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Title: The Broken Gate - A Novel
Author: Hough, Emerson, 1857-1923
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 "The Broken Gate - A Novel" ***

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                          The BROKEN GATE

                             _A NOVEL_

                          BY EMERSON HOUGH

AUTHOR OF "THE MAN NEXT DOOR," "THE MAGNIFICENT ADVENTURE," "54° 40' OR
FIGHT," "THE MISSISSIPPI BUBBLE," ETC.


ILLUSTRATED BY
M. LEONE BRACKER

D. APPLETON and COMPANY
NEW YORK  LONDON
1917

COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY EMERSON HOUGH

COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY THE PICTORIAL REVIEW COMPANY

Printed in the United States of America


             TO
       ARTHUR T. VANCE
FAITHFUL AND KINDLY COUNSELOR


[Illustration: He felt her hands resting on his head as though in
shelter.]



CONTENTS


I. THE HOMECOMING OF DIEUDONNÉ LANE

II. AURORA LANE

III. TWO MOTHERS

IV. IN OPEN COURT

V. CLOSED DOORS

VI. THE DIVIDING LINE

VII. AT MIDNIGHT

VIII. THE EXTRAORDINARY HORACE BROOKS

IX. THE OTHER WOMAN CONCERNED

X. THE MURDER

XI. IN THE NAME OF THE LAW

XII. ANNE OGLESBY

XIII. "AS YOU BELIEVE IN GOD!"

XIV. AURORA AND ANNE

XV. THE ANGELS AND MISS JULIA

XVI. HORACE BROOKS, ATTORNEY AT LAW

XVII. AT CHURCH

XVIII. AT THE COUNTY JAIL

XIX. THE MOB

XX. THE IDIOT

XXI. A TRUE BILL

XXII. MISS JULIA

XXIII. THE STATE _VS._ DIEUDONNÉ LANE

XXIV. THE SACKCLOTH OF SPRING VALLEY

XXV. BECAUSE SHE WAS A WOMAN



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


He felt her hands resting on his head as though in Shelter.

"Your Honor," said he, "I presume I am the defendant in this case."

"I was kissing you and saying good-by ... when Miss Julia came in----"

"Anne! What made you come?"



The BROKEN GATE



CHAPTER I

THE HOMECOMING OF DIEUDONNÉ LANE


"Eejit! My son John! Whip ary man in Jackson County! Whoop! Come along!
Who'll fight old Eph Adamson?"

The populace of Spring Valley, largely assembled in the shade of the
awnings which served as shelter against an ardent June sun, remained
cold to the foregoing challenge. It had been repeated more than once by
a stout, middle-aged man in shirt sleeves and a bent straw hat, who
still turned a truculent gaze this side and that, taking in the
straggling buildings which lined the public square--a quadrangle which
had for its center the brick courthouse, surrounded by a plat of
scorched and faded greensward. At his side walked a taller though
younger man, grinning amiably.

The audience remained indifferent, although the challenger now shifted
his position to the next path leading out to a street entrance; and
repeated this until he had quite traversed the square. Only, at the
farther corner back of him, a woman paused as she entered the courthouse
inclosure--paused and turned back as she caught sight of the challenger
and heard his raucous summons, although evidently she had been hurrying
upon some errand.

Ephraim Adamson walked hither and thither, his muscular arms now bared
to the elbows; and at his side stalked his stalwart son, who now and
then beat his fists together, and cracked his knuckles with a vehemence
like that of pistol shots. But none paid great attention to either of
the Adamsons. Indeed, the eyes of most now were following the comely
figure of this woman, as usually was the case when she appeared.

"Take her now, right how she is," said one of the sidewalk philosophers,
"and you got to admit yonder's the handsomest woman in this town, and
has been for twenty years." He nodded to where she stood, hesitating.

That she was a tallish woman, of less than middle age and of good
figure, was perceptible even at some distance as she finally advanced.
She was well clad enough, and with a certain grace and trimness in her
appointings--indeed seemed smart in a quiet and unobtrusive way--very
neat as to hands and feet, and trim as to the small turban which served
now as her only defense against the heat of the summer sun.

"'Rory Lane," said one languid citizen to another, as they sat on
comfortable boxes in front of the leading grocery store. "Wonder where
_she's_ goin', this time of day? Anyhow, she runs into Old Man Adamson
on his regular weekly spree. He wants to fight, as usual, him and his
half-wit boy. It's a shame."

"But they kin do it," responded the other ruminatingly. "It's got so
lately, every Saturday afternoon regular, him and his half-wit yonder
stands off the whole town. No man wants to fight a eejit--it ain't
proper."

"Some has," remarked the first citizen thoughtfully.

"Well, anyways, old Joel Tarbush, the town marshal, had ought to look
after such things. There he sets now, over yonder under the awnings in
front of the Golden Eagle, and he sees them two plain enough."

His crony only chuckled. "Reckon Old Man Tarbush knows when he's well
off," was his sententious reply.

The first speaker again pointed a thumb toward the courthouse grounds,
where the woman now was crossing toward the street. She was walking
rapidly, apparently anxious to escape the notice of the two men in the
yard, and intent on her purpose, as though she feared being late at some
appointment. The younger and taller was hastening toward her, but
shrinking from him she hurried on across through the turnstile, and out
into the street. She advanced with a nod here and there to those whom
she met along the street front, but she showed no effusiveness, and did
not pause to talk with anyone, although all seemed to know her. Some
women smiled at her faintly. Some men smiled at her also--after she had
passed. All talked of her, sometimes nodding, head to head.

The woman so frankly discussed presently disappeared around the corner
of the street which led down to the railway station, a half-mile
distant. And now could be heard the rumble of the town "bus," bringing
in its tribute from the train to the solitary hotel.

"Huh!" said one of these twain, "'Rory was too late, like enough, if she
was plannin' to meet Number Four, fer any reason. Here comes the bus
a'ready."

Aurora Lane had indeed been too late to meet the train, but not too late
to attain the purpose of her hurried walk. A moment later the two
watchers on the sidewalk, and all the other Saturday loafers, saw her
emerge again from the street that led up from the railway station.

She was not alone now. A young man had spied her from his place in the
hotel bus, and, whether in answer to a signal from her, or wholly of his
own notion--regarding which there was later discussion by the two
gossips above mentioned--had sprung out to join her on the street.

He walked by her side now, holding her by the arm, patting her shoulder,
talking to her volubly, excitedly, all the time--a tall young man in
modern garb; a young man with good shoulders and a strong and easy
stride. His face seemed flushed with eagerness and happiness. His hat,
pushed back on his brow, showed the short curling auburn hair, strong
and dense above the brown cheeks. Those who were close might have seen
the kindly, frank and direct gaze of his open blue eyes.

A certain aloof distinction seemed to cling about the young man also as
he advanced now, laughing and bubbling over with very joy of life and
eagerness at greeting this woman at his side--this woman whose face
suddenly was glorified with a light none ever had seen it bear before.
Why not? It was his mother--Aurora Lane, the best known woman of Spring
Valley, and the woman with least reputation.

The two passed directly into the center of the town's affairs, and yet
they seemed apart in some strange way. They met greetings, but the
greetings were vague, curious. No one knew this young man.

"Huh!" exclaimed one of the two town critics once more. "There they go.
Pretty sight, ain't it! Who's he?"

Old Silas Kneebone leaned to his friend, Aaron Craybill, on the adjacent
store box. "Taller'n she is, and got red hair, too, like hers. I
wonder--but law!--No, good law! No! It kain't be. She ain't nobody's
wife, and never was."

"But there they go, walking through the streets in broad daylight, as
bold as you please," commented his crony.

"I dunno as I'd call her bold, neither," rejoined Silas. "'Rory Lane,
she's kept up her head all these years, and I must say she's minded her
own business. Everybody knows, these twenty years, she had a baby, and
that the baby died; but that's about all anybody ever did know. The
baby's dad, if it had one, has hid damned well--the man nor the woman
neither don't live in this town that can even guess who he was. But
who's this young feller? Some relative o' hern from somewheres, like
enough--reckon she must 'a' been goin' down to the train to meet him.
Never told nobody, and just like her not to. She sure is close-mouthed.
They're going on over towards her place, seems like," he continued.
"Say, don't she look proud? Seems like she's glad over something. But
why--that's what I want to know--why?"

The two persons thus in the public eye of Spring Valley by this time had
come again to the corner of the courthouse inclosure, and apparently
purposed to pass diagonally through the courthouse yard. Now and again
the young man turned in friendly fashion to the onlookers, none of whom
he knew, but whom he fancied to be acquaintances of his companion. He
himself was altogether a stranger in the town. He felt a chill at the
curious stares, the silent half smiles he encountered, but attributed
that to bucolic reticence, so shrugged his shoulders and turned to
Aurora Lane. Had any at that time heard his speech, they surely must
have felt yet more surprise.

"Mom!" said he. "Mother! I've got a mother, after all--and such a
splendid one! I can't believe it at all--it must all be a dream. To be
an orphan all my life--and then to get word that I'm not--that I've a
mother, after all--and you! Why, I'd have known you anyhow, I'm sure, if
I'd never seen you, even from the picture I had. It was when you were a
girl. But you've not changed--you couldn't. And it's you who've been my
mother all the time. It's fine to be home with you at last. So this is
the town where you have lived--that I've never seen. And here are all
your friends?"

"Yes, Don," said she, "all I have, pretty much." Aurora Lane's speaking
voice was of extraordinary sweetness.

"Well, you have lived here all your life."

"Yes," she smiled.

"And they all know you."

"Oh, yes," noncommittally. "It was too bad you had to be away from me,
Don, boy. You seem like a stranger to me--I can't realize you are here,
that you are my own boy, Dieudonné! I'm afraid of you--I don't know
you--and I'm so proud and frightened, so surprised, so _glad_--why, I
don't know what to do. But I'd have known you anywhere--I _did_ know
you. You're just as I've always dreamed of you--and I'm glad--I'm so
very glad!"

"Mom! I loved your little picture, but I never knew how much I loved
_you_ till now--why--you're my _mother_! My mother! And I've never seen
you--I've never known you--till right now. You're a ripper, that's what
you are!

"And is that where you live, over yonder?" he added quickly, to conceal
the catch in his throat, the quick moisture in his eyes. His mother! And
never in all his life had he seen her face--this sweet, strange,
wistful, wonderful face. His mother! He had not even known she was
alive. And now, so overwhelmed was he, he did not as yet even think of
unraveling the veil of ignorance or deceit--call it what one
might--which had left him in orphanage all his life till now.

"Yes, over yonder," said Aurora, and pointed across the square. "That
little house under the shade trees, just at the corner. That's home and
workshop for me, Don."

She spoke softly, her eyes still fixed on him, the color of her cheeks
deepening.

"Not so much of a house, is it?" laughed the boy, tears on his face,
born of his new emotion, so sudden, so tremendous and so strange.

"Not so very much," she assented, laughing gayly also, and also in
tears, which gave him sudden grief--"but it has served."

"Well, never mind. We're going to do better out West, Mom. We're going
to have you with us right away, as soon as I can get started."

"What--what do you say--with _us_! With _us_?"

She spoke in swift dismay, halting in her walk. "What do you mean,
Don--_us_?"

"I didn't tell you the news," said he, "for I've just got it myself.

"What a week! I heard of you--that you were alive, that you were living
here--though why you never told me I can't dream--and now, today, Anne!
Two such women--and for me. I can call God kind to me. As if I deserved
it!"

He did not see her face as he went on rapidly:

"We didn't know it ourselves much more than an hour or so ago--Anne and
I. She came out on the same train with me--we finished school together,
don't you see! Anne lives in Columbus, fifty miles west. She's fine! I
haven't had time to tell you."

He didn't have time now--did not have time to note even yet the sudden
pallor which came upon his mother's face. "Anne?" she began.

"Huh!" said Silas Kneebone again from his place under the awning, "there
she goes--'Rory Lane. Wonder who that kin be with her! And I wonder
what old Eph Adamson's goin' to say to them! Watch at them now."

The young man and his mother by this time were within the courthouse
fence and coming face to face with the two public challengers, who had
so fervently notified all mankind of their wish to engage in personal
combat.

Those beneath the awnings now saw the tall figure of the half-wit boy,
Johnnie Adamson, advance toward Aurora Lane. They saw her and the tall
young stranger halt suddenly--saw the young man gently push the woman
back of him and stand full front, frowning, questioning, almost directly
against the half-wit. He reached out a hand and thrust him back,
sternly, fearlessly, half contemptuously.

"Wait, Don! Come back!" called out Aurora Lane. "Don't get into trouble
here--come--come away!"

She plucked at the sleeve of his coat to draw him back. It was too late.
The half-wit, cracking his knuckles now yet more loudly, and knocking
his fists together, had wholly lost his amiable smile. Something
primordial was going on, deep down in his rudimentary brain.

As for Eph Adamson, he also stood scowling and silent, a sudden wave of
resentment filling his soul at seeing the happiness of these two.

"No, you don't--just you leave him be!" called out Eph Adamson, as the
young man pushed the half-wit back from him, his own blue eyes now
beginning to glint. "Leave him alone, unless you want to fight. He can
lick you anyways, whoever you are. Do you want to fight?"

"No, why should I? I don't know you."

Don Lane turned toward the stranger, still frowning and somewhat
wondering, but in no terror whatever.

"I don't know you neither, nor what you're doin' here, but you've got to
fight or 'pologize," said Eph Adamson, arriving at this conclusion
through certain mental processes of his own not apparent. "You got to
have our consent to cross this here courtyard. This is my son John, and
you shan't insult him."

"Get on away--step back," said Don Lane. "I guess it's all right, but
let my mother and myself alone--we're just going home."

A sudden wave of rage and wonder, mingled, filled the soul of drunken
Eph Adamson as his venom rose to the boiling point.

"Mother!" he half screamed, "your _mother_? Who're you? You're a pretty
pair, you two, ain't you? She said her baby died twenty years ago. Did
she have some more? Who're you? _Mother?_--Say, after all, are _you_ the
town's boy--coming pushing past my son with her--your _mother_! What do
you mean? If you're her son, you ain't _got_ no mother, nor no father
neither."

And now there came a pause, an icy pause--icy it was, out there in the
glare of the hot summer sun. These four who stood in view of all the
village might have been statues for the time, so motionless, so tense
was each.

Not many actually heard the words of old Eph Adamson--words wrung out of
the bitterness of his own soul perhaps, but words intolerable none the
less. None had heard the words of Aurora Lane and the young man as they
had spoken previous to this. None guessed who the stranger was or might
be--none but drunken Eph Adamson. But all could see what now happened.

For one instant the young man stood almost like a statue. Then with one
sudden thrust of his fist he smote the old man full in the mouth, so
swift and hard a blow that Adamson dropped prostrate, and for the time
motionless.

A sudden, instantaneous, electric buzz, a murmur, ran all around the
square. A sound of shuffling feet and falling boxes might have been
heard as men here and there rose eagerly, their necks craned out toward
this swiftly made arena.

They saw the half-wit boy now advance upon Don Lane with a roar or bawl
of rage, his arms swinging flail-like. All expected to see the newcomer
turn and run. Not so. He simply stood for a half instant, sidestepped,
and again swung in close upon his foe. Old Silas Kneebone described the
affair many a time afterwards, at a time when Spring Valley knew more
about Don Lane.

"You see, the eejit, he gets up again, hollering, and he goes in again
at Dewdonny, bound for to knock his head off. But Dewdonny, he ducks
down like a regular prize-fighter--I hear tell, at colleges, them
athaletes they have to learn all them sort of things--and he put up a
fight like a regular old hand. But all the time he keeps hollering to
the crowd, 'Take him away! Take him away! Keep him off, I say! I don't
want to hit him!'

"Well, folks begun to laugh at Dewdonny then--before they knowed who he
was--thinking he was afraid of that eejit; yet it didn't seem like he
was, neither, for he didn't run away. At last he hits the eejit fair a
second time, and he knocks him down flat. Folks then begun to allow he
could hit him whenever he wanted to, and knock him down whenever he
pleased.

"Now, the eejit, he gets up and begins to beller like a calf. He puts
his hand on his face where Dewdonny Lane had done hit him the last time
or two and he hollers out, 'Pa, he hit me!'

"But his pa could only set up on the grass and shake his head. I reckon
old Eph was soberer then than he had been five minutes sooner. Say, that
boy had a punch like the kick of a full growed mule!

"Of course, you all know what happened then. It was then that old Man
Tarbush come in, seeing the boy had both of them two licked. He got up
his own nerve after that. So now he goes over there to the courthouse
ground, through the gate where they all was, and he lays his hand on
Dewdonny Lane and then on the eejit.

"'I arrest you both for disturbing of the peace,' says he then. 'Come on
now, in the name of the law.'

"'The law be damned!' says Dewdonny Lane then. 'Go take this man to
jail. Are you crazy--what do you mean by arresting me when I'm just
walking home with my mother? This wasn't my fault. I didn't want to hit
him.

"'Come on, Mom!' says he, and before Tarbush could help hisself he'd
took 'Rory Lane by the arm again and off they went, and right soon they
was in their house--them two, the milliner and her boy.

"And Joel Tarbush he heard him call her 'Mom' right there--that's how it
all begun to git out.

"That's right--this was the town milliner and the boy she sent away,
that never died none at all nohow.--'Rory Lane, and her boy we all
thought was dead. And we'd never knowed it nor dreamed it till he spoke,
right there in the public square! 'My mother!' says he. Can you beat
that?

"Then 'Rory Lane turns around and fronts the whole lot of them. Says
she: 'Yes, it's true! This is my son, Dewdonny Lane,' says she. She said
it cold.

"That was before we knowed all about how she had put him through
college, and that this was his first visit home, and the first time he'd
ever seen her--his own mother! I heard as how he'd thought all his life
he was a orphan, and someone on the inside that very week--just when
he'd finished in college--had wrote him that he wasn't no orphan, but
had a mother living right here! So here he comes, hot foot--and didn't
he spill the beans!

"She'd tried her durnedest to keep it all covered up--and you must say
she'd made one big fight of it, fer it's hard fer a woman to keep her
eyes and her hands off of her own flesh and blood, even if it ain't
legal. But, somehow, it's hard to keep that sort of thing covered up,
for a woman. It all comes out, time'n again--ain't it the truth? How she
done it for twenty years is a miracle. But law! What's twenty years,
come to forgettin' things like what she done?"



CHAPTER II

AURORA LANE


While the doughty town marshal, endowed now with a courage long foreign
to his nature, was leading away his sobbing prisoner, followed by the
prisoner's dazed yet angered parent, these other two, mother and son,
continued rapidly on their way toward the home of Aurora Lane. The young
man walked in silence, his enthusiasm stilled, although he held his
mother's hand tight and close as it lay upon his arm. His face, frowning
and stern, seemed suddenly grown strangely older.

They arrived at the corner of the tawny grassplot of the courthouse
yard, crossed the street once more, and turned in at the long shady lane
of maples which made off from that corner of the square. Here, just in
the neutral strip between business and residence property, opposite a
wagon-making and blacksmith shop, and adjoining the humble abode of a
day-laborer, they came to a little gate which swung upon a decrepit
hinge. It made in upon a strip of narrow brick walk, swept scrupulously
clean, lined with well-kept tulips; a walk which in turn arrived at the
foot of a short and narrow stair leading up to the porch of the
green-shuttered house itself.

It was a small place of some half-dozen rooms, and it served now, as it
had for these twenty years, as home and workshop alike for its tenant.
Aurora Lane had lived here so long that most folk thought she owned the
place. As a matter of fact, she owned only a vast sheaf of receipted
bills for rent paid to Nels Jorgens, the wagon-maker across the street.
In all these twenty years her rent had been paid promptly, as were all
her other bills.

Aurora Lane was a milliner, who sometimes did dress-making as well--the
only milliner in Spring Valley--and had held that honor for many years.
A tiny sign above the door announced her calling. A certain hat, red of
brim and pronounced of plume, which for unknown years had reposed in the
front window of the place--the sort of hat which proved bread-winning
among farmers' wives and in the families of villagers of moderate
income--likewise announced that here one might find millinery.

When she first had moved into these quarters so many years ago, scarce
more than a young girl, endeavoring to make a living in the world, the
maples had not been quite so wide, the grass along the sidewalk not
quite so dusty.

It was here that for twenty years Aurora Lane had made her fight
against the world. It had been the dream, the fierce, flaming ambition
of all her life, that her son, her son beloved, her son born out of holy
wedlock, might after all have some chance in life.

It was for this that she aided in his disappearance in his infancy,
studiously giving out to all--without doubt even to the unknown father
of the boy--the word that the child had died, still in its infancy, in a
distant state, among relatives of her own. She herself, caught in the
shallows of poverty and unable to travel, had not seen him in all these
years--had not dared to see him--had in all the dulled but not dead
agony of a mother's yearning postponed her sweet dream of a mother's
love, and with unmeasurable bravery held her secret all these awful
years. Schooling here and there, at length the long term in college, had
kept the boy altogether a stranger to his native town, a stranger even
to his own mother. He did not know his own past, nor hers. He did not
dream how life had been made smooth for him, nor at what fearful cost.
Shielded about always by a mother's love, he had not known he had a
mother.

This was as his mother had wished. As for him, in some way he received
the requisite funds. He wondered only that he knew so little of his own
people, half orphan though he was. He had been told that his father,
long since dead, had left a certain sum for the purpose of his
education, although further of his own history he knew nothing. That he
was not of honorable birth he never once had dreamed. And now he had
heard this charge for the first time--heard it made publicly, openly,
before all the world, on this which was to have been the happiest day in
all his life.

But if Don Lane knew little about himself, there lacked not knowledge of
his story, actual or potential, here in Spring Valley, once his presence
called up the past to Spring Valley's languid mind. There had not yet
been excitement enough for one day. Everyone, male and female, surging
here and there in swift gossiping, now called up the bitter story so
long hid in Aurora Lane's bosom.

As for Aurora, she had before this well won her fight of all these
years. She was known as the town milliner, a woman honorable in her
business transactions and prompt with all her bills. Socially she had no
place. She was not invited to any home, any table. The best people of
the town, the banker's wife, the families of the leading merchants,
bought bonnets of her. Ministers--while yet new in their pulpits--had
been known to call upon her sometimes--one had even offered to kneel and
pray with her in her workroom, promising her salvation even yet, and
telling her the story of the thief upon the cross. Once Aurora Lane went
to church and sat far back, unseen, but she did so no longer now, had
not for many years, feeling that she dared not appear in the
church--the church which had not ratified her nuptial night!

She had her place, definite and yet indefinite, accepted and yet
rejected, here in this village. But gradually, dumbly, doggedly she had
fought on; and she had won. Long since, Spring Valley had ceased openly
to call up her story. If once she had been wearer of the scarlet letter,
the color thereof had faded these years back. She was the town milliner,
a young woman under suspicion always, but no man could bring true word
against her character. She had sinned--once--no more. If she had known
opportunity for other sins than her first one, she held her peace. Human
nature were here as it is elsewhere--women as keen; men as lewd. But the
triumph of Aurora Lane might now have been called complete. She had
"lived it down."

This long and terrible battle of one woman against so many strangely
enough had not wholly embittered her life, so strong and sweet and true
and normal had it originally been. She still could smile--smile in two
fashions. One was a pleasant, sunny and open smile for those who came in
the surface affairs of life. The other was deeper, a slow, wry smile,
very wise, and yet perhaps charitable, after all. Aurora Lane knew!

But all these years she had worked on with but one purpose--to bring up
her boy and to keep her boy in ignorance of his birth. He had never
known--not in all these years! It had been her dream, her prayer, that
he might never know.

And now he knew--he must know.

They stepped through the little picket gate, up the tiny brick walk and
across the little narrow porch together, into the tiny apartments which
had been the arena for Aurora Lane--in which she had fought for her own
life, her own soul, and for the life of her son, her tribute to the
scheme of life itself. Here lay the _penetralia_ of this domicile, this
weak fortification against the world.

In this room were odds and ends of furniture, a few pictures not
ill-chosen--pictures not in crude colors, but good blacks and whites.
Woman or girl, Aurora Lane had had her own longings for the great
things, the beautiful things of life, for the wide world which she never
was to see. Her taste for good things was instinctive, perhaps
hereditary. Had she herself not been an orphan, perhaps she had not
dared the attempt to orphan her own son. There were books and magazines
upon the table, mixed in with odds and ends of scraps of work sometimes
brought hither; the margin between her personal and her professional
life being a very vague matter.

Back of this central room, through the open door, showed the small white
bed in the tiny sleeping room. At the side of this was the yet more tiny
kitchen where Aurora Lane all these years had cooked for herself and
washed for herself and drawn wood and water for herself. She had no
servant, or at least usually had not. Daily she wrought a woman's
miracles in economy. Year by year she had, in some inscrutable fashion,
been able to keep up appearances, and to pay her bills, and to send
money to her son--her son whom she had not seen in twenty years--her son
for whom her eyes and her heart ached every hour of every day. She
sewed. She made hats. What wonder if the scarlet of the hat in the
window had faded somewhat--and what wonder if the scarlet of the letter
on her bosom had faded even more?... Because it had all been for him,
her son, her first-born. And he must never, never know! He must have his
chance in the world. Though the woman should fail, at least the man must
not.

So it was thus that, heavy-hearted enough now, she brought him to see
the place where his mother had lived these twenty years. And now he knew
about it, must know. It took all her courage--the last drop of her
splendid, unflinching woman-courage.

"Come in, Don," she said. "Welcome home!"

He looked about him, still frowning with what was on his mind.

"Home?" said he.

"Don!" she said softly.

"Tough work, wasn't it, waiting for me to get through, dear Mom? For I
know you did wait. I know you meant that some day----"

He laid a hand on her head, his lips trembling. He knew he was
postponing, evading. She shrank back in some conviction also of
postponing, evading. All her soul was honest. She hated deceit--though
all her life she had been engaged in this glorious deceit which now was
about to end.

"Tough sometimes, yes," she said, smiling up at him. "But don't you like
it?"

"If my dad had lived," said Don, "or if he had had very much to give
either of us, you'd never have lived this way at all. Too bad he died,
wasn't it, Mom?"

He smiled also, or tried to smile, yet restraint was upon them both,
neither dared ask why.

She caught up his hand suddenly, spying upon it a strand of blood.

"Don!" she exclaimed, wiping it with her kerchief, "you are hurt!"

He laughed at this. "Surely you don't know much of boxing or football,"
said he.

"You ought not to fight," she reproved him. "On your first day--and all
the town saw it, Don! You and I--we ought not to fight. What--on the
first day I've seen you in all these years--the first day you're out of
college--the first day I could ever in all my life claim you for my very
own? I believe I _would_ have claimed you--yes, I do! But you
came--when you knew you had a mother, why you came to her, didn't you,
Don? Even me. But you mustn't fight."

"Why?" He turned upon her quickly, his voice suddenly harsh, his eyes
narrowing under drawn brows. "Why shouldn't I fight?"

He seemed suddenly grown graver, more mature, strong, masterful, his eye
threatening. She almost smiled as she looked at him, goodly as he was,
her pride that she had borne him overpowering all, her exultation that
she had brought a man into the world, a strong man, one fit to prevail,
scornful of hurt--one who had fought for her! For the first time in her
life a man had fought for her, and not against her.

But on the soul of Aurora Lane still sat the ancient dread. She saw the
issue coming now.

"Mother----" said he, throwing his hat upon the table and walking toward
her quickly.

"Yes, Don." (She had named her son Dieudonné--"God-given." Those who did
not know what this might mean later called him "Dewdonny," and hence
"Don.")

"I didn't thrash them half enough, those fellows, just now."

"Don't say that, Don. It was too bad--it was terrible that it had to be
today, right when you were first coming here. I had been waiting for you
so long, and I wanted----"

"Well, I tell you what I want--I want you just to come away with me. I
want to get you away from this town, right away, at once, as quick as I
can. I'm beginning to see some things and to wonder about others. I am
ashamed I have cost you so much--in spite of what Dad left, you had to
live close--I can see that now--although I never knew a thing about it
until right now. I feel like a big loafer, spending all the money I
have, while you have lived like this. Where did you get it, Mom?"

She swept a gesture about her with both hands. "I got it here," said she
suddenly. "It _all_ came from--here. You father sent you--nothing! I've
not let you know all the truth--you've known almost nothing of the
truth."

Then her native instinct forced her to amend. "At least half of it came
from here. It was honest money, Don, you know it was that, don't
you--you believe it was honest?"

"Money that would have burned my fingers if I had known how it came. But
I didn't. What's up here? Have you fooled me, tricked me--made a loafer
of me? I supposed my father set aside enough for my education--and
enough for you, too. What's been wrong here? What's under all this? Tell
me, now!"

His mother's eyes were turned away from him. "At least we have done it,
Don," said she, with her shrewd, crooked smile. "We've not to do it
over again. You can't forget what you have learned--you can't get away
from your college education now, can you? You've got it--your diploma,
your degree in engineering. You're a college man, Don, the only one in
Spring Valley. And I'm so proud, and I'm so glad. Oh! Don--Don----"

She laid a hand on his breast shyly, almost afraid of him now--the first
hand she had ever laid upon the heart of any man these twenty years. It
was her son, a man finished, a gentleman, she hoped.... Could he not be
a gentleman? So many things of that sort happened here in America. Poor
boys had come up and come through--had they not? And even a poor boy
might grow up to be a gentleman--was not that true--oh, might it not
after all be true?

He laid his own hand over hers now, the hand on which the blood was not
yet dried.

"Mom," said he, "I ought to go back and thrash the life out of that man
yet. I ought to wring the neck of that doddering old fool marshal. I
ought to whip every drunken loafer on those streets. Whose business was
it? Couldn't we cross the square without all that?"

He stopped suddenly, the fatal thought ever recurring to his mind. But
he lacked courage. Why should he not? Was this not far worse than facing
death for both of them? Their eyes no longer sought one another.

"Mom----" said he, with effort now.

"Yes, my boy."

"_Where's my dad?_"

A long silence fell. Could she lie to him now?

"The truth now!" he said after a time.

"You have none, Don!" said she gaspingly at last. "He's gone. Isn't that
enough? He's dead--yes--call him dead--for he's gone."

He pushed back roughly and looked at her straight.

"Did he really leave any money for my education?"

She looked at him, her throat fluttering. "I wish I could lie," said
she. "I do wish I could lie to you. I have almost forgot how. I have
been trying so long to live on the square--I don't believe, Don, I know
how to do any different. I've been trying to live so that--so that----"

"So what, mother?"

"So I could be worthy of _you_, Don! That's been about all my life."

"_I have no father?_"

She could not reply.

"Then was what--what that man said--was _that the truth_?"

After what seemed to both of them an age of agony she looked up.

She nodded mutely.

Then her hand gripped fiercely at his coat lapel. A great dread filled
her. Must she lose also her boy, for whom she had lived, for whom she
had denied herself all these years--the boy who was more than life
itself to her? Her face was white. She looked up into another face, a
strange face, that of her son; and it was white as her own.

"I didn't know it," said he simply at length. "Of course, if I had
known, I wouldn't have done what I did. I would have worked."

"No, no! Now you are just fitted to work. It's over--it's done--we have
put you through."

"You told me my father was dead. Where is he--who is he?"

"I will never tell you, Don," said she steadily, "not so long as you
live will I tell you. I have never told anyone on earth, and I never
will."

"Then how do they know--then why should that man say what he did?"

"They know--about you--that--that you happened--that's all. They thought
you died as a child, a baby--we sent you away. They don't know who it
was--your father--I couldn't have lived here if anyone had known--that
was my secret--my one secret--and I will keep it all my life. But here
are you, my boy! I will not say I am sorry--I will never say that again!
I am glad--I'm glad for anything that's given me _you_! And you fought
for me--the first time anyone ever did, Don."

He was turning away from her now slowly, and she followed after him,
agonized.

"It wasn't _your_ fault, Don!" said she. "Try to remember that always.
Haven't I taken it up with God--there on my knees?" She pointed to the
little room where the corner of the white bed showed. "On my knees!"

She followed him as he still walked away. "Oh, Don," she cried, "what do
you mean, and what are you going to do?"

"I'm going to try to forget everything of all my life. God! if I could
undo it--if I could forget how I got my education," said he. "Tell me,
didn't he help at all--did you, all alone, bring me up, far away, never
seeing me, educating me, keeping me--taking care of me--didn't he, my
father, do anything at all--for you?"

"No, I did it--or at least half of it."

"And who the other half?"

"Never mind, Don, never mind." She patted eagerly on the lapel of his
coat, which once more she had caught and was fingering. "Oh, this was to
have been my very happiest day--I have been living and working for this
all these long, long years--for the day when I'd see you. Let me have a
little of it, can't you, Don? If you should forsake me now, I will know
that God has; and then I'll know I never had a chance."

Quickly he laid a hand upon her shoulder. "No, I'll wait."

"What do you mean?" she asked. "What is it that you will do?"

"Find out who he was," said he, his face haggard.

"You will never do that, Don."

"Oh, yes. And when I do----"

"What then?"

"I'll kill him, probably. At least I'll choke this lie or this truth,
whichever it is, down the throats of this town. God! I'm _filius
nullius_! I'm the son of no man! I'm worse. I'm a loafer. I've been
supported by a woman--my own mother, who had so little, who was left
alone--oh, God! God!"

"Don," she cried out now. "Don, I'd died if I could have kept it from
you. Oh, my son--my son!"



CHAPTER III

TWO MOTHERS


The young man stood motionless, facing the white-faced woman who had
pronounced his fate for him. Happily it chanced that there came
interruption, for a moment relieving both of the necessity of speech.

The click of the little crippled gate as it swung to brought Aurora Lane
to her senses now. She hastened to the door, toward the outer stair. She
met someone at the door.

"Julia!" she exclaimed. "Come in. Oh, I'm so glad. Come! He's here--he's
come--he's right here now!"

There entered now the figure of a youngish-looking woman, her hair just
tinged with gray here and there upon the temples; a woman perhaps the
junior of Aurora Lane by a year or so. Of middle stature, she was of
dark hair, and of brown eyes singularly luminous and soft. Not uncomely,
one would have called her at first sight. The second glance would have
shown the limp with which Julia Delafield walked, the bent-top cane
which was her constant companion. She was one of those handicapped in
the race of life, a cripple from her childhood, but a cripple in body
only. One might not look in her face without the feeling that here was a
nature of much charm.

Miss Julia likewise was owner of two smiles. The one was sad, pathetic,
the smile of the hopeless soul. The other, and that usually seen by
those about her, was wide and winning beyond words--the smile which had
given her her place in the hearts of all Spring Valley. These many years
"Miss Julia," as she was known to all, had held her place as "city
librarian," in which quasi-public capacity she was known of all, and
loved of all as well.

She came in now smiling, and kissed Aurora Lane before she allowed
herself to see, standing in the inner room, the tall young man, who
seemed to fill up the little apartment. A swift color came into her face
as, with a sort of summoning up of her courage, she went up to him,
holding out her hands. Even she put up her cheek to be kissed by him. It
was her peculiarity when feeling any emotion, any eagerness, to flush
brightly. She did so now.

"Oh, Miss Julia!" exclaimed Don. "I'm glad to see you. Why, I know you
too--I feel as though I've always known you just as you are! So--you're
my fairy godmother, who's got a real mother for me! All these
years--till I was a man grown--how could you?--but I'd know you
anywhere, because you're just the image of the picture you sent me with
that of her. I mean when you wrote me last week for the first time--that
wonderful letter--and told me I had a mother, and she was here, but that
I mustn't ever come to see her. Of course, I wired at once I _was_
coming! See now----"

"You are tall, Don," said Miss Julia softly. "You are very tall. You
are--you are fine! I'm so glad you grew up tall. All the heroes in my
books are tall, you know." She laughed aloud now, a rippling, joyous
little laugh, and hooking her cane across the chair arm, sank back into
Aurora Lane's largest rocker, her tender, wistful face very much
suffused.

Don fetched his mother also a chair, and seated himself, still regarding
Miss Julia curiously. He saw the two women look at one another, and
could not quite tell what lay in the look.

As for Miss Julia, she was still in ignorance of the late events in the
public square, because she had come directly across to Aurora Lane's
house after the closing of her own duties at the library this Saturday
afternoon, when most of her own patrons were disposed for the open than
for books.

"Yes, Don," said she again, "you are fine!" Her eyes were all alight
with genuine pride in him. "I'm so glad after all you came to see us
before you went on West--even when I told you you mustn't! Oh, believe
me, your mother scolded me! But I presume you are in a hurry to get
away? And you've grown up! After all, twenty years is only a little
time. Must you be in a hurry to leave us?"

"I ought not to be," said he, smiling pleasantly after all. "Surely I
ought to come and see you two good partners first--I could not go away
without that. Oh, mother has told me about you--or at least I'm sure she
was just going to when you came in. Strange--I've got to get acquainted
with my mother--and you. But I know you--you're two good partners,
that's what you are--two good scouts together--isn't it true?"

Miss Julia flushed brightly. His chance word had gone passing close to
the truth, but he did not know the truth. Don Lane did not know that
here sat almost the only woman friend Aurora Lane could claim in all
Spring Valley. Miss Julia in fact was silent partner in this very
millinery shop--and silent partner in yet other affairs of which Don
Lane was yet to learn.

This was a great day for Miss Julia as well as for Don's mother. Time
and again these two women had sat in this very room and planned for this
homecoming of the boy--this boy--time and again planned, and then agreed
he must not come--their son. For--yes--they _both_ called him son! If
Don Lane, Dieudonné Lane, was _filius nullius_, at least he might boast
two mothers.

How came this to pass? One would need to go back into the story of Miss
Julia's life as well as that of Aurora Lane. She had been lame from
birth, hopelessly so, disfiguringly so. Yet callous nature had been kind
to her, had been compassionate. It gave to her a face of wondrous
sweetness, a heart of wondrous softness thereto. Hopeless and resigned,
yet never pathetic and never seeking pity, no living soul had ever heard
an unkind or impatient word from Julia Delafield's lips, not in all her
life, even when she was a child. She had suffered, yes. The story of
that was written on her face--she knew she might not hope--and yet she
hoped.

She knew all the great romances of the world, and knew likewise more
than the greatest romancer ever wrote of women. For her--even with her
wistful smile, the sudden flashing of her wistful eyes--there could be
no romance, and she knew that well. Not for her was to be ever the love
of man. She was of those cruelly defective in body, who may not hope for
any love worth having. Surrounded daily by her friends, her books, Miss
Julia was an eager reader, and an eager lover. She knew more of life's
philosophy perhaps than any soul in all her town, and yet she might
enjoy less of life's rewards than any other. A woman to the heart,
feminine in every item, flaming with generous instincts, and yet denied
all hope of motherhood; a woman steeped in philosophy and yet trained in
emotion--what must she do--what could she do--she, one of the denied?

What Miss Julia had done long years ago was to select as her best
friend the girl who of all in that heartless little town most needed a
friend--Aurora Lane. She knew Aurora's secret--in part. In full she
never yet had asked to know, so large was she herself of heart. All
Spring Valley had scorned Aurora Lane, for that she had no father for
her child. And--with what logic or lack of logic, who shall say?--Julia
Delafield had taken Aurora Lane close to her own heart--_because_ she
had the child!

It is not too much to say that these two hopeless women, the one outcast
of society, the other outcast of God, had brought up that child between
them. Those who say women have no secrets they can keep should have
noted this strange partnership in business, in life, in maternity! This
had gone on for twenty years, and not a soul in Spring Valley could have
told the truth of it. Don Lane did not know of it even now.

"Why, Aurora," said Miss Julia more than once in those early years to
her friend, "you must not grieve. See what God has given you--a
son!--and such a son! How glad, how proud, how contented you ought to
be. You have a son! Look at me!"

So Aurora Lane did look at Julia Delafield. They comforted one another.
It was from Miss Julia that year by year, falteringly, she learned to
hope, learned to hold up her head. Thus gradually, by the aid of the
love of another woman--a rare and beautiful thing, a wondrous thing--a
thing so very rare in that world of jealousy in which by fate women so
largely live--she got back some hold on life--she, mother of the son of
no man, at the urge of a woman who could never have a son!

"Oh, we will plan, Aurora!" said Miss Julia in those piteous earlier
times. "We will plan--we will get on. We'll fight it out together." And
so they had, shoulder to shoulder, unnoted, unpraised and unadvised,
year by year; and because they knew she had at least one friend, those
who sat in judgment on Aurora Lane came little by little to forgive or
to forget her sin, as it once was called of all the pulpits there.

And now a drunken tongue had recalled sharply, unforgivably,
unescapably, that past which had so long lain buried--a past to which
neither of them ever referred.

In all these years time had been doing what it could to repair what had
been. Time wreathes the broken tree with vines to bind up its wounds. It
covers the scarred earth with grasses presently. In all these years some
men had died, others had left the village. Certain old women, poisonous
of heart, also had died, and so the better for all concerned. Other
women mayhap had their sacrifices--and their secrets. But as for Aurora
Lane, at least she had won and held one friend. And so they two had had
between them a child, a son, a man. One had gathered of the philosophy
of life, of the world's great minds. The other had brought into the
partnership the great equipment with which Nature forever defies all law
and all philosophy save her own.

Now, product of their twenty years of friendship, here he stood, tall
and strong--Don Lane, their boy, blood on his hand because of that truth
which he swiftly--too swiftly--had declared to be a lie; and which was
no lie but the very truth.

But Don Lane still was ignorant of the closeness of truth of his last
remark. He only put such face now on all this as he might.

"Miss Julia," said he lamely, and giving her instinctively the title
which the town gave her, "I know you have been good to my mother."

"Why, no, I haven't, Don," said she, "not at all. I've been so busy I
have hardly seen your mother for a month or so. But we have kept track
of you--why, Don, I've got your class records, every one. You don't know
how I got them? Isn't it true, Aurie?"

"I don't know what I would ever have done without her," said Aurora Lane
slowly.

Don Lane laughed suddenly. "Why," said he, "it's almost as if I had
_two_ mothers, isn't it?"

Both women grew red now, and poor Don, knowing little as he did, grew
red as well.

"But what's the matter with your hand, Don--you've cut yourself! I've
told your mother she ought to fix that gate-latch."

Don looked once more at his wounded hand, and sought to cover the
blood-stain with his kerchief. He saw that Miss Julia had heard nothing
of the affair of a few moments earlier in the public square.

"Why, that's nothing," he mumbled.

This was too much for the straightforward nature of Aurora Lane, and
rapidly as she might she gave some account to Miss Julia of these late
events. She told all--except the basic and essential truth. A sad shame
held her back from talking even before Miss Julia of the fact that her
boy now knew he was the child of shame itself.

"That's too bad," said Julia Delafield slowly, gravely, as she heard the
half news. "I'm awfully sorry--I'm awfully sorry for your mother, Don.
You fought? My! I wish I had been there to see it."

Miss Julia's face flushed once more, indicative of the heroic soul which
lay in her own misshapen body.

"I didn't want to hit that fellow," said Don. "Of course, they had no
chance, either of them, with a man who could box a bit."

"And you learned that--in college, Don?"

He only grinned in reply, and thrust the wounded hand into his pocket,
out of sight.

"I'll warrant you, Don," said Miss Julia, "that if it hadn't been for
you old Tarbush, the town marshal, never would have taken Johnnie
Adamson to jail. Those two were a public nuisance every Saturday
afternoon. I'm glad you have ended it. But tell me, what made them pick
on you?"

Don Lane struggled for a time, not daring to look at his mother, before
he spoke. "The half-wit wouldn't let us pass, and then his father called
me a name--if that man or any other ever calls me that again, I'm going
to beat him up till his own people won't know him. I can't tell you," he
went on, flushing.

He did not catch the sudden look which now passed between the two women.
A sudden paleness replaced the flush on Miss Julia's cheek. A horror sat
in her eye. "What does he know?" was the question she asked of Aurora
Lane, eye only speaking the query.

"At least, Miss Julia," said poor Don, "you somehow certainly must know
about me. I'll get all my debts squared around some time. As soon as I
can get settled down in my new place West--I've got a fine engineering
job out in Wyoming already--I'm going to have my mother come. And if
ever I get on in the world, there are some other things I'm not going to
forget. Any friend of hers----" His big hand, waved toward his mother,
told the rest of what he could not speak.

They sat on, uncomfortable, for a time, neither of the three knowing
how much the others knew, nor how much each ought to know. Of the three,
Aurora Lane was most prepared. For twenty years she had been learning to
be prepared. For twenty years she had been praying that her boy never
would know what now he did know.

Don Lane looked at his mother's face, but could not fathom it. Life to
him thus far had been more or less made up of small things--sports,
books, joys, small things, no great ponderings, no problems, no
introspections, no self-communings--and until but very recently no love,
no great emotion, no passion to unsettle him. This shadow which now fell
over him--he could not have suspected that. But his mother all these
years had known that perhaps at any unforeseen time this very hour might
come--had prayed against it, but known always in her heart that it might
come, nay, indeed one day must come.

"Damn the place, anyhow!" he broke out at length. "You've lived here
long enough, both of you. It's nothing but a little gossiping hell,
that's all. I'll take you away from here, both of you, that's what I'll
do!" He stretched out a hand suddenly to his mother, who took it,
stroking it softly.

"Don, boy," said she, "I didn't run away. Why should we run away now? If
we did, we'd take ourselves with us wherever we went, wouldn't we? This
is as good a place to live out life as any I could have found. You
can't really evade things, you know."

"As though I asked to! I'd rather fight things than evade them."

"I think so," said his mother mournfully. "I suppose that's true."

"But you've got to be happy, mother," said he, again taking her hand in
his. "I'll _make_ you happy. I'm ready to work for you now--I'll pay you
back."

"And Miss Julia?" smiled his mother. "It was she who told you the news,
you know, and you didn't obey her--you came against orders."

"Why, yes, of course. She's been so awfully good to you. I know what
she's been, be sure of that." (As though he did know!)

"Don't be too bitter, Don," said Miss Julia Delafield, slowly now,
hoping only to salve a wound she felt he might have, yet not sure
herself what the wound might be. "Don't be unrelenting. Why, it seems to
me, as we grow older and begin to read and think, we find out the best
of life is just being--well, being charitable--just forgetting. Nothing
matters so very much, Don. That's doctrine, isn't it?"

Don Lane never finished what reply he might have made. There came yet
another interruption, yet another footfall on the little walk without,
following the clash of the crippled gate as it swung to. It was a man's
footfall which they heard on the gallery. They all rose now as Aurora
threw open the door.

It was the solemn visage of Joel Tarbush, the town marshal, which met
Aurora Lane.

"How do you do, Mr. Tarbush?" asked she. "Won't you come in?"

The gentleman accosted gave a quick glance up the street and down.

"I'm a married man," said he, with something of a vile grin on his face
as he looked at her.

She answered him only with the level gaze of her own eyes, and pushed
open the door. He followed her in, hesitatingly, and then saw the others
in the little room.

"Ma'am," said he, "I come to summons you to the justice court this
afternoon."

"Yes," said Aurora Lane. "Why?"

"It's that Adamson case," said he--"he knows." He turned now to the tall
figure of Dieudonné Lane, instinctively stepping back as he did so.

"In what way do you want us?" asked Don Lane now. "As witnesses? My
mother----?"

"I want your--your _ma_ as a witness, yes," said Tarbush, grinning,
"since you've said it. For you, you'll have to come along on charge of
resisting a officer; likewise for assault and battery, charge brought by
Ephraim Adamson; likewise for disturbing the peace. Likewise we're
going to test the case of _habeas chorus_. Old Man Adamson's got money.
He's sober now, and he's got a lawyer--the best lawyer in town. They're
going to get the eejit out of jail, and Old Man Adamson's going to make
trouble for you."

How much longer Tarbush might have prattled on in his double capacity of
officer and gossip remained uncertain. Miss Julia turned upon him, her
large dark eyes flashing:

"Why do you bring her into it? She's just told me--they were only
crossing the square--she was only trying to go home--she wasn't
troubling anyone in all the world! Leave her out of it."

"I ain't got no choice in it," said Tarbush. "I'm serving the papers
now. Miss Lane and the boy both comes. Not that I got any feeling in the
matter."

"Why should you have?" asked Don Lane, with a cynical smile. "You've
been letting that ruffian run this town every Saturday for years, they
tell me, and you didn't dare call his bluff till you saw he was whipped.
All right, we'll go. I'll see this thing through--but I want to tell
you, you've started something that will be almighty hard to stop. You
needn't think I'm going to let this thing drop here."

"Oh, now," began the man of authority, "I wish't you wouldn't feel
thataway. I done my duty as I seen it. Didn't I take him to jail?"

"Yes, you did, after I had turned him over to you. But you took the
wrong man at that."

"Who should I of took?"

"I don't know," laughed Don Lane bitterly. "All the town, I think. We'll
see."

This was too cryptic for Joel Tarbush. Weakly he felt in his pocket for
tobacco.

"Well," said he at length, "I done summonsed you."

"We have no choice," said Aurora Lane, after a time. "We'll get ready.
Miss Julia, can't you go with me?"

"Of course," said Julia Delafield quietly.



CHAPTER IV

IN OPEN COURT


In his narrow little room upstairs in one of the two-story brick
buildings which framed the public square of Spring Valley sat J. B.
Blackman, Justice of the Peace, upholder of the majesty of the law. His
throne was a knock-kneed, broken chair. In front of him stood a large
scarred table, whereon rested the equipment of well-thumbed tomes which
bolstered him in his administration of justice. In the room beyond stood
a few scattered chairs, a long bench or two. On one wall, by way of
ornament, was a steel engraving of Daniel Webster. On the opposite wall
hung certain lithographs of political candidates of like party
persuasion with Blackman himself, for this was a presidential year, and
certain crises of political sort existed, among others the choosing of a
Senator of the United States. Among lesser likenesses on Blackman's
grimy wall loomed large the portrait of his party's candidate, to wit:
the Honorable William Henderson, late County Attorney, late District
Judge, late member of the Legislature, late candidate for Governor, late
Chairman of the State Republican Committee; and by virtue of the death
of the late incumbent in the office of United States senator, himself
now present candidate for that lofty honor. Otherwise than as to these
purposeful decorations the room had small adornment and appeared
judicially austere.

The hour was mid-afternoon, but so swiftly had the news of recent events
spread abroad in the little village that already the room of Justice of
Peace Blackman was packed. Aurora Lane's baby--why, she had fooled
everybody--her boy never had died at all--here he was--he had been
through college--he'd been somewhere all the time and now he had come to
life all at once, and had fought Eph Adamson and the eejit, and had been
arrested and was going to be tried. Naturally, the stair leading to the
Justice's office was lined, and sundry citizens were grouped about the
bottom or under the adjacent awnings.

Much speculation existed as to the exact issue of the legal proceedings
which, it seemed, had been instituted by old Eph Adamson. When that
worthy appeared, escorted by the clerk of Judge Henderson's law office,
room respectfully was made for the two, it being taken for granted that
Judge Henderson would appear for Adamson, as he always had in earlier
embroglios. Much greater excitement prevailed when presently there came
none less than Tarbush, city marshal, followed by Don Lane and the two
women. Then indeed all Spring Valley well-nigh choked of its own unsated
curiosity.

They walked steadily, these three, staring ahead, following close after
the marshal, who now officiously ordered room for himself and his
charges. When they entered Blackman's court that worthy looked up,
coughed solemnly, and resumed his occupation of poring over the legal
authorities spread before him on the table. Don Lane made room for his
mother and Miss Julia, and took his own place at the side of the
marshal. The latter laid his hand upon his arm, as if to show the
assembled multitude that he had no fear of his prisoner. Don shook off
the hand impatiently.

Outside, unable to restrain themselves sufficiently to be seated within
the room, old Kneebone and his friend Craybill walked up and down in the
narrow hall--lined with signs of attorneys, real estate men, and
insurance agents--from which made off the door of Blackman's office.

"They'll bind him over," said old Silas to his friend. "They'll do that
shore."

"Bind who over, Silas," said Craybill. "You mean Old Man Adamson and his
eejit, don't you? The eejit's arrested, anyhow. But what's it all about?
You don't believe it's true this here _is_ 'Rory's son, now do you? How
can that come?"

"Well, I ain't saying," replied old Silas cryptically, and nodding only
in the general direction of the door, "but you'll see."

Old Aaron helped himself to a chew of tobacco thoughtfully. "They say
Old Eph has got his dander up now, and's going to make plenty of trouble
all along the line. Reckon he's ashamed of his son being licked thataway
by just a kid like this. Come to think of it, it looks like Eph ain't
got much glory out of it so far, has he?"

"No, and I'll bet he had to dig up some money--the Judge, he likely
wouldn't think of it for less'n fifteen dollars anyways. That's the
price of a good shoat these days. If the case was appealed, or if it got
into a court of _nisy prisus_, or maybe got over into another county on
a change of _venoo_, you can bet Judge Henderson wouldn't be doing none
of them things for nothing, neither. The law's all right for them that
has plenty of money. Sometimes I think there's other ways."

"Huh," said his companion, "old Adamson tried the other way, didn't he?
Now look at him! If I was Old Man Adamson, or if I was his eejit son
either, the best thing we could do, seems to me, would be to get out of
town. This here boy's a fighter, if I'm any judge. Wonder if it is her
boy! If it is, whoever was his father, huh? And how was he kep' hid for
more'n twenty year?"

"He looks sort of changed since a couple of hours ago," said his friend
judicially. "He's quieter now--why, when he come into town he was just
laughing and talking like a kid. Of course, he must have knew--he knows
who his father is all right. Now, come to think of it, if this here boy
had any money he could sue them Adamsons for deefamation of character."

"How comes it he could? I hear say that all Old Man Adamson said was to
call him nobody's son, and that's true enough, if he's her boy. If you
call the truth to a man, that ain't no deefamation of character. As to
'Rory Lane, everybody knows the truth about her. You can't deefame a
woman nohow, least of all her. We all know she had a baby when she was a
girl, and it was sent away, and it died. Leastways, we _thought_ we
knew. I ain't right shore what we've knew. It looks like that woman had
put up some sort of game on this town. What right had she to do that?"

"She was right white," said the other, somewhat irrelevantly. "Never
seen no one no whiter than she was when she went in that door right
now."

"I don't reckon we can get no seats any more--the room's plumb full."

They both were looking wistfully in at the packed assembly, when they
had occasion to make room for the dignified figure of a man who now
pushed his way through the throng.

"How do, Judge Henderson," said old Silas Kneebone, who knew everybody.

The newcomer nodded somewhat coldly. He nodded also, none too warmly,
to another man who stood near the door--a tall man, of loose and bulky
figure, with a fringe of red beard under his chin, a wide and smiling
mouth, blue eyes, and a broad face which showed shrewdness and humor
alike.

"How are you, Hod?" said Henderson carelessly; thus accosting the only
man at the Spring Valley bar for whom really he had much respect or
fear--Horace Brooks, popularly known in Spring Valley as "old Hod
Brooks," perhaps the most carelessly dressed man physically and the most
exactly appointed man mentally then practising before that bar. A little
sign far down the narrow hall betokened that the office of Horace Brooks
might thereabouts be found by any in search of counsel in the law.

"Oh, are you retained in this case, Hod?" Judge Hendenson spoke over his
shoulder.

"Not at all, Judge, not at all," said the other. None the less he
himself followed on into the crowded little room.

As Judge Henderson entered all eyes were turned upon him. Conscious of
the fact that he honored this assemblage, he comported himself with
dignity proper for a candidate. He was a man well used to success in any
undertaking, and he looked his part now. The full, florid face, the
broad brow, sloping back to a ridge of iron-gray hair, the full blue
eyes, the loose, easy lips, the curved chin, the large, white hands,
the full chest, the soft body, the reddening skin of the face--all of
these offered good index to the character of William Henderson. Lawyer,
judge, politician and leading citizen--he was the type of these things,
the village Cæsar, and knew well enough the tribute due to Cæsar.

A few eyes turned from the adequate figure of Judge Henderson to the
loose and shambling form of the man who edged in to the front of the
table. Rumor had it that in the early times, twenty years or more ago,
Judge Henderson had come to that city with a single law book under his
arm as his sole capital in his profession. Old Hod Brooks had made his
own advent in precisely similar fashion, belated much in life by reason
of his having to work his way through school. Since then his life had
been one steady combat, mostly arrayed against Henderson himself.
Perhaps it might have been said that they two from the first were rivals
for the leading place at the local bar, little as Henderson himself now
cared for that. He was well intrenched, and all opponents, such as this
shambling giant with the red beard and nondescript carriage, must attack
in the open.

Judge Blackman coughed ominously once more. "Order in the court!" he
intoned, pounding on the table in front of him.

There was a general shuffling and scraping of chairs. Those standing
seated themselves so far as was possible. Judge Henderson alone stood
for a time in front of the table of Justice Blackman. The afternoon was
very warm, but he represented the full traditions of his profession, for
he appeared in long black coat, white waistcoat, and folded collar, tied
with a narrow white tie. In some way he had the appearance of always
being freshly laundered. His fresh pink cheeks were smooth and clean,
his hands were immaculate as his linen. One might have said that at one
time in his life he had been a handsome man, a fine young man in his
earlier days, and that he still was "well preserved."

Not so much might have been said of old Hod Brooks, who had slumped into
a seat close to Tarbush and his prisoner. That worthy wore an alpaca
coat, a pair of trousers which shrieked of the Golden Eagle Clothing
Store, no waistcoat at all, and it must be confessed, no collar at all,
beyond a limp strip of wilted linen decorated by no cravat whatever.

As he sat now Brooks suddenly cast a keen, curious gaze upon the face of
the young defendant who sat at the left of the city marshal--a gaze
which, passing at length, rested steadily, intently, on the face of
Aurora Lane, who sat, icy pale, staring straight in front of her. Her
left hand lay in that of Miss Julia Delafield. The eyes of the
latter--whose face was flushed, as was usual with her in any time of
mental emotion--remained fixed upon the man who was to prosecute this
boy, whose life was linked so closely with her own.

The great lawyer seemed not to see these women at all, and at first cast
no glance whatever at the defendant. The whole thing was rather trivial
for him; for although his fee really had been five hundred dollars--in
form of a note from Ephraim Adamson secured by a certain mortgage on
certain live stock--he knew well enough he honored Adamson and this
court by appearing here in a mere Justice trial.

"Order in the court!" said Blackman once more. "The case coming on for
trial is City of Spring Valley on the complaint of Ephraim Adamson
against Dewdonny Lane." At this bold declaration of what had been a half
credited secret to Spring Valley, all Spring Valley now straightened and
sat up, expectant. A sort of sigh, half a murmur of intense curiosity
went over the audience. It was indeed a great day for Spring Valley.
"Lane--Dewdonny Lane." So he _was_ the son of Aurora Lane--and had no
family name for his own!

Justice Blackman paused and looked inquiringly at the battered visage of
old Eph Adamson. He coughed hesitatingly. "I understand this case is one
of assault and battery. I believe, Judge Henderson, that you represent
the plaintiff in this case?"

"Yes, your Honor," said Judge Henderson slowly, turning his full eye
upon the court from its late resting place upon the campaign portrait of
himself as it appeared on the wall. "I have consented to be of such
service as I may in the case. Mr. Ephraim Adamson, our well-known friend
here, is ready for the trial of the cause now, as I understand. I may
say further, your Honor, that there will be a writ of _habeas corpus_
sued out in due course demanding the body of the son of Ephraim Adamson,
who is wrongfully restrained of his liberty at present in our city jail.

"As for this defendant----" Judge Henderson turned and cast an
insolently inquiring eye upon the young man at the side of the town
marshal.

"Who appears for the defendant?" demanded Judge Blackman austerely,
casting a glance upon the prisoner at the bar.

Don Lane arose, half hesitatingly. "Your Honor," said he, "I presume I
am the defendant in this case, although I hardly know what it's all
about. I haven't any lawyer--I don't know anybody here--I'm just in
town. All this has come on me very suddenly, and I haven't had time to
look around. I don't see how I am guilty of anything----"

[Illustration: "Your Honor," said he, "I presume I am the defendant in
this case."]

Just then arose the soft and kindly tones of a large voice which easily
filled all the room. Old Hod Brooks half rose.

"Your Honor," said he, "it isn't customary for a member of the bar to
offer his services unsolicited. I would say, however, that if the Court
desires to appoint me as counsel for this young man I will do the best I
can for him, since he seems a stranger here and unprepared for a defense
at law. If there were any other younger lawyer here I would not suggest
this course to your Honor--indeed, I have no right to do so now. I
trust, however,"--and he smiled at Judge Henderson at the other end of
the table--"that my learned brother will not accuse me of champerty,
maintenance, or any other offense against my office as a servant of
justice in this community. Of course, I may add, your Honor"--he turned
to Justice Blackman again--"that in such circumstances my own services,
such as they are, would be rendered entirely free of charge."

People wondered, turning curious looks on the big, gaunt speaker thus
suddenly offering himself as champion in a rôle evidently unpopular.

Justice Blackman hesitated, and cast again a glance of query at Judge
Henderson, on whom he much relied in all decisions. The latter waved a
hand of impatient assent, and began to whisper with his clerk.

"The Court will allow this procedure," said Justice Blackman. "Does the
defendant accept Mr. Brooks as counsel?"

Don Lane, embarrassed and somewhat red of face, half rose again, meeting
full the fascinated, absorbed look on the face of Hod Brooks--a look
which the keen eye of Henderson also saw. He puckered a lip and frowned
estimatingly. Rumor said that Old Hod Brooks was going to come out as
candidate for U. S. Senator on the opposing ticket. Henderson began now
to speculate as to what he could do with Hod Brooks, if ever they should
meet on the hustings. He studied him now as a boxer, none too certain of
himself, studies his antagonist when he strips and goes to his corner
opposite in the ring.

"Your Honor," said Don, "I don't know this gentleman, but what he says
seems to me most kind. I surely shall be glad to have his assistance
now." He did not look at his mother's face, did not see the quick look
with which Hod Brooks turned from him to her.

"Does my learned brother require time for preparation of his case?"
inquired Judge Henderson sarcastically. "I will agree to a brief recess
of the Court in such case."

"Oh, not at all, not at all," said Old Hod Brooks. "I know all about
this case, better than my learned brother does. Not having any special
interest in anything but this case--that is to say, not any alien
interest, political or otherwise--I am ready to go to trial right now to
defend this young man. If Judge Henderson will move his chair so he can
get a better look at his own picture on the wall, I don't see but what
we might as well begin the trial."

Certain smiles passed over the faces of a few in the audience as they
saw the quick flush spring to the face of Judge Henderson. The chief
delight in life of Old Hod Brooks was to bait his learned brother by
some such jibes as this, whenever the fortunes of the law brought them
together on opposing sides.

Judge Henderson coughed. "Your Honor," said he hastily, "I am glad that
in the course of justice this young man has secured counsel--even
counsel such as that of my learned brother--who also, I am informed, is
not beyond aspirations of a political nature. I have no time for idle
jests. If the defense is ready I may perhaps state briefly what we
propose to prove."

"By criminy!" whispered Silas to Aaron at the hall door, peering in. "By
criminy! I believe Old Hod's got him rattled right now!"

But Judge Henderson pulled himself together. He now assumed his regular
oratorical position, an eye upon his audience.

"Your Honor," he said, "this case is very plain and simple. The quiet of
our city has been violated by this young man, who has publicly assaulted
one of our best-known citizens."

"Which one do you mean?" interrupted Hod Brooks, most unethically, and
smiling behind his hand. "Which do you mean, the old drunkard or the
young idiot?"

"Order in the court!" rapped Blackman, as still further smiles and
shufflings became apparent at the rear of the room. Judge Henderson went
on, flushing yet more.

"My client, your Honor," he said, "was standing peacefully in the public
square, accompanied by his son. They were beaten up, both of them, by
this young man who has been brought into this court by our properly
constituted officer of the law. Without any provocation whatever, this
defendant inflicted great personal injury upon my client."

"We will make Eph's face 'Exhibit A,' and let it go into evidence,"
smiled Hod Brooks amicably; and the audience smiled and shuffled yet
more.

"As to the unlawful detention of the son of my client," resumed Judge
Henderson, beet-red now, "we have chosen the remedy of _habeas corpus_
rather than a simple discharge, because we wish to bring before our
people the full enormity of the offense which has been committed here in
the public view, actually upon the grounds of our temple of justice. We
shall show----"

"Your Honor," interrupted old Hod Brooks at this point, half rising, "if
this were a political gathering indeed, and not the trial of a cause in
a justice court, I would rise to a point of order. As it is, I rise to a
point of law."

"State your point," said Justice Blackman.

"We are trying, as I understand it, the case of this defendant,
Dewdonny Lane, accused by this plaintiff, Ephraim Adamson, of assault
and battery?"

Justice Blackman nodded gravely.

"Then why does my learned brother speak of _habeas corpus_ in this case,
and what is the case which he is trying, or thinks he is trying? What is
his evidence going to be? And why does he not get on?"

"Your Honor," blazed Henderson, "I shall not endure this sort of thing."

"Oh, yes, you will, my learned brother," said Hod Brooks, still smiling
gently. If Henderson had other resources, he needed them now, for keenly
enough he sensed himself as slipping in this battle of wits before
assembled electors; and it really was politics alone that had brought
him here--he scented a crowd afar off. He now lost his temper utterly.

"If the Court will excuse us for a brief moment of recess," said he
savagely, "I should like to ask the privilege of a brief personal
consultation with the attorney for the defense. If he will retire with
me for just a moment I'll make him eat his words! After that we can
better shape these proceedings."

The blue eye that Hod Brooks turned upon his opponent was calmly
inquiring, but wholly fearless. On the other hand, some sudden idea
seemed to strike him now. He resolved to change his tactics. He was
shrewd enough to know that, irritated beyond a certain point, Henderson
would fight his case hard; and Hod Brooks did not want to lose this
case.

Henderson, with a little wave of the hand, his face livid in anger,
edged away from the table of the Justice of the Peace. Hod Brooks
followed him out into the hall.

"Order in the court!" intoned the Justice yet again. There was a rush
toward the door. "There now, go back, men," said Hod Brooks, raising a
hand. "There's not going to be any fight. Let us two alone--we want to
talk, that's all."

Don Lane looked steadily at the face of Justice Blackman. Aurora Lane
stared ahead, still icy pale, her hand clasped in that of Miss Julia's.
She felt, rather than saw, the gazes of all these others boring into her
very soul. Here were her enemies--here in what had been her home. It
seemed an hour to her before at length those standing about the door
shuffled apart to allow the two forensic enemies to reënter, though
really it had not been above ten minutes. Neither man bore any traces of
personal combat. The face of Judge Henderson was a shade
triumphant--strangely enough, since now he was to admit his own defeat.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I tell you, I heard the whole business," said old Silas later on to his
crony, who owned to a certain defect in one ear in hot weather such as
this. "I heard the whole business. There wasn't no fight at all--not
that neither of them seemed a bit a-scared. Hod, he raises a hand, and
that made the Judge slow down.

"'It's what you might expect, Judge,' says Hod, for appearing in a
measly little justice court case.' He's got a mighty nasty way of
smiling, Hod has. But scared? No. Not none.

"'I'll fight this case as long as you like,' says the Judge, 'and I'll
win it, too.'

"'Maybe, maybe, Judge,' says Hod. 'But they's more ways than one of
skinning a cat. Suppose you do win it, what've you won? It's all plumb
wrong anyhow, and it orto be stopped. These people all orto go on home.'

"'So you want to try the case here, huh?' says the Judge; and says Hod:

"'That's just what I do. I mean I don't want to try it none at all. I've
got various reasons, beside, why I don't want to try this case, or have
it tried. Are you a good guesser?' I didn't know what he meant by that.

"'What're you getting at?' says the Judge. 'I know you've got something
hid. There's a sleeper in here somewheres.'

"'Well, let it stay hid,' says Hod. 'But one thing is sure, you ain't
hiding it none that you're out for Senator?'

"'Why should I? I'll win it, too,' says the Judge.

"'Maybe, maybe,' says Hod. 'All I was going to say was, maybe you'd like
to have me help you, say left-handed, thataway? Even left-handed help is
some good.'

"'What do you mean, Hod?' says he. 'They tell me you're mentioned strong
for the other ticket and are out after the place your own self?' He
takes a kind of look-over at Hod, no collar nor nothing, and that sleazy
coat of his'n.

"'That's so,' says Hod. 'I've got a chance anyhow. Even every bad-chance
candidate out of your way is so much to the candy for you, Judge, ain't
it so?' says he.

"'Say now, you don't mean you'd talk of withdrawing?' Judge Henderson he
was all lit up when he says this. 'On what terms?' says he. 'Of course,
there's terms of some sort.'

"'Easiest terms in the world,' says Hod--though I don't think it was
easy for him to say it, for he's got as good a chance as the Judge, like
enough. But he says, 'Easiest sort of terms,' and laughs.

"'Talk fast,' says the Judge.

"'Dismiss this suit--withdraw from this case--and I'll withdraw from all
candidacy on any ticket! That goes!' He said it savage.

"'Do you mean it?' says the Judge, and Hod he says he does. 'I've got
reasons for not wanting this case to go on,' says he. 'It's politics
brought you here, Judge, and I know that, but it's mighty good politics
you'll be playing not never to try this case at all. Drop it, Judge.
Politics against politics; you win. Lawyer against lawyer, _I_ win. But
I pay the biggest price, and you know it mighty well, even if you're a
poor guesser why I'm doing this. Since you're getting all the best of
the bargain, is it a bargain, then?'

"Henderson he thinks for a while, and says he at last, 'Anyhow, I never
knew you to break your word,' says he.

"'No,' says Hod, simple, 'I don't do that,'

"'I'll go you!' says the Judge, sudden, and he sticks out his hand. 'I
shake politically, Judge,' says Hod. 'No more; but it's enough. We don't
neither of us need explain no more,' And _damn me_! If they didn't quit
right there, where it seemed to me a whole lot of explaining what they
meant 'd a-ben a right good thing for me anyways, for I couldn't gether
what it was all about.

"But I heard the whole business--and there wasn't no fight, nor nothing,
just only that talk like I said, and I don't know nothing of _why_ they
done it, I only know what they done. _That's_ why there wasn't no fight,
no trial after all--and us setting there that long! I want to say, some
things is beginning to look mighty mysterious to me. But I ain't saying
what I think. You'll see."

       *       *       *       *       *

Hod Brooks was first to address the court. He stood, a tall and hulking
figure, one hand upon the shoulder of Dieudonné Lane--stood in such
fashion as in part to shield Don's mother from the gaze alike of court
and audience.

"Your Honor," said he, and his face now was very grave; "I assume the
Court has been in recess. After conference with my learned brother I
believe that he has some statement to make to the Court."

He turned now toward Henderson, who straightened up.

"May it please the Court," he began, "I find it incumbent upon me to
withdraw as counsel in this case. My learned brother has lived up to the
full traditions of courtesy in our profession, but I will only say that
I have learned certain facts which render it impossible for me to
represent this client properly in this cause. There would seem to have
been certain justifying circumstances, not at first put before me, which
leave me more reluctant to prosecute this defendant. I shall counsel my
client to withdraw his suit."

Blackman in his surprise scarcely heard the deep voice of Don Lane's
attorney as he spoke in turn.

"May it please the Court," said he gently, "it is the best function of
an attorney to counsel restraint and moderation; it is most honorable of
any great counsel to decline any case which does not enlist his full
convictions. It is the duty of all of us to uphold the actual peace and
actual dignity of this community. I have never entertained a fuller
respect for my learned brother than I have at this moment. I withdraw
what I said about his portrait yonder--and may say I do not blame any
man for being well content even in the offer of an honor which I cannot
and do not contemplate for myself--the great honor of the candidacy for
the Senate of the United States. It is my own function, none the less,
to state that there is no cause why my client should be longer detained.
He and others, these witnesses, are virtually restrained of their
liberty. I therefore move the dismissal of this case. I think these
people all ought to go home. I further suggest that this court
adjourn--if this latter suggestion be fully within my own province."

He turned an inquiring gaze upon Tarbush, city marshal, who by this time
had fairly sunken down into the depths of his coat collar.

"How about the plaintiff?" said Blackman, turning a hesitating glance
upon Judge Henderson, who seemed much relieved by what his opponent in
fact and in _posse_ had said.

"There is other counsel for him," said Judge Henderson, "but if he will
take my own advice, he will drop the case now and at this point."

"What does the plaintiff say?" Blackman bent an inquiring gaze on the
battered visage of Ephraim Adamson. The latter lifted up a swollen
eyelid with thumb and finger, and turned a still confused gaze upon
court and counsel. His reply, crestfallen though it was, brought a
titter from the audience.

"I guess I'm satisfied," said he.

Blackman looked from one to the other, and then back to the faces of the
disappointed audience of the citizens of Spring Valley.

"Order in the court!" exclaimed Blackman, J. P., fiercely. "This court
is adjourned!" He spoke with a certain disgust, as of one aware of
participation in a fiasco.

With a rush and a surge the room began to empty. Judge Henderson
departed, well in advance, looking straight ahead, and acknowledging
none of the greetings which met him. He evidently was above such work,
even disgusted with the whole affair. Hod Brooks remained, his curious
glance still riveted on Don Lane.

Don stood hesitating before the table of justice. He had not known
before that his burly counsel had any acquaintance with his mother, but
he saw plainly the glance of recognition which passed between them.

Aurora Lane and Miss Julia waited until the stair was clear, but as Don
would have followed them, Hod Brooks beckoned to him, in his blue eyes a
sort of puzzled wonderment, a surprise that seemed half conviction.

"I thank you, Mr. Brooks," said Don Lane, turning to his counsel. He
wondered curiously why the big man should seem so red of face and so
perturbed. "What can I do for you--I have not much----"

The great face of Hod Brooks flushed yet more. "Don't talk to me about
pay, my boy," said he--"don't talk to me about anything. Wait till
things straighten out a little. The prosecution's dropped. That's
all--or that's enough. Now, listen. I knew you when I saw you come in
here! They told me you were dead, but I knew you when first my eyes fell
on you. You're like your mother. I've known your mother for years--I
think a lot of her and her friend Miss Julia, don't you see? It's
strange news to me you are alive, but you are, and that's enough. I must
be going now. I'll see you and your mother both. But before I do, just
come with me, for I've a little more counsel to give you--it won't cost
you anything, and I think it will do some good."

He beckoned Don to join him once more in the hall, and what he said
required but a moment. An instant later, and old Brooks had hurried down
the stair. A part of his words to Don had been overheard by old Silas,
but the latter could only wonder what it all might mean.

"Aaron," said he, "I ain't no detecative, and don't claim to be, but
now, some day if anything should happen--well, I ain't sayin', but I
know what I know, and some day, some day, Aaron, I may have to tell."

Brooks joined Aurora Lane and Miss Julia and walked with them along the
shady street. They walked in silence, Aurora Lane still staring straight
ahead, icy cold. It was not until they three halted at her little gate
that she could find voice.

"How can we thank you?" said she. "How can we pay?"

The deep color came into the big man's moody face once more. He waved a
hand. "You mustn't talk of that," said he. "I reckon I owe you that much
and more--a lot more. I'm not done yet. I've done what I thought was
right. But as for the case, I didn't fight it, and I didn't win it--the
Judge and I, we just didn't make any fight at all, that's all. We
settled it out of court, on terms that suited him, anyhow. I'm sorry for
Blackman,--he was just honing to soak that boy the limit! _Your_ boy,
Aurora--that ought to have stayed dead, I'm afraid, but didn't.

"But peace and dignity," he added--"listen to me--we'll make a Sabbath
school out of this town yet! I can't talk very much more now."

With a great uproarious laugh, somewhat nervous, very much perturbed, he
raised his hat clumsily, turned upon his heel clumsily, and would have
walked off clumsily. An exclamation from Miss Julia stopped him.

"Where's Don?" asked she. "And what's that over yonder--what does the
crowd mean?" She pointed down to the corner of the courthouse square,
where indeed a closely packed group was thrusting this way and that,
apparently about some center of interest.

"Oh, that?" said Hod Brooks, carelessly, turning his gaze thither;
"that's nothing. Pray don't be excited--it's only my--my client,
carrying out the last of my legal instructions to him."

"But what does it mean?" demanded Aurora Lane in sudden terror--"what's
going on there? Is there more trouble?"

Hod Brooks broke off a spear of grass from its place between the
sidewalk and the fence, and meditatively began to chew it.

"Oh, no, I think not," said he gently. "I don't think the boy will have
much trouble. He's doing what I counseled him to do."

"What have you told him--what is he doing--what does it all mean?"
demanded Aurora Lane.

"Nothing," said the big man, still gazing ruminatingly at the scene
beyond. "As a member of the bar I was bound to give him such counsel as
should be of most practical benefit to him--I swore that in my oath of
admission to the bar. So I told him that as soon as court was adjourned
he ought to take old Eph Adamson and thrash him this time good and
proper. I told him nothing would come of it if he did. I told him it was
his plain duty to do it, and if he didn't do it I'd do it myself,
because the dogs have got to be put to sleep again now in this town....
I must say," he added, "I am inclined to believe that my client is
following his instructions to the letter!" After which Hod Brooks
strolled on away.

The crowd at the farther corner of the square broke apart before long.

"By jinks! Silas," said old Aaron to his friend, "who'd a thought it?
I've seen some fights, but that was the shortest I ever did see. And he
made old Eph Adamson holler 'enough!' By criminy! he done that very
thing. Looks to me, safest thing right is not to talk too much about
'Rory Lane!"

Don Lane emerged from the thick of the crowd, his coat over his arm, his
face pale in anger, his eye seeking any other champion who might oppose
him.

"Listen to me now, you people!" he said. "If there's another one of you
that ever does what that man there has done, or says what he said, he'll
get the same he did, or worse. You hear me, now--I'll thrash the life
out of any man that raises his voice against anyone of my family. You
hear me, now?"

He cast a straight and steady gaze upon Old Man Tarbush, who stood
irresolute.

"No, you'll not arrest me again," said he. "You know you won't. You'll
leave me alone. If you don't, you'll be the next. I don't love you any
too well the way it is.

"Get out now, all of you--you most of all," he added, and gave Marshal
Tarbush a contemptuous shove as he elbowed his own way on out of the
crowd.

Old Hod Brooks passed on down the street and took the opposite side of
the public square, paying no attention to all this. He ambled on until
he found his own office at length. A half hour later he might have been
seen in his customary attitude, slouched deep down into his chair, his
head sunk between his shoulders, his feet propped up on the table, and
his eyes bent on the pages of a volume of the law.

He had in his lap now no less an authority than "Chitty on Pleadings."
He had sat there for some moments--and he had not seen a word on all the
page.



CHAPTER V

CLOSED DOORS


By the time Don Lane had reached his mother's house he partially had
pulled himself together, but his face was still pale and sullen, not yet
recovered from the late encounter.

He cast himself down in a chair, his chin in his hand, looking
everywhere but at his mother. His wounds, poor lad, were of the soul,
slow to heal. The white-faced woman who sat looking at him had also her
wounds, scarred though they were, these years. Her features seemed
sharpened, her eyes larger for the dark shadows now about them. But she
was first to speak.

"Wasn't it enough, Don," said she--"didn't I have enough without all
this? And on the very day I have looked forward to so long--so long! You
don't know how I have worked and waited for this very day. Why, it's the
first time I've ever seen you, since you were a baby. You're a stranger
to me--I don't know you yet. And then all this comes--now, on my one
happy day."

"Well, how about it, then?" he demanded brusquely. "You know what
they've been saying--I couldn't let it go. I _had_ to fight!"

"Yes, yes, you have--and in a few hours you've undone twenty years of
work for me. The sleeping dogs were lying. Why waken them this late?"

"_Who was my father?_" demanded the young man, now, sternly. "Come, it's
time for me to know. I couldn't help loving you--no one could. But--him!
Tell me--was it that man who defended me? Is my name Don Brooks?"

She made him no answer, though her throat throbbed and she half started
as though at a blow.

"Oh, no, oh, no! What am I saying! Of course you understand, mother," he
went on after a long, long silence, "I don't believe anything of this,
not even what you have said to me about my being--well, _filius
nullius_. There was a quick divorce--a hidden decree--you separated, you
two--he was poor--that often happens. Women never like to talk about it.
I can't blame you for calling me 'nobody's son,' for that sort of thing
does happen--secret and suppressed divorces, you know. But as to that
other----"

For a long time Aurora Lane sat facing a temptation to accept this
loophole of escape which thus crudely her boy offered her--escape from
the bitter truth. He would fight! He--and Hod Brooks--those two might
defy all the town--might cow them all to silence even now. But--once
more her inborn honesty and courage, her years-old resolution
triumphed.

"I cannot tell you who your father was, Don," said she quietly, at
length, ash pale, trembling.

"When were you married--when--where?"

"I was _never_ married, Don! What I told you was true! Oh, you make me
say a thing to you I ought never to have been asked to say, but it is
the truth. You may believe it--you must believe it--it's--it's no good
keeping on evading--for it's true, all of it." She was gasping, choking,
now. "This is a ghastly thing to have to do," she cried at last. "Ah, it
oughtn't ever to have been asked of me."

The boy's breath also came in a quick sob now.

"Mother, that's not true--it _can't_ be! Why, where does that leave
you--where does it leave _me_?"

Her voice rose as she looked at him, so young and strong, so fine, so
manly.

"But I'm not sorry," she exclaimed, "I'm not--I'm _not_!"

"So what they told me--what I made them all take back--_it was true_?"
He sank back in his chair.

"Yes, Don. We can't fight. We are ruined."

"Born out of wedlock!--But my father only ran away--you told me he was
dead."

"Regard him so, Don."

"Where is he--who was he? Why did that man tell me to fight them all?"

"I will never tell you, Don, never."

Her dark eyes were turned upon him now, eyes unspeakably sad.

"But you must! You wouldn't deny me my own chance in the world?"

"You will have to make your own chance, Don, as I did. We all must. I
have my secret. The door is closed. There is no power ever can open that
door--not even my love for you, my boy. Besides, the knowledge could be
of no use to you."

"Yes? Is that indeed so? You would debar me from the one great right of
all my life? Tell me, is my guess right? I'll make that man marry you."

"Ah, you mean revenge?"

He nodded, savagely, his jaws shut tight. But his brow grew troubled.
"But not if he came out and stood by me and you, even this late. I
suppose----"

"There is no revenge for a woman, Don. They only dream there is--once I
dreamed there might be for me. I don't want it now. I am content.
There's more pity than revenge about me now. I only want to be fair now,
if I can, and now I'm glad--this is my one glorious day. For you're
mine. You are my boy--and I'll never say that I am sorry. Because I've
got you. They can't help that, can they, Don?"

"He got us out of worse trouble, didn't he? Why did he do that, Mother?
What made him look at us the way he did? And what made the other lawyer,
Henderson, drop the case? How did they settle it out of court? Lucky
for us--but _why_?" He spoke sharply, abruptly.

A trifle of color came to Aurora Lane's cheeks. "It was his way," she
said. "He's a good lawyer--advancing right along, more and more every
year, they say. He's always had a hard time getting a start. He's like
me."

Don Lane sat silent for a time, but what he thought he held. He cast a
discontented glance about him at the meager surroundings of his mother's
home, with which he could claim no familiarity.

"How did you manage it, Mother?" he asked, at length. "How did you get
me through--big, ignorant loafer that I've been all my life. You say he
never helped any. Was he so poor as all that?"

"I couldn't have done it alone," said Aurora Lane, slowly. Mechanically
she smoothed down the folds of her gown in her lap as she spoke.

"I have told you you had two mothers, if no father," said she at last,
suddenly. "That's almost true. You don't know how much you owe to Miss
Julia. She helped me put you through school! It was her little salary
and my little earnings--well, they have proved enough."

"Go on!" said he, bitterly. "Tell me more! Humiliate me all you can!
Tell me more of what I ought to know. Good God!" He squared his
shoulders as if to throw off some weight which he felt upon them.

His mother looked at him in silence for some time. "Shall I tell you all
about it, Don?" she said. "All that I may?"

He nodded, frowning. "Let's have it over and done with."

"When I came here I was young," said Aurora Lane, slowly, after a long
time. "Julia was young, too, just a girl. We both had to make our way.
Then--then--it happened."

"You didn't love me, Mother? You hated me?"

"Oh, yes, I loved you--you don't know what you say--you don't know how I
loved you. But everything was very hard and cruel.... Well, one night I
had made up my mind what I must do....

"I washed you all clean that night. I dressed you the best I could--I
didn't have much for you. But you were a sweet baby, and strong. I was
kissing you and saying good-by to you then, when Miss Julia came in,
right at the door."

[Illustration: "I was kissing you and saying good-bye ... when Miss
Julia came in--"]

"You were going to put me in a home--in some institution?"

"No!" She spoke now in short, quick, sobbing breaths.... "Don, do you
know the little stream that runs through the edge of the town? Do you
know the deep pool beneath the bridge where the water turns around?
Well, I had washed you and dressed you.... I was going to put you
_there_.... It was then that Julia came."

He turned upon her a face which it seemed to her never again could be
happy and free from care.

"I didn't know all this, Mother," said he, quietly, whitely. "I ask your
pardon. I ask you to forgive me."

"No, I have told you I wanted to spare you all this--I wanted that door
to remain closed forever. But now it is open--you have opened it. I will
have to tell you what there is behind."

It seemed many moments before she could summon self-control to go on.

"...So we two sat here in this little room, Julia and I. You were in my
lap, holding up your hands and kicking up your feet, and we two wept
over you--we prayed over you, too--she, that little crippled girl,
hopeless, who could never have a boy of her own! I told her what I was
going to do with you. She fought me and took you away from me.... And
she saved you ... and she saved me.

"So now you have it." He heard her voice trailing on somewhere at a
distance which seemed immeasurable. "You owe your life not to one woman,
but to two, after all. Now you know why I called you Dieudonné. God sent
you to me. As I have known how, I have resolved to pay my debt to
God--for you. I want to pity, not hate. I want to be grateful. I want to
be fair, if I can learn how."

Aurora spoke no more for some moments, nor did her son.

"We two talked it all over between us," said she after a time. "She
asked me then, once, who was your father--Julia did. I said he was poor.
I told her never to ask me again. She never has. Oh, a good woman, Julia
Delafield--fine, fine as the Lord ever made!

"But she knew--we both knew--that I did not have the means of bringing
you up. We put our hearts together--to own you. We put our little purses
together--to bring you up. She took you away from me, pretty soon. She
sent you to some of her people, very distant relatives. They were poor,
too, but they took you in and they never knew--they died, both of them,
who took you in.

"Then for a time we sent you to an institution for orphans. But we told
everybody here that you had died. I told him so--your--your father--and
I forbade him ever to speak to me again. I told you he was dead. I told
him you were dead. He _is_ dead. So are _you_ dead. But all the dead
have come to life. The lost is found. Oh, Don, Don, the lost is found!
I've found so much today--so much, so much. You're my boy, my own boy. A
man!"

He sat mute. At length she went on.

"We schemed and saved and contrived, all the little ways that we could
to save our money--we have both done that all our lives for you. We
wanted to educate you, your mothers did. And oh! above all things we
wanted the secret kept. I did the best I knew. They all thought you
died. I didn't want you to come here--it was Miss Julia. I didn't know
you were coming till you wired. I was going to tell you not to come
up--even from the depot. But you got in the bus. I was delayed there in
the square by those men. And then all this happened. And after twenty
years!"

She sat silent, using all her splendid command of her own soul to still
the stubborn fluttering in her throat.

Dieudonné Lane looked everywhere but at her.

"Mother," said he at length, "did you--did you ever--love him?"

His own face flushed at the cruelty of this question, too late, after
the words were gone. He saw her wince.

"I don't know, Don," said she, simply. "It happened. It couldn't again.
You don't know about women. Seal your lips now, as mine are sealed.
Never again a question such as that to me."

The sight of her suffering at his own words stirred the elemental rage
in his heart.

"Tell me," he demanded again and again. "Who was he? Is that the man? I
begin to see--I'd kill him if I knew for sure."

She only shook her head.

"But you must!" said he at last. "You are cruel. You don't know."

"What is that, Don? What do you mean? Oh, I see--_it is because of her_.
It's Anne! There's someone else you love, more than you do me."

"Yes!" he confessed, "more than I do life. _That's_ the reason I must
know all about myself. Can't you see I've got to play fair? There's
Anne!"

"Who is she, Don--you've never told me very much yet."

"Anne Oglesby--her family lived at Columbus before she was left alone.
You know her--why, she's the ward of Judge Henderson, here in town. I
believe she was left a considerable estate, and he handles it for her.
She's been here. She's told me about this place--she's seen you,
maybe--before I ever did. Yes--it's Anne! I've got to think of her. I
don't dare drag her into trouble--my hands are tied."

He rose now, and in his excitement walked away from his mother, so that
he did not note her face at the moment.

"You see, we met from time to time back East in our college town. I
never told her much about myself, because I didn't know much about
myself, really, when it comes to that. I said I was an orphan,
and poor. But--I'd made all the teams--and I've studied, too. I was
valedictorian, in spite of all, Mother. They don't amount to much,
usually--valedictorians--but I was sure I would--when I knew that
Anne----

"I didn't know about our caring for one another until we found we had to
part--just now, today, this morning on the train before I got off here.
Then we couldn't part, you know. So just before we passed through this
town, right on the train--today, in less than half an hour before I met
you--this morning, this very day, I--we--well----"

"Yes, Don," she said, "I know!" Her eyes were very large, her face very
pale.

He choked.

"But now we've got to part," said he. "If I am nobody, or worse, I've
got to be fair with her."

A look of pride came into his mother's face at his words. "I'm glad,
Don," said she. "You've got honor in you. But in no case could I see you
marry that girl."

He turned upon her in sudden astonishment. "Isn't she as good as we are?
Isn't her family--don't you know the Oglesbys of Columbus--who they are
and what they stand for--where they came from? Can we say as much?"

"They are better than we can claim to be, Don, yes," said she, ignoring
his brutal frankness. "I know her, yes. I knew her years ago--the ward
of Judge Henderson. Sometimes she has been here and kept his household
for him--some day she'll live with Judge Henderson even if she marries.
He's very fond of her. But as to your marrying Anne Oglesby, you must
not think of it."

"What on earth!" he began. "What have you against her?"

"It is enough that I feel as I do about any girl who has been here and
who knows about--about the way--the way I've lived. Will she know who I
am when she knows who _you_ are--and what you are not? Has she
identified us two--have you really been fair with her?" Now the color
began to rise in her paled cheeks.

"I've not had time yet! I told you it all happened just a moment ago."
Then, still brutally, he went on. "Why, what do you know of love? What
do you know about the way I feel toward Anne?"

"Be as cruel as you like," said she, flushing now under such words. "I
presume you feel as all men think they feel sometimes. They see that
woman for that moment--they think that they believe what they say--they
think they must do what they do. You are a man, yes, Don, or you could
not have said to me what you have."

He flung out his arms, impatient. "I am having a fine start, am I not?
I'm a beggar, a pauper, and worse than that. I've got to pay you and
Miss Julia. I've got to go on through life, with that secret on my mind.
I can't confront that man and tell him. You and I--just today
meeting--why, we begin to argue. And now I've got to face Anne Oglesby
with that secret. It can't be a secret from her. I'd never ask her to
join her life to one like mine. And--God! a woman like her.... I can't
tell you.... Death--why, I believe this is worse."

"Don't tell me, Don, don't try." She turned to him, her voice hoarse and
low. "It's a wrong thing for you to talk to me about things of that
sort. Birds out of the nest begin all over again--this must begin again,
I suppose--but it's too awful--too terrible. I don't want to hear any
more talk about love. But rather than see you live with her, rather than
see you talk that way of her, it seems to me I'd rather die. Because,
she knows all about _me_--or will. What made you come? Why didn't you
stay away? Why couldn't you find some other girl to love, away from
here?"

"Which shows how much you really care for my happiness! I suppose, like
many women, you are stubborn. Is that it, mother?"

She winced under this, wringing her hands. "If I could only lie--if I
only could!"

"And if I only could, also!" he repeated after her. "But she's coming
tomorrow, Mother--I've made her promise she'd come to see you. She said
she'd make some excuse to come down and see her guardian. I'm going to
meet her tomorrow. And when I do, I've got to tell her what I've learned
today--every word of it--all--all! And I'll be helpless. I'll not be
able to fight. I'll have to take it."

"That's right, Don, that's right. Even if I loved her as you do, even if
it were the best thing in the world for you if you could marry her, I'd
say that you should not. Don, whatever you do, don't ever be crooked
with a woman. She's a woman, too. No matter what it cost, I couldn't see
her suffer by finding out anything after it was too late."

"It won't take long," said he, simply. "We'll part tomorrow. But oh! Why
did you save me--why did Miss Julia come that night? My place was under
the water--there! Then the door would have been closed indeed. But now
all the doors are closed on ahead, and none behind. I'll never be happy
again. And I'm making her unhappy, too, who's not to blame. It runs far,
doesn't it?--far and long."

"As you grow older, Don," said she, "you will find it doesn't so much
matter whether or not you are happy."

He shook his head. "I'm done. It's over. There's nothing ahead for me. I
never had a chance. Mother, you and Miss Julia made a bad mistake."

It seemed that she scarcely heard him, or as though his words, brutal,
cruel though they were, no longer impinged upon her consciousness. She
spoke faintly, as though almost breathless, yet addressed herself to
him.

"Why, Don, it was here in this very room ... and you lay in my arms and
looked up at me and laughed. You were so sweet.... But what shall I do?
I love you, and I want you to love me, and you can't. What have I done
to you? Oh, wasn't the world cruel enough to me, Don? Oh, yes, yes, it
runs far--far and long, a woman's sin! You are my sin. And oh! I love
you, and I will not repent! God do so to me--I'll not repent!"

He looked at her, still frowning, but with tenderness under the pain of
his own brow. At last he flung himself on his knees before her and
dropped his head into her lap.

He felt her hands resting on his head as though in shelter--hands that
lay side by side, hands long and shapely once, but bruised and worn now
with labor could he but have seen them--Aurora's hands--he could not
have helped but realize her long years of toil. He heard her faint,
steady sobbing now.

After a time she bent lower above his head as he knelt there, silent and
motionless. Slowly her hand began once more to stroke his hair.



CHAPTER VI

THE DIVIDING LINE


The commonplace sound of the telephone's ring broke the silence in the
little room. Aurora Lane arose and passed into the adjoining room to
answer it. Her son regarded her with lackluster eyes when she returned.

"It was Miss Julia," said she, "at the library. She wanted to know if
you were here. She says we must be sure to come out tonight."

"Come out--to what?"

"It's her annual jubilee, when she reports progress to the town. She is
very proud of her new books and rugs and pictures. Everybody will be
there. You see, Don, we don't have much in a town like this to entertain
us. Why, if I could see a real theater once--I don't know how happy I
would be. We've had movies, and now and then a lecture--and Miss Julia."

"I don't want to go, mother."

"Neither do I, Don; so I'm going."

"Why should we go? It's nothing to us."

"It's everything to Miss Julia--and it's everything to us, Don. Stop to
think and you will realize what I mean. We can't run away under fire."

"There's something in that," he rejoined after a time, slowly. "Besides,
what Miss Julia wishes we both ought to do."

Hands in pockets, he began once more gloomily to pace up and down the
narrow room. "I can't stand this much longer, mother," said he. "I've
got to get out--I've got to get hold of some money somehow."

"Yes," said she. "As for me, I have collected the last money due me--it
went for your graduation suit. I don't know how you saved your railway
fare home. I didn't want you to know these things, of course, but as
things have happened, you had to know. A great many things today--well,
they've gotten away from me."

"It's I who have spoiled everything, too. But how could I help it--I
just couldn't submit."

"It's hard to submit, Don," said she slowly. "Perhaps a man ought not to
learn it. A woman has to learn it."

He turned to look at her wonderingly, and at length went over and put a
hand on her shoulder.

"Dear Mom!" said he gently. "You're wonderful. You are fine--splendid!
I'm just getting acquainted with you, am I not? You're a good woman,
mother; I'm so glad."

She looked at him now with eyes suddenly wet, her face working
strangely, and turned away.

"Come, Don," said she after a time. "We must get ready for our little
supper. Spring Valley, you see," she added, gaily, "dines at six and
goes to the movies at seven."

Presently she left him to his own devices for a time, before calling him
out into the little kitchen which served her also as a dining-room.

"It's not much," said she, shrugging and spreading out her hands, "but
it's all I'd have had--bread and milk and cereal. I don't use much sugar
or butter." Then, hurriedly, seeing the pain she had caused him, she
went on.

"You soon get used to such things. Why, I have only two gowns to my
name, and I put on my best one to meet you, when you wired you were
coming, and I saw I'd have to meet you. This hat has been fixed over I
don't know how many times--once more, for you. You will see, I'll not be
at much trouble to dress for the entertainment tonight."

She opened upon the table cover her little pocket book and showed its
contents--one small, tightly-folded, much-creased bill, which still lay
within its depths.

"My last!" said she, grimacing. "That's our capital in life, Don! And we
have all the world against us now. We must fight, whether or not we want
to fight."

"But now," she added, "I can't talk any more. Let us go. It may do us
good. Miss Julia at least will be glad to see us, if no one else is."

Early as they were, they were not the first arrivals at the library
room where Miss Julia Delafield had devised her entertainment. She had
borrowed certain benches from the public school, certain chairs as well.
Already a goodly portion of Spring Valley's best people filled these.
The seats made back from the little raised platform which usually served
as the librarian's desk place. This now was enlarged by the removal of
all the desks.

Back of this narrow dais was draped a large flag of our Union, and in
the center of its folds was the campaign portrait of Judge Henderson,
chief speaker of the evening.

Aurora Lane and her son entered unnoticed for the time, and quietly took
seats in the last row of benches at the rear, near to some awkward
youths who had straggled in and seemed uncomfortable in their
surroundings. Not even Miss Julia noted them, for presently it became
her flushing duty to escort Judge Henderson, and several of her other
speakers, to the edge of the little platform, where they took their
places back of the conventional table and pitcher of water.

The leader in the town's affairs bent over affably to speak with his
associates--three ministers of the gospel, Reverend Augustus Wilson, of
the U. P. Church, Reverend Henry Fullerton, of the Congregationalist
Church, and Reverend William B. Burnham, of the Methodists. There were
many other ministers of the gospel in Spring Valley, which rejoiced
exceedingly in the multiplicity of its churches; but to these, in the
belief of Miss Julia, had more specially been given the gift of tongues.

There came presently and seated himself on the bench next to Aurora Lane
yet another minister of the gospel, old Mr. Rawlins, of the Church of
Christ, the least important denomination of the village, so few of
numbers and so scant of means that its house of worship must needs be
located just at the edge of town, where land was very cheap. A kindly
man, Parson Rawlins, and of mysterious life, for none might say whence
came his raven-brought revenue. Questioned, Brother Rawlins admitted
that he was not in the least sure whether or not he had a definite
creed. He held out his hand smilingly to Aurora Lane.... An old man he
was, with white hair and a thin face, his chin shaven smooth and shining
between his bushy white side whiskers. His eyes were very mild.

"How do you do, Aurora?" said he. "Now, don't say a word to me--I know
this boy." And he shook hands with Don also. "I know him," said he, "and
I know all he has done today--we all know all about it, Aurora, so don't
talk to me. Tut, tut, my son! But had I been in your place very likely I
should have done the same thing--I might have whipped old Eph Adamson.
You know, sometimes even a minister asks, 'Lord, shall we smite with the
sword?'"

The face of the old man grew grave as he looked from one to the other.
Some presentiment told him that a change had come across Aurora Lane's
manner of life. Could it be possible that she had grown defiant--was she
restive under the weight of the years? Had this sudden and sensational
resurrection of her past brought rebellion to her heart, all these years
so patient, so gentle?

He waved a hand towards the backs of the assemblage. "I suppose you
recognize some of your own handicraft, don't you, 'Rory?" said he,
laughing.

Aurora laughed, also. "A good many," said she frankly. "But the mail
order business in ready-trimmed hats has cut into my trade a great deal
of late. Then there are excursions into Columbus. Still, I see some of
my bonnets here and there--even now and then a gown."

They both laughed yet again, cheerily, both knowing the philosophy of
the poor. Further conversation at the time was cut off by the entrance
of the musicians of the evening, an organization known as the Spring
Valley Cornet Band. These young men, a dozen in number, made their way
solemnly to a place adjacent to the platform, where presently they
busied themselves with certain mild tapping of drums and soft moanings
of alto horns and subdued tootlings of cornets.

The leader of the band was the chief clerk in the First National Bank,
Mr. Jerome Westbrook by name, himself Spring Valley's glass of fashion
and mold of form, and not unconscious of the public attention attracted
to himself in his present capacity. Now and again he looked out over the
audience to see if he could locate a certain young lady, none less than
Sallie Lester, the daughter of the president of his bank, upon whom he
had bestowed the honor of his affections. He was willing to add thereto
eke the honor of his hand.

It was as Aurora Lane had said--this annual gathering of Miss Julia's
was the social clearing house of the community. And this typical
attendance, representative of the little city at its best, offered that
strange contrast of the sexes so notable in any American assemblage. The
men were ordinary of look and garb, astonishingly ordinary, if one might
use the term; stalwart enough, but slouchy, shapeless, and ill-clad. Not
so the women, who seemed as though of another and superior social world.
If here and there the face of a man seemed stolid, cloddish,
peasant-like, not so any of the half dozen faces of the women next
adjoining him. Type, class--call what you like that which is owned by
the average American woman, even of middle class--that distinction was
as obvious as is usual in all such gatherings. Scattered here and there
through this audience, as in any audience of even the humblest sort in
America, were a half dozen faces of young women, any of whom must have
been called very beautiful, strikingly beautiful--beautiful as Aurora
Lane must once have been.

The apparel of the men was nondescript. That of the women, however or
wherever secured, made them creatures apart. The men, too, sat
uncommunicative, silent; whereas their daughters or spouses turned,
chattering, laughing, waving a hand to this or that friend. In short,
the women availed themselves fully, as women will, of this opportunity
of social intercourse. And always, as head turned to head, there was a
look, a whispered word, of woman to woman. Little by little, in the
mysterious way of such assemblages, every woman in the house came to
know that Aurora Lane and her boy--who had only been hid, and not dead,
all these years--were seated on the back seat, next to Old Man Rawlins.
Did anyone ever hear the like of _that_? In reality Spring Valley was
out to hear the rest of the news about Aurora Lane and her unfathered
boy as soon as possible. Gossip covers all the nuances, the shades, the
inner and hidden things of information, especially when information may
be classified as scandal. This is the real news. It never needs wings.
It needed no wings now.

Naturally, it was incumbent upon Judge Henderson to introduce a minister
of the gospel to open the meeting with prayer--we Americans apologize to
Providence at all public occasions, even our political conventions.
Naturally thereafter Judge Henderson rose once more, took a drink of
water, and signaled to the leader of the Spring Valley Silver Cornet
Band; whereupon Mr. Jerome Westbrook, wiping all previous trace of
German silver from below his mustache, essayed once more the leadership
in concord of sweet sounds. This brought Judge Henderson up to his
introductory remarks, properly so-called.

He made no ill figure as he stood, immaculately clad as was his custom,
his costume still being the long black coat, his white waistcoat, the
white tie, which he had worn that afternoon in court. It was charged
against him, by certain of his enemies, that Judge Henderson had been
known to change his shirt twice in one day, but this was not commonly
believed. That he changed it at least once every day had, however, come
to be accepted in common credence, although this also was held as his
sheer eccentricity.

His face was smooth-shaven, for really he was shaved daily, and not
merely on Saturday nights. His wide, easy, good-humored mouth, his large
features, his well-defined brows, his full eye, his commanding figure,
gave him a presence good enough for almost any stage. He stood easily
now, accepting as his right the applause which greeted him, and smiled
as he placed on the table beside him the inevitable glass of water at
which he had sipped. Some said that in his own office Judge Henderson
did not confine himself to water--but any leading citizen must have his
enemies.

The worthy Judge made precisely what manner of address must be made on
precisely such occasions. To him his audience was made up of fellow
citizens, ladies and gentlemen. He accosted them with the deference and
yet the confidence of some statesman of old. Indeed, he might have been
scarce less a figure than Senator Thomas Hart Benton himself, so
profuse--and so inaccurate--were the classical quotations which he saw
fit to employ. It had grown his custom to do this with care-free mind.
Indeed, there was but one here in this audience tonight who perhaps
might have chided him for his Greek--a young man who sat far back in the
rear, in a place near the door--a young man who none the less, it must
be confessed, paid small attention to the Hendersonian allusions which
had to do with literature, with history, the gentle arts, the culture,
the progress of our proud republic, and of this particular American
community.

So now it came on to the time of Reverend Henry B. Fullerton, who
likewise spoke of literature and culture, patriotism and the glories of
our republic. The other ministers also in due course, after certain
uneasy consultation of the clock upon the opposite wall, spoke much in
similar fashion.

After these formidable preliminaries, it was time for Judge Henderson to
give the real address of the evening--this latter now delivered with
frequent consultations of the large watch which he placed beside him on
the table. So presently he came to such portion of his speech as
requires the orator to say, "But, my friends, the hour grows late."
Whereafter presently, figuratively, he dismissed the audience with his
blessing, well satisfied from the applause that his campaign was doing
well. He had but casually and incidentally allowed it to be known that
his own annual check to the city library was for a thousand dollars--no
more than would cover the librarian's salary.

By this time, it was a half-hour past midnight, and none present might
say that he had not had full worth of all the moneys expended for this
entertainment. It had been a great evening for the candidate. Moreover,
most of the old ladies present had enjoyed themselves in social
conversation regarding the absorbing news of the day. As for the half
dozen young village beauties present, there was not one who did not know
precisely where Don Lane sat--not even Sally Lester, who irritated
Jerome Westbrook beyond measure when he saw her pretending to look at
the clock at the back of the hall to see what time it was. Really, as
Jerome Westbrook knew very well, she was only trying to see Don Lane,
the newest young man in town--wholly impossible socially, but one who
had made sudden history of interest in feminine eyes.

Moody and intent upon his own thoughts, Don Lane himself by no means
realized the importance of the occasion so far as he himself and his
mother were concerned. He did not know that he was on trial here, that
they two were on inspection. His ears were deaf to the impassioned words
of all and several of the orators of the evening. Before his eyes
appeared only one face. It was that of a young girl with a face
clean-cut and high-browed, with sweet and kindly eyes--the girl he was
to meet tomorrow, to whom he was to say good-by--Anne Oglesby. "Anne!
Anne!" his heart was exclaiming all the time. For now he knew that he in
turn must bruise yet another human heart, because of what had been, and
in his brain was room now for no other thought, no other scene, no other
face. There swept down upon him, if he thought of it at all now and
then, only a feeling of the insufficiency, the narrowness, the
unworthiness, the tawdriness, of all this which lay about him. And yet
it was this to which he must come back--this was his world--this at
least was the world in which his mother had made her own battle--had won
for a time, and now had lost.

After midnight, when the assembly was dismissed, Spring Valley felt it
had done its duty--it had come out to see Miss Julia's library. Everyone
who passed Miss Julia, as she stood near the door, flushed and pleased,
congratulated her on the progress she had made, on the neatness of her
desks and shelves. Some said a word about the great work she was doing.
Others shook hands with the elevated elbow, smiled sweetly, and
repeated, parrot-like, "So glad!" and "Thanks so much!" In any case,
little by little the room was cleared. There remained only the
unspeakable desolation of any room lately occupied by a crowd--the
litter of paper and odds and ends, the dulled lights, the heavy and
oppressive air.

In her place, back of the dividing line which fenced off the socially
elect, stood Aurora Lane, pale, weary, and yet composed, her hands
folded low before her. She looked straight ahead, nor asked any of these
people passing out for that recognition which she knew they would not
give her. Don himself, speaking now and then to the kindly old man who
retained his place at their side, found himself now and again in spite
of himself wondering that of all these who passed, and of these many who
turned and gazed their way, none ventured a greeting. His own face grew
hard. All life to him had been a sweet, happy, sunny thing till now. He
never had known any contest but that of sport, and there, even in
defeat, he had met sportsmanship. He had not learned that in human life
as we live it, honor and fair play and generosity and justice are things
not in any great demand, nor sportsmanship in any general practice.

"Come, we must go," said Aurora at length.

They were the last to leave the room, although they might have been the
first. In a brief lesson Don Lane's mother had taught him much.



CHAPTER VII

AT MIDNIGHT


Miss Julia, late mistress of ceremonies, passed here and there, turning
out the lights. The bonnets and blouses all had departed, the coughs and
shufflings had subsided. She might give way now to the weariness, the
reaction, attendant upon long hours of eager enterprise.

Strange, she did not look about to find her friend, Aurora Lane, did not
even hasten to take the hand of Don Lane before he had left the room.

The little group at the door--Aurora, Don and the old minister, now was
increased in the entry way by the addition of none less than the tall
and awkward figure of Horace Brooks, who came forward, smiling
uncertainly as the other three finally emerged from the door. Aurora,
quickly divining his purpose, made some hesitating excuse, and darted
back into the hall, where now Miss Julia had well accomplished the
purpose of extinguishing the lights. But what Aurora saw caused her to
withdraw softly, and not to speak to Miss Julia at all that evening!

One by one the switches had cut off the side lights, the desk lights,
those of the ceiling. Two lights remained burning at the back of the
little platform where the speakers had sat, one electrolier on each side
of the portrait over which still hung the draped flag of the Union--the
portrait of the Honorable William Henderson, lawyer, judge, politician
and leading citizen.

Before this portrait stood Julia Delafield, her smooth-topped stick
resting on the little table against which she supported herself now. She
stood, both her hands clasped at her bosom. She was looking up directly
at the lighted features of this portrait, and on her face was so rapt a
look, her gaze was so much that of one adoring a being of another
world--so much ardor was in her face, pale as it was--that Aurora Lane,
seeing and knowing much, all with a sudden wrench of her own heart,
withdrew silently, thankful that Miss Julia had not known.

"Miss Julia's tired," said she to her companions, who still stood
waiting at the entry way. "We'll not disturb her tonight, Don, after
all. I know she wants to see you. You can imagine she has a thousand
things to talk about--books, pictures, everything. But tonight we'll
just go on home. We'll come again tomorrow."

The people of Spring Valley scattered this way and that from the
classical front of the Carnegie Library. They passed away in long
streams in each direction on the street, which, arched across in places
by the wide branches of the soft maples, lay half lighted by the moon,
and yet more by the flickering arc light sputtering at the top of its
mast at the corner of the public square, which made the shadows sheer
black. So close did the trees stand to the street that the summer wind
could not get through them to lighten the pall of the night's
sultriness.

In Spring Valley the climate in the summer time was at times so
balefully hot that common folk were forced to take the mattress from the
bed and spread it on the floor at the front door in order to get a
partial breath of air. The atmosphere was close and heavy under the
trees tonight, and some commented on the fact as they passed on toward
the public square where yet further separations of the scattered groups
must ensue.

They passed along a street lined by residence houses, some small, others
large, all hedged about with shrubs or trees, all with little flower
beds; a certain conformity to accepted canons in good taste being
exacted of all who dwelt in the village. Each one of this dispersing
assemblage knew his neighbor, and all the other neighbors of the town.
This was general plebiscite. Moreover, it seemed to have a certain
purpose--an ultimate purpose of justice.

This was the actual jury of peers--this long stream of halting,
hesitating figures who at midnight strolled on across the patch-work
shadows of the maples. And before it had come on for trial the case of
Aurora Lane and her unfathered boy.

"Look at them go!" said Old Hod Brooks, chuckling bitterly to himself as
he and his companions turned toward the public square, this same thought
occurring to him. "For instance, there's an even dozen just ahead of us
now, if we cared to poll them."

Had this jury been polled it might have been found in some part
resembling the original concourse which filled Noah's ark, since for the
most part they walked two and two. Ben McQuaid, traveling salesman--the
deadly rival of Jerome Westbrook in matters of fashion--who traveled out
of Chicago but had his home in Spring Valley, because it was cheaper
living there--walked now arm in arm with Newman, the clothing merchant
of the Golden Eagle. He inquired solicitously as to the condition of
business. Newman said he "gouldn't gomplaim, though gollections mide be
better." But that was not in the least what both were thinking of at
that time.

"Seems like there was a little rukus on the square today," said McQuaid
casually. "I just heard of it--Number Four come in a little late today."

"Vell, yes," said Newman, looking around to see that he might not be
heard. "I ain't saying a vord about it--but listen, that kid has the
punch in either hand--the last time you should have seen it--you see,
they got at it twice now already----"

They drew apart, because they now saw approaching them too closely at
the rear two of the ministers of the gospel. These found themselves none
too happily assorted.

"I enjoyed your remarks very much indeed, Brother Burnham," said
Reverend Fullerton, with a mendacity for which no doubt the recording
angel dropped a suitable tear. "I agree with you that the tendency
towards looseness of living in modern life----"

Reverend Fullerton coughed ominously. Anyone very close to him might
have heard half-whispered words of "brazen exhibition" and "necessity of
public measures."

But these did not speak freely, because close behind them came yet
two--Dr. Arthur Bowling, the homeopathic physician, who somewhat against
his will had fallen into the company of Miss Elvira Sonsteby. Now, Miss
Elvira Sonsteby was the town's professional invalid. She tried regularly
all the doctors in turn as they arrived. It was well known of all that
she had suffered all the diseases ever known to man, as well as many of
which no man ever had known. Just now, with much eagerness, she was
explaining to Dr. Bowling that she feared her neuritis had become
complicated with valvular heart trouble, and that she suspected gall
stones as well. As to her rheumatism, of course she had long since given
up all hope of that--but this trouble in her arm----; and much other
conversation extremely painful to Dr. Bowling at that time, because he
was much possessed of the inclination to step forward a few paces and
walk with Sally Lester, the banker's daughter. But even they hit common
ground of converse when Miss Sonsteby voiced her belief that it was an
outrage for a public personage like a certain milliner she could name if
she cared to say, to appear in public on an occasion such as this, when
only the most refined personages of the town should have been invited.

"I am sure," said she in tense tones to the young doctor, "that although
alone in the world myself--not so old as some would try to make me out,
either--I would die rather than have anyone voice the slightest
suspicion of blame against me--the slightest blemish on my name. Now,
_that_ woman...."

Back of these two came yet others. Old Mr. Rawlins had gently said his
farewells to Aurora and her son when they emerged upon the open street,
and as he advanced passed certain of these groups, until presently he
fell in with none less than Miss Hattie Clarkson, soprano and
elocutionist of Spring Valley, who had favored the assemblage that
evening with two selections, but who, it seemed, was not wholly
satisfied.

"It seemed to me, Mr. Rawlins," said she, throwing about her shoulders
the light scarf of tulle which she always wore when entertaining
professionally--"that the exercises rather dragged tonight. Of course,
we know what to expect when Judge Henderson speaks--he's very
entertaining, to be sure. But it seemed to me that had there been a
selection or two more of elocutionary sort it might have lightened up
the evening----Who is that coming just back of us?" she whispered,
looking back over her shoulder.

"That's Aurora Lane, my dear," said Mr. Rawlins, quietly. "Her son is
with her."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, indeed! There's one of the best women I ever knew, my dear."

Miss Clarkson drew herself up proudly, and bent upon him an icy glance.
By now they had approached the corner of public square. "I think I must
say good _night_, Mr. Rawlins!" said she, with icy emphasis.

"Good night, my dear," said the old minister, sighing.

Not far ahead of Ben McQuaid and merchant Newman walked two other
citizens, J.B. Saunders, leading grocer and prominent Knight Templar,
and Nels Jorgens, village blacksmith--the same whose shop was across the
way from the home of Aurora Lane. It was said of Mr. Saunders that it
would have been difficult to surprise him at any hour of the day or
night when he was not in his uniform of a Knight Templar, or carrying
his sword case and hat. For some reasons best known to himself, and
anticipating all possible surprises, he had taken with him to the
meeting this evening the two latter accessories of his wardrobe, which
now he carried as he walked on in conversation.

His neighbor wore an alpaca coat and no necktie whatever--a reticent,
gray-whiskered man, whose bank account had a goodliness perhaps not to
be suspected from first look at its owner. The two talked of many
things, but naturally came around to the only topic which was in the
mind of all.

"What'll he do--old Eph Adamson," asked Saunders. "It looks like he
couldn't stand for what's been handed to him. That young fellow has
pounded him up a couple of times. If I was Adamson I certainly would
have the law on him good and plenty."

"Well," said Old Man Jorgens, comfortably, "I don't know much about it
anyway, but it looks to me Adamson has got pretty near enough already.
He pays a lawyer to get him clear, and when he gets out of that court
already he gets licked once more again. And he knows the boy can lick
him."

"You think he'll like enough lick him again?"

"Yeh, that's like enough, yeh. I heard things have been said of his
mother by Adamson. Oh, yes, the news is out now--she couldn't hide it no
more now--there is the boy she said was dead. But, you know, after all,
my friend, a mother is a mother, and men is men. When they say things of
how we was born, you would fought, I hope? Me, I hope too. No man likes
to hear his mother called of names. And she is his mother. Too bad it
is--a bad business all around."

"But then--why, Nels, we know----"

"Yes, we all know," said Jorgens stolidly. "I know and you know, and we
all know. And what I know is this:--For twenty years she lives across
the street from me, as straight and as good a woman as anyone in this
town--each first day of the month right in my hand here she pays the
rent, not a month missed in twenty years. I rather rent a house to her
as to any business man in this town, and I say she is straight as any
woman in this town! No man goes there, not any more now in twenty years.
The man who meets her on the public street he takes his hat off--now.
Her boy--well, he looks citified to me, but at least he can fight. Yeh,
I vote he was in the right. Tomorrow my wife shall take some more eggs
to Aurora Lane in her house; yeh, and coffee."

There were two other members of the unpolled jury, and they paused now
in the full light which came from the mast at the corner of the public
square. Judge Henderson, wearied by the exertions of the evening, was
disposed to ascend the stair to his own office in search of a manner of
refreshment which he well knew he would find there. Turning in this
laudable enterprise he met face to face the city marshal, Old Man
Tarbush, who halted him for a moment's speech, drawing him apart to the
edge of the sidewalk.

"I just thought I'd ask you, Judge, since I see you," said Tarbush,
"whether you think I done right or not."

"What do you mean, Mr. Marshal," inquired the judge, none too happy at
being interrupted.

"You know how it was. He licked Old Man Adamson again right at the foot
of the stair, before the record of his trial was hardly dry on the
books. It was unlawful, of course. I didn't arrest him no more, because
I seen what had happened in the other trial. You pulled out of that. I
didn't want to make no needless expense for the county. But I been sort
of uneasy in my mind about it, and I just thought I'd ask you."

"Exactly, exactly," rejoined Judge Henderson. "Well, now, Tarbush, come
to think it over, that matter came up for trial, and we concluded the
best thing to do was to sort of let things take their course--you see,
the young man in all likelihood will leave town very soon. In the
conduct of my own affairs I sometimes have seen that it is well enough
not to stir things up. Leave them alone, and sometimes they will smooth
themselves down."

"Then you wouldn't run him in if you was me?"

"No, I think not, I think not. Let it go for the time. Perhaps there may
be further developments, but with such information as I have at hand
now, I would be disposed to approve your conduct. There's nothing like
letting bygones be bygones in this world--isn't that the truth?"

"But now, about the eejit, Johnnie," resumed the city marshal once more,
reaching out his hand still to detain the other, "I don't know as I done
right about him, neither."

"What have you done then, Tarbush?"

"Well, I let him go. You see, I don't know but maybe the _habeas chorus_
proceedings would be squashed like the rest. Besides, the eejit boy has
been raising all kinds of hell down at the jail, raving and shouting and
threatening me. About a hour ago or less I concluded to let him loose,
so as to get shut of him."

"You did let him go? And he was not discharged?"

"Well, now, what's the difference, Judge," said the old man. "We
couldn't really get no sleep down there, he was making so much fuss, so
I just let him out. He lit out upon the street right thataway, towards
home--not so very long ago."

Judge Henderson gazed moodily in the direction to which Tarbush pointed.

"Well," said he, "maybe you did right, and in any case this isn't the
time and place to discuss it. My professional hours"--and he turned away
and walked slowly up the stairs to his own office, intent upon the
purpose already prominent in his mind.

The arc light illumined fully the great town clock in the cupola of the
courthouse. The hands pointed to a quarter of one, after midnight.

The deliberations of the jury of Spring Valley might have been said to
have concluded at the time when Aurora Lane, her son Don, and old Hod
Brooks--the last group of the slow procession--themselves turned the
corner and emerged upon the public square. The matter of bringing in the
verdict was another affair.



CHAPTER VIII

THE EXTRAORDINARY HORACE BROOKS


Something made Aurora Lane uneasy. She turned now and extended her hand
to the tall man who walked at her side. "Good night, Mr. Brooks," said
she.

But old Hod Brooks only put his hands deeper in his pockets and slouched
on alongside. "I'll just go on along with you to the gate. It's hot
tonight, isn't it? I don't know when we've had such a spell."

She could not well dismiss him now, so indeed the three walked yet a
while together.

Don Lane still was silent, moody. There was little of the Jesuit in his
own frank soul. He knew nothing of dissembling, and had no art of
putting a good face upon a bad matter. All these complications which so
swiftly had come into his life seemed to him only a terrible and
overwhelming thing in the total. The morrow was coming for him--nay, it
already was at hand, and he knew what that must bring of additional
grief. Anne! Anne! He must tell her. He must leave her. Never in all his
care-free life had he been so wretched, so miserable, as he was now.
Moreover, for reasons he could not stifle he did not like the presence
of Brooks here, even though he and his mother must acknowledge the debt
under which he had laid them that day.

"I'll tell you, Mother," said he after a time, when he had turned off
the square into their own street. "Just excuse me for a few minutes,
won't you? It's so hot and stuffy that I don't feel that I can sleep.
I'll just take a little run down the street, if you don't mind."

"But why, Don?" she inquired.

"You see, I've always been used to keeping fit, and I don't like to
break my training--we always had to exercise in college, on the teams. I
don't feel good when I don't. I'm used to doing my half mile or so every
night just before I go to sleep."

"Huh!" said Old Hod Brooks, looking at the young man appraisingly. "So
that's how you keep in training, eh? Well, it seems to work all right!"
His sudden gusty laughter sounded loud in the night, but it lacked the
note of ease.

"Go on, go on," he added--"as you get older maybe you'll find it takes
all your gimp to take care of your mind and your money, and you'll let
your body just about take care of itself. But go ahead--I'll just walk
on down with your mother."

"Don't be long, Don," said Aurora Lane; and she meant it, for she felt
uneasy at thus being accompanied to her own gate, a thing unknown in her
history. She was glad that old Nels Jorgens, on ahead, had just turned
in at his own gate.

Don Lane trotted off slowly, with long elastic stride, up on his toes,
with his elbows tucked in and his chin high, filling his lungs as best
he might with the hot and lifeless air. The sound of his footfalls
passed down the street, and was lost as he turned at the further corner
of the square.

"Good night, now," said Aurora Lane once more, as she and her companion
approached her little gate.

But Hod Brooks did not turn away, although he made no attempt to enter.
Instead he reached out a large hand impulsively and arrested hers as it
would have pulled together the little crippled gate behind her. Still
she did close the gate--until the sudden impact of his own weight
snapped off its last remaining hinge. He picked it up carelessly and set
it within the fence, himself leaning against the post, filling the gap,
his hands back in his pockets.

"Aurora," said he, with a strange softness in his voice, "this seems to
me almost like Providence."

"What do you mean?" she said. "I must go----"

"Please, not yet," said he. "Just think--how else could it have been
possible for me to talk with you?"

"Without compromising yourself?" She smiled slowly and bitterly, but did
not see the hot blood rise to his face.

"That's not right!" said he. "Without compromising _you_--that's what I
meant. I only meant that there is no place where we well could meet. And
I wanted to say something to you, at last--what sometime has got to be
said between us."

"We both know everything now, so why talk?" said she. "It was fine of
you today in the trial. We owe so much--we'll pay when we can."

The dull red in his face deepened. "You may stop that, if you please,"
said he. "It's not right between us. The showdown has come. Why not
settle up, at last?"

She turned, not knowing what to do, unwilling to leave him standing
there.

"It's been years, Aurora. Now, listen--I'm going on up in the world
myself, at last. I want to take you with me. I didn't want to say
anything till the right time. It's been a long, hard pull for me, too,
here in this town. It's hard for men like me to talk."

"You mustn't talk," said she. "You mustn't say a word--you mustn't be
seen here even."

He looked at her slowly. "I'm here deliberately," said he. "Listen
now--I must tell you some things, Aurora. I've loved you from the first
day I saw you. Can't you credit me at least a little? You're
splendid--you're beautiful--and you're good."

She choked a bit, raised a hand in swift protest.

"You're still young, Aurora," said he, not paying attention to what she
said. "Of course I'm older, but there's a lot of time left yet for you
and me--a lot of living. You've had mighty little out of life, here by
yourself. Now I've stood it as long as I can. Since the whole truth
about the boy has broken out today and can't ever be covered up again,
it seemed to me I just had to tell you that you needed me to take care
of you--someone more than just yourself. Things may go harder for you
now. They've been hard enough already. You need help. Who more natural
to help you than myself, feeling as I have, as I do?"

"Oh, you _mustn't_ talk that way!" Her voice trembled. "You must go on
away. I'm not--good----"

"You're good enough for me--good as I am, surely--and I want to get into
this game with you now. You need me. That means we've got to be married.
Oh, the boy's fine, yes, but he'll be going away. You need a man--a
husband--someone you can depend on, Aurora. Isn't there anything welcome
in that thought for you? Aurora, I want to marry you--at once, right
away. I say that right now and here."

Aurora Lane looked this way and that, every way. Her gaze happened to go
down the long vista beneath the maples, to fall upon the face of the
town clock on the courthouse. The hour hand with a short jerk moved
forward and the deep note of the bell boomed out--it was one o'clock of
the night; and all was not well.

She turned as she felt the tense grasp of his great knotted hands still
upon her own.

"You say that--to me----" she managed to say at last. "Why, everybody
knows--all the town knows----" Her voice shook. "I suppose I'll have to
leave here now after what's happened. But _you'd_ have to leave if you
took up with such as me--even this late, it would ruin you. Don't you
think of your own prospects? Why, I couldn't marry you, no matter how
much I loved you."

"You don't love me at all?"

"How could I?"

"That's true," said he simply. "How could you?"

"I don't mean that," she corrected herself hastily.

"It's just what I said," he rejoined. "This seems providential to me. I
can't allow these people to murder you a dozen times a week the way they
will do now. You can't make this fight alone any more, Aurora--I can't
any longer bear to see you try it. It's all out now. It's going to be
harder for you after this."

She did not make any answer to him at all, but she heard his big voice
murmuring on.

"I reckon it's love, after all, Aurora--I don't know. I don't know much
about women. I just feel as though I had to take care of you--I feel as
though you ought to depend on me. Can't you believe that?"

"I ought not to believe that of any man," she broke out.

"Like enough, like enough," he nodded, "but you've known only one
man--that's your full horizon. Now, having had so hard a fight in
business, I have put marrying to one side. Let's not say that we're both
young--for we're not. But let's remember what I told you--there's a lot
of life left for you and me yet if you'll only say the word. Don't you
want to make anybody happy?"

"Oh, you mustn't say that to me!" said Aurora Lane. "But you would want
me to be honest, wouldn't you? You wouldn't want me to lie? Somehow,
I've never learned to lie very much."

"No," said he simply; "no, I reckon not. You never have."

"No matter what----"

"No matter what."

"Then tell me, how could I say I loved you now? For twenty years--all my
life--I have put that thought away from me. I'm old and cold now. My
heart's ashes, that part, can't you understand? And you're a man."

"Yes," he nodded, "I'm a man. That's so, Aurora. But now you're just
troubled. You've not had time to think. I've held my secret, too. I've
never spoken out to you before. I tell you, you're too good a woman to
be lost--that isn't right."

"You pity me!"

"Maybe. But I want to marry you, Aurora."

"What could I do--what could be done--where would you have any pay in
that?"

"Don't trouble about the pay. How much have the past twenty years paid
you?"

"Little enough," said she bitterly, "little enough. About all they've
given me--about all I've got left--is the boy. But I want to play fair."

"That's it," said he. "So do I. That's why I tell you you're too good
for me, when it comes to that, after all."

"Why, it would all have to come out--one way or the other. It all _has_
come out, as you say. We couldn't evade that now--it's too late. Here's
the proof--Dieudonné--and I can't deny him."

He nodded gravely. She went on:

"Everyone knows about the boy now--everybody knows he's--got no father.
_That's_ my boy. Too late now to explain--he's ruined all that by coming
here. And yet you ask me to marry you. If I did, one of two things
surely would be said, and either of them would make you wretched all
your life."

He turned to her and looked at her steadily.

"They might say I was the father?"

She nodded, flushing painfully. "They might guess. And a few might think
that after all these years----"

"Maybe," said he slowly. "But you see, after all, it's only a
theoretical hurt I'm taking if I stand between you and these damned
harpies here. They're going to torture you, Aurora, going to flay and
burn you alive. I'd like to do about anything I could for you, anything
a man can in such a case as ours. As for sacrifice--why, whatever you
think I think of you, I believe we can both call it sure that I want to
stand between you and the world. I want to have the _right_ to take care
of you. It's what I want to do--must do. I've waited too long. But it's
what I always have intended. You'd never let me. I never seemed to get
around to it before. But now----"

"Impossible!" she whispered, white, her great eyes somber. "There is no
way. Love of man has gone by for me. It knocked once. It has gone by."

"Wait now, let us go on with the argument just a little further, my
dear!" said he gently.

"We have argued too long already," she said faintly. "You must go.
Please go--please don't talk to me. You must not."

"I wish I could agree with you," said he, disturbed and frowning,
"because I don't want to make you any more unhappy. But listen, it just
seemed to me that this was providential--I had to come to you and tell
you what I have told you tonight. Why, widows remarry--time and again
widows marry."

"Yes, _widows_!" He could barely hear the sob which she stifled in her
throat.

"Well, then," said he, "how about you and me? I don't think it's a fair
argument, but I ought to point out to you that perhaps I've got a chance
in the world. They wanted me, for instance, to make the run for the
senatorship--against Judge Henderson. Today I agreed with him not to
accept the candidacy. In return he agreed to drop that case against Don.
Well, you've traded me out of the United States Senate, Aurora. But I
made that trade--for you and the boy."

She looked up at him in sudden astonishment. She could not evade the
feeling of shelter in his great presence as he stood there, speaking
calmly, absolutely in hand, a grotesque and yet a great soul--yes, a
great soul as it seemed to her, so used to littler souls. After all, she
never really had known this man. Sacrifice? Had he not given freely, as
a sacrifice, the greatest gift a man has--his hope for power and
preferment? And he spoke of it as though it were a little thing. Aurora
Lane was large enough to know a large act, belittled though it were by
the doer of the deed.

"You see," he began, "we're old enough perhaps to talk plainly, plainer
than young folks can--mostly I presume they don't talk at all--but I may
talk plainly?"

"Oh, yes," said she, sighing. "I suppose we've made that certain."

"Now, now, don't say that--nothing of the sort, my dear. Your past is
out of this question altogether. You're a _widow_, that's all. Your
unknown husband is dead--he is unknown, but he is dead. That's the
record, and accepted here. And isn't that our solution--the only one in
all the world possible for us?"

She did not answer at all.

"The boy and I--I reckon the two of us could keep most of the people in
this town or in this world attending to their own business, and not
bothering about ours. Don't you believe that, Aurora? We've made a
start--a sort of preliminary demonstration already."

But still she did not answer, and, agonized now, he went on:

"I'm a plain man, Aurora, pretty ignorant, I expect. I didn't come from
anywhere--there's no family much back of me--I have had really very
little schooling, and I've had to fight my own way. I can't play
bridge--I don't know one card from another. I don't dance--there's no
human being could ever teach a dance step to me. I've never been in
society, because I don't belong there. But, as I said, I've got some
standards of a man and some feelings of a man. I love you a lot more
than you can tell from what I've said, or what I've done. It'll be a
great deal more to you than you can believe now. I'll do a great deal
more for you than you can realize. I'll give you at last--later than I
ought to have done it--something you've never had--your _life_--your
_chance_ in the world--your chance at real love and real affection and
real loyalty. You've never had that, Aurora. I couldn't offer it, for I
had my own secret to keep, and my own fight to make. But love and
loyalty--they'd be sweet, wouldn't they?"

She bent her head down upon her hands, which lay folded at the top of
the pickets of the little fence.

"Sweet--sweet--yes, yes!" he heard her murmur.

"Well, then, why not end the argument?" he said. "Why, I've seen you
here, all these years. I know every hair of your head. I have come
really to love you, all of you, as a man ought to love his wife. I can't
resist it--it's an awful thing. I don't think I'll forget--it's too late
in life for me to begin over again, it's you or nothing for me. There's
never been any other woman for me--and that ought at least to speak for
me. There's been no other man for you. So why not end it? The world's
been cruel enough for you as it is. I'll not say it hasn't been cruel to
me, too. I've sat tight and eaten my heart. I've had to fight, too. But
don't I understand you, your fight, what it means to buck a game where
all the cards are stacked? Don't I know?"

"It has been cruel, yes," said she at length, finding herself able to
speak, "but it seems it has not been quite so cruel as it could be
until--until now."

"Why, what do you mean? Am I cruel? Why?"

"You said--you said something about my being a widow."

He nodded. "Yes. I pick you up now--it's as though I find you new--I
know you now at a later stage altogether in your life. You've grown. I
see you as new and fresh as though you were just risen from the sea....
And all the past is nothing to me."

"You must not talk," said she, "because it only is to make us both the
more unhappy. You are quixotic enough, or great enough--I don't know
which--I can't tell which it is--to say you'd take the shame on your own
shoulders in order to take it off of mine! You can't mean that! No! no!
One life ruined is enough--you've ruined yours enough now, today, by
what you've done for Don and me."

He seemed not to hear her.

"I've watched you all these years, and you've lived like a recluse, like
a widow. I can't reproach you. God! Which of us may first cast a stone?"

Aurora Lane turned to him now a brave face, the same brave face she had
turned to the world all these years.

"Oh," said she, "if only I had learned to lie! Maybe some women could
lie to you. And women get so tired--so awfully tired sometimes--I
couldn't blame them. I might marry you, yes--I believe I could. But I
would never lie to you--I won't lie to you now."

"What are you going to say to me, Aurie?"

"What I'm going to say to all the world! I've never been
married to anyone and can't be now. It would be more horrible to
me than--that other. It's too late. It--it means too much to
me--marriage--marriage--marriage! Don't--don't--you mustn't say some
things to a woman. Oh, if all this had happened twenty years ago, when I
was young, I might have been weak enough to listen to what you say. I
was weak and frightened then--I didn't know how I'd ever get on--all
life was a terror to me. But that was twenty years ago. I've made my
fight now, and I've learned that after a fashion at least I could get
on--I did--I have. I can go on through alone the rest of the way, and
it's right that I should. That's what I'm going to do!"

She saw the great hand clutch the more tightly on two picket tops. They
broke under the closing grip of his great hand.

"That's right hard," said he simply. "We can't be married now? But--tell
me, can't I help you?"

"Oh, no, no, don't--don't talk of that!" she said. She was weeping now.
"Don't try to help me," she sobbed bitterly. "You can't help me--nobody
can help me--there's no help in the world--not even God can help me!
You've been cruel--all the world has been nothing but cruel to me all my
life. I've nothing to hope--there's nothing that can help me, nothing.
I'm one of the lost, that's all. Until today, I'd hoped. I never will
hope again."

Now she felt the great hand closing once more on top of hers above the
broken pickets.

"Listen, Aurora," said he, "if it doesn't seem that you and I can be
married, there's nothing in the world which makes it wrong for me to
help you all I can--you mustn't think I didn't love you. You don't think
that, do you?"

"I don't know what I think!" said she, rubbing at the ceaseless tears,
so new to her. "All these matters have been out of my life--forever, as
I thought. But sometimes--I've been so lonesome, you know, and so
helpless--I'm tempted. It's hard for a woman to live all alone--it's
almost a thing impossible--she's so lonesome--sometimes I almost think I
could depend on you, even now."

"That's fine!" said he, choking up; "that's fine. I expect that's about
all I had coming to me after all. So I oughtn't to be sorry--I ought to
be very happy. That's about the finest thing I ever heard in all my
life."

"And about the sweetest words I ever heard in all my life were what you
said just now--after knowing all you do about me."

"But you won't tell me that you'll marry me now?" He bent and picked up
her hand in both his great ones. "I know you will not." He kissed her
hand reverently.

"Good night," said he gently. And presently she was sensible that his
shambling figure was passing away down the street under the checkered
shadows of the maples.

Aurora Lane stood yet for just a moment, how long she did not know.
There came to her ear the sound of running footsteps. Her boy came down
the street, passing Horace Brooks with a wave of his hand. He reached
her side now as she still stood at the gate. He was panting, perspiring
a trifle.

"Fine!" said he. "Let's go in. Maybe I can sleep--I'd like to sleep."

"What kept you so late?" asked Aurora Lane. She hurried in ahead of
him.



CHAPTER IX

THE OTHER WOMAN CONCERNED


The sultry night at last was broken by a breathless dawn, the sun rising
a red ball over the farm lands beyond the massed maple trees of the
town. Not much refreshed by the attempt at sleep in the stuffy little
rooms, Don and his mother met once more in the little kitchen
dining-room where she had prepared the simple breakfast.

He did not know, as he picked at the crisp bacon strips, that bacon, or
even eggs, made an unusual breakfast in his mother's household. He
trifled with his cereal and his coffee, happily too considerate to
mention the lack of butter and cream, but grumblingly sensible all the
time that the bread was no longer fresh. He was living in a new world,
the world of the very poor. His time had not yet been sufficient therein
to give him much understanding.

He looked about him at the scantily furnished rooms, and in spite of
himself there rose before his mind pictures he had known these last few
years--wide green parks, with oaks and elms, stately buildings draped
with ivy, flowers about, and everywhere the air of quiet ease. He
recalled the fellowship of fresh-cheeked roistering youths like himself,
full of the zest of life, youth well-clad, with the stamp of having
known the good things of life; young women well-clad, well-appointed,
also. Books, art, the touch of the wide world of thought, the quiet, the
comfort, the beauty, the physical well-being of everything about
him--these had been a daily experience for him for years. He
unthinkingly had supposed that all life, all the world, must continue
much like this. He had supposed, had he given it any thought at all,
that the last meager bill in his pockets when he started home would in
some magic way always remain unneeded, always unspent. He had
opportunity waiting for him in his profession, and he knew he would get
on. Never before in all his life had he known the widow's cruse.

So this was life, then--this little room, this tawdry, sullen town, this
hot and lifeless air, this hopelessly banal and uninteresting place that
had been his mother's home all these years--this was his beginning of
actual life! The first lesson he had had yesterday; the next, yet more
bitter, he must have today. The uninviting little kitchen seemed to him
the center of a drab and dismal world, in which could never be aught of
happiness for him or his.

"It's not much, Don," said his mother, smiling bravely as her eyes noted
his abstraction. "I live so simply--I'm afraid a big man like you won't
get enough to eat with me."

She did not mention her special preparations for his arrival. He did not
know that the half-dozen new serviettes had been bought for his coming.
He did not know that a new chair also had been purchased, and that he
himself was sitting in it at that very time. In short, he knew nothing
of the many sacrifices needful even for these inexpensive things about
him. He did not know that marvel of the widow's cruse, filled against
dire need by the hand of merciful Providence.

"It's all right, Mother," said he, toying with his fork; "fine, fine."

"Coffee strong enough, Don?" She looked at him anxiously. Usually she
made it weak for herself.

"Oh, they never let us have it at all when we're training, mother," said
he, "and not strong at any time. I know the simple life." He smiled as
best he might.

"I have lived it here, too, Don," said she slowly, "because I couldn't
well help it. I don't suppose anybody likes it when it's too simple. I
like things nice, so much. I've always longed to travel. You know, Don,
I hear of people going over to Europe, and I'm guilty of the sin of
envy. I live right here in this little place all the time--I've done so
all my life. I've scarcely been out of this town in twenty years. If I
could see pictures--if I could go to see the great actors--if I could
see a real theater--just once, Don--you don't know how happy I'd be. And
I'm sure there must be more beautiful countries than this. Still"--and
here she sighed--"Miss Julia and I have lived quite a life together--in
the books, the magazines--pictures too, sometimes."

He looked at her dumbly now, trying to understand the steady heroism of
a life such as hers. The real character of his own mother never yet
fully had impressed itself upon him. Don Lane was a college graduate,
but now for the first time in his life he was beginning to think.

"One thing," she added, "I'd never do. I'd never pretend to be what I
was not--I didn't ever pretend to have what I didn't have. You see me,
Don, and my life, pretty much as we are."

"And all this has been for me?"

"Yes," simply. "But although we grew up apart, I don't think I could
endure it if I thought we really were to part--if you would leave me
now.

"I was half hoping," she went on musingly, "that you could find it in
your heart to stay here in this town."

He shook his head. "Impossible! That's one thing you really mustn't ask
of me."

"Yes, I feared you would think of it in that way! But, as for me, this
is my place--I've made my bed here, and I must lie in it. I know the
people of this town--I know what they'll all do to me now. You see, you
don't know these things yet."

"No," said he, "but you and Miss Julia both will be paid back--the money
part of it--some time. As for me, I'm not going to have any home."

She sat silent for quite a time, the meager breakfast now being ended
for both.

"Oh, can't you forget her, Don? Can't you give her up?" she said
finally.

"I can't forget her, Mother, but I'll have to give her up. It all
happened there on the car--just at once--in public."

"I'm glad you never kissed her, Don," said she. "You're both so young."

She shook her head slowly as she went on. "Love has to be loved in any
case. That means--I suppose it means--that for the very young, if it be
not one, it may later be another."

He only smiled bitterly at this. "It all comes to the same thing in any
case," said he. "I'll have to tell her what I know, and we'll have to
part. It would be the same with any other woman, if there could be any
other. There can't be."

"I've been frank with you, Don, and I don't know whether to be glad or
sorry for that. I'd love nothing so much in the world as to see you
happily married--but nothing in the world could so much hurt me as to
see you marry Anne Oglesby."

"No fear of it!"

"You'll tell her?"

"Yes. Today."



CHAPTER X

THE MURDER


Once more the strident call of the telephone broke in, and Aurora Lane
stepped aside.

"It's Miss Julia," said she excitedly, turning upon her son eyes
suddenly grown large. "Why, it's something awful! Don--a terrible thing
has happened--last night."

"What's wrong--what's happened?" he demanded.

"Mr. Tarbush--the city marshal--why, you know--he was
killed--murdered--last night--found this morning! It was about one
o'clock, as near as they can tell, Miss Julia says. It's all over town."

An exclamation left the young man's lips. "What's that? Murdered?"

"Yes, yes--wait----" She spoke on into the telephone. "Yes, Julia, Don
and I were just at breakfast--no, we've not been on the street yet--one
o'clock, you said? That was when we were just coming home from the
library!"

"Mother," said Don, "that's right! It must have been just about one
o'clock, wasn't it?"

She looked at him steadily for a time, as she dropped the receiver, her
own face a trifle pale. "Yes--we hadn't gone to sleep at the time it
happened. He was killed right in front of his own house, Miss Julia
says."

"And where is that?--you see, I don't know much about the town."

"Beyond the square, about three blocks from the farther corner--the
little house with the low fence in front, and the deep front yard."

"We didn't pass that when we came up from the station?"

"No, we came another street. But, Don----"

"Yes?"

"When you were running last night, you must have passed right close to
there! You didn't see anything strange?"

"Of course not! I'd have looked into it. I don't recall that particular
house.

"Well," he added, after a moment's silence, "in spite of all that
happened yesterday between him and us, I'm not going to call him
anything but a good man--now."

She looked at him strangely--studied his face steadily.

"I'll be going out now, I think--I'm going to run over to see Julia for
a time. Please don't go out on the street, Don. Stay right here. We got
into trouble enough yesterday."

"You needn't fear," said he. "There's nothing and nobody in this town I
want to see. I'll be glad when I shake the dust of it off my feet--when
I once get squared away in my own business you shall leave this place
and live with me."

And then, as there came to him again and again the anticipated pain of
parting with the one he himself loved, he came up to his mother and put
his arms once more upon her shoulders. Again her hands found his hair.
She cast a quick glance about her, as though in his defense.

"Don," said she, "I think I'll never get over thinking of you as just a
boy, a little boy."

He tried to smile. "Pity you didn't drown me in the pool yonder," said
he.

It was the most cruel thing he could have found to say, although he
spoke only in his own bitterness, careless, as a man so often is, of a
woman's hurts. But she left him without comment; and soon he had resumed
his own restless walking up and down in the narrow quarters which seemed
to him such a prison.

Meantime all Spring Valley was afoot and agog over this news. It was the
most sensational thing that had happened, as Aaron Craybill said, since
Ben Wilson's wife went crazy out on the farm, come four years ago, and
killed her four babies, and hid in the haystack until they found her
three days later, and sent her to the asylum. And so forth, and so
forth.

All the good folk met in groups at home or in the streets, so that
within an hour after breakfast there was not a soul in all Spring Valley
did not know that the town marshal had just been killed by some unknown
person for some unknown reason. The news seemed dulling, stupefying. The
clerks who opened the drug stores around the public square, the only
shops open of the Sunday, were slow in their sweeping out that morning.
Pedestrians on the streets walked slowly. The entire life of the town
seemed slow. The sluggish, arresting solemnity of death sat upon all the
little community.

Spring Valley had no daily newspaper, and even the weekly _Clarion_, a
production of some six pages, had its trials in making a living there,
so close was the village to larger towns which reached out and covered
most of its commercial needs in this time of telegraph and trolley. The
editor of the _Clarion_ was, naturally, the correspondent of the largest
daily of the near-by metropolis. Twice in all his life he had had
opportunity for a first page story in the great city daily. His first
metropolitan opportunity was when the aforementioned farmer's wife had
killed her children, some four years ago. And now here was something
quite as big. Editor Anderson sat at his own breakfast table for more
than half an hour pondering on the opening sentence which he was going
to write in his dispatch to the morning daily.

By eleven-thirty he had written his story, and had taken it down to the
station agent for transmission by wire; and that worthy told him that as
soon as Number Five got by he would begin to send the message. "I can't
stop for anything so long as that now," said he.

It was somewhat longer as written than as printed, but Mr. Anderson
described the murder of the city marshal in the following terms:

     The progressive little city of Spring Valley, Jackson County,
     this state, was electrified this morning by the startling news
     of the murder of the well-known city marshal, Mr. Joel Tarbush,
     a man of sterling qualities, who has held the office for many
     years, and who had endeared himself in the hearts of the
     community not only for his discharge of his official duties,
     but for his kindliness of heart. The funeral will occur
     tomorrow afternoon at half-past three. Reverend William D.
     Rawlins will give the funeral address.

     The city of Spring Valley is all excitement at this writing. No
     trace of the cowardly assassin has yet been found, and the
     entire affair remains shrouded in the deepest mystery, which
     not even the keenest intellects have been able to penetrate.
     There is no one who can ascribe a motive sufficient to inspire
     the murder of so respected and harmless a citizen.

     Some have ascribed the fiendish act to some hobo or tramp who
     may have taken revenge on the marshal for some real or fancied
     injury in the past. But no one can recall any instance in which
     the deceased has ever incurred the enmity of any such
     characters, so that all remain at a loss how to account for
     this act. There seems to have been no eyewitness, and therefore
     all is but mere conjecture.

     Your reporter was among the first at the premises early this
     morning, and thus gained all the information that can be
     secured at this writing. He has interviewed Miss Audrey
     Tarbush, daughter of the deceased, who had for many years kept
     house for him in their residence on Mulberry Street, about five
     blocks from the courthouse, where the deceased had a small
     garden and raised vegetables and flowers which he sold in the
     best families of our flourishing city.

     Miss Audrey Tarbush, when interviewed by our reporter, said
     that she had last night, according to her usual custom, retired
     at the hour of half-past nine. She did not attend the exercises
     at the city library, where most of the elite of the town were
     present last night, because of a headache from which she
     suffered. She left the front door unlocked, as was her custom,
     for the entry of her father when he had finished the duties of
     his day's work. Usually, Marshal Tarbush came home at about ten
     o'clock, and himself then retired. On this night, by reason of
     certain extraordinary occurrences during the preceding day, he
     thought it wise to remain out later than usual. This was in
     accordance with his well-known courage and his conscientious
     endeavor to protect the residents of the city against any
     possible danger.

     It was about a quarter after one o'clock, as near as Miss
     Audrey Tarbush can recall, that she was awakened by the sound
     of footfalls on the front porch. She called out, "Who's there?"
     but got no answer. As she went to the door her father succeeded
     in opening it and staggered in. He sank down into a chair near
     the center table. She saw then that he was very pale, and had a
     wound upon his head from which blood was still flowing. Much
     alarmed, she inquired of him what had occurred. The deceased
     was unable to answer. He seemed to be approaching a sort of
     coma.

     "Who was it? Who did it?" Miss Audrey Tarbush demanded of him.
     It was a dramatic situation.

     The deceased was unable to make an intelligent reply. "Someone
     hit me," he muttered. That was all he could manage to say, and
     that was all she could catch of his last words. Before long his
     head sank forward and he breathed his last almost in her arms.
     Unassisted she was able to carry the body of her father to the
     near-by sofa.

     At that late hour the telephone operator had gone home, so she
     was unable to call any of the neighbors by means of the
     telephone. She does not recall how long she was alone with the
     dead body of her esteemed parent, but after a time her cries
     from the front porch were heard. The neighbors came to her
     assistance, but nothing could be done.

     Examination of the remains of the deceased revealed a long and
     ragged wound over the upper and left-hand part of the head,
     breaking the cuticle for a distance of some four or five
     inches. The marshal's hat had been on when he was struck. The
     skull was broken for a distance of more than two inches,
     according to the examination of Dr. Amos N. Beals, who examined
     the body, the left parietal bone being crushed in as by some
     heavy instrument.

     Your reporter deduces the following theory of the crime. At a
     late hour, after City Marshal Tarbush had finished his duties
     in the public square, he went towards his home, the public
     meeting at the library having by this time been dismissed. At a
     distance of perhaps fifty feet west of the front gate of his
     own home the deceased was approached by some miscreant, who
     with some heavy blunt instrument struck him down from behind,
     and who then made his escape, leaving no sign behind him. No
     club or weapon of any kind was found.

     After receiving his death blow this estimable citizen seems to
     have walked, steadying himself against the top rail of the
     fence, until he reached the gate. The bloody finger prints upon
     the top of the fence were no doubt made by his own fingers,
     which he must have raised up to his head. He was able to enter
     his own gate, come up his own walk, and ascend his own front
     steps. Up to that time no one can tell the story. What ensued
     after that has been told by your reporter in the interview with
     Miss Audrey Tarbush, his loving daughter.

     So ended a long and honorable life. The pallbearers will be
     chosen from leading citizens of the town, but their names have
     not yet been determined. He will be buried by the Knights
     Templar, to which order he belonged, probably on Sunday
     afternoon, because, although such haste may appear unseemly,
     this early funeral will allow a representative attendance of
     all the members of the order, including practically all our
     leading citizens, with their full music, so that the concluding
     exercises may thus show a greater tribute of respect, the
     attendance at any later day being sure to be far less general.

     Your reporter has interviewed prominent citizens as to the
     cause of this crime which has so shocked our community. When
     approached by your reporter, Judge William Henderson,
     well-known candidate for the United States senatorship, former
     member of the Republic State Central Committee and prominent
     citizen in this state, said, "I cannot hazard even a guess at
     the perpetrator of this ghastly crime which has so shocked our
     community."

The story written by Mr. Anderson ended at this point. As printed it
ended considerably in advance of this point; but at least, as he later
told his wife, he had done his best to give his paper a good story. By
the time his message was waiting in the hands of the station agent,
telephone wires were busy between Spring Valley and other larger towns.
The early afternoon papers in Columbus were on the streets by
eleven-thirty with big headlines, and a few lines of type about the
murder of "County Sheriff Abel Tarbush of Spring Valley, Jackson County,
for which murder four tramps had been suspected and placed in jail." The
deceased was described as a prominent Mason. By that time the star
reporters of the morning dailies were on the through train, Number Five,
bound east from Columbus to Spring Valley, as many learned by telephone;
so that the arrival of Number Five this day would be a matter of special
importance.

Of exact details in all these matters, Don Lane knew but little. It was
for reasons of his own, easily obvious, that he went down to the little
station to meet the through train from the West. Anne Oglesby was
coming!

His mother did not accompany him, of course, and he therefore was quite
alone. Of all those whom he encountered hurrying in the same direction,
all those who packed the little platform and who stood here and there in
groups speaking solemnly one with the other, he could count not a
friend, not an acquaintance. Dully he felt that here and there an eye
was turned upon him, that here and there a word was spoken about him. He
dismissed it as part of the aftermath of his own troubles of the
previous day. He walked nervously up and down, impatiently looking
westward down the line of rails, his own contemptuous hatred for all
these lost in the greater emotion that filled his heart. Anne was
coming--she was almost here! And he must say good-by.

Meantime, in the courthouse, there was going forward due action on the
part of the officers of the law intrusted with the solution of such
mysteries as this murder. The sheriff, a large and solid man, Dan Cowles
by name, was one of the first to inspect the premises where the crime
had been committed. Shortly after that he went over to the office of
Blackman, Justice of the Peace and coroner, who by ten o'clock that
morning had summoned his jury of six men--Nels Jorgens, the blacksmith;
Mr. Rawlins, the minister of the Church of Christ; Ben McQuaid, the
traveling man; Newman, the clothing merchant; J. B. Saunders, the Knight
Templar; Jerome Westbrook, clerk in the First National Bank.

It chanced that the county prosecutor, a young man by the name of
Slattery, was out of town at this time, so that the executive side of
the law for a moment hesitated. The sheriff therefore called up Judge
Henderson and asked his presence at the courthouse for a consultation.
The two were closeted for some time in the sheriff's office. At this
time the deliberations of the coroner's jury would have been well
advanced; therefore, Sheriff Cowles took up the telephone and called up
Coroner Blackman at the Tarbush residence, just as the latter was upon
the point of calling for a verdict of the jury in the accustomed words,
"Murder at the hands of party or parties unknown."

"Wait, Mr. Coroner!" said Sheriff Cowles. "There's going to be some more
witnesses. Keep your jury together."

A few moments later the long shrieking whistle of Number Five was heard
as she came up out of the Paw Paw Creek bottoms, climbing the hill at
the brick yards, and swung around the curve through South Spring Valley
into the stretch of straight track leading down to the station. As the
grinding brakes brought the heavy train finally to a standstill, three
or four young men swung down from the day coaches--reporters from
outside towns.

Don Lane elbowed his way to the edge of the platform. His eye was
searching eagerly along the train exits for someone else--someone else
whom he longed and yet dreaded to see.



CHAPTER XI

IN THE NAME OF THE LAW


Don's moody face suddenly lighted up. A young woman was stepping down
from one of the cars at the farther end of the train, the porter
assisting her to the footstool. Now she was coming steadily along the
edge of the platform, carrying in one hand a trim little bag, in the
other a trim little umbrella. Now she was looking about, expectant. It
was she--Anne!

His heart leaped out to her, his love rose surgingly at sight of her,
sweet and beautiful as she seemed, and all so fit for love of man.

A tall young girl she was, who walked with head well up and the
suggestion of tennis about her--an indefinable something of chic also
about her, as indicative of physical well-being as that suggested by
some of the young faces on the magazine covers of the day; which would
explain why in her college Anne Oglesby always was known as "the
magazine girl." She had straightforward gray eyes, a fine mouth of much
sweetness. Above her forehead rose a deep and narrow ruff of dense brown
hair, golden brown. Trim, yet well-appointed, she was one of those types
whom unhesitatingly we class as aristocrats. A young woman fit for any
higher class, qualified for any rank, she seemed--and a creature utterly
apart from the crowd that now jostled her on the narrow platform.

Her eyes, too, lighted up at sight of the young man who now hurried
forward to meet her, but no unseemly agitation marked her own personal
conduct in public. Demure, clean, cool and sweet, all in hand, she did
not hasten nor hold back.

Dieudonné Lane had told his mother that never yet had he kissed Anne
Oglesby. Now, at sight of her and at the thought that almost at once
they must part forever, a great rebellion rose in his heart. He stepped
forward swiftly, impulsively, irresistibly.

He caught her quickly in his arms before all the crowd and kissed
her--once. It was his great salutation to love--a salutation of great
longing--a salutation which meant farewell.

She gasped, flushed rosy red, but walked straight along with him as he
caught the bag from her hands. She looked up at him, astonished, yet not
wholly resentful. It was no place for speech on the part of either. The
dust of the street seemed naught to him or her, and as for this curious
crowd, they did not chill nor offend--Anne Oglesby suddenly wished to
take all the world into her arms and greet it. Anne Oglesby at that
moment loved--the touch of this man's lips on hers had wrought the
irrevocable, immortal, awful change.

They had not yet spoken a word, these two, at the time he left her to
call some vehicle for her use. He turned and looked directly into the
face of Dan Cowles, sheriff, a man whom he had never seen before, but
who now reached out and laid a hand upon his shoulder. Cowles had that
instant reached the station platform.

Don would have passed, but the sheriff spoke:

"I want you. Come with me."

The tempestuous blood of the young man flamed at this, but now, as he
looked into the solemn face before him, he found something to give him
pause.

"What's up?" he demanded. "Who are you?"

"I'm the sheriff of this county," said Cowles. "Come with me."

"What do you want?" again demanded Don. "I'm with this young lady."

"That's no difference," said Cowles.

"It must be about the Tarbush matter," said Dewdonny Lane. "I'll
testify, but I know nothing of that. I'll come on over directly. This
young lady is going to Judge Henderson's."

The sheriff looked at the young girl curiously. The crowd now had surged
about them. Like so many cattle at the smell of blood, a strange low
sound, animal-like, a sort of moan of curiosity, seemed to rise.
Wide-eyed, the girl turned.

"What is it, Don?" she exclaimed. "What has happened? The Tarbush
case--what do you mean?"

"I'm going to take him to the coroner's hearing, miss," said the sheriff
in a low tone of voice.

"Why, you see, Anne," began Don, "the city marshal of this town was
killed last night. I suppose the coroner is looking into it. It's a
terrible thing--the town's all upset--haven't you heard anything of it?"

"Why, no. I left home before any of our papers came out. How did it
happen?"

Don felt the sheriff again touch his arm. "Step into my car," said he,
"both of you--you get on the front seat with me."

A moment later they were whirling off up the dusty street toward the
central part of the town. The crowd, breaking into little groups, came
hurrying on along the sidewalks, some even falling into a run in the
middle of the street.

"Well, he got him!" said one citizen to another. "Quick work for the
sher'ff, wasn't it? A little more and that fellow would 'a' got off on
that train, like enough. That's what he was down here for. I seen him
lookin' for the train."

"Yes, and that young fellow had a dangerous look on him, too," said
another. "He's _bad_, that's what he is! Look how he showed it
yesterday--right after court, too."

Each had this or that comment to make, but all followed on now toward
the scenes where the further action in the drama of the day must now
ensue.

Cowles pulled up on the side of the square on which Judge Henderson had
his office. "You may get out here, Miss," said he. "I think you'll find
the Judge in right now."

"But why--what's the reason----" she began, much perturbed, and looking
at Don. "What's wrong, Don? Aren't you coming?"

"Yes, Mr. Sheriff," said Don, "let me go up with her. I'll be right on
over."

The big man looked at the two, a sort of pity in his face. "I'm sorry,"
said he, "but you'll have to come with me right away. Tell me, are you
Miss Oglesby, his kin from over Columbus way?"

"Yes, yes," said she. "I've been here before. But tell me, what does
this mean--this murder? It's an awful thing, isn't it? It seems to me I
remember the marshal's name--maybe I've seen him. Who did it--whom do
they suspect?"

"That's what we don't know for sure," said the sheriff, "and it's what
we've got to find out."

"Why, who would ever have thought it of this little town!"

"Things happen in this little town, I reckon, about the same as they do
anywhere," said the sheriff.

"Don----" She turned to him once more as she stood on the pavement, he
still remaining on the front seat of the car where the sheriff's hand
restrained him. "Why, Don----"

But the sheriff's solemn face was turned towards her. He shook his head.
An instant and the car had whirled away from the curb.

They had parted, almost before they had met!

To Dieudonné Lane, ignorant as he was of the cause of all this, it
seemed that the final parting of all had come, and, bitterly he
reflected, they had had no chance--no chance whatever--for what was due
them from their love, their life itself.

Anne Oglesby, the kiss of her lover's lips still sweet and trembling
upon her mouth, her own mind confused, her own heart disturbed, turned
towards the dusty stair, all her senses in a whirl. And within five
minutes Don Lane, very pale and much distressed, was in the front part
of the little home of Joel Tarbush. The officer had brought him before
Justice Blackman, the coroner, and the coroner's jury, six solemn-faced
men who sat now in the front parlor which had no other occupants save
the red-eyed daughter of the dead man, and save the long and shrouded
figure which lay upon the couch near by.

Don Lane could not misread the hostility of the gaze turned upon him by
most of these whom now he saw.

Something suddenly caught at his heart--his first feeling of fear, of
uncertainty; but even this was mingled with a rage at fate, which could
be so cruelly unjust to him. And always, in spite of himself, he felt
his eyes turning to look, awed, terrified, upon the long thing which lay
upon the couch. And always the eyes of these six men saw what he did,
saw what he saw.

"This is Dewdonny Lane," said the Sheriff briefly, and himself sat down
to await the progress of events.

The formalities were few. "You may be sworn," said the coroner to
him--"it's just as well." Then the oath administered, Blackman began the
regular questions, and Don answered steadily.

"My name is Dieudonné Lane. I am twenty-two years of age. I have no
residence as yet. I am a graduate in engineering. I'm going to Wyoming
some time this month to take up my work there."

There was a little silence in the room, and then the coroner began
again:

"Where were you just now?" he asked. "We sent for you at your home."

"I was at the station--I went to meet a friend."

"What friend was it?"

Don Lane flushed red. "What difference is it? Oh, if I must answer, it
was Miss Anne Oglesby, of Columbus. I went down to the train to meet
her."

Sheriff Cowles nodded. "That's true," said he. "I took her up to Judge
Henderson's office myself."

"What relations have you with this young lady?" asked Blackman.

"That's not the business of anyone," said Don Lane hotly.

"Do you want counsel to protect you now?"

"No, why should I? I am perfectly willing to tell all I know about the
case, and that's all I can do. There's no lawyer I'd send for anyhow."

"Where were you last night at about midnight?"

"I was at the library meeting with my mother."

"When did you leave there?"

"It must have been midnight or later--oh, yes, I remember seeing the
town clock as we passed through the square. That was just before one
o'clock--perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. We were out late--every one
was."

"Who was with you when you were going home?"

"My mother, and for a time Mr. Rawlins here--one of you gentlemen of the
jury. He will know. Just as we left the library we were joined by Mr.
Horace Brooks."

"Where did you go?"

"We three walked on together. It was at the second corner of the square,
where Mulberry Street turns off, that Mr. Brooks left me."

Nels Jorgens, one of the jury, now spoke up. "That's true," said he. "I
saw the three of them walking along the front of the square, and saw
them turn in at Mulberry Street. Across from where I live I saw two
people at the gate. It was a man--a tall man--and her--Aurora Lane."

"You yourself were not at the gate then?"

"No," said Don, "I had left just at the corner of the square."

"Why did you leave them?"

"Well, I wanted to have a little run before I went to bed. I'm used to
taking exercise every night--I always did at college, to keep up my
training."

"Where did you go when you were running?"

"I may be mistaken in the directions, but it was across the square,
opposite from Mulberry Street. I turned to the right. I must have run
perhaps four or five blocks, I don't know just how far it was. It was
quite warm."

"Did you come into this street?"

"I don't really know."

"You didn't see anybody?"

"Not a soul. I didn't hear a sound."

"What time was that?"

"I heard the clock strike one before I turned back."

"Gentlemen of the jury," said the coroner, "it was just about that time
that Joel Tarbush was killed, right here."

"That's true," said Don Lane. "It's terrible to think of--but why----"

"You heard Judge Henderson's testimony, gentlemen," went on the coroner.
"He told of seeing these three people pass by on the square in front of
his office stair. Just before that he had said good night to Tarbush
himself. He saw Tarbush start right over this way for his home. Now,
just in time to catch him before he got into his home--if a man was
running fast--a man _did_ run from the square over in this direction!"

The members of the jury remained silent. Their faces were extremely
grave.

"And, gentlemen, you have heard the testimony of other witnesses here
before now, stating that this witness was heard to make threats to
Tarbush yesterday afternoon, right after he was dismissed from my own
court upstairs. Mr. Jorgens, I believe you were there. What did this
young man say after he had for the second time assaulted Ephraim
Adamson--twice in one day, and entirely regardless of the rebuke of the
law?"

"He said, Mr. Coroner," replied Nels Jorgens gravely, even with sadness
in his face, "just when he came out of the crowd where he had left
Adamson laying on the ground already--he said to Tarbush, 'You'll come
next'--or I'll get you next'--something of that kind."

"Was he angry at that time?"

"Yes, Mr. Coroner, he was," said Nels Jorgens, against his will.

Ben McQuaid leaned over to whisper to Jerome Westbrook. "It seems like
this young fellow comes in here with his college education and
undertakes to run this whole town. Pretty coarse work, it looks like to
me."

Jerome Westbrook nodded slowly. He recalled Sally Lester's look.

Of all the six faces turned toward him from the scattered little group
of the coroner's jury, not more than two showed the least compassion or
sympathy. Don Lane's hot temper smarted under the renewed sense of the
injustice which had assailed him yet again.

"What's the game?" he demanded. "Why am I brought here? What's the
matter with you people? Do you mean to charge me with killing this man?
What have I done to any of you? Damn your town, anyhow--the rotten,
lying, hypocritical lot of you all!"

"The less you say the better," said the coroner; and the sheriff's
steady gaze cautioned Don Lane yet more.

"Now, gentlemen," went on Blackman, "we have heard a number of witnesses
here, and we have not found any man here that could bring forward any
sight or sound of any suspicious character in this town. There hasn't
been a tramp or outsider seen here, unless we except this young man now
testifying here. The man on whose body we now are a-setting hadn't a
enemy in this town, so far as has been shown here--no, nor so far as
anyone of us knows. There has been no motive proved up here which would
lead us to suspect anyone else of this crime."

Ben McQuaid once more leaned over to whisper to his seat-mate: "It's a
likely thing a man would be running for his health, a night like last
night, when he didn't have to! Ain't that the truth?"

The coroner rapped with his pencil on the table top. He was well filled
with the sense of his own importance. In his mind he was
procureur-general for Spring Valley. And in his mind still rankled the
thought of the fiasco in his courtroom but the day before, in which he
had made so small a figure.

"I want to ask you, Mr. Cowles," he said, turning to the sheriff, "if
you ever have seen this young man before."

"Only once," said the sheriff, standing up. "Last night or this morning,
just after the clock had struck one--say, two or three minutes or so
after one o'clock--I was going out of my office and going over to the
east side of the square. I met this young man then. As he says, he was
running--that is, he was coming back from this direction, and running
toward the southeast corner of the square, the direction of his own
home."

"Was he in a hurry--did he seem excited?"

"He was panting a little bit. He was running. He didn't seem to see me."

"Oh, yes, I did," said Don. "I remember you perfectly--that is, I
remember perfectly passing some man in the half darkness under the trees
as I came along that side of the square. As I said, it was warm."

"Now, gentlemen, we have thought it over for a long time," said the
coroner, after a solemn pause. "We must bring in our verdict before
long. It must either be 'party or parties unknown,' or we must hold
someone we do suspect.

"We have had no one here that we could suspect until now. Take this
young man--he is practically a stranger. He proves himself to be of
violent and ungovernable temper. Allowed to go once from the justice of
the law, he forgets that and goes violent again. He assaults a second
time one of our citizens, Mr. Adamson. He resists arrest once by a
officer of the law, and in the same afternoon he threatens that officer.
He says, 'I'll get you.'

"This young man is seen just before one o'clock running over in this
direction. Just a little ahead of him the victim of this crime was seen
walking. He was killed, as his daughter testifies, somewhere just about
one o'clock--it was at that time that he staggered into the house here.

"Just after one o'clock this young man is seen running--one of the
hottest nights we have had this summer--running away from the scene of
the crime, and toward his own home.

"I don't want to lead your own convictions in any way. I am willing to
say, however, that if we have not found a man to hold for this crime,
then we ain't apt to find him!"

"But, gentlemen, you don't mean"--poor Don began, his face pale for the
first time, a sudden terror in his soul--"you _can't_ mean that _I_ did
this!"

But he gazed into the faces of six men, upon whom rested the duty of
vengeance for the wrong done to the society which they represented. Of
these six all but two were openly hostile to him, and those two were
sad. Rawlins, minister of the Church of Christ; Nels Jorgens, the
blacksmith--they two were sad. But they two also were citizens.

"This witness," went on Coroner Blackman, "has in a way both abused us
and defied us. He said he was not on trial. That is true. We can't try
him. All we can do is to hold any man on whom a reas'nable suspicion of
this crime may be fixed. We could hold several suspects here, if there
was that many. All we do is to pass the whole question on to the grand
jury when it meets here. That's tomorrow morning. Before the grand jury
any man accused can have his own counsel and the case can be taken up
more conclusive. So the question for us now is, Shall we call it 'party
or parties unknown,' or shall we----"

Don Lane dropped into a seat, his face in his hands, in his heart the
bitter cry that all the world and all the powers of justice governing
the world had now utterly forsaken him. The sheriff rose, and taking him
by the arm, led him into another room.

In ten minutes a half-dozen reporters, trooping up from the train and
waiting impatiently at the outer door, knew the nature of the verdict:
"We the jury sitting upon the body of Joel Tarbush, deceased by
violence, find that deceased came to his death by a blow from a blunt
instrument held in the hands of Dieudonné Lane."



CHAPTER XII

ANNE OGLESBY


Judge William Henderson was sitting alone in the front room of his cool
and spacious office, before him his long table with its clean glass top,
so different from the work-bench of the average country lawyer.
Everything about him was modern and perfect in his office equipment, for
the judge had reached the period in his development in which he brought
in most of his own personal ideas from an outer and a wider world--that
same world which now occupied him as a field proper for one of his
ambitions.

As he sat he was a not unpleasing figure of middle-aged success. His
gray hair was swept back smoothly from his temples; his red cheeks,
fresh reaped, bore the tinge of health. The large white hand before him
on the glass-topped table betokened prosperity and success in every
faint and fat-hid line.

Judge Henderson now was absorbed in the contemplation of a bit of paper
which lay in his hand. It was a message from the telephone company, and
it came from Slattery, county prosecutor. Something in it was of
disturbing nature. Judge Henderson's brow was furrowed, his face was
troubled. He seemed, thus alone and not stimulated by an audience, years
older than he had been but now.

He had been looking at this bit of paper for some time so intently that
now he did not hear his hall door open--did not see one who paused there
and then came, lightfooted, swiftly, across the space, to catch him and
blindfold him as he sat. He heard the rustle of her skirts, and knew at
once the deep counterfeit of her voice.

"Who is it?" she demanded, her hand over his eyes.

"Anne!" he exclaimed, catching at her hand. "You are here--when did you
come?"

She went round and kissed him. "Just now," said she, "on the train from
the city. You were not expecting me?"

"No, not at all."

"Well, here I am, Nunkie,"--she sometimes called her guardian by this
pet name, although really they were not akin--"I'm finished and turned
out complete--I'm done my college work now and ready for what we
graduates call the Battle of Life. Do you think I'll do?"

She drew back and made him a pretty curtsey, spreading out her skirts.
Indeed, she was very fair to look upon and he smiled at her admiringly.

"You are beautiful, Anne," said he. "You are very beautiful--you are
fine."

"Do I please you in every way?" said she.

"Perfectly, my dear. You cannot do otherwise."

She looked at him demurely. "I'm not so sure," said she. "Wait until you
have heard all I have to tell you."

"What's wrong? Are you in debt?"

"Worse than that, Nunkie dear--I'm engaged!"

Now indeed he looked at her with sudden consternation in his face.
"What's that? You haven't told me anything of the sort."

"I never knew it until just now--at the station." She came now and sat
down upon the arm of his chair. "It just happened yesterday--and today."

She put up a finger to her lips and rubbed them, fearing that he might
see there the flame of the kiss they but now had borne.

"Who is the young man--if you are really in earnest about all this?
Where did you meet him? Whoever he is, you've hardly done your duty by
me. I'm your guardian--I stand _in loco parentis_ for you. When did all
this happen?"

"Yesterday, on the train. I didn't expect it myself. But I promised.
He's promised me. We were going to tell you about it at once."

She was the very picture of happy and contented young womanhood as she
spoke. Not so happy was the man whom she addressed.

"I can't guess at all whom you mean," said he. "Is he anybody--is he a
man of station--has he any business--has he any means? How old is
he--who is he?"

"I can't answer so many questions all at once, Nunkie," said she. "But
I'm going to be very happy, I know that. Perhaps you can answer some of
the questions for yourself--perhaps you know him. Well, it's Dieudonné
Lane!--he's in town right now--a schoolmate of mine for four years.
Surely, I know all about him."

Judge Henderson swiftly turned and looked at her steadily, cold
consternation on his face. "Anne!" he exclaimed. "That can't be! It's
absurd."

"Oh, I expected that," said she easily. "That's because he hasn't any
money. I knew that. As for his family--he told me long ago that he was
an orphan, that his father died when he was very young, and left only
enough for his education, and that he would have to make his own way.
Very well, some men have had to do that--you have had to yourself,
Nunkie, isn't it true? And Don was born here in this very town----"

He put out his hand over hers as it lay upon the table-top. "Anne!" said
he. "My child! You're but a child--an impulsive, foolish child. What
have you done? You have not pledged your word--to _him_?"

"Oh, yes, I have. I'm promised--my promise is given. More----"

"It's folly and worse than folly. It can't be--I won't have it--you hear
me?" He broke out savagely now.

"I heard you--yes, but I'll jolly well not pay too much attention to
you, even when you roar at me that way. As I understand it, I'm of age.
I've been studying for four years to get ready to be able to know my own
mind--and I do! My own heart also. And I know what's due me."

Her voice was low and very sweet, but the man who heard her winced at
its cutting calm.

"You would marry a man like that, of no family, of no place, of no
name?"

"Yes, I've just said that. I know all about it. We'll have to start at
the bottom; and I ask you, didn't you start that way?"

"That's an entirely different proposition, my dear girl," said her
guardian. "Times were different then. You are an heiress--you are a
woman of family and place--and you don't have to go back to the old
days--you don't need to ruin your own life through such terrible
beginnings.

"But now, do you know who this young man's people are?" He asked this
last after a considerable pause, during which his ward sat silent,
looking at him steadily.

"Oh, yes. He told me he is an orphan--his father's dead long ago. And
his mother----"

"You know his mother?"

"Yes, a milliner--I believe. But a good woman."

"Ah!"

She still looked at him, smiling. "I am 'advanced,' you see, Nunkie! In
college we studied things. I don't care for the social rank--I want to
marry a _man_. I love Don. I love--well, that kind of man. I'm so
happy!"

She squeezed him tight in a sudden warm embrace. "I love all the world,
I believe, Nunkie--even you, and you are an old bear, as everybody
knows! And I thank you for all those papers in the long envelopes--with
the lines and the crosses on them, and the pencil mark 'Sign
here'--powers of attorney and receipts, and bonds and shares and
mortgages and certificates--all that sort of thing. Am I very rich,
Nunkie?"

"Not very, as heiresses go these days," said he. "You're worth maybe four
or five hundred thousand dollars, not very much. But that's not the
question. That's not really everything there is at stake in
this--although I'm well enough satisfied that's all this young man cares
for."

"Thank you!" said she proudly. "I had not known that."

"A good many things you have not known, my dear. Now listen here. Do you
know what this marriage would mean to me? I want to be United States
Senator from this state--and everything bids fair to see my ambition
gratified. But politics is a ticklish game."

"Well, what on earth has that to do with me and Don?"

"It has everything to do! I'm _not_ 'advanced,' I'm old fashioned enough
to know that social rank does count in my business at least. In politics
every little thing counts; so I tell you, for every reason in the world
you must dismiss this young man from your thoughts. You are quixotic, I
know--you are stubborn, like your mother--a good woman, but stubborn."

He was arguing with her, but Anne could not read his face, although she
sought to do so--there seemed some veil hiding his real thoughts. And
his face was troubled. She thought he had aged very much.

"In one particular matter," said she slowly, at last. "It seems to me a
woman should be stubborn. She should have her own say about the man she
is to marry."

"How much time have you had to decide on this?"

"Plenty. Twenty-four hours, or a little less--no, I'll say twenty
minutes. Plenty. Uncle--he kissed me--before the world. I can't take it
back--we have given--I have promised. Uncle, I have promised--well, all
through me."

"Stop where you are!" said he. "Have you disgraced us all so soon? Has
it gone so far? However that is, you shall go no further."

He rose, his fingers on the table-top, rapping in emphasis.

"My dear," he said, "I am older than you, and I have seen the world more
than you have. I recognize fully enough the dynamic quality of what you
call love--what I call merely sex in younger human beings. It is a thing
of extreme seriousness, that's true. But the surest thing about all that
sort of thing is that it changes, it passes. You will forget all this."

"You do me much honor!" said Anne Oglesby, coloring. "You speak with
much delicacy. But love me, love my lover."

The swift resistance of a strong nature seemed suddenly to flash out at
Judge Henderson from her gray eyes. Suddenly he turned and took her arm.
He escorted her to the inner room, which served as his own study and
consultation chambers.

"Come here," said he. "Well have to talk this thing over quietly. This
is a terrible matter--you don't know how terrible. There's a lot under
this that you don't know at all. Anne, my dear girl, what can I say to
you to alter you in this foolish resolve?"

"Nothing! I'm going to see his mother this very afternoon. He told me to
come, so I could meet his mother----"

"You're going to do nothing of the kind!" said Judge Henderson in sudden
anger. "You're going to stay here and listen to reason, that's what
you're going to do! You undertake to go into a situation which reaches
wider than this town, wider than this state, do you? It is your duty,
then, to prevent me from _my_ duty? Are you so selfish, so egotistic as
all that?"

She smiled at him amusedly, cynically, a wide and frank smile, which
irritated him unspeakably. He frowned.

"It is time now for you to reflect. First--as you say--this young man
has no father. His mother----"

He paused suddenly, his pallid face working strangely now. The shrill
summons of the telephone close at his hand as he sat had caused him to
start, but it was with relief. He took down the receiver and placed his
hand for the moment over the mouthpiece.

"Aurora Lane--you don't know about her?" he began.

Then she saw a sudden change of expression which passed over his face.
"Yes--yes," he said, into the telephone. "The jury has brought in its
verdict? _What's that?_----"

The phone dropped clattering from his hand on the desk, so shaking and
uncertain was his grasp. He turned to his ward slowly.

"You don't know!" said he. "You don't know what that was I have just
heard this moment! Well, I'll tell you. Dieudonné Lane has been held to
the grand jury--while we've been sitting here. They've charged him with
the murder of Tarbush, the city marshal. My God! Anne----"

It seemed an hour to both before she spoke. Her face, first flushed,
then pale, became set and cold as she looked toward the man who brought
this news. Once she flinched; then pulled together. But yesterday a
girl, this hour a young woman, now she was all at once mature, resolved.

"You heard me, did you not?" he went on, his voice rising.
"Charged--with murder! No one in the world knew he was alive--no one but
you, and you never told me of him--no one ever dreamed of him till the
last twenty-four hours, when he came blundering in here--out of his
grave, I say! And in twenty-four hours he has made his record here--and
_this_ is his record. Do you know what this means? He may not come
through--I want to say the chances look bad for him, very bad indeed."
Judge Henderson's smooth face showed more agitation than ever it had in
all his life before.

"Uncle," she said, after a long time, reaching out a hand to him, "now
is your opportunity!"

"What do you mean? _My_ opportunity? It's--it's a terrible thing--you
don't know."

"Yes, yes. But you say you have been in the place of a parent to me.
That's true--I owe you much--you have been good--you have been kind. Be
good, be kind now! Oh, don't you see what is your duty? Now you can use
your learning, your wisdom, your oratory. You can save Don--for me.
You're my parent--can't you be his, too? We're both orphans--can't you
be a father for us both? Of _course_ you will defend him. He hasn't
much. He couldn't pay you now. But I have money--you've just told me
that I have.

"Oh, no, I don't mean that, about the money--but listen," she went on,
since he made no reply. "Do you think _I'd_ desert him now that he's in
trouble? Do you think any woman of my family would do that? We're not so
low, I trust, either of us, either side. You are not so low as that, I
trust, yourself. Why, you'd not desert anyone, surely not an orphan boy,
just starting out--you'd never in the world do that, I know."

In answer he smoothed out before her on the desk top the crumpled paper
he had held in his hand.

"This," said he, "was brought to me just before you came in yourself.
Before you told me of this affair, I was retained by the state's
attorney to assist in the prosecution of the perpetrator of this crime,
_whoever he might be_. I must say it is one of the most terrible crimes
ever known in this community. The man who did it must pass from among
his fellow men forever. It is my duty to accept this retainer for the
prosecution, as I have done----"

"What--as you _have_ done?--You'd help prosecute him--you'd help send
him to the gallows, if you could--as innocent as he is? You--you--and he
has no one to counsel with--only a poor woman, a widow, who's never had
a chance--he an orphan, without a friend! You'd do _that_?"

His large white hand was raised restrainingly. "We must both be calm,"
said he. "I've got to think."

"Why, where will Don go--where will they put him?"

"He will go to jail, and be there until the grand jury meets--longer
than that, perhaps--and yet longer, if the trial judge and jury bring a
verdict against him!"

"But that's taking him away from me--right now--that's not right!--Can't
he get out?"

"He might perhaps be released on bail if the bail were large enough, but
the crime is the maximum crime, and the suspicion is most severe. I
don't know what means he can command, but he needs counsel now.

"But one thing, Anne," he added, "I forbid you. You must have nothing to
do with him. Keep away from him. Go home, and don't meddle in this case.
It must take its course."

"I would follow him to the foot of the gallows, if need be, Judge
Henderson!" broke out Anne Oglesby in a sudden flare of passionate
anger. "Ah, fine!--to give your word, your promise--to give your love,
and then within an hour forget it all--to leave the one you love when
the trouble comes! Is that all one gains--is that all one may
expect--is that all a woman ought to do for the man she loves? Is that
all she ought to expect from a man? Suppose it were I in trouble--would
_he_ forget me? Would _he_ forsake me? Then shall I? You don't know me
if you think that of me!

"You don't know me at all," she blazed on at him, as he turned away.
"I've tried to reason. Whatever my success at that, the answer's in my
own heart now." (Her heart, now beating so fast under the heaving bosom
on which both her hands were clasped.)

"And you forget me? I--I'm in trouble now--it's awful--it's a terrible
trouble that I'm in now." Judge Henderson's voice was trembling, his
face was pale.

"You--in what way am I bound to you? Trouble--what do you mean? Why,
listen!--All your life you have lived with just one aim and purpose and
ambition in your heart--and that was yourself! Your own ambition--your
own pleasure, your own comfort--those were the things that have
controlled you always--don't I know, haven't I heard? You've been a very
leech in this town--you have taken _all_ the success in it--_all_ the
success of everybody, from _all_ its people--and used it for yourself!
It has been so common to you--you are so used to it--that you can't
think of anything else--you can't visualize anything else. You think of
yourself as the source and center of all good--you can't help
that--that's your nature. So I suppose you think you are altogether
within your rights when you tell me that I must wreck and ruin my own
life to save you and your ambition! Why, you are--you're a
_sponge_--that's what you are--you are just soaking in _all_ the
happiness of others--_all_ the success of others, I tell you--taking it
_all_ for yourself. 'Our most prominent citizen!' Great God! But what
has it cost this community to produce you--what are you asking it to
cost me and those I love? Drops in the same bucket? Food for you and
your ambition? Do you think I am going to stand that, when it comes to
me--me and him--the man I have promised--the man I love? You don't know
me! You don't know him! We'll fight!"

He sat, so astounded at this sudden outburst--the first thing of the
kind he had ever heard from any human being in all his life--that for
the time he could make no reply at all. She went on bitterly now:

"Men like you, sponges like yourself, have made what they call success
in all the ages of the world--yes, that's true. Great kings, great
cardinals, great politicians, great business men, great thieves have
made that kind of a success, that's true enough--I've read about them,
yes. Men of that sort--Judge Henderson--sometimes they stop at nothing.
They'd betray their very own. I'm not your blood, but if I were, I'd not
trust you! Men like you are so absorbed with their own vanity, their own
selfishness--they're so used to having everything given to them without
exertion, without cost, they grow regardless of what that cost may be to
the ones that do the giving. In time they begin to think themselves
apart from the rest of the world--don't you think that about yourself
now? Oh, are you better than the world? Or are you just a man, like the
rest of them? Didn't you ever know--didn't you ever kiss a woman in all
your life and know what that meant?"

He had sat, his shocked face turned toward her, too stunned for answer.
But she saw him start as though under the blow of a dagger at her last
words.

"Don't think this hasn't hurt," said she, more composedly now. "It's the
truth as far as I know it. With your power, your influence, you could
get him free--soon--very soon--perhaps. You could make us both happy.
But, so you say, that would make _you_ unhappy! I know you well enough
to know what the decision will be in a case like that, Judge Henderson!

"As for me--" she was closer to him now, utterly fearless, as a woman is
who loves and sees the object of her love threatened--"our paths part
here, now! I'm of age and my own mistress. I know my own mind, as I've
told you. I'm going to stay--I'm going to stick--do you hear? I'm going
to love him long as he lives. I'm going to _marry_ him, if it's in a
jail!"

Judge Henderson only began to wag his head now from side to side. His
face had gone ghastly.

"Why, Uncle dear"--she came over to him now--"forgive me if I've been
too outspoken--it's only because I'm so strained."

"Myself also," he groaned. "Strain? Why, yes. You don't know--you don't
know!"

Suddenly she changed once more, still the woman, still the young girl,
as yet half ignorant of life, her hands still on her heaving bosom now,
the faint flush back in her cheeks.

"He _kissed_ me, Uncle!" said she. "I don't know much, but it seems to
me if a man kisses a woman--in that way--it's _life_ for her and him!
They can't help it after that. After that, a woman's got to do just all
she can in the game of life--and he's got to do the best he knows. They
can't help it. He _kissed_ me.... And I told you I'll not desert him. It
wouldn't be right. And, right or wrong, I can't--I _can't_!"

Panting, the tears now almost ready to drop from her moist eyes, she
stood, a beautiful picture of young womanhood, so soft, so fully fitted
for love and love's caresses; and now so wronged out of her love by
sudden fate. But in her there was no sign of weakness or of yielding.
The man who faced her felt the truth of that. His own face now was far
the more irresolute of the two--far the more agitated.

Suddenly, haggard, frowning, he rose, at a sound which he heard in the
outer room. Someone had entered.

As he stepped to the door between the two rooms, Judge Henderson turned,
his finger on his lips, and made signs that Anne should remain where she
was, undiscovered. The door hung just a trifle, wedged open by the
corner of a fallen rug. Judge Henderson had not time, or did not think,
to close it wholly. He stood face to face with the newcomer.

It was Aurora Lane!



CHAPTER XIII

"AS YOU BELIEVE IN GOD!"


Aurora Lane and Judge Henderson both started back as they faced one
another. For the moment neither spoke.

Aurora was pale, quite beyond her wont, haggard-looking about the eyes.
She had come direct from her home, without alteration of her usual daily
costume. In spite of all, she was very far from uncomely as she stood
now, about her the old indefinable stamp of class which always had clung
to her. Certainly she was quite the equal in appearance of this tall
man, soft from easy living, who faced her now, a trifle pasty of skin, a
trifle soft about the jaws, a trifle indefinite about the waist--a man
with a face as pale and haggard as her own.

Tense as she was, her long schooling in repression stood her in such
stead as to leave her in the better possession of self-control.

"My dear--my dear Madam----" began Judge Henderson.

The hearer in the room beyond must have caught the pause in his voice,
its agitation--and must have heard the even tones of the woman as she
spoke at last, after a long silence.

"I have come to your office, as you know, for the first time," said
Aurora Lane. She gave him no title, no formal address. "It is the first
time in twenty years."

"You have lived a somewhat secluded life, yes, my dear Madam." His
voice, his manner, his attitude, all were labored. He at least knew or
suspected that he was talking to two women, and not one; for there was
no way for Anne to escape and no way in which he could be sure she did
not hear.

"You know about him--about the boy? Of course, everyone in town does. He
didn't die. He's been away--in college. I never wanted him to see this
place. But now he's come back--you know all about it. He's in jail.
We've been thinking perhaps you could do something--that you would help
us."

Her high, clear, staccato voice, easily audible far, now showed her own
keyed-up condition.

Judge Henderson raised a large white hand. "My dear Madam," said he,
himself very far from calm, "let us be calm! Let us above all things be
calm and practical."

Aurora Lane's face froze into a sudden icy mask of wonder, of
astonishment. She gulped a little. "I'm trying to be calm. I'm
desperate, or I'd never have come here. You know that."

He was mumbling and clucking in his throat, gesturing imploringly,
trying to stop her swift speech, which might be overheard, but she went
on, not understanding.

"Until just now I was so happy. He was done with his schooling--ready to
go out at his work. The expenses were very heavy for us, but we've
managed. Look!"

She drew from her worn pocketbook the single bill that she had left in
all the world, a tight-creased, worn thing. "In some way I've managed to
hold on to this," said she. "It's all I've got left in all the world.
That's my twenty-odd years of savings--except what I've spent to bring
up my boy. I've got no more."

"My dear Madam," said Judge Henderson again, sighing, "life certainly
has its trials at times." A remark sufficiently banal to pass muster
with both his hearers, Aurora Lane here and Anne Oglesby in the room
beyond. But, still ignorant of any other auditor, Aurora went on as
though she had not heard him:

"I thought I'd come and talk to you--at last. If only Don could get out,
I'd be willing to leave with him. We'd never trouble anybody any more."
Her face was turned to him beseechingly.

"I know, of course, that you could save him if you liked.... I've had a
pretty hard time of it. Don't you want to do this for him--for us--how
can you _help_ wanting to? You, of all men! My God! Oh, my God!"

"Hush! Hush! Don't speak so loud! Pray compose yourself, my dear Madam,"
exclaimed Judge Henderson, himself so far from composed. His own face
was ghastly in its open apprehension. "He's ruined himself, that's all,
that boy," he concluded lamely.

She stood before him, stony cold, for a time, growing whiter and whiter.

"And what about my own ruin? What does it leave to me, if they take my
boy--all I have in the world? I didn't think you could hesitate a
moment--not even you!" Her voice, icy cold, was that of another woman.

He turned from her, flinging out his hands. "He has disgraced you----"
he began, still weakly; for he at least knew he was doubly on the
defensive now, before these two women, terrible in their love.

"No, he has not!" flared Aurora Lane at last. "If I've had disgrace it's
not through any fault of his. If he raised a hand in my defense, it was
the first man's hand that has been raised for me in all this town--in
all my life!"

She held before him again the tight-folded little bill, seeking with
trembling fingers to unfold it so that he might see its pitifully small
denomination. She shook it in his face in sudden rage. "That's my life
savings! If there was such a thing as justice in the world, would I be
helpless as this--so helpless that I could find it possible to come here
to talk to you? Justice? Justice! Ah, my God in heaven!"

Aurora Lane's voice was slightly rising. She was fronting him in the
last courage of despair. "You'd see that boy perish--you'd let him die?
If I thought that was true, I'd be willing to do everything I could to
ruin this town. I'd pull the roof down on it if I were strong enough.
I'd throw myself away, indeed. I'd curse God--I'd die. Above all, I'd
curse you, with my last breath."

Anne, in the next room, rooted in the horror of her silence, could not
have heard his reply, but almost she might have pictured him, standing
white, ghastly, trembling, as he was when he heard these words.

"But you can't do it--you can't deny him--he's a human being like
yourself--he's part of----Ah, you'll get him free, I know!" Aurora's
voice was pleading now. Judge Henderson's own voice was hoarse,
unnatural, when at last he got it.

"Look at this message," he croaked, in a half whisper; and showed her
the crumpled bit of paper which he had held in his own hand. He beckoned
to her--yet again--for silence, but she did not understand.

"What is it?" asked Aurora. "What do you mean?"

"From the state's attorney! I have accepted this retainer. I'm of the
prosecution! You have come too late. What can I do?"

"Prosecution--what do you mean? Prosecute him--_Don_? Too late--my God!
Am I always too late--is it always in all the world for me--too late!
Prosecute _him_? What do you _mean_?"

The sudden, wailing cry broke from her. Then her voice trailed off into
a whisper--a whisper which might have been heard very far--which was
heard through the half-closed door which led to the inner room. "Too
late!" And at length the long-tried soul of Aurora Lane broke out in a
final and uncontrolled rebellion, all bounds down, all restraint
forgotten, every instinct at last released of its long fettering:

"You disown him--you'd disown your own flesh and blood--you'd let him
die! Why, you'd betray your own Master for the price of office and of
honor! Oh, I know, I know! The limelight! Publicity! Oh, you Judas!--Ah,
Judas! Judas! You, his father! _Your own son!_"

Then sobs, deep, convulsive.

Came sudden rustling of garments in the adjoining room. The intervening
door was flung wide. Anne Oglesby, her face pale, tense, came out into
the room where stood these two.

"What is this?" she demanded of Judge Henderson. "This is Mrs. Lane?
_Don's your son?_"

She turned to Aurora inquiringly.

"I have heard--I could not help hearing. His father! Don told me his
father was dead. What's all this? Tell me!"

For a moment they stood apart, three individuals only. Then, slowly,
with subtle affiliation of sex, the women drew together, allied against
the man.

It was Anne who again was first to speak. Her voice was high, clear,
cold as ice, with a patrician note which came from somewhere out of the
past.

"Let me have all this quite plain," said she. "Mrs. Lane said 'flesh and
blood!' Mrs. Lane said '_your own son!_' I heard her. What does it
mean?"

"This is what it means!" said Aurora Lane, suddenly drawing Anne to her
closely, after her one swift glance. "My boy's in jail. This--this
man--Judge Henderson--is his father. He says he's hired to murder
him--and he's our child."

"I didn't know!" broke out Judge Henderson, now facing both his hearers.
"I never knew! You said he was dead--you told me so. It's all half a
lifetime ago. I've had nothing to do with you, nor you with me, since we
broke off more than twenty years ago. That was as you wished. God! I was
only a man. You _said_ the child died."

"Yes," said Aurora Lane, turning to Anne; "that's true--I did. I told
that one lie to protect the boy. I sent him away when he was a baby to
protect him. I said he was dead--to protect him--to keep him from ever
knowing. But you know--you saw him--you _felt_ it--you must have known,
yesterday." She confronted the trembling man once more.

"Yesterday?" said Anne Oglesby.

"Yes. There was another trial then--and Judge Henderson prosecuted then
also!" She turned again to him for his answer.

"I dropped the case."

"You dropped it because you were paid to drop it! You traded another man
out of his own life's ambition--a better man than you are--that's what
you did when you dropped the case. There's nothing more to trade--we've
nothing more to pay--but how can you prosecute him--now--when his very
life's at stake--when he's charged with murder? The punishment's death!
You'd send him to the gallows now--my boy--and yours? You didn't know
him then! Is it likely? Don't lie about it--if you didn't know him,
_why_ didn't you? Were you so busy looking at your own picture on the
wall--so wrapped up in your own ambitions, that you couldn't see
anything else? Couldn't you see your own flesh and blood--and mine?
What's twenty years? Haven't I lived them, and wouldn't I know
him--didn't I--when I saw him? You Judas!"

Motionless, she stood looking at the speechless man before her, until
she felt the closer drawing to her of the tall young beauty at her side.

"And you're Anne?" she said, turning to the girl, her own large dark
eyes now soft. "I know. He loves you, Don. Has he said good-by to you?
Has he said he wasn't worthy of you, because he had--no father? _This_
is his father--Don's father--Judge William Henderson. He'll not deny it.
I told Don he mustn't think of you--of all women in the world--just
because you are so close to Judge Henderson--Don's father.

"Now you see why I told my boy that lie--I didn't want him ever to know
his father--yes, I'd told him his father was dead. And I don't want to
seem a worse liar to my own boy--I've been bad enough, the way it is."

She felt Anne Oglesby's arm draw her closer yet, felt the soft warm body
of the girl against her own.

"I make only trouble," said Aurora, murmuring. "And you--you're so
beautiful. I don't blame him."

"I love him, too!" said Anne Oglesby steadily. "I'm not going to give
him up."

Aurora Lane's tears came then.

"You--you two women--" gasped Judge Henderson--"do you know what you're
doing here? Do you think I don't suffer, too?" Then Anne saw that every
accusation Aurora Lane had made was true and more than true.

"About that trial yesterday"--he turned to Aurora--"I _did_ have some
sort of superstitious feeling--I own that--I couldn't account for it--I
couldn't explain it. But you had assured me that your--our--er--the
child--had died in infancy. I thought--I hoped it was only my own guilty
conscience making me see things. I--I _have_ had a conscience. But I
knew nothing--we'd not met for years."

"That's all true," said Aurora to Anne, nodding toward Judge Henderson.
"I've scarce spoken more than twenty words to him in twenty years. I've
kept the secret, and carried the blame. Until yesterday Don never knew
about himself--about his having no father. He hasn't a guess even now
who his father was--or is--at least he'll never make the right guess. No
one has, no one ever will. They may wrong another man, but they'll not
suspect the right one."

She felt the strong young arm of Anne still about her, and so went on,
nodding again toward Judge Henderson--"I asked him to defend his own
son--you heard me, then? And he's told me he's hired to hang his son!
And I called him 'Judas.' And I pray God to sink him in hell if he does
this work. After all, there must be a hell somewhere--I think there must
be. This is not right--it's not right! I've stood it all till now, but I
can't stand this."

"Wait!" exclaimed Judge Henderson. "Give me time to think, I tell you!
My whole life's up on this, as well as yours. You've had twenty years to
think about this, and I've not had that many minutes. You and I've not
met, I say--our paths have lain totally apart. It was in the past--we'd
lived it down."

"_We_ had lived it down!" Aurora Lane's laugh was bitter enough, and she
made no other comment.

Still she felt, closer and closer, the warm young body of the girl who
stood by her as the two women faced the man in the ancient and undying
battle of sex.

"Well, I dropped that case," resumed Judge Henderson, "name or claim the
reason as you like. But _this_ case is different----"

"Why?" asked Anne Oglesby. "What's the difference between the two cases?
You say you didn't know, then. Now you know."

"But I've my reputation to keep clean, Anne! The higher you climb, the
riskier the ladder. I could drop that little case yesterday, but let me
drop _this_ case, with all the whole town back of it--and all my whole
political party back of it, too--that's another matter!"

"Is it, indeed!"

"Yes!" he rasped. "I put Judge Reeves on the bench here. It's a big
case. If I withdrew a second time--if things got stirred up and people
began to talk--why, that would be enough to put Old Hod Brooks on the
scent. He'd well enough take care of all the rest! It would be the end
of my career--in twenty minutes. There'd be nothing left of my
chances--there'd be nothing left of my reputation--the work of twenty
years would be undone. I'd be ruined!"

"The work of twenty years!" whispered Aurora Lane to herself. "Twenty
years! And--ruin!" Her voice rose again. "What about us others? You're
talking about yourself, your reputation, your success--how about Don?
His _life's_ at stake. So is mine--I'd not survive it if they killed my
boy."

"What's he to you, anyhow?" broke out Judge Henderson--"this man Brooks?
Are you in any conspiracy of his? What's under this? What's he to you?
Was he ever--has he ever----"

"Stop!" said Aurora Lane, her voice sharp, her face cameo-cold. "Not
another word!" And even the sullen and distracted soul of the man before
her acknowledged the imperative command. "You traded him out of his
place. You're trying to trade now in your own son's life! Is that--can
that really be true of any man?"

"Don't bait me too far!" he rejoined savagely. "Don't you go on now and
drive me into fighting these charges."

"I don't think you would, Uncle," said the calm voice of Anne Oglesby.
"I don't think you would.

"So this," she added softly, "is what my guardian was! _In loco
parentis!_"

The man before her writhed in his own bitter suffering, flinging out his
hands imploringly under the lash of her words.

"Anne! Anne!"--Aurora turned to the girl at her side--"I wish all this
might have been spared you. You're so young! But it all had to come out
some time, I suppose, and I'd rather have you learn it from me than from
Don. You've not seen him--he has not told you?"

"No. We only had a moment--not alone--just a little while ago. They took
him away--I didn't know why, till just now. We've just heard what the
coroner's jury said. But I'll not leave him till he tells me, to, and
only then if he says he doesn't love me."

"He could never say that!" said Aurora Lane. "But I told him he must
leave you."

"Did he say he would?"

"Yes, yes, of course! But when I told him that, I didn't know you; and I
did not think Don ever would know who his father was. He doesn't know
even now."

Judge Henderson turned suddenly, catching at a thought which came to him
from Aurora's words.

"Why should anyone _ever_ know!" he began. "If this whole matter could
be quieted down--if this case could be dismissed----

"Would you promise me," he turned toward Aurora--"if I could manage in
some way to get all this hushed down--if I could save the boy's
life--would you promise me, both of you, never to tell a soul in the
world--never to let anyone get a breath of this? You are the only two
that really know it at all--you said, Aurora, that even the boy doesn't
know it all. Why should he, ever? It's been hid this long, why not
longer?"

"Anne and I, and yourself, are the only human beings in the world who
know it all," said Aurora Lane.

"Can _you_ keep such a secret?" Judge Henderson turned more doubtfully
to Anne Oglesby, whose cold, quiet scorn had cut him even more deeply
than the bitterer words of the older woman.

"I'd do anything for Don--anything I thought he'd be willing to have me
do. But I don't see how such a thing as this could be kept down. How can
the law be set aside?"

"Listen here," he said, facing her, a little color of hope at last in
his face. "You don't in the least know what you've been starting here,
and you don't know anything about the remedy for it. The law? It's close
to politics, sometimes! If I fall--can't you see--I drag down plenty of
others--I drag down my own town--I drag down my whole judiciary--I've
been on the bench here myself. Oh, you two don't know all about how
things are done in politics. I'd drag down all the machinery of my own
party in this state--the thing would go even wider than that--I'd be
compromising the national administration itself. I tell you, it's ruin,
ruin, if this thing gets out. This is the very crisis of all my life--my
whole fate, my whole past and future, are in your hands now, and much
more beside--in the hands of you two women.

"But I've got to fight the best I may," he added, walking excitedly
apart, and smiting one hand into the other. "Look here, now," and he
turned to them with a new look on his haggard face. "Your fate's _in my
hands_, too! Go beyond reason with me--threaten and goad me too far--and
I'll see what can be done to ruin you two, if you succeed in ruining
me!"

"I've not asked that," said Aurora Lane. "I don't care about that.
What's revenge to me? And what's ruin? I've asked nothing of
you--nothing, but my boy's life, and never that till now. You gave it to
me once, unasked. I'm asking it again, now--his life--my boy's. I bore
him in grief and sorrow. It's your time of travail now. That's all."

Judge Henderson almost wept in his own self-pity.

"Think how horribly, how grotesquely unjust all this is," his voice
trembled--"raking up all the deeds of a man's youth. The past ought to
be _forgotten_. A man's past----"

"Or a woman's?" said Aurora.

"Well, yes, or a woman's. But it's men like me who have to build up
things, do things, administer things, wisely and justly. I've been a
judge on the bench here, before the world, I say. And here you two
women--why, it's ghastly, it's terrible, its _criminal_. Your dragging
me down--it--it's a hellish thing to do."

"What? What's that?" The voice of Aurora Lane rose again. "If there's
any hell, it's for a false judge. You once sat on the bench,
yonder--yes. Oh, Judas--worse--you are ten times worse than Judas!--Drag
you down--drag all the town, all the state, all the society down? Why,
yes, I would if I could! I will, I will!"

But, sobbing as she was, and desperate, she felt the light hand of Anne
Oglesby now swiftly patting her shoulder for silence. The girl faced her
guardian with the same light smile on her lips, cool and contemptuous.

"Wait a minute, Uncle," she said. "A moment ago you spoke of our fate
being in your hands, too--of one ruin offset against another. Come now,
you're a trader--you have been all your life, Uncle--it seems you're
always willing to trade in the practice of the law. That's how you've
got up where you are."

Her smile, her words, cut him beyond measure, but he clung to his idea.

"Very well, then. Now, suppose we trade!" He spoke sneeringly, but
inwardly he was trembling, for he knew not what moment Aurora Lane might
publicly make good her threat.

"What can he mean?" Aurora turned to Anne. But Anne, shrewder at the
time, broke in: "Leave him alone. Let him go on."

"Well, now," said Judge Henderson, and actually half began to clear his
throat, so sweet did his new thought appear to him, "as I was
saying--there's no actual indictment yet--there's been no trial--the
coroner has only held him over. Say I'd take on this prosecution,
ostensibly--ostensibly--conditionally--ostensibly--to keep down any
suspicion; and then, later on, after several continuances and delays,
you know, and the disappearance of all the witnesses for the
state--hum!--yes, I'll say it might be done. I'm not sure it couldn't be
done more or less easily, now I come to think of it--I know Reeves, and
I know how much he'd like to be governor of this state--they have to
come downstate every once in a while for available timber.

"So, my dear girl," he turned to Anne in virtuous triumph, "after all,
since this would do two things--save the boy's life and save my
reputation, it might not be discreditable to be what you call a
'trader'!" There really was exultation in his smile.

"What do you want for it?" asked Anne Oglesby coldly. "Where would it
leave Don? In jail indefinitely?"

"I could not state it more precisely! _He looks like me!_ Oh, I'll admit
that--my feeling was right, my conscience was right! He _is_ my son.
But _because_ he is and _because_ he looks like me, he's got to stay in
jail where he'll not be _seen_,--a year or two, perhaps. There can't be
any bail."

The two white-faced women looked each into the other's face, sad-eyed.
Anne's breath came tremblingly. "It's the best we can do!" said she at
last; and Aurora, seeing how it was, nodded mutely.

"What do you want for it, Uncle?" demanded Anne contemptuously again.

"I want--silence!" said he harshly, at last beginning to assert himself.
"Silence! And I've got to be sure about it."

Suddenly he pulled open a drawer in the table before him. The women
started, fearing a weapon; but it was only a book he drew out--an old,
dusty book, the edges of its leaves once gilded--a copy of the Holy
Scriptures, very old and dusty.

Judge Henderson by accident now saw the fly leaf, for the first time in
years. It was the little Bible his own father had given him, half a
lifetime ago, when he was first starting out into the practice of the
law. On the yellowed leaf in paled ink could still be seen the
inscription his father had written there in Latin for his son:

"_Filio meo; Crede Deo._--To my son; Believe in God!"

"Will you swear on the Bible?" demanded Judge Henderson, "both of you,
that you'll never tell nor hint a word of this to any human being in the
world--not even to him--the boy?"

The hand which held the dusty little volume was trembling, but Judge
Henderson was not thinking of his own father, nor of the inscription in
the little book.

"Yes!" said Aurora Lane at once. But Anne Oglesby raised a hand for
pause.

"I'll not swear to keep back anything from him, my husband. I'm not sure
I could."

"Your husband----"

"I'm going to marry him, unless he sends me away."

"It can't be soon--it may be very long--it will be years----" Judge
Henderson was getting back a little color now, a little
self-assertiveness, a little more readiness to argue.

"I can wait," said Anne. "But I can't buy him cheap--Don wouldn't let
me. I know who his father is, and he ought to know it, too. That's his
right."

"Anne," said Aurora Lane, "I denied him that right. You got my secret by
accident. Can't you keep it, too? It's a heavy weight that Judge
Henderson has laid on more than one woman--a load to be borne by three
women, myself, Miss Julia, and you. But this is to save Don's life."

"You'll swear secrecy on the Book?" broke in Judge Henderson.

"Yes!" said Anne Oglesby at length. "If you'll swear to perjure yourself
against your oath of office as judge and as attorney--as you've said you
would--I'll swear. Is that the trade?"

"It's the only hope he has, the only hope that you have, and the only
hope that I have. Absolute silence! Absolute secrecy! I'm going to save
him--but I'm going to save my own self, too." A slight color was in
Henderson's gray face.

"Oh, you trader!" said Anne Oglesby, all her scorn for him now patent,
fully voiced. "You sepulcher of a man! You failure! Oh, yes, yes, I'll
swear! And I'll keep my oaths and my promises all my life, so help me
God! Lift up the Book! You, too, Aurora."

"I swore it twenty years ago," said Aurora Lane. "I will again. You
Judas! You coward! Lift up the Book! Lift it up, so that I may see! Is
that the book they call the Bible--that tells of love and mercy, and
truth, and justice, and forgiveness of sins? Lift it up, so that I may
see!"

They faced him, their right hands raised, and he held up the Book, his
thumb under the cover, exposing the inscription which he had not seen
for years and did not now see.

"As you believe in God!" began Judge William Henderson.



CHAPTER XIV

AURORA AND ANNE


When Judge Henderson passed down the office stair, and out across the
street toward the narrow little brick walk of the courthouse--which even
on that day of the week now held a certain crowd--so disturbed, so
preoccupied, was he that he gave no greeting to one or two belated
loiterers about the store fronts.

"I reckon that young feller'll get his dose now," said old Aaron
Craybill, demi-chorus to this tragedy, following with his bleared eyes
the tall and well-groomed figure, frock-coated, top-hatted, which now
was passing toward the temple of justice. "I wouldn't like to have no
man like the Jedge after me if I'd done what that boy done. He's a-going
to get _hung_, that's what's going to happen to him. Everybody knows
Slattery ain't big enough for this case. With a 'Nited States Senator
a-prosecutin' it, though, and ten reporters from the cities--well, I
guess Spring Valley'll be heard from some!"

"I wonder when the funer'l's goin' to be," said his neighbor, Silas
Kneebone. "Of course Rawlins is goin' to preach the sermon. He's good on
funer'ls. Seems like he's e'en--a'most as comfortin' at a funer'l as
ary minister you could get in this town--and there's quite some
ministers here, too."

They hurried on away now presently even as Judge Henderson disappeared
in the courthouse door. A strain of music had come to their ears, the
sound of reeds and brasses.

"Thar's the band now!" exclaimed Aaron Craybill. "Knight Templar, too!
They're goin' over to the hall to practice for the funer'l. Come on
ahead! Hurry, Silas!"

Down the street, audible also through the open windows of Judge
Henderson's office, came the music. Jerome Westbrook had hastened from
his duties on the coroner's jury only to assume his labors as leader of
the Spring Valley Silver Cornet Band; and as it was the duty of that
band to head the procession of the Knights Templar in the funeral march
of Joel Tarbush, himself a brother of the order, it seemed that a
certain rehearsal in the infrequent effort of playing under march was
needful on this Sabbath day.

Slow-paced, with swords reversed and even step, with eyes looking
neither to the right nor to the left, following the music of the wailing
horns, the muffled tapping of the drums, it came now into the civic
center of the town, this solemn procession. At its head walked Saunders,
master in the order, his opportunity now at hand; and behind him, in
full regalia, came many others, all the leading citizens of this
community, the pillars of the church, the props of the business
structure of this village, the leaders and formers of its customs and
its social order; all these anxious that the appearance of the secret
order in public should be in all ways above reproach, even at cost of
this quasi-public rehearsal. Joel Tarbush dead was receiving more
tribute than ever had Joel Tarbush living.

In accordance with ritual or custom, after the actual march to the tomb,
the musicians must render that selection which has spoken for so many
hearts bowed down in weight of woe; but Jerome Westbrook knew that his
men needed practice on Pleyel's Hymn; so they gave it now tentatively,
in advance, as they passed through the public square on the way to the
hall. To the strained senses of Aurora Lane, still sitting with Anne in
the office where they had lingered, the wailing of the music seemed a
thing unbearable. She caught her hands to her ears.

"Oh, God!" she whispered. "Oh, God! If only they would not."

The white, sad-faced young woman at her side took her trembling hand in
her own. "It will pass," said she. "Everything passes. You have been
brave all these years. I ought to be brave too! even now--after what
you've told me."

"And I never knew you," said Aurora Lane after a time. "Not many women
have ever said much to me."

"Nor did I know you," rejoined Anne Oglesby. "You were a stranger to me
when I saw you now, right here--Don's mother! We were so excited, Don
and I, that I never identified you two, although--yes--I knew--something
about--about----What shall I call you--you see, maybe I'll be your
daughter yet."

"Some call me--Mrs. Lane. Some--Miss Lane. You can't call me 'mother.'
For most part I am the village milliner, my dear--nothing more than
that. I'm nobody. But generally, I'm 'Aurora Lane.' ... Now you know it
all. I'm so sorry for you, my dear girl. You're fine--you're splendid.
You're a good girl; and you're so very beautiful. If only you belonged
with--with him--with me. It's too bad for you."

Anne Oglesby, the more composed of the two, impulsively stroked back the
thick ruff of auburn hair from Aurora's face. "You mustn't bother about
me," she said.

"But I must bother about you! You must give him up. My dear, my dear, it
can't be! I'm just learning now how hard that would be for him because
it's so hard for me."

"He kissed me," said Anne Oglesby simply. "After that it was too late."

"Why, what do you mean, my dear?"

"He didn't have to do anything more after that," said Anne Oglesby
slowly. "He had not had time to say anything before that."

"He should not have kissed you," said Aurora Lane. "But that was his
farewell to you."

"It was not farewell!" said Anne Oglesby. "It was our beginning! I will
_not_ give him up. If he had not kissed me--just when he did--just as he
did--I would not have known! I'm glad!"

Aurora Lane looked at her searchingly, slowly.

"Poor girl!" said she. "Dear girl! He could not help loving you--I
cannot help it myself. You are the only woman in the world, I think, for
him."

"I am not good enough," said Anne Oglesby stoutly. But then suddenly she
cast both her strong young arms about the neck of Aurora Lane and
dropped her head upon Aurora's shoulder.

"Oh, yes I am!" she said; "oh, yes I _am_! I know I must have been meant
for him, or else--else--"

But she did not as yet reveal the secret of the Sphinx. They both fell
silent.

"Ah, sacrifice!" said Aurora, wearily, after a time. "Sacrifice always
for the woman. We are all so bent on that."

"There's much more than that," said Anne Oglesby, sagely. "Besides,
sacrifice itself is not an odious thing. You sacrificed much of your
life, your happiness, your freedom. Are you sorry for that now, or
proud?"

"Dear girl!" murmured Aurora Lane, patting her on the shoulder. "Ah, you
sweet girl! If you could only just remain always this young and
wise--and ignorant!"

But Anne Oglesby seemed not to hear her. She was looking out of the
window musingly now, her yellow-gloved hands supported on her
tight-rolled umbrella, her hat making a half-shadow for her dark hair
and her clear, definite features.

Now the red sun ball, having well completed its circuit over the parched
and breathless town, was sinking to yet another lurid sunset. There lay
over all a blanket of that humid heat which so often arrests activity in
communities such as this, situated in the interior, where few cooling
breezes come. The dry, dust-covered leaves of the maples hung unmoved.
Here and there, still hitched to the iron piping which served as a rail
on all sides of the courthouse fence, stood the teams of farmers still
tarrying, unwilling to face the hot ride home from town, even though the
duty of church attendance was long since past. A murder and a funeral--a
Knights Templar funeral--Spring Valley had never known the like! And
there was going to be a trial--a murder trial. Court would sit tomorrow.
What village could ask more than was the portion of Spring Valley in
these few hurrying days? And it was her boy, 'Rory Lane's; and she'd
fooled everybody--but now----! Spring Valley licked its chops as it said
"But now----"

The two women in Judge Henderson's office sat still in the sultry heat,
looking out of the window over the sultry, sordid, solemn little town;
how long they did not know; until now there came again across the
heat-hazy spaces of the maples, over the hot tops of the two-storied
brick buildings, the sound of the wailing music--the same music which
may come from the noblest organs of the world, the same music which may
have pealed on fields of battle after heroes have fallen, speaking, as
music may, of a soul passed, of a life ended, so soon to be forgot. For
a time let the wailing of the horns, the tapping even of these unskilled
drums, record the duty of this man's fellows to give him at least a
moment's full remembrance.

In this hot lifeless air of the somber Sabbath afternoon the burden of
sorrow, the weight of solemnity, seemed yet heavier and more oppressive.
If a soldier dies the music plays some lilting air which speaks
forgetfulness on the march home; but now, for the second time came this
reiterated mournful wailing for a passing soul. The band had learned its
lesson by now. The dirge for the dead arose in a volume well regulated
and sustained as the men marched from the hall at last for the final
trial on the street.

To the tapping rhythm of the anthem of the dead, sometimes such a
community as this does take thought--these uniforms are justified, these
white plumes, these reversed swords are justified; for an humble man who
has passed is dignified before his fellow men; and he has had his
tribute. Sometimes at least men thus stand shoulder to shoulder, heads
bared, and forget envy, backbiting, little jealousies, forget cynicism
and ridicule. The diapason of the drums surely had its hearing. It sank
deep to the soul of Aurora Lane, striking some chord long left
unresponsive.

"Anne!" said she, her hand lying in that of the wet-eyed girl at her
side, "it's over--for him."

The girl nodded. But after all, Anne was young. She raised her head in
the arrogance of youth, even as there passed more and more remotely the
mournful cadence of the drums.

"But he was old!" she said, defensively. All of youth and hope was in
her protest.

Aurora turned upon her her own large eyes, dark-ringed today. Her mouth,
long drawn down in resolution, was wondrous sweet now as it trembled a
little in its once ripe red fulness. It became the mouth of a young
woman--not made for sorrow. "You still can hope, then?" she smiled. And
Anne nodded, bravely. So, seeing replica of her own soul, Aurora Lane
could do no more nor less than to fold her in her own arms, the two
understanding perfectly a thousand unsaid things.

"But come!" said Anne Oglesby at last. "We must make plans. There's a
lot to be done yet, and we must start."

"I have no money," said Aurora Lane. "I don't know what to do."

"Money isn't everything," said Anne Oglesby, with the assurance of those
who have all the money that they need. "I suppose I have plenty of money
if my guardian will let me have it."

"Even if your guardian allowed it," said Aurora Lane proudly, "Don would
not. He would not let you help him, nor would I, though we are
paupers--worse than that. Did you know that, Anne?"

"I am finding out these things one by one," was the girl's reply. "But
they have come after my decision." She spoke with her own quaint
primness and certainty of her mind.

"There's just one man could help us," said Aurora Lane, hesitating, and
coloring a trifle. "I mean Mr. Brooks, Horace Brooks. He's a good
lawyer. Some say he is the equal of Judge Henderson--I don't know. You
heard what Judge Henderson said of him. It's fear of Horace Brooks, as
much as his own conscience, that's influencing Judge Henderson."

"And why couldn't we go to Horace Brooks then?" demanded Anne Oglesby.
"What is the objection--why can't you go to him?"

"I'd rather not tell you," said Aurora Lane, and in spite of herself
felt the color rise yet more to her face.

Anne Oglesby sat looking at her for some time in silence. "There are
complications sometimes, are there not?" said she. So silence fell
between them.

The drums had passed by now. The sun had almost sunk to the edge of the
last row of dust-crowned maples. The farmers here and there below were
unhitching the sunburned horses at the courthouse rail.

"I see," said Anne at length. "You love him--or did--Don's father. Or do
you still pity him!"

"Who are you?" said Aurora Lane, looking at her steadfastly. "You, so
young! You talk of pity. Where have you learned so much--so soon? When
you grow older, perhaps you may find it hard _not_ to forgive.
Everything's so little after all, and it's all so soon over."

Unsmilingly Anne Oglesby held her peace. "Why don't you want to ask Mr.
Brooks to act as our attorney?" she asked. "And who is he--I don't know
him, you see."

Aurora did not answer the first part of her question. "I'll tell you
where Mr. Brooks' office is," said she--"you see that little stair just
across the courthouse yard? Sometimes he spends Sunday afternoon in his
office. It's--well--it's hard for me to go over there and ask him."

"Has he--has he--ever been much to you?" asked Anne Oglesby, directly.

"In a way, yes," said Aurora Lane, quite truthfully, but flushing red.
"Outside of my own son, he is the only man that's ever raised voice or
hand in my defense here in this town. Beyond that--don't ask me."

Anne Oglesby did not ask her beyond that. But when she spoke, there was
decision in her tones.

"It is no doubt your duty to go to Mr. Brooks at once. Will he too
refuse us?"

Aurora Lane's face remained flushed in spite of herself.

"I don't think he will refuse," said she. "But only Don's danger would
ever induce me to ask him for any help. I'll ask him--for Don and you."

Twilight fell, and they still sat silent. There came at last the
footfalls on the office stairs, and the two arose in the dim light to
face the door.

Judge Henderson entered slowly, hesitatingly. He half started as,
looking within the unlightened room, he saw standing silhouetted against
the window front the tall, trimly-clad figure of his ward, and at her
side, equally tall, the dim, vague outline of Aurora, clad in black. The
two stood hand in hand, and for the time made no speech.

"I must go," said Aurora Lane, at length.

Anne would have passed out with her, but her guardian raised a hand. "I
must ask you where you are going?" said he.

"Not with me," said Aurora, quickly. "No, no, you must not." And so,
quickly hurrying down the stair, she herself turned into the open
street.

"Anne," said Judge Henderson, "I am deeply distressed. This all is
terrible--it's an awful thing. Did you hear that funeral march? God! an
awful thing, right when I am in this terrible dilemma. I've just been on
the long distance 'phone trying to get Slattery--I can't find either him
or Reeves; and I've got to act before court actually opens."

"What do you mean by a dilemma?" she asked coldly. "Does any dilemma
last long with you, Uncle, when there is any question of your own
self-interest?"

His face flushed under the cool insolence of her tone. "It's a fine
courtesy you have learned in your schooling!"

"Have you heard all her history now?" he asked after an icy pause.

"Not all of it, no. Enough to admire her, yes. Enough to understand how
this town feels toward her, yes. Why don't you all burn her as a witch
in the public square?"

"You have a bitter tongue, Anne," said he. "You are not like your
sainted mother."

"A while ago you said I was! But my sainted mother, whom I never knew,
never found herself in a situation such as this," rejoined Anne Oglesby.
"At least, while my father lived, she had a man to fend for her. I have
none. We are women only in this case."

"So it was your plan to marry a nameless man? You've sworn he always
shall be nameless." The man's face showed a curious mixture of eagerness
and anxiety. He wished to argue, to expound, but dared not face this
young girl with the icy smile.

"Yes, I've sworn silence. It is a great and grave responsibility," said
she. "I'm sadder for that, that's true. But there are many things in the
world besides just being happy, don't you think? You see, I've no
dilemma at all!"

Judge Henderson passed a hand over his forehead. He had fought hard
cases at the bar, but never had he fought a case like this.

"Anne," said he presently, "I'm very weary. I've had a hard day. I want
you to go on up to the house now--the servants will make you comfortable
until I come. Just now I was afraid you were going on over with Aurora
Lane to her house."

"Not yet, Uncle," said she. "Perhaps at some later time, if you cast me
out."

He only groaned at this thrust.

She passed, a cool picture of youth, self-possessed and calm. He heard
her foot tapping fainter as it descended the stair, listened to hear if
she might come back again. But Anne went on down the street steadily,
looking straight ahead of her. Already, it seemed to her, she had grown
old. To those who saw her she seemed a beautiful young woman.

"That's Don Lane's girl," said one ancient to another, back of his hand.
"Lives over at Columbus. He kissed her right there on the depot
platform, this very morning. Huh!"

"I don't blame him," rejoined the other, with a coarse laugh. "But he
ain't apt to get many more chances now. I wonder how he fooled her about
himself--and her the judge's ward, or something."

"Nerve?" said his friend. "He's got nerve enough to a-done anything. But
I guess they got him dead to rights this time."

"Yeh. The _town's_ got him dead to rights. No matter what the law----"
he stopped, his head up, as though sniffing at something in the air.
"Gawd!" said he. "Wasn't that music a awful thing! I can feel it in my
bones right now. It makes me feel----"

"It makes a feller feel like doing something more'n being just sad! It
makes a feller feel like--well----"

"Like _startin'_ something!"

The other nodded, grimly, his mouth caved in at the corners, tight shut
now.



CHAPTER XV

THE ANGELS AND MISS JULIA


Anne scarcely had left the office when Judge Henderson, stepping into
the inner room, pulled open a certain door of a cabinet beneath the
washhand-stand. He drew forth a half-filled bottle of whisky, shook it
once meditatively, and poured himself an adequate drink, refreshing
himself with water at the tap. He stood for a moment, the half-emptied
glass in his hand, looking at his features in the little glass which
hung above the cabinet.

Not an unpleasant face it seemed to him; for so slowly had the lines
come in his features, so slowly the gray in his hair, that almost he was
persuaded they were not there at all. Delayed by the mirror to the
extent of having consumed but half of his refreshing draft, yet
purposing further imbibition, Judge Henderson paused at the sound of
some person ascending the outer stair.

It was a very halting and uncertain step that came this time, one which
seemed to double on each lift of the stair, with an accentuating
tap-tap, as of a stick used in aid. But after a time he sensed its pause
at his door. There was a rap, a faint little rap, although the door
itself was ajar. Judge Henderson discreetly returned to the cabinet his
half-finished glass of whisky and water, and stepped into the other
room.

It was Miss Julia Delafield whom he met.

She was standing, her hand on the knob of the door, as if seeking
support, or rather as though ready for flight. Her eyes were especially
large and luminous now, as always they were when any supreme emotion
governed her. Her cheeks were flushed in that fashion which she never
yet had learned to control. Her smooth brown hair was held tightly back
under her cool summer hat, and the hands resting on her smooth-topped
cane were well gloved. Not ill-looking she was as she stood, stooped a
trifle, bent over a bit.

She was half a-tremble now with the excitement that she felt. To any
chance observer, even at this hour of this Sabbath day, it must have
seemed that here was only a client come with purpose of consultation
with an attorney. To the angels above who looked down on such matters as
this, it must have seemed a pathetic scene, this in which Miss Julia
figured now. To any human being knowing all the facts it must have been
apparent that this call upon Judge Henderson was Miss Julia Delafield's
great adventure.

It _was_ her great adventure--the greatest ever known in all her life;
and she had dared it now only because of two of the strongest emotions
known to a woman's soul. These are two. They both come under a common
name. That name is love.

It was love had brought Miss Julia hither. Love in the first place for
Dieudonné Lane--or was it, really, in the first place, love for him? For
we, who know as much as Aurora Lane knew of Miss Julia's secret--who
once saw her gazing adoringly at a certain framed portrait when she
fancied herself alone--would have known that there was more than one
mansion in the heart of the little lame librarian.

Helpless, resigned--but yet a woman--Miss Julia loved in the first place
as every woman with any touch of normality does love in spite of all.
She had known all these years that her love was hopeless, that it was
wrong, that it was a sin--she classed it as her sin. And her sin being
her own, she hugged it to her bosom and wept over it these twenty
years--became repentant over it--became defiant for it; prayed over it
and clung to it--in short, comported herself as any woman would. And now
Miss Julia, being what she was, stood flushed, her tiding pulses rising
to her eyes, staining her fair skin deep to her very neck, as she faced
her great adventure--as she stood looking into the face she had framed
on her wall, framed on her desk, framed in her heart as well, in silver
and gold and all the brilliants and the gems of a woman's soul.

But she was here by reason of a twofold love. Always in her heart,
since she could remember, there had been the great secondary longing for
something small to love, to hold in her arms--the desire for a child of
her own--the one thing which, as Miss Julia knew, might never be for
her.

Indeed, this great craving had always remained unformulated,
unidentified, until that time, years and years ago, when she first saw
the baby of Aurora Lane lifting up its hands to her. So she had become
one-half a mother, at the least.

He was half her boy, at least, he who now lay in prison. A woman is a
coward as to revealing her love for her chosen mate--she will conceal
that, deny that, to the death. But for the child her love is
different--then she becomes bold--she will defy all the world--will
force herself even into situations otherwise unthinkable. Except for her
love for Don Lane, the fatherless, Miss Julia would never have
undertaken to find a father for him.

But that child had a father! Each must have. Ah! how must the angels
have wept over that piteous spectacle of Miss Julia in her own room,
looking smilingly at the face she saw pictured here in her own hand--the
face of one whom she held to be a great man, a noble man, a man good,
just, wise, one with love and kindness in his heart as well as brawn and
brains in his physical self. Yes, there was a father.... And he was
perfect, heroic, for her; her love being thus much blessed by that
divine blindness love works within us all.

Now, the face which Miss Julia saw in her boudoir, the face which she
saw framed upon the wall of her library room, was the same which she saw
now close at hand! She started, flushed, trembled, finding difference
between a picture and a man.

Judge Henderson was urbane, as always with a woman. He led her to a
seat, taking pains to turn on another clip of the electric light, which
Miss Julia suddenly wished he had not done, since now she was most
sensible of her uncontrollable blushes.

Yes, it was a great adventure! She had never before been alone with
him--not in all her life. She had never been this close to him before.
It was somewhat cruel now; but the angels have their ways of being cruel
with us at times.

"Miss Julia," he began with an extra unctuousness in his tones, "Miss
Julia, my dear girl, I surely am delighted to see you here. You have
never before been here, I am persuaded--this is the first time in all
our long and pleasant acquaintance. If ever in the past I have been able
to be of service to you----"

In any conversation Judge Henderson was sure to bring the talk around to
himself, to his own deeds, his own ambitions. His was an egotism so
extreme as to be almost beyond accountability--he was a moron not in
mentality but in sense of proportion. He could not have put two square
blocks together if one of these blocks had to do with the interest of
another but himself. There are such men, and at times they go far.

Miss Julia flushed again prettily, but she was too much the lady to
giggle or squirm or do any of those unlovable things by which the
hopeless female makes herself more hopeless. She was used to hearing
herself addressed as "Miss Julia" by all the world; but it seemed none
the less especially sweet to hear the words in these rich, full, manly
tones. (In her diary she wrote, "He addressed me in rich, full, manly
tones.")

"Yes, I came as soon as my duties allowed me to get away today, Judge.
It was a busy day for me, although it is the Sabbath. I was classifying
some of the books. Thanks to your generosity, we have just received a
good shipment.

"But you see, the town is all wrapped up in all these other things that
have happened--that's why I came, Judge Henderson."

"I presume you have reference to that unfortunate young man who now lies
in prison? In what capacity then can I serve you, Miss Julia?" His tone
now was icy and reserved.

"I came to you, Judge Henderson, because I knew I would find in you a
champion for justice. Why, all the town has come to depend on you for
almost _everything_! I suppose that is why I came--it seemed the
natural thing to do."

Judge Henderson, regretting his half-finished glass, now impossible,
coughed behind his hand.

"I am afraid, Miss Julia," said he, "that you don't quite know who he
is, that boy."

"Ah, do I not! Why, he is _my_ boy, my _own_ boy!"

"I beg pardon, but what do you mean, Miss Julia?"

"I say he's my boy! What I say about that is privileged--it's
professional, Judge Henderson. No one else has heard me say what I am
telling you now. But he _is_ my boy--my love has gone into him, the same
as if I were his mother."

He only stared as she rushed on.

"I know his mother--we have been friends here since we were girls, real
friends. I'm the only friend she's got in this town--and the only fair
and kind thing this town has ever done has been to allow me to be the
friend of Aurora Lane. I suppose that's because I am only the little
lame librarian! I don't count. She doesn't count. But--well, between us
two--we've had a boy!"

He stared, pale, as she went on:

"Between us two, we've brought him up. We've educated him. Between us
two, we have saved our money--it wasn't much--and we've managed to give
him something of an education, something of a life more than he could
have gotten in this town. We have put him through college--we have
given him a profession--we were going to give him a start.

"I say 'we,' and I mean that. But, it isn't the money of mine that went
into him--it's my _love_--it's the _love_ I felt for him! Why, Judge,
I've seen him grow up. I've held him in my two hands, this way, when he
was so little ... oh, very little.... So you see, he's my boy, too!

"And so," she added inconsequently, as he made no answer, "I came to
you." (What the angels understood in Miss Julia's unspoken words then
they did not make plain to the ears of the man who heard them.)

Judge Henderson sat astounded, looking at her steadily, unable to grasp
all the emotion which evidently she felt, unable wholly to understand an
act of clean unselfishness on the part of any human being.

"You see," said Miss Julia tremblingly, after a time--"his father--I
never knew his father. She'd never tell me--I never asked but once. But
you see, I only _fancied_ that he had a father. I fancied I was his
mother. I fancied----" But now Miss Julia's voice failed her, and her
blushes alone spoke.

"I see," said Judge Henderson, not unkindly, and breathing more freely,
"you fancied that you held an undivided interest in this child, this
young man." She did not see his face very plainly, did not catch his
hesitation as he engaged on this touchy theme.

Miss Julia nodded rapidly, swallowing hard. Her face was very beautiful
indeed now. (The angels must have smiled with tears in their eyes as
they looked down upon her now and saw how pathetically beautiful she
was!)

"And that interest is still undivided?"

"Yes, we've not seen each other very much, Aurora and I, today, because
things have been traveling so fast, but we are--we are partners in this
trouble, as in everything else. We've got to have a lawyer, of course.
There's not much money left between us--even my next month's salary is
pledged. It cost more than we thought to get him through the graduation.
There were clothes, you know--many things." And now she flushed again
vividly. She was thinking of Don's little clothes, which once long ago
she had helped to sew; and the angels knew this, gravely.

"He's a _splendid_ young man, our boy!" she broke out again at length.
"Can't you see that? Good in his classes--and an athlete--a splendid
one. He's such a gentleman in all his ways, Judge Henderson, a son
worthy of a father, of some good father, if only he had one! His father
died, you know, when Don was just a baby." She was not looking at him
now, not daring, as she went on.

"But you see, we are in trouble about him. That may come to anyone. Why,
even you yourself, Judge Henderson, successful as you are--some time
even you may know such a thing as trouble. It is the common human lot.
And I have been told enough----"

"If I were in trouble," said Judge Henderson gallantly, and with a push
of a full ounce of Monongahela back of his words, "I would go to just
some such woman as you for help. But women don't seem to see any of the
intervening obstacles that exist, do they, Miss Julia?"

"If we did, the world would stop," said Miss Julia, simply. And spoke a
great truth.

"None the less there are obstacles," said he, after a time. "I fear
there are insuperable ones, my dear." ("He called me 'My dear!'" wrote
Miss Julia in her diary.)

"Why, not at all! I can't believe that, Judge. We'll manage it all in
some way, Aurora and I. And, naturally we come to you as our
champion--who should help us if not you yourself? Do I say too much,
Judge Henderson?" she inquired timidly.

"No, not too much," said he with much modesty, "not too much, I trust. I
hope I have always had, at every stage of my own career, the confidence
of all my friends in this community."

There was a little pause. "But also, Miss Julia," he continued, raising
a hand, "wait a minute--wait a minute. In order to deserve the
confidence of all my friends I have always been forced to adhere to that
course which to me and my own conscience seemed just and right. I will
not undertake to disguise the truth, Miss Julia, I am already retained
for the prosecution of this case. I must not listen to you coming to ask
me to act for the defense. That at least is the present status of
affairs. I shall be guided all along by my sense of right and duty. At
present I cannot take the case for the defense."

She was feeling at the head of her stick, stumblingly, half rising.
Suddenly it seemed to her that the walls were closing in upon her, that
she must get away, get out into the open.

"That's cruel!" she exclaimed.

"At times it is necessary for us to be cruel," said Judge Henderson,
virtuously. "If I am cruel, I regret with all my heart that it must be
cruelty to one whom so long I have held in such esteem as I do you. We
have long known your life, how exquisitely ordered it has been. I have
never known before, of course, how much it was wrapped up with this
young man's life. I am astonished at what I have learned. It is only my
own high standard of honor, my dear--that same standard to which I have
unflinchingly adhered at whatever cost it might entail upon me--which
enables me to refuse any request that you might make me. Now I am pained
and grieved, I am indeed."

A tear stood in the corner of Judge Henderson's eyes. It was an argument
which he always had at hand if need were--an argument which had won him
perhaps more than one case before a jury. And now he felt himself, as
always, the central figure, appealing to a jury, extenuating,
explaining, expounding. Moreover, he felt himself misjudged, an injured
man. He did not care at the time to divulge any of the plan he but now
had confided to Aurora and Anne.

"I have hurt you!" said Miss Julia, impulsively. "Oh, I would never mean
to do that." She held out a hand swiftly, in part forgetful of her
errand.

He took her hand in both his own--small and white it was, and veined
somewhat, ink-stained as to some of the fingers--a hand which rested
trembling in his own. (Now, what the angels saw is not for mortals to
inquire! "He took my hand in both his own!" wrote Miss Julia in her
diary.)

Judge Henderson gallantly clasped the hand and drew it a trifle closer
to his bosom. "You believe me, do you not, my dear?" said he. "It
grieves me to give you any pain. As for me, it does not matter." He
dashed the tear from his eye.

But now Miss Julia's courage failed her. Her double sacrifice for the
child and the child's unknown and uncreated father had failed! She
limped toward the door. Her great adventure was ended.

But, at least, she had been alone in the presence of the great man whom
she had loved these many years. And she had found him in all ways
worthy! He was still a hero in her eyes, a great man, a noble man--yes,
she was sure of that.

How must the angels have sighed as Miss Julia stumbled down the stair
with this thing in her heart! For, in all her heart, she knew that, had
she been young as Aurora Lane once was young, and had such a man as this
asked of her anything--anything--she would have given! She would have
yielded gladly all she had to yield--she would have given her life into
his keeping.... For of such is the kingdom of love, if not the kingdom
of heaven. And as to that last let the angels say, who watched poor Miss
Julia as she stumbled down the stair.



CHAPTER XVI

HORACE BROOKS, ATTORNEY AT LAW


As for Aurora Lane, at about the time Miss Julia was leaving Judge
Henderson's office, she herself was in the office of another lawyer upon
the opposite side of the square--the man Henderson hated and feared more
than any other human being.

Horace Brooks, after his usual fashion, was spending his Sunday
afternoon in his legal chambers. He lived as a bachelor, the sole
boarder of a family far out toward the edge of town--a family that had
no social standing, but that never became accustomed to the ways of Mr.
Brooks, who came and went, ate, slept, and acted, as one largely in a
trance, so occupied was he with thoughts of his business affairs. Never
was a soul less concerned with conventions or formalities than he; nor
one more absorbed, more concentrated of purpose in large things.

He was sitting now, as often he might have been seen to sit, tilted back
in his chair, with his feet on his table, where rested in extreme
disorder many volumes of the law, some opened, face-down, others piled
in untidy masses here and there. Mr. Brooks had no clerk and no partner.
When he cited an authority in his library he left the book where last
it was used, and searched for it pellmell if later need arose. This same
system applied to every other article of use in the entire office--it
was all chance medley, and the pursuit of the desired article was short
or long in accordance with the luck of the searcher.

Around him on the floor lay countless burned matches, a pipe or two
which scattered tobacco. The floor itself was covered layers deep with
the ruins of two Sunday papers--at which form of journalism Horace
Brooks openly scoffed, but none the less ruthlessly devoured after his
own fashion each Sabbath afternoon.

He sat with his bearded chin sunk in his shirt bosom, his mild blue eye
seeing nothing at all, his hands idle in his lap. He was concluding his
Sabbath as usually he did, in the midst of the scenes surrounding his
daily toil throughout the week. He started at the sound of Aurora Lane's
knock on the door.

"Come in!" he called.

He supposed it was some young lawyer from one of the offices down the
hall, where struggling students, or clerks from the abstract offices,
sometimes brought knotty problems for him to solve. These folk still
lived in the rear of their offices--as indeed Horace Brooks but recently
had done himself. A disorderly couch still might have been found in the
room beyond, fragments of soap, a soiled towel or so, a broken comb, a
sidelong mirror--traces of his own humble and arduous beginnings in the
law.

But he turned half about now, and dropped his feet to the floor as he
heard the rustle of a gown. He sat half leaning forward as Aurora Lane
entered. He had small training in the social usages--he did not always
rise when a woman entered the room, unless some special reason for that
act existed. So he sat for just a time, and looked at her, the fact of
her presence seeming slowly to filter into his brain. Then quickly he
stood and went forward to her, his rare smile illuminating his homely
features.

"Come in," said he. "Will you be seated? Why have you come here?" He was
simple and direct of habit.

Aurora Lane looked at him not only with the eyes of a client, but with
the eyes of a woman. She saw plainly the quick look of eagerness, the
swift hopefulness which came into his eyes.

But she must forestall all that. "Mr. Brooks," said she, "I've come to
you for help--I need your professional services."

He sat looking at her gravely for some time, the light in his face
slowly fading away. "Help?" said he. "As how?" He was of the plain
people, and at times lapsed into the colloquial inelegancies of his
early life. But he needed little divination now to know that Aurora
Lane came to him for no personal reasons that offered him any hope.

"It's about my boy," said Aurora. "You know--Don."

He nodded slowly. "Yes, I know--the coroner's jury has held him over."

"But he's in jail."

"Yes, they had that right--to hold him for the investigation of the
grand jury. And this is a grand jury matter, as you must know. Court
opens tomorrow. The grand jury sits tomorrow morning. At least the
preliminaries won't take long. But the outlook is bad, Aurora--they mean
to get him if they can."

Aurora Lane for a third time that day produced from her shabby pocket
book the little worn bill which represented her sole worldly fortune. A
flush rose to her temples now as she held it hesitatingly between her
fingers.

He saw it very plainly, and caught something of her meaning in the
pause. A slow red came also into his own face.

"You'd better keep that for the present," said he slowly after a time.
He pushed her fingers back with the bill. "I know this is professional,
but I can't take money from you now--not that money--because I know very
well you've got none you can afford to spend. Aurora, there's no use
trying to have secrets from me--we know each other too well."

"But what right do you leave me then to come to you?"

"I don't know that you have any right to come to me at all," said he
slowly. "I've my own right to decline to deal with you at all in
business matters. And you come here on business."

Aurora sank back into her chair. "Then what could I do?" she said
faintly.

"Have you tried Henderson?"

"Yes," she said, faintly, and with much reluctance, "I did."

"Why, if you wanted me?"

"I can't tell you that. But I did. He refused to have anything to do
with the defense for my boy."

"Very naturally--very naturally. Didn't you know he would before you
went to ask him? Couldn't you guess that?--couldn't you have figured out
that much for your own self? Didn't you know that man? He's not with the
under dog."

"It seems not," said Aurora Lane, wearily. "So I came to you."

"Even after last night?"

"Yes, after last night. At first it was hard to think of it."

"Aurora," said he, "I reckon I'm not a very practical sort of man. If I
were--if I were a man like Judge Henderson, say, I'd clamp on the screws
right now. I'd try to get you to alter what you said to me last night."

"It wouldn't be like you. You've never yet--in all our lives--done
anything like that."

"No? I'm second choice--that's my fate, is it--that's as high as I get?
Yes, I reckon that's about a fair estimate of me--I'm a typical second
choice man. I suppose I'll have to accept that fact." And now he laughed
uproariously, though none too happily.

"Well, Aurora," said he after a time, "you have broken in here,
anyway--just as I broke down your gate last night in my own clumsiness.
Suppose we call it quits. Let's not figure too close on the moving
consideration. There's nothing you can give Horace Brooks, attorney at
law, in the way of pay. And you need Horace Brooks--_only_ as attorney
at law. What can I do for you?'

"I don't know, but all that can be done now for him you can do. I've
nowhere else to go. It wasn't easy for me to come here, but I'd make any
sacrifice for my boy."

"Sacrifices are at a discount in a lawyer's office. I don't ask you to
reconsider your decision, as to me--as to me as your husband. But
speaking of sacrifices, I only point out to you that so far as I'm
concerned as a lawyer in this town, I might as well be your husband or
your lover as your lawyer of record in this case! Since the trial
yesterday, and my walk home with you last night, there'll be plenty
who'll think so anyway. I may be held as a man worse than I ever
was--and neither of us gain by that."

"That may be so," said she, bending her face forward in her hands. "God!
What a trial, what a risk, what a peril I am to myself and everyone I
meet! I've brought loss, suspicion, wrong on you--you who're noble! And
after twenty years----"

"Yes, Aurora. Twenty years outlaws a claim in the law--for men--but not
for women. Now, I take on those twenty years of yours when I take on
this case. I'm clear about that. I can see this thing straight enough.
This town will go into two camps. Ours is the hopeless one, as things
stand now. We are the under dog. If I took this case--maybe even if I
won it--I'd be hated by the men and snubbed by the women of this town.
Now, I see all that clearly. And speaking of pay----"

"Oh, if you would," she exclaimed, leaning toward him, her hands
extended, "I'd do anything you asked me. Do you understand
that--_anything_!"

She paused. In the silence the little clock on the mantel ticked so loud
it seemed almost to burst the walls. He sat for a long time motionless,
and she went on, leaning yet more toward him.

"I've thought it all over again," she said desperately. "I'd--I'd begin
it again--I'd do anything--I'd do _anything_ you asked me----Why, I've
nothing--nothing--oh, so little to give! But--as to what you said last
night--I've thought of that. I'm ready--what is it that you wish?"

He looked at her dumbly for a long time, and she thought it was in
condemnation. For almost the first time she voiced in her
life--continually on the defensive.

"I don't understand it all," said she. "I've tried very hard since then.
I was so young. I didn't know much at first--I didn't feel that it was
all so wrong--I didn't know much of anything at all, don't you see?"

Now he raised his great hand, his lips trembling. "Just wait a bit, my
dear," said he. "We'll take what you've said as proof of your love for
your own son. We'll let it stop right there, please. We'll forget what
happened last night at your broken gate--we'll forget what's happened
just now inside my broken gate. I told you if I ever married you I'd do
it on such a basis that I could look you in the face, and you could me.
That's the only way, Aurora. There's not any other way. I reckon I'll
always love you--but only on the square."

"But what can we do--you refuse to help us--and the boy's innocent!"

"Wait, my dear," said he slowly. "I've not a woman's wit, so I can't
leap on quite so fast as you do. A lawyer reads word by word. I'm still
in the preliminaries, not even into the argument of this case yet."

"But you have refused--you have said it meant ruin to you--I know--I
mean that to everyone."

"You've meant a great deal more than that to me, my dear," said Horace
Brooks, "and no matter what you mean--no matter what my decision may do
to my future--no matter what it may cost me in my larger ambitions,
which I entertain, or once did, the same as any other man here in
America--why, let it go."

"But what are you going to do? I'm costing you everything,
everything--and I can give you nothing, nothing--and I'm asking still of
you everything, everything."

"Tut, tut! Aurora," said Horace Brooks, "I'm going to take this
case--for better or for worse! Didn't I tell you I wanted to stand
between you and trouble--any trouble? A man likes to do things for a
woman--for the woman he loves."

She sat for a long time, white, motionless, looking at him.

"The pay----" she began stumblingly.

"I'd rather not hear you say anything about that," he replied simply.
"You did not say anything at all. This is the _office_ of Horace Brooks,
attorney at law. As I understand it, I'm duly retained for the defense
in the case of the state against Dieudonné Lane, charged with murder."

The blood came pouring back into Aurora Lane's face as she straightened.
"You are a good man," said she. "I always knew it. I----"

He raised a hand once more. "These are business hours," said he, "and
believe me, no time is left for anyone to do anything but work on this
case."

"He's innocent, of course. He couldn't have done this--who was it, do
you think?"

"Oh, now, I don't _know_ who it was. It may have been Don himself. All
men are human. A lawyer has to look all the facts in any case square in
the face."

"But, my God! You can't think--you don't believe----"

"Please let me act as attorney. Now, I'm to blame in a sort of way in
this case. I started a good deal of this trouble. I gave your boy the
advice which threw him in jail--when I told him to thrash any man who
said a word against his mother--you. He's made a certain threat or two.
He's been found in very compromising circumstances indeed. The case
looks bad against him. Yes, he needs a lawyer--but he's got one! We'll
fight it through. You see," and he smiled again his wide and winning
smile, "all my life, I've had a sort of leaning for the under dog.

"Now," said he, abruptly rising, "I'm in this case, and I'm going to
take my chances. I've lost my chances on the Senatorship of the United
States. I've kept my promise to Henderson and I've sent word to our
central committee. I'm the under dog. But before all this is over, the
people of Spring Valley are going to know there are two sides to this
fight--and all these fights!

"Now, listen, Aurora," he went on in his careless paternal fashion, as
he walked, his great head drooped, his hands thrust into his pockets.
"Figure it over. Last night we three walked home together--before them
all. Everybody saw us. Everybody saw Tarbush. It can be proved that Don
left us and went over, following after Tarbush. It can be proved that he
was seen running away from that place--at just the wrong time--in just
the wrong way."

"But it was someone else who killed him--it wasn't my boy----"

"You can't convince a jury by assertions. If it was not this man, they
will ask, Who was it? Who was the other man, and why do you think so?
Now, who _was_ that other man, Aurora?"

"I don't know."

"Neither do I. But we've got to find him. There's no trace of him. But
as for Don, the boy, it's a trail, a plain one, and it leads----" He
threw out his hands widely, as though reluctant to name the truth.

"But," he went on, "if he isn't guilty someone else is guilty. Under
this criminal act in all its phases there lies some cause, of
course--there is some criminal, of course. There has been crime
committed, a very beastly, brutal sort of crime, almost inhuman--and
that was done by some man. If I could put my hand on that man, why
then----"

"It would mean life and happiness to me. It would mean satisfaction to
you?"

"More than that," he smiled. "It would mean the life of your boy--many
years yet for you and him together--once I'd have said maybe it might
mean six years in the United States Senate for me. I don't know--I can't
tell. The chances now are rather that even if I clear the boy, it means
I'll have to close up this office and go somewhere else to hunt a law
practice. But we'll take our chances."

"You are a great man, Horace Brooks," said Aurora Lane; and there was a
sort of reverence in her tone. "Even after what has been between us, I
can say that. Oh, I so much like--I so much admire a man who is not
afraid, and who doesn't parley and weigh and dicker with himself when it
comes to any hard decision. I like a brave man, a good man. You'll
understand."

He raised a hand, a large hand, nervous, full-veined, gnarled, awkward,
a hand never in all his life to be freed from toil's indelible imprint.

"Please don't," said he.

"But how can I say what I want?" said she. "I've always wanted to pay
all my debts--that's to make up for all my faults, don't you see? I must
be scrupulous--because----"

"Yes," said he, "I see. I've seen that for more than twenty years, ever
since I've known you. Because that's true of you, and is true of so few
women, so very few, is why I wished last night--that you were a widow!

"Now, that's about all. When you _wish_ that you could pay this
debt--which isn't any debt so far--you've paid it, so far as I'm
concerned. It is the _wish_ to pay your debts that amounts to moral
principle--and to business success too--in this world.

"And so," he laughed again his great resounding laugh, and thrust out
his hand toward her, "I reckon you can call yourself something of a
business success tonight after all. Now go home, and see that you
sleep."



CHAPTER XVII

AT CHURCH


That Sunday evening Aurora Lane sat alone in her dingy little home. The
walls seemed to her close as those of any prison. She found about her
nothing of comfort. For once the little white bedside, all her life her
shrine, failed in its ministration. There rose in her heart a great
vague hunger for gregarious worship--the sort which all these others had
freely offered every week of all their lives--that same wish for
gregarious worship on which are based all the churches, all the creeds,
of all the world. As never in her life before Aurora felt now that she
could no longer fight alone, in solitude--she needed something--she
needed the sight of other faces, the touch of other hearts; needed the
assemblage, the crowd--needed, in short, the world _en masse_, as we all
do. She had lived without association and without sympathy too long. Now
her starved nature at last rebelled.

So, having prayed faithfully, Aurora Lane rose not wholly comforted; and
therefore she resolved to break the habit of her life, as she had lived
it more than twenty years in this little town. In all that time she had
not been within the door of any church, but now she felt that she must
go--must be at least in part like to all these others on this evening of
the Sabbath day.

The main note of such a community as Spring Valley is that of a resigned
acceptance of life. This means a drab middle course, of small heroics,
which yet does not debar from a quiet sympathy and mutual understanding.
This in turn essentially implies some manner of religious belief, for
the most part of the passive, un-investigative sort. Without doubt the
church of this or that denomination--and in any such community there
will be many--is the club and the court alike to those who maintain its
beliefs--aye, and it is their hope and stay as well.

Aurora chose the largest church, where there was most apt to be the
largest congregation. Passing there, she had heard the organ roll in its
moving appeal. It seemed to her that she must hear music or she must
starve, must die. The drain on her nature now had been so great that,
much as every impulse drew her to yonder other edifice, the one with
iron bars where lay her own son, a prisoner, she could not go there,
could not see him again, until she herself had had restoration of some
of the forces of her own life. She wanted music--she wanted light--she
wanted the presence, close, near to her, of other human beings. Surely
they must know--surely they too must some time have suffered, have
grieved, have yearned.

The slow life of the little town, which the excitement of this
extraordinary Sabbath had so largely diverted from its usual channels,
now began to reassemble and to trickle toward the conventional meeting
grounds. Those who had been delinquent at the morning services were at
least tonight devout.

There is a sort of life of affairs, a sort of business life, of any
church in any community. Thus, there may be many meetings beside that of
the Sabbath day, in each church in any community. There must fall the
practice of the choir, weekly, usually of Wednesday, sometimes of
Saturday evenings as well, if the anthem prove especially difficult of
mastery.

As to the choir proper, there must of course be the soprano--not always
elocutionist, as was the soprano in this church of Spring Valley--but
always well-clad, most frequently with long and glossy curls of chestnut
and the most modish hat of any in the church. Most tenors are bank
clerks or cashiers. It is the function of the tenor in any such choir to
escort the soprano to her home. The contralto is for the most part
married, beginning to show _embonpoint_. She is brunette, with wide and
pleasant mouth; is able to make excellent currant jelly, of which she
gives her neighbors generously. Her attire is apt to be not quite so
well-appointed as that of the soprano, which indeed should not be
expected of the mother of three, the arrangement of those white starched
collars in a part of each Sunday's task. The basso may sometimes be a
school teacher, yet some of the best have been owners of livery barns,
no more; modest folk withal, and covetous of the back seat in the choir.

To this essential personnel of the church choir there may be added
others, supplements or understudies for this or that musical part, young
men with large cameo pins in their cravats, young women with spectacles.
All these who sing soprano or contralto, at least all who still are
young, must be taken home after services--not only the regular services
of the church, but those of the choir practice midway of the week or at
the week's close. And thereto, one must count the weekly prayer
meetings, mostly for the old, but for the young in part.

It is, therefore, easy to be seen that the vestibule of any Spring
Valley church of a Wednesday evening, sometimes of a Thursday evening,
quite often a Saturday evening, and always of a Sunday evening, must
hold a certain lay representation of the community. It is, or once was,
one of the proper functions of the village church to act as social
meeting ground. Practically all of the respectable marriages in Spring
Valley actually were contracted, at least as to the preliminary stages,
under the eaves of this or that church.

The vestibule was crowded this Sunday evening, as was customary, when
Aurora Lane, quite alone, turned in from the sidewalk and ascended the
eight broad wooden steps up to the church door. Passing thence to the
inner door, she felt the silence which came upon the boys and young men
who loitered there, waiting for the entrance or the exit of those of the
opposite sex. She felt the stares which fell upon her--felt, rather than
saw, the icy disapproval which greeted her even here, even among these.
But she passed by, entered the house of worship, and sank into a seat
very far back in the long, bare, ghastly, rectangular room.

Before or after the entry of Aurora Lane, there failed not in coming
those who sit in judgment upon the lives of their fellows--the baker,
the butcher, the school teacher, the hanger of paper, the maker of
candlesticks as well. All these were here, parts of the life of this
community. Miss Julia was not there, as Aurora Lane discovered. She
wondered dully if it had not been her duty to go around to the library
and ask for Miss Julia; but the longing for personal solitude had been
as strong in her heart as the longing for silent human companionship, so
she had come alone. In truth Miss Julia was recreant tonight. She was
alone in her own room--alone with her diary--that is to say, face to
face with the picture of the same man whom Aurora Lane had met that
afternoon.

In the slowly filling pews there reigned now silence, broken only by the
shuffling footfalls of the arrivals, that uneasy, solemn silence which
holds those seated and waiting for the services at church. A school
teacher who was born in the East somewhere leaned her head forward on
the back of the seat before her, and with a certain ostentation prayed,
or seemed to pray. Others would have done this very fetching thing as
well, but lacked the courage, so sat coldly, stiffly, unhappily, bolt
upright, awaiting the arrival of the minister.

The tenor came after a time, soon following the soprano, models alike of
social graces and correct attire. They passed modestly, seemingly
unregardful of the glances bent upon them. The bass singer was more
conscious of his ill-fitting clothes as he hurried up the aisle, his
Adam's apple agitated, betokening his lack of ease. The soprano by this
time was shaking out her curls, fussing among the music sheets at the
top of the organ, pushing back the stool, twirling its top about--all
the while still quite highly unmindful of the gazes of the audience. The
contralto came last, her brow furrowed with the thought that perhaps she
had not left the cold meat on the table where her husband, the doctor,
would find it when he came back from the country.

Came also in due and proper time the minister of church, the pillar of
it all, bearing in his hand, rolled in its leather case, the sermon
which he had written last Thursday morning--and which perforce he had
been obliged wholly to rewrite since Saturday at noon! For, be sure,
this sermon must take up the issues of the day--must stand for the
weekly platform of the town's morality. The eyes of all now were bent
upon the little roll of leather in the preacher's hand. They knew what
must be there. In a way they moistened their lips. This was why the
attendance was so large and prompt tonight.

But Aurora Lane, unskilled in any of these things, the prey to so many
conflicting emotions at this hour, a novice in the house of God, sat
silent, her hands folded, well enough aware she was not welcomed by
those who saw her there, yet craving of them, dumbly, anguished, all
their tolerance in her time of need.

Now the organ rolled after its fashion. There were voices not too highly
skilled, perhaps, yet after all productive of a certain melody. The
music softened the ice of Aurora Lane's heart. She felt that after all
she was a human being, as these others all about her. Was not this
anthem universal in its wording? Did it not say "Come unto Me"? Did it
not say something about "All ye"?--something about "Whosoever"? And
Aurora Lane, all her life debarred from this manner of human
classification, felt her heart tremble within her bosom as she heard
these universal, all-embracing words. Those about her, righteous,
virtuous, heard them not at all, because they had been sung so oft
before.

The text of the evening matters little. Everyone there, excepting Aurora
Lane, knew that the real text was the red-handed young criminal lying in
the prison.

The preacher invoked the wrath of God upon him who had raised his hand
against the life of one of the town's beloved. He read large lessons as
to right living, educed all proper morals from these events, so
startling, which had come upon this peaceful town. In short, he preached
what manner of sermon he must have preached in this manner of church and
this manner of town. At times his voice was low and tense, at times his
tones grew thunderous. And every word he said he felt was true, or
thought was true, or hoped to be the truth; because he himself had
written it; and this was the Lord's day; and these were the services
wherein the Lord is worshiped regularly.

But the music of the anthem remained in Aurora Lane's soul, so that she
was practically unconscious of all this. Her mind was vague, dazed. She
did not know her son had been tried and found guilty. The words clung in
her heart; "All ye"; "Whosoever." And presently they sang yet another
hymn, and in it again were the words, "Come unto Me!" There was great
emotional uplift in all Spring Valley this day. The minister felt the
emotion, here upon the souls of his audience. He prayed for what he
termed an awakening.

But Aurora was not awakened. On the contrary, for a time her strained
senses seemed dull, relaxed. Only she heard the music, only the Divine
words still lingered in her consciousness. It seemed but a moment to her
before she saw all the others rising noisily, opening hymn books, for
the final hymn. She herself therefore rose and stood silently, her hands
folded before her, her eyes fixed forward. They sang a dismissal hymn.
Perhaps there were some who really praised God, from Whom all blessings
flow. The minister raised his hands in that benediction which sent them
all away full of a sense of duty done, albeit a trifle guilty as to that
moral awakening regarding which the minister righteously had upbraided
them.

All this was but the usual and regular experience of the congregation.
To this woman, this outcast, the unconscious object of the wrath so
lately uttered from the pulpit, it had been a great and gracious
experience. Yes, she said to herself, she had been one of these others!
She was within sight and touch of other women. There were boys and
girls, young human beings, close to her, all about her. And nothing had
happened to her after all!

Her precious words, assimilated rather from the hymns than from the
sermon, were uppermost in her consciousness as, absorbed, almost
unseeing, she stepped out once more into the vestibule. "All ye ...
_All_ ye...."

Many passed her; none addressed her; a few drew aside their gowns as she
came near. All stared. A sort of commotion therefore existed in the back
portion of the vestibule as she emerged. The eyes of many young men
were upon her boldly, curiously, insultingly, perhaps--she did not know.

It is a part of the formula of village life in such a community as
Spring Valley, for the young men thus lingering in the vestibule to
accost the maidens of their choice as they emerge from the body proper
of the church building. The youth steps forward--preceding any rival if
he may--removes his hat, at least in part, and having gained the
maiden's eye, speaks the unvarying phrase, "May I see you home tonight?"
Whereupon the young lady, smiling if favorably disposed to him, is
expected to take his arm in sight of all; and they thus, arm in arm,
descend the eight wooden steps to the sidewalk, and so walk away
undisturbed. Thus there gradually ensues a general pairing off of all.
The swain or the maid left alone is not rated of the social elect. This
is the selecting place of the sexes, far more than the sacred parlor
with its horsehair chairs and its album midway on the table of the
marble top.

But now, as the little assemblage in the vestibule dissipated, there
came an added commotion, not at the rear, but at the front of the
vestibule. Someone was pushing on inside of the door--someone who
apparently did not belong there.

It was the half-witted son of Ephraim Adamson, John, commonly called
Johnnie, the idiot! Why he had come hither, why he was allowed to come,
none might say, nor why he came unattended by any of his kin as was the
usual custom. But none molested him. A bold youth said "Hello, Johnnie,"
and Johnnie respectfully took off his hat to him with an amiable grin.
They would have mocked him had they dared, but in truth none knew what
to do with him.

When Aurora Lane had passed in part the gauntlet of the loitering
youths, and was about to step down the stair into the street, she felt a
heavy hand fall on her arm. Then a peal of laughter rose back of
her--laughter on the threshold of the church itself. For what the
half-wit did was what he had seen these others do. Sidling up to her,
his hat off, he said, "May I see--may I see you home this--this
evening?"

This was accounted the greatest jest, the most unfailingly mirthful
thing in the recountal, ever known in the annals of Spring Valley.

Aurora Lane started back from him in sudden shocked loathing, swiftly
resentful also of the mocking laughter that she heard from those who
still stood within the sanctuary. Sanctuary? Was there such a place as
sanctuary for her in all the world? Was there any place where she might
be safe, where she might be unmolested?

"Go on away!" she said sharply, and would have hurried down the stair.
She looked this way and that. There was not a man to whom she might
appeal as her champion--not one! She must trust herself.

"Go along!" said she. But actually she saw tears in the eyes of the
half-witted giant now. "No, Johnnie; but I'll walk with you with these
others as far as the corner of the square."

"All right," said he. "I'll do--I'll do that." A wide gap opened in the
ranks of the slow procession on the sidewalk now as these two joined in.
Not too wide, however, for there were certain ones who must keep track
of all details regarding this epochal event.

"Where is your father, Johnnie?" asked Aurora Lane, quietly and
distinctly, so that all might hear.

"He--he--I don't--I don't know. I ain't--I ain't been home. I'm out!"
said Johnnie.

"You've not been home? What do you mean?"

"Wasn't there--wasn't there a funer'l for somebody today?" he asked
mysteriously. "I can whip any man in Jackson County. My pa said so.
We've--we've done it--we'd done it then if he--if he hadn't pitched on
to me. He done that."

A sudden terror caught Aurora Lane's soul as she realized that the
addled mind of this half-wit was more than to a usual extent gone wrong.
She feared him with every fiber in her body. She stepped aside quickly
as he made a loutish thrust at her arm, as though to pinch her.

"I'll pinch you!" said he. "You know why?"

"No, don't! Go away!" she exclaimed, and pushed out her hand.

"'Cause--'cause I like you!" said the half-wit. "That's why!"

Then for a time those who crowded up at the rear heard little, until he
resumed.

"Oh, I know a lot more I could tell you some time. I ain't--I ain't been
home at all. I'm just looking round. Ain't no one can stop me. There was
some sort of--of funer'l, wasn't there, in town today? Me and my father,
we can lick ary two men in Jackson County."

He would have made some sort of rude approach once more. But now even
the tardy chivalry of these men of Spring Valley came back to them. Two
or three stepped in between him and Aurora Lane. "Here, you," said the
voice of one, "that'll do! Quit it now."

Aurora Lane did not have time to thank her rescuers. The painful
situation was relieved suddenly. Just as they were turning at the corner
of the public square there hurried up a man, an oldish man, untidy even
in his Sunday garb, half running toward the group which now he saw
approaching.

"Hello, Pa," exclaimed the half-wit, and laughed long and loud. "I
didn't come home," said he. "I'm--I'm out!"

The sad face of Ephraim Adamson was seen by all, as he pushed in among
them and took his son by the arm. They walked away briskly now
together, Johnnie looking back over his shoulder.

But now, to the surprise of all--to her own surprise as well, so sudden
was her resolve--Aurora Lane hurried after these two.

"Mr. Adamson," said she, "wait, don't whip him--I'm not angry--I
understand."

Adamson halted for just a moment. "He's been away all day," said he, his
face showing no resentment of her presence. "I didn't know they let him
out last night--he didn't come home. I began looking for him as soon as
I knew he was out--I thought he might be hiding in the fields--he does
sometimes. He always runs away whenever he gets a chance. I'm sorry if
he's done wrong--has he been bad to you?"

"I understand everything," said Aurora Lane. Many heard her say that.
"Don't mind. Tomorrow, will you both be in town?--I might talk to you."

"No, Ma'am," said Adamson briefly. "He can't come any more. I may be
here. What do you want of me--after what I've said--after what I've done
to you? And here you come and bring him back to me."

His own face showed whitish blue in the flicker of the great arc light.

"Ma'am," he went on again, "there's a lot about you--you're some woman
after all. Where have you been--at church?"

"Yes," said Aurora Lane, "I was at church."

"I ain't been there in years," said Eph Adamson sadly.

"Neither have I," rejoined Aurora Lane, "twenty years, I think--perhaps
more."

He gazed at her now out of his old, bleared, sad eyes. "I wouldn't of
been here now but for what's happened," said he. "Already I was sad--and
I was drunk before I was. And I was--well, I felt like I was a rebel,
that was all, yesterday. That boy of yours looked so fine, I couldn't
stand it. Look at mine! I done wrong, Ma'am. I said what I had no right
to say. I'm sorry, clean through--with all my heart I'm sorry for what I
done yesterday."

She made no answer to him, and he went on. "It seems like some folks was
sort of born under a cloud, don't it? I'm one of them, I reckon. All
this has been my fault. I'm sorry as I can be. Can't you forgive me,
Miss Lane, can't you forgive me any?"

"You didn't hear the anthem," said Aurora Lane, "because you were not in
church. It said 'Whosoever.' It said 'All ye.'"

"In some ways," said Eph Adamson slowly--they had been for some time
quite apart from the others, walking on slowly--"it seems like you and
me was living our lives pretty much alike, don't it, Miss Lane? It's
funny, ain't it--we hadn't either of us been to church--not in twenty
years!"

None the less, as of old, these others passed by upon the other side,
and left unattended those whose wounds were grievous.

At the corner of her street Aurora Lane paused. "Good-by, Mr. Adamson,"
said she. "Good night. I don't want to be unjust to anyone. I'm going to
try not to blame you--I'd like to forgive all the world if I could. I'm
in great trouble now."

He broke out in a sullen rage. "Forgive? Do that if you can," said he.
"I can't. Maybe a woman can--but forgiving ain't in my line. Well, I'd
give anything I could in the world if I hadn't said what I did yesterday
right there on the public square. All this has come out of that--this
whole trouble. You're different from what I thought. You're a good
woman. I take off my hat to you."

"I take off my hat to you," mowed the idiot also, imitating what he saw
and heard.... "May I see you home--may I see you home tonight? I'm--I'm
out--I was out all last night. They can't pitch on us. Whip any man in
Jackson County. Good night--good night, Ma'am. I'm sorry--I'm sorry,
too."



CHAPTER XVIII

AT THE COUNTY JAIL


Neither Judge Henderson nor his ward attended church services this
Sunday evening, the former because of a certain physical reaction which
disposed him to slumber, the latter because she had other plans of her
own. The great white house, with its wide flanking grounds, where Judge
Henderson had so long lived in somewhat solitary state, was now lighted
up from top to bottom; but presently a light in an upper window
vanished.

Anne Oglesby tiptoed down the stair side by side with the housekeeper.
She cast a glance of inquiry into the front parlor, where, prone upon a
large couch, was Judge Henderson--rendering audible tribute to Morpheus.

"He's violating the town ordinance about the muffler cut-out," said Anne
smilingly to the housekeeper. "Oh, don't wake him--I'll be back
presently--tell him."

She hurried through the yard and down the street toward the central part
of the town. The streets about the square now were well-nigh deserted,
since most folk were in the churches. Her own destination was a square
or two beyond the courthouse, where stood another brick building of
public interest; in short, the county jail.

It was the duty of the sheriff to care for the tenants of his jail, and
he made his own home in a part of the brick building which served in
that capacity--a small building with iron grates on the lower windows,
arranged at about the height of a man's eyes as he would stand within on
the cement floor of a cell, so that he might look out just above the
greensward, his face visible to any who passed by. Many a boy had thus
gazed with horror on the unshaven face of some ruffian who begged him
for tobacco, or some tramp who had trifled too long with the patience of
the community, usually so generous with its alms. Many a school child
could show you the very place where the woman who killed her children
was confined before they took her away--could point out the very window
where she stood looking and weeping and wringing her hands--"Just like
this"--as any child would tell you.

And some day perhaps children would point out this very window where now
stood looking out, motionless--"Not saying a word to nobody"--the "man
who killed the city marshal." Don Lane was standing at his grated window
and looking out when Anne Oglesby crossed the grass plot and came up the
brick sidewalk, fenced in by chains supported on little iron posts,
which led to the jail's iron-bound door.

His heart gave a great leap. He saw her. She was coming to him--the one
faithful, his beloved! Not even Miss Julia--not even his mother--had
come, but here was Anne!

But at the next instant he stepped back from the window, hoping that she
would not gain admission. Shame, deep and unspeakable, additional shame,
twofold shame, compassed him as soon as he reflected. The bitterest of
all was the fact that he must yield her up forever. He must tell her
why. And now she had come--to see him in a cell! It was here that he
must break his heart, and hers.

Sheriff Cowles opened the door when Anne Oglesby rang the bell. He stood
for a moment looking out into the twilight.

"Who is it?" he asked. Then he recognized the girl whom he had brought
down town from the railway station in his car that morning. Anne Oglesby
was not a person easily to be forgotten.

"You know who I am, Mr. Cowles," said she--"I am Miss Oglesby, Judge
Henderson's ward. I'm--I am respectable."

"Yes," said Cowles, "I know that, but why are you here?"

"Because I'd not be respectable if I were not here," she said quietly.
"You probably know."

"Does the Judge know you have come?"

"No, he wouldn't have let me come if he had known. I want to see
him--that young man, you know." Her own color was high by this time.

The sheriff hesitated. "Well," said he, "I don't want to do anything
that isn't right, anything that isn't fair. I reckon I know how you
feel."

"We're engaged to be married," said Anne Oglesby simply, and looked him
directly in the face. "That gives me some rights, doesn't it?"

"In one way, maybe, but no legal rights," replied the sheriff, who was
much perplexed, but who could not escape the compelling fact of Anne
Oglesby's presence, the compelling charm of Anne Oglesby herself. "He's
not really committed as yet, of course, only bound over by the coroner's
jury; but the grand jury meets tomorrow, and they'll indict him sure.
You know that. I can't take any chances of his getting away. I have to
be sure."

"Your wife may come with me," said Anne Oglesby. "It's my right to talk
to him a little while, don't you think? I'm not going to try to get him
out. He hasn't had anyone to help him--he hasn't had any legal counsel."

"Who'd he send for, anyway?" asked the sheriff. "He's a sort of a waif,
isn't he--her boy? I suppose you've heard about him fighting here around
town yesterday?"

"I don't know why he fought, but I know that if he did he had cause. I
hope he fought well."

"They said it was about his mother," began Sheriff Cowles. "Some word
about her was passed----"

"You needn't say any more," said Anne Oglesby.

"He hasn't told me to send for any lawyer for him," said Cowles. "It
don't seem like he's thought of it. He's just sort of quiet--mighty
still all the time. Ha-hum!--I don't know what to say about your seeing
him. Why didn't you ask your uncle, Judge Henderson?"

"Don't call him my uncle," said Anne Oglesby. "He's only my guardian in
law. I've just told you he wouldn't let me come. That's why I've got to
hurry."

"Well," hesitated the sheriff, "I'll have to warn you not to talk about
this case where I can hear it. I'll have to hear all you say."

"Would you like to do that?"

The sheriff flushed. "No," said he, "not special; but you see my own
duty is right clear. I can't play any favorites. If you was his lawyer,
now, it might be different."

"I am his lawyer, the only one he's got so far as I know."

"Yes, I reckon the judge wouldn't care to take his case." The sheriff
wagged his head. "He's no ways rich--not beyond four dollars and
seventy-five cents and a pocket knife and some keys on a ring. He's
broke, all right."

"He's never been anything else," said Anne Oglesby, hotly. "He's never
had a chance. Do you want to keep a man from his chance all his life--do
you want to help railroad him to the gallows? That's for the courts, not
for you. Do you want to hang a man--are you anxious to begin that?"

Cowles' face grew pale. "God knows I don't! I never done that in my
life, and I don't want to have to, neither. Don't talk about that to me,
Miss."

"Then don't talk to me any more about those other things. I give you my
word I'll not try to get him out, but I want to see him--I must see
him--he'll want to see me. Don't you know--we've--we've just begun to be
engaged."

"Some things I can't understand no ways," pondered Sheriff Cowles. "He's
nobody, so far as I can learn. You're the Judge's ward--why, you're
rich, they say."

"I'd give every cent I have to see him walk out right now. I suppose you
were young once yourself. Were you ever in love, Mr. Cowles?"

"Yes," said the sheriff, slowly. "I was--I am yet, some. I can remember
back. I don't believe I ought to let you in. But I'm afraid I'll have
to, because you are young--like we all was once--and because you're in
love. Did anyone see you coming over here?"

"I don't know; but all the town knows about him and me. Well, let them."

"You must promise not to help him in any way to get out--not to do
anything you hadn't ought to do, nor against the law."

"I give you my promise," said Anne Oglesby.

Without more speech the sheriff turned and led the way down the
stone-paved hall to the short cement stairs which made down upon the
half-floor below, at the level of the cells. He turned the switch of an
electric light, so that they might see the better in the hall.

There was but one tenant, and from beyond his door there came no sound,
not even when Cowles unlocked the iron-shod door and stood, his revolver
easy at his belt.

As Anne entered she saw Don Lane sitting on the edge of the narrow
pallet, looking at the door. He had not risen. He had been sitting with
his head in his hands.

He groaned now. "My God!" said he. "Anne! What made you come?"

[Illustration: "Anne! What made you come?"]

The sheriff stepped within the door at the side of Anne Oglesby. "I'd
stay about ten minutes or so if I was you," said he, and tried to look
unconscious and impersonal.

Don Lane rose now, but stood still apart.

"Why do you say that, Don?" asked Anne, stepping closer to him. "Didn't
you know I'd come?"

She reached out her hands to him, and he caught both of them in his.

"I ought to have known you would," said he, "and I know you oughtn't to.
It makes it very hard. I said good-by to you--this morning--today."

"Won't you kiss me--again, Don?" asked Anne Oglesby.

He kissed her again, his face white.

"It's hard to know you for so little a while," said he, his young face
drawn, his voice trembling--"awfully hard. What time there's left to
me--I'll have it all to remember you. But we must never meet after this.
It's over."

"Don, if I thought it was all over, do you suppose I'd let you kiss me
now?"

"It's like heaven," said he. "It's all I'll have to remember."

"A long time, Don--a very long time!"

"I can't tell. They are not apt to lose much time with my case. The only
crime of my life was in ever lifting my eyes to you, Anne. Oh, you know
I'd never have done that if I had known--what I found out yesterday. But
then I've said good-by to you."

"_I_ didn't say good-by, Don!"

He half raised a hand, shaking his head sadly. "You must forget me, no
matter what happens--no matter whether I am cleared or not. I'll never
be the coward to ask you to remember me--that wouldn't be right. I'm
beyond all hope, whichever way it goes."

"I've come tonight, Don," said she, quietly, "to see about your lawyer."

He half laughed. "There'll be small need for one, and if there were I've
got no funds. It will take a lot of money."

"Well, what of that? I've got a lot of money. My guardian told me so
today. I'm worth somewhere between a quarter and a half million dollars
anyway--I'm not rich--but that would help us."

He laughed at this harshly. "I didn't know you had any money at all. And
you think I'd be coward enough to take your money to get out of
here--after what I have learned about myself since yesterday? Do you
suppose I'd take my life from you--such a life as it's got to be now?"

"What do you mean, Don?--you won't let me go, will you? You don't
mean----" She stepped toward him, in sudden terror of his resolution.
"Why, _Don_!"

"Yes, yes. I spent all the afternoon here alone trying to think. Well, I
won't compromise. I never meant to pull you into this--I'll not let you
be dragged into it by your own great-heartedness. But, Anne, Anne,
dearest, dearest, surely you know that when I spoke to you yesterday I
didn't know what I know today! I thought I had a father. You _know_ I'd
not deceive you--you _do_ know that?"

There was a shuffle on the stone floor of the cell. Sheriff Cowles,
coughing loudly, was turning away from them. A moment later the door
closed behind him. "Ha-hum!" said he to himself outside the door. "Oh,
hell! I wish't I wasn't sher'ff."

They were alone. With the door closed the cell was dark, save for the
twilight filtering through the barred windows high up along the wall.

Anne came closer to him and put her hands upon his shoulders. "Oh, Don,"
said she, "it's hard, awfully hard, isn't it, to start with such a
handicap? But when did all the men in the world start even? And is it
always the one who starts first that finishes best? Don, you played the
game in college--so did I--we've both got to play the game now! We'll
have to take our handicap. But you mustn't talk about sending me away. I
can't stand everything. Oh, don't! I can't stand that!" Her voice was
choking now. She was sobbing, striving not to do so.

He caught her wrists in his hands, as her hands still lay upon his
shoulders; but he did not draw her to him.

"Anne," said he, "the time comes in every man's life for him to die. I
heard once about a man who could not swim and who saw his wife drown in
the stream by him, almost at his side. He ran along and shouted, and
said he could not swim. Well, he lived. The woman died. Suppose that
had been our case. If we both went down together, it wouldn't be so bad,
perhaps. But I'll not have my life as that sort of a gift."

"You won't let me help you, Don?"

"No! I won't let you have anything to do with me! I'll never allow your
name to come on my lips, and you must never think of mentioning mine!
Only--Anne, Anne--surely you don't think I had any idea before
yesterday--about my father? I wouldn't buy my own happiness at that
price. I'm no one's son. I'm dead, and doubly dead. But I never knew."

"No," said she, "I know you did not--I know you would not."

They both were so young, as they talked on now, wisely, soberly.

"So you are free," he said, casting away her hands from him, and
standing back. "You never were anything but free."

"I'll never be free again, Don," said she, shaking her head. "You kissed
me! I'm not a girl any more--I'm a woman now. I can't go back. And now
you tell me to go away! Don't you love me, Don? Why, I love you--so
much!"

"My God, don't!" he groaned. "Don't! I can't stand everything. But I
can't take anything but the best and truest sort of love."

"Isn't mine?"

"No. It's pity, maybe--I can't tell. This is no place for us to talk of
that now. You must go away. I hope you will forget you ever saw me. I
don't even know my father's name--I don't know whether he is living--I
don't know anything! I have been walled in all my life--I'm walled in
now. I never ought to have touched even the hem of your garment, for I
wasn't fit. But I couldn't help it."

"That's the trouble," said Anne. "I can't help it, either."

"Ah!" he half groaned, "you ought to be kept from yourself."

"Kept from myself, Don? If that were true of all the women in the world,
how much world would there be left? That's why I'm here--why, Don, I had
to come!"

"Anne! It can't be. It's only cruel for you to tear me up by coming
here--by staying here--by standing here. I love you! Anne! Anne! I don't
see how it could be hard as this for any man to part from any woman." He
was trembling through all his strong frame now.

"But we promised!"

"The law says that a promise is such only when two minds meet. Our minds
never met--I didn't know the facts--you didn't know about me--we have
just found out about it now."

"Our minds didn't meet?" said Anne Oglesby. "Our _minds_? Did not our
_hearts_ meet--don't they meet now--and isn't _that_ what it all means
between a man and a woman?"

He stood, trembling, apart from her in the twilight.

"Don't!" he whispered. "I love you! I will love you all my life! You
must go away. Oh, go now, go quickly!"

A merciful footfall sounded on the stone floor of the outer hall. The
door opened, letting in a shaft of light with it. Cowles stood
hesitating, looking at the two young people, still separated, standing
wretchedly.

"I hate to say anything," said the sheriff, "but I reckon----"

"She must go," said Don Lane. "Take her away. Good-by--Anne! Anne! Oh,
good-by!"

"Won't you kiss me, Don?" said Anne Oglesby--"when I love you so much?"

There were four tears, two great, sudden drops from each eye, that
sprang now on Dan Cowles' wrinkled, sunburned cheeks.

But Don Lane had cast himself down once more on the pallet and was
trying with all his power to be silent until after she had gone.

"In some ways," said Dan Cowles to his wife later that night, "he's got
me guessing, that young fellow. He don't act like no murderer to me. But
since she left, and since all this here happened, he's wild--Lord! he's
wild!"



CHAPTER XIX

THE MOB


Anne Oglesby left the jail shortly after the time when church services
were ending. As she hurried by Aurora Lane's house in Mulberry Street
she saw a light shining from the windows, but she did not enter--she
could not have spoken to anyone now.

She evaded any meeting with her guardian after she had made her way back
home. Judge Henderson had not known of her absence and was not aware of
her return. Anne thus by a certain period of time missed seeing what Dan
Cowles presently saw.

It was noticeable that Sabbath day that more than the usual number of
farmers' wagons remained in town, quite past the time when the country
church members usually started back for their homes. The farmers seemed
to be in no hurry, even although they had seen a double church service.
There was something restless, something vague, disturbing, over the
town. A number of townsmen also seemed impelled to walk back toward the
public square. Some strange indefinite summons drew them thither. Little
knots of men stood here and there. Groups of women gathered at this or
that gallery front.

No one knows the point where in vague public thought a general
resolution actually begins. The ripple in the pool spreads widely when a
stone is cast. What chance word, or what deliberate resolve, may have
started the slowly growing resolution of Spring Valley may not be known;
but now a sort of stealthy silence fell over the village as groups
gathered here and there, speaking cautiously, in low tones.

A knot of men stood near the corner of the square looking down the
street to the light which shone red from the shaded window of Aurora
Lane.

"I know what was done right in this here town thirty year ago," said one
high pitched voice. "It was old Eph Adamson's father that led them, too.
Them was days when----"

"Why ain't Eph in town today?" asked another voice. "I seen considerable
of his neighbors around in town today."

"He was, a while back," said someone.

"That must have been about a hour ago," said some other, looking about
furtively at the faces of his neighbors.

"Let's take a stroll over towards the open lots near the jail,"
suggested someone else.

So, following the first to start with definite purpose, little
straggling groups passed on beyond the corner of the square, beyond the
jail itself, to a sort of open space not yet encroached upon by public
or private buildings.

There was no shouting, no loud talking. The light was dim. The crowd
itself moved vaguely, milling about, like cattle restive and ready to
stampede, but not yet determined on their course.

"God! Did you hear that music this afternoon--they're done a-buryin'
poor old Joel Tarbush by now, but I can hear it yet, seems to me! Now,
what had poor old Joel ever done--all his life--to deserve bein'
murdered like a dog? It makes my blood sort of rise up to think of that.
Now, them that done that--them that was back of that----"

His friend, accosted, nodded grimly, his mouth was shut tight and turned
down deep at the corners.

There did not lack one or two willing at least to talk further. One was
a young man, rather well dressed, apparently fresh from church. He spoke
to any who would listen.

"What I mean to say, men, is this," said he, "we've got to do something
to clean up this town. It's the _people_ that's behind the law anyhow.
Am I right?"

"He talks like a lawyer--what he says is pretty true," said one farmer
to another.

"That was a strong sermon our minister preached tonight," said yet
another. "He said we'd have to stamp out crime and make a warnin'. The
preacher e'en--a'most pointed out what we ought to do."

"... We'd ought to make a clean sweep of this whole family," said the
same young man, more boldly now. "They're a bad lot--both her son and
her."

"... We could break into the jail easy," said someone, after a time.
"Cowles couldn't keep us from it. Maybe he wouldn't want to."

"... The trouble is," resumed the voice of the young man who had earlier
spoken, "it's hard to make a law case stick. We've seen how that worked
out in the trial yesterday--he came clear--they dropped the case, and
nothing was done. Old Eph Adamson had to take all the medicine. But we
ought to take our place as a law-abiding community--I've always said
that."

"And God-fearin'," said a devout voice.

"Yes, a God-fearing community! It's been twenty years now that that
woman has flaunted her vice in the face of this community."

"Ain't a man in this town that don't know about her--it's just sort o'
quieted down, that's all," said a gray-bearded, peak-chinned man grimly;
which was more or less true, as more than one man present knew, himself
not guiltless enough of heart at least to cast the first stone at Aurora
Lane.

"In the old times," grinned one stoutish man, chewing tobacco and
speaking to a neighbor who held a hand cupped at his ear, "the folks
wouldn't of stood it. They'd just 'a' had a little feather party. They
rid such people out of town on a rail them days--that's what they done.
And they didn't never come back after that--never in the world. As for a
murderer--they made a eend of him!"

"And so could we make a eend of it all right now, this very night, if we
had a little sand," said another voice.

For a time all these speakers fell silent, seeking resolve, waiting for
an order, a command. But as they became silent they grew more uneasy.
They broke ground, shifted, milled about, still like cattle. Then head
was laid to head, beard wagged to beard again.

And then, all at once, it broke!

"_Come on, boys!_" cried a loud voice at last--not that of the young man
who first had spoken--not that of any of these others speakers who had
hesitated, lacking courage of definite sort. "_Come on! Who's with me?_"

The town of Spring Valley never mentioned the name of this speaker. The
report got out in a general way that he was a farmer who lived a few
miles out in the country. Indeed, sympathy for Ephraim Adamson's bad
fortune in this case was no doubt largely at the bottom of this affair
tonight--along with these other things; sympathy for Tarbush; the
sermons of the preachers; the emotional spell of the dirge music, still
lingering on these crude souls. No mob reasons. It was plain that most
of the men, though not all, were farmers. But now they all fell in
behind the leader as he started, a motley procession. Some folded
handkerchiefs and tied them about their faces. Yet others reversed their
coats, wearing them with the linings outside. Others pulled their hats
down over their eyes.

Their feet, although not keeping time, none the less caught a ragged
unison, in a sound which could have been heard at a considerable
distance. Dan Cowles heard it now, and came to the door of the county
jail. As he saw the crowd, he drew a long breath.

"They're coming here!" said he to himself at length. "I reckon they'll
try to get him. I'll hold him anyways, and they know that." Quickly he
darted back into the jail.

The procession debouched at the edge of the jail yard square, halted for
a moment, then came on steadily, because someone at their head walked
steadily. Perhaps there were seventy-five or a hundred of them in all.
Most of them were neighbors, nearly every man knew who was his neighbor
here, even in the darkness. Not one of these could precisely have told
why he was here. By some process of self-persuasion, some working of
hysteria, some general acceptance of the auto-suggestion of the mob,
most had persuaded themselves that they were there to "do their duty."
It sounded well. If, indeed, they had been brought hither merely by the
excitement of it, merely under the hypnosis of it, they forgot that, or
tried to forget it, and said they were there to do their duty--their
duty to their God-fearing town.... But in the mind of each was a picture
out of the past of which we may not inquire. That night far worse than
murder might have been done.

"We want him, Dan. Bring him out!" The voice of the leader sounded dry
and hoarse, but he did not waver, for he saw the sheriff make no move of
resistance.

"You can't get him," said Dan Cowles. "You couldn't even if he was here.
But he ain't here."

"What do you mean, he ain't here? We know he is!"

"Come in and see," said Cowles, stepping back. "I just been to his cell
and he ain't there. Come in and search the whole jail."

They did come in and search the jail, piling into the corridors, opening
every door, looking into every room even of the sheriff's living
quarters, but the jail was empty! There was no prisoner there at all.

"We want Don Lane, that killed the city marshal," repeated the husky
voice of the leader once more. "Where is he?"

"I don't know," said Sheriff Cowles. "If I did, I wouldn't tell you."
And indeed he spoke only truth in both these statements.

"I know!" screamed a high voice in the middle of the man pack. "He's
maybe up at her house--'Rory Lane's. Let's go search the place--we'll
get him yet!"

It was enough. The mob, thus resisted, disappointed, began to mutter, to
talk now, in a low, hoarse half roar of united voices. They turned away
on a new trail. Some broke into shouts as they began to hurry down the
brick walk of the jail yard. They jostled and crowded in the street, as
they came into the corner of the public square. A general outcry arose
as they caught sight of the light in the window of Aurora Lane's little
home, a half block down the street, beyond the corner of the square.

Aurora heard the sound of their feet coming down the sidewalk. She heard
the noise at her gate--heard the crash as the gate was kicked off its
new-mended hinges--heard the men crowd up her little walk, heard their
feet clumping on the little gallery floor. Her heart stopped. She stood
white-faced, her hands clasped. What was it? What did they mean? Were
they going to kill her boy? Had they killed him? Were they going to tell
her that? Were they going to kill her, too?

"Come on out!" she heard someone calling to her. It seemed to her that
she must go. In some strange hypnosis, her feet began to move,
unsanctioned by her volition.... She stood at the door facing them all,
her eyes large, her face showing her distress, her query, her new
terror. On her face indeed was written now the whole story of her
despair, her failure, her terrible unhappiness. She had aged by years,
these last twenty-four hours. Now sheer terror was written there also.
The mob! The lynchers! The avengers! What had they not and more than
once done in this little savage town?... A picture rose before her
mind ... a horrible picture out of the past. Wide-eyed, she caught at the
throat of her gown, caught at the covering of her bosom--and then went
at bay, as does any despairing creature that has been pressed too hard.

She looked down at them. Those nearest to her were masked. Back of them
rose groups of shoulders, rough clad, hats pulled down.... No, she did
not know one of them; she did not recognize even a face--or was not sure
she had done so. They jostled and shifted and pushed forward.

"No! No! Go back! Go on away!" she cried, pale, her eyes starting. And
again she called aloud, piteously, on that God who seemed to have
forsaken her.

"Come on out!" cried a voice, thick and husky. "Come on out, and hurry
up about it. Bring him out--we know he's here. We want Don Lane, and
we're going to git him--or we'll git you. Damn you, look out, or we'll
git you both! Where's that boy, that killed the marshal?"

"He's not here," answered Aurora, in a voice she would not have known to
be her own. "I don't know where he is. Believe me, if he's not there in
the jail, I don't know where he is. What do you want of him? He's not
here--I give you my word he's not."

She still stood, near the door, her hands clutching at her clothing, a
mortal terror in her soul, her frail woman's body the only fence now for
her home, no longer sanctuary.

"You lie! We know he is here--he ain't in the jail. If the sher'f let
him out, he'd come here. You've got him hid. Bring him out--it's no use
trying to get him away from us. We want him, and we've come to git him."

The words of the leader got their support in the rumble of fourscore
throats.

"I'm telling you the truth," quavered poor Aurora Lane. "Men, can't you
believe me? Have I ever lied to you?"

A roar of brutish laughter greeted this. "Listen at her talk!" cried one
tall young man. "Fine, ain't it! She's been just a angel here! Oh, no,
she wouldn't lie to us about that boy--oh! no, she never has! Why, you
ain't never done nothing _but_ lie, all your life!"

They laughed again at this, and became impatient.

"This is her little old place," began the same voice. "I've never been
in it before. I bet they's been goings-on, right here, more'n once."

"That's so!" said a man whose mouth corners were drawn down hard. "And
in this here God-fearin' town o' ours, that's always wanted to be
respectable."

"Sure we did, all of us!" encored the cracking treble of the same tall,
well-dressed young man. "Whose fault if we ain't? She's his mother. This
whole business come of her bein' what she is--looser'n hell, that's all.
We stood it all for years--but this is too much--killin' the city
marshal----"

"I didn't!" cried Aurora Lane, ghastly pale. "He never did. I've tried
to live here clean for twenty years. Not one of you can raise a voice
against me--you cowards, you liars! My boy--if he were here, not any ten
of you'd dare say that! You'd not dare to touch him. Oh, you brutes--you
low-down cowards!"

"We'll show you if we don't dare!" rejoined the steady voice of the
leader. "Fetch him out now and we'll show you about that. We're goin' to
git him, first 'r last, and it's no use trying to stop it. We'll
reg'late this town now, in our own way. If that boy's out of jail, he's
either skipped or else he's here. Either way, the safest thing to do is
to come on through with him. If you don't, we'll see about _you_--and
we'll do it mighty soon. Bring him out."

"Oh, hell!" shrilled a falsetto voice, "you're wastin' time with her.
Go on in after him--she's got him hid--she's kep' him hid for twenty
years and she's keepin' him hid now--and you can gamble on it! Go on in
and git him!"

There came a shuffling of feet on the walk, on the gallery floor. Aurora
was conscious that the blur of faces was closer to her.... She saw
masks, hats, kerchiefs, stubbled chins crowding in, close up to her. A
reek of the man pack came to her, close, stifling, mingled of tobacco,
alcohol, and the worse effluvia of many men excited.... The terror, the
horror, the disgust, the repugnance of it all fell on her like a
blanket, stifling, suffocating, terrifying. She no longer reasoned--it
was only desperation, terror, which made her spread out her arms from
lintel to lintel of her little deserted door, where the last sacred
shred of her personal privacy now was periled. The last instinctive,
virginal--yes, virginal--terror at the intrusion of man, of men, of many
men, was hers now. Home--sanctuary--refuge--all, all was gone. She
stood, disheveled, her gown now half loosed at the neck as she spread
her weak arms open across her door. Her eyes were large, round, open,
staring, her face a tragic mask as she stood trying--a woman, weak and
quite alone--to beat back the passion of these who now had come to rob
her of the last--the very last--of the things dear to her; the last of
the things sacred to her, the things any woman ought to claim inviolate
and under sanctuary, no matter who or what she is or ever may have been.

But the fever, the hysteria of these no longer left either reason or
decency to them, neither any manner of respect for the sacredness of
womanhood; a thing for the most part inherent even under the severest
strains ever brought to bear on man to make him lower than the
brute--the brute which at its basest never lacks acknowledgment of the
claims of sex.

These men had reverted, dropped, declined as only man himself, noblest
and lowest of all animals, may do. There was no mercy in them, indeed no
comprehension, else the appeal of the outraged horror on the face of
Aurora Lane must have driven them back, or have struck them down where
they stood.

"You git on out of the way now!" she heard the coarse voice of someone
say in her face....

She held her arms out across her door only for an instant longer--she
never knew by whom it was, or when, that they were swept down, and she
herself swept aside, crumpled in a corner of her room.

The mob was in her home; she had no sanctuary! She caught glimpses of
dark shoulders, compacted by the narrowness of the little rooms, surging
on in and over everything, into every room, testing every crack and
crevice. She heard laughs, oaths, obscenity such as she had never
dreamed men used--for she knew little of the man animal--heard the
rising unison of voices recording a renewed disappointment and chagrin.

"Damn her! She's got away with him!" called out someone.

"Sure she has--we might of expected it," rejoined another. "She always
gets by with it somehow--she's pulled the wool over our eyes all her
life. She's fooled us now once more."

"What'll we do, boys?" cried out the falsetto of the tall young man,
whose face was not set strong with a man's beard-roots. "Are we going to
let her get away with it like this?"

He made some sort of answer for himself, for there came the crash of
broken glass as he flung some object across the room.

It was enough--it was the cue. "Smash her up, boys!" cried out another
voice. "Put her out of business now! She's fooled us for the last time."

They did not find Don Lane, not though they searched this house as they
had the jail. So now their anger caught them, resentful, unreasoning,
unfeeling, brutal anger....

So they wrecked the little house of Aurora Lane. They tore down the
pictures from the walls, the curtains from the windows, broke in the
windows themselves. They smashed one piece of furniture against another.
They even tore up the little white bed--at which for twenty years
nightly Aurora Lane had kneeled to pray. Someone caught up one of the
pillows, laughing loudly. "Here you are, here's plenty, I reckon! Damn
you! You're lucky we don't give you a ride. Tar'n feathers, 'n a ride on
a rail--that's the medicine for such as you."

The thought of escape, of rescue, of resistance now had passed from the
mind of Aurora Lane. Frozen, speechless, motionless, she waited,
helpless before this blind fury. They had been after Don, and they had
not found him. Where was Don? And what would they now do to her? What
was that last coarse, terrible threat that they had meant?

She caught her torn frock again to her throat as she saw, not a definite
movement toward her, but a cessation of movement, a pause, a silence,
which seemed more terrible and more ominous than anything yet in all
this hour of torment and terror. What would they do now?

They had halted, paused, they stood irresolute, still a pack, a mass, a
mob, not yet resolved into units of thinking, reasoning, human beings;
when without warning suddenly, there came something to give them cause
for thought.

There was still a rather dense crowd around the gate, on the walk, where
some score or more lingered, who either had not entered the house or who
had emerged from it. It was against the edge of this mass that a
heavily built man, heavy of face, heavy of hand, cast himself as he now
came running up.

It was the sheriff, Dan Cowles. He thrust a revolver barrel into the
face of the nearest man, caught another by the shoulder. A halt, a
pause, whether of irresolution or of doubt, of indecision or of shame,
came like a falling and restraining hand upon all this lately demoniacal
assemblage. They did not move. It was as though a net had been sprung
above them all.

"Halt!" called out the voice of the sheriff, high and clear. "What are
you doing here?"

"It's the sher'f!" croaked one gray beard farther back. "God! what'll he
do to us now?"

The feeling of apprehension gave courage to some of the bolder. Two or
three sprang upon Cowles from behind and broke him down. He fell, his
revolver pulled from his hand. He looked up into faces that he knew.

"Make a move and you'll get it," said a hoarse, croaking voice above
him. "Shut up now and keep quiet, and keep to yourself what you seen.
We're just having a little surprise party, that's all. We're only
cleaning up this town."

But now another figure came running--more than one. Judge Henderson
himself had heard the tumult on the streets. It was he who first hurried
up to the edge of the crowd.

"Men!" he cried, holding up his hand. "What are you doing? Disperse, in
the name of the law! I command it!"

They had long been used to obeying the voice of Judge Henderson. He was
their guide, their counselor, their leader. Some hesitated now.

And then Judge Henderson pushed into the little group, looked over their
heads, their shoulders--and saw what ruin had been wrought in Aurora
Lane's little home. He saw Aurora standing there, outraged in every
fiber, desecrated in her very soul, the ruins of her lost sanctuary
lying all about her and on her face the last, last anguish of a woman
who has said farewell to all, everything--life, happiness, peace, hope,
and trust in God.

Henderson cast his own hands to his face as he pushed back from that
sight. He stood trembling and silent, unstrung by one swift, remorseless
blow from his own soul, his own long sleeping conscience.

Afar off, in the village, someone rang a bell--that at the engine house.
Its summons of alarm called out every townsman not already in the
streets.

But before this time reaction had begun in the mob. Something about
Judge Henderson--the sudden change in his attitude--the blanched terror,
the awful horror which showed now in his face--seemed to bring reason to
their own inflamed and muddled minds. And now, as they hesitated, they
felt the impact of two other strong men who flung themselves against
them, shouldered their way through, up to the side of the struggling
sheriff. Those in the way looked into the barrels of two revolvers, one
held in each hand of a tall man, a giant in his rugged strength, as
those knew whom he jostled aside in his savage on-coming.

"Hold on, men!" cried out the great voice of Horace Brooks. "I'll kill
the first man that makes a move. Law or no law, I'll kill you if you
move. What are you doing here?"

At his side there was another, a young man--white-faced--a tall young
man whom not all of them had seen before, whom not many recognized now
in the sudden confusion as they swayed back, jostling one and another in
the attempt to get away--the young man, the prisoner they had wanted and
not found. The young man swung at one arm of Hod Brooks, tried to wrest
from him one of the revolvers--sought to gain some weapon with which he
might kill. But Hod Brooks kept him away.

"Get back," he said, "leave it to us. God! Don't look at that! They've
smashed her place all to hell!"

Still another man came, running, shouting--calling out--calling some of
those present by their own names. It was old Eph Adamson, and tears were
streaming down his face.

"You men!" he called out, and he named them one after another. "You're
my neighbors, you're my friends. What are you doing here--oh, my
God!--my God! What have you done? She's a good woman--I tell you she's a
good woman."

The three of these newcomers broke their way in to the side of the
sheriff, who by this time was up to his knees. They caught his gun away
from the man who had taken it.

"Give it to me!" said the low, cold voice of the young man who was
fighting--and before his straight thudding blows a man dropped every now
and then as he came on, struggling desperately to get the weapon. "Give
it to me!"

He reached out his hand for the sheriff's gun; but still they put him
away, gasping, his eyes with murder in them.

"Get back," cried Horace Brooks. "Leave it alone. Get back. Look out,
men--he'll shoot!"

There were five of them now who made a little group. Two others came
running to join them--Nels Jorgens, the wagon-maker and blacksmith--at
his side the spare figure of the gray-bearded minister, Rawlins, of the
Church of Christ.

"Get into them now, Dan!" cried the great voice of Horace Brooks. "Break
through."

So they broke through. Men fell and stumbled, whether from blows or in
the confusion of their own efforts to escape. At the edges of the crowd
men turned and ran--ran as fast as they could. After a time they of the
smaller party were almost alone.

The sheriff turned away, picking up a coat which he found lying on the
ground. The tall young man who had fought at his side stood now leaning
against the fence, his face dropped into his hands, shaking his head
from side to side, unable to weep. Cowles stepped up to him.

"I'm glad you come, boy," said he, "but it's no place for you here. I
must have left the door open when I went away--I plumb forgot it.
Where've you been, anyhow?"

"You forgot--you left the door unlocked after she went away--Anne. But I
wasn't trying to escape--I wasn't going out of town."

"Where was you, then?"

"I was down at the bridge--I was thinking what to do. Once my mother was
going to take me there.... But I thought of her--Anne, you know, and my
mother, too. I hardly knew what was right.... I heard the noise...."

Dan Cowles looked at him soberly. "Run on down to the jail now, son, and
tell my wife to lock you in. Tell her I'll be on down, soon's I can."

Judge Henderson, white-faced, trembling, looked in the starlight into
the face of the one man whom he classed as his rival, his enemy in this
town--it was a wide, white face with narrow and burning eyes, a
Berserker face framed with its fringe of red. Horace Brooks himself was
still almost sobbing with sheer fighting rage. There was that in his eye
terrible to look upon.

"Oh, my God!" said Judge Henderson again and again. "Oh, my God!--my
God!----" He supported himself against the broken posts of what had been
the little gate of Aurora Lane.



CHAPTER XX

THE IDIOT


At seven o'clock of Monday morning, Johnnie Adamson stood at the
roadside at the front of his father's farmhouse. He held in his hands a
wagon stake which he had found somewhere and with it smote aimlessly at
anything which came in his way. His usual amiable smile was gone. A low
scowl, like that of some angered anthropoid, had replaced it. His
mother, seeing that some unusual turn had taken place in his affliction,
stood at the window of the farmhouse looking out at him and wringing her
hands. She long ago had ceased to weep--the fountain of tears had dried
within her soul. There came to her now and then the sound of his hoarse
defiance, hurled at all who passed by on the road.

"Son John!--Eejit!--Whip any man in Jackson County!"

Ephraim Adamson was at the time in the field at work. His wife at length
crept out to the back porch and pulled the cord of the dinner bell. Its
sound rang out across the fields. Her husband came running, more than
half suspicious of the cause of the alarm. Long had their lives been
lived in vague dread of this very thing--a violent turn in the son's
affliction. The father's anxious face spoke the question.

"Yes, he's bad," said the wife to him. "I'm afraid of him--he's getting
worse."

The father walked out into the front yard. The youth came toward him,
grinning pleasantly. He fell into the position of a batsman, swinging
his club back and forth as he must some time have seen ball players do.

"Now you--now you throw it at me--and I'll hit it," said the half-wit.
"You--you throw it at me--and I'll hit--I'll hit it."

To humor him, his father pitched at him a broken apple that lay on the
ground near by. Johnny struck at it and by chance caught it fair,
crushing it to fragments. At this he laughed in glee.

"Now--now--another one," said he. "I'll hit--I'll hit them all."

His father walked up to him and reached out a hand, but for the first
time the boy resented his control. He broke away, swinging his club
menacingly, striking at everything in his way. Ephraim Adamson followed
him; but still evading, the half-wit passed out through the gate which
led into the garden patch at the rear of the house. With his club he cut
at the tops of everything green that he passed. Especially, with many
yells of glee, he fell upon the rows of cabbages, then beginning to head
out. With heavy blows of his club he cut down one after another. The
game seemed to excite him more and more. At last it seemed to enrage him
more and more. He struck with greater viciousness.

"Eejit!" said he. "I'm out--they can't pick on me! I can hit them! I
will, too, hit them! I'll hit him!"

His father, following him, saw the face of the club all stained
now--stained dark--black or red--stained green. He caught at the stick,
but for once found his own strength insufficient to cope with that of
his son. The latter wrestled with him. In a direct grip, one against the
other, in which both struggled for the club, the father was unable to
wrest it from him; and continually he saw a new and savage light come
into the eyes of his son. The boy threatened him, menaced him with the
club. His father drew back, for the first time afraid. He went back into
the house, to his wife, on whom he turned a gray, sad face.

"I'm afraid," said he slowly, "I'm afraid we'll have to send him away.
He's awfully bad--he might do anything. I'd rather see him dead."

The nod of the sad-faced woman was full assent. She gazed out of the
window blankly, barrenly. Ephraim Adamson went out again into the yard.
He passed the boy, unseen, went out into the stable yard, and caught up
his team, which soon he had harnessed to his light wagon. By this time
Johnnie had gone to the woodpile and taken up the ax. He was
endeavoring to split some cordwood, but he rarely could hit twice in the
same place, all his correlations being bad. His father now threw open
the gate and drove into the yard.

"Want a ride, Johnnie?" he asked; and the boy docilely came and climbed
into the front seat beside him. Not even looking at his wife, Adamson
started out at good speed for the eight-mile drive into Spring Valley.
For the most part the boy was quiet now, but once in a while the return
of a paroxysm would lead him to shout and fling up his hands, to grin or
make faces at any who passed.

In town, at the corner of the public square, Johnnie became unruly. Some
vague memory was in his mind. He pointed down the head of Mulberry
Street.

"I want to go--I want to go there!" said he.

Before his father could stop him he had sprung out of the wagon and run
on ahead. Adamson as quickly as possible hitched his team at the nearest
rack and followed at full speed, sudden terror now renewed in his own
soul. The boy had turned in at the gate of the little house of Aurora
Lane--that little house now scarce longer to be called a home!

Aurora Lane was alive, within. She moved about dully, slowly, her mind
numb at the horror of all she had gone through. The feeling possessed
her that she was without help or hope in all the world, that her God
himself had forsaken her. She heard the sound of running footsteps, and,
gazing through the window, saw the idiot son of Ephraim Adamson standing
just inside the gate. She heard him come up the steps, heard him begin
to pound on the door.

"Quick! Miss Lane," called Adamson as he came following up on the
run--he hoped that Aurora would hear him. "Don't let him in.
Telephone--get the sher'f as soon as you can."

He walked up the steps now and took the boy by the arm as he hammered at
the door with the head of the club.

"Come on, Johnnie," said he. "We'll go see the pictures. Come along."

It was not better than an animal, the creature who now turned facing
him, growling. "Get out!" said Johnnie to him. "No one--no one can pick
on me! I'll hit--I'll hit you. Whip any man in Jackson County. I'm
out--I'll hit anybody touches me. I guess I know!"

His sweeping blows about him with the club forced his father back, and
showed that any attempt to close with him would be dangerous. Adamson
retired to the gate. Johnnie went on smashing everything about him,
flower beds, chairs, a little table which stood on the front
gallery--anything left undestroyed by the more intelligent but not less
malignant visitors of the night before, who thus had set a pattern for
him.

"I want in," he said pleasantly after a time, seating himself on the
front steps. "Eejit--best man in Jackson County. She was good to me. She
spoke to me kind. I won't hurt her."

Aurora Lane could see him as she gazed out from behind the window
curtain. Her call on the telephone to the officer of the law had been
loud, insistent, the appeal of a woman in terror. But now, as she looked
out at Johnnie Adamson, something other than terror was in her wan
face;--something like surprise--something like conviction! The thought
brought with it no additional terror--rather it carried a swift ray of
hope!

It was toward eight o'clock in the morning now. Few were abroad on the
streets of Spring Valley, but now and then a passer-by turned to gaze at
a man who was hurrying across from the court and turning into Mulberry
Street. It was Dan Cowles, the sheriff, and they wondered where he was
going now.

Ephraim Adamson heard the hurrying approach as Dan Cowles came down the
street. The boy still was sitting on the steps. Suddenly he turned--and
caught sight of the face of Aurora Lane at the window. He rose, removed
his hat, and smirked.

"May I see you home?" said he. "Eejit--the best man in Jackson County. I
can hit anybody! I'll show you."

He was mowing, smirking, talking to her through the glass of the window
pane, jerking and twitching about, but he turned now when he heard the
steps of his father and the sheriff on the brick walk back of him.

"He's gone bad, Dan," said Adamson in a low tone to the sheriff. "We'll
have to lock him up. He'll have to go to the asylum. He's dangerous.
Look out!"

Suddenly the half-wit turned upon them. His eyes seemed fixed on the
star shining on the coat of Dan Cowles--identically the same star that
City Marshal Tarbush had worn, Cowles having for the time taken on the
deceased man's duties also. The sight enraged him. He brandished his
club.

"There he is!" he cried. "I hit him once--I killed him--I'm going to
kill him again! You can't pick on me. I'm out. I'll kill you again!"

"My God! _what's he saying, Dan_?" quavered the voice of the unhappy
man, the father of this wild creature. "What's he _saying_?"

"Johnnie!" he himself called out aloud. "Johnnie, tell me--tell me who
it was, and I'll take you to see the pictures right away."

"Him!" shrieked Johnnie. "Him--there's that shiny thing."

"When was it, Johnnie--what do you mean about this man?" The sheriff now
spoke to him.

"I hit you--that night--I'll hit you again now! Nobody going to pick on
Johnnie. Best man in Jackson County--eejit!"

"You're going to take me away to jail again," said he cunningly. "But
you can't. I was just going to talk to her before, and you come and took
me away. But I hit him. Now I'll kill you so you'll stay dead."

Slowly, cautiously creeping down the steps, club in hand, he followed
the two men, who backed away from him--backed out through the gate on to
the sidewalk, into the street.

From across the street Nels Jorgens in his wagon shop saw what was going
on, and came running, a stout wagon spoke caught up in his own hand. He
passed this to Ephraim Adamson.

"Look out, Sheriff!" he called out. "He's wild. He'll kill somebody
yet."

Nels Jorgens and one or two others saw what then happened. The madman,
now murderously excited, stopped in his deliberate advance. His eyes
flamed green with hatred at all this before him. The lust of blood
showed on his features, usually so mild. He saw his father standing now,
this weapon in his hand; and forgetting every tie in the world, if ever
he had felt one, sprang at him with a scream of rage. Ephraim Adamson
stepped back, tripped, fell. He saw above him the face of his son, with
murder in his eyes. He closed his own eyes.

And then Nels Jorgens and one or two others who came hurrying up saw a
puff of smoke, heard the roar of a shot Dan Cowles had fired just in
time....

There was no need to send poor Johnnie Adamson to the asylum. He had
gone now to a farther country. He sank, a vast bulk, at his full length
along the narrow strip of dusty grass between the curb and the walk. His
shoulders heaved once or twice, his arms fell lax.

Dan Cowles, solemn-faced, his weapon still in his hand, turned to gaze
at the haggard man who rose slowly, turning away from that which he now
saw.

"It was the act of committing a felony," said Dan Cowles slowly. "It was
to save human life. He resisted arrest, and he was armed. It was a
felony."

But when old Ephraim Adamson turned his gray face to that of the officer
of the law, in his sad eyes there was no resentment. He held out his
hand.

"Dan," said he, "thank God you done it! Thank God it's over!"



CHAPTER XXI

A TRUE BILL


Now it was nine o'clock of the Monday morning. The grand jury was in
session thus early, and it had thus early brought in a true bill against
one Dieudonné Lane for murder in the first degree. The session of the
jury had just begun. None of the jury knew of these late events at the
house of Aurora Lane.

In his office Judge Henderson was pacing up and down all that morning.
He had failed in every attempt to stop the progress of the law. He could
not on Sunday afternoon reach by telephone or otherwise the men he
wished to see; on Sunday night had seen this horror; and now, early on
Monday, there was no way by which even he could arrest the procedure of
the grand jury, made up of men who lived here, and who before this had
made up their minds on the bill which Slattery, state's attorney,
zealous as they, had rushed through at a late session with his own
clerks on Sunday night after he had ended his Sabbath motor ride to an
adjoining town.

Fate conspired against Judge Henderson and his shrewd plan for delay
which was to have left him secure in his ambition and saved in his own
conceit. These things now seemed shrunk, faded, unimportant.

He had not slept at all that night. Before him now swept such a panorama
as it seemed to him would never let him sleep again. He was indeed
facing now the crisis of his life--a crisis not in his material affairs
alone, but a crisis of his moral nature. He had learned in one swift
lesson what others sometimes learn more deliberately--that the world is
not for the use of any one man alone, but for the use of all men who
dwell in it. It is the world of human beings who are partners in its
use. They stand alike on its soil, they fight there for the same end.
They are brothers, even though savage brothers, after all.

And among these are fathers, too. It was his own son who lay in yonder
jail. Now at last some thought, a new, stirring and compelling emotion
came into his soul. It was not her boy, but his--it was his son! And now
he knew he had been indeed a Judas and a coward.

Judge Henderson's dulled senses heard a sound, a distinct and unusual
sound. He stepped out into the hall and spoke to a neighbor who also was
looking out of his office door.

"What was that shot?" he asked.

"I don't know," said the other. "Where was it at--around that corner?
Oh, I reckon it was probably a tire blew out at Nels Jorgen's wagon
shop--he has automobiles there sometimes."

Henderson turned back to his own office, his nerves twitching. He was
obliged to face the duties of this day.

What was to happen now to William Henderson, the leading citizen of
Spring Valley? Actually, he now did not so much care. It was his
son--his own son--in yonder jail! The heart of a father began to be born
in him, thus late, thus very, very late.... He had seen her face, last
night.

He walked slowly down his stair and across the street to the courthouse.
His course was such that he could not see into Mulberry Street. Some
persons were hurrying in that direction, but he did not join them. He
was too preoccupied to pay much attention to the sounds which came to
his ears. As for himself, he could have gone anywhere rather than near
to the house of Aurora Lane that morning. A great terror filled his
soul, a terror largely of these people among whom he had lived thus
long. They had wrecked her home. They might have done worse in their
savagery. But it was he himself who was the real cause of that. Would
she still keep her oath now, after this? Could she be silent now?

He walked on now into the courthouse and down the long hall. He was
about to step into the county clerk's office, when he came face to face
with a tall man just stepping out. It was Horace Brooks.

"Well, Judge," said the latter, "how is it with you today?"

He spoke not unkindly, although his own face was haggard and gray.
Neither had he slept that night.

"It goes badly enough," said Henderson. "Nothing could be much worse.
Well?"

"You want to know if the grand jury has voted that bill? They have--I
have just heard. Of course you know I am counsel of record for the
defense."

"I didn't know it."

"Yes, Judge, there's going to be a fight on this case," said Hod Brooks
grimly. "That is, if you really want to fight. I've got nothing left to
trade--but, Judge, do you think you and I really ought to fight--over
this particular case?"

"I can't forswear my own professional duties," began Judge Henderson,
his mouth dry in his dull dread, his heart wrenched. He wondered what
Hod Brooks knew, what he was going to do. He knew what must come, but he
was not ready for the hour.

"Come into this room," said Horace Brooks suddenly. "I won't go to your
office, and I won't ask you to come to mine. But come in here, and let's
have a little talk."

They stepped over to the door of the county treasurer's office, across
the hall. It was a room of the sort usual in a country courthouse, with
its high stools and desks, its map-hung walls, its scattered chairs, its
great red record books lying here and there upon the desk top.

A young woman sat making some entry in a book. "Miss Carrie," said
Horace Brooks to her, "Judge Henderson and I want to talk a little
together privately. Please keep us from being disturbed. You run
away--we won't steal the county funds."

Smilingly the clerk obeyed. Brooks turned to Judge Henderson abruptly.

"Look here, Judge," said he.

He pointed to a large framed lithograph which hung on the wall--the same
which had hung on the wall in the library at the exercises of Saturday
night. It was a portrait of the candidate for the United States
Senate--Judge Henderson himself. The latter looked at it for a moment
without comment, and turned back with an inquiring eye.

Brooks was fumbling in the side pocket of his alpaca coat, and now he
drew out from it a good-sized photograph, which he placed face upward on
the desk beside them. It was done in half-profile, as was the portrait
upon the wall.

"Look at this picture too, Judge, if you please," said he, "and then
look back again at the lithograph. That was taken some years ago, when
you were young, wasn't it?"

Judge Henderson flushed lividly. "I leave all those things to the
committee," croaked he.

"--But this one here," said Horace Brooks slowly, "was taken when you
were still younger, _say, when you were twenty-two_, wasn't it?" He
moved back so that Judge Henderson might look at the photograph. He saw
the face of the great man grow yellow pale.

"Where did you get this?" he whispered. "How?"

"I got it of Miss Julia Delafield, at the library, early this morning,"
said Horace Brooks. "I told Miss Julia, whatever she did, to stay in the
library and not to go over to Aurora Lane's house. I--I didn't want her
to see what had happened there. She was busy, but she found this picture
for me. And we both know that really it is a photograph of the young man
against whom the grand jury have just brought a true bill--within the
last ten minutes."

There was silence in the dusty little room. The large white hand on the
desk top was visibly trembling. Hod Brooks' voice was low as he went on:

"Now, as to trying this case, Judge, I brought you in here to ask you
what you really want to do? I don't my own self very often try cases out
of court--although I have sometimes--sometimes. Yes, sometimes that's
the way to serve the ends of substantial justice."

Henderson made no reply--he scarcely could have spoken. He could feel
the net tightening; he knew what he was to expect now.

"Now, here are these two pictures," resumed Brooks. "Suppose I _were_
trying this case _in_ court. I'm not sure, but I think I could get them
both introduced in evidence, these two pictures. I think they are both
germane to this case--don't you? You've been on the bench--we've both
read law. Do you think as a judge you could keep a good lawyer from
getting these two pictures introduced in evidence in that case?"

"I don't see how you could," said the hoarse voice of Judge Henderson.
"It would be altogether immaterial and incompetent."

"Perhaps, perhaps," said Hod Brooks. "That's another good reason why I'd
rather try the case here, if it suits you! But just suppose I enlarged
this photograph to the exact size of the lithograph on the wall, and
suppose I did get them both into evidence, and suppose I unveiled the
two at just the psychological moment--I presume you would trust me to do
that?

"Now if I hadn't seen you last night just where you were, if I hadn't
hoped, from what I saw of you, that you were part man at least--_that's
how I would try this case_! What do you think about it?"

"I think you are practising politics again, and not law," sneered
Henderson. But his face was white.

"Yes? Well, I'll tell you, I don't want to see you go to the United
States Senate. In the first place, though I agreed not to run at all, I
never agreed to help you run. In the second place, I never did think you
were a good enough man to go there, and now I think it less than ever.
And since you ask me a direct question of political bearing, I'll say
that, if the public records--that is to say, the court records and all
the newspapers--showed the similarity of these two pictures side by
side, the effect on your political future might be very considerable!
What do you think?

"Now, if you take you and that boy side by side today," he went on,
having had no reply, "the resemblance between you two might not be
noticed. But get the _ages_ together--get the view of the face the same
in each case--take him at his age and you at something near the same
age--and don't you think there is much truth in what I said? The boy has
red hair, like me! But in black and white he looks like you!"

Judge Henderson, unable to make reply, had turned away. He was staring
out from the window over the courthouse yard.

"Some excitement over there," he said. Hod Brooks did not hear him.

"That face on the wall there, Judge Henderson," said he, "is the face of
a murderer! The face of this boy is not that of a murderer. But _you_
murdered a woman twenty years ago--not a man, but a woman--and damn
you, you know it, absolutely well! I saw last night that at last you
realized your own crime, that crime--you had _guilt_ on your face. I am
going to charge you--just as you maybe were planning to charge that
boy--with murder, worse than murder in the first degree, if that be
possible--worse even than prosecuting your own son for murder when you
know he's innocent!

"_You_ murdered that woman whom we two saw last night! _You_ made that
beastly mob a possible thing--not now, but years ago. Do you think the
people of this community will want to send you to the United States
Senate if they ever get a look at that act? Do you think they would
relish the thought that _you're_ the special prosecutor where _your son_
is on trial for his life? I say it--_your son_! You know it, and I know
it. You'd jeopardize the life that you yourself gave to him and were too
cowardly to acknowledge! Do you think you'd have a chance on earth here
if those things were known--if they knew you'd refused to defend
him--that you'd denied your own son? And do you think for a moment these
things will _not_ be known if I take this case?"

"This is blackmail!" exclaimed Judge Henderson, swinging around. "I'll
not stand for this."

"Of course, it's blackmail, Judge. I know that. But it's justice. And
you will stand for it! I didn't take this boy's case to get him hanged,
but to get him clear. I don't care a damn how I do it, but I'm going to
do it. I'd fight a man like you with anything I could get my hands on.
This is blackmail, yes; and it's politics--but it's justice."

"I didn't think this was possible," began Henderson, his voice shaking.
"I didn't think this of you."

"There's a lot of things people never thought of me," smiled Hod Brooks.
"I'm something of a trader my own self. Here's where we trade again.

"Listen. I didn't have the start that you had. I started far back beyond
the flag, and I have had to run hard to get into any place. Maybe I'll
lose all my place through this, I don't know. But I never got anywhere
in my life by shirking or sidestepping."

"You have some hidden interest in this."

"Yes! Now you have come to it! I'm not so much thinking of myself, not
so much thinking of you. I'm thinking of that woman."

He could not find Henderson's eyes now, for Henderson's face was buried
in his hands.

"I was thinking of something of the sort," Brooks went on slowly, "in
that other case, in Blackman's court last Saturday. Why didn't you try
that case, Judge? Didn't you know then he was your boy?"

The suddenly aged man before him did not make any reply. His full eyes
seemed to protrude yet more. "I felt something--I wasn't sure. She'd
told me years ago the boy was dead. How could I believe I was his
father? Don't ask me."

"I wish to God _I_ could have been the father of that boy!" said Hod
Brooks deliberately.

"We seem to be talking freely enough!" said Henderson. The perspiration
was breaking out on his forehead. But Horace Brooks took no shame to
himself for what he had said.

"The mother of that boy," he went on, "is the one woman I ever cared
for, Judge. I'll admit that to you. If there were any way in the world
so that I could take that woman's troubles on my own shoulders, I'd do
it.... So, you see, this wasn't blackmail after all, Judge. It wasn't
really politics after all. I was doing this for _her_."

"For her?"

"Yes. Now listen. You met her as a girl, when she didn't know much. I
never met her really to know much about her until she was a grown woman,
with a character--a splendid character whose like you'll not find
anywhere in this town, nor in many another town. You never had the
courage to come out and say that she was your wife--you never had the
courage to make her your wife. You thought you could last her out in
this town, because she was a person of no consequence--because she was a
woman. And all the time she was the grandest woman in this town. But she
didn't have any friends. Now, it seemed to me, she ought to have a
friend.

"Do you call it blackmail now, Judge?" he asked presently. "Is this
politics?"

But he ceased in his assault as he saw the pallor of the face of his
antagonist.

"You've got me, Hod!" said Judge William Henderson, gasping. "I confess!
It's over. You've got me!"

"Yes, I've got you, but I don't want you," said Hod Brooks. "I'm not
after you socially, legally, politically, or any other way. I tell you,
I'm thinking of those two women who put your son through college--who
had all they could do to keep their souls in their bodies, while you
lived the way you have lived here. They paid your debts for you--they
advanced cash and character _both_ for you--just two poor women. The
question now is, How are you going to pay any of your debts? There'll be
considerable accrued interest."

"I didn't know it all, I tell you," broke out Judge Henderson. "She
hasn't spoken to me for years, you might say--we never met. I didn't
know the boy was alive--she told me twenty years ago that he'd died, a
baby. This has all come up in a day--I've not had time to learn, to
think, to plan, to adjust----God! don't you think it's terrible enough,
with him there in jail?"

"She never asked you for help?"

"No, not till yesterday."

"She was game. I was sure. That was one reason why I went to that woman
night before last and asked her if she'd marry me."

"What--you did that?"

"I did that! I told her _I_ would take the boy and give him a father. I
said I'd even call him my own--I'd come that close to losing my own
self-respect in just this one case in the world. But, I told her, of
course I couldn't do that unless she was a widow. And, Judge, I
learned--from her--that she wasn't a widow. Oh, no, she didn't tell me
about you--and I never figured it out all clean till just now--that the
late District Judge of this county, and the Senatorial candidate for
this State--was the father of the boy, Don Lane. Huh? Oh, stand up to
it--you've got to take it.

"Now, this boy of yours had no father and two mothers--it's an odd case.
But how did I learn who was the father of that boy? Not from Aurora
Lane. No, I learned that from the other mother--this morning--Miss
Julia. And as soon as I did--as soon as I was convinced I had proofs--I
started over to find you."

"My God! man, what could you have meant?--You told her you would marry
her?" Judge Henderson's sheer astonishment overcame all other emotions.

"I meant every word I said. If it could have been humanly possible for
me to marry her, I'd have done that. Yes--I wanted to give her her
chance. I couldn't give her her chance. It looks as though she didn't
have one, never has had, never can have.

"Now, if I hadn't seen you last night right where I did--if I didn't
believe that somewhere inside of you there was just a trace of
manhood--it's not very much--it's damned little--I wouldn't have asked
you to come in here to talk. I'd have waited until I got you in the
courtroom. I'd have waited until I got you on the platform, and then I'd
have taken your heart out in public. I'd have broken you before the
people of this town. I'd have flayed you alive and prayed your hide to
grow so I could take it off again, and I'd have hung it on the public
fence. But, you see--last night----My God!

"I wouldn't trade places with you now, Judge Henderson," said Hod
Brooks, after a time. "If I knew I had been responsible for what we saw
last night, as you were responsible--I'd never raise my head again.

"As for the United States Senate, Judge, do you think you're fit to go
there? Do you think this is blackmail now? Do you think you want to try
this murder case? Do you think you want to try this case against this
boy--your son--her son? There may be men worse than you in the United
States Senate, but I will say it might be full of better. You're never
going there, Judge. And you're never going to try this case."

"You've got me, Hod," croaked the ashy-faced man.

"Yeh, Judge, I have! But that's not the question."

"What do you mean?"

"You swore the oath of justice and support of the law when you were
admitted to this bar. You've broken your oath--all your oaths. Are you
going to throw yourself on the court now and ask for forgiveness?"

Henderson stood weakly, half supporting himself against the desk edge.
He seemed shrunken all at once, his clothing fitted him less snugly. A
roughened place showed on the side of his shining top hat--the only top
hat in Spring Valley.

"I've tried this case," said Hod Brooks sharply. "I've tried it before
your own conscience. It took twenty years for a woman to square herself.
I'm going to ask the court to send you up for twenty years. You murdered
a good woman. That's a light sentence."

A large fly was buzzing on the window-pane in the sunlight, and the
sound was distinctly audible in the silence that now fell in the little
room. It might indeed have been twenty years that had passed here in as
many minutes, so swift a revolution had taken place. The making over of
a soul; the cleansing of a life; the changing of an entire creed of
conduct; the surrender of a dominating inborn trait; the tearing down
and building over a vain and wholly selfish man.

"I think she's a good woman," said Hod Brooks simply, after a time.

"So do I!" broke out Judge Henderson at length, with a sudden gasp. "So
do I! She's a good woman. I knew it last night. I've known it all along,
in a way. It all came over me last night--I saw it all plain for the
first time in all these years. Hod! You're right. I don't deserve mercy.
I don't ask it--I'd be ashamed to."

"Religion," said Hod Brooks, quite irrelevantly, "is not altogether
confined to churches, you know. A man's conviction may hit him
anywhere--even in the office of the county treasurer of Jackson County.
But if I was a preacher, Judge Henderson, I'd be mighty glad to hear you
say what you have said."

In his face there showed some sort of strange emotion of his own, a sort
of yearning for the understanding of his own nature by this other man;
and some sort of rude man's sympathy for the broken man who stood before
him.

"You both were young," said he softly and irrelevantly. "I'm not your
judge."

"Hod," said Judge Henderson--"I'm done! I wouldn't go to the Senate
tomorrow if they'd let me. For twenty years she's taken her fate. She's
never told my name. She's never blamed me. She's paid all her debts. In
the next twenty years--can I live as well as that?"

"Yes, she's paid her debts. We've all got to do that some time--there
doesn't seem to be any good way of getting clear of an honest debt,
does there? It costs considerable, sometimes." Hod Brooks' voice held no
wavering, but it was not unkind.

"But now, Judge," he resumed, "we get around to my profession, which is
that of the practice of the law. There's a true bill against the boy.
State's Attorney Slattery don't amount to much--I know about a lot of
things. You're the real intended prosecutor here. Now, I don't want any
passing over of this case to another term of court--I'm not going to let
that boy lie in jail."

"That was what I meant to do--I wasn't going to try for a conviction--I
was going to try for delay."

"Come into court with me and openly ask the quashing of this
indictment," said Hod Brooks. "And we can beat that delay game a
thousand ways of the deck! But now, now--you _did_ have the heart of a
father, then? So, so--well, well! Say, Judge, we're not opponents--we're
partners in this case."

"Hod----" began the other; but Hod Brooks was the master mind. "I
believe we can show, some time, somehow," said he, "that the boy didn't
do it. I know the boy's _mother_. Of course, his father wasn't so much!"
He broke out into his great laugh, but in the corners of his eyes there
was visible a dampness.

Judge Henderson hesitated for just a moment. "Believe at least this
much, Hod," said he. "I didn't know as much at first as I do now.
She--she told me all--I saw it all--last night. I want to tell the
truth--near as I know. When I saw the boy in Blackman's court--it didn't
seem possible, and yet it did. But who gave you the notion? What made
_you_ suspect it? You didn't suspect it then, in the justice court, did
you?"

"Only vaguely," said Hod Brooks; "not so very much. I'll tell you who
did--a woman."

"Aurora?"

"No--Miss Julia. Miss Julia sat there looking from the face of Don Lane
to your own face. There was something in her face--I can't tell what.
Why, hell! I don't suppose a man ever does know what's going on in a
woman's heart, least of all a crude man like me, that never had any fine
feelings in all his life. But there was something there in Miss Julia's
face--I can't tell what. In some way, in her mind, she was connecting
those two faces that she saw before her. If I hadn't seen her face, I
wouldn't ever have suspected you of being the father of that boy!

"But something stuck in my mind. Now, this morning, getting ready to
prepare my case, defending this boy, I went over to Miss Julia's
library. I still remembered what I had seen. I found this picture
there--she had that other picture there, hanging on her wall, too. She
had them both! One was on the wall and the other on her desk. Now, she
had certainly established some connection in her own mind between those
two pictures, or else she wouldn't have had them there both right
before her."

"Then you, too, know," interrupted Henderson, "the story of those two
women--how they brought him up from babyhood--and kept the secret? Why
did Miss Julia do that?"

"Because she was a woman."

"But why didn't she tell?"

"Because she was a woman."

"But why--what makes you suppose she ever would care in the first place
for this boy when he was a baby?"

"Again, because she was a woman, Judge!"

"She came and told me all about her friendship for Aurora. But she
admitted she didn't know who the father of the boy was. Then why should
she connect me with this?"

"The same reason, Judge--because she was a woman!

"And when you come to that," he added as he turned toward the door,
"that covers our whole talk today. That's why I got you to come here.
That's why I'm interested in this case. That's why I've made you try
this case yourself, here, now, Judge, before the court of your own
conscience. A crime worse than murder has been done here in this town to
Aurora Lane--because she was a woman! She's borne the brunt of it--paid
all her debts--carried all her awful, unspeakable, unbelievable
load--because she was a woman!

"And," he concluded, "if you ask me why I was specially interested in
the boy's case and yours and hers--I'll tell you. I gave up--to you--all
my hope of success and honor and preferment just so as to help her all I
could; to stand between her and the world all I could; to help her and
her boy all I could. It was because she was a woman--the very best I
ever knew."



CHAPTER XXII

MISS JULIA


It was now ten o'clock of this eventful morning in quiet old Spring
Valley. A hush seemed to have fallen on all the town. The streets were
well-nigh deserted so far as one might see from the public square. Only
one figure seemed animated by a definite purpose.

Miss Julia Delafield came rapidly as she might across the street from
the foot of the stair that led up to Judge Henderson's office. She had
hobbled up the stair and hobbled down again, and now was crossing the
street that led to the courthouse. She came through the little turnstile
and tap-tapped her way up the wide brick walk. Her face, turned up
eagerly, was flushed, full of great emotions.

Miss Julia was clad in her best finery. She had on a bright new
hat--which she had had over from Aurora's shop but recently. She had
worn it at the great event of Don Lane's homecoming--worn it to make
tribute to her "son." She wore it now in search of that son's
father--and she had not the slightest idea in the world who that father
in fact might be. Miss Julia's divination was only such stuff as dreams
are made on. The father of Don, the unborn father of her unborn
beloved--was not yet caught out of chaos, not yet resolved out of
time--he was but a creature of her dreams.

So Miss Julia walked haltingly through star dust. It whirled all about
her as she crossed the dirty street. Around her spun all the nebulæ of
life yet to be. Somewhere on beyond and back of this was a soft, gray,
vague light, the light of creation itself, of the dawn, of the birth of
time. Perhaps some would have said it was the light shining down through
the courthouse hall from the farther open door. Who would deny poor
little Miss Julia her splendid dreams?

For Miss Julia was very, very happy. She had found how the world was
made and why it was made. And mighty few wise men ever have learned so
much as that.

She searched for the father of her first-born--a man tall and splendid
and beautiful--a man strong and just and noble. Such only might be the
father of her boy.... And she met him at the door of the county
treasurer's office, his silk hat slightly rumpled on one side.

"Oh!" she cried, and started back.

She had only been thinking. But here he was. This was proof to Miss
Julia's mind that God actually does engage in our daily lives. For here
he was!

Now she could bring father and son together; and that would correlate
this world of question and doubt with that world of the star dust and
the whirling nebulæ.

"Miss Julia!" The judge stopped, suddenly embarrassed. He flushed, which
was all the better, for he had been ashen pale.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" she exclaimed. "I was looking for you, all over. I
was at your office, but did not find you. Of course you have heard?"

"Heard? No, what was it?"

"Why, the death of Johnnie Adamson--it was the sheriff, just now--Dan
Cowles shot him, right in front of Aurora Lane's house. He must have
been trying to break in or something. His father was there."

"Why, great heavens!--what are you telling me? The sheriff shot him?
Where is Cowles? I must see him."

"He's here in the courthouse now, they say. But it's all over now. Where
have you been? I was going over to Aurora's house early this morning,
but Mr. Brooks came in. I must go over at once----"

"Come this way, Miss Julia," he interrupted.

He led her into the room he had just left. Racked as he was himself, he
knew it would be too cruel an unkindness to tell Miss Julia now of what
had befallen Aurora Lane the night before.

"The reason I came to you first," said Miss Julia--"before I went to
Aurora--was about the boy--about Don. You see, he confessed--the
half-wit did--before he was killed. The sheriff and others and his own
father heard him say that he had killed Tarbush, don't you see? He'd
gone wild, don't you see--he was a maniac. It was a madman killed
Tarbush. Why, Don didn't do it--I _told_ you he couldn't have done it!
Didn't I?

"So now it's all cleared--and I'm so glad!" she concluded, breathless.

"What's all this you are telling me, Miss Julia? Why, this is basic
evidence--it does end the case! But you say there were witnesses to this
confession?" A vast relief came into Judge Henderson's ashen face.

"Yes, yes, the sheriff and Eph Adamson and Nels Jorgens--they all heard
him. And the poor boy--his body's in the justice's office now. They've
sent a messenger after his mother--poor thing--oh, poor woman that she
is!"

"Where is Adamson now--where's the sheriff?"

"As I said, the sheriff is here in the building somewhere. Old Eph
Adamson won't speak to anyone. He seems half out of his own mind now.
But he doesn't blame the sheriff. They say he's sorry for Aurora. Why?

"So you see," said Miss Julia, leaping over a vast sea of intervening
facts, "everything's all right now." And she sighed a great soft sigh
of complete content. "Of course Don didn't do it. I knew that all
along."

"Where's Anne--my ward?" asked Judge Henderson suddenly. "I want to
speak to her a moment."

"I don't know," said Miss Julia. But she smiled, and all her choicest
dimples came out in fine array. "I shouldn't wonder if she was in jail!
Now I've got to go over to Aurora's. All this news, you know----"

But Miss Julia did not hasten away. To the contrary, she seemed not
unwilling to linger yet a time--unconsciously. The truth was that all
her heart was happy, with the one supreme happiness possible for her in
all her life. For a second time she was here, standing face to face with
her hero. So she sighed and smiled and dimpled and talked over this
thing and that--until at length she turned and caught sight of the two
pictures, the one on the wall, the other on the desk--which both men had
left there, forgotten.

"Why, what's this?" said she. "I gave Mr. Brooks this one this morning,"
she said. "He might at least have returned it to me. He said he wanted
to borrow it for a little while. Was he here?"

"He just went away," said Judge Henderson uneasily. "He was here just
now."

Miss Julia was taking up the little photograph and looking from it to
the lithograph with soft eyes.

"Isn't it fine?" said she. "Fine!" But she did not say which one of the
two faces she saw before her was most in her mind.... And then in the
little room with its dusty windows and its tumbled books and map-hung
walls, Miss Julia leaped to the great fundamental conclusion of her own
life.

She saw out far into the time of star dust and the soft vague light and
the whirling nebulæ. She saw all the great truths--saw the one great
truth for any woman--saw her hero standing here--the dream father of her
own dream child.... But Miss Julia never grasped the real, the inferior,
the human truth at all. On the contrary, she made a vast and very
beautiful mistake. She had assigned a dream father to her dream son, but
no more. That Judge William Henderson was the father indeed of Dieudonné
Lane she no more suspected than she suspected herself to be his actual
mother. So, therefore, it had been only a path of dreams that Horace
Brooks had followed when he saw her look from the boy's to the father's
face. It was only a path of dreams now that again her eyes followed, as
she looked from the portrait of the youth to the man who stood before
her. Ah! Miss Julia. Poor, little, happy Miss Julia!

"So now, Judge," said she at last, "you can clear him, after all. It
will be so fine for you to do that--so dramatic--so fitting, won't it?"

If Judge Henderson could have spoken, perhaps he would have done so; but
she misunderstood his choking silence. She was miles away from the
actual truth; and never was to know it in all her life.

"Don hadn't any father," said she. "His father's dead long ago, or
Aurora would have told me. He's in his grave--and she'll not open it
even for me, who have loved her so much. But if he had had a father..."
Her voice ceased wistfully.

Judge Henderson coughed, his hands at his throat. She did not see his
face.

"... If only he could have had a father like--this!"

Her own little hand fell gently--ever so gently--on the lithographed
face of the great man, her hero, her champion--who always was to be such
for her. It was the boldest act of all her quiet life. Her hand was very
gentle, but as it fell, perhaps it dealt the heaviest blow to the
vanity, the egotism, the innate selfishness of the man ever he had
known, even in this swift series of blows he was now receiving. For once
remorse, regret, understanding smote him sore. He saw how little he had
earned what life had given him. He saw--himself!

"But then," she added hastily, and flushed to the roots of her hair--"I
beg your pardon. That could not have been, of course. Don's father--the
way he was born--why, _Don's_ father couldn't have been a man like
_you_! We all know that."

Miss Julia hobbled on away now to find her friend, Aurora Lane. She did
not know the story of the night before. Miss Julia was very, very
happy. She had her boy and his father after all--and both were above
reproach! And she never told, not in all her life--and she never knew,
not in all her life. And as she hobbled now up the walk beyond the
little gate--somewhat repentant that her own eagerness had kept her away
thus long from Aurora, she felt no remorse in her heart that she had not
told Aurora Lane the real secret of her own life. "Because," remarked
Miss Julia, to herself, like any woman, "there is one secret she has
never told me--she has never told me who was Don's father!"

Poor little Miss Julia! Ah, very happy, very happy, little Miss Julia!
Because she was a woman.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE STATE VS. DIEUDONNÉ LANE


Judge Henderson, haggard, shaken, turned and walked down one of the
halls which traversed the courthouse building. In the central space,
where the two halls crossed at right angles, was a curving stair leading
up to the courtrooms and the offices of the immediate servants of
justice. As he stood here he saw again the tall figure of Horace Brooks
approaching. He walked even more stooped forward than was usually his
case, shambling, his feet turned out at wide angles. His great face in
its fringe of red beard hung forward--but it bore now nothing but
smiles. It showed nothing of triumph over the man he saw standing here
waiting, humble and broken. He himself had said that he lacked birth and
breeding. If so, whence got he this strange gentleness which marked his
face now, as he stepped up to Judge Henderson--the man who but now had
stood between him and success--who must always, so long as he lived,
stand between him and happiness--the man whom he had beaten?

"Judge," said Horace Brooks, "I reckon about the best thing we can do is
to go right on up to the court and get this thing cleaned up. You've
heard the news by now?"

Henderson nodded. "Yes, just now."

"Well, that softens up a lot of things, doesn't it? It will make things
easier for everyone concerned--a whole lot easier for you and me, Judge.
Now we can ask for the quashing of this indictment and the court can't
help granting it. Cowles is there. He's just gone up. Adamson is with
him."

So they went up before the court, and the judge listened to the story of
the sad-faced officer and the sad-faced old man with him. And presently
the clerk at his side inscribed in the records: "The State vs. Dieudonné
Lane, murder in the first degree. Indictment quashed on motion of
Assistant State's Attorney."

"You will discharge the prisoner from custody, Mr. Sheriff," said the
judge.

"I'd like to say, if it please the Court," said Cowles, drawing a large
and adequate handkerchief from his pocket and blowing a large and
adequate nose, "that last night, at the time of the--the disturbance
which these gentlemen here helped me to quell--this same young man
that's just been discharged--why, he helped me as much as anybody."

"What do you mean?" demanded the judge severely. "You let him out of
your custody when he was under commitment?"

"Yes, your Honor. I may have been short in some of my duties, your
Honor. I let a woman--a young woman--go in there last night to see him
for a few minutes. When she went out I must have forgot to lock the
door. What they said, now, it must have stirred me up some way. When the
mob formed and came to the jail the prisoner had walked out. But right
at the worst of it, there he was. And after it he went on back to jail
alone. When I got back he was in his cell. The door wasn't locked even
then. My wife wasn't there.

"I reckon, your Honor, we've all of us sort of made a general mistake,"
concluded Dan Cowles deprecatingly. "I allowed I'd tell this Court about
it."

So, amid the frowning silence of the court, and the silence as well of
all who heard this, the two attorneys, the sheriff and Ephraim Adamson
walked on down the winding stairs.

Adamson saw coming across the courthouse yard the figure of an angular
woman, dressed in calico, a sun-bonnet on her head, a sodden
handkerchief in her hand. He walked on hurriedly to meet her. At the
very spot where so lately he and his son had stood to challenge the
world to combat, he took this gaunt old woman in his arms, in the
sunlight before all the world. "Mother!" said he.

And at about this same time--since after all the world and life and
swift keen joy of living must go on just the same--two young persons
stood not far distant from that scene; stood not in the full light of
the sun, stood not in the wisdom and sadness of middle age, but in
youth--in youth and the glory and splendor of the vast, ineffable,
indispensable illusion. The dim twilight which lighted them might have
been the soft, vague light of the world's own dawning--the same which
poor Miss Julia had seen that very day.

Cowles hastened away from the door after he had thrown back the
bolts--the bolts and bars which had been laughed at by love all this
time. The young man came out into the stone-floored hall where Anne
Oglesby stood waiting for him--all beautiful and fresh and clean and
sweet--fragrant as a very flower in her worthiness for love.

"Don!" she said, and held out her arms, running toward him.

"Oh, Anne! Anne!"

His arms went about her. And this time there was no one there to see.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE SACKCLOTH OF SPRING VALLEY


Number five roared eastward through the town that day on time. No one
stepped down from the train, and no one took passage on it. Spring
Valley had dropped back into its customary uneventfulness so far as the
outer world might tell. It was but a little hamlet on the long line of
fields and trees that lies along the way of Number Five.

Hurrying on toward the vast confusion of the metropolis, Number Five
gave up its tenants to be lost in the cosmic focus of the great city,
where all about were the lights and the anxious faces. The city, with
its tall, dentated outline against the sky--wonderful, beautiful,
alluring; the city with its unceasing strife, its vast and brooding
peace, where walk side by side the ablest men, the most beautiful women
of all the world, all keyed to the highest pitch of effort, all living
at white heat of emotion and passion, of joy and of sorrow--the city and
its ways--we may not know these unless we, too, embark on Number Five.

In the silk-lined recesses of one of the city's greatest hostelries,
where anything in the world may be bought, there sat, soon after the
arrival of Number Five at the metropolis, the traveling man, Ben McQuaid
of Spring Valley, and a little milliner from a town east of Spring
Valley which Ben McQuaid "made" in his regular travel for his "house."
He had bought for her now the most expensive viands, the most confusing
and inspiring wines that all the city could offer. Soft-footed servants
were attending them both. They were having their little fling. To the
city that was a matter of small consequence.

Nor, when it comes to that, was all the city itself of so much
consequence. The great fact is that, while Ben McQuaid and the little
milliner were speeding east on Number Five, at midday, when the dusty
maples of Spring Valley still were motionless under the heat of the
inland summer day--old Nels Jorgens' wife was walking across the way
with a covered dish in her hands.... In the dish, you say, there was
only some crude cottage cheese for Aurora Lane? Was that all you saw?
Seek again: for you, too, are human and neither may you escape the great
things of life, nor ought you to miss its great discoveries.

Mrs. Nels Jorgens had on no hat. Her gown was God knows what--gingham or
calico or silk or cloth of gold, who shall say? She was a woman of
fifty-eight. Her sunken stomach protruded far below her flattened and
withered bosom as she walked. Her stringy hair was gray and uncomely.
But her face--now her face--have you not seen it? Perhaps not in the
city. But the little supper in the city (not yet come to the time of
sack-cloth) was by no means so great a thing as the service of Mrs. Nels
Jorgens, the wagon-maker's wife, when she carried across to Aurora Lane
a dish of something for her luncheon.

And others came. From the byways of this late cruel-hearted village came
women, surely not cruel-hearted after all. They seemed to have some
common errand. They were paying off the debt of years, though what they
brought was not in silver dishes and there was no bubbling wine. So far
from calling this a merciless, ignorant town, a hopeless town, at noon
of that day, had you been there and seen these women and their ways, you
would have called it charitable, kindly, beautiful; though after all it
was and had been only human.

Over the breathless maples there seemed now to hang a stratum of another
atmosphere, as sensible, as appreciable, as though a physical thing
itself. The sympathy of Spring Valley was awake at last--after twenty
years!

"'Rory, I just thought I'd come over and bring you a dish of this--I had
some already made. I said to myself, says I, if we can eat this all the
time, maybe you can just once"--it was the old jest, humble but kind. It
sounded wondrous sweet to Aurora Lane--after twenty years.

After these had gone away again, a little awed by the white, sad
dignity of Aurora Lane--even nature seemed to relent. Ben McQuaid and
the little milliner were cooled by swiftly revolving electric fans
yonder in the city. But along in the evening of this summer day in
Spring Valley the leaves of the maples were stirred by softly moving
breezes done by nature's hand.

"Aaron," said old Silas Kneebone to his crony, "seems like we're goin'
to get a change of weather. Maybe the hot spell's broke at last."

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Silas," said his friend suddenly,
straightening up on his staff. "I'll tell you what I'll do with you,
Silas. Even if it _is_ goin' to be cool before long--I'll just take you
over to the drug store and buy you a drink of ice-cream sody at the
fountain!"

"Time comes," he continued after a time, "when a fellow's been feelin'
kind of stirred up, some way--when he feels just like he didn't care a
hang for no expense. Ain't that the truth?"



CHAPTER XXV

BECAUSE SHE WAS A WOMAN


The blessed change in the weather came on apace. The sultry air softened
and became more life-giving. Folk moved into the open, sat out upon the
steps of the front galleries, rich and poor alike, willing to take the
air. There was an unusual silence, an unwonted scarcity of callings back
and forth across the fences. The people of the town did not care to
revive the memories of the last two days.

But the narrow little porch in front of the millinery shop on Mulberry
Street held no occupant. There was a light within, but the blinds were
close drawn. None who passed could hear any sound.

Aurora Lane had sat for hours, almost motionless, at the side of the
table where customarily she worked. She made no pretense to read in her
Bible now. Her little white bed was unrumpled by any pressure of her
body bowed at its side in prayer, although it was her hour now for these
things.

She was trying to think. Her mind had been crushed. She sat dazed. It
seemed to her an age since these women--these strangely kind-hearted,
newly charitable women--had been here. Or, had she only dreamed that
they were here? Had it been a passage of angels she herself had
witnessed here?

She had told Miss Julia not to let Don come to see her just yet. So,
though she had heard the great news of his release, she had not met him.
"I'll have to think, Julia," she said. "I don't know what I'll do. I
must be alone."

The window of her shop was still unmended. The red hat which had been so
long, in one redressing or another, the sign of her wares, now was bent
and broken beyond all possibility of restoration. The walls were bare,
the furniture was broken. It was wreck and ruin that lay about her, as
dully she still was conscious.

Twenty years of it--and this was the climax! What place was there left
for her in all the world? As she sat, hour after hour, alone, Aurora
Lane was thinking of the dark pool under the bridge, of how cool and
comforting it might be. Her bosom rose, torn now and then with deep,
slow sobs, like the ground swell of a sea moved by some vast, remote,
invisible cause. She had been sobbing thus for some twenty-four hours.

She had not moved about very much today in her household, had not often
left her chair here at the table. The mob had destroyed most of her
pitiful store of gear, so there was small choice left her.

Somewhere she had found, deep down in a trunk tray, an old and faded
garment, its silken sleeves so worn that the creases were now open--a
blouse which she had put away long, long ago--twenty years and more ago.
She wore it as best she might; and over the neck where the silk was gone
she had cast a white shawl, also of silk, a thing likewise come down,
treasured, from her meager girlhood days. This would serve her, so she
thought, until she could find heart to go to bed and endeavor to find
sleep.... Yes. They may have been of her own mother's wedding finery.
Yes. Perhaps she one day had planned they might be parts of her own
wedding gear.... But she had had no wedding.

She had done her hair, with Miss Julia's weeping aid, as simply as might
be--as she had when she was younger. It lay now in long, heavy, deep
rolls, down the nape of her white neck, along the sides of her head,
covering her little ears, still shapely. Her face was white as death,
but still it held traces in its features, sharpened and refined, of what
once was a tender and joyous beauty of its own--a beauty now high and
spiritual. In her time Aurora Lane had been known far and wide as a very
beautiful girl; self-willed, yes; wild--but beautiful. She did not
remember these things now, not in the least; and there was no mirror
left unbroken in the place.

The evening waxed on, approaching nine of the clock, at which time good
folk began to turn up the porch chairs against the wall so that the
rain might not hurt them if it came, and to draw back into the stuffy
rooms and to prepare for the use of the stuffy beds. Fathers of families
now drank deeply at the pitcher of ice water left on the center table.
One little group after another, visible here and there on the porches or
the stairs along the little street, lessened and gradually disappeared.
One by one the lights went out all over the town. By ten o'clock the
town would have settled down to slumber. It was Monday, and on Monday
night not even the most ardent swains frequent hammocks or front parlors
at an hour so late as ten o'clock in our town, Saturday night and the
Lord's day being more especially set apart for these usages.

But the light in Aurora Lane's house still burned. She did not know how
late it was. The clock on the mantel was silent, for it had been broken
by the men who had been there the night before. She sat motionless as a
woman of stone. Not even her boy was there--not even Miss Julia was
there. She was alone--with her future, and with her past.

It must have been toward midnight when at length Aurora Lane raised her
head, turned a little. She had heard a sound! A sharp pang of terror
caught at her--sheer, unreasoning terror. Were they coming again? But
no, it was not the sound of many footfalls, not the sound of many
voices.

What came to her now was a single sound, not made up of others--a low,
definite sound. And it was not at her door in front--it was at the side
of the house--it was at her window!

It was a slight sound--a sort of tapping rhythmically repeated--a
signal!

Aurora Lane stopped breathing--her heart stopped in her bosom. The face
was icy white which she turned toward the window back of which she heard
this sound, this signal. She thought she had gone mad. She believed that
at last her mind had broken under all the trials that had been heaped
upon it. Then her eyes began to move about, startled, like those of a
wild deer, seeking which way to leap.

It seemed to her she heard now another sound in addition, a sort of low
call, a word.... Yes, it was her name:

"Aurora! Aurora!"

What could it mean? It was some visitor come there in insult--it could
be no more than that. And yet what impiousness, what mockery! Because,
what she heard, she had heard before! It had been twenty years since,
and more--but she had heard it then.

Resolved suddenly to brave the worst, whatever it might be, she rose and
swiftly stepped to the side door which made out upon the narrow yard.

A man was standing near the door, now turning away from the window--a
tall man, slouching down like an old man.

"Who's there?" she cried, intending to call out aloud to give the alarm,
but failing to raise her voice above a whisper, such was her fear. Yes,
it was someone come here to offer yet another insult.

But the man came into the field of light which shone around her through
the door--came closer, reaching out his hands to her. She heard him
struggling with his own voice, trying to speak. At last: "Aurora!
Aurora! Let me in! Will you let me in?"

She threw open the door so that the light might come. But it was late.
The town slept. No one saw the light. No one saw the man who entered her
door.

He came on slowly, bending down, groaning, almost sobbing, it seemed to
her. He entered the room, sank down into a chair. He was that pitiable
thing, a man with his nerves set loose by cataclysm of the emotions.

Not less than this had William Henderson met this day. It had shortened
actually his physical stature, had altered every line in his face. He
was twenty years and more older now than when she had seen him last. In
one short day William Henderson had burned down to a speck in the cosmic
plan. He had learned for himself how little is any man. And vanity torn
out by the roots--a megalomaniac egotism done away by a capital
operation--a life-long self-content, an ingrown selfishness, all
wrenched out at once--that sort of thing takes its toll in the doing.

William Henderson was paying his debts all at once--with interest
accrued, as Hod Brooks had said to him. It was an old, old, ashen-faced
man who turned to her at last, as he came into the little lighted room.

Neither had spoken since he came within. The door now was closed back of
him. No one without could have any inkling of what went on within this
little room.... The drawn curtains ... the low light ... the man ... the
woman ... midnight! All which had been here twenty years before for
setting, that same now was here! And if there was ruin now of what here
once was fresh and fair, if ruin lay about them now, who had wrought
that ruin?

... Yes, it had been here. It was at this very place--when she was just
starting, struggling, young--all the vague, soft, mysterious, compelling
impulses of youth and life just now hers--so strange, so strong, so
sweet, so ineffable, so indispensable, so little understood....

That had been his signal! And when he had rapped before--when he was
young and comely, not old and ashen--she could no more have helped
opening the door than the white wisps from the cottonwoods could cease
to pass upon the air in their ancient seeking, blown by the spirit of
life, coming from thither, passing thence, under an impulse soft, sweet,
gentle, unsought but irresistible.

"Will!" she said at length. "Will, what's wrong? What have you done?
What does this mean?" In some sense, swiftly, the past seemed back
again, its twenty years effaced, so that she thought in terms of other
days.

He raised his head. "What, you speak to me? You said 'Will'? Oh, Aurie,
Aurie, don't!--I can't stand it. I'm not good enough for this."

"What's happened?" she insisted. "Why are you here?"

He sat, his lips loosely working now, his eyes red, his face flabby, his
gray hair tumbled on his temples. It was as though all life's excesses
and indulgences had culminated and taken full revenge on him in this one
day.

"And you can say that to me?" he murmured. It was very difficult for him
to talk. He was broken--he was gone--he was just an old man--a shell, a
rim, a ruin of a man, now seeing himself as he actually had been all
these years--God knows, a pitiable sight, that, for many and many a man
of us all.

"I'm--I'm afraid, Will! Last night--it broke me, someway--I don't think
much more can happen.... I can't think--I can't pull together,
someway.... I was going down to the bridge tonight.... But I thought of
Don."

"But you couldn't think of _me_, Aurora?--Have you ever, in all these
years?"

She made him no answer at all.

"No. You could only hate the thought of me," he said. "What a coward
I've been, what a cur! Ah, what a coward I've been all these years!"

"I wish you wouldn't, Will," she said. Dazed, troubled, she was trying
to think in terms of the present; trying, as she had said, to pull
together. "You are Don's father.... Well, you were a man, Will," she
added, sighing. "I was only a woman."

She had neither sarcasm nor resentfulness in her words. It was simply
what she had learned by herself, in her own life, without any great
horizon in the world.

"It was pretty hard sometimes," said she, after a time, slowly. "I had
to contrive so much. Putting the boy through college--it began to cost
more the last four years--so much more than we had supposed it would.
You know, sometimes I was almost----" She flushed and paused.

"What was it, Aurie?"

"At one time not long ago, the bills were so large that we had to
pay--it was so hard to get the money, I was almost on the point of going
to you--for him, you know--and to ask you for a little help. But that's
all over now."

"Oh, I ought to have come through--I ought to have owned it all up!"

"Yes, Will, you ought."

"Why did you keep it--why didn't you name me? I always thought, for a
long time, that you would, that you must."

"I don't know. Don't ask me anything. But at least, Don's out now. Thank
God! he's clear--he's innocent, and they all know it now. They can't
keep him down, can they? He won't have as hard a time as I've had? He'll
succeed, won't he? He must, after it all!"

"Yes," said the man, shaking as in a palsy, "after it all, he ought to,
and I pray he may." But he could talk no more.

"And he's such a fine boy! I don't see how you could----"

"How I could disown him? Yesterday?"

She nodded. "I can't understand that. I never could. I can't see how you
could hesitate. I--I wish you hadn't. I--I can't forgive that." Her
voice rose slightly at last, a spot of color came into her pallid cheek.

"I didn't have the courage to come through square, and that's the truth
about it. I've never had, all along. Maybe a man doesn't have the same
feeling that a woman does about a child--I don't know. But I was worse
than the average man--more selfish. I got caught up in politics, in
business. Success?--well, I saw how hard it is. I thought I had to keep
down the past. Well, it's over now. But as for you----"

"I lived it down for a good many years. Don's twenty-two now."

"But how could you keep that secret--what made you? Why didn't you go
into court and force me to do my duty to my own flesh and blood--and to
you?"

"I don't know," she answered. "I told you, I don't know. Maybe I was
proud. Maybe I thought I'd wait till you shamed your own self into
coming. I'm glad you've come now, at last. I don't know--maybe I thought
some day you would."

"I'm not Judge Henderson!" he broke out bitterly. "I'm Arthur
Dimmesdale! I ought to be in the pillory, on the gallows, before this
town. I'm a thief and a coward, and I deserve no pity, neither of man
nor of God himself. You've carried all the blame, when I was the one to
blame. And I can't see why you didn't tell, Aurie--what made you keep it
all a secret?"

"I don't know," said she simply again. "I don't know. It seemed--it
seemed somehow to me--_sacred_--what was between us! It was--Don! I have
never told anyone. I was waiting, hoping you'd come--for your own sake.
Why should I rob you of your chance?"

"Thank God that you did keep the secret!" he broke out at length. "It's
all the chance I have left to be a man. At least I'll confess the
truth."

"Why, Will, what do you mean? I'll never tell. I told you I wouldn't--I
swore I wouldn't.

"I'll be going away before long, Will," she added. "I can't stay here
now. I suppose Don and I will go away somewhere. I'm glad he's found a
good girl. Ah!--Anne, she's splendid.... I'm not going to make any
objections to his marrying _her_. And, you see, I'll know that you came
here. And some time he will know--who was his father. He doesn't, yet.
In justice, some time he will. God will attend to that, not any of us."

"All the world shall know it, Aurora!" said the man at her side. "I saw
them a little while ago, walking together. He was listening to the
drums. He was looking at the Flag--and so was she. They are up at my
house now. They're happy. God bless them."

"But they don't know--you've not told?"

"No, I've been walking out in the country--all evening. I was up
there--on the road to the Calvary Cemetery. I'm going to tell Don the
truth tomorrow.

"But look at your house--your poor little home." He cast about him a
gaze which took in the ruin that had been made of all her belongings.
"Oh, my God, Aurora! It was my own fault. It was _I_ who made that mob a
possible thing. And you were a good woman. You've been a good woman all
the time. I never knew before what a splendid thing a woman can be.
Why--strong!... And you called me 'Will' just now. What made you do
that?"

"I don't know," said Aurora Lane. "I suppose a woman never does quite
forget the--the first man of--of her life."

"But how sweet it all was," he broke out, "in spite of it all, in spite
of everything! Oh, Aurie, don't you remember when I'd come and tap there
on the window--and you'd come and let me in? I don't deserve even that
memory ... a woman like you--and a man like me. But I can't forget it.
And you let me come in now--that's my one last joy left for all my life.
Why, it's the one thing I can never think of again without a shudder.
Yes, I've come without your asking--and you--you've let me in.

"Aurie," he went on, "that's what leaves me so helpless. I know what I
deserve--but I don't want to be despised.... I want more than I deserve!
I've always had more than I deserved. It's about all any man can say.
It's life itself, I suppose. I don't know what it is. But, Aurie, Aurie,
I do see a thousand things now I never saw before."

She still sat, white, dumb. Only, now, her head began to move, slowly,
from side to side. He caught the evidence of negative, and a new
resolution came to him at last.

"Let it all go!" he said at length--and now indeed he was on his knees
at her side. "What I have lost is nothing. I'll never ask for office
until I have lived here twenty years, openly, as you have. I must have
loved you! I did--I do! I do! I wish I were fit to love you now.
Because, in twenty years more.... The years pass, Aurie. Won't they
pass? My sentence----"

His gray head was bent down low in her lap now, as her son's had been at
this very place but a day before. Her hands--hands stained with needle
work, rough on the finger ends, the taper gone there into a little
square--were the same long shapely hands that had touched his hair at
another time. The eyes that looked down at him now under long, soft,
dark lashes were the same. But they were more brooding--tender, yes, but
more sad, more wise. There was no passion in her gaze, in her touch.
What was hatred or revenge to her?

His face was hid deep in his hands as he knelt. It lay there in that
haven, the lap of woman, the place of forgiveness--and of hope, as some
vague memory seemed to say to him. Indeed, all the wisdom and all the
mercy and all the hope of a world or of a universe of worlds were in the
low voice of Aurora Lane as she stroked back his hair--the gray hair of
an old man, who knelt beside her. It was the ancient pitying instinct of
woman that was in her touch. Hardly she knew she touched him, so
impersonal was it all to her.

"Will, you poor boy, you poor boy! Oh, poor boy!" He heard her voice
once more. Suddenly he raised his head, he sprang up, he stood before
her.

"You do forgive me!" A sort of triumph was in the eager note of his
voice. "You say 'poor boy!' You do forgive me!" He advanced toward her.

But Aurora also had risen quickly. Now, suddenly, some shock came to
her, vivifying, clarifying. The needle of her heart swung on the dial of
Today.

"Forgive you!" she exclaimed, her color suddenly gone high. "Forgive
you--what do you mean?--what do you _mean_?"

"You said you pitied me----"

"Pity you, yes, I do. I'm sorry for you from the bottom of my heart. I'd
be sorry to see any man go through what you've got to face. Yes, _pity_
you--but--love you? What do you mean? Is that what you mean? _Respect_
you--is that what you mean? Oh, no! Oh, no! Use for you, in any way in
the world?--Oh, no! Oh, no! Don't mistake. _Pity_--that's all! Don't I
know what it means to descend into hell? And that's what you must do."

"But, Aurie--Aurie--you just said----"

"I said I was sorry for you, and so I am, in all my heart. But he's our
boy. I've paid my share in anguish. So must you."

"Haven't I? Haven't I?"

"Not yet! You're only beginning. It takes twenty years.--Oh, not of
hidden and secret repentance--but _open_ repentance, before all the
world! And square living. And your prayer to God each night for twenty
years for understanding and forgiveness!

"Go out and earn it," she said, walking to the door and opening it.
"Pity?--yes. Love? No--no--_no_! I've no use for you. I don't need you
now. My boy doesn't need you--we're able to stand alone. We've
_succeeded_! You? You're a failure--you're a broken-down, used-up,
hopeless failure--so much, I'm sorry for you, sorry.

"You didn't really think I'd ever take you back, did you, Will?" she
went on, eager to be fair even now. "I was only _sorry_ for you, that's
all. God knows, I'm sorry for any human being, woman or man, that has to
go through hell as I have. Twenty years? That'll leave you old, Will.
But--go serve it, in this town, as I have! And God have mercy on your
soul!"

She flung the door yet wider, and stumbling, he began to grope toward
it. The black wall of the night lay beyond.

Slowly the color faded from the cheeks of the woman now left alone yet
again. She sank down, crumpling, white, her face marble clear, her eyes
staring straight ahead at what picture none may ask. Then, as the white
column of her throat fluttered again, she beat one hand slightly
against the other, ere she crushed them both together in her lap, ere
she flung them wide above her.

"God! God!" cried Aurora Lane. "If it wasn't right, why did He say,
'Suffer little children'? It was in the Book ... little ... little
children ... the Kingdom of Heaven!"

It was more than an hour before she, too, rose and, stepping toward the
door, looked out again into the night. A red light showed here or there.
Homes--the homes of our town.



By Emerson Hough

    The Broken Gate
    The Man Next Door
    The Magnificent Adventure
    Let Us Go Afield
    Out of Doors
    The Story of the Cowboy
    The Girl at the Halfway House





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