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Title: In a Mysterious Way
Author: Warner, Anne, 1869-1913
Language: English
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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 "In a Mysterious Way" ***

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    IN A MYSTERIOUS WAY

    [Illustration: "THE ONLY REAL HOLE IS WHERE HE SAT DOWN ON AN ENGINE
                    SPARK AT THE STATION."]



    IN A MYSTERIOUS WAY

    BY ANNE WARNER


    AUTHOR OF "THE REJUVENATION OF AUNT MARY"
    "SUSAN CLEGG AND HER FRIEND MRS. LATHROP"
    "AN ORIGINAL GENTLEMAN," ETC.

    _Illustrated by_ J. V. McFALL

    BOSTON
    LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
    1909


    _Copyright, 1909_,
    BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

    _All rights reserved_

    Published April, 1909

    Electrotyped and Printed at
    THE COLONIAL PRESS:
    C. H. Simonds & Co., Boston, U.S.A.



    CONTENTS


    CHAPTER PAGE

         I. INTRODUCING MRS. RAY
        II. THE COMING OF THE LASSIE
       III. INTRODUCING LASSIE TO MRS. RAY
        IV. THE DIFFERENCE
         V. THAT DISPASSIONATE OBSERVER, MRS. RAY
        VI. WHEN DIFFERENCES LEAD TO WHAT IS EVER THE SAME
       VII. THE LATHBUNS
      VIII. MISS LATHBUN'S STORY
        IX. PLEASANT CONVERSE
         X. THE BROADER MEANING
        XI. THE WAR-PATH
       XII. ANOTHER PATH
      XIII. AND STILL ANOTHER PATH
       XIV. DEVOTED TO COATS AND CASE-KNIVES
        XV. LEARNING LESSONS
       XVI. THE WALK TO THE LOWER FALLS
      XVII. RIGHTEOUS JUSTICE
     XVIII. IN THE HOUR OF NEED
       XIX. DOUBTS
        XX. SHIFTING SUNSHINE AND CLOUDS
       XXI. THE POST-OFFICE
      XXII. AFTERMATH
     XXIII. THE DARKNESS BEFORE
      XXIV. DAWN
       XXV. THE BREAKING OF ANOTHER DAY AND WAY



    ILLUSTRATIONS


    "THE ONLY REAL HOLE IS WHERE HE SAT DOWN ON AN ENGINE SPARK AT
    THE STATION"

    "IT'S HER THAT BOUGHT THE OLD WHITTACKER HOUSE"

    "SURELY YOU REMEMBER ME"

    ALVA

    "IF YOU'VE LENT MONEY TO THE LATHBUNS YOU'RE GOING TO LOSE IT"



IN A MYSTERIOUS WAY



CHAPTER I

INTRODUCING MRS. RAY


"'He moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform,'" sang Mrs. Ray,
coming in from the wood-shed and proceeding to fill up the stove, with
the energy which characterized her whole person. A short, well-knit,
active person it was, too,--a figure of health and compact muscular
strength, a well-shaped head with a tight wad of neat hair on top,
bright eyes, and a firm mouth.

Mrs. Wiley, a near neighbor, sat by the table and watched her friend
with the after-nightfall passivity of a woman who has to be very active
during daylight. Mrs. Wiley was not small and well-knit, neither was she
energetic. Life for Mrs. Wiley had gone mainly in a minor key composed
largely of sharps, and as a consequence she sighed frequently and sighed
even now.

Mrs. Ray slammed the stove door and caroled louder than ever, as if to
drown even the echo of a sigh in her kitchen. "'He moves in a mysterious
way His wonders to perform,'" she sang, and then, folding her arms on
top of her bosom in a manner peculiarly her own, she spoke to Mrs.
Wiley in that obtrusively cheerful tone which we use to those who sigh
when feeling no desire to sigh with them: "That's my motto--that
song--yes, indeed. It fits everything and accounts for everything and
comes in handy anywhere any time, even if I never have wondered myself,
but have been dead sure all along. Yes, indeed."

Mrs. Wiley sighed again, and her eyes moved towards a large, awkward
parcel rolled in newspaper, which lay on the end of the table by her.
"I'm so glad you feel able to undertake it, Mrs. Ray. I don't know how I
ever could have managed it, if you'd said no. Mr. Wiley _will_ have a
new pig-pen this year, and the pigs never can pay for it themselves. So
you were my only way to a new winter coat. I'm so glad you didn't say
no. Besides it's father's suit, and I shall love to wear it for that
reason, too."

"I never do say no to any kind of work, do I?" said Mrs. Ray, looking at
the clock, and then all over the room; "this would be a nice time of
life for me to begin to sit around and say no to work. What with Mr.
Ray's second wife's children not all educated yet, and his first wife's
children getting along to where they're beginning to be left widows with
six apiece and no life insurance, I'm likely to want all the work I can
get for some years, as far as I can see. Yes, indeed."

Mrs. Wiley sighed heavily.

"Mr. Wiley thinks we'd ought to insure our lives in favor of Lottie
Ann," she said, feeling for her pocket-handkerchief at the thought;
"she's so dreadful delicate--but I think it's foolish--she's so
_dreadful_ delicate."

"Why don't you insure Lottie Ann, then?" Mrs. Ray glanced at the clock
again, frowned a little and puckered her lips. "If you don't mind taking
that chair the cat's in, Mrs. Wiley, I believe I've got just about time
enough to sprinkle the clothes before the mail comes in; it looks so to
me."

Mrs. Wiley slowly and gravely exchanged seats with the cat. "Do you take
much washing in now? I shouldn't think you had time."

"Time!" Mrs. Ray was dragging a clothes-basket from under the table and
filling a dipper with water. "I never stop to think whether I have time
or not, any more. 'He moves in a mysterious way--' there's where my
motto comes in again. Yes, indeed. I move just the same way myself. I
don't see how I get so much done, but I've no time to stop and study
over it, or I'd be behind just that much. There's more than you wonder
where I get time from, Mrs. Wiley. They asked me if I had time for the
post-office. And I said I had. They asked first if I could read and
write, and I said I could; and then they asked me if I had time, and I
said I had. And that settled it."

"Why, Mrs. Ray," said Mrs. Wiley, watching the clothes-sprinkling, which
was now going forward, attentively, "that's one of the waists from that
girl at Nellie O'Neil's, isn't it?"

"Yes, indeed. She asked Nellie for a French laundress, and Nellie put
her shawl right over her head and run up and asked me if I had time for
that, too. I said I was willing to try, so I'm a French laundress too,
now. 'He moves'--"

"What do you think of those two young people at Nellie's, anyway?" Mrs.
Wiley dropped her voice confidentially. "I was meaning to ask you that,
right at first."

"Well, if you ask _me_," said Mrs. Ray, "I can't make him out, and I
think she's mooney. I'm a great judge of mooney people ever since I
first knew Mr. Ray, and that girl looks very mooney to me. Look at her
coming here and hiking right over and buying the Whittacker house next
day--a house I wouldn't send a rat to buy--not if I had a real liking
for the rat. And now the way she's pulling it to pieces and nailing on
new improvements, with the trees all boxed up, as though trees weren't
free as air--oh, she's mooney, very mooney--yes, indeed."

"Nellie don't think they act loving," said Mrs. Wiley; "and Joey Beall
says they don't act loving even when they're alone together. He's been
building a culvert for Mr. Ledge, and he's seen 'em alone together
twice. Joey knows how people ought to act when they're alone together.
He always knows when folks are in love, before they know themselves. He
tells by seeing them alone together. Why, he knew when you was going to
be married--he saw you and Mr. Ray alone together that day you walked to
the Lower Falls."

"But it wasn't through our acting loving that he knew it," said Mrs.
Ray, energetically ruminative between the dipper of water and the
clothes to be sprinkled; "my, but I was mad that day! It was the first
and last time anybody ever fooled _me_ into walking to the Lower Falls.
Yes, indeed. I like to of died! If Mr. Ray hadn't asked me to marry him,
I'd never have forgiven him getting me to go on that walk. Those flights
of steps! And those paths! All the way down I was wanting to turn round
and go back. I made up my mind never to take Mr. Ray's word for nothing
again. And I never did. He fooled me into that walk, but he never fooled
me again. Yes, indeed. Never!"

"But Joey Beall saw you that day," said Mrs. Wiley, whose mind was of
that strength which is not to be swept beyond its gait by any other
mind's rapidity, "and he said right off that night you'd marry him."

"Maybe he saw Mr. Ray take his first and second wife down to the Lower
Falls, and knew it from his looks with them--Mr. Ray took 'em both down
there, and asked 'em each to marry him coming back. All the way down he
was telling me what they each said to everything they saw. And coming
back he showed me where he asked 'em each. Mr. Ray never made any secret
of his first and second wife to me. I'll say that for him. Yes, indeed.
And like enough Joey was around then. He's always round when people are
alone together."

"But he doesn't think these young people act loving," Mrs. Wiley went
on, recurring to the main issue under discussion. "Joey says they don't
have the right way at all. He says they don't disagree right, either.
They're on opposite sides of the dam, the same as if they were married
folks, but they don't seem to feel interested in their discussing.
Nellie says they're real pleasant, but she can't understand them;
Nellie's very far from making them out."

"Oh, Nellie can't make nothing out. She and Jack is dead easy. Look at
those other boarders they've got. She says she can't make them out,
either. I should think not."

Mrs. Wiley's standpoint refused to stretch to the other boarders. She
sighed again.

"She seems a very nice girl," she said, sadly.

"Oh, yes, nice enough--but mooney," said Mrs. Ray. "I know the kind as
soon as I see 'em. I could almost tell 'em by their legs, when they get
down from the train on the side away from me. She's got ideas about
souls and scenery, that girl has; but that young man's got his living to
earn, and he hasn't no time for any ideas. I like him! We both work for
the United States Government, and that's a great bond. Yes, indeed. That
young man knows if the dam goes through here, he'll be fixed for life
digging it, and the girl's just the kind he wants, for he's practical
and she's mooney--she's so mooney she's bought a house to live in while
he digs the dam, and yet she's solemnly hoping there won't be no dam.
She says so."

"Perhaps she don't mean it," suggested Mrs. Wiley.

"Yes, she does mean it," said Mrs. Ray; "yes, indeed, she means it. I'm
a great judge of character and that girl means what she says."

"About the dam?"

"Yes, about everything. She's very friendly with me. She buys lots of
stamps, and cancels up like a lady. I'm very fond of her."

"What did she say about the dam?"

"Oh, lots of things. She said it was a desecration for one thing, and
then I was singing one day and she said I was very right, for the Lord
did move in a very mysterious way, and He would save the falls."

"Was she as sure as that?" asked Mrs. Wiley, appalled.

"She seemed to be. Oh, but she's very mooney."

"She's expecting a friend on to-night's train," said Mrs. Wiley; "Nellie
says it's a girl younger than she is."

"There'll be trouble then," said Mrs. Ray, with the calmness of all
prophets of evil; "a girl younger than she is is going to make her look
awful old."

"I wonder how long they'll stay!"

"I don't know. You never can tell how long any one will stay here. Some
come and say 'Oh, it's so quiet,' and the next morning the express has
got to be flagged to take 'em right away; and others come and say 'Oh,
it's so quiet,' and send for their trunks and paint-boxes that night.
You never can tell how this place is going to strike any one. Mr. Ray's
first wife cried all the time, till she died of asthma brought on by
hay-fever; and his second wife liked to be where she could go without
her false teeth, and she just loved it here! Yes, indeed."

"It isn't so very long till the train now," said Mrs. Wiley; "I guess
I'll go down to the station. I always like to see the train come in.
It's so sort of amusing to think it's going to Buffalo. Lottie Ann says
it's so funny to think of something being right here with us, and then
going right to Buffalo. I wish Lottie Ann could travel more. Lottie Ann
would be a great traveller if she could travel any."

Mrs. Ray took up the lamp. "Well, if you must go," she said, "I'll put
the light in the post-office and get down cellar, myself. I'm raising
celery odd minutes this year, and getting the beds ready to lay it under
is a lot of work."

Mrs. Wiley rose and moved slowly towards the door. "I wonder how long
those other two will stay at Nellie's," she said.

Mrs. Ray's lips drew tightly together. "I can't say I'm sure," she said;
"I know nothing about them. Folks who never write letters nor get
letters don't cut any figure in my life. Good night, Mrs. Wiley,"--she
opened the door as she spoke--"good-by."

"They've been there--" murmured Mrs. Wiley, but the door closing behind
her ended her speech.



CHAPTER II

THE COMING OF THE LASSIE


On that same evening Alva and Ingram, the main subject of Mrs. Ray's and
Mrs. Wiley's discourse, sat in the dining-room of the O'Neil House,
waiting for train time. They had the dining-room to themselves, except
for occasional vague and interjectional appearances of Mary Cody in the
door, to see "if they wanted anything." Ingram had been eating,--he was
late, always late,--and Alva sat watching him in the absent-minded way
in which she was apt to contemplate the doings of other people, while
she talked to him with the earnest interest which she always gave to
talking,--when she talked at all. The contrast between her dreamy eyes
and the intentness of her tone was as great as the contrast between the
first impression wrought by a glance at her colorless face and simple
dress, and the second, when, with a start, the onlooker realized that
here was some one well worth looking at, well worth studying, and well
worth meditating later. Perhaps she was not beautiful--I am not quite
sure as to that--but she was surely lovely, with the loveliness which a
certain sort of life brings to some faces.

Ingram, on the other side of the table, was just the ordinary
good-looking, professional man of thirty to thirty-five. Tall, straight,
slightly tanned, as would be natural for a civil engineer who had spent
September in the open; especially well-groomed for a man sixty miles
from what he called civilization, fine to see in his knickerbockers and
laced shoes, genial, jolly, and appreciative to the limit, apparently.

The contrast between the two was very great, and was felt by more than
Mrs. Ray, for there had been many who had watched them during the week
of Alva's stay. "He's a awful nice man," Mrs. O'Neil had said to Mrs.
Ray, "but I don't see how she ever came to fancy him. They seem happy
together, but it's such a funny way to be happy together."

This had been the original form of the statement which Mrs. Ray had
later repeated to Mrs. Wiley.

It was true that they seemed very far apart, but were nevertheless
apparently happy together. The week had been a pleasant week to both.
Not, perhaps, as the town supposed, but pleasant anyway.

"I'm selfish enough to wish that it wasn't at an end to-night," Ingram
said, as he took his piece of blackberry pie from Mary Cody; "you're a
godsend in this place, Alva."

"But you'll like Lassie," his companion replied; "she's a charming
little girl,--and I love her so. I always have loved the child, and just
now it seemed to me as if it would do both her and me good to be
together. Life for me is so wonderful--I don't like to be selfish with
these days. My thoughts are too happy to keep to myself. I want some one
to share my joy."

Ingram looked at her quizzically. "And I won't do at all?" he asked.

"You,--oh, you're away all day. And then, besides, you're still so
material, so awfully material. You can't deny it, Ronald, you're
frightfully material--practical--commonplace. Of the world so very
worldly."

He laughed lightly. "Just because I don't agree with you about the dam,"
he said; "there, that's it, you know. Why, my dear girl, suppose all
America had been reserved for its beauty, set aside for the perpetual
preservation of the buffaloes and the scenery,--where would you and I be
now?"

She looked away from him in her curious, contemplative way. "If you
knew," she said, after a minute, "how silly and petty and trivial such
arguments sound to thinking people, you'd positively blush with shame to
use them. It's like arguing with a baby to try to talk Heaven's reason
with the ordinary man; he just sees his own little, narrow, earthly
standpoint. I wonder whether it's worth while to ever try to be serious
with you. You know very well that the most of your brethren would be
willing to wreck the Yellowstone from end to end, if they could make
their own private and personal fortunes building railways through it."

Ingram laughed again. "Where would the country be without railroads?" he
asked.

She withdrew the meaning in her gaze out of the infinite beyond, where
it seemed to float easily, and centred it on him.

"Just to think," she said, with deep meaning, "that ten years ago I
might have married you, and had to face your system of logic for life!"

"Is it as bad as that?"

"It might have been. We might have made it so before we knew better.
That's the rub in marriage. Every one does it before he or she has
settled his or her own views. I wasn't much of an idealist ten years
ago, and you were not much of anything. But if I could have married any
one then, I should have married you."

A shadow fell upon his face. He turned his chair a little from the
table. "If I was not the right one, I wish that you had married some
other man then,--I wish it with all my heart. You would have been so
much happier. You're not happy now--you know that. It would have been so
much better for you if you had married."

She smiled and shook her head. "Oh, no. It is much better as it is.
Infinitely better. It's like coming up against a great granite wall to
try and talk to you, Ronald, because you simply cannot understand what I
mean when I say words, but nevertheless, believe me, I'm on my knees day
and night, figuratively speaking, thanking God that I didn't marry then.
I wasn't meant to marry then. I've been needed single."

He took out his cigarette case. "What were you meant for, then, do you
think?" he queried; "nothing except as a convenience for others?"

"I was meant to learn, and then later, perhaps, to teach."

"To learn?" He looked his question with a quick intensity. "To teach?--"
the question deepened sharply.

She smiled. "Yes. To learn so that I could teach. I feel some days that
I was born to teach, and of course no one may hope to teach until he has
learned first."

He shrugged his shoulders and laughed a little. She smiled again. "You
great, granite wall, you don't understand a bit, do you? Never mind,
light your cigarette, and then tell me what time it is. We must not
forget Lassie, you know."

He looked at his watch. "Ten minutes yet."

"Dear child, how tired she'll be. Never mind, she'll have a good rest
during the next ten days."

"Will she stay ten days? She'll be here as long as you will then, won't
she?"

"Yes; I'm going when she does."

"You think that the house will be done by that time?"

"I know that it will be done. It must be done."

He took his cigarette up in his fingers, turned it about a little, and
then looked suddenly straight at her. "Alva, tell me the mystery, tell
me the story, please. What is the house for?"

She looked at him and was silent.

"Why won't you tell me?"

Still silence. Still she looked at him.

"You'll tell her when she comes. Why not me?"

She spoke then: "She'll be able to understand, perhaps. You couldn't."

Ingram compressed his lips. "And am I so awfully dense?" he asked, half
hurt.

"Not so dense, but, as yet, too ignorant. Or else it is that I am still
too little myself to be able to rise above some human sentiments. And
there is one point where endurance of the world's opinion is such
refinement of torture, that only the very strongest and greatest can go
willingly forward to meet and suffer the inevitable. The inevitable is
close to me these days; it is approaching closer hourly, and there is no
possible way for me to make you or the world understand how I feel in
regard to it all. And I shrink from facing the kind of thing that I
shall soon have to face any sooner than is absolutely necessary. And so
I won't tell you."

She stopped. Although her voice was firm, her eyes had again become far
away in their expression, and she seemed almost to have forgotten him
even while making this explanation for his sake. He was watching her
with deepest interest, and the curiosity in his eyes burned more
brightly than ever.

"But if it is all as terrible as you make out," he said, "how can you
make that young girl understand what you suppose to be so far beyond
me?"

"Because I can teach her."

"How?"

"She'll be with me night and day for ten days. We'll have a good deal of
time together. And then, too, she is a woman. Women learn some lessons
easily. Easier far than men."

"Is it right to teach her such a lesson as this?"

"Why do you ask that, when you do not know what my lesson will be? How
can you dare fancy that it could possibly be wrong?"

Ingram paused for a minute, a little staggered. Then he said, bluntly:
"The world is made up of reasonable men and women, and it seems to me
best that all men and women should be reasonable. What isn't reasonable
is wrong. Forgive me, Alva, but you don't sound reasonable."

"You think that I am not reasonable? Therefore I must be wrong. That's
your logic?"

He hesitated. "Perhaps I think you wrong. I must confess that to me you
often seem so."

She thought a minute, considering his standpoint.

"Ronald," she said then, "'reasonable' is a term that is given its
meaning by those in power, isn't that so? 'Reasonable' is what best
serves the ends of those who generally seek to serve no ends except
their own. It's true that I don't at all care what a few selfish and
near-sighted individuals think of me. I have thrown in my lot with the
unreasonable majority, the poor, the suffering, and those yet to be born
who are being robbed of their birthright. To leave my mystery and go
back to our familiar difference, there's the dam to illustrate my exact
meaning. The 'reasonable' use of the river out there is to build a dam,
and so make a few more millionaires and give employment for a few years
to a few thousands of Italians. The 'unreasonable' use to make of the
river is to preserve it intact for tired, weary souls to flee to through
all the future, so that their bodies may breathe God and life into their
being again, and go forth strong. You know you don't agree with me as to
that view of that case, so how can I expect you to disagree with the
general opinion that the 'reasonable' thing for me to do personally is
to take my life and get all the pleasure that I can from it? The
'unreasonable' view, the one I hold myself, is that I have elected to
take it and give--not get--all the pleasure that I can with it. Of
course you don't understand that unreasonableness, and so you don't
agree with me; but I can tell you one thing, Ronald," she leaned forward
and suddenly threw intense meaning into her words, "and that is this. My
story--my mystery as you call it so often--is at once a very old mystery
and a very new one. I have suffered, and I am to suffer, most terribly.
The happiness to which I am looking forward is going to be an ordeal
for which all that I have undergone until now will be none too much
preparation. But in the hour of my keenest agony I shall be happier and
more hopeful than you will ever be able to realize in your life. Unless
you change completely. Take my word for that."

She rose as she spoke, and he rose, too, looking towards her with eyes
that plainly subscribed to Mrs. Ray's opinion as expressed in the simple
vernacular.

"Oh, no, I can't understand, and I don't believe," he said: "but I am
able to meet trains, anyhow."

A large cape lay on an empty chair near by, and she took it up now.

"But I'm going alone," she said, as she slipped into it.

"What nonsense. Of course I am not going to let you go alone."

She looked at him, buttoning the woolen cross-straps upon the cape as
she did so; then she threw one corner back over her forearm and laid
that hand on his, speaking decidedly.

"I'm going alone to meet her. You know what I asked you to promise when
I came here a week ago, and you know that you gave me your word that
you'd never interfere with me. Lassie is almost a stranger to you, and
after you have learned to know her as a young lady there will come years
for you two to talk together, but for me this meeting is something that
I don't want to share. Don't say any more."

"But what will she think," he queried, "when she and you return
together, and here sits a cavalier who didn't trouble himself to
accompany one lady through the dark night to meet another's train?"

"She will think nothing, because she will not see the cavalier. When we
come in, we shall go straight up-stairs."

Ingram more than smiled now. "Forgive me, Alva, but you and I are such
old, such near, such dear friends, that I can say to you frankly, as I
do say to you frankly over and over again, I don't understand you."

She laughed at that, and turned towards the door.

"I know--I know. I'm very queer, most awfully queer, in the eyes of
every one. But I can tell you, as I tell them, that the worst of it is
only for a little while. Just a few brief weeks and I shall be again, in
most ways, a normal woman. A woman just like all the rest again," her
back was towards him now, "in most thing--in most things."

"Never! You never have been like other women,--you've always been
different from other women; you always will be."

"Have I? Shall I? Well, perhaps it's so. I'm rather glad of it. Most
women are stupid, I think. Poor things!" she sighed.

He followed her as she moved towards the door, half-vexed,
half-laughing:

"And men, Alva, and men. Are they all stupid in your eyes?"

She had her hand on the knob, and her great cape was gathered about her
in heavy folds.

"Oh, Ronald," she said, looking into his look, "if you had any idea how
fearfully stupid they seem to me. Often and often in the last three
years. Even yourself. And ten years ago, when we were eighteen and
twenty-five, I thought you so interesting, too."

He burst out laughing at that,--it wasn't in him to take her seriously
enough to really mind her "ways" long.

"But what are we to do, when we are such mere ordinary creatures? And
you know, my dear, that if the transcendentals like to muse on bridges
by moonlight, some well-educated, commonplace individuals must build
them the bridges first."

"Ah, there you go again. Yes, that's true. One should never forget that,
of course. Particularly when talking with a man who uses a man's logic."

Then she opened the door, passed quickly into the hall, and let it close
after her.

A lantern was resting on the floor outside, as if in waiting, and she
picked it up and went at once into the night--a dark night through which
the station lights and signals, red and yellow, sparkled brightly.

It was a brisk October air that filled that outer world, and the
superabundant vitality of God's country came glinting, storming, down,
up, and across earth, sky, and ether in between.

"This glorious night!" she thought prayerfully. "If one might only
realize just all it means to be existing right now." She held the
lantern behind her, and saw her shadow spread forth into space and fade
away beyond. "The train isn't in the block yet," she thought, glancing
at the signal; "that means minutes long to wait." Quickly she ran down
the cinder-path beside the tracks, and entered the little station where
a crowd of men lounged.

"Is the train on time to-night?" she asked one.

He shook his head. "Half an hour late," he said; "wreck on the road.
Wheel off a car of thrashing-machines at Kent's."

"A whole half hour?"

"Well, I heard Joey Beall say they was making it up," said the man; "the
station agent's gone home to supper, or you could ask him."

"Thank you very much," Alva said, and turned and went out.

The night appeared even fairer than before. Her eyes roamed widely. She
thought for a minute of going back to the hotel and bidding Ingram come
out with her, but then her own mood cried for relief from the labor of
his companionship. We do not give our spirits credit for what they learn
through adapting themselves to uncongenial companionship. Alva felt hers
craved a rest. "I'll go out on the bridge and wait there," she told
herself; "that will be the right thing,--to stand above the gorge and
say my evening prayers."

So, stepping carefully over the switch impedimenta, she walked on,
following the embankment that led out to the Long Bridge.

It is very long--that Long Bridge--and very high as well. I believe that
the first bridge, the wooden one, was close to a world's wonder in its
days. Even now the skilfully combined network of iron, steel, joist and
cable seems a species of marvel, as it springs across the great cleft
that the glacier sawed through several million layers of Devonian
stratum several million years ago. I forget how many tons of metal went
into its structure, but so intricate and delicately poised is the whole,
that while trains roar forth upon its length and find no danger, yet
does it echo quick and responsive to the light step of a lithe treading
woman or even of the littlest child. On this night Alva, wrapped close
in her cape, fared fearlessly out into the black beyond. The high braces
and beams creaked all along its vanishing length, and she smiled at the
sound. "I wonder if sometime, years from now, I shall return and walk
out here again, and find the bridge crying me a welcome!" she thought;
"I wonder!" A narrow, boarded way led to the right of the rails, and she
was soon directly over the gorge. It was far too dark to see the ribbon
of river hundreds and hundreds of feet below, or the steep
picture-crevasse that encased the water's way. Beyond and below, to the
left, she could have seen the windows of Ledgeville, had she turned that
way, but she did not do so. It was the gorge that always claimed her,
whether by day or by night, and now she leaned upon the steel guard and
stared below. "I can see it plainly, even in the dark," she murmured to
herself. "I can see every rock and eddy down there, the great curve of
whirlpool, and the place where the water slides so smoothly off and then
goes mad and foams below. It is all distinct to me. I remember the day
that I first saw it, years ago, when--right here, where I stand
to-night--he came to me for the first time, and we knew one another
directly. And I shall see it just so plainly in the years to come, when
it will never enter into my daily life any more, and yet will be the
background of all my living."

She stood there for a long time, wrapped in the depth of her own
thoughts. The shadows below seemed to shift and drift in their
variations of intensity, and her eyes found rest in their profundity.
"It's like drawing water out of a well when one is very thirsty," she
said, at last, straightening herself and sighing; "it's
unexplainable, but oh, it's so good,--the lesson of darkness and water
and trees and sky. How grateful I am to be able to spell out a little in
that primer!"

Then she clasped her hands and said a prayer, and as she finished the
signal flashed the train's entrance within the block. That meant only
two minutes until its arrival, and so she turned herself back at once.
The crowd at the station had perceptibly increased and began now to
surge forth upon the platform. Mrs. Dunstall was there and Pinkie, and
Joey Beall and Mrs. Wiley, and Clay Wright Benton, and old Sammy Adams,
and Lucia Cosby.

"Been out on the Bridge, I suppose?" Mrs. Dunstall said pleasantly to
Alva.

"Yes; it's lovely to-night," the latter replied.

Every one smiled. They all felt that any one who would go out on the
bridge on a pitch black night must be mildly insane, but they looked
upon Alva as mildly insane anyhow. Mrs. Ray had many beside Ingram to
uphold her opinion.

"It's her that bought the old Whittacker house and is putting a bath-tub
in it," Joey Beall whispered to a man who was waiting to leave by the
last train out.

[Illustration: "IT'S HER THAT BOUGHT THE OLD WHITTACKER HOUSE."]

"I know it," said the man; he was one of those men who never let Joey or
anybody else feel that he had any advantage of him, in even the
slightest way.

Just then the train charged madly in beside them.

Lassie, out on the Pullman's rear platform, preparatory to climbing down
the steep steps the instant that it should be allowable, saw a
well-known figure wrapped in a dark cloak, and gave a little cry of
joy--

"Alva! Here I am--all safe."

Then she was enwrapped in the same dark cloak herself, for the space of
one warm, all-embracing hug, her friend repeating over and over, "I'm so
happy to have you--so happy to have you." And then they moved away
through the little group of bystanders, and started up the cinder-path
towards the hotel.

"I'm so happy to have you!" Alva exclaimed again, when they were alone.
She did not even seem to know that she had said so before.

"It was so good of you to ask me! How did you come to think of it? And
oh, Alva, what are you doing here, in this lonely place?"

"It will take me all your visit to properly answer those questions,
dear; but I'll tell you this much at once. I asked you because I wanted
to have you with me, and because I thought that you and I could help one
another a great deal right now. And I am here, dear, because I am the
happiest woman that the world has ever seen, and because the greatest
happiness that the world has ever known is to be here in a few weeks."

Lassie stopped short, astonished.

Alva went on, laughing gaily: "Yes, it is so! Come on,--or you will
stumble without my lantern to guide you. I'm going to tell you all about
everything when we get alone in our room, but now, little girl, hurry,
hurry. Don't stop behind."

So Lassie swallowed her astonishment for the time being, and followed.

The hotel stood on the crest of the hill above the station and the
railway's path curved by it. They were there in a minute, and in another
minute alone up-stairs in their room--or rather, rooms--for there were
two bedrooms, opening one into the other.

"Why, how pretty you have made them," the young girl cried; "pictures,
and a real live tea-table. And a work-stand! How cosy and dear! It's
just as if you meant to live here always."

Her face glowed, as she absorbed the surprising charm of her new abode.
One does not need to be very old or to have travelled very extensively
to recognize some comforts as pleasingly surprising in the country.

Alva was hanging up her cloak, and now she came and began to undo the
traveller's with a loving touch.

"Why, in one way I do mean to live here always, dear. I never am
anywhere that I do not--in a certain sense--live there ever after.
People and places never fade out of my life. Wherever I have once been
is forever near and dear to me, so dear that I can't bear to remember
anybody or anything there as ugly. The difference between a pretty room
and an ugly one is only a little money and a few minutes, after all, and
I'm beginning to learn to apply the same rule to people. It only takes a
little to find something interesting about each. We'll be so happy here,
Lassie; how we will talk and sew and drink tea in these two tiny rooms!
I've been just feasting on the thought of it every minute since you
wrote that you could come."

Lassie hugged her again. "I can't tell you how overjoyed I was to think
of coming and having a whole fortnight of you to myself. Every one
thought it was droll, my running off like this when I ought to be deep
in preparations for my début, but mamma said that the rest and change
would do me good. And I was so glad!"

Alva had gone to hang up the second cloak and now she turned, smiling
her usual quiet sweet smile as she did so.

"It's a great thing for me to have you, dear; I haven't been lonely, but
my life has been so happy here that I have felt selfish over keeping so
much rare, sweet, unutterable joy all to myself,--I wanted to share it."

She seated herself on the side of the bed, and held out her hand in
invitation, and Lassie accepted the invitation and went and perched
beside her.

"Tell me all about it," she said, nestling childishly close; "how long
have you been here anyway?"

"A week to-day."

"Only a week! Why, you wrote me a week ago."

"No, dear, six days ago."

"But you spoke as if you had been here ever so long then."

"Did I? It seemed to me that I had been here a long time, I suppose.
Time doesn't go with me as regularly as it should, I believe. Some years
are days, and the first day here was a year."

"And why are you here, Alva?"

"Oh, that's a long story."

"But tell it me, can't you?"

"Wait till to-morrow, dearest; wait until to-morrow, until you see my
house."

"Your house!"

"I've bought a house here,--a dear little old Colonial dwelling hidden
behind a high evergreen wall."

"A house here--in Ledge?"

"No, dear, not in Ledge--in Ledgeville. Across the bridge--"

"But when--"

"A week ago--the day I came."

"But why--"

Alva leaned her face down against the bright brown head.

"I wanted a home of my own, Lassie."

"But I thought that you couldn't leave your father and mother?"

"I can't, dear."

"Are they coming here to live?"

"No, dear."

"But I don't understand--"

"But you will to-morrow; I'll tell you everything to-morrow; I'd tell
you to-night, only that I promised myself that we would go to a certain
dear spot, and sit there alone in the woods while I told you."

"Why in the woods?"

"Ah, Lassie, because I love the woods; I've gotten so fond of woods, you
don't know how fond; trees and grass have come to be such friends to me;
I'll tell you about it all later. It's all part of the story."

"But why did you come here, Alva,--here of all places, where you don't
know any one. For you don't know any one here, do you?"

"I know a man named Ronald Ingram here; he is the chief of the
engineering party that is surveying for the dam."

"Is he an old friend?"

"Oh, yes, from my childhood."

Lassie turned quickly, her eyes shining:

"Alva, are you going to marry him?"

Her face was so bright and eager that something veiled the eyes of the
other with tears as she answered:

"No, dear; he's nothing but a friend. I was looking for a house--a house
in the wilderness--and he sent for me to come and see one here. And I
came and saw it and bought it at once; I expect to see it in order in
less than a fortnight."

"Then you're going to spend this winter here?"

Alva nodded. "Part of it at any rate."

"Alone?"

Alva shook her head.

Lassie's big eyes grew yet more big. "Do you mean--you don't mean--oh,
what do you mean?"

She leaned forward, looking eagerly up into the other's face. "Alva,
Alva, it isn't--it can't be--oh, then you are really--"

Two great tears rolled down that other woman's face. She simply bowed
her head and said nothing.

Lassie stared speechless for a minute; then--"I'm so glad--so glad," she
stammered, "so glad. And you'll tell me all about it to-morrow?"

"Yes, dear," Alva whispered, "I'll tell you all to-morrow. I'll be glad
to tell it all to you. The truth is, Lassie, that I thought that I was
strong enough to live these days alone, but I learned that I am weaker
than I thought. You see how weak I am. I am weeping now, but they are
tears of joy, believe me--they are tears of joy; I am the happiest and
most blessed woman in the whole wide world. And yet, it is your coming
that leads me to weep. I had to have some outlet, dear, some one to whom
to speak. And I want to live, Lassie, and be strong, very, very
strong--for God."

Lassie sat staring.

"You don't understand, do you?" Alva said to her, with the same smile
with which she had put the same question to Ingram.

But Lassie did not answer the question as Ingram had answered it.

"You will teach me and I shall learn to understand," she said.



CHAPTER III

INTRODUCING LASSIE TO MRS. RAY


The next morning dawned gorgeous.

When Lassie, in her little gray kimono, stole gently in to wake her
friend, she found Alva already up and dressed, standing at the window,
looking out over the October beauty that spread afar before her. It was
a wonderful sight, all the trees bright and yet brighter in their autumn
gladness, while the grass sparkled green through the dew that had been
frost an hour before. The view showed the radiance fading off into the
distant blue, where bare brown fields told of the harvest garnered and
the ground made ready for another spring.

Lassie pressed Alva's arm as she peeped over her shoulder, and the other
turned in silence and kissed her tenderly.

Side by side they looked forth together for some minutes longer, and
then Lassie whispered:

"I could hardly get to sleep last night--for thinking of it all, you
know. You don't guess how interested I am. I do so want to know
everything."

Alva turned to regard her with her calm smile.

"But when you did get to sleep, you slept well, didn't you?" she asked;
"tell me that, first of all."

"Why, is it late? Did I sleep too awfully long? Why didn't you call
me?"

"Oh, my dear, why? It's barely nine, and that isn't late at all for a
girl who spent all yesterday on the train. I let you sleep on purpose.
What's the use of waking up before the mail comes? And that isn't in
till half-past under the most favorable circumstances; and even then it
never is distributed until quarter to ten. I thought we'd get our
letters after our breakfast, and then carry them across the bridge with
us. Would you like to do that? I have to cross the bridge every
morning."

"Cross the bridge? That means to go to your house?"

"Yes, dear."

"How nice! I'm crazy to see your house. Is it far from here to the
post-office? Will that be on our way?"

"That is the post-office there--by the trees." Alva pointed to a brown,
two-story, cottage-like structure three hundred yards further up the
track.

"The little house with the box nailed to the gate-post?"

"It isn't such a little house, Lassie; it's quite a mansion. The lady
who lives in it rents the upper part for a flat and takes boarders
down-stairs."

"Does she take many?"

Alva laughed. "She told me that she only had a double-bed and a
half-bed, so she was limited to eight."

"Oh!"

"I know, my dear, I thought that very same 'Oh' myself; but that's what
she said. And that really is as naught compared to the rest of her
capabilities."

"What else does she do?"

"I'm afraid I can't remember it all at once, but among other things she
runs a farm, raises chickens, takes in sewing, cuts hair, canes chairs
and is sexton of the church. She's postmistress, too, and does several
little things around town."

Lassie drew back in amazement. "You're joking."

"No, dear, I'm not joking. She's the eighth wonder in the world, in my
opinion."

"She must be quite a character."

"Every one's quite a character in the country. Country life develops
character. I expect to become a character myself, very soon; indeed I'm
not very positive but that I am one already."

"But how does the woman find time to do so much?"

"There is more time in the country than in the city; you'll soon
discover that. One gets up and dresses and breakfasts and goes for the
mail, and reads the letters and answers them, and then its only quarter
past ten,--in the country."

Lassie withdrew from the arm that held her. "It won't be so with me
to-day, at all events," she laughed. "What will they think of me if
every one here is as prompt as that?"

"It doesn't matter to-day; we'll be prompt ourselves to-morrow. But
you'd better run now. I'm in a hurry to get to my house; I'm as silly
over that house as a little child with a new toy,--sillier, in fact, for
my interest is in ratio with my growth, and I've wanted a home for so
long."

"But you've had a home."

"Not of my very ownest own, not such as this will be."

The young girl looked up into her face. "I'm so _very_ curious," she
said, with emphasis; "I want so to know the story."

Alva touched her cheek caressingly, "I'll tell you soon," she promised,
"after you've seen the house."

Lassie went back into her room and proceeded to make her toilet, which
was soon finished.

They went down into the little hotel dining-room then for breakfast, and
found it quite deserted, but neat and sweet, and pleasantly odorous of
bacon.

"Such a dolls' house of a hotel," said Lassie.

"It's a cozy place," Alva answered. "I like this kind of hotel. It's
sweet and informal. If they forget you, you can step to the kitchen and
ask for more coffee. I'm tired of the world and the world's
conventionality. I told Mrs. Lathbun yesterday that Ledge would spoil me
for civilization hereafter. I like to live in out-of-the-way places."

"Mrs. Lathbun is the hostess, I suppose?"

"No, Mrs. O'Neil is the hostess, or rather, she's the host's wife. You
must meet her to-day. Such a pretty, brown-eyed, girlish creature,--the
last woman in the world to bring into a country hotel. She says herself
that when you've been raised with a faucet and a sewer, it's terrible to
get used to a cistern and a steep bank. She was born and brought up in
Buffalo."

By this time Mary Cody had entered, beaming good morning, and placed the
hot bacon and eggs, toast and coffee, before them.

"I'm going for the mail after breakfast, Mary," Alva said; "shall I
bring yours?"

"Can't I bring yours?" said Mary Cody. "I can run up there just as well
as not." Mary Cody was all smiles at the mere idea.

"No, I'll have to go myself to-day, I think. I'm expecting a registered
letter."

"I'll be much obliged then if you will bring mine."

"If there are any for the house, I'll bring them all," Alva said; "will
you tell Mrs. Lathbun that?"

"I'll tell her if I see her, but they're both gone. They went out
early--off chestnutting, I suppose."

"Oh!"

"Who is Mrs. Lathbun?" Lassie asked, when Mary Cody had gone out of the
room.

"I spoke of her before and you asked about her then, didn't you? And I
meant to tell you and forgot. She's another boarder, a lady who is here
with her daughter. Such nice, plain, simple people. You'll like them
both."

"I thought that we were to be here all alone."

"We are, to all intents and purposes. The Lathbuns won't trouble us.
They are not intrusive, only interesting when we meet at table or by
accident."

"Every one interests you, Alva; but I don't like strangers."

Alva sighed and smiled together.

"I learned to fill my life with interest in people long ago," she said
simply; "it's the only way to keep from getting narrow sometimes."

Lassie looked at her earnestly.

"Does every one that you meet interest you really?" she asked.

"I think so; I hope so, anyway."

"Don't you ever find any one dull?"

Alva looked at her with a smile, quickly repressed. "No one is really
dull, dear, or else every one is dull; it's all in the view-point. The
interest is there if we want it there; or it isn't there, if we so
prefer. That's all."

There was a little pause, while the young girl thought this over.

"I suppose that one is happiest in always trying to find the interest,"
she said then slowly; "but do tell me more about the Lathbuns."

"Presupposing them in the dull catalogue?"

Lassie blushed, "Not necessarily," she said, half confusedly.

Alva laughed at her face, "I don't know so very much about them, except
that they interest me. The mother is large and rather common looking,
but a very fine musician, and the daughter is a pale, delicate girl with
a romance."

Lassie's face lit up: "Oh, a romance! Is it a nice romance? Tell me
about it."

"It's rather a wonderful romance in my eyes. I'll tell it all to you
sometime, but that was the train that came in just now, and I want to
get the mail and go on over to the house, so we'll have to put off the
romance for the present, I'm afraid."

"I don't hear the train."

"Maybe not--but it went by."

"Went by! And the mail! How does the mail get off by itself?"

"Oh, my dear, I must leave you to learn about the mail from Mrs. Ray.
She'll explain to you all about what happens to the Ledge mail when the
train rushes by. It's one of her pet subjects."

"Do you know you're really very clever, Alva; you seem to be plotting to
fill me full of curiosity about everything and everybody in this little
out-of-the-way corner in the world? Nobody could ever be dull where you
are."

A sudden shadow fell over the older's face at that; a wistful wonder
crept to her eyes.

"I wish I could believe that," she said.

"But you can, dear. You've always seemed to me to be just like that
French woman who was the only one who could amuse the king, even after
she'd been his wife for forty years. You'd be like that."

Alva rose, laughing a little sadly. "God grant that it may be so," she
said, "there are so many people who need amusing after forty years. But,
dear, you know I told you last night that I sent for you to come and
teach and learn, and you are teaching already."

"What am I teaching?" Lassie's eyes opened widely.

"You are teaching me what I really am, and that's a lesson that I need
very much just now. It would be so very easy to forget what I really am
these days. My head is so often dizzy."

"Why, dear? What makes you dizzy?"

"Oh, because the world seems slipping from me so fast. I could so easily
quit it altogether. And I must not quit it. I have too much to do. And I
am to have a great task left me to perform, perhaps. Oh, Lassie, it's
hopeless to tell you anything until I have begun by telling you
everything. You'll see then why I want to die, and why I can't."

"Alva!"

"Don't be shocked, dear; you don't know what I mean at all now, but
later you will. Come, we must be going. No time to waste to-day."

They went up-stairs for hats and wraps, and then came down ready for the
October sunshine. It was fine to step into the crispness and breathe the
ozone of its glory. On the big stone cistern cover by the door a fat
little girl sat, hugging a cat and swinging her feet so as to kick
caressingly the brown and white hound that lay in front of her.

"A nice, round, rosy picture of content," Alva said, smiling at the tot.
"I love to see babies and animals stretched out in the sun, enjoying
just being alive."

"I enjoy just being alive myself," said Lassie.

They went up the path that ran beside the road and, arriving at the
post-office, turned in at the gate and climbed the three steps. The
post-office door stuck, and Alva jammed it open with her knee. Then she
went in, followed by Lassie.

The post-office was just an extremely small room, two thirds of which
appeared reserved for groceries, ranged upon shelves or piled in three
of its four corners. The fourth corner belonged to the United States
Government, and was screened off by a system of nine times nine
pigeonholes, all empty. Behind the pigeonholes Mrs. Ray was busy
stamping letters for the outgoing mail.

"You never said that she kept a grocery store, too," whispered Lassie.

"No, but I told you that I'd forgotten ever so many things that she
did," whispered Alva in return.

The lady behind the counter calmly continued her stamping, and paid not
the slightest attention to them.

They sat down upon two of the three wooden chairs that were ranged in
front of a pile of sacks of flour and remained there, meekly silent,
until some one with a basket came in and took the remaining wooden
chair. All three united then in adopting and maintaining the reverential
attitude of country folk awaiting the mail's distribution, and Lassie
learned for the first time in her life how strong and binding so
intangible a force as personal influence and atmosphere may become, even
when it be only the personal influence and atmosphere of a country
postmistress. It may be remarked in passing, that not one of the letters
then being post-marked received an imprint anything like as strong as
that frame of mind which the postmistress of Ledge had the power to
impress upon those who came under her sceptre. She never needed to
speak, she never needed to even glance their way, but her spirit reigned
triumphant in her kingdom, and, as she carried her governmental duties
forward with as deep a realization of their importance as the most
zealous political reformer could wish, no onlooker could fail to feel
anything but admiration for her omniscience and omnipotence. Mrs. Ray's
governmental attitude towards life showed itself in an added seriousness
of expression. Her dress was always plain and severe, and in the
post-office she invariably put over her shoulders a little gray shawl
with fringe which she had a way of tucking in under her arms from time
to time as she moved about.

Lassie had ample time to note all this while the stamping went
vigorously forward. Meanwhile the mail-bag which had just arrived lay
lean and lank across the counter, appearing as resigned as the three
human beings ranged on the chairs opposite. Finally, when the last
letter was post-marked, the postmistress turned abruptly, jerked out a
drawer, drew therefrom a key which hung by a stout dog-chain to the
drawer knob and held it carefully as if for the working up of some magic
spell. Lassie, contemplating every move with the closest attention,
could not but think just here that if the postal key of Ledge ever had
decided to lose its senses and rush madly out into the whirlwind of
wickedness which it may have fancied existing beyond, it would assuredly
not have gotten far with that chain holding it back, and Mrs. Ray
holding the chain. It was a fearfully large and imposing chain, and
seemed, in some odd way, to be Mrs. Ray's assistant in maintaining the
dignity necessary to their dual position in the world's eyes.

The lady of the post-office now unlocked the bag and, thrusting her hand
far in, secured two packets containing nine letters in all from the
yawning depths. She carefully examined each letter, and then turned the
bag upside down and gave it one hard, severe, and solemn shake. Nothing
falling out, she placed it on top of a barrel, took up the nine letters,
and went to work upon them next.

When they were all duly stamped, she laid them, address-side up, before
her like a pack of fortune-telling cards, folded her arms tightly across
her bosom, and, standing immovable, directed her gaze straight ahead.

Now seemed to be the favorable instant for consulting the sacred oracle.
Alva and the third lady rose with dignity and approached the layman's
side of the counter; Lassie sat still, thrilled in spite of herself.

Alva, being a mere visitor, drew back a little with becoming modesty and
gave the native a chance to speak first.

"I s'pose there ain't nothing for me," said that other, almost
apologetically, "but if there's anything for Bessie or Edward Griggs or
Ellen Scott I can take it; and John is going down the St. Helena road
this afternoon, so if there's anything for Judy and Samuel--"

"Here's yours as usual," said Mrs. Ray, rising calmly above the other's
speech and handing Alva three letters as she did so; "the regular one,
and the one you get daily, and then here's a registered one. I shall
require a receipt for the registered one, as the United States
Government holds me legally liable otherwise, and after my husband died
I made up my mind I was all done being legally liable for anything
unless I had a receipt. Yes, indeed. I'd been liable sometimes legally
in my married life, but more often just by being let in for it, and I
quit then. Yes, indeed. When they tell me I'm legally liable for
anything now, I never fail to get a receipt, and I read every word of
the President's message over twice every year to be sure I ain't being
given any chance to get liable accidentally when I don't know it--when I
ain't took in what was being enacted, you know. Here,--here's the things
and the ink; you sign 'em all, please."

Alva bent above the counter obediently and proceeded to fill out the
forms as according to law. Mrs. Ray watched her sharply until the one
protecting her own responsibility had been indorsed, and then she turned
to the other inquirer:

"Now, what was you saying, Mrs. Dunstall? Oh, I remember,--no, of course
there ain't anything for you. Nor for any of them except the Peterkins,
and I daren't give you their mail because they writ me last time not to
ever do so again. I told Mrs. Peterkin you meant it kindly, but she
don't like that law as lets you open other people's letters and then
write on 'Opened by accident.' Mrs. Peterkin makes a point of opening
her own letters. She says her husband even don't darst touch 'em. It's
nothing against you, Mrs. Dunstall, for she's just the same when I write
on 'Received in bad order.' She always comes right down and asks me why
I did it. Yes, indeed. I suppose she ain't to blame; some folks is
funny; they never will be pleasant over having their letters opened."

Alva bent closer over her writing; Lassie was coughing in her
handkerchief. Mrs. Dunstall stood before the counter as if nailed there,
and continued to receive the whole charge full in her face.

"But I've got your hat done for you; yes, I have. I dyed the flowers
according to the Easter egg recipe, and it's in the oven drying now. And
I made you that cake, too. And I've got the setting of hens' eggs all
ready. Just as soon as the mail is give out, I'll get 'em all for you.
It's pretty thick in the kitchen, or you could go out there to wait, but
Elmer Haskins run his lawn-mower over his dog's tail yesterday, and the
dog's so lost confidence in Elmer in consequence, that Elmer brought him
up to me to take care of. He's a nice dog, but he won't let no one but
me set foot in the kitchen to-day. I don't blame him, I'm sure. He was
sleepin' by Deacon Delmar's grave in the cemetery and woke suddenly to
find his tail gone. It's a lesson to me never to leave the grave-cutting
to no one else again. I'd feel just as the dog does, if I'd been through
a similar experience. Yes, indeed. I was telling Sammy Adams last night
and he said the same."

"There, Mrs. Ray," said Alva, in a stifled voice, straightening up as
she spoke, "I think that will set you free from all liability; I've
signed them all."

"Let me see,--you mustn't take it odd that I'm so particular, because a
government position is a responsibility as stands no feeling." She
looked at the signatures carefully, one after the other. "Yes, they're
right," she said then; "it wasn't that I doubted you, but honesty's the
best policy, and I ought to know, for it was the only policy my husband
didn't let run out before he died without telling me. He had four when I
married him--just as many as he had children by his first wife--he had
six by his second--and his name and the fact that it was a honest one,
was all he left me to live on and bring up his second wife's children
on. Goodness knows what he done with his money; he certainly didn't lay
it by for the moths and rust, for I'm like the text in the
Bible--wherever are moths and rust there am I, too. Yes, indeed, and
with pepper and sapolio into the bargain; but no, the money wasn't
there, for if it was where it could rust it would be where I could get
it."

Alva smiled sympathetically, and then she and Lassie almost rushed out
into the open air. When they were well out of hearing, they dared to
laugh.

"Oh, my gracious me," Lassie cried; "how can you stand it and stay
sober?"

"I can't, that's the trouble!" Alva gasped. "My dear, she felt strange
before you, and was rather reticent, but wait till she knows you
well--until to-morrow. Oh, Lassie, she's too amusing! Wait till she gets
started about the dam, or about Niagara, or about her views on running a
post-office, or anything--" she was stopped by Lassie's seizing her
arm.

"Look quick, over there,--who is that? He looks so out of place here,
somehow. Don't he? Just like civilization."

Alva looked. "That? Oh, that's Ronald--Ronald Ingram, you know, coming
across lots for his letters. You remember him, surely, when you were a
little girl. He was always at our house then. You'll meet him again
to-night. I'd stop now and introduce you, only I want to hurry."

"I suppose that he knows all about it?"

"All about what?"

"The secret."

"Ronald? Oh, no, dear. No one knows. No one--that is, except--except we
two. You will be the only outsider to share that secret."

"For how long?"

"Until I am married."

"Until you are married! Why, when are you to be married?--Soon?"

"In a fortnight."

"And no one is to know!"

"No one."

"Not his family? Not yours?"

"No one."

"How strange!"

Alva put out her hand and stayed the words upon her friend's lips.
"Look, dear, this is the Long Bridge. You've heard of it all your life;
now we're going to walk across it. Look to the left; all that lovely
scene of hill and valley and the little white town with green blinds is
Ledgeville; and there to the right is the famous gorge, with its banks
of gray and its chain of falls, each lovelier than the last. Stand still
and just look; you'll never see anything better worth looking at if
you travel the wide world over."

They stopped and leaned on the bridge-rail in silence for several
minutes, and then Alva continued softly, almost reverently: "This scene
is my existence's prayer. I can't make you understand all that it means
to me, because you can't think how life comes when one is crossing the
summit--the very highest peak. I've climbed for so long,--I'll be
descending upon the other side for so long,--but the hours upon the
summit are now, and are wonderful! I should like to be so intensely
conscious that not one second of the joy could ever fade out of my
memory again. I feel that I want to grave every rock and ripple and
branch and bit of color into me forever. Oh, what I'd give if I might
only do so. I'd have it all to comfort me afterwards then--afterwards in
the long, lonely years to come."

"Why, Alva," said her friend, turning towards her in astonishment, "you
speak as if you didn't expect to be happy but for a little while."

A sad, faint smile crept around Alva's mouth, and then it altered
instantly into its usual sweet serenity.

"Come, dear," she said; "we'll hurry on to the house, and then after
you've seen it we'll go to my own dear forest-seat, and there I'll tell
you the whole story."

"Oh, let us hurry!" Lassie said, impetuously; "I can't wait much
longer."

So they set quickly forward across the Long Bridge.



CHAPTER IV

THE DIFFERENCE


On the further side of the Long Bridge the railway tracks swept off in a
smooth curve to the right, and, as there was a high embankment to adapt
the grade to the hillside, a long flight of steps ran down beside it
into the glen below.

A pretty glen, dark with shadows, bright with dancing sun-rays. A glen
which bore an odd likeness to some lives that we may meet (if we have
that happiness), lives that lead their ways in peace and beauty, with
the roar and smoke of the world but a stone's throw distant.

Lassie's eyes, looking down, were full of appreciation.

"Is it there that you are going to live?" she asked.

Alva shook her head. "Oh, no, not there; that is Ledge Park, the place
that all the hue and cry is being raised over just now."

"Oh, yes," Lassie turned eagerly; "tell me about that. I read something
in the papers, but I forgot that it was here."

"It is 'here,' as you say. But it concerns all the country about here,
only it's much too big a subject for us to go into now. There are two
sides, and then ever so many sides more. I try to see them all, I try to
see every one's side of everything as far as I can, but there is one
side that overbalances all else in my eyes, and that happens to be the
unpopular one."

"That's too bad."

"Yes, dear," Alva spoke very simply; "but what makes _you_ say so?"

"Why? Why, because then you won't get what you want."

Her friend laughed. "Don't say that in such a pitying tone, Lassie.
Better to be defeated on the right side, than to win the most glorious
of victories for the wrong. Who said that?"

Lassie looked doubtful.

Alva laughed again and touched her cheek with a finger-caress. "I'll
tell you just this much now, dear;--all of both the river banks--above,
below and surrounding the three falls--belong to Mr. Ledge, and he has
always planned to give the whole to the State as a gift, so that there
might be one bit of what this country once was like, preserved. He made
all his arrangements to that end, and gave the first deeds last winter.
What do you think followed? As soon as the State saw herself practically
in possession, it appointed a commission to examine into the
possibilities of the water power!" Alva paused and looked at her friend.

"But--" Lassie was clearly puzzled.

"The engineers are here surveying now. Ronald Ingram is at the head and
the people of all the neighborhood are so excited over the prospect of
selling their farms that no one stops to think what it would really
mean."

"What would it really mean?"

"A manufacturing district with a huge reservoir above it."

"Where?"

"Back there," she turned and pointed; "they say that there was a great
prehistoric lake there once, and they will utilize it again."

"But there's a town down there."

"Yes, my dear, Ledgeville. Ledgeville and six other towns will be
submerged."

Lassie stopped short on the railroad track and stared. She had come to a
calamity which she could realize now.

"Why, what ever will the people do then?"

"Get damages. They're so pleased over being drowned out. You must talk
it over with Mrs. Ray. You must get Mrs. Ray's standpoint, and then get
Ronald's standpoint. Theirs are the sensible, practical views, the
world's views. My views are never practical. I'm not practical. I'm only
heartbroken to think of anything coming in to ruin the valley. Mr. Ledge
and I share the same opinions as to this valley; it seems to us too
great a good to sell for cash."

"You speak bitterly."

"Yes, dear, I'm afraid that I do speak bitterly. On that subject. But we
won't talk of it any more just now. See, here's the wood road that leads
to my kingdom; come, take it with me."

They turned into a soft, pine-carpeted way on the left, and in the
length of a bow-shot seemed buried in the forest.

"Lassie, wait!"

Turning her head, Lassie saw that Alva had stopped behind, and was
standing still beside where a little pine-tree was growing out from
under a big glacial boulder. She went back to her.

"Dear, look at this little tree. Here's my daily text."

"How?"

"Do you see how it has grown out and struggled up from under the rock?"

Lassie nodded.

"You know very little of what makes up life, dear. I've sent for you to
teach you." She lifted her eyes earnestly to the face near hers, and her
own eyes were full of appeal. "Lassie, try to understand all I say to
you these days; try to believe that it's worth learning. See this little
tree--" she touched her fingers caressingly to the pine branches as she
spoke--"it's a very little tree, but it has taught me daily since I
came, and I believe that you can learn of it, too."

Lassie's big eyes were very big indeed. "Learn of a tree!"

Alva lifted one of the little stunted uneven branches tenderly in her
fingers. "This is its lesson," she said; "the pine-cone fell between the
rocks; it didn't choose where it would fall, it just found itself alive
and under the rocks; there wasn't much earth there, but it took root and
grew. There was no room to give out branches, so it forced its way
crookedly upward; crookedly because there was no room to grow straight,
but always upward; there wasn't much sunlight, but it was as bravely
green as any other tree; the big rock made it one-sided, but it put out
thickly on the side where it had space. My life hasn't been altogether
sunlit. I was born between rocks, and I have been forced to grow
one-sided, too. But the tree's sermon came home to me the first day that
I saw it. Courageous little tree, doing your best in the woods, where
no one but God could take note of your efforts,--you'll be straight and
have space and air and sunshine in plenty next time--next time! Oh,
blessed 'next time' that is to surely right the woes of those who keep
up courage and continue fighting. That's the reward of all. That's the
lesson."

Lassie listened wonderingly. "Next time!" she repeated questioningly,
"what next time? Do you believe in a heaven for trees?"

"I am not sure of a heaven for anything," said Alva, "not an orthodox
heaven. But I believe in an endless existence for every atom existing in
the universe, and I believe that each atom determines the successive
steps of its own future, and so a brave little pine-tree fills me with
just as sincere admiration as any other species of bravery. 'Next time'!
It will have a beautiful 'next time' in the heaven which means something
so different from what we are taught, or here again on earth, or
wherever its little growing spirit takes form again. I'm not wise enough
to understand much of that, but I'm wise enough to know that there is a
next time of so much infinitely greater importance than this time, that
this time is really only of any importance at all in comparison just
according to how we use it in preparation. That's part of the lesson
that the tree teaches. But you can't understand me, Lassie, unless you
are able to grasp my belief--my fixed conviction--that this world is
only an instant in eternity. I couldn't live at all unless I had this
belief and hope, and it's the key to everything with me; so
please--please--give me credit for sincerity, at least."

Lassie looked thoroughly awed. "I'll try to see everything just as you
do," she said.

Alva pressed her hand. "Thank you, dear."

Then they went on up the road.

Presently the sound of hammer and saw was heard, and the smell of wet
plaster and burning rubbish came through the trees.

"Is it from your house?" Lassie asked, with her usual visible relief at
the approach of the understandable.

"Yes, from my house," Alva answered. "They are very much occupied with
my house; fancy buying a dear, old, dilapidated dwelling in the
wilderness, and having to make it new and warm and bright and cheerful
in a fortnight! Why, the tale of these two weeks will go down through
all the future history of the country, I know. Such a fairy tale was
never before. I shall become the Legend of Ledge, I feel sure."

The road, turning here, ended sharply in a large, solid, wooden gate,
set deep in a thick hedge of pine trees.

"It is like a fairy tale!" Lassie cried delightedly; "a regular
Tourangean _porte_ with a _guichet_!"

"It is better than any fairy tale," said Alva; "it is Paradise, the
lovely, simple-minded, Bible-story Paradise, descending upon earth for a
little while." She pushed one half of the great gate-door open, and they
went through.

A small, old-fashioned, Colonial dwelling rose up before them in the
midst of dire disorder. Shingling, painting, glass-setting, and the like
were all going forward at once. Workmen were everywhere; wagons loading
and unloading were drawn up at the side; mysterious boxes, bales and
bundles lay about; confusion reigned rampant.

"Not exactly evolution, but rather revolution," laughed Alva, ceasing
transcendentalism with great abruptness, and becoming blithely gay. "And
oh, Lassie, the joy of it, the downright childish fun of it! Don't you
see that I couldn't be alone through these days; they are too grand to
be selfish over. I had to have some one to share my fun. We'll come here
and help every day after this; the pantries will be ready soon, and you
and I will do every bit of the putting them in order. Screw up the
little hooks for the cups, you know, and arrange the shelves, and oh,
won't we have a good time?"

Lassie's eyes danced. "I just love that kind of work," she said, fully
conscious of the pleasant return to earth, "I can fit paper in drawers
beautifully."

"Which proves that after all women stay women in spite of many modern
encouragements to be men," Alva said. "You know really I'm considered to
be most advanced, and people look upon me as quite intellectual; but I'm
fairly wild over thinking how we'll scrub the pantries, and put in the
china--and then there's a fine linen-closet, too. We'll set that in
order afterwards, and put all the little piles straight on the shelves."

By this time they had gone up the plank that bridged over the present
hiatus between ground and porch, and entered the living-room, which was
being papered in red with a green dado and ceiling.

"How pretty and bright!" Lassie exclaimed.

"It's going to be furnished in the same red and green, with little
book-shelves all around and the dining table in the middle," Alva
explained. "Oh, I do love this room. It's my ideal sitting-room. It has
to be the dining-room, too, but I don't mind that."

"Won't the table have to be very small?"

"Just big enough for two."

"But when you have company?"

"We shall never have any company."

"I mean when you have friends with you here."

"I shall never have any friends with me, dear."

"Alva! Why--I can come--can't I?--Sometime?"

Alva shook her head.

"That's part of the story, Lassie, part of the story that I am going to
tell you in a few minutes now. But be a little patient, dear; give me a
few minutes more. Come in here first; see--this was the dining-room, but
it has been changed into--I don't know what. A sort of bedroom, I
suppose one would call it. I've had it done in blue, with little green
vines and birds and bees and butterflies painted around it. Birds and
bees and butterflies are always so lively and bright, so busy and
cheerful. All the pictures here are going to be of animals, either out
in the wild, free forest or else in warm, sunshiny farmyards. I have a
lovely print of Wouverman's 'Im Stall' to hang in the big space. You
know the picture, don't you?--the shadowy barn-room with one whole side
open, and the hay dripping from above, and the horses just ridden in,
and the chickens scratching, and some little children playing in the
corner by the well. It's such a sweet _gemuthliche_ picture--so full of
fresh country air--I felt that it was the picture of all others to hang
in this room. There will be a big sofa-bed at one side, and my piano,
and pots of blooming flowers. And you can't think, little Lassie, of all
that I look forward to accomplishing in this room. I expect to learn to
be a very different woman, every atom and fibre of my being will be
altered here. All of my faults will be atoned for--" she stopped
abruptly, and Lassie turned quickly with an odd impression that her
voice had broken in tears.

"Alva!" she exclaimed.

"It's nothing, dear, only that side of me that keeps forgetting the
lesson of the tree. Don't mind me,--I am so happy that you must not mind
anything nor must I mind anything either; but--when I come into this
room and think--" her tone suddenly turned dark, full of quivering
emotion, and she put her hand to her eyes.

"Alva, tell me what you mean? I feel frightened,--I must know what's
back of it all now. Tell me. Tell me!"

"I'm going to tell you in just a minute, as soon as I've shown you all
over the house." She took her handkerchief, pressed it to her eyes, made
a great, choking effort at self-control, and then managed to go on
speaking. "See," pushing open a door, "this is a nice little
dressing-room, isn't it? And then around and through this narrow back
hall comes the kitchen. There is an up-stairs, but I've done nothing
there except make a room comfortable and pleasant for the Japanese
servant who will do the work, that is, all that I don't do myself."

"Won't you want but one servant?"

"I think so. A man from outside will take the extras, and really it's a
very small house, dear. The laundry will be sent out. Dear me, how I do
enjoy hearing that kind of speech from my own lips. 'The laundry will be
sent out!' That sounds so delightfully commonplace, so sort of everyday
and like other people. I can't express to you what the commonplaces,
the little monotonies of ordinary lives, mean to me here. You'll divine
later, perhaps. But fancy a married life where nothing is too trivial to
be glorified! That is how things will be with us."

"Are you so sure?" Lassie tried to smile and speak archly. Tried very
hard to do both, because an intangible atmosphere of sorrow was
beginning to press heavily on her spirits.

"Very sure,--really, quite confident. You must not think that, because I
sob suddenly as I did just now, I am ever weak or ever doubt myself or
any one else. I never doubt or waver. It is only that no matter how hard
one tries, one can hardly rise completely out of the thrall of one
existence into the freedom of another at only a week's notice."

"Is that what you are trying to do?"

"Dear, I'm not only trying to do it, but the greater part of the time I
do do it. It's only very seldom that my soul faints and the tears come.
I am really happy! You are not going to be able to comprehend how happy
I am. Every one who wants anything in this world always wants it in such
a narrow, finite way,--no one can understand joy too limitless to be
finite. The difficulty is that occasionally I get blind myself, or else
in mercy God sometimes veils the splendor for a few minutes. When I
faint or struggle, it is just that my soul is absent; you must not mind
when you see me suffer, for the suffering has no meaning. It's just a
sort of discipline,--it doesn't count." She smiled with wonderful
brightness into Lassie's troubled face, and then, pushing open the outer
door,--"You don't quite see how it is, but be patient with yourself,
dearie; it will come. All things come to him who waits."

"Oh, but I don't understand, not one bit," Lassie cried, almost
despairingly.

They were in the yard now; Alva looked at her and took her hand within
her own. "Come," she said, "we'll go down through the woods to a certain
lovely, bright spot where the view is big and wide, and there I'll tell
you all about it."

"I so want to know!"

"I know you do, dear, and I want to tell you, too. I'm not purposely
tormenting you, but there is no one else to whom I can speak. And that
human, sobbing part of me needs companionship just as much these days,
as the merry, house-loving spirit, or the beatifically blessed soul.
Can't you see, dear, that with all my affection for you, I dread telling
you my story, and the reason for that is that it will be too much for
you to comprehend at first, and that I know perfectly well that it is
going to shock and pain you." The last words burst forth like a storm
repressed.

"Shock and pain me!" Lassie opened mouth and eyes.

"Yes, dear, of a certainty."

They were in the woods, quite alone.

Involuntarily Lassie drew a little away; a common, cruel suspicion
flashed through her head. "Alva, is it--is it that you do not mean to
marry the man?"

Alva laughed then, not very loudly, but clearly and sweetly. "No,
Lassie, it isn't that. I am going to be married in the regular way and,
besides, I will tell you in confidence that I fully believe that I have
been married to the same man hundreds of times before, and shall be
married to him countless times again. Does that help you?"

"Alva!"

"There! I told you that you wouldn't understand, and you don't."

"No, I certainly don't, when you talk like that."

"It's natural that you shouldn't, dear; but at the end of the week you
will, perhaps. We'll hope so, any way. Oh, Lassie, how much we are both
to live and learn in the next week."

Lassie turned her eyes to the eyes of the other.

"It's queer, Alva; you talk as if you were crazy, but I know you're not
crazy, and yet I'm worried."

"You don't need to be worried,--"

"I'll try not to be." She raised her sweet eyes to her friend's face as
she spoke, and her friend bent and kissed her. "Don't keep me waiting
much longer," she pleaded.

They were passing through the little, tree-grown way which led out on
the brow of the hill. All the wide, radiant wonder of that October
morning unrolled before them there. For an instant Lassie stood
entranced, forgetting all else; and then:

"Tell me now!" she cried.

"Let us sit down here," Alva said, pointing to a rough seat made out of
a plank laid across two stumps. They sat down side by side.

"Alva, it seems as if I cannot wait another minute; I must know it all
now. Tell me who he is, first; is it some one that I know?"

Alva's eyes rested on the wide radiance beyond.

"You know of him, dear," she replied quietly.

"Who is it?"

The woman laid her arm around the girl and drew her close and kissed her
gently. Then she whispered two words in her ear.

With a scream, Lassie started to her feet. "Oh--no!--no!--_no!_"

Alva looked straight up at her where she stood there above her and
smiled, steadily.

"No, no,--it can't be! I didn't hear right."

"Yes, you heard quite right."

The girl's hands shook violently; tears came fast pouring down her face.
"But, Alva, he is--he can't--"

Tears filled the other's eyes, too, at that, and stole thickly out upon
her cheeks. "I know, my dear child, but didn't I tell you how to me--to
us--this life is only a small part of the whole?"

"Oh, but--but--oh, it's too horrible!" She sank down on the seat again
and burst out sobbing.

"No, dear," Alva exclaimed, her voice suddenly firm, "not horrible, just
that highest summit of life of which I spoke before--the point toward
which I've lived, the point from which I shall live ever afterwards,--my
point of infinite joy,--my all. For he is the man I love--have always
loved--shall always love. Only, dear, don't you see?--he isn't a _man_
as you understand the word; the love isn't even _love_ as you understand
love. It's all so different! So different!"

A long, keenly thrilling silence followed, broken only by the sound of
the younger girl's repressed weeping.

It was one of those pauses during which men and women forget that they
are men and women, that the world is the world, or that life is life.
Every human consideration loses weight, and one is stunned into heaven
or oblivion, according to his or her preparation for such an entry to
either state.

The two friends remained seated side by side, facing the wonderful
valley in all its rich beauty of varied colorings; but neither saw
valley or color, neither remembered for a little what she was or where
she was. Alva, with her hands linked around her knees, was out and away
into another existence; Lassie, her eyes deadened and darkened with a
horror too acute for any words to relieve, sat still beside her, and
knew nothing for the time being but a fearful throbbing in her
temples--a black cloud smothering her whole brain--and tears.

It was Lassie who broke the silence at last, trying hard to speak
evenly. "But, Alva, I never knew ... when did you learn to love him ...
why--" her voice died again just there, and she buried her face on the
other's shoulder.

Alva laid her hand upon the little hand that shook under a fresh stress
of emotion, and said gently, her tone one of deepest pity: "Shall I tell
you all about it? Would you like to know the whole story?"

"Oh, yes, yes,--so much."

"You'll try to be patient and give yourself time to really see how
things may be to one who is altogether outside of your way of thinking,
won't you, dear? You won't pass judgment too quickly?"

"I'll try. Indeed, I will, as well as I can--"

Alva pressed the hand. "Dear little girl," she said, very tenderly, "you
see I look at even you with quite different eyes from those with which
the ordinary person sees you. If you could only see things as I do,
you'd see everything so much more clearly. How can I put it all straight
for you? When even my love for you is not at all what any other gives
you."

Lassie lifted up her head. "How do you mean?"

"There are two Lassies to me, dear,--the pretty, sweet-looking girl, and
the Lassie who loves me. Most people confuse the two, and think them one
and the same; I don't. No matter what happened to you, the Lassie whom I
love could never alter--she is unchangeable. She is not subject to
change; she doesn't belong to this world; she cannot die. And just as I
feel about you, I feel about everybody. What I can see and touch in
those I love is what I love least in them."

"Oh, Alva!" it was like a little moan--the girl's voice.

"That is my earnest belief. Bodies and what they suffer don't count.
That has come to me bit by bit under the pressure of these last years.
But it has come in its completest form in the end. I am entirely
satisfied as to the only truth in the universe being the fact that only
Truth is eternal. Please try to remember all this, while you listen to
my story; try not to forget it. You will, won't you?"

"I'll try, but it isn't clear to me."

"No, I don't suppose so--" Alva sighed--"but do your best, my dear;" she
paused a moment, then drew the hand that she held close between her own
two, and went on slowly; "I must tell you first of all that I have never
seen him but three times in my life. Just think--only three times!"

"Only three--" Lassie looked up in surprise.

"Only three times. And hardly any one knows that I saw him even those
times. No one knows to-day that we love one another, or that we are to
be married, except the surgeons and nurses, who had to be told, of
course. It's a very great secret."

"Tell me how it all began, Alva."

"I don't know when I first heard his name. It all began here, dear, five
years ago. When I stopped off for a few days to visit the Falls. I've
always loved this country, and from the time that I was born I've always
been here for a few days now and then. I always had a queer feeling that
something drew me here. I have those queer feelings about things and
places and people, you know, and out there on the bridge has always
seemed to me a sort of pivot in my life. Every time I go there, the
clock seems to strike some hour for me--" she stopped.

Lassie opened and shut her free hand with a sensation of being very
uneasy; the suspicion that Alva was not quite sane just lightly crossed
her mind. It certainly was not sane to talk as she did.

"So I came here again, on my way home from New York, just five years ago
now. And he was here then, staying at Ledge Park, and I saw him for the
first time; we met out there on the bridge;" she stopped for just a
second or so, then went steadily on. "I think I read about him in the
papers. I had learned to admire him intensely--who could help it?--but
of course I'd never for one instant thought of loving him. He was like a
sort of a story-hero to me; he never seemed like a man; I never thought
of any woman's loving him. He just seemed to be himself, all
alone--always alone. He had seemed quite above and apart from all other
men to me. He interested me; I wanted to learn all that I could about
him and his work, and I did learn a great deal, but I'd never dreamed of
meeting him face to face, of really speaking to him, of having his eyes
really looking at me; he seemed altogether beyond and away from my
existence. As if he lived on another world. And then I met him that
evening on the bridge, in just the simplest sort of way. Oh, it was very
wonderful."

"Did you know him right off?"

"Yes, he looked just like his picture; but then I knew him in another
way, too. I can't describe it; it was all very--very strange. It doesn't
seem strange to me now, but it would seem almost too strange to you."

"Won't you try to tell me?"

"I will some day, dear, perhaps. I can't tell you now, I couldn't
explain it all to you; but, anyway, we met and I looked at him and he
looked at me--" she pressed the hand within her own yet closer, adding
simply, "I believe that love--real love--comes like that, first of all
that one look, and then all the past rushes in and makes the bridge to
all the future. Oh, Lassie," her voice sank to a whisper, "when I think
of that meeting and of all that it brought me, I am so happy that I want
to take the whole wide world into my confidence, and beg every one not
to play at love or to take Love's name in vain; but to be patient, and
wait, and starve, or beg, or endure anything, just so as to merit the
joy which may perhaps be going to be. I never had thought of what love
might be; at least I had never been conscious of such thinking. My life
all these years had been bound so straitly and narrowly there at home.
How could I think of anything that would take me from those duties! And
yet I see now that it was all preparation, all the getting ready. If I
had only known it, though,--if I had only known it then! It would all
have been so much easier."

The whisper died away; she sat quite still looking out over the hills.
Lassie's eyes gazed anxiously upon her; nothing in her own spirit tuned
to this key; instead, flashes of recollection kept lighting up the
present with forgotten paragraphs out of the newspaper accounts of the
accident. She shivered suddenly.

Alva did not notice. After a while she went on again.

"Some day you'll learn to love some one, and then you'll know something
of what I feel. I don't want you to suffer enough to know all that I
feel. But, believe me, whatever one suffers, love is worth it. In that
first instant I learned--that first look showed me--that it can mean
all, everything, more even than happiness itself; oh, yes, a great,
great deal more than happiness itself. In one way they're not synonymous
at all, love and happiness. I have been happy without love all my life,
and now I shall love without being what the world calls 'happy'; but I
_shall_ be happy--happy in my own way, just as I am happy now in
something that makes you tremble only to think of."

She paused; her eyelids fell over her eyes and the lashes quivered where
they lay on her cheeks, but her hand continued to hold Lassie's, warm
and close. There was another long pause. And then another sigh.

"So in that first hour--it was only one hour--I learned the beginning of
life's biggest lesson--what life may be, what love may be, and also what
for me could never be. For just as soon as I really saw him, I saw why
he had remained alone. It was perfectly plain to me. It was that he
didn't live for himself; he lived to carry out his purpose. One reads of
such people, but I never had met any one who was unable to see himself
in his own life before. It was a tremendous lesson to me. It was like
opening a door and looking suddenly out upon a new order of universe.
Everything whirled for the first minutes, and then I saw that my own
life had been sufficiently unselfish to have made me capable of
comprehending his. It rose like a flood through my soul, that everything
has a reason, and that my blind, stupid, hopeless years there at home
had all been leading straight up to that minute. It was such a
revelation, and such a new light on all things. I was born anew, myself;
I have never been the same woman since. Never, never!"

Lassie's brows drew together; the revelation did not appeal to her
personal reason as reasonable.

"We talked for quite a while--not about ourselves--we understood each
other too well to need do that. It seems to me now that we were almost
one then, but I didn't know it. All I knew was that I could measure a
little of what he was, and that there was a bond between us of absolute
content in working out God's will rather than our own. I believe now
that that is really the only true love or the only true basis for any
marriage, and that when that mutual bond is once accepted, nothing can
alter, not even an ocean rolling between--not even ten oceans. He spoke
of the Falls, and he spoke of his own work. I listened and thanked God
that I knew what he meant, and comprehended what it meant to me. At the
end of the hour we parted, and I came back to the hotel and started for
home the morning after.... He went away, too, and it was later--when we
began to write letters--that our life together, our beautiful ideal life
together, began. You can't realize its happiness any more than you can
measure all that my words really mean. I can't explain myself any
better, either. After a while it will all come to you, I hope. I went on
with the work at home, and he continued his labors which allowed him
neither home nor family. Nobody knew and nobody would have known, even
if he or she thought that they knew. The very best and loveliest things
lie all around the most of us, and the best and loveliest of all
treasures are within our own hearts--and yet very few of us know
anything about them. Perhaps better that the world in general shouldn't
understand the joy of my kind of love, anyhow; it isn't time for that
yet."

"How, Alva?"

She smiled almost whimsically, "Dearest, as soon as the whole world
understands that sort of life, its own mission will be fulfilled, and
then there will be no more of this particular world. You see!"

"Oh!"

"So then, dear, time went on and on, and I was happy, very happy. And he
was very happy, also. There was something truly childlike in his
happiness; he had never expected love in his life, because he had never
thought of meeting any one who would be able to adapt herself to his
circumstances. We never met, because it didn't seem best or wise. We
just loved, and I don't believe that any two people have ever been
happier together than we were, apart, for these five years--these happy,
happy five years."

Lassie felt a deepening misery; the last horrible part must be going to
come now.

Alva passed her hand over her eyes and drew a long breath.

"It's so difficult to be different from other people, and then to bear
their way of looking at things. It's so hopeless to try to translate
one's feeling into their language all the time. How can I go on, when I
know just how it all looks to you. It's fearfully hard for me."

"I won't say a word,"--the girl's cry was pitiful.

Alva threw both arms quickly about her and held her close. "Bless you,
darling, I know it. But you'll suffer and I know that, too; and I feel
your suffering more than you guess. I know just how it all seems to you.
There is that within me which shudders too, sometimes, and would shrink
and weep only for the strong, divine power that fills me with something
better than I can describe, something big enough and high enough to
fight down the coward. You have that same divinity within you, dear, and
you can't tell when or where it will be called out, but once it is
called out, you never will be weak in the face of this earth's woes."

Lassie was weeping softly again.

"One morning--you know when--I opened the paper to read it to papa after
breakfast, and I saw on the first page, across the top in bright red
letters, that he had been killed."

There was a little sharp cry--"But he wasn't?"--and then a great sob.

"No, dear, but that was the first report."

"And you thought--"

"Yes, of course I believed it. But, Lassie, try to calm
yourself--because it wasn't to me what you think. I was calm; I had
learned so much, he had taught me so much, during the five years, that I
astonished myself with my strength; really, I did. I went about all that
day just as usual, only thinking with a white sort of numbness how long
the rest of life would seem; and then, in the evening, the paper said
that he was still alive. Then I telegraphed and the next day I went to
him. I knew that I must go to him and see him once more, so I arranged
things and went. I was surprised all the journey at my own courage; it
was like a miracle, my power over myself. It was a long journey, but I
knew that I should see him again at the end. I knew that he would not
leave me without saying good-bye, now that he was conscious that he was
going. I was sure of that. So confident can love and strength be in love
and strength.

"I arrived--I went to the hospital--they had the room darkened
because--well, you can guess. I went to where the bed stood and knelt
down beside him, and laid my hand on his bosom. I felt his heart
beating--ever so faintly, but still beating,--and I heard his voice.
Only think, I had not heard his voice for five years! To you or to any
one else it might have all been frightful, because, of course, the
reality was frightful. The man, as you understand men, was mangled and
dying, and could not possibly be with me except for a few brief days.
But, oh, my dearest,--with me it was so different; it was all so
absolutely different. The man that _I_ loved was unhurt, and the evil
chance had only made us nearer and dearer forever. I don't say that I
was not trembling, and that I was not almost unnerved by the shock; but
I can say, too, and say truly, that the Something Divine which had
filled me from the first day, filled and upheld me and made me know that
all was good even then, even in that dark hour and in that dark room,
where he whom I held dearest on earth was chained to pain beneath my
hand. The nurses were very kind. They left me there beside him while he
was conscious and unconscious for some hours. They saw very quickly that
it was different with us from most people; and when I went out two of
the surgeons took me into a room alone and told me the truth.

"I think that then was the greatest moment of my life--when I
comprehended that one who was not killed outright by such a shock might
live even months until--until--Well, if a man so injured has vitality
enough to live at all, he may--live--"

"Don't go on, Alva, please,--I don't want to know how long he may live."

"No, dear, I won't go into that. Only you must think that to me it was
such unexpected heaven. Instead of death, he was alive. Instead of
separation for this life, we were to have some days of absolute
companionship. It was something so much more than I had ever thought of
hoping. A life--even for a day--together! Companionship! Not letters,
but words. I to be his nurse, his solace, to have him for my own. I
stayed awake all night thinking. I knew what being swept suddenly away
meant to him. I knew of his life plans, and what made death hardest to
him. It came to me that I might ease that bitterness. That his need
could go forth through the medium of my love and interest. That his work
would pass on into other hands through mine. That all the golden web of
Fate had been woven directly to this end."

Lassie continued sobbing.

"I saw what we could do. In the morning I went to the surgeons, and they
said that each day added a week of possible life, and that although it
would be many days before anything could be done, after that, he could
be moved and wait for the end--with me. I went to him then, and again I
knelt there by the bed, and this time I told him how I was going to
spend the weeks, and what he must look forward to. He was unable to
talk, but he looked at me and--like the first time--we understood one
another absolutely. He accepted the happiness that was to be as
gratefully as I did myself. As I said before, it was so much more--so
much more--than we had ever expected! He took up his burden of agony as
cheerfully and courageously as he had taken everything in life, and I
came away. There was no use in my remaining there, as he would be either
unconscious or--I could not remain there; the surgeons forbade it.

"Then I had to find a place quickly, a place where no one would come or
would see. A place where he and I could share life and God, who is Life,
without any outsiders breaking in to stare and wonder."

Her voice suddenly became broken and hurried. "Of course I thought of
Ledge, where we had first met, and I wrote to Ronald at once. He found
me that dear little nest back there, and--" she stopped, for Lassie had
suddenly started to her feet. "What is it, dear?"

"Oh, I can't bear it at all. To me it is horrible--horrible! Why, he can
never stand up again--he--Oh, I want to be alone. I must be alone.
I'll--I'll come back--in time--"

She did not wait to finish; she gave one low, bitter cry, and wrung her
hands. Then she ran down the steep, little path that led to Ledgeville,
leaving her friend on the hilltop, with the October sun pouring its
splendor all about her.



CHAPTER V

THAT DISPASSIONATE OBSERVER, MRS. RAY


THERE never was the human tragedy, comedy, or melodrama, yet, which did
not have one or more dispassionate observers. This is strictly true
because, even if a man goes off into the wilderness to fight his fight
out utterly alone, there are moments when one part of his own spirit
will dissever itself from all the rest and, standing forth, tell him of
his progress or retrogression with a pitiless, unbiassed truth. The
wilderness is advisable for that very reason, but no one makes a greater
mistake than when he or she goes to a small far-away village and
pleasantly terms it "the wilderness," supposing soul-solitude an
integral part thereof. It is very right, proper, and conventional to
view life from one's own standpoint, but the real facts of the case are
old and trite enough to warrant me in repeating the statement that all
doings in this world have their dispassionate observer.

Mrs. Ray was the natural observer for the town of Ledge. The town was
not quite aware that added to her keen powers of observation she was
also the Voice of the community. People never expressed themselves
fully, without first knowing what she said. Public opinion simmered all
over the township, so to speak, and then finally boiled over in Mrs.
Ray.

It will be quite impossible to impress upon the ordinary reader the
importance of such Public Opinion, unless a few paragraphs are devoted
to the town of Ledge and its history. If one fails to properly
appreciate the town of Ledge, the tale might just as well have been
located in North Ledge, South Ledge, Ledgeville, Ledge Centre, or any of
the other Ledges.

Therefore on behalf of the lovely little hamlet of Ledge itself, I will
state in as few words as possible that it lies upon a hill overlooking
one of the most beautiful and picturesque scenes in all Northeastern
America; that it took its name and being from a great and noble-hearted
man, who, passing that way by chance, half a century since, paused near
its site to sadly contemplate the denuded banks of the little river
winding its way amidst the débris and desolation left by the lumber
barons of the period. Time was when the same banks had been smiling
terraces covered thick with primeval pines, but "civilization" had
demanded their downfall and they fell. Fell without warning, and also
without discretion. Fell forever, flinging the riches of all the future
aside for the plenty of one man's day. Blackened stumps, great beds of
unsightly chips, waste which would never have been called waste in any
other land, ruthless destruction,--all this disfigured the landscape
that stretched before that visitor of fifty years ago. His heart was
heavy, for he was one who loved everything good, and trees and beauty
are two of man's best gifts from above; but while he gazed over what to
him and many others was almost as much desecration as desolation, he
saw, forever flowing--however choked--the little river below. Like the
thread of idealism which illuminates the most despairing situation, so
flowed the silvery stream down through the scene before him. Its bed was
clogged with drift, its banks covered with rotting rubbish, yet the
promise of its beauty remained; and then and there the traveller
formulated a plan for its redemption to the end that unborn generations
might revel in the realization of that of which he alone seemed then
conscious.

The town of Ledge was a part of what resulted. There had to be a town,
and Ledge came into existence. Where there is work to be done, come the
workers, and with them come towns. Ledge came and grew. To the call of
prosperity many other Ledges gathered a little later; but they never
enjoyed the dignity of the one and original. The first Ledge was
tenacious of its priority. It held to its privileges as rigidly as any
medieval knight held to his. Castled upon the hill above, it simulated
power in more ways than one. For many years all the others had to go to
Ledge for their mail. Ledge also owned the sheriff, the blacksmith, and
the lawyer, and kept a monopoly on the summer excursionist; the express
office was its natural perquisite; a bend of the canal took it in, and
when the canal went the railroad came to console the losers. Mr. Ledge's
plans, which had turned his private estate into a public park for the
gently disposed, also held Ledge in high honor. To visit Ledge Park from
any of the other Ledges was rendered well-nigh impossible. The little
town stood like a sentinel at the end of the Long Bridge, and at the top
of the First Fall. Every picnicker had to go through it, had to check
such articles as could not conveniently be carried all day, in its
hotel; had to get whatever he might feel disposed to drink in the same
place. During the summer, visitors were so plenteous that it became the
fashion in Ledge to despise them, and that right heartily, too. The
people who brought the town most of its means of livelihood received
much that species of sentiment with which an irritating husband and
father is frequently viewed. It was the fashion in Ledge to despise city
people and their ways in all things; even their coming to see the Falls
was referred to as special proof of their singularly feeble minds, while
the way in which the visitors climbed and walked was the favorite topic
of mirthful criticism, all summer long. Criticism is a strange habit. It
is contagious, thrives in any soil or no soil at all, and is far more
destructive to him or her who gives it birth than it can possibly be to
any other person. Not that it really is destructive, but that the weight
of criticism rarely falls where it is supposed to be most needed.

The summer visitors evoked so much comment between May and November that
a great longing to have something to talk about between November and May
followed. It therefore became the fashion in Ledge to talk of everything
and everybody, and as the summer visitors were rated low, the rest of
the world was pretty freely given over to the same cataloguing. It was
usual to rate Ledgeville and all the other Ledges particularly low, and
this opinion held firm, until a biting edge was given it by a second
railroad which came down the valley's bottom to the unspeakable wrath of
the hills on either side and of Ledge in special. It took several years
to assimilate the second railroad, and resume the even tenor of life.
But the adjustment was finally made, and at the date of this story Ledge
was a wee country idyll set like a pearl amidst the beautiful
environment of that fairest of country counties. He who was responsible
for town and environment lived on his own estate near by, and came in
for his share of consideration from the tongues of his namesake. The
great philanthropist was busily engaged in his battle to preserve
intact, for the good of the many to come, that matchless picture with
its open Bible of Nature's Own History. Of the picture and its practical
value, Ledge had its own opinion. It had its own opinion of the dam,
too. It had its own opinion of Alva. And of Lassie. And of Ingram. And
all these opinions flowed freely forth through the medium of Mrs. Ray.
As that lady herself put it: "Whether I'm picking chickens or digging
fence-posts, or carting the United States mail down to the train in the
wheelbarrow that I had to buy and the United States Government won't pay
for,--I never am idle; I'm always taking in something."

And it was quite true. Whatever Mrs. Ray was working at, her brain was
never idle; it was always absorbing something. It was not uncommon to
see a neighbor walking with her while she ploughed, conversation going
briskly on meanwhile. She swept the church with company, and she almost
never sat alone between mail times. It was a full, busy life, and an
interesting one. It was full of importance and responsibility, too. Mrs.
Ray liked to be responsible and was naturally important. Her opinions
were in the main correct, but sometimes she did draw wrong conclusions.
For instance, when she looked down the road the morning after Lassie's
arrival, and saw the two friends departing over the Long Bridge.

"Oh, dear," she said to whoever was near by at the minute, "I smell
trouble for that oldest one if she's planning to keep that pretty girl
here long. That man is going to fall in love with that pretty girl. He
never has cared much for her, anyway. He don't even seem to like to go
over to their house with her; she goes alone mostly. Yes, indeed."

The somebody sitting near by at the minute was Mrs. Dunstall. And
Pinkie, of course. They had dropped in to see if they had any mail, and
had found Mrs. Ray cutting the hair of the three youngest children left
her, first by her predecessor and then by Mr. Ray himself.

"Sit down," she had said cordially; "the second train isn't in yet, and
it's got to come in and go out and let the mail-train come in, even if
the mail ain't late, on account of the wreck."

"Oh, is there a wreck?" Mrs. Dunstall asked anxiously.

"Yes. Forty-four run into a open switch up at Cornell. If the switch is
open, I never see why the train don't just run on out the other end and
keep right along; but all the accidents is as often open switches as
anything, so I guess there's a reason. At any rate, the wrecking-train's
gone up and the second mail's going to be late. Tip your head a little,
Billy. Yes, indeed."

"I wonder if we'd better wait," said Mrs. Dunstall, unwrapping her shawl
somewhat and taking a chair. "What do you say, Pinkie?"

Pinkie was already seated. She weighed two hundred pounds and never
stood up when she could help it. "I say 'Wait,'" said Pinkie.

Mrs. Dunstall thereupon sat down, too, and after ten minutes of a most
solemn silence Mrs. Ray finished her task and dismissed the children.
She faced her callers, then, folding her little gray shoulder-wrap
tightly across her bosom as she did so, and tucking the ends in close
beneath her armpits. The little gray shawl was one of the first signs of
winter in Ledge; Mrs. Ray always donned it at the beginning of October,
and never took it off before the last day of May.

"Well!" she said now; "anything new come up?"

"Millicent come on the same train with that girl," Mrs. Dunstall began
at once. "I wasn't really expecting any mail this morning, but I thought
I might as well come down about now and tell you how Millicent come on
the train with her. You know who I mean, of course?"

"She knows," said Pinkie.

"I s'posed you would. And so Millicent come on the same train with her.
Seems too curious of Millicent coming on the same train with her, when
Millicent hasn't been on a train but twice in her life before, and then
to think that she would come back with that girl. Things do fall out
queer in this world. She sit right in the seat behind her, too. That was
awful curious, I think."

Mrs. Ray gave the ends of her shawl a fresh tuck, and drew in some extra
breath.

"You never can tell," she began; "things do come about mighty strange in
this world. Yes, indeed. It's the unexpected that has happened so much
that it's got to be a proverb in the end. I always feel when a thing has
been coming about till it gets to be proverb, it's no use me disputing
it. Dig around in smoking ashes long enough, and I've never failed to
find some sparks yet. And what you just said is all true as true can
be. It's the unexpected as always happens. Look at me, for instance.
Look at how the post-office fell out of a clear sky on me, and Mr. Ray
much the same, too. I never had any idea of either of 'em beforehand,
and now here I am stamping letters morning and night to keep up the
payments on his tombstone. Things do work in circles so in this world. I
always say if I hadn't been postmistress no one would have expected to
see my husband have a fringed cloth hang on a pillar over his dead body,
and if I hadn't been postmistress I never could have paid for such a
thing. But where there's a will there's a way, which is another proverb
as I've never found go wrong, unless your way is to stay in bed while
you're willing."

"Oh, but you never could have put anything plain on Mr. Ray--not in your
circumstances, and him passing the plate every Sunday and you the sexton
yourself." Mrs. Dunstall looked almost shocked at the mere fancy.

"Couldn't I! Well, I guess I could if I'd had my own way. But I wasn't
allowed my own way. Nobody is. That's what holds us back in this world;
it's the being expected to live up to what we've got; and in this
country, where the garden is open to the public, most of us has to live
up to a good deal more'n we've got. If America ever takes to walls,
it'll show it's going to begin to economize. It'll mean we're giving up
tulips and going in for potatoes. And you'll see, Mrs. Dunstall, that
just as soon as we really have to economize we'll begin to build walls.
There's something about economy as likes walls around the house--high
ones."

"You was raised with walls, wasn't you?" said Mrs. Dunstall.

"I should think I was. I'm English-born--I am."

"How old was you when you come to this country, Mrs. Ray?"

"I've lived here thirty-eight years; that's how old I was."

"You wasn't here before Mr. Ledge?"

"No, I wasn't, nor before the Falls, neither."

"Why, the Falls was here before Mr. Ledge," said Mrs. Dunstall,
enlarging her eyes. "Oh, I see, you're making a joke, Mrs. Ray."

"I do occasionally make a joke," said Mrs. Ray, giving her shawl another
tuck.

"Well, to go back to the girl," said Mrs. Dunstall, "she sit right
behind Millicent too, and what makes it all the stranger, is, she asked
Millicent the name of the next station. Millicent told her it was going
to be Ledge, and asked her if she was for Ledge, because if she was for
East Ledge she ought to stay on one station more. You know, Mrs. Ray,
how folks are always getting off here for East Ledge, and having to stay
all night or hire a buggy to drive over--two shillings either way; and
Millicent asked her, too, if she was for Ledge's Crossing, because if
she was for the Crossing the train don't stop there, and Millicent
always was kind-hearted and wanted her to know it right off. You know
how Millicent is, Pinkie; the last time she rode on a train she threw
the two bags off to the old lady who forgot them, and they weren't the
old lady's bags; they were the conductor's, and he had to run the train
way back for them; he did feel so vexed about them, Millicent said."

"So vexed," said Pinkie.

"And so then Millicent asked her if maybe she was for Ledgeville,
because if she was for Ledgeville she was on the wrong train, and had
ought to have took the Pennsylvania, unless she telegraphed from Ledge
Centre for the omnibus to come up, which nobody ever knows to do; and
then it come into Millicent's head as maybe she was going to visit Mr.
Ledge, in which case goodness knows what she would do, for although he
gets his mail at Ledge, he gets his company at Castile, and here was
that poor child five miles of bridge and walk out of her way, and
Millicent's heart just bleeding for her, she looked so tired. But she
said she was for Ledge."

"Yes, I could have told you she was for Ledge," said Mrs. Ray; "there
was two letters for her here. When I have letters for people without
having the people for the letters, it always means one or two
things,--either the people are coming or the letters are addressed
wrong. I learned that long ago. Yes, indeed."

"Millicent says she liked her looks from the first," pursued Mrs.
Dunstall, "only her hat did amuse her. I must say the hats folks from
town wear is about the most amusing things we ever see here. One year
they pin 'em to their fronts and next year to their backs, and Millicent
says this one was on hindside before with a feather duster upside down
on top. She never saw anything like it; but she said the girl was so
innocent of what a sight she was that she wouldn't have let her see her
laughing behind her back for anything. What do you think of city people
anyhow, Mrs. Ray?"

"City people are always mooney," responded Mrs. Ray; "such mooney ideas
as come into their heads in the country always. Seems like they save
all their mooney ideas for the country. Yes, indeed. They take off their
hats and their shoes and carry stones around in their handkerchiefs; and
when I see 'em slipping and scrambling up and down that steep bank all
the hot summer long, and taking that walk to the Lower Falls that's
enough to kill any Christian with brains, I most humbly thank our
merciful Father in heaven that I've stayed in the country and kept my
good senses. Yes, indeed. And then what they lug back to town with them!
That's what uses me all up! Roots and stones! Why, I saw some one bring
a root from the Lower Falls last year, yes, indeed."

"That walk to the Lower Falls is terrible," said Mrs. Dunstall,
meditatively. "I took it once,--and you, too,--didn't you, Pinkie?"

"Twice," said Pinkie.

"I took it once, too," said Mrs. Ray, who was never loath to discuss
that famous promenade. "Mr. Ray and me took it together. It was when we
first met. He took me, and we walked to the Lower Falls. It was a awful
walk; I never see a worse one, myself. They say it isn't so bad now. Of
course, the time I went with Mr. Ray was while he was still alive. It
was harder then. He asked me to marry him coming back. Oh, I'll never
forget that awful walk!"

"It's bad enough yet," said Mrs. Dunstall. "Mr. Ledge has done all he
could to build things to catch hold of where you'd go head over heels to
heaven if he hadn't, but it's a awful walk still. And then the steps!
Why, Nathan and Lizzie was there last summer, and Lizzie says all the
way down she was thinking how she was ever going to be able to get back,
and all the way back she was thinking just the same thing. Going, you
go down steps till it seems like there never would come the bottom, and
coming back you come up steps till you're ready to move to Ledgeville
and live on the bottoms for life. You know how that is, Pinkie?"

"Yes," said Pinkie.

"It wouldn't do any good to move to Ledgeville to get rid of the Lower
Falls," said Mrs. Ray, "because the dam is going to do away with the
Lower Falls and drown Ledgeville entirely. That's the next little
surprise the city folks will be giving us."

"I shall like to stand on the bridge the day they let the water in over
the dam the first time," said Mrs. Dunstall. "It'll be a great sight to
see the valley turn into a lake, and South Ledge and Ledgeville go
under."

"I wouldn't look forward to it too much if I was you," said Mrs. Ray;
"it's going to take three or four years to dig that dam, they tell me.
You can't lay out a lake and break up three sets of falls in a minute."

"They haven't got to do something to all the Falls," said Mrs. Dunstall.
"Josiah Bates was holding stakes for one of the surveyors yesterday, and
he heard him say as the Lower Falls wouldn't need a thing, for it was a
mill-race already."

"Well, it's a blessing if there's one thing ready to their hands," said
Mrs. Ray, "for I must say the way the State has took hold of us, since
Mr. Ledge set out to give it something for nothing, is a caution. If
he'd offered to sell the Falls at cost price, we'd of had a petition and
our taxes increased and been marked 'keep off the grass,' in all
directions; but just because he offered to give it to 'em all cleared up
and in order, they must tear around and build a dam and drown five
villages and go cutting up monkey-shines generally. Yes, indeed."

"They do say that the dam will keep the Falls, instead of spoiling
them," said Mrs. Dunstall; "they say the Falls is stratifying backward,
and is most through being falls, anyway, and if the dam is built, we'll
all have that to look at always."

"It'll be all one to me," said Mrs. Ray; "I never get time to look at
nothing, anyway, unless it's folks waiting for their mail, and goodness
knows they've long ceased to interest me."

Mrs. Dunstall looked a bit uncertain as to how to receive this outburst
of confidence. "It does you good to take a little rest," she said at
last; "you work too hard for a woman of your time of life, Mrs. Ray."

"Well, I'd like to know how I can help it, with my farm and my chickens
and my grocery business, not to speak of the boarders and the children
and the post-office. When one's a mother and a farmer and a sexton and
an employee under bond to the United States Government one has to keep
on the jump."

Mrs. Dunstall rearranged the set of her lips slightly. "The mail's very
late, ain't it?" she asked.

"Late! I should think it was late. I guess that open switch has settled
Forty-four for to-day. But that train's always late. It isn't in the
block yet, and the mail-train follows it."

"If it don't come soon, I can't wait," said Mrs. Dunstall; "this is one
of my awful days, and speaking of awful days, what do you think of the
doings over at the old Whittaker house, Mrs. Ray?"

"I've heard she's wrecking it completely."

"Josiah Bates' been doing some carting there. He says it's enough to
make old Grandma Whittaker shiver in her grave. He says they've turned
the house just about inside out. That girl must be crazy."

"She is crazy," said Mrs. Ray with decision; "she's in love."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Dunstall, "with him, you mean?"

"Of course. But she's crazy two ways, I think, to go bringing that
pretty girl here, and she so thin and white herself. You can't tell me
that that man doesn't know a pretty girl when he sees her, even if he
ain't seen her yet--which he hasn't, for he didn't see 'em this morning.
I know that, for I was watching."

"That's the train now, isn't it?" said Mrs. Dunstall, listening.

Mrs. Ray pricked up her ears. "Yes, that's the train, rushing along and
sprinkling soot over everything. Picking hops used to be such nice clean
work, but now they're all over soot."

"The canal was better, I think," said Mrs. Dunstall.

Mrs. Ray made no answer; she was absorbed in looking out of the window.

"It was cleaner, anyhow," Mrs. Dunstall continued; "but they do say the
men swore most awful locking boats through in the night. I never lived
on the canal, myself, but you did, Pinkie; did they swear much or not?"

"They swore," said Pinkie.

"Well," said Mrs. Ray, now facing about and making certain active
preparations for the reception of the mail, "it must be nice to spend
your days ways that lets you lay awake nights listening to anything
swear. I've never had time nor money to lay awake nights. I leave that
for those who can, but I can't. Walking to the Lower Falls and laying
awake nights is pleasant, I've no doubt, but I need my days other ways.
Summer folks is always coming in here and saying, 'Oh, have you seen the
gorge this morning, Mrs. Ray,' and me like enough out ploughing in the
opposite direction since sun up. I haven't got any time to lay awake or
to look at views. If the weeds grew up all around my fence-posts while I
was hanging over the bridge looking at the gorge, I guess you'd hear of
it, and since I've taken to raising chickens, there's hen-houses to
spray and me busier than ever. If I was a hen, my day's work would be
over when I'd laid my egg and I could run out with a free mind and look
at the gorge, but as it stands now, I ain't got time to look at
nothing,"--in testimony whereof she disappeared into the kitchen.

"I'll tell you who's got time," said Mrs. Dunstall as soon as she
reappeared; "it's those Lathbuns down at Nellie's. How long are they
going to stay around here, do you suppose?"

"I don't know; I don't know anything about them. They don't get any
mail, so I've no way of knowing a thing. My own opinion is that if I was
Nellie I'd keep a sharp eye on my shawls, for folks who come walking
along without baggage, can go walking off without baggage, too. Those
are her shawls they're wearing, you know; they haven't got so much as a
jacket between them of their own."

"Nellie says they're very nice people," said Mrs. Dunstall; "and the
girl has got a love affair. She don't mind their wearing her shawls."

"Why don't he write her, then," said Mrs. Ray; "that's the time even the
poorest letter-writer writes letters. Mr. Ray wrote me the first
Thursday after he was in love. I've got the letter yet."

"What did he write you for, when you was keeping house for him, anyway?"
asked Mrs. Dunstall.

"He was gone to Ledge Centre for the license."

"I never see why you married him," said Mrs. Dunstall; "he paid you for
keeping house for him before that, didn't he?"

"Yes, but he had his mind set on marrying some one, and I thought I'd
better marry him than any one else. And I was fond of the children, and
I didn't know nothing about the mortgages. I always say we was real
fashionable. I didn't know nothing about the mortgages, and he thought I
had some money in the bank. Well, it was an even thing when it all came
out. I guess marriage generally is. Everything else, too."

"I don't see why the mail don't come, if it's in," said Mrs. Dunstall.

Mrs. Ray went to the window and looked out.

"It'll come soon now," she declared, hopefully.

"But I can't wait any longer," said Mrs. Dunstall, rising, "I wasn't
expecting anything, anyway. Come, Pinkie."

They both rose and started to go out together.

But just at the door they met one of the surveyors.

"Oh, that reminds me why I come," said Mrs. Dunstall, stopping; "young
man, do you know Sallie Busby?"

The young surveyor looked startled.

"Chestnuts in a blue and white sunbonnet, mainly?" said Mrs. Dunstall.

"I don't recollect."

"Well, you might not have noticed, or she might not have had it on, but
either way she's been most amused watching your young men pegging those
little flags all through her meadow, but she says that when you got
through last night you forgot seven, and she saw 'em when she went out
to pick the two trees up the cow-path this morning, and run down and got
'em, and has 'em all laid by for you whenever you want to send for 'em."

The young man stood speechless.

Finally he said: "But they were meant to be left there."

"Were--were they?" said Mrs. Dunstall, in great surprise; "well, you
ought to have told her so then. She saw you pull some up, so she thought
you meant to pull them all up. Too bad! Now you'll have to get your
machine and go peeking all over her land again, won't you?"

"We will if she's pulled up the flags, certainly."

"Well, she's pulled up the flags. If Sallie set out to pull them up,
they'd up, you can count on that! How's the dam coming on, anyway?"

The young man laughed. "Why, there's no question of the dam yet. You all
seem to think that we're here to build it. We have to make a report to
the commission first, and the commission will lay the report before the
legislature. That's how it is."

Mrs. Ray folded her arms and joined in suddenly, "So--that's how it is,
is it? Well, I don't wonder it's difficult to run a post-office, when
anything as plain as a dam has to be fussed over like that. By the way,
you're one of the surveyors and you ought to know,--is it true that if
they do build the dam, it may get a little too full and run over into
our valley or burst altogether and drown Rochester? I'm interested to
know."

"That's what we want to know, too," said Ingram's assistant; "that's
what we're surveying for."

"How long will it take you to tell? I've got a friend--maybe you know
him, Sammy Adams?--and he owns most of the valley back here. He's the
worrying kind, and he's worried. Yes, indeed."

"It wouldn't make so much difference about Rochester," said Mrs.
Dunstall; "it's a deal easier to go for our shopping to Buffalo from
here; but wouldn't it be awful for Sammy Adams! Why, his house is right
in the valley."

"Yes," said Mrs. Ray, "and as a general thing Sammy's right in his
house. It's bad enough now, with the freshets scooping sand all over the
farm every other spring, but if the dam goes and scoops Sammy Adams, the
legislature'll have something else to settle besides the Capitol at
Albany. Sammy Adams looks meek, but he'd never take being drowned
quietly; he's got too much spirit for that. Yes, indeed!"

"We're going to do away with the freshets, Mrs. Ray," the young man
said; "the dam--if it comes--will be the biggest blessing that ever came
this way, let me tell you. In the summer you'll have a beautiful lake to
sail on, and no end of excursions."

"Why, I thought they were going to store up the water in spring, and
draw it off in the summer," said Mrs. Dunstall. "A man told my husband
that that was what they wanted the dam for,--to save the high water in
the spring so as to use it in the summer. Wasn't that what Ebenezer
said, Pinkie?"

"Yes, it was," said Pinkie.

"How do you explain that?" asked Mrs. Ray, turning an inquisitorial eye
sternly on the surveyor. "Where's your beautiful lake going to be by
July? Marsh and mosquitoes, that's what we'll have left. Don't tell me;
I've seen too many kind thoughts about making folks happy end that way,
and I've seen one or two reservoirs, too. The dam'll drown Sammy Adams,
that's what it'll do, and Ledge'll be left high and dry with a lot of
dead fish lying all over the fields. I know!"

"Well, we'll see!" said the young man, laughing.

"But I thought you was all for the dam, Mrs. Ray," said Mrs. Dunstall, a
little surprised. "Whatever has changed you so?"

Mrs. Ray shut her mouth tightly and then opened it with a snap. "I've
been thinking," she said abruptly; "and I don't mind changing my opinion
when I must. Any one who wants to hold a position under the United
States Government has got to have brains and use 'em freely in changing
their opinion."

"But you said--" began Mrs. Dunstall.

"What if I did? Like enough I'll say it again. I will, if I feel like
it. Yes, indeed. 'He moves in a mysterious way,' you know, and I'm one
of His ways, and I've got a right to keep my own counsel about my own
work. But--speaking of work--the mail-train was in before you come up. I
wonder what's become of the bag!" She went to the window and looked down
towards the station. "I do have such trouble to get hold of that bag.
That's one of the hardest things about keeping a post-office, is the
getting hold of the bag. They don't have any sort of understanding of
what a United States Government position means, down at our station;
they kick the mail-bag around like it was a crate of hens. Once they
asked me if they couldn't have the key at the station, and open the mail
because there's always more inhabitants in the station than in the
post-office. They seemed to think that was a glory to the station, and a
reflection on me. But I don't want to have men sitting around here. I
won't have it. The only man who has any legal right to sit around me is
in heaven, and just because I'm the postmistress is no reason why I
should take chances. If you don't want men sitting around, you can
easily keep 'em from doing it by having no chairs for them to sit on. I
never have."

"Don't you want me to go down and get the mail?" suggested the young
surveyor, somewhat uneasily.

Mrs. Ray turned a severe eye his way. "Have you go down and get the
mail! Well, young man, I guess you don't know that it's a penitentiary
offence to lay hands on a mail-sack, unauthorized by the United States
Government! Yes, indeed. It is, though, and I've had such hard work
getting it into people's heads that it is, that I wouldn't authorize no
one. _No one!_ Why, when we first was a post-office, I had the most
awful time. Everybody coming this way brought the bag with 'em. It's a
penitentiary offence to touch the bag, and here Sammy Adams forgot he
had it in his buggy one night, and drove home with it. It was when Mrs.
Allen's cousin Eliza was dying, and she was so anxious, and no mail-bag
at all that night. I tell you I took a firm stand after that; I made the
rule and made it for keeps, that no matter if there wasn't but one
postal, and all the men in the station had felt the bag to see that
there wasn't, the bag must come up to me just the same. You'll find,
young man, that if you hold a United States Government position, you'll
be expected to uphold the United States Government, and if you're
building the dam and employ the men around here, you'll find that to
impress them you must keep a bold front. That's why I have my arms
folded most of the time."

The young surveyor listened with reverent attention.

"Whose business is it to bring the bag, anyway?" asked Mrs. Dunstall. "I
can't wait much longer."

"It isn't anybody's business,--that's what's the trouble. The United
States Government don't provide nothing but penalties for touching the
mail-bag. That's another hard thing about holding a government position
when your hands are as full as mine. At first I couldn't get the
mail-bag respected, in fact they used it to keep the door to the station
open windy days; and then, when I got it respected by explaining what we
was liable to if we didn't respect it, I couldn't get no one to touch it
any more. I had to wheel it up and down in the baby-carriage for a
while, and then I looked up the law and found I could delegate my
authority; so since then Mr. Hopkins has delegated for me except when he
goes to Ledge Lake, and when he does that I take it in a wheelbarrow. I
give the baby-carriage to Lucy. She had that baby, you know. Well, of
course a baby needs a carriage, so I give her ours."

"A baby's lots of trouble," said Mrs. Dunstall, thoughtfully.

"Yes, but we're here for trouble," said Mrs. Ray, cheerfully. "I've got
the post-office, Lucy's got the baby, and poor Clay Wright Benton's got
his mother and the parrot. Everybody's got something!"

"Well, I can't wait any longer," said Mrs. Dunstall; "good-bye. Come,
Pinkie."

They went out.

"Who is Pinkie?" the young man asked, when he was alone with Mrs. Ray.
"I d'n know," said Mrs. Ray, "she don't, either. They adopted her when
she weighed six pounds and named her Pinkie, and that's what come of
it."

"I see." Just then the mail-bag was brought in.



CHAPTER VI

WHEN DIFFERENCES LEAD TO WHAT IS EVER THE SAME


Lassie fled down the path. Not even that primeval river which once
rushed wildly across the old Devonian rocks just here was more
thoughtless as to whither it was going. All that she was conscious of in
that instant was irresistible revolt against the horror of what she had
just heard, and which bred in her a sudden and utter rebellion. A vivid
imagination will have already pictured the possible effect of Alva's
story upon her friend, and that vast majority whose imaginations are not
vivid will be happy to be spared such details. It is sufficient to say
that tears, pain, groans, and a coffin suspended, like Damocles' sword,
above all the rest, was Lassie's background to her friend's romance; and
the picture thus held in her mind was so benumbing to her other senses
that as she ran she tripped, stumbled, almost fell, down the hill, so
blind and careless of all else had she become. The restraint of Alva's
presence was now removed; nothing stood between the young girl and her
sensation of appalling wretchedness. As she ran she shook, she
shuddered; the path was steep, and her knees seemed to crumble beneath
her; twice she almost went headlong, and at the minute she felt that a
broken neck was but a trifle in comparison to coming face to face with
anything like what she had just been told. "Of course he was a great
man," she gasped half aloud; "but he'll never be able to even feed
himself again--it said so in the paper. Why, at first it said his back
was broken. Oh, oh, if Alva can be so crazy as that, who is sane, and
what can one believe? Oh, dear--oh, dear--oh, dear! And she calls it
love, too!"

The village of Ledgeville lay below, and a few more minutes of
precipitous flight brought Lassie in sight of its houses. Still a few
more minutes, and she was in the middle of the village--a very small
village, consisting of two streets composing the usual American town
cross, and half a dozen stores. Every one whom she met knew just who she
was (for had she not arrived upon the evening previous?), and they all
regarded her with earnest scrutiny. The inhabitants of Ledgeville
themselves were never in the habit of coming down from the Long Bridge
with tear-stained faces, heaving bosoms and a catch in their breath, but
that Lassie did so, caused them no surprise. Was she not of that
unaccountable multitude called "city folks?"

Lassie herself neither thought nor cared how she appeared to the
ruminative gaze of Ledgeville at first, but as soon as she did notice
the attention which she was attracting, she wanted to get away from it
as quickly as possible, eyes being quite unbearable in her present
distress. She stopped and asked a kindly looking old man where the
bridge--the lower bridge--might be, knowing that it would take her to
solitude again. The kindly old man pointed to where the bridge could be
seen, a block or so beyond, and she thanked him and hurried on. It was
a wooden bridge, very long; and the river here glided in wonderful
contrast to that other aspect of itself which plunged so furiously from
cataract to cataract, a quarter of a mile further down the course. How
curious to think that all smooth-flowing rivers have it in them to foam
and rage and gnaw and rend away the backbone of the globe itself, if
driven in among narrow and hard environment. Is there ever any simile to
those conditions in human lives, I wonder! And then to consider on the
other hand that there is no volume of watery menace which, if spread
between banks of green with space to flow untrammeled, will not become
the greatest and most beneficial of all the helpers of need and seed!
That is also a simile--one more cheerful and happy than the former,
praise be to God.

The river by Ledgeville is one of those flowing smoothly and broadly
between banks of green. So smoothly and sweetly does it flow just there
that it might well have brought some quieting mood, some gracious, even
current of gently rippling peace, into poor Lassie's throbbing heart,
had she but been able to receive any comfort at that moment. But
meditation was as far from her at this juncture as her mental attitude
was from Alva's, and more than that cannot be said for either
proposition.

So the river carried its lesson unread, while the girlish figure
traversed the bridge as quickly as it had flown through the town, and,
hurriedly turning at the forking of the road beyond, started up the
hill. She knew that that way must lead to Ledge, and eventually her own
little hotel bedroom, that longed for haven where she would be able to
sit down quietly, away from the sunlight and omnipresent people, away
from everything and everybody. Oh, but it was freshly awful to think of
Alva, her beautiful Alva, and of what Alva was going to do! Marry that
man! Why, he would never even sit up again; he could hardly see, the
paper had said--the newspapers had said--everybody had said.

She stopped suddenly and stood perfectly still. A choking pain gripped
her in the throat and side. Her spiritual torment had suddenly yielded
to her physical lack of breath.

Beyond a doubt there is nothing that will curb any sentiment of any
description so quickly as walking up hill. Without in the slightest
degree intending to be flippant, I must say that in all my experience,
personal and observed, I have never yet felt or seen the emotion which
does not have to give way somewhat under that particular form of
exercise. In Lassie's case she found herself to be so suddenly and
completely exhausted that she could hardly stand. Her knees, which had
seemed on the verge of giving out as she hurried down the opposite bank,
now really did fail her and, looking despairingly about and feeling
tears to be again perilously near, she turned off of the road into the
woods that stretched down the bank and, treading rapidly over soft turf
and softer moss, came in a minute to a solitude sufficiently removed to
allow of her sinking upon the ground and there giving out completely.

Oh, how she cried then! Cried in the unrestrained, childish way that
gasps for breath, and chokes and then sobs afresh and aloud. She thought
herself so safely alone in the depths of the wood that she could gasp
and choke and sob to her heart's uttermost content, not at all knowing
that Fate, who does indeed weave a mesh of the most intricate
patterning, had even now begun to interweave her destiny with that
of--well, let us say--of the dam at Ledgeville.

Alva's talk about the dam had gone in one ear and out the other; Alva's
words regarding Ingram had been driven into the background of Lassie's
brain by the later surprises; but now things were to begin to alter. We
never can tell, when we weep over the frightful love affair of a friend,
what delightful plans that same little Cupid may have for our own
immediate comforting, or how deftly he and the dark-veiled goddess may
have combined in future projects.

Sorrow is sorrow, but sometimes it comes with the comforter close upon
its heels, and when the sorrow is really another's, and the comforter is
unattached and therefore may quite easily become one's own!--

Ah, but all this is anticipating. It is true that disinterested parties
(like Joey Beall) always know everything before those most interested
have the slightest suspicion of what is going on; but still it seems to
me unfair to take any advantage of two innocent people as early in the
game as the Sixth Chapter.

Therefore it shall only be said here that the party of surveyors had
employed that morning in sighting and flagging up and down the banks
beneath the Long Bridge, and Ingram, having spent two hours in their
company, was now climbing the hillside for pure athletic joy, being one
of those who prefer a scramble to a smooth road any day. As he came
lightly up the last long swing that measured the bank for him, he surely
was looking for nothing less in life than that which he found at the
top,--and yet that which he found at the top was not so disagreeable
a surprise, after all. For Lassie, even now when indubitably miserable,
pink-eyed and wretched, was still a very pretty girl. A pretty girl is
very much like a rose in the rain--a few drops of water only add to its
charm; and so when Ingram came suddenly upon her, crying there under a
tree, and caused her to look up with a little scream at the man crashing
out of the bushes with such a force of interruption as made her jump to
her feet and shrink quickly away--why, really it was all far less
startling and alarming than it sounds to read about. For he at once
exclaimed, "Surely you remember me." And she saw who it was, stared at
him dazedly for an instant, and then dropped her face in her hands
again, realizing that he was the first of the big world that "hadn't
been told," and that he would ask what was the matter, and that she must
not tell him. And so--and so--there was nothing to do but hide her
face--and collect her wits--and listen.

[Illustration: "SURELY YOU REMEMBER ME."]

"What is it?" he said, and as she felt for her handkerchief she could
but think how hard it was to resist sympathy when one's dearest friend
was doing such unheard-of things, and one had just learned about them.
Not that she would tell him why she was crying, of course.

"What is it?" he asked again then--he was very near now. "You know who I
am. I used to know you when you were a little girl. You remember?"

She was still feeling for her handkerchief, and he put a great white one
into her seeking hand. She wiped her eyes with it and thought again that
he must not be told, and so said, with quivering lips:

"Oh, please leave me, please go away. Nothing is the matter, but I must
be alone. I want to be alone. Please go away and leave me."

Ingram looked down upon her and, laying his hand on her arm with a grasp
that was so firm as to feel brotherly (to one not yet a débutante), said
in a tone of fascinating authority (to one not yet a débutante):

"What is it? What is the trouble? You've had a letter with bad news?" In
his own mind he set it down that she and Alva had had a misunderstanding
of some sort, but that opinion he would not voice.

"Oh, no," sobbed Lassie; "it isn't a letter--it is Alva!" She paused and
Ingram had just time enough to reflect how quickly a man could see
straight through any woman, when Lassie could bear the burden of reserve
no longer, and with a wild burst of accelerated woe cried: "She has told
me her secret, and I listened 'way through to the end and then--then
when I really understood and realized what it all meant, then I could
not bear it, and so--and so--I ran away from her and down the hill and
across the bridge and came here to be alone. And I wish you would go
away and leave me alone; oh, I want to be alone so very, very much, for
I cannot keep still unless I am alone; I am too unhappy over it all. Too
unhappy. And I have promised her not to tell."

Ingram looked his startled sympathy. "What is the trouble?" he asked.
"Tell me; perhaps I can help you. Why should you keep 'it' a secret? I'm
her friend, too, you know."

"But it isn't my secret, it's hers," Lassie sobbed; "and I've promised;
and, anyway, nobody or nothing can help her. Nothing! Nobody!"

"Is it really as bad as that?" said the man, looking very serious.

Lassie was wringing her hands. "Oh, it's ever so much worse than that;
it's the very worst thing I ever heard of. And that shows how bad I am;
for Alva is good, and it makes her happy!"

Naturally Ingram could not follow the reasoning which caused her
terminal phrase to serve as a sort of mental apology for her way of
looking at the affair, but he was not alarmed by the breadth of her
confession of guilt, only unspeakably distressed by her distress, and
its mysterious cause.

"But what _is_ it?" he asked. "What has Alva done?"

"I musn't tell."

"Alva's not in any difficulty across the river there, is she?" he
hazarded.

"Oh, no; she isn't in any difficulty; she is very, very happy. That's
what seems so awful about it."

"What? I can't understand."

"I can't explain, either. And I musn't tell you. It's going to drive me
crazy to keep still, but I must not tell."

"You can tell me;" his tone was suddenly authoritative again (quite
thrilling its young listener).

"No, I can't. I can't tell any one," but _her_ tone was wavering, with a
catch in its note.

Ingram became instantly imperious.

"Yes, you can tell me! You must tell me! It will relieve your mind, and
perhaps I can help Alva."

"No, you can't help her; she doesn't want to be helped."

"Well, I can help you, anyway. Just telling me will help you."

Lassie choked.

"Tell me at once," said Ingram, sternly; "I insist upon knowing."

She looked up at him.

"Don't stop to think," he commanded; "tell me."

Oh, the intense relief of having a burdensome secret torn from your
keeping! Lassie felt that when in trouble, a man was the friend to
find--even before one's début.

"You won't ever let her know that I told?" she faltered.

"Of course not."

"She didn't ask me really to promise; she only said that I should be the
only one to ever know."

"Never mind, I don't count. Go on."

"Well, she is going to marry--" and then she told him, with many halts
and gasps, who; and then she told him further, when.

Ingram listened, silent, turning white all about his mouth. "She can't
do it," he said, after a minute. "That man may die any hour. It said so
in last night's paper."

"She is going to do it," Lassie said; "she doesn't mind his dying--that
is, she doesn't mind his dying as most people do."

"Oh, but that's horrible," he said then; "you were right--it is awful.
No wonder you were frightened and ran away. She must be insane. I never
heard of such a thing." He went to the edge of the bank and looked off
for a little, standing there still, and then, after a while, "Oh, my
God!" he said; and then again "Oh, my God!" and came back beside her.
His action, his evident emotion, quieted her own strangely.

"Isn't it terrible?" she asked, almost timidly, when he was close again;
"it seems to me the most terrible thing that I ever knew about."

"Very terrible," said the man, briefly. "We will walk on up the hill,"
he added, after a little; "it's near dinner time." She did as he said.

"You won't tell Alva that I told you?" she asked.

He shook his head. "No, indeed," and then both were silent.

Towards the top, he asked: "How long shall you be with her?"

"A week."

"That means until she leaves to marry him?"

"Yes."

"That's good; I am glad that you can stay."

She tried to say something then, and her voice died in one of those same
strange gasps, but she tried a second time and succeeded. "I suppose
that nothing could be done?" she questioned.

"What would you do?" he asked.

"I don't know," she said.

He smiled a little oddly. "I am afraid that we should be fools," he
said; "those fools that rush in, you know. It is beginning to come back
to me how Alva looked and how she spoke when I took her to see the
house. It all had no meaning to me then, but it has meaning now. It
comes back to me more and more. Perhaps you and I are--are--not up to
seeing it quite as she does. Perhaps. It's possible."

"That is what she says over and over--that I cannot understand," Lassie
said, faintly.

"I can't understand either, but--perhaps she does. I _can_ understand
_that_."

"I am glad that you know, anyway;" her tone was sweet and confiding. He
looked down into her pretty eyes.

"I am, too," he said, heartily.

"But I hope that it wasn't very wrong for me to tell you; it seemed as
if I could not bear it alone!"

"Don't worry about that; Alva shall never know. And now, if you cannot
bear it (as you say) again, you know that you can come to me and say
what you like. We shall have that comfort."

She smiled a little. "You don't seem like a stranger; you seem like an
old, old friend."

"I'm glad. Because I am an old, old friend in reality, you know."

"But, if--if I--when I want--" she hesitated.

"Oh, you don't know where to find me if you want me?" He laughed. "It's
true that I am an uncertain quantity, but I take supper at the hotel
every evening, and sometimes I go to the post-office afterwards." He
smiled roundly at that, and she smiled, too. "We must go to the
post-office together, sometimes," he added; "it's the great social
diversion of Ledge." He was glad to see her face and manner getting
easier. That was what he was trying for--to lift the weight from her.

"Alva took me there this morning," she said.

They came now to the Soldiers' Monument and the tracks.

"I hope that she isn't going to mind the way that I left her!" the
young girl exclaimed suddenly, smitten with anxiety. "I ran away, you
know; I couldn't bear it another minute."

"She won't mind that," said Ingram; "all the little things of life won't
cut any figure with her any more, if she's the kind that has made up her
mind to do such a thing. That's what I've been thinking all the time
that we were coming along; a woman who has decided to marry in the way
that Alva has, must of course look at everything in life by a different
light from that of the rest of us; I don't know really that we have the
right even to criticize her. We don't understand her at all; that's all
it is."

Lassie looked astonished. "You don't mean to say that you think that she
isn't crazy?" she said.

Ingram smiled again, "I mean that I hardly think it possible to judge
what one cannot measure; savages reverence the Unknown, you know, and
I'm not sure that reverence is not a fitter attitude towards mystery
than condemnation or ridicule, although of course it isn't the civilized
or popular standpoint."

"But do you think it's--it's--it's the thing, to do--" Lassie could not
get on further.

"I think it's just as awful as you do," he said quietly; "but I've had
time since you told me to see that just because it seems awful to me,
it's very plain to me that I see it differently from the way in which
she does. She isn't a girl, she's a woman; and she's a very good and
sweet and true woman at that. If she is making this marriage, the really
awful part isn't the part that you or I or the world are going to think
about, it's something else."

Lassie's glance rose doubtfully upward. "You think that it's all right
for her to do it, then?" she asked miserably.

"I think that we aren't wise enough to talk about it at all," said
Ingram with determined cheerfulness. "Let's change the subject. I am
going to be here on and off for a year, likely, and digging holes to
hold little flags, and drilling to keep track of what one drills through
isn't the liveliest fun in the world to look forward to; so when Alva
doesn't need you, do give me some of your time and make me some jolly
memories to live on later, when I'm alone--will you?"

"You won't ever be able to go and see Alva in her house afterwards, will
you?" said Lassie, her mind apparently unequal to changing the subject
on short notice; "because no one is ever to go there, she says."

"I shall never go unless she asks me, surely."

They were now quite near the little hotel.

"Before we part, let us be a little conventional and say that we are
glad to have met one another," Ingram suggested; "will you?"

"I'm glad that I met you," she said; "it will be a great comfort--as you
said."

Ingram was looking at her and that turned his face towards the gorge. "I
see Alva coming across the bridge," he exclaimed; "go and meet her. Go
to her quite frankly, openly,--as if nothing had happened. That will be
easiest--and kindest--and best all around."

She flashed a grateful glance to his eyes, and ran at once down the
tracks and out upon the bridge.

Alva came towards her, with a rapid step, her open coat floating lightly
back on either side. She smiled sweetly as she saw the girlish figure.
"You beat me home," she called out, gaily.

Lassie swallowed the lump in her throat and smiled, too. "It's such a
beautiful day, and I'm so happy and so glad that you are happy!"

The pretty young voice rang fresh and true. The next instant they were
close, side by side.

Alva stood still. What Ingram had said proved most truly true; she did
not seem to hold any recollection of that parting an hour before. She
drew Lassie close beside her and pointed over the bridge-rail. A rainbow
was spanning the Upper Falls, and its brilliant, evanescent promise
seemed to reflect in the face above. What is so fragile, illusive,
uncertain as a rainbow? And yet it is the mirrored mirage of all the
Eternal Purpose's immutable law. Form is there, and color; hope is
there, and the will-o'-the-wisp of human struggles evolving continually
and, in their evolution, fading to human eyes as they take their place
up higher. From the foaming, dashing water, which during the centuries
was strong enough to eat into the rock, arose the light, lovely mist
that in cycles of time was in its turn strong enough to wear it away.
Through the mist floated the impalpable radiance that, in æons to come,
when rock should again flash fiery through unending space, and water
should have evaporated to await fresh form, would still continue to
illuminate the Divine Will.



CHAPTER VII

THE LATHBUNS


Mrs. Wiley, dropping into the post-office that evening along about
seven, was frankly disappointed at finding her newspaper bundle still
undisturbed on the table in the adjoining kitchen.

"Why, I made sure you'd have laid 'em out, anyhow," she said, looking at
Mrs. Ray, who was busily beating batter; "you haven't even made a
start." And she sighed, seating herself in unwilling resignation.

"Made a start," said Mrs. Ray, glancing at her placidity with an air of
tart exasperation, "made fifty starts, you mean. This has been what I
call _a day_. Mrs. Catt came in early this afternoon to ask me to make
Sally's wedding-cake, and Clay Wright Benton was here about the parrot.
He's awful tired of that parrot 'cause it keeps his mother so tired and
cross from getting up nights to wait on it. It routs her up at all hours
for things, and if she don't hurry it calls her names in Spanish that it
learned on the ship coming from Brazil, and, oh, they're having an awful
time of it. And then Sammy Adams was here too; he was here from four
o'clock on, asking me to marry him again. I don't know as anything gives
me a lower opinion of Sammy than the way he sticks to wanting to marry
me. The older I get, the worse he wants to marry me, which shows me
only too plainly as it ain't me at all he wants--it's just my work."

"You ain't even unrolled it," said Mrs. Wiley, fingering the bundle
sadly. "I've been fixing onion-syrup for Lottie Ann and thinking of you
unrolling all day. And you wasn't ever unrolling, even."

"He set right where you're setting now," said Mrs. Ray, beating briskly.
"I was stoning raisins, so he wasn't in my way, but I do get tired of
being asked to marry men. They don't make no bones about the business
any more, and even a woman of my age likes a _little_ fluff of romance.
Sammy always goes into how we could join our chickens and our furniture.
Like they was going to be married, too. Oh, Sammy's very mooney--he's
very much like Mr. Ray. Most men are too much like Mr. Ray to please me.
There was days when Mr. Ray'd sit all day and tell me how he had yellow
curls and blue eyes before he had smallpox. Those were his mooney days.
When Mr. Ray wanted to be specially nice, he always used to tell me how
pretty he was when he was a baby. Men are so awful silly. It's too bad I
ever married. I had so many pleasant thoughts about men before. But now
all I think is they're all spying round for women to work for 'em."

"I never shall know no peace till I know whether you can get my two
backs out of these legs," said Mrs. Wiley, handling the bundle. "Father
was such a sitter the last year, his legs was very wore at the top." She
sighed.

"Mr. Catt was here this afternoon, too," continued Mrs. Ray, never
ceasing to beat; "he wants to get up a petition about the dam. He's
afraid they won't pay him for his orchard. He's against it. He says Mr.
Ledge is right. He says if he's going to lose money, he'd rather see the
Falls preserved for the blessings of unborn generations. He says he
doesn't believe we think enough about unborn generations in this
country. He says his orchard is worth a lot."

"If they're too wore out to cut over, I suppose we'll have to give it
all up," said Mrs. Wiley. "Oh, Mrs. Ray, Lottie Ann's so thin! I don't
know what to do! I say to her 'Lottie Ann, do eat,' and then she tries
and chokes. I think she ought to go to Buffalo and be examined with a
telescope. Rubbing her in goose-grease don't do a bit of good, and it
does ruin her flannels so."

"I was sorry for Clay Wright Benton," pursued Mrs. Ray; "he kind of
wants me to take his mother and the parrot for the winter. He says
besides the nights, his mother and the parrot quarrels so days that he's
afraid Sarah just won't have 'em in the house much longer. She's losing
all patience."

"If you _can't_ get my fronts out of his legs, do you suppose there'll
be any way to get them out of his fronts?" Mrs. Wiley propounded.

"I told Clay I'd see," continued Mrs. Ray. "I'm pretty full now, but
there's a proverb about room for one more, and if I can't do nothing
else my motto'll help me out. 'He moves in a mysterious way' you know,
and maybe I can put her in my room with Willy and move into the kitchen
myself with the parrot. Yes, indeed. Only I won't get up and wait on it.
I don't care what I get called in Spanish, if I'm once asleep for the
night, that parrot won't get me up again; or there'll be more Spanish
than his around."

"You'll be able to use the same buttons, anyhow," mused Mrs. Wiley. "Oh,
Mrs. Ray, we've had a letter from Uncle Purchase and the colt didn't
die. It'll be lame and blind in one eye, but anyway it's alive and it's
such a valuable colt. The father cost six thousand dollars, and if it
lives to have grandchildren maybe they'll race. Uncle Purchase does so
want a race-horse in his stock. He says a race-horse even raises the
value of your pigs and cattle."

"Does a parrot sleep on its side or sit up all night, do you know? I
forgot to ask Clay."

"Oh, that reminds me, speakin' of sleepin'," exclaimed Mrs. Wiley,
suddenly arousing to the realization of other woes than her own, "do you
know Cousin Granger Catterwallis was over this morning, and he says
those Lathbuns stayed at Sammy's the night afore they came here. You
know they come in a pourin' rain. Did Sammy ever tell you about it?"

Mrs. Ray stopped her beating. She stood seemingly transfixed.

"Cousin Granger says they wanted to stay all night, with him, but he's
too afraid of a breach of promise suit since his wife died, so he
wouldn't keep them, but he took his spy-glass and watched them through
the gap and they clum Sammy's fence," (Mrs. Ray's face was a sight),
"and then he went up to his cupalo and watched them through a break in
the trees, and he says he knows they went in the house!"

Mrs. Ray folded her arms firmly. "Well," she said, "I never heard the
beat! Sammy never said one word to me!"

"And Cousin Catterwallis says he doesn't believe they've got any trunks
or any money or any real love affair, except what they may manage to
pick up along the way. He says he wouldn't trust the young one as far as
you can throw a cat, and he says he wouldn't trust the old one as far as
that. Hannah Adele, indeed! He says he don't believe she's even Hannah."

Mrs. Ray drew a long breath. "Oh, well, I wasn't meaning to marry him,
anyhow," she said, a little absent-mindedly. "I told him that to-day.
Sammy's mooney, and I've been married to one mooney man. There were days
when Mr. Ray would upset everything, from the beehives to his second
wife's baby--those were his mooney days. I don't want to have no more of
that!"

"Cousin Catterwallis says it wasn't just proper taking them in that way,
either," Mrs. Wiley continued; "he's going to see Jack O'Neil this
afternoon, and tell him his opinion. Cousin Catterwallis says the dam is
bringing very queer folks our way. He doesn't take no interest in the
dam because he's so far inland, but he says when the canal was put
through the Italians stole one of his father's hens, and he hasn't any
use for any kind of improvements since then."

Mrs. Ray began slowly beating her batter again. Her lips were firm and
her attitude painfully decided.

"The old lady says she's Mrs. Ida Lathbun," Mrs. Wiley went on; "I
wonder if their name is really Lathbun."

"I d'n know, I'm sure."

Mrs. Wiley turned her eyes on the bundle.

"When do you think you can get at my coat, Mrs. Ray?" the tone was sadly
earnest.

"To-morrow, I guess. I haven't much on hand to-morrow, except to sweep
out the church and do some baking. I was planning to dig potatoes and
go to South Ledge to fit a dress, but I'll leave that till early Monday.
Think of his keeping them all night and never telling me!"

"I guess I'll go down to Nellie's," said Mrs. Wiley, rising slowly; "the
Lathbuns sit in her kitchen evenings, and I'll just throw a few hints
about and see how they take it."

"I wish I could go, too," Mrs. Ray's eyes suddenly became keenly bright,
"but I can't. The mail's due."

Mrs. Wiley shook her head with the air of understanding the weightiness
of her friend's excuse. "I'll stop in on my way back, and tell you what
I find out," she said, kindly.

She went away and was absent all of an hour. When she returned, Mrs.
Ray's duties, both as postmistress and stepmother, were over for that
day, her cake was safe in the oven, and she sat by the lamp, knitting.

"What'd you find out?" she said, as the door yielded to Mrs. Wiley's
push.

"Well, not much." Mrs. Wiley came in and sat down. "They was both there
in the kitchen, and there's no use denying it's hard to find out
anything about folks when they're looking right at you. But I did hear
one thing you'll like to know, Mrs. Ray?"

"What was it?"

"Why, those two girls went off walking this morning, and the young one
came back with the man."

"Don't surprise me one bit," said Mrs. Ray. "I've been saying that was
what would happen from the minute I knew she was coming."

"I'm sort of sorry for the older one," said Mrs. Wiley; "she's real
nice. I'm sorry for any one who's thinnish--Lottie Ann's so thin."

"Those kind of blind-eyed people always have trouble, and nobody can
help it for 'em," said Mrs. Ray; "they make their own troubles as they
go along--if they don't come bump on to them while they're stargazing.
That girl's made for trouble; you can see it in her eyes. But didn't you
ask anything about Sammy?"

"I just couldn't--with them right there. The old lady sits with her feet
in the oven the whole time. I don't see how Nellie cooks."

"Feet in the oven! I should say so! Well, I'll ask Sammy just as soon as
I see him--I know that! Did you hear anything new about the dam?"

"No; Nellie says the surveyors say it'll be six months before any one
can tell anything."

"Huh!" Mrs. Ray's note was highly contemptuous.

"Why, Mrs. Ray, don't you believe the surveyors?"

"I never say what I believe, Mrs. Wiley, it's enough for me to say what
I think; but I _will_ say just this, and that is that if we get the dam,
it's precious little good it'll ever do us here in Ledge. It's fine work
talking, but the legislature and the Dam Commission aren't working day
and night for our good. It's men in Rochester and Buffalo who'll get the
good out of the dam, and we'll be left to find ourselves high and dry as
usual."

"Why, Mrs. Ray, you talk as if you was against the dam, or is it only
because Sammy took those women in that night?"

Poor Mrs. Wiley! She had inadvertently hit the bull's-eye. Mrs. Ray laid
down her knitting and rose at once.

"No, Mrs. Wiley, it _isn't_ because Sammy took those women in that
night. As if I'd care whether Sammy took two women in or not! Did I ever
care about Mr. Ray's other two wives? or about their children? I guess
if I can stand all I've stood from Mr. Ray's first wife's children, I
won't care who Sammy Adams takes in out of the wet. I'm surprised at
you, Mrs. Wiley."

Mrs. Wiley got up in great confusion. "I hope you'll excuse what I said,
Mrs. Ray; you see I wasn't really thinking what I did say. And it may
not have been them, anyhow. I must be goin', I guess; I don't like to
leave Lottie Ann alone like that. Good-by, Mrs. Ray."

Mrs. Ray folded her arms severely.

"Good-by, Mrs. Wiley," she said, with reserve.



CHAPTER VIII

MISS LATHBUN'S STORY


Curiously enough, just as Mrs. Wiley abruptly terminated her call on her
friend Mrs. Ray, owing to the unpleasant twist given their conversation
by the Lathbun family, Lassie and Alva were speaking of the same two
ladies, whom Lassie had met in the dining-room an hour before. Alva had
introduced her to both with that pleasant courtesy which was given to
none too careful social scrutiny. It was Alva's habit to deal with all
humanity on a broad footing of equality--a habit which her well-born
friends politely termed a failing, and which those of other classes
accepted as the thirsty accept water, just with content.

"Well, I'm glad I've seen them; now I feel as if I'd seen everything,
except the Lower Falls." Thus spoke Lassie, when the bedroom door was
shut, and she and her friend seemed well away from all the rest of the
world for the next ten hours, at least. Lassie, be it said, _en
passant_, had now sufficiently digested her first shock of surprise over
her friend's future, to be able to be pleasantly happy again.

"What did you think of them?" Alva answered, half absent-mindedly. She
held in her hand a letter which the belated mail had brought, and her
thoughts seemed to quit it with difficulty.

"I thought that they were rather common," said Lassie, frankly. Lassie
was well-born, and had judged Mrs. Lathbun and her daughter by no higher
standard than that of their blouses.

"Do you know, I thought so, too,--at first," her friend replied, putting
the letter down and going to the window where she remained with her back
to Lassie, looking out into the dark. "I thought at first that Mrs.
Lathbun looked like a cook--"

"She dresses exactly like one," interposed Lassie.

"But I've come to like them very much, indeed. Of course so few days are
not enough to really know any one, but the night before you came such a
curious thing happened. You know I told you that the daughter had a love
affair? Well, that was the night that I learned about it. I never had
anything come to me more strangely. Do you know, dear, I am continually
more and more convinced that nothing happens by chance, never."

"What did she tell you?"

Alva turned from the window and sat down by the lamp-table. "I'll tell
you; only you mustn't misjudge Miss Lathbun for confiding in me. People
become friends very quickly in a lonely place like this, you know."

"I won't misjudge her; I'll be glad to change my opinion of her. She
looks so like a restaurant girl."

"Lassie, you're incorrigible."

"But that dress, with that black cotton lace over that old red silk."

"I never even noticed it."

"Do you mean to say you've never noticed that dirty red silk front?"

Alva shaded her eyes with her hand. "Lassie," she said, almost sadly,
"why does nothing count in this world except the front of one's frock?"

Contrition smote the young girl. "Oh, forgive me, forgive me," she
pleaded; "I didn't think. I am interested! Play I didn't speak in that
way; I won't again. Indeed, I won't."

"Of course I'll forgive you, dear; it's nothing to forgive, anyway; but
it makes it so hard to tell anything serious when one sets out in such a
way. I wonder how many good and beautiful thoughts have died
unexpressed, just because their first breath was met with mocking!"

"Don't say that; I won't be that way--I'll never be that way again. I do
like Miss Lathbun--truly I do; I think she has sort of a sweet face, and
she must be clever to have been able to make a front of any kind out of
that lace. See, I'm quite serious now; and so interested. Do go on!"

Alva looked at her for a minute with a smile.

"You can't possibly overlook the front, can you?" she said; "but I will
go on, and you will learn never to judge again, as I learned myself; for
I must tell you, Lassie, that all you feel about them, I felt at
first--until I learned to know better. I didn't notice the front, but I
noticed some other things--little things like grammar; but American
grammar isn't a hard and fast proposition, anyway, you know."

"They just call it 'dialect' in so many places," said Lassie, wisely.

Alva smiled again. "Yes, they do," she assented.

"And now for Miss Lathbun's story?" suggested the girl.

"Yes, certainly. Well, my dear, you see, I was sitting here alone one
evening, and she came to the door and--and somehow she came in and we
fell to talking. You know how easy it is for any one to talk to me, and
after a while she told me her romance."

Lassie's eyes opened. "To think of a girl like that having a romance!
Please go on."

Alva hesitated, then smiled a little. "I suppose I can trust you to keep
a secret?" she asked.

Lassie began: "Why, of--" and then stopped suddenly, remembering the
morning's betrayal, and blushed crimson.

Alva leaned forward and touched her cheek with one petting finger.

"Dear," she said, "don't feel distressed. I know that you told Ronald
and I don't mind."

"You know!" cried Lassie, astonished.

"Yes, dear, I know. I saw it in both your faces when I came across the
bridge. I don't mind--I think it's better so. Truly, I do."

"Oh, Alva--" the young girl's tone was full of feeling.

"But you mustn't tell him Hannah Adele's love affair," Alva went on,
smiling; "remember that, my dear."

"I promise. Now tell me all about it." Lassie drew close, her face full
of eager curiosity mixed with content over being pardoned so simply.

"It's just like a story," Alva said, thoughtfully; "it's more
wonderful--almost--than my own. I never heard anything quite so
wonderfully story-like before. Tell me, did you notice at supper how
Mrs. Lathbun watched every one that came off of the train? She can see
the station through the window from where she sits, you know."

"No, I didn't notice. Does it matter?"

"Oh, no; only I used to notice it and now I know why she does it."

"Is she looking for the lover?"

"She's afraid of him, dear."

"Afraid!"

"Yes, afraid he'll find them."

"Goodness, are they hiding from him?"

"Mrs. Lathbun thinks that they are."

"And aren't they?"

Alva lowered her voice to a whisper. "He watches outside of this house
every night!" she said impressively.

Lassie quite jumped. "Watches! Outside this house! Oh, is he there now?"

"I don't know, perhaps so."

"What fun! Who does he watch for?"

"For Miss Lathbun, of course."

"But why does he do it?"

"She doesn't know; she only knows that he watches there."

"And her mother doesn't know that he is there?"

"No."

"How perfectly thrilling! Do go on!"

"It's really a very long story."

"I'll be patient."

"It taught me a big lesson, Lassie; it taught me not to judge. Just see
how quiet and simple these two look to be, and yet that plain, ordinary
appearing woman is trying to hide her daughter from a rich man."

"A rich man!"

"He's a millionaire."

"Who told you so?"

"She did."

Lassie stared. "Alva!--you don't believe that! That woman's never hiding
that girl from a millionaire. It isn't possible!"

"But she is, my dear. She's a true, good mother; she doesn't want her
daughter to marry him, because he is so dissipated."

"But I should think that they would run away and get married. I'd marry
a man, anyway, if I loved him."

"Ah, Lassie, you don't know what you'd do if you were in the position of
that poor girl. Her mother has taken her away and is stopping here in
this very quiet and unassuming way to avoid all notice or being found
out."

"But he has found them out!"

"Yes, but Mrs. Lathbun doesn't know it."

Lassie looked almost incredulous. "Mrs. Lathbun doesn't look a bit like
a woman who would hide her daughter away from a millionaire," she said,
obstinately.

"You see how easy it is to misjudge any one, Lassie; because that's what
she's doing."

"Mrs. O'Neil says they haven't any trunks or any clothes. She said so
this afternoon."

"I know; I've heard her say that before."

"Well, tell me the whole story."

Alva looked at her for a long dozen of seconds and then her lips curved
slightly. "I'm going to tell you," she said; "but, do you know, it just
comes over me that you are surely going to disbelieve it."

"Why do you think so?"

"Because it's so strange."

"But you believed it?"

"But I can believe anything. Believing is my forte. Once 'heretic' and
'unbeliever' meant the same thing; well, I am a believer."

Lassie laughed a little. "Go on and tell me the story," she said, "I'll
try to believe;" then, her face changing suddenly, she added, "it can
have a happy ending--can't it? Sometime?"

Alva flashed a quick, sad flash of understanding at her. "All stories
will have that some day," she said, gently. It was the first reference
on the lips of either to that morning's revelation.

"Do tell me the story," Lassie begged, after a minute's pause; "tell me
the whole. Do you think that perhaps he is out there now?"

Alva shook her head in protestation of ignorance as to that. "It seems
very medieval and devoted for him to be out there at all, don't you
think? And these nights are so cold, too."

"I should think that some one would see him sometimes?"

"I should, too."

"Well, go on. Has she known him always?"

"No; it seems that he lives in Cromwell where her mother was born, and
she met him there two years ago when they went there to visit."

"Did he fall in love with her at first sight?"

"I think so. She said the first thing that she knew he was talking about
her all the time, and then he began watching outside of their house at
night."

"Didn't he ever talk to her, or come inside the house?"

"Oh, Lassie, what makes you say things like that? They make the story
seem absurd; and I began it by telling you that her mother was bitterly
opposed to him on account of his reputation."

"I forgot," said Lassie, contritely; "is he so very bad?"

"I'm afraid so. He drinks and gambles and does everything that he
shouldn't, she says."

"But if he's rich he can afford it, can't he?"

Alva turned quickly. "How can you say a thing like that? As if money can
condone sin. Don't you know that a thoroughly bad man is a soulless
thing, and that to marry a man like that is either heroic or deeply
degrading, just according to whether one does it for love or for money."

"But you said that she loved him."

"Yes; but you said he could afford to be wicked!"

Lassie clasped her hands meditatively. "To think of that girl having a
millionaire watching outside her window, nights! And Mrs. O'Neil says
she hasn't even a nightgown with her, so she can't possibly get up in
the cold to peep out through the blinds."

"I suppose she couldn't do that, anyway," said Alva; "you see her mother
doesn't know he's there, so she couldn't get up to look."

"How does she know herself that he is there, then? perhaps he tells her
he watches and really stays in bed at some hotel."

"Lassie!"

"What's the use of his watching, anyway? Does it do any good? I should
think that she'd be afraid that he'd take cold. I--"

"Lassie, don't you see that it's his only way to prove his devotion? He
can't write her, so he watches outside her window, nights. She says
that he takes a handful of sand and throws it against the side of the
house, and she hears it and knows that he's there."

"Do you believe that?"

"I believe the whole story."

Lassie regarded her friend with amazement.

"I don't see how you can;" she said; "why, those two women would go
almost wild for joy if any man wanted to marry either of them."

"No, dear," Alva said, smiling; "no, they wouldn't. The world isn't
altogether worldly; there are simple, true, wholesome natures in it that
look at life in a straightforward way without any illusions. And Mrs.
Lathbun is one of those. Poor she may be, but she knows very well that
no possible happiness can come to her child from marrying a bad man who
has money."

"But her daughter wants to marry him, and he wants to marry her."

Alva paused before replying; then she said slowly:

"Lassie, there's the puzzle. Does he want to marry her?"

Lassie looked startled. "Doesn't he?" she asked.

"She doesn't know," said Alva; "you see, they have hardly ever exchanged
a word."

"Well," said the young girl, "this is the craziest love story I ever
heard in my life. Do you mean to say that you believe that a man who had
never heard a girl speak would go and stay outside her window, all night
long? What does he do all night, anyhow; walk about, or sit down? Alva,
you can't believe that story? Not possibly!"

"Yes, I believe it," said Alva, cheerfully. "I believe it for two or
three very good reasons. One is that there is no reason why the girl
should construct such a silly lie for my benefit; another is that truth
is always stranger than fiction; and the third is that she has a little
picture of him, and as soon as I saw the picture I saw why Fate brought
the Lathbuns and me together, and why the man waited outside her window
all night."

"Why?" Lassie's tone became suddenly curious.

"My dear, the man is the image of the man that I love. They might be
twin brothers. And men of such strength put through whatever they lay
their hands unto."

Lassie appeared dumbfounded.

"He looks like--" she stammered and halted.

"Yes, dear," Alva said, simply; "he looks exactly like him! Now you see
why I am interested. Now you see why I find it easy to believe. A bad
man--a thoroughly bad man--is a creature that for some reason has not
come into his heavenly birthright. If that girl, plain and pale and
unassuming as she looks, has the power to draw him from nights of
dissipation to nights in the cold outside her window, she has the power
to call a soul to him or waken his own that is but sleeping. It takes a
great deal of living and learning to attain to the faith which I have,
but I have it and I am firm in it, and I believe the story and I believe
that good is brewing for that man. I'm sure of it."

Alva spoke with such energetic earnestness, such dominating force, that
Lassie was silenced for the minute.

"I suppose that I am just stupid," she said, after a little; "I've had
so much that was different to try and learn to-day."

There was a pathos in her tone that led the older girl to lean quickly
near and take one of her hands, drawing her close as she did so. "I
know it, dear, I know it. And I appreciate it all more than you guess.
We won't talk of Miss Lathbun any more just now, and, dear, believe me
when I say that I'm truly very glad that you met Ronald just as you did
this morning and told him what I had told you. I see all this from all
its sides, and the views that differ from mine don't hurt me--believe
me, they don't. I understand exactly how Ronald's fine, robust manhood
would revolt quite as you yourself revolted; but, you and he, with all
the possibilities of your gorgeous, glorious youth, can no more measure
the joy of these days to my love and myself, than the gay little birds
measure what life is to you. To us, you two and your ideas are very much
like the birds; we are glad to see you enjoy the sunshine, and our
better gladness we know is quite beyond you."

Lassie turned her face upward to the earnest look and tender kiss, and
then they sat still for a little until Alva rose and began to make ready
for bed.

"Tell me," she said, as she loosened her hair; "it was like this, wasn't
it? At first Ronald was almost angry; and then his feeling changed and
he felt that because it was I, it was rather a different thing from what
it would have been if it had been any one else."

"Yes," said Lassie, in an awestruck tone, "it was just like that. How
did you know?"

Alva laughed. "Not because I am a witch," she said, "but just because I
know Ronald. You see, Lassie, I am much stronger than Ronald; I am
stronger than Ronald, just as Ronald is stronger than you. He could not
condemn me; he has to own I am right. Right is a might so great that
wherever it holds good it rules its kind. Ronald gives me my due; you
will, too, after a while. Only I must not drive either of you forward
too quickly." She laughed a little. "I must give you time," she added.

Lassie was taking down her own hair. She shook it apart now, and looked
forth from between the parted waves, her expression one of deeply
stirred interest. "I believe that this is going to be the most wonderful
time in my life," she said; "I feel as if everything were getting deeper
around me."

"Ah, dearest," said her friend, with a sigh that was not sad--only a
long breath; "that's very true. I should not have sent for you, only
that I knew that when you came to leave me and go back to the world to
wear your white gown and make your début, you would have become a
stronger, better, wiser, sweeter woman all your life through, for this
experience. You see, dear child, the rarest thing in the world of to-day
is sincerity--absolute truth. I am not especially gifted or very
remarkable in any way, but I have learned the value of being sincere. It
isn't a small thing to learn in life, Lassie, and it isn't a small
privilege to live for a few days with one who has learned the lesson.
When you see what truth really is, and what it may really do for one,
you won't be revolted by my marriage; you will never wonder over me any
more, and you'll learn to look at strange stories with a new light of
comprehension."

Lassie went close to her, put up her lips and kissed her.

"And I can tell Mr. Ingram about Miss Lathbun, too?" she asked very
simply; "or must I keep that secret, as you said at first?"

Alva put her arms fondly about the pretty young thing. "Lassie," she
said, "you are a dear, and I don't mind how much you discuss me with
Ronald; but you musn't tell him Miss Lathbun's secret. It wouldn't be
right."

"Very well, then, I won't," said Lassie; "and I will keep my word, too."

"Thank you," Alva said, patting her face caressingly; "thank you, and
heaven bless you and give you a good understanding."

Lassie looked up with a smile. "You think I may learn to look at things
in your way?"

"I think so," said Alva; "looking at things in my way has made me a very
happy woman, and so I desire the same for you."

Then she kissed her good night.



CHAPTER IX

PLEASANT CONVERSE


"Well, what did I tell you?" said Mrs. Ray to Mrs. Catt, a day or so
later, when that lady had dropped in for a little call. "Those two young
people up at Nellie O'Neil's have fallen in love just as sure as beans
are beans. Not that he's so young, either, but a man's always able to
fall in love whenever he gets a chance. Age don't matter. There was Mr.
Ray. He was always in love unless he was married. Yes, indeed."

"If he's engaged to that other one, I shouldn't think he'd find it very
easy to fall in love right under her nose, so to speak," said Mrs. Catt.

"She wouldn't notice," said Mrs. Ray, adjusting her shawl, and turning
the needlework in her hands; "she's the kind who don't even see the
things they go headlong over. She's the mooney kind. I know. Yes,
indeed. Mr. Ray had mooney days. There were days when Mr. Ray called me
by his first wife's name all day. Those were his mooney days."

"My cousin Eliza thinks she's crazy too. She says she's seen her time
and again setting on stumps in the woods, and she turns out in the road
for sparrows. And then that house. They're at it tooth and nail from
dawn to dark. I never see nothing like it."

"Yes," said Mrs. Ray; "there's others say that, too. She is queer!
Nellie says she often doesn't eat breakfast--nor any meat either. And
she talks about the dam as if we was all heathens laying the axe at the
root of our own mothers. She says all the trees ought to belong to the
United States Government. As if we wasn't singing 'Pass under the rod of
the Republican party' from dawn to dark now. Such a country!"

"She goes down to see Mr. Ledge, too," pursued Mrs. Catt; "of course he
don't want the dam, and he makes her more so. Josiah Bates was driving
home from Castile the other day, and he saw her coming from there.
Josiah said he was sure she'd been to see Mr. Ledge, 'cause she wasn't
ten feet from the house, and they was waving their hands to her from the
window. You can always depend on Josiah Bates knowing what he's talking
about."

"Yes," said Mrs. Ray, turning her work about; "yes, Josiah Bates is a
very careful observer. He'll never die of no fish-bone in his throat for
want of watching the fish."

"Speaking of fish-bones," said Mrs. Catt, "have you seen Lottie Ann
Wiley lately? There's a bag of bones for you!"

"Not for a week or so. Why? Is she thinner than she was?"

"Thinner! Well, I should say so. I don't know what the Wileys will do
with that girl if she keeps on getting thinner and paler."

"She isn't any paler than that girl at Nellie O'Neil's."

"Which one?"

"That Lathbun girl. Do you know anything about them?"

"That's what every one's asking."

Mrs. Ray threaded her needle. "They're a queer pair," she remarked.

"Well, I should say so. They don't eat any breakfast, either; make it up
on chestnuts. They're picking chestnuts all over. Lizzie says she never
saw people making so free. Folks don't know what to say, but it riles a
good many. They pick that little gray bag they've got full three or four
times a day."

"Well, I declare," said Mrs. Ray; "do you suppose they eat 'em all?"

Mrs. Catt rose. "I only stopped for a minute," she said. "Oh, I don't
know, I'm sure. Chestnuts is hearty, but seems to me they ought to ask
at the houses, anyway. Mrs. Wiley says if they come to her trees again,
she'll turn the bull in the lot."

"Must you go?" Mrs. Ray asked. "I thought Mrs. Wiley was afraid of the
bull."

"Yes, I must. What you making?"

"I'm putting a new lining in this vest for Elmer Hoskins. His dog chewed
it up, while he was asleep."

"Did he have it on?" Mrs. Catt asked in great surprise.

"No; he had it on the chair and it fell off."

"Fell off! I s'pose you've heard about Gran'ma Benton's parrot falling
off?"

"Falling off what? No, I haven't heard."

"Fell off the perch. I saw poor Clay this morning, and he's half mad.
The parrot and Gran'ma Benton have been discussing most all night
lately, and the parrot gets so mad he hops all over and last night he
got in a rage and fell off the perch. Broke the perch, too."

"Well, I declare," said Mrs. Ray; "why don't Clay show some spirit and
put a stop to all that? I would."

"He can't. Gran'ma Benton's so fond of discussing, and if she didn't
have the parrot she'd soon wear them all out."

"I thought she was wearing them out as it is."

"Well, yes--" Mrs. Catt looked cornered, "but, anyhow, they don't have
to do the talking now--the parrot does it. I'd like to see my husband's
mother have a parrot--that's all!" Mrs. Catt twitched her shawl
expressively.

"Poor Clay Wright Benton," said Mrs. Ray. "Just to look at him you'd
know it all. I do despise men who haven't got any spirit; but if they
have spirit of course they're almost worse to get on with. Yes, indeed."

"Yes, indeed!" said Mrs. Catt with meaning; "well, good-by, Mrs. Ray."

"Oh! Good-by."

Mrs. Catt went out.

It was only a few minutes later that Mrs. Wiley arrived, with another
large bundle wrapped up in newspaper.

"Don't stop your work," she said, putting it down with a sigh. "Oh, you
ain't sewing on my coat," she added, in a tone of deep disappointment,
evidently seeing interruption in a changed light at once.

"No, but I've cut it out. What you got there?"

"I've got another suit of father's."

Mrs. Ray eyed the bundle with thoughtfully compressed lips, and gave her
shawl a fresh tuck.

"What you want made out of this one?"

Mrs. Wiley hesitated. "It's such a handsome piece of cloth," she said,
"I'm willing to leave the cut to you, but I thought maybe you could get
a winter jacket for Lottie Ann out of this one?"

Mrs. Ray compressed her lips more, and frowned. "I don't know about
that," she said, shaking her head. "I've had trouble enough with the
last."

"This was his new when he died. After he reached three hundred. And it
isn't worn anywhere. You can get her big sleeves out of the hips, I
think."

"There's a good deal to a coat beside the sleeves," said Mrs. Ray; "that
coat of yours has most drove me mad. I never thought of your bringing me
another. Well, unroll it and let me look at it."

Mrs. Wiley began to unfasten the package.

"Any moth-holes in this one?" Mrs. Ray asked, with professional
interest.

"None to speak of. The only real hole is where he sat down on a engine
spark at the station, the day of his last shock."

"It isn't the suit he had on when the oil-tank exploded, then?"

"No," said Mrs. Wiley; "that was the last but one. The oil-tank was the
middle one of his three shocks."

She unfolded the garments and spread them out. Mrs. Ray watched her, and
continued her work at the same time.

"How's Lottie Ann?" she asked, presently.

"Oh, she's poorly," said Mrs. Wiley. "We're getting awful worried over
Lottie Ann. I thought maybe you could get her fronts out of his fronts;
you see, she's slimmer than I am."

"But her big spread will come lower than yours," said Mrs. Ray; "is
there any up and down to the cloth? How much does she weigh, anyhow?"

"Yes, there is an up and down. Ninety-six last time. That's mighty
little for her height. She only wanted it short, anyway."

"It'll have to be short. Yes, indeed. Why you must have weighed most
double that at her age. It's too bad men always have pockets."

"He would have them; you know how father always set store by pockets.
There, that's the engine spark. I don't know, I'm sure, what we'll do
about her. Mr. Wiley says his grandmother went just so--" Mrs. Wiley's
voice broke suddenly; she took out her handkerchief and dried her eyes.
"Do you see any way to getting the fronts out?" she asked, falteringly,
after a minute.

"You musn't look to the worst that way," said Mrs. Ray, soothingly;
"those thin girls pick up wonderfully. The only way I see is if you've
got braid. If you've got any braid, I can piece it back of the braid.
She may marry and be as well as any one. Look at her great-grandmother
you just spoke of. Yes, indeed."

"I haven't got any braid. But I can buy some. Judy was up from the St.
Helena road yesterday, and she said to give her milk--all she'll drink."

"Turn it over so I can see the back," said Mrs. Ray; "will she drink it,
though? That's the question. She was up for the mail two nights ago, and
I thought she looked pretty well-willed. That's a nice piece of cloth.
My, but you were lucky he didn't have it on when the oil-tank exploded.
Yes, indeed. It's better cloth than the other."

"Yes, that's what I think. That's just the trouble, Mrs. Ray; she will
_not_ drink it."

"You never was severe enough with her. Not but what if it hadn't burnt
through you could get the oil out, maybe."

"I know it, but she's my only girl. I thought you could use the same
buttons. Eleven boys, and then that one girl. She's named for Mr.
Wiley's mother and my mother. Charlotte, you know. See, Mrs. Ray,
there's six of each size, one on each cuff, too. And all so stout but
her. The boys and their father got together on the hay scales the other
day, and they went up over two thousand pounds. Did you hear about it?"

Mrs. Ray stopped sewing and scanned the new proposition with one eye
half closed.

"I'd have to piece the sleeves; you'd have to make up your mind to that.
Were they in the wagon?"

"No, just standing on the scales. You think you can manage it if you
piece them--don't you?"

"Yes, I can manage it then. I can get my backs out below the knee, and
get her sides out of his backs."

"Oh, Mrs. Ray, you've taken a load off my mind. I'm so glad to get these
awful sad remembrances done some good with. I made pillow-slips out of
his nightshirts, but his flannels will haunt me till I die. Eddy's the
only one of the boys that is ever going to grow to them, and Eddy never
wears flannel."

"I should think you could use 'em up to cover the ironing-table. Who did
you say was picking chestnuts,--Mrs. Lathbun and her daughter?"

"I haven't said a word about them." Mrs. Wiley opened her eyes widely.
"But I'm hearing about them all over. I don't believe she's her daughter
any more than you are. They're a nice pair, those two. Chestnuts six
dollars a bushel, and they picking them morn, noon, and night. Have you
seen Sammy Adams? He took them in the night before they got here, you
know. You heard of that."

"Yes, I did." Mrs. Ray's lips came together; "I shall ask him all about
that taking them in, the first time I see him. Never bought a stamp yet!
Such doings! They're not respectable. Don't tell _me_."

"You're terrible prejudiced in your opinions, Mrs. Ray; you judge
everybody by the stamps they buy."

"It's all I have to judge strangers by," said Mrs. Ray, "and it's a
pretty good guide, too. Mrs. Lathbun don't buy stamps and nobody can't
tell me that she's on the square. Wait till I see Sammy!"

"When do you think you can try mine on?" asked Mrs. Wiley.

"Will next Thursday do?"

"Yes, I don't want to wear it till Thanksgiving; I won't go to Buffalo
till Christmas. Lottie Ann won't want hers till then."

"I can do them both by Thanksgiving," said Mrs. Ray. "I've got a few
little jobs to do for others, and I want to build a new back fence, and
I guess I'm going to get the contract for whitewashing the church
cellar, I'm bidding on it. But after that, except for my house-cleaning
and my boarders and my regular duties under the United States
Government, I haven't got anything particular on hand."

"I'll be so glad," said Mrs. Wiley, moving towards the door. "We're all
so kind of upset about not knowing whether Uncle Purchase will come and
live with us or not if the dam goes through, that I want to have my
things in order, anyhow. He wrote, you know."

"No, I didn't know, but I guess he'll come and live with you, anyway,"
said Mrs. Ray; "good-by."

Mrs. Wiley went out, and before long there was another caller,--Clay
Wright Benton himself this time, usually called "poor Clay Wright
Benton" by his friends, for the simple reason that he was Sarah Benton's
husband, and his mother's son.

"How d'ye do," he said, opening the door a few inches and looking in
through it. "No, I won't come in; I only stopped to speak about the hay.
You said I could have it, you know."

"Yes, I know," said Mrs. Ray; "but I said, if you came before October
first. That's past now, and Elmer took it off yesterday. Him and his dog
was here at sun up and away again by noon. You see now what it is to
take your own time."

Clay Wright Benton stood still, turning his cap about and about.

"I thought you knew I wanted it," he said, finally; "I couldn't come
sooner."

"I did know. But I thought you needed a lesson. Nobody that wants to get
ahead in this world can take their own time. You've got to be a little
ahead of other people's time if you really want to make your mark. How's
Susan? Got back from her father's yet?"

"No," said the man; "she's going to stay till Thanksgiving. She was so
awful tired of the parrot."

"Look out you don't leave her too long--same as the hay," said Mrs. Ray,
cheerfully. "Who's that coming up the steps behind you? I can feel the
draught as long as you stand there in the crack, but I can't see through
your body."

Clay Wright Benton moved aside, and Mrs. Dunstall pushed past him. "I'm
sorry I was late about the hay," he said then, and went slowly away.
Mrs. Benton and his mother had left very little spirit in him.

"What did he come for?" asked Mrs. Dunstall, shutting the door tightly.
"I'm sorry for Susan. She married him for his looks, and looks is all he
ever had to give her." The attitude of the community was that of larger
communities towards the humbly unsuccessful in life.

"He ain't giving her even looks, any more," said Mrs. Ray; "she's gone
home, and his looks is gone heaven knows where. No man was ever so
handsome yet that he could rise above needing to shave."

"He'll make his fortune if the dam goes through, though," observed Mrs.
Dunstall; "he owns all the land above Ledgeville."

"He'll never see her for dust then," said Mrs. Ray, drily. "She'll leave
him to keep house for Gran'ma Benton and the parrot. Well, what did you
come for?"

"I was walking by, and I thought I'd just stop and ask you if you'd
heard about that Mrs. Lathbun and her daughter staying all night with
Sammy Adams? Josiah Bates was up that way for a load of apples and he
heard of it."

Mrs. Ray became rigid. "I have heard of it," she said; "but not from
Sammy. He was here and never said a thing about it, but some one else
told me. So it's all over town now, is it?"

"They was walking across country and there came on a rain and they
stopped for shelter and it was Sammy's where they stopped."

Mrs. Ray sewed very fast. "I always said they were tramps anyway," she
said, haughtily; "now you'll all see."

"Seems funny Sammy never told you about it."

"Well, he never did."

"He tells you everything--don't he?"

"I thought so."

"It couldn't be he really took a fancy to either of 'em," reflected Mrs.
Dunstall; "I don't think they're good-looking."

"Good-looking!"

"But you know, men are queer, Mrs. Ray. There was Mr. Ray. He was
queer."

Mrs. Ray gave her thread a jerk that broke it.

"They never get any letter, do they? You said they never did, didn't
you?" Mrs. Dunstall was all query.

"No, they never get any letters."

"They claim to come from Cromwell, don't they?"

"I don't know. I never heard. I wouldn't believe anything they said. No
trunks and stealing chestnuts all over. I never!"

"Wouldn't it be a funny thing if, after all these years, some stranger
like those two was to come in from saints-know-where and marry Sammy?"

"Yes, it would be funny," said Mrs. Ray, "very funny. Yes, indeed. Yes,
it would be _very_ funny!"

"I thought I'd just stop and tell you," said Mrs. Dunstall. "I knew
you'd be interested. I know you're such a friend of Sammy's. I thought
if you knew, maybe you could look 'em up a little. Nathan's got an aunt
living in Cromwell. If I was you I'd look 'em up, Mrs. Ray."

Mrs. Ray opened her scissors like the jaws of a shark.

"I _am_ looking 'em up," she said, and the scissors closed with a snap
full of meaning; "they'll soon find what it means to get no letters and
write no letters and stop with Sammy Adams when it rains. Yes, indeed."

Two hours later every one in the township--that is, every one except the
boarders of the O'Neil House--knew that Mrs. Ray was actively advocating
an investigation into the Lathbuns' history.

"I guess she'll find out a good deal," said Samuel Peterkin to Judy, as
they drove home towards the St. Helena road.

The scene far and near was one maddest autumn blaze of beauty.

"Mrs. Ray will never let up on him till she does," said Judy; "she's
awful mad at Sammy."

The road bent between giant pines, and revealed the gray facade of the
High Banks beyond, stretching in gigantic grandeur between the black
shadows below and the bewildering colors above.

"If these trees was down, what a long ways we could see along the
river," said Samuel.

"Yes," said Judy, "trees is dreadfully in the way when you want to see.
And to think that Mr. Ledge is always talking about having planted ten
thousand of them. People are curious."

The sun came out upon the horizon behind them at that minute, and shot a
shaft of glory down the cañon, illuminating all the gray rock with
silver.

"There, now," said Judy; "it's late when it's like that. It's right in
our eyes, too. We must hurry."

"I told you you were staying too long," said Samuel; "and you know as
well as I do that nobody can trot the St. Helena hill."



CHAPTER X

THE BROADER MEANING


It is surprising how quickly any situation can be assimilated. Be it
ever so pleasant or ever so painful, we get accustomed to its demands
surprisingly soon, and whether it is the fact that one has just gotten a
fortune, or just gotten the toothache, in either case it seems as if one
had had it always, before one has hardly had it at all.

Lassie learned this with great rapidity. Before three days had passed
by, she discovered that the deep and earnest joy in Alva's mind had
eradicated all the horror in her own. Alva's love ceased to seem
shocking--it seemed, instead, more like some beautiful, mysterious
wonder. Lassie came to hear her friend talk without any distress--only
with a sort of wistful ignorance--a longing to fathom depths not before
even apprehended.

"It doesn't strike me as it did at first at all," she said to Ingram one
night, as they went for the mail together. "All that I think of now is
how happy she looks. Did you ever see any one look as happy as she
does?"

"She's very happy, surely," said Ingram; "but what uses me up is that
she is looking forward so. Why, that man is dying--he may die any
day--and she thinks that he will come here. He can't ever come here,
not possibly!"

"Oh, can't he?" Lassie cried, in real distress, "are you sure of that?"

"Of course. He knows it, too."

"But she doesn't know it?"

"No."

"Don't you think that he ought to tell her, then?"

Ingram did not speak for a minute. "Perhaps some miracle may come to
pass, and he may live," he said then; "you see, he has lived three weeks
longer than any man in his circumstances ought to expect to live."

"Oh, then he hasn't got to die soon?"

Ingram knit his brows in the dark. "I can't explain myself clearly," he
said; "but it seems to me that he and Alva sort of rise above rules, so
to speak. Part of the time she's as she always was--just as we are--and
then again I feel as if she herself had gone and left me sitting with
just a figure of some sort.--" He paused. "I expect he's the same way,"
he added, after a second; "it's all beyond me."

"It's strange, isn't it?" Lassie spoke thoughtfully. "She's very sweet
and lovely, and dear with it all. But I know just what you mean; I've
seen it, too. She is talking, and then she stops and that white look
comes over her face, and I never speak then until she does. Do you
know," she said, almost timidly, "I keep thinking of things I've read in
books about the Middle Ages,--about saints; about 'ecstasy,' they called
it. We say 'ecstasies' about hats, or little dogs, or the flowers at
Easter; but when Alva has been talking about her life in that house and
stops to think, and I see her face, I feel as if I understood what the
word really and truly meant."

"I suppose there's no danger of her converting you," said Ingram; "it's
all very well for her, but I should hate to have you that way."

"Why?" asked the girl, in surprise.

"It isn't human, that's why," the man declared, energetically. "We're
past the Middle Ages," he added, with a little laugh, "far past now."

"You think that people can be too good?"

"Yes, I do. I wouldn't marry a woman like her for anything!"

"But you thought differently once," said Lassie, shyly.

"Yes," he said, easily, "I wanted to marry her once, but she wouldn't
have it at all. Droll--isn't it?"

"We're ever so far by the post-office; do you know it?" she said.

"So we are; I'd forgotten all about the mail."

They turned back.

"But I don't believe that Alva ever could make you see life in the way
that she does," Ingram said, tentatively; "does she ever try?"

"I don't think so," said Lassie; "she just talks to me of her
happiness."

"What would become of the world, I wonder, if every one adopted her
views," suggested the man.

They turned in at Mrs. Ray's gate just here. The mail was distributed,
and every one else had taken theirs and gone.

"Well, you're a little late," said Mrs. Ray, cheerfully. "Mary Cody run
up for the house letters when she saw you go by. Have a nice walk?"

"Yes, very," said Ingram.

"You're great walkers down your way. Mrs. Lathbun and her daughter walk
all day long, seems to me."

"They do walk a good deal," said Lassie.

Then she and Ingram went back to the hotel. They found Alva standing by
the dining-room door with her lamp and her letters in her hand. Mrs.
O'Neil stood close before her.

"I wouldn't worry," said Alva to Mrs. O'Neil; "I don't believe one word
of it."

"When they're out to-morrow I shall sweep the room _myself_," said Mrs.
O'Neil, decidedly; "you can learn a good deal about people by sweeping
their room." Then they all separated, Ingram going to his letters, their
hostess to her husband, and Alva and Lassie to their cosy nest
up-stairs.

"What was the matter?" Lassie asked, directly their doors were shut.

"Nothing especial," Alva said, laughing; "it was just that Mrs. Ray came
here this afternoon and rather upset Mrs. O'Neil by talking about Mrs.
Lathbun and her daughter."

"What did she say?"

"She didn't say anything in particular--she just talked."

"What did she talk, then?"

"She talked all sorts of things; she doesn't like them at all. She
doesn't consider them nice."

Lassie was silent. She was conscious of a painful lack of admiration for
either Mrs. Lathbun or her daughter, herself.

A freight train began to roll by and ended conversation for the time
being. Alva went to the window and stood there. After a while she spoke
musingly.

"Everything must have a purpose. Every action has to have a thought
behind it. If we could only see through the veil!"

The train, which had come to a standstill, now began to move again,
cracking and straining at first, then going on with a terrific roar.

"They serve their purpose surely--the freight trains," Alva said; "even
if they did nothing else, their noise accomplishes something. One might
forget life so easily in this corner of the world, if it were not for
them."

Lassie laughed. "But they serve a few more purposes than that."

"Yes, of course. I never deny the broader meaning in life--if the
world's view _is_ the broader one--but trains mean such a great deal
besides what they carry, in a little bit of a town. I used to think that
they came pretty close to being all the meaning that life had to the
people there, and I still wonder sometimes if it isn't so. I've lived
here well over one week now, and really it seems to me that the trains,
their comings and goings, and whether they do them on time or not, are
the only topics of conversation that are ever broached."

"Perhaps they talk about other things when we're not around," suggested
Lassie, wisely.

"I hadn't thought of that. Or perhaps they think the trains our only
mutual interest. You know, Lassie, there really is no one that is
stupid, unless you do your half towards being stupid, too. It's like the
crash in the wilderness, which doesn't mean sound unless there are ears
to hear it."

"I never thought of that," said Lassie; "isn't there really any sound in
the wilderness? What happens when the tigers roar?"

"But of course they do talk about other things here," Alva continued,
paying no attention to her friend's flippancy. "They talk about the dam,
and they talk about me."

"What do you suppose they say about you?" Lassie asked, curiously.

"I know exactly what they say," Alva replied, a real amusement curling
her lips; "they say that Ronald and I are going to be married and live
in that house while he builds the dam."

"Oh!"

"Yes, indeed."

"But I didn't know that the dam was decided on."

"It isn't, my dear, and I don't believe myself that there ever will be
any dam. I can't believe that this State, even in her grossest
materialism, will have the face to accept a royal gift and then turn
around and give it away in direct contradiction of the terms of its
acceptance."

"Is it as bad as that?"

"It's very bad. That dear old gentleman has made the preservation of
this wonder of nature the realized dream of his whole life. He's carried
through no end of other big philanthropic schemes, but he never for one
instant allowed anything to turn him aside from this one. He told me
himself how he had rewooded the banks--he has planted thousands and
thousands of trees--and now to have the whole threatened. It's shameful,
shameful!"

"Does every one know how you feel?"

"Yes, every one knows how I feel."

"What do they think themselves?"

"I believe the predominant sentiment in Ledge is that it will be
entertaining to see Ledgeville drowned for good and all."

Lassie laughed.

The freight train was all gone by now. Alva turned from the window and
came back to a seat beside her friend, sinking upon it with a little
sigh.

"All this goes very near with me, dear," she said, gently; "loving
Nature and fighting for the future has been _his_ life-work, you know."

"Yes," Lassie said, softly.

Suddenly the older one leaned close and put her arms about the young
girl. "It's so heaven-blessed to have you here,--it makes me so happy."

"I'm very happy, too," said Lassie. "I never had just the feeling before
in my life that I have with you these days--it's as if nothing could
ever come between us. Sort of as if we had been sealed to a compact."

Alva patted the brown waves of hair. "That's the understanding of true
friendship, dear," she said; "nothing ever can come between us. Once two
people realize mutual truth, how can anything come between them again?
All the trouble in the world arises out of falseness. Search in your
mind, and see if it isn't so?"

Lassie reflected. "You're putting so many new ideas into my head," she
said, "I suppose I'll go home with nothing of my old self left in me."

"Not quite that," said Alva. "Your old self wasn't so bad, Lassie, dear.
But the world has a way of hammering all its votaries into a certain set
of molds, and I'd like to see you casting, instead of cast,--do you
know the difference?"

"Alva," said Lassie, with sudden appealing earnestness, "you weren't
like this when I saw you last; what changed you?"

"I had the convictions then, but not the courage. Now I have the
courage, too."

"What gave you the courage?"

"Surely you can divine?"

"Love."

"Yes, dear, love. Love for him. All courage has its root in love of some
kind."

"Alva, you teach me more each day."

"Yes, and I'll teach you more and more and more yet, and so on and so on
until we part, and then I'll go on learning myself."

"Hasn't your lesson any end?"

"Love hasn't any end, dear, any more than it has any beginning. And so
my lesson hasn't any end, either."

"But--"

"I know what you are going to say, but that isn't real love. That which
can end has never been,--all the real things in existence are eternal."

"But they--the people that--well, you know, they thought that it was
love--didn't they?"

"Yes, dear, and little children think that there are bears in dark
closets, and ever so many people think that money buys happiness. The
world is full of lies, Lassie, but if one puts the test to them they all
fade away. You don't understand yet--but wait."

"I want to understand."

"But you are not ready to understand yet."

"But I am ready, I will learn to be ready."

"Yes, and I'm going to teach you. But I have to go slowly because I have
to hunt for the words. You are such a little thing--such a baby--to be
trusted with life; because you see most people never live--they just
exist. They are only a few steps up on the staircase, and when they are
dragged or pushed above the place that they are in by nature, they are
apt to be dizzy. I want to teach you life, Lassie; but I don't want to
make you dizzy." She paused, and a whimsical little smile danced across
her face; "and besides, dear, we must get undressed. It is after ten
o'clock."

"Just a minute more, Alva; it seems as if I cannot break off right here.
And I won't be dizzy. I know that whatever you think and do must be
right and best. I want to learn to think just as you do. I want to be
told how you learned. I always knew you were so very good, and truly,
dear, I wouldn't have been surprised if you'd chosen to marry a
missionary or to go to that island where the lepers are--not after the
first minute, you know; it would have been just like you."

"Oh, no, Lassie, it wouldn't have been like me at all. For ever so many
reasons. My first duty in life--the duty that comes before every
other--is to my father and mother. No claim could be strong enough to
justify my leaving them; and then, besides, I'm not a Christian, except
in the sense that I believe with Christ, and that isn't enough for any
mission or any leper nowadays."

There was a little pause; then Lassie said: "But you are going to leave
your father and mother now, aren't you?"

Alva smiled. "But for such a little while, dear," she said, gently;
"you forget how short the time is to be!" There was an instant's pause
and then she turned suddenly and her face had the bright color of deep
emotion flaming in it. "Lassie, Lassie," she exclaimed, with a strength
of feeling that startled the other into a sudden cry, "I'm trying to be
calm, I'm trying to talk to you quietly,--I don't want you to think me a
mad woman,--but I am so much closer to some other keener, sharper world
of soul and sensation than you or any one can realize, that I can hardly
curb myself to the dull, unknowing, unfeeling, throb, throb, of this
one. Don't you know, Lassie, that people are getting married every
day,"--she stopped and pressed her hands tightly together, her eyes
starring the pallor of her face with that curious radiance of which the
young girl had spoken to Ronald. "Oh," she went on, "to think that
people are getting married every day because they need cooks or because
they need care, or because the man has money or because the girl is
pretty, and they go forth un-understanding, and they live along somehow;
and the word that means their sort of companionship is all that I can
use to speak of the evening that I shall return here, his wife, and fall
on my knees beside him and realize that all my loneliness and waiting
and hoping has ended, and that at last--at last--we are to be together,
even if only for a few weeks, a few days, a few hours. A foretaste of
eternity! A memory of what was in the beginning of all things!"

Ceasing to speak, she clasped her hands more tightly yet, and her eyes
closed slowly. Lassie sat still and trembling. Her breath came unevenly,
but she saw that Alva's swept in and out of her bosom with a wide
evenness that belies unconquered emotion. After a minute the other
opened her eyes and laid her hand lightly upon the girl's head. "I
frighten you, I know that I frighten you," she said; "you think that I
am crazy after all."

"No, I don't, Alva; but I can't think what kind of a man the man can be
to make you feel that marrying him will be so different from marrying
any other man."

"You can't think, because you don't know what love can mean to
people--what it has meant to him or what it has meant to me."

Then she sprang up and began to undress herself rapidly.

"I don't see how you can bring yourself back to earth, Alva, after you
have felt like that."

Alva smiled. "But we must live on the earth, Lassie, and be of the
earth. We are made for the earth. God gave us our souls, and he gave us
our bodies, too. And he meant both to work together."

Lassie sat still and meditative. She had herself been carried out beyond
her depth and could not get back easily. She was, in truth, a little
dizzy.



CHAPTER XI

THE WAR-PATH


Mrs. Ray in the post-office managed to keep track of Mrs. O'Neil's
personal sweeping of the Lathbun bedroom until it was terminated. Then
she left the United States Government's appointment in charge of Mr.
Ray's first wife's youngest daughter, and hied herself down the hill.

Mary Cody and Mrs. O'Neil were in the kitchen discussing the results of
the investigation when she entered.

"Well, you'll never guess what I found," said the landlord's wife;
"you'd never guess if you guessed till Doomsday."

"What did you find?" Mrs. Ray tucked in the ends of her shawl with
fierce joy,--"a pistol?"

"No;" Nellie O'Neil's brown eyes glowed and her face shone; "guess
again."

"Oh, I can't guess," said Mrs. Ray, impatiently. "A monkey? A
love-letter from the king of England? A lot of stamps? I don't know,--I
can't guess."

Mrs. O'Neil nodded her head very slowly, and with deeply seated meaning.

"Go on," said Mrs. Ray, "tell me. I'm in a hurry. Yes, I am."

"I found six case-knives!"

"Six case-knives!"

"Yes, that's what I found."

"Six case-knives! Well, of all the--What did they want them for?"

"One was broke off short."

"Any blood on it?"

"Oh, Mrs. Ray!"

"Well, I just asked."

"They were all clean."

"And one broke off?--hum!"

"What do you think about it, Mrs. Ray?"

"I hope it'll be a lesson to Sammy Adams never to take two strange women
in on a rainy night again. The Bible, even, is severe on strange women."

"Did he take them in?" Mrs. O'Neil opened her brown eyes widely.

"Take them in! He kept them all night. Haven't you heard about it? And
never told me, either. That's just like a man. Flattering himself that
I'd give a second thought to any woman living. Six, you say, Nellie, and
one broke off?"

"The broken one is one of the six."

"They could have broken it off in his heart, just as easy! My, to think
of the chances that man took! Didn't they have anything else? Did you
look under the mattress?"

"Yes,--I looked everywhere. There's a hair-brush that I'd have thrown
into the gorge a year ago if it had been mine, and a bent pin and a
broken mirror, and that's all."

"I declare. Well, it's a very good thing that I set you to looking them
up. Yes, indeed. I shall look them up in all directions now, myself. I
shan't leave a stone unturned that I can even tip up on one side. To
think of those case-knives! And one broke off! And Sammy Adams taking
them in like that! But then, it isn't for you to criticize him, Nellie,
for you've taken them in yourself. You can thank your stars you haven't
had a case-knife stuck in you before now. How do they carry them,
anyway?"

"They were wrapped in a piece of red flannel."

"Red flannel! Why, you said all they had beside the knives was the
hair-brush and the mirror. Red flannel,--hum! So blood wouldn't show on
it, I expect. Was the edge of the blade of the broken one rusted at
all?"

"Not that I noticed."

"Noticed!"

"Don't you want to come up and see for yourself, Mrs. Ray?"

"I don't know. They might come in. It wouldn't look well for any one in
the employ of the United States Government to be found spying about, you
know. I'm always having to consider my country. Yes, indeed. But what do
you suppose they have those knives for? I never heard of such a thing in
all my life. Even if they used them for tooth-brushes, they'd only want
one apiece."

"I think you'd better come up-stairs."

"And Sammy Adams taking them in like that! That poor innocent! Not but
what he was a fool; think of me opening my doors to two tramps!"

"Come on up-stairs. They won't be back till noon. They've gone
chestnutting in the Wiley wood. They can't be back till noon."

The door opened just here, and Alva came in with Lassie behind her.

"Have you told them?" Mrs. Ray asked.

"What is it?" Alva asked.

"We don't know what to think about Mrs. Lathbun and her daughter," said
Mrs. O'Neil.

Alva glanced quickly into both their faces and then at Lassie.

Mrs. Ray tucked the ends of her shawl in, folded her arms, and closed
her lips tightly for a second before opening them to speak. "I never did
like their looks," she declared. "I'm not surprised over what's come
out!"

"I never liked their looks, either," said Lassie, "but what is it? Has
anything happened?"

"No," said Mrs. Ray, "nothing in particular, only we're beginning to
find them out. You can't pretend to be somebody forever without any
trunks. Case-knives are good in their way, but they don't take the place
of trunks."

"Case-knives!" Alva exclaimed. "Oh, what do you mean?"

"There, Nellie, you see how they strike any one," said Mrs. Ray, with
deep meaning.

"But have they case-knives with them?" Alva asked,--"not really?"

Then Mrs. O'Neil told her story.

"You'd better all lock your doors nights after this," said Mrs. Ray;
"you don't want to take Sammy Adams' chances if you can help it."

"But what should they have the knives for?" Lassie asked.

"They have their reasons," said Mrs. Ray, darkly; "you know you told me
the other day, Nellie, that the reason why they sat in the kitchen with
their feet in the oven so much was because their shoes was all wore
out; they've got their reasons for everything they do, depend on it. If
they're honest, why don't they have their shoes patched when they're
wore out? If they were respectable, why didn't that girl buy some black
laces instead of wearing brown ones. I always keep black shoe-laces in
my grocery business."

"Maybe she doesn't know that," suggested Lassie.

"Yes, she does know," said Mrs. Ray, "for I told her so one day when she
played come for mail."

"I didn't know you kept shoe-laces," said Mrs. O'Neil. "I've always
bought them in Buffalo."

"Well, I do. Yes, indeed. I keep pretty nearly everything--except
case-knives. There's nothing out of place in keeping shoe-laces in a
grocery business, not until after you begin to wear them, and for my own
part they seem to me just as decent as shoe buttons which all the town
would be up in surprise if I didn't have them in my grocery business."

"Yes, I knew you kept shoe buttons," said Mrs. O'Neil.

"I keep everything, except strange women travelling after dark. My store
is a general one. I thank heaven there's nothing of the specialist in
me. I'd of starved if there was, or been obliged to charge very high for
very little work, which would mean starving in a while anyhow, so being
no doctor I couldn't stay a specialist long even if I tried."

"I think you ought to come up-stairs and see their room, Mrs. Ray," Mrs.
O'Neil said, going back to the main question.

"What is it about their room?" Lassie asked.

"There isn't anything about it--that's what it is," said Mrs. Ray;
"respectable people always have things about their room. Yes, indeed.
But of course women walking across country nights can't carry much fancy
fixings even if they don't mind stopping all night wherever the rain
catches them."

"Did they stop over night anywhere?" Lassie asked.

Mrs. Ray adjusted her shawl. "Such doings!" she muttered; "I never heard
the like. That's one way to work the game. I never had any game. I just
had the work. Whenever there came up something as had to be done that
nobody in town could do, I was glad to learn how for the money. Yes,
indeed. And now they come along and live on the fat of the land,
case-knives and all."

"Do let's go up and see the room," pleaded Mrs. O'Neil.

Mrs. Ray wavered. "Well, if Mary Cody will stand in the hall and watch?"
she stipulated.

"And you must come, too," said Mrs. O'Neil to her two guests; "there
isn't anything to see--it isn't prying--it's just the wonder how they
can get along without anything at all that way."

Alva was rather pale.

"Do let's go," Lassie whispered.

Alva smiled sadly. "Yes, we'll go," she said.

Mrs. O'Neil called Mary Cody and stationed her below. Then they all four
mounted the stairs and went along the plain hall to the plain door at
the end.

"You keep everything very neat, Nellie," said Mrs. Ray; "it's a pity you
don't stick to nice people who can appreciate nice things. If you go
taking in people like the Lathbuns too often, you might just as well
give up and get the name for it. I wouldn't dare stay under the same
roof with them, myself."

Mrs. O'Neil made no answer, simply pressing the door at the end of the
hall and--as the door yielded--entering first.

Mrs. Ray and Lassie were next. Alva did not go in, but stood still in
the doorway.

It is hard to conceive the special effect of that interior on each of
the four.

"Did you have any little things around before you swept?" Mrs. Ray
asked, standing in the middle like the head of some royal commission in
the days of the Dissolution.

Mrs. O'Neil--in the capacity of the layman left to represent the monks
flown--replied that she had found all as bare as now.

"Well, you told the truth, Nellie," her friend remarked; "there's the
hair-brush and here's the mirror. But where are the knives?"

Mrs. O'Neil pulled open the upper drawer, and in one corner lay the roll
of red flannel.

Mrs. Ray unrolled the knives and examined them with care. A case-knife
is rather limited as to its power of revelation, however, and she soon
laid them down.

"Well, I never!" she said, with heaviest emphasis.

"What do they sleep in, or wash with?" Mrs. O'Neil suggested.

"The towels are yours, of course, Nellie?"

"Of course."

Lassie looked around the simple bedroom with its absolute bareness. She
felt pitiful.

"They're comin' over the post-office hill!" Mary Cody suddenly yelled
below. The effect was magical.

Lassie and Alva fled into their room.

"I feel like a burglar myself," exclaimed the young girl, as she shut
their door.

Mrs. Ray was going down the stairs in the hall outside. "There," she
exclaimed, "did you hear that? That's the way it goes when you harbor
criminals. They're very catching."

"Oh, do you really think they're criminals?" Mrs. O'Neil asked, in great
distress.

"Well, Nellie, put the case-knives and Sammy Adams together, and then
the way they pick up other folks' chestnuts and having no comb and only
half a brush for the two of 'em--it looks bad in my eyes."

"But what shall I do?" Mrs. O'Neil asked.

"Ask Jack if they pay their board regularly; that'll help you to know
some," propounded the postmistress solemnly, and then she returned to
her government duties forthwith.



CHAPTER XII

ANOTHER PATH


As Lassie closed the door, Alva moved to her favorite post by the window
and stood there looking out; the young girl looked anxiously towards her
friend. "What happens to those people doesn't really matter to us, does
it?" she asked after a minute, some atmosphere of trouble permeating
her.

"Everything matters, dear."

"But, Alva, you hardly know them, and they _are_ common."

"Perhaps so, dear, but that room,--two weeks in that room with nothing,
no comforts such as we think absolutely essential--oh, it makes me feel
terribly. Life is such a puzzle. Ledge seemed such a simple-hearted,
secluded little nook,--and first I ran into the big, soul-wringing
problem of the dam, and now here are these two lives. Lassie, whatever
else they may or may not be, they are human. It can't be joy to live
like that. There must be some reason for their doing as they do, and I
can see no reason except the one the girl told me."

Lassie began to wash and brush for dinner; Alva continued to stand at
the window.

"That was the first time that I ever went into a room where I was
possibly not wanted," she continued, presently. "It seemed so strange.
And such a room, too. Oh, it all has made me fairly heart-sick. I
wonder what the end is to be. As I say so often, there are no accidents,
no chance happenings in life; if anything enters within my circle, there
is a reason for it. Either they are to do for me, or I am to do for
them, and I wish I knew which it were to be. I am so sorry for them!"

"Then you don't think that they can be doing wrong--are perhaps bad?"

"No," said Alva, firmly; "I'll never think that of any one. Nobody is
ever bad. The word is too complete. It says more than it means to
express."

"They couldn't be going to do anything for you."

"How can you tell, Lassie? Sometimes in doing for others we do a
thousand times more for ourselves. Haven't you learned that yet?"

"No, not yet--not with people of that sort."

"They don't look to be so wrong," Alva spoke half-musingly. "They just
look like plain, quiet people. I'm sure there's no evil in them!"

"Perhaps she made up the love affair?"

"She never made that man up, Lassie; that man is a real man. You can't
'make up' men like that."

"But if he is rich and loves her, would he let her be living this way
and chasing her around that way. That does seem so awfully funny, to
me,--for a rich man to spend the nights outside the window of a girl who
hasn't even a change of pocket-handkerchiefs,--and she isn't pretty
either, you have to admit that, Alva?"

"Lassie, you do look at everything from such a petty, worldly
standpoint. Of course it isn't your fault, but you judge too easily. How
do you know what rule governs that man; there are some men that no one
can understand,--they seem to be a race apart. All their springs of
action differ from the usual sources. I've been in love with such a
man--I'm in love with him now--I am going to marry him. The ordinary
woman wouldn't care much for a love that had to be set aside for bigger
things, as his for me was at first. But I understood. I accepted the
situation. All situations have their key--their clue--if one can get a
little way outside of body and senses, and then study them
thoughtfully."

"Well, but if the man is an exceptional man as yours is, what can
interest him in such a girl?"

Alva shook her head. "You don't find her interesting, and you will never
go near enough to her spirit to change your view; but she interests me,
and some day you'll come to see that every human being is full of
interest, if we will but take the trouble to hunt the interest out. I
have learned that lesson, and all that I can think of is the apparent
trouble and need of these two."

"Would you have a man as great as the man you love, marry such a girl
with such a mother, Alva?"

"I would have people who love sincerely always marry, whoever they
love."

"But if he is so wild that a woman who hasn't even an extra hairpin
wants to hide her daughter from him, do you think he'll make her happy?"

There was a pause.

"Lassie," her friend said, presently, "do you know I used to be just
like you. I saw only the finite, too."

"Yes?"

"Yes, and I often wonder what would have become of me if I had not
learned through love to finally escape out of the bonds and shackles of
ordinary conditions, and to contemplate them only as either behind or
below me. How can we judge in the case of another? All that I know
absolutely in this case is that I have strayed into the midst of a
pitiful story. All I can do is to try to help that pain. That poor girl
is nothing but a passing ghost to you; to me she is a link in the
chain-armor of life that covers my spirit during its earthly war. As I
said before, there are no chance meetings, there are no accidents;
there's nothing trivial in life after one once grasps the greatness of
the whole. You can make things trivial by belittling them, or you can
make them great. I make Miss Lathbun great because a man who is great is
interested in her."

"But how do you know that he's great? Or that he is interested in her?
She may have made it all up; I think that she did, myself."

Alva turned from the window.

"My dear child," she said, approaching the girl and laying her hand on
her shoulder, "I feel as if there were a thick veil between us; how can
I tell you what I think, when you don't want to understand what I try to
say? Suppose she did make it up? Suppose she and her mother are anything
you please? Still, I'd be glad that I believed in them. One little grain
of real belief may possibly be the seed of a new life for them; and even
if it isn't, think what it means to me to be able to believe in people.
It means that I am looking for good, instead of looking for evil. Can't
you see how much better that must be for me personally?"

Lassie lifted her eyes to see what she called "the white look," on
Alva's face. She felt ashamed of her own standpoint.

At that instant the dinner-bell rang loudly below.

"Oh, we'll see them now!" Lassie exclaimed, all other thoughts fading.

Alva gave her a quiet glance. "Yes, we'll see them now," she said,
turning towards the door.



CHAPTER XIII

AND STILL ANOTHER PATH


It is difficult for one who has never taken an ocean voyage or lived in
a small village to realize the tremendous strides which interest,
friendship, love, or confidence can make in a very few days, or even
hours. I met three girls once whose kind parents had provided them with
a chaperon and sent them abroad to improve their minds. They met men on
the Lusitania (a record trip, too) going over, and all three were
engaged when they landed. Instead of improving their minds in Europe,
they bought their trousseaux, and then came home (another record trip)
and were married. A small village is just the same; one is introduced
and after that it goes like the wind. Women tell each other everything
that they shouldn't, and virtues which would never be noticed in a city
beget the deepest and sincerest admiration and affection. The dearth of
conventionality and variety draw spirits easily together. Perhaps the
purer air is a universal solvent for pride and prejudice. At any rate,
to make a long story short, Lassie and Ingram were in love with each
other before Alva had finished having the porch of her house painted, or
before Mrs. Ray had succeeded in tracking the case-knives to their
suspicious lair of crime.

It's delightful to fall in love on the sea or in the country, quite as
delightful as to fall in love anywhere else. It is too bad that
fickleness is rated so low, for really the emotion of slowly discovering
that one is entering Elysium should be too great an experience to be
foregone forever after. However, we must not forget that fickleness is
rated low because humanity long since discovered that being in Elysium
is still better than making an entrance there, and furthermore that of
all sharp edges known, Love is the one most easily dulled by usage.
Therefore it is best to adhere to the dear old rules for the dear old
game, and only thank Fate with special reverence when sea-breezes or
country zephyrs float around one's own personal setting-out.

Lassie didn't know that she was in love; she only knew that she was very
happy. Ingram didn't know that he was in love; he only knew that he was
very happy. Alva, whose soul sank daily deeper into the near approaching
abyss of her profound longings, noticed nothing. But every one else
knew, of course. Joey Beall, the invisibly omnipresent, saw them alone
together somewhere nearly every day. Mrs. Ray watched them come and go
together for mail. Mrs. O'Neil, who never had believed that Ingram was
in love with Alva, wished them well with all her heart. For she felt
sure that Alva wasn't in love with Ingram, either.

"I'm glad to have something pleasant before my eyes just now," she said
to Mary Cody, and Mary Cody knew that she referred to the feeling over
the dam, which daily grew keener, and to the Lathbuns, who, it was now
openly known, had never paid any board since their arrival, but merely
referred to their banker in Cromwell, who, it appeared, was out of town,
and could not send on their October check until his return.

"I don't know what there is about looking at them," said Mary Cody, who
was fifteen and grown up at that (and who did not refer to Mrs. Lathbun
and her daughter); "but every time he looks at her while I'm waiting on
them, I feel as if I'd just about die of joy if Ed Griggs would look at
me once that way."

"Don't talk nonsense," said Mrs. O'Neil, severely.

The days which bore such momentous happenings upon their bosom flowed
swiftly on, and the week was speeding by--was gone, in fact.

"It doesn't seem possible, does it?" Lassie said, as she came across the
bridge with Ingram one afternoon. He had happened to return from the
long-distance telephone in Ledgeville by way of Alva's house; and she
had happened to be ready to go home, and Alva had happened not to be
ready. "It doesn't seem that it can be only a week. I feel as if it were
months, instead. Do you remember that first day, when Alva told me, how
I cried and how horrible I thought it was. And now I feel as if it were
too sad for words, but something so great and lovely and sacred, that
I'm sort of hushed in joy to have seen it all. I can see her side now,
and when I go back to the world and hear people say the things that I
thought myself when she first told me, I know that they are going to
hurt me awfully. And yet she says that they will not hurt her."

"No," said Ingram, thoughtfully, "she seems to be quite beyond being
hurt. I never saw any one who impressed me just as Alva does."

"It's very wonderful to be with her all the time," Lassie went on;
"nothing seems to affect her for herself, but only things about other
people. She doesn't seem to think her thoughts for herself any more,
but just for others. It's how she can study and learn and carry on some
part of his work for him after he's gone; it's how she can teach the
people around here that Ledge won't profit in the end by being turned
into a big lake or a big manufacturing district; it's how she can only
prove to people that those two queer women are really honest, and really
nice to know."

"And do you agree with all her views now?" Ingram asked, recalling the
first of their meetings and the difference in Lassie's views from her
friend's then.

"I think it's very splendid how she loves. I thought it was terrible at
first, but now I--" she hesitated; "I"--she stopped altogether.

"Go on," said Ingram; "what were you going to say?"

The girl looked down the cañon of gray, barren beauty, and then up
towards the sunlit valley of sweet, sunshiny, farming country. "Perhaps
you won't believe me," she said, her eyes for the minute almost as
distant in their withdrawal as Alva's own; "but now, I--truly--I envy
her. I would give anything to love as she does. I would almost give the
world to see life as she sees it. You see, I have begun to understand
what she means when she says things."

Ingram was deeply stirred by pathos of which Lassie herself was
ignorant. The young desire to learn to drink of bitter waters! The
longing towards the crown of thorns stirs them, because they can
appreciate the sublimity of martyrdom, and cannot measure the agony!

She had stopped and laid her hand upon the bridge-rail. Involuntarily
he laid his hand upon it, holding it within his strength and warmth.

"When she talks to me of him," Lassie went on, seeming unconscious of
the hand and looking far ahead, "I forget myself, I forget Mamma, I
forget my début; I live only in her and her hope. I never saw love like
hers; she lives in him--in it--not in the world, and she's so sure of
the next world and of their future. It goes all through me, the wonder
of it. I can't tell you how I envy her. She said when I came that she
would send me back home all different, and I see now that she will do
it."

"But I don't want you different." The words burst from the man's lips.
Mountain tops are serene and glorious and very close to the clouds, but
oh, the good warmth, the dear, cosy loveliness of those soft green
slopes far--so far--below.

Lassie was too deeply engrossed to notice. "I shall go back to my home a
better girl," she said; "and I shan't let myself forget what I've
learned here."

Ingram thought that she had heard, and felt himself silenced.

There was a minute of stillness, and then they walked on. The October
evening was falling chill, and the night wind came winding up the gorge.

"Do you agree with her about the dam, too?" the man asked finally, as
they approached the end of the bridge, striving against an echo of
bitterness.

"Oh, yes, she has converted me about that, too. She took me down to call
on Mr. Ledge, and when I saw that dear, courtly, old gentleman, and
heard how quietly and earnestly and sadly he and Alva talked about it,
I came to see how different all that was, too."

Ingram waited a second or two; then he said:

"And Mrs. Lathbun,--do you believe in her too, now?"

Lassie laughed. "No, I don't," she said, very positively; "I'm awfully
sorry for them both, but I cannot believe in them."

"Alva does."

"Yes,--but Alva--"

"Yes, well,--go on."

"I mustn't. Indeed I mustn't. I promised, and this time I must keep my
word. But Alva has a reason for believing in them."

"Is it a good reason?"

Lassie reflected. "No," she said, finally; "I don't think that it is a
good reason at all."

They were at the hotel door now.

"Well, I'm sorry for Alva," said Ingram, "because I hate to see ideals
shattered."

"Oh, but they may justify her faith."

"I am more inclined to think that they will justify your doubts."

Lassie looked pleased. She valued Ingram's opinion highly.

A little later Alva herself came home, pale as she always was, but more
weary looking than nightfall usually found her.

[Illustration: ALVA.]

"Lie down before supper," Lassie suggested; and her friend accepted the
suggestion.

"Come and sit beside me," she said, in a tone that was almost pleading;
"give me your hand. I'm really quite used up."

Lassie perched beside her on the bed, and took the long slender hand
between her own pretty little white ones.

"You are a wise little maiden," Alva said, smiling into her face. "I
shall fight this away quickly. I know much better than to be weak. I
understand the scientific, spiritual reasons for it quite well--it is
that I am under a double strain these days, and also--" she
hesitated--"I think that I am really under a triple strain," she said,
"you do not guess how close to my heart that poor girl has come through
her description of her lover. I think of her so often, and such a
strange undercurrent sweeps up in me. I try to understand it, and I
can't; but I wonder if it can be some troubling of myself because the
one whose life is so valuable must go, and the one whose life has no
value will remain. I do not begrudge any one anything, God knows; but my
heart winces when I think that his soul will go on and leave me alone,
while a body that is the same as his will live and live for another. I
am brave, I am strong; my higher self has courage and understanding to
cope with any problem that may come, but it seems as if this one laid me
on a rack, because--because--" she stopped, and then in a low cry:
"Lassie, she doesn't seem to me to be worthy of even his body. Perhaps I
misjudge her, but even the human presentment of such a man should have a
wife of greater caliber. Somehow it hurts me, somehow everything hurts
me to-night. You see, dear, you were right. In some ways. Yes, you were
right."

There was a pause, during which Lassie just gently stroked the hand
between her own.

"Do you know what I believe?" Alva continued. "Some crisis is
preparing. I don't at all know what it is, but I feel it coming. I am
certain--confident--that God has some new wisdom close in hand for me.
Happy or sad--it is coming very close to-night. And whatever it is, I
must go bravely forward to meet it."

Lassie shuddered ever so slightly.

"Ah, you think that it is some sorrow," Alva said; "my dear, would you
credit me with telling you the truth, if I told you that there is a
comfort in understanding that verse about whom He loveth He chasteneth?
He doesn't call upon the weak among His children to bear what He has
sent to me, to us. And if there is some heavy sorrow,"--she stopped, and
presently added quite low,--"'not my will, but Thine be done!'"

Lassie was deeply touched. She felt tears rolling down her cheeks. The
dusk had closed in and she could not see Alva's face, but she felt that
she, too, was weeping.

Presently a freight train, going by, drowned everything by its roaring
clank for five minutes, and when all was still again, Alva said: "Come,
let us dress for supper!"

She rose at once and lit the light, and Lassie saw with astonishment
that she was smiling and bright as usual. Alva caught her surprised
look. "I'm a creature of strong belief, dear," she said, laughing, "and
I know that whatever is hard, is worth itself. That is what one must try
never to forget. I wouldn't wish any one else my life to live, but it is
its own reward. The best thing in the world is to measure the real
standards of earth and heaven. That is what I am doing."

"Don't you think perhaps you're overdoing, Alva?" the girl said, putting
the question in the way of timid suggestion. "Don't you think you crowd
even yourself too fast?"

"Can any one learn to be good too fast? And then the great strain is for
such a little while, dear. Don't you see that in the world's eyes my
giving will be limited to these few weeks, and that in heaven's eyes I
shall then give all that I have and all that I am. Like him, I have
pawned my existence for a purpose. I shall redeem both." The look of
ecstasy that had opened to Lassie the gate of Medieval faith, flooded
her face. "What a life I shall live in those few brief days," she said,
softly; "how we shall enjoy our little oasis of bliss in the desert of
loneliness. I shall learn so much--so much. And the best of the learning
will be that I shall learn it from him."

Lassie watched the uplifted look. The enthusiasm of the novice was hers.
As she had confessed to Ingram, envy dwelt at her heart. I wonder
whether envy is a vice or a virtue when it stirs a longing to emulate
one whom we recognize as better than ourselves?



CHAPTER XIV

DEVOTED TO COATS AND CASE-KNIVES


"'He moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform,'" chanted Mrs.
Ray, briskly, turning from the stove, with a hot iron in her hand,
towards the visitor then entering the door. "Yes, I'm just pressing the
seams. The mail was awful late--they had a bad wreck on the road, killed
three pigs--and the crowd is just gone. When the mail's late I'm always
late, too. Yes, indeed. Those two in love come up for the hotel mail,
while that poor, blind thing went over alone to look at what she fondly
supposes is going to be her happy home. Take a chair. How's Lottie Ann?
And, Mrs. Wiley, what do you think about those case-knives in the bureau
drawer?" for the case-knives were now the main topic of conversation all
over Ledge and its attendant villages.

Mrs. Wiley had dropped in to see how her new winter jacket, now in
process of active manufacture, was getting on. She sank down on a seat
with a sigh which the chair echoed in a groan.

"Oh, I don't know what to do," she said, wearily. "Uncle Purchase came
yesterday for a week, driving his colts, and last night one of the colts
had colic; and Lottie Ann gets thinner every day. Seems like I do have
so much trouble. Sister Anna got so tired with the improvements she's
making, that she just up and off for Buffalo Wednesday, and that left
Eliza to run things; and Eliza up and bit a chestnut and broke two
teeth, so she had to go off to Rochester yesterday early. That leaves me
with the whole thing now, and I'm running back and forth between houses
from dawn to dark. I wanted to make the dress for Cousin Dolly's
graduation, too, and the sewing machine always does for my legs; and
yesterday here come Uncle Purchase!"

"Joey Beall is all used up over those case-knives," said Mrs. Ray,
pressing assiduously; "he won't say what he thinks."

"How's it getting on?" asked Mrs. Wiley, hitching her chair nearer to
the ironing-board. "Oh, Mrs. Ray, you'll never know the sacred feelings
this coat will give me in church. Father was a true Christian, I always
have that to remember. He had his faults, but he was a true Christian.
Whatever went through his hands in the week, it was the plate at church
that they held on Sunday."

"You don't need to worry over your father, Mrs. Wiley," said Mrs. Ray;
"nobody doubted his religion--it was only that he charged such awful
interest."

Mrs. Wiley sighed. "I know," she said; "it wasn't so much what he
charged as bothered--"

"No," said Mrs. Ray, "it was his way of insisting on being paid."

Mrs. Wiley sighed again.

"Well, thanks to the braid, the land is saved," Mrs. Ray went on
cheerfully. "Mrs. Wiley, do tell me, what do you think of all this at
the O'Neil House,--and did you bring the buttons?"

"Why, I thought you said you could use the buttons on the suit," Mrs.
Wiley answered, with an unhappy start; "you ain't going to tell me that
you can't, are you?"

"No, I ain't," said Mrs. Ray, "it's only that it's so common for folks
to forget to bring me their buttons that I forgot that you had brought
yours. It's awful, isn't it, about those two Lathbuns?"

"I thought you'd lost 'em by accident," said Mrs. Wiley, seating herself
again with a huge relief; "I don't know what I'd of done if you had, for
my money is all in the chickens, and I never saw anything like the way
my chickens have acted lately. I wondered if it could be that the
surveyors upset them. They haven't been a bit regular, and so many
weasels!"

"Perhaps the surveyors keep the weasels stirred up. I must say it would
stir me up to have the sharp end of one of their little flags suddenly
driven into the bosom of my family. Not but what a flag is better than a
case-knife. You've heard about the case-knives, of course?"

"Yes, I heard about the case-knives. Mrs. Ray, don't you want me to try
it on? What do you think they had 'em for, anyway?"

"Well, I don't know; you might on account of the sleeves, maybe. I don't
know what to think--of course they never got any mail; when any one
never gets any mail, it blocks my observation in all directions. I never
saw any strangers that stayed so long, that never got any mail before.
Why, those other girls are getting letters by the dozens. Such nice
mail, too,--thick white paper and thin blue paper, and little prints of
flags, such real, pretty mail. There, what do you think of that,--that's
your back; like it?"

"Wait till I get out my glasses. But of course they must of bought
postals, didn't they? Mrs. Ray, you have done that fine! You're the
only one in the world that could ever fit me like that out of a suit of
father's. I take such a number of under-the-arm pieces."

"Well, that isn't your fault, Mrs. Wiley; you come of a large family and
you ought to be very grateful, because if you hadn't you'd never have
had this jacket. If there hadn't been close on to two full breadths in
each of his legs, I never could have got it out. There's nothing takes
more skill than making a man's clothes over for any one but a boy. Yes,
indeed. Very few can think how difficult it is to adapt a man's legs
with the knees bagged, to either the front or back of a coat for you.
No, they never even bought postals. They never write at all. What would
they write with? You can't write with a case-knife."

"No, that's so. I must say I think you've put that braid on beautiful.
Do you want me to slip it on now, or shall I wait? Uncle Purchase is up
at the house always, you know, and I mustn't be gone too long, but
Lottie Ann's there, so it don't matter much, after all."

"I'll be ready in a second. I'd be further along, only Sammy Adams was
in last evening, and he hates to see me sew every minute. I sewed a good
deal of his visit--I don't know why I should consider Sammy Adams's
ideas when he don't consider mine. Taking in any one nights that way! I
tell you I had that out with him once for all. There,--that's your
pocket; big enough?"

"Well, I wouldn't make it any bigger. What did he tell you about his
taking 'em in? Mrs. Ray, I took your advice and tried milk on Lottie
Ann, and she can't take any but buttermilk. Will that do her as much
good as milk in its first?"

"I don't know why it shouldn't. I tell you frankly, Mrs. Wiley, you'll
need every inch of the room in this pocket. You may have your
prayer-book and a box of peppermint, and two or three other little
things, and you'll find this pocket very handy; the way I've got it cut
it'll hold as much as a small valise. I wouldn't cut it off, if it was
my coat. I always need all my pockets. But then I always have to carry
so many things, a corkscrew and a monkey-wrench and the key to my hens.
He said the rain was pouring down, and he didn't see anything to do but
take them in. Of course, if you're Sammy's easy kind, and it's raining,
too, you can see how that would be. He'd take a snake in, if it asked
him with a smile."

"What do you think of cutting off about a half inch? I don't wonder that
he took them in, myself. But, Mrs. Ray, she don't like milk, anyhow, and
shouldn't you think morning and night was enough?"

"I'll do it if you say so, of course, Mrs. Wiley. But I can't see myself
cutting them off, if they were mine. Of course, two glasses is better
than none, but two isn't six. I only know if it was me I'd never of let
them in, in this world."

"I'll try to get her to take four. Shall I slip it on now? Do tell me
what else he said?"

"If she was my girl, I'd see she took what I told her; I don't believe
in spoiling children. No, you'll have to wait. Why, Mrs. Wiley, would
you believe that that poor innocent didn't know a thing about the
case-knives till I told him. You know he don't often come to town."

"Well, I never! I told Uncle Purchase all about it, and he promised me
he'd never take any one in. I thought I'd better be on the safe side,
even if Uncle Purchase hasn't let any one come into his house for twenty
years. Isn't it strange? But then Uncle Purchase is strange. The last
time I was in his house was when Abner was a baby. He had a dozen
tissue-paper hyacinths planted in real pots with the earth watered, to
make them look real. Uncle Purchase's quite a character."

"Sammy said they rapped--that was how he came to first know that they
were at the door."

"Uncle Purchase never goes to the door. He's so deaf he couldn't hear a
peal of thunder if it stood outside rapping all night, and that last
time I was there he had his trunk all packed standing in the hall. He
never unpacked it after he went to the Centennial. He said it would be
all ready for the next Centennial. They have them so often now, you
know. He's so odd. He went to the Insane Asylum once for a little while,
you know, but it didn't do him a bit of good, so he came back home.
Uncle Purchase is so odd."

"Sammy said they were a sight. He said two drowned rats washed up by a
spring flood would be dry and slick beside them. Sammy always did talk
just like a poet. Yes, indeed."

"Uncle Purchase says very pretty things, too. He's so loving to Lottie
Ann, he said yesterday she winged her way about the house like an angel.
I thought that was a sweet way of putting it, but it kind of depressed
me, too, she's so awful thin. Shall I slip it on now?"

"Not yet. Don't you think maybe he just meant a fly? The last ones go so
slow that they might make him think of an angel."

"No, he meant Lottie Ann. Uncle Purchase always says what he means. He
brought Lottie Ann a daguerreotype of his mother. It's so black you
can't see a thing, but it showed his kindness. I thought Lottie Ann
would bring the chimney down trying to thank him--he's so awful deaf. He
thought she was asking who it was, and he just roared about it's being
his mother, until I called Lottie Ann for her milk. He's always been so
fond of Lottie Ann. If she outlives him, I'm most sure he'll leave her
the farm. I wish she'd drink more milk."

"I was speaking about her to Nathan and Lizzie when they were up
yesterday. You know Lizzie was delicate, too. Nathan thinks the Lathbuns
had those knives to pry open windows."

"Oh, my heavens!"

"He says you can pry open any window-catch with a case-knife. Yes,
indeed."

Mrs. Wiley opened her eyes. "Any window?"

"Yes, that's what he said. And poor Clay Wright Benton was in here, too,
and I spoke to him about them, too, and he said that you could, too."

"My!" Mrs. Wiley's tone was appalled. "Did Clay seem frightened? I
suppose they aren't afraid of anything,--they've got the parrot, you
know."

"I don't know how that would help them. It hangs upside down, yelling
'Fire, Fire,' rainy days, until nobody can possibly think it means it."

"Well, but it wouldn't make any difference what it said, would it, if it
woke them?"

"But they're so tired being woke, it can't wake 'em any more. Clay says
nothing wakes 'em now. Even Gran'ma Benton falls asleep while it's
calling her names."

"Dear me," said Mrs. Wiley, seriously. "I wouldn't care about having one
for myself. I never let the children call names, and I just couldn't be
called names by a parrot."

"Clay says his mother don't like it. She's tried to teach it Bible
verses. But names are so much easier. Bible verses are so long. And they
don't come in where they make sense. The short ones are worse yet.
There's 'Jesus wept'--that's the shortest verse in the Bible, and that
never would make sense. The parrot says 'Twenty-three,' and that always
makes sense. This world is meant to go wrong, seems to me. Case-knives
just swim along without paying board, while an honest woman has to scrub
her church once a week on her knees and labor like a heathen Chinese in
between times."

"Well, Mrs. Ray, what are we coming to?"

"I told Edward Griggs what Nathan said, but Edward thinks they're
government spies sent out to keep track of the surveyors, and they have
the knives to dig with."

"To dig with!" Mrs. Wiley was full of amazement.

"You know they do scour the country pretty freely, and that would
account for one being broke."

"There's more strength in a broke knife than in one that isn't, of
course. Government spies!"

"It would account for a lot of things. Edward Griggs is a pretty smart
man; he was at the Chautauqua last year."

"Didn't they used to call them scouts, Mrs. Ray? Seems to me I've heard
of them in the war."

"Oh, they call a spy anything--spies don't mind what they're called as
long as nobody knows who they really are. If they are government spies,
I'm glad to know it, because they'll be having an eagle eye out in every
government direction. I think I'll wash the post-office to-morrow, just
on the chance. I didn't want to wash it till after I'd filed my bond. I
sort of like to get my bond off my mind first, and clean up afterwards."

"I'll ask Abner if he's heard anything from Josiah Bates lately. Joey
Beall is going over to Foxtown to-morrow or next day, and he says his
cousin there married a Cromwell girl; he's going to ask all about them
there. Mrs. Ray, seems like those women must be something out of the
ordinary. It would be too barefaced never to pay your board, otherwise."

"Well, whatever they are, we'll soon know now. People are looking them
up in all directions. Mrs. Kendall's got an aunt in Cromwell, and she's
written her about the case-knives. But she says her aunt never writes
letters, so she don't expect to find out much that way; still, you never
can tell."

"Well, Joey may find out a good deal. My cousin Eliza always says you'll
find out all there is to find out, if you get hold of Joey Beall. Mrs.
Ray, can't I slip it on now? I've _got_ to go back to Uncle Purchase,
Lottie Ann is so weak she won't be able to make him hear a thing by this
time; and if he can't hear, it always worries him because he's so afraid
of growing deaf."

Mrs. Ray thoughtfully regarded the jacket. "I'd like to of got the
collar on," she said; "but you can put it on now, I guess."

Mrs. Wiley stood up and donned the garment.

"The sleeves are short," said Mrs. Ray; "but that's fashionable this
year. There was no other way, anyhow. I had to get 'em out from the
knee down, and he was short there--like an elephant."

"How does it look in the back?"

"It's a little short in the back, but nothing to speak of. You see I had
to swing the backs to get the coat skirts free of his side-seams; it
sets very well, considering that."

"Yes, I like it," said Mrs. Wiley; "and I have my fur to sort of piece
it up at the neck, anyway. You know, Mrs. Ray, if those two women are
spies, I should think they'd wear nightgowns. I shouldn't think they'd
want to attract so much attention, and of course not wearing nightgowns
attracts lots of attention."

Mrs. Ray--having her mouth full of pins--made no reply.

"Lucia Cosby thinks they're tramps and nothing better," Mrs. Wiley
continued; "nobody can understand Jack's keeping them so long."

Mrs. Ray continued silent.

"Ellen Scott says she's afraid of them; she thinks it's so queer they're
not having any coats. But Ellen was always timid. She never got over
that time the boys dressed up like Indians and kidnapped her on April
Fool's Day when she was little."

Mrs. Ray stuck in the last pin and freed her mouth. "Well, all I can say
is, we'll soon know now," she said; "all the wheels in the gods of the
mills is turning now, and in the end the Lathbuns will be ground out
exceeding small I hope and trust and am pretty sure of."

Mrs. Wiley looked down over herself with an air of intense satisfaction.
"I don't see how you ever got it out," she repeated with deeply
appreciative emphasis.

"You know those are Nellie O'Neil's shawls they wear," Mrs. Ray went
on, beginning to unpin the new winter coat from its owner. "Nellie's an
awful idiot to let them have those shawls; they'll walk off some day,
and leave her without shawls or pay,--that's the kind they are. Yes,
indeed."

"Nellie's too good-hearted."

"She and Jack are both too good-hearted."

Mrs. Wiley went to the door and took hold of the knob. "Well, I must go
now. Lottie Ann will be all tired out if I stay any longer. And we never
leave Uncle Purchase alone. He always takes the clock to pieces or does
something we can't get together again, if he's left alone. He asked
after Susan Cosby last night, and I told him she was dead four times and
then I got Lottie Ann and the boys in, and they took turns telling him
she was dead till nine o'clock, and then Joey brought our mail and we
got him to tell him she was dead, and then all Uncle Purchase said was:
'Is she, indeed? When did she die?' Oh, my heavens!"

"Well, if you must be going," said Mrs. Ray, "we may as well part now.
The Giffords are coming here for dinner, and I've got to begin to cook
it."

Mrs. Wiley thereupon departed.



CHAPTER XV

LEARNING LESSONS


The wide range of standpoints is one of the most interesting studies in
this world. A man on a hill can look to the horizon in all directions,
and wonder about all the little black specks which he may see thereon,
and all on the horizon can see the little black speck on the hill and
draw their own conclusions as to what it may be. Ledge thought city
people lacking in intellect because of the way they "took the Falls,"
and the visitors thought the townspeople lacking because of the way in
which they "took the Falls." Mrs. Ray knew that Ingram and Lassie were
in love, and Ingram and Lassie didn't know it; and Ingram and Lassie had
been told by Mrs. O'Neil that Mrs. Ray would eventually marry Sammy
Adams, while Mrs. Ray herself not only didn't know that, but had
declared herself to be "dead set" against the proposition. The State had
appointed a commission, and Mr. Ledge was troubled over its results; and
all the while Creation, in the first of its creating, had settled the
outcome of the commission's task definitely and forever. And so they all
went merrily, blindly forward, Alva, like the evening star, moving
serenely in the centre, almost as unconscious of her own position in
people's eyes as the evening star is unconscious of telescopes. She was
happy in her ideal existence, and always hopeful of good to come for
others. Her aims were high and true, her sincerity splendid, and Lassie
was learning a great deal--more than either of them guessed, in fact.
And the second week was now going blithely forward, while Alva worked
and waited, hoping each hour for the telegram that should summon her to
bring her lover into the haven her love was building. But the telegram
came not.

"Lassie," she said, one noon, as they stood on the bridge looking down
into the tumbling waters below, "I wonder if I were ever like you, and I
wonder if you will ever be like me!"

"How so?"

"If you will ever be really in love? I can't believe that very many
people really know what love means,--that is, in the way that I mean it.
If they did, it could not possibly be a shock to any one to see me doing
what I am going to do. It would seem the only thing to do."

Lassie made no reply for a little, then she said, slowly: "When we love,
we look forward to life together generally; that is why people won't
understand you." She hesitated again. "I mean-that seems to me to be the
reason; perhaps I'm wrong."

Alva reflected, too, her eyes upon the autumn glory flaunting its color
over the deep gray shadows before her. "Even if one puts it all on the
material plan, I should think that the whole world would recognize by
this time that it isn't the man that a woman loves that fills her soul
with ringing joy; it's the way in which she loves the man. It's herself
and the effect of himself upon her thoughts that counts. It isn't the
house, but the life within the house that makes a home, you know."

Some shy, latent color rose up in Lassie's face. "I never thought about
it in just that way," she said; "but I suppose it's the truth."

"My dear, it is the truth. Of course it is the truth. No one to whom
sufficient has been revealed can doubt it. If you can't see it so, it is
because you are not yet old enough to comprehend. When I say 'old
enough' I don't mean the Lassie who is eighteen; I mean the Lassie who
began long before this mass of rock became even so stable as to be
shifting ocean sand. I mean the Lassie who departed out of God to work
in His way until she shall return to Him in some divine and distant
hereafter."

"Oh, Alva, you do say such queer things!"

"Perhaps; but you see I _know_ all this. It came to me through dire
hours of need. I've demonstrated its truth, step by step. Try to grasp
the idea."

"Do people ever think you crazy?" The question came timidly.

"Every one always thinks any one or anything that they can't understand,
crazy. Mrs. Ray thinks me crazy, and it's very difficult for me not to
consider her so."

"Alva!"

"Yes, really."

"I'll try to consider you sane."

"Thank you very much, dear." She smiled brightly. "Oh, Lassie, it's such
joy to have you to speak to. I was so choked and crowded with thoughts
before you came. It was so blessedly good that if I could not stay with
him, I could come to this quiet spot and have the house and you to help
me wait the days away. You see, Lassie, one has to be part body in
spite of everything, and it's so hard to keep your body up to your soul.
Sometimes it seems to me that all of a sudden I am drawn into a
whirlpool and cannot get hold of anything solid. I don't know just what
it is, but I imagine that I feel as they say the Saxons felt when they
saw the comet flaming in the year of the Conquest, that something
portends. And it seems to me so hard that I could not have stayed with
him. But they wouldn't hear to that."

Lassie pressed her hand. "I don't wonder at the way you feel," she said,
sympathetically; "there must be so much that is hard in your mind these
days."

"Words are poor to tell what I feel," said her friend; "that is what
binds me to him,--it is that he and I do not need to speak. We can feel
without translation."

"I wonder if I shall ever be loved like that," Lassie murmured
wistfully, and at her words the delicate flame illumined her face again.

Alva did not notice; she was looking down into the cleft beneath, and
watching the little river fret itself into foam and spray.

"Look!" she said suddenly. "Isn't it lovely in the noon sunlight? Fancy
the countless centuries on centuries that it must have taken the river
to cut itself this path. There was once a great lake on the other
side--the side above the bridge--and it is with the idea of restoring
that lake that the State is having this survey made. The difficulty is
that the State isn't geologist enough to know that the lake's outlet
flowed out there to our left, and that this river is comparatively a new
thing. If they remade the lake, the lake would be desperately likely to
remake its old outlet."

"Would it hurt?"

"Hurt! My dear, it would be another Johnstown Flood."

"Oh, dear! Do many know that?"

"Yes, dear; but it wouldn't drown the men who will own the water-power,
so what does it matter to this world of yours."

"But is that right--to look at anything in that horribly selfish way?"

"In what other way do rich financiers look at anything? But there will
come a time when a change will dawn. Look, dear, down there; see the
rainbow dancing on the spray. Well, that's the way that public opinion
is going to come in among us soon--in a rainbow of truth."

"It will be beautiful everywhere then?" Lassie asked, smiling.

"Very beautiful!" Alva stared down upon the writhing, leaping waters
below; "and I shall have given my all towards the dream's fulfilment.
And I shall have learned from him how to devote my life to the same
great ends that he served. Lassie, when one comprehends that not
happiness but usefulness is the end to be worked towards, then one
begins to see what living really means."

"How much it is all going to mean to you!"

"How much? Ah, only he and I can guess at that! There will be something
quite different from all the imaginings, in our sweet, sad days of work
and suffering and comforting. I dare not try to picture it to myself. I
only think often of how I shall pause here in my walks to come, and
steal a long look over this scene, so as to go home and describe it. He
loves beauty and he loves wood and water."

"You'll go back and forth across the bridge often then, won't you?"

"When I'm married, you mean?"

"Yes, when you're married."

"My dear, fancy what a joy Mrs. Ray will be to us. I shall go for the
mail expressly so as to tell all that Mrs. Ray said to me when I went
for the mail." She paused and smiled and sighed. "Lassie, I wish I were
strong enough not to mind one thing. I know so well--so very well--just
how it will look to every one,--above all to my parents, who are to be
driven half mad, even though I shall only ask a few months' freedom, in
return for all my life before and after. I wish that I might be spared
the sharp, keen realization of all that."

Lassie's eyes sought hers quickly. "But you have a right to do as you
please, Alva."

"Have I, dear? It seems to me sometimes as if I were the one person who
had no right to do as she pleases, not even in that which concerned her
most. You know that every one thinks that if a woman marries with a
prospect of years of happiness taken or given, she is justified in going
her own way. Any one would feel that, would understand that view. I
never could have done that, because my life was too heavily loaded with
burdens and responsibilities; and his was the same. It was because we
were so hopeless of happiness for so long that we do not cavil over the
wonder of what is offered us. Because if it had come in the form that it
comes to others, we must have refused it. It did come to us in that
form, and we did refuse it. It was only when it returned in a guise
that the world calls tragic, that we could accept it for our own."

"Yes, Alva, I understand," her tone was a cry, almost.

"Lassie, remember one thing, and don't forget it during any of these
hours that we shall spend together. If I read life by another light than
yours, it isn't because it was natural to my eyes. Once I might have
recoiled even more than you did, when I first told you. God's best
purposes for humanity require that we recoil from what seems unnatural.
But there are exceptions to all rules, and in return for two human lives
freely offered up on the altar of His world, He gives, sometimes, a few
days of unutterable happiness to their spirits. Lassie, he was big, he
was splendid; you know all that he was as every one else does. If I had
been young, if I had been ignorant enough to dare to be selfish, and if
he had been young and ignorant enough not to know how necessary he was
to thousands,--why, then, we might have been happy in the way that two
people out of a million sometimes are. But we had gone beyond all that,
or else we passed beyond it the instant we realized; at any rate, we
knew too well that I was bound hand and foot on the wheel of my life and
he was bound on his. We had to set our faces in opposite directions and
go on. Straight ahead. The world for which we sacrificed ourselves will
never even be grateful. The world could not have understood why we
should make any sacrifice; the world generally disdains those who do the
most for it. Isn't that so? If you tell any one in these days that your
first duty is to do right by your own soul, and that that means doing
what is best for all other souls, they stare. If I say to you that I
could bear to live alone and he could bear to live alone, because we
both knew absolutely that we had had centuries of one another and should
win eternity united, you'd stare, too."

"I wouldn't quite--" faltered Lassie.

"Don't try to, dear; only think how it is to him and to me now, when we
are to have this short, this pitifully short space of time together--to
have to take it in the face of such an outcry as will be made. When I
creep back into life again, with my heart broken and my dress black
always from then on, I shall be so notorious, such an object of
curiosity for all time to come, that my friends will prefer not to be
seen in public with me. When I think of my home-going to tell them, my
very soul faints. My father abhors any form of physical deformity; what
he is going to say to my marrying one who is so maimed and crushed that
he can not use his right hand, I can't think. And then there is my
mother, to whom sentiment and religion are alike quixotic. What will she
say?"

She was silent, and then she suddenly left the rail and moved on.

"Ah, well, if it could only stay bright like this until we came back
together! But that is impossible. What we shall see together will be the
snow lying softly over all, and the brown, curving line of the tree-tops
and the pink sunset glow in the west. He will lie in his chair and I
shall sit on a cushion thrown close beside him, and with that one hand
that they have left him pressed to my face, we shall look out over all
the wide, still world and talk of that future which no one can bar us
out of, except our own two selves. God can say 'Well done, thou good and
faithful servant,' but He proves in the saying that the doing and the
goodness and the faith all emanated from the one who served. Religion is
such a grand thing, Lassie; I can't understand any one with intelligence
choosing to be an atheist. And lately, since I have realized that the
real trinity is two who love and their God, I have been overcome at the
mysticism of what life really means. Oh, I'm truly very, very happy. As
I look over these hills and valleys, I think how all my life long I
shall be coming back here--not to weep, but to remember. I shall be left
lonely to a degree that hardly any one can comprehend, because for me
there will be no possible chance of any earthly consolation; but in
another sense I shall never know grief at all, for I know, with the
absolute knowledge that I have attained to, that grief like all other
finite things is unreal, and that my happiness is eternal."

They were now on the tracks quite near the hotel.

"I wonder if Mrs. Lathbun got a letter from her lawyer to-day," Lassie
said, changing the subject suddenly.

They went up the steps and opened the door, and there in the hall, on
her hurried way out to meet them, was Mrs. O'Neil, her face quite pale
with excitement.

"Oh, what do you think?" she cried, opening the door into the
dining-room; "come right in here. What _do_ you think?"

"What is it?" both asked together.

"The biggest surprise you ever got in your life. They're swindlers!"

Alva stepped in quickly and shut the door. "What?" she stammered; "who?"

"They're swindlers, both of them! It's all in the Kinnecot paper." She
held out a paper which she had in her hand to Alva. "You can read it; it
isn't a bit of doubt but what it's them."

Alva, turning quite pale, took the paper and read:

     A PRETTY FOXY PAIR

     Two women, claiming to be mother and daughter, came to the
     Walker House in this village a few nights ago and inquired for
     supper and a night's lodging, claiming they were very tired, as
     they had walked over from Warsaw. Landlord Walker thought it a
     little strange that they should have walked over when there
     were two railroads that run from that village through here, but
     said nothing and gave them supper and furnished them a room.
     They remained in their room until about noon the next day, when
     they paid their bill and left, taking the overland route for
     Ledge, or in that direction. They registered at the Walker
     House as Mrs. Ida M. Lathbun and Miss H. A. Lathbun, which are
     the same names given by a pair who had been spending the summer
     in the vicinity of Silver Lake and Perry. As stated above, they
     came here from Warsaw, and our esteemed brother editor in that
     place paid them the following compliment in a recent issue:

     'A woman and daughter who are going from town to town, boarding
     in one place until compelled to seek another because of their
     inability to pay their board, have been found to be in this
     town, coming here from Perry and Silver Lake, where their
     record is one of unpaid bills. They are smart, clever, female
     tramps, who have no income and no visible means of support.'

     It is said at Silver Lake they stated they were expecting some
     money, and would stay at one boarding-place as long as they
     could, and when fired out would settle at another. They finally
     went to Perry, and, when compelled to leave there, walked
     across the country to Warsaw, stopping at Mr. Samuel Adams's
     overnight, while en route.

     The older Mrs. Lathbun is said to be an own cousin of Arthur
     Rehman, who has been before the public for one escapade or
     another for many years. She is said to have been well-to-do at
     one time, and is living in expectations of more money from some
     relative. The couple were fairly well dressed and intelligent
     looking women.

Alva's hand holding the paper fell limply at her side. She looked at
Mrs. O'Neil and Mrs. O'Neil looked at her; while Mary Cody, who had come
in from the kitchen, and Lassie looked at them both.

"Well, what do you think of it?" Mrs. O'Neil said, finally.

"I can't believe it," Alva gasped; "it can't be true!"

"Just what I said! You know I said that right off, Mary Cody? But Jack
believes it. He's gone to Ledge Centre to see Mr. Pollock."

"Who is Mr. Pollock?"

"The lawyer."

"And where are they now?"

"Up-stairs. They never get up till noon, you know."

"How long have they been here?"

"Two weeks and a little over."

"Haven't they paid you anything?"

"Not a cent."

Alva became more distressed. "And the girl is so delicate, too," she
said.

"Delicate! I should think that she was. Every third day the old lady has
all my flat-irons wrapped in towels to put around her. And then, think
of it! October, and not a coat or a flannel have either of them got."

A slight shiver ran over Alva.

"You're cold," said Mrs. O'Neil; "come into the kitchen. Mary Cody, you
stand at the door and listen, for that old lady is a sly one."

Mary Cody stood at the door, and the other three went into the kitchen.

"Won't Mrs. Ray be pleased," said Mrs. O'Neil. "She was down at the
church, or I'd have gone right up to her with the paper. It was she that
set every one after 'em, because she was so crazy over their staying at
the Adams farm that night. She's so jealous of Sammy."

"Ow!" exclaimed Mary Cody, interrupting; "I hear the stairs creaking!"

Mrs. O'Neil grabbed the newspaper and thrust it back of a clothes
basket. The next instant Mrs. Lathbun, with an empty pitcher in her
hand, came in through the dining-room door.

The large, heavily-built woman, not stout but very robust in appearance,
had on her usual dress, and smiled pleasantly at them all in greeting.

"Was there any mail?" she asked, going to the stove and beginning to
fill her pitcher from the reservoir as she spoke.

"No," said Mary Cody; "I went myself."

"Dear me, how annoying," said Mrs. Lathbun; and then, having finished
filling her pitcher, she quietly retired again.

"To think maybe she'll be in the jail at Geneseo to-morrow!" Mary Cody
exclaimed, in an awestruck whisper.

Alva turned interrogative eyes towards Mrs. O'Neil.

"Yes, Jack is going to have them arrested," she said.

"Merciful heavens!"

"Isn't it awful? I'm sorry for them, myself."

"But--but suppose there's some mistake?"

"There can't be, Jack says."

Alva shut her eyes and stood still for a few seconds. "The poor
creatures," she said, softly and pitifully,--then: "How did you say you
came to find out about it?"

"A man from Kinnecot had the paper in the station, and Josiah Bates
brought him over to our bar this morning and asked Jack if he could see
how folks like that could get trusted. Jack said yes, he could see, and
then he told the man from Kinnecot that just at present he was trusting
the same people, himself."

"Oh, dear," Alva passed her hand wearily across her forehead; "it's
awful."

"Yes, isn't it? The man gave him the paper then. And Jack's first idea
was to take it right up-stairs to them, but then he thought they might
skip before he could have them arrested, so he decided to drive over and
see Mr. Pollock first."

"I can't make it seem true."

"No, I can't, either. Of course they never paid anything, but they're
nice people. I've liked them."

"Then they won't know anything about all this until they are really
arrested?"

"No," said Mrs. O'Neil; "they'll eat dinner just as calm as they've
eaten all their other dinners."

"Come, Lassie," said Alva; "that reminds me that we must get ready for
dinner, ourselves."

"Do you want to take the paper up-stairs with you?" Mrs. O'Neil asked;
"right after dinner I want to take it up to Mrs. Ray, but you can keep
it till then if you like."

"No, thank you," said Alva, with her strange, white smile; "I read it
all through."

When they were up-stairs Lassie exclaimed:

"There, now you see--"

But her friend stopped her with a gesture. "It's too terrible to talk
about," she said, simply. "I must think earnestly what ought to come
next."

Lassie became silent.



CHAPTER XVI

THE WALK TO THE LOWER FALLS


"I certainly am going with Mrs. O'Neil when she carries that paper to
the post-office after dinner," Lassie exclaimed, as soon as they reached
their rooms. "Oh, Alva, this is the most interesting experience I ever
had. I'm just wild. It's such fun!"

Alva came straight to her, laid her two hands on the girl's shoulders
and looked into her face.

"Lassie!" she said, in a tone of appalled meaning, "Lassie!"

Lassie laughed a little, just a very little. "I didn't make them bad,"
she said; "it's just that I enjoy the fun of the developments."

"The fun!" said Alva, "the fun! When there isn't anything except
tragedy, misery, and shame!"

"But, Alva, if they are that kind of women, isn't it right that they
should be found out?"

Her friend dropped her hands and turned away.

"Oh, dear--oh, dear," she said, with a sigh that was almost a moan.

Later they went down to the dining-room. Ingram had not come that noon,
and Mrs. Lathbun and her daughter were sitting placidly at their table.
Alva and Lassie took their own seats as usual.

There are not many sensations so complexly curious as to be obliged to
eat your dinner within five feet of two ladies who perhaps are to be
arrested as soon as a man who drives a fast horse can get back from
Ledge Centre with the sheriff.

Mrs. O'Neil's criminal code, reinforced by such stray bits of procedure
as she could recollect on short notice, led to a supposition on her part
that the case would go almost in a bee-line from Mr. Pollock the
attorney to the Geneseo jail. Therefore Mary Cody's eyes were full of
rounded curiosity as she waited at table, and Lassie could not forbear
to glance often at the quiet and simple-looking pair,--the mother in her
dark blue print, with its bands of stitched silk, and the daughter with
the red silk front that had so impressed her from the beginning. Alva
could not look at them,--her mind was full of devious wondering. Mrs.
O'Neil glanced in from time to time, her pretty face darkened by vague
distress, mixed with some righteous indignation.

The door opened and Ronald Ingram entered. It was a surprise and a great
relief, for of course he knew nothing and was consequently under no
constraint.

Mary Cody rushed to lay a place for him.

"This would be a grand day to walk to the Lower Falls," he said, as he
sat down; "why don't you do it? You haven't been yet, have you?"

"No," Alva said; "there hasn't ever been time."

"Why don't you go this afternoon, then? I'll go with you, if you like.
I'm free."

"I can't go this afternoon; take Lassie. That will take care of you both
at once."

"I think that would be fine," said Ingram, heartily, "if Lassie will
like to go."

Lassie looked helplessly from Alva to the Lathbun family. "I couldn't
go right after dinner," she said, hesitatingly, and stopped short to
meet Alva's eyes.

"Why not?" the latter asked; "wouldn't you like the walk?"

"Oh, I should like it very much," Lassie declared, her face flushing. It
seemed to her very cruel that no such delightful plan had ever been
broached before, when it was only just to-day that she wanted to stay at
home. She looked at Ingram, and the wistful expression on his face was
weighed in the balance against the thrill to come at the post-office
when Mrs. Ray should read the Kinnecot paper. Such was the effect of the
past week in Ledge upon a very human young girl.

"Why can't you come, too?" Ingram asked Alva.

Alva lifted her eyes to his, and in the same second Miss Lathbun at the
other table lifted hers, and fixed them on the other's face.

"I can't this afternoon," she said, very stilly but decidedly; "I have
something that keeps me here."

Lassie looked at her reproachfully. She was going to stay and hear Mrs.
Ray! For the minute Lassie felt that she could not go herself.

"I think I'll stay with Alva," she said, suddenly.

"Lassie!" Alva exclaimed.

"Oh, come," urged Ingram; "it's such a grand day. You both ought to go.
Come, do."

Alva shook her head. "I've a letter to write," she said; "I--" she
stopped. There was a noise outside. It was Mr. O'Neil, driving up the
hill towards the house! Mary Cody gave an exclamation in spite of
herself, and darted into the kitchen. Mrs. Lathbun, who faced the
window, said calmly:

"Why, there's Mr. O'Neil, just in time for his dinner."

Alva turned her head, feeling cold, and saw there was no sheriff with
him. Mrs. Ray could be seen standing out on her back porch, shading her
eyes to make out anything visible. Of course Mrs. Ray did not know full
particulars, but Josiah Bates had been to Ledge Centre on horseback and
had seen the O'Neil mare hitched in front of Mr. Pollock's. The
postmistress knew that something was up.

Alva drew a breath of relief. The sheriff had not come back, so they
could not be arrested at once. Or else they could not be arrested at
all. There seemed to be a hush of suspense in the room, but Mr. O'Neil
did not enter to relieve it. Only Mary Cody entered, and Mary Cody's
face was as easy to read as a blank book.

"Then you'll go?" Ingram asked again.

Mrs. Lathbun and her daughter rose and went up-stairs, leaving the other
three alone.

"Of course she'll go," Alva answered; "go, dear, and get your wraps."

Lassie cast one last appealing look towards her, and then she also left
the room.

"Ronald," Alva then said, hurriedly, "Lassie will tell you what has
happened here. I feel confident that there is some error in it all, but
whatever you think, try to be charitable, merciful. Don't be narrow in
your judgment."

"Are you referring to your own affairs?" he asked in surprise.

"I am not the only one who craves mercy," she said, smiling; "there are
many others."

"Sharing your views?" he asked, smiling in his turn.

"Lassie will tell you," she repeated.

"Alva," the man said suddenly, earnestly, "don't teach her too many
ideals. We are mortal, and life is a real thing."

"I understood that perfectly," she replied; "but the world is not
immortal and immortality is a real thing, too. A desirable thing, too."

"To be achieved by working on the mortal plane, remember."

"I have worked all my life upon the mortal plane; I shall be back there
next summer, you know. Yet Lassie has learned to see only beauty in my
immortal winter to be between."

"Ah, there is your error," said Ingram; "you expect to live this winter
and return to your old life in the summer. But that's something that you
never will be able to do."

"What do you mean?"

"You won't be able to go back next summer."

She looked at him sadly. "But I shall have to go back next summer," she
said; "do not deceive yourself as to that. And now excuse me, I want to
speak to her before she goes."

She left him and ran up-stairs. Lassie was putting on the hat that
looked to the eyes of Ledge like a feather duster upside down.

"You're going to stay here and have all the fun," she protested; "oh,
I'd give anything to see Mrs. Ray read that paper."

"But I shall not see her."

"You won't see her!"

"No, dear;" then she went and stood at the window in her favorite
posture. "Oh, Lassie," she said, "I like to hear Mrs. Ray talk and I
enjoy the funny things she says, but do you think that to look on at the
hunting down of these two women is any pleasure for me? When I know why
they are destitute--why they are in hiding."

"Alva," cried Lassie, "you don't mean you still believe that story?"

"Yes, I do."

"You're crazy!"

"I expect so. But I still believe the story."

Lassie stood still, staring at her friend's back. Then she went hastily
forward, seized her impetuously in her arms and kissed her.

"Oh, little girl," Alva said, turning, "don't you see that it's charity,
and if they really are not what they pretend to be and if it all really
is a lie, it may be long before charity will cross their path again?"

"Alva," Lassie said, with her little whimsical smile, "you've taken all
that nice, agreeable, aching desire to go to the post-office and see the
paper read, completely out of me."

"Well, are you sorry for that?"

Lassie lifted her pretty brown eyes. "No," she said, frankly; "I'm not."

Then she ran down to Ingram and they set forth at once, for it is a long
walk to the Lower Falls.

The day was magnificent. The bright autumn sun shone on the lines of
steel that glinted beside their way across the bridge, and there was a
silvery glisten dancing in all the world of earth and heaven and in the
rainbow of the mist, too,--a glisten that bespoke the approach of the
Frost King and the further glory soon to be. The glints of brown and
yellow here and there amidst the red presaged that Nature's festival was
daily drawing nearer to its white close. Ingram, looking ahead towards
the trees that hid the little Colonial house, wondered and wondered, but
was recalled by Lassie's bursting forth with the whole story of the
fresh developments which they had left behind them.

"Oh, by George," Ingram exclaimed; "I'd like to have seen Mrs. Ray get
the news myself."

Lassie felt herself fall with a crash back into the pit of ordinary
views.

"Would you?" she asked eagerly; "oh, but we couldn't go back now; Alva
would be too disgusted."

"Of course we can't go back now, but we've missed a lot of fun."

"Yes, I thought it would be fun."

Quite a little pall of gloom fell over both, in the consideration of
what they had missed, and both stared absent-mindedly up and down the
valley, seeing nothing except the vision of Mrs. Ray perusing the
Kinnecot paper.

"Alva is so serious over everything," Lassie said presently, with a
mournful note in her voice.

"She's too serious," declared Ingram.

"She's looking forward to so much happiness that she says she can't bear
to add even a breath to any one's misery."

"And she isn't going to have any happiness at all."

"Don't you think there's any hope?"

"Of course there isn't any hope."

"What will become of that house?"

"I don't know, I'm sure."

"Shall you be here this winter?"

"I don't know about that. I don't know just how long it will take for
the survey."

"But you will be here while they build the dam, too, won't you? And that
will take years. Won't you live here a long time?"

"The dam is not a fixed fact as yet, you know; far from it."

"Isn't it? Every one talks as if it were,--that is, every one except
Alva."

"But I couldn't live in that house, anyway; I wouldn't live there for
anything, would you?"

"No, it would be full of ghosts to me. I'd feel about it just as you--"
the words died on her lips, as she suddenly realized how their
unconscious phrasing sounded. It was the first sunburst of the idea to
her, and it stormed her cheeks with pink.

"No," said Ingram, unobserving, "that house would not affect any one but
you or I, in that way; but for us--" thereupon he stopped; the idea
which had come over the girl like a sunburst came over the man like a
cloudburst. He was almost scared as he tried to think what he had said.

"Alva is--is--so set against it--the dam, I mean," he stammered,
hurriedly; "she--she has--told me all her views."

"But she's different," said Lassie, catching her breath. "I don't know
very much, but I know that it doesn't look just that way to others."

"The ultra-altruistic vaccine is already beginning to work again,"
Ingram said, trying to laugh; "but you must not attack me, you know--"

"I'm not attacking you," Lassie interposed, hoping her face would cool
soon.

"Because, you see, I am nothing in the world but a mere ordinary,
humble, civil engineer, sent up here by a commission to see what the
situation is in feet and inches, and sand and gravel. I wholly refuse to
take sides as to the controversy;" he had regained composure now.

"I suppose that you haven't really anything to say about it, anyhow."

"Nothing except to make a report. That's all."

Both felt relieved to be back on firm, friendly ground, but both were
saturated through and through by the wonderful new conception of life
bred by the accidental speeches. They did not look at one another, but
went down the steps and along the curving road with a sort of keyed up
determination not to let a single break come in the flow of language.

"But you must be glad to work on a popular project," Lassie said.

"But it isn't altogether popular," Ingram rejoined; "it's only popular
in spots, you see. If every one around here was as wild as I have seen
some people become when the business threatened their trees or their
river, we might be mobbed."

"Why, I thought that every one wanted it. Alva said that the difficulty
was that all the people who would do anything to save the Falls were not
born yet."

"She was partly right, but not altogether. The difficulty is that, with
the exception of Mr. Ledge, the people who are interested in preserving
the Falls do not live here, and the people who will make money by the
destruction of the Falls are right on the spot and own the land."

"Why, you talk as if you didn't want the dam, either."

"It is no use discussing my views; the dam will be a great thing. Very
possibly there will be no more Falls, but the high banks will
remain--until commercial interests demand their quarrying--and all we
can do is to go with the tide and remember that while man is destroying
in one place, Nature is building in another. There will always be plenty
of wild grandeur somewhere for those who have the money and leisure to
seek it."

"But Alva says that Mr. Ledge is trying to save this for those who love
beautiful spots, and haven't time or money to go far."

"America isn't made for such people," said Ingram, simply.

Lassie thought seriously for a moment, until a glance from her companion
hurried her on to say: "I suppose that we are too progressive to let
anything just go to waste, and that's what it would be if we let all
this water-power flow unused."

"Of course," said Ingram; "here would be this great tract of woodland,
which might be making eight or ten men millionaires, and instead of that
one man tries to save it for thousands who never can by any chance
become well-to-do. No wonder the one man has spent most of his life
investigating insane asylums; he is evidently more than slightly
sympathetic with the weak-minded."

"Are you being sarcastic?"

"No, not at all. I like to look at the Falls, but then I like to look
at a big dam, too; and sluice gates always did seem to me the most
interesting wonder in nature."

They were deep in the quiet peace of Ledge Park by this time, and only
the squirrels had eyes and ears there. (They didn't know about Joey
Beall.)

"Oh, how still and lovely!" Lassie exclaimed; "how almost churchlike."

The broad, evenly graded road wound away before them, and the double
rank of trees followed its course on either side.

"I used to camp out here summers, when I was a boy. You've read Cooper's
novels?"

"'Deerslayer' and all those? Oh, yes."

"Their scene was not so far away from here, you know; only a few score
miles."

"There must be all sorts of stories about here, too?"

"Did you ever hear tell of the Old White Woman?"

"No."

"She lived around here. She was stolen by the Indians and grew up and
married one."

"How interesting! I wonder how it would seem to really love an Indian?"
Then Lassie choked--blushing furiously at this approach of the painful
subject.

"You speak as one who has had a wide experience with white men." (Ingram
felt this to be fearfully daring.)

"I've never been in love in my life." (Lassie felt this to be fearfully
pointed.)

"How funny," said the man, "neither have I! Not really in love, you
know."

Such thin ice! But the lure of the forest was there, and the lure of the
absence of interruption, too. Lassie felt very remarkable. This was so
delightful! So novel! Better than Mrs. Ray and the Kinnecot paper even.
Why, this was even better than all Alva's love affair. Ten thousand
times better! How stupid she had been.

"How funny!" she said, looking up.

"Why do you say that?" Ingram asked, quickly.

He seemed quite anxious to know why she thought it funny that he had
never been in love before, and that was so delightful, too. A big,
handsome man anxious as to what she thought! She felt as wise as if she
had already made her début.

"I don't know why I said it," she answered, laughing; "it just came to
me to say it. Was it silly to say? If so, please forgive me, because I
didn't mean it."

"There's nothing to forgive," said Ingram; "only I never expected you to
say anything of that sort. You don't know anything about me and you
haven't any right to judge me." He spoke in quite a vexed, serious way,
and Lassie felt as wise now as if she had made two débuts.

"But you were in love with Alva years ago, you know," she said.

"I wasn't really in love; I only thought that I was."

"Oh!"

There followed a silence for a little while. Lassie was much impressed
by the statement just made. Of course it wouldn't be polite to repeat to
Alva, but it was very interesting to know, oneself. The road ran
sweetly, greenly on before them, all strewn with piney needles. There
was no sound except a little breeze rustling overhead, and the
occasional fall of an acorn or pine-cone.

"How does Alva's story affect you, now?" the man asked, suddenly.

"Differently from at first. When she first told me what she meant to do,
it just pounded in my ears that he was going to die in that very house
over there; and that they would have to carry him into it just as they
would later carry him out of it. Oh, it did seem so terrible to think of
this winter, and of her, sitting there beside him,--so terrible--so
terrible!"

"And doesn't it seem terrible at all to you now?"

"Not in the same way. She has talked to me so much; she has made me know
so much more of her way of looking at it. You know--"she hesitated a
little--"she feels about death so strangely,--it doesn't seem to count
to her at all. She feels that in some way he will be always near her;
she says that he promised her not to leave her again."

"Poor Alva!"

"I suppose that he is such a very great man that he can affect one like
that. I am beginning to see what very different kinds of people there
are in the world."

"Thank God for that!" Ingram exclaimed.

"Alva says that he is one of the greatest men that ever lived. She says
that to share even a few days of life with a man who has been a
world-force for the world-betterment, would overpay all the hardship and
loneliness to come."

They emerged into the sunshine just here, and the roar of the Middle
Falls burst upon their ears. The fence of Mr. Ledge's house-enclosure
stretched before them, and to the right, along the bank, towered two
groups of dark evergreens.

"We can go through here," Ingram said, unlatching the gate.

So they entered the private grounds and passed around the simple, pretty
home and out upon the road beyond.

"Everything is as sweet and quiet here as in the forest," said Lassie.

"Yes, it's a beautiful place," Ingram assented.

They went on and entered the wood path that goes to the Lower Falls.

"I cannot understand one thing," the man said, suddenly; "if they loved
one another so much, why didn't they marry long ago? If I loved a woman,
I should want to marry her."

Here was the thin ice again--delight again.

"They never thought of it," Lassie said, revelling in the sense of
danger; "they couldn't. They recognized other claims."

Ingram walked on for a little, and then he said: "I suppose that what
you say is true, and that with people like them everything is different
from what it is with you and me."

(You and me!)

"Yes," said Lassie, "Alva doesn't seem to have minded that his work
meant more to him than she did, and I suppose that he thought it quite
right that she should do her duty unselfishly."

"It makes our view of things seem rather small and petty--don't you
think? Or shall we call her crazy, as the world generally does call all
such people?"

"I know that she's not crazy," the girl said.

"Shall we have to admit then that she is right in what she is going to
do, and that instead of its being horrible, it is sublime?" He looked
at her, and she raised tear-filled eyes to his. But she was silent.

"I think that we must admit it--for Alva," he added; "but not for
ourselves."

The girl was silent and her lips trembled. Finally she said: "I believe
that what she said is coming true, and that I am changing and that you
are changing, too."

"Oh, I'm changed all the way through," he admitted.

It was a long walk to the Lower Falls, and yet it was short to them.
Very short! But too long to follow them step by step. It was a beautiful
walk, and one which they were to remember all their lives to come. It
was such a walk as should form a powerful argument in favor of the
preservation of the Falls.



CHAPTER XVII

RIGHTEOUS JUSTICE


Leaving Mary Cody to watch over the house, Mrs. O'Neil, the instant
dinner was over, threw something over her head and hurried to the
post-office.

Mrs. Ray met her at the door. "What is it?" was her greeting; "I know
it's come out about the case-knives! Hasn't it?"

"You'll never guess what they are," said Mrs. O'Neil, entering the house
and closing the door behind her. "Mrs. Ray, they're swindlers!"

"I knew it; I knew it all the time. How did you find it out?"

Mrs. O'Neil told her.

"Give me the paper."

The paper was unfolded, but as she unfolded it Mrs. Dunstall and Pinkie
came running in one way, and Mrs. Wiley rushed panting up the other
steps.

"Have you heard?" Mrs. Dunstall cried.

"Heard! I've heard it a dozen ways." Mrs. Ray was devouring the article
as she spoke. "Sit down," she said briefly, without looking around.

"They can't be arrested till Saturday," Mrs. O'Neil said. "There isn't a
mite of doubt but what it's them, but Mr. Pollock told Jack that the law
is that he must give them notice, and then he must let them go before he
can arrest them."

"Why, I never heard the equal," exclaimed Mrs. Wiley. "I didn't know
that you must let anybody who'd done anything go, ever! What will Uncle
Purchase say to that!"

"Well, if that isn't the greatest I ever heard, either," said Mrs. Ray,
never ceasing to read; "that's a funny law. If the United States
Government run its business that way, every one would be skipping out
with the stamps."

"And Mr. Pollock said," broke in Mrs. O'Neil, "that no matter how big
swindlers they were, we couldn't arrest them until some one whom they'd
swindled swore to the fact."

"Well, why don't you swear, then?" interrupted Mrs. Ray still reading.

"Because Mr. Pollock says they haven't actually swindled us, till they
really leave without paying, you see," explained Mrs. O'Neil.

"Lands!" commented Pinkie.

"Which means," said Mrs. Ray, always reading, "that the law is that you
mustn't try to catch 'em until after you let 'em go."

"Seems so," said Mrs. O'Neil.

"I never hear the beat!" exclaimed Mrs. Ray. "Why, this paper says
they'd been jumping their board all summer!"

"All summer?" said Pinkie.

"Well, I always knew they were no good," said Mrs. Ray, still reading;
"they never got any letters. They come to the post-office sometimes to
try to give themselves a reputation, but they didn't fool me, for they
never got any letters. I don't misjudge folks if they don't get many,
and if they cancel up good it says just as much for their characters as
if they got a lot--maybe more, for a lot of letters may be just
duns--but when there's no income and no outgo, better look out, I say.
Yes, indeed. Do they owe you much, Nellie?"

"About thirty-five dollars," said Mrs. O'Neil; "but oh, dear! Why,
they've made fudge and worn my shawls and roasted chestnuts--"

"Nellie, Nellie," it was a strange voice at the kitchen door. Everybody
looked up to see Mrs. Kendal, almost purple from rapid walking. "I've
just heard! Lucia Cosby ran down to tell me. We've got a Foxtown Signal
that's got some more about them in. I run right over to bring it to you.
I was sure I'd find you here. That's why the old lady always wore her
rubbers--her shoes were clean wore through with walking, skipping out,
all the time."

Mrs. Kendal sank on a seat, and the Foxtown Signal was spread out upon
the table with the other paper.

"I thought that was a funny story about the trunks," said Mrs. Wiley.

"They've worn the same clothes for three weeks, to my certain
knowledge," said Mrs. O'Neil, "and not so much as an extra hairpin!"

"And they haven't any toilet things except a hair-brush that isn't good
enough to throw at a cat, and a mirror that's broken," interposed Mrs.
Ray; "you said so, Nellie, and I saw it, too."

"A broken mirror's bad luck," said Mrs. Wiley; "I hope you'll see that
it's bad luck for you too, Nellie. Your husband's too soft-hearted to
keep a hotel as we always tell every one who goes there to board."

"Well, he isn't soft-hearted this time," said his wife; "he's mad
enough to-day, and he says he'll pay for his own ticket to Geneseo to
bear witness against them."

Just here Mrs. Wellston, who lived in the first house over the hill from
the schoolhouse, came rushing in.

"Oh, I just heard!" she panted, "they left a lot of bills at King's and
at Race's Corners, where my sister Molly lives, they left a board-bill
of eighteen dollars! They're known all over!"

"What do you think of that?" Mrs. Ray said, turning to Mrs. O'Neil.

Mrs. O'Neil gasped.

"The man who told Jack told Nathan and Lizzie that the old woman's
husband died in the penitentiary," she said. "That's a nice kind of
people to have around your house."

Mrs. Wiley gasped this time. Mrs. O'Neil gasped again.

"Jack said we must tell you all the first thing for fear she'd try to
borrow money of some one. I told him he was foolish, because if they
borrowed money of any one then they could pay us."

"He was only joking," said Mrs. Ray; "if they paid you, you wouldn't
really take the money, for you'd know that they must have gotten it from
some of us."

"On the contrary, you ought to have taken it, I think," said Mrs.
Dunstall solemnly, "and then returned it to whoever give it to them."

Lottie Ann and Uncle Purchase now arrived to add to the festivity of the
occasion.

"I guess nobody need worry over that pair's paying anybody any money
they get their hands on," observed Mrs. Ray, fetching a chair for Uncle
Purchase. "What are you going to do about it, when they come down and
want to go out to walk next time, Nellie? Give 'em your shawls the same
as usual, I suppose."

"Why, we've got to let 'em go or they can't skip and make themselves
liable to arrest, of course, but the old lady said she could surely get
money by to-morrow, and Jack has hired a boy to hang around the house
and if they go out, track them."

"My sakes, ain't it interesting?" said Mrs. Dunstall. "And to think that
they're up there this minute and have no idea of it all."

"I dare say they have been laughing at you all the time they were off
chestnutting our chestnuts," said Mrs. Wiley. "My husband says if they'd
sold all they've picked up, they could have paid their board honestly."

"But they weren't honest, you see," said Mrs. Ray; "honest people all
get letters, or anyhow they buy postal cards of the Falls. And you ought
to have taken my word for it when I suspected them, Nellie; those
case-knives ought to have set you on to them."

"Well, well, and us seeing them walking all around for a fortnight,"
said Mrs. Dunstall; "and we so innocent, and they swindlers, and you
boarding them for nothing,--dear, dear!"

"Well," said Mrs. Ray, "here's your paper, Nellie; what will happen
next, I wonder?"

"Yes, I do, too," said Pinkie.

"You'd better all come down about five, and see if they did go out,"
said Mrs. O'Neil, with the air of extending an invitation to a party.
"Why, that old lady told me that she'd been to the Boston Academy of
Music."

"Boston!" said Mrs. Dunstall with a sniff; "they never saw Boston. Not
those two. Not much."

"Oh, but they have," said Mrs. O'Neil; "I know that they have, for I've
been there myself, and we talked about it."

"Well, I guess Boston has its crooks as well as other places," said Mrs.
Ray, pacifically; "I guess if we can harbor swindlers and not know it,
Boston can, too."

"I wouldn't believe it," Mrs. O'Neil said again. "But these papers make
me have to; you see, there's the names, and Hannah Adele, and no paper
would dare to print that if it wasn't true."

"True! Of course it's true," said Mrs. Ray; "I never would be surprised
over anything anybody'd do that would wear brown laces in black shoes
and go in out of the rain at a strange house at midnight."

"Did she have brown laces in black shoes?" asked Lottie Ann, in a tone
penetrated with horror.

"She did, and what's more, she pinned herself together. I see the pins
sticking out of her, time and again, when she come in to stand around
and wait for mail like a honest person would. No man is ever going to
marry a girl who bristles with pins like that,--it'll be a job I
wouldn't like myself to be the sheriff and have to arrest her. He'd
better look sharp where he lays his hand on that girl, I tell you."

"Will she really be arrested?" Lottie Ann cried.

"Why, I should hope so," said her mother.

"As a law-abiding citizen yourself, who may take boarders some day, you
wouldn't wish her not to be, would you?" said Mrs. Ray.

"I don't know," said Lottie Ann; "it seems to me very--very terrible to
think that two women should go to jail."

"But they haven't any money, and they're swindlers," said Mrs.
Dunstall; "they belong in jail. That's why we have jails."

"If they'd had money, they'd have received at least two or three
letters," said Mrs. Ray. "If people have any money at all, there's
always some one who wants to keep posted as to their health. Yes,
indeed. No, they haven't any money. People that have money and never get
up till noon is generally buying tea and matches, at any rate, but they
didn't even do that. No, they ain't got any money."

"I couldn't believe it myself at first," repeated Nellie O'Neil; "and
they certainly ate like people that aren't holding anything back. Two
helps of everything, and didn't she go and take half a loaf of
gingerbread up-stairs yesterday afternoon? As cool as a cucumber."

"They were both cool as cucumbers," said Mrs. Ray; "that's why they
borrowed your shawls all the time, I guess. Cooler than cucumbers they
would have been without them, I reckon."

"Jack went up and gave the old lady warning right after dinner," said
Mrs. O'Neil. "He only stopped to just get a bite first."

"Well, I hope he didn't get a bite last, too," said Mrs. Ray, tucking in
the ends of her shawl. "That pair was too comfortable with you to want
to be warned to leave. Making fudge, indeed! I'm surprised at you,
Nellie; I'd no more think of letting my boarders make fudge than I would
of keeping them for nothing. You and Jack don't belong in the hotel
business. You can't possibly make boarding people pay, unless you make
them pay for their board."

"No, you can't," said Pinkie.

"Josiah was driving down to North Ledge yesterday, and he saw them
getting over a fence in that direction," said Mrs. Wiley, rising. "He
said they seemed to be learning the country by all means, fair or foul."

"Well, I don't want to seem unfriendly," said Mrs. Ray; "but I guess
you'll all have to go. I found some ants in my grocery business this
morning for the first time, and while I'm give to understand it's the
regular thing in most grocery businesses, no ant need flatter himself
that it is in mine. I'm going to clean out the whole of the three
shelves this afternoon and sprinkle borax everywhere where it can't
taste. So I must have this room. I'll be down to-night after mail,
Nellie; good-by."

Thereupon they all departed.



CHAPTER XVIII

IN THE HOUR OF NEED


In the meantime Alva, left alone in her room, felt troubled, vastly
troubled, by the sorrow and shame gathering so close to her. The
emotions of those near by affect one keenly attuned, in a degree that
the less sensitive would hardly believe possible.

She went and locked the door after Lassie left, and going to a chair
that happened to stand close to the bureau, sat down there, leaned her
face on her hand and thought earnestly of the whole matter.

"Why must I trouble so?" she said to herself, presently; "no one else
does," and then she smiled sadly. "It is because I have set my face in
that direction," she said; "I have vowed myself to service, just as he
has vowed himself, for the love of God and God in humanity."

A light tap on her own door sounded, and she started, crying "Come in,"
quite forgetting that the door was locked.

Some one tried the door and then Alva sprang up and unfastened it. It
opened, and Miss Lathbun stood there in the crack.

"May I come in for a few minutes?" she asked, pale and with frightened
eyes.

"Yes, come in," Alva said quickly; "come in and sit down." She drew a
chair near to the one that she had been occupying.

"I have come to you on a--" began the girl, "on a--on a--" she stammered
and stopped.

"You are in trouble," Alva said gently; "tell me all about it."

"I am going to tell you; I have come on purpose to tell you. You were so
kind and friendly the other day, and I--I--wasn't truthful; I didn't
tell you everything."

Alva rested her face on her hand again and looked straight at her. "Then
tell me everything now," she said.

Miss Lathbun returned her look. "Mr. O'Neil has just been up to tell
Mother that we must pay our bill here, or leave," she said. "Mother is
desperate. She doesn't know what to do, and I don't know what to do. I
told you so little of the whole story. The truth is that he is actually
driving Mother and me into poverty. The truth is that I don't know
whether he ever really has thought of marrying me. Mother never has
believed that he has. She doesn't think that he would put us to such
straits if he was honest. Of course she doesn't know about his watching
nights. I can't tell her. She'd go mad."

Alva contemplated her quietly. "But you love him?" she said.

Miss Lathbun's eyes filled with tears. "I do love him, and I believe
that he loves me."

"You feel sure of it, don't you?"

The girl looked at her earnestly. "Doesn't one always know?" she asked.

Alva smiled a little. "One ought to," she assented; "well, then, how
can he bear to make your life so miserable?"

The white girl clasped her delicate hands tightly in her thin black
merino lap. "I don't know," she said, in a voice almost like a wail;
"but oh, we have been very miserable! We have such little income and it
comes through the lawyer. He sent the lawyer to Seattle on business in
July, and Mamma and I haven't had any money since. We have gone from
place to place--we have almost fled from place to place; our trunks are
held for bills; we are penniless, winter is coming, and--oh, I don't
know what to do; I don't know what to do!" She bit her lip so as not to
cry, but her pale face worked pitifully.

Alva looked at her in a curiously speculative but not at all heartless
way. "Isn't it strange," she murmured, "that the resolution that drives
one man to any heights will drive another of the same calibre to any
depths?" She rose and went to her table. "Tell me," she said, taking a
framed picture from before the mirror, "is he really like this? You said
so before. Say it again."

Miss Lathbun took the picture in her two hands. "Oh, yes, yes!" she
said, eagerly; "it is the same. They are just the same."

"What did you say his name was?" Alva asked, taking the picture from her
and restoring it to its place.

Miss Lathbun told her: "Lisle C. Bayard."

Alva sat down again, and rested her chin on her hand as before. "I
wonder how I can really help you. I am trying to be big enough to see."

Miss Lathbun's lips parted slightly; she looked at her breathlessly, and
held her peace.

"Even if you were lying to me still," Alva said presently, "I should
want just as much to help you. If you cheated me and laughed at me
afterwards, I should still want to help you. If you are an adventuress
and I succored you, what would count to me would be that I tried to do
right."

She spoke in a strange, meditative manner; Miss Lathbun continued to
watch her, always white, and whiter.

"I cannot see why you and your mother came into my life," Alva went on;
"but you have come, and I have been interested in you. Our paths seemed
ready to diverge and yet just now they join again. Do you know, that a
week or so ago I knelt in a church and took two vows; one was to accept
without murmur whatever life might bring because for the moment I was so
superlatively blessed; the other was to never again pass any trouble by
carelessly. No matter what is brought to me, I must deal with it as
earnestly and justly as I know how,--as I shall try to deal with you."

She got up, took a key from the pocket of a coat hanging on a hook near
by, unlocked her trunk, opened a purse therein, and extracted some
bills.

The girl watched her like one fascinated.

Alva came to her side and put the roll in her hands and closed her
fingers over it. "It will settle everything," she said; "there, take it,
go. Be honest again. Surprise every one. God be with you."

Hannah Adele looked down at her hand as if in a dream. "I was going to
ask you for a little money," she faltered; "but this--this--"

"I know," said Alva, "I knew when you came in. Now, please don't say any
more. Go back to your mother and tell her. I shall not say one word
about it, you can depend upon me."

The girl rose in a blind, stupid kind of way and left the room. When she
was gone, Alva went to the window for a minute and looked out. The
glisten of coming cold was in the air. The thistles were loosing their
down and it floated on the wind like ethereal snow. She stood there for
a long time. "Something is to be," she murmured, "I feel it coming. What
is it?"

Then she went to her table, picked up a pen and wrote:

     LISLE C. BAYARD,

     _Dear Sir_:--I am acting under an impulse which I cannot
     overcome. It may be only a folly, but it is too strong within
     me to be resisted.

     You may or may not know two ladies of the name of Lathbun; you
     may or may not be interested in them; but if by any chance you
     are interested in them, you ought to know that both have been
     threatened with terrible trouble. If the story which I have
     been told be really true it ought to make you not sorry, but
     very glad, to learn that in their hour of stress they found a
     friend.
                                               Yours very truly ...
and she signed her full name.

After that she wrote another letter, with full particulars of the story.
And when that letter, too, was finished, she slipped on her wraps and
walked up the cinder-path to the post-office.

She found Mrs. Ray just in the fevered finale of her chase after ants.

"Put the letters on the counter," said the postmistress; "I'm standing
on the post-box, and the Republican party is getting one good, useful
deed to its credit this term, anyhow. I tried a soap box and bu'st
through, and I haven't had a worse shock since I stepped down the wrong
side of the step-ladder last spring, when I was kalsomining for Mrs.
Clinch. But the post-box is as steady as the Bank of England and I feel
as if for this one occasion, at least, my grocery business was coming
out on top. Well, has anything new come up down your way since noon?
Haven't paid their bill yet, have they?"

"I think they'll pay it," said Alva, smiling.

"Pay it! Those two? Well, not much! You're from the city and don't get a
chance to judge character like I do, but I tell you every one that is
honest has got to have a change of undershirts, at least. I've heard of
people as turned them hind side before one week, and inside out the
next, but they washed 'em the week after that, if they had any
reputations at all to keep up."

"Do you want to bet with me as to Mrs. Lathbun's paying her bill, Mrs.
Ray?" Alva asked.

Mrs. Ray turned and looked sharply down from her government perch. "My
goodness me," she said, "you surely ain't been fool enough to lend her
money, have you?"

Alva was too startled to collect herself.

"Well, you deserve to lose it then," said Mrs. Ray, climbing down
abruptly; "see here, it isn't any of my business, but I'm going to make
it my business and tell you the plain truth, and if you take offence
I'll have done my duty, anyhow. Now you listen to me and bear in mind
that I'm twice your age and have got all the experience of a
postmistress and a farmer, and a sexton and a grocery business and a
married woman and a widow and a stepmother; if you've lent money to the
Lathbuns you're going to lose it, for they're just what the paper
said--they're a foxy pair and no mistake, and furthermore, with all the
money you're spending on that house, you'd better be keeping your eyes
open, mark my words."

[Illustration: "IF YOU'VE LENT MONEY TO THE LATHBUNS YOU'RE GOING TO
LOSE IT."]

"Why, Mrs. Ray, what makes you say that?"

"Because I've got eyes of my own," said Mrs. Ray; "and I've been married
too. I've been married and I walked to the Lower Falls beforehand, too.
I saw 'em come up the road the first day, and I saw 'em going down it
to-day. I'd send her packing, if I was you."

Alva laughed ringingly. "Oh, Mrs. Ray," she exclaimed; "I'm not going to
marry that man, and besides, let me tell you something else; I haven't
_lent_ any money to the Lathbuns."

Mrs. Ray stared fixedly into her face for a long minute, then she said
abruptly: "You tell Nellie not to send up for mail to-night. I'll bring
the letters down. I'll be out filin' my bond, and I can just as well
bring 'em down. It won't do any good your coming for 'em, because the
post-office will be closed and me gone, so you couldn't get 'em if you
did come."

Alva smiled. "We'll wait at the house," she said, laying her hand on the
door-knob.

Mrs. Ray watched her take her departure.

"I'm glad she's give up the man so pleasant," she said; "and she's give
up the money just as pleasant. Poor thing! She thought she was smart
enough to keep me from seeing how she meant it. As if any one from a
city could fool me!"



CHAPTER XIX

DOUBTS


Alva was sitting in her room, her hands clasped behind her head in her
favorite thinking attitude when Lassie returned from her walk to the
Lower Falls. The face of the older friend wore its habitual look of
far-away absorption as the young girl entered, but the look was almost
rivalled by Lassie's own look--for Lassie had returned from the Lower
Falls with what was to be her own private and personal absorption
forever after.

"Had you a pleasant time?" Alva asked.

"Oh, it was beautiful!" the young girl exclaimed, "we had such fun,
too," she stopped, and hesitated; then something in the other's face
made her ask: "Are they gone?"

Alva shook her head. "No, dear, they've received their warning, but
they've not gone."

"Oh," said Lassie, relieved, "then they won't be in jail this night,
anyway."

"No, nor any other night," Alva said, quietly; "I shall not let those
women suffer shame and humiliation when a little money can prevent it."

"You are going to pay their bills!"

"No, but I am going to help them pay them."

"You are going to give them money?"

"I have given it."

Lassie stood still in surprise, and yet, even surprised as she was,
there was a perfunctory aspect which had not been present in the
morning.

"And I have written a little letter to the hero of Miss Lathbun's
romance, too."

Lassie came close. "Alva!" she asked, "then you really believe that
there is such a man?"

Alva put out her hand and pulled the girl down upon her lap. "I do
believe it," she said. "I may be deceived in some ways, but the man is
real, I know. As I said before, one cannot invent that kind of
character."

"And you wrote him? What did you say?"

"Only a few simple words. I felt that it was the right thing to do; I
did it for the same reason that I do all things. Out of the might of my
love. If you ever come to love as I do, you'll understand how wide and
deep one's interest in all love can become--yes, in all love and in all
things."

Lassie leaned her cheek upon her friend's hair for a moment and did not
speak.

"I know what you're thinking," Alva went on then (but she did not know,
really). "But do you know what I have been thinking? I have been
wondering. Surely no two people could seem further out of my realm than
these two forlorn women, but I always said there must be a reason and a
strong one, or else they would not interest me so, and now you see what
it was. They were brought to me to succor, and that is almost the
greatest joy that I know now."

Lassie felt real life slipping from her, just as it always did when Alva
talked. She was silent and thoughtful, even her new sensation in
abeyance for the minute. Love was drawing back a step and letting Mercy
have its hour.

"But if they deserved punishment?" she asked finally, in a timid voice.

"Perhaps they do deserve it, but not at my hands. If I, feeling as I do,
suffered them to go down yet deeper into the pit, I should do a cruel
wrong. I can't do such a wrong, I must do right in so far as I know
how,--and it's their good luck to have met me just now." She smiled.

"Alva," said Lassie, kissing her, "that's a very new view to me. The
evil-doers deserve to be punished, but others ought to be doing good; so
on account of those others and on their account mainly we are taught
forgiveness of sins;" she laughed softly.

Alva opened her eyes. "What a forward leap your intellect has taken this
afternoon," she commented. "I never dreamed that Ronald was such a
Jesuit. Come now, jump up, we must go down to supper."

"But you'll just tell me what Mrs. Ray said when she saw the paper."

"My dear, I really haven't asked."

"Oh, dear; then perhaps she took it calmly! Have you seen her since?"

"Yes, she took this afternoon to clean ants out of the government
precincts. She seemed calm to me."

"Goodness! Then I'm glad that I went."

Alva laughed a little. For some odd reason the laugh caused Lassie to
blush deeply, although the laugh was absolutely innocent of innuendo.

Down-stairs, Ingram awaited them. At the other small table Mrs. Lathbun
and her daughter sat as placidly as ever. The long table was full as
usual, but there was a keen subtlety of interest abroad which rendered
the conversation there fitful and jerky in the extreme. The mother and
daughter began to feel uneasy, and before Mary Cody had placed the soup
for the later comers, they rose and went quietly up-stairs.

"Do you know what they said when Mr. O'Neil gave them warning?" Lassie
asked, when the others had also left the room.

"They said they'd pay the money just as soon as a letter could get to
Cromwell and back," Alva replied. "They had been waiting for their own
lawyer to return from day to day, but if it came to the question of real
necessity they could get money from some one else."

The squeak of the outside door was heard; it was Mrs. Ray, and the next
second she was in their midst.

"Good evening," she said briskly.

At the sound of her voice Mrs. O'Neil hurried in from the kitchen and
Mary Cody followed her as far as the door and stood there, spellbound
with eager interest.

Mrs. Ray was out of breath and had her shawl over her head and her bond
under her arm. "I just run down before the mail to get Jack to sign this
and find out if anything more's come up. Sammy Adams was in to see me
about five, and he's scared white over their being swindlers. He says to
think of them swindling around his house all that night long! He's
afraid to stay in his house now, and he's afraid to leave it. He was
running to the window to look out that way all the time. I'm afraid
Sammy's getting mooney. There were days when Mr. Ray used to be always
looking out the window. Those were always his mooney days."

"Nothing new's come up," said Mrs. O'Neil; "the old lady took her two
cups of coffee same as usual, didn't she, Mary?"

"She took three to-night," said Mary Cody.

"Loading up to skip," said Mrs. Ray, significantly; "well, Nellie,
where's your husband? He's got to sign this before I can go back. The
United States Government won't trust me after seventeen years without my
bondsmen are still willing to support their view."

"Jack's in the bar," said his wife; "I'll go and fetch him."

"Do sit down, Mrs. Ray," Alva begged. Ingram jumped up and drew out a
chair. Mrs. Ray seated herself.

"Are they up-stairs, Mary?" she asked.

"Yes, went right up after supper," said Mary Cody.

"I thought they looked troubled," said Lassie.

"Well, they did post a letter, after all," said Mrs. Ray, turning to
Alva. "I never malign any one, so I wanted to tell you that. They didn't
come in and lay it on the counter, like honest people, but they put it
in that box that the United States Government requires me to keep nailed
up outside and unlock and peek into twice every day of the year around.
Theirs was the first letter any one ever put in, I guess, because
although folks feel I'm honest enough to be postmistress, they don't
think I'm silly enough to look in that box twice a day, just because I
said I would on my oath. The boys put June-bugs and garter-snakes in to
try if I do; but I always find 'em before they've quit being lively."

"What did you do with the letter?" Mary Cody asked.

"Do with it! Don't I have to put any letter into the next mail and lock
the bag, no matter what my feelings are? Yes, indeed."

"Where was it addressed?" asked Ingram, leaning back and putting his
hands in his pockets.

"That I can't tell you," said Mrs. Ray; "my oath keeps my mouth closed
on all business connected with the United States Mail, but I'll tell you
what I did do. I copied the address off, and then I looked through the
little book of post-office regulations and I couldn't find one word to
prevent my bringing you a copy, so here it is."

She opened her hand as she spoke and showed a piece of paper. Lassie,
who was nearest her, took it eagerly.

"Oh!" she exclaimed disappointedly, "this is the letter that she told
Mr. O'Neil she'd write. It's to their lawyer. It isn't anything new."

"Well, give it back to me so I can tear it up," said Mrs. Ray; "I meant
to tear it up, anyway. But where is Mr. O'Neil? I want to get my bond
filed. By the way," she said, turning to Ingram, "you owe me two cents."

"Two cents!"

"Yes; the stamp come off of one of your letters, and I put on a new one.
I've saved the other for you. It was a letter addressed to New York.
You'll have to buy some glue if you're ever meaning to get your money's
worth out of that stamp. I licked it good, but it won't stick. Too many
been at it before you and me, I guess. That's the way with most stamps
that won't stick, I always think."

"Here's the two cents," said Ingram.

"Thank you very much. Well, every one in town is wondering what the
lawyer will answer them. He's a real man, for Nathan says he got beat
for the Legislature once. But will he send them any money? That's the
question!"

"What do you think?" asked Ingram.

"I can't have any opinion. Any one who's had anything to do with the
Government closes my lips as a servant to the United States. It was very
hard for me to give up having opinions when I first came into politics,
but I'm so used to it now that I wouldn't feel easy if I could speak
freely any more."

"But if you weren't postmistress what would you think?" Ingram queried.

"Wouldn't think anything; I'd know they'd skip! They'll skip to-night;
mark my words."

"Oh, but they won't," said Alva, smiling; "they'll pay their bill--wait
and see."

"Yes, I will wait and see," said Mrs. Ray, darkly. "I'll wait a long
while and see very little. Yes, indeed. What sticks in my mind is poor
Sammy Adams. He says he's afraid to sleep alone in his house, and he's
too afraid of dogs and cats to have any to watch. He's going to put two
hens in his kitchen to-night and roll a sofa against the front door. He
says he knows every time the hens stir he'll go most out of his senses.
Sammy says he wasn't meant to live alone."

"What did you say to that?"

"Said it didn't look to me as if he was meant to live with hens,
neither. But where is your husband, Nellie?" (Mrs. O'Neil had just
re-entered the room). "I've got to get hold of him. I'm in a awful hurry
to get home. There's the mail, and I've got Sally Catt's dress to
finish, too."

"He'll be in in just a minute," said Mrs. O'Neil; "did Sally decide to
line it, after all?"

"No, she didn't decide to line it; but she decided to have me line it,
which is more to my point. I'm sure I'm glad not to be Joey Beall and
have to adapt myself to Sally; but then, if folks are still calling a
fellow Joey after he's forty, I don't know that it matters much who
marries him, and Sally hasn't changed her mind as to liking the house on
the hill since he moved it up on the hill to please her."

"I'm sorry for Joey," said Mrs. O'Neil, warmly.

"Well, I'm not," said Mrs. Ray. "I'm not sorry for any one who's a fool.
Speaking of fools, if they don't pay to-morrow, how much longer are you
intending to keep them for nothing? I'd just like to know that."

"They can't get an answer to the letter before to-morrow night."

"Huh! So you're going to feed them all day to-morrow, too! Well, I don't
know how you and Jack keep clothes on your backs the way you go on. I
never saw people like you two. If I ever want to live free, I know where
to come."

"Indeed you do, Mrs. Ray," said Mrs. O'Neil, her bright eyes filling
suddenly; "indeed you do. You come right down here any day you want to,
and you can stay here till you die. You know I've told you that a
thousand times."

"You're easy," said Mrs. Ray, drawing herself up with great dignity. "I
just believe you mean it, too, Nellie, and I just suppose if I was to
come and borrow a hundred dollars without witnesses, Jack would be
plenty idiot enough to give it to me, too."

"Well, I should hope so," said his wife; "who'd he trust sooner?"

Mrs. Ray looked around the table. "And it's this sort of people that
those two up-stairs are cheating," she said; "well, it's a queer world.
But if I ain't signed and witnessed and back up at my house before long,
the United States Government will likely go swearing out something
against me; where _is_ your husband, Nellie?"

"He said he'd be right in. Mary Cody, you go and tell him to hurry."

Mary Cody disappeared obediently.

"Joey Beall says you won't have her, long," said Mrs. Ray,
significantly; "he saw her and Edward Griggs climbing down the bank
Sunday. He saw you two walking to the Lower Falls, too," she added,
turning suddenly on Ingram and Lassie.

The inference fell like a sledge-hammer. Alva started violently, and
looked from one confused face to the other.

But before any one could say anything Mr. O'Neil walked into the room.

"Well, there you are at last," said Mrs. Ray. "I am glad to see you!
Here I sit, filing away at my bond and can't make any headway because
you're the first to sign."

"It's hard to get away from the bar to-night," said Mr. O'Neil, bringing
pen and ink. "They're betting I never see my money."

"We'll never see it in the world, Jack," said his wife; "everybody says
so."

"Except me," interposed Alva, her eyes on Lassie.

"And you haven't had any experience with swindlers," said Mrs. Ray;
"that's easy seen. You ain't any more fit to be trusted with a pair of
sharpers than Mr. and Mrs. O'Neil, or poor Sammy Adams alone in his
house to-night, relying on hens in the hour of need."

"Perhaps not," Alva said sighing. She was deeply shaken by the new
conception of what was transpiring around her, in the discovery of how
much might go on without her ever noticing. Lassie in love with Ingram!
And the girl was not even out yet! What would her mother say!

"There, there's my name for another year for you, Mrs. Ray," said Jack
O'Neil, pushing the bond towards its owner.

"And remember, Mrs. Ray," added his wife, laughing, "remember, if you
ever want a place to live or to borrow any money, you come straight
here."

"I'll remember," said Mrs. Ray, rising and adjusting her shawl. "Well,
it's back to duty and the mail-bag, now. So good night."

She went out and Ingram felt an intolerable longing to avoid Alva's eyes
until she should have had a little time to think. Lassie shared the
feeling; she, too, was greatly upset by Mrs. Ray's loquacity.

"Let us go out and walk until it's time to get the letters," the man
suggested to the girl. His tone was curiously imperative, and she
welcomed its command and jumped up quickly to fetch her wraps.

"Ronald," Alva said, gently, then, "she's very young."

He met her eyes squarely. "I know," he said; "but I'm not." She said no
other word, but sat silent until they were gone. Mr. O'Neil returned to
the bar at once, and in a minute--when Alva was alone--his wife came
and sat opposite her. Alva was supporting her chin on her hands, trying
to disentangle three urgent trains of thought.

"I'll be so glad when they're gone," Mrs. O'Neil said, with a sigh.
"They've worn on me terribly, and now that I know what they are, it's
awful. There's no possible chance of their being straight any more. They
wear their heels off on the outside, and Mary Cody says Edward Griggs
worked in a shoe store once, and knows for a fact that that's the sign
of dishonesty."

"But have you ever seen their shoes?" Alva asked, with a slight smile.

"Why, I haven't put anything into the oven without having to take their
heels out first, since they came."

"I'd forgotten." Alva sighed.

Mrs. O'Neil glanced at her quickly.

"You musn't take them so much to heart," she said, gently. "They could
be good if they wanted to."

"It isn't them, altogether," the other replied. Mrs. O'Neil looked at
her in a sort of blind sympathy. She thought that the youth and
sweetness of the young girl was what weighed so heavily on the young
woman opposite. "But men will be men," she reflected, and tried to think
of something to say, and couldn't.

The evening freight went roaring by.

"Why, I thought it went up before," Alva said.

"I did, too, but that must have been the wrecking-train; there must be a
wreck on the road."

"Let's go out on the bridge!" Alva suggested. "I feel choked; I want
fresh air, and there is a moon."

"Shall I go with you?"

"Yes, do."

"I'll tell Mary Cody."

While Mrs. O'Neil went for a shawl and to tell Mary Cody, Alva sought
her big cape. Then they went out together into the frost, for the frost
was sharp in the air.

"The woods will soon end being beautiful," the little woman said.

Alva walked swiftly on and made no reply. In less than five minutes they
stood out over the gorge and looked down on its matchless glory of
silver illuminating blackest shadow.

"I hope that the dam won't spoil all this," the girl said suddenly.

"You like to look at it, don't you?" Mrs. O'Neil said softly.

"Living here on its banks, as you do, I don't believe you can appreciate
it!" Alva exclaimed. "Can it possibly mean to any one what it does to
me, I wonder."

"I think it's pretty and I love so to look at it," said Mrs. O'Neil in
gentlest sympathy.

Alva caught her hand and pressed it hard in both her own. "Do you know,
Mrs. O'Neil, if I were very happy I should love best to be happy here,
and if more sorrow were to be, I would choose to have that here, too. I
am so close to God when I live in His country."

She took the warm hand that she held and pressed it close against her
heart.

"I wish that every one was so good as you are," Mrs. O'Neil said,
impulsively.

"Every one is better than we give them credit for being."

"Even those two?"

"Yes, even those two."

"I can't quite believe that," said the little woman.

"Wait and you'll see."

Then they stood quiet, until a cold wind, coming down the gorge, smote
them bitterly.

"We must go in," Alva said, regretfully; "the wind comes so strongly
here."

They turned and were only a few steps on their way when Alva stopped
suddenly.

"Do you believe in signs?" she asked.

"Why--I don't know."

Alva put both hands up to her head. "That cold wind was a sign," she
said, her voice trembling. "Oh, I feel so strangely. Something strong
and fearful is sweeping into my life to-night."

In her heart she hoped that it was only the shock of learning that
Lassie loved.

But in her soul she knew that it must be something else. The long strain
of the waiting days had worn anxiety to its sharpest edge. When Truth
mercifully veils itself, Time--the softener--wears the veil thin until
at last, when we have gained strength enough to bear, we have learned to
know.



CHAPTER XX

SHIFTING SUNSHINE AND CLOUDS


Ingram and Lassie went out but not on the bridge; they did not even turn
their heads that way.

"Alva says that she can see the gorge even when it's pitch-dark," Lassie
said. "She says she shall see it plainly to the end of her life,
wherever she may be in the world." She felt quite safe now that they
were alone; she didn't even mind that embarrassing speech of Mrs. Ray's.

"Yes," said Ingram; they went calmly and happily up the road. He didn't
mind the speech either, now.

"Alva and I never walk this way," Lassie said after a minute. "We always
walk the other, except just a little bit to the post-office, of course."

"Yes," said the man again, and they went on, up the hill.

The peculiar charm of the ordinary mode of falling in love is that it is
so simple; it requires so little effort, so to speak. If it was harder
work, it might produce bigger results--results nearer the millennium
than those we are now getting. Perhaps, however, the results are a
lesson to be learned, and we are still so deep in the primer of that
learning, that love remains the cheapest, easiest, and most common of
all its tasks.

Ingram thought Lassie's remarks fascinating, and she thought his two
"Yes's" both clever and original. They were each thoroughly satisfied
with one another, and were deeply interested each minute. Ingram had
never tramped along a country road in starlight with this pretty young
girl before, and Lassie had never walked anywhere, with any man, in all
her life. It was not perhaps remarkable that what had happened was
happening. Not at all.

"How fast the time has gone," Lassie said, as they mounted the Wiley
hill; "to think that I have been here over a week!"

"And to think of all that has happened," said Ingram.

"I know; isn't it strange?"

"I shall be awfully lonesome after you go."

This sounded so mournful and pathetic that it brought a lump into her
throat and she could not speak for a minute.

"Alva will go, too," Ingram went on, presently.

"But she'll come back."

"Let us hope so."

They walked over the Wiley hill.

"Poor Mrs. Lathbun and her daughter won't go chestnutting any more after
to-morrow," Lassie said, after they passed under the heavy shadows cast
by Mrs. Wiley's huge trees. "I think that we ought to go back now, the
mail will be in."

They turned around to walk back and enjoyed every step of the way. There
is really nothing that lights up a lack of conversation like being in
love.

As they passed the post-office they saw Mrs. Ray standing on the porch,
tucked up in her shawl.

"There was a wreck," she called; "the mail's late."

"All right!" Ingram called in response.

Mrs. Ray watched them vanish out of the light cast by her open door, and
then turned, went inside, and shut it. "I like that young man," she said
to herself; "he's got a good face. I wish we were as sure of getting the
dam as he is of getting that girl. We need the dam full as much as he
thinks he needs her. It'll bring men and lots of money to this section,
and this section needs men and money. All we've got around here is women
and land, and women and land can't get very far without men and money.
It's about time we was getting some show at prosperity. I do wonder how
Sammy's getting along with his hens!"

Arrived at the hotel, Ingram bade Lassie good night and she went
up-stairs, one trembling tumult of tangling sentiments as to the
conversation now to ensue.

Alva's room was dark, but when Lassie whispered her name at the door,
the answer came quickly.

"Is that you, dear? come to me. Lassie, how I have wanted you!"

Lassie crossed to the bed, from whence the voice came. She thought she
knew why she was wanted, but she only said: "What is it, dear?"

"I am in the grip of an awful fear."

The girl stood still, much startled.

"Alva! What do you mean? What has happened?"

"I don't know. I went out on the bridge for a minute after you left, and
it came blowing down the gorge--a wind of horrid presentiment; oh, I am
beside myself, I don't know what to do. There is no mail to-night--" she
stopped, and Lassie felt that she was weeping. Finally she added: "I
ought to have stayed there at the hospital. I should not have obeyed his
wishes or what the surgeon said. I ought to have obeyed my own heart. I
ought to have stayed with him!"

The young girl was frightened, silent.

Finally she managed to stammer:

"But you said that he was not conscious--that it was not possible for
you to stay there--that no purpose could be served. Oh, what do you
fear? What do you think may have happened?"

Alva controlled herself and drew Lassie down beside her upon the bed.
"Dear, I don't know; but I do know that I shall go away to-morrow!"

"To-morrow!"

"I shall, dear. I must see him; I have telegraphed--" Again tears choked
her.

"You think something has happened?" Lassie faltered.

"Yes, something warns me. It has come over me heavily to-night. I must
go and face it. What is the reason of my love, if it seems to fail him
when the strain comes. It shall not fail. They shall not trick me into
failing. Perhaps they are trying to spare me or shield me, but I'll go
to receive the blow. An instant swept him out of his life-work--I saw
his spirit of resignation--I will be resigned, too--"

Lassie felt the bed shaken by the fierceness of sobs. She was dumb, not
knowing what to say. The orbit of Alva's love was so infinitely greater
than that of her own, that the feebler suffered eclipse in that hour.
She saw herself and Ingram completely swept aside, and was not even
conscious of the fact.

"It is my heart that suffers," Alva pressed on after a minute, "only my
heart, Lassie; my soul is strong, very strong. There is nothing else for
my spirit to learn, but half of my being still suffers; it cannot
remember every second how it was when I knelt beside him and he told me
in whispers that he was content and that if I loved him I also would be
content. I have tried to be content, I have been content until
to-day--until to-night. But now, as I lay here in the dark, it seemed as
if content had fled not only me but the whole universe. I feel as if
content had ceased to exist. Rebellion is in the air. In some strange
way I'm sure that he has abjured resignation and renunciation; I feel
that he is in the throes of something--he is suffering, suffering agony;
and I want to be with him. I _must_ be with him! I shall leave
to-morrow!"

Lassie trembled; she had never seen any one like this before.

"When do you want me to go, Alva," she whispered, presently.

"Could you go to-morrow at four, and I will take the train the opposite
way at eight?"

"I'll be ready; don't mind about me a bit, dear."

"We must go. Oh, listen to that wind coming down the gorge; doesn't it
sound as if some spirit were in travail? So sad, so melancholy!
Something tremendous is taking place, and I am far from him while he
endures."

The wind was surely rising, and its moan shook the window sash.

"I'm going mad," Alva exclaimed, springing from the bed; "why did I
leave him? No matter what they said, I should have stayed there. My
place was there. Oh, I have been cast in so many moulds these last
years; I have taken so many prizes, only to find them dust in my hands;
and now God will not--must not take this one from me! I have learned the
folly of the material, I have bent my head beneath the yoke enough to be
spared another lash of the goad. I pray--oh, I pray--that this cup may
pass me by."

Lassie sat still, now quite terrified.

Alva paced up and down the little room. "I have been dragged--or I have
managed to drag myself--up one step above the ordinary. I had accepted
the loneliness that comes when one gets where no one else stands. I
learned not to expect companionship. But we are not the less lonely
because we go our way alone,--we are not the less lonely. And that same
rule holds all through. Lassie, I tell you, that one does not crave
companionship the less because one chooses to marry a dying man; one
does not crave caresses the less when one loves as I do." She wrung her
hands miserably. "I'm weak--weak--weak! This is the test and
I am failing. I, who have worked so far, am being carried
down--down--down--now--to-night. Oh, the struggle, the tragedy, the
lesson! Life's lessons are always so terrible." Then, her emotions
seeming for the moment to exhaust all her strength, she came back to the
bed, and said, with some approach to calmness:

"Perhaps it is that I preached too much to you, dear, or was too sure of
myself. Perhaps my joy was a selfish joy, or perhaps I did wrong in
planning to leave my parents, even for a little while. Just in
proportion as one rises, so do the subtlety of their problems increase.
To love a man whose life was too big for any one to share unless she
could give herself wholly--that was hard but I learned that lesson; I
would have given my life wholly. Then to have my duty chain me away from
him--that was terrible but I accepted that, too. Then to have him struck
down--I thought that that was the worst of all, but something held me up
through that. But--but," she broke out in a wail of absolute,
heartbroken desolation, "but if he is going to leave me before we--" and
there she stopped short, shivered violently, and became stilly rigid.

Lassie dared to put her arms about her.

"Why do you think such dreadful things? You don't know that anything has
happened."

Alva drew a long, sharp breath. "But I do know it," she said; "something
has happened. You will see in the morning. Oh, I would have given up my
life while he was giving up his, and minded it so little; but to have to
give him up! What shall I do? I wanted those weeks, even if they shrank
to days--to hours. It seemed to me that we had earned the right to a
little, so little, happiness. The memories would have given me strength
to bear the hereafter. If I could only be a soul, and a brave one, like
him,--but to-night I am all heart, all quivering fear." She paused to
control her voice again.

"But, Alva, let me give you back your own speeches in comfort. How often
you've told me how only his soul counted, and how that was yours for
eternity, and how, because of that, you found yourself equal to all
things. And you've told me, too, dear, how his renunciation, how his
exchange of power, strength and life for weakness and death--and all
without a murmur--made you quite confident that you would never fail,
either."

"Yes," Alva murmured, "yes, I remember, but--"

"And you said that the way that he ignored his poor, crushed body and
looked straight towards another future life of fresh labor made you full
of courage, too. You remember."

"Yes, yes, I remember." Then she tried to dry her eyes. "I won't admit
that the world has a right to shudder, and yet I am shuddering myself,"
she said, sadly. "I must learn to be braver. I can't fight down
foreboding, but I must be braver. But, dear, I do so love him--I have so
wanted him--he is so dear to me. I have so lived upon the picture of our
hours together. That little house across the river is full of him for
me. I saw him in it well and strong of spirit, fighting against the
desecration of the gorge, and showing me how I might help on the work
when he was gone. I meant to give him the joy of one more crusade, and
one more victory to his credit. He would have known how to act, even if
his only sympathizers were the poor and those yet to be born. He
understood the claims of the poor and the unborn; he gave his life for
them."

Lassie enfolded her in her tender arms; the little star was in eclipse,
yet even in eclipse it was gathering power on high. Alva leaned her
cheek against the head on her shoulder.

"How I suffer," she murmured. "Lassie, I feel that I have entered into a
maelstrom--a whirlwind. I seem to hear a dirge in that wind outside. I
must go to-morrow--we must go to-morrow."

"Yes, we'll go," said Lassie, soothingly.

"It is my heart, just my heart. It is so hard to strike an even balance
between the heart and the soul. My poor, thin, trembling flesh has ruled
to-night, truly."

"Let me sleep with you," Lassie pleaded; "let me hold you fast and love
you dearly."

Alva smiled in the dark. "Come, then," she said; "I fancy that I shall
sleep if my hand clasps yours--and if I know that we leave to-morrow."

Later, after Lassie had slept thus for some hours, she was awakened by
Alva's rising and going to the window.

"What is it, dear, you are not faint?"

Alva turned, the pale, early sunrise illuminated her face.

"Some riddle has been solved somewhere, dear," she said; "I'm quite calm
now. The struggle for him as well as for me is over."

"Then come back and sleep with my arms tight round your neck," said the
friend, stretching forth her arms.

Alva came back like an obedient child, crept in close beside her, and in
a few minutes was sleeping as a child sleeps.

Later, when the real morning came and the real, enduring wakefulness
with it, it was Alva who roused first again, and, sitting up in bed, put
back her hair with both hands and smiled into her friend's eyes.

"You're all right, now?" Lassie said, joyfully.

"Very right, dear; the crisis is over. Forget last night. I shall never
be like that again."

Lassie turned her face towards the window; looking out from where she
lay she could see the valley one burst of flame, its wave of color
sweeping off afar and the hoar frost sparkling over all the glory. "I
feel as if I never had seen anything so beautiful in all my life
before," the girl exclaimed; "I don't know what it makes me think of,
but it is as if my soul were growing, I am so happy to see you happy
again."

Alva sat there with the white coverlet heaped about her and smiled.
"Thank you, dear," she said, with simplicity. "I am happy, and last
night and this morning have caused both our souls to grow."

"It's too beautiful!" the girl said, after a long pause; "the valley is
more beautiful than I ever realized before."

Presently Alva left the bed and went to close the window. "There's a
mist lying low in the valley," she said then; "it lies there like an
emblem of peace. Omens are curious. That cold, sad wind last night had
its message, and the morning mist has another. I know that some change
is at hand, but I know that whatever it is its burden is good. I feel
equal to anything this morning. I feel as if God had come to me in the
night and told me that he was charging Himself with my care."

Lassie looked at her with freshly awakened anxiety.

"Oh, don't look at me that way," she begged; "that is the very hardest
of all--to have those to whom you talk regard you as if you were mad."

"But you astonish me so. Last night you were so frightened."

"Last night some struggle was on, my dear; this morning it is settled."
She stopped and spoke very slowly. "I think, perhaps, that he knows now
that he can never come to the house," she said, and although her lips
quivered slightly her voice was clear and composed.

"Alva," Lassie cried, in sudden horror, "you think that he is dead--that
is what you think."

As soon as the words had passed her lips, she was frightened at her own
temerity; but Alva, whose back was towards her, now turned towards her
smiling.

"He is not dead," she said; "he was thinking of me all last night and
this morning. He is not dead. That I know."

"How can you be sure?"

"When people love as we do, they can be very sure. I was awfully shaken
last night, Lassie; I confess it. Something big, that we shall know all
about later, hung in the balance and I trembled. But it's settled now."

There came a tap at the door just then, announcing Mary Cody with their
hot water.

"They're still asleep," she said in a whisper; "if the letter from the
lawyer don't come in this morning's mail, Mr. O'Neil is going to eject
them. Only think!"

Naturally this remark gave quite a new turn to the conversation.

"Unless they pay, you know," Alva reminded Mary Cody.

"How do you eject people?" Lassie asked, rejoicing in the cheerfulness
of the commonplace. "If he puts them out the front door and they just
walk around and come into the kitchen, what can any one do?"

"I don't know," said Mary Cody, apparently thunderstruck at the mental
vision of the O'Neil House besieged by Mrs. and Miss Lathbun, trying to
get in again. "I don't know what we could do. There's seven doors to
this house."

"Will Mr. O'Neil pull them out, or push them out?" Lassie asked
further; "or will he just drive them out?"

"I don't know," said Mary Cody; "everybody in town'll be up at the
post-office waiting to see if the letter from the lawyer comes, I
expect. If it doesn't come, Mr. O'Neil is going to Ledge Centre and get
a warrant."

"Oh, dear," said Lassie.

"You won't get any mail this morning," said Mary Cody; "there's a wreck
on the road. Two coal trucks and a car of cabbages. There'll be no
eastern mail till noon."

Then Mary Cody went away again.

"Isn't it strange that all this should happen just during the little
time that we're here?" Lassie said; "it's made it very exciting."

Alva went on brushing her hair.

Lassie looked at her then, and saw that she bore many traces of her
violent emotion of the night before.

"You won't try to go to-day, will you?" she said, suddenly.

"Oh, yes, I shall go." Then she turned and looked straight into the
girl's eyes. "I _must_ go," she said; "something has happened."



CHAPTER XXI

THE POST-OFFICE


From 8.30 A.M. on, the tide of travel in Ledge always tended towards the
post-office, but on the famous morning when Mrs. Lathbun expected to
hear from her lawyer, the post-office's vicinity resembled nothing so
much as its own appearance upon Election Day. Every one that ever had
received a letter intended to be there to see if Mrs. Lathbun would get
hers. Long before train time not only the office itself, but the
adjoining rooms and the porch outside, were comfortably crowded with a
pleasantly anticipative collection of interested observers.

"The United States Government doesn't allow me to interfere in politics,
or I'd come right square out with my views," said Mrs. Ray, who held
public interest with a tight rein, while awaiting the mail. "My views
may be uninteresting, but I hit enough nails on the head to box up a
good many people a year."

"What _do_ you think?" some one asked.

"I don't think anything," said Mrs. Ray; "I know!"

"Well, what do you know, then?"

"I know that a letter-getter stays a letter-getter, and the reverse the
reverse. Just as I know that case-knives are suspicious and that picking
chestnuts may be a bunco game as easy as anything else. I've found it
nothing but a bunco game, myself. I've never made my chestnuts pay,
just because they were so easy picked up by other people; and you can't
hire boys to do your nutting for you,--boys eat up all the profits and
most of the chestnuts into the bargain. Yes, indeed. And as for those
two up at Nellie's--they'll get no letter. Wait and see."

"But what will happen to them then?" asked Joey Beall, aching to discuss
the details of the arrest and the journey to Geneseo.

"I don't know, but I can tell you one piece of news, and it isn't gossip
either; it come straight from Nellie O'Neil herself; she's been here
this morning."

"Have they found out anything new?"

"Not about them; but her other two is leaving."

"What!"

"Yes, going this afternoon." Mrs. Ray folded her arms and leaned back
against the shelves containing her grocery business.

The sensation caused by this extra and wholly unexpected bit of news was
thorough and sincere. Everybody looked at everybody else.

Mrs. Dunstall pressed forward. "Haven't they paid, either?" she asked,
with horror in her voice.

"Oh, yes, they've paid." Mrs. Ray was quickly reassuring on this point.
"But with them, it's something else. I don't know for sure just what,
but I guess that eldest one's beginning to see that it's no use as far
as she's concerned; but she'll have to do something with that house she
was fixing up to live in. Sarah Catt told me she never heard anything so
crazy as building a house to live in while a dam that Mr. Ledge don't
want built is being built. She says her husband says that dam never will
be built. She says Mr. Ledge is very quiet, but he's very sensible and
he says there's quicksands all under us."

This statement caused another flutter of sensation.

"Can't you dam a quicksand? I thought it run just like water." Thus Joey
Beall's fiancée from the back.

"No, you can't," said Pinkie. "I know."

"I'd be sorry to see the dam go," said Mrs. Wiley. "Cousin Catterwallis
Granger looked to see it raise all the property around here."

"Drown all the property around here, you mean," said Mrs. Ray. "I thank
heaven it's the Dam Commission and not me who'll have to adjust all that
dam's going to drown before it gets done. Josiah Bates says he heard
that they'll have to take up all the cemeteries from here to Cromwell."

"Why?" asked Pinkie.

"Why? Why, because no matter what powers a commission can hold over the
living, no legislature can find a law for drowning the dead, I guess.
They've all got to be moved and set out in rows again in a new place.
Seems like I never will see the last of Mr. Ray's two wives! But I
shan't have to pay for their new start in life this time, anyway."

"Where will they put them next, do you suppose?" said Mrs. Dunstall,
referring to the cemeteries--not to Mr. Ray's former wives.

"I guess we'll all want to know that," said Mrs. Ray, turning her head
as if she heard the train (the tension in the room was increasing
momentarily,--so was the crowd). "I'm sure I wonder what will become of
Mr. Ray. I never could feel that I really was done with him, and now it
seems maybe I ain't. I wish they'd buy my three-cornered cow pasture
for a new cemetery. Then I could cut his grass when I went to milk my
cow."

"The dam'll have to pay for the new cemeteries, won't it?" asked Lucia
Cosby in some trepidation.

"The dam'll pay for everything. That's why every one wants it so bad,"
said Mrs. Ray.

"Yes, it is," said Pinkie.

"Which room have the Lathbuns got?" some one asked, looking down towards
the O'Neil House.

"The end one," said Mrs. Dunstall.

"The curtains are down," said Nathan, elbowing his way to the window.

"They never get up till noon."

There was a hush,--sudden but intense. The train was approaching.

"Yes, that's the train," said Mrs. Ray; "well, we'll soon know now." She
tucked her shawl tighter than ever, and got the key ready.

"Mrs. O'Neil'll be pretty lonesome to-night with them all gone at once,"
hazarded a bystander.

"She'll miss those girls," said Mrs. Dunstall; "they're real nice young
ladies, she says. But she won't miss the Lathbuns."

"We'll miss the Lathbuns," said Mrs. Wiley; "they've been so interesting
to talk about. We've even got Uncle Purchase to where he knows they live
at Nellie's. I tell you that was work. He's so deaf now." She sighed.

"I guess it wasn't any worse than what the Bentons went through with
Gran'ma Benton teaching the parrot when they lived at Nellie's," said
Mrs. Ray. "Poor Clay Wright Benton was in here yesterday to see if I'd
board Gran'ma Benton and the parrot again. He says Sarah says she won't
come home till the parrot leaves, and he's most wild. Gran'ma Benton's
been teaching the parrot to say something new. She says 'Where's the
Lathbuns, Polly?' and the parrot says 'Out chestnutting,' only it won't
say it days. It just says it nights. And nights it's wild over saying
it. Last night no one in the house got one wink of sleep. Clay sit up
till midnight to ask it where the Lathbuns was, and then Gran'ma Benton
sit up and asked it where they was till morning. Poor Clay! He says it's
too awful how she's spoiled that parrot. It's afraid of spiders, and
it's so afraid of them at night that they have to keep a night-light
burning so it can see all over whenever it wakes."

"Such doings!" said Mrs. Wiley, in disgust.

"Yes, indeed," said Mrs. Ray. "I'd like to see myself burning a
night-light for a parrot. If it boards with me, it'll take its spiders
just as they come."

"That's right," said Pinkie, with decision.

"Well, we don't need any parrot," said Mrs. Wiley. "We've got Uncle
Purchase. Not but what I'm amused hearing about the parrot. But then,
I've been amused hearing about the Lathbuns, too," she sighed heavily.

"Something else'll come up," said Mrs. Dunstall, cheerfully, "and you
don't really need anything to talk about while you've got your Uncle
Purchase, you know."

"Well, I suppose maybe not," said Mrs. Wiley, and sighed again.

"Well, thank Heaven," said Mrs. Ray, "I'm never short of two
things,--work and talk." She began to finger the key as she spoke, and
all ears were at once strained to listen for the sound of the feet of
the bearer of the mail-bag.

Deathly silence reigned. In a few seconds the footsteps did approach,
the gate creaked and then banged. Mrs. Ray stepped with majestic haste
to the window and called out:

"Wipe your feet!"

The obedience that ensued whetted curiosity to more ravenous desire than
ever. People had lost sight of the main issue and were all riveted to
the single question--would Mrs. Lathbun get her letter?

The door opened and Clay Wright Benton came in with the bag.

"Lay it here," commanded Mrs. Ray, and Clay Wright Benton laid it there
and fell back into the crowd behind. Mrs. Ray put on her spectacles and
adjusted her shawl. In the intense excitement of the moment, nobody said
a word. The room was as full as it would hold, and people who had
apparently been secreted in other portions of the house now came pouring
in through the doors connecting therewith. The one window facing the
porch had turned into a mere honey-comb of faces.

Mrs. Ray took up the key. A thrill went around as she inserted it in the
padlock and slowly turned it. Then she took it out of the padlock and
the padlock out of the lock. She laid key and padlock carefully aside.
"Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note," as she slowly drew the
lengthwise iron from the rings and laid that aside. A sort of fresh
intenseness pervaded the atmosphere as she opened the mouth of the bag
and inserted her arm. While her arm was in and her hand was feeling for
the mail, a boy sneezed and every one turned and looked at him
witheringly. This little incident was taken in the same light as the
inter-mission between two numbers of a concert, for all who were at the
doors at once took advantage of it to squeeze inside. The small room,
which had been unpleasantly full before, was now packed to suffocation.
Mrs. Ray drew out her arm. The interest was mounting each second. She
laid two packages, tied each with United States Government twine, upon
the counter, turned the bag upside down and shook it. If a pin had
fallen out, any one could have heard it, but nothing fell out. Mrs. Ray
folded the bag carefully and laid it on the floor behind her. The
atmosphere was breathless in every sense of the word. Mrs. Ray untied
the first package, taking a full minute to pick out the knot. She hung
up the string. The string fell off from where she hung it, and she
picked it up and hung it up a second time, this time more slowly and
carefully. Then she took out the postmarking machine. A sudden sigh went
around; every one had forgotten the necessity of the postmark. Mrs. Ray
turned the package face down and post-marked every piece carefully
without reading a single address. Then she turned them over, gave her
shawl a fresh and most careful adjustment, and proceeded to sort the
mail. When it was sorted, she called the roll of names amidst a hush
that was awe-inspiring. The few who had letters crowded to the fore,
received them and stayed there, greatly to the aggravation of those who
had none, and got shoved to the rear accordingly.

Mrs. Ray now untied the second package, and hung up that string. Both
strings fell off together. She took up both strings at once, smoothed
them out and hung them up again. They stayed hung this time. Then she
post-marked the second package. It was a never-to-be-forgotten
scene,--the wrought-up faces, the fixed calm of Mrs. Ray herself. Then
she called the roll for the second batch. Each time a name was read off,
a wave of psychic emotion swept the room. One has to get into the real
true life of the country to appreciate the tremendous tumulus which
gossip had erected upon which to rear the monument of this moment. One
by one the names were all called; one by one the pile of letters in Mrs.
Ray's hand diminished. When it came to the last one, and the last one
was for Joey Beall, Joey received it almost as if it were some species
of sacrament.

"Is that all?" some one in the back asked.

"That's all," said Mrs. Ray.

All turned to go. The outburst of pent-up feelings was tremendous.

"I told you so," Mrs. Ray said over and over again. "I knew they'd got
no letter." The babel all of a sudden rose into so much noise that it
was evident that the heights to which popular feeling had risen were
going a bit higher yet. The egress from the stifling room ceased. Nobody
knew just what it was, but all became aware that something fresh had
happened. Nobody knew what had happened, and nobody seemed able to find
out. All that was known was that something held every one spellbound and
motionless in spite of their individual desire to go on out.

After what seemed a deadlock of long duration but which was in fact a
matter of but a few seconds, it developed that the trouble arose around
the door leading on to the porch. Then it appeared that while every one
in the post-office was trying to get out by that door, Mary Cody was
trying to get in by the same way, and Mary Cody was young, strong, and
determined.

For a few seconds the battle pressed wildly. Then Mary Cody won out and
entered. She was out of breath and disheveled.

"Why, what is the matter?" Joey Beall, who was nearest, asked; "there's
something new down your way, I'll bet a peanut."

Mary Cody gasped. "Oh, my," she said, "I run right up to tell you. We've
just found out as their room is empty. They must of skipped in the
night."

"Skipped in the night!" cried Mrs. Dunstall.

"Skipped!" cried Pinkie.

"Oh, Mrs. Ray," wailed Mrs. Wiley, "how'll we ever be able to tell Uncle
Purchase!"

But Mrs. Ray stood forth like a modern Medusa in her rage.

"I've been expecting it all along," she exclaimed wrathfully. "I'm a
great judge of character, and I never looked for nothing else. Now, how
can they be arrested? We must catch 'em!"

"If we can catch 'em!" said Josiah Bates.

"_If_ we can catch them!" said Mrs. Ray,--"if! Young man, they'll be
caught. You wait and see!" She hastily threw her shawl over her head,
and rushed wildly out with the excited crowd. It is proverbial that
there are times when a common sentiment merges all classes into one.



CHAPTER XXII

AFTERMATH


The excitement broke up into wide-spreading waves. All divided at once
into two distinct parties,--those who wanted to discuss the matter
further, and those who were filled with the hunter instinct and so
craved to set off at once in pursuit of "the foxy pair." Mrs. Ray justly
remarked that "they couldn't possibly get more than twelve hours' start,
in just one night," and as it was incredible to suppose that they would
return in the direction from which they had originally come, it followed
that there was only two-thirds of the horizon to scour in any case.
Elmer Hoskins and his dog lost no time, but set forth at once.

Mary Cody walked back down the hill telling a deeply interested circle
the story of how, etc. (and that for the fifth time in ten minutes);
another group stood excitedly on Mrs. Ray's porch; another set off to
break the news to Ledgeville, and still others spread here and there,
after the manner of distracted bees into whose hive some great and
disturbing force has suddenly penetrated.

"We won't be able to begin to get this in Uncle Purchase's head for two
days, at least," mourned Mrs. Wiley; "and Uncle Purchase is so awful
fond of knowing things, too."

"They'll never catch them," said Lucia Cosby; "they know all the roads
too well. They know every road there is to know."

"I should think they did!" said Mrs. Dunstall. "They've not got out of
practice walking in this locality, I can tell you. Josiah Bates was down
at the bottom of the St. Helena hill the other day, and if he didn't see
them there. Oh, they know the roads."

"I'm sorry for the girl," said Clay Wright Benton.

"I ain't a bit sorry for her," said Mrs. Ray; "as a woman who works from
before dawn to far on into the night to make a honest living by eleven
different kinds of sweat on her brow, I ain't a bit sorry for either of
them. And Jack O'Neil ain't going to be sorry for them, either; he told
me last night if they was men, he'd get hold of 'em and take 'em out
behind the wood-pile and he knew what they'd get. To-day isn't going to
alter _his_ views."

"If I was Mrs. O'Neil, I'd wash that shawl Mrs. Lathbun wore all the
time," said Sarah Catt, one of the party escorting Mary Cody back to the
hotel.

"It's in the tub already," said Mary Cody.

Mrs. O'Neil came running forth to meet them, her brown eyes shining more
than ever.

"Oh, but they were a 'foxy pair,'" she exclaimed; "haven't they gone and
left that hair-brush done up in a paper so that it's 'baggage,' and
shows they want the room held for them till they come back. Oh, they've
got the law at their finger-tips--those two."

The whole crowd entered the house. Alva and Lassie, packing in their
room, had heard the news ten minutes earlier from Mrs. O'Neil herself.
Lassie had watched her friend's face curiously, but Alva had too much
else pressing upon her to be more than simply saddened.

When Mrs. O'Neil had gone Lassie had said almost hesitatingly: "They
were adventuresses, weren't they, and Miss Lathbun's romance wasn't
true, was it?"

"Let us not judge, even now," said Alva, quietly; "let us try to hope in
some way. After all, what little things they were in life--so little,
and probably beset beyond their strength. And such great things are
pressing on me to-day. What do they matter? God forgive me for saying
it."

Lassie was silenced.

When the Eastern mail train arrived about noon, belated as usual, their
packing was quite finished. Mary Cody brought up the letters. Alva took
hers into her room and a minute later she came to the door.

"Lassie," she said, "there is something here that I must attend to at
once. Go down and have dinner, and I'll come a little late."

So Lassie went down to dine alone, and found Ingram waiting for her. She
told him that Alva would come in a little.

"Has she had bad news?" he asked, startled by a presentiment of
immediate sorrow.

"No, I think not," Lassie said; "she didn't speak so."

But Ingram stayed, distressed. "She has had bad news," he said; "poor
girl--her tragedy is closing in fast. I can feel its end, myself."

His eyes went to the window. "Couldn't you go out with me for just an
hour after dinner?" he asked wistfully. Then he smiled a little. "We can
talk about the dam," he said--"or help hunt the Lathbuns."

She looked at him and they both knew that she would go. It was a very
simple, almost childish, romance, theirs--but its lack of stress made it
all the more alluring to two who were living under the wings of so much
tragedy.

"I'll get my hat," Lassie said, and ran up-stairs. Alva's door was
closed. "I'm lying down, please let me sleep. It's nothing but my head,"
she called from behind it. Lassie slipped on her wraps quickly and ran
down; and they went out towards the Falls.

Mrs. Ray saw them go from the post-office window. The excitement having
somewhat subsided, she was now left alone with Joey Beall's fiancée, who
was there to try on her wedding dress.

"Such is life," Mrs. Ray commented; "that woman's pulled her shades down
for a nice nap, and off they skip for a good-by down by the Falls. Oh,
my, but those Falls are a blessing to the young! It's too far between
roots and rocks for children to get down there, and as soon as anybody's
married they never want to have nothing to do with love-making any more;
so steep romantic places is just made for the only kind of people that
have any reason for wanting to get to them."

"The Falls is full of meaning for lovers," said Joey Beall's fiancée,
sentimentally. "Joey and I never get tired of them."

"You wait till you're married," said Mrs. Ray; "you'll find no meaning
in climbing up and down those banks and having Joey jerk your arms out
of the sockets, then. Yes, indeed. They call it tempestuous affection
beforehand, but it comes to a plain jerk in the end. Life is full of
learning."

"Gran'ma Benton's learning the parrot a great deal," said Sarah Catt. "I
come by there just now and she's beginning already to teach it a new
sentence. She says: 'Where are the Lathbuns, now?' and the parrot's got
to learn to say 'Skipped,'--she's just set her heart on it."

"I d'n know but what I'm going to end by being sorry for that parrot,"
remarked Mrs. Ray, thoughtfully. "I think Gran'ma Benton's overdoing it
a little, if she means it to keep up with the Lathbuns. You can force
even a parrot beyond its strength. She's made it nervous, already. She's
got to hold its claw all through every thunderstorm all summer long, and
if a fly gets in its milk, it won't touch either the fly or the milk,
which I call spoiling the parrot--not to speak of the fly and the milk,
for of course no one else in a house is going to eat a fly or drink milk
that a parrot won't look at."

"Sarah told me they had to take away all the looking-glasses every
spring, or it cried the whole time it was moulting--over its tail
feathers, you know," said the caller, thoughtfully.

"Well, if they come to live here, I shan't spoil it, I know that," said
Mrs. Ray. "I shall be pleasant to it and I shall be kind, and it can run
after me all it likes and I'll be careful never to step on it for the
very simple reason that I don't want to take the time to clean up any
sort of smashed creature, but it won't have no night-light here, nor get
its claw held when it thunders, nor have the looking-glasses took down
to spare its feelings. No one ever took a looking-glass down to spare my
feelings, and I can't begin to take them down to spare a parrot's. Well,
Sarah, I guess you can try on now. Wait till I fill up on pins. Oh, my
lands alive, I wish I knew where those foxy Lathbuns are this minute."

"I guess Mr. Adams'll be glad to know they're caught," said Sarah Catt;
"he's so nervous for fear they'll stop with him to-night. Joey saw him
just after dinner. He was more scared even than Gran'ma Benton's parrot
in a thunderstorm."

Mrs. Ray was thoughtfully putting pins in her mouth. "There's a great
difference between a man's hand and a parrot's claw," she said with some
difficulty. "Yes, indeed. Even in a thunderstorm."



CHAPTER XXIII

THE DARKNESS BEFORE


When Lassie came back from that last walk to the Falls she went straight
up to Alva's room, and found her lying on the bed, the faint light from
the shaded window throwing a deep shadow upon her face and form. Her
head and shoulders were a little propped up against the pillows, and her
hands were clasped on her bosom instead of behind her head, as was her
favorite position.

Lassie's eyes were shining and her heart was very full and happy with
the bubbling joy of that bubbling joyous emotion which Youth in its
ingenuous innocence, ignorance, and arrogance has elected to call
"love." It had come very vividly to both herself and Ingram during their
walk, and instead of discussing Alva's affairs, they had suddenly become
more than ever keenly alive to their own. Ingram, conscious of good
looks, good health, and a good income, had for some time faced the
position very cheerfully and gratefully; but Lassie, conscious of no
personal advantages at all equalling those pertaining to her demigod,
was, of course, thrilled through and through. Certainly these be
topsy-turvy days for chivalric standards, but perhaps a century later,
people will quote with reverence from the stories of grandmother's
experiences before grandpapa was finally secured.

Lassie was very happy. She felt sure that nothing so ideally beautiful
and altogether remarkable as Ingram's speeches during the walk had ever
been heard before. She was not engaged, but she was "as good as
engaged." And before her début, too. Fancy the faces of the girls when
she really announced it! She would be the first one of the whole set to
be married! Life was nothing but vistas of joy. Ingram was absolutely
going to take the same train that she did at six o'clock, and go two
hours of the way with her. Oh!

And now she was back in Alva's room, standing at the bedside, looking
down at her friend. Something in the other's lax position made her look
more closely even in the semi-darkness.

"Your head is worse?" she asked, startled.

"No, dear," said Alva, and her voice rang strangely--like a low toned
bell, chiming afar.

"Something has happened?"

"Yes, dear."

"Oh--" the young girl could not put the question.

Alva did not speak. Lassie felt her heart freezing harder every instant.
It was always so, when one came within the circle of that greater
existence. Part of the attraction of Ingram was that he was just so
ordinarily human. Alva was never ordinary, and scarcely ever human. Oh,
dear! Her lovely dream seemed suddenly slipping out to sea before this
tremendous, quiet storm of resistless stress!

"You have had a letter?" she whispered timidly, at last.

"Yes, dear, and he is dead." Alva spoke quite steadily.

"Dead!"

"I had a letter from his friend--his doctor--the one who wrote for him.
You were right in what you thought. He died last night, in the night,
while I slept. He was unconscious when he died. He struggled first and
suffered--while I was struggling and suffering, you remember--and then
he grew still when I grew still, and then when I slept he slept and
began to die, and while I still slept he died--that is--his body died."

Lassie sank down upon the bed beside her, took the clasped hands into
her own, and burst into bitter tears, hiding her face in the four hands
at once.

After a little Alva spoke again, still in the same low, ringing voice.

"It came so close that I did believe that it would be, but there are
some dreams that may not be realized on earth. Mine was such a one."

Lassie lifted her head to look into her face; she was sufficiently
accustomed to the dim light by this time to be able to see distinctly
the pure and noble outlines, the large, tragic eyes. She felt herself
crushed into speechlessness.

"He wrote me himself," Alva continued presently; "just the merest word.
I read it. I read it twice. Then I sat still for a long, long time.
Lassie," she pressed the girl's hands warmly, "it was good to think that
I had shown my happiness to you, for no one will ever know that I was
ever happy, now. Oh, it was so long that I sat here, thinking. I told
you once, how, in the first day of my supreme joy, I went into the
cathedral near the hospital and thanked God on my knees for all the past
and made a vow to accept with courage all that might come to me, in
return for that joy. I thought, as I prayed, that I'd go forth and
gladly starve and freeze till I died, if it were the purchase price of
such happiness. I am remembering that hour. I will not cry out, nor
weep, nor say one word. I have had him; we shall be one again. My desire
has always been only to be worthy him--to be worthy him--to be worthy
him! And now I have the chance to prove myself so; and I will not
fail,--though the heart in my body burst, my spirit will not fail."

Lassie was still, overawed.

"I had to search to be thankful at first," Alva went on, "but now I have
found something to be very thankful for. I am so glad that it came
before I had told my mother. She is spared. She will never know. Every
one is spared except him and me, and we are strong--we can endure. We
have endured. We can endure again."

"If you only could have gone and been with him!" wailed the girl,
softly.

"Oh, how I have wished that! You don't know how I have wished that! It
has been sweeping through me and rending me cruelly, but he did not wish
it, or he would have sent for me. And I have tried never even to wish
anything unless he wished it, too. You know how I have wished that I
might have stayed there with him. But he begged me to go. They would not
let me stay. I had to yield!"

"Shall you go as you planned, to-night?"

"No, dear, I want to stay here alone for three or four days, and then go
home,--back to my duty to my parents, you know. I never meant to leave
for long. Yes," she almost whispered, "I must hurry back home,
forever."

"Never to return here?"

"I think, never. I cannot see how or why I should return."

Lassie's lips quivered. "And your house?" she whispered.

A long, sad breath passed over lips that did not quiver. "Ah, yes, my
house," she answered softly; "I thought of going to it this afternoon,
and then I could not. Dear little home nest,--there are nothing but
happy thoughts there; all my best is there--unselfish dreams, devoted
hopes, great aims, longings to make some one and every one glad."

She paused. Lassie leaned close.

"May I lie down beside you, Alva, and put my arms around you and hold
you tightly, dear? It will be good-by, for you want me to go just the
same, I know."

"Yes, dear, you must go. What time is it?"

"It's over an hour till the train. Let me hold you close, dear, I--I
love you."

"Yes, Lassie, come; I'll be glad to have you. Your head will lie on my
arm, and I shall like to draw you near as I might have drawn a little
child, had life fallen out differently long ago."

Lassie crept up on the bed, clasped her arms about her and tried not to
weep.

"You don't mind my talking of him, do you?" the woman asked, presently.
"You know after you go I shall never have any one again;" her voice
wailed desolate with the last words so that its very sound caused
Lassie's sobs to renew their force.

"I don't mind anything that you want to do, Alva."

"It's storming in upon me what life was to have been. What does the
world know of love? Love is something too great to comprehend. It costs
blood and years and tears. It goes so deep that the very joy in it cuts
like a knife. I knew that I was only to have had him a few weeks, that I
should have to compress all that I felt for him into them. But what
those few weeks would have meant! When to be quiet together was in
itself all that we asked! When we should have had a library and a piano,
and the gorge to look out over, and one another to talk to,--to be
with!" She stopped--her breath failed her.

There was a pause, as if to let the tide of grief sweep up and out
again.

"Oh, Lassie, we had waited so long and hopelessly," she went on finally,
her sentences short and tense and broken. "I tried to be so patient. I
tried so hard to do well with the bit of life dealt out to me. As much
as I could, I followed in his path in the giving of my all to others and
neither asking nor expecting for myself. I hoped nothing for us--nothing
for us! And then I had to see him stretched out--crushed--maimed, and I
had to live still, and smile into his eyes, and tell him that even that
was more than I had deserved. And then came our dream--our precious
dream--the promise of those few, sweet, perfect days! Oh, but why should
I repine? I have been so happy. I have contemplated the heights, even if
it was not given me to reach them."

There was another pause.

"Lassie, it is not my soul that is wailing; my soul is very strong and
resolute. He left work undone and even this afternoon it came to me that
that work was part of him and that in doing it I should do for him. If
we could suffer annihilation in a good cause, we should survive in the
cause. If I carry forward all that he held in heart, I shall continue to
be one with him. I know it. I longed unutterably to be with him, to make
his pain lighter, to share his hours at the last. I thought a great deal
of our happiness, but I thought also of what he would teach me to do for
the world. Oh, I can believe that he suffered last night. It was only
the edge of the storm that brushed over me, but I know how _I_ suffered.
There are some men who cannot die, who are too sorely needed; and he was
such a one. He did not want to leave his work."

She stopped, and Lassie felt the tide of grief rise full and ebb again.

"It wasn't love or marriage as the world understands it; but it was the
supreme self sacrifice that my spirit cried for in consecration. I
thought that I was to be greatly fitted for a great work."

Lassie whispered: "Perhaps you have been fitted."

"No. No! Heaven ordained that the sacrifice and the consecration should
be greater than I had ever imagined. It ordained that he should pass
away alone and leave me alone, too; and now it is left me to work out a
new salvation. I try not to doubt, I do trust God completely. But I
cannot see why--or how! Not yet. But, at any rate, the worst for me is
come. I have touched bottom. Battle for me is past."

Then she rose from the bed, went to the window and let up the shade. The
night of Nature's world, always full of potency, calmed her suddenly
into another mood.

"It is snowing," she exclaimed; "that means that rain is falling on
new-made graves." She came back from the window. "Lassie," she said, "my
heart is broken, my future is crushed, and yet I feel _so strong_! It
floods me fresh. I see now that wherever his soul passed last night, it
must have passed in triumph--gone on to further work. I shall work, too.
That is the legacy his letter left me--an intense desire to serve. How
small I am, how great God is; all life's misery results from setting our
little wills in opposition to His plan for our best. It is borne in upon
me clearly; I recognize the fact well. Now when I leave this room next
time and forever henceforth, so long as I live, I am willing with my
whole soul to do whatever work there is laid out for me. I feel in my
heart that no stumbling or even ridicule for stumbling can ever again
cause me to falter. I have found Truth. I will be strong."

Lassie looked at her in wonder. The white look of unearthly radiance
which men once knew as "Ecstasy" was indeed on her face now--on her
pale, sad, worn face, filling it with a glow of wondrous resolution.

"Oh, Alva!" the girl exclaimed, and then, even as the exclamation left
her lips, she was conscious of an upleaping of warm, human joy to think
of the six o'clock train and Ingram's companionship. The higher plane
was very high above her yet.

Alva pressed her hands to her eyes and face. "That was like a lightning
flash, dear," she said; "oh, if I may only live by its light forever
after. If only!" There was a brief silence; then,--

"I must pick up my things, I guess," the girl suggested.

"Yes, dear," Alva tried to smile; "yes, you must pick up your things.
That's what life here means."

Lassie slipped into her own room. She was glad that Alva was quiet and
that she could smile upon her again; it was truly what life meant to
her. She was very little yet and very blind, and the angels might have
been smiling meaningly and mercifully at one another over her pretty,
childish head that hour.

But over Alva the Spirits of Heaven might have wept,--as they weep for
any on earth who fancy that they have sounded either the depths or the
heights of any design wrought out above.

Above is so far above, and we and all our hopes and joys and sorrows are
so far beneath. So far beneath that radiant serenity which moves
eternally forward in its fulfilling of the Divine Plan. His Divine Plan
for the uplifting of all that He has made.



CHAPTER XXIV

DAWN


As the train pulled out, a half hour later, Alva, now quite steady and
serene, waved her hand, and then turned away so as not to see Lassie,
weeping, yet clinging close to the strong arm thrown before her like a
guard.

"You'll come home with me, my dear," said Mrs. O'Neil, who had come to
the station, too; "you look a little tired and pale, and I'll help you
finish your own packing, and then you must have some good hot tea and
gingerbread."

Alva laid her hand in the kindly, warm hand of the other. "Yes, let us
go home," she said; "but I'm not going to-night, so my packing can
wait."

"You aren't going! Oh, I am glad. Then you'll have a little time for
rest. You need it." Mrs. O'Neil was so frankly pleased that Alva was
forced to thank her kindliness in spirit. The racked are so grateful to
a tender touch after their sharpest agony.

They went across the tracks and up the little cinder-path. Mary Loretta
and the cat came running out to meet them, and Mary Cody had the
teakettle boiling.

"She's not going to-night," said Mrs. O'Neil, getting out the tea and
handing it to Mary Cody, who was now cutting gingerbread. "I'm so glad;
it would be so lonesome without her."

Mary Cody assented.

"And those two young people are happy, too," Mrs. O'Neil said to Alva,
in the dining-room a minute later, "such a nice-looking couple!"

"I hope she'll be happy," said Alva, staring out of the window as she
sat by the table waiting idly. "She will have everything to make for her
happiness now." Lassie and Ingram had ceased to matter to her. Her brain
could not include them in this hour.

Mrs. O'Neil's eyes filled as she glanced that way. The still, quiet face
and form by the window had some tragedy written in every line, although
the lips stayed closed and the bright-faced hostess felt what she could
not know.

"There, my dear, there's the tea; let me pour your cup," she said. "Do
put in some cream just for once, it's so nourishing; and why, I declare,
if here isn't Mrs. Ray, just in time to have a cup with us!"

Mrs. Ray had passed the window and now opened the door and came in.
There was an air of strongly repressed excitement about her.

"So she's gone," she said briskly. "I was peeking out watching the
mail-bag to see that no one else stuck a letter in the strap on me, and
I saw you all seeing her off. Pretty she is,--and it's plain to be seen
what's going to happen next, and I'm very glad for them both."

"Yes," said Mrs. O'Neil, smiling; "we're all that."

"I come down for several reasons," said Mrs. Ray. "First," she turned to
Alva, "there's a letter that come this morning, and heaven knows how it
happened--with all my care--but it slipped under those pesky government
scales and I found it when I dusted out this afternoon. I hope it isn't
very important."

Alva took the letter with its typewritten address and put it in her
pocket. "Don't worry, Mrs. Ray," she said, "Lassie's gone; I'm going
very soon; nothing can matter much now, can it?" She managed to smile.

"Well, I don't know," said Mrs. Ray. "That's your view because you're
going, but I can't say that I shall feel really settled in my mind till
the dam's settled."

"But I thought the quicksand was going to settle the dam," said Mrs.
O'Neil; "somebody said so."

"You can't settle even a quicksand with a legislature," said Mrs. Ray;
"I guess I know. The United States Government is a great eye-opener,
especially when you have to tend a post-office according to any new
rules it finds time to have printed and mail you. I've had four pages of
new rules sent me to-day."

"Here's your tea, Mrs. Ray," said Mrs. O'Neil; "do sit down. Bring some
more gingerbread, Mary. And won't you have a little jam? I've a lot of
nice fresh this-autumn, plum jam."

"No, I don't want any jam," said Mrs. Ray, seating herself; "but,
Nellie, I've been hearing that legally your husband can't do nothing
with the Lathbuns."

"Well, that isn't the worst," said Mrs. O'Neil, her face clouding
considerably; "what do you think I've up and done? I was so mad I threw
that old hair-brush over into the gorge, and I've thereby made Jack
liable for a suit of damage for breaking into the luggage a guest leaves
without due cause, or else for willful destruction of personal property
belonging to another and unoffending party who has reposed trust only to
be betrayed. Jack will have to go to the lawyer to-morrow to find out
which. Oh, they were slick--those two. They've got the law down fine."

"Well, did you know they're caught?" Mrs. Ray brought this statement
forth as the cannon does the cannon ball.

Mrs. O'Neil jumped in her chair. "Caught? No, I did not know it. When?"

"They just told me over at the station that they were arrested about
three o'clock. I guess it's true. I hope so."

"Oh, to think of it," said Mrs. O'Neil, "to think of them sleeping here
last night and in Geneseo to-night!"

"The complaints will come pouring in," said Mrs. Ray; "everybody has got
a bill against 'em. I don't believe they'll be out of jail in years."

Alva turned her face again to the window. She had not thought much of
the two unfortunate creatures during the past few hours, and their
misery bore in upon her with a vivid, headlong shock.

"And those case-knives, too," Mrs. Ray continued; "did they have 'em on,
I wonder."

"Oh, the case-knives don't count," said Mrs. O'Neil; "they were left
here by a travelling man. He was around to-day and asked if it was here
that he left them. I meant to tell you, but dear, dear, I've had so much
to do, seems like."

Mrs. Ray was much taken aback, but quickly recovered herself.

"Oh, well, they could have used a hat-pin just as well. Anyhow, they
might have got up in the night and murdered him some way. Mrs. Lathbun
could have held him while Hannah Adele just stuck anything handy into
him in every direction. I never could see what they had the case-knives
for, anyhow, if it wasn't on the chance of some such game. For two women
to carry six case-knives instead of combs and tooth-brushes is very
suspicious in itself, I think."

"But, they weren't carrying them," said Mrs. O'Neil. "Jack thought they
had them for opening windows, but to think of them staying here three
weeks and no baggage. It makes me wild."

"Well, you and Mr. O'Neil are easy," said Mrs. Ray; "you're very mooney,
both of you. You can't deny that, Nellie,--you and your husband haven't
got real good common sense, or you'd have nailed their windows on from
the outside the day you first mistrusted them."

"Well, we won't be mooney any more, anyhow," said Mrs. O'Neil; "the
drillers came to-day with two freight cars of machinery, but Jack had
them pay a week in advance. He says he won't even trust the State after
this."

"I don't trust the United States any further than I can see 'em," said
Mrs. Ray; "but this has been a good lesson for you, Nellie. You won't be
letting any sharper that comes along wear your gran'mother's Paisley
shawl while he spies out the road he's going to skip out over next,
again."

"Indeed and I won't," said Mrs. O'Neil feelingly.

"Sammy Adams was in to spend the afternoon," Mrs. Ray went on. "We
talked the question of my marrying him all over again. He always asks me
when he comes for the whole afternoon like that, and he had such a hard
time getting it all out to-day with people running in to talk about the
Lathbuns every second, that I just had to appreciate the way he stuck to
it clear through to the end."

"What did you say?" asked Mrs. O'Neil.

"I didn't say much. I was too busy talking to the others, you know. Yes,
indeed. But I was sorry for him. He's _so_ scared sleeping alone in his
house for fear of maybe being swindled in his bed before he knows it.
And now he's worried for fear the dam is going to drown him
unexpectedly, too. They say if that dam is built and does bu'st, the
Johnstown Flood won't be in it with Rochester. The folks that want the
Falls saved'll get their chance to say, 'I told you so' then; but that
won't help Sammy much."

"What did you say?" Mrs. O'Neil asked again.

"Well, when I got a chance, I told him I'd despise a man who'd let me
keep on working as hard as I work now, but that if any man was to ask me
to give up the church, or the post-office, or my chickens, that would
show he didn't know me, right in the start."

"What did he say to that?" Mrs. O'Neil asked with interest.

"He didn't know what to say at first, but then he's the kind of man that
never does know what to say. I declare, Nellie, I do think men that want
to marry women act too foolish for words. Yes, indeed. If a man wants to
do anything else in the world he gets to work and does it; but if he
wants to marry a woman he just sits still and looks silly and leaves it
to the woman to be done or not."

"Do you think so?" said Mrs. O'Neil.

"Think so," said Mrs. Ray; "I know so. I've had men acting foolish
around where I was all my life. I've tripped over 'em while sweeping,
cooking, washing, tending Mr. Ray's family by his second wife, sorting
mail,--why, I've had men thinking what a good wife I'd make all my life,
and looking so like idiots while they thought it that I wouldn't look at
it like they did for any money. They stop by the fence when I'm
ploughing, and just grin with thinking what a hired man I'd make. I was
cleaning the long aisle carpet at the church last Wednesday, and that
minister that's visiting our minister couldn't keep away from the
window. When I take my eggs and chickens to market, the buyer down there
looks at how I've got those eggs packed and pinches my chickens, and
then he turns to me and goodness, but his glance is loving."

"Well, you're a very smart woman, you know," said Mrs. O'Neil.

"I know that; I know it just as well as you do. But I'm a woman, and I'd
like to meet one man as was a man. I know men pretty well; I knew Mr.
Ray better than he knew himself. Mr. Ray thought he was doing me an
honor to marry me, and I knew he wasn't, and I lived with him fifteen
years and never threw it in his face once. I let him talk about his
ancestors and I never talked about mine. He thought I didn't have any;
he never realized I kept still so as to keep from telling such stories
as he did. His ancestors! I'd like to know what sort of ancestors he
had! If he'd had any ancestors, he'd have been bound to be descended
from them, I should think, in which case he wouldn't have been a Ray.
The fact that he and his father called themselves Jared and spelt it
Jarrod was enough for me; but to make a long story short I'm going to
marry Sammy Adams, and I ran down to tell you that at the same time that
I brought the letter."

There was an outbreak of exclamations and then a beginning at
congratulations, but Mrs. Ray stopped those.

"I don't want congratulations," she said; "there isn't anything to
congratulate me about, for I never tried to get him, so I haven't had a
success or anything to be proud of. It's just that the dam is so likely
to be going to drown him out that he wants to rent my second floor and
pay the rent every first Monday in the month. I'm going to go straight
on with my life, and continue to save my own money to finish educating
Mr. Ray's children by his second wife. We shall go to church together,
and he'll sit with me evenings when I ain't too tired, or when he's
nervous over case-knives and swindling. He's going to pay me for all his
tailoring and all his hair-cuts, but he's to say when he thinks he needs
anything new or it's getting too long. He'll buy our potatoes and
chickens of me at the regular price, but I'll furnish my own eggs, like
I always have."

"It's settled, then?" said Mrs. O'Neil, with a slight smile.

"Yes, it's settled. I don't believe the dam will ever be dug, but I'll
marry Sammy all the same."

"You're right about the dam, Mrs. Ray," Alva said, speaking for the
first time. "I don't believe it will ever be built, either; the Falls
have too many friends. Besides, there must come a time when the God of
All will say to our American Mammon, 'So far and no further shalt thou
go,' and I believe the time is now and that the place is here."

"Well, I don't know about all that," said Mrs. Ray; "but Josiah Bates
drove the surveyors home yesterday, and he gathered from them that if
they built that dam and made that lake, the lake was pretty sure to
burst out around back of the Wiley place--that low place you know--and
we'd have a new waterfall in through the Wiley cow-pasture, even if we
didn't have nothing worse."

"Goodness me!" cried Mrs. O'Neil, "what would the Wileys say to that!"

"I don't know what the Wileys would say to that," said Mrs. Ray; "but it
made me know what I'd say to Sammy. Yes, indeed. If there isn't going to
be any dam, the summers here are going to go on exactly as they used to,
and I've got to have a man to bring up my ice! You know my motto, 'He
moves in a mysterious way,' and I can see now why the Lathbuns and the
dam both come. I had a dreadful time last summer getting my ice up, and
as long as everybody's been betting all along that I'd always marry
Sammy some day, I might as well do it now as any time. Yes, indeed."

"You are very sensible," said Alva, rising, "and I'm sure that you will
be very happy. I congratulate you." She held out her hand. "Good-bye."

"I'm sorry you're going so soon," said Mrs. Ray, clasping it warmly,
"you've meant such a lot of cancellation, and then I've got very fond of
you, too."

Alva smiled. "I'm only going out on the bridge just now for a little,"
she said, turning to Mrs. O'Neil. "I'll be back shortly."

Mrs. O'Neil glanced towards the window. "It's snowing harder and
harder," she said; "wrap up warm."

Alva went quietly out. When they were alone, Mrs. Ray shook her head.
"She looks bad," she said; "I'm not sure that she didn't care for him,
after all. She's got that mooney look. I know just the look. I'd have
looked just that way by spring, if I'd taken Gran'ma Benton and the
parrot. I'm glad I've decided to marry Sammy, instead."

"You won't take them, then?" asked Mrs. O'Neil.

"No, I couldn't stand Sammy and a parrot at once, and then, too, he
might quarrel with the parrot, or Gran'ma Benton might make trouble
between Sammy and me. I never allowed any one to make trouble between
Mr. Ray and me, and I won't allow trouble this time, either. If I'm
going to be unhappy married, I won't marry. That's flat."

"I wonder if Jack knows they're arrested!" said Mrs. O'Neil,
thoughtfully.

"I stopped in the bar on purpose," said Mrs. Ray, "I thought he ought to
know right away."

"Was he there?" asked the wife.

"Oh, no," said Mrs. Ray, calmly, "but I did what I could, Nellie, and
nobody can be expected to pass _that_, you know."



CHAPTER XXV

THE BREAKING OF ANOTHER DAY AND WAY


Alva slipped into her cape, and drawing some fur up round her throat,
set swiftly forth upon the Long Bridge--for the last time, she told
herself.

The snow was falling fast, but not thickly as yet, and she had it in her
heart to steal under cover of the fast-approaching twilight to her
house, and look upon that also for the last time. Her sorrow was too
deep to leave any room to mourn the background of her dream, but the
background was consecrated by the dream and she longed to stand once
more close to those walls, even if only to sob her heart out alone under
the rustle of dead leaves, amidst the fast deepening snow.

There was in her that awful strength that saves one's reason in the
first shock of the otherwise unbearable. Years were ahead and yet her
heart did not shrink; endless gray duties stretched between their
mile-stones, but to her it mattered not. Nothing mattered, she told
herself over and over. Life would go on, other lives in especial would
go on; their demands would be hers to meet, their cares and troubles,
their joys and sorrows would be hers to reflect, but to her personally
nothing would--nothing could--matter more. Her unseeing eyes looked out
over the gorge; the matchless beauty, for the preservation of which her
dead love had fought so hard, came to a blind market now; she could not
see, she could not feel, for her life and all that makes life worth
living was over.

So she swept on, her dark cape fluttering wide like wings on either side
of her steady swiftness. The snow crystals clung to the wool and quickly
starred its night with stars, but she saw no night except her own, and
noted no stars. "And yet I must not give way too much," she thought
suddenly, with a quick stabbing sense of proving unworthy; "if I am what
I have told Lassie that one should be--if I am what one who has truly
loved should surely be--I shall be strong and live resolutely as he
lived, even though I have been so crushed. Pain could not crush his
spirit; shall sorrow crush mine? I _will_ be strong."

The letter which she had brought out with her came to her mind then, and
she paused and read it. It was from the surgeon and told her what she
had lately mistrusted,--that there had never been the slightest chance
of moving him, that she had been sent away as a child is banished from a
painful scene, and that she had been beguiled as a child is beguiled.
She did not resent the truth, she was too big to resent such a truth;
but she felt freshly mournful, and the home that was to have been seemed
to fade utterly out of her consciousness, leaving her with no desire to
ever see it again.

But there was another sheet within the envelope. She took that out, too.
It was printed--in a hand that trembled. Her heart contracted as she saw
the crooked lines,--so much ran deep between them.

     ALVA:--I have struggled. I shall not give up. I believe
     sometimes God has given a new body to serve a needed end. I
     cannot go. I must come back. Not for your sake. But for
     theirs--for the sake of those who will never know. If I come,
     help me again. For you and for me help is the only bond. I am
     not sure that there is any other that endures. Not in this
     present world of ours.

She shook a little. Something especially cold and piercing struck to her
heart. She raised her eyes quickly, and there, close beside her on the
bridge, the dead man stood.

His bright dark eyes looked straight into hers.

"Don't you know who I am?" he said.

She would have fallen but for his quick grasp, and the grasp choked the
cry that was rising, for it was the grasp of flesh and of strength.

"Don't you know who I am?" he asked again. "I thought that I saw in your
eyes that you knew. I thought that she had described me to you. I'm
Lisle Bayard. You wrote to me, you know."

She drew away from him, and leaned heavily against the bridge-rail. If
it were true that this were he! A new body to serve a great purpose. If
that Mystery that is the rooting of all that is or is to be had been
building this man and this hour, and weaving and twisting and shaping
both to its ends! She seemed to stand motionless, but within herself she
was dizzy and reeling. "He moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to
perform."

"You have freed them?" she said, divining truth with a prescience that
startled herself.

"Oh, yes," he said, "I have been to Geneseo. They are free. But you
never really believed that I had any interest in them, did you?"

His voice was no strange voice in her ears, nor was his manner that of a
stranger. She had to press her temples hard with her two hands. "You are
like the man whom I loved," she said; "he--he died yesterday. That was
what drew me to her; she described you and said that you loved her."

"Poor thing," he said, simply.

"And that you pursued her," Alva went on; "you can think that I
befriended her then. I tried to help her. Because I, too, loved--and
hoped."

"It was good of you," he said; "but they are mere adventuresses--not
worth your troubling."

"But you have helped them?"

"I? Oh, yes. But," he hesitated; "I am tired of my life," he added
suddenly. "I've turned over a new leaf--I've reformed."

"Since when?"

"Since yesterday."

She held hard to the bridge-rail. "Since yesterday," she repeated;
"since yesterday?"

"Yes, since yesterday."

Her eyes were staring into his now. "Tell me about it?" she cried, as
the starving cry out for food--"at once."

"I don't know about it. I just turned in disgust from myself. It was all
in a minute. I wandered about all day and all last night. I tried to
drink--you know I drink?--and then all of a sudden I realized what a
beast I'd been, and I turned from it all. Something stronger than myself
drew me to Geneseo this morning; something stronger yet drew me here;
what led me out upon the bridge was strongest of all. I don't know what
it all means, but perhaps you do."

For a long minute she looked at him, and then she spoke. "The man who
died is guiding you," she said; "I know it is that."

He smiled a little. "Can I trust him?" he asked.

"I think so," she answered; "because his appeal is to your better self.
You will learn."

"And you will teach me?" he said, quickly.

She was silent.

"You will teach me?" he repeated.

"I am going home," she said. "I live far from here. I have duties which
will chain me there for life. You will learn of him alone. You will be
guided; do not fear."

He looked at her, and his eyes blazed suddenly. She shrank back with a
cry. "Oh, no--not that--not that!" she exclaimed; "I loved him and he is
dead. His work descends on us to do, that is all. All!"

The man, looking down at her with the dead man's eyes, was silent.

"I am not able to talk to you," she said, "I can hardly control my
voice. He died yesterday, and to-day you speak to me with his voice. And
it is so strange,--your coming. It is all so strange."

"Yes, it is all strange," he said; "but it cannot stop here, you know.
The Purpose that has brought this about will not cease to exist now."

She felt herself agitated, unnerved, trembling. She took hold of the
bridge-rail again. "The Purpose works for great ends," she said; "we
must learn that. I have learned it. Even a little respite from daily
life is not allowed, when one has once crossed the border and left self
behind. I have had to learn that in a bitter school. For God's sake,
lift burdens; do not add to them. And do not make my lot harder than it
is to be. You are not him, and I know it. Do not seek friendship with
me; it is torture."

"But if I were he," he said, "if I do his work, live towards his goal,
accomplish his purposes. Who shall say what soul I bear? I never had a
soul till yesterday. I have one now. Where did it come from, this new
soul of mine. Perhaps from him. I've read stories like that."

"I cannot bear it," she said, suddenly; "my head refuses to understand.
All that I have believed is rolling and crashing around me. Let us say
good-by. In a few hours I shall be far away. Oh, I shall be glad--so
glad--to go."

"But I shall remain," he declared. "I shall take up the battle, and I
shall win his unfinished fight. Let us leave the future wrapped in its
mystery. I have been impatient all my life, but now I can wait."

She walked away through the snow.

And then suddenly, as she moved, she felt her steps stayed--she stopped.
It was not the man who had stayed her; he was standing where she had
left him, behind her--there on the bridge. But she was stopped by a
thought; at that thought she turned.

"If you are to live here," she said faltering, her voice quite unlike
its usual firm, low purpose,--"if you are to live here, you will want a
home. There is a house--"

She paused. Her hand had drawn a key from her pocket, and without
further explanation she held it out to him.

He approached and took the key. He asked no question. He spoke no word.
They did not even exchange a glance.

Five minutes later a veil of snowflakes divided them, and the gorge lay
black between.

What is there to be said further? Nothing unless perhaps the single line
that can so fitly begin and end all:

"He moves in a mysterious way."


       *       *       *       *       *


_An International Love Comedy_


A WOMAN'S WILL

By ANNE WARNER

Author of "Susan Clegg and Her Friend Mrs. Lathrop."

It is a relief to take up a volume so absolutely free from
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conversation is thoroughly delightful. The book is as refreshing a bit
of fiction as one often finds; there is not a dull page in
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It is bright, charming, and intense as it describes the wooing of a
young American widow on the European Continent by a German musical
genius.--_San Francisco Chronicle._

A deliciously funny book.--_Chicago Tribune._

There is a laugh on nearly every page.--_New York Times._

Most decidedly an unusual story. The dialogue is nothing if not
original, and the characters are very unique. There is something
striking on every page of the book.--_Newark Advertiser._

A more vivacious light novel could not be found.--_Chicago
Record-Herald._

    Illustrated by I. H. Caliga. 360 pages. 12mo.
    Decorated cloth, $1.50.

    LITTLE, BROWN, & CO., PUBLISHERS, BOSTON
    _At all Booksellers'_


_New Edition with Pictures from the Play_


THE REJUVENATION OF AUNT MARY

_By_ ANNE WARNER

_Author of "Susan Clegg and Her Friend Mrs. Lathrop," "A Woman's Will,"
etc._

Illustrated. 12mo. Cloth. $1.50

Always amusing and ends in a burst of sunshine.--_Philadelphia Ledger._

Impossible to read without laughing. A sparkling, hilarious
tale.--_Chicago Record-Herald._

The love story is as wholesome and satisfactory as the fun. In its class
this book must be accorded the first place.--_Baltimore Sun._

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Every one that remembers Susan Clegg will wish also to make the
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Cheerful, crisp, and bright. The comedy is sweetened by a satisfying
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    LITTLE, BROWN, & CO., PUBLISHERS

    254 WASHINGTON STREET, BOSTON


_An exceedingly clever volume._--BOSTON GLOBE


AN ORIGINAL GENTLEMAN

_By_ ANNE WARNER

Author of "The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary," the "Susan Clegg" books, etc.

Frontispiece by Alice Barber Stephens. Cloth. $1.50

Merry reading indeed.--_New York Tribune._

All are humorous.... In none is dialect used.--_New York Sun._

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Humor and novelty of plot characterize most of the stories, and they are
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Exhibits her cleverness and her sense of humor.... Show much of that
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    LITTLE, BROWN, & CO., PUBLISHERS
    254 WASHINGTON STREET, BOSTON


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_By_ ANNE WARNER

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_By the Same Author_:

SUSAN CLEGG AND HER NEIGHBORS' AFFAIRS

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Illustrated by ALICE BARBER STEPHENS. $1.50

Susan is a positive joy, and the reading world owes Anne Warner a vote
of thanks for her contribution to the list of American humor.--_New York
Times._

    LITTLE, BROWN, & CO., PUBLISHERS
    254 WASHINGTON STREET, BOSTON





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