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´╗┐Title: Opening a Chestnut Burr
Author: Roe, Edward Payson, 1838-1888
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 "Opening a Chestnut Burr" ***

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[Illustration: "LET ME OPEN THE BURR FOR YOU." Chestnut Burr.
_Frontispiece._]

The Works of E. P. Roe

VOLUME FOUR


OPENING A CHESTNUT BURR

ILLUSTRATED



THIS BOOK

IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED TO MY WIFE



PREFACE



In sending this, my fourth venture, out upon the uncertain waters of
public opinion, I shall say but few words of preface. In the past I
have received considerable well-deserved criticism from the gentlemen
of the caustic pen, but so far from having any hard feeling toward
them, I have rather wondered that they found so much to say that was
favorable. How they will judge this simple October story (if they think
it worth while to judge it at all) I leave to the future, and turn to
those for whom the book was really written.

In fancy I see them around the glowing hearth in quiet homes, such as I
have tried to describe in the following pages, and hope that this
new-comer will be welcomed for the sake of those that preceded it.
Possibly it may make friends of its own.

From widely separated parts of the country, and from almost every
class, I have received many and cordial assurances that my former books
were sources not only of pleasure, but also of help and benefit, and I
am deeply grateful for the privilege of unobtrusively entering so many
households, and saying words on that subject which is inseparable from
happiness in both worlds.

I think the purpose of the book will become apparent to the reader. The
incidents and characters are mainly imaginary.

Observation has shown me that there are many in the world, like my
hero, whose condition can be illustrated by the following lines:


    Were some great ship all out of stores,
      When half-way o'er the sea,
    Fit emblem of too many lives,
      Such vessel doomed would be.

Must there not be something fatally wrong in that scheme of life which
finds an heir of eternity weary, listless, discouraged, while yet in
the dawning of existence? It is not in perishing _things_, merely, to
give back the lost zest. But a glad zest and hopefulness might be
inspired even in the most jaded and _ennui_-cursed, were there in our
homes such simple, truthful natures as that of my heroine; and in the
sphere of quiet homes--not elsewhere--I believe that woman can best
rule and save the world.

Highland Falls, N.Y., September, 1874.



CONTENTS



CHAPTER I A HERO BUT NOT HEROIC

CHAPTER II OPENING A CHESTNUT BURR

CHAPTER III MORBID BROODING

CHAPTER IV HOW MISS WALTON MANAGED PEOPLE

CHAPTER V WAS IT AN ACCIDENT?

CHAPTER VI UNEXPECTED CHESTNUT BURRS

CHAPTER VII A CONSPIRACY

CHAPTER VIII WITCHCRAFT

CHAPTER IX MISS WALTON RECOMMENDS A HOBBY

CHAPTER X A PLOT AGAINST MISS WALTON

CHAPTER XI A DRINKING SONG AT A PRAYER-MEETING

CHAPTER XII FOILED IN ONE DIRECTION

CHAPTER XIII INTERPRETING CHESTNUT BURRS

CHAPTER XIV A WELL-MEANIN' MAN

CHAPTER XV MISS WALTON'S DREAM

CHAPTER XVI AN ACCIDENT IN THE MOUNTAINS

CHAPTER XVII PROMISE OR DIE

CHAPTER XVIII IN THE DEPTHS

CHAPTER XIX MISS WALTON MADE OF DIFFERENT CLAY FROM OTHERS

CHAPTER XX MISS WALTON MADE OF ORDINARY CLAY

CHAPTER XXI PASSION AND PENITENCE

CHAPTER XXII NOT A HEROINE BUT A WOMAN

CHAPTER XXIII GREGORY'S FINAL CONCLUSION

CHAPTER XXIV THE WORM-INFESTED CHESTNUT--GREGORY TELLS THE WORST

CHAPTER XXV THE OLD HOME IN DANGER--GREGORY RETRIEVES HIMSELF

CHAPTER XXVI CHANGES IN GREGORY

CHAPTER XXVII PLEADING FOR LIFE AND LOVE

CHAPTER XXVIII WHAT A LOVER COULD DO

CHAPTER XXIX DEEPENING SHADOWS

CHAPTER XXX KEPT FROM THE EVIL

CHAPTER XXXI LIVE! LIVE! ANNIE'S APPEAL

CHAPTER XXXII AT SEA--A MYSTERIOUS PASSENGER

CHAPTER XXXIII A COLLISION AT SEA--WHAT A CHRISTIAN COULD DO

CHAPTER XXXIV UNMASKED

CHAPTER XXXV A CHESTNUT BURR AND A HOME



CHAPTER I

A HERO, BUT NOT HEROIC



"Shall I ever be strong in mind or body again?" said Walter Gregory,
with irritation, as he entered a crowded Broadway omnibus.

The person thus querying so despairingly with himself was a man not far
from thirty years of age, but the lines of care were furrowed so deeply
on his handsome face, that dismal, lowering morning, the first of
October, that he seemed much older. Having wedged himself in between
two burly forms that suggested thrift down town and good cheer on the
avenue, he appears meagre and shrunken in contrast. He is tall and
thin. His face is white and drawn, instead of being ruddy with health's
rich, warm blood. There is scarcely anything remaining to remind one of
the period of youth, so recently vanished; neither is there the
dignity, nor the consciousness of strength, that should come with
maturer years. His heavy, light-colored mustache and pallid face gave
him the aspect of a _blase_ man of the world who had exhausted himself
and life at an age when wisely directed manhood should be just entering
on its richest pleasures.

And such an opinion of him, with some hopeful exceptions and
indications, would be correct. The expression of irritation and
self-disgust still remaining on his face as the stage rumbles down town
is a hopeful sign. His soul at least is not surrounded by a Chinese
wall of conceit. However perverted his nature may be, it is not a
shallow one, and he evidently has a painful sense of the wrongs
committed against it. Though his square jaw and the curve of his lip
indicate firmness, one could not look upon his contracted brow and
half-despairing expression, as he sits oblivious of all surroundings,
without thinking of a ship drifting helplessly and in distress. There
are encouraging possibilities in the fact that from those windows of
the soul, his eyes, a troubled rather than an evil spirit looks out. A
close observer would see at a glance that he was not a good man, but he
might also note that he was not content with being a bad one. There was
little of the rigid pride and sinister hardness or the conceit often
seen on the faces of men of the world who have spent years in spoiling
their manhood; and the sensual phase of coarse dissipation was quite
wanting.

You will find in artificial metropolitan society many men so
emasculated that they are quite vain of being blase--fools that with
conscious superiority smile disdainfully at those still possessing
simple, wholesome tastes for things which they in their indescribable
accent characterize as a "bore."

But Walter Gregory looked like one who had early found the dregs of
evil life very bitter, and his face was like that of nature when
smitten with untimely frosts.

He reached his office at last, and wearily sat down to the routine work
at his desk. Instead of the intent and interested look with which a
young and healthy man would naturally enter on his business, he showed
rather a dogged resolution to work whether he felt like it or not, and
with harsh disregard of his physical weakness.

The world will never cease witnessing the wrongs that men commit
against each other; but perhaps if the wrongs and cruelties that people
inflict on themselves could be summed up the painful aggregate would be
much larger.

As Gregory sat bending over his writing, rather from weakness than from
a stooping habit, his senior partner came in, and was evidently struck
by the appearance of feebleness on the part of the young man. The
unpleasant impression haunted him, for having looked over his letters
he came out of his private office and again glanced uneasily at the
colorless face, which gave evidence that only sheer force of will was
spurring a failing hand and brain to their tasks.

At last Mr. Burnett came and laid his hand on his junior partner's
shoulder, saying, kindly, "Come, Gregory, drop your work. You are ill.
The strain upon you has been too long and severe. The worst is over
now, and we are going to pull through better than I expected. Don't
take the matter so bitterly to heart. I admit myself that the operation
promised well at first. You were misled, and so were we all, by
downright deception. That the swindle was imposed on us through you was
more your misfortune than your fault, and it will make you a keener
business man in the future. You have worked like a galley-slave all
summer to retrieve matters, and have taken no vacation at all. You must
take one now immediately, or you will break down altogether. Go off to
the woods; fish, hunt, follow your fancies; and the bracing October air
will make a new man of you."

"I thank you very much," Gregory began. "I suppose I do need rest. In a
few days, however, I can leave better--"

"No," interrupted Mr. Burnett, with hearty emphasis; "drop everything.
As soon as you finish that letter, be off. Don't show your face here
again till November."

"I thank you for your interest in me," said Gregory, rising. "Indeed, I
believe it would be good economy, for if I don't feel better soon I
shall be of no use here or anywhere else."

"That's it," said old Mr. Burnett, kindly. "Sick and blue, they go
together. Now be off to the woods, and send me some game. I won't
inquire too sharply whether you brought it down with lead or silver."

Gregory soon left the office, and made his arrangements to start on his
trip early the next morning. His purpose was to make a brief visit to
the home of his boyhood and then to go wherever a vagrant fancy might
lead.

The ancestral place was no longer in his family, though he was spared
the pain of seeing it in the hands of strangers. It had been purchased
a few years since by an old and very dear friend of his deceased
father--a gentleman named Walton. It had so happened that Gregory had
rarely met his father's friend, who had been engaged in business at the
West, and of his family he knew little more than that there were two
daughters--one who had married a Southern gentleman, and the other,
much younger, living with her father. Gregory had been much abroad as
the European agent of his house, and it was during such absence that
Mr. Walton had retired from business and purchased the old Gregory
homestead. The young man felt sure, however, that though a comparative
stranger himself, he would, for his father's sake, be a welcome visitor
at the home of his childhood. At any rate he determined to test the
matter, for the moment he found himself at liberty he felt a strange
and an eager longing to revisit the scenes of the happiest portion of
his life. He had meant to pay such a visit in the previous spring, soon
after his arrival from Europe, when his elation at being made partner
in the house which he so long had served as clerk reached almost the
point of happiness.

Among those who had welcomed him back was a man a little older than
himself, who, in his absence, had become known as a successful operator
in Wall Street. They had been intimate before Gregory went abroad, and
the friendship was renewed at once. Gregory prided himself on his
knowledge of the world, and was not by nature inclined to trust
hastily; and yet he did place implicit confidence in Mr. Hunting,
regarding him as a better man than himself. Hunting was an active
member of a church, and his name figured on several charities, while
Gregory had almost ceased to attend any place of worship, and spent his
money selfishly upon himself, or foolishly upon others, giving only as
prompted by impulse. Indeed, his friend had occasionally ventured to
remonstrate with him against his tendencies to dissipation, saying that
a young man of his prospects should not damage them for the sake of
passing gratification. Gregory felt the force of these words, for he
was exceedingly ambitious, and bent upon accumulating wealth and at the
same time making a brilliant figure in business circles.

In addition to the ordinary motives which would naturally lead him to
desire such success he was incited by a secret one more powerful than
all the others combined.

Before going abroad, when but a clerk, he had been the favored suitor
of a beautiful and accomplished girl. Indeed the understanding between
them almost amounted to an engagement, and he revelled in a passionate,
romantic attachment at an age when the blood is hot, the heart
enthusiastic, and when not a particle of worldly cynicism and adverse
experience had taught him to moderate his rose-hued anticipations. She
seemed the embodiment of goodness, as well as beauty and grace, for did
she not repress his tendencies to be a little fast? Did she not, with
more than sisterly solicitude, counsel him to shun certain florid youth
whose premature blossoming indicated that they might early run to seed?
and did he not, in consequence, cut Guy Bonner, the jolliest fellow he
had ever known? Indeed, more than all, had she not ventured to talk
religion to him, so that for a time he had regarded himself as in a
very "hopeful frame of mind," and had been inclined to take a
mission-class in the same school with herself? How lovely and angelic
she had once appeared, stooping in elegant costume from her social
height to the little ragamuffins of the street that sat gaping around
her! As he gazed adoringly, while waiting to be her resort home, his
young heart had swelled with the impulse to be good and noble also.

But one day she caused him to drop out of his roseate clouds. With much
sweetness and resignation, and with appropriate sighs, she said that
"it was her painful duty to tell him that their intimacy must
cease--that she had received an offer from Mr. Grobb, and that her
parents, and indeed all her friends, had urged her to accept him. She
had been led to feel that they with their riper experience and
knowledge of life knew what was best for her, and therefore she had
yielded to their wishes and accepted the offer." She was beginning to
add, in a sentimental tone, that "had she only followed the impulses of
her heart"--when Gregory, at first too stunned and bewildered to speak,
recovered his senses and interrupted with, "Please don't speak of your
heart, Miss Bently. Why mention so small a matter? Go on with your
little transaction by all means. I am a business man myself, and can
readily understand your motives;" and he turned on his heel and strode
from the room, leaving Miss Bently ill at ease.

The young man's first expression of having received, as it were, a
staggering blow, and then his bitter satire, made an impression on her
cotton-and-wool nature, and for a time her proceedings with Mr. Grobb
did not wear the aspect in which they had been presented by her
friends. But her little world so confidently and continually reiterated
the statement that she was making a "splendid match" that her qualms
vanished, and she felt that what all asserted must be true, and so
entered on the gorgeous preparations as if the wedding were all and the
man nothing.

It is the custom to satirize or bitterly denounce such girls, but
perhaps they are rather to be pitied. They are the natural products of
artificial society, wherein wealth, show, and the social eminence which
is based on dress and establishment are held out as the prizes of a
woman's existence. The only wonder is that so much heart and truth
assert themselves among those who all their life have seen wealth
practically worshipped, and worth, ungilded, generally ignored. From
ultra-fashionable circles a girl is often seen developing into the
noblest womanhood; while narrow, mercenary natures are often found
where far better things might have been expected. If such girls as Miss
Bently could only be kept in quiet obscurity, like a bale of
merchandise, till wanted, it would not be so bad; but some of them are
such brilliant belles and incorrigible coquettes that they are like
certain Wall Street speculators who threaten to "break the street" in
making their own fortunes.

Some natures can receive a fair lady's refusal with a good-natured
shrug, as merely the result of a bad venture, and hope for better luck
next time; but to a greater number this is impossible, especially if
they are played with and deceived. Walter Gregory pre-eminently
belonged to the latter class. In early life he had breathed the very
atmosphere of truth, and his tendency to sincerity ever remained the
best element of his character. His was one of those fine-fibred natures
most susceptible to injury. Up to this time his indiscretions had only
been those of foolish, thoughtless youth, while aiming at the standard
of manliness and style in vogue among his city companions.
High-spirited young fellows, not early braced by principle, must pass
through this phase as in babyhood they cut their teeth. If there is
true mettle in them, and they are not perverted by exceptionally bad
influences, they outgrow the idea that to be fast and foolish is to be
men as naturally as they do their roundabouts.

What a man does is often not so important as the state of the heart
that prompts the act. In common parlance, Walter was as good-hearted a
fellow as ever breathed. Indeed, he was really inclined to noble
enthusiasms.

If Miss Bently had been what he imagined her, she might have led him
swiftly and surely into true manhood; but she was only an adept at
pretty seeming with him, and when Mr. Grobb offered her his vast
wealth, with himself as the only incumbrance, she acted promptly and
characteristically.

But perhaps it can be safely said that in no den of iniquity in the
city could Walter Gregory have received such moral injury as poisoned
his very soul when, in Mr. Bently's elegant and respectable parlor, the
"angel" he worshipped "explained how she was situated," and from a
"sense of duty" stated her purpose to yield to the wishes of her
friends. Gregory had often seen Mr. Grobb, but had given him no
thought, supposing him some elderly relative of the family. That this
was the accepted suitor of the girl who had, with tender, meaning
glances, sung for him sentimental ballads, who had sweetly talked to
him of religion and mission work, seemed a monstrous perversion. Call
it unjust, unreasonable, if you will, yet it was the most natural thing
in the world for one possessing his sensitive, intense nature to pass
into harsh, bitter cynicism, and to regard Miss Bently as a typical
girl of the period.

A young man is far on the road to evil when he loses faith in woman.
During the formative period of character she is, of earthly influences,
the most potent in making or marring him. A kind refusal, where no
false encouragement has been given, often does a man good, and leaves
his faith intact; but an experience similar to that of young Gregory is
like putting into a fountain that which may stain and embitter the
waters of the stream in all its length.

At the early age of twenty-two he became what is usually understood by
the phrase "a man of the world." Still his moral nature could not sink
into the depths without many a bitter outcry against its wrongs. It was
with no slight effort that he drowned the memory of his early home and
its good influences. During the first two or three years he
occasionally had periods of passionate remorse, and made spasmodic
efforts toward better things. But they were made in human strength, and
in view of the penalties of evil, rather than because he was enamored
of the right. Some special temptation would soon sweep him away into
the old life, and thus, because of his broken promises and repeated
failures, he at last lost faith in himself also, and lacked that
self-respect without which no man can cope successfully with his evil
nature and an evil world.

Living in a boarding-house, with none of the restraints and purifying
influences of a good home, he formed intimacies with brilliant but
unscrupulous young men. The theatre became his church, and at last the
code of his fast, fashionable set was that which governed his life. He
avoided gross, vulgar dissipation, both because his nature revolted at
it, and also on account of his purpose to permit nothing to interfere
with his prospects of advancement in business. He meant to show Miss
Bently that she had made a bad business speculation after all. Thus
ambition became the controlling element in his character; and he might
have had a worse one. Moreover, in all his moral debasement he never
lost a decided tendency toward truthfulness and honesty. He would have
starved rather than touch anything that did not belong to him, nor
would he allow himself to deceive in matters of business, and it was
upon these points that he specially prided himself.

Gregory's unusual business ability, coupled with his knowledge of
French and German, led to his being sent abroad as agent of his firm.
Five years of life in the materialistic and sceptical atmosphere of
continental cities confirmed the evil tendencies which were only too
well developed before he left his own land. He became what so many
appear to be in our day, a practical materialist and atheist. Present
life and surroundings, present profit and pleasure, were all in all. He
ceased to recognize the existence of a soul within himself having
distinct needs and interests. His thoughts centred wholly in the
comfort and pleasures of the day and in that which would advance his
ambitious schemes. His scepticism was not intellectual and in reference
to the Bible and its teachings, but practical and in reference to
humanity itself. He believed that with few exceptions men and women
lived for their own profit and pleasure, and that religion and creeds
were matters of custom and fashion, or an accident of birth. Only the
reverence in which religion had been held in his early home kept him
from sharing fully in the contempt which the gentlemen he met abroad
seemed to have for it. He could not altogether despise his mother's
faith, but he regarded her as a gentle enthusiast haunted by sacred
traditions. The companionships which he had formed led him to believe
that unless influenced by some interested motive a liberal-minded man
of the world must of necessity outgrow these things. With the
self-deception of his kind, he thought he was broad and liberal in his
views, when in reality he had lost all distinction between truth and
error, and was narrowing his mind down to things only. Jew or Gentile,
Christian or Pagan, it was becoming all one to him. Men changed their
creeds and religions with other fashions, but all looked after what
they believed to be the main chance, and he proposed to do the same.

As time passed on, however, he began to admit to himself that it was
strange that in making all things bend to his pleasure he did not
secure more. He wearied of certain things. Stronger excitements were
needed to spur his jaded senses. His bets, his stakes at cards grew
heavier, his pleasures more gross, till a delicate organization so
revolted at its wrongs and so chastised him for excess that he was
deterred from self-gratification in that direction.

Some men's bodies are a "means of grace" to them. Coarse dissipation is
a physical impossibility, or swift suicide in a very painful form.
Young Gregory found that only in the excitements of the mind could he
hope to find continued enjoyment. His ambition to accumulate wealth and
become a brilliant business man most accorded with his tastes and
training, and on these objects he gradually concentrated all his
energies, seeking only in club-rooms and places of fashionable resort
recreation from the strain of business.

He recognized that the best way to advance his own interests was to
serve his employers well; and this he did so effectually that at last
he was made a partner in the business, and, with a sense of something
more like pleasure than he had known for a long time, returned to New
York and entered upon his new duties.

As we have said, among those who warmly greeted and congratulated him,
was Mr. Hunting. They gradually came to spend much time together, and
business and money-getting were their favorite themes. Gregory saw that
his friend was as keen on the track of fortune as himself, and that he
had apparently been much more successful. Mr. Hunting intimated that
after one reached the charmed inner circle Wall Street was a perfect
Eldorado, and seemed to take pains to drop occasional suggestions as to
how an investment shrewdly made by one with his favored point of
observation often secured in a day a larger return than a year of
plodding business.

These remarks were not lost on Gregory, and the wish became very strong
that he might share in some of the splendid "hits" by which his friend
was accumulating so rapidly.

Usually Mr. Hunting was very quiet and self-possessed, but one evening
in May he came into Gregory's rooms in a manner indicating not a little
excitement and elation.

"Gregory!" he exclaimed, "I am going to make my fortune."

"Make your fortune! You are as rich as Croesus now."

"The past will be as nothing. I've struck a mine rather than a vein."

"It's a pity some of your friends could not share in your luck."

"Well, a few can. This is so large, and such a good thing, that I have
concluded to let a few intimates go in with me. Only all must keep very
quiet about it;" and he proposed an operation that seemed certain of
success as he explained it.

Gregory concluded to put into it nearly all he had independent of his
investment in the firm, and also obtained permission to interest his
partners, and to procure an interview between them and Mr. Hunting.

The scheme looked so very plausible that they were drawn into it also;
but Mr. Burnett took Gregory aside and said: "After all, we must place
a great deal of confidence in Mr. Hunting's word in this matter. Are
you satisfied that we can safely do so?"

"I would stake my life on his word in this case," said Gregory,
eagerly, "and I pledge all I have put in the firm on his truth."

This was the last flicker of his old enthusiasm and trust in anybody or
anything, including himself. With almost the skill of genius Mr.
Hunting adroitly, within the limits of the law, swindled them all, and
made a vast profit out of their losses. The transaction was not
generally known, but even some of the hardened gamblers of the street
said "it was too bad."

But the bank-officers with whom Burnett & Co. did business knew about
it, and if it had not been for their lenience and aid the firm would
have failed. As it was, it required a struggle of months to regain the
solid ground of safety.

At first the firm was suspicious of Gregory, and disposed to blame him
very much. But when he proved to them that he had lost his private
means by Hunting's treachery, and insisted on making over to them all
his right and title to the property he had invested with them, they saw
that he was no confederate of the swindler, but that he had suffered
more than any of them.

He had, indeed. He had lost his ambition. The large sum of money that
was to be the basis of the immense fortune he had hoped to amass was
gone. He had greatly prided himself on his business ability, but had
signalized his entrance on his new and responsible position by being
overreached and swindled in a transaction that had impoverished himself
and almost ruined his partners. He grew very misanthropic, and was
quite as bitter against himself as against others. In his estimation
people were either cloaking their evil or had not been tempted, and he
felt after Hunting dropped the mask that he would never trust any one
again.

It may be said, all this is very unreasonable. Yes, it is; but then
people will judge the world by their own experience of it, and some
natures are more easily warped by wrong than others. No logic can cope
with feeling and prejudice. Because of his own misguided life and the
wrong he had received from others, Walter Gregory was no more able to
form a correct estimate of society than one color-blind is to judge of
the tints of flowers. And yet he belonged to that class who claim
pre-eminently to know the world. Because he thought he knew it so well
he hated and despised it, and himself as part of it.

The months that followed his great and sudden downfall dragged their
slow length along. He worked early and late, without thought of sparing
himself. If he could only see what the firm had lost through him made
good, he did not care what became of himself. Why should he? There was
little in the present to interest him, and the future looked, in his
depressed, morbid state, as monotonous and barren as the sands of a
desert. Seemingly, he had exhausted life, and it had lost all zest for
him.

But while his power to enjoy had gone, not so his power to suffer. His
conscience was uneasy, and told him in a vague way that something was
wrong. Reason, or, more correctly speaking, instinct, condemned his
life as a wretched blunder. He had lived for his own enjoyment, and
now, when but half through life, what was there for him to enjoy?

As in increasing weakness he dragged himself to the office on a sultry
September day, the thought occurred to him that the end was nearer than
he expected.

"Let it come," he said, bitterly. "Why should I live?"

The thought of his early home recurred to him with increasing
frequency, and he had a growing desire to visit it before his strength
failed utterly. Therefore it was with a certain melancholy pleasure
that he found himself at liberty, through the kindness of his partners,
to make this visit, and at the season, too, when his boyish memories of
the place, like the foliage, would be most varied and vivid.



CHAPTER II

OPENING A CHESTNUT BURR



If the reader could imagine a man visiting his own grave, he might
obtain some idea of Walter Gregory's feelings as he took the boat which
would land him not far from his early home. And yet, so different was
he from the boy who had left that home fifteen years before, that it
was almost the same as if he were visiting the grave of a brother who
had died in youth.

Though the day was mild, a fresh bracing wind blew from the west.
Shielding himself from this on the after-deck, he half reclined, on
account of his weakness, in a position from which he could see the
shores and passing vessels upon the river. The swift gliding motion,
the beautiful and familiar scenery, the sense of freedom from routine
work, and the crisp, pure air, that seemed like a delicate wine, all
combined to form a mystic lever that began to lift his heart out of the
depths of despondency.

A storm had passed away, leaving not a trace. The October sun shone in
undimmed splendor, and all nature appeared to rejoice in its light. The
waves with their silver crests seemed chasing one another in mad glee.
The sailing vessels, as they tacked to and fro across the river under
the stiff western breeze, made the water foam about their blunt prows,
and the white-winged gulls wheeled in graceful circles overhead. There
was a sense of movement and life that was contagious. Gregory's dull
eyes kindled with something like interest, and then he thought: "The
storm lowered over these sunny shores yesterday. The gloom of night
rested upon these waters but a few hours since. Why is it that nature
can smile and be glad the moment the shadow passes and I cannot? Is
there no sunlight for the soul? I seem as if entering a cave, that
grows colder and darker at every step, and no gleam shines at the
further end, indicating that I may pass through it and out into the
light again."

Thus letting his fancy wander at will, at times half-dreaming and
half-waking, he passed the hours that elapsed before the boat touched
at a point in the Highlands of the Hudson, his destination. Making a
better dinner than he had enjoyed for a long time, and feeling stronger
than for weeks before, he started for the place that now, of all the
world, had for him the greatest attraction.

There was no marked change in the foliage as yet, but only a deepening
of color, like a flush on the cheek of beauty. As he was driving along
the familiar road, farm-house and grove, and even tree, rock, and
thicket, began to greet him as with the faces of old friends. At last
he saw, nestling in a wild, picturesque valley, the quaint outline of
his former home. His heart yearned toward it, and he felt that next to
his mother's face no other object could be so welcome.

"Slower, please," he said to the driver.

Though his eyes were moist, and at times dim with tears, not a feature
in the scene escaped him. When near the gateway he sprung out with a
lightness that he would not have believed possible the day before, and
said, "Come for me at five."

For a little time he stood leaning on the gate. Two children were
playing on the lawn, and it almost seemed to him that the elder, a boy
of about ten years, might be himself, and he a passing stranger, who
had merely stopped to look at the pretty scene.

"Oh that I were a boy like that one there! Oh that I were here again as
of old!" he sighed. "How unchanged it all is, and I so changed! It
seems as if the past were mocking me. That must be I there playing with
my little sister. Mother must be sewing in her cheery south room, and
father surely is taking his after-dinner nap in the library. Can it be
that they are all dead save me? and that this is but a beautiful
mirage?"

He felt that he could not meet any one until he became more composed,
and so passed on up the valley. Before turning away he noticed that a
lady come out at the front door. The children joined her, and they
started for a walk.

Looking wistfully on either side, Gregory soon came to a point where
the orchard extended to the road. A well-remembered fall pippin tree
hung its laden boughs over the fence, and the fruit looked so ripe and
golden in the slanting rays of October sunlight that he determined to
try one of the apples and see if it tasted as of old. As he climbed
upon the wall a loose stone fell clattering down and rolled into the
road. He did not notice this, but an old man dozing in the porch of a
little house opposite did. As Gregory reached up his cane to detach
from its spray a great, yellow-cheeked fellow, his hand was arrested,
and he was almost startled off his perch by such a volley of oaths as
shocked even his hardened ears. Turning gingerly around so as not to
lose his footing, he faced this masked battery that had opened so
unexpectedly upon him, and saw a white-haired old man balancing himself
on one crutch and brandishing the other at him.

"Stop knockin' down that wall and fillin! the road with stuns, you--,"
shouted the venerable man, in tones that indicated anything but the
calmness of age. "Let John Walton's apples alone, you--thief. What do
you mean by robbin' in broad daylight, right under a man's nose?"

Gregory saw that he had a character to deal with, and, to divert his
mind from thoughts that were growing too painful, determined to draw
the old man out; so he said, "Is not taking things so openly a rather
honest way of robbing?"

"Git down, I tell yer," cried the guardian of the orchard.

"Suppose 'tis, it's robbin' arter all. So now move on, and none of yer
cussed impudence."

"But you call them John Walton's apples," said Gregory, eating one with
provoking coolness. "What have you got to do with them? and why should
you care?"

"Now look here, stranger, you're an infernal mean cuss to ask such
questions. Ain't John Walton my neighbor? and a good neighbor, too?
D'ye suppose a well-meanin' man like myself would stand by and see a
neighbor robbed? and of all others, John Walton? Don't you know that
robbin' a good man brings bad luck, you thunderin' fool?"

"But I've always had bad luck, so I needn't stop on that account,"
retorted Gregory, from the fence.

"I believe it, and you allers will," vociferated the old man, "and I'll
tell yer why. I know from the cut of yer jib that yer've allers been
eatin' forbidden fruit. If yer lived now a good square life like
'Squire Walton and me, you'd have no reason to complain of yer luck. If
I could get a clip at yer with this crutch I'd give yer suthin' else to
complain of. If yer had any decency yer wouldn't stand there a jibin'
at a lame old man."

Gregory took off his hat with a polite bow and said: "I beg your
pardon; I was under the impression that you were doing the 'cussing.' I
shall come and see you soon, for somehow it does me good to have you
swear at me. I only wish I had as good a friend in the world as Mr.
Walton has in you." With these words he sprung from the fence on the
orchard side, and made his way to the hill behind the Walton residence,
leaving the old man mumbling and muttering in a very profane manner.

"Like enough it was somebody visitin' at the Walton's, and I've made
a--fool of myself after all. What's worse, that poor little Miss Eulie
will hear I've been swearin' agin, and there'll be another awful
prayin' time. What a cussed old fool I be, to promise to quit swearin'!
I know I can't. What's the good o' stoppin'? It's inside, and might as
well come out. The Lord knows I don't mean no disrespect to Him. It's
only one of my ways. He knows well enough that I'm a good neighbor, and
what's the harm in a little cussin'?" and so the strange old man talked
on to himself in the intervals between long pulls at his pipe.

By the time Gregory reached the top of the hill his strength was quite
exhausted, and, panting, he sat down on the sunny side of a thicket of
cedars, for the late afternoon was growing chilly. Beneath him lay the
one oasis in a desert world.

With an indescribable blending of pleasure and pain, he found himself
tracing with his eye every well-remembered path, and marking every
familiar object.

Not a breath of air was stirring, and it would seem that Nature was
seeking to impart to his perturbed spirit, full of the restless
movement of city life and the inevitable disquiet of sin, something of
her own calmness and peace. The only sounds he heard seemed a part of
nature's silence,--the tinkle of cowbells, the slumberous monotone of
water as it fell over the dam, the grating notes of a katydid, rendered
hoarse by recent cool nights, in a shady ravine near by, and a black
cricket chirping at the edge of the rock on which he sat--these were
all. And yet the sounds, though not heard for years, seemed as familiar
as the mother's lullaby that puts a child to sleep, and a delicious
sense of restfulness stole into his heart. The world in which he had so
greatly sinned and suffered might be another planet, it seemed so far
away. Could it be that in a few short hours he had escaped out of the
hurry and grind of New York into this sheltered nook? Why had he not
come before? Here was the remedy for soul and body, if any existed.

Not a person was visible on the place, and it seemed that it might thus
have been awaiting him in all his absence, and that now he had only to
go and take possession.

"So our home in heaven awaits us, mother used to say," he thought,
"while we are such willing exiles from it. I would give all the world
to believe as she did."

He found that the place so inseparably associated with his mother
brought back her teachings, which he had so often tried to forget.

"I wish I might bury myself here, away from the world," he muttered,
"for it has only cheated and lied to me from first to last. Everything
deceived me, and turned out differently from what I expected. These
loved old scenes are true and unchanged, and smile upon me now as when
I was here a happy boy. Would to heaven I might never leave them again!"

He was startled out of his revery by the sharp bark of a squirrel that
ran chattering and whisking its tail in great excitement from limb to
limb in a clump of chestnuts near. The crackling of a twig betrayed to
Gregory the cause of its alarm, for through an opening in the thicket
he saw the lady who had started out for a walk with the children while
he was leaning on the front gate.

Shrinking further behind the cedars he proposed to reconnoitre a little
before making himself known. He observed that she was attired in a
dark, close-fitting costume suitable for rambling among the hills. At
first he thought that she was pretty, and then that she was not. His
quick, critical eye detected that her features were not regular, that
her profile was not classic. It was only the rich glow of exercise and
the jaunty gypsy hat that had given the first impression of something
like beauty. In her right hand, which was ungloved, she daintily held,
by its short stem, a chestnut burr which the squirrel in its alarm had
dropped, and now, in its own shrill vernacular, was scolding about so
vociferously. She was glancing around for some means to break it open,
and Gregory had scarcely time to notice her fine dark eyes, when, as if
remembering the rock on which he had been sitting, she advanced toward
him with a step so quick and elastic that he envied her vigor.

Further concealment was now impossible. Therefore with easy politeness
he stepped forward and said: "Let me open the burr for you, Miss
Walton."

She started violently at the sound of his voice, and for a moment
reminded him of a frightened bird on the eve of flight.

"Pardon me for so alarming you," he hastened to say, "and also pardon a
seeming stranger for addressing you informally. My name may not be
unknown to you, although I am in person. It is Walter Gregory."

She had been so startled that she could not immediately recover
herself, and still stood regarding him doubtfully, although with manner
more assured.

"Come," said he, smiling and advancing toward her with the quiet
assurance of a society man. "Let me open the burr for you, and you
shall take its contents in confirmation of what I say. If I find sound
chestnuts in it, let them be a token that I am not misrepresenting
myself. If my test fails, then you may justly ask for better
credentials."

Half smiling, and quite satisfied from his words and appearance in
advance, she extended the burr toward him. But as she did so it parted
from the stem, and would have fallen to the ground had he not, with his
ungloved hand, caught the prickly thing. His hand was as white and soft
as hers, and the sharp spines stung him sorely, yet he permitted no
sign of pain to appear upon his face.

"Ah!" exclaimed Miss Walton, "I fear it hurt you."

He looked up humorously and said, "An augury is a solemn affair, and no
disrespect must be allowed to nature's oracle, which in this case is a
chestnut burr;" and he speedily opened it.

"There!" he said, triumphantly, "what more could you ask? Here are two
solid, plump chestnuts, with only a false, empty form of shell between
them. And here, like the solid nuts, are two people entitled to each
other's acquaintance, with only the false formality of an introduction,
like the empty shell, keeping them apart. Since no mutual friend is
present to introduce us, has not Nature taken upon herself the office
through this chestnut burr? But perhaps I should further Nature's
efforts by giving you my card."

As Miss Walton regained composure, she soon proved to Gregory that she
was not merely a shy country girl. At the close of his rather long and
fanciful speech she said, genially, extending her hand: "My love for
Nature is unbounded, Mr. Gregory, and the introduction you have so
happily obtained from her weighs more with me than any other that you
could have had. Let me welcome you to your own home, as it were. But
see, your hand is bleeding, where the burr pricked you. Is this an
omen, also? If our first meeting brings bloody wounds, I fear you will
shun further acquaintance."

There was a spice of bitterness in Gregory's laugh, as he said: "People
don't often die of such wounds. But it is a little odd that in taking
your hand I should stain it with my blood. I am inclined to drop the
burr after all, and base all my claims on my practical visiting card.
You may come to look upon the burr as a warning, rather than an
introduction, and order me off the premises."

"It was an omen of your choice," replied Miss Walton, laughing. "You
have more to fear from it than I. If you will venture to stay you shall
be most welcome. Indeed, it almost seems that you have a better right
here than we, and your name has been so often heard that you are no
stranger. I know father will be very glad to see you, for he often
speaks of you, and wonders if you are like his old friend, the dearest
one, I think, he ever had. How long have you been here?"

"Well, I have been wandering about the place much of the afternoon."

"I need not ask you why you did not come in at once," she said, gently.
"Seeing your old home after so long an absence is like meeting some
dear friend. One naturally wishes to be alone for a time. But now I
hope you will go home with me."

He was surprised at her delicate appreciation of his feelings, and gave
her a quick pleased look, saying: "Nature has taught you to be a good
interpreter, Miss Walton. You are right. The memories of the old place
were a little too much for me at first, and I did not know that those
whom I met would appreciate my feelings so delicately."

The two children now appeared, running around the brow of the hill, the
boy calling in great excitement: "Aunt Annie, oh! Aunt Annie, we've
found a squirrel-hole. We chased him into it. Can't Susie sit by the
hole and keep him in, while I go for a spade to dig him out?"

Then they saw the unlooked-for stranger, who at once rivalled the
squirrel-hole in interest, and with slower steps, and curious glances,
they approached.

"These are my sister's children," said Miss Walton, simply.

Gregory kindly took the boy by the hand, and kissed the little girl,
who looked half-frightened and half-pleased, as a very little maiden
should, while she rubbed the cheek that his mustache had tickled.

"Do you think we can get the squirrel, Aunt Annie?" again asked the boy.

"Do you think it would be right, Johnny, if you could?" she asked.
"Suppose you were the squirrel in the hole, and one big monster, like
Susie here, should sit by the door, and you heard another big monster
say, 'Wait till I get something to tear open his house with.' How would
you feel?"

"I won't keep the poor little squirrel in his hole," said sympathetic
Susie.

But the boy's brow contracted, and he said, sternly: "Squirrels are
nothing but robbers, and their holes are robbers' dens. They take half
our nuts every year."

Miss Walton looked significantly at Gregory, and laughed, saying,
"There it is, you see, man and woman."

A momentary shadow crossed his face, and he said, abruptly, "I hope
Susie will be as kindly in coming years."

Miss Walton looked at him curiously as they began to descend the hill
to the house. She evidently did not understand his remark, coupled with
his manner.

As they approached the barn there was great excitement among the
poultry. Passing round its angle, Walter saw coming toward them a
quaint-looking old woman, in what appeared to be a white scalloped
nightcap. She had a pan of corn in her hand, and was attended by a
retinue that would have rejoiced an epicure's heart. Chickens, ducks,
geese, turkeys, and Guinea fowls thronged around and after her with an
intentness on the grain and a disregard of one another's rights and
feelings that reminded one unpleasantly of political aspirants just
after a Presidential election. Johnny made a dive for an old gobbler,
and the great red-wattled bird dropped his wings and seemed inclined to
show fight, but a reluctant armistice was brought about between them by
the old woman screaming: "Maister Johnny, an' ye let not the fowls
alone ye'll ha' na apples roast the night."

Susie clung timidly to her aunty's side as they passed through these
clamorous candidates for holiday honors, and the young lady said,
kindly, "You have a large family to look after, Zibbie, but I'm afraid
we'll lessen it every day now."

"Indeed, an' ye will, and it goes agin the grain to wring the necks of
them that I've nursed from the shell," said the old woman, rather
sharply.

"It must be a great trial to your feelings," said Miss Walton,
laughing; "but what would you have us do with them, Zibbie? You don't
need them all for pets."

Before Zibbie could answer, an old gentleman in a low buggy drove into
the large door-yard, and the children bounded toward him, screaming,
"Grandpa."

A colored man took the horse, and Mr. Walton, with a briskness that one
would not expect at his advanced age, came toward them.

He was a noble-looking old man, with hair and beard as white as snow,
and with the stately manners of the old school. When he learned who
Gregory was he greeted him with a cordiality that was so genuine as to
compel the cynical man of the world to feel its truth.

Mr. Walton's eyes were turned so often and wistfully on his face that
Gregory was embarrassed.

"I was looking for my friend," said the old gentleman, in a husky
voice, turning hastily away to hide his feeling. "You strongly remind
me of him; and yet--" But he never finished the sentence.

Gregory well understood the "and yet," and in bitterness of soul
remembered that his father had been a good man, but that the impress of
goodness could not rest on his face.

He had now grown very weary, and gave evidence of it.

"Mr. Gregory, you look ill," said Miss Walton, hastily.

"I am not well," he said, "and have not been for a long time. Perhaps I
am going beyond my strength to-day."

In a moment they were all solicitude. The driver, who then appeared
according to his instructions, was posted back to the hotel for Mr.
Gregory's luggage, Mr. Walton saying, with hearty emphasis that removed
every scruple, "This must be your home, sir, as long as you can remain
with us, as truly as ever it was."

A little later he found himself in the "spare room," on whose state he
had rarely intruded when a boy. Jeff, the colored man, had kindled a
cheery wood fire on the ample hearth, and, too exhausted even to think,
Gregory sank back in a great easy-chair with the blessed sense of the
storm-tossed on reaching a quiet haven.



CHAPTER III

MORBID BROODING



To the millions who are suffering in mind or body there certainly come
in this world moments of repose, when pain ceases; and the respite
seems so delicious in contrast that it may well suggest the "rest that
remaineth." Thinking of neither the past nor the future, Gregory for a
little time gave himself up to the sense of present and luxurious
comfort. With closed eyes and mind almost as quiet as his motionless
body, he let the moments pass, feeling dimly that he would ask no
better heaven than the eternal continuance of this painless,
half-dreaming lethargy.

He was soon aroused, however, by a knocking at the door, and a
middle-aged servant placed before him a tempting plate of Albert
biscuit and a glass of home-made currant wine of indefinite age. The
quaint and dainty little lunch caught his appetite as exactly as if
manna had fallen adapted to his need; but it soon stimulated him out of
his condition of partial non-existence. With returning consciousness of
the necessity of living and acting came the strong desire to spend as
much of his vacation as possible in his old home, and he determined to
avail himself of Mr. Walton's invitation to the utmost limit that
etiquette would permit.

His awakened mind gave but little thought to his entertainers, and he
did not anticipate much pleasure from their society. He was satisfied
that they were refined, cultivated people, with whom he could be as
much at ease as would be possible in any companionship, but he hoped
and proposed to spend the most of his time alone in wandering amid old
scenes and brooding over the past. The morbid mind is ever full of
unnatural contradictions, and he found a melancholy pleasure in
shutting his eyes to the future and recalling the time when he had been
happy and hopeful. In his egotism he found more that interested him in
his past and vanished self than in the surrounding world. Evil and
ill-health had so enfeebled his body, narrowed his mind, and blurred
the future, that his best solace seemed a vain and sentimental
recalling of the crude yet comparatively happy period of childhood.

This is sorry progress. A man must indeed have lived radically wrong
when he looks backward for the best of his life. Gray-haired Mr. Walton
was looking forward. Gregory's habit of self-pleasing--of acting
according to his mood--was too deeply seated to permit even the thought
of returning the hospitality he hoped to enjoy by a cordial effort on
his part to prove himself an agreeable guest. Polite he ever would be,
for he had the instincts and training of a gentleman, in society's
interpretation of the word, but he had lost the power to feel a
generous solicitude for the feelings and happiness of others. Indeed,
he rather took a cynical pleasure in discovering defects in the
character of those around him, and in learning that their seeming
enjoyment of life was but hollow and partial. Conscious of being evil
himself, he liked to think others were not much better, or would not be
if tempted. Therefore, with a gloomy scepticism, he questioned all the
seeming happiness and goodness he saw. "It is either unreal or
untried," he was wont to say bitterly.

About seven o'clock, Hannah, the waitress, again appeared, saying:
"Supper is ready, but the ladies beg you will not come down unless you
feel able. I can bring up your tea if you wish."

Thinking first and only of self, he at once decided not to go down. He
felt sufficiently rested and revived, but was in no mood for
commonplace talk to comparative strangers. His cosey chair, glowing
fire, and listless ease were much better than noisy children,
inquisitive ladies, and the unconscious reproach of Mr. Walton's face,
as he would look in vain for the lineaments of his lost friend.
Therefore he said, suavely: "Please say to the ladies that I am so
wearied that I should make but a dull companion, and so for their
sakes, as well as my own, had better not leave my room this evening."

It is the perfection of art in selfishness to make it appear as if you
were thinking only of others. This was the design of Walter's polite
message. Soon a bit of tender steak, a roast potato, tea, and toast
were smoking appetizingly beside him, and he congratulated himself that
he had escaped the bore of company for one evening.

Notwithstanding his misanthropy and cherished desolation the supper was
so inviting that he was tempted to partake of it heartily. Then
incasing himself in his ample dressing-gown he placed his slippered
feet on the fender before a cheery fire, lighted a choice Havana, and
proceeded to be miserable after the fashion that indulged misery often
affects.

Hannah quietly removed the tea-tray, and Mr. Walton came up and
courteously inquired if there was anything that would add to his
guest's comfort.

"After a few hours of rest and quiet I hope I shall be able to make a
better return for your hospitality," Gregory rejoined, with equal
politeness.

"Oh, do not feel under any obligation to exert yourself," said kind Mr.
Walton. "In order to derive full benefit from your vacation, you must
simply rest and follow your moods."

This view of the case suited Gregory exactly, and the prospect of a
visit at his old home grew still more inviting. When he was left alone,
he gave himself up wholly to the memories of the past.

At first it was with a pleasurable pain that he recalled his former
life. With an imagination naturally strong he lived it all over again,
from the date of his first recollections. In the curling flames and
glowing coals on the hearth a panorama passed before him. He saw a
joyous child, a light-hearted boy, and a sanguine youth, with the
shifting and familiar scenery of well-remembered experience. Time
softened the pictures, and the harsh, rough outlines which exist in
every truthful portraiture of life were lost in the haze of distance.
The gentle but steady light of mother love, and through her a pale,
half-recognized reflection of the love of God, illumined all those
years; and his father's strong, quiet affection made a background
anything but dark. He had been naturally what is termed a very good
boy, full of generous impulses. There had been no lack of ordinary
waywardness or of the faults of youth, but they showed a tendency to
yield readily to the correcting influence of love. Good impulses,
however, are not principles, and may give way to stronger impulses of
evil. If the influences of his early home had alone followed him, he
would not now be moodily recalling the past as the exiled convict might
watch the shores of his native land recede.

And then, as in his prolonged revery the fire burned low, and the ruddy
coals turned to ashes, the past faded into distance, and his present
life, dull and leaden, rose before him, and from regretful memories
that were not wholly painful he passed to that bitterness of feeling
which ever comes when hope is giving place to despair.

The fire flickered out and died, his head drooped lower and lower,
while the brooding frown upon his brow darkened almost into a scowl.
Outwardly he made a sad picture for a young man in the prime of life,
but to Him who looks at the attitude of the soul, what but unutterable
love kept him from appearing absolutely revolting?

Suddenly, like light breaking into a vault a few notes of prelude were
struck upon the piano in the parlor below, and a sweet voice, softened
by distance sung:

     "Rock of ages, cleft for me,
      let me hide myself in thee,"

How often he had heard the familiar words and music in that same home!
They seemed to crown and complete all the memories of the place, but
they reminded him more clearly than ever before that its most
inseparable associations were holy, hopeful, and suggestive of a faith
that he seemed to have lost as utterly as if it had been a gem dropped
into the ocean.

He had lived in foreign lands far from his birthplace, but the purpose
to return ever dwelt pleasurably in his mind. But how could he cross
the gulf that yawned between him and the faith of his childhood? Was
there really anything beyond that gulf save what the credulous
imagination had created? Instinctively he felt that there was, for he
was honest enough with himself to remember that his scepticism was the
result of an evil life and the influence of an unbelieving world,
rather than the outcome of patient investigation. The wish was father
to the thought.

Yet sweet, unfaltering, and clear as the voice of faith ever should be,
the hymn went forward in the room below, his memory supplying the
well-known words that were lost from remoteness:--

     "When mine eyelids close in death,
      When I soar to worlds unknown."

"Oh, when!" he exclaimed, bitterly. "What shall be my experience then?
If I continue to fail in health as I have of late I shall know cursedly
soon. That must be Miss Walton singing. Though she does not realize it,
to me this is almost as cruel mockery as if an angel sang at the gates
of hell."

The music ceased, and the monotone of one reading followed.

"Family prayers as of old," he muttered. "How everything conspires
to-day to bring my home-life back again! and yet there is a fatal lack
of something that is harder to endure than the absence of my own
kindred and vanished youth. I doubt whether I can stay here long after
all. Will not the mocking fable of Tantalus be repeated constantly, as
I see others drinking daily at a fountain which though apparently so
near is ever beyond my reach?"

Shivering with the chill of the night and the deeper chill at heart, he
retired to troubled sleep.



CHAPTER IV

HOW MISS WALTON MANAGED PEOPLE



Rest, and the sunny light and bracing air of the following morning,
banished much of Gregory's moodiness, and he descended the stairs
proposing to dismiss painful thoughts and get what comfort and
semblance of enjoyment he could out of the passing hours. Mr. Walton
met him cordially--indeed with almost fatherly solicitude--and led him
at once to the dining-room, where an inviting breakfast awaited them.
Miss Walton also was genial, and introduced Miss Eulalia Morton, a
maiden sister of her mother. Miss Eulie, as she was familiarly called,
was a pale, delicate little lady, with a face sweetened rather than
hardened and imbittered by time. If, as some believe, the flesh and the
spirit, the soul and the body, are ever at variance, she gave the
impression at first glance that the body was getting the worst of the
conflict. But in truth the faintest thoughts of strife seemed to have
no association with her whatever. She appeared so light and aerial that
one could imagine her flying over the rough places of life, and
vanishing when any one opposed her.

Miss Walton reversed all this, for she was decidedly substantial. She
was of only medium height, but a fine figure made her appear taller
than she was. She immediately gave the impression of power and reserve
force. You felt this in her quick, elastic step, saw it in her decided
though not abrupt movements, and heard it in her tone. Even the
nonchalant Mr. Gregory could not ignore her in his customary polite
manner, though quiet refinement and peculiar unobtrusiveness seemed her
characteristics. She won attention, not because she sought it, nor on
the ground of eccentricities, but because of her intense vitality. From
her dark eyes a close observer might catch glimpses of a quick, active
mind, an eager spirit, and--well, perhaps a passionate temper. Though
chastened and subdued, she ever gave the impression of power to those
who came to know her well. In certain ways, as they interpreted her,
people acknowledged this force of character. Some spoke of her as very
lively, others as exceedingly energetic and willing to enter on any
good work. Some thought her ambitious, else why was she so prominent in
church matters, and so ready to visit the sick and poor? They could
explain this in but one way. And some looked knowingly at each other
and said: "I wonder if she is always as smiling and sweet as when in
society;" and then followed shaking of heads which intimated, "Look out
for sudden gusts."

Again, as in simple morning wrapper she turned to greet Gregory, she
gave him the impression of something like beauty. But his taste,
rendered critical by much observation both at home and abroad, at once
told him that he was mistaken.

"The expression is well enough," he thought, "but she has not a single
perfect feature--not one that an artist would copy, except perhaps the
eyes, and even they are not soft and Madonna-like."

He had a sybarite's eye for beauty, and an intense admiration for it.
At the same time he was too intellectual to be satisfied with the mere
sensuous type. And yet, when he decided that a woman was not pretty,
she ceased to interest him. His exacting taste required no small degree
of outward perfection crowned by ready wit and society polish. With
those so endowed he had frequently amused himself in New York and Paris
by a passing flirtation since the politic Miss Bently had made him a
sceptic in regard to women. All his intercourse with society had
confirmed his cynicism. The most beautiful and brilliant in the
drawing-rooms were seldom the best. He flattered them to their faces
and sneered at them in his heart. Therefore his attentions were merely
of a nature to excite their vanity, stimulated by much incense from
other sources. He saw this plainly manifested trait, which he
contributed to develop, and despised it. He also saw that many were as
eager for a good match as ever the adored Miss Bently had been, and
that, while they liked his compliments, they cared not for him. Why
should they? Insincere and selfish himself, why should he expect to
awaken better feelings on the part of those who were anything but
unsophisticated, and from knowledge of the world could gauge him at his
true worth? Not even a sentimental girl would show her heart to such a
man. And yet with the blind egotism of selfishness he smiled grimly at
their apparent heartlessness and said, "Such is woman."

At the same time it must in justice be said that he despised men in
general quite as sincerely. "Human nature is wretched stuff," had come
to be the first article in his creed.

In regard to Miss Walton he concluded: "She is a goodish girl, more of
a lady than the average, pious and orthodox, an excellent housekeeper,
and a great comfort to her father, no doubt. She is safe from her very
plainness, though confident, of course, that she could resist
temptation and be a saint under all circumstances;" and he dismissed
her from his mind with a sort of inward groan and protest against the
necessity of making himself agreeable to her during his visit.

He did not think it worth while to disguise his face as he made these
brief critical observations, and quick-witted Annie gathered something
of the drift of his thoughts, as she stole a few glances at him from
behind the coffee-urn. It piqued her pride a little, and she was
disappointed in him, for she had hoped for a pleasant addition to their
society for a time. But she was so supremely indifferent to him, and
had so much to fill her thoughts and days, that his slight promise to
prove an agreeable visitor caused but momentary annoyance. Yet the
glimmer of a smile flitted across her face as she thought: "He may find
himself slightly mistaken in me, after all. His face seems to say, 'No
doubt she is a good young woman, and well enough for this slow country
place, but she has no beauty, no style.' I think I can manage to
disturb the even current of his vanity, if his visit is long enough,
and he shall learn at least that I shall not gape admiringly at his
artificial metropolitan airs."

Her manner toward Gregory remained full of kindness and grace, but she
made no effort to secure his attention and engage him in conversation,
as he had feared she would do. She acted as if she were accustomed to
see such persons as himself at her father's breakfast-table every
morning; and, though habitually wrapped up in his own personality, he
soon became dimly conscious that her course toward him was not what he
had expected.

Miss Eulie was all solicitude in view of his character of invalid; and
the children looked at him with curious eyes and growing
disapprobation. There was nothing in him to secure their instinctive
friendship, and he made no effort to win their sympathies.

The morning meal began with a reverent looking to heaven for God's
blessing on the gifts which were acknowledged as coming from Him; and
even Gregory was compelled to admit that the brief rite did not appear
like a careless signing of the cross, or a shrivelled form from which
spirit and meaning had departed, but a sincere expression of loving
trust and gratitude.

During the greater part of the meal, Mr. Walton dwelt on the
circumstances that had led to his friendship with Gregory's father, but
at last the conversation flagged a little, since the young man made so
slight effort to maintain it.

Suddenly Mr. Walton turned to his daughter and said, "By the way,
Annie, you have not told me where you found Mr. Gregory, for my
impression is that you brought him down from the hills."

"I was about to say that I found him in a chestnut burr," replied
Annie, with a twinkle in her eye. "At least I found a stranger by the
cedar thicket, and he proved from a chestnut burr who he was, and his
right to acquaintance, with a better logic than I supposed him capable
of."

"Indeed?" asked Gregory, quickly, feeling the prick of her last words;
"on what grounds were you led to estimate my logic so slightingly?"

"On merely general grounds; but you see I am open to all evidence in
your favor. City life no doubt has great advantages, but it also has
greater drawbacks."

"What are they?"

"I cannot think of them all now. Suffice it to say that if you had
always lived in the city you could not have interpreted a chestnut burr
so gracefully. Many there seem to forget Nature's lore."

"But may they not learn other things more valuable?"

Miss Walton shook her head, and said, with a laugh: "An ignorant
exhorter once stated to his little schoolhouse audience that Paul was
brought up at the foot of the hill Gamaliel. I almost wish he were
right, for I should have had more confidence in the teachings of the
hill than in those of the narrow-minded Jewish Rabbi."

"And yet you regard Paul as the very chief of the apostles."

"He became such after he was taught of Him who teaches through the
hills and nature generally."

"My daughter is an enthusiast for nature," remarked Mr. Walton.

"If the people are the same as when I was here a boy, the hills have
not taught the majority very much," said Gregory, with a French shrug.

"Many of them have a better wisdom than you think," answered Annie,
quietly.

"In what does it consist?"

"Well, for one thing they know how to enjoy life and add to the
enjoyment of others."

Gregory looked at her keenly for a moment, but saw nothing to lead him
to think that she was speaking on other than general principles; but he
said, a little moodily, as they rose from the table, "That certainly is
a better wisdom than is usually attained in either city or country."

"It is not our custom to make company of our friends," said Mr. Walton,
cordially. "We hope you will feel completely at home, and come and go
as you like, and do just what you find agreeable. We dine at two, and
have an early supper on account of the children. There are one or two
fair saddle horses on the place, but if you do not feel strong enough
to ride, Annie can drive you out, and I assure you she is at home in
the management of a horse."

"Yes, indeed," echoed the little boy. "Aunt Annie can manage anything
or anybody."

"That is a remarkable power," said Gregory, with an amused look and a
side glance at the young girl. "How does she do it?"

"Oh, I don't know," replied the boy; "she makes them love her, and then
they want to do as she says."

A momentary wrathful gleam shot from Annie's eyes at her indiscreet
little champion, but with heightened color she joined in the laugh that
followed.

Gregory had the ill grace to say with a sort of mocking gallantry, as
he bowed himself out, "It must be delightful to be managed on such
terms."



CHAPTER V

WAS IT AN ACCIDENT?



Putting on a light overcoat, for the morning air was sharp and bracing,
Gregory soon found himself in the old square garden. Though its glory
was decidedly on the wane, it was as yet unnipped by the frost It had a
neatness and an order of its own that were quite unlike those where
nature is in entire subordination to art. Indeed it looked very much as
he remembered it in the past, and he welcomed its unchanged aspect. He
strolled to many other remembered boyish haunts, and it seemed that the
very lichens and mosses grew in the same places as of old, and that
nature had stood still and awaited his return.

And yet every familiar object chided him for being so changed, and he
began to find more of pain than pleasure as this contrast between what
he had been and what he might have been was constantly forced upon him.

"Oh that I had never left this place!" he exclaimed, bitterly: "It
would have been better to stay here and drudge as a day laborer. What
has that career out in the world to which I looked forward so ardently
amounted to? The present is disappointment and self-disgust, the future
an indefinite region of fears and forebodings, and even the happy past
is becoming a bitter mockery by reminding me of what can never be
again."

Wearied and despondent, he moodily returned to the house and threw
himself on a lounge in the parlor. A smouldering wood fire upon the
hearth softened the air to summer temperature. The heat was grateful to
his chilled, bloodless body, and gave him a luxurious sense of physical
comfort, and he muttered: "I had about resolved to leave this place
with its memories that are growing into torment, but I suppose it would
be the same anywhere else. I am too weak and ill to face new scenes and
discomfort. A little animal enjoyment and bodily respite from pain seem
about all that is left to me of existence, and I think I can find these
here better than elsewhere. If I am expected, however, to fall under
the management of the daughter of the house on the terms blurted out by
that fidgety nephew of hers, I will fly for my life. A plague on him!
His restlessness makes me nervous! If I could endure a child at all,
the blue-eyed little girl would make a pretty toy."

Sounds from the sitting-room behind the parlor now caught his
attention, and listening he soon became aware that Miss Walton was
teaching the children. "She has just the voice for a 'schoolmarm,'" he
thought--"quick, clear-cut, and decided."

If he had not given way to unreasonable prejudice he might also have
noted that there was nothing harsh or querulous in it.

"With her management and love of nature, she doubtless thinks herself
the personification of goodness. I suppose I shall be well lectured
before I get away. I had a foretaste of it this morning. 'Drawbacks of
city life,' forsooth! She no doubt regards me as a result of these
disadvantages. But if she should come to deem it her mission to convert
or reform me, then will be lost my small remnant of peace and comfort."

But weakness and weariness soon inclined him to sleep. Miss Walton's
voice sounded far away. Then it passed into his dream as that of Miss
Bently chiding him affectedly for his wayward tendencies; again it was
explaining that conscientious young lady's "sense of duty" in view of
Mr. Grobb's offer, and even in his sleep his face darkened with pain
and wrath.

Just then, school hours being over, Miss Walton came into the parlor.
For a moment, as she stood by the fire, she did not notice its
unconscious occupant. Then, seeing him, she was about to leave the room
noiselessly, when the expression of his face arrested her steps.

If Annie Walton's eyes suggested the probability of "sudden gusts,"
they also at times announced a warm, kind heart, for as she looked at
him now her face instantly softened to pity.

"Good he is not," she thought, "but he evidently suffers in his evil.
Something is blighting his life, and what can blight a life save evil?
Perhaps I had better change my proposed crusade against his vanity and
cynicism to a kind, sisterly effort toward making him a better and
therefore a happier man. It will soon come out in conversation that I
have long been the same as engaged to another, and this will relieve me
of absurd suspicions of designs upon him. If I could win a friendly
confidence on his part, I'm sure I could tell him some wholesome
truths, for even an enemy could scarcely look on that face without
relenting."

There was nothing slow or cumbrous about Annie. These thoughts had
flashed through her mind during the brief moment in which her eyes
softened from surprise into sympathy as they caught the expression of
Gregory's face. Then, fearing to disturb him, with silent tread she
passed out to her wonted morning duties.

How seemingly accidental was that visit to the parlor! Its motive
indefinite and forgotten. Apparently it was but a trivial episode of an
uneventful day, involving no greater catastrophe than the momentary
rousing of a sleeper who would doze again. But what day can we with
certainty call uneventful? and what episode trivial? Those
half-aimless, purposeless steps of Annie Walton into the quiet parlor
might lead to results that would radically change the endless future of
several lives.

In her womanly, pitying nature, had not God sent His angel? If a
viewless "ministering spirit," as the sinful man's appointed guardian,
was present, as many believe is the case with every one, how truly he
must have welcomed this unselfish human companionship in his loving
labor to save life; for only they who rescue from sin truly save life.

And yet the sleeper, even in his dreams, was evidently at war with
himself, the world, and God. He was an example of the truth that good
comes from without and not from within us. It is heaven stooping to
men; heaven's messengers sent to us; truth quickened in our minds by
heavenly influence, even as sunlight and rain awaken into beautiful
life the seeds hidden in the soil; and, above all, impulses direct from
God, that steal into our hearts as the south wind penetrates ice-bound
gardens in spring.

But, alas! multitudes like Walter Gregory blind their eyes and steel
their hearts against such influences. God and those allied to Him
longed to bring the healing of faith and love to his wounded spirit. He
scowled back his answer, and, as he then felt, would shrink with morbid
sensitiveness and dislike from the kindest and most delicate
presentation of the transforming truth. But the divine love is ever
seeking to win our attention by messengers innumerable; now by the
appalling storm, again by a summer sunset; now by an awful providence,
again by a great joy; at times by stern prophets and teachers, but more
often by the gentle human agencies of which Annie was the type, as with
pitying face she bent over the worn and jaded man of the world and
hoped and prayed that she might be able to act the part of a true
sister toward him. Thorny and guarded was every avenue to his heart;
and yet her feminine tact, combined with the softening and purifying
influence of his old home, might gain her words acceptance, where the
wisest and most eloquent would plead in vain.

After dinner he again hastened forth for a walk, his purpose being to
avoid company, for he was so moody and morbid, so weak, nervous, and
irritable, that the thought of meeting and decorously conversing with
those whose lives and character were a continual reproach to him was
intolerable. Then he had the impression that the "keen-eyed,
plain-featured Miss Walton," as he characterized her in his mind, would
surely commence discoursing on moral and religious subjects if he gave
her a chance; and he feared that if she did, he would say or do
something very rude, and confirm the bad impression that he was sure of
having already made. If he could have strolled into his club, and among
groups engaged with cards, papers, and city gossip, he would have felt
quite at home. Ties formed at such a place are not very strong as a
usual thing, and the manner of the world can isolate the members and
their real life completely, even when the rooms are thronged. As
Gregory grew worn and thin and his pallor increased, as he smoked and
brooded more and more apart, his companions would shrug their shoulders
significantly and whisper, "It looks as if Gregory would go under soon.
Something's the matter with him."

At first good-natured men would say, "Come, Gregory, take a hand with
us," but when he complied it was with such a listless manner that they
were sorry they had asked him. At last, beyond mere passing courtesies,
they had come to leave him very much alone; and in his unnatural and
perverted state this was just what he most desired. His whole being had
become a diseased, sensitive nerve, shrinking most from any effort
toward his improvement, even as a finger pointed at a festering wound
causes anticipatory agonies.

At the club he would be let alone, but these good people would "take an
interest in him," and might even "talk religion," and probe with
questions and surmises. If they did, he knew, from what he had already
seen of them, that they would try to do it delicately and kindly, but
he felt that the most considerate efforts would be like the surgical
instruments of the dark ages. He needed good, decisive, heroic
treatment. But who would have the courage and skill to give it? Who
cared enough for him to take the trouble?

Not merely had Annie Walton looked with eyes of human pity upon his
sin-marred visage that morning. The Divine personality, enthroned in
the depths of her soul and permeating her life, looked commiseratingly
forth also. Could demons glare from human eyes and God not smile from
them?

As Annie thought much of him after her stolen glance in the morning,
she longed to do that which he dreaded she would try to do--attempt his
reformation. Not that she cared for him personally, or that she had
grown sentimentally interested in his Byronic style of wretchedness. So
far from it, her happy and healthful nature was repelled by his
diseased and morbid one. She found him what girls call a "disagreeable
man." But she yearned toward a sinning, suffering soul, found in any
guise. It was not in her woman's heart to pass by on the other side.



CHAPTER VI

UNEXPECTED CHESTNUT BURRS



Gregory's afternoon walk was not very prolonged, for a shivering sense
of discomfort soon drove him back to the house. Although the morning
had been cool, the sun had shone bright and warm, but now the
fore-shadowing of a storm was evident. A haze had spread over the sky,
increasing in leaden hue toward the west. The chilly wind moaned
fitfully through the trees, and the landscape darkened like a face
shadowed by coming trouble.

Walter dreaded a storm, fearing it would shut him up with the family
without escape; but at last the sun so enshrouded itself in gloom that
he was compelled to return. He went to his room, for a book, hoping
that when they saw him engaged they would leave him more to himself.
But to his agreeable surprise he found a cheerful fire blazing on the
hearth, and an ample supply of wood in a box near. The easy-chair was
wheeled forward, and a plate of grapes and the latest magazine were
placed invitingly on the table. Even his cynicism was not proof against
this, delicate thoughtfulness, and he exclaimed, "Ah, this is better
than I expected, and a hundred-fold better than I deserve. I make but
poor return for their kindness. This cosey room seems to say, 'We won't
force ourselves on you. You can be alone as much as you like,' for I
suppose they must have noticed my disinclination for society. But they
are wise after all, for I am cursed poor company for myself and worse
than none at all for others."

Eating from time to time a purple grape, he so lost himself in the
fresh thoughts of the magazine that the tea-bell rang ere he was aware.

"In the name of decency I must try to make myself agreeable for a
little while this evening," he muttered, as he descended to the
cheerful supper-room.

To their solicitude for his health and their regret that the
approaching storm had driven him so early to the house, he replied, "I
found in my room a better substitute for the sunlight I had lost;
though as a votary of nature, Miss Walton, I suppose you will regard
this assertion as rank heresy."

"Not at all, for your firelight is the result of sunlight." answered
Annie, smiling.

"How is that?"

"It required many summers to ripen the wood that blazed on your hearth.
Indeed, good dry wood is but concentrated sunshine put by for cold,
gloomy days and chilly nights."

"That is an odd fancy. I wish there were other ways of storing up
sunshine for future use."

"There are," said Miss Walton, cheerfully; and she looked up as if she
would like to say more, but he instantly changed the subject in his
instinctive wish to avoid the faintest approach to moralizing. Still,
conversation continued brisk till Mr. Walton asked suddenly, "By the
way, Mr. Gregory, have you ever met Mr. Hunting of Wall Street?"

There was no immediate answer, and they all looked inquiringly at him.
To their surprise his face was darkened by the heaviest frown. After a
moment he said, with peculiar emphasis, "Yes; I know him well."

A chill seemed to fall on them after that; and he, glancing up, saw
that Annie looked flushed and indignant, Miss Eulie pained, and Mr.
Walton very grave. Even the little boy shot vindictive glances at him.
He at once surmised that Hunting was related to the family, and was
oppressed with the thought that he was fast losing the welcome given
him on his father's account. But in a few moments Annie rallied and
made unwonted efforts to banish the general embarrassment, and with
partial success, for Gregory had tact and good conversational powers if
he chose to exert them. When, soon after, they adjourned to the parlor,
outward serenity reigned.

On either side of the ample hearth, on which blazed a hickory fire, a
table was drawn up. An easy-chair stood invitingly by each, with a
little carpet bench on which to rest the feet.

"Take one of these," said Mr. Walton, cordially, "and join me with a
cigar. The ladies of my household are indulgent to my small vices."

"And I will send for your magazine," said Annie, "and then you can read
and chat according to your mood. You gee that we do not intend to make
a stranger of you."

"For which I am very glad. You treat me far better than I deserve."

Instead of some deprecatory remark, Annie gave him a quick,
half-comical look which he did not fully understand.

"There is more in her than I at first imagined," he thought.

Seated with the magazine, Gregory found himself in the enjoyment of
every element of comfort. That he might be under no constraint to talk,
Annie commenced speaking to her father and Miss Eulie of some
neighborhood affairs, of which he knew nothing. The children and a
large greyhound were dividing the rug between them. The former were
chatting in low tones and roasting the first chestnuts of the season on
a broad shovel that was placed on the glowing coals. The dog was
sleepily watching them lest in their quick movements his tail should
come to grief.

Gregory had something of an artist's eye, and he could not help
glancing up from his reading occasionally, and thinking what a pretty
picture the roomy parlor made.

"Annie," said Mr. Walton, after a little while, "I can't get through
this article with my old eyes. Won't you finish it for me? Shall we
disturb you, Mr. Gregory?"

"Not at all."

Gregory soon forgot to read himself in listening to her. Not that he
heard the subject-matter with any interest, but her sweet, natural
tones and simplicity arrested and retained his attention. Even the
statistics and the prose of political economy seemed to fall from her
lips in musical cadence, and yet there was no apparent effort and not a
thought of effect. Walter mused as he listened.

"I should like to hear some quiet, genial book read in that style,
though it is evident that Miss Walton is no tragedy queen."

Having finished the reading, Annie started briskly up and said, "Come,
little people, your chestnuts are roasted and eaten. It's bedtime. The
turkeys and squirrels will be at the nut-trees long before you
to-morrow unless you scamper off at once."

"O, Aunt Annie," chimed their voices, "you must sing us the chestnut
song first; you promised to."

"With your permission, Mr. Gregory, I suppose I must make my promise
good," said Annie.

"I join the children in asking for the song," he replied, glad to get
them out of the way on such easy conditions, though he expected a
nursery ditty or a juvenile hymn from some Sabbath-school collection,
wherein healthy, growing boys are made to sing, "I want to be an
angel." "Moreover," he added, "I have read that one must always keep
one's word to a child."

"Which is a very important truth: do you not think so?"

"Since you are using the word 'truth' so prominently, Miss Walton, I
must say that I have not thought much about it. But I certainly would
have you keep your word on this occasion."

"Aunt Annie always keeps her word," said Johnny, rather bluntly. By
some childish instinct he divined that Gregory did not appreciate Aunt
Annie sufficiently, and this added to his prejudice.

"You have a stout little champion there," Gregory remarked.

"I cannot complain of his zeal," she answered significantly, at the
same time giving the boy a caress. "Mr. Gregory, this is a rude country
ballad, and we are going to sing it in our accustomed way, even though
it shock your city ears. Johnny and Susie, you can join in the chorus;"
and she sang the following simple October glee:

    Katydid, your throat is sore,
    You can chirp this fall no more;
    Robin red-breast, summer's past,
    Did you think 'twould always last?
    Fly away to sunny climes,
    Lands of oranges and limes;
    With the squirrels we shall stay
    And put our store of nuts away.
O the spiny chestnut burrs! O the prickly chestnut burrs!
    Harsh without, but lined with down,
    And full of chestnuts, plump and brown.

    Sorry are we for the flowers;
    We shall miss our summer bowers;
    Still we welcome frosty Jack,
    Stealing now from Greenland back.
    And the burrs will welcome him;
    When he knocks, they'll let him in.
    They don't know what Jack's about;
    Soon he'll turn the chestnuts out.
O the spiny, etc.--

    Turkey gobbler, with your train,
    You shall scratch the leaves in vain;
    Squirrel, with your whisking tail,
    Your sharp eyes shall not avail;
    In the crisp and early dawn,
    Scampering across the lawn.
    We will beat you to the trees,
    Come you then whene'er you please.
O the spiny, etc.--

Gregory's expression as she played a simple prelude was one of
endurance, but when she began to sing the changes of his face were
rapid. First he turned toward her with a look of interest, then of
surprise. Miss Eulie could not help watching him, for, though she was
well on in life, just such a character had never risen above her
horizon. Too gentle to censure, she felt that she had much cause for
regret.

At first she was pleased to see that he found the ditty far more to his
taste than he had expected. But the rapid alternation from pleased
surprise and enjoyment to something like a scowl of despair and almost
hate she could not understand. Following his eyes she saw them resting
on the boy, who was now eagerly joining in the chorus of the last
verse. She was not sufficiently skilled to know that to Gregory's
diseased moral nature things most simple and wholesome in themselves
were most repugnant. She could not understand that the tripping little
song, with its wild-wood life and movement--that the boy singing with
the delight of a pure, fresh heart--told him, beyond the power of
labored language, how hackneyed and blase he had become, how far and
hopelessly he had drifted from the same true childhood.

And Miss Walton, turning suddenly toward him, saw the same dark
expression, full of suffering and impotent revolt at his destiny, as he
regarded it, and she too was puzzled.

"You do not like our foolish little song," she said.

"I envy that boy, Miss Walton," was his reply.

Then she began to understand him, and said, gently, "You have no
occasion to."

"I wish you, or any one, could find the logic to prove that."

"The proof is not in logic but in nature, that is ever young. They who
draw their life from nature do not fall into the only age we need
dread."

"Do you not expect to grow old?"

She shook her head half humorously and said, "But these children will
before I get them to bed."

He ostensibly resumed his magazine, but did not turn any leaves.

His first mental query was, "Have I rightly gauged Miss Walton? I half
believe she understands me better than I do her. I estimated her as a
goodish, fairly educated country girl, of the church-going sort, one
that would be dreadfully shocked at finding me out, and deem it at once
her mission to pluck me as a brand from the burning. I know all about
the goodness of such girls. They are ignorant of the world; they have
never been tempted, and they have a brood of little feminine weaknesses
that of course are not paraded in public.

"And no doubt all this is true of Miss Walton, and yet, for some
reason, she interests me a little this evening. She is refined, but
nowhere in the world will you meet drearier monotony and barrenness
than among refined people. Having no real originality, their little
oddities are polished away. In Miss Walton I'm beginning to catch
glimpses of vistas unexplored, though perhaps I am a fool for thinking
so.

"What a peculiar voice she has! She would make a poor figure, no doubt,
in an opera; and yet she might render a simple aria very well. But for
songs of nature and ballads I have never heard so sympathetic a voice.
It suggests a power of making music a sweet home language instead of a
difficult, high art, attainable by few. Really Miss Walton is worth
investigation, for no one with such a voice can be utterly commonplace.
Strange as it is, I cannot ignore her. Though she makes no effort to
attract my attention, I am ever conscious of her presence."



CHAPTER VII

A CONSPIRACY



When Miss Walton returned to the parlor her father said, "Annie, I am
going to trespass on your patience again."

She answered with a little piquant gesture, and was soon reading in
natural, easy tones, without much stumbling, what must have been Greek
to her.

Gregory watched her with increasing interest, and another question than
the one of finance involved in the article was rising in his mind.

"Is this real? Is this seeming goodness a fact?" It was the very
essence of his perverted nature to doubt it. Now that his eyes were
opened, and he closely observed Miss Walton, he saw that his prejudices
against her were groundless. Although not a stylish, pretty woman, she
was evidently far removed from the goodish, commonplace character that
he could regard as part of the furniture of the house, useful in its
place, but of no more interest than a needful piece of cabinet work.
Nor did she assert herself as do those aggressive, lecturing females
who deem it their mission to set everybody right within their sphere.

And yet she did assert herself; but he was compelled to admit that it
was like the summer breeze or the perfume of a rose. He had resolved
that very day to avoid and ignore her as far as possible, and yet,
before the first evening in her presence was half over, he had left a
magazine story unfinished; he was watching her, thinking and surmising
about her, and listening, as she read, to what he did not care a straw
about. Although she had not made the slightest effort, some influence
from her had stolen upon him like a cool breeze on a sultry day, and
wooed him as gently as the perfume of a flower that is sweet to all. He
said to himself, "She is not pretty," and yet found pleasure in
watching her red lips drop figures and financial terms as musically as
a little rill murmurs over a mossy rock.

From behind his magazine he studied the group at the opposite table,
but it was with the pain which a despairing swimmer, swept seaward by a
resistless current, might feel in seeing the safe and happy on the
shore.

Gray Mr. Walton leaned back in his chair, the embodiment of peace and
placid content.

The subject to which he was listening and kindred topics had so far
receded that his interest was that of a calm, philosophic observer, and
Gregory thought, with a glimmer of a smile, "He is not dabbling in
stocks or he could not maintain that quiet mien."

His habits of thought as a business man merely made it a pleasure to
keep up with the times. In fact he was in that serene border-land
between the two worlds where the questions of earth are growing vague
and distant and those of the "better country" more real and engrossing,
for Gregory observed, later in the evening, that he took the family
Bible with more zest than he had bestowed on the motive power of the
world. It was evident where his most valued treasures were stored. With
a bitter sigh, Gregory thought, "I would take his gray hairs if I could
have his peace and faith."

Miss Eulie, to whom he gave a passing glance, seemed even less earthly
in her nature. Indeed, it appeared as if she had never more than half
belonged to the material creation. Slight, ethereal, with untroubled
blue eyes, and little puff curls too light to show their change to
gray, she struck Gregory unpleasantly, as if she were a connecting link
between gross humanity and spiritual existence, and his eyes reverted
to Miss Walton, and dwelt with increasing interest on her. There at
least were youth, health, and something else--what was it in the girl
that had so strongly and suddenly gained his attention? At any rate
there was nothing about her uncanny and spirit-like.

He did not understand her. Was it possible that a young girl, not much
beyond twenty, was happy in the care of orphan children, in the quiet
humdrum duties of housekeeping, and in reading stupid articles through
the long, quiet evenings, with few excitements beyond church-going,
rural tea-drinkings, and country walks and rides? With a grim smile he
thought how soon the belles he had admired would expire under such a
regimen. Could this be good acting because a guest was present? If so
it was perfect, for it seemed, her daily life.

"I will watch her," he thought. "I will solve this little feminine
enigma. It will divert my mind, and I've nothing else to do."

"My daughter spoils me, you see, Mr. Gregory," said Mr. Walton,
starting up as Annie finished a theory that would make every one rich
by the printing-press process,

"Don't plume yourself, papa," replied Annie, archly; "I shall make you
do something for me to pay for all this."

With a humorous look he replied, "No matter, I have the best of the
bargain, for I should have to do the 'something' anyway. But what do
you think of this theory, sir?" And he explained, not knowing that
Walter had been listening.

The gentlemen were soon deep in the mysteries of currency and finance,
topics on which both could talk well. Annie listened with polite
attention for a short time--indeed Gregory was exerting himself more
for her sake than for Mr. Walton's--and she was satisfied from her
father's face that his guest was interesting him; but as the subject
was mainly unintelligible to her she soon turned with real zest to Miss
Eulie's fancy-work, and there was an earnest whispered discussion in
regard to the right number of stitches. Walter noted this and
sneeringly thought, with a masculine phase of justice often seen,
"That's like a woman. She drops one of the deepest and most important
subjects of the day" (and he might have added, "As explained by
me")--"and gives her whole soul to a bit of thread lace;" and he soon
let Mr. Walton have the discussion all his own way.

In furtherance of his purpose to draw Annie out he said, rather
banteringly, "Miss Walton, I am astonished that so good a man as your
father should have as an ardent friend the profane and disreputable
character that I found living in the cottage opposite on the day of my
arrival."

"Profane, I admit he is," she replied, "but not disreputable. Indeed,
as the world goes, I think old Daddy Tuggar, as he is called in this
vicinity, is a good man."

"O, Annie!" said Miss Eulie. "How can you think so? You have broader
charity than I. He is breaking his poor wife's heart."

"Indeed?" said Annie, dryly; "I was not aware of it."

"I too am astonished," said Walter, in mock solemnity. "How is it that
a refined and orthodox young lady, a pillar of the church, too, I
gather, can regard with other than unmixed disapprobation a man who
breaks the third commandment and all the rules of Lindley Murray at
every breath?"

"I imagine the latter offence is the more heinous sin in your eyes, Mr.
Gregory," she said, scanning his face with a quick look.

"Oh, you become aggressive. I was under the impression that I was
making the attack and that you were on the defensive. But I can readily
explain the opinion which you, perhaps not unjustly, impute to me. You
and I judge this venerable sinner from different standpoints."

"You explain your judgment, but do not justify it," replied Annie,
quietly.

"Annie, I don't see on what grounds you call Daddy Tuggar a good man,"
said Miss Eulie, emphatically.

"Please understand me, aunty," said Annie, earnestly. "I did not say he
was a Christian man, but merely a good man as the world goes; and I
know I shall shock you when I say that I have more faith in him than in
his praying and Scripture-quoting wife. There, I knew I should," she
added, as she saw Miss Eulie's look of pained surprise.

Mr. Walton was listening with an amused smile. He evidently understood
his quaint old friend and shared Annie's opinion of him.

Gregory was growing decidedly interested, and said, "Really, Miss
Walton, I must side with your aunt in this matter. I shall overwhelm
you with an awful word. I think you are latitudinarian in your
tendencies."

"Which Daddy Tuggar would call a new-fangled way of swearing at me,"
retorted Annie, with her frank laugh that was so genuinely mirthful
that even Aunt Eulie joined in it.

"I half think," continued Annie, "that the churchmen in the ages of
controversy did a good deal of worse swearing than our old neighbor is
guilty of when they hurled at each other with such bitter zest the
epithets Antinomian, Socinian, Pelagian, Calvinistic, etc."

"Those terms have an awful sound. They smite my ear with all the power
that vagueness imparts, and surely must have caused stout hearts to
tremble in their day," he remarked.

"We are no longer on the ground of currency and finance," said Annie,
archly, "and I shall leave you to imagine that I know all about the
ideas represented by the polysyllabic terms of churchmen's warfare."

He looked at her a moment in comic dismay. Really this country girl was
growing too much for him in his game of banter.

"Miss Walton, I shall not dispute or question your knowledge of the
Socin--cin--(you know the rest) heresy--"

"Alas!" put in Annie, quietly, "I do know all about the 'sin heresy.' I
can say that honestly."

"I am somewhat inclined to doubt that," he said, quickly; then added,
in sudden and mock severity, "Miss Walton, if I were a judge upon the
bench I should charge that you were evading the question and befogging
the case. The point at issue is, How can you regard Daddy Tuggar as a
good man? As evidence against him I can affirm that I do not remember
to have had such a good square cursing in my life, and I have received
several."

This last expression caused Miss Eulie to open her eyes at him.

"Not for your sake, sir," said Annie, with a keen yet humorous glance
at him, "who as judge on the bench have in your pocket a written
verdict, I fear, but for Aunt Eulie's I will give the reasons for my
estimate. I regard her in the light of an honest jury. In the first
place the term you used, 'square,' applies to him. I do not think he
could be tempted to do a dishonest thing; and that, as the world goes,
is certainly a good point."

"And as the church goes, too," he added, cynically.

"He is a good neighbor, and considerate of the rights of others. He can
feel, and is not afraid to show a sincere indignation when seeing a
wrong done to another."

"I can vouch for that. I shall steal no more of your apples, Mr.
Walton."

"There is not a particle of hypocrisy about him. I wish I could think
the same of his wife. For some reason she always gives me the
impression of insincerity. If I were as good as you are, aunty, perhaps
I should not be so suspicious. One thing more, and my eulogy of
Daddy--the only one he will ever receive, I fear--is over. He is
capable of sincere friendship, and that is more than you can say of a
great many."

"It is indeed," said Gregory, with bitter emphasis. "I should be
willing to take my chances with Daddy Tuggar in this or any other
world."

"You had better not," she answered, now thoroughly in earnest.

"Why so?"

"I should think memories of this place would make my meaning clear,"
she replied, gently.

Gregory's face darkened, and he admitted to himself that most
unexpectedly she had sent an arrow home, and yet he could take no
exception.

His indifference toward her had vanished now. So far from regarding her
as a dull, good, country girl with a narrow horizon of little feminine
and commonplace interests, he began to doubt whether he should be able
to cope with her in the tilt of thought. He saw that she was quick,
original, and did her own thinking, that in repartee she hit back
unexpectedly, in flashes, as the lightning strikes from the clouds. He
could not keep pace with her quick intuition.

Moreover, in her delicate reference to his parents' faith she had
suggested an argument for Christianity that he had never been able to
answer. For a little time she had caused him to forget his wretched
self, but her last remark had thrown him back on his old doubts, fears,
and memories. As we have said, his cynical, despondent expression
returned, and he silently lowered at the fire.

Annie had too much tact to add a word. "He must be hurt--well probed
indeed--before he can be well," she thought.

Country bedtime had now come, and Mr. Walton said, "Mr. Gregory, I
trust you will not find our custom of family prayers distasteful."

"The absence of such a custom would seem strange to me in this place,"
he replied, but he did not say whether it would be agreeable or
distasteful.

Annie went to the piano as if it were a habit, and after a moment chose
the tender hymn--

    "Come, ye disconsolate."

At first, in his morbid sensitiveness, he was inclined to resent this
selection as aimed at him, but soon he was under the spell of the music
and the sentiment, which he thought had never before been so
exquisitely blended.

Miss Walton was not very finished or artistic in anything. She would
not be regarded as a scholar, even among the girls of her own age and
station, and her knowledge of classical music was limited. But she was
gifted in a peculiar degree with tact, a quick perception, and the
power of interpreting the language of nature and of the heart. She read
and estimated character rapidly. Almost intuitively she saw people's
needs and weaknesses, but so far was she from making them the ground of
satire and contempt that they awakened her pity and desire to help. In
other words, she was one of those Christians who in some degree catch
the very essence of Christ's character, who lived and died to save. She
did not think of condemning the guilty and disconsolate man that
brooded at her fireside, but she did long to help him.

"I may never be able to say such words to him directly," she thought,
"but I can sing them, and if he leaves our home to-morrow he shall hear
the truth once more."

And she did sing with tenderness and feeling. In rendering something
that required simplicity, nature, and pathos, no prima donna could
surpass her, for while her voice was not powerful, and had no unusual
compass, it was as sweet as that of a thrush in May.

Only deaf ears and a stony heart could have remained insensible, and
Gregory was touched. A reviving breath from Paradise seemed to blow
upon him and gently urge, "Arise, struggle, make one more effort, and
you may yet cross the burning sands of the desert. It is not a mirage
that is mocking you now."

As the last words trembled from the singer's lips he shaded his eyes
with the hand on which his head was leaning, but Miss Eulie saw a tear
fall with momentary glitter, and she exulted over it as his good angel
might have done.

If penitent tears could be crystallized they would be the only gems of
earth that angels would covet, and perhaps God's co-workers here will
find those that they caused to flow on earth, set as gems in their
"crown of glory that fadeth not away."

Mr. Walton, in reverential tones, read the fifty-third chapter of
Isaiah, which, with greater beauty and tenderness, carried forward the
thought of the hymn; and then he knelt and offered a prayer that was so
simple and child-like, so free from form and cant, and so direct from
the heart, that Gregory was deeply moved. The associations of his early
home were now most vividly revealed and crowned by the sacred hour of
family worship, the memory of which, like a reproachful face, had
followed him in all his evil life.

When he arose from his knees he again shaded his face with his hand to
hide his wet eyes and twitching muscles. After a few moments he bade
the family an abrupt goodnight, and retired to his room.

At first they merely exchanged significant glances. Then Miss Eulie
told of the tear as if it were a bit of dust from a mine that might
enrich them all. For a while Annie sat thoughtfully gazing into the
fire, but at last she said, "It must be plain to us that Mr. Gregory
has wandered further from his old home in spirit than he has in body;
but it seems equally evident that he is not happy and content. He seems
suffering and out of health in soul and body. Perhaps God has sent him
to us and to his childhood's home for healing. Let us, therefore, be
very careful, very tender and considerate. He is naturally proud and
sensitive, and is morbidly so now."

"I think he is near the Kingdom," said Miss Eulie, with a little sigh
of satisfaction.

"Perhaps all are nearer than we think," said Annie, in a musing tone.
"God is not far from any one of us. But it is the curse of sin to
blind. He has, no doubt, been long in reaching his present unhappy
condition, and he may be long in escaping from it."

"Well, the Lord reigns," said Mr. Walton, sententiously, as if that
settled the question.

"Dear old father!" said Annie, smiling fondly at him, "that's your
favorite saying. You have a comfortable habit of putting all perplexing
questions into the Lord's hand and borrowing no further trouble.
Perhaps that is the wisest way after all, only one is a long time
learning it."

"I've been a long time learning it, my child," said her father. "Let us
agree to carry his case often to the throne of mercy, and in His good
time and way our prayers will be answered."

Thus in quaint old scriptural style they conspired for the life of
their unconscious guest. This was in truth a "holy alliance." How many
dark conspiracies there have been, resulting in blood, wrong, and
outrage, that some unworthy brow might wear for a little time a petty,
perishing crown of earth! Oh, that there were more conspiracies like
that in Mr. Walton's parlor for the purpose of rendering the unworthy
fit to wear the crown immortal!



CHAPTER VIII

WITCHCRAFT



Miss Eulie was doomed to disappointment, for Gregory came down late to
breakfast the following morning with not a trace of his softened
feelings. Indeed, because of pride, or for some reason, he chose to
seem the very reverse of all she had hoped. The winter of his unbelief
could not pass away so easily.

Even in January there are days of sudden relenting, when the frost's
icy grasp upon nature seems to relax. Days that rightfully belong to
spring drop down upon us with birds that have come before their time.
But such days may end in a northeast snowstorm and the birds perish.

The simile appeared true of Gregory. As far as he took part in the
table-talk he was a cold, finished man of the world, and the gloom of
the early morning rested on his face. But Annie noticed that he made an
indifferent breakfast and did not appear well.

After he had retired to his room to write some letters, as he said, she
remarked to her father when alone with him:

"I suppose you remember Mr. Gregory's manner when you spoke of Mr.
Hunting. They evidently are acquainted and not on good terms. What
could have occurred between them?"

"Some quarrel resulting from business, perhaps," said Mr. Walton,
musingly.

"I believe Charles has been trying to restrain Mr. Gregory in some of
his fast ways," Annie continued, emphatically, "and they have had hot
words. Men have so little discretion in their zeal."

"Business men are not apt to interfere with each other's foibles unless
they threaten their pockets," her father replied. "It is more probable
that Gregory has borrowed money of Hunting, and been compelled to pay
it against his will; and yet I have no right to surmise anything of the
kind."

"But Mr. Hunting is not a mere business man, father. He is bent on
doing good wherever he can find opportunity. I incline to my solution.
But it is clear that we must be silent in regard to him while Mr.
Gregory is with us, for I never saw such bitter enmity expressed in any
face. It is well that Charles is to be absent for some time, and that
we have no prospect of a visit from him while our guest is here. Oh,
dear! I wish Charles could come and make us a visit instead of this
moody, wayward stranger."

"I can echo that wish heartily, Annie, for in the son I find little of
my old friend, his father. But remember what you said last night. It
may be that he was sent to us in order that we should help him become
what his father was."

"I will do my best; but I do not look forward to his society with much
pleasure. Still, if there should be any such result as we hope for, I
should feel repaid a thousand-fold."

Gregory finished his letters and then paced restlessly up and down his
room.

"That this country girl should have so moved me!" he muttered. "What
does it mean? What is there about her that takes hold of my attention
and awakens my interest? I wish to go downstairs now, and talk to her,
and have her read to me, and am provoked with myself that I do.
Yesterday at this time I wished to avoid her.

"Why should I wish to avoid her? If she amuses me, diverts my mind,
beguiles my pain, or more dreary apathy, why not let her exert her
power to the utmost and make herself useful? Yes, but she will try to
do more than amuse. Well, suppose she does; one can coolly foil such
efforts. Not so sure of that. If I were dealing with a man I could, but
one must be worse than a clod to hear her sing and not feel. I suppose
I made a weak fool of myself before them all last night, and they
thought I was on the eve of conversion. I half wish I were, or on the
eve of anything else. Any change from my present state would seem a
relief. But a man cannot go into these things like an impulsive girl,
even if he believes in them, which is more than I do. I seem to have
fallen into a state of moral and physical imbecility, in which I can
only doubt, suffer, and chafe.

"I won't avoid her. I will study and analyze her character. I doubt
whether she is as good, fresh, and original as she seems. Such girls
exist only in moral stories, and I've met but few even there. I will
solve her mystery. Probably it is not a very deep one, and after a day
or two she will become an old story and life resume its normal
monotony;" and he at once descended the stairs to carry out his purpose.

The children were just coming from the sitting-room where they had
their school, exclaiming, "Oh, aunty, what shall we do this awful rainy
day?"

"Wait till I have given some directions to Zibbie, and I will read you
a fairy story, and then you can go up into the garret until
dinner-time."

"May I listen to the fairy story also?" asked Walter.

Miss Walton looked up with a smile and said, "You must be
half-desperate from your imprisonment to accept of such solace. But if
you can wait till I have kept my word to the children I will read
something more to your taste."

"I think I should like to hear how a fairy story sounds once again
after all these years."

"As Shakespeare may sound to us some time in the future," she replied,
smiling.

"I can't believe we shall ever outgrow Shakespeare," he said.

"I can believe it, but cannot understand how it is possible. As yet I
am only growing up to Shakespeare."

"You seem very ready to believe what you cannot understand."

"And that is woman's way, I suppose you would like to add," she
answered, smiling over her shoulder, as she turned to the kitchen
department. "You men have a general faith that there will be dinner at
two o'clock, though you understand very little how it comes to pass,
and if you are disappointed the best of your sex have not fortitude
enough to wait patiently, so I must delay no longer to propitiate the
kitchen divinity."

"There!" he said, "I have but crossed her steps in the hall, and she
has stirred me and set my nerves tingling like an October breeze. She
is a witch."

After a few minutes Miss Walton entered. Each of the children called
for a story, and both clamored for their favorites.

"Johnny," said Miss Walton, "it is manly to yield to the least and
weakest, especially if she be a little woman."

The boy thought a moment, and then with an amusing assumption of
dignity said, "You may read Susie's story first, aunty."

"Susie, promise Johnny that his story shall be read first next time;"
which Susie promptly did with a touch of the womanly grace which
accompanies favors bestowed after the feminine will has triumphed.

"Now, little miniature man and woman, listen!" and their round eyes
were ready for the world of wonders.

And this child of nature was at the same time showing Gregory a world
as new and strange--a world that he had caught glimpses of when a boy,
but since had lost hopelessly. She carried the children away into
fairy-land. She suggested to him a life in which simplicity, truth, and
genuine goodness might bring peace and hope to the heart.

"Well, what do you think of the fairy story?" she asked after she had
finished and the children had drawn sighs of intense relief at the
happy denouement, in which the ugly ogre was slain and the prince and
princess were married:

"I did not hear it," he said.

"That's complimentary. But you appeared listening very closely."

"You have heard of people reading a different meaning between the
lines, and I suppose one can listen to a different meaning."

"And what could you find between the lines of this fairy tale?" she
asked with interest.

"It would be difficult for me to explain--something too vague and
indefinite for words, I fear. But if you will read me something else I
will listen to the text itself."

"Come, children, scamper off to the garret," said Annie, "and remember
you are nearer heaven up there, and so must be very kind and gentle to
each other."

"You will fill those youngsters' heads with beautiful superstitions."

"Superstition and faith are not so very far apart, though so unlike."

"Yes, it is hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins."

"Is it?"

"Isn't it?"

"I don't like to contradict you, sir."

"You have contradicted me, and I suppose it is manly to yield to a
lady.'"

"Not in matters of principle and honest conviction."

"Alas! if one has not very much of either!"

"It is a very great misfortune, and, I suppose I ought to add, fault."

"I have no doubt it is a misfortune, Miss Walton, but you are not
reading."

"Well, make your choice."

"I leave it entirely to you."

"You don't look very well to-day. I will select something light and
cheerful from Dickens."

"Excuse me, please. I am in no mood for his deliberate purpose to make
one laugh."

"Then here is Irving. His style flows like a meadowbrook."

"No, he is too sentimental."

"Walter Scott, then, will form a happy medium."

"No, he wearies one with explanations and history."

"Some of Tennyson's dainty idylls will suit your fastidious taste."

"I couldn't abide his affected, stilted language to-day."

"Shakespeare, then; you regard him as perfect."

"No, he makes me think, and I do not wish to."

"Well, here are newspapers, the latest magazine, and some new novels."

"Modern rubbish--a mushroom growth. They will soon kindle kitchen fires
instead of thought."

"Then I must make an expedition to the library. What shall I bring?
There is Mosheim's 'Ecclesiastical Ancient History'; that has a solid,
venerable sound. Or, if you prefer poetry, I will get Gray's 'Elegy.'
That cannot be a literary mushroom, for he was twenty years writing it.
But perhaps it is Tupper you would like. That would suit your mood
exactly, Tupper's 'Proverbial Philosophy.'"

"You are growing satirical, Miss Walton. Why don't you assert plainly
that I am as full of whims as a--"

"Woman, would you like to say?"

"Present company excepted. The fact is, I am two-thirds ill to-day, and
the most faultless style and theme in our language would weary me. I am
possessed by the evil spirits of ennui, unrest, and disgust at myself
and all the world, present company always excepted. Do you know of any
spell that can exorcise these demons?"

"Yes, a very simple one. Will you put yourself absolutely in my power
and obey?"

"I am your slave."

Miss Walton left the room and soon returned with a large afghan. "You
must take a horizontal position in order that my spell may work."

"Pshaw! you are prescribing an ordinary nap."

"I am glad to say the best things in this world are ordinary. But
permit me to suggest that in view of your pledged word you have nothing
to do in this matter but to obey."

"Very well;" and he threw himself on the sofa.

"The day is chilly, sir, and I must throw this afghan over you;" and
she did so with a little touch of delicacy which is so grateful when
one is indisposed.

Her manner both soothed and pleased him.

He was more lonely than he realized, for it had been years since he had
experienced woman's gentle care and ministry; and Annie Walton had a
power possessed by few to put jangling nerves at rest. Suddenly he
said, "I wish I had a sister like you."

"My creed, you know," she replied, "makes all mankind kindred."

"Nonsense!" said Gregory, irritably; "deliver me from your church
sisters."

"Take care!" she answered, with a warning nod, "I'm a church sister; so
don't drive me away, for I am going to sing you to sleep."

"I'm half inclined to join your church that I may call you sister."

"You would be disciplined and excommunicated within a month. But hush;
you must not talk."

"How would you treat me after I had been anathematized?"

"If you were as ill as you are to-day I would make you sleep. Hush; not
another word. I am going to sing."

A luxurious sense of comfort stole over him, and he composed himself to
listen and criticise, little imagining, though, that he would fall
asleep. He saw through the window a lowering sky with leaden clouds
driven wildly across it. The wind moaned and soughed around the angles
of the house, and the rain beat against the glass. All without seemed
emblematic of himself. But now he had a brief but blessed sense of
shelter from both the storm and himself. The fire blazed cheerily on
the hearth. The afghan seemed to envelop him like a genial atmosphere.
Had Miss Walton bewitched it by her touch? And now she has found
something to suit her, or rather him, and is singing.

"What an unusual voice she has!" he thought "Truly the spirit of
David's harp, that could banish the demon from Saul, dwells in it. I
wonder if she is as good and real as she seems, or whether, under the
stress of temptation or the poison of flattery, she would not show
herself a true daughter of Eve? I must find out, for it is about the
only remaining question that interests me. If she is like the rest of
us--if she is a female Hunting--then good-by to all hope. I shall not
live to find anybody or anything to trust. If she is what she seems,
it's barely possible that she might help me out of this horrible
'slough of despond,' if she would take the trouble. I wish that she
were my sister, or that my sister had lived and had been just like her."



CHAPTER IX

MISS WALTON RECOMMENDS A HOBBY



To Gregory's surprise he waked and then admitted to himself that,
contrary to his expectation and purpose, he had been asleep. His last
remembered consciousness was that of sweet, low music; and how long ago
was that? He looked at his watch; it was nearly two, and he must have
slept several hours. He glanced around and saw that he was alone, but
the fire still blazed on the hearth, and the afghan infolded him with
its genial warmth as before, and it seemed that although by himself he
was still cared for.

"She is a witch," he muttered. "Her spells are no jokes. But I will
investigate her case like an old-time Salem inquisitor. With more than
Yankee curiosity, which was at the bottom of their superstitious
questionings, I will pry into her power. But she will find that she has
a wary sceptic to convince. I have seen too many saints and sinners to
be again deceived by fair seeming."

A broad ray of sunlight shot across the room. "By my soul! it's
clearing off. Is this her work also? Has she swept away the clouds with
her broomstick? And there goes the dinner-bell, too;" and he went to
his room two steps at a time, as he had done when a boy.

Annie coming out of the sitting-room at that moment, smiled and said:
"He must be better."

At the table she asked, "How do you find yourself now?"

"Much given to appetite." Then, turning to Mr. Walton, he said,
abruptly, "Do you believe in witchcraft?"

"Well, no, sir," said Mr. Walton, a little taken aback.

"I do!" continued he, emphatically.

"When and where have you had experience of the black art?"

"This morning, and in your house, sir."

"You seem none the worse for it," said his host, smiling.

"Indeed, I have not felt so well in months. Your larder will suffer if
I am practiced upon any more."

"Well, of all modern and prosaic results of witchery this exceeds,"
said Annie, laughing, "since only a good appetite comes of it."

"It yet remains to be seen whether this is the only result," replied
Gregory. "What possessed the old Puritans to persecute the Salem
witches is a mystery to me, if their experience was anything like mine."

"You must remember that the question of what was agreeable or otherwise
scarcely entered into a Puritan's motives."

"I am not so sure of that," he answered, quickly. "It has ever seemed
to me that the good people of other days went into persecution with a
zeal that abstract right can hardly account for. People will have their
excitements, and a good rousing persecution used to stir things like
the burning of Chicago or a Presidential election in our day."

"Granting," said Annie, "the bigotry and cruelty of the persecutor--and
these must be mainly charged to the age--still you must admit that
among them were earnest men who did from good motives what appears very
wrong to us. What seemed to them evil and destructive principles were
embodied in men and women, and they meant to destroy the evil through
the suffering and death of these poor creatures."

"And then consider the simplicity and ease of the persecutor's method,"
continued Gregory, mockingly. "A man's head has become full of supposed
doctrinal errors. To refute and banish these would require much study
and argument on the part of the opponent. It was so much easier to take
an obstinate heretic's head off than to argue with him! I think it was
the simplicity of the persecutor's method that kept it in favor so
long."

"But it never convinced any one," said Annie, "and the man killed
merely goes into another world of the same opinion still."

"And there probably learns, poor fellow, that both were wrong, and that
he had better have been content with good dinners and a quiet life, and
let theology alone."

"The world would move but slowly, if all men were content with 'good
dinners and a quiet life,'" said Annie, satirically. "But you have not
answered my question. Could not good, earnest men have been very cruel,
believing that everything depended on their uprooting some evil of
their day?"

"To tell the truth, Miss Walton," he replied, a little nettled, "I have
no sympathy with that style of men. To me they are very repulsive and
ridiculous. They remind me of the breathless, perspiring politicians of
our time, who button-hole you and assert that the world will come to an
end unless John Smith is elected. To me, the desperate earnestness of
people who imagine it their mission to set the world right is
excessively tiresome. For one man or a thousand to proclaim that they
speak for God and embody truth, and that the race should listen and
obey, is the absurdity of arrogance."

"If we were to agree with you, should we not have to say that the
prophets should have kept their visions to themselves, and that Luther
should have remained in his cell, and Columbus have coasted alongshore
and not insisted on what was to all the world an absurdity?"

"Come, Miss Walton," said Gregory, with a vexed laugh as they rose from
the table, "you are a witch. I am willing to argue with flesh and
blood, but I would rather hear you sing. Still, since you have swept
away these clouds so I can have my ramble, I will forgive you for
unhorsing me in our recent tilt."

"If you would mount some good honest hobby and ride it hard, I doubt
whether any one could unhorse you," she replied in a low tone, as she
accompanied him to the parlor.

"Men with hobbies are my detestation, Miss Walton."

"Nevertheless, they are the true knights-errant of our age. Of course
it depends upon what kind of hobbies they ride, or whether they can
manage their steeds."

"Miss Walton, your figure suggests a half-idiot, with a narrow forehead
and one idea, banging back and forth on a wooden horse, but making no
progress--in other words, a fussy, bustling man who can do and talk but
one thing."

"Your understanding of the popular phrase is narrow and literal, and
while it may have such a meaning, it can also have a very different
one. Suppose that, instead of looking with languid eyes alike upon all
things, a man finds some question of vital import, or a pursuit that
promises good to himself and to others and that enlists his interest.
He comes at last to give it his best energies and thought. The whole
current of his life is setting in that direction. Of course he must
ever be under the restraints of good sense and refinement. A man's life
without a hobby is a weak and wavering line of battle indefinitely
long. One's life with a hobby is a concentrated charge."

There was in Miss Walton's face and manner, as she uttered these words,
that which caused him to regard her with involuntary admiration.
Suddenly he asked, "Have you a hobby?"

Her manner changed instantly, and with an arch look she said, "If you
detest a man with a hobby, what a monster a woman with one would be in
your eyes!"

"I have admitted that you are a witch."

"Oh, I am a monster already, and so have no character to lose. But
where is your penetration? If a man with a hobby is idiotic,
narrow-browed, fussy and bustling, excessively obtrusive with his one
idea, a woman must be like him with all these things exaggerated. Has
it not occurred to you that I have a hobby of the most wooden and
clumsy order?"

"But that was my idea of a hobby. You have spiritualized my wooden
block into a Pegasus--the symbol of inspiration. Have you such a hobby?"

"I have."

"What is it?"

She went out of the room, saying smilingly over her shoulder, "You must
find that out for yourself."



CHAPTER X

A PLOT AGAINST MISS WALTON



Gregory was soon off for his ramble. The storm had cleared away,
leaving the air so warm and genial as to suggest spring rather than
fall; but he was quite oblivious of the outer world, and familiar
scenes had not the power to awaken either pleasant or painful
associations. He was trying to account for the influence that Annie
Walton had suddenly gained over him, but it was beyond his philosophy.
This provoked him. His cool, worldly nature doubted everything and
especially everybody. He believed in the inherent weakness of humanity,
and that if people were exceptionally good it was because they had been
exceptionally fortunate in escaping temptation. He also had a cynical
pleasure in seeing such people tripping and stumbling, so that he might
say in self-excusing, "We are all alike."

And yet he was compelled to admit that if Annie's goodness was seeming
it was higher art than he had known before. There was also an
unconscious assertion of superiority in her manner that he did not
like. True, things had turned out far better than he had expected.
There was no cant about her. She did not lecture him or "talk religion"
in what he regarded as the stereotyped way, and he was sure she would
not, even if they became better acquainted. But there is that in
genuine goodness and nobility of character that always humiliates the
bad and makes them feel their degradation. A real pity and sympathy for
him tinged her manner, but these qualities are not agreeable to pride.
And it must be admitted that she had a little self-righteous
satisfaction that she was so much better than this sadly robbed and
wounded man suddenly appearing at the wayside of her life. In human
strength there is generally a trace of arrogance. Only divine strength
and purity can say with perfect love and full allowance for all
weakness and adverse influences, "Neither do I condemn thee; go, and
sin no more."

Gregory had now reached a rustic bridge across a little stream that,
swollen from the recent rain, came gurgling and clamoring down from the
hills. Leaning upon the rail he seemed to watch the foaming water glide
under his feet; but the outward vision made no impression on his mind.

At last in the consciousness of solitude he said: "She told me I must
find her out. I will. I will know whether she is as free from human
frailty as she seems. I have little doubt that before many days I can
cause her to show all the inherent weaknesses of her sex; and I should
think New York and Paris had taught me what they are. She has never
been tempted. She has never been subjected to the delicate flattery of
an accomplished man of the world. I am no gross libertine. I could not
be in this place. I could not so wrong hospitality and the household of
my father's friend. But I should like to prove to that girl her
delusion, and show her that she is a weak woman like the rest; that she
is a pretty painted ship that has never been in a storm, and therefore
need not sail so confidently. We all start on the voyage of life as
little skiffs and pleasure boats might cross the ocean. If any get
safely over, it is because they were lucky enough not to meet dangerous
currents or rough weather. I should like her better with her piquant
ways if she were more like myself. Saints and Madonnas are well enough
in pictures, but such as I would find them very uncomfortable society."

With sudden power the thought flashed upon him, "Why not let her make
you as she is?" Where did the thought come from? Tell me not that the
Divine Father forgets His children. He is speaking to them continually,
only they will not hear. There was a brief passionate wish on the part
of this bad man that she might be what she seemed and that he could
become like her. As the turbulent, muddy Jordan divided that God's
people might pass through, so this thought from heaven found passage
through his heart, and then the current of sinful impulse and habit
flowed on as before. With the stupidity of evil he was breaking the
clew that God had dropped into his hand even when desperately weary of
his lost state. He is wrecked and helpless on the wide ocean; a ship is
coming to his rescue; and his first effort is that this vessel also may
be wrecked or greatly injured in the attempt.

There is no insanity like that of a perverted heart. The adversary of
souls has so many human victims doing his work that he can fold his
hands in idleness. And yet according to the world's practice, and we
might almost say its code, Gregory purposed nothing that would be
severely condemned--nothing more than an ordinary flirtation, as common
in society as idleness, love of excitement, and that power over others
which ministers to vanity. He had no wish to be able to say anything
worse of her than that under temptation she would be as vain and
heartless a coquette as many others that he knew in what is regarded as
good society. He would have cut off his right hand, as he then felt,
rather than have sought to lead her into gross sin.

And yet what did Gregory purpose in regard to Annie but to take the
heavenly bloom and beauty from her character? As if they can be lovely
to either God or man of whom it can be said only, They commit no overt
crime. What is the form of a rose without its beauty and fragrance?
They who tempt to evil are the real iconoclasts. They destroy God's
image.

But the supreme question of the selfish heart is, "What do I want
_now?_"

Gregory wished to satisfy himself and Miss Walton that she had no
grounds for claiming any special superiority over him, and he turned on
his heel and went back to the house to carry out his purpose. Nature,
purified and beautiful by reason of its recent baptism from heaven, had
no attractions for him. Gems of moisture sparkled unseen. He was
planning and scheming to turn her head with vanity, make her quiet life
of ministry to others odious, and draw her into a fashionable
flirtation.

Annie did not appear until the supper-bell summoned her, and then said,
"Mr. Gregory, I hope you will not think it rude if father and I leave
you to your books and Aunt Eulie's care this evening. It is our church
prayer-meeting night, and father never likes to be absent."

"I shall miss you beyond measure. The evening will seem an age."

Something in his tone caused her to give him a quick glance, but she
only said, with a smile, "You are very polite to say so, but I imagine
the last magazine will be a good substitute."

"I doubt whether there is a substitute for you, Miss Walton. I am
coming to believe that your absence would make that vacuum which nature
so dreads. You shall see how good I will be this evening, and you shall
read me everything you please, even to that 'Ancient Ecclesiastical
History.' If you will only stay I will be your slave; and you shall
rule me with a rod of iron or draw me with the silken cords of
kindness, according to your mood."

"It is not well to have too many moods, Mr. Gregory," said Annie,
quietly. "In reply to all your alluring reasons for staying at home I
have only to say that I have promised father to go with him; besides, I
think it is my duty to go."

"'Duty' is a harsh, troublesome word to be always quoting. It is a kind
of strait-jacket which we poor moral lunatics are compelled to wear."

"'Duty' seems to me a good solid road on which one may travel safely.
One never knows where the side paths lead: into the brambles or a
morass like enough."

"Indeed, Miss Walton, such austerity is not becoming to your youth and
beauty."

"What am I to think of your sincerity when you speak of my beauty, Mr.
Gregory?"

"Beauty is a question of taste," answered Gregory, gallantly. "It is
settled by no rigid rules or principles, but by the eyes of the
observer."

"Oh! I understand now. My beauty this evening is the result of your bad
taste."

"Calling it 'bad' does not make it so. Well, since you will not remain
at home with me, will you not let me go with you to the prayer-meeting?
If I'm ever to join your church, it is time I entered on the initiating
mysteries."

"I think a book will do you more good in your present mood."

"What a low estimate you make of the 'means of grace'! Why, certain of
your own poets have said, 'And fools who came to scoff remained to
pray.'"

"The quotation does not apply to you, Mr. Gregory. For, even if you can
doubt the power and truth of Christianity, the memory of your childhood
will prevent you from scoffing at it."

A sudden shadow came across his face, but after a moment he said, in
his old tones:

"Will you not let me go to the prayer-meeting?"

"Father will be glad to have you go with us, if you think it prudent to
venture out in the night air."

"Prudence to the dogs! What is the use of living if we cannot do as we
please? But will _you_ be glad to have me go?"

"That depends upon your motives."

"If I should confess you wouldn't let me go," he replied with a bow.
"But I will try to be as good as possible, just to reward your
kindness."

The rest of the family now joined them in the supper-room, and during
the meal Walter exerted himself to show how entertaining he could be if
he chose. Anecdotes, incidents of travel, graphic sketches of society,
and sallies of wit, made an hour pass before any one was aware.

Even the children listened with wondering eyes, and Mr. Walton and Miss
Eulie were delighted with the vivacity of their guest. Annie apparently
had no reason to complain of him, for his whole manner toward her
during the hour was that of delicately sustained compliment. When she
spoke he listened with deference, and her words usually had point and
meaning. He also gave to her remarks the best interpretation of which
they were capable, and by skilfully drawing her out made her surpass
even herself, so that Miss Eulie said, "Why, Annie, there surely is
some witchcraft about. You and Mr. Gregory are as brilliant as
fireworks."

"It's all Miss Walton's work, I assure you," said Gregory. "As Pat
declared, 'I'm not meself any more,' and shall surprise you, sir, by
asking if I may go to the prayer-meeting. Miss Walton says I can if I
will behave myself. The last time I went to the old place I made faces
at the girls. I suppose that would be wrong."

"That is the sin of our age--making faces," said Annie. "Many have two,
and some can make for themselves even more."

"Now that was a barbed arrow," said Gregory, looking at her keenly.
"Did you let it fly at a venture?"

"Bless me!" said Mr. Walton, rising hastily, "we should have been on
the road a quarter of an hour ago. You mustn't be so entertaining
another prayer-meeting night, Mr. Gregory. Of course we shall be glad
to have you accompany us if you feel well enough. I give you both but
five minutes before joining me at the wagon."

Walter again mounted the stairs with something of his old buoyancy, and
Annie followed, looking curiously after him.

It was not in human nature to be indifferent to that most skilful
flattery which can be addressed to woman--the recognition of her
cleverness, and the enhancing of it by adroit and suggestive
questions--and yet all his manner was tinged by a certain insincere
gallantry, rather than by a manly, honest respect. She vaguely felt
this, though she could not distinctly point it out. He puzzled her.
What did he mean, and at what was he aiming?



CHAPTER XI

A DRINKING-SONG AT A PRAYER-MEETING



Having failed in his attempt to induce Annie to remain at home, Gregory
resolved that the prayer-meeting should not be one of quiet devotion.
Mr. Walton made him, as an invalid, take the back seat with Annie,
while he sat with the driver, and Gregory, after a faint show of
resistance, gladly complied.

"It's chilly. Won't you give me half of your shawl?" he said to her.

"You may have it all," she replied, about to take it off.

"No, I'll freeze first. Do the brethren and sisters sit together?"

"No," she answered, laughing, "we have got in the queer way of dividing
the room between us, and the few men who attend sit on one side and we
on the other."

"Oh, it's almost a female prayer-meeting then. Do the sisters pray?"

"Mr. Gregory, you are not a stranger here that you need pretend to such
ignorance. I think the meeting is conducted very much as when you were
a boy."

"With this most interesting difference, that you will be there and will
sing, I hope. Miss Walton, where did you learn to sing?"

"Mainly at home."

"I should think so. Your voice is as unlike that of a public singer as
you are unlike the singer herself."

"It must seem very tame to you."

"It seems very different. We have an artificial-flower department in
our store. There is no lack of color and form there, I assure you, but
after all I would prefer your rose garden in June."

"But you would probably prefer your artificial-flower department the
rest of the year," said Annie, laughing.

"Why so?"

"Our roses are annuals and are only prosaic briers after their bloom."

"Imagine them hybrid perpetuals and monthlies and you have my meaning.
But your resemblance to a rose extends even to its thorns. Your words
are a little sharp sometimes."

"In the thorns the resemblance begins and ends, Mr. Gregory. I assure
you I am a veritable Scotch brier. But here we are at our destination.
I wonder if you will see many old, remembered faces."

"I shall be content in seeing yours," he replied in a low tone,
pressing her hand as he assisted her to alight.

If he could have seen the expression of her face in the darkness it
would have satisfied him that she did not receive that style of
compliment like many of the belles of his acquaintance, who would take
the small change of flattery with the smiling complacency of a public
door-keeper.

They were late. The good old pastor was absent, and one of the brethren
was reading a chapter in the Bible. Gregory took a seat where he could
see Annie plainly, and she sat with her side face toward him.

He watched her keenly, in order to see if she showed any consciousness
of his presence. The only evidence in his favor was a slight flush and
a firmness about the lips, as if her will was asserting itself. But
soon her face had the peaceful and serious expression becoming the
place and hour, and he saw that she had no thoughts for him whatever.
He was determined to distract her attention, and by restlessness, by
looking fixedly at her, sought her eye, but only secured the notice of
some young girls who thought him "badly smitten with Miss Walton."

The long chapter having been read, a hymn was given out. The gentleman
who usually led the music was also absent, and there was an ominous
pause, in which the good brother's eye wandered appealingly around the
room and at last rested hopefully on Annie. She did not fail him, but,
with heightened color and voice that trembled slightly at first,
"started the tune." It was a sweet, familiar air, and she soon had the
support of other voices. One after another they joined her in widely
varying degrees of melody, even as the example of a noble life will
gradually secure a number of more or less successful imitators.

Gregory had seen the appeal to her with an amused, half-comical look,
but her sincere and ready performance of the duty that had unexpectedly
revealed itself rapidly changed the expression of his face to one of
respect and admiration. Distinct, and yet blending with the others, her
voice seemed both to key up and hide the little roughnesses and
discords of some who perhaps had more melody in their hearts than in
their tones.

Again a divine impulse, like a flower-laden breeze sweeping into a dark
and grated vault at Greenwood, stirred Gregory's evil nature.

"Let her teach you the harmony of noble, unselfish living. Follow her
in thought, feeling, and action, as those stammering, untuned tongues
do in melody, and the blight of evil will pass from your life. Seek not
to muddy and poison this clear little rill that is watering a bit of
God's world. Grant that her goodness is not real, established, and
thoroughly tested--that it is only a pretty surface picture. Seek not
to blur that picture."

But the evil heart is like Sodom. Good angel-thoughts may come to it,
but they are treated with violence and driven out. His habit of cynical
doubt soon returned, and his purpose to show Miss Walton that she was a
weak, vain woman after all became stronger than ever.

It seemed to have come to this, that his salvation depended on, not
what Miss Walton could say or do directly in his behalf, but upon her
maintenance of a character that even a sceptical world must acknowledge
as inspired by heaven, and this, too, against a tempter of unusual
skill and tact. She might sing with resistless pathos, and argue and
plead with Paul's logic and eloquence. His nature might be stirred for
a moment as a stagnant pool is agitated by the winds of heaven, and,
like the pool, he would soon settle back into his old apathy. But if
she could be made to show weakness, to stumble and fall, it would
confirm him in his belief that goodness, if it really existed, was
accidental; that those whose lives were apparently free from stain
deserved no credit, because untempted; and that those who fell should
be pitied rather than blamed, since they were unfortunate rather than
guilty. Anything that would quiet and satisfy his conscience in its
stern arraignment of his evil life would be welcome. The more he saw of
Miss Walton the more he felt that she would be a fair subject upon whom
to test his favorite theory. Therefore, by the time one of the brethren
present had finished his homely exhortation he was wholly bent upon
carrying out his plan.

But Miss Walton sat near, as innocently oblivious of this plot against
her as Eve of the serpent's guile before the tempter and temptation
came into fatal conjunction.

What thoughts for and against each other may dwell utterly hidden and
unknown in the hearts of those so near that their hands may touch!
Conspiracies to compass the death that is remediless may lurk just
behind eyes that smile upon us. Of course Gregory desired no such fatal
result to follow his little experiment. Few who for their own pleasure,
profit, or caprice tempt others wish the evil to work on to the bitter
end. They merely want a sufficient letting down of principle and virtue
for the accomplishment of their purpose, and then would prefer that the
downward tendency should cease or be reversed. The merchant who
requires dishonorable practices of his clerk wishes him to stop at a
point which, in the world's estimation, is safe. And those who, like
Gregory, would take the bloom from woman's purity and holiness in
thought and action, that they may enjoy a questionable flirtation,
would be horrified to see that woman drop into the foul gulf of vice.
With the blind egotism of selfishness, they wish merely to gratify
their present inclinations, ignoring the consequences. They are like
children who think it would be sport to see a little cataract falling
over a Holland dike. Therefore, when the tide is in they open a small
channel, but are soon aghast to find that the deep sea is overwhelming
the land.

Gregory, as is usual with his kind, thought only of his own desires.
When he had accomplished these Miss Walton must take care of herself.
When from seeming a sweet, pure woman she had, by a little temptation,
proved to be capable of becoming a vain flirt, he would go back to
business and dismiss her from his thoughts with the grim chuckle, "She
is like the rest of us."

And thus Annie was destined to meet her mother Eve's experience; and
with the energy and promptness of evil Gregory was keenly on the alert
for anything to further his purpose.

It would seem that the satanic ally in such schemes does not permit
opportunity to be wanting long. The leader of the meeting again
selected a hymn, but of a peculiar metre. He read only two lines, and
then looked expectantly toward Annie, who could not at the moment think
of a tune that would answer; and while with knit brows she was bending
over her book, to her unbounded surprise she heard the hymn started by
a clear, mellow tenor voice. Looking up she saw Gregory singing as
gravely as a deacon. She was sufficiently a musician to know that the
air did not belong to sacred music, though she had never heard it
before.

In his watchfulness he had noted her hesitation, and glancing at the
metre saw instantly that the measure of a drinking-song he knew well
would fit the words. This fell out better than he had hoped, and with
the thought, "I will jostle her out of her dignity now," he began
singing without any embarrassment, though every eye was upon him. He
had been out in the world long enough for that.

As Annie turned with a shocked and half-frightened expression toward
him his eyes met hers with a sudden gleam of drollery which was
irresistible, and he had the satisfaction of seeing her drop her head
to conceal a smile. But he noticed, a moment later, that her face
became grave with disapprobation.

Having sung a stanza he looked around with an injured air, as if
reproaching the others for not joining in with him.

"The tune is not exactly familiar to us," said the good man leading the
meeting, "but if the brother will continue singing we will soon catch
the air; or perhaps the brother or some one else (with a glance at
Annie) will start one better known."

Gregory deliberately turned over the leaves, and to the tune of Old
Hundred started a hymn commencing:

     "Unveil thy bosom, faithful tomb,
      Take this new treasure to thy trust,
      And give these sacred relics room
      To slumber in the silent dust."

Annie had a keen sense of the ludicrous, and the transition from what
he had been singing to the funereal and most inappropriate words was
almost too much for her. To her impotent anger and self-disgust she
felt a hysterical desire to laugh, and only controlled herself by
keeping her head down and her lips firmly pressed together during the
remainder of the brief service.

Even others who did not know Gregory could not prevent a broad smile at
the incongruous hymn he had chosen, but they unitedly wailed it
through, for he persisted in singing it all in the most dirge-like
manner. They gave him credit for doing the best he could, and supposed
his unhappy choice resulted from haste and embarrassment. In the
spontaneity of social meetings people become accustomed to much that is
not harmonious.

Mr. Walton was puzzled. His guest was certainly appearing in an
unexpected role, and he feared that all was not right.

After the meeting the brethren gathered round Gregory and thanked him
for his assistance, and he shook hands with them and the elderly ladies
present with the manner of one who might have been a "pillar in the
temple." Many of them remembered his father and mother and supposed
their mantle had fallen on him.

An ancient "mother in Israel" thanked him that he had "started a tune
that they all could sing, instead of the new-fangled ones the young
people are always getting up nowadays. But," said she, "I wish you
could learn us that pretty one you first sang, for it took my fancy
amazingly. I think I must have heard it before somewhere."

Gregory gave Annie another of his suggestive glances, that sent her out
hastily into the darkness, and a moment later he joined her at the
carriage steps.



CHAPTER XII

FOILED IN ONE DIRECTION



Gregory lifted Miss Walton very tenderly into the carriage and took his
place by her side, while her father was detained by some little matter
of business.

"I am not an invalid," said Annie, rather curtly.

"Indeed you are not, Miss Walton; from your super-abundance you are
even giving life to me."

"I thought from your manner you feared I was about to faint," she
answered, dryly.

Mr. Walton joined them and they started homeward.

"Come, Miss Annie," said Gregory (addressing her thus for the first
time); "why so distant? Was I not called a brother in the meeting? If I
am a brother you are a sister. I told you I would secure this
relationship."

She did not answer him.

"I think it was too bad," he continued, "that you did not second my
efforts better. You would not help me sing either of the tunes I
started."

"Mr. Gregory," said Annie, emphatically, "I will never go to a
prayer-meeting with you again."

"What a rash resolve! But I confess that I preferred to have you stay
at home with me."

"You have spoiled the whole evening for me."

"And you spoiled mine. So we are quits," he replied, laughingly.

"No, we are not. How can you turn sacred things into a jest?"

"I was possessed to see a smile light up the awful gravity of your
face, and I feel amply repaid in that I succeeded. It was a delicious
bit of sunshine on a cloudy day."

"And I am provoked at myself beyond measure, that I could have laughed
like a silly child."

"But did you not like the first tune I sang? 'Old Hundred' was selected
in deference to the wishes of the meeting."

"No, I did not like it. It was not suitable to the place and words.
Though I never heard it before, its somewhat slow movement did not
prevent it from smacking of something very foreign to a prayer-meeting."

"A most happy and inspired expression. Many a time I have smacked my
lips when it was being sung over the best of wine."

"Was it a drinking-song, then?" she asked, quickly.

"What will you do with me if I say it was?"

"Mr. Gregory, I would not have thought this even of you."

"Even of me! That is complimentary. I now learn what a low estimate you
have of me. But see how unjust you are. The musical commissaries of the
church militant are ever saying, 'It's a pity the devil should have all
the good music,' and so half the Sunday-school tunes, and many sung in
churches, have had a lower origin than my drinking-song. I assure you
that the words are as fine as the air. Why have I not as good a right
to steal a tune from the devil as the rest of them?"

"It's the motive that makes all the difference," said Annie. "But I
fear that in this case the devil suffered no loss."

"I'm sure my motive was not bad. I only wished to see a bonny smile
light up your face."

Before she could reply the carriage stopped at Mr. Walton's door, and
with Mr. Gregory she passed into the cosey parlor. Her father did not
immediately join them.

As Gregory looked at her while she took off her wraps, he thought, "By
Jove! she's handsome if she is not pretty."

In fact Annie's face at that time would have attracted attention
anywhere. The crisp air had given her a fine color. Her eyes glowed
with suppressed excitement and anger, while the firm lines about the
mouth indicated that when she spoke it would be decidedly. In spite of
herself the audacity, cleverness, and wickedness of this stranger had
affected her greatly. As he threw off his moodiness, as he revealed
himself by word and action, she saw that he was no ordinary character,
but a thorough man of the world, and with some strange caprices. The
suspicion crossed her mind that he might be not only in peril himself
but also a source of danger. She had determined during the ride home
that even though he meant no slur upon sacred things he should carry
his mocking spirit no more into them. Therefore, after a moment's
thought, she turned toward him with a manner of mingled frankness and
dignity, and said, "Mr. Gregory, I regret what has occurred this
evening. I have a painful sense of the ludicrous, and you have taken
unfair advantage of it. I am usually better and happier for going to
our simple little meeting, but now I can think of the whole hour only
with pain. I think I am as mirth-loving as the majority of my age, and
perhaps more so. I say truly that my heart is very light and happy.
But, Mr. Gregory, we look at certain things very differently from you.
While I would not for a moment have you think that religion brings into
my life gloom and restraint--quite the reverse--still it gives me great
pain when anything connected with my faith is made a matter of jest.
These things are sacred to us, and I know my father would feel deeply
grieved if he understood you this evening. Do you not see? It appears
to us differently from what it does to you and perhaps to the world at
large. These things are to us what your mother's memory is to you. I
would sooner cut off my right hand than trifle with that."

Gregory had been able to maintain his quizzical look of mischief till
she named his mother; then his face changed instantly. A flush of shame
crossed it, and after a moment, with an expression something like true
manhood, he stepped forward and took Annie's hand, saying, "Miss
Walton, I sincerely ask your pardon. I did not know--I could not
believe that you felt as you do. I will give you no further reason to
complain of me on this ground. I hope you will forgive me."

She at once relented, and said:

     "'Who by repentance is not satisfied
      Is not of heaven nor earth.'

There is an apt quotation from your favorite Shakespeare."

"You seem a delightful mixture of both, Miss Walton."

"If you were a better judge, sir, you would know that the earthly
ingredient is too great. But that is in your favor, for I am
sufficiently human to make allowance for human folly."

"I shall tax your charity to the utmost."

As Gregory sat in his arm-chair recalling the events of the day before
retiring, he thought: "Well, my attempt has failed signally. While by
her involuntary smile she showed that she was human, she has also
managed this evening to prove that she is perfectly sincere in her
religion, and to render it impossible for me to assail her in that
direction again. As the old hymn goes, I must 'let her religious hours
alone.' But how far her religion or superstition will control her
action is another question. I have learned both at home and abroad that
people can be very religious and very sincere in matters of faith and
ceremony, and jealous of any hand stretched out to touch their sacred
ark, but when through with the holy business they can live the life of
very ordinary mortals. This may be true of Miss Walton. At any rate I
have made a mistake in showing my hand somewhat at a prayer-meeting,
for women are so tenacious on religious matters. Deference, personal
attention, and compliments--these are the irresistible weapons. These
inflate pride and vanity to such a degree that a miserable collapse is
necessary. And yet I must be careful, for she is not like some belles I
know, who have the swallow of a whale for flattery. She is too
intelligent, too refined, to take compliments as large and glaring as a
sunflower. Something in the way of a moss-rose bud will accomplish
more. I will appear as if falling under her power; as if bewitched by
her charms. Nothing pleases your plain girls more than to be thought
beautiful. I shall have her head turned in a week. I am more bent than
ever on teaching this little Puritan that she and I live upon the same
level."

Saturday morning dawned clear and bracing, and the grass was white with
hoar-frost. The children came in to breakfast with glowing cheeks and
hair awry, crying excitedly in the same breath that they "had been to
the chestnut trees and that Jack had opened the burrs all night."

In answer to their clamorous petitions a one-o'clock dinner was
promised, and Aunt Annie was to accompany them on a nutting expedition
with Jeff as pioneer to thresh and club the trees.

"Can I go too?" Gregory asked of the children.

"I suppose so," said Johnny, rather coldly; "if Aunt Annie is willing."

"You can go with me," said kind-hearted little Susie.

"Now I can go whether Aunt Annie is willing or not," said Gregory, with
mock defiance at the boy.

He glanced at his aunt's face to gather how he should take this, but
she settled the matter satisfactorily to him by saying, "You shall be
my beau, and Mr. Gregory will be Susie's."

"Good, good!" exclaimed Susie. "I've got a beau already;" and she
beamed upon Gregory in a way that made them all laugh.

"'Coming events cast their shadows before,' you perceive, Miss Walton,"
said he, meaningly.

"Sometimes the events themselves are but shadows," she replied, dryly.

"Now that is severe upon the beaux. How about the belles?" he asked,
quickly.

"I have nothing to say against my own sex, sir."

"That is not fair. Of course I can say nothing adverse."

"If you should say what you think, I fear we should be little inclined
to cry with Shylock, 'A Daniel come to judgment!'"

"You have a dreadful opinion of me, Miss Walton. I wish you would teach
me how I can change it."

"You discovered so much in a chestnut burr the day you came I should
not be surprised if you could find anything else there that you wish to
know."

"I shall not look in burrs for chestnuts this afternoon, but for
something else far more important."

Gregory spent the forenoon quietly in his own room reading, in order
that he might have all the vigor possible for the ramble. And to Annie,
as housekeeper, Saturday morning brought many duties.

By two o'clock the nutting expedition was organized, and with Jeff in
advance, carrying a short ladder and a long limber pole, the party
started for the hills. At first Johnny, oppressed with his dignity as
Aunt Annie's "beau," stalked soberly at her side, and Susie also
claimed Gregory according to agreement, and insisted on keeping hold of
his hand.

He submitted with such grace as he could muster, for children were
tiresome to him, and he wanted to talk to Miss Walton, without "little
pitchers with large ears" around.

Annie smiled to herself at his half-concealed annoyance and his wooden
gallantry to Susie, but she understood child life well enough to know
that the present arrangement would not last very long. And she was
right. They had hardly entered the shady lane leading to the trees
before a chipmonk, with its shrill note of exclamation at unexpected
company, started out from some leaves near and ran for its hole.

Away went Aunt Annie's beau after it, and Susie also, quite oblivious
of her first possession in that line, joined in the pursuit. There was
an excited consultation above the squirrel's retreat, and then Johnny
took out his knife and cut a flexible rod with which to investigate the
"robber's den."

Gregory at once joined Annie, saying, "Since the beau of your choice
has deserted you, will you accept of another?"

"Yes, till he proves alike inconstant."

"I will see to that. A burr shall be my emblem."

"Or I do," she added, laughing.

"Now the future is beyond my power."

"Perhaps it is anyway. Johnny was bent upon being a true knight. You
may see something that will be to you what the chipmonk was to him."

"And such is your opinion of man's constancy? Miss Walton, you are more
of a cynic than I am."

"Indeed! Do women dwell in your fancy as fixed stars?"

"Fixed stars are all suns, are they not? I know of one with wonderful
powers of attraction," said he, with a significant glance.

"Does she live in New York?" quietly asked Annie.

"You know well she does not. She is a votaress of nature, and, as I
said, I shall search in every burr for the hidden clew to her favor."

"You had better look for chestnuts, sir."

"Chestnuts! Fit food for children and chipmonks. I am in quest of the
only manna that ever fell from heaven. Have you read Longfellow's
'Golden Legend,' Miss Walton?"

"Yes," she replied, with a slight contraction of the brow as if the
suggestion were not pleasing.

The children now came running toward them and wished to resume their
old places. "No, sir," said Walter, decisively. "You deserted your
lady's side and your place is filled; and Susie--

     "'Thou fair, false one,'

--you renounced me for a chipmonk. My wounded heart has found solace in
another."

Johnny received this charge against his gallantry with a red face and
eyes that began to dilate with anger, while Susie looked at Gregory
poutingly and said, "I don't like big beaux. I think chipmonks are ever
so much nicer."

The laugh that followed broke the force of the storm that was brewing;
and Annie, by saying, "See, children, Jeff is climbing the tree on top
of the hill; I wonder who will get the first nuts," caused the wind to
veer round from the threatening quarter, and away they scampered with
grievances all forgotten.

"If grown-up children could only forget their troubles as easily!"
sighed Gregory. "Miss Walton, you are gifted with admirable tact. Your
witchery has cleared up another storm."

"They have not forgotten," said Annie, ignoring the compliment--"they
have only been diverted from their trouble. Children can do by nature
what we should from intelligent choice--turn away the mind from painful
subjects to those that are pleasing. You don't catch me brooding over
trouble when there are a thousand pleasant things to think of."

"That is easier said than done, Miss Walton. I read on your smooth brow
that you have had few serious troubles, and, as you say, '_you_ have a
thousand pleasant things to think of.' But with others it may be very
different. Some troubles have a terrible magnetism that draws the mind
back to them as if by a malign spell, and there are no 'pleasant things
to think of.'"

"No 'pleasant things'? Why, Mr. Gregory! The universe is very wide."

"Present company excepted," replied he gallantly. "But what do I care
for the universe? As you say, it is 'very wide'--a big, uncomfortable
place, in which one is afraid of getting lost."

"I am not," said Annie, gently.

"How so?"

"It's all my Father's house. I am never for a moment lost sight of.
Wherever I am, I am like a little child playing outside the door while
its mother, unseen, is watching it from the window."

He looked at her keenly to see if she were perfectly sincere. Her face
had the expression of a child, and the thought flashed across him, "If
she is so watched and guarded, how vain are my attempts!"

But he only said with a shrug, "It would be a pity to dissipate your
happy superstition, Miss Walton, but after what I have seen and
experienced in the world it would seem more generally true that the
mother forgot her charge, left the window, and the child was run over
by the butcher's cart."

"Do you think it vain confidence," said Annie, earnestly, "when I say
that you could not dissipate what you term my 'superstition,' any more
than you could argue me out of my belief in my good old father's love?"



CHAPTER XIII

INTERPRETING CHESTNUT BURRS



The conversation had taken a turn that Gregory wished to avoid, so he
said: "Miss Walton, you regard me as wretched authority on theology,
and therefore my opinions will go for nothing. Suppose we join the
children on the hill, for I am most anxious to commence the search for
the clew to your favor. Give me your hand, that as your attendant I may
at least appear to assist you in climbing, though I suppose you justly
think you could help me more than I can you."

"And if I can, why should I not?" asked Annie, kindly.

"Indeed, Miss Walton, I would crawl up first. But thanks to your
reviving influences, I am not so far gone as that."

"Then you would not permit a woman to reach out a helping hand to you?
Talk not against Turks and Arabs. How do Christian men regard us?"

"But you look upon me as a 'heathen.'"

"Beg your pardon, I do not."

"Miss Walton, give your honest opinion of me--just what you think."

"Will you do the same of me?"

"Oh, certainly!"

"No, do not answer in that tone. On your honor."

Gregory was now caught. If he agreed he must state his doubts of her
real goodness; his low estimate of women in general which led to his
purpose to tempt her. This would not only arm her against his efforts,
but place him in a very unpleasant light. "I beat a retreat, Miss
Walton. I am satisfied that your opinion would discourage me utterly."

"You need have no fears of that kind," she said; "although my opinion
would not be flattering it would be most encouraging."

"No, Miss Walton, I am not to be caught. My every glance and word
reveal my opinion of you, while yours of me amounts to what I used to
hear years ago: 'You are a bad boy now, but may become a good one.'
Come, give me your hand."

As she complied she gave him a quick, keen look. Her intuition told her
of something hidden, and he puzzled her.

Her hand was ungloved, and he thought, "When have I clasped such a hand
before? It could help a Hercules. At any rate he would like to hold it,
for it is alive."

There is as much diversity of character in hands as in faces. Some are
very white and shapely, and a diamond flashes prettily upon them, but
having said this you have said all. Others suggest honest work and
plenty of it, and for such the sensible will ever have a genuine
respect. There are some hands that make you think of creatures whose
blood is cold. A lady's hand in society often suggests feebleness, lack
of vitality. It is a thing to touch decorously, and if feeling betray
you into giving a hearty grasp and pressure, you find that you are only
causing pain and reducing the member to a confused jumble of bones and
sinews. There are hands that suggest fancy-work, light crochet needles,
and neuralgia.

Annie's hand was not one that a sculptor would care to copy, though he
would find no great fault with it; but a sculptor would certainly take
pleasure in shaking hands with her--the pleasure that is the opposite
of our shrinking from taking the hand of the dead. It was soft and
delicate to the pressure, and yet firm. It reminded one of silk drawn
over steel, and was all electric and throbbing with life. You felt that
it could give you the true grasp of friendship--that it had power to do
more than barely cling to something--that it could both help and
sustain, yet its touch would be gentleness itself beside the couch of
suffering.

When they had reached the brow of the hill he was much more exhausted
than she, and sat down panting.

"Miss Walton," he asked, "do you not despise a feeble man?"

"What kind of feebleness do you mean?"

"The weakness that makes me sit pale and panting here, while you stand
there glowing with life and vigor, a veritable Hebe."

"All your compliments cannot balance that imputation against me. Such
weakness awakens my pity, sympathy, and wish to help."

"Ah! the emotions you would bestow on a beggar--very agreeable to a
_man_. Well, what kind of feebleness do you despise?"

"I think I should despise a feeble, vacillating Hercules most of all--a
burly, assuming sort of person, who could be made a tool of, and led to
do what he knew to be mean and wrong."

"You must despise a great many people then."

"No, I do not. Honestly, Mr. Gregory, I have no right to despise any
one. I was only giving the reverse of my ideal man. But I assure you I
share too deeply in humanity's faults to be very critical."

"I am delighted to hear, Miss Walton, that you share in our fallen
humanity, for I was beginning to doubt it, and you can well understand
that I should be dreadfully uncomfortable in the presence of
perfection."

"If you could escape all other sources of discomfort as surely as this
one, you would be most happy," replied Annie, with heightened color. "I
shall ever think you are satirical when you speak in such style."

"A truce, Miss Walton; only, in mercy to my poor mortality, be as human
as you can. Though you seem to suspect me of a low estimate of your
sex, I much prefer women to saints and Madonnas. I am going to look for
the burr."

This was adroitness itself on the part of Gregory, for, of all things,
sensible Annie, conscious of faults and many struggles, did not wish to
give the impression that she thought herself approaching perfection.
And yet he had managed to make her sensitive on that point, and given
her a strong motive to relax strict rules of duty, and act "like other
people," as he would say.

Jeff's limber pole was now doing effective service. With many a soft
thud upon the sward and leaves the burrs rained around, while the
detached chestnuts rattled down like hail. The children were careering
about this little tempest of Jeff's manufacture in a state of wild
glee, dodging the random burrs, and snatching what nuts they could in
safety on the outskirts of the prickly shower. At last the tree was
well thrashed, and bad the appearance of a school-boy bully who, after
bristling with threats and boasts for a long time, suddenly meets his
master and is left in a very meek and plucked condition.

But the moment Jeff's pole ceased its sturdy strokes there was a rush
for the spoils, the children awakening the echoes with their
exclamations of delight as they found the ground covered with what was
more precious to them than gold. Even Gregory's sluggish pulses tingled
and quickened at the well-remembered scene, and he felt a little of
their excitement. For the moment he determined to be a boy again, and
running into the charmed circle, picked away as fast as any of them
till his physical weakness painfully reminded him that his old tireless
activity had passed away, perhaps forever.

He leaned against the trunk of the tree and noted with something of an
artist's eye the pretty picture. The valley beneath was beginning to
glow with the richest October tints, in the midst of which was his old
home, that to his affection seemed like a gem set in gold, ruby, and
emerald. The stream appeared white and silvery as seen through openings
of the bordering trees, and in the distance the purple haze and
mountains blended together, leaving it uncertain where the granite
began, as in Gregory's mind fact and fancy were confusedly mingling in
regard to Miss Walton.

And he soon turned from even that loved and beautiful landscape to her
as an object of piquant interest, and the pleasure of analyzing and
testing her character, and--well, some hidden fascination of her own,
caused a faint stir of excitement at his heart, even as the October air
and exercise had just tinged his pale cheeks.

But Miss Walton reminded him of a young sugar maple that he had
noticed, all aflame, from his window that morning, so rich and high was
her color, as, still intent upon the thickly scattered nuts, she
followed the old unspent childish impulse to gather now as she had done
when of Susie's age. With a half-wondering smile Gregory watched her
intent expression, so like that of the other children, and thought,
"Well, she is the freshest and most unhackneyed girl I have ever met
for one who knows so much. It seems true, as she said, that she draws
her life from nature and will never grow old. Now she is a child with
those children, looking and acting like them. A moment later she will
be a self-possessed young lady, with a quick, trained intellect that I
can scarcely cope with. And yet in each and every character she seems
so real and vital that even I, in spite of myself, feel compelled to
admit her truth. Her life is like a glad, musical mountain stream,
while I am a stagnant pool that she passes and leaves behind. I wonder
if it is possible for one life to be awakened and quickened by another.
I wonder if her vital force would be strong enough to drag another on
who had almost lost the power to follow. It is said that young fresh
blood can be infused directly into the veins of the old and feeble. Can
the same be true of moral forces, and a glad zest and interest in life
be breathed into the jaded, cloyed, ennui-cursed spirit of one who
regards existence with dull eye, sluggish pulse, and heart of lead? It
seems to me that if any one could have such power it would be that girl
there with her intense vitality and subtle connection with nature,
which, as she says, is ever young and vigorous. And yet I propose to
reveal her to herself as a weak, vain creature, whose fair seeming like
a pasteboard castle falls before the breath of flattery. By Jove, I
half hope I shan't succeed, and yet to satisfy myself I shall carry the
test to the utmost limit."

In her absorbed search for nuts, Annie had approached the trunk of the
tree, and was stooping almost at Gregory's feet without noticing him.
Suddenly she turned up a burr whose appearance so interested her that
she stood up to examine it, and then became conscious of his intent
gaze.

"There you stand," she said, "cool and superior, criticising and
laughing at me as a great overgrown child."

"If you had looked more closely you would have seen anything rather
than cool criticism in my face. I wish you could tell me your secret,
Miss Walton. What is your hidden connection with Nature, that her
strong, beautiful life flows so freely into yours?"

"You would not believe me if I told you."

"Indeed, Miss Walton, I should be inclined to believe anything you told
me, you seem so real. But, pardon me, you have in your hand the very
burr I have been looking vainly for. Perhaps in it I may find the
coveted clew to your favor. It may winningly suggest to you my meaning,
while plain, bald words would only repel. If I could only interpret
Nature as you breathe her spirit I might find that the autumn leaves
were like illuminated pages, and every object--even such an
insignificant one as this burr--an inspired illustration. When men come
to read Nature's open book, publishers may despair. _If_ I wished to
tell you how I would dwell in your thoughts, what poet has written
anything equal to this half-open burr? It portrays our past, it gives
our present relations, and suggests the future; only, like all
parables, it must not be pressed too far, and too much prominence must
not be given to some mere detail. These prickly outward pointing spines
represent the reserve and formality which keep comparative strangers
apart. But now the burr is half-open, revealing its heart of silk and
down. So if one could get past the barriers which you, alike with all,
turn toward an indifferent or unfriendly world, a kindliness would be
found that would surround a cherished friend as these silken sides
envelop this sole and favored chestnut. Again, note that the burr is
half-open, indicating, I hope, the progress we have made toward such
friendship. I have no true friend in the wide world that I can trust,
and I would like to believe that your regard, like this burr, is
opening toward me. The final suggestion that I should draw may seem
selfish, and yet is it not natural? This chestnut dwells alone in the
very centre of the burr. We do not like to share a supreme friendship.
There are some in whose esteem we would be first."

When Gregory finished he was half-frightened at his words, for in
developing his fanciful parallel in the bold style of gallantry he had
learned to employ toward the belles of the ball-room, and from a
certain unaccountable fascination that Annie herself had for him, he
had said more than he meant.

"Good heavens!" he thought, "if she should take this for a declaration
and accept me on the spot, I should then be in the worst scrape of my
sorry life."

Miss Walton's manner rather puzzled him. Her heightened color and
quickened breathing were alarming, while the contraction of her brow
and the firmness of her lips, together with an intent look on the
chestnut in the centre of the burr, rather than a languishing look at
him or at nothing, were more assuring. She perplexed him still more
when, as her only response to all this sentiment, she asked, "Mr.
Gregory, will you lend me your penknife?"

Without a word he handed it to her, and she at the same time took the
burr from his hand, and daintily plucking out the chestnut tossed the
burr rather contemptuously away. "Mr. Gregory, if I understand your
rather far-fetched and forced interpretation of this little 'parable of
nature,' you chose to represent yourself by this great lonely chestnut
occupying the space where three might have grown. On observing this
emblematic nut closely I detect something that may also have a place in
your 'parable';" and she pushed aside the little quirl at the small end
of the nut, which partially concealed a worm-hole, and cutting through
the shell showed the destroyer in the very heart of the kernel.

There was nothing far-fetched in this suggestion of nature, and he
saw--and he understood that Miss Walton saw--evil enthroned in the very
depths of his soul. The revelation of the hateful truth was so sudden
and sharp that his face darkened with involuntary pain and anger. It
seemed to him that, by the simple act of showing him the worm-infested
chestnut, she had rejected anything approaching even friendship, and
had also given him a good but humiliating reason why. He lost his
self-possession and forgot that he deserved a stinging rebuke for his
insincerity. He would have turned away in coldness and resentment. His
visit might have come to an abrupt termination, had not Annie, with
that delicate, womanly tact which was one of her most marked
characteristics, interrupted him as he was about to say something to
the effect, "Miss Walton, since you are so much holier than I, it were
better that I should contaminate the air you breathe no longer."

She looked into his clouded face with an open smile, and said, "Mr.
Gregory, you have been unfortunate in the choice of a burr. Now let me
choose for you;" and she began looking around for one suited to her
taste and purpose.

This gave him time to recover himself and to realize the folly of
quarrelling or showing any special feeling in the matter. After a
moment he was only desirous of some pretext for laughing it off, but
how to manage it he did not know, and was inwardly cursing himself as a
blundering fool, and no match for this child of nature.

Annie soon came toward him, saying, "Perhaps this burr will suggest
better meanings. You see it is wide open. That means perfect frankness.
There are three chestnuts here instead of one. We must be willing to
share the regard of others. One of these nuts has the central place. As
we come to know people well, we usually find some one occupying the
supreme place in their esteem, and though we may approach closely we
should not wish to usurp what belongs to another. Under Jeff's vigorous
blows the burr and its contents have had a tremendous downfall, but
they have not parted company. True friends should stick together in
adversity. What do you think of my interpretation?"

"I think you are a witch, beyond doubt, and if you had lived a few
centuries ago, you would have been sent to heaven in a chariot of fire."

"Really, Mr. Gregory, you give me a _hot_ answer, but it is with such a
smiling face that I will take no exception. Let us slowly follow Jeff
and the children along the brow of the hill to the next tree. The fact
is I am a little tired."

What controversy could a man have with a pretty and wearied girl?
Gregory felt like a boy who had received a deserved whipping and yet
was compelled and somewhat inclined to act very amiably toward the
donor. But he was fast coming to the conclusion that this unassuming
country girl was a difficult subject on which to perform his
experiment. He was learning to have a wholesome respect for her that
was slightly tinged with fear, and doubts of success in his plot
against her grew stronger every moment. And yet the element of
persistence was large in his character, and he could not readily give
over his purpose, though his cynical confidence had vanished. He now
determined to observe her closely and discover if possible her weak
points. He still held to the theory that flattery was the most
available weapon, though he saw he could employ it no longer in the
form of fulsome and outspoken compliment. The innate refinement and
truthfulness of Annie's nature revolted at broad gallantry and
adulation. He believed that he must reverse the tactics he usually
employed in society, but not the principles. Therefore he resolved that
his flattery should be delicate, subtle, manifested in manner rather
than in words. He would seem submissive; he would humbly wear the air
of a conquered one. He would delicately maintain the
"I-am-at-your-mercy" attitude.

These thoughts flashed through his mind as they passed along the brow
of the hill, which at every turn gave them a new and beautiful
landscape. But vales in Eden would not have held his attention then. To
his perplexity this new acquaintance had secured his undivided
interest. He felt that he ought to be angry at her and yet was not. He
felt that a man who had seen as much of the world as he should be able
to play with this little country girl as with a child; but he was
becoming convinced that, with all his art, he was no match for her
artlessness.

In the interpretation of the burr of her own choice, Annie had
suggested that the central and supreme place in her heart was already
occupied, and his thoughts recurred frequently to that fact with
uneasiness. The slightest trace of jealousy, even as the merest twinge
of pain is often precursor of serious disease, indicated the power Miss
Walton might gain over one who thought himself proof against all such
influence. But he tried to satisfy himself by thinking, "It is her
father who occupies the first place in her affections."

Then a moment later with a mental protest at his folly, "What do I care
who has the first place? It's well I do not, for she would not permit
such a reprobate as I, with evil in my heart like that cursed worm in
the chestnut, to have any place worth naming--unless I can introduce a
little canker of evil in her heart also. I wish I could. That would
bring us nearer together and upon the same level." Annie saw the
landscapes. She looked away from the man by her side and for a few
moments forgot him. The scenes upon which she was gazing were
associated with another, and she ardently wished that that other and
more favored one could exchange places with Gregory. Her eyes grew
dreamy and tender as she recalled words spoken in days gone by, when,
her heart thrilling with a young girl's first dream of love, she had
leaned upon Charles Hunting's arm, and listened to that sweetest music
of earth, all the more enchanting when broken and incoherent; and
Hunting, with all his coolness and precision in Wall Street, had been
excessively nervous and unhappy in his phraseology upon one occasion,
and tremblingly glad to get any terms from the girl who seemed a child
beside him. Annie would not permit an engagement to take place. Hunting
was a distant relative. She had always liked him very much, but was not
sure she loved him. She was extremely reluctant to leave her father,
and was not ready for a speedy marriage; so she frankly told him that
he had no rival, nor was there a prospect of any, but she would not
bind him, or permit herself to be bound at that time. If they were
fated for each other the way would eventually be made perfectly clear.

He was quite content, especially as Mr. Walton gave his hearty approval
to the match, and he regarded the understanding as a virtual
engagement. He wanted Annie to wear the significant ring, saying that
it should not be regarded as binding, but she declined to do so.

Nearly two years had passed, and, while she put him off, she satisfied
him that he was steadily gaining the place that he wished to possess in
her affections. He was gifted with much tact and did not press his
suit, but quietly acted as if the matter were really settled, and it
were only a question of time. Annie had also come to feel in the same
way. She did not see a very great deal of him, though he wrote
regularly, and his letters were admirable. He became her ideal man and
dwelt in her imagination as a demi-god. To the practical mind of this
American girl his successes in the vast and complicated transactions of
business were as grand as the achievements of any hero. Her father had
been a merchant, and she inherited a respect for the calling. Her
father also often assured her that her lover bade fair to lead in
commercial circles.

"Hunting has both nerve and prudence," he was wont to say; and to
impetuous Annie these qualities, combined with Christian principles,
formed her very ideal man.

Her lover took great pains not to undeceive her as to his character,
and indeed, with the infatuation of his class, hoped that, when he had
amassed the fortune that glittered ever just before him, he could
assume, in some princely mansion, the princely, knightly soul with
which she had endowed him.

So he did not press matters. Indeed in his rapid accumulation of money
he scarcely wished any interruption, and Annie thought all the more of
him that he was not dawdling around making love half the time. There
was also less danger of disenchanting her by his presence, for woman's
perception is quick.

But now she inwardly contrasted her strong, masterful knight, "_sans
peur et sans reproche_," as she believed, with the enfeebled, shrunken
man at her side. Gregory suffered dreadfully by the comparison. The
worm-eaten chestnut seemed truly emblematic, and in spite of herself
her face lighted up with exultation and joy that the man of her choice
was a _man_, and not one upon whom she could not lean for even physical
support.

Gregory caught her expression and said, quickly: "Your face is full of
sudden gleams. Tell me what you are thinking about."

She blushed deeply in the consciousness of her thoughts, but after a
moment said, "I do not believe in the confessional."

He looked at her keenly, saying, "I wish you did and that I were your
father confessor."

She replied, laughing, "You are neither old nor good enough. If I were
of that faith I should require one a great deal older and better than
myself. But here we are at our second tree, which Jeff has just
finished. I am going to be a child again and gather nuts as before. I
hope you will follow suit, and not stand leaning against the tree
laughing at me."



CHAPTER XIV

"A WELL-MEANIN' MAN"



The western horizon vied with the autumn foliage as at last they turned
homeward. Their path led out upon the main road some distance above the
house, and, laden with the spoils that would greatly diminish the
squirrels' hoard for the coming winter, they sauntered along slowly,
from a sense of both weariness and leisure.

They soon reached the cottage of the lame old man who had fired such a
broadside of lurid words at Gregory, as he stood on the fence opposite.
With a crutch under one arm and leaning on his gate, Daddy Tuggar
seemed awaiting them, and secured their attention by the laconic
salutation, "Evenin'!"

"Why, Daddy," exclaimed Annie, coming quickly toward him. "I am real
glad to see you so spry and well. It seems to me that you are getting
young again;" and she shook the old man's hand heartily.

"Now don't praise my old graveyard of a body, Miss Annie. My sperit is
pert enough, but it's all buried up in this old clumsy, half-dead
carcass. The worms will close their mortgage on it purty soon."

"But they haven't a mortgage on your soul," said Annie, in a low tone.
"You remember what I said to you a few days ago."

"Now bless you, Miss Annie, but it takes you to put in a 'word in
season.' The Lord knows I'm a well-meanin' man, but I can't seem to get
much furder. I've had an awful 'fall from grace,' my wife says. I did
try to stop swearin', but that chap there--"

"Oh, excuse me," interrupted Annie. "Mr. Gregory, this is our friend
and neighbor Mr. Tuggar. I was under the impression that you were
acquainted," she added, with a mischievous look at her companion.

"We are. I have met this gentleman before," he replied, with a wry
face. "Pardon the interruption, Mr. Tuggar, and please go on with your
explanation."

"Mr. Gregory, I owe you a 'pology. I'm a well-meanin' man, and if I do
any one a wrong I'm willin' to own it up and do the square thing. But I
meant right by you and I meant right by John Walton when I thought you
was stealin' his apples. I couldn't hit yer with a stun and knock yer
off the fence, as I might a dozen years ago, so I took the next hardest
thing I could lay hands on. If I'd known that you was kinder one of the
family my words would have been rolls of butter."

"Well, Mr. Tuggar, it has turned out very well, for _I_ would rather
you had fired what you did than either stones or butter."

"Now my wife would say that that speech showed you was 'totally
depraved.' And this brings me back to my 'fall from grace.' Now, yer
see, to please my wife some and Miss Eulie more, I was tryin' cussed
hard to stop swearin'--"

"Didn't you try a little for my sake, too?" interrupted Annie.

"Lord bless you, child; I don't have to try when you're around, for I
don't think swearin'. Most folks rile me, and I get a-thinkin'
swearin', and then 'fore I know it busts right out. _You_ could take
the wickedest cuss livin' to heaven in spite of himself if you would
stay right by him all the time."

"I should 'rile' you, too, if I were with you long, for I get 'riled'
myself sometimes."

"Do you, now?" asked Mr. Tuggar, looking at her admiringly. "Well, I'm
mighty glad to hear it."

"O Daddy! glad to hear that I do wrong?"

"Can't help it, Miss Annie. I kinder like to know you're a little bit
of a sinner. 'Tain't often I meet with a sinner, and I kind o' like
'em. My wife says she's a 'great sinner,' but she means she's a great
saint. 'Twouldn't do for me to tell her she's a 'sinner.' Then Miss
Eulie says she's a 'great sinner,' and between you and me that's the
only fib I ever caught Miss Eulie in. Good Lord! there's no more sin in
Miss Eulie's heart than there is specks of dirt on the little white
ruff she wears about her neck that looks like the snow we had last
April around the white hyacinths. She's kind of a half-sperit anyhow.
Now your goodness, Miss Annie, is another kind. Your cheeks are so red,
and eyes so black, and arms so round and fat--I've seen 'em when you
was over here a-beatin' up good things for the old man--that you make
me think of red and pink posies. I kinder think you might be a little
bit of a sinner--just enough, you know, to make you understand how I
and him there can be mighty big ones, and not be too hard on us for it."

"Mr. Tuggar, you are the man of all others to plead my cause."

"Now look here, young gentleman, you must do yer own pleadin'. It would
be a 'sinful waste of time' though, as my wife would say--eh, Miss
Annie? I never had no luck at pleadin' but once, and that was the worst
luck of all."

Annie's face might well suggest "red posies" during the last remarks,
and its expression was divided between a frown and a laugh.

"But I want you to understand," continued Daddy Tuggar, straightening
himself up with dignity, and addressing Gregory, "that I'm not a mean
cuss. All who know me know I'm a well-meanin' man. I try to do as I'd
be done by. If I'm going through a man's field and find his bars down,
so the cattle would get in the corn, I'd put 'em up--"

"Yes, Daddy, that is what you always say," interrupted Annie; "but you
can't go through the fields any more and put up bars. You should try to
do the duties that belong to your present state."

"But I've got the sperit to put up a man's bars, and it's all the same
as if I did put 'em up," answered the old man, with some irritation.
"Miss Eulie and the rest of yer is allers sayin' we must have the
sperit of willingness to give up the hull world and suffer martyrdom on
what looks in the picture like a big gridiron. She says we must have
the sperit of them who was cold and hungry and the lions eat up and was
sawn in two pieces and had an awful time generally for the sake of the
Lord, and that's the way the Christians manage it nowadays. My wife
gets all the money she can and keeps it, but she says she has the
sperit to give up the hull world. I wish she'd give up enough of it to
keep me in good terbacker. Mighty few nice bits would the old man git
wasn't it for you and Miss Eulie. Then I watch the good people goin' to
church. 'Mazin' few out wet Sundays. But no doubt they've all got the
'sperit' to go. They would jist as lief be sawn in two pieces 'in
sperit' as not, if they can only sleep late in the mornin' and have a
good dinner and save their Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes from gettin'
wet. It must be so, for the Lord gets mighty little worship out of the
church on rainy Sundays. If it wasn't for you and Miss Eulie I don't
know what would become of the old man and all the rest of the sick and
feeble foiks around here. I ask my wife why she doesn't go to see 'em
sometimes. She says she has the 'sperit to go,' but she hasn't time and
strength. So I have the 'sperit' to put up a man's bars while I sit
here and smoke, and what's more, Miss Annie, I did it as long as I was
able."

"You did indeed, Daddy, and, though unintentionally, you have given me
a good lesson. We little deserve to be mentioned with those Christians
who in olden times suffered the loss of all things, and life itself."

"Lord bless you, child, I didn't mean you. Whether you've got the
sperit to do a thing or not yer allers do it, and in a sweet, natteral
way, as if you couldn't help it. When my wife enters on a good work it
makes me think of a funeral. I'm 'mazin' glad you didn't live in old
times, 'cause the lions would have got you sure 'nuff. Though, if it
had to be, I would kinder liked to have been the lion:" and the old
man's eyes twinkled humorously, while Gregory laughed heartily.

"Oh, Daddy Tuggar!" exclaimed Annie, "that is the most awful compliment
I ever received. If you, with your spirit, were the only lion I had to
deal with, I should never become a martyr. You shall have some jelly
instead, and now I must go home in order to have it made before Sunday."

"Wait a moment," said Gregory. "You were about to tell us how I caused
you to 'fall from grace.'"

"So I was, so I was, and I've been goin' round Robin Hood's barn ever
since. Well, I'd been holdin' in on my swearin' a long time, 'cause I
promised Miss Eulie I'd stop if I could. My wife said I was in quite a
'hopeful state,' while I felt all the time as if I was sort of bottled
up and the cork might fly out any minute. Miss Eulie, she came and
rejoiced over me that mornin', and my wife she looked so solemn (she
allers does when she says she feels glad) that somehow I got nervous,
and then my wife went to the store and didn't get the kind of terbacker
I sent for, and I knew the cork was going to fly out. I was smokin' and
in a sort of a doze, when the first thing I knowed a big stun rolled
into the road, and there I saw a strange chap, as I thought, a stealin'
John Walton's apples and knockin' down the fence. If they'd a been my
apples I might have held in a little longer, but John Walton's--it was
like a dam givin' way."

"It was, indeed," said Gregory, significantly. "It was like several."

"I knowed my wife heard me, and if she'd come right out and said,
'You've made a cussed old fool of yourself,' I think I would have felt
better. I knowed she was goin' to speak about it and lament over it,
and I wanted her to do it right away; but she put it off, and kept me
on pins and needles for ever so long. At last she said with solemn joy,
'Thomas Tuggar, I told Miss Eulie I feared you was still in a state of
natur, and, alas! I am right; but how she'll mourn, how great will be
her disappointment, when she hears'; and then I fell into a 'state of
natur' agin. Now, Miss Annie, if the Lord, Miss Eulie, and you all
could only see I'm a well-meanin' man, and that I don't mean no
disrespect to anybody; that it's only one of my old, rough ways that I
learned from my father--and mother too, for that matter, I'm sorry to
say--and have followed so long that it's bred in the bone, it would
save a heap of worry. One must have some way of lettin' off steam. Now
my wife she purses up her mouth so tight you couldn't stick a pin in it
when she's riled. I often say to her, 'Do explode. Open your mouth and
let it all out at once.' But she says it is not becoming for such as
her ter 'explode.' But it will come out all the same, only it's like
one of yer cold northeast, drizzlin', fizzlin' rain-storms. And now
I've made a clean breast of it, I hope you'll kinder smooth matters
over with Miss Eulie; and I hope you, sir, will just think of what I
said as spoken to a stranger and not a friend of the family."

"Give me your hand, Mr. Tuggar. I hope we shall be the best of friends.
I am coming over to have a smoke with you, and see if I can't fill your
pipe with some tobacco that is like us both, 'in a state of natur.'"

A white-faced woman appeared at the door, and courtesying low to Miss
Walton, called, "Husband, it's too late for you to be out; I fear your
health will suffer."

"She's bound up in me, you see," said the old man, with a curious
grimace. "Nothing but the reading of my will will ever comfort her when
I die."

"Daddy, Daddy," said Annie, reproachfully, "have charity. Good-night; I
will send you something nice for to-morrow."

An amused smile lingered on Gregory's face as they pursued their way
homeward, now in the early twilight; but Annie's aspect was almost one
of sadness. After a little he said, "Well, he is one of the oddest
specimens of humanity I ever met."

She did not immediately reply, and he, looking at her, caught her
expression.

"Why is your face so clouded, Miss Annie?" he asked. "You are not given
to Mrs. Tuggar's style of 'solemn joy'?"

"What a perplexing mystery life is after all!" she replied, absently.
"I really think poor old Daddy Tuggar speaks truly. He is a
'well-meaning' man, but he and many others remind me of one not having
the slightest ear for music trying to catch a difficult harmony."

"Why is the harmony so difficult?" asked Gregory, bitterly.

"Perhaps it were better to ask, Why has humanity so disabled itself?"

"I do not think it matters much how you put the case. It amounts to the
same thing. Something is required of us beyond our strength. The idea
of punishing that old man for being what he is, when in the first place
he inherited evil from his parents, and then was taught it by precept
and example. I think he deserves more credit than blame."

"The trouble is, Mr. Gregory, evil carries its own punishment along
with it every day. But I admit that we are surrounded by mystery on
every side. Humanity, left to itself, is a hopeless problem. But one
thing is certain: we are not responsible for questions beyond our ken.
Moreover, many things that were complete mysteries to me as a child are
now plain, and I ever hope to be taught something new every day. You
and I at least have much to be grateful for in the fact that we neither
inherited evil nor were taught it in any such degree as our poor
neighbor."

"And you quietly prove, Miss Walton, by your last remark, that I am
much more worthy of blame than your poor old neighbor."

"Then I said more than I meant," she answered, eagerly. "It is not for
me to judge or condemn any one. The thought in my mind was how favored
we have been in our parentage--our start in existence, as it were."

"But suppose one loses that vantage-ground?"

"I do not wish to suppose anything of the kind."

"But one can lose it utterly."

"I fear some can and do. But why dwell on a subject so unutterably sad
and painful? You have not lost it, and, as I said before to-day, I will
not dwell upon the disagreeable any more than I can help."

"Your opinion of me is poor enough already, Miss Walton, so I, too,
will drop the subject."

They had now reached the house, and did ample justice to the supper
awaiting them.

Between meals people can be very sentimental, morbid, and tragical.
They can stare at life's deep mysteries and shudder or scoff, sigh or
rejoice, according to their moral conditions. They can even grow cold
with dread, as did Gregory, realizing that he had "lost his
vantage-ground," his good start in the endless career. "She is steering
across unknown seas to a peaceful, happy shore. I am drifting on those
same mysterious waters I know not whither," he thought. But a few
minutes after entering the cheerfully lighted dining-room he was giving
his whole soul to muffins.

These homely and ever-recurring duties and pleasures of life have no
doubt saved multitudes from madness. It would almost seem that they
have also been the innocent cause of the destruction of many. There are
times when the mind is almost evenly balanced between good and evil.
Some powerful appeal or startling providence has aroused the sleeping
spirit, or some vivifying truth has pierced the armor of indifference
or prejudice, and quivered like an arrow in the soul, and the man
remembers that he is a man, and not a brute that perishes. But just
then the dinner-bell sounds. After the several courses, any physician
can predict how the powers of that human organization must of necessity
be employed the next few hours, and the partially awakened soul is like
one who starts out of a doze and sleeps again. If the spiritual nature
had only become sufficiently aroused to realize the situation, _life_
might have been secured. Thought and feeling in some emergencies will
do more than the grandest pulpit eloquence quenched by a Sunday dinner.



CHAPTER XV

MISS WALTON'S DREAM



The hickory fire burned cheerily in the parlor after tea, and all drew
gladly around its welcome blaze. But even the delights of roasting
chestnuts from the abundant spoils of the afternoon could not keep the
heads of the children from drooping early.

Gregory was greatly fatigued, and soon went to his room also.

Sabbath morning dawned dim and uncertain, and by the time they had
gathered at the breakfast-table, a northeast rain-storm had set in with
a driving gale.

"I suppose you will go to church 'in sperit' this morning, as Mr.
Tuggar would say," said Gregory, addressing Annie.

"If I were on the sick list I should, but I have no such excuse."

"You seriously do not mean to ride two miles in such a storm as this?"

"No, not seriously, but very cheerfully and gladly."

"I do not think it is required of you, Miss Walton. Even your Bible
states, 'I will have mercy and not sacrifice.'"

"The 'sacrifice' in my case would be in staying at home. I like to be
out in a storm, and have plenty of warm blood to resist its chilling
effects. But even were it otherwise, what hardship is there in my
wrapping myself up in a waterproof and riding a few miles to a
comfortable church? I shall come back with a grand appetite and a
double zest for the wood fire."

"But it is not fair on the poor horses. They have no waterproofs or
wood fires."

"I think I am not indifferent to the comfort of dumb animals, and
though I drive a good deal, father can tell you I am not a 'whip.' Of
all shams the most transparent is this tenderness for one's self and
the horses on Sunday. I am often out in stormy weather during the week,
and meet plenty of people on the road. The farmers drive to the village
on rainy days because they can neither plow, sow, nor reap. But on even
a cloudy Sabbath, with the faintest prospect of rain, there is but one
text in the Bible for them: 'A righteous man regardeth the life of his
beast.' People attend parties, the opera, and places of amusement no
matter how bad the night. It is a miserable pretence to say that the
weather keeps the majority at home from church. It is only an excuse. I
should have a great deal more respect for them if they would say
frankly, 'We would rather sleep, read a novel, dawdle around _en
deshabille_, and gossip.' Half the time when they say it's too stormy
to venture out (oh, the heroism of our Christian age!), they should go
and thank God for the rain that is providing food for them and theirs.

"And granting that our Christian duties do involve some risk and
hardship, does not the Bible ever speak of life as a warfare, a
struggle, an agonizing for success? Do not armies often fight and march
in the rain, and dumb beasts share their exposure? There is more at
stake in this battle. In ancient times God commanded the bloody
sacrifice of innumerable animals for the sake of moral and religious
effect. Moral and religious effect is worth just as much now. Nothing
can excuse wanton cruelty; but the soldier who spurs his horse against
the enemy, and the sentinel who keeps his out in a winter storm, are
not cruel. But many farmers about here will overwork and underfeed all
the week, and on Sunday talk about being 'merciful to their beasts.'
There won't be over twenty-five out to-day, and the Christian heroes,
the sturdy yeomanry of the church, will be dozing and grumbling in
chimney-corners. The languid half-heartedness of the church discourages
me more than all the evil in the world."

Miss Walton stated her views in a quiet undertone of indignation, and
not so much in answer to Gregory as in protest against a style of
action utterly repugnant to her earnest, whole-souled nature. As he saw
the young girl's face light up with the will and purpose to be loyal to
a noble cause, his own aimless, self-pleasing life seemed petty and
contemptible indeed, and again he had that painful sense of humiliation
which Miss Walton unwittingly caused him; but, as was often his way, he
laughed the matter off by saying, "There is no need of my going to-day,
for I have had my sermon, and a better one than you will hear. Still,
such is the effect of your homily that I am inclined to ask you to take
me with you."

Annie's manner changed instantly, and she smilingly answered, "You will
find an arm-chair before a blazing fire in your room upstairs, and an
arm-chair before a blazing fire in the parlor, and you can vacillate
between them at your pleasure."

"As a vacillating man should, perhaps you might add."

"I add nothing of the kind."

"Will you never let me go to church with you again?"

"Certainly, after what you said, any pleasant day."

"Why can't I have the privilege of being a martyr as well as yourself?"

"I am not a martyr. I would far rather go out to-day than stay at home."

"It will be very lonely without you."

"Oh, you are the martyr then, after all. I hope you will have
sufficient fortitude to endure, and doze comfortably during the two
hours of my absence."

"Now you are satirical on Sunday, Miss Walton. Let that burden your
conscience. I'm going to ask your father if I may go."

"Of course you will act at your pleasure," said Mr. Walton, "but I
think, in your present state of health, Annie has suggested the wiser
and safer thing to do."

"I should probably be ill on your hands if I went, so I submit; but I
wish you to take note, Miss Walton, that I have the 'sperit to go.'"

The arm-chairs were cosey and comfortable, and the hickory wood turned,
as is its wont, into glowing and fragrant coals, but the house grew
chill and empty the moment that Annie left. Though Mr. Walton and Miss
Eulie accompanied her, their absence was rather welcome, but he felt
sure that Annie could have beguiled the heavy-footed hours.

"She has some unexplained power of making me forget my miserable self,"
he muttered.

And yet, left to himself, he had now nothing to do but think, and a
fearful time he had of it, lowering at the fire, in the arm-chair, from
which he scarcely stirred.

"I have lost my vantage-ground," he groaned--"lost it utterly. I am not
even a 'well-meaning man.' I purpose evil against this freshest, purest
spirit I have ever known since in this house I looked into my mother's
eyes. I am worse than the wild Arab of the desert. I have eaten salt
with them; I have partaken of their generous hospitality, given so
cordially for the sake of one that is dead, and in return have wounded
their most sacred feelings, and now propose to prove the daughter a
creature that I can go away and despise. Instead of being glad that
there is one in the world noble and good, even though by
accident--instead of noting with pleasure that every sweet flower has
not become a weed--I wish to drag her down to my own wretched level, or
else I would have her exhibit sufficient weakness to show that she
would go as far as she was tempted to go. A decent devil could hardly
wish her worse. I would like to see her show the same spirit that
animates Miss Belle St. Glair of New York, or Mrs. Grobb, my former
adored Miss Bently--creatures that I despise as I do myself, and what
more could I say? If I could only cause her to show some of their
characteristics the reproach of her life would pass away, and I should
be confirmed in my belief that humanity's unutterable degradation is
its misfortune, and the blame should rest elsewhere than on us. How
absurd to blame water for running down hill! Give man or woman half a
chance, that is, before habits are fixed, and they plunge faster down
the inclined moral plane. And the plague of it is, this seeming axiom
does not satisfy me. What business has my conscience, with a lash of
scorpion stings, to punish me this and every day that I permit myself
to think? Did I not try for years to be better? Did I not resist the
infernal gravitation? and yet I am falling still. I never did anything
so mean and low before as I am doing now. If it is my nature to do
evil, why should I not do it without compunction? And as I look
downward--there is no looking forward for me--there seems no evil thing
that I could not do if so inclined. Here in this home of my childhood,
this sacred atmosphere that my mother breathed, I would besmirch the
character of one who as yet is pure and good, with a nature like a
white hyacinth in spring. I see the vileness of the act, I loathe it,
and yet it fascinates me, and I have no power to resist. Why should a
stern, condemning voice declare in recesses of my soul, 'You could and
should resist'? For years I have been daily yielding to temptation, and
conscience as often pronounces sentence against me. When will the
hateful farce cease? Multitudes appear to sin without thought or
remorse. Why cannot I? It's my mother's doings, I suppose. A plague
upon the early memories of this place. Will they keep me upon the rack
forever?"

He rose, strode up and down the parlor, and clenched his hands in
passionate protest against himself, his destiny, and the God who made
him.

A chillness, resulting partly from dread and partly from the wild storm
raging without, caused him to heap up the hearth with wood. It speedily
leaped into flame, and, covering his face with his hands, he sat
cowering before it. A vain but frequent thought recurred to him with
double power.

"Oh that I could cease to exist, and lose this miserable consciousness!
Oh that, like this wood, I could be aflame with intense, passionate
life, and then lose identity, memory, and everything that makes _me_,
and pass into other forms. Nay, more, if I had my wish, I would become
nothing here and now."

The crackling of flames and the rush of wind and rain against the
windows had caused the sound of wheels, and a light step in the room,
to be unheard.

He was aroused by Miss Walton, who asked, "Mr. Gregory, are you ill?"

He raised his woe-begone face to hers, and said, almost irritably,
"Yes--no--or at least I am as well as I ever expect to be, and perhaps
better." Then with a sudden impulse he asked, "Does annihilation seem
such a dreadful thing to you?"

"What! the losing of an eternity of keen enjoyment? Could anything be
more dreadful! Really, Mr. Gregory, brooding here alone has not been
good for you. Why do you not think of pleasant things?"

"For the same reason that a man with a raging toothache does not have
pleasant sensations," he answered, with a grim smile.

"I admit the force of your reply, though I do not think the case
exactly parallel. The mind is not as helpless as the body. Still, I
believe it is true that when the body is suffering the mind is apt to
become the prey of all sorts of morbid fancies, and you do look really
ill. I wish I could give you some of my rampant health and spirits
to-day. Facing the October storm has done me good every way, and I am
ravenous for dinner."

He looked at her enviously as she stood before him, with her
waterproof, still covered with rain-drops, partially thrown back and
revealing the outline of a form which, though not stout, was suggestive
of health and strength. She seemed, with her warm, high color, like a
hardy flower covered with spray. Instead of shrinking feebly and
delicately from the harsher moods of nature, and coming in pinched and
shivering, she had felt the blood in her veins and all the wheels of
life quickened by the gale.

"Miss Walton," he said, with a glimmer of a smile, "do you know that
you are very different from most young ladies? You and nature evidently
have some deep secrets between you. I half believe you never will grow
old, but are one of the perennials. I am glad you have come home, for
you seem to bring a little of yesterday's sunshine into the dreary
house."

As they returned to the parlor after dinner, Gregory remarked, "Miss
Walton, what can you do to interest me this afternoon, for I am
devoured with ennui?"

She turned upon him rather quickly and said, "A young man like you has
no business to be 'devoured with ennui.' Why not engage in some
pursuit, or take up some subject that will interest you and stir your
pulse?"

With a touch of his old mock gallantry he bowed and said, "In you I see
just the subject, and am delighted to think I'm going to have you all
to myself this rainy afternoon."

With a half-vexed laugh and somewhat heightened color she answered, "I
imagine you won't have me all to yourself long."

She had hardly spoken the words before the children bounded in,
exclaiming, "Now, Aunt Annie, for our stories."

"You see, Mr. Gregory, here are previous and counter-claims already."

"I wish I knew of some way of successfully disputing them."

"It would be difficult to find. Well, come, little people, we will go
into the sitting-room and not disturb Mr. Gregory."

"Now, I protest against that," he said. "You might at least let me be
one of the children."

"But the trouble is, you won't be one, but will sit by criticising and
laughing at our infantile talk."

"Now you do me wrong. I will be as good as I can, and if you knew how
long and dreary the day has been you would not refuse."

She looked at him keenly for a moment, and then said, a little
doubtfully, "Well, I will try for once. Run and get your favorite
Sunday books, children."

When they were alone he asked, "How can you permit these youngsters to
be such a burden?"

"They are not a burden," she answered.

"But a nurse could take care of them and keep them quiet."

"If their father and mother were living they would not think 'keeping
them quiet' all their duty toward them, nor do I, to whom they were
left as a sacred trust."

"That awful word 'duty' rules you, Miss Walton, with a rod of iron."

"Do I seem like a harshly driven slave?" she asked, smilingly.

"No, and I cannot understand you."

"That is because your philosophy of life is wrong. You still belong to
that old school who would have it that sun, moon, and stars revolve
around the earth. But here are the books, and if you are to be one of
the children you must do as I bid you--be still and listen."

It was strange to Gregory how content he was to obey. He was surprised
at his interest in the old Bible stories told in childish language, and
as Annie stopped to explain a point or answer a question, he found
himself listening as did the eager little boy sitting on the floor at
her feet. The hackneyed man of the world could not understand how the
true, simple language of nature, like the little brown blossoms of
lichens, has a beauty of its own.

At the same time he had a growing consciousness that perhaps there was
something in the reader also which mainly held his interest. It was
pleasant to listen to the low, musical voice. It was pleasant to see
the red lips drop the words so easily yet so distinctly, and chief of
all was the consciousness of a vitalized presence that made the room
seem full when she was in it, and empty when she was absent, though all
others remained.

He truly shared the children's regret when at last she said, "Now I am
tired, and must go upstairs and rest awhile before supper, after which
we will have some music. You can go into the sitting-room and look at
the pictures till the tea-bell rings. Mr. Gregory, will my excuse to
the children answer for you also?"

"I suppose it must, though I have no pictures to look at."

She suddenly appeared to change her mind, and said, briskly, "Come,
sir, what you need is work for others. I have read to you, and you
ought to be willing to read to me. If you please, I will rest in the
arm-chair here instead of in my room."

"I will take your medicine," he said, eagerly, "without a wry face,
though an indifferent reader, while I think you are a remarkably good
one; and let me tell you it is one of the rarest accomplishments we
find. You shall also choose the book."

"What unaccountable amiableness!" she replied, laughing. "I fear I
shall reward you by going to sleep."

"Very well, anything so I am not left alone again. I am wretched
company for myself."

"Oh, it is not for my sake you are so good, after all!"

"You think me a selfish wretch, Miss Walton."

"I think you are like myself, capable of much improvement. But I wish
to rest, and you must not talk, but read. There is the 'Schonberg-Cotta
Family.' I have been over it two or three times, so if I lose the
thread of the story it does not matter."

He wheeled the arm-chair up to the fire for her, and for a while she
listened with interest; but at last her lids drooped and soon closed,
and her regular breathing showed that she was sleeping. His voice sank
in lower and lower monotone lest his sudden stopping should awaken her,
then he laid down his book and read a different story in the pure young
face turned toward him.

"It is not beautiful," he thought, "but it is a real, good face. I
should not be attracted toward it in a thronged and brilliant
drawing-room. I might not notice it on Fifth Avenue, but if I were ill
and in deep trouble, it is just such a face as I should like to see
bending over me. Am I not ill and in deep trouble? I have lost my
health and lost my manhood. What worse disasters this side death can I
experience? Be careful, Walter Gregory, you may be breaking the one
clew that can lead you out of the labyrinth. You may be seeking to
palsy the one hand that can help you. Mother believed in a special
Providence. Is it her suggestion that now flashes in my mind that God
in mercy has brought me to this place of sacred memories, and given me
the companionship of this good woman, that the bitter waters of my life
may be sweetened? I do not know from whom else it can come.

"And yet the infernal fascination of evil! I cannot--I will not give up
my purpose toward her. Vain dreams! Miss Walton or an angel of light
could not reclaim me. My impetus downward is too great.

"Oh, the rest and peace of that face! Physical rest and a quiet, happy
spirit dwell in every line. She sleeps there like a child, little
dreaming that a demon is watching her. But she says that she is
guarded. Perhaps she is. A strong viewless one with a flaming sword may
stand between her and me.

"Weak fool! Enough of this. I shall carry out my experiment fully, and
when I have succeeded or failed, I can come to some conclusion on
matters now in doubt.

"I should like to kiss those red parted lips. I wonder what she would
do if I did?" Annie's brow darkened into a frown. Suddenly she started
up and looked at him, but seemed satisfied from his distance and
motionless aspect.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

"Oh, nothing. I had a dream," she said, with a slight flush.

"Please tell it," he said, though he feared her answer.

"You will not like it. Besides, it's too absurd."

"You pique my curiosity. Tell it by all means."

"Well, then, you mustn't be angry; and remember, I have no faith in
sleeping vagaries. I dreamed that you were transformed into a large
tiger, and came stealthily to bite me."

He was startled as he recalled his thought at the moment of her
awaking, but had the presence of mind to say, "Let me interpret the
dream."

"Well."

"You know, I suppose, that dreams go by contraries. Suppose a true
friend wished to steal a kiss in your unconsciousness."

"True friends do not steal from us," she replied, laughing. "I don't
know whether it was safe to let you read me to sleep?"

"It's not wrong to be tempted, is it? One can't help that. As Mr.
Tuggar says, I might have the 'sperit to do it,' and yet remain quietly
in my chair, as I have."

"You make an admission in your explanation. Well, it was queer," she
added, absently.

Gregory thought so too, and was annoyed at her unexpected clairvoyant
powers. But he said, as if a little piqued, "If you think me a tiger
you had better not sleep within my reach, or you may find your face
sadly mutilated on awaking."

"Nonsense," she said. "Mr. Gregory, you are a gentleman. We are talking
like foolish children."

The tea-bell now rang, and Gregory obeyed its summons in a very
perplexed state. His manner was rather absent during the meal, but
Annie seemed to take pains to be kind and reassuring. The day, so far
from being a restraint, appeared one of habitual cheerfulness, which
even the dreary storm without could not dampen.

"We shall have a grand sing to-night with the assistance of your voice,
I hope, Mr. Gregory," said Mr. Walton, as they all adjourned to the
parlor.

"I do not sing by note," he replied. "When I can I will join you,
though I much prefer listening to Miss Walton."

"Miss Walton prefers nothing of the kind, and we shall sing only what
you know," she said, with a smiling glance at him over her shoulder, as
she was making selections from the music-stand.

Soon they were all standing round the piano, save Mr. Walton, who sat
near in his arm-chair, his face the picture of placid enjoyment as he
looked on the little group so dear to him. They began with the
children's favorites from the Sabbath-school books, the little boy
dutifully finding the place for his grandfather. Many of them were the
same that Gregory had sung long years before, standing in the same
place, a child like Johnny, and the vivid memories thus recalled made
his voice a little husky occasionally. Annie once gave him a quick look
of sympathy, not curious but appreciative.

"She seems to know what is passing in my soul," he thought; "I never
knew a woman with such intuitions."

The combined result of their voices was true home music, in which were
blended the tones of childhood and age. Annie, with her sweet soprano,
led, and gave time and key to them all, very much as by the force and
loveliness of her character she influenced the daily harmony of their
lives. The children, with their imitative faculty, seemed to gather
from her lips how to follow with fair correctness, and they chirped
through the tunes like two intelligent robins. Miss Eulie sang a sweet
though rather faint alto that was like a low minor key in a happy life.
Mr. Walton's melody was rather that of the heart, for his voice was
returning to the weakness of childhood, and his ear was scarcely quick
enough for the rapid changes of the air, and yet, unless "grandpa"
joined with them, all felt that the circle was incomplete.

Gregory was a foreign element in the little group, almost a stranger to
its personnel, and more estranged from the sacred meanings and feeling
of the hour; yet such was the power of example, so strong were the
sweet home-spells of this Christian family, that to his surprise he
found himself entering with zest into a scene that on the Sabbath
before he would have regarded as an unmitigated bore. The thought
flashed across him, "How some of my club acquaintances would laugh to
see me standing between two children singing Sabbath-school hymns!"

It was also a sad truth that he could go away from all present
influences to spend the next Sabbath at his club in the ordinary style.

When the children's hour had passed and they had been tucked away to
peaceful spring-time dreams, though a storm, the precursor of winter,
raged without, Annie returned to the parlor and said, "Now, Mr.
Gregory, we can have some singing more to your taste."

"I have been one of the children to-day," he replied, "so you must let
me off with them from any further singing myself."

"If you insist on playing the children's role you must go to bed. I
have some grand old hymns that I've been wishing to try with you."

"Indeed, Miss Walton, I am but half a man. At the risk of your contempt
I must say in frankness that my whole physical nature yearns for my
arm-chair. But please do not call my weakness laziness. If you will
sing to me just what you please, according to your mood, I for one will
be grateful."

"Even a dragon could not resist such an appeal," said Annie, laughing.
She sat down to her piano and soon partially forgot her audience, in an
old Sabbath evening habit, well known to natural musicians, of
expressing her deeper and more sacred feelings in words and notes that
harmonized with them. Gregory sat and listened as the young girl
unwittingly revealed a new element in her nature.

In her every-day life she appeared to him full of force and power,
practical and resolute. To one of his sporting tastes she suggested a
mettled steed whose high spirit was kept in check by thorough training.
Her conversation was piquant, at times a little brusque, and utterly
devoid of sentimentality. But now her choice of poetic thought and her
tones revealed a wealth of womanly tenderness, and he was compelled to
feel that her religion was not legal and cold, a system of duties,
beliefs, and restraints, but something that seemed to stir the depths
of her soul with mystic longings, and overflow her heart with love. She
was not adoring the Creator, nor paying homage to a king; but, as the
perfume rises from a flower, so her voice and manner seemed the natural
expression of a true, strong affection for God Himself, not afar off,
but known as a near and dear friend. In her sweet tones there was not
the faintest suggestion of the effect or style that a professional
singer would aim at. She thought no more of these than would a thrush
swaying on its spray in the twilight of a June evening. As unaffectedly
as the bird she sang according to the inward promptings of a nature
purified and made lovely by the grace of God.

No one not utterly given over to evil could have listened unmoved,
still less Gregory, with his sensitive, beauty-loving, though perverted
nature. The spirit of David's harp again breathed its divine peace on
his sin-disquieted soul. The words of old Daddy Tuggar flashed across
him, and he muttered:

"Yes, she could take even me to heaven, 'if she stayed right by me.'"

When finally, with heartfelt sincerity, she sang the following simple
words to an air that seemed a part of them, he envied her from the
depths of his soul, and felt that he would readily barter away any
earthly possession and life itself for a like faith:

  Nearer, nearer, ever nearer,
    Come I gladly unto Thee;
  And the days are growing brighter
    With Thy presence nearer me.

  Though a pilgrim, not a stranger;
    This Thy land, and I Thine own;
  At Thy side, thus free from danger,
    Find I paths with flowers strown.

  Voices varied, nature speaking,
    Call to me on every side;
  Friends and kindred give their greeting,
    In Thy sunshine I abide.

  Though my way were flinty, thorny,
    Were I sure it led to Thee,
  Could I pass one day forlornly,
    Home and rest so near to me?

Then she brought the old family Bible, indicating that after that hour
she was in no mood for commonplace conversation. In the hush that
followed, the good old man reverently read a favorite passage, which
seemed not to consist of cold, printed words, but to be a part of a
loving letter sent by the Divine Father to His absent children.

As such it was received by all save Gregory. He sat among them as a
stranger and an alien, cut off by his own acts from those ties which
make one household of earth and heaven. But such was the influence of
the evening upon him that he realized as never before his loss and
loneliness. He longed intensely to share in their feelings, and to
appropriate the words of love and promise that Mr. Walton read.

The prayer that followed was so tender, so full of heart-felt interest
in his guest, that Gregory's feelings were deeply touched. He arose
from his knees, and again shaded his face to hide the traces of his
emotion.

When at last he looked up, Mr. Walton was quietly reading, and the
ladies had retired. He rose and bade Mr. Walton good-night with a
strong but silent grasp of the hand.

The thought flashed across him as he went to his room, that after this
evening and the grasp as of friendship he had just given the father, he
could not in the faintest degree meditate evil against the daughter.
But so conscious was he of moral weakness, so self-distrustful in view
of many broken resolutions, that he dared resolve on nothing. He at
last fell into a troubled sleep with the vain, regretful thought, "Oh
that I had not lost my vantage-ground! Oh that I could live my life
over again!"



CHAPTER XVI

AN ACCIDENT IN THE MOUNTAINS



In view of her recent stormy mood, Nature seemed full of regretful
relentings on Monday, and, as if to make amends for her harshness,
assumed something of a summer softness. The sun had not the glaring
brightness that dazzles, and the atmosphere, purified by the recent
rain, revealed through its crystal depths objects with unusual
distinctness.

"It is a splendid day for a mountain ramble," said Annie, with
vivacity, at the breakfast-table.

"Why don't you take old Dolly and the mountain wagon, and show Mr.
Gregory some of our fine views this afternoon?" asked Mr. Walton.

"Nothing would please me more," said his daughter, cordially; "that is,
if Mr. Gregory feels equal to the fatigue."

"I'd be at my last gasp if I refused such an offer," said Gregory,
eagerly. "It would do me good, for I feel much stronger than when I
first came, and Miss Walton's society is the best tonic I know of."

"Very well," said she, laughing. "You shall take me this afternoon as a
continuation of the tonic treatment under which you say you are
improving."

"To carry on the medical figure," he replied, "I fear that I am to you
the embodiment of the depletive system."

"From my feelings this bright morning you have very little effect. I
prescribe for you a quiet forenoon, as our mountain roads will give you
an awful jolting. You, if not your medicine, will be well shaken
to-day."

"You are my medicine, as I understand it, so I shall take it according
to the old orthodox couplet."

"No, the mountain is your medicine, and I anticipate no earthquakes."

"It is settled then," said Mr. Walton, smiling, "that you adopt
Mahomet's compromise and go to the mountain. I will tell Jeff to fit
you out in suitable style."

Gregory, in excellent spirits, retired to his room for a quiet morning.
The prospect for the afternoon pleased him greatly, and a long
tete-a-tete with Annie among the grand and beautiful solitudes of
nature had for him an attraction that he could scarcely understand.

"She is just the one for a companion on such an expedition," he said to
himself. "She seems a part of the scenes we shall look upon. The free,
strong mountain spirit breathes in her every word and act. Old Greek
mythology would certainly make her a nymph of the hills."

After dinner they started, Gregory's interest centring mainly in his
companion, but Annie regarding him as a mere accessory to a sort of
half-holiday in her busy life, and expecting more enjoyment from the
scenery and the exhilarating air than from his best efforts to
entertain her. And yet in this respect she was agreeably disappointed.
Gregory was in a mood that he scarcely understood himself. If Annie had
been somewhat vain and shallow, though possessing many other good
traits, with the practiced skill of a society man he would have made
the most of these weaknesses, amused himself with a piquant flirtation,
and soon have been ready for his departure for New York with a
contemptuous French shrug at the whole affair. But her weaknesses did
not lie in that direction. Her naturally truthful and earnest nature,
deepened and strengthened by Christian principle, from the first had
foiled his unworthy purposes, and disturbed his contemptuous cynicism.
Then as he was compelled to believe in her reality, her truth and
nobleness, all that was in his own nature responsive to these traits
began to assert itself. Even while he clung to it and felt that he had
no power to escape it, the evil of his life grew more hateful to him,
and he condemned himself with increasing bitterness. When good
influences are felt in a man's soul, evil seems to become specially
active. The kingdom of darkness disputes every inch of its ill-gotten
power. Winter passes away in March storms. It is the still cold of
indifference that is nearest akin to death.

The visit to his old home, and the influence of Annie Walton, were
creating March weather in Walter Gregory's soul. There were a few
genial moods like gleams of early spring sunshine. There were sudden
relentings and passionate longings for better life, as at times gentle,
frost-relaxing showers soften the flinty ground. There were fierce
spiritual conflicts, wild questionings, doubts, fears, and forebodings,
and sometimes despair, as in this gusty month nature often seems
resolving itself back to primeval chaos. But too often his mood was
that of cold hard scepticism, the frost of midwinter. The impetus of
his evil life would evidently be long in spending itself.

And yet the quiet influence of the hallowed Sabbath evening, and Annie
Walton's hymns of faith and love, could not readily be lost. The
father's prayer still echoed in his soul, and even to him it seemed
that the heavens could not be deaf to such entreaty. These things
affected him as no direct appeals possibly could. They were like the
gentle but irresistible south wind.

He was now simply drifting. He had not definitely abandoned his purpose
of tempting Annie, nor did he consciously thrust it from him. Quite
convinced that she was what she seemed, and doubting greatly whether
during his brief visit there would be time to affect her mind seriously
by any evil influences he could bring to bear, and won unwittingly by
her pure spirit to better things himself, he let the new and unexpected
influence have full play.

He was like a man who finds himself in the current above Niagara, and
gives up in despair, allowing his boat to glide onward to the fatal
plunge. A breeze springs up and blows against the current. He spreads a
sail and finds his downward progress checked. If the wind increases and
blows steadily, he may stem the rushing tide and reach smooth, safe
waters.

A faint glimmering of hope began to dawn in his heart. An unexpected
gale from heaven, blowing against the current of evil, made it seem
possible that he too might gain the still waters of a peaceful faith.
But the hope dwelt in his mind more as a passing thought, a
possibility, than an expectation.

In his wavering state the turn of the scales would depend mainly upon
the mood of his companion. If she had been trifling and inclined to
flirt, full of frivolous nonsense, bent upon having a good time in the
frequent acceptation of the phrase, little recking the consequences of
words or acts, as is often the case with girls in the main good-hearted
and well-meaning, Gregory would have fallen in with such a mood and
pushed it to the extreme.

But Annie was simply herself, bright and exhilarating as the October
sunshine, but as pure and strong. She was ready for jest and repartee.
She showed almost a childish delight in every odd and pretty thing that
met her eye, but never for a moment permitted her companion to lose
respect for her.

Her cheeks were like the crimson maple-leaves which overhung them. Her
eyes were like the dark sparkle of the little brook as it emerged from
the causeway over which they drove. Her brown hair, tossed by the wind,
escaped somewhat from its restraints and enhanced the whiteness of her
neck, and the thought occurred to Gregory more than once, "If she is
not pretty, I never saw a face more pleasant to look at."

The wish to gain her esteem and friendship grew stronger every moment,
and he exerted himself to the utmost to please her. Abandoning utterly
his gallantry, his morbid cynicism, he came out into the honest
sunlight of truth, where Annie's mind dwelt, and directed the
conversation to subjects concerning which, as an educated and travelled
man, he could speak frankly and intelligently. Annie had strong social
tastes and the fondness for companionship natural to the young, and she
was surprised to find how he stimulated and interested her mind, and
how much they had in common. He appeared to understand her immediately,
and to lead her thoughts to new and exciting flights.

It was their purpose to cross a spur of the main mountain range. After
a long and toilsome climb, stopping to give Dolly many a breathing
spell, they at last reached the brow of the wooded height, and turned
to look at the autumn landscape glimmering in the bright October
sunshine. It is impossible by either pen or brush to give a true
picture of wide reaches of broken and beautiful country, as seen from
some of the more favored points of outlook among the Highlands on the
Hudson. The loveliness of a pretty bit of scenery or of a landscape may
be enhanced by art, but the impressive grandeur of nature, when the
feature of vast and varied expanse predominates, cannot be adequately
expressed. The mind itself is oppressed by the extensiveness of the
scene, and tends to select some definite object, as a village, hamlet,
or tree-embowered farmhouse, on which to dwell. These accord more with
the finite nature of the beholder. Spires and curling wreaths of smoke
suggested to Annie and Gregory many a simple altar and quiet hearth,
around which gathered the homely, contented life, spiritual and
domestic, of those who occupied their own little niche in the great
world, and were all unburdened with thought or care for the indefinite
regions that stretched away beyond their narrow circle of daily
acquaintance. Only God can give to the whole of His creation the
all-seeing gaze that we bestow upon some familiar scene. His glance
around the globe is like that of a mother around her nursery, with her
little children grouped at her feet.

The laden orchards, with men climbing long ladders, and boys in the
topmost branches looking in the distance like huge squirrels, were
pleasant objects to the mountain ramblers. Huskers could be discerned
in the nearer cornfields, and the great yellow ears glistened
momentarily in the light, as they were tossed into golden heaps. There
was no hum of industry as from a manufacturing village, or roar of
turbulent life as from a city, but only the quiet evidence to the eye
of a life kindred to that which nature so silently and beautifully
elaborates.

"How insignificant we are!" said Gregory, gloomily; "how the great
world goes right on without us! It is the same when one dies and leaves
it, as we left it by climbing this mountain. In the main we are unknown
and uncared for, and even to those who know us it is soon the same as
if we had never been."

"But the world cannot go on without God. Though forgotten, He never
forgets! His friends need never have the sense of being lost or
lonely--any more than a child travelling with his father in a foreign
land among indifferent strangers. God does not look at us, His
creatures, as we do at the foliage of these forests, seeing only the
general effect. He sees each one as directly as I now look at you."

"I wish I could believe He looked as kindly."

"I wish you could, Mr. Gregory. It is sad to me that people can't
believe what is so true. The fondest look your mother ever gave you was
cold compared with the yearning, loving face God turns toward every one
of us, even as we go away from Him."

He looked at her earnestly for a moment and saw that sincerity was
written on her face. He shook his head sadly, and then said, rather
abruptly, "Those lengthening shadows remind us that we must be on our
way"; and then their thoughts dwelt on lighter subjects as they
ascended another lofty mountain terrace, and paused again to scan the
wider prospect that made the sense of daily life in the valleys below
as remote as the world seems to the hermit in his devotional seclusion.
Then they began to descend the sloping plateau which inclined toward
the brow of the hill overlooking the region of the Walton residence.

After one or two hours of broken but very agreeable conversation Annie
suddenly sighed deeply.

"Now, Miss Walton," said Gregory, "that sigh came from the depths. What
hidden sorrow could have caused it?"

With a slight flush and laugh, she said, "It was caused by a mere
passing thought, like that cloud there sailing over the mountain slope."

"Your simile is so pretty that I should like to know the thought."

"I hardly know whether to tell it to you. It might have the same effect
as if that cloud should expand and cover the sky."

"Might not the telling also have the same effect as if the cloud were
dissipated altogether?"

She looked at him quickly and said, "How apt your answer is! Yes, it
might if you would be sensible. I do not know you so very well yet. Are
you not a little ready to take offence?"

"You do not look as if about to say anything I should resent very
deeply. But I promise that the cloud shall vanish."

"I am not so sure about that. The cloud represents my thought; and yet
I hope it may eventually vanish utterly. The thought occurred to me
after the pleasant hours of this afternoon what congenial friends we
_might_ be."

"And that caused you to sigh so deeply?"

"I laid emphasis on the word _might_."

"And why should you, Miss Annie? Why need you?" he asked, eagerly.

"You have shown a great deal of tact and consideration this afternoon,
Mr. Gregory, in choosing topics on which we could agree, or about which
it is as nice to differ a little. I wish it were the same in regard to
those things that make up one's life, as it were;" and she looked at
him closely to see how he would take this.

After a moment he said, a little bitterly, "In order to be your friend,
must one look at everything through the same colored glass that you
employ?"

"Oh, no," she replied, earnestly; "it is not fair to say that. But you
seem almost hostile to all that I love best and think most of, and my
sigh was rather an earnest and oft-recurring wish that it were
otherwise."

Again he was silent for a short time, then said, with sudden vehemence,
"And I also wish it were otherwise"; adding more quietly, "but it is
not, Miss Walton. You know me too well, even if I wished to deceive
you. And yet I would give a great deal for such a friendship as you
could bestow. Why can you not give it as it is? The Founder of your
faith was a friend of publicans and sinners."

"He was indeed their friend, and has been ever since," she answered.
"But was it not natural that He found more that was attractive and
congenial in that little group of disciples who were learning to know
and believe in Him?"

"I understand you, Miss Walton. I was unfortunate in my illustration,
and you have turned it against me. You can be my friend, as the
missionary is the friend of the heathen."

"You go to extremes, Mr. Gregory, and are hardly fair. I am not a
missionary, nor are you a heathen. I make my meaning clear when I echo
your thought of a moment ago, and wish that just such a friendship
might exist between us as that between your father and mine."

"I am what I am," he said, with genuine sadness.

"I wish you had my faith in the possibilities of the future," she
replied, turning brightly toward him.

But he shook his head, saying, "I have about lost all faith in
everything as far as I am concerned. Still I feel that if any one could
do me any good, you might, but I fear it is a hopeless task." Then he
changed the subject in such a way as to show that it was painful, and
that he preferred it should be dropped.

After all, the cloud had overcast the sky. The inevitable separation
between those guided by divine principles and those controlled by
earthly influences began to dawn upon him. He caught a glimpse of the
"great gulf," that is ever "fixed" between the good and evil in their
deepest consciousness. The "loneliness of guilt" chilled and oppressed
him, even with the cheery, sympathetic companion at his side. But he
hid his feelings under a forced gayety, in which Annie joined somewhat,
though it gave her a vague shiver of pain. She felt they had been _en
rapport_ for a little while, but now a change had come, even as the
damp and chill of approaching night were taking the place of genial
sunshine.

Suddenly she said, as they were riding along on the comparatively level
plateau among thick copse-wood and overshadowing trees that already
created a premature twilight, "It is strange we do not come out on the
brow of the mountain overlooking our home. This road does not seem
familiar either, though it is two or three years since I have been over
it, and then Jeff drove. I thought I knew the way well. Can it be
possible we have taken the wrong turning?"

"I ought to be familiar with these roads, Miss Walton, but I am sorry
to say I too am confused. I hunted over these hills to some extent when
a boy, but did not pay much heed to the roads, as I took my own courses
through the woods."

"I think I must be right," said Annie, after a little time; "the brow
of the hill must be near;" and they hastened the old horse along as
fast as possible under the circumstances. But the road continually grew
rougher and gave evidence of very little travel, and the evening
deepened rapidly. At last they resolved to turn round at the first
place that would permit of it, but this was not readily found, there
being only a single wheel-track, which now stretched away before them
like a narrow cut between banks of foliage, that looked solid in the
increasing darkness; the road also was full of rocks, loose stones, and
deep ruts, over which the wagon jolted painfully. With a less
sure-footed horse than Dolly they would soon have come to grief.
Gregory was becoming greatly fatigued, though he strove to hide it, and
both were filled with genuine uneasiness at the prospect before them.
To make matters seemingly desperate, as they were descending a little
hill a fore-wheel caught between two stones and was wrenched sharply
off. Quick, agile Annie sprang as she felt the wagon giving, but Walter
was thrown out among the brushwood by the roadside. Though scratched
and bruised, he was not seriously hurt, and as quickly as possible came
to the assistance of his companion. He found her standing by Dolly's
head, holding and soothing the startled beast. Apparently she was
unhurt. They looked searchingly at the dusky forest, their broken
vehicle, and then at each other. Words were unnecessary to explain the
awkwardness of their situation.



CHAPTER XVII

"PROMISE OR DIE"



While they were thus standing irresolute after the accident, suddenly a
light glimmered upon them. It appeared to come from a house standing a
little off from the road. "Shall I leave you here and go for
assistance?" asked Walter.

"I think I would rather go with you. Dolly will stand, and I do not
wish to be left alone."

They soon found a grassy path leading to a small house, from which the
light shone but faintly through closely curtained windows. They met no
one, nor were their footsteps heard till they knocked at the door. A
gruff voice said, "Come in," and a huge bull-dog started up from near
the fire with a savage growl.

They entered. A middle-aged man with his coat off sat at work with his
back toward them. He rose hastily and stared at them with a strangely
blended look of consternation and anger.

"Call off your dog," said Gregory, sharply.

"Down, Bull," said the man, harshly, and the dog slunk growling into a
corner, but with a watchful, ugly gleam in his eyes.

The man's expression was quite as sinister and threatening.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" he asked, sternly.

"We want help," said Gregory, with a quickened and apprehensive glance
around, which at once revealed to him why their visit was so unwelcome.
The man had been counterfeiting money, and the evidences of his guilt
were only too apparent. "We have lost our way, and our wagon is broken.
I hope you have sufficient humanity to act the part of a neighbor."

"Humanity to the devil!" said the man, brutally, "I am neighbor to no
one. You have come here to pry into what is none of your business."

"We have not," said Gregory, eagerly. "You will find our broken wagon
in the road but a little way from here."

The man's eye was cold, hard, and now had a snake-like glitter as he
looked at them askance with a gloomy scowl. He seemed thinking over the
situation in which he found himself.

Gregory, in his weak, exhausted state, and shaken somewhat by his fall,
was nervous and apprehensive. Annie, though pale, stood firmly and
quietly by.

Slowly and hesitatingly, as if deliberating as to the best course, the
man reached up to the shelf and took down a revolver, saying, with an
evil-boding look at them, "If I thought you had come as detectives, you
would have no chance to use your knowledge. You, sir, I do not know,
but I think this lady is Squire Walton's daughter. As it is, you must
both solemnly promise me before God that you will never reveal what you
have seen here. Otherwise I have but one method of self-protection,"
and he cocked his pistol. "Let me tell you," he added, in a
blood-curdling tone, "you are not the first ones I have silenced. And
mark this--if you go away and break this promise, I have confederates
who will take vengeance on you and yours."

"No need of any further threats," said Gregory, with a shrug. "I
promise. As you say, it is none of my business how much of the 'queer'
you make."

Though naturally not a coward, Gregory, in his habit of self-pleasing
and of shunning all sources of annoyance, would not have gone out of
his way under any circumstances to bring a criminal to justice, and the
thought of risking anything in this case did not occur to him. Why
should they peril their lives for the good of the commonwealth? If he
had been alone and escaped without further trouble, he would have
thought of the matter afterward as of a crime recorded in the morning
paper, with which he had no concern, except perhaps to scrutinize more
sharply the currency he received.

But with conscientious Annie it was very different. Her father was a
magistrate of the right kind, who sincerely sought to do justice and
protect the people in their rights. From almost daily conversation her
mind had been impressed with the sacredness of the law. When she was
inclined to induce her father to give a lighter sentence than he
believed right he had explained how the well-being and indeed the very
existence of society depended upon the righteous enforcement of the
law, and how true mercy lay in such enforcement. She had been made to
feel that the responsibility for good order and morals rested on every
one, and that to conceal a known crime was to share deeply in the
guilt. She also was not skilled in that casuistry which would enable
her to promise anything with mental reservations. The shock of their
savage and threatening reception had been severe, but she was not at
all inclined to be hysterical; and though her heart seemed to stand
still with a chill of dread which deepened every moment as she realized
what would be exacted of her, she seemed more self-possessed than
Gregory. Indeed, in the sudden and awful emergencies of life, woman's
fortitude is often superior to man's, and Annie's faith was no decorous
and conventional profession for Sabbath uses, but a constant and living
reality. She was like the maidens of martyr days, who tremblingly but
unhesitatingly died for conscience' sake. While there was no wavering
of purpose, there was an agony of fear and sorrow, as, after the
momentary confusion of mind caused by the suddenness of the occurrence,
the terrible nature of the ordeal before her became evident.

Through her father she had heard a vague rumor of this man before.
Though he lived so secluded and was so reticent, his somewhat
mysterious movements had awakened suspicion. But his fierce dog and his
own manner had kept all obtrusive curiosity at a distance. Now she saw
her father's worst fears and surmises realized.

But the counterfeiter at first gave all his attention to her companion,
thinking that he would have little trouble with a timid girl; and after
Gregory's ready promise, looked searchingly at him for a moment, and
then said, with a coarse, scornful laugh, "No fear of you. You will
keep your skin whole. You are a city chap, and know enough of me and my
tribe to be sure I can strike you there as well as here. I can trust to
your fears, and don't wish to shed blood when it is unnecessary. And
now this girl must make the same promise. Her father is a magistrate,
and I intend to have no posse of men up here after me to-morrow."

"I can make no such promise," said Annie, in a low tone.

"What?" exclaimed the man, harshly, and a savage growl from the dog
made a kindred echo to his tone.

Deathly pale, but with firm bearing, Annie said, "I cannot promise to
shield crime by silence. I should be a partaker in your guilty secrets."

"Oh, for God's sake, promise!" cried Gregory, in an agony of fear, but
in justice it must be said that it was more for her than for himself.

"For God's sake I cannot promise."

The man stepped menacingly toward her, and the great dog also advanced
unchecked out of his corner.

"Young woman," he hissed in her ear, "you must promise or die. I have
sworn never to go to prison again if I wade knee-deep in blood."

There came a rush of tears to Annie's eyes. Her bosom heaved
convulsively a moment, and then she said, in a tone of agony, "It is
dreadful to die in such a way, but I cannot make the promise you ask.
It would burden my conscience and blight my life. I will trust to God's
mercy and do right. But think twice before you shed my innocent blood."

Gregory covered his face with his hands and groaned aloud.

The man hesitated. He had evidently hoped by his threats to frighten
her into compliance, and her unexpected refusal, while it half frenzied
him with fear and anger, made his course difficult to determine upon.
He was not quite hardened enough to slay the defenceless girl as she
stood so bravely before him, and the killing of her would also involve
the putting of Gregory out of the way, making a double murder that
would be hard to conceal. He looked at the dog, and the thought
occurred that by turning them out of doors and leaving them to the
brute's tender mercies their silence might be effectually secured.

It is hard to say what he would have done, left to his own fears and
evil passions; but a moment after Annie had spoken, the doors opened
and a woman entered with a pail of water, which she had just brought
from a spring at some little distance from the house.

"What does this mean?" she asked, with a quick, startled glance around.

"It means mischief to all concerned," said the man, sullenly.

"This is Miss Walton," said the woman, advancing.

"Yes," exclaimed Annie, and she rushed forward and sobbed out, "save me
from your husband; he threatened to take my life."

"'My husband!'" said the woman, with intense bitterness, turning toward
the man. "Do you hear that, Vight? Quiet your fears, young lady. Do you
remember the sick, weary woman that you found one hot day last summer
by the roadside? I was faint, and it seemed to me that I was dying. I
often wish to, but when it comes to the point and I look over into the
black gulf, I'm afraid--"

"But, woman--" interrupted the man, harshly.

"Be still," she said, imperiously waving her hand.

"Don't rouse a devil you can't control." Then turning to Annie, she
continued, "I was afraid then; I was in an agony of terror. I was so
weak that I could scarcely do more than look appealingly to you and
stretch out my hands. Most ladies would have said, 'She's drunk,' and
passed contemptuously on. But you got out of your wagon and took my
cold hand. I whispered, 'I'm sick; for God's sake help me.' And you
believed me and said, 'I will help you, for God's sake and your own.'
Then you went to the carriage, and got some cordial which you said was
for another sick person, and gave me some; and when I revived, you half
carried me and half lifted me into your nice covered little wagon, that
kept the burning sun off my head, and you took me miles out of your way
to a little house which I falsely told you was my home. I heard that
you afterward came to see me. You spoke kindly. When I could speak I
said that I was not fit for you to touch, and you answered that Jesus
Christ was glad to help touch any human creature, and that you were not
better than He! Then you told me a little about Him, but I was too sick
to listen much. God knows I've got down about as low as any woman can.
I dare not pray for myself, but since that day I've prayed for you. And
mark what I say, Vight," she added, her sad, weird manner changing to
sudden fierceness, "not a hair of this lady's head shall be hurt."

"But these two will go and blab on us," said the man, angrily. "At
least the girl will. She won't promise to keep her secret. I have no
fears for the man; I can keep him quiet."

"Why won't you promise?" asked the woman, gently, but with surprise.

"Because I cannot," said Annie, earnestly, though her voice was still
broken by sobs. "When we hide crime, we take part in it."

"And would you rather die than do what you thought wrong?"

"It were better," said Annie.

"Oh that I had had such a spirit in the fatal past!" groaned the woman.

"But won't you protect me still?" exclaimed Annie, seizing her hand.
"It would kill my poor old father too, if I should die. I cannot burden
my soul with your secrets, but save me--oh, save me, from so dreadful a
death!"

"I have said it, Miss Walton. Not a hair of your head shall be hurt."

"What do you advise then, madam?" asked the man, satirically. "Shall we
invite Mr. Walton and the sheriff up to-morrow to take a look at the
room as it now stands?"

"I advise nothing," said the woman, harshly. "I only say, in a way you
understand, not a hair of this girl's head shall be hurt."

"Thank God, oh, thank God," murmured Annie, with a feeling of
confidence and inexpressible relief, for there was that in the woman's
bearing and tone which gave evidence of unusual power over her
associate in crime.

Then Annie added, still clinging to a hand unsanctified by the
significant plain ring, "I hope you will keep my companion safe from
harm also."

During the scene between Annie and her strange protector, who was
evidently a sad wreck of a beautiful and gifted woman, Gregory had sunk
into a chair through weakness and shame, and covered his face with his
hands.

The woman turned toward him with instinctive antipathy, and asked, "How
is it, sir, you have left a young girl to meet this danger alone?"

Gregory's white, drawn face turned scarlet as he answered, "Because I
am like you and this man here, and not like Miss Walton, who is an
angel of truth and goodness."

"'Like _us_,' indeed!" said she, disdainfully. "I don't know that you
have proved us _cowards_ yet. And could you be bad and mean enough to
see this brave maiden slain before your eyes, and go away in silence to
save your own miserable self?"

"For aught I know I could," answered he, savagely. "I would like to see
what mean, horrible, loathsome thing, this hateful, hated thing I call
myself could not do."

Gregory showed, in a way fearful to witness, what intense hostility and
loathing a spirit naturally noble can feel toward itself when action
and conscience are at war.

"Ah," said the woman, bitterly, "now you speak a language I know well.
Why should I fear the judgment-day?" she added, with a gloomy light in
her eyes, as if communing with herself. "Nothing worse can be said of
me than I will say now. But," she sneered, turning sharply to Gregory,
"I do not think I have fallen so low as you."

"Probably not," he replied, with a grim laugh, and a significant shrug
which he had learned abroad. "I will not dispute my bad pre-eminence.
Come, Vight, or whatever your name is," he continued, rising, "make up
your mind quickly what you are going to do. I am a weak man, morally
and physically. If you intend to shoot me, or let your dog make a meal
of me, let us have it over as soon as possible. Since Miss Walton is
safe, I am as well prepared now as I ever shall be."

"I entreat you," pleaded Annie, still clinging to the woman, "don't let
any harm come to him."

"What is the use of touching him?" said the man, gruffly. Then turning
to Gregory he asked, "Do you still promise not to use your knowledge
against me? You might do me more harm in New York than here."

"I have promised once, and that is enough," said Gregory, irritably. "I
keep my word for good or evil, though you can't know that, and are
fools for trusting me."

"I'll trust neither of you," said the man, with an oath. "Here, Dencie,
I must talk with you alone. I'm willing to do anything that's
reasonable, but I'm not going to prison again alive, mark" that (with a
still more fearful imprecation). "Don't leave this room or I won't
answer for the consequences," he said, sternly to Gregory and Annie, at
the same time looking significantly at the dog.

Then he and the woman went into the back room, and there was an earnest
and somewhat angry consultation.

Gregory sat down and leaned his head on the table in a manner that
showed he had passed beyond despondency and fear into despairing
indifference as to what became of him. He felt that henceforth he must
be simply odious to Miss Walton, that she would only tolerate his
presence as long as it was necessary, veiling her contempt by more
politeness. In his shame and weakness he would almost rather die than
meet her true, honest eyes again.

Annie had the courage of principle and firm resolve, rather than that
which is natural and physical. The thought of sudden and violent death
appalled her. If her impulsive nature were excited, like that of a
soldier in battle, she could forget danger. If in her bed at home she
were wasting with disease, she would soon submit to the Divine will
with childlike trust. But her whole being shrunk inexpressibly from
violent and unnatural death. Never before did life seem so sweet. Never
before was there so much to live for. She could have been a martyr in
any age and in any horrible form for conscience' sake, but she would
have met her fate tremblingly, shrinkingly, and with intense longings
for life. And yet with all this instinctive dread, her trust in God and
His promises would not fail. But instead of standing calmly erect on
her faith, and confronting destiny, it was her nature, in such terrible
emergencies, to cling in loving and utter dependence, and obey.

She therefore in no respect shared Gregory's indifference, but was
keenly alive to the situation.

At first, with her hand upon her heart to still its wild throbbings,
she listened intently, and tried to catch the drift of the fateful
conference within. This being vain, her eyes wandered hurriedly around
the room. Standing thus, she unconsciously completed a strange picture
in that incongruous place, with her dejected companion on one side, and
the great dog, eying her savagely, on the other. Gregory's despairing
attitude impressed her deeply. In a sudden rash of pity she felt that
he was not as cowardly as he had seemed. A woman with difficulty
forgives this sin. His harsh condemnation and evident detestation of
himself impelled her generous nature instinctively to take the part of
his weak and wronged spirit. She had early been taught to pity rather
than to condemn those whom evil is destroying. In all his depravity he
did not repel her, for, though proud, he had no petty, shallow vanity;
and the evident fact that he suffered so deeply disarmed her.

Moreover, companionship in trouble which she felt was partly her fault,
drew her toward him, and, stepping to his side, she laid her hand on
his shoulder and said, gently, "Cheer up, my friend; I understand you
better than you do yourself. God will bring us safely through."

He shrunk from her hand, and said, drearily, "With better reason than
younder woman I can say, 'I am not fit for you to touch.' As for God,
He has nothing to do with me."

She answered, kindly, "I do not think that either of those things is
true. But, Mr. Gregory, what will they do with us? They will not dare--"

She was interrupted by the entrance of the strangely assorted couple
into whose crime-stained hands they had so unexpectedly fallen. Both
felt that but little trust could be placed in such perverted and
passion-swept natures--that they would be guided by their fears,
impulses, and interests. Annie's main hope was in the hold she had on
the woman's sympathies; but the latter, as she entered, wore a sullen
and disappointed look, as if she had not been given her own way. Annie
at once stepped to her side and again took her hand, as if she were her
best hope of safety. It was evident that her confidence and unshrinking
touch affected the poor creature deeply, and her hand closed over
Annie's in a way that was reassuring.

"I suppose you would scarcely like to trust yourselves to me or my
dog," said the man, with a grim laugh. "What's more, I've no time to
bother with you. Since my companion here feels she owes you something,
Miss Walton, she can now repay you a hundred-fold. But follow her
directions closely, as you value your lives;" and he left the house
with the dog. Soon after, they heard in the forest what seemed the note
of the whippoorwill repeated three times, but it was so near and
importunate that Annie was startled, and the woman's manner indicated
that she was not listening to a bird. After a few moments she said,
gloomily: "Miss Walton, I promised you should receive no harm, and I
will keep my word. I hoped I could send you directly home to-night, but
that's impossible. I can do much with Vight, but not everything. He has
sworn never to go to prison again alive, and none of our lives would be
worth much if they stood in the way of his escape. We meant to leave
this region before many months, for troublesome stories are getting
around, and now we must go at once. I will take you to a place of
safety, from which you can return home to-morrow. Come."

"But father will be wild with anxiety," cried Annie, wringing her hands.

"It is the best I can do," said the woman, sadly. "Come, we have no
time to lose."

She put on a woollen hood, and taking a long, slender staff, led the
way out into the darkness.

They felt that there was nothing to do but follow, which they did in
silence. They did not go back toward their broken wagon, but continued
down the wheel-track whereon their accident had occurred. Suddenly the
woman left this, taking a path through the woods, and after proceeding
with difficulty some distance, stopped, and lighted a small lantern she
had carried under her shawl. Even with the aid of this their progress
was painful and precarious in the steeply descending rocky path, which
had so many intricate windings that both Annie and Gregory felt that
they were indeed being led into a _terra incognita_. Annie was consumed
with anxiety as to the issue of their strange adventure, but believed
confidence in her guide to be the wisest course. Gregory was too weary
and indifferent to care for himself, and stumbled on mechanically.

At last he said, sullenly, "Madam, I can go no further. I may as well
die here as anywhere."

"You _must_ go," she said, sharply; "for my sake and Miss Walton's, if
not for your own. Besides, it's not much further. What I do to-night
must be done rightly."

"Well, then, while there is breath left, Miss Walton shall have the
benefit of it."

"May we not rest a few minutes?" asked Annie. "I too am very tired."

"Yes, before long at the place where you must pass the night."

The path soon came out in another wheel-track, which seemed to lead
down a deep ravine. Descending this a little way, they reached an
opening in which was the dusky outline of a small house.

"Here we part," said their guide, taking Annie's hand, while Gregory
sank exhausted on a rock near. "The old woman and her son who live in
that house will give you shelter, and to-morrow you must find your best
way home. This seems poor return for your kindness, but it's in keeping
with my miserable life, which is as dark and wild as the unknown flinty
path we came. After all, things have turned out far better than they
might have done. Vight was expecting some one, and so had the dog
within doors. He would have torn you to pieces had he been without as
usual."

"Lead this life no longer. Stay with us, and I will help you to better
things," said Annie, earnestly.

The look of intense longing on the woman's face as the light of the
flickering lantern fell on it would haunt Annie to her dying day.

"Oh that I might!" she groaned. "Oh that I might! A more fearful
bondage never cursed a human soul!"

"And why can you not?" pleaded Annie, putting her hand on the trembling
woman's shoulder. "You have seen better days. You were meant for a good
and noble life. You can't sin unfeelingly. Then why sin at all? Break
these chains, and by and by peace in this life and heaven in the life
to come will reward you."

The woman sat down by the roadside, and for a moment her whole frame
seemed convulsed with sobs. At last she said, brokenly, "You plead as
my good angel did before it left me--but it's no use--it's too late. I
have indeed seen better days, pure, happy days; and so has he. We once
stood high in the respect of all. But he fell, and I fell in ways I
can't explain. You cannot understand, that as love binds with silken
cords, so crime may bind with iron chains. No more--say no more. You
only torment me," she broke in, harshly, as Annie was about to speak
again. "You cannot understand. How could you? We love, hate, and fear
each other at the same time, and death only can part us. But that may
soon--that may soon;" and she clenched her hands with a dark look.

"But enough of this. I have too much to do to tire myself this way. You
must go to that house; I cannot. Old Mrs. Tompkins and her son will
give you shelter. I don't wish them to get into trouble. There will be
a close investigation into all this. I know what your father's
disposition is. And now farewell. The only good thing about me is, I
shall still pray for you, the only one who has ever treated me like a
woman since--since--since I fell into hell," she said in a low, hoarse
tone, and printing a passionate kiss on Annie's hand, she blew out her
light, and vanished in the darkness.

It seemed to swallow her up, and become a type of the mystery and fate
that enshrouded the forlorn creature. Beyond the bare fact that she
took the train the following morning with the man she called "Vight,"
Annie never heard of her again. Still there was hope for the wretched
wanderer. However dark and hidden her paths, the eyes of a merciful God
ever followed her, and to that God Annie prayed often in her behalf.

NOTE--This chapter has some historic basis. The man called "Vight" is
not altogether an imaginary character, for a desperate and successful
counterfeiter dwelt for a time among the mountains on the Hudson,
plying his nefarious trade. It is said that he took life more than once
to escape detection.



CHAPTER XVIII

IN THE DEPTHS



After the departure of their strange guide, who had befriended them as
best she could, Gregory at once went to the house and knocked. There
was a movement within, and a quavering voice asked, "Who's there?"

"Friends who have lost their way, and need shelter."

"I don't know about lettin' strangers in this time o' night," answered
the voice.

"There are only two of us," said Annie. "Perhaps you know who Miss
Walton is. I entreat you to let us in."

"Miss Walton, Miss Walton, sartin, I know who she is. But I can't
believe she's here."

"Our wagon broke down this afternoon, and we have lost our way,"
explained Gregory.

Again there was a stir inside, and soon a glimmer of light. After a few
moments the door was opened slightly, and a woman's voice asked,
apprehensively, "Be you sure it's Miss Walton?"

"Yes," said Annie, "you need have no fears. Hold the light, and see for
yourself."

This the woman did, and, apparently satisfied, gave them admittance at
once.

She seemed quite aged, and a few gray locks straggled out from under
her dingy cap, which suggested anything but a halo around her wrinkled,
withered face. A ragged calico wrapper incased her tall, gaunt form,
and altogether she did not make a promising hostess.

Before she could ask her unexpected guests any further questions, the
cry of a whippoorwill was again heard three times. She listened with a
startled, frightened manner. The sounds were repeated, and she seemed
satisfied:

"Isn't it rather late in the season for whippoorwills?" asked Annie,
uneasily, for this bird's note, now heard again, seemed like a signal.

"I dunno nothin' about whippoorwills," said the woman, stolidly. "The
pesky bird kind o' started me at first. Don't like to hear 'em round.
They bring bad luck. I can't do much for you, Miss Walton, in this poor
place. But such as 'tis you're welcome to stay. My son has been off
haulin' wood; guess he won't be back now afore to-morrow."

"When do you think he will come?" asked Annie, anxiously.

"Well, not much afore night, I guess."

"What will my poor father do?" moaned Annie. "He will be out all night
looking for us."

"Sure now, will he though?" said the woman, showing some traces of
anxiety herself. "Well, miss, you'll have to stay till my son gits
back, for it's a long way round through the valley to your house."

There was nothing to do but wait patiently till morning. The woman
showed Gregory up into a loft over the one room of the house, saying,
"Here's where my son sleeps. It's the best I can do, though I s'pose
you ain't used to such beds."

He threw his exhausted form on the wretched couch, and soon found
respite in troubled sleep.

Annie dozed away the night in a creaky old rocking-chair, the nearest
approach to a thing of comfort that the hovel contained. The old woman
had evidently been so "started" that she needed the sedative of a short
clay pipe, highly colored indeed, still a connoisseur in meerschaums
would scarcely covet it. This she would remove from her mouth now and
then, as she crouched on a low stool in the chimney-corner, to shake
her head ominously. Perhaps she knew more about whippoorwills than she
admitted. At last it seemed that the fumes, which half strangled Annie,
had their wonted effect, and she hobbled to her bed and was soon giving
discordant evidence of her peace. Annie then noiselessly opened a
window, that she too might breathe.

When Gregory waked next morning, it was broad day. He felt so stiff and
ill he could scarcely move, and with difficulty made his way to the
room below. The old woman was at the stove, frying some sputtering
pork, and its rank odor was most repulsive to the fastidious habitue of
metropolitan clubs.

"Where is Miss Walton?" he asked, in quick alarm.

"Only gone to the spring after water," replied the woman, shortly. "Why
didn't you git up and git it for her?"

"I would if I had known," he muttered, and he escaped from the
intolerable air of the room to the door, where he met Annie, fresh and
rosy from her morning walk and her toilet at the brook that brawled
down the ravine.

"Mr. Gregory, you are certainly ill," she exclaimed. "I am so sorry it
has all happened!"

He looked at her wonderingly, and then said, "You appear as if nothing
had happened. I am ill, Miss Walton, and I wish I were dead. You can
not feel toward me half the contempt I have for myself."

"Now, honestly, Mr. Gregory, I have no contempt for you at all."

He turned away and shook his head dejectedly.

"But I mean what I say," she continued, earnestly.

"Then it is your goodness, and not my desert."

"As I told you last night, so again I sincerely say, I think I
understand you better than you do yourself."

"You are mistaken," he answered, with gloomy emphasis. "Your intuitions
are quick, I admit. I have never known your equal in that respect. But
there are some things I am glad to think you never can understand. You
can never know what a proud man suffers when he has utterly lost hope
and self-respect. Though I acted so mean a part myself, I can still
appreciate your nobleness, courage, and fidelity to conscience. I
thought such heroism belonged only to the past."

"Mr. Gregory, I wish I could make you understand me," said Annie, with
real distress in her tone. "I am not brave; I was more afraid than you.
Indeed, I was in an agony of fear. I refused that man's demand because
I was compelled to. If you looked at things as I do, you would have
done the same."

"Please say no more, Miss Walton," said he, his face distorted by an
expression of intense self-loathing. "Do not try to palliate my course.
I would much rather you would call my cowardly selfishness and lack of
principle by their right names. The best thing I can do for the world
is to get out of it, and from present feelings, this 'good-riddance'
will soon occur. Will you excuse me if I sit down?" and he sank upon
the door-step in utter weakness.

Annie had placed her pail of water on the door-step and forgotten it in
her wish to cheer and help this bitterly wounded spirit.

"Mr. Gregory," she said, earnestly, "you are indeed ill in body and
mind, and you take a wrong and morbid view of everything. My heart
aches to show you how complete and perfect a remedy there is for all
this. It almost seems as if you were dying from thirst with that brook
yonder running--"

"There is no remedy for me," interrupted he, almost harshly. Then he
added in a weary tone, pressing his hand on his throbbing brow,
"Forgive me, Miss Walton; you see what I am. Please waste no more
thought on me."

"If yer want any breakfast to-day, yer better bring that water," called
the old woman from within.

Annie gave him a troubled, anxious look, and then silently carried in
the pail.

"Have you any tea?" she asked, not liking the odor of the coffee.

"Mighty little," was the short answer.

"Please let me have some, and I will send you a pound of our best in
its place," said Annie.

"I hain't such a fool as to lose that bargain," and the old woman
hobbled with alacrity to a cupboard; but to Annie's dismay the hidden
treasure had been hoarded too near the even more prized tobacco, and
seemed redolent of the rank odor of some unsavory preparation of that
remarkable weed which is conjured into so many and such diverse forms.
But she brewed a little as best she could before eating any breakfast
herself, and brought it to Gregory as he still sat on the step, leaning
against the door-post.

"Please swallow this as medicine," she said.

"Indeed, Miss Walton, I cannot," he replied.

"Please do," she urged, "as a favor to me. I made it myself; and I
can't eat any breakfast till I have seen you take this."

He at once complied, though with a wry face.

"There," said she, with a touch of playfulness, "I have seldom received
a stronger compliment. After this compliance I think I could venture to
ask anything of you."

"The tea is like myself," he answered. "You brought to it skilled hands
and pure spring water, and yet, from the nature of the thing itself, it
was a villanous compound. Please don't ask me to take any more. Perhaps
you have heard an old saying, 'Like dislikes like.'"

She determined that he should not yield to this morbid despondency, but
had too much tact to argue with him; therefore she said, kindly, "We
never did agree very well, Mr. Gregory, and don't now. But before many
hours I hope I can give you a cup of tea and something with it more to
your taste. I must admit that I am ready even for this dreadful
breakfast, that threatens to destroy my powers of digestion in one
fatal hour. You see what a poor subject I am for romance;" and she
smilingly turned away to a meal that gave her a glimpse of how the
"other half of the world lives."

Before she had finished, the sound of wheels and horses' hoofs coming
rapidly up the glen brought her to the door, and with joy she
recognized a near neighbor of her father's, a sturdy, kind-hearted
farmer, who had joined in the search for the missing ones the moment he
learned, in the dawn of that morning, that they had not returned.

He gave a glad shout as he saw Annie's form in the doorway, and to her
his broad, honest face was like that of an angel. All are beautiful to
those they help.

"Your father is in a dreadful state, Miss Annie," said Farmer Jones;
"but I told him if he would only stay at home and wait, I, and a few
other neighbors, would soon find you. He was up at the foot of the
mountain ever since twelve o'clock last night. Then he came home to see
if you hadn't returned some other way. I'm usually out as soon as it's
light, so I hailed him as he passed and asked what on earth he was up
for at that time of day. He told me his trouble, so I hitched up my
light wagon and got to your house as soon as he did. When he found you
hadn't come yet, he was for starting right for the mountains, but I saw
he wasn't fit, so I says, 'Mr. Walton, you'll just miss 'em. They've
taken a wrong road, or the wagon has broken down, but they'll be home
before ten o'clock. Now send Jeff up the road you expected them on.
I'll send Mr. Harris, who lives just beyond me, out on the road they
took first. My horse is fast, and I'll go round up this valley, and in
this way we'll soon scour every road;' and so with much coaxing I got
him to promise to stay till I returned. So jump in quick, and I'll have
you home in little over an hour."

"But we can't leave Mr. Gregory here. Let him go first. He is ill, and
needs attention immediately."

"Miss Walton, please return at once to your father," said Gregory,
quickly. "It is your duty. I can wait."

"No, Mr. Gregory, it would not be right to leave you here, feeling as
you do. As soon as father knows I am safe his mind will be at rest. I
am perfectly well, and you have no idea how ill you look."

"Miss Walton," said Gregory, in a tone that was almost harsh in its
decisiveness, "I will not return now."

"I am real sorry," said Mr. Jones, "that my wagon is not larger, but I
took the best thing that I had for fast driving over rough roads. Come,
Miss Walton, your friend has settled it, and if he is sick he had
better come more slowly in an easier carriage."

After cordially thanking the old woman for such rude hospitality as she
had bestowed, and renewing her promise to send ample recompense, she
turned with gentle courtesy to Gregory and assured him that he would
not have long to wait.

He gave her a quick, searching look, and said, "Miss Walton, I do not
understand how you can speak to me in this way. But go at once. Do not
keep your father in suspense any longer."

"I hope we shall find you better when we come for you," she said,
kindly.

"It were better if you found me dead," he said, in sudden harshness,
but it was toward himself, not her.

So she understood it, and waving her hand encouragingly, was rapidly
driven away.

As they rode along she related to Mr. Jones the events already known to
the reader, but carefully shielded Gregory from blame. She also
satisfied her companion's evident curiosity about the young man by
stating so frankly all it was proper for him to know that he had no
suspicion of anything concealed. She explained his last and unusual
expression by dwelling with truth on the fact that Gregory appeared
seriously ill and was deeply depressed in spirits.

Mr. Walton received his daughter with a joy beyond words. She was the
idol of his heart--the one object on earth that almost rivalled his
"treasures in heaven." His mind had dwelt in agonized suspense on a
thousand possibilities of evil during the prolonged hours of her
absence, and now that he clasped her again, and was assured of her
safety, he lifted his eyes heavenward with overflowing gratitude in his
heart.

But Annie's success in keeping up before him was brief. The strain had
been a little too severe. She soon gave way to nervous prostration and
headache, and was compelled to retire to her room instead of returning
for Gregory as she had intended. But he was promptly sent for, Miss
Eulie going in her place, and taking every appliance possible for his
comfort.

She found him in Mrs. Tompkins's hovel, sitting in the creaky arm-chair
that Annie had occupied the night before, and enduring with a white,
grim face the increasing suffering of his illness. He seemed to have
reached the depths of despair, and, believing the end near, determined
to meet it with more than Indian stoicism.

Many, in their suicidal blindness and remorse, pass sentence upon
themselves, and weakly deliver their souls into the keeping of that
inexorable jailer, Despair, forgetting the possibilities--nay,
certainties--of good that ever dwell in God. If man had no better
friend than himself, his prospects would be sombre indeed. Many a one
has condemned himself and sunk into the apathy of death, but He who
came to seek and to save the lost has lifted him with the arms of
forgiving love, and helped him back to the safety and happiness of the
fold. Satan only, _never the Saviour_, bids the sinner despair. But
poor Gregory was taking advice from his enemy and not from his Friend.
During the long hours of pain and almost mortal weakness of that dreary
morning, he acknowledged himself vanquished--utterly defeated in the
battle of life. As old monkish legends teach, the devil might have
carried him off bodily and he would not have resisted. In his
prostrated nature, but one element of strength was apparent--a
perverted pride that rose like a shattered, blackened shaft, the one
prominent relic of seemingly utter ruin.

At first he coldly declined the cordial and nourishment Miss Eulie
brought, and said, with a quietness that did not comport with the
meaning of his words, that she had better leave him to himself, for he
would not make trouble for any one much longer.

Miss Eulie was shocked, finding in these words and in his general
appearance proof that he was more seriously ill than she had
anticipated.

He was indeed; but his malady was rather that of a morbid mind
depressing an enfeebled body than actual disease. But mental distress
could speedily kill a man like Gregory.

Miss Eulie soon brought him to terms by saying, "Mr. Gregory, you see I
am alone. Mr. Walton was too exhausted to accompany me, and Annie did
not send any of the neighbors, as she thought the presence of strangers
would be irksome to you."

"She said she would come herself, but she has had time to think and
judge me rightly," muttered he, interrupting her.

"No, Mr. Gregory," Miss Eulie hastened to say; "you do her wrong. She
was too ill to come, as she intended and wished to do, and so with many
anxious charges sent me in her place. I am but a woman, and dependent
on your courtesy. I cannot compel you to go with me. But I am sure you
will not wrong my brother's hospitality, and make Miss Walton's passing
indisposition serious, by refusing to come with me. If you did she
would rise from her sick bed and come herself."

Gregory at once rose and said, "I can make no excuse for myself. I seem
fated to do and say the worst things possible under the circumstances."

"You are ill," said Miss Eulie, kindly, as if that explained everything.

Declining aid, he tottered to the carriage, into which Jeff, with some
curious surmises, helped him.

Miss Eulie made good Annie's promises to Mrs. Tompkins fourfold, and
left the shrivelled dame with a large supply of one of the elements of
her heaven--tea, and with the means of purchasing the other--tobacco,
besides more substantial additions to the old woman's meagre larder.

Gregory was averse to conversation during the long, slow ride. The
jolting, even of the easy cushioned carriage, was exceedingly painful,
and by the time they reached home he was quite exhausted. Leaning on
Mr. Walton's arm he at once went to his room, and at their urgent
entreaties forced himself to take a little of the dainty supper that
was forthcoming. But their kindly solicitude was courteously but coldly
repelled. Acting reluctantly upon his plainly manifested wish, they
soon left him to himself, as after his first eager inquiry concerning
Miss Walton it seemed a source of pain to him to see or speak to any
one.

At first his arm-chair and the cheery wood-fire formed a pale
reflection of something like comfort, but every bone in his body ached
from the recent cold he had taken. He had just fever enough to increase
the distortion of the images of his morbid and excited mind. Hour after
hour he sat with grim white face and fixed stare, scourging himself
with the triple scorpion-whip of remorse, vain regret, and
self-disgust. But an old and terrible enemy was stealing on him to
change the nature of his torment--neuralgic headache; and before
morning he was walking the floor in agony, a sad type, while the world
slept and nature rested, of that large class, all whose relations,
physical and moral, are a jangling discord.



CHAPTER XIX

MISS WALTON MADE OF DIFFERENT CLAY FROM OTHERS



Simple remedies and prolonged rest were sufficient to restore Annie
after the serious shock and strain she had sustained. She rose even
earlier than usual, and hastily dressed that she might resume her
wonted place as mistress of her father's household. In view of her
recent peril and the remediless loss he might have suffered, she was
doubly grateful for the privilege of ministering to his wants and
filling his declining years with cheer and comfort.

She had not been awake long before Gregory's irregular steps in the
adjoining room aroused her attention and caused anxious surmises. But
she was inclined to think that his restlessness resulted from mental
distress rather than physical. Still she did not pity him less, but
rather more. Though so young, she knew that the "wounded spirit" often
inflicts the keener agony. Her strong womanly nature was deeply moved
in his behalf. As we have seen, it was her disposition to be helpful
and sustaining, rather than clinging and dependent. She had a heart "at
leisure from itself, to soothe and sympathize." From the depths of her
soul she pitied Gregory and wished to help him out of a state which the
psalmist with quaint force describes as "a horrible pit and the miry
clay."

She was a very practical reformer, and determined that a dainty
breakfast should minister to the outer man before she sought to apply a
subtler balm to the inner. Trusting not even to Zibbie's established
skill, she prepared with her own hands some inviting delicacies, and
soon that which might have tempted the most exacting of epicures was
ready.

Mr. Walton shared the delight of the children at seeing Annie bustling
round again as the good genius of their home, and Miss Eulie's little
sighs of content were as frequent as the ripples on the shore. Miss
Eulie could sigh and wipe a tear from the corner of her eye in the most
cheerful and hope-inspiring way, for somehow her face shone with an
inward radiance, and, even in the midst of sorrow and when wet with
tears, reminded one of a lantern on a stormy night, which, covered with
rain-drops, still gives light and comfort.

Breakfast was ready, but Gregory did not appear. Hannah, the waitress,
was sent to his room, and in response to her quiet knock he said,
sharply, "Well?"

"Breakfast is waiting."

"I do not wish any," was the answer, in a tone that seemed resentful,
but was only an expression of the intolerable pain he was suffering.
Hannah came down with a scared look and said she "guessed something was
amiss with Mr. Gregory."

Annie looked significantly at her father, who immediately ascended to
his guest's door.

"Mr. Gregory, may I come in?" he asked.

"Do not trouble yourself. I shall be better soon," was the response.

The door was unlocked, and Mr. Walton entered, and saw at once that a
gentle but strong will must control the sufferer for his own good.
Mental and nervous excitement had driven him close to the line where
reason and his own will wavered in their decisions, and his irregular,
tottering steps became the type of the whole man. His eyes were wild
and bloodshot. A ghastly pallor gave his haggard face the look of
death. A damp dullness pervaded the heavy air of the room, which in his
unrest he had greatly disordered. The fire had died out, and he had not
even tried to kindle it again. His broodings had been so deep and
painful during the earlier part of the night that he had been oblivious
of his surroundings, and then physical anguish became so sharp that all
small elements of discomfort were unnoted.

With fatherly solicitude Mr. Waiton stepped up to his guest, who stood
staring at him as if he were an intruder, and taking his cold hand,
said, "Mr. Gregory, you must come with me."

"Where?"

"To the sitting-room, where we can take care of you and relieve you.
Come, I'm your physician for the time being, and doctors must be
obeyed."

Gregory had not undressed the night before, and, wrapped in his rich
dressing-gown and with dishevelled hair, he mechanically followed his
host to the room below and was placed on the lounge.

"Annie has prepared you a nice little breakfast. Won't you let me bring
it to you?" said Mr. Waiton, cheerily.

"No," said Gregory, abruptly, and pressing his hands upon his throbbing
temples, "the very thought of eating is horrible. Please leave me.
Indeed I cannot endure even your kindly presence."

Mr. Walton looked perplexed and scarcely knew what to do, but after a
moment said, "Really, Mr. Gregory, you are very ill. I think I had
better send for our physician at once."

"I insist that you do not," said his guest, starting up. "What could a
stupid country doctor do for me, with his owl-like examination of my
tongue and clammy fingering of my pulse, but drive me mad? I must be
alone."

"Father," said Annie, in a firm and quiet voice, "I will be both nurse
and physician to Mr. Gregory this morning. If I fail, you may send for
a doctor."

Unperceived she had entered, and from Gregory's manner and words
understood his condition.

"Miss Waiton," said Gregory, hastily, "I give you warning. I am not
even the poor weak self you have known before, and I beg you leave me
till this nervous headache passes off, if it ever does. I can't control
myself at such times, and this is the worst attack I ever had. I am low
enough in your esteem. Do not add to my pain by being present now at
the time of my greatest weakness."

"Mr. Gregory," she replied, "you may speak and act your worst, but you
shall not escape me this morning. It's woman's place to remove pain,
not fly from it. So you must submit with the best grace you can. If
after I have done all in my power you prefer the doctor and another
nurse, I will give way, but now you have no choice."

Gregory fell back on the sofa with a groan and a muttered oath. At a
sign from his daughter, Mr. Walton reluctantly and doubtfully passed
through the open door into the parlor, where he was joined by Miss
Eulie.

Annie quietly stepped to the hearth and stirred the fire to a cheerful
blaze. She then went to the parlor and brought the afghan, and without
so much as saying, "by your leave," spread it over his chilled form.

Gregory felt himself helpless, but there was something soothing in this
assertion of her strong will, and like a sick child he was better the
moment he ceased to chafe and struggle.

She left the room a few moments, and even between the surges of pain he
was curious as to what she would do next. He soon learned with a thrill
of hope that he was to experience the magnetism of her touch, and to
know the power of the hand that had seemed alive in his grasp on the
day of their chestnutting expedition. Annie returned with a quaint
little bottle of German cologne, and, taking a seat quietly by his
side, began bathing his aching temples.

"You treat me like a child," he said, petulantly.

"I hope for a while you will be content to act like one," she replied.

"I may, like a very bad one."

"No matter," she said, with a laugh that was the very antidote of
morbidness; "I am accustomed to manage children."

But in a very brief time he had no disposition to shrink from her touch
or presence. Her hand upon his brow seemed to communicate her own
strong, restful life; his temples throbbed less and less violently.
Silent and wondering he lay very still, conscious that by some subtle
power she was exorcising the demons of pain. His hurried breathing
became regular; his hands unclinched; his form, which had been tense
and rigid, relaxed into a position of comfort. He felt that he was
under some beneficent spell, and for an hour scarcely moved lest he
should break it and his torment return. Annie was equally silent, but
with a smile saw the effects of her ministry. At last she looked into
his face, and said, with an arch smile, "Shall I send for Doctor
Bludgeon and Sairy Gamp to take my place?"

He was very weak and unstrung, and while a tremulous smile hovered
about his mouth, his eyes so moistened that he turned toward the wall.
After a moment he said, "Miss Walton, I am not worthy of your kindness."

"Nor are you unworthy. But kindness is not a matter of business--so
much for so much."

"Why do you waste your time on me?"

"That is a childish question. What a monster I should be if I
heedlessly left you to suffer! The farmers' wives around would mob me."

"I am very grateful for the relief you are giving me, even though mere
humanity is the motive."

"Mere humanity is not my motive. You are our guest, the son of my
father's dearest friend, and for your own sake I am deeply interested
in you."

"Miss Walton, I know in the depths of your soul you are disgusted with
me. You seek to apply those words to my spirit as you do cologne to my
head."

"I beg your pardon. It is not the cologne only that relieves your
headache."

"I know that well. It is your touch, which seems magical."

"Well then, you should know from my touch that I am not sitting here
telling fibs. If I should bathe your head with a wooden hand, wouldn't
you know it?"

"What an odd simile! I cannot understand you." "It is not necessary
that you should, but do not wrong me by doubting me again."

"I have done nothing but wrong you, Miss Walton."

"I'm not conscious of it, so you needn't worry, and I assure you I find
it a pleasure to do you good."

"Miss Walton, you are the essence of goodness."

"Oh, no, no; why say of a creature what is only true of God? Mr.
Gregory, you are very extravagant in your language."

A scowl darkened his face, and he said, moodily, "God seems to me the
essence of cruelty."

"'Seems, seems!' An hour since I seemed a torment, and you were driving
me away."

"Yes, but you soon proved yourself a kind, helpful, pitiful friend. I
once thought my cheek would flame with anger even if I were dying,
should I be regarded as an object of pity. But you, better than any
one, know that I am one."

"I, better than any one, know that you are not, in the sense you mean."

"Come, Miss Walton, you cannot be sincere now. Do you think I can ever
forget the miserable scene of Monday evening, when you placed yourself
beside the martyrs and I sank down among the cowards of any age? I
reached the bottom of the only perdition I believe in. I have lost my
self-respect."

"Which I trust God will help you regain by showing you the only sure
and safe ground on which self-respect can be maintained. Much that is
called self-respect is nothing but pride. But, Mr. Gregory, injustice
to one's self is as wrong as injustice to another. Answer me honestly
this question. Did you act that evening only from fear--because you
have it not in you to face danger? or did you promise secrecy because
you felt the man's crime was none of your business, and supposed I
would take the same view?"

Gregory started up and looked at her with a face all aglow with honest,
grateful feeling, and said, "God knows the latter is the truth."

"And I know it too. I knew it then."

"But the world could never be made to see it in that light."

"Now pride speaks. Self-respect does not depend upon the opinion of the
world. The world has nothing to do with the matter. You certainly do
not expect I am going to misrepresent you before it."

He bent a look upon her such as she had never sustained before. It was
the look of a man who had discovered something divine and precious
beyond words. It was a feeling such as might thrill one who was
struggling in darkness, and, as he supposed, sinking in the deep sea,
but whose feet touched something which seemed to sustain him. The
thought, "I can trust her--she is true," came to him at that time with
such a blessed power to inspire hope and give relief that for a moment
he could not speak. Then he began, "Miss Walton, I cannot find words--"

"Do not find them," she interrupted, laughingly. "See, your temples are
beginning to throb again, and I am a sorry nurse, a true disciple of
Mrs. Gamp, to let you excite yourself. Lie down, sir, at once, and let
your thoughts dwell the next half-hour on your breakfast. You have much
reason for regret that the dainty little tidbits that I first prepared
are spoiled by this time. I doubt whether I can do so well again."

"I do not wish any breakfast. Please do not leave me yet."

"It makes no difference what you wish. The idea of an orthodox
physician consulting the wishes of his patient! My practical skill sees
your need of breakfast."

"Have you had any yourself?" he asked, again starting up, and looking
searchingly at her.

"Well, I have had a cup of coffee," she replied, coloring a little.

"What a brute I am!" he groaned.

"In that charge upon yourself you strongly assert the possession of an
animal nature, and therefore of course the need of a breakfast."

"May I be choked by the first mouthful if I touch anything before I
know you have had your own."

"What an awful abjuration! How can you swear so before a lady, Mr.
Gregory?"

"No, it is a solemn vow."

"Then I must take my breakfast with you, for with your disposition to
doubt I don't see how you can 'know' anything about it otherwise."

"That is better than I hoped. I will eat anything you bring on those
conditions, if it does choke me--and I know it will."

"A fine compliment to my cooking," she retorted and laughingly left the
room.

Gregory could not believe himself the haggard wretch that Mr. Walton
had found two hours since. Then he was ready to welcome death as a
deliverer. Insane man! As if death ever delivered any from evil but the
good! But so potent had been the sweet wine of Annie's ministry that
his chilled and benumbed heart was beginning to glow with a faint
warmth of hope and comfort. Morbidness could no more exist in her
presence than shadows on the sunny side of trees. With her full
knowledge of the immediate cause of his suffering, and with her unusual
tact, she had applied balm to body and spirit at the same time. The
sharp, cutting agony in his head had been charmed away. The paroxysm
had passed, and the dull ache that remained seemed nothing in
comparison--merely the heavy swell of the departed storm.

He forgot himself, the source of all his trouble, in thinking about
Miss Walton. The plain girl, as he had at first regarded her, with a
weak, untried character that he had expected to topple over by the
breath of a little flattery, now seemed divinely beautiful and strong.
She reminded him of the graceful, symmetrical elm, which, though
bending to the tempest, is rarely broken or uprooted.

He hardly hoped that she would give him credit for the real state of
his mind which had led to his ready promise of secrecy. To the
counterfeiter's wretched companion he had seemed the weakest and
meanest of cowards, and if the story were generally known he would
appear in the same light to the world. To his intensely proud nature
this would be intolerable. And why should it not be known? If Miss
Walton chose to regard his choice as one of cowardice, how could he
prove, even to her, that it was not?

Moreover, his low estimate of human nature led him to believe that even
Annie would use him as a dark background for her heroism; and he well
knew that when such a story is once started, society's strongest
tendency is to exaggerate man's pusillanimity and woman's courage. He
shuddered as he saw himself growing blacker and meaner in every
fireside and street corner narration of the strange tale, till at last
his infamy should pass into one of the traditions of the place. A man
like Gregory could not long have endured such a prospect. He would have
died, either by every physical power speedily giving way under mental
anguish, or by his own hand; or, if he had lived, reason would have
dropped its sceptre and become the sport of wild thoughts and fancies.

Little wonder that Annie appeared an angel of light when she stood
between him and such a future. The ugliest hag would have been
glorified and loved in the same position. But when she did this with
her own peculiar grace and tact, as a matter of justice, his gratitude
and admiration knew no bounds. He was in a fair way to become an
idolater and worship the country girl he had once sneered at, as no
pictured Madonna was ever revered even in superstitious Italy. Besides
placing him under personal obligation, she had, by tests certain and
terrible, proved herself true and strong in a world that he believed to
be, in the main, utterly false at heart. It is one of our most natural
instincts to trust and lean upon something, and Annie Walton seemed one
whose friendship he could value above life.

He did not even then realize, in his glad sense of relief, that in
escaping the charge of cowardice he fell upon the other horn of the
dilemma, namely, lack of principle--that the best explanation of his
conduct admitted that he was indifferent to right and wrong, and even
to the most serious crime against society, so long as he was not
personally and immediately injured. He had acted on the selfish creed
that a man is a fool who puts himself to serious trouble to serve the
public. The fact that he did not even dream that Annie would make the
noble stand she did proves how far selfishness can take a man out of
his true course when he throws overboard compass and chart and lets
himself drift.

But in the world's code (which was his) cowardice is the one deadly
sin. His lack of anything like Christian principle was a familiar fact
to him, and did not hurt him among those with whom he associated.

Even Annie, woman-like, could more readily forgive all his faults than
a display of that weakness which is most despised in a man. But she too
was sufficiently familiar with the world not to be repelled or shocked
by a life which, compared with all true, noble standards, was sadly
lacking. And yet she was the very last one to be dazzled by a fast,
brilliant man of the world. She had been too well educated for that,
and had been early taught to distinguish between solid worth and mere
tinsel. Her native powers of observation were strong, and her father,
and mother also before she died, had given her opportunities for
exercising them. Instead of mere assertions as to what was right and
wrong and general lecturing on the subject, they had aimed to show her
right and wrong embodied in human lives. They made her feel that God
wanted her to do right for the same reason that they did, because He
loved her. First in Bible narrative told in bedtime stories, then in
history and biography, and finally in the experience of those around
them, she had been shown the happy contrast of good, God-pleasing life
with that which is selfish and wicked. So thorough and practical had
been the teaching in this respect, and so impressed was she by the
lesson, that she would as soon have planted in her flower-bed the seeds
of tender annuals on the eve of autumn frosts, and expected bloom in
chill December, as to enter upon a course that God frowns upon, and
look for happiness. Her father often said, "A human being opposing
God's will is like a ship beating against wind and tide to certain
wreck."

An evil life appeared therefore to her a moral madness, under the
malign influence of which people were like the mentally deranged who
with strange perversity hate their best friends and cunningly watch for
chances of self-destruction. While on one hand she shrunk from them
with something of the repulsion which many feel toward the unsound in
mind, on the other she cherished the deepest pity for them. Knowing how
full a remedy ever exists in Him whose word and touch removed
humanity's most desperate ills, it was her constant wish and effort to
lead as many as possible to this Divine Friend. If she had been like
many sincere but selfish religionists, she would have said of Gregory,
"He is not congenial. We have nothing in common," and, wrapped in her
own spiritual pleasures and pursuits, would have shunned, ignored, and
forgotten him. But she chiefly saw his pressing need of help, and said
to herself, "If I would be like my Master, I must help him."

Gregory at first had looked upon himself as immeasurably superior to
the plain country girl. He little imagined that she at the same time
had a profound pity for him, and that this fact would become his best
chance for life. She had not forgotten the merciful conspiracy entered
into the second evening after his arrival, but was earnestly seeking to
carry out its purposes. In order to do this, she was anxious to gain
his good-will and confidence, and now saw with gratitude that their
adventure on the mountain, that had threatened to end in death, might
be the beginning of a new and happy life. She exulted over the hold she
had gained upon him, not as the selfish gloat over one within their
power, whom they can use for personal ends--not as the coquette smiles
when another human victim is laid upon the altar of her vanity, but as
the angels of heaven rejoice when there is even a chance of one
sinner's repentance.

And yet Annie had no intention of "talking religion" to him in any
formal way, save as the subject came up naturally; but she hoped to
live it, and suggest it to him in such an attractive form that he would
desire it for his own sake.

But her chief hope was in the fact that she prayed for him; and she no
more expected to be unheard and unanswered than that her kind father
would listen with a stony face to some earnest request of hers.

But Annie was not one to go solemnly to work to compass an event that
would cause joy in heaven. She would ask one to be a Christian as she
would invite a captive to leave his dungeon, or tell the sick how to be
well. She saw that morbid gloom had become almost a disease with
Gregory, and she proposed to cure him with sunshine.

And sunshine embodied she seemed to him as she returned, her face
glowing with exercise and close acquaintance with the kitchen-range. In
each hand she carried a dish, while Hannah followed with a tray on
which smoked the most appetizing of breakfasts.

"Your rash vow," she said, "has caused you long waiting. I'm none of
your ethereal heroines, but have a craving for solids served in
quantity and variety. And while I could have soon got your breakfast it
was no bagatelle to get mine."

How fresh and bright she looked saying all this! and he ejaculated,
"Deliver me from the ghastly creatures you call 'ethereal heroines.'"

"Indeed, sir," she retorted, "if you can't deliver yourself from them
you shall have no help from me. But let us at once enter upon the
solemnities, and as you have a spark of gallantry, see to it that you
pay my cookery proper compliment."

"Your 'cookery,' forsooth!" said he, with something of her own light
tone. "That I should find Miss Walton stealing Zibbie's laurels!"

"Chuckle when you find her doing it. Hannah, who prepared this
breakfast?"

"Yourself, miss," answered the woman, with an admiring grin.

"That will do, Hannah; we will wait upon ourselves. Shame on you, sir!
You are no connoisseur, since you cannot tell a lady's work from a
kitchen-maid's. Moreover, you have shown that wretched doubting
disposition again."

Now that they were alone, Gregory said, earnestly, "I shall never doubt
you again."

"I hope you never will doubt that I wish to do you good, Mr. Gregory,"
she replied, passing him a cup of tea.

"You have done me more good in a few brief hours than I ever hoped to
receive. Miss Walton, how can I repay you?"

"By being a better friend to yourself. Commence by eating this."

He did not find it very difficult to comply. After a little time he
said, "But my conscience condemns me for caring too much for myself."
"And no doubt your conscience is right. The idea of being a friend to
yourself and going against your conscience!"

"Then I have ever been my own worst enemy."

"I can believe that, and so you'll continue to be if you don't take
another piece of toast."

"And yet there has always seemed a fatal necessity for me to do wrong
and go wrong. Miss Walton, you are made of different clay from me and
most people that I know. It is your nature to be good and noble."

"Nonsense!" said Annie, with a positive frown. "Different clay indeed!
I imagine you do wrong for the same reason that I do, because you wish
to; and you fail in doing right because you have nothing but your weak
human will to keep you up."

"And what keeps you up, pray?"

"Can you even suppose that I or any one can be a Christian without
Christ?"

He gave one of his incredulous shrugs.

"Now what may that mean?" she asked.

"Pardon me if I say that I think yours is a pretty and harmless
superstition. This world is one of inexorable law and necessity down to
the minutest thing. A weed is always a weed. A rose is always a rose.
It's my misfortune to be a weed. It's your good fortune to be a rose."

Annie looked as if she might become a briery one at that moment, for
this direct style of compliment, though honest, was not agreeable.
Conscious of many struggles with evil, it was even painful, for it did
her injustice in two aspects of the case. So she said, dryly, "What an
automaton you make me out to be!"

"How so?" "If I merely do right as the rose grows, I deserve no credit.
I'm but little better than a machine."

"Not at all. I compared you to something that has a beautiful life of
its own. But I would willingly be a machine, and a very angular,
uncouth one too, if some outside power would only work me right and to
some purpose."

"Such talk seems to me idle, Mr. Gregory. I know that I have to try
very hard to do right, and I often fail. I do not believe that our very
existence begins in a lie, as it were, for from earliest years
conscience tells us that we needn't do wrong and ought not to. Honestly
now, isn't this true of your conscience?"

"But my reason concludes otherwise, and reason is above
conscience--above everything, and one must abide by its decisions."

For a moment Annie did not know how to answer. She was not versed in
theology and metaphysics, but she knew he was wrong. Therefore she
covered her confusion by quietly pouring him out another cup of tea,
and then said, "Even my slight knowledge of the past has taught me how
many absurd and monstrous things can be done and said in the name of
reason. Religion is a matter of revelation and experience. But it is
not contrary to reason, certainly not to mine. If your reason should
conclude that this tea is not hot, what difference would that make to
me? My religion is a matter of fact, of vivid consciousness."

"Of course it is. It's your life, your nature, just as in my nature
there is nothing akin to it. That is why I say you are made of
different clay from myself; and I am very glad of it," he added with an
air of pleasantry which she saw veiled genuine earnestness, "for I wish
you the best of everything now and always."

Annie felt that she could not argue him out of his folly; and while she
was annoyed, she could not be angry with him for expressions that were
not meant as flattery, but were rather the strong language of his
gratitude. "Time will cure him of his delusions," she thought, and she
said, lightly, "Mr. Gregory, from certain knowledge of myself which you
cannot have I disclaim all your absurd ideas in regard to the
new-fangled clay of my composition. I know very well that I am ordinary
flesh and blood, a fact that you will soon find out for yourself. As
your physician, I pronounce that such wild fancies and extravagant
language prove that you are out of your head, and that you need
quieting sleep. I am going to read you the dullest book in the library
as a sedative."

"No, please, sing rather."

"What! after such a breakfast! Do you suppose that I would ruin the
reputation of my voice in one fell moment? Now what kind of clay led to
this remark? Do as your doctor says. Recline on the lounge. Close your
eyes. Here is a treatise on the Nebular Hypothesis that looks
unintelligible enough for our purpose."

"Nebular Hypothesis! Another heavenly experience such as you are ever
giving me."

"Come, Mr. Gregory, punning is a very bad symptom. You must go to sleep
at once." And soon her mellow voice was finding its way into a
labyrinth of hard scientific terms, as a mountain brook might murmur
among the stones. After a little time she asked of Gregory, whose eyes
remained wide open, "How does it sound?"

"Like the multiplication table set to music."

"Why don't you go to sleep?"

"I'm trying to solve a little nebular hypothesis of my own. I was
computing how many million belles such as I know, and how many ages,
would be required to condense them into a woman like yourself."

Annie shut the book with a slam, and with an abrupt, half-vexed
"good-by," left the room. For a brief time Gregory lay repenting of his
disastrous levity, and then slept.



CHAPTER XX

MISS WALTON MADE OF ORDINARY CLAY



When Gregory awoke, the sun had sunk behind the mountains that he could
not even look toward now without a shudder, and the landscape, as seen
from the window, was growing obscure in the early dusk of an autumn
evening. But had the window opened on a vista in Paradise he would not
have looked without, for the one object of all the world most
attractive to him was present. Annie sat near the hearth with some
light crochet-work in her hands. She had evidently been out for a walk,
for she was drying her feet on the fender. How trim and cunning they
looked, peeping from under the white edge of her skirt, and what a
pretty picture she made sitting there in the firelight! The outline of
her figure surely did not suggest the "ethereal heroine," but rather
the presiding genius in a happy home, in which the element of comfort
abounded. She looked as if she would be a sweet-tempered, helpful
companion, in the every-day cares and duties of a busy life:

     "A creature not too bright or good
      For human nature's daily food."

"How dark and lustrous her eyes are in the firelight!" Gregory thought.
"It seems as if another and more genial fire were burning in them. What
can she be thinking of, that such happy, dreamy smiles are flitting
across her face? If I had such a hearth as that, and such a good angel
beside it to receive me after the day's work was over, I believe I
could become at least a man, if not a Christian;" and he sighed so
deeply that Annie looked hastily up, and encountered his wistful gaze.

"What a profound remark you just made!" she said. "What could have led
to it?"

"You."

"I do not think that I am an object to sigh over. I'm perfectly well, I
thank you, and have had my dinner."

"You have no idea what a pretty picture you made."

"Yes, in this poor light, and your disordered imagination. But did you
sigh on that account?"

"No, but because to me it is only a picture--one that shall have the
chief place in the gallery of my memory. In a few days I shall be in my
cheerless bachelor apartments, with nothing but a dusty register in the
place of this home-like hearth."

"Come, Mr. Gregory, you are growing sentimental. I will go and see if
supper is ready."

"Please stay, and I will talk of the multiplication table."

"No, that led to the 'Nebular Hypothesis.' You had better prepare for
supper;" and she vanished.

"It's my fate," he said, rising, "to drive away every good and pleasant
thing."

He went to the fire and stood where she had sat, and again thought was
busy.

"She seems so real and substantial, and yet so intangible! Her
defensive armor is perfect, and I cannot get near or touch her unless
she permits it. The sincerest compliment glances off. Out of her
kindness she helps me and does me good. She bewitches and sways me by
her spells, but I might as well seek to imprison a spirit of the air as
to gain any hold upon her. I wonder whom or what she was thinking of,
that such dreamy, tender smiles should flit across her face."

How his face would have darkened with wrath and hate, if he had known
that his detestation, Hunting, had inspired them!

The tea-bell reminded him how time was passing, and he went to his room
with an elastic step that one would suppose impossible after seeing him
in the morning. But, as is usual with nervous organizations, he sank or
rallied rapidly in accordance with circumstances. When he appeared at
the table, Mr. Walton could hardly believe his eyes.

"It is again the result of Miss Walton's witchcraft," explained
Gregory. "The moment I felt her hand upon my brow, there came a sense
of relief. In Italy they would make a saint of her, and bring out the
sick for her to touch."

"And so soon lose their saint by some contagious disease," said Annie,
laughing.

"I fear, sir, I was very rude to you this morning, but in truth I was
beside myself with pain."

"Annie has a wonderful power of magnetism; I don't know what else to
call it," said Miss Eulie. "She can drive away one of my headaches
quicker than all other remedies combined."

"You are making out," said Annie, "that my proper calling is that of a
nurse. If you don't change the subject, I'll leave you all to take care
of yourselves, and go down to Bellevue."

"If you do," laughed Gregory, "I'll break every bone in my body, and be
carried into your ward as a homeless stranger."

The supper-hour passed away in light and cheerful conversation. As if
by common consent, the scenes on the mountain were not mentioned in the
presence of the children, and they evidently had had their curiosity
satisfied on the subject.

Annie seemed tired and languid after supper and Miss Eulie volunteered
to see the children safely to their rest. Mr. Walton insisted that
Annie should take his easy-chair, and Gregory placed a footstool at her
feet, and together they "made a baby of her," she said. The old
gentleman then took his seat, and seemed to find unbounded content in
gazing on his beloved daughter. Their guest appeared restless and began
to pace the room. Suddenly he asked Mr. Walton, "Have you heard
anything of the fugitives?"

"Not a word beyond the fact that they bought tickets for New York and
took the train. I have telegraphed to the City Police Department, and
forwarded the description of their persons which Annie gave me. Their
dwelling has been examined by a competent person, but evidently he is
an old and experienced criminal and knows how to cover up his tracks. I
think it extremely providential that they did nothing worse than send
you over on the other side of the mountain in order to clear a way for
escape. Such desperate people often believe only in the silence of
death. They might have caused that dog to tear you to pieces and have
appeared blameless themselves. If caught, only your testimony could
convict them, though I suspect Mrs. Tompkins and her son. Young
Tompkins brought them with their luggage to the depot. He says the man
called 'Vight' met him returning from the delivery of a load of wood,
and engaged his services. As he often does teaming for people in those
back districts his story is plausible; and he swears he knew nothing
against the man. But he is a bad drinking fellow, and just the one to
become an accomplice in any rascality. I fear they will all escape us,
and yet I am profoundly grateful that matters are no worse."

While Mr. Walton was talking, Gregory was looking intently at Annie.
She was conscious of his scrutiny, and her color rose under it, but she
continued to gaze steadily at the fire.

"And I am going to increase that gratitude a hundred-fold, sir," he
said, earnestly.

Annie looked up at him with a startled, deprecatory air. "No, Miss
Walton," he said, answering her look, "I will not be silent. While it
is due to your generosity that the world does not hear of your heroism
as the story would naturally be told, it is your father's right that he
should hear it, and know the priceless jewel that he has in his
daughter. I know that appearances will be against me. If you can take
her view of the matter, sir, I shall be glad, otherwise I cannot help
it;" and he related the events as they had actually occurred, softening
or palliating his course in not the slightest degree.

Mr. Walton turned ashen pale as he thus for the first time learned the
desperate nature of his daughter's peril. Then rising with a sudden
impulse of pride and affection he clasped her in his arms.

Gregory was about to leave the room, when Mr. Walton's voice detained
him.

"Do not go, sir. You will pardon a father's weakness."

"Father, I give you my word and honor," cried Annie, eagerly, "that Mr.
Gregory did not act the part of a coward. He scarcely does himself
justice in his story. He did not realize the principle involved, and
saw in the promise he gave the readiest way out of an awkward and
dangerous predicament. He did not think the man's crime was any of our
business--"

"There is no need of pleading Mr. Gregory's cause so earnestly, my
dear," interrupted her father. "I think I understand his course fully,
and share your view of it. I am too well accustomed to the taking of
evidence not to detect the ring of truth."

"I cannot tell you, sir, what a relief it is to me that you and Miss
Walton can judge thus correctly of my action. This morning and
yesterday I believed that you and all the world would regard me as the
meanest of cowards, and the bitterness of death was in the thought."

"No, sir," said Mr. Walton, kindly but gravely; "your course did not
result from cowardice. But permit an old man and your father's friend
to say that it did result from the lack of high moral principle. Its
want in this case might have been fatal, for the world, as you feared,
would scarcely do you justice. Let it be a lesson to you, my dear young
friend, that only the course which is strictly right is safe, even as
far as this world is concerned."

Gregory's face flushed deeply, but he bowed his head in humility at the
rebuke.

"At the same time," continued Mr. Walton, "it was manly in you to state
the case frankly to me as you have done; for you knew that you might
shield yourself behind Annie's silence."

"It was simply your right to know it," said Gregory, in a low tone.

After a few moments of musing silence, Annie said, earnestly, "I do so
pity that poor woman!"

"I imagine she is little better than her companion," said Mr. Walton.

"Indeed she is, father," said Annie, eagerly. "I cannot tell you how I
feel for her, and I know from her manner and words that her guilty life
is a crushing burden. It must be a terrible thing to a woman capable of
good (as she is), and wishing to live a true life, to be irrevocably
bound to a man utterly bad."

"She is not so bound to him," said her father; "can she not leave him?"

"Ah! there comes in a mystery," she replied, and the subject dropped.
Soon after, they separated for the night.

But Gregory had much food for painful thought. After the experience of
that day his chief desire was to stand well in Miss Walton's esteem.
And yet how did he stand--how could he stand, being what he was? He was
not conscious of love for her as yet. He would have been satisfied if
she had said, "I will be your friend in the truest sense of the word."
He had no small vanity, and understood her kindness. She was trying to
do good to him as she would to any one else. She was sorry for him as
for the wretched woman who also found an evil life bitter, but she
could never think of him as a dear, congenial, trusted friend. Even her
father, in her presence, had rebuked his lack of principle, asserting
that his nature was like the vile weed; and this had been proved every
day of his visit. If she should come to know of his purpose and effort
to tempt her into the display of petty weakness and lack of principle
herself, would she not regard him as "utterly bad," and shrink with
loathing even from the bonds of friendship?

He was learning the lesson that wrong sooner or later will bring its
own punishment, and that the little experiment upon which he had
entered as a relief from ennui might become the impassable gulf between
him and happiness; for he knew that, if their relations ever verged
toward mutual confidence, she would ask questions that would render
lies his only escape. He could not sink to that resort. It was late
before he found in sleep refuge from painful thoughts.

The next day he was much alone. The news of their adventure having got
abroad, many because of their sincere regard for Annie, and not a few
out of curiosity, called to talk the matter over. After meeting one or
two of these parties, and witnessing the modesty and grace with which
Annie satisfied and foiled their curiosity at the same time, he was
glad to escape further company in a long and solitary ramble. The air
was mild, so that he could take rest in sunny nooks, and thus he spent
most of the day by himself. His conscience was awakened, and the more
pure and beautiful Annie's character grew in his estimation, the more
dastardly his attempt upon it seemed. Never before had his evil life
appeared so hideous and hateful.

And yet his remorse had nothing in it of true penitence. It was rather
a bitter, impotent revolt at what he regarded as cruel necessity. Now
that he had been forced to abandon his theory that people are good as
they are untempted, he adopted another, which, if it left him in a
miserable predicament, exonerated him from blame. He had stated it to
Annie when he said, "You are made of different clay from other people."
He tried hard to believe this, and partially succeeded. "It is her
nature to be good, and mine to be evil," he often said to himself that
long and lonely day. "I have had a fatal gravitation toward evil ever
since I can remember."

But this was not true. Indeed, it could be proved out of his own memory
that he had had as many good and noble impulses as the majority, and
that circumstances had not been more adverse to him than to numerous
others. He was dimly conscious of these facts, though he tried to shut
his eyes to them.

A man finally gets justice at the bar of his own conscience, but it is
extorted gradually, reluctantly, with much befogging of the case.

Still this theory would not help him much with Annie Walton, for he
knew that she would never entertain it a moment.

Thus he wandered for hours amid old scenes and boyish haunts, utterly
oblivious of them, brooding more and more darkly and despondingly over
his miserable lot. He tried to throw off the burden of depressing
thought by asking, in sudden fierceness, "Well, what is Annie Walton to
me? I have only known her a short time, and having lived thus long, can
live the rest of my days--probably few--without her."

But it was of no use. His heart would not echo the words, but in its
very depths a voice clear and distinct seemed to say, "I want to be
with her--to be near her. With her, the hours are winged; away, they
are leaden-footed. She awakens hope, she makes it appear possible to be
a man."

He remembered her hand upon his aching brow, and groaned aloud in view
of the gulf that his own life had placed between them.

"'Neither can they pass to us,'" he said, unconsciously repeating the
words of Scripture. "With her nature what I know it to be, she cannot
in any way ally it to mine."

As the shadows of evening deepened he sauntered wearily and
despondingly to the house. There were still guests in the parlor, and
he passed up to his room. For the first time he found it chilly and
fireless. It had evidently been forgotten, and he felt himself
neglected; and it seemed that he could drop out of existence unnoted
and uncared for. In what had been his own home, the place where for so
many years he had experienced the most thoughtful tenderness, there
came over him a sense of loneliness and desolation such as he had never
before known or believed possible. He felt himself orphaned of heaven
and earth, of God and man.

But a process had commenced in Annie's mind that would have surprised
him much. Unconsciously as yet even to herself, she was disproving his
"superior clay" theory. Though carefully trained, and though for years
she had prayerfully sought to do right, still she was a true daughter
of Eve, and was often betrayed by human weakness. She had not the
small, habitual vanity of some pretty women, who take admiration and
flattery as their due, and miss it as they do their meals. Still there
were pride and vanity in her composition, and the causes that would
naturally develop them were now actively at work. She considered
herself plain and unattractive personally, and so she was to the
careless glance of a stranger, but she speedily became beautiful, or,
what was better, fascinating, to those who learned to know her well.
All are apt to learn their strong points rather than their weak ones,
and Annie had no little confidence in her power to win the attention
and then the respect and regard of those whose eyes turned away
indifferently after the first perception of her lack of beauty. She did
not use this power like a coquette, but still she exulted in it, and
was pleased to employ it where she could innocently. She was amused by
Gregory's sublime indifference at first, and thought she could soon
change that condition of his mind. She did not know that she was
successful beyond her expectation or wishes.

But while she rejected and was not affected by the fulsome flattery
with which he at first plied her, detecting in it the ring of
insincerity, she had noted, with not a little self-gratulation, how
speedily she had made him conscious of her existence and developed a
growing interest. She knew nothing of his deliberate plot against her,
or of its motive. Therefore his manner had often puzzled her, but she
explained everything by saying, "He has lived too long in Paris."

Still it is justice to her to say that while, from the natural love of
power existing in every breast, she had her own little complacencies,
and often times of positive pride and self-glorification, yet she
struggled against such tendencies, and in the main she earnestly sought
to use for their own good the influence she gained over others.

But of late there had been enough to turn a stronger head than hers.
Gregory's homage and admiration were now sincere, and she knew it, and
it was no trifling thing to win such unbounded esteem from a man who
had seen so much of the world and was so critical. "He may be bad
himself, but he well knows what is good and noble," was a thought that
often recurred to her. Then, in a moment of sudden and terrible peril,
she had been able to master her strong natural timidity, and be true to
conscience, and while she thanked God sincerely, she also was more and
more inclined to take a great deal of credit to herself. Gregory's
words kept repeating themselves, "You are made of different clay from
others." While she knew that this was not true as he meant it, still
the tempter whispered, "You are naturally superior, and you have so
schooled yourself that you are better than many others." Her father's
intense look of pride and pleasure when he first learned of her
fortitude, and his strong words of thankfulness, she took as incense to
herself. Then came a flock of eager, curious, sympathizing people, who
continued to feed her aroused pride by making her out a sort of
heroine. Chief of all she was complacent in the consciousness of so
generously shielding Gregory when, if she had told the whole story,
she, in contrast with him, would appear to far greater advantage.

Altogether, her opinion of Annie Walton was rising with dangerous
rapidity; and the feeling grew strong within her that, having coped
successfully with such temptations, she had little to fear from the
future. And this feeling of overweening self-confidence and
self-satisfaction was beginning to tinge her manner. Not that she would
ever show it offensively, for she was too much of a lady for that. But
at the supper-table that evening she gave evident signs of elation and
excitement. She talked more than usual, and was often very positive in
matters where Gregory knew her to be wrong; and she was also a little
dictatorial. At the same time the excitement made her conversation more
brilliant and pointed, and as Gregory skilfully drew her out, he was
surprised at the force and freshness of her mind.

And yet there was something that jarred unpleasantly, a lack of the
sincere simplicity and self-forgetfulness which were her usual
characteristics. He had never known her to use the pronoun "I" with
such distinctness and emphasis before. Still all this would not have
seemed strange to him in another, but it did in her.

She did not notice the cloud upon his brow, or that he spoke only in
order to lead her to talk. She was too much preoccupied with herself
for her customary quick sympathy with the moods of others. She made no
inquiries as to how he had spent the day, and seemingly had forgotten
him as completely as he had been absorbed in her. He saw with a deeper
regret than he could understand that, except when he awakened her pity
by suffering, or entertained her by his conversation as any stranger
might, he apparently had no hold upon her thoughts.

After supper, in answer to the children's demand for stories, she said
almost petulantly that she was "too tired," and permitted Aunt Eulie to
take them with sorrowful faces away to bed earlier than usual.

"I need a little rest and quiet," she said.

Gregory was eager for further conversation in order that he might
obtain some idea how mercy would tinge her judgment of him if she
should ever come to know the worst, but she suddenly seemed disinclined
to talk, or give him any attention at all.

Taking the arm-chair he usually occupied, and leaving the other for her
father, she leaned back luxuriously and gazed dreamily into the fire.
Mr. Walton politely offered Gregory his. Then Annie, suddenly, as if
awakening, rose and said, "Excuse me," and was about to vacate her seat.

But Gregory insisted upon her keeping it, saying, "You need it more
than I, after the unusual fatigues of the day. I am no longer an
invalid. Even the ache in my bones from my cold has quite disappeared."

She readily yielded to his wish, and again appeared to see something in
the fire that quite absorbed her. After receiving a few courteous
monosyllables he apparently busied himself with a magazine.

Suddenly she said to her father, "Are you sure the steamer is due
to-day?"

He replied with a nod and a smile that Gregory did not understand, and
he imagined that she also gave him a quick look of vexed perplexity.

She did, for by that steamer she expected her lover, Mr. Hunting, who
had been abroad on a brief business visit, and she hoped that in a day
or two he would make his appearance. Conscious of the bitter enmity
that Gregory for some unknown reason cherished toward him, she dreaded
their meeting. As Gregory watched her furtively, her brow contracted
into a positive frown. The following thoughts were the cause: "It will
be exceedingly stiff and awkward to have two guests in the house who
are scarcely on speaking terms, and unless I can make something like
peace, it will be unendurable. Moreover, I don't want any strangers
around, much less this one, while Charles is here."

Thus in the secret of her soul Annie's hospitality gave out utterly,
and in spirit she had incontinently turned an unwelcome guest out of
doors. Now that she had really won a vantage-ground that could be used
effectively, all her Christian and kindly purposes were forgotten in
the self-absorption that had suddenly mastered her.

The evening was a painful one to Gregory. His sense of loneliness was
deepened, and nowhere is such a feeling stronger than at a fireside
where one feels that he has no right. Mr. Walton was occupied that
evening with some business papers. He had not a thought of discourtesy
toward his guest. Indeed, in the perfection of hospitality, he had
adopted Gregory so completely into his household that he felt that he
could treat him as one of the family. And yet Mr. Walton was also
secretly uneasy at the prospect of entertaining hostile guests, and,
with his knowledge of the world, was not sure that peace between them
could be made in an hour.

The disposition of those around us often creates an atmosphere, nothing
tangible but something felt; and the impression on Gregory's mind, that
he belonged not to this household, but to the outside world--that the
circle of their lives did not embrace him, and that his visit might
soon come to an end without much regret on their part--was not without
cause. And yet they would have consciously failed in no duty of
hospitality had he stayed for weeks.

But never before had Gregory so felt his isolation. He had but few
relatives, and they were not congenial. His life abroad, and neglect,
had made them comparative strangers. But here, in the home of his
childhood, the dearest spot of earth, were those who might become
equally loved with it. In a dim, obscure way the impression was growing
upon him that his best chance for life and happiness still centred in
the place where he had once known true life and happiness. Annie Walton
seemed to him the embodiment of life. She was governed and sustained by
a principle which he could not understand, and which from his soul he
was beginning to covet.

His good father and mother had been like old Mr. Walton. Their voyage
of life was nearly over as he remembered them, and they were entering
the quiet, placid waters of the harbor. Whether they had reached their
haven of rest through storm and temptation, he did not know, but felt
that they never could have had his unfortunate experience or been
threatened with utter wreck. They belonged to his happier yet vanished
past, which could never return.

But Annie unexpectedly awakened hope for the present and future. This
eager-eyed, joyous girl, looking forward with almost a child's delight
to the life he dreaded--this patient woman already taking up the cares
and burdens of her lot with cheerful acceptance--this strong,
high-principled maiden, facing and mastering temptation in the spirit
of the olden time--this daughter of nature was full of inspiration.
Never had he found her society a weariness. On the contrary she had
stirred his slow, feeble pulse, and revived his jaded mind, from the
first. Her pure, fresh thought and feeling had been like a breath from
an oasis to one perishing in the desert. But chiefly had her kindness,
delicacy, and generosity, when in his moral and physical weakness he
had been completely at her mercy, won his deepest gratitude. Also he
felt that in all his after life he could never even think of her touch
upon his aching temples without an answering thrill of his whole nature
that appeared to have an innate sympathy with hers.

And yet the exasperating mystery of it all! While she was becoming the
one source of life and hope for him, while his very soul cried out for
her friendship and sisterly regard (as he would then have said), she
seemed, in her preoccupation, unconscious of his existence, and he
instinctively felt that she would bid him "good-by" on the following
day, perhaps, with a sense of relief, and the current of her life flow
on as smoothly and brightly as if he had never caused a passing
agitation.

With gnawing remorse he inwardly cursed his evil life and unworthy
character, for these he believed formed the hopeless gulf that
separated them.

"It is the same," he said, in his exaggerating way, "as if a puddle
should mirror the star just above it, and, becoming enamored, should
wish it to fall and be quenched in its foul depths."

But he did himself great wrong; for in the fact that Annie so attracted
him he proved that he possessed large capabilities of good.

He could not bear to see her sitting there so quietly forgetful of him,
and so made several vain attempts during the evening to draw her into
conversation. Finding her disinclined to talk, he at last ventured to
ask her to sing. With something like coldness she replied, "Really, Mr.
Gregory, I am not in the mood for it this evening; besides, I am
greatly fatigued."

What a careless, indifferent shrug he usually gave when fair ladies
denied his requests! Now, for some unaccountable reason, he flushed
deeply and a sharp pain came into his heart. But he only said, "Pardon
me, Miss Walton, for not seeing this myself. But you know that I am
selfishness embodied, and your former good-nature leads me to presume."

Annie gave him a hurried smile, as she answered, "Another time I will
try to keep up my character better"; and then she was absorbed again in
a picture among the hickory coals.

Like many who live in the country and are much alone, she was given to
fits of abstraction and long reveries. She had no idea how the time was
passing, and meant to exert herself before the evening was over for the
benefit of her father and guest. But her lively imagination could not
endure interruption till it had completed some scenes connected with
him she hoped so soon to see. Moreover, as we have said, the tendency
to self-absorption had been developing rapidly.

After the last rebuff, Gregory was very quiet, and soon rose and
excused himself, saying that he had taken longer walks than usual and
needed rest.

Annie awakened, as if out of a dream, with a pang of self-reproach, and
said, "I have been a wretched hostess this evening. I hope you will
forgive me. The fact is, I've been talked out to-day."

"And I had not the wit to entertain and interest you, so I need
forgiveness more. Good-night."

Mr. Walton looked up from his business papers and smiled genially over
his spectacles and then was as absorbed as before.

Annie sat down with a vague sense of discontent. With their guest, her
dreams also had gone, and she became conscious that she had treated him
with almost rude neglect, and that he had borne it in a spirit
different from that which he usually showed. But she petulantly said to
herself, "I can't always be exerting myself for him as if he were a
sick child."

But conscience replied, "You have so much to make you happy, and he so
little! You are on the eve of a great joy, and you might have given him
one more pleasant evening."

But she met these accusations with a harshness all unlike herself.
"It's his own fault that he is not happy. He had no business to spoil
his life."

"Yes," retorted conscience, "but you have promised and purposed to help
him find the true life, and now you wish him out of the way, and have
lost one of your best opportunities and perhaps your last; for he will
not stay after Hunting comes;" and, self-condemned, she felt that she
had spent a very selfish and profitless evening.

For some reason she did not feel like staying to prayers with her
father and Miss Eulie, who now came in, but, printing a hasty kiss on
Mr. Walton's cheek, said, "Good-night. I'm tired, and going to bed."
Even in her own room there was a malign influence at work that made her
devotion formal and brief, and she went to sleep, "out of sorts."



CHAPTER XXI

PASSION AND PENITENCE



The cloud on her brow had not disappeared on the ensuing morning when
she came down to breakfast. Unless the causes are removed, the bad
moods of one day are apt to follow us into the next.

Annie was now entering upon one of those periods when, in accordance
with a common expression, "everything goes wrong," and the world
develops a sudden perverseness that distracts and irritates even the
patient.

The butcher had neglected to fill the order for breakfast, and Jeff,
also under the baleful spell, had killed an ancient hen instead of a
spring chicken, to supply the sudden need.

"Couldn't cotch nothin' else," he answered stolidly to Annie's sharp
reprimand, so sharp that Gregory, who was walking toward the barn, was
surprised.

Zibbie was fuming in the broadest Scotch, and had spoiled her coffee,
and altogether it was a sorry breakfast to which they sat down that
morning; and Annie's worried, vexed looks did not make it more
inviting. Gregory tried to appear unconscious, and directed his
conversation chiefly to Mr. Walton and Miss Eulie.

"Annie," said her father, humorously, "it seems to me that this fowl
must have reminiscences of the ark."

But she could not take a jest then, and pettishly answered that "if he
kept such a stupid man as Jeff, he could not expect anything else."

Annie was Jeff's best friend, and had interceded for him in some of his
serious scrapes, but her mood now was like a gusty day that gives
discomfort to all.

After a few moments she said, suddenly, "O father, I forgot to tell
you. I invited the Camdens here to dinner to-day."

His face clouded instantly, and he looked exceedingly annoyed.

"I am very sorry to hear it," he said.

"Why so?" asked Annie, with an accent that Gregory had never heard her
use toward her father.

"Because I shall have to be absent, for one reason. I meant to tell you
about it last evening, but you seemed so occupied with your own
thoughts, and disappeared at last so suddenly, that I did not get a
chance. But there is no help for it. I have very important business
that will take me out to Woodville, and you know it requires a good
long day to go and come."

"It will never do in the world for you to be away," cried Annie.

"Can't help it, my dear; it's business that must be attended to."

"But, father," she urged, "the Camdens are new people, and said to be
very wealthy. We ought to show them some attention. They were so
cordial yesterday, and spoke so handsomely of you, expressing a wish to
meet you and be social, that I felt that I could not do otherwise than
invite them. For reasons you understand it may not be convenient to see
them very soon after to-day."

The old gentleman seemed to share his daughter's vexation, but from a
different cause, and after a moment said, "You are right; they are 'new
people' in more senses than one, and appear to me to be assuming a
great deal more than good taste dictates in view of the past. As
mistress of my home I wish you to feel that you have the right to
invite any one you please, within certain limits. The Camdens are
people that I would do any kindness to and readily help if they were in
trouble, but I do not wish to meet them socially."

Tears of shame and anger glistened in Annie's eyes as she said, "I'm
sure you know very well that I wish to entertain no vulgar, pushing
people. I knew nothing of their 'past.' They seemed pleasant when they
called. They were said to have the means to be liberal if they wished,
and I thought they would be an acquisition to our neighborhood, and
that we might interest them in our church and other things."

"In my view," replied Mr. Walton, a little hotly, "the church and every
good cause would be better off without their money, for, in plain
English, it was acquired in a way that you and I regard as
dishonorable. I'm very sorry they've come to spend it in our
neighborhood. The fact may not be generally known here, but it soon
will be. I consider such people the greatest demoralizers of the age,
flaunting their ill-gotten wealth in the faces of the honest, and
causing the young to think that if they only get money, no matter how,
society will receive them all the same. I am annoyed beyond measure
that we should seem to give them any countenance whatever. Moreover, it
is necessary that I go to Woodville."

"O dear!" exclaimed Annie, in a tone of real distress, "what shall I
do? If I had only known all this before!" Then, turning with sudden
irritation to her father, she asked, "Why did you not tell me about
them?"

"Because you never asked, and I saw no occasion to. I do not like to
speak evil of my neighbors, even if it be true. I did not know of your
call upon them till after it occurred, and then remarked, if you will
remember, that they were people that I did not admire."

"Yes," she exclaimed, in a tone of strong self-disgust, "I do remember
your saying so, though I had no idea you meant anything like what you
now state. The wretched mystery of it all is, why could I not have
remembered it yesterday?"

"Well, my dear," replied the father, with the glimmer of a smile, "you
were a bit preoccupied yesterday; though I don't wonder at that."

"I see it all now," cried Annie, impetuously. "But it was with myself I
was preoccupied, and therefore I made a fool of myself. I was rude to
you last night also, Mr. Gregory, so taken up was I with my own
wonderful being."

"Indeed, Miss Walton, I thought you were thinking of another," said he,
with a keen glance, and she blushed so deeply that he feared she was;
but he added, quickly, "You once told me that it was as wrong to judge
one's self harshly as another. I assure you that I've no complaints to
make, but rather feel gratitude for your kindness. As to this other
matter, it seems to me that in your ignorance of these people you have
acted very naturally."

"I'm sorry I did not tell you more about them," said her father. "I did
intend to, but somehow it escaped me."

"Well," said Annie, with a long breath, "I am fairly in the scrape.
I've invited them, and the question now is, what shall we do?"

The old merchant, with his intense repugnance to anything like
commercial dishonesty, was deeply perturbed. The idea of entertaining
at his board as guest a man with whom he would not have a business
transaction was exceedingly disagreeable. Leaving the unsatisfactory
breakfast half-finished, he rose and paced the room in his perplexity.
At last he spoke, as much to himself as to his daughter. "It shall
never be said that John Walton was deficient in hospitality. They have
been invited by one who had the right, so let them come, and be treated
as guests ever are at our house. This much is due to ourselves. But
after to-day let our relations be as slight as possible. Mr. Gregory,
you are under no obligation to meet such people, and need not appear
unless you wish."

"With your permission I will be present, sir, and help Miss Walton
entertain them. Indeed, I can claim such slight superiority to these
Camdens or any one else that I have no scruples."

"How is that?" asked Mr. Walton, with a grave, questioning look. "I
trust you do not uphold the theory that seems to prevail in some
commercial circles, that any mode by which a man can get money and
escape State prison is right?"

"I imagine I am the last one in the world to uphold such a 'theory,'"
replied Gregory, quickly, with one of his expressive shrugs, "inasmuch
as I am a poor man to-day because this theory has been put in practice
against me. No, Mr. Walton," he continued, with the dignity of truth,
"it is but justice to myself to say that my mercantile life has been as
pure as your own, and that is the highest encomium that I could pass
upon it. At the same time it has been evident to you from the first day
I came under your roof that I am not the good man that you loved in my
father."

The old gentleman sighed deeply. He was too straightforward to utter
some trite, smooth remark, such as a man of the world might make.
Regarding Gregory kindly, he said, almost as if it were a prayer, "May
his mantle fall on you. You have many traits and ways that remind me
strongly of him, and you have it in you to become like him."

Gregory shook his head in deep dejection, and said in a low tone, "No,
never."

"You know not the power of God," said Mr. Walton, gravely. "At any
rate, thank Him that He has kept you from the riches of those who I am
sorry to find must be our guests to-day."

The children now came in from their early visit to the chestnut-trees,
and the subject was dropped. Mr. Walton left the room, and Gregory also
excused himself. Miss Eulie had taken no part in the discussion. It was
not in her nature to do so. She sat beaming with sympathy on both Annie
and her brother-in-law, and purposing to do all she could to help both
out of the dilemma. She felt sorry for them, and sorry for the Camdens
and Gregory, and indeed everybody in this troubled world; but such were
her pure thoughts and spiritual life that she was generally on the
wing, so far above earthly things that they had little power to depress
her.

The burden of the day fell upon Annie, and a heavy one she found it.
Her lack of peace within was reflected upon her face, and in her
satellites that she usually managed with such quiet grace. Zibbie was
in one of her very worst tantrums, and when she heard that there was to
be company to dinner, seemed in danger of flying into fragments. The
thistle, the emblem of her land, was a meek and downy flower compared
with this ancient dame. When she took up or laid down any utensil, it
was in a way that bade fair to reduce the kitchen to chaos before
night. Jeff had "got his back up" also about the hen, and was as stupid
and sullen as only Jeff knew how to be; and even quiet Hannah was
almost driven to frenzy by Zibbie reproaching her for being everything
under heaven that she knew she was not. In her usual state of mind
Annie could have partly allayed the storm, and poured oil on the
troubled waters, but now disquietude sat on her own brow, and she gave
her orders in the sharp, decisive tone that compels reluctant obedience.

The day was raw and uncomfortable, and Gregory resolved to make his
easy-chair by the parlor fire the point from which he would watch the
development of this domestic drama. He had no vulgar, prying curiosity,
but an absorbing interest in the chief actor; and was compelled to
admit that the being whom he had come to regard as faultless was
growing human faster than he liked.

This impression was confirmed when the children came tearing through
the main hall past the parlor to the dining-room opposite, which they
entered, leaving the door open. Annie was there preparing the dessert.
Country house-keepers can rarely leave these matters to rural cooks,
and Zibbie could be trusted to sweeten nothing that day.

With exclamations of delight the children clamored to help, or "muss" a
little in their own way, a privilege often given them at such times.
But Annie sent them out-of-doors again with a tone and manner that
caused them to tip-toe back past the parlor with a scared look on their
faces, and the dining-room door was shut with a bang.

Gregory was puzzled. Here was one who had foiled his most adroit
temptations, and resisted wrong in a way that was simply heroic, first
showing something very like vanity and selfishness, and then temper and
passion on what seemed but slight provocation. He did not realize, as
many do not, that the petty vexations of life will often sting into the
most humiliating displays of weakness one who has the courage and
strength to be a martyr. Generals who were as calm and grand in battle
as Mont Blanc in a storm have been known to fume like small beer, in
camp, at very slight annoyances.

Annie's spirit was naturally quick and imperious, brooking opposition
from no one. She was also fond of approbation. She rated Gregory's
hollow French gallantry at its true worth, but his subsequent sincere
respect and admiration, after their mountain adventure, had
unconsciously elated her, especially as she felt that she had earned
them well.

Thus, when he had not intended it, and had given over as hopeless his
purpose to tempt her, and dropped it in self-loathing that he should
ever have entertained it, he had by his honest gratitude and esteem
awakened the dormant vanity which was more sensitive to tributes to her
character than to mere personal compliments. The attention she had
received the day before had developed this self-complacency still more,
and the nice balance of her moral life had been disturbed.

It seems that the tempter watches for every vantage. At any rate, as
she expressed it, "everything went wrong" that day. One weakness, one
wrong, prepares the way for another as surely as when one soldier of
Diabolus gets within the city he will open the gates to others; and
Annie's temper, that she had so long and prayerfully schooled, was the
weak point inevitably assailed. She was found with her armor off. She
had closed the preceding day and entered on the present with the form
and not the reality of prayer. Therefore it was Annie Walton alone who
was coping with temptation. She felt that all was wrong without and
within. She felt that she ought to go to God at once in acknowledgment
and penitence, and regain her peace; but pride and passion were
aroused. She was hurried and worried, full of impotent revolt at
herself and everything. She was in no mood for the dreaded
self-examination that she knew must come. She was like a little wayward
child, that, while it loves its parents, yet grieves and wrongs them by
lack of obedience and simple trust, and having wronged them, partly
from pride and partly from fear, does not humbly seek reconciliation.

The obnoxious guests came, and the dinner followed. Mr. Walton was the
embodiment of stately courtesy, but it was a courtesy due to John
Walton rather than to them, and it somewhat awed and depressed the
Camdens. Zibbie had done her best to spoil the dinner, and, in spite of
Annie, had succeeded tolerably well. Only the dessert, which Annie had
made, did credit to her housekeeping. Hannah waited on them as if she
were assisting at their obsequies. Altogether it was a rather heavy
affair, though Gregory honestly did his best to entertain, and talked
on generalities and life abroad, which the Camdens were glad to hear
about, so incessantly that he scarcely had time to eat. But he was
abundantly rewarded by a grateful look from Annie.

As for herself, she could not converse connectedly or well. She was
trammelled by her feeling toward the guests; she was so vexed with
herself, mortified at the dinner, and angry with Zibbie, whom she
mentally vowed to discharge at once, that she felt more like crying
than talking graceful nonsense; for the Camdens soon proved themselves
equal only to chit-chat. She sat at her end of the table, red,
flurried, and nervous, as different as possible from the refined,
elegant hostess that she could be.

Gregory was also much interested in observing how one so truthful would
act under the circumstances, and he saw that she was sorely puzzled
continually by her efforts to be both polite and honest.

The Camdens were puzzled also, and severely criticised their
entertainers, mentally concluding and afterward asserting, with
countless variations, that Miss Walton was wonderfully overrated--that
she was a poor housekeeper, and, they should judge, but little
accustomed to good society.

"I never saw a girl so flustered," Mrs. Camden would remark,
complacently. "Perhaps our city style rather oppressed her; and as for
Mr. Walton, he put on so much dignity that he leaned over backward.
They evidently don't belong to our set."

That was just the trouble, and Mrs. Camden was right and wrong at the
same time.

Their early departure was satisfactory to both parties. Mr. Walton drew
a long breath of immeasurable relief, and then called briskly to Jeff,
who was coming up from the garden, "Harness Dolly to my buggy."

"Why, father, where are you going?" exclaimed Annie.

"To Woodville."

"Now, father--" began Annie, laying hold of his arm.

"Not a word, my dear; I must go."

"But it will be late in the night before you can get back. The day is
cold and raw, and it looks as if it would rain."

"I can't help it. It's something I can't put off. Hurry, Jeff, and get
ready to go with me."

"O dear!" cried Annie; "this is the worst of all. Let me go for
you--please do."

"I'm not a child," said the old gentleman, irritably. "Since I could
not go this morning, I must go now. Please don't worry me. It's public
business that I have no right to delay, and I promised that it should
be attended to today;" and with a hasty "good-by" he took his overcoat
and started.

Annie was almost beside herself with vexation and self-reproach, and
her feelings must find vent somewhere. Gregory prudently retired to his
room.

"There's Zibbie," she thought; "I'll teach her one lesson;" and she
went to the kitchen and discharged the old servant on the spot.

Zibbie was in such a reckless state of passion that she didn't care if
the world came to an end. The only comfort Annie got in this direction
was a volley of impudence.

"I hod discharged mesel' afore ye spoke," said the irate dame. "An' ye
think I'm gang to broil an ould hen for a spring chicken in peace and
quietness, ye're a' wrong. An' then to send that dour nagur a speerin'
roun' among my fowl that I've raised from babies--I'll na ston it. I'll
gang, I'll gang, but ye'll greet after the ould 'ooman for a' o' that."

Annie then retreated to the sitting-room, where Miss Eulie was placidly
mending Susie's torn apron, and poured into her ears the story of her
troubles.

"To be sure--to be sure," Aunt Eulie would answer, soothingly; "but
then, Annie dear, it all won't make any difference a hundred years from
now."

This only irritated Annie more, and at the same time impressed her with
her own folly in being so disturbed by comparative trifles.

Gregory found his room chill and comfortless, therefore he put on his
overcoat, and started for a walk, full of surprise and painful musings.
As he was descending the stairs, Johnny came running in, crying in a
tone of real distress, "Oh, Aunt Annie, Aunt Annie, I'm so sorry, so
very sorry--"

Annie came running out of the sitting-room, exclaiming sharply, "What
on earth is the matter now? Hasn't there been trouble enough for one
day?"

"I'm so sorry," sobbed the little boy, "but I got a letter at the
post-office, and I--I--lost it coming across the lots, and I--I--can't
find it."

This was too much. This was the ardently-looked-for letter that had
glimmered like a star of hope and promise of better things throughout
this miserable day, and Annie lost all control of herself. Rushing upon
the child, she cried, "You naughty, careless boy! I'll give you one
lesson"; and she shook him so violently that Gregory's indignation got
the better of him, and he said, in a low, deep tone, "Miss Walton, the
child says he is 'very, very sorry.' He has not meant to do wrong."

Annie started back as if she were committing sacrilege, and covered her
face with her hands. Her back was toward Gregory, but he could see the
hot blood mantling her very neck. She stood there for a moment,
trembling like a leaf, and he, repenting of his hasty words, was about
to apologize, when she suddenly caught the boy in her arms, and sped
past him up the stairs to her own room.

To his dying day he would never forget the expression of her face.

It cannot be described. It was the look of a noble spirit, deeply
wounded, profoundly penitent. Her intense feeling touched him, and the
rough October winds brushed a tear from his own eyes more than once
before he returned.



CHAPTER XXII

NOT A HEROINE, BUT A WOMAN



The cold, cynical man of the world was in a maze. He was deeply and
painfully surprised at Miss Walton, and scarcely less so at himself.
How could he account for the tumult at his heart? When he first saw
that outburst of passion against a trembling, pleading child, he felt
that he wished to leave the house then and forever. The next moment,
when he saw Annie's face as she convulsively clasped the boy to her
breast, and with supernatural strength fled to the refuge of her room,
he was not only instantly disarmed of anger, but touched and melted as
he had never been before.

Feeling is sometimes so intense that it is like the lightning, and
burns its way instantly to the consciousness of others. Words of
condemnation would have died on the lips of the sternest judge had he
seen Annie's face. It would have shown him that the harshest things
that he could utter were already anticipated in unmeasured
self-upbraidings.

From anger and disgust Gregory passed to the profoundest pity. The
children's unbounded affection for Annie proved that she was usually
kind and patient toward them. A little thought convinced him that the
act he saw was a sudden outburst of passion for which the exasperating
events of the day had been a preparation. Her face showed as no
language could how sincere and deep would be her repentance. He had not
gone very far into the early twilight of a grove before he was
conscious of a strong and secret exultation.

"She is not made of different clay from others," he said. "She cannot
condemn me so utterly now; and, in view of what I have seen, she cannot
loftily deny the kinship of human weakness.

"What a nature she has, with its subterranean fires! She is none of
your cool, calculating creatures, who cipher out from day to day what
is policy to do. She will act rightly till there is an irrepressible
irruption, and then, beware. And yet these ebullitions enrich her life
as the lava flow does the sides of Vesuvius. I shall be greatly
disappointed if she is not ten times more kind, sympathetic, and
self-forgetful than she was before; and as for that boy, she will keep
him in the tallest clover for weeks to come, to make up for this.

"How piquant she is! I do not fear her quick, flame-like spirit when it
is combined with so much conscience and principle. Indeed, I like her
passion. It warms my cold, heavy heart. I wish she had shaken me, who
deserved it, instead of the child, and if any makings-up like that in
yonder room could follow, I would like to be shaken every day in the
week. It would make a new man of me."

In the excitement of his feelings, he had gone further than he had
intended, and the dusk was deepening fast when he reached the house on
his return. He felt not a little uneasy as to his reception after the
rebuke he had given, but counted much on Annie's just and generous
disposition. He entered quietly at a side door and passed through the
dining-room into the hall. The lamp in the parlor was unlighted, but
the bright wood fire shed a soft, uncertain radiance throughout the
room. A few notes of prelude were struck on the piano, and he knew that
Miss Walton was there. Stepping silently forward opposite the open
door, he stood in the dark hall watching her as she sung the following
words:

    "My Father, once again Thy wayward child
      In sorrow, shame, and weakness comes to Thee,
    Confessing all my sin, my passion wild,
      My selfishness and petty vanity.

    "O Jesus, gentle Saviour, at Thy feet
      I fall, where often I have knelt before;
    Thou wilt not spurn, nor charge me with deceit,
      Because old faults have mastered me once more.

    "Thou knowest that I would be kind and true,
      And that I hate the sins that pierced Thy side;
    Thou seest that I often sadly view
      The wrong that in my heart will still abide.

    "But Thou didst come such erring ones to save,
      And weakness wins Thy strong and tender love;
    So not in vain I now forgiveness crave,
      And cling to hopes long stored with Thee above.

    "And yet I plead that Thou would'st surely keep
      My weak and human heart in coming days;
    Though now in penitence I justly weep,
      O fill my future life with grateful praise."

As in tremulous, melting tones she sung this simple prayer with tears
glistening in her eyes, Gregory was again conscious of the strong,
answering emotion which the presence of deep feeling in those bound to
us by some close tie of sympathy often excites. But far more than mere
feeling moved him now. Her words and manner vivified an old truth
familiar from infancy, but never realized or intelligently
believed--the power of prayer to secure practical help from God.

How often men have lived and died poor just above mines of untold
wealth! Gaunt famine has been the inmate of households while there were
buried treasures under the hearthstone. So multitudes in their
spiritual life are weak, despairing, perishing, when by the simple
divinely appointed means of prayer they might fill their lives with
strength and fulness. How long men suffered and died with diseases that
seemed incurable, before they discovered in some common object a potent
remedy that relieved pain and restored health!

As is the case with many brought up in Christian homes, with no one
thing was Gregory more familiar than prayer. For many years he had said
prayers daily, and yet he had seldom in all his life prayed, and of
late years had come to be a practical infidel in regard to this
subject. People who only say prayers, and expect slight, or no results
from them, or are content year after year to see no results--who lack
simple, honest, practical faith in God's word, such as they have in
that of their physician or banker--who only feel that they ought to
pray, and that in some vague, mystical manner it may do them good, are
very apt to end as sceptics in regard to its efficacy and value. Or
they may become superstitious, and continue to say prayers as the poor
Indian mutters his incantation to keep off the witches. God hears
prayer when His children cry to Him--when His faithful friends speak to
Him straight and true from their hearts; and such know well that they
are answered.

As Gregory looked at and listened to Annie Walton, he could no more
believe that she was expressing a little aimless religious emotion,
just as she would sing a sentimental ballad, than he could think that
she was only showing purposeless filial affection if she were hanging
on her father's arm and pleading for something vital to her happiness.
The thought flashed across him, "Here may be the secret of her power to
do right--the help she gets from a source above and beyond herself.
Here may be the key to both her strength and weakness. Here glimmers
light even for me."

Annie was about to sing again, but the interest which she had awakened
was so strong that he could not endure delay. Anxiety as to his
personal reception was forgotten, and he stepped forward and
interrupted her with a question.

"Miss Walton, do you honestly believe that?"

"Believe what?" said she, hastily, quite startled.

"What I gathered from the hymn you sung--that your prayer is really
heard and answered?"

"Why, certainly I believe it," said Annie, in a shocked and pained
tone. "Do you think me capable of mockery in such things? And yet," she
added, sadly, "perhaps after to-day you think me capable of anything."

"Now you do both yourself and me wrong," Gregory eagerly replied. "I do
believe you are sincerely trying to obey your conscience. Did I not see
your look of sorrow as you passed me on the stairs?--when shall I
forget it! Remember words that must have been inspired, which you once
quoted to me--

     "'Who by repentance is not satisfied
      Is not of heaven nor earth,'

and pardon me when I tell you that I have been listening the last few
moments out in the hall. Your tones and manner would melt the heart of
an infidel, and they have made me wish that I were not so unbelieving.
Forgive me for even putting such thoughts in your mind--I feel it is
wicked and selfish in me to do it--but how do you know that your
prayer, though so direct and sincere, was not sound lost in space?"

"Because it has been answered," she replied, eagerly. "Peace came even
as I spoke the words. Because whenever I really pray to God he answers
me."

They now stood on opposite sides of the hearth, with the glowing fire
between them. In its light Annie's wet eyes glistened, but she had
forgotten herself in her sincere and newly awakened interest in him
whom she had secretly hoped and purposed before to lead to better
things. It had formed no small part of her keen self-reproach that she
had forgotten that purpose, and wished him out of the way, just as she
was beginning to gain a decided influence over him for good. After what
he had witnessed that afternoon she felt that he would never listen to
her again.

He would not had he detected the slightest tinge of acting or
insincerity on her part, but her penitence had been as real as her
passion.

She was glad and grateful indeed when he approached her again in the
spirit he now manifested.

As she stood there in the firelight, self-forgetful, conscious only of
her wish to say some words that would be like light to him, her large,
humid eyes turned up to his face, she made a picture that his mother
would like to see.

He leaned against the mantel and looked dejectedly into the fire. After
a moment he said, sadly, "I envy you, Miss Walton. I wish I could
believe in a personal God who thought about us and cared for us--that
is, each one of us. Of course I believe in a Supreme Being--a great
First Cause; but He hides Himself behind the stars; He is lost to me in
His vast universe. I think my prayers once had an effect on my own
mind, and so did me some good. But that's past, and now I might as well
pray to gravitation as to anything else."

Then, turning to her, he caught her wistful, interested look--an
expression which said plainly, "I want to help you," and it touched
him. He continued, feelingly, "Perhaps you are not conscious of it, but
you now look as if you cared whether I was good or bad, was sad or
happy, lived or died. If I could only see that God cared in something
the same way! He no doubt intends to do what is best for the race in
the long run, but that may involve my destruction. I dread His
terrible, inexorable laws."

"Alas!" said Annie, tears welling up into her eyes, "I am not wise
enough to argue out these matters and demonstrate the truth. I suppose
it can be done by those who know how."

"I doubt it," said he, shaking his head decisively.

"Well, I can tell you only what I feel and know."

"That is better than argument--that is what I would like. You are not a
weak, sentimental woman, full of mysticism and fancies, and I should
have much confidence in what you know and feel."

"Do not say that I am not a weak woman; I have shown you otherwise. Be
sincere with me, for I am with you. Well, it seems to me that this
question of prayer is simply one of fact. We know that God answers
prayer, not only because He said He would, but because He does. From my
own experience I am as certain of it as of my existence. I think that
many who sneer or doubt in regard to prayer are very unfair. I ask you,
is it scientific for men to say, 'Nothing is true save what we have
seen and know ourselves?' How that would limit one's knowledge. If some
facts are discovered in Europe and established by a few proper
witnesses, we believe them here. Now in every age multitudes have said
that it was a fact that God heard and answered their prayers. What
right has any one to ignore these truths any more than any other truths
of human experience? I ask my earthly father for something. The next
day I find it on my dressing-table. Is it a delusion to believe that he
heard and granted my request? When I ask my Heavenly Father for outward
things, He sometimes gives them, and sometimes He does not, as He sees
is best for me, just as my parents did when I was a little child. And I
have already seen that He has often been kinder in refusing. But when I
ask for that which will meet my deeper and spiritual needs I seldom ask
in vain. If you should ask me how I know it, I in return ask how you
know that you are ill, or well, that you are glad or sad, or tired, or
anything about yourself that depends on your own inner consciousness?
If I should say unjust, insulting things to you now, how would you know
you were angry? If I should say, Mr. Gregory, you are mocking me; what
I am now saying has no interest for you; you don't hear me, you don't
understand me, you are thinking of something else, what kind of proof
to the contrary could you offer? Suppose that I should say I want
mathematical proof that you do feel an interest, or physical
proof--something that I can measure, weigh, or see--should I be
reasonable? Do I make it clear to you why I say I know this?"

"Clearer than it was ever made to me before. I cannot help seeing that
you are sincere and sure about it. But pardon me--I've got in such an
inveterate habit of doubting--are not good Catholics just as sure about
the Virgin and the saints hearing and answering them? and do not pagans
feel the same way about their deities?"

"Now, Mr. Gregory," said Annie, with a little indignant reproach in her
tone, "do you think it just and reasonable to compare my faith, or that
of any intelligent Christian, with the gross superstitions you name?
Christianity is not embraced only by the ignorant and weak-minded:
multitudes of the best and ripest scholars in the world are honest
believers."

"Indeed, Miss Walton, I did not mean you to draw any such inference as
that," replied he, hastily and in some confusion.

"I do not see how any other can be drawn," she continued; "and I know
from what I have read and heard that unbelievers usually seek to give
that impression. But it's not a fair one. The absurdities of paganism,
monkish legends, and even the plausible errors of the Romish Church,
will not endure the light of intelligent education; but the more I know
the more I see the beauty and perfection of the Christian religion and
the reasonableness of prayer, and so it is with far stronger and wiser
heads than mine. Your father and mine were never men to be imposed
upon, nor to believe anything just because they were told to do so when
children."

"Really, Miss Walton, you said you couldn't argue about this matter. I
think you can, like a lawyer."

"If you mean that I am using a lawyer's proverbial sleight of hand, I'm
sorry."

"I don't mean that at all, but that you put your facts in such a way
that it's hard to meet them."

"I only try to use common-sense. It's about the only sense I have. But
I was in hopes you did not want to meet what I say adversely, but would
like to believe."

"I would, Miss Walton, honestly I would; but wishes go little way
against stubborn doubt. This one now rises: How is it that scientific
men are so apt to become infidel in regard to the Bible and its
teachings, and especially prayer?"

"I'm sure I hardly know," she answered, with a sigh; "but I will tell
you what I think. I don't believe the majority of them know much about
either the Bible or prayer. With my little smattering of geology I
should think it very presuming to give an opinion contrary to that held
by the best authorities in that science; and I think it very presuming
in those who rarely look into a Bible and never pray, to tell those who
read and pray daily that they don't know what they do know. Then again,
scientific people often apply gross material tests to matters of faith
and religious experience. The thing is absurd. Suppose a man should
seek to investigate light with a pair of scales that could not weigh
anything less than a pound. There is a spiritual and moral world as
truly as a physical, and spiritual facts are just as good to build on
as any other; and I should think they ought to be better, because the
spirit is the noblest part of us. A man who sees only one side of a
mountain has no right to declare that the other is just like it. Then
again your scientific oracles are always contradicting one another, and
upsetting one another's theories. Science to-day laughs at the
absurdities believed by the learned a hundred years ago; and so will
much that is now called science, and because of which men doubt the
Bible, be laughed at in the future. But my belief is the same
substantially as that of Paul, St. Augustine, Luther, and the best
people of my own age; and Luther, who did more for the world than any
other mere man, said that to 'pray well was to work well.'"

When Annie was under mental excitement, she was a rapid, fluent talker,
and this was especially her condition this evening. As she looked
earnestly at Gregory while she spoke, her dark eyes glowing with
feeling and intelligence and lighting her whole face, he was impressed
more than he could have been by the labored arguments of a cool,
logical scholar. Her intense earnestness put a soul into the body of
her words. He was affected more than he wished her to know, more than
was agreeable to his pride. What she had said seemed so perfectly true
and real to her that for the time she made it true to him; and yet to
admit that his long-standing doubts could not endure so slight an
assault as this, was to show that they had a very flimsy basis.
Moreover, he knew that when, left to himself, he should think it all
over, new questions would rise that could not be answered, and new
doubts return. Therefore he could not receive now what he might be
disposed to doubt to-morrow. He was a trifle bewildered, and wanted
time to think. He was as much interested in Miss Walton as in what she
was saying, and when her words proved that she was a thoughtful woman,
and could be the intelligent companion of any man, the distracting fear
grew stronger that when she came to know him well, she would coldly
stand aloof. The very thought was unendurable. In all the world, only
in the direction of Annie Walton seemed there any light for him. So to
gain time he instinctively sought to give a less serious turn to the
conversation, by saying, "Come, Miss Walton, this is the best preaching
I've ever heard. It seems to me quite unusual to find a young lady so
interested and well versed in these matters. You must have given a good
deal of thought and reading to the subject."

Annie looked disappointed. She had hoped for a better result from her
earnest words than a compliment and a little curiosity as to herself.
But she met him in his own apparent mood, and said, "Now see how easily
imposed upon your sceptical people are! I could palm myself off, like
Portia, as a Daniel come to judgment, and by a little discreet silence
gain a blue halo as a woman of deep research and profound reading. Just
the contrary is true. I am not a very great reader on any subject, and
certainly not on theology and kindred topics. The fact is I am largely
indebted to my father. He is interested in the subjects and takes pains
to explain much to me that would require study; and since mother died
he has come to talk to me very much as he did to her. But it seems to
me that all I have said is very simple and plain, and you surely know
that my motive was not to air the little instruction I have received."

Gregory's policy forsook him as he saw her expression of
disappointment; and as he looked at her flushed and to him now lovely
face, acting upon a sudden impulse he asked, "Won't you please tell me
your motive?"

His manner and tone convinced her in a moment that he was more moved
and interested than she had thought, and answering with a like impulse
on her part, she said, frankly, "Mr. Gregory, pardon me for saying it,
but from the very first day of your visit it seemed clear to me that
you were not living and feeling as those who once made this your home
could wish, and the thought was impressed upon me, impressed strongly,
that perhaps God had sent you in your feeble health and sadness (for
you evidently were depressed in mind also), to this place of old and
holy memories, that you might learn something better than this world's
philosophy. I have hoped and prayed that I might be able to help you.
But when to-day," she continued, turning away her head to hide the
rising tears, "I showed such miserable weakness, I felt that you would
never listen to me again on such subjects, and would doubt more than
ever their reality, and it made me very unhappy. I feel grateful that
you have listened to me so patiently. I hope you won't let my weakness
hurt my cause. Now you see what a frank, guileless conspirator I am,"
she added, trying to smile at him through her tears.

While she spoke Gregory bent upon her a look that tried to search her
soul. But the suspicious man of the world could not doubt her perfect
sincerity. Her looks and words disclosed her thought as a crystal
stream reveals a white pebble over which it flows. He stepped forward
and took her hand with a pressure that caused it pain for hours after,
but he trusted himself to say only, "You are my good angel, Miss
Walton. Now I understand your influence over me," and then abruptly
left the room.

But he did not understand her influence. A man seldom does when he
first meets the woman whose words, glances, and presence have the
subtle power to fill his thoughts, quicken his pulse, stir his soul,
and awaken his whole nature into new life. He usually passes through a
luminous haze of congeniality, friendship, Platonic affinity, or even
brotherly regard, till something suddenly clears up the mist and he
finds, like the first man, lonely in Eden, that there is but one woman
for him in all the world.

Gregory was in the midst of the cloud, but it seemed very bright around
him as he paced his room excitedly.



CHAPTER XXIII

GREGORY'S FINAL CONCLUSION IN REGARD TO MISS WALTON



Annie Walton was now no longer an enigma to Gregory. He had changed his
views several times in regard to her. First, she was a commonplace,
useful member of the community, in a small way, and part of the
furniture of a well-ordered country-house--plain furniture too, he had
said to himself. But one evening in her company had convinced him that
such a Miss Walton was a fiction of his own mind, and he who had come
to regard average society girls as a weariness beyond endurance was
interested in her immediately.

Then her truth and unselfishness, and the strong religious element in
her character, had been a constant rebuke to him, but he had soothed
himself with the theory that she differed from others only in being
untempted. He then had resolved to amuse himself, ease his conscience,
and feed his old grudge against her sex, by teaching the little saint
that she was only a weak, vain creature. Yet she had sustained not only
his temptations, but another ordeal, so searching and terrible that it
transformed her into a heroine, a being of superior clay to that of
ordinary mortals. "It's her nature to be good, mine to be bad," he had
said; "I'm a weed, she is a flower." But Annie herself had rudely
dispelled this illusion.

Now he saw her to be a woman who might, did she yield to the evil
within her and without, show all the vanity, weakness, and folly
generally, of which he had at first believed her capable, but who, by
prayer and effort, daily achieved victories over herself. In addition,
she had manifested the most beautiful and God-like trait that can
ennoble human character--the desire to save and sweeten others' lives.
To have been lectured and talked to on the subject of religion in any
conventional way by one outside of his sympathies would have been as
repulsive as useless, but Annie had the tact to make her effort appear
like angelic ministry.

There is that about every truly refined woman with a large loving heart
which is irresistible. The two qualities combined give a winning grace
that is an "open sesame" everywhere. The trouble is that culture and
polish are too often the sheen of an icicle.

He believed he saw just her attitude toward him. It reminded him of
Miss Bently's efforts in his behalf, but with the contrast that existed
between Miss Bently and Annie. He now wondered that he could have been
interested in such a vain, shallow creature as Mrs. Grobb had proved
herself, and he excused himself on the ground that he had idealized her
into something that she was not. All that Annie said and did had the
solidity of truth, and not the hollowness of affectation. And yet there
was one thing that troubled him. While her effort to help him out of
his morbid, unhappy state was so sincere, she showed no special
personal interest in himself, such as he had in her. If he should now
go away, she would place him merely in the outer circle of her friends
or acquaintance, and make good the old saying, "Out of sight, out of
mind." But already the conviction was growing strong that it would be
long before she would be out of his mind. Though he had plenty of
pride, as we have seen, he was not conceited, and from long familiarity
with society could readily detect the difference between the regard she
would feel for a man personally attractive and the interest of aroused
sympathies which she might have in any one, and which her faith and
nature led her to have in every one. Of course he was not satisfied
with the latter, and it was becoming one of his dearest hopes to awaken
a personal feeling, though of just what kind he had not yet even
defined to himself.

When the tea-bell rang, much later than usual on account of the chaos
of the day, he was glad to go down. Her society was far pleasanter than
his own, and future events might make everything clearer.

His supposition in regard to Johnny was correct. As he descended the
stairs, the boy came out of the sitting-room, holding Annie tightly by
the hand and beaming upon her like the sun after a shower, and when he
found by his plate a huge apple that had been roasted specially for
him, his cup of happiness was full and he was ready for another
shaking. If the apple once caused discord it here confirmed peace.

The supper was as inviting as the dinner had been forbidding,
indicating a change of policy in the kitchen cabinet. In fact, after
Zibbie cooled off, she found that she was not ready for "the world to
come to an end" (or its equivalent, her leaving the Waltons after so
many years of service and kindness). She had not yet reached the point
of abject apology, though she knew she would go down on her old
rheumatic knees rather than leave her ark of refuge and go out into the
turbulent waters of the world; still she made propitiating overtures in
the brownest of buttered toast, and a chicken salad that might have
been served as ambrosia on Mount Olympus. Zibbie was a guileless
strategist, for in the success of the supper she proved how great had
been her malign ingenuity and deliberation in spoiling the dinner. She
could never claim that it was accidental. Hannah no longer waited as if
it were a funeral occasion, and the domestic skies were fast
brightening up, except in one quarter: Mr. Walton's chair was vacant,
and Gregory noticed that Annie often looked wistfully and sadly toward
it.

With the sensitiveness of one who habitually hid his deeper feeling
from the world, Gregory tried to act as if his last conversation with
Annie had been upon the weather; and as might be expected of refined
people, no allusion was made to the unpleasant features of the day.
Neither then nor afterward was a word adverse to the Camdens spoken.
They had been guests, and that was enough for the Waltons' nice sense
of courtesy. Only Susie, with a little sigh of relief, gave expression
to the general feeling by saying, "Somehow I feel kind of light
to-night. I felt dreadfully heavy this morning."

Annie, with a smile on her lips and something like a tear in her eye,
noticed the child's remark by adding, "I think we should all feel light
if grandpa were only here."

After supper she sung to the children and told them a bedtime story,
and then with a kiss of peace sent them off to their dream-wanderings.

During Annie's absence from the parlor, Gregory remained in his room.
He was in no mood to talk with any one else. Even Miss Eulie's gentle
patter of words would fall with a sting of pain.

When Annie came down to the parlor she said, "Now, Mr. Gregory, I will
sing as much as you wish, to make up for last evening. Indeed I must do
something to get through the hours till father's return, for I feel so
anxious and self-reproachful about him."

"And so make happiness for others out of your pain," said he. "Why
don't you complain and fret all the evening and make it uncomfortable
generally?"

"I have done enough of that for one day. What will you have?"

An impulse prompted him to say "You," but he only said, "Your own
choice," and walked softly up and down the room while she sung, now a
ballad, now a hymn, and again a simple air from an opera, but nothing
light or gay.

He was taking a dangerous course for his own peace. As we have seen,
Annie's voice was not one to win special admiration. It was not
brilliant and highly cultivated, and had no very great compass. She
could not produce any of the remarkable effects of the trained
vocalist. But it was exceedingly sweet in the low, minor notes. It was
sympathetic, and so colored by the sentiment of the words that she made
a beautiful language of song. It was a voice that stole into the heart,
and kept vibrating there long hours after, like an Aeolian harp just
breathed upon by a dying zephyr.

As was often the case, she forgot her auditor, and began to reveal
herself in this mode of expression so natural to her, and to sing as
she did long evenings when alone. At times her tones would be tremulous
with pathos and feeling, and again strong and hopeful. Then, as if
remembering the great joy that soon would be hers in welcoming back her
absent lover, it grew as tender and alluring as a thrush's call to its
mate.

     "O'er the land and o'er the sea
     Swiftly fly my thoughts to thee;
     Haste thee and come back to me:
       I'm waiting.

     "Thou away, how sad my song!
     When alone, the days are long;
     Soon thou'lt know how glad and strong
       My welcome.

     "Haste thee, then, o'er sea and land:
     Quickly join our loving band,
     Waiting here to clasp thy hand
       In greeting."

"Indeed, Miss Walton," said Gregory, leaning upon the piano, "that
would bring me from the antipodes."

She did not like his tone and manner, and also became conscious that in
her choice of a ballad she had expressed thoughts that were not for
him; so she tried to turn the matter lightly off by saying, "Where you
probably were in your thoughts. What have you been thinking about all
this long time while I have fallen into the old habit of talking to
myself over the piano?"

"You, I might say; but I should add, in truth, what you have said to me
this evening."

"I hope only the latter."

"Chiefly, I've been enjoying your singing. You have a very peculiar
voice. You don't 'execute' or 'render' anything, any more than a bird
does. I believe they have been your music teachers."

"Crows abound in our woods," she answered, laughing.

"So do robins and thrushes."

Her face suddenly had an absent look as if she did not hear him. It was
turned from the light, or the rich color that was mantling it would
have puzzled him, and might have inspired hope. With some abruptness
and yet hesitation, such as is often noted when a delicate subject is
broached, she said, "Mr. Gregory, I wish I could make peace between you
and Mr. Hunting. I think you are not friendly."

As she looked to see the effect of her remark the light shone on his
face, and she was again deeply pained to see how instantly it darkened.
For a moment he did not reply; then in a cold, constrained voice, he
said, "He is a friend of the family, I suppose."

"Yes," she replied, eagerly.

"I too would like to be regarded as a friend, and especially to you; so
I ask it as a great personal favor that you will not mention that
gentleman's name again during the brief remnant of my visit."

"Do you mean any imputation against him?" she asked, hotly.

Policy whispered, "Don't offend her. Hunting may be a near relation;"
so he said, quietly, "Gentlemen may have difficulties concerning which
they do not like to speak. I have made no imputation against him
whatever, but I entreat you to grant my request."

Annie was not satisfied, but sat still with knit brows. At that moment
she heard her father's step and ran joyfully to meet him. He had come
home chilled from a long ride in the raw wind, and she spent the rest
of the evening in remorseful ministrations to his comfort. As she
flitted around him, served his tea and toast, and petted him generally,
Gregory felt that he would ride for a night after the "Wild Huntsman"
to be so treated.

He also rightly felt that Annie's manner was a little cool toward him.
It was not in her frank, passionate nature to feel and act the same
toward one who had just expressed such bitter hostility toward her
lover. But the more he thought of it the more determined he was that
there should be no alienation between them on account of Hunting.

"Curse him!" he muttered, "he has cost me too much already."

He had the impression that Hunting was a relative of the family. That
he was the accepted lover of the pure and true girl that he himself was
unconsciously learning to love was too monstrous a thought to be
entertained. Still Annie's words and manner caused him some sharp pangs
of jealousy, till he cast the very idea away in scorn as unworthy of
both himself and her.

"Evil as my life has been, it is white compared with his," he said to
himself.

In accordance with his purpose to keep the vantage-ground already
gained, he was geniality itself, and so entertained Miss Eulie and Mr.
Walton that Annie soon relented and smiled upon him as kindly as ever.
She was in too humbled and softened a mood that evening to be
resentful, except under great provocation, and she was really very
grateful to Gregory for his readiness to overlook her weakness and give
her credit for trying to do right. Indeed, his sincere admiration and
outspoken desire for her esteem inclined her toward him, for was she
not a woman?

"After all," she thought, "he has said nothing against Charles. They
have had a quarrel, and he no doubt is the one to blame. He is
naturally very proud and resentful, and would be all the more so in
that degree that he was wrong himself. If I can help him become a
Christian, making peace will be an easy affair; so I will not lose the
hold that I have gained upon him. When Charles comes he will tell me
all about it, and I will make him treat Gregory in such a way that
enmity cannot last."

How omnipotent girls imagine themselves to be with those who swear they
will do anything under heaven to please them, but who usually go on in
the old ways!

It was late when the family separated for the night, but later far when
Gregory retired. The conclusion of his long revery was that in Annie
Walton existed his only chance of life and happiness. She seemed to
possess the power to wake up all the man left in him, and if there were
any help in God, she only could show him how to find it.

Thus his worldly wisdom had taught him, as many others had been taught,
to lean on a human arm for his main support and chief hope, while
possibly in the uncertain future some help from heaven might be
obtained. He was like a sickly plant in the shade saying to itself,
"Yonder ray of sunlight would give me new life," while it has no
thought of the sun from which the ray came. He truly wished to become a
good man for his own sake as well as Annie's, for he had sufficient
experience in the ills of evil; but he did not know that a loving God
does not make our only chance dependent on the uncertain action and
imperfect wisdom of even the best of earthly friends. The One who began
His effort of saving man by dying for him will not afterward neglect
the work, or commit it wholly to weak human hands.

The next morning, being that of Saturday, brought Annie many duties,
and these, with callers, so occupied her time that Gregory saw but
little of her. The shadow between them seemed to have passed away, and
she treated him with the utmost kindness. But there was a new shadow on
her face that he could not understand, and after breakfast he said to
her as they were passing to the parlor, "Miss Walton, you seem out of
spirits. I hope nothing painful has happened."

"Jeff found my lost letter this morning," she said, "and I have been
deservedly punished anew, for it brought me unpleasant tidings;" and
she hastily left the room, as if not wishing to speak further on the
matter.

It had indeed inflicted a heavy disappointment, for it was from
Hunting, stating that business would detain him some days longer in
Europe. But she had accepted it with resignation, and felt that it was
but a light penalty for all her folly of the two preceding days.

Gregory was not a little curious about it, for he was interested now in
everything connected with her; but as she did not speak of it again,
good taste required that he should not. An uncomfortable thought of
Hunting as the possible writer crossed his mind, but he drove it from
him with something like rage.

As Gregory sat brooding by his fire, waiting till the sun should grow
higher before starting for a walk, Jeff came up with an armful of wood,
and seemed bubbling over with something. He, too, had suffered sorely
in the storm he had helped to raise the preceding day, and had
tremblingly eaten such dinner as the irate Zibbie had tossed on the
table for him, as a man might lunch in the vicinity of a bombshell. He
seemed to relieve himself by saying, with his characteristic grin, as
he replenished the fire, "It was dreadful 'pestuous yesterday, but de
winds is gone down. I'se glad dat ole hen is done for, but she hatch a
heap ob trouble on her las' day."

Jeff belonged to that large school of modern philosophers who explain
the evils of the day on very superficial grounds. The human heart is
all right. It's only "dat ole hen" or unfavorable circumstances of some
kind, that do the mischief.



CHAPTER XXIV

"THE WORM-INFESTED CHESTNUT"--GREGORY TELLS THE WORST



In his solitary ramble, Gregory again thought long and deeply over the
situation. The impression was growing strong that the supreme hour of
his life, which would decide his destiny for good or evil, was fast
approaching. For years previously he had given up the struggle against
the latter, and had sunk deep in moral apathy, making greater effort to
doubt everything concerning God than to believe. Then he had lost even
his earthly ambition, and become mere driftwood on the tide of time.
But a sweet, true woman was doing a work for him like that of Elsie for
Prince Henry in the Golden Legend. A consciousness of power to take up
his burden again and be a man among men was coming back, and old Daddy
Tuggar's words were growing into a hope-inspiring prophecy: "She could
take the wickedest man livin' to heaven, if she'd stay right by him."

And yet his self-distrust was painfully and dangerously great, and he
feared that when Annie came to know the worst about him, and how he had
plotted against her, she would shrink from him. If she despaired of him
he would despair of himself. He was certain that he could not win even
an intimate congenial acquaintance, much less a more tender regard,
unless he became a true, good man, worthy of her confidence. He could
not become such by commencing in deception--by hiding the past, and
trying to appear what he was not. For in the first place she would
certainly find him out and despise him, and in the second place his own
nature now revolted at anything false in his relations with her. After
long anxious thought, he concluded that the only safe, as well as the
only honorable, course was perfect frankness. If he began wrong, the
end would be disastrous. He was no longer subject to school-boy
impulses, but was a mature and thoughtful man, and had trained himself
in business to look far and keenly into the consequences of present
action. He saw in this Walton blood an intense antipathy to deceit. His
own nature was averse to it also, and his experience with Hunting had
made it doubly hateful. His pride revolted at it, for his lack of
hypocrisy had been the one ground of self-respect that remained in him.
If in his folly and wickedness he had blotted out the possibility of a
happy future, he must endure the terrible truth as he could. To try to
steal into heaven, earthly or celestial, by the back door of specious
seeming, only to be discovered in his true character and cast out with
greater ignominy, was a course as revolting as foolish. Annie knew him
to be a man of the world, with sceptical tendencies, but to her
guileless nature and inexperience this might not mean anything very
bad. In the secret of his own soul, however, he had to meet these
terrible questions:

"Can God receive and pardon a willing unbeliever, a man who has sinned
against the clearest light, a gambler, a libertine, an embodiment of
selfishness? Can it be that Annie Walton will ever receive even
friendship from one so stained, knowing the additional fact that I
plotted against her and sought for my own senseless gratification to
prove that she was a weak, vain woman, who would be no better than
myself if tempted in like manner? It is true that I never betrayed
innocence or wronged a man out of a dollar. It is true that in the code
of the world I have done nothing to lose my character as a gentleman,
and even my design upon Miss Walton would pass as a harmless flirtation
in society; but the code of the world has no force in her pure mind,
and the license it permits is an insult to the law of God. And now it
is not with the world, but with her and Heaven that I have to deal.
Things at which society shrugs its shoulders indifferently are to them
crimes, and black ones too. I might as well seek her love with a
felon's indictment hanging over me as to seek it hiding my past life.
When she came to find me out she would feel that I had wronged her
unutterably, and confidence, the only basis of lasting esteem, would be
gone.

"Deep in my heart I have never doubted my mother's faith. When I
imagined I did I was self-deceived. Everything here confirms it, and
Miss Walton more than all. I will consult the divine oracle. She shall
be the fair vestal, the gentle priestess. She lives near to heaven, and
knows its mind. If her kind and womanly nature shrinks from me, if she
coldly draws her skirts aside that I pollute them not even with a
touch--if she by word or even manner proves that she sees an impassable
gulf between us--then she need waste no breath in homilies over
repentance and in saying that God can receive those whom man cannot.
I'll not even listen, but go back to the city and meet my fate. If
imperfect human creatures cannot forgive each other--if I have gone so
far beyond the mercy of a tender-hearted woman--then I need look for
nothing from a just and holy God. It's mockery for good people, with
horror and disgust slightly veiled upon their faces, to tell poor
wretches that God will receive them and love them, while they would no
more take them into their confidence and esteem than they would a
pestilence. It's like people saying to one in the last stage of
consumption, 'I hope you will be better soon.' They don't hope or
expect any such thing. The Bible is said to teach that a man can sin
away his day of grace. I had about believed that I had sinned away
mine. This genuine, honest Christian girl has made me think
differently. She has inspired the strong hope that she could lead me to
become a good man--even a Christian. She shall either fulfil that hope
or show it to be false."

Such was the outline of his thoughts that long day, during which hope
and fear balanced an even scale. But the evening shadows found fear
predominating. His awakened conscience and his recent contact with true
moral standards revealed him to himself in darker and still darker
shadow. At times he was almost ready to despair, to bid his
entertainers a courteous farewell on Monday, and go back to the city as
he came, with the additional wretchedness of having seen the heaven he
could not enter.

But when he came down to supper, Annie smiled so sweetly and looked so
gentle and kind, that he thought, "She does not seem one to push a
wretch over a precipice. That warm little hand that charmed away my
headache so gently cannot write Dante's inscription over my 'Inferno,'
and bid me enter it as 'my own place'; and yet I dread her sense of
justice."

In his anxiety and perturbation of mind he was unusually grave and
silent during the meal and evening. Annie exulted secretly over him.

"He is thinking in earnest now. His old apathy and trifling manner are
gone."

He was indeed thinking in terrible earnest. Her effort had awakened no
school-girl interest and penitence that she could soothe and reward by
quoting a few sweet promises, but had aroused a spirit like that which
came down from the hills of Gadara, and which no man could bind.

Men and women in good society may be very polished and refined, and yet
their souls in God's sight and their own be shameful, "naked," wearing
no robe of righteousness, bound by no laws of purity and right, and
"always, night and day, crying and cutting" themselves in the unrest of
remorse. Sad and yet true it was that the demon-possessed man, the
terror of the Gadarenes, was but too true a type of the gentlemanly and
elegant Walter Gregory, as he sat that night in a torment of dread and
hope at the peaceful fireside of a Christian family. If his fears were
realized--if Annie turned from him when he revealed his true self to
her--there seemed to him every probability that evil evermore would be
his master. While she was innocently hoping and praying that her words
and influence might lead him to read his Bible, go to church, and
eventually find his way into the "green pastures beside the still
waters," it seemed that within a few hours she would either avert or
complete that most awful of tragedies--the loss of a soul.

He accompanied them to church the following morning, and his manner was
grave even to solemnity. Little wonder. In a certain sense, in view of
his resolution, the Judgment Day had come to him.

With heavy, contracted brows he listened to a sermon anything but
reassuring. The good old minister inclined to a legal and doctrinal
gospel, and to-day his subject was the perfection and searching
character of the divine law. He showed how God could make no terms with
sin--that he hated it with a terrible and vindictive hatred, because in
all respects it was opposite and antagonistic to His nature--because it
defiled, degraded, and destroyed. He traced all human wretchedness to
this poisonous root, and Gregory trembled and his face grew dark with
despair as he realized how it was inwoven with every fibre of his
heart. Then in simple but strong language the silver-haired old man,
who seemed a type of the ancient prophets, portrayed the great white
throne of God's justice, snowy, too dazzling for human eyes, and the
conscience-stricken man shrunk and cowered.

He turned to Annie to see how this train of thought, so terrific to
him, affected her. Not a trace of fear was upon her face, but only
serene, reverent awe. He glanced at Mr. Walton, but the old magistrate
sat in his place, calm and dignified, evidently approving the action of
the greater Judge. Miss Eulie's face, as seen between himself and the
light of the window, appeared spirit-like.

"Thus they will look on the Judgment Day," thought Gregory, "while I
tremble even at its picture. O the vital difference between guilt and
innocence, between faith and unbelief!"

If the venerable clergyman had been talking personally to Gregory or
any sinful creature, he would not have concluded his subject where he
did. He would have shown how between the throne of justice and the
sinner there stood an Advocate, an Intercessor, a Saviour. But having
logically developed his text, he finished his discourse. Perhaps on the
following Sabbath he might present the mercy of God with equal
clearness. But the sermon of the day, standing alone and confirming the
threatenings of an accusing conscience, depressed Gregory greatly. It
did not anger him, as such truth usually did. He was too weak and
despairing. He now felt the hopelessness and folly of opposition. The
idea of getting into a passion with fate! Only weak natures fume at the
inevitable. There is a certain dignity in silent, passive despair.

Annie's voice singing the closing hymn beside him sounded like an
angel's voice across the "great gulf." Almost mechanically he walked
down the aisle out into the sunny noon of a warm October day. Birds
were twittering around the porch. Fall insects filled the air with
their cheery chirpings. The bay of a dog, the shrill crowing of a cock,
came softened across the fields from a neighboring farm. Cow-bells
tinkled faintly in the distance, and two children were seen romping on
a hillside, flitting here and there like butterflies. The trees were in
gala dress of crimson and gold, and even the mountains veiled their
stern grandeur in a purple haze, through which the sun's rays shimmered
with genial but not oppressive warmth.

The people lingered around the door, shaking hands and greeting one
another with the plain but cordial courtesy of the country. Gregory
heard one russet-apple-faced man say that "Betsy was better," and an
old colored woman, with a visage like that apple in black and mottled
decay, said in cheerful tones that "little Sampson was gittin' right
peart." A great raw-boned farmer asked a half-grown boy, "How's yer
mare?" and the boy replied that the animal was better also. All seemed
better that bright day, and from a group near came the expression,
"Crops were good this year." While the wealthier and more cultured
members of the congregation had kindly nods and smiles for all, they
naturally drew together, and there seemed a little flutter of
excitement over the renewal of the sewing society that had been
discontinued during the summer.

Gregory stood apart from all this, with the heavy contraction still
upon his brow, and asked himself, "What have these simple, cheery,
commonplace people, with their petty earth-born cares and interests, to
do with that 'great white throne' of which we have just heard? and
where in this soft, dreamy landscape, so suggestive of peace, rest, and
everyday life, lurks any hint of the 'wrath of a just and holy God'?"

And then the old pastor, who a little before had seemed a prototype of
John, the stern reformer from the wilderness, came out smiling and
benignant, greeting his flock as a father might his children. The very
hand that had been raised in denunciation, and in threatening a doom
that would appall the heart of courage itself, was given to Gregory in
a warm and cordial grasp. The man he had trembled before now seemed the
personification of sweet-tempered human kindness. The contrast was so
sharp that it seemed to Gregory that either what he saw or what he had
heard must be an utter delusion.

As they were driving home, he suddenly broke the moody silence by
asking Miss Walton, "How do you reconcile the scene at the church door,
so matter-of-fact, cheery, and earthly, with the terrible pictures
suggested by the sermon? If such things are before us, it seems to me
that bright, sunny days like these are mockery."

She looked at him wistfully. The sermon had not been what she would
have wished, but she trusted it would do him good by cutting away every
hope based on anything in himself or in vague general ideas of God's
indiscriminate mercy. She answered gently, "The contrast was indeed
great, now I think of it, and yet each scene was matter-of-fact to me
in the sense of being real. Besides, that one which our pastor
described was a court of justice. I shall have an Advocate there who
will clear me. As for 'bright days,' I believe they are just what God
means His people to have always."

"Yes," said he, gloomily, "that is your side of the question."

"It may be yours also," she replied, in a low tone.

He shook his head and looked away to hide his pain.

After a short time he again said, "Do you not think that the view of
God which your minister gave is very depressing to the average man? Is
not His law too perfect for imperfect humanity?"

"Not at all," she answered, eagerly; but before she could say more, Mr.
Walton, unaware of the subject occupying them, turned from the front
seat and introduced another topic.

After dinner, Gregory went to his room, which he restlessly paced.

"Even her creed, her faith, as well as her purity and truth, raises a
wall as high as heaven between us," he exclaimed, bitterly. "She has
only to see me as God sees, to shrink away appalled, disgusted. Well,
she shall," he muttered, grinding his teeth; "I shall not add the worst
torment of all to my perdition by deceiving her."

As he came down stairs, Annie had just finished reading to the
children, and he said, "Miss Walton, will your ideas of Sabbath-keeping
prevent you from taking a stroll in the garden with me?"

"Not at all," she replied, smiling. "A garden is a good place to keep
Sunday in."

He walked silently at her side across the lawn down a shady walk. Annie
hoped much from this interview, and sent a swift, earnest prayer to
Heaven that she might speak wisely. She feared that his dejection would
pass into discouragement and despair. She saw that he was much
depressed, and judged correctly that it was because he had seen only
one side of a great truth. She hoped to cheer and inspire him with the
other side. Moreover, her religion was very simple. It was only
becoming God's friend, instead of remaining indifferent or hostile. To
her, no matter what the burden, it was simply leading the heavy-laden
to the strong Divine Friend as people were brought to Him of old, and
establishing the personal relations of love, faith, and following.

But she did not realize the desperate nature or the complications of
Gregory's moral infirmity. Still she was a safe adviser, for she did
not propose to cure him herself. She wished to rally and cheer him, to
inspire hope, and to turn his eyes from sin to the Saviour, so she
said, "Mr. Gregory, why do you look as if marching to execution?"

"Perhaps because I feel as if I were," he said.

Just then a variegated leaf parted from a spray overhanging the path
somewhat in advance of them, and fluttered to their feet.

"Poor little leaf!" said Gregory, picking it up, "your bright colors
will soon be lost. Death has come to you too. Why must this wretched
thought of death be thrust on one at every turn? Nature is full of it.
Things only live, apparently, for the sake of dying. Just as this leaf
becomes most beautiful it drops. What a miserable world this is, with
death making havoc everywhere! Then your theology exaggerates the evil
a thousand-fold. If a man must die, let him die and cease to be. But
your minister spoke to-day of a living death, in which one only exists
to suffer. What a misfortune to have existed!"

As Gregory gloomily uttered these bitter words, they stood looking at
the leaf that had suggested them. Annie's face brightened with a sudden
thought. She turned, and after a few rapid steps sprung lightly up and
caught the twig from which the leaf had fallen. Then turning to her
companion, who regarded with surprise and admiration the agile grace of
the act, she said, "Mr. Gregory, you need lessons in logic. If the leaf
you hold is your theme, as you gave me reason to believe, you don't
stick to it, and you draw from it conclusions that don't follow the
premise. Another thing, it is not right to develop a subject without
regard to its connection. Now from just this place," she continued,
pointing with her finger, "the leaf dropped. What do you see? What was
its connection?"

"Why, a little branch full of other leaves. These would soon have
dropped off and died also, if you had not hastened their fate."

"That's a superficial view, like the one you just took of this
'miserable world,' as you call it. I think it is a very good world--a
much better one than we deserve. And now look closely and justly at
your theme's connection, and tell me what you see. Look just here;" and
her finger rested on the little green spot where the stem of the leaf
had joined the spray.

"I see a very small bud," he said, intelligence of her meaning dawning
in his face.

"Which will develop next spring into other leaves and perhaps into a
new branch. All summer long your leaf has rustled and fluttered
joyously over the certainty that a richer and fuller life would come
after it, a life that it was providing for through the sunny days and
dewy nights. There is no death here, only change for the better. And so
with everything that has bloomed and flourished in this garden during
the past season, provision has been made for new and more abundant
life. All these bright but falling leaves and fading flowers are merely
Nature's robes, ornaments that she is throwing carelessly aside as she
withdraws for a little time from her regal state. Wait till she appears
again next spring, as young, fresh, and beautiful as when, like Eve,
she saw her first bright morning. Come and see her upon her throne next
June. Nature full of death! Why, Mr. Gregory, she speaks of nothing but
life to those who understand her language."

"O that you would teach it to me!" he said, with a deeper meaning than
she detected.

"Again," she continued, "our theology does not represent death as
making havoc anywhere. It is sin that makes the havoc, and death is
only one of its consequences. And even this enemy God compels to work
for the good of His friends. Do not think," she continued, coming a
step nearer in her earnestness, "that I make such allusions to pain
you, but only in my sincere wish to help you, and illustrate my meaning
by something you know so well. Did death make havoc in your mother's
case? Was it not rather a sombre-liveried janitor that opened for her
the gates of heaven?"

He was deeply touched, and turned away his face. After a moment he
continued his walk, that they might get further away from the house and
the danger of interruption.

He suddenly startled Annie by saying, in a tone of harsh and intense
bitterness, "Her death made 'havoc' for me. If she had lived I might
have been a good man instead of the wretch I am. If death as janitor
opens the gates of heaven, your religion teaches that it also opens the
gates of hell. How can I love a God who shuts up the sinful in an
inferno--in dungeons of many and varied tortures, and racks them
forever? Can I, just to escape all this, pretend that I love Him, when
in truth I fear and dread Him unspeakably? No, I'll never be a
hypocrite."

Tears glistened in Annie's eyes as he turned to look at her.

"You pity me," he said, more gently. "Your God does not. If He wanted
to be loved He should never have revealed a hell."

"Should He not in mercy, if it really existed? And does it not exist?
Will merely a beautiful place make heaven for anybody? Mr. Gregory,
look around this lovely autumn evening. See the crimson glory of those
clouds yonder in the west. See that brightness shading off into paler
and more exquisite tints. Look, how those many-hued leaves reflect the
glowing sky. The air is as sweet and balmy as that of Eden could have
been. The landscape is beautiful in itself, and especially attractive
to you. To our human eyes it hardly seems as if heaven could be more
perfect than this. And yet, standing in the one spot of all the earth
most beautiful to you, Mr. Gregory, pardon me for saying it, your face
expresses nothing but pain. There is not a trace of happiness in it.
You were not happy when you came here. I saw that the first day. All
the pleasant surroundings of your own home have not made you happy.
Have they given you even peace and quiet? Place does not make heaven,
but something we carry in our own bosoms," she concluded, leaving him
to supply the rest of her thought.

His face was white with fear, and there was terror in his tone as he
turned and said to her, in a low voice, "Miss Walton, that is what I
have been coming to see and dread, of late, and as you put the thoughts
into words I see that it is true. I carry perdition in my own heart.
When I am alone my imaginings frighten me; and when with others,
impulses arise to do the devil's own work."

"But it is the nature of God to save from all this. I am so sorry that
you do not understand Him better."

"He saves some," said Gregory, gloomily.

"But many will not let Him save them," urged Annie.

"I should be only too glad to have Him save me, but whether He will or
not is the point at issue, and my hope is very faint. Everything
to-day, but you, seems to confirm my fate. Miss Walton, won't you take
that little rustic seat there by the brook? I wish to tell you
something that will probably settle this question."

Annie wonderingly complied. This was an experience she had never had
before. She was rapidly realizing the difference between being the
spiritual guide of the girls in her Bible-class and being the adviser
of this strong-minded yet greatly perverted man. But she turned to him
a face full of sympathy and encouragement.

For a moment it seemed he did not know how to begin, and he paced
restlessly up and down before her. Then he said, "Miss Walton, you
remember that worm-infested chestnut through which you gave me such a
just lesson?"

"Please do not speak of my foolish words at that time," she replied,
eagerly.

"Pardon me, they were not foolish. They, with the illustration of my
own choice, revealed me to myself as nothing had ever done before. Had
it not been for your graceful tact, I should have made a fool of myself
by being angry. If you had known what I deserved then you would not
have let me off so easily. But it's true. That lonely, selfish
chestnut, with a worm in its kernel, was a good emblem of myself. Evil
is throned in my heart supreme and malignant. I suppose it's through my
own fault, but be that as it may, it's there, my master. I groan over
and curse the fact, but I do evil and think evil continually, and I
fear I always shall.

"No, listen to me to the end," he continued, as she was about to speak.

"When on that strange mountain expedition, you made the remark, 'What
congenial friends we might be!' Those words have echoed in my heart
ever since, like the refrain of a home-song to a captive. I would give
more than I can express for your friendship--for the privilege of
seeing you and speaking to you frankly on these subjects occasionally,
for you and you only have inspired a faint hope that I might become a
better man. You are making Christianity seem a reality and not a
fashion. Though possessing human weakness, you triumph over it, and you
say it is through prayer to God. I find it impossible not to believe
everything you say, for whatever your faults are you are truth itself.
Through your influence the thought has come that God might also hear
and help me, but I have the fear and almost the belief that I have
placed myself beyond His mercy. At any rate I have almost lost hope in
anything I can do by myself. I was in moral despair when I came here,
and might as well have been dead, but you have led me to a willingness
to make one more struggle, and a great one, if I can see in it any
chance of success. I fear I am deceiving myself, but when with you,
though you are immeasurably better than I, hope steals into my heart,
that before was paralyzed by despair. When you come to know me as I
know myself, I fear that you will shrink in just horror away, and that
I shall see reflected in your face the verdict of heaven. But you shall
know the worst--the very worst. I can never use deceit with you. If
afterward you ever take my stained hand again--"

He did not finish the sentence, but heaved a great sigh, as if of
longing and hope that words could not utter.

It was the old truth illustrated, that God must become human to gain
humanity. Abstract truth could not save this lost and guilty man, but
the wanderer hoped that in this sweet human life he had found the clew
back to the divine life.

Annie trembled at the responsibility that now suddenly burdened her as
she saw this trembling spirit clinging to her as the one frail barrier
between himself and the gulf of utter despair. She nerved herself, by
prayer and the exertion of all her will, to be equal to the emergency.

And yet it was a fearful ordeal that she was called to go through as
the remorseful and deeply agitated man, his face flushed with shame,
now with impassioned, more often with despairing gesture and accent,
poured out the story of his past life, and laid bare his evil heart,
while he paced up and down the little walk before her.

The transaction with Hunting he purposely passed over, speaking of it
merely as a business misfortune that had robbed him even of earthly
ambition. She saw a few sin-stained pages of that dreadful book of
human guilt which God must look at every day.

Gregory did not spare himself, and palliated nothing, softening and
brightening no harsh and dark lines. On the contrary, he was stern and
blunt, and it was strange indeed to hear him charging himself before a
pure, innocent young girl, whose good opinion was life to him, with
what she regarded as crimes. When he at last came to speak of his
designs against herself, of how he had purposed to take the bloom and
beauty from her character that he might laugh at goodness as a dream
and pretence, and despise her as he did himself, his eye flashed
angrily, and he grew vindictive as if denouncing an object of his hate.
He could not even look at her during the last of his confession, but
turned away his face, fearing to see Annie's expression of aversion and
disgust.

It was with a paling cheek and growing dread that she looked into that
dark and fearful place, a perverted human heart, and her every breath
was a prayer that God would enable her to see and act as Christ would
were some poor creature revealing to Him his desperate need.

Gregory suddenly paused in his low but passionate flow of words, and
put his hand to his head as if the pain were insupportable. In fact,
his anguish and the intense feeling of the day had again brought on one
of his old nervous headaches. Thus far he had scarcely noticed it, but
now the sharp, quivering pangs proved how a wronged physical nature
could retaliate; how much more the higher and more delicate moral
nature!

After the paroxysm had passed, he continued, in the hard, weary tone of
utter dejection (for he had dreaded even to look at Annie, and her
silence confirmed his worst fears), "Well, Miss Walton, you now know
the worst. On this peaceful Sabbath evening you have seen more of
perdition than you ever will again. You cannot even speak to me, and I
dare not look at your face. The expression of horror and disgust which
I know must be there would blast me and haunt me forever. It would be
worse than death, for I did have a faint hope--"

He was interrupted by an audible sob, and turning, saw Annie with her
face buried in her hands, weeping as if her heart would break. He was
puzzled for a moment, and then, in the despairing condition of his mind
interpreted her wrongly. Standing near her with clenched hands, he
said, in the same hard tones which seemed to have passed beyond the
expression of feeling, "I'm a brute and worse. I have been wounding you
as with blows by my vile story. I have been dragging your pure thoughts
through the mire of my wretched life."

Annie tried to speak, but apparently could not for excess of emotion.

"Why could I not have gone away and died by myself, like some unclean
beast?" he muttered. Then, in a tone which she never forgot, and with
the manner of one who was indeed leaving hope and life behind him, he
said, "Farewell, Miss Walton; you will be better after I am gone."

She sprung up, and laying restraining hands upon his arm, sobbed,
"No--no. Why don't you--you--understand me? My heart's--breaking for
you--wait till I can speak."

He placed her gently on the seat again. A great light was coming into
his eyes, and he stood bending toward her as if existence depended on
her next words. Could it be that her swelling throat and sobs meant
sympathy for him?

She soon controlled herself, and looking up at him, with a light in her
eyes that shone through her tears as sun-rays through the rain, said,
"Forgive me. I never realized before that so much sin and suffering
could exist in one unhappy life. I do pity you, as God does far more. I
will help you as He will."

Gregory knelt at her feet, and kissed her hand with the fervor of a
captive who had just received life and liberty.

"See, I do not shrink from you," she continued. "My Master would not.
Why should I? He came to save just such, and just such we all would be
but for His grace and shielding. I'm so--sorry for you."

He turned hastily away for a moment to hide his feelings, and said,
slowly, "I cannot trust myself--I cannot trust God yet; but I trust
you, and I believe you have saved a soul from death."

He stood looking toward the glowing west, and, for the first time in
years, hoped that his life might close in brightness.

"Mr. Gregory," said Annie, in a voice so changed that he started and
turned toward her hardly knowing what to expect. She stood beside him,
no longer a tender, compassionate woman grieving for him, as if his sin
were only misfortune, but her face was almost stern in its purity and
earnestness. "Mr. Gregory, the mercy which God shows, and which I
faintly reflect, is for _you_ in sharp distinction from your sin. Do
not for a moment think that I can look with any lenience or indulgence
on all the horrible evil you have laid before me. Do not think I can
excuse or pass lightly over it as something of little consequence. I
hate your sin as I hate my own. I can honestly feel and frankly show
the sympathy I have manifested, only in view of your penitence, and
your sincere purpose, with God's help, to root out the evil of your
life. This I am daily trying to do, and this you must do in the one and
only way in which there is any use in trying. It is only with this
clear understanding that I can give you my hand in the friendship of
mutual helpfulness, and in the confidence of respect."

He reverently took her hand and said, "Your conditions are just, Miss
Walton, and I accept your friendship as offered with a gratitude beyond
words. I can never use deceit where you are concerned, even in thought.
But please do not expect too much of me. I have formed the habit of
doubting. It may be very long before I have your simple, beautiful
faith. I will do just the best I can! It seems that if you will trust
me, help me, pray for me, I can succeed. If I am mistaken, I will carry
my wretchedness where the sight of it will not pain you. If I ever do
reach your Christian life, I will lavish a wealth of gratitude upon you
that cannot be expressed. Indeed, I will in any case, for you have done
all that I could hope and more."

"I will do all you ask," she said, heartily, giving at the same time
his hand a strong pressure with her warm, throbbing palm, that sent a
subtle current of hope and strength into his heart. Her face softened
into an expression of almost sisterly affection, and with a gleam of
her old mirthfulness she continued, "Take counsel of practical
common-sense, Mr. Gregory. Why talk so doubtfully of success, seeking
it as you purpose to? What right have you even to imagine that God will
bestow upon you the great distinction of making you the first one of
the race He refused to hear and answer? Be humble and believe that He
will treat you like other people."

He stopped in their slow walk toward the house and said, with glad
animation, "Miss Walton, do you know you have done more to strengthen
me in that little speech than by a long and labored argument?"

And so they passed in out of the purple twilight, Annie's heart
thrilling with something of the joy of heaven, and Gregory feeling as
if the dawn were coming after Egyptian night.

As they left the garden a dusky face peered out of some thick shrubbery
and looked cautiously around. Then Jeff appeared and attributed to the
scene just described a very different meaning from its real
significance.



CHAPTER XXV

THE OLD HOME IN DANGER--GREGORY RETRIEVES HIMSELF



Gregory made desperate efforts to keep up at the supper-table, but
could not prevent slight evidences of physical pain, which Annie
silently noticed. After tea he hoped to escape to his room, for he
could not endure to show even his physical weakness so soon again. On
the contrary, he was longing intensely for an opportunity to manifest a
little strength of some kind. After his recent interview he felt that
he could even bear one of his nervous headaches alone. But as he was
about to excuse himself, Annie interrupted, saying, "Now, Mr. Gregory,
that is not according to agreement. Do you suppose I cannot see that
you are half beside yourself with one of your old headaches? Was I such
a poor physician the last time that you seek to escape me now? Come
back to the parlor. I will not go out to church this evening, but
devote myself to you."

"Miss Walton," he replied, in a low tone, "when can I make any return
for all your kindness? I must seem weakness itself in every respect,
and I dread to appear to you always in that light."

"Your pride needs bringing down, sir; see how towering it is. Here you
would go off by yourself, and endure a useless martyrdom all night
perhaps, when by a few simple remedies I can relieve you, or at least
help you forget the pain. I have not the slightest objection to your
being a martyr, but I want some good to come out of it." "But I shall
spoil your evening."

"Certainly you will, if I think of you groaning up there by yourself,
while I am singing, perhaps:

     "'I love to steal awhile away
      From every cumbering care!'"

"Then I'm a cumbering care!"

"Whether you are or not, I'm not going to steal away from you to-night.
Come, do as I bid you."

He was only too glad to submit to her delicious tyranny. She wheeled
the lounge up to the fire, and placed her chair beside it, while the
rest of the family, seeing that he had his old malady, went to the
sitting-room.

"I have great pride in my nursing powers," she continued, in her cheery
way. "Now, if I were a man, I'd certainly be a doctor."

"Thank Heaven you are not!" he said, with a devout earnestness that
quite startled her.

"What? A doctor?" she asked, quickly.

"Yes--no; I mean a man, and doctor too."

"I see no reason why you should show such bitter opposition to my being
a man or a doctor either. Why should you?"

"O--well--I think you are just right as a woman. You make me believe in
the doctrine of election, for it seems to me that you were destined
from all eternity to be just what you are."

"What a strange, unfathomable doctrine that is!" said Annie, softly and
musingly.

"It's nothing but mystery all around us," he replied, wearily and
dejectedly.

"No, not 'all around us,'" she answered, quickly. "It's clear when we
look up. Faith builds a safe bridge to God, and to Him there are no
mysteries."

Her touch upon his brow thrilled him, and her presence was both
exhilarating and restful.

At last she said, "I am sorry you have these dreadful headaches so
often."

"I shall never be again."

"Why so?"

"Because they have led to this evening. It has been so many long,
miserable years since I experienced anything like this."

"Ah, I see, you have been very lonely. You have had no one to care for
you, and that I believe has been the cause of half your trouble--evil,
I mean. Indeed, they are about the same thing. Don't you see? The world
is too large a place for a home. You need a nook in it, with some one
there to look after you and for you to think about."

He looked at her searchingly, and then turned away his face in pain.
She could not utter such words in that placid style, were she not
utterly devoid of the feeling that was filling his soul with an ecstasy
of hope and fear.

"Do not think that even many of our sex are like Miss Bently. You will
see and choose more wisely hereafter, and find that, in exchanging that
wretched club-life for a cosey home of your own, you take a good step
in all respects."

"Would to Heaven that I had met such a girl as you at first!" he
ventured to say. "How different then all might have been!"

"There is no use in dwelling on the past," she replied, innocently.
"You are now pledged to make the future right."

"God helping me, I will. I will use every means in my power," he said,
in a tone of deep earnestness; and, as principal part of the means,
determined to take her advice, but with reference to herself. After a
few moments he said, "Miss Walton, as I promised to be perfectly frank
with you, I want to ask an explanation of something that I do not
understand, and which has been almost a heavenly surprise to me. I was
nearly certain before this afternoon that when you came to know what a
stained, evil man I am--"

"Was," interrupted Annie.

"No, what I am. Character is not made in a moment. As yet, I only hope
and purpose to do better. I can hardly understand why you do not shrink
from me in disgust. It seemed that both your faith and your nature
would lead you to do this. I thought it possible that out of your
kindness you might try to stand at a safe distance and give me some
good advice across the gulf. But that which I feared would drive you
from me forever has only brought you nearer. Again I say, it has been a
heavenly surprise."

"You use the word 'heavenly' with more appropriateness than you think,"
she replied, gravely. "All such surprises are heavenly in their origin,
and my course is but a faint reflection of Heaven's disposition toward
you, and was prompted by the duty I owe to God as well as to you.
Self-righteousness would have led me in Pharisaic pride to say, 'Stand
aside, I am holier than thou.' But you have only to read the life of
the perfect One to know that in so doing I should not have been like
Him. He laid His rescuing hands on both the physical and the moral
leper--"

"As you have upon me," said Gregory, with a look of such intense
gratitude that she was embarrassed.

"I deserve no great credit, for it was only right that I should do the
utmost in my power to help you. How else could I be a Christian in any
real sense? But there is nothing strange about it. Christianity is not
like false religions, that require unnatural and useless sacrifices. If
I were a true physician, and found you suffering from a terrible and
contagious disease, while I feared and loathed the disease, I might
have the deepest sympathy for you and do my best to cure you. I do
loathe the sin you confessed, inexpressibly. See how near it came to
destroying you. While God hates the sin, He ever loves the sinful."

"I hope you will always be divine in that respect," he could not
forbear saying, with rising color.

But her thoughts were so intent on what was uppermost in her heart that
she did not notice his covert meaning, and said, innocently, "I will
give you honest friendship so long as you honestly try to redeem the
pledges of to-day."

"Then I have your friendship for life, be it long or short," said he,
decisively.

With more lightness in her tone she continued, "And I too will ask a
question that has a bearing on a little theory of my own. Supposing I
had shrunk from you, and tried to give some good advice from a safe
distance, what would you have done?"

"Left for New York to-morrow, and gone straight to the devil as one of
his own imps," he replied, without a moment's hesitation.

She sighed deeply, and said, "I fear you would--that is, if left to
yourself. And the worst of it is, it seems to me that this is the way
the Church is trying to save the world. Suppose a doctor should address
his patients through a speaking-trumpet and hand them his remedies on
the end of a very long rod. Death would laugh at his efforts. People
can be saved only as Christ saved them. We must go where they are, lay
our hands upon them, and look sympathy and hope right into their eyes.
If Christ's followers would only do this, how many more might be
rescued who now seem hopelessly given over to evil!"

"Those who won't do it," said Gregory, bitterly, "are in no sense His
true followers, but are merely the 'hangers on' of His army, seeking to
get out of it all they can for self. Every general knows that the
'camp-followers' are the bane of an army."

"Come, Mr. Gregory," said she, gently, "we are not the general, and
therefore not the judge. After this I shall expect to see you in the
regular ranks, ready to give and take blows."

They now joined Mr. Walton and Miss Eulie in the sitting-room, and
Gregory professed to feel, and indeed was, much better, and after a
little music they separated for the night. Although still suffering,
Gregory sat by his fire a long time, forgetful of pain.

High, blustering winds prevailed all the following day, but they only
made the quiet and cosiness of Mr. Walton's fireside more delightful.
Gregory did not care to go out if he went alone. He wished to be where
he could see Annie as often as possible, for every word and smile from
her in the intervals of her duties was precious. He did honestly mean
to become a good man if it were possible, but he saw in her the only
hopeful means. He did not pretend to either faith in God or love for
Him as yet, but only felt a glow of gratitude, a warming of his heart
toward Him in view of His great mercy in sending to his aid such a
ministering spirit as Annie had proved. He took it as an omen that God
meant kindly by him, and through this human hand might save at last.

And he clung to this hand as the drowning do to anything that keeps
them from sinking into dark and unknown depths. He saw in Annie Walton
earthly happiness certainly, and his best prospect of heaven. What
wonder then that his heart lay at her feet in entire consecration?
Apart from the peculiar fascination that she herself had for him, he
had motives for loving her that actuate but few. If she had saved him
from physical death it would have been a little thing in comparison,
but he shuddered to think of the precipice from which she had drawn him
back.

He was cautious in revealing himself to her. The presence of others was
a restraint, and he plainly saw that she had no such regard for him as
he felt for her. But he hoped with intense fervor--yes, he even prayed
to that God whom he had so long slighted--that in time she might return
his love. To-day he would close his eyes on the past and future. She,
the sunshine of his soul, was near, and he was content to bask in her
smiles.

Annie had given her father and aunt to understand that their conspiracy
promised to result in success, and they treated him with marked but
delicate kindness. The day passed in music, reading, and conversation,
and it was to Gregory the happiest he remembered--one of the sweet May
days that, by some happy blunder of nature, occasionally bless us in
March--and he made the very most of it. Its close found Annie Walton
enthroned in his heart.

As for Annie, he perplexed her a little, but she explained everything
peculiar in his words and manner on the ground of his gratitude only,
and the glow of his newly awakened moral nature. If she had been an
experienced belle, she might have understood his symptoms better, but
she was one of the last in the world to imagine people falling in love
with her. Never having received much admiration from strangers, with no
long list of victims, and believing from her own experience that love
was a gradual growth resulting from long knowledge and intimacy with
its object, she could not dream that this critical man, who had seen
the beauties of two continents, would in a few days be carried away by
her plain face. Nor was he by her face, but by herself.

Men of mind are rarely captivated by a face merely, however beautiful,
but by what it represents, or what they imagine it does. Woe be to the
beauty who has no better capital than her face! With it she can allure
some one into marrying her; but if he marries for an intelligent
companion, he is likely to prove the most disappointed and indifferent
of husbands on discovering the fraud. The world will never get over its
old belief that the fair face is the index of graces slightly veiled,
and ready to be revealed when the right to know is gained. In nursery
rhymes, fairy tales, and the average novel, the beautiful heroine is
also lovely, and so in spite of adverse experience the world will ever
expect wisdom and truth from red lips, till they say too much--till the
red lips themselves prove the contrary. Then come the anger and disgust
which men ever visit upon those who deceive and disappoint them. Beauty
is a dainty and exquisite vestibule to a temple; but when a worshipper
is beguiled into entering, only to find a stony, misshapen idol and a
dingy shrine, this does not conduce to future devotion.

Annie's face would not arrest passers-by, and so she had not been
spoiled by too much homage, which is not good for man or woman. But
after passing the plain, simple portico of externals into the inner
temple of her sweet and truthful life, the heart once hers would
worship with undying faith and love.

Gregory had come to interest her deeply, not only on the ground of his
need, but because she saw in him great capabilities for good. In all
his evil, his downright honesty and lack of conceit inspired a kind of
respect. She also saw that this excessively fastidious man had learned
to admire and esteem her greatly. It was not in her woman's nature to
be indifferent to this fact. She felt that if he could be redeemed from
his evil he might become a congenial and valuable friend indeed, and if
she could be the means of rescuing the son of her father's friend it
would ever be one of her happiest memories. But with her heart already
occupied by a noble ideal of Hunting, the possibility of anything more
than friendship never entered her mind. The very fact that her
affections were so engaged made her blind to manifestations on the part
of Gregory which might otherwise have awakened suspicion. Still the
confidential relations growing up between them made her wish that she
might reveal to him her virtual engagement to Hunting; and she would
have done so, had he not resented the slightest allusion in that
direction. It now seemed probable that Hunting would return before
Gregory took his departure, and if so, she felt that she could
immediately reconcile them. She came to the conclusion that her best
course was to wait till she could bring them together, and so make the
reconciliation certain by her own presence and influence; for now, in
her increasing regard for Gregory, she was determined that they all
should be on good terms, so that in the city home to which she looked
forward the man she was trying to lead to true life might be a frequent
and welcome visitor.

But it is a difficult thing to keep such friendships Platonic in their
nature under any circumstances, and in view of Gregory's feelings,
Annie's pretty dreams of the future would be but baseless visions.

Monday evening brought one of those genial domestic experiences that
make home more satisfying in its pleasures than all the excitements of
the world. Mr. Walton had a slight cold, and Annie was nursing and
petting him, while contributing to the general enjoyment by reading the
daily paper and singing some new ballads which she had just obtained
from New York. Her father's indisposition was so slight that it merely
called for those little attentions which are pleasant for affection to
bestow and receive. The wind howled dismally without, only to enhance
the sense of peace and comfort within, and at the usual hour all
retired to rest, without even the passing thought that anything might
disturb them before they should meet again at the cheerful
breakfast-table.

Some time during the night Gregory seemed to hear three distinct peals
of thunder, wrathful and threatening, and then a voice like that of
Annie Walton calling him to escape a great danger. But it seemed that
he was paralyzed, and strove in vain to move hand or foot. Again and
louder pealed the thunder, and more urgent came the call of the warning
voice. By a desperate effort he sprung with a bound upon the floor, and
then realized that what seemed thunder in the exaggeration of his dream
was loud knocking at his door. Annie's voice again called, "Mr.
Gregory, awake, dress. There is a fire. There may be danger."

He assured her that he would be out in a few moments, and had only to
open a shutter to obtain plenty of light, though he could not see
whence it came. In five minutes he hastened downstairs and found Mr.
Walton just issuing from his room; and all went out on the front
piazza. Gregory then saw that a large factory some distance up the
stream was burning, and that the fire was under such headway that
nothing could save the building. The wind had increased during the
night and fanned the flames into terrific fury. The building was old
and dry, inviting destruction in every part.

For a while they gazed with that fearful awe which this terrible
element, when no longer servant, but master, always inspires. Susie had
not been well during the night, and in waiting on her, Annie had
discovered the disaster.

A warning cough from Mr. Walton revealed to Annie the danger of staying
out in the raw winds; but from the windows everything was apparent, and
silently they watched the rapid progress of the flames. The fire had
caught in the lower part of the building, and was advancing up from
floor to floor with its horrid illumination at the windows.

"Do you think I can do any good by going there?" asked Gregory.

"Not at all," said Mr. Walton. "The whole of the New York Fire
Department could not save it now; and from the sounds I hear, there
will soon be throngs of people there. Indeed, I am anxious about my own
place. When that shingle roof begins to burn there is no telling how
far the wind will carry the cinders."

Annie looked at her father in quick alarm, then drew Miss Eulie aside,
and they immediately went upstairs.

With a more painful interest, Gregory now watched the scene. The tall
ladders which had first been raised against the building were
withdrawn. They were useless for the whole interior seemed ablaze.
Great tongues of fire began leaping from the windows, mocking every
effort. The rapid steps of those hastening to the scene resounded along
the road, and the startling cry of "Fire! Fire!" was heard up and down
the valley till all merged in the shouts and cries around the burning
building. Mingling with the deeper, hoarser tones of men were the
shrill voices of women, showing that they too had been drawn to witness
a destruction that meant to them loss of bread. The foliage near was
red as blood in the dreadful glare, and the neighboring pines tossed
their tasselled boughs like dark plumes at a torch-light funeral. With
a sudden roar a pyramid of flame shot up through the roof, and was
echoed by a despairing cry from those whose vocation now indeed was
gone. A moment later a fiery storm of flakes and burning shingles
filled the sky.

To the great joy of our friends the wind was from such a quarter as to
carry this destructive tempest past them into the woodland back of the
house, which happily had been rendered damp by recent rains.

But a cinder frequently sailed by unpleasantly near, reminding one of
scattering shots in a battle. A slight change of wind would be their
destruction, and a single stray fire-brand would endanger them.

Just as they began to breathe somewhat freely, hoping that danger was
past, a sudden side-eddy of the gale scattered a shower of sparks and
burning shingles over the house and out-buildings. Mr. Walton
immediately rushed forth, and, with a little whistle which he usually
carried, gave a shrill summons for Jeff, who lived in a cottage near.
But Jeff was off to the fire, and so did not appear. Gregory and Annie
also hastened out, and the former ran to the barn and out-buildings
first, as from their nature they were most inflammable. To his and Mr.
Walton's joy, no traces of fire were seen. One or two smoking brands
lay in the door-yard, where they could cause no injury. But a cry of
alarm from Annie, who had stayed nearer the house, brought Mr. Walton
and Gregory to her side instantly. Pointing to the roof of their house,
she said, in tones of strong excitement, "See there--oh, see there!"

A burning piece of wood had caught on the highest part near the ridge,
and was smoking and smouldering in a way that, with the strong wind
fanning it, would surely cause destruction if it were not dislodged.

"Oh, what shall we do?" she cried, wringing her hands. "Can a ladder
reach it?"

"The roof is too steep, even if it did," said Mr. Walton.

"Where is the ladder?" cried Gregory.

"By the carriage-house. But I fear it is useless."

"Will you help me bring it, sir?"

They instantly brought the longest ladder on the place, but saw that
though it might touch the eaves, it would not reach the ridge. The roof
was so steep that one could not keep footing on it; and when they took
time to look and consider, both gentlemen admitted that an effort in
that direction would fail, and probably at the cost of life.

"Is there no scuttle by which to get out on the roof?" asked Gregory.

"No. Quick, Annie, get out what you can, for we shall soon be homeless."

"Wait," said Gregory. "Is there no way to reach the roof?"

"None that we can use. A light and daring climber might possibly reach
the ridge by the lighting-rod, after leaving the ladder."

"Where is it?" cried Gregory, eager to do something to make impossible
even the thought that he was cowardly; for the memory of his course in
the counterfeiter's den rankled deeply.

"No," cried both Mr. Walton and Annie, laying their hands on him. "Your
life is worth more than the house."

"My life is my own," he answered. "I _will_ make an effort to save the
old place. Quick, help me. Here, girls" (to Zibbie and Hannah, who now
stood beside them in dismay), "take hold of that end of the ladder and
carry it out there. Now push it up while I hold its foot. There, that's
it. I will do it. You cannot hinder, but only help. Miss Walton, get me
a rope. Hurry, while I prepare to climb."

With the help of the stout women, whose strength was doubled by their
fears and excitement, he placed the ladder against the lightning-rod
and siding of the house just under the ridge. His tones were determined
and authoritative.

He was now acting as Annie would if she were a man, and she admired and
respected him as never before. In two or three moments she and her
father returned with a line, but again expostulated.

"Mr. Gregory, the risk is too great."

"You can't prevent it," said he, firmly. "I absolve you from all
responsibility. I take the risk in spite of you. Make haste--see how
it's burning. There, that will do. Stand back."

Even as he spoke he was climbing.

"Now that's generous," said Annie; "but if you are injured, I shall
never forgive myself."

He turned, and for a second smiled down upon her.

The strength of his new-born love made him glad to endanger even life
in her service, and the thought, "I can at last win a little respect,
as well as sympathy," nerved him to double his ordinary powers. Like
most country boys, he had been a bold, active climber, and his
knowledge and former skill made the attempted feat possible. The main
question was whether in his feeble state his strength would hold out.
But the strong excitement of the moment would serve him in place of
muscle. He had thrown off his coat and boots, and, with a small rope
fastened about his waist, he swiftly ascended to the top of the ladder.
But there were three or four feet that he must overhand up the
lightning-rod in order to reach the ridge. It was large and twisted,
and gave him a good hold, but he had to take the risk of its being
strong enough in its fastening to sustain his weight. Fortunately it
was, and he unhesitatingly commenced the perilous effort. He made good
progress till he was within a foot of the ridge. Then his strength
began to fail, and plainly to those below he wavered.

With white face, clasped hands, and lips moving in prayer, Annie
watched him. Her heart almost stood still with dread; and when toward
the last he slowly and still more slowly overhanded upward, plainly
indicating that his strength was ebbing, she cried, in an agony of
fear, "Come back, oh come back! What is all here to your life?" A
second before it seemed to him that he must fail, that he might
suddenly fall at her feet a crushed and lifeless mass; but her voice
revived him, and the passionate thought came with inspiring power, "I
can do more to win her love now than by years of effort"; and he made a
desperate struggle, gained the ridge, and crawled out upon it, panting
for a moment, and powerless to do more than cling for support.

The burning cinder was now but little in advance of him, and he saw
that there was not a second to lose. It had charred and blackened the
roof where it had caught, and, fanned by the wind, was a live, glowing
coal. The shingles under it were smoking--yes, smouldering. Had it not
been for their dampness and mossy age, they would have been blazing. In
a few moments nothing could have saved the house.

As soon as he got his breath, he crept along the ridge within reach of
the fiery flake. There seemed no place where he could lay hold of it
without burning himself. It would not do to simply detach it, as it
might catch further down the steep roof where it could not be reached.
Above all, there was not a moment to spare. He did not hesitate, but
with sufficient presence of mind to use his left instead of his right
hand, he seized the fatal brand and hurled it, a fiery meteor, clear of
the house. It hurt him cruelly, and for a moment he felt sick and
faint; but a round of applause from those below (for now Miss Eulie and
the children were out, looking tremblingly on), and Annie's cry of joy
and encouragement, again gave him strength.

But as he looked closely at the spot where the cinder had laid, his
fears were realized. It had ignited the roof. A little water would
extinguish it now, but in a few moments, under the wild wind that was
blowing, all would be ablaze.

He crawled to the end of the ridge and shouted, "Tie a light pail of
water to the cord--not much at a time, or I can't draw it up."

Annie darted to the house for a lighter pail than Hannah had brought,
and to Gregory's joy he found that he had strength enough to lift it,
though with his burned band it was agony to do so. But with the now
good prospect of finishing his work successfully, his spirits rose. He
grew more familiar and confident in his dangerous position. He did not
look down from his giddy height, and permitted himself to think of
nothing but his task. Indeed, in his strong excitement, he felt that it
would not be a bitter thing to die thus serving the woman he loved; and
in his false philosophy he hoped this brave act might atone for the
wrong of the past.

It is the nature of noble, generous deeds to exalt a man's soul so that
he can fearlessly face death, when in calm moments he would shrink back
appalled. In the excitement of the hour, and under the inspiration of
his strong human love, Gregory was not afraid to die, though life
seemed, with its new possibilities, sweeter than ever before. He knew
that his strength was failing fast, that reaction would soon set in,
and that he would be helpless, and his great hope was that he could
save the house first.

He determined therefore not to waste a drop of water, and to make this
one pail answer if possible. He therefore poured it slowly out, and let
it run over the burning part. The continued hissing and smoke proved
that the fire had penetrated deeper than he thought. The last drop was
gone, and still the place smoked. A little more was absolutely
necessary.

"Will my strength hold out?" he asked himself, in almost an agony of
doubt.

Crawling back to the end of the ridge, he once more lowered the pail.

"Fill it again," he cried.

"Can you stand it?" Mr. Walton asked.

"I must, or all is useless," was his answer.

Again, but more slowly and painfully, he pulled the water up.

Annie wrung her hands in anguish as she saw in the red glare of the
still burning factory how pale and exhausted he was.

But he once more managed to reach the point above the still smouldering
spot, and caused the water to trickle down upon it. By the time he had
half emptied the pail the smoke ceased.

After a moment it again faintly exuded, but another little stream of
water quenched the fire utterly. But for five minutes he watched the
place to make sure that there was not a lingering spark, and then let
the rest of the water flow over the place to saturate it completely.

He was now certain that the house was saved. But he was satisfied from
his sensations that he had but little time in which to save himself.
Reaction was fast setting in.

He untied the rope from his waist, and let pail and all roll clattering
down the roof. This noise was echoed by a cry of alarm from those
below, who feared for a moment that he was falling. They all had the
sickening dread which is felt when we look at one in great peril, and
yet can do nothing to help.

At first Gregory thought that he would lie down upon the ridge and
cling to it, thus gaining strength by a little rest. But he soon found
that this would not answer. His overtaxed frame was becoming nerveless,
and his only hope was to escape at once. In trembling weakness he
crawled back to the edge and looked over. Annie stepped forward to the
foot of the ladder and extended her hands as if to catch him.

"Stand back," he cried; "if I fall, I shall kill you."

"I will not stand back," she answered. "You shall not take all the
risk."

But her father, who still kept his presence of mind in the terrible
excitement of the moment, forced her away, and saved her from the
danger of this useless sacrifice. As soon as she could do nothing, her
fortitude vanished, and she covered her face with her hands and wept
bitterly.

The chief point of difficulty in Gregory's weak state was to get off
the ridge upon the lightning-rod without losing his hold and falling at
once. If he could turn the edge and begin to descend in safety, his
strength might hold out till he reached the ladder and so the ground.
But he realized the moment of supreme peril, and hesitated.

Then, with something like a prayer to God and with a wistful look at
Annie, he resolutely swung himself over. His hands held the weight of
his body, and he commenced the descent. Annie's glad cry once more
encouraged him. He gained the ladder and descended till not far from
the ground.

Suddenly everything turned black before his eyes, and he fell.



CHAPTER XXVI

CHANGES IN GREGORY



When Gregory became conscious, he was lying on the ground, with his
head in Miss Eulie's lap, and Annie was bending over him with a small
flask. She again gave him a teaspoonful of brandy, and after a moment
he lifted himself up, and, passing his hand across his brow, looked
around.

"You are not hurt. Oh, please say you are not hurt!" she exclaimed,
taking his hand.

He looked at her a moment, and then it all came back to him, and he
smiled and said, "Not much, I think; and if I am it does not signify.
You've helped me on my feet once or twice before. Now see if you can
again;" and he attempted to rise.

As Daddy Tuggar had intimated, there was plenty of muscle in Annie's
round arms, and she almost lifted him up, but he stood unsteadily. Mr.
Walton gave him his arm, and in a few moments he was on the sofa in the
sitting-room, where a fire was soon kindled. Zibbie was told to make
coffee, and to provide something more substantial.

They were all profuse in expressions of gratitude, in praises of his
heroism, but he waived the whole matter off by saying, "Think of me as
well as you can, for Heaven knows I have need to retrieve my character.
But please do not speak as if I had done more than I ought. For a young
man to stand idly by, and see the home of his childhood, the place
where he had received unbounded hospitality, destroyed, would be simply
base. If I had not been reduced by months of ill health, the thing
would not have been difficult at all. But you, Miss Walton, displayed
the real heroism in the case, when you stood beneath with your arms out
to catch me. I took a risk, but you took the certainty of destruction
if I had fallen. Still," he added, with a humorous look as if in jest,
though he was only too sincere, "the prospect was so inviting that I
should have liked to fall a little way."

"And so you did," cried innocent Johnny, eagerly. "You fell ever so
far, and Aunt Annie caught you."

"What!" exclaimed Gregory, rising. "Is this true? And are you not hurt?"

"That's the way with children," said Annie, with heightened color and a
reproachful look at the boy, who in the excitement of the hour was
permitted to stay up for an hour or more; "they let everything all out.
No, I'm not hurt a bit. You didn't fall very far. I'm so thankful that
your strength did not give out till you almost reached the ground. O
dear! I shudder to think what might have happened. Do you know that I
thought, with a thrill of superstitious dread, of your chestnut-burr
omen, when you stained my hand with your blood. If you had
fallen--if--" and she put her hand over her eyes to hide the dreadful
vision her imagination presented. "If anything had happened," she
continued, "my hands would have been stained, in that they had not held
you back."

"What a tender, innocent conscience you have!" he replied, looking
fondly at her. "I confess I'd rather be here listening to you than
somewhere else."

She gave him a troubled, startled look. To her that "somewhere else"
had a sad and terrible meaning. She sat near him, and could not help
saying in a low, earnest tone, "How could you, how could you take such
a risk without--" She did not finish the sentence, which was plain
enough in its meaning, however.

On the impulse of the moment, Gregory was about to reply indiscreetly
--in a way that would have revealed more of his feelings toward her
than he knew would be wise at that time. But just then Hannah came in
with the lunch, and the attention of the others, who had been talking
eagerly on the other side of the room, was directed toward them. He
checked some rash words as they rose to his lips, and Annie, suspecting
nothing of the wealth of love that he was already lavishing upon her,
rose with alacrity, glad to serve one who had just served her so well.
The generous coffee and the dainty lunch, combined with feelings to
which he had long been a stranger, revived Gregory greatly, and he
sprang up and walked the room, declaring that with the exception of his
burned hand, which had been carefully dressed, he felt better than he
had for a long time.

"I'm so thankful!" said Annie, with glistening eyes.

"We all have cause for thankfulness," said Mr. Walton, with fervor.
"Our kind Father in heaven has dealt with us all in tender mercy. Home,
and more precious life, have been spared. Before we again seek a little
rest, let us remember all His goodness;" and he led them in a simple,
fervent prayer, the effect of which was heightened by Mr. Walton
saying, after he rose from his knees, "Annie, we must see that none of
our poor neighbors lack for anything, now that their employment has so
suddenly been taken away."

That is acceptable devotion to God which leads to practical, active
charity toward men, and the most unbelieving are won by such a religion.

Annie noticed with some anxiety that her father's voice was very
hoarse, and that he put his hand upon his chest several times, and she
expressed the fear that the exposure would greatly add to his cold. He
treated the matter lightly, and would do nothing more that evening than
take some simple remedies.

When Gregory bade them good-night, Annie followed him to the foot of
the stairs, and giving his hand one of her warm grasps, said, "Mr.
Gregory, I can't help feeling that your mother knows what you have done
to-night."

Tears started to his eyes. He did not trust himself to reply, but, with
a strong answering pressure, hastened to his room, happier than he had
been in all his past.

It was late the next morning when they assembled at the
breakfast-table, and they noted with pain that Mr. Walton did not
appear at all well, though he made a great effort to keep up. He was
very hoarse, and complained of a tightness in his chest.

"Now, father," said Annie, "you must stay in the house, and let me
nurse you."

"I am very willing to submit," he replied, "and hope I shall need no
other physician." But he was feverish all day. His indisposition did
not yield to ordinary remedies. Still, beyond a little natural
solicitude, no anxiety was felt.

Gregory was a different man. Even his sincere human love for so worthy
an object had lifted him out of the miserable depths into which he had
been sinking. It had filled his heart with pure longings, and made him
capable of noble deeds.

As a general thing a woman inspires love in accordance with her own
character. Of course we recognize the fact that there are men with
natures so coarse that they are little better than animals. These men
may have a passing passion for any pretty woman; but the holy word Love
should not be used in such connection. But of men--of those possessing
true manhood, even in humblest station--the above assertion I think
will be found true. The woman who gains the boundless power which the
undivided homage of an honest heart confers will develop in it, and
quicken into life, traits and feelings corresponding to her own. If the
great men of the world have generally had good mothers, so as a
parallel fact will it be found that the strong, useful, successful
men--men who sustain themselves, and more than fulfil the promise of
their youth--have been supplemented and continually inspired to better
things by the ennobling companionship of true women.

Good breeding, the ordinary restraints of self-respect, and fear of the
world's adverse opinion, greatly reduce the outward diversities of
society. Well-bred men and women act and appear very much alike in the
public eye. But there is an inner life, a real character, upon which
happiness here and heaven hereafter depend, which results largely from
that tie and intimacy which is closest of all. A shallow, frivolous
girl, having faith in little else than her pretty face and the
dressmaker's art, may unfortunately inspire a good, talented man, who
imagines her to possess all that the poets have portrayed in woman,
with a true and strong affection, but she will disappoint and dwarf
him, and be a millstone about his neck. She will cease to be his
companion. She may be thankful if, in his heart, he does not learn to
despise her, though a man can scarcely do this and be guiltless toward
the mother of his children.

What must be the daily influence on a man who sees in his closest
friend, to whom he is joined for life, a passion for the public gaze, a
boundless faith in eternals, a complete devotion to the artificial
enhancing of ordinary and vanishing charms, combined with a
contemptuous neglect of the graces of mind and heart? These alone can
keep the love which outward appearance in part may have won at first.
Mere dress and beauty are very well to skirmish with during the first
approaches; but if a woman wishes to hold the conquered province of a
man's heart, and receive from it rich revenues of love and honor, she
must possess some queenly traits akin to divine royalty, otherwise she
only overruns the heart she might have ruled, and leaves it a blighted
waste.

As we have seen, Annie's actual character rebuked and humiliated the
evil-minded Gregory from the first. He could not rest in her presence.
To relieve himself from self-condemnation, he must prove her goodness a
sham or an accident--mere chance exemption from temptation. Her safety
and happy influence did not depend upon good resolutions, wise policy,
and careful instruction, but upon her real possession of a character
which had been formed long before, and which met and foiled him at
every point. Lacking this, though a well-meaning, good girl in the
main, she would have been a plaything in the hands of such a man. Her
absolute truth and crystal purity of principle incased her in heaven's
armor, and neither he nor any other evil-disposed person could harm
her. She would not listen to the first insidious suggestion of the
tempter. Thus the man who expected to go away despising now honored,
reverenced, loved her, and through her strong but gentle ministry had
turned his back on evil, and was struggling to escape its degrading
bondage.

Gregory was right in thinking that such a woman as Annie could help him
to an extent hard to estimate, but fatally wrong in looking to her
alone. The kind Father who regards the well-being of His children for
eternity rather than for the moments of time, must effectually cure him
of this error.

But those two days were memorable ones to him. The cold and stormy
weather shut them all in the house, and that meant to him Annie's
society. He was seldom alone with her; he noted with pain that her
manner was too frank and kindly, too free from all consciousness, to
indicate anything more than the friendship she had promised; but, not
knowing how her heart was preoccupied, he hoped that the awakening of
deeper feeling was only a question of time. His present peace and rest
were so blessed, her presence was so satisfying, and his progress in
her favor so apparent as he revealed his better nature, that he was
content to call his love friendship until he saw her friendship turning
into love.

Had not Annie expected Hunting every day she would have told Gregory
all about her relation with him, but now she determined that she would
bring them together under the same roof, and not let them separate till
she had banished every trace of their difficulty. A partial
reconciliation might result in future coolness and estrangement. This
she would regard as a misfortune, even if it had no unfavorable
influence on Gregory, for he now proved himself the best of company.
Indeed, they seemed to have a remarkable gift for entertaining each
other.

While Wednesday did not find Mr. Walton seriously ill to all
appearance, he was still far from being well. He employed himself with
his papers and seemed to enjoy Gregory's conversation greatly.

"He now grows very like his father, and reminds me constantly of him,"
he said more than once to Annie.

Mr. Walton's indisposition was evidently not trivial. There was a
soreness about the lungs that made it painful for him to talk much, and
he had a severe, racking cough. They were all solicitude in his behalf.
The family physician had been called, and it was hoped that a few days
of care would remove this cold.

As he sat in his comfortable arm-chair by the fire he would smilingly
say he was having such a good time and so much petting that he did not
intend to get well very soon.

Though Gregory's burn was painful, and both hands were bruised and cut
from climbing, he did not regret the suffering, since it also secured
from Annie some of the attention she would otherwise have given her
father.

Wednesday afternoon was pleasant, and Gregory went out for a walk. He
did not return till rather late, and, coming down to supper, found by
his plate a letter which clouded his face instantly.

Annie was radiant, for the same mail had brought her one from Hunting,
stating that he might be expected any day now. As she saw Gregory's
face darken, she said, "I fear your letter has brought you unpleasant
news."

"It has," he replied. "Mr. Burnett, the senior partner, is quite ill,
and it is necessary that I return immediately."

"I'm so sorry," she exclaimed, with such hearty emphasis that he looked
at her earnestly and said, "Are you really?"

"You shouldn't ask such a question," she answered, reproachfully.

"Why, Miss Walton, I've made a very long visit."

"So much has happened that it does seem a long time since you came. But
I wish it were to be longer. We shall miss you exceedingly. Besides,"
she added, with rising color, "I have a special reason for wishing you
to stay a little longer."

His color rose instantly also. She puzzled him, while he perplexed her.

"I hope Mr. Gregory's visit has taught him," said Mr. Walton, kindly,
"that he has not lost his former home through our residence here, and
that he can run up to the old place whenever he finds opportunity."

"I can say sincerely," he responded, "that I have enjoyed the
perfection of hospitality;" adding, in a low tone and with a quick,
remorseful look at Annie, "though little deserving it."

"You have richly repaid us," said Mr. Walton, heartily. "It would have
been very hard for me at my years to have to seek a new home. I have
become wedded to this old place with my feelings and fancies, and the
aged, you know, dislike change. I wish to make only one more, then rest
will be complete."

"Now, father," said Annie, with glistening eyes, "you must not talk in
that way. You know well that we cannot spare you even to go to heaven."

"Well, my child," answered he, fondly. "I am content to leave that in
our best Friend's hands. But I cannot say," he added, with a touch of
humor, "that it's a heavy cross to stay here with you."

"Would that such a cross were imposed upon me!" echoed Gregory, with
sudden devoutness. "Miss Walton, did not my business imperatively
demand my presence, I would break anything save my neck, in order to be
an invalid on your hands."

"Come," cried Annie, half-vexed; "a truce to this style of remark. I
think it's verging toward the sentimental, and I'm painfully
matter-of-fact. Father, you must not think of going to heaven yet, and
I don't like to hear you talk about it. Mr. Gregory can break his
little finger, if he likes, so we may keep him longer. But do let us
all be sensible, and not think of anything sad till it comes. Why
should we? Mr. Gregory surely can find time to run up and see us, if he
wishes, and I think he will."

Before he could reply, an anxious remark from little Susie enabled them
to leave the table in the midst of one of those laughs that banish all
embarrassment.

"But we'll be burned up if Mr. Gregory goes away."



CHAPTER XXVII

PLEADING FOR LIFE AND LOVE



Knowing that it was to be Gregory's last day with them, Annie
determined it should be full of pleasant memories. She sung with him,
and did anything he asked. Her heart overflowed toward him in a genial
and almost sisterly regard, but his most careful analysis could find no
trace even of the inception of warmer feelings. She evidently had a
strong and growing liking for him, but nothing more, and she clearly
felt the great interest in his effort to become a man of Christian
principles. This fact gave him his main hope. Her passion to save
seemed so strong that he trusted she might be approached even thus
early upon that side.

He felt that he must speak--must get some definite hope for the future
before he went away. It seemed to him that he could fairly bring his
great need as a motive to bear upon her. Her whole course encouraged
him to do this, for she had responded to every such appeal. Still with
fear and trembling he admitted that he was about to ask for more now
than ever before.

But he felt that he must speak. He had no hope that he could ever be
more than his wretched self without her. He would ask nothing
definite--only encouragement that if he could make himself worthy of
her she would give him a chance to win her love. In her almost sisterly
frankness it seemed that the idea of loving him had never occurred to
her, and would not after he had gone. The thought of leaving her heart
all disengaged, for some other to come and make a stronger impression,
was torture. He never could be satisfied with the closest friendship,
therefore he must plainly seek a dearer tie, even though for a time
their frank, pleasant relations should be disturbed. He resolved to
take no denial, but to give fair warning, before it was too late, that
he was laying siege to her heart. He dreaded that attitude of mind upon
her part which enables a woman to say to some men, "I could be your
sister, but never your wife."

So he said before they separated for the night, "Miss Walton, I'm going
to snatch a few hours from the hurry and grind of business, and shall
not return to town till to-morrow afternoon. Won't you take one more
ramble with me in the morning?"

"With pleasure," she replied, promptly. "I will devote myself to you
to-morrow, and leave you without excuse for not coming again."

He flushed with pleasure at her reply, but said, quickly, "By the way
that reminds me. Won't you tell me what your 'special reason' was for
wishing me to stay a little longer?"

It was her turn to blush now, which she did in a way that puzzled him.
She answered, hesitatingly, "Well, I think I'll tell you to-morrow."

"Good-night," said Mr. Walton, feelingly retaining Gregory's hand when
he came to his chair. "We are coming to treat you almost as one of the
family. Indeed it seems hard to treat you in any other way now,
especially in your old home, now doubly yours since you have saved it
from destruction. Every day you remind me more of my dear old friend.
For some reason he has seemed very near me of late. If it should be my
lot to see your sainted parents before you do, as it probably will, I
believe it will be in my power to add even to their heavenly joys by
telling them of your present prospects. Good-night, and may the
blessing of your father's and mother's God rest upon you."

Tears sprung into the young man's eyes, and with a strong responsive
pressure of Mr. Walton's hand, he hastened to his room, to hide what
was not weakness.

That was the last time he saw his father's friend.

Annie's eyes glistened as she looked after him, and throwing her arms
around her father's neck, she whispered, "God did send him here I now
truly believe. We have not conspired and prayed in vain."

Mr. Walton fondly stroked his daughter's brown hair, and said, "You are
right, Annie; he will be a gem in your crown of rejoicing. You have
acted very wisely, very womanly, as your mother would, in this matter.
He was a bad man when he first came here, and if I had not known you so
well, I should not have trusted you with him as I have. Be as faithful
through life, and you may lead many more out of darkness."

"Dear father," said Annie, tenderly, "this whole day, with Charles's
good letter, and crowned with these precious words from you, seem like
a benediction. May we have many more such."

"May God's will be done," said the riper Christian, with eyes turned
homeward.

Thus in hope, peace, and gladness the day ended for all.

"Ye know not what shall be on the morrow."

To Gregory's unfeigned sorrow Mr. Walton was not well enough to appear
at the breakfast-table the following morning. Annie was flitting in and
out with a grave and troubled face. But by ten o'clock he seemed better
and fell asleep. Leaving Miss Eulie watching beside him, she came and
said, "Now, Mr. Gregory, I can keep my promise in part, and take a
short walk with you. You can well understand why I cannot be away long."

"Please do not feel that you must go," he said. "However great the
disappointment, I could not ask you to leave your father if he needs
you."

"You may rest assured that nothing would tempt me from father if he
needed me. But I think the worst is now over. He is sleeping quietly. I
can trust aunty even better than myself. Besides, I want to go. I need
the fresh air, and I wish to see more of you before you leave us."

He cordially thanked her and said, "I shall wait for you on the piazza."

They went down across the lawn through the garden. The sun was shining
brightly, though occasionally obscured by clouds.

"How beautiful everything is," said Annie, "even now, when the leaves
are half off the trees and falling fast! At any season, the moment I
get out of doors I feel new life and hope."

"What nature does for you, Miss Annie, you seem to do for others. I
feel 'new life and hope' the moment I am with you."

She looked at him quickly, for she did not quite like his tone and
manner. But she only said, "You must believe, as I do, in a power
behind nature."

"But even you believe He works through human agencies."

"Yes, up to a certain point."

"But who can say where that point is in any experience? Miss Walton,"
he continued, in grave earnestness, stopping and pointing to the rustic
seat where, on the previous Sabbath, he had revealed to her his evil
life, "that place is sacred to me. No hallowed spot of earth to which
pilgrimages are made can compare with it. You know that in some places
in Europe they raise a rude cross by the roadside where a man has been
murdered. Should there not be a monument where one was given life?"

As they resumed their walk, he said in a low, meaning tone, "Do you
remember old Daddy Tuggar's words--'You could take the wickedest man
living straight to heaven if you'd stay right by him?'"

"But he was wrong," she replied.

"Pardon me if I differ with you, and agree with him. Miss Walton, I've
been in your society scarcely three weeks. You know what I was when I
came. I make no great claims now, but surely if tendencies, wishes,
purposes count for anything, I am very different. How can you argue me
out of the consciousness that I owe it all to you?"

"You will one day understand," she answered, earnestly, "that God has
helped us both, and how futile my efforts would have been without such
help. But, Mr. Gregory," she continued, looking frankly into his
flushed face (for she was beginning to suspect now something of his
drift, and instinctively sought to ward off words which might disturb
their pleasant relations), "I do not intend to give you up from this
day forth. As our quaint old friend suggests, I do mean to stand right
by you as far as circumstances will allow me. I recognize how isolated
and lonely you are, and I feel almost a _sister_'s interest in you."

"You emphasize the word 'sister.' I suppose I ought to be more than
satisfied. Believe me I am very grateful that you can so speak. But
suppose the frankness I promised compels me to say that it does not,
and never can satisfy?"

"Then I shall think you very unreasonable. You have no right to ask
more than one has the power to give," she answered, with a look and
manner that were full of pain. "But surely, Mr. Gregory, we do not
understand each other."

"But I want you to understand me," he exclaimed, earnestly. "If you had
the vanity and worldly experience of most women, you would have known
before this that I love you."

Tears rushed into Annie's eyes, and for a few moments she walked on in
utter silence. This was so different an ending from what she had
expected! She felt that she must be very careful or she would undo all
she had attempted. She now dreaded utter failure, utter estrangement,
and how to avoid these was her chief thought.

They had reached the cedar thicket near which they had first met, and
she sat down upon the rock where she had found Gregory. Her whole aim
was to end this unfortunate matter so that they might still continue
friends. And yet the task seemed wellnigh impossible, for if he felt as
he said, how could she tell him about Hunting without increasing
alienation? But her impression was strong that he was acting under an
exaggerated sense of her services and under a mistaken belief that she
was essential to him. Therefore she tried at first to turn the matter
off lightly by saying, "Mr. Gregory, you are the most grateful man I
ever heard of. You need not think you must reward my slight services by
marrying me."

"Now you greatly wrong me," he answered. "Did I not say I loved you?
How deeply and truly you can never know. I cannot reward you. I did not
dream of such a thing. My best hope was that some time in the future,
when by long and patient effort I had become truly a man, you might
learn to think of me in the way I wish."

"Mr. Gregory," said she, in a voice full of trouble, "has my manner or
words led you to hope this? If so, I can never forgive myself."

"You have no cause for self-reproaches," he said, earnestly. "Though my
suit should ever prove hopeless, in the depths of my heart I will
acquit you of all blame. You have been what you promised--a true
friend, nothing more. But please understand me. I ask nothing now, I am
not worthy. Perhaps I never shall be. If so, I will not bind you to me
with even a gossamer thread. I have too deep a respect for you. But I
am so self-distrustful! I know my weakness better than you can. Still I
am confident that if _you_ could 'reward' me, and give the hope that
you would crown the victory with yourself, I could do anything. In
loving me, you would save me."

"Pardon me, but you are all wrong. I'm only an oar, but you look upon
me as the lifeboat itself. In that you persist in looking to me, a
weak, sinful creature, instead of to Him who alone 'taketh away the sin
of the world,' you discourage me utterly."

"I will look to Him, but I want you to lead me to Him, and keep me at
His side."

"I can do that just as well by being your friend."

"I can never think so. I shall go away from this place utterly
disheartened unless you give me some hope, no matter how faint, that I
shall not have to struggle alone."

She sprung up quickly, for he incensed her, while at the same time she
pitied him. She could not understand how he had so soon learned to love
her "deeply and truly." It rather appeared true that he had formed the
mistaken opinion that she was essential to his success, and that he was
bent upon bolstering himself up in his weakness, and sought to place
her as a barrier between him and his old evil life; and she felt that
he might need some wholesome truth rather than tender sympathy. At any
rate her womanly nature took offence at his apparent motive, as she
understood it--a motive that appeared more selfish and unworthy every
moment. He was asking what he had no right to expect of any one. But
she would not misunderstand him, and therefore said with a grave,
searching look, "Only then as I give you the hope you ask for, will you
make the effort you have promised to make?"

"Only then can I make it," he replied, in some confusion. "Can effort
of any kind be asked of one utterly disabled?"

Sudden fire leaped into her dark eyes, but she said, with dignity, "Mr.
Gregory, you disappoint me greatly. You assume a weakness--a
disability--which does not and cannot exist under the circumstances.
You made me a promise, but now impose a new condition which I did not
dream of at the time, and which I cannot accept. You are asking more
than you have a right to ask. However imperfect my efforts have been in
your behalf, they were at least sincere and unselfish, and I was
beginning to have a warm regard for you as a friend. I tell you frankly
that I am most anxious that we should remain friends as before. If so,
this kind of folly must cease now and forever. I have no right to
listen to such words at all, and would not but for your sake, and in
the hope of removing from your mind a very mistaken and unworthy idea.
You are entirely wrong in thinking that your future depends solely upon
me. It cannot--it ought not. It rests between you and God, and you
cannot shift the responsibility. I am willing to do all you can ask of
a sister, but no more. Do you think I have no needs, no weakness,
myself? In a husband I want a man I can lean upon as well as help. I
wish to marry one with a higher moral character than mine, to whom I
can look up. There is the widest difference in the world between giving
help, and even sincere affection to those who win it, and giving one's
self away. Simple justice requires that my happiness and feelings be
considered also. It is selfish in you to ask of me this useless
sacrifice of myself."

Annie's quick, passionate nature was getting the better of her. It
seemed in a certain sense disloyalty to Hunting to have listened thus
long to Gregory. Moreover, not believing in nor understanding the
latter's love for her, she was indignant that he should seek to employ
her as a sort of stepping-stone into heaven. She would despise the man
who sought her merely to advance his earthly interests, and she was
growing honestly angry at Gregory, who, it seemed, wanted her only as a
guide and staff in his pilgrimage--justly angry, too, if she were right.

Gregory became very pale as her words quivered in his heart like
arrows, but in the consciousness of a true and unselfish love, he
looked at her unfalteringly to the last, and said, "In justice to
myself I might again urge that you misunderstand me. I asked for
nothing now, only a hope for the future based on what I possibly might
become. But, as you say, I now know I asked too much--more than I had a
right to. You can never look up to me, and with a sadness you will
never understand, I admit myself answered finally. But there is one
imputation in your words that I cannot rest under. I solemnly assert
before God, and in the name of my mother, that my love for you is as
strong, pure, and unselfish as can exist in my half-wrecked nature."

"Oh dear!" exclaimed Annie, in a tone of mingled vexation and distress,
"why has it all turned out so miserably? I'm so sorry, so very sorry;
but in kindness I must show you how hopeless it all is. I am the same
as engaged to another."

Gregory started violently. His despairing words had been not quite
despairing. But now a chill like death settled about his heart. He was
well satisfied that she was one who would be true as steel to all such
ties, and that no man who had learned to know her would ever prove
inconstant. But, with a white face and firmly compressed lips, he still
listened quietly.

"I came out this morning hoping to tell you a little secret as I might
confide in a brother, and I trusted that your friendship for me would
prove strong enough to enable me to make you his friend also. I wanted
you to stay a little longer, that you might meet him, and that I might
reconcile you, and prepare the way for pleasant companionship in the
future. I am expecting Charles Hunting now every--

"What is the matter? What do you mean by that look of horror? What have
you against him, that you should show such deep hostility before, and
now stare at me in almost terror?"

But he only staggered against a tree for support.

"Speak," cried she, passionately seizing his arm. "I will not endure
the innuendo of your look and manner."

"I will speak," he answered, in sudden vehemence. "I've lost too much
by him. Charles Hunting is--"

But he stopped, clinched his hands, and seemed to make a desperate
effort at self-control. She heard him mutter as he turned away a few
steps, "Stop! stop! All that is left you now is a little self-respect.
Keep that--keep that."

Annie misunderstood him, and thought he referred to some slander that
he had hesitated to utter against his enemy even in his anger and
jealousy. With flashing eyes she said, "Let me complete the sentence
for you. Charles Hunting is a Christian gentleman. You may well think
twice before you speak one word against him in my presence."

"Did I say one word against him?" he asked, eagerly.

"No, but you looked much more than words can express."

"I could not help that. Your revelation was sudden, Miss Walton."

"How could it be otherwise?" she asked, indignantly. "The first evening
of your arrival, when his name was mentioned, your face grew as black
as night. When I again sought to speak to you of him, you adjured me
never to mention his name. You taxed my forbearance severely at that
time. But I hoped you would become so changed that such enmity would be
impossible."

"I see it all now," he groaned--"the miserable fatality of it all. I
must shut off the one way of escape, and then go forward. By my own
act, I must destroy my one chance. If I had only known this in time.
And yet it's through my own act that I did not know. Your God is
certainly one of justice. I'm punished now for all the past. But it
seems a trifle cruel to show one heaven and then shut the door in one's
face. If I had only known!"

"There," exclaimed Annie, in the deepest distress; "because of this
little thing you fall back into your old scepticism."

"This 'little thing' is death to me," he said, in a hard, bitter tone.
"Oh no, I'm not at all sceptical. The 'argument from design,' the
nature of the result, are both too clear. I'm simply being dealt with
according to law. Though perfectly sincere, you were entirely too
lenient that Sunday evening when I told you what I was. My conscience
was right after all. I only wish that I had fallen from yonder roof the
other night. I might then have made my exit decently."

"Mr. Gregory, you shock me," she said, almost sternly. "You have no
right to insult my faith in a merciful God by such words, and your
believing Him cruel and vindictive on this one bit of your experience
is the sheerest egotism. It is the essence of selfishness to think
everything wrong when one does not have one's own way."

He only bowed his answer, then stepped out to the point of the hill,
and took a long, lingering look at the valley and his old home, sighed
deeply, turned, and said to her, quietly, "Perhaps it is time for you
to return to your father."



CHAPTER XXVIII

WHAT A LOVER COULD DO



Without a word they descended the hill. Gregory was very pale, and
this, with a certain firmness about his mouth, was the only indication
of feeling on his part. Otherwise, he was the same finished man of the
world that he had appeared when he came. Annie's face grew more and
more troubled with every glance at him.

"He is hardening into stone," she thought; and she was already
reproaching herself for speaking so harshly. "I might have known," she
thought, "that his rash, bitter words were only incoherent cries of
pain and disappointment."

He perplexed her still more by saying at the foot of the hill, in his
old light tone, "See, Miss Walton, our 'well-meaning friend' has not
been here to put up the bars, and we can take the shorter way through
the orchard. I would like to see them picking apples once more. By the
way, you must say good-by for me to your old neighbor, and tell him
that out of respect for his first honest greeting, I'm going to fill
his pipe for the winter."

But Annie's heart was too full to answer.

"How familiar these mossy-trunked trees are!" he continued, determined
that there should be no awkward pauses, no traces to the eyes of others
of what had occurred. "How often I've picked apples from this one and
that one--indeed from all! Good-by, old friends."

"Do you never expect to come back to these 'old friends,' and others
that would be friends again?" she asked, in low, trembling tones. "Mr.
Gregory, you are cruel. You are saying good-by as if it were a very
ordinary matter."

He did not trust himself to look at her, but he said, firmly, "Miss
Walton, in a few moments we shall be under the eyes of others, and
perhaps I shall never have another chance to speak to you alone. Let me
say a few plain, honest words before I go. I am not ashamed of my love
for you, nor to have it known. I am glad there was man enough in me to
love such a woman as you are. You are not one of those society belles
who wish to boast of their conquests. I wish merely to leave in a
manner that will save you all embarrassing questions and surmises, and
enable you to go back to your father as if nothing had happened. The
best I can do is to maintain the outward semblance of a gentleman with
which I came. In regard to Charles Hunting--please listen patiently--I
know that you will not believe any statement of mine. It is your nature
to trust implicitly those you love. But since I have had time to think,
even the little conscience I possess will not permit me to go away in
silence in regard to him. Do not think my words inspired by jealousy. I
have given you up. You are as unattainable by me as heaven. But that
man is not worthy of you. Think well before you--"

"You are right," she interrupted, hotly. "I will not believe anything
against him whom I have known and loved for years. If sincere, you are
mistaken. But I entreat you, for my own sake as well as yours, never
speak a word against him again. Because, if you do, it will be hard for
me to forgive you. If you place the slightest value on my good opinion
and continued regard, you will not throw them away so uselessly. I do
feel--I ever wish to feel--a deep and friendly interest in you,
therefore speak for yourself, and I will listen with honest sympathy.
Give me hope, if possible, that you will think better of all this
folly--that you will visit your old home and those who wish to be your
true friends--that you will give me a chance to make you better
acquainted with one whom you now greatly wrong. Please give me
something better than this parting promises to end in."

He merely bowed and said, "I supposed it would be so. It is like you.
As for myself--I do not know what my future will be, save that it will
be full of pain. Rest assured of one thing, however. I can never be a
common, vulgar sinner again, after having loved you. That would be
sacrilege. Your memory will blend with that of my mother, and shine
like a distant star in my long night. But you have no right to ask me
to come here any more. Though you do not believe in my love, it is a
reality nevertheless, and I cannot inflict upon myself the unbearable
pain of seeing you, yet hedged about with that which must ever keep me
at a distance. With my feelings, even my poor sense of honor forbids my
seeking your presence. Can I visit you feigning friendship, while my
heart is consuming with love? Come, Miss Walton, we shall have our real
leave taking here, and our formal one at the house. I don't think
gratitude will ever fade out of my heart for all you have tried to do
for me, wherever I am. Even the 'selfish' Walter Gregory can honestly
wish you happiness unalloyed. And you will have it, too, in spite
of--well, in spite of everything, for your happiness is from within,
not without. Give me your hand, and say good-by under the old mossy
trees."

Annie burst into tears and said, "I can't say good-by and have you
leave us so unhappy--so unbelieving. Mr. Gregory, will you never trust
in God?"

"I fear not--not after what I know to-day. He seems wronging you who
are so true to Him, as well as me. You see I am honest with you, as I
said I would be. Can you take the hand of such as I?"

She did take it in both of hers, and said, with passionate earnestness,
"O that I could save you from yourself by main force!"

He was deeply moved, but after a moment said, gently, "That is like
your warm heart. But you cannot. Good-by, Annie Walton. Go on in your
brave, noble life to the end, and then heaven will be the better for
your coming."

"Will you forgive my harsh words?"

"They were more true than harsh. They were forgiven when spoken."

"Mr. Gregory," she cried, "I will not say farewell as you say it. I
have prayed for you, and so has your mother. I will still pray for you
unceasingly. You cannot prevent it, and I will not doubt God's promise
to hear."

"I cannot share your faith. I am saying good-by in the saddest sense."

He stooped and kissed her hand, and then said, firmly, "The end has
come. We really part here. I leave you as I came."

With eyes downcast and blinded with tears she accompanied him out of
the deep shade to the further side of the orchard nearest the house.
Jeff was on a tall ladder that leaned against a heavily laden tree, and
was just about to descend.

"That's right," cried Gregory; "come down with your basket and give me
a taste of those apples. They look the same as when I used to pick them
sixteen years ago."

Jeff obeyed with alacrity. Gregory accompanied him a few steps, and
dropped a banknote into the basket, saying, "That's for the jolly
wood-fires you made for me," and then turned quickly toward Annie to
escape the profuse thanks impending.

He had turned none too soon. The apple-boughs, relieved of the weight
of the fruit and Jeff's solid person, threw out the heavy ladder that
had been placed too nearly in a perpendicular position at first. It had
trembled and wavered a moment, but was now inclining over the very spot
where Annie was standing.

"Miss Walton!" he cried, with a look of horror; rushed toward her, and
stood with head bent down between her and the falling ladder.

She heard a rushing sound, and then with a heavy thud the ladder struck
him, glanced to one side, grazing her shoulder, and fell to the ground.

He lay motionless beneath it.

For a moment she gazed vacantly at him, too stunned to think or speak.

But Jeff ran and lifted the ladder off Gregory, exclaiming, "Lor' bless
him, Miss Annie, he jus' done save your life."

She knelt at his side and took his hand, but it seemed that of the
dead. She moaned, "The omen's true. His blood is on me now--his blood
is on me now. He died for my sake, and I called him selfish."

She took his head into her lap, and put her hand over his heart.

She thought she felt a faint pulsation.

In a moment all trace of weakness vanished, and her face became
resolute and strong.

"Jeff," she said, in clear-cut, decided tones, "go to the house, tell
Hannah and Zibbie to come here; tell Hannah to bring brandy and a
strong double blanket. Not a word of this to my father. Go, quick."

Jeff ran as he had done once before when the bloodhounds were after
him, saying under his breath all the way, "Lor' bless him! He save Miss
Annie's life; he orter have her sure 'nuff."

Annie was left alone with the unconscious man. She pushed his hair from
his damp brow, and, bending down, impressed a remorseful kiss upon it.

"God forgive me that I called you selfish," she murmured. "Where is
your spirit wandering that I cannot call it back? O live, live; I can
never be happy if you die. Can this be the end? God keep my faith from
failing."

Again she put her hand over his heart, whose love she could doubt no
more. Did it beat? or was it only the excited throbbing of her own hand?

Jeff now returned, and, with white, scared faces, the women soon
followed. Annie tried to give Gregory brandy, but he did not seem to
swallow it. They then lifted him on the blanket and carried him to the
house, and up the back stairway to his room, so that Mr. Walton might
not know.

"Now, Jeff," whispered Annie, "harness the fastest horse to the buggy,
and bring the doctor--mind, bring him. Don't tell him to come. Hannah,
tell Miss Eulie to come here--quietly now. Zibbie, bring hot water."

Again she poured a teaspoonful of brandy into his mouth, and this time
he seemed to swallow it. She bathed his face and hands with spirits,
while her every breath was a prayer.

Miss Eulie did not want a long explanation. Annie's hurried words, "A
ladder fell on him," satisfied her, and she set to work, and more
effectively with her riper experience. She took off his collar and
opened his shirt at the throat, and soon, with a look of joy, to Annie,
said, "His heart beats distinctly."

Again they gave him brandy, and this time he made a manifest effort to
swallow it.

With eyes aglow with excitement and hope they re-doubled their
exertions, Hannah and Zibbie helping, and at last they were rewarded by
seeing their patient make a faint movement.

Now with every breath Annie silently sent the words heavenward, "O God,
I thank thee."

She bent over him, and said, in a low, thrilling tone, "Mr. Gregory." A
happy smile came out upon his face, but this was the only response.

"Do you think he is conscious?" she whispered to her aunt.

"I hardly know. Let me give him a little more stimulant."

After receiving it he suddenly opened his eyes and looked fearfully
around. Then he tried to rise, but fell back, and asked, faintly,
"Where is Miss Walton? Is she safe? I heard her voice."

"You did. I'm here. Don't you know me?"

"Are you really here unhurt?"

"Yes, yes," she answered, eagerly; "thanks to you."

Again he closed his eyes with a strange and quiet smile.

"Can't you see me?" she asked.

"There seems a blur before my eyes. It does not signify. I know your
voice, so true and kind."

"Why can't he see?" she asked, drawing her aunt aside.

"I don't know. What I fear most are internal injuries. Did the ladder
strike his head?"

"O merciful Heaven!" said Annie, again in an agony of fear. "I don't
know. Oh, if he should die--if he should die--" and she wrung her hands
with terror at the thought.

The doctor now stepped lightly in. Jeff had told him enough to excite
the gravest apprehensions. He made a few inquiries and felt Gregory's
pulse.

"It's very feeble," he said. "More brandy."

Then he added, "I must make such examination as I can now without
disturbing him much. Miss Morton, you and Jeff stay and help me."

Annie went down to her father with a greater anxiety as to the result
of the examination than if the danger had been her own.

She found her father awake, and wondering at the sounds in the room
above.

"Annie," he said, feebly, "what is going on in Mr. Gregory's room?"

As she looked at him, she saw that he was not better, as she hoped, but
that his face had a shrunken look, betokening the rapid failing of the
vital forces. The poor girl felt that trouble was coming like an
avalanche, and in spite of herself she sat down, and, burying her face
in her father's bosom, sobbed aloud. But she soon realized the injury
she might do him in thus giving way, and by a great effort controlled
herself so as to tell him the softened outlines of the accident. But
the ashen hue deepened on the old man's face, as he said, fervently,
"God bless him! God bless him! He has saved my darling's life. What
should I have done in these last days without you?"

"But, father, don't you think he will get well?" she asked, eagerly.

"I hope so. I pray so, my child. But I know the ladder, and it is a
heavy one. This is time for faith in God. We cannot see a
hand's-breadth in the darkness before us. He has been very merciful to
us thus far, very merciful, and no doubt has some wise, good purpose in
these trials and dangers. Just cling to Him, my child, and all will be
well."

"O father, how you comfort me! We must leave everything in His hands.
But, father, you feel better, do you not?"

"Yes, much better; not much pain now; and yet for some reason I feel
that I shall soon be where pain never comes. How otherwise can I
explain my almost mortal weakness?"

Annie again hid her tearful eyes on the bedside. Her father placed his
hand upon her bowed head and continued, "It won't break your heart, my
little girl, will it, to have your father go to heaven?"

But she could not answer him.

At last the doctor came down, and said, "His injuries are certainly
serious, and may be more so than I can yet discover. The ladder grazed
his head, inflicting some injury, and struck him on the shoulder, which
is much bruised, and the collar-bone is badly broken. The whole system
has received a tremendous shock, but I hope that with good care he will
pull through. But he must be kept very quiet in mind and body. And so
must you, sir. Now you know all, and have nothing to suspect. It's
often injurious kindness to half hide something from the sick."

"Well, doctor, do your very best by him, as if he were my own son. You
know what a debt of gratitude we owe him. Spare no expense. If he needs
anything, let it be sent for. If I were only up and around; but the
Lord wills it otherwise."

Annie followed the physician out and said, "You have told us the very
worst then?"

"Yes, Miss Walton, the very worst. Unless there are injuries that I
cannot now detect I think he will get better. I will send a young man
whom I can trust to take care of him. Best assured I will do all that
is possible, for I feel very grateful to this stranger for saving my
much-esteemed little friend. I suppose you know we all think a great
deal of you in our neighborhood, and I shudder to think how near we
came to a general mourning. You see he was nearer the base of the
ladder than you, Jeff says. The ladder therefore would have struck you
with greater force, and you would not have had a ghost of a chance. You
ought to be very grateful, eh, Miss Annie?" he added, with a little sly
fun in his face.

But she shook her head sadly, and only said with deep feeling, "I am
very, very grateful." Then she added, quickly, "What about father?"

The doctor's face changed instantly and became grave.

"I don't quite understand his case. He was threatened with pneumonia;
but there seems no acute disease now, and yet he appears to be failing.
The excitement and exposure of the other night were too much for him.
You must make him take all the nourishment possible. Medicine is of no
use."

Agitated by conflicting fears and hopes Annie went to the kitchen to
make something that might tempt her father's appetite.

Blessed are the petty and distracting cares of the household, the
homely duties of the sick-room. They divert the mind and break the
force of the impending blow. If, when illness and death invade a house,
the fearing and sorrowing ones had naught to do but sit down and watch
the remorseless approach of the destroyer, they might go mad.

When Annie stole noiselessly back to Gregory's room he was sleeping,
though his breathing seemed difficult.

What a poor mockery the dinner hour was! Even the children were
oppressed by the general gloom and talked in whispers. But before it
was over there came a bright ray of light to Annie in the form of a
telegram from Hunting, saying that he had arrived in New York safely,
and would be at the village on the 5 P.M. train.

"O I am so glad!" cried Annie; "never was he so needed before."

And yet there was a remorseful twinge at her heart as she thought of
Gregory. But she felt sure of reconciliation now, for would not Hunting
overwhelm her preserver with gratitude, and forgive everything in the
past?

She said to Jeff, "Have Dolly and the low buggy ready for me at
half-past four."

Her father seemed peculiarly glad when he heard that his relative, the
man he hoped would soon be his son, was coming.

"It's all turning out for the best," he said, softly.

The hour soon came, for it was already late, and Annie slipped away,
leaving both her father and Gregory sleeping. To her great joy Hunting
stepped down from the train and was quickly seated by her side. As they
drove away in the dusk he could not forbear a rapturous kiss and
embrace which she did not resist.

"O Charles, I'm so glad you've come--so very glad!" she exclaimed
almost breathlessly; "and I've so much to tell you that I hardly know
where to begin. How good God is to send you to me now, just when I need
you most!"

"So you find that you can't do without me altogether? That's grand
news. How I've longed for this hour! If I'd had my own way I would have
exploded the boilers in my haste to reach port to see you again. It was
real good of you to come, and not send for me. Come Annie, celebrate my
return by the promise that you will soon make a home for me. I am happy
to say that I can now give you the means of making it a princely one."

"I haven't the time nor the heart to think about that now, Charles.
Father is very ill. I'm exceedingly anxious about him."

"Indeed!" said Hunting, "that is bad news;" and yet his grief was not
very deep, for he thought, "If she is left alone she will come to me at
once."

"What is more," cried Annie, a little hurt at the quiet manner in which
he received her tidings, "suppose, instead of meeting me strong and
well, you had found me a crushed and lifeless corpse to-night?"

"Annie," he said, "what do you mean?"

"I mean that this would have been true but for one with whom I am sorry
you are on bad terms. Walter Gregory is at our house."

He gave a great start at the mention of this name, and even in the deep
twilight his face seemed very white.

"I don't understand," he almost gasped.

"I knew you would be deeply affected," said the unsuspicious Annie. "He
stood between me and death to-day, and it may cost him his own life. He
was severely injured--how badly we can hardly tell yet;" and she
rapidly related all that had occurred. "And now, Charles," she
concluded, "no matter what he may have done, or how deeply he may have
wronged you, I'm sure you'll do everything in your power to effect a
complete reconciliation, and cement a lasting friendship. If possible,
you must become his untiring nurse. How much you owe him!"

She noticed that he was trembling. After a moment he asked,
hesitatingly, "Has he--how long has he been here, did you say?"

"About three weeks. You know our place was his old home, and his father
was a very dear friend of my father."

"If I knew it I had forgotten it," he answered, with a chill of fear
growing deeper every moment. "Did he--has he said anything about our
difficulties?"

"Nothing definite," said she, a little wonderingly at Hunting's manner.
"Father happened to mention your name the first evening of his arrival,
and the bitter enmity that came out upon his face quite startled me.
You know well that I wouldn't hear a word against you. He once
commenced saying something to your prejudice, but I stopped him and
said I would neither listen to nor believe him--that he did not know
you, and was entirely mistaken in his judgment. It was evident to us
that Mr. Gregory was not a good man. Indeed, he made no pretence of
being one; but he has changed since, as yon can well understand, or he
couldn't have sacrificed himself as he has to-day. I told father that I
thought the cause of your trouble arose from your trying to restrain
him in some of his fast ways, but he thought it resulted from business
relations."

"You were both right," said Hunting, slowly, as if he were feeling his
way along. "He was inclined to be very dissipated, and I used to
remonstrate with him; but the immediate cause was a business
difficulty. He would have kept me out of a great deal of money if he
could."

His words were literally true, but they gave an utterly false
impression. Annie was satisfied, however. It seemed a natural
explanation, and she trusted Hunting implicitly. Indeed, with her
nature, love could scarcely exist without trust.

"That's all past now," said Annie, eagerly. "You surely will not let it
weigh with you a moment. Indeed, Charles, I shall expect you to do
everything in your power to make that man your friend."

"O, certainly, I could not act otherwise," he said, rather absently. He
was scheming with desperate earnestness to meet and avert the impending
dangers. Annie's frank and cordial reception showed him that so far as
she was concerned he was as yet safe. But he knew her well enough to
feel sure that if she detected falsehood in him his case would be
nearly hopeless. He recognized that he was walking on a mine that at
any moment might be sprung. With his whole soul he loved Annie Walton,
and it would be worse than death to lose her. The thought of her had
made every gross temptation fall harmless at his feet, and even his
insatiate love of wealth had been mingled with the dearer hope that it
would eventually minister to her happiness. But he had lived so long in
the atmosphere of Wall Street that his ideas of commercial integrity
had become exceedingly blurred. When a questionable course opened by
which he could make money, he could not resist the temptation. He tried
to satisfy himself that business required such action, and called his
sharp practice by the fine names of skill, sagacity. But when on his
visits to Annie, which, of late, during the worst of his transactions,
had been frequent rather than prolonged, he had had a growing sense of
humiliation and fear. He saw that she could never be made to look upon
his affair with Burnett & Co. as he regarded it, and that her father
was the soul of commercial honor. Though Mr. Walton's fortune was
moderate, not a penny had come to him stained. After these visits
Hunting would go back to the city, resolved to quit everything
illegitimate and become in his business and other relations just what
he seemed to them. But some glittering temptation would assail him. He
would make one more adroit shuffle of the cards, and then, from being
hollow, would become morally and religiously sound at once.

During his voyage home, there was time for thought. A severe gale,
while lashing the sea into threatening waves, had also disturbed his
guilty conscience. He had amassed sufficient to satisfy even his greed
of gold for the present, and his calculating soul hinted that it was
time to begin to put away a little stock in heaven as well as on earth.
He resolved that he would withdraw from the whirlpool of Wall Street
speculation and engage in only legitimate operations. Moreover, he
began to long for the refuge and more quiet joys of home, and he felt,
as did poor Gregory, that Annie of all women could do most to make him
happy here and fit him for the future life. Therefore he had returned
with the purpose of pressing his suit for a speedy marriage as strongly
as a safe policy would permit.

The bright October day of his arrival in New York seemed emblematic of
his hopes and prospects, and now again the deepening night, the rising
wind, and the wildly hurrying clouds but mirrored back himself.

His safest and wisest course would have been to make an honest
confession to Annie of the wrong he had done Gregory. As his mind
recovered from its first confusion this thought occurred to him. But he
had already given her the impression that he had received the wrong, or
rather that it had been attempted against him. Moreover, by any
truthful confession he would stand convicted of deceiving and swindling
Burnett & Co. He justly feared that Annie would break with him the
moment she learned this. So like all schemers, he temporized, and left
his course open to be decided by circumstances rather than principle.

His first course was to learn of Annie all that he could concerning
Gregory and his visit, so that he might act in view of the fullest
knowledge possible. She told him frankly what had occurred, so far as
time permitted during their ride home. But of Gregory's love she did
not speak, and was perplexed as to her proper course. Loyalty to her
lover seemed to require that he should know all, and yet she was sure
that Gregory would not wish her to speak of it, and she owed so much to
him that she felt she could not do what was contrary to his wishes. But
Hunting well surmised that, whether Annie knew it or not, Gregory could
not have been in her society three weeks and go away an indifferent
stranger.

"Jeff can give me more light," he thought.

Conscious of deceit himself, he distrusted every one, even
crystal-souled Annie.



CHAPTER XXIX

DEEPENING SHADOWS



Mr. Walton received Hunting in a fatherly way. Indeed, he looked upon
the young man as a son, and the thought of leaving Annie to his
protection was an unspeakable comfort.

Altogether Hunting was reassured by his reception, which proved that
his relations were as yet undisturbed. But in the depths of his soul he
trembled at the presence of Gregory in the house; and when Miss Eulie
came down and said, after an affectionate greeting, that Gregory was in
something like a stupor, he was even base enough to wish that he might
never come out of it.

At the word "stupor," Annie's face grew pale. She had a growing
dissatisfaction with Hunting's manner in regard to Gregory, and felt
that he did not feel or show the interest or gratitude that he ought;
but there was nothing tangible with which she could tax him.

The doctor, who came early in the evening, reassured her, and said that
the state of partial consciousness was not necessarily a dangerous
symptom, as it might be the result of a severe shock. The young man he
brought was installed as nurse under Miss Eulie's charge, and Annie
said that Mr. Hunting would also take his turn as watcher.

Then she, Mr. Hunting, and her father had a long talk over what had
happened in his absence, Mr. Walton dwelling most feelingly on what he
regarded as the providential character of the visit from the son of his
old friend.

"If he never leaves our house alive, I have a strong assurance that he
will join his father in the better home. Indeed, I may soon be there
with them."

"Please don't talk so, father," pleaded Annie.

"Well, my child, perhaps it's best I should, and prepare your minds for
what may be near. It's a great consolation to see Charles again, and he
will help you bear whatever is God's will."

"You can trust her to me," said Hunting, fervently. "I have ample means
to gratify her most extravagant wish, and my love will shelter her and
think for her even as yours would. But I trust you will soon share our
home with us."

"I expect to, my children, but it will be our eternal home."

Annie strove bravely to keep her tears back, for her father's sake, but
they would come.

"Annie," said Hunting, "won't you please let your father put this ring
on your engagement finger?" and he gave Mr. Walton a magnificent
solitaire diamond.

Mr. Walton took his daughter's hand, and looked earnestly into her
tearful, blushing face.

"Annie," he said, in a grave, sweet tone, "I hope for your sake that I
may be wrong, but I have a presentiment that my pilgrimage is nearly
ended. You have made its last stage very happy. A good daughter makes a
good wife, Mr. Hunting; and, Annie, dear, I shall tell your mother that
you supplied her place, as far as a daughter could. It will add greatly
to my peace if I can leave you and my sister, and the dear little ones,
under the care of one so competent to protect and provide for you all.
Mr. Hunting, do you feel that you can take them to your home and heart,
with my daughter?"

"Certainly," said Hunting. "I had no other thought; and Annie's will
shall be supreme in her future home."

"But, after all, the chief question is, Does this ring join your
hearts? I'm sure I'm right in thinking so, Annie?"

"Yes," she said, in a low tone.

Slowly, with his feeble, trembling hands he put the flashing gem on
Annie's finger, and then placed her hand in Hunting's, and, looking
solemnly to heaven, said, "May God bless this betrothal as your father
blesses it."

Hunting stooped and kissed her hand and then her lips. With mingled
truth and policy, he said, "This ceremony is more solemn and binding to
me than the one yet to come at the altar."

Annie was happy in her engagement. It was what she expected, and had
been consummated in a way that seemed peculiarly sweet and sacred; and
yet her thoughts, with a remorseful tinge, would keep recurring to the
man who even then might be dying for her sake.

After they had sat a little while in silence, which is often the best
expression of deep feeling, she suddenly said, with an involuntary
sigh, "Poor Mr. Gregory! I'm so sorry for him!"

Thus Hunting knew where her thoughts were, and instantly the purpose
formed itself in his mind to induce her through her father to consent
to an immediate marriage. He saw more plainly than Annie the great
change in her father, and based his hope on the fact that the parent
might naturally wish to give his child a legal protector before he
passed away.

Mr. Walton now showed such signs of weariness that they left him in
Miss Eulie's care, who seemed to flit like a ministering spirit between
the two patients.

After the great excitement of the day, Annie, too, was very weary, and
soon the household sought such rest as was possible with two of its
inmates apparently very near the boundaries that separate the known
world from the unknown. Glimmering all night long, like signals of
distress at sea, the faint lights of the watchers reminded late
passers-by of the perilous nature of earthly voyaging.

Annie had gone with Miss Eulie to take a parting look at Gregory. She
bent over him and said, "Mr. Gregory," but his spirit seemed to have
sunk into such far depths that even her voice could not summon him.

"Oh, if he should die now!" she moaned, shudderingly, and on the night
of her engagement sobbed herself to sleep.

The next morning saw little change in the patients, save that Mr.
Walton was evidently weaker. Miss Eulie said that Gregory had roused up
during the night and seemed perfectly conscious. He had inquired after
Mr. Walton and Annie, but toward morning had fallen into his old
lethargy.

After breakfast Annie took Hunting up to see him, but was pained at the
darkening of her lover's face as he looked at the prostrate and
unconscious man. She could not understand it. He seemed to have no wish
to remain. She felt almost indignant, and yet what could she say more
than she had said? Gregory's condition, and the cause, should naturally
plead for him beyond all words.

Annie spent most of the day with her father, and purposed watching with
him that night. The doctor came and reported more favorably of Gregory,
but said that everything depended upon his being quiet. Annie purposed
that Hunting should commence the duties of watcher as soon as possible.
Therefore she told her aunt to tell Gregory, as soon as she thought it
would answer, that Hunting had arrived. In the afternoon, Gregory
seemed to come out of his lethargy more decidedly than he had before,
and took some nourishment with marked relish. Then he lay quietly
looking at the fire.

"Do you feel better now?" Miss Eulie asked, gently.

"I'm sure I don't know," he answered, wearily. "I have a numb, strange
feeling."

"Would you like to see Miss Walton?"

"No, not now; I am satisfied to know she is well."

"She wished me to tell you that Mr. Hunting had arrived."

He turned away his face with a deep scowl, but said nothing.

After some time she came to his side and said, "Is there anything you
would like?"

"Nothing," he replied, gently. "I appreciate your great kindness."

Miss Eulie sighed and left the room, feeling dimly that there were
internal injuries after all, but such as were beyond the doctor's skill.

Annie echoed her sigh when she heard how he received Miss Eulie's
information. She determined to prepare and take him his supper.

When she noiselessly entered, he was again looking fixedly at the fire.
But she had not advanced far into the room before he recognized her
step and looked up quickly.

"See," she said, cheerily, coming to his side, "I've prepared and
brought you this supper with my own hands, and shall expect in return
that you compliment it highly. Now, isn't it a good supper?" she asked,
holding it before him.

But his eyes fastened on the glittering and significant ring, whose
meaning he too well understood. With an expression of intense pain he
turned his face to the wall without a word.

"Mr. Gregory," pleaded Annie, "I never thought you would turn away from
me."

"Not from you, not from you," he said, in a low tone, "but I'm very
weak, and the light of that diamond is too strong for me yet."

"Forgive me," she said, in a tone of deep reproach; "I did not think."

"No, forgive me. Please leave me now, and remember in charity how weak
I am."

She put the tray down and hastened from the room. He ate no supper that
night, neither did she. Hunting watched her gloomily, with both fear
and jealousy at heart. The latter, however, was groundless, for Annie's
feeling was only that of profound sorrow for something she could not
help. But lack of strongly manifested interest and sympathy for Gregory
injured him in her estimation; for woman-like she unconsciously took
the side of the one he wronged. She could understand Gregory's enmity,
but it seemed to her that Hunting should be full of generous enthusiasm
for one who was suffering so much in her behalf.

"Men are so strange!" she said, half-vexedly. "They fall in love
without the slightest provocation, and hate each other forever, when a
woman would have sharp words and be over with it. They never do what
you would naturally expect."

During the day Hunting had found time to see Jeff alone, but had found
him inclined to be sullen and uncommunicative. Jeff had changed sides,
and was now an ardent adherent of Gregory's, who had given him five
dollars without imposing any conditions; and then, what was of far
greater import, had saved the house and Annie's life, and, according to
Jeff's simple views of equity, he ought to have both. And yet a certain
rude element of honesty made him feel that he had made a bargain with
Hunting, and that he must fulfil his part and then they would be quits.
But he was not disposed to do it with a very good grace. So when
Hunting said, "Well, Jeff, I suppose you've seen a good deal since I
was last here."

"Yes, I've seen a mighty lot," said Jeff, sententiously.

"Well, Jeff, you remember our agreement. What did you see? Only the
truth now."

"Sartin, sah, only de truf. I'se belong to de Walton family, and yous
doesn't get nothin' but de truf from dem."

"All right, Jeff; I'm glad your employers have so good an influence on
you. Well?"

"I'se seen Misser Gregory on de roof," said Jeff, drawing on his
imagination, as he had only heard about that event through Zibbie's
highly colored story, "where some other folks wouldn't dar go, and now
I'se see dat house dar, which I wouldn't see dar, wasn't it for Misser
Gregory."

"Well, well," said Hunting, impatiently, "I've heard all about that.
What else?"

"I'se seen Miss Annie roun' all day bloomin' and sweet as a rose, and
I'se seen how she might have been a crushed white lily," Jeff
continued, solemnly, with a rhetorical wave of the hand.

There existed in Jeff the raw material of a colored preacher, only it
was very crude and undeveloped. But upon any important occasion he
always grew rhetorical and figurative in his language.

"Come, come, Jeff, tell me something new."

"Well," said Jeff, "since I'se promised to tell you, and since I'se
spent de ten dollars, and hasn't got it to give you back again, I'se
seen Misser Gregory las' Sunday evenin', a kneelin' afore Miss Annie as
if he was a sayin' his prayers to her, and I shouldn't wonder if she
heard 'em (with a chuckle); anyhow she wasn't lofty and scornful, and
Misser Gregory he's looked kinder glorified ever since; afore that he
looked glum, and Miss Annie, she's been kinder bendin' toward him since
dat evenin', like a rosebud wid de dew on it."

Hunting's face darkened with suppressed anger and jealousy. After a
moment he said, "Is that all?"

"Dat's all."

"Well, Jeff, here's ten dollars more, and look sharper than ever now."

"'Scuse me, Misser Hunting. We'se squar' now. I'se done what I agreed,
and now I'se gwine out ob de business."

"Has Gregory engaged your services?" asked Hunting, quickly.

"No, sah, he hab not. I reckon Misser Gregory tink he doesn't need any
help."

"Why won't you do as I wish, then?"

"Well, Mr. Hunting, it kinder makes me feel bad here," said Jeff,
rubbing his hand indefinitely over several physical organs. "I don't
jes' believe Miss Annie would like it, and after seein' Mr. Gregory
under dat pesky ladder, I couldn't do nothin' dat he wouldn't like. If
it hadn't been for him I'd sorter felt as if I'd killed Miss Annie by
leavin' dat doggoned ladder so straight up, and I nebber could hab gone
out in de dark agin all my life."

"Why, you old black fool," said Hunting, irritably, "don't you know I'm
going to marry Miss Annie? You'd better keep on the right side of me."

"Which is de right side?" Jeff could not forbear saying, with a
suppressed chuckle.

"Come, sir, no impudence. You won't serve me any more then?"

"Oh yes, Misser Hunting. I'se black yer boots, make de fire, harness de
hoss, do anything dat won't hurt in here," with a gesture that seemed
to indicate the pit of his stomach. "Anything more, please 'scuse me."

"You will not speak of what has passed between us?"

"I'se given my word," said Jeff, drawing himself up, "de word ob one
dat belongs to de Waltons."

Hunting turned on his heel and strode away. Annie had given one aspect
to the scene on that Sabbath evening, and Jeff had innocently given
another. Hunting was not loyal enough even to such a woman as Annie to
believe her implicitly. But it is the curse of conscious deceit to
breed suspicion. Only the true can have absolute faith in the truth of
others. Moreover, Hunting, in his hidden selfishness and worldliness
could not understand Annie's ardent effort to save a fellow-creature
from sin. Skilled in the subtle impulses of the heart, he believed that
Annie, unconsciously even to herself, was drifting toward the man he
hated all the more because he had wronged him, while the danger of his
presence made him almost vindictive. Yet he realized the necessity of
disguising his feelings, for if Annie discovered them he might well
dread the consequence. But the idea of watching alone with Gregory was
revolting. It suggested dark thoughts which he tried to put from him in
horror, for he was far from being a hardened villain. He was only a man
who had gradually formed the habit of acting from expedience and
self-interest, instead of principle. Such a rule of life often places
us where expedience and self-interest require deeds that are black
indeed.

But he was saved from the ordeal of spending hours alone with a man who
even in his helplessness might injure him beyond remedy, for on the
following morning Annie again sought Gregory's room bent on securing
reconciliation at once. She felt that she could endure this
estrangement no longer.

The young man employed as watcher was out at the time.

Gregory was gazing at the fire with the same look of listless apathy. A
deep flush overspread his deathly pale face as she came and sat down
beside him, but he did not turn from her.

"Mr. Gregory," she said, very gently, "it seems that I can do nothing
but receive favors from you, and I've come now to ask a great one."

He suspected something concerning Hunting, and his face darkened
forbiddingly. Though Annie noted this, she would not be denied.

"Do you think," she said, earnestly, "that, after your sacrifice for
me, I can ever cease to be your friend in the truest and strongest
sense?"

"Miss Walton," he said, calmly, "I've made no sacrifice for you. The
thought of that episode in the orchard is my one comfort while lying
here, and will be through what is left of life. But please do not speak
of it, for it will become a pain to me if I see the obligation is a
burden to you."

"It is not," she said, eagerly. "I'm glad to owe my life to you. But do
you think I can go on my way and forget you?"

"It's the very best you can do, Miss Walton."

"But I tell you it's impossible. Thank God, it's not my nature to do
it!"

He turned toward her with a wistful, searching look.

"We must carry out our old agreement," continued Annie. "We must be
close and lasting friends. You should not blame me for an attachment
formed years ago."

"I do not blame you."

"Then you should not punish me so severely. You first make your
friendship needful to me, and then you deny it."

"I am _your_ friend, and more."

"How can we enjoy a frank and happy friendship through coming years,
after--after--you feel differently from what you do now, when you will
not even hear the name of him who will one day be my second self?"

Again his face darkened; but she continued rapidly, "Mr. Hunting is
deeply grateful to you, and would like to express his feelings in
person. He wishes to bury the past--"

"He will, with me, soon," interrupted Gregory, gloomily.

"No; please do not speak in that way," she pleaded. "He wishes to make
what little return he can, and offers to watch with you night and day."

He turned upon her almost fiercely, and said, "Are you too in league
with my evil destiny, in that you continually persecute me with that
man? Miss Walton, I half doubt whether you know what love means, or you
would not make such a proposition. Let me at least die quietly. With
the memory of the past and the knowledge of the present, his presence
in my room would be death by torture. Pardon me, but let us end this
matter once for all. We have both been unfortunate, you in inspiring a
love that you cannot return; I in permitting my heart to go from me,
beyond recall, before learning that my passion would be hopeless. I do
not see that either of us has been to blame, you certainly not in the
slightest degree. But, however vain, my love is an actual fact, and I
cannot act as if it were not. As well might a man with a mortal wound
smile and say it's but a scratch. I cannot change my mind merely in
view of expedience and invest such feelings in another way. The fact of
my love is now a past disaster, and I must bear the consequences with
such fortitude as I can. But what you ask would drive me mad. If I
should live, possibly in the future I might meet you often without the
torturing regret I now feel. But to make a smiling member of Charles
Hunting's friendly circle would require on my part the baldest
hypocrisy; and I can't do it, and won't try. If that man comes into my
room, I will crawl out if I can."

He was trembling with excitement, his face flushed and feverish, and
his eyes unnaturally bright.

"And you banish me too," said Annie, hurt and alarmed at the same time.

"Yes, yes; forgive me for saying so. Yes; till I'm stronger. See how
I've spoken to you. I've no self-control."

She was most reluctant to go, and stood a moment, hesitating. Timidly
she ventured to quote the line:

"Earth has no sorrows that Heaven cannot cure."

"That's a comforting fact for those who are going there," he said,
coldly.

With a sudden burst of passionate grief she stooped and kissed his
hand, then fled to her own room, and cried as if her heart would break.
It seemed as if he were lost to her and heaven, and yet he was capable
of being so noble and good!

Miss Eulie entered Gregory's room soon after, and was alarmed at his
feverish and excited appearance. She decided that Annie's visits must
cease for the present. However, she took no apparent notice of his
disturbed condition, but immediately gave a remedy to ward off fever,
and a strong opiate, which, with the reaction and his weakness, caused
him to sink back into something like his old lethargy.

Hunting had spent the morning with Mr. Walton, preparing his mind for
the plan of immediate marriage. He found the failing man not averse to
the project, as his love ought to secure to Annie every help and solace
possible.

After Annie had removed from her face, to the best of her ability,
every trace of her emotion, she came down and took her place at her
father's side, intending to leave it only when compelled to. Hunting
knew of her mission to Gregory, and looked at her inquiringly, but she
sadly shook her head. He tried to look hurt, but only succeeded in
looking angry. He soon controlled himself, however, though he noted
with deep uneasiness Annie's sad face and red eyes. Mr. Walton
fortunately was dozing and needed no explanation.

That night he was much worse, and had some very serious symptoms. Annie
did not leave his side. But toward morning he rallied and fell into a
quiet sleep. Then she took a little rest.

The next day she was told that there was a gentleman in the parlor who
wished to see her. The stranger proved to be one of Gregory's partners,
Mr. Seymour, who courteously said, "I should have been here before, but
the senior partner, Mr. Burnett, is unable to attend to business at
present, and I came away the first moment I could leave. I felt sure
also that everything would be done that could be. I hope the injury is
not so serious as was first supposed."

"You may rest assured that we have tried to do everything," said Annie,
gravely, "but Mr. Gregory is in a very precarious condition. You would
like to see him, I suppose."

"If I can with safety to him."

"I think a brief interview may do him good. He needs rallying."

At that moment Hunting, not knowing who was present, entered. Both
gentleman started, but Mr. Seymour gave no sign of recognition, nor did
Hunting, though he could not at first hide a certain degree of nervous
agitation. Annie presented him. Mr. Seymour bowed stiffly, and said,
rather curtly, "We have met before," and then gave him no further
attention, but continuing to address Annie, said, "I well understand
that Mr. Gregory needs rallying. That has been just his need for the
last few months, during which time his health has been steadily
failing. I was in hopes he would come back--" and then he stopped,
quite puzzled for a moment by the sudden change in Annie's manner,
which had become freezingly cold toward him, while there was a look of
honest indignation upon her face.

"Excuse me, sir," she said, briefly. "I will send you my aunt, who will
attend to your wishes;" and she left Mr. Seymour standing in the middle
of the room, both confused and annoyed; but he at once surmised that it
was on account of his manner toward Hunting, who sat down with a paper
at the further side of the room, as if he were alone.

But when, a moment later, Miss Eulie entered with her placid, unruffled
face, Mr. Seymour could not be otherwise than perfectly polite, and
after a few words, followed her to Gregory's room.

Annie at once came to Hunting and asked, "Why did that man act so?"

"Why, don't you see?" answered he, hastily. "Mr. Seymour is Mr.
Gregory's partner. They all have the same reason for feeling hostile
toward me, though perhaps Gregory has special reasons," he added, with
a searching look.

Annie blushed deeply at this allusion, but said with emphasis, "No man
shall treat you in that way in my presence and still receive courtesy
from me."

But his jealous spirit had noticed her quick blush more than her
generous resentment of the insult she supposed offered him. Therefore
he said, "Mr. Gregory would treat me worse if he got a chance."

"But his case is different from any one's else," she said, with another
quick flush.

"Evidently so in your estimation."

Then for the first time she noted his jealousy, and it hurt her sorely.
She took a step nearer and looked very gravely into his face for a
moment without speaking, and then said, with that calmness which is
more effective than passion, "Charles, take care. I'm one that will be
trusted. Though it seems a light matter to you that he has saved my
life, at perhaps the cost of his own, it does not to me."

The cool and usually cautious man had for once lost his poise, and he
said, with sudden irritation, "I hear that and nothing else. What else
could he have done? If you had stayed at your father's side you would
have been safe. He took you out to walk, and any man would have risked
his life to bring you back safely."

He now saw in Annie a spirit he could never control as he managed
people in Wall Street, for, with a sudden flash in her eyes, she said,
hotly, "I do not reason thus coldly about those to whom I owe so much,"
and abruptly left him.

In bitterness of fear and self-reproach he at once realized his
blunder. He followed her, but she was with her father, and he could not
speak there. He looked imploringly at her, but could not catch her eye,
for she was deeply incensed. Had she not heard him she would not have
believed that he could be so ungenerous.

He wrote on a scrap of paper, "Annie, forgive me. I humbly ask your
pardon. I'm not myself to-day, and that man's conduct, which you so
nobly resented in my behalf, vexed me to that degree that I acted like
a fool. I am not worthy of you, but you will perceive that my folly
arises from my excess of love for you. I'm going for a walk. Please
greet me with pardon in your face on my return."

Impulsive, loving, warm-hearted Annie could not resist such an appeal.
She at once relented, and began to make a thousand better excuses for
her lover than he could for himself. But she had taught him a lesson,
and proved that she was not a weak, willowy creature that would cling
to him no matter what he was or did. He saw that he must seem to be
worthy of her.

Gregory greeted his partner with a momentary glow of gratitude that he
had come so far to see him, and began talking about his business.

"Not a word of that, old fellow," said Mr. Seymour. "Your business is
to get well. It seems to me that you have everything here for comfort
--good medical attendance, eh?"

"Yes; if anything, too much is done for me."

"I don't understand just how it happened."

Gregory told him briefly.

"By Jove! this Miss Walton ought to be very grateful to you."

"She is too grateful."

"I don't know about that. I met that infernal Hunting downstairs. Of
course I couldn't treat him with politeness, and do you know the little
lady spunked up about it to that degree that she almost turned her back
upon me and left the room."

"Of course," said Gregory, coolly, shielding his secret by a desperate
effort; "they are engaged."

"Oh, I understand now. Well, I rather like her spirit. Does she know
how accomplished her lover is in Wall Street?"

"No. Hunting is a distant relative of the family. They believe him to
be a gentleman, and would not listen to a word against him."

"But they ought to know. He lied like a scoundrel to us, and in your
trying all summer to make up the losses, he has nearly been the death
of you. I wouldn't let my daughter marry him though he had enough money
to break the Street: and it is a pity that a fine girl, as this Miss
Walton seems, should throw herself away on him."

"Well, Seymour, that's not our affair," said Gregory, pale and faint
from his effort at self-control. "They would listen to nothing."

"Well, good-by, old fellow. I see it won't do to talk with you any
more. Get well as soon as you can, for we want you woefully in town.
Get well, and carry off this Miss Walton yourself. It would be a neat
way of turning the tables on Hunting."

"Don't set your heart on seeing me at the office again," said Gregory,
feelingly. "I have a presentiment that I shan't pull through this, and
I don't much care. Give my kindest regards to Mr. Burnett, and tell him
I shall think of him to the last as among my best friends."

Seymour made a few hearty remonstrances against such a state of mind,
and took his departure with many misgivings. Gregory relapsed into his
old dreary apathy. Life had so many certain ills that upon the whole he
felt he would rather die. But he was too stunned and weak to think
much, save when Annie came to him. Her presence was always life, but
now it was a sharp revival of the consciousness of his loss. Left to
himself, his mind sank down into a sort of painless lethargy, from
which he did not wish to be aroused.

Mr. Walton passed a quieter night, but was clearly failing fast. He
sent frequent messages of love and sympathy to Gregory, and had an
abiding faith that all would be well with him in the next life, if not
in this. Annie had not the heart to undeceive him. When he thought it a
little strange that Hunting was not with Gregory, Annie explained by
saying that the doctor insisted on perfect quiet of mind, and the
presence of Hunting might unpleasantly revive old memories, and so
unduly excite him.

After the physician saw his patients the following morning, he looked
grave and dissatisfied. Annie followed him to the door, and said,
"Doctor, I don't like the expression of your face."

"Well, Miss Annie," said the doctor, discontentedly, "I've a difficult
task on my hands, in trying to cure two patients that make no effort to
live. Your father seems homesick for heaven, and mere drugs can't rouse
Mr. Gregory out of his morbid, gloomy apathy. I could get him ashore if
he would strike out for himself, but he just floats down stream like
driftwood. But really I'm doing all that can be done, I think."

"I believe you are," she said, sadly. "Good-by."

"O merciful God!" she exclaimed when alone. "What shall I do--what
shall I do to save him? Father's going to heaven and mother. Where is
_he_ going?"



CHAPTER XXX

KEPT FROM THE EVIL



With the light of the following day Annie gave up all hope of her
father's recovery. He was sinking fast, and conscious himself that
death was near. But his end was like the coming into harbor of a
stately ship after a long, successful voyage. He looked death in the
face with that calmness and dignity, that serene certainty that it was
a change for the better, which Christian faith alone can inspire. His
only solicitude was for those he was leaving, and yet he had no deep
anxiety, for his strong faith committed them trustingly to God.

Annie tried to feel resigned, since it was God's will. But the tie that
bound her to him was so tender, so interwoven with every fibre of her
heart, that she shrunk with inexpressible pain from its sundering. She
knew that she was not losing her father, that the worst before them was
but a brief separation, but how could she, who had lived so many happy
years at his side, endure even this? It seemed as if she could not let
him go, and in the strong, passionate yearning of her heart, she was
almost ready to leave youth, friends, lover, and all, to go with him.

She was one who lived in her affections rather than her surroundings.
The latter would matter little to her could she keep her
heart-treasures. It would have touched the coldest to see how she clung
to him toward the last. All else was forgotten, even Gregory, who might
be dying also. The instinct of nature was strong, and her father was
first.

Moreover, the relation between this parent and child was peculiarly
close, for they were not only in perfect sympathy in views, character,
and faith, but Annie had stepped to the side of the widowed man years
before and sought successfully to fill the place of one who had reached
home before him. Though so young, she had been his companion and daily
friend, interesting herself in that which interested him, and thus he
had been saved from that terrible loneliness which often breaks the
heart even in the midst of a household. It was therefore with a love
beyond words that his eyes rested most of the time on her and followed
her every movement.

She also had a vague and peculiar dread in looking forward to her
bereavement. An anticipating sense of isolation and loneliness chilled
her heart.

Though she would not openly admit it to herself, Hunting had
disappointed her since his return. She did not get from him the support
and Christian sympathy she expected. She tried to excuse him, and
charged herself with being too exacting, and yet the sense of something
wanting pained her. She had hoped that in these dark days he would be
serene and strong, and yet abounding in the tenderest sympathy. She had
expected words of faith and consolation that would have sustained her
spirit, fainting under a double and peculiar sorrow. She had felt sure
that before this his just gratitude, like a torrent, would have
overwhelmed and destroyed Gregory's enmity. But all had turned out so
differently! Instead of being a help, he had almost added to her burden
by his hostile feeling toward her preserver, which he had not been able
wholly to disguise. Such a feeling on his part seemed both unnatural
and wrong. He professed himself ready to do anything she wished for
Gregory, but it was in a half-hearted way, to oblige her, and not for
the sake of the injured man. When she went to him for Christian
consolation, his words, though well-chosen, lacked heartiness and the
satisfying power of truth.

Why this was so can be well understood. Hunting could not give what he
did not possess. Of necessity there would be a hollow ring when he
spoke of that which he did not understand or feel. During his brief
visits, and in his carefully written letters, he could appear all she
wished. He could honestly show his sincere love for her, and there was
no special opportunity to show anything else. In her vivid, loving
imagination she supplied all else, and she believed that when they were
more together, or in affliction, he would reveal more distinctly his
deeper and religious nature, for such a nature he professed to have;
and his letters, which could be written deliberately, abounded in
Christian sentiment. Self-deceived, he meant to be honestly religious
as soon as he could afford to give up his questionable speculations.

But when a man least expects it the test and strain will come, that
clearly manifest the character of his moral stamina. It had now come to
Hunting, and though he strove with all the force and adroitness of a
resolute will and though he was a practiced dissembler, he was not
equal to the searching demands of those trying days, and steadily lost
ground. The only thing that kept him up was his sincere love for Annie.
That was so apparent and honest that, loving him herself, she was able
to forgive the rest. But it formed no small part of her sorrow at that
dark time, that she must lower her lofty ideal of her lover. Hunting
and Gregory seemed nearer together morally than she could have believed
possible. Thus she already had the dread that she would not be able to
"look up" to Hunting as she had expected, and that it would be her
mission to deepen and develop his character instead of "leaning" upon
it.

It seemed strange to her as she thought of it, during her long hours of
watching, that after all she would have to do for Hunting something
like what poor Gregory had asked her to do for him. She prayerfully
purposed to do it, for the idea of being disloyal to her engagement
never entered her mind.

"Unless men have a Christian home, in which their religious life can be
daily strengthened and fostered, they cannot be what they ought," she
said to herself. "In continual contact with the world, with nothing to
counteract, it's not strange that they act and feel as they do."

Thus she was more disposed to feel sorry for both Hunting and Gregory
than to blame them. And yet she looked upon the two men very
differently. She regarded Hunting as a true Christian who simply needed
warming and quickening into positive life, while she thought of Gregory
with only fear and trembling. Her hope for the latter was in the
prayers stored up in his behalf.

But now upon this day that would ever be so painfully memorable she had
thoughts only for her father, and nothing could tempt her from his side.

Hunting also saw that the crisis was approaching, and made but a formal
semblance of a breakfast. He then entered the sick-room, and was
thinking how best to broach the subject of an immediate marriage, when
a thumping of crutches was heard in the hall.

Miss Eulie entered and said that Daddy Tuggar had managed to hobble
over, and had set his heart upon seeing his old friend.

"Certainly," said Mr. Walton; "he shall come in at once."

"Caution him to stay but a few minutes," warned Annie.

Miss Eulie helped the old man in, and he sat down by Mr. Walton's side,
with a world of trouble on his quaint, wrinkled face.

But he said abruptly, as if he expected an affirmative answer, "Yer
gettin' better this mornin'--yer on the mend?"

"Yes, my kind old neighbor," said Mr. Walton, feebly. "I shall soon be
well. It was kind of you, in your crippled state, to come over to see
me."

"Well, now," said Mr. Tuggar, greatly relieved, "there _is_ use of
prayin'. I ain't much of a hand at it, and didn't know how the Lord
would take it from me; but when I heard you was sick, I began to feel
like prayin', and when I heard you was gettin' wuss, I couldn't help
prayin'. When I heard how that city chap as saved the house--(what an
old fool I was to cuss him when he first came! The Lord knew what He
was doin' when He brought him here)--when I heard how he kept the
ladder from falling on Miss Annie, I prayed right out loud. My wife,
she thought I was gettin' crazy. But I didn't care what anybody
thought. I've been prayin' all night, and it seemed as if the Lord must
hear me, and I kinder felt it in my bones that He had. So I expected to
hear you say you was goin' to get well; and Mr. Gregory, he's better
too--ain't he?"

There was no immediate answer. Neither Miss Eulie nor Annie seemed to
know how to reply to the old man at first. But Mr. Walton reached
slowly out and took his neighbor's hand, saying, "Your prayers will be
answered, my friend. Honest prayer to God always is. I shall be well
soon, never to be old, feeble, and sick any more. I'm going where
there's 'no more pain.' Perhaps I've seen my last night, for there is
'no night there.'"

"But the Lord knows I didn't mean nothin' of that kind. We need you
here, and He orter know it. What's the use of prayin' if you get just
the opposite of what you pray for?"

"Suppose the opposite is best? I'm an old man--a shock of corn fully
ripe. I'm ready to be gathered."

"Are yer goin' to die?" asked the old man, in an awed whisper.

"No, Mr. Tuggar; I've been growing old and feeble, I've been dying for
a long time. Now I'm going to live--to be strong and well, forever and
ever. So don't grieve, but rather rejoice with me."

The old man sat musing a moment, and then said softly to himself, "This
is what the Scripter means when it tells about the 'death of the
righteous.'"

"Yes," continued Mr. Walton, though more feebly; "and the Scripture is
true. The dear Lord doesn't desert His people. He who has been my
friend and helper so many years now tells me that my sins, which are
many, are all forgiven. It seems that I have also heard Him say,
'To-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.'"

Tears gathered in Daddy Tuggar's eyes, and he said, brokenly, "The Lord
knows--I've allers been a sort--of well-meanin' man--but I couldn't
talk that way--if I was where you be."

"Mr. Tuggar," said Mr. Walton, "I'm too weak to say much more, but I
want to ask you one question. You have read the Bible. Whom did the
Lord Jesus come to save?"

"Sinners," was the prompt response.

"Are you one?"

"What else be I?"

"Then, old neighbor, you are safe, if you will just receive Him as your
Saviour. If you were sure you were good enough and didn't need any
Saviour, I should despair of you. But according to the Bible you are
just such as He came after. If you feel that you are a sinner, all you
have to do is to trust Him and do the best you can."

"Is that all you did?"

"All. I couldn't do anything more. And now, good-by. Remember my last
words--Whom did Jesus come to save?"

"Why, He come to save me," burst out the old man, rising up. "What a
cussed old fool I was, not to see it afore! I was allers thinkin' He
came after the good folks, and I felt that no matter how I tried I
could not be good enough. Good-by, John Walton. If they are goin' to
let sinners into heaven who are willin' to come any way the Lord will
let 'em come, I'll be yer neighbor again 'fore long;" and with his
withered, bronzed visage working with an emotion that he did not seek
to control, he wrung the dying man's hand, and hobbled out.

But he pleaded with Miss Eulie to let him stay. "I want to see it out,"
he said, "for if grim Death ain't goin' to get one square knock-down
now, then he never had it, I want to see the victory. 'Pears to me that
when the gates open the glory will shine out upon us all."

So she installed him in Mr. Walton's arm-chair by the parlor fire, and
made him thoroughly at home.

"I'm a waitin' by the side of the river," he said. "I wish I could go
over with him. 'Pears I'd feel sure they wouldn't turn me back then."

"Jesus will go over the river with you," she said, gently, "and then
they can't turn you back."

"I hope so, I hope so," said this old, child-like man, "for I'm an
awful sinner."

After this interview, which greatly fatigued him, Mr. Walton dozed for
an hour, and then brightened up so decidedly that Annie had faint hopes
that he was better.

The children were brought to him, and he kissed and fondled them very
tenderly. Then, in a way that would make a deep impression on their
childish natures, he told them how he was going to see their father and
mother, and would tell what good children they had been, and how they
always meant to be good, and how all would be waiting for them in
heaven.

Thus the little ones received no grim and terrible impressions at that
death-bed, but rather memories and hopes that in all their future would
hold them back, like angel hands, from evil.

Hunting now believed that the time for him to act had come. He had told
Jeff to have the horse and buggy ready so that he might send for the
old pastor at once.

He came to Annie's side, and taking her hand and her father's, thus
seeming a link between them, said very gently, very tenderly, "Annie,
your father has told me that it would be a great consolation to him to
leave me in charge of you all as his son, legally and in the eyes of
the world, as I feel I am in reality. I could then do everything for
you, relieve you of every care, and protect with unquestionable right
all the interests of the household. Again, the marriage tie, like that
of our betrothal, consummated here at his side, would ever seem to us
peculiarly tender and sacred. It will almost literally be a marriage
made in heaven. I hope you will feel that you can grant this, your
father's last wish."

Annie felt a sudden and strong repugnance to the plan. In that hour of
agonized parting she did not wish to think of marriage, even to one she
loved. Her thoughts immediately recurred to Gregory, and she felt that
such an act might, in his weak state, cause disastrous results. And yet
if it were her father's wish--his last wish--how could she refuse
him--how could she refuse him anything? The marriage day would
eventually come. If by making this the day she could once more show her
filial love and add to his dying peace, did she not owe him her first
duty? The dying are omnipotent with us. Who can refuse their last
requests?

She looked inquiringly, but with tear-blinded eyes, at her father.

"Yes, Annie," he said, answering her look, "it would be a great
consolation to me, because I can see how it will be of much advantage
to you--more than you can now understand. It will enable Charles to
step in at once as head of the household, and so you will be relieved
of many perplexities and details of business which would be very trying
to you, as you will feel. I want to spare you and sister all this, and
you have no idea how much it will save your feelings, and add to your
comfort, to have one like Charles act for you with such power as he
would have as your husband. After seeing you all thus provided for, it
seems to me that I could depart in perfect peace."

"Dear father," said Annie, tenderly, "how can I deny you anything! This
seems to me no time for marriage, but, since you wish it, your will
shall be mine. It must be right or you would not ask it; and yet--" She
did not finish the sentence, but buried her face in her hands, weeping.

"That's my noble Annie," Hunting exclaimed, with a glad exultation in
his voice that he could not disguise; and, hastening out, he told Jeff
to bring the minister as speedily as possible.

Miss Eulie was called, and acquiesced in her brother's opinion, and
hovered around Annie in a tender flutter of maternal love.

Hunting now felt that he was master of destiny, and in his heart bade
defiance to Gregory and all his own fears. His elation and
self-applause were great, for had he not snatched the prize out of the
hand of death itself, and made events that would have awed and
disheartened other men combine for his good? He had schemed, planned,
and overreached them all, though, in this case, for their interests as
well as his own, he believed. While he would naturally wish the
marriage to take place as soon as possible, his chief reason was to
forestall any revelations which might come through Gregory; and this
motive made his whole course, though apparently dictated by the purest
feeling, a crafty trick. Yet such was the complex nature of the man
that he honestly meant to fulfil all Mr. Walton's expectations, and
become Annie's loving shield from every care and trial, and a faithful
guardian of the household. Nay, more, as soon as he was securely
intrenched, with all his coveted possessions, he purposed that Annie
should help him to be a true, good man--a Christian in reality.

Well may the purest and strongest pray to be kept from the evil of the
world. It lurks where least suspected, and can plot its wrongs in the
chamber of death, and on the threshold of heaven. Annie and her father
might at least suppose themselves safe now. Were they so, with God's
minister on his way to join truth with untruth--a pure-hearted maiden
to a man from whom she would shrink the moment she came to know him?
Not on the human side. They were safe only as God kept them. If Annie
Walton had found herself married to a swindler, hers would have been a
life-long martyrdom. But unconsciously she drew momentarily nearer the
edge of the precipice. Time was passing, and their venerable pastor
would soon be present. Annie had welcomed him every day previously, as
he came to take sweet counsel with her father rather than prepare him
for death, but now she had a strange, secret dread of his coming.

Her father suddenly put his hand to his heart.

"Have you pain there?" asked Annie.

"It's gone," he replied, after a moment. "They will soon be all past,
Annie dear. How does Mr. Gregory seem now?" he asked of Miss Eulie.

"Greatly depressed, I'm sorry to say," she answered. "He knows that you
are no better, and it seems to distress him very much."

"God bless him for saving my darling's life!" he said, fervently; "and
He will bless him. I have a feeling that he will see brighter and
better days. I can send him almost a father's love and blessing, for he
now seems like a son to me. Say to him that I shall tell his father of
his noble deeds. Be a sister to him, Annie. Carry on the good work you
have so wisely begun. May the friendship of the parents descend to the
children. And you, Charles, my son, will surely feel toward him as a
brother, whatever may have been the differences of the past."

Innocent but deeply embarrassing words to both Hunting and Annie.

Again Mr. Walton put his hand to his heart.

Hunting left the room, for it was surely time for Jeff to return. With
a gleam of exultant joy he saw him driving toward the house with the
white-haired minister at his side. He returned softly to the sick-room.

Mr. Walton had just taken Annie's hands, and after a look of
unutterable fondness, said, "Before I give you to another--while you
are still my own little girl--let me thank you for having been all and
more than a father could ask. How good God was to give me such a
comfort in your mother's place!"

"Dear father!" was all that Annie could say.

Even then the minister was entering the house.

"I bless thee, my child," the father continued; then turning his eyes
heavenward he reverently closed them in prayer, saying, "and God bless
thee also, and keep thee from every evil."

God answered him.

His grasp on Annie's hand relaxed; without even a sigh he passed away.

Annie started up with a look of alarm, and saw the same expression on
the faces of her aunt and Hunting. They spoke to him; he did not
answer. Hunting felt his pulse. Its throb had ceased forever. The chill
of a great dread turned his own face like that of the dead.

Miss Eulie put her hand on her brother's heart. It was at rest. Annie
stood motionless with dilating eyes watching them. But when her aunt
came toward her with streaming eyes she realized the truth and fell
fainting to the floor.

Just then the old minister crossed the threshold, but Hunting said to
him, almost savagely, "You are too late."



CHAPTER XXXI

"LIVE! LIVE!"--ANNIE'S APPEAL



Annie's swoon was so prolonged that both her aunt and Hunting were
alarmed. It was the reaction from the deep and peculiar excitement of
the last few days. Every power of mind and body had been under the
severest strain, and nature now gave way.

The doctor, when he came to make his morning call, was most welcome. He
said there was nothing alarming about Miss Walton's symptoms, but added
very decisively that she would need rest and quiet of mind for a long
time in order to regain her former tone and health.

When Annie revived he gave something that would tend to quiet her
nervous system and produce sleep.

"I now understand Mr. Walton's case," he said to Miss Eulie. "I could
not see why his severe cold, which he had apparently cured, should
result as it did. But now it's plain that it was complicated with heart
difficulties."

His visit to Gregory was not at all satisfactory, for his patient's
depression was so great that he was sinking under it. Mr. Walton's
death, leaving Annie defenceless, as it were, in the hands of a man
like Hunting, seemed another of the dark and cruel mysteries which to
him made up human life. The death that had given Daddy Tuggar such an
impulse toward faith and hope only led him to say with intense
bitterness, "God has forgotten His world, and the devil rules it."

"Mr. Gregory," said the physician, gravely, "do you know that you are
about the same as taking your own life? All the doctors in the world
cannot help you unless you try to live. Drugs cannot remove your apathy
and morbid depression."

"Very well, doctor," he replied; "do not trouble yourself to come any
more. I absolve you from all blame."

"But I cannot absolve myself. Besides, it's not manly to give up in
this style."

"I make no pretence of being manly or anything else. I am just what you
see. Can a broken reed stand up like a sturdy oak? Can such a thing as
I reverse fate? Thank you, doctor, for all you have done, but waste no
more time upon me. I knew, weeks ago, that the end was near, and I
would like to die in the old place."

The doctor looked at him a moment in deep perplexity, and then silently
left the room.

"Internal injuries that I can't get at," he muttered, as he drove away.

Miss Eulie came to Gregory's side, and laying her hand gently on his
brow said, "You are mistaken, my young friend. You are going to live."

"Why do you think so?" he asked.

"The dying often have almost prophetic vision;" and she told him all
that Mr. Walton had said, though nothing of the contemplated marriage.
She dwelt with special emphasis on the facts that he had told Annie to
be a sister to Gregory and had gone to heaven with the assurance to his
old friend that his son would join him there.

Gregory was strongly moved, and turning his face upon the pillow, gave
way to a passion of tears; but they were despairing, bitter, regretful
tears. He soon seemed ashamed of them, and when he again turned his
face toward Miss Eulie, it had a hard, stony look.

Almost with sternness he said, "If the dying have supernatural insight,
why could not Mr. Walton see what kind of a man Hunting is? Please
leave me now. I know how kind and well-meant your words are, but they
are mockery to me;" and he turned his face to the wall.

Miss Eulie sighed very deeply, but felt that his case was beyond her
skill.

Daddy Tuggar was at first grievously disappointed. He had wrought
himself up into the hope of a celestial scene, and the abrupt and quiet
termination of Mr. Walton's life seemed inadequate to the occasion. But
Miss Eulie comforted him by saying that "the Christian walked by faith,
and not by sight--that God knew what was best, better than we, His
little children.

"Death had not even the power to cause him a moment's pain," she said.
"God gave him a sweet surprise, by letting him through the gates before
he was aware."

Thus she led the strange old man to think it was for the best after
all. The Rev. Mr. Ames, who had come on such a different mission, also
tried to make clearer what Mr. Walton had said to him. But Daddy Tuggar
would not permit his mind to wander a moment from the simple truth,
which he kept saying over and over to himself, "I'm an awful sinner,
and the good Lord come after just such."

Another thing that greatly perplexed the old man was that Mr. Walton
had not been permitted to live long enough to see his daughter married.
As an old neighbor, and because of his strong attachment to Annie, he
had been invited to be present.

"'Pears to me that the Lord might have spared him a few minutes
longer," he said.

"It _appears_ to you so," replied Mr. Ames, "but the Lord _knows_ why
he did not."

"Well, parson," said Daddy Tuggar, "I thank you very kindly for what
you have said, but John Walton has done the business for me. I'm just
goin' to trust--I'm just goin' to let myself go limber and fall right
down on the Lord Jesus' word. I don't believe it will break with me.
Anyhow, it's all I can do, and John Walton told me to do it and I
allers found he was about right." And thus late in the twilight of life
the old man took his pilgrim's staff and started homeward.

As soon as Hunting recovered from his bitter disappointment and almost
superstitious alarm at the sudden thwarting of his purpose, his wily
and scheming mind fell to work on a new combination. If he still could
induce Annie to be married almost immediately, as he greatly hoped, all
would be well. If not, then he would assume that they were the same as
married, and at once take his place so far as possible at the head of
the household, in accordance with Mr. Walton's wish. On one hand, by
tender care and thoughtfulness for them all, he would place Annie under
the deepest obligation; on the other, he would gain, to the extent he
could, control of her affairs and property. In the latter purpose Mr.
Walton had greatly aided by naming him one of the executors of his
will; and only Miss Eulie, the sister-in-law, was united with him as
executrix. Thus he would substantially have his own way. Indeed, Mr.
Walton, in his perfect trust, meant that he should.

Having seen Annie quietly sleeping, he started for New York to make
arrangements for the funeral, and look after some personal matters that
had already been neglected too long.

His feelings on the journey were not enviable. He had enough faith to
fear God, but not to trust and obey. The thought recurred with
disheartening frequency, "If God is against this, He will thwart me
every time."

The day had closed in thick darkness and a storm before Annie awoke
from the deep sleep which the sedative had prolonged. Though weak and
languid, she insisted on getting up. Her aunt almost forced her to take
a little supper, and then she went instinctively and naturally to that
room which had always been a place of refuge, but which now was the
chamber of death.

She turned up the light that she might look at the dear, _dear_ face.
How calm and noble it was in its deep repose! It did not suggest
death--only peaceful sleep.

With a passionate burst of sorrow she moaned, "O father, let me sleep
beside you, and be at rest!"

Then she took his cold hand, and sat down mechanically to watch, as in
the days and nights just passed. But as she became composed and thought
grew busy, the deep peace of the sleeper seemed imparted to her. In
vivid imagination she followed him to the home and greetings that he
had so joyously anticipated. She saw him meet her mother and sister,
and other loved ones who had gone before. She saw him at his Saviour's
feet, blessed and crowned. She heard the wild storm raging without in
the darkness, and then thought of his words "There is no night there."

"Dear father," she murmured, "I would not call you back if I could. God
give me patience to come to you in His own appointed way."

Then she dwelt upon the strange events of the day. How near she had
come to being a wife! Why had she not become one? That the marriage
should have been so suddenly and unexpectedly prevented on the very eve
of consummation, caused some curious thoughts to flit through her mind.

"It is enough to know that it was God's will," she said; "and my future
is still in His hands. Poor Charles! it will be a disappointment to
him; and yet what difference will a few weeks or months make?"

Then her father's words, "Be a sister to Gregory," recurred to her, and
she reproached herself that she had so long forgotten him. "Father is
safe home," she said, "and I am leaving him to wander further and
further away. Father told me to be a sister to him, and I will. When he
gets well and strong, if he ever does, he will feel very differently;
and if he is to die (which God forbid), what more sacred duty can I
have than to plead with him and for him to the last?"

Pressing a kiss on her father's silent lips, she went to fulfil one of
their last requests. She first asked her aunt if it would be prudent to
visit Gregory. "I hardly know, Annie, what to say," said Miss Eulie, in
deep perplexity; and she told her what had occurred in relation to
Gregory, the doctor, and herself, omitting all reference to Hunting.
"If he is not roused out of his gloom and apathy, I fear he will die,"
concluded her aunt; "and if you can't rouse him, I don't know who can."

Annie gave her a quick, questioning glance.

"Yes, Annie, I understand," she said, quietly. "He received his worst
injury before the ladder fell."

"O aunty, what shall I do?"

"Indeed, my dear child, I can hardly tell you. You are placed in a
difficult and delicate position. Perhaps your father's words were
wisest, 'Be a sister to him.' At any rate, you have more power with him
than any one else, and you owe it to him to do all you can to save him."

"I am ready to do anything, aunty, for it seems as if I could never be
happy if he should die an unbeliever."

Annie stole noiselessly to Gregory's side, and motioned to the young
man who was in charge to withdraw to the next room. Gregory was still
asleep. She sat down by him and was greatly shocked to see how
emaciated and pale he was. It seemed as if he had suffered from an
illness of weeks rather than days.

"He will die," she murmured, with all her old terror at the thought
returning. "He will die, and for me. Though innocent, I shall always
feel that his blood is upon me;" and she buried her face in her hands,
and her whole frame shook with a passion of grief.

Her emotion awoke him, and he recognized with something like awe the
bowed head at his side.

Her grief for her father, as he supposed it to be, seemed such a sacred
thing! And yet he could not bear to see her intense sorrow. His heart
ached to comfort her, but what words of consolation could such as he
offer? Still, had she not come to him as if for comfort? This thought
touched him deeply, and he almost cursed his unbelieving soul that made
him dumb at such a time. What could he say but miserable commonplaces
in regard to a bereavement like hers?

He did not say anything, but merely reached out his hand and gently
stroked her bowed head.

Then she knew he was awake, and she took his hand and bowed her head
upon it.

"Miss Walton," he said, in a husky voice, "it cuts me to the heart to
see you grieve so. But, alas! I do not know how to comfort you, and I
can't say trite words which mean nothing. After losing such a father as
yours, what can any one say?"

She raised her head and said, impetuously, "It's not for father I am
grieving. He is in heaven--he is not lost to me. It's for you--you. You
are breaking my heart."

"Miss Walton," he began, in much surprise, "I don't understand--"

"Why don't you understand?" she interrupted. "What do you think I am
made of? Do you think that you can lie here and die for me and I go
serenely on? Do you not see that you would blight the life you have
saved?"

His apathy was gone now. But he was bewildered, so sudden and
overpowering was her emotion. He only found words to say, "Miss Walton,
God knows I am yours, body and soul. What can I do?"

"Live! live!" she continued, with the same passionate earnestness. "I
impose no conditions, I ask nothing else. Only get well and strong
again. If you will do this, I have such confidence in your better
nature, and the many prayers laid up for you, as to feel sure that all
will come out right. But if you will just lie here and die, you will
imbitter my life. What did the doctor tell you this morning? And yet I
shall feel that I am partly the cause. O, Mr. Gregory, you may think me
foolish, but that strange little omen of the chestnut burr is in my
mind so often! I never was superstitious before, but it haunts me.
Don't you remember how you stained my hand with your blood? I can't get
it out of my mind, and it has for me now a strange significance. If I
had to remember through coming years that you died for me all hopeless
and unbelieving, do you think so poorly of me as to imagine I could be
happy? Why can't you be generous enough to brighten the life you have
saved? Among my father's last words he said I must be a sister to you.
How can I if you die? You would make this dear old place, that we both
love, full of terrible memories."

He was deeply moved, and after a moment said, "I did not know that you
felt in this way. I thought the best thing that I could do was to get
out of the world and out of the way. I thought I knew you, but I do not
half understand your large, generous heart. For your sake I will try
and get well, nor will I impose any conditions whatever. But pardon me:
I am going to ask one thing, which you can grant or not as you choose.
Please do not wrong me by thinking that I have any personal end in
view. I have given all that up as truly as if I were dead. I ask that
you do not speedily marry Charles Hunting--not till you are sure you
know him."

"O dear!" exclaimed Annie, in real distress, "this dreadful quarrel!
What trouble it makes all around!"

"If your father," continued Gregory, with grave earnestness, "told you
to be a sister to me, then I have some right to act as a brother toward
you. But as an honest man, with all my faults, and with your interests
nearest my heart, I entreat you to heed my request. Nay, more: I am
going to seem ungenerous, and refer for the first and last time to the
obligation you are under to me. By all the influence I gained by that
act, I beg of you to hesitate before you marry Charles Hunting. Believe
me, I would not lay a straw in the way of your marrying a good man."

"Your words pain me more than I can tell you," said Annie, sadly. "I do
not understand them. Once they would have angered me. But, however
mistaken you are, I cannot do injustice to your motive.

"I do not see how your request can injure Charles," she continued,
musingly. "I have no wish to marry now for a long time--not till these
sad scenes have faded somewhat from memory. If you will only promise to
live I will not marry him till you get strong and well--till you can
look upon this matter as a man--as a brother ought. But your hostility
must not be unreasonable or implacable. I _know_ you do Mr. Hunting
great injustice. And yet such is my solicitude for you that I will do
what seems to me almost disloyal. But I know that I owe a great deal to
you as well as Charles."

"What I ask is for your sake, not mine. I only used the obligation as a
motive."

"Well," said Annie, "I yield; and surely a sister could do no more than
I have done to-night."

"And I have simply done my duty," he answered, quietly. "And yet I
thank you truly. You also may see the time when you will thank me more
than when I interposed my worthless person between you and danger."

"Please never call yourself 'worthless' to me again. We never did
agree, and I fear we shall be gray before we do. But mark this: I am
never going to give you up, whatever happens. I shall obey dear
father's last words from both duty and inclination. But let us end this
painful conversation. What have you eaten to-day?"

"I'm sure I don't know," he said.

"Will you eat something if I bring it?"

"I will do anything you ask."

"Now you give me hope," and she vanished, sending the regular watcher
back to his post.

Gregory found it no difficult task to eat the dainty little supper she
brought. She had broken the malign spell he was under. As we have seen,
his was a physical nature peculiarly subject to mental conditions.

Soon after she said, in a low tone meant only for his ear, "Good-night,
my poor suffering brother. We all three shall understand each other
better in God's good time."

"I hope so," he said, with a different meaning. "You have made me feel
that I am not alone and uncared for in the world, though I cannot call
you sister yet. Good-night."

Annie went back to her father's side, and remained till her aunt almost
forced her away.

It is not necessary to dwell on the events of the next few days. Such
is our earthly lot, nearly all can depict them by recalling their own
sad experience: the hushed and solemn household, even the children
speaking low and treading softly, as if they might awake one whom only
"the last trump" could arouse.

John Walton's funeral was no formal pageant, but an occasion of sincere
and general mourning. Even those whose lives and characters were the
opposite of his had the profoundest respect for him, and the entire
community united in honoring his memory.

Perhaps the most painful time of all to the stricken family was the
evening after their slow, dreary ride to the village cemetery. Then, as
not before, they realized their loss.

Annie felt that her best solace would be in trying to cheer others. She
had seen Gregory but seldom and briefly since the interview last
described, but had been greatly comforted by his decided change for the
better. He had kept his word. Indeed, it was only the leaden hand of
despondency that kept him down, and he rallied from the moment it was
lifted. This evening he was dressed and sitting by the fire. As she
entered, in her deep mourning, his look was so wistful and kind, so
eloquent with sympathy, that instead of cheering him, as she had
intended, she sat down on a low ottoman, and burying her face in her
hands, cried as if her heart would break.

"Oh that I knew how to comfort you!" said Gregory, in the deepest
distress. "I cannot bear to see you suffer."

He rose with difficulty and came to her side, saying, "What can I do,
Miss Walton? Would that I could prevent you, at any cost to myself,
from ever shedding another tear!"

His sympathy was so true and strong that it was a luxury for her to
receive it; and she had kept up so long that tears were nature's own
relief.

At last he said timidly, hesitatingly, as if venturing on forbidden
ground, "I think the Bible says that in heaven all tears will be wiped
away. Your father is surely there."

"Would that I were there with him!" she sobbed.

"Not yet, Annie, not yet," he said, gently. "Think how dark this world
would be to more than one if you were not in it."

"But will you never seek this dear home of rest?" she asked.

"The way of life is closed to me," he said, sadly.

"O, Mr. Gregory! Who is it that says, 'I am the way?'"

"But He says to me, 'Depart.'"

"And yet I, knowing all--I, a weak, sinful creature like yourself--say,
Come to Him. I am better and kinder than He who died for us all! What
strange, sad logic! Good-night, Walter. You will not always so wrong
your best Friend."

Gregory's despairing conviction that his day of mercy was past was
hardly proof against her words and manner, but he was in thick darkness
and saw no way out.

Annie went down to her aunt and Hunting in the parlor. "Why will Mr.
Gregory be so hard and unbelieving?" she said, tearfully.

"If you knew him as well as I do you would understand," said Hunting,
politicly, and then changed the conversation.

He was consumed by a jealousy which he dared not show. Annie's manner
toward him was all that he could ask, and he felt sure of her now. But
it was the future he dreaded, for he was satisfied that Gregory had
formed an attachment for Annie, whether she knew it or not, and, unless
he could secure her by marriage, the man he had wronged might find
means of tearing off his mask. With desperate earnestness he resolved
to press his suit.

His course since Mr. Walton's death had been such as to win Annie's
sincerest gratitude. When action rather than moral support was
required, he was strong, and no one could be more delicately thoughtful
of her feelings and kinder than he had been.

"Dear Charles," said Annie, when they were alone. "What should I have
done without you in all these dreary days! How you have saved me from
all painful contact with the world!"

"And so I ever wish to shield you," said Hunting. "Will you not, as
your father purposed, give me the right at once?"

"You have the right, Charles. I ask no more than you have done and are
doing. But do not urge marriage now. I yielded then for father's sake,
not my own. My heart is too sore and crushed to think of it now. After
all, what difference can a few months make to you? Be generous. Give me
a respite, and I will make you a better wife and a happier home."

"But it looks, Annie, as if you could not trust me," he said, gloomily.

"No, Charles," she said, gravely, "it looks rather as if you distrusted
me; and you must learn to trust me implicitly. Out of both love for you
and justice to myself, I exercise my woman's right of naming the day.
In the meantime I give you my perfect confidence. No words of
others--nothing but your own acts can disturb it, and of this I have no
fear."

He did not seek to disguise his deep disappointment. While she felt
sorry for him, she remained firm, and he saw that it would not be wise
to urge her.

Annie would not carelessly give pain to any one, much less to those she
loved. And yet her mind was strong and well-balanced. She knew it was
no great misfortune to Hunting to wait a few months when her own
feelings and the duty she owed another required it. "When Mr. Gregory
gets strong and well and back to business," she thought, "he will
wonder at himself. I have no right almost to destroy him now in his
weakness by doing that which can be done better at another time; and
indeed, for my own sake, I should have required delay."

The next day Hunting was reluctantly compelled to go to the city.
Somewhat to Annie's surprise, Gregory made no effort to secure her
society. In her frank, sisterly regard she was slow in understanding
that her presence caused regretful pain to him. But he seemed
resolutely bent upon getting well, and was gaining rapidly. He walked
out a little while during the middle of the day, and her eyes followed
him wistfully as he moved slowly and feebly along the garden walk. She
saw, with quickly starting tears, that he went to the rustic seat by
the brook where they had spent that memorable Sunday afternoon, and
that he stood in long, deep thought.

When he came back she offered to read to him.

"Not now--not yet," he said, sadly. "I know my own weakness, and would
be true to my word."

"Why do you shun me?" she asked.

"May you never understand from experience," he said with a smile that
was sadder than tears, and passed on up to his room.

And yet, though he did not know it, his course was the best policy, for
it awakened stronger respect and sympathy on her part.

The next morning ushered in the first of the dreamy Indian-summer days,
when Nature, as if grieved over the havoc of the frost, would hide the
dismantled trees and dead flowers by a purple haze, and seek as do
fading beauties to disguise the ravages of time by drawing over her
withered face a deceptive veil.

Gregory felt so much better that he thought he could venture to make a
parting call on Daddy Tuggar. He found the old man smoking on his
porch, and his reception was as warm and demonstrative as his first had
been a month ago, though of a different nature. Gregory lighted a cigar
and sat down beside him.

"I'm wonderful glad to see you," said Mr. Tuggar. "To think that I
should have cussed you when it was the good Lord that brought you here!"

"Do you think so?" asked Gregory.

"Certain I do. Would that house be there? Wouldn't all our hearts be
broke for Miss Annie if it wasn't for you?"

Gregory felt that his heart was "broke" for her as it was, but he said,
"It was my taking her out to walk that caused her danger. So you
wouldn't have lost her if I had not come."

"You didn't knowin'ly git her in danger, and you did knowin'ly git her
out, and that's enough for me," said the old man.

"Well, well, Mr. Tuggar, if I had broken my neck it would have been a
little thing compared with saving the life of such a woman as Miss
Walton. Still, I fear the Lord has not much to do with me."

"And have you been all this time with John Walton and Miss Annie and
still feel that way?"

"It's not their fault."

"I believe that. Are you willin' to say you are a great sinner?"

"Of course. What else am I?"

"That's it--that's it," cried the old man, delightedly. "Now you're all
right. That's just where I was. When John Walton bid me good-by, he
asked me one question that let more light into my thick head than all
the readin' and preachin' and prayin' I ever heard. He asked, 'Whom did
Jesus Christ come to save?' Answer that."

"The Bible says He came to save sinners," replied Gregory, now deeply
interested.

"Well, I should think that meant you and me," said Mr. Tuggar,
emphatically. "Anyhow, I know it means me. John Walton told me that all
I had to do was to just trust the Saviour--not of good people--but of
sinners, and do the best I could; and I have just done it, and I'm all
right, Mr. Gregory, I'm all right. I don't know whether I can stop
swearin', but I'm a tryin'. I don't know whether I can ever get under
my old ugly temper, but I'm a tryin' and a prayin'. But whether I can
or not, I'm all right, for the good Lord came to save sinners; and if
that don't mean me, what's the use of words?"

"But can you trust Him?" asked Gregory.

"Certain I can. Wasn't John Walton an honest man? Wasn't Jesus Christ
honest? Didn't he know what He come for?"

"Admitting that He came to save sinners, how can you be sure He will
save all? He might save you and not me."

"Well," said Mr. Tuggar, "I hadn't been home long before that question
come up to me, and I thought on it a long time. I smoked wellnigh a
hundred pipes on it afore I got it settled, but 'tis settled, and when
I settle a thing I don't go botherin' back about it. But like enough
'twon't satisfy you."

"At any rate, I should like to hear your conclusion."

"Well, I argued it out to myself. I says, 'Suppose there's some sinners
too bad, or too somethin' or other, for the Lord to save, and suppose
you are one of them, ain't ''lected,' as my wife says. If I could be an
unbelievin' sinner for eighty years, it seemed to me that if anybody
wasn't 'lected I wasn't. I was dreadfully down, I tell yer, for I'd set
my heart on bein' John Walton's neighbor again. After I'd smoked a good
many pipes, I cussed myself for an old fool. 'There, you've brought
your case into court,' I says, 'and you're goin' to give it up afore
it's argued.' Then I argued it. I was honest, you may be sure. It
wouldn't do me any good to pettifog in this matter. First I says, if
there was any doubt about the Lord savin' all sinners who wanted Him
to, John Walton orter have spoken of it, and from what I know of the
man he would. Then I says, arter all, it's the Lord I've got to deal
with. Now what kind of a Lord is He? Then I commenced rememberin' all
that Miss Eulie and Miss Annie had read to me about Him, and all I'd
heard, and I got my wife to read some, and my hopes grew every minute.
I tell you what, Mr. Gregory, it was a queer crowd He often had around
Him. I'd kinder felt at home among 'em, 'specially with that swearin'
fisherman Peter.

"Well, the upshot of it was, I couldn't find that He ever turned one
sinner away. Then why should He me? Then my wife, as she was readin',
come across the words, 'Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast
out.' I had heard them words afore often, but it seemed now as the
first time, and I just shouted, 'I've got His word for it,' and my wife
thought I was crazy, sure 'nuff, for she didn't know what I was drivin'
at. And now, Mr. Gregory, you're just shut up to two things, just two
things. Either the Lord Jesus will save every sinner that comes to Him,
or he ain't honest, and don't mean what he says, and won't do as he
used to. I tell yer I'm settled, better settled than yonder mountain. I
just let myself go limber right down upon the promise, and it's all
right. I'm going to be John Walton's neighbor again."

Gregory was more affected by the old man's quaint talk than he would
have believed possible. It seemed true that he was "shut up" to one or
the other of the alternatives presented. He commenced pacing up and
down the little porch in deep thought. Mr. Tuggar puffed away at his
pipe with such vigor that he was exceedingly beclouded, however clear
his mind. At last Gregory said, "I shall think over what you have said,
very carefully, for I admit it has a great deal of force to my mind."

"That's right," said Mr. Tuggar; "argue it out, just as I did. Show
yourself no favors, and be fair to yourself, and you can't get away
from my conclusion. You've got to come to it."

"I should be very glad to come to it," said Gregory, gravely.

"I should think you would. There'll be some good neighbors up there,
Mr. Gregory; these Waltons are all bound to be there. Miss Annie would
be kinder good company--eh, Mr. Gregory?"

In spite of himself he flushed deeply under the old man's keen scrutiny.

"There's one thing that's mighty 'plexing to me," said Mr. Tuggar, led
to the subject by its subtle connection with Gregory's blush, "and
that's why the Lord didn't keep John Walton alive a few minutes longer,
so that the marriage could take place."

Gregory gave a great start. "What marriage?" he asked.

"Why, don't you know about it?" said Mr. Tuggar, in much surprise.

"No, nothing at all."

"Then perhaps I ortn't ter speak of it."

"Certainly not, if you don't think it right."

"Well, I've said so much I might as well say it all," said the old man,
musingly. "It's no secret, as I knows of;" and he told Gregory how near
Annie came to being a wife.

Gregory drew a long breath and looked deathly pale and faint.

"Well, now, I'd no idea that you'd be so struck of a heap," said the
old man, in still deeper surprise.

"God's hand was in that," murmured Gregory; "God's hand was in that."

"Do you think so, now? Well, it does seem kinder cur'us, and per'aps it
was, for somehow I never took to that Hunting, though he seems all
right."

"Good-by, Mr. Tuggar," said Gregory, rising; "you have given me a good
deal to think about, and I'm going to think, and act, too, if I can. I
am going to New York to-morrow, and one of the first things I do will
be to fill your pipe for a long time;" and he pressed the old man's
hand most cordially.

"Let yourself go limber when you come to trust, and it will be all
right," were Daddy Tuggar's last words, as he balanced himself on his
crutches in parting.

Gregory found Annie in the parlor, and he said, "I have good news for
you; Daddy Tuggar is a Christian."

Annie sprang joyfully up and said, "I'm going over to see him at once."

When she returned, Gregory was quietly reading in the parlor, showing
thus that he had no wish to avoid her.

She came directly to him and said, "Daddy Tuggar says that you propose
going home to-morrow."

"Well, really, Miss Walton, I have no home to go to; but I expect to
return to the city."

"Now I protest against it."

"I'm glad you do."

"Then you won't go?"

"Yes, I must; but I'm glad you don't wish me to go"

"Why need you go yet? You ought not. You should wait till you are
strong."

"That is just why I go--to get _strong_. I never could here, with you
looking so kindly at me as you do now. You see I am as frank as I
promised to be. So please say no more, for you cannot and you ought not
to change my purpose."

"O dear!" cried Annie, "how one's faith is tried! Why need this be so?"

"On the contrary," he said, "what little faith I ever had has been
quite revived this afternoon. Daddy Tuggar has been 'talking religion'
to me, and, pardon me for saying it, I found his words more convincing
than even yours."

"I am not jealous of him," said Annie, gladly.

"I can't help thinking that God does see and care, in that He prevented
your marriage."

Annie blushed deeply, and said, coldly, "I am sorry you touched upon
that subject," and she left the room.

Gregory went quietly on with his reading, or seemed to do so. Indeed,
he made a strong effort, and succeeded, for he was determined to master
himself outwardly.

She soon relented and came back. When she saw him apparently so
undisturbed, the thought came to her, "He has truly given me up. There
is nothing of the lover in that calmness, and he makes no effort to win
my favor," but she said, "Mr. Gregory, I fear I hurt your feelings. You
certainly did mine. I cannot endure the injustice you persist in doing
Mr. Hunting."

"I only repeat your own words, 'We all three shall understand each
other in God's good time'; and after what I heard to-day, I have the
feeling that He is watching over you."

"Won't you promise not to speak any more on this subject?"

"Yes, for I have done my duty."

She took up his book and read to him, thus giving one more hour of
mingled pain and pleasure; though when he thought how long it would be
before he heard that sweet voice again, if ever, his pain almost
reached the point of anguish. As she turned toward him and saw his look
of suffering, she realized somewhat the effort he had made to keep up
before her.

She came to him and said, "I was about to ask a favor, but perhaps it's
hardly right."

"Ask it, anyway," he said, with a smile.

"I don't urge it, but I expect Mr. Hunting this evening. Won't you come
down to supper and meet him?"

"For your sake I will, now that I have gained some self-control. I am
not one to quarrel in a lady's parlor under any provocation. For your
sake I will treat Mr. Hunting like a gentleman, and make my last
evening with you as little of a restraint as possible."

"Thank you--thank you. You now promise to make it one of peculiar
happiness."

Annie drove to the depot for Hunting, and told of Gregory's consent to
meet him. She said, "Now is your opportunity, Charles. Meet him in such
a way as to make enmity impossible."

His manner was not very reassuring, but, in his pleasure at hearing
that Gregory was soon to depart, and that in his absence Annie's
confidence in him had not been disturbed, he promised to do the best he
could. She was nervously excited as the moment of meeting approached,
and, somewhat to her surprise, Hunting seemed to share her uneasiness.

Gregory did not come down till the family were all in the supper-room.
Annie was struck with his appearance as he entered. Though his left arm
was in a sling, there was a graceful and almost courtly dignity in his
bearing, a brilliancy in his eyes and a firmness, about his mouth,
which proved that he had nerved himself for the ordeal and would
maintain himself. Instantly she thought of the time when he had first
appeared in that room, a half-wrecked, blase man of the world. Now he
looked and acted like a nobleman.

Hunting, on the contrary, had a shuffling and embarrassed manner; but
he approached Gregory and held out his hand, saying, "Come, Mr.
Gregory, let by-gones be by-gones."

But Gregory only bowed with the perfection of distant courtesy, and
said, "Good-evening, Mr. Hunting," and took his seat.

Both Hunting and Annie blushed deeply and resentfully. After they were
seated, Annie looked toward Hunting to say "grace" as usual, but he
could not before the man who knew him so well, and there was another
moment of deep embarrassment, while a sudden satirical light gleamed
from Gregory's eyes. Annie saw it, and it angered her.

Then Gregory broke the ice with quiet, well-bred ease. In natural tones
he commenced conversation, addressing now one, now another, in such a
way that they were forced to answer him in like manner. He asked
Hunting about the news and gossip of the city as naturally as if they
had met that evening for the first time. He even had pleasant repartee
with Johnny and Susie, who had now come to like him very much, and his
manner toward Miss Eulie was peculiarly gentle and respectful, for he
was deeply grateful to her. Indeed, that good lady could scarcely
believe her eyes and ears; but Gregory had always been an enigma to
her. At first he spoke to Annie less frequently than to any one else,
for he dreaded the cloud upon her brow and her outspoken truthfulness,
and he was determined the evening should pass off as he had planned.
Though so crippled that his food had to be prepared for him, he only
made it a matter of graceful jest, and gave ample proof that a highly
bred and cultivated man can be elegant in manners under circumstances
the most adverse.

Even Annie thawed and relented under his graceful tact, and felt that
perhaps he was doing all she could expect in view of the simple promise
to "treat Hunting like a gentleman, for her sake." But it had pained
her deeply that he had not met Hunting's advances; and she saw that,
though perfectly courteous, he was not committing himself in the
slightest degree toward reconciliation.

Moreover, she was excessively annoyed that Hunting acted so poor a
part. It is as natural for a woman to take pride in her lover as to
breathe, but she could have no pride in Hunting that evening. He seemed
annoyed beyond endurance with both himself and Gregory, though he
strove to disguise it. He knew that he was appearing to disadvantage,
and this increased his embarrassment, and he was most unhappy in his
words and manner. Yet he could take exception at nothing, for Gregory,
secure in his polished armor, grew more brilliant and entertaining as
he saw his adversary losing ground.

All were glad when he supper-hour was over and they could adjourn to
the parlor. Here Gregory changed his tactics, and drawing the children
aside, told them a marvellous tale as a good-by souvenir, thus causing
them to feel deep regret for his departure. He next drew Miss Eulie
into an animated discussion upon a subject he knew her to be interested
in. From this he made the conversation general, and continued to speak
to Hunting as naturally as if there were no differences between them.
But all saw that he was growing very weary, and early in the evening he
quietly rose and excused himself, saying that he needed rest for his
journey on the morrow. There was the same polite, distant bow to
Hunting as at first, and in deep disappointment Annie admitted that
nothing had been gained by the interview from which she had hoped so
much. They were no nearer reconciliation. While Gregory's manner had
compelled respect and even admiration, it had annoyed her excessively,
for he had made her lover appear to disadvantage, and she was almost
vexed with Hunting that he had not been equal to the occasion. She was
sorry that she had asked Gregory to come down while Hunting was
present, and yet courtesy seemed to require that he should be with
them, since he was now sufficiently well. Altogether it was a silent
little group that Gregory left in the parlor, as all were busy with
their own thoughts.

Hunting determined to remain the following day and see Gregory off and
out of the way forever, he hoped.

The next morning Gregory did not come down to breakfast. But at about
ten o'clock he started for a short farewell stroll about the old place.
Annie joined him in the garden.

"I do not think you were generous last evening," she said. "Mr. Hunting
met you half-way."

"Did I not do just what I promised?"

"But I was in hopes you would do more, especially when the way was
opened."

"Do you think, Miss Walton, that Mr. Hunting's manner and feelings
toward me were sincerely cordial and friendly? Was it the prompting of
his heart, or your influence, that led him to put out his hand?"

Annie blushed, in conscious confusion. "I fear I shall never reconcile
you," she said, sadly.

"I fear not," he replied. "There must be a great change in us both
before you can. Though the reason I give you was a sufficient one for
not taking his hand in friendly feeling, it was not the one that
influenced me. I would not have taken it under any circumstances."

"Mr. Gregory, you grieve me most deeply," she said, in a tone of real
distress. "Won't you, when you come to part, take his hand for my sake,
and let a little of the ice thaw?"

"No," he said, almost sternly; "not even for your sake, for whom I
would die, will I be dishonest with myself or him; and you are not one
to ask me to act a lie."

"You wound me deeply, sir!" she said, coldly.

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend," he replied. She did not answer.

"We shall not part in this way, Annie," he said, in a low, troubled
voice.

"The best I can do is to give you credit for very mistaken sincerity,"
she answered, sadly.

"That is all now, I fear," replied he, gently. "Good-by, Annie Walton.
We are really parting now. My mission to you is past, and we go our
different ways. You will never believe anything I can say on this
painful subject, and I would not have spoken of it again of my own
accord. Keep your promise to me, and all will yet be well, I believe.
As that poor woman who saved us in the mountains said, 'There will at
least be one good thing about me. Whether I can pray for myself or not,
I shall daily pray for you'; and I feel that God who shielded you so
strangely once, will still guard you. Do not grieve because I go away
with pain in my heart. It's a better kind of suffering than that with
which I came, and lasting good may come out of it, for my old reckless
despair is gone. If I ever do become a good man--a Christian--I shall
have you to thank; and even heaven would be happier if you were the
means of bringing me there."

"When you speak that way, Walter," she said, tears starting to her
eyes, "I must forgive everything; and when you become a Christian you
will love even your enemy. Please take this little package from me, but
do not open it till you reach the quiet and seclusion of your own
rooms. Good-by, my brother, for as such my father told me to act and
feel toward you, and from my heart I obey."

He looked at her with moistened eyes, but did not trust himself to
answer, and without another word they returned to the house.

Gregory's leave-taking from the rest of the household was no mere form.
Especially was this true of Miss Eulie, to whom he said most feelingly,
"Miss Morton, my mother could not have been kinder or more patient with
me."

When he pressed Zibbie's hand and left a banknote in it, she broke out
in the broadest Scotch, "Maister Gregory, an' when I think me auld gray
head would ha' been oot in the stourm wi' na hame to cover it, I pray
the gude God to shelter yours fra a' the cauld blasts o' the wourld."

Silent Hannah, alike favored, seemed afflicted with a sudden attack of
St. Vitus's dance, so indefinite was the number of her courtesies;
while Jeff, on the driver's seat, looked as solemn as if he were to
drive Gregory to the cemetery instead of the depot.

At the moment of final parting, Gregory merely took Annie's hand and
looked into her eyes with an expression that caused them speedily to
droop, tear-blinded.

To Hunting he had bowed his farewell in the parlor.

When the last object connected with his old home was hidden from his
wistful, lingering gaze, he said, with the sorrow of one who watches
the sod placed above the grave of his dearest, "So it all ends."

But when in his city apartments, which never before had seemed such a
cheerless mockery of the idea of home, he opened the package Annie had
given him--when he found a small, worn Bible, inscribed with the words,
"To my dear little daughter Annie, from mother," and written beneath,
in a child's hand, "I thank you, dear mother. I will read it every
day"--he sprang up, and exclaimed it strongest feeling, "No, all has
not ended yet."

When he became sufficiently calm he again took up the Bible, and found
the leaves turned down at the 14th chapter of St. John, with the words,
"Begin here."

He read, "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe
also in me.

"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would
have told you. I go to prepare a place for you."

"How sweetly--with what exquisite delicacy--she points me beyond the
shadows of time!" he said, musingly. "I believe in God. I ever have.
Then why not _trust_ the 'Man of Sorrows,' who also must be God? Both
Annie and her quaint old friend are right. He never turned one away who
came sincerely. In Him who forgave the outcast and thief there glimmers
hope for me. How thick the darkness as I look elsewhere. Lord Jesus,"
he cried, with a rush of tears, "I am palsied through sin: lift me up,
that I may come to Thee."

Better for him that night than a glowing hearth with genial friends
around it was Annie's Bible.

Looking at it fondly, he said, "It links me to her happy childhood
before that false man came, and it may join me to her in the 'place'
which God is preparing, when he who now deceives her is as far removed
as sin."



CHAPTER XXXII

AT SEA--A MYSTERIOUS PASSENGER



Immediately after Mr. Walton's funeral Miss Eulie had written to a
brother-in-law, then, in Europe, full particulars of all that had
occurred. This gentleman's name was Kemp, and he had originally married
a sister of Miss Eulie and Mrs. Walton. But she had died some years
since, and he had married as his second wife one who was an entire
stranger to the Walton family, and with whom there could be but little
sympathy. For this reason, though no unfriendliness existed, there had
been a natural falling-off of the old cordial intimacy. Mr. Walton had
respected Mr. Kemp as a man of sterling worth and unimpeachable
integrity, and his feelings were shared by Miss Eulie and Annie, while
Mr. Kemp himself secretly cherished a tender and regretful memory of
his earlier marriage connection. When he heard that his niece, Annie,
was orphaned, his heart yearned toward her, for he had always been fond
of her as a child. But when he came to read of her relations with
Hunting, and that this man was in charge of her property, he was in
deep distress. He would have returned home immediately, but his wife's
health would not permit his leaving her. He wrote to Miss Eulie a long
letter of honest sympathy, urging her and Annie to come to him at
Paris, saying that the change would be of great benefit to both.

This letter was expressed in such a way that it could be shown to
Annie. But he inclosed another under seal to the aunt, marked private,
in which by strong and guarded language he warned her against Hunting.
He did not dare commit definite charges to writing, not knowing how
much influence Hunting had over Miss Eulie. He felt sure that Annie
would not listen to anything against her lover, and justly feared that
she would inform him of what she heard, thus putting him on his guard,
and increasing his power for mischief. Mr. Kemp's hope was to act
through Miss Eulie, and get both her and Annie under his protection as
soon as possible. He knew that when he was face to face with Annie he
could prove to her the character of her lover, and through her compel
him to resign his executorship. Therefore he solemnly charged Miss
Eulie, as she loved Annie, not to permit her marriage with Hunting,
and, as executrix, to watch his financial management closely.

Miss Eulie was greatly distressed by the contents of this letter. Mr.
Kemp's words, combined with Gregory's manner, destroyed her confidence
in Hunting, and made her feel that he might cause them irretrievable
disaster. She knew her brother to be a man of honor, and when he wrote
such words as these, "If Mr. Walton had known Hunting as I do he would
rather have buried his daughter than permit her to marry him," she was
sure that he did not speak unadvisedly.

"Moreover," Mr. Kemp wrote, "I am not giving my mere opinion of
Hunting. I have absolute proof of what he is and has done."

But it was his opinion that it would not be safe to reveal to Annie the
contents of this letter, as Hunting, in the desperation of his fears,
might find means to compass a hasty marriage, or disastrously use his
power over her property.

As we have seen, in quiet home-ministerings Miss Eulie had no superior,
but she felt peculiarly timid and self-distrustful in dealing with
matters like these. Her first impulse and her growing desire were that
she and Annie might reach the shelter and protection of her brother.
She did not understand business, and felt powerless to thwart Hunting.

Annie's spirits greatly flagged after her father's death. Hunting did
not seem to have the power to comfort and help her that she had
expected to find in him. She could not definitely find fault with a
single act, save his treatment of Gregory; he was devotion itself to
her, but it was to her alone. He proved no link between her and God.
Even when in careful phrases he sought to use the "language of Canaan,"
he did not speak it as a native, and ever left a vague, unsatisfied
pain in her heart. He was true and strong when he spoke of his own
love. He was eloquent and glowing when his fancy painted their future
home, but cold and formal in comparison when he dwelt on that which her
Christian nature most needed in her deep affliction.

When Annie found that she could leave the children in charge of a
careful, trustworthy relative, she was readily persuaded into the plan
of going abroad. She felt the need of change, for her health had begun
to fail, and she was sinking into one of those morbid states which are
partly physical and partly mental.

Hunting, also, strongly approved of the project. Business would require
him to visit Europe during the winter, and in having Annie as a
companion he thought himself fortunate indeed. He felt sure that as
soon as she regained her health and spirits she would consent to their
marriage; moreover, it would place the sea between her and Gregory,
thus averting all danger of disclosure. A trip abroad promised to
further his interests in all respects. He knew nothing of Mr. Kemp save
as a New York business man, and supposed that Mr. Kemp had only a
general and favorable knowledge of himself.

For Annie's sake and her own Miss Eulie tried to prevent any marked
change in her manner toward Hunting, and though she was not a very good
actress he did not care enough about her to notice her occasional
restraints and formality of manner. But Annie did, and it was another
source of vague uneasiness and pain, though the causes were too
intangible to speak of. She thought it possible that Gregory had
prejudiced her aunt slightly. But it was her nature to prove all the
more loyal to Hunting, especially when he was so devoted to her.

Before they could complete arrangements for departure, Annie was taken
seriously ill, and January of the ensuing year had nearly passed before
she was strong enough for the journey. During her illness no one could
have been more kind and attentive than Hunting, and Annie felt
exceedingly grateful. Still, in their prolonged and close intimacy
since her father's death, something in the man himself had caused her
love for him to wane. She had a growing consciousness that he was not
what she had supposed. She reproached herself bitterly for this, and
under the sense of the wrong she felt herself doing him, was disposed
to show more deference to his wishes, and in justice to him to try to
make amends. When, therefore, he again urged that the marriage take
place before they sailed, giving as his reasons that he could take
better care of her, and that henceforth she could be with him, and that
he would not be compelled to leave her so often on account of his
business, she was half inclined to yield. She felt that the
marriage-tie would confirm her true feelings as a wife, and that it was
hardly fair to ask him to be away from his large and exacting business
so much, especially when he had appeared so generous in the time he had
given her, which must have involved to him serious loss and
inconvenience. She said to herself, "I shall be better and happier, and
so will Charles, when I cease secretly finding fault with him, and
devote myself unselfishly to making a good wife and a good home."

Hunting exultantly thought that he would carry his point, but Miss
Eulie proved she was not that nonentity which, in his polite and
attentive indifference, he had secretly considered her. With quiet
firmness she said that, as Annie's natural guardian, she would not give
her consent to the marriage. As a reason she said, "I think it would
show a great lack of respect and courtesy to Annie's uncle and my
brother, who is so fond of her, and has been so kind. I see no pressing
need for the marriage now, for I am going with Annie and can take care
of her as I have done. If it seems best, you can be married over there,
and I know that Mr. Kemp would feel greatly hurt if we acted as if we
were indifferent to his presence at the ceremony."

The moment her aunt expressed this view Annie agreed with her, and
Hunting felt that he could not greatly complain, as the marriage would
be delayed but a few weeks.

Annie felt absolved from her promise to Gregory by an event that
occurred not very long after his departure. Gregory had sent a box,
directed to Miss Eulie's care, containing some toys and books for the
children, and the promised tobacco for Daddy Tuggar, also a note for
Annie, inclosed in one to Miss Eulie, in which were these words only,
"If you had searched the world you could not have given me anything
that I would value more."

In his self-distrust, and in his purpose not to give the slightest
ground for the imputation that he had sought her promise of delay to
obtain time to gain a hearing himself, he had said no more. But Annie
thought that he might have said more. The note seemed cold and brief in
view of all that had passed between them. Still, she hoped much from
the influence of her Bible.

One evening Hunting came up from the city evidently much disturbed. To
her expressions of natural solicitude he replied, "I don't like to
speak of it, for you seem to think that I ought to stand everything
from Mr. Gregory. And so I suppose I ought, and indeed I was grateful,
but one can't help having the natural feelings of a man. I was with
some friends and met him face to face in an omnibus. Knowing how great
was your wish that we should be friendly, I spoke courteously to him,
but he looked at me as if I were a dog. He might as well have struck
me. I saw that my friends were greatly surprised, but of course I could
not explain there, and yet it's not pleasant to be treated like a
pickpocket, with no redress. I defy him," continued Hunting, assuming
the tone and manner of one greatly wronged, "to prove anything worse
against me than that I compelled him and his partners to pay money to
which I had a legal right, and which I could have collected in a court
of law."

The politic Hunting said nothing of moral right, and innocent Annie was
not on the lookout for such quibbles.

Her quick feelings were strongly stirred, and on the impulse of the
moment she sat down and wrote:

"Mr. Gregory--I think your course toward Mr. Hunting to-day was not
only unjust, but even ungentlemanly. You cannot hurt his feelings
without wounding mine. I cannot help feeling that your hostility is
both 'unreasonable and implacable.' In sadness and disappointment,
"Annie Walton."

"There," she said, "read that, and please mail it for me."

"That's my noble Annie," he said, gratefully. "Now you prove your love
anew, and show you will not stand quietly by and see me insulted."

"You may rest assured I will not," she said, promptly; adding very
sadly after a moment, "I cannot understand how Mr. Gregory, with all
his good qualities, can act so."

"You do not know him so well as I do," said Hunting; "and yet even I
feel grateful to him for his services to you, and would show it if he
would treat me decently."

"He shall treat you decently, and politely too, if he wishes to keep my
favor," said she, hotly.

But the next day, when she thought it all over quietly, she regretted
that she had written so harshly. "My words will not help my Bible's
influence," she thought in self-reproach, "and only when he becomes a
Christian will he show a different disposition."

Her regret would have been still deeper, if she had known that Hunting
had sent her note with one from himself to this effect:

"You perceive from the inclosed that you cannot insult me as you did
yesterday and still retain the favor of one whose esteem you value _too
highly_ perhaps. My only regret is that you were not a witness to the
words and manner which accompanied the act of writing."

Still stronger would have been her indignation had she known that
Hunting had greatly exaggerated his insult. Gregory had merely acted as
if unconscious of his presence, and there had been no look of scorn.

When Gregory received the missives he tossed Hunting's contemptuously
into the fire, but read Annie's more than once, sighed deeply, and
said, "He keeps his ascendency over her. O God! quench not my spark of
faith by permitting this great wrong to be consummated." Then he
indorsed on her note, "Forgiven, my dear, deceived sister. You will
understand in God's good time."

But he felt that God must unravel the problem, for Annie would listen
to nothing against her lover.

She hoped that Gregory would write an explanation, or at least some
words in self-defence, and then she meant to soften her hasty note, but
no answer came. This increased her depression, and she was surprised at
her strong and abiding interest in him. She could not understand how
their eventful acquaintance should end as it promised to. Then came her
illness, and through many long, sleepless hours, she thought of the
painful mystery.

As she recovered strength of body and mind she felt that it was one of
those things that she must trustingly put in God's hands and leave
there. This she did, and resolutely and patiently addressed herself to
the duties of her lot.

As for Gregory, from the first evening of his return to the city, he
adopted the resolution in regard to Annie's Bible which she, as a
little child, had written in it so many years ago, "I will read it
every day."

It became his shrine and constant solace. Instead of going to his club,
as was his former custom, he spent the long, quiet evenings in its
study. The more he read the more fascinated he became by its rich and
varied truths. Sometimes as he was tracing up a line of thought through
its pages, so luminously and beautifully would it develop that it
seemed to him that Annie and his mother, with unseen hands, were
pointing the way. Though almost alone in the great city, he grew less
and less lonely, and welcomed the shades of evening, that he might
return to a place now sacred to him, where the gift Bible, like a
living presence, awaited him.

His doubts and fears vanished slowly. His faith kindled even more
slowly; but the teachings of that inspired Book gave him principle,
true manhood, and strength to do right, no matter how he felt. He had
honestly and sturdily resolved to be guided by it, and it did guide
him. He was a Christian, though he did not know it, and would not
presume to call himself such even to himself. In view of his evil past
he was exceedingly humble and self-distrustful. As Mr. Walton had told
poor old Daddy Tuggar, he was simply trying to "trust Jesus Christ and
do the best he could."

But those associated with him in business, and many others, wondered at
the change in him. Old Mr. Burnett, his senior partner, was especially
delighted, and would often say to him, "I thank God, Mr. Gregory, that
you nearly had your neck broken last October"; for the good old man
associated this accident with the change.

Gregory also began attending church--not a gorgeous temple on Fifth
Avenue, where he was not needed; but he hunted up an obscure and
struggling mission, and said to the minister, "I am little better than
a heathen, but if you will trust me I will do the best I can to help
you."

Within a month, through his liberal gifts and energetic labors, the
usefulness of the mission was almost doubled. It was touching to see
him humbly and patiently doing the Lord's lowliest work, as if he were
not worthy. He hoped that in time he might receive the glad assurance
that he was accepted; but whether it came or not, he purposed to do the
best he could, and leave his fate in God's hands. At any rate God
seemed not against him, for both his business and his Christian work
prospered.

One bright morning late in January, Annie, Miss Eulie, and Hunting were
driven down, to the steamer, and having gone to their state-rooms and
seen that their luggage was properly stowed away, they came up on deck
to watch the scenes attending the departure of the great ship, and
observe the views as they sailed down the bay. Hunting had told them to
make the most of this part of the voyage, for in a winter passage it
might be long before they could enjoy another promenade.

Annie was intensely interested, for all was new and strange. She had a
keen, quick eye for character, and a human interest in humanity, even
though those around her did not belong to her "set." Therefore it was
with appreciative eyes that she watched the motley groups of her
fellow-passengers waving handkerchiefs and exchanging farewells with
equally diversified groups on the wharf.

"It seems," she said to her aunt, "as if all the world had sent their
representatives here. It makes me almost sad that there is no one to
see us off."

Then her eye rested upon a gentleman who evidently had no one to see
him off. He was leaning on the railing upon the opposite side of the
ship, smoking a cigar. His back was toward all this bustle and
confusion, and he seemed to have an air of isolation and of
indifference to what was going on about him. His tall person was clad
in a heavy overcoat, which seemed to combine comfort with elegance, and
gave to him, even in his leaning posture, a distingue air. But that
which drew Annie's attention was the difference of his manner from that
of all others, who were either excited by their surroundings, or were
turning wistfully and eagerly toward friends whom it might be long
before they saw again. The motionless, apathetic figure, smoking
quietly, with his hat drawn down over his eyes, and looking away from
everything and everybody, came to have a fascination for her.

The steamer slowly and majestically moved out into the stream. Shouts,
cries, final words, hoarse orders from the officers--a perfect babel of
sounds--filled the air, but the silently-curling smoke-wreaths were the
only suggestion of life from that strangely indifferent form. He seemed
like one so deeply absorbed in his own thoughts that he would have to
be awakened as from sleep.

Suddenly he turned and came toward them with the air of one who feels
himself alone, though jostled in a crowd, and instantly, with a strange
thrill at heart, Annie recognized Walter Gregory.

Hunting saw him also, and Annie noted that, while the blackest frown
gathered on his brow, he grew very pale.

In his absorption, Gregory would have passed by them, but Annie said,
"Mr. Gregory, are you not going to speak to us?"

He started violently, and his face mantled with hot blood, and Annie
also felt that she was blushing unaccountably. But he recovered
instantly, and came and shook her hand most cordially, saying, "This is
a strangely unexpected pleasure. And Miss Morton, also! When was I ever
so fortunate before?"

Then he saw Hunting, to whom he bowed with his old, distant manner, and
Hunting returned the acknowledgment in the most stiff and formal way.

"Do you know," said Annie, "I have been watching you with curiosity for
some time past, though I did not know who you were till you turned. I
could not account for your apathy and indifference to this scene, which
to me is so novel and exciting, and which seems to find every one
interested save yourself. I should hardly have thought you alive if you
had not been smoking."

"Well," he said, "I have been abroad so often that it has become like
crossing the ferry, and I was expecting no one down to see me off. But
you do not look well;" and both she and Miss Eulie noticed that he
glanced uneasily from her to Hunting, and did not seem sure how he
should address her.

"Miss Walton has just recovered from a long illness," said Miss Eulie,
quietly.

His face instantly brightened, and as quickly changed to an expression
of sincerest sympathy.

"Not seriously ill, I hope," he said, earnestly.

"I'm afraid I was," replied Annie, adding, cheerfully, "I am quite well
now, though."

His face became as pale as it had been flushed a moment before, and he
said, in a low tone, "I did not know it."

His manner touched her, and proved that there was no indifference on
his part toward her, though there might be to the bustling world around
him.

Then he inquired particularly after each member of the household, and
especially after old Daddy Tuggar.

Annie told him how delighted the children had been with the toys and
books. "And as for Daddy Tuggar," she said, smiling, "he has been in
the clouds, literally and metaphorically, ever since you sent him the
tobacco. Whenever I go to see him he says, most cheerfully, 'It's all
settled, Miss Annie. It grows clearer with every pipe' (while I can
scarcely see him), 'I'm all right, 'cause I'm an awful sinner.'"

She was rather surprised at the look of glad sympathy which Gregory
gave her, but he only said, "He is to be envied."

Then at her request he began to point out the objects of interest they
were passing, and with quiet courtesy drew Hunting into the
conversation, who rather ungraciously permitted it because he could not
help himself.

Annie again, with pain, saw the unfavorable contrast of her lover with
this man, who certainly proved himself the more finished gentleman, if
nothing else.

With almost a child's delight she said, "You have no idea how novel and
interesting all this is to me, though so old and matter-of-fact to you.
I have always wanted to cross the ocean, and look forward to this
voyage with unmingled pleasure."

"I'm sincerely sorry such a disastrous change is so soon to take place
in your sensations, for it will be rough outside to-day, and I fear you
and Miss Morton will soon be suffering from the most forlorn and
prosaic of maladies."

"I won't give up to it," said Annie, resolutely.

"I have no doubt," he replied, humorously, "as our quaint old friend
used to say, that you are 'well meanin',' but we must all submit to
fate. I fear you will soon be confined to the dismal lower regions."

"Are you sick?"

"I was at first."

His prediction was soon verified. From almost a feeling of rapture and
a sense of the sublime as they looked out upon the broad Atlantic with
its tumultuous waves, the ladies suddenly became silent, and glanced
nervously toward the stairway that led to the cabin.

Gregory promptly gave his arm to Miss Eulie, while Hunting followed
with Annie, and that was the last appearance of the ladies for three
days.



CHAPTER XXXIII

COLLISION AT SEA--WHAT A CHRISTIAN COULD DO



On the morning of the fourth day, as the sea had become more calm, the
ladies ventured upon deck for a short time. Gregory immediately joined
them and complimented their courage in coming out during a winter
voyage.

"Nature and I are friends all the year round," said Annie, with a faint
attempt at a smile, for she was still sick and faint. "I rather like
her wild, rough moods. It has been a great trial to my patience to lie
in my berth, helpless and miserable from what you well term a 'prosaic
malady,' when I was longing to see the ocean. Now that we have made a
desperate attempt to reach deck, there is nothing to see. Do you think
this dense fog will last long?"

"I hope not, especially for your sake. But do not regret coming out,
for you will soon feel better for it."

"I do already; I believe I could live out of doors. Have you been ill?"

"O no; I should have been a sailor."

"Mr. Hunting has fared almost as badly as we," said Annie, determined
that they should make one group.

"Indeed! I'm sorry," said Gregory, quietly.

"I hate the ocean," snarled Hunting, with a grim, white face; "I'm
always sick."

"And I'm afraid of it," said Miss Eulie. "How can they find their way
through such a mist? Then, we might run into something."

"In any case you are safe, Miss Morton," said Gregory, with a smile.

She gave him a bright look and replied, "I trust we all are. But the
sea is rough, boisterous, treacherous, and mysterious, just the
qualities I don't like. What a perfect emblem of mystery this fog is
through which we are going so rapidly!"

"Well," said Gregory, with one of his expressive shrugs, "I find all
these experiences equally on the land, especially the latter."

Annie gave him a quick, inquiring look, while color came into even
Hunting's pale face.

Annie felt no little curiosity as to Gregory's developing character,
for though he had said nothing definite, his softened manner and quiet
dignity made him seem very unlike his old self.

"How do you pass your time?" she asked.

"Well, I read a great deal, and I take considerable exercise, for I
wish fully to regain my health."

She gave him a grateful look. He was keeping his promise. She said,
"You look very much better than I expected to see you, and I'm very
glad, for you were almost ghostly when you left us. What do you find so
interesting to read?"

His color rose instantly, but he said with a smile, "A good old book
that I brought with me."

The expression of his face answered her swift, questioning look. It was
her Bible. Neither Miss Eulie nor Hunting understood why she became so
quiet; but the latter, who was watching them closely, thought he
detected some secret understanding. In his jealous egotism it could
only mean what was adverse to himself, and he had an attack of
something worse than sea-sickness.

Gregory quietly turned the conversation upon ocean travel, and for a
half-hour entertained the ladies without any effort on their part, and
then they went back to their state-rooms.

By evening the ship was running so steadily that they all came out to
supper. Gregory, who was a personal friend of the captain, had secured
them a place near the head of the table, where they received the best
of attention. Annie, evidently, was recovering rapidly, and took a
genuine interest in the novel life and scenes around her. She found
herself vis-a-vis and side by side with great diversities of character,
and listened with an amused, intelligent face to the brisk
conversation. She noted with surprise that Gregory seemed quite a
favorite, but soon saw the reason in his effort to make the hour pass
pleasantly to his fellow-passengers. The captain had given him a seat
at his right hand, and appealed to him on every disputed point that was
outside of his special province.

She was also pleased to see how Gregory toned up the table-talk and
skilfully led it away from disagreeable topics. But he had a rather
difficult task, for, sitting near her, was a man whose ostentatious
dress reflected his character and words.

Some one was relating an anecdote of a narrow escape, and another
remarked, "That's what I should call a special Providence."

"Special Providence!" said Annie's loud neighbor, contemptuously. "A
grown man is very weak-minded to believe in any Providence whatever."

There was a shocked, pained expression on many faces, and Annie's eyes
flashed with indignation. She turned to Hunting, expecting him to
resent such an insult to their faith, but saw only a cold sneer on his
face. Hunting was decidedly English in his style, and would travel
around the world and never speak to a stranger, or make an
acquaintance, if he could help it. Then, instinctively, she turned to
Gregory. He was looking fixedly at the man, whose manner had attracted
general attention. But he only said, "Then I am very weak-minded."

There was a general expression of pleased surprise and sympathy on the
faces of those who understood his reply, while the captain stared at
him in some astonishment.

"I beg your pardon, sir," said the man; "I meant nothing personal. It
was only a rather blunt way of saying that I didn't believe in any such
things myself."

"I give you credit for your honesty, but some of us do."

"Then you pretend to be a Christian?"

"I should not _pretend_ to be one under any circumstances," said
Gregory, with the perfection of quiet dignity, "and I am very sorry to
say that I am not so favored. But I have full belief in a Providence,
both special and general."

"I like your honesty, too," said the man, seemingly anxious for an
argument. "By the word 'pretend' I only meant claim, or assert. But it
seems to me that the facts in the case are all against your belief. I
find nothing but law in the universe. You might as well say that this
ship is run by special Providence, when, in fact, it is run by
accurately gauged machinery, system, and rules."

"Now your argument is lame," said the captain, laughing. "We have
plenty of good machinery, system, and rules aboard, but if I wasn't
around, looking after everything all the time, as a special Providence,
I'm afraid you'd find salt water before Liverpool."

A general laugh followed this sally, and Gregory said: "And so I
believe that the Divine Providence superintends His own laws and
system. I think my friend the captain has given a most happy
illustration of the truth, and I had no idea he was so good a
theologian."

"That's not an argument," said the man, considerably crestfallen.
"That's only a joke."

"By the way, Mr. Gregory, it seems to me that your views have changed
since you crossed with me last," remarked the captain.

"I frankly admit they have," was the prompt reply. "Perhaps I can
explain myself by the following question: If you find, by a careful
observation, that you are heading your ship the wrong way, what do you
do?"

"Put her about on the right course."

"That is just what I have tried to do, sir. I think my meaning is
plain?"

"Nothing could be clearer, and I'd rather be aboard now than when you
were on the old tack."

Annie gave Gregory a glance of glad, grateful approval that warmed his
heart like sunshine.

Hunting said, enviously, _sotto voce_, "I think such conversation at a
public table wretched taste."

"I cannot agree with you," said Annie, decidedly; "but, granting it,
Mr. Gregory did not introduce the subject, and I wish you had spoken as
he did when every Christian at the table was insulted."

He colored deeply, but judiciously said nothing.

With increasing pain she thought, "He who says he is not a Christian
acts more like one than he who claims the character."

But she now had the strongest hopes for Gregory, and longed for a
private talk with him.

The next day it blew quite a gale, and Hunting and Miss Eulie were
helplessly confined to their staterooms. But Annie had become a sailor,
and having done all she could for her aunt, came upon deck, where she
saw Gregory walking back and forth with almost the steadiness of one of
the ship's officers.

She tried to go to him, but would have fallen had he not seen her and
reached her side almost at a bound. With a gentleness and tenderness as
real as delicate, he placed her in a sheltered nook where she could see
the waves in their mad sport, and said, "Now you can see old ocean in
one of his best moods. The wind, though strong, is right abaft, filling
all the sails they dare carry, and we are making grand progress."

"How wonderful it is!" cried Annie, looking with a child's interest
upon the scene. "Just see those briny mountains, with foam and spray
for foliage. If our own Highlands with their mingled evergreens and
snow were changed from granite to water, and set in this wild motion,
it could hardly seem more strange and sublime. Look at that great
monster coming so threateningly toward us. It seems as if we should be
engulfed beyond a chance."

"Now see how gracefully the ship will surmount it," said Gregory,
smiling.

"O dear!" said she, sighing, "if we could only rise above our troubles
in the same way!" Then, feeling that she had touched on delicate
ground, she hastened to add, "This boundless waste increases my old
childish wonder how people ever find their way across the ocean."

"The captain is even now illustrating your own teaching and practice in
regard to the longer and more difficult voyage of life," said Gregory,
meaningly. "He is 'looking up'--taking an observation of the heavens,
and will soon know just where we are and how to steer."

Annie looked at him wistfully, and said, in a low tone, "I was so glad
to learn, last evening, that you had taken an observation also, and I
was so very grateful, too, that you had the courage to defend our
faith."

"I have to thank you that I could do either. It was really you who
spoke."

"No, Mr. Gregory," she said, gently, "my work for you reached its
limit. God is leading you now."

"I try to hope so," he said; "but it was your hand that placed in mine
that by which He is leading me. He surely must have put it into your
heart to give me that Bible. When I reached my cheerless rooms in New
York I felt so lonely and low-spirited that I had not the courage to go
a single step further. But your Bible became a living, comforting
presence from that night. What exquisite tact you showed in giving me
that little worn companion of your childhood, instead of a new
gilt-leaved one, with no associations. I first hoped that you might
with it give me also something of your childhood's faith. But that does
not come yet. That does not come."

"It will," said she, earnestly, and with moistened eyes.

"That, now, is one of my dearest hopes. But after what I have been, I
am not worthy that it should come soon. But if I perish myself I want
to try to help others."

Then he asked, in honest distrustfulness, "Do you think it right for
one who is not a Christian to try to teach others?"

"Before I answer that question I wish to ask a little more about
yourself;" and she skilfully drew him out, he speaking more openly in
view of the question to be decided than he would otherwise have done.
He told of the long evenings spent over her Bible; of his mission work,
and of his honest effort to deal justly with all; at the same time
dwelling strongly on his doubts and spiritual darkness, and the unspent
influences of his old evil life.

The answer was different from what he expected; for she said: "Mr.
Gregory, why do you say that you are not a Christian?"

"Because I feel that I am not."

"Does feeling merely make a Christian?" she asked. "Is not action more
than feeling? Do not trusting, following, serving, and seeking to obey,
make a Christian? But suppose that even with your present _feeling_ you
were living at the time of Christ's visible presence on earth, would
you be hostile or indifferent, or would you join His band even though
small and despised?"

"I think I would do the latter, if permitted."

"I know you would, from your course last night. And do you think Jesus
would say, 'Because you are not an emotional man like Peter, you are no
friend of mine'? Why, Mr. Gregory, He let even Judas Iscariot, though
with unworthy motive, follow Him as long as he would, giving him a
chance to become true."

"Miss Walton, do not mislead me in this matter. You know how implicitly
I trust you."

"And I would rather cast myself over into those waves than deceive
you," she said; "and if I saw them swallowing you up I should as
confidently expect to meet you again, as my father. How strange it is
you can believe that Jesus died for you and yet will not receive you
when you are doing just that which He died to accomplish."

He took a few rapid turns up and down the deck and then leaned over the
railing. She saw that he brushed more than one tear into the waves. At
last he turned and gave his hand in warm pressure, saying, "I cannot
doubt you, and I will doubt Him no longer. I see that I have wronged
Him, and the thought causes me sorrow even in my joy."

"Now you are my brother in very truth," she said, gently, with glad
tears in her own eyes. "All that we have passed through has not been in
vain. How wonderfully God has led us!"

It was a long time before either spoke again.

At last he said, with a strange, wondering smile, "To think that such
as I should ever reach heaven! As Daddy Tuggar says, 'there will be
good neighbors there.'"

She answered him by a happy smile, and then both were busy with their
own thoughts again. Annie was thinking how best to introduce the
subject so near her heart, his reconciliation with Hunting.

But that gentleman had become so tortured with jealousy and so alarmed
at the thought of any prolonged conference between Annie and Gregory,
that he dragged himself on deck. As he watched them a moment before
they saw him, he was quite reassured. Gregory was merely standing near
Annie, and both were looking away to sea, as if they had nothing
special to say to each other. Annie was pained to see that Gregory's
manner did not change toward Hunting. He was perfectly polite, but
nothing more; soon he excused himself, thinking they would like to be
alone.

In the afternoon she found a moment to say, "Mr. Gregory, will you
never become reconciled to Mr. Hunting? You surely cannot hate him now?"

He replied, gravely, "I do not hate him any longer. I would do him any
kindness in my power, and that is a great deal for me to say. But Mr.
Hunting has no real wish for reconciliation."

In bitter sorrow she was compelled to admit to herself the truth of his
words. After a moment he added, "If he does he knows the exact terms on
which it can be effected."

She could not understand it, and reproached herself bitterly that so
many doubts in regard to her affianced would come unbidden, and force
themselves on her mind. The feeling grew stronger that there was wrong
on both sides, and perhaps the more on Hunting's.

That was a memorable day to Gregory. It seemed to him that Annie's hand
had drawn aside the sombre curtain of his unbelief, and shown the path
of light shining more and more unto the perfect day. Though
comparatively lonely, he felt that his pilgrimage could not now be
unhappy, and that every sorrow would at last find its cure. In regard
to her earthly future he could only hope and trust. It would be a
terrible trial to his faith if she were permitted to marry Hunting, and
yet he was sure it would all be well at last; for was it not said that
God's people would come to their rest out of "great tribulation"? She
had given him the impression that, under any circumstances, her love
for him could only be sisterly in its character.

But he was too happy in his new-born hope to think of much else that
day; and, finding a secluded nook, he searched Annie's Bible for truths
confirmatory of her words. On every side they glowed as in letters of
light. Then late that night he went on deck, and in his strong
excitement felt as if walking on air in his long, glad vigil.

At last, growing wearied, he leaned upon the railing and looked out
upon the dark waves--not dark to him, for the wanderer at last had seen
the light of his heavenly home, and felt that it would cheer his way
till the portals opened and received him into rest.

Suddenly, upon the top of a distant wave, something large and white
appeared, and then sank into an ocean valley. Again it rose--a sail,
then the dark hull of a ship.

In dreamy musing he began, wondering how, in mid-ocean, with so many
leagues of space, two vessels should cross each other's track so near.
"It's just the same with human lives," he thought. "A few months or
years ago, people that I never knew, and might have passed on the wider
ocean of life, unknowing and uncaring, have now come so near! Why is
it? Why does that ship, with the whole Atlantic before it, come so
steadily toward us?"

It did come so steadily and so near that a feeling of uneasiness
troubled him, but he thought that those in charge knew their business
better than he.

A moment later he started forward. The ship that had come so silently
and phantom-like across the waves seemed right in the path of the
steamer.

Was it not a phantom?

No; there's a white face at the wheel--the man is making a sudden,
desperate effort--it's too late.

With a crash like thunder the seeming phantom ship plows into the
steamer's side.

For a moment Gregory was appalled, stunned; and stared at the fatal
intruder that fell back in strong rebound, and dropped astern.

Then he became conscious of the confusion, and awakening uproar on both
vessels. Cries of agony, shouts of alarm, and hoarse orders pierced the
midnight air. He ran forward and saw the yawning cavern which the blow
had made in the ship's side, and heard the rush of water into the hold.
Across the chasm he saw the captain's pale face looking down with a
dismay like his own.

"The ship will sink, and soon," Gregory shouted.

There was no denial.

Down to the startled passengers he rushed, crying, "Awake! Escape for
your lives!"

His words were taken up and echoed in every part of the ship.

He struck a heavy blow upon the door of Annie's stateroom. "Miss
Walton!"

"Oh, what has happened?" she asked.

"You and Miss Morton come on deck, instantly; don't stop to dress;
snatch a shawl--anything. Lose not a moment. What is Hunting's number?"

"Forty, on the opposite side."

"I will be back in a moment; be ready."

Hunting's state-room was so near where the steamer had been struck that
its door was jammed and could not be opened.

"Help! help! I can't get out," shrieked the terrified man.

Gregory wrenched a leaf from a dining-room table and pried the door
open.

"Come," he said, "you've no time to dress."

Hunting wrapped his trembling form in a blanket and gasped, as he
followed, "I'll pay you back every cent of that money with interest."

"Make your peace with God. We may soon be before Him," was the awful
response.

Miss Eulie and Annie stood waiting, draped in heavy shawls.

"I'm sorry for the delay; Hunting's door was jammed and had to be
broken open. Come;" and putting his arm around Miss Eulie and taking
Annie's hand, he forced them rapidly through the increasing throng of
terror-stricken passengers that were rushing in all directions.

Even then, with a strange thrill at heart, Annie thought, "He has saved
his enemy's life."

He took them well aft, and said, "Don't move; stand just here until I
return," and then pushed his way to the point where a frantic crowd
were snatching for the life preservers which were being given out. The
officer, knowing him, tossed him four as requested.

Coming back, he said to Hunting, "Fasten that one on Miss Morton and
keep the other." Throwing down his own for a moment, he proceeded to
fasten Annie's. He would not trust the demoralized Hunting to do
anything for her, and he was right, for Hunting's hands so trembled
that he was helpless. Having seen that Annie's was secured beyond a
doubt, Gregory also tied on Miss Eulie's.

In the meantime a passenger snatched his own preserving-belt, which he
had been trying to keep by placing his foot upon it.

"Stop," Annie cried. "O Mr. Gregory! he has taken it and you have none.
You shall have mine;" and she was about to unfasten it.

He laid a strong grasp upon her hands. "Stop such folly," he said,
sternly. "Come to where they are launching that boat. You have no
choice;" and he forced her forward while Hunting followed with Miss
Eulie.

They stood waiting where the lantern's glare fell upon their faces,
with many others more pale and agonized.

Annie clung to him as her only hope (for Hunting seemed almost
paralyzed with fear), and whispered, "Will you the same as die for me
again?"

"Yes, God bless you! a thousand times if there were need," he said, in
tones whose gentleness equalled the harshness of his former words.

She looked at him wonderingly. There was no fear upon his face, only
unspeakable love for her.

"Are you not afraid?" she asked.

"You said I was a Christian to-day, and your Bible and God's voice in
my heart have confirmed your words. No, I am at peace in all this
uproar, save anxiety for you."

She buried her face upon his shoulder.

"My darling sister!" he murmured in her ear. "How can I ever thank you
enough?"

Then he started suddenly, and tearing off the cape of his coat, said to
Hunting, "Fasten that around Miss Morton;" and before Annie quite knew
what he was doing he had taken off the body part and incased her in it.

"Here, Hunting, your belt is not secure"; and he tightened the straps.

"Pass the women forward," shouted the captain.

Of course those nearest were embarked first. The ladies in Gregory's
charge had to take their turn, and the boat was about full when Miss
Eulie was lowered over the side.

At that moment the increasing throng, with a deeper realization of
danger, as the truth of their situation grew plainer, felt the first
mad impulse of panic, and there was a rush toward the boat. Hunting
felt the awful contagion. His face had the look of a hunted wild beast.
Annie gazed wonderingly at him, but as he half-started with the others
for the boat she understood him. Laying a restraining hand upon his
arm, she said, in a low tone, "If you leave my side now, you leave it
forever."

He cowered back in shame.

The officer in charge of the boat had shouted, "This boat is for women
and children; as you are men and not brutes, stand back."

This checked the desperate mob for a moment, and Gregory was about to
pass Annie down when there was another mad rush led by the blatant
individual who had scouted the idea of Providence.

"Cut away all," shouted the captain from the bridge, and the boat
dropped astern.

It was only by fierce effort that Gregory kept himself and Annie from
being carried over the side by the surging mass, many of whom leaped
blindly over, supposing the boat to be still there.

Pressing their way out they went where another boat was being launched.
Hunting followed them like a child, and was as helpless. He now
commenced moaning, "O God! what shall I do? what shall I do?"

"Trust Him, and be a man. What else should you do?" said Gregory,
sternly, for he was deeply disgusted at Hunting's behavior.

Around this boat the officer in charge had placed a cordon of men to
keep the crowd away, and stood pistol in hand to enforce his orders.
But the boat was scarcely lowered before there was the same wild rush,
mostly on the part of the crew and steerage passengers. The officer
fired and brought down the foremost, but the frenzied wretches trampled
him down with those helping, together with women and children, as a
herd of buffaloes might have done. They poured over into the boat,
swamped it, and as the steamer moved slowly ahead, were left struggling
and perishing in the waves.

Gregory had put his arm around Annie and drawn her out of the crush.
Fortunately they had been at one side, so that this was possible.

"The boats are useless," he said, sadly. "There will be the same
suicidal folly at every one, even if they have time to lower any more.
Come aft. That part will sink last, and there will be less suction
there when the ship goes down. We may find something that will keep us
afloat."

Annie clung to his arm and said, quietly, "I will do just as you say,"
while Hunting followed in the same maze of terror.

They had hardly got well away before a mast, with its rigging, fell
where they had stood, crushing many and maiming others, rendering them
helpless.

"Awful! awful" shuddered Hunting, and Annie put her hands before her
eyes.

An officer, with some men, now came toward them with axes, and
commenced breaking up the after wheelhouse.

"Here is our best chance," said Gregory. "Let us calmly await the final
moment and then do the best we can. All this broken timber will float,
and we can cling to it."

The ship was settling fast, and had become like a log upon the water,
responding slowly and heavily to the action of the waves. But under the
cold, pitiless starlight of that winter night, what heartrending scenes
were witnessed upon her sinking deck! Death had already laid its icy
finger on many, and many more were grouped near in despairing
expectation of the same fate.

While many, like Hunting, were almost paralyzed with fear, and others
shrieked and cried aloud in agony--while some prayed incoherently, and
others rushed back and forth as if demented--there were not wanting
numerous noble examples of faith and courage. Fortunately, there were
not many ladies on board, and most of these proved that woman's
fortitude is not a poetic fiction. One or two family groups stood near
in close embrace, and some men calmly folded their arms across their
breasts, and met their fate as God would have them.

Annie was conscious of a strange peace and hopefulness. She thrilled
with the thought which she expressed to Gregory--"How soon I may see
father and mother!"

She stood now with one hand on Hunting's trembling arm, for at that
supreme moment her heart was very tender, and she pitied while she
wondered at him. But Gregory was a tower of strength. He took her hand
in both his own, and said, "I can say the same, and more. Both father
and mother are awaiting me--and, Annie," he whispered, tenderly, "you,
too, will be there. So, courage! 'Good neighbors,' soon."

Why did her heart beat so strangely at his words?

"O God! have mercy on me!" groaned the man who had _seemed_, but was
not.

"Amen!" breathed both Annie and Gregory, fervently.

Suddenly they felt themselves lifted in the air, and, looking toward
the bow, saw it going under, while what seemed a great wave came
rolling toward them, bearing upon its dark crest white, agonized faces
and struggling forms.

Annie gave a swift, inquiring look to Gregory. His face was turned
heavenward, in calm and noble trust.

Hunting's wild cry mingled with the despairing shriek of many others,
but ended in a gurgling groan as he and all sank beneath the waters.



CHAPTER XXXIV

UNMASKED



It seemed that they passed through miles of water that roared around
them like a cataract. But Annie and Gregory held to each other in their
strong, convulsive grasp, and her belt caused him to rise with her to
the surface again. A piece of the wheelhouse floated near; Gregory swam
for it, and pushing it to Annie helped her upon it. Hunting also
grasped it. But it would not sustain the weight of all three,
especially as Gregory had no preserver on.

One must leave it that the other two might escape.

"Good-by, Annie, darling," said Gregory. "We will meet again in heaven
if not on earth. Cling to your plank as long as you can, and a boat may
pick you up. Good-by, poor Hunting, I'm sorry for you."

"What are you going to do?" gasped Annie.

"Don't you see that this won't float all three? I shall try to find
something else."

"No, no," cried Annie, "don't leave me: you have no belt on. If you go
I will too."

"I once lived for your sake; now you must for mine. I may save myself;
but if you leave we shall both drown. Good-by, dearest. If I reach home
first, I'll watch and wait till you come."

She felt him kiss her hand where she clung to her frail support, and
then he disappeared in the darkness.

"Why did you let him go?" she said to Hunting--"you who have a
preserver on?"

"O God, have mercy on me!" groaned the wretched man.

Annie now gave up all hope of escape, and indeed wished to die. She was
almost sure that Gregory had perished, and she felt that her best-loved
ones were in heaven.

She would have permitted herself to be washed away had not a sense of
duty to live until God took her life kept her firm. But every moment it
seemed that her failing strength would give way, and her benumbed hands
loosen their hold.

"But," she murmured in the noblest triumph of faith, "I shall sink, not
in these cold depths, but into my Saviour's arms."

Toward the last, when alone in the very presence of death, He seemed
nearest and dearest. She could not bear to look at the dark, angry
waters strewn with floating corpses. She had a sickening dread that
Gregory's white face might float by. So she closed her eyes, and only
thought of heaven, which was so near that its music seemed to mingle
with the surging of the waves.

She tried to say a comforting word to Hunting, but the terror-stricken
man could only groan mechanically, "God have mercy on me!"

Soon she began to grow numb all over. A dreamy peace pervaded her mind,
and she was but partially conscious.

She was aroused by hearing her name called. Did the voice come from
that shore beyond all dark waves of earthly trouble? At first she was
not sure.

Again and louder came the cry, but too full of human agony to be a
heavenly voice--

"Annie! Annie!"

"Here!" she cried, faintly, while Hunting, helpful for once, shrieked
aloud above the roar of the waves.

Then she heard the sound of oars, and a moment later strong hands
lifted her into the boat, and she found herself in Gregory's arms, her
head pillowed on his breast. Then all grew dark.

When she again became conscious she found herself in a small cabin,
with many others in like pitiable plight. Her aunt was bending over her
on one side and Gregory on the other, chafing her hands. At first she
could not remember or understand, and stared vacantly at them.

"Annie, darling," said Miss Eulie, "don't you know me?"

Then glad intelligence dawned in her face, and she reached out her
arms, and each clasped the other as one might receive the dead back to
life.

But quickly she turned and asked, "Where is Mr. Gregory?"

"Here, safe and sound," he said, joyously, "and Hunting, too. I shall
bless him all the days of my life, for his cries drowned old ocean's
hoarse voice and brought us right to you."

Hunting looked as if he did not exactly relish the tribute, but he
stooped down and kissed Annie, who permitted rather than received the
caress.

"How did you escape?" she asked Gregory, eagerly.

"Well, I swam toward the ship that struck us, whose lights I saw
twinkling in the distance, till almost exhausted. I was on the point of
giving up, when a small piece of the wreck floated near. By a great
effort I succeeded in reaching it. Then a little later a boat from this
ship picked me up and we started after you or any others that could be
found. I am glad to say that quite a number that went down with the
ship were saved."

She looked at him in a way to bring the warm blood into his face, and
said, in a low tone, "How can I ever repay yon?"

"By doing as you once said to me, 'Live! get strong and well.' Good-by
now. Miss Morton will take care of you."

Her eyes followed him till he disappeared, then she turned and hid her
face on Miss Eulie's shoulder. The good old lady was a little puzzled,
and so was Hunting, though he had dismal forebodings. But he was so
glad to have escaped that he could not indulge in very bitter regrets
just then. As his mind recovered its poise, however, and he had time to
think it all over, there came a sickening sense of humiliation.

In a few minutes Gregory returned and said to Annie, "See how honored
you are. I've been so lucky as to get the captain's best coat for you,
and those wet things that would chill you to death can be taken off.
You can give my coat to Hunting. You see I was up at the time of the
accident, and so am dressed."

"If I am to wear the captain's coat," said Annie, "then, with some of
his authority, I order you to go and take care of yourself. You have
done enough for others for a little while."

"Ay, ay, captain," said Gregory, smiling, as he again vanished.

It would only be painful to dwell on the dreary days and nights during
which the comparatively small sailing vessel was beating back against a
stormy wind to the port from which she had sailed. She had been much
injured by the collision, and many were doubtful whether, after all,
they would ever see land. Thus, to the manifold miseries of the rescued
passengers, was added continued anxiety as to their fate. It was,
indeed, a sad company that was crowded in that small cabin,
half-clothed, bruised, sick, and fearful. What seemed to them an
endless experience was but a long nightmare of trouble, while some, who
had lost their best and dearest, refused to be comforted and almost
wished they had perished also.

Annie's gratitude that their little party had all been spared grew
stronger every hour, and the one through whose efforts they had been
saved grew daily dearer.

At first she let her strong affection go out to him unchecked, not
realizing whither she was drifting; but a little characteristic event
occurred which revealed her to herself.

Her exposure had again caused quite a serious illness, and she saw
little of Gregory for a few days. Hunting claimed his right to be with
her as far as it was possible. Though she would not admit it to
herself, she almost shrunk from him. Of course the sailing ship had
been provisioned for only a comparatively small crew, and the sudden
and large accession to the number threatened to add the terrors of
famine to their other misfortunes.

Annie had given almost all of her allowance away. Indeed she had no
appetite, and revolted at the coarse food served. But she noticed that
Hunting ate all of his, or else put some quietly away, in view of
future need. She said to him, upon this occasion, "Can't you spare a
little of your portion for those poor people over there? They look
half-famished."

"I will do so if you wish," he replied, "but it would hardly be wise.
Think what tremendous business interests I represent, and it is of the
first importance that I keep up."

"Mr. Gregory is almost starving himself," said Miss Eulie, quietly. "I
feel very anxious about him."

"I represent a business of thousands where Mr. Gregory does hundreds,"
said Hunting, complacently.

"I wish you represented something else," said Annie, bitterly, turning
away.

Her words and manner jostled him out of himself. A principle that
seemed to him so sound and generally accepted appeared sordid and
selfish calculation to Annie and she felt that Gregory represented
infinitely greater riches in his self-denial for others.

Hunting saw his blunder and instantly carried all his portion to those
whom Annie had pointed out. But it was too late. He had shown his inner
nature again in a way that repelled Annie's very soul. She turned sick
at the thought of being bound to such a man.

At first she had tried to excuse his helpless terror on the ship by
thinking it a physical trait; but this was a moral trait. It gave a
sudden insight into the cold, dark depths of his nature.

Immediately after the disaster she had been too sick and bewildered to
realize her situation. Her engagement was such an old and accepted fact
that at first no thought of any other termination of it than by
marriage entered her mind. Yet she already looked forward to it only as
a duty, and she felt that her love for Hunting would be that of pity
rather than trust and honor. But she was so truthful--so chained by her
promises--that her engagement rested upon her like a solemn obligation.
Again, it had been entered into under circumstances so tenderly sacred
that even the wish to escape from it seemed like sacrilege. Still, she
said, in intense bitterness, "Dear father was deceived also. We did not
know him as we should."

Yet she had nothing against Hunting, save a growing lack of
congeniality and his cowardice at a time when few men could be heroic.
In her strong sense of justice she felt that she should not condemn a
man for an infirmity. But her cheeks tingled with shame as she
remembered his weakness, and she felt that a Christian ought to have
done a little better under any circumstances. When, in the event above
described, she saw his hard, calculating spirit, her whole nature
revolted from him almost in loathing.

After a brief time she told him that she wanted to be alone, and he
went away cursing his own folly. Miss Eulie, thinking she wished to
sleep, also left her.

"How can I marry him?" she groaned; "and yet how can I escape such an
engagement?"

When her aunt returned she found her sobbing as if her heart would
break.

"Why, Annie, dear, what is the matter?" she asked.

"Don't ask me," she moaned, and buried her face in her pillow.

Then that judicious lady looked very intelligent, but said nothing
more. She sat down and began to stroke Annie's brown, dishevelled hair.
But instead of showing very great sympathy for her niece, she had an
unusually complacent expression. Gregory had a strong but discreet
friend in the camp.

When Annie became calmer, she said, hesitatingly, "Do you think--is Mr.
Gregory--doesn't he eat anything?"

"No; he is really wronging himself. I heard it said that the captain
had threatened, jokingly, to put him in irons if he did not obey orders
and eat his allowance."

"Do you think I could make--do you think he would do better if I should
ask him?" inquired Annie, with her face buried in her pillow.

"Well," said Miss Eulie, gravely, though with a smile upon her face,
"Mr. Gregory is very self-willed, especially about some things, but I
do think that you have more power over him than any one else."

"Won't you tell him that I want to see him?"

He was very glad to come. Annie tried hard to be very firm and
composed, but, with her red eyes and full heart, did not succeed very
well.

At first he was a little embarrassed by her close scrutiny, for she had
wrought herself up into the expectation of seeing a gaunt,
famine-stricken man. But his cheeks, though somewhat hollow, were
ruddy, and his face was bronzed by exposure. Instead of being pained by
his cadaverous aspect, she was impressed by his manly beauty; but she
said, "I have sent for you that I might give you a scolding."

"I'm all meekness," he said, a little wonderingly.

"Aunty tells me that you don't eat anything."

"That is just what she says of you."

"But I'm ill and can't eat."

"Neither can I."

"Why not?"

"How can a man eat when there are hungry women aboard? It would choke
me."

Instead of scolding him, she again buried her face in her pillow, and
burst into tears.

He was a little perplexed, but said, gently, "Come, my dear little
sister, I hope you are not worrying about me. I assure you there is no
cause. I never felt better, and the worst that can happen is a famine
in England when I reach. It grieves me to the heart to see you so pale
and weak. The captain says I have a bad conscience, but it's only
anxiety for you that makes me so restless."

"Do you stay upon deck all night this bitter weather?"

"Well, I want to be ready if anything should happen."

"O Walter, Walter! how I have wronged you!"

"No, beg your pardon, you have righted me. What was I when I first knew
you, Annie Walton? There is some chance of my being a man now. But
come, let me cheer you up. I have good news for you. If I had lost
every dollar on that ship I should still be rich, for your little Bible
(I shall always call it yours) remained safe in my overcoat pocket, and
you brought it aboard. Now let me read you something that will comfort
you. I find a place where it is written, 'Begin here.' Can you account
for that?"

And he read that chapter, so old but inexhaustible, beginning, "Let not
your heart be troubled."

Having finished it, he said, "I will leave my treasure with you, as you
may wish to read some yourself. In regard to the subject of the
'scolding,' which, by the way, I have not yet received, if Miss Morton
here can tell me that you are eating more, I will. Good-by."

Annie's appetite improved from that hour. She seized upon the old Bible
and turned its stained leaves with the tenderest interest. As she did
so, her harsh note to Gregory, written when Hunting complained that he
had been insulted, dropped out. How doubly harsh and unjust her words
seemed now! Then she read his words, "Forgiven, my dear, deceived
sister." She kissed them passionately, then tore the note to fragments.

Miss Eulie watched her curiously, then stole away with another smile.
She liked the spell that was acting now, but knew Annie too well to say
much. Miss Eulie was one of those rare women who could let a good work
of this kind go on without meddling.

Annie did not read the Bible, but only laid it against her cheek. Then
Hunting came back looking very discontented, for he had managed to
catch glimpses of her interview with Gregory.

"Shall I read to you from that book?" he said.

She shook her head.

"You seemed to enjoy having Mr. Gregory read it to you," he said,
meaningly.

Color came into her pale face, but she only said, "He did not stay
long. I'm ill and tired."

"It's rather hard, Annie," he continued, with a deeply injured air, "to
see another more welcome at your side than I am."

"What do you mean?" she asked, in a sudden passion. "How much time has
Mr. Gregory been with me since he saved both our lives? You heard my
father say that I should be a sister to him; and yet I believe that you
would like me to become a stranger. Have you forgotten that but for him
you would have been at the bottom of the Atlantic? There, there, leave
me now, I'm weak and ill--leave me till we both can get into better
moods."

Pale with suppressed shame and anger, he went away, wishing in the
depth of his soul that Gregory was at the bottom of the Atlantic.

Again she buried her face in her pillow and sobbed and moaned, "How can
I marry that man! He makes my very flesh creep."

Then for the first time came the swift thought, "I could marry Gregory;
I'm happy the moment I'm near him;" and her face burned as did the
thought in her heart.

Then she turned pale with fear at herself. A sudden sense of guilt
alarmed her, for she had the feeling that she belonged to Hunting. So
solemn had been her engagement that the thought of loving another
seemed almost like disloyalty to the marriage-tie. With a despairing
sigh, she murmured, "Chained, chained."

Then strongly arose the womanly instinct of self-shielding, and the
purpose to hide her secret. An hour before, Gregory could not come too
often. He might have stooped down and as a brother kissed her lips, and
she would not have thought it strange or unnatural. Now she dreaded to
see him. And yet when would he be out of her thoughts? She hoped and
half-believed that he was beginning to regard her as a sister, and
still, deep in her soul, this thought had an added sting of pain.

Ah, Annie! you thought you loved before, but a master-spirit has now
come who will stir depths in your nature of which neither you nor
Hunting dreamed.

Hunting, seemingly, had no further cause to be jealous of Gregory
during the rest of the voyage. With the whole strength of her proud,
resolute nature, Annie guarded her secret. She sent kind messages to
Gregory, and returned the Bible, but did not ask him to visit her
again. Neither did she come on deck herself till they were entering the
harbor of an English port.

When Gregory came eagerly toward her, though her face flushed deeply,
she greeted him with a kind and gentle dignity, which, nevertheless,
threw a chill upon his heart. All the earnest words he meant to say
died upon his lips, and gave way to mere commonplaces. Drawing her
heavy shawl about her, she sat down and looked back toward the sea as
if regretting leaving it with all its horrors. He thought, "When have I
seen such a look of patient sorrow on any human face? She saw the love
I could not hide at our last interview. I did not deceive her by
calling her 'sister.' Her great, generous heart is grieving because of
my hopeless love, while in the most delicate manner she reminds me how
vain it is. Now I know why she did not send for me again."

He walked away from the little group pale and faint, and she could not
keep back the hot tears as she watched him. Miss Eulie was also
observant, and saw how they misunderstood each other. But she acted as
if blind, feeling that quickly coming events would right everything
better than any words of hers.

Gregory went to another part of the vessel, and leaned over the
railing. Annie noticed with an absorbing interest that he seemed as
indifferent to the delight of the passengers at the prospect of soon
being on land, and the bustle on the wharf, as he had appeared at the
commencement of the voyage. But she rightly guessed that there was
tumult at his heart. There certainly was at hers. When the vessel
dropped anchor and they would soon go ashore, he turned with the
resolve, "I will show her that I can bear my hard lot like a man," and
again came toward them, a proud and courteous gentleman.

Annie saw and understood the change, and her heart was chilled by a
sense of loneliness and isolation greater than if the stormy Atlantic
had rolled between them. And yet his manner toward her was very gentle,
very considerate.

He took charge of Miss Eulie, and soon they were at the best hotel in
the place. The advent of the survivors caused great excitement in the
city, and they were all overwhelmed with kindness and sympathy.

After a few hours Gregory returned to the hotel, dressed in quiet
elegance, and he seemed to Annie the very ideal of manhood; while she,
in her mourning robes, seemed to him the perfection of womankind. But
their manner toward each other was very quiet, and only Miss Eulie
guessed the subterranean fires that were burning in each heart.

"Are you sure that you will be perfectly comfortable here?" he asked.

"Entirely so," Annie replied. "Mr. Hunting has telegraphed to my uncle,
and we will await him here. I do not feel quite strong enough to travel
yet."

"Then I can leave you for a day or two with a quiet mind. I must go to
Liverpool."

She turned a shade paler, but only said, "I am very sorry you must
leave us so soon."

"I missed a note from your Bible," he said, in a low tone.

"Forgive me! I destroyed it," and she turned and walked to the window
to hide her burning face.

Just then Hunting entered, and a few moments later Gregory bade them a
quiet farewell.

"How wonderful is her constancy!" he sighed as he went away. "How can
she love and cling to that man after what he has shown himself!"

He had utterly misunderstood her and believed that she had destroyed
the note, not because of her own harsh words, but of his reflecting on
Hunting.

Annie thought she knew what sorrow was, but confessed to herself in
bitterness, after he had gone, that such had not been the case before.

If Hunting secretly exulted that Gregory was out of the way, and had
been taught by Annie that he must keep his distance, as he would
express it, he was also secretly uneasy at her manner toward him. She
merely endured his lavish attentions, and seemed relieved when he was
compelled to leave her for a time. "She will feel and act differently,"
he thought, "when she gets well and strong, and will be the same as
before." Thus the harassing fears and jealousy that had tortured him at
sea gave way to complacent confidence. But he was greatly provoked that
he could scarcely ever see Annie without the embarrassing presence of
Miss Eulie.

He had a growing antipathy for that lady, while he felt sure that she
did not like him. Annie was very grateful to her aunt for quietly
shielding her from caresses that every hour grew more unendurable.

Gregory was detained for some time in Liverpool, and on his return to
the city where he had left Annie and Miss Eulie he met Mr. Kemp, whom
he had known well in New York, also seeking them. This gentleman
greeted him most warmly, for he had read in the papers good accounts of
Gregory's behavior. In a few moments they entered the hotel together.
Fortunately, as Gregory thought, but most unfortunately, has he learned
afterward, Hunting was out at the time.

The warm color came into Annie's face as he greeted her, and she seemed
so honestly and eagerly glad to see him that his sore heart was
comforted.

Mr. Kemp's manner toward his niece and sister was affectionate in the
extreme. Indeed, the good old man seemed quite overcome by his
feelings, and Gregory was about to retire, but he said, "No, please
stay, sir. Forgive my weakness, if it is such. You don't know how dear
these people are to me, and when I think of all they have passed
through I can hardly control myself."

"We should not be here, uncle," said Annie, in a low, thrilling voice,
"had it not been for Mr. Gregory."

Then the old gentleman came and gave Gregory's hand such a grasp that
it ached for hours after. "I have been reading," he said, "warm
tributes to his conduct in the papers, but I did not know that we were
all under such deep personal obligations to him. Come, Annie, you must
tell me all about it."

"Not now, please," said Gregory. "I start in a few moments for Paris,
and must even now say good-by for a little time. I warn you, Mr. Kemp,
that Miss Walton will exaggerate my services. She has a way of
overvaluing what is done for her, and undervaluing what she does for
others."

"Well," said Mr. Kemp, with a significant nod, "that's a trait that
runs in the Walton blood."

"I long ago came to regard their blood as of the truest blue," said
Gregory, laughing.

"Must you leave us again so soon?" said Annie, with a slight tremble in
her voice.

"Yes, Miss Walton, even now I should be on the way to the train. But
you are surrounded by those who can best take care of you. Still I
earnestly hope that, before many days, I shall see you in Paris, and in
greatly improved health. So I won't say good-by, but only good-morning."

Ah, he did not know, or he would have said "farewell" with a heavy
heart.

His parting from her was most friendly, and the pressure of his hand
warm and strong, but Annie felt, with a deep, unsatisfied pain at
heart, that it was all too formal. Mr. Kemp was exceedingly
demonstrative, and said, "Wait till I see you in Paris, and I will
overwhelm you with questions, especially about your partner, my dear
old friend, Mr. Burnett."

But staid, quiet Miss Eulie surprised them all. She just put her arms
about his neck, and gave him a hearty kiss, saying, "Take that, Mr.
Gregory, from one who loves you like a mother."

He returned the caress most tenderly, and hastened away to hide his
emotion.

Then envious Annie bitterly reproached herself that she had been so
cold, and, to make amends, began giving a glowing account of all that
Gregory had done for them.

The old gentleman listened with an amused twinkle in his eyes, secretly
exulting over the thought, "It is not going to break her heart to part
with Hunting."

In the midst of her graphic story that unfortunate man entered, and her
words died upon her lips. She rose quietly, and said, "Charles, this is
my uncle, Mr. Kemp."

But she was amazed to see Mr. Kemp, who thus far had seemed geniality
itself, acknowledge her affianced with freezing coldness, and Hunting
turned deathly pale with a presentiment of disaster.

"Be seated, sir," said Mr. Kemp, stiffly; "I wish to make a brief
explanation, and after that will relieve you of the care of these
ladies."

Hunting sank into a chair, and Annie saw something of the same terror
on his face which had sickened her on the sinking ship. "Annie," said
her uncle, very gravely, "have you entire confidence in me? Your father
had."

"Certainly," said Annie, wondering beyond measure at this most
unaccountable scene.

"Will you take my word for it, that this man, who seems most conscious
of his guilt, deceived--yes, lied to Burnett & Co., and swindled them
out of so large a sum of money that the firm would have failed but for
me? Because, if you cannot take my word, I can give you absolute proof."

Annie buried her face in her hands and said, "Now I understand all this
wretched mystery. How I have wronged Mr. Gregory!"

"You could not do other than wrong him while Mr. Hunting had any
influence over you. I know Mr. Gregory well. He is an honorable
business man, and always was, with all his faults. And now, sir, for
your satisfaction, let me inform you that Mr. Burnett is one of my most
intimate friends. He told me all about it, and gave ample proof of the
nature of the entire transaction. I am connected with the bank with
which the firm deposited, and through my influence I secured them such
accommodation as tided them over the critical time in their affairs
which your villany had occasioned."

Hunting now recovered himself sufficiently to say, "I did nothing
different from what often occurs in business. I had a legal right to
every cent that I collected from Burnett & Co."

"But how about _moral right?_ Do we not all know that often the most
barefaced robberies take place within the limits of the law? And such
was your act. Even the hardened gamblers of the Street were disgusted."

"You have no right to speak to me in this way, sir," said Hunting,
trying to work up a little indignation. "Mr. Walton trusted me, and I
became engaged to Miss Walton under circumstances the most solemn and
sacred; we are the same as married."

"Come, sir," interrupted Mr. Kemp, hotly, "don't make me lose my
temper. John Walton was the soul of Christian honor. He would have
buried his daughter rather than have her marry you, if he had known you
as I do. I now insist that you resign your executorship and relieve us
of your presence."

"Annie," cried Hunting, in a voice of anguish, "can you sit quietly by
and hear me so insulted?"

She sat motionless--her face, burning with shame, buried in her hands.
With her intense Walton hatred of deceit, the thought that she had come
so near marrying a swindler and liar scorched her very soul.

He came to her side and tried to take her hand, but she shrunk from him
in loathing, and, springing up, said passionately, "When I think, sir,
that with this guilty secret you would have tricked me into marriage by
my father's death-bed, I am perfectly appalled at your wickedness. God
in mercy snatched me then from a fate worse than death."

She turned away for a moment and pressed her hands upon her throbbing
heart. Then turning her dark and flashing eyes to where he stood, pale,
speechless, and trembling, she said, more calmly, "May God forgive you.
I will when I can. Go."

She proved what is often true, that the gentle, when desperately
wronged, are the most terrible.

He slunk cowering away without a word, and to avoid exposure Mr. Kemp
at once compelled him to sign papers that took from him all further
power of mischief. Mr. Kemp eventually became executor in his stead.

As soon as Annie grew calmer she had a glad sense of escape greater
than that which had followed her rescue from the wrecked ship. Her
heart sprung up within her bosom and sung for joy. Then again she would
shudder deeply at what she had so narrowly avoided. Stronger than her
gratitude for life twice saved was her feeling of obligation to Gregory
for his persistent effort to shield her from this marriage. She was
eager to start for Paris at once that she might ask forgiveness for all
her injustice toward him. But in the excess of her feelings she was far
more unjust toward herself, as he would have told her.

Still, even if Hunting's dishonesty had not been revealed to her, Annie
would have broken with him. As soon as she gained her mental strength
and poise--as soon as she realized that her love was hopelessly gone
from him--her true, strong nature would have revolted from the marriage
as from a crime, and she would have told him, in deepest pity, but with
rock-like firmness, that it could not be.

The next day she greatly relented toward him, and, in her deep pity,
sent a kind farewell message which it would nave been well for him to
heed.



CHAPTER XXXV

A CHESTNUT BURR AND A HOME



When Gregory reached Paris, to his grief and consternation he found a
despatch informing him of the sudden death of old Mr. Burnett, and the
illness of Mr. Seymour, the other partner. "Return instantly," it read;
"the senior clerk is coming out to take your place."

At first it appeared a double grief that he could scarcely endure, for
it seemed that if he went back now Annie would be lost to him beyond
hope. But after thinking it all over he became calmer, "It may be best
after all, for as my wife she is lost to me beyond hope, and God sees
that I am not strong enough to meet her often yet and sustain myself,
and so snatches me from the temptation."

Thus little children guess at the meaning of an earthly father, but
Gregory did what a child should--he trusted.

He wrote a warm but hasty note to Annie, which through some
carelessness was never delivered, attended to some necessary matters,
and was just in time to catch the French steamer outward bound.

When Annie reached Paris, she learned in dismay that he had sailed for
New York. Seemingly he had left no message, no explanation; all they
could learn at his hotel was that he had received a despatch summoning
him instantly home. Annie was deeply wounded, though she tried to
believe that he had written and that the letter had been missent or
lost. A thousand conjectures of evil ran in her mind, and the thought
of his being again on the ocean, which she now so dreaded, at the
stormiest season of the year, was a source of deep anxiety. In her
morbid fears she even thought that the scheming Hunting might have
something to do with it. She gave way to despondency. Then her aunt
tried to comfort her by saying, "Annie, I am sure I understand you both
better than you do each other, and I think I can write Mr. Gregory a
line which will clear up everything."

But the quiet little lady was quite frightened by the way in which
Annie turned upon her.

"As you love me, aunty," she said, "never write a line on this subject.
I am not one to seek, but must be sought, even by Gregory. Not one
line, I charge you, containing a hint of my feelings."

"Well, Annie, darling," she said, gently, "it's all going to come out
right."

But Annie, in her weak, depressed state, saw only the dark side. As
with Gregory there was nothing for her but patient trust.

But when, in due time, there came a despatch from him announcing his
safe arrival, she was greatly reassured. The light came back into her
eyes and the color to her cheeks.

"What kind of medicine have you been taking to-day?" asked her uncle,
slyly.

"She has been treated with electricity," Miss Eulie remarked, quietly.

"O, aunty!" said Annie, with a deep blush, "when did I ever hear you
indulge in such a witticism before?"

And when, some days later, she received a cordial, brotherly letter
from Gregory, relating all that had occurred, a deep content stole into
her heart, and she felt, with Miss Eulie, that all would eventually be
well. She replied scrupulously, in like vein with himself, and thus
began a correspondence that to each became a source of the truest
happiness. Their letters were intensely brotherly and sisterly in
character, but Annie felt almost sure that, under his fraternal
disguise, she detected the warmth and glow of a far stronger affection;
and, before many months had passed, he hoped the same of her dainty
letters, though he could not lay his finger on a single word and say,
"This proves it." But Annie's warm heart unconsciously colored the
pages, nevertheless.

Of Hunting he briefly wrote, "God pity him."

In May, Gregory was glad to find that he would have to go to Europe
again, and purposed to give Annie a surprise. But he received only a
very sad one himself, for, on arriving at Paris, he learned, to his
intense disappointment, that Mr. Kemp and his party had suddenly
decided to return home. He was eventually comforted by receiving a
letter from Annie, showing clearly that she had been as greatly
disappointed as himself; but, woman-like, most of the letter was an
effort to cheer him.

Still he was growing almost superstitious at the manner in which she
seemed to elude his loving grasp, and sighed, "I fear she will always
prove to me a spirit of the air."

One bright morning, in the ensuing October, Gregory again greeted, like
the face of a friend, the shores of his native country, and the thought
that Annie was beyond that blue line of land thrilled his heart with
impatient expectation.

As they approached Sandy Hook, the pilot brought abroad a New York
paper, and as he was carelessly glancing over it, his eyes were caught
by an advertisement of the sale by auction of the Walton estate, his
old home. He saw by the date that the sale would not take place till
the following day, and he now felt sure that he could give Annie a
double surprise, for he had not written of his return. He had learned
from Annie that her father must have intrusted large sums to Hunting
which could not be accounted for, and that beyond the country-place not
much had been left. He rightly guessed that this place was about to be
sold to provide means for the support of the family. He was surprised
that Annie had not written to him about the sale, and indeed she had
wished to, thinking that he might like to buy it. But Mr. Kemp had
dissuaded her, saying that it was not at all probable that Gregory had
the means to buy so large a property, and judging Gregory by himself,
he added, "A business man does not want a country-place anyway.
Besides, Annie, if you should suggest it, it might be a source of much
pain to him to feel that he could not."

But as soon as Gregory was ashore he hunted up one of his senior
clerks, and instructed him to go up the following morning and buy the
place at any cost, but not to let any one know it was for him. He also
told him to assure the family that they need not vacate the place in
any haste.

It soon became evident at the sale that the stranger from the city was
determined to have the property, and the other bidders gave way.

When the clerk returned that evening Gregory plied him with questions,
and learned that Miss Walton seemed to have great regret at leaving,
and was very grateful when told that she could take her own time for
departure. In fact, Annie grudged every October day at the old place,
that brought back the past so vividly. Gregory could not forbear
asking, with a slight flush, "How did Miss Walton look?"

"Like her surroundings," said the clerk, politely blind, "and not like
a city belle. Mr. Gregory, I congratulate you on possessing the most
home-like place on the river."

Gregory took the earliest train the following morning, and at noon
found himself by the cedar thicket again, with a strange thrill, as he
recalled all that had occurred there and since. He sat down to rest for
a moment on the rock where Annie had first found him more than a year
before. Beneath him lay his home--his now in truth--embowered in
crimson and golden foliage, that seemed doubly bright in the genial
October sunlight, while at his very feet were the orchard's laden
boughs, beneath which he had proved to Annie the reality and depth of
his love; and there beyond was the cottage of Daddy Tuggar, with that
old man smoking upon the porch. But, chief of all, he could mark the
very spot by the brook in the garden where Annie's hand, like an
angel's, had plucked him from the brink of despair, and given the first
faint hope of immortal life. Tears blinded his eyes, but the bow of
promise shone in them as he looked heavenward, and said, "Merciful
Father! how kind of Thee, in view of my past, to give me this dear
earnest of my heavenly home!"

The sound of approaching steps aroused him, and springing up he saw
through the thicket, with an emotion so deep that it made him tremble,
the one woman of the world to him.

With an expression of deep sadness, and the manner of one taking a
lingering leave of a very dear friend, Annie came slowly toward him
along the brow of the hill. He tried to still even the beating of his
heart, for he would not lose one moment of exquisite anticipation. And
yet he was deeply agitated, for he knew that he could not maintain the
brotherly disguise an hour longer.

Suddenly she looked toward the cedar thicket, and, as if recalling what
had occurred there, covered her face with her hands, to hide the
painful scene. Then he saw that she would not even come to the place,
but was turning to go to the house by another way.

He darted out from his concealment and rushed toward her. At first, in
wild alarm, she put her hand to her side, and leaned against a
chestnut-tree for support. Then recognizing him, with a glad cry, she
permitted him to take her in his arms, while she hid her face on his
shoulder. A moment later they recoiled from each other in blushing
confusion.

"Well?" said Gregory, stupidly.

She was the first to recover herself, and said, "O, Walter, I'm so--so
glad you have come at last!"

"Do I look sorry?" he asked, taking her hand.

"Oh!" she exclaimed; "this is too good to be true!"

"That's what I think, I feared you would take flight the moment I
appeared."

"When did you arrive? Come, tell me everything."

"Not all at once, dear--Annie. But let me give you a seat on the rock
by the thicket, and then I will say the catechism."

"Please, no, Walter; not there," she said, drawing back.

"Yes, there; we will give that place a new association."

But she was glad to reach the seat, for she trembled so she could
hardly stand.

Then he told her how he purposed to surprise her, and answered every
eager question.

"O, Annie!" he concluded, "how I have longed for this hour! Never did
that dreadful ocean seem so wide before."

She looked at him more fondly than she knew, and said, "Ah, Walter!
your blood is not on my hands after all."

"Let me see," he said.

"I know it is not," she replied, putting them behind her back; "don't I
see you there well and happy?"

"I don't know but it will be on your hands yet," he said,
half-tragically, springing up.

She gave him a swift look of inquiry, but her eyes dropped as quickly
beneath his eager gaze, while her deep blush caused her to vie with the
sugar-maple on the lawn in very truth. But he said after a moment,
"Annie, dear, won't you let me interpret another chestnut burr for you?"

"Certainly, Walter," she tried to say innocently, "all that are on the
tree."

"Now don't make fun of me, because I'm desperately in earnest. I don't
want one like that I chose with a great lonely worm-infested chestnut
in it. What a good, wholesome lesson you gave me then! Thank you,
Annie, darling."

"Brothers don't use such strong language toward their sisters," said
Annie, looking on the ground.

"I can't help it. To tell the honest truth I'm not much of a brother.
Neither do I want one like that which you chose with three chestnuts in
it. _Three_, faugh! I've had enough of that. I want to find one like
that which you brought me the first day I met you here."

"You will never find it if you stand talking forever."

"You won't go away?"

"Perhaps not."

He looked at her doubtfully, but she would not meet his eye. Then he
started on his search, but kept looking back so often that she laughed,
and said, "I'm not a chestnut burr."

"I'm afraid of you."

"Then you had better run away."

"Sisters shouldn't tease their brothers."

"Well, forgive me this time."

He caught a branch full of half-open burrs, and peered eagerly in them
till he found one to his mind, and pulled it off regardless of the
pricking spines, then came and kneeled at her side, and said, "Now,
Annie, dear, look into it carefully. This is nature's oracle. You see
two solid, plump chestnuts."

"Well?" she said, faintly.

"And you see this false, empty form of shell between them?"

"Yes"--with a touch of sadness.

"That's Hunting, poor wretch! How unspeakable was his loss!" and he
tossed the worthless emblem away.

"And now, Annie, loved beyond all words I can ever find to tell you,
see how near these two chestnuts are together--as near as you and I are
in heart, I trust. Surely my poor pretence of brotherly character has
not deceived you for a moment. Won't you please put your dainty fingers
down into the burr and join the two together?"

She lifted her drooping eyes a moment to the more eloquent pleading of
his face, but they fell as speedily.

In a low, thrilling tone she said, "No, Walter, but you may."

He dropped the burr and sealed the unspoken covenant upon her lips.

After a few moments he said, very gently and gravely, "Annie, do you
remember when my arm last encircled you?"

The crimson face turned pale as she recalled that awful midnight when
he rescued her from death.

Both breathed fervently, "How good God has been to us!"

In their joy, as in fear and sorrow, they remembered Him.

"O, see!" cried Annie, "your hands are bleeding where the burr pricked
them, and you have stained my hands again. Your blood is on them," she
added, almost in fear.

"Yes, and the best blood of my heart ever will be. Is not the 'blood
upon us' the deepest and most sacred hope of our hearts? Is it not the
proof of the strongest love the world has known? Let mine there be the
pledge that my life is as nothing when it can shield and shelter you."

And so he changed the meaning of the omen.

The hours passed unheeded. At last they went across the orchard as
before, and stopped and looked at the place where the ladder fell, and
then at each other.

"Walter," said Annie, shyly, "I gave you my first kiss here."

"I am repaid then."

Before going to the house, they called on Daddy Tuggar. He was so
amazed that he could only ejaculate, "Evenin'."

"Mr. Tuggar, I have acted on your suggestion," said Gregory. "I thought
Miss Walton would be good company forever, and I have the promise of
it."

"To think that I should have cussed you!" said the old man, in an awed
tone.

"But you will give us your blessing, now?" said Annie, smiling.

"My blessin' ain't worth nothin'; but I know the good Lord will bless
you both, even if Miss Annie never was an awful sinner."

"Mr. Tuggar," said Gregory, "I own that place over there. Will you take
me for a neighbor till you are ready to be Mr. Walton's?"

"O, Walter!" said Annie, with a glad cry, "is that really true?"

"Yes, it became mine yesterday; or, rather, it remained yours."

"Mr. Gregory," said Daddy Tuggar, his quaint face twitching strangely,
"if anybody steals your apples, I'm afraid I'll swear at 'em, even yet."

"No, you won't, Daddy," said he. "But I'm going to bring you over to
spend an evening with us soon. Good-by!"

They found Miss Eulie in the parlor, pensively packing up some dear
little relics of a home she supposed lost. Gregory put his arm around
her and said, "Aunty, I'm going to claim relationship right away; put
those things back where you found them, and sit down here in the
cosiest corner of the hearth, your place from this time forth."

"How is this?" she exclaimed, in breathless astonishment.

"Well, Annie owns me, and therefore this place."

Johnny came bounding in, and Gregory caught him, and said, "Here is the
prophet of my fate. How did you tell me your Aunt Annie managed people,
the morning after my first arrival here?"

"I said she kinder made people love her, and then they wanted to do as
she said," replied the boy, timidly.

"Let me tell you a secret," and he drew the boy and whispered in his
ear, "she is going to manage me on just those terms."

Then little Susie came sidling in, and Gregory took her in his arms,
saying, "So dimpled, yet so false, you renounced me for a chipmonk; and
now I am going to be Aunt Annie's beau till I'm gray."

Jeff next appeared with a basket of wood. Gregory gave his black hand
an honest shake, and said, "Why, Jeff, old fellow, what is the matter
with you to-night? The last time I saw you you looked as if you were
driving me to the cemetery."

"Well, Misser Gregory," said Jeff, ducking and shuffling. "Ise did come
mighty neah takin' de turnin' to de cem'try dat day. I tho't you looked
as if you wanted to go dar."

As they sat down to tea, Zibbie put her head in at the door, and said,
"The gude God bless ye, for ye ha' kept the auld 'ooman fra the cauld
wourld yet."

Delighted Hannah could not pass a biscuit without a courtesy.

That evening the hickory fire glowed and turned to bright and fragrant
coals as in the days past, but Annie looked wistfully toward her
father's vacant chair, and sighed, "If father were only here!"

"Don't grieve, darling," said Gregory, tenderly. "He is at home, as we
are."

A few evenings later Gregory brought up from the city a large, square
bundle.

"What have you there?" said Annie, greeting him as the reader can
imagine.

"Your epitaph."

"O, Walter! so soon?"

His answer was a smile, and quickly opening the pack age, he showed a
rich, quaint frame containing some lines in illuminated text. Placing
it where the light fell clearly, he drew her to him and said, "Read
that."

    "God sent His messenger of faith,
     And whispered in the maiden's heart,
     'Rise up and look from where thou art,
     And scatter with unselfish hands
     Thy freshness on the barren sands
     And solitudes of death.'"

    "O beauty of holiness,
     Of self-forgetfulness!"

With a caress of unspeakable tenderness he said, "You are the maiden,
and God sent you to me."

THE END





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