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Title: Mountain Blood - A Novel
Author: Hergesheimer, Joseph, 1880-1954
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 "Mountain Blood - A Novel" ***

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MOUNTAIN BLOOD



THE WORKS OF
JOSEPH HERGESHEIMER

THE LAY ANTHONY
MOUNTAIN BLOOD
THE THREE BLACK PENNYS
GOLD AND IRON
JAVA HEAD
THE HAPPY END
LINDA CONDON



MOUNTAIN BLOOD

A NOVEL

BY

JOSEPH HERGESHEIMER

NEW YORK

ALFRED · A · KNOPF

1919



COPYRIGHT, 1915, 1919, BY
ALFRED A. KNOPF, Inc.

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



To
MY MOTHER



ONE

I


The fiery disk of the sun was just lifting above the shoulder of hills
that held the city of Stenton when the Greenstream stage rolled briskly
from its depot, a dingy frame tavern, and commenced the long journey to
its high destination. The tavern was on the outskirts of town; beyond, a
broad, level plain reached to a shimmering blue silhouette of mountains
printed on a silvery sky; and the stage immediately left the paved street
for the soft, dusty country road. Stenton was not yet astir; except for an
occasional maid sleepily removing the milk from gleaming marble steps, or
early workmen with swollen, sullen countenances, the streets were
deserted. The dewy freshness of morning was already lost in the rapidly
mounting heat of the June day. Above the blackened willows that half hid
the waterworks an oily column of smoke wavered upward in slow, thick
coils, mingling with the acid odor of ammonia from a neighboring ice
manufacturing plant; a locomotive whistled harsh and persistent; the heat
vibrated in visible fans above the pavement.

From the vantage point of the back porches of Stenton the sluggish maids
could see the Greenstream stage fast diminishing. The dust rose and
enveloped it, until it appeared to be a ball, gilded by the sun, rolling
over the rank grey-green plain. Finally it disappeared from the vision of
the awakening city.



II


It was a mountain surrey, with a top and rolled curtains, three rigid
seats, and drawn by ugly, powerful horses in highly simplified harness. At
the rear a number of mailbags, already coated with a dun film, were
securely strapped.

The driver lounged forward, skilfully picking flies with his whip from the
horses' backs. He had a smooth countenance, deeply tanned, and pale, clear
blue eyes. At his side sat a priest in black, a man past middle age, with
ashen, embittered lips, and a narrowed, chilling gaze. They were silent,
contemplative; but, from the seat behind them, flowed a constant, buoyant,
youthful chatter. A girl with a shining mass of chestnut hair gathered
loosely on a virgin neck was recounting the thrilling incidents of
"commencement week" for the benefit of a heavily-built young man with a
handsome, masklike countenance. On the last seat a carelessly-garbed male
was drawing huge clouds of smoke from a formidable cigar.

Gordon Makimmon, the driver, did not know the latter. He had engaged and
paid for his seat the night before, evading such indirect query as
Makimmon had addressed to him. It was a fundamental principle of
Greenstream conduct that the direct question was inadmissible; at the same
time, the inhabitants of that far, isolated valley were, on all occasions,
coldly curious about such strangers, their motives and complexions of
mind, as reached their self-sufficient territory. This combined
restriction and necessity produced a wily type of local inquisitor. But
here Gordon's diplomacy had been in vain, his surmising at sea. The others
were intimate and familiar figures:

Father Merlier's advent into Greenstream had occurred a number of years
before. He had arrived with papers of introduction to one of the few
papist families in that rigorously protestant neighborhood; and,
immediately, had erected outside the village of Greenstream a small
mission school and dwelling, where he addressed himself to the herculean
task of gaining converts to his faith. At first he had been regarded with
unconcealed distrust--boys, when the priest's back was turned, had thrown
stones at him; the turbulent element, on more than one occasion, had
discussed the advisability of "running" him from the community. But it was
true of both boys and men that, when they had confronted the beady, black
glitter of Merlier's unfaltering gaze, encountered the patent contempt of
his rigid lips, they had subsided into an unintelligible mutter, and had
been glad to escape.

He became an habitual sight, riding a blooded mare through the valley,
over lonely trails, and was finally accepted as a recognized local
institution. His title and exotic garb, the grim quality of his manhood,
his austere disregard for bodily welfare, his unmistakable courage--more
than any other human quality extolled throughout Greenstream--became a
cause of prideful boasting in the County.

Gordon Makimmon had known Lettice Hollidew, now speaking in little,
girlish rushes behind him, since her first appearance in a baby carriage,
nineteen or twenty years back. He had watched her without particular
interest, the daughter of the richest man in Greenstream, grow out of
sturdy, barelegged childhood into the girl he had now for five years been
driving, in early summer and fall, to and from the boarding school at
Stenton.

She was, he had noted, reserved. Other schoolgirls, in their passages from
their scattered upland homes, were eager to share Gordon's seat by the
whip; and, with affected giggling, or ringing bursts of merriment, essayed
to drive the wise, heedless mountain horses. But Lettice Hollidew had
always shrunk from the prominent place on the stage; there was neither
banter nor invitation in her tones as she greeted him at the outset of
their repeated trips, or as she gravely thanked him at the end of the
day's journey.

Her father--he was reputed to possess almost half a million dollars--was a
silent man, suspicious and wary in his contact and dealings with the
world; and it was probable that those qualities had been softened in
Pompey Hollidew's daughter to a habit of diffidence, to a customary,
instinctive repression.

No such characteristics laid their restraint on Buckley Simmons, her
present companion. His immobile face, with its heavy, good features and
slow-kindling comprehension, was at all times expressive of loud
self-assertion, insatiable curiosity, facile confidence; from his clean
shaven lips fell always satisfied comment, pronouncement, impatient
opinion. If Hollidew was the richest man in Greenstream Valentine Simmons
was a close second. Indeed, one might be found as wealthy as the other; as
a matter of fact, the Simmons holdings in real estate, scattered broadcast
over the county, would realize more than Hollidew could readily
command--thus Valentine Simmons' son, Buckley.

He was elaborately garbed in grey serge, relentlessly shaped to conform to
an exaggerated, passing fashion, a flaring china silk tie with a broadly
displayed handkerchief to match, yellow-red shoes with wide ribbands, and
a stiff, claret-colored felt hat.

Gordon Makimmon, with secret dissatisfaction, compared himself with this
sartorial model. Gordon's attire, purely serviceable, had apparently taken
on a protective coloring from the action of time and the elements; his
shirt had faded from a bright buff to a nondescript shade which blended
with what had once been light corduroy trousers; his heavy shoes, treated
only the evening before to a coat of preservative grease, were now covered
with muck; and, pulled over his eyes, a shapeless canvas hat completed the
list of the visible items of his appearance.

He swore moodily to himself as he considered the picture he must present
to the dapper youth and immaculate girl behind him. He should have
remembered that Lettice Hollidew would be returning from school to-day,
and at least provided an emergency collar. His sister Clare was always
scolding him about his clothes ... but Clare's was very gentle scolding.

A species of uncomfortable defiance, a studied contempt for appearance,
possessed him: he was as good any day as Buckley Simmons, the clothes on
whose back had probably been stripped from the desperate need of some lean
mountain inhabitant trading at the parental Simmons' counter. The
carefully cherished sense of injury grew within him; he suspected
innuendoes, allusions to his garb, in the half-heard conversation behind
him; he spoke to his horses in hard, sharp tones, and, without reason,
swept the whip across their ears.



III


Meanwhile, they drew steadily over the plain; the mountains before them
gradually lost their aspect of mere silhouette; depths were discernible;
the blue dissolved to green, to towering slopes dense with foliage.
Directly before them a dark shadow steadily grew darker, until it was
resolved into a cleft through the range. They drew nearer and nearer to
the pierced barrier, the road mounted perceptibly, the trees thickened by
the wayside. A covey of dun partridge fluttered out of the underbrush.

The sun was high in a burning grey vault, and flooded the plain with
colorless, bright light. The stage paused before entering the opening in
the rocky wall; the stranger in the rear seat turned for a comprehensive,
last survey. Simmering in a calorific envelope the distant roofs and
stacks of Stenton were visible, isolated in the white heat of the pitiless
day. Above the city hung a smudge, a thumbprint of oily black smoke,
carrying the suggestion of an intolerable concentration, a focal point of
the fiery discomfort. In the foreground a buzzard wheeled, inevitable,
depressing.

With a sharp flourish of his whip Gordon urged the stage into the cold
humidity of the gorge. Stenton and the plain were lost as it passed
between close, dripping rocks, rank verdure, masses of gigantic,
paleolithic fern.



IV


The dank, green smell hung in their nostrils after they had left the
ravine for a fertile tableland. They trotted through a village strung
along the road, a village of deeply-scrolled eaves under the thick foliage
of maples, of an incredible number of churches--"Reformed," "Established,"
qualified Methodist, uncompromising Baptist. They were all built of wood,
and in varying states of repair that bore mute witness to the persuasive
eloquence of their several pastors.

Beyond, the way rose once more, sunny and dusty and monotonous. The priest
was absorbed, muttering unintelligibly over a small, flexible volume. The
conversation between Lettice Hollidew and Buckley fell into increasing
periods of silence. The stranger lit a fresh cigar, the smoke from which
hung out back in such clouds that the power of the stage might well have
been mistaken for steam.

The road grew steeper still, and, fastening the reins about the whipstock,
Gordon swung out over the wheel and walked. He was a spare man, sinewy and
upright, and past the golden age of youth. He lounged over the road in a
careless manner that concealed his agile strength, his tireless endurance.
This indolent carriage and his seemingly slight build had, on more than
one occasion, been disastrously misleading to importunate or beery
strangers. He could, and did, fight whenever chance offered, with a cold
passion, a destructive abandon, that had won him, throughout the turbulent
confines of Greenstream, a flattering measure of peace.

In this manner his father, just such another, had fought before him, and
his grandfather before that. Nothing further back was known in
Greenstream, It was well known that the first George Gordon Makimmon--the
Mac had been speedily debauched by the slurring, local speech--had made
his way to Virginia from Scotland, upon the final collapse of a Lost
Cause. The instinct of the highlander had led him deep into the rugged
ranges, where he had lived to see the town and county of Greenstream
crystallize about his log walls and stony patch.

There, finally breaking down the resistance of a heroic constitution, he
had succeeded in drinking himself to death. His son had grown up imbued
with local tradition and ideas, and was settling seriously to a repetition
of the elder's fate, when the Civil War offered him a wide, recognized
field for the family belligerent spirit. He was improving this chance to
the utmost with Morley's Raiders when a slug ended his activities in the
second year of the war.

It was characteristic of the Makimmons that they should each have left
their family in precarious circumstances. They were not, they would
contemptuously assert, farmers or merchants. When the timber was cut from
the valley, the underbrush burned, and the superb cloth of grass started
that had formed the foundation of a number of comfortable fortunes, the
Makimmons, scornful of the effort, had remained outside the profit.

Such income as they enjoyed had been obtained from renting their acres to
transient and indifferent farmers. In the crises of life and death, or
under the desire for immediate and more liquor, they sold necessary
slices. This continued until nothing remained for the present Gordon
Makimmon but the original dwelling--now grotesquely misshapen from the
addition of casual sheds and extensions--and a small number of acres on
the outskirts of town.

There he lived with Clare, his sister. Their mother, the widow of that
Makimmon whose disputatious temper had been dignified by the epitaph of
"heroic sacrifice," had died of a complicity of patent medicines the
winter before. An older brother had totally disappeared from the
cognizance of Greenstream during Gordon's boyhood; and a married sister,
completing the tale, lived at the opposite end of the county, held close
by poverty and her own large brood.

Summer and winter Gordon Makimmon drove the stage between Greenstream and
Stenton. At dawn he left Greenstream, arriving in Stenton at the end of
day; the following morning he re-departed for Greenstream. This
mechanical, monotonous routine satisfied his need without placing too
great a strain on his energy; he enjoyed rolling over the summer roads or
in the crisp clear sunlight of winter; he liked the casual converse of the
chance passengers, the inevitable deference to his local knowledge, the
birdlike chatter and flattery of the young women. He liked, so easily, to
play oracle and wiseman; he liked the admiration called forth by a certain
theatrical prowess with the reins and whip.

On the occasions when he was too drunk to drive--not over often--a
substitute was quietly found until he recovered and little was said.
Gordon Makimmon was invaluable in a public charge, a trust--he had never
lost a penny of the funds he continually carried for deposit in the
Stenton banks; no insult had been successfully offered to any daughter of
Greenstream accompanying him without other care in the stage.



V


They rose steadily, crossing the roof of a ridge, and descended abruptly
beyond. Green prospects opened before them--a broad valley was disclosed,
with a broad, shallow stream dividing its meadows; scattered farmhouses,
orderly, prosperous, commanded their shorn acres. A mailbag was detached
and left at a crossroad in charge of two little girls, primly important,
smothered in identical, starched pink sunbonnets. The Greenstream stage
splashed through the shallow, shining ford; the ascent on the far side of
the valley imperceptibly began.

The sun was almost at the zenith; the shadow of the stage fell short and
sharp on the dry, loamy road; a brown film covered the horses and vehicle;
it sifted through the apparel of the passengers and coated their lips. The
rise to the roof of the succeeding range seemed interminable; the road
looped fields blue with buckwheat, groves of towering, majestic chestnut,
a rocky slope, where, by a crevice, a swollen and sluggish rattlesnake
dropped from sight.

At last, in the valley beyond, the half-way house, dinner and a change of
horses were reached. The forest swept down in an unbroken tide to the
porch of the isolated roadside tavern; a swift stream filled the wooden
structure with the ceaseless murmur of water. In the dusty, gold gloom of
a spacious stable Gordon unhitched his team. Outside, in a wooden trough,
he splashed his hands and face, then entered the dining-room.

A long table was occupied by an industrious company that broke the
absorbed silence only by explosive requests for particularized dishes.
Above the table hovered the wife of the proprietor, constantly waving a
fly brush--streamers of colored paper fastened to a slender stick--above
the heads of her husband and guests.

Gordon Makimmon ate largely and rapidly, ably seconded by the strange
passenger and Buckley Simmons. The priest, Merlier, ate sparingly, in an
absent, perfunctory manner. Lettice Hollidew, at the opposite end of the
table, displayed the generous but dainty appetite of girlhood. The coat to
her suit, with a piece of lace pinned about the collar, and a new, flat
leather bag with a silver initial, hung from the back of her chair.

They again listlessly took their places in the stage. Buckley Simmons
emulated the stranger in lighting a mahogany-colored cigar with an
ornamental band which Buckley moved toward his lips before the swiftly
approaching conflagration. Gordon drove with his mind pleasantly vacant,
lulled by the monotonous miles of road flickering through his vision, the
shifting forms of distant peaks, virid vistas, nearby trees and bushes,
all saturated in the slumberous, yellow, summer heat.

Gradually the aspect of their surroundings changed, the forms of the
mountains grew bolder, streams raced whitely over broken, rocky beds; the
ranks of the forest closed up, only a rare trail broke the road. The
orderly farmhouses, the tilled fields, disappeared; a rare cabin, roughly
constructed of unbarked logs, dominated a parched patch, cut from the
heart-breaking tangle of the wild, a thread of smoke creeping from a
precarious chimney above the far, unbroken canopy of living green.
Children with matted hair, beady-eyed like animals, in bag-like slips,
filled the doorways; adults, gaunt-jawed and apathetic, straightened
momentarily up from their toil with the stubborn earth.

At the sharpest ascent yet encountered Gordon again left the stage.
Buckley Simmons recalled a short cut through the wood, and noisily
entreated Lettice Hollidew to accompany him.

"It's awfully pretty," he urged, "and easy; no rocks to cut your shoes.
I'll go ahead with a stick to look out for snakes."

She shuddered charmingly at the final item, and vowed she would not go a
step. But he persisted, and in the end persuaded her. The stranger
continued unmoved in his place; Merlier shifted not a pound's weight, but
sat with a cold, indifferent face turned upon the straining horses.

Gordon walked ahead, whistling under his breath, and, with a single
skilful twist, he rolled a cigarette from a muslin bag of tobacco labeled
Green Goose.

The short cut into which Buckley and Lettice Hollidew disappeared refound
the road, Gordon knew, over a mile above; and he was surprised, shortly,
to see the girl's white waist moving rapidly into the open. She was alone,
breathing in excited gasps, which she struggled to subdue. Her face that
five minutes before had been so creamily, placidly composed was now hotly
red; her eyes shone with angry, unshed tears.

Gordon's lips formed a silent exclamation ... Buckley evidently had made
an error in judgment. Lettice stepped out into the road, and, plainly
unwilling to encounter the questioning eyes in the stage, walked rigidly
beside Gordon. Behind the obvious confusion, the hurt surprise of her
countenance, an unexpected, dormant quality had been stirred into being.
The crimson flood in her cheeks had stained more than her clear skin--it
had colored her gracile and candid girlhood so that it would never again
be pellucid; into it had been spilled some of the indelible dye of woman.

Gordon Makimmon gazed with newly-awakened interest at Lettice; for the
first time he thought of her as other than a school-girl; for the first
time he discovered in her the potent, magnetic, disturbing quality of sex.
Buckley Simmons had clumsily forced it into consciousness. A fleeting,
unformulated regret enveloped him in the shadow of its melancholy, an
intangible, formless sorrow at the swift passage of youth, the inevitable
lapse of time. A mounting anger at Buckley possessed him ... she had been
in his, Gordon Makimmon's, care. The anger touched his pride, his
self-esteem, and grew cold, deliberate: he watched with a contracted jaw
for Simmons' appearance.

"Why," he exclaimed, in a lowered voice, "that lown tore your pretty
shirtwaist!"

"He had no reason at all," she protested; "it was just horrid." A little
shiver ran over her. "He ... he held me and kissed ... hateful."

"I'll teach him to keep his kissing where it's liked," Gordon proclaimed.
His instinctively theatrical manner diminished not a jot the menace of the
threat.

"Oh! please, please don't fight." She turned a deeply concerned
countenance upon him. "That would hurt me very much more--"

"It won't be a fight," he reassured her, "only a little hint, something
for Buck to think about. No one will know." He could not resist adding,
"Most people go a good length before fighting with me."

"I have heard that you are awfully--" she hesitated, then, "brave."

"It was 'ugly' you heard," he quickly supplied the pause. "But that's not
true; I don't fight like some men, just for a good time. Why, in the towns
over the West Virginia line they fight all night; they'll fight--kill each
other--for two bits, or a drink of liquor.... There's Buckley now, coming
in above."

Buckley Simmons entered the road from a narrow trail a number of yards
ahead of the stage. He tramped heavily, holding a hickory switch in one
hand, cutting savagely at the underbrush. The stage leisurely caught up to
him until the horses' heads were opposite his thickset form. Gordon, from
the other side of the team, swung himself into his seat. He grasped the
whip, and, leaning out, swept the heavy leather thong in a vicious circle.
It whistled above the horses, causing them to plunge, and the lash,
stopped suddenly, drew across Buckley Simmons' face. For an instant his
startled countenance was white, and then it was wet, gleaming and scarlet.
He pressed his hands to his mouth, and stumbled confused into the ditch.

Gordon stopped the stage. Merlier gave vent to a sibilant exclamation,
and Lattice Hollidew covered her eyes. The stranger sprang to the road,
and hurried to the injured man's side. Gordon got down slowly. "Where did
it get him?" he inquired, with a shallow show of concern. He regarded with
indifferent eyes the gaping cut across Simmons' jaw, while the stranger
was converting a large linen handkerchief into a ready bandage.

Buckley, in stammering, shocked rage, began to curse Gordon's clumsiness,
and, in his excitement, the wound bled more redly. "You will have to keep
quiet," he was told, "for this afternoon anyhow."

"I'm not a 'dam' blind bat," Gordon informed his victim in a rapid
undertone; "my eyes are sharper than usual to-day." Above the stained
bandage Simmons' gaze was blankly enraged. "That won't danger you none,"
Gordon continued, in louder, apparently unstudied tones; "but you can't
kiss the girls for a couple of weeks."

Buckley Simmons was assisted into the rear seat; Lettice sat alone, her
face hidden by the flowery rim of her hat; Merlier was silent,
indifferent, bland. The way grew increasingly wilder, and climbed and
climbed; at their back dipped and spread mile upon mile of unbroken
hemlock; the minute clearings, the solitary cabins, were lost in the still
expanse of tree tops; the mountain towered blue, abrupt, before them. The
stranger consulted a small map. "This is Buck Mountain," he announced
rather than queried; "Greenstream Village is beyond, west from here, with
the valley running north and south."

"You have got us laid out right," Gordon assented; "this all's not new to
you." It was as close to the direct question as Gordon Makimmon could
bring himself. And, in the sequel, it proved the wisdom of his creed; for,
obviously, the other avoided the implied query. "The Government prints a
good map," he remarked, and turned his shoulder squarely upon any
prolongation of the conversation.

They were now at the summit of Buck Mountain, but dense juniper thickets
hid from them any extended view. After a turn, over the washed, rocky
road, the Greenstream Valley lay outspread below.

The sun was lowering, and the shadow of the western range swept down the
great, somber, wooded wall towering against an illimitable vault of rosy
light; the lengthening shadows of the groves of trees on the lower slope
fell into the dark, cool, emerald cleft. It was scarcely three fields
across the shorn, cultivated space to the opposite, precipitous barrier;
between, the valley ran narrow and rich into a faint, broken haze of peaks
thinly blue on either hand. And, held in the still green heart of that
withdrawn, hidden space, the village lay along its white highway.

The stage dropped with short, sharp rushes down the winding road; the
houses lost the toy-like aspect of distance; cowbells clashed faintly; a
dog's bark quivered, suspended in hushed space. The stage passed the
first, scattered houses, and was speedily in the village: each dwelling
had, behind a white picket fence, a strip of sod and a tangle of simple,
gay flowers--scarlet, white, purple and yellow, now coated with a fine,
chalky, summer dust. The dwellings were, for the most part, frame, with a
rare structure of brick under mansard slates green with moss. The back
yards were fenced from the fields, on which hay had been cut and stood in
high ricks, now casting long, mauve shadows over the close, brilliant
green. The stage passed the white board structure of the Methodist Church,
and stopped before the shallow portico of the post-office.



VI


A small, familiar group awaited the arrival of the mail; and from it
several figures detached themselves. The postmaster stepped forward, and
assisted Gordon in unfastening the mailbags; a clerk from Valentine
Simmons' store, in shirtsleeves elaborately restrained by pink bowed
elastics, inquired for a package by express; and Pompey Hollidew pushed
impatiently forward, apparently anxious for a speedy view of his daughter.
This laudable assumption was, however, immediately upset by the absent nod
he bestowed upon Lettice, and the evident interest and relief with which
he turned to the stranger descending from the stage.

"Mr. Hollidew?" the latter inquired, with ill-concealed surprise.

Pompey Hollidew, the richest man in Greenstream, wore--as was customary
with him--a crumpled yellow shirt, open at his stringy throat, and
innocent of tie; his trousers, one time lavender, had faded to a
repulsive, colorless hue, and hung frayed about cheap, heavy shoes
fastened by copper rivets. An ancient cutaway of broadcloth, spotted and
greenish, with an incomplete mustering of buttons, drooped about his
heavy, bowed shoulders; while a weather-beaten derby, seemingly unbrushed
for countless, grimy years, completed his forlorn adornment.

His face was long, with vertical, pallid folds gathered loosely into a
chin frosted with unkempt silver; his mouth was lipless, close, shadowed
by an overhanging, swollen nose; and, from beneath deep, troubled brows,
pale blue eyes set close together regarded life skeptically, intently,
with appalling avidity, veiled yet discernible.

He disappeared, clutching the stranger's sleeve, with an effort at
geniality. Simmons' clerk ruefully tested the weight of a small, heavily
nailed box.

Lettice Hollidew slowly assembled her traveling effects. It was evident
that she wished to say something to Gordon, for she lingered, patently
playing with her gloves, directing at him bright, nervous glances from
under the straw brim of her hat. But she was forced to depart in silence,
for Buckley Simmons, in reply to the queries of the cause of his accident,
launched upon a loud, angry explanation of the obvious aspect of the
incident.

"The clumsy yap!" he pointedly exclaimed.

Gordon entered the group of which Buckley was the hub. "It was too bad to
spoil Buck for the girls," he pronounced coolly; "but he'll be after them
again in a couple of weeks."

He gazed with level disdain into the tempest gathering in Simmons' eyes
above the dark, spotted handkerchief. He paused, deliberately insolent,
challenging a rejoinder, until, none breaking the strained silence, he
swung about, and, at the horses' heads, led them to their stabling at
Peterman's Hotel. He passed the unpainted, wooden front of the office of
the _Greenstream Bugle_; the house of Senator Themeny in its lindens on a
spreading lawn; on the opposite side the mellow brick face of the
Courthouse under towering poplars, and Valentine Simmons' store.

Gordon stopped at the latter on his way home. It was a long, shedlike
structure with a false façade; before it, elevated a man's height from the
road, was the broad platform where the mountain wagons unloaded their
merchandise; on the side facing the Courthouse ran a wooden hitching rail.
Inside, on the left, Simmons' private office was shut in glass from the
main floor of the store; long counters led back into a semi-obscurity,
where a clerk was lighting a row of swinging kerosene lamps.

"Chalk them up, Sampson," Gordon carelessly told the clerk who wrapped up
his purchases. "How much are those?" he added, indicating a pair of
women's low white shoes.

"Four. They're real buck, and a topnotch article. Nothing better comes."

Gordon turned them over in his hand; they would, he thought, just fit
Clare; she liked pretty articles of attire; she had not been so well
lately. Clare was a faithful sister. "Just add them to the bundle," he
directed in a lordly manner.

The clerk hesitated, and glanced toward the private office, where Simmons'
head could be seen pinkly bald. "Do you think you'd better, Gordon?" he
asked; "the boss has been crabbed lately about some of the old accounts,
and yours has waited as long as any. I wouldn't get nothing to catch his
eye--"

"Add the shoes to my bundle," Gordon repeated with a narrowing gaze; "I
always ask for the advice I need."

Outside he endeavored to recall when he had last paid anything on his
account at Simmons' store. This was the last week in June ... had he paid
any in April? in November? He was not able to remember the occasion of his
last settlement. He must attend to that; he had other obligations, too,
small but long overdue. He cursed the fluid quality of his wage, forever
flowing through his fingers. He must apportion his expenditures more
carefully; or, better yet, give all his money to Clare; the high-power
rifle he had purchased in Stenton the year before had crippled their
resources; his last Christmas present to Clare had been a heavy drain; he
had not yet recovered from the generous funeral he had given their
mother.

He was unaccustomed to such considerations. They interfered with the large
view he held of himself, of his importance, his deserts; they limited his
necessity for a natural indifference to penny matters; and he dismissed
them with an uneasy movement of his shoulders.

He passed the discolored, plaster bulk of the Presbyterian Church, the
drug store and dwelling of Dr. Pelliter, and was on the outskirts of the
village. The shadow of the western range had now slipped across the valley
and nearly climbed the opposite wall; lavender scarfs of mist veiled the
far, jumbled peaks in the darkling rift; slim, swaying columns of smoke
from the clustered chimneys of Greenstream towered dizzily through the
shaded air to where, high above, they were transformed to gold by the
last, up-flung rays of the sun.



VII


A smooth, conical hill rose sharply to the left, momentarily shutting out
the valley; and beyond, at the foot of a steep declivity, stood the
Makimmon dwelling. Originally a four-square, log house, the logs had been
covered by boards, and to its present, irregular length, one room in
width, had been added an uneven roofed porch broadside on a narrow lip of
sod by a wide, shallow stream. An indifferent stand of corn held
precariously to the sharp slope from the public road; an unkempt cow
grazed the dank sod by a primitive well sweep; a heap of tin cans, bright
or rusted, their fading paper labels loose and littering the grass, had
been untidily accumulated at a back door.

Gordon passed about the end of his dwelling to the side that faced the
water. A wave of hot air, a heavy, greasy odor and the sputtering of
boiling fat, swept out from the kitchen. He filled a tin basin on the
porch from a convenient bucket of water, and made a hasty toilet.

Clare paused at the door, a long handled spoon in her attenuated grasp;
she was an emaciated woman of thirty, with prominent cheek bones, a thin,
sensitive nose, and a colorless mouth set in a harsh line by excessive
physical suffering. There was about her, in spite of her gaunt features
and narrow, stooping frame, something appealingly simple, girlish. A blue
ribband made a gay note in her faded, scant hair; she had pinned a piece
of draggled color about her throat. "I've been looking for you the half
hour," she said querulously; "draw up t' the table."

"I stopped at Simmons', and brought you a pretty, too; it's in the
bundle."

"Gordon!" she exclaimed, as he unwrapped the shoes, "they are elegant! Had
you ought to have got them? We need so much--mosquito bar, the flies are
terrible wearing, the roof's crying for tin, and--"

"You're as bad as Sampson," he interrupted her, almost shortly; "we've got
to have pleasures as well as profits. And too," he directed, "don't put
those shoes away like you did that watered silk shawl I got you in
Stenton. Wear them ... to-night."

"Oh, no!" she cried, "not just setting around; they'll get smudged. Not
to-night, Gordon; maybe to-morrow, or when I go to church."

"Tonight," he repeated inexorably.

A bare, stained table with spreading legs pinned through the oak board was
ranged against a bench on the kitchen wall, where, in the watery light of
a small, glass lamp, Gordon and Clare Makimmon ate their supper of flat,
dark, salt-raised bread, strips of bacon and dripping greens, and
swimming, purplish preserves.

After supper they sat on the narrow porch, facing the dark, whispering
stream, the night pouring into the deep, still valley. A cold air rose
from the surface of the water, and Clare wrapped a worn piece of blanket
about her shoulders. At frequent intervals she gazed with palpable delight
at her feet, shod in the "real buck." A deep, melancholy chorus of frogs
rose from the creek, mingling with the high, metallic shrilling of
crickets, the reiterated calling of whippoorwills from a thicket of
pines.

Gordon Makimmon settled into a waking somnolence, lulled by the familiar,
profound, withdrawn repose of the valley. He could distinguish Clare's
form weaving back and forth in a low rocker; the moonless, summer night
embraced, hid, all; there were no lights in the house at his back, no
lights visible in the village beyond; only the impenetrable blackness of
the opposite range and the abrupt band of stars.

Suddenly Clare's even breathing, the tracking sound of the chair, ceased;
she drew two or three sharp, gasping inspirations. Gordon, instantly
alert, rose and stood over her. "Is it bad to-night again?" he asked
solicitously; "shall I get you the ginger water?"

"None ... in the house," she articulated laboriously; "pretty ... bad."

"No, don't leave me; just set; I'll be better in a spell." He fetched her
a glass of water, from which she gulped spasmodically, clutching with
cold, wet fingers to his wrist. Then the tension relaxed, her breathing
grew more normal. "It's by now," she proclaimed unsteadily.

"I'm going back the road for a little ginger," he told her from the edge
of the porch; "we'd best have the bottle filled."

The drug store was dark, closed for the night, and Gordon continued to
Simmons' store. The row of swinging, kerosene lamps cast a thick yellow
radiance over the long counters, the variously laden shelves. The store
was filled with the odor of coffee, the penetrating smell of print
muslins.

"Mr. Simmons wants you a minute in the office," the clerk responded
indirectly to his request for ginger. Gordon instinctively masked a
gathering premonition of trouble. "Fill her up the while," he demanded,
pushing forward the empty bottle.

Valentine Simmons was a small man with a pinkly bald head ornamented with
fluffs of white hair like cotton wool above his ears, and precise, shaven
lips forever awry in the pronouncing of rallying or benevolent sentences;
these, with appropriate religious sentiments, formed nine-tenths of his
discourse, through which the rare words that revealed his purposes, his
desires, flashed like slender and ruthless knives.

He was bending over a tall, narrow ledger when Gordon entered the office;
but he immediately closed the book and swung about in his chair. The small
enclosure was hot, and filled with the odor of scorching metal, the
buzzing of a large, blundering fly.

"Ah!" Valentine Simmons exclaimed pleasantly; "our link with the outer
world, our faithful messenger.... I wanted to see you; ah, yes." He turned
over the pages of a second, heavier ledger at his hand. "Here it
is--Gordon Makimmon, good Scotch Presbyterian name. Five hundred and
thirty dollars," he said suddenly, unexpectedly.

Gordon was unable to credit his senses, the fact that this was the sum of
his indebtedness; it was an absurd mistake, and he said so.

"Everything listed against its date," the other returned imperturbably,
"down to a pair of white buck shoes for a lady to-day--a generous present
for some enslaver."

"My sister," Gordon muttered ineptly. Five hundred and thirty dollars, he
repeated incredulously to himself. Five hundred.... "How long has it been
standing?" he asked.

The other consulted the book. "Two years, a month and four days," he
returned exactly.

"But no notice was served on me; nothing was said about my bill."

"Ah, we don't like to annoy old friends; just a little word at necessary
intervals."

Old rumors, stories, came to Gordon's memory in regard to the long credit
extended by Simmons to "old friends," the absence of any rendered
accounts; and, in that connection, the thought of the number of homesteads
throughout the county that had come, through forced sales, into the
storekeeper's hands. The circumstantial details of these events had been
bitten by impassioned oaths into his mind, together with the memory of the
dreary ruin that had settled upon the evicted.

"I can give you something day after to-morrow, when I am paid."

"Entirely satisfactory; three hundred--no, for you two hundred and fifty
dollars will be sufficient; the rest another time ... whenever you are
able."

"I get two dollars and fifty cents a day," Gordon reminded him, with a dry
and bitter humor, "and I have a month's pay coming."

Valentine Simmons had not, apparently, heard him. "Two hundred and fifty
only," he repeated; "we always like to accommodate old friends, especially
Presbyterian friends."

"I can give you fifty dollars," Gordon told him, at once loud and
conciliatory; wondering, at the same time, how, if he did, Clare and
himself would manage. He had to pay for his board in Stenton; the doctor
for Clare had to be met--fifty cents in hand a visit, or the visits
ceased.

"Have your little joke, then get out that hidden stocking, pry up that
particular fire brick ... only two hundred and fifty now ... but--now."

A hopeless feeling of impotence enveloped Gordon: the small, dry man
before him with the pink, bald head shining in the lamplight, the set
grin, was as remote from any appeal as an insensate figure cast in metal,
a painted iron man in neat, grey alpaca, a stiff, white shirt with a small
blue button and an exact, prim muslin bow.

Still, "I'll give you fifty, and thirty the next month. Why, damn it, I'll
pay you off in the year. I'm not going to run away. I have steady work;
you know what I am getting; you're safe."

"But," Valentine Simmons lifted a hand in a round, glistening cuff, "is
anything certain in this human vale? Is anything secure that might hang on
the swing of a ... whip?"

With an unaccustomed, violent effort of will Gordon Makimmon suppressed
his angry concern at the other's covert allusion: outside his occupation
as stage driver he was totally without resources, without the ability to
pay for a bag of Green Goose tobacco. The Makimmons had never been
thrifty ... in the beginning they had let their wide share of valley
holding grow deep in thicket, where they might hunt the deer, their
streams course through a woven wild where pheasant might feed and fall to
their accurate guns.

"Two hundred and fifty dollars," Valentine Simmons repeated pleasantly.

"I haven't got it, and can't get it, all at once," Gordon reiterated in a
conciliatory manner. Then his straining, chafing pride, his assaulted
self-esteem, overflowed a little his caution. "And you know it," he
declared in a loud, ugly voice; "you know the size of every pocketbook in
Greenstream; I'll bet, by God, you and old man Hollidew know personal
every copper Indian on the pennies of the County."

Valentine Simmons smiled at this conception. Gordon regarded him with
hopeless, growing anger: Why, the old screw took that for a compliment!

"This is Wednesday," the storekeeper pronounced; "say, by Saturday ... the
sum I mentioned."

"It can't be done." The last vestiges of Gordon's control were fast
melting in the heat of his passion. Simmons turned to the narrow ledger,
picking up a pen. "When you bought," he remarked precisely, over his
shoulders, "the white shoes and ammunition and silk fishing lines--didn't
you intend to pay for them?"

"Yes, I did, and will. And when you said, 'Gordon, help yourself, load up,
try those flies'; and 'Never mind the bill now, some other time, old
friends pay when they please,' didn't you know I was getting in over my
head? didn't you encourage it ... so you could get judgment on me? sell me
out? Though what you settled on me for, what you see in my ramshackle
house and used up ground, is over me."

Simmons flashed a momentary, crafty glance at the other. "Never overlook a
location on good water," he advised.

Gordon Makimmon stood speechless, trembling with rage. For a moment
Simmons' pen, scratching over the page, made the only sound in the small
enclosure, then, "The provident man," he continued, "is always made a
target for the abuse of the--the thoughtless. But he usually comes to the
assistance of his unfortunate brother. You might arrange a loan."

"Why, so I might," Gordon assented in a thick voice; "I could get it from
your provident friend, Hollidew--three hundred dollars, say, at hell's per
cent; a little lien on my property. 'Never overlook a situation on good
water.'

"By God!" he exclaimed, suddenly prescient, "but I've done for myself."

And he thought of Clare, of Clare fighting eternally that sharp pain in
her side, her face now drawn and glistening with the sweat of suffering,
now girlishly gay. He thought of her fragile hands so impotent to cope
with the bitter poverty of the mountains. What, with their home, her place
of retreat and security, gone, and--it now appeared more than
probable--his occupation vanished, would she do?

"I've done for myself, for her," he repeated, subconsciously aloud, in a
harsh whisper. He stood rigid, unseeing; a pulse beat visibly in the brown
throat by the collarless and faded shirt. Simmons regarded him with a
covert gaze, then, catching the attention of the clerk in the store
outside, beckoned slightly with his head. The clerk approached, vigorously
brushing the counters with a turkey wing.

Gordon Makimmon's gaze concentrated on the storekeeper. "You're almost an
old man," he said, in a slow, unnatural voice; "you have been robbing men
and women of their homes for a great many years, and you are still alive.
It's surprising that some one has not killed you."

"I have been shot at," Valentine Simmons replied; "behind my back. The men
who fail are like that as a rule."

"I'm not like that," Gordon informed him; "it's pretty well known that I
stand square in front of the man I'm after. Don't you think, this time,
you have made a little mistake? Hadn't I better give you that fifty, and
something more later?"

Valentine Simmons rose from his chair and turned, facing Gordon. His
muslin bow had slipped awry on the polished, immaculate bosom of his
shirt, and it gave him a slightly ridiculous, birdlike expression. He
gazed coldly, with his thin lips firm and hands still, into the other's
threatening, virulent countenance. "Two hundred and fifty dollars," he
insisted.

The thought of Clare, betrayed, persisted in Gordon's mind, battling with
his surging temper, his unreasoning resentment. Valentine Simmons stood
upright, still, against the lamplight. It was plain that he was not to be
intimidated. An overwhelming wave of misery, a dim realization of the
disastrous possibilities of his folly, inundated Gordon, drowning all
other considerations. He turned, and walked abruptly from the office into
the store. There the clerk placed on the counter the bottle, filled and
wrapped. In a petty gust of rage, like a jet of steam escaping from a
defective boiler, he swept the bottle to the floor, where he ground the
splintering fragments of glass, the torn and stained paper, into an untidy
blot.



VIII


Outside, the village, the Greenstream Valley, was folded in still, velvety
dark. He crossed the street, and sat on one of the iron benches placed
under the trees on the Courthouse lawn. He could see a dull, reddish light
shining through the dusty window of the _Bugle_ office. Shining like that,
through his egotistical pride, the facts of his failure and impotence
tormented him. It hurt him the more that he had been, simply, diddled, no
better than a child in Simmons' astute, practised hands. The latter's
rascality was patent, but Simmons could not have been successful unabetted
by his own blind negligence. The catastrophe that had overtaken him
rankled in his most vulnerable spot--his self-esteem.

He suffered inarticulately, an indistinguishable shape in the soft, summer
gloom; about his feet, in the lush grass, the greenish-gold sparks of the
fireflies quivered; above the deep rift of the valley the stars were like
polished silver coins.

Vaguely, and then more strongly, out of a chaos of vain, sick regrets, his
combativeness, his deep-lying, indomitable determination, asserted
itself--he would not fall like an over ripe apple into Simmons'
complacent, waiting grasp. But to get, without resources, two hundred and
fifty dollars by Saturday, was a preposterous task. Outside his, Clare's,
home, he had nothing to sell; and to sell that now, he realized with a
spoken oath, would be to throw it away--the vultures, Hollidew and Co.,
would have heard of his necessity, and regulate their action, the local
supply of available currency, accordingly.

There was no possible way of earning such a sum in four days; there was
little more chance, he realized sardonically, of stealing it.... Sometimes
large sums of money were won in a night's gambling in the lumber and
mining towns over the West Virginia line. But, for that, he would require
capital; he would have his wages to-morrow; however, if he gambled with
that and lost, Clare and himself would face immediate, irredeemable ruin.
He dismissed that consideration from the range of possibilities. But it
returned, hovered on the border of his thoughts--he might risk a part of
his capital, say thirty dollars. If he lost that they would be little
worse off than they were at present; while if he won ... he might easily
win.

He mentally arranged the details, assuring himself, the while, that he was
only toying with the idea.--He would pay the customary substitute to
drive the stage to Stenton, and cross Cheap Mountain on foot; by dark he
would be in Sprucesap, play that night, and return the following day,
Friday.

With an effort he still put the scheme from his thoughts; but, while he
kept it in abeyance, nothing further occurred to him. That gave him a
possible reprieve; all else offered sure disaster. He rose, and walked
slowly toward his home, revolving, testing, the various aspects of the
trip to Sprucesap; at once deciding upon that venture, and repeating to
himself the incontestable fact of its utter folly.

The dark was intense, blue-black, about his dwelling. He struck a match at
the edge of the porch, a pointed, orange exclamation on the impenetrable
gloom. Clare, weary of waiting, had gone to bed; her door was shut, her
window tightly closed. The invisible stream gurgled sadly past its banks,
the whippoorwills throbbed with ceaseless, insistent passion.

A sudden, jumbled vision of the past woven about this dwelling, his home,
wheeled through Gordon's mind, scenes happy and unhappy; prevailing want
and slim, momentary plenty; his father dead, in his coffin with a stony,
pinched countenance, a jaw still unrelaxed above the bright flag that
draped his nondescript uniform. Later events followed--his elder, vanished
brother bullying him; the brief romance of his sister's courtship; the
high, strident voice of his mother, that had always reminded him of her
angry red nose--events familiar, sordid, unlovely, but now they seemed all
of a piece of desirable, melancholy happiness; they endowed with a
hitherto unsuspected value every board of the rough footing of the
Makimmon dwelling, every rood of the poor, rocky soil, the weedy grass. He
said aloud, in a subdued, jarring voice, "By God, but Simmons won't get
it!" But the dreary whippoorwills, the feverish crickets, offered him no
confirmation, no assurance.



IX


At noon, on the day following, he stood on the top of Cheap Mountain,
gazing back into the deep, verdant cleft of Greenstream. From Cheap the
reason for its name was clear--it flowed now direct, now turning, in a
vivid green stream along the bases of its mountainous ranges; it flowed
tranquil and dark and smooth between banks of tangled saplings, matted,
multifarious underbrush, towering, venerable trees. It slipped like a
river, bearing upon its balmy surface the promise of asylum, of sleep, of
plenty, through the primitive, ruthless forest, which in turn pressed upon
it everywhere the menace of its oblivion, its fierce, strangling life.

He saw below him stretches of the steep, rocky trail by which he had
mounted with the mounting sun; both had now reached the zenith of their
day's journey; from there he would sink into the shadow, the
secretiveness, of night.... Greenstream village lay twenty-eight miles
behind; it was seventeen more to Sprucesap: he hurried forward.

In his pocket rested not the thirty dollars, to which he had limited
himself in thought, but his entire month's salary,--he might lose all by
the lack of a paltry dollar or so.

He was dressed with more care than on the day previous: he wore a dark
suit, the coat to which now swung on a stick over his shoulder, a rubber
collar, a tie of orange brocade erected on a superstructure of cardboard;
his head was covered by a hard, black felt hat, pushed back from his
sweating brow, and his trousers hung from a pair of obviously
home-knitted, yarn suspenders. He shifted the stick from right to left.
His revolver dragged chafing against a leg, and he removed it and thrust
it into a pocket of the coat.

He followed by turn an old rutted postroad and faint, forest trails, and
shortened distances by breaking through the trackless underbrush, watching
subconsciously for rattlesnakes. The sun slowly declined, its rays fell
diagonally, lengthening, through the trees; in a glade the air seemed
filled with gold dust; the sky burned in a single flame of apricot. The
air, rather than grow dark, appeared to thicken with raw color, with mauve
and ultramarine, silver and cinnabar.

When he arrived at the little, deeply-grassed plain that held Sprucesap,
it was bathed in a flaring after-glow, a magical, floating light. A double
row of board structures faced each other across a street of raw clay and
narrow, wood sidewalks; they were, for the most part, unpainted, hasty
erections of a single story. A building labelled the Steel Spud Hotel was
more pretentious. The others were eating houses, stores with small windows
filled with a threatening miscellany--revolvers, leather slung shots and
brass knuckles, besides lumbering boots, gaudy Mackinaw jackets, gleaming
knives and ammunition. Beyond the street a single car track ran
precariously over the green, and ended abruptly, without roadbed or
visible terminus; at one side was a rude platform, on the other a great
pile of bark, rotting from long exposure--the result of some artificial
condition of the market, the spite of powerful and vindictive merchants.

A second hotel stood alone, beyond the car tracks, and there Gordon
removed the marks of his journey, resettled his collar and the resplendent
tie. He felt in his coat for the revolver, in order to transfer it to a
more convenient pocket.... Its bulk, apparently, evaded his fingers. His
search quickened--it had gone! He had lost it somewhere on his long,
devious passage of Cheap Mountain. Without it he would be in the power of
any spindling gambler who faced a dishonest ace. It would be necessary to
procure another weapon before proceeding with his purpose ... ten dollars,
perhaps fifteen; revolvers were highly priced in the turbulent distant
wild. Could he afford to lose that amount from his slender store of
dollars? Intact it was absurdly inadequate. He debated the choice--on one
hand the peril of gambling unarmed, on the other his desperate need for
money. Once more he considered Clare: in the end his arrogance of manhood
brought a decision--he would preserve the money for play. He was, he
thought insolently of himself, quick as a copperhead snake, and as
dangerous. After supper he sat on the porch, twisting and consuming
cigarettes, waiting for the night.



X


Large kerosene lamps dilated by tin reflectors lit the front of the Steel
Spud. In their radiance he saw the gaily-attired form of a woman. She wore
a white hat, with a sweeping, white ostrich plume, which hid her face with
the exception of a retreating chin and prominent, carmine lips; while a
fat, unwieldy body was covered by a waist of Scotch plaid silk--lines and
squares of black and primary colors--and a short, scant skirt of blue
broadcloth that, drawn up by her knees, exposed small feet in white kid
and heavy ankles.

Gordon Makimmon paused, and she leaned forward to meet his challenging
gaze. "Just in from camp?" she inquired, in a voice hoarse, repellent,
conciliatory, and with a mechanical grimace which he identified as a
smile. He stopped at the invitation in her tones, and nodded. "And looking
for a good time," he further informed her; "perhaps a little game."

"Stop right where you are," she declared. "You've found them both." He
mounted to the porch, and shook her extended hand, cushioned with fat,
and oddly damp and lifeless. He could see her countenance now--it was
plaster white with insignificant features and rose like an amorphous
column from a swollen throat, a nose like a dab of putty, eyes obscured by
drooping, pouchy lids, leaden-hued.

"It's a good thing you seen me," she told him, endeavoring to establish a
relationship of easy confidence, "instead of them diseased Mags down the
street. Shall we have a little drink upstairs?"

"It's early," he negligently interposed; "how about a turn of the cards
first? Do you know any one who would take a hand?"

"I got my friend here, and there's a gentleman at the hotel would
accommodate us. They're inside." She rose, and moved toward the door,
waving him to follow. Her slow, clumsy body and chinless, full-lidded head
reminded him of a turtle; she gave a still deeper amphibious
impression--there was something markedly cold-blooded, inhuman, deleted,
in her incongruous, gaudy bulk--an impression of a low, primitive
organism, the subtle smell of primal mud.

"Jake!" she called at the entrance to the crude hotel office; "Jake! Mr.
Ottinger! here's a gentleman wants a little game."

Two men hastily rose and advanced toward the door. The first, Jake, was
small, with the narrow, high shoulders, the long, pale face, the long,
pale hands, of a cripple. The other, a young man with a sodden countenance
discolored by old purplish bruises, wore a misfitting suit that drew
across heavy, bowed shoulders, thick, powerful arms. He regarded Gordon
Makimmon with no light dawning upon his lowering face; no greeting
disturbed the dark, hard line of his mouth. But the other, with an
apparently hearty, stereotyped flow of words, applauded Gordon's design,
approved his qualities of sportsmanship, courage.

"Give me the man from the woods for an open-handed sport," he vociferated;
"he ain't a fool neither, he's wise to the time of night. The city crowd,
the wise ones, are the real ringside marks."

"Come up to my room," the woman directed from the foot of a stairway;
"where no amateur John Condons will tell us how to play our cards. I got
some good liquor, too."

In her room she lit a small lamp, which proved insufficient, and Mr.
Ottinger brought a second from his quarters. Gordon found himself in a
long, narrow chamber furnished with two wooden beds, two identical,
insecure bureaus, stands with wash basins and pitchers, and a table. The
floor, the walls, the ceiling, were resinous yellow pine, and gave out a
hot, dry smell from which there was no escape but the door, for the room
was without other outlet.

A preliminary drink was indispensable; and, served in two glasses and a
cracked toothbrush mug--Mr. Ottinger elected to imbibe his "straight" from
the bottle--it was drunk with mutual assurances of tender regard. "Happy
days," the woman pronounced. Only three chairs were available, and after
some shuffling, appropriate references to "honest and plain" country
accommodations, the table was ranged by a bed on which Em--"Call me Em,"
she had invited Gordon, "let's be real homelike,"--seated herself.

The smaller man ostentatiously broke the seal from a new pack of cards,
dexterously spreading them across the table. His hands, Gordon saw, were
extraordinarily supple, and emanated a sickly odor of glycerine. His
companion's were huge and misshapen, but they, too, were surprisingly
deft, quick.

"What'll it be?" Jake demanded; "Jackpots; stud; straight draw--"

"Hell, let's throw cold hands," Mr. Ottinger interrupted, "chop the
trimmings. We're here for the stuff, ain't we?" He was immediately
reprehended for his brusque, unsociable manner.

"He's got the idea, though," Gordon approved; "we're here for the stuff."
It was finally arranged that poker hands should be dealt, a draw allowed,
and the cards shown, the highest cards to take the visible money. "A
dollar a go?" Jake queried, cutting for the deal. On the bed by the
woman's side was a tarnished, silver bag, with an ornate, meretricious
clasp; her two companions produced casual rolls of paper money; and Gordon
detached five dollars from the slender amount of his wage, his paramount
capital. On a washstand, within easy reach, stood the bottle of whisky
flanked by the motley array of drinking vessels.

Gordon Makimmon's five dollars vanished in as many minutes. Oppressed by
consuming anxiety he could scarcely breathe in the close, stale air. Em
gambled with an affectation of careless indifference; she asked in an
off-hand manner for cards; paid her losses with a loud laugh. Jake
invariably gave one rapid glance at his hand, and then threw it down upon
the table without separating his discard. Mr. Ottinger, it was plain, was
superstitious--he edged his hand open by imperceptible degrees until the
denominations of the cards were visible, then hurriedly closed them from
sight; often he didn't look at his draw until all the hands were exposed.
He wrinkled his face in painful efforts of concentration, protruded a
thick and unsavory tongue. At the loose corners of Jake's mouth flecks of
saliva gathered whitely; in the fleering light of the kerosene the shadows
on his face were cobalt. The woman's face shone with drops of perspiration
that formed slowly and rolled like a flash over her plastered skin.

Another round of drinks was negotiated, adding to the fiery discomfort of
the sealed room, of the dry, dead atmosphere. Gordon won back his five
dollars, and gained five more. "Let's make it two a throw," the woman
proposed. The thickset, young man remuttered the period that they were
there for the stuff. "Otty will have his little joke," she proclaimed.

"It's not funny," he protested seriously.

"Two?" Jake demanded of Gordon. The latter nodded.



XI


Late in the night they were still playing without a change in their
positions. Em still perspired; but Mr. Ottinger no longer protruded his
tongue, a sullen anger was evident in his every move; Jake's affable flow
of conversation was hushed; Gordon's face set. It was, indisputably, not
funny--he had won nearly two hundred dollars. "Make it ten?" Jake queried.
The others nodded. Now Gordon had two hundred and twenty dollars; an
extraordinary, overwhelming luck presided over his cards, he won more
frequently than the other three together. A tense silence enveloped the
latter: they shuffled, demanded cards, threw down their hands, in a
hurried, disorganized fashion. They glanced, each at the other, swiftly;
it was evident that a common idea, other than the game, possessed them.
Jake hovered a breath longer than necessary over the bottle, then pressed
a drink upon Gordon. He refused; this, he recognized, was not a time for
dissipation; he needed every faculty.

Two hundred and sixty dollars. The air of suppression, of tension,
increased. Gordon's only concern now was to get away, to take the money
with him.

Em shuffled in a slipshod, inattentive manner; Mr. Ottinger opened his
hand boldly, faced his bad luck with a stony eye; Jake labored under a
painful excitement, obviously not connected with his losses; his long,
waxy fingers quivered, a feverish point of fire flickered in either
cadaverous cheek; his eyes glowed between hollow, sunken temples. "Four,"
he demanded, with shaking lips. Mr. Ottinger rapped out a request for one.
"I'm satisfied," Gordon said.

"Don't that sucker beat hell!" Em declared, the solicitous manner that,
earlier in the evening, had marked her manner toward Gordon, carelessly
discarded. "I'm taking three." A sudden, visible boredom fell upon her as
she glanced at her filled hand. "Leave us double it," she remarked. Gordon
nodded, and she threw her hand upon the table; it held four nines. She
reached her fat, chalky arm toward the money, but Gordon was before her.
"Four queens," he shot out, grasping the crumpled bills.

Em cursed; then followed a short, awkward silence. It was Ottinger's deal,
but he did not pick up the scattered cards. Gordon gathered himself
alertly, measuring the distance to the door. "I've got enough," he
remarked; "I'm going to quit."

"You got enough, all right," Em agreed. "Now, how'd you like to have a
real good time?" She disposed herself upon her elbow, so that the sagging
bulk of her body was emphasized through its straining apparel; one leg,
incredible, leviathan, was largely visible.

"I've had enough," Gordon repeated; "I'll be moving."

Em rose quickly, losing her air of coquetry. Gordon was facing the men,
and was unprepared for the heavy blow she dealt upon the back of his neck.
"Hang it on him, Otty!" she cried excitedly.

Mr. Ottinger shoved the card table from his path. It was now evident that
it was, precisely, to "hang it on" whoever might be elected for that
delicate attention which formed Otty's purpose, profession, preoccupation,
in life. He was, for a heavy man, active; and, before Gordon Makimmon
could put out a protective arm, he returned the latter to the
perpendicular with a jarring blow on the chin. Jake whipped out from a
place of concealment on his person a plaited leather weapon with a
globular end.

It was Jake, Gordon instinctively knew, who threatened him most; he could
easily stop the hulking shape before him. He regained his poise, and
returned blow for blow with Mr. Ottinger; neither man guarded, both were
solely intent upon marking, crippling, the other. A chair fell, sliding
across the floor; a washstand collapsed with a splintering crash of china,
a miniature flood. Em stood on the outskirts of the conflict, armed with
the whisky bottle; Jake crouched watchful with the leather club. Gordon
cut his opponent's face with short, vicious jabs; he was, as customary,
cold--he saw clearly where every blow fell; he saw Otty's nose grotesquely
shapeless and blackened; he felt Otty's teeth cut the skin of his knuckles
and break off; he heard his involuntary gasp as he struck him a
hammer-like blow over the heart.

Mr. Ottinger, in return, hit him frequently and with effect. Gordon was
conscious of a warm, gummy tide spreading over his face, he saw with
difficulty through rapidly closing eyes. "For Cri's sake," Otty gasped,
"get to him, the town'll be on us."

Em made an ineffectual lunge with the bottle. Gordon swung the point of
his elbow into her side, and she sat on the bed with a "G-G-God!" Jake hit
him with the club on the shoulder blade; numbness radiated from the struck
point; there was a loss of power in the corresponding arm. Jake hit him
again, and a stabbing pain entered his side and stayed apparently tangled
in splintered bone. He paused for a moment, and all three fell upon him,
beating, clubbing, kicking. He fought on, now rapidly losing power. The
woman threw herself on his back, forced him to his knees. "Won't none of
you do for him?" she complained hysterically. She pressed his head into
her breast, and Mr. Ottinger hit him below and just back of his ear.
Gordon slipped out full length on the floor.

He was waveringly conscious, but he had lost all interest, all sense of
personal connection, with the proceedings. He dully watched Ottinger draw
back, tenderly fingering his damaged features; he saw Em breathing
stormily, empurpled. Jake, with the crimson flames in his long, pallid
mask, the white saliva flecking his jaw, hung over him with a glassy,
intent stare.

"Get the stuff," the practical Ottinger urged; "it's the stuff we're
after. Don't go bug again."

"Jake don't hear you," Em told him, "he's off. I'm glad the fella's going
to be fixed, he jolted me something fierce."

Jake swung the little, flexuous club softly against his palm, and Gordon
suddenly realized that the cripple intended to kill him.--That was the
lust which transfigured the gambler's countenance, which lit the fires in
the deathly cheeks, set the long fingers shaking. Gordon considered the
idea, and, obscurely, it troubled him, moved him a space from his apathy.
Instinctively, in response to a sudden movement of the figure above him,
he drew his arm up in front of his head; and an intolerable pain shot up
through his shoulder and flared, blindingly, in his eyes. It pierced his
indifference, set in motion his reason, his memory; he realized the
necessity, the danger, of his predicament ... the money!--he must guard
it, take it back with him. Above, in a heated, orange mist, the woman's
face loomed blank and inhuman; farther back Mr. Ottinger's features were
indistinctly visible.

He must rise....

His groping hand caught hold of the rung of the chair, and, with herculean
labor, he turned and raised himself a fraction from the floor. Jake
directed a hasty blow at his head that missed him altogether. His other
hand caught the chair, and he dragged himself dizzily into a kneeling
posture. A sudden change swept over the three above him.

"Nail him where he is!" Em cried excitedly; "he's getting up on you."
Gordon's hands moved uncertainly upward on the chair; his knees rose from
the floor. A shower of blows fell on him; the woman beat him with her
pudgy fists; Mr. Ottinger was kicking at him; Jake was weeping, and
endeavoring to get room in which to swing his club.

Gordon had one foot on the floor.

"Give me a chance at him," Jake implored; "give me a chance. God, if I had
a knife."

If they took away the chair, Gordon knew, he was lost. He clung to it;
pressed his breast against it; crept upward by means of it, slowly,
slowly, through a storm of battering hands. It seemed to him that, in
rising, he was shouldering aside the entire weight, the forces, of a
universe, bent on his destruction, and against which he was determined to
prevail. It was as though his will, the vitality which animated him, which
was his soul, stood aside from his beaten and suffering body, and, with a
cold, a cruel, detachment, commanded it upright.

The woman's bulk got in Jake's way, and he struck her across the eyes with
the back of his hand, consigning her to eternal hell. Mr. Ottinger,
confused by the irregularity of the turmoil, worked inefficiently,
swinging at random his hard fists, kicking impartially.

Gordon now had both feet upon the floor; he straightened up. For a breath
the three stood motionless, livid; and in that instant his hand fell upon
the door knob, he staggered back into the hall, carrying with him a vision
of his brocaded tie lying upon the floor.



XII


He stumbled hastily down the stairway, and found the narrow porch, the
serene, enveloping night; down the street lamps made blots of brightness,
but, beyond, the obscurity was profound, unbroken. Wave after wave of
nausea swept over him, he clung to a porch support with cold sweat
starting through the blood that smeared his countenance, stiffened in his
shirt, that was warm upon his side. The sound of footfalls, sharp,
repressed voices from above, stirred him into a fresh realization of his
precarious position. The gamblers would follow him, rob him with impunity
in the shadows of Sprucesap's lawless street, drag him behind the angle of
a building, where Jake would have ample scope for the swinging of his
leathered lead....

He lurched down to the street, and silently merged into the awaiting
night.

At dawn he appeared from a thicket, a mile beyond Sprucesap on the road to
Greenstream, and negotiated successfully a ride on a load of fragrant
upland hay to a point within a few miles of his destination. His coat,
soiled and torn, was buttoned across a bare throat, for his shirt had been
ripped into bandages; his face, apparently, had been harrowed for a red
planting; he moved awkwardly, breathed with a gasp from a stabbing pain in
the side ... but he moved, breathed. He drank with long delight from a
sparkling spring. He had the money, two hundred and eighty dollars, safely
in his pocket.



XIII


The afternoon was waning when he gazed again into the deep, sombrous rift
of Greenstream: from where Gordon stood, on the heights, in the flooding
sun, it appeared to be already evening below. As he descended the
mountainside the cool shadows rose about him, enveloping him in the
quietude, the sense of security, which brooded over the withdrawn
valley--the resplendent mirage of nature kind, beneficent, the illusion of
Nature as a tender and loving parent ... of Nature, as imminent, as
automatic, as a landslip crushing a path to the far, secret resting place
of its destiny.

Dr. Pelliter's light carriage with its pair of weedy, young horses stood
hitched by the road above the Makimmon dwelling; and, on entering the
house, Gordon found Clare in bed and Pelliter seated at her side. A
gaily-patched quilt hid all but her head. She smiled at Gordon through her
pale mask of suffering; but her greeting turned to swift concern at his
battered countenance. "An accident," he explained impatiently.

The doctor greeted him seriously. He had, Gordon knew, a sovereign and
inevitable remedy for all the ills of the flesh--pain, he argued, and
disease were inseparable, subdue the first and the latter ceased to exist
as an active ill, and a dexterously wielded hypodermic needle left behind
him a trail of narcotized and relieved sufferers. Bottles of patent
medicines, exhilarating or numbing as the purchaser might require, lined
the shelves of his drug store.

But now his customary, soothing smile was absent, the small, worn case
that contained the glittering syringe and minute bottles filled with white
or vivid yellow pellets was not to be seen.

"Clare here's gone and got herself real miserable," he stated, rising and
beckoning Gordon to follow him to the porch. "She's bad," he pronounced
outside; "that pain's got the best of her, and it's getting the best of
me. She ought to be cut, but she's so weak, it's gone so long, that I'm
kind of slow about opening her. And the truth is, Gordon, if I was
successful she wouldn't have a chance of getting well here--it'll take
expert nursing, awful nice food; and then, at the shortest, she would be
in bed a couple of months. She ought to go to the hospital in Stenton.
That's the real truth. I'm telling you the facts, Gordon; we can't handle
her here, she'd die on us."

Gordon only half comprehended the other's words--Clare dangerously
ill ... a question of dying, hospitals. She had suffered for so long that,
without losing his sympathy for her, it had seemed to him her inevitable
condition. It had fallen naturally upon him to care for her, guard her
against damp, prevent her from lifting objects beyond her strength. These
continuous, small attentions held an important place in his existence--he
thought about her in a mind devoted substantially to himself, and it
brought him a glow of contentment, a pleasant feeling of ministration and
importance. It had not occurred to him that Clare might grow worse, that
she might, in fact, die. The idea filled him with sudden dismay. His heart
contracted with a sharp hurt. "The hospital," he echoed dully, "Stenton."

"By rights," the doctor iterated; "of course we'll do what we can here,
she might last for a couple of years more without cutting; and then,
again, her heart might just quit. Still--"

"What would the hospital cost?" Gordon asked, almost unaware of having
pronounced the words.

"It'd be dear--two hundred and some dollars anyway, and the money on the
nail. The nursing would count up; then there would be something for
operating, if it was only a little ... a lot of things you don't allow for
would turn up."

Two hundred and more dollars! Gordon had a fleeting vision, against the
empurpling banks, the dark, sliding water, and the mountainous wall
capped with dissolving gold beyond, of a room filled with the hot glow of
kerosene lamps; he saw Jake's twitching, murderous countenance above
him.... Two hundred dollars! He had two hundred and eighty dollars in his
pocket. He had another vision--of Simmons; it was two hundred and fifty
dollars that the latter wanted, must have, to-morrow. But Simmons swiftly
faded before Clare's need, the pressure of sickness.

"She couldn't go down in the stage," he muttered, "the shaking would kill
her before ever she got there."

"I'll drive her to Stenton, Gordon," the doctor volunteered, "if you've
got the money handy."

"I've got her," Gordon Makimmon declared grimly.

"I'll take her right to the hospital and give her to the doctor in charge.
Everything will be done for her comfort. She has an elegant chance of
pulling through, there. And you can see her when you go down with the
stage--" Pelliter suddenly stopped; he appeared disconcerted by what he
had said.

"Well," Gordon demanded, his attention held by the other's manner, "can't
I?"

"You were away from Greenstream yesterday and to-day," the doctor replied
evasively, "you didn't hear ... oh, there's nothing in it if you didn't.
I heard that Simmons had had you taken off the stage. Did you have trouble
with Buckley, cut him with a whip? Buck has been blowing about showing you
a thing or two."

A feeling of angry dismay enveloped Gordon. He had recognized, obscurely,
that Simmons and old man Hollidew dominated the community, but he had
never before come in actual contact with their arbitrary power, he had
never before been faced by the overmastering weapon of their material
possessions, the sheer weight of their wealth. It stirred him to revolt,
elemental and bitter; every instinct rose against the despotic power which
threatened to overwhelm him.

"By God!" he exclaimed, "but they will find that I'm no sheep to drive
into their lot and shear!"

"Now, about Clare," the doctor interposed.

"When will you come for her?" Gordon inquired. He took from his pocket the
roll of money he had won at Sprucesap, and counted two hundred dollars,
which he tended to the doctor.

"To-morrow, about seven. Everything will be done for her, Gordon. I reckon
that's only an empty splash about the stage."

The dusk had thickened in Clare's room; he could scarcely distinguish her
face white against the darkened squares of the quilt. "Whoever will get
your supper," she worried, when he had told her; "and the cow'll need
bedding, and those cheeses brought in off the roof, and--"

He closed her mouth with a gentle palm. "I've done 'em all a hundred
times," he declared. "We're going to get you right, this spell, Clare," he
proclaimed; "you'll get professional, real stylish, care at Stenton."

She rose, trembling, on her arms. "Are they going to cut at me?" she
asked.

The lie on his lips perished silently before her grave tones. "It's not
rightly a dangerous operation," he protested; "thousands come out of it
every year."

"Gordon, I'm afeared of it."

"No, you're not, Clare Makimmon; there's not a drop of fear in you."

"It's not just death I'm afeared of, it's--oh; you will never understand
for being a man," her voice lowered instinctively; "somehow I hate the
thought of those strange men hacking and spoiling my body. That's just
foolishness, I know, and my time's pretty well gone for foolishness. I've
always sort of tended my body, Gordon, and kept it white and soft. I
thought if a man asked me in spite of--well, my face, he could take pride
in me underneath. But that's all done with; I ought to be glad for
the ... Gordon!" she exclaimed more energetically, "it will cost a heap
of money; how will you get it? don't borrow."

"I got it," he interrupted her tersely, "and I didn't borrow it neither."



XIV


He woke at dawn. The whippoorwills, the frogs and crickets, were silent,
and the sharp, sweet song of a mocking bird throbbed from a hedge. It was
dark in the valley, but, high above, the air was already brightening with
the sun; a symmetrical cloud caught the solar rays and flushed rosy
against silver space. The valley turned from indistinct blue to grey, to
sparkling green. The sun gilded the peaks of the western range, and
slipped slowly down, spilling into the depth. It was almost cold, the pump
handle, the rough sward, the foliage beyond, were drenched with white dew;
a damp, misty veil lifted from the surface of the stream.

Clare declared that she felt stronger; she dressed, insisted upon frying
his breakfast. "You ought to have somebody in," she asserted later. They
were on the shallow porch, waiting stiffly for the doctor. "But don't get
that eldest of your sister's; last time she wore my sateen waist and run
the colors."

Just as she was leaving he slipped twenty dollars into her hand. "Write
when you want more," he directed; "and I'll be down to see you ... yes,
often ... the stage." A leaden depression settled over him as the doctor's
carriage took her from sight. The house to which he turned was deserted,
lonely. He locked the door to her room.



XV


One of the canvas-covered mountain wagons was unloading on the platform
before Simmons' store when Gordon entered the center of the village. A
miscellaneous pile of merchandise was growing, presided over by a clerk
with a pencil and tally book. Valentine Simmons, without his coat, in an
immaculate, starched white waistcoat, stood upon one side.

Gordon, without delay, approached him. "I can give you a hundred dollars,"
he informed the other, exhibiting that sum.

"Two hundred and fifty will be necessary," Simmons informed him concisely,
"to-day."

"Come to reason--"

Valentine Simmons turned his back squarely upon him. A realization of the
uselessness of further words possessed Gordon; he returned the money to
his pocket. The contemptuous neglect of the other lit the ever-trimmed
lamp of his temper. "What's this," he demanded, "I hear about driving
stage? about Buck boasting around that he had had me laid off?"

"That's not correct," Simmons informed him smoothly; "Buckley has no power
to do that ... the owners of the privilege decided that you were too
unreliable."

"Then it's true," Gordon interrupted him, "I'm off?" Simmons nodded.
Gordon's temper swelled and flared whitely before his vision; rage
possessed him utterly; without balance, check, he was no more than an
insensate force in the grip of his mastering passion. He would stop that
miserable, black heart forever. Old Valentine Simmons' lips tightened, his
fingers twitched; he turned his back deliberately upon Gordon. The metal
buckle which held the strap of his waistcoat caught the sun and reflected
it into Gordon's eyes. "How many gross pink celluloid rattles?" the
storekeeper demanded of the clerk.

Gordon Makimmon's hand crept toward his pocket ... then he remembered--he
had lost that which he sought ... on the side of Cheap Mountain. If
Simmons would turn, say something further, taunt him, he would kill him
with his hands. But Simmons did none of these things; instead he walked
slowly, unharmed, into the store.



XVI


Gordon had intended to avoid the vicinity of the Courthouse on the day of
the sale of his home, but an intangible attraction held him in its
neighborhood. He sat by the door to the office of the _Greenstream Bugle_,
diagonally across the street. Within, the week's edition was going to
press; a burly young individual was turning the cylinders by hand, while
the editor and owner dexterously removed the printed sheets from the
press. The office was indescribably grimy, the rude ceiling was hung with
dusty cobwebs, the windows obscured by a grey film. A small footpress
stood to the left of the entrance, on the right were ranged typesetter's
cases with high, precarious stools, a handpress for proof and a table to
hold the leaded forms. These, with the larger press, an air-tight sheet
iron stove and some nondescript chairs, completed the office furnishings.
Over all hung the smell of mingled grease, ink, and damp paper, flat and
penetrating.

Without, the sun shone ardently; it cast a rich pattern of light and shade
on the Courthouse lawn and the small assemblage of merely idle or
interested persons gathered for the sale. The sheriff stood facing them
under the towering pillars of the portico; his voice rang clearly through
the air. To Gordon the occasion, the loud sing-song of the sheriff,
appeared unreal, dreamlike; he listened incredulously to the meager
cataloguing of his dwelling, the scant acreage, with an innate sense of
outrage, of a shameful violation of his privacy. He was still unable to
realize that his home and his father's, the clearing that his grandfather
had cut from the wild, was actually passing from his possession. He
summoned in vain the emotions which, he told himself, were appropriate.
The profound discouragement within him would not be lifted to emotional
heights: lassitude settled over him like a fog.

The bidding began in scattered, desultory fashion, mounting slowly by
hundreds. Eighteen hundred dollars was offered, and there the price
obstinately hung.

The owner of the _Bugle_ appeared at his door, and nodded mysteriously to
Gordon, who rose and listlessly obeyed the summons. The former closed the
door with great care, and lowered a faded and torn shade over the front
window. Then he retired to a small space divided from the body of the
office by a curtain suspended from a sagging wire. He brought his face
close to Gordon's ear. "Have a nip?" he asked, in a solemn, guarded
fashion. Gordon assented.

A bottle was produced from a cupboard, and, together with a tin cup,
handed to him.

"Luck," he pronounced half-heartedly, raising the cup to his lips. When
the other had gone through a similar proceeding the process was carefully
reversed--the bottle was returned to the cupboard, the tin cup suspended
upon its hook, the steps retraced and the curtain once more coaxed up, the
door thrown open.

The group on the Courthouse lawn were stringing away; on the steps the
sheriff was conversing with Valentine Simmons' brother, a drab individual
who performed the storekeeper's public services and errands. The sale had
been consummated. The long, loose-jointed dwelling accumulated by
successive generations of Makimmons had passed out of their possession.

A poignant feeling of loss flashed through Gordon's apathy; suddenly his
eyes burned, and an involuntary sharp inspiration resembled a gasp, a sob.
A shadow ran over the earth. The owner of the _Bugle_ stepped out and
gazed upward. At the sight of the soft, grey clouds assembling above an
expression of determined purpose settled upon his dark countenance. He
hurried into the office, and reappeared a few minutes later, a peaked
corduroy hat drawn over his eyes, a piece of pasteboard in one hand, and,
under his arm, a long, slender bundle folded in black muslin. The
pasteboard he affixed to the door; it said, "Gone fishing. Back
to-morrow."



XVII


Minus certain costs and the amount of his indebtedness to Valentine
Simmons, Gordon received the sum of one thousand and sixty dollars for the
sale of his house. He was still sleeping in it, but the day was near when
he must vacate. The greater part of his effects were gathered under a
canvas cover on the porch, Clare's personal belongings were still
untouched in her room. He must wait for the disposition of those until he
had learned the result of the operation.

He heard from Clare on an evening when he was sitting on his lonely porch,
twisting his dextrous cigarettes, and brooding darkly on the mischances
that had overtaken him of late. It was hot and steamy in the valley, no
stars were visible; the known world, muffled in a close and imponderable
cloak, was without any sign of life, of motion, of variety. Gordon heard
footsteps descending heavily from the road, a bulky shape loomed up before
him and disclosed the features of Dr. Pelliter.

He greeted Gordon awkwardly, and then fell momentarily silent. "She sent
you a message, Gordon," he pronounced at last.

"Clare's dead," Gordon replied involuntarily. So far away, he thought, and
alone.... He must go at once and fetch her home. He rose.

"Clare said," the doctor continued, "if your sister's eldest was to come
in to give her the sateen waist." An extended silence fell upon the men;
the whippoorwills sobbed and sobbed; the stream gurgled past its banks.
Then:

"By God!" Gordon said passionately, "I don't know but I'm not glad Clare's
gone--Simmons has got our house, I'm not driving stage ... Clare would
have sorrowed herself out of living. Life's no jig tune."

The doctor left. Gordon continued to sit on the porch; at intervals he
mechanically rolled and lit cigarettes, which glowed for a moment and went
out, unsmoked. The feeling of depression that had cloaked him during the
few days past changed imperceptibly to one of callous indifference toward
existence in general. The seeds of revolt, of instability, which Clare and
a measure of worldly position, of pressure, had held in abeyance,
germinated in his disorganized mind, his bitter sense of injustice and
injury. He hardened, grew defiant ... the strain of lawlessness brought so
many years before from warring Scotch highlands rose bright and
troublesome in him.



XVIII


Clare's body was brought back to Greenstream on the following day. His
sister and her numerous brood descended solicitously upon Gordon later;
neighbors, kindly and officious, arrived ... Clare was laid out. There
were sibilant, whispered conversations about a mislaid petticoat with a
mechlin hem; drawers were searched and the missing garment triumphantly
unearthed; silk mitts were discussed, discarded; the white shoes--real
buck and a topnotch article--forced on. At last Clare was exhibited in the
room that had been hers. There was no place in the Makimmon dwelling for
general assemblage but the kitchen, and it had been pointed out by certain
delicate souls that the body and the preparations for the funeral repast
would accord but doubtfully. Besides, the kitchen was too hot.

Clare's peaked, blue-white countenance was withdrawn and strange above a
familiar, harsh black silk dress; her hands, folded upon her flat breast,
lay in a doubled attitude dreadfully impossible to life. A thin locket of
gold hung on a chain about her still throat. The odor of June roses that
filled the corners, a subdued, red riot of the summer, the sun without,
was overpowering.

As the hour appointed for the funeral approached a gratifying number of
people assembled: the women clustered about the porch, hovered about the
door which opened upon the remains; while the men gathered in a group
above the stream, lingered by the fence. A row of dusty, hooded vehicles,
rough-coated, intelligent horses, were hitched above.

The minister took his station by a table on which a glass of water had
been placed upon a vivid red cover: he portentously cleared his throat.
"The Lord giveth," he began.... It was noon, pellucidly clear, still, hot;
the foliage on the mountainsides was like solid walls of greenery rising
to a canopy, a veil, of azure. Partridges whistled clear and flutelike
from a nearby cover; the stream flashed in the sun, mirroring on its
unwrinkled surface the stiff, somber figures gathered for the funeral.

The droning voice of the preacher drew out interminably through the
sultry, golden hour. Women sniffed sharply, dabbled with toil-hardened
hands at their eyes; the men, standing in the grass, shuffled their feet
uneasily. "Let us pray," the speaker dropped upon his knees, and his voice
rose, grew more insistent, shrill with a touch of hysteria. From the back
of the house a hen clucked in an excited, aggravated manner.

Gordon Makimmon stood at the end of the porch, morosely ill at ease: the
memories of Clare as a girl, as a woman going about and performing the
duties of their home, the dignity of his sense of loss and sorrow, had
vanished before this public ceremony; they had sunk to perfunctory,
conventional emotions before the glib flood of the paid eulogist, the
facile emotion of the women.

Suddenly he saw, partially hidden by the dull dresses of the older women,
a white, ruffled skirt, the turn of a young shoulder, a drooping straw
hat. A meager, intervening form moved, and he saw that Lettice Hollidew
had come to his sister's funeral. He wondered, in a momentary, instinctive
resentment, what had brought her among this largely negligent gathering.
She had barely known Clare; Gordon was not certain that she had ever been
in their house. He could see her plainly now--she stood clasping white
gloves with firm, pink hands; her gaze was lowered upon the uneven
flooring of the porch. He could see the soft contour of her chin, a
shimmer of warm, brown hair. She was crisply fresh, incredibly young in
the group of gaunt, worn forms; her ruffled fairness was an affront to the
thin, rigid shoulders in rusty black, the sallow, deeply-bitten faces of
the other women.

She looked up, and surprised his intent gaze: she flushed slightly, the
gloves were twisted into a knot, but her eyes were unwavering--they held
an appeal to his understanding, his sympathy, not to be mistaken. It was
evident that that gaze cost her an effort. She was, Gordon remembered, a
diffident girl. His resentment evaporated.... He speculated upon her
reason for coming; and, speculating, involuntarily stood more erect. With
a swift, surreptitious motion he straightened his necktie.

The Greenstream cemetery lay aslant on a rise above the village. From the
side of the raw, yellow clay hole into which they lowered the coffin
Gordon could see, beyond the black form of the minister, over the rows of
uneven roofs, the bulk of the Courthouse, the sweep of the valley, glowing
with multifarious vitality.

"Dust to dust," said the minister; "ashes to ashes," in the midst of the
warm, the resplendent, the palpitating day. One of Gordon's nephews--a
shock of tow hair rising rebellious against an application of soap,
stubby, scarred hands, shoes obviously come by in their descent from more
mature extremities--who had been audibly snuffling for the past ten
minutes, burst into a lugubrious, frightened wail. Through the solemn,
appointed periods of the minister cut the sibilant, maternal promise of a
famous "whopping."



XIX


Gordon thought again of Lettice Hollidew as he was sitting for the last
evening on the porch of the dwelling that had passed out of his hands.
Twilight had poured through the valley, thickening beneath the trees, over
the stream; the mountain ranges were dark, dusty blue against a maroon
sky. He recalled the sympathy, the plea for comprehension, in Lettice's
gaze, lifted, for the first time, frankly against his own.

Hers was not the feminine type which attracted him; he preferred a more
flamboyant beauty, ready repartee, the conscious presence and employment
of the lure of sex. His taste had been fed by the paid women of Stenton,
the few, blowsy, loose females of the mountains; these and the surface
chatter of the stage, and Clare, formed his sole knowledge, experience,
surmising, of women. He recalled Lettice condescendingly; she did not stir
his pulses, appeal to his imagination. Yet she moved his pride, his
inordinate self-esteem. It had been on his account, and not Clare's, that
she had come to the funeral. The little affair with Buckley Simmons had
captured her attention and interest; he had not thought Lettice so
impressionable.

It was, he remembered, Wednesday night--there would be prayer-meeting in
the Methodist Church; the Hollidews were Methodists; women, mostly,
attended prayer meeting. If he strolled about in that vicinity he might
see Lettice at the close of the service, thank her for attending poor
Clare's funeral.

He rose and negligently made his way through the soft gloom past the
Courthouse to the Methodist Church. The double doors were open, and a
flood of hot radiance rolled out into the night, together with the
familiar tones of old Martin Seeker loudly importuning his invisible,
inscrutable Maker. There were no houses opposite the church, and, balanced
obscurely on the fence of split rails against the unrelieved night, a row
of young men smoked redly glowing cigarettes; while, on the ground below
them, shone the lanterns by the aid of which they escorted the various
maidens of their choice on their various obscure ways.

The prayer stopped abruptly, and, after a momentary silence, the dolorous
wail of a small organ abetted a stridulent concourse of human voices
lifted in lamentable song, a song in which they were desirous of being
winged like the dove.

The sound mounted in a grievous minor into the profound stillness, the
peace, of the valley, of the garment of stars drawn from wall to wall.
There was something animal-like in its long-drawn, quavering note--like
the baying of a dog out of the midst of his troubled darkness at the
remote, silver serenity, the disturbing, effortless splendor, of the
moon.

The line of figures without, sitting on the fence with their feet caught
under the second rail, smoked in imperturbable, masculine indifference.
There was, shortly, a stir within, a moving blur of figures in the opened
doors, and the lanterns swung alertly to the foot of the steps, where, one
by one, the bobbing lights, detached from the constellation, vanished into
the night.

Almost immediately Gordon saw Lettice Hollidew standing at the entrance,
awaiting a conversing group of older women at the head of the aisle. She
recognized him, and descended immediately with a faint, questioning smile.
The smile vanished as she greeted him; her eyes were dark on a pale, still
countenance. He noticed that she was without the heady perfume which
stirred him as the other girls passed, and he was silently critical of the
omission.

He delivered quickly, with a covert glance above, the customary period
about seeing her home. Immediately she walked with him into the obscurity,
the mystery, of the night.

"It was certainly nice-hearted of you to come to Clare's funeral," he
began.

Close beside him she shivered, it might be at the memory of that occasion.
She was without a hat, and he was able to study her profile: it was
irregular, with a low, girlish brow and a nose too heavy for beauty; she
had a full under lip and a strongly modelled chin, a firm line ending in a
generous throat, milk-white in the gloom. Her figure too, he judged, was
too heavy for his standard of feminine charm. His interest in her burned
low, sustained only by what he recognized as a conquest.

She walked slowly and more slowly as he dallied by her side. Almost
subconsciously he adopted the tone by which he endeavored to enlist the
interest of the opposite sex: he repeated in a perfunctory manner the
stereotyped remarks appropriate for such occasions.

She listened intently, with sudden, little glances from a momentarily
lifted gaze. He grew impatient at the absence of the flattering responses
to which he was largely accustomed. And, dropping abruptly his artificial
courtesy, he maintained a sullen silence, quickened his stride. He drew
some satisfaction from the observation that his reticence hurt her. Her
hands caught and strained together; she looked at him with a longer,
questioning gaze.

"I wanted to tell you," she said finally, with palpable difficulty, "how
sorry I am about ... about things; your home, and--and I heard of the
stage, too. It was a shame, you drove beautifully, and took such care of
the passengers."

"It was that care cost me the place," he answered with brutal directness;
"old Simmons did it; him and his precious Buckley."

She stopped with an expression of instant, deep concern. "Oh! I am so
sorry ... then it was my fault. But it's horrid that they should have done
that; that they should be able; it is all wrong--"

"Right nor wrong don't make any figure I've ever discovered," he retorted;
"Valentine Simmons has the power, he's got the money. That's it--money's
the right of things; it took my house away from me, like it's taken away
so many houses, so many farms, in Greenstream--"

"But," she objected timidly, "didn't they owe Mr. Simmons for things? You
see, people borrow, borrow, borrow, and never pay back. My father," she
proceeded with more confusion, "has lost lots of money in that way."

"I can tell you all about that," he informed her bitterly, proceeding to
mimic Simmons' dry, cordial tones, "'Take the goods right along with you,
pay when you like, no hurry between old friends.' Then, when Zebener
Hull's corn failed, 'I'll trouble you for that amount,' the skinflint
says, and sells Zebener out. And what your father's lost," he added more
directly still, "wouldn't take you on the stage to Stenton. Your father
and Simmons have got about everything worth getting in the county; they've
got the money, they've got the land, they've got the men right in their
iron safes. Right and wrong," he sneered, "it's money--"

"Oh! please," she begged, "please don't be so unhappy, so hard. Life isn't
as dreadful as that."

"It's worse," he declared somberly. They turned by Simmons' store, but
continued in the opposite direction from the one-time Makimmon dwelling.
They passed a hedge of roses; the perfume hung heavy-sweet, poignant;
there was apparently no sky, no earth, only a close, purple envelopment,
imminent, palpable, lying languidly, unstirring, in a space without form
or limit and of one color.

Lettice walked silently by his side; he could hear her breathing,
irregular, quick. She was very close to him, then moved suddenly,
consciously, away; but, almost immediately, she drifted back, brushing his
shoulder; it seemed that she returned inevitably, blindly; in the gloom
her gown fluttered like the soft, white wings of a moth against him.

"It's worse," he repeated, his voice loud and harsh, like a discordant
bell clashing in the sostenuto passage of a symphony; "but it's all one
to me--there's nothing else they can take; I'm free, free to sleep or
wake, to be drunk when I like with no responsibility to Simmons or any one
else--"

Her breathing increasingly grew labored, oppressed; a little sob escaped,
softly miserable. She was crying. He was completely callous, indifferent.
They stood before the dark, porchless façade of her home.

"I thought life was so happy," she articulated, facing him; "but now it
hurts me ... here;" he saw her press her hand against the swelling, tender
line of her breast. His theatrical self-consciousness bowed him over the
other hand, pressing upon it a half-calculated kiss. She stood motionless;
he felt rather than saw the intensity of her gaze. "I wish I could mend
the hurt," he began, appropriately, professionally.

He was interrupted by a figure emerging from the obscurity of the house.
Pompey Hollidew peered at them from the low, stone lintel. "Letty," he
pronounced, in a voice at once whining and truculent; "who?--oh! that
Makimmon.... Letty, come in the house." He caught her arm and dragged her
incontinently toward the door. "... rascal," Gordon heard him mutter,
"spendthrift. If you ever walk again with Gordon Makimmon," the old man,
through his daughter, addressed the other, "don't walk back here, don't
come home. Not a dollar of mine shall fall through the pockets of that
shiftless breed."



XX


Clare's funeral deducted a further sum from the amount Gordon had received
for the sale of his home, but he had left still nine hundred and odd
dollars. He revolved in his mind the disposition of this sum, once more
sitting with chair tilted back against the dingy wooden home of the
_Greenstream Bugle_; he rehearsed its possibilities for frugality, for
independence, as a reserve ... or for pleasure. It was the hottest hour of
the day; the prospect before him, the uneven street, the houses beyond,
were coated with dust, gilded by the refulgent sun. No one stirred; a red
cow that had been cropping the grass in the broad, shallow gutter opposite
sank down in the meager shadow of a chance pear tree; even the children
were absent, the piercing, staccato cries of their games unheard.

To Gordon Makimmon Greenstream suddenly appeared insufferably dull, empty;
the thought of monotonous, identical days spun thinly out, the nine
hundred dollars extended to its greatest length, in that banal setting,
suddenly grew unbearable.... There was no life in Greenstream....

The following morning found him on the front seat of the Stenton stage,
sharing with the driver not his customary cigarettes but more portentous
cigars from an ample pocketful. "Greenstream's dead," he pronounced; "I'm
going after some life."

Late that night he leaned across the sloppy bar of an inferior saloon in
Stenton, and, with an uncertain wave of his hand, arrested the barkeeper's
attention. "I'm here," he articulated thickly, "to see life, understand!
And I can see it too--money's power." The other regarded him with a brief,
mechanical interest, a platitude shot suavely from hard, tobacco-stained
lips.

Later still: "I'm here to see life," he told a woman with a chalky
countenance, a countenance without any expression of the consciousness of
the sound of his voice, a vague form lost in loose draperies. "Life," he
emphasized above the continuous, macabre rattle of a piano.

In a breathless, hot dawn pouring redly into the grey city street, he
swayed like a pendulum on the steaming pavement. His side was smeared,
caked, with unnamable filth, refuse; a tremulous hand gripped feverishly
the shoulder of a policeman who had roused him from a constrained stupor
in a casual angle. "I wan' to see life," he mumbled dully, "I got
power ... money." He fumbled through his pockets in search of the proof
of his assertion. In vain--all that was left of the nine hundred and sixty
dollars was some loose silver.



XXI


Again sober, without the resources of the citybred parasite, and without
money, his instinct, his longing, drew him irresistibly into the open; his
heredity forced him toward the mountains, into familiar paths, valleys,
heights.

He avoided the stage road, and progressed toward Greenstream by tangled
trails, rocky ascents, sharp declines. By late day he had penetrated to
the heart of the upland region. He stood gazing down upon the undulating,
verdant hills, over which he could trace the course of a thunder gust. The
storm moved swiftly, in a compact, circular shadow on the sunny slope; he
could distinguish the sudden twisting of limbs, the path of torn leaves,
broken branches, left by the lash of the wind and rain. The livid,
sinister spot on the placid greenery drew nearer; he could now hear the
continuous rumble of thunder, see the stabbing, purplish flashes of
lightning. The edge of the storm swept darkly over the spot where he was
standing; he was soaked by a momentary assault of rain driving greyly out
of a passing, profound gloom. Then the cloud vanished, leaving the
countryside sparkling and serene under a stainless evening sky.

The water dripped down his back, swashed in his shoes; he was, in his
lowered vitality, supremely uncomfortable. The way was slippery with mud;
wet leaves bathed his face in sudden, chill showers, clung to his hands.
He fell.

When he arrived at the rim of Greenstream night had hidden that familiar,
welcome vista. The lights of the houses shone pale yellow below. A new
reluctance to enter this place of home possessed him, a shame born of his
denuded pockets, his bedraggled exterior. He descended, but turned to the
left, finding a rude road which skirted the base of the eastern range. He
was following no definite plan, moving slowly, without objective; but a
window glimmering in a square of orange light against the night brought
him to a halt. It marked, he knew, the dwelling of the Jesuit priest,
Merlier. In a sudden impulse he advanced over a short path, and fumbling,
found the door, where he knocked. A chair scraped within and the door
swung open. The form of the priest was dark against the lighted interior
which absorbed them.



XXII


The room was singularly bare: a tin lamp with a green glass shade, on an
uncovered deal table, illuminated an open book, wood chairs with roughly
split, hickory backs, a couch with no covering over its wire springs and
iron frame; there was no carpet on the floor of loosely grooved boards, no
decorations on the plastered walls save a dark engraving of a man in
intricate armor, with a face as passionate, as keen, as relentless, as a
hawk's, labelled, "Loyola."

Merlier silently indicated a chair, but he remained standing with his gaze
lowered upon the floor. He was a burly man, with a heavy countenance
impassive as an oriental's, out of which, startling in its unexpected
rapidity, a glance flashed and stabbed as steely as Loyola's sword. His
hands were clasped before him; they were, in that environment, strangely
white, and covered with the scars of what, patently, were unaccustomed
employments.

"It feels good inside," Gordon observed tritely. He noted uneasily the
muddy tracks his shoes had printed upon the otherwise spotless board
floor, "I got caught in a gust on the mountain," he explained awkwardly,
in a constraint which deepened with the other's continued silence; "I
ought to have cleaned up before I came in ... it's terrible dark out." He
rose, tentatively, but the priest waved him back into the chair. Opening a
door opposite the one by which Gordon had entered, and which obviously
gave upon an outer shed, Merlier procured a roughly made mop; and,
returning, he obliterated all traces of the mud. Suddenly, to Gordon's
dismay, his supreme discomfort, he stooped to a knee, and began to remove
the former's shoes.

"Hey!" Gordon protested; "don't do that; I can tend to my own feet." He
was prepared to kick out, but he recognized that a struggle could only
make the situation insufferable, and he submitted in an acute, writhing
misery to the ministrations. The priest rose with Gordon's shoes and
placed them, together with the mop, outside the door. He then brought from
an inner room an immaculate, white cambric shirt, a pair of trousers, old
but carefully ironed, and knitted, grey worsted slippers.

"If you will change," he said in a low, impersonal voice, "I will see what
there is for you to eat." He left the room, and Gordon gratefully shifted
into the fresh, dry clothes. The trousers were far too large; they
belonged, he recognized, to the priest, but he belted them into baggy
folds. The other appeared shortly with a wooden tray bearing a platter of
cooked, yellow beans, a part loaf of coarse bread, raw eggs and a pitcher
of milk. "I thought," he explained, "you would wish something immediately;
there is no fire; Bartamon is out." The latter, Gordon knew, was a
sharp-witted old man who had made a precarious living in the local fields
and woodsheds until the priest had taken him as a general helper. "There
are neither coffee nor tea in the house," Merlier stated further.

He closed the book, moved the lamp to the end of the table, and stood with
his countenance lowered, his folded hands immovable as stone, while Gordon
Makimmon consumed the cold food. Once the priest replenished the other's
glass with milk.

If there had been a gleam of fraternal feeling, the slightest indication
of generous impulse, a mere accent of hospitality, in the priest's
actions, Gordon, accepting them in such spirit, might have been at ease.
But not the faintest spark of interest, of curiosity, the most perfunctory
communion of sympathy, was evident on Merlier's immobile countenance; his
movements were machine-like, he seemed infinitely removed from his
charitable act, infinitely cold.

Gordon's discomfort burned into a species of illogical, resentful anger.
He cursed the priest under his breath, choked on the food; he was heartily
sorry that he had obeyed the fleeting impulse to enter. But even the
anger expired before Merlier's impassivity--he must as well curse a figure
carved from granite, cast in lead. He grew, in turn, uneasy at the other's
supernatural detachment; it chilled his blood like the grip of an
unexpected, icy hand, like the imminence of inevitable death. The priest
resembled a dead man, a dead man who had remained quick in the mere
physical operations of the body, while all the machinery of his thoughts,
his feelings, lay motionless and cold within.

Gordon found relief in a customary cigarette when the uncomfortable repast
was finished. The priest removed the dishes, and reappeared with bed
linen, with which he proceeded to convert the bare couch into a provision
for sleeping. Then he returned the lamp to the center of the table, opened
the book and seated with his back squarely toward the room, addressed
himself to the pages.

Gordon Makimmon's head throbbed, suddenly paining him--it was as though
sharp, malicious fingers were compressing the spine at the base of his
brain. That, and the profound weariness which swept over him, were
disconcerting; he was so seldom ill, so rarely tired, that those unwelcome
symptoms bore an aggravated menace; it was the slight, premonitory
rusting, the corrosion of time, upon the iron of his manhood.

In an instinctive need for human support, the reassurance of the
comprehension of his kind, he directed an observation at the broad, squat,
somber back. "I might have been drunk a month," he asserted, "by the way I
feel." The priest paused in his reading, inserted a finger in the page,
and half turned. Gordon could see the full, smooth cheek, the drooping
gaze, against the green radiance of the lamp.

"If you will drink," Merlier said in a bitter, repressed voice, "if you
will indulge the flesh, don't whimper at the price." He made a gesture,
indicating the bed, then returned to his reading.

"The man doesn't live who's heard me whimper," Gordon began loudly; but
his angry protest trailed into silence. There was no comfort, no redress,
to be obtained from that absorbed, ungainly figure. He slipped out of the
baggy trousers, the worsted slippers, and, extending himself on the couch,
fell heavily asleep.



XXIII


When he woke the room was bright with narrow strips of sun, already too
high to shine broadly through the doors and windows. His clothes, dry and
comparatively clean, reposed on a chair at his side, and, washing in the
basin which he found outside the door, he hastily dressed. He looked,
tentatively, for the priest, but found only his aged helper in the
roughly-cleared space at the back of the house.

Bartamon was a small man, with a skull-like head, to the hollows of which,
the bony projections, dark skin clung dryly; his eyes were mere dimming
glints of watery consciousness; and from the sleeves of a faded blue
shirt, the folds of formless, canvas trousers, knotted, blackish hands,
grotesque feet, appeared to hang jerking on wires.

"Where's the Father?" Gordon inquired.

The other rested from the laborious sawing of a log, blinking and
tremulous in the hard brilliancy of midday. "Beyond," he answered vaguely,
waving up the valley; "Sim Caley's wife sent for him from Hollidew's farm.
Sim or his wife think they're going to die two or three times the year,
and bother the Father.... But I wouldn't wonder they would, and them
working for Hollidew, dawn, day and dark, with never a proper skinful of
food, only this and that, maybe, chick'ry and fat pork and moldy ends of
nothing."

He filled the blackened ruin of a pipe, shaking in his palsied fingers,
clasped it in mumbling, toothless gums: he was so sere, so juiceless, that
the smoke trailing from his sunken lips might well have been the
spontaneous conflagration of his desiccated interior.

"Hollidew's a terrible man for money," he continued, "it hurts him like a
cut with a hick'ry to see a dollar go. They say he won't hear tell of
quitting his fortune for purgatory, no, nor for heaven neither. He can't
get him to make a will, the lawyer can't. He was telling the Father the
other day, sitting right in the house there, 'Pompey Hollidew,' he says,
'won't even talk will....' He'd like to take it all with him to the devil,
Pompey would." He turned with a sigh to the log. A cross-cut saw, with a
handle at either end, lay upon the ground; and Gordon, grasping the far
handle, helped him to drag the slim, glittering steel through the
powdering fiber of the wood.

As he worked mechanically Gordon's thoughts returned to the past, the past
which had collapsed so utterly, so disastrously, so swiftly upon his
complacency, robbing him of his sustenance, of Clare, of his home. The
complaining voice of the old man finally pierced his abstraction. "If you
are going to ride," Bartamon complained, "don't drag your feet."

The two men consumed a formless, ample meal, after which Gordon still
waited negligently for the priest. The sun sank toward the western range;
the late afternoon grew as hushed, as rich in color, in vert shadows,
ultramarine, and amber, as heavy in foliage bathed in aureate light, as
the nave of a cathedral under stained glass.

In a corner of the shed Gordon found a fishing rod of split bamboo, sprung
with time and neglect, the wrappings hanging and effectually loose. A
small brass reel was fastened to the butt, holding an amount of line. He
balanced the rod in his grasp, discovering it to be the property of the
old man.

"What'll you take for it?" he demanded. His store of money had been
reduced to a precarious sum of silver; but the longing had seized him to
fish in the open, to follow a stream into the tranquil dusk.

"I got some flies too." The other resurrected a cigar box, which held some
feathered hooks attached to doubtful guts. "They are dried out," Gordon
pronounced, testing them; "what will you take for the whole worthless
lot?" Bartamon demurred: the rod had been a good rod, it had been given to
him in the past by a mayor, or had it been a senator? It was not like
common rods, made of six strips of bamboo, but of eight, the line was
silk.... He would take sixty cents.

Delaying his expression of gratitude to the priest--he could stop on his
return with trout--Gordon was soon tramping over the soft, dusty road to
where he bordered a stream skirting the eastern range. A shelf of
pasturage ran, deep blue-green sod, against the rocky wall; to the left,
through scattered trees, the valley was visible; on the right the range
mounted precipitant, verdant, to its far crown. The stream, now torn to
white foam on a rocky descent, now swept with a glassy rush between level,
green banks, now moved slowly in a deep-shaded pool, where gleaming
bubbles held filmed sliding replicas of the banks, the trees, the sky.

The sun, growing less a source of light than a brilliant circle of
carmine, almost touched the western range; the shadow troop swept down the
slope and lengthened across the valley; cut by the trunks of trees the
light fell in dusty gold bars across the water. Gordon drew the line
through the dipping tip, knotting on three of the flies. Then he quietly
followed the stream to where it fell into a circular, stone-bound basin.
He made his cast with a quick turn of the wrist, skilfully avoiding the
high underbrush, the overhanging limbs. The flies swung out and dropped
softly on the water. On the second cast he caught a trout--a silvery,
gleaming shape flecked with vermilion and black, shaded with mauve and
emerald and maroon.

In a shallow reach he waded, forgetful of his clothes. He caught another
trout, another and another, stringing them on a green withe. He cast
indefatigably, but with the greatest possible economy of effort; his
progress was all but soundless; he slipped down stream like a thing of the
woods, fishing with delicate art, with ardor, with ingenuity, and with
continual success.

The sun disappeared in a primrose void behind the darkening mountains; the
hush deepened upon the valley, a hush in which the voice of the stream was
audible, cool--a sound immemorially old, lingering from the timeless past
through vast, dim changes, cataclysms, carrying the melancholy, eloquent,
incomprehensible plaint of primitive nature.

Gordon was absorbed, content; the quiet, the magic veil of oblivion, of
the woods, of the immobile mountains, enveloped and soothed him, released
his heart from its oppression, banished the fever, the struggle, from his
brain. The barrier against which he still fished was mauve, the water
black; the moon appeared buoyantly, like a rosy bubble blown upon a
curtain of old blue velvet. He cast once more, and met his last strike, a
heavy jar that broke the weakened line, in a broad, still expanse where
white moths fluttered above the water in a cold, stagnant gloom. He saw
the rotting wall of a primitive dam, the crumbling, fallen sides of a rude
mill. Night fell augustly. The whippoorwills cried faint and distant.

He sat on a log, draining his shoes, pressing the water from his trousers,
and smoked while the light of the moon brightened into a silvery radiance
in which objects, trees, were greyly visible; reaches sank into soft
obscurity. He recognized his position from the ruined mill--he was on the
edge of that farm of Pompey Hollidew's of which Bartamon had spoken.
Hollidew, he knew, seldom visited his outlying acres, then only in the
collection of rents or profits--they lay too far from his iron chest, from
the communication of the Stenton banks. Gordon knew Sim Caley, and,
suddenly, he decided to visit him; the trout would afford the Caleys and
himself an ample repast.

He crossed the road, made his way through a fragrant tangle of field
grass, over shorn and orderly acres of grazing. The moon rose higher, grew
brighter; the vistas were clear, unreal, the shadows like spilled ink. The
house toward which he moved stood sharply defined, and enclosed by a
fence, flowers, from the farm. As he approached he saw that no lights
were visible, but a blur of white moved in the shadow of the portico. He
decided that it was Sim Caley's wife; and, opening the gate, advanced with
a query for Mrs. Caley's health forming on his lips.

But it was Lettice Hollidew.



XXIV


She retreated, as he advanced, within the deeper obscurity of an opened
door but he had seen, in the shimmering, elusive light, her features,
gathered the unmistakable, intangible impression of her person.

"It's me, Gordon Makimmon," he said. He paused by the step, on which he
laid the trout, shining with sudden, liquid gleams of silver in the
moonlight.

"Oh!" she exclaimed in a low voice; "oh!" She moved forward,
materializing, out of the dark, into a figure of white youth. Her face was
pale, there were white ruffles on her neck, on her arms, her skirt clung
simply, whitely, about her knees and ankles.

"I stopped to see Sim," he explained further, "and took you for Mrs.
Caley. I reckoned I'd bring them some trout: I didn't know your father was
here."

"Won't you sit down. Mrs. Caley is sick, and Sim's on the mountain with
the cattle. Father isn't here."

He mounted to the portico, mentally formulating a way of speedy escape; he
thought, everywhere he turned Lettice Hollidew stood with her tiresome
smile. "I come out here every summer," she volunteered, sinking upon a
step, "and spend two weeks. I was born here you see, and," she added in a
stiller voice, "my mother died here. Father Merlier calls it my yearly
retreat."

"I'd be pleased if you'd take the fish," he remarked; "I guess I'd better
be moving--I've got to see the priest."

"Why, you haven't stopped a minute," she protested, "not long enough to
smoke one of your little cigarettes. Visitors are too scarce here to let
them go off like that."

At the implied suggestion he half-mechanically rolled a cigarette. The
chair he found was comfortable; he was very weary. He sat smoking and
indifferently studying Lettice Hollidew. She was, to-night, prettier than
he had remembered her. She was telling him, in a voice that rippled cool
and low like the stream, of Mrs. Caley's indisposition. Her face, now
turned toward the fields, was dipped in the dreaming radiance; now it was
blurred, vaguely appealing, disturbing. Her soft youth was creamy,
distilling an essence, a fragrance, like a flower; it was one with the
immaculate flood of light bathing the world in virginal beauty.

A new interest stirred within him, a satisfaction grew from her palpable
liking for him, and was reflected in the warmer tones of his replies; a
new pain ordered his comments. The situation, too, appealed to him; his
instinct responded to the obvious implications of the position in the
exact degree of his habit of mind. The familiar, professional gallantry
took possession of him, directing the sensuality to which he abandoned
himself.

He moved from the chair to the step by her side. Nearer she was more
appealing still; a lovely shadow dwelt at the base of her throat; the
simple dress took the soft curves of her girlish body, stirred with her
breathing. Her hands lay loosely in her lap, and the impulse seized him to
take them up, but he repressed it ... for the moment.

"I saw Buckley Simmons, yesterday," she informed him, "his face is nearly
well. He wanted to come out here, but I wouldn't let him. He wants to
marry me," she continued serenely; "I told him I didn't think I'd every
marry."

"But you will--some lucky, young man."

"I don't think I like young men, that is," she qualified carefully, "not
very young. I like men who are able to act ever so quickly, no matter what
occurs, and they must be terribly brave. I like them best if they have
been unfortunate; something in me wants to make up to them for--for any
loss," she paused, gazing at him with an elevated chin, serious lips,
intent eyes.

This, he told himself complacently, was but a description of himself, as
pointed as she dared to make it. "A man who had had trouble couldn't do
better than tell you about it," he assured her; "I have had a good lot of
trouble."

"Well, tell me," she moved toward him.

"Oh! you wouldn't care to hear about mine. I'm a sort of nobody at
present. I haven't anything in the world--no home, nothing in the whole
world. Even the little saving I had after the house was sold was--was
taken from me by sharpers."

"Tell me," she repeated, "more."

"When Valentine Simmons had sold my place, the place my grandfather built,
I had about a thousand dollars left, and I thought I would start a little
business with it, a ... a gun store,--I like guns,--here in Greenstream.
And I'd sharpen scythes, put sickles into condition, you know, things like
that. I went to Stenton with my capital in my pocket, looking for some
stock to open with, and met a man in a hotel who said he was the
representative of the Standard Hardware Company. He could let me have
everything necessary, he said, at a half of what others would charge. We
had dinner together, and he made a list of what I would need--files and
vises and parts of guns. If I mailed my cheque immediately I could get the
half off. He had cards, catalogues, references, from Richmond. I might
write there, but I'd lose time and money.

"None of the Makimmons have been good business men; we are not
distrustful. I sent the cheque to the address he said, made out to him for
the Standard Hardware Company, so that he would get the commission, the
credit of the sale." He drew a deep breath, gazing across the moonlit
fields. "The Makimmons are not distrustful," he reiterated; "he robbed me
of all my savings."

His lie would have fared badly with Pompey Hollidew, he thought grimly; it
was unconvincing, wordy; he was conscious that his assumed emotion rang
thinly. But its calculated effect was instantaneous, beyond all his hopes,
his plan.

Lettice leaned close to him with a sobbing inspiration of sympathy and
pity. "How terrible!" she cried in low tones; "you were so noble--" He
breathed heavily once more. "What a wicked, wicked man. Couldn't you get
anything back? did it all go?"

"All." His hand fell upon hers, and neither of them appeared to notice its
pressure. Her face was close to his, a tear gleamed on her young,
moon-blanched cheek. A sudden impatience seized him at her credulity, a
contempt at the ease with which she was victimized; the effort was almost
without spice. Still his grasp tightened upon her hand, drew it toward
him. "In Greenstream," he continued, "men don't like me, they are afraid
of me; but the women make me unhappy--they tell me their troubles; I don't
want them to, I keep away from them."

"I understand that," she declared eagerly, "I would tell you anything."

"You are different; I want you to tell me ... things. But the things I
want to hear may not come to you. I would never be satisfied with a
little. The Makimmons are all that way--everything or nothing."

She gently loosened her hand, and stood up, facing him. Her countenance,
turned to the light, shone like a white flame; it was tensely aquiver with
passionate earnestness, lambent with the flowering of her body, of dim
desire, the heritage of flesh. She spoke in a voice that startled Gordon
by its new depth, the brave thrill of its undertone.

"I could only give all," she said. "I am like that too. What do you wish
me to tell you? What can I say that will help you?"

"Ever since I first saw you going to the Stenton school," he hurried on,
"I have thought about you. I could hardly wait for the Christmas holidays,
to have you in the stage, or for the summer when you came home. Nobody
knows; it has been a secret ... it seemed so useless. You were like
a ... a star," he told her.

"How could I know?" she asked; "I was only a girl until--until
Buckley ... until to-night, now. But I can never be that again, something
has happened ... in my heart, something has gone, and come," her voice
grew shadowed, wistful. It carried to him, in an intangible manner, a
fleet warning, as though something immense, unguessed, august, uttered
through Lettice Hollidew the whisper of a magnificent and terrible menace.
He felt again as he had felt as a child before the vast mystery of night.
An impulse seized him to hurry away from the portico, from the youthful
figure at his side; a sudden, illogical fear chilled him. But he summoned
the hardihood, the skepticism, of his heart; he defied--while the sinking
within him persisted--not the girl, but the nameless force beyond, above,
about them. "You are like a star," he repeated, in forced tones.

He rose and stood before her. She swayed toward him like a flower bowed by
the wind. He put his arms around her, her head lay back, and he kissed the
smooth fullness of her throat. He kissed her lips.

The eternal, hapless cry of the whippoorwills throbbed on his hearing. The
moon slipped behind a corner of the house, and a wave of darkness swept
over them. Lettice began to tremble violently, and he led her back to
their place on the veranda's edge. She was silent, and clung to him with a
reluctant eagerness. He kissed her again and again, on a still mouth, but
soon her lips answered his desire. It grew constantly darker, the silvery
vistas shortened, grew blurred, trees merged into indistinguishable
gloom.

Lettice murmured a shy, unaccustomed endearment. Gordon was stereotyped,
commonplace; he was certain that even she must recognize the hollowness of
his protestations. But she never doubted him; she accepted the dull,
leaden note of his spurious passion for the clear ring of unalloyed and
fine gold.

Suddenly and unexpectedly she released herself from his arms. "Oh!" she
exclaimed, in conscience-stricken tones, "Mrs. Caley's medicine!
I--forgot; she should have had some long ago." He tried to catch her once
more in his embrace, restrain her. "It would be better not to wake her
up," he protested, "sleep's what sick folks need." But she continued to
evade him. Mrs. Caley must have her medicine. The doctor had said that it
was important. "It's my duty, Gordon," she told him, "and you would want
me to do that."

He stifled with difficulty an impatient exclamation. "Then will you come
back?" he queried. He took her once more close in his arms. "Come back,"
he whispered hotly in her ear.

"But, dear Gordon, it is so late."

"What does that matter? don't you love me? You said you were the sort of a
girl to give all; and now, because it is a little late, you are afraid.
What are you afraid of? Tell me that! You know I love you; we belong to
each other; what does it matter how late it is? Beside, no one will know,
no one is here to spy on us. Come back, my little girl ... my little
Lettice; come back to a lonely man with nothing else in the world but you.
I'll come in with you, wait inside."

"No," she sobbed, "wait ... here. I will see ... the medicine. Wait here
for me, I will come back. It doesn't matter how late it is, nothing
matters ... trust in you. Love makes everything good. Only you love me,
oh, truly?"

"Truly," he reassured her. "Don't be long; and, remember, shut Mrs.
Caley's door."

She left him abruptly, and, standing alone in the dark, he cursed himself
for a fool for letting her go--a boy's trick. But then the whole affair
did not desperately engage him. He sat in the comfortable chair, and lit a
cigarette, shielding it with his hand so that she would not see it,
recognize in its triviality his detachment. A wave of weariness swept over
him; the night was like a blanket on the land. Minutes passed without her
return; soon he would go in search of her; he would find her ... in the
dark house.... He shut his eyes for a moment, and opened them with an
effort. The whippoorwills never for a moment ceased their melancholy
calling; they seemed to draw nearer to him; then retreat, far away. His
head fell forward upon his breast.

Lettice Hollidew! little fool; but what was that beyond her, blacker than
night?

He stirred, sat up sharply, his eyes dazzled by a blaze of intolerable
brilliancy. It was the sun, a full two hours above the horizon. He had
slept through the night. His muscles were cramped, his neck ached
intolerably. He rose with a painful effort and something fell to the
floor. It was a rose, wilted, its fragrance fled. He realized that Lettice
had laid it on his knee, last night, when the bud had been fresh. He had
slept while she stood above him, while the rose had faded. On the step the
fish lay, no longer brightly colored, in a dull, stiff heap. The house was
still; through the open door the sun fell on a strip of rag rug. He turned
and hurried down the steps, unlatched the gate, and almost ran across the
fields to the cover of a wood, fleeing from an unsupportably humiliating
vision.



XXV


He made his way to where Greenstream village lay somnolent beneath the
refulgent day. The chairs before the office of the _Bugle_ were
unoccupied, from within came the monotonous, sliding rattle of the small
footpress. Gordon sat absently revolving the possibilities held out by the
near future. Hay, he knew was still being made in the valley, but the
prospect of long, arduous, days in the open fields, in the hot, dry chaff
of the sere grass, was forbidding. He might take his gun and a few
personal necessities and disappear into such wild as yet remained,
contracting steadily before the inexorable, smooth advance of
civilization. He was aware that he could manage a degree of comfort,
adequate food. But the thoughtless resiliency of sheer youth had deserted
him, the desire for mere, picturesque adventure had fled during the past,
comfortable years. He dismissed contemptuously the possibility of clerking
in a local store. There was that still in the Makimmon blood which balked
at measuring ribbands, selling calico to captious women.

The large, suave figure of the Universalist minister, in grey alpaca coat
and black trousers, approached leisurely over the street, and stopped
before Gordon. The minister had a conspicuously well-fed paunch, his
smooth face expressed placid self-approval, his tones never for a moment
lost the unctuous echo of the pulpiteer.

"You have not worshipped with us lately," he observed. "Remiss, remiss.
Our services have been stirring--three souls redeemed from everlasting
torment at the Wednesday meeting, two adults and a child sealed to Christ
on Sunday."

"I'll drop in," Gordon told him pacifically.

"A casual phrase to apply to the Mansion of the Son," the minister
observed, "more humility would become you.... God, I pray Thee that Thy
fire descend upon this unhappy man and consume utterly away his carnal
envelope. What are you doing?" he demanded abruptly of Gordon.

"Nothing particular just now."

"There are some small occupations about the parsonage--a board or so loose
on the ice house, a small field of provender for the animal. Let us say a
week's employment for a ready man. I could pay but a modest
stipend ... but the privilege of my home, the close communion with our
Maker. You would be as my brother: what do you say?"

Gordon was well aware of the probable extent of the "small occupations,"
the minister's reputation for exacting monumental labors in return for the
"modest stipend" mentioned. However, the proposal furnished Gordon with a
solution for immediate difficulties; it secured him a bed and food, an
opportunity for the maturing of further plans.

He rose, queried, "Shall I go right along?"

"Admirable," the other approved. "My beloved helpmate will show you where
the tools are kept, when you can begin immediately."

Gordon made his way past Simmons' store to the plaster bulk of the
Universalist Church, its lawn shared by the four-square, shingled roof of
the parsonage. Back of both structures reached a small field of heavy
grass, where Gordon labored for the remainder of the day.

Late in the afternoon an aged, gaunt man drove an incongruous, two
wheeled, breaking cart into the stable yard behind the parsonage. After
hitching an aged, gaunt white horse, he approached the field's edge, where
Gordon was harvesting. It was the minister's father-in-law, himself a
clergyman for the half century past, a half century that stretched back
into strenuous, bygone days of circuit riding. His flowing hair and a
ragged goatee were white, oddly stained and dappled with lemon yellow, his
skin was leather-like from years of exposure to the elements, to the
bitter mountain winters, the ruthless suns of the August valleys. He was
as seasoned, as tough, as choice old hickory, and had pale, blue eyes in
which the flame of religious fervor, of incandescent zeal, were scarcely
dimmed.

A long supper table was spread in a room where a sideboard supported a
huge silver-plated pitcher swung on elaborately engraved supports, a dozen
blue glasses traced with gold, and a plate that pictured in a grey,
blurred fashion the Last Supper. The gathering ranged variously from the
aged circuit rider to the minister's next but one to the youngest: he had
fourteen children, of which nine were ravenously present. The oldest girl
at the table, a possible sixteen years, had this defiant detachment under
her immediate charge, acquitting herself notably by a constant stream of
sharp negations opposed to a varied clamor of proposals, attempted forages
upon the heaped plates, sly reprisals, and a sustained, hysterical note
which threatened at any time, and in any youthful individual, to burst
into angry wails.

Opposite Gordon Makimmon sat a slight, feminine figure, whom he recognized
as the teacher of the past season's local school. She had a pallid face,
which she rarely raised, compressed lips, and hands which attracted Gordon
by reason of their white deftness, the precise charm of their pointed
fingers. During a seemingly interminable grace, pronounced in a rapid
sing-song by the circuit rider, Gordon saw her flash her gaze about the
table, the room; and its somber, resentful fire, its restrained fury of
impatience, of disdain, of hatred, coming from that fragile, silent shape,
startled him.

The Universalist minister addressed the company in sonorous periods,
which, however, did not prevent him from assimilating a prodigious amount
of food. Between forkfuls of chicken baked in macaroni, "I rejoice that my
ministrations are acceptable to Him," he pronounced; "three souls
Wednesday last, two adults and a child on Sunday."

The aged evangelist could scarcely contain his contempt at this meager
tally. "What would you say, Augustus," he demanded in eager, tremulous
triumph, "to two hundred lost souls roaring up to the altar, casting off
their wickedness like snakes shed their skins? Hey? Hey? What would you
say to two hundred dipped in the blood of the lamb and emerging white as
the Dove? Souls ain't what they were," he muttered pessimistically; "it
used to be you could hear the Redeemed a spell of miles from the church,
now they're as confidential as a man borrowing money. The Lord will in no
wise acknowledge the faint in spirit." Suddenly, "Glory! Glory!" he
shouted, and his old eyes flamed with the inextinguishable blaze of his
enthusiasm.

The minister's wife inserted in the door from the kitchen a face bright
red from bending over the stove. "Now, pa," she admonished, "you'll scare
them children again."



XXVI


The "board or so" to be replaced on the ice house, as Gordon had surmised,
proved to be extensive--a large section of the inner wall had rotted from
the constant dampness, the slowly seeping water. The ice house stood back
of the dwelling, by the side of the small barn and beyond a number of
apple trees: it was a square structure of boards, with no opening save a
low door under the peak of the roof with a small platform and exterior
flight of steps.

In the gloomy, dank interior a rough ladder, fastened to the wall, led
down to the falling level of soggy sawdust, embedded in which the
irregular pieces of ice were preserved against the summer. From the
interior the opening made a vivid square of blue sky; for long hours the
blue increased in brilliancy, after which, veiled in a greyer haze of
heat, the patch of sky grew gradually paler, and then clear; the
suggestion of immeasurable space deepened; above the dark hole of the ice
house the illimitable distance was appalling. Gordon was resting from the
sullen, muffled knocking of his hammer when a figure suddenly blotted out
the light, hid the sky. He recognized the sharply-cut silhouette of the
school-teacher.

"What a horrid, spooky place," she spoke with a shiver, peering within.

"It's cool," Gordon told her indifferently.

"And quiet," she added, seating herself upon the platform with an elbow in
the opening; "there's none of the bothersome clatter of a lot of
detestable children." She raised her voice in shrill mimicry, "'Teacher,
kin I be excused? Teacher!... Teacher--!'"

"Don't you like children?"

"I loathe them," she shot at him, out of the depths of a profound,
long-accumulated exasperation; "the muddy little beasts."

"Then I wouldn't be vexed with them."

"Do you like nailing boards in a rotten ice house?"

"Oh, I'm dog poor; I've got to take anything that comes along."

"And, you fool, do you suppose I'd be here if I had anything at all? Do
you suppose I'd stay in this damn lost hole if I could get anywhere else?
Do you think I have no more possibilities than this?"

He mounted the ladder, and emerged upon the platform by her side, where he
found a place, a minute, for a cigarette.

The woman's face was bitter, her body tense.

"I'll grow old and die in places like this," she continued passionately;
"I'll grow old and die in pokey, little schools, and wear prim calico
dresses, with a remade old white mull for commencements. I'll never hear
anything but twice two, and Persia is bounded on the north by,--with all
the world beyond, Paris and London and Egypt, for the lucky. I want to
live," she cried to Gordon Makimmon, idly curious, to the still branches
of the apple trees, the vista of village half-hid in dusty foliage. "I
want to see things, things different, not these dumb, depressing
mountains. I want to see life!"

Gordon had a swift memory of a city street grey in a reddening flood of
dawn, of his own voice in a reddening flood of dawn, of his own voice
mumbling out of an overwhelming, nauseous desperation that same
determination, desire. "Perhaps," he ventured, "you wouldn't think so much
of it when you'd seen it."

"Wouldn't I?" she exclaimed; "oh, wouldn't I?--smart crowds and gay
streets and shops on fire with jewels. That's where I belong; I'd show
them; I've got a style, if I only had a chance! I've got a
figure ... shoulders."

He appraised in a veiled glance her physical pretensions. He discovered,
to his surprise, that she had "shoulders"; her body resembled her hands,
it was smoothly rounded, provocative; its graceful proportion deceived
the casual eye.

With a disdainful motion she kicked off a heavily clumsy slipper--her
instep arched narrowly to a delicate ankle, the small heel was sharply
cut. "In silk," she said, "and a little brocaded slipper, you would see."
She replaced the inadequate thing of leather. The animation died from her
countenance, she surveyed him with cold eyes, narrowed lips. Her gaze, he
felt, included him in the immediate, hateful scene; she gained fresh
repugnance from his stained, collarless shirt, his bagging knees coated
with sawdust.

She rose, and, her skirt gathered in one hand, descended the precarious
flight of steps. She crossed the grass slowly, her head bent, her hands
tightly clenched.

Later, in the yard, Gordon saw, at a lighted, upper window, the silhouette
of her back, a gleam of white arm. The window cast an elongated rectangle
of warm light on the blue gloom of the grass. It illuminated him, with his
gaze lifted; and, while, standing in the open window, she saw him clearly,
she was as indifferent, as contemptuous of his presence, as though he had
been an animal. A film of cambric, golden in the lamplight, settled about
her smooth shoulders, fell in long diaphanous lines. She raised her arms
to her head, her hair slid darkly across her face, and she turned and
disappeared. He moved away, but the memory rankled delicately in his
imagination, returned the following morning. The thought lingered of that
body, as fine as ivory, unguessed, hidden, in a coarse sheath.



XXVII


His miscellaneous labors at the minister's filled nearly a week of
unremitting labor. But, upon the advent of Sunday, mundane affairs were
suspended in the general confusion of preparation for church. It had
rained during the night, the day was cool and fragrant and clear, and
Gordon determined to evade the morning's services, and plunge aimlessly
into the pleasant fields. He kept in the background until the cavalcade
had started, headed by the minister--the circuit rider had driven off
earlier in his cart to an outlying chapel--and his wife. It was inviting
on the deserted veranda, and Gordon lingered while the village emptied
into the churches, the open.

Finally he sauntered over the street, past the Courthouse, by Pompey
Hollidew's residence. It was, unlike the surrounding dwellings, built of
brick; there was no porch, only three stone steps descending from the main
entrance, and no flowers. The path was overgrown with weeds, the front
shutters were indifferently flung back, half opened, closed. The door
stood wide open, and, as he passed, Gordon gathered the impression of a
dark heap on the hall floor. He dismissed an idle curiosity; and then, for
no discoverable reason, halted, turned back, for a second glance.

Even from the path he saw extending from the heap an arm, a gnarled hand.
It was Pompey Hollidew himself, cold, still, on the floor. Gordon entered,
looking outside for assistance: no one was in sight. Pompey Hollidew wore
the familiar, greenish-black coat, the thread-bare trousers and faded,
yellow shirt. The battered derby had rolled a short distance across the
floor. The dead man's face was a congested, olive shade, with purple
smudges beneath the up-rolled eyes, and lips like dried leaves. His end,
it was apparent, had been as sudden as it was natural.

Old Pompey ... dead! Gordon straightened up. Simultaneously two ideas
flashed into his mind--Lettice and Hollidew's gold. Then they grew
coherent, explicable. Lettice and the gold were one; she was the gold, the
gold was Lettice. He recalled now, appositely, what Bartamon had told him
but a few days before ... Hollidew would consent to make no will; there
were no other children. The money would automatically go, principally, to
Lettice, without question or contest. If he had but considered before,
acted with ordinary sense ... the girl had been in love with him; he
might have had it all. He gazed cautiously, but with no determined plan of
action, out over the street--it lay deserted in the ambient sunlight.

He quickly left the house, the old man sprawling grotesquely across the
bare hall, forcing himself to walk with an assumed, deliberate ease over
the plank walk, past Simmons' corner. As he progressed a plan formulated
in his mind, a plan obvious, promising immediate, practicable
results ... Lettice had told him that she would remain for two weeks at
the farm. It was evident that she was still there. His gait quickened; if
he could reach her now, before any one else.... He wished that he had
closed the door upon the old man's body; any one passing as he had passed
could see the corpse; a wagon would be sent for the girl.

He commenced, outside the village, to run, pounding over the dusty way
with long-drawn, painful gasps, his chest oppressed by the now
unaccustomed exercise, the rapid motion. When he came in sight of the
farmhouse that was his objective, he stopped and endeavored to remove all
traces of his haste; he rubbed off his shoes, fingered his necktie, mopped
his brow.

There was a woman on the porch; it proved to be Mrs. Caley, folded in a
shawl, pale and gaunt. Suddenly the possibility occurred to him that
Lettice had driven into church. But she was in the garden patch beyond,
Mrs. Caley said. Gordon strolled around the corner of the house as
hastily, as slowly, as he dared.

He saw her immediately. She wore a blue linen skirt, a white waist, and
her sleeves were rolled up. The sun glinted on her uncovered hair, blazed
in the bright tin basin into which she was dropping scarlet peppers. She
appeared younger than he had remembered her; her arms were youthful and
softly dimpled; her brow seemed again the calm, guileless brow of a girl;
her eyes, as she raised them in greeting, were serene.

"I wanted to explain to you," he began obliquely, "about that--that
falling asleep. It's been worrying me. You see, I hadn't had any rest for
three or four nights, I had been bothering about my affairs, and about
something more important still."

Bean poles, covered with bright green verdure, made a background of young
summer for her own promise of early maturity. She placed the basin on the
ground, and stood with her arms hanging loosely, gazing at him
expectantly, frankly.

"The most important thing in my life," he added, then paused. "I thought
for a while that I had better go away without saying anything to you, and
more particularly since I have lost everything." He could hear, coming
over the road, the regular hoof-beats of a trotting horse, and he had the
feeling that it must be a messenger from the village, dispatched in
search of Lettice with the news of her father's death. For a moment the
horse seemed to be stopping; he was afraid that his opportunity had been
lost; but, after all, the hoof-beats passed, diminished over the road.
Then, "Since I have lost everything," he repeated.

"Please tell me more," she demanded, "I don't understand--"

"But," he continued, in the manner he had hastily adopted, "when the time
came I couldn't; I couldn't go away and leave you. I thought, perhaps, you
might be different from others; I thought, perhaps, you might like a man
for what he was, and not for what he had. I would come to you, I decided,
and tell you all this, tell you that I could work, yes, and would, and
make enough--" He paused in order to observe the effect of his speech upon
her. She was gazing clear-eyed at him, in a sort of shining expectancy, a
grave, eager comprehension, appealing, incongruous, to her girlhood.

"But why?" she queried.

"Because I'm in love with you: I want to marry you."

Her gaze did not falter, but her color changed swiftly, a rosy tide swept
over her cheeks, and died away, leaving her pale. Her lips trembled. A
palpable, radiant content settled upon her.

"Thank you," she told him seriously; "it will make me very happy to marry
you, Gordon."

With a fleeting, backward glance he moved closer to her, his arm fell
about her waist, he pressed a hasty, ill-directed kiss upon her chin.
"Will you marry me now?" he asked eagerly. "You see, others wouldn't
understand, you remember what your father said about the Makimmon breed?
They would repeat that I had nothing, or even that I was marrying you for
old Pompey's money. You know better than that, you know he wouldn't give
us a penny."

"It wouldn't matter now what any one said," she returned serenely.

"But it would be so much easier--we could slip off quietly somewhere, and
come back married, all the fuss avoided, all the say so's and say no's
shut up right at the beginning."

"When do you want to be--be married?"

"Right away! now! to-day!"

"Oh ... oh, Gordon, but we couldn't! I haven't even a white dress here. I
might go into Greenstream, be ready to-morrow--"

"No, no, no, I'm afraid it must be now or never; something would take you
from me. I knew it, I was afraid of it, from the first ... I'll shoot
myself."

She started toward him in an excess of tender pity. "Do you care as much
as that?" She laid her palms upon his shoulders, lifting her face to his:
"Then we will do what you say, we will go, yes, we will go immediately.
You can hitch up the buggy, while I get a little thing or two. I have my
beads, and the bracelets that were mother's ... I wish my white organdie
was here. You mustn't think I'm silly! You see--marriage, for a girl ... I
thought it would all be so different. But, Gordon dear, we won't let you
be unhappy."

He wished silently to God that she would get the stuff in the house, that
they would get started. At any minute now word would come of the old man's
death, there would be delay, Lettice would learn that he had lied again
and again to her. With a gesture of impatience he dislodged her hands from
his shoulders. "Where's Sim?" he demanded.

"In the long field. I'll show you the stable; it won't take me a minute to
get ready."

He hitched, in an incredibly short space of time, a tall, ungainly roan
horse into the buggy; his practised hands connected the straps, settled
the headstall, the collar, as if by magic. He stood in a fever of
uneasiness at the harnessed head. Lettice was longer than she had
indicated.

When, at last, she appeared, she carried a neatly pinned paper bundle, and
a fragrant mass of hastily pulled roses. Bright blue glass beads hung over
the soft contours of her virginal breasts, the bracelets that had been
her mother's--enamelled in black on old, reddish gold--encircled her
smooth wrists.

He would have hurried her at once into the buggy, but she stopped him, and
stood facing him with level, solemn eyes:

"I give myself to you, Gordon," she said, "gladly and gladly, and I will
go wherever you go, and try all my life to be what you would like." As she
repeated her simple words, erect and brave, with her arms filled with
roses, for a fleeting second he was again conscious of the vague menace
that had towered darkly at her back on the night when she had laid in his
grasp that other rose ... the rose that had faded.

"Let's get along," he urged. The whip swung out across the roan's ears,
and the horse started forward with a vicious rush. The dewy fragrance of
the flowers trailed out behind the buggy, mingling with the swirling dust,
then both settled into the empty road, under the burning brightness of the
sun, the insensate beauty of the azure sky.



TWO

I


In the clear glow of a lengthening twilight of spring Gordon Makimmon
sauntered into Simmons' store. The high, dusty windows facing the
Courthouse were raised, and a warm air drifted in, faint eddies of the
fragrance of flowering bushes, languorous draughts of a countryside newly
green.

A number of men idling over a counter greeted him with a familiar and
instantly alert curiosity. The clerk behind the counter bent forward with
the brisk assumption of a business-like air. "Certainly," Gordon replied
to his query, pausing to allow his purpose to gain its full effect; "I
want to order a suit of clothes."

"Why, damn it t'ell, Gord!" exclaimed an individual, with a long, drooping
nose, a jaw which hung loosely on a corded, bare throat; "it ain't three
weeks ago but you got a suit, and it ain't the one you have on now,
neither."

"Shut up, Tol'able," Buckley Simmons interposed, "you'll hurt trade.
Gordon's the Dandy Dick of Greenstream."

"Haven't I a right to as many suits of clothes as I've a mind to?" Gordon
demanded belligerently.

"Sure you have, Gord. You certainly have," a pacific chorus replied.

"I want one like the last drummer wore through here," he continued; "a
check suit with braid on all the edges."

The clerk dropped a bulky volume heavily on the counter. "The Chicago
Sartorial Company," he asserted, "have got some swell checks." He ran
hastily over the pages, each with a sample rectangle of cloth pasted
within a printed gold border, and a cabalistic sign beneath. Finally,
"How's that?" he demanded, indicating a bold, mathematical design in pale
orange, blue and grey.

A combined whistle rose from the onlookers; comments of mock amazement
crowded one upon another. "Jin ... go! He's got the wrong book--that's rag
carpet. Don't look at it too long, Gord, it'll cross your eyes. That ain't
a suit, it's a game." A gaunt hand solemnly shook out imaginary dice upon
the counter, "It's my move and I can jump you."

"Gentlemen! gentlemen!" the clerk protested; "this is the finest article
woven, the very toniest."

Gordon dismissed the sample with a gesture. "I'm a man," he pronounced,
"not a minstrel." His attention was held by a smaller pattern, in black
and white, with an occasional red thread drawn through. "That's it," he
decided; "that's it, with braid. What will that damage me?"

The clerk consulted the sign appended to the sample, then raced through a
smaller, supplementary volume, where he located the item in question.
"That cloth you picked out," he announced importantly, "is one of the best
the Chicago Sartorial Company put out. Cut ample, with sleeves lined in
silkaleen and back in A1 mohair, it'll stand you thirty-eight dollars.
Genuine Eytalian thread silk lining will come at four and a half more."

"She'll do," Gordon told him, "with the silk and the braid edge."

The clerk noted the order; then with a tape measure affixed to a slim,
wooden angle, came from behind the counter. "Remove the coat, please."

Gordon, with a patent self-consciousness, took off his coat, revealing a
flimsy white silk shirt striped like a child's stick of candy in vivid
green.

The whistle arose with renewed force; gnarled and blackened fingers
gingerly felt the shirt's texture. "Man dear! The lily of Lebanon. Arrayed
like a regular prostitute ... silk shirt tails."

The clerk skilfully conducted a series of measurements, noting results on
a printed form; outer and inner seams were tallied, chest and thigh and
knee recorded, the elbow crooked. "Don't forget his teeth," the clerk was
admonished; "remember the braid on the pants."

Gordon resumed his coat, the clerk returned the books to their shelf, and
the factitious excitement subsided. The light faded, the depths of the
store swam in blue obscurity, but the fragrance of the spring dusk had
deepened.

"When are you going to get the dog, Gord?" Tol'able asked.

"What dog?" another interposed curiously.

"Why, ain't you heard about Gord's dog," the chorus demanded. "Where have
you been--up with the Dutch on the South Fork? Gord's got a dog coming he
give two hundred dollars for. Yes, sir, he paid for a dog, he give real
money for a four-legged, yelping wire-hound. It ain't a rabbit dog, nor a
sheep dog, nor even a bull-dog; but just plain, stinking dog."

"Ah, he did like hell, give two hundred for a dog!"

"Yes, he did. That's right, didn't you, Gord? Two hundred! I saw the
cheque. God dam' if he didn't!"

Gordon admitted the facts as far as they had been stated. "But this dog,"
he explained, "is different from the just happen so hounds around here.
This dog has got a pedigree, his parents were united by the church all
regular and highly fashionable. He ain't expected to run rabbits nor mangy
sheep; he just sits on the stoop eating sausages and syrup, and takes a
leg off any low down parties that visit with him without a collar on.
He'll be on the Stenton stage this evening," he added. "I got word last
night he was coming."

They lounged to the entrance of the store, gazing over the still road, in
the direction from which the stage would arrive. Valentine Simmons was in
his office; and, as Gordon passed, he knocked on the glass of the
enclosure, and beckoned the other to enter.

He greeted Gordon Makimmon cordially, waving him to a seat. Valentine
Simmons never, apparently, changed; his countenance was always freshly
pink, the tufts of hair above his ears like combed lamb's wool; his shirt
with its single, visible blue button never lacked its immaculate gloss.

"You're looking as jaunty as a man should with the choice of the land
before him. Lucky! lucky! charming little wife, large fortune at your
disposal.... Pompey left one of the solidest estates in this section.
Opportune for you, very ... miraculous, if I may say so. But there, you
ornament the money as well as any other. You are right too--a free hand;
yours is the time for liberality, no cares--they come later. Ah, Gordon,
have you examined the details of your late father-in-law's property? Have
you searched through all the items, made yourself familiar with all
the--er, petty and laborious details?"

"No, not just yet, I have been intending--"

Simmons stopped him with an upraised palm. "No more, I understand your
thought exactly. It's a tiresome business. Yours is the time for
liberality, no cares. However, I had a slight knowledge of Pompey
Hollidew's arrangements. He was accustomed to discussing them with me. He
liked my judgment in certain little matters; and, in that way, I got a
general idea of his enterprises. He was a great hand for timber, your
father-in-law; against weighty advice at the time of his death he was
buying timber options here and there in the valley. Though what he wanted
with them ... beyond ordinary foresight.--No transportation, you see; no
railroad nor way of getting lumber out. But then, he had some visionary
scheme or other. He held some thousand acres, most of it bought at a
nominal figure. No good to anybody now; but I have got the timber fever
myself--something may turn up in the far future, perhaps in another
generation.... What would you say to a flat eight dollars an acre for the
options, the money banked right to your credit? A neat little sum for
current pleasures. Ah--" in spite of himself, Valentine Simmons became
grave at the contemplation of the amount involved. "I don't say I would
take all, but the best, certainly the greater part."

"Why, I don't know," Gordon spoke slowly from an old-time suspicion of the
other. "It's my wife's property."

"But such a dutiful little wife--the husband's word. Remember, the money
in your hand."

"It certainly sounds all right. Lettice would have the cash to show. I'll
speak to her."

"Better not delay. There are other options; owners are glad to sell. I
have given you the privilege first--old friend, old Presbyterian friend.
The time is necessarily limited."

As he mentally revolved the proposal Gordon could find no palpable
objection: the options, the timber, was obviously standing fallow, with no
means of transportation to a market, in exchange for ready money. Lettice
would easily see the sense in the deal; besides, he had brought in her
name only for form's sake--he, Gordon Makimmon, held the deciding vote in
the affairs of his home.

"I don't rightly see anything against it," he admitted finally.

"Good!" Simmons declared with satisfaction; "an able man, you can see as
far as the next through a transaction. I'll have the county clerk go over
the options, bring you the result in a couple of weeks. Don't disturb
yourself; yours is the time for pleasures, not papers."

"Hey, Gord!" a voice called thinly from without; "here's your dog."

Gordon rose and made his way to the platform before the store, where the
Stenton stage had stopped. A seat had been removed from the surrey, its
place taken by a large box with a square opening, covered with heavy wire
net at one end, and a board fitted movably in grooves at the other. There
were mutters incredulous, ironic, from the awaiting group of men; envy was
perceptible, bitterness "... for a dog. Two hundred! Old Pompey hollered
out of the dirt."

"There he is, Gord," the driver proclaimed; "and fetching that dog
palace'll cost you seventy-five cents." The box was shifted to the
platform; and, while Gordon unfastened the slide, the men gathered in a
curious, mocking circle.

The slide was raised, the box sharply tilted, and a grotesquely clumsy and
grave young dog slid out. There was a hoarse uproar of gibing laughter,
backs and knees were slapped, heavy feet stamped. The dog stood puzzled by
the tumult: he had a long, square, shaggy head, the color of ripe wheat;
clear, dark eyes and powerful jaw; his body was narrow, covered with
straight, wiry black hair; a short tail was half raised, tentative; and
his wheat colored legs were ludicrously, inappropriately, long and
heavy.

He stood patiently awaiting, evidently, some familiar note, some
reassuring command, in that unintelligible human clamor. Gordon regarded
him through half-closed, indifferent eyes. "Here, doggy," a hoarse,
persuasive voice called; a hand was stretched out to him. But, as he
reached it, "Two hundred dollars!" the voice exclaimed, and the hand gave
the animal a quick, unexpected thrust. The dog sprawled back, and fell on
the point of his shoulder. He rose swiftly to his feet without a whimper,
standing once more at a loss in the midst of the inexplicable animosity.
He watched them all intently, with wrinkles in his serious young brow.
When, from behind, another hand thrust him sharply upon his jaw, he rose
as quickly as possible, swaying a little upon the inappropriate legs.
Another suddenly knocked his hind legs from under him, and he sat heavily
upon his haunches. The laughter ran renewed about the circle.

The sum of money that had been expended upon that single dog--a dog even
that could neither hunt rabbits nor herd sheep--had, it appeared,
engendered a bitter animosity, a personal spite, in the hearts of the men
on the store platform. They were men to whom two hundred dollars was the
symbol of arduous months of toil, endless days of precariously rewarded
labor with the stubborn, inimical forces of nature, with swamp and rock
and thicket. Two hundred dollars! It was the price of a roof, of health,
of life itself.

A hard palm swung upon the dog's ribs, and, in instant response, he fell
upon his side. He rose more slowly; stood isolated, obviously troubled. He
drew back stumbling from a menacing gesture; but there was no cringing
visible in his immature, ill-proportioned body; his tail drooped, but from
weariness, discouragement; his head was level; his eyes met the circle of
eyes about him.

Gordon took no part in the baiting; he lit a cigar, snapped the match over
his shoulder, carelessly watched his newest acquisition. A heavy,
wooden-soled shoe shoved the dog forward. And Buckley Simmons, in an
obvious improvement upon that manoeuver, kicked the animal behind the ear.
The forelegs rose with the impact of the blow, and the body struck full
length upon the platform, where it lay dazed. But, finally, the dog got up
insecurely, wabbling; a dark blot spread slowly across the straw-colored
head.

No one, it was evident, was prepared for the sudden knifelike menace of
Gordon Makimmon's voice as he bent over the dog and wiped the blood upon
his sleeve.

"Kick him again, Buck," he said; "kick him again and see how funny it'll
be."

"Why, Gordon," Buckley Simmons protested, "we were all stirring him up a
little; you didn't say anything--"

Makimmon picked the dog up, holding him against his side, the awkward legs
streaming down in an uncomfortable confusion of joints and paws. "I paid
two hundred dollars for this dog," he pronounced, "as a piece of dam'
foolishness, a sort of drunken joke on Greenstream. But it's no joke; the
two hundred was cheap. I've seen a lot of good men--I'm not exactly a
peafowl myself--but this young dog's better'n any man I ever stood up to;
he's got more guts."

He abruptly turned his back upon the gathering, and descended to the road,
carrying the limp, warm body all the way home.



II


It was his own home to which he returned, the original dwelling of the
Makimmons in Greenstream. He could not, he had told Lettice, be
comfortable anywhere else; he could not be content with it closed against
the living sound of the stream, or in strange hands. Some changes had been
made since his marriage--another space had been enclosed beyond the
kitchen, a chamber occupied by Sim Caley and his wife, moved from the
outlying farm where Lettice had spent her weeks of "retreat" throughout
the passing summers. The exterior had been painted leaden-grey, and a shed
transformed into a small, serviceable stable. But the immediate
surroundings were the same: the primitive sweep still rose from the well,
a cow still grazed in the dank grass; the stream slipped by, mirroring its
stable banks, the foliage inexhaustibly replenished by nature; beyond the
narrow valley the mountain range shut out the rising sun, closed
Greenstream into its deep, verdurous gorge.

High above, the veil of light was still rosy, but it was dusk about Gordon
Makimmon's dwelling. Lettice, in white, with a dark shawl drawn about her
shoulders, was standing on the porch. She spoke in a strain of querulous
sweetness:

"Gordon, you've been the longest while. Mrs. Caley says your supper's all
spoiled. You know she likes to get the table cleared right early in the
evening."

"Is Mrs. Caley to have her say in this house or am I? That's what I want
to know. Am I to eat so's she can clear the table, or is she to clear the
table when I have had my supper?"

"When it suits you, Gordon, of course. Oh, Gordon! whatever are you
carrying?"

"A dog!"

"I didn't know you wanted a dog." An accent of doubt crept into her voice,
a hesitation. "I don't know if I want a dog around ... just now, Gordon."

"He won't do any harm; he's only a young dog, anyhow. Ain't you a young
dog, a regular puppy? But, Lettice, he's got the grit of General Jackson;
he stood right up against the crowd at the store."

"Still, Gordon, right now--"

"I told you he wouldn't do any harm," the man repeated in irritated tones;
"he will be with me most of the time, and not around the house. You're
getting too cranky for living, Lettice." He set the dog upon his feet.
"What I'll call him I don't know; he's as gritty as--why, yes, I do, I'll
call him General Jackson. C'm here, General."

The dog still wavered slightly. He stood intently regarding Gordon. "Here,
here, General Jackson." After another long scrutiny he walked slowly up to
Gordon, raised his head toward the man's countenance. Gordon Makimmon was
delighted. "That's a smart dog!" he exclaimed; "smarter'n half the people
I know. He's got to have something to eat. Lettice, will you tell Mrs.
Caley to give General something to eat, and nothing's too good for him,
either."

Lettice walked to the door of the kitchen and transmitted Gordon's request
to the invisible Mrs. Caley. The latter appeared after a moment and stood
gazing somberly at the man and dog. She was a tall, ungainly woman, with a
flat, sexless body and a deeply-lined face almost the color of her own
salt-raised bread. "This is General Jackson," Gordon explained out of the
settling dark; "he'd thank you for a panful of supper. Come on, General,
come on in the kitchen. No, Mrs. Caley won't bite you; she'll give us
something to eat."

The room next to the kitchen, that had been Clare's, had been stripped of
its furnishing, and a glistening yellow pine table set in the middle, with
six painted wood chairs. The table was perpetually spread on a fringed red
or blue cloth; the center occupied by a large silver-plated castor, its
various rings filled with differently shaped bottles and shakers. At the
end where Lettice sat heavy white cups and saucers were piled; at Gordon's
place a knife and fork were propped up on their guards. On either side
were the plates of Simeon and Mrs. Caley. Each place boasted a knife and
formidable steel fork--the spoons were assembled in a glass
receptacle--and a napkin thrust into a ring of plaited hair plainly marked
with the sign of the respective owner.

Mrs. Caley silently put before Gordon a pinkish loin of pork, boiled
potatoes and a bowl of purple, swimming huckleberries; this she fortified
by a vessel of gravy and section of pie. There was tea. "Where's Lettice?"
Gordon demanded. Apparently Mrs. Caley had not heard him. "Lettice," he
raised his voice; "here's supper."

"I don't want anything to eat, thank you, Gordon," she returned from
another room.

"You ought to eat," he called back, attacking the pork. Then he muttered,
"--full of ideas and airs. Soft."



III


Beyond the dining room was their bedroom, and beyond that a chamber which,
for years in a state of deserted, semi-ruin, Gordon had had newly floored
and rendered weather-proof, and now used as a place of assemblage. He
found Lettice there when he had finished supper.

She was sitting beside a small table which held a lighted lamp with a
shade of minute, woven pieces of various silks. Behind her was a cottage
organ, a mass of fretted woodwork; a wall pierced by a window was
ornamented by a framed photograph of a woman dead and in her coffin. The
photograph had faded to a silvery monotony, but the details of the rigid,
unnatural countenance, the fixed staring eyes, were still clear. Redly
varnished chairs with green plush cushions and elaborate, thread
antimacassars, a second table ranged against the wall, bearing a stout
volume entitled "A Cloud of Witnesses," and a cheap phonograph, completed
the furnishing.

It was warm without, but Lettice had shut the window, the shawl was still
about her shoulders. She was sewing upon a small piece of white material.

"Here, General, here," Gordon commanded, and the dog followed him
seriously into the room. "Pat him, Lettice, so's he'll get to know you,"
he urged.

"I don't think I want to," she began; but, at her husband's obvious
impatience, she experimented doubtfully, "Here, puppy."

"Can't you call him by his name?" he interrupted. "How ever'll he come to
know it?"

"I don't want to call him at all," she protested, a little wildly. "I
don't like him to-night; perhaps to-morrow I will feel different."

"Well, do or don't, that dog's a part of the house, and I don't want to
hear Mrs. Caley say this or that about it, neither."

"Mrs. Caley isn't as bad as you make her out; it's me she's thinking about
most of the time. I tell her men are not like women, they never think
about the little things we do. Father was like that ... you are too.
That's all the men I have known." Her voice trailed off into an abrupt
silence, she sat staring into the room with the needlework forgotten in
her hand.

Gordon turned to the dog, playing with him, pulling his ears. General
Jackson, in remonstrance, softly bit Gordon's hand. "That's a dandy dog.
Making yourself right at home, hey! Biting right back, are you! Let me
feel your teeth, phew--"

"Gordon," Lettice exclaimed suddenly in a throaty voice, "I'm afraid....
Tell me it will be all right, Gordon."

He looked up from the dog, startled by the unaccustomed vibration of her
tones. "Of course it will be all right," he reassured her hastily, making
an effort to keep his impatience from his voice; "I never guessed you were
so easy scared."

"I'll try not," she returned obediently. "Mrs. Caley says it will be all
right, too." She seemed, he thought, even younger than when he had married
her. She was absurdly girlish. It annoyed him; it seemed, unjustly, to
place too great a demand upon his forbearance, his patience. A wife should
be able to give and take--this was almost like having a child to tend.
Lately she had been frightened even at the dark, she had wakened him over
nothing at all, fancies.

He decided to pay no further attention to her imagining; and moved to the
phonograph, where he selected one of a small number of waxy cylinders.
"We'll see how the General likes music," he proclaimed. He slipped the
cylinder over a projection, and wound the mechanism. A sharp, high
scratching responded, as painful as a pin dragging over the ear drum, a
meaningless cacophony of sounds that gradually resolved into a thin,
incredibly metallic melody which appeared, mercifully, to come from a
distance. To this was presently joined a voice, the voice, as it were, of
a sinister, tin manikin galvanized into convulsive song. The words grew
audible in broken phrases:

                      ...  was a lucky man,
                      Rip van Winkle ... grummmble
                      ...  never saw the women
                      At Coney Island swimming ...

General Jackson sat abruptly on his haunches, and lifted a long, quavering
protest. As the cylinder went round and round, and the shrill performance
continued, the dog's howling grew wilder; it reached a point where it
broke into a hoarse cough, then again it recommenced lower in the scale,
carrying over a gamut of indescribable, audible misery.

Gordon slapped his leg in acute enjoyment. "The General's a regular opera
singer, a high-rolling canary. Go after it ... a regular concert dog."

"Gordon," Lettice said, in a small, strained voice. Apparently he had not
heard her. "Gordon," she repeated more loudly. She had dropped the piece
of sewing, her hands were clenched, her face wet and pallid. "Gordon!" she
cried, her voice cutting through the sound of the phonograph and the
howling dog; "stop it, do you hear! I'll go crazy! Stop it! Stop it! Stop
it!"

He silenced the machine in genuine surprise. "Why, everything works you up
to-night. I thought you'd like to hear General Jackson sing; he's got a
real deep barytone."

Lettice sat limply in her chair. "I stood it just as long as I could," she
half whispered.

Gordon walked to the unshuttered window, gazing out; above the
impenetrable, velvety dark of the western range the stars gleamed like
drops of water. He felt unsettled, ill at ease; dissatisfaction irked his
thoughts and emotions. His unrest was without tangible features; it
permeated him from an undivined cause, oppressed him with indefinable
longing. He got, he dimly realized, but a limited amount of satisfaction
from the money now at his command. He was totally without financial
instinct--money for itself, the abstraction, was beyond his comprehension.
He had bought a ponderous gold watch, which he continually neglected to
wind; the years of stage driving had sated him of horses; his clothes were
already a subject of jest in Greenstream; and he had seriously damaged his
throat, and the throat of Sim Caley, with cigars. He had been glad to
return to the familiar, casual cigarettes, the generous bag of Green Goose
for five cents; Sim had reverted to his haggled plug. He had no desire to
build a pretentious dwelling--his instinct, his clannish spirit, was too
closely bound up in the house of his father and grandfather to derive any
pleasure from that.

After he had spent a limited amount, the principal at his disposal lay
untouched, unrealized. He got a certain measure of content from its sheer
bulk at his back; it ministered to his vanity, to his supreme self
importance. He liked negligently to produce, in Simmons' store, a twenty
or even fifty dollar currency note, and then conduct a search through his
pockets for something smaller. He drank an adequate amount of whiskey,
receiving it in jugs semi-surreptitiously by way of the Stenton stage;
Greenstream County was "dry," but whiskey in gallons was comparatively
inexpensive. He would have gambled, but two dollars was a momentous hazard
to the habitual card players of the village. He thought, occasionally, of
taking a short trip, of two or three days, to nearby cities outside his
ken, or to the ocean--Gordon had never seen a large body of water; but his
life had travelled such a narrow course, he was so accustomed by blood and
experience to the feel of the mountains, that, when the moment arrived to
consider an actual departure, he drew back ... put it off.

What he was subconsciously longing for was youth. He was instinctively
rebelling, struggling, against the closing fetters of time, against the
dilution of his blood by time, the hardening of his bones, the
imperceptible slackening of his muscles. His intimate contact with the
vigorous youth of Lettice had precipitated this rebellion, this strife in
which he was doomed. He would have hotly repudiated the insinuation that
he was growing old; he would still, perhaps, have fought the man who said
that he was failing. And such a statement would be beside the fact; no
perceptible decay had yet set up at the heart of his manhood. But the
inception of that process was imminent; the sloth consequent upon
Lettice's money was hastening it.

Lettice's youthful aspect, persisting in the face of her approaching
motherhood, disconcerted him; it was inappropriate. Her freshly-flushed,
rounded cheeks beside his own weather-beaten, lean jaw offered a comment
too obvious for enjoyment. He resented, from his own depleting store, her
unspent sum of days. It created in him an animosity which, as he turned
from the window, noted almost with relief faint lines about her mouth, the
sinking of her color.

She was sitting with her eyes shut, the sewing neglected in her lap, and
did not see Mrs. Caley standing in the doorway. The woman's gaze lingered
for a moment, with an unmasked, burning contempt, upon Gordon Makimmon,
then swept on to the girl.

"Lettice!" she exclaimed, in a species of exasperated concern, "don't you
know better than to sit up to all hours?"



IV


The following morning, "Oh, Gordon!" Lettice cried, "I like him ever so
much; he played and played with me."

Gordon had gone to the post-office, and was descending the slope from the
public road to his dwelling. He found Lettice sitting on the edge of the
porch, and, panting vigorously, the dog extended before her, an expression
of idiotic satisfaction on his shaggy face. They were, together, an
epitome of extreme youth; and Gordon's discontent, revived from the night
before, overflowed in facile displeasure.

"Don't you know better than to run him on a warm morning like this?" he
complained; "as like as not now he'll take a fit; young dogs mustn't get
their blood heated up."

The animation died from her countenance, leaving it almost sullen, her
shoulders drooped dejectedly. "It seems nothing suits you," she observed;
"you're cross when I don't like the dog and you're cross when I do. I
can't satisfy you, anyhow."

"There's some difference in making over the dog and playing him out. Come
here, General Jackson." The animal rose and yapped, backing playfully
away. "Don't you hear me? Come right here." The dog, sensitive to the
growing menace in the voice, moved still further away. "C'm here, damn
you," Gordon shot out. The dog grew stubborn, and refused to move forward;
and Gordon, his anger thoroughly aroused, picked up a large stone and
threw it with all his force, missing General Jackson by a narrow margin.

"It seems to me," Lettice observed in a studiously detached voice, "I
wouldn't throw stones at a dog I had paid two hundred dollars for."

Gordon was momentarily disconcerted. He had not intended to tell Lettice
how much the General had cost. And yet, he reflected, since the village
knew, with Sim Caley's wife in the house, it had been folly to hope to
keep it from her.

"It's his pedigree," he explained lamely; "champion stock, imported." His
temper again slowly got the better of his wisdom. "What if I did pay two
hundred dollars for him?" he demanded; "it's harmless, ain't it? I'd a
sight better do that than some other things I might mention."

"I only said," she repeated impersonally, "that I would not throw stones
at a dog that had cost so much money."

"You're getting on the money now, are you? Going to start that song?
That'll come natural to you. When I first married you I couldn't see how
you were old Pompey's daughter, but I might have known it would come out.
I might have known you weren't the daughter of the meanest man in
Greenstream for nothing.... I suppose I'll hear about that money all the
rest of my life."

"Perhaps I will die, and then you will have no bother."

"That's a nice way to talk; that makes me out a fine figure of a
man ... with Mrs. Caley in the kitchen there, laying right over every
word; the old vinegar bottle."

"Don't you say another word about Mrs. Caley," Lattice declared
passionately; "she nursed my mother in her last sickness; and she took
care of me for years, when there wasn't anybody else hardly knew if I was
alive or not. If it wasn't for Mrs. Caley right now I guess I'd be in an
early grave."

Gordon Makimmon stood silenced by the last outburst. The tall, meager
figure of Mrs. Caley appeared upon the porch. She was clad in black
calico, and wore grey felt slippers. Her head was lowered, her closed lips
quivered, her bony fingers twitched. She never addressed a word to Gordon
directly; and, he decided, when she did, it would be monumental,
dumbfounding. The present moment was more than usually unpropitious; and,
discovering General Jackson at his heels, he picked the dog up and
departed for the stable, where he saw Sim Caley putting the horse into the
buggy.

"I thought I'd go over to the farm beyond the priest's," he answered
Gordon's query; "Tol'able's an awful slack hand with cattle."

"Your wife ought to run that place; she'd walk those steers around on a
snake fence."

Simeon Caley preserved a diplomatic silence. He, too, was long and lean.
He had eyes of the most innocent and tender blue imaginable in a
countenance seamed and scarred by protracted debauch, disease, abuse. It
was said of him that if all the liquor he had consumed were turned loose
on the mountain it would sweep Greenstream village to the farther end of
the valley.

His voice, like his eyes, was gentle. "Come right along, Gord; there's
some draining you ought to see to. It's a nice drive, anyways." Gordon
took the reins, slapping them on the rough, sturdy back of the horse, and
they started up the precarious track to the road. General Jackson's head
hung panting, wild-eyed, from the side of the vehicle.



V


It was late when they returned from the farm. Gordon left the buggy at the
Courthouse. The thought of his dwelling, with Lattice's importunate
fancies and complaints, was distasteful to him. A long-drawn-out evening
in the monotonous sitting room, with the grim form of Mrs. Caley in the
background, was insupportable. There was no light in the office of the
_Bugle_, but there was a pale yellow blur in the lower windows of
Peterman's hotel. It might be that a drummer had arrived, and was
entertaining a local circle with the pungent wit of the road; and Gordon
made his way toward the hotel.

It was a painted, wooden structure, two stories in height, with a wing
that ran back from the road. The rooms in the latter section were reached
from an outside, uncovered gallery, gained by a flight of steps at the
back. Contrary to his expectation no one was in the office; a lamp shone
on an empty array of chairs. But some one was on the gallery above; he
could see a white skirt through the railing, make out the dark blot of a
head upon the night. The illumination from within shone on his face.

The form above him leaned forward over the railing. "Mr. Makimmon," a
woman's voice said, "if you want Mr. Peterman, I'll call him. He's at the
back of the house."

Gordon was totally unaware of her identity.

"No," he replied, hesitatingly, "I wasn't after him in particular--"

"You don't know me," she challenged, laughing; "it's Meta Beggs; I teach
the school, you know."

Instantly the memory returned to him of a woman's round, gleaming
shoulders slipping into a web of soft white; he recalled the
school-teacher's bitter arraignment of her life, her prospects. "I didn't
know you," he admitted, "and that's the fact; it was the dark." He
hesitated once more, conscious of the awkwardness of his position, talking
upward to an indistinguishable shape. "I heard you were back," he
continued impotently.

"Yes," she assented, "there was nothing else open.... Won't you come up
and smoke a cigarette? It's pleasant here on the gallery."

He mounted the steps, making his way over the narrow, hollow-sounding
passage to her side. She was seated overlooking the rift of the valley.
"I'll get you a chair," she said, rising. At her side a door opened into a
dim room. "No, no," he protested, "let me--in here?"

He entered the room. It was, he divined, hers. His foot struck against a
chair, and his hand caught the back. A thin, clinging under-garment rested
on it, which he deposited on a vague bed. It stuck to his fingers like a
cobweb. There was just room on the balcony to arrange the chairs side by
side.



VI


The spring night was potent, warm and damp; it was filled with intangible
influences which troubled the mind and stirred the memory to vain,
melancholy groping. Meta Beggs was so close to Gordon that their shoulders
touched. He rolled a cigarette and lit it, resting his arms upon the
railing. Her face was white in the gloom; not white as Lettice's had been,
like a flower, but sharply cut like marble; her nose was finely modelled,
her lips were delicately curved, but thin, compressed. He could
distinguish over her the paramount air of dissatisfaction.

She aroused in him unbidden thoughts; without the slightest freedom of
gesture or words she gave the impression of careless license. He grew
instinctively, at once, familiar, confidential, in his attitude toward
her. And she responded in the same manner; she did not draw back when
their arms accidentally met.

An interest, a vivacity of manner, such as Gordon had not experienced for
weeks stirred in him. Meta Beggs called back into being the old freedom of
stage-driving days, of the younger years. Her manner flattered his sex
vanity. They progressed famously.

"You don't like the children any better than you did?"

"They get more like rats every year."

"I thought about you, held against your will."

"Don't tell lies; I went right out of your mind."

"Not as quick as I went out of yours. I did think about you, though--" he
stopped, but she insisted upon his finishing the remark. "Well, I
remembered what you said about your shoulders, and I saw you that night at
your window...."

"Men, somehow, are always curious about me," she remarked indifferently;
"they have bothered me ever since I was a girl. I make them mad. I never
worry about such things myself--from the way women talk, and men go on,
there must be something left out of me ... it just seems silly to get all
red in the face--"

He almost constructed her words into a challenge. Five years ago, he
continued, or only two, he would have changed her conception of living, he
would have broken down her indifference, but now--His mental deliberations
ended abruptly, for, even in his mind, he avoided all reference to
Lettice; they studiously omitted her name in their conversation.

"Are you going to the camp meeting on South Fork next week?" she
demanded. "I have never seen one. Buckley Simmons says all sorts of things
happen. He's going to take me on Saturday. I wish--" she broke off
pointedly.

"What?"

"I was going to say that I wish, well--I wish I were going with somebody
else than Buckley; he bothers me all the time."

"I'd like a lot to take you. It's not fit for you to go, though. The best
people in Greenstream don't. They get crazy with religion, and with rum;
often as not there's shooting."

"Oh! I had no idea. I don't know as I will go. I wish you would be there.
If I go will you be there to look out for me?"

"I hadn't thought of it. Still, if you're there, and want me around, I
guess that's where I will be."

"I feel better right away; I'll see you then; it's a sort of engagement
between you and me. Buckley Simmons needn't know. Perhaps we can slip away
from him for a while."

Voices rose from below them, and they drew back instinctively. Gordon
found in this desire to avoid observation an additional bond with Meta
Beggs; the aspect of secrecy gave a flavor to their communion. They
remained silent, with their shoulders pressed together, until the voices,
the footfalls, faded into the distance.

He rose to leave, and she held out her hand. At its touch he recalled how
pointed the fingers were; it was incredibly cool and smooth, yet it seemed
to instil a subtle fire in his palm. She stood framed in her doorway,
bathed in the intimate, disturbing aroma of her person. Gordon recalled
the cobwebby garment on the bed. He made an involuntary step toward her,
and she drew back into the room ... the night was breathlessly still. If
he took another step forward, he wondered, would she still retreat?
Somewhere in the dark interior he would come close to her.

"Good night." Her level, impersonal voice was like a breath of cold air
upon his face.

"Good night," he returned hastily. "I got turned right around." His
departure over the gallery was not unlike a flight.



VII


The memory of Meta Beggs was woven like a bright thread through the
monotonous texture of the days which immediately followed. She was never
entirely out of his thoughts; she stirred him out of all proportion to any
assignable cause; she irritated him. He remembered that she said she made
men "mad." He recalled how ridiculous he had felt as he had said, "Good
night." He wished to repay her for that injury to his self-esteem.

At the same time, curiously, he was more patient with Lettice, he had a
more ready sympathy for her intangible fancies. Perhaps for the first time
he enjoyed sitting quietly on the porch of his house with her and General
Jackson. He sat answering her endless queries, fears, assenting
half-absently to her projections, with the thought of Meta Beggs at the
back of his mind. He wanted to be as nice as possible to Lettice. Suddenly
she seemed a little removed from him, from the world in general, the world
of the emotions and ideas that centered about the school-teacher.

Lettice was--superior; he recognized it pridefully. Behind her temporary,
rational vagaries there was a quality of steadfastness. It was clear to
him now from its contrast to his own devious mind. But he found a sharp
pleasure in the mental image of the Beggs woman. He recalled the burning
sensation that had lingered in his palm from the touch of her hand, the
pressure of her shoulder against his as they had drawn back from the
vision of those below.

He went early to the camp meeting on the Saturday appointed.



VIII


He drove over the road that lay at the base of the western range away from
his dwelling and Greenstream village. The mature spring day had almost the
appearance of summer; the valley was flooded with sparkling sunlight; but
the young leaves were still red, the greenery still translucent, the trees
black with risen sap. The buggy rolled through the shallow, rocky fords,
the horse's hoofs flinging up the water in shining drops. The road rose
slightly, turning to the right, where an intermediate valley lay
diagonally through the range. Save for small, scattered farms the
bottomland was uncultivated, the tangled brush impenetrable.

Gordon passed other vehicles, bound toward the camp meeting, usually a
single seat crowded with three, or even four, adult forms. He passed flat
wagons with their bottoms filled with straw, on which women sat with
stiffly-extended legs. The young women wore gay colors, their eyes
sparkled in hardy faces, their hands, broad and red and capable, awkwardly
disposed. The older women, with shawls folded about their stooped
shoulders, were close-lipped, somber. The men were sparely built, with
high, prominent cheek bones, long, hollow cheeks and shaven mouths touched
with sardonic humor, under undented, black felt hats. There were an
appreciable number of invalids and leaden-faced idiots.

The way grew wilder, the natural forms shrunk, the valley became a small
plain of broken, rocky hillocks matted with thorny bushes, surrounded by
marshes of rank grass, flags, half-grown osiers. The vehicles, drawn into
a single way, crowded together, progressed slowly. Gordon saw in the back
of the buggy before him two whiskey jugs. Some one far ahead began to sing
a revival hymn, and it ran along the line of carriages like a trail of
ignited powder. A deep bass caught it behind Gordon Makimmon, then the
piercing soprano of a woman farther back.

The camp meeting spread over a small, irregular plateau surrounded by
swamp and sluggish streams. Gordon turned off the road, and drove over a
rough, short descent to a ledge of solid ground by a stream and fringe of
willows. The spring torrents had subsided, leaving the grass, the willows,
covered with a grey, crackling coat of mud; the air had a damp, fetid
smell; beyond, the swamp bubbled gaseously. The close line of hitched
teams disappeared about an elbow of the thicket; groups of men gathered
in the noisome shadows, bottles were passed, heads thrown back and arms
bent aloft.

Above, a great, sagging tent was staked to the obdurate ground. To the
left a wooden floor had been temporarily laid about a four-square, open
counter, now bare, with a locked shed for storage. Before Gordon was the
sleeping tent for women. The sun seemed unable to dispel the miasma of the
swamp, the surrounding aspect of mean desolation. The scene was petty,
depressing. It was surcharged by a curious air of tension, of suspense, a
brooding, treacherous hysteria, an ugly, raw, emotional menace. A service
was in progress; a sustained, convulsive murmur came from within, a
wordless, fluctuating lament. Suddenly it was pierced by a shrill, high
scream, a voice tormented out of all semblance to reason. The sound grew
deeper and louder; it swung into a rhythm which formed into words, lines,
a primitive chant that filled the plateau, swelled out over the swamp. It
continued for an incredible length of time, rising to an unbearable pitch,
then it died away in a great gasp.

A thin, sinister echo rose from among the willows--emotional, shrill
curses, a brief, raving outburst of passion, sharply punctuated with
double shots, and falling abruptly to heavy silence. Gordon saw men
obscurely running below.

The curtained entrance to the tent was pushed aside, and a woman walked
stiffly out, her hands clenched, and her glassy eyes set in a fixed stare.
Her hat was gone, and her grey hair lay upon one shoulder. She progressed,
stumbling blindly over the inequalities of the ground, until she tripped
on a stone. She lay where she had fallen, with her muscles jerking and
shuddering, until a man appeared from behind the counter, and dragged her
unceremoniously to the women's shelter.

Gordon entered the tent where the service was in progress. A subdued light
filtered through the canvas upon a horde that filled every foot of space;
they sat pressed together on long, rough boards nailed together in the
semblance of benches. On a platform at the farther side a row of men and
women sat against the canvas wall; to their left a folding organ had been
erected, and was presided over by a man with a blurred, greyish
countenance; while, standing at the forefront of the platform, a large,
heavy man in a black frock coat was addressing the assemblage. He had a
round, pallid, smooth face with long, black hair brushed back upon his
coat collar, and great, soft, white hands.

"... it's rising," he proclaimed, in a loud, sing-song voice, "the flood
is rising; now it's about your pockets--praise God! now it's above your
waists. It's rising! it's rising! Hallelujah! the sea of redemption is
rising," his voice rose with the figurative flood. "At last it's about
your hearts, your hearts are immersed in the Sacred Tide."

A man beside Gordon groaned and dropped upon his knees. A woman cried,
"God! God! God!" A spindling, overgrown boy rose fumbling at his throat.
"I can't breathe," he choked, "I can't--" His face grew purplish,
congested. The tumult swelled, directed, dominated, by the voice of the
revivalist. He dropped upon his knees, and, amid the sobbing silence, pled
with an invisible Judge hovering, apparently, over a decision to destroy
at one bloody blow the recalcitrant peoples of the earth, the peoples of
His making.

"Spare us," he implored; "spare us, the sheep of hell; lead us to Thy
shining pasture ... still water; lead us from the great fire of the
eternal pit, from the boiling bodies of the unsaved...."

Gordon Makimmon indifferently regarded the clamor. The process of "getting
religion" was familiar, commonplace. He saw Tol'able sitting on a back
bench; with a mutual gesture the two men rose and left the tent.

"I had to bring m'wife," Tol'able explained; "did you see her sitting on
the platform? She's one of the main grievers. I got some good licker in
the wagon--better have a comforter."

They walked down to a dusty, two-seated surrey, where, from under a horse
blanket, Tol'able produced a small jug. He wiped the mouth on his sleeve
and passed it to Gordon; then held the gurgling vessel to his open throat.
"There was some hell raised last night," he proceeded; "a man from up back
had his head busted with a stone, and a drunken looney shot through the
women's tent: an old girl hollered out they had Goddy right in there among
'em."

"They were shooting a while back," Gordon observed indifferently. "Have
you seen Buck Simmons here?"

"No, I hain't. He wouldn't be here noways."

Gordon preserved a discreet silence in regard to his source of assurance
of Buckley's presence at the camp meeting.

"Have another drink, Gord."

The services were temporarily suspended, and the throng emptied from the
tent. A renewed sanity clothed them--girls drew into squares of giggling
defense against the verbal sallies of robustly-witted young men. Women
collected their offspring, gathering in circles about opened boxes of
lunch: a multitude of papers and box lids littered the ground. A hot,
steaming odor, analogous to coffee, rose from the crowded counter. A
prodigious amount of raw whiskey was consumed among the vehicles by the
stream and mud-coated willows.

Gordon slowly made his way through the throng, in search of Meta Beggs;
perhaps, after all, she had decided not to come; he might easily miss her
in that mob. It was not clear in his mind what he would do if he saw her.
She would be with Buckley Simmons, and there was a well recognized course
of propriety for such occasions: he would be expected merely to greet in
passing a girl accompanying another man. Any other proceeding would be met
with instant resentment. And Buckley Simmons, Gordon knew, must still
nurse a secret antagonism toward him. However, he had disposed of Buckley
in the past ... if necessary he could do so again.

At the entrance to the service tent the organist, his countenance still
livid in the sunlight, blew a throaty summons on a cornet, and the crowd
slowly trailed back within. In the thinning groups Gordon saw the
school-teacher, clad in a bright blue skirt and a hat with a stiff, blue
feather. She was at Buckley's side, consuming a slice of cake with
delicate, precise motions of her hand, and greeting with patent
abstraction his solicitous attentions.



IX


Meta Beggs saw Gordon at the same moment; and, without observation on the
part of her escort, beckoned him to her. She said promptly:

"Mr. Makimmon, please take care of me while Buckley goes down by those
carriages, where we saw you a little while ago, and gets his share of the
refreshment there. I'm certain that dusty road made him as dry as
possible."

Buckley grinned; such frank feminine acknowledgment and solicitude for the
masculine palate was rare in Greenstream. "Why, no, Miss Beggs," he
rejoined; "I'm in good shape for a while yet. I got a flask under the seat
of the buggy--"

"I insist on your tending to it at once. I know just how it is with
men--they have got to have that little refreshment ... don't you call it
'life preserver'? I'll be right by the counter; if Mr. Makimmon will be so
kind--"

"Well," Buckley agreed, "a drink don't go bad any time; the road was kind
of dusty. If you insist, Miss Beggs."

"I do! I do!" He turned and left them, striding toward the lower level.
Then:

"The fool!" she exclaimed viciously; "my arm is all black and blue where
he pinched it. My skin is not like the hides on these mountain girls, it
tears and bruises dreadfully easy, it's so fine. Let's go back there," she
pointed to where, behind the platform and counter, a path was trampled
through brush higher than their heads. Gordon glanced swiftly in the
direction in which Buckley Simmons had vanished. "He won't be back," she
added contemptuously, "for a half hour. He'll stay down there and drink
rotten whiskey and sputter over rotten stories." Without further parley
she proceeded in the direction indicated; and, following her, Gordon
dismissed Buckley from his thoughts.

Meta Beggs wore a shirtwaist perforated like a sieve; through it he saw
flimsy lace, a faded blue ribband, her gleaming shoulders. In an obscure
turn of the path she stopped and faced him. "Just look," she proclaimed,
unfastening a bone button that held her cuff. She rolled her sleeve back
over her arm. High up, near the soft under-turning, were visible the
bluish prints of fingers. "You see," she added; "and there are
others ... where I can't show you."

"Buck's pretty vigorous with the girls," he admitted; "I once dropped him
down a spell for it."

He was fascinated by her naked, shapely arm; it was slender at the wrist,
and surprisingly round above, at a soft, brown shadow. He was seized by a
desire to touch it, and he held her pointed elbow while he examined the
bruises more minutely. "That's bad," he pronounced; "on that pretty skin,
too." He was confused by the close proximity of her bare flesh, the pulse
in his neck beat visibly.

For a moment she stood motionless; then, with her eyes half closed, sulky,
she drew away from him and rearranged her sleeve.

The brush ended on a slope where pine trees had covered the ground with a
glossy mat of bronzed needles; and his companion sank to a sitting
position with her back against a trunk. They were outside the influence of
the camp meeting, beyond its unnatural excitation. The pine trees were
black against the brilliant day; they might have been cast in iron, there
was no suggestion of growth in the dun covering below; it was as
seasonless where they sat as the sea; the air, faintly spiced and still,
seemed to have lain unchanged through countless ages.

Meta Beggs sat motionless, with a look of inexpressible boredom on her
pale countenance. Her hands, Gordon thought, were like folded buds of the
mountain magnolia.

She said, unexpectedly, "You're rich now, aren't you, one of the richest
men in the county?"

"Why I--I got some money; that is, my wife has."

She dismissed, with an impatient gesture, the distinction. "Money is
life," she continued, with a perceptible, envious longing, "it's freedom,
all the things worth having. It makes women--it's their leather boxes full
of rings and pins and necklaces, their dresses of all-over lace, their
silk and hand scalloped and embroidered underclothes; it's their
fascination and chance and power--"

"I would like to see you in some of those lace things," he returned.

"Well, get them for me," she answered hardily.

Utterly unprepared for this direct attack he was thoroughly disconcerted.
"Why, certainly!" he replied, laboriously polite, "the next time--I'll do
it!--when I'm in Stenton again I'll bring you a pair of silk stockings."

"Black," she said practically, "and size eight and a half. You will like
me in black silk stockings," she added enigmatically.

"I'll bet," he replied with enthusiasm. "I won't wait to go, but send for
them. You would make the dollars dance. You are different from--" he was
going to say Lettice, but, instinctively, he changed it to, "the women
around here. You've got an awful lot of ginger to you."

"I know what I want, and I'm not afraid to pay for it. Almost everybody
wants the same thing--plenty and pleasure, but they're afraid of the
price; they are afraid of it alive and when they will be dead. Women set
such a store on what they call their virtue, and men tend so much to the
opinion of others, that they don't get anywhere."

"Don't you set anything on your--your virtue?"

"I'd make it serve me; I wouldn't be a silly slave to it all my life. If I
can get things with it that's what I'm going to do."

Gordon Makimmon found these potent words from such a pleasing woman as
Meta Beggs. Any philosophy underlying them, any ruthless strength, escaped
him entirely. They appealed solely to him as "gay," highly suggestive.
They stirred his blood into warm, heady tides of feeling. He moved over
the smooth covering of pine needles, closer to her. But with an expression
of petulance she rose.

"I suppose we must look for Buckley," she observed. Gordon had completely
forgotten Buckley Simmons' presence at the camp meeting. The
school-teacher, swaying slimly, led the way over the path to the plateau.

They saw Buckley Simmons at once: he was talking in an excited, angry
manner to a small group of men. A gesture was made toward Gordon and his
companion; Buckley turned, and his face flushed darkly, Gordon, stood
still, Meta Beggs fell behind, as the former made his way toward them.
Buckley spoke loudly when he was still an appreciable distance away:

"You were mighty considerate about my dusty throat," he began with heavy
sarcasm; "I ought to have seen at the time that you had it made up between
you. This is the second time that you have broken in on me, Makimmon. I'm
not a boy any longer. You can't tread on me. It's going to stop ... now."

"There's nothing for you to get excited about, Buck. Miss Beggs and I took
a little stroll while you were away."

"A 'little stroll.'" Buckley produced a heavy gold watch, the highly
chased cover of which he snapped back. "Over half an hour," he proclaimed;
"you stayed too long this time."

Gordon was aware of a form at his back. He turned, and saw Tol'able.

"What's the trouble, Gord?" the latter asked. Two or three others were
compactly grouped behind him.

"Why, Buckley's hot because I walked with Miss Beggs while he took a
drink."

The men about Buckley Simmons closed up. "Don't let Gordon crowd you
down," they advised their principal; "put it up against him."

"Haven't you got enough at home," Buckley demanded, "without playing
around here?"

Anger swiftly rose to Gordon Makimmon's head. His hand fell and remained
close by his side. "Keep your tongue off my home," he commanded harshly,
"or you will get more than a horsewhipping."

"By God," Buckley articulated. His face changed from dark to pale, his
mouth opened, his eyes were staring. He fumbled desperately in his pocket.
Gordon's hand closed smoothly, instantly, about the handle of his
revolver. But, before he could level it, an arm shot out from behind him,
and a stone the size of two fists sped like a bullet, striking Buckley
Simmons where his hair and forehead joined. Gordon, in a species of
shocked curiosity and surprise, clearly saw the stone hit the other. There
was a sound like that made by a heel breaking a scum of ice on a frozen
road.

Buckley said, "Ah," half turned, and dropped like a piece of carpet.

The belligerent attitude instantly evaporated from the group behind the
stricken man. "Gracious," some one muttered foolishly. They all joined in
a stooping circle about the prostrate figure. It was seen immediately that
the skull was broken--a white splinter of bone stood up from a matted
surface of blood and hair and dirt. Buckley's eyelids winked continuously
and with great rapidity.

A mingled concern and deep relief swept through Gordon Makimmon. He knew
that, had the stone not been thrown, he would have killed Buckley Simmons.
He wondered if Tol'able had done him that act of loyalty. It had,
probably, fatally wounded its object. He turned with a swift, silent look
of inquiry to Tol'able. The other, unmoved, dexterously shifted a mouthful
of tobacco. "Whoever did that," he observed, "could sure throw a rock."

A crowd gathered swiftly, cautious and murmuring. Simmons was lifted on a
horse blanket to the flooring by the counter. There was an outcry for a
doctor, but none was present, and it was agreed that the wounded man must
be hurried into Greenstream. "He won't get there alive," it was freely
predicted; "the top of his head is crumbled right off."



X


Gordon found Meta Beggs on the outskirt of the throng; she was pale but
otherwise unshaken. "I was sure you were going to shoot Buckley," she told
him.

"So was I," he returned grimly.

"Will he die?"

"It looks bad--his head's cracked. You didn't see anybody throw that
stone!" His voice had more the accent of a command than an inquiry.

"I really didn't; the men were standing so closely ... nobody saw."

"That's good. You'll drive home with me, for certain."

"I'm glad you didn't kill him," she confided to Gordon in the buggy. She
was sitting very close to him. "It would have--upset things."

"I don't believe you were a scrap frightened," he asserted admiringly.

"I wasn't. I thought how foolish you would be to spoil everything for
yourself."

"I would have gone into the mountains," he explained; "a hundred men would
have kept the law off me. I was a year and a half there, when--when I was
younger," he ended lamely.

"I like that," she replied, "I understand it. I've wanted to murder; but
it would have been silly, I would have had to pay too dearly for a passing
rage." There was a menace in her even voice, a cold echo like that from a
closed, empty room, that oppressed Gordon unpleasantly.

"I guess you're not as dangerous as that," he responded, more lightly. He
wondered, unable to decide, if she were consciously pressing her body
against him, or if it were merely the jolting of the buggy? They were
passing through the valley that led into Greenstream; the sun was lowering
behind them, the shadows creeping out. They dropped from the rough, minor
forms into the bigger sweep--it was like a great, green bed half filled
with a gold flood. Gordon's horse walked, and, in their slow progress, the
stream of light flowing between the ranges changed to a stream of shadow.
A miraculous pink rose opened in the east and scattered its glowing petals
across the sky. The buggy wound, like an infinitesimal toy, over the
darkening road.

He passed his dwelling, a long, irregular roof against the veiled surface
of the stream; a light shone from the kitchen window. The streets of the
village, folded in warm dusk, were empty; the white columns of the
Courthouse glimmered behind the shafts of the trees on the lawn. Supper
was in progress at Peterman's hotel; as Gordon and Meta Beggs left the
buggy they heard the rattle of dishes within. She walked a few steps, then
stopped, was about to speak, but she saw that Gordon had followed her, and
turned and led the way to the steps giving to the gallery above.

Gordon Makimmon followed her without reason, without plan, almost
subconsciously. He walked close behind her to where she opened the door to
her room: it was grey within, a dim curtain swelled faintly with an unfelt
air.

"Black," he repeated stupidly, "size eight and a half."

She stepped into the room, and faced him; her lips were parted over a
glimmer of teeth. He took her roughly in his arms, and she turned up her
face.

"For the stockings," she said, as he kissed her.

He kissed her again, and she murmured, faintly, "Two pairs."

It enraged him that she was so collected; her body, pressed against him
from knee to shoulder, was without a tremor, her breast was tranquil. She
might have been, from her unstudied, total detachment, a fine, flexible
statue in his straining embrace, under his eager lips. Suddenly, with no
apparent effort, she released herself.

She removed the hat with the blue feather, calmly laid it on the
indistinct bed, and moved to the mirror of a small bureau, where her hands
glided over her smooth hair.

"Men are so--elementary," she observed, "and all alike. I wish I could
feel what you do," she turned to Gordon, "just once."

"What are you made of?" he demanded tensely; "stone?"

"I often wonder."

She crossed the room to the gallery, where she glanced swiftly about. "You
must leave, and I'll go down to supper. Next Sunday I am going to
walk ... in the morning."

"If you go out by the priest's," he suggested, "and turn to the right, you
will find a pretty stream; further down there's an old mill."

She drew back, waiting for him to descend to the ground below.

Simmons' clerk was standing on the platform before the store, and Gordon
drew up. "How's Buckley?" he inquired.

"Bad," the other answered laconically. "They sent to Stenton for help. His
head's cracked. It's funny," he commented, "with a hundred people around
nobody saw that stone thrown 'tall."

"It don't do sometimes to see this and that," Gordon explained, tightening
the reins.

He unhitched the horse in his shedlike stable by the aid of a hand
lantern. He was reluctant to go into the house, and he prolonged the
unbuckling of the familiar straps, the measuring of feed, beyond all
necessity. Outside, he thought he heard General Jackson by the stream, and
he stood whistling softly, but only the first notes of the whippoorwills
responded. "The night's just come down all at once," he said. Finally,
with a rigid assumption of indifference covering an uneasy heart, he went
in.

Lettice was asleep by the lamp in the sitting room. She looked younger
than ever, but there were shadows under her eyes, her mouth was a little
drawn as if by the memory of pain. A shawl, he saw, had slipped from her
shoulders, and he walked clumsily on the tips of his shoes and rearranged
it. Then he sat down and waited for her to wake.

The flame of the lamp was like a section of an orange; it cast a warm, low
radiance through the room. His gaze rested on the photograph of Lettice's
mother in her coffin. He imagined that paper effigy of inanimate clay
moved, turned its dull head to regard him. "I'm getting old," he told
himself contemptuously, repressing an involuntary start of surprise. His
heart rested like a lump of lead in his breast; it oppressed him so that
his breathing grew labored. His mind returned to Meta Beggs: coldness like
hers was not natural, it was not right. He thought again, as men have
vainly of such women since the dawning of consciousness, that it would be
stirring to fire her indifference, to ignite a passion in response to his
own desire. The memory of her slender, full body, her cool lips, tormented
him.

Lettice woke abruptly.

"Gordon!" she cried, in an odd, muffled voice; "you're always late; your
supper is always spoiled."

"I had my supper," he hurriedly fabricated, "at Peterman's. It's nice in
here, Lettice, with you and all the things around. It has a comfortable
look. You're right pretty, Lettice, too."

The unexpected compliment brought a flush to her cheeks. "I'm not pretty
now," she replied; "I'm all pulled out." General Jackson ambled into the
room, sat between them. "Let's hear the General sing," she proposed.

Gordon wound the phonograph, and the distant, metallic voice repeated the
undeniable fact that Rip Van Winkle had been unaware of the select
pleasures of Coney Island. The dog whimpered, then raised his head in a
despairing bay.

A time might come in a man's life, Gordon Makimmon realized, when this
peaceful interior would spell complete happiness.



XI


On Sunday he strolled soon after breakfast in the direction of the
priest's. Merlier was standing at the door to his house. Gordon noted that
the other was growing heavier, folds dropped from the corners of his
shaven lips, his eyes had retreated in fatty pouches. His gaze was still
searchingly keen, but the priest was wearing out. Gordon stopped in
response to his silent nod.

"You ought to let up on yourself a little," he advised.

"Why?" the other briefly queried.

"'Why?', so's you will last longer."

To this the priest made no reply. A short, awkward silence followed during
which Gordon grew restive. "If I looked so glum about Greenstream," he
continued, "I'd move out." It was as though he had not spoken. "I'd go
back where I came from," he persisted sharply. The priest's lips moved,
formed words:

"'Che discese da Fiesole ab antico.'"

His imperturbable manner offered Gordon not the slightest opening; and he
continued uncomfortably on his way. There was a quality about that thick,
black-clad figure which cast a shadow over the cloudless day, it blunted
the anticipated pleasure of his meeting with Meta Beggs. There was about
Merlier a smell of death like the smell of sooty smoke.

The stream lay shining along its wooded course; the range greenly aflame
with new foliage rose into radiant space; flickers hammered on resonant,
dead wood. Gordon banished the somber memory of the priest. He was
conscious of a sudden excitement, a keenness of response to living like a
renewal of youth. He wished that Meta Beggs would appear; his direction to
her had been vague; she might easily go astray and miss him. But he saw
her, after what seemed an interminable period, leaving the road and
crossing the strip of sod that bordered the stream. She had on a white
dress that clung to her figure, and a broad, flapping straw hat wound with
white. She saw him and waved. The brush rose thickly along the water, but
there was a footway at its edge, with occasional, broader reaches of rough
sod. In one of the latter she stooped, made a swift movement with the hem
of her skirt.

"See," she smiled; "I said you would like me in them."

He attempted to catch her in his arms, but she eluded him. "Please," she
protested coolly, "don't be tiresome.... We must talk."

He followed her by the devious edge of the stream to the ruined mill. He
could see the blurring impress of the black silk stockings through the web
of her dress; the dress had shrunk from repeated washing, and drew tightly
across her shoulders. She walked lightly and well, and sat with a graceful
sweep on a fallen, moldering beam. Beyond them the broad expanse of the
mill pond was paved with still shadows; a dust of minute insects swept
above the clouded surface. The water ran slowly over the dam, everywhere
cushioned with deep moss, and fell with an eternal splatter on the rocks
below.

Gordon rolled a cigarette from the muslin bag of Green Goose. "Why do you
still smoke that grass?" she demanded curiously. "You could get the best
cigars from Cuba." He explained, and she regarded him impatiently. "Can't
you realize what possibilities you have!"

"I might, with assistance."

"If you once saw the world! I've been reading about Paris, the avenues and
cafés and theaters. Why, in the cafés there they drink only champagne and
dance all night. The women come with their lovers in little closed
carriages, and go back to little closed rooms hung in brocade. They never
wear anything but evening clothes, for they are never out but at
night--satin gowns with trains and bare shoulders."

He endeavored to picture himself in such a city, amid such a life, with
Meta Beggs. He felt that she would be entirely in place in the little
carriages, drinking champagne. "That's where they eat frogs," he remarked
inanely. In the tensity of her feeling, the bitterness of her longing, her
envy, she cursed him for a dull fool. Then, recovering her composure with
a struggle:

"I would make a man drunk with pleasure in a place like that. He would be
proud of me, and all the other men would hate him; they would all want
me."

"Some would come pretty near getting you, too," he replied with a flash of
penetration; "those with the fastest horses or longest pockets."

"I would be true to whoever took me there," she declared; "out of
gratitude."

He drew a deep breath. "What would you say," he inquired, leaning toward
her, "to a trip to--to Richmond? We could be gone the best part of a
week."

She laughed scornfully. "Do you think I am as cheap as that--to be bought
over Sunday?" She rose, and stood before him, sharply outlined against the
foliage, the water, the momentary, flittering insects, taunting,
provocative, sensual.

"Five years ago," he told her, "if you had tried this foolery, I would
have choked you, and thrown what was left in the dam."

"And now--" she jeered fearlessly.

"It's different," he admitted moodily.

It was. Somewhere the lash had been lost from the whip of his desire. He
was still eager, tormented by the wish to feel her disdainful mouth
against his. The recrudescence of spring burned in his veins; but, at the
same time, there was a new reluctance upon his flesh. The inanimate, obese
mask of the priest, Lettice's sleeping countenance faintly stamped with
pain, hovered in his consciousness. "It's different," he repeated.

"You are losing your hold on pleasure," she observed critically aloof.

He leaned forward, and grasped her wrist, and, with a slight motion,
forced her upon her knees. "If you are pleasure I'm not," he challenged.

"You are hurting my arm," she said coldly. His grip tightened, and a small
grimace crossed her lips. "Let go," she demanded; and then a swift passion
shrilled her voice. "Let go, you are crushing my wrist. Damn you to hell!
if you spoil my wrist I'll kill you."

For a moment, as he held her, she reminded Gordon of a venomous snake; he
had never seen such a lithe, wicked hatred in any other human being. "You
are a gentle object," he satirized her, loosening his hold.

She rose slowly and stood fingering her wrist. The emotion died from her
countenance. "You see," she explained, "my body is all I have to take me
out of this," she motioned to the slumbering water, the towering range,
"and I can't afford to have it spoiled. You wouldn't like me if I were
lame or crooked. Men don't. The religious squashes can say all they like
about the soul, but a woman's body is the only really important thing to
her. No one bothers about your soul, but they judge your figure across the
street."

"Yours hasn't done you much good."

"It will," she returned somberly, "it must--real lace and wine and ease."
She came very close to him; he could feel the faint jarring of her heart,
the moisture of her breath. "And you could get them for me. I would make
you mad with sensation."

He kissed her again and again, crushing her to him. She abandoned herself
to his arms, but she was as untouched, as impersonal, as a stuffed woman
of cool satin. In the end he voluntarily released her.

"You wouldn't take fire from a pine knot," he said unsteadily.

Her deft hands rearranged her hat. "Some day a man will murder me," she
replied in level tones; "perhaps I'll get a thrill from that." Her voice
grew as cutting as a surgeon's polished knife. "Please don't think I'm the
kind of woman men take out in the woods and kiss. You may have discovered
that I don't like kissing. I'm going to be honester still--last year, when
you were mending the minister's ice house, and hadn't a dollar, I wasn't
the smallest bit interested in you; and this year I am.--Not on account of
the money itself," she was careful to add, "but because of you and the
money together. Don't you see--it changed you; it's perfectly right that
it should, and that I should recognize it."

"That sounds fair enough," he agreed. "Now the question is, what are we
going to do together, you and me and the money?"

"Would you do what I wanted?" she asked at his shoulder.

"Would you?"

"Yes."

"We might try Richmond."

"Don't fool yourself," she returned hardily; "I know all about those trial
trips. Any man I go with has got to go far: I don't intend to be left at
some pokey little way station with everything gone and nothing
accomplished."

"But," he objected, "a man who went with you could never come back."

"Back to this wilderness," she scoffed; "any one should thank God for
being taken out of it."

"I've always lived here, my father too, and his before him; and back of
that we came from mountains. We're mountain blood; I don't know if we
could get used to anything else, live down yonder."

"I'd civilize you," she promised him.

"Perhaps--" he assented slowly.

Suddenly from beyond the ruin came the stir of a horse moving in harness,
the sound stopped and the voices of men grew audible. Instinctively Gordon
and Meta Beggs drew behind a standing fragment of wall. Gordon could see,
through the displaced, rotting boards, a buggy and two men standing at the
side of the road. One, he recognized, was Valentine Simmons; he easily
made out the small, alert figure. The other, with his back to the mill,
held outspread a sheet of paper. There was something familiar about the
carriage of the head, a glimpse of beard, a cigar from which were expelled
copious volumes of smoke. Gordon vainly racked his memory for a clue to
the latter, elusive personality. He heard Simmons say:

"... by the South Fork entrance ... through the valley."

The stranger partially turned, and Gordon instantly recalled where he had
seen him before--it was the man he had driven from Stenton with the
surprising foreknowledge of the County, who had been met by Pompey
Hollidew. He replied to Simmons, "Exactly ... timber sidings at the
principal depots."

They were, evidently, discussing a projected road. Gordon subconsciously
exclaimed, half aloud, "Railroad!" A swift illumination bathed in complete
comprehension the whole affair--the connection, of Simmons, old Pompey's
options and the stranger. This railroad, the coming of which would
increase enormously the timber values of Greenstream County, had been the
covert reason for Simmons' desire to purchase the options held by the
Hollidew estate; it had been, during Pompey Hollidew's life, the reason
for the acquisition of such extended timber interests. Hollidew, Simmons
and Company had joined in a conspiracy to purchase them throughout the
county at a nominal sum and reap the benefits of the large enhancement.
The death of the former had interrupted that satisfactory scheme; now
Valentine Simmons had conceived the plan of gathering all the profit to
himself. And, Gordon admitted, he had nearly succeeded ... nearly. A slow
smile crossed Gordon Makimmon's features as he realized what a pleasant
conversation he would have with Simmons at the latter's expense. He had
never conceived the possibility of getting the astute storekeeper into
such a satisfactory, retaliatory position. He would extract the last
penny of profit and enjoyment from the other's surprise.

The men beyond re-entered the buggy and drove toward the village.

"What is it?" Meta Beggs asked; "you look pleased."

"Oh, I fell on a little scheme," he replied evasively; "a trifle ... worth
a hundred thousand or more to me."

Her eyes widened with avidity. "I didn't know the whole, God forsaken
place was worth a thousand," she remarked. "A hundred thousand," the mere
repetition of that sum brought a new shine into her gaze, instinctively
drew her closer to Gordon's side.

"Just that alone would be enough--" she said, and paused.

He ignored this opening in the anticipated pleasure of his coming
interview with Valentine Simmons.

A palpable annoyance took possession of her at Gordon's absorption. "It
must be near dinner at Peterman's," she remarked; "on Sunday you've got to
be on time."

In response to her suggestion he turned toward the road. They walked back
silently until they were opposite the priest's. "I'd better go on alone,"
she decided. Her hands clung to his shoulders and she sought his lips.
"Soon again," she murmured. "Don't desert me; I am entirely alone except
for you."

She left him and swiftly crossed the green to the road.



XII


Gordon carefully explained the entire circumstance of the timber to
Lettice. "I just happened to be by the stream," he continued, "and
overheard them. Your father and Simmons evidently had arranged the thing,
and Simmons was going to crowd you out of all the gain."

"You see to it," she returned listlessly; "you have my name on that paper,
the power of something or other." She was seated on the porch of their
dwelling. A low-drifting mass of formless grey cloud filled the narrow
opening of the ranges, drooping in nebulous veils of suspended moisture
down to the vivid green of the valley. The mountains seemed to dissolve
into the nothingness above; the stream was unusually noisy.

"I might see him this evening," he observed; "and I could find out how
Buck was resting."

"However did he come to get hurt?"

"I never knew rightly, there we were all standing with Buckley a-talking,
when the stone flew out of the crowd and hit him on the head. Nobody saw
who did it."

"I wish you hadn't been there, Gordon. You always seem to be around, to
get talked about, when anything happens."

He saw that she was irritable, in a mood for complaint, and he rose. "You
mean Mrs. Caley talks wherever I am," he corrected. He left the porch and
walked over the road to the village. The store, he knew, would be closed;
but Valentine Simmons, an indefatigable church worker, almost invariably
after the service pleasantly passed the remainder of Sunday in the
contemplation and balancing of his long and satisfactory accounts and
assets.

He was, as Gordon had anticipated, in the enclosed office bent over his
ledgers. The door to the store was unlocked. Simmons rose, and briefly
acknowledged Gordon's presence.

"I was sorry Buckley got hurt," the latter opened; "it wasn't any direct
fault of mine. We were having words. I don't deny but that it might have
gone further with us, but some one else stepped in."

"So I was informed. Buckley will probably live ... that is all the Stenton
doctor will say; a piece of his skull has been removed. I am not prepared
to discuss it right now ... painful to me."

"Certainly. But I didn't come to discuss that. I want to talk to you about
the timber--those options of Lettice's."

"She doesn't agree to the deal?" Simmons queried sharply.

"Whatever I say is good enough for Lettice," Gordon replied.

An expression of relief settled over the other. "The papers will be ready
this week," he said. "I have taken all that, and some expense, off you.
You will make a nice thing out of it."

"I will," Gordon assented heartily. "And that reminds me--I saw an old
acquaintance of Pompey Hollidew's in Greenstream to-day. I don't know his
name; I drove him up in the stage, and Pompey greeted him like a long-lost
dollar."

A veiled, alert curiosity was plain on Simmons's smooth, pinkish
countenance.

"I wonder if you know him too?--a man with a beard, a great hand for maps
and cigars."

"Well?" Valentine Simmons temporized.

"Could he have anything to do with those timber options of the old man's,
with your offer for them?"

"Well?" Simmons repeated. His face was now absolutely blank; he sat turned
from his ledgers, facing Gordon, without a tremor.

"It's no use, Simmons," Gordon Makimmon admitted; "I was out by the old
mill this morning. I saw you both, heard something that was said. That
railroad will do a lot for values around here, but mostly for timber."

Instantly, and with no wasted regrets over lost opportunities, Simmons
changed his tactics to meet existing conditions. "Your wife's estate
controls about three thousand acres of timber," he pronounced. "What will
you take for them?"

"How much do you control?" Gordon asked.

"About twenty-five hundred at present."

Gordon paused, then, "Lettice will take thirty dollars an acre."

"Why!" the other protested, "Pompey bought them for little or nothing.
You're after over two hundred per cent. increase."

"What do you figure to get out of yours?"

"That doesn't concern us now. I've had to put this through--a tremendous
thing for Greenstream, a lasting benefit--entirely by myself. I will have
to guarantee a wicked profit outside; I stand alone to lose a big sum.
I'll give you ten dollars for the options."

Gordon rose. "I'll see the railroad people myself," he observed; "and find
out what I can do there."

"Hold on," Simmons waved him back to his chair. "If there's too much talk
the thing will get out. You know these thick skulls around here--at the
whisper of transportation you couldn't cut a sapling with a gold axe. It
took managing to interest the Tennessee and Northern; they are going
through to Buffalo; a Greenstream branch is only a side issue to them." He
paused, thinking. "There's no good," he resumed, "in you and me getting
into each other. The best thing we can do is to control all the good
stuff, agree on a price, and divide the take."

Gordon carefully considered this new proposal. It seemed to him palpably
fair. "All the papers would have to be made together," he added; "what's
for one's for the other."

Now that the deal was fully exposed Valentine Simmons was impatient of
small precautions. "Can't you see how the plan lays?" he demanded
irritably. "We'll draw up a partnership. Don't get full and talk," he
added discontentedly. It was evident that he keenly resented the absence
of Pompey Hollidew from the transaction.

"A thing like this," he informed the other, "ain't put through in a week.
It will be two or three years yet before the company will be ready for
construction."

Minor details were rehearsed, concluded. Two weeks later Gordon signed an
agreement of partnership with Valentine Simmons to purchase collectively
such timber options as were deemed desirable, and to merchandise their
interests at a uniform price to the railroad company concerned.



XIII


When Gordon returned to his dwelling he found Sim Caley and his sister's
husband taking the horse from the shafts of a dusty, two-seated carriage.
Rutherford Berry was a slightly-built man with high, narrow shoulders, and
a smooth, pasty-white face. He was clerk in a store at the farther end of
Greenstream valley, and had flat, fragile wrists and a constant,
irritating cough.

"H'y, Gord!" he shouted; "your sister wanted to visit with you over night,
and see Lettice. We only brought two--the oldest and Barnwell K."

The "oldest," Gordon recalled, was the girl who had worn Clare's silk
waist and "run the colors"; Barnwell K. Berry was, approximately, ten.

"That's right," he returned cordially. He assisted in running the carriage
back by the shed. Lettice and his sister were stiffly facing each other in
the sitting room. The latter had a fine, thin countenance with pale hair
drawn tightly back and fastened under a small hat pinned precariously
aloft; her eyes were steady, like his own. She wore a black dress
ornamented with large carmine dots, with a scant black ribband about her
waist, her sole adornment a brassy wedding ring, that almost covered an
entire joint. She spoke in a rapid, absent voice, as if her attention were
perpetually wandering down from the subject in hand to an invisible
kitchen stove, or a child temporarily unaccounted for.

"Lettice looks right good," she declared, "and, dear me, why shouldn't
she, with nothing on her mind at all but what comes to every woman? When I
had my last Rutherford was down with the influenza, the youngest was taken
with green-sickness, and we had worked out all our pay at the store in
supplies. You're fixed nice here," she added without a trace of envy in
her tired voice. "I suppose that's Mrs. Hollidew in her shroud. We have
one of James--he died at three--sitting just as natural as life in the
rocker."

"Where's Rose?" he asked.

"In the kitchen, helping Mrs. Caley. I wanted to ask that nothing be said
before Rose of Lettice's expecting. We've brought her up very delicate;
and besides there's a young man paying her attention, it's not a fitting
time--she might take a scare. I had promised to bring Barnwell K. the next
time."

They could hear from without the boy and the hysterical yelping of General
Jackson. "That dog won't bite?" Mrs. Berry worried. Gordon, patently
indignant, replied that the General never bit. "Barnwell might cross
him," she answered; and, moving to the door, summoned her offspring. It
was the sturdy individual who had burst into a wail at Clare's funeral,
his hair still bristling against a formal application of soap.

"C'm on in, doggy," he called; "c'm in, Ginral. I wisht I had a doggy like
that," he hung on his mother's knees lamenting the absence from their
household of a General Jackson. "Our ol' houn' dog's nothing," he
asserted.

Lettice, worn by her visitor's rapid monotone, the stir and clatter of
young shoes, remarked petulantly, "Gordon paid two hundred dollars for
that single dog; there ought to be something extra to him."

Mrs. Berry received this item without signal amazement; it was evident
that she was prepared to credit any vagaries to the possessors of Pompey
Hollidew's fabulous legacy.

"Just think of that!" she exclaimed mildly; "I'll chance that dog gets a
piece of liver every day."

Rose, from the door, announced supper. She was an awkward girl of
seventeen, with the pallid face and blank brown eyes of her father, and
diffident speech. Gordon faced Lettice over her figured red cloth; on one
side Barnwell K. sat flanked by his mother and Simeon Caley, on the other
Rose sat by an empty chair, the place of the now energetically employed
Mrs. Caley. The great, tin pot of coffee rested at Lettice's hand, and,
before Gordon, a portentous platter held three gaunt, brown chickens with
brilliant yellow legs stiffly in air. Between these two gastronomic poles
was a dish of heaped, quivering poached eggs, the inevitable gravy boat,
steaming potatoes and a choice of pies. Gordon dismembered the chickens,
and, as the plates circled the table, they accumulated potatoes and gravy
and eggs. Barnwell K., through an oversight, was defrauded of the last
item, and proceeded to remedy the omission. He thrust his knife into the
slippery, poached mass. At best a delicate operation, he erred, eggs
slipped, and a thick yellow stream flowed sluggishly to the rim of the
plate. His mother met this fault of manner with profuse, disconcerted
apologies. She shook him so vigorously that his chair rattled. Simeon
Caley lifted the heavy coffee pot for Lettice.

Mrs. Caley's service was abrupt, efficient; she set down plates of hot
bread with a clatter; she rattled the stove lids from without, and
complained of General Jackson, faithfully following her every movement.

Sim Caley wielded an adroit knife; but, under the extraordinary pressure
of this bountiful repast, Rutherford Berry easily outdistanced him. He
consumed such unlimited amounts that he gained the audible displeasure of
his wife.

"You're not a camel," she truthfully observed, "you don't have to fill up
for a week; you get something home. What Lettice'll think of you I can't
make out."

Substantial sections of pie were dispatched. Barnwell K., valiantly
endeavoring to emulate his father, struggled manfully; he poked the last
piece of crust into his mouth with his fingers. Then, in a shrill aside,
he inquired, "Will Aunt Lettice have the baby while we're here." His
mother's hand rang like a shot on his face, and he responded instantly
with a yell of appalling volume.

Lettice's cup struck sharply upon its saucer. The delicate Rose flushed
appropriately, painfully. The culprit was hauled, incontinently, dolefully
wailing, to bed. The three men preserved an embarrassed silence. Finally
Gordon said, "Have a cigar." His brother-in-law responded with alacrity,
but Sim preferred his plug tobacco, and Gordon Makimmon twisted a
cigarette. Sim and Rutherford were patently uncomfortable amid the
formality of the dining room; and, at Gordon's suggestion, trooped with
relief out to the shedlike stable. There they examined critically the two
horses. Facing the stalls was an open space, and on boxes and the remnant
of a chair they found places and smoked and spat informally.

"You could study a life on women," Rutherford Berry pronounced, "and
never come to any satisfaction. It seems to me the better they be the more
sharp-like they get. There's your sister, Gord--the way she does about the
house, and with all the children to tend, is a caution to Dunkards. She
does all you could ask and again. But it just seems she can't be pleasant
with it. Now there's Nickles, next place to me, his old woman's not worth
a pinch of powder, but she is the nicest, easiest spoken body you'd meet
in a day on a horse. You mind Effie when she was young, Gord--she just
trailed song all over the house, but it wasn't hardly a year before she
got penetrating as a musket. Rose is just like her--she's all taffy now on
that young man, but in a little spell she'll clamp down on him."

Gordon had a swift vision of Lettice sharpening with the years; there
sounded in prospect on his ear an endless roll of acidulous remarks,
accompanied by the fretful whine of children, intensified by Mrs. Caley's
lowering silence. He thought of the change that had overtaken his sister
Effie, remarked by her husband, the change from a trim, upright figure to
the present stooped form, the turning of that voice brimming with song to
a continuous, shrill troubling.

The cool, disdainful countenance of Meta Beggs returned to him: time, he
divined, would not mark her in so sorry a fashion; to the last she would
remain slimly rounded, graceful; her hands, like magnolia flowers, would
never thicken and grow rough. He thought of Paris, of that life which, she
said, would civilize him; he tried in vain to form an image of the cafés
and little carriages, the bare-necked women drinking champagne. He
recalled a burlesque show he had once seen in Stenton, called "The French
Widows"; the revealed amplitude of the "widows" had been clad in vivid,
stained pink tights; the scene in which they disported with a comic
Irishman, a lugubrious Jew, was set with gilded palms, a saloon bar on one
side and a tank on the other from which "Venus" rose flatly from a cotton
sea. He dismissed that possibility of resemblance--it was too palpably at
variance with what Meta Beggs would consider desirable; but, somehow, pink
tights and Paris were synonymous in his thoughts. At any rate it was
certain to be gay; the women would resemble Nickles' wife rather than his
sister ... than Lettice as she would be in a few years.

He recalled suddenly a neglected rite of hospitality, and from an obscure
angle of the shed, produced a gallon jug. Drinking vessels were procured,
and a pale, pungent whiskey poured out. Rutherford Berry sputtered and
gasped over his glass; Sim Caley absorbed a brimming measure between
breaths, without a wink of the eye; Gordon drank inattentively. The
ceremony was repeated; a flare of color rose in Berry's pallid
countenance, Sim's portion apparently evaporated from the glass. The
whiskey made no visible impression on Gordon Makimmon. The jug was
circulated again, and again. All at once Rutherford became drunk. He rose
swaying, attempted to articulate, and fell, half in a stall. Simeon Caley
pulled him out, slapped his back with a hard, gnarled palm, but was unable
to arouse him from a profound stupor.

"He ain't right strong," Sim observed with a trace of contempt, propping
the figure in a limp angle against the wall. It was dark now, and he lit
the hand lantern, cautiously closing the door. Outside the whippoorwills
had begun to call. A determined rattling of pots and pans sounded from the
kitchen.

"How much is in her, Gord?" Sim asked.

Gordon Makimmon investigated the jug. "She's near three quarters full," he
announced.

An expression of profound content settled upon Simeon Caley. The jug went
round and round. Gordon grew a shade more punctilious than customary, he
wiped the jug's mouth before passing it to Sim--at the premature
retirement of Rutherford the glasses had been discarded as effete; but not
a degree of the other's manner betrayed the influence of his Gargantuan
draughts of liquor. The lantern flickered on the sloping, cobwebby roof,
on the shaggy horses as they lay clumsily down to rest, on the crumpled
figure of Gordon's sister's husband.

The potations were suddenly interrupted by a sharp knocking from without.
An expression of concern instantly banished Sim's content; he gazed
doubtfully at the jug, then, as Gordon made no move, rose and with marked
diffidence proceeded to open the door. The lantern light fell on the
gaunt, bitter countenance of his wife framed in imponderable night. Her
eyes made liquid gleams in the wavering radiance which, directed at
Gordon, seemed to be visible points of hatred.

"It's ten o'clock," she said to her husband, "and if you hain't got enough
sense to go to bed I'll put you."

"I'm coming right along," he assured her pacifically; "we were just having
a drink around."

"Mrs. Berry's asking for her husband," she added, gazing at that insensate
form.

"He must be kind of bad to his stomach," Sim remarked; "he dropped with
nothing 'tall on him." He bent and picked the other up. Rutherford Berry's
arms hung limply over Sim's grasp, his feet dragged heavily, in unexpected
angles, over the floor. "Coming, Gord?"

Gordon made no reply. He sat intent upon the jug before him. Simeon
considerately shut the door. At regular intervals Gordon Makimmon took a
long drink. He drank mechanically, without any evidence of desire or
pleasure; he resembled a man blindly performing a fatiguing operation in
his sleep; he had the fixed, open eyes of a sleep-walker, the precise,
unnatural movements. The lantern burned steadily, the horses slept with an
audible breathing. Finally the jug was empty; he endeavored to drink twice
after that was a fact before discovering it.

He rose stiffly and threw open the door. Dawn was flushing behind the
eastern range; the tops of the mountains were thinly visible on the
brightening sky. His dwelling, with every window closed, was silvery with
dew. He walked slowly, but without faltering, to the porch, and mounted
the steps from the sod; the ascent seemed surprisingly steep, long. The
door to the dining room was unlocked and he entered; in the thinning gloom
he could distinguish the table set as usual, the coffee pot at Lettice's
place glimmering faintly. He turned to the left and passed into their
bedroom. The details of the chamber were growing clear: the bed was placed
against the farther wall, projecting into the room, its low footboard held
between posts that rose slimly dark against the white counterpane beyond;
on the right were a window and high chest of drawers, on the left a stand
with a china toilet service and a couch covered with sheep skins, roughly
tanned and untrimmed. A chair by the bed bore Lettice's clothes, another
at the foot awaited his own. By his side a curtain hung out from the wall,
forming a wardrobe.

He vaguely made out the form of Lettice sitting upright in the bed, her
hands clasped about her knees.

"Your brother-in-law," he observed, "is a powerful spindling man." She
made no rejoinder to this, and, after a short pause, he further remarked,
"How he gets on sociable I don't see."

His wife's eyes were opened wide, gazing intently into the greying room;
not by a sound, a motion, did she show any consciousness of his presence.
He was deliberate in his movements, very deliberate, laboriously exact in
his mental processes, but they were ordered, logical. It began to annoy
him that his wife had made no reply to his pleasantries; it was out of
reason; he wasn't drunk like Rutherford Berry.

"I said," he pronounced, "that Berry is a nubbin. Didn't you hear me?
haven't you got an answer to you?"

She sat gazing into nothingness, ignoring him completely.

His resentment changed to anger; he moved to the foot of the bed, where,
in his shirt sleeves, he harangued her:

"I want a cheerful wife, one with a song to her, and not a dam' female
elder around the house. A good woman is a--a jewel, but when your goodness
gives you a face ache it's ... it's something different, it's a nuisance.
I'd almost rather have a wife that wasn't so good but had some give to
her." He sat down, clutching a heavy shoe which came off suddenly. Lettice
was as immobile as the chest of drawers.

"Goddy knows," he burst out again, "it's solemn enough around here anyhow
with Sim Caley's old woman like a grave hole, and now you go and get it
too.... Berry might put up with it, and Sim's just fool-hearted, but a
regular man wouldn't abide it, he'd--he'd go to Paris, where the women are
civilized and dance all night." He muttered an unintelligible period about
French widows and pink.... "Buried before my time," he proclaimed. He
stood with his head grizzled and harsh above an absurdly flowing
nightshirt. In the deepening light Lettice's countenance seemed thinner
than usual, her round, staring eyes were frightened, as though she had
seen in the night the visible apparition of the curse of suffering laid
upon all birth.

"You look like you've taken leave of your wits," he exclaimed in an
accumulated exasperation; "say something." He leaned across the bed, and,
grasping her elbow, shook her. She was as rigid, as unyielding, as the
bed posts. Then with a long, slow shudder she turned and buried her head
in the pillow.



XIV


Rutherford Berry and Effie, Barnwell K. and the delicate Rose, left after
breakfast. Sim drove off behind the sturdy horse and Mrs. Caley was
audibly energetic in the kitchen. When Gordon appeared on the porch
Lettice was seated in the low rocker that had so often held Clare. She
responded in a suppressed voice to her husband's salutation. "You went and
spoiled Effie's whole visit," she informed him, "making Rutherford
drunk."

"Why," he protested, "we never; he just got himself drunk."

"It was mean anyway--sitting drinking all night in the stable."

"You'll say I was drunk too next."

"It doesn't matter to you what I say, or what I go through with. I've
stood more than I rightly ought, more than I'm going to--you must give me
one thought in a day. You just act low. Father was self-headed, but he was
never real trashy. He never got into fights at those common camp
meetings."

"I threw the stone that hit Buck, didn't I! I busted his head open, didn't
I! Oh, of course, I'm to blame for it all ... put it on me."

"Well, how did you get in it? how did you get mixed up with the
school-teacher?"

"I got Mrs. Caley to thank for this, and I'll thank her." He hotly recited
the obvious aspect of his connection at the camp meeting with Meta Beggs.

"It sounds all right as far as it goes," she retorted; "but I'll chance
there's a good deal more; I'll chance you had it made up to meet her
there. You would never have gone for any other reason; I don't believe you
have been to a revival for twenty years. You had it made up between you.
And that Miss Beggs is too smart for you, she'll fool you all over the
mountain. I don't like her either, and I don't want you to give her the
satisfaction of making up to you. It's what she'd like--laughing at my
back!"

"Miss Beggs never spoke any harm of you."

She made a gesture, hopeless, impatient, at his innocence. Her resentment
burst out again, "Why does she want to speak to you--another woman's
husband? Anybody knows it's low down. When did you see her? What did you
talk about?"

"Of course when I see her coming I ought to go 'round by South Fork," he
replied, heavily sarcastic.

"Well, you don't have to stand and talk like I warrant you do. There's
something deep about her look."

"I've taken care of myself for some years, and I guess I can keep on."

"You can if you want to go to ruin, like you were when I married you, and
you only had one shirt to your name."

"Throw it up to me. It's no wonder a man drinks here, he's got more to
forget than to think about." He stepped from the porch, preparing to
leave.

"Wait!" she commanded; "I'll put up with being left, and having you drink
all night with the beasts, and fooling my money away, but," her voice rose
and her eyes burned over dark shadows, "I won't put up with another woman,
I won't put up with that thin thing making over my husband. I won't! I
won't! do you understand that.... I--I can't."

He went around the corner of the house with her last words ringing in his
ears, kicking angrily at the rough sod. His house, between Mrs. Caley's
glum silence and Lettice's ceaseless complaining, was becoming
uninhabitable. And, as Rutherford Berry had pointed out, the latter would
only increase, sharpen, with the years. Lettice was a good wife, she was
not like Nickles' old woman, worthless but the pleasantest body you'd
meet in a day on a horse. She was not like Meta Beggs. He had never seen
any other like the latter. Lettice had said that she would fool him all
over the mountain ... but not him, not Gordon Makimmon, he thought
complacently.

He was well versed in the ways of women; he would not go a step that he
did not intend, understand. This business of Paris, for example: he might
tell Meta Beggs that he'd go, and then, at--say, Norfolk, he would change
his mind. Anyhow that was a plan worth considering. He recalled the
school-teacher's level, penetrating gaze; she was as smart as Lettice had
divined; he would have difficulty in fooling her. He felt obscurely that
any step taken with her would prove irrevocable.

Lettice kept at him and at him; after the baby arrived it would be no
better; there would be others; he regarded a succession of such periods, a
succession of babies, with marked disfavor. He had been detached for so
long from the restraints of commonplace, reputable relationships that they
grew increasingly irksome, they chafed the old, established freedom of
morals and action. Meta Beggs blew into fresh flame the embers of dying
years. And yet, as he had told her by the stream, an involuntary
lassitude, a new stiffness, had fallen upon his desire. Although his
marriage was burdensome it was an accomplished fact; Lettice's wishes,
her quality of steadfastness, exerted their influence upon him.

They operated now to increase his resentment; they formed an almost
detached disapproval situated within his own breast, a criticism of his
thoughts, his emotions, against which he vainly raged, setting himself
pointedly in its defiance.

He lounged past the Courthouse, past Peterman's hotel, to the post-office.
It was a small frame structure, with the wing of the postmaster's
residence extending from the back. At the right of the entrance was a
small show window holding two watches with shut, chased silver lids, and a
small pasteboard box lined with faded olive-colored plush containing two
plated nut crackers and six picks. The postmaster was the local jeweller.
Within, beyond the window which gave access to the governmental activities
a glass case rested on the counter. It was filled with an assortment of
trinkets--rings with large, highly-colored stones, wedding bands, gold
pins and bangles engraved with women's flowery names; and, laid by itself,
a necklace of looped seed pearls.

The latter captured Gordon's attention, it was so pale, and yet, at the
same time, so suggestive of elusive colors; it was so slender and
graceful, so finished, that it irresistibly recalled the person of Meta
Beggs.

"Let's see that string of pearls," he requested.

The postmaster laid it on top of the glass case. "The jobber sent it up
by accident," he explained; "I can't see anything to it--for the price;
it's too slimsy. I wouldn't advise it, Gord. Why, for thirty dollars, and
that's what it costs--diamond clasp, you can get a string of fish skin
pearls, experts can't tell 'em from original, as big as your finger end
that would go twice about the neck and then hang some."

The necklace slipped coldly through Gordon Makimmon's hand; it reminded
him of a small, pearly snake with a diamond head; it increasingly reminded
him of Meta Beggs. She loved jewelry. If she had kissed him for a pair of
silk stockings--

"I think I'll take it," he decided slowly; "I don't know if I've got her
right here in my pants."

"Now, Gordon," the other heartily reassured him, "whenever you like. Of
course it's a fine article--all strung on gold wire. I won't be surprised
but Lettice'll think it's elegant. I often wondered why you didn't stop in
lately and look over my stock; ladies put a lot on such little trifles."

Meta Beggs would have to wear it under her dress in Greenstream, he
realized; perhaps she had better not wear it at all until she was out of
the valley. He would clasp the pearls about that smooth, round throat....
The postmaster wrapped the pearls into a small, square package, talking
voluminously. A new driver of the Stenton stage had lost a mail bag, he
had lamed a horse--a satisfactory driver had not been discovered since
Gordon ... left. He had heard of a law restraining the sale of patent
medicines, of Snibbs' Mixture, and what the local drinkers would do,
already deprived of the more legitimate forms of spirituous refreshment,
was difficult to say. The postmaster predicted they would take to "dope."
Then there was to be a sap-boiling over on the western mountain, to-morrow
night, at old man Entriken's.... Everybody had been invited; if the
weather was ugly it would take place the first clear spell.

Sap-boilings, Gordon knew, held late in spring in the maple groves, lasted
all night. Baskets of food were driven to the scene; the fires under the
great, iron kettles were kept replenished; everybody stirred the bubbling
sap, ate, gabbled; the young people even danced on the grass.

It was a romantic ceremonial: the unusual hours of its celebration, the
mystery of night in close groves lit by the stars temporarily unsettled
life from its prosaic, arduous journey toward the inevitable, blind
termination. It moved the thoughts into unwonted fantasy, the heart to
new, unguessed possibilities. For that night established values, life-long
habits, negations, prudence, were set at naught.

Gordon wondered whether Meta Beggs would be there? He would like to be
with her at a sap-boiling, in the sooty shadows. With the necklace of
seed pearls in his pocket he walked over the street revolving in his mind
the problem of asking her to accompany him. He could not hope to hide it
from Lettice; and, to-day, he had recognized a note of finality in his
wife's voice with regard to the school-teacher. If he went with Meta Beggs
serious trouble would ensue in his home ... he wished to avoid any actual
outbreak with Lettice. He remembered, tardily, her condition; it would be
dangerous for her. He might, conceivably, at some time or another, go
away; even to Paris--yet, at that latter thought, the wish, almost the
necessity, of a return lingered at the back of his brain--but he would not
goad her into an explosion of misery and temper. He acknowledged to
himself, with a faint glow of pride, that he was not anxious to encounter
Lettice Makimmon's full displeasure; she possessed the capability of
tenacity, an iron-like resolve, inherited from old Pompey.

In the outcome his difficulty was unexpectedly solved for him--a large
farm wagon, with boards temporarily laid from side to side, was to convey
a quantity of people, and among them Meta Beggs, from the village to the
sap-boiling. He learned this from the idlers before the _Bugle_ office.
Sitting with his chair canted against that dingy wooden façade he thought
of the school-teacher and the coming night. It was late afternoon of the
day on which he had bought the necklace. The small package still rested in
his pocket. It had been his intention to give the pearls to Meta Beggs
before he returned to his home, but no opportunity had offered. After
school she had passed the seated row of men, uneasily stirring their hats
in response to her collected greeting; and, with Mrs. Peterman, gone into
the body of the hotel. Gordon could not follow her. Anyhow, the
presentation could be made with better effect in the obscurity of the
maples to-morrow night ... her gratitude could have fuller sweep.

He made his way finally, reluctantly, home. There, alone in the bedroom,
he swiftly withdrew the necklace from its pasteboard box, and dropped it
into the pocket of a coat hanging in the curtained wardrobe. It was, he
noted, the checked suit with the red thread, the one he would wear to the
sap-boiling. He heard approaching footsteps, and, hastily crumpling the
paper and small box into a compact unit, he flung it into a corner of the
wardrobe, behind a heap of linen.



XV


It was comparatively a short distance to the elder Entriken's farm, and,
rather than invent a laborious explanation of the horse's absence all
night, Gordon walked. Numberless excuses offered him plausible reason for
his own delayed return home.--It was better to say nothing to Lettice of
his actual intention; she was already suspicious of his sudden interest in
local gatherings.

The road beyond Greenstream village crossed a brook and mounted by sharp
turns the western range. The day had faded to amethyst, pale in the
translucent vault of the sky, deepening in the valley; the plum-colored
smoke of evening fires ascended in tenuous columns to an incredible
height. He walked rapidly, with the oppressed heart that had lately grown
familiar, the sense of imminence, the feeling of advancing into a vague,
towering shadow. That last sensation was at once new and familiar--where
before had he been conscious of a vast, indefinable peril, blacker than
night, looming implacably before him? He summoned his old hardihood and
advanced over the still, bosky side of the mountain.

He descended, beyond the ridge, into the fact of evening accomplished. At
the base of the range he crossed a softly-swelling expanse of
close-cropped grass, skirted a bog and troop of naked-seeming birches, and
came in view of the maple grove toward which he was bound.

The maple trees towered compact and majestic over the level sod, holding
their massed foliage black against the green sky. Low in the right the new
moon hung like a gold fillet above the odorous, crepuscular earth; and, at
the base of the trees, the fires were like bubbling, crimson sealing wax
poured into the deeper, indigo gloom.

As Gordon advanced he saw a number of vehicles, from which the horses had
been taken and tied to an improvised railing. Figures moved darkly against
the flames; beyond familiar features flickered like partial, painted masks
on the night. In the grove the sap, stirred in the great iron kettles,
kept up a constant, choking minor; the smooth trunks of the trees swept up
from the unsteady radiance into the obscurity of invisible branches looped
with silver strings of stars.

Blurred forms moved everywhere. He searched for Meta Beggs. She was not by
the kettles of sap; beyond the trees, by covered baskets of provisions
lanterns made a saffron pool of light, but she was not there. He felt in
his pocket the cool, sinuous necklace. Finally he found her; or, rather,
she slipped illusively into his contracted field of vision.

"You didn't tell me you were coming," she reproached him.

She wore a red dress, purple in the night, with a narrow, black velvet
ribband pinned about her throat; her straw hat was bound in red. She
gained an extraordinary potency from the dark; it almost seemed to Gordon
Makimmon that her skin had a luminous quality; he could see her pointed
hands distinctly, and her small, cold face. All her dresses strained about
her provocative body, an emphasis rather than a covering of her slim
maturity. They drifted, without further speech, out of the circles of
wavering light, into the obscurity beyond.

They sat, resting against a hillock of sod, facing the sinking visible rim
of the moon. From the bog the frogs sounded like a continuously and
lightly-struck xylophone. Meta Beggs shivered.

"I'll go mad here," she declared, "in this--this nothingness. Look--the
moon dropping into wilderness; other lucky people are watching it
disappear behind great houses and gardens; women in the arms of their
lovers are watching it through silk curtains."

He gazed critically over the valley, the mountains, into the sky scarfed
by night. "I'm used to it," he returned; "it doesn't bother me like it
does you. Some people even like it. A man who came here from the city to
die of lung trouble sat for weeks looking up Greenstream valley; he
couldn't get enough morning or evening."

"But I don't want to die, I want to live. I'm going to live, too; I've
decided--"

"What?"

"To stop teaching. When the term's over, in a few weeks, I'm going to take
the money I make and go to New York. It will be just enough to get me
there and buy me a pretty hat, with a few dollars over. I am going with
those into a café and get a bottle of champagne, and pick out the man with
the best clothes. I'll tell him I'm a poor school-teacher from the South
who came to New York to meet a man who promised to marry me, but who had
not kept his word. I'll tell him that I'm good--I can, you know; no man
has ever fooled anything out of me--and that I bought wine to get the
courage to kill myself."

"It sounds right smart," he admitted; "you can do it too, you can lie like
hell. But," he added importantly, "I don't know that I will let you."
This, he assured himself, was purely experimental. He had decided nothing;
his course in the future was hidden from him absolutely. He thought
discontentedly of his home, of the imagined long, dun vista of years.

He was now, he realized dimly, at the crucial point of his existence: with
Meta Beggs, in that world of which Paris was the prefigurement, he might
still wring from life a measure of the sharp pleasures of tempestuous
youth and manhood; he might still dance to the piping of the senses. With
Lettice in Greenstream he would rapidly sink into the dullness of
increasing age.

He was vaguely conscious of the baseness of the mere weighing of such a
choice; but he was engulfed in his overmastering egotism; his sense of
obligation was dulled by the supreme selfishness of a lifetime, of a
lifetime of unbridled temper and appetite, of a swaggering self-esteem
which the remorseless operation of fate had ignored, had passed
indifferently by, leaving him in complete ignorance of the terrible and
grim possibilities of human mischance.

He had suffered at the loss of his dwelling, but principally it had been
his pride that had borne the wound; Clare's death had affected him finally
as the arbitrary removal of a sentimental object for his care, on which to
lavish the gifts of his large generosity.

He sat revolving in his mind the choice of paths which seemed to open for
his decision in such different directions, which seemed to await the
simple ordering of his footsteps as he chose. The night deepened to its
darkest hour; the moon, in obedience to its automatic, fixed course, had
vanished behind the mountains; the frogs, out of their slime, raised their
shrill plaint of life in death.



XVI


"I've got something for you," Gordon said suddenly.

"I hope it's pretty," she replied, leaning forward, resting against his
shoulder.

He brought from his pocket the slender, looped necklace of seed pearls. It
was faintly visible in the dark, the diamond clasp made a small glint. She
took it eagerly from him. "I'll light a match," he told her. In the
minute, orange radiance the pearls shimmered in her fingers.

"But it's wonderful!" she exclaimed, unable to suppress her surprise at
his unerring choice; "it's exactly right. Have you been to Stenton?
however could you get this here?"

"Oh, I know a few things," he assured her; "I got an eye. Let me put it on
for you." He took it from her, and his hands fumbled about her smooth
throat. He required a long time to fasten it. The intoxication of the
subtlety of her sex welled from hand to head. He kissed her still lips
until he ceased from sheer lack of breath. He drew her close to him, with
an arm about her pliant waist.

"I've been thinking of you in those pretty clothes," he admitted.

"All lace and webby pink silk and ribbands underneath," she reminded him;
"but only for you, and satin trains and diamonds for the others."

Her words winged like little flames into his imagination. He whispered in
her ear, "Richmond." She stiffened in his arms as if that single word had
the power to freeze her. "We'll see, we'll see," he added hastily, fearing
to dispel her complacency. "Paris is a long way ... a man could never come
back."

"I didn't know you were so cautious," she challenged; "I thought you were
bolder--that's your reputation in Greenstream, a bad one for a man or
woman to cross."

"So I've been," he acknowledged; "I told you I wouldn't have hesitated a
while back."

"What is holding you now--your wife? She would soon get over it. She's
only a girl, she hasn't had enough experience to hold a man. Besides, she
must know by now that you only married her for money; she must know you
don't care for her; women always find out."

The bald, incontestable statement of his reason for marrying Lettice
disconcerted him. He had never made the acknowledgment of putting it into
words to himself, and no one else had openly guessed, had dared....

Suddenly it appeared to him in the light of a possible act of
cowardice--Lettice, a girl, blinded by affection. And, equally, it was
undeniably true that he did not care for her ... he did not care for her?
that realization too carried a slight sting. But neither did he care for
Meta Beggs; something different attracted him to the latter; she--she
brought him out, that was it; she ministered to his pleasure, his desire,
his--

"Don't," she said firmly.

His balked feelings overmastered him, and he disregarded her prohibition.
She slipped from his grasp as lithely as the serpentine pearls had run
through his fingers.

"Haven't you learned," she demanded, standing, "that I can't be bought
with silk stockings or a little necklace? Or, perhaps, you are cheap, and
I have been entirely wrong.... I'm going to get something to eat, with the
people who brought me from Greenstream. I will be back here in two hours,
but it will be for the last time. You must decide one way or the other
while I am gone. You may stay or leave; I'm going to leave. Remember--no
more penny kisses, no more meetings like this; it must be all or nothing.
Some man will take me to Paris, have me." She dissolved against the dark
of the maple grove.



XVII


But, curiously, sitting alone, he gave little consideration to the
decision, immediate and irrevocable, which confronted him. His thoughts
evaded, defied, him, retreated into night-like obscurity, returned
burdened with trivial and unexpected details of memory. It grew colder,
the rich monotone of mountain and sky changed to an impenetrable, ugly
density above which the constellations wheeled without color. His back was
toward the maple grove; the removed, disembodied voices mingled in a sound
not more intelligible than the chorus of frogs. It occurred to him
suddenly that, perhaps, in a week, a month, he might not be in
Greenstream, nor in the mountains, but with the white body of Meta Beggs
in the midst of one of those vast, fabulous cities the lust of which
possessed her so utterly.... Or she would be gone.

He thought instinctively of the little cemetery on the slope above the
village. One by one that rocky patch was absorbing family and familiars.
Life appeared to be a stumbling procession winding through Greenstream
over the rise and sinking into that gaping, insatiable chasm. He was
conscious of an invisible force propelling him into that sorry parade,
toward those unpretentious stones marked with the shibboleth of names and
dates. A desperate anxiety to evade this fate set his soul cowering in its
fatal mask of clay. This, he realized, was unadulterated, childish fear,
and he angrily aroused himself from its stifling influence.

Meta Beggs would be back soon; she would require an answer to her
resolve ... all or nothing. The heat, chilled by the night and loneliness,
faded a little from his blood. She demanded a great deal--a man could
never return. He bitterly cursed his indecision. He became aware of a
pervading weariness, a stiffness from his prolonged contact with the
earth, and he rose, moved about. His legs were as rigid, as painful, as an
old man's; he had been leaning on his elbow, and the arm was dead to the
fingers. The nerves pricked and jerked in infinitesimal, fiery agonies. He
swung his arms, stamped his feet, aiding his stagnating circulation. The
frogs ceased their complaint abruptly; the concerted jangle of voices in
the grove rose and fell. The replenished fires poured their energy over
the broad bottoms of the sap kettles.

The night faded.

The change, at first, was imperceptible: as always the easterly mountains
grow visible against a lighter sky. The foliage of the maples, stripped
of the looping stars, took the form of individual branches brightening
from black to green. There was a stir of dim figures about the impatient
horses. Meta Beggs came swiftly to him. He could see her face plainly now,
and was surprised at its strained, anxious expression. Her hand closed
upon his arm, she drew him to her:

"Which?" she whispered.

"I don't know," he dully replied.

"Save me," she implored; "take me away." She whispered maddeningly in his
ear, summoning the lust within him, the clamor in his brain, the throbbing
in his throat, his wrists. He shut his eyes, and, when he opened them, the
dawn had arrived. It forced her from him. Her gown changed to vivid red;
about her throat the graceful pearls were faintly iridescent.

"I don't know," he repeated wearily.

Over her shoulder he saw a buggy approaching across the grass. It was
disconcertingly familiar, until he recognized, beyond any doubt, that it
was his own. Sim, he assured himself, had learned of his presence at the
sap-boiling, and, in passing, had stopped to fetch him home. But there was
no man in the buggy ... only two women. Meta Beggs, intercepting his
intent gaze, turned and followed it to its goal ... Gordon saw now that
Mrs. Caley was driving, and by her side ... Lettice! Lettice--riding over
the rough field, over the dark stony roads, when now, so soon ... in her
condition ... it was insanity. Simeon Caley's wife should never have
allowed it.

The horse, stolidly walking over the sod, stopped before them. Mrs. Caley
held a rein in either hand, her head, framed in a rusty black bonnet and
strings, was as dark, as immobile as iron. Lettice gathered her shawl
tightly about her shoulders; she had on a white waist and her head was
bare. She descended clumsily from the buggy and walked slowly up to
Gordon. Her face was older than he had ever seen it, and pinched; in one
hand she grasped a small pasteboard box.



XVIII


Gordon Makimmon made one step toward her. Lettice held the box in an
extended hand:

"Gordon," she asked, "what was this for? It was in the clothes press last
evening: it couldn't have been there long. You see--it's a little
jewellery box from the post-office; here is the name on the lid. Somehow,
Gordon, finding it upset me; I couldn't stop 'til I'd seen you and asked
you about it. Somehow there didn't seem to be any time to lose. I asked
for you last night in the village, but everybody had gone to the
sap-boiling ... I sat up all night ... waiting ... I couldn't wait any
longer, Gordon, somehow. I had to come out and find you, and everybody had
gone to the sap-boiling, and--"

"Why, Lettice," he stammered, more disconcerted by the sudden loss of
youth from her countenance than by her words; "it wasn't--wasn't much."

"What was it, Gordon?" she insisted.

Suddenly he was unable to lie to her. Her questioning eyes held a quality
that dispelled petty and casual subterfuges. The evasion which he
summoned to his lips perished silently.

"A string of pearls," he muttered.

"Why did you crush the pretty box if they were for--for me or for your
sister, if it was to be a surprise? I can't understand--"

"It, it was--"

"Who were they for, Gordon?"

A blundering panic swept over him; Lettice was more strange than familiar;
she was unnatural; her hair didn't shine in the sunlight streaming into
the shallow, green basin; in the midst of the warm efflorescence she
seemed remote, chill.

"For her," he moved his head toward Meta Beggs.

She withdrew her burning gaze from Gordon Makimmon and turned to the
school-teacher.

"For Miss Beggs," she repeated, "why ... why, that's bad, Gordon. You're
married to me; I'm your wife. Miss Beggs oughtn't ... she isn't anything
to you."

Meta Beggs stood motionless, silent, her red cotton dress drawing and
wrinkling over her rounded shoulders and hips. The necklace hung
gracefully about the slender column of her throat.

The two women standing in the foreground of Gordon Makimmon's vision, of
his existence, summed up all the eternal contrast, the struggle, in the
feminine heart. And they summed up the duplicity, the weakness, the
sensual and egotistical desires, the power and vanity and vain-longing, of
men.

Meta Beggs was the mask, smooth and sterile, of the hunger for adornment,
for gold bands and jewels and perfume, for goffered linen and draperies of
silk and scarlet. She was the naked idler stained with antimony in the
clay courts of Sumeria; the Paphian with painted feet loitering on the
roofs of Memphis while the blocks of red sandstone floated sluggishly down
the Nile for the pyramid of Khufu the King; she was the flushed
voluptuousness relaxed in the scented spray of pagan baths; the woman with
piled and white-powdered hair in a gold shift of Louis XIV; the prostitute
with a pinched waist and great flowered sleeves of the Maison Doree. She
was as old as the first vice, as the first lust budding like a black
blossom in the morbidity of men successful, satiated.

She was old, but Lettice was older.

Lettice was more ancient than men walking cunning and erect, than the
lithe life of sun-heated tangles, than the vital principle of flowering
plants fertilized by the unerring chance of vagrant insects and airs.

Standing in the flooding blue flame of day they opposed to each other the
forces fatally locked in the body of humanity. Lettice, with her unborn
child, her youth haggard with apprehension and pain, the prefigurement of
the agony of birth, gazed, dumb and bitter in her sacrifice, at the
graceful, cold figure that, as irrevocably as herself, denied all that
Lettice affirmed, desired all that she feared and hated.

"Why, that's bad, Gordon," she reiterated, "I'm your wife. And Miss Beggs
is bad, I'm certain of that." A spasm of suffering crossed her face like a
cloud.

"You ought not to have come, Lettice. Lettice, you ought not to have
come," he told her. His dull voice reflected the lassitude that had fallen
upon him, the sudden death of all emotion, the swift extinguishing of his
interest in the world about him; it reflected, in his indifference to
desire, an indifference to Meta Beggs.

"Do you love her, Gordon?" his wife asked.

"No, I don't," he answered, perceptibly impatient at the question.

"Do you like her better than you like me?"

The palpable answer to her query, that he thought of himself more than
either, evaded him. "I don't like her better than I like you," he repeated
baldly.

Lettice turned to the other woman. "There's not much you can say," she
declared, "caught like this trying to steal somebody's husband. And you
set over a school of children!"

"I don't choose to be," Meta Beggs retorted. "I hate it, but I had to
live. If you hadn't had all that money to keep you soft, yes, and get you
a husband, you would have had to fight and do, too. You might have been
teaching a roomful of little sneaks, and sick to death of it before ever
you began ... or you might be on the street--better girls have than you."

"And you bought her a necklace, Gordon, her--"

All that he now desired was to get Lettice safely home. Another wave of
pain rose whitely over her countenance. "Come on, Lettice," he urged;
"just step into the buggy." He waved toward the vehicle, toward the
peacefully grazing horse, Mrs. Caley sitting upright and sallow.

"And take him right along with you," Meta Beggs added; "your money's tight
around his neck."

Resentment at the implied ignominy penetrated his self-esteem.

"We're going right on now, Lettice," he continued; "we must drive as
careful as possible."

"I don't know that I want you," his wife articulated slowly.

"You can decide that later," he returned; "we're going home first."

She relaxed her fingers, and dropped the pasteboard box on the turf. She
stood with her arms hanging limply, breathing in sharp inspirations. She
gazed about at the valley, the half-distant maple grove: suddenly the
youth momentarily returned to her, the frightened expression of a child
abruptly conscious of isolation in an alien, unexpected setting.

"Gordon," she said rapidly, "I had to come--find you ... something--" her
voice sharpened with apprehension. "Tell me it will be all right. It
won't ... kill me." She stumbled toward him, he caught her, and half
carried her to the buggy, where he lifted her over the step and into the
seat. A red-clad arm was supporting her on the other side: it was Meta
Beggs.

"You drive," he directed Mrs. Caley. He held Lettice with her face hidden
against his shoulder. The valley was refulgent with early summer, the
wheat was swelling greenly, the meadows, threaded by shining streams were
sown with flowers, grazed by herds of cattle with hides like satin, the
pellucid air was filled with indefinite birdsong. The buggy lurched over a
hillock of grass, his wife shuddered in his arms, and an unaccustomed,
vicarious pain contracted his heart. Where the fields gave upon the road
the buggy dropped sharply; Lettice cried out uncontrollably. He cursed
Mrs. Caley savagely under his breath, "Can't you drive," he asked; "can't
you?"

The ascent to the crown of the ridge was rough, but beyond, winding down
to the Greenstream valley, it was worse. The buggy, badly hitched, bumped
against the flank of the horse, twisted over exposed boulders, brought up
suddenly in the gutters cut diagonally by the spring torrents. Gordon
Makimmon forgot everything else in the sole desire to get Lettice safely
to their house. He endeavored, by shifting her position, to reduce the
jarring of the uneven progress. He realized that she was in a continual
agony, and, in that new ability to share it through the dawning
consciousness of its brute actuality in Lettice, it roused in him an
impotent fury of rebellion. It took the form of an increasing passion of
anger at the inanimate stones of the road, against Mrs. Caley's meager
profile on the dusty hood of the buggy. He whispered enraged oaths, worked
himself into an insanity of temper. Lettice grew rigid in his arms. For a
while she iterated dully, like the beating of a sluggish heart
"bad ... bad ... bad." Then dread wiped all other expression from her
face; then, again, pain pinched her features.

The buggy creaked down the decline to their dwelling. Gordon supported
Lettice to their room; then he stood on the porch without, waiting. The
rugged horse, still hitched, snatched with coarse, yellow teeth at the
grass. Suddenly Mrs. Caley appeared at a door: she spoke, breaking the
irascible silence of months, dispelling the accumulating ill-will of her
pent resentment, with hasty, disjointed words:

"... quick as you can ... the doctor."



XIX


A hoarse, thin cry sounded from within the Makimmon dwelling. It
fluctuated with intolerable pain and died abruptly away, instantly
absorbed in the brooding calm of the valley, lost in the vast, indifferent
serenity of noon. But its echo persisted in Gordon's thoughts and
emotions. He was sitting by the stream, before his house; and, as the cry
had risen, he had moved suddenly, as though an invisible hand had touched
him upon the shoulder. He sat reflected on the sliding water against the
reflection of the far, blue sky. One idea ran in a circle through his
brain, his lips formed it soundlessly, he even spoke it aloud:

"It ain't as though I had gone," he said.

The possible consequence to Lettice of what had been a mere indecision
seemed to him out of any proportion. No, he thought, I wouldn't have gone
when the time came; when the minute came I'd have held back. Then again,
it ain't as though I had gone. A species of surprise alternated with
resentment at the gravity of the situation which had resulted from his
indiscreet conduct; the agony of that cry from within the house was too
deep to have proceeded from ... it wasn't as though he had gone ... he
wouldn't have gone, anyway.

He heard footsteps on the porch, and turned, recognizing Doctor Pelliter.
He half rose to go to the other with an inquiry; but he dropped quickly
back on the bank, looked away.--Some time before the doctor had tied a
towel about his waist ... it had been a white towel.

His mind returned to Lettice and the terrible mischance that had been
brought upon her; that he had brought on her. He tested the latter clause,
and attempted to reject it: he had done nothing to provoke such a terrible
actuality. He rehearsed the entire chain of events which had resulted in
the purchase of the pearl necklace; he followed it as far back as the
evening when, from the minister's lawn, he had seen Meta Beggs undressing
at her window. He could nowhere discover any desperate wrong committed. He
knew men, plenty of them, who were actually unfaithful to their wives: he
had done nothing of that sort. He endeavored to grow infuriated with Meta
Beggs, then with Mrs. Caley; he endeavored to place upon them the
responsibility for that attenuated, agonized sound from the house; but
without success. He had made a terrible blunder. But, in a universe where
the slightest fairness ruled, he and not Lettice would pay for an error
purely his own.

Lettice was so young, he realized suddenly.

He recalled her as she sat alone, under the lamp, with her shawl about her
shuddering shoulders, waiting for the inevitable, begging him to assure
her that it would be all right. It would, of course, be all right in the
end. It must! Then things would be different. He made himself no
extravagant promises of reform, no fevered reproaches; but things would be
different.--He would take Lettice driving; he had the prettiest young wife
in Greenstream, and he would show people that he realized it. She had been
Lettice Hollidew, the daughter of old Pompey, the richest man in the
county.

The importance of that latter fact had dimmed; the omnipotence of money
had dwindled: for instance, any conceivable sum would be powerless to
still that cry from within. In a way it had risen from the very fact of
Pompey Hollidew's fortune--Meta Beggs would never have considered him
aside from it. He endeavored to curse the old man's successful avarice,
but without any satisfaction. Every cause contributing to the present
impending catastrophe led directly back to himself, to his indecision. The
responsibility, closing about him, seemed to shut out the air from his
vicinity, to make labored his breathing. He put out a hand, as though to
ward off the inimical forces everywhere pressing upon him. He had seen
suffering before--what man had not?--but this was different; this
unsettled the foundations of his being; it found him vulnerable where he
had never been vulnerable before; he shrunk from it as he would shrink
from touching a white-hot surface. He was afraid of it.

He thought of the ghastly activities inside the house; they haunted him in
confused, horrid details amid which Lettice suffered and cried out.

He was unaware of the day wheeling splendidly through its golden hours,
of the sun swinging across the narrow rift of the valley. At long
intervals he heard muffled hoof-beats passing on the dusty road above. He
watched a trout slip lazily out from under the bank, and lie headed
upstream, slowly waving its fins. It recalled the trout he had left on
the porch of Hollidew's farmhouse on the night when he had attempted
to ... seduce ... Lettice!

The details of that occasion returned vivid, complete, unsparing. It was a
memory profoundly regrettable because of an obscure connection with
Lettice's present danger; it too--although he was unable to discover why
it should--took on the dark aspect of having helped to bring the other
about. As the memory of that night recurred to him he became conscious of
an obscure, traitorous force lurking within him, betraying him, leading
his complacency into foolish and fatal paths, into paths which totally
misrepresented him.... He would not really have gone away with Meta
Beggs.

He was a better man than all this would indicate! Yet--consider the
result; he might as well have committed a foul crime. But, in the end, it
would be all right. Doctors always predicted the darkest possibilities.

He turned and saw Doctor Pelliter striding up the slope to where his team
was hitched on the public road. A swift resentment swept over Gordon
Makimmon as he realized that the other had purposely avoided him. He rose
to demand attention, to call; but, instinctively, he stifled his voice.
The doctor stopped at the road, and saw him. Gordon waved toward the
house, and the other nodded curtly.



XX


He passed through the dining room to the inner doorway, where he brushed
by Mrs. Caley. Her face was as harsh and twisted as an old root. He
proceeded directly to the bed.

"Lettice," he said; "Lettice."

Then he saw the appalling futility of addressing that familiar name to the
strange head on the pillow.

Lettice had gone: she had been destroyed as utterly as though a sinister
and ruthless magic had blasted every infinitesimal quality that had been
hers. A countenance the color of glazed white paper seemed to hold pools
of ink in the hollows of its eyes. The drawn mouth was the color of stale
milk. Nothing remained to summon either pity or sorrow. The only possible
emotion in the face of that revolting human disaster was an incredulous
and shocked surprise. It struck like a terrible jest, a terrible, icy
reminder, into the forgetful warmth of living; it mocked at the supposed
majesty of suffering, tore aside the assumed dignity, the domination, of
men; it tampered ferociously with the beauty, the pride, the innocent and
gracious pretensions, of youth, of women.

Gordon Makimmon was conscious of an overwhelming desire to flee from the
white grimace on the bed that had been Lettice's and his. He drew back, in
a momentary, abject, shameful cowardice; then he forced himself to
return.... The fleering lips quivered, there was a slight stir under the
counterpane. A little sound gathered, shaped into words barely audible in
the stillness of the room broken only by Gordon's breathing:

"It's ... too much. Not any more ... hurting. Oh! I can't--"

He found a chair, and sat down by her side. The palms of his hands were
wet, and he wiped them upon his knees. His fear of the supine figure grew,
destroying the arrogance of his manhood, his sentient reason. He was
afraid of what it intimated, threatened, for himself, and of its
unsupportable mockery. He felt as an animal might feel cornered by a
hugely grim and playful cruelty.

The westering sun fell through a window on the disordered huddle of
Lettice's hastily discarded clothes streaming from a chair to the
floor--her stockings, her chemise threaded with a narrow blue ribband. His
thoughts turned to the little white garments she had fashioned in vain.

It had been wonderfully comfortable in the evening in the sitting room
with Lettice sewing. He recalled the time when he had first played the
phonograph in order to hear the dog "sing." Lettice had cried out,
imploring him to stop; well--he had stopped, hadn't he? The delayed
realization of her patience of misery rankled like a barb. The wandering
thoughts returned to the long fabrication he had told her of the loss of
his money in Stenton, of the fictitious agent of hardware. He had snared
the girl in a net of such lies; scornful of Lettice's innocence, her
"stupid" trust, he had brought her to this ruinous pass. It hadn't been
necessary.

The window was open, and a breath of early summer drifted in--a breath of
palpable sweetness. Mrs. Caley entered and bent over the bed, an angular,
black silhouette against the white. She left without a word.

If Lettice died he, Gordon Makimmon, would have killed her, he had killed
more ... he recognized that clearly. The knowledge spread through him like
a virus, thinning his blood, attacking his brain, his nerves. He lifted a
shaking hand to wipe his brow; and, for a brief space, his arm remained in
air; it looked as though he were gazing beneath a shielding palm at a far
prospect. The arm dropped suddenly to his side, the fingers struck dully
against the chair. He heard again the muffled beat of horse's hoofs on
the road above; the sun moved slowly over the narrow, gay strips of rag
carpet on the floor: life went on elsewhere.

His fear changed to loathing, to absolute, sick repulsion from all the
facts of his existence. With the passing minutes the lines deepened on his
haggard countenance, his expression perceptibly aged. The stubble of beard
that had grown since the day before grizzled his lean jaw; the confident
line of his shoulders, of his back, was bowed.

He looked up with a start to find the doctor once more in the room. He
rose. "Doc," he asked in a strained whisper, "Doc, will it be all right?"
He wet his lips. "Will she live?"

"You needn't whisper," the other told him; "she doesn't know ... now.
'Will she live?' I can only tell you that she wanted to die a thousand
times."

Gordon turned away, looking out through the window. It gave upon the slope
planted with corn; the vivid, green shoots everywhere pushed through the
chocolate-colored soil; chickens were vigorously scratching in a corner.
The shadow of the west range reached down and enfolded the Makimmon
dwelling; the sky burned in a sulphur-yellow flame. When he turned the
doctor had vanished, the room had grown dusky. He resumed his seat.

"I didn't do right," he acknowledged to the travesty on the bed; "there
was a good bit I didn't get the hang of. It seems like I hadn't learned
anything at all from being alive. I'm going to fix it up," he proceeded,
painfully earnest. "I'm--" He broke off suddenly at the stabbing memory of
the doctor's words, "She wanted to die a thousand times." He thought, I've
killed her a thousand times already. The fear plucked at his throat. He
rose and walked unsteadily to the door and out upon the porch.

The evening drew its gauze over the valley, the shrill, tenuous chorus of
insects had begun for the night, the gold caps were dissolving from the
eastern peaks. He saw Simeon Caley at the stable door; Sim avoided him,
moving behind a corner of the shed. His pending sense of blood-guiltiness
deepened. The impulse returned to flee, to vanish in the engulfing wild of
the mountains. But he realized vaguely that that from which he longed to
escape lay within him, he would carry it--the memories woven inexplicably
of past and present, dominated by this last, unforgettable specter on the
bed--into the woods, the high, lonely clearings, the still valleys. It was
not remorse now, it was not simple fear, but the old oppression, increased
a thousand-fold.

He sat in the low rocking chair that had held his mother and Clare, and,
only yesterday, Lettice, and its rockers made their familiar tracking
sound over the uneven boards of the porch. At this hour there was usually
a stir and smell of cooking from the kitchen; but now the kitchen window
was blank and still. Darkness gathered slowly about him; it obscured the
black and white check, the red thread, of his suit; it flowed in about him
and reduced him to the common greyness of the porch, the sod, the stream.
It changed him from a man with a puzzled, seamed visage into a man with no
especial, perceptible features, and then into a shadow, an inconsequential
blur less important than the supports for the wooden covering above.



XXI


After a while he rose, impelled once more within. A lamp had been lit in
the bedroom, and, in its radiance, the countenance on the pillow glistened
like the skin of a lemon. As before, Mrs. Caley left the room as he
entered; and he thought that, as she passed him, she snarled like an
animal.

He sat bowed by the bed. A moth perished in the flame of the lamp, and the
light flickered through the room--it seemed that Lettice grimaced, but it
was only the other. Her face had grown sharper: it was such a travesty of
her that, somehow, he ceased to associate it with Lettice at all. Instead
he began to think of it as something exclusively of his own making--it was
what he had done with things, with life.

The sheet lay over the motionless body like a thin covering of snow on the
turnings of the earth; it defined her breasts and a hip as crisply as
though they were cut in marble effigy on a tomb of youthful dissolution.
He followed the impress of an arm to the hand; and, leaning forward,
touched it. A coldness seemed to come through the cover to his fingers.
He let his hand stay upon hers--perhaps the warmth would flow back into
the cold arm, the chill heart; perhaps he could give her some of his
vitality. The possibility afforded him a meager comfort, instilled a faint
glow into his benumbed being. His hand closed upon that covered by the
linen like a shroud. He sat rigid, concentrated, in his effort, his
purpose. The light flickered again from the fiery perishing of a second
moth.

A strange feeling crept over him, a deepened sense of suspense, of
imminence. He fingered his throat, and his hand was icy where it touched
his burning face. He stood up in an increasing, nameless disturbance.

A faint spasm crossed the drained countenance beneath him; the mouth fell
open.

He knew suddenly that Lettice was dead.

There her clothes lay strewn on the chair and floor, the long, black
stockings and the rumpled chemise strung with narrow blue ribband. She had
worn them on her warm, young body; she had tied the ribband in the morning
and untied it at night, untied it at night ... it was night now.

A slow, exhausted deliberation of mind and act took the place of his late
panic. He smoothed the sheet where he had grasped her hand in the futile
endeavor to instil into her some of his warmth. He gazed at her for a
moment, at the shadows like pools of ink poured into the caverns of her
eyes, at a glint of teeth no whiter than the rest, at the dark plait of
her hair lying sinuously over the pillow. Then he went to the door:

"Mrs. Caley," he pronounced. The woman appeared in the doorway from the
kitchen. "Mrs. Caley," he repeated, "Lettice is dead."

She started forward with a convulsive gasp, and he turned aside and walked
heavily out onto the porch. He stood for a moment gazing absently into the
darkened valley, at the few lights of Greenstream village, the stars like
clusters of silver grapes on high, ultra-blue arbors. The whippoorwills
throbbed from beyond the stream, the stream itself whispered in a
pervasive monotone. The first George Gordon Makimmon, resting on the porch
of his new house isolated in the alien wild, had heard the whippoorwills
and the stream. Gordon's father had heard them just as he, the present
Makimmon, heard them sounding in the night. But no other Makimmon would
ever listen to the persistent birds, the eternal whisper of the water,
because he, the last, had killed his wife ... he had killed their child.

He trod down the creaking steps to the soft, fragrant sod, and made his
way to where a thread of light outlined the stable door. Sim was seated on
a box, the lantern at his feet casting a pale flicker over his riven face
and the horse muzzling the trough. Gordon sat down upon the broken chair.

"She's dead," he said, after a minute. Simeon Caley made no immediate
reply, and he repeated in exactly the same manner:

"She's dead."

A sudden bitterness of contempt flamed in the other's ineffable blue eyes.
"God damn you to hell!" he exclaimed; "now you got the money and nothing
to hinder you."

His resentment vanished as quickly as it had appeared. He rose and picked
up the lantern, and with their puny illumination they went out together
into the dark.



THREE

I


On an afternoon of the second autumn following Lettice's death Gordon was
fetching home a headstall resewn by Peterman. The latter, in a small shed
filled with the penetrating odor of dressed leather at the back of the
hotel, exercised the additional trade of saddler. General Jackson ambled
at Gordon's heel.

The dog had grown until his shoulder reached the man's knee; he was
compact and powerful, with a long, heavy jaw and pronounced, grave
whiskers; the wheaten color of his legs and head had lightened, sharply
defining the coarse black hair upon his back.

October was drawing to a close: the autumn had been dry, and the foliage
was not brilliantly colored, but exhibited a single shade of dusty brown
that, in the sun, took the somber gleams of clouded gold. It was warm
still, but a furtive wind, stirring the dead leaves uneasily over the
ground, was momentarily ominous, chill.

The limp rim of a felt hat obscured Gordon's features, out of the shadow
of which protruded his lean, sharp chin. His heavy shoes, hastily scraped
of mud, bore long cuts across the heels, while shapeless trousers, a coat
with gaping pockets, hung loosely about his thin body and bowed shoulders.
He passed the idlers before the office of the _Bugle_ with a scarcely
perceptible nod; but, farther on, he stopped before a solitary figure
advancing over the narrow footway.

It was Buckley Simmons. He was noticeably smaller since his injury at the
camp meeting; he had shrivelled; his face was peaked and wrinkled like the
face of a very old man; the shadows in the sunken cheeks did not resemble
those on living skin, but were dry and dusty like the autumn leaves. His
gaze was fixed upon the ground at his feet; but, as he drew up to Gordon,
he raised his head.

Into the dullness of his eyes, his slack lips, crept a dim recognition;
among the ashes of his consciousness a spark glowed--a single, live coal
of bitter hate.

"How are you, Buckley?" Gordon pronounced slowly.

The other's hands clenched as the wave of emotion crossed the blank
countenance. Then the hands relaxed, the face was again empty. He
continued, oblivious of Gordon's salutation, of his presence, upon his
way.

Gordon Makimmon stood for a moment gazing after him. Then, as he turned,
he saw that there was a small group of men on the Courthouse lawn; he saw
the sheriff standing facing them from the steps, gesticulating.



II


The purpose of this gathering was instantly apparent to him, it stirred
obscure memories into being.--A property was being publicly sold for
debt.

The trooping thoughts of the past filled his mind; thoughts, it seemed to
him, of another than himself. Surely it had been another Gordon Makimmon
that, sitting before the _Bugle_ office, had heard the sheriff enumerating
the scant properties of the old freehold by the stream to satisfy the
insatiable greed of Valentine Simmons. It had been a younger man than
himself by fifteen years. Yet, actually, it had been scarcely more than
three years since the storekeeper had had him sold out.

That other Makimmon had been a man of incredibly vivid interests and
emotions. Now it appeared to him that, in all the world, there was not a
cause for feeling, not an incentive to rouse the mind from apathy.

Stray periods reached him from the sheriff's recounting of "a highly
desirable piece of property." His loud, flat voice had not changed by an
inflection since he had "called out" Gordon's home; the merely curious or
materially interested onlookers were the same, the dragging bidding had,
apparently, continued unbroken from the other occasion. The dun, identical
repetition added to the overwhelming sense of universal monotony in Gordon
Makimmon's brain. He turned at the corner, by Simmons' store, while the
memories faded; the customary greyness, like a formless drift of cloud
obscuring a mountain height, once more descended upon him.

At the back of the store a small open space was filled with broken crates,
straw and boxes--the debris of unpacking. And there he saw a youthful
woman sitting with her head turned partially from the road. As he passed a
suppressed sob shook her. It captured his attention, and, with a slight,
involuntary gasp, he saw her face. The memories returned in a tumultuous,
dark tide--she reminded him vividly of Lettice. It was in the young curve
of her cheeks, the blue of her eyes, and a sameness of rounded
proportions, that the resemblance lay.

He stopped, without formulated reason, and in spite of her obvious desire
for him to proceed.

"It's hardly fit to sit here and cry before the whole County," he
observed.

"The whole County knows," she returned in the egotism of youthful misery.

Her voice, too, was like Lettice's--sweet with the premonition of the
querulous note that, Rutherford Berry had once said, distinguished all
good women.

A sudden intuition directed his gaze upon the Courthouse lawn.

"They're selling you out," he hazarded, "for debt."

She nodded, with trembling lips. "Cannon is," she specified.

Cannon was the storekeeper for whom his brother-in-law clerked. He thought
again, how monotonous, how everlastingly alike, life was. "You just let
the amount run on and on," he continued; "you got this and that. Then,
suddenly, Cannon wanted his money."

Her eyes opened widely at his prescience. "But there was sickness too,"
she added; "the baby died."

"Ah," Gordon said curtly. The lines in his worn face deepened, his mouth
was inscrutable.

"If it hadn't been for that," she confided, "we could have got through.
Everything had started fine. Alexander's father had left him the place:
there isn't a better in the Bottom. Alexander says Mr. Cannon has always
wanted it. Now ... now ..." her blue gaze blurred with slow tears.

Her similarity to Lettice grew still more apparent--she presented the same
order, her white shirtwaist had been crisply ironed, her shoes were
rubbed bright and neatly tied. He recalled this similitude suddenly, and
it brought before him a clearly defined vision of Lettice, not as his
wife, but of the girl he had driven to and from the school at Stenton. He
had not thought of that Lettice for months, for three years; not since
before she had died; not, he corrected himself drearily, since he had
killed her. He had remembered the last phase, of the glazed and bloodless
travesty of her youth. But even that lately had been lost in the fog of
nothingness settling down upon him.

And now this girl, on a box back of Simmons' store, brought the buried
memories back into light. They disconcerted him, sweeping through the
lassitude of his mind; they stirred shadowy specters of fear.... The voice
of the sheriff carried to them, describing the excellent repair of
incidental sheds.

"I nailed all the tar-paper on the--the chicken house," she told him in a
fresh accession of unhappiness, the tears spilling over her round, flushed
cheeks.

It annoyed him to see her cry: it was as though Lettice was suffering
again from old misery. His irritation grew at this seeming renewal of what
had gone; it assumed the aspect of an intentional reproach, of Lettice
returned to bother him with her pain and death. He turned sharply to
continue on his way. But, almost immediately, he stopped.

"Your name?" he demanded.

"Adelaide Crandall."

The Crandalls, he knew, were a reputable family living in the valley
bottom east of Greenstream village. Matthew Crandall had died a few years
before, and, as this girl had indicated, had left a substantial farm to
each of his sons. Cannon would get this one, and it was more than
probable, the others.

The old enmity against Valentine Simmons, directed at Cannon, flamed
afresh. Simmons or the other--what did the name matter? they were the
same, a figurative apple press crushing the juice out of the country,
leaving but a mash of hopes and lives. He stood irresolute, while Adelaide
Crandall fought to control her emotions.

The badgering voice of the sheriff sounded again on his hearing. He
crossed the road, pushed open the grinding iron gate of the fence that
enclosed the Courthouse lawn, and made his way through the sere, fallen
leaves to the steps.



III


"Twenty-seven hundred and ninety dollars," the sheriff reiterated; "only
twenty-seven ninety ... this fine bottom land, all cleared and buildings
in best repair. Going! Going!"

"Three thousand," a man called from the group facing the columned
portico.

"Three thousand! Three thousand! Sale must be made. Going--"

"Thirty-one hundred," Gordon pronounced abruptly.

A stir of renewed interest animated the sale. Gordon heard his name
pronounced in accents of surprise. He was surprised at himself: his bid
had been unpremeditated--it had leaped like a flash of ignited powder out
of the resurrected enmity to Valentine Simmons, out of the memories
stirred by the figure that resembled Lettice.

The sheriff immediately took up his bid. "Thirty-one hundred! thirty-one,
gentlemen; only thirty-one for this fine bottom land, all cleared--"

There was a prolonged pause in the bidding, during which even the
auctioneer grew apathetic. He repeated the assertion that the buildings
were in the best repair; then, abruptly, concluded the sale. Gordon had
purchased the farm for thirty-one hundred dollars.

He despatched, in the Courthouse, the necessary formalities. When he
emerged the group on the lawn had dwindled to three people conversing
intently. A young man with heavy shoulders already bowed, clad in
unaccustomed, stiff best clothes, advanced to meet him.

"Mr. Makimmon," he began; "you got my place.... There's none better. I've
put a lot of work into it. I'll--I'll get my things out soon's I can. If
you can give me some time; my wife--"

"I can give you a life," Gordon replied brusquely. He walked past
Alexander Crandall to his wife. She turned her face from him. He said:

"You go back to the Bottom. I've fixed Cannon ... this time. Tell your
husband he can pay me when it suits; the place is yours." He swung on his
heel and strode away.



IV


The fitful wind had, apparently, driven the warmth, the sun, from the
earth. The mountains rose starkly to the slaty sky.

Gordon Makimmon lighted a lamp in the dining room of his dwelling. The
table still bore a red, fringed cloth, but was bare of all else save the
castor, most of the rings of which were empty. The room had a forlorn
appearance, there was dust everywhere; Gordon had pitched the headstall
into a corner, where it lay upon a miscellaneous, untidy pile.

"I reckon you want something to eat," he observed to General Jackson. He
proceeded, followed by the dog, to the kitchen. It revealed an appalling
disorder: the stove was spotted with grease, grey with settled ashes; a
pile of ashes and broken china rose beyond; on the other side coal and
wood had been carelessly stored. A table was laden with unwashed dishes,
unsavory pots, crusted pans.

Gordon stood in the middle of the floor, a lamp in his hand, surveying the
repellent confusion. It had accumulated without attracting his notice; but
now, suddenly detached from the aimless procession of the past months, it
was palpable to him, unendurable. "It's not fit for a dog," he
pronounced.

An expression of determination settled on his seamed countenance; he took
off his coat and hung it on a peg in the door. Outside, by an ash-pit, he
found a bucket and half-buried shovel. A minute after the kitchen was
filled with grey clouds as he shoveled the ashes into the bucket for
removal. He worked vigorously, and the pile soon disappeared; the wood and
coal followed, carried out to where a bin was built against the house.
Then he raked the fire from the stove.

It was cold within, but Gordon glowed with the heat of his energy. He
filled a basin with water, and, with an old brush and piece of sandsoap,
attacked the stove. He scrubbed until the surface exhibited a dull, even
black; then, in a cupboard, he discovered an old box of stove polish, and
soon the iron was gleaming in the lamplight. He laid and lit a fire, put
on a tin boiler of water for heating; and then carried all the movables
into the night. After which he fed General Jackson.

He flooded the kitchen floor and scrubbed and scraped until the boards
were immaculate. Then, with a wet towel about a broom, he cleaned the
walls and ceiling; he washed the panes of window glass. The dishes
followed; they were dried and ranged in rigid rows on the dresser; the
pots were scoured and placed in the closets underneath. Now, he thought
vindictively, when he had finished, the kitchen would suit even Sim
Caley's wife--the old vinegar bottle.

The Caleys had left his house the morning following Lettice's funeral.
Mrs. Caley had departed without a word; Sim with but a brief, awkward
farewell. Since then Gordon had lived alone in the house; but he now
realized that it was not desirable, practicable. Things, he knew, would
soon return to the dirt and disorder of a few hours ago. He needed some
one, a woman, to keep the place decent. His necessity recalled the
children of his sister.... There was only Rose; the next girl was too
young for dependence. The former had been married a year now, and had a
baby. Her husband had been in the village only the week before in search
of employment, which he had been unable to secure, and it was immaterial
where in the County they lived.



V


The couple grasped avidly at the opportunity to live with him. The youth
had already evaporated from Rose's countenance; her minute mouth and
constantly lifted eyebrows expressed an inwardly-gratifying sense of
superiority, an effect strengthened by her thin, affected speech. Across
her narrow brow a fringe of hair fell which she was continually crimping
with an iron heated in the kitchen stove, permeating the room with a
lingering and villainous odor of burned hair.

William Vibard was a man with a passion--the accordion. He arrived with
the instrument in a glossy black paper box, produced it at the first
opportunity, and sat by the stove drawing it out to incredible lengths in
the production of still more incredible sounds. He held one boxlike end,
with its metallic stops, by his left ear, while his right hand,
unfalteringly fixed in the strap of the other end, operated largely in the
region of his stomach.

He had a book of instructions and melodies printed in highly-simplified
and explanatory bars, which he balanced on his knee while he struggled in
their execution.

He was a youth of large, palpable bones, joints and knuckles; his face was
long and preternaturally pale, and bore an abstracted expression which
deepened almost to idiocy when bent above the quavering, unaccountable
accordion.

The Vibard baby was alarmingly little, with a bluish face; and, as if in
protest against her father's interminable noise, lay wrapped in a knitted
red blanket without a murmur, without a stir of her midgelike form, hour
upon hour.



VI


Some days after the Vibards' arrival Gordon Makimmon was standing by the
stable door, in the crisp flood of midday, when an ungainly young man
strode about the corner of the dwelling and approached him.

"You're Makimmon," he half queried, half asserted. "I'm Edgar Crandall,
Alexander's brother." He took off his hat, and passed his hand in a quick
gesture across his brow. He had close-cut, vivid red hair bristling like a
helmet over a long, narrow skull, and a thrusting grey gaze. "I came to
see you," he continued, "because of what you did for Alec. I can't make
out just what it was; but he says you saved his farm, pulled it right out
of Cannon's fingers, and that you've given him all the time he needs to
pay it back--" He paused.

"Well," Gordon responded, "and if I did?"

"I studied over it at first," the other frankly admitted; "I thought you
must have a string tied to something. I know Alexander's place, it's a
good farm, but ... I studied and studied until I saw there couldn't be
more in it than what appeared. I don't know why--"

"Why should you?" Gordon interrupted brusquely, annoyed by this searching
into the reason for his purchase of the farm, into the region of his
memories.

"I didn't come here to ask questions," the other quickly assured him; "but
to borrow four thousand dollars."

"Why not forty?" Gordon asked dryly.

"Because I couldn't put it out at profit, now." Edgar Crandall ignored the
other's factitious manner: "but I can turn four over two or three times in
a reasonable period. I can't give you any security, everything's covered I
own; that's why I came to you."

"You heard I was a fool with some money?"

"You didn't ask any security of Alexander," he retorted. "No, I came to
you because there was something different in what you did from all I had
ever known before. I can't tell what I mean; it had a--well, a sort of big
indifference about it. It seemed to me perhaps life hadn't got you in the
fix it had most of us; that you were free."

"You must think I'm free--with four thousand dollars."

"Apples," the other continued resolutely. "I've got the ground, acres of
prime sunny slope. I've read about apple growing and talked to men who
know. I've been to Albermarle County. I can do the same thing in the
Bottom. Ask anybody who knows me if I'll work. I can pay the money back
all right. But, if I know you from what you did, that's not the thing to
talk about now.

"I want a chance," he drove a knotted fist into a hardened palm; "I want a
chance to bring out what's in me and in my land. I want my own! The place
came to me clear, with a little money; but I wasn't content with a crop of
fodder. I improved and experimented with the soil till I found out what
was in her. Now I know; but I can't plant a sapling, I can't raise an
apple, without binding myself to the Cannons and Hollidews of the County
for life.

"I'd be their man, growing their fruit, paying them their profits. They
would stop at the fence, behind their span of pacers, and watch me--their
slave--sweating in the field or orchard."

"You seem to think," Gordon observed, "that you ought to have some special
favor, that what grinds other men ought to miss you. Old Pompey sold out
many a better man, and grabbed richer farms. And anyhow, if I was to money
all that Cannon and Valentine Simmons got hold of where would I
be?--Here's two of you in one family, in no time at all.... If that got
about I'd have five hundred breaking the door in."

The animation died from Edgar Crandall's face; he pulled his hat over the
flaming helmet of hair. "I might have known such things ain't true," he
said; "it was just a freak that saved Alec. There's no chance for a man,
for a living, in these dam' mountains. They look big and open and free,
but Greenstream's the littlest, meanest place on the earth. The
paper-shavers own the sky and air. Well, I'll let the ground rot, I won't
work my guts out for any one else."

He turned sharply and disappeared about the corner of the dwelling. Gordon
moved to watch him stride up the slope to where a horse was tied by the
public road. Crandall swung himself into the saddle, brought his heels
savagely into the horse's sides, and clattered over the road.

Gordon Makimmon's annoyance quickly evaporated; he thought with a measure
of amusement of the impetuous young man who was not content to grow a crop
of fodder. If the men of Greenstream all resembled Edgar Crandall, he
realized, the Cannons would have an uneasy time. He thought of the
brother, Alexander, of Alexander's wife, who resembled Lettice, and
determined to drive soon to the Bottom and see them and the farm. He would
have to make a practicable arrangement with regard to the latter, secure
his intention, avoid question, by a nominal scheme of payment.



VII


He knew, generally, where Alexander Crandall's farm lay; and, shortly
after, drove through the village and mounted the road over which plied the
Stenton stage. In the Bottom, beyond the east range, he went to the right
and passed over an ill-defined way with numerous and deep fords. It was
afternoon; an even, sullen expanse of cloud hid the deeps of sky through
which the sun moved like a newly-minted silver dollar. A sharp wind drew
through the opening; the fallen leaves rose from the road in sudden,
agitated whirling; the gaunt branches, printed sharply on the curtain of
cloud, revealed the deserted nests of past springs.

He drove by solitary farms, their acres lying open and dead among the
brush; and stopped, undecided, before a fenced clearing that swept back to
the abrupt wall of the range, against which a low house was scarcely
distinguishable from the sere, rocky ascent. Finally he drove in, over a
faintly marked track, past a corner of the fence railed about a trough for
sheep shearing, to the house. A pine tree stood at either side of the
large, uncut stone at the threshold; except for a massive exterior chimney
the somberly painted frame structure was without noticeable feature.

He discovered immediately from the youthful feminine figure awaiting him
at the door that he was not at fault. Mrs. Crandall's face radiated her
pleasure.

"Mr. Makimmon!" she cried; "there's just no one we'd rather see than you.
Step right out, and Alexander'll take your horse. He's only at the back of
the house.... Alec!" she called; "Alec, what do you suppose?--here's Mr.
Makimmon."

Alexander Crandall quickly appeared, in a hide apron covered with curlings
of wood. A slight concern was visible upon his countenance, as though he
expected at any moment to see revealed the "string" of which his brother
had spoken.

Gordon adequately met his salutation, and turned to the woman. He saw now
that she was more mature than Lettice: the mouth before him, although
young and red, was bitten in at the corners; already the eyes gazed
through a shadow of care; the capable hands were rough and discolored from
toil and astringent soaps.

"Come in, come in," Crandall urged, striving to banish the sudden anxiety
from his voice.

"And you go right around, Alec," his wife added, "and twist the head off
that dominicker chicken. Pick some flat beans too, there's a mess still
hanging on the poles. Go in, Mr. Makimmon."

He was ushered into the ceremonious, barely-furnished, best room. There
was a small rag carpet at the door, with an archaic, woven animal, and at
its feet an unsteady legend, "Mary's Little Lamb"; but the floor was
uncovered, and the walls, sealed in resinous pine, the pine ceiling, gave
the effect, singular and depressing, of standing inside a huge box.

"It's mortal cold here," Mrs. Crandall truthfully observed; "the grate's
broken. If you wouldn't mind going out into the kitchen--"

In the kitchen, from a comfortable place by the fire, Gordon watched her
deft preparations for an early supper. Crandall appeared with the picked
dominicker, and sat rigidly before his guest.

"I don't quite make out," he at last essayed, "how you expect your money,
what you want out of it."

"I don't want anything out of it," Gordon replied with an almost bitter
vigor; "leastways not any premium. I said you could pay me when you liked.
I'll deed you the farm, and we'll draw up a paper to suit--to suit
crops."

The apprehension in Alexander Crandall's face turned to perplexed relief.
"I don't understand," he admitted; "but I haven't got to. It's enough to
know that you pulled us out of ruination. Things will come right along
now; we can see light; I'm extending the sheep-cots twice."

Supper at an end he too launched upon the lack of opportunity in
Greenstream. "Some day," he asserted, "and not so far off either, we'll
shake off the grip of these blood-money men; we'll have a state lawed
bank; a rate of interest a man can carry without breaking his back.
There's no better land than the Bottom, or the higher clearings for
grazing ... it's the men, some of 'em...."



VIII


It was dark when Gordon closed the stable door and turned to his dwelling.
A light streamed from a chink in the closed kitchen shutter like a gold
arrow shot into the night. From within came the long-drawn quaver of
William Vibard's performance of the Arkansas Traveller. He was sitting
bowed over the accordion, his jaw dropped, his eyes glazed with the
intoxication of his obsession. Rose was rigidly upright in a straight
chair, her hands crossed at the wrists in her meager lap.

The fluctuating, lamentable sounds of the instrument, Rose's expression of
conscious virtue, were suddenly petty, exasperating; and Gordon, after a
short acknowledgment of their greeting, proceeded through the house to the
sitting room beyond.

No fire had been laid in the small, air-tight stove; the room had a
closed, musty smell, and was more chill than the night without; his breath
hung before him in a white vapor. Soon he had wood burning explosively,
the stove grew rapidly red hot and the chill vanished. He saw beyond the
lamp with its shade of minute, variously-colored silks the effigy of Mrs.
Hollidew dead. Undisturbed in the film of dust that overlaid the table
stood a pink celluloid thimble ... Lettice had placed it there....

His thoughts turned to Alexander Crandall and his wife, to the extended
sheep-cots, and the "light" which they now saw. He recalled the former's
assertion that the land was all right, but that the blood-money men made
life arduous in Greenstream. He remembered Edgar Crandall's arraignment of
the County as "the littlest, meanest place on earth," a place where a man
who wanted his own, his chance, was helpless to survive the avarice of a
few individuals, the avarice for gold. He had asked him, Gordon Makimmon,
to give him that chance. But, obviously, it was impossible ... absurd.

His memory drifted back to the evening in the store when Valentine Simmons
had abruptly demanded payment of his neglected account, to the hopeless
rage that had possessed him at the realization of his impotence, of
Clare's illness. That scene, that bitter realization of ruin, had been
repeated across the breadth of Greenstream. As a boy he had heard men in
shaking tones curse Pompey Hollidew; only last week the red-headed
Crandall had sworn he would let his ground rot rather than slave for the
breed of Cannon. It was, apparently, a perpetual evil, an endless burden
for the shoulders of men momentarily forgetful or caught in a trap of
circumstance.

Yet he had, without effort, without deprivation, freed Alexander Crandall.
He could have freed his brother, given him the chance his rebellious soul
demanded, with equal ease. He had not done that last, he had said at the
time, because of the numbers that would immediately besiege him for
assistance. This, he realized, was not a valid objection--the money was
his to dispose of as he saw fit. He possessed large sums lying at the
Stenton banks, automatically returning him interest, profit; thrown in the
scale their weight would go far toward balancing the greed of Valentine
Simmons, of Cannon.

He considered these facts totally ignorant of the fact that they were but
the reflection of his own inchoate need born in the anguish of his wife's
death; he was not conscious of the veering of his sensibility--sharpened
by the hoarse cry from the stiffening lips of Lettice--to the world
without. He thought of the possibility before him neither as a scheme of
philanthropy nor of revenge, nor of rehabilitation. He considered it
solely in the light of his own experience, as a practical measure to give
men their chance, their own, in Greenstream. The cost to himself would be
small--his money had faded from his conceptions, his necessities, as
absolutely as though it had been fairy gold dissolved by the touch of a
magic wand. He had never realized its potentiality; lately he had ignored
it with the contempt of supreme indifference. Now an actual employment for
it occupied his mind.

The stove glowed with calorific energy; General Jackson, who had been
lying at his feet, moved farther away. The lamplight grew faint and
reddish, and then expired, trailing a thin, penetrating odor. In the dark
the heated cylinder of the stove shone rosy, mysterious.

Gordon Makimmon was unaware of his own need; yet, at the anticipation of
the vigorous course certain to follow a decision to use his money in
opposition to the old, established, rapacious greed, he was conscious of a
sudden tightening of his mental and physical fibers. The belligerent blood
carried by George Gordon Makimmon from world-old wars, from the endless
strife of bitter and rugged men in high, austere places, stirred once more
through his relaxed and rusting being.

He thought, aglow like the stove, of the struggle that would follow such a
determination, a struggle with the pink fox, Valentine Simmons. He thought
of himself as an equal with the other; for, if Simmons were practised in
cunning, if Simmons were deep, he, Gordon Makimmon, would have no
necessity for circuitous dealing; his course would be simple,
unmistakable.--He would lend money at, say, three per cent, grant
extensions of time wherever necessary, and knock the bottom out of the
storekeepers' usurious monopoly, drag the farms out of Cannon's grasping
fingers.

"By God!" he exclaimed, erect in the dark; "but Edgar Crandall will get
his apples."

The dog licked his hand, faithful, uncomprehending.



IX


On an afternoon of mid-August Gordon was sitting in the chamber of his
dwelling that had been formerly used as dining room. The table was bare of
the castor and the red cloth, and held an inkpot, pens upright in a glass
of shot, and torn envelopes on an old blotter. An iron safe stood against
the wall at Gordon's back, and above it hung a large calendar, advertising
the Stenton Realty and Trust Company.

A sudden gloom swept over the room, and Gordon rose, proceeded to the
door. A bank of purple cloud swept above the west range, opened in the sky
like a gigantic, menacing fist; the greenery of the valley was overcast,
and a white flash of lightning, accompanied by a shattering peal of
thunder, stabbed viciously at the earth. There was no rain. An edge of
serene light followed in the west a band of saffron radiance that widened
until the cloud had vanished beyond the eastern peaks. The sultry heat lay
like a blanket over Greenstream.

He turned back into the room, but, as he moved, he was aware of a figure
at the porch door. It was a man with a round, freshly-colored
countenance, bland eyes, and a limp mustache, clad in leather boots and a
worn corduroy gunning coat. Gordon nodded familiarly; it was the younger
Entriken from the valley beyond.

"I came to see you about my note," he announced in a facile candor; "I
sh'd take it up this month, but times are terrible bad, Gordon, and I
wondered if you'd give me another extension? There's no real reason why
you sh'd wait again; I reckon I could make her, but it would certainly be
accommodating--" he paused interrogatively.

"Well," Gordon hesitated, "I'm not in a hurry for the note, if it comes to
that. But the fact is ... I've got a lot of money laid out. What's been
the matter?--the weather has been good, it's rained regular--"

"That's just it," Entriken interrupted; "it's rained too blamed regular.
It is all right for crops, but we've got nothing besides cattle, and
steers wouldn't hardly put on anything the past weeks. Of course, in a
way, grass is cattle, but it just seems they wouldn't take any good in the
wet."

"I suppose it will be all right," Gordon Makimmon assented; "but I can
hardly have the money out so long ... others too."



X


The heat thickened with the dusk. The wailing clamor of William Vibard's
accordion rose from the porch. He had, of late, avoided sitting with Rose
and her husband; they irritated him in countless, insignificant ways.
Rose's superiority had risen above the commonplace details of the house;
she sat on the porch and regarded Gordon with a strained, rigid smile.
After a pretense at procuring work William Vibard had relapsed into an
endless debauch of sound. His manner became increasingly abstracted; he
ate, he lived, with the gestures of a man playing an accordion.

The lines on Gordon's thin, dark face had multiplied; his eyes, in the
shadow of his bony forehead, burned steady, pale blue; his chin was
resolute; but a new doubt, a constant, faint perplexity, blurred the line
of his mouth.

From the road above came the familiar sound of hoof-beats, muffled in
dust, but it stopped opposite his dwelling; and, soon after, the porch
creaked under slow, heavy feet, and a thick, black-clad figure knocked and
entered.

It was the priest, Merlier.

In the past months Gordon had been conscious of an increasing concord with
the silent clerical. He vaguely felt in the other's isolation the wreckage
of an old catastrophe, a loneliness not unlike his, Gordon Makimmon's, who
had killed his wife and their child.

"The Nickles," the priest pronounced, sudden and harsh, "are worthless,
woman and man. They would be bad if they were better; as it is they are
only a drunken charge on charity and the church. They have been stewed in
whiskey now for a month. They make nothing amongst their weeds.--Is it
possible they got a sum from you?"

"Six weeks back," Gordon replied briefly; "two hundred dollars to put a
floor on the bare earth and stop a leaking roof."

"Lies," Merlier commented. "When any one in my church is deserving I will
tell you myself. I think of an old woman now, but ten dollars would be a
fortune." Silence fell upon them. Then:

"Charity is commanded," he proceeded, "but out of the hands of authority
it is a difficult and treacherous virtue. The people are without
comprehension," he made a gesture of contempt.

"With age," the deliberate voice went on, "the soul grows restless and
moves in strange directions, struggling to throw off the burden of flesh.
But I that know tell you," Merlier paused at the door, "the charity of
material benevolence, of gold, will cure no spiritual sores; for spirit is
eternal, but the flesh is only so much dung." He stopped abruptly,
coughed, as though he had carried his utterance beyond propriety. "The
Nickles," he repeated somberly, "are worthless; they make trouble in my
parish; with money they make more."



XI


The year, in the immemorial, minute shifting of season, grew brittle and
cold; the dusk fell sooner and night lingered late into morning.

William Vibard moved with his accordion from the porch to beside the
kitchen stove. He was in the throes of a new piece, McGinty, and Gordon
Makimmon was correspondingly surprised when, as he was intent upon some
papers, Rose's husband voluntarily relinquished his instrument, and sat in
the room with him.

"What's the matter," Gordon indifferently inquired; "is she busted?"

William Vibard indignantly repudiated that possibility. A wave of purpose
rose to the long, corrugated countenance, but sank, without finding
expression in speech. Finally Gordon heard Rose calling her husband. That
young man twitched in his chair, but he made no other move, no answer. Her
voice rose again, sharp and urgent, and Gordon observed:

"Your wife's a-calling."

"I heard her, but I'd ruther sit right where I am."

She appeared in the doorway, flushed and angry.

"William," she commanded, "you come straight out here to the kitchen. I
got a question for you."

"I'll stay just where I am for a spell," he replied, avoiding her gaze.

"You do as I tell you right off."

A stubborn expression settled over his face and shoulders. He made her no
further reply. Rose's anger gathered in a tempest that she tried in vain
to restrain.

"William," she demanded, "where is it? It's gone, you know what."

"I ain't seen it," he answered finally; "I really ain't, Rose."

"That's a story, only you knew. Come out here."

"Get along," Gordon interrupted testily. "How can I figure in this
ruction?"

"I ain't agoing a step," William told them both; "I'm going to stop right
here with Uncle Gordon."

"Well, then," the latter insisted, "get it through with--what is it?"

"I'll tell you what it is," William Vibard stammered; "it's a hundred and
forty dollars Rose held out on you and kept in a drawer, that's what!"

Rose's emotion changed to a crimson consternation.

"Why, William Vibard! what an awful thing to say. What little money I had
put by was saved from years. What a thing to say about me and Uncle
Gordon."

"'Tain't no such thing you saved it; you held it out on him, dollars at a
time. You didn't have no more right to it than I did."

Gordon's gaze centered keenly upon his niece's hot face. She endeavored to
sustain, refute, the accusation successfully; but her valor wavered,
broke. She disappeared abruptly. He surveyed Vibard without pleasure.

"You're a ramshackle contraption," he observed crisply.

"I got as good a right to it as her," the other repeated.

"A hundred and forty dollars," Gordon said bitterly; "that's a small
business. Well, where is it? Have you got it?"

"No, I ain't," William exploded.

"Well--?"

"You can't never tell what might happen," the young man observed
enigmatically; "the bellowses wear out dreadful quick, the keys work loose
like, and then they might stop making them. It's the best one on the
market."

"What scrabble's this? What did you do with the money?"

"They're in the stable," William Vibard answered more obscurely than
before. "With good treatment they ought to last a life. They come cheaper
too like that."

Gordon relinquished all hope of extracting any meaning from the other's
elliptical speech. He rose. "If 'they're' in the stable," he announced,
"I'll soon have some sense out of you." He procured a lantern, and tramped
shortly to the stable, closely followed by Rose's husband.

"Now!" he exclaimed, loosening the hasp of the door, throwing it open.

The former entered and bent over a heap in an obscure corner. When he rose
the lantern shone on two orderly piles of glossy black paper boxes. Gordon
strode across the contracted space and wrenched off a lid.... Within
reposed a brand new accordion. There were nine others.

"You see," William eagerly interposed; "now I'm fixed good."

At the sight of the grotesque waste a swift resentment moved Gordon
Makimmon--it was a mockery of his money's use, a gibing at his capability,
his planning. The petty treachery of Rose added its injury. He pitched the
box in his hands upon the clay floor, and the accordion fell out,
quivering like a live thing.

"Hey!" William Vibard remonstrated; "don't do like that ... delicate--"
He knelt, with an expression of concern, and, tenderly fingering the
instrument, replaced it in the box.

Gordon turned sharply and returned to the house. Rose was in her room. He
could hear her moving rapidly about, pulling at the bureau drawers.
Depression settled upon him; he carried the lantern into the bedroom,
where he sat bowed, troubled. He was aroused finally by the faint strains
of William's latest melodic effort drifting discreetly from the stable.

The next morning the Vibards departed. Rose was silent, her face, red and
swollen, was vindictive. On the back of the vehicle that conveyed them to
the parental Berrys was securely tied the square bundle that had "fixed
good" William Vibard musically for life.



XII


Gordon Makimmon, absorbed in the difficult and elusive calculations of his
indefinable project was unaware of the change wrought by their departure,
of the shifting of the year, the familiar acts and living about him. He
looked up abruptly from the road when Valentine Simmons, upon the platform
of the store, arrested his progress homeward.

Simmons' voice was high and shrill, as though time had tightened and dried
his vocal cords; his cheeks were still round and pink, but they were
sapless, the color lingered like a film of desiccated paint.

The store remained unchanged: Sampson, the clerk, had gone, but another,
identical in shirt sleeves upheld by bowed elastics, was brushing the
counters with a turkey wing; the merchandise on the shelves, unloaded from
the slow procession of capacious mountain wagons, flowed in endless,
unvaried stream to the scattered, upland homes.

Valentine Simmons took his familiar place in the glass enclosure,
revolving his chair to fix on Gordon a birdlike attention.

"As an old friend," he declared, "an old Presbyterian friend, I want to
lay some of my experience before you. I want to complain a little, Gordon;
I have the right ... my years, Pompey's associate. The fact is--you're
hurting the County, you're hurting the people and me; you're hurting
yourself. Everybody is suffering from your--your mistaken generosity. We
have all become out of sorts, unbalanced, from the exceptional condition
you have brought about. It won't do, Gordon; credit has been upset, we
don't know where we stand, or who's who; it's bad.

"I said you suffered with the rest of us, but you are worse off still. How
shall I put it?--the County is taking sad advantage of your,
er--liberality. There's young Entriken; he was in the store a little time
ago and told me that you had extended his note again. He thought it was
smart to hold out the money on you. There's not a likelier farm, nor
better conditioned cattle, than his in Greenstream. He could pay twenty
notes like yours in a day's time. I hate to see money cheapened like that,
it ain't healthy.

"What is it you're after, Gordon? Is it at the incorruptible, the
heavenly, treasure you're aiming? But if it is I'll venture this--that the
Lord doesn't love a fool. And the man with the talents, don't overlook
him."

"I'm not aiming at anything," Gordon answered, "I'm just doing."

"And there's that Hagan that got five thousand from you, it's an open fact
about him. He came from the other end of the state, clear from Norfolk, to
get a slice. He gave you the address, the employment, of a kin in
Greenstream and left for parts unknown. No, no, the Lord doesn't love a
fool."

"I may be a fool as you see me," Gordon contended stubbornly; "and the few
liars that get my money may laugh. But there's this, there's this,
Simmons--I'm not cursed by the dispossessed and the ailing and the plumb
penniless. I don't go to a man with his crop a failure on the field like,
well--we'll say, Cannon does, with a note in my hand for his breath. I've
put a good few out of--of Cannon's reach. Did you forget that I know how
it feels to hear Ed Hincle, on the Courthouse steps, call out my place for
debt? Did you forget that I sat in this office while you talked of old
Presbyterian friends and sold me into the street?"

"Incorrigible," Valentine Simmons said, "incorrigible; no sense of
responsibility. I had hoped Pompey's estate would bring some out in you.
But I should have known--it's the Makimmon blood; you are the son of your
father. I knew your grandfather too, a man that fairly insulted
opportunity."

"We've never been storekeepers."

"Never kept much of anything, have you, any of you? You can call it what
you've a mind to, liberality or shiftlessness. But there's nothing saved
by names. There: it seems as if you never got civilized, always
contemptuous and violent-handed ... it's the blood. I've studied
considerable about you lately; something'll have to be done for the good
of all."

"What is it you want of me?"

"Call in your bad debts," the other promptly responded; "shake off the
worthless lot hanging to your pocket. Put the money rate back where it
belongs. Why, in days gone by," Valentine Simmons chuckled, "seventy per
cent wasn't out of the way for a forced loan, forty was just so-so. Ah,
Pompey and me made some close deals. Pompey multiplied his talents. The
County was an open ledger to him."

"Didn't you ever think of the men who had to pay you seventy per cent?"
Gordon asked, genuinely curious.

"Certainly," Simmons retorted; "we educated them, taught 'em thrift. While
you are promoting idleness and loose-living.... But this is only an
opening for what I wanted to say.--I had a letter last week from the
Tennessee and Northern people, the Buffalo plan has matured, they're
pushing the construction right along."

"I intended to come to you about that."

"Well?"

"I ain't going on with our agreement."

Simmons' face exhibited not a trace of concern.

"I may say," he returned smoothly, "that I am not completely surprised. I
have been looking for something of the kind. I must remind you that our
partnership is a legal and binding instrument; you can't break it, nor
throw aside your responsibility, with a few words. It will be an expensive
business for you."

"I'm willing to pay with what I've got."

The other held up a palm in his familiar, arresting gesture. "Nothing of
that magnitude; nothing out of the way; I only wanted to remind you that a
compensation should follow your decision. It puts me in a very nice
position indeed. I gather from your refusal to continue the partnership
that you do not intend to execute singly the original plan; it is possible
that you will not hold the options against the coming of transportation."

"You've got her," Gordon declared; "I'm not going to profit seventy times
over, tie up all that timber, from the ignorance of men that ought to
rightly advantage from it. I--I--" Gordon rose to his feet in the
harassing obscurity of his need; "I don't want to make! I don't want to
take anything ... never again! I want--"

"You forget, unfortunately, that I am forced to be accessory to your--your
change of heart. I may say that I shall have to pay dearly for your--your
eleventh hour conversion. Timber will be--unsteady."

"Didn't you mention getting something out of it?"

"A mere detail to my effort, my time. What my timber will be worth, with
what you throw on the market hawking up and down ... problematic."

Gordon Makimmon hesitated, a plan forming vaguely, painfully, in his mind.
Finally, "I might buy you out," he suggested; "if you didn't ask too dam'
much. Then I could do as I pleased with the whole lot."

"Now that," Valentine Simmons admitted, dryly cordial, "is a plan worth
consideration. We might agree on a price, a low price to an old partner.
You met the Company's agents, heard the agreement outlined; a solid
proposal. And, as you say, with the timber control in your own hands, you
could arrange as you pleased with the people concerned."

He grew silent, enveloped in thought. Then:

"I'll take a hundred thousand for all the options I bought, for my
interest in the partnership."

"I don't know as I could manage that," Gordon admitted.

An unassumed astonishment marked the other's countenance. "Why!" he
ejaculated, "Pompey left an estate estimated at--" he stopped from sheer
surprise.

"Some of the investments went bad," Gordon continued; "down in Stenton
they said I didn't move 'em fast enough. Then the old man had a lot laid
out in ways I don't hold with, with people I wouldn't collect from. And
it's a fact a big amount's got out here lately. Of course it will come
back, the most part."

Simmons' expression grew skeptical.

"I know you too," Gordon added; "you'll want the price in your hand."

"I'm getting on," the storekeeper admitted; "I can't wait now."

"I don't know if I can make it," Gordon repeated; "it'll strip me if I
do."

Valentine Simmons swung back to his desk. "At least," he observed, "keep
this quiet till something's settled."

Gordon agreed.



XIII


Even if he proved able to buy out Simmons, he thought walking home, it
would be a delicate operation to return the timber rights to where he
thought they belonged. He considered the possibility of making a gift of
the options to the men from whom they had been wrongfully obtained. But
something of Simmons' shrewd knowledge of the world, something of the
priest's contemptuous arraignment of material values, lingering in
Gordon's mind, convinced him of the potential folly of that course. It
would be more practical to sell back the options to those from which they
had been purchased at the nominal prices paid. He had only a vague idea of
his balances at the Stenton banks, the possibilities of the investments
from which he received profit. He was certain, however, that the sum asked
by Valentine Simmons would obliterate his present resources. Yet he was
forced to admit that it did not seem exorbitant.

He continued his altruistic deliberations throughout the evening at his
dwelling. It might be well, before investing such a paramount sum, to
communicate with the Tennessee and Northern Company, receive a fresh
ratification of their intention. Yet he could not do that without
incurring the danger of premature questioning, investigation. It was
patent that he would have to be prepared to make an immediate distribution
of the options when his intention became known in Greenstream. He was
aware that when the coming of a railroad to the County became common
knowledge the excitement of the valley would grow intense.

Again, it might be better first to organize the timber of Greenstream, so
that a harmonious local condition would facilitate all negotiations, and
avert the danger, which Valentine Simmons had pointed out, of individual
blindness and competition. But, in order to accomplish that, he would have
to bring into concord fifty or more wary, suspicious, and largely ignorant
adults. He would have to deal with swift and secret avarice, with vain
golden dreams born of years of bitter poverty, privation, ceaseless and
incredible toil. The magnitude of the latter task appalled him; fact and
figure whirled in his confused mind. He was standing, and he suddenly felt
dizzy, and sat down. The giddiness vanished, but left him with twitching
fingers, a clouded vision. He might get them all together, explain,
persuade.... Goddy! it was for their good. They needn't be cross-grained.
There it would be, the offer, for them to take or leave. But, if they
delayed, watch out! Railroad people couldn't be fooled with. They might
get left; that was all.

This, he felt, was more than he could undertake, more than any reasonable
person would ask. If he paid Valentine Simmons all that money, and then
let them have back their own again, without a cent to himself, they must
be content. They should be able to bargain as well as he--who was getting
on and had difficulty in adding figures to the same amount twice--with the
Tennessee and Northern.

The following morning he departed for Stenton.



XIV


Gordon paid Valentine Simmons eighty-nine thousand dollars for the
latter's share of the timber options they had held in common. They were
seated in the room in which Gordon conducted his peculiar transactions. He
turned and placed Simmons' acknowledgment, the various papers of the
dissolved partnership, in the safe.

"That finishes all I had in Stenton," he observed.

Valentine Simmons made no immediate reply. He was intent, with
tightly-folded lips, on the cheque in his hand. His shirt, as ever, was
immaculately starched, the blue button was childlike, bland; but it was
cold without, and hot in the room where they sat, and the color on his
cheeks resembled dabs of vermilion on buffers of old white leather; the
tufts of hair above his ears had dwindled to mere cottony scraps.

"Prompt and satisfactory," he said at last. "I tell you, Gordon, you can
see as far as another into a transaction. Promises are of no account but
value received ..." he held up the cheque, a strip of pale orange paper,
pinched between withered fingers.

Suddenly he was in a hurry to get away; he drew his overcoat of
close-haired, brown hide about his narrow shoulders, and trotted to the
door, to his buggy awaiting him at the corner of the porch.



XV


Gordon placed on the table before him the statements and accounts of his
newly-augmented options. The papers, to his clerical inefficiency,
presented a bewildering mass of inexplicable details and accounts. He
brought them, with vast difficulty, into a rough order. In the lists of
the acreages of timber controlled there were appended none of the names of
those from whom his privilege of option had been obtained, no note of the
slightly-varying sums paid--the sole, paramount facts to Gordon now. For
the establishment of these he was obliged to refer to the original,
individual contracts, to compare and add and check off.

Old Pompey had conducted his transactions largely from his buggy, lending
them a speciously casual aspect. The options made to him were written on
slips of paper hastily torn from a cheap note book, engrossed on yellowing
sheets of foolscap in tremulous Spencerian. Their wording was informal,
often strictly local. One granted privilege of purchase of, "The piney
trees on Pap's and mine but not Henny's for nineteen years." Another bore,
above the date, "In this year of Jesus Christ's holy redemption."

The sales made to Valentine Simmons were, invariably, formal in record,
the signatures were all witnessed.

It was a slow, fatiguing process. A number of the original vendors, Gordon
knew, had died, their families were scattered; others had removed from the
County; logical substitutes had to be evolved. The mere comparison of the
various entries, the tracing of the tracts to the amounts involved, was
scarcely within Gordon's ability.

He labored through the swiftly-falling dusk into the night, and took up
the task early the following morning. A large part of the work had to be
done a second, third, time--his brain, unaccustomed to concentrated mental
processes, soon grew weary; he repeated aloud a fact of figures without
the least comprehension of the sounds formed by his lips, and he would say
them again and again, until he had forced into his blurring mind some
significance, some connection.

He would fall asleep over his table, his scattered papers, in the grey
daylight, or in the radiance of a large glass lamp, and stay immobile for
hours, while his dog lay at his feet, or, uneasy, nosed his sharp, relaxed
knees.

No one would seek him, enter his house, break his exhausted slumbers.
Lying on an outflung arm his head with its sunken, closed eyes, loose
lips, seemed hardly more alive than the photographed clay of Mrs.
Hollidew in the sitting room. He would wake slowly, confused; the dog
would lick his inert hand, and they would go together in search of food to
the kitchen.

On the occasions when he was forced to go to the post-office, the store,
he went hurriedly, secretively, in a coat as green, as aged, as Pompey's
own.

He was anxious to finish his labor, to be released from its
responsibility, its weight. It appeared tremendously difficult to
consummate; it had developed far beyond his expectation, his original
conception. The thought pursued him that some needy individual would be
overlooked, his claim neglected. No one must be defrauded; all, all, must
have their own, must have their chance. He, Gordon Makimmon, was seeing
that they had, with Lettice's money ... because ... because....

The leaves had been swept from the trees; the mountains were gaunt, rocky,
against swift, low clouds. There was no sunlight except for a brief,
sullen red fire in the west at the end of day. At night the winds blew
bleakly down Greenstream valley. Shutters were locked, shades drawn, in
the village; night obliterated it absolutely. No one passed, after dark,
on the road above.

He seemed to be toiling alone at a hopeless, interminable task isolated in
the midst of a vast, uninhabited desolation, in a black chasm filled with
the sound of whirling leaves and threshing branches.

The morning, breaking late and grey and cold, appeared equally difficult,
barren, in vain. The kitchen stove, continually neglected, went
continually out, the grate became clogged with ashes, the chimney refused
to draw. He relit it, on his knees, the dog patiently at his side; he
fanned the kindling into flames, poured on the coal, the shining black
dust coruscating in instant, gold tracery. He bedded the horse more
warmly, fed him in a species of mechanical, inattentive regularity.

Finally the list of timber options he possessed was completed with the
names of their original owners and the amounts for which they had been
bought. A deep sense of satisfaction, of accomplishment, took the place of
his late anxiety. Even the weather changed, became complacent--the valley
was filled with the blue mirage of Indian summer, the apparent return of a
warm, beneficent season. The decline of the year seemed to halt, relent,
in still, sunny hours. It was as though nature, death, decay, had been
arrested, set at naught; that man might dwell forever amid peaceful
memories, slumberous vistas, lost in that valley hidden by shimmering
veils from all the implacable forces that bring the alternation of cause
and effect upon subservient worlds and men.



XVI


As customary on Saturday noon Gordon found his copy of the weekly _Bugle_
projecting from his numbered compartment at the post-office. There were no
letters. He thrust the paper into his pocket, and returned to the village
street. The day was warm, but the mists that had enveloped the peaks were
dissolving, the sky was sparkling, clear. By evening, Gordon decided, it
would be cold again, and then the long, rigorous winter would close upon
the valley and mountains.

He looked forward to it with relief, as a period of somnolence and
prolonged rest--the mental stress and labor of the past days had wearied
him of the active contact with men and events. He was glad that they were,
practically, solved, at an end--the towering columns of figures, the
perplexing problems of equity, the far-reaching decisions.

In rehearsing his course it seemed impossible to have hit upon a better, a
more comprehensive, plan. There was hardly a family he knew of in the
valley of which some member might not now have his chance. That, an
opportunity for all, was what Gordon was providing.

A number of horses were already hitched along the rail outside Valentine
Simmons' store; soon the rail would hardly afford room for another animal.
He passed the Presbyterian Church, Dr. Pelliter's drugstore and dwelling,
and approached his home. Seen from the road the long roof was variously
colored from various additions; there were regions of rusty tar-paper, of
tin with blistered remnants of dull red paint, of dark, irregular
shingling.

It was a dwelling weather-beaten and worn, the latest addition already
discolored by the elements, blended with the nondescript whole. It was
like himself, Gordon Makimmon recognized; in him, as in the house below,
things tedious or terrible had happened, the echoes of which lingered
within the old walls, within his brain.... Now it was good that winter was
coming, when they would lie through the long nights folded in snow, in
beneficent quietude.

There were some final details to complete in his papers. He took off his
overcoat, laid it upon the safe, and flung the _Bugle_ on the table, where
it fell half open and neglected. The names traced by his scratching pen
brought clearly before him the individuals designated: Elias Wellbogast
had a long, tangled grey beard and a gaze that peered anxiously through a
settling blindness. Thirty acres--eight dollars an acre. P. Ville was a
swarthy foreigner, called, in Greenstream, the Portugee; every crop he
planted grew as if by magic. Old Matthew Zane would endeavor to borrow
from Gordon the money with which to repurchase the option he had granted.

He worked steadily, while the rectangles of sunlight cast through the
windows on the floor shortened and shifted their place. He worked until
the figures swam before his eyes, when he laid aside the pen, and picked
up the _Bugle_, glancing carelessly over the first page.

His attention immediately concentrated on the headlines of the left-hand
column, his gaze had caught the words, "Tennessee and Northern."

"Goddy!" he exclaimed aloud; "they've got it in the _Bugle_, the railroad
coming and all."

He was glad that the information had been printed, it would materially
assist in the announcement and carrying out of his plan. He folded the
paper more compactly, leaned back in his chair to read ... Why!... Why,
damn it! they had it all wrong; they were entirely mistaken; they had
printed a deliberate--a deliberate--

He stopped reading to marshal his surprised and scattered faculties. Then,
with a rigid countenance, he pursued the article to the end. When he had
finished his gaze remained subconsciously fastened upon the paper, upon
the advertisement of a man who paid for and removed the bodies of dead
animals.

Gordon Makimmon's lips formed, barely audibly, a name; he whispered,
"Valentine Simmons."

At last the storekeeper had utterly ruined him. He raised the paper from
where it had fallen and read the article once more. It was a floridly and
violently written account of how a projected branch of the Tennessee and
Northern System through Greenstream valley, long striven for by solid and
public-spirited citizens of the County, had been prevented by the hidden
avarice of a well-known local figure, an ex-stage driver.

The latter, the account proceeded, with a foreknowledge of the projected
transportation, had secured for little or nothing an option on practically
all the desirable timber of the valley, and had held it at such a high
figure that the railroad had been forced to abandon the scheme.

"What Greenstream thus loses through blind gluttony cannot be enumerated
by a justly incensed pen. The loss to us, to our sons and daughters....
This secret and sinister schemer hid his purpose, it now appears, in a
cloak of seeming benevolence. We recall a feeling of doubt, which we
generously and wrongfully suppressed at the time, concerning the motives
of such ill-considered ..."

"Valentine Simmons," he repeated harshly. He controlled the _Bugle_ in
addition to countless other industries and interests of Greenstream. This
article could not have been printed without Simmons' cognizance, his
co-operation. It was the crown of his long and victorious struggle with
Gordon Makimmon. The storekeeper had sold him the options knowing that the
railroad was not coming to the valley--some inhibition had arisen in the
negotiations--he had destroyed him with Gordon's own blindness, credulity.
And he had walked like a rat into the trap.

The bitter irony of it rose in a wave of black mirth to his twisted lips;
he, Gordon Makimmon, was exposed as an avaricious schemer with the
prospects of Greenstream, with men's hopes, with their chances. While
Simmons, it was plainly intimated, had labored faithfully and in vain for
the people.

He rose and shook his clenched hands above his head. "If I had only shot
him!" he cried. "If I had only shot him at first!"

It was too late now: nothing could be gained by crushing the flickering
vitality from that aged, pinkish husk. It was, Gordon dimly realized, a
greater power than that contained by a single individual, by Valentine
Simmons, that had beaten him. It was a stupendous and materialistic force
against the metallic sweep of which he had cast himself in vain--it was
the power, the unconquerable godhead, of gold.

The thought of the storekeeper was lost in the realization of the collapse
of all that he had laboriously planned. The destruction was absolute; not
an inner desire nor need escaped; not a projection remained. The papers
before him, so painfully comprehended, with such a determination of
justice, were but the visible marks of the futility, the waste, of his
dreaming.

He sank heavily into the chair before his table. He recalled the younger
Entriken's smooth lies, the debauchery of his money by the Nickles;
William Vibard's accordions mocked him again ... all, all, had been in
vain, worthless. General Jackson rose, and laid his long, shaggy, heavy
head upon Gordon's knee.

"We're done for," he told the dog; "we're finished this time. Everything
has gone to hell."



XVII


He felt strangely lost in the sudden emptiness of his existence, an
existence that, only a few hours before, had welcomed the prospect of
release from its bewildering fullness. He had gathered the results of his
slowly-formulating consciousness, his tragic memory, to a final resolve in
the return of the options to a county enhanced by the coming of a railroad
whose benefits he would distribute to all. And now the railroad was no
more than a myth, it had vanished into thin, false air, carrying with
it....

He swept his hand through the papers of his vain endeavor, bringing a
sudden confusion upon their order. His arm struck the glass of shot, and,
for a short space, there was a continuous sharp patter on the floor. He
rose, and paced from wall to wall, a bent shape with open, hanging hands
and a straggling grey wisp of hair across his dry, bony forehead.

Footsteps crossed the porch, a knock fell upon the door, and Gordon
responded without raising his head.

It was Simeon Caley.

He had not been in the house since, together with his wife, he had left it
after Lettice's death. Sim's stained felt hat was pushed back from a wet
brow, his gestures were urgent.

"Get your horse in the buggy!" he exclaimed; "I'll help you. Light out."

"'Light out'?" Gordon's gaze centered upon the other's excitement,
"where?"

"That doesn't make much difference, so's you light. The County's mad clear
through, and it's pretty near all in the village." Sim turned to the door.
"I'll help you, and then--drive."

"I ain't agoing to drive anywhere," Gordon told him; "I'm where I
belong."

"You don't belong in Greenstream after that piece in the _Bugle_," his
hand rested on the knob. "Tie up anything you need, I'll hitch the
buggy."

"Don't you touch a strap," Gordon commanded; "because I won't put a foot
in her."

"It'll all settle down in a little; then maybe you can come back."

"What'll settle down?"

"Why, the deal with the railroad."

"Sim," Gordon demanded sharply, "you never believed that in the paper?"

"I don't know what to b'lieve," the other replied evasively; "a good many
say those are the facts, that you have the options."

"Get out of here!" Gordon shouted in a sudden moving rage; "and stay out;
don't come back when you find what's what."

"I c'n do that. And I'll point out to you we just came for Lettice, we
never took nothing of yours. I only stopped now to warn you away ... I'll
hitch her up, Gordon; you get down the road."

"It's mine now, whose ever it was awhile back. I've paid for it. You go."

Simeon Caley lingered reluctantly at the door. Gordon stood rigidly; his
eyes were bright points of wrath, his arm rose, with a finger indicating
the world without. The former slowly opened the door, stepped out upon the
porch; he stayed a moment more, then closed himself from sight.



XVIII


The stir and heat of Sim's presence died quickly away; the house was
without a sound; General Jackson lay like an effigy in ravelled black and
buff wool. Gordon assembled the scattered papers on the table into an
orderly pile. He moved into the kitchen, abstractedly surveyed the
familiar walls; he walked through the house to the sitting room, where he
stood lost in thought:

The County was "mad clear through"; Sim, supposing him guilty, had warned
him to escape, advised him to run away.... That had never been a habit of
the Makimmons, he would not form it now, at the end. He was not
considering the mere probability of being shot, but of the greater
disaster that had already smashed the spring of his living. His
sensibilities were deadened to any catastrophe of the flesh.

At the same time he was conscious of a mounting rage at being so
gigantically misunderstood, and his anger mingled with a bitter contempt
for Simeon Caley, for a people so blind, so credulous, so helpless in the
grasp of a single, shrewd individual.

He heard subdued voices without, and, through a window, saw that the
sweep by the stream was filling with a sullen concourse of men; he saw
their faces, grim and resentful, turned toward the house; the sun struck
upon the dusty, black expanse of their hats.

He walked deliberately through the bedroom and out upon the porch. A
sudden, profound silence met his appearance, a shifting of feet, a
concerted, bald, inimical stare.

"Well?" Gordon Makimmon demanded; "you've read the _Bugle_, well?"

He heard a murmur from the back of the throng,

"Give it to him, we didn't come here to talk."

"'Give it to him,'" Gordon repeated thinly. "I see Ben Nickles there,
behind that hulk from the South Fork; Nickles'll do it and glad. It will
wipe off the two hundred dollars he had out of me for a new roof. Or
there's Entriken if Nickles is afraid, his note falls due again soon."

"What about the railroad?"

"What about it? Greenstream's been settled for eighty years, why haven't
you moved around and got one? Do you expect the President of the Tennessee
and Northern to come up and beg you to let them lay tracks to your doors?
If you'd been men you'd had one long ago, but you're just--just stock. I'd
rather be an outlaw on the mountain than any of you; I'd ruther be what
you think I am; by God!" he cried out of his bitterness of spirit, "but
I'd ruther be Valentine Simmons!"

"Have you got the options?" Entriken demanded--"all them that Pompey had
and you bought?"

Gordon vanished into the house, and reappeared with the original contracts
in his grasp.

"Here they are," he exclaimed; "I paid eighty-nine thousand dollars to get
them, and they're worth--that," he flung them with a quick gesture into
the air, and the rising wind scattered them fluttering over the sere
grass. "Scrabble for them in the dirt."

"You c'n throw them away now the railroad's left you."

"And before," Gordon Makimmon demanded, "do you think I couldn't have
gutted you if I'd had a mind to? do you think anybody couldn't gut you?
Why, you've been the mutton of every little storekeeper that let you off
with a pound of coffee, of any note shaver that could write. The _Bugle_
says I let out money to cover up the railway deal, but that'd be no better
than giving it to stop the sight of the blind. God A'mighty! this
transportation business you're only whining about now was laid out five
years ago, the company's agents have driven in and out twenty times...."

"Let him have it!"

"Spite yourselves!" Gordon Makimmon cried; "it's all that's left for you."

General Jackson moved forward over the porch. He growled in response to
the menace of the throng on the sod, and jumped down to their level. A
sudden, dangerous murmur rose:

"The two hundred dollar dog! The joke on Greenstream!"

He walked alertly forward, his ears pricked up on his long skull.

"C'm here, General," Gordon called, suddenly urgent; "c'm back here."

The dog hesitated, turned toward his master, when a heavy stick, whirling
out of the press of men, struck the animal across the upper forelegs. He
fell forward, with a sharp whine, and attempted vainly to rise. Both legs
were broken. He looked back again at Gordon, and then, growling, strove to
reach their assailants.

Gordon Makimmon started forward with a rasping oath, but, before he could
reach the ground, General Jackson had propelled himself to the fringe of
humanity. He made a last, convulsive effort to rise, his jaws snapped....
A short, iron bar descended upon his head.

Gordon's face became instantly, irrevocably, the shrunken face of an old
man.

The clustered men with the dead, mangled body of the dog before them; the
serene, sliding stream beyond; the towering east range bathed in keen
sunlight, blurred, mingled, in his vision. He put out a hand against one
of the porch supports--a faded shape of final and irremediable sorrow.

He exhibited neither the courage of resistance nor the superiority of
contempt; he offered, apparently, nothing material whatsoever to satisfy
the vengeance of a populace cunningly defrauded of their just
opportunities and profits; he seemed to be no more colored with life, no
more instinct with sap, than the crackling leaves blown by the increasing
wind about the uneasy feet on the grass.

He lipped a short, unintelligible period, gazing intent and troubled at
the throng. He shivered perceptibly: under the hard blue sky the wind
swept with the sting of an icy knout. Then, turning his obscure,
infinitely dejected back upon the silent menace of the bitter, sallow
countenances, the harsh angular forms, of Greenstream, he walked slowly to
the door. He paused, his hand upon the knob, as if arrested by a memory, a
realization. The door opened; the house absorbed him, presented unbroken
its weather-worn face.

A deep, concerted sigh escaped from the men without, as though, with the
vanishing of that bowed and shabby frame, they had seen vanish their last
chance for reprisal, for hope.



XIX


The cold sharpened; the sky, toward evening, glittered like an emerald;
the earth was black, it resembled a ball of iron spinning in the diffused
green radiance of a dayless and glacial void. The stream before the
Makimmon dwelling moved without a sound under banked ledges of ice.

A thread of light appeared against the façade of the house, it widened to
an opening door, a brief glimpse of a bald interior, and then revealed the
figure of a man with a lantern upon the porch. The light descended to the
ground, wavered toward a spot where it disclosed the rigid, dead shape of
a dog. An uncertain hand followed the swell of the ribs to the sunken
side, attempted to free the clotted hair on a crushed skull. The body was
carefully raised and enveloped in a sack, laboriously borne to the edge of
the silent stream.

There it was lost in the dark as the light moved to where it cast a
limited, swinging illumination over the wall of a shed. It returned to the
stiffly distended sack, and there followed the ring of metal on the
iron-like earth. In the pale circle of the lantern a figure stooped and
rose, a figure with an intent, furrowed countenance.

The digging took a long while, the frozen clods of earth fell with a
scattering thud, the shadow of the hole deepened by imperceptible degrees.
Once the labor stopped, the sack was lowered into the ragged grave; but
the opening was too shallow, and the rise and fall of the solitary figure
recommenced.

The sack was finally covered from sight, from the appalling frigidity and
space of the sky, from the frozen surface of the earth wrapped in
stillness, in night. The clods were scraped back into the hole, stamped
into an integral mass; the spade obliterated all trace of what lay hidden
beneath, returned to the clay from which it had been momentarily animated
by the enigmatic, flitting spark of life.

The lantern retraced its path to the shed, to the porch; where, in a brief
thread of light, in the shutting of a door, it disappeared.



XX


Gordon met Valentine Simmons squarely for the first time since the
collapse of his laborious planning outside the post-office. The latter,
with a senile and pleased chuckle, tapped him on the chest.

"Teach you to be provident, Gordon," he said in his high, rasping voice;
"teach you to see further than another through a transaction; as far ain't
near enough; most don't see at all."

The anger had evaporated from Gordon Makimmon's parched being: the
storekeeper, he recognized, was sharper than all the rest of the County
combined; even now the raddled old man was more acute than the young and
active intelligences. He nodded, and would have passed on, but the
storekeeper, with a ponderous furred glove, halted him.

"We haven't had any satisfaction lately with the Stenton stage," he
shrilled; "and I made out to ask--you can take it or leave it--if you'd
drive again? It might be a kind of--he! he!--relax from your securities
and investments."

Gordon, without an immediate reply, regarded him. He thought, in sudden
approbation of a part, at least, of the past, that he could drive a stage
better than any other man in a hundred, in a thousand; there, at least, no
humiliating failure had overtaken his prowess with whip and reins. The old
occupation, the monotonous, restful miles of road sweeping back under the
wheels, the pleasant, casual detachment of the passengers, the pride of
accomplishment, irresistibly appealed to him.

Valentine Simmons' rheumy eyes interrogated him doubtfully above the
fixed, dry color of his fallen cheeks.

"By God, Valentine!" Gordon exclaimed, "I'll do it, I'll drive her, and
right, too. It takes experience to carry a stage fifty miles over these
mountains, day and day; it takes a man that knows his horses, when to
slack up on 'em and when to swing the leather ... I'm ready any time you
say."

"The stage goes out from Greenstream to-morrow; you can take it the trip
after. Money same as before. And, Gordon,--he! he!--don't you go and lend
it out at four per cent; fifty's talking but seventy's good. Pompey knew
the trick, he'd have dressed you down to an undershirt, Pompey would."

Gordon returned slowly, absorbed in new considerations, to his dwelling.
It was obvious that he could not live there alone and drive the Stenton
stage; formerly Clare had attended to the house for him, but now there
was no one to keep the stoves lit, to attend to the countless daily
necessities. This was Tuesday--he would take the stage out on Thursday: he
might as well get together a few necessities and close the place at once.

"I'll shut her right in," he said aloud in the empty, echoing kitchen.

He decided to touch nothing within. In the sitting room the swift
obscurity of the closing shutters obliterated its familiar features--the
table with the lamp and pink celluloid thimble, the phonograph, the faded
photograph of what had been Mrs. Hollidew. The darkness spread to the
bedroom that had been Lettice's and his: the curtained wardrobe was drawn,
the bed lay smoothly sheeted with the quilt folded brightly at the foot,
one of the many small glass lamps of the house stood filled upon the
bureau. The iron safe was eclipsed, the pens upright in the glass of shot,
the kitchen and spaces beyond.

Finally, depositing an ancient bag of crumbling leather on the porch, he
locked himself out. He moved the bag to the back of the buggy, and,
hitching the horse into the worn gear, drove up the incline to the public
road, to the village, without once turning his head.



XXI


He rose at five on Thursday and consumed a hasty breakfast by a blur of
artificial light in the deserted hotel dining room. It was pitch black
without, the air heavy with moisture, and penetrating. He led the horses
from the shed under which he had hitched them to the stage, and climbed
with his lantern into the long-familiar place by the whip. A light
streamed from the filmy window of the post-office, falling upon tarnished
nutcrackers and picks in a faded plush-lined box ranged behind the glass.
Gordon could see the dark, moving bulk of the postmaster within. The
leather mail bags, slippery in the wet atmosphere, were strapped in the
rear, and Gordon was tightening the reins when he was hailed by a man
running over the road. It was Simmons' clerk.

"The old man says," he shot between labored breaths, "to keep a watch on
Buck. Buckley's coming back with you to-morrow. He's been down to the
hospital for a spell. There ain't liable to be anybody else on the stage
this time of year."

The horses walked swiftly, almost without guidance, over the obscured
way. The stage mounted, turning over the long ascent to the crown of the
east range. Gordon put out the lantern. A faint grey diluted the dark; the
night sank thinly to morning, a morning overcast with sluggish clouds; the
bare trees, growing slowly perceptible, dripped with moisture; a
treacherous film of mud overlaid the adamantine road.

The day broke inexpressibly featureless and dreary. The stage dropped to
bald, brown valleys, soggy fields and clear, hurrying streams; it rose
deliberately to heights blurred in aqueous vapors. The moisture remained
suspended throughout the day; the grey pall hid Stenton as he drove up to
the tavern that formed his depot on the outskirts of the city.

Later, in the solitude of his room, he heard the hesitating patter of rain
on the roof. He thought, stretching his weary frame on the rigorous bed,
that if it turned cold through the night, the frozen road would be
dangerous to-morrow.



XXII


Buckley Simmons was late in arriving from the hospital, and it was past
seven before the stage departed for Greenstream. Buckley sat immediately
back of Gordon Makimmon; the former's head, muffled in a long woolen
scarf, showed only his dull, unwitting gaze.

They rapidly left the dank stone streets and houses. The smoke ascending
from the waterworks was no greyer than the day. The rain fell in small,
chill, gusty sweeps.

Gordon Makimmon settled resolutely to the long drive; he was oblivious of
the miles of sodden road stretching out behind, he was not aware of the
pale, dripping, wintry landscape--he was lost in a continuous train of
memories wheeling bright and distant through his mind. He was looking back
upon the features of the past as he might have looked at a series of
dissolving pictures, his interest in which was solely that of spectator.

They were without unity, unintelligible in the light of any concerted
purpose or result. They were, however, highly pleasant, or amazingly
inexplicable. For example:

His wife, Lettice, how young she was smiling at him from the sunny grass!
She walked happily toward him, with her shawl about her shoulders, but she
didn't reach him; she was sitting in the rocking chair on the
porch ... the day faded, she was singing a little throaty song, sewing
upon a little square of white--she was gone as swiftly, as utterly, as a
shadow. The shape of Meta Beggs, animated with incomprehensible gestures,
took its place in the procession of his memories. She, grimacing, came
alike to naught, vanished. All stopped for a moment and then disappeared,
leaving no trace behind.

He mechanically arrested the horses before the isolated buildings that
formed the midday halt.

Buckley Simmons, crouching low over the table, consumed his dinner with
formless, guttural approbation. The place above his forehead, where he had
been struck by the stone, was puckered and dark. He raised his eyes--the
unquenchable hatred of Gordon Makimmon flared momentarily on his vacuous
countenance like the flame of a match lit in the wind.

Once more on the road the rain stopped, the cold increased; high above the
earth the masses of cloud gathered wind-herded in the south. The dripping
from the trees ceased, the black branches took on a faint glitter; the
distant crash of a falling limb sounded from the woods.

Gordon, doubting whether the horses' shoes had been lately roughed,
descended, but, to his surprise, found that the scoring had been properly
maintained, in spite of the fact that it had not had his attention. He had
little cause to swing the heavy whip--the off horse, a raw-boned animal
colored yellowish-white, never ceased pulling valiantly on the traces; he
assumed not only his own share of the labor but was willing to accept that
of his companion, and Gordon had continually to restrain him.

The glitter spread transparently over the road; the horses dug their hoofs
firmly into the frozen ruts. Suddenly a burst of sunlight enveloped the
land, and the land responded with an instant, intolerable brilliancy, a
blinding sheet of white radiance. Every limb, every individual twig and
blade of grass, was covered with a sparkling, transparent mail; every
mound of brown earth scintillated in a crisp surface of ice like chocolate
confections glazed in clear sugar. The clouds dissolved; the trees,
encased in crystal pipes, rose dazzling against a pale, luminous blue
expanse. Gigantic swords of incandescence shifted over the mountainside;
shoals of frosty sparks filled the hollows; haloes immaculate and
uncompassionate hung above the hills.

Viewed from the necessity of the driver of the Stenton stage this
phenomenon was highly undesirable,--the glassy road enormously increased
the labor of the horses; Gordon's vigilance might not for a minute be
relaxed. The blazing sun blurred his vision, the cold crept insidiously
into his bones. The stage slowly made its way into the valleys, over the
ranges; and, with it, the sun made its way over valley and mountain toward
the west.

At last the stage reached the foot of Buck Mountain; beyond lay the
village, the end of day. The horses cautiously began the ascent, while
Gordon, watching their progress, lent them the assistance of his judgment
and voice. The road looped a cleared field against the mountain, on the
left an icy slope fell away in a glittering tangle of underbrush. The
stage turned and the opening dropped upon the right.

Gordon heard a thick, unintelligible sound from behind, and, looking
about, saw Buckley Simmons clambering out over the wheel. He stopped the
horses, but Buckley slipped, fell upon the road. However, he quickly
scrambled erect, and walked beside the stage, over the incline. His head
was completely hidden by the woollen scarf; in one hand he carried a heavy
switch. The road swung about once more, and, at the turn, the fall was
abrupt. Buckley Simmons stumbled across the space that separated him from
the horses. And Gordon, with an exclamation of incredulous surprise, saw
the other's arm sweep up.--The switch fell viciously across the back of
the yellowish-white horse.

The animal plunged back, dragging his companion against the stage. Gordon
rose, lashing out with his voice and whip; the horses struggled to regain
their foothold ... slipped.... He felt the seat dropping away behind him.
Then, with a violent wrench, a sliding crash, horses, stage and man
lurched down the incline.



XXIII


Gordon Makimmon rose to a sitting position on the glassy fall. Above him,
to the right, the stage lay collapsed, its wheels broken in. Below the
yellowish-white horse, upon his back, drew his legs together, kicked out
convulsively, and then rolled over, lay still. From the round belly the
broken end of a shaft squarely projected. The other horse was lost in a
thrashing thicket below.

Gordon exclaimed, "God A'mighty!" Then the thought flashed through his
mind that, extraordinarily, he had not been hurt--he had fallen away from
the plunging hoofs, his heavy winter clothes had preserved him from
serious bruises. His face was scratched, his teeth ached intolerably, but,
beyond that....

He rose shakily to his feet. As he moved a swift, numbing pain shot from
his right side, through his shoulder to his brain, where, apparently, it
centered in a burning core of suffering. He choked unexpectedly on a warm,
thick, salty tide welling into his throat. He said aloud, surprised,
"Something's busted."

He swayed, but preserved himself from falling, and spat. Instantly there
appeared before him on the shining ice a blot of vivid, living scarlet.

"That's bad," he added dully.

He must get up to the road, out of this damned mess. The stage, he, had
not fallen far; the road was but a few yards above him, but the ascent,
with the pain licking through him like a burning tongue, the unaccustomed,
disconcerting choking in his throat, was incredibly toilsome, long.

Buckley Simmons was standing on the road with a lowered, vacant
countenance, a face as empty of content, of the trace of any purpose, as a
washed slate.

"You oughtn't to have done that, Buck," Gordon told him impotently; "you
ought never to have done a thing like that. Why, just see...." Gordon
Makimmon's voice was tremulous, his brain blurred from shock. "You
went and killed that off horse, and a man never hitched a better.
There's the mail, too; however it'll get to Greenstream on contract
to-night I don't know. That was the hell of a thing to go and do!... off
horse ... willing--"

The sky flamed in a transcendent glory of aureate light; the molten gold
poured in streams over the land, dripped from the still branches. The
crashing of falling limbs sounded everywhere.

They were, Gordon knew, not half way up Buck Mountain. There were no
dwellings between them and Greenstream village, no houses immediately at
their back. The road wound up before them toward the pure splendor of
sheer space. The cold steadily increased. Gordon's jaw chattered, and he
saw that Buckley's face was pinched and blue.

"Got to move," Gordon articulated; "freeze out here." He lifted his feet,
stamped them on the hard earth, while the pain leaped and flamed in his
side. He labored up the ascent, but Buckley Simmons remained where he was
standing. I'll let him stay, Gordon decided, he can freeze to death and
welcome, no loss ... after a thing like that. He moved forward once more,
but once more stopped.

"C'm on," he called impatiently; "you'll take no good here." He retraced
his steps, and roughly grasped the other's arm, urging him forward.
Buckley Simmons whimpered, but obeyed the pressure.

The long, toilsome course began, a trail of frequent scarlet patches
marking their way. Buckley lagged behind, shaking with exhaustion and
chill, but Gordon commanded him on; he pulled him over deep ruts, cursed
him into renewed energy. This dangerously delayed their progress.

"I got a good mind to leave you," Gordon told him; "something's busted and
I want to make the village soon's I can; and here you drag and hang back.
You did it all, too. C'm on, you dam' fool: I could get along twice as
smart without you."

It seemed to Gordon Makimmon that, as he walked, the hurt within him was
consuming flesh and bone; it was eating away his brain. The thick, salty
taste persisted in his mouth, nauseating him.

The light faded swiftly to a mysterious violet glimmer in the sky, on the
ground, a cold phosphorescence that seemed to emanate from the ice.

Buckley Simmons could scarcely proceed; he fell, and Gordon drew him
sharply to his feet. Finally Gordon put an arm about his shoulder,
steadying him, forcing him on. He must hurry, he realized, while the other
held him back, delayed the assistance that Gordon so desperately needed.

"I tell you," he repeated querulously, "I got to get along; something's
broke inside. I'll leave you," he threatened; "I'll let you sit right here
and go cold." It was an empty threat; he struggled on, giving Buckley his
support, his determination, sharing the ebbing store of his strength.

As they neared the top of the mountain a flood of light colder than the
ice poured from behind. The moon had risen, transforming the world into a
crystal miracle.... Far below them was the Greenstream valley, the
village. They struggled forward, an uncouth, slipping bulk, under the
soaring, dead planet. Gleams of light shot like quick-silver about their
feet, quivered in the clear gloom like trails of pale fire igniting lakes
of argent flame. It was magnificent and cruel, a superb fantasy rippling
over treacherous rocks, rock-like earth.

"Y' dam' idiot," Gordon mumbled, "if I die out here where'll y' be then?
I'd like to know that.... Don't sit down on me again, I don't know's I
could get you up, don't b'lieve I could. Like as not we won't make her.
That was an awful good horse. I'm under contract to--to ... government."

Buckley Simmons sank to his knees: once more Gordon kicked him erect. He
spat and spat, constantly growing weaker. "That's an awful lot of blood
for a man to lose," he complained.

Suddenly he saw upon the right the lighted square of a window.

"Why!" he exclaimed weakly, "here's the valley."

He pushed Buckley toward the door, and there was an answering stir
within ... voices.



XXIV


An overwhelming desire possessed Gordon Makimmon to go home. He forgot the
pressing necessity for assistance, the searing hurt within ... he must go
home. He stumbled forward, turning into an aside that led directly behind
Dr. Pelliter's drug store to the road above the Makimmon dwelling. He
moved blindly, instinctively, following the way bitten beneath his
consciousness by a lifetime of usage.

The house was dark, but it was hardly darker than Gordon's brain. He
climbed the steps to the porch; his hands fumbled among the keys in his
pocket.

Feet tramped across the creaking boards, approaching him; a palm fell upon
his shoulder; a crisp voice rang out uncomprehended at his ear. It said:

"I'd knocked on all the doors, and was just going. I wanted to see you at
once--"

Gordon felt over the door in search of the place for the key.

"I say I wanted to see you," the voice persisted; "it's Edgar Crandall.
You'll take pleasure from what I've got to tell."

The key slipped into its place and the bolt shot back.... Well, he was
home. No other thought, no other consciousness, lingered in his mind; even
the pain, the unsupportable white core of suffering in his brain, was
dulled. He placed his foot upon the threshold, but the hand upon his
shoulder arrested him:

"Greenstream's going to have a bank," the voice triumphantly declared;
"it's settled--part outside capital, part guaranteed right here. Paper
shaving, robbery, finished ... lawful rate ... chance--"

It was no more to Gordon Makimmon than the crackling of the forest
branches, no more than an inexplicable hindrance to a desired
consummation.

"If it hadn't been for you, what you did for me ... others ... new
courage, example of bigness--Why! what's the matter with you, Makimmon?
That's blood."

Gordon made a tremendous effort of will, of grim concentration. He freed
himself from the detaining hand. "Moment," he pronounced. The single word
was expelled as dryly, as lifelessly, as a projectile, from a throat
insensate as the barrel of a gun. He vanished into the bitterly cold
house.

The bare floors echoed to his plodding footsteps as he entered the bedroom
beyond the dismantled chamber of the safe. A flickering desire to see led
him to where, on the bureau, a lamp had been left. The chimney fell with a
crash of splintering glass upon the floor, a match flared in his stiff
fingers, and the unprotected wick burned with a choking, spectral blue
light.

He saw, gazing at him from the black depths of the mirror above the
bureau, a haggard face drained of all life, of all blood, with deep inky
pools upon the eyes. A sudden emotion stirred in the chill immobility
creeping upward through him.

"Lettice!" he cried in a voice as flat as a spent echo; "Lettice!"

He stumbled back, sinking.

Edgar Crandall found him kneeling at the bed, his arms outflung across the
counterpane, his head bowed between, with a blackening stain beneath his
clay-cold lips, beneath his face scarred with immeasurable suffering,
fixed in a last surprise.

THE END





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