very
loneliness had drawn them together--a childish, starved desire for
companionship; and as time passed they only clung the closer, each to
the other, as jealously fearful as a marooned man and woman might have
been of any harm which might come to the one and leave the other
utterly, desolately alone.

Winter and summer Denny Bolton went every Saturday night, close to
nightfall, and waited for her to come, except that now, in the last
few weeks since the first rumor of the Judge's big barn-raising and
masquerade had gone forth, no matter how early he started or how much
haste he made, he always found Dryad Anderson there before him. For
weeks no other topic had passed the girl's lips, and with each
recurring visit to the small clearing hidden back in the thicket near
the brook the boy's wonder grew.

Almost from the first day she had decided upon the costume which she
would wear. Night after night she sat and made plans in a tumultuous,
bubbling flood of anticipation which he could scarcely follow, for it
was only after long argument that he had sheepishly surrendered and
agreed to "dress up" at all; she sat with a picture torn from an old
magazine across her knees--a color-plate of a dancing girl which she
meant to copy for herself--poring over it with shining eyes, her
breath coming and going softly between childishly curved lips as she
devoured every detail of its construction.

It was a thing of brilliantly contrasting colors--the picture which
she planned to copy--a sleeveless waist of dullest crimson and a much
bespangled skirt of clinging, shimmering black. And that skirt hung
clear to the ankles, swinging just high enough to disclose the gleam
of silken stockings and satiny, pointed slippers, with heels of
absurdly small girth.

The boy only half understood the feverish hunger which glowed in Dryad
Anderson's face, piquantly, wistfully earnest in the dull yellow
lantern light as she leaned forward, ticking off each item and its
probable cost upon her fingers, and waited doubtfully for him to mock
at the expense; and yet, at that, he understood far better than any
one else could ever have hoped to comprehend, for Young Denny knew too
what it was to wait--to wait for something that was drearily slow in
the coming.

One other thing marked Judge Maynard's proffered hospitality as
totally different from all the other half-similar affairs which
Boltonwood had ever known. There were to be invitations--written,
mailed invitations--instead of the usual placards tacked up in the
village post-office as they always were whenever any public
entertainment was imminent, or the haphazard invitations which were
passed along by word of mouth and which somehow they always forgot to
pass on to the boy who lived alone in the dark house on the hill.
There were to be formal, mailed invitations, and Young Denny found it
hard waiting that night for Old Jerry, who had never been so late
before.

The cool red of the horizon behind him faded to a dusky gray and the
dusk thickened from twilight to dark while he stood there waiting,
leaning heavily upon the pike-pole, shifting more and more uneasily
from one tired foot to the other. He had turned at last to go and set
a light in answer to the one which was calling insistently to him from
the blackness before the Judge's place when the shrill squeal of
complaining axles drifted up to him from far down the long hill road.

Old Jerry came with exasperating slowness that night. The plodding
ascent of the fat white mare and creaking buggy was nerve-rackingly
deliberate. Young Denny shifted the shaft of his pike-pole to the
other hand to wipe his damp palm against the checkered coat as the rig
loomed up ahead of him in the darkness. Old Jerry was complaining to
himself bitterly in a whining, cracked falsetto.

"'Tain't reg'lar," the boy heard him whimpering. "'Tain't accordin' to
law--not the way I figger it, it ain't. The Gov'mint don't expect
nobody to work 'til this hour!"

The buggy came to a standstill, with the little, weazened old man
leaning far out from the torn leather seat, shading his eyes with one
unsteady hand while he peered into the shadows searching for the
big-shouldered figure that stepped hesitatingly nearer the wheel.
There was something birdlike in the brilliancy of the beady little
eyes; something of sparrowlike pertness in the tilt of the old man's
head, perked far over to one side.

"Still a-waitin', be ye?" he exclaimed peevishly. "Well, it's lucky
you ain't been kept a-standin' there a whole sight longer--half the
night, mebby! You would a-been, only for my havin' an orig'nal system
for peddlin' them letters that's all my own. It's system does it--but
it ain't right, just the same. The Gov'mint don't expect nobody to
work more'n eight hours to a stretch, and look at me, two hours late
and I ain't home yet! I'd complain, too--I'd complain to the
authorities at Washington, only--only"--his thin, high-pitched voice
dropped suddenly to a furtively conciliating whisper--"only a-course I
don't want to make no trouble for the Judge."

Denny Bolton cleared his throat and shuffled his feet uneasily, but
this hint for haste was utterly wasted upon Old Jerry. The latter
failed completely to note the strained intensity of the face that was
upturned before him and went on grumbling as he leaned over to fumble
in the box beneath the seat. And the tirade continued in an unbroken,
half-muffled stream until he straightened laboriously again, the boy's
usual weekly packet of papers and catalogues in one hand.

"No," he emphasized deliberately, "I wouldn't really go so fur's
that--I ain't figgerin' on makin' no complaint--not this time. I got
too much regard for the Judge to try to get him into any hot water.
But there wa'n't no real use nor reason in his postin' all them
invitations to once. He could a-begun back a stretch and kinda run 'em
in easy, a little to a time, instead of lumpin' 'em this way, and that
would a-give me----"

Young Denny reached out and took the bundle from the extended,
unsteady old hand. His own hands were shaking a little as he broke the
string and fluttered swiftly through the half dozen papers and
pamphlets. Old Jerry never skipped a breath at the interruption.

"But that finishes up the day--that's about the last of it." The
thin voice became heavily tinged with pride. "There ain't nobody in
the township but what's got his card to that barn-raising by
now--delivered right on the nail! That's my system." And then,
judiciously: "I guess it's a-goin' to be a real fancy affair, too,
at that. Must be it'll cost him more'n a little mite before he gits
done feedin' 'em. They was a powerful lot of them invitations."

Slowly Denny Bolton's head lifted. He stood and stared into Old
Jerry's peaked, wrinkled face as if he had only half heard the
rambling complaint, a strange, bewildered light growing in his eyes.
Then his gaze dropped once more, and a second time, far more slowly,
his fingers went through the packet of advertisements. Old Jerry was
leaning over to unwind the reins from the whipstock when the boy's
hand reached out and stopped him.

"Ain't there--wasn't there anything more for me--tonight?" Young Denny
inquired gravely.

Jerry paused impatiently. No other question ever caused him quite such
keen irritation, for he felt that it was a slur at his reliability.

"More!" he petulantly echoed the question. "More? Why, you got your
paper, ain't you? Was you expectin' sunthin' else? Wasn't looking for
a letter, now was you?"

Denny backed slowly away from the wheel. Dumbly he stood and licked
his lips. He cleared his throat again and swallowed hard before he
answered.

"No," he faltered at last, with the same level gravity. "No, I wasn't
exactly expectin' a letter. But I kind of thought--I--I was just
hopin'----"

His grave voice trailed heavily off into silence. Eyes still numbly
bewildered he turned, leaning forward a little, to gaze out across the
valley at the great square silhouette of Judge Maynard's house on the
opposite ridge, while Old Jerry wheeled the protesting buggy and
started deliberately down the hill. Just once more the latter paused;
he drew the fat gray mare to a standstill and leaned a last time far
out from the seat.

"A-course I didn't mean nothin' when I spoke about complainin' against
the Judge," he called back. "You know that, don't you, Denny? You know
I was just jokin', don't you?" A vaguely worried, appealing strain
crept into the cracked accents. "An' a-course you wouldn't say nothin'
about my speakin' like that. I think a whole heap too much of the
Judge to even try to git him into trouble--and--and then the Judge--he
might--you understand that I was only jokin', don't you, Denny?"

Young Denny nodded his head silently in reply. Long after the shrill
falsetto grumbling had ceased to drift back up the hill to him he
stood there motionless. After a while the fingers that still clutched
the bundle of circulars opened loosely and when he did finally wheel
to cross slowly to the kitchen door the papers and catalogues lay
unheeded, scattered on the ground where they had fallen.

He stopped once at the threshold to prop his pike-pole against the
house corner before he passed aimlessly inside, leaving the door wide
open behind him. And he stood a long time in the middle of the dark
room, staring dully at the cold, fireless stove. Never before had he
given it more than a passing thought--he had accepted it silently as
he accepted all other conditions over which he had no control--but
now as he stood and stared, it came over him, bit by bit, that he was
tired--so utterly weary that the task of cooking his own supper that
night had suddenly become a task greater than he could even attempt.
The very thought of the half-cooked food sickened him--nauseated him.
Motionless there in the dark he dragged one big hand across his dry
lips and slowly shook his head.

"They didn't want me," he muttered hoarsely. "It wasn't because they
forgot me before; they didn't want me--not even for the strength of my
shoulders."

With heavy, shuffling steps he crossed and dropped loosely into a
chair beside the bare board table that stood in front of one dingy
window. A long time he sat silent, his lean chin propped in his rough
palms, eyes burning straight ahead of him into vacancy. Then, little
by little, his great shoulders in the vividly checkered coat began to
sag--they slumped downward-until his head was bowed and his face lay
hidden in the long arms crooked limply asprawl across the table-top.

Once more he spoke aloud, hours later.

"They didn't want me," he repeated dully. "Not even for the work I
could do!"



CHAPTER III


It was very quiet in the front room of the little cottage that
squatted in the black shadow below Judge Maynard's huge house on the
hill. No sound broke the heavy silence save the staccato clip-clip
of the long shears in the fingers of the girl who was leaning almost
breathlessly over the work spread out on the table beneath the
feeble glow of the single oil-lamp, unless the faint, monotonous
murmur which came in an endless sing-song from the lips of the
stooped, white-haired old figure in the small back room beyond the
door could be named anything so definite.

John Anderson's lips always moved when he worked. His fingers,
strong and clean-jointed and almost womanishly smooth--the only part
of the man not pitifully seared with age--flew with a bewildering
nimbleness one moment, only to dwell the next with a lingering
caress upon the shaping features before him; and for each caress of
his finger tips there was an accompanying, vacantly gentle smile or
an uncertainly emphatic nod of the silvered head which gave the
one-sided conversation a touch of uncanny reality.

And yet, at regularly recurring intervals, even his busy fingers
faltered, while he sat head bent far over to one side as though he
were listening for something, waiting for some reply. At every such
pause the vacant smile left his face and failed to return immediately.
The monotonously inflectionless conversation was still, too, for the
time, and he merely sat and stared perplexedly about him, around the
small workshop, bare except for the single high-stool that held him
and the littered bench on which he leaned.

There was a foot-wide shelf against each wall of that room, fastened
waist high from the floor, and upon it stood countless small white
statues, all slim and frail of limb, all upturned and smiling of lip.
They were miraculously alike, these delicate white figures, each with
a throat-tightening heartache in its wistful face--so alike in form
and expression that they might have been cast in a single mold.
Wherever his eyes might fall, whenever he turned in one of those
endlessly repeated fits of faltering uncertainty, that tiny face was
always before him, uplifted of lip, smiling back into John Anderson's
vacant eyes until his own lips began to curve again and he turned once
more, nodding his head and murmuring contentedly, to the clay upon his
bench.

Out in the larger front room, as she hovered over the work spread out
before her, the girl, too, was talking aloud to herself, not in the
toneless, rambling voice that came from John Anderson's mumbling
lips, but in hushed, rapt, broken sentences which were softly tinged
with incredulous wonder.

The yellow glow of the single lamp, pushed far across the table from
her, where the most of its radiance was swallowed up by the gloom of
the uncurtained window, flickered unsteadily across her shining,
tumbled hair, coloring the faintly blue, thinly penciled lines beneath
her tip-tilted eyes with a hint of weariness totally at variance with
the firm little sloping shoulders and full lips, pursed in a childish
pout over a mouthful of pins.

The hours had passed swiftly that day for Dryad Anderson; and the last
one of all--the one since she had lighted the single small lamp in the
room and set it in the window, so far across the table from her that
she had to strain more and more closely over her swift flashing
scissors in the thickening dusk--had flown on winged feet, even faster
than she knew.

Twice, early in the evening she had laid the long shears aside and
risen from the matter that engrossed her almost to the exclusion of
every other thought, to peer intently out of the window across the
valley at the bleak old farmhouse on the crest of the opposite ridge;
and each time as she settled herself once more in the chair, hunched
boyishly over the table edge, she only nodded her bright head in
utter, undisturbed unconsciousness of the passage of time.

"He's late getting home tonight," she told herself aloud, after she
had searched the outer darkness in vain for any answering signal, but
there was not even the faintest trace of troubled worry in her words.
She merely smiled with mock severity.

"He's later than he ought to be--even if it is his last week back in
the hills. Next week I'll have to make him wait----"

Her vaguely murmured threat drifted away into nothingness, left
unfinished as she rose and stood, hands lightly bracketed upon her
hips, scrutinizing the completed work.

"There," she went on softly, sighing in deep relief, "there--that's
done--if--if it will only fit."

She removed the cluster of pins from her mouth and unfastened the long
strip of newspaper from the section of the old black skirt which she
had ripped apart that afternoon for a pattern. It was far too
short--that old skirt--to duplicate the long free lines of the
brilliant red and black costume of the dancer beside her elbow on the
table, but Dryad Anderson's shears, coasting rapidly around the edge
of the worn cloth, had left a wide margin of safety at the hem.

The critical frown upon her forehead smoothed little by little while
she lifted cautiously that long strip of paper pattern and turned with
it dangling from one hip to walk up and down before the tilted mirror
at the far end of the room, viewing her reflected image from every
possible angle. Even the thoughtful pucker at the corners of her eyes
disappeared and she nodded her small head with its loosened mass of
hair in judicious satisfaction.

"I do believe that's it," the hushed voice mused on, "or, if it isn't,
it is as near as I can ever hope to get it. If--if only it doesn't sag
at the heels--and if it does I'll have to----"

Again with a last approving glance flung over one shoulder the
murmured comment, whatever it might have been, was finished
wordlessly. Her fingers, in spite of their very smallness as strong
and straight and clean-jointed as those of the old man bent double
over his bench in the back room, lingered absently over the folding of
that last paper pattern, and when she finally added it to the top of
the stack already folded and piled beside the lamp her eyes had become
velvety blank with preoccupation.

From early afternoon, ever since the Judge himself had whirled up to
the sagging gate at the end of their rotting boardwalk and clambered
out of his yellow-wheeled buckboard to knock with measured solemnity
at the front door, Dryad had been rushing madly from task to task and
pausing always in just such fashion in the midst of each to stand
dreamily immobile, everything else forgotten for the moment in an
effort to visualize it--to understand that it was real, after all, and
not just a cobweb fabric of her own fancy, like the dreams she was
always weaving to make the long week days pass more quickly.

It was more than a few years since the last time Judge Maynard had
driven up to the gate of that old, drab cottage; and now standing
there with one slim outstretched hand lovingly patting the bundle of
paper patterns which represented her afternoon's work, she smiled with
gentle derision for the mental picture she had carried all those years
of the wealthiest man in Boltonwood.

The paternal, almost bewildering familiar cordiality with which he had
greeted her and the pompously jovial urgency of the invitation which
he had come to deliver in person, urging acceptance upon her because
she "saw entirely too little of the young folks of the town," was
hardly in accord with the childish recollection she had carried with
her, year after year, of a purple faced, cursing figure who leaned
over the rickety old fence that bounded the garden, shook his fists in
John Anderson's mildly puzzled face and roared threats until he had to
cease from very breathlessness.

A far different Judge had bowed low before her that afternoon when she
answered the measured summons at the door--a sleek, twinkling,
unctuously solicitous, far more portly Judge Maynard--and Dryad
Anderson, who could not know that he had finally come to agree with
the rest of the village that he might "catch more flies with molasses
than with vinegar," and was ordering his campaign accordingly, flushed
in painful memory for the half-clad, half-starved little creature that
had clung to John Anderson's rusty coat-tails that other day and
glared black, bitter hate back at the man beyond the fence.

Leaning against the table there in the half light of the room, a slow
smile curled back the corners of her lips, still childishly quizzical
in contrast with that slim roundness of body which was losing its
boyish litheness in a new slender fullness that throbbed on the
threshold of womanhood. She smiled deprecatingly as she lifted one
hand to search in the breast of the blouse that was always just enough
outgrown to fail of closing across her throat, and drew out the thing
which the Judge had delivered with every possible flourish, barely a
few hours back.

Already the envelope was creased and worn with much handling, but the
square card within, thickly, creamily white, was still unspotted. As
if it were a perishably precious thing her fingers drew it with
infinite care from its covering, and she leaned far across the table
to prop it up before her where the light fell brightest. Pointed chin
cupped in her palms, she lay devouring with hungry eyes the words upon
its polished surface.

"---- requests the pleasure of," she picked up the lines which she
already knew by rote; and then, "Miss Dryad Anderson's company," in
the heavy sprawling scrawl which she knew must have come from the
Judge's own pen.

Suddenly her two hands flashed out and swept the card up to crush it
against her with passionate impetuosity.

"Oh, you wonderful thing!" she crooned over it, a low laugh that was
half a sob bubbling in her throat. "You wonderful thing! And to think
that I've had you all the afternoon--almost all day--and he's had to
wait all this time for his to come. He's had to wait for Jerry to
bring his with the mail--and Jerry is so dreadfully slow at times."

Lingeringly, as though she hated to hide it, her fingers thrust the
card back inside its envelope. And she was tucking it away in its warm
hiding place within the scant fullness of the white blouse when the
clock on the wall behind her began to beat out the hour with a noisy
whir of loosened cogs.

"Hours and hours," she murmured, counting the strokes subconsciously.

And then as the growing total of those gong strokes beat in upon her
brain, all the dreamy preoccupation faded from her face. The little
compassionate smile which had accompanied the last words disappeared
before the swift, taut change that straightened her lips. She whirled,
peering from startled eyes up at the dim old dial, refusing to
believe her own count; and as she stood, body tensely poised, gazing
incredulously at the hands, she realized for the first time how fast
the hours had flown while she bent, forgetful of all else, over her
paper patterns.

The table rocked dangerously as she crowded her body between it and
the windowsill and, back to the light, stood staring with her face
cupped in her hands out into the blackness. Far across the valley the
dilapidated farmhouse on the ridge showed only a blurred blot against
the skyline.

Minutes the girl stood and watched. The minutes lengthened interminably
while the light for which she waited failed to show through the
dark, until a dead white, living fear began to creep across her face--a
fear that wiped the last trace of childishness from her tightened
features.

"He's late," she whispered hoarsely. "It's the last week, and it's
just kept him later than usual!"

But there was no assurance in the words that faltered from her lips.
They were lifelessly dull, as though she were trying to convince
herself of a thing she already knew she could not believe.

As long as she could she stood there at the window, doggedly fighting
the rising terror that was bleaching her face; fighting the dread
which was never quite asleep within her brain--the dread of that old
stone demijohn standing in the corner of the kitchen, which for all
her broken pleading Young Denny Bolton had refused with a strange,
unexplained stubbornness to remove--until that rising terror drove her
away from the pane.

One wide-flung arm swept the stack of neatly folded patterns in a
rustling storm to the floor as she pushed her way out from the
narrow space between table edge and sill. The girl did not heed
them or the lamp, that rocked drunkenly with the tottering table.
She had forgotten everything--the thick white square of cardboard,
even the stooped old man in the small back room--in the face of the
overwhelming fear that reason could not fight down. Only the
peculiarly absolute silence that came with the sudden cessation of his
droning monotone checked the panic haste of her first rush. With one
hand clutching the knob of the outer door she turned back.

John Anderson was sitting twisted about on his high stool, gazing
after her in infantile, perplexed reproach, his long fingers clasped
loosely about the almost finished figure over which he had been
toiling. As the girl turned back toward him his eyes wandered down to
it and he began to shake his head slowly, vacantly, hopelessly. A low
moaning whimper stirred her lips; then the hand tight-clenched over
the knob slackened. She ran swiftly across to him.

"What is it, dear?" Her voice broke, husky with fright and pity.
"Tell me--what is the matter? Won't it come right tonight?"

With shaking hands she leaned over him, smoothing the shining hair. At
the touch of her fingers he looked up, staring with pleading
uncertainty into her quivering face before he shook his head.

"It--it don't smile," he complained querulously. His fingers groped
lightly over the small face of clay. "I--I can't make it smile--like
the rest."

Sudden terror contorted the thin features, a sheer ecstacy of terror
as white-lipped as that which marred the face of the girl who bent
above him.

"Maybe I've forgotten how she smiled!" he whispered fearfully. "Maybe
I'll never be able to----"

Dryad's eyes flitted desperately around the room, along the shelves
laden with those countless figures--all white and finely slender, all
upturned of face. Again a little impotent gasp choked her; then, eyes
filling hotly at that poignantly wistful smile which edged the lips of
each, she stooped and patted reassuringly the trembling hands before
she stepped a pace away from him.

"You've not forgotten, dear. Why, you mustn't be frightened like that!
We know, you and I, don't we, that you never could forget? You're just
tired. Now, that's better--that's brave! And now--look! Isn't this the
way--isn't this the way it ought to be?"

Face uptilted, bloodless lips falling apart in the faintest of pallid
smiles, she swayed forward, both arms outstretched toward him. And as
she stood the wide eyes and straight nose and delicately pointed chin
of her colorless face took line for line the lines of all those,
chalky white, against the wall.

For a moment John Anderson's eyes clung to her--clung vacant with
hopeless doubt; then they glowed again with dawning recollection. He,
too, was smiling once more as his fingers fluttered in nervous haste
above the lips of the clay face on the bench before him, and almost
before the girl had stepped back beside him he had forgotten that she
was there.

"Marie!" she heard him murmur. "Marie, why, you mustn't be afraid!
We'll never forget--you and I--we never could forget!"

Even while she waited another instant those plastic earthen lips began
to curl--they began to curve with hungry longing like all the rest. He
was talking steadily now, mumbling broken fragments of sentences which
it was hard to understand. Her hand hovered a moment longer over his
bowed head; once at the door she paused and looked back at him.

"It's only for a little while," she promised unsteadily. "I--I have to
go--but it's only for a little while. I'll be back soon--so soon! And
you'll be safe until I come!"

He gave no sign that he had heard, not even so much as a lifted
glance. But as she drew the door shut behind her she heard him pick
up the words, caressingly, after her.

"You'll be safe, Marie," he whispered. "It'll be only for a little
while, now. You'll be safe till I come." An ineffably peaceful smile
flickered across his face. "We couldn't forget--why, of course, we
couldn't forget--you and I!"

With the short black skirt lifted even higher above her ankles that
she might make still more speed, Dryad turned into the dark path that
twisted crookedly through the brush to the open clearing beside the
brook and from there on to the black house on the hill.

She ran swiftly, madly, through the darkness, with the wild,
panic-stricken, headlong abandon of a hunted thing, finding the narrow
trail ahead of her by instinct alone. Only once she overran it, but
that once a low hanging branch, face high, caught her full across the
forehead and sent her crashing back in the underbrush. Just once she
put one narrow foot in its loosely flapping shoe into the deep crevice
between two rocks and gasped aloud with the pain of the fall that
racked her knees. When she groped out and steadied herself erect she
was talking--stammering half incoherent words that came bursting
jerkily from her lips as she tore on.

"Help me ... in time ... God," she panted, "Just this once ... get to
him ... in time. Lord, forgive ... own vanity. Oh, God, please in
time!"

Small feet drumming the harder ground, she flashed up the last rise
and across the yard to the door of that unlighted kitchen. Her hands
felt for the latch and failed to find it; then she realized that it
was already open--the door--but her knees, all the strength suddenly
drained from them at the black quiet in that room, refused to carry
her over the threshold. She rocked forward, reaching out with one hand
for the frame to steady herself, and in that same instant the man who
lay a huddled motionless heap across the table top, moved a little and
began to speak aloud.

"They didn't want me," he muttered, and the words came with muffled
thickness. "Not even for the strength of my shoulders."

She took one faltering step forward--the girl who stood there swaying
in the doorway--and stopped again. And the man lifted his head and
laughed softly, a short, ugly rasping laugh.

"Not even for the work I could do," he finished.

And then she understood. She tried to call out to him, and the words
caught in her throat and choked her. She tried again and this time her
voice rang clear through the room.

"Denny," she cried, "Denny, I've come to you! Strike a light! I'm
here, Denny, and--oh, I'm afraid--afraid of the dark!"

Before he could rise, almost before his big-shouldered body whirled in
the chair toward her, her swift rush carried her across to him. She
knelt at his knees, her thin arms clutching him with desperate
strength. Denny Bolton felt her body shudder violently as he leaned
over, dumb with bewilderment, and put his hands on her bowed head.

"Thank God," he heard her whispering, "thank God--thank God!"

But far more swiftly than his half numbed brain could follow she was
on her feet the next instant, tense and straight and lancelike in the
gloom.

"Damn 'em," she hissed. "Damn 'em--damn 'em--damn 'em!"

His fingers felt for and found a match and struck it. Her face was
working convulsively, twisted with hate, both small fists lifted
toward the huge house that crowned the opposite hill. It made him
remember that first day when he had looked up, with the rabbit
struggling in his arms, and found her standing there in the thicket
before him, only now the fury that blazed in her eyes was not for him.
There was a rough red welt across her forehead only half hidden by the
tumbled hair that cascaded to her waist, torn loose from its scant
fastenings by the whipping brush. And as he stood with the flame of
the flickering match scorching his fingers, Denny Bolton remembered
all the rest--he remembered the light that still burned unanswered in
the window across the valley. He bowed his head.

[Illustration: "HOLD ME TIGHT--OH! HOLD ME TIGHTER! FOR THEY FORGOT ME,
TOO, DENNY; THEY FORGOT ME TOO!"]

"I--I forgot," he faltered at last. "I did not know it was so late. I
must have been--pretty tired."

Slowly the girl's clenched hands came away from her throat while she
stared up into his face, brown and lean and very hard and bitter. The
ashen terror upon her own cheeks disappeared with a greater, growing
comprehension of all that lay behind that dully colorless statement.
For just a moment her fingers hovered over the opening at the neck of
her too small blouse and felt the thick white card that lay hidden
within, before she lifted both arms to him in impulsive compassion,
trying to smile in spite of the wearily childish droop at the corners
of her lips.

"I know, Denny," she quavered. "I--I understand." Her arms slipped up
around his neck. "Hold me tight--oh, hold me tighter! For they forgot
me, too, Denny; they forgot me, too!"

As his arms closed about her slim body she buried her bright head
against the vividly checkered coat and sobbed silently--great
noiseless gasps that shook her small shoulders terribly. Once, after a
long time, when she held his face away to peer up at him through
brimming eyes, she saw that all the numb bitterness was gone from
it--that he had forgotten all else save her own hurt.

"Why, you mustn't feel so badly for me," she told him then, warmly
tremulous of mouth. "I--I don't mind now, very much. Only"--her voice
broke unsteadily--"only I did want to go just once where all the
others go; I wanted them to see me just once in a skirt that's long
enough for me--and--and to wear stockings without any patches, and
silk, Denny, silk--next to my skin!"



CHAPTER IV


At her first swift coming when she had cried out to him there in the
dark and run across to kneel at his knees, a dull, shamed flush had
stained his lean cheeks with the realization that, in his own great
bitterness he had failed even to wonder whether she had been
forgotten, too.

Now as his big hand hovered over the tumbled brightness of her hair,
loose upon his sleeve, that hot shame in turn disappeared. After the
quivering gasps were all but stilled, he twice opened his lips as if
to speak, and each time closed them again without a word. He was
smiling a faint, gravely gentle smile that barely lifted the corners
of his lips when she turned in his arms and lifted her face once more
to him.

"We don't mind very much," she repeated in a half whisper. "Do
we--either of us--now?"

Slowly he shook his head. With effortless ease he stooped and swung
her up on one arm, seating her upon the bare table before the window.
Another match flared between his fingers and the whole room sprang
into brightness as he touched the point of flame to the wick of the
lamp bracketed to the wall beside him.

She sat, leaning forward a little, both elbows resting upon her slim
knees, both feet swinging pendulum-like high above the floor, watching
with a small frown of curiosity growing upon her forehead, while he
stooped without a word of explanation and dragged a bulky package from
the table and placed it beside her. Then she sighed aloud, an audible
sigh of sheer surprise after he had broken the string and drawn aside
the paper wrapper.

Just as they had seemed in the picture they lay there under her amazed
eyes--the pointed, satiny black slippers of the dancing girl, with
their absurdly slender heels and brilliant buckles, and filmy
stockings to match. And underneath lay two folded squares of
shimmering stuff, dull black and burnished scarlet, scarce thicker
than the silk of the stockings themselves.

The faint, vaguely self-conscious smile went from Denny Bolton's lips
while he stood and watched her bend and touch each article, one by
one--the barest ghost of contact. Damp eyes glowing, lips curled half
open, she lifted her head at last and gazed at him, as he stood with
hands balanced on his hips before her.

A moment she sat immobile, her breath coming and going in soft,
fluttering gasps, and looked into his sober, questioning face; then
she turned again and picked up one web-like stocking and held it
against her cheek, as hotly tinted now beneath its smooth whiteness as
the shining scarlet cloth beside her.

He heard her murmur to herself little, broken, incoherent phrases that
he could not catch.

"Denny," he heard her whisper, "Denny--Denny!"

And then, with the tiny slippers huddled in her lap, her hands flashed
out and caught his face and drew it down against the too-small white
blouse, open at the throat.

"Man--man," she said, and he felt her breast rise and fall, rise and
fall, against his cheek. "Man, you didn't understand! It--it wasn't
the clothes, Denny, but--but I'm all the gladder, I think, because
you're so much of a man that you couldn't, not even if I tried a
hundred years to explain."

He drew the chair at the side of the table around in front of her and
dropped into it. With a care akin to reverence he lifted one slipper
and held it outstretched at arm's length upon his broad palm.

"I--I hadn't exactly forgotten, tonight," he told her. "I'd watched
for the light, and I meant to bring them--when I came." His steady
eyes dropped to her slim, swinging feet. "They're the smallest they
had in any shop at the county-seat," he went on, and the slow smile
came creeping back across his face. "I crossed over through the timber
late last night, after we had broken camp, and I--I had to guess the
size. Shall we--try them on?"

She reached out and snatched the small thing of satin and leather away
from him with mock jealous impetuosity, a little reckless gurgle of
utter delight breaking from her lips.

"Over these," she demanded, lifting one foot and pointing at the
thickly patched old stocking above the dingy, string-tied shoe.
"You--you are trying to shame me, Denny--you want to make me confess
they are too small!"

Then, almost in the same breath, all the facetious accusation left her
face. Even the warm glow of wonder which had lighted her wet eyes gave
way to a new seriousness.

"No one has ever told me," she stated slowly, "but I know it is so,
just the same. Somehow, because it was to be the first party I had
ever attended--or--or had a chance to attend, I thought it must be all
right, just once, for you to buy me these. There was no one else to
buy them, Denny, and maybe I wanted to go so very much I made myself
believe that it was all right. But there isn't any party now--for us.
And--and men don't buy clothes for women, Denny--not until they're
married!"

Her face was tensely earnest while she waited for the big man before
her to answer. And Young Denny turned his head, staring silently out
of the opposite window down toward the village, dark now, in the
valley below. He cleared his throat uncertainly.

"Do they?" She was leaning forward until her hair brushed his own. "Do
they, Denny?" A rising inflection left the words hanging in midair.

"I don't know just what the difference is," he began finally, his
voice very deliberate. "I've often tried to figure it out, and never
been quite able to get it straight"--he nodded his head again toward
the sleeping village--"but we--we've never been like the rest, anyhow.
And--and anyway," he reached out one hand and laid it upon her knees,
"we're to be married, too--when--when----"

With swift, caressing haste she lifted the slippers that lay cradled
in her lap and set them back inside the open package. Lightly she
swung herself down and stood before him, both hands balanced upon his
shoulders. For just the fraction of a moment her eyes lifted over his
head, flickering toward the stone demijohn that stood in the far,
shadowy corner near the door. Her voice was trembling a little when
she went on.

"Then let me come soon, Denny," she begged. "Can't it be soon? Oh, I'm
going to keep them!" One hand searched behind her to fall lightly upon
the package upon the table. "They're--they're so beautiful that I
don't believe I could ever give them back. But do we have to wait any
longer--do we? I can take care of him, too."

Vehemently she tilted her head toward the little drab cottage across
under the opposite hill.

"He hardly ever notices when I come or go. I--I want to come, Denny.
I'm lonesome, and--and--" her eyes darkened and swam with fear as she
stared beyond him into the dusky corner near the door, "why can't I
come now, before some time--when it might be--too late?"

He reached up and took her hands from his shoulders and held them in
front of him, absently contemplating their rounded smoothness. She
bent closer, trying to read his eyes, and found them inscrutable. Then
his fingers tightened.

"And be like them?" he demanded, and the words leaped out so abruptly
that they were almost harsh. "And be like all the rest," he
reiterated, jerking his head backward, "old and thin, and bent and
worn-out at thirty?" A hard, self-scathing note crept into the words.
"Why, it--it took me almost a month--even to buy these!"

He in turn reached out and laid a hand upon the bundle behind her. But
she only laughed straight back into his face--a short, unsteady laugh
of utter derision.

"Old?" she echoed. "Work! But I--I'd have you, Denny, wouldn't I?"
Again she laughed in soft disdain. "Clothes!" she scoffed. And then,
more serious even than before: "Denny, is--is that the only reason,
now?"

The gleam that always smoldered in Denny Bolton's eyes whenever he
remembered the tales they told around the Tavern stove of Old Denny's
last bad night began to kindle. His lips were thin and straight and as
colorless as his suddenly weary face as he stood and looked back at
her. She lifted her hands and put them back upon his shoulders.

"I'm not afraid--any more--to chance it," she told him, her lips
trembling in spite of all she could do to hold them steady. "I'm never
afraid, when I'm with you. It--it's only when I'm alone that it grows
to be more than I can bear, sometimes. I'm not afraid. Does it--does
it have to stay there any longer, in the corner, Denny? Aren't we sure
enough now--you and I--aren't we?"

He stopped back a pace--his big body huge above her slenderness--stepped
away from the very nearness of her. But as she lifted her arms to him
he began to shake his head--the old stubborn refusal that had
answered her a countless number of times before.

"Aren't we?" she said again, but her voice sounded very small and
bodiless and forlorn in the half dark room.

He swung one arm in a stiff gesture that embraced the entire valley.

"They're all sure, too," his voice grated hoarsely, "They're all sure,
too--just as sure as we could ever be--and there's a whole town of
them!"

She was bending silently over the table, retying the bundle, when he
crossed back to her side, a lighted lantern dangling in one hand.

"I don't know why myself," he tried to explain. "I only know I've got
to wait. And I don't even know what I'm waiting for--but I know it's
got to come!"

She would not lift her head when he slipped his free arm about her
shoulders and drew her against him. When he reached out to take the
package from her she held it away from him, but her voice, half
muffled against his checkered coat, was anything but hard.

"Let _you_ carry them?" she murmured. "Why--I wouldn't trust them to
any other hands in the world but my own. You can't even see them
again--not until I've finished them, and I wear them--for you."

With head still bowed she walked before him to the open door. But
there on the threshold she stopped and flashed up at him her
whimsically provocating smile.

"Tell me--why don't you tell me, Denny," she commanded imperiously,
"that I'm prettier than all the others--even if I haven't the pretty
clothes!"

When the ridges to the east were tinged with the red of a rising sun,
Denny Bolton was still sitting, head propped in his hands, at the
table before the window, totally oblivious to the smoking lamp beside
him, or to anything else save the square card which he had found lying
there beneath the table after he had taken her back across the valley
to John Anderson's once-white cottage. He rose and extinguished the
smoking wick as the first light of day began to creep through the
room.

"---- requests the pleasure of Miss Dryad Anderson's company," he
repeated aloud. And then, as he turned to the open door and the work
that was waiting for him, in a voice that even he himself had never
before heard pass his lips:

"And she could have gone--she could have, and she didn't--just
because----"

His grave voice drifted off into silence. As if it were a perishably
precious thing, he slipped the square card within its envelope and
buttoned the whole within his coat.



CHAPTER V


As far back as he could remember Denny could not recall a single day
when Old Jerry had swung up the long hill road that led to his
lonesome farmhouse on the ridge at a pace any faster than a crawling
walk. Nor could he recollect, either, a single instance when he had
chanced to arrive at that last stop upon the route much before dark.

And yet it was still a good two hours before sundown; only a few
minutes before he had driven his heavy steaming team in from the
fields and turned toward the ladder that mounted to the hayloft, when
the familiar shrill complaint of ungreased axles drifted up to him
from the valley.

With a foot upon the first rung Young Denny paused, scowling in mild
perplexity. He had crossed the next moment to the open double doors,
as the sound floated up to him in a steadily increasing volume, and
was standing, his big body huge in its flannel shirt, open at the
throat, and high boots laced to the knees, leaning loosely at ease
against the door frame, when the dingy rig with its curtains flapping
crazily in the wind lurched around the bend in the road and came
bouncing wildly up the rutty grade.

The boy straightened and stiffened, his head going forward a little,
for the fat old mare was pounding along at a lumbering gallop--a pace
which, in all the time he had watched for it, he had never before
beheld. Old Jerry was driving with a magnificent abandon, his hands
far outstretched over the dash, and more than that, for even from
where he stood Denny could hear him shouting at her in his thin,
cracked falsetto--shouting for still more speed.

A rare, amused smile tugged at the corners of Young Denny's lips as he
crossed the open yard to the crest of the hill. But when the groaning
buggy came to a standstill and Old Jerry flung the reins across the
mare's wide back, to dive and burrow in frantic haste under the seat
for the customary roll of advertisements, without so much as a glance
for the boy who strode slowly up to the wheel, that shadow of a smile
which had touched his face faded into concerned gravity. He hesitated
a moment, as if not quite certain of what he should do.

"Is there--there isn't any one sick, is there?" he asked at last, half
diffidently.

The little, white-haired old man in the buggy jerked erect with
startling, automatonlike swiftness at that slow question. For a moment
he stood absolutely motionless, his back toward the speaker, his head
perked far over to one side as though he refused to believe he had
heard correctly. Then, little by little, he wheeled until his
strangely brilliant, birdlike eyes were staring straight down into
Denny's upturned, anxious face. And as he stared Old Jerry's
countenance grew blankly incredulous.

"Sick!" he echoed the boy's words scornfully. "Sick!"

His grotesquely thin body seemed to swell as he straightened himself,
and his shrill squeak of a voice took on a new note of pompous
importance.

"I guess," he stated impressively, "I reckon, Denny, you ain't heard
the news, hev you?" He chuckled pityingly, half contemptuously. "I
reckon you couldn't've," he concluded with utter finality.

The old, sullenly bewildered light crept back into Young Denny's gray
eyes. He shifted his feet uneasily, shaking his head.

"I--I just got back down from the timber, three days ago," he
explained, and somehow, entirely unintentionally, as he spoke the slow
statement seemed almost an apology for his lack of information. "I
guess I haven't heard much of anything lately--up here. Is it--is it
something big?"

Old Jerry hesitated. He felt suddenly the hopeless, overwhelming
dearth of words against which he labored in the attempt to carry the
tidings worthily.

"Big!" He repeated the other's question. "Big! Why, Godfrey 'Lisha,
boy, it's the biggest thing that's ever happened to this town.
It--it's terrific! We'll be famous--that's what we'll be! In a week
or two Boltonwood'll be as famous as--as--why, we'll be as famous as
the Chicago Fair!"

He broke off with a gasp for breath and started fluttering madly
through the paper which he had wrenched from Young Denny's bundle of
closely wrapped mail, until he found the page he sought.

"There 'tis," he cried, and pointed out a lurid headline that ran half
across the head of the sporting section. "There 'tis--or leastwise
that's a part on it. But they's more a-comin'--more that that won't be
a patch to! But you just take a look at that!"

Young Denny took the paper from his hand with a sort of sober
patience, and there across the first three column heads, following the
direction of Old Jerry's quivering forefinger, he found his first
inkling of the astounding news.

"Jed The Red wins by knockout over The Texan in fourteenth round," ran
the red-inked caption.

Word by word he read it through, and a second time his grave eyes went
through it, even more painstakingly, as though he had not caught at a
single reading all its sensational significance. Then he looked up
into the seamed old face above him, a-gleam and a-quiver with
excitement.

"Jed The Red," the boy said in his steady voice. "Jed The Red!" And
then, levelly: "Who's he?"

Old Jerry stared at him a moment before he shook his head hopelessly
and collapsed with a thud upon the torn seat behind him, in an excess
of disgust for the boy's stupidity which he made no effort to
conceal.

"Jed who?" he mimicked, his voice shrill with sarcasm. "Now what in
time Jed would it be, if 'twa'n't Jeddy Conway--our own Jeddy Conway
from this very village? What other Jed is there? Ain't you got no
memory at all, when you ought to be proud to be able to say that you
went to school with him yourself, right in this town?"

Again Young Denny nodded a silent agreement, but Old Jerry's feverish
enthusiasm had carried him far beyond mere anger at his audience's
apparent lack of appreciation.

"And that ain't all," he rushed on breathlessly, "not by a lot, it
ain't! That ain't nothin' to compare with what's to come. Why, right
this minute there's a newspaper writer down to the village--he's from
New York and he's been stayin' to the Tavern ever since he come in
this morning and asked for a room with a bath--and he's goin' to
write up the town. Yes sir-e-e--the whole dad-blamed town! Pictures
of the main street and the old place where Jeddy went to school,
like as not, and--and"--he hesitated for an instant to recall the
exact phrasing--"and interviews with the older citizens who
recognized his ability and gave him a few pointers in the game when
he was only a little tad. That's what's to follow, and it's comin'
out in the New York papers, too--Sunday supplement, colors, maybe,
and--and----"

Sudden recollection checked him in the middle of the tumbled flow of
information. Leaning far out over the dash, he put all his slight
weight against the reins and turned the fat white mare back into the
road with astonishing celerity.

"Godfrey, but that makes me think," he gasped. "I ain't got no time to
fritter away here! I got to git down to the Tavern in a hurry. He'll
be waitin' to hear what I kin tell him."

The thin, wrinkled old face twisted into a hopeful, wheedling smile.

"You know that, don't you, Denny? You could tell him that there wa'n't
nobody in the hills knew little Jeddy Conway better'n I did, couldn't
you? It--it's the last chance I'll ever git, too, more'n likely.

"Twice I missed out--once when they found Mary Hubbard's husband
a-hangin' to his hay mow--a-hangin by the very new clothes-line Mary'd
just bought the day before and ain't ever been able to use since on
account of her feelin' somehow queer about it--and me laid up to home
sick all the time! Everybody else got their names mentioned in the
article, and Judge Maynard had his picture printed because it was the
Judge cut him down. 'Twa'n't fair, didn't seem to me, and me older'n
any of 'em.

"And 'twas just the same when they found Mrs. Higgins's Johnny, who
had to go and git through the ice into the crick just the one week in
all the winter when I was laid up with a bad foot from splittin'
kindling. I begun to think I wasn't ever goin' to git my chance--but
it's come. It's come at last--and I got to cut along and be there!"

Once more he leaned over the dash and slapped the old mare's back with
the slack of the lines.

"Git there, you," he urged, and the complaining buggy went lurching
down the rough road at the same unheard of pace at which it had
ascended. Halfway down the hill, after he had lifted the mare from her
shuffling fox-trot to a lumbering gallop, Old Jerry turned back for a
last shouted word.

"He'll be anxious to git all I can tell him, don't you think?" the
shrill falsetto drifted back to the boy who had not stirred in his
tracks. "No article would be complete without that, would it? And
they's to be pictures--Sunday paper--and--maybe--in colors!"

There was an odd light burning in Denny Bolton's eyes as he stood and
watched the crazy conveyance disappear from view. The half hungry,
half sullen bewilderment seemed to have given place to a new
confusion, as though all the questions which had always been baffling
him had become, all in one breath, an astounding enigma which clamored
for instant solution. Not until the shrill scream of the ungreased
axles had died out altogether and his eyes fell once more to the vivid
streak of red that ran across the top of the sheet still clutched in
his hand did Young Denny realize that Jerry had even failed to leave
him the rest of his mail--the bulky package of circulars.

He was smiling again as he turned and went slowly toward the back door
of the house, but somehow, as he went, the stoop of his big shoulders
seemed to have even more than the usual vague hint of weariness in
their heavy droop. He even forgot that the hungry team which he had
stabled just a few minutes before was still unfed, as he dropped upon
the top step and spread the paper out across his knees.

"Jed The Red wins by knockout over The Texan in fourteenth round," he
read again and again.

And then, with a slow forefinger blazing the way, he went on through
the detailed account of the latest big heavyweight match, from the
first paragraph, which stated that "Jed Conway, having disposed of The
Texan at the Arena last night, by the knockout route in the fourteenth
round, seems to loom up as the logical claimant of the white
heavyweight title," to the last one of all, which pithily advised the
public that "the winner's share of the receipts amounted to twelve
thousand dollars."

It was all couched in the choicest vocabulary of the ringside, and
more than once Young Denny, whose literature had been confined
chiefly to harvesters and sulky plows, had to stop and decipher
phrases which he only half understood at first reading. But that last
paragraph he did not fail to grasp.

It grew too dark for him to make out the small type any longer and the
boy folded the paper and laid it back across his knees. With his chin
resting upon one big palm he sat motionless, staring out beyond his
sprawling, unpainted sheds toward the dim bulk of his hilly acres,
with their jagged outcroppings of rock.

"Twelve thousand dollars!" He muttered the words aloud, under his
breath. Eight hundred in three years had seemed to him an almost
miraculous amount for him to have torn from that thin soil with
nothing but the strength of his two hands. Now, with a bitterness that
had been months in accumulating, it beat in upon his brain with
sledgelike blows that he had paid too great a price--too great a price
in aching shoulders and numbed thighs.

Methodically, mechanically, his mind went back over the days when he
had gone to school with Jed Conway--the same Jed The Red whom the
whole town was now welcoming as "our own Jeddy," and the longer he
pondered the greater the problem became.

It was hard to understand. From his point of view comprehension was
impossible, at that instant. For in those earlier days, when anybody
had ever mentioned Jed Conway at all, it had been only to describe him
as "good for nothing," or something profanely worse. Young Denny
remembered him vividly as a big, freckle-faced, bow-legged boy with
red bristly hair--the biggest boy in the school--who never played but
what he cheated, and always seemed able to lie himself out of his
thievery.

But most vividly of all, he recalled that day when Jed Conway had
disappeared from the village between sundown and dawn and failed to
return. That was the same day they discovered the shortage in the old
wooden till at Benson's corner store. And now Jed Conway had come
home, or at least his fame had found its way back, and even Old Jerry,
whipping madly toward the village to share in his reflected glory,
had, for all the perfection of his "system," failed to leave the very
bundle of mail which he had come to deliver.

For a long time Young Denny sat and tried to straighten it out in his
brain--and failed entirely. It had grown very dark--too dark for him
to make out the words upon it--when he reached into the pocket of his
gray flannel shirt and drew out the card which he had found lying upon
the kitchen floor that previous Saturday night, after he had lighted
Dryad Anderson on her way home through the thickets. But he did not
need, or even attempt, to read it.

"And it took me a month," he said aloud to the empty air before him,
"almost a month to save fifteen dollars."

He rose at the words, stiffly, for the chill air had tightened his
muscles, and stood a moment indecisively contemplating the lights
which were beginning to glimmer through the dusk in the hollow, before
he, too, took the long road to the village down which Old Jerry had
rattled a scant hour or two before.



CHAPTER VI


The Tavern "office" was crowded and hazy with acrid blue smoke. Behind
the chairs of the favored members of the old circle, who always sat in
nightly conclave about the stove, a long row of men lounged against
the wall, but the bitter controversies of other nights were still.
Instead, the entire room was leaning forward, hanging breathlessly
upon the words of the short fat man who was perched alone upon the
worn desk, too engrossed even to notice Young Denny's entrance that
night.

The boy stood for a moment, his hand still clasping the knob behind
him, while his eyes flickered curiously over the heads of the crowd.
Even before he drew the door shut behind him he saw that Judge
Maynard's chair was a good foot in advance of all the others, directly
in front of the stranger on the desk, and that the rest of the room
was furtively taking its cue from him--pounding its knee and laughing
immoderately whenever he laughed, or settling back luxuriously
whenever the Judge relaxed in his chair.

Subconsciously Young Denny realized that such had always been the
recognized order of arrangement, ever since he could remember. The
Judge always rode in front in the parades and invariably delivered
the Fourth of July oration. Undisputed he held the one vantage point
in the room, but over his amply broad back, as near as he dared lean,
bent Old Jerry, his thin face working with alternate hope and half
fearful uncertainty.

Denny Bolton would have recognized the man on the desk as the
"newspaper writer" from New York from his clothes alone, even without
the huge notebook that was propped up on his knees for corroborative
evidence. From the soft felt hat, pushed carelessly back from his
round, good-natured face, to the tips of his gleaming low shoes, the
newcomer was a symphony in many-toned browns. And as Young Denny
closed the door behind him he went on talking--addressing the entire
throng before him with an easy good-fellowship that bordered on
intimate _camaraderie_.

"Just the good old-fashioned stuff," he was saying; "the sort of thing
that has always been the backbone of the country. That is what I want
it to be. For, you see, it's like this: We haven't had a champion who
came from our own real old Puritan stock in years and years like
Conway has, and it'll stir up a whole lot of enthusiasm--a whole lot!
I want to play that part of it up big. Now, you're the only ones who
can give me that--you're the only men who knew him when he was a
boy--and right there let's make that a starter! What sort of a
youngster was he? Quite a handful, I should imagine--now wasn't he?"

The man on the desk crossed one fat knee over the other, tapping a
flat-heeled shoe with his pencil. He tilted the brown felt hat a
little farther back from his forehead and winked one eye at the Judge
in jovial understanding. And Judge Maynard also crossed his knees,
tucked his thumbs into his waistcoat pockets, and winked back with
equal joviality.

"Well, ye-e-s," he agreed, and the agreement was weightily deliberate.
"Ye-e-s, quite a handful was Jeddy."

One pudgy hand was uplifted in sudden, deprecatory haste, as though he
would not be misunderstood.

"Nothing really wrong, of course," he hurried to add with oratorical
emphasis. "Nothing like that! There never was anything mean or sneaking
about Jeddy, s'far as I can recollect. Just mischievous--mischievous
and up and coming all the time. But there were folks," Judge Maynard's
voice became heavy with righteous accusation--"it's always that way,
you understand--and there were folks, even right here in Jeddy's own
village, who used to call him a bad egg. But I--I knew better!
Nothing but mischievousness and high spirits--that's what I always
thought. And I said it, too--many's the time I said----"

The big shouldered boy near the door shifted his position a little.
He leaned forward until he could see Judge Maynard's round, red face a
little more distinctly. There was an odd expression upon Denny
Bolton's features when the fat man in brown lifted his eyes from his
notebook, eyes that twinkled with sympathetic comprehension.

"----That it was better a bad egg than an omelette, eh?" he
interrupted knowingly.

The Judge pounded his knee and rocked with mirth.

"Well, that's just about it--that's just about as near as words could
come to it," he managed to gasp, and the circle behind him rocked,
too, and pounded its knee as one man.

The man on the desk went on working industriously with his pencil,
even while he was speaking.

"And then I suppose he was pretty good with his hands, too, even when
he was a little shaver?" he suggested tentatively. "But then I don't
suppose that any one of you ever dreamed that you had a world's
champion, right here at home, in the making, did you?"

The whole room leaned nearer. Even the late comer near the door forgot
himself entirely and took one step forward, his narrowing gray eyes
straining upon the Judge's face.

Judge Maynard again weighed his reply, word for word.

"We-e-ll, no," he admitted. "I don't believe I can say that I
downright believed that he'd make a world's champion. Don't believe's
I could truthfully state that I thought that. But I guess there isn't
anybody in this town that would ever deny but what I did say more than
once that he'd make the best of 'em hustle--ye-e-s, sir, the very best
of 'em, some day!"

The speaker turned to face the hushed room behind him, as if to
challenge contradiction, and Young Denny, waiting for some one to
speak, touched his dry lips with the tip of his tongue. But no
contradiction came. Instead Old Jerry, leaning across the Judge's
broad back, quavered breathlessly.

"That's jest it--that's jest as it was--right to a hair. It was system
done it--system right from the very beginning. And many's the time the
Judge says to me--says he----"

Old Jerry never finished, for Judge Maynard lifted one hand
majestically and the little white-haired old man's eager corroboration
died on his lips. He shrank back into abashed silence, his lips
working wordlessly.

"As I was saying," the Judge then proceeded ponderously, "I recognized
he had what one could call--er----"

"Class?" the man on the desk broke in again with his engaging smile.

"Well, yes," the other continued, "or, as I was about to call it,
talent. From the very first that was very apparent, but then, of
course, a man in my position in the community could scarcely have been
the one to encourage him openly. But he was pretty good, even as a
little shaver! Why, there was nothing among the boys that he wouldn't
tackle--absolutely nothing! Size, sir, never made any difference to
him--not a particle. Jeddy Conway fight----!"

Again he turned to the close-packed circle behind him as if mere words
were too weak things to do the question justice. And this time as he
turned his eyes met squarely those of the gray-shirted figure that was
staring straight back at him in a kind of fascination. For one
disconcerted instant Judge Maynard wavered; he caught his breath
before that level scrutiny; then with a flourish of utter finality he
threw up one pudgy hand.

"There's one of 'em right now," he cried. "There's Young Denny Bolton,
who went to school with him, right here in this town. _Ask him_ if Jed
Conway was pretty handy as a boy! Ask him," he leered around the room,
an insinuating accent that was unmistakable underrunning the words.
Then a deep-throated chuckle shook him. "But maybe he won't
tell--maybe he's still a little mite too sensitive to talk about it
yet. Eh, Denny--just a little mite too sensitive?"

Denny Bolton failed to realize it at that moment, but there was a new
quality in the Judge's chuckling statement--a certain hearty admission
of equality which he had only a second before denied to Old Jerry's
eager endeavor to help. The eyes of the fat man in brown lifted
inquiringly from the notebook upon his knees and followed the
direction of the Judge's outstretched finger. He was still grinning
expansively--and then as he saw more clearly through the thick smoke
the face which Judge Maynard was indicating, the grin disappeared.

Little by little Young Denny's body straightened until the slight
shoulder stoop had entirely vanished, and all the while that his gaze
never wavered from the Judge's face his eyes narrowed and his lips
grew thinner and thinner. The confused lack of understanding was gone,
too, at last, from his eyes. He even smiled once, a fleeting,
mirthless smile that tugged at the corners of his wide mouth. For the
moment he had forgotten the circle of peering faces. The room was very
still.

It was the man on the desk who finally broke that quiet, but when he
spoke his voice had lost its easily intimate good-fellowship. He spoke
instead in a low-toned directness.

"So you went to school with Jed The Red, did you?" he asked gravely.
"Knew him when he was a kid?"

Slowly Denny Bolton's eyes traveled from the Judge's face. His lips
opened with equal deliberation.

"I reckon I knew him--pretty well," he admitted.

The eyes of the man in brown were a little narrower, too, as he nodded
thoughtfully.

"Er--had a few set-to's with him, yourself, now and then?"

He smiled, but even his smile was gravely direct. Again there was a
heavy silence before Young Denny replied.

Then, "Maybe," he said, noncommittally. "Maybe I did."

The throbbing silence in that room went all to bits. Judge Maynard
wheeled in his chair toward the man on the desk and fell to pounding
his knee again in the excess of his appreciation.

"Maybe," he chortled, "maybe he did! Well--I--reckon!"

And, following his lead, the whole room rocked with laughter in which
all but the man in brown joined. He alone, from his place on the desk,
saw that there was a white circle about the boy's tight mouth as Young
Denny turned and fumbled with the latch before he opened the door and
passed quietly out into the night. He alone noticed, but there was the
faintest shadow of a queer smile upon his own lips as he turned back
to the big notebook open on his knees--a vaguely unpleasant smile that
was not in keeping with the rotund jollity of his face.

For a moment Denny Bolton stood with his strained white face turned
upward, the roar in the room behind him beating in his ears; then he
turned and went blindly up the road that wound toward the bleak house
on the hill--he went slowly and unsteadily, stumbling now and again in
the deep ruts which it was too dark for him to see.

It was only when he reached the crest of the hill, where Old Jerry had
failed to remember to leave him his mail that afternoon, that he
recalled his own failure to feed the team with which he had been
ploughing all day back in the fields. And in the same blind, automatic
fashion he crossed and threw open the door of the barn.

The interior was dark, blacker even than the thick darkness of the
night outside. Young Denny, muttering to himself, forgot to strike a
light--he even forgot to speak aloud to the nervous animals in the
stalls until his fingers, groping ahead of him, touched something
sleek and warm and brought him back to himself. Then, instinctively,
although it was too late, he threw up one big shoulder to protect his
face before he was lifted and hurled crashing back against the wall by
the impact of the heavy hoofs that catapulted out of the blackness. A
moment the boy stood, swayed sickeningly, and sank to his knees. Then
he began to think clearly again, and with one hand clasped over the
great, jagged gash which the glancing iron shoe had laid open across
his chin, he reached up and found a cross beam and dragged himself
erect.

"Whoa, Tommy, whoa boy!" he soothed the dancing horse. "Steady, it's
only me, boy!" he stammered, and supporting himself against the wall
he groped again until he found the feedbin and finished his day's
work.

It was even darker in the bare kitchen when he lurched dizzily through
the door. Once as he was feeling his way along the wall, searching for
a light, his feet stumbled on a hard rounded object against the
wainscoting, and as it toppled over its contents ran with a slopping
gurgle over the floor.

Then his fingers found the light. Holding himself with one hand, he
lifted the little lamp with its blackened chimney from its bracket and
raised it until it illuminated his features reflected in the small
square mirror that hung against the wall. For a long time he stood and
looked. The blood that oozed from the ugly bruise upon his chin was
splashing in warm drops to the floor; his face was paper white, and
strangely taut and twisted with pain, but the boy noticed neither the
one nor the other. Straight back into his own eyes he stared--stared
steadily for all that his big shoulders were swaying drunkenly. And
for the first time that he could ever recollect Young Denny Bolton
laughed--laughed with real mirth.

He placed the smoking lamp upon the bare board table and turned. As if
they could still hear him--the circle about the Tavern stove in the
valley below--he lifted both hard fists and tightened them until the
heavy muscles beneath his shirt bunched and quivered like live
things.

[Illustration: "DRYAD, IT'S ALL RIGHT--IT'S ALWAYS BEEN ALL RIGHT--WITH
US! THEY LIED--THEY LIED AND THEY KNEW THEY WERE LYING!"]

"Size never made any difference to him?" he repeated the Judge's word
aloud, with a drawling interrogation. "Size never made any difference
to him?"

He laughed again, softly, as if there were a newly discovered humor
about it all which must be jealously guarded.

"It never had to make any difference," the drawling voice went on, "it
didn't have to--because Jed Conway was always the biggest boy in the
school!"

His nostrils were dilating, twitching with the thin, sharp odor of the
overturned demijohn which was rising and thickening in the room. His
eyes fell and for the first time became conscious of it lying there at
his feet. And he stooped and picked it up, lifting it between both
hands until it was level with his face--until it was held at arm's
length high above his head. Then his whole body snapped forward and
the glass from the broken window pane jingled musically on the floor
as the jug crashed out into the night.

Young Denny stood and smiled, one side of his chin a gash of crimson
against the dead white of his face. Again he lifted his fists.

"He never whipped me," he challenged the lights in the hollow, "he
never whipped me--and he never tried but once! I--I--ain't never
been--whipped--yet!"

There had been no sound to herald her coming as she darted up to the
door. Reeling giddily there in the middle of the room, he had not even
heard the one low cry that she choked back as she stopped at the
threshold, but he half turned that moment and met the benumbed horror
of Dryad Anderson's eyes. Minute after minute he merely stood and
stared back at her stupidly, while bit by bit every detail of her
transformation began to penetrate his brain, still foggy with the
force of the blow that had laid his chin wide open. Her tumbled hair
was piled high upon her head; she was almost tall with the added
height of the high-heeled satin slippers; more slender than ever in
the bespangled clinging black skirt and sleeveless scarlet waist which
the old cloak, slipping unheeded from her shoulders, had disclosed.

As his brain began to clear Young Denny forgot the dripping blood that
made his white face ghastly, he forgot the stinging odor of the broken
demijohn, thick in the room--forgot everything but Judge Maynard's
face when the latter had looked up and found him standing at the
Tavern door. He knew now what the light was that had lurked in their
shifty depths; it was fear--fear that he--Young Denny--might speak up
in that moment and disclose all the hypocrisy of his suave lies. He
even failed to see the horror in the eyes of the girl before him.
Sudden, reckless laughter rang from his lips.

"Dryad," he cried out. "Dryad, it's all right--it's always been all
right--with us! They lied--they lied and they knew they were lying!"

She shrank back, as if all the strength had been drained from her
knees, as he lurched unsteadily across toward her and reached out
his arms. But at the touch of his hands upon her shoulders the power
of action came rushing back into her limbs. She shuddered and
whirled--and shook off his groping fingers. Her own hands flashed out
and held his face away from her.

"Don't you touch me!" she panted huskily. "Oh, you--you--don't you
even dare to come near me!"

He tried to explain--tried to follow her swift flight as she leaped
back, but his feet became entangled in the cloak on the floor and
brought him heavily to his knees. He even tried to follow her after
she had been swallowed up in the shadows outside, until he realized
dully that his shuffling feet would not go where his whirling head
directed them. Once he called out to her, before he staggered back to
the kitchen door, and received no answer.

With his hands gripping the door frame he eased himself down to the
top step and sat rocking gently to and fro.

"S'all right," he muttered once, his tongue thick with pain. "S'always
been all right!"

And he laughed aloud, a laugh of utter confidence in spite of all its
unsteadiness.

"Twelve thousand dollars," he said, "and--and he never whipped me! He
never could--not the best day he ever lived!"



CHAPTER VII


Denny Bolton never quite knew at what hour of that long black night he
reached the final decision; there was no actual beginning or ending or
logical sequence to the argument in the back of his brain which led up
to it, to crystallize into final resolve.

He merely sat there in the open door of his half-lighted kitchen,
swaying a little from side to side at first, giddy with the pain of
that crashing blow that had laid open his chin; then balancing,
motionless as the thick shadows themselves, in a silence that was
unbroken save for the creaking night noises about him and the rhythmic
splash of the warm drops that fell more and more slowly from the
gaping, unheeded wound, he groped back over the succession of events
of that afternoon and night, reconstructing with a sort of dogged
patience detail after detail which was waveringly uncertain of
outline, until with the clearing of his numbed brain they stood out
once again in sane, well-ordered clarity. And as they gradually took
shape again each detail grew only more fantastically unbelievable.

It seemed ages since he had stood against the closed door of the
Tavern office and seen Judge Maynard turn and falter before his
unsuspected presence--days and days since he had stood there and
watched that round moon-like face flush heavily with the first shock
of surprise, and realized that the startled light in the shifty eyes
of Boltonwood's most prominent citizen was part fear, part appeal,
that he, Denny Bolton, whose name in the estimation of that same
village stood for all that was at the other extreme, would confirm and
support his barefaced lying statement. It was more than merely
fantastic; and yet, at that, sitting there in the dark, Young Denny
still found something in the recollection that was amusing--far more
amusing than he had imagined anything so simple ever could be.

And already, although it was scarcely hours old, the rest of it, too,
was tinged with an uncanny unreality that was not far removed from the
bodiless fabric of nightmare itself: Those great, catapulting hoofs
which had thundered against him from the darkness and beaten him back,
a half-senseless heap, against the barn wall; the blind, mad rage, as
much a wildly hysterical abandonment of utter joy as anything else,
which had surged through him when, with the stinging odor of the
overturned jug in his nostrils, he had stooped and straightened and
sent the old stone demijohn, that had stood sentinel for years in the
corner near the door, splintering its way through the window into the
night; and, last of all, the sick horror of the girl's face as she
recoiled before him came vividly before his eyes, and his own strange
impotence of limb and lip when he had tried to follow and found that
his feet would not obey the impulse of his brain, tried to explain
only to find that his tongue somehow refused at that moment to voice
the words he would have spoken.

That was hardest of all to believe--most difficult to visualize--and
he would not give it full credence until he had reached out behind him
in the dark and found the bit of a cloak which, slipping from her
shoulders, become entangled in his stumbling feet and brought him
crashing to his knees. The feel of that rough cloth beneath his hand
was more than enough to convince him, and swiftly, unreasonably, the
old bitter tide of resentment began to creep back upon him--bitter
resentment of her quick judgment of him, which like that of the
village, had condemned in the years that were past, even without a
hearing.

"She thought," he muttered slowly aloud to himself, "she thought I
had--" He left the sentence unfinished to drift off into a long
brooding silence; and then, many minutes later: "She didn't even wait
to ask--to see--to let me tell her----"

One hand went tentatively to the point of his chin--his old, vaguely
preoccupied trick of a gesture--and the wet touch of that open wound
helped to bring him back to himself. A moment longer he sat, trying
to make out the stained figures that were invisible even though he
held them a scant few inches from his eyes, before he rose, stretching
his legs in experimental doubt at first, and passed inside. And once
more he stood before the square patch of mirror on the wall, with the
small black-chimneyed lamp lifted high in one hand, just as he had
stood earlier that same night, and scanned his own face.

All trace of resentment left his eyes as he realized the ghastly
pallor of those features--all the ragged horror of that oozing welt
which he had only half seen in that first moment when he was clinging
to consciousness with clenched teeth. It was not nice to look at, and
the light that replaced that sudden flare of bitterness was so new
that he did not even recognize it himself at first.

It was a clearer, steadier, surer thing than he had ever known them
to reflect before; all hint of lost-dog sophistication was gone; even
the smile that touched his thin, pain-straightened lips was
different somehow. It was just as whimsical as before, and just as
half-mirthless--gentle as it always had been whenever he thought at
all of her--but there was no wistful hunger left in it, and little
of boyishness, and nothing of lurking self-doubt.

"Why, she couldn't have known," he went on then, still murmuring
aloud. "She couldn't have been expected to believe anything else.
I--I'm not much to look at--just now."

He even forgot that he had tried to follow her--forgot that her cloak
had thrown him sprawling in the doorway.

"I ought to have told her," he condemned himself. "I shouldn't have
let her go--not like that."

In the fullness of this new certainty of self that was setting his
pulses hammering, he even turned toward the sleeping town, thickly
blanketed by the shadows in the valley, in a sudden boyish burst of
generosity.

"Maybe they didn't mean to lie, either," he mused thoughtfully. "Maybe
they haven't really meant to lie--all this time. They could have been
mistaken, just as she was tonight--they certainly could have been
that."

He found and filled a basin with cold water and washed out the cut
until the bleeding had stopped entirely. And then, with the paper
which that afternoon's mail had brought--the sheet with the astounding
news of Jed The Red, which Old Jerry prophesied would put Boltonwood
in black letters on the map of publicity--spread out on the table
before him, he sat until daybreak poring over it with eyes that were
filmed with preoccupation one moment and keenly strained the next to
make out the close-set type.

Not long before dawn he reached inside his coat and brought out a bit
of burnished white card and set it up in front of him against the
lamp. There was much in the plump, black capitals and knobby script of
Judge Maynard's invitation which was very suggestive of the man
himself, but Young Denny failed to catch the suggestion at that
moment.

He never quite knew when that decision became final, nor what the
mental process was which brought it about. Nor did he even dream of
the connection there might have been between it and that square of
cardboard lying in front of him. Just once, as the first light came
streaking in through the uncurtained window beside him, he nodded his
head in deliberate, definite finality.

"Why, it's the thing I've been waiting for," he stated, something
close akin to wonder in his voice. "It's just a man's size chance. I'd
have to take it--I'd have to do that, even if I didn't want to--for
myself."

And later, while he was kindling a fire in the stove and methodically
preparing his own breakfast, he paused to add with what seemed to be
absolute irrelevance:

"Silk--silk, next to her skin!"

There were only two trains a day over the single-track spur road
that connected Boltonwood with the outer world beyond the hills; one
which left at a most unreasonably inconvenient hour in the early
morning and one which left just as inconveniently late at night.
Denny Bolton, who had viewed from a distinctly unfavorable angle
any possible enchantment which the town might chance to offer,
settled upon the first as the entirely probable choice of the short,
fat, brown-clad newspaper man, even without a moment's hesitation to
weigh the merits of either. And the sight of the round bulk of the
latter, huddled alone upon a baggage truck before the deserted
Boltonwood station-shed, fully vindicated his judgment.

It was still only a scant hour since daybreak. Heavy, low-hanging
clouds in the east, gray with threatening rain, cut off any warmth
there might have been in the rising sun and sharpened the raw wind to
a knifelike edge. The man on the truck was too engrossed with the
thoughts that shook his plump shoulders in regularly recurring, silent
chuckles, and a ludicrously doleful effort to shut off with upturned
collar the draft from the back of his neck, to hear the boy's
approaching footsteps. He started guiltily to his feet in the very
middle of a spasmodic upheaval, to stand and stare questioningly at
the big figure whose fingers had plucked tentatively at his elbow,
until a sudden, delighted recognition flooded his face. Then he
reached out one pudgy hand with eager cordiality.

"Why, greetings--greetings!" he exclaimed. "Didn't quite recognize you
with your--er--decoration." His eyes dwelt in frank inquisitiveness
upon the ragged red bruise across Young Denny's chin. "You're the
member who stood near the door last night, aren't you--the one who
didn't join to any marked degree in the general jubilee?"

Young Denny's big, hard hand closed over the outstretched pudgy white
one. He grinned a little and slowly nodded his head.

"Thought so," the man in brown rambled blithely on, "and glad to see
you again. Glad of a chance to speak to you! I wanted most mightily to
ask you a few pertinent questions last night, but it hardly seemed a
fitting occasion."

He tapped Young Denny's arm with a stubby forefinger, one eyelid
drooping quizzically.

"_Entre nous_--just 'twixt thee and me," he went on, "and not for
publication, was this Jeddy Conway, as you knew him, all that your
eminent citizenry would lead a poor gullible stranger to believe, or
was he just a small-sized edition of the full-blown crook he happens
to be at the present stage of developments? Not that it makes any
difference here," he tapped the big notebook under his arm, "but I'm
just curious, a little, because the Jed The Red whom I happen to know
is so crooked nowadays that his own manager is afraid to place a bet
on him half the time. See?"

Denny smiled comprehendingly. He shifted his big body to a more
comfortable and far less awkward position.

"I see," he agreed.

Somehow, where it would have been an utter impossibility to have
spoken lightly to him the night before, he found it very easy now to
understand and meet half way the frivolity of the fat, grinning man
before him.

"Well, when he left town about eight years ago, his going was just a
trifle hasty. He--he took about everything there was in the
cash-drawer of Benson's store with him--except maybe a lead slug or
two--and there are some who think he only overlooked those."

The gurgle of sheer delight that broke from the lips of the man in
brown was spontaneously contagious.

"Just about as your servant had it figured out last night," he fairly
chirped. Then he slipped one hand through the crook of Denny's elbow.
"I guess I'll have to take a chance on you. It's too good to keep all
to myself." He led the way back to the empty truck. "And you ought to
be safe, too, for judging from the sentiments that were expressed
after you left last night, you--er--don't run very strong with this
community, either."

Again he paused, his eyelid cocked in comical suggestion. Instead of
narrowing ominously, as they might have twelve hours before, Denny's
own eyes lighted appreciatively at the statement. He even waited an
instant while he pondered with mock gravity.

"I reckon," he drawled finally, "that I'll have to confess that I've
never been what you might call a general favorite."

The newspaper man's head lifted a little. He flashed a covertly
surprised glance at the boy's sharp profile. It was far from being the
sort of an answer that he had expected.

"No, you certainly are not," he emphasized, and then he opened the
flat notebook with almost loving care across his knees.

Young Denny, with the first glimpse he caught of that very first page,
comprehended in one illuminating flash the cause of those muffled
chuckles which had convulsed that rounded back when he turned the
corner of the station-shed a moment before; he even remembered that
half-veiled mirth in the eyes of the man who had sat balanced upon the
desk in the Tavern office the night before and understood that, too.
For the hurriedly penciled sketch, which completely filled the first
page of the notebook, needed no explanation--not even that of the
single line of writing beneath it, which read:

"I always said he'd make the best of 'em hustle--yes, sir, the very
best of 'em!"

It was a picture of Judge Maynard--the Judge Maynard whom Young Denny
knew best of all--unctuous of lip and furtively calculating of eye.
For all the haste of its creation it was marvelously perfect in
detail, and as he stared the corners of the boy's lips began to twitch
until his teeth showed white beneath. The fat man grinned with him.

"Get it, do you?" he chuckled. "Get it, eh?"

And with the big-shouldered figure leaning eagerly nearer he turned
through page after page to the end.

"Not bad--not bad at all," he frankly admired his own handiwork at
the finish. "You see, it was like this. I've been short on anything
like this for a long time--good Rube stuff--and so when Conway came
through in his match the other night it looked like a providential
opportunity--and it certainly has panned up to expectations."

Once more he turned to scan the lean face turned toward him, far more
openly, far more inquisitively, this time. It perplexed him,
bewildered him--this easy certainty and consciousness of power which
had replaced the lost-dog light that had driven the smile from his own
lips the night before when he had followed Judge Maynard's beckoning
finger.

Hours after the enthusiastic circle about the Tavern stove had
dissolved he had labored to reproduce that white, bitter, quivering
face at the door, only to find that the very vividness of his memory
somehow baffled the cunning of his pencil. There had been more than
mere bitterness in those curveless, colorless lips; something more
than doubt of self behind the white hot flare in the gray eyes. Now,
in the light of day, his eyes searched for it openly and failed to
find even a ghost of what it might have been.

"No," he ruminated gently, and he spoke more to himself than the
other, "you don't stand deuce high with this community. You're way
down on the list." He hesitated, weighing his words, suddenly a little
doubtful as to how far he might safely venture. "I--I guess
you've--er--disappointed them too long, haven't you?"

The blood surged up under Young Denny's dark skin until it touched his
crisp black hair, and the fat man hastened to throw a touch of
jocularity into the statement.

"Yep, you've disappointed 'em sorely. But I've been monopolizing all
the conversation. I can't convince myself that you've come down here
merely to say me a touching farewell. Was there--was there something
you wanted to see me about in particular?"

It was the very opening for which Denny had been waiting--the opening
which he had not known how to make himself, for his plan for procedure
by which he was to accomplish it was just as indistinct as his
resolution had been final. He nodded silently, uncertain just how to
begin, and then he plunged desperately into the very middle of it.

"I thought maybe you could tell me if this was true or not," he said,
and he drew from his pocket the paper which bore the account of Jed
The Red's victory over The Texan. A hint of a frown appeared upon the
forehead of the man in brown as he took the folded sheet and read
where Denny's finger indicated--the last paragraph of all.

"The winner's share of the receipts amounted to twelve thousand
dollars," was its succinct burden.

He read it through twice, as if searching for any puzzling phrase it
might contain.

"I certainly can," he admitted at last. "I wrote it myself, but it's
no doubt true, for all that. Not a very big purse, of course, but
then, you know, he isn't really championship calibre. He's just a
second-rate hopeful, that's all. It seems hard to find a real one
these days. But why the riddle?" he finished, as he handed back the
paper.

"Why, I thought if it was true maybe I'd ask you to tell me if I--how
I could get a chance at him."

The boy's explanation was even more flounderingly abrupt than his
former question had been, but his eyes never wavered from the
newspaper man's face. The latter laid his notebook upon the truck with
exaggerated care and rose and faced him.

"Another!" he lamented in simulated despair. But the next moment all
the bantering light went from his face, while his eyes flashed in
lightning-like appraisement over Denny's lean shoulder-heavy body,
from his feet, small and narrow in spite of the clumsy high boots, to
his clean-cut head, and back again. There was a hint of businesslike
eagerness in that swift calculation of possibilities. The boy shifted
consciously under the scrutiny.

"It isn't that he never was able to whip me--even when he was a kid,"
he tried to explain. "It--it's because I don't believe, somehow, that
he ever could."

All the strained eagerness disappeared from the face of the pudgy man
in brown. He laughed softly, a short little laugh of amusement at his
own momentary folly.

"Whew!" he murmured. "I'm getting to be just as bad as all the rest!"

He felt in a pocket for a card and scribbled an address across its
back. A trace of good-natured familiarity--the first hint of
superiority that had marked his manner--accompanied his gesture when
he extended it in one hand. It savored of the harmless humoring of a
childish vagary.

"If you ever did chance to get as far from home as that, there's a man
at that address who'd fall on your neck and weep real tears if you
happened to have the stuff," he said. "But just one additional word.
Maybe I've led you astray a bit. Just because I said that Jed The Red
is a second-rater, don't think for a moment that he fights like a
schoolboy now. He doesn't--nothing like that!"

He gazed for another second at the boy's thin, grave face, so like, in
its very thinness and gravity, all that a composite of its Puritan
forbears might have been. And as he became suddenly conscious of that
resemblance he reversed the card, a whimsical twist touching his lips,
and wrote above his own name, "Introducing the Pilgrim," and put it in
the outstretched hand.

"Any idea when you expect to make a start?" he inquired with an
elaborate negligence that brought the hot color to the boy's cheeks.
But again, at the words, he caught, too, a glimpse of the unshaken
certainty that backed their gray gravity.

"Tomorrow, I reckon. It'll take me all of today to get things fixed up
so I can leave. I'll take this train in the morning. And they--they
ought to have told you at the hotel that it's always a half-hour
late."

Young Denny rose.

"Surely--surely," the chubby man agreed. "Nothing like getting away
with the bell. And--er--there's one other thing. Of course if it's a
little private affair, I'll bow myself gracefully out, but I do
confess to a lot of curiosity concerning that small souvenir." His
eyes traveled to the red welt across the boy's chin. "May I inquire
just how it happened?"

Denny failed to understand him at first; then his finger lifted and
touched the wound interrogatively.

"This?" he inquired.

The man in brown nodded.

"Last night," the boy explained, "I--I kind of forgot myself and
walked in on the horses in the dark, without speaking to them. I'd
forgot to feed before I went to the village. One of them's young
yet--and nervous--and----"

The other scowled comprehendingly.

"And so, just for that, they both went hungry till you came to in the
morning and found yourself stretched out on the floor, eh?"

Again Young Denny puzzled a moment over the words. He shook his head
negatively.

"No-o-o," he contradicted slowly. "No, it wasn't as bad as that.
Knocked me across the floor and into the wall and made me pretty dizzy
and faint for a little while. But I managed to feed them. I--I'd
worked them pretty hard in the timber last week."

The man in brown puckered his lips sympathetically, whistling softly
while he considered the damage which that flying hoof had done, and
the utter simplicity of the explanation.

"I wonder," he said to himself, "I wonder--I wonder!" And then, almost
roughly: "Give me back that card!"

Young Denny's eyes widened with surprise, but he complied without a
word. The man in brown stood a moment, tapping his lips with the
pencil, before he wrote hastily under the scribbled address, cocked
his head while he read it through, and handed it back again.

The belated train was whistling for the station crossing when he
thrust out his pudgy white hand in farewell.

"My name's Morehouse," he said, "and I've been called 'Chub' by my
immediate friends, a title which is neither dignified nor reverend,
and yet I answer to it with cheerful readiness. I tell you this
because I have a premonition that we are to meet again. And don't lose
that card!"

Young Denny's fingers closed over the outstretched hand with a grip
that brought the short, fat man in brown up to his toes. Long after
the train had crawled out of sight the boy stood there motionless
beside the empty truck, reading over and over again the few scrawled
words that underran the line of address.

"Some of them may have science," it read, "and some of them may have
speed, but, after all, it's the man that can take punishment who gets
the final decision. Call me up if this ever comes to hand."

Which, after all, was not so cryptic as it might have been.



CHAPTER VIII


That drearily bleak day which was to witness the temporary passing of
the last of the line of Boltons from the town which had borne their
name longer even than the oldest veteran in the circle of regulars
which nightly flanked the cracked wood-stove in the Tavern office
could recall, brought with it a succession of thrills not second even
to those that had been occasioned by the advent of the plump newspaper
man from the metropolis, and all his promised works.

And yet, so far as he himself was concerned, Young Denny Bolton was
totally oblivious, or at least apparently so, to the very audible hum
of astonishment which ripped along behind them when they--he and Judge
Maynard of all men--whirled down the main street of the village that
morning through the gray mist already heavy as fine rain, to stop with
a great flourish of glittering harness buckles and stamping of hoofs
before the post-office doors.

It was the busiest hour which the straggling one-story shops along
the unpaved thoroughfare knew, this one directly following the
unshuttering of the specked, unwashed show-windows, known distinctly
as "mail time"--a very certain instant when Old Jerry's measured
passage from the office doors to his dilapidated rig at the edge of
the boardwalk heralded the opening of the general delivery window
within.

It was Old Jerry's hour--the one hour of the day in which his starved
appetite for notoriety ever supped of nourishment--that moment when
the small knot of loiterers upon the sidewalk, always, face for face,
composed of the same personnel as the unvarying nightly circle about
the Tavern stove, gave way before him and the authority of the
"Gov'mint" which he personified.

Since that first morning, years back, which had hailed his initial
appearance with the mail bags slung over one thin shoulder, he had
made the most of that daily entrance upon the stage of publicity.
There was always a haughty aloofness in his eyes that killed any word
of greeting upon the lips of these same beholders with whom, a few
hours later, he was to sit and wrangle in bitterest intimacy; a
certain brisk importance of step which was a palpable rebuke to their
purposeless unemployment.

Just once this haughty reserve had been assailed. It happened that
same first morning when Old Dave Shepard, white of head and womanishly
mild of voice, alike the circle's patriarch and most timid member, had
stepped forward and laid one unsteady hand upon his arm, some
embarrassed word of congratulation trembling on his lips. Old Jerry's
bearing upon that one occasion had precluded for all time the
possibility of its recurrence. He had stepped back a pace, out of
reach of those detaining fingers, and fastened the offender with a
stare of such baleful resentment that the latter drew off in pitiful
haste for self-effacement. And Jerry's words on that one occasion were
still current history.

"I warn you, Mister Shepard," he had shrilled, "that it's a state's
prison offense to interfere with a Gov'mint official in the
performance of his duty--and if you've got any complaints to make
they'll have to be set down reg'lar in writin', so's I can give 'em
due consideration!"

Dating from that day Old Jerry's daily appearance had taken on, at
least in the eyes of the Tavern regulars, a ceremonious importance
that demanded their personal attendance, and although it still lacked
a few moments of the hour for which they were waiting, a roll-call
would have found their number complete when the yellow-wheeled
buckboard of Boltonwood's most important citizen, with its strangely
assorted pair of passengers, flashed into view. Denny Bolton was
totally oblivious to the stir which their appearance created, but if
he was too engrossed with other things to be aware of the breathless
hush which followed it, the huge, moon-faced man who occupied the seat
of the buckboard with him was conscious of it all to a degree
sufficient for both.

From the moment when he had himself answered the summons at the front
door of his great, boxlike house on the hill, and found Young Denny
standing there, Judge Maynard had sensed a sensation. With unerring
judgment he read it in the very carriage of the big-shouldered boy
before him, who for the first time in his life failed to uncover his
head, with a due amount of reverence, in the presence of the town's
great man.

Perhaps with his mind set upon other things that morning Young Denny
forgot it, perhaps there was an even deeper reason for his remissness,
but the Judge, while he stood and listened to the boy's tersely short
explanation of his errand, was himself too taken up with other
thoughts to note the omission. He was already formulating the rounded
sentences with which he would introduce the subject that night to the
circle in the Tavern office.

There was much of the dramatic in the whole situation--much that
needed only proper staging and elaboration to make of it a tremendous
triumph, a personal triumph, the extent of which he began to foresee
with Denny's opening words. And the greater became his consciousness
of Denny Bolton's strange new bearing, the clearer he saw all the
possibilities of the situation.

To cap it all, the one big, irrefutable fact about which he
could build his climax was there all ready before him, ripe for
exploitation. It was with an actual effort of the will that the
Judge held his brain sufficiently attentive to the boy's words to
grasp the reason for his early morning visit, in the face of the
fascination which that great, ragged bruise across Denny's chin had
for him. Properly displayed, properly played up, the possibilities
of that raw, unbandaged wound were incalculable, and the Judge
started almost guiltily from his greedy scrutiny of it to a sudden
realization that the boy before him had paused in his recital and
was waiting in almost insulting self-possession for a reply.

Many men and some few women had rung boldly at the Judge's front door
or, more often, tapped timidly at the entrance in the rear of the
house, all bent upon the same errand. For it was a country-wide secret
that no one had ever been turned away from those doors with a refusal.
If any of those same visitors ever awakened to a realization that the
terms of their bargain were far harder to bear than a refusal might
have been, they nursed that knowledge in secret.

The Judge was a first mortgage financier, and he scanned each new
addition to his already extensive collection with all the elaborate
care which a matcher of precious stones might have exercised in the
assembling of a fabulous priced string of pearls. It was his practice
to scrutinize each transaction from every possible angle, in every
degree of light and shade, but in his eagerness that morning he forgot
to don for Denny the air of gracious understanding that was half
paternal, half deprecating, which he always wore to set the others
more at their ease. He even forgot to clear his throat judicially when
he asked the boy before him if he had considered sufficiently the
gravity of such a step as the placing in pawn of the roof that
sheltered him and the ground that gave him food. It may have been
because Young Denny, as he stood quietly waiting for his answer, came
under neither classification--he was neither pitifully timid nor more
pitifully bold--that the Judge omitted the usual pompous formula, or
merely that in his eager contemplation of the boy's hurt face he
forgot for once his perfectly rehearsed part.

No preoccupation, however, marred the businesslike statement of his
terms, but even while he named the amount which he was willing to risk
upon Young Denny's arid, rocky acres, and the rate of interest which
he felt compelled to demand, his brain was racing far ahead of the
matter in hand. It was the Judge himself who engineered the half
hour's delay which resulted in the fullest possible audience for their
appearance that morning. While he had never attended it himself,
except now and then by chance, he knew too well the infallibility of
that little knot of regulars who watched Old Jerry's daily departure
to have any fears that the first of that day's many thrills would go
unseen or unsung. And he timed their arrival to a second.

Old Jerry was in the doorway, ready for his straight-backed descent of
the worn steps, when Judge Maynard pulled his smooth gaited pair to a
restive standstill before the office and gave the reins into Young
Denny's keeping. The throng of old men upon the sidewalk was at the
point of opening ranks to allow him to pass through to his tattered
buggy, which stood at the roadside, a bare half-length ahead of the
Judge's polished equipage. And now those same ranks broke in wild
disorder and then closed tighter even than before, while they shifted
and struggled for a better view.

They forgot the ceremonious solemnity of the moment and the little,
birdlike figure upon the top step trying not to show too plainly upon
his face a sense of his own importance--they forgot everything but the
portend of the scene which the Judge was handling in so masterful a
fashion.

The latter's descent from his seat to the ground was deliberate, even
for him; his silent nod to those wide-eyed, loose-jawed old men upon
the sidewalk was the very quintessence of secretive dignity, and yet
had he taken up his position there on the corner of the uneven
boardwalk and cried aloud his sensation, like a bally-hoo advertising
the excellence of his own particular side-show, he could not have
equaled the results which the very profundity of his silence
achieved.

There was a momentous promise in his gravity, a hint of catastrophe in
the tilt of his head. Like two receding waves the tight ranks opened
before him, clearing a path for his heavy-footed advance to the
post-office doors--a lane of bulging eyes and clicking tongues such as
Old Jerry in all his days had never provoked. And the latter stood
there stock still in the middle of the entrance, too dazed at first to
grasp the whole meaning of the situation, until he, too, was swept
aside, without so much as a glance or a word, by one majestic sweep of
the Judge's hand.

Old Jerry's sparrowlike, thinly, wistful face flamed red, and then
faded a ghastly white, but no one seemed conscious at that moment of
the ignominy of it all. It was hours later that they recalled it and
realized that they had looked upon history in the making. No one
noticed the old man's faltering descent of the steps, or saw that he
paused in his slow way to the buggy to turn back and stand looking
about him in a kind of bewildered desperation. For the gaze of all had
swung from the Judge's broad, disappearing back to the face of the boy
who was sitting in the buckboard, totally unconscious of that battery
of eyes, smiling to himself.

He even chuckled aloud once--Young Denny did--a muffled, reasonless
sort of a chuckle, as if he did not even know they were there. It was
almost as though he were playing straight into the Judge's own plan,
for the effect of the mirth upon the group on the walk was electrical.
It sent a shiver of anticipation through it from end to end. And then,
like the eyes of one man, their eyes swung back again from the ragged
bruise across the boy's chin to meet the Judge as he reappeared.

Yet not one of them so much as dared to whisper the question that
was quivering upon the lips of all and burning hungrily in their
faded eyes. Once more the wide lane opened magically for him--but
again Judge Maynard's measured progress was momentarily barred.
Curiosity may have prompted it, and then again it may have been that
he was betrayed by the very fury of his desperate, eleventh hour
effort to assert his right to the center of that stage--the right
of long-established precedent--yet even those two long files of
old men gasped aloud their dismay at his temerity when Old Jerry
thrust his way forward and planted himself for a second time
squarely in the great man's path.

Half way from the office doors to the yellow-wheeled buckboard, in the
very middle of the walk, he stood and stretched out a tentatively
restraining hand, just as mild-voiced, white-haired Dave had done
years before. And in his high, cracked falsetto, that was tremulously
bitter for all that he struggled to lift it to a plane of easy
jocularity, he exclaimed:

"Now see here, Jedge; what's the meanin' of all this? You ain't turned
kidnapper, hev you?"

There came a heavy hush, while the Judge stood and stared down at the
thin face trying to smile confidently up at him--a hush that endured
while Judge Maynard swept him from head to foot with one shriveling
glare and then walked around him without a word--walked around him
just as he might have walked around the hitching post at the roadside,
or any other object that chanced to bar his way! And this time Old
Jerry's face twitched and went whiter even than before.

Nobody laughed, not even after the yellow-wheeled buckboard with its
strangely assorted pair of passengers had sped from sight toward the
county seat and a legal adjustment of still another mortgage on the
Bolton acres. Not a word was spoken until Old Jerry, too, had
clambered silently into his own creaking buggy and crawled slowly off
up the hill, with a squealing accompaniment of ungreased axles.

And even then, in the argument which began with a swirl of conjecture
and ended, hours later, in a torrent of bitter personalities farthest
of all from the first question under consideration, they avoided a
mention of that regrettable incident just as for some time after its
occurrence they avoided each other's eyes, as if they felt somehow
that theirs was, after all, the real guilt.

Upon one point alone did they agree; they were unanimous that if Young
Denny Bolton's bearing that morning--the angle at which he held his
chin, and the huge cut that adorned it, and his causeless mirth--was
not entirely damning, it was at least suspicious enough to require
more than a little explanation. But that verdict, too, was none other
than the very one which the Judge had already planned for them.



CHAPTER IX


Old Jerry drove his route that morning in a numbed, trancelike
fashion; or, rather, he sat there upon the worn-out leather seat with
the reins looped over the dash, staring straight ahead of him, and
allowed the fat old mare to take her own pace. It was she who made the
customary stops; he merely dug absent-mindedly beneath the seat
whenever she fell to cropping grass at the roadside, and searched
mechanically for the proper packet of mail. And twice he was called
back to correct mistakes which he admitted were his own with an
humbleness that was alarming to the complainant. In all the days of
his service he had never before failed to plead extenuating
circumstances for any slip that might occur--and to plead with much
heat and staccato eloquence. But then, too, in all those years no day
had ever equalled the bitter awakening of that morning.

As he reviewed it all, again and again, Old Jerry began to understand
that it was not the public rebuff which had hurt so much; for there
was that one of the night previous, when the Judge had cut him off in
the middle of his eager corroboration of Jed The Red's history, which
had not left a trace of a sting twelve hours later. It was more than
wounded vanity, although hurt pride was still struggling for a place
in his emotions against a shamed, overwhelming realization of his own
trifling importance, which could not hold its own against the first
interloper, even after years of entrenchment. Judge Maynard's first
thrill had been staged without a hitch; he had paved the way for the
personal triumph which he meant to achieve that night, but he had
accomplished it only at a cost--the loyalty of him who had been, after
all, his stanchest supporter.

From that moment Old Jerry's defection from the ranks must be dated,
for it was in those bitter hours which followed the yellow-wheeled
buckboard's early morning flight down the main street that the old man
woke to the fact that his admiration for the Judge was made of
anything but immortal stuff. He weighed the Judge in the balance that
morning, and half forgot his own woe in marveling at the discrepancies
which he discovered.

Self-deceit may or may not be easy of accomplishment. Maybe it is
merely a matter of temperament and circumstance, after all. But it is
a certainty that the first peep at one's own soul is always the most
startling--the most illuminating, always hardest of all to bear. And
once stripped of that one garment of grandeur, which he had conjured
out of his own great hunger for attention, Old Jerry found a
ruthless, half-savage joy in tearing aside veil after veil, until he
found himself gazing straight back into the eyes of his own
spirit--until he saw the pitiful old fraud he really was, naked there
before him.

Just as well as though he had been a party to it he understood the
Judge's crafty exhibition of Young Denny's maimed face that morning;
he knew without a trace of doubt just what the Judge, in his ominous
silence, had meant to insinuate, and what the verdict would be that
night around the Tavern stove. What he could not understand quite was
why all of them were so easy to convince--so ready to believe--when
only the night before they had sat and heard the Judge's recital of
Jed The Red's intimate history for the benefit of the newspaper man
from the metropolis which, to name it charitably, had been anything
but a literal translation of facts.

Groping back for one single peg upon which to hang the fabric of their
oft-reiterated prophesy was alarmingly profitless. There had been
nothing, not even one little slip, since Old Denny Bolton's passing on
that bad night, years before. And from that realization he fell to
pondering with less leadenness of spirit upon what the real facts
could be which lay behind Young Denny's sudden transformation. For
that also was too real--too evident--for any eyes to overlook.

It was not until long after the hour which witnessed the return flight
of the yellow-wheeled buckboard through the village street, leaving
behind an even busier hum of conjecture than before, that he awoke to
a realization that his opportunity for a solution of the riddle was at
least better than that of the wrangling group that had turned traitor
before the post-office steps.

Long before he reached the top of the grade that ran up to the bleak
house alone on the crest, he was leaning out of his seat, trying to
penetrate the double gloom of rain and twilight; but not until he had
reined in his horse was he positive that there was no shadowy figure
standing there waiting for his arrival.

He could not quite understand the sensation which the boy's absence
waked in him at that instant. Days afterward he knew it had been
lonesomeness--a rather bewildering loneliness--for no matter what his
reception chanced to be along the way, Young Denny's greeting had been
infallibly regular.

And another emotion far less difficult to understand began to stir
within him as he sat motionless for a time scanning the shapeless bulk
of the place, entirely dark save for a single light in the rear room.
For the first time he saw how utterly apart from the rest of the town
those unpainted old farm buildings were--how utterly isolated. The
twinkling lights of the village were mere pin-points in the distance.
Each thick shadow beneath the eaves of the house was blacker than he
had ever noticed before. Even the soft swish of the rain as it seeped
from the sodden shingles, even the very familiar complaint of loose
nails lifted by the wind under the clapboards, set his heart pumping
faster. All in an instant his sensation-hungry old brain seized upon
each detail that was as old as he himself and manufactured, right
there on the spot, a sinister something--a something of unaccountable
dread, which sent a delightful shiver up and down his thin, bony, old
back.

For a while he waited and debated with himself, not at all certain
now that he was as keen for a solution of the riddle of that cut
which had adorned Young Denny's chin as he had been. And yet, even
while he hesitated, feeding his imagination upon the choicest of
premonitory tit-bits, he knew he meant to go ahead. He was magnifying
the unfathomed peril that existed in his erratic, hair-trigger old
brain alone merely for the sake of the complacent pride which
resulted therefrom--pride in the contemplation of his own intrepid
dare-deviltry.

He could scarcely have put into words just what reception he had
imagined was awaiting him; but, whatever it might have been, Young
Denny's greeting was full as startling. A worn, dusty, shapeless
leather bag stood agape upon the table before the window, and Denny
Bolton paused over the half-folded garment in his hands to wheel
sharply toward the newcomer as the door creaked open.

For one uncomfortable moment the old adventurer waited in vain for any
light of welcome, or even recognition, to flash up in the boy's steady
scrutiny. Then the vaguest of smiles began to twitch at the corners of
Denny's lips. He laid the coat back upon the table and stepped forward
a pace.

"Hello!--Here at last, are you?" he saluted. "Aren't you pretty late
tonight?"

Old Jerry swallowed hard at the cheery ease of the words, but his
fluttery heart began to pump even faster than when he had sat outside
in the buggy debating the advisability of his further advance. That
warning premonition had not been a footless thing, after all, for this
self-certain, vaguely amused person who stood steadily contemplating
him was not the Denny Bolton he had known twenty-four hours
before--not from any angle or viewpoint.

Behind the simulated cheer of his greeting there was something else
which Old Jerry found disturbingly new and hard to place. In his
perplexity the wordless accusation that morning had been correct at
that. And Young Denny was smiling widely at him now--smiling openly.
The old man shuffled his feet and shifted his gaze from the open wound
upon the boy's face as though he feared his suspicion might be read in
his eyes. Then he answered Denny's question.

"I--I cal'late I be late--maybe a little," he admitted.

Denny nodded briskly.

"More than a little," he corrected. "I expected you to be along even
earlier today! An hour or two, at least."

Even while he was speaking Young Denny turned back to the packing of
the big bag on the table. Old Jerry stood there, still shifting from
one foot to the other, considering in growing wonder that silent
preparation, and waiting patiently for a further explanation of what
it meant. At last, when he could no longer endure the suspense, he
broke that silence himself.

"Packin' up for a little trip, be you?" he ventured mildly.

There was no progress made or satisfaction gained from Young Denny's
short nod. Again the little man bore it as long as he was able.

"Figurin' on bein' gone quite a spell?" he ventured again.

And again the big-shouldered figure nodded a silent affirmative. Old
Jerry drew himself up with an air of injured dignity at that
inhospitable slight; he even took one step backward toward the door;
but that one step, in the face of his consuming curiosity, was as far
as he could force himself to go.

"I--I kinda thought you might be leavin'. Why, I--kinda suspicioned it
this morning when I seen you ridin' townward with the Jedge."

The boy stuffed the last article into the bulging bag and turned. Old
Jerry almost believed that the lack of comprehension in Young Denny's
eyes was real until he caught again that hint of amusement behind it.
But when Denny started toward him suddenly, without so much as a word,
the old man retreated just as suddenly, almost apprehensively, before
him.

"You say you was expectin' me," he faltered unsteadily, "but--but if
there wa'n't anything special you wanted to see me about, I--I reckon
I better be joggin' along. I just kinda dropped in, late's it was, to
tell you there wa'n't no mail, and to say--to tell you----"

He stopped abruptly. He didn't like the looks of Denny Bolton's eyes.
They were different than he had ever seen them before. If their
inscrutability was not actually terrifying, Old Jerry's active
imagination at that moment made it so. And never before had he noted
how huge the boy's body was in comparison with his own weazened frame.
He groped stealthily behind him and found the door catch. The cool
touch of the metal helped him a little.

"I--I may be a trifle late--jest a trifle," he hurried on, "but I been
hustlin' to git here--that is, ever sense about five o'clock, or
thereabouts. There's been something I been wantin' to tell you. I--I
jest wanted to say that I hoped it wa'n't anything I might have said
or--or kinda hinted at, maybe, nights down to the Tavern, that's druv
you out. That's a mighty mean, gossipy crowd down there, anyway,
always kinda leadin' a man along till he gits to oversteppin' hisself
a little."

It was the first declaration of his own shortcomings that he had ever
voiced, an humble confession that was more than half apology born of
that afternoon's travail of spirit; but somehow it rang hopelessly
inadequate in his own ears at that minute. And yet Young Denny's head
came swiftly forward at the words; his eyes narrowed and he frowned as
though he were trying to believe he had heard correctly. Then he
laughed--laughed softly--and Old Jerry knew what that laugh meant. The
boy didn't believe even when he had heard; and his slow-drawled,
half-satirical question more than confirmed that suspicion.

"Wasn't at all curious, then, about this?" he inquired, with a
whimsical twist to the words.

He touched his chin with the tips of his fingers. Old Jerry's
treacherous lips flew open in his eagerness, and then closed barely
in time upon the admission that had almost betrayed him.

He was sorry now, too, that he had even lingered to make his apology.
That disturbing glint was flaring brighter than ever in Young Denny's
eyes. Merely because he was afraid to turn his back to pass out, Old
Jerry stood and watched with beadily attentive eyes while the boy
crossed and took a lantern from its peg on the wall behind the stove
and turned up the wick and lighted it. That unexplained preparation
was as fascinating to watch as its purport was veiled.

"You must be just a little curious about it--just a little bit?" Denny
insisted gravely. "I thought you'd be--and all the others, too. That's
why I was waiting for you--that and something in particular that I did
want to ask you, after I'd made you understand."

If the first part of his statement was still tinged with mirth, the
second could not possibly have been any more direct or earnest.
Without further explanation, one hand grasping his visitor's thin
shoulder, he urged him outside and across the yard in the direction of
the black bulk of the barn. The rain was still coming down steadily,
but neither of them noticed it at that moment. Old Jerry would have
balked at the yawning barn door but for that same hand which was
directing him and urging him on. His apprehension had now turned to
actual fright which bordered close on panic, and he heard the boy's
voice as though it came from a great distance.

"----two or three things I'd like to have you understand and get
straight," Denny was repeating slowly, "so that--so that if I asked
you, you could see that--someone else got them straight, too."

Old Jerry was in no mental condition to realize that that last
statement was untinged by any lurking sarcasm. He was able to think of
but one thing.

The hand upon his shoulder had loosened its grip. Slowly the little
man turned--turned with infinite caution, and what he considered was a
very capable attitude of self-defense. And for a moment he refused to
believe his own eyes--refused to believe that, in place of the threat
of sudden death which he had expected, Young Denny was merely standing
there before him, pointing with his free hand at a dark, almost damp
stain upon the dusty woodwork behind the stalls. It flashed through
his brain then that Denny Bolton had not merely gone the way of the
other Boltons--it was not the jug alone that had stood in the kitchen
corner, but something far worse than that.

"I got to humor him," he told himself, although he was shivering
uncontrollably. "I got to keep a grip on myself and kinda humor him."
And aloud, in a voice that was little more than a whisper, he
murmured:

"What--what is it?"

"Couldn't you guess--if you had to?"

Denny made the suggestion with appalling calm. Old Jerry clenched his
teeth to still their chattering.

"Maybe I could--maybe I could;" and his voice was a little stronger.
"I--I'd say it was blood, I reckon, if anyone asked me."

Without a word the boy set the lantern down and walked across the barn
to lay one hand upon the flank of the nervous animal in the nearest
stall.

"That's what it is," he stated slowly; and again he touched the wound
on his chin gingerly. "From this," he went on. "I came in last night
to feed--and I--I forgot to speak to Tom here, and it was dark. He--he
laced out and caught me--and that's where I landed, there against the
wall."

The servant of the "Gov'mint" nodded his comprehension--he nodded it
volubly, with deep bows that would have done credit to a dancing
master, lest his comprehensions seem in the least bit veiled with
doubt. He even clicked his tongue sympathetically, just as the plump
newspaper man had done.

"Quite a tap--quite a tap!" he said as soothingly as his uncertain
tongue would permit; but he took care to keep a safe distance between
himself and his guide when Denny stooped and lifted the lantern and
led the way outside.

Now that he was free from that detaining hand upon his shoulder, he
contemplated the advisability of a sudden dash for the buggy and
flight behind the fat white mare. Nothing but the weakened condition
of his own knees and a lack of confidence in her ability to carry him
clear kept him from acting instantly upon that impulse. And then the
summoning voice of the great blurred figure which had been zigzagging
across the grass before him checked him at the very moment of
decision.

Young Denny had stopped beside a sapling that stood in a direct line
with the kitchen window, and was pointing down at a heap of broken
crockery that lay at its foot.

"And if anyone was to ask you," he was deliberately inquiring, "what
do you suppose you would say that had been?"

Old Jerry knew! He knew without one chance for doubt; but never before
had the truth seemed more overwhelmingly dreadful or surcharged with
peril. A dozen diplomatic evasions flashed through his mind, and were
all condemned as inadequate for that crisis. He knew that candor was
his safest course.

"Why, I--I'd say it looked mighty like a--a broken jug," he quavered,
with elaborate interest. "Jest a common, ordinary jug that's kinda
got broke, somehow. Yes, sir-e-e, all broke up, as you might say!"

His shrill cackle of a voice caught in his throat, and grew husky, and
then broke entirely. Even Young Denny, absorbed as he was in his
methodical exhibition of all the evidence, became suddenly aware that
the little figure beside him was swallowing hard--swallowing with
great, noisy gulps, and he lifted the lantern until the yellow light
fell full upon the twitching face below him, illuminating every
feature. And he stared hard at all that the light revealed, for Old
Jerry's face was very white.

"Jest a little, no-account jug that's got busted," the shrill,
bodiless voice went chattering on, while its owner recoiled from the
light. "Busted all to pieces from hittin' into a tree!" And then,
reassuringly, on a desperate impulse: "But don't you go to worryin'
over it--don't you worry one mite! I'm goin' to fix it for you. Old
Jerry's a-goin' to fix it for you in the morning, so's it'll be just
as good as new! You run right along in now. It's kinda wet out
here--and--and I got to be gittin' along toward home."

Absolute silence followed the promise. Young Denny only lowered the
lantern--and then lifted it and stared, and lowered it once more.

"Fix it!" he echoed, his voice heavy with wonder. "Fix it?"

Then he noted, too, the chattering teeth and meager, trembling body,
and he thought he understood.

"You'd better come along in," he ordered peremptorily. "You come along
inside. I'll rake up the fire and you can warm up a bit. I--I didn't
think, keeping you out here in the rain. Why, you'll feel better after
you've had a little rest. You ought not to be out all day in weather
like this, anyway. You're too--too----"

He was going to say too old, but a quick thought saved him. Old Jerry
did not want to accompany him; he would have done almost anything else
with a light heart; but that big hand had fallen again upon his
shoulder, and there was no choice left him.

Young Denny clicked the door shut before them and pulled a chair up
before the stove with businesslike haste. After he had stuffed the
fire-box full of fresh fuel and the flame was roaring up the pipe, he
turned once more and stood, hands resting on his hips, staring down at
the small figure slumped deep in its seat.

"I didn't understand," he apologized again, his voice very sober.
"I--I ought to have remembered that maybe you'd be tired out and wet,
too. But I didn't--I was just thinking of how I could best show
you--these things--so's you'd understand them. You're feeling better
now?"

Furtively, from the corners of his eyes, Old Jerry had been watching
every move while the boy built up the fire. And now, while Denny stood
over him talking so gravely, his head came slowly around until his
eyes were full upon that face; until he was able to see clearly, there
in the better light of that room, all the solicitude that had softened
the hard lines of the lean jaw. It was hard to believe, after all that
he had passed through, and yet he knew that it could not be
possible--he knew that that voice could not belong to any man who had
been nursing a maniacal vengeance behind a cunningly calm exterior.

There was no light of madness in those eyes which were studying him
so steadily--studying him with unconcealed anxiety. Old Jerry could
not have told how it had come about; but there in the light, with
four good solid walls about him, he realized that a miracle had
taken place. Little by little his slack body began to stiffen;
little by little he raised himself. Once he sighed, a sigh of
deeper thankfulness than Young Denny could ever comprehend, for
Young Denny did not know the awfulness of the peril through which
he had just passed.

"Godfrey" he thought, and the exclamation was so poignantly real
within him that it took audible form without his knowledge. "Godfrey
'Lisha, but that was a close call! That's about as narrer a squeak as
I'll ever hev, I reckon."

And he wanted to laugh. An almost hysterical fit of laughter
straggled for utterance. Only because the situation was too precious
to squander, only because he would have sacrificed both arms before
confessing the terror which had been shaking him by the throat, was he
able to stifle it. Instead, he removed his drenched and battered hat
and passed one fluttering hand across his forehead, with just the
shade of unsteadiness for which the affair called.

"Yes, I'm a-feelin' better now," he sighed. "Godfrey, yes, I'm a sight
better already! Must 'a' been just a little touch of faintness, maybe.
I'm kinda subject to them spells when I've been overworked. And I hev
been a little mite druv up today--druv to the limit, if the truth's
told. Things ain't been goin' as smooth's they might. Why--why, they
ain't nobody'd believe what's been crowded into this day, even if I
was to tell 'em!"

He filled his lungs again and shoved both feet closer to the oven
door.

"But that fire feels real nice," he finished; "real nice and
comfortin', somehow. And maybe I could stop just a minute." The old
hungry light of curiosity was kindling again, brighter than ever
before, in the beady little eyes. "As you was remarkin', back a
stretch, you'd been a-waitin' for me to come along. Was they--was they
something you wanted to see me about?"



CHAPTER X


The perplexed frown still furrowed Young Denny's forehead. He felt
that the fire had wrought a most remarkably swift cure of all that he
had feared, but the anxiety faded from his eyes. White head perked
forward, balanced a little on one side, birdlike, Old Jerry was
waiting for him to pick up the thread which had been broken so long.
And now it was the big-shouldered boy who faltered in his words,
uncertain just how to begin.

"I--I don't know just how to ask you," he started heavily. "I'm--I am
going away. I'm figuring on being gone quite a while, I think. First,
just after I had decided to go, some time last night, I made up my
mind to ask you to take care of the stock till I came back. I thought
maybe it wouldn't be too hard for you--with you coming by at night,
anyhow. There's just the one cow and the team, and the hens to feed.
And then I--I got to thinkin' that maybe, too, you'd be able to do
something else for me, if I sort of explained how things were.
There--there wasn't anyone else I could think of who'd be likely to
want to do me a favor."

He paused and licked his lips. And Old Jerry, too, furtively touched
his with the tip of his tongue. He was waiting breathlessly, but he
managed to nod his head a little, encouragingly, as he leaned closer.

"And that was what I was really waiting for," the slow voice went on
ponderously. "I saw this morning--anybody could have seen--what the
Judge meant them all to believe along the street when we drove
through. Somehow things have changed in the last twelve hours. I sort
of look at some things differently than I did, and so it was funny,
just funny to watch him, and I'm not so blind that I don't know what
his story will be tonight down at the Tavern. Not that I care what
they say, either. But there is some one who couldn't help believin'
it--couldn't believe anything else--after what happened last night."
He stopped, groping for words to finish. "And so I--I waited for you
to come," he went on lamely. "I took you outside and showed you how it
really happened, so that--so that you could tell _her_--the truth."

He nodded over his shoulder--nodded once out across the valley in the
direction of John Anderson's small drab cottage huddled in the shadow
under the hill. And now, once he had fairly begun, all the diffidence,
all the self-consciousness went from his voice. It was only big and
low and ponderous, as always, as he went back and told the old man,
who sat drinking it in, every detail of that night before, when he
had stooped and risen and sent the stone jug crashing through the
window--when he had turned, with blood dripping from his chin, to find
Dryad Anderson there in the doorway, eyes wide with horror and
loathing. Not until he had reached that point did Old Jerry move or
hint at an interruption.

"But why in time didn't you tell her yourself?" he asked then. "Why
didn't you explain that old Tom hit you a clip out there in the
dark?"

Young Denny's face burned.

"I--I tried to," he explained simply. "I--I started toward her,
meaning to explain, but I tripped, there on the threshold, and went
down on my knees. I must have been a little sick--a little giddy. And
when I got up again she--she was gone."

Old Jerry nodded his head judicially. He sucked in his lips from sheer
delight in the thrill of it all, and nodded his head in profound
solemnity.

"Jest like a woman--jest like a woman, a-condemnin' of a man without a
bit of mercy! Jest like 'em! I ain't never been enticed yet into
givin' up my freedom; but many's the time I've said--says I----"

The boy's set face checked him; made him remember. This was no mimic
thing. It was real; too real to need play-acting. And with that
thought came recollection. All in a flash it dawned on him that this
was no man-created situation; it must have something greater than that
behind it.

That morning had seen his passing from the circle to which he had
belonged as long as the circle had existed. All through that dreary
day he had known that he could never go back to it. Just why he could
not say, but he felt that that decision was irrevocable. And for that
whole day he had been alone--more utterly, absolutely alone than he
had ever been in his whole life--yet here was a place awaiting him,
needing him. For some reason it was not quite so hard to look straight
back into the eyes of that soul which he had discovered that day; it
wasn't so hard, even though he knew it now for the pitiful old fraud
it really was.

His thin, leathery face was working spasmodically. And it was
alight--aglow with a light that came entirely from within.

"Could you maybe explain," he quavered hungrily; "could you kinda tell
me--just why it is--you're a-askin' me? It--it ain't jest because you
hev to, entirely; now, is it? It ain't because there ain't nothin'
else left you to do?"

Denny Bolton sensed immediately more than half of what was behind the
question. He shook his head.

"No," he answered steadily. "No, because I'm going to try to tell her
again, myself, tonight. It's only partly because maybe I--I won't be
able to see her before I go--and part because she--she'd believe you,
somehow, I think, when she wouldn't believe any of the rest."

The white-haired old man sighed. His stiffened body slackened as he
shifted his feet against the stove.

"Why--why, I kinda hoped it was something like that," he murmured; and
he was talking more to himself than to Denny. "I kinda hoped it
was--but I never had no reason to believe it."

His voice lifted until it was its shriller, more natural falsetto.

"I wouldn't 'a' believed myself today, at twelve o'clock noon," he
stated flatly. "No, sir-e-e! After takin' stock of myself, as you
might say, the way I done this morning, I wouldn't 'a' believed myself
on oath!"

His feet dropped noisily to the floor, and he sat bolt upright again.

"But she's a-goin' to believe me! Godfrey, yes, she'll believe me when
I git through tellin' her!"

His pale eyes clung to the boy's face, tinged with astonishment before
so much vehemence.

"And ain't it kinda struck you--ain't it sorta come to you that
she wa'n't quite fair, either, any more than the rest of us,
a-thinkin'--a-thinkin' what she did, without any real proof?"

Young Denny did not have time to reply.

"No, I reckon it ain't," Old Jerry rushed on. "And I don't know's I've
got much right criticizing either. Not very much! I've been a tidy
hand at jedgin' other folks' matters until jest lately. Some way I
ain't quite so handy at it as I was. And I kinda expect she's goin' to
be sorry she even thought it, soon enough, without my tryin' to make
her any more so. She's goin' to be mighty uncomfortable sorry, if
she's anything like me!"

He rose and shuffled across to the door, and stopped there. Denny
could not understand the new thrill there was in his cracked voice,
nor the light in those pale eyes. But he knew that the old man before
him had been making something close akin to an eleventh-hour
confession; making it out of a profound thankfulness for the
opportunity. With the same gesture with which he bade the old man
wait, his big hand went inside his shirt, and came out again. And he
reached out and pressed something into Old Jerry's knotty fingers.

"I--I was sure you'd do it," he told him. "I knew you would. And I
want you to take this, too, and keep it. I don't want to go away like
this, but I have to. If I didn't start right now I--I might not go at
all. I hate to leave her alone--in this town. That's half of what the
Judge let me have today on this place. It's not much, but it's
something if she should need anything while I'm gone. I thought you
might--see that she was all right--till I got back?"

The servant of the "Gov'mint" stood and stared down at the limp little
roll of bills in his hand; he stared until something caught in his
throat and made him gulp again noisily. But his face was shamelessly
defiant of the mist that smarted under his eyelids when he looked up
again.

"Take care of her?" he whispered. "Me take care of her for you?
Why--why, Godfrey--why, man----"

He dashed one hand across his eyes.

"I'm a old gossipy fool," he exclaimed. "Nothin' but a old gossipy
fool; but I reckon you don't hev to _count_ them bills over before you
leave 'em with me. Not unless you want to. I've been just an ordinary,
common waggle-tongue. That's what I really come for in such a hurry
tonight, once I'd thought of it. Jest to see if I couldn't nose around
into business that wa'n't no concern of mine. But I'm gittin' over
that--I'm gittin' over that fast! Learning a little dignity of
bearin', too, as you might say. And I don't deny I ain't a little
curious yet--more'n a little curious. But I want to tell you this:
There's some folks that lies mostly for profit, and some that lies
largely for their own amusement, and they both do jest about as much
damage in the long run, and I ain't no better, jest because I never
made nothin' outen mine. But if you could kinda drop me a line, maybe
once in a while, and tell me how you're gittin' on, I'd be mighty glad
to hear. An' it wouldn't do no harm, either." He nodded his head, in
turn, in the direction of the drab cottage across the valley.
"Because--because she's goin' to be waitin' to hear--she's goin' to be
sorry, and kinda wonderin'. I know--well, jest because I know!"

Still he lingered, with his fingers on the door catch. He shoved out
his free hand.

"I--I suppose we'd ought to shake hands, hedn't we," he faltered;
"bein' as it's kinda considered the reg'lar and customary thing to do
on such occasions?"

Denny was smiling as his hand closed over those clawlike fingers; he
was smiling in a way that Old Jerry had never seen before. Because the
noise in his throat was growing alarmingly louder every moment, the
latter went on talking almost wildly, to cover that weakness which he
could not control.

"I hope you git on," he said. "And I reckon you will. It's funny--it's
more'n that--and I don't know where I got the idea. But it's kinda
come to me, somehow, that maybe it was that account in the paper--that
story of Jeddy Conway--that's set you to leavin'. It ain't none of my
business, and I ain't askin' no questions, but I do want to say that
there never was a time when you couldn't lick the everlastin' tar
outen him. And you've growed some since then. Jest a trifle--jest a
trifle!"

The boy's smile widened and widened. Then he laughed aloud softly and
nodded his head.

"I'll send you the papers," he promised. "I'll send you all of them."

Old Jerry stood with his outstretched hand poised in midair while
he realized that his chance shot had gone home. And suddenly,
unaccountably, he began to chuckle; he began to cackle noisily.

"I might 'a' knowed it," he whispered. "I ought to hev knowed it all
along. Now, you don't hev to worry--they ain't one mite of a thing I
ain't a-goin' to see to while you're away. You don't want nothin' on
your mind, because you're goin' to hev a considerable somethin' on
your hands. And I got to git along now. Godfrey, but it's late for me
to be up here, ain't it? I got to hustle, if I ever did; and there
ain't too much time to spare. For tonight--tonight, before I git
through, I aim to put a spoke in the Jedge's wheel, down to the
Tavern, that'll make him think the axles of that yello'-wheeled gig of
his'n needs greasin'. Jest a trifle--jest a trifle!"

He opened the door and slammed it shut behind him even before the
boy could reply. Still smiling whimsically, Young Denny stood and
listened to the grating of the wheels as the buggy was turned about
outside--heard the old rig groan once, and then complain shrilly
as it started on its way. But no one witnessed Old Jerry's wild
descent to the village that night; no one knew the mad speed he
made, save the old mare between the shafts; and she was kept too busy
with the lash that whistled over her fat flanks to have given the
matter any consistent thought.

Old Jerry drove that scant mile or two this night under the spur of
his one greatest inspiration; and while he drove he talked aloud to
himself.

"And I was a-goin' to fix it for him," he muttered once, "I was
a-goin' to fix that old busted jug in the morning. Godfrey, I must
'a' been flustered!" He shrilled in uncontrollable glee at the
recollection. And then again, later and far more gravely:

"I'm a-gittin' more religious every livin' day. I'm gittin' more
religious jest from standin' around and kinda watchin' how things is
made to work out right, jest when you've about decided that the Lord
ain't payin' as much attention to details as he might."

He knew that there had to be a light in the windows of the Tavern
office; he knew that he had to be in time. That was the finger of a
Something behind the whole day's developments which was directing it
all so masterfully. And because he was so certain of it all--because
he was positive that he was the agent who had been selected to mete
out justice at last--he found himself possessed of a greater courage
than he had ever known before as he clambered down from his seat and
mounted the worn steps.

A rush of chill air swept the group about the sprawling stove as
he opened the door and made each member lift his head, each after a
fashion that was startlingly indicative of the man himself. For
Judge Maynard wheeled sharply as the cold blast struck him--wheeled
with head flung back challengingly, and a harsh rebuke in every
feature--while old Dave Shepard turned and merely shivered. He just
shivered and flinched a little from the draft, appealingly. The
rest registered an ascending scale of emotions betwixt and between.

Just as he knew he would find them they sat. Judge Maynard had the
floor; and it was an easy thing to read that he had all but reached
the crisis of his recital. Any man could have read that merely from
the protest in the faces of the rest. And yet Old Jerry simply stood
there and swept the group with serene and dangerous geniality.

"Evenin', folks," he saluted them mildly.

His mildness was like a match to the fuse. Judge Maynard pounded his
fat knee with a fatter fist, and exploded thunderously:

"Shut that door!" he roared. "Shut that door!"

Old Jerry complied with amazing alacrity. The very panels shivered
with the force of the swing that slammed it close. The Judge should
have known right there--he should have read the writing on the
wall--and yet he failed to do that thing. Instead, he turned back once
more to his audience--back to his interrupted tale, and left Old Jerry
standing there before the door, ignored.

"As I was sayin'." He cleared his throat. "As I was sayin' when this
unnecessary interruption occurred, I realized right from the moment
when I opened the door and saw him standing there in front of me,
grinning, and his chin cut wide open, that there was something wrong.
I am a discerning man--and I knew! And it didn't take me long to
convince him--not very long!--that there were other communities which
would find him more welcome than this one. Maybe I was harsh--maybe I
was--but harsh cases require harsh remedies. And because he didn't
have the money, I offered to let him have enough to carry him out of
town, and something to keep him about as long as he'll last now, I'm
thinking, although that place of his isn't worth as much as the paper
to write the mortgage on.

"I knew it had come at last--but, at that, I didn't get anything that
I wanted to call real proof until after we'd drawn up the papers and
signed 'em, and were about ready to start back. Then, when we were
coming down the steps of the clerk's office, I got all the proof I
wanted, and a little more than that. He--he stumbled just about then,
and would have gone down on his face if I hadn't held him up. And he
was laughing out loud to himself, chuckling, with one fist full of
money fit to draw a crowd. And he pulled away from me just when I was
trying to force him into the buggy--pulled away and sort of leered up
at me, waving that handful of bills right under my nose.

"'Oh, come now, Judge,' he sort of hiccoughed, 'this ain't the way for
two old friends to part. This ain't the way for me to treat an old
friend who's given me this. I want to buy you something--I want to buy
you at least one drink--before I go. Come on, now, Judge. What'll you
have?' says he."

They had all forgotten Old Jerry's interruption; they had forgotten
everything else but the Judge's recital, that was climbing to its
climax. That room was very quiet when the speaker paused and waited
for his words to sink in--very quiet until a half-smothered giggle
broke the stillness.

There was an unholy glee in that mirth--a mocking, lilting note of
actual joy which rang almost profane at such a moment. Man for man it
brought that circle erect in the chairs; man for man they sat and
stared at the grotesque figure which was rocking now in a paroxysm of
laughter too real for simulation. In a breathless hush they turned
from the offender back to the judge, waiting, appalled, for the storm
to break.

Judge Maynard's round moon-face went purple. Twice he tried to speak
before he sat silent, annihilation in his eyes, until Jerry's outbreak
had subsided. Then he lifted one forefinger and pointed, with all the
majesty such a gesture could ever convey, to the empty chair--the
chair which Old Jerry should have been occupying in becoming silence
at that moment.

"Have you gone crazy?" he thundered. "Have you--or are you just
naturally witless? Or was there something you wanted to say? If there
isn't--if you've no questions to ask--you get over to that chair and
sit down where you belong!"

It was then that the rest of the circle realized that something had
gone wrong--most mightily wrong! According to all precedent, the
little, white-haired man should have shrunk back and cowered beneath
that verbal lash, and obeyed without a glance. They all realized that
there was imminent a climax unforeseen by all--all but the Judge; and
he was too blind with rage to see.

Very meekly Old Jerry bore his thundered rebuke--too meekly. But after
the judge had finished he failed to move; he merely stood there,
facing the town's great man. And in his attitude there was something
of infantile, derisive, sparrowlike impudence as he peered back into
the Judge's face--something that was very like the attitude of an
outraged, ruffled old reprobate of a parrot rearing himself erect.

Old Jerry made no haste. It was a thing which required a nice
deliberation. And so he waited--waited and prolonged the moment to its
last, sweetest second. Once more he chuckled, to himself this
time--just once, before he began to speak. That old Tavern office had
never been so deathly still before.

"A question?" he echoed at last, thoughtfully. "A question? Well,
Jedge, there was one thing I was a-goin' to ask you. Jest one triflin'
thing I was kinda curious to know. Why, I was a-goin' to ask you, back
a spell--What did you hev? It kinda interested me, wonderin' about it.
But now--now that I've heard your story in full, I reckon I'll hev to
change that question a mite. I reckon they ain't nothin' left but to
ask you--How many did you hev? How many, Jedge? For, Jedge, you're
talkin' most mighty wild tonight!"

And that silence endured--endured even after the huge man had
half-risen, purple features gone white, and then dropped heavily back
into his chair before that rigid figure in its sodden garments which
had turned from him toward the rest of the circle of regulars.

Old Jerry made his formal exit that night--he knew that he was
resigning his chair--but the thing was very cheap at the price.

[Illustration: "WHAT YOU NEED, GENTLEMEN, IS A TRIFLE WIDER READIN'--JUST
A TRIFLE! FOR YOU AIN'T BEIN' WELL POSTED ON FACTS!"]

"An' I reckon, too," he went on deliberately, and there was a
wicked fleer of sarcasm tinging the words, "I reckon I'll hev to
kinda apologize to you gentlemen for interruptin' your evenin's
entertainment, as you might say. I'm sorry I ain't able to remain,
for it's interestin'. I don't know's I've ever heard anything that
was jest as excitin' an' thrillin', but I've got something more
important needin' my attention this evenin'--meanin' that I ain't got
nothin' in particular that's a-callin' me! But it's no more'n my
plain duty for me to tell you this: You'd ought to follow the
papers a mite closer from now on. It's illuminatin'--it's broadenin'!
What you need, gentlemen, is a trifle wider readin'--jest a
trifle--jest a trifle! For you ain't bein' well posted on facts!"

Nobody moved. Nobody was capable of stirring even. Old Jerry bowed to
them from the doorway--he bowed till the water trickled in a stream
from the brim of his battered hat.

And this time, as he passed out, he closed the door very gently behind
him.



CHAPTER XI


It would have been hard for her to have explained just why it was so,
but Dryad Anderson had been sitting there in the unlighted front room
of the little once-white cottage before Judge Maynard's boxlike place
on the hill, watching hour after hour for that light to blink out at
her from the dark window of Denny Bolton's house on the opposite
slope. Ever since it had grown dark enough for that signal to be seen,
which had called across to her so many nights, she had been waiting
before the table in front of the window--waiting even while she told
herself that it could not appear. It was not Saturday night; there was
no real reason why she should be watching, unless--unless it was hope
that held her there.

Only in the last few hours since twilight had she admitted to herself
the possibility that such a hope lurked behind her vigil. Before then,
when the thought had first come to her that Denny might cry out to her
through the night, with that half-shuttered light, she had stifled it
with a savageness that left her shaking, panting and dizzy from its
bewildering intensity.

Time after time she told herself that it would go unheeded by her, no
matter how long or how insistently it beckoned, if by the hundredth
chance it should flare up beyond the shadows, but as minutes dragged
interminably by into equally interminable hours, the strained
fierceness of that whispered promise grew less and less knifelike in
its hardness--less and less assured.

Somehow, ever since the first light of that gray day had discovered
her sitting there in almost the same position in which she now sat,
eyes straining out across the valley, pointed chin cupped in her
palms, that fearful, almost insane passion which had held each nerve
and fiber of her taut as tight-stretched wire through the entire
sleepless night, had begun to give way to something even less easy to
endure.

All the terror which had checked her that evening when she swung the
door open and stood poised on the threshold, a low laugh of sheerest
delight in the costume she had worn across for him to see ready to
burst from parted lips--all the horror that had held her incapable of
motion until Denny had swung around and found her there, and lifted
his arms and attempted to speak, had given way, in the first hours
that followed, to a flaming scorn, a searing contempt for him and for
his weakness that had lost him his fight.

All through that night which followed her panic flight from the huge,
heavy-footed figure that had groped out for her, called to her, and
dropped asprawl her own small cloak in the doorway, Denny Bolton's
blood-soiled face and drunkenly reckless laugh had been with her,
feeding that rage which scorched her eyes beneath their lids--that
burned her throat and choked her.

Little drops of blood oozed out upon her lips--strangely brilliant
crimson drops against that colorless background--where her teeth sank
deep in the agony of disillusionment that made each pulse-beat a
sledge-hammer blow within her brain. Her small palms were etched blue
under the clenched fingers where the nails bit the flesh. And yet--and
yet, for all the agony of it which made her lift her blanched face
from time to time throughout the night--a face so terribly strained
that it was almost distorted--and set her gasping chokingly that she
hated him, hated him for a man who couldn't fight and keep on
fighting, even when the odds were great--when the light of that new,
dreary day had come streaking in across her half-bowed head, something
else began to take the place of all that bitterness and scorn.

And throughout the day she had still been struggling against it,
struggling with all the tense fierceness of which her spirit was
capable--her spirit that was far too big for the slim body that housed
it. Yet that thought could not be shaken off. She couldn't forget it,
couldn't wipe out the recollection of that great, gaping wound that
had dripped blood from his chin. She tried to close her eyes and shut
it out as she went from task to task that day, and it would not fade.

Somehow it wasn't that man at all whom she remembered as the afternoon
dragged by to its close; it wasn't the big-shouldered body nervelessly
asprawl upon the floor that filled her memory. Instead a picture of an
awkward, half-grown boy flashed up before her--a big, ungainly,
terribly embarrassed boy who turned from watching the mad flight of a
rabbit through the brush to smile at her reassuringly, even though his
face was torn raw from her own nails.

That was the point at which the tide of her chaotic thoughts began to
waver and turn. Long before she realized what she was doing she had
fallen to wondering, with a solicitude that made moist and misty once
more her tip-tilted eyes and softened the thin line of her lips,
whether or not that bruise had been washed out, cleansed and cleanly
bandaged.

When she did realize what that thought meant, it had been too long
with her to be routed. She was too tired to combat it, anyway, too
tired with the reaction of that long, throbbing night to do more than
wonder at herself. Twilight came and the gray mist that had been over
the hills for hours dissolved into rain. With the first hint of
darkness that the storm brought with it she began to watch--to peer
out of the window whenever her busy footsteps carried her past it, at
the bleak place across the hollow. Before it was fairly night she
began to understand that she was not merely watching for the light,
but hoping, praying wordlessly that it might shine. And when her work
was finished she had taken her place there, her slim body in its scant
black skirt and little white blouse hunched boyishly forward as always
across the table.

Even that girl who, after the hours which had been almost cataclysmic
for her, could scarcely have been expected to be able to comprehend it
clearly yet--even she read the meaning of the slackened cords of her
body, of her loosened lips and wet eyes. As long as she could she had
fed the flame within her soul--fed it with every bitter thought and
harsh judgment which her brain could evolve--and yet that flame had
slackened and smouldered and finally died out entirely. Self-shame,
self-scorn even, could not rekindle it.

Her lips were no longer white and straight and feverish with contempt;
they were damp and full again, and curved and half-open with
compassion. The ache was still there in her breast--a great gnawing
pain which it seemed at that moment time could never remove, but it
was no longer the wild hatred which made her pant with a desire to
make him suffer, too, just as she had suffered that night through.
The pain was just as great, but it was pity now--only pity and an
unaccountable yearning to draw that bruised face down against her and
croon over it.

In spite of the numbness, in spite of the lassitude which that
burnt-out passion had left behind in brain and body, she knew what it
meant. She understood. She had hated his weakness; she still hated his
lack of manhood which had made him fail her. That hatred would be a
long time dying now--if it ever did perish. But she couldn't hate
_him_! She looked that fact in the face, dumb at first at the
awakening. She couldn't hate him--not the man he was! There was a
distinction--a difference very clear to her woman-brain. She could
despise his cowardice; she could despise herself for caring still--but
the caring still went on. Half-vaguely she realized it, but she knew
the change had come. The girlishness was gone from it forever. She had
to care now as a woman always cares--not for the thing he was, but in
spite of it.

"I ought to hate him," she told herself once, aloud. "I know I ought
to hate him, and yet--and yet I don't believe I can. Why, I--I can't
even hate myself, as I did a little while back, because I still
care!"

It was a habit that had grown out of her long loneliness--those
half-whispered conversations with herself. And now only one conviction
remained. Again and again she told herself that she could not go to
meet him that night--could not go, even if he should call to her. And
that, too, she put into whispered words.

"Even if he lights the window, I can't--I couldn't! Oh, not tonight!
He won't--he won't think of it. But I couldn't let him touch
me--until--until I've had a little time to forget!"

But she was watching still--watching with small, gold-crowned head
nodding heavily, eyes half-veiled with sinking lids--when that
half-shaded window in the dark house glowed suddenly yellow with the
light behind it. She was still hoping, praying dumbly that it might
be, when Young Denny lifted the black-chimneyed lamp from its bracket
on the kitchen wall that night, after he had stood and listened with a
smile on his lips to Old Jerry's hurried departure, and carried it
into the front room which he scarcely ever entered except upon that
errand.

At first she did not believe. She thought it was only a trick of her
brain, so tired now that it was as little capable of connected thought
as her worn-out body was of motion. Hardly breathing she stared until
she saw the great blot of his body silhouetted against the pane for a
moment as he crowded between the lamp, staring across at her, she
knew.

She rose then, rose slowly and very cautiously as though she feared
her slightest move might make it vanish. Young Denny's bobbing
lantern, swinging in one hand as he crossed before the house and
plunged into the thicket that lay between them, was all that convinced
her--made her believe that she had seen aright.

"I can't go--I can't!" she breathed. And then, lifting her head,
vehemently, as if he could hear:

"I want to--oh, you know I want to! But I can't come to you
tonight--not until I've had a little longer--to think."

Almost before she had finished speaking another voice answered, a
soft, dreamy voice that came so abruptly in the quiet house that it
made her wheel like a startled wild thing. She had forgotten him for
the time--that little, stooped figure at its bench in the back room
workshop. For hours she had not given him a thought, and he had made
not so much as a motion to make her remember his presence. She could
not even remember when his sing-song, unending monologue had ceased,
but she realized then that he had been more silent that night than
ever before.

Earlier in the evening when she had lighted his lamp for him and set
out his lump of moist clay, and helped him to his place on the high
stool, she had thought to notice some difference in him.

Usually John Anderson was possessed of one or two unvarying moods.
Either he plunged contentedly into his task of reproducing the
multitude of small white figures around the walls, or else he merely
sat and stared up at her hopelessly, vacantly, until she put the clay
herself into his hands. Tonight it had been different, for when she
had placed the damp mass between his limp fingers he had laid it aside
again, raised astonishingly clear eyes to hers and shaken his head.

"After a little--after a little while," he had said. "I--I want to
think a little first."

It had amazed her for a moment. At any other time it would have
frightened her, but tonight as she stroked his bowed head, she told
herself that it was nothing more than a new vagary of his anchorless
mind.

But that same strangely clear, almost sane glow which had puzzled her
then was still there when she turned. It was even brighter than
before, and the slow words which had startled her, for all their
dreamy softness, seemed very sane as well.

"You have to go," John Anderson answered her faltering, half-audible
whisper. "You have to go--but you'll be back soon. Oh, so soon! And
I'll be safe till you come!"

Dryad flashed forward a step, both hands half-raised to her throat as
he spoke, almost believing that the miracle for which she had ceased
even to hope had come that night. And then she understood--she knew
that the bent figure which had already turned back to its bench had
only repeated her words, parrotlike; she knew that he had only pieced
together a recollection of the absence which her vigil before the
window had meant on a former occasion and repeated her own words of
that other night.

And yet her brain clamored that there was more behind it all than mere
witless repetition. John Anderson was smiling at her, too, smiling
like a benevolent wraith. She saw that his pile of clay was still
untouched, but there was no hint of petulant perplexity in his face,
nothing of the terrified impotence which the inactivity of his fingers
had always heralded before. He was just smiling--vaguely to be sure
and a little uncertainly--but smiling in utter contentment and
satisfaction, for all that.

Very slowly--wonderingly, she crossed to him and put both arms about
his white head and drew it against her.

"I think you knew," she said to him, unsteadily. "I think you are able
to understand better than I can myself. And I know, too, now. I do
have to go--I must go to him. But he need not even know, until I tell
him some day--that I was with him tonight."

The old man pulled away from her clasp, gently but very insistently.
And he nodded--nodded as though he had understood. She paused and
looked back at him from the doorway, just as she had always
hesitated. He was following her with his eyes. Again he shook his
head, just as positively as he might have, had he been the man he
might have been.

"Some day," he reiterated, serenely, "some day! And she'll know
then--some day I'll tell her--that I was with her tonight."

She had forgotten the rain. It was coming down heavily, and it was
dark, too--very, very dark. She stopped a while, as long as she dared,
and waited with the rain beating cold upon her uncovered head and bare
throat until her eyes saw the path a little more clearly. It took her
a long time to feel her way forward that night. And even when she came
within sight of Denny's lantern, even when she was near enough to see
him through the thicket ahead of her, in the little patch of light,
she had not decided what she meant to do.

But with that first glimpse of him squatting there in the small
cleared space it came to her what her course should be. She
realized that if it was an impossibility for her to go to him, she
could at least let him know she had been there--let him know that he
had not been entirely alone while he waited. She even smiled to
herself--smiled with wistful, half-sad, elfen tenderness as she, too,
huddled down without a sound, there in the wet bushes opposite him,
and decided how she would tell him.

Denny Bolton never quite knew how long he waited in the rain before he
was certain that there was no use waiting longer. More than half the
night had dragged by when he reached finally into the pockets of his
coat and searched for a scrap of paper. Watching from her place in the
thicket near him, she recognized the small white card which he
discovered--she even reached out one hand instinctively for her
invitation from the Judge, which she had told him had never arrived
and for which she had hunted in vain throughout the following days.

With an unaccountable gladness because he knew straining at her
throat, she watched him draw the lantern nearer and read again the
words it bore before he turned it over and wrote, laboriously, with
the thick pencil that he used to check logs back in the hills, some
message across its back.

It was a message to her, she knew; and she knew, too, that he was
going now. Deliberately she reached out then and found a rotten branch
beside her. Young Denny's head shot up as it cracked between her
hands--shot swiftly erect while he stared hard at that wall of
darkness which hid her. And swiftly as she fled, like some noiseless
night creature of the woods, his sudden, plunging rush almost
discovered her.

Back in the safety of the blackness she stood and saw him bend over
the place where she had been crouching; she saw him put his hand upon
the patch of dead ferns which her body had crushed flat, and knew that
he found it still warm. She even held up her face, as though she were
giving him her lips--she reached out her arms to him--when she saw him
rise from an examination of her foot-prints in the mold, smiling his
slow, infinitely grave smile as he nodded his head over what he had
seen.

Back over the path she had come she followed the dancing point of his
lantern, sometimes almost upon him, sometimes lagging far behind when
he stopped and strained his ears for her. All recollection of the
night before was gone from her mind, wiped out as utterly as though it
had never existed. Nothing but a great gladness possessed her, a joy
that amounted almost to mischievous glee whenever he stood still a
moment and listened.

Not until she had waited many minutes after he stooped and slipped the
card beneath the door did she come out from the cover of the woods.
But she raced forward madly then, and flung the door open, and stooped
for it where it lay white against the floor.

All the mischievous glee went from her face in that next moment. Bit
by bit it faded before the advance of that same strained whiteness
that had marred it, hours before. All the wistfulness that made her
face so childlike, all the hunger that made the hurt in her breast
came back while she read, over and over, the words which Denny had
written for her across the back of her card, until she could repeat
them without looking at it. And even then she only half-understood
what they meant. Once she opened the door and peered out into the
blackness, searching for the lantern that had disappeared.

"Why--why he's gone! He came to tell me that he was going away," she
murmured, dully. And then, still more dully:

"And I didn't tell him I was sorry. I've let him go without even
telling him how sorry I was--for the hurt upon his chin!"

Perhaps it was the silence that made her turn; perhaps she simply
turned with no thought or reason at all, but she faced slowly about at
that moment, just in time to see John Anderson nod and smile happily
at something he alone could see--just in time to hear him sigh softly
once, before his arms went slack upon his work-bench and his head
drooped forward above them.

The bit of a card fluttered to the floor as both her tight-clenched
fists lifted toward her throat. The softest of pitying little moans
came quavering from her lips. She needed no explanation of what that
suddenly limp body meant! And she understood better now, too, that
untouched lump of clay upon the boards beside his bowed head. John
Anderson's long task was finished. He had known it was finished, and
had been merely resting tonight--resting content before he started
upon that long journey, before he followed that face, tumbled of hair
and uplifted of lip, which seemed always to be calling to him.

The slim-bodied girl whose face was so like what that other woman's
face had been went slowly across to him where he sat. After a while
she slipped her arm about his wasted shoulders, just as she had done
so often on other nights. A racking sob shook her when she first tried
to speak--and she tried again.

"You kept faith, didn't you, dear?" she whispered to him. "Oh, but you
kept faith with her--right--right up to the end. Please God--please
God, I may get my chance back again--to try to keep it, too. You've
gone to her--and--and I'm glad! You waited a long time, dear, and you
were very patient. But, oh, you've left me--you've left me all
alone!"

The tears came then. Great, searing drops that had been hopelessly
dammed back the night before rolled down her thin cheeks. She stooped
and touched the silvered head with her lips before she groped her way
into the other room and found her chair at the table.

"He knew I was there with him," she tried to whisper. "He knew I was,
I know! But I wish I could tell him I'm sorry. Oh, I wish I could!"

And Old Jerry found her so, head pillowed upon her outstretched arms,
her hair in a marvelous shimmering mass across her little shoulders
when he came the next morning, almost before the day was fairly begun,
to tell her all the things there were for him to tell.



CHAPTER XII


Monday morning was always a busy morning in Jesse Hogarty's Fourteenth
Street gymnasium; busy, that is to say, along about that hour when
morning was almost ready to slip into early afternoon. The reason for
this late activity was very easy to understand, too, once one realized
that Hogarty's clientele--especially that of his Monday mornings--was
composed quite entirely of that type of leisurely young man who rarely
pointed the nose of his tub-seated raceabout below Forty-second
Street, except for the benefits of a few rather desultory rounds under
Hogarty's tutelage, a shocking plunge beneath an icy shower, and the
all pervading sense of physical well-being resultant upon a half
hour's kneading of none too firm muscles on the marble slabs.

It was like Jesse Hogarty--or Flash Hogarty, as he had been styled by
the sporting reporters of the saffron dailies ten years back, when it
was said that he could hit faster and harder out of a clinch than any
lightweight who ever stood in canvas shoes--to refuse to transfer his
place to some locality a bit nearer Fifty-seventh Street, even when it
chanced, as it did with every passing year, that he drew his
patrons--at an alarmingly high rate per patron--almost entirely from
far uptown.

"This isn't a turkish bath," Flash Hogarty was accustomed to answer
such importunities. "If you are just looking for a place to boil out
the poison, hunt around a little--take a wide-eyed look or two! There
are lots and lots of them. This isn't a turkish bath; it's a
gymnasium--a _man's_ gymnasium!"

That was his invariable formula, alike to the objections of the
youthful, unlimited-of-allowance, more or less hard-living sons that
it "spoils the best part of the week, you know, Flash, just running
'way down here," and the equally earnest and far more peevish
complaints of the ticker tired, just-a-minute-to-spare fathers that it
cost them about five thousand, just to take an hour to work off a few
pounds.

But they kept on coming, in spite of their lack of time and Hogarty's
calm refusal to consider their arguments--some of the younger men
because they really did appreciate the sensation of flexible muscles
sliding beneath a smooth skin, some of them merely because they liked
to hear Hogarty's fluently picturesque profanity, always couched in
the most delightfully modulated of English, when the activity of a
particularly giddy week-end brought them back a little too shaky of
hand, a little too brilliant of eye and a trifle jumpy as to pulse.
Hogarty had a way of telling them just how little they actually
amounted to, which, no matter how wickedly it cut, never failed to
amuse them.

The older generation dared do nothing else, even in the face of the
ex-lightweight's scathingly sarcastic admiration of their constantly
increasing waist-line--or lack of one. For their lines were largely a
series of curves exactly opposite to those on which Nature had
originally designed them.

They continued to come; they ran down-town in closed town cars, padded
heavily across the sidewalk like sad bovines going to the slaughter,
to reappear an hour or two later stepping like three-year-olds,
serenely, virtuously joyous at the tale of the scales which indicated
a five-pound loss. And the Saturday and Sunday week-end out of town
which presently followed, with the astoundingly heavy dinners that
accompanied it, brought them back in a week, sadder even than before.

Monday morning was always a very busy morning in Hogarty's--but never
until along about noon. And because he knew how infallible were the
habits of his patrons, Hogarty did not so much as lift his eyes to the
practically empty gymnasium floor when a clock at the far side of the
room tinkled the hour of eleven. The two boys who were busily
scrubbing with waxing-mops the floor that already glistened like the
unruffled surface of some crystal pool were quite as unconcerned at
the lack of activity as was their employer. They merely paused long
enough to draw one shirt sleeve across the sweat-beaded foreheads--it
was a very early spring in Manhattan and the first heat was hard to
bear--and went at their task harder than ever.

Hogarty had one other reason that morning which accounted for his
absolute serenity. From Third Avenue to the waterfront any one who
was well-informed at all--and there was no one who had not at least
heard whispers of his fame--knew that the thin-faced, hard-eyed,
steel-sinewed ex-lightweight who dressed in almost funeral black and
white and talked in the hushed, measured syllables of a professor
of English, loved one thing even more than he loved to see his own
man put over the winning punch in--say the tenth. It was common
gossip that a set of ivory dominoes came first before all else.

No man had ever ventured to interrupt twice the breathless interest
with which Hogarty was accustomed to play his game. It did not promise
to be safe--a second interruption. And Hogarty was playing dominoes
this particular Monday morning, at a little round, green-topped table
against the wall opposite the door, peering stealthily at the
upturning face of each piece of a newly dealt hand, when the clock
struck off that hour. But if Hogarty was oblivious to everything but
the game, his opponent was far from being in that much to be envied
state. Bobby Ogden yawned--yawned from sheer ennui--although he tried
to hide that indication of his boredom behind a perfectly manicured
hand, while he scowled at the dial.

Ogden was one of the Monday morning regulars--one of the crowd which
usually arrived in a visibly taut-nerved condition at an entirely
irregular and undependable hour. An attack of malignant malaria,
contracted on a prolonged 'gator hunt in the Glades, coupled with the
equally malignant orders of his physician, alone accounted for his
presence there at that unheard of o'clock.

There were purplish semi-circles still painfully too vivid beneath
his eyes; his pallor was still tinged with an ivory-like shade of
yellow. And he fidgeted constantly in the face of Hogarty's happy
deliberation, stretching his heliotrope silk-clad arms and tapping
flat, heel-less rubber-soled shoes on the floor beneath the table in
a fashion that would have irritated any but the blandly unconscious
man across the table from him to a state of violence.

Ogden's quite perfectly lined features were smooth with the smoothness
of twenty years or so. His lack of stability and poise belonged also
to that age and to a physique that managed to tilt the scale beam at
one hundred and eighteen--that is, unless he had been forgetting
rather more rashly than usual that liquids were less sustaining than
solids, when one hundred and ten was about the figure.

He was playing poorly that morning--playing inattentively--with his
eyes always waiting for the hands to indicate that hour which was most
likely to herald the arrival of the advance guard of the crowd of
regulars. Hogarty himself, after a time, began to feel, vaguely, his
uneasiness and lack of application to the matter in hand, and made
evident his irritation by even longer pauses before each play. He
liked a semblance of opposition at least, and he lifted his head,
scowling a little at Ogden's last, most flagrant blunder, to find that
his antagonist had moved without so much as looking at the piece he
had slipped into position.

The boy wasn't looking at the table at all. He sat twisted about in
his chair, staring wide-eyed at the figure that had pushed open the
street door and was now surveying the whole room with an astonishingly
calm attention to detail. Ogden was staring, oblivious to everything
else, and with real cause, for the figure that had hesitated on the
threshold was like no other that had ever drifted into Hogarty's place
before. His shoulders seemed fairly to fill the door-frame, for all
that bigger men than he was had stood on that same spot and gone
unnoticed because of size alone. And his waist appeared almost
slender, and his hips very flat, merely from contrast with all that
weight which he carried high in his chest.

But it was not the possibilities of the newcomer's body that held
Ogden's fascinated attention. In point of fact, he did not notice that
at all, until some time later. Denny Bolton's long, tanned face was
entirely grave--even graver than usual. Just a hint of wistfulness
that would never quite leave them showed in his eyes and lurked in the
line of his lips--an intangible, fleeting suggestion of expectation
that had waited patiently for something that had been very long in the
coming. And the black felt hat and smooth black suit which he wore
finished the picture and made the illusion complete. His face and
figure, even there in the doorway of Hogarty's Fourteenth Street
place, could have suggested but one thing to an observant man. He
might have been a composite of all the New England Pilgrim Fathers who
had ever braved a rock-bound coast.

And Bobby Ogden was observing. Utterly unconscious of Hogarty's
threatening storm of protest, he sat and gazed and gazed, scarcely
crediting his own eyes. Domino poised in hand, Hogarty had turned in
preoccupied resignation back to a perplexed contemplation of whether
it would be better to play a blank-six and block the game or a
double-blank and risk being caught with a handful of high counters,
when Ogden reached out and clutched him by the wrist.

"Shades of Miles Standish!" that silk-shirted person gasped. "In the
name of the Mayflower and John Alden, and hallowed Plymouth Rock,
look, Flash, look! For the love o' Mike look, before he moves and
spoils the tableau!"

Hogarty lifted his head and looked.

Denny Bolton's eyes had returned from their deliberate excursion about
the gymnasium just in time to meet halfway that utterly impersonal
scrutiny. For a long moment or two that mutual inspection endured;
then the boy's lips moved--open with a smile that was far graver than
his gravity had been--and he started slowly across the floor toward
the table. Hogarty half rose, one hand outstretched as if to halt him,
but for some reason which the ex-lightweight scarcely understood
himself, he failed to utter the protest that was at his tongue's end.
And Young Denny continued to advance--continued, and left in the rear
a neatly defined trail where the heavy nails of his shoes marred the
sacred sheen of that floor.

Within arm's reach of the table he stopped, his eyes flitting
questioningly from Hogarty's totally inscrutable face to the tense
interest and enjoyment in Bobby Ogden's features, and back again.
Hogarty's hard eyes could be very hard--hard and chilling as chipped
steel--and they were that now. He was only just beginning to awake to
a realization of that profaned floor, but the smile upon Denny's
mouth neither disappeared nor stiffened in embarrassment before that
forbidding countenance. Instead he held out his hand--a big,
long-fingered, hard-palmed hand--toward the ex-lightweight proprietor.
And when he began to speak there was nothing but simple interrogation
in the almost ponderous voice.

"I--I reckon," he said slowly, "that you must be Jesse Hogarty--Mr.
Jesse Hogarty?"

Flash Hogarty looked at him, looked at that outstretched hand--looked
back at his steady eyes and the smile that parted his lips. And
Hogarty did a thing that made even Bobby Ogden gasp. He bowed
gracefully and reached out and silently shook hands. When he spoke,
instead of the perfectly enunciated, picturesquely profane rebuke
which the silk-shirted boy was waiting to hear, his voice was even
smoother and softer, and choicer of intonation than usual.

"Quite so," he stated. "Quite free from error or embarrassing mistake,
sir. I am Mr. Jesse Hogarty. You, however, if I may be permitted that
assertion, have me rather at a disadvantage, sir."

He bowed again, once more elaborately graceful. Bobby Ogden hugged his
knees beneath the table, for he knew from the very suavity of that
reply all that was brewing. Hogarty's silken voice went on.

"Regrettable, sir, and most awkward. You, no doubt, have no objection,
however, to making the introduction complete?"

The smile still hovered upon Denny's lips. Ogden noted, though, that
it had changed. And he realized, too, that it had not been a
particularly mirthful smile, even in the first place. Again Young
Denny's eyes met those of the other boy for one moment.

"I'm Denny Bolton," he replied just as deliberately. "Denny Bolton,
from Boltonwood--or--or I reckon you've never heard of that place. I'm
down from the hill country, back in the north," he supplemented.

Hogarty turned away--turned back to the green-topped table and played
the double-blank with delicate precision.

"Of course," he agreed softly. "Quite right--quite right! And--er--may
I inquire if it was something of importance--something directly
concerning me--which has resulted in this neighborly call?"

He did not so much as lift his eyes from the dominoes beneath his
fingers. If he had he would have seen, as Ogden saw, that Denny's
smile faded away--disappeared entirely. But when he replied the boy's
voice was unchanged.

"I don't know's it's particularly important to you," he answered.
"That's what I came down for--to see. I was directed--back a day or
two I was told that maybe if I looked you up you'd have some opening
for me, down here. I was told you were looking for a--a good
heavyweight fighter!"

Bobby Ogden threw back his head to laugh. And instead he just sat
there with his mouth wide open, waiting. He felt sure that there was a
better moment coming. Hogarty fiddled with the dominoes and seemed to
be considering that information with due deliberation and from every
angle.

"I see," he murmured at last. "Surely. Quite right--quite right! And I
may, I believe, safely assure you that I have several fine openings in
the establishment for young men--for just the right sort of young men,
of course. May I--er--inquire if you wish employment by the--er--week,
or just in your spare time, to put it so?"

The question was icily sarcastic. Denny's answer came sharp upon its
heels. His voice was just as measured, just as inflectionless as
Hogarty's had been.

"If you hire them here by the week," he said, "or for their spare
time, I--I reckon I've come to the wrong establishment. I was only
asking you for a chance to show you whether I was any good or not. I
was told you'd be just as interested to find out as I was myself.
Maybe--maybe I've made a bad mistake!"

Bobby Ogden was sorry he had waited to laugh. There was a hardness in
the big-shouldered figure's words that he did not like; a directly
simple, unmistakable rebuke for the sneer concealed in Hogarty's
question that could not be misinterpreted. And something utterly bad
flared up in the lean-faced black-clad proprietor's eyes--something
of enmity that seemed to Ogden all out of proportion with the
provocation. All the smooth suavity disappeared from his speech just
as chalk marks are wiped out by a wet sponge. And Hogarty came
swiftly to his feet.

"Maybe you were--maybe you did make a bad mistake!" he rasped out in a
dead, colorless monotone that scarcely moved his lips. "But no man
ever came into this place yet, and went out again to say he didn't get
his chance. I know a few specimens who make a profession of pleading
that. They're quitters--and they assay a streak of yellow that isn't
pay dirt!"

His voice dropped in register. It just missed being hoarse. With a
rapidity that was almost bewildering he began to give orders to the
two boys who were still phlegmatically waxing the floor. And the
English-professor intonation was gone entirely.

"You, Joe!" he called, "get out the rods; set 'em up and rope her off!
Legs, you chase out and find Sutton, if he's not in back. You'll run
into him at Sharp's, most likely. Tell him to come a-running. Tell him
a new one's drifted in from the frontier--and thinks he needs to be
shown. Move, you shrimp!"

Before he had finished speaking he had started toward the locker
rooms at the rear. Denny he ignored as though he did not exist. He
went without a sound in his rubber-soled shoes. Bobby Ogden, waking
suddenly from his trancelike condition, leaped to his feet and ran
after him. Hogarty halted at the pressure of the boy's pink-nailed
fingers on his arm and wheeled to show a face that was startlingly
white and strained.

"Why, you great big kid!" Bobby Ogden flung at him. "You big infant!
You're really sore! Don't you know he didn't mean anything. He's only
a kid himself--and you egged him into it!"

"Is he?"

From that gently rising inflection alone Ogden knew that interference
was absolutely hopeless.

"Is he? Well, he's old enough to seem to know what he wants. And he's
going to get it--see? He's going to get it--and--get--it--good! No man
ever flung it into my face that I didn't give him a chance--not and
got away with it."

Hogarty glanced meaningly down at the restraining hand upon his sleeve
and Ogden removed it hastily. He stood in dismayed indecision until
the ex-lightweight had disappeared before he turned toward Young
Denny, who had been watching in silence his effort at intervention.
Denny had not moved. Ogden's almost girlishly modeled face was more
than apprehensive as he stepped up to him.

"He's mad," he stated flatly. "You've got him peeved for keeps. And I
guess you've let yourself in for quite a merry little session, too,
unless--unless"--he hesitated, peering curiously in Denny's grave
face, "unless you want to make a nice quiet little exit before he
comes back with Sutton. You can, you know, and--and it may save you
quite a little--er--discomfort in the long run. Sutton--well, the
least I can say of Sutton is that he's inclined to be a trifle
rough!"

Ogden saw that slow smile returning; he saw it start far back in the
steady eyes and spread until it touched the corners of the other boy's
lips again.

"You mean--leave?" Young Denny asked.

Ogden nodded significantly.

"That's just what I do mean--only a great deal more so!"

"But I--I couldn't very well do that now--could I?"

The silk-shirted shoulders shrugged hopelessly.

"Well, since you ask me," he said, "judging from what I've already
seen of your methods, I--I'd say most emphatically no. I've done all I
can when I advise you that now is the one best hour to make your
getaway. It wouldn't be exactly a glorious retreat from the field, but
it wouldn't be so painful, either. Just remember that, will you? I'm
to fit you out with some fighting togs, I suppose, if you'll just come
along."

He turned to follow in the direction which Hogarty had taken, and then
paused once more.

"Beg pardon for the omission, Mr. Bolton," he added, and he smiled
boyishly. "My name's Ogden--Bobby Ogden. Glad to become acquainted
with you, I'm sure. And now, if you will follow on, I'll do my best
for you. Would you mind walking on your toes? You see, there are just
two things most calculated to get Flash's goat. One of 'em's marring
up his floor with heavy boots, and the other is butting in when he's
playing dominoes. You couldn't have known it, of course, but he can't
stand for either of them. And together I am afraid they have got you
in pretty bad. You're sure you can't swallow your pride, and just beat
it quietly while the chance is nice and handy? Maybe you ought to
think of your family--no?"

Denny's smile widened. He shook his head in refusal. He knew he was
going to like Ogden--like him for the same reason that he had liked
the fat, brown-clad newspaper man in Boltonwood--because of the
charming equality of his attitude and the frankness in his eyes.

"No," he decided, "I--I'm afraid I can't. I didn't mean to stir him up
so, either, only--only I thought, just for a minute or two, that he
was laughing at me. I think I'd rather stay and see it out. But you
mustn't worry about me--I wouldn't if I were you."

Again Ogden shrugged resignedly. On tiptoe Denny followed him to the
locker-rooms in the rear, and at a word of direction began to remove
his clothes. While he plunged head-foremost into a bin in search for a
pair of white trunks, Ogden kept up a steady stream of advice
calculated to save the other at least a small percentage of
punishment.

"Sutton's big," he exclaimed jerkily, head out of sight, "but he isn't
fast on his feet. That's why they call him Boots. He steps around as
though he had on waders--hip-high ones. But he's lightning hitting
from close in--in-fighting they call it--where most big fighters don't
shine. That's because he's had Flash's coaching. You want to keep away
from him--keep him at arm's length, and maybe he won't do too much
harm. I--I'd let him do all the leading, if I were you, and--and kind
of run ahead of him." The voice came half-smothered from the cluttered
bin of equipment. "That isn't running away from him because you're
afraid, you understand. It's just playing him to tire him out, you
know!"

It was silent for a moment while Bobby Ogden burrowed for the
necessary canvas shoes. Then a hushed laugh broke that quiet and
brought the latter bolt upright. With the trunks in one hand and the
rubber-soled slippers in the other, Ogden stood and stared, only half
understanding that the big boy before him was laughing at him for his
solicitude and trying to reassure him with that same mirth.

"Funny, is it?" he snorted aggrievedly. "So very--very--funny? Well, I
only hope you'll be able to laugh that way again--say even in a month
or two!"

"I wasn't laughing at you," Young Denny told him soberly. "I--I was
just thinking how strange it seemed to have somebody worried over
me--worried because they were afraid I might get hurt. Most little
mix-ups I've gone into have worried folks--lest I wouldn't."



CHAPTER XIII


When he had first looked up from the green-topped table and seen him
standing there in the entrance of the gymnasium Ogden had only sensed
the bigness of Denny Bolton's body--only vaguely felt the promise
which his smooth black suit concealed. It was the face that had
interested him most at that moment, and yet he had not even noticed
the half healed cut that ran almost to the point of the chin. Young
Denny's grave explanation of his quiet mirth caused him to look
closer--made him really wonder now what had been its cause. There was
a frankly inquisitive question half-formed behind his lips, but when
he turned to find Denny sitting stripped to the waist, waiting for the
garments which he held in his hands, he merely stood and stared. Bobby
Ogden had seen many men stripped for the ring. It took more than an
ordinary man to make him look even once--but he could not take his
eyes off this boy before him. Once he whistled softly between his
teeth in unconcealed amazement; once he walked entirely around him,
exclaiming softly to himself. Then he remembered.

"Here, get into these," he ordered abruptly, and thrust the things
into Denny's waiting hands.

While Denny was obeying he continued to circle and to admire
critically.

"Man--man!" he murmured. "But you're sure put together right!" He was
silent for a moment while he punched back and shoulders with a
searching thumb. "Silk and steel," he went on to himself. "And not a
lump--not a single knot! Oh, if you only knew how to use it; if you
only knew the moves, wouldn't we give Flash the heart-break of his
life! Now wouldn't we?"

Denny finished lacing his flat shoes and stood erect, and even Ogden's
chattering tongue was silent. It was very easy now to see why that big
body had seemed shoulder-heavy. From the shoulder points the lines ran
unbroken, almost wedgelike, to his ankles. He was flat and slim in the
waist as any stripling might have been. All hint of bulkiness was
gone. He seemed almost slender, until one started to analyze each
dimension singly, such as the breadth of his back, or the depth of his
chest. Then one realized that it was only the slimness of fine-drawn
ankles, the swelling smoothness of hidden sinews which created that
impression. And Ogden's quick eye caught that instantly.

"I'd have said one-ninety," he stated judicially. "At least as much as
that, or a shade better, before you undressed. Now I'd put it
under--what do you weigh, anyhow?"

He slid the weight over the bar after Young Denny had stepped upon the
white scales.

"One sixty-five--sixty-eight--seventy, and a trifle over," he
finished. "Man, but you're built for speed! You ought to be lightning
fast."

At that instant the boy called Legs opened the door and thrust in his
head.

"The chief says if you're coming at all," he droned apathetically,
"you might just as well come now."

Ogden threw a long bathrobe over his charge's shoulders as the latter
started forward. He wanted to note the effect which the sudden display
of that pair of shoulders and set of back muscles would have upon
Flash Hogarty's temper. As they crossed the long room Denny's grave
lack of concern was made to seem almost stolid in contrast with the
heliotrope silk-shirted boy's excessive nervousness.

"Now remember what I told you," he whispered hoarsely. "Keep away from
him--keep away and let him do the rushing--for he's got a punch that's
sudden death! You can tire him out. He's old and his wind is gone."

The brass rods had been set up in their sockets in the floor and the
space which they outlined in the middle of the room roped off and
carpeted with a square of hard, brown canvas. The man called Boots
Sutton was already in his corner, waiting, and his attitude toward the
whole affair was very patently that of sheer boredom. He barely lifted
his eyes as Young Denny crawled through the ropes at the opposite
corner, behind the officiously fluttering Ogden. This was merely part
of his every day's work; he spent hours each week either instructing
frankly confessed amateurs or discouraging too-confident, would-be
professionals. It was only because of the strangely venomous harshness
with which Hogarty had given him his orders while he was himself
dressing that he vouchsafed Denny even that one glance.

"I want you to get him," Hogarty snarled. "I want you to get him right
from the jump--and get him!--and keep on getting him! Either make him
squeal--make him quit--or beat him to death!"

But if Sutton failed to note the play of those muscles that bunched
and quivered and ran like live things beneath the skin of the boy's
back, when Bobby Ogden threw off the enveloping wrap with an
ostentatious flourish and knelt to lace on his gloves, that disclosure
was not entirely lost upon Hogarty. Watching from the corners of his
eyes, Bobby saw him scowl and chew his lip as his head came forward a
little. And immediately he turned to speak again in a whisper to
Boots, squatting nonchalantly in his corner.

"There's no need, mind, of being careless," he cautioned. "He--he
might have a punch, you know, at that. Some of 'em do--a lucky one
once in a while. Just watch him a trifle--and hand it to him good!"

Sutton nodded and rose to his feet. Watch in hand, Hogarty vaulted the
ropes, and Ogden, with a last whispered admonition, bundled up the
bathrobe and scuttled from the ring.

At that moment Young Denny's bulkily slender body was even more
deceptive. Sutton, even when trained to his finest, would have
outweighed him twenty pounds. Now that margin was nearer thirty, and
added to that, he was inches less in height. He was shorter of neck,
blocky, built close to the ground. And the span of his ankle was
nearly as great as that of Denny's knee.

Comparing them with detail-hungry eyes, Bobby Ogden saw, however, that
from the waist up the boy's clean, swelling body totally shadowed the
other's knotted bulk; he noted that, with arm outstretched, heel of
glove against Sutton's chin, Denny's reach was more than great enough
to hold the other away from him. Hard on the heels of that thought
came the realization that that was a fine point of the game utterly
outside of the boy's knowledge.

It was quiet--oddly, peacefully quiet for a second--in that long room.
Then in obedience to a nod from Hogarty the lanky boy called Legs
languidly touched a bell, and all that peaceful silence was shattered
to bits. Ogden shouted aloud, without knowing it, a shrill, dismayed
cry of warning, as Sutton catapulted from his corner; he shouted and
shut his eyes and winced as if that rushing attack had been launched
at himself. But he opened them again--opened them at the sound of a
sickening smash of glove against flesh--to see Denny blink both eyes
as his whole body rebounded from that blow.

Ogden waited, forgetting to breathe, for the boy to go down; he waited
to see his knees weaken and his shoulders slump forward. But instead
of shriveling before that pile-driver swing, he realized that Denny
somehow was weathering the storm of blows that followed it; that
somehow he had managed to keep his feet and was backing away, trying
to follow faithfully his instructions.

Just as Ogden had pictured it would be, it all happened. Foot by foot
Sutton drove him around the ring. There was no opening for Denny to
return a blow--nothing but a maze of battering fists to be blocked and
ducked and covered. Even the speed, the natural speed of lithe muscles
for which Bobby had hoped, and hopelessly expected, was entirely
lacking in every motion. Heavy-footed, ponderous, Young Denny gave way
before that attack. Sutton, always reputed slow, was terribly,
brutally swift of movement in comparison with the boy's faltering
uncertainty.

Twice and a third time in the first minute of fighting Boots feinted
aside his guard with what seemed childish ease and then drove his
glove against the other's unprotected face. Time after time he
repeated the blow, and at each sickening smack that answered the crash
of leather against flesh Bobby Ogden gasped aloud and marveled. For at
each jolt Denny merely blinked his eyes as he recoiled--blinked, and
retreated a little more slowly than before.

At the bell Ogden was through the ropes and dragging him to his
corner. A little trickle of blood was gathering on the point of
Denny's chin where the glove had opened afresh the half-healed cut on
his cheek; he was shaking his head as he waved aside the wet towel in
Ogden's hands.

"Man, but you're some bear for punishment!" Ogden chattered, strangely
weak himself beneath his belt. "If you only had a little speed--just a
little! Why, he sent over a dozen to your chin that ought to have laid
you away. But you're playing him right! You're working him, and if you
can manage to hang on you'll get him in the end. Just keep away--keep
away and let him wear himself out. But--oh, if you did have it. Just
one real punch!"

Young Denny continued to shake his head--continued to shake it
doggedly.

"Do--do you mean that that is as hard as he is likely to hit?" he
queried slowly. "Do you mean--he was really trying--hard?"

Ogden stopped urging the wet towel upon him and stood and gazed at him
with something close akin to awe in his eyes.

"Hard!" he echoed in a small voice. "Hard! How hard do you expect a
man to hit?"

"Then your plan was wrong," Young Denny told him. "Of course," he
hastened to soften that abrupt statement, "of course it would work all
right, only--only I'm not much good at that kind of fancy work. I--I
just have to wade right in, when I want to do any damage, because I'm
slow getting away from a man. I can't punch--not hard--when I'm
backing off. But now I aim to show you how hard I expect a man to hit,
just as soon as they ring that bell!"

Hogarty was leaning over Sutton in the opposite corner, frowning and
talking rapidly.

"What's the matter, Boots?" he demanded anxiously. "Haven't lost your
kick, have you?"

Sutton gazed contemplatively down at his gloved hands and up again
into his employer's face.

"Who'd you say that guy was?" he countered. "Where's he blowed in
from--again?"

"A rube--down from the hills he called it. Just some come-on,"
Hogarty repeated his former information, "who thinks because he's
cleaned up main street and licked the village blacksmith that
he's a world-beater. Why, Boots? You aren't worried, are you?"

The contemplative gleam in Sutton's eyes deepened.

"Because," he stated thoughtfully, "just because there's some
mistake--or--or he's made of brass. I--I hit him pretty hard, Flash--and
do you know what he done? Well, he blinked. He--blinked--at--me. I
never hit any man harder."

Hogarty's face had lost a little of its inscrutability. He flashed one
sharp glance across at Young Denny in the other corner as he stepped
back out of the ring and his frown deepened a little after that brief
scrutiny. For the boy's body, squatting there, crouched waiting for
the bell, was taut in every sinew, quivering with eagerness.

"You just failed to place 'em right, I guess," he reassured Boots.
"Take a little more time, and get him flush on the bone. You can slow
up a little. He isn't even fast enough to run away from you."

Again Hogarty nodded to the boy called Legs, and again the gong rang.
Five minutes earlier it would have been hard for Bobby Ogden to have
explained just what it was which he had half dreamed might lurk in
those rippling muscles that bunched and ran beneath Denny's white
skin. For want of a better name he had named it speed. And now, at the
tap of the bell, he watched and recognized.

Swift as was Sutton's savage rush across the canvas, he had hardly
left his corner in the ropes before Young Denny was upon him. The boy
lifted and sprang and dropped cat-footed in the middle of the ring,
hunched of shoulder and bent of knee to meet the shocking impact. It
was bewilderingly rapid--terrifyingly effortless--this explosive,
spontaneous answer of every muscle to the call of the brain. Just as
before, Sutton feinted and saw his opening and swung. Young Denny knew
only one best way to fight; he knew only that he had to take a blow in
order to give one, and Sutton's fist shot home against his unprotected
chin. He blinked with the shock, just as he had blinked before, and
swayed back a little. Sutton had swung hard--he had swung from his
heels--and he was still following that blow through when Denny snapped
forward again.

It wasn't a long swing, but it was wickedly quick. From the waist it
started, a short, vicious jolt that carried all the boy's weight
behind it, and the instant that Denny whipped it over Sutton's chin
seemed to come out to meet it--seemed almost to lift to receive it.
And then, as his head leaped back, even before his body had lifted
from the floor, the boy's other hand drove across and set him spinning
in the air as he fell. He went down sideways, a long, crashing fall
that dropped him limp in the corner which he had just left.

For a moment Denny crouched waiting for him to rise. Then he realized
that Sutton would not rise again--not for a time. He saw Hogarty leap
over the ropes and kneel--saw the boy Legs rush across with ammonia
and water--and he understood. Ogden was at his side, pounding him upon
the shoulder and shrieking in his ear. His eyes lifted from the face
of the fallen man to that of the heliotrope silk-shirted person beside
him.

"He's not really badly hurt, is he?" he inquired slowly. "I--I didn't
hit him--too hard?"

Ogden ceased for a moment thumping him on the back.

"Hurt!" he yelped. "Didn't hit him too hard! Why, man, he's stiff,
right now. He's ready for the coroner! Gad--and I was pitying you--I
was----"

Young Denny shook him off and crossed and knelt beside the kneeling
Hogarty. And at that moment Sutton opened his eyes again and stared
dully into the ex-lightweight's face. After a time recognition began
to dawn in that gaze--understanding--comprehension. Once it shifted to
Denny, and then came back again. He made several futile efforts before
he could make his lips frame the words.

Then, "Amateur," he muttered, and he managed to rip one glove from a
limp hand and hurl it from him as he struggled to sit erect.
"Amateur--hell! A-a-a-h, Flash, what're you tryin' to hand me?"



CHAPTER XIV


Denny had begun to get back into his clothes, pausing now and then to
dabble tentatively at the freshly broken bruise with the wet towel
which Ogden had at last forced him to accept, when the door of the
dressing-room opened, and Hogarty stepped briskly inside and closed
the door behind him.

The ex-lightweight ignored entirely the covertly delighted grin that
lit up Bobby Ogden's features at his appearance. His own too-pale,
too-thin lips were curved in a ghost of a smile; his face had lost all
its dangerous tautness, but the greatest change of all lay there in
his eyes. Their flaring antagonism had burnt itself out. And when
Hogarty spoke it was once more in his smoothly perfect, delightfully
measured, best professor-of-English style, for all that his opening
remark was couched in the vernacular.

"Mr. Bolton," he began to the boy sitting quiet before him, "it looks
as though we would have to hand it to you--which I earnestly desire
you to believe I am now doing, with both hands. It may eventually
prove that I lost a most valuable assistant through this morning's
little flurry. I am not quite certain yet as to that as Boots is not
sufficiently himself to give the matter judicious consideration.

"He still thinks I crossed him for the entertainment's sake--which is
of little immediate importance. What I did come in for was to listen
to anything at all that you may have to tell me. You'll admit, of
course, that while your explanation as to your errand was strictly to
the point, it was scarcely comprehensive. My own unfortunate temper
was, no doubt, largely the cause of your brevity."

He hesitated a moment, clearing his throat and gazing blankly at the
grinning Ogden.

"As Ogden here has of course told you, I'm--well, rather touchy when
interrupted at my favorite pastime, and especially so when I am trying
to get a few minutes relaxation with a pin-headed person who insists
upon playing without watching the board.

"But you spoke of wanting an opportunity of--er--entering the
game professionally. I'm not admitting you're a world-beater,
understand--or anything like that! You've just succeeded in
putting away a man who was as formidable as the best of them,
five years ago. And five years isn't today, by any means. I've been
looking for a real possibility to appear for so long that I've
grown exceedingly sensitive at each fresh failure. And yet--and yet,
if you did have the stuff----!"

Again he stopped and Denny, watching, saw the proprietor's face glow
suddenly with a savage sort of exultation. His eyes, half-veiled
behind drooping lids that twitched a little, went unseeingly over the
boy's head as though they were visualizing a triumph so long
anticipated that it had become almost a lost hope. Again that promise
of something ominous blackened the pupils--something totally dangerous
that harmonized perfectly with the snarl upon his lips.

Hogarty's whole attitude was that of a man who wanted to believe and
yet who, because he knew that the very measure of his eagerness made
him doubly easy to convince, had resolved not to let himself accept
one spurious proof. And all his skepticism was shot through and
through with hate--a deadly, patient sort of hatred for someone which
was as easy to see as it was hard for the big-shouldered boy to
understand.

There was craft in the ex-lightweight's bearing--a gentleness almost
stealthy when he leaned forward a little, as if he feared that the
first abrupt move or word on his part would frighten away that timid
hope.

"I believe that you said some one sent you. You--you did not mention
the name?"

Denny leaned over and picked up his coat from a chair beside the
bench, searching the pockets until he found the card which the plump,
brown-clad newspaper man had given him. Without a word he reached out
and put it in Hogarty's hands.

It bore Jesse Hogarty's Fourteenth Street address across its face.
Hogarty turned it over.

"Introducing the Pilgrim," ran the caption in the cramped handwriting
of Chub Morehouse's stubby fingers. And, beneath, that succinct
sentence which was not so cryptic after all:

"Some of them may have science, and some of them may have speed, but
after all it's the man who can take punishment who gets the final
decision. Call me up, if this ever comes to hand."

Very deliberately Hogarty deciphered the words, lifted a vaguely
puzzled face to Young Denny, who waited immobile--and then returned
again to the card. He even nodded once in thorough appreciation of the
title which Morehouse had given the boy; he smiled faintly as he
remembered Denny as he had stood there in the entrance of the big
room, a short while before, and realized how apt the phrase was. Then
he began to whistle, a shrill, faint, monotonous measure, the
calculating glitter in his eyes growing more and more brilliant.

"So!" he murmured thoughtfully. "So-o-o!"

And then, to Denny:

"Was there--did he make any comment in particular, when he gave you
this?"

The boy's eyes twinkled.

"He--made several," he answered. "He said that there was a man at that
address--meaning you--that would fall on my neck and weep, if I
happened to have the stuff. And he warned me, too, not to think that
Jed The Red fought like a school boy, just because he was a
second-rater--because he didn't, nothing like that!"

Hogarty laughed aloud. That sudden, staccato chuckle was almost
startling coming from his pale lips. It hushed just as quickly as it
had begun.

"Jed The Red, eh?" he reiterated softly, and he began tapping the card
with his fingertips. "I see, or at least I am commencing to get a
glimmer of those possibilities which Mr. Morehouse may have had in
mind. And now I think the one best thing to do would be to call him
up, as he has here requested. As soon as you finish dressing Ogden
here will show you the rest of the works, if you'd care to look around
a little. It is entirely likely that we shall want to talk with you
directly."

He wheeled abruptly toward Ogden who had been listening without a
word, the broad grin never leaving his lips. It was the silk-shirted
boy to whom Hogarty addressed the rest of that sentence.

"And you," he said, and his voice shed with astounding completeness
all its syllabled nicety. "You try to make yourself useful as well as
pestilential. Get him a bit of adhesive for that cut. It looks as bad
as though a horse had kicked him there.

"And the rest of your mob will be swarming in here in a few minutes,
too. You can tell them that Sutton is--er--indisposed this morning,
and that they'll have to play by themselves."

He nodded briefly to Denny and opened the door. But he stopped again
before he passed out.

"There's one other question, Mr. Bolton," he said over his shoulder.
"And please believe that I am not usually so inquisitive. But I'm more
than a little curious to know why you did not present this card
first--and go through the little informal examination I arranged for
you afterward? It would have insured you a far different reception.
Was there any special reason, or did you just overlook it?"

Denny dabbed again at the red drop on his chin.

"No, I didn't exactly forget it," he stated ponderously. "But, you
see, I kind of thought if I just told you first that I wanted to see
if I had any chance, you wouldn't make any allowances for me because
I----"

Hogarty's second nod which cut him short was the quintessence of crisp
satisfaction.

"I understand," he cut in. "Perfectly! And quite right--quite right!"

The ex-lightweight proprietor was sitting with his chin clasped in
both palms, still staring at the half facetious words of introduction
which the plump newspaper man had penciled across that card, when the
door of the small office in the front of the gymnasium was pushed open
a crack, some scant fifteen minutes after his peremptory summons had
gone out over the wire, and made him lift his head.

His eyes were filmed with a preoccupation too profound to be dispelled
by the mock anxiety upon the chubby round countenance which Morehouse
thrust through that small aperture between door and frame, or his
excessively overdone caution as he swung the door wider and tiptoed
over the threshold, to stand and point a rigidly stubby finger behind
him at the trail of nail prints which Young Denny's shoes had left
across the glistening wax an hour or so earlier.

"Jesse," he whispered hoarsely, "some one has perpetrated here upon
the sacred sheen of your floor a dastardly outrage! I merely want you
to note, before you start running the guilty one to earth, that I am
making my entrance entirely in accordance with your oft-reiterated
instructions. I am not he!"

For all the change which it brought about in Hogarty's face that
greeting might have been left unspoken. He vouchsafed the fat man's
elaborate pantomime not so much as the shadow of a smile, nodded once,
thoughtfully, and let his eyes fall again to the card between his
elbows on the table-top.

"Come in, Chub," he invited shortly. "Come in." And as a clamor of
many voices in the outer entrance heralded the arrival of the rest of
Ogden's crowd: "Here comes the mob now. Come in and close the door."

Morehouse, still from head to toe a symphony in many-toned browns,
shed every shred of his facetiousness at Hogarty's crisply repeated
invitation. He closed the door and snapped the catch that made it fast
before he crossed, without a word, and drew a chair up to the opposite
side of the desk.

"Your hurry call just caught me as I was leaving for lunch," he
explained then. "And I made pretty fair time getting down here, too.
What's the dark secret?"

The black-clad proprietor lifted his lean jaw from his hands and gazed
long and steadily into the newspaper man's eyes, picked up the bit of
pasteboard which bore the latter's own name across its front and
flipped it silently across the table to him. Morehouse took it up
gingerly and read it--reversed it and read again.

"Nice little touch, that," he averred finally. "Rather neat and tasty,
if I do say it myself. 'Introducing The Pilgrim!' Hum-m-m. You can't
quite appreciate it of course, but--oh, Flash, I wish you could have
seen that big boy standing there in the door of that little backwoods
tavern, just as I saw him, about a week ago! Why, he--he was----"

"He's come!" Hogarty cut in briefly.

Morehouse's chin dropped. He sat with mouth agape.

"Huh?" he grunted. "He's--he's come where?"

Where his facetiousness had failed him Morehouse's round-eyed
astonishment, a little tinged with panic, was more than successful.
Hogarty permitted himself to smile a trifle--his queer, strained
smile.

"He is here," he repeated gravely, and the words were couched in his
choicest accents. "He came in, perhaps, an hour ago. That is his
monogramed trail across the floor which caught your eye. Oh, he's
here--don't doubt that! I'll give you a little review of the manner of
his coming, after you tell me how you ever happened to send him--why
you gave him that card? What's the answer to it, Chub?"

That same light of savage hope and cruelly calculating enmity, all so
strangely mixed with a persistent doubt, which Young Denny had seen
flare up in the ex-lightweight's eyes a little while before, back in
the dressing-room, began to creep once more across Hogarty's face.

"You know how long I've been waiting for one to come along, Chub," he
went on, almost hoarsely. "You know how I've looked for the man who
could do what none of the others have done yet, even though he is only
a second-rater. Twice I thought I had a newcomer who could put The Red
away--and put him away for keeps--and I just fooled myself because I
was so anxious to believe. I've grown a trifle wary, Chub, just a
trifle! Now, I'd like to hear you talk!"

Morehouse sat and fingered that card for a long time in absolute
silence--a silence that was heavy with embarrassment on his part. He
understood, without need of explanation, for whom that chill hatred
glowed in the spare ex-lightweight's eyes--knew the full reason for
it. And because he knew Hogarty, too, as few men had ever come to know
him, he had often assured himself that he was thankful not to be the
man who had earned it.

That knowledge had been very vividly present when, a few days
before, on the platform of the Boltonwood station, he had requested
Denny Bolton to give him back his card for a moment, after listening
to the boy's grave explanation of the raw wound across his cheek,
and on a quite momentary impulse written across its back that short
sentence which was so meaty with meaning. Every detail of Hogarty's
country-wide search for a man who could whip Jed The Red was an open
secret, so far as he was concerned; he was familiar with all the
bitterness of every fresh disappointment, but he had never seen
Hogarty's face so alive with exultant hope as it was at that moment.

And Morehouse was embarrassed and sorry, and ashamed, too, of what
seemed now must have been a weak surrender to an impulse which, after
all, could have been born of nothing but a too keen sense of humor.
Hogarty's face was more than eager. It was white and strained.

"Flash," he began at last, ludicrously uncomfortable, "Flash, I'm
sorry I wrote this, for I always told you that if I ever did send any
one to you he'd be a live one and worth your trouble. Right this
minute I can't tell why I did it, either, unless I am one of those
naturally dangerous idiots with a perverted sense of what is really
funny. Or maybe I didn't believe he'd ever get any farther from home
than he was that morning when I gave him this card. That must have
been it, I suppose. Because I never saw him in action. Why, I never so
much as saw him kick a dog!

"I'm telling you because I don't want you to be disappointed
again--and yet I have to tell you, too, that right at the time I wrote
this stuff, Flash, just for a minute or two, I believe I did almost
think he might be an answer to your riddle. Maybe that was because he
had already licked Jed The Red once, and I should judge, made a very
thorough job of it at that. That must have influenced me some. But let
me tell you all the story and maybe you'll understand a little
better--something that I can't say for myself right at this very
instant."

Morehouse began at the very beginning, looking oftener at the card
between his fingers than at Hogarty's too brilliant eyes, which were
fairly burning his face.

"In the first place, Flash," he went on, "you know as well as I do
that The Red isn't a real champion and never will be. He has the build
and the punch, and he's game, too--you'll have to hand him that. But
stacked up against the men who held the title ten years ago he'd last
about five rounds--if he was lucky. I don't know why that is, either,
unless he is so crooked at heart that he loses confidence even in
himself when he has to face a real man. But the public at this minute
thinks he is as great as the greatest. The way he polished off The
Texan had convinced them of that--and we--well, the paper always tries
to give them what they want, you know.

"Now that was the reason I ran up north last week, after I'd got a tip
that Conway hailed originally from a little New England village back
in the hills--one of those towns that are almost as up-to-date today
as they were fifty years ago. It looked like a nice catchy little
story, which I will, of course, admit I could have faked just as well
as not. But it was the cartoons I wanted. You can't really fake
them--not after you've once known the real thing. And as it happens I
have known it, for I came from a village up that way myself.

"And, then, I was curious, too. I've always had a private opinion that
if chance hadn't pitchforked Conway into the prize-ring he'd have made
a grand success as a blackjack artist or a second-story man. But I
wanted the pictures, and it wasn't a very difficult matter either to
get them. You see I knew just where I'd find what I wanted, and things
panned out pretty much as I thought they would.

"It didn't take more than a half hour to spread the report that Conway
was practically the only really famous man in the country today, and
in a fair way to make his own home town just as celebrated. It may
sound funny to you, for you don't know the back-country as I do, but
just that short article in the daily, coupled with a few helpful hints
from me that I was looking for all the nice, touching incidents of his
boyhood days, with the opinions of the oldest inhabitants, and maybe a
few of their pictures to be used in a big Sunday feature, brought them
all out: the old circle of regulars which always sits around the
tavern stove nights, straightening out the country's politics and
attending strictly to everybody's affairs but their own.

"Eager? Man, it was a stampede! I reckon that every male inhabitant
within a radius of five miles was there when I opened the meeting with
a few choice words--every man but one, and he comes in just a little
later in this tale. They surely did turn out. It was as perfect a
mass meeting as any I've ever seen, but the crowd itself didn't get
much of a chance to talk--not individually anyhow. They were simply
the chorus of 'ayes' which the town's big man paused now and then for
them to voice.

"He did the talking, Flash. They called him 'Judge'--they most always
do in those towns. He most certainly monopolized the conversation, and
while he gave his monologue, I sat and got the best of them down on
paper. They thought I was taking notes. I'll show you his picture some
day. He's the meanest man I ever met yet--and I've met a few!
Puffy-faced and red, and too close between the eyes. Fat, too! Somehow
I'm ashamed of being plump myself, since meeting him.

"He did all the talking, and from the very first time he opened his
mouth I knew he was lying. You can always tell a professional liar; he
lies too smoothly, somehow. Well, to judge from his story Conway was
the only unspotted cherub child that had ever been born and bred in
that section. Oh, yes, _he'd_ seen the promise in Conway; _he_ knew
that Conway was to be the pride and joy of the community, right from
the first. _He'd_ always said so! Why, _he_ was the very man who had
given him his first pointers in the game, when he was cleaning up all
the rest of the boys in town, just by way of recreation. If I'd never
had a suspicion before I'd have known just from those slick sentences
of his that Conway had never been anything in that village but a
small-sized edition of the full-blown crook he is today.

"But I didn't have any reason to contradict him, did I? He was doing
all that I could ask, and more. For there wasn't a man in that whole
crowd who dared to sneeze until he got his cue from the Judge. But
that fat man got his jolt finally, just the same, and got it good,
too.

"He had just finished telling how Conway had cleaned up the village
kids, irrespective of size, whenever he felt the need of exercise, and
was looking around at the circle behind him to give them a chance to
back him up, when it happened. I told you a minute ago that I wished
you could have seen that boy, as I saw him that night, standing there
in that tavern doorway. You see, he'd come in so quietly that nobody
had heard him--come in just in time to hear the Judge's last words.
And when the Judge turned around he looked full into that boy's eyes.

"Oh, he got his, good and plenty! I didn't watch him very closely
because it was hard for me to take my eyes off the white face of that
boy at the door. But I did see that he went pretty nearly purple for a
minute, and I heard him gurgle, too, he was that surprised, before he
caught his breath. Then he stuck out one hand and tried to bluff it
out.

"'There's one of 'em, right now,' he sang out; but he should have
known that a man who's sure of his ground doesn't have to shout to
make his point. 'There's Young Denny Bolton,' he said, 'who went to
school with him, right here in this town. _Ask him_ if Jeddy Conway
was pretty handy as a boy!' And he laughed, Flash--commenced to
chuckle! Oh, there was no misunderstanding what he meant to insinuate.
'Ask him--but maybe he's still a little mite too sensitive to talk
about it yet--eh, Denny?'

"He thought he could bluff it--bluff me, with that boy standing there
in the doorway calling him a liar as if I didn't know it all, yet at
that minute I couldn't help but ask that boy a question. I think it
was mostly because I wanted to hear what the voice of a man with a
face like his would sound like, for he hadn't opened his lips to
answer that fat hypocrite's insinuation.

"So I asked him if he had known Conway well--asked him if he had had a
few set-to's with him himself. I'm not going to forget how he looked
when he turned toward me, either. I'm not going to forget the look on
his face as he swung around. And I'm remembering his voice pretty
fairly well, too, right now!

"'Maybe,' he answered me, and he almost drawled the words. 'Maybe I
did,' he said.

"Why, Flash, he couldn't have said more if he had talked for a week.
He'd said all there was to say, now, hadn't he? But it let the Judge
out, just the same, for he just gave the circle behind him the the
high sign and set the crowd to laughing for a minute or two, until the
tension was relieved. I didn't laugh myself. There didn't seem to be
much of a joke about it after seeing that boy's eyes. It was
Bolton--Young Denny, they called him--and I got his story, their side
of it at least, after he shut the door behind him.

"It's another thing I'd be more likely to understand than you would,
Flash, because you've never lived in a village like that, and I have.
Back a hundred years or so the first settlement had been named for his
family--Boltonwood, they'd called it--but I guess the strain must have
petered out. From all I could gather the Boltons had been drinking
themselves to death with unfailing regularity and dispatch for several
generations back, and I heard a choice detailed description, too, of
the way the boy's own father had made his final exit--heard it from
that moon-faced leading citizen who did all the talking--that made me
want to kick him in the face. I don't know yet why I didn't. I was
sitting on the tavern desk with my feet on a level with his face. I
should have bashed him a good one. It's one of the lost opportunities
which I'll always regret, unless maybe I take a Saturday off some day
and run up and beat him up proper!

"He gave me a nice little account of how the boy's dad had gone over,
screaming mad, with the town's elite standing around saying, 'I told
you so,' and that big scared kid kneeling beside his bed, trying to
pray--trying to make it easier for him.

"Did you ever see a flock of buzzards circling, Flash, waiting for
some wounded thing beneath them to die? No? Well, I have, and it isn't
a pretty sight either. That was what they made me think of that night.
And I learned, too, how they'd been waiting ever since for that boy to
go the way his father had traveled before him; they even told me that
the same old jug still stood in the kitchen corner, and would have
pointed out his tumble-down old place on the hill, where they had let
him go on living alone, only it was too dark for any one to see.

"Odd, now wasn't it? But it didn't come to me at that moment. I never
gave it a thought that there was a man who had licked Conway once and
might do it again. But I didn't forget him; I wanted to, that night,
but I couldn't. And I guess I was still thinking about him when some
one touched my arm the next morning, while I was waiting for the
train, and I turned around and found him standing there beside me.

"Flash, have you noticed how grave he is--kind of sober-quiet? Have
you? That comes from living too much alone. And he's only a kid, after
all--that's all, just a kid. He startled me for a moment, but the
minute I looked at him that morning I knew he had something on his
mind, and after I'd tried to make it a little easier for him I gave
him a chance to talk.

"He had a big raw welt across one cheek--a wicked thing to look at!
You've noticed it, I see. Well, he stood there fingering it a little,
trying to think of a way to begin gracefully. Then he got out the
paper with the account of Jed The Red's last go in it and jumped right
into the middle of all that was bothering him. He hunted out the
statement of Conway's share of the purse and asked me if it was true.
I told him it was--that I'd written it myself. And then he asked me,
point blank, how _he_ could get a chance at Conway. He--he said Conway
had never been able to whip him, Flash--said he didn't believe he ever
could!

"Now, I'm sentimental--I know that. But I manage to keep my feet on
the ground now and then just the same. And so I want to say right
here that it wasn't his words that counted with me. Why, I'd have
laughed in his face only for the way he said them! As it was, I said
too much. But I thought of you then--I couldn't help it, could I? It
hit me smash between the eyes! His face had been reminding me of
something--something I couldn't place until that minute. Flash, do
you know what he made me think of? Do you? Well, he looked like a
halftone print of the Pilgrim Fathers--the kind that they hang on the
walls in the district schools. And it got me--got me!--maybe you
know why. I don't. But I wrote it on this card, under your address,
and gave it to him.

"I would have laughed at him only he was so mighty grave and quiet.
One doesn't make a practice of laughing at men who are as big as he
is--not when they carry themselves like that. I kept my funny feelings
to myself, if I had any, while I spent a minute or two sizing him up.
And that brought me back to his chin--back to that big, oozing cut. I
had been waiting for an opportunity to ask him about it, and didn't
know myself how to go about it. Just from that you can realize how he
had me guessing, for it takes quite some jolt to make me coy. So I
followed his own lead finally and blurted the question right out,
without any fancy conversational trimmings, and he told me how it had
happened.

"One of his horses had kicked him. You look as though you could have
guessed it yourself! He didn't tell you, did he, Flash? No-o-o? Well,
that was it. He said he had gone blundering in on them the night
before, to feed, without speaking to them in the darkness. It isn't
hard to guess what had made him absent-minded that night. You can't
know, just from seeing it now, how bad that fresh cut was, either. It
looked bad enough to lay any man out, and I told him so. But he said
he had managed to feed his horses just the same--he'd worked them
pretty hard that week in the timber!

"It wasn't merely what he said, you see; it was the way he said it.
I've made more fuss before now over pounding my finger with a tack
hammer. And I did a lot of talking myself in that next minute or two.
A man can say a whole lot that is almost worth while when he talks
strictly to himself. It wasn't alone the fact that he had been able to
get back on his feet and keep on traveling after a blow that would
have caved in most men's skulls that hit me so hard. The recollection
of what his eyes had been like that night before, when he had handed
the Judge the lie without even opening his lips, helped too--and the
way he shut his mouth, there on the station platform, when I gave him
an opening to say his little say concerning the village in general. He
just smiled, Flash, a slow sort of a smile, and never said a word.

"Man, he knew how to take punishment! Oh, don't doubt that! I realized
right then that he had been taking it for years, ever since they had
counted his father out, with the whole house yelling for the stuff to
get him, too. He'd been hanging on, hoping for a fluke to save him.
He'd been hanging on, and he didn't squeal, either, while he was doing
it. Not--one--yip--out--of--him!

"So I made him give me back the card and I wrote the rest of this
stuff across the back of it. And again I'll tell you, Flash, right
now, I'm not sure why I did it. But I'll tell you, too, just as I told
myself a few mornings ago, back there on that village station
platform, that if I were Jed The Red and I had my choice, I wouldn't
choose to go up against a man who had been waiting five years for an
opening to swing. No--I would not! For he's quite likely to do more or
less damage. I never thought he'd turn up, and I don't know whether I
am sorry or not. But now that he's here, what are you going to do
about it?

"It's my fault, but whatever you do I want to ask you not to do one
thing. I want you to promise not to try to make a fool of the boy,
Flash? You're, well--a little bit merciless on some of 'em, you know.
It's not his fault, and I--why, damn it, I haven't met a man in years
I like as I do that big, quiet, lonesome kid! Now, there's your story.
It explains the whole thing, and my apologies go with it. What are you
going to do?"



CHAPTER XV


Jesse Hogarty had been listening without moving a muscle--without once
taking his two brilliant eyes from Morehouse's warm face--even when
Morehouse refused to look back at him as he talked.

"'Introducing The Pilgrim,'" he murmured to himself, after a moment of
silence, and the professor of English accent could not have been more
perfect, "The Pilgrim! Hum-m-m, surely! And a really excellent name
for publicity purposes, too. It--it fits the man."

Then he threw back his head--he came suddenly to his feet, to pace
twice the length of the room and back, before he remembered. When he
reseated himself he was gnawing his lip as if vexed that he had showed
even that much lack of self-control. And once more he buried the point
of his chin in his hands.

"Do, Chub?" he picked up the other's question silkily. "What am I
going to do? Well, I believe I am going to pay my debts at last. I
think I am going to settle a little score that has stood so long
against me that it had nearly cost me my self-respect."

That lightning-like change swept his face again, twisting his lips
nastily, stamping all his features with something totally bad. The man
who had never been whipped by any man, from the day he won his first
brawl in the gutter, showed through the veneer that was no thicker
than the funereal black and white garb he wore, no deeper than his
superficially polished utterance which he had acquired from long
contact with those who had been born to it.

"I'm going to pay my debts," he slurred the words dangerously, "pay
them with the same coin that Dennison slipped to me two years ago!"

Little by little Morehouse's head came forward at the mention of that
name. It was of Dennison that the plump newspaper man had been
subconsciously thinking ever since he had entered Hogarty's immaculate
little office; it was of Dennison that he always thought whenever he
saw that bad light kindling in the ex-lightweight's eyes. Dennison was
the promoter who had backed Jed The Red from the day when the latter
had fought his first fight.

And, "You don't mean," he faltered, "Flash, you don't mean that you
think that boy can stop----"

Hogarty's thin voice bit in and cut him short.

"Think?" he demanded. "Think? I don't have to think any more! I
know!"

For a second he seemed to be pondering something; then he threw up his
head again. And his startlingly sudden burst of laughter made
Morehouse wince a little.

"Don't make a fool of him, Chub?" he croaked. "Be merciful with the
boy! Man, you're half an hour late! I did my best. Oh, I'm bad--I know
just how bad I can be, when I try. But he called me! Yes, that's what
he did--he as much as told me that I wasn't giving him a chance to get
his cards on the table. So I ran him up against Sutton. And I did more
than that. I told Boots to get him--told him to beat him to death--and
I meant it, too! And do you know what happened? Could you guess? Well,
I'll tell you and save you time.

"He went in and took enough punishment from Boots in that first round
to make any man stop and think. He put up the worst exhibition I ever
saw, just because he was trying to fight the way Ogden had coached
him, instead of his own style. That was the first round; but it didn't
take him very long to see where he had been wrong. There wasn't any
second round--that is, not so that you could really notice it.

"He was waiting for the bell, and the gong just seemed to pick him up
and drop him in the middle of the ring. And Sutton went to him--and he
caught Boots coming in! Why, he just snapped his right over and
straightened him up, and then stepped in and whipped across his left,
and Boots went back into the ropes. He went back--and he stayed
back!"

Swiftly, almost gutturally, Hogarty sketched it all out: Young Denny's
calm statement of his errand, his own groundless burst of spleen, and
the outcome of the try-out which had sent him hurrying back to Denny's
dressing-room with many questions on his tongue's tip and a living
hope in his brain which he hardly dared to nurse.

Hogarty even recalled and related the late delivery of the card of
introduction which Morehouse was now nervously twisting into misshapen
shreds and, word for word, repeated the boy's grave explanation of his
reason for that tardiness.

"He bothered you, did he?" he asked. "Well, he had me guessing, too,
right from the first word he spoke. There was something about him that
left me wondering--thinking a little. But I'm understanding a whole
lot better since you finished talking. You're right, too, Chub--you're
all of that! Five years is a long time to wait for a chance to swing.
I ought to know--I've waited half that long myself. That was the way
he started for Boots, that second round. Oh, it was deadly--it was
mighty, mighty wicked. And now, to top it all, it's The Red for whom
he was looking, too. I wish it wasn't so easy; I sure do! It's so
simple I almost don't enjoy it. Almost--but not quite!"

Once more he shot to his feet and began pacing up and down the room.
Morehouse sat following him to and fro with his eyes, trying to
comprehend each step of this bewildering development which was
furthest of all from what he had expected. He had listened with his
face fairly glowing with appreciation to the ex-lightweight's account
of Denny's coming. It was all so entirely in keeping with what he had
already known of him. But the glint died out of his eyes after a time;
even his nervously active fingers stopped worrying the bit of
cardboard on the table.

"Granted that he could turn the trick, Flash," he suggested at last,
"even admitting that he might be able to stop Conway after a few
months of training to help him out, do you suppose he'd be willing to
hang around and fight his way up through the ranks, until he forced
'em to let him have his match? It's usually a two year's job, you
know, at the very least.

"I don't know why, Flash, but somehow the more I think of it, the
surer I grow that there is something more behind his wanting that
fight than we know anything about. It isn't just a grudge; it isn't
just because of the dirty deal which that village has been giving him,
either. I've been wondering--I'm wondering right now why he asked me
if that account of the purse was true or not. Because men don't fight
the way you say he fought, Flash, just for money. They fight hard,
I'll admit, but not that way!"

There was a living menace in Hogarty's steady tread up and down the
room. He wheeled and crossed, turned and retraced his steps
noiselessly, cat-footed in his low rubbed-shod shoes. And he turned a
gaze that was almost pitying upon the plump man's objection.

"Two years--to get ready?" he asked softly. "Chub, do you think I'd
wait two years--now? Why, two months is too long, and that is the
outside limit which I'm allowing myself in this affair. You're a
little slow, Chub--just a bit slow in grasping the possibilities,
aren't you? Think a minute! Put your mind upon it, man! I've told you
I am going to pay Dennison off--and pay him with the same coin that he
handed me. Doesn't that mean anything at all?"

He stopped short, crossed to the table and stood with his fingertips
bracketed upon its surface. Morehouse knew Hogarty--knew him as did
few other men, unless, perhaps, it was those who, years before, had
faced him in the ring. And at that moment Hogarty's eyes were mere
slits in his face as he stood and peered down into the newspaper man's
upturned features, his mouth like nothing so much as a livid scar
above his chin. There was nothing of mirth in those eyes, nothing of
merriment in that tight mouth, and yet as he sat and gazed back up at
them, Morehouse's own lips began to twitch. They began to relax. That
wide grin spread to the very corners of his eyelids and half hid his
delighted comprehension behind a thousand tiny wrinkles.

"I wonder," he breathed, "I wonder now, Flash, if you are thinking
about the same thing I am? For if you are--well, you're too sober
faced. You are that! It's time to indulge in a little hysterics."

And he began to chuckle; he sat and shook with muffled spasms of
absolute joy as the thing became more and more vivid with each new
thought. Even Hogarty's answering smile, coming from reluctant lips,
had in it something of sympathetic mirth.

"That's just what I am thinking," he said. "Just that! It's what I
meant when I said I was going to pay him--with his own coin. When a
man plays another man crooked, he expects that other man to come back
at him some day; he is looking for him to do that. But there is one
thing he doesn't expect--not usually. He isn't looking for him to work
the same old game. It is something new he's looking to guard against.

"And that is where Dennison is weak--in that spot and one other. He
doesn't know even yet that when I fell for his game I fell hard enough
to wake me up. He thinks I haven't a suspicion but what it was just an
accident that laid Sutton out, two years back--just a lucky punch of
The Red's that went across and spoiled our perfect frame-up. And he
hasn't a suspicion that I know he was sure The Red was going to clean
up Sutton, just as surely as they went to the ring together.

"That is where he is weak. When a man is a crook he wants to be a real
crook--and a real one is suspicious of everybody, even of himself."

He lifted one hand and pounded gently upon the polished surface of the
table.

"The old days are done--dead--when a man got his reputation, and a
chance at the big ones simply by fighting his way up from the bottom.
I can give a man a bigger reputation in a week, with five thousand
dollars' worth of real advertising, than he'd be able to get in a
lifetime the old way. And training?----"

He jerked his head over one shoulder toward the dressing-rooms beyond
the closed door.

"Right now he is just where I want him. Why, he looks like a pitiful
dub if you hold him back. Order him to wait--and it's heart-breaking
to watch him suffer. In one month I can teach him all he'll ever need
to know about blocking and getting away. And the rest? Well, you'll
get a chance to see just what happens when he really goes into action.
I tell you it makes you stop and think.

"And I don't care what _he_ is fighting for; I don't care what he
wants. Pleasure or profit, it's all one to me. It's you I need most
right now, Chub. I know you have always been a little particular about
soiling your hands. A shady deal never appealed to me so much, either,
but I'm not exactly bashful about this one. That part of it will be my
own private affair. You handle the publicity end--merely hail Bolton
as a comer, when the time is ripe. Are you--are you in on it?"

Morehouse thoughtfully scratched his head.

"I have been a trifle fastidious, haven't I?" he murmured, and
unconsciously he mimicked Hogarty's measured accents. "But I hardly
believe that any sensitive scruples of mine would annoy me much in
this matter. I don't know but what I'd just as soon squash a snake
with a brick, even if I knew it was somebody's beloved performing
pet.

"That, as you say, is your side of the question. As for me--well,
every time I remember that popeyed unctuous fat party they called the
'Judge' chanting Conway's innocent childhood, with that big, lonesome
kid standing there in the doorway listening and trying to understand,
I begin to sizzle. It is time that Conway was licked--and licked
right!

"Oh, I'm in on it--I want to be there! But," he stopped and made a
painstaking effort to fit the torn card together again, "but I have an
idea that Bolton may be the one to hold out. There are some honest
people, you know, who are honest all the time. He might not
understand the necessity of--er--a little professional fixing, so to
speak."

"Will he have to be in on it?" Hogarty countered instantly. "Will he?
Not to any great extent, he won't. According to my plan he fights
straight. Don't you suppose I know a straight man when I see one, just
as well as you do?

"Here's the whole thing--just as I'll put it up to Dennison before
it's dark tonight. It's Dennison's own plan, too, in the first place,
so he hasn't any kick coming. We'll match Bolton against one of the
fairly good ones--Lancing, say--in about two weeks. Lancing gets his
orders to open up in the sixth round and go down with the punch--and
stay down! That's plain enough, isn't it? Well, Bolton is fighting
under the name of 'The Pilgrim,' and you step up the next morning and
give him two columns--you hail him as a real one, at last.

"We'll match him with The Texan then. Conway whipped him back a week
or two, but he had his hands full doing it. The Texan--and I ought to
know--is open to reason if the figure is big enough to be persuasive.
We'll see to that.

"He gets his orders, too--just as if they were really necessary! About
the twelfth he lies down to sleep. Why, it's so simple it's real art!
I'll just hold Bolton back until those rounds. I'll make him take it
slow--and then send him in to clean up! Dennison is shy a match right
this minute for The Red; they're all a little doubtful about him. The
Pilgrim will be the only logical man in the world to send against
him--that is, according to your sporting columns. And Dennison, of
course, being on the inside, knows he is really nothing but a
dub--knows it is simply a plain open and shut proposition. That is to
say--he _thinks_ he knows!"

Jesse Hogarty paused and the corners of his lips twitched back to show
his teeth, but not in laughter.

"It's the same little frame-up that he sent against Boots and me," he
finished. "He ought to be satisfied, hadn't he? And I'll have him on
the street the next morning--I'll put him where he'll be glad to
borrow a dollar to buy his breakfast with!"

For a long time they stared back into each other's face: Hogarty taut
at the table side, Morehouse slouched deep in his chair. The latter
was the first to break that pregnant silence. He was nodding his head
in thoughtful finality when he lifted himself to his feet.

"You've got me," he stated. "You've got me snared! Not that I give two
hoots about what happens to Dennison, mind! I don't--although I must
admit that the prospect of his starving to death is a lovely one to
contemplate. And I'd die happy, I think, if I could see The Red
trimmed, and trimmed with conscientious thoroughness. But those
aren't my reasons for going hands with you in this assassination.

"I know a hunch when I see one. I ought to, for I've spent the
contents of my little yellow envelope often enough trying to make one
come true. And I'm in with you, Flash, till the returns are all in
from the last district, but it's because I know that there is
something more than either of us dream of behind that boy's wanting to
meet Conway. He has something on his mind; he wants something, and
wants it real bad. And I like him--I liked him right from the
beginning--so I'll stick around and help. Maybe I'll find out what it
is that's been bothering him, too, before I get through. But I wish I
wasn't of such an inquiring turn of mind. It keeps one too stirred
up."

He stopped to grin comically.

"Any objection, now that I've sworn allegiance, Flash, if I go out and
present myself?"

Hogarty's whole tense body began to relax, his lean face softened and
his eyes lost much of their hardness and glitter as he shook his head
in negation.

"That's a little detail of the campaign which I had already assigned
to you," he replied, and the inflection of his voice was perfect. "Not
that I have any fears of his going the way of his forefathers,
however, because I haven't. And if my assurance on that point
perplexes you, you might ask him to have one drink and watch his eyes
when he refuses you.

"But I would like to have you look out for him for a while. If you
don't Ogden will--Ogden likes him, too--and he is too frivolous to be
trusted."

Hogarty reached out one long arm and dropped a hand heavily upon
Morehouse's shoulder. He was smiling openly now--smiling with a
barefaced enjoyment which the plump newspaper man had never before
known him to exhibit. And he continued to smile, while he stood there
in the open door and watched Morehouse mince on tiptoe across the
polished floor to the corner where Ogden was officiously presenting
each member of the Monday morning squad of regulars, as they returned
from the dressing-rooms, to the big-shouldered boy in black, whose
face was so very grave.

Hogarty smiled as he closed his office door, after he had seen
Morehouse slip his hand through the crook of Young Denny's arm, in
spite of Bobby Ogden's yelp of protest, and clear a way to the outer
entrance with one haughty flip of his free hand.

Hours later that same day, when the tumult in the long main room of
the gymnasium had hushed and the apathetic Legs and his helper had
turned again to their endless task of grooming the waxed floor,
Dennison, the manager of Jed The Red, sitting in that same chair which
Morehouse had occupied, cuddling one knee in his hands, fairly basked
in that same smile. The purring perfection of Hogarty's discourse was
enticing. The absurd simplicity of his plan, which he admitted must,
after all, be credited to the astuteness of Dennison himself, was more
than alluring. But that smile was the quintessence of hypnotic
flattery.

It savored of a delightful intimacy which Jesse Hogarty accorded to
few men.



CHAPTER XVI


In all that hill town's history no period had ever before been so
filled with sensation as was that one which opened with the flight of
Judge Maynard's yellow-wheeled buckboard along the main street of
Boltonwood to herald the passing of the last of the line of men who
had given the village its name.

One by one, in bewildering succession, climax after climax had piled
itself upon those which already had left the white-haired circle of
regulars about the Tavern stove breathless with fruitless argument and
footless conjecture.

Old Jerry's desertion from the ranks of the old guard over which the
Judge had ruled with a more than despotic tongue, bursting with
bomblike suddenness in their midst that very same night which had seen
Young Denny's dramatic departure, had complicated matters to an
inconceivable degree. For, after all, he was the one member of the
circle to whom they had all been unconsciously looking for a
comprehensive answer to the question which the Judge's crafty
exhibition of the boy's bruised face had created.

He enjoyed what none of the others could claim an absolutely
incontestable excuse for visiting the old, weatherbeaten farmhouse on
the hill above town--and in his official capacity they felt, too, that
he might venture a few tentative inquiries at least, which, coming
from any one else, might have savored of indelicacy.

Not but what the circle had enjoyed Judge Maynard's masterly recital,
for it had held them as one man. But they were hungry also for
facts--facts which could convince as well as entertain. Even the Judge
himself had planned upon Old Jerry's co-operation; he had had it in
mind to be patronizingly lenient that night; that is, after that first
rebuke which was to leave him the undisputed master of the situation.

To reach the really great heights of which the evening's triumph was
capable the old mail carrier's collaboration had been almost
indispensable. They had been waiting with hungry impatience for him.
And then Old Jerry had appeared--he made his entrance and his
exit--and departing had left them gasping for breath.

Old Jerry had not waited to view the effect of his mad defiance of the
town's great man. It is doubtful if he had given that side of the
issue one passing thought, but his triumphant withdrawal from the
field had robbed the situation of not one bit of its decisiveness.
Quiet followed his going, a stillness so profound that they heard him
cackling to himself in insane glee as he went down the steps. And that
hush had endured while they waited in a delicious state of tingling
suspense for the first furious sentences which should preface his
lifelong banishment from the circle itself.

For years they had whispered, "Just wait, he'll come to it--he'll go
just like the rest." And so Young Denny's final weakening had not been
so unexpected as it might have been. And more than once, too, when the
Judge's harsh censure of him who had always been his stanchest
supporter had left Old Jerry cringing in his place beside the stove,
they had all felt the justice if not a premonition of final
retribution to come. It was the debonaire dare-deviltry of Old Jerry's
defiance rather than its unexpectedness which had proved its greatest
sensation. That day's one supreme moment--the only one which had not
suffered from too acute anticipation--came while they waited for the
Judge's denial, that denial which was never spoken.

The town's great man had slumped back in his chair in a kind of
stunned trance while the apoplectic purple of his earlier wrath faded
from his face. He did open his mouth, but not in any effort to speak.
It was only to lick his thick lips and gurgle noisily in his fat
throat. He tried to rise, too, and failed in his first attempt--and
tried again.

They had all realized what it was that made his knees wabble as he
crossed to the door; they understood what had drained his face of all
its color. Every man of them knew why the latch rattled under his
shaking figure. The Judge had been afraid, not merely morally
frightened, but abjectly, utterly terrified in the flesh--afraid of
the threat in the insolent bearing of the little, shriveled man who
had passed out into the night a moment before.

It could have been funny. It might have been sublimest farce-comedy,
had they not lacked the perspective necessary for its appreciation.
But it was enough that they realized that the demagogue had come
crashing down--enough that, watching his furtive disappearance that
night, they learned how pitiful a coward a blusterer really can be.

Old Jerry's own actions in those days which followed had furnished
rich food for conjecture. The fact that it had been the little
mail-carrier himself who had ridden in the carriage beside the slim
girl with the tumbled hair, at the head of the dreary procession that
toiled slowly up to the bleak cemetery behind the church, had, indeed,
been worthy of some discussion. The spendthrift prodigality of the
white roses which rumor whispered he had gone to place the next day
over the new mound of raw earth had not gone unspoken. Even the
resemblance of the girl who John Anderson had named Dryad in his
hunger for the beautiful--even the likeness of her face with its
straight little nose and wistfully curved lips, to the features of
that small, rain-stained statue of the white and gold slip of a woman
who had been his wife, came in for its share of the discussion, too.

But all those topics which were touched upon in the nights that
followed were, at best, of only secondary importance. Inevitably the
circle about the stove swung back to a consideration of that first
day's major climax, until the very discord of opinion which hitherto
had been the chief joy of those nightly sessions bade fair to prove
their total disruption.

For the circle of regulars were leaderless now; there was no longer a
master mind to hold in check the flood of argument and rebuttal, or
preserve a unity of disagreement. Where before they had been
accustomed to take up each new development and pursue it until it
reached a state either too lucid for further consideration or an
insolvable problem that dead-locked conversation, a half dozen
different arguments sprang up each night, splitting the circle into
wrangling factions which trebled the din of voices and multiplied
ten-fold the new note of bitter personalities which had taken the
place of former incontrovertible logic.

Judge Maynard's iron discipline was gone, and the old guard faced a
quite probable dissolution in the first week or two which followed his
going. More from habit than anything else they had waited that next
night for him to come and clear his throat pompously and open the
evening's activities. And the Judge failed to appear, failed just as
signally as had Old Jerry.

And yet it was not the absence of the former which had left them
leaderless. Not one of them had realized it the night before--but that
second night they knew!

By his very rebellion Old Jerry had won the thing which years of
faithful service had failed to bring. He had dethroned the despot, and
the honors were his by right of conquest.

The circle knew that the Judge would never return; after one hour of
fruitless waiting that was a certainty. But night after night they
continued to gather, stubbornly, persistently hopeful that Old Jerry
would come back. And in the meantime they almost forgot, at times,
Young Denny who had gone the way of his fathers as they had so truly
prophesied; they only touched a little uncomfortably upon the problem
of the slim, yellow-haired girl alone in the battered cottage at the
edge of the town, while they reviewed with startlingly fertile detail
and a lingering relish that came very close to being hero-worship,
his last brief remarks which had left the Judge a wreck of his former
magnificence.

If Old Jerry realized all this that had come to pass he gave no
outward sign of such knowledge. He even forgot to pause impressively
upon the top step of the post-office those days, as he always had
formerly, before he made his straight-backed descent with the pouches
slung over one shoulder. There were mornings when he came perilously
near to ignoring altogether the double line which, with a new
deference, greeted his daily passage to the waiting buggy, and yet
there was not one who dared so much as to whisper that there was
anything in his air of preoccupation that savored of studiously
planned forethought. But it is doubtful if he did realize the change
that had taken place, at least in that first week or two, for Old
Jerry had much of a strictly private nature to occupy his mind.

He was never quite able to remember the things he had said that
morning to the girl with the too-white face and tumbled hair, huddled
in the half-light at the table before the window, or to recall in any
sort of a connected, coherent sequence his own actions in those first
few days which followed it.

It aggravated him for a day or two, this inability to piece out the
details; it brought a peevish frown to his thin face and a higher,
even more querulous note to his shrill falsetto voice, which, while
they hardly understood it, nevertheless resulted in an even
profounder hush in those respectful ranks. He couldn't even
revisualize it clearly enough for his own private edification--for the
joy of seeing himself as others had seen him.

Nothing remained but a picture of Dryad Anderson's face--the face that
had tried so hard to smile--which she had lifted to him that first
morning when he entered the front room of the little drab cottage at
the edge of town. That was limned upon his brain in startlingly
perfect detail still--that and one other thing. The memory of John
Anderson's pitifully wasted form huddled slack upon the high stool,
arms outstretched and silvered head bowed in a posture of utter
weariness, remained with him, too, clinging in spite of every effort
to dislodge it.

That whole week had not served to wipe it out. Day after day, as Old
Jerry drove his route with the reins taut in his nervous hands, it
floated up before him. And even when he wound the lines about the
whipstock, letting the old mare take her own pace, and leaned back,
eyes closed, against the worn cushions, the interior of that back-room
shop with its simple, terribly inert occupant and countless rows of
tiny white statues, all so white and strangely alike, crept in under
the lids.

Old Jerry's mail route suffered that week; his original "system" of
mail distribution, of which he had always been so jealously proud,
went from bad to very, very bad, and from that to an impossible worse;
and yet, while it became a veritable lottery for the hillsfolk who
were dependent upon him whether they would receive the packet of mail
which really belonged to a two-mile distant neighbor or none at all,
in one respect the rural service improved immensely, and the
improvement--and strangely enough, too--was as directly a result of
that stubborn image of John Anderson's bowed head which persisted in
haunting the mind of the servant of the Gov'mint as was the alarming
growth of his lack of dependability.

Day by day Old Jerry grew less and less prone to let the leisurely
white mare take her own pace. Instead, he sat stiffly erect a great
portion of the time, driving with one eye cocked calculatingly upon
the course of the sun, and his mind running far ahead of him, to the
end of the day's route, when he would have to turn in at the
cross-road that toiled up the grade to the wind-racked old Bolton
place on the hill north of town.

They had always had a forbidding aspect--Young Denny's black,
unpainted farmhouse and dilapidated outbuildings--even when he had
been certain that just as surely as he reached the crest he would find
the boy's big body silhouetted against the skyline, waiting for him,
they had not been any too prepossessing. Now they never served to
awake in him anything but actual dread and distrust.

Old Jerry laid it to the lonesomeness of the place--to the bleak
blindness of the shaded windows and the untenanted silence--but he
took good care that no loitering on his part would be to blame for his
arrival at the house after dusk.

No one, not even he himself, knew how strong the temptation was that
week to make tentative advances of peace to the members of the circle
of Tavern regulars, for the more he dwelt upon it the finer the
dramatic possibilities of the thing seemed. But he had misread in the
hushed respect of his former intimates a chill and uncompromising
disapproval, and he had to fall back upon a one-sided conversation
with himself as the next best thing.

"I wa'n't brought up to believe in ghosts," he averred to himself more
than once. "Ghosts naturally is superstition--and that ain't accordin'
to religion, not any way you look at it. But allowing that there could
be ghosts--just for the sake of argument allowing that there is--now
what would there be to hinder him from just kinda settlin' down up
there, as you might say? It's nice and quiet, ain't it? Sort of out of
the way--and more or less comfortable, too?"

At that point in the mumbled monologue the white-haired driver of the
buggy usually paused for a moment, tilting his head, birdlike, to one
side, wrapped in thought. There were those shelves lined with
countless white figures which also had to be considered.

"He must've worked mighty steady," he told himself time and again in a
voice that was small with awe. "He must hev almost enjoyed workin' at
'em, to hev finished so many! And he kept at it nearly all the time, I
reckon. And now, that's what I'm a-gettin' at! Now I want to ask how
do we know he's a-goin' to quit now--how do we know that? We don't
know it! And Godfrey 'Lisha, what better place would he want than that
back kitchen up there? Ain't there a table right there by the window,
all a-waitin' for him--an'--an'----"

Invariably he broke off there, to peer furtively at the sun, before he
whipped up his horse.

"Git along!" he admonished her earnestly, then, "Git along--you!
Nobody believes in ghosts--leastwise, I don't. But they ain't no sense
nor reason in just a-killin' time on the road, neither. And I ain't
one to tempt Providence--not to any great nor damagin' extent, I
ain't!"

And yet in spite of all the uneasiness which the combination of the
dark house and the persistent image of the little, worn-out
stone-cutter kept alive in him, in so far as Young Denny's team of
horses was concerned, and the scanty rest of the stock which the boy
had left in his care, Old Jerry kept strictly to the letter of his
agreement. At the most it meant no more than a little readjustment of
his daily schedule, which he high-handedly rearranged to suit his
better convenience.

But all the rest which he had promised so fervidly to carry out--the
message which he had meant to deliver the very next morning after the
boy's departure and the explanation of Young Denny's bruised face,
even a diplomatic tender of the damp wad of bills which Denny had
pushed in his hand--had somehow been allowed to wait. For it had
proved to be anything but the admirably simple thing it had seemed to
the old man when he had volubly acquiesced to the plan.

He had forgotten it that first morning. With the well-planned opening
sentence fairly trembling upon his tongue-tip when he opened the door,
the whole thing had been swept utterly from his mind. And in the press
of events that followed he never so much as thought of it again for
days. When the memory of it did return, a week later, somehow he found
it almost impossible to introduce the subject--at least impossible to
introduce it gracefully.

That was one of the reasons for his failure to execute the mission
entrusted to him. The other reason, which was far weightier, so far as
Old Jerry was concerned, was even harder to define. He blamed it
directly to the attitude of the girl with the tumbled yellow hair and
blue eyes, which were never quite the same shade of purple. More than
a small proportion of the remarks which he had prepared beforehand to
deliver to her had consisted of reproof--not too harsh, but for all
that a trifle severe, maybe--of her hasty and utterly unfair judgment
of Young Denny. That, he had assured himself, was only just and
merited, and could only prove, eventually, to have been for the best.
But she never gave him a chance to deliver it. One moment of sadness
on her part would have been sufficient excuse. If he could have
surprised her just once gazing at him from moist, questioning eyes, he
felt that that would have been enough proof of contrition and humble
meekness of spirit on her part. But he never did.

Instead Old Jerry had never seen so astounding a change take place in
any human being as that which came over her day by day. By the end of
that first week the pallor had gone entirely from her cheeks. The deep
dark circles which had rimmed the wet eyes which she had lifted to him
that first morning disappeared so entirely that it was hard to
remember that they had ever been there at all. Even the lithely
slender body seemed fuller, rounder. To every outward appearance at
least Old Jerry had to confess to himself that he had never seen a
more supremely contented, thoroughly happy creature than Dryad
Anderson was at that week's end.

And it irritated him; it almost angered him at times. Remembering his
own travail of spirit, the self-inflicted agony of mind which he had
undergone that day when he had first looked square into the eyes of
his own soul and acknowledge his years of guilty unfairness to the
lonely boy on the hill, he shut his lips tight upon the message he
might have delivered and waited, stubbornly, for her to show some sign
of repentance.

For a day or two a mental contemplation of this necessarily severe
course brought him moments of comparative peace of mind. It justified
in a measure, at least, his own remissness, and yet even that
mind-state at times was rudely shaken. At each day's end, after he had
made his reluctant ascent of the hill which led up to Young Denny's
unlighted house, and a far speedier, none too dignified return, the
little driver of the squealing buggy made it a point to turn off and
stop for a moment or two before the gate of John Anderson's cottage.
At first the girl's real need of him prompted this daily detour; then,
when the actual need no longer existed, he excused the visit on the
plea of her lonesomeness and his promise to Denny to look after her.

His own loneliness--for he had never been so lonely before in all his
lonely life--and the other and real reason for this habit, he never
allowed himself to scrutinize too closely. But each day he sat a
little forward on the buggy seat as soon as he had turned the last
sharp curve in the road and stared eagerly ahead through the afternoon
dusk until he made out her slim figure leaning against the fence
waiting for him. And every afternoon, after he had pulled the
shuffling horse to a standstill, he bent down from his vantage point
on the high seat to scan her upturned face minutely, almost craftily
at times, for some tell-tale trace of tears on her long lashes, or a
possible quiver of her lips, or a suspicious droop in her boyish
shoulders. And he never discovered either the one or the other.

It was at such moments that his peace of mind suffered, for no sane
man could ever have read, by any stretching of the imagination,
anything akin to sorrow or sadness in the low laugh with which she
invariably met his scrutiny. It fairly bubbled joy. Each day Old Jerry
found her only happy--offensively happy--and where he had been
secretly watching her for one betraying sign he became uneasily
conscious after a time that very often she, too, seemed to be scanning
his own face as if she were trying to penetrate into the inner tumult
of perplexities behind his seamed forehead. Some days he was almost
certain that there was a calculating light in her steady eyes--a hint
of half-hidden delight in something he couldn't understand--and it
worried him. It bothered him almost as much as did the unvaried
formula with which she greeted him every afternoon.

"Have you any news for me today?" she always asked him. "Surely you've
something new to tell me this afternoon--now, haven't you?"

The tone in which she made the query was never anything but disarming;
it was quite childishly wheedling and innocently eager, he thought.
But reiterated from day to day it wore on his nerves after a while.
Added to the something he sometimes thought he caught glimmering in
her tip-tilted eyes, it made him more than a little uncomfortable. He
fell back upon a quibble to dodge the issue.

"Was you expectin' a letter?" he always countered.

This daily veiled tilt of wits might have gone on indefinitely had not
a new development presented itself which threw an entirely different
aspect upon the whole affair.

A fortnight had elapsed since Denny Bolton's mysterious departure from
the village when it happened. As usual, after the day's duties were
completed with his hurried return from the Bolton homestead, Old Jerry
turned off at the crossroads to stop for a moment before the cottage
squatting in its acre of desolate garden. He didn't even straighten up
in his seat that afternoon to gaze ahead of him, so certain he had
grown that she would be waiting for him, a hint of laughter in her
eyes and the same disturbing question on her lips, and not until the
fat animal between the shafts had stopped of her own accord before the
straggling fence did he realize that the girl was not there. Then her
absence smote him full.

It frightened him. Right from the first he was conscious of impending
disaster born quite entirely of the knowledge of his own guilt. The
front door of the house was open and after fruitless minutes of
panicky pondering he clambered down and advanced uncertainly toward
it. His shadow across the threshold heralded his reluctant coming, and
Dryad turned from the half-filled box upon the table over which she
had been bending and nodded to him almost before he caught sight of
her.

That little, intimately brief inclination of the head was her only
greeting. With hands grasping each side of the door-frame Old Jerry
stood there and gazed about the room. It had never been anything but
bare and empty looking--now with the few larger pieces of furniture
which it had contained all stacked in one corner and the smaller
articles already stored away in a half-dozen boxes, the last of which
was holding the girl's absorbed attention, it would have been barnlike
had it not been so small. From where he stood Old Jerry could see
through into the smaller back-room workshop. Even its shelves were
empty,--entirely stripped of their rows of tiny white woman-figures.

He paled as he grasped the ominous import of it; he tried to speak
unconcernedly, but his voice was none too steady.

"So you're a-house-cleanin', be you?" he asked jauntily. "Ain't you
commencin' a little early?"

He was uncomfortably conscious of that interrogative gleam in Dryad's
glance--that amused glimmer which he couldn't quite fathom--when she
turned her head. She was smiling, too, a little--smiling with her lips
as well as with her eyes.

"No-o-o," she stated with preoccupied lack of emphasis, as she bent
again over the box. "No--I'm packing up."

Old Jerry had known that that would be her answer. He had been certain
of it. The other interpretation--the only other possible one which
could be put upon the dismantled room--had been nothing more or less
than a momentary and desperate grasping at a straw.

For a while he was very, very quiet, wondering just what it was in her
mind which made her so cheerfully indifferent to his presence. She
filled that last box while he stood there in the doorway, stood off to
survey her work critically, and then picked up a hammer that lay on
the table and prepared to nail down the lid.

"I've hit my finger four times today," she apprised him between strokes
as she drove the first nail home. "Four times this afternoon--and always
the same finger, too!"

The very irrelevancy of the statement, coupled with her calm serenity,
was appalling to the old man. She didn't so much as lift her eyes when
she told him, but when the lid was fastened she whirled suddenly with
that impetuosity which always startled him more than a little, her
hands tightly clasped in front of her, and fairly beamed at him.

"There, that finishes everything--everything but the pots and pans,"
she cried. "And I'll need them a little longer, anyway, won't I? But
maybe I won't take them with me, either--they're pretty old and worn
out. What do you think?"

Old Jerry cleared his throat. He ignored her question.

"Ain't--ain't this a trifle sudden," he faltered--"jest a trifle?"

She shook her head again and laughed softly, as if from sheer joyous
excitement.

"No," she said. "No, I've been planning it for days and days--oh, for
more than a week!"

Then she seemed to catch for the first time the dreariness of his
whole attitude--the dejection of his spare angular body and
sparrowlike, anxious face.

"You're sorry I'm going," she accused him then, and she leaned toward
him a little, eyes quizzically half closed. "I knew you'd be sorry!"
And then, swiftly, "Aren't you?"

Old Jerry scraped first one foot and then the other.

"I reckon I be," he admitted faintly. "Kinda surprised, too. I--I
wa'n't exactly calculating on anything like this. It--it's kinda
thrown me off my reckonin'! Are you--are you figurin' on goin' right
away?"

Dryad spun about and threw her head far on one side to scan the whole
bare room.

"Tomorrow, maybe," she decided, when she turned back to him. "Or the
next day at the very latest. You see, everything is about ready now,
and there isn't any reason for me to stay, on and on, here--is
there?"

A little tired note crept into the last words, edging the question
with a suggestion of wistfulness. It was something not so very
different from that for which Old Jerry had been stubbornly waiting
throughout those entire two weeks, but he failed to catch it at that
moment. He had heard nothing but her statement that she meant to
remain at least another day. It made it possible for him to breathe
deeply once again.

Much could happen in twenty-four hours. She might even change her
mind, he desperately assured himself--women were always doing
something like that, wern't they? But even if she did go it was a
reprieve; it gave him one last opportunity. Now, for the present, all
he wanted was to get away--to get away by himself and think! On
heavily dragging feet he turned to go back down the rotting
boardwalk.

"I--I'll drop in on you tomorrow," he suggested, pausing at the steps.
"I'll stop in on my way 'round--to--to say good-by."

The girl stood in the doorway smiling down at him. He couldn't meet
her eyes. As it was he felt that their gaze went through and through
him. And so he did not see her half lift her arms to him in a sudden
quite wonderful gesture of contrite and remorseful reassurance. He did
not hear the first of the impulsive torrent of words which she barely
smothered behind lips that trembled a little. His head was bowed so
that he did not see her eyes, and if he could but have seen them and
nothing else, he would have understood, without the words or the
gesture.

Instead he stood there, plucking undecidedly at his sleeve.

"Because I--I wouldn't like to hev you go--without seein' you again,"
he went on slowly--"without a chance to tell you something--er--to
tell you good-by."

He didn't wait for her answer. At the far bend in the road, when he
looked back, she was still there in the doorway watching him.

He was not quite certain, but he thought she threw up one thin white
arm to him as he passed out of sight.



CHAPTER XVII


It rained that next day--a dull, steady downpour that slanted in upon
a warm, south wind. Old Jerry was glad of the storm. The leaden
grayness of the low-hanging clouds matched perfectly his own frame of
mind, and the cold touch of the rain soothed his hot head, too, as it
swept in under the buggy hood, and helped him to think a little
better. There was much that needed readjusting.

Throughout the early hours of that morning he drove with a newspaper
spread flat upon his knees--the afternoon edition of the previous day,
which, in the face of other matters, he had had neither the necessary
time nor enthusiasm to examine until it was an entire twelve hours
old. At any other time the contents of that red-headlined sheet would
have set his pulses throbbing in a veritable ecstasy of excitement.

For two whole weeks he had been watching for it, scanning every inch
of type for the news it brought, but now that account of Young Denny's
first match, with a little, square picture of him inset at the column
head, fell woefully flat so far as he was concerned.

Not that the plump newspaperman who had written the account of that
first victorious bout had achieved anything but a masterpiece of
sensationalism. Every line was alive with action, every phrase seemed
to thud with the actual shock of contest. And there was that last
paragraph, too, which hailed Denny--"The Pilgrim," they called him in
the paper, but that couldn't deceive Old Jerry--as the newcomer for
whom the public had been waiting so long, and, toward the end, so
hopelessly.

It was really a perfect thing of its kind--but Old Jerry could not
enjoy it that morning, even though it was Denny Bolton's first
triumph, to be shared by him alone in equal proportion. Instead of
sending creepy thrills chasing up and down his spine it merely
intensified his doleful bitterness of spirit. Long before noon he
breathed a leaden heavy sigh, refolded the sodden sheet and put it
away in the box beneath the seat.

The old mare took her own pace that day. In a brain that was already
burdened until it fairly ached there was no room for the image of the
silver-haired stone-cutter which had made for speed on other
occasions. He had plenty to occupy his mind which was of a strictly
immediate nature.

A dozen times that morning Old Jerry asked himself what he would tell
Dryad Anderson that night, when he stopped at the little drab cottage
at the route's end, ostensibly to bid her good-by. He asked himself,
in desperate reiteration, _how_ he would tell, for he knew that the
long delay in the delivery of Denny's message was going to need more
than a little explanation. And when he had wrestled with the question
until his eyes stung and his temples throbbed, and still could find no
solution for it, he turned helplessly to the consideration of another
phase of the problem.

He fell to tormenting himself with the possibility of her having gone
already. Everything in those bare rooms had been packed--there was no
real reason for the girl to remain another hour. Perhaps she had
reconsidered, changed her mind, and departed even earlier than she had
planned, and if she had--if she had----

Whenever he reached that point, dumbly he bowed his head.

It was dark when he turned off the main road and started up the long
hill toward the Bolton place--not just dark, but a blackness so
profound that the mare between the shafts was only a half formless
splotch of gray as she plodded along ahead. Even his dread of the
place, which formerly had been so acute, did not penetrate the mental
misery that wrapped him; he did not vouchsafe so much as one uneasy
glance ahead until a glimmer of light which seemed to flash out from
the rear of the house fairly shocked him into conscious recollection
of it all.

He sprang erect then, spilling a cataract of water from his hat brim
in a chill trickle down the back of his neck, and barked a shrilly
staccato command at the placid horse. The creaking buggy came to a
standstill.

He tried to persuade himself it was a reflection of the village lights
upon the window panes which had startled him, but it was only a
half-hearted effort. No one could mistake the glow that filtered out
of the black bulk of the rear of the house for anything save the thing
it was. Half way up the hill he sat there, hunched forward in a
hopeless huddle, his eyes protected by cupped palms, and stared and
stared.

Once before, the evening of that day when the Judge's exhibition of
Young Denny's bruised face had been more than his curiosity could
endure, he had approached that bleak farmhouse in fear and trembling,
but the trepidation of that night, half real, half a child of his own
erratic imagination, bulked small beside the throat-tightening terror
of this moment.

And yet he did not turn back. The thought that he had only to wheel
his buggy and beat as silent a retreat as his ungreased axles would
permit never occurred to him. It was much as if his harrowed spirit,
driven hither and yon without mercy throughout the whole day long, had
at last backed into a corner, in a mood of last-ditch, crazy
desperation, and bared its teeth.

"If he is up there," he stated doggedly, "if he is up there,
a-putterin' with his everlasting lump o' clay, he ain't got no more
right up there than I hev! He's just a-trespassin', that's what he's
a-doin'. I'm the legal custodian of the place--it was put into my
hands--and I'll tell him so. I'll give him a chance to git out--or--or
I'll hev the law on him!"

The plump mare went forward again. There was something terribly
uncanny, even in her relentless advance, but the old man clung to the
reins and let her go without a word. When she reached the top she
slumped lazily to a standstill and fell contentedly to nibbling
grass.

The light in the window was much brighter, viewed from that lessened
distance--thin, yellow streaks of brightness that quivered a little
from the edges of a drawn shade. An uneven wick might easily have
accounted for the unsteadiness, but in that flickering pallor Old
Jerry found something ominously unhealthy--almost uncanny.

But he went on. He clambered down from his high seat and went doggedly
across--steadily--until his hand found the door-latch. And he gave
himself no time for reconsideration or retreat. The metal catch
yielded all too readily under the pressure of his fingers, and when
the door swung in he followed it over the threshold.

The light blinded him for a moment--dazzled him--yet not so completely
but that he saw, too clearly for any mistake, the figure that had
turned from the stove to greet him. Dryad Anderson's face was
pink-tinted from forehead to chin by the heat of the glowing lids--her
lips parted a little until the small teeth showed white beyond their
red fullness.

In her too-tight, boyish blouse, gaping at the throat, she stood there
in the middle of the room, hands bracketed on delicate hips, and
smiled at him. And behind her the lamp in its socket on the wall
smoked a trifle from a too-high wick.

Old Jerry stood and gazed at her, one hand still clutching the door
latch. In one great illuminating flash he saw it all--understood just
what it meant--and with that understanding a hot wave of rage began to
well up within him--a fierce and righteous wrath, borne of all that
day's unnecessary agony and those last few minutes of fear.

It was a hoax on her part. She had been trifling with him the day
before, just as she had been playing fast and loose with his peace of
mind for days. An ejaculation bordering close upon actual profanity
trembled upon his lips, but a draft of cold air sweeping in at the
open doorway set the lamp flickering wildly and brought him back a
little to himself. His eyes went again to the girl in the middle of
the floor. She was rocking to and fro upon the balls of her feet,
every inch of her fairly pulsing with mocking, malicious delight.

She waited for him to speak, and he, stiff of back and grim of face,
stood stonily silent. She seemed all innocently unaware of his
unconcealed disgust. The quizzical smile only widened before the
chilly threat of his beady eyes and ruffled forehead. And then, all in
one breath, her little pouted chin went up and she burst into a low
gurgle of utter enjoyment of the tableau.

"Well," she demanded, "aren't you ever going to say anything? Here I
am! I--I decided to move today--there really wasn't any use of
waiting. Aren't you surprised--just a little?"

The meekness of her voice, so wholly belied by her eyes and lips and
swaying boy-like body, only tightened the old man's mouth. He was
still reviewing all that long day's mental torment, counting the
wasted hours which might have been applied to a soul-satisfying feast
upon Morehouse's red-headlined account in the paper. No veteran had
ever marched more hopelessly into a cannon's mouth than he had
approached the door of that kitchen.

And yet a flood of thankfulness, the direct reflex of his first
impotent rage, threatened to sweep up and drown the fires of his
wrath. Already he wanted to slump down into a chair and rest weary
body and wearier, relieved brain; he wanted a minute or two in which
to realize that she was there--that his unfulfilled promise was still
far from being actual catastrophe--and he would not let himself. Not
yet!

She had been playing with him--playing with him cat-and-mouse fashion.
The birdlike features which had begun to relax hardened once more.

"Maybe I be," he answered her question with noncommittal grimness.
"Maybe I be--and maybe I ain't!" And then, almost belligerently: "Your
lamp's a-smokin'!"

She turned and strained on tiptoe and lowered it.

"I thought you would be," she agreed, too gravely for his complete
comfort, when she had accomplished the readjustment of the wick to her
entire satisfaction. "For, you know, you seemed a little worried
and--well, not just happy, yesterday, when I told you I was going to
move I--I felt sure you would be glad to find that I hadn't gone
far!"

Old Jerry remembered at that moment and he removed his soaked hat. He
turned, too, and drew up a chair. It gave him an opportunity to avoid
those moistly mirthful eyes for a moment. Seated and comfortably
tilted back against the wall he felt less ill at ease--felt better
able to deal with the situation as it should be dealt with.

For a moment her presence there had only confounded him--that was when
the wave of righteous wrath had swept him--but at the worst he had
counted it nothing more than a too far-fetched bit of fantastic
mischief conceived to tantalize him.

Her last statement awakened in him a preposterously impossible suspicion
which, now that he had a chance to glance about the room, was confirmed
instantly--absolutely. It was astounding--utterly unbelievable--and
yet on all the walls, in every corner, there were the indisputable
evidences of her intention to remain indefinitely--permanently.

At least it gave him an opening.

"You don't mean to say," he began challengingly, "you don't mean to
tell me that you're a-figurin' on stayin' here--for good?"

She pursed her lips and nodded vigorously at him until the loosened
wisps of hair half hid her eyes. It was quite as though she were
pleased beyond belief that he had got at the gist of it all so
speedily.

"Yes, for good," she explained ecstatically, "or," more slowly, "or at
least for quite a while. You see I like it here! It's just like home
already--just like I always imagined home would be when I really had
one, anyway. There's so much room--and it's warm, too. And then, the
floors don't squeak, either. I don't think I care for squeaky
floors--do you?"

A quick widening of those almost purple eyes accompanied the last
question.

The little white-haired figure in the back-tilted chair snorted. He
tried to disguise it behind a belated cough, but it was quite
palpably a snort of outraged patience and dignity. She couldn't fool
him any longer--not even with that wide-eyed appealingly infantile
stare. He knew, without looking closer, that there was a flare of
mirth hidden within its velvet duskiness. And there was only one way
to deal with such shallowness--that was with firm and unmistakable
severity. He leaned forward and pounded one meager knee for emphasis
as Judge Maynard had often done.

"You can't do it!" he emphasized flatly, his thin voice almost
gloatingly triumphant. "Whatever put it into your head I don't
know--but don't you realize what you're a-doin', comin' up here like
this and movin' in, high-handed, without speaking to nobody? Well,
you've made yourself liable to trespass--that's what you've done!
Trespass and house-breaking, too, I guess, without interviewin' me
first!"

The violet eyes flew wider. Old Jerry was certain that he caught a
gleam of apprehension in them. She took one faltering step toward him
and then stopped, irresolute, apparently. Somehow the mute appeal in
that whole poise was too much, even for his outraged dignity. Maybe he
had gone a little too far. He attempted to temper the harshness of
it.

"Not a-course," he added deprecatingly, "meanin' that anything like
that would be likely to happen to you. Seein' as you didn't exactly
understand, I wouldn't take no steps against you." And, even more
encouragingly, "I doubt if I'd hev any legal right to proceed against
anybody without seeing Den--without seeing the rightful owner first."

He bit his tongue painfully in covering that slip, but Dryad had not
seemed to notice it. She crossed back to the stove and in an absolute
silence fell to prodding with a fork beneath steaming lids.

"I really should have thought of that myself," she murmured pensively.
"After seeing you return from here every afternoon, I should have
known he--the place had been left in your care."

It rather startled him--that half absent-minded statement of hers--it
disturbed his confidence in his command of the situation. Sitting
there he told himself that he should have realized long ago that she
could easily watch the hill road from the door of the little drab
cottage huddled at the end of Judge Maynard's acres.

He began to feel guilty again--began to wonder just how much his daily
visits to Denny's place had led her to suspect. But Dryad did not wait
for any reply. She had turned once more until she was facing him, her
lips beginning to curl again, petal-like, at the corners.

"But you would have to interview the real owner first?" she inquired
insistently. "You do think that would be necessary before you could
make me leave, don't you?"

He nodded--nodded warily. Something in her bearing put him on his
guard. And then, before he knew how it had happened, a little rush had
carried her across the room and she was kneeling at his feet, her face
upflung to him.

"Then you'll have to interview me,"--the words trembled madly,
breathlessly, from her lips. "You'll have to interview
me--because--because I own it all--all--every bit of it!"

And she laughed up at him--laughed with a queer, choking, strained
note catching in her throat up into his blankly incredulous face. He
felt her thin young arms tighten about him; he even half caught her
next hysterical words in spite of his amazement, and for all that they
were quite meaningless to him.

"You dear," she rushed on. "O, you dear, dear stubborn old fraud! I
punished you, didn't I? You were frightened--afraid I'd go! You know
you were! As if I'd ever leave until--until--" She failed to finish
that sentence. "But I'll never, never tease you so again!"

Then there came that lightning-like change of mood which always left
him breathless in his inability to follow it. The mirth went out of
her eyes--her lips drooped and began to work strangely as she knelt
and gazed up at him.

"I bought his mortgage," she told him slowly. "I bought it from Judge
Maynard a week ago with part of the money he gave me for our place
there below his. He was very generous. Somehow I feel that he paid
me--much more than it was worth. He's always wanted it and--and
I--there wasn't any need for me to stay there any more, was there?"

Old Jerry had never seen a face so terribly earnest before--so
hungrily wistful--but it was the light that glowed in that kneeling
girl's eyes that held him dumb. It left him completely incapable of
coherent thought, yet mechanically his mind leaped back to that night,
two weeks before, when Young Denny had stumbled and gone floundering
to his knees before her, there on that very threshold. The boy's own
words had painted that picture for him too vividly for him to forget.
And he knew, without reasoning it out, just from the world of pain
there in her eyes, that she, too, at that moment was thinking of that
limp figure--of the great red gash across its chin.

"I didn't help him," she went on, and now her voice was little more
than a whisper. "I went and left him here alone--and hurt--when I
should have stayed, that night when he went away. And so I bought
it--I bought it because I thought some day he might come back--and
need me even more. I thought if he did come--he'd feel as though he
had just--come back home! And--and just to be here waiting, I
thought, too, might somehow help me to have faith that he would come,
some day--safe!"

The old man felt the fiercely tense little arms go slack then. Her
head went forward and lay heavy, pillowed in her hands upon his knees.
But he sat there for a full minute, staring down at the thick,
shimmering mass of her hair, swallowing an unaccountable lump that
bothered his breathing preparatory to telling her all that he had kept
waiting for just that opportunity, before he realized that she was
crying. And for an equally long period he cast desperately about for
the right thing to say. It came to him finally--a veritable
inspiration.

"Why, you don't want to cry," he told her slowly. "They--they ain't
nothing to worry about now! For if that's the case--if you've gone to
work and bought it, why, I ain't got no more jurisdiction over
it--none whatever!"

Immediately she lifted her head and gazed long and questioningly at
him, but Old Jerry's face was only guilelessly grave. It was more than
that--benevolent reassurance lit up every feature, and little by
little her brimming eyes began to clear; they began to glisten with
that baffling delight that had irritated him so before. She slipped
slowly to her feet and stood and gazed down at him. Old Jerry knew
then that he would never again see so radiant a face as hers was at
that moment.

"I wasn't crying because I was worried," she said, and she managed not
to laugh. "I've been doing that every night, all night long, for two
weeks. That was before I understood--things! But today--this afternoon
I found something--read something--that made me understand better.
I--I'm just crying a little tonight because I am so glad."

Old Jerry couldn't quite fathom the whole meaning of those last words
of hers. They surprised him so that all the things he had meant to
tell her right then of Young Denny's departure once more went totally
out of mind. He wondered if it was the red-headlined account of his
first battle that she had seen. No matter how doubtful it was he felt
it was very, very possible, for at each day's end he had been leaving
Denny's roll of papers there just as he had when the boy was at home.

But the rest of it he understood in spite of the wonder of it all.
Whenever he remembered Young Denny asprawl upon the floor it seemed to
him a thing too marvelous for belief, and yet, recalling the light
that had glowed radiant in that girl's eyes, he knew it was the only
thing left to believe.

He talked it over with himself that night on the way home.

"She bought it so's if he ever did want to come back, he'd feel as if
he had come back home," he repeated her words, and he pondered long
upon them. There was only one possible deduction.

"She thought he wouldn't have nothing left to buy it back when he did
come--that he'd be started on the road all the rest of 'em traveled
and pretty well--shot--to--pieces! That's what she thought," he
decided.

He shook his head over it.

"And she didn't know," he marveled. "She didn't know how that old jug
really got broke--because I ain't told her yet! But she's waitin' for
him just the same--just a-waitin' for him, no matter how he comes.
Figurin' on takin' care of him, too--that's what she was doin'--her
that ain't no bigger'n his little finger!"

The storm had blown over long before his buggy went rattling down that
long hill, and he sat with the reins dangling neglected between his
knees and squinted up at the stars.

"I always did consider I'd been pretty lucky," he confided after a
time to the plump mare's lazily flopping ears, "never gettin' mixed up
in any matrimonial tangle, so to speak. But now--now I ain't quite so
sure." A lonesome note crept into the querulous voice. "Maybe I'd hev
kept my eyes open a little mite wider'n I did if I'd ever a-dreamed
anybody could care like that.... Don't happen very often though, I
reckon. Just about once in a lifetime, maybe. Maybe, if he ain't too
blind to see it when it does come ... maybe once to every man!"

                  *       *       *       *       *

That next week marked the beginning of an intimacy unlike anything
which Old Jerry had ever before known in all his life, for in spite of
the girl's absolute proprietorship he continued his daily trips up the
long hill, not only for the purpose of leaving Young Denny's bundle of
papers and seed catalogues, but to attend to the stock which the boy
had left in his care as well. It never occurred to him that that duty
was only optional with him now.

He never again attempted either, after that night, to explain his
delinquency and deliver Young Denny's message to her. There seemed to
him absolutely no need now to open a subject which was bound to be
embarrassing to him. And then, too, a sort of tacit understanding
appeared to have sprung up between them that needed no further
explanation.

Only once was the temptation to confess to her the real reason for
Denny's sudden going almost stronger than he could resist. That was
quite a month later, when the news of the boy's second battle was
flaunted broadcast by the same red-headlined sheet. Then for days he
considered the advisability of such a move.

It was not some one to share his hot pride that he wanted; he had
lived his whole life almost entirely within himself, and so his
elation was no less keen because he had no second person with whom to
discuss the victory. He wanted her opinion on a quite different
question--a question which he felt utterly incapable of deciding for
himself. It was no less a plan than that he should be present at the
match which was already hinted at between "The Pilgrim" and Jed The
Red--Jeddy Conway, from that very village.

There were days when he almost felt that she knew of this new
perplexity of his, felt that she really had seen that account of Young
Denny's first fight and had been watching for the second, and at such
times only a mumbled excuse and a hasty retreat saved him from baring
his secret desire.

"She'd think I'd gone stark crazy," he excused his lack of courage.
"She'd say I was a-goin' into my second childhood!"

Yet in the end it was the girl with the tip-tilted eyes who decided it
for him.

Spring had slipped into early summer when the day came which made the
gossip of "The Pilgrim's" possible bid for the championship a
certainty. It was harder than ever for Old Jerry after that. Each
fresh day's issue brought forth a long and exhaustive comparison of
the two men's chances--of their strength and weaknesses. The technical
discussion the old man skipped; it was undecipherable to him and
enough that Young Denny was hailed as a certain winner.

And then as the day set for the match crept nearer and nearer, he
began to notice a new and alarming change in the tone of that daily
column. At first it was only fleeting--too intangible for one to place
one's finger upon it. But by the end of another week it was openly
inquiring whether "The Pilgrim" had as much as an even chance of
winning after all.

It bewildered Old Jerry; it was beyond his comprehension, and had he
not been so depressed himself he would have noted the change that came
over the girl, too, these days. He never entered the big back kitchen
now to hear her humming softly to herself, and sometimes he had to
speak several times before she even heard him.

That continued for almost a week, and then there came a day, a scant
three days before the date which he had hungrily underlined in red
upon a mental calendar, which brought the whole vexing indecision to a
precipitate head.

Old Jerry read that day's column in the sporting extra with weazened
face going red with anger--read it with fists knotted. Those others
had been merely skeptical--doubtful of "The Pilgrim's" willingness to
meet the champion--and now it openly scoffed at him; it laughed at his
ability, lashed him with ridicule. And, to cap it all, it accused him
openly of having already "sold out" to his opponent.

When the little white-haired driver of the buggy reached the house on
the hill that night he was as pale as he had been red, hours before,
and he pleaded fatigue to excuse his too hasty departure. He did not
see that she was almost as openly eager to have him go or that she
almost ran across to the table under the light with the packet of
papers as he turned away.

Had he noticed he would have been better prepared the next night for
the scene that met him when he opened her door at dusk. One step was
all he took, and then he stopped, wide-eyed, aghast. Dryad was
standing in the middle of the room, her hair loose about her
shoulders, lips drawn dangerously back from tight little teeth, fists
clenched at her throat, and her eyes flaming.

Old Jerry had never before seen her in a rage; he had never before
seen anybody so terribly, pallidly violent. As he entered her eyes
shot up to his. He heard her breath come and go, come and go, between
dry lips. And suddenly she lifted her feet and stamped upon the
newspaper strewn about her on the floor--infinitesimal shreds which
she had torn and flung from her.

"It's a lie!" she gasped. "It's a lie--a lie! They said he couldn't
win anyway; they said he had sold--sold his chance to win--and they
lie! He's never been whipped. He's never--been--whipped--yet!"

It frightened him. The very straining of her throat and the mad rise
and fall of her breast made him afraid for her. In his effort to quiet
her he hardly reckoned what he was saying.

"Why, it--it don't mean nothin'," he stated mildly. "That newspaper
trash ain't no account, anyway you look at it."

"Then why do they print it?" she stormed. "How do they dare to print
it? They've been doing it for days--weeks!"

He felt more equal to that question. The answer fairly popped into his
brain.

"They hev to, I reckon," he said with a fine semblance of cheerfulness.
"If they didn't maybe everybody'd be so sure he'd win that they
wouldn't even bother to go to see it." And then, very carelessly, as
though it was of little importance: "Don't know's I would hev thought
of goin' myself if it hadn't been for that. It's advertisin' I
reckon--just advertisin'!"

Her fists came down from her chin; her whole body relaxed. It was that
bewildering change of mood which he could never hope to follow. She
even started toward him.

"Wouldn't have thought of it!" she repeated. "Why--why, you don't mean
that you _aren't_ going?"

It was quite as though she had never considered the possibility of
such a contingency. Old Jerry's mouth dropped open while he stared at
her.

"Go," he stammered, "me go! Why, it's goin' to happen tomorrow
night!"

She nodded her head in apparent unconsciousness of his astonishment.

"You'll have to leave on the early train," she agreed, "and--and so I
won't see you again."

She turned her back upon him for a moment. He realized that she was
fumbling inside the throat of the little, too-tight blouse. When she
faced him again there was something in the palm of her outstretched
hand.

"I've been waiting for you to come tonight," she went on, "and it was
hard waiting. That's why I tore the paper up, I think. And now, will
you--will you give him this for me--give it to him when he has won?
You won't have to say anything." She hesitated. "I--I think he'll
understand!"

Old Jerry reached out and took it from her--a bit of a red silk bow,
dotted with silver spangles. He gazed at it a moment before he tucked
it away in an inside pocket, and in that moment of respite his brain
raced madly.

"Of course I figured on goin'," he said, when his breath returned,
"but I been a little undecided--jest a trifle! But I ought to be
there; he might be a mite anxious if they wasn't somebody from home.
And I'll give it to him then--I'll give it to him when he's won!"

He went a bit unsteadily back to his waiting buggy.

"She had that all ready to give me," he said to himself as he climbed
up to the high seat. Tentatively his fingers touched the little lump
that the spangly bow of red made inside his coat. "She's had it all
ready for me--mebby for days! But how'd she know I was a-goin'?" he
asked himself. "How'd _she_ know, when I didn't know myself?"

He gave it up as a feminine whimsicality too deep for mere male
wisdom. Once on the way back he thought of the route that would go
mailless the next day.

"'Twon't hurt 'em none to wait a day or so," he stated, and his voice
was just a little tinged with importance. "Maybe it'll do 'em good.
And there ain't no way out of it, anyhow--for I surely got to be
there!"



CHAPTER XVIII


Morehouse did not hear the door in the opaque glass partition that
walled his desk off from the outer editorial offices open and close,
for all that it was very quiet. Ever since the hour which followed the
going to press of the afternoon edition of the paper the huge room,
with its littered floor and flat-topped tables, had been deserted, so
still that the buzzing of a blue-bottle fly against the window pane at
Morehouse's side seemed irritatingly loud by contrast.

The plump newspaperman in brown was too deeply preoccupied to hear
anything so timidly unobtrusive as was that interruption, and only
after the intruder had plucked nervously at the elbow that supported
his chin did he realize that he was not alone. His head came up then,
slowly, until he was gazing back into the eyes of the little,
attenuated old man who, head tilted birdlike to one side, was standing
beside him in uncomfortable, apologetic silence.

It surprised Morehouse more than a little. For the life of him he
couldn't have told just whom he had expected to see when he looked up,
but nothing could have startled him more than the presence of that
white-haired wisp of a man with the beady eyes who fitted almost
uncannily into the perplexing puzzle which had held him there at his
desk until dusk. He forgot to greet the newcomer. Instead he sat
gazing at him, wide-mouthed, and after Old Jerry had borne the
scrutiny as long as he could he took the initiative himself.

"Well, I got here," he quavered. "I been a-tryin' to get upstairs to
see you ever since about three o'clock, and they wouldn't let me in.
Said you was too busy to be bothered, even when I told 'em I belonged
to the Gov'mint service. But I managed to slip by 'em at last!"

He paused and waited for some word of commendation. Morehouse merely
nodded. He was thinking--thinking hard! The voice was almost as
familiar to him as was his own, and yet it persisted in tantalizing
his memory. He couldn't quite place it. Old Jerry sensed something of
his difficulty.

"I'm from Boltonwood," he introduced himself, not quite so uncertainly.
"I'm Old Jerry. Maybe you remember me--I sat just next the stove that
night you was in town a-huntin' news."

Then Morehouse remembered. Old Jerry had not had much to say that
night, but his face and his shrill eagerness to snatch a little of the
spotlight was unforgettable. And it was of that very night Morehouse
had been thinking--that and the face of the big boy silent there on
the threshold--when the interruption came. But still he uttered no
welcome; instead there was something close akin to distinct aversion
in his manner as he drew up a chair for the old man.

Old Jerry felt the chill lack of cordiality, but he sat down. And
after a long period of silence, in which Morehouse made no move to put
him more at ease, he swallowed hard and went on with his explanation.

"I come down to--to see Denny fight," he stated. "It kinda seemed to
us--to me--that he'd think it strange if somebody from his home town
wa'n't there. So I come along. And I wouldn't a bothered you at all
today--it's gettin' late and I ain't got my ticket to get in
yet--only--only I was worried a mite--jest a trifle--and I thought I'd
better see you if I could."

Morehouse tilted his head again.

Old Jerry gave up any attempt of further excusing his intrusion and
went straight to the heart of the matter. He unfolded a paper that
bulged from the side pocket of his coat and spread it out on the
desk.

"It's this," he said, indicating the column that had scoffed so openly
at Young Denny's chances. "You--you wrote it, I suppose, didn't you?"

Again that impersonal nod.

"Well, I just wanted to ask you if--if you really thought it was--if
you think he ain't got no chance at all?"

The eagerness of that trembling old voice was not to be ignored any
longer. But Morehouse couldn't help but recollect the eager circle of
"Ayes" which had flanked the Judge that other night.

"What of it?" he inquired coolly. "What if he hasn't? I though Jed
Conway was the particular pride of your locality!"

Old Jerry's beady eyes widened. There was no mistaking the positive
dislike in that round face, any more than one could misunderstand the
antagonism of that round-faced man's words.

For weeks Morehouse had been puzzling over a question which he could
not answer--something which, for all the intimacy that had sprung up
between himself and Denny Bolton, he had never felt able to ask of the
boy with the grave eyes and graver lips. Even since the conference in
Hogarty's little office, when he had agreed to the ex-lightweight's
plan, it had been vexing him, no nearer solution than it had been that
day when he assured Hogarty that there was more behind young Denny's
eagerness to meet Jed Conway than the prize-money could account for.

Now, that afternoon, on the very eve of that battle, he sat there in
the thickening dusk, unconscious of the passage of time, and listened
to the explanation that came pouring from Old Jerry's lips, haltingly
at first, and then in a steady falsetto stream, and learned the answer
to it.

The old mail carrier didn't know what he was doing. His one desire was
to vindicate himself in the cold eyes of the man before him. But he
told it well and he did not spare himself.

Once he though he caught a glimpse of thawing mirth in that face when
he had finished relating how Denny had led him, reluctant and fearful,
from the kitchen of the farmhouse to the spot of blood on the stable
wall, and from there to the jug in a heap of fragments against the
tree-butt. And that fleeting mirth became a warm, all-enveloping grin
when he had detailed the climax of the Judge's prearranged sensation
that same night.

He knew then that he had set himself right, and he did not mean to go
into it any more fully. It was the changed attitude of Morehouse that
led him on and on. So he told, too, of Dryad Anderson's purchase of
the bleak old place on the hill and her reason. But when it came to
her wild fury against the paper that had dared to scoff at the boy he
paused. For a second he calculated the wisdom of exhibiting the bit of
a red bow that had been entrusted him. It, without a doubt, would be
the only passport he could hope for to a share of the glory, when it
was all over. For the time being he jealously decided to let it wait,
and he turned back to the rumpled sheet upon the desk.

"She--she'd be mighty disappointed," he finished a little lamely.
"She's so sure, somehow, it kinda worries me. You--you do think he's
got a little chance, don't you--jest a trifle?"

It took a long time--Old Jerry's confession. It was dark before he
finished, but Morehouse did not interrupt him by so much as the
lifting of a finger. And he sat silent, gazing straight ahead of him,
after the old man had finished. Old Jerry, watching him, wondered
vaguely what made his eyes so bright now.

"So that's it, is it?" the plump man murmured at last. "So that's it.
And I never dreamed of it once. I must be going stale."

He wheeled in his chair until he faced Old Jerry full.

"I don't know," he said. "A half-hour before you came in I didn't like
even to think of it. But now--chance? Well, this deadly waiting is
over anyhow, and we'll soon know. And I wonder--now--I wonder!"

With his watch flat in the palm of his hand Morehouse sat and whistled
softly. And then he shot hastily to his feet. Old Jerry understood
that whistle, but he hung back.

"I--I ain't got my ticket yet," he protested.

Morehouse merely reached in and hustled him over the threshold.

"Your unabridged edition, while it has no doubt saved my sanity, has
robbed us both of food and drink," he stated. "There's no time left,
even for friendly argument, if you want to be there when it happens.
You won't need any ticket this time--you'll be with me."

Even at that they were late, for when they paused a moment in the
entrance of the huge, bowl-shaped amphitheater, a sharp gust of
hand-clapping, broken by shrill whistling and shriller cat-calls, met
them. Far out across that room Old Jerry saw two figures, glistening
damp under the lights, crawl through the ropes that penned in a
high-raised platform in the very center of the building, and disappear
up an aisle.

He turned a dismayed face to Morehouse who, with one hand clutching
his arm, was deeply engrossed in a whispered conversation with a man
at the entrance--too engrossed to see. But when the newspaperman
turned at last to lead the way down into the body of the house he
explained in one brief word:

"Preliminary," he said.

Old Jerry did not understand. But half dragged, half led, he followed
blindly after his guide, until he found himself wedged into a seat at
the very edge of that roped-off, canvas-padded area. It was a single
long bench with a narrow board desk, set elbow high, running the
entire length in front of it. Peering half fearfully from the corner
of his eye Old Jerry realized that there were at least a full dozen
men beside themselves wedged in before it, and that, like Morehouse,
there was a block of paper before each man.

The awe with which the immensity of the place had stunned him began to
lessen a little and allowed him to look around. Wherever he turned a
sea of faces met him--faces strangely set and strained. Even under the
joviality of those closest to him he saw the tightened sinews of their
jaws. Those further away were blurred by the smoke that rose in a
never-thinning cloud, blurred until there was nothing but indistinct
blotches of white in the outer circles of seats.

And when he lifted his head and looked above him, he gasped. They were
there, too, tiny, featureless dots of white, like nothing so much as
holes in a black wall, in the smoke-drift that alternately hid and
revealed them.

Faces of men--faces of men, wherever he turned his head! Faces
strained and tense as they waited. That terrible tensity got under his
skin after a while; it crept in upon him until his spine crawled a
little, as if from cold. It was quiet, too; oddly quiet in spite of
the dull mumble that rose from thousands of throats.

Twice that hush was broken--twice when men laden with pails of water,
and bottles and sponges, and thick white towels crowded through the
ropes in front of him. Then the whole house was swept by a premature
storm of hand-clapping for the men who, stripped save for the flat
shoes upon their feet and the trunks about their hips, followed them
into the ring.

"Preliminary!" Morehouse had said, and there had been something of
disinterested contempt in his voice. Old Jerry felt, too, the entire
great crowd's disinterested, good-natured tolerance. They were waiting
for something else.

Twice Morehouse left his place at the long board desk and wended his
way off through the maze of aisles. The second time he returned, after
the third match had been finished, Old Jerry caught sight of his face
while he was a long way off--and Old Jerry's breath caught in his
throat. His plump cheeks were pale when he crowded back into his
place. The old man leaned nearer and tried to ask a question and his
dry tongue refused. The plump reporter nodded his head.

Again the men came with their bottles of water--their pails--their
towels and sponges. There was a third man who slipped agilely into the
nearest corner. Old Jerry saw him turn once and nod reassuringly, he
thought, at Morehouse. The little mail carrier did not know him;
everybody else within a radius of yards had apparently recognized him,
but he could not take his eyes off that lean, hard face. There was a
kind of satanic, methodical deadliness in Hogarty's directions to the
other two men inside the ropes.

Even while he was staring at him, fascinated, that hand-clapping
stormed up again, and then swelled to a hoarse roar that went
hammering to the roof. A figure passed Old Jerry, so close that the
long robe which wrapped him brushed his knee. When Hogarty had
stripped the robe away and the figure went on--on up through the
ropes--he recognized him.

As Young Denny seated himself in the corner just above them Morehouse
threw out his arm and forced Old Jerry back into his seat. Then the
little man remembered and shrank back, but his eyes glowed. He forgot
to watch for the coming of the other in dumb amaze at the wide expanse
of the boy's shoulders that rose white as the narrow cloth that
encircled his hips. Dazed, he listened to them shouting the name by
which they knew him--"The Pilgrim"--and he did not turn away until Jed
Conway was in the ring.

He heard first the cheers that greeted the newcomer--broken
reiterations of "Oh, you Red!" But the same heartiness was not there,
nor the volume. When Old Jerry's eyes crept furtively across the ring
he understood the reason.

It was the same face that he had known before, older and heavier, but
the same. And there was no appeal in that face. It was scant of brow,
brutish, supercunning, and the swarthy body that rose above the black
hip-cloth matched the face. Old Jerry's eyes clung to the thick neck
that ran from his ears straight down into his shoulders until a
nameless dread took him by the throat and made him turn away.

Back in Denny's corner Hogarty was lacing on the gloves, talking
softly in the meantime to the big boy before him.

"From the tap of the gong," he was droning. "From the tap of the
gong--from the tap of the gong."

Young Denny nodded, smiled faintly as he rose to his feet to meet the
announcer, who crossed and placed one hand on his shoulder and
introduced him. Again the applause went throbbing to the roof; and
again the echo of it after Jed The Red had in turn stood up in his
corner.

The referee called them to the middle of the ring. It was quiet in an
instant--so quiet that Old Jerry's throat ached with it. The announcer
lifted his hand.

"Jed The Red fights at one hundred and ninety-six," he said, "'The
Pilgrim' at one hundred and seventy-two."

Immediately he turned and dropped through the ropes. His going was
accompanied by a flurry in each corner as the seconds scuttled after
him with stools and buckets.

They faced each other, alone in the ring save for the referee--The
Pilgrim and Jed The Red. Then a gong struck. They reached out and each
touched the glove of the other.

Old Jerry could not follow it--it came too terribly swift for
that--but he heard the thudding impact of gloves as Denny hurtled
forward in that first savage rush.

"From the gong," Hogarty had ordered, "from the gong!" The Red,
covering and ducking, blocking and swaying beneath the whirlwind of
that attack, broke and staggered and set himself, only to break again,
and retreat, foot by foot, around the ring. The whole house had come
to its feet with the first rush, screaming to a man. Old Jerry, too,
was standing up, giddy, dizzy, as he watched Conway weather that first
minute.

He had no chance to swing; with both hands covering he fought wildly
to stay on his feet; to live through it; to block that right hand that
lashed out again and again and found his face.

Each time that blow went across it shook him to the soles of his feet;
it lifted the cheering of the crowd to a higher, madder key; but even
Old Jerry, eyes a little quicker already, saw that none of those blows
landed flush upon the side of the jaw.

Conway called to his aid all the ring-generalship of which he was
capable in that opening round. Once that lightening-like fist reached
out and found his mouth. A trickle of blood oozed red from the lips
that puffed up, almost before the glove came away; once when he had
seen an opening and led for The Pilgrim's own face, that wicked jolt
caught him wide open. He ducked his head between his shoulders then.
The shock sent him to his knees, but that upraised shoulder saved him.
The force of that glancing smash had spent itself before it reached
his unprotected neck.

There was no let-up--no lull in the relentless advance. He was on his
feet again, grim, grasping, reeling, hanging on! And again that
avalanche of destruction enveloped him.

He fought to drop into a clinch, for one breath's respite, his huge
hairy arms slipping hungrily out about Denny's white body, but even as
he snuggled his body close in, that fist lashed up between them and
found his chin again. It straightened him, flung him back. And once
more, before the certain annihilation of that blow, he ducked his head
in between his shoulders.

Old Jerry heard the crash of the glove against the top of his head; he
saw Conway hurled back into the ropes. But not until seconds later,
when he realized that the roar of the crowd had hushed, did he see
that a change had come over the fight.

Conway was no longer giving ground; he was himself driving in more and
more viciously, for that deadly right hand no longer leaped out to
check him. Twice just as Denny had rocked him he now jolted his own
right over to The Pilgrim's face. At each blow the boy lashed out with
his left hand. Both blows he missed, and the second time the force of
his swing whirled him against the barrier. Right and left Conway sent
his gloves crashing into his unprotected stomach--right and left!

And then the tap of the gong!

Hogarty was through the ropes with the bell. As Denny dropped upon the
stool he stripped the glove from the boy's right hand and examined it
with anxious fingers. The other two were sponging his chest with
water--pumping fresh air into his lungs; but Old Jerry's eyes clung to
the calamity written upon Hogarty's gray features.

Everybody else seemed to understand what had happened--everybody but
himself. He turned again to the man next him on the bench. Morehouse,
too, had been watching the ex-lightweight's deft fingers.

"Broken," he groaned. "His right hand is gone." And after what seemed
hours Old Jerry realized that Morehouse was cursing hoarsely.

In Conway's corner the activity was doubly feverish. The Red lay
sprawled back against the ropes while they kneaded knotty legs, and
shoulders. There was blood on his chin, his lips were cut and
misshapen, but he had weathered that round without serious damage.
Watching him Old Jerry saw that he was smiling--snarling confidently.

Back in Denny's corner they were still working over him, but the whole
house had sensed the dismay in that little knot of men. Hogarty,
gnawing his lip, stopped and whispered once to the boy on the stool,
but Young Denny shook his head and held out his hand. He laced the
gloves back on them, over the purple, puffy knuckles.

And then again that cataclysmic bell.

Just as the first round had started, that second one opened with a
rush, but this time it was Conway who forced the fighting. Like some
gigantic projectile he drove in and caught Denny in his own corner,
and beat him back against the standard. Again that thudding right and
left, right and left, into the stomach. And again Old Jerry saw that
left hand flash out--and miss.

Just as The Pilgrim had driven him Conway forced Denny around the
ring, except that the boy was heart-breaking slow in getting away. The
Red stayed with him, beat him back and back, smothered him! With that
deadly right no longer hunting for his jaw, he fought with nothing to
fear, for Young Denny could not find his face even once with that
flashing left swing.

Before the round was half over The Pilgrim had gone down twice--body
blows that did little harm; but they were shouting for The
Red--shouting as if from a great distance, from the balconies.

Again Conway drove him into a corner of the ropes, feinted for the
stomach. Then there came that first blow that found his chin. Old
Jerry saw Denny's body go limp as he crashed his length upon the
padded canvas; he saw him try to rise and heard the house screaming
for him to take the count.

He rested there for a precious instant, swaying on one knee. But his
eyes were still glazed when he rose, and again Conway, rushing, beat
down that guarding right, and, swinging with all his shoulder weight
behind it, found that same spot and dropped him again.

Pandemonium broke loose in the upper reaches of the seats, but the
silence of the body of the house was deathlike as he lay without
stirring. Old Jerry gulped and waited--choked back a sobbing breath as
he saw him start to lift himself once more. Upon his hands and knees
first, then upon his knees alone. And then, with eyes shut, he
struggled up, at the count of ten, and shaped up again.

And Conway beat him down.

Even the gallery was quiet now. The thud of that stiff-armed jolt went
to every corner of that vast room. And the referee was droning out the
count again.

"--Five--six--seven----"

Head sagging between his arms, eyes staring and sightless, The
Pilgrim groped out and found the ropes. Once more at the end of the
toll he lifted himself--lifted himself by the strength of his
shoulders to his legs that tottered beneath him, and then stepped free
of the ropes.

That time, before Conway could swing, the gong saved him.

Again it was Hogarty who was first through the ropes. Effortlessly he
stooped and lifted that limp body and carried it across to the stool.
They tried to stretch him back against the ropes behind him, and each
time his head slumped forward over his knees.

Old Jerry turned toward Morehouse and choked--licked his lips and
choked again. And Morehouse nodded his head dumbly.

"He--he's gone!" he said.

Old Jerry sat and stared back at him as though he couldn't understand.
He remembered the bit of a red bow in his pocket then; he fumbled
inside and found it. He remembered the eyes of the girl who had given
it to him, too, that night when she had knelt at his knees. His old
fingers closed, viselike, upon the fat man's arm.

"But she told me to give him this," he mumbled dully. "Why, she--she
said for me to give him this, when he had _Won_."

Morehouse stared at the bit of tinseled silk--stared up at Old Jerry's
face and back again. And then he leaned over suddenly and picked it
up. The next moment he was crowding out from behind the desk--was
climbing into the ring.

Old Jerry saw him fling fiercely tense words into Hogarty's face, and
Hogarty stood back. He knelt before the slack body on the stool and
tried to raise the head; he held the bit of bright web before him, but
there was no recognition in Denny's eyes. And the old man heard the
plump reporter's words, sob-like with excitement:

"She sent it," he hammered at those deaf ears. "She sent it--she sent
it--silk--a little bow of red silk!"

Then the whole vast house saw the change that came over that limp
form. They saw the slack shoulders begin to go back; saw the
dead-white face come up; they saw those sick eyes beginning to clear.
And The Pilgrim smiled a little--smiled into Morehouse's face.

"Silk," he repeated softly. "Silk!" and then, as if it had all come
back at once: "Silk--next to her skin!"

And they called it a miracle--that recovery. They called it a miracle
of the mind over a body already beaten beyond endurance. For in the
scant thirty seconds which were left, while the boy lay back with them
working desperately above him, it was almost possible to see the
strength ebbing back into his veins. They dashed water upon his head,
inverted bottles of it into his face, and emptied it from his eyes,
but during that long half minute the vague smile never left his
lips--nor his eyes the face of Conway across from him.

And he went to meet The Red when the gong called to them again. He
went to meet him--smiling!

The bell seemed to pick him up and drop him in the middle of the ring.
Set for the shock he stopped Conway's hurtling attack. And when The
Red swung he tightened, took the blow flush on the side of the face,
and only rocked a little.

Conway's chin seemed to lift to receive the blow which he started
then from the waist. That right hand, flashing up, found it and
straightened The Red back--lifted him to his toes. And while he was
still in the air The Pilgrim measured and swung. The left glove
caught him flush below the ear; it picked him up and drove him
crashing back into the corner from which he had just come.

Old Jerry saw them bend over him--saw them pick him up at last and
slip him through the ropes. Then he realized that the referee was
holding Young Denny's right hand aloft; that Hogarty, with arms about
him, was holding the boy erect.

The little mail-carrier heard the ex-lightweight's words, as he edged
in beside Morehouse, against the ropes.

"A world-beater," he was screaming above the tumult. "I'll make a
world-beater of you in a year!"

And The Pilgrim, still smiling vaguely, shook his head a little.

"Maybe," he answered faintly. "Maybe I'll come back. I don't
know--yet. But now--now I reckon I'd better be going along home!"



CHAPTER XIX


It was a white night--a night so brilliant that the village lights far
below in the hollow all but lost their own identity in the radiance of
that huge, pale moon; so white that the yellow flare of the single
lamp in its bracket, in the back kitchen of the old Bolton place on
the hill seemed shabbily dull by contrast.

Standing at the window in the dark front room of the house, peering
out from under cupped palms that hid her eyes, Dryad could almost pick
out each separate picket of the straggling old fence that bounded the
garden of the little drab cottage across from her. In that searching
light she could even make out great patches where the rotting
sheathing of the house had been torn away, leaving the framework
beneath naked and gaunt and bare.

It was scarcely two months since the day when she had gone herself to
Judge Maynard with her offer to sell that unkempt acre or so which he
had fought so long and bitterly to force into the market. And it had
been a strange one, too--that interview. His acceptance had been
quick--instantaneously eager--but the girl was still marvelling a
little over his attitude throughout that transaction, whenever her
mind turned back to it.

When she mentioned the mortgage which Young Denny had secured only a
few days before, he had seemed to understand almost immediately why
she had spoken of it, without the explanation which she meant to
give.

Once again she found him a different Judge Maynard from all the others
she had known, and he had in the years since she could remember, been
many different men to her imagination. It puzzled her almost as much
as did his opinion upon the value of the old place, which, somehow,
she could not bring herself to believe was worth all that he insisted
upon paying. But then, too, she did not know either that the town's
great man had been riding a-tilt at his own soul, for several days on
end, and just as Old Jerry had done, was seizing upon the first
opportunity to salve the wounds resultant.

And yet this was the first day that the girl had seen him so much as
inspect his long-coveted property; the first time she had known him to
set foot within the sagging gate since he had placed in her hands that
sum of money which was greater than any she had ever seen before.
Under his directions men had commenced clearing away the rank
shrubbery that afternoon--commenced to tear down the house itself.

Time after time since morning she had entered the front room to stand
and peer out across the valley at this new activity which the Judge
himself was directing with an oddly suppressed lack of his usual
violent gestures. There was something akin to apology in his every
move.

It brought a little homesick ache into the girl's throat; it set her
lips to curving--made her eyes go damp with pity and tenderness for
the little white-haired figure bending over his bench. He had clung so
bravely, so stubbornly, to that battered bit of a house; to his garden
which he had never realized had long since ceased to be anything but a
plot of waist-high bushes and weeds. Once when she recollected those
countless rows of poignantly wistful faces on the shelves of that
back-room workshop she wondered if she had not been disloyal, after
all. And she had argued it out with herself aloud as she went from
task to task in that afternoon's gathering twilight.

"But it was because of her that he stayed," she reassured herself. "It
was because of her that he kept it, all these years. And--and so he
couldn't mind--not very much, I think, now that they don't need it any
longer, if I sold it so that I could keep this place--for him!"

They had been long, those hours of waiting. Not a minute of those
entire two days since Old Jerry's departure but had dragged by on
laggard feet. And yet now, with nightfall of that third day she
became jealous of every passing minute. She hated to have them pass;
dreaded to watch the creeping hands of the clock on the kitchen wall
as they drew up, little by little, upon that hour which meant the
arrival of the night train in the village.

One moment she wondered if he would come--wondered and touched dry
lips with the tip of her tongue. And the very next, when somehow she
was so very, very sure that there was no room for doubt, she even
wondered whether or not he would be glad--glad to find her there. The
gaunt skeleton of a framework showing through the torn sides of John
Anderson's cottage almost unnerved her whenever that thought came, and
sent her out again into the lighted back room.

"What if he isn't?" she whispered, over and over again. "Why, I--I
never thought of that before, did I? I just thought I had to be here
when he came. But what if he--isn't glad?"

An hour earlier, when the thought had first come to her, she had
carried a big, square package out to the table before the kitchen
window and untied with fluttering fingers the string that bound it.
The little scarlet blouse and shimmering skirt, alive with tinsel
that glinted under the light, still lay there beside the thin-heeled
slippers and filmy silk stockings. She bent over them, patting
them lovingly with a slim hand, her eyes velvety dark while she
considered.

"Oh, you're pretty--pretty--pretty!" she said in a childishly hushed
voice, "the prettiest things in the world!"

The next instant she straightened to scan soberly the old shiny black
skirt she was wearing, and the darned stockings and cracked shoes.

"And--and you would help, I think," she went on musing. "I know you
would, but then--then it wouldn't be _me_. It would be easy for any
one to care for you--almost too easy. I--I think I'll wear them for
him--some other time, maybe--if he wants me to."

But she turned the very next moment and crossed to the mirror on the
wall--that square bit of glass before which Young Denny had stood and
stared back into his own eyes and laughed. Oblivious to everything
else she was critically scanning her own small reflection--great,
tip-tilted eyes, violet in the shadow, and then cheeks and pointed
chin--until, even in spite of her preoccupation, she became aware of
the hungry tremulousness of the mouth of that reflected image--until
the hoarse shriek of an engine's whistle leaped across the valley and
brought her up sharp, her breath going in one long, quavering gasp
between wide lips.

It was that moment toward which she had been straining every hour of
those two days; the one from which she had been shrinking every minute
of those last two hours since dark. She hesitated a second, head
thrown to one side, listening; she darted into that dark front room
and pressed her face to the cold pane, and again that warning note
came shrilling across the quiet from the far side of town.

There in the darkness, a hand on either side of the frame holding her
leaning weight, she stood and waited. Below her the house roofs lay
like patches of jet against the moon-brightness. She stood and watched
its whole length, and no darker figure crept into relief against its
lighter streak of background. Minutes after she knew that he had had
time to come, and more, she still clung there, staring wide-eyed,
villageward.

It wasn't a recollection of that half dismantled wreck of a house
under the opposite ridge that finally drew her dry-lipped gaze from
the road; she did not even think of it that moment. It was simply
because she couldn't watch any longer--not even for a minute or
two--that her eyes finally fluttered that way. But when she did turn
there was a bigger, darker blot there against the leaning picket
fence--a big-shouldered figure that had moved slowly forward until it
stood full in front of the sagging gate.

And even as she watched Denny Bolton swung around from a long
contemplation of that half-torn-down building to peer up at his own
dark place on the hill--to peer straight back into the eyes of the
girl whom he could not even see.

She saw the bewilderment in that big body's poise; even at that
distance she sensed his dumb, numbed uncomprehension. From bare white
throat to the mass of tumbled hair that clustered across her forehead
the blood came storming up into her face; and with the coming of that
which set the pulses pounding in her temples and brought an
unaccountable ache to her throat, all the doubt which had squired her
that day slipped away.

Before he had had time to turn back again she had flown on mad feet
into the kitchen, swept the lamp from its bracket on the wall with
heedless haste and raced back to that front window. And she placed it
there behind a half-drawn shade--that old signal which they had agreed
upon without one spoken word, years back.

Crouching in the semi-gloom behind the lamp she watched.

He stepped forward a pace and stopped; lifted one hand slowly, as
though he did not believe what he saw. Bareheaded he waited an instant
after that arm went back to his side. When he swung around and
disappeared into the head of the path that led from the gate into the
black shadow of the thicket in the valley's pit she lifted both arms,
too, and stood poised there a moment, slender and straight and vividly
unwavering as the lamp-flame itself, before she wheeled and ran.

It was dark in the thick of the underbrush; dark and velvety quiet,
save for the little moon-lit patch of a clearing where he waited. He
stood there in the middle of that spot of light and heard her coming
long before she reached him--long before he could see her he heard her
scurrying feet and the whip of bushes against her skirt.

But when she burst through the fringe of brush he had no time to move
or speak, or more than lift his arms before her swift rush carried her
to him. When her hands flashed up about his neck and her damp mouth
went searching softly across his face and he strained her nearer and
even nearer to him, he felt her slim body quivering just as it had
trembled that other night when she had raced across the valley to
him--the night when Judge Maynard's invitation had failed to come.
After a time he made out the words that were tumbling from her lips,
all incoherent with half hysterical bits of sobs, and he realized,
too, that her words were like that of that other night.

"Denny--Denny," she murmured, her small, gold-crowned head buried in
his shoulder. "I'm here--I've come--just as soon as I could; Oh, I've
been afraid! I knew you'd come, too--I knew you would tonight! I was
sure of it--even when I was sure that you wouldn't."

For a long time he was silent, because dry lips refused to frame the
words he would have spoken. Minutes he stood and held her against him
until the rise and fall of her narrow shoulders grew quieter, before
he lifted one hand and held her damp face away, that he might look
into it. And gazing back at him, in spite of all the wordless wonder
of her which she saw glowing in his eyes, she read, too, the grave
perplexity of him.

"Why--you--you must have known I'd come," he said, his voice
ponderously grave. "I--I told you so. I left word for you that I would
be back--as soon as I could come."

He felt her slim body slacken--saw the lightning change flash over her
face which always heralded that bewildering swift change of mood. It
wiped out all the tenseness of lip and line.

There in the white light in spite of the shadows of her lashes which
turned violet eyes to great pools of satin shadow, he caught the flare
of mischief behind half-closed lids, before she tilted her head back
and laughed softly, with utter joyous abandon straight up into his
face.

"He--he didn't deliver it," she stated naively. "It wasn't his fault
entirely, though, Denny--although I did give him lots of chances, at
first anyway. I almost made him tell--but he--he's stubborn."

She stopped and laughed again--giggled shamelessly as she remembered.
But her eyes grew grave once more.

"I think he didn't quite approve of my attitude," she explained to him
as he bent over her. "He thought I wasn't--sorry enough--to deserve it
at first. And then--and then I never gave him any opportunity to
speak. I would have stopped him if he had tried. You--you see, I just
wanted to--wait."

Head bowed she paused a moment before she continued.

"But--but I sent him to you--two days ago, Denny. I sent something
that I asked him to give you--when--when it was over. Didn't you--get
it?"

He fumbled in the pocket of his smooth black suit after she had
disengaged herself and dropped to the ground at his feet. With her
ankles curled up under her she sat in a boyish heap watching him,
until he drew out the bit of a spangled crimson bow and held it out
before him in the palm of one big hand. Then he swung down to the
ground beside her.

"I thought it must have been Old Jerry who brought it. I didn't see
him, and no one could remember his name or knew where he had gone when
they thought to look for him. They--they just described him to me."

He turned the bow of silk over, touching it almost reverently.

"Some one gave it to me," he continued slowly. "I don't know exactly
how or when. It--it was just put into my hand--when I needed it most.
I wasn't sure Old Jerry had brought it, but I knew it came from you,
knew it when I didn't--know--much--else!"

She was very, very quiet, content merely in his nearness. Even then
she didn't understand it--the reason for his going that night, weeks
before--for the papers which had told her a little had told her
nothing of his brain's own reason. The question was on her lips when
her narrow fingers, searching the shadow for his, found that bandaged
wrist and knuckles. Almost fiercely she drew that hand up into the
light. From the white cloth her gaze went to the discolored, bruised
patches on face and chin--the same place where that long, ugly cut had
been which dripped blood on the floor the night she had run from him
in the dark--went to his face, and back again, limpid with pity. And
she lifted it impulsively and tucked it under her chin, and held it
there with small hands that trembled a little.

"Then--then if you haven't seen Old Jerry--why--why you--he couldn't
have told you anything at all yet, about me."

The words trailed off softly and left the statement hanging
interrogatively in midair.

Denny nodded his head in the direction of John Anderson's house that
had been.

"About that?" he asked.

She nodded her head. And then she told him; she began at the very
beginning and told him everything from that night when she had watched
him there under cover of the thicket. Once she tried to laugh when she
related Old Jerry's panic, a week or two later, when he had come to
find her packing in preparation to leave. But her mirth was waveringly
unsteady. And when she tried to explain, too, how she had chanced to
buy up the mortgage on his own bleak house on the hill, her voice
again became suddenly, diffidently small.

There was a new, sweet confusion in her refusal to meet his eyes and
Denny, reaching out with his bandaged hand, half lifted her and swung
her around until she needs must face him.

"You--you mean you--bought it, yourself?" he marvelled.

Then, face uplifted, brave-eyed, she went on a little breathlessly.

"I bought it, myself," she said, "the week you went away." And, in a
muffled whisper: "Denny, I didn't have faith--not much, at first. But
I meant to be here when you did come, just--just because I thought you
might need me--mighty badly. And waiting is hard, too, when one hasn't
faith. And I did wait! That was something, wasn't it, Denny?
Only--only now, today, I--I think I realized that my own need of you
is greater than yours could ever be for me!"

She sat, lips apart, quiet for his answer.

An odd smile edged the boy's lips at her wistful earnestness. It was a
twisted little smile which might have been born of the pain of
stinging lids and dryer, aching throat. He could not have spoken at
that moment had he tried. Instead he lifted her bodily and drew her
huddled little figure into his arms. It was his first face to face
glimpse of the wonder of woman.

But he knew now something which she had only sensed; he knew that the
big, lonesome, bewildered boy whom she had tried to comfort in his
bitterness that other night when she had hidden her own hurt
disappointment with the white square card within her breast, had come
back all man.

He looked down at her--marvelled at her very littleness as though it
were a thing he had never known before.

"And--and you still--would stay?" he managed to ask, at last. "You'd
stay--even if it did mean being like them," he inclined his head
toward the distant village, "like them, old and wrinkled and worn-out,
before they have half lived their lives?"

She nodded her head vehemently against his coat. He felt her thin arms
tighten and tighten about him.

"I'll stay," she repeated after him in a childishly small voice.
"You--you see, I _know_ what it is now to be alone, even just for a
week or two. I think I'll stay, please!"

There had been a bit of a teasing lilt in her half smothered words. It
disappeared now.

"I--I'd be pretty lonesome, all the rest of my life--man--if I
didn't!"

And long afterward she lifted her head from his arm and blinked at him
from sleepy, heavy-lidded eyes.

"Why, Denny?" she asked in drowsy curiosity. "Why did you go--why,
really? Don't you realize that you haven't told me even yet?"

He rose and lifted her to her feet, but that did not cover the slow
flush that stained his face--the old, vaguely embarrassed flush that
she knew so well. He groped awkwardly for words while he stared again
at the bit of silk in his hand, before his searching fingers found the
thick, crisp packet that had lain with it in his pocket.

"The Pilgrim's share of the receipts amounted to $12,000," had been
the tale of Morehouse's succinct last paragraph.

Then, "It--took me almost two months to save fifteen dollars," Young
Denny explained in painful self-consciousness.

She understood. She remembered the scarlet blouse and shimmering skirt
with its dots of tinsel, and the stockings and slim-heeled slippers.
Her fingers touched his chin--the barest ghost of a caressing
contact.

"Denny--Denny," she murmured, "I told you that night that you didn't
understand. And yet--and yet I'm glad that you couldn't. It was for
me--you went. Don't you--didn't you know it was--just because of
you--that I wanted them--at--all?"

                  *       *       *       *       *

The circle in the Boltonwood tavern convened early that night, and
long after hope had all but died a death of stagnation the regulars
stuck stubbornly to their places about the cheerlessly cold,
fat-bellied stove.

It was a session extraordinary, for even Dave Shepard, the patriarch
of the circle itself, could not recall an occasion when they had
foregathered there in such fashion so long after the last spring snow
had surrendered to summer. Yet it was largely mild-voiced Dave's
doing--this silent, sober gathering.

For he alone of all of them had heeded Old Jerry's parting admonition
that night, weeks before, when the servant of the Gov'mint had turned
from his shrill defiance of the Judge to whip their whole ranks with
scorn. Since then Dave had been following the papers with faithful and
painstaking care--not merely the political news of the day which
invariably furnished the key for each night's debate--but searching
every inch of type, down to the last inconsequential advertisement.
And he had been rewarded; he had penetrated, with the aid of that
small picture inset at the column-head, the disguise of the colorful
sobriquet which Morehouse had fastened upon Young Denny Bolton. More
than that, he had been reading for weeks each step in that campaign of
publicity which had so harrowed Old Jerry's peace of mind--and somehow
he had kept it religiously to himself.

Not until two days before, when Old Jerry's desertion from duty had
become a town-wide sensation had he opened his mouth. The route back
in the hills went mailless that day, and for that reason there were
more than enough papers to go around when he finally gave the old
guard which was waiting in vain for Old Jerry's appearance upon the
top step of the post-office, the benefits of his wider reading.

There had been a fierce factional debate raging when he came up
late to take his unobtrusive place upon the sidewalk, but even before
he added his voice to the din those who argued that the old
mail-carrier's disappearance could be in no way connected with that
of Young Denny Bolton, who had gone the way of all the others of
his line, were in a hopeless minority.

Their timidest member's announcement stunned them all to silence--left
them hushed and speechless--not for an hour or two, but for the days
that followed as well. Even the red-headlined account which had come
with that morning's batch of news of Young Denny's victory and the
fall of Jed The Red, whom they had championed under the Judge's able
leadership, failed to stir up any really bitter wrangle.

They sat in an apathetic circle, waiting for Old Jerry to come.

But no one, not even Morehouse, knew when Old Jerry disappeared that
night after Jed Conway had come hurtling from his corner, only to lift
and whirl and go crashing back before the impact of The Pilgrim's
leaping gloves. At first the plump newspaper man believed that the
surging, shouting wave of humanity which had broken comber-like over
the ropes to hail a newer favorite had separated the little,
bird-faced man from him. Only a recollection of those vice-like
fingers clinging to his arm a moment before made that probability seem
unbelievable.

It was a long time before The Pilgrim's brain had again become clear
enough to grasp the meaning of the questions which Morehouse put to
him, but Denny did not know even as much as did the round-faced
reporter himself. He only recognized the description of the shrill
voiced, beady-eyed mail carrier.

To Old Jerry belonged the only comprehensive explanation for his
sudden withdrawal from the scene, just at that moment when his own
share in it might have been not inconsequential. And more than that,
his resolution to keep it strictly and privately his own grew firmer
and firmer, the more thought he gave to it.

In those hours which intervened between the impulse which had resulted
in his modest retreat from Morehouse's side, under cover of the
crowd's wild demonstration, and the next morning when he boarded the
train which was to carry him back to the hills, after a cautious
reconnaissance that finally located Denny in the coach ahead of him,
he once or twice sought to analyze his actions for an explanation less
derogatory to his own self-respect.

"They wan't no real sense ner reason in my hangin' around, jest
gittin' under foot," he stated thoughtfully. "I done about all I was
called on to do, didn't I? Why, I reckon when all's said and done, I
jest about won that fight myself! For if I hadn't a-come he wouldn't
never a-got that ribbon. And Godfrey, but didn't that wake him!"

There was more than a little satisfaction to be gained in viewing
himself in that light. With less to occupy his mind and unlimited
leisure for elaboration it could have served as the entire day's theme
for thought. But so far as explaining his almost panic haste to get
away the reasoning was palpably unsatisfactory--so unsatisfactory that
he cringed guiltily behind the back of the seat in front of him
whenever anyone entered the front door of the car.

He gave quite the entire day to the problem and long before night hid
the flying fences outside his window he decided that eventually there
could be only one way out of it. Sooner or later he had to face the
issue: he had to tell Young Denny that he had betrayed his trust. Even
that damp wad of bills which the boy had pressed into his hand, that
night before he left, still burned within his coat.

Once or twice he rose, during the return journey and advanced with
forced jauntiness as far as the door of the car ahead. But he always
stopped there, after a moment's uneasy contemplation of Denny's back,
turned a little sadly to the water-cooler, and returned slowly and
unenthusiastically to his seat. Twice when it was necessary to change
trains he made the transfer with a lightning precision that would have
done honor to any prestidigitator. And when, hours after nightfall,
the train came to a groaning standstill before Boltonwood's deserted
station shed he waited his opportunity and dropped off in the dark--on
the wrong side of the track!

Denny had already become a dark blur ahead of him when he, too, turned
in and took the long road toward town.

Old Jerry followed the big-shouldered figure that night with heavily
lagging feet--he followed heavy in spirit and bereft of hope. He was
still behind him when Denny finally paused before the sagging gate of
John Anderson's half-stripped house. Then, watching the boy's dumb
lack of understanding, the enormity of the whole horrible complication
dawned upon him for the first time. He had forgotten Dryad Anderson's
going--forgotten that the house upon the ridge was no longer the
property of the man who had entrusted it to him.

When the light behind that half-drawn shade flared up, far across on
the crest of the opposite hill, and Young Denny wheeled to plunge into
the black mouth of the path that led deeper into the valley, he too
started swiftly forward. He swept off in desperate haste up the long
hill road that led to the Bolton homestead.

The light was still there in that front room when he poked a
tentatively inquiring head in at the open door; he paused in a
dull-eyed examination of the silken garments draped over the table top
in the kitchen after he had roamed vaguely through the silent house.
But he was too tired in mind to give them much attention just then.

Outside, buried in the shadow of Young Denny's squat, unpainted barn,
he still waited doggedly--he waited ages and ages, a lifetime of
apprehension. And then he saw them coming toward him, up out of the
shadow of the valley into the moonlight that bathed the hill in
silver.

They paused and stood there--stood and stared out across the valley at
Judge Maynard's great box of a house on the hill and that bit of a
wedge-shaped acre of ruin that clung like an unsightly burr to the hem
of his immaculate pastures.

Slender and boy-like in her little blouse and tight, short skirt the
girl was half-hidden in the hollow of his shoulder. Once, watching
with his head cocked pertly, sparrowlike, on one side, the old man's
eyes went to the white-bandaged knuckles of Denny's right hand; once
while he waited Old Jerry saw her lift her face--saw the big,
shoulder-heavy figure fold her in his arms and bend and touch the
glory of her hair with his lips while she clung to him, before she
turned and went slowly toward the open kitchen door.

Then he started. He shrank farther back into the shadow and edged a
noiseless way around the building. But with the tavern lights
beckoning to him he waited an introspective moment or two.

"Godfrey 'Lisha," he sighed thunderously, "but that takes a load offen
my mind!"

And he ruminated.

"But what's the use of my tryin' to explain now? What's the use--when
they ain't nothing to explain! It's all come out all right, ain't it?
Well, then, hedn't I jest as well save my breath?"

He straightened his thin shoulders and stretched his arms.

"It couldn't a-been handled much neater, either," that one-sided
conversation went on, "not anyway you look at it. I always did think
that the best thing to do in them matters was to kinda let 'em take
their own course. And now--now I guess I'll be gittin' along down!"

                  *       *       *       *       *

Before he opened the door of the Tavern office a scant half hour
later, Denny Bolton stopped there on the steps a moment and, his hand
on the latch, listened to the thin, falsetto voice that came from
within. A slow smile crept up and wrinkled the corners of the boy's
eyes after a while when he had caught the drift of those strident
words.

They had been waiting for him--the regulars. They had been waiting for
him longer than Old Jerry knew. In the chair that had been the
throne-seat of the town's great man the servant of the Gov'mint sat
and faced his loyal circle.

He had reached his climax--had hammered it home. Now he was rounding
out his conclusion for those who hung, hungry-eyed, upon his
eloquence.

"I ain't begun to do it jestice yet," he apologized. "I ain't more'n
jest teched on a good many things that needs to be gone into a
trifle. Jest a trifle! It'll take weeks and weeks to do that. But
as I was a-sayin'--I got there! I got there just when I was needed
almighty bad. I ain't done that part of it jestice--but you'll see it
all in the papers in a day or two--Sunday supplement, maybe--and
pictures--and colors, too, I reckon!"

THE END



GROSSET & DUNLAP'S

DRAMATIZED NOVELS

THE KIND THAT ARE MAKING THEATRICAL HISTORY

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.

WITHIN THE LAW. By Bayard Veiller & Marvin Dana.

Illustrated by Wm. Charles Cooke.

This is a novelization of the immensely successful play which ran for two
years in New York and Chicago.

The plot of this powerful novel is of a young woman's revenge directed
against her employer who allowed her to be sent to prison for three years
on a charge of theft, of which she was innocent.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MARY. By Robert Carlton Brown.

Illustrated with scenes from the play.

This is a narrative of a young and innocent country girl who is suddenly
thrown into the very heart of New York, "the land of her dreams," where
she is exposed to all sorts of temptations and dangers.

The story of Mary is being told in moving pictures and played in theatres
all over the world.

THE RETURN OF PETER GRIMM. By David Belasco.

Illustrated by John Rae.

This is a novelization of the popular play in which David Warfield, as Old
Peter Grimm, scored such a remarkable success.

The story is spectacular and extremely pathetic but withal, powerful, both
as a book and as a play.

THE GARDEN OF ALLAH. By Robert Hichens.

This novel is an intense, glowing epic of the great desert, sunlit
barbaric, with its marvelous atmosphere of vastness and loneliness.

It is a book of rapturous beauty, vivid in word painting. The play has
been staged with magnificent cast and gorgeous properties.

BEN HUR. A Tale of the Christ. By General Lew Wallace.

The whole world has placed this famous Religious-Historical Romance on a
height of pre-eminence which no other novel of its time has reached. The
clashing of rivalry and the deepest human passions, the perfect
reproduction of brilliant Roman life, and the tense, fierce atmosphere of
the arena have kept their deep fascination. A tremendous dramatic success.

BOUGHT AND PAID FOR. By George Broadhurst and Arthur Hornblow.

Illustrated with scenes from the play.

A stupendous arraignment of modern marriage which has created an interest
on the stage that is almost unparalleled. The scenes are laid in New York,
and deal with conditions among both the rich and poor.

The interest of the story turns on the day-by-day developments which show
the young wife the price she has paid.

Ask for complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, 526 West 26th St., New York



JOHN FOX, JR'S.

STORIES OF THE KENTUCKY MOUNTAINS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's list.

THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE.

Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

The "lonesome pine" from which the story takes its name was a tall tree
that stood in solitary splendor on a mountain top. The fame of the pine
lured a young engineer through Kentucky to catch the trail, and when he
finally climbed to its shelter he found not only the pine but the
foot-prints of a girl. And the girl proved to be lovely, piquant, and the
trail of these girlish foot-prints led the young engineer a madder chase
than "the trail of the lonesome pine."

THE LITTLE SHEPHERD OF KINGDOM COME

Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

This is a story of Kentucky, in a settlement known as "Kingdom Come." It
is a life rude, semi-barbarous; but natural and honest, from which often
springs the flower of civilization.

"Chad," the "little shepherd" did not know who he was nor whence he
came--he had just wandered from door to door since early childhood,
seeking shelter with kindly mountaineers who gladly fathered and mothered
this waif about whom there was such a mystery--a charming waif, by the
way, who could play the banjo better than anyone else in the mountains.

A KNIGHT OF THE CUMBERLAND.

Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

The scenes are laid along the waters of the Cumberland, the lair of
moonshiner and feudsman. The knight is a moonshiner's son, and the heroine
a beautiful girl perversely christened "The Blight." Two impetuous young
Southerners fall under the spell of "The Blight's" charms and she learns
what a large part jealousy and pistols have in the love making of the
mountaineers.

Included in this volume is "Hell fer-Sartain" and other stories, some of
Mr. Fox's most entertaining Cumberland valley narratives.

Ask for complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, 526 West 26th St., New York



STORIES OF RARE CHARM BY

GENE STRATTON-PORTER

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's list.

THE HARVESTER.

Illustrated by W. L. Jacobs

"The Harvester," David Langston, is a man of the woods and fields, who
draws his living from the prodigal hand of Mother Nature herself. If the
book had nothing in it but the splendid figure of this man, with his sure
grip on life, his superb optimism, and his almost miraculous knowledge of
nature secrets, it would be notable. But when the Girl comes to his
"Medicine Woods," and the Harvester's whole sound, healthy, large outdoor
being realizes that this is the highest point of life which has come to
him--there begins a romance, troubled and interrupted, yet of the rarest
idyllic quality.

FRECKLES.

Decorations by E. Stetson Crawford

Freckles is a nameless waif when the tale opens, but the way in which he
takes hold of life; the nature friendships he forms in the great
Limberlost Swamp; the manner in which everyone who meets him succumbs to
the charm of his engaging personality; and his love-story with "The Angel"
are full of real sentiment.

A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST.

Illustrated by Wladyslaw T. Brenda.

The story of a girl of the Michigan woods; a buoyant, lovable type of the
self-reliant American. Her philosophy is one of love and kindness towards
all things; her hope is never dimmed. And by the sheer beauty of her soul,
and the purity of her vision, she wins from barren and unpromising
surroundings those rewards of high courage.

It is an inspiring story of a life worth while and the rich beauties of
the out-of-doors are strewn through all its pages.

AT THE FOOT OF THE RAINBOW.

Illustrations in colors by Oliver Kemp. Design and decorations by Ralph
Fletcher Seymour.

The scene of this charming, idyllic love story is laid in Central Indiana.
The story is one of devoted friendship, and tender self-sacrificing love;
the friendship that gives freely without return, and the love that seeks
first the happiness of the object. The novel is brimful of the most
beautiful word painting of nature, and its pathos and tender sentiment
will endear it to all.

Ask for complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, 526 West 26th St., New York



STORIES OF WESTERN LIFE

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.

RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE, By Zane Grey.

Illustrated by Douglas Duer.

In this picturesque romance of Utah, of some forty years ago, we are
permitted to see the unscrupulous methods employed by the invisible hand
of the Mormon Church to break the will of those refusing to conform to its
rule.

FRIAR TUCK, By Robert Alexander Wason.

Illustrated by Stanley L. Wood.

Happy Hawkins tells us, in his humorous way, how Friar Tuck lived among
the Cowboys, how he adjusted their quarrels and love affairs and how he
fought with them, and for them when occasion required.

THE SKY PILOT, By Ralph Connor.

Illustrated by Louis Rhead.

There is no novel, dealing with the rough existence of cowboys, so
charming in the telling, abounding as it does with the freshest and the
truest pathos.

THE EMIGRANT TRAIL, By Geraldine Bonner.

Colored frontispiece by John Rae.

The book relates the adventures of a party on its overland pilgrimage, and
the birth and growth of the absorbing love of two strong men for a
charming heroine.

THE BOSS OF WIND RIVER, By A. M. Chisholm.

Illustrated by Frank Tenney Johnson.

This is a strong, virile novel with the lumber industry for its central
theme and a love story full of interest as a sort of subplot.

A PRAIRIE COURTSHIP, By Harold Bindloss.

A story of Canadian prairies in which the hero is stirred, through the
influence of his love for a woman, to settle down to the heroic business
of pioneer farming.

JOYCE OF THE NORTH WOODS, By Harriet T. Comstock.

Illustrated by John Cassel.

A story of the deep woods that shows the power of love at work among its
primitive dwellers. It is a tensely moving study of the human heart and
its aspirations that unfolds itself through thrilling situations and
dramatic developments.

Ask for a complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, 526 West 26th St., New York





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