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´╗┐Title: Nobody's Child
Author: Dejeans, Elizabeth
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nobody's Child" ***

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                          NOBODY'S CHILD

                       By ELIZABETH DEJEANS

                  Author of THE TIGER'S COAT, etc.


    FRONTISPIECE BY
    ARTHUR I. KELLER

    INDIANAPOLIS
    THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
    PUBLISHERS

    COPYRIGHT 1918

    THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY

    PRESS OF
    BRAUNWORTH & CO.
    BOOK MANUFACTURERS
    BROOKLYN, N. Y.



[Illustration]



CONTENTS


I ANN

II THREE MEN AND A GIRL

III PENNIMAN AND WESTMORE

IV BUT IF HE FAILED HER?

V IN COLONIAL FASHION

VI BAIRD RECONNOITERS

VII THE WESTMORES OF WESTMORE

VIII THE COLONEL IS SUSPICIOUS

IX A FEMININE PROCEDURE

X THE INFINITELY PAINFUL THING

XI KEPT IN THE DARK

XII A VENDETTA

XIII INERADICABLY BRANDED

XIV THE MISFITS

XV AS WITH A CHILD

XVI "IT WAS BORN IN HER"

XVII COMPLEXITIES

XVIII "YOU'RE ALL I HAVE"

XIX A BARGAIN

XX MARRY? YES

XXI A LOT OF PLANNING

XXII IMPRESSIONS

XXIII CHAOTIC UNCERTAINTY

XXIV A DEFINITION OF LOVE

XXV BECAUSE SHE LOVED TOO MUCH

XXVI THE ETERNAL ATTRACTION

XXVII THE THING

XXVIII THE HELL-HOLE OF THE WESTMORES

XXIX "WHAT'S NOT KNOWN"

XXX CONTENT

XXXI THE FAMILY NAME

XXXII THE DEATH-TRAP

XXXIII FROM DESPAIR TO HOPE

XXXIV BEN BROKAW EXPLAINS

XXXV WAITING

XXXVI "IT LIES WITH ANN"

XXXVII COLD CASH

XXXVIII THE REVELATION

XXXIX "WILL YOU GO WITH ME?"

CONCLUSION



NOBODY'S CHILD



I

ANN


The quietude of winter still lay on the land, the apathetic dun of field
and woodland unstirred as yet by the hint of spring that was tipping
with eagerness the wings of the birds and, under their brown
frost-dulled blanket, was quickening into fresh green the woody stems of
arbutus. The mid-morning sun had struggled out of a gray March chill and
was setting a-gleam the drops of moisture on trees and grass, drawing
little rivulets from the streaks of snow which hid in the corners of the
rail-fences and in the hollows of the creek. Winter was reluctantly
saying farewell.

The girl, who a mile back had turned in from the old Fox-Ridge Post-Road
and had come up through the pastures to the edge of the woodland, looked
with smiling understanding at the slow yielding of winter. Another
winter added to her sum of seventeen. Or, rather, as youth always looks
forward and counts much upon the future, perhaps a joyous spring to be
added to her sum of experience.

As she sat, swaying gently to the jerky motion of the creaking buggy,
the reins lax in her hands, her eyes from beneath the shadow of her
brown hood traveled over the reaches of pasture, the slopes of reddish
soil freshly turned for oats, the trails of the snake-fences strangled
by brown undergrowth, the twists and curves of the creek that divided
the pasture from the upward slopes of grain-land, and, beyond, against
the horizon, the red scars and dull patches of scrubby growth that
marked the "Mine Banks," the ancient, worked-out, and now overgrown and
abandoned iron-ore bed that a hundred and fifty years before had yielded
wealth to its owners.

"Spring will make even the Mine Banks lovely," Ann Penniman was
thinking.

She had come up now to the woodland, a wide half circle of tall oaks and
chestnuts, which, like the bend of a huge bow, touched the Mine Banks in
the distance, and behind her reached to the Post-Road. She skirted the
woods for a time, the horse straining through sand, a rough road, in the
winter rarely traveled, but in summer a possible short cut from the
Post-Road to the Penniman farm, which was just beyond the woods.

A short distance ahead, this side of where the creek came out into the
open, the road turned and led into the woods, and Ann had almost reached
the turn when a streak of red, a fox running swift and low, darted
across the road, slid over the corner of pasture that lay between the
woods and the creek, reappeared beyond the creek, then sped up the slope
of plowed ground, making for the shelter of the Mine Banks.

Ann drew up and waited a moment, until the woods awoke to the deep bay
of the hounds as they picked up the scent, followed by the halloo of the
huntsmen. The next moment the whole pack swept almost under her horse's
nose, over and under and through the rail-fence, across the bit of
pasture, checked for a moment or two and casting along the bank of the
creek, then were over and off up the plowed slope, after their quarry.

The color came into the girl's cheeks and she sat taut. A bag-fox! If a
game fox, he would mix up the hunt in the Mine Banks, and be off to the
denser woods and rock-holes above the river, an all day's sport for the
Fox-Ridge Hunt Club. The woods rang and rustled now to their approach.
Some took the fence, some came out by the road, and one and all cleared
the creek and galloped up the opposite slope. Here and there fluttered a
woman's dark skirt, a somber note amid the cluster of men in pink.

Ann knew the meaning of it all well. The Hunt Club was just beyond the
woods, half a mile or so from the Penniman farm. They had loosed the fox
at the edge of the woods, given him his start, then set on the hounds.
She looked with tingling wistfulness after the aristocracy of the
Ridge, embarked on its Saturday of excitement and pleasure, then with
lifted lip at the thin rump of the mare she was driving, and gathered up
the reins. The animal had pricked its ears and quivered when the hunt
swept over it; it had life enough in it for that, but that was all.

Then with a revulsion of feeling, pity for the beast commingled with
self-pity, she let the reins drop. It had been a hard pull of four miles
up the muddy Post-Road and through the sand of the Back Road, and the
wait here was pleasanter than the return to the farm would be. The hunt
had passed, leaving her behind; everything bearing the name of Penniman
or belonging to a Penniman was fated to be left behind; why not sit in
the sun for a time?

But it seemed she had not seen the last of the hunt, for her ear caught
now the gallop of horses, even before she saw them: two horsemen who
cleared the fence at the lower end of the pasture with a bird-like lift
and dip that brought the light into Ann's eyes, and who now galloped up
and by her, headed for the creek, two belated huntsmen come
cross-country from the Post-Road and evidently intent upon joining the
hunt. Ann recognized the foremost rider first from his horse, a
long-necked, clean-limbed sorrel, then from the fleeting glimpse of the
man's profile, dark and clear-cut, the face that for months had played
with her fancy: Garvin Westmore, the most indefatigable sportsman of the
Ridge. The other young man's heavier-jawed and rougher-featured face
she did not know. A guest of the club, probably, out from the city for
the day.

Then she saw again, with a choke of delight, the light lift and dip of
the riders as they cleared the creek--stood up in her ramshackle buggy
to see it.... Saw one horse go down, pitching his rider over his head,
and the other horseman, not Garvin Westmore, go on--wheel when well up
the slope and start back; saw that the horse was struggling with nose to
the ground, but that the man lay motionless.



II

THREE MEN AND A GIRL


Ann had crossed the creek and reached the prostrate man before the other
horseman had time to dismount. She was bending over Garvin Westmore when
the other stood over her.

"Hurt?" he asked tersely.

Ann looked up at him, meeting fairly a pair of keen eyes, grayed into
coldness by an excitement that his manner did not betray.

"He doesn't move--his eyes are shut--" she answered breathlessly. Her
own eyes were dark and dilated, her face a-quiver.

"Wait a minute."

He plunged down into the creek and came up with his cap filled with
water, and, kneeling, dashed it over the unconscious man's face--and
over Ann's hovering hands as well. "It's probably only a faint. The
ground's soft--he's had the breath knocked out of him, that's all."

He appeared to be right, for Garvin Westmore stirred, and, when Ann had
wiped the wet from his face, looked at the two with full consciousness;
at Ann's frightened face and her companion's questioning eyes.

"He threw me--the damned brute."

"Lucky if you've broken no bones," the other returned. "See if you can
stand."

Ann moved aside and he helped Garvin to his feet, watching him
critically as he stretched his arms and felt his body. "All right?" he
asked.

"I think so."

"You're lucky."

"Lucky, am I--" Garvin said through his teeth. Then his voice rose.
"Look--!"

Ann looked, and caught her breath. The horse had at last struggled up
and stood quivering, nostrils wide and head bent, nosing the leg that
hung limp. He had essayed a step, then stopped, grown suddenly moist.
There was something very human in the eyes he lifted to the two men when
they came to him, and even under their handling he shifted only a
little.

Then they drew back, and their voices came sharply to Ann as she stood
with hand pressed to her lips and eyes wide with pity.

"Broken, Garvin--and the shoulder strained--I've seen them like that."

"He went down in that rabbit-hole, Baird!"

"Yep--poor beast."

"What's to be done?" Garvin's voice was strained.

"Nothing--he's done for."

There was silence for a moment and Ann saw that the color had flamed in
Garvin's white face. He was suddenly as violently a-quiver as the
suffering animal, curiously and tensely excited. He glanced behind him,
then to either side, an uncertain look that passed over Ann and his
surroundings, unseeing and yet furtive. Then he took a step backward,
and the hand that had gone to his hip-pocket was swiftly upflung.

Ann's shriek rang out almost simultaneously with the shot, at one with
the leaden fall of the horse and the sharp echo sent back from the Mine
Banks and the chattering lift of the birds in the woods. A crow cawed
wildly as it rose; all about was the stir of startled and scurrying
things.

Baird had whirled to look at Ann, who stood bent over and with arm
hiding her face, and his angry exclamation were the first words spoken:
"God, Garvin, are you mad? What a thing to do--before her!"

He strode to Ann and touched her shaking shoulder. "Come away," he said
with a note of shame. "The idea of his doing such a thing before a girl!
His fall must have knocked the sense out of him!"

But Garvin Westmore was almost as quick as he. He also had turned, with
brows raised high and eyes wild. Then on the instant his face was swept
of expression. He was pale again, collected, even protective when he
drew Ann from Baird's touch. "Don't be frightened, Ann," he said softly,
with the air of one who knew her well. "I'm sorry. I forgot you were
here. I couldn't see the animal suffer--that was all." Then meeting
over Ann's head the commingling of disgust and anger and something else,
the touch of aversion in Baird's eyes, he continued even more softly,
his softness a little husky: "Why should anything that's done for be
allowed to go on suffering a minute more than is necessary? That's what
I was thinking.... Wasn't I right, Ann?"

He addressed the girl, but he was answering Baird's look.

"You looked as if you enjoyed doing it," Baird retorted bluntly.

A flash of expression crossed Garvin Westmore's face, a gleam menacing
and dangerous, like the momentary exposure of a dagger. It came and
went. "I wanted the beast out of pain--if that is what you mean," he
said with hauteur. "Ann knows me better than you do," and he bent over
her. "Don't cry, Ann; the horse is better off than any one of us."

He continued to bend his height to her and to talk in low tones, until
she consented to look up at him. "I don't see how you could--" she said,
in a smothered way. "I--I want to go home--"

"You shall in a minute--but not like this." In her run down to the creek
her hood had slipped off, and he tried now to draw it up over her fallen
hair. She lifted shaking hands and began hurriedly to coil the dark mass
about her head.

Baird watched them curiously. The girl was something more than pretty.
The brown cape with hood attached had concealed her, but when she
lifted her arms he saw that she was slim and rounded, very perfectly so,
and not too tall. Her hair was noticeably black, a dense black, heavy
and with a tendency to curl. As she gathered it up, Baird noticed how
beautifully it grew about her low forehead--that her features were
regular, and that, contrasted with black hair and brows and lashes, her
skin was very white, luminously white. She was certainly very young; her
cheeks and chin were as softly rounded as a baby's. And Garvin was a
particularly good-looking man, of the unmistakably inbred type, tall,
slender, dark, with clear-cut features, well-marked brows and fine eyes.
His were the Westmore features refined into nervousness by inbreeding,
the features of his great-great-grandfather, colonial aristocrat and
owner of the Mine Banks.

Nickolas Baird, as noticeably but one generation removed from the ranks
and of the type that carves its own fortunes, watched the two curiously.

He was not the only onlooker. A man had ridden out of the woods just as
the shot was fired and had come slowly down to the creek. His horse had
leaped when the report came and had sidled nervously as if eager for a
run, but his rider had reined him sharply, held him to a walk, while he
eyed the group in the distance. Though well mounted and in faultless
riding attire, he was evidently not of the hunt; he wore no signs of
haste or eagerness. He had crossed the bit of pasture deliberately, and
had come to the other side of the creek. Then, as if he considered
himself breakable, he had dismounted deliberately and, dropping the
reins, slowly crossed the creek, selecting and testing his footing in
the same careful fashion. His eyes alone, gloomy under their lowered
brows, showed interest in what was passing.

He stood just behind the group before he spoke: "What's all this,
Garvin?"

The three started and turned and Garvin stepped back hastily from Ann,
who with hands still lifted to her hair and eyes wet with tears stared
at the new-comer.

It was Garvin who answered quickly. "It's plain enough what's happened,
Ed. The sorrel went down in a rabbit-hole and broke his
leg--incidentally, he nearly did for me too."

"And you shot him without giving him time to say his prayers. I was in
time to see that."

"He was no gift of yours--I raised him," Garvin answered, with an
instant note of antagonism.

There had been stern rebuke in the elder man's remark, though so quietly
spoken. But they were very evidently brothers. Their features were the
same, the Westmore features; only the elder man's black hair had streaks
of gray about the temples and his face was sallow and his eyes somber.
Garvin at twenty-eight looked less than his age, and his brother, ten
years his senior, looked full forty.

Edward Westmore made no answer. He had looked from his brother to Ann,
at her wistfully moist eyes and air of distress. But if his caught
breath and slowly heightening color indicated the same anger Baird had
felt, he restrained himself well. He said nothing at all, simply looked
at her steadily, flushing and breathing quickly. Then he turned abruptly
and looked up the slope of pasture at Ann's ramshackle buggy; then,
turning more slowly, he gazed an appreciable moment at the looming Mine
Banks.

Possibly it was his way of gaining self-control. Possibly he was looking
for an explanation of the girl's presence and discovered it in the
waiting buggy. At any rate, his manner was calm and courteous when he
faced them again.

"It's too bad it happened," he said, more to Baird than any one else.
"But it can't be helped.... You'll have to get the animal off this land,
it's not ours--unless you can get permission to bury him, Garvin?"

"Not likely," his brother said in an undertone. "It's old Penniman's
land. He hasn't learned to hate us any less these years you've been
away."

Edward Westmore's brows contracted sharply. "I'll take her to her buggy,
and come back," he said, and turned hastily to Ann, who was clambering
down into the creek.

Garvin looked after him in surprise. Then, conscious of his brother's
backward glance, he turned away. Nevertheless, he listened intently to
Edward's low-toned courtesy.

"Let me help you--the bank is slippery."

Both he and Baird could hear distinctly Ann's soft rejoinder, the
slurred syllables that marked her a southern child, but without the
nasal twang usual with the country-folk of the Ridge. "Don't you come,
suh--I can get up easily." She was more embarrassed than distressed now;
her face was rosy red under her hood and her eyes were lowered.

But Edward went on with her, up the stretch of pasture. They saw him
help her into the buggy and stand for a time, evidently talking to her.
And, finally, when she drove off, he bowed to her, as deeply as he would
to any lady on the Ridge, standing and looking after her as she drove
into the woods.

Baird had observed the whole proceeding with interest. The Westmore
family interested him. Ann interested him also, perhaps because he
"couldn't place her," as he himself would have expressed it. During his
two weeks' stay on the Ridge he had assimilated its class distinctions.
There were three classes on the Ridge: the aristocracy, depleted and
poverty ridden as a rule, clinging tenaciously to bygone glory while
casting a half-contemptuous and at the same time envious eye on the
sheer power of money; the second somewhat heterogeneous class developed
during the forty years since the "war," and that, on the Ridge, had as
its distinctive element the small farmer who, in most cases, though not
so well-born, possessed wide family ramifications and an inbreeding and
a narrow jealous pride quite on a par with that of the descendants of
governors and revolutionary generals; and the third class, the class
that had always been, the "poor-white-trash."

In which social division did Ann belong? Certainly not to the latter,
and not to the first, either, Baird judged, for he had watched Garvin's
manner to the girl closely. And he had also noted Garvin's look of
surprise when Edward had followed her. He saw that while Garvin was
audibly considering the best means of getting rid of the dead horse, his
real attention was given to the two at the edge of the woods.

Baird asked his question a little abruptly. "Who is she, Garvin?"

Perhaps Garvin expected the question. "Ann Penniman," he said, without
looking up from the horse.

"One of your people?" Baird asked, conscious that he was expressing
himself awkwardly.

Garvin caught his meaning at once. "Heavens, no! Her people are farmers.
She's old Penniman's grand-daughter. His farm runs down through the
woods there, and this field is part of it--up to the Mine Banks. They're
ours, worse luck--just waste ground. I wish the sorrel was up there in
one of the old ore-pits."

Baird felt that Garvin wanted to lead off from the subject. "She's the
prettiest girl I've seen in a year," he declared.

"Ann is pretty, but I don't see what good it's going to do her," Garvin
answered carelessly. "She'll marry some one of the Penniman
tribe--they're all inter-married--and go on working like an ox. Old
Penniman would take a shotgun to any man who came around who wasn't a
cousin, or a Penniman of some sort. Ann's just a farm girl and has been
brought up like all of them about here." Garvin nodded in the direction
of the disappearing buggy. "She's back now from taking butter and eggs
to the village in exchange for a few doled-out groceries--they're hard
up, the Pennimans." He looked down then at the horse, bent and stroked
its tawny mane. "Poor old Nimrod!" he muttered. "You had a short life of
it--though between us we sometimes had a merry one." His voice had
changed completely, deepened into genuine feeling. "I raised him from a
colt," he remarked to Baird, with face averted.

In the light of what had happened, Baird found it difficult to explain
the man's present emotion. Baird had had a good deal of western
experience which had taught him to regard thoughtfully any man who was
as quick with his pistol as Garvin Westmore had been.

But Baird's real interest was elsewhere. He asked no more questions. In
his own mind he decided that the dormered roof, crisscrossed by naked
branches, which he could see from his window at the Hunt Club, covered
the Penniman house. And he also reflected that he had plenty of spare
time in which to reconnoiter.



III

PENNIMAN AND WESTMORE


Ann drove on through the woods, with the color still warm in her cheeks.
She could not have told just why she was still trembling and felt
inclined to cry. As Garvin Westmore had said, it was best to put the
sorrel out of pain at once. She did not feel, as the young man Garvin
had called Baird had felt, that it was an outrageous thing for Garvin to
have shot the horse while she was there, for Ann had never been shown
any particular consideration by anybody; she was well acquainted with
the hard side of life.

But Garvin's look had been so strange. It had shocked and puzzled
her.... And then Edward Westmore's manner to her? He had been so "nice"
to her, a protective, considerate niceness. He had asked her about her
family and about herself. He had been away from the Ridge for many
years; he had never brought his foreign wife to Westmore. But, now that
she and his father were gone, he had returned to Westmore with the
fortune she had left him and was head of the family. And yet he
remembered them all, her grandfather and her Aunt Sue and her father,
who had been away from the Ridge as long as Ann could remember, and her
mother, whom Ann had never seen. Edward Westmore had not referred to the
life-long enmity that had existed between his father and her
grandfather, and yet he had made her feel that he did not share in it;
that it was a bygone thing and should be buried. Ann had liked him, as
suddenly and as uncontrollably as she had liked Garvin.

For Garvin Westmore had also been "nice" to her, though in a different
way. Back in the days when she used to disobey her grandfather and steal
off to the Westmore Mine Banks for fascinating visits to its caves and
ore-pits, the tall boy who galloped recklessly up hill and down, always
with several hounds at his horse's heels, was one of Ann's terrors. Then
there had been the vague period when she had been "growing up" and had
seen him only very occasionally and had not thought of him at all.

But ever since the day, a few weeks ago, when he had met her and had
ridden up the Post-Road beside her buggy, he had become a vivid entity.
Under his smiling regard she had quickly lost the Penniman antagonism to
any one bearing the name of Westmore. His had been an astonishing and
exhilarating "niceness" to which Ann's suddenly aroused femininity had
instantly responded. Ann had learned that day, for the first time, that
she was pretty and that it was possible for her to arouse admiration.
And during the last two weeks.... It was not merely pity for the sorrel
that had set her cheeks aflame and made her eyes moist; it was
excitement, the stir of commingled emotions and impressions. Her nerves
were always keyed high, vibrant to every impression. And during the last
weeks she had been hiding from every one something of graver import than
her usual thoughts and feelings. Those she had always kept to herself,
partly because she was inclined to be secretive, partly because of
native independence.

Ann had reached the end of the woods now and stopped to compose herself.
Her grandfather would not notice that she had been crying, but her Aunt
Sue would. She would have to tell of the tragedy in the Mine Banks
field; news of that sort had a way of traveling. She would have to say
that she had seen what had happened, but not a word of Edward Westmore's
talk with her or of Garvin--not even to her Aunt Sue. Sue, in her quiet
way, hated the Westmores as bitterly as her grandfather did. Ann's swift
liking for these two men who had, each in his own fashion, been nice to
her, and her swift determination to be nice in return, was a thing to be
carefully concealed. As she had come through the woods, she had looked
at the dead chestnut tree in the split crotch of which there had once
been a flicker's nest. Garvin had not said so, he would not with the
other man standing by, but it probably held a message for her. This was
not the best time to get it, however. Some one might see her and wonder.

Ann took off her hood and smoothed her hair and pressed her hands to
her hot eyes; sat still then and let the wind cool the ache in them, her
face settling into its usual wistful expression, eyes dark under
drooping lids, lips full but smileless, cheeks and chin so rounded and
infantile that they were appealing. Life might make hers a voluptuous
face, there was more than a hint of the probability in the desirous
mouth and full white throat. It was the straight nose with its slightly
disdainful nostrils and the arched and clearly penciled brows that gave
her face its real beauty--a nobler promise than was suggested by lips
and chin.

Through the few intervening trees Ann could see the Penniman barn, a low
wide structure with a basement for housing cattle, an arrangement that
the sharply sloping ground made possible. The house, a little to the
left and beyond, even in winter was obscured by trees. Two tall Lombardy
poplars guarded the kitchen entrance and the woodshed, towering high
above a steep-pitched roof and the alanthus and locust trees that in
summer shaded it. The woods through which Ann had just passed
semicircled the upward sloping field that lay between her and the farm
buildings. To the right, the slope was crested by an orchard, and to the
left, stretching from the house like a long line of melancholy
sentinels, was a double row of magnificent cedars, guarding the road
that led straight across open country, past the Hunt Club and to the
Post-Road. That was the way by which Ann should have come had not the
hint of spring tempted her to take the Back Road, through the pastures
and the woods.

There was no one in sight. In the bit of marsh made by a spread of the
creek several pigs were wallowing, as if glad to find the ground soft,
and in the enclosure behind the barn a horse and three cows stood in the
sun amid a clutter of chickens. Beyond the marsh, under a group of
weeping-willows, was the spring and the usual accompaniment, a
spring-house. Ann had expected to see her aunt's red shawl either at the
spring or on the path that led up between the double row of grapevines,
a full three hundred yards of upward toil to the kitchen door, for it
was the hour for carrying the day's supply of water. But there was no
one in view, not even her grandfather moving feebly about the barn.

Ann took up the reins with a sigh, and drove on. She always sighed when
she approached her home, and tingled with the sensation of embarking on
an adventure when she left it, for Ann possessed in abundance the
attributes of youth: faith, hope, imagination and the capacity to enjoy
intensely. Home meant work, work, work, and few smiles to sweeten the
grind. But for her Aunt Sue, the smoldering rebellion the farm had bred
in Ann would have flared dangerously. As long as she had been too young
to understand, and had had the fields and the woods, it had not mattered
so much. In a vague way, Ann had always felt that she was nobody's
child, a nonentity to her grandfather except when her high spirits,
tinged always by coquetry, and her inflammable temper aroused in him a
sullen anger. And Ann knew that to her aunt she was more a duty than a
joy; Sue Penniman appeared to have an enormous capacity for duty and a
small capacity for affection. But, with the necessity to cling to
something, Ann clung to her aunt. For Sue she worked uncomplainingly.
For Sue's sake she hid her resentment at being a nonentity.

For in the last year of rapid awakening Ann had realized that she had
never been permitted an actual share in the narrow grinding interests of
the family, though, of necessity, she was tied fast to the monotonous
round and, together with her grandfather and aunt, lay between the upper
and nether millstones. The clannish pride that lay in every Penniman lay
in her also, and yet, Ann had felt, vaguely as a child and poignantly as
she grew older, that she was of them and yet not of them. Her
grandfather, even her aunt had made her feel it--and above all the
father who had forsaken her when she was barely old enough to remember
him. Ann never thought of her father without an ache in her throat that
made it impossible for her to talk of him.

At the barn Ann hitched the horse. Her grandfather might want the buggy;
it was best not to unharness until she knew. She took the bundles of
groceries and went on to the house, past the basement door, to the
stairs that led up to the kitchen, for the house, like the barn, was
built on the slope, its front resting on the crown of the slope, its
rear a story from the ground, permitting a basement room and a forward
cellar that burrowed deep into the ground.

Ann had glanced into the basement, but her aunt was not there. The
kitchen, an ancient-looking room, whitewashed and with small
square-paned windows, was also empty. Ann put down her parcels and went
into the living-room. It and the kitchen and the two rooms above were
all that remained of the colonial house that antedated even Westmore. It
was low-ceilinged, thick-walled, and casement-windowed, and had a
fireplace spacious enough to seat a family. Built of English brick
brought to the colony two centuries before, the old chimney had
withstood time and gaped deep and wide and soot-blackened. This room had
been one wing of the colonial mansion, and, because of the solid masonry
that enclosed the cellar beneath it, had not fallen into decay like the
rest of the house.

But it had not been built by a Penniman. A hundred years before, a
Penniman, "a man of no family, but with money in his pocket," had bought
the house and the land "appertaining" from an encumbered Westmore, and
had become father of the Pennimans now scattered through three counties.
The first Penniman and his son's son after him had been tobacco growers
on a small scale and slave owners, but they had never been of the
aristocracy.

It was Ann's grandfather who, some thirty years before, ten years after
the war, had torn down the other two wings of the old house and had
built the porch and plain two-storied front that now sat chin on the
crown of the slope and looked out over terraces whose antiquity scorned
its brief thirty years; looked over and beyond them, to miles of rolling
country. The narrow, back-breaking stairs that led from the living-room
to the rooms above, a back-stairs in colonial days, was now the main
stairway. The mansion had become a farmhouse, for the first Penniman had
been the only Penniman "with money in his pocket."

There was no one in the living-room, and Ann paused to listen, then
climbed the stairs, coming up into a narrow passageway, at one end of
which were three steps. They led to the front bedrooms, her
grandfather's addition to the old house. One room was his, the other had
been Coats Penniman's room, Ann's father's room. Like many of the
Pennimans, Ann's mother had married her first cousin, a boy who had
grown up in her father's house.

The stir Ann had heard was in this room, which, except when it had
accommodated an occasional visiting Penniman, had been closed for
fourteen years. The door stood wide now, the windows were open, and her
aunt was making the bed.

Ann stopped on the threshold, held by surprise. She had not known of any
expected visitor. For the last six years they had been too poor and too
proud to entertain even a Penniman. And there was something in her
aunt's manner and appearance that arrested Ann's attention. Sue Penniman
was always pale, Ann could easily remember the few times when she had
seen color in her aunt's cheeks, and, though she always worked steadily,
it was without energy or enthusiasm. But there was color in her cheeks
now, and eagerness in her movements. She was thin and her shoulders a
little rounded from hard work, but now, when she lifted to look at Ann,
she stood very erect and the unwonted color in her face and the
brightness in her blue eyes made her almost pretty.

"Is some one comin', Aunt Sue?" Ann asked.

Her aunt did not answer at once. She looked at Ann steadily, long enough
for a quiver of feeling to cross her face. Then she came around the bed,
came close enough to Ann to put her hands on Ann's shoulders.

"Cousin Coats is comin', Ann," she said, her nasal drawl softened almost
to huskiness.

Her _father_ coming! The color of sudden and intense emotion swept into
Ann's face, widening her eyes and parting her lips, a lift of joy and of
craving combined that stifled her. It was a full moment before Ann could
speak. Then she asked, "When--?"

"Sunday--to-morrow."

"When did you know?" Ann was quite white now.

"Last night--Ben Brokaw brought the letter."

"And you-all kept it to yourselves!" All the hurt and isolation of Ann's
seventeen years spoke in her face and in her voice.

Sue was surprised by the passion of anger and pain. It was a tribute to
Ann's power of concealment; she had not suspected this pent feeling.

"I didn't know you'd care so much," Sue said in a troubled way. "It
seemed like you didn't care about anything, you're always so--gay. An'
Coats has been away since you were a baby. I didn't think you'd care so
much. I wanted to tell you, but your grandpa didn't want I should till
we'd talked it over. And I was worried about your grandpa too--he was so
excited."

"Grandpa hates me! And father must hate me, too, or he wouldn't have
left me when I was a baby and never even have written to me!" Ann
exclaimed passionately, restraint thrown to the winds.

"_Ann!_ What's come over you to talk like that! Your grandpa doesn't
hate you! If you only knew!... You see, Ann, you've got a gay,
I-don't-care way with you, and it worries your grandpa. He's seen a
terrible lot of trouble. And since the stroke he had four years ago he's
felt he was no good for work any more, and what was going to become of
the place. It's all those things has worried him."

Ann said nothing. She simply stood, quivering under her aunt's hands.

Sue's voice lost its warmth, dropped into huskiness again. "You don't
understand, Ann, so don't you be thinking things that isn't so." She
drew Ann to the bed. "Sit down a minute till I tell you something....
It's always seemed to me foolishness to talk about things that are past,
so I never told you, but now Coats is comin' you ought to know: your
mother died when you were born, Ann, and it almost killed Coats. He
loved your mother dearer than I've ever known any man love a woman.
Every time he looked at you it brought it back to him. We went through a
lot of trouble, Ann--dreadful trouble. It was too much for Coats to
bear, an' he just went away from it, out west. But he wasn't forsakin'
us--it wasn't like that. Why, all these years his thoughts have been
here, and he's sent us money right along--we couldn't have got on if he
hadn't." Sue's voice rose. "There's no better man in all the world than
Coats Penniman, Ann!... And I _know_. He was your mother's own cousin
and mine--we grew up with him, right here in this house--and I know like
no one else does how fine Coats is!" Sue was shaken as Ann had never
seen her, flushed and quivering and bright-eyed.

Ann's eyes were brimming. "But I wasn't to blame."

"Of course you weren't to blame," Sue said pityingly. "I'm just telling
you because I want you to understand and be patient if Coats seems like
a stranger. Don't you feel hard to him. Just you remember that you're a
Penniman and that the Pennimans always stand together and that there
never was a better Penniman walked than Coats.... Just you do your duty
and be patient, Ann, and your reward will come. I've lived on that
belief for many years, and whether I get my reward or not, I'll know
that I've done the thing that's _right_, and that's something worth
living for."

Sue had struck a responsive cord when she called upon the family pride.
Ann's shoulders lifted. And hope, an ineradicable part of Ann, had also
lifted. She looked up at Sue. "Perhaps father will get to love me," she
said wistfully.

Sue drew an uneven breath. Then she said steadily, "Perhaps he will,
Ann.... Just you do right, like I tell you--that's your part." She got
up then. "We won't talk any more now--I've got too much to do. An'
there's something I want you should do, an' that's to talk to Ben
Brokaw. He says he's goin'. He's sitting down in the basement glum as a
bear. When your grandpa tol' him Coats was comin' he up an' said he'd
go--there was goin' to be too many men about the place. I couldn't do
anything with him. But he's got to stay--anyway till Coats gets some one
else. You see if you can persuade him."

"Yes, I'll try--" Ann promised absently, for she was thinking of
something else. "Aunt Sue, does father hate the Westmores too?"

Sue's start was perceptible. She stared at the girl. "Why are you
askin'?" she demanded sharply.

Ann grew crimson, and there was a touch of defiance in her answer. "You
and grandpa hate them--I wondered if he did."

"Have any of them spoken to you?" Sue asked. In all her knowledge of
Sue, Ann had never heard her speak so sharply.

It frightened her, though it did not alter the sense of injustice to the
Westmores which Ann had been cherishing. She gave her version of what
had happened that morning, and Sue listened intently. When Ann had
finished, she bent suddenly and smoothed the bed, averting her face.

"Just like him!" she said in a voice that was not steady. "Just like
every Westmore I've ever known. 'Do-as-I-please' and 'what-do-I-care!'
They've heart neither for woman nor beast. It's brought them to what
they are. Edward Westmore may think his wife's money'll build up the
family, but it won't. Coats will do more with his little twenty thousand
than Edward with his big fortune." She lifted and brushed the fallen
hair from her face, a gesture expressive of exasperation. "And to think
they dare ride over our land!" She looked at Ann as Ann had never seen
her look before. "The next time a Westmore tries to break his neck, just
you drive on, and if any one of them ever speaks to you, turn your back
on him."

"But what have they done to us?" Ann persisted.

Sue quieted, a drop to her usual patient manner. "Never mind what they
have done," she said wearily. "There never was a Westmore who was friend
to a Penniman. But I don't want to think about them--least of all
to-day.... Just you go on and talk to Ben--that'll be helping me, Ann.
There's a world of things to be done before to-morrow.... And go
quietly--your grandpa's lying down in the parlor."

Ann went, still flushed and unconvinced. What was the sense of hating
like that, just because one's father hated before you? And it was plain
that her father shared in the family enmity.

Then defiance slipped from Ann. Her father was coming! Would he be nice
to her? It was not natural for a father to be cold to his child. And she
was grown up now, and pretty. This recently discovered asset of hers
meant a great deal to Ann. And if her father was bringing money with him
to the farm everything would be changed. To Ann, anticipation was one of
the wonderful things in life.



IV

BUT IF HE FAILED HER?


Ann had learned early that with every one except her grandfather smiles
won far more for her than argument. When she put her head into Ben
Brokaw's room she was smiling, though her eyes were observant enough.
The basement was the "wash-room" and the "churning-room," with one
corner partitioned off for the combination of boarder and hired man
that, for the last four years, her grandfather's disabilities had made
necessary. As was customary on the Ridge, the negroes lived in their
cabins, "taking out" their rent in work. Ann had tiptoed in and studied
Ben and his surroundings through the half-open door.

There was no furniture in the little room. Ben's bed was a canvas
hammock, and the decorations of the place were of his own design:
several dozen mole-skins neatly tacked to the walls; coon-skins and
opossum-skins, a fox-skin and a beautifully striped wild-cat-skin were
all stretched in the same fashion. A gun, a pistol and fishing tackle
hung above the hammock, sharing the space with a wide-winged, dried bat.
The hide of a Jersey cow, its soft yellow stained by marks of muddy
feet, carpeted the floor, so much of it as was not occupied by traps,
bird's nests and other woodland litter, and the entire place smelled of
animals.

On the hammock, feet firmly planted on the floor, sat a phenomenally
long-armed, broad-chested, squat man who rolled his huge head and
shoulders gently from side to side, while his hands deftly whittled the
figure-four intended for the box-trap at his feet. His heavy face,
circled by a shock of rough brown hair, suggested the hereditary
drunkard, it was so reddened and ridged and snout-nosed. It was his
appearance that had earned him the sobriquet, "Bear Brokaw." He rolled
like an inebriate when he walked, yet never in his forty years on the
Ridge had Bear Brokaw been known to "take a drink." He knew and was
known by every soul on the Ridge, and by many in the adjoining counties,
for he had worked, in intermittent fashion, on almost every farm and
estate on the Ridge, more that he might be free to shoot and snare than
for the wages he earned. Ben knew the intimate habits of every wild
thing, and the family secrets of mankind as well, and plied a thrifty
trade in skins. He was adored by the children on the Ridge, and in spite
of his queer personality was respected by their elders.

"What are you doin', Ben?" Ann asked.

The small brown eyes he raised to Ann were as bright as a squirrel's and
at the same time shrewdly intelligent. Just now they were reddened by
an angry light and he looked as morose as the lumbering animal he
resembled.

"Fixin' this here trap." His voice was a growling base; his manner
indicated that he wished to be let alone.

Ann selected the cleanest spot on the cowhide and seated herself with
arms embracing her knees. Ever since she could remember Ann had
conversed with Bear Brokaw seated in this fashion, at his feet, and many
had been the secrets each had told the other. For Ben had worked on the
Penniman farm, or, rather, had shot and trapped there, as the desire
took him, for thirty years. He and Ann were fast friends; both were of
the open country.

Ann had cast about in her mind for a topic that would be arresting.
"Ben, Garvin Westmore's sorrel is dead," she announced dramatically.

Ben stopped both his work and his rolling motion. "What you sayin'?"

"He broke his leg, Ben."

"Whee--ee--" he whistled, through his teeth. "How, now?"

Ann told him the story, as she had told it to Sue.

"An' Garvin up an' shot him--I can jest see him at it," Ben muttered,
more to himself than to Ann.

"It was better than having the poor thing suffer," Ann declared with
some warmth.

Ben shook his head in a non-committal way. But he did not take up his
work. He looked down, still shaking his head.

Bear Brokaw had solved many problems for Ann; he had reasons for most
things. She changed her tone. "Why did he do like that, Ben? I wondered
why?"

"'Cause he couldn't help it."

"You don't mean--because he liked doing it?" Ann asked; Baird's remark
had clung to her memory.

Ben looked up quickly. "Why you askin' that, Ann?"

Ann was silenced. She would have to tell too much if she explained. She
was usually quick-witted. "Why, you spoke like that."

"Don't you be seein' meanings where there ain't none," he growled.

Ann knew that he did not mean to explain. But she had succeeded in
drawing him from his grievance, and that had been her first object. He
did not take up the figure-four again; instead, he was meditative.

"That there sorrel was the best hunter in the county," he said
regretfully. "He was great grandson to ole Colonel Westmo's white
Nimrod. That was one horse, Ann! A regular fightin' devil! He jest
naturally loved the smell o' powder. The colonel took him to the war
when he was a colt, an' fifteen years after the colonel was still ridin'
ole Nimrod--ridin' him to the hounds, too. The colonel jest lived on his
back, an' Nimrod were faithfuller than a dog. When there weren't no
huntin', the colonel were in the habit of takin' in every half-way
house fo' miles, an' Nimrod always there to tote him back to Westmo',
whether the colonel was laid acrost his back like a sack o' oats, or
sittin' shoulders square like he always did when not soaked through an'
through. Nimrod knew when to go careful.... I mind one night--that was
the year I was huntin' on Westmo' an' helpin' Miss Judith run the
place--I was bringin' Miss Judith back up the Post-Road from the
station, an' where the Westmo' Road cuts into the Mine Banks we come
plumb on a white objec'. I don't take no stock in ghosts, all I've ever
seen has turned out to be a human or a' animal or a branch wavin' in the
wind. But that bit of road has got a bad name. Them convicts the
Westmo's worked to death over a hundred years ago, over there in the
Mine Banks, is said to come out an' stand clost to the Post-Road,
waitin' for a Westmo' to do for him. 'Twas in that cut the colonel's
grandfather was shot down from his horse, an' nobody never did find out
who done it. An' it was there the Ku-Klux used to gather--guess the
colonel had his share in that, though.... Well, there was that white
thing, an' our horse give a snort an' stopped, an' my heart come up in
my mouth. But Miss Judith, she stood straight up in the buggy.

"'Who's there?' she called out, quick an' clear.

"An' the Banks called back, sharp, like they do, 'Who's there?' but it
was Nimrod whinnied.... It was the colonel gone to bed in the road, an'
Nimrod standin' stock-still by his side, like he always did, till some
one passin' would lay his master acrost his back again.

"Miss Judith sat down when we knew, an' she sat straight as a rod;
there's all the pride of all the Westmo's in Miss Judith, and was then,
though she weren't no older than you. 'Some gentleman has met with an
accident,' she says, very steady. 'Help him to his horse, Ben,' an' I
did.

"But the colonel weren't too far gone not to recognize a petticoat--he
had a' instinc' for anything feminine an' his manners couldn't be beat.
I'd put his hat on his head, but he swep' it off.

"'My grateful thanks to you, Madame,' he says in his fine voice. 'I met
with a little accident. I shall hope to thank you in person to-morrow.'
He were too far gone to know his own daughter, but he hadn't forgot his
Westmo' manners.

"An' Miss Judith sat straight as ever, an' all she says was, 'Drive on,
Ben.'... That's Westmo' for you!" Ben concluded, with deep admiration.

Ann had heard the story before, and always it had brought the color to
her cheeks, for it stirred her imagination, but she had never flushed
more deeply than now. "You like Garvin, don't you, Ben?" she asked
softly.

Ben eyed her in his shrewd way, "Yes, he's got feelin' for the woods--a
born hunter. Trouble is, everything's game to Garvin, Ann."

Ann was afraid to say anything more. "It was a bag-fox they had this
morning," she remarked for diversion.

"Shame!" Ben said curtly. Then, irrelevantly, "I reckon I'll choose
Westmo' fo' my nex' shootin'. I mean to tote my traps over there
to-night."

Ann was recalled to her errand. "You mean you'd go away from us, Ben?"
she asked in well-simulated surprise.

Ben's eyes twinkled. "I'm tellin' you news now, ain't I! What did you
come down here for?"

Ann laughed; she knew it was no use to pretend. "You're so smart,
Ben--you know what's in people's heads ... Aunt Sue told me. She's just
heart-broken, an' I said I'd come an' beg you. How could we have got on
without you this winter, and how are we going to get on without you now?
Don't you go, Ben!"

"Reckon Coats can run this place without me," Ben said determinedly.

"I don't believe he can," Ann persisted. "I know he'll want you."

"Not he. I know Coats Penniman."

"Of course you know him better than I do," Ann said wistfully. "Don't
you like my father, Ben?"

Ben moved restlessly. "He's a Penniman an' awful set in his ways--Coats
Penniman's a fearful steady, determined man--though that's not sayin'
anything against him."

"Aunt Sue says he is the best man who ever walked," Ann said earnestly.

"She's reason to think that way.... I reckon I don't like too much
goodness, Ann--not the kind that's unhuman good. That's because I'm jest
'Bear' Brokaw, though.... No, I'm goin'."

Ann could not puzzle out just what he meant. She let it drop, for
thinking of it made her unhappy. She moved nearer and put her hand on
Ben's great hairy paw, stroking it as she would have stroked the collie.
"You stay, Ben?" she pleaded softly. "Just stay a while and see how it
will be. Stay 'cause I want you to. What'll I do without you to talk
to--if my father doesn't care about me?... An' maybe he won't, you
know--I can't tell.... You think he will, though, don't you, Ben?" It
was the anxiety uppermost in Ann and must out.

Ben's little animal eyes were very bright as he looked down at her, and,
whatever his thoughts, his expression was not unkindly.

"You reckon if you smiled at the spring the water would run up hill to
you?" he asked. "You sure could bring the birds down from the trees,
Ann." This was certainly one way of avoiding her question.

Ann knew Bear Brokaw as well as he knew her. She knew she had won. "And
we'll make the swimmin'-pool down in the woods--soon as it's warm," she
coaxed. "We'll have fun this spring, Ben." This was a project that lay
close to Ben's heart. His room might be redolent of animal skins, but
Ben himself was not; he had a beaver's love for the water.

"Um!" he growled, his eyes twinkling.

It was complete surrender, and Ann sprang up. "I've got to help Aunt Sue
now," she announced brightly. "And, Ben, I didn't put the horse out."

"Want I should, I reckon."

Ann only laughed as she pirouetted out and danced up the stairs to the
kitchen.

She did not go back to Sue, however; not immediately. She caught up her
cape and a bucket and, as soon as Ben was on his way to the barn,
started for the spring. But it was evidently not her ultimate
destination, for she dropped the bucket there and, after a cautious
study of the barn and the house, sped like a rabbit across the field and
into the woods.

From their shelter she again studied her surroundings, then darted for
the dead chestnut tree. She climbed as agilely as she had run, and
quickly gained the split crotch. The flicker's hole was bored deep in
the dead wood, and Ann brought up from its depth a folded slip of paper.
She curled up in the crotch and read it:

     "DEAR ANN:

     "You are the sweetest and the most beautiful thing I know. Did
     you mean what you said when you promised to be friends? I hope
     you did. I've been living on that hope for the last two weeks.
     Will you come to the Crest Cave at the Banks on Sunday
     afternoon, at four, and tell me again that our
     great-grandfathers' quarrels don't matter to us? Please come,
     dear! Please!

     "GARVIN."

Though the color came warmly in Ann's cheeks and a smile lifted the
corners of her mouth, she looked grave enough when she sat thinking over
what she had read. So far her meetings with Garvin Westmore had had the
excuse of chance; he knew on what days she drove to the village, and the
chestnut tree had treasured only notes expressive of pleasure over the
meeting of the day before. But this was different.

Sue Penniman had done her duty; Ann was not altogether ignorant; less
ignorant and far more imaginative; more eager for life and at the same
time more certain of herself than most of the girls on the Ridge.
Beneath her coquetry, the new and intoxicating realization of her
allure, was the craving for the certain something that distinguished the
Westmores from the Pennimans; a "niceness" Ann called it, for want of a
clearer understanding. She had been immediately at home with Garvin, and
with his brother also. They were not beyond her intelligence. Something
in her had arisen and met, on a footing of equality, the thing in them
that delighted her.

In her ignorance of much that would have been clearer to a more
sophisticated girl, Ann was not nearly so self-conscious or so afraid of
this more plainly revealed attitude of the lover, and of the sanction
she would be giving to secrecy, as she was doubtful of her duty to the
Penniman cause. It was that troubled her most. She felt no great sense
of duty to her grandfather, and Sue's blind clinging to the family
quarrel seemed senseless. But there was her father? Ann wanted his love
more than she wanted anything else in the world; the tenderness that
would cherish her, against which she could nestle and that would caress
her in return. She longed for it, and would joyfully give implicit
obedience in return.

Ann thought the matter out as she sat there. When she put the note in
the bosom of her dress and climbed soberly down from her perch, she had
decided: if her father loved her--and she would know instantly if there
was about him the something that had always held her apart from her
grandfather and even from her Aunt Sue--she would not meet Garvin
Westmore. She would tell her father every circumstance, and if he willed
that it must be so, his quarrel would be hers.

But if he failed her? Ann's full lips set and she put her hand over the
note in her bosom.



V

IN COLONIAL FASHION


The Westmores were giving a dinner after the hunt, as had been customary
in the days when Westmore was noted for lavish hospitality. It was by no
means a Hunt Club dinner, however, for, according to Westmore standards,
the Hunt Club had become a lax institution. In order to exist it had
taken in members, excellent people, of course, who, because of their
money or because of prominence acquired during the last few years, had
partially compelled their way into Ridge society. The men affiliated
fairly well, their clan spirit rarely stood in the way of sociability,
perhaps because many of them had been forced into the city, into
business relations with the newcomers.

But the feminine aristocracy of the Ridge still clung to traditional
usage. Changed conditions had partly demolished traditional barriers;
they were forced to countenance, in a formal way, women who were not of
"the family connection," but as every member of the old Fox-Ridge
aristocracy was related to every other member, Fox-Ridge society was
quite sufficient unto itself.

And the newcomers on the Ridge bore their partial exclusion from the
intimate circle with equanimity. As a general thing they possessed more
money than the old Ridge families and had numerous friends in the city
whom they entertained at their Ridge homes. They were the gayest element
on the Ridge, nearly all of them merely summer residents; in the winter
appearing only at the Hunt Club meets.

Nickolas Baird, who had been "put up" at the Hunt Club by a city member,
and who, for reasons of his own, meant to remain where he was for some
time, was decidedly gratified by his invitation to the Westmore dinner.
He had formed a casual friendship with Garvin Westmore which had been
furthered by his purchase of a Westmore horse. Then he had met Judith
Westmore, and from that moment had been welcome at Westmore.

"It will be just a family gathering," Judith had explained to him the
week before, as she stood on the top step of the entrance to Westmore,
whipping her riding-skirt lightly with her gold-handled crop. "You, of
course, will find it endlessly dull, Mr. Baird--still we want you."

Baird had assured her that no gathering of which she was a part would be
dull; that he was beyond measure pleased.

"You are to bring your dress clothes strapped to your saddle, in true
colonial fashion, and spend the night here," Judith had continued. "Be
sure to bring your dancing shoes," and, with a lithe turn and a smiling
nod, had vanished into Westmore.

Baird had cantered off down the two miles of impossible road that led
across Westmore to the Post-Road, smiling to himself, or, rather, at
himself. How old was Judith Westmore, anyway? Certainly in the thirties.
"Bo'n sho'tly after de war," the old negro who curried his horse at the
Hunt Club had told him, for Baird had his own methods of making
discoveries. She looked possibly--twenty-eight; slim, with the bust of a
young Venus and the hips of a Diana. She certainly carried her head like
a goddess. Baird had never seen a more graceful creature on horseback.
And she walked as she rode, gracefully, spiritedly. Hers were the
Westmore features at their best: a face not too long to be beautiful;
arched brows, straight nose, a very perfectly molded chin, eyes a dark
hazel and thickly lashed, a dainty head bound about by ink-black hair.
Time had barely touched her. She was vivacious, yes ... but a little
cold?

Baird was not certain. He thought, with slightly heightened color, of
that quick turn at the door that had drawn her riding-skirt taut over
the curves of hip and leg; and of her easily dilated eyes. Hers was not
a warm mouth, too perfectly chiseled for that, but her hand was a live
warm thing. Why in heaven's name hadn't she married?

Baird was twenty-six. He had reached the age when youth's first missteps
lay in retrospect; the turning point, when analysis enters into the
pursuit of the feminine. That he would endeavor to capture masterfully
and in headlong fashion was legibly scrolled upon him. Whether
faithfulness was any part of his composition was not so easy to
determine. Certainly there was far more admiration than desire in his
thoughts of Judith Westmore. What imagination he possessed had been
busied with her for the last three weeks. She was wonderful! A belle
that would have swayed three states--in colonial days. She had told him
that the gold handle of her riding-whip had been presented to her
grandmother by Henry Clay, and that the comb which sometimes topped her
black coronet had frequently courtesied to General Washington. She had
simply not had her grandmother's opportunities.

It amused Baird that his hard sense had been captured by the glamour of
it. Backgrounded by Chicago or Wyoming the thing would have been
ridiculous. But where people rode to the hounds and talked easily of
governors and generals, their great-grandfathers, it was quite a natural
thing.

"'In true colonial fashion,'" Baird quoted, on the afternoon of the
hunt, as he prepared to strap his Gladstone bag to the back of his
saddle. "The damned thing'll bounce about like hell and I'll have a
runaway if I'm not careful. Wonder how Mistress Judith's ancestors
managed it? Saddle-bags, of course.... Hey, Sam?" he called to the old
negro who was leading two of the returned hunters up to the stable,
"haven't got any colonial saddle-bags about the place, have you?"

"Yes, suh, suttenly, suh," Sam assented promptly. He came up with face
beaming. Baird's joking, accompanied as it was by shining half-dollars,
delighted every negro on the place.

"Let's have them, then."

"Yes, suh--dey sho' is about de place, suh--tho' I don't 'zactly knows
where."

Baird laughed. "Of course.... Take in those horses and bring me a piece
of rope--I don't trust these straps."

Sam came back with a hitching-strap and between them they did their best
to make the bag fast.

"Where does that road between the cedars come out?" Baird asked when he
had mounted. "Can't I get to Westmore if I go that way?"

Sam looked dubious. "Yes, suh--hit comes out to de County Road, an' from
there am de road thro' de woods to Westmo'. Hit's the shortest way, but
hit goes thro' de Penniman place."

"I thought it did--I'll go that way."

"But ole Mr. Penniman, he done built a gate by his house, suh, an' put
on a padlock an' set up a sign. He don't 'low Hunt Club folks ridin'
thro'."

"But he wouldn't mind my going through, would he?"

Sam looked grave. "I dunno, suh. He done had Mr. Garvin 'rested 'cos he
rode thro'. He had him up to co't--yes, suh."

"Fined him, did he?" Baird asked with interest.

"Yes, _suh_! He done fin' him, an' when Mr. Garvin paid, Mr. Penniman,
he refuse' to take de money. He give hit back to de co't, an' tol' 'em
to give hit to the first orphan they seen, dat he don' want no Westmo'
money."

"He did!"

"Yes, suh.... I reckon tho' 'twas mostly 'cos of Mr. Garvin bein' a
Westmo'," Sam added cautiously.

"Well, I'm not a Westmore--I'll chance it," Baird said decidedly.



VI

BAIRD RECONNOITERS


When he had turned in between the cedars, Baird was glad he had come.
They were set close and now, in their middle-age, stood with branches
interlocked, forming a canopy dense enough to shut out the sun. The
soughing gloom through which Baird rode was mournful on a March day, but
he had some conception of what it must be like in summer, cool and
sweet-scented and perpetually whispering. The branches drooped so low in
places that they shut out the country, nooks into which one could crawl
and, with a tree-trunk and big roots forming a couch, dream away an
entire day. And, protected from the dew, sleep through the night as
well.... What a trysting place for lovers, thought Baird.

The gigantic hedge ended abruptly at the foot of what had evidently once
been a lawn, but overgrown now and too much shaded by locust trees. The
Penniman house showed through the trees, a steep-pitched roof broken by
dormer windows. Clumps of lilacs topped the bank which partially hid the
road from the house, and, as he came up under their shelter, Baird eyed
his surroundings keenly. But there appeared to be no one about.

The road passed within a few yards of the front porch, yet he saw no
one. He could see, a short distance ahead, just beyond where the road
forked, leading off to the barn, the gate and sign of which Sam had
spoken.

Baird had planned this intrusion upon the Pennimans' privacy; he had no
intention of going on, at least until he had searched for the person he
wanted to see. He went on to the gate, then dismounted, having decided
to attempt the barn first. The wide door, the entrance to the
wagon-shed, stood open, and Baird looked in. Beyond was another door
through which Baird glimpsed a pile of hay. He stood listening for a
moment, then tiptoed across to it, for there were sounds here, a voice
humming lightly.

It was the hay-loft he had come upon, a wide space half filled with hay;
the remainder of the floor swept clean, a sweet-scented, airy space
warmed by a broad band of sunlight. Not ten feet from him, beside a
basket of eggs, sat a huge collie, forepaws planted, tail impatiently
beating the floor, intent on what was passing. Baird looked on also.

It was Ann playing in the sun. She was without her cape and hood now; a
slender thing in warm brown, some indeterminate garment without a belt,
a sheathe-like apron, possibly. She appeared to be playing with the band
of sunlight, moving in and out of it, in time to the minor, negroesque
thing she was singing:

    "Mr. Frog, he went a-courtin',
        A-hung--a-hung.
    Mr. Frog, he went a-courtin',
    Sword an' pistol by his side,
        A-hung--a-hung."

The excited collie barked and whined, but Ann went on, absorbed in the
joy of motion, a bit of the cake-walk with its suggestion of abandon
carrying her the length of the sunlight band; a waltz step backward and
forward, from sunshine into shadow; a gliding turn and sweeping courtesy
that might have been stolen from the minuet:

    "He rode right up to Miss Mousey's den,
        A-hung--a-hung.
    He rode right up to Miss Mousey's den,
    'I say, Missy Mouse, is you within?'
        A-hung--a-hung.
    'Yes, here I sits, an' here I spin,
    Lift the latch an' do come in.'
        A-hung--a-hung."

Her voice leaped suddenly into a joyful note:

    "Suh! He took Miss Mousey on his knee,
    'Say, Missy Mouse, will you marry me?'
        A-hung--_a-hung_!"

She had swept into a pirouette that spun her like a top, stopped
abruptly at the hay, and clapped her hands teasingly at the quivering
collie: "A-hung, suh--_a-hung_!"

The dog was on her with a bound. The two came down on the hay and rolled
over and over, the collie snarling in mock ferocity, Ann rippling with
laughter, an ebullition of sheer animal spirits, a child at play, the
gaiety Sue deplored.

But Ann was soon spent. She sat up then, flushed, panting and
disheveled, the dog held at arm's length. She looked at the animal, for
a full moment, into the creature's affectionate eyes, and her laughter
died suddenly. She put her arms about the dog's neck and buried her
face. "Oh, Prince!" she said, with a sob in her voice, "I reckon you an'
Ben are the only ones that love me."

Baird had watched Ann dance with the delight one feels in a stolen
pleasure--she was so utterly pretty and graceful, and so unconscious.
When she rolled about in sheer abandonment on the hay he almost laughed
out, in spite of the warmth that rose to his face. But, at the sob in
her voice, he felt ashamed, like one caught eavesdropping. Baird was not
overburdened with fine feelings, in some respects he was coarse-fibered,
but there was too much genuine sorrow and longing in the girl's voice.
It made him uncomfortable; he had no right to be there. He drew back
into the wagon-shed, uncertain just how to present himself.

Ann solved the difficulty. She came out carrying the basket of eggs and
with the collie at her heels. At sight of Baird, the dog barked
furiously, and Ann stopped dead; the look she gave Baird was scarcely
more friendly than the dog's bark; she was so evidently startled.

"I'm afraid I'm trespassing," Baird said promptly. "I thought I might
come through this way to Westmore, but the gate is locked. I'm sorry I
frightened you." He made his apology with the best air possible to him,
cap in hand.

Ann quieted the collie, and when she looked at Baird again a smile had
dawned in her eyes. "You're a stranger--you couldn't be expected to know
about the gate," she said in her soft drawl. "I'll let you through."

"Thank you," Baird said, "but I hate to give you trouble."

Ann said nothing, yet Baird observed that she was not embarrassed. She
put down the basket of eggs and led the way, her head carried quite as
spiritedly as Judith Westmore bore hers. Not a vestige of the playful
child remained; she was collected, polite. And she was lovely. Judith
could never have been as pretty--she had never had this girl's ripe lips
and warm throat, or her trick of lowered lashes. Baird saw now why her
eyes appeared so dark; her lashes were black and the eyelids
blue-tinged, giving her eyes both brilliancy and languor. The eyes
themselves were a gray-hazel, and, except when surprised or smiling,
their expression was wistful, almost melancholy. A facile face, capable
of swift changes, and captivating because of it. Baird knew now why he
had thought her something more than merely pretty.

He made his observations as he walked on beside her. "It must be a
nuisance--having people come through in this way," he remarked, in order
to be saying something.

"I don't mind, but grandpa does," Ann answered. "Perhaps when my father
comes he will let the gate stay open."

"Your father doesn't live here then?"

"He hasn't been here for a long time--he's coming home to-morrow." There
was anticipation in her voice.

"I was thinking this morning that if I owned land about here I'd kick at
having my crops ridden over as we were doing."

"It's always been done, you see. Around here the best reason for doin'
things is because they've always been done." Her tone was faintly
sarcastic; she glanced at him, a swiftly intelligent look.

"She's bright," was Baird's mental comment. Aloud he said, "And in my
part of the world the best reason for not doing things is because
they've been done before--every one's looking for a newer and better
way."

"Your part of the world?" It was the first sign of personal interest she
had shown.

Baird was not supersensitive, but he had felt polite antagonism in her
manner. He attempted to capture interest. "I came here from Chicago.
Before that I was in Wyoming for a time. I've ranched, and done a lot of
other things. I spent two years in South America--got rid of fifty
thousand dollars down there and nothing but a year of fever to show for
it. I could tell you a few tales that would make your hair rise."

He had won her wide look. "Were you on the Amazon? Are there flowers
there that catch insects and snakes that make hoops of themselves an'
chase animals?"

"Yes, I've been on the Amazon--worse luck. I don't know about the
hoop-snakes, but I've seen plenty of insects that are flowers and
flowers that are insects--everything in nature preys on something
else.... How do you come to know about the Amazon?"

"I read a story about it."

"Do you like to read?"

"I like it better than anything else," she said brightly.

They had come to the gate, and she looked at the bag strapped to his
saddle, then laughingly at Baird. "Looks funny, doesn't it?" he
remarked. "I'm taking my dress clothes over to Westmore--they're having
a dinner-dance to-night."

Ann's smile vanished. "Oh--" she said, her face grown wistful. Then with
a flash into gaiety she sprang lightly to a notch in the gate-post,
swung herself up by the foothold, and took a key from the niche in
which it was hidden.

"Here!" Baird exclaimed. "Why didn't you let me do that?... Let me help
you!"

Ann looked at him, innate coquetry in her eyes. "If you'll stand aside,
suh, I can step down."

Baird answered the look in the fashion natural to him. He took her by
the waist, held her up long enough to prove the strength of his arms,
then set her down; his lips pressed her cheek and his breath warmed her
neck as he did so. "Arms like mine are made for reaching--and for
holding," he said.

The color swept into Ann's face, and her eyes widened into brilliancy.
For an instant Baird did not know what to think. Then her lashes dropped
and she held the key out to him. "You know where to find it now," she
said softly.

"I'll come again--I'm staying at the Hunt Club," he answered swiftly. He
took her hand as well as the key; he had flushed as deeply as she.

The tacit invitation had struck Baird as involuntary, and so did her
answer, a sudden inclination and as quick a shrinking; the color fled
from her face. "_No!_" she said decidedly, and pulling her hand away
sped to the house.

Baird started in pursuit, the first step, before he remembered where he
was. Then he stopped. "Whew!" he said, under his breath.

He went back to the gate and unlocked it, led his horse through, and
returned the key to its hiding-place. Before he mounted, he gave the
house a long scrutiny. "We'll see!" he said, his eyes grayed to
coldness, his cheeks still hot.

He rode for half a mile before he regained his usual aspect. Then he
laughed shortly: "That was funny--she regularly took hold on me."



VII

THE WESTMORES OF WESTMORE


Baird thought, when he sat down to dinner that night, that he had never
looked on a better favored company or on a more interesting setting.

They were twenty-five in all, with the great mahogany table drawn
crosswise of the room to allow passage between silver-laden sideboards
and china-cupboards whose aged mahogany was brightened by arrays of dull
blue and gold-banded Worcester and the pinky red of platters and plates
of Indian Tree pattern which Judith told him had been presented, in
1735, by Lord Westmore to his colonial cousin, the first Westmore of
Westmore. From where Baird sat he could look across the hall into the
drawing-room, a glimpse of dark paneling, wide fireplace, and above it
the two portraits, Edward Stratton Westmore, first Westmore of Westmore,
and his cousin, Lord Edward Stratton Westmore, of Stratton House,
Hampshire, England.

Westmore was typically a southern colonial mansion, a spacious central
building with two wings and with a collection of outbuildings for the
housing of servants. The ballroom and the plantation office were in one
wing, the kitchens in the other. Westmore's massive brick walls had
withstood time, as had the heavy oak paneling of dining-room, hall and
drawing-room. There were no modern touches to disturb the Georgian
atmosphere; this was 1905, yet Westmore was still the Westmore of 1735.

And with the picturesque additions of frilled wrist-bands, perukes,
looped skirts and powdered coiffures, Baird thought this might well have
been a clan gathering of a hundred years ago. In the hour before dinner,
Baird had met them all, Westmores, Copeleys, Dickensons and Morrisons.
The Dickensons were from the city, the others were all of the
county--had always been of the county, and all were interrelated.

Conscious of his own too muscular neck and shoulders and massive jaw,
Baird had noticed that there was not a paunched or bull-necked man in
this family. He was not fat, thank heaven! and did not intend to be, but
he would never be able to attain the nice muscles and graceful carriage
that, in this family, seemed to be inherent. Even old Colonel Ridley
Dickenson had a perfect boot-leg. Most of the younger men were too
long-backed for great strength, good horsemen but poor wrestlers, Baird
judged, and the two boys of twenty who represented the third generation
were inclined to be weedy and hatchet-faced; but, on the whole, they
were a clean-limbed and exceedingly well-featured collection.

The women struck Baird as delicately pretty rather than beautiful or
handsome. Though in several delicacy was pronounced enough to suggest
ill-health, the Westmore features predominated, fine brows, dark hair,
clear skin, slimness and roundness combined. The only golden-haired girl
of the company was Elizabeth Dickenson, and it was easy to see how she
came by her fairness; her mother was not of the clan, a somewhat
hard-faced, blonde New Yorker, who had brought money to her husband, and
modern social proclivities as well. Elizabeth Dickenson was more like
the Chicago girls Baird had met, more striking and self-assertive than
her county kin, and far more fashionably gowned.

But Judith Westmore was easily the beauty of the entire collection.
There was something joyous about her mien this evening; perhaps because
for the first time in many years Westmore was like the Westmore of old.
Baird had gathered from the conversation he had over-heard between Mrs.
Dickenson and Mrs. Copeley that this was the inauguration of a new era
at Westmore.

"Edward's money--" Mrs. Dickenson had said significantly. "Judith will
make the best of it."

"And who deserves it more than Judith!" Mrs. Copeley returned warmly.
"When I think of all Judith has gone through! Where would Westmore be
but for Judith? Sold to some carpetbagger, years ago! It nearly went, I
can tell you, Cousin Mary."

"If Garvin would follow Edward's example now, and marry a girl with
money," Mrs. Dickenson had remarked.

Mrs. Copeley had said nothing.

"But, then, Garvin Westmore is not Edward--any more than Sarah Westmore
is Judith," Mrs. Dickenson had concluded dryly. From the cloud that
settled on Mrs. Copeley's face, Baird judged that the reference was not
a happy one. Who Sarah Westmore was he did not know; she was not of the
assembled party.

Mrs. Dickenson was evidently giving thought to Westmore's new
prosperity, for it was she who asked Edward, across the table, "Ed,
while you are getting things, why don't you get an automobile? You'd
look particularly well in an automobile." She had a carrying voice; it
reached Baird at his end of the table.

Edward sat at the head of the table, Judith at the foot; Baird was at
Judith's left, with Elizabeth Dickenson as his dinner partner. Garvin
was on the other side of the table, and both he and Elizabeth Dickenson
ceased to talk and waited for Edward's answer.

Baird thought that he had never seen a more smileless and at the same
time a more attentive host than Edward Westmore. The man's white face
was carven, his eyes melancholy, yet he talked easily and gracefully. In
spite of his pallor, he was the most distinguished-looking man in this
gathering of well-favored men, perhaps because he lacked their local
flavor. He looked what he was, a much-traveled man with a fund of
experience.

He did not smile at Mrs. Dickenson, though he answered pleasantly, "Not
for me, Cousin Mary--but Garvin may have a machine if he wants it."

Garvin flushed but said nothing. It was little Priscilla Copeley who
exclaimed, "Do you mean it, Cousin Ed?"

"Take him up on it, Garvin! Take him up quick!" Colonel Dickenson cut in
mischievously. "By George, suh, you'd be the most popular spark in the
county--with the ladies! Every man whose horse you scared could cuss you
all the way to limbo. Hot water you'd be in! and that's what you
like.... Go ahead, suh!" He might have been hallooing on the hounds. The
colonel was a keen sportsman, and a bon-vivant, a member of two hunt
clubs and several city clubs--his wife's money had given him both the
leisure and the opportunity.

Garvin was not allowed an immediate hearing. "Oh, Garve! I can see you
making a Nebuchadnezzar of yourself under that machine!" Elizabeth
Dickenson exclaimed, and one of the Copeley boys added: "I'd rather have
it than the sorrel, Garve. George Pettee told me there were two hundred
automobiles now in the city--every fellow wants one. Yours would be the
first out here--unless father'll get us one. Will you, suh?"

Mr. Copeley was a tall white-haired man, second cousin to the Westmores,
and markedly a Westmore. He had looked his surprise at Edward's offer,
then had looked thoughtful. "No, suh," he said quietly. "I don't like
them. If the county's goin' to be overrun with them, I'll move....
Garvin, you'll have to get to work on that two miles of road from here
to the Post-Road befo' you can run a machine over it--that would be the
most sensible thing you've done in years. I reckon Edward would like you
to get to work at something--it doesn't matter much what.... You
wouldn't be furnishing a chauffeur, would you, Ed?"

"No," Edward said.

Baird had watched his opportunity. It was only in his sleep that
Nickolas Baird lost sight of business, and not always then. "I can get
you a good machine, straight from the factory, and at trade price,
Garvin."

Garvin had given his, cousin Copeley a flaming glance, but he answered
his brother courteously. "Thank you, Ed. I'll take the machine--and I'll
put the road in shape."

"Very well--we'll thank Mr. Baird to-morrow for his kind offer."

"Will you take me riding, Garve?" Priscilla Copeley asked softly, under
cover of the remarks that followed.

Baird had noticed her, the pretty, dark-eyed girl who sat beside Garvin.
She nestled against his elbow for her half-whisper, and Baird saw the
look her mother gave her and the sharp gesture that made her daughter
straighten and flush. Baird did not know why he felt sorry for Garvin at
that moment; possibly his sensing of the general disapproval. He did
not like the man, but that was mainly because of his wild act that
morning. But it was a little hard on a fellow, having every one down on
him. And it was plain that Garvin mourned his horse. The hunt and
Garvin's mishap had been thoroughly discussed in the drawing-room, and
Garvin had been restless under it. All they knew was that Garvin had had
to shoot his horse. There had been a touch of desperation in Garvin's
aside to Baird: "God! I wish they'd let up on the subject--I've had
about enough for one day!"

And now Mr. Copeley was giving him another thrust. "You're in for it
now, Garvin--are you going at the road pick and shovel?"

Judith spoke for the first time since the subject had been introduced.
"Bear Brokaw would be the best man to help you, Garvin," she suggested
brightly.

She had been watching the serving of dinner, a word now and then to the
three negroes who bore around the best viands Baird had ever tasted.
Soup had been followed by roast oysters, terrapin and turkey, and
accompanying vegetables and hot breads. The evening had turned very
mild, as warm as a May night, and the mint-juleps taken in the
drawing-room had been soothing. Edward was evidently a connoisseur, the
wines were of the best and the array of glasses were not allowed to
languish; the men one and all appeared to be good drinkers.

But Judith had evidently not been too absorbed to follow the
conversation and to note Garvin's curled lip and angry eyes, for her
remark instantly created a diversion. Mrs. Morrison, Judith's aunt, a
stately woman with proudly-carried head, spoke from Edward's end of the
table. "I'm surprised at you, Judith--after the way that white-trash
robbed me! Ben's nothing but a common thief!"

The young people smiled covertly, but Edward asked with genuine concern:
"Bear Brokaw rob you, Aunt Carlotta! Why, I remember Bear--I used to go
hunting with him. I thought there wasn't an honester man living than
Bear Brokaw."

"He is a thief, Edward," Mrs. Morrison reiterated decidedly.

Edward looked his surprise.

"Ben Brokaw bought a tree of Aunt Carlotta Morrison," Judith said
demurely. The look she flashed on Baird was a-gleam with mirth.

Edward glanced casually about the table and caught the covert smiles.
"Well?" he questioned more equably.

Baird had discovered that the interests of the clan were entirely local
and centered in themselves; he had not heard a single remark that
ventured beyond their native state. They evidently criticized one
another freely, but Baird judged that any stranger who essayed the same
freedom would be set upon by the entire connection, with the ferocity of
a pack of hounds.

"It was a thoroughly thievish transaction, Edward," Mrs. Morrison
maintained warmly. "You know I never approved of the man--a creature
that climbs trees like a monkey and sleeps out in the woods like a
savage. Your uncle would have known better, but I consented to sell him
that tree--you know, one of the big chestnuts down by the cabins. It was
dead, and I wanted it down, and I didn't tell Ben I thought he was crazy
when he wanted me to sign a slip of paper, just sayin' that I'd sold the
tree to him, half shares on the wood. I thought the lumberin' old thing
had got some funny notion. But he knew what he was about.... Edward, it
was a honey-tree! He'd been watching and had seen the bees goin' in and
out. He got forty buckets of honey out of that tree!... If that's not
stealing, I don't know what is, and I think the family ought to boycott
him."

Edward kept his countenance in spite of the titter about him. "Did he
cord his wood according to agreement?" he asked.

"Yes, he did," Mrs. Morrison admitted.

"He was doing up-to-date business--that's all, Aunt Carlotta," Judith
remarked.

"Something more than that," Edward said. "I remember Uncle Morrison
broke up some of his traps and warned him off the property. You urged
him to it, if I remember, Aunt Carlotta."

"But think of such revengefulness--after all these years! And your uncle
dead, too!"

"There's a good deal of such undying hatred about," Edward answered
evenly. "It's a pity." He looked down at his plate.

But the younger people were still smiling. "Don't worry, Aunt Carlotta,
Bear isn't going to work for any of us," one of the Copeley boys said.
"I saw him this evenin' on my way here--he's at the Pennimans'.... By
the way--he said Coats Penniman was coming home."

It was Judith's perceptible start and Edward's quick lift of the head
that arrested Baird's attention. But neither of them spoke; it was
Garvin who asked swiftly, "When is he coming?"

"To-morrow, Bear said."

Garvin made no comment, but Mr. Copeley exclaimed, "Why didn't you tell
your bit of news sooner, my boy?... It means Coats will take hold of the
place. I'm afraid it does, Ed."

His remark had some significance that was evidently not clear to other
members of the family, for Mrs. Morrison asked, "Why, what difference
does it make to you who runs the Penniman place, Edward?"

Edward paid no attention to her question; he was motioning to one of the
servants to bring him more wine, and when his glass was filled he
emptied it at a draft. It did not flush him, however; if anything, he
looked paler. It struck Baird that the man must be ill, there must be
some reason for such persistent pallor.

The dinner was nearing an end, and Baird himself was warmed through and
through. He had been well treated. Priscilla Copeley had played prettily
with him across the table, and not been reproved by her mother; she had
promised to ride with him the next day. And Elizabeth Dickenson had said
that his name would be on the list for the next Assembly Ball. Baird was
not particularly fond of dancing, and a formal ball was a nuisance, but
he welcomed her invitation to the next Fair Field Hunt Club meet.
Colonel Dickenson was president of the club, and Baird knew that he
would be well presented to a group of sportsmen who would be useful to
him.

But it was Judith who stirred him. He was alive to his finger tips with
admiration, and fully conscious that he had given himself up to a new
experience; delighting in it. In the last few days he had merely touched
the fringe of the new thing. He had seen very little of society, nothing
at all of people such as these, and Judith was the embodiment of caste.
Her ancestry spoke in every atom of her. She was a thoroughbred. She was
superb; so truly a part of that old Georgian house with its indelible
history.

And Baird loved to see good generalship. Judith had handled that long
tableful of people as a gambler would a pack of cards. She had attended
to every one's needs, been observant of every face, and at the same time
had devoted herself to him. She had furthered the two girls' play with
him, and then had drawn him back to her again. She was wonderful and
very beautiful. He was giving her the first adoration he had ever
experienced.

This was the first time Baird had seen Judith with shoulders bared, the
tantalizingly perfect shoulders and bust of a mature woman, but that
realization did not stir him half so much as his capture of the
brilliant glance with which she swept the table. It softened into
intimacy when he caught it; took him into her confidence. When, on their
way to the ballroom, the negro fiddlers paused under the dining-room
window and played the first bars of a waltz, and the young people sprang
up to follow, leaving their elders to coffee and wine, Baird was as
eager as any one of them. Judith had promised him the first dance, she
would be in his arms for the first time, but Baird was thinking less of
that than he was of what she was going to say to him, a favor she had
said she meant to ask.



VIII

THE COLONEL IS SUSPICIOUS


Like most big-framed men who have a sense of rhythm, Baird danced well,
though a little lazily. He found Judith an exhilarating partner. A touch
of languor would have made her an exquisite dancer, but Baird discovered
that her apparently soft curves covered muscles of tempered steel; there
was subdued energy and swift grace in every movement of hers; no wonder
she was a perfect horsewoman.

During their first dance Baird told Judith, in his downright fashion,
that she was the most delightful hostess he had ever known and the most
beautiful woman he had ever seen; a "wonder-woman" he called her, which,
for Nickolas Baird, was a poetic flight. When they danced again, he
begged her to set him his task: "What is it you are going to ask of me,
Wonder-woman?... I've never had the least inclination to became a knight
until I met you. I'm aching to swear allegiance--what is it I'm to do
for you?"

Baird was accustomed to making love somewhat roughly and altogether
carelessly, he merely yielded a little to habit when he held Judith
closely and spoke in her ear. Nevertheless, it was plain to even an
onlooker that the spell of profound respect was upon him. It made his
rough strength appealing, the sort of appeal a young man of Baird's
virile type usually makes to a woman older than himself. What he was
asking was how best to please her; his forgetfulness implied restrained
impetuosity, not presumption. And evidently he pleased Judith; her
occasional upward glance was not disapproving.

So Colonel Dickenson thought as he watched them dance. He had forsaken
the dining-room for the moment, and, avoiding the drawing-room where the
elder women were gathered, had come by the veranda to the ballroom. He
had a jovial remark for each couple as they circled by him, and for
Judith and Baird also:

"I couldn't trip it more lightly myself--damme if I could!"

But Judith had caught his eye. "I see Cousin Ridley over there--I'm
afraid I'm wanted," she said, when the dance was over. "That's the
penalty I pay for being 'a delightful hostess.'" If her lips had been
fuller they would have pouted.

"Can't you be allowed a little respite?" Baird exclaimed. "I want
another dance--and another after that!"

Judith smiled and shook her head.

"But you haven't told me what I'm to do for you, yet, Wonder-woman?"

"It must wait.... There will be some square dances by and by, and an
even number of couples without us."

"And we can go to the porch--somewhere where we can talk--where it is
cool?"

Judith made a little affirmative gesture.

"I'll do my duty till then," Baird said bruskly. "I hate dancing--except
with you."

She allowed him to capture her intimate glance, but the instant she had
turned away her face settled into gravity, an expression both hard and
apprehensive. It made her look more nearly her age.

"What is it, Ridley?" she asked sharply. "Anything wrong--up-stairs?"

"No, no!" the colonel said. "I just wanted a word with you befo' I've
lost my feet--Edward's goin' to have us all under the table befo'
mo'nin'." The colonel usually abbreviated his syllables when warmed.

Judith drew a quick breath. "Oh--well, come out to the veranda--"

The entrance to Westmore was the usual Georgian portico; the veranda
crossed the back of the house, a gallery, really, overlooking the
terraces and connecting the two wings of the house, affording an
entrance to the ballroom at one end, to the kitchens at the other, and a
rear entrance to the main hall. There were high-backed benches here, and
Judith led the way to one of them. She sighed inaudibly as she sat down.

The colonel began promptly: "I wasn't meaning to spoil your dance,
Judith, but Mary's been telling me to ask that young friend of Garvin's
to our Fair Field meet. Of co's' you can be relied on to choose your
friends sensibly, but Garvin's not so certain. Who is this Nickolas
Baird? If I introduce him, I've got to stand fo' him. I want to know a
little more about him than Mary could tell me. I'll be damned if I'll
present him--knowin' no more about him than I do! What's his family?"

"I doubt if he has any," Judith answered equably. "In fact, I know he
hasn't--he told me that both his father and his mother were dead."

"You know what I mean, Judith!" the colonel objected warmly.

"Of course the first question would be, 'What's his family?' and the
next, 'Has he money?'" There was amusement in Judith's voice. Then she
added more seriously, "I really know very little about him,
Ridley--except that he seems to be a nice, clever sort of boy. Edward
approves of him, so I asked him here. Edwin Carter can tell you more
about him than I can. He put him up at the Hunt Club and introduced him
to Edward and Garvin. Edwin Carter spoke highly of him."

The chill of the veranda had cooled the colonel somewhat. "Edwin Carter,
eh!" he said more quietly. "Well, he generally knows what he is about.
He has more social sense than most of his money-makin' crowd--but then
he would have--he's a Carter. He certainly has a deal more business
sense than any Westmore born, and if he's back of this young fellow,
there's some business reason fo' it. Has he money, Judith?"

"Mr. Baird? I think so. He seems to make money easily, at any rate. He
speaks of losing fifty thousand dollars with far more lightness than you
would of dining, or of being deprived of the meal. His brain appears to
be stored with schemes, and all sorts of useful knowledge as well. He is
entertaining, for he has been everywhere and knows all kinds of people.
Get him to tell you about South America some time, Ridley, and you'll be
repaid for the trouble."

"Well, I hope he's not scheming to relieve Edward of some of his money,"
was the colonel's frank comment.

"Now, Ridley!"

"Oh, you're a clever woman, Judith, that's sure, but you don't know
anything about promoters. I know too much about 'em. I'll wager my best
horse this young man's a promoter--in with the Carter gang and out here
at the Hunt Club fo' a purpose. What does he mean--givin' away
automobiles. He spoke up like a flash at dinner; there's something in it
fo' him, I'll wager." The colonel expressed himself with all the
astuteness of the man who had never in his life handled a dollar of his
own making, and whose business ventures had been confined to a lordly
interest in his wife's safety-deposit box.

Judith laughed. "I hope there is something in it for him, I'm sure....
I wish he would teach Garvin his secret," she added with a sigh.

"He'll probably lead Garvin into mischief," the colonel returned
severely. "There are too many of this young man's kind bein' received
into our first families. I'm continually at odds with Mary over the
young men she recommends to Elizabeth. I don't feel inclined to
countenance this young man, Judith."

"Would you have Elizabeth marry a cousin?" Judith asked coldly. "There
has been a little too much of that in our family, don't you think?"

The colonel said nothing.

Judith continued more brightly: "I'll tell you, Ridley, exactly what I
think of Mr. Baird: I think he is a very clever young man, with no
family background and not much money, but with influential men behind
him. They know he is a financial genius. If you're wagering a horse,
I'll wager Black Betty that in ten years Mr. Nickolas Baird will be
worth a million.... And your discountenancing him will not make a
particle of difference. Christine Carter told Elizabeth that he was
going to be asked to the next Assembly Ball, and you know that that
places him. If he wants to go to the Fair Field meet, he will go--he is
the sort of man who'll always get what he wants. It's just as well for
people like ourselves to realize that Mr. Baird's type is becoming
plentiful--right here in our stronghold--and adapt ourselves to the
inevitable. If we are sensible, we'll draw what advantage we can from
it.... I'll tell you what I should do, if I were you, Ridley: I'd ask
Mr. Baird to dinner at your club and study him a little--you are an
excellent judge of character"--Judith's voice was soothing at this
point--"and if you don't like him, drop him.... As for me, I have no
intention of dropping him--principally because Edward likes him." She
concluded firmly enough.

"It's not so much Edward who likes him, is it?" the colonel blurted out.
"The young man's pretty well smitten with you, if I'm any judge, and if
I should see Elizabeth at your tricks I'd say that she was something
more than flirting."

Judith was plentifully endowed with Westmore temper; the colonel was
wont to say that there had never been a more imperious Westmore than his
Cousin Judith; he grew uncomfortably warm during the perceptible pause
that followed his hasty speech.

Then Judith's laugh rang clearly. "My dear Ridley! You are amusing!...
Yes, that clever boy is scheming to take Edward's money, and I am
helping him to it! Either that, or he is in love with me and I am
forgetting that I am thirty-four and he twenty-six--a little romance
snatched at in my old age!" She rippled into more subdued mirth as she
rose. "You go on in and talk to Edward--he'll give you the best of
reasons for _our_ countenancing Mr. Baird." She changed then suddenly to
sternness. "I'd advise you, though, not to make any such remarks to him
as you've just made to me, Cousin Ridley. Edward is head of our family,
remember, and you're more Westmore than Dickenson--at least I've always
thought so. I'm certainly Westmore enough to set the family interest
before everything else--I've always done so in the past, and am likely
to do so in the future."

The colonel had been entertaining a jumble of thoughts, among others,
that women of thirty-four were sometimes emotionally erratic,
particularly if they had had so barren an emotional existence as Judith;
and also, that young fellows of twenty-six were apt to be dangerously
impressionable. But at Judith's reproof he came up standing:

"I beg your pardon, Cousin Judith," he said, in his old-fashioned,
florid manner. "Edward's hospitality has been a little too much fo'
me--my tongue has run a little too loose. That happens to me sometimes,
as you know. I beg yo' pardon. What I really think is that you are a
woman in a million, Judith--a very splendid woman, my dear. Westmo' owes
everything to you--we all know that, and I'm on my knees to you--I
always have been."

Judith Westmore was not demonstrative, so her answer to his apology
surprised and vastly pleased the colonel. She framed his tanned face
with her hands and kissed his cheek. "You are a dear," she said
brightly. "Now go in to Edward and be nice to him. He's worried over
Garvin--and a number of things.... I'm going in now to talk to Cousin
Mary, and after that I'll have to go up-stairs. If any one wants to see
me, just say I'm busy."

The colonel did as he was bidden; Judith was usually obeyed. She had her
own methods with each member of the clan, and it was a rare thing for
one of them to venture upon criticism of Judith. The colonel had been,
as he said, a little overcome by Edward's hospitality.



IX

A FEMININE PROCEDURE


But Judith did not go up-stairs.

After nearly an hour spent in the drawing-room, she left her elder
cousins engrossed in whist, saying that she was going up until time for
supper. She went to the foot of the stairs, then half-way up, to where
the stairs made a turn, and stood for a time, listening. Everything was
quiet above. In the dining-room the men were still talking, and the
drawing-room was silent except for an occasional remark. Smothered by
the intervening walls, the music and the stir in the ballroom seemed
distant.

Judith listened to the conclusion of a waltz, then to the chatter on the
veranda--until it was drawn back again into the ballroom by the less
rhythmic measure of a square dance. Then she crept down, went quickly
through the hall and out to the veranda.

Baird was there, waiting for her. He sprang up from a bench. "I hoped
you'd come!" he said. "I didn't like to go in and ask for you."

They stood for a moment. "Have you been enjoying yourself?" Judith
asked.

"No, you didn't come back."

Judith laughed softly. "You are not polite to my party, suh."

"Never mind." He touched her bare arm. "Where can I get something to put
around you?"

"My cape is in the hall--behind the stairs--and my overshoes.... It is
so warm--we might go down to the walk."

"Down to the terraces," Baird said with the quickness of the man alert
to every advantage.

Possibly Judith had the terraces in mind, but she demurred. "Oh, no--the
ground is too damp."

Baird's answer was to dive into the hall. When he came out he had
Judith's cape on his arm and a pair of overshoes in each hand. He held
up the larger pair. "I've jumped some one's claim!... Think any one will
want these before we get back?"

"They'll certainly not guess where to look for them.... You know how to
surmount a difficulty, don't you?" She had planned for this adventure,
and her cheeks were warm.

"By helping myself to some one else's belongings--if there is no other
way.... Sit down and let me make sure you will be dry."

Baird had also planned for an hour on the terraces, and was elated. He
knelt and put on Judith's overshoes with much care, a caressing clasp
for each foot before he planted it on the floor. "They are so small," he
said. "There are not many women whose feet are kissable." Then dashed
by his temerity, he added quickly, "You must descend on me if I
talk--nonsense. I am apt to be forward--I need training badly. I'm in
your hands, you know."

Judith thought, as she looked down at his massive jaw with its
suggestion of animal force, that undoubtedly he spoke from much
predatory experience; his air of deference sat oddly on him; he was most
attractive when presumptuous. Her reflections caused her a pang.
Retrospective jealousy over affairs that were none of her concern? She
shrugged mentally. She was foolish! For the first time in her life she
was deliberately tampering with forces which she knew were dangerous.

She thought it best to say gravely, "You are a little--assured, Mr.
Baird."

"I'm afraid I am," he assented ruefully; then added with native
shrewdness and candor combined, "I suppose because I've usually found it
paid."

"I suppose it does--with some people," Judith returned with instant
hauteur. She was glad he could not see her flush.

Baird got to his feet. "May I help you with your cape?" he asked so
humbly that the prick of his previous remark ceased to smart. Why take
offense at his candor; his respect for her was apparent enough.

She regained her usual manner as Baird helped her down the steps and, on
reaching the walk, dropped her arm, and vented his discomfort by
criticizing the moon. "The stars are doing their best--why doesn't the
silly thing choose the end of the month to be full in?" he complained.
"I'm afraid you will stumble."

Judith did stumble a few moments afterward, and, as a matter of course,
Baird took possession of her arm. Judith judged that he had been
sufficiently rebuked and also that she had proved that she needed
guidance and yet was not eager to accept it, a truly feminine procedure.

And Baird was evidently bent upon gaining the terraces without offending
her by too much urgency. They had come to the verge of the first
terrace, and he tested the ground. "It's not muddy," he announced. "The
sod is too heavy.... Shan't we go down?"

"I ought not to go so far away--some one will be wanting me," Judith
objected.

"That is one reason you should go," Baird said decidedly. "You've been
on duty all evening. Come, shunt it all for a few minutes." Baird had
regained his assurance; it never deserted him for long.

"I should like to," Judith confessed, and her sigh was genuine enough.

"Of course you would. Isn't there a bench down there--somewhere?"

"On the edge of the last terrace--under those two cedars."

"Let's go to it--please, Wonder-woman! They'll all be out after that
dance and I won't have a moment with you. Come!"

He pleaded a little masterfully, Judith thought, but as long as he did
not suspect that it was his forcefulness that attracted her, all was
well. "I suppose I can hear down there, if any one called," she said
doubtfully.

"Certainly you can."

They went down to where the two cedars loomed, a dark mass, and groped
their way to the bench. It was dark beneath the trees and quite dry.
Below them was a hollow and beyond it a steep slope crowned by a group
of trees, their outlines distinct against the sky. In every direction
but this the country dropped away from the house, affording views for
miles. Except for the music in the house behind them and the occasional
snort or stamp of a horse in the stables, it was very still.

"This is splendid," Baird said, "but are you warm enough? You have
nothing on your head--there's a hood to your cape ... may I?"

He drew it up over her hair, restraining his impulse to touch her cheek
as he did so. The cape reminded him of Ann Penniman and his afternoon's
adventure, and he smiled a little to himself. That had been so natural a
performance, and this enforced deference was so entirely a new
experience. He was enjoying it; he liked the way in which Judith kept
the distance between them. She sat well against her corner of the bench.
He could see her face now, black and white and rounded into girlishness
by the encircling hood, again reminding him of Ann.

"I like those hooded capes," he remarked. "I don't know that I ever saw
one till I came here."

"Haven't you? Almost every woman here has one--they are so convenient.
Do you know what sun-bonnets are? If you're here in the summer you'll
become acquainted with them, too. But I suppose you will be off befo'
then." She spoke more lazily than usual, slurred her words more, another
reminder of Ann.

"I shan't be able to get away when I go--if you continue to be kind to
me."

Judith laughed. "Do you happen to be Irish?"

"Of course I'm Irish! Haven't you noticed my long upper lip? My father
was a pretty successful Chicago ward politician and I have the gift of
gab and manipulation too. I can talk money out of a man--any hour of the
day. Now that I have had enough of adventure, I mean to settle down to
handling people and making money. I was born to it.... But that sort of
thing is contrary to all your traditions, isn't it?" he added.

Judith thought that he judged himself rightly; his voice alone would
accomplish for him; it had both a persuasive and a compelling quality.
"It is, but I admire it," she returned decidedly. He had offered her the
opportunity she wanted.

"You do?" Baird said, surprised. Then his shrewdness added, "No, you
only think you do. I don't believe there is a man in your family who
would thrill over making money. I mean, thrill at the fight one must
make in order to gain power over men and circumstances, for that is
really the thing that buoys the money-maker, sheer joy in the tussle.
There is the miser, of course, but he's rarely a genius. Any one can be
a miser, if so inclined."

"You are right--the men of my family have very little business ability,"
Judith answered. "Garvin is the only one who has. He would be a success,
if given the opportunity. He is tremendously interested in anything he
undertakes and is capable of concentration--and he wants to make money."

It was not Baird's reading of Garvin Westmore, but he answered promptly:
"He seems to be an energetic, wide-awake sort." Baird's alertness warned
him that there was purpose in Judith's remarks.

Judith continued. "Yes, and I should like Garvin to have his chance....
You see, ever since he was a child he has been tied down to this place.
They will tell you about here that I have run the farm--for it is that
now--the days of tobacco growing were over long ago--but it is Garvin,
really, who has done all the buying and selling. He has made quite an
income from his horses, simply because he has been interested in it. He
would be just as interested in manufacturing automobiles, for
instance--if he could get a position in some promising company."

Baird understood now. He had thought swiftly while Judith talked. So
that was the reason he had been welcome at Westmore! That was the favor
Judith meant to ask--he was to find a place for Garvin.

It did not trouble Baird in the least that he was expected to make a
return for what he received--his experience had taught him that life was
run largely on that basis--but he was stung by the thought that Judith
had smiled on him for a purpose. He had mentioned his plans to no one;
it spoke well for her keenness that she had divined the industry he had
selected for his own advancement. But if she expected to gain more from
a bargain than he did, she was mistaken.

It was perhaps as well that Judith did not see his expression. His voice
did not lose its pleasing quality, however. "Garvin has some capital, I
suppose?"

"Very little, I am afraid," Judith said regretfully.

Baird did not say, "But his brother has." He looked down at her,
studying her clear-cut features closely. Evidently he had been right
when he had decided that she was cold; she had simply unbent for a
purpose. Aloud he said, "The manufacture of automobiles is going to be a
tremendous industry. I have some automobile connections--I'll talk to
Garvin a little."

It was not his voice that acquainted Judith with the chill he felt; she
simply sensed it. She looked up at him. "That was the favor I was going
to ask of you," she said softly. "Just to talk to Garvin a little and
interest him in some plan that will get him away from all this." She
indicated their surroundings by a gesture. "The family traditions have
very little hold on Garvin--they make him impatient and dissatisfied.
You see, I am older than my brother and I have had a great deal of
responsibility. I feel more like a mother than a sister to him. His
dissatisfaction worries me terribly. It would be doing me a very great
favor if you would interest yourself a little in Garvin.... We Westmores
rarely ask favors, Mr. Baird, and only of those whom we really like. I
have so much confidence in you." Judith's voice was sweet and pleading
at the end; her hand stole out from her cape and touched his arm.

She had lifted him quickly out of coldness into something warmer than
admiration. His doubts had melted like a fog under sunshine. He took her
hand and kissed it. "There are few things I would not do for you,
Wonder-woman.... Thank you, dear."

He would have kept her hand, but she drew it away, and Baird was almost
instantly glad that she did. He was forgetting himself. The thing he
liked best in her was her aloofness. "I've often wanted to thank you for
the way you have taken me in and made me feel at home," he declared.
"I've never had much of that sort of kindness shown me--I appreciate
it."

"I want you to feel at home at Westmore," she answered. "You must come
often--and always be nice to me." She had regained her usual graceful
vivacity. "Some day we will ride all over the place and you shall become
really acquainted with it.... Do you see that group of trees beyond
there, against the sky? That is our family burying-ground--generations
of Westmores. There are several quaint tombstones up there."

"You keep even your dead to yourselves, don't you? In a way, I like the
clannishness of it. You keep everything to yourselves, birth and
marriage and death.... I think there's too much fuss and ceremony over
all three. The first is generally a misfortune, the second is apt to be
no cause for rejoicing, and the end of it all no real reason for
mourning."

It was the first time Judith had heard this note from him. "Mr. Baird!
How unlike you!... It might be Garvin talking."

Baird did not want to talk about Garvin, so he made no reply. There was
silence for a time. For some unaccountable reason Baird was touched by
depression. This family with their close interests reminded him that no
one would care particularly how he lived or when he died.

He was aroused by Judith's sudden movement. She was sitting taut, her
hood flung back. "What is it?" he asked.

Her hand caught his arm, a grip of steel. "Hush!" she said sharply.
"Listen!... There are voices at the barn--and don't you hear
galloping--on the road? Don't you hear it?"

Baird could hear it distinctly, furious galloping, now a thud on soft
ground, then the click of hoofs against stones, and several men's voices
at the barn.

"Yes, I hear it--what has happened?"

But Judith was off and away, running up the terraces, and her
exclamation of distress reached him indistinctly, "Oh, _why_ didn't I
stay at the house!"



X

THE INFINITELY PAINFUL THING


Judith was not running to the house; she cut across the terraces to the
stables, and Baird followed her with all the speed possible to him. And
yet he did not catch up with her until after she had reached the group
of men and horses. When he came up they had just parted, four horsemen
off at a gallop down the road in the direction of the Post-Road, two men
and Judith left standing beneath the stable lantern.

Baird recognized Edward and the colonel as he came up, and he was near
enough to hear Edward's more distinct answer to Judith's indistinct
question: "Yes--Garvin--to the Mine Banks.... My _God_!"

"What has happened?" Baird asked breathlessly.

All three turned on him, and Baird saw Judith's white hand grip Edward's
arm. He was answered by a curious silence, a portentous silence that
conveyed a sense of tragedy. It was Judith who spoke finally:

"They are after Garvin's horse, Mr. Baird," she said evenly and clearly.

Garvin's horse? Baird looked from one to the other, three white faces
carven into sudden and violent self-control. There was something in the
way in which they faced him that affected Baird queerly. They stood
together as if they hid something infinitely painful from him that the
light of the lantern failed to reveal; something that hurt and shamed
them, and yet about which they rallied determinedly--as Judith had lied,
clearly and resolutely; as if they stood guard over a painful secret,
and appealed to him to respect it.

Baird heard himself say in a voice that was robbed of everything but
assumed relief: "That was what we heard then--the horse making off. Can
I help?"

"I think not, Mr. Baird--thank you--Copeley and the others--have gone,"
Edward answered, his pauses marking the steadiness of each word.

Judith's clear voice followed her brother's effort instantly. "We may as
well go in, I think, Edward. There is nothing we can do." She still had
her hand on his arm, and she turned with him, as if guiding him, and
kept by his side, leaving Baird to follow with the colonel.

The colonel spoke for the first time. "That's true. There's no good of
our standin' about--not a bit.... It's a pleasant enough evenin' to be
out in, though, Mr. Baird--like May, suh. You'll not know Westmo' by the
middle of next week--the trees and the lilacs setting out green. It
takes only a few days fo' spring to come here, on the Ridge, and this is
an early year--a very early year, suh."

If Baird had not been sobered by a sense of tragedy, he might have been
amused by the colonel's attempt to follow Judith's lead. But the old
gentleman's determinedly hearty voice failed him sadly, and Baird hoped
that he had played the part he had instinctively chosen better than the
colonel was playing his. And at the same time Baird's quick brain was
trying to solve Edward's agonized, "My _God_!" What had Garvin done?
Baird saw the man as he had looked that morning, with pistol raised.

He was answering the colonel. "I have been looking forward to spring
here. I suppose you don't hunt after the crops are up."

"No, suh--we do have a little consideration fo' others, though we are
not given credit for it. Now at Fair Field--"

The colonel had stopped abruptly. They had come to the veranda and from
its lowest step a huddled heap had got to its feet, a big negress whose
black hands were torturing her white apron. "Miss Judith--?" she said
whimperingly.

Judith stopped dead. "What are you doing here?" Her voice was as sharp
as the lash of a whip.

"Miss Judith--I didn't go fo' to do it--" the woman begged humbly.

Judith cut her off. "Go up-stairs and stay there!... Go!"

The woman slunk by them and around the corner of the house like a
whipped dog, and Judith went on, her head high, her hand still on
Edward's arm. As they went up the steps and the light from the hall
shone on her, Baird saw her face distinctly, immobile as a death-mask,
but with restless eyes glancing at the ballroom, which was lighted but
silent, then searching the hall. The front door stood wide, and on the
portico the family were gathered, all except Mrs. Dickenson and her
daughter, who were in the drawing-room.

If Baird had needed confirmation of his fears, he had it in Mrs.
Dickenson's face. She was clinging to her daughter, her face chalk-white
and her eyes terror-stricken. The truth might escape from her at any
moment; she looked on the verge of hysteria.

But Judith had noticed more quickly than Baird, and she spoke to the
colonel in the same clear way in which she had spoken from the
beginning. "Take her up-stairs, Ridley. She's frightened at all this
galloping about, and no wonder." Then dropping Edward's arm she went
straight on to the front door, her voice raised somewhat more, like an
officer giving his orders, and at the same time conveying a warning:

"Come on in, all of you, and get ready for supper. I dare say Mr. Baird
is hungry--I am--and we can't get Garvin's horse back by staring after
it.... Aunt Carlotta Morrison, come help me get every one together.
Come!"

It was all for him, Baird knew it--all this bravery. He was the stranger
among them; the one person from whom the painful thing, whatever it was,
must be kept. They could not gather together in grief or sympathy or
council--he was there. And it devolved upon him to play his part; to see
nothing; understand nothing; and escape as soon as he could.

Baird would have given much to be able to get his horse and disappear.
But that was not possible. He was experiencing the painful embarrassment
of a guest whose absence was earnestly, even tragically desired, but
whose departure would cause more pain than his presence--so long as he
could successfully maintain an air of unconsciousness.

He must stay, but it occurred to Baird that he could give them a few
moments in which to remove their masks, in which to consult together.
"I'll go wash up," he said to Edward.

Edward stood with hand on the stair-rail, erect but deadly pale. He
answered steadily and courteously, "Very well, Baird--it's what I must
do in a moment. If you need anything, ring. I suppose some of the
servants are about."

"Thanks," Baird said, and escaped.

He washed his hands and smoothed his hair mechanically. He was generally
cool when excited, but he muttered to himself, "What in hell can it be?
It's serious, whatever it is." His brain had already traversed several
possibilities. Had Garvin suddenly gone mad? Or committed murder?... Or
had his own brain gone back on him, registered an entirely erroneous set
of impressions?... Of course it hadn't. Those people were both terrified
and ashamed.

But he must go on with it. He had answered to the spur of Judith's
voice. He was a poor sort if he couldn't play his part also.... Baird
judged that he had given them time enough in which to consult, and not
too much time in which to suspect him. He must go down.

Baird never forgot that supper. They were gathered in the dining-room
when he came down, composed, courteous, charming. It was a depleted
company, five of the men were absent, and Mrs. Dickenson and her
daughter, but the colonel was there, and Edward, and again Baird sat by
Judith. The younger people were silent; there was a hushed strained air
about them, but their elders covered their silence. The beautiful old
mahogany table, bared now of linen, had been made smaller to hide
vacancies, bringing them together: Edward, with the sharp lines of
suffering growing and deepening about his mouth, but with quick
attention for everybody; Mrs. Morrison, with her stately white head even
more erect than usual; the colonel, with recovered aplomb.

The colonel told stories that Baird guessed the family knew well; Mrs.
Morrison reproved every one present and was really amusing, and Judith
smiled brilliantly and tossed the conversational ball back and forth.
She did not let it rest for a moment. A change had come over her; there
was a vivid spot in either cheek and her eyes were shining--nerves
strained to breaking point, Baird guessed, and, when he saw how her
hands shook, he himself began to talk--of South America, of Wyoming. He
dragged forgotten experiences out of obscure corners of his brain and
presented them.

He talked as he had never talked before, not even when he talked "money
out of a man." He was talking against time, the first moment when he
could relieve that proudly secretive company of his undesired presence;
talked with the full consciousness that Priscilla Copeley was looking
wanly at food she could not touch; that Edward's ear, inclined as if
listening to him, was bent to catch every sound from without; that
Judith's restless hand was beating a tattoo on the edge of the table
while she also listened and waited. Baird did not enjoy what he was
doing, but he liked always to play up to a demand. Judith needed what
little help he could give her.

It was over at last. Baird knew just when Judith judged that appearances
had been sufficiently maintained, and the moment had arrived when the
party could break up. He said good night then, but, first, he asked
Priscilla Copeley, "You'll not forget our ride to-morrow?"

He wondered what her answer would be, but even in this slip of a girl
the family spirit was alive. "No, indeed," she returned through
colorless lips. "At four o'clock, Mr. Baird," and she succeeded in
smiling.

Judith went with him to the stairs, and Baird thanked her "for one of
the pleasantest and most interesting evenings I have ever spent," as he
phrased it.

"And I am grateful to you," she said quietly. "You were wonderful at
supper." For the moment there was all of Edward's melancholy in her
anxious eyes.

So she had guessed. Baird hoped the others had not; he felt almost
certain they had not. He took her hand and kissed it--there was nothing
he could say.

The color deepened in Judith's face. "Sleep well--" she said softly, and
turned away.

Baird had no intention of sleeping. He changed into his riding clothes
and lay down fully dressed. He also was waiting and listening; he would
sleep as little as any one else in that house; he had never felt less
like sleeping.

There were steps and voices for a time; some of the family were taking
leave. Then, gradually, the house settled into watchful quiet; now and
then carefully silenced movements on the stairs, and the steady ticking
of the clock in the hall. Baird had already thought of every
possibility, so he was without conjectures, but sometime before daylight
those who had ridden away would return. He was waiting for that.

They came during the stillest hour, just after the clock struck three.
Baird heard a stir at the stables and went to the window. He could not
see the stables, the kitchen wing of the house shut them off, but he
could hear cautious voices and the movement of horses. Would they come
in by the front or by the veranda?

They rounded the kitchen, a compact group which was in full view for a
moment or two, then drew in so close to the house that the veranda roof
hid them. They passed along, moving slowly, to the other wing of the
house, evidently to what had been the old plantation office. Then sounds
ceased.

Baird drew a short breath. He had not been able to see very clearly, but
the group kept together in a fashion he knew well; they were carrying
some inert burden.

And he had to stay where he was till morning!



XI

KEPT IN THE DARK


The dawn ushered a brilliant spring day, a sky without a cloud, a light
warm breeze from the south, the song of birds awakened early by the
promise of nature.

Baird lay unconscious of it all, for a little before the pinky gray of
morning lighted his room he had fallen asleep. Dawn had crept over him
before he knew, and he lay stirless until the knock on his door aroused
him into habit.

"Come in!" he called, still held by sleep.

It was the negress he had seen the night before, bearing a tray.

Baird sat up and stared at her. He was fully dressed and lying without
covering, and after a rolling comprehensive glance, she stood with eyes
lowered.

"What is it?" Baird asked, only half awake as yet.

"Miss Judith done send you a cup of coffee, suh, an' she says fo' you to
res' till dinner if you feels like it. I tol' her I thought you was
movin'--I didn't go fo' to wake you."

Baird was still dazed, for at the mention of Judith's name the events
of the dark hours had rushed over him. It was difficult to connect them
with this brilliant sunshine, or this collected ebony statue with the
weeping, cringing creature of the night before.

Baird sprang up; he was fully awake now. "What time is it?" he asked.

"Hit's mos' ten, suh."

"Lord! Why didn't some one wake me before! I don't deserve any
breakfast. The family--I hope nobody waited for me?"

"Miss Judith an' Mis' Morrison, they ain't had breakfus yet."

Baird pulled off his coat. "Tell them I'll be down right away--it won't
take me ten minutes to shave.... Just bring me some hot water, will
you?"

The woman served him in silence. Baird would have liked to get some hint
of the state of things before he went down, but the family reserve
seemed to reside in the black woman also. He saw now that, though
powerfully and superbly built, she was not young; she was probably an
old family servant. In the hasty minutes he required for dressing, Baird
tried to adjust himself to the perfectly normal atmosphere. What had
happened while he slept he could not guess. He could tell better when he
went down.

Judith and Mrs. Morrison were in the drawing-room, and welcomed him
exactly as he had been welcomed when he first entered Westmore. Both
bore the marks of anxiety and lack of sleep. In the bright light Mrs.
Morrison looked blanched and old, and Judith was also colorless and with
heavy shadows under her eyes, but both were gracefully vivacious; their
manner was as usual.

"It was a perfect shame to wake you!" Judith declared, when Baird
apologized. "We were so certain we heard you moving."

"Don't you worry, Mr. Baird," Mrs. Morrison said. "I only just came down
myself, and it was I told Hetty you were up--my old ears deceived me....
Let us go in, Judith--I'm ready fo' your beaten-biscuits."

It seemed that they were to breakfast alone, and with no account given
of the absent ones, though Judith did say, "Sunday breakfast is an
elastic meal at Westmore. We come down early or late, alone or in
relays, as we feel inclined, and, somehow, we manage to be fed."

"I never have been certain which a man likes best--to eat or to sleep,"
Mrs. Morrison remarked briskly. "The fascinatin'ly natural creatures
seem to like both so well--and to drink best of all."

Baird laughed. "That depends on who is ministering to us at the moment.
Just now, I should much prefer to eat."

It was all so perfectly normal and natural, with the sunshine slanting
across the floor and the windows open to the breeze, that Baird might
almost have persuaded himself that he had dreamed--except for the
consciousness that he had slept in his clothes and for the telltale
pallor and lines of anxiety in Judith's face. And he was certain that he
had been waked purposely; he was not wanted at the noonday meal. They
intended that he should depart from Westmore in ignorance.

He was soon given a chance to declare his intentions. "I am going to
ride to church this morning," Judith said. "Do you care to go, Mr.
Baird?"

"Drive to church, you mean, Judith--I'm going with you," Mrs. Morrison
intervened.

"Not this morning," Baird said. "I want to get back to the club before
noon."

Judith did not urge him, and Baird decided that their determination to
drive four miles to church when they were both still ridden by anxiety
and drooping with fatigue must also be with purpose, a still further
maintaining of appearances; doubtless others beside himself were to be
kept in the dark. They were heroic in their methods, these people. They
were quite capable of sitting in church with heads high, knowing
meantime that something ghastly lay in the disused office. His eyes had
not deceived him the night before.

Baird was thinking of it, when, suddenly, heavy steps sounded on the
veranda, followed by the tumbling and whining of several hounds, and a
voice he knew well said sharply: "Be off, now! Get out!" Then the rear
door opened and shut and a man strode through the hall, his spurs
jingling as he came.

It was Garvin Westmore.

At the first sound, Judith had half risen; then she dropped back, and
the next moment Garvin came in, in riding clothes, booted and spurred,
clean-shaven but haggard. Baird was astounded to say the least. Had he
been a nervous person, he would have been shocked. His surmises had
fallen flat.

Garvin tossed aside his cap. "Still at breakfast?" he said casually.
"Hello, Baird." He drew up a chair and sat down.

Baird did not know how the other two looked; he was conscious that he
was staring. "Hello--" he returned blankly.

"You'll have coffee, Garvin--" Judith was saying, "and what else?"

"Anything. I'm not hungry."

He looked infinitely tired. His eyes harbored melancholy easily, as did
Edward's; he looked somberly at Judith as he tossed a folded slip of
paper across to her. "From Ed," he said briefly. Judith glanced at it,
then set it aside.

Baird's brain was working again. So Edward had gone--where? And why?

"Is it going to be hot, Garvin?" Mrs. Morrison asked.

"It is already hot, Aunt Carlotta." His voice was too even for sarcasm.

"Aunt Carlotta and I are going to church, and Mr. Baird thinks he must
go back to the club. What are you going to do?" Judith said, in the same
clear way in which she had spoken to her own people the night before.

Garvin straightened a little under its warning note. "I? I am going to
ride--if I can have Black Betty--the bay is about done. You and Aunt
Carlotta can represent the family at church, and I'll show myself at the
village. I'll ride as far as the Post-Road with you, Baird." He spoke
more heartily, though his always disdainful lip curled.

Judith's anxious eyes said that he looked a fitter subject for bed than
for the saddle, but she made no comment. For her sake, Baird excused
himself and rose. "I'll get things into my bag, then."



XII

A VENDETTA


They went together, as far as the County Road, Judith and Mrs. Morrison
driving and Baird and Garvin riding beside them. There the two men
turned into the extension of the Westmore Road that skirted the Mine
Banks, the shortest way to the Post-Road, leaving Judith and Mrs.
Morrison to go by the more roundabout way; the disused Mine Banks Road
was possible only to riders.

Judith reached from the buggy to shake hands with Baird, and there was
the same sweetness in her voice as there had been when she parted from
him the night before. "You must come to see us very soon, Mr. Baird. I
shall expect you," and her eyes said, "Welcome you."

And Garvin's voice also had a kinder note when he parted with her, as if
he had his worn nerves under better control. "I'll be back for dinner,
Judy."

"Be sure you are," she returned brightly.

"Poor Judith!" Garvin said, as he and Baird rode on. "She has the world
on her shoulders--or, rather, the Westmore family--and it's something of
a weight, I assure you." He sighed impatiently and looked up at the
looming conglomeration of sear undergrowth and trees and bald red
patches which they were approaching. "Ever been up there?" he asked.

"No, but I'm going."

"Well, don't go without a guide--there are some ugly pitfalls about....
That was a steep broad hill once, dug down and muddled into what it is
by the picks and shovels of English convicts. If all that's said is
true, they fared worse under my great-great-grandfather's rule than the
niggers did. It's not easy to make slaves of Englishmen.... For the last
hundred years it's been simply a game warren. There are caves and
underground passages and ore-pits full of water up there, and some soft
little hollows, too, where the pines and cedars have grown up. I know
every inch of it. It always fascinated me, but there are some of our
family who couldn't be driven to set foot in the place, and there's not
a nigger in the county will go near it. And that's a good thing--keeps
it free of pests." He laughed shortly. "Lord! I've slept off more than
one drunk up there--and played with a girl there, too, on occasion, and
only the moon the wiser for it." He spoke steadily, carelessly, but with
an undercurrent of feeling.

Edward's exclamation still rang in Baird's ears. Garvin had not been
drunk the night before; that he knew. When he and Judith went down to
the terraces Garvin was dancing with Priscilla Copeley, and with an air
of enjoyment.

Baird studied him closely. Garvin was riding with face lifted, and it
brought his profile into relief, bold brow, haughty nose and lip,
beautifully modeled chin. The lines about his eyes suggested both
weariness and sadness, the curled lip measureless disgust and
discontent; a thoroughly unhappy man--if he was any judge of
physiognomy. And again Baird felt sorry for him; there was something
radically wrong with him.

Garvin's face changed suddenly. "Look there!" he exclaimed. "By jove!
Any one would say it was a bear."

He was pointing with his whip to a clambering object which was clearly
outlined against one of the red patches above, a bald spot just below
the cluster of evergreens that darkened the highest ledge on the Banks.
There was a red crag behind them, tipping the summit, and the trees
stood as if guarding it; the creature that went on all fours was
apparently bent on gaining the ledge.

"It does look like a bear--it's a man, though," Baird said.

"It's Bear Brokaw.... What's he climbing up to Crest Cave for? Not for
an afternoon nap, I hope. The old cuss knows there's a better way up
than that--he's shinning up that slope just because he enjoys it."
Garvin looked interested, amused.

"So he's the honey-tree thief."

"Poof!" Garvin said. "He served Aunt Carlotta right. There's not a
stancher, closer-mouthed creature in existence than Bear. He swears by
Judith and would do almost anything for me. He taught me to handle a
gun--many's the night I've gone coon-catching with him."

They rode on, and Garvin's face settled into gravity. "I wonder what
he's doing up there?" he said musingly. "I should have thought he'd had
enough of the Banks last night," he added, and fell into silence.

It was the first reference to the night Baird had heard, but he dared
not question. They were well under the Banks now and the going very
rough, a road once, but no more than a trail now, leading over mounds
and down into hollows, the trees hedging them closely. Baird felt tired,
and they rode in silence for the next half-mile. Then they dipped into a
deep cut between high banks, and Garvin aroused to speak again.

"See that?" he said, pointing to a large white stone that stood planted
like a monument in the red soil of the roadside. "That's where my
grandfather dropped when he was shot by some one hidden up above there.
A good place for a murder and a getaway, isn't it?"

"Who did it?" Baird asked with interest.

"That's what we don't know--we never will know, I suppose. The family
tried to fasten it on a Penniman, old William Penniman's father, but
they had no proof at all--except that there was bad blood between
them--there always had been, ever since a Penniman got part of the
Westmore tract by buying the old house over there. The accusations of
our family didn't help matters. I've always had my theory about it,
though: old Penniman's father had nothing to do with it; those men my
great-grandparents worked up there in the Banks didn't all die or leave
the country--somebody's son or son's son did it." He shrugged with a
look of bitter disgust. "Lord! the thing's nearly a hundred years old,
and still we go on with it! There's not a Penniman will bend his head to
a Westmore, or a Westmore to a Penniman. We go on with things
endlessly--just our sickening, effete pride! It gets on my nerves." He
looked as if it did; he looked harried.

"There's one Penniman who doesn't seem to bear a grudge," Baird
remarked, "the little girl who came to your rescue yesterday morning."

"Ann?... Ann's young and light-hearted. There's plenty of time for the
Penniman to develop in her," he answered carelessly, but Baird noticed
that his color rose.

Garvin dropped the subject, talked of trivial things, until they reached
the Post-Road. They came upon a man here, a sturdily-built,
dark-featured man, clad in neat business gray and carrying a bag. He
stood at the juncture of the three roads, the Westmore Road, the Back
Road to the Hunt Club and the Penniman farm, and the Post-Road. His hat
was tipped back like one who had walked far and was warm, and had
stopped to rest and look about him. He was looking at the Mine Banks;
when the two riders came up out of the cut, he looked at them, or,
rather, at Garvin; he had merely glanced at Baird.

It was his steady grim stare at Garvin that arrested Baird's attention.
There was no curiosity in it, it was too cold; fraught with recognition
and a settled frozen antagonism. He stood his ground though Garvin's
horse almost brushed him, planted firmly, like one who would instantly
contest the few inches he covered. There was a quiet determined force
about the man; Baird was affected by it, even before they reached him.

Baird glanced questioningly at Garvin and saw that he was giving the man
stare for stare, erect in his saddle, chin slightly lifted. But Garvin's
look lacked the animosity that froze the other man's features, and just
before they passed Baird saw Garvin's hand lift half-way to his cap then
drop. They passed with Garvin's eyes shifted to look straight ahead, but
the man's stare never wavered.

"Speak of the devil and you see him," Garvin muttered, after they had
passed.

"Who is he?" Baird asked.

"Coats Penniman.... No forgiveness for the past there--why should I have
any compunctions over the future." He spoke icily. The cut he had
received had evidently stung.

Baird had already guessed. There was an unnamable likeness to Ann in the
man's features.

They had come to the center of the Post-Road. "Well, here we part,"
Garvin said more lightly. "I'll see you soon, I hope."

"Come over to dinner with me to-morrow," Baird returned. "We've got to
arrange about that machine."

"I meant to thank you about that," Garvin said quickly. "I haven't my
usual wits about me to-day. It's good of you, Baird." There was all the
Westmore charm about the man when he smiled.

"Not a bit of it--I'll see you to-morrow," and they parted, Garvin going
off at a gallop down the Post-Road.

Baird took the Back Road, glancing at Coats Penniman as he did so. He
had not moved; he was looking after Garvin. "I'd hate to have a man look
at me like that--especially if I was in love with his daughter," Baird
said to himself.

He rode slowly, for he was thinking--of the past night, of many things
that were not clear to him. He came up through the pastures, then
skirted the woods, as Ann had the day before. He was thinking of her,
among other things, so it did not startle him greatly when he saw her a
short distance ahead, standing and looking in his direction. But before
he reached her she slipped back into the woods. He hurried his horse and
stopped to look about him when he had gained the woods, but she had
hidden herself.

Though tired, Baird was tempted to dismount and search for her; he was
constitutionally opposed to anything escaping him. He did prepare to
dismount, then went on, when it occurred to him why she was there: "To
meet her father, of course," was Baird's conclusion. "She took me for
him, at first."



XIII

INERADICABLY BRANDED


Baird was right; Ann had come to meet her father.

Saturday afternoon and evening had been filled with preparations for
Coats Penniman's coming. Ann's pause for play in the barn and her
adventure with Baird had merely been an interlude in the rush of work.
Sue had worked late into the night, and Ann had helped her. When they
went to bed, the house shone in readiness for the home-comer.

Ann had worked steadily and silently; she had had her afternoon's
adventure to think over, with a commingling of anger and astonishment
and a stir of feeling that made her cheeks burn. The big mannerless
creature! He had taken advantage. He had held her and looked at her in
imperious fashion; in a way that had made her heart bound. And she had
not resented it until it was over. Ann was always truthful to herself;
she had liked the hot pressure on her cheek; she could feel it yet,
though now it made her angry. She was enraged with herself for having
liked it, and with Baird for having touched her. He could not have a
particle of respect for her or he would not have dared. Ann tossed about
uncomfortably on her bed. If he came again--and she hoped earnestly that
he would--he should see! All Ann's considerable will was aroused.

Then the ever-present hurt took possession of her. If she had not grown
up with the longing to be petted unsatisfied, the caress of a mere
stranger would not have seemed so sweet. At least, so Ann explained
herself to herself, having had no experience in passion to tutor her. If
only her father would love her, she would be happy. If only she knew?

It was then the plan to meet him sprang into Ann's mind and filled it.
He had written that he was not to be met at the station; that he wanted
to walk home. Ann decided that he was certain to come the back way. She
would meet him and come proudly back with him--if he was loving to her.
And if he was not?... Ann did not know what she would do. At least, her
aunt and her grandfather would not be there to see.

Ann kept her purpose closely to herself during the morning, working
feverishly over the tasks Sue set her, her cheeks vivid, as were Sue's.
Her grandfather was very silent. He sat with his Bible on his knee, as
was his custom on Sunday morning, his thin body bent over it, his white
hair hiding his face; but Ann saw him look up once as Sue passed him,
moving quickly and energetically. It was a long intent look he gave
her, his eyes, always vividly blue, brighter and keener than Ann ever
remembered seeing them. His lips, the sunken mouth of an old and broken
man, shook. He loved Sue, Ann knew that well; he often watched her at
work, but with lips tight set, as if in pain; now they trembled. Coats
would be bringing Sue deliverance from toil.

Ann stole off in plenty of time to the Back Road. She had waited almost
an hour before Baird came upon her. She saw him when he was some
distance away, but it occurred to her that he was probably Garvin
Westmore, and from him she had no desire to run; she wanted to tell him
that her father was coming.

When she saw who it was she hid herself. Crouched in the creek, she
watched Baird's pause and close scrutiny of his surroundings. When he
was about to dismount, she was frightened; when he rode on, she was a
little disappointed, and yet she wanted him away. Ann did not leave her
hiding place until she was certain that Baird was well on his way to the
club; then she went back to her post. And when she saw a man coming
across the pastures, she forgot Baird, everything; it was her father,
come at last.

She watched him with the blood throbbing in her ears, a heavily-built
man, not thin and sharp-featured like most of the Pennimans, yet with
the Penniman look about him. She had waited eagerly enough, but with
each step that brought him nearer, her terror of what might be held her
back; she did not stand out where she could be seen until her father had
nearly reached her.

When she came out suddenly from behind the undergrowth that screened
her, they were only a few yards apart, and Coats Penniman stopped on a
forward step, stood quite still. Ann saw the spasm that crossed his
face, lifting his brows and widening his eyes. She thought that she had
startled him; he did not know who she was.

"It's Ann, father--" she said, with a quivering smile. "I--I came to
meet you--"

His face changed, settled into deep lines about his mouth, into wrinkles
about his eyes, the look of her grandfather upon him--until he smiled,
though it was more a twitching of the muscles in his cheeks than an
actual smile.

"Ann--" He drew an audible breath. "I--wasn't expecting it--"

He came to her, for Ann stood rooted; no volition of hers could have
brought her an inch nearer to that look of her grandfather, covered by
that painful smile. "So you came to meet me?" He put his hands on her
shoulders. "It's fourteen years since I saw you--you have grown
up--child."

There was all the sorrow of the forsaken in the dazed shrinking look Ann
gave him. "Yes, I've grown up," she said in tones as colorless as her
face. "But I know you--you look like grandpa."

He bent and kissed her cheek, then took his hands from her shoulders,
and he said what Sue had said: "And you are a Penniman, too, Ann--we're
all Pennimans--we'll never outgrow that.... How are you, child?"

"I am well, suh."

"And Cousin Sue and Uncle Will?"

"They are well--they are expectin' you."

Coats Penniman took up his bag and they turned into the woods. Ann's
eyes were fixed straight before her. Things looked curiously white and
unreal, as they do after a shock. Her father looked at her as they went
on, at her proud brow and eyes, then at her softly-rounded chin and warm
mouth, reminders of her mother, and, again, the deepening lines in his
face made him look old. "I'm glad you came to meet me," he said kindly.

And Ann answered to the note of kindness, just as she had always
answered to the same note in Sue's voice, by an offer of service. "Can't
I carry your satchel for you, father? You've walked so far."

"No, Ann, I've not come home to be waited on.... There're going to be
better times at the farm, now I have come home. Until the last year I
haven't had the means to make it easier for you all. For fourteen years
I've prayed to make money, and then, all at once, when I'd given up
hope, it came. For your sake, and for Sue's sake, I wish it had come
sooner." He spoke with a deep note of feeling.

"It has been hard for Aunt Sue," Ann said tonelessly.

She felt numb and sick; she was more conscious of a feeling of illness
than of anything else. The necessity of walking steadily on when she
wanted simply to hide herself somewhere, was infinitely painful. Sue had
said, "If Coats seems like a stranger to you, don't you feel hard to
him." He did not seem like a stranger to her, any more than her
grandfather did, or even her aunt did, at times. But he did not seem
like her father, any more than they did. From the height of her
isolation, Ann could even look at him calmly.

His dark face had lighted, now that he was looking about him. "Uncle
Will has not cut down the trees--every tree is here--just as it used to
be," he said with deep satisfaction. "I was afraid he'd had to make
cord-wood of them.... How well I remember it all!" he added, half
eagerly, half sadly. He walked faster, until they reached the open, and
then he stopped. "The house and the barn ... and the spring-house!" he
said. "Not a stick or a stone changed! My, my!... And fourteen long
years!... When I went, I never wanted to see it again, but it has pulled
at me, just the same. It's brought me back."

He turned slowly, half circled to look about him, his eyes finally fixed
on the nobly solemn line of cedars. He looked at them long and steadily;
he lifted his hat and took it off. "'For better or for worse' ... and
so it has been--" His face was wiped of expression; his momentary
excitement gone.

"He is thinking of my mother," Ann thought.

He stood a moment longer, motionless, then put on his hat, drawing the
brim low over his eyes, and went on, forgetful of his surroundings, and
of Ann. Perhaps it was habit that guided him, for he took the usual way,
across the field and up the path between the grapevines, and Ann dropped
behind; when he went into the house, she could escape.

But Sue had seen them coming. Sue who never ran, who was wont to go
about wearily, ran down the kitchen stairs and her father followed,
slowly, holding to the stair-rail. Sue sped across the few yards that
separated them. "Coats!" she said, "oh, _Coats_!" and Coats Penniman
dropped his bag and opened his arms to her.

Ann stood on the path and watched them, Sue's arms about Coats' neck,
his arms holding her--and then her grandfather's welcome. The two men
clasped hands, the three stood, held together in their joy, then went on
slowly, her father helping her grandfather up the stairs.

Ann slipped in between the grapevines, skirted the barn enclosure, then
ran like a hunted thing for the shelter of the woods; not to the hollow
through which the road came, but up higher, to the group of pines that
edged the woods. There was neither road nor path there; the pines were
clothed and would hide her.

She stumbled as she ran, for she could not see; her sobs were blinding
and strangling her. She crept beneath the sheltering branches and clung
to the earth, the only mother she had ever known, beat upon the breast
to which she clung, and clung the tighter.

In that hour of anguish, Ann parted with her childhood, the blessed
capacity to weep one moment and laugh the next with sorrow and pain
forgotten. The collie had lost his playmate, the birds a
fellow-songster. Ann had not lost spirit, nor the power to endure which
is a woman's heritage; but a hurt to a child is a scar carried through
life, and Ann had been ineradicably branded.



XIV

THE MISFITS


The sun, well on its way to the west, reddened the bald peak above Crest
Cave and shot its rays through the screen of pines on the ledge below,
mottling the bed of pine-needles at the mouth of the cave. The midday
sun had warmed them; they were still warm and resinous, a comfortable
resting place.

Garvin Westmore lay full length on the sweet-scented bed, motionless,
except when he lifted to his elbow to look out at the country below.
His, or some other hand, had cut away the branches that hid the view;
one could sit at the mouth of the cave and see, as through a tunnel, the
slope of grain-land, the winding creek, the pastures and the Back Road;
and, beyond the semicircle of woods, the roof of the Penniman house, and
beyond that, open country stretching into blue distance.

Garvin was keeping watch. He quickly singled out Ann's brown cape from
the browns and duns of the woods. He sat up and watched each step of her
approach. He had not been at all certain that she would come; she was a
resolute little thing to brave discovery in this fashion--and both
ignorant and innocent ... and vastly trustful. Nevertheless, it was the
eternal attraction that was bringing her--and leading him into deep
waters as well. There would be all hell to pay--if he were not careful.

He sprang up, more to get away from his thoughts than to be able to see
better. He had searched about the Banks and had made sure, and had
watched the open country--there was no one about. And she was well away
from the woods now, following the creek; its undergrowth would hide her
from any one who might turn in from the Post-Road.

She did not leave the shelter of the creek until where it curved away
from the Mine Banks. She was just below him now. Then she crossed the
open space quickly and was lost in the trees that edged the Westmore
Road. Garvin knew that she would come up behind the Crest.

They were safe from observation now, and he circled the Crest and
started down the path which was more an animal trail leading through the
bushes, than a path. He heard Ann's approach before he saw her, the
rustle of sear leaves, and he stopped on one of the bare red patches
that the noise of his approach might not startle her. The bushes parted
presently, and Ann looked out. Then she looked up and saw him, and
smiled. She was lovely as she stood there, half screened, flushed and
doubtful and faintly smiling.

Garvin hurried down to her. "It's all right," he said. "I've been
watching.... My, but the bushes have pulled you to pieces!"

They had; her cape was off, her hair loose on her shoulders, her breath
short. "It's--more grown up--than it used to be," she complained.

"And so are you.... Don't pin up your hair, Ann--it's beautiful that
way: I love your hair."

She did not give him the merry glance that was her usual answer to such
speeches. She gave him the cape to hold and resolutely gathered up her
hair. "Now!" she said, when it was in place.

Garvin had watched her in silence. Her decision had checked him; it was
unlike her usual manner. "We'll go up to the cave," he said. "You can
rest there."

"I can take my cape now."

"No, I'll carry it.... You're tired, aren't you?"

"A little," she answered quietly.

She let him help her up, her hand in his, her lowered eyelids his to
read. He could find nothing there, except that they were darker-tinged
than usual--and her lips grave. He decided that she was frightened.

"It was a shame for me, to bring you all this way," he said, with the
gentleness which he usually had at command. "I wanted so much really to
talk to you, and I couldn't think of a better place."

"I wanted to come," Ann returned. "I wanted to see the Mine Banks
again--"

"And to see me, too, Ann?"

"Yes." She gave him a half-questioning, half-appealing glance. "I wanted
to talk to you, too." The laughter that usually danced in her eyes was
not there.

Garvin was still certain that she was frightened, at her own temerity,
and doubtful of him. "Well, we can talk all we want to here, dear. No
one will disturb us, and you are safe with me.... See, isn't this
perfect?"

They had come to the ledge. Ann looked into the umbrella-like cave with
the yawning hole at the back, the burrow of some animal; then at the
screen of pines. The place was shut in, warm and restful. "It's lovely,"
she said softly, "an' I'm not afraid of it now. I came up here once,
when I was little, an' something moved in the hole, an' I was scared. I
ran, and I never did come back--I imagined it was a lion.... That's why
it was fun to come to the Banks--I could have such fearful
imaginings--imaginings are fun." She was more like herself now, laughing
softly and coquetting with the hole in the cave.

"It's nothing but a fox-hole, Ann. I used to let them have it in the
winter and then trap them. When I got to coming here often, I didn't
like the smell of them about, and I have made it too hot for them. I let
the rabbits have it now--I don't mind their scuttling about while I lie
here."

"You talk as if you lived here. It is a peaceful, far-away place to
live." She was looking through the tunnel and had lost her smile.

Garvin had a sudden remembrance of some of the scenes the place had
harbored, and he turned away from it, impatiently. "Let's sit under the
pines, where we can look out," he suggested. He took her cape and spread
it close to one of the trees. "How do you like that?"

Ann had not heard him. She was looking steadily at the roof of the
Penniman house. She turned sharply, turned her back on it, sat so she
could lean against the tree-trunk.

"Why do you sit that way?" Garvin asked in surprise. "Don't you want to
look out?"

"No, I like this way best."

Garvin studied her closely. He had seated himself as near to her as he
could, with a mental curse for the tree-trunk that allowed no excuse for
the support of his arm. The flush of exertion had left Ann's face, and
Garvin saw now that she was very pale and heavy-eyed, and her lips
compressed. Her hands also were tightly clasped. She was not frightened,
or even shy; she was wretched. It was he who was flushed and doubtful.
He had not lived well, how ill only he himself knew, but this was his
first tampering with innocence.

He put his hand on hers. "What's the matter, Ann?"

She was silent.

"What is it, dear?" he asked tenderly. "We're friends, aren't we? Are
you sorry you came up here? What is it? Tell me?"

Ann drew one of her hands away and, taking up a pine-needle, began
pricking the bit of cape that lay between them. "No, I am not sorry,"
she said evenly. "The only comfort I've had to-day is thinking I was
coming." She looked up at him, her eyes full of grief. "My father came
home to-day."

Garvin would have taken her in his arms, but for the fear that touched
him. "But he doesn't know you are here?"

"No. I didn't tell him--I couldn't tell him--anything.... Mr. Garvin,
your people are fond of you--my people don't--love me." She had wrenched
the thing out, despite the hurt.

Garvin breathed more freely. What a child she was! "What do you mean,
dear? Have they been unkind to you--to-day?"

"They are kind to me, but they don't love me," Ann repeated, beginning
to quiver. At one wrench and with tremendous effort, she had parted with
reserve and the Penniman pride, and plunged on. "I don't know why they
don't love me as they love each other. They have never loved me--even
when I was little. My father went away an' left me because I reminded
him that my being born killed my mother. An' now that he's back, I can
see that he's never felt I was part of him. I understand better
now--they're kind to me because they pity me. I don't want to be
pitied--it's hateful to be pitied!... Your people love you, Mr. Garvin,
so you can't understand--I reckon no one will understand." She had ended
helplessly, not in tears, for she had wept herself into a decision that
morning, and she was holding to that.

Garvin's hand had grown lax on hers and his face gloomy. She had swept
away the sensuous emotion to which he had yielded while waiting for her.
He had given himself up to a contemplation of possibilities as an escape
from harassment. His pursuit of Ann had been just that, from the very
beginning, an escape from unendurable conditions. Her, "They're kind to
me because they pity me ... it's hateful to be pitied!" had brought back
with a rush the thoughts that had darkened his face while he rode with
Baird that morning. "Your people love you--so you can't understand." His
people love him! How well he understood, indeed!

He had looked straight before him while she talked; now he looked down
at her, stirred for almost the first time in his life by a sense of
fellow-feeling. "Yes, I understand," he said steadily. "It takes the
spirit out of you--gives you over to the very devil--to be dreaded and
pitied--almost from your cradle up. I understand, Ann. It's so in some
families--for one reason or another.... Some of us are born misfits;
we're throwbacks--to something or some one that doesn't quite jibe with
our environment. I reckon you're a bit too fine and spirited for your
environment, Ann." He was looking at her brow and eyes, not the brow and
eyes of a Penniman--not as he had known them.

Ann's sense of isolation caught at the note of sympathy, and she gave
her decision into his keeping. "I can't bear things as they are, Mr.
Garvin. I made up my mind this morning--I'm going away just as soon as I
can."

She had startled him. "_You_, go away? Why, you're nothing but a child,
Ann! Where could you go?"

Ann lifted her hands, held them out for him to see. He had noticed them
before, not small hands, work-hardened, but shapely and flexible, with
tapering fingers blunted a little at the tips, almost certain sign of
manual labor imposed upon childhood. "Look at them!" Ann said tensely.
"Would I work any harder with them for other people, than I have for my
people? I'm goin'--there's the city for me to go to."

Garvin knew, far better than a stranger would, what such a decision
meant to a Penniman--or a Westmore. It meant flinging away caste. They
could toil unceasingly, bend their backs to the most menial labor, so
long as they toiled upon their own freehold. But to become a servitor,
labor with their hands for a wage!

"You can't do that, Ann," he said positively.

"I can, and I will," Ann returned with equal decision.

"If you tried such a thing, your father would bring you back--you're not
of age."

She drew a short breath and considered a moment. "But I will be in the
fall--they can't make me come back then, can they?"

"No--" Garvin said slowly. "They couldn't--not if you were determined."

He was thinking. A possibility had occurred to him that made him flush;
brought him back to the thing to which he had given himself up of late,
his desire for Ann.... The thing that was almost impossible here was
possible in the city. And what a haven to escape to!... He looked at her
as she distressfully pondered her future. She had never seemed more
lovable or less a girl to be taken by storm; she had shown an amount of
decision he had not known she possessed. He had her confidence; he would
do well to keep it.

"If you are determined enough, Ann, and careful to keep what you mean to
do a secret, I think you could carry it through," he supplemented. "And
why shouldn't you go? Almost anything is better than life as you've had
it. I'll help you to go, when you're ready for it."

"You could help me to get something to do, maybe?" she asked quickly.
"I've been thinking maybe you could. That's one reason I wanted to talk
to you."

"Possibly. I'd do almost anything for you, Ann, especially now I know
you're not happy down there."

Her pleasure and relief were evident; she flushed brightly. "You're very
nice to me Mr. Garvin."

"We're really friends, then, Ann? You don't share the family grudge?"

"Indeed I don't! I can't see why they are so bitter."

"It's just an hereditary quarrel, that's all, and you are the first
Penniman and I the first Westmore who has buried it.... Will you really
bury it; dear--and show me that you have?"

"I'm showing that I have," she said earnestly.

"Shan't we kiss each other to prove that the ugly thing is gone from
between us?" he asked gravely.

Ann's flush deepened, but not because of any particular
self-consciousness; she neither dropped her eyes nor smiled. Ann had
gone down in the depths that day and, for the time being, had parted
with coquetry. The longing for affection and interest and consideration
such as Garvin was offering her was her immediate need. She was
desperate for want of it. And yet she hesitated. She felt certain now
that Garvin was very fond of her, and to Ann's way of thinking love led
to marriage. She was quite as certain that she liked him very much. She
hesitated because she was a Penniman and he a Westmore; there was a
class distinction between them that had held for generations.

Garvin saw her hesitation and obeyed a subtle instinct when he kept his
hands from her and chose the words that would appeal to her, and the
more irresistibly because of genuine feeling. "I'm not any more happy
than you are, Ann--I'm wretched. My people are kind to me, too, just
that, and they pity me endlessly. If ever there was a misfit, it is I.
I'm sick to death of it all, and lonely enough to take the short way
out.... Be nice to me, dear."

She lifted her lips to him, and his arms took her and held her, and she
clung to him with a tensity of affection. He kissed her long and
passionately, but with self-control enough to realize the quality of
what he received, its affection and gratitude and lack of passion. And
when her lips parted from his and he buried his face on her shoulder
shaken by the first effort for restraint he had ever cared to make, her
hand stroked his hair, gently. "I didn't know you were unhappy, too,"
she said softly.

When he raised his head he was pale. "You're a child yet," he said.
"You'll wake up one of these days--then you'll love me as I love you."

"I like you a great deal," Ann answered, with conviction.

He laughed shortly. "Yes, we're good friends--that's it, isn't it, Ann?"

The note of urgency and dissatisfaction made her uncomfortable. "You
asked me to be friends," she said.

She moved away from his hold, and he let her go. "There's all the
future," he said more quietly. "You'll love me by and by.... Ann, have
you really the courage to go away from all that down there?"

"Yes."

"And the wisdom to keep our friendship to yourself?... It will be a
terrible thing for both of us, if they know. I met your father this
morning, on his way home, and I'd have spoken to him, if he had let me.
I did speak and he cut me--he has neither forgotten nor forgiven."

"What is it they've not forgotten or forgiven?" Ann asked earnestly.
"Aunt Sue wouldn't tell me."

Garvin told her what he had told Baird.

Ann flamed scarlet. "There isn't any Penniman would have done that!"

"And there's not a Westmore now who thinks it," Garvin said positively.
"The thing's more than half a century old, but it's an insult your
people will never forgive.... It's not going to matter to you, is it,
now you know?" he added, for Ann looked so perturbed. "I never have
believed it for a moment--or Edward either. I know he's terribly sorry
for the quarrel, and ashamed that father let the thing rankle. It
worries Ed. If it worries you, I'm sorry I told you."

"It doesn't worry me," Ann said firmly. "It doesn't make the least
difference to me--in the way I feel to you and Mr. Westmore--we had
nothing to do with it, an' to hate an' hate is sickening. But I know how
it is with my people. I think grandfather would almost kill me if he
knew that we were friends. Even Aunt Sue would be fearful to me." She
drew a quick nervous breath. "It makes me want to get away more than
ever."

"You shall go--I'll help you," Garvin promised. "But in the meantime I
want to see you--I must. If I think of a safe way, you will meet me,
won't you?"

Ann thought of the thing that had added hurt to hurt, her father's
pleasure in Sue. They had been painfully kind to her at dinner, and
after the meal was over he had gone off with Sue, they two to talk
together.

"Yes," Ann said. "I'm not afraid. We're doing nothing wrong in liking
each other."

"I'll think of a way and write to you."

She got up. "An' I must go now." Her lips quivered and set. "My father
has gone with Aunt Sue--to walk around the farm--but they'll be coming
back before supper."

"I am afraid you must, dear. If I brought them down on you, I should
never forgive myself.... I can go with you to where I met you."

He went with her around to the back of the Crest, down the steep
red-clay slope and into the shelter of the bushes. There he lifted her
up and kissed her. "Ann!" he said. "Ann! I'm going to make you love me."

Ann received his kiss more shyly, turned her cheek to it. She had
emerged a little from wretchedness, and the quality that invites
pursuit, that draws passion and gives sparingly in return, the quality
with which Ann was plentifully endowed, was coming to the surface. She
escaped from his hands without answer and with eyes down.



XV

AS WITH A CHILD


Ann gained the woods in safety, so much Garvin saw from his perch, but
he could not see what followed. At the point where the Back Road forked,
she came face to face with Edward Westmore. He was coming from the club,
riding slowly, as always.

Ann was flushed from rapid walking; she flushed more deeply when she saw
him, and nodded and smiled shyly.

Edward lifted his cap, his tired face lighting. "So we meet again!" he
said. "I was thinking of you--have you walked far?"

"Just across the pastures," Ann answered in embarrassment, the more so
because he had checked his horse.

She had not expected him to do that, or to look so pleased when he saw
her, still less to dismount and come to her which he did immediately.
"You look warm, aren't you tired?" he asked.

"Yes," Ann answered, too much surprised for anything but a monosyllable.
She was wide-eyed and a little startled, the child look that made her
prettiest, and he studied her intently, as if absorbing her features.
And yet his manner was deferential; he looked and smiled as he had the
day before when he had talked with her.

"I am tired, too," he said. "I have just ridden up from the station to
the club.... Won't you rest a few minutes? I wanted to talk more
yesterday--I was interested in all you told me, and promised myself to
take the first chance to talk again, but I hardly expected this good
fortune."

Baird would have been astonished by Edward's air of animation and
pleasure, more so even than Ann. "He hates quarreling and wants very
much to be friends," was Ann's thought, and she was pleased. The
miserable day was ending more happily; Garvin had told her that he loved
her and that there was "all the future," and now his brother was showing
her that he liked her. There were people in the world to whom she
mattered; Garvin was interested in her, deeply interested. Ann was being
carried away from her troubles; transformed into beauty and charm.

She gave Edward her drooping glance and slow smile. "I should like to
talk, too."

"Shall we sit down then, for a few minutes?... Over there by the creek,
don't you think? There used to be a hollow there, and a flat rock."

"Yes--it's there yet," Ann assented willingly.

It was the spot where she had hidden from Baird that morning, where the
bank of the creek shelved sharply to a big rock around which the water
fretted and quarreled. Clumps of chinkapin bushes intervened,
effectually hiding the hollow from the road.

Edward led his horse around them and, after a swift survey that
convinced him that they would be well screened, dropped the bridle.
Carefully and attentively, as if she were fragile, he helped Ann down to
the rock, and Ann, who had sprung down that morning as nimbly as a
chamois, lent herself daintily to his guidance, instantly adapting
herself to it, enjoying it. This was something quite new to her, as new
as Baird's impetuosity or Garvin's restrained passion. And she took,
quite as her due, the step-like ridge in the rock that seated Edward at
her feet. She was neither embarrassed nor awed, partly because of
Edward's well sustained ease and deference, partly because of his very
evident interest in every word she uttered.

With a skill which Ann was not experienced enough to recognize, he led
her to talk of the farm, then of her people, then of herself. He had
been away so long, he told her. He had been everywhere--except at
Westmore--much of the time in Europe; everything she told him was news.
He drew from her an accurate picture of her life as it had been from her
earliest remembrance and as it was now, and that without any such
passionate outburst as she had visited upon Garvin. With his knowledge
of her family and his growing knowledge of her, it was easy to read
between the lines. She was apart from her family; she was not happy
with them. Whether she had attained to seventeen years without a romance
was the one point upon which he was uncertain; even a very young girl
would know how to guard that secret.

Ann could not know that she was being manipulated by a master-hand. When
he looked up at her, his eyes held only pleased interest. When he looked
down at the resentful, quarreling water and they were hidden from her,
his expression was different.

Edward Westmore's combination of ease and impenetrable reserve, of swift
intelligence and yet guarded speech, the melancholy that shadowed him,
like a thin veil drawn over a smile, had baffled more astute people than
Ann. It had made him a noticeable man wherever he had gone; a man of
acknowledged charm and suspected subtlety. His family had known him as a
spirited and yet dependable boy, the most dependable of the Westmores,
until the upheaval which had sent him away from his home had revealed
passions his family had not suspected. He had demanded a release from
Westmore and Westmore conditions and had gained it. That he had married
beyond all expectations well a woman older than himself and possessed of
a fortune, and had settled into the inscrutable man he was, with the
welfare of Westmore apparently his closest interest, was one of the
inexplicable things about him.

Judith perhaps understood Edward better than any one else did;
certainly, in their twelve years of married life, his wife had not
fathomed him. If his charm had won him conquests, they had never
obtruded. If he had craved youth and beauty, he had given no intimation
of it. He had unwaveringly upheld both his wife's dignity and his by an
unswerving courtesy; how much or how little love he had given her was a
secret she had carried with her--she had left him her fortune,
unconditionally.

He had led Ann up to the very present, and she told him what he already
knew: "And my father came home to-day." She paused on that, because of
the tragedy it had been to her, but her face was more expressive than
she knew.

"I suppose he will sell the farm and take you all west with him when he
goes back? That will mean a different life for you," Edward said.

The suggestion was an entirely new one to Ann; she grew wide-eyed over
it. Then she shook her head decidedly. "No, he won't do that--he loves
the place."

"Then he will probably send you to school in the autumn."

This also was a new idea, but after consideration she dismissed it.
"No.... I didn't study very well when Aunt Sue sent me to school," she
added with a touch of shame.

"You didn't?" Edward was genuinely surprised; it was not his reading of
her.

"I couldn't ever learn arithmetic--I tried hard, but I couldn't. The
teacher told Aunt Sue that I had no brains for study, an' she took me
away from school." Ann hated to make the admission, she had been led
into it before she knew, and added quickly, "But I liked history and
composition--I like to read. I've read my father's books through and
through."

"They don't know what good brains are in that school in the village,"
Edward said quietly. "My greatest pleasure is reading, too--you are
fortunate to have grown up in a library."

Ann was forced to admit that it was not a library, just a cupboard in
her father's room stacked with books. Edward knew that, as a boy, Coats
Penniman had been an omnivorous reader and something of a student. He
selected in his mind the books Coats was likely to have read, many
histories, the lives of great men, and the staider fiction which he
himself had enjoyed when a boy, and Ann warmed into vivid pleasure when
she found that they had acquaintances in common. She talked of George
Eliot's characters as one would of friends, and lovingly of Maggie
Tulliver, that creation of a great woman's brain always tenderly loved
by misfits such as Ann.

"She was a nobody's child," Ann said softly.

Edward noticed that the dramatic and emotional appealed profoundly to
her, and the sentimental very little. He thought as he listened to her
and looked at her beauty that, if the right sort of man possessed her,
she would grow into a superb woman; a few years' training would make
her a finished product, something more than presentable, a really
fascinating woman. But the emotional in her would have to be satisfied.
It was innate, patent, unmistakable--her power to arouse passion, an
irresistible inclination to test the emotional, and it was quite
possible that in the process she might be irremediably marred.

Edward thought of the thing he had witnessed the morning before, his
brother's face bent to Ann's, and his own face darkened. He had thought
of it frequently in the last twenty-four hours, and with a full
realization of what her appeal to Garvin would be. He thought of the
night just past, when the family skeleton had broken loose and been
captured and locked away again, only after hours of dread and terror to
them all.

He turned from the sickening recollection to look again at Ann. He
reflected that with her type the brain is apt to be constant and the
emotions less dependable, and love, actual love, rarely a sudden thing
and almost always a consecration. How much of herself she would give
would depend largely on the man who captured her; to hold her he would
have to appeal to her brain as well as her emotions. Edward was certain
that he read her aright. He had traveled a long way before he had
learned what little he knew of women; what man ever knew more than a
very little of the riddle the Creator intended man should not solve.

To Ann he said, "But you haven't read many of the more modern novels,
have you? And very little poetry?"

"I couldn't get them," Ann answered regretfully. "There's no library in
the village." She did not add, "And I have no money to buy books," but
Edward understood.

"I have any number of them--good and bad--at Westmore. I should be glad
to lend you anything you would like to read."

Ann did not know what to say. She had collided again with the family
quarrel. But she wanted to see Edward again. No one had ever talked to
her as he had, or treated her as he did. He was quite different from
Garvin, far more deferential, and yet eager to please her. She felt
intensely sorry for Garvin; things seemed to be all wrong with him, just
as they were with her. And she wanted him to love her; she wanted every
man to love her--even Ben Brokaw. It was delightful to feel that she
could interest them--as she was interesting Edward Westmore. It was
wonderful that she could interest him. He was the most courtly man she
had ever seen, and the most distinguished-looking. She was accustomed to
tanned faces; the black and white contrasts of Edward's face pleased
her. He was tall and erect and dignified. She felt a tremendous respect
for him, and at the same time she felt perfectly at one with him; he was
so pleasant to be with.

"I'd like very much to have the books," she said somewhat helplessly.

Edward smoothed out the difficulty without mentioning it. "I go by here
so often, to the club--I could easily leave them up there, beside the
bushes. If some one else found them or they got rained on, it wouldn't
matter--there are plenty of others." He looked up at her, smiling
quizzically. "I go to the club almost every afternoon, and ride back
about this time--just when you will be curled up here in the hollow
examining what I have left. I know you will do just that, because that
is what all book-lovers do--an unread book is as tantalizing as ripe
fruit just out of reach."

Ann thought it was a nice way of being told that he wanted to see her
again, and she answered with much of his own manner. "Maybe--but never
as late as this, though. See, the sun's most down, an' supper waitin'
for you at Westmore, like it is for me up at the farm."

"That means that I am dismissed--that it's growing late, and that I've
let you sit here without your cape around you.... Let me put it on for
you--before we go up."

He wrapped it about her, his touch light yet lingering, brought it
together under her chin, as one would with a child. "Have you felt
cold?" he asked tenderly, as if guarding something infinitely precious.

For the second time that day affection lifted in Ann's eyes. In all her
life no one had looked at her or spoken to her in just that way; even
Garvin had not. "No, I have been warm," she answered softly.

Edward looked full into her eyes, the veil of melancholy that so often
shadowed his face stealing over it. "Then I've done you no harm, and you
have given me a great pleasure," he said. "Now run home quickly--while I
get my horse back to the road."

Ann went, as he said, quickly. It had seemed to her that morning, as she
had walked along the same road with her father, that she could never be
comforted. But she had been--doubly comforted.



XVI

"IT WAS BORN IN HER"


"Is Ann always like this?" Coats Penniman asked Sue that evening.

They had come from supper and were sitting together on the porch.
Preparing the meal had been Sue's work; Ann had insisted that the
clearing away was her task, and Sue knew why she had been so determined;
she did not want to join them on the porch.

"She's always quiet when father is around," Sue answered.

"And I'm a strange element--well, it's natural."

Sue knew that Coats meant to talk of Ann, and she dreaded it. They had
spent almost the entire day together, going over the farm and talking of
its possibilities, and Coats had scarcely mentioned Ann. But Sue knew
that he was thinking of her from the occasional questions he asked and
from the way in which he had studied Ann, surreptitiously, with a
pitying intensity which Sue understood well. When he spoke to Ann
directly his usually deep voice softened to its kindliest note, and Ann
had answered dutifully, but Sue noticed that she kept her eyes turned
from him.

Poor Ann! Sue sighed inaudibly. She was very sorry for the girl, but
she had known just how it would be; the love Coats had seemed incapable
of giving the child was not likely to be given the grown girl who
reminded him even more poignantly of the bitterest days of his life.

She knew Coats so well. They had grown up together, she and her sister
Marian and Coats, and his love for her sister seemed to have been born
with him. He had loved Marian as a child, as a boy he had adored her,
loved her with an all-engrossing passion when they were grown. He would
gladly have given his life for the girl who was his wife for less than a
year, and over whom he had agonized with an intensity that had almost
deprived him of his reason. She had borne her child and had left him
desolate. She seemed to have taken with her all his capacity for love.
They were like that, the Pennimans; an affection for each other and a
tremendous sense of duty, but only one love. She herself was like that.
No one had ever guessed; she alone knew who it was _she_ had loved all
those years; loved in spite of everything, steadily loved and loved.

It was dark, and Sue could think and feel without her face betraying
her. Coats' figure was a vague outline, but his presence was an
intensely palpable thing. It pressed on her, enveloped her. _What_ that
day had been to her! After all these years, he her companion, his hand
on her arm, his first thought for her, and no one to come between
them--except the ghost of the past. She wanted it laid, buried too deep
ever to rise again. So far he had not mentioned the past; was he going
to drag the thing out now and agonize over it again?

She had not answered his remark, and he said nothing for a time, smoking
in silence. Finally he said, "I wish I could make the future a little
easier for her."

Sue drew a breath of relief. She was quite willing to talk of the
future, even Ann's future. "I've often wondered what was best to do for
her."

"Has any man ever made love to her, Sue?"

"No, no one," Sue said positively. "Who would? You know how away from
people we've had to live--we haven't even had the relations here--it was
the only way to do when we were so poor.... Besides, Ann's not much more
than a child."

"You've always written that she was a thoughtless child. She's less of a
child than you realize, Sue. And she's not thoughtless, either. She does
a deal of thinking, but keeps it to herself."

Sue remembered Ann's burst of feeling which had so surprised her. "I
reckon that she has grown up so gradually I haven't noticed. She has
such a careless way with her most of the time. She plays with every
mortal thing that comes her way, Coats--peeps at it with her eyelids
down--seein' if it's goin' to give her any fun, it seems to me. It
drives father mad to see her. I've often watched her, with the collie,
with Ben--with every breathing thing that comes her way. An' she does
lay hold on people--if there's a creature on earth Ben Brokaw loves,
it's Ann. It's Ann has kept him here these last two years--she can do
anything with him."

"It was born in her," Coats said evenly. It was his first reference to
his wife and he turned from it, spoke more clearly. "Sue, Ann's the
quintessence of attraction--I've realized it to-day. She's one of those
women you might wall up and use plenty of stone and mortar to do it, and
still she'd draw some man to her. It's her portion--we might as well
recognize it and allow for it in the future."

"You mean she's bound to marry?"

It was not all Coats had meant, but he said, "Yes."

"But she mustn't marry here, Coats--it's what father has always said....
What chance is there here for a girl, anyway. The few boys that have
stayed here are a shiftless lot, an' the Hunt Club set--they're rich,
most of them, an' fast--we're just farmers to them--a girl situated like
Ann is mustn't have anything to do with them."

"The club is since my time--are they about much, the men?"

"They're all over the place--as long as there's huntin'," Sue said with
disgust, "an' they're always about the club, summer and winter. Father
stopped their ridin' through here--he put up the gate an' notice--and he
arrested Garvin Westmore, Coats."

Coats was silent, Sue guessed, because he might say too much; hatred of
the Westmores lay deep in him. Sue liked the restraint he put upon
himself. He had gone away a wretched silent man, and had returned a
restrained yet forceful personality. He had broadened and gained weight,
both mentally and physically. She had guessed from his letters that he
had improved, and she had often thought, miserably, that she was not
keeping pace with him. She had never had her sister's beauty or
attraction, and even her prettiness was fading. And mentally?... What
chance had she had, tied down to the farm?... Then bitterness slipped
from her. He was here and, she hoped intensely, was going to stay. The
fear that had tormented her, that he might marry out of sheer
loneliness, was set at rest, and if she could feel certain that he would
stay, her cup of joy would be full. All she dared hope for was that he
would stay where she could care for him.

Coats spoke again, and of Ann. "I don't know just what to do for her,"
he said thoughtfully. "You wrote that she had no head for study. If she
hasn't, sending her away to school would be a mistake--just courting
mischief.... I'm inclined to think that she'll be best off here--until
she's older--then I'll try to send her west--put her with people who
will look after her and see that she gets a chance to marry, for that's
what it will be with her. She's bound to have her bit of life, have it
and pay for it, the certainty of it is written all over her, and she'll
have a better chance of happiness somewhere else than here." His voice
deepened. "You see, Sue, she's not really one of us--that's the thing
has been borne in on me to-day. It's an old wound opened, and it's made
me feel a little sick; her mother was never meant for this place--or for
me. You know how it was with her--just that craving for all the things
we were not. It showed in every look and word of Marian's,
unconsciously, and it shows doubly in Ann.... Why, Sue, when I looked up
this morning and saw her standing there, where Marian often stood, black
and white, that hair and brow of hers, and with Marian's lips smiling at
me, it was exactly as if a ghost had risen up and beckoned to me! I lost
hold on myself. I did the best I could, but my best was bad. I froze
whatever affection the child has for me--just froze it forever." He
ended helplessly, a sudden breaking away from the restraint that was
habitual with him: "She's a woman grown, Sue--I didn't expect it to be
that way--I never dreamed it would be like that--you never told me she
looked like that--you never told me how she looked!"

"You never asked me to tell you," Sue said painfully.

Coats quieted, gained control of himself almost instantly. "I didn't
mean to let myself go like that. It's the last time I'll speak of things
that can't be helped. The best I can do is to watch over Ann and give
her a chance."

"It's the best any of us can do, Coats," Sue's voice was still husky.

Because of the note of pain, Coats drew his chair close to hers, touched
her arm. "You've always done your best, Sue. I left you to bear most of
the burden, but I've come back to it. I'm going to stay, Sue--it's going
to be lifted from your shoulders to mine.... And I'm glad to be back. I
belong here--I'm no money-maker. I'm fitted for just this--to draw a
living out of the soil and enjoy doing it.... I can't expect help from
Ann--she's bound to go out into the world and live--but you'll stand by
me, Sue?"

The assurance Sue longed for had been given her. "Yes, I'll stand by
you!" she said deeply. "I'll stand by you always, Coats--I'm fitted for
just this, too."



XVII

COMPLEXITIES


The first of May, and spring had come on the Ridge. A young green lay
upon pasture and woodland, upon every spot where nature was allowed her
way--except the bald patches on the Mine Banks. They still glared a
sullen red, defiantly barren, when even the plowed earth glistened and
was warm, impatient under man's restraining hand, eager to quicken the
seed being entrusted to it, a civilized mother as intent on bearing
fruit as was her uncultured sister.

Those three weeks had brought the stir of life, both restlessness and
joy, to Sue, to Ann, to Judith Westmore; and, as spring quickens man as
well as woman, to Edward Westmore, Garvin and Baird the consciousness of
things desired and not attained which is the urge to all accomplishment.

Even Coats Penniman, busied about the farm from early morning until
night, was stirred by a vague unrest which was not unhappiness nor its
opposite. He worked the harder for it; he had cast his net here; he
meant to gather in the harvest, a modest harvest, but one that would be
sufficient for his family's needs. New horses filled the stalls that
had stood empty so long, new farm implements were stored in the
wagon-shed, the barn acquired a coat of paint. And the crying shame of
water carried by women up three hundred yards to a kitchen without a
convenience was abolished. That was Coats' first improvement: pipes were
laid to the bubbling spring and a pump installed; the spring-house,
unsanitary relic of a past century, would no longer harbor crocks of
milk and butter ill-protected from things that crawl and germs that
fatten; it housed the pump. And only the weeping willows mourned the
change; they no longer stood in a swamp, for a drain carried the seeping
water to the creek; they were a pleasant shelter now for any man and
maid who chose to sit beneath them.

Coats Penniman had his work and Sue had hers. The old house was being
transformed. Many years before, Ann, playing with a forbidden pen-knife,
had cut through the half-dozen layers of paper that generations of
tasteless Pennimans had laid upon the living-room walls and had come to
oak paneling as beautiful as any at Westmore. Sue had not forgotten the
discovery. The living-room was stripped of paper and became again what
it had been in colonial days, a spacious dining-room paneled from
ceiling to floor. The modern front room, the parlor, lost its dingy
figured paper, was hung and curtained in white, as were the rooms above.
Sue, with Ann to help her, and a sturdy negress to do the heaviest work,
labored joyfully. Paint and whitewash had their way with the old house,
and it emerged an elderly lady still, but with white hair smoothed and
wearing a spotless cap.

Only the lonely farm-woman who toils unaided, her interests bound by
four unsightly walls, a veritable prison with a treadmill for diversion,
can justly appreciate what those days of transformation were to Sue. She
had longed for the two strong black hands that under her direction
washed and churned and swept and cooked. But she had longed still more
for a little beauty, a touch of fashion, a hint of luxury. Her day's
work had always lapped over into the morrow. Now she could appear at
supper with hair arranged and wearing a fresh gown. She could go from
supper to sit with Coats on the porch and talk to him of her work as he
talked to her of his. The delight of it!

And it was not only the house that wore new garments. Sue chose
carefully and economically, but she would not have chosen tastefully had
Ann not been at her right hand. Ann had an instinct for color, and an
observant eye for style. She had insisted on shades of blue for Sue.
"You ought to get everything blue, it goes with your eyes, an' it makes
you look young and pretty," she had urged. "Have an all-blue suit, Aunt
Sue, an' a blue silk drivin' coat, an' a little blue hat with white
wings. An' for your house-dresses just have lawn with blue flowers in
it." Sue had thought the coat an unpardonable extravagance, until she
remembered that she often drove with Coats. Then she did not hesitate.

Ann was too proud to ask for anything for herself, but Sue insisted that
whatever she had must be duplicated for Ann, so Ann chose for herself a
summer suit of deep cream and a large cream-colored straw hat. Sue had
objected to Ann's choice of a red coat. "Your suit's so dark a cream
it's 'most yellow, an' your coat's a regular nigger red, Ann."

"I'm black an' white--they're my colors, Aunt Sue. I'll always have to
wear rich colors to look best," Ann returned, and she was right. She did
not put red roses on her hat, however. She decorated it with
water-lilies; their yellow centers blended with hat and gown.

Even Sue did not suspect what pleasure Ann took in her attire, but she
did notice that the girl was startlingly beautiful, even in her simple
white lawn dresses sprayed with either red or yellow. It was not a
glaring effect the girl had produced; she had simply intensified her
usual impression of warmth, her hint of the exotic. Coats noticed it; he
looked at her in an expressionless way, but Sue knew what he thought,
and her father also, when he looked at Ann and then looked away. Ann's
new clothes set her more apart from them than ever.

And in spite of her good sense, Sue envied Ann's compelling quality. She
would never have it, but Ann thought that since her father's return Sue
had grown almost beautiful. Sue's face had grown fuller and now her
cheeks almost always had color. She arranged her brown hair carefully
and changed her dresses frequently. And she laughed much oftener, softly
and with eyes alight. Sue was glad, of course, that Coats had brought
better times to them all, but even supreme relief would not account for
Sue's air of subdued happiness.

Ann had puzzled over the change in Sue, until one day she saw her
watching Coats Penniman while he slept. He had come in tired out and had
stretched himself on the couch in the living-room. Sue and Ann were
sewing when he came in and Sue had sprung up, brought him a glass of
water and begged him to lie down. Then Sue had taken up her sewing
again. A little later, when Ann glanced up, wondering how she could slip
away without being noticed, she saw that her father was asleep and that
Sue sat with hands idle. She was bent forward a little, looking at Coats
in utter absorption, her lips parted, her eyes misty and yearning, her
heart laid bare for Ann to read. Sue had forgotten her, forgotten
everything; there were only they two in the world, she and Coats.

Ann looked long and steadily, and, in those moments of hot surprise and
then of clear understanding, she laid down every claim upon her father,
became definitely nobody's child. Ann's own experience in love had
rapidly taught her; she knew how it was with her father and Sue; Sue
loved her father, and he liked Sue better than he liked any one else.

That was what Garvin said to her in the evenings when they met under the
willows by the spring: that he loved her madly, and that she only liked
him. She let him kiss her when he talked like that. It made her hot and
restless to be plead with and urged and caressed. She did love him--the
thought of losing his love was terrible--yet she was not happy, partly
because she felt that Edward would be shocked if he knew. She had
discovered that the brothers did not love each other any more than she
and her father loved each other. She never mentioned Edward to Garvin,
or Garvin to Edward.

The night before, Garvin had said startling things: that he was going
into the city to live; that Nickolas Baird was arranging a city agency
for a large automobile firm, and that he would probably have charge of
it. Ann had been swept by a feeling of desolation until Garvin had
added, "It won't be right away, but when the time comes will you go with
me?"

Ann knew that she had been silent so long that he had grown desperate.
He had put his arms about her and held her as if he were afraid that she
would run from him. She had said, finally, "I couldn't bear it, to have
you go away."

"But I shall have to go," he had told her positively. "I can't stay at
Westmore--Edward is master of Westmore now.... And you want to go
away--will you go with me, Ann?"

Then she had told him the thing that had troubled her from the
beginning. "A Westmore marry a Penniman? We can't do it, Garvin--ever."

And Garvin had been silent then, thinking; she had felt his hands grow
burning hot. Then he said steadily: "The city is not the Ridge, Ann. If
you'll only love me completely, as I love you, what seems impossible
here may be possible there. I want you, just mine to love and care for
always."

Then she had told him with complete honesty. "I don't know whether I
love you enough to marry you, but I can't bear to have you go away from
me."

He had made his usual appeal, his own unhappiness, and Ann had almost
yielded him her promise. But when she thought it all over she was not
happy; she was so doubtful of her own feelings.

And she had another anxiety. Edward Westmore had given her a number of
books, and she had seen him several times. Every day there had been a
book for her in the chinkapin bushes. With the instinct for making
herself doubly desired, she did not always stay to thank him. But
sometimes she had waited in the hollow, and Edward came and sat at her
feet. Then they talked. They had been less exciting but more satisfying
hours than she had with Garvin. Edward told her wonderful things,
interesting things. She felt like an ignorant child when she was with
him, and yet she knew that he liked whatever she said, and that he loved
to look at her, and that he touched her with a certain tender
reverence. She thought of him as a very dear friend. It was some time
before she told him how things were at the farm. Before she realized,
she had told him about it, and he had said:

"Never mind, Ann, be patient. There is the future--you will leave the
farm, one of these days."

He had spoken quietly enough, but Ann had seen the color come slowly
into his face. Though he had turned to look at the water, she had seen
and wondered. Was he beginning to care for her--as Garvin did? Such a
possibility had never before occurred to her! He had seemed so much
older than Garvin--old enough to be her father. It made her very
uncomfortable, the first touch of self-consciousness she had had while
with him. For several days after that, she had taken her book and
hurried away.

Then Ben Brokaw had added to her anxiety. They talked together as
always, she and Ben. Though he had said nothing, Ann knew that he
understood about her father and herself. On the evening of that Sunday
when she had met her father, she had found on her window-sill a box
lined with pine-needles and on them several sprays of arbutus. She knew
instantly that Ben had put them there, climbed to the roof to do it. His
was the language of the woods: Ann knew from the pine-needles that Ben
had been somewhere about when she had lain sobbing beneath the pine
trees. And she had known just how to thank him; she had pinned a bit of
the arbutus to her dress the next morning, and had smiled at him. "It's
sweet," was all she had said. And all Ben said was "Um!"

Ben rarely mentioned Coats Penniman, but occasionally he had been
satirical over the changes Coats was making. When the house became
redolent of paint, he took his hammock and slept in the woods. "Paint is
supposed to be a' awful good thing," he told Ann. "Even the ladies
thinks it'll hide old age, but it don't deceive nobody. I never took no
stock in paint--wood is one of the prettiest things on earth; why cover
it up?"

On the evening when he talked with Ann in a way that made her anxious,
he began by saying, "This place an' Westmo' is becomin' too fashionable.
All we needs now is a' automobile. Westmo's got one--I seen Garvin
scarin' chickens an' niggers all down the Post-Road this mornin', an'
that young cool-head who's stayin' at the club an' makin' love to Miss
Judith showin' Garvin how to do it. If the president was to travel down
the Post-Road in a wheelbarrer, it wouldn't stir up half the sensation
Garvin did.... I reckon Edward wanted to give Garvin something to occupy
his mind. Well, he's done it--an' a fashionable way to break his neck,
too."

Ann knew that Garvin was to have the automobile. He had told her that it
was coming, and that, as soon as he could run it, he would take her with
him to the city and back in an evening. That now he could show her the
city of which she knew so little.

But she did not comment on Garvin's new possession. "You always speak of
Garvin in that way, Ben, and differently of Edward Westmore--why do
you?" she asked gravely.

"Edward's a gentleman an' Garvin's jes' a Westmo', second generation to
his pa," Ben returned.

"I thought every Westmore was a gentleman," Ann said, quite as Judith
might have spoken; there was hauteur in the reproof. Her head had
lifted.

It was not too dark for Ben to see her face, and he glanced at her, a
swift, intensely interested look, a deeply anxious look as well. But his
answer was drawled as usual. "Accordin' to the dictionary, they are,
Ann. I read up on 'gentleman' once, an' I decided that there dictionary
wasted a lot of words. Why didn't it jest say, 'Gentleman: the man who
does to others like he'd have them do to him.' Of co'se, if it was
necessary to say more, it could jest add that there is those who grows
to be gentlemen. A man can train hisself to be one. Edward has growed to
be a gentleman--I found that out when he come back.... Now, if there was
anything troublin' me, I'd go straight to Edward Westmo'. There ain't
anythin' I'd be afraid to tell him. An' that's the advice I'd give to
any one who was doubtful in their mind about anything, or who'd got into
trouble--jest to talk to Edward about it.... I'm down about the woods a
good bit, an' I often see Edward comin' an' goin'. We speaks. There
ain't much goes on down there I don't know about; even when I'm not
there, my eye's on them woods. If Edward Westmo' sat down a bit on
Penniman land, I wouldn't say nothing about it--not I. I'd as soon cut
my hand off as set a Penniman on a Westmo'. Coats Penniman has growed,
like I tell you some men do, Ann, but he ain't growed enough not to hate
a Westmo'. That's one reason I keep my eye on them woods--I wouldn't
answer for what would happen if a Westmo' angered Coats Penniman."

Ann had nothing to say to this long speech; she escaped as soon as
possible to think it over. Ben had the queer cautious ways of an
animal--he had told her several things, in his usual fashion. He had
meant to tell her that Garvin was not as fine a man as Edward. Ann was
forced to confess that she felt he was not. But Garvin was younger, and
impatient and unhappy, just as she was. She loved and pitied Garvin, and
nothing Ben could say would make her stop loving him.

And Ben had also meant to tell her that he knew and approved of her
talking to Edward; that he stood guard over them. He wanted her to tell
Edward about Garvin. She felt certain that Ben knew she cared for
Garvin. Possibly he knew that they met, but she was not so certain of
that.

Ann's anxiety was principally on Garvin's account. If her father
discovered them it would be terrible. They ought not to meet in that
way. But Garvin could not take her away now.... And even if he could,
did she love him enough to go with him and face all the trouble that
would follow? And yet, she would be sick with loneliness if Garvin went
away and left her. But if she did not love Garvin--in the way in which
he wanted her to love him--she ought to tell him so and not meet him any
more. And she could not tell Edward about his brother--not after the way
in which Edward had looked at her the last time she saw him--she simply
couldn't.



XVIII

"YOU'RE ALL I HAVE"


Ann spent a troubled night after her talk with Ben, and she had reached
no decision the next day when she went down to the woods to get her
book. She did not know whether or not she would wait to see Edward. She
ought not to see him. It had not occurred to her that as things were
between Garvin and herself, she ought not to see Edward in this way--not
until after she had suspected that Edward cared a great deal for her.

Ann did not know how much she wanted to see Edward until she discovered
that there was no book left for her. She searched the bushes thoroughly;
there was nothing there. Then she paused to think.... She had avoided
Edward and he had decided that she did not want to see him; she had lost
her friend.

Ann went slowly back to the road and stood hesitating. She did not want
to go back to the house; she felt more like going up to the pines, to
sit with her trouble where no one would see her.

She had flushed while she searched and found nothing, then grown pale
when she felt that she had been forsaken. She brightened into beauty
when she heard a horse on the Back Road. He was late in coming, that
was all. She waited, her eyes fixed on the turning in the road.

It was Baird who appeared, and, riding with him, Judith Westmore. They
were riding so close to each other that their horses almost touched,
Judith with head bent and playing with her whip, Baird looking down at
her.

Ann would have escaped if she could, but they were upon her before she
had recovered from surprise, and Baird had seen her. He straightened
instantly, and Ann also stiffened, moving only to give them room to
pass. Baird looked at her steadily, for a questioning instant, then
suddenly smiled and lifted his cap. He bowed profoundly enough when Ann
smiled, though she had merely glanced at him; she was looking at Judith.

Ann's smile and bow should have been claimed by Judith, it was meant for
her; but she looked at Ann, at her and through her, a blankly brilliant
stare, then touched her horse. Both horses leaped at her flick of the
whip, and left Ann standing beside the road.

Ann did not go to the pines and weep; it might have been better for her
if she had. She went back to the house, and with head high. Hers had
always been an inflammable temper, but never before had she felt the
profound anger that held her now. It turned her cold, not hot. With all
the family enmity forgotten, she had smiled as she would have smiled at
Edward, and had been cut in a manner possible only to as finished a
product as Judith. Ann's nerves were always high strung, and for the
last weeks she had been under the strain of persistent denial, anxious
over the danger to Garvin of their secret meetings, and too
inexperienced to realize the still greater danger to herself from the
sort of appeal Garvin was making to her; certain only that neither he
nor she was happy. Edward's defection had been followed too closely by
Judith's act. Ann shivered like one with ague.

She was very quiet at supper. The meal was a hurried one, for Sue and
Coats were going to the village, and no one noticed Ann's white face.
She was going to meet Garvin that night. She went as soon as it was
dark, and waited for him, sitting tensely upright under the willows;
usually it was Garvin who waited. She sat so still that a rabbit came in
under the willows, almost to her feet, before it leaped and fled.

Garvin came presently, well hidden by the dense growth of elderberry
bushes that, matted by foxgrape vines, extended to the creek. He had
chosen this spot because he could come all the way from the woods under
cover. "Ann!" he said. "You here first!" On the instant his arms were
about her.

Ann did not hold him off as usual. She sat quite still and let him kiss
her. It was a few moments before he noticed how passive she was. "What
is it? What has happened?" he asked.

"Just that I have made up my mind."

"To what?" he asked, not knowing what to expect, for he was accustomed
to reluctance and withdrawal.

"That I'll go with you, Garvin--as soon as you can take me away. Then
I'll marry you. I'm a Penniman, but I'm fully as good as your sister--or
any Westmore lady ever was. I'm not afraid to marry you."

The blood flared in Garvin's face, but he thanked her as tenderly as any
Westmore ever uttered the words. "My darling!... You do love me, then!
You do love me! Thank you, dear."

Ann's hand drew his face to hers. "You're all I have," she said.

Garvin held her closely while he drew off his seal ring, engraved with
the Westmore crest, and put it on her finger. "You can't wear it openly,
dear; but every time you look at it it will remind you that you are
promised to me."

He kissed her hands and her lips, while he gave her every assurance
desire for possession ever invented. And Ann, borne into more perfect
trust, gave her future more fully into his keeping.



XIX

A BARGAIN


On the way back to Westmore that night, Garvin met Baird. Baird had been
riding with Judith in the afternoon and had dined at Westmore and spent
the evening there. When Garvin, saying that he must go to the village,
had excused himself and had hurried to Ann, he had left Baird with
Edward and Judith. Very soon Edward also had gone out, and Baird and
Judith had spent the evening together, as was frequent of late.

Both Garvin and Baird were riding slowly, for both were engrossed by the
subject to which, next to his struggle for existence, man gives his
intensest interest; Baird had just parted from Judith, Garvin from Ann.

"Hello, Garvin--just back?" Baird asked.

"Yes.... Baird, I think Will Prescott wants a machine. You know he's a
sort of third cousin of ours by marriage."

Baird wondered if there was any one of their class in the southeastern
states who was not, by marriage or otherwise, cousin to a Westmore. It
was an effective argument he had used in persuading Edwin Carter and
the others who were combining to form the automobile manufacturing
company in which Baird meant to have a large interest, that Garvin would
serve them well if given the city agency.

"Good!" he said. "Nail him--or any one else who comes your way. The
commission'll be yours."

"How soon do you think I can get back into town and get to work?" Garvin
asked. "Is the agency a sure thing?" It was the question to which he had
been leading.

Baird had no intention of being hurried in the matter. He meant that
Edward should give a guarantee for Garvin that would make his own
position in the firm "a sure thing."

"I'll know that in a few days, Garvin. I have to see Edwin Carter
again--I can tell you more then. I see no reason why the thing shouldn't
go through. I'm going to make every effort to get it for you."

Garvin was forced to curb his impatience. "You're a brick, Baird."

"No--I think you're the man for the place."

They parted, each taking up thoughts that had little to do with
business.

Garvin looked up at the long dim line of Westmore. Let Edward have the
place if he wanted it; it was rightfully Edward's; it was Edward's money
that had bought up the mortgages. He would take Ann and go. Go soon,
even if he had to attach himself to Baird's firm merely as a traveling
agent.

He unsaddled, stalled his horse, and let himself into the house. The
lights were out; Edward and Judith must have gone to bed.

But he saw, as he came up the stairs, that Edward was still up. He was
standing in his open door, evidently waiting for him. In his harassed
condition, Edward was the last person he wanted to see.

"You up, Ed?" he said casually.

"Yes.... Come in here--I want to speak to you."

Garvin knew instantly that something serious had happened; Edward's
manner was so deadly quiet, his voice so ominously even. The
apprehension that harried them all was the first thing that settled upon
Garvin. "Well, what now?" he said. "Sarah again, I suppose."

Edward closed the door, then faced him. "No.... I wish that every other
irresponsible in our family was as safely guarded as poor Sarah is in
the place to which I took her.... Garvin Westmore, what's this thing
you've been doing? Leading astray a girl who is no more than a
child--meeting her at night! How far has it gone? By heaven! if you have
harmed her--I'll--" Edward broke off, grasping at the self-control that
was leaving him.

Garvin's brain had leaped from thought to thought. Who had spied upon
him? How much did Edward know? He could not have been near them that
evening. It was not possible for any one to come near the willows and
he not detect it. Garvin was capable of perfect coolness, and at
unexpected moments. "What girl are you talking about?" he demanded.
"I've played with more than one girl on the Ridge--so did you, I reckon,
in your time."

Edward drew an uneven breath. "I mean Ann Penniman."

"Yes, I've talked to Ann--what of it?"

"Answer my question! _How far has this thing gone?_" Edward repeated
with such intense passion that Garvin recoiled, surprised rather than
angered. Had he not been surprised, he would instantly have flared.
"I've done Ann no harm!... But what great difference should it make to
you? What's Ann Penniman to you? Why the devil should you come at me in
this fashion--even if I had gone the lengths! One would suppose I'd been
poaching on your preserves! I'm my own master--neither you nor any other
man shall question me about how or with whom I choose to amuse myself!"
Garvin had flared finally.

Edward knew well what that sudden high note in Garvin's voice portended.
He spoke quickly: "I apologize.... I ought to have got at the thing
differently.... Sit down a moment--I want to talk of something else,
first ... this matter of your getting the agency.... I've been
consulting with Baird--about it.... Sit down--"

Edward had talked with a certain haste, and yet with pauses, quieting
his brother while he sought for his own self-control. It was almost
beyond him; he had paused, laid hold on the thing, gone on, paused
again. He ended with outward calm.

And Garvin had quieted in the sudden way usual with him. Edward had
motioned him to a chair, and he took it. Edward sat down opposite to him
at the desk; he looked down while he talked. "It seems it depends on me
whether Baird's firm will take you on or not. If I take stock in their
company, they will give you the agency. I've--"

"I don't want you to sacrifice money on my account," Garvin interrupted.
"I mean to go somewhere--away from here--and just as soon as I can. I'll
look about for something else, that's all."

Edward continued steadily. "I shall not be doing that. I've looked into
the matter--I've had my lawyer do it--for I'm no business man. He says
it's a good investment, and I'm willing to go into it. I'd do almost
anything to forward either your interests or Judith's. All I can do for
Sarah is to see that she has every comfort it's possible to give her at
a sanatorium. I made a mistake in taking her out and bringing her here,
after she had been shut away from Westmore for twelve years. No wonder
her poor brain went wild again and drove her to the Mine Banks. I
learned my lesson. I'll never forget that night when you and the rest
went after her and we waited here, all of us certain that she had done
away with herself. We've Ben Brokaw to thank for having saved us that
tragedy." He looked up at his brother. "You see, Garvin, the thing I'm
living for now is the Westmore family. I don't want the family to go
under. You have splendid blood in you--in spite of the unfortunate
inheritance our father gave you. But if you don't give yourself all the
help you can, you are done for. I'd give a good deal if you would take
hold on life, use your will to create something of a future for
yourself. I know how hard it is to do it in this environment, so I'd be
glad to have you get out of it, and glad to help you do it."

"Would you advise me to marry and give Westmore an heir?" Garvin asked
with bitter sarcasm.

Edward was silent.

"We can cut that possibility out of my future, then. All I want is a
more normal sort of life than I've had, and I think I may get it away
from here. I mean to get it--it'll save me if anything will. You
happened to have been born before father started down hill--you and
Judith are the fortunate ones--it's for you to give Westmore an heir."
He ended more gravely than bitterly.

"All that lies in the future," Edward returned quietly. He straightened.
"Garvin, I'm willing to give you your chance away from here--I'll
arrange with Baird to have you go at the earliest possible moment--will
you promise in return that you will give up this thing which you have
assured me was nothing but play on your part, with Ann?"

Garvin was silent for a moment; then he said, "I want to go as soon as
I can. But even if I have to wait around for a while, I promise I'll not
go near Ann--that bit of play is ended."

Edward studied him; their eyes met fairly. "Very well," he said. "I will
see Baird to-morrow," and he rose.

Garvin got up also, but at the door he stopped. "You've questioned me,
Ed--before I go I'd like to ask a question or two."

"Very well."

"Who told you I met Ann?"

"I can't answer that question."

"Did Ann tell you?"

"No--certainly not."

"Then tell me this: What's your especial interest in Ann Penniman?"

Edward's face became expressionless, but he answered clearly, "Your own
judgment ought to tell you why I'm horrified at this performance of
yours. If Coats Penniman knew, he would draw the same conclusion I did,
and he would shoot you on sight. You know how I feel toward the
Pennimans, that they have been wronged by our family. Ann deserves the
love of an honest man, and it's perfectly evident to me that your
intentions do not come under that head. I'll tell you quite frankly that
I mean to guard Ann from you--for both your sakes. So, if, in an
irrational moment, you should forget your promise to me, I warn you that
you will pay dearly for it."

"Save your threats," Garvin returned coolly. "I have no intention of
seeing Ann. You seem to feel strongly on the subject, more so than the
matter warrants. The best thing will be for me to get away from the
Ridge as soon as possible and relieve you of worry," and he went out.

Left alone, Edward paced the floor; there were vivid enough passions
beneath the quiet exterior Edward Westmore presented to the world. In
his agitation he spoke aloud. "I can't be candid with him, as one would
be with a _man_!" he said passionately. "But if I find he has lied to
me! If he has harmed her--!"



XX

MARRY? YES


When Baird parted from Garvin, he had returned to the thoughts that
Garvin's business talk had interrupted; he had been thinking of marriage
and of Judith.

Except on the rare occasions when he was touched by depression, Nickolas
Baird had always thought of his immunity from family bonds with
satisfaction. But to-night he had realized, somewhat suddenly, that he
was about to give up his hitherto much-prized freedom, and that Judith
Westmore would not object to his doing so.

It had come about so naturally, that intimacy of theirs. He was fully
accepted now, on the Ridge; more than that, he was welcomed by Ridge
society with the hospitality characteristic of southern people when
assured. The night spent at Westmore, when he had borne himself well,
had won for Baird the support of every Westmore, and they were a
numerous clan. Colonel Dickenson had put Baird forward at the Fair Field
Club and in the city. "A gentleman, suh, an' a born financier," was his
introduction, "a great friend of my cousins, the Westmores." Baird had
the faculty of interesting men much older than himself: business men by
his pronounced level-headedness, convivials like the colonel by his
apparently inexhaustible supply of anecdotes, related simply and with a
humorous zest that was captivating because in no way assumed.

And Baird had not neglected his opportunities. The establishment of an
automobile factory important enough to compete with the largest in the
United States was now an assured thing. Joseph Dempster, an Indiana
near-millionaire, was the nucleus about which Baird had woven his web.
Dempster already had an interest in a motor company, and it was Baird
who had suggested to him the easy possibility of enlarging the Dempster
factory so that it would be one of the biggest concerns in the States.
It was he who had pointed out that Edwin Carter's steel interests made
him the most eligible man to approach. Dempster had little of Baird's
persuasive ability, and knew it, and he also had a high opinion of
Baird's gift; the young fellow carried a middle-aged man's head on his
shoulders--in matters of business. Baird had been sent east to interest
Carter and had captured him.

Baird's reward was to be a high-salaried position and an interest in the
company; Dempster had guaranteed him that. Baird regarded his interest
in the company as the important thing. He had very little money of his
own, the disastrous two years in South America had cleaned him out, so,
while he spent the mornings in Carter's office going over Dempster's
plans and specifications for the new factory and took charge of the
correspondence connected with it, he had been considering ways and means
of pushing his own interests.

He wanted a larger interest in the company. Dempster and Carter meant to
keep the controlling interest in their own hands, but they would welcome
sums of which they might have the handling, additions to the company of
men like Edward Westmore who would be content simply to draw dividends
and interfere in no way with the management of the concern. If he could
capture for them several such men as Edward Westmore, his own reward
would be an increased interest in the company. Just let him once get on
his feet, have some negotiable paper at his command, and he would
outdistance both Dempster and Carter; he had a better business brain
than either of them. Baird was not in the least modest about his own
capability, and he had learned the wisdom of going slowly.

The two hunt clubs had seemed to him a good field for operations;
certainly the best he could command. He would meet there just the sort
of men who would be useful to him. Though unacquainted with Baird's
reasons, Edwin Carter had willingly put him up at the Ridge Club, and
his recommendation of the young man was genuine enough. Baird's good
sense had both surprised and pleased him. The young fellow had the
qualities of a winner; most young men with the attractions of a city
open to them would not care to sleep where the whip-poor-wills held
sway.

Things were working out well for Baird. At the Fair Field Club he had
secured one man for his company, and when Edward Westmore came forward
with his guarantee for Garvin he would present them both to Carter with
the certainty of accrued interest in the company.

But Baird was not thinking of business when he rode away from Westmore
that night. For the first time he was thinking really seriously of a
woman. Until he met Judith Westmore, women had been merely incidents to
him, and to-night he had been brought face to face with marriage, the
thing he had not intended to consider for years to come.

He and Judith had seen each other frequently during the last weeks. They
had ridden together, spent long evenings together, been bidden together
to all the Ridge gatherings. And yet, throughout, Judith had maintained
a certain distance, attracting him, and yet restraining him. He had
struggled against her dominance, as he would always struggle to conquer
anything that eluded him. Judith had hovered just beyond his reach, and
he had been forced into an impassioned deference, been held to it so
determinedly that his capturing instinct had been fully aroused. The
eight years' difference in their ages had vanished from his
consideration. Was she playing with him, or was she not? What he wanted
was a more satisfying response to his love.

For Baird had decided that for the first time in his life he was in
love. For the first time a woman had interested him completely, stirred
all that was decentest in him, held him to deference while she showed
herself supremely attractive. When he had come upon Ann that afternoon,
he had been wondering what Judith would say or do if he should suddenly
lift her from her horse and kiss her; tell her that he loved her? How
much would he learn of the real Judith?

He had been on the very verge of some such avowal when he had looked up
and seen Ann. Their little episode had long since been relegated to the
background which was studded by such careless incidents; he felt no
particular self-consciousness at the sight of Ann, but it did strike him
as unnecessarily cruel of Judith to cut the girl. Ann was so appealingly
pretty as she stood there, wide-eyed and startled, then so lovely when
radiated by her eager smile. "Damn their stupid family quarrel!" had
been Baird's inward comment.

The thing had chilled him, and they had ridden in silence until Judith
asked brightly, "Who is that pretty girl we just passed? She gave you a
brilliant smile, Mr. Baird."

Baird had been surprised into saying, "Ann Penniman--but it was you she
was speaking to--she gave me only the tail of her eye," and his
annoyance at Judith made him add, "I think she is the prettiest girl
I've met on the Ridge."

"Ann Penniman? Why, I don't know her--I never spoke to a Penniman in my
life," Judith had returned with a faintly questioning, half-amused,
half-regretful note. "If she is the little girl who belongs to the farm
beyond the woods there, she has grown up quickly. I'm sorry if I was
really included in that smile and didn't realize it."

Judith had done her feminine best to nullify her act and at the same
time convey to Baird the status of Ann Penniman. Baird had not fathomed
her, or guessed the swift jealousy that had instantly struck at Ann.
Ann's smile was certainly meant for Judith, but if Judith had not
realized it, it was all right enough. Garvin had told him that no
Penniman ever bowed to a Westmore. The odd thing was that Ann should
have risked being cut. But why should he think twice about the thing--he
had no interest either in their quarrels or their attempts at
reconciliation.

Baird promptly forgot the incident, for, throughout the afternoon,
Judith was so utterly charming to him. They had had the club to
themselves; it was a little as if he were entertaining her at his own
house, a new sensation to Baird--every step of his intimacy with Judith
had been a new experience.

They had ridden slowly back to Westmore then, through the tender green
of the woods, both the languor and the stir of spring having their way
with him, his eyes saying to Judith the things his lips did not. Then
Westmore had deepened, as it always did, the impression of
unattainability that Judith gave. Their walk on the terrace after dinner
had softened the impression. Judith had talked about herself, and one
admission she made had impressed Baird more than anything she had ever
said; she was speaking of Westmore and of Edward:

"I have been mistress of Westmore for a long time, but I realize that
Edward will probably marry--he is only thirty-nine.... In a way, it will
be a relief to me, and yet I shall feel a little desolate."

"But you will marry," Baird had said.

"If I love a man enough, I will."

Baird did not know why he had not spoken, then and there. Why the thing
had come suddenly and in the way in which it had--when his horse had
been brought to the front door and Judith stood beside him as he was
about to mount. He had tested the saddle, Judith was afraid that it
might be loose, they stood together, their hands touching, and suddenly
her nearness had pervaded him. He had caught her to him, held her for
the instant of yielding, and then their lips had met.

It was a woman's kiss he had received; a woman's clinging embrace, as
passionate as the pressure of his own arms--for the long moment before
withdrawal. He had tried to keep her. "Judith, we love each other--" he
said, but the arms that held him off were like steel.

"It's--Edward--" she whispered breathlessly. "You must let me go--" When
he loosed her, she gained the portico. She had heard when he had not
Edward's approach around the side of the house.

When Edward came up, Baird stood back to his horse, his grasp already on
a degree of composure. He had been conscious that Edward had spoken
absently, that he stood absently beside Judith while Baird told Judith
that he would see her the next day. He had lifted his cap and ridden
away, with only the one very clear impression, that before he saw Judith
again he would settle something that was a chaotic uncertainty in his
mind.

He was trying to settle it when Garvin met him, and took it up again
when they parted: was he ready to marry--even for love? There were minor
considerations that occurred to Baird: he had gone far, and Judith was
not a woman to be played with; she would be a superb wife; she loved him
and he loved her, but did he love her enough to give up his beloved
freedom? to settle down to home-building?... He thought he did.

Baird shouldered the thing finally, with an all-pervading sense of
responsibility; went soberly to bed with it.



XXI

A LOT OF PLANNING


Baird rose early the next morning in the same soberly responsible frame
of mind, fully conscious that he was about to enter upon an entirely new
phase. He had no joking word for Sam--and no shining half-dollar--he
would have to be more careful of his half-dollars after this, a family
man had to think of such things.

Though it was Saturday, he had to go into the city that morning, for
Edward had promised that if, after considering Baird's proposition over
night, he decided that he wanted to close with it, he would come to
Carter's office, talk the matter over with him as well, and sign the
necessary papers. Halstead, the Fair Field investor whose promise Baird
had secured, was also coming. It would be a triumph for Baird, for the
two were so exactly the sort of men his firm would welcome.

For the three morning hours Baird was too alertly busy to think of his
matrimonial plans. Both Edward and Halstead appeared promptly, settled
their business without hesitation, and, when Edward took leave of Baird
at noon, Garvin's position was secure. There was already a city agency
for the Dempster machines, and as soon as the present agent could be
transferred to an agency elsewhere Garvin was to take his place. Carter
thought that Garvin could take charge in about a month, and in the
meantime he would receive commissions on any Dempsters he might be able
to sell.

Baird had the satisfaction of knowing that Carter was well pleased; the
extra interest in the company which he craved was certain to be his.
Carter lunched him royally at his club when the morning's business was
ended, and invited him for the afternoon and for Sunday to his palatial
new home in Spring Valley, but Baird had other plans; he meant to go to
Westmore that evening.

"An attraction on the Ridge, I suppose," Carter said, with a twinkle in
his eye.

"Yes," Baird confessed, but with the air of the man who meant to say no
more.

Carter turned to business. "Dempster says the first thing for us to do
is to get out a new model that's something ahead of anything on the
market yet."

"We have to compete with the French machines," Baird said. "If we can
evolve a model that offers the qualities of the best French traveler,
we'll have accomplished something. And there's a big future for the
truck, too.... I went into the Gaylord factories after I came back from
South America, worked eight months there, on purpose to get ideas for a
model car and truck I've had in mind ever since I first saw a motor
chugging along in Chicago. It was the trial trip of the orneriest excuse
for a car man ever invented. I bought my way on her second trip just to
study her. Then I took up mechanical engineering, or, rather, I went on
with it. Except for the two years I spent on a ranch in Wyoming, I was
always knocking around machine shops; my father couldn't keep me out of
them."

Carter was thinking. "You've had a course in engineering, then?" he
asked.

"Four years in Chicago University. That's what took me out to South
America. I saw a chance to make money there and I made it, fifty
thousand in one year--the next year I dropped it, partly because I
hadn't experience enough, and partly because I had the Brazilian
government against me.... But I've told you that story before."

Carter had followed his line of thought to a conclusion. "How would you
like to go to France for a few months, go this autumn, and go the rounds
of the factories there, while Dempster is enlarging the plant, and bring
us back your ideas?"

It was the thing Baird desired most. He had puzzled over some means of
getting to Europe and still keeping in close touch with the company.
Here was his opportunity, nevertheless his instant thought was, "If I do
you'll pay me well for it--and you won't get my best ideas, either, not
unless I get a lion's share of the profits." To Carter he said, "It
wouldn't be a bad scheme--it would pay the company in the end, I
think."

"I'll suggest it to Dempster when he comes in." Carter relaxed into
chuckles then. "I've got a word to say to him about the present Dempster
car, too. Spring Valley is duly impressed by the shining thing, which
was my object in having it sent on, and I've gladly spent a hundred
dollars or so on coats and bonnets and veils for Mrs. Carter and
Christine, but, lord, Baird, every damned thing that could go wrong with
an engine and four wheels has happened to that thing! I meant to run it
myself and take a little quiet joy in doctoring its ills, but no, thank
you! I'm done! I've advertised for a first-class chauffeur who'll take
charge of it and swear to all the neighbors that the beast is an angel.
It probably will sell Dempster cars, but I'll own to you that I'm sorry
for the man who buys one."

"They're no good," Baird agreed, "but no make on the market is
satisfactory, for that matter. We've simply got to get out a better
machine." Then he laughed. "Garvin Westmore is having his trials, too,
and keeping quiet about it. Every man will keep as quiet as possible
about his engine troubles, keep a debit and credit sheet--debit, temper
and money--credit, the envy of his neighbors and the possession of a
high-priced convenience. And the credit sheet will win out every time.
The craze is on and will go the lengths--until we begin to travel the
air."

"I suppose you'll be advocating a flying-machine annex to the factory
next," Carter said.

Baird did not say that he had given a great deal of thought to aerial
navigation. He bid Carter a laughing good-by and took the first train to
the Ridge.

He settled quickly into the gravity that had held him ever since he had
parted from Judith.... Judith would enjoy Europe. She had never been to
Europe; neither had he.... And when they returned they would have to go
west to live; he would have to be near the factory. He thought, with
something of a glow, that Judith would be a queen anywhere, beautiful
and capable--and a passionately loving woman--her kiss had told him
that.

He pondered Judith a little. She was no longer a mystery to him; just a
splendid sort of woman who had plenty of will, will enough to have
devoted herself to Westmore through the hard years, but, throughout, a
woman desirous of love. He had wanted to discover her, and it had led to
this. He couldn't ask for a better helpmate than Judith; she was a deal
too fine for him, in fact; he would have to live up to Westmore
ideals.... There was a lot of planning to do for the future.... It was
almost four o'clock--he would fill in the time till evening, then go to
Judith.



XXII

IMPRESSIONS


So Baird had decided when he alighted from the train and went down into
the village for his horse which he always left at one of the village
stables while he was in the city. He stopped at the little
store-post-office for his mail, then rode up the Post-Road, across the
railroad track and past the station. A short distance away he noticed a
shining new buggy drawn close to the edge of the road, and his next
glance told him that the girl in the buggy was Ann Penniman. He had not
recognized her at first, in her red coat and big white hat; he had not
immediately connected her with the new buggy and capable horse, either.

Baird was in a mood to be regretful for past misdemeanors; never in his
life had he felt so solemnly retrospective for so many consecutive
hours. He rode directly up to Ann, undeterred by the way in which she
looked through him, much as Judith had looked through her on the day
before.

Baird brought his horse to a stop beside her. "How do you do?" he said
gravely.

Ann's beautiful brows lifted. "I am well, thank you." Baird could not
have imagined a more icy greeting.

"Will you endure my presence long enough for me to say something?" he
asked with unabated gravity.

"Why--certainly--" Ann's brows were still raised.

"I want to apologize humbly, for the way in which I repaid your kindness
the other day. I behaved abominably."

Ann paused an instant for a choice of words. "I reckon I was
too--pleasant to a stranger--an' you behaved the way that's natural to
you. I haven't thought much about it, so it doesn't matter at all."

"I guess you're right about my being an ill-mannered brute--it's about
time I reformed," Baird returned with perfect sincerity. "I'm very sorry
I did what I did.... You see, Miss Ann, you're very sweet and pretty,
the prettiest girl I've ever seen, I think, and I clean forgot
myself--was just abominably natural, as you say."

Baird would not have been Baird had he not added this codicil to his
apology and signed it by the look he gave Ann, an appreciative study of
the water-lily hat and the flower-like face it framed. Her red coat
became her wonderfully, made her clear skin still more white,
intensified the gray in her hazel eyes, deepened the black in her hair.
She was a study in contrasts, and really very beautiful. And it struck
Baird that she looked much more mature. There were shadows beneath her
eyes, and her mouth looked firmer, like that of a girl grown rather
suddenly into womanhood.

Ann increased the impression by the way in which she disposed of his
speech. She shrugged slightly, shelving both his apology and his
admiration with utter indifference. "I am waiting for my father--I
reckon he must have missed the last train. Do you know what time it is?"

Baird looked at his watch. "The next train will be along in ten
minutes."

"As soon as that? I'm glad.... I don't like to go any nearer the
station, for we don't know yet whether this horse is train-broke."

Baird repeated his stock phrase. "You ought to have an automobile--it
wouldn't take fright."

Ann smiled involuntarily at the thought of a Penniman's investing in an
automobile, and also at Baird's business alertness; she had heard much
of Baird from Garvin. "You ought to talk to father," she said. When she
smiled she looked more like the mischievous child Baird had seen playing
in the barn; her eyelids drooped and the corners of her mouth lifted.

"I will," Baird returned promptly. "I'll wait here and meet him, if you
don't mind."

Ann decided to offer no objection. She had brought it on herself, but
she felt quite capable of enduring his presence with equanimity. And if
her father treated him with scant courtesy, so much the better. She
settled back in the buggy, and Baird also chose a more negligent
attitude. He sat sidewise and surveyed Ann.

She was certainly worth looking at as she sat there, relaxed and with
eyes down, an air of self-absorption that was tantalizing. Apparently,
she was quite indifferent whether there was any conversation or not.

"Have you seen Garvin Westmore driving his new machine?" he asked at
random.

"No," Ann answered, without raising her eyes. She was thinking of Garvin
and the night before; she had thought of little else all day.

Baird noted her manner, and launched into an account of Garvin's trial
trip down the Post-Road. He exaggerated the dangers they encountered,
and Ann woke to new interest, even to terror, when he assured her that
it was all a man's life was worth to drive a car over some of the Ridge
roads.

"An' Garvin's so reckless--about drivin'," she said, wide-eyed, and
added severely, "You ought to tell him to be careful--you sold him the
horrid thing."

"He'd pay more attention if you told him, don't you think?" Baird
suggested tentatively.

Ann flushed deeply enough, but not so deeply as she did a moment later,
when she saw Edward Westmore within a few yards of them. He was riding
up from the village, and neither of them had noticed until he was almost
upon them, for the soft dirt road had dulled sound. He had seen them as
soon as he had crossed the railroad track; looked at them closely and
observantly as he came on.

The change in Ann was instantaneous. She grew crimson and sat up
abruptly, her whole aspect, for the brief moment until Edward smiled,
uncertain and appealing. Then, as if she had won pardon for some fault,
the smile that vivified her was sweeter than the May sunshine. Baird
thought she was the loveliest thing he had ever seen, with her lips a
little apart, her eyes shining. No wonder Edward looked at her as if he
were absorbing her. Baird felt a sudden envy of Edward; no girl had ever
looked at him like that!... But there were not many girls who could look
like Ann.

Baird also had straightened, for the look Edward had given him was
somewhat coolly level; Baird felt that Edward's smile was entirely for
Ann. But it was to him Edward spoke: "Just out from town, Baird?"

"Yes. I'm waiting now to talk Dempsters to Mr. Penniman--Miss Ann thinks
I can sell him one." Baird did not know why he explained his presence so
promptly; perhaps because Edward's manner made him uncomfortable.

"I thought I would like to see you try," Ann said with an indifference
that had nothing to do with the way in which she was looking at Edward.
"I'm waiting for father to come on the next train," she explained, and
told Edward about the horse. "Ben Brokaw says he's afraid Billy's a
runaway horse."

"You ought not to be driving him, then," Edward said with concern.

It struck Baird that Edward's entire manner was anxious and concerned.
That he had looked keenly and anxiously at Ann as he had approached. He
had been brief enough over their business transaction that morning, as
if he had far more important matters on his mind.

"I reckon I shouldn't," Ann agreed. "I'll see how he behaves when the
train comes."

"That's reckless. I wish you wouldn't do such things."

Baird was surprised at the intimacy the remark implied. Were both
brothers in love with her? If one judged from appearances, Ann favored
Edward.... Or was she simply a born coquette? She was certainly enough
to turn any man's head, and an infatuation on Garvin's part was natural,
he was that sort; but Edward Westmore?

"I won't any more," Ann promised with pretty submission.

Though he looked at Ann, Edward's next speech was directed to Baird. "I
was at the club about an hour ago--I went by the Back Road and left some
papers for you, Baird. You can look them over and bring them to Westmore
this evening--that is if you thought of coming over."

It was a reminder of Judith, though Baird knew Edward did not intend it
as such; that would be too unlike him. "Yes, I am coming after dinner,"
Baird said gravely.

Ann knew just what Edward intended; she saw it in his eyes--that he had
left a book for her--and she answered his look.

"There is the train," Edward said warningly. "Be careful, Ann." He
brought his horse closer to her. "Keep your eye on the horse, Baird."

Ann sat taut, reins well held, and her eyes watchful. The train had
whistled at the junction, and the next moment it roared along below
them, making the usual racket as it slowed up, and it was quite plain
that Ann's horse was not trustworthy. He quivered, backed and plunged
and showed all the signs of fright.

"Don't touch him!" Ann said resolutely. "I can manage him." And to the
horse, "You idiot, you! Sho, now, Billy--quiet, suh--quiet--"

She handled him well, and without a particle of nervousness, though for
a few moments it seemed likely that the buggy would be overturned; the
animal backed perilously near the edge of the road. Edward kept near
enough to draw Ann from danger if that should happen, and Baird watched
for the runaway that was certain to follow if the buggy overturned. They
were tense moments--until the train snorted its onward way around the
curve and the horse gradually quieted.

"All right, now," Baird said, "but the brute's not safe, Miss Ann--he's
particularly stupid."

Ann looked at Edward, her eyes blazing. "He needed the whip! I'd have
given it to him--_hard_--but I was afraid I'd frighten you." Baird
thought she looked rather like Garvin with that flame in her eyes; both
her cool handling of the horse and her lift into excitement surprised
him; it altered his opinion of Ann Penniman somewhat.

Edward was a little gray about the lips. "Ann, promise me you will never
drive that horse again."

"I'm not afraid of him!"

"Promise me," Edward repeated.

Ann drew a long breath, then smiled. "Yes, I promise. I promised
before."

Edward gave her a long look, and her eyes dropped under it. He looked
then at Baird, who had been silently observant. "Perhaps you'll watch
over this reckless young person until Mr. Penniman comes," he said more
lightly. "Having scolded, I'll depart.... Good-by, Ann." But there was
nothing chiding in the parting look he gave her, Baird noticed.

There was good reason for his somewhat hasty departure, for the man who
had just separated from the group on the station platform was Coats
Penniman. When he started toward them, Edward had ridden on. As he
approached, Coats eyed Baird quite as gravely and observantly as Edward
had done. He had a stern face, heavy black brows that lowered easily
over blue-gray eyes.

Baird gave him look for look, coolly, returning his nod in like fashion,
and Coats transferred his attention to Ann. "Well, Ann?"

"I stopped up here on account of the horse," Ann explained. "He was ugly
when the train came--if I'd been nearer, I reckon he'd have run
away.... This is Mr. Baird, father--he wanted to meet you--he wants to
sell you an automobile." Ann was very certain that her father would
promptly dispose of Baird. He knew who Baird was, the whole Ridge knew
Baird now--an enterprising young fellow who had been put forward by the
Westmores.

Both to her surprise and Baird's, Coats offered his hand. "I'm glad to
meet you. I've heard about you--you're a western man, aren't you?"

"Chicago.... Some one was telling me you'd lived out there--long enough
to be interested in automobiles, I hope." Baird had rather a taking
smile, particularly when it was whimsical.

To Ann's greater surprise, Coats said, "I have been thinking of getting
one--if for no other reason than to get some decent roads about here.
From what I know of your Dempsters they can be guaranteed to furnish an
accident or two that would stir up our county supervisors. The roads
they give us are an outrage."

Coats' face softened pleasantly under amusement, and Baird laughed.
"Tell me who they are, and I'll go for them--sell each one of them a
machine. That's a revenge that ought to satisfy you."

"All right--if you want to ride on with us, I'll tell you. I'm partial
to automobiles anyway--even a Dempster's more satisfactory than a brute
like this.... Ann, you knew he wasn't safe--why didn't you bring
Jinny?"

"Jinny went lame this morning, an' the other horses were working."

Coats frowned. "There's always something wrong with them. The horse is
certainly an obsolete way of getting about--I'll be glad when he becomes
merely a pet."

Baird agreed with him. He liked to win a man, particularly an
intelligent, unassuming man like Coats Penniman. He set himself to do
so, and found that Coats, for some unexplainable reason, was willing to
be friendly. They found plenty to talk about, even for the length of
four miles up the Post-Road, and, when Coats chose the longer way round,
by the front road, Baird kept on with them, as far as the club house. He
had decided that he liked Coats Penniman, and that it was pleasant
riding in this slow way through the leafy scents of May, particularly
with anything as lovely to look at as Ann.

Ann had been sufficiently surprised to pay attention to the conversation
for a time, to notice that Baird was not at all handsome, not like
Garvin or Edward, but broad-shouldered and strong-featured. His eyes
were too cold a gray, his nose too aquiline, his cheek-bones too high,
and his upper lip too long. And he had entirely too much jaw. Yet, for
some reason, he was attractive, at any rate while he talked; his voice
was deep but not at all harsh.

So Ann decided, then looked off over the country and thought of the one
overwhelming thing, the night before--and of Edward. The Post-Road was
shut in by trees in some places, but there were long stretches where the
country sloped away on either side, pastures vivid with spring green,
alternating with reddish brown plowed fields and orchards that already
showed patches of color, cherry and peach bloom. The green of the woods
seemed to darken even while she watched, they were growing so rapidly
into full leaf. In a few days the woods would be sprayed with white, a
riot of dogwood. And the wood-honeysuckle was coming into pink bloom
everywhere; and millions of violets and wild pansies. The grass in the
groves was thick with forget-me-nots, and the creek hollows white and
yellow and pinky-green with blood-root, adder's-tongue and
Jack-in-the-pulpit.

Every other spring she had roamed the country; this spring she had
forgotten the flowers. She knew where the wild pansies grew the largest
and most of them had the velvety upper petals that proclaimed them
pansies and not violets; and where the rare white violets were to be
found. As they crossed the bridge where, some twenty feet below, the
creek that skirted the Mine Banks tumbled over big rocks, Ann remembered
in a vague way, as one thinks of something years past, that she used to
find white violets in the soft spaces between the rocks. She thought
much more vividly of how dangerous the bridge was, without any side
rails, simply a planking and that none too wide; a careless turn on a
dark night, and an automobile could easily be dashed to pieces below.
It would be dreadful if anything happened to Garvin.

Every thought she had circled about him, and her momentous promise the
night before, a thing sealed and unalterable now.... She was going away
from all this, the green and the flowers, the fields and the woods.
Everything would be quite different--and she was different already--not
the same Ann at all.... She had been fearfully angry with Judith, and
terribly hurt because of Edward, quite beside herself, and all Garvin
had said to her had been so sweet, like balm laid on aching wounds--and
she had given her promise, forgotten everything and everybody but Garvin
and herself. She had even forgotten to tell Garvin that she was sure Ben
knew that they met, and how dangerous it was for them to go on
meeting.... And now it was plain that Edward had not meant to hurt her
at all ... and she would have to see him, and with a secret which she
must keep from everybody.... Suppose she told Edward that she was
engaged to his brother, and how it had come about?...

Her father's invitation to Baird aroused her. They had come to the club
entrance and had stopped. "Come over some evening and see us," Coats
said, "and don't hesitate to ride through whenever you want--the key to
the gate is in a notch near the top of the right-hand post."

"Thank you," Baird returned heartily. "I'll be glad to come, and glad
to take the short cut sometimes, too." He swept off his cap to them, a
gleam of mischief in his eyes when he looked at Ann. Ann was flushed by
her thoughts, and she colored still more deeply because of his
meaningful glance.

Coats had noted Baird's look and Ann's blush. He had been thinking
steadily of something quite unconnected with his conversation with
Baird. He waited a little before he asked, "That's an attractive young
fellow--had you met him before, Ann?"

Ann was succinct. "I let him through the gate once, just before you came
home. I haven't talked with him since--till to-day."

"Who was the other man who was with you when I got off the train?"

"Edward Westmore--they both helped me with the horse," Ann answered with
a calmness she did not feel. If her father questioned further, she did
not know what she would do; every nerve in her was jumping, as they had
been all night and all day.

But he did not. For a time they rode in an oppressive silence. Then
Coats said, "I rather like Mr. Baird. He's the sort who's apt to judge
men and women more by what they are than by what their great
grandparents were. He comes from a part of the country that's not so
hidebound by caste as this country. And he's sure to go back to it. He
can come to my house whenever he likes--I approve _his_ kind."

Ann said nothing.



XXIII

CHAOTIC UNCERTAINTY


When Baird started for Westmore that evening the full moon had already
turned the world white.

He had dined with laughter and talk about him, for usually the club was
gay on Saturday night. The hunting season was over, but some of the
summer residents of the Ridge had come out to their homes and others
were out from the city for the afternoon, for dinner parties at the club
and a ride back through the moonlight.

Baird had left Garvin Westmore at the club and with the signs of an
afternoon of indulgence upon him. Baird had discovered that liquor made
Garvin cool and silent, a surface restraint that was deceptive. It was
his eyes that betrayed him when he was farther gone than usual,
sometimes burning and restless, again profoundly melancholy. Baird had
not thought of that explanation for the man's peculiarities.

Though he had not shown it to Garvin, Baird was thoroughly annoyed. The
man must often have been under the influence of liquor when he had not
suspected it; he was evidently the sort that drank secretly. Baird
doubted whether any one knew that Garvin drank so much; his family were
probably in the dark, worried over his moodiness and anxious about him,
but unsuspicious of the real cause. Baird wished that he had known this
before his firm had placed the man in a responsible position. Had he
known, not even his devotion to Judith and his very lively desire to
forward his own interests would have led him to recommend Garvin.

Garvin had thanked him with all the Westmore grace for the position
Baird had secured for him, then added restlessly, "A month! I wish I
could get out of this to-morrow!"

Baird reflected, as he rode through the moonlight, that the thing was
done now and couldn't be helped. It was simply up to Garvin: if he did
not make good, he would be ousted, that was all. But it was too bad. The
man must be mad to celebrate his good luck by a debauch, for that was
evidently what it was. Baird was no teetotaler, the consumption of a
certain amount of liquor seemed to be necessary for the transaction of
business, but he held, with the rest of his kind, that the man who
sought to drown his troubles in drink, or celebrate his joys by getting
full was a fool, and that the secret debauchee was something decidedly
worse.

He was going to Westmore by the Back Road and the Mine Banks, and, as he
looked up at Crest Cave, he remembered what Garvin had said: "Lord!
I've slept off many a drunk up there." Baird had never solved the
mysteries of that queer night he had spent at Westmore--that they were
some set of circumstances connected with Garvin was the only explanation
he had been able to make to himself. He felt certain of it now; a man
with Garvin's weakness was capable of any sort of madness. He was glad
Judith was the sane wholesome woman she was.

Baird also remembered what a man at the club had told him of Garvin's
father: "The old colonel was a fine sort, hot-tempered and proud as the
deuce, but a gallant sort, just the same--until the war broke him. Then
came the hard times, beastly hard times for everybody, and the colonel
went under--began to soak and went on soaking to the end." Edward and
Judith had come before that time, but Garvin had not.

"I suppose the poor devil can't help it," Baird thought, and shrugged
away his annoyance. Besides, he was going to become one of the clan; it
was his duty to do all he could for Garvin.

In that soberly responsible frame of mind Baird rode up to Westmore, and
the long imposing structure that for nearly two centuries had housed
Judith's ancestors impressed him somberly. Perhaps it was as well, on
the whole, not to have any known ancestors; it must be rather eery to
recognize your great-grandfather cropping up in yourself--damned
uncomfortable sometimes ... Well, Judith had certified ancestors enough
to supply their family with credentials and with ghosts. Their
children...

Baird's thoughts had progressed to this point and beyond when he reached
Westmore. In the last twenty-four hours he had considered every possible
responsibility connected with matrimony and had thought very little
about the thing that turns the world golden, that transcends even the
transports of passion, hallows heaven and earth. But he had not realized
that. Marriage was a serious thing; it had always impressed him as an
almost terrifyingly serious thing.

The door was opened to him by Hetty, the big negress. "Can I see Miss
Judith?" Baird asked, preparing to step in.

"Miss Judith ain't here, Mr. Baird--she's done gone fo' a visit."

"Not here?" Baird said blankly.

"No, suh--she went this evenin' fo' over Sunday--to Fair Field. They's a
party holdin' at the club--she's gone fo' hit."

Baird managed to say, casually, "Very well--just tell her, when she
comes back, that I called."

"Yes, suh."

Baird rode down the Westmore Road even more slowly than he had come up.
His first feeling was a hot sense of rebuff--until he began to ask
himself why Judith had run away from him?... But she had not run away
from him; she had not gone until that evening?... There had been the
afternoon during which she might reasonably expect him to come--and the
morning that might have brought her a letter from him.

It came over Baird then, with a warm flush, a shock of surprise at
himself, that he had been a pretty sort of lover! He had ridden away
after that kiss of love she had given him, when even a stupid man would
have found an excuse for staying; he had written no impassioned note
that Sam must deliver at daybreak; he had dallied through the afternoon,
and had ridden composedly up to Westmore with the whole future mapped
out in his mind ... Good lord!... And he was a passionate man,
too--ordinarily!

Baird was so intensely surprised at himself that, for a time, he could
consider nothing but his own conduct. He had never been more in earnest
in his life, never more decided upon a course of action. Why, he had
settled everything, even to the details of a trip abroad with Judith and
the sort of house he would have money enough to run when they came back,
and yet he had left undone the first and most natural things a man would
do!

Baird was emotionally headlong, he knew that well, easily aroused and
always hot in pursuit. What in heaven's name had been the matter with
him these last twenty-four hours? His own case bewildered him more than
anything he had ever come across. He set his brain to work upon himself,
and finally evolved an explanation, which, as is usual when a man seeks
to elucidate his own emotional shortcomings, threw the onus upon the
woman: Judith's premature offering of herself had made him too sure of
her. She had deliberately attracted him, and that was all right, that
was what men and women were placed in the world for, to be mutually
attracted and to come together. And his pursuit of her was all right,
too, particularly right because it had never entered his head to trifle
with her--he had respected and admired her too much for that. It was a
tribute to the sort of hold she had laid upon him during those weeks of
pursuit, that the instant he knew she loved him he had considered
marriage and had decided upon it as completely as he had ever decided
upon any important thing. The thoughts he had of Judith had been,
throughout, the decentest and the honestest thoughts he had ever had.

Then he went on to own to himself that a certain eagerness had departed
from him after that kiss of hers. In that one respect it had been a
little like some other experiences, when he had pursued determinedly,
captured rather easily, then had lost zest.... But he had wanted to
marry Judith--that was the unexplainable thing.... Was it simply that,
on the whole, she had been such a new experience that he had quite
naturally considered marriage, which, Lord knows, was a new and strange
enough thing for him to consider?

At this point, Baird asked himself point-blank, "Do you love Judith, or
don't you?" And he answered himself honestly, for he felt somewhat
desperately in need of honesty. "Yes, I love her, or I wouldn't be
thinking of marrying her--I've never wanted to marry any other woman
I've known."

Baird considered for a longer space, and then summed up thus: "From the
very first Judith appealed to the best in me--she's appealed more to the
mental than the physical side of me. That's why, instead of plunging
along in a fever these last twenty-four hours, I've been planning for a
contented future. And if respect and admiration and the certainty that a
woman will make you a splendid, wife, plus a reasonable degree of
passion, aren't good reasons for thinking of marriage, then I've learned
nothing from watching men who have been infatuated with their wives in
much the same fashion that a man is infatuated with his mistress; the
result is usually ructions. I love Judith in sensible marrying fashion,
but I confess I ought to feel more joyous over it."

Unless a man is permeated by the golden thing of which, as yet, Baird
had little conception, he is apt to settle his own case first and the
woman's last. He turned finally to a consideration of Judith. Baird was
not any more conceited than the average man, but the certainty that
Judith loved him about as completely as a woman could love a man was his
unalterable conviction. He might live to be eighty, live to doubt most
things, but of that he was certain. And it had not been a sudden thing
with her; it was a culmination, a steady growing up to an involuntary
offering. She desired him and wished to marry him, and not after the
deliberate fashion in which he had been considering their union. Judith
loved him intensely, and had sought to attract him as many honest women
before her had sought to capture the men they wished to marry. She had
waited through the day, then had gone because she must do something to
save her pride. She knew that, if the spark was in him at all, he would
follow.

He knew now just how it was with him, and he knew how it was with her.
He wasn't in the least elated, yet he was pretty thoroughly committed.

What did he intend to do?



XXIV

A DEFINITION OF LOVE


Baird was still pondering his situation when, half an hour later, he let
himself through the Penniman gate. The collie must have been abroad in
the moonlight seeking adventure, for Baird was not disturbed by any
hostile demonstrations; the Penniman barn and house might have been
abandoned property, they were so silent under the moon; there was no
lighted window, no stir of any kind--until he neared the front
porch--then some woman dressed in white rose from a chair, evidently
startled.

Even in the bright moonlight, Baird could not tell whether it was Ann
Penniman or not, he was not near enough, but he was quick to reassure
whoever it was: "It's Nickolas Baird; Mr. Penniman gave me permission to
come through."

It was Ann's relieved voice that answered. "Oh--is it?... I thought it
was some one else," and she sat down again. Ann had the porch to herself
that evening, for Sue and Coats had gone to a neighbor's, and, perhaps
because she had been thinking absorbedly of Garvin, she had been
startled into wondering if the rider could be he.

Baird had let his horse bring him by the shortest way, for he had had
about enough of his thoughts, and was tired of the saddle. When seated
in his room, in business fashion, he would decide just what course to
take. It occurred to him now that he would think the better for a
respite. Looking at Ann would be a relief, like laying down a treatise
and taking up a novel.

He had come nearer. "Sitting all alone, Miss Ann?" he asked.

"Yes.... Father and Aunt Sue have gone to make a visit."

Baird dismounted and came to her. "Just sitting and thinking? I've been
riding and thinking, and I'm tired of it. May I stop for a while?"

"If you like," Ann said indifferently. "I reckon father'll come along
before long--they only went to a neighbor's." Then, because her father
had decreed that Baird should be treated hospitably, she added, "Won't
you wait for him?"

"A few minutes." Baird seated himself on the top step, at Ann's feet.
"What a night!"

"The chair'd be more comfortable," Ann suggested politely.

"I'd rather sit here, thank you.... May I have the cushion, though?"

He took it from the chair, and sat back against the pillar of the porch,
his legs stretched comfortably. He could see Ann's face quite distinctly
now, all except her eyes,--they were shadowed pools in a white setting;
she was black and white, more marked contrasts than in daylight, though
not so clearly outlined.

"I've just been to Westmore," Baird said, "and when we struck the County
Road that horse of mine turned this way, instead of going on by the Mine
Banks. I was thinking too hard to notice until he'd gone some distance,
so I let him have his way. They're cute beasts--when they're headed for
their stables they're as good as a man at calculating distance."

"Did you get him here?" Ann asked.

"Yes, I bought him off Garvin Westmore."

"Almost every horse about here would choose this way through to the
Post-Road because they're used to it. One reason the Mine Banks Road is
so dreadful is because everybody used to come this shorter way. I used
to count the horses that came through in a day--when I was little."

"You've always lived here, then, Miss Ann?"

"Always.... I reckon I'd be lonely for it--if I went away," she added
soberly.

"You wouldn't be going far away, would you?"

"Oh, no--"

There was something in her manner that recalled fleeting conjectures
Baird had had since seeing her with Edward that afternoon. Judith had
said, "I realize that Edward will probably marry--" It would be odd if
Edward was really thinking seriously of Ann--a Penniman and all the rest
of it. There'd be a stir on the Ridge, and a perfect storm in the clan.
Silly, caste-bound idiots! Ann was exquisite enough for any sphere. She
had been superb while she handled that horse--plenty of spirit and go.
And if Edward loved her, he'd marry her, in spite of them all; Edward
was a pretty fine sort.... But how about Garvin?... Some one had talked
love to Ann, it showed in her face and in her voice--that was what made
her seem so changed. Was it Edward or Garvin?... She certainly had
drawing power, the thing that's entirely aside from physical beauty;
ugly women often had it.

Baird turned from his thoughts. "This is a different sort of place from
where I grew up--just about as different as you can imagine," and he
slipped into reminiscences of Chicago and of his father, and, when Ann
showed her interest, he endeavored to elucidate the intricacies of ward
politics.

It seemed to Ann that he had grown up with plenty of wickedness about
him, drinking and stealing and such things; among men who cared nothing
about any one or anything, only to make money. It was a wonder that he
was as nice as he was, and he must be nice, in spite of the way he had
once behaved to her, or Edward and Garvin would not be so devoted to
him. Ann was certain that Judith Westmore could be cruel, very beautiful
and charming, but cruelly proud. Baird was evidently courting her, and
she was probably not very nice to him. He certainly did not seem as
light-hearted as he once did. And neither was she--she was feeling
heavy-hearted enough.

Ann was always quick with sympathy. She had been poignantly reminiscent
all day, and she, in her turn, told Baird a little about her own
childhood, speaking so softly that her slurred syllables were music. She
told him nothing intimate, yet it was a revelation of loneliness; the
fields and the woods and Ben had been her companions. Baird was
impressed, as Edward had been, by a child life lived apart from its
family.

"You hadn't a mother, then, Ann?" Baird had responded to the change in
her manner; he forgot to say, "Miss Ann."

"My mother died when I was born," Ann said with a quiver of feeling. "I
reckon if I'd had her, everything would have been all different."

Ann had grown up with the longing for a father, but since the night
before she had wanted her mother, wanted her intensely. That afternoon,
on their return from the village, she had gone down to the woods. There
had been a letter for her in the chestnut tree, an impassioned letter.
Garvin wrote of the night before, of her promise to go with him. "_You
are mine now, every bit of you_--there can be no going back for either
of us." And he had also said, "Some one has been spying on us, Ann. I
found that out last night. We can't meet as we have. I'll write to you
every day, but we mustn't even be seen speaking to each other, for the
present. But don't let that worry you, dear--if we are careful, there is
no danger of any one's knowing how much we are to each other. And it
will only be for a short time--I have the agency at last--we will go in
June." Then he had painted a picture of their life together that to one
more experienced than Ann might have suggested some notable omissions.
Ann simply knew that the letter did not make her happy.... Then there
was also a book for her in the bushes, and on the fly leaf a line:
"Please wait for me to-morrow?" That had not made her happy, either.

"I suppose it would have made a difference," Baird was saying
thoughtfully. "It would have made a difference to me, too--it makes a
difference to any child. I wasn't much better off than you--my mother
died when I was four years old."

"You can't remember then even how she looked," Ann said with profound
fellow-feeling, "any more than I can remember my mother."

She had slipped from her chair, seated herself on the step beside him,
and Baird could see her eyes now, wells of sympathy. So long as she
lived, Ann would do such things, offer sympathy by the suggestion of a
caress, just as she would always respond to the masculine call by an
illusive half-promise. Baird saw her sympathy and felt her nearness. She
was an utterly sweet thing; he would have liked to touch her; not in the
rough way in which he once had, just draw her close and kiss her
softly. He kept his rebellious hands clasped behind his head.

"I can just remember her face--in the misty way I saw yours when you
were in the chair," he said steadily. "I can't remember where or when,
but I know it was my mother. She was black and white--like you." Baird
did not tell her that his mother had been a Jewess; that was a thing he
told no one, though he often shrugged in private over his parentage, a
Jewish mother and an Irish father! A truly modern American inheritance!
"And not such a bad one, either," he was in the habit of adding to
himself. "It produces good brains." Just now his brain was
retrospective, his feelings busied with Ann.

"I suppose a mother is just as helpful to a boy as she is to a girl," he
continued, in the same reflective way. "I suppose, if I'd had my mother
to talk to, I'd know women better--all the nice side of them--the mother
side.... I suppose I'd know myself better.... Lord knows, I'd like some
one to tell me what the lasting thing is composed of--the thing one
wants to go through life with."

There was a long silence. Ann was also reflecting vaguely on the same
subject, her hands clasped about her knees, her head thrown back,
looking up at the stars that appeared to move restlessly, as if palely
rebellious under the supremacy of the moon. A cricket beneath the steps
ventured upon the stillness, and, as if emboldened by its temerity, a
bird flitted by them to the clump of lilacs on the terrace and cut the
silence with injunctions to "Whip-poor-will!" Far off, somewhere in the
open, his mate agreed with him and reiterated his insistence. Then, just
below them, in the pasture, a bobwhite called repeatedly, seeking an
answer, which came presently, from the far distance, faint almost as a
whispered echo.

"The night birds are making love," Baird said softly. "All nature's
stirring with it. Ann, what is love, anyway? The thing we humans ought
to have--the lasting thing, I mean?"

"I've been thinking, too," Ann answered musingly. "Why--I suppose
it's ... I don't know just how to say it--"

"Try, Ann--you're a woman, you ought to know."

Ann pondered, eyes still lifted to the stars. "Why--I guess it's wanting
somebody for all your own--so badly you feel sure you can't live without
them ... an' at the same time bein' such good friends with them that you
care more about makin' them happy than being happy yourself."

Baird sat up abruptly. "Say that again, will you!"

Ann was startled into confusion. She looked wonderingly at his
earnestness. "I don't believe I know--just what I said."

Baird repeated her definition alertly. "That was it, wasn't it?"

"Yes, I think so."

He sat a moment in thought. "That's about right," he said finally and
decidedly, "and here I've been asking myself all sorts of fool questions
for twenty-four solid hours."

He got up, stood a moment looking down at her, laughing softly,
amusedly, and with an air of relief. "And you're not sure just what you
did say! It was a bit of wisdom that slipped out of your
subconsciousness.... Ann, you're a divinely dear thing! I'm grateful to
you for existing, and I'll come another evening and tell you so."

Ann had recovered somewhat from surprise. This was a little more like
the impetuous young man who had displeased her because she had liked his
kiss. She shook hands with him distantly. "Father'll be here then, I
hope."

Baird did not stop to parley. He rode off through the cedar avenue,
turned his horse over to Sam, and went directly to his room. He threw
aside his cap and, sitting down at his table, wrote to Judith.



XXV

BECAUSE SHE LOVED TOO MUCH


It was Hetty who gave Baird's letter to Judith on Monday morning, as
soon as Judith returned from Fair Field. "Mr. Baird come in Saturday
evenin' an' he look mighty surprised when I tol' him you was gone,"
Hetty said, "an' yestiddy mo'nin' Sam Jackson, he come from de club
fetchin' this letter.... Honey, you ain't lookin' right smart--weren't
de party no 'count?"

"Yes, the party was all right," Judith answered briefly. "I'm tired,
that's all."

Hetty knew better, but what the trouble was she could not guess.

Hetty had lived with the Westmores for fifty years. She was born in a
Westmore cabin and was a slave child when the war broke. On the morning
when the Westmore slaves had celebrated their emancipation by departing
from Westmore, Hetty had been left behind. She had clung to the family
throughout the hard years, the only house-servant Westmore possessed
until Edward's wife's money helped to resurrect the place. She had been
mammy to all the Westmore children, had "toted" both Edward and Judith
and had been sole mother to Sarah and Garvin, for Mrs. Westmore had
soon faded into God's half-acre, leaving Judith to become mistress of
Westmore; master of Westmore, in reality, for the colonel was no longer
master of anything, least of all of himself.

Hetty had a dog's attachment to Westmore and the family, and for Judith,
not merely attachment, but worship. Judith wielded the whip sometimes,
her stinging, cutting tongue, and Hetty cowered under it, as on the
night when she had let Sarah escape to the Mine Banks. Hetty had known
that Sarah's change from gentleness to restlessness portended an
out-break and was confident in the strength of her own arms, they had
often restrained Sarah in the old days, but she had not had intelligence
enough to circumvent cunning. Just as now, when she sensed tension in
Edward, in Garvin, and in Judith, she was unable to determine the cause.
As soon as Judith returned, pale and bright-eyed and with lips hard set,
Hetty knew that she was in trouble of some sort. She could only wait
upon her dumbly, watch her in canine fashion.

Judith did not read Baird's letter at once. She attended to her
household first. When she knew she could shut herself away without fear
of interruption, she opened it.

     "Dear Wonder-Woman," Baird wrote.

     "Though I feel that I have forfeited the joy of ever again
     calling you so, that you will be quite right if you decree
     never to see or speak to me again, I can't help thinking of
     you just as I always have, as the most wonderful woman I have
     ever known.

     "You are big-natured and kind enough to forgive me for the
     other night? You are, aren't you? You know, don't you, that I
     meant no disrespect when I forgot for a moment that you are too
     fine, too far beyond me for me ever to touch? I've not been a
     very good sort, Judith--I dropped for a moment into old ways.
     If by my fault I have lost your friendship, I feel that I shall
     lose the best thing that has ever come into my life. You have
     kept me to decent ways--you have taught me reverence for much
     that I used to consider loosely. That's why you are, and always
     will be the Wonder-woman.

     "Will you forgive me and let me try in the future to be better
     worthy of your friendship and your kindness? I want them both,
     more than I have ever wanted anything.

     "Yours in sincere regret,

     "NICKOLAS BAIRD."

Judith had known that it would be a withdrawal of some sort.... She sat
for a long time with the letter in her lap, looking straight before her,
feeling rather than thinking. Then she got up abruptly, let the pages
fall, and went to the window, looking down on Westmore, at the terraces,
off over the country with its promise of plentiful harvest, then up at
the Westmore half-acre.... God's half-acre?... He had dealt hardly with
some who lay there, and He had dealt hardly with her.

With the ache of irreparable loss torturing her, Judith went back in
bitter retrospect over the years. What chance had she had? She had given
her youth to Westmore; every nerve, every energy, every atom of her
brain and body strained, year in and year out, to the one purpose, the
conservation of the family. Her mother had slipped away and left the
burden to her. Her father had weighted the burden until it was
mountain-high, then had left her to carry it. Edward had flung aside
family allegiance and had gone; Sarah had worse than failed her, added
dread and a stigma to the burden; Garvin had remained, but more of an
anxiety than a help.... Edward had come back to allegiance, tried
through the last ten years to lighten her burden as much as possible,
and now had lifted it to his own shoulders, but that could not bring
back her youth or soften the callouses on her shoulders. They were
attached to the bone, by long galling become an irremovable part of her.
She was thirty-four; she had crossed the apex; she had started on the
downward way.... And that letter told her so.

Cheeks white and eyes flaming, Judith stared at God's half-acre. What
chance had she had? What had _He_ sent her in those twenty years of
struggle? She had worked faithfully, but what had _He_ done to satisfy
the _woman_ in her--the ache for _life_! A cousin had made love to her
and a nobody, a boy whose father had been overseer of slaves, had
ventured to tell her that he loved her, and both romances had had their
inception and their close back in the years when she was young enough
to be all appeal and no brain--the sort upon which Baird would expend
himself--some brainless pretty girl who would have no conception of the
possibilities that lay in the man who would be mad over her.

Judith turned from the window, goaded into restless pacing by the
thought. Some girl who could smile like Ann Penniman! Just allure,
nothing more, but the thing that captures, nevertheless.... Baird had
come to her too late; not too late if she had been like some women,
experienced in the art of capture. Though cumbered by thirty-four years,
she was as inexperienced as any girl, and far more ineffective because
made awkward by pride and a consciousness of the overwhelming thing
which had grown and grown in her until it had led her to that moment in
his arms.

Judith's tightly-gripped hands twisted when she thought of that sudden
offering. What woman who was not made a fool of by passion would have
made that mistake!... Or what woman possessed of an iota of strategic
ability would, after making one mistake, have made another, allowed her
pride to carry her away when her one hope lay in the elimination of
pride? Had she remained at Westmore, Baird would be hers now, and quite
unconscious that he had been a dilatory lover; and she had beauty and
charm enough to have kept him in ignorance. He would have married her in
ignorance and been happy, as thousands of other men had married and been
content, for she had a beautiful body and a clear understanding of both
his possibilities and his defects. And she loved him completely.

But she had blundered stupidly, irremediably--loosened the hold she had
on him by one uncontrollable act, and, by another misstep, had given his
usually cool brain time to adjust itself and pen her that cruelly clever
letter.... It was damnably clever; it eliminated himself, and pointed
out to her the only role it would be possible for her to play.... She
had lost him, and through her own fault--because she loved him too much.
She wanted to scream; she had to hold herself with strong hands. If she
had Sarah's taint in her, she would go mad.

It was the ache of desolation that finally brought Judith to her knees,
laid her quivering across her bed, crying like a child under the lash.
And it was pride and the tenacity that had held her to Westmore, a faint
hope of the future, that, later on, nerved her to write her answer:

     "DEAR NICKOLAS:

     "Of course you are forgiven, for I have succeeded in forgiving
     myself. At the risk of your thinking me immodest, I'll speak
     plainly--the moon and the spring-time were a little too much
     for us the other evening, and we behaved rather foolishly. I'm
     some eight years older than you are, and I certainly should
     have known better, so I take the blame--if there is any--upon
     myself. Let us think of it as an incident, a bit of nature, or
     a bit of sweetness, or quite a reprehensible proceeding, or in
     any way that's proper to think of it, but certainly not as a
     thing that can for a moment affect our sincere liking for each
     other. I have enjoyed our friendship fully as much as you have,
     and I certainly want it to continue. If, as you say, I have
     helped you by stimulating that very good brain of yours, I am
     happy.

     "Please be sure that you are always welcome at Westmore. We are
     all of us fond of you, and I'm as eager as can be to have you
     succeed. Edwin Carter was at Fair Field yesterday, and he spoke
     enthusiastically of you. He talked quite a long time to me
     about you and told me as a state secret that he was going to
     urge Mr. Dempster to send you to Europe in the autumn--he said
     they couldn't spare you till then. It will be splendid if they
     do that--I hope they will.

     "Your affectionate friend,

     "JUDITH WESTMORE."

     "Don't forget Priscilla Copeley's lawn party on Wednesday.
     Elizabeth Dickenson and Christine Carter are coming out on the
     three-thirty, they told me."

The letter reached Baird that evening and he read it eagerly, then sat
in thought over it for a time. It did not alter his conviction in the
least, though it did call forth his sincere admiration. "She's fine--a
thoroughbred! She knew just what note to strike!" Then his shrewdness
added, "But I'm not forgiven--not a bit more than she forgives herself,
and I'm sorry."

Baird got up and walked about then, half reflective, half restless. He
had the evening on his hands; he couldn't go to Westmore until the next
night--he must go then--what was he going to do for the next three
moonlit hours--until he could go to bed?

He got his horse, finally, and rode through the cedar avenue; if Ann was
about he would stop and talk with her.



XXVI

THE ETERNAL ATTRACTION


In the days, or rather, the evenings, that followed, Baird came and went
by the cedar avenue. Though as frequent a caller at Westmore as ever, he
appeared to have a penchant for the short cut, and curiously enough he
seemed also to prefer the longest way back to the club from the station,
around by the County Road and through the Penniman place.

With the purpose of bringing Baird often to Westmore, and at the same
time bridging the awkward interval of adjustment, Judith had asked
Elizabeth Dickenson and Christine Carter for a fortnight's visit at
Westmore. Judith had given much thought to what must be her attitude to
Baird, a perfect friendliness and the best presentation of herself
always; while Baird, who possessed in full the masculine capacity to
forget an affair in which he had lost interest, had given the matter no
thought at all. It was a thing finished, comfortably adjusted, disposed
of. He liked Judith very much, occasionally he wondered how in the world
he had ever mistaken liking for anything else, for in comparing her with
Ann she appeared so unalluringly mature; he had simply been off his
head for a time, that was all.

Baird was gallant to Judith without effort, and attentive to her guests,
and glad, on the whole, that he rarely saw Judith alone. He went about
to the Ridge gatherings with Judith and her guests, gave a dinner party
at the club for them, taking care always that he should not be detained
so late that he could not stop for a few minutes, at least, at the
Penniman house.

He took a great deal of pains to secure that few moments with Ann, or an
hour or more, if he could manage it. It would seem that Coats and Sue
tacitly favored him, for simultaneously with his regular comings and
goings they forsook the front porch. They had many calls to return,
frequent evening drives to the village, and, when not actually off the
place, they were not in evidence. Ben was always there, but he never
obtruded.

Though Ann appeared to be too self-absorbed to pay any particular
attention to him, Baird noticed that she looked annoyed when, not
finding any one on the porch, he had the assurance to knock at the
living-room entrance, forcing her to come down from her room. She always
told him with frozen politeness that her father and Aunt Sue were out,
and that he must keep quiet and not wake her grandfather. Baird knew
that, in the evenings, Ann was always somewhere about the place, for Sue
waited upon the old man during the day, and it had become Ann's duty to
watch over him in the evenings. He always went to bed early now, and
slept heavily; he had grown very deaf and feeble in the last few weeks.

With his usual assurance, Baird would beg Ann to come out to the porch,
and often he stayed until late, using every art he knew to interest Ann.
He talked on many subjects, and Ann listened; sometimes Baird was
certain that she was not even listening.

He did not know what to make of her. She was utterly unlike the girl
whom he had once roughly kissed; often so absent-minded that Baird vowed
to himself in rage that it would be the last time he would try to talk
to her. But there were the times when she aroused and was gravely
thoughtful, and best of all were her occasional lapses into sweetness.
Baird thought her irresistibly charming then, "divinely dear," as on the
night when she had unconsciously solved his doubts for him. And she was
so young; so utterly young that she made him feel vastly experienced.

Half a dozen times during the fortnight Baird decided that he would stop
riding through the Penniman place, put temptation behind him, and as
many times lapsed into an unsatisfactory investigation of Ann. Nobody
knew what he was about; he'd like to make up his mind about Ann before
the Ridge began to gossip about his devotion. He wondered,
uncomfortably, what Judith would say if she knew how often he was at the
Pennimans'. What would Edward think?

Judith already knew. The fortnight she had planned so carefully was not
yet over when, one day, Hetty remarked: "Sam Jackson, he was tellin' me
Mr. Baird is settin' up mos' every night with Ann Penniman. Sam says he
don't go nor come no other way but through de Penniman place. I reckon
Mr. Baird, he ain't been long enough on de Ridge to know jes' who is de
right famb'lys 'roun' here."

Judith received the information in perfect silence, carried it about
with her for a hotly jealous day, before she imparted it to Edward.
Edward was the one person who could say an effective word to Baird.

Judith chose an opportunity when they were alone. "Hetty tells me that
they are talking at the club about Mr. Baird's going so much to the
Pennimans'--he seems to be taken with Ann." Judith was purposely abrupt;
if Edward was startled, so much the better.

He was startled, more moved than she thought he could be; he rarely
flushed, but the color grew in his face until he was crimson. "He might
spend his time to worse advantage," he returned icily.

Judith's nerves were not under the best of control, for it had been a
wretched two weeks, every day of which had assured her of Baird's
complete withdrawal. A slight sneer crept into her even answer: "Ann is
hardly the girl for Nickolas Baird to marry--for any one who considered
social position to marry--is she?... Isn't it your duty to advise him a
little?"

Edward changed from red to white. He rose from his chair and stood over
his sister, looked at her as Judith had not seen him look since the day
when he had defied her father and had left Westmore. "Ann would grace
any position--I intend to help her to do so," he said, and left the
room.

Judith sat in petrified silence.... So Edward loved the girl.... She had
not suspected that.... A long vista opened before Judith Westmore: she
was reminded that Edward owned Westmore; that he could make Ann mistress
of Westmore if he chose; that his fortune was his to dispose of as he
liked. She and Garvin were dependents upon him, nothing more. The shock
of the thing stilled her. She was utterly helpless--she could do
nothing.

By degrees, Baird also had come to the conclusion that Edward loved Ann
Penniman, and that she loved him to the extent of being completely
indifferent to every one else. From the way in which Baird sometimes
paced his room after an evening at the Pennimans', his conclusions
certainly disturbed him. Baird's powers of observation had been on the
alert; he guessed that Edward saw Ann frequently. Edward came to the
club almost every afternoon, dallied over a mint-julep, then went off
down the Back Road, and Baird had discovered that often it was a full
hour before he rode out of the woods again.

If Garvin had been up to that sort of thing, Baird would not have
granted Ann much chance of happiness; but Edward was as straight a man
as he had ever known. If he was making love to Ann, it was intended
seriously. He couldn't come to her house; to meet her secretly was the
only thing he could do; it was what he himself would do under the same
circumstances.... And Edward had the right of way; he was in the field
first and, more than that, Edward was his friend. He, Baird, had no
right to be hanging about trying to interest Ann. What the devil was the
matter with him, anyway, that he was determined to get into such messes!
Here, he had just failed Judith, and now he was urged to get in Edward's
way.... It would be wild folly for him to fall in love with Ann.

For four restless nights Baird kept away from Ann. He was too upset to
go anywhere. Judith's guests had gone and he could not bring himself to
go to Westmore; he did not want to see either Judith or Edward. The last
night of the four Baird spent in the city, and came back the next day
swearing to himself that he'd not do _that_ again--he'd rather sit in
his room and do nothing. Then, quite suddenly, he reached a
characteristic decision; it did not take him long to get into the saddle
and to the Penniman house.

Coats and Sue were not there, but neither was Ann, though Baird knocked
an unreasonable time at the living-room door. He walked around the house
then, and was rewarded by meeting Ann, who was hurrying up the
spring-house path, breathless, as from a run.

To accomplish the momentous thing that had been weighing upon her, Ann
had risked leaving her grandfather alone for a short time. During the
last two weeks it had made little difference to Ann whether she sat on
the porch listening to Baird, or lay on her bed thinking of the thing
that loomed large before her. It had grown out of her two weeks of
companionship with Edward. No matter what the hurt to Garvin, she must
tell him the truth.

She had written her confession that day, spent hours and much paper over
the short letter, and as soon as her father and Sue were safely away she
had taken it to the woods. She was back now; the thing was done; she was
panting as much from nervousness as from haste.

The sight of a man looming dimly in the path startled her and she
stopped. She felt ill enough to be frightened by everything; a moment
before a bird had fluttered in the grapevines and her heart had stood
still.

"It's only I--don't be frightened," Baird's voice said.

Ann came on without answer.

"You've been running--where have you been?" Baird questioned. He felt
jealously certain that Ann had been to the woods--to see Edward, of
course.

Ann did not answer his question. "Were you at the house? Was grandpa all
right?" she asked anxiously.

"I think so--everything was quiet.... Why don't you wait a minute and
get your breath?... I want to ask you something, anyway, Ann?"

Ann did pause. "Well?" she asked indifferently.

Baird looked at her in silence for a moment. Even in the dim light he
could see that she was white and tired. If she was in love with Edward,
it did not seem to make her joyful. She had never looked really happy
since the day he had seen her playing in the barn. He asked his question
abruptly, "Ann, are you engaged to anybody?"

Ann simply stared at him.

Baird's face had grown hot. "Are you in love with any one, Ann?... I'd
rather you told me frankly.... If you are, I'll stop coming around and
bothering you. If you're not, I'm going to make you like me."

There was a long silence. Then Ann said, "I'd rather you stayed away."

"You're sure of that, Ann?"

"Yes."

Baird stood in uncertainty for a moment; it was hard for him to hold to
his decision. He was carrying his riding-whip, and he slashed viciously
at the Bouncing-Betsies that edged the path, his teeth set.

Then he straightened. "Well--I guess there's nothing I can do--so I'll
be off."

They went up to the house in silence.



XXVII

THE THING


Garvin Westmore sat at the mouth of Crest Cave, his eyes fixed on the
Back Road and on the stretch of woods below the Penniman house. He had
sat for the greater part of the day almost motionless and steadily
watching--watching every one who came and went by the Back Road, who
entered or left the woods.

Beside him, emptied to the last drop, was the bottle, his comforter
during the last two weeks of brooding suspense, and near it lay Ann's
letter, the confession she had carried to the woods the night before.
Garvin had feared the Thing in himself that stirred so frequently now,
and that dropped back into quietude only when he drugged it. Therefore
he had drunk persistently and deeply during the last two weeks, spent
whole days when he was supposed to be in the city, lying on the carpet
of pine-needles, feeling that, though he had to drug the Thing heavily,
he was still himself, _unpossessed_, thinking quite clearly and coolly,
as he was thinking now.

Once, when he was a boy, the Thing had suddenly come to life in him,
swept him aside for mad hours that neither his family nor he had ever
forgotten. Then for long years he had been as free of it as if it had
never revealed itself. When he had changed from a boy to a man, it had
stirred in him, and they called it "melancholia." It was the same Thing
that had shut Sarah away from life.

Then had come the years when he was a man grown, and the Thing stirred
only occasionally, "fits of depression" that lifted easily into
excitement and dropped suddenly into perfect self-possession. He had
learned then that drink lifted him out of depression, not into
ungovernable excitement or into elation, but into coolness and
capability. _He_ knew that the Thing lay in him ready to spring into
activity at any moment, but he had learned how to deceive those about
him; he even half-deceived his family.

All night he had been in the grip of depression. He had not slept
because of it, and that morning when ostensibly he was on his way to the
city, he had come to the Mine Banks and had hidden his horse, bent upon
gaining the usual relief. At noon he had gone to the woods, by way of
the creek, and had secured Ann's letter. Fortified as he was, he had
read it without mad excitement. It confirmed the apprehension that,
during the last two weeks, had kept him in persistent depression.

He went back to Crest Cave with the queer surface restraint upon him
that drink always produced, and had drained the last drop from the
bottle, his mind focused upon the suspicion over which he had brooded
ever since the night Edward had made him promise not to go near Ann.

Ann had written:

     "DEAR GARVIN:

     "If I could endure it any longer without telling you, I'd not
     write this; but I can't. You have asked me all along in your
     letters why I have written so anxiously, and I have told you
     that I wasn't happy because I was worried about everything, but
     I didn't tell you the real reason.

     "Garvin, I can't do it. I don't love you enough to go with you.
     Almost from the time I promised I've been sorry I promised. I'm
     wretched because I have to tell you. I feel sick when I think
     of how it will hurt you, and I hate myself for not having known
     my heart any better. I meant everything I ever said to you. I
     thought I loved you, and I did want you to be happy. I still
     want you to be happy--I want you to have everything good that a
     man can have. But you want something that I've found out is not
     in me to give to you. That's the thing I have found out about
     myself, and it isn't right not to tell you.

     "There isn't any more I can say, except that begging won't
     change my feeling to you. Please forget me. You'll be gone from
     here to where you'll find people you like.

     "I'll always think lovingly of you--you were kind to me when I
     was dreadfully unhappy. You and Edward have both been kind to
     me. Lovingly, ANN."

Garvin had tossed the letter aside. It lay through the afternoon, its
open page stirred occasionally by the light breeze. The slight rustle
and the whispering of the pines were almost the only sounds, except when
the birds sang. Garvin moved only when some one passed along the Back
Road; then he bent forward, his eyes burning and intent beneath lifted
brows. He watched Coats Penniman drive up to the woods and disappear;
later on, saw Baird ride up the Back Road, evidently returning from the
city. He watched him intently, made sure it was Baird, and settled back
again into alert waiting.

It was late in the afternoon when another horseman, riding toward the
club, came slowly up through the pastures and melted into the woods.
Garvin sat, head craned and eyes narrowed, watching every step of the
man's progress. When the woods had swallowed the rider, Garvin got up,
circled the Crest, and went down to the Mine Banks Road. He crossed it,
then crossed swiftly the open space between the road and the creek, and
went down into the bed of the creek for better cover, and, with the
caution of the practised hunter, made his slow way along to where it
left the woods.

It had taken some time to creep along without noise. When he reached the
woods, where the field undergrowth gave way to trees and the banks of
the creek were studded with rocks, he waited for a time, crouched behind
a rock. He had come with the utmost caution, still, a broken twig, some
slight sound, might have betrayed him. He heard nothing but the wood
sounds, no voices or stir of any kind. Then he straightened, though
still well sheltered by the rock, and looked about him.

There was no one there. So far as his keen eyes could discover, there
was no one on the steep upward slope of the woods beyond the creek, no
one on this side either; no one on the road leading to the club, or on
the road that branched off to the Penniman house. A short distance away
was the flat rock with the bank rising above it and the saucer-like
depression in which it lay semicircled by a dense screen of chinkapin
bushes. He could wait there, it was a very perfect hiding-place, but
from that point he could not see the two roads. He was better placed
where he was, for a growth of wood-honeysuckle surrounded his
hiding-place; by parting it a little he could see very well and not be
seen. Garvin waited some time before his brother returned from the club.
Where the road forked, Edward stopped, looked up the Penniman Road, then
dismounted and came toward the creek. He led his horse behind the
chinkapin bushes, left it, and came to the top of the bank, looking down
at the flat rock. Then he climbed down, seated himself, and looked down
at the swirling water. He looked at it steadily, except when he turned
to look up at the screen of bushes. He was waiting for some one.

Garvin also waited. A hot cord had begun to tighten about his head,
forcing the blood into his eyes, yet he stood quite still; he was
thinking quite clearly; he had known it would be like this.... Even
when Ann came around the screen of bushes, he did not stir.

Edward sprang up and helped her down. Garvin could see their every
motion, even their expression, the smile each had for the other; but
they spoke very low, so low that the murmur of their voices mingled
confusingly with the ceaseless gurgle of the water.... He could not
creep any nearer to them and not be discovered.... But he needed no
clearer confirmation than actions: when Ann stood beside him, Edward put
his hands on her shoulders, looking into her eyes while she talked
rapidly and distressedly. When they sat down, Edward sat at her feet.
When he began to talk to her, long and low and steadily, he took her
hands, both her hands, and Ann's face was bent so that Garvin could not
see it. Apparently she said nothing, simply sat motionless, enthralled
by what Edward was saying.

Garvin went on thinking--quite clearly. He had known he would find just
this. He had seen it all enacted while he sat up there in the Mine
Banks--this and more--and he had planned just what he would do. He had a
good cool brain; he was clever to have decided that this was the state
of things, to have foreseen it all and to have planned to the last
detail. Let Edward have his hour, the--_thief_! He, Garvin, would have
his hour, too!

He felt a tense elation, like one who ruled destinies. When Ann's voice
lifted in a smothered cry of emotion, the sudden answer to the pause in
Edward's steady speech, Garvin only parted the bushes a little more
widely, watched more intently. She had slipped into Edward's arms and he
was holding her, her arms about his neck, his arms clasping her. He
kissed her many times, murmured over her, and then she began to weep,
breathlessly, a note of joy in her tears, words and tears and caresses
commingled.

"Edward is sedate!" the gibing Thing that was Garvin Westmore said. With
Ann's arms about his neck and her head on his breast, he was talking her
into calmness, talking, talking, interminably, the deep murmur of his
voice never once raised, soothing her as one would a child. And when, at
last, they stood up, his hands were on her shoulders again. But his face
betrayed him; he wore a look of exaltation, and Ann's was tremulously
happy. They thought themselves pledged to each other for all time, those
two!

They went up out of the hollow hand in hand, and parted after a long
kiss. Ann crossed the creek and ran up the opposite slope, turning often
to look at Edward, who stood watching her absorbedly, a lightly-moving,
radiant thing. She paused for a long moment, poised on the crest of the
slope, a slender graceful form, young as the young green that framed
her--then disappeared over the crest. She had gone to the cluster of
pines at the edge of the woods, to sit there for a time with her
happiness.

Edward watched until even her graceful head had vanished. Then he
mounted and rode out by the Back Road--taking his way by the Mine Banks
to Westmore.

Garvin crept down along the creek, went as he had come. He would reach
the Mine Banks before his brother did.



XXVIII

THE HELL-HOLE OF THE WESTMORES


Sue Penniman had been searching frantically for Ann, through the house,
on the terraces; she had even gone down the cedar avenue and then to the
spring-house. She had not gone to the barn, for Coats was at the barn
and Ann was certain not to be there; besides, Sue did not want to see
Coats, not until she had found Ann and forced her to tell the truth.

But she could not find Ann. She came back finally to the kitchen steps
and called up to the negress who was busy above, "Rachel, do you know
where Ann is?"

"I seen her go down by the woods, Miss Sue."

"When?"

"About a' hour ago."

Sue paused; then she asked, "Was she dressed up, Rachel?"

"Yes'm--she got on her white dress."

"All right," Sue said, trying to keep the thickness out of her voice.

Sue put the corner of the house between her and the woman, and stood for
a moment in confused thought. She was too terrified to think clearly;
she could make no plan; she felt bewildered and helpless.... She would
have to tell Coats--she dared not keep the thing to herself. He would
have to be told in the end, anyway.... It was trouble again for Coats,
desperate trouble. It was of Coats Sue was thinking, more than of Ann.
She would rather have died than bring this thing on him, this long
perspective of trouble for them all.

Sue went draggingly to the barn. Coats was in the wagon-shed, shifting
the buggies and wagons so as to make room for a new hayrack.

He saw Sue come in, simply that she was there, in the doorway. "Time for
supper?" he asked. "I didn't know it was so late." He was looking at the
bare space he had made.

"Coats--"

At the husky note he turned quickly and saw her face. He reached her at
a stride. "Sue!"

Sue could not find words; she looked at him haggardly.

"What's the matter?" he demanded. "What's happened?"

"It's Ann, Coats."

His brows lowered and the color came in his face. "Ann?... Well?"

"I just found it out this afternoon.... She's been meeting Garvin
Westmore--for a long time. They've planned to go away together." Sue
could not bring herself to tell him her worst fear, not at once.

But Coats leaped to it; he grew white. "She, she's not--?"

"I don't know--Coats," she said with difficulty. "I can't find her
anywhere--I wanted to ask her before I told you. Rachel says she went
down to the woods about an hour ago.... I ran out of writin' paper an'
went to Ann's room, to her box for some, an' I found a sheet in it with
'Dear Garvin' an' some other words of a letter that was begun. I was so
frightened I broke open her trunk then, an' I found a lot of his
letters. He, writes like they were engaged, but ... Coats, I'm
afraid--I'm afraid she's in trouble--" She would have to say it sooner
or later; it was best they should face it together.

Coats had grown quite gray, the down-drawn muscles of his face making
him look old. He looked away from Sue's quivering face, beyond her to
the open, staring down the vista of the past. "It had to be a Westmore,
of course," he said slowly and with extraordinary evenness. "It's about
time that family became extinct."

To one who did not know Coats Penniman, the words would sound cold, but
Sue knew the meaning of the gray tint that had overspread his face, and
the extent of the concentrated rage that edged each word with bitter
sarcasm. In her terror she began to cry. "I don't know it's true,
Coats--I don't know it's true, dear.... I haven't talked to Ann. We
can't tell till we've asked Ann.... Coats, if harm comes to you because
of this, it'll just kill me--"

Coats looked at her; took her arm. "Don't, Sue--don't cry so.... I can't
do anything till I'm sure. I can't tell till I see his letters. Where
are they, Sue?"

"At the house.... It'll drive you mad to read them."

"Oh, no, it won't," Coats said, through tight lips. "It may drive Edward
mad, though. I shall settle my account with both of them ... when I'm
ready.... Where did you say Ann had gone?"

"Rachel said she had gone down to the woods. She said Ann was dressed
up--I thought maybe she had gone away with Garvin--it's what he's been
askin' her to do."

"Not in broad daylight," Coats said, in the same cutting way. "His kind
do their work at night.... She'll come back--and with nothing but misery
before her.... If Marian had only lived, the child might have been
saved--" At thought of his wife, he dropped into huskiness and restless
motion. "Come to the house," he said thickly. "We can't stand here doing
nothing."

Sue followed him as he strode along. "Go by the front way," she begged.
"Rachel mustn't see.... And father; Coats, you mustn't tell
father--it'll kill him--it'll bring on a stroke, Coats."

Coats stopped. He had regained his composure. "Keep calm," he said. "I
mean to keep calm. We've faced trouble together before, Sue--we're
neither of us going to go mad."

"I'd rather have died than have this happen."

"I know you would. You're all Penniman, Sue--there're some of us
mongrel, but not you."

They went in by the front porch. "Bring me the letters," Coats said, in
the same quiet way.

Sue went to Ann's room and gathered them up from the bed where they lay
scattered, as she had left them when she had hurried to find Ann. She
brought, also, the sheet of paper that had led her to discovery, placed
them all in Coats' hands.

Coats read them, Ann's few blotted sentences first. It was Ann's
struggle over her letter to Garvin, a beginning put aside because it was
so ill-written and blotted:

     "DEAR GARVIN:

     "If I could endure any longer without telling you, I'd not
     write this, but I can't. You have asked me all along in your
     letters why I have written so anxiously, and I have told you
     that I wasn't happy because I was worried about everything, but
     I didn't tell you the real reason."

Coats read it, then passed from letter to letter, his brows lowering
more and more ominously, his eyes graying to steel as he noted such
sentences as these: "Why do you let your mind dwell on the possibility
of trouble--we are going away so soon, Ann--in less than a month we'll
be together. I'm going to live to make you happy, then." And in another
letter there was the underlined sentence, "_You are mine, now, every bit
of you_--there can be no going back for either of us;" and in the same
letter "... if we are careful, there is no danger of any one's knowing
how much we are to each other. And it will only be for a short time--I
have the agency at last--we will go in June." Coats understood as
neither Ann nor Sue had understood the omissions in the picture of their
life together with which Garvin had closed his letter. He understood
perfectly what was in Garvin's mind. He knew what Garvin was, as Sue
could not know. The men on the Ridge knew Garvin Westmore; he was an
open secret.

When Coats put down the last letter and sat looking at the collected
evidences of sensual infatuation and very evident suffering, a sort of
madness that could not be given the name of love, he was without even
the faint doubt that had given Sue a ray of hope. There might be girls
who had either the coolness or the hardihood to pass through a siege
such as this unscathed. Or the occasional girl who, though capable of
arousing mad passions, remains aloof, wrapped in a self-sufficient
self-respect that makes her invincible. But it was not his reading of
the child who had grown up without anybody's particular care. He had
said to Sue, "She's bound to have her bit of life, have it and pay for
it." It had come sooner and more terribly than he had feared. Coats
thought of Ann when she was a little thing, just able to walk across
the floor, her steps, as always, leading her to him, and his face
twisted in pain.

Sue had watched him. "Coats, you think it's so?" she asked despairingly.

"Yes," he said.

"What are you goin' to do?" she whispered.

Coats got up and gathered the letters together. "I'm going to find her
first.... You go, Sue, and see if she's in sight anywhere. Then come and
tell me."

He wanted those few minutes alone. He went up to his room and, from a
shelf in the cupboard, took his pistol, loaded it and put it in his
pocket. When Sue came back, he was again where she had left him, his hat
on and binding the letters together. He put them in his pocket.

"I don't see her, Coats.... You have your hat--what are you goin' to
do?" Sue could not rid herself of the terror his grim look inspired.

"I'm going to look for her--better I should talk to her where your
father won't hear.... Then I'm going to Westmore."

Sue grew deadly pale. "Coats, don't you fight them! Don't, for my sake!"

Coats' lip curled. "Don't worry. I've got a word to say to Edward, and
I'll guarantee he'll listen."

"If anything happens to you, I don't want to live," Sue said in despair.

Coats' face softened. He put his arm about her. "You're forgetting that
we Pennimans are not cowards, Sue."

She looked at him with her heart in her eyes. "I'm just a woman when it
comes to you, Coats--just a lovin' woman." In her agony of fear over
him, Sue had thrown away the concealment of years; the truth stood
clear, looked the man she loved straight in the eye.

It struck queerly across Coats' tense nerves, the revelation of a thing
quite unexpected, but having nothing to do with the burning present. He
answered to it only vaguely. "Do your part, then, Sue. Do what I tell
you to do. Don't give way.... And not a word of all this to your
father." He bent and kissed her, then, putting her aside, went out.

He went down to the woods, his eyes keen and searching beneath his
lowered brows. He saw no sign of Ann, either in the open or at the edge
of the woods, and went straight on, looking about him, but not pausing,
until he came out on the Back Road. He had not expected to find Ann in
the woods. In one of his first notes to Ann, Garvin had appointed Crest
Cave as an afternoon meeting-place; Coats had made a mental note of it.

He followed the Back Road until he stood clear of the woods, then looked
about him. There was no sign of any one. As far as he could see, in
every direction, fields and woods and brilliant evening sunshine; cattle
in the pastures below, but not a human being in sight.

Coats looked at the warm teeming country, then up at the looming Mine
Banks, over which hung a faint blue haze, the mist from innumerable
ore-pits which the spring rains had filled to overflowing. "The
hell-hole of the Westmores," he always called it in his own mind.

Then he struck off for it, directly across country, his vigorous stride
carrying him along rapidly.



XXIX

"WHAT'S NOT KNOWN"


Later, when the hollows lay in shadow and only the crowns of the hills
glistened in the departing sunshine, Coats Penniman came back through
the woods.

Sue had gone about the house oppressed by the terror she tried to keep
out of her face. She was gripped by the certainty that there was even
worse trouble in store for them than merely the shame Ann had brought
upon them. The thought of it made her weak-kneed and sick, yet she tried
to do the usual things in the usual way. She persuaded her father to
have an early supper and go to bed, and she sent Rachel to her cabin,
gave her an unexpected evening off. They would have their wretchedness
to themselves for one night at least. If only it did not end in tragedy!
Coats' grimly purposeful look obsessed her. And in all her coming and
going, from the kitchen landing, when she was down-stairs, from an upper
window, while she waited for her father to go to sleep, she watched the
woods.

Sue had watched Coats in terror when he went down to the woods; she
watched in terror when she saw him coming back. He had gone quickly,
but was coming back slowly, bent forward and walking as if each step was
an effort. His coat was off, laid over one shoulder, and his free hand
held it in place, so that it covered his other arm.

Sue ran down the spring-house path, and they met as he was dragging
himself up to the willows. She did not need to ask if anything had
happened, for Coats was ghastly pale, and, even before she reached him,
she saw that he was walking so slowly because he could not walk any
faster, though, from the strained look in his eyes and the effort he was
making, it was plain that he wanted to hurry. They had fought and he was
terribly hurt; they had tried to kill him, and suddenly rage sprang up
in Sue, commingled with her fear that he was mortally wounded.

Even before she reached him, she cried, "Coats, they've hurt you--"

"I've been shot," Coats said, in a voice that was not his it was so
lifeless.

He spoke with great difficulty, as if he were about to faint, yet at her
horrified exclamation he frowned and looked about him. "Hush!" he said
thickly. "It's just my arm--but I've bled so I'm almost done.... Get me
a drink of water."

Sue obeyed him instantly and in silence. He looked grim and
determined--in spite of his exhaustion; somberly excited and at the same
time fearful of something, of being overcome by weakness, for one
thing. Sue visioned the worst as she hurriedly filled the tin cup she
took from one of the jutting logs of the spring-house. He was not
fatally hurt; her greatest terror had been quieted, and the fighting
blood of the Pennimans lifted in her, giving her courage. If he had
killed a Westmore it was that Westmore's due. Hatred of their hereditary
enemy nerved her. No matter what Coats had done in his righteous anger,
she would stand by him; she would stand and fall with Coats--no matter
what came. Even the sight of his blood-soaked coat did not turn her
faint.

Coats was leaning against the spring-house, and she put her arm about
him, holding the cup to his lips, for he kept his uninjured hand pressed
to his shoulder. "Don't you worry, Coats," she said resolutely. "I'm not
frightened now. Just you drink this, an' then let me help you up to the
house. I've got father to bed an' I've sent Rachel home an' Ben's not
about. Just you tell me--I'll stand by you no matter what it is, Coats."

Evidently he did not mean to tell her, or else his haste was too great
to waste precious moments. The water had revived him somewhat. "I'm not
going to the house," he said more clearly than he had spoken before. "Go
up and get something soft to wrap my arm in. Bring it to the barn--I'll
manage to get up there and wait for you--in the wagon-shed. Don't let
anybody know what you're about--just come to the barn to me.... Has Ann
come back?"

"No. Ain't you seen her, Coats?"

"No." He paused to think, intently, though his face was twitching from
pain. Then he went on hurriedly, "It's just as well--it's better she
shouldn't know.... She'll come back. Put a note where she's sure to find
it--just say that we've gone driving and won't be back till late, and
that she's to look after her grandfather; that she's not to leave the
house; that Ben will be there, so she needn't feel nervous. Say that and
nothing more. Then get your hat and things and something to put around
my arm and another coat for me--I want you to drive me into the city as
fast as you can. I'd not take you with me, but I can't manage by
myself."

"Coats! You can't go all that way with your arm like that! You've got to
have a doctor!" Every word he had uttered made her the more certain that
there had been a tragedy, something so terrible that he was afraid of
arrest. He was afraid to tell her, and she was afraid to ask him. "You
can't go like that," she reiterated helplessly. "You'll bleed to death."
The thought of it made her sick.

Coats broke into sudden impatience. "I'm going to a doctor! We can't
have a doctor from the Ridge! I want to get to the city as fast as I
can. It's the only way. I know what I'm about--I'm trying to do what's
best for us all--I've had time to think. Ann and your father mustn't
know--what's not known can't be told. I'll explain while we're on our
way. Go and do what I told you, then come and hitch up Billy--he's the
best traveler.... Hurry, Sue--God knows what I'd do if I hadn't you to
help me." His voice failed at the end; he was panting from exhaustion.

Sue obeyed without a word.



XXX

CONTENT


Twenty minutes later, when Ann came out from beneath the pines at the
edge of the woods and started down through the fields to the house, she
saw Sue and Coats driving away from the barn. She could not see
distinctly, they were too far away, but she noticed that they were going
fast. Evidently they had had supper and were going somewhere together,
as they so often did.

Ann had not realized how late it was until the sun touched the horizon.
She was reminded then that it was past the supper hour and that they
would wonder what had become of her. She must have sat for two hours
there, under the pines, simply thinking of her happiness. She had wanted
to be alone with it, just as long as she could be. Once she had carried
her grief and her desolation to that place; it seemed the right place to
come with her joy.

Ann was glad she was going to have the evening to herself, just to sit
on the porch and think. The farm and everything connected with it had
faded into distance since that hour with Edward. They belonged to each
other. The joy of it! During those two weeks of anxious thought over
Garvin, she had realized that Edward was more to her than any one else
in the world. And she knew now that he loved her as she loved him. She
was solemnly, gratefully happy. He was wise and loving and wonderful; he
filled the place of friend, father and lover. The ache of loneliness she
had carried about with her since she was a little thing was stilled.

Ann had thought of Garvin many times that afternoon. Edward had talked
about him while they sat together in the hollow. The first time she and
Edward had met after she had given Garvin her promise, she had gathered
up her courage and had told Edward of her engagement to his brother. Ann
had felt that she must tell him. She had given Edward every detail of
her acquaintance with his brother.

Edward had listened to her, never taking his eyes from her face, and
when she had finished he was a little gray about the lips, as he had
been while she handled the runaway horse, but all he had said was, "You
don't love Garvin, Ann."

"I'm fond of him," Ann had said in deep distress.

"You don't love him--you have been spared that," Edward had repeated
quietly.

"I don't love him as he loves me--I promised to marry him when I was
angry and wretched," Ann had confessed.

"Yes, I understand that," Edward had said in the same steady way. "You
neither love him nor will you marry him. Before long you will collect
courage to write Garvin exactly how you feel. I'd rather have it that
way. Then he will accommodate himself to it without going mad over it,
which will be the best solution for him. And in the meantime he shall
not come near you." Then he had smiled at her as he often did. "You love
to be loved too well to love easily, my little Ann. But it won't always
be so."

"I am so sorry for him," Ann had said.

"We are all sorry for him," Edward had answered. "By and by you will
understand why."

It had been Edward's last word on the subject. In their following
meetings, he had held his peace, listening intently to Ann's troubled
thoughts--until that afternoon, when she had told him that she had
written to Garvin, and what she had written. Then, in that steady way of
his, Edward had told her what she was to him, and heaven had opened to
Ann. He had filled her heart completely.

Edward had gone back over the years and had told her about his life;
about his leaving Westmore; about his marriage; about their future
together. And then he had told her about Garvin, and Ann had understood
why she had been drawn to Garvin and had pitied him, and yet had felt
repelled. He was one of the unfortunates of the world.

Edward had not even hinted at what he knew had been Garvin's endeavor
and that she had been walking on the edge of a precipice over which many
would have fallen; that her elusiveness and her innocence, and, more
than anything else, the quality of her affection for Garvin had probably
saved her. He allowed her to think affectionately and pityingly of his
brother; when he took Ann unto himself, Garvin would necessarily be part
of her inheritance.

Ann was still absorbed when she came slowly down from the woods and into
the house. Sue's note was lying on Ann's plate, and she read it somewhat
vaguely: she was to take care of her grandfather while they were away;
they would not be back until very late, but Ben would be there so she
need not feel anxious.... Ann turned away from the table; she did not
want anything to eat. She went up, dutifully, to see whether her
grandfather needed anything, and, finding him asleep, went to her room.
Then she saw her gaping trunk, Edward's books flung out on the floor ...
and that Garvin's letters were not there.

At first she was terrified, for the spell of secrecy was still upon her,
and the fear of harm to Edward and to Garvin. But then it came to her as
a tremendous relief that Edward would know how to guard himself and how
to shield Garvin. He was very wise and careful. He had said to her, "I
mean to tell Garvin everything just as soon as I feel it is wise to do
so. I shall write to Coats Penniman at once, but I am afraid the
Penniman enmity is insurmountable. If it is, we must wait until you are
of age, and that will be in October." Edward would know what to do and
what to say to them; she need not be frightened.

As she sat on the porch, listening to the night sounds, Ann kept
repeating to herself that she need not be frightened, and her faith in
Edward's wisdom was so complete that she slipped into visions of the
future. It was a dark night illumined only by the orange-red glow in the
west, and it was fading rapidly. It was going to be a black night, misty
with the prescience of rain.

It grew so dark that even the outlines of the nearest objects faded into
the enveloping blackness, but Ann did not move; she was still dreaming
with eyes wide, quite alone yet content.



XXXI

THE FAMILY NAME


It was after sundown when Judith lifted from her work over the
flower-bed on the terrace and looked at the glow in the western sky. It
was twilight; time for Garvin to come from the city, and Edward from his
daily ride to the club; another long evening before her without the
relief of active work.

Would Baird come that evening? Since her visitors had gone, there had
been significant intervals between his calls, and she was quite helpless
in the matter. She was filled with a passionate revolt against what she
felt was woman's helplessness. If she had a man's opportunities, how
long would she remain quiescent at Westmore, a slave to a routine that
had begun to gall her intolerably! And any day she might be set aside.

Judith had endlessly pondered Edward's tense championship of Ann, and
Baird's interest in the girl. What was going to grow out of it all?
Something certainly that would make Westmore unendurable to her. After
fifteen years of mental and physical toil, she was a dependent,
unskilled in any direction--except as a housekeeper--the spinster
adjunct to a family that would not need her. It was the fate of most
women who conserved and conserved. It was her rearing that had made her
what she was. If she had defied the family conventions and had gone out
into the world, she could easily have made a life for herself. It was
men who held the winning cards.... Judith's gardening had been a relief.
She could look her thoughts while she worked; the warm earth her strong
hands had prodded and pressed was a safe confidant.

She stood with hand shading her face, looking at the sunset glow, her
lips shut in a straight line, her eyes smoldering. When the thud of
steps on the porch above warned her that some one was coming, she turned
with her usual swift decision, but first she had wiped expression from
her face, a resolute downward movement of her hand from which her eyes
emerged, level and questioning.

It was Ben Brokaw who was hurrying down to her, his long arms hanging
and his body bent, his usual position when running and which was oddly
suggestive of primordial locomotion. The smile that grew in Judith's
eyes as she watched the grotesque creature changed quickly into a frown
when she saw his face. He had evidently run some distance, for there was
about him the steaming heat of a hard-driven animal. But his ridged and
mottled face was curiously drawn and tense. He had brought up within a
few feet of her, had paused and straightened.

With the instant alarm of one inured to apprehension, Judith asked,
"What has happened?"

Ben could express himself only in the way natural to him. "Miss Judith,
there ain't no time fo' me to come around slow to what I've got to tell,
an' you ain't one to go under, you're Westmo' through an' through....
Miss Judith, the Mine Banks is claimed another Westmo'."

"Garvin?" Judith asked through suddenly blanched lips.

"Not him, tho' there's no tellin' about him. It's Edward, Miss Judith."

"Edward ... not Edward--" Judith's voice was entirely without
modulation.

Ben hurried over his explanation. "I were watchin' over Ann, like Edward
had told me to do--it's Edward I've been workin' for this spring, not
Coats Penniman. I had found out that Garvin was meeting Ann, an' Edward
had told me not to let Garvin come near Ann again. Edward knowed that
Ann were safe if I watched over her. This afternoon Edward had been
talkin' with Ann, down by the Back Road, an' when he went and Ann went
up in the woods, I was clost to her. When she went down to the house I
went to the Banks. I'd heard shootin' there, but that's always goin' on
about here, I didn't think nothin' of that, but I was scart by things I
seen when I got to the Banks, an' I looked about. I found him, Miss
Judith, he's lyin' like one gone peaceful to sleep--the little thing
what killed him done its work quick."

"You mean--he's been shot--to death--?" Judith whispered with pauses.

"Yes." Ben looked down at the flower-bed.

"By whom?" She had straightened, flung back her head.

Ben was silent.

Judith went to him, laid her steel grip on his shoulder. "You tell
me!... There's only one man in the world would do that.... You know who
did it--tell me this instant what you know!"

Ben looked at her, a glance that dropped away from the fire in her eyes.
"It weren't the man you think. Coats Penniman's knowed nothin' of what's
been goin' on. An' I don't know nothin' either--that's my answer to any
who may ask, an' always will be," he said doggedly, "but there's things
I'll tell you an' no one else.... Edward loved Ann, Miss Judith. He
loved her very dear, an' he's seen her pretty constant. An' Garvin, he
were mad over her, like it's in him to be. Edward made him keep away
from Ann--there were hard feelin' between them because of it. But Edward
didn't tell Garvin about Ann and hisself. 'Tain't a thing Edward would
confide to Garvin--there ain't many things you or Edward ever has
trusted to Garvin. I think Garvin suspicioned Edward to-day--that Edward
were seein' Ann--and--" He stopped, then went on. "An' Edward come back
by the Banks--" he stopped again.

Judith had drawn back as if the sight of him burned her. "You're wrong!"
she said passionately. "Garvin was in the city to-day!"

Ben looked at her, pity and affection and respect struggling together in
his eyes and in his voice. "He were at the Banks, Miss Judith. The
traces of him was there. He had hid Black Betty, but I run acrost her,
an' up to Crest Cave I foun' the letter Ann had wrote him, sayin' she
wouldn't have him. An' he'd been drinkin'--I foun' the bottle. An' then,
when I stood up by Crest Cave, I seen Garvin go acrost from the Mine
Banks Road to the creek. It scart me the way he went--like he was hidin'
hisself. I was so scart I went down to the road an' first I saw Edward's
horse, an' then I foun' where he lay."

Judith's hand had covered her lips, as if to smother a shriek; over it
her eyes stared at him.

"There weren't no one else at the Banks but Garvin when I was there--I'd
have knowed it jest so quick as a dog, if there had been. I'd already
took the letter--I run to you then.... Miss Judith, I don't need to tell
you what all this'll come to. Garvin's jest gone mad, but if he comes to
hisself like he does, who'll believe it? The law'll get him, Miss
Judith. An' that ain't all--every bit of all your family history will be
gone into. And Ann's name will be ruined. It will be the end of Westmo'.
I never come up against nothin' like this befo'--I'm jest helpless!" The
big creature looked both helpless and desperate.

Judith turned abruptly, faced God's half-acre, and Ben stood still with
eyes on her rigid shoulders and carven profile. He knew Judith Westmore
well; there was no room for grief, no limit to her capability when the
family name was at stake.

It was not for long; she faced him again. "Where was he shot?" she asked
stiffly.

Ben lifted a finger to his forehead.

Her mask-like face twitched, then was controlled. "Where is he--lying?"
she asked, with the same difficulty over her words. "In the road?...
Where some one may pass?"

"No--off the road--in the hollow--near the first ore-pit."

"In the bushes and grass?"

"Yes."

"Did you search around--him?"

"No. I saw he were gone--then I come quick."

Judith nodded. "Go to the barn and put the horses in the light wagon.
There's no one there--the men have gone. Saddle another horse for
yourself. I'll get some things from the house and come out to you. Go
quick--I'll be quick."

"Are you goin' to the Banks?" Ben asked.

"I'll tell you when I come back. Go put the horses in," and she turned
and walked rapidly to the house.

She returned to Ben's side before he had finished harnessing the horses.
She was laden with blankets and a pillow, and, after she had put them
into the wagon, her skilful hands helped him. She worked swiftly and
accurately, her hard, short-drawn breathing alone indicative of tense
emotion and desperate haste. She spoke low and decidedly.

"We'll have to face it the best way we can.... I want you to ride to the
Copeleys'. Tell Cousin Copeley just that you found Edward--shot at the
Banks, and that you came straight off to me--just that and nothing
more.... Tell any one who asks--just that. Tell Cousin Copeley to come
quick to the Banks to meet me. Then have him send one of the boys for
the doctor and have him bring him to Westmore.... I'm going down through
the woods to the Smiths'. I'll get Allen Smith and his son to go with me
to the Banks--they're the nearest men I can reach, and they're not
relations--I'd rather have them with me."

Judith said no more until they were ready. Then she put her hands on his
huge shoulders. Even in the dim light he could see that her eyes were
brimming. "Ben, you are our friend?" she asked very low. "You will stand
by me?"

"I'd die befo' I hurt a Westmo'--or a Penniman," he said as huskily as
she.

"I believe it, Ben.... Do this for me then: find Garvin and bring him to
Westmore. It's the place where he'll be safest. Tell him I said so.
He'll listen to you when he wouldn't to any one else. And there's no one
who can find him in the night as you can. And, Ben, have him come back
on Black Betty, if you can, and if you can't--" She paused and thought
a moment. "If you can't, get Betty into the club stables during the
night.... You're not afraid to do that for me, Ben?"

Ben's growl was sufficient answer.

Her hands dropped. "We'll go then," she said more clearly.

Ben held her back a moment. "Miss Judith, you'll not put this on a
Penniman, an' you'll keep Ann's name out of it if you can?"

"No--I'll not accuse a Penniman. The dead can't speak--or suffer--let
them bear the blame."



XXXII

THE DEATH-TRAP


Baird was riding slowly back from Westmore to the club. Even if he had
been in the mood for rapid riding, he would not have attempted it; it
was too dark a night. As it was, he was too much absorbed by his
thoughts to hurry his horse. He was thinking of the group of proud
people he had left standing guard over their dead. And he was thinking
of Ann. Did she know?

The thing was terrible. The news had reached the club before the sunset
glow had faded from the sky, brought to Sam by a Westmore negro and
transmitted by him to the men who were dining at the club: Edward
Westmore had taken his own life--at the Mine Banks. The men had
scattered to their homes with the news, and Baird had ridden at once to
Westmore.

There was nothing he could do; the family had already collected. Even
Colonel Dickenson had been sent for and would reach Westmore before
midnight. At Westmore Baird had learned a few details: Ben Brokaw had
found the body and had run to Westmore with the news, and Judith and the
two neighbors she took with her had discovered Edward's pistol, with
one chamber emptied, lying in the grass not far from his hand. It was
the ivory-handled, silver-chased weapon that all of them knew so well,
which Edward always kept loaded and often carried.

Mr. Copeley had said to Baird: "We can't account for such an act on
Edward's part. The only reason we can give to ourselves is that during
the past year he has suffered from occasional attacks of heart trouble.
That's the reason he wouldn't hunt and always rode so slowly. It may
have preyed on his mind.... It is most kind of you to come, Mr. Baird,
and we all thank you; but there is nothing you can do." Baird had
remained only a few moments.

Brave people! Courteous and dignified even when in the deepest distress.
During the moment Judith had given him, Baird had bent to her hand in
profound admiration. She was deadly pale, but erect and clear-voiced.
She was a woman in a million, was Judith Westmore!... And he had liked
Edward almost better than any man he had ever known.... And Ann? Did she
know yet?

Baird was thinking intently of Ann. As soon as the shock of the thing
had worn off, he had thought of Ann. Since the night before, when Ann
had said, "I'd rather you stayed away," he had been as unhappy as he had
thought it possible for him to be, wretched because he felt unable to
get out and fight for the thing he had begun to want badly.

Baird's horse had brought him down into the hollow, to where the creek
crossed the Post-Road. Beyond was the long upgrade at the summit of
which he would turn off into the club road, the extension of the
Pennimans' cedar avenue.... Who would tell Ann? And how much would it
mean to her?

Baird's horse had come to the bridge, his hoofs had struck the planks,
when he stopped abruptly, with fore-feet planted. When Baird spoke to
him, he snorted and backed.

Baird knew the signs of fright, but when he peered over the animal's
head he could see nothing. It was impossible to _see_ anything in that
density of gloom; one could only _feel_. He spoke to his horse again,
but the creature refused to move. There was certainly some good reason
for such reluctance; the bridge was dangerously ramshackle, and should
have been condemned long ago.

Baird dismounted, led his horse to the roadside, and groped until he
found a tree to which he could tie him. He went back to the bridge and,
kneeling, felt his way along. He came upon it very soon; his hand left
the plank and reached into space, a yawning hole wider certainly than
the length of his arm, for there appeared to be nothing beyond.

He crept along then to the side of the bridge, and, presently, he made
it out: beyond the broken and splintered end of timber which supported
the planks on which he was, there was no bridge. It had been torn away,
had collapsed. Full fifteen feet below, in the blackness, the creek tore
along, fretted by the rocks. Whatever had jammed through that rotten
structure had gone to certain destruction.... An automobile!

A certainty, something more than a premonition of a disaster to which he
had played agent, turned Baird hot. He hung over the black gulf, trying
to see, alive with dread of what he might see.... He could not see, but
he could smell. It was an exhalation from below, the odor of gasoline;
he was right, then.

Baird straightened, energetic, as always when action was demanded.... If
only he had a lantern!... He remembered that he had matches, and struck
one. The breeze, faint though it was, snuffed it out. He tried another
with the same result. His next effort was a torch, a letter twisted so
as to burn as long as possible.

It served his purpose, a flickering revelation of a mass of wreckage
thrust against the shelving bank of the creek--until the flame crept to
his fingers and he was forced to drop the charred paper. He sprang up
and went back to the road, not to get help, that did not occur to him,
but to get down to the thing below as soon as possible. There might be
life lingering beneath that mass of wreckage.

Baird encountered a snake fence and an almost impassable mat of briers,
but even in the darkness he felt sure of his direction, certain of it
when he slid down into mud and water. He stood still, trying to
determine just where the wrecked machine lay; to his left? His olfactory
nerves helped him, and his hand soon touched a bit of the wreckage, an
upflung wheel, then the rear of the car. Baird was trying to discover
all he could first by feeling. He had a note-book in his pocket with
which to make a brief bonfire, but he was saving that. If only he had a
lantern!

It was the smell of a reeking wick that suggested a possibility. In
1905, an automobile was not equipped with electricity; its tail light
was a lantern. Baird's hand had encountered it, its glass shattered, but
the metal lamp intact and still warm. He lighted the wick; though
inadequately equipped, he could find his way about now.

The machine lay against a rock, half-overturned, and with nose buried in
the soft earth of the bank. Baird made his way forward on its other
side. Engine, wheel and seat were jammed against the rock and
half-buried in the earth, but by climbing over the rock he reached the
top of the pile, and could throw the light on the confused mass.

For a moment he knelt motionless above the thing he saw, weakened by a
wave of physical inability; it was not the Mine Banks alone that had
claimed a Westmore.... Then he made certain that the body below was
without pulse or heartbeat, and that his utmost strength could not move
the mass that rested on it. The end must have come as instantaneously
to one brother as it had to the other.

It was of Judith, Baird was thinking as he prepared to go back. He must
take the word to Westmore.... And by some means, he must prevent
travelers on the Post-Road from plunging into this death-trap. He felt a
little dizzy and sick.

Baird held the light up, trying to see the bank above. He kept it
upheld, staring at what it revealed--a woman's crumpled body flung
against the soft loamy earth, a white blot against a black background.
Even before he reached her, Baird knew who she was, and the thought was
quicker than his forward plunge: "It was Garvin she loved, and Edward
knew it. It was that had 'preyed' on his mind."

Baird's first terror, when his hands discovered warmth in her body, was
that it was deceptive--life might be gone ... or it might be passing
fast, was his fear when he found that her heart was beating; it beat so
faintly against his hand. He brushed the hair from her face and brought
the light close, but Ann's eyes remained closed, her lips colorless, her
skin bluey-white; life was merely flickering.

Something infinitely painful rose up in Baird and choked him, a hurt
greater than anything he had ever known, a profounder sense of
desolation than he had had when his father lay dying. He wanted to hold
her against his breast.

When he lifted her, she sighed, and the unexpected assurance of life
galvanized him. He laid her down and stumbled to the creek. He brought
back a little water in his cupped hands and dropped it on her face, then
he rubbed her forehead with his wet hands.

It did not bring her back to consciousness, but hope had him now,
coupled with a definite purpose: to get her away as soon as possible,
back to her home. It would not be possible to carry her through that
network of briers, but if he made his way up the creek to where there
was less undergrowth he could reach the pasture. Then he could get his
horse.

It was no easy matter to carry her limp body and still keep a hand free
for the lantern. He made his slow way around rocks, half the time wading
in water, more than once almost falling. He was nearly exhausted by
combined anxiety and exertion when circumstance favored him; he came to
a wide path tracked by the cattle, an easy ascent. When he reached the
pasture, he laid his burden down, put the lantern where it would serve
as a guide for his return.

He skirted the undergrowth along the creek without much difficulty,
avoided the brier-patch, and came to the rail fence, shortly above where
his horse was tied. He took down a tier of rails that he might lead him
through, and his return was even more rapid than his going.

To mount his horse with Ann laid across his shoulder taxed every muscle
in his body, and to hold her inert weight half-seated before him and
dragging over one arm while he kept one hand free to guide his horse
took both strength and skill.

Baird found the Back Road by keeping, as nearly as he could judge,
parallel with the Post-Road. With his horse's head turned homeward, his
task was not so difficult, for the animal strode along the familiar way,
needing no guidance. In his relief, Baird kissed Ann's upturned face.
"It won't be long now," he whispered. In his stress he had forgotten the
hole in the bridge; forgotten Edward; forgotten Garvin; forgotten every
one but Ann; forgotten even himself.

Their entrance into the woods was like passing from a darkness in which
objects could be sensed into the thicker blackness of a tunnel. Baird
could tell where the road led off to the club only by the turn his horse
made. He forced him to back and then urged him straight ahead. Once on
the Penniman Road, the animal could be trusted to keep on. That he did
keep on and with the lessened speed of the horse walking away from his
stable was the only guarantee Baird had that they were going in the
right direction.

In time they emerged from the tunnel, into what seemed, by contrast, a
normality. Baird had loathed the palpable blackness that had shrouded
Ann's vague outline; he had seemed to be embracing an unreality. When
they neared the barn and a horse in the enclosure whinnied, it was like
hearing a friendly voice. Baird forced his horse to circle the barn,
started him on the road leading to the front of the house, which the
animal took gladly because again headed for the club, and checked him
before the vague black mass which was the house. There was no lighted
window, no sign of anxiety or of welcome.

Baird dismounted and laid Ann gently on the grass. If there was any one
in that apparently heartless house to whom he could entrust her, he
would ride for a doctor. He left her on the grass--better that two
should move her with the care two could give--and went to the
living-room door. He knocked, then pounded, then called, and was
answered by total silence.

A chill touched him; was the whole world dead? Where were they all at
this hour of the night? He lighted a match and, for the first time that
night, looked at his watch. It was only a few minutes after ten. Baird's
disbelief was so complete that he put the watch to his ear, and even
when he found it ticking steadily he could not credit what it had told
him. It seemed to Baird that he had spent hours under the bridge and
that he had agonized half the night over Ann. But there was one comfort,
if his watch was right, Ann had not been unconscious half the night. And
her family were probably simply out for the evening and would be back.

He tried the door, found it unlocked, and, going in, lighted the lamp.
Then he brought Ann to the couch. He could see her distinctly now, and
his heart contracted as he looked at her; the limpness of her body and
the waxen immobility of her face were terrifying, an inertia as complete
as death. She was slipping away, and he did not know how to call her
back.

As long as Baird had been fighting his way along through the night, he
had been hopeful. But that vacant house!... If he went for help, Ann
would die while he was gone; there was no doctor within four miles. If
his ignorance struggled with that persistent unconsciousness, he might
blunder fatally. He felt desperate.



XXXIII

FROM DESPAIR TO HOPE


Baird had sat for an hour with his fingers on Ann's wrist; from twelve
o'clock until the living-room clock struck one. He had made his
decision. As he had expressed it to himself, "I'll stand by my job."

Once, in South America, he and a companion had worked over a man who was
dying from exhaustion. They had administered stimulants and had wrapped
the man in hot blankets. Baird had ransacked the living-room and the
kitchen, had come upon the family supply of simple remedies, among them
a bottle of spirits of camphor, and, in the cedar chest beneath the
stairs, had found a feather-bed laid away for the summer. He had built a
fire in the kitchen stove and had heated water.

Baird had set to work then upon Ann's cold limp body, had taken off her
shoes and stockings and had chafed her icy feet with hot water and
camphor. He had opened her dress and had rubbed her chest and her arms
and her hands with it. Then he had wrapped her closely in the
feather-bed, and, lastly, he had tried to make her swallow a little of
the mixture.

Though he had worked quickly, it had taken time, a lifetime of effort
and of waiting, it had seemed to Baird, before even a slight warmth had
crept into her body. When his fingers discovered a throb in her wrists,
Baird was uplifted; he sprang from despair to hope. When her chest began
gently to lift and fall, he climbed to the height of gratitude.

For an hour he had sat almost motionless, feeling life grow beneath his
fingers, watching the ghastly white in Ann's face change to a more
life-like hue. It seemed to him that the life in her was trying to
answer to the life in him, that each throb of his heart transmitted a
little and still a little more of its bounding vitality to her, and,
gradually, a curious certainty had taken possession of Baird: that
through his finger-tips he was pouring his superabundant strength into
Ann's limp body, while with all his force he was willing her to live.

The conviction possessed him so completely that it blotted out the
disjointed thoughts that had obtruded while he had longed for other
assistance than his own: his anxiety over the absence of Ann's people;
the suggestion that they had traveled by the Post-Road and had fallen
into the death-trap he had left unguarded; his pangs of retrospective
jealousy; his hopes for the future.

He was so concentrated upon his idea that all extraneous thoughts and
impressions had faded from his brain. The collie had thrust himself in
through the partly-open door and had nosed Baird's absorption and Ann's
muffled form, and Baird had scarcely noticed him; the murky,
indeterminate night had resolved itself into a steady rain, and Baird
had not been aware of it; the clock had struck a single definite note,
and Baird had not heard it, for Ann had stirred at last, had moved her
head and sighed.

With the same curious certainty that his strength had led her back to
life, and that if he called to her now she would answer, Baird bent to
her ear: "Ann--?" he said softly. He called to her several times,
softly, insistently, waited, then called again. When, finally, her
eyelids lifted, he was so imbued with the certainty that speech would
follow that the sweep of relief did not unsteady him. She was looking at
him widely, fully, but without blankness. She knew him.

He waited, giving her time. It seemed to Baird that her half-awakened
thoughts crossed her eyes like slowly-moving shadows. Then her gaze
turned slowly from him to the room, to the half-open door and the
blackness beyond. And suddenly recollection appeared to leap up in her,
twitching the muscles in her face until it set in a mask of pain. She
turned strained eyes on him, and speech broke from her, a voice husky
but demanding:

"Is it true, what he told me--that Edward was dying?"

Baird had not thought it would be this way. He had not considered what
Ann would say when she spoke; all he had thought was that, if only she
could speak, he would know whether or not she was injured, whether she
was in pain. Baird's native quickness and coolness almost forsook him;
he retained only presence of mind enough to grasp the fact that it was
Edward she loved, and that he dared not thrust the truth upon her
suddenly and abnormally active brain.

He parleyed until he could think. "Who told you that, dear?"

Her speech came quickly and thickly: "Garvin. He came for me. He said
Edward's horse threw him an' he was dyin' an' wanted me."

Baird had done his thinking, and had hazarded a guess as well. "He
didn't tell you the truth," he said clearly and decidedly. "He simply
wanted you to come with him."

She said nothing, but she relaxed; the rigid muscles in her face
softened into relief and her eyes grew cloudy and slowly closed. The
spurt of abnormal animation passed.

With a new fear tugging at him, Baird watched the moisture gather on her
forehead and about her lips and noted the utter laxness of her hands and
the weighted heaviness of her eyelids. Was she slipping into
unconsciousness again? He bent over her.

"Ann, does your back hurt?" he begged.

She breathed rather than spoke the word, "No--"

"Do you feel any pain?"

She moved her head in denial.

"You're sleepy--that's all?"

She did not answer.

If she had fainted, it was a warm breathing unconsciousness like the
sleep of exhaustion. And she had said she was not in pain.... As he
listened to her regular breathing Baird gradually lost his fear; nature
was helping her now. He loosened the hot thing in which she was wrapped,
and sat with her hand in his; if she grew feverish he would know it.
There was nothing over which he could exert himself; he must simply
wait; sit there till morning, if no one came.

For the first time since the struggle had begun Baird thought of
himself. He was fearfully tired, sore and aching and wet; he was wet and
caked with mud almost to his waist. He was experiencing the reaction.
Depression settled upon him.... So it was Edward she loved. That sort of
love would hold for a long time; there was no hope for him.... That she
had not been crushed or broken was one of the wonders, but she was not
out of danger--her spine might be injured.... A wave of anger swept
Baird, arousing him a little from depression: where were her people
throughout all this tragedy? Why had they left her alone in the house
for Garvin to mislead? For that must have been the way of it--he had
told her a half-truth in order to get her away.... Then he sank back
into depression.

When the clock struck two, Baird looked up at the slowly-traveling
hands; the next would be the deadest hour of the night.



XXXIV

BEN BROKAW EXPLAINS


"Does she know about Edward?" Baird asked of Ben. He had followed Ben to
the barn, and that was his first anxious question.

"Yes. I tol' her. She had to be told--I couldn't keep it from her. I
tol' her before Sue come."

"God! How did she take it?"

Ben's eyes lighted. "Like a Penniman--or a Westmo' would take it!"

"You had courage," Baird breathed in relief. "I didn't dare tell her."

"I knowed who I talked to," Ben returned deeply. "Ann growed up under my
han'--I know the blood that's in Ann. She's got courage, Ann has--I
weren't afraid."

It was Ben Brokaw, not the Penniman family, who had come in out of the
darkness and the rain and had watched over Ann while Baird had gone for
the doctor. Between three and four o'clock, the sleeping collie had
roused and gone out, and a few minutes later Baird had heard the
approach of some one. When he sprang up, it was Ben who had confronted
him, dripping wet, splashed with mud, small eyes peering and amazed. He
had looked at Ann, prostrate, an instant of partial comprehension, then
he had looked, as redly as any enraged animal, at Baird.

Baird's explanation had been succinct, and, after a moment of
grief-stricken understanding, Ben had shown even a shrewder grasp of the
situation than Baird himself. Their consultation had been a hurried one,
but when Baird galloped off through the rain he had been supported by
the certainty that he had left both love and wisdom watching over Ann.
There was a capable brain and a father's tender heart in Bear Brokaw's
grotesque body--and a dog's faithfulness.

It was after sunrise when Baird had brought the doctor to the Pennimans'
door, and it was Sue Penniman, haggard but collected, not Ben, who had
opened to them.

"How is she?" had been Baird's instant question.

"We think she's better. She's awake an' able to talk."

Baird had held Sue's eye. "I've told the doctor Ben sent me for him. I
couldn't tell him anything about the accident, only that she must have
lain unconscious for a long time."

Sue met his look steadily. "We'll tell him about it," she said.

"Where is Ben?" Baird had asked.

"He just went out to the barn."

Baird had followed and had found Ben seated on a box in the wagon-shed,
whittling and swaying as he worked. Any one who knew Ben well could have
told Baird that Ben always whittled and swayed when thinking deeply or
when perturbed; that he always carried bits of pine in his pockets, and
that under his handling they usually became figure-fours. Ben had heard
Baird's hasty approach, but he had not looked up until Baird was upon
him with his anxious question.

Ben thought, as he watched Baird's partial relief, that the young fellow
looked pretty thoroughly "done." The rain had washed most of the mud
from his trousers, but he was still well smudged with it and soaking
wet, his face gray-white and his eyes red-rimmed.

"You better set down while you wait fo' what the doctor has to say," he
advised in a kindly growl. "Emergencies had oughter be met standin' and
suspense sittin'. You've stood up pretty good against the first, reckon
you can do the right thing by the second.... There's a box strong enough
to hol' you, over there."

Baird brought it and sat down opposite Ben.

"You're about as wet and all in as I am," he remarked, in answer to the
kindly note in Ben's voice. The big creature was just as Baird had seen
him last, wet and muddy and queerly mottled about his cheeks and nose,
red patches upon the nearest approach to pallor his tanned face could
attain.

"A wettin' ain't nothin' to me," Ben said, "but I done somethin' the
same things you done last night." Then, either to ease Baird's suspense
or for some other reason, he continued: "I was tellin' you last night it
was me foun' the hole in the bridge an' what was below, an' we agreed I
must have come on it a little after you'd took Ann away.... You see,
when I run to Westmo' to tell Judith about Edward, she says, 'Ben,
Garvin ain't here. You take the word to the Copeleys first, go quick,
then try to meet up with Garvin.' I done what she says. I had a hard
time findin' Garvin, though. I got the first word of him at the club.
Everybody were gone from there to tell everybody else what a Westmo' had
done to hisself, an' the cook were the only one left. He said a while
befo' he'd heard some one gettin' out Garvin's automobile from the
shed--seems he'd been keepin' it there, at the club. The cook reckoned
it was Garvin that some one must have tol' Garvin what had happened, an'
he'd took the automobile so's to get to Westmo' in a hurry. I started
down the Post-Road then, an' I come upon what had happened. My lord!"
Ben paused, then went on. "Well, I dragged some rails acrost the road
an' went fo' help, an' we got the las' man bearin' the name of Westmo'
back to his house."

In spite of his efforts, Ben's voice had grown unsteady, and he whittled
violently and in silence for a few moments, until speech escaped him:
"It begun to rain on us befo' we got to Westmo', like the sky were
weepin' over the sins of them that brung us into the world. That po'
thing we was carryin'--'tweren't none of his fault. An' we builds jails
an' madhouses fo' the like of him, an' jest goes right on fillin'
them.... Garvin weren't never jest right, Mr. Baird. Them two youngest
Westmo's--Sarah an' Garvin--'twere their pa should answer fo' them ...
an' yet, what right hev I talkin' like that! There didn't no one teach
sense to men like the ole colonel an' ole Mr. Penniman. I've jest got
one big pity fo' every one of them--particular fo' them that's left."

"He nearly did for Ann--I'm not thinking of his forebears," Baird said
bitterly.

Ben collected himself. "He was jest out of his mind--you can't judge him
like you would a sane man.... You know, of co's', that Edward cared a
lot for Ann and she fo' him, an' that Garvin were mad over her, like he
would be, an' that she wouldn't have him. If you don't know, I'm telling
you, an' fo' Ann's sake, it's a thing we ain't goin' to speak about to
others. I'll tell you, too, what Ann tol' me when her an' me were
talkin', befo' Sue come back. Ann tol' me she was sittin' in the dark on
the porch an' Garvin come up sudden an' tol' her Edward were hurt an'
dyin' an' askin' fo' her to come. He'd brought his automobile to the
cedar road, an' that's what he must have been doin' when the cook heard
him. I know his horse was at the club barn when I was there, because I
seen it there. Ann says she went off quick with him, she weren't
thinkin' of nobody but Edward, an' they started fo' the Post-Road. She
didn't suspicion at first that Garvin weren't in his right mind, but
when they began to tear down the Post-Road he spoke queer, an' jest
befo' they struck the bridge she was sure he was clean mad. She was so
scart she stood up, an' the next thing they was throwed. It was her
standin' up saved her, I reckon. Jest what drove Garvin mad we'll never
know. How much he knowed of what's happened, or jest what he intended to
do, it's beyond us to tell, but that he was clean beside hisself, that's
certain."

Baird had listened to Ben's explanation. It fitted in with much that he
knew and with much that he had suspected, and he guessed that Ben could
have told him a great deal more had he chosen to do so. Ben loved Ann,
as a father loves his daughter, so much Baird had discovered during the
night, and, also, that Ben was faithful to both the Pennimans and the
Westmores. In his weariness and anxiety, Baird refused to think of it.
What did it matter--if only Ann pulled through unshattered?

Baird was sick with fatigue, racked still by anxiety, and angered by
Coats Penniman's neglect of his daughter. "Where were Ann's people all
night--why did they leave Ann to fall into a trap like that?" he
demanded.

Ben worked away at his stick. "That were a mystery to me, till Sue come.
It was natural enough, though, how that happened. Coats, he had to go to
the city, an' Sue, she drove in with him, early in the evenin'. They'd
left word with Ann they'd be gone late. They knowed I'm always here in
the evenin'--I ain't moved off this place a single evenin', not in
weeks. They weren't worryin' about Ann's not bein' safe. But last
evenin' I weren't here, an' you know why. Sue tells me they were drivin'
Billy, an' you know what he is. Come time to get home, they had trouble
with him. He's a devil, that horse, a good traveler, but that's all. He
give Coats' shoulder a bad wrench. There weren't no trains they could
get till near mornin', an' Sue she took the first train out an' walked
up from the station, leavin' Coats to dispose of Billy and come out
later. Sue were worried to death over her father an' Ann, she looked
like a ghost when she come in, an' ready to drop, but she come to when
she seen what trouble she'd come back to.... That's Penniman fo' you,
jest like Miss Judith's stiff upper lip is Westmo'. These southern
ladies, Mr. Baird, whose mothers done stood fas' while their men was
bein' shot to pieces in the war--their mothers' blood's in them, all
right! They'll stand up to anything, they will, an' gamble on a chance
cooler nor any man!" Ben spoke with a profound admiration that dignified
even his language.

Baird thought of Judith and how he had bent to her hand. But he had
learned a surprising thing. "You don't tell me that old Mr. Penniman was
in the house all the time I was there?" he exclaimed. "Why, I pounded
the door and shouted."

"Sure he was there--up to his room in the front. He's fearful deaf an'
he were asleep. He never heared you. I forgot to tell you, when we were
plannin' quick of how to keep from everybody's knowin' that Ann was with
Garvin. All my mind was on gettin' the doctor to her an' keepin' Ann's
name from bein' mixed up in what's happened, an' so was yours."

"Will Miss Penniman be able to carry it through?" Baird asked anxiously.

"She _will_! I've done talked to her."

"And Ann?"

"Ann's too sick to talk--that's her answer," Ben returned with decision.
"I tol' you I'd find the right thing to say." He pointed: "You see that
there hole, where fodder is throwed down to the cows? Ann fell through
there--it's a consid'able fall--more'n fifteen feet an' it won't be the
first case of the kind the doctor has had to do with. _I_ say that _I_
foun' Ann down there, onconscious, an' any that doubts my word can come
to me! I ain't never judged a lie a lie if it were tol' to help a
woman--it's about the only chanst a man has to make up to his ma fo'
men's havin' fastened the story of Eve to her."

In spite of his anxiety, Baird smiled. He liked Ben, and for much the
same reasons as he had liked Edward Westmore; Ben Brokaw was every whit
as true a gentleman. Baird thought of Edward's gentleness and
consideration to women. "Ben?" he asked abruptly. "Why did Edward kill
himself? Ann loved him, and you say he loved her--why did he hurt her
like that? There appears to be no doubt about it, for the doctor told
me that the pistol was smoked and that the wound showed that it had been
fired at close range. The reason Mr. Copeley gave me--that Edward had
heart trouble--isn't sufficient reason to me. Why in the name of heaven
did he do such a thing!"

Ben stopped his work. But he did not look at Baird; he looked out at the
struggle between sun and mist. After a considerable pause, he said
slowly, "It seems the cruelest thing in all this night's work, don't
it?... I can't explain it.... The Ridge'll give its reasons, an' first
among them, that there is knowed to be one Westmo' whose mind ain't
right, an' that now the thing's showed itself in Edward.... It's all
right your askin' me--I know you are considerin' Ann same as I am. You
can ask me anything you like an' I'll answer to the best of my ability,
but it's a thing I won't discuss with nobody else. I thought a heap of
Edward--I don't want to talk about it. My biggest trouble now is Ann."

If Ben intended to divert Baird, he succeeded. Baird moved restlessly,
then got up. "He's in there a long time!" he said through his teeth.

He went to the door and looked out at the misty morning. It had been a
steady, deep-sinking rain, like the satisfying answer to a prayer, and
now the sun was fighting the steaming moisture, trying to work its
vivifying will upon the growing things; in an hour's time it would
triumphantly climb the heavens.

Ben looked at Baird's drooping shoulders. The boy was almost falling
from fatigue. He was certainly a "cool-head," but a boy, nevertheless; a
young fellow experiencing his first big trouble, and not knowing just
what to make of it. He loved Ann completely, he had shown that, a
somewhat astonishing thing in one of his rough-and-ready sort, Ben
thought. If the doctor brought them bad news, they were both going to
suffer.

Baird straightened and turned. "He's coming," he said.

Ben rose uncertainly to his feet. "You go ask him," he returned in his
deepest growl.

But Baird was already on his way. The doctor's buggy had come into view,
and Ben watched Baird go. He peered intently at the group, the doctor
bent forward a little and Baird standing with one hand on the dashboard,
as if for support.... The buggy moved on, and, for a moment, Ben could
not make out whether Baird was returning laggingly or not. Then he saw
that he came with head up, and Ben stopped swaying.

Baird's tired eyes were alight. "Ben, he says there's no serious injury,
just a severe shock. It was the concussion made her unconscious so long.
He said she might never have come out from it, that many don't, but that
she had. And he says her spine's all right." It was the fear that had
harried them both, and to which neither had referred.

"Um!" said Ben. It was an expressive monosyllable.

The two looked at each other in the way usual with men when uplifted and
yet held by awkwardness.

"I'm going to the club now," Baird said.

And Ben asked as prosaically, "Where's your horse?"

"I left him in the doctor's stable--I don't mind walking.... I'll come
over this afternoon." And he went.

Ben stood for a time, considering, and the color that for a few moments
had dulled the patches on his face gradually faded. One trouble had been
lifted from his mind, but it was crowded with others. He was thinking of
Judith Westmore--and intently of Coats Penniman. Sue had done her best,
and he had listened without questioning, but she had not deceived his
intelligence. Ann had told him that they had found Garvin's letters.
Coats' sudden going and his failure to return were curious things. Was
it possible that he had been mistaken? And that he had misled Judith?...
If he had, he had unwittingly saved a Penniman at a pretty big price to
a Westmore.

Ben was thinking anxiously of the future.



XXXV

WAITING


The middle of June brought hot days and unrefreshing nights to the
Ridge, frequent rains and steaming heat, and yet Baird stayed on. He was
comparatively idle now, for he had done about all he could in the
Southeast for his firm. Dempster needed him in the West; any day the
summons might come.

Baird could not and would not go until Ann was on the way to recovery.
It was three weeks since her accident and yet he had not been allowed to
see her; she had been too ill. Coats Penniman had returned to the farm
the day after the Westmore tragedy, and had immediately sent for a city
specialist, who had simply confirmed what the Ridge doctor had said,
that there was no injury except the shock to Ann's entire nervous
system. She had youth in her favor, but, at best, nervous prostration
was a slow matter. Rest and freedom from worry of any sort was his
prescription, the usual prescription.

Coats and Sue and Ben, and Baird also, knew why Ann was so lifeless,
that she was not only ill from shock, but sick with grief as well. Sue
had talked to Ann, affectionately and pityingly, and Coats had shown
Ann far more paternal tenderness than he had expressed in all the
seventeen years past; Ann was surrounded by kindness, but she remained
lifeless, too weak to walk, too weak to talk much, even to Ben, though
he was her constant companion, her nurse, in reality, for his seemed to
be the only presence that did not tire her. The sight, even the sound,
of her grandfather made her eyes dilate dangerously. The attentions of
her family appeared to exhaust her; she could not sleep when they were
with her.

Very little of the talk and excitement over the Westmore tragedy
filtered to Ann. Ben told her a little about Judith's and the entire
Westmore connection's quiet acceptance of an overwhelming trouble. The
day following the tragedy, the city papers had given accounts of the
occurrence that carefully avoided any mention of the Westmore family's
inherited misfortune which was being openly discussed both in the city
and on the Ridge. Colonel Dickenson had given to his friends in the city
the only reason the family could assign for Edward's act, the same
reason Mr. Copeley had given to Baird, and their explanation of Garvin's
fate; a frantic haste to reach Westmore, and the condition of the
Post-Road bridge.

For a time the Ridge had buzzed with comments: the Ridge had always
known that the family misfortune would reveal itself in another
Westmore, and for Garvin they had terse sentences: a reckless dissipated
man, what else could you expect? A dash in an automobile on a black
night and over such roads as theirs! The Ridge had always known that he
would come to some such end. Ben was questioned by every one he met, and
talked with apparent frankness of his connection with the tragedy. Baird
had said little, but had listened intently to the Ridge gossip. When it
was apparent that no one knew of Ann's connection with the Westmore
brothers, he breathed more freely. Ben was keeping his secret well.
Baird's own surmises he kept strictly to himself.

Coats Penniman had very little to say to any one--except Sue--there were
no secrets between them. They had come together, those two; mutual
distress had united them. It was known now on the Ridge that they would
be married as soon as Coats' daughter was well. Coats went about the
farm working hard, as usual. He had carried his arm in a sling for some
days, then had discarded it. He had always been a silent man, he was
more silent than usual, that was all.

Sue alone knew what weighed on his mind. His most constant thought was
of Ann, and how best to help her. It seemed best to leave her to Ben.
Sue knew how acutely Coats was suffering, and she clung to him with the
greater devotion.

During the last of the three anxious weeks, Ann had talked more with
Ben, and after that she gained a little strength. Ben wished that she
would weep; her calmness was unnatural.

Ann's stoicism frightened Sue. "I'm afraid of it," she was driven to say
to Coats.

The furrows in Coats' forehead deepened, but he said quietly, "Don't
worry, Sue. There's plenty of good sane blood in Ann. Just wait and let
time help her."

Baird also was anxiously waiting. Every day of that three weeks he had
stopped at the Penniman house to inquire about Ann. Often he rode on to
Westmore and spent the evening with Judith. Though urged by the whole
connection, Judith had refused to leave Westmore, even for a day. She
had faced God's half-acre, faced the present and the future with the
same undaunted spirit with which she had faced the difficult past. She
had taken up Edward's interests; she rode about Westmore like any
capable overseer, and her evenings she spent seated beneath the Westmore
portraits.

She was always at home to Baird, and Westmore seemed to Baird much as it
had been. Save for Judith's black gown, there were few signs of
mourning. Judith bore herself spiritedly, was the same fluent speaker,
and charming, as always. If Baird had not noticed her expression at
times, when she was off guard, he might have thought her heartless. He
knew that, in her way, she was suffering as keenly as Ann. Her manner to
Baird was a mixture of friendly interest and something deeper, a tacit
recognition of their former relations, and as tacit a disclaimer of any
expectations.

Baird was in many respects the "cool-head" Ben Brokaw thought him. So
long as his own feelings were clearly defined, he felt no hesitation in
going to Westmore. On the first occasion when Judith said, "You are not
looking well, Nickolas," he had answered without preamble or apology,
"You know, I suppose, how fond I am of Ann Penniman? She's very ill--I
doubt sometimes whether she'll pull through. I'm not feeling
particularly happy, Judith."

If Judith had rehearsed her answer many times, it could not have been
more equably delivered: "Yes, I know you are. Ben tells me that it was a
fall in the barn, and I'm sorry both for you and for her. But she's
young and strong--she will get well."

"I don't know. I hope so," Baird said.

The drop in his voice had told Judith far more than his avowal, and she
could not endure it in silence. "Ann was fond of my brother--of both my
brothers," she said dryly.

Baird had winced; so she knew all that history, doubtless far better
than he did. Then his jaw set, and he quoted her own words, "But she's
young and so am I. And as I'm good at both fighting and waiting, I
generally win out."

"I hope you will," Judith said, with an instant return to her usual
manner. "There is no one whom I'd rather see happy."

After the first flash of anger Baird forgave her the thrust. He had been
rather brutal. Still it had been a necessary brutality; unless there was
a distinct understanding, he could not continue his visits. Baird judged
that Judith would not again swerve from the attitude she had adopted,
and he was right. He genuinely liked and admired Judith Westmore. He
admired the strength of will that enabled her to go on playing the role
she had chosen; she was a pretty splendid sort. And he was profoundly
sorry for her; she'd had a beastly hard row to hoe, and had hoed it
well. He took off his hat to her!

But Baird did not take his depression and his fears to Judith. When he
was "down," he rode for miles into the country, often until late at
night. He thought continuously of Ann. He was convinced that she had
been a more potential factor in the Westmore tragedy than any one
dreamed. Baird wondered endlessly whether Ann was not suffering as much
from remorse as from grief. He had long ago decided that she was both
elusive and compelling, the type that gives little and receives much,
the sort of woman who drives a man to fight for all he receives.
Certainly two men had struggled for her, and, Baird was convinced, had
died because of her. And he himself! He had fought for her against death
itself, and was still fighting.... Well, he liked to fight; he had never
treasured anything that came easy.

From the beginning of time men have yielded to the women they think
potential, a fascinated interest that may or may not be love. Certainly
when coupled with desire it is an irresistible force. When allied to
tenderness, it is the blind worship which has urged men to most of the
chivalrously romantic acts in history.

Baird told himself that he had sensed the potential in Ann, on the day
when he had captured a kiss. She had drawn him away from Judith and had
compelled him even when he knew perfectly well that her thoughts were
with one or the other of those two. She had compelled him to put up the
stiffest fight he had ever made, an actual grapple with death. It might
seem to others that he was infatuated with a girl of no importance
whatever, but he knew better: Ann's surroundings were an accident--by
right of innate superiority, she belonged to Judith's class, and Edward
had realized that, too. No, he was held and compelled and overwhelmingly
in love with a potential woman.

Perhaps Baird was simply laboring under the hallucination usual with
lovers, which urges them to swathe the objects of their affection with
an interest quite indiscernible to the sane-minded. Possibly the tragedy
in which Ann was involved and the fact that she almost certainly owed
her life to him had touched an imaginative strain in him. It is more
likely that, like Edward, he was a shrewd judge of character and that,
despite her youth and her simple rearing, Ann did possess potentiality;
that eventually she might even emerge a gifted woman.

However that may be, certainly no lover came into the presence of the
woman he loved with more profound sensations than stirred Baird when at
last Ben brought him to Ann. "You can come on in," Ben said. "She says
she wants to thank you."

When Baird's eyes leaped to her, he lost the power of speech, for
illness and grief had worked havoc: they had thinned her face until it
looked small and pinched, had set immense circles about her eyes,
destroyed the softness of lips and chin; her hair appeared to be the
only unchanged thing about her, a black mass crowning the pillow.

Ann lifted to his clasp a hand that seemed as fragile as a bird's claw,
but her voice had not changed, the old soft drawl enlivened by the
well-remembered touches of coquetry and aloofness: "Ben says you saved
my life--and I can't ever pay off that debt, can I? Not unless I save
yours some time. I'll have to be always watching out for the chance, but
all I can do now is just to say, 'Thank you--thank you very much,' an'
not talk any more about it."

A light answer was quite beyond Baird. For almost the first time in his
life he was pretty thoroughly tongue-tied. "I wish you weren't so ill,"
he said simply.

She smiled at him, a parting of colorless lips over white teeth. "Ben
says young things get well quicker than old ones. He says funny things
to me, an' some of them I reckon are wise things. He said yesterday,
that, if a man had any heart left at all after he had done playing with
it, he didn't really know nothin' about what kind of a heart it was till
he was forty, an' that a woman, whether she had a heart or not, 'never
knows nothin' about it at all.'"

Baird was permeated by an aching disappointment. Ann had seen what lay
in his eyes, and on the instant had donned a mask and interposed a
shield. She had confessed to a debt, that was all. She wanted none of
him; Judith could not have conveyed the impression any more skilfully.

From somewhere within himself Baird managed to bring forth what strove
to be a light sentence: "Ben's a pretty good second father to you, isn't
he?"

"Yes--I reckon he is--" Then, suddenly, her mask slipped. Her eyes
widened, filled to overflowing with grief and pain--then closed. The
tears gathered beneath her lashes and rolled down her cheeks, until a
storm of sobs caught her and shook her.

Shocked and bewildered, Baird bent over her. He was never able to
remember just what he said, only that he tried to lift her up and that
Ben made him put her down, then drew him out of the room.

"She ain't fit to talk!" Ben said forcibly. "Jest you go on along, an'
come another time!"

Baird went out and rode for miles, until long after dark. He would have
carried his wretchedness to bed with him had he not returned through the
Penniman place. Ben was lounging by the gate.

"Well?" Baird asked dully.

"She's right smart better," Ben growled.

"She _is_!"

"Um."

Then Ben explained. "Women's nerves is like plants--they needs water.
I've been wishin' this long time that Ann's would get rained on....
She's jest naturally cried herself to sleep."

"And you think it's done her good?" Baird asked doubtfully.

"I do.... When she asks me to fetch her the lookin'-glass, I'll rest
easy."

Baird felt rather than saw the twinkle in Ben's eyes, and he laughed
from sheer relief, the first time he had laughed in weeks.

He went on to the club and wrote to Dempster, asking him for a month's
vacation. "You see," Baird wrote, "the girl I love and mean to marry--if
I can get her--has been next door to death. There seems to be a chance
for her now, and a month will mean a lot to me."



XXXVI

"IT LIES WITH ANN"


Baird was granted his holiday. He would have taken it, despite
consequences, but it was better to have gained it in this way. Dempster,
who was a rough but kindly sort, had written: "All right, take the
month, but don't you fail me in August. Make the best of it and bring
her back with you--we'll welcome her."

Baird had laid the letter down with a groan. "Bring her back with me! If
he knew how hard I'm up against it!" Nevertheless, he made his daily
visit to the Penniman house.

Ann was certainly improving. By the first of July she was able to sit on
the porch, even to walk as far as the terraces. But not with Baird.
Baird was very certain that neither Coats nor Sue nor Ben was
responsible for his not being allowed to see Ann again. He felt that all
three were friendly to him and to his suit, for there was no mistaking
his intention.

"He's desperately in love with her," Sue said to Coats. "I'm sorry for
him when I have to tell him that Ann doesn't feel well enough to see
him. It hurts me the way he looks at me."

"Yes, he's wretched," Coats agreed, "but I've nothing to say one way or
the other. It lies entirely with Ann. He's a good sort and he's
open-minded, but there are things may daunt even him. Ann will have to
decide for herself. I know her a deal better than I did, Sue--I was all
wrong in my estimate of her. She's too proud and strong-willed for any
man to capture easily. I've been a poor enough father to her in the
past, the best I can do now is to hold my peace."

Possibly Ben knew what disposal Ann meant to make of Baird; he knew more
about Ann's thoughts than any one else did. At any rate, it was he who,
on the Fourth of July, told Baird that Ann was feeling well enough to
see him. He appeared at the club and delivered Ann's message:

"Ann wanted I should tell you she was able to see you," he announced.

Baird flushed crimson. "Shall I go now?" he asked hurriedly.

"Wait a bit--till the sun's gone," Ben said. "She'll be out to the porch
then." He looked grave. "Mr. Baird, jest you remember that Ann's been
through a deal, an' don't you overdo her." He fumbled his cap
uncomfortably. "When I were young I was always in a turrible hurry--I
never reckoned on time. An' I were awful decided in my mind about
everything. Now I don't do no decidin' to speak of--I lets time do it."

Ben's remarks were not altogether clear to Baird, but the first part of
his speech was easy to grasp. "I'll try not to tire her," he promised.

"All right," Ben said, and departed.

Baird watched him rolling off to the woods, like a bear freed from human
interference. His oddly bent body suggested a craving for the woods and
a thirst for running water. He had been caged for a long time; Baird
guessed that it had worn upon him; he doubted whether any one but Ann
could have compelled Ben to do it.

To fill in time, Baird walked to the Penniman house, loitering along
beneath the cedars. He was reflecting that love did queer things to a
man; it could strengthen his body into iron, make him fight like mad, or
turn him as weak as a baby and as humble as a slave; weak in the knees
and sick about the heart.... But, if only for a moment, he could hold
Ann in his arms ... and she should cling to him.... He stopped, shaken
from head to foot at the thought of possible response.

The thing swept him and shook him.... Then he walked on. He was a fool;
he was forgetting. The best he could hope for was a little kindness. She
meant to be kind, or she wouldn't have sent for him.

It was not twilight yet, the sunset was too brilliant, and fear of not
finding Ann on the porch made him come slowly up the road. When he saw
her white dress, he strode along. He was grateful to the glow, for he
could see her face. It was not so thin as when he had last seen her,
and her eyes were less shadowed; a little of the old-time softness had
returned to her lips and chin. But she was still wan and thin and
fragile enough to remind him of Ben's warning. So help him! he'd behave
more sensibly than on the last occasion! He could even force himself to
be banal.

"It's good of you to see me," he said when he reached her. "Are you
really feeling well enough to talk?"

She smiled up at him, and her smile made her look more like the Ann he
remembered. "I can stand up, but I won't," she said with a touch of her
old-time gaiety. "My feet feel queer an' far away when I do."

"Stand up! I should think not!... May I sit here on the step, where I
sat the first time we ever really talked together? That was about a
hundred years ago, I think." Baird ventured this reference to the past.

Ann answered gravely. "A little less than two months ago--I was thinking
of it to-day."

Baird chose to consider the speech propitious, and he ventured further.
"I remember you gave me a definition of love, and then couldn't remember
just what you'd said.... I've always remembered that definition of
yours."

"I don't remember now what it was I said. I know, though, that I'm not
wise about such things." She spoke with a quiver of feeling, and looked
beyond him, at the sunset.

Baird did not dare to say one of the things that crowded to his lips. He
decided to say, "Wisdom never proceeds from a vacant head, and what you
said was a bit of wisdom. I haven't forgotten a word of it."

Ann moved restlessly. She made no reply, but Baird saw the color tinge
her cheeks. He had purposely chosen the top step of the porch, for then
he could look up into her face, and, surreptitiously, he could hold a
bit of her dress. There was comfort in the contact. He felt queerly
nervous, for it was so evident that he was not talking to the same girl
who had thought aloud while she stared up at the stars. There was a
disconcerting air of maturity about Ann.

Somewhere above them a locust started its song and Ann withdrew her eyes
from the distance and looked down at Baird's steady upward gaze. "Do you
hear that?" she asked.

Her look, veiled and troubled and at the same time observant of the
changes the last weeks had wrought upon him, had no more connection with
her question than Baird's eager gaze had with his answer. He had grown
thinner, his cheek-bones more prominent and his jaw less heavy; he
looked more nervously and less brutally forceful.

"That fellow's retiring late--they've been winding their watches under
my window all afternoon." He replied, while his blue-gray eyes, alight
and questioning, searched her face: "I went for a walk this morning,
beyond the creek, to where they're cutting grain, and the grasshoppers
were everywhere, grinding their legs as if getting ready for a busy
summer. You know the big flat rock, down by the creek, in the woods near
the Back Road? I found a tree-toad in the chinkapin bushes there, and
two little red and yellow turtles in the creek. I brought them all home
with me and played with them a while.... You see, I've been driven to
nature for comfort--while I've been waiting for a sight of you."

Ann had grown dead white; her eyes had shifted to her lap, to her
tightly clasped hands. "Locusts and grasshoppers coming so early mean--a
dry summer--" she said with difficulty. Then more clearly, "I wanted you
to come as soon as I was able--because I had to ask you something--" She
stopped.

"Well?" Baird breathed.

She met his vivid look, shrank a little under it, but did not look away.
"Mr. Baird, I know why you are staying here--an' I'm sorry. It's no
use--I'll only hurt you more and more. You must go away."

Baird sat motionless, his eyes blank.

Ann went on more softly. "You've saved my life--you've done much more
than that, an' the only kindness I can do you is just to tell you to go.
If I let you go on caring for me, I'd be doing you a wicked wrong."

Baird flung back his head; color and life and the urge to fight had come
back to him. "Suppose you let me decide what's best for me! How can you
judge of the future? Am I hateful or repellent to you?... I don't
believe it. You like me, and in the end you'll love me."

"I can't ever love you," Ann said firmly.

He took her hands. "Ann, give me a little time, dear? Just a fighting
chance?... That's all I ask."

"No. I've been responsible for trouble enough--I can't do it."

"Why can't you? What possible harm can it do for you simply to be kind
to me? Give me a chance?"

She was silent, trembling and breathing quickly.

Baird bent and kissed her hands, put his cheek against them. "Ann, I
love you--I never dreamed that I could love any one as I love you.
You've gone deep down in me and nestled against things I didn't know
were there. I'll be patient--if only you'll give me a word of hope."

"I can't--I can't give you hope when there isn't any!" Ann said with
sudden sharpness. "If you asked me for anything else in the world I'd
give it to you, but you want a thing I can't give!"

Baird dragged himself up and stood with his back to her. "You hurt me--"
he said through his teeth.

"I'd have to hurt you--like this--every time you came," Ann said with a
drop into huskiness. "That's why I'm beggin' you to go an' stop thinking
about me. I've got to go on livin' whether I want to or not, an' I
couldn't bear it."

Baird turned around. "I'll go," he said. "I'll go to-morrow.... But I'm
coming back, Ann.... I'll keep on coming to the end of time. I put my
life into you that night--you're part of me. It isn't a debt you owe me,
it's just that I belong to you and you to me!" He spoke with passionate
conviction.

Ann said nothing; she sat with eyes closed.

Then he said thickly, "I've made you ill--is there any one here to look
after you?"

"Yes--Aunt Sue--"

He bent down, took her face between his hands and kissed her lips. "I'm
going now. I had to say that last--it's true."



XXXVII

COLD CASH


"July, August and September--an endless number of Julys, Augusts and
Septembers as futile as these last three months have been. That's my
future, I suppose--if I go on with it," Baird said to himself. He had
just come up through the Mine Banks Road, had crossed the County Road,
and had turned into the long winding approach to Westmore.

Baird drew rein and looked back at the looming Mine Banks. Autumn had
wielded a full brush, splashing the country with October colors, reds,
warm-browns, yellows, rioting in gaudy pre-senile triumph over the
resigned duns of field and pasture and the stately indifference of the
never-changing cedars and pines. The bald iron-reddened forehead of the
Banks, forever ferocious over man's vandalism, glared as angrily upon
autumn's saturnalia as it had upon spring's tender eagerness. The
venturesome tendrils of wild-grape and Virginia creeper, tolerated by
the evergreens, had not dared to wind themselves about the Banks'
burning forehead, and, now, unlike the more courteous evergreens, it
supported none of all this brilliant decay. Not even the sumac,
inconsequent reveler, had planted its crimson torch upon the Banks' bald
head; only the impalpable blue haze, like the courageous wind and the
rain, the sun and the snow, ventured to touch it.

Baird's eyes traveled from the Mine Banks to the pastures, then to the
brilliant semicircle of woodland that curtained the Penniman house. "If
I go on with it," he repeated. He turned and faced Westmore; spoke to
his horse and they moved on.

Nickolas Baird, who loved to fight and to conquer, owned himself beaten.
He had kept his promise to Ann: he had gone west to Dempster and had
worked indefatigably throughout July, August and September, and, now, in
October, they were sending him to France.

Throughout the first two months, he had written frequently to Ann, long
letters sometimes, a pretty complete self-expression. She had not
answered; it had been a little like writing to the dead. Early in the
summer, when terribly anxious over Ann's health, he had written to Coats
Penniman, and had received a courteous but reserved reply: "Sue and I
wish you well," Coats had written. "We have always thought highly of
you. All I can say regarding Ann is that she is steadily improving in
health. Yes, she has received your letters, for I have heard her speak
of them. Cold comfort this had been to Baird."

Early in August it had occurred to Baird to write Ben. The epistle he
had received in return had won Baird's lasting gratitude. There was a
big soul in Ben Brokaw, tenderness and loyalty and sincerity. Baird had
had some conception of the patient effort Ben had expended upon that
letter; he could vision the huge creature compelling himself to chair
and table, the dictionary on his knee, his hairy paw cramped by a pen.
Ben had told him some of the things he was yearning to know: quite
unimportant things Ann said or did, sustenance, nevertheless, to a lover
as starved as Baird was. Among other things, Ben wrote:

     "She's not herself yet, but she's prettier nor ever, though,
     more growed up and stately."

Baird had not asked why Ann would not even acknowledge his letters, and
Ben had not referred in any way to what lay between Ann and Baird, yet
his entire letter had breathed understanding and sympathy. It had
emboldened Baird to ask, "Ben, you know Ann better than any one
else--tell me, is there no hope at all for me?"

Ben's answer had been cryptic:

     "About your hopes--I ain't no wise judge of women, but I've
     noticed that some of them is just naturally born giving
     hearted, and some has to grow up to it. The kind that has to
     grow to it generally loves most to be loved. They seem to grow
     up to loving by being loved, that is, if they're loved the
     right way."

Baird had been thrown upon his own resources, as he had been when he had
struggled for Ann's life. He had succeeded then in infusing her with his
vitality, why could he not infuse love into her now? Those letters of
Baird's to Ann were vividly honest self-expressions; the best in him
went hand in hand with acute physical craving.

Then, in September, he had received a staggering blow. Ben wrote:

     "Something has happened you'll want to know about. Edward
     Westmore's will has been made known and it's sure that he's
     left Ann a considerable sum of money. Westmore and one-fourth
     of his money he left to Judith, and the other three-fourths to
     be divided equal between Garvin and Sarah and Ann, Sarah's to
     be held in trust. In case either Garvin or Sarah should die,
     their portion was to be divided equal between Judith and Ann,
     so Ann gets half of Garvin's money right now, as well as her
     own. Edward's will states distinct that he is giving a Penniman
     this money because of wrongs done the Penniman family by the
     Westmore family in the past.

     "There's great talk on the Ridge about it, and there's those
     who says that Judith sure will try to break the will on the
     ground that Edward couldn't have been of sound mind--that the
     way he did for hisself showed that, and that the will were made
     just before he died. But I know that Ann will get her money.
     It's a big thing for Ann, and I thought you'd want to know
     about it."

Ben had also told Baird that, a few days before, Coats and Sue had been
married. "Seems like a little happiness has come to the Penniman family
at last," Ben wrote.

Nickolas Baird was a thoroughgoing modern with a high appreciation of
the value of money. He came of a money-winning and money-worshiping
race. However, he was sturdy in his ambitions, for he had never
considered marrying money, and had no particular desire to have it given
to him. It was making money that fascinated him.

Ben's news had cut the ground from beneath Baird, for Ann Penniman,
penniless and tied to the farm, had been a possibility; Ann, independent
and with the world of men from which to choose, was another matter.
Baird had been unable to write to Ann after that. He was handicapped by
as complete a depression as had overtaken him after he had won her back
to life. He had been straining to get a hearing; suddenly it seemed
futile to attempt anything at all; she was beyond him.

     But he wrote to Ben: "Thank you for telling me of Ann's good
     fortune. I suppose I ought to be glad, but I'm not. I feel more
     as if I'd had a blow on the head. I can't write to Ann or do
     anything--she's passed beyond my reach. I've nothing to offer
     her now--to save my neck, I couldn't clean up more than about
     twenty thousand--that and my salary. When I make my pile, I
     suppose I'll have courage to try again--if somebody doesn't
     get ahead of me, or if in the meantime I don't fall for some
     woman whose love is big enough for both of us."

Baird was in exactly this frame of mind as he rode up to Westmore under
the October sunshine. He had fallen hard, down upon the worldly earth;
upon old and familiar thoughts, trite aspirations and desires, cast
there by the vision of Ann buttressed by money. The sweet thing that had
permeated him had grown sick when frowned upon by cold cash. There was
an ugly vacant ache in him.

"Why not?" he asked himself, as he looked at Westmore, its stuccoed
length mottled by splashes of red and yellow, clinging vines and
low-hung branches. Judith had never failed him. All that long summer her
letters had come regularly, warmed by interest, asking nothing of him,
simply giving, giving--all she felt she would be allowed to give. He had
not told her that he was going to Europe. He had not even told her that
he was coming out to the Ridge, for he had decided to keep away from
Ann.

Then, suddenly, he had changed his mind. He would go to New York by the
southern route; give himself the comfort of seeing Judith. But he would
not see Ann.



XXXVIII

THE REVELATION


It seemed very natural to be welcomed by Hetty and shown into the
drawing-room. "Miss Judith, she'll be surprised!" Hetty exclaimed.
"Lord, Mr. Baird, you done growed thin!"

"I've had too happy a summer to grow fat, Hetty."

"Why, you ain't got married, is you?" Hetty asked seriously.

"Far from it, Hetty--you run along and tell Miss Judith I'm here. I'm in
a hurry, for I have to get back to town this evening."

Baird looked about the beautiful old room. How well he knew it! It was
Judith's rightful setting; he was glad she possessed the place. The fact
that she was a rich woman did not trouble him at all; if he loved her
greatly, he supposed it would.

Judith came presently, her light quick step in the hall, then her actual
presence, welcome in every movement, her cheeks warm and eyes very
bright. She was still in black, but Baird thought he had never seen her
look more youthful. Or was it simply because he felt so many years older
than when he last saw her?

"You here, Nickolas?" she said.

Baird took the hands she held out to him, clasped them firmly. "Yes--to
say good-by for a time--I'm sailing for France day after to-morrow. I've
snatched a few minutes this afternoon because I wanted to see you."

There were swift thoughts surging through Judith's brain, but her answer
was spontaneous enough: "That was good of you!"

"Yes, kind to myself," Baird said lightly. "I felt urged to come."

Judith's smiling eyes had taken instant note of his appearance, and her
keen perception was busied over him. He lacked buoyancy, lacked it
utterly; every trace of boyishness was gone. He had aged, hardened. He
had the air of a man who looks coolly and joylessly upon his future.

Judith had learned nothing from Baird's letters. He had left the Ridge
very suddenly; something had gone wrong. Probably Coats had intervened,
or, possibly, when she had discovered herself an heiress, Ann had failed
him. Judith had the jealous woman's bitter estimate of the girl who had
brought both her brothers under her sway, and had entangled Baird also.
The intensity of detestation she felt for Ann sometimes sickened Judith.
That Ann had won part of Edward's fortune had ground Judith's
detestation to a dagger's point.

Under her brilliant exterior Judith was quivering. She had longed for
the sight and touch of this man and, but for Ann, she might have
recaptured him. Yet she had refrained from dealing the girl a blow. For
months Judith's soul had been crisscrossed by passions and burdened by
secrets. And Judith was in revolt. In revolt against conventions,
against her rearing, against herself; against everything. She was
typical of many women of her period; the restless craving woman of 1905
was at heart a revolutionary, and ten years of revolt have molded her
into the feminist of to-day.

Judith had been resolutely considering her future. What did life, lived
as she was living it, offer her? Unproductive, undeveloping middle-years
and a solitary old age. She felt that she had paid her last debt to
Westmore, and that the future lay before her, to be lived in different
fashion--if she had the courage to make the break. She had decided to
make it.

And in her visioning of the future Nickolas Baird was a prominent
figure. He was an ambitious man, vastly capable, and destined for big
things, and she could help him. He would not marry Ann; she felt certain
that she could prevent it; it was her duty to prevent it. He would
recover from his infatuation, for he was not the sort of man who would
be held very long by an infatuation.

Judith had been on the point of writing to Baird her momentous
decisions, and in coming to her he had given her an unexpected
opportunity. The smile did not leave her lips. "I have made all the
arrangements, Nickolas--I intended to write to you about it before I
left--that I am going to Paris, too--in a few days."

"_You_ leave Westmore!" Baird was too much surprised to express
pleasure.

"Yes, I am leaving Westmore--and I doubt whether I shall ever return to
it." Her color had risen; though she smiled, a little of the bitterness
she felt edged her words.

"I imagine it must be desolate for you here--but you, out of this
setting--I can't conceive of it exactly." Then it occurred to Baird what
this move of hers would mean to them both; a continued intimacy,
certainly. The vague motives that had brought him to her prompted the
quick addition: "We'll meet in Paris then, Judith--we'll see it
together."

Though undefined, there was a suggestion both in his words and his
manner that affected Judith curiously, urging her to a sudden defiant
candor. What had her restrained, conventional life won for her? Nothing
more than expressions of gallant admiration; never the vital gripping
thing. "My setting!" she said scornfully. "A woman reared as I have been
has no more freedom of will than a walled-in prisoner! She's a perfect
slave, bound to the past and handed over hand-tied into the future. From
now on, I'm going to live. I am going to know countries, and nations,
and women and men--more as a man knows them. I'm going to think as I
please and live as I please. Not even the past is going to dictate my
future!" She had flung out her resolve, body tense and head high.

Baird studied her; she had both surprised and amused him. Though not
widely experienced, he had met this sort of revolt degenerated into mere
free-living. Baird considered himself broad-minded, but he had not
passed beyond the conception that a woman's assertion of free thought
and action invariably meant that she was considering--as he would have
expressed it to himself--"going on the loose."

But Judith Westmore, with her monumental pride and her immense
self-respect and her narrowly conventional rearing, talking of becoming
a free-lance! She didn't know what she was talking about; she could no
more do it than she could fly. She would see Paris--the world and its
peoples, for that matter--and "_men_," as conventionally as her class
and kind always saw them. She was simply worn into exasperation by
Westmore troubles--and her love for him. The thing was laughable--and a
little sad.

It was Baird's very genuine admiration and liking for Judith that was
responsible for this conclusion. To almost any other attractive woman
who had tempted his present uncertain mood, he would have answered, and
meaningly, "Well, why not?" But to Judith he said kindly and amusedly,
"I don't wonder you want to throw all this off and get out into
breathing space. It'll do you good to get a change. I don't believe
you'll paint Paris a vivid red, though, Judith, even if I tried to help
you do it."

It was evident that he had not taken her seriously, and Judith decided
that it was as well that he had not done so; she had said much more than
she had intended to say. The future was before them, and he would
discover soon enough that she was in deadly earnest. He would find a
changed woman when they met in Paris.

She regained her usual bright manner. "I'm glad you're not too shocked
to continue our acquaintance. I hope you'll come to see me in Paris, and
then you can tell me what you think of my new way of life."

Baird smiled. "Of course I'll come."

She was very beautiful as she stood there, head high and with the color
of defiance still warming her cheeks. The ugly ache in Baird reminded
him that, at a few words from him, her structure of independence would
crumble. She would marry him to-morrow if he asked her, and give him an
immense devotion. His flush deepened into a dull red.

Judith wondered of what he was thinking so absorbedly. Of Ann? Mentally,
she had passed on to the other decision she had reached. "Nickolas, you
knew, of course, that Edward remembered Ann Penniman very generously in
his will?" she asked.

Baird started and stiffened. "Yes, so I understand."

"Do you still care about her?... I wouldn't ask unless I had a good
reason."

Baird had not realized that anything could hurt so keenly as this
questioning. His thoughts of a moment ago had vanished at the first
mention of Ann's name. "Yes, I love her just the same."

"But things haven't gone very smoothly, I am afraid, Nickolas?"

"No--they haven't.... I love Ann--she doesn't love me."

"I doubt whether she is capable of loving anybody, very much," Judith
said quietly. "I hear that she is going to take her little fortune and
leave the Ridge--educate herself; first of all, for she is ambitious....
You mean to see her before you go, I suppose?"

"Yes."

Baird did not know why he said it; he had meant to go without seeing
Ann. But, from the depths of him, the "Yes" came, resonant with
determination.

Judith grew dead white, for what she meant to say next was of tragically
serious import. And it was not jealousy alone that actuated her. She
spoke very slowly and clearly. "I'm sorry to hurt you, Nickolas--I'm
certain you don't know--but if you really mean to persist, if you intend
to try to persuade Ann to marry you, you ought to know. She may risk not
telling you, she may not tell any man whom she wants to marry, and let
him in for disgrace in the future, for any amount of undreamed-of
trouble.... Ann is not Coats Penniman's daughter, Nickolas.... Edward,
my brother, was Ann's father."

Judith was looking directly into Baird's eyes, and she saw how curiously
they widened and grayed. She watched the blood drain from his face. In
spite of the passions warring in her, Judith's love for Baird was a very
complete thing. She suffered as she watched him. She felt that she had
hurt him terribly.

Baird moved at last, looked down at the floor. "I can't realize it--at
once--all it means--" he muttered.

Judith continued. "You see, Nickolas, Edward was only a boy, he was only
twenty-one, and he was madly in love with Marian Penniman--and she with
him. She was a very pretty girl, with Ann's same dangerous allure about
her. You know the family quarrel? They met secretly--my father knew
nothing about it, neither did Mr. Penniman--until it was too late.
Edward was a nice boy, he loved Marian and he wanted to marry her. There
was fearful trouble. Mr. Penniman and my father quarreled violently. My
father swore that no Westmore should marry a Penniman, and Mr. Penniman
was as determined that no daughter of his should owe anything to a
Westmore. Edward would have run away with her if he could, but Mr.
Penniman guarded his house with a shotgun, and between them all they
married Marian to her cousin, Coats Penniman, just to save her good
name. Coats loved her--he honestly wanted to help her, so it was a
marriage only in name. It was a wretched business. It killed Marian, I
believe, and it almost killed Edward." Judith's voice quivered with deep
feeling. "Poor Edward!... And, in the end, he's sacrificed for his
family's sins--"

Baird had heard Judith's explanation, his senses mechanically grasped
what she said, while he pondered the thing which was of such tremendous
import to him. When Judith had finished, he was still pale, but
collected enough.

He looked very steadily at Judith when he asked his questions. "Did
Garvin know Ann's relationship to him?"

"No. Mr. Penniman, Coats and Sue, and Edward and myself--we were the
only ones who knew.... And Ben Brokaw knew. I think Ben guessed rather
than knew--way back in the beginning. And from the beginning he's been
like a father to Ann, I mean in feeling--much more so than Coats."

"And Ann didn't know?"

"Not till Edward told her. Ben says Edward told her, for the first time,
on the afternoon of his death.... I don't know just what Edward had in
mind for her--certainly to take her away from the farm, and perhaps to
adopt her. I know he would never have made the truth known--he would
guard the Westmore name too carefully for that."

There was coldness in Judith's assertion, a discounting of Ann. Judith
Westmore had the southern aristocrat's pitiless contempt for the
illegitimate. It was the heritage of the negro, the curse of the South,
but why think about it? Nothing would have compelled her to countenance
Ann.

Baird understood, but he made no comment. He prepared to go, and smiled
when he took Judith's hand. "Thank you for telling me--you have done me
a kindness. It's settled that we next meet in Paris, and happily, I
hope.... By the way, I must have your address."

Judith gave it to him. She wished that she could keep him long enough to
smooth away the last few painful moments. It had certainly been a shock
to him, but it would be salutary. He was very cool-headed; he would
think it over, and from all angles; and he would not go to Ann.

When Baird had circled the lawn and had reached the road below, he
looked back. Judith still stood where he had left her, on the steps of
the portico. She waved to him, and he lifted his hat. Then his eyes
traveled over Westmore. It was a beautiful old place.... And the proudly
arched brows of Edward Stratton Westmore, first Westmore of Westmore,
had been transmitted unto Ann!

When he turned to open country, Baird's face was set and resolute.



XXXIX

"WILL YOU GO WITH ME?"


Baird walked slowly down the cedar avenue, for he was waiting. Then he
chose a spot beneath the trees, where the branches hung so low that they
shut out the country, and sat down. By leaning forward he could look up
and down the avenue, otherwise he was shut away from the world, canopied
by a leafy tent. And the evening was closing in early.

Sue had told Baird that Ann would return from the village by way of the
avenue. As he waited, Baird remembered the first time he had ridden up
between the cedars, light-heartedly determined to discover Ann. That had
been a boy's quest. He was still seeking to discover Ann, a man now,
anxious and tensely determined.

It seemed a very long time before he saw her at the end of the avenue,
driving slowly, her cape about her shoulders, but with hood thrown back.
He saw the black and white contrasts of face and hair first, before her
features grew distinct. She was leaning back, with reins lax and eyes
lowered. Even when he came out into the road, she did not look up; he
had time in which to see what the last three months had done to her,
that they had brought back much of the old roundness and softness to
chin and lips, and fulness and warmth to her throat. The beautiful arch
and sweep of her brows, her Westmore inheritance, was even more
pronounced. Ben was right, she had grown more arrestingly beautiful.

Baird let the horse pass him, he was abreast of the buggy when she
looked up and saw him. Her convulsive jerk of the reins stopped the
horse, and Baird came to her, looking directly into her eyes.

"Ann Westmore," he said.

She sat motionless for a full moment, then she answered, very low, "You
know, then."

"And you thought that would matter to me?"

"Yes."

The color swept into his face. "So that's why you sent me away, and
would have none of me all summer!" He drew back. "Will you come with me
now, where I can talk to you, or will you drive on with your Westmore
and Penniman pride and leave me to travel alone?"

Ann looked down at the reins, then up, straight up the avenue, a long
enough moment to vision the future. Her thoughts, whatever they were,
drew the color of surprise from her face. Then she looked at Baird, lips
parted a little and eyes blank, like one frightened by what she had
seen.

"Will you come?" Baird repeated.

"Yes." She dropped the reins and moved vaguely, as if to get out on the
other side, but Baird reached in and lifted her, held her up, as he had
once before, long enough to look steadily into her troubled eyes.

Then he set her down. "Come this way--I'll take my answer, whatever it's
to be, here--not in the middle of the road."

He guided her to the spot he had chosen. "We'll fight it out here," he
said in the same controlled way, though his eyes were alight.

Ann complied in silence, not confusedly, absently rather, as if too
completely engrossed by her thoughts either to speak or to object. She
sat with hands lax and eyes vague.

Baird studied her, trying to determine just how to begin: by telling her
the truth about himself first of all, he decided, though he longed to
set that aside until he had captured the one all-important thing.

He began abruptly. "Judith told me about your father and mother, the
whole history, and I hoped that was the reason you had sent me
away--that you thought it would matter to me.... I can match you history
for history: my father and mother found each other much as yours did, in
spite of their different religions, which was quite as insurmountable a
difficulty as Edward and your mother faced. My mother was a Jewess and
my father an Irish Catholic. They lived together two years, and then,
because I had come, they went before a justice of the peace and gave me
my father's name. To their way of thinking they weren't a bit more
married than they had ever been. Love had married them and they had
clung to each other in spite of everything. I've often thought, when
I've seen the children a loveless marriage has brought into the world,
that I've had the best of it--that those children must be wanting in
some way. I never fully realized how much the mere legality of a
marriage means to people like your people until I listened to Judith
this afternoon.... So, you see, Ann, it doesn't matter to me. It matters
a good deal more to me that you've suffered because of the narrow
prejudices of your people. You told the collie, when you hugged and
kissed him, in the barn, that first day I talked to you, that he and Ben
were the only ones that loved you. You have gone hungry and
thirsty--that's been the trouble with you."

Ann's vagueness had slipped from her; she was quivering from head to
foot. "I know it!" she said. "I'm always wanting to be loved an' trying
to make people love me, and it's led to fearful trouble. It drove Garvin
mad and it took my father--away--from me--" Her voice failed her.

Baird put his arm about her, bent and kissed her hands. "Don't think
about all that, Ann. You love me--I _know_ you do--there's nothing
between us now."

But she held him off. "Yes, there is!... Let me tell you: I let Garvin
love me--I thought for a time that I loved him. But it was just that I
wanted so badly for somebody to love me, an' I know now that the way I
felt to him was like I would have felt if I had known he was my father's
brother--just that I was fond of him an' sorry for him. I had to tell
him so and--" She broke off with a shudder, then went on with head hung.
"I've felt differently to you.... Back at the time you kissed me--I
loved it. When you used to come an' talk to me, even then I liked
you--sitting close by me--even while I was worrying over Garvin an' not
knowing what to do, an' at the same time caring more for Edward than for
any one else in the world, just _feeling_ that he was my father, an' not
knowin' why I loved him so much. That night you met me on the spring
house path and asked me if I was engaged to anybody, I told you I'd
rather you stayed away, because I was angry at myself for feelin' to you
the way I did. I felt _hateful_ caring for three men at the same time,
like I was doing. Then when I read your letters this summer--"

Baird was not to be denied any longer. He pulled her hands from his
shoulders, drew her forcibly into his arms, and lifting her bowed head,
found her lips.

He kissed away resistance, her efforts to speak, plead and demanded
until he won response, arms that circled his neck and clasped him, and
then her long and passionate kiss. Even when her arms slid from his neck
and her head dropped back against his shoulder, he held her imprisoned.
He put back her fallen hair and kissed her brow and her cheek and her
throat, until the chill of something striven for and still unpossessed
touched him.

He looked down at her. "What is it?" he asked. "You love me--why aren't
you happy?"

Her eyes were brimming with tears. "I do love you--but--"

She tried to free herself, and he let her go, for he was sobered by the
pallor that had replaced the hot flush in her cheeks. "What's the
difficulty, Ann--tell me!" he demanded. "It's not going to make any
difference, whatever it is--but tell me."

"It's something I can't tell, but it may bring disgrace on me an' that
will be disgrace on you--if I let you marry me."

"It's nothing you have done--I know that!" Baird said quickly. "What
other people have done doesn't matter to me.... You mean the true
inwardness of all that tragedy last spring?... Why, Ann, I've always
known that half that story hadn't been told."

"I was the cause of it all.... Any day it may come out who I am and
worse things than that for you to bear. That was the reason I made you
go away an' wouldn't answer your letters."

"Westmore and Penniman pride--there it is again!" Baird said. "I don't
want your secret, dear. I think there's not much you could tell me that
I haven't already guessed--in spite of Ben." He circled her with his
arms. "Do you think that anything could drive me away from you
now--after that kiss of yours?... Tell me again that you love me! Tell
me!"

Her answer was a drooping glance and her slow smile, which Baird stole
from her lips. "Ann, you're here in my arms and I'm holding you close,
but I've a queer feeling that I'm clasping something that may slip away
any moment--it makes me want to hold you tighter. It won't be like that
by and by--when you're all mine?"

"I don't know," she said slowly. "I'll always be wanting to be loved an'
not thinkin' so much about whether I'm lovin' or not.... I know it was
like heaven when Edward told me he was my father and how much he loved
me. I'd been wanting to be loved like that--all my life--"

Baird pondered her answer for a moment.... She had not pretended; she
had told the truth about herself; the woman in her answered to the man
in him, but there was, deep in her, a capacity for loving that he had
not yet touched. It was guarded by hesitancy, elusiveness, and, not
selfishness exactly, nor timidity, but an indefinable inaccessibility
that was simply Ann. Judith was more forceful and less complex....
Perhaps if Ann had striven over him as he had striven over her, the
thing he wanted to grasp would be his. Edward had come nearer to the
indefinable thing than he had.... And yet, it was her inaccessible
quality that had drawn him, and that made him hold her the tighter now.

Baird remembered something Ben had written: "... I ain't no wise judge
of women, but I've noticed that some of them is just naturally
giving-hearted, and some has to grow up to it. The kind that has to grow
up to it generally loves most to be loved. They seems to grow up to
loving by being loved, that is, if they're loved the right way." Ben had
defined Ann very accurately.... But how was he to discover the right way
of loving her? Certainly not until he possessed her.

Baird looked down at Ann. "Probably it's your nature not to give much,
and I love to struggle for all I get. You're all quivering nerves, a
mixture of snow and sunshine, and I've no nerves to speak of--I'm all
fight. I think we're suited to each other." He spoke decidedly. "Ann,
they're sending me to Europe; I'm going day after to-morrow--will you go
with me? Will you marry me to-morrow, and come away from all this?"

She was silent for a long time. "I'd rather wait--till you come back,"
she said finally.

It was the answer he expected. She was very true to herself, and he
liked it. "I'll be gone for a good many months," he said quietly. "What
will you do while I'm gone--stay here?"

"I--they want me to go to school.... I can't stay here. My father wanted
me to be educated--I'm so ignorant. He told me he meant to make a
wonderful woman of me. That I would grow to be a more charmin' an'
wonderful woman than Judith.... But those things he thought because he
loved me so much." She spoke bleakly.

"You'll be a deal more wonderful than Judith, because you have a quality
she doesn't possess," Baird said. "Do you want to go to school, Ann?"

There was actual terror in her reply. "No. They'd all be
strangers--there's nobody would care anything about me."

There it was, her one great need, the thing upon which he must build.
Baird kissed her breath away. "You sweet reluctant thing! Do you think
I'd go away without you!" His voice suddenly deepened. "Ann, you want to
be loved and I want to love. I've been _hungry_ for you, literally
starved. I _want_ you--you can't understand how much I want you. You'll
travel, and you can study, and I'll be satisfied just to study you....
Come with me, Ann!"

"An' you don't mind taking me and trouble both together--for there may
be big trouble?'

"I've told you--I'll take anything, so you come with it."

The dusk had gathered rapidly; close as they were to each other, their
faces had grown indistinct. Ann's answer was groping hands lifted to
him, a pressure of slim fingers on his neck. But when he tried to kiss
her she bent her head, smothering his caresses with her hair. "I must
say 'yes' my own way," she objected.

"Well--say it your way," Baird whispered, husky from emotion.

She lifted her face and brushed his cheek with her lashes. "A
butterfly's kiss," she said with soft gaiety.

"You've pretty ways--dangerous ways--" Baird said chokingly. "I'll love
you too much--that'll be the trouble." He strove for control. "Ann--do
you remember what you said to the stars, the night I didn't know my own
heart--when you told me what love was?"

"Yes, I remember."

"Repeat it, won't you--I want to hear you say it."

Ann's slurred syllables again made music of it: "Love is wantin'
somebody for all your own--so badly you feel sure you can't live without
them ... an' at the same time bein' such good friends with them that you
care more about makin' them happy than being happy yourself."

"There's a bit of the Golden Rule in that," Baird said. "That's what
makes it difficult. Do you think we can live up to it, Ann?"

Ann answered him to the best of her ability.... Years later she answered
the same question with a better understanding.



CONCLUSION


Is it permissible to steal a fragment from later history in order to
elucidate what has gone before? It is a responsibility the fictional
historian must sometimes take.

Judith and Ann and Baird are of the present. Life has woven them into
subsequent history, drawing from a skein as tangled as was the skein of
thirteen years ago. The fragment I pilfer is the conclusion of a letter
from Judith to Ann, penned in our day, and part of another story:

     "I have written you a few facts, Ann. I have one more thing to
     tell you, something that reaches back beyond these years of
     mutual antagonism.... The day after Nickolas Baird married you,
     Coats Penniman came to see me, and told me the following: that
     Sue had found certain letters of Garvin's to you which gave him
     the erroneous impression that Garvin had wronged you. Then he
     went, hot from reading them, to the Mine Banks, thinking he
     would find you with Garvin. That he met Garvin at the first
     ore-pit and accused him, and that Garvin denied it. That he
     gave Garvin the lie and they drew their pistols, that they
     fired, and that Garvin wounded him in the shoulder, disabling
     his pistol arm. That Garvin had leveled to fire again, when,
     suddenly, Edward appeared and tried to hold Garvin back, and
     that Garvin's pistol went off. Coats thought the shot had gone
     wild until he saw Edward drop. He said that Garvin laughed
     wildly then and ran back into the Banks.

     "Coats said that Edward had passed instantly. He realized then
     some of the complications that were certain to follow, and that
     he went directly home, and that Sue drove him into the city,
     where he had his wound dressed.

     "Coats said that he had had no intention of shirking his
     responsibility, that he had simply waited for events to shape
     themselves, and that what followed made any action on his part
     unnecessary, but that he had determined to come to me with his
     confession as soon as he felt that your future was assured. He
     told me to proceed against him if I thought fit, that he would
     face any charge I made. I thought I had paid my last debt to
     Westmore, but I was mistaken; I told Coats to take his secret
     back with him and keep it.

     "And I have kept it until to-day. Now I turn it over to you,
     together with my confession: for the sake of my family's good
     name, I did the thing that saved you from disgrace; I saved one
     brother at, what seemed to me, a lesser expense to the other.

     "Take what I have told you and add it to your already full
     experience of lives inextricably tangled because of you.
     Wherever you have cast your net, you have brought in a heavy
     haul.... JUDITH."

And from Ann's reply also a fragment:

     "... and what you have told me is not new to me. Coats told me
     long ago, while I still lay ill. Coats told me, and dear old
     Ben told me all he knew--I made them tell me, for I knew that
     my father had never forsaken me--_of his own free will_.

     "And, Judith, I also know just why you have written all this to
     me. Throughout these years it has been a Westmore pitted
     against a nobody's child. But I feel no bitterness, only an
     immense interest, for out of it all has grown a wonderful
     thing.... ANN."



THE END





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