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Title: Kilmeny of the Orchard
Author: Montgomery, L. M. (Lucy Maud)
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 "Kilmeny of the Orchard" ***

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KILMENY OF THE ORCHARD

By L. M. MONTGOMERY

Author of “Anne’s House of Dreams,” “Rainbow Valley,” “Rilla of
Ingleside,” etc.


______________________________________________________________________
Transcriber’s Note:

This book has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at
the Celebration of Women Writers through the combined work of Elizabeth
Morton and Mary Mark Ockerbloom.

http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/

Reformatted by Ben Crowder
______________________________________________________________________



TO MY COUSIN

Beatrice A. McIntyre

THIS BOOK

IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED


        “Kilmeny looked up with a lovely grace,
        But nae smile was seen on Kilmeny’s face;
        As still was her look, and as still was her ee,
        As the stillness that lay on the emerant lea,
        .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
        Such beauty bard may never declare,
        For there was no pride nor passion there;
        .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
        Her seymar was the lily flower,
        And her cheek the moss-rose in the shower;
        And her voice like the distant melodye
        That floats along the twilight sea.”

                                  -- _The Queen’s Wake_
                                                 JAMES HOGG



CONTENTS

     I. The Thoughts of Youth
    II. A Letter of Destiny
   III. The Master of Lindsay School
    IV. A Tea Table Conversation
     V. A Phantom of Delight
    VI. The Story of Kilmeny
   VII. A Rose of Womanhood
  VIII. At the Gate of Eden
    IX. The Straight Simplicity of Eve
     X. A Troubling of the Waters
    XI. A Lover and His Lass
   XII. A Prisoner of Love
  XIII. A Sweeter Woman Ne’er Drew Breath
   XIV. In Her Selfless Mood
    XV. An Old, Unhappy, Far-off Thing
   XVI. David Baker’s Opinion
  XVII. A Broken Fetter
 XVIII. Neil Gordon Solves His Own Problem
   XIX. Victor from Vanquished Issues



KILMENY OF THE ORCHARD



CHAPTER I. THE THOUGHTS OF YOUTH

The sunshine of a day in early spring, honey pale and honey sweet, was
showering over the red brick buildings of Queenslea College and the
grounds about them, throwing through the bare, budding maples and elms,
delicate, evasive etchings of gold and brown on the paths, and coaxing
into life the daffodils that were peering greenly and perkily up under
the windows of the co-eds’ dressing-room.

A young April wind, as fresh and sweet as if it had been blowing over
the fields of memory instead of through dingy streets, was purring in
the tree-tops and whipping the loose tendrils of the ivy network which
covered the front of the main building. It was a wind that sang of many
things, but what it sang to each listener was only what was in that
listener’s heart. To the college students who had just been capped and
diplomad by “Old Charlie,” the grave president of Queenslea, in the
presence of an admiring throng of parents and sisters, sweethearts and
friends, it sang, perchance, of glad hope and shining success and high
achievement. It sang of the dreams of youth that may never be quite
fulfilled, but are well worth the dreaming for all that. God help the
man who has never known such dreams--who, as he leaves his alma mater,
is not already rich in aerial castles, the proprietor of many a spacious
estate in Spain. He has missed his birthright.

The crowd streamed out of the entrance hall and scattered over the
campus, fraying off into the many streets beyond. Eric Marshall and
David Baker walked away together. The former had graduated in Arts that
day at the head of his class; the latter had come to see the graduation,
nearly bursting with pride in Eric’s success.

Between these two was an old and tried and enduring friendship, although
David was ten years older than Eric, as the mere tale of years goes, and
a hundred years older in knowledge of the struggles and difficulties of
life which age a man far more quickly and effectually than the passing
of time.

Physically the two men bore no resemblance to one another, although
they were second cousins. Eric Marshall, tall, broad-shouldered, sinewy,
walking with a free, easy stride, which was somehow suggestive of
reserve strength and power, was one of those men regarding whom
less-favoured mortals are tempted seriously to wonder why all the gifts
of fortune should be showered on one individual. He was not only clever
and good to look upon, but he possessed that indefinable charm of
personality which is quite independent of physical beauty or mental
ability. He had steady, grayish-blue eyes, dark chestnut hair with a
glint of gold in its waves when the sunlight struck it, and a chin that
gave the world assurance of a chin. He was a rich man’s son, with a
clean young manhood behind him and splendid prospects before him. He
was considered a practical sort of fellow, utterly guiltless of romantic
dreams and visions of any sort.

“I am afraid Eric Marshall will never do one quixotic thing,” said
a Queenslea professor, who had a habit of uttering rather mysterious
epigrams, “but if he ever does it will supply the one thing lacking in
him.”

David Baker was a short, stocky fellow with an ugly, irregular, charming
face; his eyes were brown and keen and secretive; his mouth had a
comical twist which became sarcastic, or teasing, or winning, as he
willed. His voice was generally as soft and musical as a woman’s; but
some few who had seen David Baker righteously angry and heard the tones
which then issued from his lips were in no hurry to have the experience
repeated.

He was a doctor--a specialist in troubles of the throat and voice--and
he was beginning to have a national reputation. He was on the staff of
the Queenslea Medical College and it was whispered that before long he
would be called to fill an important vacancy at McGill.

He had won his way to success through difficulties and drawbacks which
would have daunted most men. In the year Eric was born David Baker
was an errand boy in the big department store of Marshall & Company.
Thirteen years later he graduated with high honors from Queenslea
Medical College. Mr. Marshall had given him all the help which David’s
sturdy pride could be induced to accept, and now he insisted on sending
the young man abroad for a post-graduate course in London and Germany.
David Baker had eventually repaid every cent Mr. Marshall had expended
on him; but he never ceased to cherish a passionate gratitude to
the kind and generous man; and he loved that man’s son with a love
surpassing that of brothers.

He had followed Eric’s college course with keen, watchful interest. It
was his wish that Eric should take up the study of law or medicine now
that he was through Arts; and he was greatly disappointed that Eric
should have finally made up his mind to go into business with his
father.

“It’s a clean waste of your talents,” he grumbled, as they walked home
from the college. “You’d win fame and distinction in law--that glib
tongue of yours was meant for a lawyer and it is sheer flying in the
face of Providence to devote it to commercial uses--a flat crossing of
the purposes of destiny. Where is your ambition, man?”

“In the right place,” answered Eric, with his ready laugh. “It is not
your kind, perhaps, but there is room and need for all kinds in this
lusty young country of ours. Yes, I am going into the business. In the
first place, it has been father’s cherished desire ever since I was
born, and it would hurt him pretty badly if I backed out now. He wished
me to take an Arts course because he believed that every man should have
as liberal an education as he can afford to get, but now that I have had
it he wants me in the firm.”

“He wouldn’t oppose you if he thought you really wanted to go in for
something else.”

“Not he. But I don’t really want to--that’s the point, David, man. You
hate a business life so much yourself that you can’t get it into your
blessed noddle that another man might like it. There are many lawyers in
the world--too many, perhaps--but there are never too many good honest
men of business, ready to do clean big things for the betterment of
humanity and the upbuilding of their country, to plan great enterprises
and carry them through with brain and courage, to manage and control, to
aim high and strike one’s aim. There, I’m waxing eloquent, so I’d better
stop. But ambition, man! Why, I’m full of it--it’s bubbling in every
pore of me. I mean to make the department store of Marshall & Company
famous from ocean to ocean. Father started in life as a poor boy from
a Nova Scotian farm. He has built up a business that has a provincial
reputation. I mean to carry it on. In five years it shall have a
maritime reputation, in ten, a Canadian. I want to make the firm of
Marshall & Company stand for something big in the commercial interests
of Canada. Isn’t that as honourable an ambition as trying to make black
seem white in a court of law, or discovering some new disease with
a harrowing name to torment poor creatures who might otherwise die
peacefully in blissful ignorance of what ailed them?”

“When you begin to make poor jokes it is time to stop arguing with you,”
 said David, with a shrug of his fat shoulders. “Go your own gait and
dree your own weird. I’d as soon expect success in trying to storm the
citadel single-handed as in trying to turn you from any course about
which you had once made up your mind. Whew, this street takes it out of
a fellow! What could have possessed our ancestors to run a town up the
side of a hill? I’m not so slim and active as I was on MY graduation
day ten years ago. By the way, what a lot of co-eds were in your
class--twenty, if I counted right. When I graduated there were only
two ladies in our class and they were the pioneers of their sex at
Queenslea. They were well past their first youth, very grim and angular
and serious; and they could never have been on speaking terms with
a mirror in their best days. But mark you, they were excellent
females--oh, very excellent. Times have changed with a vengeance,
judging from the line-up of co-eds to-day. There was one girl there who
can’t be a day over eighteen--and she looked as if she were made out of
gold and roseleaves and dewdrops.”

“The oracle speaks in poetry,” laughed Eric. “That was Florence
Percival, who led the class in mathematics, as I’m a living man. By many
she is considered the beauty of her class. I can’t say that such is
my opinion. I don’t greatly care for that blonde, babyish style of
loveliness--I prefer Agnes Campion. Did you notice her--the tall, dark
girl with the ropes of hair and a sort of crimson, velvety bloom on her
face, who took honours in philosophy?”

“I DID notice her,” said David emphatically, darting a keen side glance
at his friend. “I noticed her most particularly and critically--for
someone whispered her name behind me and coupled it with the exceedingly
interesting information that Miss Campion was supposed to be the future
Mrs. Eric Marshall. Whereupon I stared at her with all my eyes.”

“There is no truth in that report,” said Eric in a tone of annoyance.
“Agnes and I are the best of friends and nothing more. I like and admire
her more than any woman I know; but if the future Mrs. Eric Marshall
exists in the flesh I haven’t met her yet. I haven’t even started out
to look for her--and don’t intend to for some years to come. I have
something else to think of,” he concluded, in a tone of contempt, for
which anyone might have known he would be punished sometime if Cupid
were not deaf as well as blind.

“You’ll meet the lady of the future some day,” said David dryly. “And in
spite of your scorn I venture to predict that if fate doesn’t bring
her before long you’ll very soon start out to look for her. A word of
advice, oh, son of your mother. When you go courting take your common
sense with you.”

“Do you think I shall be likely to leave it behind?” asked Eric
amusedly.

“Well, I mistrust you,” said David, sagely wagging his head. “The
Lowland Scotch part of you is all right, but there’s a Celtic streak in
you, from that little Highland grandmother of yours, and when a man has
that there’s never any knowing where it will break out, or what dance
it will lead him, especially when it comes to this love-making business.
You are just as likely as not to lose your head over some little fool or
shrew for the sake of her outward favour and make yourself miserable for
life. When you pick you a wife please remember that I shall reserve the
right to pass a candid opinion on her.”

“Pass all the opinions you like, but it is MY opinion, and mine only,
which will matter in the long run,” retorted Eric.

“Confound you, yes, you stubborn offshoot of a stubborn breed,” growled
David, looking at him affectionately. “I know that, and that is why I’ll
never feel at ease about you until I see you married to the right sort
of a girl. She’s not hard to find. Nine out of ten girls in this country
of ours are fit for kings’ palaces. But the tenth always has to be
reckoned with.”

“You are as bad as _Clever Alice_ in the fairy tale who worried over the
future of her unborn children,” protested Eric.

“_Clever Alice_ has been very unjustly laughed at,” said David gravely.
“We doctors know that. Perhaps she overdid the worrying business a
little, but she was perfectly right in principle. If people worried
a little more about their unborn children--at least, to the extent of
providing a proper heritage, physically, mentally, and morally, for
them--and then stopped worrying about them after they ARE born, this
world would be a very much pleasanter place to live in, and the human
race would make more progress in a generation than it has done in
recorded history.”

“Oh, if you are going to mount your dearly beloved hobby of heredity
I am not going to argue with you, David, man. But as for the matter
of urging me to hasten and marry me a wife, why don’t you”--It was on
Eric’s lips to say, “Why don’t you get married to a girl of the right
sort yourself and set me a good example?” But he checked himself. He
knew that there was an old sorrow in David Baker’s life which was not to
be unduly jarred by the jests even of privileged friendship. He changed
his question to, “Why don’t you leave this on the knees of the gods
where it properly belongs? I thought you were a firm believer in
predestination, David.”

“Well, so I am, to a certain extent,” said David cautiously. “I believe,
as an excellent old aunt of mine used to say, that what is to be will
be and what isn’t to be happens sometimes. And it is precisely such
unchancy happenings that make the scheme of things go wrong. I dare say
you think me an old fogy, Eric; but I know something more of the world
than you do, and I believe, with Tennyson’s _Arthur_, that ‘there’s no
more subtle master under heaven than is the maiden passion for a maid.’
I want to see you safely anchored to the love of some good woman as soon
as may be, that’s all. I’m rather sorry Miss Campion isn’t your lady of
the future. I liked her looks, that I did. She is good and strong and
true--and has the eyes of a woman who could love in a way that would
be worth while. Moreover, she’s well-born, well-bred, and
well-educated--three very indispensable things when it comes to choosing
a woman to fill your mother’s place, friend of mine!”

“I agree with you,” said Eric carelessly. “I could not marry any woman
who did not fulfill those conditions. But, as I have said, I am not in
love with Agnes Campion--and it wouldn’t be of any use if I were. She is
as good as engaged to Larry West. You remember West?”

“That thin, leggy fellow you chummed with so much your first two years
in Queenslea? Yes, what has become of him?”

“He had to drop out after his second year for financial reasons. He is
working his own way through college, you know. For the past two years
he has been teaching school in some out-of-the-way place over in Prince
Edward Island. He isn’t any too well, poor fellow--never was very strong
and has studied remorselessly. I haven’t heard from him since February.
He said then that he was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to stick it
out till the end of the school year. I hope Larry won’t break down. He
is a fine fellow and worthy even of Agnes Campion. Well, here we are.
Coming in, David?”

“Not this afternoon--haven’t got time. I must mosey up to the North End
to see a man who has got a lovely throat. Nobody can find out what is
the matter. He has puzzled all the doctors. He has puzzled me, but I’ll
find out what is wrong with him if he’ll only live long enough.”



CHAPTER II. A LETTER OF DESTINY

Eric, finding that his father had not yet returned from the college,
went into the library and sat down to read a letter he had picked up
from the hall table. It was from Larry West, and after the first few
lines Eric’s face lost the absent look it had worn and assumed an
expression of interest.

“I am writing to ask a favour of you, Marshall,” wrote West. “The fact
is, I’ve fallen into the hands of the Philistines--that is to say, the
doctors. I’ve not been feeling very fit all winter but I’ve held on,
hoping to finish out the year.

“Last week my landlady--who is a saint in spectacles and calico--looked
at me one morning at the breakfast table and said, VERY gently, ‘You
must go to town to-morrow, Master, and see a doctor about yourself.’

“I went and did not stand upon the order of my going. Mrs. Williamson
is She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. She has an inconvenient habit of making you
realize that she is exactly right, and that you would be all kinds of a
fool if you didn’t take her advice. You feel that what she thinks to-day
you will think to-morrow.

“In Charlottetown I consulted a doctor. He punched and pounded me, and
poked things at me and listened at the other end of them; and finally he
said I must stop work ‘immejutly and to onct’ and hie me straightway
to a climate not afflicted with the north-east winds of Prince Edward
Island in the spring. I am not to be allowed to do any work until the
fall. Such was his dictum and Mrs. Williamson enforces it.

“I shall teach this week out and then the spring vacation of three weeks
begins. I want you to come over and take my place as pedagogue in the
Lindsay school for the last week in May and the month of June. The
school year ends then and there will be plenty of teachers looking for
the place, but just now I cannot get a suitable substitute. I have a
couple of pupils who are preparing to try the Queen’s Academy entrance
examinations, and I don’t like to leave them in the lurch or hand them
over to the tender mercies of some third-class teacher who knows little
Latin and less Greek. Come over and take the school till the end of the
term, you petted son of luxury. It will do you a world of good to learn
how rich a man feels when he is earning twenty-five dollars a month by
his own unaided efforts!

“Seriously, Marshall, I hope you can come, for I don’t know any other
fellow I can ask. The work isn’t hard, though you’ll likely find it
monotonous. Of course, this little north-shore farming settlement isn’t
a very lively place. The rising and setting of the sun are the most
exciting events of the average day. But the people are very kind and
hospitable; and Prince Edward Island in the month of June is such a
thing as you don’t often see except in happy dreams. There are some
trout in the pond and you’ll always find an old salt at the harbour
ready and willing to take you out cod-fishing or lobstering.

“I’ll bequeath you my boarding house. You’ll find it comfortable and not
further from the school than a good constitutional. Mrs. Williamson is
the dearest soul alive; and she is one of those old-fashioned cooks who
feed you on feasts of fat things and whose price is above rubies.

“Her husband, Robert, or Bob, as he is commonly called despite his sixty
years, is quite a character in his way. He is an amusing old gossip,
with a turn for racy comment and a finger in everybody’s pie. He knows
everything about everybody in Lindsay for three generations back.

“They have no living children, but Old Bob has a black cat which is his
especial pride and darling. The name of this animal is Timothy and
as such he must always be called and referred to. Never, as you value
Robert’s good opinion, let him hear you speaking of his pet as ‘the
cat,’ or even as ‘Tim.’ You will never be forgiven and he will not
consider you a fit person to have charge of the school.

“You shall have my room, a little place over the kitchen, with a ceiling
that follows the slant of the roof down one side, against which you will
bump your head times innumerable until you learn to remember that it is
there, and a looking glass which will make one of your eyes as small as
a pea and the other as big as an orange.

“But to compensate for these disadvantages the supply of towels is
generous and unexceptionable; and there is a window whence you will
daily behold an occidental view over Lindsay Harbour and the gulf beyond
which is an unspeakable miracle of beauty. The sun is setting over it
as I write and I see such a sea of glass mingled with fire as might have
figured in the visions of the Patmian seer. A vessel is sailing away
into the gold and crimson and pearl of the horizon; the big revolving
light on the tip of the headland beyond the harbour has just been
lighted and is winking and flashing like a beacon,

                           “‘O’er the foam
           Of perilous seas in faerie lands forlorn.’”

“Wire me if you can come; and if you can, report for duty on the
twenty-third of May.”

Mr. Marshall, Senior, came in, just as Eric was thoughtfully folding up
his letter. The former looked more like a benevolent old clergyman or
philanthropist than the keen, shrewd, somewhat hard, although just and
honest, man of business that he really was. He had a round, rosy face,
fringed with white whiskers, a fine head of long white hair, and a
pursed-up mouth. Only in his blue eyes was a twinkle that would have
made any man who designed getting the better of him in a bargain think
twice before he made the attempt.

It was easily seen that Eric must have inherited his personal beauty and
distinction of form from his mother, whose picture hung on the dark wall
between the windows. She had died while still young, when Eric was a boy
of ten. During her lifetime she had been the object of the passionate
devotion of both her husband and son; and the fine, strong, sweet face
of the picture was a testimony that she had been worthy of their love
and reverence. The same face, cast in a masculine mold, was repeated in
Eric; the chestnut hair grew off his forehead in the same way; his eyes
were like hers, and in his grave moods they held a similar expression,
half brooding, half tender, in their depths.

Mr. Marshall was very proud of his son’s success in college, but he had
no intention of letting him see it. He loved this boy of his, with the
dead mother’s eyes, better than anything on earth, and all his hopes and
ambitions were bound up in him.

“Well, that fuss is over, thank goodness,” he said testily, as he
dropped into his favourite chair.

“Didn’t you find the programme interesting?” asked Eric absently.

“Most of it was tommyrot,” said his father. “The only things I liked
were Charlie’s Latin prayer and those pretty little girls trotting up
to get their diplomas. Latin IS the language for praying in, I do
believe,--at least, when a man has a voice like Old Charlie’s. There was
such a sonorous roll to the words that the mere sound of them made me
feel like getting down on my marrow bones. And then those girls were as
pretty as pinks, now weren’t they? Agnes was the finest-looking of the
lot in my opinion. I hope it’s true that you’re courting her, Eric?”

“Confound it, father,” said Eric, half irritably, half laughingly, “have
you and David Baker entered into a conspiracy to hound me into matrimony
whether I will or no?”

“I’ve never said a word to David Baker on such a subject,” protested Mr.
Marshall.

“Well, you are just as bad as he is. He hectored me all the way home
from the college on the subject. But why are you in such a hurry to have
me married, dad?”

“Because I want a homemaker in this house as soon as may be. There has
never been one since your mother died. I am tired of housekeepers. And I
want to see your children at my knees before I die, Eric, and I’m an old
man now.”

“Well, your wish is natural, father,” said Eric gently, with a glance at
his mother’s picture. “But I can’t rush out and marry somebody off-hand,
can I? And I fear it wouldn’t exactly do to advertise for a wife, even
in these days of commercial enterprise.”

“Isn’t there ANYBODY you’re fond of?” queried Mr. Marshall, with the
patient air of a man who overlooks the frivolous jests of youth.

“No. I never yet saw the woman who could make my heart beat any faster.”

“I don’t know what you young men are made of nowadays,” growled his
father. “I was in love half a dozen times before I was your age.”

“You might have been ‘in love.’ But you never LOVED any woman until you
met my mother. I know that, father. And it didn’t happen till you were
pretty well on in life either.”

“You’re too hard to please. That’s what’s the matter, that’s what’s the
matter!”

“Perhaps I am. When a man has had a mother like mine his standard of
womanly sweetness is apt to be pitched pretty high. Let’s drop the
subject, father. Here, I want you to read this letter--it’s from Larry.”

“Humph!” grunted Mr. Marshall, when he had finished with it. “So Larry’s
knocked out at last--always thought he would be--always expected it.
Sorry, too. He was a decent fellow. Well, are you going?”

“Yes, I think so, if you don’t object.”

“You’ll have a pretty monotonous time of it, judging from his account of
Lindsay.”

“Probably. But I am not going over in search of excitement. I’m going to
oblige Larry and have a look at the Island.”

“Well, it’s worth looking at, some parts of the year,” conceded Mr.
Marshall. “When I’m on Prince Edward Island in the summer I always
understand an old Scotch Islander I met once in Winnipeg. He was always
talking of ‘the Island.’ Somebody once asked him, ‘What island do you
mean?’ He simply LOOKED at that ignorant man. Then he said, ‘Why, Prince
Edward Island, mon. WHAT OTHER ISLAND IS THERE?’ Go if you’d like to.
You need a rest after the grind of examinations before settling down to
business. And mind you don’t get into any mischief, young sir.”

“Not much likelihood of that in a place like Lindsay, I fancy,” laughed
Eric.

“Probably the devil finds as much mischief for idle hands in Lindsay as
anywhere else. The worst tragedy I ever heard of happened on a backwoods
farm, fifteen miles from a railroad and five from a store. However, I
expect your mother’s son to behave himself in the fear of God and man.
In all likelihood the worst thing that will happen to you over there
will be that some misguided woman will put you to sleep in a spare room
bed. And if that does happen may the Lord have mercy on your soul!”



CHAPTER III. THE MASTER OF LINDSAY SCHOOL

One evening, a month later, Eric Marshall came out of the old,
white-washed schoolhouse at Lindsay, and locked the door--which was
carved over with initials innumerable, and built of double plank in
order that it might withstand all the assaults and batteries to which it
might be subjected.

Eric’s pupils had gone home an hour before, but he had stayed to solve
some algebra problems, and correct some Latin exercises for his advanced
students.

The sun was slanting in warm yellow lines through the thick grove of
maples to the west of the building, and the dim green air beneath them
burst into golden bloom. A couple of sheep were nibbling the lush grass
in a far corner of the play-ground; a cow-bell, somewhere in the maple
woods, tinkled faintly and musically, on the still crystal air, which,
in spite of its blandness, still retained a touch of the wholesome
austerity and poignancy of a Canadian spring. The whole world seemed to
have fallen, for the time being, into a pleasant untroubled dream.

The scene was very peaceful and pastoral--almost too much so, the young
man thought, with a shrug of his shoulders, as he stood in the worn
steps and gazed about him. How was he going to put in a whole month
here, he wondered, with a little smile at his own expense.

“Father would chuckle if he knew I was sick of it already,” he thought,
as he walked across the play-ground to the long red road that ran past
the school. “Well, one week is ended, at any rate. I’ve earned my own
living for five whole days, and that is something I could never say
before in all my twenty-four years of existence. It is an exhilarating
thought. But teaching the Lindsay district school is distinctly NOT
exhilarating--at least in such a well-behaved school as this, where
the pupils are so painfully good that I haven’t even the traditional
excitement of thrashing obstreperous bad boys. Everything seems to go by
clock work in Lindsay educational institution. Larry must certainly have
possessed a marked gift for organizing and drilling. I feel as if I
were merely a big cog in an orderly machine that ran itself. However, I
understand that there are some pupils who haven’t shown up yet, and who,
according to all reports, have not yet had the old Adam totally drilled
out of them. They may make things more interesting. Also a few
more compositions, such as John Reid’s, would furnish some spice to
professional life.”

Eric’s laughter wakened the echoes as he swung into the road down the
long sloping hill. He had given his fourth grade pupils their own choice
of subjects in the composition class that morning, and John Reid, a
sober, matter-of-fact little urchin, with not the slightest embryonic
development of a sense of humour, had, acting upon the whispered
suggestion of a roguish desk-mate, elected to write upon “Courting.” His
opening sentence made Eric’s face twitch mutinously whenever he recalled
it during the day. “Courting is a very pleasant thing which a great many
people go too far with.”

The distant hills and wooded uplands were tremulous and aerial in
delicate spring-time gauzes of pearl and purple. The young, green-leafed
maples crowded thickly to the very edge of the road on either side, but
beyond them were emerald fields basking in sunshine, over which cloud
shadows rolled, broadened, and vanished. Far below the fields a calm
ocean slept bluely, and sighed in its sleep, with the murmur that rings
for ever in the ear of those whose good fortune it is to have been born
within the sound of it.

Now and then Eric met some callow, check-shirted, bare-legged lad on
horseback, or a shrewd-faced farmer in a cart, who nodded and called out
cheerily, “Howdy, Master?” A young girl, with a rosy, oval face, dimpled
cheeks, and pretty dark eyes filled with shy coquetry, passed him,
looking as if she would not be at all averse to a better acquaintance
with the new teacher.

Half way down the hill Eric met a shambling, old gray horse drawing an
express wagon which had seen better days. The driver was a woman: she
appeared to be one of those drab-tinted individuals who can never have
felt a rosy emotion in all their lives. She stopped her horse, and
beckoned Eric over to her with the knobby handle of a faded and bony
umbrella.

“Reckon you’re the new Master, ain’t you?” she asked.

Eric admitted that he was.

“Well, I’m glad to see you,” she said, offering him a hand in a much
darned cotton glove that had once been black.

“I was right sorry to see Mr. West go, for he was a right good teacher,
and as harmless, inoffensive a creetur as ever lived. But I always told
him every time I laid eyes on him that he was in consumption, if ever
a man was. YOU look real healthy--though you can’t aways tell by looks,
either. I had a brother complected like you, but he was killed in a
railroad accident out west when he was real young.

“I’ve got a boy I’ll be sending to school to you next week. He’d oughter
gone this week, but I had to keep him home to help me put the pertaters
in; for his father won’t work and doesn’t work and can’t be made to
work.

“Sandy--his full name is Edward Alexander--called after both his
grandfathers--hates the idee of going to school worse ‘n pisen--always
did. But go he shall, for I’m determined he’s got to have more larning
hammered into his head yet. I reckon you’ll have trouble with him,
Master, for he’s as stupid as an owl, and as stubborn as Solomon’s mule.
But mind this, Master, I’ll back you up. You just lick Sandy good and
plenty when he needs it, and send me a scrape of the pen home with him,
and I’ll give him another dose.

“There’s people that always sides in with their young ones when there’s
any rumpus kicked up in the school, but I don’t hold to that, and never
did. You can depend on Rebecca Reid every time, Master.”

“Thank you. I am sure I can,” said Eric, in his most winning tones.

He kept his face straight until it was safe to relax, and Mrs. Reid
drove on with a soft feeling in her leathery old heart, which had been
so toughened by long endurance of poverty and toil, and a husband who
wouldn’t work and couldn’t be made to work, that it was no longer a very
susceptible organ where members of the opposite sex were concerned.

Mrs. Reid reflected that this young man had a way with him.

Eric already knew most of the Lindsay folks by sight; but at the foot of
the hill he met two people, a man and a boy, whom he did not know. They
were sitting in a shabby, old-fashioned wagon, and were watering their
horse at the brook, which gurgled limpidly under the little plank bridge
in the hollow.

Eric surveyed them with some curiosity. They did not look in the least
like the ordinary run of Lindsay people. The boy, in particular, had
a distinctly foreign appearance, in spite of the gingham shirt and
homespun trousers, which seemed to be the regulation, work-a-day outfit
for the Lindsay farmer lads. He had a lithe, supple body, with sloping
shoulders, and a lean, satiny brown throat above his open shirt collar.
His head was covered with thick, silky, black curls, and the hand that
hung down by the side of the wagon was unusually long and slender. His
face was richly, though somewhat heavily featured, olive tinted, save
for the cheeks, which had a dusky crimson bloom. His mouth was as red
and beguiling as a girl’s, and his eyes were large, bold and black. All
in all, he was a strikingly handsome fellow; but the expression of his
face was sullen, and he somehow gave Eric the impression of a sinuous,
feline creature basking in lazy grace, but ever ready for an unexpected
spring.

The other occupant of the wagon was a man between sixty-five and
seventy, with iron-gray hair, a long, full, gray beard, a harsh-featured
face, and deep-set hazel eyes under bushy, bristling brows. He was
evidently tall, with a spare, ungainly figure, and stooping shoulders.
His mouth was close-lipped and relentless, and did not look as if it
had ever smiled. Indeed, the idea of smiling could not be connected with
this man--it was utterly incongruous. Yet there was nothing repellent
about his face; and there was something in it that compelled Eric’s
attention.

He rather prided himself on being a student of physiognomy, and he felt
quite sure that this man was no ordinary Lindsay farmer of the genial,
garrulous type with which he was familiar.

Long after the old wagon, with its oddly assorted pair, had gone
lumbering up the hill, Eric found himself thinking of the stern, heavy
browed man and the black-eyed, red-lipped boy.



CHAPTER IV. A TEA TABLE CONVERSATION

The Williamson place, where Eric boarded, was on the crest of the
succeeding hill. He liked it as well as Larry West had prophesied that
he would. The Williamsons, as well as the rest of the Lindsay people,
took it for granted that he was a poor college student working his way
through as Larry West had been doing. Eric did not disturb this belief,
although he said nothing to contribute to it.

The Williamsons were at tea in the kitchen when Eric went in. Mrs.
Williamson was the “saint in spectacles and calico” which Larry West had
termed her. Eric liked her greatly. She was a slight, gray-haired woman,
with a thin, sweet, high-bred face, deeply lined with the records of
outlived pain. She talked little as a rule; but, in the pungent country
phrase she never spoke but she said something. The one thing that
constantly puzzled Eric was how such a woman ever came to marry Robert
Williamson.

She smiled in a motherly fashion at Eric, as he hung his hat on the
white-washed wall and took his place at the table. Outside of the
window behind him was a birch grove which, in the westering sun, was
a tremulous splendour, with a sea of undergrowth wavered into golden
billows by every passing wind.

Old Robert Williamson sat opposite him, on a bench. He was a small, lean
old man, half lost in loose clothes that seemed far too large for him.
When he spoke his voice was as thin and squeaky as he appeared to be
himself.

The other end of the bench was occupied by Timothy, sleek and
complacent, with a snowy breast and white paws. After old Robert had
taken a mouthful of anything he gave a piece to Timothy, who ate it
daintily and purred resonant gratitude.

“You see we’re busy waiting for you, Master,” said old Robert. “You’re
late this evening. Keep any of the youngsters in? That’s a foolish way
of punishing them, as hard on yourself as on them. One teacher we had
four years ago used to lock them in and go home. Then he’d go back in
an hour and let them out--if they were there. They weren’t always. Tom
Ferguson kicked the panels out of the old door once and got out that
way. We put a new door of double plank in that they couldn’t kick out.”

“I stayed in the schoolroom to do some work,” said Eric briefly.

“Well, you’ve missed Alexander Tracy. He was here to find out if you
could play checkers, and, when I told him you could, he left word for
you to go up and have a game some evening soon. Don’t beat him too
often, even if you can. You’ll need to stand in with him, I tell you,
Master, for he’s got a son that may brew trouble for you when he starts
in to go to school. Seth Tracy’s a young imp, and he’d far sooner be in
mischief than eat. He tries to run on every new teacher and he’s run
two clean out of the school. But he met his match in Mr. West. William
Tracy’s boys now--you won’t have a scrap of bother with THEM. They’re
always good because their mother tells them every Sunday that they’ll
go straight to hell if they don’t behave in school. It’s effective. Take
some preserve, Master. You know we don’t help things here the way Mrs.
Adam Scott does when she has boarders, ‘I s’pose you don’t want any of
this--nor you--nor you?’ Mother, Aleck says old George Wright is having
the time of his life. His wife has gone to Charlottetown to visit her
sister and he is his own boss for the first time since he was married,
forty years ago. He’s on a regular orgy, Aleck says. He smokes in the
parlour and sits up till eleven o’clock reading dime novels.”

“Perhaps I met Mr. Tracy,” said Eric. “Is he a tall man, with gray hair
and a dark, stern face?”

“No, he’s a round, jolly fellow, is Aleck, and he stopped growing pretty
much before he’d ever begun. I reckon the man you mean is Thomas Gordon.
I seen him driving down the road too. HE won’t be troubling you with
invitations up, small fear of it. The Gordons ain’t sociable, to say the
least of it. No, sir! Mother, pass the biscuits to the Master.”

“Who was the young fellow he had with him?” asked Eric curiously.

“Neil--Neil Gordon.”

“That is a Scotchy name for such a face and eyes. I should rather have
expected Guiseppe or Angelo. The boy looks like an Italian.”

“Well, now, you know, Master, I reckon it’s likely he does, seeing
that that’s exactly what he is. You’ve hit the nail square on the head.
Italyun, yes, sir! Rather too much so, I’m thinking, for decent folks’
taste.”

“How has it happened that an Italian boy with a Scotch name is living in
a place like Lindsay?”

“Well, Master, it was this way. About twenty-two years ago--WAS it
twenty-two, Mother or twenty-four? Yes, it was twenty-two--‘twas the
same year our Jim was born and he’d have been twenty-two if he’d lived,
poor little fellow. Well, Master, twenty-two years ago a couple of
Italian pack peddlers came along and called at the Gordon place. The
country was swarming with them then. I useter set the dog on one every
day on an average.

“Well, these peddlers were man and wife, and the woman took sick up
there at the Gordon place, and Janet Gordon took her in and nursed her.
A baby was born the next day, and the woman died. Then the first thing
anybody knew the father skipped clean out, pack and all, and was never
seen or heard tell of afterwards. The Gordons were left with the fine
youngster to their hands. Folks advised them to send him to the Orphan
Asylum, and ‘twould have been the wisest plan, but the Gordons were
never fond of taking advice. Old James Gordon was living then, Thomas
and Janet’s father, and he said he would never turn a child out of his
door. He was a masterful old man and liked to be boss. Folks used to say
he had a grudge against the sun ‘cause it rose and set without his
say so. Anyhow, they kept the baby. They called him Neil and had him
baptized same as any Christian child. He’s always lived there. They
did well enough by him. He was sent to school and taken to church and
treated like one of themselves. Some folks think they made too much of
him. It doesn’t always do with that kind, for ‘what’s bred in bone
is mighty apt to come out in flesh,’ if ‘taint kept down pretty well.
Neil’s smart and a great worker, they tell me. But folks hereabouts
don’t like him. They say he ain’t to be trusted further’n you can see
him, if as far. It’s certain he’s awful hot tempered, and one time when
he was going to school he near about killed a boy he’d took a spite
to--choked him till he was black in the face and Neil had to be dragged
off.”

“Well now, father, you know they teased him terrible,” protested Mrs.
Williamson. “The poor boy had a real hard time when he went to school,
Master. The other children were always casting things up to him and
calling him names.”

“Oh, I daresay they tormented him a lot,” admitted her husband. “He’s
a great hand at the fiddle and likes company. He goes to the harbour a
good deal. But they say he takes sulky spells when he hasn’t a word
to throw to a dog. ‘Twouldn’t be any wonder, living with the Gordons.
They’re all as queer as Dick’s hat-band.”

“Father, you shouldn’t talk so about your neighbours,” said his wife
rebukingly.

“Well now, Mother, you know they are, if you’d only speak up honest. But
you’re like old Aunt Nancy Scott, you never say anything uncharitable
except in the way of business. You know the Gordons ain’t like other
people and never were and never will be. They’re about the only queer
folks we have in Lindsay, Master, except old Peter Cook, who keeps
twenty-five cats. Lord, Master, think of it! What chanct would a poor
mouse have? None of the rest of us are queer, leastwise, we hain’t found
it out if we are. But, then, we’re mighty uninteresting, I’m bound to
admit that.”

“Where do the Gordons live?” asked Eric, who had grown used to holding
fast to a given point of inquiry through all the bewildering mazes of
old Robert’s conversation.

“Away up yander, half a mile in from Radnor road, with a thick spruce
wood atween them and all the rest of the world. They never go away
anywheres, except to church--they never miss that--and nobody goes
there. There’s just old Thomas, and his sister Janet, and a niece of
theirs, and this here Neil we’ve been talking about. They’re a queer,
dour, cranky lot, and I WILL say it, Mother. There, give your old man a
cup of tea and never mind the way his tongue runs on. Speaking of tea,
do you know Mrs. Adam Palmer and Mrs. Jim Martin took tea together at
Foster Reid’s last Wednesday afternoon?”

“No, why, I thought they were on bad terms,” said Mrs. Williamson,
betraying a little feminine curiosity.

“So they are, so they are. But they both happened to visit Mrs. Foster
the same afternoon and neither would leave because that would be
knuckling down to the other. So they stuck it out, on opposite sides
of the parlour. Mrs. Foster says she never spent such an uncomfortable
afternoon in all her life before. She would talk a spell to one and then
t’other. And they kept talking TO Mrs. Foster and AT each other. Mrs.
Foster says she really thought she’d have to keep them all night, for
neither would start to go home afore the other. Finally Jim Martin came
in to look for his wife, ‘cause he thought she must have got stuck
in the marsh, and that solved the problem. Master, you ain’t eating
anything. Don’t mind my stopping; I was at it half an hour afore you
come, and anyway I’m in a hurry. My hired boy went home to-day. He heard
the rooster crow at twelve last night and he’s gone home to see which of
his family is dead. He knows one of ‘em is. He heard a rooster crow in
the middle of the night onct afore and the next day he got word that his
second cousin down at Souris was dead. Mother, if the Master don’t want
any more tea, ain’t there some cream for Timothy?”



CHAPTER V. A PHANTOM OF DELIGHT

Shortly before sunset that evening Eric went for a walk. When he did not
go to the shore he liked to indulge in long tramps through the Lindsay
fields and woods, in the mellowness of “the sweet ‘o the year.” Most of
the Lindsay houses were built along the main road, which ran parallel to
the shore, or about the stores at “The Corner.” The farms ran back from
them into solitudes of woods and pasture lands.

Eric struck southwest from the Williamson homestead, in a direction
he had not hitherto explored, and walked briskly along, enjoying the
witchery of the season all about him in earth and air and sky. He felt
it and loved it and yielded to it, as anyone of clean life and sane
pulses must do.

The spruce wood in which he presently found himself was smitten through
with arrows of ruby light from the setting sun. He went through it,
walking up a long, purple aisle where the wood-floor was brown and
elastic under his feet, and came out beyond it on a scene which
surprised him.

No house was in sight, but he found himself looking into an orchard; an
old orchard, evidently long neglected and forsaken. But an orchard dies
hard; and this one, which must have been a very delightful spot once,
was delightful still, none the less so for the air of gentle melancholy
which seemed to pervade it, the melancholy which invests all places that
have once been the scenes of joy and pleasure and young life, and are so
no longer, places where hearts have throbbed, and pulses thrilled, and
eyes brightened, and merry voices echoed. The ghosts of these things
seem to linger in their old haunts through many empty years.

The orchard was large and long, enclosed in a tumbledown old fence of
longers bleached to a silvery gray in the suns of many lost summers. At
regular intervals along the fence were tall, gnarled fir trees, and an
evening wind, sweeter than that which blew over the beds of spice from
Lebanon, was singing in their tops, an earth-old song with power to
carry the soul back to the dawn of time.

Eastward, a thick fir wood grew, beginning with tiny treelets just
feathering from the grass, and grading up therefrom to the tall veterans
of the mid-grove, unbrokenly and evenly, giving the effect of a solid,
sloping green wall, so beautifully compact that it looked as if it had
been clipped into its velvet surface by art.

Most of the orchard was grown over lushly with grass; but at the end
where Eric stood there was a square, treeless place which had evidently
once served as a homestead garden. Old paths were still visible,
bordered by stones and large pebbles. There were two clumps of lilac
trees; one blossoming in royal purple, the other in white. Between
them was a bed ablow with the starry spikes of June lilies. Their
penetrating, haunting fragrance distilled on the dewy air in every soft
puff of wind. Along the fence rosebushes grew, but it was as yet too
early in the season for roses.

Beyond was the orchard proper, three long rows of trees with green
avenues between, each tree standing in a wonderful blow of pink and
white.

The charm of the place took sudden possession of Eric as nothing had
ever done before. He was not given to romantic fancies; but the orchard
laid hold of him subtly and drew him to itself, and he was never to be
quite his own man again. He went into it over one of the broken panels
of fence, and so, unknowing, went forward to meet all that life held for
him.

He walked the length of the orchard’s middle avenue between long,
sinuous boughs picked out with delicate, rose-hearted bloom. When he
reached its southern boundary he flung himself down in a grassy corner
of the fence where another lilac bush grew, with ferns and wild blue
violets at its roots. From where he now was he got a glimpse of a house
about a quarter of a mile away, its gray gable peering out from a dark
spruce wood. It seemed a dull, gloomy, remote place, and he did not know
who lived there.

He had a wide outlook to the west, over far hazy fields and misty blue
intervales. The sun had just set, and the whole world of green meadows
beyond swam in golden light. Across a long valley brimmed with shadow
were uplands of sunset, and great sky lakes of saffron and rose where
a soul might lose itself in colour. The air was very fragrant with the
baptism of the dew, and the odours of a bed of wild mint upon which he
had trampled. Robins were whistling, clear and sweet and sudden, in the
woods all about him.

“This is a veritable ‘haunt of ancient peace,’” quoted Eric, looking
around with delighted eyes. “I could fall asleep here, dream dreams
and see visions. What a sky! Could anything be diviner than that fine
crystal eastern blue, and those frail white clouds that look like woven
lace? What a dizzying, intoxicating fragrance lilacs have! I wonder
if perfume could set a man drunk. Those apple trees now--why, what is
that?”

Eric started up and listened. Across the mellow stillness, mingled
with the croon of the wind in the trees and the flute-like calls of the
robins, came a strain of delicious music, so beautiful and fantastic
that Eric held his breath in astonishment and delight. Was he dreaming?
No, it was real music, the music of a violin played by some hand
inspired with the very spirit of harmony. He had never heard anything
like it; and, somehow, he felt quite sure that nothing exactly like it
ever had been heard before; he believed that that wonderful music was
coming straight from the soul of the unseen violinist, and translating
itself into those most airy and delicate and exquisite sounds for the
first time; the very soul of music, with all sense and earthliness
refined away.

It was an elusive, haunting melody, strangely suited to the time
and place; it had in it the sigh of the wind in the woods, the eerie
whispering of the grasses at dewfall, the white thoughts of the June
lilies, the rejoicing of the apple blossoms; all the soul of all the old
laughter and song and tears and gladness and sobs the orchard had
ever known in the lost years; and besides all this, there was in it a
pitiful, plaintive cry as of some imprisoned thing calling for freedom
and utterance.

At first Eric listened as a man spellbound, mutely and motionlessly,
lost in wonderment. Then a very natural curiosity overcame him. Who in
Lindsay could play a violin like that? And who was playing so here, in
this deserted old orchard, of all places in the world?

He rose and walked up the long white avenue, going as slowly and
silently as possible, for he did not wish to interrupt the player.
When he reached the open space of the garden he stopped short in new
amazement and was again tempted into thinking he must certainly be
dreaming.

Under the big branching white lilac tree was an old, sagging, wooden
bench; and on this bench a girl was sitting, playing on an old brown
violin. Her eyes were on the faraway horizon and she did not see Eric.
For a few moments he stood there and looked at her. The pictures she
made photographed itself on his vision to the finest detail, never to
be blotted from his book of remembrance. To his latest day Eric Marshall
will be able to recall vividly that scene as he saw it then--the velvet
darkness of the spruce woods, the overarching sky of soft brilliance,
the swaying lilac blossoms, and amid it all the girl on the old bench
with the violin under her chin.

He had, in his twenty-four years of life, met hundreds of pretty women,
scores of handsome women, a scant half dozen of really beautiful women.
But he knew at once, beyond all possibility of question or doubt, that
he had never seen or imagined anything so exquisite as this girl of the
orchard. Her loveliness was so perfect that his breath almost went from
him in his first delight of it.

Her face was oval, marked in every cameo-like line and feature with
that expression of absolute, flawless purity, found in the angels and
Madonnas of old paintings, a purity that held in it no faintest strain
of earthliness. Her head was bare, and her thick, jet-black hair was
parted above her forehead and hung in two heavy lustrous braids over her
shoulders. Her eyes were of such a blue as Eric had never seen in eyes
before, the tint of the sea in the still, calm light that follows after
a fine sunset; they were as luminous as the stars that came out over
Lindsay Harbour in the afterglow, and were fringed about with very long,
soot-black lashes, and arched over by most delicately pencilled dark
eyebrows. Her skin was as fine and purely tinted as the heart of a white
rose. The collarless dress of pale blue print she wore revealed her
smooth, slender throat; her sleeves were rolled up above her elbows
and the hand which guided the bow of her violin was perhaps the most
beautiful thing about her, perfect in shape and texture, firm and
white, with rosy-nailed taper fingers. One long, drooping plume of lilac
blossom lightly touched her hair and cast a wavering shadow over the
flower-like face beneath it.

There was something very child-like about her, and yet at least eighteen
sweet years must have gone to the making of her. She seemed to be
playing half unconsciously, as if her thoughts were far away in some
fair dreamland of the skies. But presently she looked away from “the
bourne of sunset,” and her lovely eyes fell on Eric, standing motionless
before her in the shadow of the apple tree.

The sudden change that swept over her was startling. She sprang to her
feet, the music breaking in mid-strain and the bow slipping from her
hand to the grass. Every hint of colour fled from her face and she
trembled like one of the wind-stirred June lilies.

“I beg your pardon,” said Eric hastily. “I am sorry that I have alarmed
you. But your music was so beautiful that I did not remember you were
not aware of my presence here. Please forgive me.”

He stopped in dismay, for he suddenly realized that the expression on
the girl’s face was one of terror--not merely the startled alarm of
a shy, childlike creature who had thought herself alone, but absolute
terror. It was betrayed in her blanched and quivering lips and in the
widely distended blue eyes that stared back into his with the expression
of some trapped wild thing.

It hurt him that any woman should look at him in such a fashion, at him
who had always held womanhood in such reverence.

“Don’t look so frightened,” he said gently, thinking only of calming her
fear, and speaking as he would to a child. “I will not hurt you. You are
safe, quite safe.”

In his eagerness to reassure her he took an unconscious step forward.
Instantly she turned, and, without a sound, fled across the orchard,
through a gap in the northern fence and along what seemed to be a lane
bordering the fir wood beyond and arched over with wild cherry trees
misty white in the gathering gloom. Before Eric could recover his wits
she had vanished from his sight among the firs.

He stooped and picked up the violin bow, feeling slightly foolish and
very much annoyed.

“Well, this is a most mysterious thing,” he said, somewhat impatiently.
“Am I bewitched? Who was she? WHAT was she? Can it be possible that she
is a Lindsay girl? And why in the name of all that’s provoking should
she be so frightened at the mere sight of me? I have never thought I
was a particularly hideous person, but certainly this adventure has not
increased my vanity to any perceptible extent. Perhaps I have wandered
into an enchanted orchard, and been outwardly transformed into an ogre.
Now that I have come to think of it, there is something quite uncanny
about the place. Anything might happen here. It is no common orchard for
the production of marketable apples, that is plain to be seen. No, it’s
a most unwholesome locality; and the sooner I make my escape from it the
better.”

He glanced about it with a whimsical smile. The light was fading rapidly
and the orchard was full of soft, creeping shadows and silences. It
seemed to wink sleepy eyes of impish enjoyment at his perplexity. He
laid the violin bow down on the old bench.

“Well, there is no use in my following her, and I have no right to do
so even if it were of use. But I certainly wish she hadn’t fled in such
evident terror. Eyes like hers were never meant to express anything
but tenderness and trust. Why--why--WHY was she so frightened? And
who--who--WHO--can she be?”

All the way home, over fields and pastures that were beginning to be
moonlight silvered he pondered the mystery.

“Let me see,” he reflected. “Mr. Williamson was describing the Lindsay
girls for my benefit the other evening. If I remember rightly he said
that there were four handsome ones in the district. What were their
names? Florrie Woods, Melissa Foster--no, Melissa Palmer--Emma Scott,
and Jennie May Ferguson. Can she be one of them? No, it is a flagrant
waste of time and gray matter supposing it. That girl couldn’t be a
Florrie or a Melissa or an Emma, while Jennie May is completely out of
the question. Well, there is some bewitchment in the affair. Of that I’m
convinced. So I’d better forget all about it.”

But Eric found that it was impossible to forget all about it. The more
he tried to forget, the more keenly and insistently he remembered. The
girl’s exquisite face haunted him and the mystery of her tantalized him.

True, he knew that, in all likelihood, he might easily solve the problem
by asking the Williamsons about her. But somehow, to his own surprise,
he found that he shrank from doing this. He felt that it was impossible
to ask Robert Williamson and probably have the girl’s name overflowed
in a stream of petty gossip concerning her and all her antecedents and
collaterals to the third and fourth generation. If he had to ask any one
it should be Mrs. Williamson; but he meant to find out the secret for
himself if it were at all possible.

He had planned to go to the harbour the next evening. One of the
lobstermen had promised to take him out cod-fishing. But instead he
wandered southwest over the fields again.

He found the orchard easily--he had half expected NOT to find it. It
was still the same fragrant, grassy, wind-haunted spot. But it had no
occupant and the violin bow was gone from the old bench.

“Perhaps she tiptoed back here for it by the light o’ the moon,” thought
Eric, pleasing his fancy by the vision of a lithe, girlish figure
stealing with a beating heart through mingled shadow and moonshine. “I
wonder if she will possibly come this evening, or if I have frightened
her away for ever. I’ll hide me behind this spruce copse and wait.”

Eric waited until dark, but no music sounded through the orchard and no
one came to it. The keenness of his disappointment surprised him, nay
more, it vexed him. What nonsense to be so worked up because a little
girl he had seen for five minutes failed to appear! Where was his
common sense, his “gumption,” as old Robert Williamson would have said?
Naturally a man liked to look at a pretty face. But was that any reason
why he should feel as if life were flat, stale, and unprofitable simply
because he could not look at it? He called himself a fool and went home
in a petulant mood. Arriving there, he plunged fiercely into solving
algebraical equations and working out geometry exercises, determined
to put out of his head forthwith all vain imaginings of an enchanted
orchard, white in the moonshine, with lilts of elfin music echoing down
its long arcades.

The next day was Sunday and Eric went to church twice. The Williamson
pew was one of the side ones at the top of the church and its occupants
practically faced the congregation. Eric looked at every girl and woman
in the audience, but he saw nothing of the face which, setting will
power and common sense flatly at defiance, haunted his memory like a
star.

Thomas Gordon was there, sitting alone in his long, empty pew near the
top of the building; and Neil Gordon sang in the choir which occupied
the front pew of the gallery. He had a powerful and melodious, though
untrained voice, which dominated the singing and took the colour out
of the weaker, more commonplace tones of the other singers. He was
well-dressed in a suit of dark blue serge, with a white collar and
tie. But Eric idly thought it did not become him so well as the working
clothes in which he had first seen him. He was too obviously dressed up,
and he looked coarser and more out of harmony with his surroundings.

For two days Eric refused to let himself think of the orchard. Monday
evening he went cod-fishing, and Tuesday evening he went up to play
checkers with Alexander Tracy. Alexander won all the games so easily
that he never had any respect for Eric Marshall again.

“Played like a feller whose thoughts were wool gathering,” he complained
to his wife. “He’ll never make a checker player--never in this world.”



CHAPTER VI. THE STORY OF KILMENY

Wednesday evening Eric went to the orchard again; and again he was
disappointed. He went home, determined to solve the mystery by open
inquiry. Fortune favoured him, for he found Mrs. Williamson alone,
sitting by the west window of her kitchen and knitting at a long gray
sock. She hummed softly to herself as she knitted, and Timothy slept
blackly at her feet. She looked at Eric with quiet affection in her
large, candid eyes. She had liked Mr. West. But Eric had found his way
into the inner chamber of her heart, by reason that his eyes were so
like those of the little son she had buried in the Lindsay churchyard
many years before.

“Mrs. Williamson,” said Eric, with an affectation of carelessness, “I
chanced on an old deserted orchard back behind the woods over there last
week, a charming bit of wilderness. Do you know whose it is?”

“I suppose it must be the old Connors orchard,” answered Mrs. Williamson
after a moment’s reflection. “I had forgotten all about it. It must be
all of thirty years since Mr. and Mrs. Connors moved away. Their house
and barns were burned down and they sold the land to Thomas Gordon and
went to live in town. They’re both dead now. Mr. Connors used to be
very proud of his orchard. There weren’t many orchards in Lindsay then,
though almost everybody has one now.”

“There was a young girl in it, playing on a violin,” said Eric, annoyed
to find that it cost him an effort to speak of her, and that the blood
mounted to his face as he did so. “She ran away in great alarm as
soon as she saw me, although I do not think I did or said anything to
frighten or vex her. I have no idea who she was. Do you know?”

Mrs. Williamson did not make an immediate reply. She laid down her
knitting and gazed out of the window as if pondering seriously some
question in her own mind. Finally she said, with an intonation of keen
interest in her voice,

“I suppose it must have been Kilmeny Gordon, Master.”

“Kilmeny Gordon? Do you mean the niece of Thomas Gordon of whom your
husband spoke?”

“Yes.”

“I can hardly believe that the girl I saw can be a member of Thomas
Gordon’s family.”

“Well, if it wasn’t Kilmeny Gordon I don’t know who it could have been.
There is no other house near that orchard and I’ve heard she plays the
violin. If it was Kilmeny you’ve seen what very few people in Lindsay
have ever seen, Master. And those few have never seen her close by. I
have never laid eyes on her myself. It’s no wonder she ran away, poor
girl. She isn’t used to seeing strangers.”

“I’m rather glad if that was the sole reason of her flight,” said
Eric. “I admit I didn’t like to see any girl so frightened of me as she
appeared to be. She was as white as paper, and so terrified that she
never uttered a word, but fled like a deer to cover.”

“Well, she couldn’t have spoken a word in any case,” said Mrs.
Williamson quietly. “Kilmeny Gordon is dumb.”

Eric sat in dismayed silence for a moment. That beautiful creature
afflicted in such a fashion--why, it was horrible! Mingled with his
dismay was a strange pang of personal regret and disappointment.

“It couldn’t have been Kilmeny Gordon, then,” he protested at last,
remembering. “The girl I saw played on the violin exquisitely. I never
heard anything like it. It is impossible that a deaf mute could play
like that.”

“Oh, she isn’t deaf, Master,” responded Mrs. Williamson, looking at Eric
keenly through her spectacles. She picked up her knitting and fell to
work again. “That is the strange part of it, if anything about her
can be stranger than another. She can hear as well as anybody and
understands everything that is said to her. But she can’t speak a word
and never could, at least, so they say. The truth is, nobody knows much
about her. Janet and Thomas never speak of her, and Neil won’t either.
He has been well questioned, too, you can depend on that; but he won’t
ever say a word about Kilmeny and he gets mad if folks persist.”

“Why isn’t she to be spoken of?” queried Eric impatiently. “What is the
mystery about her?”

“It’s a sad story, Master. I suppose the Gordons look on her existence
as a sort of disgrace. For my own part, I think it’s terrible, the way
she’s been brought up. But the Gordons are very strange people, Mr.
Marshall. I kind of reproved father for saying so, you remember, but it
is true. They have very strange ways. And you’ve really seen Kilmeny?
What does she look like? I’ve heard that she was handsome. Is it true?”

“I thought her very beautiful,” said Eric rather curtly. “But HOW has
she been brought up, Mrs. Williamson? And why?”

“Well, I might as well tell you the whole story, Master. Kilmeny is the
niece of Thomas and Janet Gordon. Her mother was Margaret Gordon, their
younger sister. Old James Gordon came out from Scotland. Janet and
Thomas were born in the Old Country and were small children when they
came here. They were never very sociable folks, but still they used to
visit out some then, and people used to go there. They were kind and
honest people, even if they were a little peculiar.

“Mrs. Gordon died a few years after they came out, and four years later
James Gordon went home to Scotland and brought a new wife back with him.
She was a great deal younger than he was and a very pretty woman, as my
mother often told me. She was friendly and gay and liked social life.
The Gordon place was a very different sort of place after she came
there, and even Janet and Thomas got thawed out and softened down a
good bit. They were real fond of their stepmother, I’ve heard. Then, six
years after she was married, the second Mrs. Gordon died too. She died
when Margaret was born. They say James Gordon almost broke his heart
over it.

“Janet brought Margaret up. She and Thomas just worshipped the child and
so did their father. I knew Margaret Gordon well once. We were just
the same age and we set together in school. We were always good friends
until she turned against all the world.

“She was a strange girl in some ways even then, but I always liked her,
though a great many people didn’t. She had some bitter enemies, but she
had some devoted friends too. That was her way. She made folks either
hate or love her. Those who did love her would have gone through fire
and water for her.

“When she grew up she was very pretty--tall and splendid, like a queen,
with great thick braids of black hair and red, red cheeks and lips.
Everybody who saw her looked at her a second time. She was a little
vain of her beauty, I think, Master. And she was proud, oh, she was very
proud. She liked to be first in everything, and she couldn’t bear not to
show to good advantage. She was dreadful determined, too. You couldn’t
budge her an inch, Master, when she once had made up her mind on any
point. But she was warm-hearted and generous. She could sing like an
angel and she was very clever. She could learn anything with just one
look at it and she was terrible fond of reading.

“When I’m talking about her like this it all comes back to me, just what
she was like and how she looked and spoke and acted, and little ways she
had of moving her hands and head. I declare it almost seems as if
she was right here in this room instead of being over there in the
churchyard. I wish you’d light the lamp, Master. I feel kind of
nervous.”

Eric rose and lighted the lamp, rather wondering at Mrs. Williamson’s
unusual exhibition of nerves. She was generally so calm and composed.

“Thank you, Master. That’s better. I won’t be fancying now that Margaret
Gordon’s here listening to what I’m saying. I had the feeling so strong
a moment ago.

“I suppose you think I’m a long while getting to Kilmeny, but I’m coming
to that. I didn’t mean to talk so much about Margaret, but somehow my
thoughts got taken up with her.

“Well, Margaret passed the Board and went to Queen’s Academy and got
a teacher’s license. She passed pretty well up when she came out, but
Janet told me she cried all night after the pass list came out because
there were some ahead of her.

“She went to teach school over at Radnor. It was there she met a man
named Ronald Fraser. Margaret had never had a beau before. She could
have had any young man in Lindsay if she had wanted him, but she
wouldn’t look at one of them. They said it was because she thought
nobody was good enough for her, but that wasn’t the way of it at all,
Master. I knew, because Margaret and I used to talk of those matters,
as girls do. She didn’t believe in going with anybody unless it was
somebody she thought everything of. And there was nobody in Lindsay she
cared that much for.

“This Ronald Fraser was a stranger from Nova Scotia and nobody knew much
about him. He was a widower, although he was only a young man. He had
set up store-keeping in Radnor and was doing well. He was real handsome
and had taking ways women like. It was said that all the Radnor girls
were in love with him, but I don’t think his worst enemy could have said
he flirted with them. He never took any notice of them; but the very
first time he saw Margaret Gordon he fell in love with her and she with
him.

“They came over to church in Lindsay together the next Sunday and
everybody said it would be a match. Margaret looked lovely that day, so
gentle and womanly. She had been used to hold her head pretty high, but
that day she held it drooping a little and her black eyes cast down.
Ronald Fraser was very tall and fair, with blue eyes. They made as
handsome a couple as I ever saw.

“But old James Gordon and Thomas and Janet didn’t much approve of him. I
saw that plain enough one time I was there and he brought Margaret home
from Radnor Friday night. I guess they wouldn’t have liked anybody,
though, who come after Margaret. They thought nobody was good enough for
her.

“But Margaret coaxed them all round in time. She could do pretty near
anything with them, they were so fond and proud of her. Her father held
out the longest, but finally he give in and consented for her to marry
Ronald Fraser.

“They had a big wedding, too--all the neighbours were asked. Margaret
always liked to make a display. I was her bridesmaid, Master. I helped
her dress and nothing would please her; she wanted to look that nice
for Ronald’s sake. She was a handsome bride; dressed in white, with red
roses in her hair and at her breast. She wouldn’t wear white flowers;
she said they looked too much like funeral flowers. She looked like a
picture. I can see her this minute, as plain as plain, just as she was
that night, blushing and turning pale by turns, and looking at Ronald
with her eyes of love. If ever a girl loved a man with all her heart
Margaret Gordon did. It almost made me feel frightened. She gave him the
worship it isn’t right to give anybody but God, Master, and I think that
is always punished.

“They went to live at Radnor and for a little while everything went
well. Margaret had a nice house, and was gay and happy. She dressed
beautiful and entertained a good deal. Then--well, Ronald Fraser’s first
wife turned up looking for him! She wasn’t dead after all.

“Oh, there was terrible scandal, Master. The talk and gossip was
something dreadful. Every one you met had a different story, and it was
hard to get at the truth. Some said Ronald Fraser had known all the time
that his wife wasn’t dead, and had deceived Margaret. But I don’t think
he did. He swore he didn’t. They hadn’t been very happy together, it
seems. Her mother made trouble between them. Then she went to visit her
mother in Montreal, and died in the hospital there, so the word came
to Ronald. Perhaps he believed it a little too readily, but that he DID
believe it I never had a doubt. Her story was that it was another woman
of the same name. When she found out Ronald thought her dead she and her
mother agreed to let him think so. But when she heard he had got married
again she thought she’d better let him know the truth.

“It all sounded like a queer story and I suppose you couldn’t blame
people for not believing it too readily. But I’ve always felt it was
true. Margaret didn’t think so, though. She believed that Ronald Fraser
had deceived her, knowing all the time that he couldn’t make her his
lawful wife. She turned against him and hated him just as much as she
had loved him before.

“Ronald Fraser went away with his real wife, and in less than a year
word came of his death. They said he just died of a broken heart,
nothing more nor less.

“Margaret came home to her father’s house. From the day that she went
over its threshold, she never came out until she was carried out in her
coffin three years ago. Not a soul outside of her own family ever saw
her again. I went to see her, but Janet told me she wouldn’t see me. It
was foolish of Margaret to act so. She hadn’t done anything real wrong;
and everybody was sorry for her and would have helped her all they
could. But I reckon pity cut her as deep as blame could have done, and
deeper, because you see, Master, she was so proud she couldn’t bear it.

“They say her father was hard on her, too; and that was unjust if it was
true. Janet and Thomas felt the disgrace, too. The people that had been
in the habit of going to the Gordon place soon stopped going, for they
could see they were not welcome.

“Old James Gordon died that winter. He never held his head up again
after the scandal. He had been an elder in the church, but he handed in
his resignation right away and nobody could persuade him to withdraw it.

“Kilmeny was born in the spring, but nobody ever saw her, except the
minister who baptized her. She was never taken to church or sent to
school. Of course, I suppose there wouldn’t have been any use in her
going to school when she couldn’t speak, and it’s likely Margaret taught
her all she could be taught herself. But it was dreadful that she was
never taken to church, or let go among the children and young folks.
And it was a real shame that nothing was ever done to find out why she
couldn’t talk, or if she could be cured.

“Margaret Gordon died three years ago, and everybody in Lindsay went to
the funeral. But they didn’t see her. The coffin lid was screwed down.
And they didn’t see Kilmeny either. I would have loved to see HER for
Margaret’s sake, but I didn’t want to see poor Margaret. I had never
seen her since the night she was a bride, for I had left Lindsay on a
visit just after that, and what I came home the scandal had just broken
out. I remembered Margaret in all her pride and beauty, and I couldn’t
have borne to look at her dead face and see the awful changes I knew
must be there.

“It was thought perhaps Janet and Thomas would take Kilmeny out after
her mother was gone, but they never did, so I suppose they must have
agreed with Margaret about the way she had been brought up. I’ve often
felt sorry for the poor girl, and I don’t think her people did right by
her, even if she was mysteriously afflicted. She must have had a very
sad, lonely life.

“That is the story, Master, and I’ve been a long time telling it, as I
dare say you think. But the past just seemed to be living again for
me as I talked. If you don’t want to be pestered with questions about
Kilmeny Gordon, Master, you’d better not let on you’ve seen her.”

Eric was not likely to. He had heard all he wanted to know and more.

“So this girl is at the core of a tragedy,” he reflected, as he went to
his room. “And she is dumb! The pity of it! Kilmeny! The name suits her.
She is as lovely and innocent as the heroine of the old ballad. ‘And
oh, Kilmeny was fair to see.’ But the next line is certainly not so
appropriate, for her eyes were anything but ‘still and steadfast’--after
she had seen me, at all events.”

He tried to put her out of his thoughts, but he could not. The memory of
her beautiful face drew him with a power he could not resist. The next
evening he went again to the orchard.



CHAPTER VII. A ROSE OF WOMANHOOD

When he emerged from the spruce wood and entered the orchard his heart
gave a sudden leap, and he felt that the blood rushed madly to his face.
She was there, bending over the bed of June lilies in the centre of the
garden plot. He could only see her profile, virginal and white.

He stopped, not wishing to startle her again. When she lifted her head
he expected to see her shrink and flee, but she did not do so; she only
grew a little paler and stood motionless, watching him intently.

Seeing this, he walked slowly towards her, and when he was so close
to her that he could hear the nervous flutter of her breath over her
parted, trembling lips, he said very gently,

“Do not be afraid of me. I am a friend, and I do not wish to disturb or
annoy you in any way.”

She seemed to hesitate a moment. Then she lifted a little slate that
hung at her belt, wrote something on it rapidly, and held it out to him.
He read, in a small distinctive handwriting,

“I am not afraid of you now. Mother told me that all strange men were
very wicked and dangerous, but I do not think you can be. I have thought
a great deal about you, and I am sorry I ran away the other night.”

He realized her entire innocence and simplicity. Looking earnestly into
her still troubled eyes he said,

“I would not do you any harm for the world. All men are not wicked,
although it is too true that some are so. My name is Eric Marshall and
I am teaching in the Lindsay school. You, I think, are Kilmeny Gordon.
I thought your music so very lovely the other evening that I have been
wishing ever since that I might hear it again. Won’t you play for me?”

The vague fear had all gone from her eyes by this time, and suddenly she
smiled--a merry, girlish, wholly irresistible smile, which broke through
the calm of her face like a gleam of sunlight rippling over a placid
sea. Then she wrote, “I am very sorry that I cannot play this evening.
I did not bring my violin with me. But I will bring it to-morrow evening
and play for you if you would like to hear me. I should like to please
you.”

Again that note of innocent frankness! What a child she was--what a
beautiful, ignorant child, utterly unskilled in the art of hiding her
feelings! But why should she hide them? They were as pure and beautiful
as herself. Eric smiled back at her with equal frankness.

“I should like it more than I can say, and I shall be sure to come
to-morrow evening if it is fine. But if it is at all damp or unpleasant
you must not come. In that case another evening will do. And now won’t
you give me some flowers?”

She nodded, with another little smile, and began to pick some of the
June lilies, carefully selecting the most perfect among them. He watched
her lithe, graceful motions with delight; every movement seemed poetry
itself. She looked like a very incarnation of Spring--as if all the
shimmer of young leaves and glow of young mornings and evanescent
sweetness of young blossoms in a thousand springs had been embodied in
her.

When she came to him, radiant, her hands full of the lilies, a couplet
from a favourite poem darted into his head--

    “A blossom vermeil white
    That lightly breaks a faded flower sheath,
    Here, by God’s rood, is the one maid for me.”

The next moment he was angry with himself for his folly. She was,
after all, nothing but a child--and a child set apart from her fellow
creatures by her sad defect. He must not let himself think nonsense.

“Thank you. These June lilies are the sweetest flowers the spring brings
us. Do you know that their real name is the white narcissus?” She looked
pleased and interested.

“No, I did not know,” she wrote. “I have often read of the white
narcissus and wondered what it was like. I never thought of it being the
same as my dear June lilies. I am glad you told me. I love flowers very
much. They are my very good friends.”

“You couldn’t help being friends with the lilies. Like always takes to
like,” said Eric. “Come and sit down on the old bench--here, where you
were sitting that night I frightened you so badly. I could not imagine
who or what you were. Sometimes I thought I had dreamed you--only,” he
added under his breath and unheard by her, “I could never have dreamed
anything half so lovely.”

She sat down beside him on the old bench and looked unshrinkingly in his
face. There was no boldness in her glance--nothing but the most perfect,
childlike trust and confidence. If there had been any evil in his
heart--any skulking thought, he was afraid to acknowledge--those
eyes must have searched it out and shamed it. But he could meet them
unafraid. Then she wrote,

“I was very much frightened. You must have thought me very silly, but I
had never seen any man except Uncle Thomas and Neil and the egg peddler.
And you are different from them--oh, very, very different. I was afraid
to come back here the next evening. And yet, somehow, I wanted to come.
I did not want you to think I did not know how to behave. I sent Neil
back for my bow in the morning. I could not do without it. I cannot
speak, you know. Are you sorry?”

“I am very sorry for your sake.”

“Yes, but what I mean is, would you like me better if I could speak like
other people?”

“No, it does not make any difference in that way, Kilmeny. By the way,
do you mind my calling you Kilmeny?”

She looked puzzled and wrote, “What else should you call me? That is my
name. Everybody calls me that.”

“But I am such a stranger to you that perhaps you would wish me to call
you Miss Gordon.”

“Oh, no, I would not like that,” she wrote quickly, with a distressed
look on her face. “Nobody ever calls me that. It would make me feel
as if I were not myself but somebody else. And you do not seem like a
stranger to me. Is there any reason why you should not call me Kilmeny?”

“No reason whatever, if you will allow me the privilege. You have a very
lovely name--the very name you ought to have.”

“I am glad you like it. Do you know that I was called after my
grandmother and she was called after a girl in a poem? Aunt Janet has
never liked my name, although she liked my grandmother. But I am glad
you like both my name and me. I was afraid you would not like me because
I cannot speak.”

“You can speak through your music, Kilmeny.”

She looked pleased. “How well you understand,” she wrote. “Yes, I cannot
speak or sing as other people can, but I can make my violin say things
for me.”

“Do you compose your own music?” he asked. But he saw she did not
understand him. “I mean, did any one ever teach you the music you played
here that evening?”

“Oh, no. It just came as I thought. It has always been that way. When I
was very little Neil taught me to hold the violin and the bow, and the
rest all came of itself. My violin once belonged to Neil, but he gave it
to me. Neil is very good and kind to me, but I like you better. Tell me
about yourself.”

The wonder of her grew upon him with every passing moment. How lovely
she was! What dear little ways and gestures she had--ways and gestures
as artless and unstudied as they were effective. And how strangely
little her dumbness seemed to matter after all! She wrote so quickly and
easily, her eyes and smile gave such expression to her mobile face, that
voice was hardly missed.

They lingered in the orchard until the long, languid shadows of the
trees crept to their feet. It was just after sunset and the distant
hills were purple against the melting saffron of the sky in the west and
the crystalline blue of the sky in the south. Eastward, just over the
fir woods, were clouds, white and high heaped like snow mountains, and
the westernmost of them shone with a rosy glow as of sunset on an Alpine
height.

The higher worlds of air were still full of light--perfect, stainless
light, unmarred of earth shadow; but down in the orchard and under the
spruces the light had almost gone, giving place to a green, dewy dusk,
made passionately sweet with the breath of the apple blossoms and mint,
and the balsamic odours that rained down upon them from the firs.

Eric told her of his life, and the life in the great outer world, in
which she was girlishly and eagerly interested. She asked him many
questions about it--direct and incisive questions which showed that she
had already formed decided opinions and views about it. Yet it was plain
to be seen that she did not regard it as anything she might ever share
herself. Hers was the dispassionate interest with which she might have
listened to a tale of the land of fairy or of some great empire long
passed away from earth.

Eric discovered that she had read a great deal of poetry and history,
and a few books of biography and travel. She did not know what a
novel meant and had never heard of one. Curiously enough, she was well
informed regarding politics and current events, from the weekly paper
for which her uncle subscribed.

“I never read the newspaper while mother was alive,” she wrote, “nor any
poetry either. She taught me to read and write and I read the Bible all
through many times and some of the histories. After mother died Aunt
Janet gave me all her books. She had a great many. Most of them had been
given to her as prizes when she was a girl at school, and some of them
had been given to her by my father. Do you know the story of my father
and mother?”

Eric nodded.

“Yes, Mrs. Williamson told me all about it. She was a friend of your
mother.”

“I am glad you have heard it. It is so sad that I would not like to tell
it, but you will understand everything better because you know. I never
heard it until just before mother died. Then she told me all. I think
she had thought father was to blame for the trouble; but before she died
she told me she believed that she had been unjust to him and that he
had not known. She said that when people were dying they saw things more
clearly and she saw she had made a mistake about father. She said she
had many more things she wanted to tell me, but she did not have time to
tell them because she died that night. It was a long while before I had
the heart to read her books. But when I did I thought them so beautiful.
They were poetry and it was like music put into words.”

“I will bring you some books to read, if you would like them,” said
Eric.

Her great blue eyes gleamed with interest and delight.

“Oh, thank you, I would like it very much. I have read mine over so
often that I know them nearly all by heart. One cannot get tired of
really beautiful things, but sometimes I feel that I would like some new
books.”

“Are you never lonely, Kilmeny?”

“Oh, no, how could I be? There is always plenty for me to do, helping
Aunt Janet about the house. I can do a great many things”--she glanced
up at him with a pretty pride as her flying pencil traced the words. “I
can cook and sew. Aunt Janet says I am a very good housekeeper, and she
does not praise people very often or very much. And then, when I am
not helping her, I have my dear, dear violin. That is all the company I
want. But I like to read and hear of the big world so far away and the
people who live there and the things that are done. It must be a very
wonderful place.”

“Wouldn’t you like to go out into it and see its wonders and meet those
people yourself?” he asked, smiling at her.

At once he saw that, in some way he could not understand, he had hurt
her. She snatched her pencil and wrote, with such swiftness of
motion and energy of expression that it almost seemed as if she had
passionately exclaimed the words aloud,

“No, no, no. I do not want to go anywhere away from home. I do not want
ever to see strangers or have them see me. I could not bear it.”

He thought that possibly the consciousness of her defect accounted
for this. Yet she did not seem sensitive about her dumbness and made
frequent casual references to it in her written remarks. Or perhaps
it was the shadow on her birth. Yet she was so innocent that it seemed
unlikely she could realize or understand the existence of such a shadow.
Eric finally decided that it was merely the rather morbid shrinking of a
sensitive child who had been brought up in an unwholesome and unnatural
way. At last the lengthening shadows warned him that it was time to go.

“You won’t forget to come to-morrow evening and play for me,” he said,
rising reluctantly. She answered by a quick little shake of her sleek,
dark head, and a smile that was eloquent. He watched her as she walked
across the orchard,

    “With the moon’s beauty and the moon’s soft pace,”

and along the wild cherry lane. At the corner of the firs she paused and
waved her hand to him before turning it.

When Eric reached home old Robert Williamson was having a lunch of bread
and milk in the kitchen. He looked up, with a friendly grin, as Eric
strode in, whistling.

“Been having a walk, Master?” he queried.

“Yes,” said Eric.

Unconsciously and involuntarily he infused so much triumph into the
simple monosyllable that even old Robert felt it. Mrs. Williamson, who
was cutting bread at the end of the table, laid down her knife and loaf,
and looked at the young man with a softly troubled expression in her
eyes. She wondered if he had been back to the Connors orchard--and if he
could have seen Kilmeny Gordon again.

“You didn’t discover a gold mine, I s’pose?” said old Robert dryly. “You
look as if you might have.”



CHAPTER VIII. AT THE GATE OF EDEN

When Eric went to the old Connors orchard the next evening he found
Kilmeny waiting for him on the bench under the white lilac tree, with
the violin in her lap. As soon as she saw him she caught it up and began
to play an airy delicate little melody that sounded like the laughter of
daisies.

When it was finished she dropped her bow, and looked up at him with
flushed cheeks and questioning eyes.

“What did that say to you?” she wrote.

“It said something like this,” answered Eric, falling into her humour
smilingly. “Welcome, my friend. It is a very beautiful evening. The sky
is so blue and the apple blossoms so sweet. The wind and I have been
here alone together and the wind is a good companion, but still I am
glad to see you. It is an evening on which it is good to be alive and to
wander in an orchard that is fine and white. Welcome, my friend.”

She clapped her hands, looking like a pleased child.

“You are very quick to understand,” she wrote. “That was just what I
meant. Of course I did not think it in just those words, but that was
the FEELING of it. I felt that I was so glad I was alive, and that the
apple blossoms and the white lilacs and the trees and I were all pleased
together to see you come. You are quicker than Neil. He is almost always
puzzled to understand my music, and I am puzzled to understand his.
Sometimes it frightens me. It seems as if there were something in it
trying to take hold of me--something I do not like and want to run away
from.”

Somehow Eric did not like her references to Neil. The idea of that
handsome, low-born boy seeing Kilmeny every day, talking to her, sitting
at the same table with her, dwelling under the same roof, meeting her in
the hundred intimacies of daily life, was distasteful to him. He put the
thought away from him, and flung himself down on the long grass at her
feet.

“Now play for me, please,” he said. “I want to lie here and listen to
you.”

“And look at you,” he might have added. He could not tell which was
the greater pleasure. Her beauty, more wonderful than any pictured
loveliness he had ever seen, delighted him. Every tint and curve and
outline of her face was flawless. Her music enthralled him. This child,
he told himself as he listened, had genius. But it was being wholly
wasted. He found himself thinking resentfully of the people who were her
guardians, and who were responsible for her strange life. They had done
her a great and irremediable wrong. How dared they doom her to such an
existence? If her defect of utterance had been attended to in time, who
knew but that it might have been cured? Now it was probably too late.
Nature had given her a royal birthright of beauty and talent, but their
selfish and unpardonable neglect had made it of no account.

What divine music she lured out of the old violin--merry and sad, gay
and sorrowful by turns, music such as the stars of morning might have
made singing together, music that the fairies might have danced to in
their revels among the green hills or on yellow sands, music that might
have mourned over the grave of a dead hope. Then she drifted into a
still sweeter strain. As he listened to it he realized that the whole
soul and nature of the girl were revealing themselves to him through her
music--the beauty and purity of her thoughts, her childhood dreams and
her maiden reveries. There was no thought of concealment about her; she
could not help the revelation she was unconscious of making.

At last she laid her violin aside and wrote,

“I have done my best to give you pleasure. It is your turn now. Do you
remember a promise you made me last night? Have you kept it?”

He gave her the two books he had brought for her--a modern novel and
a volume of poetry unknown to her. He had hesitated a little over the
former; but the book was so fine and full of beauty that he thought it
could not bruise the bloom of her innocence ever so slightly. He had
no doubts about the poetry. It was the utterance of one of those great
inspired souls whose passing tread has made the kingdom of their birth
and labour a veritable Holy Land.

He read her some of the poems. Then he talked to her of his college days
and friends. The minutes passed very swiftly. There was just then no
world for him outside of that old orchard with its falling blossoms and
its shadows and its crooning winds.

Once, when he told her the story of some college pranks wherein the
endless feuds of freshmen and sophomores figured, she clapped her hands
together according to her habit, and laughed aloud--a clear, musical,
silvery peal. It fell on Eric’s ear with a shock of surprise. He thought
it strange that she could laugh like that when she could not speak.
Wherein lay the defect that closed for her the gates of speech? Was it
possible that it could be removed?

“Kilmeny,” he said gravely after a moment’s reflection, during which
he had looked up as she sat with the ruddy sunlight falling through the
lilac branches on her bare, silky head like a shower of red jewels, “do
you mind if I ask you something about your inability to speak? Will it
hurt you to talk of the matter with me?”

She shook her head.

“Oh, no,” she wrote, “I do not mind at all. Of course I am sorry I
cannot speak, but I am quite used to the thought and it never hurts me
at all.”

“Then, Kilmeny, tell me this. Do you know why it is that you are unable
to speak, when all your other faculties are so perfect?”

“No, I do not know at all why I cannot speak. I asked mother once and
she told me it was a judgment on her for a great sin she had committed,
and she looked so strangely that I was frightened, and I never spoke of
it to her or anyone else again.”

“Were you ever taken to a doctor to have your tongue and organs of
speech examined?”

“No. I remember when I was a very little girl that Uncle Thomas wanted
to take me to a doctor in Charlottetown and see if anything could be
done for me, but mother would not let him. She said it would be no use.
And I do not think Uncle Thomas thought it would be, either.”

“You can laugh very naturally. Can you make any other sound?”

“Yes, sometimes. When I am pleased or frightened I have made little
cries. But it is only when I am not thinking of it at all that I can do
that. If I TRY to make a sound I cannot do it at all.”

This seemed to Eric more mysterious than ever.

“Do you ever try to speak--to utter words?” he persisted.

“Oh yes, very often. All the time I am saying the words in my head, just
as I hear other people saying them, but I never can make my tongue say
them. Do not look so sorry, my friend. I am very happy and I do not mind
so very much not being able to speak--only sometimes when I have so many
thoughts and it seems so slow to write them out, some of them get away
from me. I must play to you again. You look too sober.”

She laughed again, picked up her violin, and played a tinkling, roguish
little melody as if she were trying to tease him, looking at Eric over
her violin with luminous eyes that dared him to be merry.

Eric smiled; but the puzzled look returned to his face many times that
evening. He walked home in a brown study. Kilmeny’s case certainly
seemed a strange one, and the more he thought of it the stranger it
seemed.

“It strikes me as something very peculiar that she should be able to
make sounds only when she is not thinking about it,” he reflected. “I
wish David Baker could examine her. But I suppose that is out of the
question. That grim pair who have charge of her would never consent.”



CHAPTER IX. THE STRAIGHT SIMPLICITY OF EVE

For the next three weeks Eric Marshall seemed to himself to be living
two lives, as distinct from each other as if he possessed a double
personality. In one, he taught the Lindsay district school diligently
and painstakingly; solved problems; argued on theology with Robert
Williamson; called at the homes of his pupils and took tea in state
with their parents; went to a rustic dance or two and played havoc, all
unwittingly, with the hearts of the Lindsay maidens.

But this life was a dream of workaday. He only LIVED in the other, which
was spent in an old orchard, grassy and overgrown, where the minutes
seemed to lag for sheer love of the spot and the June winds made wild
harping in the old spruces.

Here every evening he met Kilmeny; in that old orchard they garnered
hours of quiet happiness together; together they went wandering in the
fair fields of old romance; together they read many books and talked of
many things; and, when they were tired of all else, Kilmeny played to
him and the old orchard echoed with her lovely, fantastic melodies.

At every meeting her beauty came home afresh to him with the old thrill
of glad surprise. In the intervals of absence it seemed to him that she
could not possibly be as beautiful as he remembered her; and then
when they met she seemed even more so. He learned to watch for the
undisguised light of welcome that always leaped into her eyes at the
sound of his footsteps. She was nearly always there before him and she
always showed that she was glad to see him with the frank delight of a
child watching for a dear comrade.

She was never in the same mood twice. Now she was grave, now gay, now
stately, now pensive. But she was always charming. Thrawn and twisted
the old Gordon stock might be, but it had at least this one offshoot of
perfect grace and symmetry. Her mind and heart, utterly unspoiled of the
world, were as beautiful as her face. All the ugliness of existence
had passed her by, shrined in her double solitude of upbringing and
muteness.

She was naturally quick and clever. Delightful little flashes of wit
and humour sparkled out occasionally. She could be whimsical--even
charmingly capricious. Sometimes innocent mischief glimmered out in the
unfathomable deeps of her blue eyes. Sarcasm, even, was not unknown to
her. Now and then she punctured some harmless bubble of a young man’s
conceit or masculine superiority with a biting little line of daintily
written script.

She assimilated the ideas in the books they read, speedily, eagerly,
and thoroughly, always seizing on the best and truest, and rejecting the
false and spurious and weak with an unfailing intuition at which Eric
marvelled. Hers was the spear of Ithuriel, trying out the dross of
everything and leaving only the pure gold.

In manner and outlook she was still a child. Yet now and again she was
as old as Eve. An expression would leap into her laughing face, a subtle
meaning reveal itself in her smile, that held all the lore of womanhood
and all the wisdom of the ages.

Her way of smiling enchanted him. The smile always began far down in her
eyes and flowed outward to her face like a sparkling brook stealing out
of shadow into sunshine.

He knew everything about her life. She told him her simple history
freely. She often mentioned her uncle and aunt and seemed to regard them
with deep affection. She rarely spoke of her mother. Eric came somehow
to understand, less from what she said than from what she did not say,
that Kilmeny, though she had loved her mother, had always been rather
afraid of her. There had not been between them the natural beautiful
confidence of mother and child.

Of Neil, she wrote frequently at first, and seemed very fond of him.
Later she ceased to mention him. Perhaps--for she was marvellously quick
to catch and interpret every fleeting change of expression in his voice
and face--she discerned what Eric did not know himself--that his eyes
clouded and grew moody at the mention of Neil’s name.

Once she asked him naively,

“Are there many people like you out in the world?”

“Thousands of them,” said Eric, laughing.

She looked gravely at him. Then she gave her head a quick decided little
shake.

“I do not think so,” she wrote. “I do not know much of the world, but I
do not think there are many people like you in it.”

One evening, when the far-away hills and fields were scarfed in gauzy
purples, and the intervales were brimming with golden mists, Eric
carried to the old orchard a little limp, worn volume that held a love
story. It was the first thing of the kind he had ever read to her,
for in the first novel he had lent her the love interest had been
very slight and subordinate. This was a beautiful, passionate idyl
exquisitely told.

He read it to her, lying in the grass at her feet; she listened with her
hands clasped over her knee and her eyes cast down. It was not a long
story; and when he had finished it he shut the book and looked up at her
questioningly.

“Do you like it, Kilmeny?” he asked.

Very slowly she took her slate and wrote,

“Yes, I like it. But it hurt me, too. I did not know that a person could
like anything that hurt her. I do not know why it hurt me. I felt as if
I had lost something that I never had. That was a very silly feeling,
was it not? But I did not understand the book very well, you see. It is
about love and I do not know anything about love. Mother told me once
that love is a curse, and that I must pray that it would never enter
into my life. She said it very earnestly, and so I believed her. But
your book teaches that it is a blessing. It says that it is the most
splendid and wonderful thing in life. Which am I to believe?”

“Love--real love--is never a curse, Kilmeny,” said Eric gravely. “There
is a false love which IS a curse. Perhaps your mother believed it was
that which had entered her life and ruined it; and so she made the
mistake. There is nothing in the world--or in heaven either, as I
believe--so truly beautiful and wonderful and blessed as love.”

“Have you ever loved?” asked Kilmeny, with the directness of phrasing
necessitated by her mode of communication which was sometimes a little
terrible. She asked the question simply and without embarrassment. She
knew of no reason why love might not be discussed with Eric as other
matters--music and books and travel--might be.

“No,” said Eric--honestly, as he thought, “but every one has an ideal of
love whom he hopes to meet some day--‘the ideal woman of a young man’s
dream.’ I suppose I have mine, in some sealed, secret chamber of my
heart.”

“I suppose your ideal woman would be beautiful, like the woman in your
book?”

“Oh, yes, I am sure I could never care for an ugly woman,” said Eric,
laughing a little as he sat up. “Our ideals are always beautiful,
whether they so translate themselves into realities or not. But the
sun is going down. Time does certainly fly in this enchanted orchard. I
believe you bewitch the moments away, Kilmeny. Your namesake of the
poem was a somewhat uncanny maid, if I recollect aright, and thought as
little of seven years in elfland as ordinary folk do of half an hour
on upper earth. Some day I shall waken from a supposed hour’s lingering
here and find myself an old man with white hair and ragged coat, as in
that fairy tale we read the other night. Will you let me give you this
book? I should never commit the sacrilege of reading it in any other
place than this. It is an old book, Kilmeny. A new book, savouring of
the shop and market-place, however beautiful it might be, would not do
for you. This was one of my mother’s books. She read it and loved it.
See--the faded rose leaves she placed in it one day are there still.
I’ll write your name in it--that quaint, pretty name of yours which
always sounds as if it had been specially invented for you--‘Kilmeny of
the Orchard’--and the date of this perfect June day on which we read it
together. Then when you look at it you will always remember me, and the
white buds opening on that rosebush beside you, and the rush and murmur
of the wind in the tops of those old spruces.”

He held out the book to her, but, to his surprise, she shook her head,
with a deeper flush on her face.

“Won’t you take the book, Kilmeny? Why not?”

She took her pencil and wrote slowly, unlike her usual quick movement.

“Do not be offended with me. I shall not need anything to make me
remember you because I can never forget you. But I would rather not take
the book. I do not want to read it again. It is about love, and there is
no use in my learning about love, even if it is all you say. Nobody will
ever love me. I am too ugly.”

“You! Ugly!” exclaimed Eric. He was on the point of going off into a
peal of laughter at the idea when a glimpse of her half averted face
sobered him. On it was a hurt, bitter look, such as he remembered seeing
once before, when he had asked her if she would not like to see the
world for herself.

“Kilmeny,” he said in astonishment, “you don’t really think yourself
ugly, do you?”

She nodded, without looking at him, and then wrote,

“Oh, yes, I know that I am. I have known it for a long time. Mother told
me that I was very ugly and that nobody would ever like to look at me. I
am sorry. It hurts me much worse to know I am ugly than it does to know
I cannot speak. I suppose you will think that is very foolish of me, but
it is true. That was why I did not come back to the orchard for such a
long time, even after I had got over my fright. I hated to think that
YOU would think me ugly. And that is why I do not want to go out into
the world and meet people. They would look at me as the egg peddler did
one day when I went out with Aunt Janet to his wagon the spring after
mother died. He stared at me so. I knew it was because he thought me so
ugly, and I have always hidden when he came ever since.”

Eric’s lips twitched. In spite of his pity for the real suffering
displayed in her eyes, he could not help feeling amused over the absurd
idea of this beautiful girl believing herself in all seriousness to be
ugly.

“But, Kilmeny, do you think yourself ugly when you look in a mirror?” he
asked smiling.

“I have never looked in a mirror,” she wrote. “I never knew there was
such a thing until after mother died, and I read about it in a book.
Then I asked Aunt Janet and she said mother had broken all the looking
glasses in the house when I was a baby. But I have seen my face
reflected in the spoons, and in a little silver sugar bowl Aunt Janet
has. And it IS ugly--very ugly.”

Eric’s face went down into the grass. For his life he could not help
laughing; and for his life he would not let Kilmeny see him laughing.
A certain little whimsical wish took possession of him and he did not
hasten to tell her the truth, as had been his first impulse. Instead,
when he dared to look up he said slowly,

“I don’t think you are ugly, Kilmeny.”

“Oh, but I am sure you must,” she wrote protestingly. “Even Neil does.
He tells me I am kind and nice, but one day I asked him if he thought
me very ugly, and he looked away and would not speak, so I knew what he
thought about it, too. Do not let us speak of this again. It makes me
feel sorry and spoils everything. I forget it at other times. Let me
play you some good-bye music, and do not feel vexed because I would not
take your book. It would only make me unhappy to read it.”

“I am not vexed,” said Eric, “and I think you will take it some day
yet--after I have shown you something I want you to see. Never mind
about your looks, Kilmeny. Beauty isn’t everything.”

“Oh, it is a great deal,” she wrote naively. “But you do like me, even
though I am so ugly, don’t you? You like me because of my beautiful
music, don’t you?”

“I like you very much, Kilmeny,” answered Eric, laughing a little;
but there was in his voice a tender note of which he was unconscious.
Kilmeny was aware of it, however, and she picked up her violin with a
pleased smile.

He left her playing there, and all the way through the dim resinous
spruce wood her music followed him like an invisible guardian spirit.

“Kilmeny the Beautiful!” he murmured, “and yet, good heavens, the child
thinks she is ugly--she with a face more lovely than ever an artist
dreamed of! A girl of eighteen who has never looked in a mirror! I
wonder if there is another such in any civilized country in the world.
What could have possessed her mother to tell her such a falsehood? I
wonder if Margaret Gordon could have been quite sane. It is strange that
Neil has never told her the truth. Perhaps he doesn’t want her to find
out.”

Eric had met Neil Gordon a few evenings before this, at a country
dance where Neil had played the violin for the dancers. Influenced by
curiosity he had sought the lad’s acquaintance. Neil was friendly and
talkative at first; but at the first hint concerning the Gordons
which Eric threw out skilfully his face and manner changed. He looked
secretive and suspicious, almost sinister. A sullen look crept into
his big black eyes and he drew his bow across the violin strings with a
discordant screech, as if to terminate the conversation. Plainly nothing
was to be found out from him about Kilmeny and her grim guardians.



CHAPTER X. A TROUBLING OF THE WATERS

One evening in late June Mrs. Williamson was sitting by her kitchen
window. Her knitting lay unheeded in her lap, and Timothy, though he
nestled ingratiatingly against her foot as he lay on the rug and purred
his loudest, was unregarded. She rested her face on her hand and looked
out of the window, across the distant harbour, with troubled eyes.

“I guess I must speak,” she thought wistfully. “I hate to do it. I
always did hate meddling. My mother always used to say that ninety-nine
times out of a hundred the last state of a meddler and them she
meddled with was worse than the first. But I guess it’s my duty. I was
Margaret’s friend, and it is my duty to protect her child any way I can.
If the Master does go back across there to meet her I must tell him what
I think about it.”

Overhead in his room, Eric was walking about whistling. Presently he
came downstairs, thinking of the orchard, and the girl who would be
waiting for him there.

As he crossed the little front entry he heard Mrs. Williamson’s voice
calling to him.

“Mr. Marshall, will you please come here a moment?”

He went out to the kitchen. Mrs. Williamson looked at him deprecatingly.
There was a flush on her faded cheek and her voice trembled.

“Mr. Marshall, I want to ask you a question. Perhaps you will think it
isn’t any of my business. But it isn’t because I want to meddle. No, no.
It is only because I think I ought to speak. I have thought it over for
a long time, and it seems to me that I ought to speak. I hope you won’t
be angry, but even if you are I must say what I have to say. Are you
going back to the old Connors orchard to meet Kilmeny Gordon?”

For a moment an angry flush burned in Eric’s face. It was more Mrs.
Williamson’s tone than her words which startled and annoyed him.

“Yes, I am, Mrs. Williamson,” he said coldly. “What of it?”

“Then, sir,” said Mrs. Williamson with more firmness, “I have got to
tell you that I don’t think you are doing right. I have been suspecting
all along that that was where you went every evening, but I haven’t said
a word to any one about it. Even my husband doesn’t know. But tell me
this, Master. Do Kilmeny’s uncle and aunt know that you are meeting her
there?”

“Why,” said Eric, in some confusion, “I--I do not know whether they do
or not. But Mrs. Williamson, surely you do not suspect me of meaning any
harm or wrong to Kilmeny Gordon?”

“No, I don’t, Master. I might think it of some men, but never of you. I
don’t for a minute think that you would do her or any woman any wilful
wrong. But you may do her great harm for all that. I want you to stop
and think about it. I guess you haven’t thought. Kilmeny can’t know
anything about the world or about men, and she may get to thinking too
much of you. That might break her heart, because you couldn’t ever marry
a dumb girl like her. So I don’t think you ought to be meeting her so
often in this fashion. It isn’t right, Master. Don’t go to the orchard
again.”

Without a word Eric turned away, and went upstairs to his room. Mrs.
Williamson picked up her knitting with a sigh.

“That’s done, Timothy, and I’m real thankful,” she said. “I guess
there’ll be no need of saying anything more. Mr. Marshall is a fine
young man, only a little thoughtless. Now that he’s got his eyes opened
I’m sure he’ll do what is right. I don’t want Margaret’s child made
unhappy.”

Her husband came to the kitchen door and sat down on the steps to enjoy
his evening smoke, talking between whiffs to his wife of Elder Tracy’s
church row, and Mary Alice Martin’s beau, the price Jake Crosby was
giving for eggs, the quantity of hay yielded by the hill meadow, the
trouble he was having with old Molly’s calf, and the respective merits
of Plymouth Rock and Brahma roosters. Mrs. Williamson answered at
random, and heard not one word in ten.

“What’s got the Master, Mother?” inquired old Robert, presently. “I hear
him striding up and down in his room ‘sif he was caged. Sure you didn’t
lock him in by mistake?”

“Maybe he’s worried over the way Seth Tracy’s acting in school,”
 suggested Mrs. Williamson, who did not choose that her gossipy husband
should suspect the truth about Eric and Kilmeny Gordon.

“Shucks, he needn’t worry a morsel over that. Seth’ll quiet down as soon
as he finds he can’t run the Master. He’s a rare good teacher--better’n
Mr. West was even, and that’s saying something. The trustees are hoping
he’ll stay for another term. They’re going to ask him at the school
meeting to-morrow, and offer him a raise of supplement.”

Upstairs, in his little room under the eaves, Eric Marshall was in
the grip of the most intense and overwhelming emotion he had ever
experienced.

Up and down, to and fro, he walked, with set lips and clenched hands.
When he was wearied out he flung himself on a chair by the window and
wrestled with the flood of feeling.

Mrs. Williamson’s words had torn away the delusive veil with which he
had bound his eyes. He was face to face with the knowledge that he loved
Kilmeny Gordon with the love that comes but once, and is for all time.
He wondered how he could have been so long blind to it. He knew that he
must have loved her ever since their first meeting that May evening in
the old orchard.

And he knew that he must choose between two alternatives--either he must
never go to the orchard again, or he must go as an avowed lover to woo
him a wife.

Worldly prudence, his inheritance from a long line of thrifty,
cool-headed ancestors, was strong in Eric, and he did not yield easily
or speedily to the dictates of his passion. All night he struggled
against the new emotions that threatened to sweep away the “common
sense” which David Baker had bade him take with him when he went
a-wooing. Would not a marriage with Kilmeny Gordon be an unwise thing
from any standpoint?

Then something stronger and greater and more vital than wisdom or
unwisdom rose up in him and mastered him. Kilmeny, beautiful, dumb
Kilmeny was, as he had once involuntarily thought, “the one maid” for
him. Nothing should part them. The mere idea of never seeing her again
was so unbearable that he laughed at himself for having counted it a
possible alternative.

“If I can win Kilmeny’s love I shall ask her to be my wife,” he said,
looking out of the window to the dark, southwestern hill beyond which
lay his orchard.

The velvet sky over it was still starry; but the water of the harbour
was beginning to grow silvery in the reflection of the dawn that was
breaking in the east.

“Her misfortune will only make her dearer to me. I cannot realize that a
month ago I did not know her. It seems to me that she has been a part of
my life for ever. I wonder if she was grieved that I did not go to the
orchard last night--if she waited for me. If she does, she does not know
it herself yet. It will be my sweet task to teach her what love means,
and no man has ever had a lovelier, purer, pupil.”

At the annual school meeting, the next afternoon, the trustees asked
Eric to take the Lindsay school for the following year. He consented
unhesitatingly.

That evening he went to Mrs. Williamson, as she washed her tea dishes in
the kitchen.

“Mrs. Williamson, I am going back to the old Connors orchard to see
Kilmeny again to-night.”

She looked at him reproachfully.

“Well, Master, I have no more to say. I suppose it wouldn’t be of any
use if I had. But you know what I think of it.”

“I intend to marry Kilmeny Gordon if I can win her.”

An expression of amazement came into the good woman’s face. She looked
scrutinizingly at the firm mouth and steady gray eyes for a moment. Then
she said in a troubled voice,

“Do you think that is wise, Master? I suppose Kilmeny is pretty; the egg
peddler told me she was; and no doubt she is a good, nice girl. But she
wouldn’t be a suitable wife for you--a girl that can’t speak.”

“That doesn’t make any difference to me.”

“But what will your people say?”

“I have no ‘people’ except my father. When he sees Kilmeny he will
understand. She is all the world to me, Mrs. Williamson.”

“As long as you believe that there is nothing more to be said,” was
the quiet answer, “I’d be a little bit afraid if I was you, though. But
young people never think of those things.”

“My only fear is that she won’t care for me,” said Eric soberly.

Mrs. Williamson surveyed the handsome, broad-shouldered young man
shrewdly.

“I don’t think there are many women would say you ‘no’, Master. I wish
you well in your wooing, though I can’t help thinking you’re doing
a daft-like thing. I hope you won’t have any trouble with Thomas and
Janet. They are so different from other folks there is no knowing. But
take my advice, Master, and go and see them about it right off. Don’t go
on meeting Kilmeny unbeknownst to them.”

“I shall certainly take your advice,” said Eric, gravely. “I should have
gone to them before. It was merely thoughtlessness on my part. Possibly
they do know already. Kilmeny may have told them.”

Mrs. Williamson shook her head decidedly.

“No, no, Master, she hasn’t. They’d never have let her go on meeting
you there if they had known. I know them too well to think of that for a
moment. Go you straight to them and say to them just what you have said
to me. That is your best plan, Master. And take care of Neil. People say
he has a notion of Kilmeny himself. He’ll do you a bad turn if he can,
I’ve no doubt. Them foreigners can’t be trusted--and he’s just as much
a foreigner as his parents before him--though he HAS been brought up on
oatmeal and the shorter catechism, as the old saying has it. I feel that
somehow--I always feel it when I look at him singing in the choir.”

“Oh, I am not afraid of Neil,” said Eric carelessly. “He couldn’t help
loving Kilmeny--nobody could.”

“I suppose every young man thinks that about his girl--if he’s the right
sort of young man,” said Mrs. Williamson with a little sigh.

She watched Eric out of sight anxiously.

“I hope it’ll all come out right,” she thought. “I hope he ain’t making
an awful mistake--but--I’m afraid. Kilmeny must be very pretty to have
bewitched him so. Well, I suppose there is no use in my worrying over
it. But I do wish he had never gone back to that old orchard and seen
her.”



CHAPTER XI. A LOVER AND HIS LASS

Kilmeny was in the orchard when Eric reached it, and he lingered for a
moment in the shadow of the spruce wood to dream over her beauty.

The orchard had lately overflowed in waves of old-fashioned caraway, and
she was standing in the midst of its sea of bloom, with the lace-like
blossoms swaying around her in the wind. She wore the simple dress of
pale blue print in which he had first seen her; silk attire could not
better have become her loveliness. She had woven herself a chaplet
of half open white rosebuds and placed it on her dark hair, where the
delicate blossoms seemed less wonderful than her face.

When Eric stepped through the gap she ran to meet him with outstretched
hands, smiling. He took her hands and looked into her eyes with an
expression before which hers for the first time faltered. She looked
down, and a warm blush strained the ivory curves of her cheek and
throat. His heart bounded, for in that blush he recognized the banner of
love’s vanguard.

“Are you glad to see me, Kilmeny?” he asked, in a low significant tone.

She nodded, and wrote in a somewhat embarrassed fashion,

“Yes. Why do you ask? You know I am always glad to see you. I was afraid
you would not come. You did not come last night and I was so sorry.
Nothing in the orchard seemed nice any longer. I couldn’t even play. I
tried to, and my violin only cried. I waited until it was dark and then
I went home.”

“I am sorry you were disappointed, Kilmeny. I couldn’t come last night.
Some day I shall tell you why. I stayed home to learn a new lesson. I am
sorry you missed me--no, I am glad. Can you understand how a person may
be glad and sorry for the same thing?”

She nodded again, with a return of her usual sweet composure.

“Yes, I could not have understood once, but I can now. Did you learn
your new lesson?”

“Yes, very thoroughly. It was a delightful lesson when I once understood
it. I must try to teach it to you some day. Come over to the old bench,
Kilmeny. There is something I want to say to you. But first, will you
give me a rose?”

She ran to the bush, and, after careful deliberation, selected a perfect
half-open bud and brought it to him--a white bud with a faint, sunrise
flush about its golden heart.

“Thank you. It is as beautiful as--as a woman I know,” Eric said.

A wistful look came into her face at his words, and she walked with a
drooping head across the orchard to the bench.

“Kilmeny,” he said, seriously, “I am going to ask you to do something
for me. I want you to take me home with you and introduce me to your
uncle and aunt.”

She lifted her head and stared at him incredulously, as if he had asked
her to do something wildly impossible. Understanding from his grave face
that he meant what he said, a look of dismay dawned in her eyes. She
shook her head almost violently and seemed to be making a passionate,
instinctive effort to speak. Then she caught up her pencil and wrote
with feverish haste:

“I cannot do that. Do not ask me to. You do not understand. They would
be very angry. They do not want to see any one coming to the house. And
they would never let me come here again. Oh, you do not mean it?”

He pitied her for the pain and bewilderment in her eyes; but he took her
slender hands in his and said firmly,

“Yes, Kilmeny, I do mean it. It is not quite right for us to be meeting
each other here as we have been doing, without the knowledge and consent
of your friends. You cannot now understand this, but--believe me--it is
so.”

She looked questioningly, pityingly into his eyes. What she read there
seemed to convince her, for she turned very pale and an expression of
hopelessness came into her face. Releasing her hands, she wrote slowly,

“If you say it is wrong I must believe it. I did not know anything so
pleasant could be wrong. But if it is wrong we must not meet here any
more. Mother told me I must never do anything that was wrong. But I did
not know this was wrong.”

“It was not wrong for you, Kilmeny. But it was a little wrong for me,
because I knew better--or rather, should have known better. I didn’t
stop to think, as the children say. Some day you will understand fully.
Now, you will take me to your uncle and aunt, and after I have said
to them what I want to say it will be all right for us to meet here or
anywhere.”

She shook her head.

“No,” she wrote, “Uncle Thomas and Aunt Janet will tell you to go away
and never come back. And they will never let me come here any more.
Since it is not right to meet you I will not come, but it is no use to
think of going to them. I did not tell them about you because I knew
that they would forbid me to see you, but I am sorry, since it is so
wrong.”

“You must take me to them,” said Eric firmly. “I am quite sure that
things will not be as you fear when they hear what I have to say.”

Uncomforted, she wrote forlornly,

“I must do it, since you insist, but I am sure it will be no use. I
cannot take you to-night because they are away. They went to the store
at Radnor. But I will take you to-morrow night; and after that I shall
not see you any more.”

Two great tears brimmed over in her big blue eyes and splashed down
on her slate. Her lips quivered like a hurt child’s. Eric put his arm
impulsively about her and drew her head down upon his shoulder. As she
cried there, softly, miserably, he pressed his lips to the silky black
hair with its coronal of rosebuds. He did not see two burning eyes which
were looking at him over the old fence behind him with hatred and mad
passion blazing in their depths. Neil Gordon was crouched there, with
clenched hands and heaving breast, watching them.

“Kilmeny, dear, don’t cry,” said Eric tenderly. “You shall see me again.
I promise you that, whatever happens. I do not think your uncle and aunt
will be as unreasonable as you fear, but even if they are they shall not
prevent me from meeting you somehow.”

Kilmeny lifted her head, and wiped the tears from her eyes.

“You do not know what they are like,” she wrote. “They will lock me into
my room. That is the way they always punished me when I was a little
girl. And once, not so very long ago, when I was a big girl, they did
it.”

“If they do I’ll get you out somehow,” said Eric, laughing a little.

She allowed herself to smile, but it was a rather forlorn little effort.
She did not cry any more, but her spirits did not come back to her. Eric
talked gaily, but she only listened in a pensive, absent way, as if she
scarcely heard him. When he asked her to play she shook her head.

“I cannot think any music to-night,” she wrote, “I must go home, for my
head aches and I feel very stupid.”

“Very well, Kilmeny. Now, don’t worry, little girl. It will all come out
all right.”

Evidently she did not share his confidence, for her head drooped again
as they walked together across the orchard. At the entrance of the wild
cherry lane she paused and looked at him half reproachfully, her eyes
filling again. She seemed to be bidding him a mute farewell. With an
impulse of tenderness which he could not control, Eric put his arm about
her and kissed her red, trembling mouth. She started back with a little
cry. A burning colour swept over her face, and the next moment she fled
swiftly up the darkening lane.

The sweetness of that involuntary kiss clung to Eric’s lips as he went
homeward, half-intoxicating him. He knew that it had opened the gates of
womanhood to Kilmeny. Never again, he felt, would her eyes meet his with
their old unclouded frankness. When next he looked into them he knew
that he should see there the consciousness of his kiss. Behind her in
the orchard that night Kilmeny had left her childhood.



CHAPTER XII. A PRISONER OF LOVE

When Eric betook himself to the orchard the next evening he had to
admit that he felt rather nervous. He did not know how the Gordons would
receive him and certainly the reports he had heard of them were not
encouraging, to say the least of it. Even Mrs. Williamson, when he had
told her where he was going, seemed to look upon him as one bent on
bearding a lion in his den.

“I do hope they won’t be very uncivil to you, Master,” was the best she
could say.

He expected Kilmeny to be in the orchard before him, for he had been
delayed by a call from one of the trustees; but she was nowhere to be
seen. He walked across it to the wild cherry lane; but at its entrance
he stopped short in sudden dismay.

Neil Gordon had stepped from behind the trees and stood confronting him,
with blazing eyes, and lips which writhed in emotion so great that at
first it prevented him from speaking.

With a thrill of dismay Eric instantly understood what must have taken
place. Neil had discovered that he and Kilmeny had been meeting in the
orchard, and beyond doubt had carried that tale to Janet and Thomas
Gordon. He realized how unfortunate it was that this should have
happened before he had had time to make his own explanation. It would
probably prejudice Kilmeny’s guardians still further against him. At
this point in his thoughts Neil’s pent up passion suddenly found vent in
a burst of wild words.

“So you’ve come to meet her again. But she isn’t here--you’ll never see
her again! I hate you--I hate you--I hate you!”

His voice rose to a shrill scream. He took a furious step nearer Eric
as if he would attack him. Eric looked steadily in his eyes with a calm
defiance, before which his wild passion broke like foam on a rock.

“So you have been making trouble for Kilmeny, Neil, have you?” said Eric
contemptuously. “I suppose you have been playing the spy. And I suppose
that you have told her uncle and aunt that she has been meeting me here.
Well, you have saved me the trouble of doing it, that is all. I was
going to tell them myself, tonight. I don’t know what your motive in
doing this has been. Was it jealousy of me? Or have you done it out of
malice to Kilmeny?”

His contempt cowed Neil more effectually than any display of anger could
have done.

“Never you mind why I did it,” he muttered sullenly. “What I did or
why I did it is no business of yours. And you have no business to come
sneaking around here either. Kilmeny won’t meet you here again.”

“She will meet me in her own home then,” said Eric sternly. “Neil, in
behaving as you have done you have shown yourself to be a very foolish,
undisciplined boy. I am going straightway to Kilmeny’s uncle and aunt to
explain everything.”

Neil sprang forward in his path.

“No--no--go away,” he implored wildly. “Oh, sir--oh, Mr. Marshall,
please go away. I’ll do anything for you if you will. I love Kilmeny.
I’ve loved her all my life. I’d give my life for her. I can’t have you
coming here to steal her from me. If you do--I’ll kill you! I wanted to
kill you last night when I saw you kiss her. Oh, yes, I saw you. I was
watching--spying, if you like. I don’t care what you call it. I had
followed her--I suspected something. She was so different--so changed.
She never would wear the flowers I picked for her any more. She seemed
to forget I was there. I knew something had come between us. And it was
you, curse you! Oh, I’ll make you sorry for it.”

He was working himself up into a fury again--the untamed fury of the
Italian peasant thwarted in his heart’s desire. It overrode all the
restraint of his training and environment. Eric, amid all his anger and
annoyance, felt a thrill of pity for him. Neil Gordon was only a boy
still; and he was miserable and beside himself.

“Neil, listen to me,” he said quietly. “You are talking very foolishly.
It is not for you to say who shall or shall not be Kilmeny’s friend.
Now, you may just as well control yourself and go home like a decent
fellow. I am not at all frightened by your threats, and I shall know how
to deal with you if you persist in interfering with me or persecuting
Kilmeny. I am not the sort of person to put up with that, my lad.”

The restrained power in his tone and look cowed Neil. The latter turned
sullenly away, with another muttered curse, and plunged into the shadow
of the firs.

Eric, not a little ruffled under all his external composure by this
most unexpected and unpleasant encounter, pursued his way along the lane
which wound on by the belt of woodland in twist and curve to the Gordon
homestead. His heart beat as he thought of Kilmeny. What might she not
be suffering? Doubtless Neil had given a very exaggerated and distorted
account of what he had seen, and probably her dour relations were very
angry with her, poor child. Anxious to avert their wrath as soon as
might be, he hurried on, almost forgetting his meeting with Neil. The
threats of the latter did not trouble him at all. He thought the angry
outburst of a jealous boy mattered but little. What did matter was that
Kilmeny was in trouble which his heedlessness had brought upon her.

Presently he found himself before the Gordon house. It was an old
building with sharp eaves and dormer windows, its shingles stained a
dark gray by long exposure to wind and weather. Faded green shutters
hung on the windows of the lower story. Behind it grew a thick wood
of spruces. The little yard in front of it was grassy and prim and
flowerless; but over the low front door a luxuriant early-flowering
rose vine clambered, in a riot of blood-red blossom which contrasted
strangely with the general bareness of its surroundings. It seemed to
fling itself over the grim old house as if intent on bombarding it with
an alien life and joyousness.

Eric knocked at the door, wondering if it might be possible that Kilmeny
should come to it. But a moment later it was opened by an elderly
woman--a woman of rigid lines from the hem of her lank, dark print dress
to the crown of her head, covered with black hair which, despite its few
gray threads, was still thick and luxuriant. She had a long, pale face
somewhat worn and wrinkled, but possessing a certain harsh comeliness
of feature which neither age nor wrinkles had quite destroyed; and
her deep-set, light gray eyes were not devoid of suggested kindliness,
although they now surveyed Eric with an unconcealed hostility. Her
figure, in its merciless dress, was very angular; yet there was about
her a dignity of carriage and manner which Eric liked. In any case, he
preferred her unsmiling dourness to vulgar garrulity.

He lifted his hat.

“Have I the honour of speaking to Miss Gordon?” he asked.

“I am Janet Gordon,” said the woman stiffly.

“Then I wish to talk with you and your brother.”

“Come in.”

She stepped aside and motioned him to a low brown door opening on the
right.

“Go in and sit down. I’ll call Thomas,” she said coldly, as she walked
out through the hall.

Eric walked into the parlour and sat down as bidden. He found himself
in the most old-fashioned room he had ever seen. The solidly made chairs
and tables, of some wood grown dark and polished with age, made even
Mrs. Williamson’s “parlour set” of horsehair seem extravagantly modern
by contrast. The painted floor was covered with round braided rugs.
On the centre table was a lamp, a Bible and some theological volumes
contemporary with the square-runged furniture. The walls,
wainscoted half way up in wood and covered for the rest with a dark,
diamond-patterned paper, were hung with faded engravings, mostly of
clerical-looking, bewigged personages in gowns and bands.

But over the high, undecorated black mantel-piece, in a ruddy glow of
sunset light striking through the window, hung one which caught and
held Eric’s attention to the exclusion of everything else. It was the
enlarged “crayon” photograph of a young girl, and, in spite of the
crudity of execution, it was easily the center of interest in the room.

Eric at once guessed that this must be the picture of Margaret Gordon,
for, although quite unlike Kilmeny’s sensitive, spirited face in
general, there was a subtle, unmistakable resemblance about brow and
chin.

The pictured face was a very handsome one, suggestive of velvety dark
eyes and vivid colouring; but it was its expression rather than its
beauty which fascinated Eric. Never had he seen a countenance indicative
of more intense and stubborn will power. Margaret Gordon was dead
and buried; the picture was a cheap and inartistic production in an
impossible frame of gilt and plush; yet the vitality in that face
dominated its surroundings still. What then must have been the power of
such a personality in life?

Eric realized that this woman could and would have done whatsoever she
willed, unflinchingly and unrelentingly. She could stamp her desire on
everything and everybody about her, moulding them to her wish and will,
in their own despite and in defiance of all the resistance they might
make. Many things in Kilmeny’s upbringing and temperament became clear
to him.

“If that woman had told me I was ugly I should have believed her,” he
thought. “Ay, even though I had a mirror to contradict her. I should
never have dreamed of disputing or questioning anything she might have
said. The strange power in her face is almost uncanny, peering out as it
does from a mask of beauty and youthful curves. Pride and stubbornness
are its salient characteristics. Well, Kilmeny does not at all resemble
her mother in expression and only very slightly in feature.”

His reflections were interrupted by the entrance of Thomas and Janet
Gordon. The former had evidently been called from his work. He nodded
without speaking, and the two sat gravely down before Eric.

“I have come to see you with regard to your niece, Mr. Gordon,” he said
abruptly, realizing that there would be small use in beating about the
bush with this grim pair. “I met your--I met Neil Gordon in the Connors
orchard, and I found that he has told you that I have been meeting
Kilmeny there.”

He paused. Thomas Gordon nodded again; but he did not speak, and he
did not remove his steady, piercing eyes from the young man’s flushed
countenance. Janet still sat in a sort of expectant immovability.

“I fear that you have formed an unfavourable opinion of me on this
account, Mr. Gordon,” Eric went on. “But I hardly think I deserve it.
I can explain the matter if you will allow me. I met your niece
accidentally in the orchard three weeks ago and heard her play. I
thought her music very wonderful and I fell into the habit of coming to
the orchard in the evenings to hear it. I had no thought of harming her
in any way, Mr. Gordon. I thought of her as a mere child, and a child
who was doubly sacred because of her affliction. But recently I--I--it
occurred to me that I was not behaving quite honourably in encouraging
her to meet me thus. Yesterday evening I asked her to bring me here and
introduce me to you and her aunt. We would have come then if you had
been at home. As you were not we arranged to come tonight.”

“I hope you will not refuse me the privilege of seeing your niece, Mr.
Gordon,” said Eric eagerly. “I ask you to allow me to visit her here.
But I do not ask you to receive me as a friend on my own recommendations
only. I will give you references--men of standing in Charlottetown and
Queenslea. If you refer to them--”

“I don’t need to do that,” said Thomas Gordon, quietly. “I know more of
you than you think, Master. I know your father well by reputation and
I have seen him. I know you are a rich man’s son, whatever your whim in
teaching a country school may be. Since you have kept your own counsel
about your affairs I supposed you didn’t want your true position
generally known, and so I have held my tongue about you. I know no
ill of you, Master, and I think none, now that I believe you were not
beguiling Kilmeny to meet you unknown to her friends of set purpose. But
all this doesn’t make you a suitable friend for her, sir--it makes you
all the more unsuitable. The less she sees of you the better.”

Eric almost started to his feet in an indignant protest; but he swiftly
remembered that his only hope of winning Kilmeny lay in bringing Thomas
Gordon to another way of thinking. He had got on better than he had
expected so far; he must not now jeopardize what he had gained by
rashness or impatience.

“Why do you think so, Mr. Gordon?” he asked, regaining his self-control
with an effort.

“Well, plain speaking is best, Master. If you were to come here and
see Kilmeny often she’d most likely come to think too much of you. I
mistrust there’s some mischief done in that direction already. Then when
you went away she might break her heart--for she is one of those who
feel things deeply. She has been happy enough. I know folks condemn us
for the way she has been brought up, but they don’t know everything. It
was the best way for her, all things considered. And we don’t want her
made unhappy, Master.”

“But I love your niece and I want to marry her if I can win her love,”
 said Eric steadily.

He surprised them out of their self possession at last. Both started,
and looked at him as if they could not believe the evidence of their
ears.

“Marry her! Marry Kilmeny!” exclaimed Thomas Gordon incredulously. “You
can’t mean it, sir. Why, she is dumb--Kilmeny is dumb.”

“That makes no difference in my love for her, although I deeply regret
it for her own sake,” answered Eric. “I can only repeat what I have
already said, Mr. Gordon. I want Kilmeny for my wife.”

The older man leaned forward and looked at the floor in a troubled
fashion, drawing his bushy eyebrows down and tapping the calloused
tips of his fingers together uneasily. He was evidently puzzled by this
unexpected turn of the conversation, and in grave doubt what to say.

“What would your father say to all this, Master?” he queried at last.

“I have often heard my father say that a man must marry to please
himself,” said Eric, with a smile. “If he felt tempted to go back on
that opinion I think the sight of Kilmeny would convert him. But, after
all, it is what I say that matters in this case, isn’t it, Mr. Gordon?
I am well educated and not afraid of work. I can make a home for Kilmeny
in a few years even if I have to depend entirely on my own resources.
Only give me the chance to win her--that is all I ask.”

“I don’t think it would do, Master,” said Thomas Gordon, shaking his
head. “Of course, I dare say you--you”--he tried to say “love,” but
Scotch reserve balked stubbornly at the terrible word--“you think you
like Kilmeny now, but you are only a lad--and lads’ fancies change.”

“Mine will not,” Eric broke in vehemently. “It is not a fancy, Mr.
Gordon. It is the love that comes once in a lifetime and once only. I
may be but a lad, but I know that Kilmeny is the one woman in the world
for me. There can never be any other. Oh, I’m not speaking rashly or
inconsiderately. I have weighed the matter well and looked at it from
every aspect. And it all comes to this--I love Kilmeny and I want what
any decent man who loves a woman truly has the right to have--the chance
to win her love in return.”

“Well!” Thomas Gordon drew a long breath that was almost a sigh.
“Maybe--if you feel like that, Master--I don’t know--there are some
things it isn’t right to cross. Perhaps we oughtn’t--Janet, woman, what
shall we say to him?”

Janet Gordon had hitherto spoken no word. She had sat rigidly upright
on one of the old chairs under Margaret Gordon’s insistent picture, with
her knotted, toil-worn hands grasping the carved arms tightly, and her
eyes fastened on Eric’s face. At first their expression had been guarded
and hostile, but as the conversation proceeded they lost this gradually
and became almost kindly. Now, when her brother appealed to her, she
leaned forward and said eagerly,

“Do you know that there is a stain on Kilmeny’s birth, Master?”

“I know that her mother was the innocent victim of a very sad mistake,
Miss Gordon. I admit no real stain where there was no conscious wrong
doing. Though, for that matter, even if there were, it would be no
fault of Kilmeny’s and would make no difference to me as far as she is
concerned.”

A sudden change swept over Janet Gordon’s face, quite marvelous in
the transformation it wrought. Her grim mouth softened and a flood of
repressed tenderness glorified her cold gray eyes.

“Well, then.” she said almost triumphantly, “since neither that nor
her dumbness seems to be any drawback in your eyes I don’t see why you
should not have the chance you want. Perhaps your world will say she is
not good enough for you, but she is--she is”--this half defiantly.
“She is a sweet and innocent and true-hearted lassie. She is bright and
clever and she is not ill looking. Thomas, I say let the young man have
his will.”

Thomas Gordon stood up, as if he considered the responsibility off his
shoulders and the interview at an end.

“Very well, Janet, woman, since you think it is wise. And may God deal
with him as he deals with her. Good evening, Master. I’ll see you again,
and you are free to come and go as suits you. But I must go to my work
now. I left my horses standing in the field.”

“I will go up and send Kilmeny down,” said Janet quietly.

She lighted the lamp on the table and left the room. A few minutes later
Kilmeny came down. Eric rose and went to meet her eagerly, but she only
put out her right hand with a pretty dignity and, while she looked into
his face, she did not look into his eyes.

“You see I was right after all, Kilmeny,” he said, smiling. “Your uncle
and aunt haven’t driven me away. On the contrary they have been very
kind to me, and they say I may see you whenever and wherever I like.”

She smiled, and went over to the table to write on her slate.

“But they were very angry last night, and said dreadful things to me.
I felt very frightened and unhappy. They seemed to think I had done
something terribly wrong. Uncle Thomas said he would never trust me out
of his sight again. I could hardly believe it when Aunt Janet came up
and told me you were here and that I might come down. She looked at me
very strangely as she spoke, but I could see that all the anger had gone
out of her face. She seemed pleased and yet sad. But I am glad they have
forgiven us.”

She did not tell him how glad she was, and how unhappy she had been over
the thought that she was never to see him again. Yesterday she would
have told him all frankly and fully; but for her yesterday was a
lifetime away--a lifetime in which she had come into her heritage of
womanly dignity and reserve. The kiss which Eric had left on her lips,
the words her uncle and aunt had said to her, the tears she had shed for
the first time on a sleepless pillow--all had conspired to reveal her to
herself. She did not yet dream that she loved Eric Marshall, or that he
loved her. But she was no longer the child to be made a dear comrade
of. She was, though quite unconsciously, the woman to be wooed and won,
exacting, with sweet, innate pride, her dues of allegiance.



CHAPTER XIII. A SWEETER WOMAN NE’ER DREW BREATH

Thenceforward Eric Marshall was a constant visitor at the Gordon
homestead. He soon became a favourite with Thomas and Janet, especially
the latter. He liked them both, discovering under all their outward
peculiarities sterling worth and fitness of character. Thomas Gordon was
surprisingly well read and could floor Eric any time in argument, once
he became sufficiently warmed up to attain fluency of words. Eric hardly
recognized him the first time he saw him thus animated. His bent form
straightened, his sunken eyes flashed, his face flushed, his voice
rang like a trumpet, and he poured out a flood of eloquence which swept
Eric’s smart, up-to-date arguments away like straws in the rush of a
mountain torrent. Eric enjoyed his own defeat enormously, but Thomas
Gordon was ashamed of being thus drawn out of himself, and for a week
afterwards confined his remarks to “Yes” and “No,” or, at the outside,
to a brief statement that a change in the weather was brewing.

Janet never talked on matters of church and state; such she plainly
considered to be far beyond a woman’s province. But she listened with
lurking interest in her eyes while Thomas and Eric pelted on each other
with facts and statistics and opinions, and on the rare occasions when
Eric scored a point she permitted herself a sly little smile at her
brother’s expense.

Of Neil, Eric saw but little. The Italian boy avoided him, or if they
chanced to meet passed him by with sullen, downcast eyes. Eric did not
trouble himself greatly about Neil; but Thomas Gordon, understanding the
motive which had led Neil to betray his discovery of the orchard trysts,
bluntly told Kilmeny that she must not make such an equal of Neil as she
had done.

“You have been too kind to the lad, lassie, and he’s got presumptuous.
He must be taught his place. I mistrust we have all made more of him
than we should.”

But most of the idyllic hours of Eric’s wooing were spent in the old
orchard; the garden end of it was now a wilderness of roses--roses red
as the heart of a sunset, roses pink as the early flush of dawn, roses
white as the snows on mountain peaks, roses full blown, and roses in
buds that were sweeter than anything on earth except Kilmeny’s face.
Their petals fell in silken heaps along the old paths or clung to the
lush grasses among which Eric lay and dreamed, while Kilmeny played to
him on her violin.

Eric promised himself that when she was his wife her wonderful gift
for music should be cultivated to the utmost. Her powers of expression
seemed to deepen and develop every day, growing as her soul grew, taking
on new colour and richness from her ripening heart.

To Eric, the days were all pages in an inspired idyl. He had never
dreamed that love could be so mighty or the world so beautiful. He
wondered if the universe were big enough to hold his joy or eternity
long enough to live it out. His whole existence was, for the time
being, bounded by that orchard where he wooed his sweetheart. All other
ambitions and plans and hopes were set aside in the pursuit of this one
aim, the attainment of which would enhance all others a thousand-fold,
the loss of which would rob all others of their reason for existence.
His own world seemed very far away and the things of that world
forgotten.

His father, on hearing that he had taken the Lindsay school for a year,
had written him a testy, amazed letter, asking him if he were demented.

“Or is there a girl in the case?” he wrote. “There must be, to tie you
down to a place like Lindsay for a year. Take care, master Eric; you’ve
been too sensible all your life. A man is bound to make a fool of
himself at least once, and when you didn’t get through with that in your
teens it may be attacking you now.”

David also wrote, expostulating more gravely; but he did not express the
suspicions Eric knew he must entertain.

“Good old David! He is quaking with fear that I am up to something he
can’t approve of, but he won’t say a word by way of attempting to force
my confidence.”

It could not long remain a secret in Lindsay that “the Master” was going
to the Gordon place on courting thoughts intent. Mrs. Williamson kept
her own and Eric’s counsel; the Gordons said nothing; but the secret
leaked out and great was the surprise and gossip and wonder. One or
two incautious people ventured to express their opinion of the Master’s
wisdom to the Master himself; but they never repeated the experiment.
Curiosity was rife. A hundred stories were circulated about Kilmeny, all
greatly exaggerated in the circulation. Wise heads were shaken and the
majority opined that it was a great pity. The Master was a likely young
fellow; he could have his pick of almost anybody, you might think; it
was too bad that he should go and take up with that queer, dumb niece of
the Gordons who had been brought up in such a heathenish way. But then
you never could guess what way a man’s fancy would jump when he set out
to pick him a wife. They guessed Neil Gordon didn’t like it much. He
seemed to have got dreadful moody and sulky of late and wouldn’t sing in
the choir any more. Thus the buzz of comment and gossip ran.

To those two in the old orchard it mattered not a whit. Kilmeny knew
nothing of gossip. To her, Lindsay was as much of an unknown world as
the city of Eric’s home. Her thoughts strayed far and wide in the realm
of her fancy, but they never wandered out to the little realities that
hedged her strange life around. In that life she had blossomed out, a
fair, unique thing. There were times when Eric almost regretted that one
day he must take her out of her white solitude to a world that, in the
last analysis, was only Lindsay on a larger scale, with just the same
pettiness of thought and feeling and opinion at the bottom of it. He
wished he might keep her to himself for ever, in that old, spruce-hidden
orchard where the roses fell.

One day he indulged himself in the fulfillment of the whim he had formed
when Kilmeny had told him she thought herself ugly. He went to Janet and
asked her permission to bring a mirror to the house that he might
have the privilege of being the first to reveal Kilmeny to herself
exteriorly. Janet was somewhat dubious at first.

“There hasn’t been such a thing in the house for sixteen years, Master.
There never was but three--one in the spare room, and a little one in
the kitchen, and Margaret’s own. She broke them all the day it first
struck her that Kilmeny was going to be bonny. I might have got one
after she died maybe. But I didn’t think of it; and there’s no need of
lasses to be always prinking at their looking glasses.”

But Eric pleaded and argued skilfully, and finally Janet said,

“Well, well, have your own way. You’d have it anyway I think, lad. You
are one of those men who always get their own way. But that is different
from the men who TAKE their own way--and that’s a mercy,” she added
under her breath.

Eric went to town the next Saturday and picked out a mirror that pleased
him. He had it shipped to Radnor and Thomas Gordon brought it home, not
knowing what it was, for Janet had thought it just as well he should not
know.

“It’s a present the Master is making Kilmeny,” she told him.

She sent Kilmeny off to the orchard after tea, and Eric slipped around
to the house by way of the main road and lane. He and Janet together
unpacked the mirror and hung it on the parlour wall.

“I never saw such a big one, Master,” said Janet rather doubtfully,
as if, after all, she distrusted its gleaming, pearly depth and richly
ornamented frame. “I hope it won’t make her vain. She is very bonny, but
it may not do her any good to know it.”

“It won’t harm her,” said Eric confidently. “When a belief in her
ugliness hasn’t spoiled a girl a belief in her beauty won’t.”

But Janet did not understand epigrams. She carefully removed a little
dust from the polished surface, and frowned meditatively at the by no
means beautiful reflection she saw therein.

“I cannot think what made Kilmeny suppose she was ugly, Master.”

“Her mother told her she was,” said Eric, rather bitterly.

“Ah!” Janet shot a quick glance at the picture of her sister. “Was that
it? Margaret was a strange woman, Master. I suppose she thought her own
beauty had been a snare to her. She WAS bonny. That picture doesn’t do
her justice. I never liked it. It was taken before she was--before she
met Ronald Fraser. We none of us thought it very like her at the time.
But, Master, three years later it was like her--oh, it was like her
then! That very look came in her face.”

“Kilmeny doesn’t resemble her mother,” remarked Eric, glancing at the
picture with the same feeling of mingled fascination and distaste with
which he always regarded it. “Does she look like her father?”

“No, not a great deal, though some of her ways are very like his. She
looks like her grandmother--Margaret’s mother, Master. Her name was
Kilmeny too, and she was a handsome, sweet woman. I was very fond of my
stepmother, Master. When she died she gave her baby to me, and asked me
to be a mother to it. Ah well, I tried; but I couldn’t fence the sorrow
out of Margaret’s life, and it sometimes comes to my mind that maybe
I’ll not be able to fence it out of Kilmeny’s either.”

“That will be my task,” said Eric.

“You’ll do your best, I do not doubt. But maybe it will be through you
that sorrow will come to her after all.”

“Not through any fault of mine, Aunt Janet.”

“No, no, I’m not saying it will be your fault. But my heart misgives me
at times. Oh, I dare say I am only a foolish old woman, Master. Go your
ways and bring your lass here to look at your plaything when you like.
I’ll not make or meddle with it.”

Janet betook herself to the kitchen and Eric went to look for Kilmeny.
She was not in the orchard and it was not until he had searched for some
time that he found her. She was standing under a beech tree in a field
beyond the orchard, leaning on the longer fence, with her hands clasped
against her cheek. In them she held a white Mary-lily from the orchard.
She did not run to meet him while he was crossing the pasture, as she
would once have done. She waited motionless until he was close to her.
Eric began, half laughingly, half tenderly, to quote some lines from her
namesake ballad:

    “‘Kilmeny, Kilmeny, where have you been?
    Long hae we sought baith holt and den,--
    By linn, by ford, and greenwood tree!
    Yet you are halesome and fair to see.
    Where got you that joup o’ the lily sheen?
    That bonny snood o’ the birk sae green,
    And those roses, the fairest that ever was seen?
    Kilmeny, Kilmeny, where have you been?’

“Only it’s a lily and not a rose you are carrying. I might go on and
quote the next couplet too--

    “‘Kilmeny looked up with a lovely grace,
    But there was nae smile on Kilmeny’s face.’

“Why are you looking so sober?”

Kilmeny did not have her slate with her and could not answer; but Eric
guessed from something in her eyes that she was bitterly contrasting the
beauty of the ballad’s heroine with her own supposed ugliness.

“Come down to the house, Kilmeny. I have something there to show
you--something lovelier than you have ever seen before,” he said, with
boyish pleasure shining in his eyes. “I want you to go and put on that
muslin dress you wore last Sunday evening, and pin up your hair the same
way you did then. Run along--don’t wait for me. But you are not to go
into the parlour until I come. I want to pick some of those Mary-lilies
up in the orchard.”

When Eric returned to the house with an armful of the long stemmed,
white Madonna lilies that bloomed in the orchard Kilmeny was just coming
down the steep, narrow staircase with its striped carpeting of homespun
drugget. Her marvelous loveliness was brought out into brilliant relief
by the dark wood work and shadows of the dim old hall.

She wore a trailing, clinging dress of some creamy tinted fabric that
had been her mother’s. It had not been altered in any respect, for
fashion held no sway at the Gordon homestead, and Kilmeny thought
that the dress left nothing to be desired. Its quaint style suited
her admirably; the neck was slightly cut away to show the round white
throat, and the sleeves were long, full “bishops,” out of which her
beautiful, slender hands slipped like flowers from their sheaths. She
had crossed her long braids at the back and pinned them about her head
like a coronet; a late white rose was fastened low down on the left
side.

    “‘A man had given all other bliss
    And all his worldly wealth for this--
    To waste his whole heart in one kiss
    Upon her perfect lips,’”

quoted Eric in a whisper as he watched her descend. Aloud he said,

“Take these lilies on your arm, letting their bloom fall against your
shoulder--so. Now, give me your hand and shut your eyes. Don’t open them
until I say you may.”

He led her into the parlour and up to the mirror.

“Look,” he cried, gaily.

Kilmeny opened her eyes and looked straight into the mirror where, like
a lovely picture in a golden frame, she saw herself reflected. For a
moment she was bewildered. Then she realized what it meant. The lilies
fell from her arm to the floor and she turned pale. With a little low,
involuntary cry she put her hands over her face.

Eric pulled them boyishly away.

“Kilmeny, do you think you are ugly now? This is a truer mirror than
Aunt Janet’s silver sugar bowl! Look--look--look! Did you ever imagine
anything fairer than yourself, dainty Kilmeny?”

She was blushing now, and stealing shy radiant glances at the mirror.
With a smile she took her slate and wrote naively,

“I think I am pleasant to look upon. I cannot tell you how glad I am.
It is so dreadful to believe one is ugly. You can get used to everything
else, but you never get used to that. It hurts just the same every time
you remember it. But why did mother tell me I was ugly? Could she really
have thought so? Perhaps I have become better looking since I grew up.”

“I think perhaps your mother had found that beauty is not always
a blessing, Kilmeny, and thought it wiser not to let you know you
possessed it. Come, let us go back to the orchard now. We mustn’t waste
this rare evening in the house. There is going to be a sunset that we
shall remember all our lives. The mirror will hang here. It is yours.
Don’t look into it too often, though, or Aunt Janet will disapprove. She
is afraid it will make you vain.”

Kilmeny gave one of her rare, musical laughs, which Eric never heard
without a recurrence of the old wonder that she could laugh so when she
could not speak. She blew an airy little kiss at her mirrored face and
turned from it, smiling happily.

On their way to the orchard they met Neil. He went by them with an
averted face, but Kilmeny shivered and involuntarily drew nearer to
Eric.

“I don’t understand Neil at all now,” she wrote nervously. “He is not
nice, as he used to be, and sometimes he will not answer when I speak
to him. And he looks so strangely at me, too. Besides, he is surly and
impertinent to Uncle and Aunt.”

“Don’t mind Neil,” said Eric lightly. “He is probably sulky because of
some things I said to him when I found he had spied on us.”

That night before she went up stairs Kilmeny stole into the parlour for
another glimpse of herself in that wonderful mirror by the light of a
dim little candle she carried. She was still lingering there dreamily
when Aunt Janet’s grim face appeared in the shadows of the doorway.

“Are you thinking about your own good looks, lassie? Ay, but
remember that handsome is as handsome does,” she said, with grudging
admiration--for the girl with her flushed cheeks and shining eyes was
something that even dour Janet Gordon could not look upon unmoved.

Kilmeny smiled softly.

“I’ll try to remember,” she wrote, “but oh, Aunt Janet, I am so glad I
am not ugly. It is not wrong to be glad of that, is it?”

The older woman’s face softened.

“No, I don’t suppose it is, lassie,” she conceded. “A comely face is
something to be thankful for--as none know better than those who have
never possessed it. I remember well when I was a girl--but that is
neither here nor there. The Master thinks you are wonderful bonny,
Kilmeny,” she added, looking keenly at the girl.

Kilmeny started and a scarlet blush scorched her face. That, and the
expression that flashed into her eyes, told Janet Gordon all she wished
to know. With a stifled sigh she bade her niece good night and went
away.

Kilmeny ran fleetly up the stairs to her dim little room, that looked
out into the spruces, and flung herself on her bed, burying her burning
face in the pillow. Her aunt’s words had revealed to her the hidden
secret of her heart. She knew that she loved Eric Marshall--and the
knowledge brought with it a strange anguish. For was she not dumb? All
night she lay staring wide-eyed through the darkness till the dawn.



CHAPTER XIV. IN HER SELFLESS MOOD

Eric noticed a change in Kilmeny at their next meeting--a change that
troubled him. She seemed aloof, abstracted, almost ill at ease. When he
proposed an excursion to the orchard he thought she was reluctant to go.
The days that followed convinced him of the change. Something had come
between them. Kilmeny seemed as far away from him as if she had in
truth, like her namesake of the ballad, sojourned for seven years in the
land “where the rain never fell and the wind never blew,” and had come
back washed clean from all the affections of earth.

Eric had a bad week of it; but he determined to put an end to it by
plain speaking. One evening in the orchard he told her of his love.

It was an evening in August, with wheat fields ripening to their
harvestry--a soft violet night made for love, with the distant murmur of
an unquiet sea on a rocky shore sounding through it. Kilmeny was sitting
on the old bench where he had first seen her. She had been playing for
him, but her music did not please her and she laid aside the violin with
a little frown.

It might be that she was afraid to play--afraid that her new emotions
might escape her and reveal themselves in music. It was difficult
to prevent this, so long had she been accustomed to pour out all her
feelings in harmony. The necessity for restraint irked her and made of
her bow a clumsy thing which no longer obeyed her wishes. More than ever
at that instant did she long for speech--speech that would conceal and
protect where dangerous silence might betray.

In a low voice that trembled with earnestness Eric told her that he
loved her--that he had loved her from the first time he had seen her
in that old orchard. He spoke humbly but not fearfully, for he believed
that she loved him, and he had little expectation of any rebuff.

“Kilmeny, will you be my wife?” he asked finally, taking her hands in
his.

Kilmeny had listened with averted face. At first she had blushed
painfully but now she had grown very pale. When he had finished speaking
and was waiting for her answer, she suddenly pulled her hands away, and,
putting them over her face, burst into tears and noiseless sobs.

“Kilmeny, dearest, have I alarmed you? Surely you knew before that I
loved you. Don’t you care for me?” Eric said, putting his arm about her
and trying to draw her to him. But she shook her head sorrowfully, and
wrote with compressed lips,

“Yes, I do love you, but I will never marry you, because I cannot
speak.”

“Oh, Kilmeny,” said Eric smiling, for he believed his victory won, “that
doesn’t make any difference to me--you know it doesn’t, sweetest. If you
love me that is enough.”

But Kilmeny only shook her head again. There was a very determined look
on her pale face. She wrote,

“No, it is not enough. It would be doing you a great wrong to marry you
when I cannot speak, and I will not do it because I love you too much to
do anything that would harm you. Your world would think you had done
a very foolish thing and it would be right. I have thought it all over
many times since something Aunt Janet said made me understand, and I
know I am doing right. I am sorry I did not understand sooner, before
you had learned to care so much.”

“Kilmeny, darling, you have taken a very absurd fancy into that dear
black head of yours. Don’t you know that you will make me miserably
unhappy all my life if you will not be my wife?”

“No, you think so now; and I know you will feel very badly for a time.
Then you will go away and after awhile you will forget me; and then you
will see that I was right. I shall be very unhappy, too, but that is
better than spoiling your life. Do not plead or coax because I shall not
change my mind.”

Eric did plead and coax, however--at first patiently and smilingly,
as one might argue with a dear foolish child; then with vehement and
distracted earnestness, as he began to realize that Kilmeny meant what
she said. It was all in vain. Kilmeny grew paler and paler, and her eyes
revealed how keenly she was suffering. She did not even try to argue
with him, but only listened patiently and sadly, and shook her head. Say
what he would, entreat and implore as he might, he could not move her
resolution a hairs-breadth.

Yet he did not despair; he could not believe that she would adhere to
such a resolution; he felt sure that her love for him would eventually
conquer, and he went home not unhappily after all. He did not understand
that it was the very intensity of her love which gave her the strength
to resist his pleading, where a more shallow affection might have
yielded. It held her back unflinchingly from doing him what she believed
to be a wrong.



CHAPTER XV. AN OLD, UNHAPPY, FAR-OFF THING

The next day Eric sought Kilmeny again and renewed his pleadings, but
again in vain. Nothing he could say, no argument which he could advance,
was of any avail against her sad determination. When he was finally
compelled to realize that her resolution was not to be shaken, he went
in his despair to Janet Gordon. Janet listened to his story with concern
and disappointment plainly visible on her face. When he had finished she
shook her head.

“I’m sorry, Master. I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I had hoped for
something very different. HOPED! I have PRAYED for it. Thomas and I are
getting old and it has weighed on my mind for years--what was to become
of Kilmeny when we would be gone. Since you came I had hoped she would
have a protector in you. But if Kilmeny says she will not marry you I am
afraid she’ll stick to it.”

“But she loves me,” cried the young man, “and if you and her uncle speak
to her--urge her--perhaps you can influence her--”

“No, Master, it wouldn’t be any use. Oh, we will, of course, but it will
not be any use. Kilmeny is as determined as her mother when once she
makes up her mind. She has always been good and obedient for the most
part, but once or twice we have found out that there is no moving her if
she does resolve upon anything. When her mother died Thomas and I wanted
to take her to church. We could not prevail on her to go. We did not
know why then, but now I suppose it was because she believed she was
so very ugly. It is because she thinks so much of you that she will not
marry you. She is afraid you would come to repent having married a dumb
girl. Maybe she is right--maybe she is right.”

“I cannot give her up,” said Eric stubbornly. “Something must be done.
Perhaps her defect can be remedied even yet. Have you ever thought of
that? You have never had her examined by a doctor qualified to pronounce
on her case, have you?”

“No, Master, we never took her to anyone. When we first began to
fear that she was never going to talk Thomas wanted to take her to
Charlottetown and have her looked to. He thought so much of the child
and he felt terrible about it. But her mother wouldn’t hear of it being
done. There was no use trying to argue with her. She said that it would
be no use--that it was her sin that was visited on her child and it
could never be taken away.”

“And did you give in meekly to a morbid whim like that?” asked Eric
impatiently.

“Master, you didn’t know my sister. We HAD to give in--nobody could hold
out against her. She was a strange woman--and a terrible woman in many
ways--after her trouble. We were afraid to cross her for fear she would
go out of her mind.”

“But, could you not have taken Kilmeny to a doctor unknown to her
mother?”

“No, that was not possible. Margaret never let her out of her sight,
not even when she was grown up. Besides, to tell you the whole truth,
Master, we didn’t think ourselves that it would be much use to try to
cure Kilmeny. It WAS a sin that made her as she is.”

“Aunt Janet, how can you talk such nonsense? Where was there any sin?
Your sister thought herself a lawful wife. If Ronald Fraser thought
otherwise--and there is no proof that he did--HE committed a sin, but
you surely do not believe that it was visited in this fashion on his
innocent child!”

“No, I am not meaning that, Master. That wasn’t where Margaret did
wrong; and though I never liked Ronald Fraser over much, I must say this
in his defence--I believe he thought himself a free man when he married
Margaret. No, it’s something else--something far worse. It gives me a
shiver whenever I think of it. Oh, Master, the Good Book is right when
it says the sins of the parents are visited on the children. There isn’t
a truer word in it than that from cover to cover.”

“What, in heaven’s name, is the meaning of all this?” exclaimed Eric.
“Tell me what it is. I must know the whole truth about Kilmeny. Do not
torment me.”

“I am going to tell you the story, Master, though it will be like
opening an old wound. No living person knows it but Thomas and me. When
you hear it you will understand why Kilmeny can’t speak, and why it
isn’t likely that there can ever be anything done for her. She doesn’t
know the truth and you must never tell her. It isn’t a fit story for her
ears, especially when it is about her mother. Promise me that you will
never tell her, no matter what may happen.”

“I promise. Go on--go on,” said the young man feverishly.

Janet Gordon locked her hands together in her lap, like a woman who
nerves herself to some hateful task. She looked very old; the lines on
her face seemed doubly deep and harsh.

“My sister Margaret was a very proud, high-spirited girl, Master. But I
would not have you think she was unlovable. No, no, that would be doing
a great injustice to her memory. She had her faults as we all have; but
she was bright and merry and warm-hearted. We all loved her. She was the
light and life of this house. Yes, Master, before the trouble that came
on her Margaret was a winsome lass, singing like a lark from morning
till night. Maybe we spoiled her a little--maybe we gave her too much of
her own way.

“Well, Master, you have heard the story of her marriage to Ronald Fraser
and what came after, so I need not go into that. I know, or used to know
Elizabeth Williamson well, and I know that whatever she told you would
be the truth and nothing more or less than the truth.

“Our father was a very proud man. Oh, Master, if Margaret was too proud
she got it from no stranger. And her misfortune cut him to the heart. He
never spoke a word to us here for more than three days after he heard of
it. He sat in the corner there with bowed head and would not touch bite
or sup. He had not been very willing for her to marry Ronald Fraser; and
when she came home in disgrace she had not set foot over the threshold
before he broke out railing at her. Oh, I can see her there at the door
this very minute, Master, pale and trembling, clinging to Thomas’s arm,
her great eyes changing from sorrow and shame to wrath. It was just at
sunset and a red ray came in at the window and fell right across her
breast like a stain of blood.

“Father called her a hard name, Master. Oh, he was too hard--even though
he was my father I must say he was too hard on her, broken-hearted as
she was, and guilty of nothing more after all than a little willfulness
in the matter of her marriage.

“And father was sorry for it--Oh, Master, the word wasn’t out of his
mouth before he was sorry for it. But the mischief was done. Oh, I’ll
never forget Margaret’s face, Master! It haunts me yet in the black
of the night. It was full of anger and rebellion and defiance. But she
never answered him back. She clenched her hands and went up to her old
room without saying a word, all those mad feelings surging in her
soul, and being held back from speech by her sheer, stubborn will. And,
Master, never a word did Margaret say from that day until after Kilmeny
was born--not one word, Master. Nothing we could do for her softened
her. And we were kind to her, Master, and gentle with her, and never
reproached her by so much as a look. But she would not speak to anyone.
She just sat in her room most of the time and stared at the wall with
such awful eyes. Father implored her to speak and forgive him, but she
never gave any sign that she heard him.

“I haven’t come to the worst yet, Master. Father sickened and took to
his bed. Margaret would not go in to see him. Then one night Thomas
and I were watching by him; it was about eleven o’clock. All at once he
said,

“‘Janet, go up and tell the lass’--he always called Margaret that--it
was a kind of pet name he had for her--‘that I’m deein’ and ask her to
come down and speak to me afore I’m gone.’

“Master, I went. Margaret was sitting in her room all alone in the cold
and dark, staring at the wall. I told her what our father had said. She
never let on she heard me. I pleaded and wept, Master. I did what I had
never done to any human creature--I kneeled to her and begged her, as
she hoped for mercy herself, to come down and see our dying father.
Master, she wouldn’t! She never moved or looked at me. I had to get up
and go downstairs and tell that old man she would not come.”

Janet Gordon lifted her hands and struck them together in her agony of
remembrance.

“When I told father he only said, oh, so gently,

“‘Poor lass, I was too hard on her. She isna to blame. But I canna go
to meet her mother till our little lass has forgie’n me for the name I
called her. Thomas, help me up. Since she winna come to me I must e’en
go to her.’

“There was no crossing him--we saw that. He got up from his deathbed and
Thomas helped him out into the hall and up the stair. I walked behind
with the candle. Oh, Master, I’ll never forget it--the awful shadows and
the storm wind wailing outside, and father’s gasping breath. But we
got him to Margaret’s room and he stood before her, trembling, with his
white hairs falling about his sunken face. And he prayed Margaret to
forgive him--to forgive him and speak just one word to him before
he went to meet her mother. Master”--Janet’s voice rose almost to
a shriek--“she would not--she would not! And yet she WANTED to
speak--afterwards she confessed to me that she wanted to speak. But
her stubbornness wouldn’t let her. It was like some evil power that
had gripped hold of her and wouldn’t let go. Father might as well have
pleaded with a graven image. Oh, it was hard and dreadful! She saw her
father die and she never spoke the word he prayed for to him. THAT was
her sin, Master,--and for that sin the curse fell on her unborn child.
When father understood that she would not speak he closed his eyes and
was like to have fallen if Thomas had not caught him.

“‘Oh, lass, you’re a hard woman,’ was all he said. And they were his
last words. Thomas and I carried him back to his room, but the breath
was gone from him before we ever got him there.

“Well, Master, Kilmeny was born a month afterwards, and when Margaret
felt her baby at her breast the evil thing that had held her soul in its
bondage lost its power. She spoke and wept and was herself again. Oh,
how she wept! She implored us to forgive her and we did freely and
fully. But the one against whom she had sinned most grievously was gone,
and no word of forgiveness could come to her from the grave. My poor
sister never knew peace of conscience again, Master. But she was gentle
and kind and humble until--until she began to fear that Kilmeny was
never going to speak. We thought then that she would go out of her mind.
Indeed, Master, she never was quite right again.

“But that is the story and it’s a thankful woman I am that the telling
of it is done. Kilmeny can’t speak because her mother wouldn’t.”

Eric had listened with a gray horror on his face to the gruesome tale.
The black tragedy of it appalled him--the tragedy of that merciless law,
the most cruel and mysterious thing in God’s universe, which ordains
that the sin of the guilty shall be visited on the innocent. Fight
against it as he would, the miserable conviction stole into his heart
that Kilmeny’s case was indeed beyond the reach of any human skill.

“It is a dreadful tale,” he said moodily, getting up and walking
restlessly to and fro in the dim spruce-shadowed old kitchen where
they were. “And if it is true that her mother’s willful silence caused
Kilmeny’s dumbness, I fear, as you say, that we cannot help her. But
you may be mistaken. It may have been nothing more than a strange
coincidence. Possibly something may be done for her. At all events, we
must try. I have a friend in Queenslea who is a physician. His name is
David Baker, and he is a very skilful specialist in regard to the throat
and voice. I shall have him come here and see Kilmeny.”

“Have your way,” assented Janet in the hopeless tone which she might
have used in giving him permission to attempt any impossible thing.

“It will be necessary to tell Dr. Baker why Kilmeny cannot speak--or why
you think she cannot.”

Janet’s face twitched.

“Must that be, Master? Oh, it’s a bitter tale to tell a stranger.”

“Don’t be afraid. I shall tell him nothing that is not strictly
necessary to his proper understanding of the case. It will be quite
enough to say that Kilmeny may be dumb because for several months before
her birth her mother’s mind was in a very morbid condition, and she
preserved a stubborn and unbroken silence because of a certain bitter
personal resentment.”

“Well, do as you think best, Master.”

Janet plainly had no faith in the possibility of anything being done for
Kilmeny. But a rosy glow of hope flashed over Kilmeny’s face when Eric
told her what he meant to do.

“Oh, do you think he can make me speak?” she wrote eagerly.

“I don’t know, Kilmeny. I hope that he can, and I know he will do all
that mortal skill can do. If he can remove your defect will you promise
to marry me, dearest?”

She nodded. The grave little motion had the solemnity of a sacred
promise.

“Yes,” she wrote, “when I can speak like other women I will marry you.”



CHAPTER XVI. DAVID BAKER’S OPINION

The next week David Baker came to Lindsay. He arrived in the afternoon
when Eric was in school. When the latter came home he found that David
had, in the space of an hour, captured Mrs. Williamson’s heart, wormed
himself into the good graces of Timothy, and become hail-fellow-well-met
with old Robert. But he looked curiously at Eric when the two young men
found themselves alone in the upstairs room.

“Now, Eric, I want to know what all this is about. What scrape have you
got into? You write me a letter, entreating me in the name of friendship
to come to you at once. Accordingly I come post haste. You seem to be in
excellent health yourself. Explain why you have inveigled me hither.”

“I want you to do me a service which only you can do, David,” said Eric
quietly. “I didn’t care to go into the details by letter. I have met in
Lindsay a young girl whom I have learned to love. I have asked her to
marry me, but, although she cares for me, she refuses to do so because
she is dumb. I wish you to examine her and find out the cause of her
defect, and if it can be cured. She can hear perfectly and all her other
faculties are entirely normal. In order that you may better understand
the case I must tell you the main facts of her history.”

This Eric proceeded to do. David Baker listened with grave attention,
his eyes fastened on his friend’s face. He did not betray the surprise
and dismay he felt at learning that Eric had fallen in love with a
dumb girl of doubtful antecedents; and the strange case enlisted his
professional interest. When he had heard the whole story he thrust his
hands into his pockets and strode up and down the room several times in
silence. Finally he halted before Eric.

“So you have done what I foreboded all along you would do--left your
common sense behind you when you went courting.”

“If I did,” said Eric quietly, “I took with me something better and
nobler than common sense.”

David shrugged his shoulders.

“You’ll have hard work to convince me of that, Eric.”

“No, it will not be difficult at all. I have one argument that will
convince you speedily--and that is Kilmeny Gordon herself. But we will
not discuss the matter of my wisdom or lack of it just now. What I want
to know is this--what do you think of the case as I have stated it to
you?”

David frowned thoughtfully.

“I hardly know what to think. It is very curious and unusual, but it
is not totally unprecedented. There have been cases on record where
pre-natal influences have produced a like result. I cannot just now
remember whether any were ever cured. Well, I’ll see if anything can be
done for this girl. I cannot express any further opinion until I have
examined her.”

The next morning Eric took David up to the Gordon homestead. As they
approached the old orchard a strain of music came floating through
the resinous morning arcades of the spruce wood--a wild, sorrowful,
appealing cry, full of indescribable pathos, yet marvelously sweet.

“What is that?” exclaimed David, starting.

“That is Kilmeny playing on her violin,” answered Eric. “She has great
talent in that respect and improvises wonderful melodies.”

When they reached the orchard Kilmeny rose from the old bench to meet
them, her lovely luminous eyes distended, her face flushed with the
excitement of mingled hope and fear.

“Oh, ye gods!” muttered David helplessly.

He could not hide his amazement and Eric smiled to see it. The latter
had not failed to perceive that his friend had until now considered him
as little better than a lunatic.

“Kilmeny, this is my friend, Dr. Baker,” he said.

Kilmeny held out her hand with a smile. Her beauty, as she stood there
in the fresh morning sunshine beside a clump of her sister lilies,
was something to take away a man’s breath. David, who was by no means
lacking in confidence and generally had a ready tongue where women were
concerned, found himself as mute and awkward as a school boy, as he
bowed over her hand.

But Kilmeny was charmingly at ease. There was not a trace of
embarrassment in her manner, though there was a pretty shyness. Eric
smiled as he recalled HIS first meeting with her. He suddenly realized
how far Kilmeny had come since then and how much she had developed.

With a little gesture of invitation Kilmeny led the way through the
orchard to the wild cherry lane, and the two men followed.

“Eric, she is simply unutterable!” said David in an undertone. “Last
night, to tell you the truth, I had a rather poor opinion of your
sanity. But now I am consumed with a fierce envy. She is the loveliest
creature I ever saw.”

Eric introduced David to the Gordons and then hurried away to his
school. On his way down the Gordon lane he met Neil and was half
startled by the glare of hatred in the Italian boy’s eyes. Pity
succeeded the momentary alarm. Neil’s face had grown thin and haggard;
his eyes were sunken and feverishly bright; he looked years older than
on the day when Eric had first seen him in the brook hollow.

Prompted by sudden compassionate impulse Eric stopped and held out his
hand.

“Neil, can’t we be friends?” he said. “I am sorry if I have been the
cause of inflicting pain on you.”

“Friends! Never!” said Neil passionately. “You have taken Kilmeny from
me. I shall hate you always. And I’ll be even with you yet.”

He strode fiercely up the lane, and Eric, with a shrug of his shoulders,
went on his way, dismissing the meeting from his mind.

The day seemed interminably long to him. David had not returned when
he went home to dinner; but when he went to his room in the evening he
found his friend there, staring out of the window.

“Well,” he said, impatiently, as David wheeled around but still kept
silence, “What have you to say to me? Don’t keep me in suspense any
longer, David. I have endured all I can. To-day has seemed like a
thousand years. Have you discovered what is the matter with Kilmeny?”

“There is nothing the matter with her,” answered David slowly, flinging
himself into a chair by the window.

“What do you mean?”

“Just exactly what I say. Her vocal organs are all perfect. As far as
they are concerned, there is absolutely no reason why she should not
speak.”

“Then why can’t she speak? Do you think--do you think--”

“I think that I cannot express my conclusion in any better words than
Janet Gordon used when she said that Kilmeny cannot speak because
her mother wouldn’t. That is all there is to it. The trouble is
psychological, not physical. Medical skill is helpless before it. There
are greater men than I in my profession; but it is my honest belief,
Eric, that if you were to consult them they would tell you just what I
have told you, neither more nor less.”

“Then there is no hope,” said Eric in a tone of despair. “You can do
nothing for her?”

David took from the back of his chair a crochet antimacassar with a lion
rampant in the center and spread it over his knee.

“I can do nothing for her,” he said, scowling at that work of art. “I
do not believe any living man can do anything for her. But I do not
say--exactly--that there is no hope.”

“Come, David, I am in no mood for guessing riddles. Speak plainly, man,
and don’t torment me.”

David frowned dubiously and poked his finger through the hole which
represented the eye of the king of beasts.

“I don’t know that I can make it plain to you. It isn’t very plain
to myself. And it is only a vague theory of mine, of course. I cannot
substantiate it by any facts. In short, Eric, I think it is possible
that Kilmeny may speak sometime--if she ever wants it badly enough.”

“Wants to! Why, man, she wants to as badly as it is possible for any one
to want anything. She loves me with all her heart and she won’t marry
me because she can’t speak. Don’t you suppose that a girl under such
circumstances would ‘want’ to speak as much as any one could?”

“Yes, but I do not mean that sort of wanting, no matter how strong the
wish may be. What I do mean is--a sudden, vehement, passionate inrush of
desire, physical, psychical, mental, all in one, mighty enough to rend
asunder the invisible fetters that hold her speech in bondage. If any
occasion should arise to evoke such a desire I believe that Kilmeny
would speak--and having once spoken would thenceforth be normal in that
respect--ay, if she spoke but the one word.”

“All this sounds like great nonsense to me,” said Eric restlessly. “I
suppose you have an idea what you are talking about, but I haven’t. And,
in any case, it practically means that there is no hope for her--or me.
Even if your theory is correct it is not likely such an occasion as you
speak of will ever arise. And Kilmeny will never marry me.”

“Don’t give up so easily, old fellow. There HAVE been cases on record
where women have changed their minds.”

“Not women like Kilmeny,” said Eric miserably. “I tell you she has all
her mother’s unfaltering will and tenacity of purpose, although she
is free from any taint of pride or selfishness. I thank you for your
sympathy and interest, David. You have done all you could--but, heavens,
what it would have meant to me if you could have helped her!”

With a groan Eric flung himself on a chair and buried his face in his
hands. It was a moment which held for him all the bitterness of death.
He had thought that he was prepared for disappointment; he had not known
how strong his hope had really been until that hope was utterly taken
from him.

David, with a sigh, returned the crochet antimacassar carefully to its
place on the chair back.

“Eric, last night, to be honest, I thought that, if I found I could not
help this girl, it would be the best thing that could happen, as far
as you were concerned. But since I have seen her--well, I would give my
right hand if I could do anything for her. She is the wife for you, if
we could make her speak; yes, and by the memory of your mother”--David
brought his fist down on the window sill with a force that shook the
casement,--“she is the wife for you, speech or no speech, if we could
only convince her of it.”

“She cannot be convinced of that. No, David, I have lost her. Did you
tell her what you have told me?”

“I told her I could not help her. I did not say anything to her of my
theory--that would have done no good.”

“How did she take it?”

“Very bravely and quietly--‘like a winsome lady’. But the look in her
eyes--Eric, I felt as if I had murdered something. She bade me good-bye
with a pitiful smile and went upstairs. I did not see her again,
although I stayed to dinner as her uncle’s request. Those old
Gordons are a queer pair. I liked them, though. They are strong and
staunch--good friends, bitter enemies. They were sorry that I could not
help Kilmeny, but I saw plainly that old Thomas Gordon thought that I
had been meddling with predestination in attempting it.”

Eric smiled mechanically.

“I must go up and see Kilmeny. You’ll excuse me, won’t you, David? My
books are there--help yourself.”

But when Eric reached the Gordon house he saw only old Janet, who told
him that Kilmeny was in her room and refused to see him.

“She thought you would come up, and she left this with me to give you,
Master.”

Janet handed him a little note. It was very brief and blotted with
tears.

“Do not come any more, Eric,” it ran. “I must not see you, because it
would only make it harder for us both. You must go away and forget me.
You will be thankful for this some day. I shall always love and pray for
you.”

                                                      “KILMENY.”

“I MUST see her,” said Eric desperately. “Aunt Janet, be my friend. Tell
her she must see me for a little while at least.”

Janet shook her head but went upstairs. She soon returned.

“She says she cannot come down. You know she means it, Master, and it
is of no use to coax her. And I must say I think she is right. Since she
will not marry you it is better for her not to see you.”

Eric was compelled to go home with no better comfort than this. In the
morning, as it was Sunday, he drove David Baker to the station. He
had not slept and he looked so miserable and reckless that David felt
anxious about him. David would have stayed in Lindsay for a few days,
but a certain critical case in Queenslea demanded his speedy return. He
shook hands with Eric on the station platform.

“Eric, give up that school and come home at once. You can do no good in
Lindsay now, and you’ll only eat your heart out here.”

“I must see Kilmeny once more before I leave,” was all Eric’s answer.

That afternoon he went again to the Gordon homestead. But the result was
the same; Kilmeny refused to see him, and Thomas Gordon said gravely,

“Master, you know I like you and I am sorry Kilmeny thinks as she does,
though maybe she is right. I would be glad to see you often for your own
sake and I’ll miss you much; but as things are I tell you plainly you’d
better not come here any more. It will do no good, and the sooner you
and she get over thinking about each other the better for you both. Go
now, lad, and God bless you.”

“Do you know what it is you are asking of me?” said Eric hoarsely.

“I know I am asking a hard thing for your own good, Master. It is not as
if Kilmeny would ever change her mind. We have had some experience with
a woman’s will ere this. Tush, Janet, woman, don’t be weeping. You women
are foolish creatures. Do you think tears can wash such things away? No,
they cannot blot out sin, or the consequences of sin. It’s awful how
one sin can spread out and broaden, till it eats into innocent lives,
sometimes long after the sinner has gone to his own accounting. Master,
if you take my advice, you’ll give up the Lindsay school and go back to
your own world as soon as may be.”



CHAPTER XVII. A BROKEN FETTER

Eric went home with a white, haggard face. He had never thought it was
possible for a man to suffer as he suffered then. What was he to do?
It seemed impossible to go on with life--there was NO life apart from
Kilmeny. Anguish wrung his soul until his strength went from him and
youth and hope turned to gall and bitterness in his heart.

He never afterwards could tell how he lived through the following Sunday
or how he taught school as usual on Monday. He found out how much a man
may suffer and yet go on living and working. His body seemed to him an
automaton that moved and spoke mechanically, while his tortured spirit,
pent-up within, endured pain that left its impress on him for ever. Out
of that fiery furnace of agony Eric Marshall was to go forth a man who
had put boyhood behind him for ever and looked out on life with eyes
that saw into it and beyond.

On Tuesday afternoon there was a funeral in the district and, according
to custom, the school was closed. Eric went again to the old orchard.
He had no expectation of seeing Kilmeny there, for he thought she would
avoid the spot lest she might meet him. But he could not keep away from
it, although the thought of it was an added torment, and he vibrated
between a wild wish that he might never see it again, and a sick wonder
how he could possibly go away and leave it--that strange old orchard
where he had met and wooed his sweetheart, watching her develop and
blossom under his eyes, like some rare flower, until in the space of
three short months she had passed from exquisite childhood into still
more exquisite womanhood.

As he crossed the pasture field before the spruce wood he came upon Neil
Gordon, building a longer fence. Neil did not look up as Eric passed,
but sullenly went on driving poles. Before this Eric had pitied Neil;
now he was conscious of feeling sympathy with him. Had Neil suffered
as he was suffering? Eric had entered into a new fellowship whereof the
passport was pain.

The orchard was very silent and dreamy in the thick, deep tinted
sunshine of the September afternoon, a sunshine which seemed to possess
the power of extracting the very essence of all the odours which summer
has stored up in wood and field. There were few flowers now; most of
the lilies, which had queened it so bravely along the central path a
few days before, were withered. The grass had become ragged and sere and
unkempt. But in the corners the torches of the goldenrod were kindling
and a few misty purple asters nodded here and there. The orchard kept
its own strange attractiveness, as some women with youth long
passed still preserve an atmosphere of remembered beauty and innate,
indestructible charm.

Eric walked drearily and carelessly about it, and finally sat down on a
half fallen fence panel in the shadow of the overhanging spruce boughs.
There he gave himself up to a reverie, poignant and bitter sweet, in
which he lived over again everything that had passed in the orchard
since his first meeting there with Kilmeny.

So deep was his abstraction that he was conscious of nothing around him.
He did not hear stealthy footsteps behind him in the dim spruce wood. He
did not even see Kilmeny as she came slowly around the curve of the wild
cherry lane.

Kilmeny had sought the old orchard for the healing of her heartbreak,
if healing were possible for her. She had no fear of encountering Eric
there at that time of day, for she did not know that it was the district
custom to close the school for a funeral. She would never have gone
to it in the evening, but she longed for it continually; it, and her
memories, were all that was left her now.

Years seemed to have passed over the girl in those few days. She had
drunk of pain and broken bread with sorrow. Her face was pale and
strained, with bluish, transparent shadows under her large wistful eyes,
out of which the dream and laughter of girlhood had gone, but into
which had come the potent charm of grief and patience. Thomas Gordon had
shaken his head bodingly when he had looked at her that morning at the
breakfast table.

“She won’t stand it,” he thought. “She isn’t long for this world. Maybe
it is all for the best, poor lass. But I wish that young Master had
never set foot in the Connors orchard, or in this house. Margaret,
Margaret, it’s hard that your child should have to be paying the
reckoning of a sin that was sinned before her birth.”

Kilmeny walked through the lane slowly and absently like a woman in a
dream. When she came to the gap in the fence where the lane ran into the
orchard she lifted her wan, drooping face and saw Eric, sitting in the
shadow of the wood at the other side of the orchard with his bowed head
in his hands. She stopped quickly and the blood rushed wildly over her
face.

The next moment it ebbed, leaving her white as marble. Horror filled her
eyes,--blank, deadly horror, as the livid shadow of a cloud might fill
two blue pools.

Behind Eric Neil Gordon was standing tense, crouched, murderous. Even at
that distance Kilmeny saw the look on his face, saw what he held in his
hand, and realized in one agonized flash of comprehension what it meant.

All this photographed itself in her brain in an instant. She knew that
by the time she could run across the orchard to warn Eric by a touch it
would be too late. Yet she must warn him--she MUST--she MUST! A mighty
surge of desire seemed to rise up within her and overwhelm her like
a wave of the sea,--a surge that swept everything before it in an
irresistible flood. As Neil Gordon swiftly and vindictively, with the
face of a demon, lifted the axe he held in his hand, Kilmeny sprang
forward through the gap.

“ERIC, ERIC, LOOK BEHIND YOU--LOOK BEHIND YOU!”

Eric started up, confused, bewildered, as the voice came shrieking
across the orchard. He did not in the least realize that it was Kilmeny
who had called to him, but he instinctively obeyed the command.

He wheeled around and saw Neil Gordon, who was looking, not at him, but
past him at Kilmeny. The Italian boy’s face was ashen and his eyes were
filled with terror and incredulity, as if he had been checked in his
murderous purpose by some supernatural interposition. The axe, lying
at his feet where he had dropped it in his unutterable consternation on
hearing Kilmeny’s cry told the whole tale. But before Eric could utter
a word Neil turned, with a cry more like that of an animal than a human
being, and fled like a hunted creature into the shadow of the spruce
wood.

A moment later Kilmeny, her lovely face dewed with tears and sunned over
with smiles, flung herself on Eric’s breast.

“Oh, Eric, I can speak,--I can speak! Oh, it is so wonderful! Eric, I
love you--I love you!”



CHAPTER XVIII. NEIL GORDON SOLVES HIS OWN PROBLEM

“It is a miracle!” said Thomas Gordon in an awed tone.

It was the first time he had spoken since Eric and Kilmeny had rushed
in, hand in hand, like two children intoxicated with joy and wonder, and
gasped out their story together to him and Janet.

“Oh, no, it is very wonderful, but it is not a miracle,” said Eric.
“David told me it might happen. I had no hope that it would. He could
explain it all to you if he were here.”

Thomas Gordon shook his head. “I doubt if he could, Master--he, or
any one else. It is near enough to a miracle for me. Let us thank God
reverently and humbly that he has seen fit to remove his curse from
the innocent. Your doctors may explain it as they like, lad, but I’m
thinking they won’t get much nearer to it than that. It is awesome, that
is what it is. Janet, woman, I feel as if I were in a dream. Can Kilmeny
really speak?”

“Indeed I can, Uncle,” said Kilmeny, with a rapturous glance at Eric.
“Oh, I don’t know how it came to me--I felt that I MUST speak--and I
did. And it is so easy now--it seems to me as if I could always have
done it.”

She spoke naturally and easily. The only difficulty which she seemed to
experience was in the proper modulation of her voice. Occasionally she
pitched it too high--again, too low. But it was evident that she would
soon acquire perfect control of it. It was a beautiful voice--very clear
and soft and musical.

“Oh, I am so glad that the first word I said was your name, dearest,”
 she murmured to Eric.

“What about Neil?” asked Thomas Gordon gravely, rousing himself with an
effort from his abstraction of wonder. “What are we to do with him when
he returns? In one way this is a sad business.”

Eric had almost forgotten about Neil in his overwhelming amazement and
joy. The realization of his escape from sudden and violent death had not
yet had any opportunity to take possession of his thoughts.

“We must forgive him, Mr. Gordon. I know how I should feel towards a man
who took Kilmeny from me. It was an evil impulse to which he gave way in
his suffering--and think of the good which has resulted from it.”

“That is true, Master, but it does not alter the terrible fact that
the boy had murder in his heart,--that he would have killed you. An
over-ruling Providence has saved him from the actual commission of the
crime and brought good out of evil; but he is guilty in thought and
purpose. And we have cared for him and instructed him as our own--with
all his faults we have loved him! It is a hard thing, and I do not see
what we are to do. We cannot act as if nothing had happened. We can
never trust him again.”

But Neil Gordon solved the problem himself. When Eric returned that
night he found old Robert Williamson in the pantry regaling himself with
a lunch of bread and cheese after a trip to the station. Timothy sat on
the dresser in black velvet state and gravely addressed himself to the
disposal of various tid-bits that came his way.

“Good night, Master. Glad to see you’re looking more like yourself.
I told the wife it was only a lover’s quarrel most like. She’s been
worrying about you; but she didn’t like to ask you what was the trouble.
She ain’t one of them unfortunate folks who can’t be happy athout
they’re everlasting poking their noses into other people’s business.
But what kind of a rumpus was kicked up at the Gordon place, to-night,
Master?”

Eric looked amazed. What could Robert Williamson have heard so soon?

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Why, us folks at the station knew there must have been a to-do of some
kind when Neil Gordon went off on the harvest excursion the way he did.”

“Neil gone! On the harvest excursion!” exclaimed Eric.

“Yes, sir. You know this was the night the excursion train left. They
cross on the boat to-night--special trip. There was a dozen or so
fellows from hereabouts went. We was all standing around chatting when
Lincoln Frame drove up full speed and Neil jumped out of his rig. Just
bolted into the office, got his ticket and out again, and on to the
train without a word to any one, and as black looking as the Old Scratch
himself. We was all too surprised to speak till he was gone. Lincoln
couldn’t give us much information. He said Neil had rushed up to their
place about dark, looking as if the constable was after him, and offered
to sell that black filly of his to Lincoln for sixty dollars if Lincoln
would drive him to the station in time to catch the excursion train. The
filly was Neil’s own, and Lincoln had been wanting to buy her but Neil
would never hear to it afore. Lincoln jumped at the chance. Neil had
brought the filly with him, and Lincoln hitched right up and took him
to the station. Neil hadn’t no luggage of any kind and wouldn’t open his
mouth the whole way up, Lincoln says. We concluded him and old Thomas
must have had a row. D’ye know anything about it? Or was you so wrapped
up in sweethearting that you didn’t hear or see nothing else?”

Eric reflected rapidly. He was greatly relieved to find that Neil had
gone. He would never return and this was best for all concerned. Old
Robert must be told a part of the truth at least, since it would soon
become known that Kilmeny could speak.

“There was some trouble at the Gordon place to-night, Mr. Williamson,”
 he said quietly. “Neil Gordon behaved rather badly and frightened
Kilmeny terribly,--so terribly that a very surprising thing has
happened. She has found herself able to speak, and can speak perfectly.”

Old Robert laid down the piece of cheese he was conveying to his mouth
on the point of a knife and stared at Eric in blank amazement.

“God bless my soul, Master, what an extraordinary thing!” he ejaculated.
“Are you in earnest? Or are you trying to see how much of a fool you can
make of the old man?”

“No, Mr. Williamson, I assure you it is no more than the simple truth.
Dr. Baker told me that a shock might cure her,--and it has. As for Neil,
he has gone, no doubt for good, and I think it well that he has.”

Not caring to discuss the matter further, Eric left the kitchen. But as
he mounted the stairs to his room he heard old Robert muttering, like a
man in hopeless bewilderment,

“Well, I never heard anything like this in all my born
days--never--never. Timothy, did YOU ever hear the like? Them Gordons
are an unaccountable lot and no mistake. They couldn’t act like other
people if they tried. I must wake mother up and tell her about this, or
I’ll never be able to sleep.”



CHAPTER XIX. VICTOR FROM VANQUISHED ISSUES

Now that everything was settled Eric wished to give up teaching and go
back to his own place. True, he had “signed papers” to teach the school
for a year; but he knew that the trustees would let him off if he
procured a suitable substitute. He resolved to teach until the fall
vacation, which came in October, and then go. Kilmeny had promised
that their marriage should take place in the following spring. Eric
had pleaded for an earlier date, but Kilmeny was sweetly resolute, and
Thomas and Janet agreed with her.

“There are so many things that I must learn yet before I shall be ready
to be married,” Kilmeny had said. “And I want to get accustomed to
seeing people. I feel a little frightened yet whenever I see any one I
don’t know, although I don’t think I show it. I am going to church with
Uncle and Aunt after this, and to the Missionary Society meetings. And
Uncle Thomas says that he will send me to a boarding school in town this
winter if you think it advisable.”

Eric vetoed this promptly. The idea of Kilmeny in a boarding school was
something that could not be thought about without laughter.

“I can’t see why she can’t learn all she needs to learn after she is
married to me, just as well as before,” he grumbled to her uncle and
aunt.

“But we want to keep her with us for another winter yet,” explained
Thomas Gordon patiently. “We are going to miss her terrible when she
does go, Master. She has never been away from us for a day--she is all
the brightness there is in our lives. It is very kind of you to say
that she can come home whenever she likes, but there will be a great
difference. She will belong to your world and not to ours. That is for
the best--and we wouldn’t have it otherwise. But let us keep her as our
own for this one winter yet.”

Eric yielded with the best grace he could muster. After all, he
reflected, Lindsay was not so far from Queenslea, and there were such
things as boats and trains.

“Have you told your father about all this yet?” asked Janet anxiously.

No, he had not. But he went home and wrote a full account of his summer
to old Mr. Marshall that night.

Mr. Marshall, Senior, answered the letter in person. A few days
later, Eric, coming home from school, found his father sitting in Mrs.
Williamson’s prim, fleckless parlour. Nothing was said about Eric’s
letter, however, until after tea. When they found themselves alone, Mr.
Marshall said abruptly,

“Eric, what about this girl? I hope you haven’t gone and made a fool of
yourself. It sounds remarkably like it. A girl that has been dumb all
her life--a girl with no right to her father’s name--a country girl
brought up in a place like Lindsay! Your wife will have to fill your
mother’s place,--and your mother was a pearl among women. Do you think
this girl is worthy of it? It isn’t possible! You’ve been led away by
a pretty face and dairy maid freshness. I expected some trouble out of
this freak of yours coming over here to teach school.”

“Wait until you see Kilmeny, father,” said Eric, smiling.

“Humph! That’s just exactly what David Baker said. I went straight to
him when I got your letter, for I knew that there was some connection
between it and that mysterious visit of his over here, concerning which
I never could drag a word out of him by hook or crook. And all HE said
was, ‘Wait until you see Kilmeny Gordon, sir.’ Well, I WILL wait till I
see her, but I shall look at her with the eyes of sixty-five, mind you,
not the eyes of twenty-four. And if she isn’t what your wife ought to
be, sir, you give her up or paddle your own canoe. I shall not aid or
abet you in making a fool of yourself and spoiling your life.”

Eric bit his lip, but only said quietly,

“Come with me, father. We will go to see her now.”

They went around by way of the main road and the Gordon lane. Kilmeny
was not in when they reached the house.

“She is up in the old orchard, Master,” said Janet. “She loves that
place so much she spends all her spare time there. She likes to go there
to study.”

They sat down and talked awhile with Thomas and Janet. When they left,
Mr. Marshall said,

“I like those people. If Thomas Gordon had been a man like Robert
Williamson I shouldn’t have waited to see your Kilmeny. But they are all
right--rugged and grim, but of good stock and pith--native refinement
and strong character. But I must say candidly that I hope your young
lady hasn’t got her aunt’s mouth.”

“Kilmeny’s mouth is like a love-song made incarnate in sweet flesh,”
 said Eric enthusiastically.

“Humph!” said Mr. Marshall. “Well,” he added more tolerantly, a moment
later, “I was a poet, too, for six months in my life when I was courting
your mother.”

Kilmeny was reading on the bench under the lilac trees when they reached
the orchard. She stood up and came shyly forward to meet them, guessing
who the tall, white-haired old gentleman with Eric must be. As she
approached Eric saw with a thrill of exultation that she had never
looked lovelier. She wore a dress of her favourite blue, simply and
quaintly made, as all her gowns were, revealing the perfect lines of her
lithe, slender figure. Her glossy black hair was wound about her head in
a braided coronet, against which a spray of wild asters shone like
pale purple stars. Her face was flushed delicately with excitement. She
looked like a young princess, crowned with a ruddy splash of sunlight
that fell through the old trees.

“Father, this is Kilmeny,” said Eric proudly.

Kilmeny held out her hand with a shyly murmured greeting. Mr. Marshall
took it and held it in his, looking so steadily and piercingly into her
face that even her frank gaze wavered before the intensity of his keen
old eyes. Then he drew her to him and kissed her gravely and gently on
her white forehead.

“My dear,” he said, “I am glad and proud that you have consented to be
my son’s wife--and my very dear and honoured daughter.”

Eric turned abruptly away to hide his emotion and on his face was a
light as of one who sees a great glory widening and deepening down the
vista of his future.


THE END.





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