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Title: Bolanyo
Author: Read, Opie Percival, 1852-1939
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.

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BOLANYO

A Novel

by

OPIE READ

Author of A Kentucky Colonel The Jucklins etc



Chicago
Printed for
Way & Williams
MDCCCXCVII

Copyright, 1897, by Way & Williams.

The Cover Designed by Mr. Maxfield Parrish.
Decorations by Mr. Charles Francis Browne.



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER.                                           PAGE.

       I. ON THE RIVER                                1

      II. IN THE AIR                                 13

     III. THE BLACK GIANT                            20

      IV. THE SENATOR                                28

       V. A MOMENT OF FORGIVENESS                    36

      VI. INTRODUCED TO MRS. ESTELL                  50

     VII. THE NOTORIOUS BUGG PETERS                  66

    VIII. THE STATE TREASURER                        82

      IX. PUBLIC ENTERTAINERS                        99

       X. MR. PETTICORD                             117

      XI. THE CHARM OF AN OLD TOWN                  131

     XII. A MATTER OF BUSINESS                      154

    XIII. THE PLACE OF THE GOBLINS                  164

     XIV. OLD JOE VARK                              172

      XV. OLD AUNT PATSEY                           187

     XVI. THE PLAY                                  203

    XVII. A SLOW STEP ON THE STAIRS                 219

   XVIII. TO MEET THE MANAGER                       226

     XIX. BURN THE JUNIPER                          233

      XX. GLEANING THE FIELD                        241

     XXI. THE WORK OF THE SCOUNDREL                 251

    XXII. IN THE THICKET                            258

   XXIII. THE RINGING OF THE BELL                   269

    XXIV. MAGNOLIA LAND                             280

     XXV. DOWN A DARK ALLEY                         291

    XXVI. CONCLUSION--IN THE GARDEN                 300



BOLANYO



CHAPTER I.

ON THE RIVER.


On the night of the 26th of April our company closed an engagement at
the St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans; and before the clocks began to
strike the hour of twelve, our bags and baggage had been tumbled on
board a steamboat headed for St. Louis. The prospects of the National
Dramatic Company had been bright; competent critics had pronounced our
new play a work of true and sympathetic art, before production, but had
slashed at our tender vitals when the piece had passed from rehearsal to
presentation. The bad beginning in the East had not truthfully foretold
a good ending in the South. The people had failed to sympathize with our
"Work of Sympathetic Art." Hope had leaped from town to town; was always
sure to fall, but always quick to rise again; and, now, three nights in
St. Louis would close the season, and doubtless end the career of the
National Dramatic Company. The captain of the Red Fox, a dingy,
waterlogged and laborious craft, had kindly offered to let us come
aboard at half his usual rate. He assured our manager that this
concession afforded a real pleasure; that he held a keen interest in our
profession, having years ago done a clog dance as a negro minstrel.
Necessity oozed oil upon this unconscious sarcasm, and with grateful
dignity the captain's offer was accepted.

By two o'clock we were creaking and churning against the current, and,
alone in a begrimed cubby-hole, with a looking-glass shaking against the
frail wall, I lay down with a sigh to take stock of myself. Hope had
been agile, but now it did not bound with so light a spring. Could it be
that I had begun to question my ability as an actor? It was true that
the critics had slit me with their knives, but the people had frequently
applauded, and, after all, the people deliver the verdict. The judge may
charge, but the jury pronounces. I knew then, as I know now, that there
must be a reserve force behind all forms of art; that one essential of
artistic expression is to create the belief that you are not doing your
best, that you are not under a strain. And I thought that I had
accomplished this, but the critics had said that my restraint was weak
and my passion overwrought. I had not come out as a star. As a stock
comedian I had been granted a kindly mention, and had accepted the place
of leading man, but this had given offense and had called forth an
unjust tirade of censure. Perhaps I had assumed a little too much, but
the man who is not ready to assume will never accomplish anything, and
from a lower station must be content to contemplate the success of those
who were less delicate.

When morning came I looked out upon the canefields, green to the edge of
the horizon. The breakfast bell rang, but I hung back, not for lack of
appetite, but for the reason that the other members of the company had
ceased to be companionable. Even a meager applause can excite, if not
envy, a certain degree of contempt; and the small stint of approbation
which, like a mere crumb, had fallen to me could not have aroused the
jealousy, but surely sharpened the sarcasms, of my fellow-players. In a
side remark intended for me, and which struck me like a shaft,
Culpepper, as vain a fellow as ever mismumbled an author's lines,
remarked to Miss Hatch that an elephant would stretch his chain to
reach a bonbon. And, stroking as brutish a pug as ever found soft
luxury in a woman's lap, she replied that it was a pity that the average
theatrical elephant, foisted upon an easy manager, could only rival the
real beast in clumsiness and in his appetite for sweets. So I waited,
gazing out upon the edgeless spread of cane-land, until my companions in
"sympathetic art" had indulged in the usual growl over their morning
meal, and then I went out to breakfast. At the table sat one person, an
oldish man with a dash of red in his countenance. As I sat down he
looked up, and, with a pleasing smile, inquired if I were Mr. Maurice
Belford. And when I had told him yes, he said:

"I thought so, or 'mistrusted' as much, as Old Bill Brooks used to say,"
he added, laughing. "Didn't know old Bill, I take it? Used to travel a
good deal up and down the river, and was a great hand to go to a show.
And he'd always set 'em through. No, sir, he wouldn't leave you. And
this puts me in mind that I saw you play the other night. You caught
me, I tell you. That character of _Tobe Wilson_, the gambler, was about
as true a thing as I ever saw."

"I am much pleased to hear you say so," I replied, warming toward him.
"But the critics said it was overdone and unreal," I added.

"The critics said so; who are they?"

"The newspaper representatives who come to the theater to find fault," I
answered.

"Oh, that's it, eh? I didn't see what any of 'em said, and it wouldn't
make any difference if I had. I've been a pilot on this river mighty
nigh ever since I was a boy, and if I don't know what a real gambler is,
I'd like for some man to point one out to me."

"I am really delighted to meet you, for surely your opinion is worth a
great deal."

"Don't know about that," he replied, "but I know what a gambler is. Why,
I set all the way through your show. Fellow wanted me to go out with
him, but I wouldn't. And right by me set Senator Giles Talcom, of
Mississippi. I live in Bolanyo, his town. It's improved mightily in the
last twenty-five years. Got a new city hall, and some Dutchmen from the
north are talking about starting a brewery. Now, Talcom is a smart man
and he liked your show; said he was sorry you are to skip Bolanyo on
your way up the river. As soon as I git a bite to eat I'm going up to
take the wheel. Wouldn't you like to sit in the pilot house?"

Glad to accept the invitation of one who had the insight to recognize an
artistic delineation of character, and the graciousness to declare it, I
went with him to the pilot house. He took the wheel from a man who, I
thought, did not look upon me kindly, and continued to talk, while with
an intentness that traced a frown upon his brow he estimated the
strength of the current, or the depth of the water on a shoal. The
river was low; the winter had been comparatively dry; the early spring
thaw had spent its force, and there was as yet no premonitory swell of
the great summer rise. The morning was sunless and soft, and far away a
dragon-shaped mist lay low upon the land, a giant's nightmare, fading in
the pale light of a reluctant day.

"The old river's dead," said the pilot, with the reverberations of a
knell in the tone of his voice. "Look at that thing fluttering along
over there, where the Lee and the Natchez used to plow. No, sir, the old
Mississippi ain't much better than a sewer now. But she was a roarer
back yonder in my time, I tell you. Ah, Lord, some great men have
piloted palaces along here."

"Whom do you regard as the greatest?" I inquired, expecting to hear him
pronounce a name well known to the stage and to literature.

"Well, of course there's a difference of opinion among them that don't
know, but with them that do know there never was a pilot that could
hold a candle to old Lige Patton."

"I don't believe I ever heard of him," I replied.

"Hah!" He turned his eyes upon me, with the up-river search still strong
in his gaze, but as with a snatch he jerked them away and threw them
upon a split in the current far ahead. "That might be," he assented,
slowly turning his wheel. "I can jump off here most anywhere and find
you a man that never heard of Julius Cæsar."

I preferred to remain silent under this rebuke, and he did not speak
again until we had sheered off to the left of the split in the current,
a snag, and then he said:

"Lige didn't weigh more than a hundred and sixty pounds at his best, and
the boys used to say there wan't no meat on him at all, nothing but
nerve. Game!" He cleared his throat, gave me a mere glance and
continued: "It was said that a panther once met him in the woods, and
gave vent to a most unearthly squall, which meant, 'excuse me, Mr.
Patton,' and took to his heels and never was heard of in that section
after that--the panther wan't--although he had been mighty popular among
the pigs and sheep of that neighborhood. But Lige never killed many men.
Never killed except when he was overpersuaded. Gave up a good position
once and went all the way to Jackson to call the governor of Mississippi
a liar. And what was that for? Why, the governor issued a thanksgiving
proclamation in spite of the fact that the river had been low for three
months, making it pretty tough work for the pilots; and Lige, he
declared that a governor who said that the people ought to be thankful
was a liar. And I've got a little more religion now than I had at that
time, but blamed if I don't still think he was right. I spoke a while
ago of Senator Talcom, who lives in my town. Well, sir, Lige give Talcom
his start in the world. It was this way: Lige wan't altogether a lamb
when he was drinking; he sorter looked for a fight, but, understand, he
didn't want to kill anybody, unless _over_persuaded. Talcom was a young
fellow, at that time, and had just come to town. And, somehow, he got in
Lige's way, and they fought. And if there ever was a man that had more
wire than Lige, it was Talcom. It must have been some sort of an
accident, but, somehow, he got the upper hand of Lige, got him down, got
out his knife, and was about to cut his throat, when Lige said: 'Young
fellow, you may put out my light as soon as you please, for you can do
it, but there's one thing, and one thing only, that I'd like to live
for, and that is to see what you are going to make of yourself.' Blamed
if this didn't tickle Talcom, and he got up and flung his knife away.
And, now to the point, sir; Lige went all around and told it that Talcom
whipped him, and that was the making of Talcom. Now look at him--been in
the State Senate year after year. Yes, sir," he added, "I reckon that in
one way and another Lige Patton developed more men than anybody that
ever struck this country."



CHAPTER II.

IN THE AIR.


At the noon hour my friend was relieved, and together we went down to
dinner. Miss Hatch and Culpepper fell to whispering as soon as I sat
down, opposite them. I knew that I was under a spiteful discussion, but,
with the appearance of paying no heed to them, I remarked to the pilot,
who sat beside me:

"You have often noticed, I suppose, that human nature by turns partakes
of the nature of all other animals, particularly of the black cat and
the yellow dog?"

"I don't know that I get you, exactly, but go ahead," he replied.

This afforded Miss Hatch and Culpepper an opportunity to titter. I did
not look at them, but addressed myself to the pilot.

"I confess that my meaning might have been clearer, but behind it lies a
sufficient cause for its utterance."

He put down his knife and looked at me helplessly, shook his head as if
puzzled, and fell to eating with this not very comforting observation:

"Jerk me out of bed any time of night, along here, and I can tell you
where I am, and I am pretty good at foreseeing a change in the channel,
but once in a while I strike a thing that I can't figger out, and I
reckon you've just handed me one."

Miss Hatch was now so occupied with feeding her dog that she had no time
to titter at my discomfiture, but I caught sight of Culpepper's hateful
and invidious smile.

The meal was finished in silence, and I thought that the pilot had
forgotten my clouded remark, but when he had resumed his place at the
wheel, he cut his sharp old eye at me and said:

"But there are a good many things I can see, and one of them is, that
you and them other show folks don't get along together very well."

"It's their fault," I replied.

"Of course," he rejoined, giving me a mere glimpse of his old eye, and
this time it was not merely shrewd--it was rascally.

"I have done my best to merit their friendship," I said, somewhat
sharply. "But they spurn me, they insinuate that I am an elephant on the
manager's hands, when you yourself have been kind enough to tell me that
my part of the performance was--"

"Good, first-rate," he broke in. "But in the play you almost have a set
of love jimjams on account of that woman, and let her reform you, and
all that sort of thing. It beats me," he added, shaking his head. "I
don't see how a man can love and cavort with a woman one minute, and
hate her the next. I pass, when it comes to that."

"The stage is a strange world," I replied.

"Yes, seems so. Hard way to earn money, hugging someone you don't like.
Why, I know a woman I wouldn't hug for a thousand dollars. You appear to
be a man of fair average sense. Why don't you go into some other
business--why don't you go to work?"

"Work!" I cried, and I laughed so loud that a half naked boy on the
shore tossed up his hat and shouted a salute to my merriment.

With his face hard set, and with his eyes sweeping the river, he waited
for my attention, and then he said: "Yes, work. Of course it's all right
for idle and shiftless fellows to go around this way, but it strikes
me--of course I don't know--but it strikes me that if you were to get
down to it, you might make something of yourself. It would be all right
if you could make a great actor out of yourself, for then it would be
worth your while, but always to be an under dog in the fight--"

"You are not a flatterer," I broke in.

"Well, I don't flatter men very much. Flattery, like feathers and
ribbons, was intended for women; but even they are getting too much
sense to swallow it. Come to think about it, they don't look for it as
much as men do."

We had turned a bend, and the pilot, pointing, directed my eye toward a
town. "There's old Bolanyo," he said. "One of the best towns on the
river, one way and another. I live there when I'm at home. And that's
where Senator Talcom lives, and that's where he had his fight with Lige
Patton. I'm going to hop off there to see my folks. House so plain up
there is the new city hall--must have cost forty-five thousand. Can't
see Talcom's house; it's off in the far edge of the town. It's almost a
farm, and I reckon he's got the finest magnolia garden in this whole
section. Old Bowie, father of the Bowie knife, fought a duel right over
yonder. Got his man. Stevens is coming up to relieve me now in a minute.
Coming now, I believe. Just step outside," he added, as his assistant
appeared at the door, "and I'll show you the places of interest, and
then trot down in time to hop off."

We stood near the pilot house, and, continuing to talk, he pointed out,
with the finger of local pride, a number of buildings which he believed
would be of interest to me, but his words fell without meaning. A
lulling essence was exhaled by the town. A spirit of rest and
contentment lay upon her lazy wharf. I heard the languid song of the
indolent "white trash," and the happy-go-lucky haw-haw of the trifling
negro. Through the lattice of a thin cloud the sun shot a glance, and
the gilded plow on the courthouse dome stood at the end of a furrow of
fire.

"Well, got to leave you."

He seized my hand, and at that moment I thought that I was jerked off my
feet, high in the air, and then came a thunder clap so loud, so
deafening that my senses were killed, conscious only that my body was a
dead weight and that my mind had been shattered and blown away. It
seemed that I was propelled through a long and vague interval of time,
and then a plunge and a chill, and my senses fluttered with painful
life. The sharp knowledge of an awful calamity shot through me--the boat
had exploded her boilers and I had been blown into the river.



CHAPTER III.

THE BLACK GIANT.


I remember to have struggled, and to have been tumbled over and over by
the current. I might have caught at a straw, but no array of sins came
up for review, though there were enough of them scattered between my
cradle bed and the bed of this engulfing river. But I thought of many a
foolish thing, a pair of red-top boots, a whistle made of willow, a
'coon skin tacked against the wall of a negro's cabin; but I do not
remember being taken out of the water, so I must have endured all the
popular agonies of drowning. I have a faint recollection of being borne
along at full length, of seeing lights and of hearing voices. Sometimes
the voices were close and loud in my ears, and again they were far
away. Struggling reason sank once more, an obliterating darkness fell;
and when, after a long time, the light returned, I realized that I was
in a room, lying on a bed. My nostrils were filled with the pungent
scent of liniments. A tight bandage was about my head; and a heavy sense
of soreness told me that my right side was crushed. I thought to say
something, but the pungent odor grew stronger in my nostrils, and I sank
to sleep. When I awoke again the day was broad. And never before had I
realized what broad day meant; it was the opposite of the sharp and
narrow lights that had shot out of the thick darkness enshrouding my
mind. Everything was clear to me now. The explosion had occurred at the
moment when the pilot took my hand. But was I now on board another
steamer? No, my apartment was too spacious and too stately. There were
pictures on the walls, and on the mantel stood a marble statuette--the
Diver. Undoubtedly I had been brought into a private house, for no
hospital would offer such luxury to a stranger. I heard footsteps and
voices. The door was carefully opened and two men entered the room. Upon
seeing my eyes turned toward them they advanced cheerfully. I tried to
say good morning, but the words stuck in my throat. One of the men
placed his fingers on my wrist and asked me how I felt. This time my
effort at speech was more of a success, and I managed to tell him that I
was beginning to feel very well, that I was thankful for the light, and
that I hoped he would not administer any more of that stifling liniment.

"The ether," he said, speaking to his companion; and then to me he
added, "No, you won't need any more of that. Well," he continued,
turning again to his companion, "he's doing first rate. I'll be around
again about eleven o'clock."

A sudden alarm came upon me. "Let me ask you a question," I cried as he
turned to leave. "Haven't you cut off one of my legs?"

"No, sir-ree," he good-humoredly laughed.

"But I want you to be sure about it," I persisted. "Just this minute I
tried to find them both but couldn't."

"Here, doctor," said the other man, "show him that his legs are all
right. Don't leave him in this fix."

"Yes, of course," said the doctor, and lifting the cover he proved that
I had not been robbed by the surgeon's knife. "Got both arms, too, you
see."

"But I'm pretty badly hurt."

"Well, the blow-up didn't do you any particular good, but you are coming
along all right. All we've got to guard against now is a rise in
temperature, and there'll be no danger of that if you keep quiet."

"But the other members of the company. Tell me about them."

"They're all right--the most of them. You shall have all the details in
due time, but now you must keep quiet."

They went out, closing the door softly, and I dozed off to sleep; and
when I awoke I was thankful to find that the day was still broad. I was
conscious that someone was in the room, and, slightly turning, I beheld
an enormous negro, standing in the middle of the floor, looking at me.

"You have had a good sleep, Sir," he said, "and I have waited for you to
awake so that I could give you some refreshment."

He spoke with a precision that was almost painful, as if he were
translating a sentence from a dead language, and my look must have
betrayed my astonishment, for his thick lips parted in a smile, broad,
but sedate. He appeared to be pleased at my surprise, and, smiling
again, he bowed and quitted the room, but soon returned with a tray
which he placed on a chair near the bed.

"Here is something which the physician has pronounced good for you to
eat," he said, "but don't try to sit up. Here, let me get my arm under
you, this way. Now we have it."

"Take it away, I'm not hungry," I said, after finding the position too
painful to endure. He eased me down, put the chair back and stood
looking at me.

"Won't you sit down?"

"No, I thank you, Sir."

"But it makes me tired to see you stand."

"Then, Sir, I will sit down." He brought another chair, and, seating
himself, he turned his searching eyes upon me. He was so enormous and he
towered so, even after sitting down, that he inspired a feeling of
creepy dread, his eyes so black and his smile so grave; and I was sure
that in his presence the day could not long continue to be broad;
indeed, I could see that the light at the window was slowly fading.

"I asked them if I might come and nurse you," he said. "There were other
stricken ones that I might have nursed, but I heard that you were an
actor, and then I knew where my duty lay."

"I am thankful for your partiality to my profession, at any rate," I
replied.

He smiled, and his great teeth gleamed in the fading light. "I was not
influenced by the partiality of the flesh, but by the duty laid upon the
spirit. Most anyone could nurse your body, but I begged the privilege of
nursing your soul as well."

"Ah, and you think an actor's soul is in especial need of nursing?"

"With your permission we will leave that for some future converse. I
have been enjoined not to engage you in a talk that might bring
weariness upon you. For a few nights to come there may be danger, and
until that time is--is--shall have been passed, I will sit with you."

"But who are you?" I inquired.

"I am the humblest servant of the church wherein I preach the gospel
that sinners may be brought to repentance; and my name is Washington
Smith. But I must talk no more, and you must keep quiet."

"But where am I? Tell me that."

"You are in good hands, and the Lord and his servants are watching over
you. But I must request you not to speak again to-night."

He took up the tray and went out, and when he returned he sat down,
though not upon a chair, but upon the floor, with his back against the
wall.



CHAPTER IV.

THE SENATOR.


Whenever I awoke in the course of that long and dreary night, it was to
find the black giant standing near the bedside. Once his hand, like the
wing of a buzzard, passed over me, and I muttered a complaint. "I just
wanted to determine whether or not you had a fever, Sir," he said. "You
were talking in your sleep, and I thought it best to investigate the
state of your temperature. But you are all right."

I was half asleep and doubtless could not at morning have remembered a
strain of music or a bit of pleasantry, but at daylight his stilted
words were clear in my mind. I looked about for him but he was gone.
Breakfast was brought in by a negress, tall enough to be his wife. I
asked her if she were, and, showing me her teeth, she assured me that
she was an old maid; that no man, even if one of the best preachers in
the Lord's church, should be her master. She said that she had married
one man on trial, but that, after living with her a year or more, he had
robbed her of a silver piece and run away; and now she was going to
teach her daughter never to take a man except on suspicion, and to be
mighty careful even then. The amusement that she offered assisted me to
eat. She talked incessantly during the time, and as she took up the tray
to go out, the doctor and the gentleman who had advised him to prove to
me that I was still possessed of both legs came into the room.

"Oh, he's all right," said the woman. "Yas, sah, an' you got ter take
'em wid 'spicion even if da is hurt."

The doctor pronounced me much improved, cut short his visit, and left me
with his friend, at whom I now looked with considerable interest. He
was of a manly build, dressed in a black "Prince Albert" coat, buttoned
below, but opened out wide at the breast. The ends of his grayish
mustache were slightly twisted, and on his chin was a "dab" of whiskers.
He appeared to be proud of his bearing, and proud of the belief that no
one could discover the seat of his pride. He moved about rather
gracefully, carrying a soft hat in his hand, as if he were ready to
salute a gentleman or bow profoundly to a lady.

"Pardon me, Sir," I began, and he turned toward me with a slight bow and
with a slow motion made with his hat, "but will you tell me who is the
master of this house?"

"I am," he answered, with a smile.

"But who are you, your name, please?"

"Has no one told you? Hah, don't you know yet?" His voice conveyed a
sense of injury that so important a preliminary had been overlooked.

"No one has told me."

"Then, Sir, I have the pleasure of introducing myself. I am Giles
Talcom."

"Oh, Senator Talcom."

His eyes snapped, he touched his "dab" of beard, and said:

"At your service, Sir."

We shook hands, and he sat down. "I have heard of you, Senator."

"Yes, I have introduced into the Mississippi Senate a great many
reformatory measures, some of which have been adopted by our sister
States."

"And you are the man who whipped Lige Patton."

"What!" he cried, snapping his eyes at me. "Hah, you got that nonsense
from old Zack Mason, the pilot. Confound his old hide, he never will
forget that. I was quite a young man in those days, Sir. I came here
from Virginia, almost straight from the University, and was, if my
examination should prove satisfactory, to take charge of a young ladies'
school. But on the day before the examination took place Mr. Patton
took it into his head to walk over me. He didn't, and, sir, without any
examination at all, the good people gave me the _male_ academy. The
trustees (most of them had been river men, you understand) said that I
was too valuable a piece of timber to waste on a female seminary. They
said it was too much like chasing butterflies with a bloodhound. I
didn't keep the school long; I came into my inheritance, went into
politics, and here I am."

"Senator, I am under lasting obligations to you for--"

"Not at all, Sir, not at all. I spent a very pleasant evening with you
at the St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans, and I said then, as I always
do when a man has entertained me, I hope to be able to do something for
him. And, Sir, while the opportunity was brought about by a sad
misfortune, yet--yet I am really gratified at being the instrument, you
understand, of giving you shelter and attention at this sad hour."

"How long have I been here?"

"Three days. But don't let that worry you. You are to remain until you
feel perfectly able to proceed on your way."

"Were many people killed?"

"Quite a number. Two were found yesterday at the island twenty miles
below. A large number were hurt, but they are being cared for. Our city
is making great strides, but we have no hospital as yet, so our citizens
threw open their doors to receive the wounded. And the dead have been
cared for."

"How did our company fare?"

"Sir, I appreciate your modesty and unselfishness in not asking about
your brethren first of all. The manager was killed, but the others
escaped with slight injuries. Mr. Culpepper called to see you, but you
were asleep at the time. And the old pilot, who escaped with a few
bruises, has sent you his congratulations. He says that united he and
you stood, and that divided you both fell."

"There is something else I should like to ask, about the big negro who
stays here at night?"

"Oh, Washington Smith. But don't make a mistake and call him Wash. He is
a humble servant of the church, but a dignified citizen of the Republic.
Strange fellow. A number of years ago he presented a singular petition
to the city council, begging for an education, and agreeing to work for
the corporation in return for the money expended in his behalf. Most of
the councilmen condemned the petition as a piece of impudence, but I was
a member at the time, and I looked on it with favor, Sir. My enemies
said that I was bidding for the negro vote. I raised money enough to
send Washington to the Fisk University, and I can say with truth that I
have never regretted the step, for he has held before me a constant
example of gratitude. But I have talked to you long enough," he added,
arising. "I don't want to tire you out--I want to see you on your feet
again. And it won't be long. As soon as you are able to sit up we'll
put you into a rocking chair, draw you into the parlor and Mrs. Estell
will read to you."

He gave me a bow, accompanying the act with a slow and graceful sweep of
his hat, and withdrew, leaving me to muse over the prospect of being
compelled to submit to a torture administered by a Mrs. Estell. I could
put up with the reading of a girl in her first poetic era, but I
shuddered at the thought of a woman in her second sentimental
childhood.



CHAPTER V.

A MOMENT OF FORGIVENESS.


Culpepper called in the afternoon, and when he saw me lying there with
my head tied up, he was brusk for a moment to cover the whimper in his
voice. With genuine affection he took my hand, and all the enmity I had
held against him was gone in a moment. He said that the boilers of the
Red Fox had blown off the end of our season, and had shattered the
greatest dramatic combination that ever looked with horror at a piece of
paper in the hand of a village sheriff.

"And the poor old elephant is flat on his back," I said.

"Now, here, old chap, none of that. It was only a guy. Why, we all liked
you, but hang it all, Maurice, you did appear just a little stuck on
yourself, not on account of your acting, but--"

"But on account of my despair," I broke in. "The nerves of my failure
were exposed, and nothing is prouder than a nerve. I have told you that
before I made a venture I studied for the stage, viewing it as a classic
and high-born profession. I went through the best schools, and--"

"Now, here, old chap, don't talk about schools. They are only intended
for society women, you know. The main trouble is, you didn't begin early
enough. You were a dramatic critic and then thought you'd study for the
stage."

"But my work as an actor is popular with the people," I protested.

"Yes, some people, old chap, but you mustn't pay much attention to that.
In his own generation a man is not really great until the critics have
pronounced him so. The critics can gradually bring the people around to
an appreciation of a true artist, but popularity doesn't compel the
critics to deliver a favorable verdict. It isn't with acting as it is
with writing, you know. An actor is of the present, and a writer may be
of the future. Wouldn't you rather have the good opinion of a few
high-class men and women than the enthusiastic commendation of the
rabble?"

"Yes, wouldn't you?"

"No, I wouldn't, old chap, for I am after what money there is in it. I
don't expect to be an artist, you know--I don't care to be--too much
hard work; too much restraint in it."

"Culpepper"--I looked at him earnestly, for I was moved by a spirit of
truth--"I would rather stand high as the exponent of any art that I
might choose than to have all the money you could heap about me."

"Ah, that's where you are weak, old chap; but it's well enough that
there are such men--they give the other fellows a chance. And now,
pardon me, Maurice, but you'll never be a great actor."

He said this with such kindliness that I did not feel even the quiver of
a resentment. In fact, while left to commune with myself, and under that
strange sharpening of self-judgment which illness or a nervous shock may
sometimes bring about, I had seen my incurable faults and had consigned
myself to mediocrity.

"Have I hurt you, old chap?"

"No," said I, philosopher enough to laugh, "you simply agree with my own
estimate."

"That so? Good. But I tell you what I believe you can do, and do it down
to the ground--write for the stage. You've got a good sense of humor and
a first-rate conception of character; you are poetic and can soon
acquire a knowledge of construction. Want me to shake on it? Of course."

We shook hands, not that he had tickled my vanity, but because he had
sent back the echo which my secret mind had shouted.

"But, Culpepper, there is always a trouble in the way. I can't work
while jerked about the country--I've tried it--and just at present I
can't afford to stay long enough in one place."

"That's all right, set your mind on it and the opportunity will come."

"By the way, I have a treat in store. Hope you'll be here to share it
with me. I am promised a reading by Mrs. Estell, when I am able to be
dragged into another room."

He laughed. "Know what I'd do?" said he. "I'd pretend weakness until the
proper time, and then I'd take to my heels. Oh, by the way, I've had
your trunk sent up. It fell over on the sand and wasn't injured. Say,
haven't told you about Mrs. Hatch. She wasn't hurt--we were at the
stern, and you must have been over the boilers. Well, she's gone on to
Memphis in a rush. Old Norton telegraphed her. She sent her regards;
said she was sorry she hadn't time to see you. Newspapers made a big
spread of this affair. Biggest send-off we ever had. Eh? At first they
had everybody killed."

He spoke feelingly of our manager, pointed out virtues that he did not
possess, and forgave his inability to pay salaries. "Yes, Sir, Tabb
wasn't a bad fellow," he went on. "By the by, he made a bet that he
would ride home, and he has won it. Well," he said, getting up, "I leave
to-night. Wouldn't go without seeing you."

He held out his hand and, taking it, I told him not to forget the
"Elephant."

"Come, old chap, don't do that," he replied, assuming a bruskness, and
turning about to hide his eyes from me. "You know it was only a guy. And
haven't I come to tell you that you can make a great man of yourself?
Well, once more, take care of yourself."

Now that he was gone, I could look back and see that Culpepper had
always been a good fellow. And with a sort of pitying contempt I
acknowledged that I had set myself up as a target for ridicule. But I
did not merit the supercilious airs with which Miss Hatch had treated
me, and toward her I had not entered into a forgiving mood, though now
I know that had she entered the room while I was indulging these
reflections, I should graciously have agreed that she, too, had always
been one of the "best of fellows."

The Senator came in just before supper-time, bringing a newspaper, which
he said was still damp with the dew of recent events. He carried his
soft hat in his hand, nor did he put it down when, unfolding the paper,
he stood to catch the light at the window. He said that he supposed I
must be anxious to hear from the great world of politics, and he
proceeded to read an editorial forecast of the election for congressman
from the state-at-large, halting to comment upon the views set forth and
making slow gestures with his hat. It was a local journal, but it had
reproduced the political opinions of other publications, and these the
Senator read with sharp avidity. I asked him if he thought he could find
any theatrical news, but he cut me off with his hat, and gave me a
paragraph on beet sugar, which he deplored as an outrage, intended to
lessen the value of the plantations down the river. The light was
fading, and I was not sorry. He stood closer to the window, that he
might better harvest the last glimmer of the fading day, and in my cold
dread of his lighting a lamp, I did not hear what he read, simply
catching now and then such political frayed ends as _per capita_ and _ad
valorem_.

"Ah," said he, "here is a liberal extract from Tomlinson's great speech.
But it's getting most too dark. Shall I light a lamp?"

I replied that I was afraid that he might tire himself pursuing his kind
desire to entertain me.

"Oh, not at all, not at all, I assure you," he quickly spoke up. "But I
guess you've had as much as you ought to digest at present. Feed, but
don't gorge, is my motto. A hungry calf can run faster than a foundered
horse. I tell you," he added, putting the paper under his arm and
coming toward me, "there's going to be a warm election here this fall.
Of course I'm a candidate for reëlection--the Senate couldn't get along
without me--and I don't know that I've got but one very bitter enemy,
and he is none other than the editor of this sheet, Sir," he said,
striking the newspaper with his hat. "For a long time he was my friend
and supporter, but he ran against me two years ago, and I beat him so
badly that since then he has been my enemy. He is a cur, and as sure as
he lives I'll get even with him. And as the season approaches I expect
every day to find in his paper a scurrilous article about me; all he
wants is a pretext. Ah, here is Washington, with your supper."

Cutting with his hat a black scallop in the twilight, the Senator
withdrew. The giant placed the tray of dishes upon a chair and lighted a
hanging lamp. And then he stood in the middle of the floor, his arms
folded, looking at me.

"Won't you please sit down?" I pleaded.

"I am to be commanded, Sir," he replied, seating himself, and under his
ponderous bulk the chair creaked.

"Come now," said I, "throw away your stilts and walk on the ground. I
have quite enough of that on the stage."

He looked at me, slowly shutting and opening his eyes as if determined
that even his wink should be deliberate. "And don't you think, Sir, that
it would be well if you could say that you have had quite enough of the
stage itself?"

"I don't know but you are right, Brother Washington. At any rate the
stage has had quite enough of me. I am called the elephant."

"Not on account of your size, Sir?"

"No, on account of my weight."

"Ah, and the hearts of all men who know not the Lord shall at last be as
heavy as the elephant."

"Very true, no doubt. I wish you'd pour this coffee for me."

He came forward with a solemn tread, poured out the coffee, and returned
to the chair but did not sit down until I commanded him.

"As heavy as an elephant," he repeated, slowly winking at me.

"In working for the soul of the white man, Brother Washington," said I,
"you have set about to return a good for an evil. The white man enslaved
your body and now you would free his soul."

"Sir, the first shipload of negroes sent to this country was the first
blessing that fell upon the Ethiopian race. In slavery we served an
apprenticeship to enlightenment. Wisdom could not have reached us
through any other channel. The negro was not born with the germ of
self-civilization."

"You are a philosopher, at any rate."

"No, humbler, and yet greater, than a philosopher," he replied.

"All right, I'm ready to grant anything. By the way, tell me something
about the Senator and his family."

"If he has told you nothing, I am at liberty to tell nothing, for, as
yet, you are a stranger."

"Oh, I see. He's a shrewd politician, isn't he?"

"He is a gentleman and he is not dull. He was my friend w'en dem
scoun'rels--"

I looked at him in surprise. His fall into the dialect of his brethren
had come like a slap. He bowed his head, and I know that had not the
blackness of his skin prevented it he would have blushed in his
disgrace. He did not look up again until I spoke to him, and then he
showed me a sorrow-stricken countenance.

"Don't take it so hard, Brother Washington. Such lapses must come once
in a while. You remind me of an old fellow who lost his religion
occasionally by swearing."

"Haw-haw," he laughed. "One in my church right now. Swore at his mule
the other day and then dropped down in the corner of the fence and
offered to mortgage his crop to the Lord for one more chance. Yas,
Sah--I mean yes, Sir," he added, the shadow of disgrace falling again
upon his countenance. "If you have finished your supper I will remove
the dishes," he said.

"Thank you," and as he took up the tray I continued, "And by the way,
you needn't sit with me to-night. I don't need you; I am not so badly
hurt as they thought I was; and, in fact, I can sleep better if left
absolutely alone."

"It shall be as you desire, Sir," he said, turning upon me with a look
of kindly reproach. "But I will pray for you."

"Oh, that's all right."

He passed out into the hall, but I called him back to the door. "Brother
Washington, I didn't mean to be flippant when I said 'that's all right.'
I respect your sincerity."

I thought that he glanced about for a place to rest the tray, to halt
and resume his predetermined fight against the flesh and the devil of my
unholy calling.

"Ah, shut the door, Brother Washington."

"I thought, Sir, that you had reconsidered--"

"Not to-day--some other time."

He looked at me, making no motion that I could see; but I heard the
tremulous rattle of the teacup in the saucer. There was so much of
pleading in his look, so much that was martyr-like in his silence, that
out of pity it arose to my mind to call him back, but then came the cool
though just decision that his ardent yearning was but a spirit of
ambitious conquest.

"Some other time, Washington," I said, as he turned to look at me.



CHAPTER VI.

INTRODUCED TO MRS. ESTELL.


A week passed by with no sign of a setback and one morning the doctor
said that I might sit up. Brother Washington eased me into a rocking
chair, and stood as if expecting me to command him to continue the work
of my conversion. But I told him to sit down, a position which he always
assumed in sorrow, seeming to regard it as a retreat when his spirit
cried for a charge.

The Senator came in with a hearty good morning, and instructed
Washington to draw my chair into the parlor. The sore trial of listening
to Mrs. Estell had come. I had not seen her, had made no inquiry
concerning her, but I had thought of her, and not with kindness. The
pleasure of getting again into my clothes had been marred by fancy's
sketch of her--sharp of voice and sour of face--a woman whose husband
had willingly died, leaving her, unfortunately, to inflict man with her
elocution. I wanted to sit alone and enjoy the sweet scents blown from
the garden; through the window I had seen a mocking-bird alight on the
top of a magnolia tree, and in silence I wanted to listen to his song.
But the Senator was my benefactor. He had found me a wounded outcast,
lying unconscious on the sand, and had made his mansion my hospital; and
I could not lift an ungrateful finger in protest against a torture which
in his belief was an act of kindness.

"Now easy, Washington," said the Senator as he held the door open.
"That's it, come ahead."

The parlor was at the end of a long and lofty hall. The Senator opened
the door. The chair was drawn across the threshold, and I found myself
in the midst of dark, old-fashioned furniture and the portraits of
Statesmen and of ladies done by Frenchmen who had come to this country
to leave a trail of art along the shores of the mighty river.

"Not too near the window, Washington," said the Senator. "About here.
Now you can go about your business and I will introduce Mrs. Estell."

They left me sitting with my back toward the door. I wondered why there
should be such an air of ceremony. Was it the custom in Bolanyo to
dignify a torture with a stately introduction? But I had not long to
muse. I heard the Senator returning. "Ah, Mr. Belford," he said,
stepping into the room, "let me present you to my daughter, Mrs.
Estell."

I looked round with a start, and a living line from old Chaucer, in
golden letters, hung bright before me--"Her glad eyes." I bowed; and I
must have spluttered my astonishment, for the Senator broke out in a
loud and ringing laugh.

"Sit down, Florence," he said, drawing forward a chair for her. And
then to me, while softly laughing, he observed:

"Oh, I saw you were distressed at the idea of being read to, and I could
have explained that you needn't look forward to any infliction, but I
thought I'd wait and let you find it out for yourself. Why, Sir, this
child couldn't bore anybody."

"Mr. Belford, don't listen to him when he calls me a child," she spoke
up. "I am a staid married woman."

I had not, as yet, sufficiently recovered from my astonishment to
venture a word, so I merely bowed, and read anew old Chaucer's glowing
line.

"Yes, a child," said the Senator, "but a woman; yes, Sir, as manly a
woman as you ever saw--chase a fox or shake a 'possum out of a persimmon
tree. Well, I must go down town and see what's going on. Don't sit up
too long, Mr. Belford. Send for Washington and he'll pull you back into
the other room."

"Mrs. Estell, I was never more agreeably surprised," said I, when the
Senator had taken his leave. "I expected to be tormented by an
elocutionist."

"If an elocutionist is your terror, you needn't be afraid of me," she
replied. "I have read to father and my husband, and that is the extent
of my--shall I say, inflictions."

"Husband," I repeated. "Are you really married?"

"Surely. Why not?"

"You are so young--"

"I am not old enough to be flattered by that remark," she broke in.
"Yes, I have been married two years. My husband is the State Treasurer,
and is at the capital now, but will be home next week. He stays over
there a good deal of the time, and I go with him once in a while, but I
don't like it there. I like my old home better."

"I don't blame you for that. It must be a charming place. Have you any
brothers or sisters?"

"No, Sir. It was reserved for me to be the only and, therefore, the
spoiled child. I don't remember my mother. There's her portrait."

I looked at a picture that had struck me when first I glanced at the
wall. How truthfully the Frenchman had caught a sweet and gentle spirit;
how exquisite was the art that had vivified those loving eyes with the
speaking light of life.

"Charming," I said sincerely, and she did not look upon it as flattery,
but accepted it as a truth. I looked at her and she did not avoid my
eye, but met it, strong and full, with her own, and I felt that, though
gentle, she was fearless. Sometimes the tone of her voice was serious
and the expression of her face thoughtful, but her eyes appeared to have
been always glad.

"When are you going to begin reading to me?" I asked, after we had sat
for a time in a contemplative silence.

"I'm not going to read to you. Don't you see I haven't brought a book?"

"Then play something," I requested, looking toward the piano.

"I don't play; and now I must tell you, Mr. Belford, that I haven't a
single accomplishment. I can't sing, and I never cared for dancing; I
don't draw, wouldn't attempt to paint, and I can't speak a word of
Italian. I was never intended for anything but a real companion for my
father, and a dutiful wife to my husband. I am wholly unadorned."

"No, you are adorned with the highest qualities. Any woman can learn to
play a piano, to speak Italian and to make an attempt at painting, but
every woman cannot be a perfect companion for a man."

"And a dutiful wife to her husband," she said, laughing. "But to be
dutiful is not so serious a matter.--not so serious to us as I fancy it
is to you stage people."

"Well, no," I admitted; "and also more serious than the views held by
thousands of good people who live in the large cities."

She shrugged her shoulders. "Nature doesn't grant divorces," she said.
"Birds are not divorced."

"But they change mates every year," I replied.

"Oh, do they? The shameless creatures."

We laughed, looking straight into each other's eyes. I thought that she
would make a splendid figure on the stage, and I told her so, expecting
to hear her cry out against it, but she did not. She was pleased. "I
have had that sort of longing," she said, "but I never expressed it,
knowing that it would meet with a storm of disapproval. It wouldn't do,"
she continued, shaking her head. "I know that I could never reach the
top, and a lower place--"

"Would make your proud heart sore," I cried, with bitterness.

She gave me a quick look of compassion, but said nothing; she let me
continue: "I have had the cold clamps put on my impetuous soul, and,
trying to conquer the evil opinion of the critic, I have worked and
studied under the stimulus of despair. But I have given up the fight; I
am going to quit the stage."

I leaned toward her, hoping for a protest, but she quietly said, "I
don't blame you," and I settled myself back with a sigh. She had seen me
act.

"What line of work do you intend to take up?" she inquired.

"I am going to write plays."

"And will you be satisfied if you don't write the best?"

"I hadn't thought of that. Yes, in that line I think that I shall be
satisfied with merely a success."

And then with a wisdom that made me stare at her, she said: "We can find
contentment in the middle ground of a second choice, for then the heart
has had its day of suffering."

"What do you read to your father?" I asked.

"Dull books in leather," she answered. "And I have sometimes feared that
this schooling has unfitted me for the light and pleasing society of my
friends. They called me an old maid before I was twenty. Oh, I've got
something to show you," she cried, jumping up and running out of the
room; and soon she returned with a little chicken held against her
cheek. "A hawk carried its mother away, and all of its brothers and
sisters were drowned in the rain. Listen to the little thing. Isn't it
sweet? I had a pet duck once and I loved it until it got big enough to
go out and get its feet muddy and then--I granted it a divorce. And
after a while this little thing will grow up and leave me, won't you,
pet? No, you won't, will you? There, I knew you wouldn't. You'll always
be little and lovable, and will stay with me. Come on, now, and let's go
back to the kitchen." She tripped out a girl, singing as she went, but
she came back a woman; and of the ways, the air and the ambitions of the
town I gathered more from a few moments of her talk than her father
could have given me in an hour's oration. He knew the men, but she knew
the whims; and while men may build the houses and make the laws, it is
the whim that makes the atmosphere. And for this reason an old town is
always more interesting than a new one. The subtle influence of odd
characters long since gone continues to live in the air. The Spaniards
had settled on the site of Bolanyo, and though naught but the faint
tracings of a fortified camp were left to mark the manner of their
occupation, still the town felt the honor of almost an ancient origin.

We talked until nearly noontime; until there came a light tap at the
open door. I looked up and there stood the black giant.

"Pardon me," he said, "but I am afraid you have been up long enough."

"Hannibal, your unbending discipline--" I began, but with lifting his
mighty hand he shut me off.

"I am a soldier of the Lord and Hannibal was a soldier of the devil," he
said. "Please don't compare us."

Mrs. Estell jumped up, laughing. "You'll have to do as he tells you, Mr.
Belford."

I had no time to argue against his authority, for already he had
advanced and put his hands on the back of my chair. She walked beside me
down the hall, and as the giant was easing the chair across the
threshold of my room she said:

"I hope you'll soon get well, and when you do, we'll go fox-hunting, you
and papa and I. Won't that be fun?"

"I don't know," I answered, from the inside of the room. "Oh, yes, it
will be fun for you and your father."

The negro took hold of the door as if impatient to shut it, and I looked
at him hard enough, I thought, to have bored him through, but, giving me
simply the heed of his slow wink, he continued to stand there.

"Of course, you can ride a horse," she said; and quickly she added:
"Gracious alive, Washington, don't look at me that way. Good-bye, Mr.
Belford."

The negro closed the door. "Damn it, man, what do you mean?" I cried.
"Confound you, can't you see--"

"Sir," he said, standing over me with his arms folded, "do you know what
you are saying?"

"Yes, I do, and I want to tell you right now, and once for all, that I
appreciate your kindness, but will not submit to your insolence. Do you
understand?"

"I hear you, Sir."

"But do you understand; that's the question?"

"I understand, but you don't," he said. "Now, listen to me. There is the
noblest young woman in the world; when she was a child I was her horse,
the black beast who delighted to do her bidding. I know her--I know she
is hungry for someone to talk to. Now, do you understand?"

I did, but I said "No." I knew that she was hungry; but if I could give
her food, why should this monster dash it to the ground?

"If you don't, the theatre is a more innocent place than I think it
is," he replied.

I looked up at him and he winked at me slowly. "But you say she is
noble," I said.

"She is, Sir, and strong; but a marriage tie cannot hold an unwilling
mind. Don't misunderstand me, Sir. The greatest harm you could do would
be to make her still more dissatisfied. With the presumption of an old
servant, I may say something that sounds impertinent, but I am a
preacher and a moralist. Thomas Rodney Estell is regarded here as a
great man; he has been State Treasurer nearly ten years, and he and the
Senator are warm friends."

"Well?" I said.

He looked up at the ceiling and replied: "A girl may marry her father's
friend, but it is not often that she loves him."

"Washington, are you in league with the devil?"

This struck through the superficial coating of his education, into his
real negro nature and made him roar with laughter. "No, Sah, I'm er
feard o' him;" but feeling the disgrace of his dialect he sobered and
said: "I think you understand me now, Mr. Belford."

"Yes, I do, and I don't blame you. But before we go further let me tell
you this: I have been on the stage, which is quite enough to fix my
character in the opinion of many a good but narrow-minded person, but I
am from a long line of Puritan stock, and in my blood there is a strong
sense of moral responsibility. I have never made an intentional show of
those puritanic influences; I have striven rather to hide them from the
contempt of my lighter-hearted companions; but a sagacious old
stage-strutter once held up my overreligious ancestors as the cause of
my failure to catch the subtle art of a high grade of work. He declared
that all great English-speaking actors could trace their blood back to
the cart's tail."

"I don't understand, Mr. Belford--the reference to the cart's tail."

"To ease their consciences and to serve the Lord with becoming
activity, it was the custom of the Puritans, in the olden day, to
condemn actors and tie them to the tail of a cart, and whip them through
the street."

"I have never read about it, Mr. Belford."

"I suppose not. Church history doesn't dwell upon it."

He turned toward the door, faced about and said: "The woman will bring
your dinner. I am going out among my people and shall not be here again
until to-morrow."

"You needn't come then, Washington."

"Yes, to pull your chair into the parlor."

"That's so. Thank you."

He stood for a moment in silence, and, without speaking, he stepped
back, and, with a grave nod and a slow wink, he softly shut the door.



CHAPTER VII.

THE NOTORIOUS BUGG PETERS.


I mended so rapidly that within a week I was able to walk about.
Washington had every day drawn my chair into the parlor; but when I no
longer was in need of this physical service, he continued his visits to
give me the benefit of his spiritual strength. And once, when he came
into my room, like a dark reproach, I chopped off his moral droning with
the command to "get out!" He obeyed in silence, and I thought that I had
given our relationship a mortal wound. But in the garden the next day he
came up with unusual cheeriness and invited me to his church to hear him
preach upon the strength of the Spirit and the weakness of the human
family.

One day the Senator took me out in his buggy. He drove me through the
town, and what a delight it was once more to look upon the affairs of
man. The buildings were for the most part old, and many of them were
dingy from neglect, but the air was restful and romantic. At every turn,
after leaving the business center, we came upon magnolia trees, now in
full bloom. Here was a garden whose low brick walls were green and gray
with time, a patch of moss and a cluster of snails; and away over yonder
was a blush on the landscape--a jungle of roses. There were flowers
everywhere, and far from the mansions of the lordly was many a log hut,
beautiful in a tangle of vines. We drove down the river, toward a
densely timbered flat, but did not penetrate its malarious shade, the
Senator choosing to turn to the left to drive me to a distant hill
whereon stood the school for girls, the one of which he might have taken
charge, had not his fight with Lige Patton proved him fitted for a more
manly charge--the male academy. As we were driving along, a tall, gaunt
man climbed over a fence, stepped out into the road and signaled us to
stop. The Senator drew up, laughing. The man came forward, put his hands
on the buggy tire, took them off, "dusted" them to brush off the dirt,
and put them on the tire again. The Senator introduced Mr. Peters, and
our detainer looked up, grinned and said:

"Yes, Sir, the notorious Bugg Peters."

His face was thin and sallow, his long hair looked like hay, and his
eyes were simply two pale yellow spots.

"Out ridin' for your health, Senator?"

"No, just thought I'd show my friend, Mr. Belford, the town and the
country."

"Ah, hah! Oh, yes, he's one of the men that was blowed up. And he's
stayin' at your house. Ah, hah! He's about the last of 'em, ain't he? I
heard that all that wan't dead had put off somewhere. Never was blowed
up, that is, by a boat, but I've went through mighty nigh everything
else. Almost hugged to death by a bear down in the canebrake just
before the June rise eight year ago. Don't reckon your friend was ever
hugged by a bear," he went on, speaking of me as if I were not there.

"No," I answered.

"Then you've got a good deal to look forward to," he replied,
recognizing that, like Paul, I was permitted to speak for myself. "I've
had a good many things to happen to me, first and last, but I don't know
of anything worse than a bear's hug, unless it is son-in-laws."

The Senator began to laugh and I looked at Mr. Peters for an
explanation. He did not keep me waiting.

"I've got seven son-in-laws down yonder in my house right now," he said,
"dusting" his hands again and putting them back on on the tire. "Every
time a gal of mine gits married she goes away for a few days with her
husband, and then fetches him back with the ague; and he settles down in
my house and there he shakes. Got seven of them down there now a-shakin'
fit to kill themselves. If you'll step over there on that rise, you can
look down in the bottoms and see my house, and I'll bet you it's
a-tremblin' like a leaf right now. Them seven fellers keep it a-shakin'
all the time. Yes, Sir. Now, when Mag took a man, I says, says I, 'Mag,
I have always looked on you as the smartest one of the family, and I
want you to do me a favor; I want you to see if you can't take that
feller of your'n so far away that he can't git back.' And, Sir, I sold
my oats and give her the money, and she cleared out, but in less than a
month here she come, with her husband shakin' like a wet dog. I told him
to go in and find shakin' room if he could, and he crowded his way up to
the fireplace, and there he sets this minute, a-shakin' like a pound of
calfsfoot jelly."

"Look here, Bugg," said the Senator, laughing, "why don't you move out
of the bottoms?"

"What, and go up in the hills and ketch some new-fangled disease that I
don't know nothin' about? I reckon not, Senator. I've learned to let
well enough alone, and jest ordinary everyday chills is good enough for
me. Mister, how long are you goin' to be with us?" he inquired of me.

"I don't know exactly. I wanted to go yesterday, but the Senator
wouldn't hear to it."

"Well, I don't reckon you are able to do much knockin' about yet. Don't
believe I'd be snatched, anyway. Like for you to come down to see us
before you go. I can show you about the finest and shakinest set of
son-in-laws you ever saw. Did think somethin' of showin' 'em at the
State Fair this fall. But say, gentle_men_, you must sorter excuse me
for stoppin' you; but I wanted to see the Senator on business."

The Senator gathered up the lines as if he had a suspicion of the
business referred to, and therefore desired to drive on, but Mr. Peters
in a distressful tone of voice implored him to wait a moment. "I want to
ask a favor," he said. "Wouldn't do it if it wan't for the fact that
they are all down there shakin' for dear life. I want to give you my
note for ten dollars for thirty days. You know I'll take it up."

"Yes, if you should happen to find it," the Senator replied.

"Come, now, Senator, don't talk that way. You might give this here man
that was blowed up a bad opinion of me. I've got the good opinion of
everybody else, and I don't want the bad respects of a man that has fell
down in amongst us."

"Bugg, how many of your thirty-day notes do you suppose I've got?"

"Why, none," he declared in great surprise.

"I can show you twenty at least," said the Senator.

"Well, now," Mr. Peters began to drawl, "this here is news to me, and
mighty sad news at that. Huh, I don't see how I could have made such a
mistake."

"I was the one that made the mistake," the Senator replied.

"Now don't say that, Talcom. Dang it, haven't I always voted for you?
Why, Sir, at the last election I went to the polls with a chill on me,
and I shook so hard it took two men to hold me still long enough to
shove my ticket in. Oh, I don't deny that I might owe you a note or
so--may be the addition of another son-in-law kept me from payin'
it--but all my gals are married now, and I don't look for any big
increase in the family till my sister and her husband come from over in
Arkansas to live with me; and as they ain't well and will have to pick
their way along the best they can, I'll have time to take up a half a
dozen notes by the time they git here."

"What do you want with the money, Bugg?"

"Why, I need about five bushels of wheat. That's what I want with it."

"Well, here," said the Senator, taking out a notebook, "I'll give you an
order on my overseer for five bushels of wheat."

"Talcom, by gosh you move me, and I am fit right now to drap a tear in
the palm of your hand. Yes, Sir, you can come nearer makin' me cry than
any man I ever run across."

The Senator gave him the order, and we drove on, leaving him in the road
to whine his gratitude and loudly to swear that at the next election he
would vote all right, even if it should take a dozen men to hold him up.

"Why do you permit such fellows to rob you?" I asked.

"Belford, I can't help myself. That poor wretch comes near telling the
truth about his sons-in-law. Of course, he's as shiftless as a stray
dog, but he's kind-hearted and has a sense of humor that tickles me.
And, after all, it doesn't seem right that I should have an abundance
and that other men within sight of me should be in want." He took off
his hat to wave it gracefully at a lady as she passed, and still holding
it in his hand, he continued: "It's luck, Belford, nothing but luck.
I've never had any management. I have a set of books, but half the time
I don't know where I stand. My plantation pays, not because it's well
managed, but because the land's rich. I bought it, together with the
house I live in, with money that was left me, and the fact that I am not
compelled to scuffle for a living is no particular credit to me. It's
simply luck. I've got sense enough not to reach too high. Some time ago
they wanted to run me for governor, but I knew what that meant. It meant
two or perhaps four years in the State House, and then relegation to the
shade of a 'has been.' I like politics, I like to fight for measures,
and my position as State Senator suits me exactly; and I believe I can
hold it for a number of years to come. It is true that I am largely
preyed upon--"

"By white and black," I suggested.

"Yes, in a measure. How are you, Uncle Gabe?" he called, bowing to an
old man.

"By the notorious Bugg--and by Washington," I ventured.

"Ah, Washington is different. I give money to his church, and he is
free to come and go as he pleases. I was the means of his education,
and, though ignoring politics, he controls a large negro vote. Look out
over there, you boys, that mule might kick you. Aunt Sally, glad to see
you (bowing to a countrywoman who came jogging along on a horse). Folks
all well? All but Uncle John, eh? Hope he'll be out again soon."

We were far beyond the outskirts of the town, on a rise commanding a
delightful view of groves, gardens, old houses, a fort in ruins, the
easy-going city and the river. We passed the school for young ladies,
and the Senator waved his hat at a vision of white and pink on the
portico. "My daughter Florence was graduated here," said he. "And, by
the way, you haven't met Estell. He was to have come home several days
ago, but business kept him. Florence is looking for him to-day, I
believe. Strong man, about your size--not quite so tall. You are a good
deal of a man when you are yourself, I take it."

"I have done pretty fair work in a gymnasium," I replied.

We turned into a broad road that led to town, and which passed the
Senator's house. It was a military road, my companion said, and had been
marked by the passage of old Jackson's troops.

"Senator, my obligations to you are very deep indeed, and I have
refrained from saying anything--"

"Well, then, don't say anything now. It's all right. Boat blew up at the
door of our city, and why shouldn't we care for the unfortunates?"

"But before going away I want to give you some sort of an expression
of--"

"That's all right, Sir. There's time enough."

"No, I shall go to-morrow."

"Better wait a day or two. Have you an engagement in view?"

"No, and I shall not look for one. I have decided to quit the stage."

"Well, Sir, I don't know but you are wise. It must be an uncertain sort
of life. But what are you going to do?"

"I am going to write plays."

"That's well enough; easy work I should think. All you've got to do is
to hatch out your plot and then stand your people around it. And look
here, Belford, there are characters enough about here to make one of the
best plays you ever saw. Why not stay here and do your writing? The fact
is, we like you, and don't want you to go away."

"But I _must_ go."

"You say so, but I don't look at it that way. Of course, if you are
tired of our slow and dull city, Sir, you--"

"Tired?" I broke in. "It is the most soothing town on the face of the
earth. The days melt one into another like the mellow words of an
ancient rhetorician."

"Belford, I guess you are about ready to begin work on that play," he
said, laughing. "There's always a strong enthusiasm behind that sort of
talk. By the way, do you think you could take hold of an opera house
and manage it?"

"Yes, I think so--I know I could. Why?"

"We appear to be getting at it, Belford. We have a very good opera house
here, almost new. A man from New Orleans built it, went broke in a
bigger speculation, leased it to a Dutchman who fiddled in the
orchestra, and now the house is without a manager. Suppose you take it?"

"I'd take it in a minute, Senator, but the fact is, I'm broke."

"Dollars melted like the mellow words of an ancient rhetorician, eh?"

For a few moments we drove on in silence, the Senator making with his
hat half-circle greetings to constituents who stood in a dooryard or who
met us in the road. "Ha! Lester," he cried at a man who came along in a
wagon behind a span of mules; and then to me he said: "A few years ago
that fellow took it into his head that I was a little too conspicuous--I
had called him a liar, or something of the sort, don't remember exactly
what--and gave it out that he was going to horsewhip me. And I sent him
word to buy his whip from Alf Murray, first-class harness dealer, and a
friend of mine, and that I would meet him at his earliest convenience. I
don't know whether he patronized my friend in the purchase of a whip,
but I know that when I met him on the public square the next day he had
one as long as a bull-snake. And, Sir, I believe that he had intended to
hit me with it."

"What caused him to change his mind?" I inquired, with no interest in
the matter.

"Why, I knocked him down, and when he was able to get up and look around
again the whip was gone. Since that time we've been good friends. Now,
about the opera house. You say you've got no money. Now, let me tell you
what I'll do. I'll advance the money and go in as a partner. The money I
am compelled to spend during each campaign is beginning to eat
seriously into the income from my plantation, and I would like to ease
up the pressure. My part might not be a great deal, but it would help.
What do you say?"

"I could go off into all sorts of extravagances, Senator. I could say
that you have made my blood leap, that you--"

"But that wouldn't be businesslike. What do you say?"

"That I snap at your proposition."

"All right, I'll go down to-morrow and rent the house."

"But you don't care to have your name known in it, do you?"

"Why not? It's all right. These people like a good show, and if we give
them the best, it will make me still more useful and popular. Yes, Sir,
its all right, and we'll draw up the papers to-morrow."



CHAPTER VIII.

THE STATE TREASURER.


The town had been attractive, but now it sprung into endearment. Emotion
was strong within me and my spirits rose, to find a new interest in
everything and to pick up many a jest by the roadside. I caught the song
of an old man who stood near the turnpike, trimming a young orchard; and
the laughter of a child that was romping on the grass when we stopped at
a toll gate threw sparkles of new life in the air. One sweet thrill of
selfishness had made the whole world musical and glad.

"Senator, whose house is that over yonder, to the left?"

"Mine," he answered. "Oh, yes, this is the first time you've had an
opportunity to view it from a distance. We are out too far to have the
advantage of gas and city water, but we've got room to swing round in,
and that's worth everything. Lumber dealer came one day and wanted to
know what I'd take for those walnuts. I told him that I'd take human
life if it was necessary. Hang me, if I didn't feel like setting the
dogs on him. I do believe," he said, shading his eyes, "that yonder are
Estell and Florence. Yes, Sir, he's got home."

At the gate, beneath the walnut trees, a man and a woman stood looking
toward us. The woman was Mrs. Estell. I had recognized her before the
Senator directed my attention; I should have known her a mile away. Her
gracefulness was so original that she must have been unconscious of its
effect. The soft climate of the South had touched her with its ease, but
she seemed ever on the verge of breaking away from it; and sometimes she
did, not with mere gayety, but with unconquerable strength. She
enforced upon me the belief that she had taken fencing lessons.

"And suppose he should object to our compact?" was a surmise that passed
through my mind; and I did not realize that I had given it actual
utterance until the Senator surprised me by saying:

"None of his business. Our affair. Taking care of the funds of the State
gives him about all he can look after. Helloa, there, Estell, why don't
you come out to meet a fellow?"

"On the keen jump, now," Estell replied, coming slowly to meet us, his
wife walking with him. It might have been the eye of prejudice that made
him look so old, though why should there have been an eye of prejudice?
His mustache was cropped off, stiff and gray, and his skin was thin on
his cheeks and thick under his chin. The Senator introduced us, with
heartiness and a flourish, and the moment I took Estell's hand I knew
that from his lofty position among the money bags of the State he could
not look down and find an interest in me. His nature was financial, his
instincts commercial; and I can say with truth that commerce embodied in
a strong and aggressive personality has always made me shudder. I am
afraid of the man who delights to make figures; I feel that I am in his
power. I might not hesitate to dispute with a most learned theologian,
to hang with him upon the quirks of his creed, but with a pencil and a
piece of paper a banker's clerk can cower me.

The Senator assisted me to alight, the Treasurer lending a pretense of
his aid; and we went without delay to the dining-room where dinner was
waiting. The Estells sat opposite the Senator and me; and the master of
the house and his son-in-law began to talk over the affairs of State.

"Hope you had a pleasant drive," Mrs. Estell said to me.

"Charming; we had a fine view of the town, saw the old fort, and passed
your college."

"Stupid old place, isn't it? But then, it's dear, just like stupid
people. Did you ever notice how dear stupid people are? They are
sometimes our dearest ones. I suppose they feel that about the only
thing they can do is to make themselves dear."

Estell was saying something about $246,-724, or something that sounded
like that amount, but he dropped it to ask: "Florence, what are you
talking about?"

"Stupid people. But you are not interested."

"No, of course not, but I was trying to get at an exact amount, and you
bothered me for a moment."

"It's all right, let it go," said the Senator. "By the way, Mr. Belford
and I have entered into a business arrangement. We are going to run the
opera house and share profits."

Mrs. Estell cried "good." Estell gave her a look of reproof, I thought.
"You mean that you are going to share losses," he said. "The thing was
an elephant on Sanderson's hands."

"But it won't be on ours," the Senator spoke up. "We know how to run it.
Don't we, Belford?"

"I think we do," I answered. "My fellow-players called me the manager's
elephant, and in this case I don't know but we might be pitting Greek
against Greek, or elephant against elephant."

Mrs. Estell laughed and so did the Senator, but Estell drank his coffee
in silence. The subject was permitted to fall, but it was taken up again
shortly afterward, when we had lighted our cigars in the library.

"So you think of going into the show business?" said the State
Treasurer, resting his head on the back of his chair and looking up at
the ceiling.

"Well, not actively," the Senator replied. "That is, I'm not to be
active in the work."

"Oh, I suppose it's all right," admitted Estell; "but it's a new line
and new lines are dangerous."

"But if dangerous, not without interest," the Senator was quick to
retort. "It's settled, at any rate. I'm going to try it."

Mrs. Estell had not accompanied us. I heard her talking to a dog in the
hall, and I listened with pleasure, for her voice was strong, deep and
singularly musical.

"The next session of the Legislature will be a very busy one, I am
inclined to think," Estell remarked.

"Always is," the Senator replied, laughing. "The better part of a new
session is generally taken up with the work of repealing the laws passed
by an older Assembly."

I was wondering whether Estell would ever become deeply enough
interested in my existence to warrant a straight look from his pale and
abstracted eye, when he withdrew his gaze from the ceiling, directed it
at me and said that he was glad to see me so far advanced toward
recovery. It was a mere commonplace which may not have arisen from a
real interest, and which politeness could no longer defer, but it gave
me a better opinion of him.

"I suppose," said I, not knowing what else to say, "that you find your
occupation one of almost painful exactness."

I think that he gave me a look of contempt. I am quite sure that, if he
did not, his eye failed him of his intention.

"I wouldn't stay there ten minutes if it meant play," he replied, and
turning to the Senator he said: "Saw old Dan Hilliard the other day."

"No!" the Senator exclaimed. "You don't mean _old_ Dan Hilliard?"

"Yes, I do--old Dan Hilliard."

"Hanged if I didn't think he was dead. Well, I'll swear! Old Dan
Hilliard! Humph! Why, I met his wife one day about three years ago and
she told me that Dan was dying, that he couldn't live till night. Now
what do you suppose he wanted to get well for?"

"To distress his friends, I reckon. Wanted to get five dollars from me,
and said if I'd give him the money you would pay him back."

My eyes with wandering about the room alighted on two foils, crossed
above a bookcase. I was right. The young woman had taken fencing
lessons. And just at that moment she entered the room, a great dog
following her. At the door she turned about to drive him back. He tried
to spring by her; she caught him, lifted him from the floor and with a
swing she tumbled him out into the hall.

"What _are_ you doing?" the Treasurer cried, with a nervous jump; and
the Senator, who sat facing the door, fell back with a laugh so full of
contagion that I caught it before I had time to strengthen my gravity
with the reflection that I might give Estell a cause to think that I was
intruding myself into a family affair.

"I am teaching old Tiger to behave himself," she replied, with a smile.

"I thought you had knocked down a steer," said Estell, settling himself
in his rocking chair. He shut his eyes, and to me he looked like a man
who longed for rest, but who had almost despaired of finding it.
"Florence," he spoke up, opening his eyes and slightly turning his head
toward her, "see if you can find my slippers, please. You needn't go
yourself," he added. "Send for them."

"I don't know where they are, and nobody else can find them," she
replied; and hastening out, she ran up the stairs, humming an
undefinable tune.

"Tom," said the Senator, "you have about worn yourself out. Why don't
you go off somewhere?"

"Can't--haven't time."

"That's the biggest fallacy that man ever introduced as an economy. Did
you ever know a man too busy to die?"

"No, but I sometimes think I am."

"Why don't you give up the infernal office? Nothing in it, anyway."

"Why don't you give up _your_ infernal office?"

"What!" cried the Senator, and he began to run his fingers through his
beard. "Now that would be a devil of a come off, wouldn't it! How is a
State to get along without laws? Hah! Look at the measures that owe
their origin to me. Tom, it's all right to be tired, but it's dangerous
to trample on common sense. Why don't I give up my office, indeed! Now
what could have put that fool notion into your head? Have you heard
anybody say that I ought to give it up? If you have, out with it, and
I'll make him produce his cause or eat his words. Out with it."

"Oh, I don't know that I've heard anybody say that you ought to give it
up," Estell replied, opening his eyes, but closing them again before he
had completed the sentence.

"You don't _know_ that you have," the Senator retorted, twisting his
beard to a sharp and fierce-looking point. "Estell, old fellow, there
are times for joking, but this is not one of them. I make no objection
to fair and honorable criticism, Sir; you know that. I grant every man
the right to pass upon my acts in office--_in_ office, understand; but
when a man says I ought to resign, why he must show cause, or I'll stuff
him like a sausage with his own garrulity. That's me, Estell, and you
know it."

"Talcom, I reckon that's you. But now to be exact, I haven't heard
anybody say you ought not to be in office."

"Good enough, Tom. It's all right. Yes, Sir, it's all right," said the
Statesman, with no trace of his recent disquiet, but with pleasant,
kindly eyes and a countenance made smooth by the justice of his cause
and the pride with which he regarded his determination to defend his
good name. "But, Tom, you really need rest. Oh, of course, I don't mean
that you should give up public life. No, Sir," he went on, looking at
me, "when a man has once been a servant of the people, he is never
satisfied to fall back among the powerless 'masters.' And, Sir--of
course it wouldn't do to say it everywhere, but I will say it here in
confidence--I have often looked at some poor, obscure devil and have
said to myself, 'Why the deuce do you want to live? You can't possibly
enjoy yourself, for nobody pays any attention to you.'"

And then spoke a voice at the door. I looked around and there Mrs.
Estell stood, holding a slipper in each hand, her arms hanging limp. I
did not catch the words she uttered first, but these I heard and always
shall remember: "And perhaps he has a wife who worships him, and
children that think he's a god. And if I were a man I would rather be in
his place than to have a world of flattery."

With a swift step and a graceful bend she laid the slippers at her
husband's feet. The Senator clapped his hands and so did I, but Estell
neither moved nor opened his eyes until he heard the slippers tap upon
the floor, and then he turned his head to say, "I'm much obliged to
you."

And at that moment she broke away from the soft and dignifying
influences of a Southern atmosphere; she sprang upon a chair, snatched
the foils from the wall, laid one of them across my knees, sprang back
and with mock tragedy cried, "Defend yourself." But before I could get
out of my astonishment to say a word, and as the dull eyes of her
husband looked up sharp with surprise, she bowed with a condescending
grace and with mimic magnanimity threw down the foil and said: "Ah, I
forgot. You are wounded and a prisoner."

The Senator looked on with pride; his face glowed and his eyes snapped,
but Estell grunted: "Mr. er-er-Belford," he began, again becoming
vaguely conscious that I was on the face of the earth, "the Senator had
no son; and that explains why he made a tomboy of his daughter." He
laughed weakly as he said this, and as a piece of good humor it was a
failure, but it proved to me that he was not wholly ill-natured.

"That's all right," the Senator replied, with his eyes on Mrs. Estell,
who had again mounted a chair to replace the foils on the wall. "That's
all right, but her tomboyishness has made her decidedly human, and,
Sir," he added, as the young woman stepped down, "I guess she succeeded
in winning the love of one of the best men in the State. Eh. How's that,
old fellow?"

"Not quite so bad as I expected," Estell answered, rousing up. "You
could have studied longer and framed it worse. By the way, Mr.
Belmont--"

"Belford," his wife suggested, standing with her hands resting on the
back of his chair.

"Yes, thank you. But, by the way, Mr. Belford, where are you from, Sir?
I take it that you are not a Southern man."

"I was born near the old city of Chester, England," I answered. "But I
came to this country when a boy. And among Americans I sometimes assert
that I'm English, but among Englishmen I am often proud to say that I am
an American."

"Good enough," said the Senator. "First rate. That's all you need to say
around here, Sir. Our most famous orator, S. S. Prentiss, used to say,
when reproached with the fact that he was not born in Mississippi, that
any fool could have been born here, but that he had sense enough to come
to the State of his own accord. Belford, we've had some great orators.
We've had men, Sir, that could make you laugh at your own sorrow and
then compel you to look with grief upon your own laughter. But they are
gone, Sir." He got up and stood with one hand thrust into his bosom.
"They are gone, and the world will never look upon their like again.
Why, Sir, Prentiss, with his oration on starving Ireland, made the whole
world weep. Ah, and who makes it weep now? It does not weep, for there
is a measure of relief in tears. It groans, and in a groan there is no
sentiment--the groan is the language of despair. The oppressive
corporation, the heartless money grabber--but I won't talk about it," he
broke off, sitting down and running his fingers through his beard.

"Yes, it's bad," Estell drawled, "but what are we going to do about it,
heigho?" he yawned. "You people may discuss the ills of the world, but
I'm going up-stairs and take a nap."



CHAPTER IX.

PUBLIC ENTERTAINERS.


Early the next day the Senator and I went down to look at the opera
house. It was about midway in a block that faced the public square. Of
course there was nothing attractive in its outward appearance, and I
expected to find a raw interior, but I was more than happily surprised.
The auditorium was well appointed, the chairs were of the best and the
decorations were modest and artistic. I felt that it was only the
poorest of management that could have brought about the financial
failure of the house. And now that I had seen the place there arose a
fear that the agent might set the price too high. But when we called
upon him the Senator explained with so many gestures intended to
depress him, and with so many shrewd words thrown out to convince him
that we came as benefactors, that he soon was willing to accept our
terms. The papers were drawn up at once.

"And, now, by the way," said the Senator, "I don't want to be known in
this transaction, for, come to think it over, there are many people in
my senatorial district who hold a prejudice against the show business.
So I'll be a silent partner, and a mighty silent one, I want you to
understand."

The agent said that he understood, and the Senator continued: "The
editor of that mongrel sheet, the _Times_, would twist this thing out of
all shape, Sir. He would fight the house to injure me, and he'd jump on
me to hurt the house. Mr. Belford here will be the manager, and I guess
he knows all about it."

I was forced to tell him that I was not a business man, that I could
secure the attractions, but that he must see that the books were kept
properly. "That's all right," he said. "I can't do it myself, but I'll
take them home and turn them over to my daughter. She may not know how
to keep them in the regular way, but you may gamble that they'll be kept
right."

I agreed to this, but as we were going out the thought occurred to me
that Estell might object.

"Oh, that will be all right," the Senator declared when I spoke of it.
"He may not be taken with the idea, but it will give Florence a
practical thing to think about, and he can see that it will be good for
her."

"But if it's just the same to you, Senator, I'd rather you wouldn't
speak to him about it when I'm present. Even the slightest objection on
his part would be embarrassing to me."

"You are right, Belford, and I appreciate your sensitiveness. Yes, Sir,
you are right. But he won't object."

As we drew near to the house we saw Estell standing under a walnut
tree. "Go on in," said the Senator, "and I will have a talk with him.
It's a matter of no importance, you understand. We can hire a man to
keep the books. But I'll speak to him."

I passed on into the library. The dog, that had presumed to disobey the
mistress of the house, lay stretched upon the floor, and as I entered he
looked up contemptuously, and then to all appearances resumed his nap.
Presently Mrs. Estell came in.

"You are back early," she said. "What are you doing here?" This was
spoken to the dog. He raised his head and gave her an appealing look.
"They want you out there to catch a chicken to send to a sick man."

The dog brightened, jumped up and trotted out, and soon a squawk and a
command from a negro woman announced that he had done his work.

"It is all arranged," I said.

"I knew it would be," she replied. "My father gets nearly everything he
goes after."

"And he is now after Mr. Estell, to get his consent--"

"Consent!" she broke in. "Consent about what?"

"Why, the Senator thought it would be a good idea to bring the books up
here and let you keep them."

"I'd like that. It would give me something to think about."

"That's what your father said."

"Oh, and he's gone to ask Mr. Estell. He won't care. He may object at
first--he objects to nearly everything at first."

"I don't believe he takes to me very kindly," I ventured to remark.

She laughed. "Oh, he doesn't take to anyone at first. I had known him
ever since I was a child, and I was grown before he appeared to think
anything of me. But he doesn't seem a bit like his old self. He used to
be lively and liked to go out, but now he's worried all the time and
doesn't care to go anywhere. I don't know what's the trouble with him,
I'm sure. Isn't that a pretty little theatre? And what do you think of
the prospects? Don't you think they're good? I do."

"So do I. The town is large enough, and I believe we can make the
venture pay."

"I'm sure of it," she said. "It has never been managed properly. None
but the poorest plays came here, and no wonder it failed. I do hope it
will be a success. It will give father something new to talk about. I'm
so tired of politics. Always the same thing, anxiety and treachery and
everything unpleasant. Mr. Estell was offered an excellent place in a
New Orleans bank, some time ago, and I begged him to take it, but he
wouldn't. And I can't understand why. There's no money and no particular
honor in the place he has now. But you would think his life depended on
it. He had strong opposition at the last election, and I thought he'd go
wild. Here they come."

The Senator slyly winked at me as he entered the room. But Estell did
not appear to see me until he had sat down, and then he looked at me and
said:

"You and Talcom are trying to involve the whole family in that show
enterprise, eh?"

"We'd like to involve the whole community in it," I answered.

"Yes. And it would be a nice thing for a friend to meet me and say:
'Helloa, Estell, understand your wife, the former belle of Bolanyo, is
keeping books for a show.'"

"If you object, Mr. Estell," I began, but he shut me off.

"Object? Why, I don't object to anything that Talcom does. What's the
use? Oh, it's all right. And I suppose we'll have show bills pasted up
all over the house. Might take a few of them to Jackson with me and
stick 'em up in the Treasurer's office; might get the Governor to put up
a few in the Executive Chambers. And I know the walls of the Senate
will be lined with them."

I was about to say something in resentment of this dry ridicule when the
Senator looked at me with a comedian's squint of the eye. "Oh, yes,"
said he, "and we'll have the Governor issue a proclamation commanding
all the State officers to attend our performances. By the way, he is a
bachelor. We'll marry him to a--"

"Soubrette," I suggested, to help him out. The Senator laughed and
Estell chuckled wearily as his wife, in her good humor, shook his chair.
Dating from this trifling incident the Treasurer appeared to like me
better; at least, he paid me more attention, and at dinner he told a
joke (which the Senator afterward informed me was his favorite bit of
humor), and I laughed as if I really enjoyed it. I felt more kindly
toward him, but the eye of prejudice made him old, for constantly I
wondered how she could ever have given her consent to marry him. I had
been told, by the Senator, I think, that his family was high, that his
people were once of the great and lordly set of the South, and of course
I knew that in the marriage arrangement the name of family meant more
than mental or physical suitability; and yet I could not rid myself of
the belief that a violence had been committed against sentiment the day
she gave her hand to her father's friend.

After dinner the Senator and I went into the library to talk over our
venture, and Estell trod heavily up the stairs to take his nap. I
wondered whether his wife were coming with us. She did not; she went out
into the magnolia garden; and through the window I watched her as she
walked about beneath the trees. To me she was such a picture, so lithe a
piece of Nature's art, that in my study of her I did not think of a
danger that might lie in wait for me; but in matters that tend to lead
the heart astray we rarely think until too late and then each thought is
an added pain.

The Senator was saying something and I looked around at him. "Yes, Sir,
I think we'll run all right. Bound to if we put our energies into it.
Let's see; you'll have to go North and book the attractions, won't you?"

"Yes, I ought to, but it's now almost too far along in the season. It
would involve considerable expense, and I think that the best plan is to
do my best with correspondence and take it in time next year."

"Shouldn't wonder but you are right. Yes, and that will give you time to
work on your play. It will be quite a feather in our cap to have a play
written by our manager."

"Yes, a successful play," I replied.

"Oh, don't you worry about that. We'll make it a success all right
enough, for we've got the characters here under our gaze."

"And the notorious Bugg Peters is one of them," I suggested.

He began to run his fingers through his beard. "Well, I don't know about
that, Belford. It doesn't seem to me, though, that we ought to mar a
play with as trifling a fellow as he is. Why, that fellow is no account
on the face of the earth! Why, he's common! And, Sir, the people
wouldn't go to see a play that had him in it. We can get better
material, honorable and upright men, Sir. Why, he'd take all the dignity
out of it; he'd bring ridicule on the South. By gracious, Sir, they'd
think that he's--he's real!"

"Well, but isn't he?"

"Oh, in a way, yes. But he's not a representative man, you understand;
and I want to tell you, Belford, that the stage is in need of
representative men. Why, Sir, every newspaper is talking about the
elevation of the stage, the need of it, mind you; and I don't see how
you can elevate the stage if you put such men as Bugg Peters on it. Why,
confound his hide, do you know there's not a bigger liar in this State?
And do you know that he owes me?--well, I won't attempt to say how much.
We'll give him wheat, Sir, to keep him and his shaking sons-in-law from
starving, but we cannot--I repeat--we cannot put him on our stage. It's
nothing to laugh at, Belford. It's a serious matter. I'll show you some
characters--I'll find them for you. Why, here's Washington. Come in,
come in."

The preacher came forward and stood gravely looking down upon us. "Sit
down," said the Senator. "That is, unless Mr. Belford objects," he
added, looking at me.

"Why should I object?" I asked, in surprise.

"Oh, some people object to--"

"A negro sitting down in the presence of white gentlemen, unless he
drops his hat at the door and then sits on a trunk or a box," Washington
spoke up, smiling. "But," he added, "the Senator is more liberal.
However, I do not wish to sit down. I have come on an important errand."

"Ah, ha! How much do you need?" the Senator inquired.

The preacher roared with as genuine a laugh as ever was blown across a
cotton field.

"We don't need so very much," he said, his gravity returning with a
suddenness that made him appear almost ridiculously solemn. "We need
something, however, and when our own resources had fallen short, I told
my brethren that I knew where to come. The truth is, we need a new bell
for the church, and lack twenty-five dollars of having enough to pay for
it."

"A new bell! Why, what's the matter with the old one?"

"It is cracked, Sir."

"Cracked! Why I'll bet a thousand dollars you can hear it fifteen miles.
Why don't you take the money that a bell would cost and give it to the
poorer members of your congregation?"

"The poor we have with us always, Senator. We need a new bell."

"Yes, and you'll ring it at all times of night and keep me awake. Why do
they have to be rung, too, so much? Hang me, if I don't believe you've
got one old fellow over there that gets up and rings it in his sleep;
and many a time I've felt like filling his black hide with shot. When do
you want the devilish thing?"

"You mean the bell, Sir?"

"Yes. When do you have to get it?"

"It has been ordered and it must be paid for on its arrival."

"Oh, you've ordered it. Well, now, if you hadn't ordered it you'd
never've got a cent out of me. Don't believe I've got that much money
about me," he added, stretching out his leg and thrusting his hand into
his pocket, to draw forth a roll of bank notes; and on beholding this
great display of wealth the negro's thick eyelids snapped. "Here you
are," said the Senator, giving him the sum required. "And you tell that
old fellow that if he rings the new bell in his sleep, he'll wake up
with his black hide full of shot."

"Thank you, Senator. You mean Brother Sampson, Sir?"

"Hah? Sampson? I don't know his name, but I guess Sampson's about right.
Wait a minute. Mr. Belford is going to remain with us. He is going to
take charge of the theatre here, and in going about the neighborhood you
may tell the people that we are--I say we because I want to see the town
well entertained--tell the people that they are to have a series of the
finest entertainments ever known in this part of the country. And, by
the way, Belford, I forgot to speak of it, but you'd better board here
at the house."

I looked up to meet the negro's eyes; a stare of blunt rebuke, as if the
proposal had come from me, in violation of a compact made with him. I
caught a vision of Mrs. Estell as I had seen her through the window,
walking beneath the magnolia trees; I heard the warning voice of reason,
and I saw lurking in ambush the sweetest and perhaps the deadliest of
all dangers. I had seen much of the immorality of life, of passion that
knew no law, but not for a moment did there live in my mind a suspicion
that this woman could forget the exacting demands of a matron's duty. I
felt that the danger lay for me alone; that the warm and sympathetic
relationship of friend of the family and partner of the father would
establish me almost as a member of the house-hold; that a sisterly
regard would at most define the depth of the interest that she could
take in my affairs, and even this must come with slow and almost
unconscious ripening. It was true that I had come a stranger, that an
old community, and especially in the South, is skeptical of a new man's
respectability, but I had fallen helpless upon their hospitality, and my
misfortune was stronger than an introduction.

It did not seem that I had time to reason as I sat there encountering
the gaze of that black agent of a moral code; my reflections might have
come like flying splinters, but as I look back and again bring up the
scene, I feel that they must have fallen as one impression, a cold and
benumbing weight.

"It will be a long walk out here for Mr. Belford, and he has not
regained his strength," the negro said, still gazing at me.

"Nonsense!" the Senator replied. "He will be as strong as a buck in a
day or two, and, besides, he is used to his room out here and might as
well keep it. Confound your impudence, Washington, you always oppose
me."

"I beg your pardon, Senator."

"That's all right, but I'm going to have my own way about my own
affairs. Do you understand?"

"Better than you think, Sir."

"What's that?"

"I mean that I understand perfectly."

"Well, say what you mean."

"Senator," said I, "he is right. I'd better get a room down town.
Walking in and out--and I couldn't think of riding--would take up too
much of my time, and I expect to be very busy after the season opens."

"Well, now, there may be something in that. Yes, Sir, there's a good
deal to be attended to. Suit yourself. Perhaps it would be better.
Washington, you go on and pay for your diabolical arrangement to keep me
awake."

The negro bowed and gave me a look, but not of victory--of gratitude.



CHAPTER X.

MR. PETTICORD.


Early the next day I was formally installed as manager of the Bolanyo
Opera House. The Senator directed the ceremony, marking long meter with
his hat, and by his solemn mien appearing to demand of me a serious and
majestic chant, the tune of Old Hundred, to express a deep sense of my
responsibility--a mere fancy, of course; but as a matter of fact, he did
seem to believe that we ought to make a sentiment of this commonplace
and businesslike procedure. But I told him that we would waive the
rights of a mysterious incantation and look upon the affair as a
commercial transaction.

"Yes, of course," he said. "But you know there has always been a sort
of mystery about the stage. It holds us to the past, makes us children,
afraid of ghosts. It has a peculiar smell; and one thing about it is,
that all the people on the stage seem to be foreigners, it makes no
difference how well you may have been acquainted with them. I don't know
that it's true in all cases. Come to think of it, you don't seem strange
to me."

"There has always been a prejudice against the stage, in England and
America," I replied. "Our race cannot associate art and religion, when,
in fact, there's true religion in every phase of art."

"Well, now, I don't know about that, Belford. The Pagans worshiped idols
and some of their idols were works of art, but there was no true
religion in that. But be that as it may, we're going to make a success
of this thing."

A number of boys, having scented an unusual activity, were hanging about
the door, and one of them made bold to ask if there was going to be a
show. The Senator answered him. "Yes, there is, my little man, and
we'll want you to take around some bills when it comes, next fall. Whose
son are you, anyway?"

"Mr. Vark's."

"Oh, yes, the shoemaker down stairs. Well, run along now."

The boys scampered off, and the Senator, looking about, declared that we
were making great progress. "Yes, Sir, we'll coin money here; and do you
know, Belford, I am beginning to believe that money is a pretty good
thing after all? Yes, Sir, I have about arrived at that conclusion. It
won't take a man to Heaven, but it arms him against a hell on earth. Let
me see, there was something else I intended to say. Oh, yes. Now it's
all right to be friendly with everybody, but intimacy is a dangerous
thing. Encourage it and the first thing you know the loafers about town
will begin to call you by your first name. That kills a man if he's in
any sort of public life. Why, Sir, if I had let those fellows call me
Giles, I couldn't have remained in the Senate more than one term; would
have killed me, Sir, as dead as a door nail. In this human family a man
thinks more of you in the long run if you compel him to bow to you than
if you permit him to put his arm on your shoulder. Our natures respect
exclusiveness. We may make fun of what we conceive to be a groundless
dignity, but at its face we bow to it. Well, you can now begin your
correspondence. I have put money to your credit at the bank, and there's
nothing to keep you from going ahead. There are some other little
details that can be arranged at our leisure. And now, as to a boarding
place. Our hotels are not first class. And here's what I regard as a
good idea. This room off here you can fit up as a sleeping apartment,
and you can take your meals at a restaurant. Suit you?"

"Perfectly. And I want to thank you for your--"

"Wait till the end of next season, Sir; we haven't time now. And, by
the way, I want you to come out to the house as often as you can
conveniently. Just come and go as you please. Well, Mr. Manager, I'll
bid you good-morning."

My room was airy, and, proportioned in that wastefulness of space which
marks one of the interior differences between the town and the great
city, it afforded the luxury of many an imaginary path over which I
could walk in meditation upon my play; and that piece of work was
uppermost in my mind. It was my hope to exist as a manager until I could
pip the shell as a dramatist--selfish, I confess; and so is art a
selfishness, and so is every high-born longing in the breast of man.
Indeed, philanthropy itself cannot escape the accusation: To give to the
needy awakens the applause of the conscience.

A slight tapping attracted my attention, and looking round I saw
standing in the doorway a tall, gaunt man with a beard so red as to
shoot out the suggestion that it had been put on hot and that sufficient
time had not elapsed for it to cool. I invited him in; and, stepping
forward, he handed me a card on which in black type and with heavy
impression was printed the name Lucian C. Petticord, followed by the
information (also heavy and black) that I was in the presence of the
Editor of the Bolanyo _Daily Times_, and the enemy of Senator Giles
Talcom.

"Sit down, Mr. Petticord. Glad to meet you," I added, with lie number
one.

"Thank you," he said, seating himself. "Match about you?"

I found a match for him, and lighting the stub of a cigar, he said
"Thanks," crossed his legs and hooked his thumbs in the arm-holes of his
"vest."

"How do you like our town?" he asked.

"Charming place," I answered.

"Used to be, but hard times hit it a crack and it's been staggering ever
since. Had two banks--one of them failed. Tough, I tell you, but we'll
come out all right. Just heard of your deal. Ought to make the thing
pay, I should think. Got to spend some little money, of course. By the
way, is old man Talcom interested in it?"

"Well, only as a friend," I answered, with lie number two.

"I heard he was. Always was a sort of a theatrical fellow."

"He is a gentleman, if that's what you mean."

"Yes, in a way," he drawled. "Oh, I know him."

"Then, Sir, you know one of the most generous of men."

"Yes, generous in a way. Pretty keen, though--he's not throwing anything
over his shoulder this year, and he didn't last year either, for that
matter."

"I didn't know," said I, "that throwing a thing over one's shoulder was
esteemed as an example of generosity."

He rolled his cigar about between his fiery lips. "I take it that you
know what I mean," he replied. "I mean that Brother Giles ain't giving
anything away without cause."

"Who is?" I asked, and I looked at him hard, but, in the vernacular of
the neighborhood, I did not "faze" him.

"In general, nobody; and in particular, not Brother Giles. Well, it's
all right. Glad he ain't interested financially. Presume, however, he
advanced you the necessary money."

"Pardon me, but if he did it doesn't concern you."

"Oh, it's all right; no business of mine except as a matter of news."

"But what doesn't concern the public is not news," I replied.

"No, that's a fact, but then, there comes up a difference of opinion as
to what does concern the public." He paused for a few moments and then
continued: "Thought I'd step over and see if I could get an ad from you.
Do all my own work in that line; do all the editorials and write most of
the local leaders. It keeps me busy, but I'm getting out the best paper
the city ever had. And my ad rates are not high when the circulation is
considered."

"I shall give you an advertisement later on," said I, "but just at
present there could be no object in it. It's out of season and there's
nothing to advertise."

"But you'll want a write-up announcing the change of management. The
people will be interested in it, you know."

"Yes, but doesn't that very fact make it a piece of legitimate news?"

"Well, yes, in a way. But you know I can't afford to print news for
nothing. I'm not printing news for my health, you know. Write you up in
good shape for ten dollars."

It was the easiest way out of what appeared to be the beginning of an
unpleasant entanglement, and I told him that he might proceed with his
"write-up." It was a sort of bribery, the purchase of his good opinion
in the hope of securing his silence, for I knew that there must be war,
and perhaps a complete change of geographical lines, so far as I was
concerned, if the newspaper should offensively associate the Senator
and the playhouse. But as I sat there, the subject of a "pleasant
interview"--meeting smile with smile--I actually ached to kick that red
gargoyle down the stairs.

"Well," he said, blowing the cigar stub out of his mouth and letting it
fall where it might, "I'll get back to work. Come over sometime."

"Thank you. I may see more of you when the season opens."

"Guess that's right. Haven't got a cut of yourself, have you?"

"No, and I don't care for one."

"You're wrong there; good cut's a first-rate thing--catches the women,
and I want to tell you that unless you catch the women you don't catch
anybody. Well, good day."

Almost as soothing as a melody was his passing footstep down the stairs.
But he halted, and I heard him talking to someone who evidently was
coming up. I was afraid that he had turned to come back, and I stood in
a tremor of dread, when in stepped old Zack Mason, the steamboat pilot.
"Hah, united we stood and divided we went up!" he cried, grasping my
hand. "How are you?--first-rate, I know. Oh, this climate will bring a
man out of the kinks if he isn't killed instantly. All this atmosphere
needs is a few minutes' start. A man can grow a set of new lungs down
here. How are you, anyway? Didn't hurt me much--made a trip since then
on a snag-boat. Tickled to death to see you again. How are you, anyway?"

During all this time he held me with a grip so tight as to assure me
that not even an explosion could blow us apart. And whenever I attempted
to tell him how I was, or to impress him with my share of the pleasure
derived from our meeting, he gripped me tighter, to hold me under the
outpour of his congratulations. "Felt like a brother had left me that
day when you were snatched out of my hand. Said to myself, as I flew
through the air, 'he's got a little bit the start of me and I don't
believe I'll ever see him again.' And last night, when I got home and
heard you were around all right, I went straight over to old Jim
Bradley's and swallowed a drink as long as a pelican's neck. I want to
tell you that Jim's got the stuff right there in his house--been here
ever since the Mississippi River was a creek; and he's got licker older
than Adam's off ox. And I'll tell you what we'll do this minute--we'll
go right over there and take a snort as loud as the sneeze of a
hippopotamus."

By this time I had forced him back into his chair, but he showed such a
keenness to get at me again that I had to remind him that I had been but
a short time out of bed.

"Well, now, I'd about forgotten that," he declared. "But I don't want
you to handle me after you get plum back at yourself. You are as strong
as a panther right now. But that's neither here nor there. The question
is, will you come over with me to see old Jim? I've got a lay-off for
about a week, and I've got to have a little fun as I go along. Eat,
drink and be merry, for to-morrow you may be blowed up. And we'll see
old Joe Vark over there. Joe's got a shoeshop right down here--best
shoemaker that ever pounded the hide of a steer--works till he gets
ready to have fun, and then he whoops it up. He's smarter than a
serpent, even if he ain't always as harmless as a dove. They started a
little public library here once, and the first thing they knew old Joe
had nearly all the books stacked up in his shop; and he read them, too.
Come on and we'll go down to old Jim Bradley's; and he's all right, too.
What do you say?"

"To tell you the truth, I'd rather go with you than to do almost
anything; it would fit me like a glove; but I can't. I've had to quit.
One drink would mean a spree, and that would ruin everything."

"Yes, but here," he insisted, "the liquor that Bradley keeps won't put a
man off on a spree. It's a fact. It would take a man two weeks to get
drunk on it, and by that time he'd have enough. Come on."

"No, I can't go."

"Well, if you can't drink without taking too much I'm the last man in
the world to persuade you. Glad to see you, anyway. And I reckon you're
going to give us a first-rate line of shows. Met the Senator just now
and he told me. He's another man that can't drink. I can drink and I can
let it alone--that is, I know I can drink, and I think I can let it
alone. Well," he said, getting up and taking my hand, "I'm glad to have
seen you again, anyway. Take care of yourself, and when your first show
opens up I'll come round with the boys and we'll whoop things up."



CHAPTER XI.

THE CHARM OF AN OLD TOWN.


The spiritual atmosphere of Bolanyo was like the charm of an old book
that we prize only for the almost secret art of its expression, an art
too ethereal to be caught and inspected. Sometimes it was drowsy, with
all the dreamy laziness of a hamlet in the south of Spain, but there
were days when it seemed to rebel against its own ease and unconcern,
when a sense of Americanism asserted itself to demand a share in the
bustling affairs of noisy commerce. Court day was a time of special
activity. It was then that the local market felt a stimulating thrill.
My window looked out upon the public square, a macadamized space, white
and dazzling in the sun. Sometimes the scene was busy and interesting
in variety; wagons loaded with hay still fragrant of the meadow; a brisk
horse trotted up and down in front of an auctioneer; negroes with live
chickens tied in bunches; a drunken man making a speech on the wretched
condition of the country; a "fakir" on the corner selling a soap that
would remove a stain from even a tarnished reputation.

Life along the levee was ever interesting to me, for it was there that I
could study the slowly vanishing type of boatmen, once so distinctive as
to threaten the coming of a new and haughty aristocracy. Singing the
song of long ago, with their eyes fixed upon the river, the old negroes
stumbled over the railway track that a new progress had thrown across
their domain. Great red warehouses were falling into decay, and rank
weeds were growing in the bow of a half-submerged steamer that years ago
had won a great race on the river. Everywhere lay the rotting ends and
broken ravelings of the past, but nowhere, not even in the oddest
corner, could there be found the thread of a hope for the future. The
business interests of the town had grown away from the river, leaving it
to melancholy poetry and to death. And here I loitered, day after day,
in a vague contentment extracted from a distress more vague. To a
thoughtful mind there is more of interest in decay than in progress; the
"Decline and Fall" is a greater book than could have been written on the
"Origin and Rise."

I could find no one to tell me much of the history of Bolanyo; no one
appeared to take an interest in that part of its existence which lay
behind the halcyon and now almost holy day of the steamboat. I knew
that, in a corrupted form, it retained the name given originally to the
Spanish fortification. But that was enough to know, for the exact dates
of the historian might have made it, in comparison with places of real
antiquity, a toadstool of yesterday.

I saw the Senator nearly every day, in the office or on the street.
Election was not far away, and he had begun to mingle more freely with
the people; and though his manner was as cordial and as solicitous as on
the day when driving with me he had saluted everyone whom he met in the
road, he was far from being familiar, and no one, except his most
intimate friends, presumed to call him Giles.

The sight of his house, pillared and stately, on the summit of the
graceful rise, was always a pleasure, and while strolling about, with no
intention of calling (having, doubtless, called the day before), I kept
it in view, for my eyes were never weary with looking upon it, so white
and peaceful. It was not a palace, not really a mansion, and in the rich
communities of the North it would not have been noteworthy except as a
sort of quaint renaissance in home building, but to me it had not been
set there by the hand of man, but by the Genii of the Lamp.

Upon calling one afternoon, I was told by the negro woman that the
Senator was asleep, and, not wishing to have him disturbed, I walked
out into the garden, where Washington was at work among the flowers.
With the instinct of his race, he was humming a tune, and he did not
hear me until I spoke to him, and then, uplifting his hand with a sign
of caution, he pointed at a tree not far away. My eyes leaped to follow
him, for I felt that the young woman was near, and there on a bench she
sat, her head against the tree, her hat on the ground--asleep.

"Don't make a noise," he said, in tones but little louder than a
whisper. "Sarah, the colored woman there in the house, say--says the
young lady didn't sleep hardly at all last night, and she went to sleep
out there just now."

"She isn't ill, is she?" I asked.

"Sick? No, Sir, she is well, but she's got to sleep some time. How do
you like my flowers?"

"They are very beautiful."

"Yes, Sir, but don't talk quite so loud. Seems to me like you are
trying to wake her up. I didn't want to take money for this work," he
went on, bending over and pulling up a weed, "for I like to do it, but
they insist on paying me. Yes, Sir. And I reckon--I suppose we have here
the finest clump of magnolias in all this part of the country. This one,
right here, was set out the day Miss Florence was born, twenty-four
years ago, now."

"And it is the most graceful tree of them all," I replied.

He cut his black eyes at me. "Yes, Sir, I believe it is, but, even if it
wasn't, you might say it was. I beg your pardon, Sir, but you just as
well board here. Oh, all the whole human family is not blind. If the
rest of them are, I'm not."

"Look here, Washington."

"I'm looking, Sir," he said, his eyes full upon me.

"You were very kind to me, and I am grateful, but I don't want your
guardianship, and I won't have your insinuations."

"Why, bless you, Sir, I don't want to be your guardian, and I don't
intend to insinuate. I spoke to you once about a danger, and I was
afraid you had forgotten it. Don't misunderstand me. I believe you are
an honorable man, but honor is not always careful enough when it comes
to talking to a lady, and none but an honorable man could make trouble
on this occasion. The only trouble you can make--there (nodding toward
the bench whereon the young woman sat, in fluffy white), the only
trouble you can cause there," he repeated, "would be to make her still
more dissatisfied with life. And a trouble might fall hard on you, Sir.
Let me tell you something in confidence. People have said that my
wedding to the church was what kept me from a marriage of the flesh. I
let them believe so, but it is not true. Mr. Belford, a soul that is now
cool and quiet in this black breast was once raging and on fire. It was
a long time ago. I had just begun to preach. I lived at the house of a
friend--over yonder."

He waved his hand toward a distant hill on which was clustered a negro
settlement.

"And there was a woman with a face like cream when the cow has eaten the
first buds of the clover; and her eyes were as bright as the star that
hung above the manger, and her laugh was as sweet as the notes that
dripped like honey from the harp of David."

He stood erect, a pose of black dignity, his arms folded on his breast,
and in one hand he held the weed that he had uprooted from among the
flowers. I did not question the sincerity of his religious zeal; from
what I had heard and from what I had seen of him I was persuaded that
with honesty he had dedicated his life to the service of his creed, but
now I felt that he was making a conscious picture of his sentiment and
his sacrifice. The bigotry of applauded self-righteousness was in the
look that he bent upon me, and my blood rose in resentment, but I said
nothing; I let him proceed.

"This woman was a wife, beyond my reach, and I felt that there was no
danger for me, and therefore I was not careful, but the first thing I
knew I was called upon to choose between the spirit of the Lord and the
flesh of the devil."

"Washington, you are talking what is popularly known as rot. How can you
compare a handsome woman with the flesh of the devil?"

"The devil's flesh may be beautiful, Sir; and beautiful flesh may not be
conscious that it was laid on by the devil."

"But if the devil can tint the flesh and make it beautiful, he is an
artist."

"Yes," he said, "and the devil might arm an agent with a paint brush."

"More rot, Washington. The beautiful things are of the Lord and not of
the devil. The devil may have made the weed you hold in your hand, but
the flowers belong to God."

With a shudder he dropped the weed, as if suddenly it had burnt him.
"Well, the end of your love story; how did it come out?"

"It made the woman dissatisfied with the cold clod she was living with;
and if I had not let my duty rule me there might have been a scandal,
and then my day of usefulness would have been gone."

"Yes; I suppose that a preacher must necessarily look upon a woman as a
sort of trap door. He may recover from the disgrace of wine, but
woman--" I glanced toward the bench, to find Mrs. Estell engaged in the
very human act of rubbing her eyes. I did not wait to finish the
sentence, but stepped off briskly; and, looking round before she
recognized my coming, I saw that Washington had dropped his dignity and
was bending among the flowers. She was not startled when she saw me; she
did not even show surprise, for my odd-hour presence had become
commonplace.

"I'm glad you came," she said in quiet frankness, and with a smile of
welcome. "Sit down. Isn't it a sleepy day?"

"Yes. And even the soft air is gently snoring among the leaves," I
replied, rather pleased with the fancy.

"Don't talk that way," she said. "You'll put me to sleep again." She
turned her face away to hide a yawn. "Have you begun work on your play?"

"Well, yes, I have taken some very important steps. Day before yesterday
I got some paper, got a pint of ink yesterday, and I expect to get a box
of pens to-day."

"Oh, you are making great progress. You are going to let me read it, I
suppose?"

"Yes, after I've had it typewritten."

"Oh, I won't want to read it then--all the character of the work will be
gone--I couldn't find any of your moods and troubles in it; couldn't
tell where it was easy nor where you got stuck. I always think that
handwriting holds something for me alone, but a typewritten thing is
intended for everybody. The other day I got a typewritten letter from
Mr. Estell, and I sent it back to him without reading it. Of course, he
had to dictate it. And he sent an apology by the next mail."

"Also dictated?" I asked.

"It would have been just like him," she laughed, "but it was scratched
with a pen. I hate anything that's dictated; I actually hate it. Some
time ago I read that a favorite author of mine dictated his books or
worked the typewriter himself, and since then I can't read him. It seems
to me that the mellowest work was done by the poets when they wrote with
a quill. Imagine Byron setting fire to a page with a typewriter!"

There was the humor of scorn in her "glad eyes" as she looked up at me.
"So, if I am to read your play, it must not be when the typewriter has
hammered _you_ out of it," she said.

"I will read it to you. How will that do?"

"From the original sheets? That will do; that is, if you want to. I
don't want you to feel that it's a duty."

"Oh, no; it will be a pleasure. The path of duty is too straight for
me."

"It's the winding path that leads to the sweetest flowers," she said,
with a motion of her hand toward a clump of roses not far away.

There were a hundred points on which I had yearned to question her, and
the most vital of them all--why had she taken the name of that
unsympathetic man?--arose to my mind, but instantly it sank again. Her
manner toward me was cordial and intimate, but in it I recognized a
command against familiarity; that quiet something which tells a man more
than a volume of words could imply. I wanted to believe that she was
persuaded by her father. I was willing to believe almost anything except
that she could ever have loved him. It was not alone the eye of
prejudice that made him look old; it was actual age. He was older than
the Senator. But his people had been great--the lords of old Virginia.
I would wait, and perhaps at some time in the future she might forget a
high-strung woman's caution; she might drop a thoughtless word, a
firefly to glow in the dark.

The negro preacher came walking slowly down the patch, to give his
attention to another part of the garden. He was humming a tune, with his
eyes on the ground, and he neither spoke nor halted, but at my feet he
dropped a weed.

"You have a faithful gardener," I remarked, when Washington had passed
beyond the reach of a low tone.

"Yes; there was only one George Washington, and there's only one
Washington Smith."

"But don't you think he's a little too zealous?"

"Too zealous? How?" she inquired, turning her eyes full upon me.

"Well, I don't know that zealous is the word. Perhaps I should have said
intolerant."

"Oh, he is intolerant--yes. He believes that he's one of the anointed."

"That's all very well, but he oughtn't to believe that he is appointed
to look after the souls of other men."

"Then he would have no mission," she replied. "The true strength of the
preacher is his sense of responsibility."

"Pardon me, I didn't know you were of the strictly orthodox fold."

"Didn't you? Don't you know I go to church every Sunday?"

"Yes, I ought to. I have more than once waited for you to come home."
She looked at me in surprise, and I made haste to add: "The Senator and
I have needed you to arbitrate our disputes, you know."

"Oh, yes, and I think you were wise in acknowledging that he had brought
you into his party. We all take a great interest in our converts.
Everybody is looking forward to the coming of your dramatic season," she
went on after a moment's pause. "And I think you'll become quite a
favorite in society. I heard Mrs. Atkinson speak of you. She's our
leader. She saw you somewhere. Of course there was some little prejudice
against you, at first, but that has worn off. And there's a splendid
catch here for you--Miss Rodney--distantly related to the Estell family.
She has seen you, too. She says you must be very romantic; and she asked
me all sorts of questions."

"Of course I want to be agreeable, _but_--"

"But what?"

"I simply don't care anything for society."

"Our stupid society, you mean."

"No, I mean any society. I like individuals but I don't care for sets."

"Oh, and you are going to rob me of the distinction of showing you off.
Very well, Sir."

"I wouldn't be a distinction--more of a humiliation."

"We'll see when the time comes. You have no idea what a source of--what
shall I say? Pleasure--gratification you have been to me."

"Do you really mean it?"

"Mean it? Why shouldn't I? You have helped me to pick things to pieces;
and we can have a great time when you know the people here well enough
to gossip about them. It's always interesting to hear what a stranger
has to say of one's old acquaintances."

"Yes, if he speaks what he conceives to be the truth. The truth is spicy
and not infrequently malicious."

"You make me laugh. Do you suppose I want to hear anyone speak ill of my
friends?"

"Why, yes. You might demur, but you would listen."

"Yes, I believe I would," she laughed, "and isn't it mean? I've tried so
hard to be good, but I can't."

"It is hard to be good, and--" I hesitated.

"And what?"

"Will you pardon an impudence?"

"Yes, if it's not _too_ bad."

"Hard to be good and beautiful."

Her face was turned from me, but I saw a red tint rise and spread over
her neck. She spoke without looking at me, and her voice was steady and
deep. "I helped you to set a trap and then walked into it, and therefore
I've no right to feel offended, but if my treatment of you leads up to
such compliments, I must change it."

"No!" I cried, abashed; and the negro on his knees at a tulip bed, down
the path, looked up at me. "It was simply a jest; there has never been
anything in your manner to warrant it. Let me tell you that at times I
am a barbarian; I lose respect for polite customs. I have known ladies
who liked to be told that they were beautiful--women who were charmed to
have their pictures in a magazine among a collection of "types"
celebrated for beauty. I--" was she laughing at me? She was.

"The fact that you take it so to heart wipes out the impudence," she
said, still laughing.

I felt that my crime existed in the fact that her husband was more than
twenty year older than herself. And I have reason to believe that the
young woman who marries an old man, and who is constantly striving to
maintain her own self-respect, has a fancied or perhaps a real cause to
stand in dread of a compliment. It may be sincere, but in its candor
lies an insinuation and a reproach. But when Mrs. Estell saw that no
insinuation was intended, she was even more free than she had been
before. She laughed with such gayety that Washington went about his work
and paid no further heed to us. We talked about the people of the town,
the leader of society and the young woman who had been put forward as a
splendid catch for me; and once I ventured near the verge of an awkward
sentiment. In making a gesture she accidentally touched my hand, and
with the thrill of the moment I could have leaped high in the air. But
it took only a flash of reason to assure me that I was a fool. I will
say, though, and without evil, that I would have given all my prospects,
the theatre and the play--anything--to have clasped her in my arms. No,
not anything. I would not have given up the respect which I hoped she
had for me. Ah, how many hearts are this moment aching for a love that
the law has hedged about with Duty! And this to me was monstrous, for I
was of a mimic life, where love pretended that there were locksmiths to
be laughed at, but where in reality the law itself was vain.

The Senator came striding down the path, and seeing me, he cried: "Ha!
Mr. Manager, why didn't you have them wake me? Don't want to waste any
more daylight than I am compelled to, but the fact is, I've been at work
pretty hard of late. A campaign always stirs me up."

We made room for him and he sat down, continuing to talk. "Didn't hear
about my speech out at Briar Flat last night, did you? Well, Sir, we
had a lively time. You see the Convention is really the election, and to
win I must get votes enough to secure the nomination. There's a Cheap
John of a fellow announced as a candidate against anybody our party may
put up, a schemer out after the country vote. Well, he came to our
meeting--had no earthly business there, mind you, but he came. He
interrupted me several times with his fool questions, and at last I
said, 'See here, Mister Whatever-your-name-may-be, I am perfectly
willing to answer any question that one of these farmers may ask, but
I've got no time for a man who farms with his mouth.' Well, Sir, the
boys laughed and he got red hot. He stood up and cried out that any man
who said he wasn't a practical farmer and a gentleman was a liar. Huh!
Well! I handed my hat to a friend and--"

"Now, father," Mrs. Estell broke in, "you promised me--"

"Hold on, now; it wasn't a fight. Nothing of the sort. I know what I
promised you, and I'll keep my word. Yes, I handed my hat to a friend
and stepped down to where the fellow stood, with his back against the
wall. I asked him--I was polite--if he meant to insinuate that I was a
liar. There was no violation of a promise in that, was there, Florence?"

"No, Sir, not if you asked him politely," she answered, laughing.

"It was polite, I assure you. Well, he studied a moment, and then
declared that he never did insinuate, that he came right out and said
what he meant. And, Belford, I rather admired him for that. But, er--the
fact is--"

"You struck him," Mrs. Estell interjected. "Didn't you?"

"Well, that depends upon the way you look at it. Now, here, Florence,
you wouldn't want to know that a man had stood up in front of a whole
houseful of people and called your father a liar. I mean that under such
circumstances you wouldn't blame me for--for tapping him."

"Of course not," she replied.

"Ah, ha, and I did tap him. Belford, I hit that fellow a crack that
he'll remember the longest day he lives. Fell? Why, Sir, he fell like a
beef; and when they had taken him away, the meeting was kind enough to
name me as its unanimous choice."

The negro woman who had announced her suspicion of all men came out upon
the veranda to ring the supper bell, and, astonished to realize that the
sun was no longer shining, I bounced up with a declaration that I must
get back to town.

"No, Sir, not till you have had supper," the Senator replied. "Why, what
can you be thinking about to run away at a time like this? Come on," he
added, taking my arm and turning me toward the house. "I want to have a
talk with you after supper--on business. Come, Florence."



CHAPTER XII.

A MATTER OF BUSINESS.


In the library, after supper, I waited for the Senator to introduce the
talk which we were to have on business; but he wandered off into a
political reminiscence of a day when a man found out what his
convictions were and then looked about for a chance to defend them with
his life. He told me, as comfortably he sat with his feet in the
slippers which his daughter had brought for him, that he could recall an
old fellow who wrote out his principles in blood drawn from his breast.
"Yes, Sir, and it created a big hurrah at the time. Copies of his creed
were sought after, in the original ink, and so many of them were sent
out that the suspicions of a young doctor were aroused. He calculated
that the amount of blood thus put in outward circulation would leave an
insufficient circulation within, though the body of the politician still
appeared to be strong and active. And it was then that a most startling
discovery was made. The rascal had not used his own blood, but a red
powder and the juice of the pokeberry. Well, Sir, this stirred up the
community from one end to the other; the people swore that they had been
defrauded, and they demanded that he should make good the counterfeits
or get out of the race. His circulating medium was not strong enough to
warrant the output, so he retired in disgrace. Yes, Sir. Belford, do you
know that I can see that fellow Petticord's hand every time I go to a
political meeting? I can. He is all the time trying to tunnel under me,
and it keeps me busy stepping about to keep from falling in. I am
afraid, Sir, that sooner or later I'll have to kill that scoundrel."

"Father!" spoke his daughter, turning from the window.

"I beg your pardon, Florence. I don't mean to kill
him--er--er--offensively, you understand, but, perhaps, necessarily. Of
course we are inflicted more or less as we journey through this life,
but I can't reconcile myself to the belief that we are called upon to
stand everything. Let us say that sometimes the devil giveth and the
Lord taketh away. Now, if I could only provoke him into a fight--I beg
your pardon."

Mrs. Estell had put her hand on his shoulder. She looked at me with a
smile, but the Senator glanced up to meet an expression of reproof.

"Provoke him into a fight?" she said.

"Figuratively, you understand. I wouldn't provoke him except
figuratively. But I don't see why my footsteps are to be constantly
dogged by that red wolf. Why doesn't he come out in his paper and give
me a chance? What are you going to do?" She had stepped upon a chair and
was taking down the foils. "Belford, I reckon you'll have to defend
yourself. I won't fight; I'm a noncombatant."

I fenced with her, having had some little experience, but she was too
quick and too skillful for me. The Senator laughed, and his face was
aglow with pride to see her drive me into a corner, where I was willing
enough to surrender.

"He isn't strong enough yet," she said, in excuse of my defeat.

"Oh, yes, he is," the Senator cried. "He's as strong as a deck hand, but
he hasn't the skill. Just feel of that girl's arm, Belford. Don't be
afraid of her--she won't hurt you."

I put my hand on her arm, so round and firm, so warm through the gauze
sleeve she wore; and I thought it well for me that neither the father
nor the daughter observed my agitation.

A negro came to tell the Senator that a Mr. Spencer wanted to speak to
him at the gate. "Politics," said the law maker, as he took up his hat.
"And that fellow wouldn't get off his horse to meet the President. Stay
right where you are till I come back, Belford. I want to have a talk
with you--on business."

He went out and Mrs. Estell sat down in his armchair. Her face was
flushed and her eyes were a delight to behold.

"I'll be glad when this miserable campaign is over," she said. "It
upsets everything, spoils our evenings, and bores everybody that comes
to the house."

"It doesn't bore me," I replied.

"No; I gave him his orders not to talk politics to you."

"That's a compliment, surely."

"Oh, I don't know. I told him he ought to see that you didn't understand
the political situation. And after he'd converted you he was willing
enough to grant you freedom. Mr. Belford, why haven't you told me more
about yourself?"

And this gave me the opportunity to ask her why she had not told me more
about herself, her days of romance.

"I have had no such days," she said. "I was born here and I live here
and that is all. But you have been everywhere; you came from an old and
poetic country."

"And you," I replied, "have always lived in a poetic country."

"No, dreamy and visionary, but hardly poetic. Poetry means action and
adventure. You have never told me about _her_?"

"Her? What her do you mean?"

"Oh, any her. There must have been one."

"No; I can't recall one."

"Really? And you so sentimental?"

"I'm not sentimental. A sentimentalist would tint the truth while I
would rather view it in its natural color, be it dun or even black. Do
you believe we ought to be held responsible for everything?"

"Yes, nearly everything."

"But suppose a man forgets to lock the door of his heart, and a woman
out in the dark, feeling about, accidentally lifts up the latch and
comes in. She is pure and innocent and she does not know that she is
warming herself at the hearth of a heart. Ought he to put her out and
shut the door?"

"No, he should make the fire still warmer and brighter, if she has come
out of the cold and the dark."

"But suppose her lawful place is beside another fire?"

"Then she would not stray from it."

"But say that she is walking in her sleep?"

"She would run away as soon as she awakes."

"Ah, but suppose she does not awake. Should he put her out?"

"I--I don't know. He must not leave his door unlocked--he should--should
even bar his windows."

We heard the Senator coming down the hallway and were silent. "Now what
do you reckon that fool fellow wanted? Well, Sir, it beats anything.
Told me that he had named a boy for me--said that it ought to be worth
five dollars and a barrel of flour. Why, dog my cats--beg your pardon
(bowing to Mrs. Estell). But I say, if it were to get out--no, keep your
seat, I'll sit over here--get out that I am giving five dollars and a
barrel of flour for each boy named for me, why, I'd be broke in six
months. A long time ago a yellow-looking chap from the swamps came to
tell me that he had given my name to as fine a boy as the country ever
saw. I was a little easier flattered in those days than I am now, and it
tickled me mightily; and what did I do but give the fellow a
twenty-dollar gold piece. Well, Sir, about six months after that he went
to a friend of mine, a candidate to fill an unexpired term of county
clerk, and declared that he had just named a splendid specimen of a boy
for him. And now what do you suppose we found out? The villain changed
that boy's name every time a campaign came along. Yes, Sir, and he was
about ten years old when he was given my name."

"By the way, there was something you wanted talk to me about," I said,
to remind him that the hour was growing late. "Something on business, I
understood you to say."

"Yes, but there's plenty of time. Let me see, now, what it was I had on
my mind. Something I wanted to say about--well, Sir, it has escaped me."

"Then it couldn't have been very important," said Mrs. Estell.

"It couldn't, eh? Now that's where you are wrong. In this life we are
prone to forget the most important things. My old grandfather used to
forget his wife when she went visiting with him, and go on home without
her. But come to consider more closely, it wasn't exactly a business
matter I wanted to talk to you about, Belford. I wanted to tell you that
day after to-morrow we'll go fox-hunting. I sent over to the plantation
to have the hounds put in good condition, and they'll be ready for us.
Ever ride after the hounds?"

"Only in a mimic chase--a bag of anis-seed."

"Oh, what nonsense! Do you know what ought to be done with a man that
would get up such a disgrace on the greatest of all sport? Ought to be
deprived of his citizenship, his vote; and I don't know of anything much
worse than that. Now, you be here day after to-morrow morning, and I'll
show you what it is to live like a white man."

He was so earnest and so set in his conviction that no work, however
important, should be permitted to stand as a stumbling-block in the road
leading to the field of this essential sport, that I yielded, but
reluctantly, until Mrs. Estell dropped a word of persuasion, and then I
could not have found the moral nerve to urge even the most courteous
objection.

When I took my leave, soon afterward, the Senator walked out with me,
through the gate and down the road; and when he halted to turn back, I
looked round and saw Mrs. Estell standing on the portico, with a lamp
held aloft to light his way.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE PLACE OF THE GOBLINS.


Down the road not far from Talcom's house there stood a stone chimney,
tall and white, in the midst of a dark thicket of scrub locust, the mark
of a fire that years ago had burnt a miser and melted his gold. It was a
desolate place, even in the sunlight, for the air that breathed an
enchantment in the Senator's magnolia garden came hither to whine and
moan. And whenever at night I passed this place I was chilled with a
nervous fear that a goblin might jump out and grab me. I knew that there
were no goblins, in the sun, but the night is the mother of many an imp
that the day refuses to father.

I walked slower as I came abreast of the thicket, to prove to myself
that I was not afraid, yet ready to take to my heels, when suddenly I
halted, statue-still, with a gasp and a loud beating of the heart. A
great black figure plunged out of the bushes, into the road, and in
another moment I am sure that I should have run like a deer had not a
voice familiar to my ear exclaimed:

"Fo' de Lawd, I didn' know I wuz comin' through dat place. Walkin'
'cross de pasture thinkin', an' de fust thing I knowed--"

"That you, Washington?" I cried.

"Yes, Sir. Oh, it's Mr. Belford," he said, coming forward.

"You almost scared the life out of me."

"Yes, Sir, and scared myself, too. I am on my way from prayer meeting,
and my mind was so occupied that I didn't think of the thicket until I
was into it. Going to town? I'll walk a piece with you if you have no
objections."

"None at all; be glad to have you. It made you forget your education,"
said I, as we walked along.

"It did that, Sir. It makes no difference how many colleges a colored
man has gone through nor how many books he has read, scare him and he is
what the white people call a nigger. My mother used to tell me stories
about that place back there, and I can't forget them. But Miss Florence
isn't afraid of it, Sir. When a child she often played there alone,
after dark, and the Senator would have to go after her. Pardon me, but
why did you cry 'No!' so loud in the garden!"

"Why, it must have been when I was reciting something."

He grunted and we strode on in silence until he said: "Mr. Belford, I
have heard that there is no moral responsibility among the people that
play on the stage--that the winning or losing of love means little to
them. Is it true?"

"Washington, I have read of a hundred scandals in the church. Were they
true?"

He did not answer at once; he strode for a long time in silence, and
then he spoke: "There are bad people everywhere, and some of them carry
the outward form of the cross, but it is made of light paper and not of
heavy wood. But there are many who carry the true cross. Let us,
however, put that aside, for I must turn back when we get to the first
gaslight down yonder, and there is something I want to say to you if I
can get at it properly."

"Out with it; don't try to lead up to it."

"You are in love with Mrs. Estell," he bluntly said, and I had expected
something to the point, but nothing so straightforward and undiplomatic;
and I could have knocked him down for his impertinence, but I swallowed
my wrath and waited for him to proceed.

"I can see it."

"But can she?" I compelled myself, quietly, to ask.

"No. If she were to see it, she would never step into your presence
again."

"But the Senator! Can he see it?"

"No. Honor makes him blind to such a sight. He could not understand
such a violation of hospitality. He has made you almost a member of his
family; your misfortune demanded his sympathy, and he gave you his
confidence."

"Then you stand alone with your eyes open?" I replied.

"I may stand alone, but other eyes are open--and they wink at one
another."

"What! Do you mean that the neighbors--"

"Yes," he broke in, "that is what I mean--the neighbors."

"Washington, you were graduated from the Fisk University, I understand,
an institution made possible by the generosity of a band of jubilee
singers; and, having been educated at the instance of song, I should
think that you would have aspired to poesy rather than to stilted talk
and a detective's disposition to pry into affairs that don't concern
you."

With the slouching habit of his race, he had been dragging his feet
along, but now his heels struck hard upon the road. He sighed like a
steam valve, to lessen the pressure of his boiling resentment, but he
did not speak. I expected him to turn back in silence, as we were now
beneath the light of the street lamp, but he did not; he strode forward
as if vaguely in quest of some sort of support, and put his hand on the
lamp-post, a hand so black that it looked like a bulge of the iron. And
then he turned to me. "Mr. Belford," he said, "an educated negro is an
insult to every unthinking white man. And unless he jabbers they call
him stilted. Let me tell you, Sir, that I have stretched myself on the
floor to read by the firelight because I couldn't afford to buy a
candle--struggling to conquer the dialect of my father--and now you
reproach me with it. My poor and ignorant people wouldn't listen to me
if I talked as they do. Heaven, to them, is a place of magnificence, and
the man who paints the picture of Paradise for them must use extravagant
colors. Sir, I am no more stilted than you are; you serve the devil on
stilts."

I had to laugh, and then I apologized. "There is a good deal of truth in
what you say," said I. "The actor struts, and just as you do, to impress
the unthinking. But let us drop it. I'm sorry I offended you. But,
really, I don't like your interference."

"It is not an interference. I am an old servant of that family. Look
here!" He snatched his hand from the lamp-post and folded his arms.
"What do you intend shall be the outcome?"

"I don't know--I don't see--"

"Don't see the end," he interposed. "But don't you think that the end of
everything ought to be kept well in view?"

"Yes, I do. But sometimes a beginning is so delightful that we are
afraid to look toward the end. But I realize my own selfishness, and I
acknowledge to you that in spite of what you may term the immoral
atmosphere of a player's life--I confess, or, rather, I affirm, that in
my blood there is a strong current of good old English puritanism; and
I will swear to you that I would cut my own throat rather than to bring
disgrace upon that family."

He put his mighty hands upon my shoulders, and, turning my face to the
light, he looked hard into my eyes.

"No man could say more, Mr. Belford. But what are you going to do?"

"I am going to stay away from--from her."

"When, Mr. Belford; when will you begin to stay away?"

"I have promised to go fox-hunting day after to-morrow."

"And after that?"

"I will not go to the house."

He took my hand, and I forgot that he was a stilted and officious negro.
"Good-night, Mr. Belford." He turned away, but faced about and said: "I
am going to a cabin on the hillside--to pray for you. Good-night."



CHAPTER XIV.

OLD JOE VARK.


The town was going to bed; the late moon was rising, and in the magnolia
gardens there seemed to waver a bright and shadowy silence--a night when
every sound was afar off, a half mysterious echo--the closing of a
window shutter, the subdued footfall of a thief, the indistinct notes of
an old song lagging in the soft and lazy air. I walked about the
courthouse, its pillars classic in the shadow, its gilded cupola gaudy
in the light. I did not turn to my habitation across the square, to
sniff the lifeless atmosphere and the sickish paint of the opera house;
I bent my way to the river where the moon was free. And upon a rotting
yawl I sat down to think, shoulder to shoulder with the ghost of a dead
commerce. Far across the stream a mud scow fretted and fluttered like a
duck in distress, making just enough of noise to cry "silence" in the
ear of night.

There is religion in the reverie of even an atheist; and in the
meditation of a free-thinker, whose grandfather was a believer, there is
almost a confession of faith. I thought of all that the negro had said;
I reviewed his earnestness and saw his look of trouble; I pictured
Talcom in his trustfulness; I saw his daughter in her unsuspecting
innocence, impulsive, almost eccentric, and yet a type of the South. I
thought of it all, and I swore that I would keep faith with the
preacher. I swore it with my hand held up, I ground myself down until I
felt the rotting old boat crumbling beneath me, and yet it seemed that
some devil arose in the air maliciously to whisper, "No you won't." And
in this reproach, intended to tantalize the conscience, there was a
shameful sweetness, a promise that again I should sit in the garden with
her. But I went to bed strong, and I arose with strength the next
morning. I would chase a fox with her, and then, I should see her no
more, except by accident.

The Senator had enjoined me not to appear overglad to make
acquaintances; not to invite the approach of the idle, lest they should
become familiar, but it was hard to maintain dignity in the presence of
such good humor and friendliness. A man whom I might have passed a
hundred times, without suspecting his importance, would stop me to say
that his name was Hopgood or Leatherington or Yancey; to assure me that
his grandfather, after having come out of the Mexican War, had served as
Clerk of the Circuit Court; that he was pleased to welcome me to
Bolanyo; that it was about his time of day (looking at his watch) to
take a drink, and that he would be pleased to have me join him. I had
not the nerve nor the dignity to cool these warm advances, rich in a
yellowing sort of humor, the sad fun of a dying importance; and I found
that the Senator, himself, while pretending to preserve the austerity of
a high position, brought matters close to earth by putting his arm about
some old fellow to laugh over an ancient and shady joke. In the town
there was one man who scouted the idea of self-importance, except when
drunk, and then he sometimes assumed to own the community. This man was
Joe Vark, a shoemaker.

In the forenoon, the day after my moral vow had been taken, I went into
his shop. He was sitting on his low bench; and he looked up, with a
number of shoe-pegs showing between his lips, and mumbled me an
invitation to sit down. He was short, with a fine head and thin, light
hair. His wrinkled face was rather pale and clean of beard. Beside him
lay a book, held partly open by an old shoe sole.

"Well, how are they coming?" he inquired, talking through his teeth.

"All right," I answered, and he looked up with a twinkle in his eye. I
waited for him to say something, but he went on with his work, taking a
peg from his lips and driving it into a shoe.

"You were not born here, were you, Mr. Vark?"

He drove five or six pegs, until there were no more between his lips,
loosened the strap with which he held the shoe upon a piece of iron,
whistled softly as he examined his work, looked up at me and said:

"No, I came here from Pennsylvania a long time ago. And it was years
before they granted me the privilege of being natural when I was drunk.
Oh, it was all right to get drunk, mind you, but they wanted me to be
quiet; and I hold that a man who acts about the same, drunk or sober, is
dangerous to a community. Oh, they meet you with a warm shake, but it
takes years to become one of them. But after you do get to be one of
them you are proud of it. Yes, Sir, and about all I've got to boast of
is that I've been here more than thirty years. I'm not worth a cent,
you understand, but I'm as proud as a peacock What of? That I've lived
here thirty years. What of it? Everything of it. I can take a few drinks
and be natural. Not long ago I had a little row and I snatched a
comparative stranger from one side of the street to the other. And what
did they do with me? Why, I had been here so long that the judge
couldn't do anything. He fined the other fellow for being a stranger and
that settled it."

He put more pegs between his lips, adjusted the shoe on the iron and
resumed his work. The shop was small and dingy, and the floor, almost
hidden by scraps of leather, had doubtless never been swept. An encased
stairway from the outside made a low, dark corner, and here, on a shelf,
the old man kept an array of books. It was said that he sometimes
indulged in a reading spree, just after a season of liquor; and then he
slammed his door in the face of the present and lived locked up with
the long ago.

I did not disturb him, but waited for his spirit to move of its own
accord. He pegged the shoe, removed the strap, and from a small bottle
that hung on the wall within reach he blackened the edge of the sole; he
inserted a hook, pulled out the last, and set the shoe aside to dry.
Then he took up an old boot and said: "This thing is beyond all repair.
Ought to have been thrown away years ago. But the fool would leave it
here, and I'm expecting him every minute. Heigho, I don't know what to
do with it. Guess I'll put it aside until he comes, and then beg him to
take it down and throw it into the river."

He threw the boot aside, took up a piece of leather and began to examine
it. Then, brushing everything aside, he picked up a clay pipe, and as he
was filling it, I handed him a lighted match.

"Thank you." He lighted his pipe, puffing it with a loud smack of the
lips, and then settled himself down to talk. "No use of a man killing
himself with work. I've been here too long for that. How are you and
Talcom getting along?"

"First rate. I have never met a more genial companion--never bores,
always interesting."

"Yes, Talcom is a good fellow. He'll recommend a gold brick, and then,
to prove his sincerity, he'll turn round and buy it himself. He held me
off for a long time. Of course I never expected him to make a brother of
me--our lines keep us too far apart for that--but he's friendly, and has
done me many a favor. But I lived here a long time under suspicion, and
whenever anything was stolen they naturally looked to me. But,
gradually, I convinced them that I was inclined to be honest."

"By going to church?" I inquired.

"Oh, no, by accepting a challenge from a rival shoemaker to fight a
duel. The fellow backed down; his custom came to me, and he went away. I
am under great obligations to that man--best friend I ever had; don't
know what would have become of me if he hadn't backed out."

"But you would have fought him."

"Well, I don't know about that. I do know, however, that I felt like
hugging him when he refused to fight. Yes," he went on, after a short
pause and an industrious puffing at his pipe, "Talcom is all right. But
you never can tell which way he'll jump in his likes and dislikes. He
may like a man and he may not, and he's as sudden as a gun going off.
You caught him--not by anything you could have said or done, but you
just happened to fit him."

"All hands at home?" came a voice as whining as a mendicant's plea, and,
looking up, I recognized the gaunt and drooping form of the notorious
Bugg Peters. He stood for a moment in the doorway, and then came forward
with a slouching lurch, with a grin and nod at me and a bow of profound
respect for the "boss" of the shop.

"Look here, Bugg," said the shoemaker, "I can't do anything with that
old boot. It's beyond all repair. Take it out somewhere and throw it
away."

"Fur mercy sake, Joe, don't talk like that," protested the notorious
one, dropping upon a bench and humping over as if his upper muscles had
given away. "Don't snatch all the hope right out of a feller's hand.
That boot belongs to my youngest son-in-law, and unless he gets it
mended to-day he can't come to town to-morrow. Joe, you've just got to
fix it. Say, got about as fine a chunk of a boy down at my house as you
ever see'd in your life. Nan's."

"Nan's? How many does that make?" the shoemaker asked.

"Let me see. Why, it makes somewhere in the neighborhood of six for Nan.
And her old man is settin' right there by the fireplace now a-shakin'
fitten to kill himself. He ain't no account at all except in the fall of
the year, and then I take him out in the woods and let him shake down
persimmons. Mister (speaking to me), they tell me you are goin' to start
a show here, and I'll fetch my folks to see it if I can raise a few
chickens and sell 'em. Thought I'd get some aigs to-day. Got three old
hens and I thought I'd put 'em to work. But, look here, Joe, you ain't
in earnest about not bein' able to do nothin' with that boot?"

"Yes, I am, Bugg. Throw it away."

"Now, when did you expect a man to get so rich as to fling away his
property? Doesn't the Scripture say, 'Waste not, for to-morrow you may
die?' Grab a-hold of her, Joe, and patch her up. All you've got to do is
to put leather where there ain't none."

"Yes, all I've got to do is to build a boot in the air."

"Well, but ain't that your business, hah?"

"Yes, if I'm paid for it; but you haven't paid for the last pair of
shoes I half-soled. And you said you'd pay on the following Wednesday."

"Did I say that? But I didn't tell you pointedly. You can always count
on me when I tell you pointedly. A man that won't pay when he tells you
pointedly is a liar. Whose boots are them right there--them old ones?
They'd just about fit my son-in-law. Yes, Sir; and he can put 'em on and
come up to town and enjoy himself. What will you take for 'em, Joe?"

"Two dollars, Bugg."

"Cheap enough, and I'll take 'em. Pass 'em over."

"But when will you pay for them?"

"Let me see. I'll pay for 'em Thursday."

"Pointedly?" the shoemaker inquired, with a wink at me.

"Well, now, if it's to be pointedly I'd better make it Thursday week.
How does that hit you?"

"Take them along, but I'll never get the money."

He tumbled forward from his seat, grabbed up the boots, and, holding
them close to his bosom, he said:

"Joe, don't--don't insult me by sayin' that you'll never get your money.
It's a sad thing to give your word pointedly and I've give you mine."

He took out a string, tied the boots together at the straps and threw
them across his shoulder. Then he sat down. "Yes, Sir," he said, "when a
man gives me his word pointedly and fails to keep it, I put him down in
my liar book. Say, Mister, I hear 'em say you are goin' to give your
show in a house. Don't see how you can give much of a show unless you've
got room to gallop around in, but I reckon you'll do the best you can.
Joe, let me take a few of them books along with me," he added, nodding
toward the shelf. And the shoemaker's hand, with a movement as quick as
the frisk of a squirrel's tail, flew upon the bench at his side and
rattled the tools, as if grabbing for a hammer to throw at the head of
the outrageous customer. His face was hard and his eyes were set with
anger, and if for a moment there was not murder in his heart, he gave
me a bit of fine acting. But his epileptic resentment passed away with a
jerk, and looking up at the dumfounded Peters, he said, "Bugg, I guess
you'd better go."

"Why, what's the matter, Joe?"

"Guess you'd better go. I can stand to be robbed of leather, but when
you try to extend your theft to the things that make me superior to you
ignorant yaps, I feel like mashing your head."

"Your driftwood is comin' so swift that I can't ketch it, Joe."

"He means that you must not touch his books," I put in.

"Oh, that's all right," Peters replied. "I'm not hankerin' after 'em.
Just thought I'd take a few of 'em along to get 'em out of the way. Joe,
if you happen down in my range drap in and see Nan's boy. Tickle you
mighty nigh to death."

He slouched away, and the shoemaker resumed his work. I had been sitting
there in a strong draught of the town's atmosphere, with two characters
for my play; and, taking my leave, I felt that I hugged a greater
possession than Peters had found when he tied the boots together and
threw them across his shoulder.



CHAPTER XV.

OLD AUNT PATSEY.


Like a boy in his yearning to have Santa Claus come, I went early to bed
to force the dawning of another day. I resorted to the tricks that men
have employed to induce drowsiness; I counted sheep bounding over a
fence, a hundred, a thousand, until their number exceeded the
Patriarch's fold, and yet I lay there wide awake, with my nerves
starting at every noise, before it reached my ears. I strove to trace
the filmy thread that lies between consciousness and sleep, and I
fancied that it was a raveling from a rainbow, with one end in the
sunset, the other in the sunrise. I reached a place where the thread was
broken and now the world was dark, but, feeling about, I found the two
ends of the silken line, and put them together, and when they touched,
the world flashed up in a blaze of light--the sun was shining.

No exact hour had been fixed for the meet at the Senator's house, and I
was beset by the fear that a desire not to be early might make me late.
Common sense dictated a middle resort, but in my nervous anxiety I had
no common sense. Why so sensitive and timorous now when I had been so
bold a few days before? I had promised the negro preacher and myself
that this day should see the end of a relationship.

I set out earlier than the time I had fixed, expecting to loiter along
the road, to breathe sweet air beneath the roses that hung above the old
garden walls; but, giving no heed to the roses, I passed them hurriedly,
as a hasty reader skips a beautiful sentence in eagerness to snatch the
excitement of a closing scene. I passed the lamp-post and thought of the
negro's black hand, a knot on the iron; I came abreast of the old
chimney and the thicket, the lair of the goblins at night. And here I
halted to gaze at the Senator's house, the pillared portico, the cool
yard, the martin box on a tall pole, the magnolia garden. And now my
progress toward the gate was slow, with the minute and senseless
observation of little things; a bit of sheep's wool on a brier bush; an
old shoe half buried in the sandy drain beside the road; the heavy
gate-latch, made by a clumsy blacksmith; the uneven bricks in the short
walk between the gate and the portico; a stone and a shell on the step,
where someone had cracked a nut.

I was admitted by the negress whose motto was "suspicion." She gave me a
broad grin and nodded toward the parlor; and I heard strange voices and
laughter. Just as I reached the door, Mrs. Estell stepped out into the
hall. A magnolia bloom fell from her hand, and she laughed as she
stooped to pick it up, and when she looked at me her face was red,
though not with embarrassment, but with stooping, for she spoke and her
voice was deep and clear and her eyes were not abashed.

"Oh, you are just in time, Mr. Belford. I want you to meet some friends
of mine, and my aunt is here, too. I know you'll like her, she's so
queer."

I would have staid to ask her why she supposed me to be attracted by
queer persons, but she touched my arm, and as an automaton I turned
toward the parlor and stepped into the room, to meet Mr. Elkin, a frail
and timid-looking young fellow with plastered hair; Miss Rodney, a
pinkish creature of uncertain age, the "splendid catch" which Mrs.
Estell had set aside for me; and Mrs. Braxon, the aunt. She looked
queer, and I could not have denied that she interested me. She was very
tall, straight and stiff, with eyes that suggested a savage. Into her
aged mouth the artifice of the dentist had put the teeth of youth, and,
not yet accustomed to them, she imposed upon her lips the double
exertion of talking with her jaws shut.

"Well," she said, looking hard at me, "and you are the man that Giles
has been telling me so much about? But, conscience alive, he ought to
have something to talk of besides politics."

"You are his favorite sister, I believe," I replied, with the giggle of
Miss Rodney in my ears.

"Do you? Well, I married his brother, if that's what you mean."

"Is he living?" I inquired.

"Florence," she said, "it's strange that you haven't told Mr.
What's-his-name anything about me. Every time I come here I come as a
stranger, a rank stranger."

"Why, Aunt Patsey, I told him--"

"She told me a great deal about you, Mrs. Braxon," I put in, "but my
memory is, you might say, not good."

"Oh, yes, and I suppose Giles Talcom told you all about me, too; told
you that I was his favorite sister, didn't he? Well, it's all right.
Miss Rodney, what _are_ you giggling about?"

"Why, nothing at all, Mrs. Braxon," the young woman declared, growing
pinker. The old lady looked at Elkin, and he started and slammed his
knees together. I glanced at Mrs. Estell, and she hid her eyes from me,
afraid to laugh.

"Where do you live?" I inquired of the old lady.

"Up in the Tennessee hills, and every time I come down in this low
ground I want to get back. The laziest folks I ever saw in my life, and
the niggers ain't worth their salt. And the way Giles pets that black
preacher makes me sick, a-buying of his church bells to keep folks awake
at night. I'd make him chop down them good-for-nothing trees out there
and plant onions. That's what I'd do with him. Florence, where did Giles
go?"

"Why, he sent word over to the plantation to have his hounds brought
last night, but, somehow, the message wasn't delivered, and so he has
gone after them himself. We want to start from here--"

"After the hounds? Start where?"

"Fox-hunting."

The old woman cleared her throat with an ach, ach. "Fox-hunting? Is it
possible that he keeps up that foolishness? Chasing a fox, when there's
so much to be done in this world? I read in a paper yesterday that a
woman had starved to death in New Orleans, and here you all are, going
to chase a fox."

"Why, Mrs. Braxon," the young man spoke up, "we can't help that. If we
let the fox go it won't bring the woman back to life."

She looked at him and his knees flew together. "But you could be raising
something for folks to eat."

"Yes, ma'am, but we raise more now than we can sell."

She looked at him with a bow and a smirk of contempt. "More than you can
sell. Yes, of course. More than you can sell to a woman that's starving.
Yes, of course."

"But nobody starves to death in Bolanyo, Aunt Patsey," Mrs. Estell
remarked. "We take care of our poor; and it was a mere accident that the
woman starved in New Orleans."

"Oh, you do? A mere accident. Of course. Are you going to chase a fox?"
the old woman asked, with her eyes on Miss Rodney.

"I have been invited to go, and--"

"Of course. But, go on, and don't let anything I say prevent you. I
staid at home, year in and year out, and never went anywhere, while my
husband was a-galloping over the country, a-blowing of his horn and
a-chasing of foxes; and folks in a town not more than twenty miles away
were as hungry as they could be. But, after he died, I didn't stay at
home, I tell you. I went out and looked for hungry folks, and I fed 'em,
too. Talk to me about chasing a fox."

"Auntie," said Mrs. Estell, smiling upon the old lady, indeed,
approaching her and bending with graceful tenderness over her chair,
"you try to make people believe that you are hard to get along with, but
you are the sweetest thing. She snaps and snarls to hide the tenderness
of her heart, Mr. Belford."

"I do nothing of the sort. For goodness' sake, child, take your hands
off me. Stop fussing with me. Go over there and sit down. A body would
think that I'm so old that you are standing here ready to catch me when
I start to fall over. Go along with you!"

Mrs. Estell, laughing, pressed her radiant cheek against the widow's
whitening hair. "I like to have half tearful fun with you, Aunt Patsey,"
she said.

"Oh, you do. Well, get away and don't pretend that you think anything of
me. I have no money to leave you."

Elkin laughed. The old woman looked at him and he clapped his knees
together. "I--I--beg your pardon," he stammered.

"She's so delightful," said Miss Rodney, leaning toward me. "Quite a
character for the stage, papa says. And when does your house open?"

"Not before October," I answered.

"And not until he can get a good company," said Mrs. Estell, standing in
front of us. "I have enough interest in the house to demand that much.
Oh, there comes father with the hounds and I'm not ready yet."

She ran away, and though the sun was in the window, the room was darker
now, and a shadow seemed to lie where she had stood. We heard the
Senator's horn and the impatient cry of the hounds.

"I'd rather hunt a bear than a fox," said the young man. "I went with a
party of fellows down in the canebrake last fall and a bear killed four
dogs. Just grabbed 'em up like this (hugging himself) and crushed 'em.
Just broke their bones. Just grabbed 'em up this way and mashed 'em.
Didn't look like it was any trouble at all. Just--just squeezed the life
out of 'em. I had--I had a dog named Ring--great big dog--and he
grabbed him up this way, the bear did, and old Ring just gave one howl
and that was the end of it. Bear didn't appear to mind it. Just seemed
like he was enjoying himself, but we hadn't agreed to keep him in all
the dogs he wanted to kill, so we shot him."

"You did?" said the old lady, smirking at him. "Do tell. And you'd
rather stand there and see him kill those poor dogs than to chase a
fox."

"Oh, I--I don't mean that I like to see the dogs killed, Mrs. Braxon, I
mean I--"

"Would rather see a bear with his arms full of poor dogs than to chase a
fox. Yes, I know what you mean."

In came the Senator. He bowed to the ladies, cried "Ha!" to the young
man and seized my hand as if a year had elapsed since we parted.
"Belford, I've got a horse for you that can clear any fence in the
State."

"With me on his back?" I asked.

"Yes, I hope so. You can try, you know, and if you can't keep your seat
why you must fall as easily as you can. Sister Patsey, you look as
bright as a dollar."

"Go on with your blarney, Giles. I've got no dollar to leave to you."

"And bless your life, I'm glad of it. But it's time we were going.
Where's Florence?"

"Gone to get ready for your nonsense," Mrs. Braxon answered. "Oh, you
men! Not half of you are worth your salt."

"No," said the Senator. "And if there comes a time when men are worth
their salt and women are worth their pepper, humanity will be well
seasoned, eh, Belford? But we must be making a move. Elkin, help Miss
Rodney to mount, please."

"Yes, and I guess I've got to buckle my girth tighter," said the young
man. "Come, Miss Minnie, and let me help you up."

Just as they passed out there came a slow step down the hall. "Why, it's
Estell!" cried the Senator. "Why, hello, Tom, we didn't expect you for a
week. And, Sir, here's your Aunt Patsey."

Estell was carrying a cane in his right hand and he stuck out one
finger for me to shake. But when in the same manner he presumed to greet
the old lady, she stormed at him: "Look here, Tom Estell, don't give me
no one finger to shake. Andrew Jackson gave me his whole hand when I was
a child, and I want no one finger now. That's like it," she added, as he
put his cane under his arm and gave her his hand.

Mrs. Estell entered the room. "Why, you old surprise party," she cried.
He stepped forward, but, catching sight of her riding habit, he halted.

"What does all this mean?" he asked.

"Why, we were going fox-hunting, dear."

"You--you going?"

"Why, yes. You have never objected."

"But I do now."

"Very well," she replied, beginning to pull at her gloves.

"Tom," cried the Senator, "what the devil--I mean the deuce--is the
matter with you?"

And then Aunt Patsey broke out, jumping from her chair and shaking her
finger at Estell: "You are trying to smother the God-given spirit of
that child, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You hate to see her
run--you want to see her dodder about like an old man. What earthly harm
can there be in her going fox-hunting? Better men than you ever dared be
have chased foxes and have let their wives go, too. Don't you dare say a
word to me--don't you dare!"

Estell turned about and strode with sullen step to the foot of the
stairs, the Senator passing him without saying a word. I was standing at
the door, and I stepped aside to let Mrs. Estell pass, but she lingered
in the parlor, as if to speak to her aunt, as if, in truth, she would
put her arms about the old woman's neck; and I turned my back, to face
the State Treasurer, standing at the foot of the stairs. Our eyes met,
but he was silent, and I had nothing to say. Mrs. Estell came out into
the hall, but returned almost instantly to the old woman, and Estell
trod wearily to the upper floor. His wife came out, and she looked up
with duty's self-conscious smile.

"May I speak a word?" I asked. "Just one?"

"Two," she answered.

"I promised to read my play to you."

"Yes; and you will--"

"Not keep my promise."

We were walking slowly toward the stairway, she slightly in advance. But
now her feet were quick, until she reached the stair, and then she
halted, turned to me, and said:

"Mr. Belford, any man can make a promise, but sometimes it requires a
_gentleman_ to break one."

I had no reply to make; I was the interloper. I bowed to her, and,
snatching my hat from the halltree, I passed out upon the portico.

"Yes, I am mighty sorry," the Senator was saying to Elkin and Miss
Rodney, who sat upon their horses at the gate--"sorry as I ever was in
my life, but my horse stuck a nail in his foot and can hardly walk. Of
course I could get another horse, but take Felix out of the chase and
the whole thing falls flat. And my best hound is sick, too. Sometimes it
does seem that everything stands in the way. But we'll have it, now,
very soon. Get down, and stay to dinner. Ah, Belford, you going? Well,
I'll see you in a day or two."



CHAPTER XVI.

THE PLAY.


I dreaded the embarrassment of meeting the Senator again; and it was
with a sense of nervousness that I looked from my office window, the
next morning, to see him getting out of his buggy. He came briskly up
the stairs, spoke heartily to someone whom he met on the landing, halted
at my open door, and, hat in hand, made me a sweeping bow.

"Ha, early to work is the thing," he said, stepping into the room and
glancing about. "More pictures of famous players, I see. Well, we'll
have them strutting about our stage the first thing they know. How do
you feel?" he asked, drawing up a chair and sitting down.

"First rate--too well, I might say. This air makes me content to sit and
dream."

"Good; it is better to find contentment even in a dream than to snap our
nerves in two with chasing what we might regard substantial happiness.
Why, confound it all, Belford, there is no such thing as substantial
happiness. Anything substantial is too material, too gross; and
happiness is a certain spiritual condition of the mind. Therefore, I
say, let the old South dream if she feels like it. There used to be an
old fellow that lived about here--Mose Parish. Well, the time came for
Mose to die; but he wasn't scared, not a bit of it. A preacher came to
talk to him, and old Mose listened for a while, and then he said: 'Oh,
no, I never did much of anything--never built a steamboat nor a house,
but I've had a good deal of fun, and I hold that when a man is having
fun he can't have it all alone; he's helping some other fellow.'"

We talked about hundreds of things, and touched occasionally upon our
business venture, but nothing led to a subject which I felt, and which
he seemed to feel, was too delicate to be mentioned. He gossiped of
young Elkin's affection for Miss Rodney; he said that Elkin's love put
him in mind of an ass with gilded ears. He spoke of the coming election
and the surety with which he and Tom Estell would win; but when he took
his leave he did not invite me to call at the house. I met him day after
day, in the office, in the street, in the rotunda of the hotel; and he
always greeted me with a warm and earnest cordiality, but at parting he
would say, "I'll see you again soon;" and never that I should come to
see him.

I walked a great deal, musing over my play, and more than once in
rebellion my feet wandered from their usual path to tread the sacred and
forbidden ground that lay in the neighborhood of the Senator's home.
Near the close of day, I sometimes saw him sitting on the portico, with
his chair tipped back, his feet against a classic pillar, smoking his
pipe--a vandalic American indulging a national posture to the shame of
a Grecian memory. Once I saw his daughter standing near him, where the
fading sunlight fell, gazing afar off, shading her eyes with her hand.
And she might have seen me had I not bent behind a bush; had I been less
a thief.

One hot afternoon the Senator came into the office, fanning himself with
his hat.

"No dreaming now, Belford," said he. "It's too hot even to doze. What's
all that you've got spread out there?"

"Our play," I answered.

"Oh, yes. And, by George, there seems to be enough of it. Let me hear a
chapter or two. Isn't in chapters, though, is it? Fire away and let me
hear what it sounds like. You look like a commissioner of deeds, with
all this stuff scattered about you. But go ahead."

"I'd rather wait, Senator, until it's completed. In fact, I'd rather
you'd wait and see it played," I replied, remembering what he had said
about elevating the stage and fearing that he might object to some of
my characters.

"All right. But just now you said _our_ play. What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that a half interest belongs to you."

"Why, Lord bless you, my boy, I don't want to rob you."

"And I don't intend that you shall rob yourself. You have given me the
opportunity to do the work, you have--"

"Hold on, Belford. We are partners in this house. You are doing your
share. Why, Sir, haven't you secured the Lamptons to play here a whole
week during our county fair? And doesn't that newspaper notice they sent
along say that they are the finest representation of dramatic talent now
on the road? Haven't you signed a contract with Sanderson Hicks to give
us the Lady of Lyons? And I want to tell you that a man who saw such
opportunities and seized them by the forelock is doing his duty all
right. Oh, it's no laughing matter, Sir."

"That's all very well, Senator, but you are to own half the play. I want
you to look after the business end of it."

"All right, Sir; all right. Yes, it would be better to have some man
take hold of that part of it--some man, you understand, who isn't afraid
to insist upon his rights. And Belford," he added, putting his hand on
my shoulder, "if I hadn't insisted on mine, they would have trampled me
under foot long ago. Yes, Sir (stepping back and shaking his hat), long
ago. Have you decided as to who shall have it?"

"Well, it's easy enough for me to decide. But the decision of the other
party might not be so easy to get."

"Oh, there won't be any trouble about that. No, Sir; that is, if they
want to put on a good play. We have something here, Sir (slapping his
hand upon the manuscript), that ought to stir the dramatic world from
center to circumference. Oh, you may smile, but it will, for I want to
tell you that I have never been associated with a failure. And there's
a good deal in that; as sure as you live there is. Luck begets luck, and
failure suckles a failure. Yes, Sir. Have you made any overtures?"

"Not exactly. I wrote to Copeland Maffet and sent him a scenario--"

"A what?"

"An outline of the piece. And he writes that he will be in Memphis on
the 17th of next month, and that he would like to hear the play."

"Of course he would. We knew that all the time. We'll hop on a boat and
go up there. Good man, is he?"

"One of the best; he doesn't do things by halves."

"All right, Sir, he's our man, that is, if he's willing to pay for a
good thing. Well, I believe I'll go on out home. It's cooler there. By
the way, come out with me. There's no one on the place except Sister
Patsey, and I'm lonesome. Come on, we'll ride out."

I was afraid to look at him; I was afraid to hesitate, to frame an
excuse, and without saying a word I went down stairs with him and got
into the buggy.

He did not drive directly to his home; he halted at several places--in
front of a lawyer's office, a butcher's shop, to ask advice concerning
his political contest, a shrewd way to flatter and stimulate a lax
supporter. We drove to a wagonmaker's shop, off in the edge of the town,
and when the workman had been fed with big words, we set out at a brisk
trot, with a gang of boys behind us, shouting in a cloud of dust. Ahead
I could see nothing but the sun-dazzled roadway, sloping down into the
open country, but we turned a corner thick with cherry trees and the
Senator's house leaped into view.

It seemed a long time since I had heard the click of the gate-latch;
since I had stood upon the stone steps to breathe the cool, sweet air of
the hall.

"I think the library is about the coolest place in the house," said the
Senator. "Step in, and I'll see if I can find some fans. There are some
on the table. Take that big palm leaf. Pardon me if I unbutton my
collar. I'm as hot as a dog in August with a tin pan tied to his tail.
But you appear to be cool enough."

"I didn't expect to hear you Southerners complain of the heat. I thought
you could stand it."

"We do stand it, but we complain. I doubt whether an Anglo-Saxon can
ever learn to like real hot weather. Oh, we prate about the sunny South
and we like sunshine, but, by George, Sir, we hug the shade. Have you
got a pretty good plot for your play?"

"Yes, I think so."

"We must have a good plot, you know; we must have everything turn out
all right. Any fighting in it?"

"Well, there are several spirited scenes."

"That's good. But it strikes me that there ought to be some sort of a
fight. One fellow ought to call another fellow a liar, or something of
the sort. It would be a good thing for a fellow to snatch out his
pistol and have it grabbed and turned against him, don't you see? That
sort of a thing always catches the people."

"But you advocated the elevation of the stage, don't you remember?"

He got out of his chair, and walked up and down the room, with his
collar unbuttoned, his broad, black cravat hanging loose.

"That's the point, Belford; that's the very point. To elevate the stage
is to make it natural. Why, last season an actor ruined a play for this
town by drawing a pistol with his left hand."

"But that was not so very unnatural," I replied. "He might have been
left-handed. Many a left-handed man has had a fight."

He paused in his walk, to stand before me, and thoughtfully to balance
himself alternately upon his heels and toes.

"But, Belford, that's not the point. Of course there may be a
left-handed man in a fight, but nine chances to one a man is
right-handed, and the stage must take the course that is the most
probable. No, Sir, you don't want to shock a critical sense of fitness
by having a man pull a pistol with his left hand. Such breaks always
tend to wound a sensitive nature. Any man in your drama pull a pistol
that way, Belford?"

"No, if a pistol is drawn at all it shall be in the accepted form."

"All right," he said, resuming his walk. "Any ragged girl talk like a
clodhopper until she is insulted and then talk like a princess? Anybody
say 'stronger?' No human being except a fool on the stage ever said
'stronger' for stranger. Any fat woman in short skirts trying to be a
girl? Any tramp with more ability than an ancient philosopher? Any
female detective that doesn't know she loves a suspected thief until she
has had him put in jail? Got any of those things?"

"I'll take an oath that I have none of those tantalizing features,
Senator."

"Then, Sir, it will be a go. Yes, Sir, the world can't stop it. Why,
come in, Patsey. Remember Mr. Belford, don't you?"

I shook hands with the old lady, placed a chair for her and gave her my
fan, and she rewarded me with an old-time courtesy.

"Gracious me," she said, "it's so hot down here that I wonder everybody
doesn't take to the hills. I wouldn't live in this flat country."

"Why, Sister Patsey," the Senator spoke up, "Bolanyo is on a hill."

"A hill? Giles, you don't know what a real hill looks like, it's been so
long since you saw one. Why, where I live you can sometimes look down on
a cloud."

"Yes, and it's a good deal better to live above a cloud than to be under
one, Sister Patsey."

"Now, what does he mean? One of his sly tricks, I'll be bound. I never
come down here that everybody ain't up to tricks or running for office,
but I do reckon they are one and the same thing. Sakes alive, and the
laziest folks that ever moped on the face of the earth. And that
good-for-nothing wretch that calls himself the Notorious Bugg,
a-talking about his sons-in-law a-shaking all the time. He came here
yesterday and wanted meat, the lazy whelp. Well, I would have given him
scalding water, and a heap of it."

"But you didn't, Sister Patsey," the Senator spoke up. "You called him
back and gave him a bag of sweet cakes."

"I did, eh? I sent them to the poor little children, and if he takes a
bite of one of them cakes I hope it will choke him to death. He says he
doesn't want to go to the hills and catch a new-fangled disease. Why,
plague take his picture, I've lived in the hills all my life. If he
comes again while I'm on the place I'll scald him. I'll do it, Giles, as
sure as he comes, and you'd better tell him to stay away."

"If he comes again, Sister Patsey, you'll give him hot cakes instead of
hot water."

"Did you hear that, Mr. Belford? _Did_ you hear that?" the old lady
snapped. "Ah, ah, I do think, Giles, you are the most aggravating man I
ever saw, except your brother, and he almost worried the life out of
me."

"But he is dead, Sister Patsey, and you are still enjoying pretty fair
health. Yes, he went first."

The Senator glanced at me with a wink; the old lady caught his twinkle
of mischief, and, throwing back her head, she laughed until the tears
ran out of her eyes.

"Belford," said the Senator, "the evening breeze has sprung up. Suppose
we sit out on the portico. And, by the way, I've got some tobacco raised
from Havana seed. I'll get it."

"Bring me a pipe, too, Giles," the old lady called after him. "I'm not
going to be left out, and you needn't think it, either."

When the Senator had strode off down the hall, she turned to me with a
quick eagerness and said: "He is almost dying to apologize to you for
Tom Estell's behavior, and he doesn't know how to get at it. I never saw
a man so cut up. And he thought he could get at it better out here, but
by the way he fidgets about I know he hasn't. Now, there, don't you say
a word, Sir, but let me talk. I don't know what's the matter with
Estell, I really don't. Now, what earthly harm could there have been in
her going fox-hunting, and her father along, too? No, I don't understand
him. Why, he must think that a woman is a fool to be willing to stay at
home all the time just because he's old."

"Why did she marry him?" I could not help but ask.

She snapped her eyes and cleared her throat. "Ah, Lord, it distressed me
nearly to death. Why did she, indeed? Giles was the cause of it. He
picked out a nice old gentleman for his daughter's husband--a man of
high family, a good politician. She cried over it, with her head in my
lap, but Giles didn't see a tear, and she wouldn't let me say a word to
him. And, to tell the truth, I didn't think it was so very bad; and it
_wasn't_ until he got to be so cranky. She always was a peculiar child;
and I reckon after all she made up her mind that she might as well
marry one man as another, so far as love was concerned. But just look at
me, a-sitting up here and telling of things that I oughtn't to say a
word about. Here he comes. Giles, did you bring my pipe? Well, it's a
good thing you did, Sir."

Out in the breeze that came stirring through the magnolia garden we sat
and smoked, the Senator with his chair tipped back and his feet high up
against a fluted column. We talked in pleasant and almost confidential
freedom, of many a home interest, both solemn and humorous, but the name
of the young woman lay under a silence that no one dared to disturb.
When I arose to take my leave they urged me to stay to supper, but my
heart had grown heavy with the approach of night, and, with a lie in
self-defense, I pleaded an engagement in the town.



CHAPTER XVII.

A SLOW STEP ON THE STAIRS.


In the cool of the morning, and often at night when the gulf breeze was
blowing, I leaned back from my labor to muse upon the Senator's peculiar
attitude toward me. A certain sort of innocence or honor had
unquestionably blunted his eyesight and wrapped his reason in a silken
gauze, but he had seen and felt the interference of his daughter's
husband. And now why should he have pressed me to come again to his
house, even though the wife were away? The old woman had said that he
was trying to find a way that might lead to an easy apology. Apology for
what? A husband's clumsy resentment. And did he not know that my
entering the house again could easily be construed as a connivance on
his part? The politician is so absorbed a student of man and his
masculine ways that sometimes he may be forgetful of the delicate film
that surrounds a woman's name. But in the South a woman's name is so
secure that what in colder regions might be a film is here a sheet of
steel; and overconfidence might seem a want of due consideration.

One evening I heard a slow and heavy step on the stair; and I waited,
annoyed and nervous with the deliberate and solemn approach of the
unwelcome visitor. I counted the steps, wondering when they would cease.
I threw down my pen and got out of my chair. There was a shuffling of
awkward feet at the open door.

"Come in, Washington," I cried, and when he had entered I turned angrily
upon him.

"Oh, you have come to reproach me, to prove to my face that I am a
liar."

He had dropped his hat upon entering the door, and now he stood with
his head bowed meekly.

"Mr. Belford, if your heart smites you, don't blame me."

"But you have come to bid it smite me."

"No, but to ease it if it has been smiting you."

"Ah, sit down, Washington."

"I prefer to stand."

"But pick up your hat. Your humility embarrasses me."

"Let it lie there, Mr. Belford."

"Well, can't you do something? Damn it--"

"Mr. Belford, I don't ask you to respect me, but I command you to
respect my holy calling."

"Rot! Well, go on; I do respect it. I beg your pardon. But why do you
come here to hit me with the moral sandbag of a priest? Don't you know
that any calling can be made offensive?"

"The gospel is always offensive to the sinner."

"Look here, you black impostor, I'll not put up with your insolence. Get
out."

He stepped backward to the door, took up his hat, put it under his arm,
and bowed to me.

"Wait a moment, Washington. Confound it, you always make me strut and
talk like an actor. Let's get down off our high horses and turn them
loose to graze. What did you come to say?"

"I came to beg you not to be worried because you were not able to keep
your word with me."

"That's kind, but how do you know I was not able to keep it?"

"Old Miss Patsey told me that the Senator brought you home with him."

"And you know that _she_ was not at home."

"Yes, I knew that she was over at the State capital, with her husband."

"They didn't tell me where she was."

"No, it was not necessary. They do not blame you," he added, after a
moment's pause.

"Then you are the only one who does blame me, except, perhaps, the
Treasurer."

"Yes, the Treasurer who locked up the money of the State but forgot that
a diamond was within reach of--"

"A thief," I suggested, and he bowed his head.

"Washington," said I, "you tell me that the Senator is blind and that
the young woman herself does not suspect--" He shut me off with his
uplifted hand.

"What I said then and what might exist now are two different things."

"Ah, then she does know now; she has gathered some of the wisdom that
you have strewn about. You had seized the opportunity to be wise, and I
had hoped that you would be harmless. But your wisdom is offensive. It
seems that you would rejoice to have a hold on me."

"For what purpose, Mr. Belford?"

"Well, it isn't very clearly defined."

"No, Sir, and it never can be. Perhaps, after all, my discovery, if you
please to call it such, wasn't due to wisdom but to an animal instinct.
And even then it was a venture. You could have denied it better."

He came walking slowly forward, with his eyes fixed upon my
writing-table.

"That is one thing I can't learn to do well," he said, gazing at my
work. "My hand was too hard and stiff from labor before I went to
school."

"Then you don't write your sermons?"

"No, Sir, and Peter didn't write his."

"But you went to a college and Peter didn't."

"Ah, but Paul was learned of men, and Paul was the Master's greatest
follower."

"Washington, you are surely a remarkable man. How old were you at the
time you entered the university?"

"I don't know, Mr. Belford; I don't know how old I am now."

"Well, I have fought against you, but I can't help believing that you
are sincere. Here are five dollars for your church."

"Thankee, Sah; bleeged ter yer, Sah. I--I--I am profoundly grateful,
Sir," he hastened to add, bowing in humiliation. "You must pardon the
rude echo of my father's tongue. Good-night."



CHAPTER XVIII.

TO MEET THE MANAGER.


The Senator went with me to Memphis to meet Copeland Maffet. I was
nervous and apprehensive of failure, but the old gentleman was steady
and strong with the assurance of success. "You are worried," he said to
me as we stood at the bow of the steamer. "Throw it off, for you are now
associated with a man who has never been introduced to a failure. No,
Sir, and they can't down us. When I first came out for office they told
me that I had no earthly show. And what did I do? I took one fellow by
the shoulders, turned him round and kicked him off the courthouse steps.
One of my friends? Yes, he claimed he was, but let me tell you, Belford,
that a man's gone if he lets his so-called friends run to him with
discouragements. The only friend worthy of the name is the man who
doesn't believe you can be beaten. I'd rather have a strong enemy than a
weak friend."

We found Maffet waiting for us at a hotel. The Senator greeted him out
of the gorgeousness of his effusive nature, and refused to be daunted by
the cool, business air of the manager.

"Mr. Maffet," said the Statesman, "we have brought you something, Sir,
that will astonish you. And, Sir, you'll not regret that you came all
the way from New York to get a chance to put in your bid."

"I have other business that brought me here, Mr.--"

"That's all right, but you'll forget all about your other business
before we are done with you. Ah, Belford, I've got a little knocking
round to do, and I'll leave you to read your play to Mr. Maffet. Good
old name. By the way, Mr. Maffet, are you related, Sir, to the Maffets
of Virginia?"

"I think not. My people settled in Vermont," said the manager.

"Same old family, Sir; best stock in England. Won't you join us in a
drink of some sort, Sir?"

"No, thank you, I've just got up from the table."

"Ah, yes, Sir. But make yourself perfectly at home in this town. I know
a great many people here, and all my friends will be glad to welcome
you. And you'll find my friend here (motioning toward me) as bright as a
judge and as straight as a string. Well, I'll be back by the time you
get through with your reading."

I went with the manager to his room, and if he had been cool before, he
now was freezing.

"Well, go ahead."

I read the first act, glancing at him from time to time; but no change
passed over his implacable countenance. He sat with his eyes shut.

"Go ahead."

I read the second act; but the droll representatives of a fun-growing
soil did not crack the crust of his countenance.

"Well, go on."

I had now lost hope, and with scarcely a pause I hurried to the end of
the last act. He opened his eyes, got up, walked to the window, looked
out, whistled softly and then turned to me.

"You've got some great people there. The comedy part is excellent."

"Ah, you don't laugh at comedy," I was bold enough to declare.

"Well, not when I'm buying it. Let me have it a moment."

He stepped forward with a look of interest in his eyes, and took the
play.

"In Magnolia Land, by--what's this? By The Elephant? What do you mean by
that?"

"My pen name."

"Oh, it's all right enough; odd, and that counts."

"And if you decide to take the play, I don't want my name known; and if
any speculation should arise as to who the Elephant may be, you are to
say you don't know, even if anyone should assert positively that I am
the man. I want it to be a winner before I acknowledge it."

"All right. It will raise newspaper talk, and that would help. Yes, I'll
agree to put it on if we can come to terms, and especially if you'll
consent to consider the suggestions which I may send to you. A play, you
know, is never finished. I'll read it over carefully and make notes. As
this is your first venture you can't very well expect an advance
royalty."

I had not expected it, and I did not ask it. Indeed, I was delighted
with the prospect of a production, and I began to think that there must
be something in my alliance with a man who never had made the
acquaintance of a failure. We agreed upon a percentage of gross
receipts, and went down stairs to dictate the contract to the hotel
stenographer. And just as we were ready for his name the Senator walked
in.

"We insist that it shall be put on in good shape," said he, assuming
that the deal had of course been made. "Let me see the contract. Yes,"
he said, when he had looked at the top, the middle and the bottom, "that
appears to be about the proper thing. Just let me put my name on it. But
we must have witnesses, eh? Well, you just wait till I go out and bring
in two of as fine gentlemen as you ever saw, from two of our oldest
families, Sir. One of them can write as fine a hand as you can catch up
with anywhere; he used to be Clerk of our House of Representatives. Wait
till I go after them."

"Oh, anybody will do, Colonel," the manager replied. "I haven't time to
wait on an old family."

"All right," said the Senator, with his hat in the air. "If you don't
recognize the advantage of respectability, I shall not insist upon it.
We'll get these two hotel clerks back here. They look like gentlemen,
Sir."

Many a day had gone by since my longing heart had fluttered with
lightness. And now it was beating high with an exultant hope; but its
time of joy was short. The memory of a deep voice weighted it with
sadness--a voice and the words: "Any man can make a promise, but
sometimes it requires a _gentleman_ to break one."

As we stood in the bow of the boat and gazed toward the lights on the
wharf at Bolanyo, the Senator put his hand upon my arm and said: "My
boy, that fellow Maffet is a shrewd fellow, from shrewd Yankee stock,
and he would have cheated you out of your teeth if I hadn't come along.
Yes, Sir, out of your teeth."



CHAPTER XIX.

BURN THE JUNIPER.


In the enthusiasm of my dramatic occupation the figures forming in my
mind had draped, as with a merciful curtain, the picture in my
heart--had hidden the eyes. But now that the figures were sent away the
curtain, too, was gone, and the image was bold with a new vividness. I
resorted to numerous devices, walking, rowing, reading, but the picture
was always before me, thrown from within; and at night, alone in my
room, I could see in its vibrations the beating of my pulse.

The day of the scramble for office passed by, and the Senator and his
son-in-law were elected; but Estell's majority was so small that his
opponent declared that a fraud had been practiced, and gave warning that
he would take his case to the courts. I met the Senator nearly every
day, and sometimes we parted in embarrassment, when it would have seemed
so natural for him to say "Come out to see me." But he did not say it;
and out of his silence there came the information that his daughter was
at home.

At last, in October, the theatrical season arrived, with a third-rate
company to present "Virginius." I employed the columns of Petticord's
newspaper, against the Senator's advice, had the town and a large part
of the county well "papered," and when the opening night came round the
house was crowded. I put young Elkin into the box office, and he must
have been born for the place, for, although acquainted with almost every
man, woman and child in the town, he recognized no one at the window.

Nervously I watched the people coming in, my gaze leaping from face to
face. I turned away to attend to something, and when I came back and
looked at the house I knew that _she_ was there, though I did not see
her. The curtain went up and the play proceeded. On a sudden someone
well in front cried out "Burn the juniper!" And then arose the yell,
"Throw him out!" Several officers ran forward, and presently, in the
midst of great confusion, they came back, almost dragging old Mason, the
pilot, and Joe Vark, the shoemaker. Vark was the real offender, it
appeared, and Mason was snatched up as an accessory. I went out with
them, pleading with the officers not to use them roughly; and when we
reached the pavement I demanded their release. The officers, glad enough
to go back to the play, turned the culprits over to me. Both were drunk.

"Vark," said I, "do you want to break up the performance?"

"Burn the juniper!" he shouted.

"Now, here, Joe," the pilot pleaded, "let's get something that we all
understand--something like 'let her slide' or 'let her rip'--something
we can all join in on."

"I want them to burn the juniper. In the old days when the atmosphere in
the theatre got foul they cried 'burn the juniper,' and I want it burned
now. The air in there is foul with political rascality and scoundrelism.
Burn the juniper!" he yelled at the top of his voice.

"Blame it all, Joe," Mason persisted, "let's get something that's down
among the people."

"Gentlemen," said I, "you must keep quiet or I'll have you taken away.
Vark, you don't want to injure me, do you?"

"No, I'm your friend, but you'll have to live here thirty years before I
can declare my infatuation for you. Give a hundred dollars for a bonfire
of juniper. And the long-lost sword of Mars was discovered by the
bleeding hoof of a heifer, and was given to Attila. Burn the juniper!"

"Look here, boys, come back in and behave yourselves. Remember that the
house is full of ladies, and that ought to make any man thoughtful in
the South. Will you promise to behave if I let you go back?"

"I can't promise without juniper," the shoemaker declared. "The twelve
vultures represented the twelve hundred years of the glory of Rome. Burn
the juniper. Say, Belford, tell you what we'll do--we'll go down to Old
Bradley's and take a drink as long as the horn of a wild steer. What do
you say?"

"I can't go with you, Vark."

"Then I'll go back into the house and burn the juniper. No, I won't,
Belford. You are a good fellow. There's nothing stuck up about you. And
I'm sorry for that break I made in there. Shake. Now, come on, Mason,
and we'll burn Old Bradley."

They went away, arm in arm, and out of a group of mottled idlers formed
about the door came slouching the figure of the Notorious Bugg.

"Jest thought I'd stand here till the worst come to the worst, Mr.
Belford," said he. "I lowed to myself that if they jumped on you things
would then happen fast and sudden. Hold on a minute and let me tell you.
I reckon I'm as peaceable a man as you ever seen till I get too badly
stirred, and then I can't compare myself to nothin' but a regular mowin'
machine. Oh, I didn't want to come out till I had to. I wouldn't mind
whalin' both of 'em, but the fact is, I wan't prepared to meet old Joe.
I owe him for a pair of boots, and the most danger-some lookin' thing I
ever seen is a feller that I owe. When I owe a man it appears like he
can grow ten feet in a night, and sometimes when I step out into society
I find myself in a wilderness of giants, I tell you. But I was jest
about to thrash both them fellers when they went away, and in view of
that fact I think you ought to let me go into your show."

I did not take issue with his appeal; I passed him in, amused at the
thought that two of my characters had been thrown out of my house and
that another one had entered, firm in the rascally belief that he had
convinced me of his courage and his determination to risk his blood in
the defense of my dignity.

The final curtain fell, and I stood near the door, not to receive
congratulations upon the bad performance, but to seek food for my eyes.
Miss Rodney stopped to tell me of her delightful evening. Bugg Peters
hung back to say that the "hoarse feller with the table cloth wrapped
round him wan't no slouch." I saw the Senator coming, gesticulating,
talking. I saw _her_. I saw her face turn pale and then to pink as she
approached. The Senator did not appear to see me, so busy was he with
explaining to an acquaintance the merit of the performance; and he would
have led her by, but in a burst of frank energy she broke loose from him
and held out her hand to me.

"Why, Belford," said the Senator, "I didn't see you. Great show, Sir.
Fine piece of work, eh, Florence?"

"I didn't think so, but I confess that I'm not much of a judge," she
answered, smiling at me.

"Oh, well, it has its faults, and so have we all, but it was an infamous
shame that we couldn't open here without a disturbance."

"Yes," said I, "but those two men gave a better piece of acting than we
could find on any stage."

"Oh, yes. Good fellows when sober, Sir. The pilot's family is all right.
I don't know anything about Vark's people, but he'll do well enough when
sober, Sir. Well, Florence."

He led her away, and she looked back with a nod and a smile--a bright
and graceful picture as she passed through the outer door. And all that
night I saw her, always led away, but always looking back with a nod and
a smile.



CHAPTER XX.

GLEANING THE FIELD.


A vagabond artist came to town and I employed him to make sketches of
Peters, Mason and Vark. It was easy to get a pose from the pilot and the
notorious one, but after his "juniper spree" the shoemaker had locked
himself in his shop. But we hammered his door day after day, and one
morning we heard the sliding of the bolt.

"Come in," said Vark. "But let me tell you that I am in no shape to do
work."

He had spread a blanket on the floor, with a bundle of leather at one
end, and with books scattered about. I took up two volumes to find the
plays of Marlowe and the snarling complaint of old Hobbs.

"What do you want, boys?"

"I want you to stand for a few moments just as you are," said I.

"For a picture? What do you want with a picture of me? I'm nobody."

"Oh, yes. You've lived here thirty years, you know."

"All right, go ahead. I don't suppose there ever was a man so no-account
that he didn't think his picture was worth something. But I wish you'd
hurry up and get through with me. I wouldn't have let you in, but I
didn't want to be rude to a stranger. Scratch fast, you chap!" he added,
speaking to the artist. "What are you going to do with the sketch? Hang
it up for a scarecrow? Done with me? Take it away. I don't want to see
it."

He turned us out and bolted his door; and I heard him swear at his rusty
joints as he got down upon the blanket and wallowed in the midst of his
books.

I procured a number of photographs of gardens and of time-softened
houses; I jotted down numerous hints of "atmosphere," wrote a full
description of Washington and of Aunt Patsey and sent the whole to
Maffet And it seemed that these acts of gleaning were long to be
protracted, for odd bits of characteristic color were constantly
arising, as tinted mists from the soil. In no-wise could they find a
place in the action or the dialogue, but they would aid the stage
craftsman to clothe his trickery in the garb of truth. But these
color-mists came only of their own will, and never would they arise at
command, to enshroud and to soften the vividness of the picture that
tantalized me. Love may be a divine essence, calm as God-ordered peace,
when it flows from the legitimate heart--it may be--but my love was
_wolfish_.

The Senator was very much elated over the success of our Virginius
engagement. Early one morning as I sat looking from the window, with my
nostrils full of the dusty smell of sprinkled floors newly swept, he
came whistling up the stairs.

"Ha! dreaming," he cried. "I can see it in your face. But you can
afford to dream. Keep your seat. I don't care to sit down. Well, Sir,
old Zeb Harkrider hailed me this morning to tell me that a good many of
our citizens didn't like our show. I said: 'Look here, Zeb, I thought I
kicked you off the courthouse steps for bringing me news that I didn't
want to hear a long time ago. Don't you remember it?' He remembered. He
didn't say so, but he stepped back. 'Why, I didn't know you were
interested in it,' said he. I had to lie just a little, Belford. I hold,
Sir, that we are justified in occasionally slipping a lie on our left
arm and using it for a shield, to protect our private grounds against
invasion. Yes, I lied to him a little; I told him that my only interest
lay in the fact that it was my desire to see our people well
entertained, and that the habit of constant grumbling would finally
blind us to the beauties of even the best of things. So I got rid of
him. And do you realize that Petticord didn't do us justice? Confound
his insolence, you passed in his entire brigade, and yet he says that
only those who were easily pleased came near getting the worth of their
money. That scoundrel suspects that I have a hand in this, and he would
almost be willing to cut his own throat in order to do me a harmful
turn. But I will get him one of these days--yes, Sir, I'll get him or
drive him out of this community. My boy, you don't seem to be in very
good spirits. What's the matter? Getting tired of Bolanyo?"

I answered with what the humorist of the "profession" would have phrased
a "property laugh." "No, Senator, I am not getting tired. In fact, I
would rather be here than in any place under the sun."

"Strong, but that's right. I was afraid that you felt yourself chained."

"You might fasten me here with links of rusty iron, but in my eyes
they'd be a chain of gold."

"What's that?"

He startled me with the sharp eye of comprehension, and I felt myself
droop under the look that he gave me. "I mean that this soft and
restful air and the sweet breath of the gardens would exalt a soul in
spite of the restraints of the body."

Innocence flew back to his eye, "That's good, Belford; I have felt it
many a time. I have thought in moments of ambition that my talents as a
Legislator were crippled here, that I might go to Congress, and perhaps
make a National name for myself, but then came the idea that to broaden
my scope might forever spoil my love for old Bolanyo."

He stood there meditating, with nothing more to say; he took out a small
bunch of keys, looked at them and returned them to his pocket; he put
his hands behind him; he went to the window and looked out upon the
deliberate commerce of the town--wagons loaded with hay, carts of
kindling wood, negroes with chickens, groups of story-telling
countrymen.

"But I didn't know that the town could take quite so strong a hold on a
stranger," he said, with his eyes in the street. "But, Belford," and
now he turned to me, "you are a man of quick endearments, and so am I;
and that is one of the reasons why I like you, and a reason, I might
say, why I condemn myself. But I like a man or don't, almost at the
start. They call me a shrewd politician, and I am, but I'm one of the
easiest men taken in you ever saw. Oh, I can tell whether or not a man
is a rascal, and I sometimes buy his ware knowing that I myself am sold,
but I can't help it. One single note in a man's voice sometimes catches
me--a little thing that he doesn't know himself. Belford, I want you to
go to the State capital with me sometime, after the Legislature meets.
I'll show you some of the most picturesque and genial old blatherskites
you ever saw. Well, I've got some knocking around to do. See you again
soon."

And it was thus that we always parted--with "See you again soon," and
never with "You must come to see me." I wondered whether his daughter
had warned him against the impropriety of inviting me to the house. I
mused over the sharp light of comprehension in his eye, and made an
additional trouble for myself with speculating upon the degree of his
suspicion.

In the afternoon I walked far out beyond the limits of the town, not at
first in the direction of the Senator's house, but I cut a quarter
circle to the left and came upon the road that led past his gate. So
self-forgetful had been my employment that I did not realize until I
stepped into the shade of a cottonwood how hot it had been out on the
blazing commons. On the dying grass I sat, with my feet in a gully,
fanning with my hat, harvesting delicious shudders of coolness. From
afar off came the hum of a thrashing machine, and almost in my ear an
insect sang the melancholy tune that tells of autumn's coming. I heard
the slow and heavy trot of an old horse, and around a bend in the road a
buggy came, and in it a woman. I got up with my blood leaping. I
stepped to the roadside and stood there, with my face turned away, and
suddenly the horse fell back to a walk, in obedience to an impulsive
pull upon the lines, my eager and outlawed heart had told me. I turned
about. Her eyes were averted, and her face was red, and she would have
passed without a word, without a look, but I stepped out boldly and
cried: "Just a moment, please. The hame strap has come unbuckled."

"Oh, thank you," she said, and the horse stopped. I stepped in front and
began to pull at the strap.

"Quite a surprise to see you, Mrs. Estell."

"Yes. But I don't know why it should be. I drive about a good deal."

"And I walk about a good deal, and yet this is the first time--"

"Can't you fasten it?"

"Yes; now it's all right." I stood partly in front of the horse, with my
hand on the shaft. She gathered up the lines.

"Mrs. Estell, I hope you are not offended at me."

She laughed with music though not with mirth, and then her face grew
serious as she said: "Of course not, Mr. Belford."

Where was the freedom, the outbreak of energy she had shown in the opera
house; where was the look of frankness? All now was reserve, a cool and
sacred respect for the law that held her tied with a frost-covered rope.
I did not presume that she loved me, but I knew that she hated _him_.

"Have you buckled the strap?"

"Yes, madam."

"Thank you."

At that moment a buggy with two men in it came rattling by. One man
turned to look back, and I recognized Petticord, the editor.

"Mrs. Estell, I hope sometime to tell you--"

"Don't tell me anything, Mr. Belford. Let me go, please. Good-bye."



CHAPTER XXI.

THE WORK OF A SCOUNDREL.


I was more than miserable all that night; I was wretched. I had betrayed
myself, and now to show even the slightest interest in her was to imply
an insult. But what could I hope for at best? My chain might be gold,
but it was a chain after all, and must be broken. I would tell the
Senator that I must go away; and the next day I sat, expecting his step
on the stairs. And late in the day there came a step, but not his. It
was not a step, but a bound and a rush. Young Elkin sprung into the room
with a copy of Petticord's paper in his hand.

"Look what that scoundrel has done!" he cried.

I snatched the paper. One glance and everything whirled round. I
remember that Elkin caught hold of me; I can recall that I leaned
against the casement of the window to hold the paper where the light was
strong. I went out, down the back way, and through an alley into a
silent street. I passed the lamp-post where the negro preacher and I had
parted one night; I passed the goblin thicket. And now a cold dread fell
upon me. What sort of light should now I find in the eyes of that old
man? I shuddered at the thought of meeting him. I would rather have met
a lion. His rage would drive me mad.

The door was opened by the negress. She nodded toward the library. All
was still. I stepped lightly to the door. The Senator was moving about
as if looking for something. I tapped on the door facing and he looked
round.

"Ah, come in, Belford."

A tremor seized me. He had not seen the paper. "I was looking for an oil
can," said he. "Put it down somewhere just a moment ago. Here it is.
Looks as if we'd have a little rain."

He took up a pistol and began to oil the lock, moving the hammer up and
down to assure himself that it worked easily. "I guess that's all right.
Now what did I do with that other pistol?"

"In my room," a voice replied. I turned about with a start. Mrs. Estell
stood in the door. She bowed. A cool smile parted her pale lips.

"Bring it, please," said the Senator.

She dropped a graceful courtesy, one that might have been seen in the
gracious days of our grandmothers, and ran up the stairway. When she
returned the Senator was standing near the door, but she passed him and
handed the pistol to me. She gave me a look, and if now her eyes were
glad, they were glad like a fire that rejoices to burn. Just one look
and then she bowed and withdrew without a word.

"Let me oil it and by that time the buggy will be ready," said the
Senator. "I think you will find it all right," he remarked, as he
returned the pistol to me. The negress appeared at the door. "Buggy
ready? All right. Come, Belford."

Not a word was spoken until we were far into the town, and then the
Senator said: "If there's but one he belongs to me. Do you understand?"

"Yes, but he doesn't belong to you unless you can shoot first."

He looked at me, and beneath his gray mustache was a smile as sharp as a
sword.

The horse was trotting at the top of his speed. We whirled round a
corner, the wheels ground against the curb and we leaped out. A negro
with his arms full of newspapers stood on the pavement.

"Throw them in the gutter!" the Senator commanded, and the negro obeyed.
Up the stairway we rushed, into a corridor. The Senator tried a door. It
would not open.

"He has locked himself in. Here, we'll break it down with this."

We gathered up a heavy bench, battered the door down and rushed into the
room. The place was vacant. We looked at each other. A gust of wind
stirred the papers lying about; a "bunch of copy" fluttered on the
editor's desk.

"We'll find him."

We went into the business office. No one was there. We stepped out into
the street, and there we were arrested on a peace warrant sworn out by
Petticord.

"We must respect the law," the Senator remarked as we walked off with
the constable. "I mean the active presence of the law," he added,
evidently recalling the fact that we had broken down a door. "We'll go
over here and give bond, but we'll get him. Yes, Sir, we'll get him as
sure as you are born."

Bonds were prepared, accepted, and we were released. The Justice
followed us out. "Giles," said he, "I am awfully sorry that you didn't
have a chance to kill him. Never was a greater outrage perpetrated in
this community."

"Yes, but I'll get him, Perry," the Senator replied.

"Get him? Of course! Mr. Belford, this makes you a permanent resident of
our city, Sir. You can't afford to go away now, even if you have thought
of such a thing. Giles, he swore out the warrant and got on a train at
once, and I reckon his wife will run his paper. Is Estell at home?"

"No, he is over at Jackson. He'll be home to-night."

"Well, I'm sorry--but look here, Giles, after all it is simply an
annoyance. That fellow Petticord has no weight."

"A man of no family whatever," said the Senator. "And, Sir, neither is a
dog, but we may be forced to kill him. Come, Belford."

Together we walked back to the buggy. A street lamp, the first one
lighted, flashed across the way, and I thought of the coming of Estell.

"Get in," said the old gentleman, "and I will drive you to--to your
office." And as we drove along he added: "I don't know what to say. But
don't think that I attach any blame to you. My daughter's word as to
your conduct toward her, your consideration and your gentleness weigh
like holy writ. And you know why I have not invited you to the house.
But we'll say nothing about that."

"No, we can't talk of that, Senator. But there is something I must say.
Let the horse walk, please. First let me tell you that I respect you
more--love you more, if you will permit me to say it--than any man on
the earth. I--"

"Don't, don't, Belford," he protested with a catch like a sob in his
voice. "Don't."

And we drove in silence until we reached a corner near the opera house,
and then I requested him to let me get out. He gave me his hand; I
gripped it hard, and we parted without a word.



CHAPTER XXII.

IN THE THICKET.


Alone in my room I sat, with the window shades pulled down, waiting for
the coming of another day. And for what end? To meet the gaze of vulgar
eyes. The tavern bells had rung the supper hour, and doors were closing
about the public square. I heard the "haw haw" and the shuffling dance
of negroes on the pavement. I heard Washington's step on the stair and I
lighted the gas and waited, for now he was not an unwelcome visitor. He
tapped at the door like a small bird pecking on a tree. I bade him come
in, and as he entered he dropped his hat on the floor.

"Don't do that," I commanded, "don't give me any more affectation. You
despise your father's dialect but you preserve his tricks of slavish
humility."

"Humility is more the virtue of the Christian than the trick of the
slave, Mr. Belford," he replied. "But tell me why you are so free and
simple when you talk to other people and so--pardon me if I use the word
theatric--so theatric with me."

"Because you rob me of my naturalness and compel me to strut. But let me
be natural now. Are you just from the house?"

"Yes, I came straight down here."

"Had the Senator returned?"

"Yes, but he soon went away again--after Mr. Estell came."

"Did you see them meet?"

"No, I had gone out to help the woman bring in the clothes because it
looked like rain."

"And did the woman tell you anything about Mrs. Estell?"

"That she had locked herself in her room was all."

"And you didn't hear any talk between the Senator and Estell?"

"Only at the gate when the Senator drove off. Then he said: 'Don't look
for me until you see me.' A boy went with him to bring the buggy back."

"Where could he have gone?"

"To take the train for New Orleans, to look for his man. He had a
telegram."

"And what did Estell say?"

"He swore as the Senator drove. 'By God,' he cried, 'you have gone after
the wrong man.' But perhaps I ought not to have told you this."

I strove to be calm, but almost in a rage I was now walking up and down
the room.

"Yes, you should. And the imbecile said that. He ought to have his lying
old tongue torn out."

"Be cautious, Mr. Belford. The man--"

"The man what?" I demanded.

"May think he has a cause. Wait a moment, please. A cause to believe
that you are in the young woman's heart, and what more would he need to
make him bitter toward you? Be reasonable."

"You are right, Washington; you are right. But when we meet, what then?"

"You must not meet."

"But we might."

"You must go away."

"What, to blast her name?"

"No, to save a life. Perhaps two lives."

"I will not go away. There will be but one life to forfeit--mine."

"Would that save her name, Mr. Belford?"


"Look here, you don't mean that the people believe that newspaper's
insinuation."

"They don't. Representatives of the best families have called to show
their faith, but what would they think if Estell should shoot you?"

"And what would they think if I should run away? No, I will stay."

"Then I have nothing more to say, Mr. Belford."

He strode out, catching up his hat at the door, and I counted the steps
as he trod down the stairs.

Early the next morning I walked out from the town, but at no time did I
turn toward the Senator's house. I went down the road that led through
the cypress land, into the deep silence of the swamp. I passed the house
of the Notorious Bugg, and I saw it trembling (a mere fancy, of course)
with the shake of the aguish sons-in-law. A road, impassable except in
the driest of seasons, wound about among deep pools of yellow slime. The
ground shook under my careful tread, and the slightest jar was
sufficient to disturb an acre of spongy desolation. I sat on a log with
the feeling that no eye could see me. Sometimes the silence was so
strained that it sang in my ear; sometimes I was startled by the
flapping and the shriek of a gaunt bird, skimming the surface of the
ooze. In this creepy solitude I took myself to task. Behind an error of
the heart there stands a sophist, a Libanius, to offer a specious
consolation--a voice ever ready to say, "It was not your fault; you do
not create your own desires and neither can you control them." This is
true enough, but a man can control his actions. I should have gone away,
for the commonest of sense had pointed out the weakness, the crime, of
remaining. And what had I hoped for? To tell her that I would wait, with
a hope ever warm in my heart. I could not see a crime in that. But I
could not tell her--she would not permit me to lead up to so
embarrassing a subject. Washington was right. It was my duty to go away,
not to save myself, but to keep Estell's hands free of blood.

Strong in my resolve, I walked briskly toward the town, and, coming out
of the swamp, I was still strong, but my heart fluttered when from a
rise of ground I saw the Senator's house, far away. To the left of the
road lay a piece of land, wild with briers and a growth of new timber, a
thicket checkered with cattle paths. Up the road I saw a man coming,
and, as he drew nearer, I recognized the slouching figure of Bugg
Peters. I did not care to meet him, to be compelled to answer or evade
his questions, so I turned aside into the thicket and brushed my way
along a narrow path. On a sudden I leaped aside into a tangle of bushes.
A pistol or gun had fired it seemed almost at my elbow. I listened, but
heard not a sound. I thought I saw smoke arising off to my left, but it
might have been mist, for the day was dark with vapors and low-hanging
clouds. I was uneasy, and not knowing whither my path might lead, I
turned back; and just as I reached the road a man and a boy, struggling
through the undergrowth, ran past me. They said nothing, but, looking
back with fright in their faces, ran off toward town. I looked about for
Peters, but did not see him. I wondered what it all could mean.

Upon entering the town I avoided the busier streets, and passed through
quiet by-ways. At the foot of the rear stairway leading to my room
stood a man.

"Hold on," he said, and then shouted to someone above. A man came
running down the steps.

"What's wanted?" I inquired.

"You," replied one of the men. "Come with us."

"But what do you want?"

"Come on quietly and you'll find out. Do you want us to handcuff you?"

I went with them, stupefied with astonishment. They would answer no
questions. They took me to the jail, and then I was informed that I had
been arrested on a warrant sworn out by J. W. Hilliard, charging me with
the murder of Thomas Estell. In a daze I was pushed into a cell. I
couldn't think; I had an impression that I had lost a part--the serious
part--of my mind. I looked at the little things about me, a burnt match
on the floor, a cobweb in an upper corner. I took up a tin candlestick
and picked at a ridge of sperm; I sat down upon a cot, wondering if it
would break under me, and I felt it shake and spring like the spongeland
in the swamp. I heard the tavern bells ring, and I heard the tradesmen
slamming their doors. And I even said to myself, "I shall be
horror-stricken when I realize it all."

There came footsteps down the corridor, and I heard someone say, "All
right, I won't stay long. Turn up your lamp. I can't see him."

The blaze of a lamp hanging in the corridor crept higher and I saw the
shoemaker standing in front of my grated door.

"Mr. Belford, this is rough."

"Yes, it will be when I am able to believe it."

"I reckon it's so, and it won't take you long to believe it. But if you
ever had cause to be cool, you've got that cause now. Brighten up.
Several people have called to see you--the nigger preacher, too--but
they couldn't get in."

"How did you get in?"

"The jailer owes me. Yes, and I worked my prerogative because I thought
you'd like to see even a shoemaker."

"Tell me--tell me all about it."

"Why, Hilliard and his son was coming through the thicket. They heard a
pistol close to them, they stumbled on Estell lying dead in the path,
and they saw you making for the big road. And that slab-sided Peters
says he saw you turn into the thicket. He heard the shot, and he ran in
to see what was up, but couldn't find anything. It is a shame the way
both those fellows were permitted to stand around and talk about it. It
has made them mighty important. I dangled a debt over Bugg's head and
silenced him, but I couldn't do anything with Hilliard. That scoundrel
paid me about two months ago. Bad! It puts the Senator in an awkward
position. He can't express an opinion, you know. Good thing he's away,
gunning after Petticord. Oh, Bolanyo is coming up. They found Estell
with his head almost blown off. Seems as if somebody must have poked a
pistol out of the bushes almost against the side of his head. I am
telling you all this so you may in a measure be prepared at the inquest
to-morrow morning. His watch and some small change was found, so it
wasn't a murder for gain. No pistol was found on him, so he wasn't
expecting a fight."

"Look here, Vark, you don't believe I killed that man?"

"I haven't said so, but I'll tell you this--the people believe it. You
know it takes a great deal of argument to prove a stranger innocent and
mighty little evidence to show him guilty. In an old community it's a
great crime to be a stranger. Well, I must go. The best thing you can do
is to keep your head cool."



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE RINGING OF THE BELL.


I sat down, in a full sense of it all, and reasoned upon the ugly
happenings that stood to accuse me. Coincidents sometimes fit snugger
than arrangements that have been carefully planned; they slip into place
with a perverse trueness of adjustment. Thus I speculated, and I was
astonished at my coolness. I turned about from my argument to notice
that a heavy rain was falling. The courthouse bell was ringing
furiously. The jailor came hastening down the corridor.

"What does that bell mean?" I inquired.

"God help you man, it means you!" he cried. "The signal for the mob."

"What! To hang me?"

"Yes, and I can't help you."

"But you can turn me out. Open this door!"

"I can't do that, Sir. They would hang me. They are coming."

There were no cries outside. There was the heavy tramping of feet and a
tap on the door as if a quiet visitor sought admission.

"Who is that?" the jailor demanded, walking slowly down the corridor.

"Open the door, Hill."

"But who is it?"

"A party of friends. Open the door to your neighbors."

"But is it to the law--the sheriff?"

"The sheriff is locked up in the courthouse. We want to be quiet about
this thing, but--the sledge, Dave."

"Hold on, boys, don't break the door. What do you want?"

"A man."

And the man stood in the cell, placing a cool estimate upon each word
and astonished at himself.

"Well, boys, I can't help myself, and when you take him you'll find him
a piece of as dead grit as you ever run against."

I heard the bolt. He threw the door open. There was no rush, no noise,
and not a word was spoken until the jailor opened the door of my cell,
and then a man in a black mask quietly said: "We must trouble you to go
along with us."

It was of no use to protest and I did not reply. With a small rope they
tied my hands behind me and led me out into the street. And now there
arose a yell. Rain was pouring down. The pine torches were extinguished.
The lamps about the public square had been turned out. The mob was going
to do its work by the light of a single lantern, borne by a man who
strode beside me. In front of the courthouse stood a tree. Under it a
large box was placed. A rope, with one end on the box, the other end
lost in the darkness of the tree, looked in the rain like a waterspout.
I heard someone say, "Keep quiet, everybody!" The lantern was placed on
the box.

"Let me assist you to get up," said a polite man. I looked about, but
saw no kindly face; I saw a circle of black masks. Suddenly the lantern
was knocked off the box. A scramble followed in the dark and the rain.
Someone seized my hands, something cold touched them, bore down hard and
the rope fell apart. "Run through the courthouse," a whisper shot like a
needle into my ear. I wheeled about; I knocked men down; and in the
midst of a fury, an outcry, a stampede in hell, I stumbled up the
courthouse steps, ran headlong through the black corridor, out the other
side, into an alley. I scrambled over a fence, fell upon a shopkeeper's
waste ground, stumbled over boxes, climbed over another fence--ran. Away
from the square the gas-lamps were burning, and I shunned the light. The
rain continued to pour, and the roadways were deserted. The speed of
despair soon took me beyond the limits of the town, and now the
darkness was intense. The sandiness of the soil gave warning that I was
near the river, and I halted to listen, but the splash of the rain was
all that I heard. Far behind me was a yellow smear--the town. But what
was in front I knew not. I felt my way along. The ground sloped--the
river. "If I could only find a boat," I mused. I walked up the shore,
close to the water's edge, the ripples sucking the sand from under my
feet. Once I fell with a splash, and I bore off to the right, to keep
clear of the water, but a high bank had arisen between me and the
outlying fields of darkness. Suddenly there came a loud splash. The
sandy banks were caving in. I thought of turning back, and then came a
splash behind me. I was caught in a trap of sand. There was nothing to
do but to wait. I could not climb out, for I was now beneath a shelf,
hollowed out under the bank, a crumbling roof. I sat down to wait for
daylight. The river was rising. I was afraid to move. A yawn might have
called down an avalanche of sand. I could have plunged into the river,
but I could not have swam against the current; I should have been swept
down beyond Bolanyo, to be snatched up at daylight and hanged. And
daylight was coming. The rain had ceased, but the air was heavy and I
knew that the light would be slow. The yellow river grew distinct, close
to the shore, and gradually, but with many a hang-back, it seemed, the
light grew strong enough to reveal the walls and the roof of my prison.
Overhead the sand was held by streaks of clay, but this support, I saw,
must soon give in, for the current was eating fast. Up the stream, only
a few feet away, was a whirlpool, where the bank had caved, and just
below a strong suck was forming, but here was a slope, and I might climb
out over it, though the way was treacherous. I did not hesitate, and
struggling, clutching, on my knees, up again, the sand rolling under me,
I fought and gained the firm ground above. Not a house was within sight.
But I could see the plow on the dome in Bolanyo, miles away; and now it
was a vulture, dark-limned against a darker sky. I trod across a gullied
field, into the woods, to find a place to lie in hiding until night. I
thought of blood-hounds. But the rain, the river and the caving sand
were almost a sure protection against their merciless scent. Still I was
frightened, and I walked for a long distance in a stream of water, with
the old story of a runaway slave fresh in my mind. I could not even
guess at the time of day. At the jail they had taken my watch, my
penknife, money, everything. In a thick patch of briers I lay down
beside a log and slept, and opening my eyes I saw a star. I bore off
from the river, walking as fast as I could. I came upon a patch of yams,
the southerner's vaunted sweet potato, and fed ravenously on the milky
root. I passed numerous negro cabins and dogs barked at me. At daylight
I hid again and slept.

In the evening of the fourth day I made bold to enter a negro's hut,
always the refuge and the asylum of the outcast, and appealed to the
generosity of an enormous fellow who reminded me of Washington. I told
him I was a fugitive fleeing from the wrath of political enemies, and my
story moved his simple and unsuspecting heart. He gave me food and a
bed.

Thus I wandered night after night, heavy of heart, and yet with a prayer
of gratitude. At last I reached the State of Illinois. One day in a
cross-roads grocery where I had halted to split wood for a bit of
cheese, I saw a handbill posted on the door. It set forth the enormity
of my crime, attempted to describe me--tall, dark brown eyes, hair
almost black, a straight nose and about thirty years of age; and they
had paid me the compliment to add the word "graceful." They had added,
also, that the sum of six thousand dollars would be paid for my capture.
The groceryman and his friends were talking politics; and doubtless they
had never given more than a moment's thought to a murder committed away
down in Mississippi.

I believed that a city was my safest refuge, and I made straight for
Chicago. There I might secure some sort of employment, and, under
another name, earn money enough to take me to the wilds of the unknown
West. I felt that a light would one day be thrown upon the mystery. But
I knew that they would hang me, if they could, and then marvel at the
light, should it ever come. I appreciated the fact that the hunt for me
would not be given up. Six thousand dollars serve well to keep the blood
of justice circulating.

I arrived in Chicago one evening, having spent more than two months on
the devious path that led from Bolanyo; and the first attention to mark
my arrival was the stare of a policeman. This threw me into a tremor and
a cold sweat of fear; but he passed on without speaking to me, and I
turned aside to walk slowly, and then almost to run in the opposite
direction.

My appearance was against me. I was almost ragged, and I knew that it
would be useless to apply for any except the meanest sort of employment.
Times were hard, and even day labor was not easy to find. But at last,
after a week of persistent application, of hunger, of shivering in the
raw air, I was put to work in a livery-stable. They called me a
"chambermaid," a "happy hit" in which they found no end of fun.
Sometimes their jokes were rough, but I bore them with a pretense of
good nature, passing on to my task; and one day my zeal found reward in
the notice of the proprietor.

"Jarvis," said he, "you go about your work as if your mind is on it. Do
you reckon you've got sense enough to drive a cab?"

"I think so, Sir."

"Well, have your stubble shaved off and I'll give you a trial."

"I'd rather not have the beard off, Sir. I have trouble with my
throat."

"Well, we'll try you, anyway."

"In livery?" I could not help asking.

"What, ain't proud, are you?"

"Oh, no, but I'd rather not wear livery."

"It strikes me that anything would be an improvement over the clothes
you've got on. But I guess we can fix you out. You must be from the
country. An American farmer may wear patches, but he won't put on
livery. We'll put you on a special, and you may start in to-morrow."



CHAPTER XXIV.

MAGNOLIA LAND.


My wages were small, and I saved every possible penny; I gave up
smoking, slept in the stable, and rarely paid more than fifteen cents
for a meal. In my mind I settled upon the island of Vancouver, and I
resolved to go as soon as I could save money enough to buy a suit of
clothes and a railway ticket to Seattle. And from my exile I would dare
write to the Senator. "Why not now?" I thought as I sat on my cab. "But
he might believe the story set up by circumstances; he might long ago
have condemned me as guilty of Estell's blood. And what must _she_
think?" The beginning of my musings mattered not, for the end was always
the same, with the woman. And in the night, when the fierce wind howled
about the barn, with the stamping and snorting of horses beneath me, I
lay in the dark and the cold, and gazed into my heart's illuminated
memory. Her face was always frank and, though her lips were dumb, her
eyes were full of whispers. "But what must she think now?" always came
to drive her away into the dark and the cold.

In impatience, and sometimes in fear, I watched the slow growth of my
savings. Once a man, a detective I was sure, came to the stable to ask,
he said, concerning a woman whom I had that day driven to a railway
station. He may have told the truth, but he put me in distress, and the
next day when I counted my money I said, "I will go to-morrow." But on
that day a paragraph leaped out of a newspaper and smote me. "In
Magnolia Land" was soon to be produced at McVicker's Theatre. I had
cause to believe that I was suspected of at least some sort of
crookedness, since in my mind it was almost settled that the man had
come to the stable to look me over in the hope of finding a "bargain,"
but I was resolved to take the risk to see the play. And I read the
newspapers at night and at morning, nervous with the fear of finding an
announcement that the drama was the work of a man now charged with the
murder of Mississippi's Treasurer. As the time drew near the press agent
multiplied his licks; the play was by a man who chose to call himself
"The Elephant;" it had been read by "several of our leading dramatists
and pronounced a masterpiece of originality, character, and strength."
But to me the faith of Manager Maffet did not hold the piece above an
ordinary experiment, a truth set forth by the meagerness of his "paper;"
and, as nothing was said of the cast, I knew that my lines were not to
be given over to well-known "people."

Would the day, which had sounded so near, never come! "Who are you?" a
snail inquired of a wild pigeon. "I am Time," the pigeon answered.
"No," said the snail. "You may have been Time and you may be again, some
day, but _I_ am Time now."

In the evening I drove a drunken man to his home, four miles on the
North Side, and when I helped him out in front of his door, he tried to
hold me, to tell me that I was his friend, but I broke loose from him,
and almost furiously I drove to the theatre. I had not time to go to the
stable; I hired a boy to look after my horse, and hastened to buy a
balcony ticket. The night was warm for the time of the year, but a
threat of rain was in the air, and I was afraid that the house would be
small, but the people kept sprinkling in, and I stood in a corner to
watch them, uneasy and annoyed whenever anyone passed along, without
even looking in toward the box office. The orchestra began with Dixie,
and my blood tingled as I went up the stairs. Viewed from my seat, the
lower part of the house appeared to be well filled and the balcony was
crowded. I had not taken account of those who had gone in before I
arrived. No program had been given to me and I was almost afraid to ask
for one. I did not permit myself to speculate upon my misfortune, an
outcast sneaking in to see his own play; I did not muse upon fate; I sat
there with my pulse beating fast. But I did indulge the comfort of the
thought that should the play prove a failure no one could discover the
humiliation of the author.

The music ceased, the curtain went up, my heart leaped, and the soft
beauty of the scene brought tears to my eyes. Could I believe it, there
were Culpepper and Miss Hatch, their mouths full of "The Elephant's"
words. A droll line, and the people laughed; a sentiment, and they
applauded. So the ice was broken. The curtain went down with generous
applause. Culpepper and Miss Hatch were called out; but I could hardly
see them, for the foolish tears in my eyes. I knew that the acts to come
were better and my heart swelled with the thought. There were many
faults, of course, but good humor and enthusiasm do not hunt for flaws,
and I laughed and cried and yearned to grasp the hand of a friend.

"What do you think of it?" I asked of a rough man who sat beside me.

"Great," he answered.

"Would you mind shaking hands with me?"

"I don't know you," he replied, "but I'm a good ways from home, and
we'll call it a go. Put her there."

He thrust forth his hand. I grasped it and pressed it hard--the first I
had touched in sentiment for many a day; and I was loth to let it go,
but he was forbearing. "Shake again whenever you want to," he said. "A
man that cries at a putty thing ain't a bad feller."

At the end of the third act there was a roar for the author, and at that
moment I felt almost willing to risk my neck to thank those generous
hearts.

It was over--and the great organ lifted its voice in triumph as the
audience arose. But if I strode out with the tread of a conqueror, it
was not unmixed with a sorrowful limp, the halting walk of one who sees
the black word "bitterness" written upon the bright banner of his
victory. A cold rain was falling. I stood against the wall to catch the
echo of my achievement, the "good," "enjoyed it so much," "beautiful,"
of the hastening throng. The loud cab-calls ceased, and I stepped
forward to drive my vehicle to the stable, when, glancing back, I saw
something that almost wrung a cry from my heart. Beneath the awning
stood the Senator and his daughter. I ran to my cab, threw money to the
boy, seized the horse by the bridle, led him to the curb in front of the
Senator, and bowing under the glistening drip I said, "Cab, Sir?"

"Yes, I think so," he replied. "We haven't far to go, just around yonder
to the Great Northern Hotel. Let me help you in, Florence. I reckon they
are right in saying that this place has about the worst climate in the
world."

I held the door open until they were seated, and stood there in a
tremble after I had closed it, yearning to make myself known to them.
But the success of the play could not mean that I was innocent of an old
man's death. They might never have believed me guilty. "I could throw
myself upon their mercy," I mused. "But what if they should turn away
with a cold word and a shudder?" Reason is the offspring of wisdom, but
it has always been a coward.

"What are you waiting for?" the Senator inquired, with a tap on the
window. "Drive on, please."

I mounted, not trusting myself to speak, and drove slowly away, with my
eager ear bent low.

"Never saw anything like that play," said the Senator, "never did. But I
tell you I was scared at first. Why, when that fellow Bugg Peters came
out there I thought surely he would ruin the whole thing. And he was
Bugg, up and up. Yes, thought he would spoil it all. Why, Florence, that
fellow is the biggest liar on the earth!"

"But he is art, as we saw him to-night, Father."

"Well, yes. He said the very things that Bugg would have said. Yes, art
all right enough, but whenever he _is_, art has turned out to be a
monstrous liar. It does seem to me, however, that Bolanyo could have
furnished a batch of more respectable characters--more representative,
don't you understand--people of better standing. Washington is all
right, an advancement, a high type of his race, but the pilot and the
shoemaker are--oh, well, they don't represent us. And that old woman's
meant for your Aunt Patsey as sure as you live. But in spite of these
minor faults it is a beautiful play."

"I wonder," she said, after a moment of silence, "I wonder where Mr.
Belford is to-night; if he could only have seen his victory; if--"

"Say, there, driver," the Senator cried, "why don't you go ahead? What
do you want to halt along here for? I don't want to hurt your feelings,
you understand, but I could have more than walked there by this time.
Drive up, please."

We were now near the hotel. I drew up at the curb, jumped down and
opened the cab door. The Senator got out. I did not look at him. I did
not dare to feed my hungry eyes upon her face. He took her hand, and
when she had stepped upon the pavement, she turned about. "Oh, wait a
moment," she said, "my dress is caught. No, it isn't."

"I will settle with you in a moment," he remarked, looking back at me,
as with haste, though with most gallant gentleness, he urged his
daughter toward the door, out of the rain. I looked hard at her now,
with my heart full of another night, when she had glanced back at me; I
waited, gazing, enchained by her grace, until she reached the door, and
then I sprung upon the cab and drove away. The Senator shouted, but I
did not look around, until, turning a corner, I glanced back, to see him
standing bare-headed in the rain, waving his hat at me.



CHAPTER XXV.

DOWN A DARK ALLEY.


She had wondered where I was, and the soft echo of her sympathy filled
my heart with a psalm. Surely she could not have suspected me of
Estell's blood. But the Senator--why did he break in as if impatient of
my name? Had he grown weary with hearing it? But his interruption, it
was not hard to believe, was more of a sorrow than an impatience.

I was near the stable now, but I stopped the horse, almost of a mind to
turn back, to touch her hand, even if compelled to run away to hide
again in fear and shame. I glanced down at my mean garb, I thought of
the fierce aspect of my beard-gnarled face, and pride, not fear, forced
me to hesitate. "But I will go early in the morning," I mused, as I
drove on, still debating, the horse slow under the restraint of my
sullenness. "I will shave my face and--"

A man stepped out from the shadow into the light and raised his
hand--the man who had put me in a tremor of fear. "I want to see you a
moment," he said.

I was near the sidewalk, at the mouth of an alley, and without a moment
of speculation as to what the fellow might mean I leaped from the cab
and darted into the alley. He raised a cry and I heard another noise, a
pistol shot, perhaps. I plunged through an opening and scrambled over a
great pile of scrap-iron; I tore open a frail gate and came out upon a
street. People were passing, but they paid but little attention to me. I
crossed the street, entered another alley, made as quick time as I
could, and came out near the river.

All through the night I hastened onward, sometimes on a railway track
and often in the mud of the prairie. My running away might have been
foolish; the man might simply have wanted to make an inquiry. And,
indeed, if he had settled upon me why had he waited so long? It was easy
enough to reason, but reason when slower than action is a miserable
cripple. I had money enough to pay my way out West, but caution dictated
a fear of open travel, so I was resolved to walk in lonely places until
I felt that to trust a railway train would be less of a risk. The rain
increased with the coming of daylight, and I was driven to seek the
shelter of a barn. A man came out to milk the cows.

"I have invited myself in out of the rain," said I, as he gave me a
suspicious look.

"All right. A man ought to have sense enough to come in out of the rain.
Which way are you traveling?"

"Looking for work," I answered.

"Well, you ought to be able to find it. But most men hunting for work
these days put me in mind of a horse goin' along the road lookin' for
somethin' to get scared at. A feller came along yesterday and said he
was hungry; but when I showed him some work I wanted done he skulked
off. Are you hungry enough to help build a fence?"

"No, but I'm hungry enough to pay for something to eat."

"Oh, well, then, I guess you're all right. Just go on to the house and
make yourself to home."

I went to the house; and while sitting by the fire, the wind high and
the rain lashing at the window, I formed the resolve to go back to
Bolanyo. I would surrender myself to the authorities, to claim the right
of trial by jury and to accept the result. And reason was not now a
coward, a cripple, but more like a man, cool, bold and strong. I
reviewed with pity the morbid fear that held me back from Maffet; I felt
now that in safety I could have made myself known to him. The Senator
had come to look after my interest, and surely he would not have frowned
upon me. Yes, I would go back to Bolanyo. I was sick of the rabbitlike
freedom of an outlaw.

"How far is it to the railway station?" I inquired of the farmer.

"Well," he drawled, "I don't know for certain."

I knew that it was not in his Yankee nature to give me a direct answer,
so I waited.

"There's a milk station a little nearer than the other one. Want to get
on the train?"

"Oh, no, I want to go over to the station to see how it looks in the
rain."

"Which, the milk station or the other one? Ain't much to see over there,
but the land's worth all of a hundred dollars an acre. But when we came
out here from Connecticut it could have been bought for a song and they
wouldn't have insisted on your carryin' the tune so mighty well. If you
want to go jest to look, the milk station is as good as any and a good
deal better than some; but if you want to get on the express train you'd
better go to the other one."

"How far is it?"

"Which, the other one?"

"Yes, the other one. How far is it?"

"Well, if you walk, it's--"

"I don't want to walk; I want you to drive me."

"Oh, well, if that's the case I guess we can fix it. I'll drive you over
for half a dollar. The train will be along about dark or a little after.
You've got plenty of time."

"Have you a razor?"

"I guess I had the best razor you ever saw, but the woman (he meant his
wife) took it one day and raked all the edge off it. But I've got
another one, a rattler."

"Would you mind my shaving with it?"

"Well, do you shave left-handed or right-handed?"

"Right-handed."

"That's what I was afraid of. I shave left-handed, and if you change
after the razor is set, why, it rather warps it, so to speak. Neighbor
of mine had a razor ruined that way. It might not ruin mine, but I'm
inclined to believe it would suffer about ten cents' worth."

"All right, I'll stand the damage. You grab after every penny in sight,
I see."

"Well, I hadn't thought of that, but now that you put me in mind of it,
I guess I will. And why not? Wheat down, can't give oats away, and hogs
a-squealin' because they ain't worth nothin'. Everybody's got his teeth
on edge agin the farmer, and if he don't grab at every penny in sight
they'll have to lift him into a wagon and haul him to the poorhouse.
I'll get the razor."

I heard him fussing about in an adjoining room, with a complaint,
directed at his wife, that nothing could ever be found on the place, and
presently he returned with the razor, a strop, a bar of soap and a dish
of hot water. I looked at his bearded face and was tickled with conquest
to notice his embarrassment. It was, however, but a brief season of
defeat for him. His humorous shrewdness flew to his aid. "I guess,"
said he, "that my beard grows faster than anybody's you ever saw. I
shaved not long ago, and shaved with my left hand, too--to keep my razor
in the same shape and temper, you understand--but my beard grows so fast
that I don't look like it. One of my neighbors tells me that I could
make money growin' hair to stuff buggy cushions with, and maybe I could,
but I never tried it; never had the time, somehow. Now, just hit her a
lick or two on that strop and you'll be all right."

"You say your people came from Connecticut?"

"Yes, Sir, from right up the river."

"Did any of the family go on further South?"

"I think so. I had an uncle, younger a good deal than my daddy. He went
South, married there and died in the war, on the rebel side. But he left
Connecticut long before I was born. We tried to look up the family some
time ago; I thought we'd like to have a warm place to go sometime in
the winter; and, Sir, I got a letter from my cousin, tellin' me to come.
He lives in Mississippi--name's Bugg Peters. Why, what are you so
astonished at, Mister? It's a fact, and my name's Sam Peters. Well, I'll
go out and hitch up the horse by the time you get shaved."



CHAPTER XXVI.

CONCLUSION--IN THE GARDEN.


Through the dark the train came with a stuttering roar. I turned to
shake hands with Peters, but he had stepped from the platform to hold
his horse.

"Good-bye," he shouted. "This horse has seen the train every day since
he was born, but he'll run away if I don't hold him. But it runs in his
family to be afraid of the railroad. His brother was killed by a train.
Wish you well, and if you ever come this way again, stop off."

He was a skinflint and a rascal, but he had shortened a dreary day, and
at parting I regretted that I had not told him of my acquaintance with
his kinsman in the South.

With a change of cars, at daylight, I could reach Memphis late in the
afternoon, in time to continue my journey by boat to Bolanyo. I lay
back, with my hat pulled down over my face, and strove to compose myself
to sleep, and I dozed, but awoke at the solemn words of a judge,
rumbling with the rhythm of the train. Sometimes I argued that I was a
fool to trust myself to the humor of an excitable people; but soon I
discovered that this speculation was forced, that my mind refused to
treat it seriously, that my hope stood, not at the bar, under the
protection of the law, but in the Senator's garden. And from this
height, in the redolent air, I could not force myself down to muse upon
a long season in a cell, waiting for the court to convene.

Daylight came. I got off at a station, to step on board another train. I
counted my money and found that I might have enough, upon reaching
Memphis, to buy a suit of cheap clothes. But the most strenuous denial
must be practiced; I could not afford food nor even a newspaper.

It was nearly four o'clock when the train arrived at Memphis. I hastened
to the landing and learned that a boat would leave within half an hour
and that fifty cents would secure a deck passage to Bolanyo. I was
fitted out by a riverside clothier, and, after a quick "snack" of fish
on a houseboat, I stepped on board the steamer that had brought the
Senator and me with "Magnolia Land" up the river. I stood at the bow,
and my heart leaped at the sight of the first green tinge in the woods.
How soft and delicious was the atmosphere, after the raw wind of the
prairies and the lake. How gently the sun went down, without a shiver,
without a breath too cool.

I saw the lights of Bolanyo. And I felt about for something to
touch--something to brace me against the surging of an overpowering
emotion. I tried to picture the jail; I strove to recall the yell of the
mob, the awful night, the tread of merciless feet; but I saw a blossom
nodding in the sweet air; I heard a voice that filled my soul with
trembling melody.

The boat touched the shore, and I leaped upon the landing, before the
plank could be thrown out. And now a caution was necessary. To be
recognized meant a night in jail, perhaps another mob, and it was my
plan to go by lonely ways to the Senator's house and to surrender myself
to him. In my haste I was almost breathless. I passed the lonely
lamp-post and the thicket; I stood at the gate. I opened it without
noise, and, with my heart bounding, I stole up the steps, raised the
door-knocker and let it fall; and with the noise, the breaking of the
metrical throb of the silence, I sprung aside, almost choking. Someone
came slowly down the hall and fumbled at the lock. Would the door ever
be opened? It was, and Washington stood before me.

"Ah!" he cried, seizing me in his arms.

"Come right in yere, Sah, Lawd bless yo' life. Let me hep you. Laws er
massy, de man kai hardly walk. Yes, Sah, right yere in de libery."

He lifted me in his mighty arms, carried me into the library and eased
me down upon a chair. "Now, Sah--Sir--let us try to be cool; let us be
strong with the love of the Lord in our hearts."

He snatched up a hat and stood over me, fanning my face. "Yes, let us
thank our heavenly father."

"Where are they--she?" I asked.

"You must be cool, Mr. Belford. Your excitement might--might be bad for
you all. The Senator is out somewhere and so is Miss Florence. But you
shall see them soon. Just quiet yourself down."

"I must see them--him at once, to surrender myself."

"Surrender yourself? What for, Mr. Belford?"

"Washington, don't force me to say it. You know. I have come back to
give myself up, to stand my trial."

He ceased his fanning, stepped back and looked at me. "Mr. Belford,
haven't you seen the papers?"

"I have seen nothing. I have come to give myself up."

The hat fell from his hand. "Mr. Belford, you must prepare yourself to
hear something. Let me be slow so that it may not excite you."

"Out with it. I can stand anything."

"Yes, Sir, but I must remember my failing, my father's rude tongue. But
I will try to tell you in a civilized way. Once I told you of a woman I
loved--now do not be impatient. You must wait, and if you are not cool
you shall not see anyone. The husband of this woman was a sinner, and
his wife kept urging him to join my church. One night not long ago,
moved by the spirit, I talked to the hearts of men, and he was stricken
with conviction. And the next day he came to me. He said that he was in
the thicket and heard a pistol fire, and that not long afterward he came
upon Estell's body with a pistol lying beside it. He looked about. No
one was in sight. He thrust his hand into the dead man's pocket and drew
out a pocketbook and some papers. Then he took up the pistol, but was
afraid to touch the watch, knowing that it would be death to be found
with it. Just then he thought he heard someone coming and he ran away,
with the pocketbook, the papers and the pistol. And one of the papers
was a statement written by Estell. He confessed that he had engaged in
wild speculations, and that he was two hundred thousand dollars short in
his account with the State. He spoke of the commission which would be
appointed to go through his books, and said that he could not face the
disgrace--that death was his only recourse. It has all come out in the
newspapers, and the men who would have hanged you are willing now to
make the most gracious amends. They talk about you constantly, and they
come every day to ask if we have had any news of you. Why, yesterday a
town meeting was held and our ablest speakers blew the horn of your
praise."

"Where is _she_?" I demanded.

"She is out at present. Just be calm, and when the time comes you shall
see her. The Senator went North to see the play. She went with him, and
she hasn't been strong since; she was weak enough before. The Senator
wrote to the man who has the play, some time ago, and told him that he
would be held severely responsible for any mention of you in relation to
the murder as it was then thought. And the editor? He sent a retraction
to his paper; he acknowledged that he was a liar, and the Senator has
let him come back to settle up his affairs."

"Did she--did she grieve?"

"Her life since then has been one of deepest grief, Mr. Belford, but not
for _him_. And she sits in the garden every evening--waiting--and--and
she is there now, Sir."

I leaped from the chair; I ran into the garden, calling her name--not
Mrs. Estell--but "Florence! Florence!"

"Oh, who--who is calling me?" a voice cried, and I saw her clinging to a
tree for support, near the bench where we had often sat. I ran to her,
and the garden lamp light was in her eyes as she looked at me. I stood
in silence, looking at her. I took her hand, and in silence we sat down.
It was a long time before we spoke.

"Oh, that awful night!" she said, with her head bent low. "There was no
one to help you, and when I heard the bell ring I seized a knife from
the kitchen and threw a shawl over my head and ran down there to stab
the man that tied the rope. I knocked the lantern over and I cut the
cords--"

Half blind, I saw my tears gleaming in her hair. "And when you stepped
out of the carriage the night of the play you thought your dress was
caught. It was--I caught it to kiss it."

"Oh!" she cried--and that was all. We sat in silence, my tears gleaming
in her hair. And we heard a voice and a step and we stood up. The
Senator came, with his hand thrust forth, feeling as if he were blind.
And on my shoulder he put his arm, and it was heavy. And "My--my boy,"
was all he could say--"My boy."



    THIS BOOK HAS BEEN PRINTED
    DURING MAY, 1897, BY THE
    BLAKELY PRINTING COMPANY,
    CHICAGO, FOR WAY & WILLIAMS.





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