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Title: Asa Holmes - or At the Cross-Roads
Author: Johnston, Annie F. (Annie Fellows), 1863-1931
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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ASA HOLMES

ANNIE·FELLOWS·JOHNSTON


[Illustration]



Asa Holmes

or

At the Cross-roads



Works of

Annie Fellows Johnston


The Little Colonel Series

(_Trade Mark, Reg. U. S. Pat. Of._)

Each one vol., large 12mo, cloth, illustrated

    The Little Colonel Stories                  $1.50

      (Containing in one volume the three stories, "The
      Little Colonel," "The Giant Scissors," and "Two Little
      Knights of Kentucky.")

    The Little Colonel's House Party             1.50
    The Little Colonel's Holidays                1.50
    The Little Colonel's Hero                    1.50
    The Little Colonel at Boarding-School        1.50
    The Little Colonel in Arizona                1.50
    The Little Colonel's Christmas Vacation      1.50
    The Little Colonel: Maid of Honor            1.50

    The above 8 vols., _boxed_                  12.00


Illustrated Holiday Editions

Each one vol., small quarto, cloth, illustrated, and printed in color

    The Little Colonel                          $1.25
    The Giant Scissors                           1.25
    Two Little Knights of Kentucky               1.25

    The above 3 vols., _boxed_                   3.75


Cosy Corner Series

Each one vol., thin 12mo, cloth, illustrated

    The Little Colonel                           $.50
    The Giant Scissors                            .50
    Two Little Knights of Kentucky                .50
    Big Brother                                   .50
    Ole Mammy's Torment                           .50
    The Story of Dago                             .50
    Cicely                                        .50
    Aunt 'Liza's Hero                             .50
    The Quilt that Jack Built                     .50
    Flip's "Islands of Providence"                .50
    Mildred's Inheritance                         .50


Other Books

    Joel; A Boy of Galilee                             $1.50
    In the Desert of Waiting                             .50
    The Three Weavers                                    .50
    Keeping Tryst                                        .50
    Asa Holmes                                          1.00
    Songs Ysame (Poems, with Albion Fellows Bacon)      1.00

    L. C. PAGE & COMPANY
    200 Summer Street                    Boston, Mass.

[Illustration]



Asa Holmes

or

At the Cross=Roads

By

Annie Fellows Johnston

Author of

    "The Little Colonel," "Two Little Knights
    of Kentucky," etc.

    With a Frontispiece by
    Ernest Fosbery

[Illustration]

    Boston
    L.C. Page & Company
    Publishers



    _Copyright, 1900, 1901_
    BY E. S. BARNETT

    _Copyright, 1902_
    BY L. C. PAGE AND COMPANY

    (INCORPORATED)

    _All rights reserved_

    _Seventh Impression_

    Colonial Press

    Electrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co.
    Boston, Mass., U. S. A.



    TO

    A Dear Old Philosopher

    WHOSE CHEERFUL OPTIMISM AND SUNNY FAITH HAVE
    SWEETENED LIFE FOR ALL WHO KNOW HIM



Asa Holmes

or

At the Cross-roads



Chapter I


THERE is no place where men learn each other's little peculiarities more
thoroughly than in the group usually to be found around the stove in a
country store. Such acquaintance may be of slow growth, like the oak's,
but it is just as sure. Each year is bound to add another ring to one's
knowledge of his neighbours if he lounges with them, as man and boy,
through the Saturday afternoons of a score of winters.

A boy learns more there than he can be taught in schools. It may be he
is only a tow-headed, freckle-faced little fellow of eight when he rides
over to the cross-roads store for the first time by himself. Too timid
to push into the circle around the fire, he stands shivering on the
outskirts, looking about him with the alertness of a scared rabbit,
until the storekeeper fills his kerosene can and thrusts the weekly mail
into his red mittens. Then some man covers him with confusion by
informing the crowd that "that little chap is Perkins's oldest," and he
scurries away out of the embarrassing focus of the public eye.

But the next time he is sent on the family errands he stays longer and
carries away more. Perched on the counter, with his heels dangling over
a nail keg, while he waits for the belated mail train, he hears for the
first time how the government ought to be run, why it is that the
country is going to the dogs, and what will make hens lay in cold
weather. Added to this general information, he slowly gathers the belief
that these men know everything in the world worth knowing, and that
their decisions on any subject settle the matter for all time.

He may have cause to change his opinion later on, when his sapling
acquaintance has gained larger girth; when he has loafed with them,
smoked with them, swapped lies and spun yarns, argued through a decade
of stormy election times, and talked threadbare every subject under the
sun. But now, in his callow judgment, he is listening to the wit and
wisdom of the nation. Now, as he looks around the overflowing room,
where butter firkins crowd the calicoes and crockery, and where hams and
saddles swing sociably from the same rafter, as far as his knowledge
goes, this is the only store in the universe.

Some wonder rises in his childish brain as he counts the boxes of
axle-grease and the rows of shining new pitchforks, as to where all the
people live who are to use so many things. He has yet to learn that this
one little store that is such a marvel to him is only a drop in the
bucket, and that he may travel the width of the continent, meeting at
nearly every mile-post that familiar mixture of odours--coal oil,
mackerel, roasted coffee, and pickle brine. And a familiar group of men,
discussing the same old subjects in the same old way, will greet him at
every such booth he passes on his pilgrimage through Vanity Fair.

Probably in after years Perkins's oldest will never realise how much of
his early education has been acquired at that Saturday afternoon
loafing-place, but he will often find himself looking at things with the
same squint with which he learned to view them through 'Squire Dobbs's
short-sighted spectacles. Many a time he will find that he has been
unconsciously warped by the prejudices he heard expressed there, and
that his opinions of life in general and men in particular are the
outgrowth of those early conversations which gave him the creed of his
boyhood.

"Them blamed Yankees!" exclaims one of these neighbourhood orators,
tilting his chair back against the counter, and taking a vicious bite at
his plug of tobacco. "They don't know no better than to eat cold bread
the year 'round!" And the boy, accepting the statement unquestioningly,
stores away in his memory not only the remark, but all the weighty
emphasis of disgust which accompanied the remark in the spitting of a
mouthful of tobacco juice. Henceforth his idea of the menu north of the
Mason and Dixon line is that it resembles the bill of fare of a
penitentiary, and he feels that there is something coldblooded and
peculiar about a people not brought up on a piping hot diet of hoe-cake
and beaten biscuit.

In the same way the lad whose opinions are being moulded in some little
corner grocery of a New England village, or out where the roads cross on
the Western prairie, receives his prejudices. It may be years before he
finds out for himself that the land of Boone is not fenced with whiskey
jugs and feuds, and that the cap-sheaf on every shock of wheat in its
domain is not a Winchester rifle.

But these prejudices, popular at local cross-roads, are only the side
lines of which every section carries its own specialty. When it comes to
staple articles, dear to the American heart and essential to its liberty
and progress, their standard of value is the same the country over.

One useful lesson the youthful lounger may learn here, if he can learn
it anywhere, and that is to be a shrewd reader of men and motives. Since
staple characteristics in human nature are repeated everywhere, like
staple dry goods and groceries, a thorough knowledge of the group around
the stove will be a useful guide to Perkins's oldest in forming
acquaintances later in life.

Long after he has left the little hamlet and grown gray with the
experiences of the metropolis, he will run across some queer Dick whose
familiar personality puzzles him. As he muses over his evening pipe,
suddenly out of the smoke wreaths will spring the face of some old
codger who aired his wisdom in the village store, and he will recognise
the likeness between the two as quickly as he would between two cans of
leaf lard bearing the same brand.

But Perkins's oldest is only in the primer of his cross-roads
curriculum now, and these are some of the lessons he is learning as he
edges up to the group around the fire. On the day before Thanksgiving,
for instance, he was curled up on a box of soap behind the chair of old
Asa Holmes--Miller Holmes everybody calls him, because for nearly half a
century his water-mill ground out the grist of all that section of
country. He is retired now; gave up his business to his grandsons. They
carry it on in another place with steam and modern machinery, and he is
laid on the shelf. But he isn't a back number, even if his old deserted
mill is. It is his boast that now he has nothing else to do, he not only
keeps up with the times, but ahead of them.

Everybody goes to him for advice; everybody looks up to him as they do
to a hardy old forest tree that's lived through all sorts of hurricanes,
but has stood to the last, sturdy of limb, and sound to the core. He is
as sweet and mellow as a winter apple, ripened in the sun, and that's
why everybody likes to have him around. You don't see many old men like
that. Their troubles sour them.

Well, this day before Thanksgiving the old miller was in his usual
place at the store, and as usual it was he who was giving the cheerful
turn to the conversation. Some of the men were feeling sore over the
recent election; some had not prospered as they had hoped with their
crops, and were experiencing the pinch of hard times and sickness in
their homes. Still there was a holiday feeling in the atmosphere.
Frequent calls for nutmeg, and sage, and cinnamon, left the air spicy
with prophecies of the morrow's dinner.

The farmers had settled down for a friendly talk, with the comfortable
sense that the crops were harvested, the wood piled away for the winter,
and a snug, warm shelter provided for the cattle. It was good to see the
hard lines relax in the weather-beaten faces, in the warmth of that
genial comradeship. Even the gruffest were beginning to thaw a little,
when the door opened, and Bud Hines slouched in. The spirits of the
crowd went down ten degrees.

Not that he said anything; only gave a gloomy nod by way of greeting as
he dropped into a chair. But his whole appearance said it for him; spoke
in the droop of his shoulders, and the droop of his hat brim, and the
droop of his mouth at the corners. He looked as if he might have sat for
the picture of the man in the "Biglow Papers," when he said:

    "Sometimes my innard vane pints east for weeks together,
    My natur' gits all goose-flesh, an' my sins
    Come drizzlin' on my conscience sharp ez pins."

The miller greeted him with the twinkle in his eye that eighty years
and more have never been able to dim; and Perkins's oldest had his first
meeting with the man who always finds a screw loose in everything.
Nothing was right with Bud Hines. One of his horses had gone lame, and
his best heifer had foundered, and there was rust in his wheat. He
didn't have any heart to keep Thanksgiving, and he didn't see how
anybody else could, with the bottom dropped clean out of the markets and
the new road tax so high. For his part he thought that everything was on
its last legs, and it wouldn't be long till all the Powers were at war,
and prices would go up till a poor man simply couldn't live.

It was impossible not to be affected more or less by his gloomy
forebodings, and the old miller, looking around on the listening faces,
saw them settling back in their old discouraged lines. Clasping his
hands more firmly over the top of his cane, he exclaimed: "Now look
here, Bud Hines, I'm going to give you a proverb that was made on
purpose for such a poor, weak-kneed Mr. Ready-to-halt as you are: 'Never
be discouraged, and never be a discourager!' If you can't live up to the
first part, you certainly can to the second. No matter how hard things
go with you, you've no right to run around throwing cold water on other
people. What if your horse has gone lame? You've got a span of mules
that can outpull my yoke of oxen any day. One heifer oughtn't to send a
man into mourning the rest of his days, and it would be more fitting to
be thankful over your good tobacco crop than to groan over the failure
of your wheat. More fitting to the season. As for the rest of the things
you're worrying over, why, man, they haven't happened yet, and maybe
never will. My old grandad used to say to me when I was a lad, 'Never
cross your bridge till you come to it, Asa,' and I've proved the wisdom
of that saying many a time. Suppose'n you put that in your pipe and
smoke it."

If Perkins's oldest learns no other lesson this year than to put those
two proverbs into practice, he will have had a valuable education. How
many Thanksgivings they will help to make for him! How many problems and
perplexities they will solve!

"Never be discouraged; never be a discourager! Don't cross your bridge
until you come to it!" It is a philosophy that will do away with half
the ills which flesh imagines it is heir to.

Thanksgiving Day! How much more it means to the old miller than to the
little fellow beside him on the soap box! To the child it is only a
feast day; to the old man it is a festival that links him to a lifetime
of sacred memories.

"Five and eighty years," he says, musingly, resting his chin on the
wrinkled hands that clasp the head of his cane. A silence falls on the
group around the stove, and through the cracked door the red firelight
shines out on thoughtful faces.

"It's a long time; five and eighty years," he repeats, "and every one of
them crowned with a Thanksgiving. Boys," lifting his head and looking
around him, "you've got a good bit of pike to travel over yet before you
get as far as I've gone, and some of you are already half fagged out and
beginning to wonder if it's all worth while--Bud, here, for instance.
I'd like to give you all a word of encouragement.

"Looking back, I can see that I've had as many ups and downs as any of
you, and more than your share of work and trouble, for I've lived
longer, and nearly all the years are marked with graves. Seems to me
that lately I've had to leave a new grave behind me at every mile-stone,
till now I'm jogging on all alone. Family gone, old neighbours gone, old
friends--I'm the last of the old set. But, still, when all is said and
done, I haven't lost heart, for 'I've lived, seen God's hand through a
lifetime, and all was for best.'

"When I was milling down there on Bear Creek you'd 'a' thought I was a
fool if I hadn't taken my rightful toll out of every bushel of grist
that ran through my hopper, and sometimes I think that the Almighty must
feel that way about us when we go on grinding and grinding, and never
stopping to count up our share of the profit and pleasure and be
thankful over it. I believe that no matter what life pours into our
hopper, we are to grind some toll of good out of it for ourselves, and
as long as a man does his part toward producing something for the
world's good, some kind of bread for its various needs, he will never go
hungry himself.

"And I believe more than that. You've heard people compare old age to a
harvest field, and talk about the autumn of life with its ripened corn
waiting for the reaper Death, and all that, and speak about the 'harvest
home,' as if it were the glorious end of everything. But it never did
strike me that way, boys. The best comes after the harvesting, when the
wheat is turned into flour and the flour into bread, and the full,
wholesome loaves go to make up blood and muscle and brain. That's giving
it a sort of immortality, you might say, raising it into a higher order
of life. And it's the same with a man. His old age is just a ripening
for something better a little further on. All that we go through with
here isn't for nothing, and at eighty-five, when it looks as if a man
had come to the stepping-off place, I've come to believe that 'the best
is yet to be.'"

There is a stir around the door, and the old miller looks around
inquiringly. The mail has come in, and he rises slowly to get his weekly
paper. Perkins's oldest, waiting his turn in front of the little case of
pigeonholes, eyes the old man with wondering side glances. He has not
understood more than half of what he has heard, but he is vaguely
conscious that something is speaking to him now, as he looks into the
tranquil old face. It is the miller's past that is calling to him; all
those honest, hard-working years that show themselves in the bent form
and wrinkled hands; the serene peacefulness that bespeaks a clear
conscience; the big, sunny nature that looks out of those aged eyes; and
above all the great hopefulness that makes his days a perpetual
Thanksgiving.

The mute eloquence of an unspoken invitation thrills the child's heart,
he knows not why:

    "Grow old along with me;
     The best is yet to be!"

It is the greatest lesson that Perkins's oldest can ever learn.



Chapter II


ONE would have known that it was the day before Christmas at the
Cross-Roads store, even if the big life insurance calendar over the desk
had not proclaimed the fact in bold red figures. An unwonted bustle
pervaded the place. Rows of plump, dressed turkeys hung outside the
door, and on the end of the counter where the pyramid of canned tomatoes
was usually stacked, a little evergreen tree stood in a brave array of
tinsel and tiny Christmas tapers.

It was only an advertisement. No one might hope to be the proud
possessor of the Noah's ark lodged in its branches, or of the cheap toys
and candy rings dangling from every limb, unless he had the necessary
pennies. Still, every child who passed it eyed it with such wistful
glances that the little rubber Santa Claus at the base must have felt
his elastic heart stretch almost to bursting.

Above the familiar odour of coal-oil and mackerel, new leather, roasted
coffee and pickle brine, rose the holiday fragrance of cedar and
oranges.

"Makes me think of when I was a kid," said a drummer who had been
joking with the men around the stove, trying to kill time while he
waited for the train that was to take him home for Christmas. "There's
nothing like that smell of cedar and oranges to resurrect the boy in a
man. It puts me straight back into knickerbockers again, among a whole
grove of early Christmas trees. I'll never forget the way I felt when I
picked my first pair of skates off one of them. A house and lot wouldn't
give me such a thrill now."

"Aw, I don't believe Christmas is at all what it's cracked up to be,"
said a voice from behind the stove, in such a gloomy tone that a knowing
smile passed around the circle.

"Bet on you, Bud Hines, for findin' trouble, every time," laughed the
storekeeper. "Why, Bud, there ain't no screw loose in Christmas, is
there?"

"Well, there just is!" snapped the man, resenting the laugh. "It comes
too often for one thing. I just wish it had happened on leap-year, the
twenty-ninth of February. It would be a heap less expensive having it
just once in four years. Seems to me we're always treading on its heels.
My old woman hardly gets done knitting tidies for one Christmas till
she's hard at it for another.

"Anyhow, Christmas never measures up to what you think it's a-going
to--not by a jug-full. Sure as you get your heart set on a patent
nail-puller or a pair of fur gloves--something that'll do _you_ some
good--your wife gives you a carpet sweeper, or an alarm-clock that
rattles you out an hour too early every morning."

The drummer led the uproarious laughter that followed. They were ready
to laugh at anything in this season of good cheer, and the drummer's
vociferous merriment was irresistible. He slapped the speaker on the
back, adding jokingly, "That's one thing Job never had to put up, did
he, partner! He nearly lost his reputation for politeness over the
misfit advice he didn't want. But there's no telling what he'd have done
with misfit Christmas gifts. It would take a star actor to play the
grateful for some of the things people find in their stockings. For
instance, to have a fond female relative give you a shaving outfit, when
you wear a full beard."

"You bet your life," answered the storekeeper feelingly. "Now, if Santa
Claus wasn't a fake--"

"Hist!" said the drummer, with a significant glance toward a small boy,
perched on a soap-box in their midst, listening open-mouthed to every
word. "I've children myself, and I'd punch anybody's head who would
shake their faith in Santy. It's one of the rosy backgrounds of
childhood, in my opinion, and I've got a heap of happiness out of it
since I was a kid, too, looking back and recollecting."

It was very little happiness that the boy on the soap-box was getting
out of anything, that gray December afternoon. He was weighed down with
a feeling of age and responsibility that bore heavily on his
eight-year-old shoulders. He had long felt the strain of his position,
as pattern to the house of Perkins, being the oldest of five. Now there
was another one, and to be counted as the oldest of six pushed him
almost to the verge of gray hairs.

There was another reason for his tear-stained face. He had been
disillusioned. Only that noon, his own mother had done that for which
the drummer would have punched any one's head, had it been done to his
children. "We're too poor, Sammy. There can't be any Christmas at our
house this year," she had said, fretfully, as she stopped the noisy
driving of nails into the chimney, on which he contemplated hanging the
fraternal stockings. To his astonished "Why?" she had replied with a few
blunt truths that sent him out from her presence, shorn of all his
childish hopefulness as completely as Samson was shorn of his strength.

There had been a sorry half-hour in the hay-mow, where he snuffled over
his shattered faith alone, and from whence he went out, a hardened
little skeptic, to readjust himself to a cold and Santa Clausless world.
The only glimmer of comfort he had had since was when the drummer, with
a friendly wink, slipped a nickel into his hand. But even that added to
his weight of responsibility. He dropped it back and forth from one
little red mitten to another, with two impulses strong upon him. The
first was to spend it for six striped sticks of peppermint candy, one
for each stocking, and thus compel Christmas to come to the house of
Perkins. The other was to buy one orange and go off in a corner and suck
it all by himself. He felt that fate owed him that much of a reparation
for his disappointment. He was in the midst of this inward debate when a
new voice joined the discussion around the stove. It came from Cy Akers.

"Well, _I_ think it's downright sinful to stuff a child with such
notions. You may call 'em fairy-tales all you like, but it's nothing
more or less than a pack of lies. The idea of a Christian payrent
sitting up and telling his immortal child that a big fat man in furs
will drive through the air to-night in a reindeer sleigh right over the
roofs and squeeze himself down a lot of sooty chimneys, with a bag of
gimcracks on his back--it's all fol-de-rol! I never could see how any
intelligent young one could believe it. I never did. But that's one
thing about me, as the poet says, 'If I've one pecooliar feature it's a
nose that won't be led.' I never could be made to take stock in any such
nonsense, even as a boy. I'll leave it to Mr. Asa Holmes, here, if it
isn't wrong to be putting such ideas into the youth of our land."

The old miller ran his fingers through his short white hair and looked
around. His smile was wholesome as it was genial. He was used to being
called in judgment on these neighbourhood discussions, and he spoke with
the air of one who felt that his words carried weight:

"You're putting it pretty strong, Cy," he said, with a laugh, and then a
tender, reminiscent light gleamed in his old eyes.

"You see it's this way with me, boys. We never heard any of these
things when I was a lad. It's plain facts in a pioneer cabin, you know.
Father taught us about Christmas in the plain words that he found set
down in the Gospels, and I told it the same way to my boys. When my
first little grandson came back to the old house to spend Christmas, I
thought it was almost heathenish for his mother to have him send letters
up the chimney and talk as if Santa Claus was some real person. I told
her so one day, and asked what was going to happen when the little
fellow outgrew such beliefs.

"'Why, Father Holmes,' said she,--I can hear her now, words and tones,
for it set me to thinking,--'don't you see that he is all the time
growing into a broader belief? It's this way.' She picked up a big apple
from the table. 'Once this apple was only a tiny seed-pod in the heart
of a pink blossom. The beauty of the blossom was all that the world saw,
at first, but gradually, as the fruit swelled and developed, the pink
petals fell off, naturally and easily, and the growing fruit was left.
My little son's idea of Christmas is in the blossom time now. This rosy
glamour of old customs and traditions that makes it so beautiful to him
is taking the part of the pink petals. They will fall away by and by, of
their own accord, for underneath a beautiful truth is beginning to swell
to fruitage. Santa Claus is the Spirit of Christmas love and giving,
personified. It is because I want to make it real and vital, something
that my baby's mind can grasp and enjoy, that I incarnate it in the form
of the good old Saint Nicholas, but I never let him lose sight of the
Star. It was the Spirit of Christmas that started the wise men on their
search, and they followed the Star and they found the Child, and laid
gifts at his feet. And when the Child was grown, he, too, went out in
the world and followed the Star and scattered his gifts of love and
healing for all the children of men. And so it has gone on ever since,
that Spirit of Christmas, impelling us to follow and to find and to
give, wherever there is a need for our gold and frankincense and myrrh.
That is the larger belief my boy is growing into, from the smaller.'

"And she is right," said the old man, after an impressive pause. "She
raised that boy to be an own brother to Santa Claus, as far as good-will
to men goes. It's Christmas all the year round wherever _he_ is. And now
when he brings his boys back to the old home and hangs their stockings
up by the fire, I never say a word. Sometimes when the little chaps are
hunting for the marks of the reindeer hoofs in the ashes, I kneel down
on the old hearthstone and hunt, too.

       *       *       *       *       *

"A brother to Santa Claus!" The phrase still echoed in the heart of
Perkins's oldest when the group around the stove dispersed. It was that
which decided the fate of the nickel, and filled the little red mittens
with sticks of striped delight for six, instead of the lone orange for
one. Out of a conversation but dimly understood he had gathered a vague
comfort. It made less difference that his patron saint was a myth, since
he had learned there might be brothers in the Claus family for him to
fall back upon. Then his fingers closed over the paper bag of
peppermints, and, suddenly, with a little thrill, he felt that in some
queer way he belonged to that same brotherhood.

As he fumbled at the latch, the old miller, who always saw his own
boyhood rise before him in that small tow-headed figure, and who somehow
had divined the cause of the tear-streaks on the dirty little face,
called him. "Here, sonny!" It was a pair of shining new skates that
dangled from the miller's hands into his.

One look of rapturous delight, and two little feet were flying homeward
down the frozen pike, beating time to a joy that only the overflowing
heart of a child can know, when its troubles are all healed, and faith
in mankind restored. And the old man, going home in the frosty twilight
of the Christmas eve, saw before him all the way the light of a shining
star.



Chapter III


IT was an hour past the usual time for closing the Cross-Roads store,
but no one made a move to go. Listening in the comfortable glow of the
red-hot stove, to the wind whistling down the long pipe, was far
pleasanter than facing its icy blasts on the way home. Besides, it was
the last night of the old year, and hints of forthcoming cider had been
dropped by Jim Bowser, the storekeeper. Also an odour of frying
doughnuts came in from the kitchen, whenever Mrs. Bowser opened the door
into the entry.

Added to the usual group of loungers was the drummer who had spent
Christmas eve with them. He had come in on an accommodation train, and
was waiting for the midnight express. He had had the floor for some time
with his stories, when suddenly in the midst of the laughter which
followed one of his jokes, Bud Hines made himself heard.

"I say, Jim," he exclaimed, turning to the storekeeper, "why don't you
tear off the last leaf of that calendar? We've come to the end of
everything now; end of the day, end of the year, end of the century!
Something none of _us_ will ever experience again. It's always a mighty
solemn thought to me that I'm doing a thing for the la-ast time!"

Jim laughed cheerfully, tilting his chair back against the counter, and
thrusting his thumbs into the armholes of his vest.

"I don't know as I feel any call to mourn over takin' down an old
calendar when I have a prettier one to put in its place, and it's the
same way with the century. There'll be a better one to begin on in the
morning."

"That's so," asserted Cy Akers. "But some people come bang up against a
New Year as if it was a stone wall, and down they set and count up their
sins, and turn over new leaves, and load 'emselves down with so many
good resolutions that they stick in the mud by the end of the first
week. Now I hold that if it wasn't for the almanacs, steppin' from one
year to another, or from one century to another, wouldn't jar you no
more than steppin' over the equator. They're only imaginary lines, and
nobody would ever know where he was at, either in months or meridians,
if he didn't have almanacs and the like to keep him posted. Fourth of
July is just as good a time to take stock and turn over a new leaf as
the first of January."

"Maybe you take stock like a man I used to sell to down in Henderson
County," said the drummer. "He never kept any books, so he never knew
exactly where he was 'at,' as you say. Once a year he'd walk around the
store with his hands in his pockets, and size up things in a general
sort of way. 'Bill,' he'd say to his clerk, cocking his eyes up at the
shelves, 'we've got a right smart chance of canned goods left over. I
reckon there's a half shelf full more than we had left last year. I know
there's more bottles of ketchup.' Then he'd take another turn around the
room. 'Bill, I disremember how many pitchforks we had in this rack.
There's only two left now. Nearly all the calico is sold, and (thumping
the molasses barrel), this here bar'l sounds like it's purty nigh empty.
Take it all around, Bill, we've done first-rate this year, so I don't
know as it's worth while botherin' about weighin' and measurin' what's
left over, so long as we're satisfied.' And maybe that's why Cy makes so
little of New Year," added the drummer, with a sly wink at the others.
"He thinks it's not worth while to weigh and measure his shortcomings
when he can take stock of himself in a general sort of a way, and always
be perfectly satisfied with himself."

There was a laugh at Cy's expense, and Bud Hines began again.

"What worries me is, what's been prophesied about the new century. One
would think we've had enough famines and plagues and wars and rumours of
wars in this here old one to do for awhile, but from what folks say, it
ain't goin' to hold a candle to the trouble we'll see in the next one."

"Troubles is seasonin'. ''Simmons ain't good till they are frostbit,'"
quoted Cy.

"Then accordin' to Bud's tell, he ought to be the best seasoned
persimmon on the bough," chuckled the storekeeper.

"No, that fellow that was here this afternoon goes ahead of Bud,"
insisted Cy, turning to the drummer. "I wish you could have heard him,
pardner. He came in to get a postal order for some money he wanted to
send in a letter, and he nearly wiped up the earth with poor old Bowser,
because there was a two-cent war tax to pay on it.

"'Whose war?' says he. ''Tain't none of _my_ makin',' says he, 'and
I'll be switched if I'll pay taxes on a thing I've been dead set against
from the start. It's highway robbery,' says he, 'to load the country
down with a war debt in times like these. It's kill yourself to keep
yourself these days, and as my Uncle Josh used to say after the Mexican
war, "it's tough luck when people are savin' and scrimpin' at the spigot
for the government to be drawin' off at the bung."'

"Bowser here just looked him over as if he'd been a freak at a
side-show, and said Bowser, in a dry sort of way, he guessed, 'when it
came to the pinch, the spigot wouldn't feel that a two-cent stamp was a
killin' big leakage.'

"The fellow at that threw the coppers down on the counter, mad as a
hornet. 'It's the principle of the thing,' says he. 'Uncle Sam had no
business to bite off more'n he could chew and then call on me to help.
What's the war done for this country, anyhow?'

"He was swinging his arms like a stump speaker at a barbecue, by this
time. 'What's it done?' says he. 'Why it's sent the soldiers back from
Cuba with an itch as bad as the smallpox, and as ketchin' to them
citizens that wanted peace, as to them that clamoured for war. I know
what I'm talkin' about, for my hired man like to 'uv died with it, and
he hadn't favoured the war any more than a spring lamb. And what's it
doin' for us, now?' says he. 'Sendin' the poor fellows back from the
Philippines by the ship-load, crazy as June-bugs. I know what I'm
talkin' about. That happened to one of my wife's cousins. What was it
ever begun for,' says he, 'tell me that!'

"Peck here, behind the stove, sung out like a fog-horn, '_Remember the
Maine!_' Peck knew what a blow the fellow had made at an indignation
meeting when the news first came. No tellin' what would have happened
then if a little darky hadn't put his head in at the door and yelled,
'Say, mistah, yo' mules is done backed yo' wagon in de ditch!' He tore
out to tend to them, or we might have had another Spanish war right here
among Bowser's goods and chattels."

"No danger," said Peck, dryly, "he isn't the kind of a fellow to fight
for principle. It's only when his pocketbook is touched he wants to lick
somebody. He's the stingiest man I ever knew, and I've known some mighty
mean men in my time."

"What's the matter with you all to-night?" said the drummer. "You're
the most pessimistic crowd I've struck in an age. This is the tune
you've been giving me from the minute I lifted the latch." And beating
time with foot and hands in old plantation style, the drummer began
forthwith to sing in a deep bass voice that wakened the little Bowsers
above:

    "Ole Satan is loose an' a-bummin'!
     De wheels er distruckshin is a-hummin.'
     Oh, come 'long, sinner, ef you comin'!"

The door into the entry opened a crack and Mrs. Bowser's forefinger
beckoned.

"Here's good-bye to the old and good luck to the new," cried Jim,
jumping up to take the big pitcher of cider that she passed through the
opening.

"And here's to Mrs. Bowser," cried the drummer, taking the new tin cup
filled for him with the sparkling cider, and helping himself to a hot
doughnut from the huge panful which she brought in. "It's a pretty good
sort of world, after all, that gives you cakes as crisp and sugary as
these. 'Speak well of the bridge that carries you over' is my motto, so
don't let another fellow cheep to-night, unless he can say something
good of the poor old century or the men who've lived in it!"

"Mr. Holmes! Mr. Asa Holmes!" cried several voices.

The old miller, who had been silent all evening, straightened himself up
in his chair and drew his hand over his eyes.

"I feel as if I were parting with an old comrade, to-night," he said.
"The century had only fifteen years the start of me, and it's a long way
we've travelled together. I've been sitting here, thinking how much
we've lived through. Listen, boys."

It was a brief series of pictures he drew for them, against the
background of his early pioneer days. They saw him, a little lad,
trudging more than a mile on a winter morning to borrow a kettle of hot
coals, because the fire had gone out on his own hearthstone, and it was
before the days of matches. They saw him huddled with the other little
ones around his mother's knee when the wolves howled in the night
outside the door, and only the light of a tallow-dip flickered through
the darkness of the little cabin. They saw the struggle of a strong life
against the limitations of the wilderness, and realised what the battle
must have been oftentimes, against sudden disease and accident and
death, with the nearest doctor a three days' journey distant, and no
smoke from any neighbour's chimney rising anywhere on all the wide
horizon.

While he talked, a heavy freight train rumbled by outside; the wind
whistled through the telegraph wires. The jingle of a telephone bell
interrupted his reminiscences. The old man looked up with a smile. "See
what we have come to," he said, "from such a past to a time when I can
say 'hello,' across a continent. Cables and cross-ties and telegraph
poles have annihilated distance. The century and I came in on an
ox-cart; we are going out on a streak of lightning.

"But that's not the greatest thing," he said, pausing, while the
listening faces grew still more thoughtful. "Think of the hospitals! The
homes! The universities! The social settlements! The free libraries! The
humane efforts everywhere to give humanity an uplift! When I think of
all this century has accomplished, of the heroic lives it has produced,
I haven't a word to say about its mistakes and failures. After all, how
do we know that the things we cry out against _are_ mistakes?

"This war may be a Samson's riddle that we are not wise enough to read.
Those who shall come after us may be able to say '_Out of the eater came
forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness!_'"

Somewhere in an upper room a clock struck twelve, and deep silence
fell on the little company as they waited for the solemn passing of the
century. It was no going out as of some decrepit Lear tottering from his
throne. Perhaps no man there could have put it in words, but each one
felt that its majestic leave-taking was like the hoary old apostle's: "I
have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the
faith."



Chapter IV


FOR some occult reason, the successful merchant in small towns and
villages is the confidant, if not father-confessor, of a large number of
his patronesses. It may be that his flattering air of personal interest,
assumed for purely business purposes, loosens not only the purse-strings
but the spring that works the panorama of private affairs. Or it may be
an idiosyncrasy of some classes of the mind feminine, to make no
distinction between a bargain counter and a confessional. Whatever the
cause, many an honest merchant can testify that it is no uncommon thing
for a woman to air her domestic troubles while she buys a skirt braid,
or to drag out her family skeleton with the sample of sewing silk she
wishes to match.

The Cross-Roads had had its share of confidences, although as a rule the
women who disposed of their butter and eggs in trade to Bowser were of
the patient sort, grown silent under the repressing influence of
secluded farm life. Still, Bowser, quick to see and keen to judge, had
gained a remarkable insight into neighbourhood affairs in fifteen years'
dealings with his public. "All things come to him who waits" if he wears
an air of habitual interest and has a sympathetic way of saying "Ah!
indeed!"

It was with almost the certainty of foreknowledge that Bowser counted
his probable patrons as he spread out his valentines on the morning of
the fourteenth of February. He had selected his comic ones with a view
to the feud that existed between the Hillock and Bond families, well
knowing that a heavy cross-fire of ugly caricatures and insulting rhymes
would be kept up all day by the younger members of those warring
households. It was with professional satisfaction he smiled over the
picture of a fat man with a donkey's head, which he was as sure would be
sent by Pete Hillock to old man Bond, as if he had heard Pete's penny
dropping into the cash-drawer.

"Nothing like supplying the demand," he chuckled.

It was with more than professional interest that he arranged the
lace-paper valentines in the show-case, for the little embossed Cupids
had a strong ally in this rustic haberdasher, whose match-making
propensities had helped many a little romance to a happy issue. Drawing
on his fund of private information, acquired in his rôle of confidant to
the neighbourhood gossips, he set out his stock of plump red hearts,
forget-me-nots, and doves; and with each addition to the festal array he
nodded his head knowingly over the particular courtship it was designed
to speed, or the lovers' quarrel that he hoped might be ended thereby.

       *       *       *       *       *

There had been two weeks of "February thaw." Melting snow had made the
mud hub-deep in places. There was a velvety balminess in the touch of
the warm wind, and faint, elusive odours, prophetic of spring, rose from
the moist earth and sap-quickened trees.

The door of the Cross-Road store stood open, and behind it, at the
post-office desk, sat Marion Holmes, the old miller's granddaughter.
Just out of college and just into society, she had come to spend Lent in
the old place that had welcomed her every summer during her childhood.
The group around the stove stared covertly at the pretty girl in the
tailor-made gown, failing to recognise in the tall, stylish figure any
trace of the miller's "little Polly," who used to dangle her feet from
the counter and munch peppermint drops, while she lisped nursery rhymes
for their edification.

She had come for the letters herself, she told Bowser, because she was
expecting a whole bag full, and her grandfather's rheumatism kept him at
home. Installed in the post-office chair, behind the railing that
enclosed the sanctum of pigeon-holes, she amused herself by watching the
customers while she waited for the mail-train.

"It's like looking into a kaleidoscope," she told Bowser in one of the
pauses of trade. "Every one who comes in gives me a different point of
view and combination of opinions. Now, those valentines! I was thinking
what old-fashioned things those little lace-paper affairs are, and
wondering how anybody could possibly get up any thrills over them, when
in walked Miss Anastasia Dill. Prim and gentle as ever, isn't she? Still
getting her styles from _Godey's Lady's Books_ of the early sixties; she
must draw on their antiquated love stories for her sentiment, too, for
she seemed lost in admiration of those hearts and darts. What _do_ you
suppose is Miss Anastasia's idea of a lover?"

Marion rattled on with all of a débutante's reckless enthusiasm for any
subject under discussion. "Wouldn't he be as odd and old-fashioned as
the lace valentines themselves? She'd call him a _suitor_, wouldn't she?
I wonder if she ever had one."

Then Bowser, piecing together the fragmentary gossip of fifteen years,
told Marion all he knew of Miss Anastasia's gentle romance; and Marion,
idly clasping and unclasping the little Yale pin on her jacket, gained
another peep into the kaleidoscope of human experiences.

"I have read of such devotion to a memory," she said when the story was
done, "but I never met it in the flesh. What a pity he died while he was
on such a high pedestal in her imagination. If he had lived she would
have discovered that there are no such paragons, and all the other sons
of Adam needn't have suffered by comparison. So she's an old maid simply
because she put her ideal of a lover so high in the clouds nobody could
live up to it! Dear old Miss Anastasia!"

Bowser pulled his beard. "Such couples make me think of these here lamps
with double wicks," he said. "They hardly ever burn along together
evenly. One wick is sure to flare up higher than the other; you either
have to keep turning it down and get along with a half light or let it
smoke the chimney--maybe crack it--and make things generally
uncomfortable. But here comes somebody, Miss Marion, who's burned along
pretty steady, and that through three administrations. It's her brag
that she's had three husbands and treated them just alike, even to the
matter of tombstones. 'Not a pound difference in the weight nor a dollar
in the price,' she always says."

The newcomer was a fat, wheezy woman, spattered with mud from the hem
of her skirt to the crown of her big crape bonnet, which had tipped on
one side with the jolting of the wagon.

"Well, Jim Bowser!" she exclaimed, catching sight of the valentines. "Ef
you ain't got out them silly, sentimental fol-de-rols again! My nephew,
Jason Potter,--that's my second husband's sister's son, you know,--spent
seventy-five cents last year to buy one of them silly things to send to
his girl; and I says to him, 'Jason,' says I, 'ef _I'd_ been Lib
Meadows, that would 'uv cooked your goose with _me_! Any man simple
enough to waste his substance so, wouldn't make a good provider.' I
ought to know--I've been a wife three times."

This, like all other of Mrs. Power's conversational roads, led back to
the three tombstones, and started a flow of good-natured badinage on the
subject of matrimony, which continued long after she had taken her noisy
departure. "Well!" exclaimed Bud Hines, as the big crape bonnet went
jolting down the road, "I guess there's three good men gone that could
tell why heaven is heaven."

"Why?" asked Cy Akers.

"Because there's no marryin' or givin' in marriage there."

"Bud speaks feelingly!" said Cy, winking at the others. "He'd better get
a job on a newspaper to write Side Talks with Henpecked Husbands."

"Shouldn't think _you'd_ want to hear any extrys or supplements,"
retorted Bud. "You get enough in your own daily editions."

       *       *       *       *       *

"St. Valentine has been generous with my little Polly," said the old
miller, looking up fondly at the tall, graceful girl, coming into his
room, her face aglow and her arms full of packages.

"But what's the good of it all, grandfather?" answered Marion. "I've
been looking into Cupid's kaleidoscope through other people's eyes this
afternoon, and nothing is rose-coloured as I thought. Everything is
horrid. 'Marriage is a failure,' and sentiment is a silly thing that
people make flippant jokes about, or else break their hearts with, like
Mr. Bowser's double-wick lamps, that flare up and crack their chimneys.
I've come to the conclusion that St. Valentine has outlived his
generation."

She broke the string which bound one of the boxes that she had dropped
on the table, and took out a great dewy bunch of sweet violets. As their
fragrance filled the room, the old man looked around as if half
expecting to see some familiar presence; then dropped his white head
with a sigh, and gazed into the embers on the hearth, lost in a tender
reverie.

Presently he said, "I wish you would hand me that box on my wardrobe
shelf, little girl." As Marion opened the wardrobe door, something
hanging there made her give a little start of surprise. It was an old
familiar gray dress, with the creases still in the bent sleeves just as
they had been left when the tired arms last slipped out of them. That
was ten years ago; and Marion, standing there with a mist gathering in
her eyes, recalled the day her grandfather had refused to let any one
fold it away. It had hung there all those years, the tangible reminder
of the strong, sweet presence that had left its imprint on every part of
the household.

"It is like my life since she slipped out of it," the old man had
whispered, smoothing the empty sleeve with his stiff old fingers. "Like
my heart--set to her ways at every turn, and left just as she rounded it
out--but now--so empty!"

He lifted an old dog-eared school-book from the box that Marion brought
him, a queer little "Geography and Atlas of the Heavens," in use over
fifty years ago. Inside was a tiny slip of paper, time-yellowed and
worn. The ink was faded, until the words written in an unformed girlish
hand were barely legible:

    "True as grapes grow on a vine,
     I will be your Valentine."

"I had put a letter into her Murray's grammar," he explained, holding
up another little book. "Here is the page, just at the conjugation of
the verb 'to love.' You see I was a big, shy, overgrown boy that lost my
tongue whenever I looked at her, although she wasn't fifteen then, and
only reached my shoulder. This valentine was the answer that she slipped
into my atlas of the heavens. I thought the sky itself had never held
such a star. We walked home across the woodland together that day, never
saying a word. It was the last of the February thaw, and the birds were
twittering as if it were really spring. Just such a day as this. All of
a sudden, right at my feet, I saw something smiling up at me, blue as
the blue of my Polly's eyes. I stooped and brushed away the leaves, and
there were two little violets.

"As I gave them to her I wanted to say, 'There will always be violets
in my heart for you, my Polly,' but I couldn't speak a word. I know she
understood, for long years after--when she was dead--I found them here.
She had pinned them on the page where my letter had lain, here on the
conjugation that says, 'we love,' and she had added the word '_for
ever_.'"

A tear dropped on the dead violets as the old man reverently closed the
book, and sat gazing again into the dying embers. There was a tremulous
smile on his face. Was it backward over the hills of their youth he was
wandering, or ahead to those heights of Hope, where love shall "put on
immortality?"

Marion laid her warm cheek against her violets, still fragrant with the
sweetness of their fresh, unfaded youth. Then taking a cluster from the
great dewy bunch, she fastened it at her throat with the little Yale
pin.



Chapter V


TRADE was dull at the Cross-Roads. Jim Bowser, his hands thrust into his
pockets and his lips puckered to a whistle, stood looking through the
dingy glass of his front door. March was coming in with a snow-storm,
and all he could see in any direction was a blinding fall of white
flakes. There were only three men behind the stove that afternoon, and
one of them was absorbed in a newspaper. Conversation flagged, and from
time to time Bud Hines yawned audibly.

"This is getting to be mighty monotonous," remarked the storekeeper,
glancing from the falling snow to the silent group by the stove.

"March always is," answered Bud Hines. "The other months have some
holiday in 'em; something to brighten 'em up, if it's no more than a
family birthday. But to me, March is as dull and uninteresting as a mud
road."

"There's the inauguration this year," suggested Cy Akers, looking up
from his newspaper. "That's a big event. This paper is full of it."

"Well, now you've hit it!" exclaimed Bud, with withering scorn, as he
bit off another chew of tobacco. "That is exciting! Just about as
interesting as watching a man take his second helping of pie. I wouldn't
go across the road to see it. Now in a monarchy, where death makes the
changes, it can't get to be a cut and dried affair that takes place
every four years. They make a grand occasion of it, too, with their pomp
and ceremony. Look at what England's just seen. It's the sight of a
lifetime to bury a queen and crown a king. But what do we see when we
change Presidents? One man sliding into a chair and another sliding out,
same as when the barber calls 'Next!' Humph!"

Cy Akers rubbed his chin. "Fuss and feathers! That's all it amounts
to," he exclaimed. "I'm down on monopolies, and in my opinion it's the
worst kind of monopoly to let one family crowd out everybody else in the
king business. I like a country where every man in it has a show. Not
that I'd _be_ President, if they offered me double the salary, but it is
worth a whole lot to me to feel that in case I did want the office, I've
as good a right to it as any man living. And talk about sights--I say
it's the sight of a lifetime to see a man step out from his place among
the people, anywhere he happens to be when they call his name, take his
turn at ruling as if he'd been born to it, and then step back as if
nothing had happened."

Bud smiled derisively. "You only see that on paper, my boy. Men don't
step quietly into offices in this country. They run for 'em till they
are red in the face, and it's the best runner that gets there, not the
best man. Monopoly in the king business keeps out the rabble, any how,
and it gives a country a good deal more dignity to be ruled by a dynasty
than by Tom, Dick, and Harry."

"Well, there's no strings tied to you," said Cy, testily, taking up his
newspaper again. "When people don't like the way things are run on this
side of the water, there's nothing to hinder emigration."

There was a stamping of snowy feet outside the door, and a big, burly
fellow blustered in, whom they hailed as Henry Bicking. He was not
popular at the Cross-Roads, having the unenviable reputation of being a
"born tease," but any diversion was welcome on such a dull day.

In the catalogue of queer characters which every neighbourhood
possesses, the Autocrat, Bore, and Crank may take precedence of all
others alphabetically, but the one that heads the list in
disagreeableness is that infliction on society known as the "born
tease." One can forgive the teasing propensity universally found in
boys, as he would condone the playful destructiveness of puppyhood;
something requiring only temporary forbearance. But when that trait
refuses to be put away with childish things it makes of the man it
dominates a sort of human mosquito. He regards every one in reach his
lawful prey, from babies to octogenarians, and while he does not always
sting, the persistency of his annoying attacks becomes exasperating
beyond endurance.

The same motive that made Henry Bicking pull cats' whiskers out by the
roots when he was a boy, led him to keep his children in a turmoil, and
his sensitive little wife in tears half the time. He had scarcely seated
himself by the stove when he was afforded opportunity for his usual
pastime by the entrance of half a dozen children, who came tumbling in
on their way home from school to warm.

He began with a series of those inane questions by which grown people
have made themselves largely responsible for the pertness of the younger
generation. If children of this day have departed from that delectable
state wherein they were seen and not heard, the fault is due far more to
their elders than to them. Often they have been made self-conscious, and
forced into saucy self-assertion by the teasing questions that are asked
merely to provoke amusing replies.

Henry Bicking's quizzing had an element of cruelty in it. His was the
kind that pinches his victims' ears, that tickles to the verge of agony,
that threatens all sorts of disagreeable things, for the sake of seeing
little faces blanch with fright, or eyes fill with tears of pain.

"Come here, Woodpecker," he began, reaching for a child whose red hair
was the grief of his existence. But the boy deftly eluded him, and the
little fellow standing next in line, drying his snowball-soaked mittens,
became the victim. He was dragged unwillingly to his tormentor's knee.

"What are you going to be when you're a man?" was demanded, when the
first questions had elicited the fact that the child's name was Sammy
Perkins, and that he was eight years old. But Perkins's oldest, having
no knowledge of the grammar of life beyond its present tense indicative,
hung his head and held his tongue at mention of its future potential.

"If you don't tell me you sha'n't have your mittens!" Bicking dangled
them tantalisingly out of reach, until, after an agonising and
unsuccessful scramble, the child was forced into a tearful reply.

Then he began again: "Which are you for, Democrats or Republicans?"

"Ain't for neither."

"Well, you're the littlest mugwump I ever did see. Mugwumps ain't got
any right to wear mittens. I've a notion to pitch 'em in the stove."

"Oh, _don't_!" begged the child. "_Please_, mister! I'm not a mugwump!"

The tragic earnestness of the child as he disclaimed all right to the
term of reproach which he could not understand, yet repudiated because
of its obnoxious sound, amused the man hugely. He threw back his head
and laughed.

"Tell me who you holler for!" he continued, catching him up and holding
him head downward a moment. Then goaded by more teasing questions and a
threatening swing of his red mittens toward the stove door, Perkins's
oldest was at last led to take a bold stand on his party platform, and
publicly declare his political preference. But it was in a shaking voice
and between frightened sobs.

"M-ma, she's for McKinley, an' p-pap, he's for B-Bryan, so I jus' holler
for Uncle Sam!"

"Good enough for you, sonny," laughed the storekeeper. "That's true blue
Americanism. Stick to Uncle Sam and never mind the parties. They've had
new blades put on their old handles, and new handles put on those old
blades again, till none of 'em are what we started out with. We keep on
calling them 'genuine Barlows,' but it's precious little of the original
Barlows we're hanging on to nowadays."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a woman's voice that interrupted the conversation. Mrs. Teddy
Mahone had come in for some tea.

"Arrah, Misther Bicking! Give the bye his mitts! You're worrse than a
cat with a mouse."

The loud voice with its rich Irish brogue drew Cy Akers's attention from
his newspaper. "By the way, Bud," he exclaimed, raising his voice so
that Mrs. Mahone could not fail to hear, "you were complaining about
March being so dull and commonplace without any holidays. You've
forgotten St. Patrick's Day."

"No, I haven't. St. Patrick is nothing to me. There's no reason I should
take any interest in him."

"And did you hear that, Mrs. Mahone," asked Henry Bicking, anxious to
start a war of words.

"Oh, Oi heard it, indade Oi did!" she answered with a solemn shake of
the head. "It grieves the hearrt of me to hear such ingratichude.
There's niver a sowl in all Ameriky but has cause to be grateful for
what he's done for this counthry."

"What's he ever done?" asked Bud, skeptically. There was a twinkle in
Mrs. Mahone's eyes as she answered:

"It was this way. A gude while back whin it was at the beginnin' iv
things, Ameriky said to herself wan day, 'It's a graand pudding Oi'll be
afther makin' meself, by a new resait Oi've just thought iv.' So she
dips into this counthry for wan set iv immygrants, an' into another
counthry for another batch, and after a bit a foine mess she had iv 'em.
Dutch an' Frinch an' Eyetalian, Rooshian, Spaniards an' haythen Chinee,
all stirred up in wan an' the same pudding-bag.

"'Somethin's lackin',' siz she, afther awhile, makin' a wry face.

"'It's the spice,' siz St. Pathrick, 'ye lift out iv it, an' the
leaven. Ye'll have to make parsinal application to meself for it, for
Oi'm the only wan knowin' the saicret of where it's to be found.'

"'Then give me some,' siz she, an' St. Pathrick, not loikin' to lave a
leddy in trouble, reached out from the auld sod and handed her a fair
shprinklin' of them as would act as both spice an' leaven.

"'They'll saison the whole lot,' siz he, 'an' there's light-heartedness
enough among them to raise the entoire heavy mass in your whole united
pudding-bag.'

"'Thanks,' siz she, stirrin' us in. 'It's the makin' of the dish, sorr,
and Oi'm etarnally obliged to ye, sorr. Oi'll be afther puttin' the name
of St. Pathrick in me own family calendar, and ivery year on that day,
it's the pick iv the land that'll take pride in addin' to me own shtars
an' shtripes the wearin' o' the green.'

"Ye see, Misther Hines, ye may think ye're under no parsinal obligation
to him, but down-hearted as ye are by nature, what wud ye have been had
ye niver coom in conthact with the leaven of St. Pathrick at all, sorr?
Oi ask ye that."

       *       *       *       *       *

Late that night Bowser pushed his ledger aside with a yawn, and got
down from his high stool to close the store. As he counted the meagre
contents of the cash drawer, he reviewed the day, whose minutes had been
as monotonous in passing as the falling of the snowflakes outside. It
had left nothing behind it to distinguish it from a hundred other days.
The same old faces! The same kind of jokes! The same round of
commonplace duties! A spirit of unrest seized him, that made him chafe
against such dreary monotony.

When he went to the door to put up the shutters, the beauty of the night
held him a moment, and he stood looking across the wide fields, lying
white in moonlight and snow. Far down the road a lamp gleamed from the
window of an upper room in the old miller's house, where anxious vigil
had been kept beside him for hours. The crisis was passed now. Only a
little while before, the doctor had stopped by to say that their old
friend would live. Down the track a gleaming switch-light marked the
place where a wreck had been narrowly averted that morning.

"And no telling how many other misfortunes we've escaped to-day,"
mused Bowser. "Maybe if a light could be swung out for each one, folks
would see that the dull gray days when nothing happens are the ones to
be most thankful for, after all."



Chapter VI


APRIL sunshine of mid-afternoon poured in through the open door of the
Cross-Roads. The usual group of loungers had gathered around the rusty
stove. There was no fire in it; the day was too warm for that, but force
of habit made them draw their chairs about it in a circle, as if this
common centre were the hub, from which radiated the spokes of all
neighbourly intercourse.

The little schoolmistress was under discussion. Her short reign in
District No. 3 had furnished a topic of conversation as inexhaustible as
the weather, for her régime was attended by startling changes. Luckily
for her, the young ideas enjoyed being taught to shoot at wide variance
from the targets set up by parental practice and tradition, else the
tales told out of school might have aroused more adverse criticism than
they did.

"You can't take much stock in her new-fangled notions," was the
unanimous opinion at the Cross-Roads. She had "put the cart before the
horse" when she laid the time-honoured alphabet on the shelf, and gave
the primer class a whole word at a mouthful, before it had cut a single
orthographic tooth on such primeval syllables as a-b ab.

"Look at my Willie," exclaimed one of the district fathers. "Beating
around the bush with talk about a picture cow, and a real cow, and a
word cow, and not knowing whether B comes after W or X. At his age I
could say the alphabet forwards or backwards as fast as tongue could go
without a slip."

"She's done _one_ sensible thing," admitted Cy Akers. "They tell me
she's put her foot down on the scholars playing April fool tricks this
year."

"I don't see why," said Henry Bicking. "It has been one of the customs
in this district since the schoolhouse was built. What's the harm if the
children do take one day in the year for a little foolishness? Let them
have their fun, I say."

"But they've carried it too far," was the answer. "It's scandalous they
should be allowed to abuse people's rights and feelings and property as
they have done the last few years. First of April doesn't justify such
cutting up any more than the first of August."

"She's got Scripture on her side," said Squire Dobbs. "You know Solomon
says, 'As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, so is the
man that deceiveth his neighbour and saith, am I not in sport?'"

"She can't stamp out such a deep-rooted custom in one day," protested
Bicking.

"You can bet on the little school-ma'am every time," laughed Bowser. "My
daughter Milly says they didn't have regular lessons yesterday
afternoon. She had them put their books in their desks.

"Said they'd been studying about wise men all their lives, now they'd
study about fools awhile; the fools of Proverbs and the fools of
history.

"She read some stories, too, about a cruel disappointment and the
troubles brought about by some thoughtless jokes on the first of April.
Mighty interesting stories, Milly said. You could have heard a pin drop,
and some of the girls cried. Then she drew a picture on the blackboard
of a court jester, in cap and bells, and asked if they wouldn't like a
change this year. Instead of everybody acting the fool and doing silly
things they'd all be ashamed of if they'd only stop to think, wouldn't
they rather she'd appoint just one scholar to play the fool for all of
them, as the old kings used to do.

"They agreed to that, quick enough, thinking what fun they'd have
teasing the one chosen to be it. Then she said she'd appoint the first
one this morning who showed himself most deserving of the office. Milly
says from the way she smiled when she said it, they're all sure she
means to choose the first one who plays an April Fool joke. She'd put it
so strong to 'em how silly it was, that there ain't a child in school
you could hire to run the risk of being appointed fool for the day. So I
think she's coming out ahead as usual."

"After all," said Bud Hines, "there's some lessons to be got out of
those old tricks we used to play. For instance, the pocketbook tied to a
string. Seems to me that everything in life worth having has a string
tied to it, and just as I am about to pick it up, Fate snatches it out
of my hands."

"Don't you believe it, Buddy," said Bowser, cheerfully; "you take notice
those pocketbooks on strings are always empty ones, and they don't
belong to us, so we have no business grabbing for them or feeling
disappointed because we can't get something for nothing."

But Bud waved aside the interruption mechanically.

"Then there's the _gifts_ with strings tied to 'em," he continued. "My
wife has a rich aunt who is always sending her presents, and writing,
'Understand this is for _you_, Louisy. You're too generous, and I don't
want anybody but your own deserving self to wear this.' Now out in the
country here, my wife doesn't have occasion to wear handsome clothes
like them once a year, while they'd be the very thing for Clara May, off
at Normal School. But not a feather or a ribbon can the child touch
because her great-aunt bought them expressly for her ma. Goodness knows
she'd have a thousand times more pleasure in seeing Clara May enjoy
them, than knowing they were lying away in bureau drawers doing nobody
any good. When she takes 'em out at house-cleaning times I say, 'Ma,'
says I, 'deliver me from gifts with strings tied to 'em. I'd rather have
a ten-cent bandanna, all mine, to have and to hold or to give away as
pleased me most, than the finest things your Aunt Honigford's money
could buy, if I had to account to her every time I turned around in
them.'

"When I give anything I _give_ it, and don't expect to come back, spying
around ten years afterward to see if it's worn out, or cracked, or
faded, or broken. That's my doctrine."

       *       *       *       *       *

Marion Holmes, driving along the country road in the old miller's
antiquated chaise, drew rein in front of a low picket gate, overhung by
mammoth snowball bushes. Down the path, between the rows of budding
lilacs and japonicas, came an old gentleman in a quaintly cut,
long-tailed coat. He was stepping along nimbly, although he leaned hard
on his gold-headed cane.

"'A man he was to all the country dear,'" quoted Marion softly to
herself as the minister's benign face smiled a greeting through his big
square-bowed spectacles. "I know he must have been Goldsmith's friend,
and I wish I dared ask him how long he lived in the Deserted Village."
But all she called out to him as he stopped with a courtly bow, under
the snowball bushes, was a cheery good morning and an invitation to take
a seat beside her if he wanted to drive to the Cross-Roads store.

"Thank you, Miss Polly," he answered, "that is my destination. I am on
my way there for a text."

"For a what?" exclaimed Marion in surprise, turning the wheel for him to
step in beside her.

"For a text for my Easter sermon," he explained as they drove on in the
warm April sunshine. "Ah, I see, Miss Polly, you have not discovered the
school of philosophers that centres around the Cross-Roads store. Well,
it's not to be wondered at; few people do. I spent a winter in Rome,
when I was younger, and one of my favourite walks was up on the Pincian
Hill. The band plays in the afternoons, you know, and tourists flock to
see the queen drive by. There is a charming view from the summit--the
dome of St. Peters against the blue Italian sky, the old yellow Tiber
crawling along under its bridges from ruin to ruin, and the immortal
city itself, climbing up its historic hills. And on the Pincio one meets
everybody,--soldiers and courtiers, flower girls and friars, monks in
robes of every order, and pilgrims from all parts of the world.

"The first time I was on the hill, as I wandered among the shrubbery
and flowers, I noticed a row of moss-grown pedestals set along each side
of the drive for quite a distance. Each pedestal bore the weather-beaten
bust of some old sage or philosopher or hero.

"They made no more impression on my mind then, than so many
fence-posts, but later I found a workman repairing the statuary one day.
He had put a new nose on the mutilated face of an old philosopher, and
that fresh white nasal appendage, standing out jauntily in the middle of
the ancient gray visage, was so ludicrous I could not help smiling
whenever I passed it. I began to feel acquainted with the old fellow, as
day after day that nose forced my attention. Sometimes, coming upon him
suddenly, the only familiar face in a city full of strangers, I felt
that he was an old friend to whom I should take off my hat. Then it
became so that I rarely passed him without recalling some of his wise
sayings that I had read at college. Many a time he and his row of
stony-eyed companions were an inspiration to me in that way.

"It was so that I met these men at the Cross-Roads. They scarcely
claimed my attention at first. Then one day I heard one of them give
utterance to a time-worn truth in such an original way that I stopped to
talk to him.

"Trite as it was, he had hewn it himself out of the actual experiences
of his own life. It was the result of his own keen observation of human
nature. Set as it was in his homely, uncouth dialect, it impressed me
with startling force. Then I listened to his companions, and found that
they, too, were sometimes worthy of pedestals. Unconsciously to
themselves they have often given me suggestions for my sermons. Ah, it's
a pity that the backwoods has no Pincio on which to give its
philosophers to posterity!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour later as they drove homeward, Marion glanced at her
companion. "No text this time," she laughed, breaking the reverie into
which the old minister had fallen. "Your sages said nothing but 'good
morning, sir,' and there wasn't a single suggestion of Easter in the
whole store, except the packages of egg dyes, and some impossible little
chocolate rabbits. Oh, yes,--those two little boys playing on the
doorstep. Tommy Bowser had evidently taken time by the forelock and
sampled his father's dyes, for he had a whole hatful of coloured eggs,
and was teaching that little Perkins boy how to play 'bust.' He was an
apt scholar, for while I watched he won five of Tommy's eggs and never
cracked his own. You should have seen them."

"Oh, I saw them," said the minister, with a smile. "It was those same
little lads who suggested the text for my Easter sermon."

Marion gave a gasp of astonishment. "Would you mind telling me _how_?"
she exclaimed.

"It came about very naturally. There they stood with their hands full
of the Easter eggs, with never a thought of what they symbolised--the
breaking shell--the rising of this little embryo earth-existence to the
free full-winged life of the Resurrection. They were too intent on their
little game, on their small winnings and losings, to have a thought for
higher things. As I watched them it occurred to me how typical it was of
all the children of men, and instantly that text from Luke flashed into
my mind: '_Their eyes were holden._' Do you remember? It was when the
two disciples went down to Emmaus. I often picture it," mused the old
man after a little pause. "The green of the olive groves, the red and
white of the blossoming almond-trees, the late afternoon sunshine, and
those two discouraged fishermen trudging along the dusty road. They were
turning away from a lost cause and a buried hope, too absorbed in their
overwhelming grief to see that it was the risen Lord Himself who walked
beside them. Not till the end of their journey did they know why it was
that their hearts had burned within them as He talked with them by the
way. Their eyes were holden.

"How typical that is, too, Miss Polly. Sometimes we go on to the end of
life, missing the comfort and help that we might have had at every step,
because we look up at our Lord only through eyes of clay, and hold
communion with him as with a stranger. Yes, I shall certainly make that
the subject of my Easter sermon, Miss Polly. Thank you for helping me
discover it."

That next Sunday as Marion sat in church beside the old miller, her
gaze wandered from the lilies in the chancel to the faces of the waiting
congregation. Bud Hines was there and Bowser, Cy Akers, and even
Perkins's oldest, whose game of "bust" had suggested the helpful sermon
of the morning. Marion studied the serious, weather-beaten faces with
new interest. "It is not in spiritual things alone that our eyes are
holden," she said to herself. "I have been looking at only the
commonplace exterior of these people. It takes a man like the old
minister to recognise unpedestalled virtues and to set them on the
Pincio they deserve."



Chapter VII


THE old saying that "there are always two sides to a story" has worn a
deep rut into the popular mind. It has been handed down to us so often
with an air of virtuous rebuke, that we have come to regard the
individual who insists on his two-sided theory as the acme of all that
is broad-minded and tolerant. But in point of fact, if two sides is all
he sees, he is only one remove from the bigot whose mental myopia limits
him to a single narrow facet.

Even such a thing as a May-day picnic is polyhedral. The little
schoolmistress, who was the chief promoter of the one at the
Cross-Roads, would have called it a parallelopiped, if she had been
there that morning, to have seen the different expressions portrayed on
the faces of six people who were interested in it.

The business side of the picnic appealed to Bowser. As he bustled
around, dusting off cases of tinned goods that he had long doubted his
ability to dispose of, and climbed to the top shelves for last summer's
shop-worn cans of sardines and salmon, as he sliced cheese, and counted
out the little leathery lemons that time had shrivelled, his smile was
as bland as the May morning itself. One could plainly see that he
regarded this picnic as a special dispensation of Providence, to help
him work off his old stock.

There were no loungers in the store. Field and garden claimed even the
idlest, and only the old miller, who had long ago earned his holiday,
sat in the sun on the porch outside, with his chair tipped back against
the wall. At intervals a warm breath from the apple orchard, in bloom
across the road, touched his white hair in passing, and stirred his
memory until he sat oblivious of his surroundings. He was wholly
unmindful of the gala stir about him, save when Polly recalled his
wandering thoughts. She, keenly alive to every sensation of the present,
stood beside him with her hand on his shoulder, while she waited for her
picnic basket to be filled.

"Isn't it an ideal May-day, grandfather?" she exclaimed. "It gives me a
real Englishy feeling of skylarks and cuckoos and cowslips, of primroses
and village greens. I think it is dear of the little school-ma'am to
resurrect the old May-pole dance, and give the children some idea of
'Merrie old England' other than the dates and dust of its ancient
history." Unconsciously beating time with light fingertips on the old
man's shoulder, she began to hum half under her breath:

    "'And then my heart with rapture thrills,
     And dances with the daffodills-o-dills--
     And dances with the daffodils!'"

Suddenly she broke off with a girlish giggle of enjoyment. "Listen,
grandfather. There's little Cora Bowser up-stairs, rehearsing her speech
while she dresses. Isn't it delicious to be behind the scenes!"

Through an open bedroom window, a high-pitched, affected little voice
came shrilly down to them: "'If you're _wa_-king, call me _early_! Call
me _early_, mother dear!'"

"Now, Cora," interrupted the maternal critic, "you went and forgot to
make your bow; and how many times have I told you about turning your
toes out? You'll have to begin all over again." Then followed several
beginnings, each brought to a stop by other impatient criticisms. There
were so many pauses in the rehearsal and reminders to pay attention to
manners, commas, and refractory ribbons, that when Cora was finally
allowed to proceed, it was in a tearful voice punctuated with sobs, that
she declared, "'To-morrow will be the ha-happiest day of all the g-glad
new year.'"

"'Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,'" quoted the old miller
with a smile, as Mrs. Bowser's parting injunction reached their ears.

"Now, Cora, for goodness' sake, don't you forget for one minute this
whole enduring day, that them daisies on your crown came off your
teacher's best hat, and have to be put back on. If you move around much
to the picnic you might lose some of 'em. Best keep pretty quiet anyway,
or your sash will come unpinned, and the crimp will all get out of your
hair. Wish I'd thought to iron them plaits before I unbraided 'em.
They'd have been lots frizzier."

It was a very stiffly starched, precise little Queen o' the May who
came down the steep back stairs into the store. She stepped like a
careful peacock, fearing to ruffle a feather of her unrivalled
splendour. Her straight flaxen hair, usually as limp as a string, stood
out in much crimped profusion from under her gilt paper crown. Polly
could not decide whether the pucker on the little forehead came from
anxiety concerning the borrowed daisies which starred her crown, or the
fact that it was too tightly skewered to the royal head by a relentless
hat-pin.

One of the picnic wagons was waiting at the door, and as Bowser lifted
her in among her envious and admiring schoolmates, Polly saw with
sympathetic insight which of its many sides the picnic parallelopiped
was presenting to the child in that proud moment. The feeling of supreme
importance that it bestowed is a joy not permitted to all, and rarely
does it come to any mortal more than once in a lifetime.

But for every Haman, no matter how resplendent, sits an unmoved
Mordecai in the king's gate. So to this little Sheba of the Cross-Roads
there was one who bowed not down. Perkins's oldest, on the front seat
beside the driver, had no eyes for her. He scarcely looked in her
direction. His glances were all centred on the baskets which Bowser was
packing in around his feet. He smelled pickles and pies and ham
sandwiches. He knew of sundry tarts and dressed eggs in his own basket,
and wild rumours had reached his ears that Miss Polly intended to stand
treat to the extent of Bowser's entire stock of bananas and candy. Aside
from hopes of a surreptitious swim in the creek and a wild day in the
woods, his ideas of a picnic were purely prandial.

Across the road, Miss Anastasia Dill, peeping through the blinds,
watched the wagon rattle off with its merry load. Long after the
laughing voices had passed beyond her hearing, she still stood there,
one slender hand holding back the curtain, and the other shading her
faded blue eyes, as she gazed absently after them. It was the sunshine
of another May-day she was looking into. Presently with a little start
she realised that she was not out in the cool green woods with a
May-basket in her hands, brimming over with anemones. She was all alone
in her stuffy little parlour, with its hair-cloth furniture and
depressing crayon portraits. And the canary was chirping loudly for
water, and the breakfast cups were still unwashed. But for once,
heedless of her duties, even unmindful of the fact that she had left the
shutters open, and the hot sun was streaming across her cherished store
carpet, she drew a chair up to the marble-topped centre table, and
deliberately sat down. There was a pile of old-fashioned daguerreotypes
in front of her. She opened them one by one, and then took up another
that lay by itself on a blue beaded mat. So the face it dimly pictured
held a sacred place, apart, in her memory. When her eyes had grown misty
with long gazing, she lifted a book from its place beside the family
Bible. It was bound in red leather, and it had a quaint wreath of
embossed roses around the gilt letters of its title, "The Album of the
Heart." It was an autograph album, and as she slowly turned the pages
she remembered that every hand that had traced a sentiment or a
signature therein had once upon a time gathered anemones with her in
some one of those other May-days.

Then she turned through the pages again. Of all that circle of early
friends not one was left to give her a hand-clasp. She had friends in
plenty, but the old ones--the early ones--the roots of whose growth had
twined with hers in the intimacy known only to childhood, were all gone.
The May-day picnic brought only a throb of pain to gentle Miss
Anastasia, for to her it was but the lonely echo of a "voice that was
still."

Bud Hines watched the wagon drive away with far different emotions. He
had happened to come into the store for a new hoe, as the gay party
started. "It's all foolishness," he grumbled to the miller, "to lose a
whole day's schooling while they go gallivanting around the country for
nothing. They'll ride ten miles to find a place to eat their dinner in,
and pass by twenty on the way nicer than the one they finally pick out.
They'd better be doing sums in school, or grubbing weeds out of the
garden, instead of playing 'frog in the meadow' around a fool British
May-pole."

He looked around inquiringly as if he expected his practical listener
to agree with him. But all the sympathy he got from the old miller was
one of the innumerable proverbs he seemed to keep continually on tap.
"'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,' Bud. Life is apt to be
little but sums and grubbing for the youngsters by and by, so let them
make the most of their May-days now."

       *       *       *       *       *

The sequels of picnics are also polyhedral. Miss Anastasia, lingering
at her front gate in the early twilight, that she might enjoy to the
last moment the orchard odours that filled all the balcony outdoors,
heard the rattle of returning wheels. She had had a pleasant day,
despite the tearful retrospection of the morning, for she had attended
the great social function of the neighbourhood, the monthly missionary
tea. It had brought immeasurable cheer, and now she was returning with a
comfortable conviction that she was to be envied far above any of her
neighbours. The consciousness of having on her best gown, of being the
mistress of the trim little home to which she was going, of freedom from
a hundred harassing cares that she had heard discussed that afternoon,
all combined to make her supremely contented with her lot.

"Poor children," she sighed, as the tired, dirty little picnickers were
lifted from the wagon across the road. "They look as if the game hadn't
been worth the candle. I'm glad that I've outgrown such things."

Perkins's oldest, having soaked long in the cold creek, and sampled
every dinner-basket with reckless abandon till he could sample no more,
sat doubled up in the straw of the wagon-bed. He was white about the
mouth, and had he been called upon to debate the time-worn question,
"Resolved, that there is more pleasure in pursuit than in possession,"
the tarts and sandwiches of that day's picnic would have furnished
several dozen indisputable arguments for the affirmative.

The dishevelled little queen sat beside him, tired out by her day's wild
frolic, with starch and frizzes all gone.

As she was lifted over the wheel, and put down on the doorstep, a limp
little bunch of woe, Miss Anastasia heard her bewailing her fate. She
had lost the stars from her crown, the borrowed daisies that must be
reckoned for on the morrow. The amused listener smiled to herself under
cover of the twilight, as she heard Bowser's awkward attempts at
consolation, for all the comfort that he could muster was an old saw
learned from the miller: "Never mind, Cora, pa's mighty sorry for his
little girl. But you know:

    "'When a man buys meat he buys bone,
     And when he buys land he buys stone.
     You must take the bad with the good.'"



Chapter VIII


THERE is something in the air of June that stirs even insentient things
with a longing to blossom. Staid old universities blaze out with the
gala colours of commencement week, when the month of roses is ushered
in, and on every college campus the social life of the student year
comes to flower in the crowning exercises of class-day.

One wonders sometimes if the roots, burrowing underground in order to
fill the bush overhead with myriads of roses, have any share in the
thrill of success at having produced such a wealth of sweetness and
beauty. But there need be no surmise about college florescence.
Faculties may beam with complacency on their yearly cluster of
full-blown graduates, the very walls of the gray old universities may
thrill as they echo the applause of admiring audiences, but the greatest
pride is not felt within the college town itself where the student life
centres. It is back in the roots that have made college life possible.
Back in some parental existence that daily sinks itself farther into the
commonplace in order that some son or daughter may blossom into the
culture of arts and belles-lettres. The Jacqueminot that flaunts its
glory over the garden wall may not sweeten life for the fibres that lift
it, but the valedictorian who flaunts his diploma and degree in the
classic halls of some sea-board college may be glorifying the air of
some little backwoods village a thousand miles inland. Even the
Cross-Roads are bound with a network of such far-reaching roots to the
commencements of Harvard and Yale.

It was Cy Akers's boy who came home this June, a little lifted up,
perhaps, by the honours he had won; thoroughly impressed with the
magnitude of his own knowledge and the meagreness of other peoples', but
honestly glad at first to get back to the old home and neighbours.

The family pride in him was colossal. Old Cy encouraged his visits to
the Cross-Roads store, inventing excuses for going which he considered
the acme of subtle diplomacy. But his motives were as transparent as a
child's. Illiterate himself, he wanted his neighbours to see what
college had done for his boy in the way of raising him head and
shoulders above them all. And the boy was good-naturedly compliant. He
was as willing to show off mentally as he had been to lend a hand in the
wheat harvest, and demonstrate what football training had done for him
in the way of developing muscle.

Like Perkins's oldest, his education had begun with the primer of the
Cross-Roads. He could remember the time when he, too, had ignorantly
believed this to be the only store in the universe, and wondered if
there were enough people living to consume all its contents. Now he
smiled to himself when he looked around the stuffy little room and saw
the same old butter firkins crowding the--apparently--same old calico
and crockery, and looked up at the half-dozen hams still swinging
sociably from the low rafters.

Time had been, too, when he thought the men who gossiped around its
rusty stove on Saturday afternoons knew everything. Like Perkins's
oldest, he had unquestioningly formulated the creed of his boyhood from
their conversations, and he smiled again when he recalled how he had
been warped in those early days by their prejudices and short-sighted
opinions.

The smile extended outwardly when he walked into their midst to find
them repeating the same old saws about the weather, and the way the
country was going to the dogs. Yet in his salad days these time-honoured
prognostications had seemed to him the wisdom of seers and sages.

Probably it was the thought that he had travelled far beyond the
narrow confines of the Cross-Roads that gave his conversation a
patronising tone. But the Cross-Roads refused to be patronised. He
learned that on the day of his arrival. It was the first lesson of a
valuable post-graduate course. That a man away from home may be Mister
Robert Harrison Hamilton Akers, with all the A. B.'s and LL. D.'s after
his name that an educational institution can bestow; but as soon as he
sets foot again on his native heath, where he has gone through the
vicissitudes of boyhood, he is shorn of titles and degrees as completely
as Samson was shorn of his locks, and his strength straightway falls
from him. He is nobody but Bobby Akers, and everybody remembers when he
robbed birds' nests, and stole grapes, and played hooky, and was a
little freckle-faced, snub-nosed neighbourhood terror. A man cannot
maintain his importance long in the face of such reminiscences. No
amount of university culture is going to lay the ghost of youthful
indiscretions, and he might as well put his patronising proclivities in
his pocket. They will not be tolerated by those who have patted him on
the head when he wore roundabouts.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was Saturday afternoon, but it was also the and of the wheat-harvest,
and the men were afield who usually gathered on the Cross-Roads porch to
round up the week over their pipes and plugs of chewing tobacco. Only
three chairs were tilted back against the wall, and on these, with their
heels caught over the front rungs, sat Bowser, the old miller, and
Robert Akers.

The whirr of reaping machines came faintly up from the fields and near
by, where several acres of waving yellow grain still stood uncut, a
bob-white whistled cheerily. No one was talking. "Knee-deep in June"
would have voiced the thoughts of the trio, for they were "Jes' a sort
o' lazein' there," with their hats pulled over their eyes, enjoying to
the utmost the perfect afternoon. Every breeze was redolent with red
clover and wild honeysuckle, and vibrant with soothing country sounds.

"Who is that coming up the road?" asked the miller, as a team and wagon
appeared over the brow of the hill.

"They wabble along like Duncan Smith's horses," answered the
storekeeper, squinting his eyes for a better view. "Yes, that's who it
is. That's Dunk on the top of the load. Moving again, bless Pete!"

As the wagon creaked slowly nearer, a feather bed came into view,
surmounting a motley collection of household goods, and perched upon it,
high above the jangle of her jolting tins and crockery, sat Mrs. Duncan
Smith. A clock and a looking-glass lay in her lap, and, like a wise
virgin, in her hands she carefully bore the family lamp. From frequent
and anxious turnings of her black sunbonnet, it was evident that she was
keeping her weather eye upon the chicken-coop, which was bound to the
tail-board of the wagon by an ancient clothes-line.

A flop-eared dog trotted along under the wagon. Squeezed in between a
bureau and the feather bed, two shock-headed children sat on a flour
barrel, clutching each other at every lurch of the crowded van to keep
from losing their balance.

"Howdy, Dunk!" called the storekeeper, as the dusty pilgrims halted in
front of the porch. "Where are you bound now?"

"Over to the old Neal place," answered the man, handing the reins to
his wife, and climbing stiffly down over the wheel. Going around to the
back of the wagon, he unstrapped a kerosene can which swung from the
pole underneath.

"Gimme a gallon of coal-ile, Jim," he said. "I don't want to be left in
the dark the first night, anyway. It takes awhile to git your bearings
in a strange place, and it's mighty confusing to butt agin a half-open
door where you've always been used to a plain wall, and it hurts like
fire to bark your shins on a rocking-chair when you're steering straight
for bed, and hain't no idee it's in the road. This time it'll be a
little more so than usual," he added, handing over the can. "The house
backs up agin a graveyard, you know. Sort o' spooky till you git used to
it."

"What on earth did you move there for?" asked Bowser. "They say the
place is ha'nted."

"To my mind the dead make better neighbours than the living," came the
tart reply from the depths of the black sunbonnet. "At any rate, they
mind their own business."

"Oh, come now, Mrs. Smith," began Bowser, good-naturedly. "Maybe you've
been unfortunate in your choice of neighbours."

"I've had a dozen different kinds," came the emphatic answer. "This'll
make the twelfth move in eight years, so you can't say that I'm speaking
from hearsay."

"Twelve moves in eight years!" exclaimed Bowser, as the wagon went
lurching and creaking on through the dust. "There's gipsy blood in that
Dunk Smith, sure as you live. Seems like that family can't be satisfied
anywhere; always thinking they can better themselves by changing, and
always getting out of the frying-pan into the fire. There wa'n't no well
in the place where they settled when they was first married, and they
had to carry water from a spring. The muscle put into packing that water
up-hill those six months would have dug a cistern, but they were too
short-sighted to see that. They jest played Jack and Jill as long as
they could stand it, and then moved to a place where there was a cistern
already dug. But there wa'n't any fruit on that place. If they'd have
set out trees right away they'd have been eating from orchards of their
own planting by this time. But they thought it was easier to move to
where one was already set out.

"Then when they got to a place where they had both fruit and water, it
was low, and needed draining. The water settled around the house, and
they all had typhoid that summer. Oh, they've spent enough energy
packing up and moving on and settling down again in new places to have
fixed the first one up to a queen's taste. They seem to be running a
perpetual Home-seeker's Excursion. Well, such a life might suit some
people, but it would never do for me."

"But such a life has some things in its favour," put in Rob Akers,
always ready to debate any question that offered, for the mere pleasure
of arguing. "It keeps a man from getting into a rut, and develops his
ability to adapt himself to any circumstance. A man who hangs his hat on
the same peg for fifty or sixty years gets to be so dependent on that
peg that he would be uncomfortable if it were suddenly denied him. Now
Dunk Smith can never become such a slave to habit. Then, too, moving
tends to leave a man more unhampered. He gradually gets rid of
everything in his possessions but the essentials. He hasn't a garret
full of old claptraps, as most people have who never move from under
their ancestral roof-trees. You saw for yourself, one wagon holds all
his household goods and gods.

"It is the same way with a man mentally. If he stays in the spot where
his forefathers lived, in the same social conditions, he is apt to let
his upper story accumulate a lot of worn-out theories that he has no
earthly use for; all their old dusty dogmas and cob-webbed beliefs. He
will hang on to them as on to the old furniture, because he happened to
inherit them. If he would move once in awhile, keep up with the times,
you know, he'd get rid of a lot of rubbish. It is especially true in
regard to his religion. All those old superstitions, for instance, about
Jonah and the whale, and Noah's ark and the like.

"He hangs on to them, not because he cares for them himself, but
because they were his father's beliefs, and he doesn't like to throw out
anything the old man had a sentiment for. Now, as I say, if he'd move
once in awhile--do some scientific thinking and investigating on his own
account--he'd throw out over half of what he holds on to now. He'd cut
the most of Genesis out of his Bible, and let Job slide as a myth. One
of the finest bits of literature, to be sure, that can be found
anywhere, but undoubtedly fiction. The sooner a man moves on
untrammelled, I say, by those old heirlooms of opinion, the better
progress he will make."

"Toward what?" asked the old miller, laconically. "Dunk's moving next
door to the graveyard." There was a twinkle in his eye, and the young
collegian, who flattered himself that his speech was making a profound
impression, paused with the embarrassing consciousness that he was
affording amusement instead.

"The last time I went East to visit my grandson," said the old man,
meditatively, "his wife showed me a mahogany table in her dining-room
which she said was making all her friends break the tenth commandment.
It was a handsome piece of furniture, worth a small fortune. It was
polished till you could see your face in it, and I thought it was the
newest thing out in tables till she told me she'd rummaged it out of her
great-grandmother's attic, and had it 'done over' as she called it. It
had been hidden away in the dust and cobwebs for a lifetime because it
had been pronounced too time-worn and battered and scratched for longer
use; yet there it stood, just as beautiful and useful for this
generation to spread its feasts on as it was the day it was made. Every
whit as substantial, and aside from any question of sentiment, a
thousand times more valuable than the one that Dunk Smith drove past
with just now. His table is modern, to be sure, but it's of cheap pine,
too rickety to serve even Dunk through his one short lifetime of
movings.

"I heard several lectures while I was there, too. One was by a man who
has made a name for himself on both sides of the water as a scientist
and a liberal thinker. He took up Genesis, all scratched and battered as
it is by critics, and showed us how it had been misunderstood and
misconstrued. And by the time he'd polished up the meaning here and
there, so that we could see the original grain of the wood, what it was
first intended to be, it seemed like a new book, and fitted in with all
the modern scientific ideas as if it had been made only yesterday.

"There it stood, like the mahogany table that had been restored after
people thought they had stowed it away in the attic to stay. Just as
firm on its legs, and as substantial for this generation to put its
faith on, as it was in the days of the Judges.

"Take an old man's word for it, Robert, who has lived a long time and
seen many a restless Dunk Smith fling out his father's old heirlooms, in
his fever to move on to something new. Solid mahogany, with all its dust
and scratches, is better than the modern flimsy stuff, either in faith
or furniture, that he is apt to pick up in its stead."



Chapter IX


THE booming of distant cannon had been sounding at intervals since
midnight, ushering in the Fourth, but Bowser, although disturbed in his
slumbers by each reverberation, did not rouse himself to any personal
demonstration until dawn. Then his patriotism manifested itself in a
noisy tattoo with a hammer, as he made the front of his store gay with
bunting, and nailed the word _Welcome_ over the door, in gigantic
letters of red, white, and blue.

When he was done, each window wore a bristling eyebrow of stiff little
flags, that gave the store an air of mild surprise. The effect was
wholly unintentional on Bowser's part, and, unconscious of the likeness
to human eyes he had given his windows, he gazed at his work with deep
satisfaction.

But the expression was an appropriate one, considering all the
astonishing sights the old store was to look upon that day. In the
woodland across the railroad track, just beyond Miss Anastasia Dill's
little cottage, preparations were already begun for a grand barbecue.
Even before Bowser had finished tacking up his flags, the digging of the
trench had begun across the way, and the erection of a platform for the
speakers. In one corner of the woodland a primitive merry-go-round had
already been set in place, and the first passenger train from the city
deposited an enterprising hoky-poky man, a peanut and pop-corn vender,
and a lank black-bearded man with an outfit for taking tin-types.

By ten o'clock the wood-lot fence was a hitching-place for all varieties
of vehicles, from narrow sulkies to cavernous old carryalls. A haze of
thick yellow dust, extending along the pike as far as one could see, was
a constant accompaniment of fresh arrivals. Each newcomer emerged from
it, his Sunday hat and coat powdered as thickly as the wayside weeds.
Smart side-bar buggies dashed up, their shining new tops completely
covered with it. There was a great shaking of skirts as the girls
alighted, and a great flapping of highly perfumed handkerchiefs, as the
young country beaux made themselves presentable, before joining the
other picnickers.

Slow-going farm wagons rattled along, the occupants of their jolting
chairs often representing several generations, for the drawing power of
a Fourth of July barbecue reaches from the cradle to the grave.

The unusual sight of such a crowd, scattered through the grove in gala
attire, was enough of itself to produce a holiday thrill, and added to
this was the smell of gunpowder from occasional outbursts of
firecrackers, the chant of the hoky-poky man, and the hysterical
laughter of the couples patronising the merry-go-round, as they clung
giddily to the necks of the wooden ostriches and camels in the first
delights of its dizzy whirl.

"Good as a circus, isn't it?" exclaimed Robert Akers, pausing beside
the bench where the old miller and the minister sat watching the gay
scene. "I'm having my fun walking around and taking notes. It is amusing
to see how differently the affair impresses people, and what seems to
make each fellow happiest. Little Tommy Bowser, for instance, is in the
seventh heaven following the hoky-poky man. He gets all that people
leave in their dishes for helping to drum up a crowd of patrons.
Perkins's boy sticks by the merry-go-round. He has spent every cent of
his own money, and had so many treats that he's spun around till he's so
dizzy he's cross-eyed. One old fellow I saw back there is simply sitting
on the fence grinning at everything that goes by. He's getting his
enjoyment in job lots."

"Sit down," said the minister, sociably moving along the bench to make
room beside him for the young man. "Mr. Holmes and I are finding our
amusement in the same way, only we are not going around in search of it.
We are catching at it as it drifts by."

"What has happened to Mrs. Teddy Mahone?" exclaimed Rob, as a red-faced
woman with an important self-conscious air hurried by. "She seems
ubiquitous this morning, and as proud as a peacock over something. One
would think she were the mistress of ceremonies from her manner."

"Or hostess, rather," said the miller. "She met me down by the fence on
my arrival, and held out her hand as graciously as if she were a duchess
in her own drawing-room, and I an invited guest.

"'Gude marnin' to yez, Mr. Holmes,' she said. 'I hope ye'll be afther
enjyin' yerself the day. If anything intherferes wid yer comfort ye've
but to shpake to Mahone about it. He's been appinted _constable_ for the
occasion, ye understhand. If I do say it as oughtn't, he can carry the
title wid the best av 'im; him six fut two in his stockin's, an' the
shtar shinin' on his wes'cut loike he'd been barn to the job.'

"Then she turned to greet some strangers from Morristown, and I heard
her introducing herself as Mrs. _Constable_ Mahone, and repeating the
same instructions she had given me, to report to her husband, in case
everything was not to their liking."

Both listeners laughed at the miller's imitation of her brogue, and the
minister quoted, with an amused smile:

    "'For never title yet so mean could prove,
    But there was eke a mind, which did that title love.'

It is a pity we cannot dress more of them in 'a little brief
authority.' It seems to be a means of grace to a certain class of
Hibernians. It has Americanised the Mahones, for instance. You'll find
no patriots on the ground to-day more enthusiastic than Mr. and Mrs.
Constable Mahone. Fourth of July will be an honoured feast-day
henceforth in their calendar. It is often surprising how quickly a
policeman's buttons and billy will make a good citizen out of the
wildest bog-trotter that ever brandished a shillalah."

       *       *       *       *       *

Later, in subsequent wanderings around the grounds, the young collegian
spied the little schoolmistress helping to keep guard over the
cake-table. He immediately crossed over and joined her. She was looking
unusually pretty, and there was an amused gleam in her eyes as she
watched the crowds, which made him feel that she was viewing the scene
from his standpoint; that he had found a kindred spirit.

"What incentive to patriotism do you see in all this, Miss Helen?" he
asked, when he had induced her to turn over her guardianship of the
cake-table to some one else, and join him in his tour among the
boisterous picnickers.

"None at all--yet," she answered. "I suppose that will come by and by
with the songs and speeches. But all this foolishness seems a legitimate
part of the celebration to me. You remember Lowell says, 'If I put on
the cap and bells, and made myself one of the court fools of King Demos,
it was less to make his Majesty laugh than to win a passage to his royal
ears for certain serious things which I had deeply at heart.' It takes a
barbecue and its attendant attractions to draw a crowd like this. See
what a hotch-potch it is of all nationalities. Now that Schneidmacher
family never would have driven ten miles in this heat and dust simply to
hear the band play 'Hail, Columbia,' and Judge Jackson make one of his
spread-eagle speeches on the Duty of the American Citizen. Neither would
the O'Gradys or any of the others who represent the foreign element in
the neighbourhood. Even Young America himself, the type we see here, is
more willing to come and bring his best girl on account of the
diversions offered."

"Well, that may be so," was the reluctant assent, "but if this is a
sample of the Fourth of July observances all over the country I can't
help feeling sorry for Uncle Sam. Patriotism has sadly degenerated from
the pace that Patrick Henry set for it."

"The old miller says not," answered the little schoolmistress. "I made
that same complaint last Washington's Birthday, when I was trying to
work my school up to proper enthusiasm for the occasion. He recalled the
drouth of the summer before when nearly every well and creek and pond in
the township went dry. Cattle died of thirst, gardens dried up like
brick-kilns, and people around here were almost justified in thinking
that the universe would soon be entirely devoid of water. The skies were
like brass, and there was no indication of rain for weeks. But one day
there was a terrific earthquake shock. It started all the old springs,
and opened new ones all over this part of the country, and the water
gushed out of the earth where it had been pent up all the time, only
waiting for some such touch to call it forth. 'And you're afraid that
patriotism is going dry in this generation,' he said to me. 'But it only
takes some shock like the sinking of the _Maine_, or some sudden menace
to the public safety, to start a spring that will gush from Plymouth
Rock to the Golden Gate. There is a deep underground vein in the
American heart that no drouth can ever dry. Maybe it does not come to
the surface often, but it can always be depended on in time of need.'"

The speakers for the day began to arrive, and Rob, seeing the crowds
gravitating toward the grand stand, took the little schoolmistress to
the bench where the miller had stationed himself.

"Watch that old Scotchman just in front of us," whispered the girl,
"Mr. Sandy McPherson. Last Thanksgiving there was a union service in the
schoolhouse. After the sermon 'America' was sung, and that old heathen
stood up and roared out through it all, at the top of his voice, every
word of 'God Save the Queen!' Wasn't that flaunting the thistle in our
faces with a vengeance? I am sure that he will repeat the performance
to-day. Think of the dogged persistence that refuses to succumb to the
fact that we have thrown off the British yoke! The very day we are
celebrating that event, he'll dare to mix up our national hymn with 'God
Save the King.'"

It was as she had predicted. As the band started with a great clash of
brazen instruments, and the whole company rose to the notes of
"America," Sandy McPherson's big voice, with its broad Scotch burr,
rolled out like a bass drum:

    "'Thy choicest gifts in store,
     On _him_ be pleased to pour.
       Long may _he_ reign.'"

It drowned out every voice around him. "He ought to be choked,"
exclaimed Rob, in righteous indignation, as they resumed their seats.
"To-day of all days! The old Tory has been living in this country for
forty-five years, and a good living he's gotten out of it, too, for
himself and family. Nobody cares what he sings on his own premises, but
he might have the decency to keep his mouth shut on occasions of this
kind, if he can't join with us."

There was a gleam of laughter in the little schoolmistress's eyes as
she replied: "If the truth were known I have no doubt but that this
Fourth of July celebration is very like the pie in Mother Goose's song
of sixpence, when her four and twenty blackbirds were baked in a pie. If
this pie could be opened, and the birds begin to sing according to their
sentiments, there would be a wonderful diversity of tunes. One would be
twittering the 'Marseillaise,' and another 'Die Wacht am Rhein,' and
another echoing old Sandy's tune. America was in too big a hurry to
serve her national pie, I am afraid. Consequently she put it in half
prepared, and turned it out half baked. The blackbirds should have had
their voices tuned to the same key before they were allowed to become
vital ingredients of such an important dish."

"In other words," laughed Rob, "you'd reconstruct the enfranchisement
laws. Make the term of probationary citizenship so long that the
blackbird would have time to change his vocal chords, or even the
leopard his anarchistic spots, before he would be considered fit to be
incorporated in the national dish. By the way, Miss Helen, have you
heard Mrs. Mahone's allegory of the United Pudding bag? You and she
ought to collaborate. Get the storekeeper to repeat it to you sometime."

"You needn't laugh," responded the little schoolmistress, a trifle
tartly. "You know yourself that scores of emigrants are given the ballot
before they can distinguish 'Yankee Doodle' from 'Dixie,' and that is
only typical of their ignorance in all matters regarding governmental
affairs. Too many people's idea of good citizenship is like the man's
'who kept his private pan just where 'twould catch most public
drippings.' There is another mistaken idea loose in the land," she
continued, after a moment. "That is, that a great hero must be a man who
has a reputation as a great soldier. I wish I had the rewriting of all
the school histories. They are better now than when I studied them, but
there is still vast room for improvement. I had to learn page after page
of wars. Really, war and history were synonyms then as it was taught in
the schools. Every chapter was gory, and we were required to memorise
the numbers killed, wounded, and captured in every battle, from the
French and Indian massacres, down to the last cannon-shot of the
sixties. That is all right for government records and reference
libraries, but when we give a text-book to the rising generation, the
accounts of battles and the glorifying thereof would be better relegated
to the foot-notes. It is loyal statesmanship that ought to be exalted in
our school histories. We ought to make our heroes out of the legislators
who cannot be bribed and public men who cannot be bought, and the honest
private citizen who _lives_ for his country instead of dying for it."

The old miller beside her applauded softly, leaning over to say, as the
overture by the band came to a close with a grand clash, "If ever the
blackbirds are tuned to one key, Miss Helen, America will know whom to
thank. Not the legislators, but the patriotic little schoolma'ams all
over their land who are serving their country in a way her greatest
generals cannot do."

       *       *       *       *       *

All day the Cross-Roads store raised its bristling eyebrows of little
flags, till the celebration came to a close. Savoury whiffs of the
barbecued meats floated across to it, vigorous hand-clapping and hearty
cheers rang out to it between the impassioned words of excited orators.
Later there were the fireworks, and more rag-time music by the band, and
renewed callings of the hoky-poky man. But before the moon came up there
was a great backing of teams and scraping of turning wheels, and a
gathering together of picnic-baskets and stray children.

"Well, it's over for another year," said Bowser, welcoming the old
miller, who had crossed the road and taken a chair on the porch to wait
until the crowds were out of the way.

"Those were fine speeches we had this afternoon, but seemed to me as if
they were plumb wasted on the majority of that crowd. They applauded
them while they were going off, same as they did the rockets, but they
forget in the next breath." As Bowser spoke, a rocket whizzed up through
the tree tops, and the old miller, looking up to watch the shining trail
fade out, saw that the sky was full of stars.

"That's the good of those speeches, Bowser," he said. "'_To leave a
wake, men's hearts and faces skyward turning._' I hadn't noticed that
the stars were out till that rocket made me look up. The speeches may be
forgotten, but they will leave a memory in their wake that give men an
uplook anyhow."



Chapter X


"GUESS who's come to board at the Widder Powers's for the month of
August?" It was Bowser who asked the question, and who immediately
answered it himself, as every man on the porch looked up expectantly.

"Nobody more nor less than a _multimillionaire_! The big boot and shoe
man, William A. Maxwell. Mrs. Powers bought a bill of goods this morning
as long as your arm. It's a windfall for _her_. He offered to pay
regular summer-resort-hotel prices, because she's living on the old farm
where he was born and raised, and he fancied getting back to it for a
spell."

"Family coming with him?" queried Cy Akers, after a moment's meditation
over the surprising fact that a millionaire with the world before him
should elect such a place as the Cross-Roads in which to spend his
vacation.

"No, you can bet your bottom dollar they're not. And they're all abroad
this summer or _he'd_ never got here. They'd had him dragged off to some
fashionable watering-place with them. But when the cat's away the
mice'll play, you know. Mrs. Powers says it is his first visit here
since his mother's funeral twenty years ago, and he seems as tickled as
a boy to get back.

"Yesterday evening he followed the man all around the place while she
was getting supper. She left him setting up in the parlour, but when she
went in to ask him out to the table, he was nowhere to be seen. Pretty
soon he came walking around the corner of the house with a pail of milk
in each hand, sloshing it all over his store clothes. He'd done the
milking himself, and seemed mightily set up over it."

"Lawzee! Billy Maxwell! Don't I remember him?" exclaimed Bud Hines.
"Seems like 'twas only yesterday we used to sit on the same bench at
school doin' our sums out of the same old book. The year old man Prosser
taught, we got into so much devilment that it got to be a regular thing
for him to say, regular as clock-work, almost, 'I'll whip Bud Hines and
Billy Maxwell after the first arithmetic class this morning.' I don't
s'pose he ever thinks of those old times since he's got to be one of the
Four Hundred. Somehow I can hardly sense it, his bein' so rich. He never
seemed any smarter than the rest of us. That's the way of the world,
though, seesaw, one up and the other down. Of course it's my luck to be
the one that's down. Luck always was against me."

"There he is now," exclaimed the storekeeper, and every head turned to
see the stranger stepping briskly along the platform in front of the
depot, on his way to the telegraph office.

He had the alertness of glance and motion that comes from daily contact
with city corners. If there was a slight stoop in his broad shoulders,
and if his closely cut hair and beard were iron gray, that seemed more
the result of bearing heavy responsibilities than the token of advancing
years. His immaculate linen, polished low-cut shoes, and light gray
business suit would have passed unnoticed in the metropolis, but in this
place, where coats and collars were in evidence only on Sunday, they
gave him the appearance of being on dress parade.

Perkins's oldest eyed him as he would a zebra or a giraffe, or some
equally interesting curiosity escaped from a Zoo. He had heard that his
pockets were lined with gold, and that he had been known to pay as much
as five dollars for a single lunch. Five dollars would board a man two
weeks at the Cross-Roads.

With his mouth agape, the boy stood watching the stranger, who
presently came over to the group on the porch with smiling face and
cordial outstretched hand. Despite his gray hair there was something
almost boyish in the eagerness with which he recognised old faces and
claimed old friendships. Bowser's store had been built since his
departure from the neighbourhood, so few of the congenial spirits
accustomed to gather there were familiar to him. But Bud Hines and Cy
Akers were old schoolfellows. When he would have gone up to them with
old-time familiarity, he found a certain restraint in their greeting
which checked his advances.

If he thought he was coming back to them the same freckle-faced,
unconventional country lad they had known as Billy Maxwell, he was
mistaken. He might feel that he was the same at heart; but they looked
on the outward appearance. They saw the successful man of the world who
had outstripped them in the race and passed out of their lives long ago.
They could not conceive of such a change as had metamorphosed the boy
they remembered into the man who stood before them, without feeling that
a corresponding change must have taken place in his attitude toward
them.

They were not conscious that this feeling was expressed in their
reception of him. They laughed at his jokes, and indulged in some
reminiscences, but he felt, in a dim subconscious way, that there was a
barrier between them, and he could never get back to the old familiar
footing.

He turned away, vaguely disappointed. Had he dared to dream that he
would find his lost youth just as he had left it? The fields and hills
were unchanged. The very trees were the same, except that they had added
a few more rings to their girth, and threw a larger circling shade. But
the old chums he had counted on finding had not followed the same law of
growth as the trees. The shade of their sympathies had narrowed, not
expanded, with the passing years, and left him outside their contracted
circle.

Perkins's oldest, awed by reports of his fabulous wealth, could hardly
find his tongue when the distinguished visitor laid a friendly hand on
his embarrassed tow head, and inquired about the old swimming-hole, and
the mill-dam where he used to fish. But the boy's interest grew stronger
every minute as he watched him turning over the limited assortment of
fishing tackle. The men he knew had outlived such frivolous sports. It
was a sight to justify one's gazing open-mouthed,--a grown man
deliberately preparing for a month's idleness.

If the boy could have seen the jointed rods, the reels, the flies, all
the expensive angler's outfit left behind in the Maxwell mansion; if he
could have known of the tarpon this man had caught in Florida bays, and
the fishing he had enjoyed in northern waters, he would have wondered
still more; wondered how a man could be considered in his right mind who
deliberately renounced such privileges to come and drop a common hook,
on a pole of his own cutting, into the shallow pools of the Cross-Roads
creek.

After his purchases no one saw him at the store for several days, but
the boy, dodging across lots, encountered him often,--a solitary figure
wandering by the mill stream, or crashing through the woods with long
eager strides; lying on the orchard grass sometimes with his hat pulled
over his eyes; leaning over the pasture bars in the twilight, and
following with wistful glance the little foot-path stretching white
across the meadows. A pathetic sight to eyes wise enough to see the
pathos,--a world-weary, middle-aged man in vain quest of his lost
boyhood.

On Sunday, Polly, looking across the church from her place in the
miller's pew, recognised the stranger in their midst, and straightway
lost the thread of the sermon in wondering at his presence. She had gone
to school with his daughter, Maud Maxwell. She had danced many a german
with his son Claude. They lived on the same avenue, and passed each
other daily; but this was the first time she had seen him away from the
shadow of the family presence, that seemed to blot out his
individuality.

She had thought of him only as Maud's father, a simple, good-natured
nonentity in his own household. A good business man, but one who could
talk nothing but leather, and whose only part in the family affairs was
to furnish the funds for his wife and children to shine socially.

"Oh, your father's opinion doesn't count," she had heard Mrs. Maxwell
say on more than one occasion, and the children had grown up,
unconsciously copying her patronising attitude toward him. As Polly
studied his face now in the light of other surroundings, she saw that it
was a strong, kindly one; that it was not weakness which made him yield
habitually, until he had become a mere figurehead in his own
establishment. It was only that his peace-loving nature hated domestic
scenes, and his generosity amounted to complete self-effacement when the
happiness of his family was concerned.

His eyes were fixed on the chancel with a wistful reminiscent gaze, and
Polly read something in the careworn face that touched her sympathy.
"Grandfather," she said, at the close of the service, "let's be
neighbourly and ask Mr. Maxwell home to dinner with us. He looks
lonesome."

She was glad afterward that she had suggested it, when she recalled his
evident pleasure in the old man's company. There were chairs out under
the great oak-trees in the yard, and the two sat talking all afternoon
of old times, until the evening shadows began to grow long across the
grass. Then Polly joined them again, and sat with them till the tinkle
of home-going cowbells broke on the restful stillness of the country
Sabbath.

"All the orchestras in all the operas in the world can't make music
that sounds as sweet to me as that does," said Mr. Maxwell, raising his
head from the big armchair to listen. Then he dropped it again with a
sigh.

"It rests me so after the racket of the city. If Julia would only
consent, I'd sell out and come back to-morrow. But she's lost all
interest in the old place. I'm country to the core, but she never was.
She took to city ways like a duck to water, just as soon as she got away
from the farm, and she laughs at me for preferring katydids to the whirr
of electric cars."

A vision rose before the old miller of a little country girl in a pink
cotton gown, who long ago used to wait, bright-eyed and blushing, at the
pasture bars, for Billy to drive home the cows. Many a time he had
passed them at their trysting-place. Then he recalled the superficial,
ambitious woman he had met years afterward when he visited his son. He
shook his head when he thought of her renouncing her social position for
the simple pastoral life her husband longed to find the way back to.
Presently he broke the silence of their several reveries by turning to
Polly.

"What's that piece you recited to me the other night, little girl, about
old times? Say it for Mr. Maxwell." And Polly, clasping her hands in her
lap, and looking away across the August meadows, purple with the royal
pennons of the ironweed, began the musical old poem:

    "'Ko-ling, ko-lang, ko-linglelingle,
     Way down the darkening dingle
       The cows come slowly home.
     (And old-time friends and twilight plays
     And starry nights and sunny days
     Come trooping up the misty ways,
       When the cows come home.)

    "'And over there on Merlin Hill
     Hear the plaintive cry of the whippoorwill.
     And the dewdrops lie on the tangled vines,
     And over the poplars Venus shines,
     And over the silent mill.

    "'Ko-ling, ko-lang, ko-linglelingle,
     With ting-aling and jingle
       The cows come slowly home.
     (Let down the bars, let in the train
     Of long-gone songs and flowers and rain,
     For dear old times come back again,
       When the cows come home.)'"

Once as Polly went on, she saw the tears spring to his eyes at the line
"and mother-songs of long-gone years," and she knew that the

    "same sweet sound of wordless psalm,
     The same sweet smell of buds and balm,"

that had been his delight in the past, were his again as he listened.
But, much to her surprise, as she finished, he rose abruptly, and began
a hurried leave-taking. She understood his manner, however, when his
mood was revealed to her a little later.

At her grandfather's suggestion she walked down to the gate with him, to
point out a short cut across the fields to Mrs. Powers's. Outside the
gate he paused, hat in hand.

"Miss Polly," he began, as if unconsciously taking her into his
confidence, "old times never come back again. Seems as if the bottom had
dropped out of everything. I've done my best to resurrect them, but I
can't do it. I thought if I could once get back to the old place I could
rest as I've not been able to rest for twenty years--that I'd have a
month of perfect enjoyment. But something's the matter.

"Many a time when I've been off at some fashionable resort I've thought
I'd give a fortune to be able to drop my hook in your grandfather's
mill-stream, and feel the old thrill that I used to feel when I was a
boy. I tried it the day I came--caught a little speckled trout, the kind
that used to make me tingle to my finger ends, but somehow it didn't
bring back the old sensation. I just looked at it a minute and put it
back in the water, and threw my pole away.

"Even the swimming-hole down by the mill didn't measure up to the way I
had remembered it. I've fairly ached for a dip into it sometimes, in the
years I've been gone. Seemed as if I could just get into it once, I
could wash myself clear of all the cares and worries of business that
pester a man so. That was a disappointment, too. The change is in me, I
guess, but nothing seems the same."

Polly knew the reason. He had tried so long to mould his habits to fit
his wife's exacting tastes, that he had succeeded better than he
realised. He could not analyse his feelings enough to know that it was
the absence of long accustomed comforts that made him vaguely
dissatisfied with his surroundings; his luxuriously appointed bathroom,
for instance; the perfect service of his carefully trained footmen. Mrs.
Powers's noisy table, where with great clatter she urged every one "to
fall to and help himself," jarred on him, although he was unconscious of
what caused the irritation. As for the rank tobacco Bowser furnished him
when he had exhausted his own special brand of cigars with which he had
stocked his satchel, it was more than flesh and blood could endure. That
is, flesh and blood that had acquired the pampered taste of a
millionaire whose wife is fastidious, and only allows first-class aromas
in the way of the weed.

But Polly knew another reason that his vacation had been a failure. She
divined it as the little Yale pin, stuck jauntily into the front of her
white dress, met the touch of her caressing fingers. The girl in the
pink cotton gown was long dead, and the woman who had grown up in her
stead had no part in the old scenes that he still fondly clung to, with
a sentiment she ridiculed because she could not understand. _There must
always be two when you turn back searching for your lost Eldorado, and
even the two cannot find it, unless they go hand in hand._

       *       *       *       *       *

Next day Bowser had another piece of news to impart. "Mr. Maxwell went
home this morning. He told Mrs. Powers it was like taking a vacation in
a graveyard, and he'd had enough. He'd have to get back to work again.
So he paid her for the full month, and took the first train back to the
city."

"Well, I'll be switched!" was Bud Hines's comment. "If I had as much
money as he's got, I'd never bother my head about work. I'd sit down and
take it easy all the rest of my born days."

"I don't know," answered Bowser, meditatively. "I reckon a man who's
worked the way Mr. Maxwell has, gets such a big momentum on to himself
that he can't stop, no matter how bad he wants a vacation."

"He's a fool for coming back here for it," said Bud Hines, looking out
across the fields that stretched away on every side in unbroken
monotony.

But miles away, in his city office, the busy millionaire was still
haunted by an unsatisfied longing for those same level meadows. Glimpses
of the old mill-stream and the willows still rose before him in
tantalising freshness, and whenever he closed his tired eyes, down
twilight paths, where tinkling cowbells called, there came again the
glimmer of a little pink gown, to wait for him as it had waited through
all the years, beside the pasture bars.



Chapter XII


THE seat was an empty starch-box on the Cross-Roads porch, its occupant
a barefoot boy with a torn straw hat pulled far down over his eyes. To
the casual observer one of the most ordinary of sights, but to one
possessed of sympathetic powers of penetration into a boy's inner
consciousness there was a suggestion of the tragic. Perkins's oldest had
that afternoon in school been told to write a composition on September.
It was to be handed in next morning. It was the hopelessness of
accomplishing the fact even in æons, not to mention the limited time of
a dozen short hours, that had bound him, a little Prometheus, to the
starch-box, with the vulture of absolute despair tearing at his vitals.

Two other boys had been assigned the same subject, and the three had
kicked the dust up wrathfully all the way from the schoolhouse, echoing
an old cry that had gone up ages before from the sons of Jacob, under
the lash of the Egyptian, "How can we make bricks without straw?"

"Ain't nothin' to say 'bout September," declared Riley Hines, gloomily,
"and I'll be dogged if I say it. I'm goin' to get my sister to write
mine fer me. She'll do it ef I tease long enough, and give her something
to boot."

"I'll ask paw what to say," declared Tommy Bowser. "He won't write it
for me, but he'll sort o' boost me along. Then if it ain't what she
wants, _I_ won't be to blame. I'll tell her paw said 'twas all right."

This shifting of responsibility to paternal shoulders restored the
habitual expression of cheerfulness to Tommy's smudgy face, but there
was no corresponding smile on Sammy's. There was no help to be had in
the household of Perkins.

That was why he was waiting on the starch-box while Tommy was sent on an
errand. It was in the vain hope that Tommy would return and apply for
his "boost" and share it with him before darkness fell. He was a
practical child, not given to whimsical reflections, but as he sat there
in desperate silence, he began wondering what the different customers
would have to say if they were suddenly called upon, as he had been that
afternoon, to write about September.

Mrs. Powers, for instance, in her big crape bonnet, with its long wispy
veil trailing down her back. He was almost startled, when, as if in
answer to his thought, she uttered the word that was at the bottom of
his present trouble, the subject assigned him for composition.

"Yes, Mr. Bowser, September is a month that I'm never sorry to say
good-bye to. What with the onion pickle and peach preserves and the
house-cleaning to tend to, I'm nearly broke down when it's over. There's
so many odds and ends to see to on a farm this time of year, first in
doors and then out. I tell Jane it's like piecing a crazy quilt. You
can't never count on what a day's going to bring forth in September. You
may get a carpet up and beat, and have your stove settin' out waiting to
be put up, and your furniture in a heap in the yard, and the hired man
will have to go off and leave it all while he takes the cider-mill to be
mended. And you in a stew all day long for fear it'll rain before he
gets things under shelter.

"Then it's a sad time to me, too," she exclaimed with a mournful shake
of the head in the black bonnet. "It was in September I lost my first
and third husbands, two of the best that ever had tombstones raised to
their memory, if I do say it as oughtn't. One died on the sixteenth, and
his funeral was preached on the eighteenth, and the other died fifteen
years later on the twenty-third, and we kept him three days, on account
of waiting till his brother could get here from Missouri. So you see
that makes nearly a week altogether of mournful anniversaries for me
every September."

Another breath and she had reached the three tombstones, and talking
volubly on her favourite subject, she completed her purchases and went
out. But her conversation had not lightened the woes of the little
Prometheus on the starch-box. Despair still gnawed on. House-cleaning
worries and onion pickle, and reminiscences of two out of three departed
husbands, might furnish material for Mrs. Powers's composition, should
the fates compel her to write one, but there was no straw of a
suggestion for Sammy Perkins, and again he cried out inwardly as
bitterly as the oppressed of old had cried out against Pharaoh.

A man in a long, sagging linen duster was the next comer. He squeaked
back and forth in front of the counter in new high-heeled boots, and
talked incessantly while he made his purchases, with a clumsy attempt at
facetiousness.

"Put in a cake of shaving-soap, too, Jim," he called, passing his hand
over the black stubble on his chin. "County court begins to-morrer.
Reckon the lawyers will shave everything in sight when it comes to their
bills, but I want to be as slick as them. I'll be settin' on the jury
all week. Did you ever think of it, Jim, that's a mighty interesting way
to earn your salt? Jest set back and be entertained with the history of
all the old feuds and fusses in the county, and collect your two bucks a
day without ever turning your hand over. Good as a show, and dead easy.

"Only one thing, it sort o' spiles your faith in human nature. The
court stenographer said last year that in the shorthand he writes, the
same mark that stands for lawyer stands for liar, too. He! he! he! isn't
that a good one? You can only tell which one is meant by what comes
before it, and this fellow said he'd come to believe that one always fit
in the sentence as good as the other. Either word was generally
appropriate. You miss a lot of fun, Jim, by not getting on the jury. I
always look forrard to fall on that account."

No help for Perkins's oldest in _that_ conversation. He waited awhile
longer. Presently an old gentleman in a long-tailed, quaintly cut black
coat, stepped up on the porch. He had a gold-headed cane under his arm,
and the eyes behind the square-bowed spectacles beamed kindly on the
little fellow. He stopped beside the starch-box a moment with a friendly
question about school and the health of the Perkins household. The boy's
heart gave a jump up into his throat. The old minister knew everything.
The minister could even tell him what to write in his composition if he
dared but ask him. He opened his mouth to form the question, but his
tongue seemed glued in its place, and the head under the torn hat
drooped lower in embarrassed silence. His troubled face flushed to the
roots of his tow hair, and he let the Angel of Opportunity pass him by
unchallenged.

"Will you kindly give me one of those advertising almanacs, Mr. Bowser?"
inquired the parson, when his packages of tea and sugar had been
secured. "I've misplaced mine, and I want to ascertain at what hour
to-morrow the moon changes."

"Certainly, certainly!" responded the storekeeper with obliging
alacrity, rubbing his hands together, and stepping up on a chair to
reach the pile on a shelf overhead. "Help yourself, sir. I must answer
the telephone."

The parson, slowly studying the moon's phases as he stepped out of the
store, did not notice that he had taken two almanacs until one fell at
his feet. The boy sprang up to return it, but he waved it aside with a
courtly sweep of his hand.

"No, my son, I intended to take but one. Keep it. They are for general
distribution. You will find it full of useful information. Have you ever
learned anything about the signs of the Zodiac? Here is Leo. I always
take an especial interest in this sign, because I happened to be born
under it. I'm the seventh son of a seventh son, born in the seventh
month, and I always take it as a good omen, seven being the perfect
number. You know the ancients believed a man's star largely affected his
destiny. You will find some interesting historical events enumerated
under each month. A good almanac is almost as interesting to study as a
good dictionary, my boy. I would advise you to form a habit of referring
to both of them frequently."

With one of his rare, childlike smiles the good man passed on, and
Perkins's oldest was left with the almanac in his hands. For awhile he
studied the signs of the Zodiac, in puzzled awe, trying to establish a
relationship between them and the man they surrounded, whose vital
organs were obligingly laid open to public inspection, regardless of any
personal inconvenience the display might cause him.

Then he turned to the historical events. There was one for each day in
the month. On Sunday, the first, eighteen hundred and ninety-nine, had
occurred the Japanese typhoon. Friday, the sixth, sixteen hundred and
twenty, the _Mayflower_ had sailed. Mahomet's birth had set apart the
eleventh in five hundred and seventy. The founding of Mormonism,
Washington's Farewell, and the battle of Marathon were further down the
list, but it was all Greek to Perkins's oldest. Any one of these items
would have been straw for the parson. Out of the _Mayflower_, Mahomet,
Mormonism, or Marathon, each one of them the outgrowth of some
September, he could have pressed enough literary brick to build a fair
sky-scraping structure that would have been the wonder of all who gazed
upon it. This time the boy looked his Angel of Opportunity in the face
and did not recognise it as such.

The gate clicked across the road and he turned his head. Miss Anastasia
Dill was going up the path, her arms full of goldenrod and white and
purple asters. September was a poem to Miss Anastasia, but the boy
looked upon goldenrod and the starry asters simply as meadow weeds. The
armful of bloom brought no suggestion to him. On the morrow Riley Hines
would hand in two pages of allusions to them, beginning with a quotation
from Whittier's "Autumn Thoughts," and ending with a couplet from Pope,
carefully copied by Maria Hines from the "Exercises for Parsing" in the
back of her grammar.

Somebody's supper-horn blew in the distance, and, grown desperate by
Tommy's long absence and the lateness of the hour, he took his little
cracked slate from the strap of books on the floor beside him, and laid
it across his knees. Then with a stubby pencil that squeaked dismally in
its passage across the slate, he began copying bodily from the almanac
the list of historical events enumerated therein, just as they stood,
beginning with the Japanese typhoon on the first, and ending
"_Volunteer_ beat _Thistle_" on the thirtieth, eighteen hundred and
eighty-seven.

Then he began to copy a few agricultural notes, inserted as side remarks
for those who relied on their almanacs as guide-posts to gardening.
"Gather winter squashes now. They keep better when stored in a warm dry
place. Harvest sugar beets when the leaves turn yellowish green, etc."

He was bending painfully over this task when a shadow fell across his
slate, and, looking up, he saw the old miller looking over his shoulder.

"Doing your sums?" he asked, with a friendly smile. "Let's see if you
do them the way I was taught when I was a lad." He held out his hand for
the slate. There had been a bond of sympathy between the two ever since
Christmas eve, when a certain pair of skates had changed owners, and
now, although the boy's voice trembled almost out of his control, he
managed to stammer out the reply that he was trying to write a
composition.

The old man looked from the straggling lines on the slate, then at the
open almanac, then down at the boy's troubled face, and understood.
Drawing a chair across the porch he sat down beside him, and, catching
the furtive, scared side-glance cast in his direction, he plunged at
once into a story.

It was about a shepherd boy who went out to fight a giant, and the king
insisted on lending him his armour. But he couldn't fight in the heavy
helmet and the coat of mail. The shield was in his way, and the spear
more than he could lift. So he threw it aside, and going down to a
little brook, chose five small pebbles, worn smooth by the running
water. And with these in his hand, and only the simple sling he was
accustomed to use every day, he went out against the Philistine giant,
and slew him in the first round.

Perkins's oldest wondered what the story had to do with his
composition. He wasn't looking for a personal application. He had not
been brought up at Sunday schools and kindergartens. But all of a sudden
he realised that the miller meant him; that his depending on Tommy, or
the customers, or the almanac, to furnish him ideas, was like going out
in Saul's armour, and that he could only come to failure in that,
because it wouldn't fit him; that he could hit the mark the little
schoolmistress had in mind for him, only with the familiar sling-shot of
his own common every-day personal experiences.

Maybe the old miller recognised that it was a crisis in the little
fellow's life, for he stayed beside him with helpful hints and
questions, until the slate was full. When he carried it home in the
gloaming it no longer bore the items from the almanac. There were other
remarks straggling across it, not so well expressed, perhaps, but
plainly original. They were to the effect that September is the month
you've got to go back to school when you don't want to, 'cos it's the
nicest time of all to stay out-doors, neither too hot nor too cold.
There's lots of apples then, and it's the minister's birthday. He's the
seventh son of a seventh son, and Dick Wiggins says if you're that you
can pick Wahoo berries in the dark of the moon and make med'cine out of
them, that will cure the bone-break fever every time, when nothing else
in the world will. Then followed several items of information that he
had discovered for himself, in his prowls through the September woods,
about snakes and tree-toads, as to their habits at that season of the
year. It closed with a suggestive allusion to the delights of sucking
cider from the bung of a barrel through a straw.

Next day the little schoolmistress shook her head over the composition
that Riley Hines handed in, and laid it aside with a hopeless sigh. She
recognised too plainly the hand of Maria in its construction. The
sentiments expressed therein were as foreign to Riley's nature as they
would have been to a woodchuck's. She took up Tommy Bowser's. Alas,
four-syllabled words were not in Tommy's daily vocabulary, nor were the
elegant sentences under his name within the power of his composition.
Plainly it was the work of a plagiarist.

She went through the pile slowly, and then wrote on the blackboard as
she had promised, the names of the ten whose work was the best and most
original. It was then that Perkins's oldest had the surprise of his
life, for lo! his name, like Abou-ben-Adhem's, "led all the rest."

Again the Cross-Roads had taught him more than the school,--to depend
on the resources to which nature had adapted him, and never again to
attempt to sally forth in borrowed armour, even though it be a king's.



Chapter XII


IT was Cy Akers who carried the news to the schoolhouse, galloping his
old sorrel up to the open door just before the bell tapped for afternoon
dismissal. He did not dismount, but drawing rein, leaned forward in his
saddle, waiting for the little schoolmistress to step down from the desk
to the doorstep. The rows of waiting children craned their necks
anxiously, but only those nearest the door heard his message.

"Mr. Asa Holmes died this morning," he said. "The funeral is set for
to-morrow afternoon at four, and you can announce to the children that
there won't be any school. The trustees thought it would be only proper
to close out of respect for him, as he was on the school board over
thirty years, and has done so much for the community. He's one of the
old landmarks, you might say, about the last of the old pioneers, and
everybody will want to go."

Before she could recover from the suddenness of the announcement the
rider was gone, and she was left looking out across the October fields
with a lonely sense of personal loss, although her acquaintance with the
old miller had extended over only two short school terms.

A few minutes later the measured tramp of feet over the worn door-sill
began, and forty children passed out into the mellow sunshine of the
late autumn afternoon. They went quietly at first, awed by the tender,
reverent words in which the little schoolmistress had given them the
message to carry home. But once outside, the pent-up enthusiasm over
their unexpected holiday, and the mere joy of being alive and free on
such a day sent them rushing down the road pell-mell, shouting and
swinging their dinner-pails as they ran.

A shade of annoyance crossed the teacher's face as she stood watching
from the doorstep. She wished she had cautioned them not to be so noisy,
for she knew that their shouts could be plainly heard in the old house
whose gables she could see through a clump of cedars, farther down the
road. It was standing with closed blinds now, and she had a feeling that
the laughing voices floating across to it must strike harshly across its
profound silence.

But presently her face brightened as she watched the children running
on in the sunshine, in the joy of their emancipation. Part of a poem she
had read that morning came to her. She had thought when she read it that
it was a beautiful way to look upon death, and now it bore a new
significance, and she whispered it to herself:

    "'Why should it be a wrench to leave this wooden bench?
    Why not with happy shout, run home when school is out?'

"That's the way the old miller has gone," she said, softly. "His lessons
all learned and his tasks all done--so well done, too, that he has
nothing to regret. I'm glad that I didn't stop the children. I am sure
that's the way he would want them to go. Dear old man! He was always a
boy at heart."

She turned the key in the door behind her presently, and started down
the road to Mrs. Powers's, where she boarded. In every fence corner the
sumachs flamed blood-red, and across the fields, where purple shadows
trailed their royal lengths behind every shock of corn, the autumn
woodlands massed their gold and crimson against the sunset sky. She
walked slowly, loath to reach the place where she must go indoors.

The Perkins home lay in her way, and as she passed, Mrs. Perkins with a
baby on her hip, and a child clinging to her skirts, leaned over the
gate to speak to her.

"Isn't it sad," the woman exclaimed, grasping eagerly at this chance to
discuss every incident of the death and illness, with that love for
detail always to be found in country districts where happenings are few
and interests are strong.

"They sent for the family Tuesday when he had the stroke, but he
couldn't speak to them when they got here. They said he seemed to
recognise Miss Polly, and smiled when she took his hand. She seemed to
be his favourite, and they say she's taking it mighty hard--harder than
any of the rest. It's a pity he couldn't have left 'em all some last
message. I think it's always a comfort to remember one's dying words
when as good a person as Mr. Holmes goes. And it's always so nice when
they happen to be appropriate, so's they can be put on the tombstone
afterward. I remember my Aunt Maria worked my grandfather's last words
into a sampler, with an urn and weeping-willow-tree. She had it framed
in black and hung in the parlour, and everybody who came to the house
admired it. It's a pity that the miller couldn't have left some last
word to each of 'em."

"I don't think it was necessary," said the girl, turning away with a
choke in her voice, as the eloquent face of the old man seemed to rise
up before her. "His whole life speaks for him."

Mrs. Perkins looked after the retreating figure regretfully, as the
jaunty sailor hat disappeared behind a tall hedge. "I wish she hadn't
been in such a hurry," she sighed, shifting the baby to the other hip.
"I would have liked to ask her if she's heard who the pall-bearers are
to be."

At the turn in the road the little schoolmistress looked up to see Miss
Anastasia Dill leaning over her gate. She had just heard the news, and
there were tears in her pale blue eyes.

"And Polly's wedding cards were to have been sent out this next week!"
she exclaimed after their first words of greeting. "The poor child told
me so herself when she was here in August on a visit. 'Miss Anastasia,'
she said to me, 'I'm not going abroad for my honeymoon, as all my family
want me to do. I'm going to bring Jack back here to the old homestead
where grandfather's married life began. Somehow it was so ideal, so
nearly perfect, that I have a feeling that maybe the mantle of that old
romance will fall on our shoulders. Besides, Jack has never seen
grandfather, and I tell him it's as much of an education to know such a
grand old man as it is to go through Yale. So we're coming in October.
The woods will have on all their gala colours then, and I'll be the
happiest bride the sun ever shone on, unless it was my grandmother
Polly.' And now to think," added Miss Anastasia, tearfully, "none of
those plans can come to pass. It's bad luck to put off a wedding. Oh, I
feel so sorry for her!"

       *       *       *       *       *

There is an undefined note of pathos in a country funeral that is never
reached in any other. The little schoolmistress felt it as she walked up
the path to the old house behind the cedars. The front porch was full of
men, who, dressed in their unaccustomed best, had the uneasy appearance
of having come upon a Sunday in the middle of the week. Their heavy
boots tiptoed clumsily through the hall, with a painful effort to go
silently, as one by one the neighbours passed into the old sitting-room
and out again. The room across the hall had been filled with rows of
chairs, and the women who came first were sitting there in a deep
silence, broken only by a cough now and then, a hoarse whisper or a
rustle, as some one moved to make room for a newcomer.

It was a sombre assembly, for every one wore whatever black her wardrobe
afforded, and many funeral occasions had left an accumulation of
mourning millinery in every house in the neighbourhood. But the limp
crape veils and black gloves and pall-like cashmere shawls were all
congregated in the dimly lighted parlour. In the old sitting-room it was
as cheerful and homelike as ever, save for the still form in the centre.

Through an open window the western sun streamed into the big,
hospitable room, across the bright home-made rag carpet. The old clock
in the corner ticked with the placid, steady stroke that had never
failed or faltered, in any vicissitude of the generations for which it
had marked the changes. No fire blazed on the old hearthstone that had
warmed the hearts as well as the hands of the whole countryside on many
a cheerful occasion. But a great bough of dogwood, laid across the
shining andirons, filled the space with coral berries that glowed like
live embers as the sun stole athwart them.

"Oh, if the old room could only speak!" thought Miss Anastasia, when her
turn came to pass reverently in for a last look at the peaceful face.
"There would be no need of man's eulogy."

But man's eulogy was added presently, when the old minister came in and
took his place beside the coffin of his lifelong friend and neighbour.
The men outside the porch closed in around the windows to listen. The
women in the back rows of chairs in the adjoining room leaned forward
eagerly. Those farthest away caught only a faltering sentence now and
then.

"A hospitality as warm as his own hearthstone, as wide as his broad
acres.... No man can point to him and say he ever knowingly hurt or
hindered a fellow creature.... He never measured out to any man a scant
bushel. Be it grain or good-will, it was ever an overflowing
measure...." But those who could not hear all that was said could make
the silent places eloquent with their own recollections, for he had
taken a father's interest in them all, and manifested it by a score of
kindly deeds, too kindly to ever be forgotten.

It was a perfect autumn day, sunny and golden and still, save for the
patter of dropping nuts and the dry rustle of fallen leaves. A purple
haze rested on the distant horizon like the bloom on a ripened grape.
Down through the orchard, when the simple service was over, they carried
their old friend to the family burying-ground, and, although voices had
choked, and eyes overflowed before, there was neither sob nor tear, when
the light of the sunset struck across the low mound, heaped with its
covering of glowing autumn leaves. For if grief has no part in the
sunset glory that ends the day, or in the perfect fulness of the autumn
time, then it must indeed stand hushed, when a life comes both to its
sunset and its harvest, in such royal fashion.

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening at the Cross-Roads, Bowser lighted the first fire of the
season in the rusty old stove, for the night was chilly. One by one the
men accustomed to gather around it dropped in and took their usual
places. The event of the day was all that was spoken of.

"Do you remember what he said last Thanksgiving, nearly a year ago?"
asked Bowser. "It came back to me as I stood and looked at him to-day,
and if I'd never believed in immortality before, I'd 'a' had to have
believed in it then. The words seemed to fairly shine out of his face.
He said '_The best comes after the harvest, when the wheat goes to make
up blood and muscle and brain; when it's raised to a higher order of
life in man. And it's the same with me. At eighty-five, when it looks as
if I'd about reached the end, I've come to believe that "the best is yet
to be._"'"

There was a long pause, and Cy Akers said, slowly, "Somehow I can't
feel that he is dead. Seems as if he'd just gone away a while. But Lord!
how we're going to miss him here at the store."

"No, don't say that!" exclaimed Bud Hines, with more emotion than he had
ever been known to show before. "Say, how we're going to feel him! I
can't get him out of my mind. Every time I turn around, most, seems to
me I can hear him laugh, and say, 'Don't cross your bridge till you come
to it, Bud.' That saying of his rings in my ears every time I get in the
dumps. Seems like he could set the calendar straight for us, all the
year around. The winters wasn't so cold or the summers so hard to pull
through, looking at life through his eyes."

Perkins's oldest crept up unnoticed. He added no word, but deep in his
heart lay an impression that all the years to come could never erase;
the remembrance of a kindly old man who had given him a new gospel, in
that one phrase, "A brother to Santa Claus;" who had taught him to go
out against his Philistines with simple directness of aim and whatever
lay at hand; who had left behind him the philosophy of a cheerful
optimist, and the example of a sweet simple life, unswerving in its
loyalty to duty and to truth.

       *       *       *       *       *

Over in the old homestead, Polly, standing in the firelight, fair and
slender in her black gown, looked up at the tall young fellow beside
her, and placed two little books in his hands. The old house was not her
only heritage. The little atlas of the heavens was hers also. Standing
there in the room where the beloved presence seemed to have left its
benediction, Polly told the story of the love that had outlived Death.
Then across the yellowed page of the old grammar where the faded violets
lay, two hands met in the same sure clasp that had joined the souls of
those older lovers, who somewhere beyond the stars were still repeating
the old conjugation--"we love--_for ever_!"


THE END.



    L. C. Page & Company's
    Announcement List
    of New Fiction


      =Haunters of the Silences.= BY CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS,
      author of "Red Fox," "The Watchers of the Trails,"
      etc.

  Cloth, one volume, with many drawings by Charles Livingston
      Bull, four of which are in full color                    $2.00

The stories in Mr. Roberts's new collection are the strongest and best
he has ever written.

He has largely taken for his subjects those animals rarely met with in
books, whose lives are spent "In the Silences," where they are the
supreme rulers. Mr. Roberts has written of them sympathetically, as
always, but with fine regard for the scientific truth.

      "As a writer about animals, Mr. Roberts occupies an
      enviable place. He is the most literary, as well as
      the most imaginative and vivid of all the nature
      writers."--_Brooklyn Eagle._

      "His animal stories are marvels of sympathetic
      science and literary exactness."--_New York World._


      =The Lady of the Blue Motor.= BY G. SIDNEY
      PATERNOSTER, author of "The Cruise of the Motor-Boat
      Conqueror," "The Motor Pirate," etc.

  Cloth decorative, with a colored frontispiece by John C. Frohn   $1.50

The Lady of the Blue Motor is an audacious heroine who drove her
mysterious car at breakneck speed. Her plea for assistance in an
adventure promising more than a spice of danger could not of course be
disregarded by any gallant fellow motorist. Mr. Paternoster's hero rose
promptly to the occasion. Across France they tore and across the English
Channel. There, the escapade past, he lost her.

Mr. Paternoster, however, is generous, and allows the reader to follow
their separate adventures until the Lady of the Blue Motor is found
again and properly vindicated of all save womanly courage and affection.
A unique romance, one continuous exciting series of adventure.


      =Clementina's Highwayman.= BY ROBERT NEILSON STEPHENS,
      author of "The Flight of Georgiana," "An Enemy to the
      King," etc.

    Cloth decorative, illustrated      $1.50

Mr. Stephens has put into his new book, "Clementina's Highwayman," the
finest qualities of plot, construction, and literary finish.

The story is laid in the mid-Georgian period. It is a dashing,
sparkling, vivacious comedy, with a heroine as lovely and changeable as
an April day, and a hero all ardor and daring.

The exquisite quality of Mr. Stephens's literary style clothes the
story in a rich but delicate word-fabric; and never before have his
setting and atmosphere been so perfect.


      =The Sorceress of Rome.= BY NATHAN GALLIZIER, author
      of "Castel del Monte," etc.

    Cloth decorative, illustrated      $1.50

The love-story of Otto III., the boy emperor, and Stephania, wife of the
Senator Crescentius of Rome, has already been made the basis of various
German poems and plays.

Mr. Gallizier has used it for the main theme of "The Sorceress of Rome,"
the second book of his trilogy of romances on the mediæval life of
Italy. In detail and finish the book is a brilliant piece of work,
describing clearly an exciting and strenuous period. It possesses the
same qualities as "Castel del Monte," of which the _Chicago Record
Herald_ said: "There is color, there is sumptuous word-painting in these
pages; the action is terrific at times; vividness and life are in every
part; brilliant descriptions entertain the reader; mystic scenes and
prophecies give a singular fascination to the tale, which is strong and
forceful in its portrayal."


      =Hester of the Hills.= BY GILDER CLAY.

    Cloth decorative, illustrated      $1.50

"Hester of the Hills" has a motif unusual in life, and new in fiction.
Its hero, who has only acquired his own strength and resourcefulness by
a lifelong struggle against constitutional frailty, has come to make the
question of bodily soundness his dominant thought. He resolves to ensure
strong constitutions to his children by marrying a physically perfect
woman. After long search, he finds this ideal in Hester, the daughter of
a "cracker squatter," of the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. But,--he
forgot to take into consideration that very vital emotion, love, which
played havoc with his well-laid plans.

It is an ingenious combination of practical realism and imaginative
fiction worked out to a thoroughly delightful and satisfying climax.


      =Prisoners of Fortune.= A TALE OF THE MASSACHUSETTS
      BAY COLONY. BY RUEL PERLEY SMITH, author of "The Rival
      Campers," etc.

  Cloth decorative, with a colored frontispiece by Frank T. Merrill  $1.50

The period of Mr. Smith's story is the beginning of the eighteenth
century, when the shores of the American colonies were harassed and the
seas patrolled by pirates and buccaneers. These robbed and spoiled, and
often seized and put to death, the sailors and fishers and other humbler
folk, while their leaders claimed friendship alike with Southern
planters and New England merchants,--with whom it is said they
frequently divided their spoils.

The times were stern and the colonists were hardy, but they loved as
truly and tenderly as in more peaceful days. Thus, while the hero's
adventures with pirates and his search for their hidden treasure is a
record of desperate encounters and daring deeds, his love-story and his
winning of sweet Mary Vane is in delightful contrast.


      =The Rome Express.= BY MAJOR ARTHUR GRIFFITHS, author
      of "The Passenger from Calais," etc.

  Cloth decorative, with a colored frontispiece by A. O. Scott      $1.25

A mysterious murder on a flying express train, a wily Italian, a
charming woman caught in the meshes of circumstantial evidence, a
chivalrous Englishman, and a police force with a keen nose for the wrong
clue, are the ingredients from which Major Griffiths has concocted a
clever, up-to-date detective story. The book is bright and spirited,
with rapid action, and consistent development which brings the story to
a logical and dramatic ending.


      =The Morning Glory Club.= BY GEORGE A. KYLE.

  Cloth decorative, with a colored frontispiece by A. O. Scott.      $1.25

The doings of the Morning Glory Club will furnish genuine amusement to
the reader. Originally formed to "elevate" the village, it quickly
develops into an exchange for town gossip. It has a saving grace,
however, in the person of motherly Mrs. Stout, the uncultured but
sweet-natured and pure-minded village philosopher, who pours the oil of
her saneness and charity on the troubled waters of discussion and
condemnation.

It is a series of clear and interesting pictures of the humor of village
life.


      =The Chronicles of Martin Hewitt, Detective.= NEW
      ILLUSTRATED EDITION. BY ARTHUR MORRISON, author of
      "The Green Diamond," "The Red Triangle," etc.

  Cloth decorative, with six full-page drawings by W. Kirkpatrick    $1.50

The success of Mr. Morrison's recent books, "The Green Diamond" and "The
Red Triangle," has led to an imperative demand for the reissue of "The
Chronicles of Martin Hewitt," which has been out of print for a number
of years.

It will be remembered that Martin Hewitt is the detective in "The Red
Triangle," of whom the _New York Tribune_ said: "Better than Sherlock
Holmes." His adventures in the London slums were of such a nature that
the _Philadelphia North American_ said: "The reader who has a grain of
fancy or imagination may be defied to lay this book down once he has
begun it until the last word is reached."


      =Mystery Island.= BY EDWARD H. HURST.

    Cloth decorative, with a colored frontispiece      $1.50

A hunting camp on a swampy island in the Florida Everglades furnishes
the background for this present-day tale.

By the murder of one of their number, the secret of egress from the
island is lost, and the campers find themselves marooned.

Cut off from civilization, conventional veneer soon wears away. Love,
hate, and revenge spring up, and after the sterner passions have had
their sway the man and the woman are left alone to fulfil their own
destiny.

While there is much that is unusual in the plot and its development, Mr.
Hurst has handled his subject with fine delicacy, and the tale of their
love on the beautiful little island is told with deep sympathy and
feeling.


      =The Flying Cloud.= BY MORLEY ROBERTS, author of "The
      Promotion of the Admiral," "Rachel Marr," "The
      Idlers," etc.

    Cloth decorative, with a colored frontispiece      $1.50

Mr. Roberts's new book is much more than a ripping good sea story such
as might be expected from the author of "The Promotion of the Admiral."
In "The Flying Cloud" the waters and the winds are gods personified.
Their every mood and phase are described in words of telling force.
There is no world but the waste of waters.

Mr. Roberts glories and exults in the mystery, the passion, the
strength of the elements, as did the Viking chroniclers of old. He
understands them and loves them and interprets them as no other writer
has heretofore done. The book is too big for conventional phrases. It
needs Mr. Roberts's own richness of imagery and masterly expression to
describe adequately the word-pictures in this epic of wind and waves.



Selections from L. C. Page and Company's List of Fiction


WORKS OF ROBERT NEILSON STEPHENS

    _Each one vol., library 12mo, cloth decorative_      $1.50


=The Flight of Georgiana=

A ROMANCE OF THE DAYS OF THE YOUNG PRETENDER. Illustrated by H. C.
Edwards.

"A love-story in the highest degree, a dashing story, and a remarkably
well finished piece of work."--_Chicago Record-Herald._


=The Bright Face of Danger=

Being an account of some adventures of Henri de Launay, son of the Sieur
de la Tournoire. Illustrated by H. C. Edwards.

"Mr. Stephens has fairly outdone himself. We thank him heartily. The
story is nothing if not spirited and entertaining, rational and
convincing."--_Boston Transcript._


=The Mystery of Murray Davenport=

(40th thousand.)

"This is easily the best thing that Mr. Stephens has yet done. Those
familiar with his other novels can best judge the measure of this
praise, which is generous."--_Buffalo News._


=Captain Ravenshaw=

OR, THE MAID OF CHEAPSIDE. (52d thousand.) A romance of Elizabethan
London. Illustrations by Howard Pyle and other artists.

Not since the absorbing adventures of D'Artagnan have we had anything so
good in the blended vein of romance and comedy.


=The Continental Dragoon=

A ROMANCE OF PHILIPSE MANOR HOUSE IN 1778. (53d thousand.) Illustrated
by H. C. Edwards.

A stirring romance of the Revolution, with its scene laid on neutral
territory.


=Philip Winwood=

(70th thousand.) A Sketch of the Domestic History of an American Captain
in the War of Independence, embracing events that occurred between and
during the years 1763 and 1785 in New York and London. Illustrated by E.
W. D. Hamilton.


=An Enemy to the King=

(70th thousand.) From the "Recently Discovered Memoirs of the Sieur de
la Tournoire." Illustrated by H. De M. Young.

An historical romance of the sixteenth century, describing the
adventures of a young French nobleman at the court of Henry III., and on
the field with Henry IV.


=The Road to Paris=

A STORY OF ADVENTURE. (35th thousand.) Illustrated by H. C. Edwards.

An historical romance of the eighteenth century, being an account of the
life of an American gentleman adventurer of Jacobite ancestry.


=A Gentleman Player=

HIS ADVENTURES ON A SECRET MISSION FOR QUEEN ELIZABETH. (48th thousand.)
Illustrated by Frank T. Merrill.

The story of a young gentleman who joins Shakespeare's company of
players, and becomes a friend and protégé of the great poet.



WORKS OF CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS


=Red Fox=

THE STORY OF HIS ADVENTUROUS CAREER IN THE RINGWAAK WILDS, AND OF HIS
FINAL TRIUMPH OVER THE ENEMIES OF HIS KIND. With fifty illustrations,
including frontispiece in color and cover design by Charles Livingston
Bull.

    Square quarto, cloth decorative      $2.00

      "Infinitely more wholesome reading than the average
      tale of sport, since it gives a glimpse of the hunt
      from the point of view of the hunted."--_Boston
      Transcript._

      "True in substance but fascinating as fiction. It will
      interest old and young, city-bound and free-footed,
      those who know animals and those who do
      not."--_Chicago Record-Herald._

      "A brilliant chapter in natural
      history."--_Philadelphia North American._


=The Kindred of the Wild=

A BOOK OF ANIMAL LIFE. With fifty-one full-page plates and many
decorations from drawings by Charles Livingston Bull.

    Square quarto, decorative cover      $2.00

      "Is in many ways the most brilliant collection of
      animal stories that has appeared; well named and well
      done."--_John Burroughs._


=The Watchers of the Trails=

A companion volume to "The Kindred of the Wild." With forty-eight
full-page plates and many decorations from drawings by Charles
Livingston Bull.

    Square quarto, decorative cover      $2.00

      "Mr. Roberts has written a most interesting series of
      tales free from the vices of the stories regarding
      animals of many other writers, accurate in their facts
      and admirably and dramatically told."--_Chicago News._

      "These stories are exquisite in their refinement, and
      yet robust in their appreciation of some of the
      rougher phases of woodcraft. Among the many writers
      about animals, Mr. Roberts occupies an enviable
      place."--_The Outlook._

      "This is a book full of delight. An additional charm
      lies in Mr. Bull's faithful and graphic illustrations,
      which in fashion all their own tell the story of the
      wild life, illuminating and supplementing the pen
      pictures of the author."--_Literary Digest._


=Earth's Enigmas=

A new edition of Mr. Roberts's first volume of fiction, published in
1892, and out of print for several years, with the addition of three new
stories, and ten illustrations by Charles Livingston Bull.

    Library 12mo, cloth, decorative cover      $1.50

      "It will rank high among collections of short stories.
      In 'Earth's Enigmas' is a wider range of subject than
      in the 'Kindred of the Wild.'"--_Review from advance
      sheets of the illustrated edition by Tiffany Blake in
      the Chicago Evening Post._


=Barbara Ladd=

With four illustrations by Frank Verbeck.

    Library 12mo, gilt top      $1.50

      "From the opening chapter to the final page Mr.
      Roberts lures us on by his rapt devotion to the
      changing aspects of Nature and by his keen and
      sympathetic analysis of human character"--_Boston
      Transcript._


=Cameron of Lochiel=

Translated from the French of Philippe Aubert de Gaspé, with
frontispiece in color by H. C. Edwards.

    Library 12mo, cloth decorative      $1.50

      "Professor Roberts deserves the thanks of his reader
      for giving a wider audience an opportunity to enjoy
      this striking bit of French Canadian
      literature."--_Brooklyn Eagle._

      "It is not often in these days of sensational and
      philosophical novels that one picks up a book that so
      touches the heart."--_Boston Transcript._


=The Prisoner of Mademoiselle=

With frontispiece by Frank T. Merrill.

    Library 12mo, cloth decorative, gilt top      $1.50

A tale of Acadia,--a land which is the author's heart's delight,--of a
valiant young lieutenant and a winsome maiden, who first captures and
then captivates.

      "This is the kind of a story that makes one grow
      younger, more innocent, more light-hearted. Its
      literary quality is impeccable. It is not every day
      that such a heroine blossoms into even temporary
      existence, and the very name of the story bears a
      breath of charm."--_Chicago Record-Herald._


=The Heart of the Ancient Wood=

With six illustrations by James L. Weston.

    Library 12mo, decorative cover      $1.50

      "One of the most fascinating novels of recent
      days."--_Boston Journal._

      "A classic twentieth-century romance."--_New York
      Commercial Advertiser._


=The Forge In the Forest=

Being the Narrative of the Acadian Ranger, Jean de Mer, Seigneur de
Briart, and how he crossed the Black Abbé, and of his adventures in a
strange fellowship. Illustrated by Henry Sandham, R. C. A.

    Library 12mo, cloth, gilt top      $1.50

A story of pure love and heroic adventure.



=By the Marshes of Minas=

    Library 12mo, cloth, gilt top, illustrated         $1.50

Most of these romances are in the author's lighter and more playful
vein; each is a unit of absorbing interest and exquisite workmanship.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:


Obvious punctuation errors repaired.


Page 80, "threatenin" changed to "threatening" (and a threatening swing)


Page 177, "fastidous" changed to "fastidious" (is fastidious, and only)





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