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Title: Seth's Brother's Wife - A Study of Life in The Greater New York
Author: Frederic, Harold
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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SETH’S BROTHER’S WIFE

A Study Of Life In The Greater New York

By Harold Frederic

New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons

1887



TO

MY MOTHER



SETH’S BROTHER’S WIFE.



CHAPTER I.--THE HIRED FOLK.

Ef ther’ ain’t a flare-up in _this_ haouse ’fore long, I miss _my_
guess,” said Alvira, as she kneaded the pie-crust, and pulled it out
between her floury fingers to measure its consistency. “Ole Sabriny’s
got her back up this time to stay.”

“Well, let ’em flare, says I. ’Taint none o’ aour business, Alviry.”

“I knaow, Milton; but still it seems to me she might wait at least till
th’ corpse was aout o’ th’ haouse.”

“What’s thet got to dew with it?”

The callousness of the question must have grated upon the hired-girl,
for she made no reply, and slapped the dough over on the board with an
impatient gesture.

It was near the close of a fair day, late in May, and the reddened
sunlight from the West would have helped to glorify any human being
less hopelessly commonplace than Milton Squires as he sat in its full
radiance on the doorstep, peeling and quartering apples over a pan which
he held between his knees. This sunlight, to reach him, painted
with warm tints many objects near at hand which it could not make
picturesque. The three great barns, standing in the shadow to the south,
were ricketty and ancient without being comely, and the glare only made
their awkward outlines and patched, paintless surfaces the meaner; the
score of lean cows, standing idly fetlock-deep in the black mire of
the barnyard, or nipping the scant tufts of rank grass near the trough,
seemed all the dingier and scrawnier for the brilliancy of the light
which covered them; the broken gate, the bars eked out with a hop-pole,
the wheelbarrow turned shiftlessly against a break in the wall, the
mildewed wellcurb, with its antiquated reach--all seemed in this glow of
dying day to be conscious of exhibiting at its worse their squalid side.
The sunset could not well have illumined, during that hour at least, a
less inspiring scene than this which Alvira, looking out as she talked,
or the hired man, raising his head from over the apples, could see from
the kitchen door of Lemuel Fairchild’s farm-house. But any student of
his species would have agreed that, in all the uninviting view, Milton
was the least attractive object.

As he rose to empty his pan within, and start afresh, he could be
seen more fully. He was clumsily cased from neck to ankles in brown
over-alls, threadbare, discolored, patched, with mud about the knees and
ragged edges lower down. He wore rubber boots, over the bulging legs
of which the trousers came reluctantly, and the huge feet of these
were slit down the instep. His hat had been soft and black once; now it
seemed stiffened with dirt, to which the afternoon milking had lent a
new contribution of short reddish hair, and was shapeless and colorless
from age. His back was narrow and bent, and his long arms terminated
in hands which it seemed sinful to have touch anything thereafter to be
eaten. Viewed from behind, Milton appeared to be at least fifty. But his
face showed a somewhat younger man, despite its sun-baked lines and the
frowzy beard which might be either the yellow of unkempt youth or the
gray of untidy age. In reality he was not yet thirty-six.

He slouched out now with a fresh lot of apples, and, squatting on the
door-stone, resumed the conversation.

“I s’pose naow Sissly’s gone, ther’ won’t be no livin’ under th’ same
roof with Sabriny fer any of us. Ther’ ain’t nobuddy lef’ fer her to
rassle with ’cep’ us. Ole Lemuel’s so broken-up, he won’t dare say his
soul’s his own; ’n John--well, Lize Wilkins says she heerd him say he
didn’t know’s he’d come to th’ funer’l ’t all, after th’ way him ’n’
Sabriny hed it aout las’ time he was here.”

“I wasn’t talkin’ o’ _them!_” said Alvira, slapping the flour from her
hands’ and beginning with the roller; “it’d be nothin’ new, her tryin’
to boss _them_. But she’s got her dander up naow agin somebuddy that
beats them all holler. They won’t no Richardsons come puttin’ on airs
’raoun’ here, an’ takin’ th’ parlor bedroom ’thaout askin’, not ef
th’ ole lady knaows herself--’n’ I guess she does.”

“What Richardsons?” asked Milton. “Thought Sissly was th’ last of
’em--thet they wa’n’t no more Richardsons.”

“Why, man alive, ain’t Albert’s wife a Richardson, th’ daughter of
Sissly’s cousin--you remember, that pock-pitted man who kep’ th’ fast
hoss here one summer. Of course she’s a Richardson--full-blooded! When
she come up from th’ train here this mornin’, with Albert, I see by th’
ole lady’s eye ’t she meant misch’f. I didn’t want to see no raow,
here with a corpse in th’ haouse, ’n’ so I tried to smooth matters
over, ’n’ kind o’ quiet Sabriny daown, tellin’ her thet they had to
come to th’ fu-ner’l, ’n’ they’d go ’way soon’s it was through with,
’n’ that Albert, bein’ the oldest son, hed a right to th’ comp’ny
bed-room.”

“’N’ what’d she say?”

“She didn’t say much, ’cep’ thet th’ Richardsons hed never brung
nothin’ but bad luck to this haouse, ’n’ they never would, nuther.
’N’ then she flaounced upstairs to her room, jis’s she allus does when
she’s riled, ’n’ she give Albert’s wife sech a look, I said to m’self,
‘Milady, I wouldn’t be in _your_ shoes fer all yer fine fixin’s.’”

“Well, she’s a dum likely lookin’ woman, ef she _is_ a Richardson,” said
Milton, with something like enthusiasm. “Wonder ef she wears one o’ them
low-necked gaowns when she’s to hum, like th’ picters in th’ _Ledger_.
They say they all dew, in New York.”

“Haow sh’d I knaow!” Alvira sharply responded. “I got enough things to
think of, ’thaout both’rin’ my head abaout city women’s dresses. ’N’
you ought to hev, tew. Ef you’n’ Leander’d pay more heed to yer work,
’n’ dew yer chores up ship-shape, ’n’ spen’ less time porin’ over
them good-fer-nothin’ story-papers, th’ farm wouldn’t look so run-daown
’n’ slaouchy. Did yeh hear what Albert said this mornin’, when he
looked ’raoun’? ‘I swan! ’ he said, ‘I b’lieve this is th’ seediest
lookin’ place ’n all Northern New York.’ Nice thing fer him to hev to
say, wa’n’t it!”

“What d’ I keer what _he_ says? He ain’t th’ boss here, by a jug-full!”

“’N’ more’s th’ pity, tew. He’d make yeh toe th’ mark!”

“Yes, ’n’ Sabriny’d make it lively fer his wife, tew. Th’ ole
fight ’baout th’ Fairchileses ’n’ th’ Richardsons wouldn’t be a
succumstance to thet. Sissly’d thank her stars thet she was dead ’n’
buried aout o’ th’ way.”

These two hired people, who discussed their employer and his family with
that easy familiarity of Christian names to be found only in Russia
and rural America, knew very well what portended to the house when the
Richardson subject came up. Alvira Roberts had spent more than twenty
years of her life in the thick of the gaseous strife between Fairchild
and Richardson. She was a mere slip of a girl, barely thirteen, when she
had first hired out at the homestead, and now, black-browed, sallow from
much tea-drinking, and with a sharp, deep wrinkle vertically dividing
her high forehead, she looked every year of her thirty-five. Compared
with her, Milton Squires was a new comer on the farm, but still there
were lean old cows over yonder in the barnyard, lazily waiting for the
night-march to the pastures, that had been ravenous calves in their
gruel-bucket stage when he came.

What these two did not know about the Fairchild family was hardly worth
the knowing. Something of what they knew, the reader ought here to be
told.



CHAPTER II.--THE STORY OF LEMUEL.

Lemuel Fairchild, the bowed, gray-haired, lumpish man who at this time
sat in the main living room within, feebly rocking himself by the huge
wood-stove, and trying vaguely as he had been for thirty-six hours
past, to realize that his wife lay in her final sleep in the adjoining
chamber, had forty-odd years before been as likely a young farmer as
Dearborn County knew. He was fine-looking and popular in those days, and
old Seth Fairchild, dying unexpectedly, had left to this elder son his
whole possessions--six hundred acres of dairy and hop land, free and
clear, a residence much above the average farm-house of these parts, and
a tidy sum of money in the bank.

The contrast now was sweeping. The Fairchild’s house was still the
largest residential structure on the Burfield road, which led from
Thessaly across the hills to remote and barbarous latitudes, but respect
had long since ceased to accrue to it upon the score of its size. To
the local eye, it was the badge and synonym of “rack and ruin;” while
sometimes strangers of artistic tastes, chancing to travel by this
unfrequented road, would voice regrets that such a prospect as opened to
the vision just here, with the noble range of hills behind for the first
time looming in their true proportions, should be spoiled by such a
gaunt, unsightly edifice, with its tumble-down surroundings, its staring
windows cheaply curtained with green paper, and its cheerless, shabby
color--that indescribable gray with which rain and frost and Father Time
supplant unrenewed white. The garden, comprising a quarter-acre to the
east of the house, was a tangled confusion of flowers and weeds and
berry-bushes run wild, yet the effect somehow was mean rather than
picturesque. The very grass in the yard to the west did not grow
healthfully, but revealed patches of sandy barrenness, created by feet
too indifferent or unruly to keep the path to the barns.

Yet the neighbors said, and Lemuel had come himself to feel, that the
blame of this sad falling off was not fairly his. There had been a fatal
defect in the legacy.

The one needful thing which the Hon. Seth Fairchild did _not_ leave his
elder son was the brains by means of which he himself, in one way
or another, had gathered together a substantial competency, won two
elections to the State Senate, and established and held for himself the
position of leading citizen in his town--that most valued and intangible
of American local distinctions. But while Lemuel’s brown hair curled
so prettily, and his eyes shone with the modest light of wealthy and
well-behaved youth, nobody missed the brains. If there was any change in
the management of the farm, it passed unnoticed, for all attention was
centred on the great problem, interesting enough always when means seeks
a help-meet, but indescribably absorbing in rural communities, where
everybody knows everybody and casual gallants never come for those
luckless damsels neglected by native swains--Whom will he marry?

It boots not now to recall the heart-burnings, the sad convictions that
life would henceforth be a blank, the angry repinings at fate, which
desolated the village of Thessaly and vicinity when Lemuel, returning
from a mid-winter visit to Albany, brought a bride in the person of a
bright eyed, handsome and clever young lady who had been Miss Cicely
Richardson. He had known her, so they learned, for some years--not only
during his school-days at the Academy there, but later, in what was
mysteriously known in Thessaly as “society,” in whose giddy mazes he had
mingled while on a visit to his legislative sire at the Capital City.
No, it is not worth while to dwell upon the village hopes rudely
destroyed by this shock--for they are dim memories of the far, far past.

But to one the blow was a disappointment not to be forgotten, or to grow
dim in recollection. Miss Sabrina Fairchild was two years younger than
her brother in age--a score of years his senior in firmness and will.
She had only a small jointure in her father’s estate, because she had
great expectations from an aunt in Ohio, in perpetual memory of whose
anticipated bounty she bore her scriptural name, but she was a charge on
her brother in that she was to have a home with him until she chose
to leave it for one of her own. I doubt not that her sagacious father
foresaw, from his knowledge of his daughter, the improbability that this
second home would ever be offered her.

Miss Sabrina, even at this tender age, was clearly not of the marrying
kind, and she grew less so with great steadiness. She was at this early
date, when she was twenty-four, a woman of markedly strong character, of
which perhaps the most distinct trait was family pride.

There has been a considerable army of State Senators since New York
first took on the honors of a Commonwealth, and unto them a great troop
of daughters have been born, but surely no other of all these girls
ever exulted so fondly, nay, fiercely, in the paternal dignity as did
Sabrina. She knew nothing of politics, and little of the outside world;
her conceptions of social possibilities were of the most primitive sort;
one winter, when she went to Albany with her father, and was passed in
a bewildered way through sundry experiences said to be of a highly
fashionable nature, it had been temporarily apparent to her
own consciousness that she was an awkward, ignorant, red-armed
country-girl--but this only for one wretched hour or so. Every mile-post
passed on her homeward ride, as she looked through the stage window,
brought restored self-confidence, and long before the tedious journey
ended she was more the Senator’s daughter than ever.

Through this very rebound from mortification she queened it over
the simpler souls of the village with renewed severity and pomp. The
itinerant singing master who thought to get her for the asking into his
class in the school-house Wednesday evenings, was frozen by the amazed
disdain of her refusal. When young Smith Thurber, the kiln-keeper’s son,
in the flippant spirit of fine buttons and a resplendent fob, asked her
to dance a measure with him at the Wallaces’ party, the iciness of her
stare fairly took away his breath.

Something can be guessed of her emotions when the brother brought home
his bride. With a halfcowardly, half-kindly idea of postponing the
trouble certain to ensue, he had given Sabrina no warning of his
intention, and, through the slow mails of that date, only a day’s
advance notice of his return with Mrs. Lemuel. The storm did not burst
at once. Indeed it may be said never to have really burst. Sabrina
was not a bad woman, according to her lights, and she did nothing
consciously to make her sister-in-law unhappy. The young wife had a
light heart, a sensible mind and the faculty of being cheerful about
many things which might be expected to annoy. But she had some pride,
too, and although at the outset it was the very simple and praiseworthy
pride of a well-meaning individual, incessant vaunting of the Fairchilds
quite naturally gave a family twist to it, and she soon was able to
resent slights in the name of all the Richardsons.

After all, was she not in the right? for while the grass was scarcely
green on the grave of the first Fairchild who had amounted to anything,
there were six generations of Richardsons in Albany chronicles alone who
had married into the best Dutch families of that ancient, aristocratic
town, to say nothing of the New England record antedating that
period. Thus the case appeared to her, and came gradually to have more
prominence in her mind than, in her maiden days, she could have thought
possible.

So this great Forty Years’ War began, in which there was to be no single
grand, decisive engagement, but a thousand petty skirmishes and little
raids, infinitely more vexatious and exhausting, and was waged until the
weaker of the combatants, literally worn out in the fray, had laid down
her arms and her life together, and was at peace at last, under the
sheet in the darkened parlor.

The other veteran party to the feud, her thin, iron-gray hair half
concealed under a black knit cap, her bold, sharp face red as with
stains of tears, sat at the window of her own upper room, reading her
Bible. If Milton and Alvira had known that she was reading in Judges,
they might have been even more confident of a coming “flare-up.”



CHAPTER III.--AUNT SABRINA.

NEIGHBORING philosophers who cared, from curiosity or a loftier motive,
to study the Fairchild domestic problem, in all its social and historic
ramifications, generally emerged from the inquiry with some personal
bias against Miss Sabrina, tempered by the conclusion that, after all,
there was a good deal to be said on the old lady’s side.

Certainly, as the grim old maid in the rusty bombazine gown and
cap, which gave a funereal air even to the red plaid shawl over her
shoulders, sat at her upper window, and tried through a pained and
resentful chaos of secular thoughts to follow the Scriptural lines,
there was an extremely vivid conviction uppermost in her mind that
justice had been meted out neither to her nor to the Fairchilds. She
would have repelled indignantly, and honestly enough too, the charge
that there was any bitterness in her heart toward the sister-in-law
whose burial was appointed for the morrow. She had liked poor Cicely, in
her iron-clad way, and had wept genuine tears more than once since her
death. Indeed, her thoughts--and they were persistent, self-asserting
thoughts which not even her favorite recital of Gideon’s sanguinary
triumph could keep back--ran more upon the living than upon the dead.

And what gloomy, melancholy thoughts they were! They swept over two
score of years, the whole gamut of emotion, from the pride and hope of
youth to the anguish of disappointed, wrathful, hopeless old age, as
her hand might cover all there was of sound in music by a run down her
mother’s ancient spinet which stood, mute and forgotten, in the corner
of the room. Her brother, this brother whom satirical fate had made
a Lemuel instead of a Lucy or a Lucretia, a man instead of a woman as
befitted his weakness of mind and spirit--had begun life with a noble
heritage. Where was it now? He had been the heir to a leading position
among the men of his county. What was he now? The Fairchilds had been as
rich, as respected, as influential as any Dearborn family. Who did them
honor now?

The mental answers to these questions blurred Miss Sabrina’s spectacles
with tears, and Gideon’s performance with the lamps seemed a tiresome
thing. She laid the Book aside, and went softly down stairs to her
brother, who sat, still rocking in his late wife’s high, cushioned
arm-chair, disconsolate by the stove.

There were also in the room his oldest son and this son’s wife, sitting
dumbly, each at a window, making a seemly pretence of not being bored by
the meagre prospect without. They looked at their aunt in that far-off
impassive manner with which participants in a high pageant or solemn
observance always regard one another. There was no call for a greeting,
since they had already exchanged whispered salutations, earlier in the
day. Miss Sabrina glanced at the young wife for an instant--it was not a
kindly glance. Then her eyes turned to the husband, and while surveying
him seemed suddenly to light up with some new thought. She almost
smiled, and her tight pressed lips parted. Had they followed the
prompting of the brain and spoken, the words would have been:

“Thank God, there is still Albert!”

Albert Fairchild would have been known in any company, and in any guise,
I think, for a lawyer. The profession had its badge in every line and
aspect of his face, in every movement of his head, and, so it seemed, in
the way he held his hands, in the very tone of his voice. His face
was round, and would have been pleasant, so far as conformation and
expression went, had it not been for the eyes, which were unsympathetic,
almost cold. Often the rest of his countenance was wreathed in amiable
smiles; but the eyes smiled never. He had looked a middle-aged man for
a decade back, and casual acquaintances who met him from year to year
complimented him on not growing old, because they saw no change. In fact
he had been old from the beginning, and even now looked more than his
age, which lacked some few months of forty. He was growing bald above
the temples, and, like all the Fairchilds, was taking on flesh with
increasing years. Nothing could have better shown the extremity of poor
Sabrina’s woe than this clutching at the relief afforded by the sight of
Albert, for she was not on good terms with him. Albert had been born and
reared through boyhood at a time when the farm was still prosperous
and money plenty. He had been educated far beyond the traditions of his
sires, and was the first University man of his family, so far as was
known. He had been given his own bent in all things, before he settled
down to a choice of profession, and then, at considerable expense, had
been secured a place with one of the greatest legal firms in New York
City. For years the first fruits of the soil, the cream off all the
milk--so the Aunt’s mingled scriptural and dairy metaphors ran--had
been his. And what return had they had for it? He had become a sound,
successful lawyer, with a handsome income, and he had married wealth as
well. Yet year after year, as the fortunes of the Fairchild homestead
declined, he had never interfered to prevent the fresh mortgage being
placed--nay, had more than once explicitly declined to help save it.

“Agriculture is out of date in this State,” she had heard him say once,
with her own ears, “Better let the old people live on their capital, as
they go along. It’s no use throwing good money after bad. Farm land here
in the East is bound to decrease in value, steadily.”

This about the homestead--about the cradle of his ancestors! Poor old
lady, had the Fairchilds been sending baronial roots down through all
this soil for a thousand years, she couldn’t have been more pained or
mortified over Albert’s callous view of the farm which her grandfather,
a revolted cobbler from Rhode Island, had cleared and paid for at ten
cents an acre.

Then there was his marriage, too. In all the years of armed neutrality
or tacit warfare which she and Cicely had passed together under one
roof, they had never before or since come so near an open and palpable
rupture as they did over a city-bred cousin of Cicely’s--a forward,
impertinent, ill-behaved girl from New York, who had come to the farm on
a visit some ten years before, and whose father was summoned at last
to take her away because otherwise she, Sabrina, threatened to herself
leave the house. There had been a desperate scene before this conclusion
was reached. Sabrina had stormed and threatened to shake the dust of the
homestead from off her outraged sandals. Cicely for the once had stood
her ground, and said she fancied even worse things than that might
happen without producing a universal cataclysm. Lemuel had almost wept
with despair over the tumult. The two older boys, particularly John, had
not concealed their exuberant hope that their maiden Aunt might be taken
at her word, and allowed to leave. And the girl herself, this impudent
huzzy of a Richardson, actually put her spoke in too, and said things
about old cats and false teeth, which it made Sabrina’s blood still boil
to recall.

And it was this girl, of all others in the world, whom Albert must go
and marry!

Yet Sabrina, in her present despondent mood, felt herself able to rise
above mere personal piques and dislikes, if there really was a hope for
the family’s revival. She was not very sanguine about even Albert, but
beyond him there was no chance at all.

John, the second brother, had talent enough, she supposed. People said
he was smart, and he must be, else he could scarcely have come in his
twenty-eighth year to be owner and editor of the Thessaly _Banner of
Liberty_, and put in all those political pieces written in the first
person plural, as if he had the power of attorney for all Dearborn
county. But then he was mortally shiftless about money matters, and
they did say that since his wife’s death--a mere school-teacher she had
been--he had become quite dissipated and played billiards. Besides she
was at open feud with him, and never, never would speak to him again,
the longest day _he_ lived! So that settled John.

As for Seth, the youngest of the brothers, it is to be doubted if she
would have thought of him at all, had he not come in at the moment. He
had been down to the village to get some black clothes which the tailor
had constructed on short notice for him, and he, too, passed through the
sitting room to the stairs with the serious look and the dead silence
which the awful presence imposes.

Then she did think of him for a moment, as she stood warming her fingers
over the bald, flat top of the stove--for though bright and warm enough
outside, the air was still chilly in these great barns of rooms.

Seth was indisputably the handsomest of all the Fairchilds, even
handsomer than she remembered his father to have been--a tall, straight,
broadshouldered youth, who held his head well up and looked everybody
in the face with honest hazel eyes. He had the Richardson complexion, a
dusky tint gained doubtless from all those Dutch intermarriages of which
poor Cicely used to make so much, but his brown hair curled much as
Lemuel’s used to curl, only not so effeminately, and his temper was as
even as his father’s had been, though not so submissive or weak. His
hands were rough and coarse from the farm work, and his walk showed
familiarity with ploughed ground, but still he had, in his way, a more
distinguished air than either Albert or John had ever had.

Looking him over, a stranger would have been surprised that his aunt
should have left him out of her thoughts of the family’s future--or
that, once pausing to consider him, she should have dropped the idea
so swiftly. But so it was. Miss Sabrina felt cold and aggrieved toward
Albert, and she came as near hating John as a deeply devout woman safely
could. She simply took no account of Seth at all, as she would have
expressed it. To her he was a quiet, harmless sort of youngster, who
worked prettily steadily on the farm, and got on civilly with people.
She understood that he was very fond of reading, but that made no
special impression on her.

If she had been asked, she would undoubtedly have said that Seth was
her favorite nephew--but she had never dreamed of regarding him as a
possible restorer of the family glories.

“Is yer oven hot enough?” she asked Alvira in the kitchen, a minute
later. “If they’s anything I _dew_ hate, it’s a soggy undercrust.”

“I guess I kin manage a batch o’ pies by this time,” returned the
hired-girl with a sniff. Through some unexplained process of reasoning,
Alvira was with the Fairchilds as against the Richardsons, but she was
first of all for herself, against the whole human race.

“Milton gone aout with the caows?” asked the old lady, ignoring for the
once the domestic’s challenge. “When he comes back, he ’n’ Leander
better go over to Wilkinses, and get what chairs they kin spare. I
s’pose there’ll be a big craowd, ef only to git in and see if there’s
any holes in our body-Brussels yit, ’n’ haow that sofy-backed set in
the parlor’s holdin’ out. Poor Cicely! I think they better bring over
the chairs tonight, after dusk. What people don’t see they can’t talk
abaout.”

“Heard Milton say he was goin’ to borrer some over at Warren’s,”
 remarked Alvira, in a casual way, but looking around to see how the idea
affected Miss Sabrina.

“Well he jis’ won’t!” came the answer, very promptly and spiritedly.
“If every mortal soul of ’em hes to stan’ up, he won’t! I guess Lemuel
Fairchild’s wife can be buried ’thaout asking any help from Matildy
Warren. I wouldn’t ask her if ’twas th’ las’ thing I ever did.”

“But Annie sent word she was comin’ over fus’ thing in th’ mornin’, so’s
to help clear up th’ breakfast things. If she’s good enough fer that, I
don’t see why you need be afeered o’ borryin’ her chairs.”

“They ain’t her chairs, and you knaow it, Alviry. I ain’t got a word to
say agin’ Annie Fairchild, but when it comes to her gran’ mother, I kin
ride a high horse as well’s she kin. After all the trouble she made my
family, the sight of a single stick of her furnitur’ here’d be enough to
bring the rafters of this haouse daown over my head, I do believe!”

“Well, of course, ‘tain’t none o’ my business, but seems to me there’ll
be a plaguey slim fun’r’l when _your_ turn comes if you’re goin’ to keep
up all these old-woman’s fights with everybody ’raound abaout.”

“Naow Alviry!” began Miss Sabrina, in her shrillest and angriest tone;
then with a visible effort, as if remembering something, she paused and
then went on in a subdued, almost submissive voice, “You knaow jis’ haow
Matildy Warren’s used us. From the very day my poor brother William ran
off with her Jenny--and goodness knaows whatever possessed him to dew
it--thet old woman’s never missed a chance to run us all daown--ez
ef she oughtn’t to been praoud o’ th’ day a Fairchild took up with a
Warren.”

“Guess you ain’t had none the wu’st of it,” put in Alvira, with sarcasm.
“Guess your tongue’s ’baout as sharp as her’n ever was. B’sides she’s
bed-ridden naow, ’n’ everybody thought she wouldn’t get threw th’
spring. ’N’ ef Seth’s goin’ to make up to Annie, you ought to begin to
smooth things over ’fore she dies. There’s no tellin’ but what she
mightn’t leave the farm away f’m th’ girl at th’ last minute, jis’ to
spite you.”

“Yeh needn’t talk as if _I_ wanted her pesky farm!”

“Oh, well now, you knaow what I mean’s well’s I dew. What’s th’ use
o’ harpin’ on what yer brother William did, or what ole Matildy said,
’fore I was born, when you knaow th’ tew farms jine, and yer heart’s
sot on havin’ ’em in one--Yes, ’fore I was born,” repeated the
domestic, as if pleased with the implication of juvenility.

Miss Sabrina hesitated, and looked at Alvira meditatively through her
spectacles, in momentary doubt about the propriety of saying a sharp
thing under all the circumstances; but the temptation was not to be
resisted. “’N’ you ain’t percisely a chicken yourself, Alviry,” she
said and left the kitchen.

Later, when Milton had returned from the pasture, and hung about the
kitchen, mending the harness that went with the democrat-wagon while
waiting for Leander to return from the cheese factory, Alvira remarked:

“Seems ’if Sabriny’d lost all her sper’t this last day or tew. Never
see sech a change. She don’t answer up wuth a cent. I shouldn’t be
s’prised if she didn’t tackle Albert’s wife after all. Oh yes, ’n’ you
ain’t to go to Warren’s for them chairs. Sa-briny’s dead-set agin that.”

“What’s up?” asked Milton, “Hez Seth broke off with Annie?”

“Don’t knaow’s they ever was anything particular to break off. No, ’t
’aint that; it’s the same raow ‘tween the two ole women. Goodness
knaows, I’m sick ’n’ tired of hearin’ ’baout it.”

“No, but ain’t Seth ’n’ Annie fixed it up?” persisted Milton; “Daown’t
th’ corners they say it’s all settled.” Then he mutteringly added, as
he slouched out to meet Leander, who drove up now with a great rattle of
empty milk-cans. “I wish’t _I_ was in Seth’s shoes.”

“Oh, you _dew_, dew yeh!” said Alvira, thus left to herself.



CHAPTER IV.--THE TWO YOUNG WOMEN.

The young girl whose future had been settled down at the corners, came
along the road next morning toward the Fairchild house, all unconscious
of her destiny. She lived in a small, old-fashioned farm-dwelling back
in the fields, alone with her grandmother, and although there was a
bitter feud between the heads of the two houses, it had not stopped her
from being a familiar and helpful figure in her uncle’s homestead.

Annie Fairchild was a country girl in some senses of the term,
calm-faced, clear-eyed, self-reliant among her friends, but with a
curious disposition toward timidity in the presence of strangers. She
was held to be too serious and “school-ma’am-ish” for pleasant company
by most rural maidens of her acquaintance, and the few attempts of young
farmers of the country-side to establish friendly relations with her
had not been crowned with conspicuous success. It could scarcely be said
that she was haughty or cold; no one could demonstrate in detail that
her term of schooling in a far-off citified seminary had made her proud
or uncivil; but still she had no intimates.

This was the more marked from the fact that she was a pretty girl--or if
not precisely pretty, very attractive and winning in face. No other
girl of the neighborhood had so fine and regular a profile, or such
expressive, dark eyes, or so serenely intelligent an expression. It had
been whispered at one time that Reuben Tracy, the school-master, was
likely to make a match of it with her, but this had faded away again as
a rootless rumor; by this time everybody on the Burfield road tacitly
understood that eventually she was to be the wife of her cousin Seth,
when it “came time for the two farms to join.” And she had grown
accustomed long since to the furtive, half-awed, half-covetous look
which men cast upon her, without suspecting the spirit of reluctant
renunciation underlying it.

She met Milton Squires on the road, close in front of the Fairchild’s
house, this morning, and, nodding to him, passed on. She did not
particularly note the gaze he bent upon her as she went by, and which
followed her afterward, almost to the Fairchild gate. If she had done
so, and could have read all its meaning, she would not have gone on
with so unruffled a face, for it was a look to frighten an honest young
woman--an intent, hungry, almost wolfish look, unrelieved by so much as
a glimmer of the light of manliness.

But she was alike unconscious of his thoughts and of the gossip he had
heard at the corners. Certainly no listener who followed her to the
gate, where she encountered Seth at work screwing on a new hinge, would
have gathered from the tone or words of the greeting on either side any
testimony to confirm the common supposition that they were destined for
each other.

“Good morning, Seth,” she said, halting while he dragged the great gate
open for her, “you’re all through breakfast, I suppose?”

“No, I think Albert and his wife are at the table still. We didn’t call
them when the rest got up, you know. They’re not used to country ways.”

“Anybody else here?”

“No, except John.”

“Oh, I’m so glad he came. That Lize Wilkins has been telling everybody
he wouldn’t come on Sabrina’s account. And it would have looked _so_
bad.”

“Yes, Lize Wilkins talks too much. All John ever said was that he
wouldn’t stay here in the house any more than he could help. It’s too
bad he can’t get along better with Aunt; it would make things so much
pleasanter.”

“How’s your father, Seth? He seemed at first to take it pretty hard.”

“He appeared a little brighter yesterday, after Albert came, but he’s
very poorly this morning. Poor old man, it makes a sad difference with
him--more I suppose than with us boys, even with me, who never have been
away from her hardly for a day.”

“Yes, Seth, a boy outgrows his mother, I suppose, but for an old couple
who have lived together forty years a separation like this must be
awful. I shall go up to the house now.”

Seth followed her with his eyes as she walked up the road, past the
old-fashioned latticed front door with its heavy fold of crape hanging
on the knocker, and turned from sight at the corner of the house;
and the look in his face was soft and admiring, even if it was hardly
loverlike. In his trouble--and he felt the bereavement most keenly--it
seemed restful and good to have such a girl as Annie about, Indeed, a
vague thought that she had never before seemed so sweet and likeable
came to him, as he turned again to the hinge, and lightened his heart
perceptibly, for almost the last words his mother had spoken to him had
been of his future with Annie as his wife.

“You will have the farm before long, Seth,” she said, smiling faintly
as he stroked her pale hair--somehow to the last it never grew grey--and
looked at her through boyish tears, “and Annie will bring you the Warren
farm. Her grandmother and I have talked it over many a time. Annie’s a
good girl, there’s no better, and she’ll make my boy a good, true wife.”

For a year or two back Seth had understood in a nebulous way that his
parents had an idea of his eventually marrying Annie, but his mother’s
words still came to him in the form of a surprise. First, it had been
far from his thoughts that old Mrs. Warren, Annie’s invalid grandmother,
would listen to such a thing, much less plan it. There was a bitterness
of long standing between the two families, he knew. His father’s younger
brother--a halfbrother--named William Fairchild, had married Mrs.
Warren’s only daughter under circumstances which he had never heard
detailed, but which at least had enraged the mother. Both William and
his wife had died, out West he believed, years and years ago, leaving
only this girl, Annie Fairchild, who came an orphan to the grandmother
she had never seen before, and was reared by her. In this Mrs. Warren
and his aunt Sabrina had found sufficient occasion for a quarrel,
lasting ever since he could remember, and as he had always understood
from his aunt that her battle was in defense of the whole family, he
had taken it for granted that he not less than the other Fairchilds was
included in Mrs. Warren’s disfavor. He recalled, now, indeed, having
heard Annie say once or twice that her grandmother liked him; but this
he had taken in a negative way, as if the grandmother of the Capulets
had remarked that of all the loathed Montagus perhaps young Romeo was
personally the least offensive to her sight.

And second, he was far from being in a Romeo’s condition of heart and
mind. He was not in love with Annie for herself--much less for the
Warren farm. To state plainly what Seth had not yet mustered courage to
say in entire frankness even to himself, he hated farming, and rebelled
against the idea of following in his father’s footsteps. And the
dreams of a career elsewhere which occupied the mutinous thoughts Seth
concealed under so passive an exterior had carried him far away from
the plan of an alliance with the nice sort of country cousin who would
eventually own the adjoining farm. So in this sense, too, his mothers
dying words were a surprise--converting into a definite and almost
sacred desire what he had supposed to be merely a shapeless fancy.

Not all this crossed his mind, as he watched Annie till she disappeared,
and then turned back to his work. But the sight of her had been pleasant
to him, and her voice had sounded very gentle and yet full of the
substance of womanliness--and perhaps his poor, dear mother’s plan for
him, after all, was the best.

The gate swinging properly at last, there was an end to Seth’s out-door
tasks, and he started toward the house. The thought that he would see
Annie within was distinct enough in his mind, almost, to constitute
a motive for his going. At the very door he encountered his brother
Albert’s wife, coming out, and stopped.

Isabel Fairchild was far from deserving, at least as a woman, the
epithets with which Aunt Sabrina mentally coupled her girlhood. There
was nothing impertinent or ill-behaved about her appearance, certainly,
as she stood before Seth, and with a faint smile bade him good-morning.

She was above the medium height, as woman’s stature goes, and almost
plump; her hair, much of which was shown in front by the pretty Parisian
form of straw hat she wore, was very light in color; her eyes were blue,
a light, noticeable blue. She wore some loose kind of black and gray
morning dress, with an extra fold falling in graceful lines from her
shoulders to her train, like a toga, and she carried a dainty parasol,
also of black and gray, like the ribbons on her dark hat. To Seth’s eyes
she had seemed yesterday, when he saw her for the first time, a very
embodiment of the luxury, beauty, refinement of city life--and how much
more so now, when her dingy traveling raiment had given place to this
most engaging garb, so subdued, yet so lovely. It seemed to him that his
sister-in-law was quite the most attractive woman he had ever seen.

“I thought of going for a little stroll,” she said, again with
the faint, half-smile. “It is so charming outside, and so blue and
depressing in the house. Can I walk along there through the orchard
now?--I used to when I was here as a girl, I know--and won’t you come
with me? I’ve scarcely had a chance for a word with you since we came.”

The invitation was pleasant enough to Seth, but he looked down
deprecatingly at his rough chore clothes, and wondered whether he ought
to accept it or not.

“Why, Seth, the _idea_ of standing on ceremony with _me!_ As if we
hadn’t played together here as children--to say nothing of my being your
sister now!”

They had started now toward the orchard, and she continued:--

“Do you know, it seems as if I didn’t know anybody here but you--and
even you almost make a stranger out of me. Poor Uncle Lemuel, he is so
broken-down that he scarcely remembers me, and of course your Aunt and
I couldn’t be expected to get very intimate--you remember our dispute?
Then John, he’s very pleasant, and all that, but he isn’t at all like
the John I used to look up to so, the summer I was here. But you--you
have hardly changed a bit. Of course,” she made haste to add, for Seth’s
face did not reflect unalloyed gratification at this, “you have grown
manly and big, and all that, but you haven’t changed in your expression
or manner. It’s almost ten years--and I should have known you anywhere.
But John _has_ changed--he’s more like a city man, or rather a villager,
a compromise between city and country.”

“Yes, I’m a countryman through and through, I suppose,” said Seth, with
something very like a sigh.

“John has seen a good deal of the world they tell me, and been on papers
in large cities. I wonder how he can content himself with that little
weekly in Thessaly after that.”

“I don’t think John has much ambition,” answered Seth, meditatively. “He
doesn’t seem to care much how things go, if he only has the chance to
say what he wants to say in print. It doesn’t make any difference to
him, apparently, whether all New York State reads what he writes, or
only thirty or forty fellows in Dearborn County--he’s just as well
satisfied. And yet he’s a very bright man, too. He might have gone to
the Assembly last fall, if he could have bid against Elhanan Pratt. He
_will_ go sometime, probably.”

“Why, do you have an auction here for the Assembly?”

“Oh, no, but the man who’s willing to pay a big assessment into the
campaign fund can generally shut a poor candidate out John didn’t seem
to mind much about being frozen out though--not half so much as I did,
for him. Everybody in Thessaly knows him and likes him and calls him
‘John,’ and that seems to be the height of his ambition. I can’t imagine
a man of his abilities being satisfied with so limited a horizon.”

“And, you, Seth, what is your horizon like?” asked Isabel.

They had entered the orchard path, now, and the apple blossoms close
above them filled the May morning air with that sweet spring perfume
which seems to tell of growth, harvest, the fruition of hope.

“Oh, I’m picked out to be a countryman all the days of my life I
suppose.” There was the sigh again, and a tinge of bitterness in his
tone, as well.

“Oh, I hope not--that is, if you don’t want to be. Oh, it must be such a
dreary life! The very thought of it sets my teeth on edge. The dreadful
people you have to know: men without an idea beyond crops and calves
and the cheese-factory; women slaving their lives out doing bad cooking,
mending for a houseful of men, devoting their scarce opportunities for
intercourse with other women to the weakest and most wretched gossip;
coarse servants who eat at the table with their employers and call them
by their Christian names; boys whose only theory about education is
thrashing the school teacher, if it is a man, or breaking her heart
by their mean insolence if it is a woman; and girls brought up to be
awkward gawks, without a chance in life, since the brighter and nicer
they are the more they will suffer from marriage with men mentally
beneath them--that is, if they don’t become sour old maids. I don’t
wonder you hate it all, Seth.”

“You talk like a book,” said Seth, in tones of unmistakable admiration.
“I didn’t suppose any woman could talk like that.”

“I talk as I feel always, when I come into contact with country
life, and I get, angry with people who maunder about its romantic and
picturesque side. Where is it, I should, like to know?”

“Oh, it isn’t all so bad as you paint it, perhaps,
Isabel. Of course----“--here he hesitated a little--“you don’t quife see
it at its best here, you know. Father hasn’t been a first-rate manager,
and things have kin all so bad as you paint it, perhaps, Isabel. Of
course----” here he hesitated a little--“you don’t quife see it at its
best here, you know. Father hasn’t been a first-rate manager, and things
have kind o’ run down.”

“No, Seth, it isn’t that; the trail of the serpent is over it all--rich
and poor, big and little. The Nineteenth century is a century of cities;
they have given their own twist to the progress of the age--and the
farmer is almost as far out of it as if he lived in Alaska. Perhaps
there may have been a time when a man could live in what the poet calls
daily communion with Nature and not starve his mind and dwarf his soul,
but this isn’t the century.”

“But Webster was a farm boy, and so was Lincoln and Garfield and
Jackson--almost all our great men. Hardly any of them are born in
cities, you will find.”

“Oh, the country is just splendid to be born in, no doubt of that; but
after you are born, get out of it as soon as you can.”

“I don’t know as I can leave Father very well,” said Seth slowly, and as
if in deep thought.

They walked to the end of the pasture beyond the orchard, to within
view of the spot where all the Fairchilds for three generations had been
laid, and where, among the clustering sweet-briars and wild-strawberry
vines Milton had only yesterday dug a new grave. The sight recalled
to both another subject, and no more was said of country life as they
returned to the house. Indeed, little was said of any sort, for Seth had
a thinking mood on. Nothing was very clear in his mind perhaps, but more
distinctly than anything else he felt that existence on the farm had all
at once become intolerable.



CHAPTER V.--THE FUNERAL.

The American farm-house funeral is surely, of all the observances with
which civilized man marks the ending of this earthly pilgrimage, the
most pathetic. The rural life itself is a sad and sterile enough thing,
with its unrelieved physical strain, its enervating and destructive
diet, its mental barrenness, its sternly narrowed groove of toil and
thought and companionship--but death on the farm brings a desolating
gloom, a cruel sense of the hopelessness of existence, which one
realizes nowhere else. The grim, fatalist habit of seizing upon the
grotesque side, which a century of farm life has crystallized into what
the world knows as American humor, is not wanting even in this hour;
and the comforting conviction of immortality, of the shining reward to
follow travail and sorrow, is nowhere more firmly insisted upon than
among our country people. But the bleak environment of the closed
life, the absence of real fellowship among the living, the melancholy
isolation and vanity of it all, oppress the soul here with an
intolerable weight which neither fund of sardonic spirits nor honest
faith can lighten.

Something of this Isabel felt, as the mid-day meal was hurried through,
on Alvira’s sharp intimation that the room couldn’t be cleared any too
soon, for the crowd would begin coming now, right along. There were
three strangers at the table--though they seemed to be scarcely more
strangers than the members of her husband’s family--of whom two were
clergymen.

One of these, who sat next to her, was the Episcopalian minister at
Thessaly, a middle-aged, soft sort of man, with short hair so smooth
and furry that she was conscious of an impulse to stroke it like a
seal-skin, and little side-whiskers which reminded her of a baby brush.
He impressed her as a stupid man, but in that she was mistaken. He was
nervous and ill at ease, first because he could not successfully or
gracefully use the narrow three-tined steel fork with a bone handle
that had been given him, and second, because he did not understand the
presence of the Rev. Stephen Bunce, who sat opposite him, offensively
smacking his lips, and devoting to loud discourse periods which it
seemed might better have been employed in mastication.

If quiet Mr. Turner was ill at ease, the Rev. Stephen was certainly not.
He bestrode the situation like a modern Colossus. The shape of his fork
did not worry him, since he used it only as a humble and lowly adjunct
to his knife. The presence of Mr. Turner too, neither puzzled nor pained
him. In fact, he was rather pleased than otherwise to have him there,
where he could talk to him before sympathetic witnesses, and make
him realise how the man of the people who had a genuine call
towered innately superior to mere beneficed gentility. “Beneficed
gentility”--that was a good phrase, and he made a mental note of it for
future use; then--the temptation was too strong--he bundled it neck and
crop into the florid sentence with which he was addressing Albert--and
looked at the Episcopalian to watch its effect.

Mr. Turner was occupied with his javelin-shaped fork, and did not seem
to hear it.

Mr. Bunce suspected artifice in this, and watched the rector’s meek face
for a sign of secret confusion. After a moment he said, with his full,
pompous voice at its loudest and most artificial pitch:--

“Ah, Mr. Turner, this is a sad occasion!”

The rector glanced up with some surprise, for he had not expected this
overture, and answered “Yes, truly it is; extremely sad.”

“Yet it is consoling to feel that even so sad an occasion can be
converted into a means of grace, a season of spiritual solace as it
were.”

Mr. Turner only nodded assent to this; he felt that the whole company
around the table, hired people and all, were eagerly watching him and
the burly, bold-faced preacher opposite, as if they were about to engage
in gladiatorial combat.

But Mr. Bunce would not permit the challenge to be declined. He stroked
his ochre-hued chin whisker, looked complacently around the board, and
asked:

“I s’pose you’ve brought your white and black riggins’ along, eh? Or
don’t you wear ’em except in Church?”

There was a pained look in Mr. Turner’s face; he made a little gesture
toward the folding doors leading to the parlor, beyond which lay the
dead, and murmured:

“It will be better, will it not, to speak of these matters together,
after dinner?”

Again the Rev. Stephen glanced around the table, looking especially
toward Miss Sabrina for approval, and remarked loftily:

“There is no need of concealment here, sir. It is all in the family
here. We all know that the Mother in Israel who has departed was
formerly of your communion, and if she wanted to have you here, sir, at
her funeral, why well and good. But the rest of this sorrowin’ family,
sir, this stricken household, air Baptists--”

“I declare! there’s the Burrells drivin’ into the yard, a’ready!” said
Alvira, rising from her chair abruptly. “If you’re threw we better
hustle these things aout, naow; you women won’t more’n have time to
dress ’fore they’ll all be here.”

The interruption seemed a welcome one to everybody, for there was a
general movement on both sides of Mr. Bunce, which he, with his sentence
unfinished, was constrained to join.

The third stranger, a small, elderly man with a mobile countenance
and rusty black clothes, drew himself up, put on a modifiedly doleful
expression, and, speaking for the first time, assumed control of
everything:

“Naow, Milton, you ’n’ Leander git the table aout, ’n’ bring in all
the extry chairs, ’n’ set ’em ’raound in rows. Squeeze ’em pooty
well together in back, but the front ones kind o’ spread aout. You,
Miss Sabriny, ’n’ the lady”--indicating Isabel with his thumb--“’n’
Annie’d better go upstairs ’n’ git yer bonnets on, ’n’ things, ’n’
go ’n’ set in the room at the head o’ the stairs. You men, tew, git
your gloves on, ’n’ naow be sure ’n’ have your hankch’fs in some
pocket where you can git at ’em with your gloves on--’n’ have your
hats in your hands, ‘n’ then go ’n’ set with the ladies. Miss Sabriny,
you’ll come daown arm-in-arm with yer brother, _when_ I call, ’n’ then
Albert ’n’ his wife, ’n’ John with Annie, ’n’ Seth with--pshaw,
there’s odd numbers. Well, Seth can come alone. And dew keep step comin’
daown stairs!”

“’N’ naow, gents,” turning to the Rev. Mr. Turner, “your gaown’s in
the fust room to the right on the landin’, and if you”--addressing Mr.
Bunce--“will go up with him, and arrange ’baout the services, so’s
to come daown together--it’ll look pootier than to straggle in by
yourselves,--’n’ you, Milton, ain’t you got somethin’ besides
overalls to put on?”

Thus the autocrat cleared the living room. Then, going around through
the front hall, he entered the parlor to receive, with solemn dignity
and a fine eye to their relative social merit, the first comers.

These were almost exclusively women, dressed in Sunday garb. As each
buggy or democrat wagon drove up inside the gate, and discharged its
burden, the men would lead the horses further on, to be hitched under or
near the shed, and then saunter around to the kitchen side of the house,
where cider was on tap, and other men were standing in the sunshine,
chewing tobacco and conversing in low tones, while the women from each
conveyance went straight to the front door, and got seats in the parlor
as close to the coffin as possible. The separation of the sexes could
hardly have been more rigorous in a synagogue. There were, indeed two or
three meek, well-brushed men among the women, sitting, uncomfortable but
resigned, in the geranium-scented gloom of the curtained parlor, but,
as the more virile brethren outside would have said, they were men who
didn’t count.

The task of the undertaker was neither light nor altogether smooth.
There were some dozen chairs reserved, nearest the pall, for the
mourners, the clergymen and the mixed quartette expected from Thessaly.
Every woman on entering made for these chairs, and the more unimportant
and “low-down” she was in the rural scale of social values, the more
confidently she essayed to get one of them. With all of these more or
less argument was necessary--conducted in a buzzing whisper from which
some squeak or guttural exclamation would now and again emerge. With
some, the undertaker was compelled to be quite peremptory; while one
woman--Susan Jane Squires, a slatternly, weak-eyed creature who presumed
upon her position as sister-in-law of Milton, the hired man--had
actually to be pushed away by sheer force.

Then there was the further labor of inducing all these disappointed ones
to take the seats furthest back, so that late comers might not have to
push by and over them, but efforts in this direction were only fitful at
the best, and soon were practically abandoned.

“Fust come, fust sarved!” said old Mrs. Wimple. “I’m jes ez good ez them
that’ll come bimeby, ’n’ ef I don’ mind their climbin’ over me,
_you_ needn’t!” and against this the undertaker could urge nothing
satisfactory.

In the intervals of that functionary’s activity, conversation was quite
general, carried on in whispers which, in the aggregate, sounded like
the rustle of a smart breeze through the dry leaves of a beach tree.
Many women were there who had never been in the house before--could
indeed, have had no other chance of getting in. These had some fleeting
interest in the funeral appointments, and the expense incident thereto,
but their chief concern was the furnishing of the house. They furtively
scraped the carpet with their feet to test its quality, they felt of the
furniture to see if it had been re-varnished, they estimated the value
of the curtains, speculated on the cost of the melodeon and its age,
wondered when the ceiling had last been whitewashed. Some, who knew the
family better, discussed the lamentable decline of the Fairchilds in
substance and standing within their recollection, and exchanged hints
about the endemic mortgage stretching its sinister hand even to the very
chairs they were sitting on. Others, still more intimate, rehearsed the
details of the last and fatal illness, commented on the character of
individuals in the family, and guessed how long old Lemuel would last,
now that Cicely was gone.

In the centre of these circling waves of gossip lay the embodiment of
the eternal silence. Listening, one might fain envy such an end to that
living death of mental starvation which was the lot of all there, and
which forced them, out of their womanhood, to chatter in the presence of
death.

The singers came. They were from the village, belonging to the
Congregational church there, and it was understood that they came out of
liking for John Fairchild. None of the gathering knew them personally,
but it was said that the contralto--the woman with the bird on her
bonnet, who took her seat at the melodeon--had had trouble with her
husband. A fresh buzz of whispering ran round. Some stray word must have
reached the contralto, for she colored and pretended to study the music
before her intently, and, later, when “Pleyel’s Hymn” was being sung,
she played so nervously that there was an utter collapse in the sharps
and flats of the third line, which nearly threw the singers out.

The undertaker now stalked in, and stood on tiptoe to see if the back
room was also filled. He had been out with the men at the kitchen door,
fixing crape on the arms of six of the best dressed and most respectable
looking farmers in an almost jocular mood, and drilling them affably
in their duties; drinking cider, exchanging gossip with one or two
acquaintances, and conducting himself generally like an ordinary mortal.
He had now resumed his dictatorship.

Most of the men had followed him around to the front of the house, and
clustered now in the hall, or in a group about the outer door, holding
their hats on a level with their shoulders.

A rustle on the stairs told that the mourners were descending. Then
came the strains of the melodeon, and the singing, very low, solemn and
sweet.

A little pause, and the full voice of the Baptist preacher was heard
in prayer--then in some eulogistic remarks. What he said was largely
nonsense, from any point of view, but the voice was that of the born
exhorter, deep, clear-toned, melodious; there seemed to be a stop
in it, as in an organ, which at pathetic parts gave forth a tremulous,
weeping sound, and when this came not a dry eye could be found. He was
over-fond of using this effect, as are most men possessing the trick,
but no one noticed it, not even Isabel, who from sitting sternly
intolerant of the whispering women around her, and indignant at Mr.
Bunce for his dinner performance, found herself sobbing with all the
rest when the tremulo stop was touched.

There was more singing, this time fine, simple old “St. Denis” and then
the bearers were summoned in.

The men asked one another in murmurs outside if the Episcopal clargyman
was to take no part in the services. Within, Mrs. Wimple went straighter
to the point. She plucked him by the sleeve of his robe and leaning over
with some difficulty, for she was a corpulent body, whispered to the
hearing of a score of her neighbours:

“What air you here fer, mister, if you ain’t goin’ to say nor dew
nothin’?”

“I officiate at the grave,” he had said, and then regretted all the
remainder of the day having answered her at all.

*****

On the return of the procession from the little knoll where the slate
and marble tomb-stones of long dead Fairchilds bent over the new brown
mound, Annie and Seth walked together. There was silence between them
for a time, which he broke suddenly.

“It’s _all_ very hard, Annie, for you know how much mother and I loved
each other. But, truly, the hardest thing of all is to think of staying
here among these narrow dolts. While she was here I could stand it. But
I can’t any more.”

Annie said nothing. She felt his arm trembling against hers, and his
voice was strained and excited. What _could_ she say?

“They’re not like me,” he went on; “I have nothing in common with them.
I hate the sight of the whole of them. I never realised till to-day how
big a gulf there was between them and me. Didn’t _you_ see it--what a
mean, narrow-contracted lot they all were?”

“Who do you mean, Seth?”

“Why all of them. The Burrells, the Wimples, old Elhanan Pratt, old
Lyman Tenney, that fellow Bunce--the whole lot of them. And the women
too! Did you watch them--or, what’s worse, did you hear them? I wonder
you can bear them yourself, Annie, any more than I can.”

“Sometimes it _is_ hard, Seth, I admit; when I first came back to
grandma from school it was awfully hard. But then I’ve got to live here,
and reconcile myself to what the place offers,--and, after all, Seth,
they are well-meaning people, and some of them are smart, too, in their
way.”

“Oh, well-meaning--in their way,--yes! But I haven’t got to live here,
Annie, and I haven’t got to reconcile myself, and I _won’t_ That’s the
long and short of it. I can make my living elsewhere--perhaps more than
my living--and be among people who don’t make me angry every time I set
eyes on them. And I can find friends, too, who feel as I do, and look at
things as I do, instead of these country louts who only know abominable
stories, and these foolish girls--who--who--”

“Nobody can blame you to-day, Seth, for feeling blue and sore, but
you ought not to talk so, even now. They’re not all like what you say.
Reuben Tracy, now, he’s been a good friend and a useful friend to you.”

“Yes, Rube’s a grand, good fellow, of course. I know all that. But then
just take his case. He’s a poor schoolmaster now, just as he was five
years ago, and will be twenty years from now. What kind of a life is
that for a man?”

“And maybe the girls _are_--foolish, as you started to say, but--”

“Now, Annie, don’t think I m’eant anything by that, _please!_ I know
you’re the dearest girl and the best friend in the world. Truly, now,
you won’t think I meant anything, will you?”

“No, Seth, I won’t” said Annie softly. It was her arm that trembled now.



CHAPTER VI.--IN THE NAME OF THE FAMILY.

MISS Sabrina sat by her accustomed window an hour after the return
from the grave, waiting for Albert. The mourning dress, borrowed for
the occasion from a neighbor, was cut in so modern a fashion, contrasted
with the venerable maiden’s habitual garments, that it gave her spare
figure almost a fantastic air. The bonnet, with its yard of dense,
coarse ribbed crape, lay on the table at her elbow, beside her
spectacles and the unnoticed Bible. Miss Sabrina was ostensibly looking
out of the window, but she really saw nothing. She was thinking very
steadily about the coming interview with her nephew, and what she would
say to him, and wondering, desponding, hoping about his answers.

The door opened, and Albert entered. “You wanted to see me, Aunt, so
Annie said,” he remarked! gravely, in a subdued tone.

She motioned him to a chair and answered, in a solemn voice curiously
like his own: “Yes, there’s some things I want to say to you, all by
yourself.”

They sat for some moments in silence, the lawyer watching his aunt with
amiable forbearance, as if conscious that his time was being wasted, and
she, poor woman, groping in a novel mental fog for some suitable phrases
with which to present her views. Under Albert’s calm, uninspiring gaze
those views seemed to lose form, and diminish in intelligence as much
as in distinctness. It had all been so clear to her mind--and now she
suddenly found it fading off into a misty jumble of speculations, mere
castles in the air. She had expected to present an unanswerable
case lucidly and forcibly to her lawyer nephew; instead, it seemed
increasingly probable that he would scout the thing as ridiculous--and,
what was worse, be justified in so doing. So it was that she finally
made her beginning doubtingly, almost dolefully:

“Of course I dunno haow you feel abaout it, Albert, but I can’t help
thinking something ought to be settled abaout th’ farm, while yer here.”

“Settled? How settled?’’ asked Albert. There was a dry, dispassionate
fibre in his voice which further chilled her enthusiasm.

“Why--well--you knaow--what I mean, Albert,” she said, almost
pathetically. It was so hard to know just how to say things to Albert.

“On the contrary, I don’t in the least know what you mean. What do you
want settled about the farm? What is there to settle about it?”

“Oh, nothin’, ef yeh don’t choose to understand” said Miss Sabrina.

Another period of silence ensued. Albert made a movement as if to rise,
and said:

“If there is’nt anything more, I think I’ll go down again.”

There was an artificial nicety of enunciation about this speech, which
grated on the old lady’s nerves. She squared her shoulders and turned
upon her nephew.

“Naow what’s the use of bein’ mean, Albert? Yeh dew knaow what I’m
thinking of, jis’ ez well ez I dew! Yeh unly want to make it ez hard fer
me to tell yeh as yeh possibly kin. I s’pose thet’s the lawyer of it!”

Albert smiled with all his face but the eyes, and slightly lifting his
hands from his fat knees, turned them palms up, in mute deprecation of
his aunt’s unreasonableness. The gesture was as near the shoulder-shrug
as the self-contained lawyer ever permitted himself to go. It was a
trifle, but it angered the old maid enough to remove the last vestige of
hesitation from her tongue:

“Well, ef yeh _don’t_ knaow what I mean, then I’ll tell yeh! I mean that
ef th’ Fairchilds are goin’ to be a Dearborn caounty fam’ly, ’n’ hole
their heads up amongst folks, ther’s got to be a change o’ some sort
right away. Your father’s let everything slide year after year, till
there’s pesky little lef’ naow to slide on. He’s behine hand agin in
money matters, even with th’ Pratt mortgage on top of t’others. What’s
wuss, it’s in everybody’s maouth. They’ve left him off th’ board at th’
cheese-factory this year, even; of course they say, it’s cuz he
never ’tended th’ meetin’s--but I knaow better! It’s jis cuz Lemuel
Fairchild’s goin’ deown hill, ’n’ the farm’s goin’ to rack ’n’
ruin, ’n’ ev’rybuddy knaows it. Jis’ think of it? Why, ’twas th’
Fairchilds made that cheese-factory, ’n’ it’s allus gone by aour
name, ’n’ we used to sen’ th’ milk of a hundred ’n’ thirty caows
there--almost as much as all th’ rest of ’em put togither--’n’ ez
I said to Leander Crump, when he was squirmin’ raound tryin’ to make me
b’lieve they didn’t mean nothin’ by droppin’ Lemuel aout o’ th’ board,
says I--‘nobuddy ever ’spected a table spoonful o’ water in aour
milk!’--’n’ he colored up, _I_ tell yeh!”

“No doubt” said Albert, impassively.

Miss Sabrina paused to mentally retrace her argument, and see if this
remark had any special bearing. She could discover none, and grew a
little angrier.

“Well, then, th’ question’s right here. My father, your grand father,
made a name fer hisself, and a place for his fam’ly, here in Dearborn
caounty, second to nobuddy. Fer years ’n’ years I kin remember thet
th’ one question people ast, when it was proposed to dew anything, was
‘what does Seth Fairchild think ’baout it?’ He went to th’ Senate
twice; he could ’a gone to Congress from this dees-trick time ’n’
time agin, if he’d be’n a mine to. Ev’rybuddy looked up to him. When he
died, all of a suddent, he lef’ Lemuel th’ bes’ farm, th’ bes’ stock,
th’ bes’ farm haouse, fer miles raound. Well, thet’s forty year ago.
I’ve lived here threw it all. I’ve swallered my pride every day in th’
week, all thet time. I’ve tried to learn myself a humble spirit--but
I’ve hed to see this place, and the fam’ly, going daown, daown, daown!”

There were tears in the old maid’s eyes now, as she spoke, tears of
mortification and revolt against her helplessness, for she seemed to
read the failure of her appeal in the placid face of her nephew, with
its only decent pretence of interest. She went on, with a rising voice:

“You knaow a little of haow things hev’ gone, though you’ve allus took
precious good pains to knaow ez little ez yeh could. You knaow that
when you were a boy you were a rich man’s son, with yer pony, ’n’ yer
dancin’ lessons, ’n’ yer college eddica-tion; ’n’ yer mother dressed
well, ’n’ had a kerridge, ’n’ visited with th’ bes’ people of
Albany, people who were _my_ friends tew when I used to go to Albany
with yer grandfather. ’N’ what hev we come to? Yer mother slaved her
life aout, lost all her ambition, lost all her pride, saw things goin’
to th’ dogs and didn’t knaow haow to stop ’em--sakes forbid thet I
should say anything agin Sissly; she did all she could; p’raps ’twould
’ev gone different if she’d be’n a different kine o’ woman, p’raps
not; there’s no use talkin’ ’baout thet. ’N’ ef I’d hed _my_ say,
tew, maybe things’d be’n different; but its ez it is, ’n’ it’s no use
cryin’ over spilt milk.

“Father never meant to be hard with me. When he lef’ me nothin’ but
a living aout o’ th’ farm, he expected, everybuddy expected, my Aunt
Sabrina’d leave me a clean sixty thaousand dollars when she died. She
was an ole woman, ’n’ a widow, ’n’ she hed no childern. She’d allus
promised my father thet if I was named after her--confaound her name!--I
shaould be her heir. ’N’ then, Iess’n a year after his death, what
does the old huzzy up ’n’ do but marry some fortune hunter young
enough to be her son, ’n’ give him every cent she hed in the world. He
led her a fine dance of it, tew, ’n’ serve her right! But there I was,
lef ’thaout a thing ’cep a roof over my head.

“’N’ then Lemuel, nothin’ ud do but he must go to Californy when the
gold cry riz, ’n’ no sooner’d he git there than he was homesick ’n’
hed to come back; ’n’ when he got back, ’n’ begun to hear what
fortunes them who’d gone aout with him were a making, than he must
start aout again. But where it’d be’n wilderness a few months b’fore,
he faound cities naow, ’n’ ev’ry chance took up; then he got robbed
o’ all his money, ’n’ hed to borrer, ’n’ then he took chills
’n’ fever off th’ isthmus, n’ hed to lay in quarantine fer weeks, on
’caount o’ th’ yellah fever; it’d be’n a poor year on the farm, ’n’
when he got back, it took ev’ry cent of his ready-money to set himself
right.

“From thet day to this, his Californy luck hez stuck to him like death
to a nigger, tell here, to-day, the Fitches don’t think it wuth while
to come to your poor mother’s fun’ral--I kin remember Lije Fitch when
he was glad enough to beg beans o’ my father fer seed--’n’ I’m wearing
borrered mournin’ of Sarah Andrewses, _a mile tew big for me!_”

“It seems to me I’ve been told all this a good many times, Aunt
Sabrina,” said Albert, as his aunt stopped and glared at him trembling
with the excitement of her peroration. “There’s nothing very-pleasant in
it, for either of us, to listen to or talk about; but I don’t see that
there’s anything more than I’ve heard over and over again, except about
your having on another woman’s dress, and I don’t assume that I am
expected to interfere about _that!_”

Poor Miss Sabrina was too deeply moved, and too much in earnest, to note
the sarcastic levity underlying the lawyer’s conclusion. She caught
only the general sense of a negative response, and looked at her nephew
steadily with a gaze half-indignant, half appealing.

“Then you won’t dew anything, ay?” she asked at last.

“Oh, I am very far from saying that. _That’s_ another thing. You send
for me, saying that you have an important communication to make to
me--at least, I assume that it is important, from the circumstances
surrounding the request. I come, and you first insist that I know as
well as you do what you mean, and then, when I demur, you rehearse all
the unfortunate details of my father’s failure in life. I suggest that
these are already tolerably familiar to me, and _this_ mild statement
you construe as a definite refusal on my part to do something--what, I
don’t know.”

“I declare, Albert, you better send in a bill fer givin’ me this
consultation. _I_ never knew a son who could take his father’s ruin
’n’ his fam’ly’s disgrace so cool, before. I s’pose _that’s_ th’
lawyer of it, tew!”

“Perhaps it’s an advantage that some one of the family should keep cool,
Aunt, and look at things one by one, in their true relation. Now, if
you have any proposition to make to me, any plan to present for my
consideration, I should like to hear it--because really this other style
of conversation is profitless beyond description. In a word, what do you
want me to do?”

“What do I want yeh to do?” The old maid leaned forward and put a
thin, mitted hand on Albert’s knee, looking eagerly into his face, and
speaking almost shrilly. “I want yeh to take this farm, to come here to
live, to make it a rich gentleman’s home agin! to put the Fairchilds up
once more where my father left ’em.”

“Yes?” was the provokingly unenthusiastic response.

Miss Sabrina felt that she had failed. She put her spectacles on, and
took the Bible into her lap, as if to say that she washed her hands of
all mundane matters. But it did not suit Albert to regard the interview
as closed.

“There is one thing you don’t seem to see at all, Aunt,” he said. “That
is, that Dearborn County is relatively not altogether the most important
section of the Republic, and that it is quite possible for a man to
win public recognition or attain professional distinction in other
communities which might reconcile him to a loss of prestige here. It may
sound like heresy to you, but I am free to admit that the good
opinion of the business men of New York City, where I am regarded as a
successful sort of man, seems to me to outweigh all possible questions
as to how I am regarded by Elhanan Pratt and Le-ander Crump and--and
that Baptist gentleman, for instance, whom you had here to-day. The
world has grown so large, my dear aunt, since your day, that there are
thousands upon thousands of Americans now who go all their lives without
ever once thinking about Dearborn County’s opinion. Of course I can
understand how deeply you must feel what you regard as a social decline
in the eyes of your neighbours. But truly, it does not specially
affect me. They are not my neighbours; if I seem to them to be of less
importance than I was in my boyhood, when I had a pony, I can’t help it,
and I am sure I don’t want to. Frankly, to use my mother’s old phrase, I
don’t care a cotton hat for their opinion good, bad, or indifferent. It
is this, I think, which you leave out of your calculation.”

Miss Sabrina had listened, with the Book opened only by a finger’s
width. The elaborate irony of her nephew’s words had escaped her, but
she saw a gleam of hope in his willingness to discuss the matter at all.

“But then this is the home o’ the Fairchilds; the fam’ly belongs to
Dearborn Caounty; father was allus spoken of ez Seth Fairchild o’
Dearborn, jis’ as much ez--ez Silas Wright o’ Dutchess.”

“Of course that last is a powerful argument,” said Albert with a furtive
smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. “But, after all, the county
family idea doesn’t seem to attract me much. Why, aunt, do you know that
your grandfather Roger was a journeyman shoemaker, who walked all the
way here from Providence. There was nothing incongruous in his son
becoming a Senator. Very well; if you have a state of society where
sudden elevations of this sort occur, there will inevitably be
corresponding descents--just as lean streaks alternate with fat in the
bacon of commerce. The Fairchilds went up--they, come down. They have
exhausted the soil. Do you see?”

“Nao! I don’t see a bit! ’N’ I b’lieve at heart you’re jis’ ez praoud
ez I be!”

“Proud? Yes! Proud of myself, proud of my practice, proud of my
position. But proud because three or four hundred dull countrymen,
seeing my cows sleek, my harness glossy, my farm well in order, and
knowing that my grandfather had been a State Senator, would consider me
a ‘likely ’ man--no, not at all.”

Albert rose at this to go, and added, as he turned the door-knob:

“As soon as he’s equal to it, Aunt Sabrina, I’ll get father to go over
his affairs with me, and I’ll try and straighten them out a trifle. I
dare say we can find some way out of the muddle.”

“But yeh won’t take up the thing yerself? Yeh won’t dew what I wanted
yeh tew?”

The lawyer smiled, and said: “What really? Come here and be a farmer?”

Miss Sabrina had risen, too, and came toward her nephew. “No” she said,
“not a farmer. Be a country gentleman, ’n’--’n’--a Congressman!”
 Albert smiled again, and left the room. He smiled to himself going down
the stairs, and narrowly escaped forgetting to change his expression of
countenance when he entered the living room, where were sitting people
who had not entirely forgotten the fact that it was a house of mourning.

For Albert had a highly interesting idea in his mind, both interesting
and diverting. Curiously enough, he had begun developing it from the
moment when his aunt first disclosed her ambition for him. At the last
moment, in a blind way she had suggested the first political office that
entered her mind as an added bribe. She could not know that her astute
nephew had, from the first suggestion of her plan, been trying to
remember whether it was Jay and Adams Counties, or Jay and Morgan, that
were associated with Dearborn in the Congressional district; or
that, when she finally in despair said “Be a country gentleman and a
Congressman,” his brain had already turned over a dozen projects in as
many seconds, every one Congressional.



CHAPTER VII.--THE THREE BROTHERS.

After the early supper of stale bread, saltless butter, dark dried
apple sauce, and chippy cake had been disposed of, Lemuel returned to
his rocking chair by the stove, Aunt Sabrina and Isabel took seats, each
at a window, and read by the fading light, and Albert put on his hat,
lighted a cigar, and went out. His brother John stood smoking a pipe
in the yard, leaning against the high well-curb, his hands deep in his
pantaloons pocket, and his feet planted far to the front and wide apart.
Seth was coming from the barns toward the well, with a bucket in his
hand. Albert walked across to the curb, and the three brothers were
alone together for the first time in years.

“It does one good to be out of doors such an evening as this,” said
Albert. “It seems to me it would be better if father would get out in
the open air more, instead of sitting cooped up over that stove all the
while.”

“When a man’s been out in the open air, rain or shine, snow or blow,
for fifty years, he ought to have earned the right to stay inside, if
he wants to.  That’s about the only reward there is at the end of a
farmer’s life,” answered Seth, turning the calfbucket upside down beside
John, and sitting on it. Seth had his old clothes on once more, and
perhaps there was some consciousness of the contrast between his apparel
and that of his black-clad brethren in the truculent tone of his reply.

John had nodded at Albert on his approach, and thrust his feet a trifle
further forward. He still stood silent, looking meditatively at the row
of poplars on the other side of the road through rings of pipe smoke.

“So you don’t think much of farm work, eh?” said Albert.

“Who does?” replied Seth, sententiously.

A considerable period of silence ensued. Albert had never had a very
high idea of his younger brothers’ conversational qualities, and had
rarely known how to talk easily with them, but to-night it seemed a
greater task than ever. He offered them cigars, in a propitiatory way.
Seth accepted and lit one; John said “Thanks, I prefer a pipe,” and
silence reigned again.

It was twilight now, and in the gathering dusk there was no sign of
motion about, nor any sound save the tinkle of a sheep-bell in the
pasture opposite.

John’s pipe burned out, and Albert pressed a cigar upon him again.

“I _want_ you to try them,” he said, almost pleadingly, “I’m sure you’ll
like them. They are a special brand the steward at the Union League gets
for me.”

This time John consented, and he seemed to feel that the act involved a
responsibility to talk, for he said, with an effort at amiability as he
struck a match:

“Your wife seems to be looking very well.”

“Yes, Isabel’s health is perfect, and it always benefits her to get out
in the country. That’s a kind of Irishism isn’t it? I mean it makes her
good health more obvious.”

“Good health is a great thing,” John answered.

The conversation was running emptings again, almost at the start. Albert
made a heroic effort to strengthen it.

“Well, this is a regular quakers’ meeting,” he said, briskly. “We see
each other so seldom, we are almost strangers when we do meet. I want to
be frank with you, come now, and you should be frank with me. You have
something on your minds, I can see. Isn’t it something I ought to know?”

Seth spoke again: “Perhaps on the evening of one’s mother’s funeral it
isn’t to be expected that even brothers should feel chatty.”

The village journalist felt the injustice of this comment from the
youngster.

“No, Seth,” he said, “Don’t snap Albert up in that fashion. I dare say
he feels the thing, in his own way, as much as the rest of us. You are
right, Albert; there _is_ something, and I’ll tell you plainly what it
is. Do you see those poplars over there? In the morning their shadows
Come almost to our front door. Father planted them with his own hands.
When I was a boy, I used to play over there, and climb up on to the
bolls, and pretend I was to build houses there, like in Swiss Family
Robinson. Well, that land passed out of our hands so long ago--it’s been
an old story for years. Do you see the roof of the red school-house over
back of the hill?” turning toward the South. “Or no, the light is too
poor now, but you know where it is. When I used to cut ’cross lots to
school there, I went the whole way over father’s land. Now, if I wanted
to go there, how many people would I trespass on, Seth?”

“Ferguson owns the clover meadow, and Pratt has the timothy meadow, and
what we used to call the berry patch belongs to Sile Thomas; he’s begun
to build a house on it.”

“Precisely. Why even the fence close to where mother’s grave is, divides
ours from another man’s land now.”

“Sabrina spoke to me about all this this afternoon,” said Albert
hesitatingly, “and I tried, as I often have before, to make her
understand that that must be the natural course of affairs, so long as
the East tries to compete with the West in farming.”

“Well that may be all right, but Elhanan Pratt seems to manage to
compete with the West, as you call it, and so do the Fergusons and all
the rest of them. We are the only ones who appear to get left, every
time. Of course, it’s somebody’s fault. Father’s been a poor manager,
no use of denying that. But that doesn’t make it any the easier to bear.
Father hardly knows which way to turn for ours from another man’s now.
Money; he might have scraped through the year if hops had had a good
season, but at nine cents a pound it was hardly worth while to take them
to the depot. You can’t clear expenses at less than eleven cents. And
then if he does have a fairly decent year, his hop-pickers are always
the most drunken, idle gang of them all, who eat their heads off, and
steal more fruit and chickens than they pick boxes, and if anybody’s
hops are spoiled in the kiln, you can bet on their being Fairchild’s,
every time. And three years ago, it was the hop merchant who failed,
just at the opportune moment, and let Father in for a whole years’
profit and labor. Of course, it’s all bad luck, mismanagement, whatever
you like to call it, and it can’t be helped, I suppose. But it makes a
man sour, and it broke poor mother’s heart. And then here’s Seth.”

“Oh, never mind me, I can stand it, I guess, if the rest can. I’m not
complaining” came from the figure on the bucket--only dimly to be seen
now, in the shadow of the curb, and the increasing darkness.

“Here’s Seth,” continued John, without noting the disclaimer. “You and
I had _some_ advantages--of course, mine were not to be compared with
yours, but still I was given a chance, such as it was and I don’t know
that I would trade what I learned at work during college years for a
college education--but this poor boy, who’s thought about him, who’s
given him a chance to show what’s in him? He’s been allowed to come up
as he could, almost like any farm laborer. His mother tried to do her
little, but what spirit did she have for it, and what time did the
drudgery here give him? Thank God! He’s had the stuff in him to work at
education himself, and he’s got the making of the best man of us three.
But it’s no thanks to you. And _that’s_ why we feel hard, Albert. Nobody
supposes you could make a good farmer and manager out of father; nobody
blames you for a bad hop season, or the dishonesty of Biggs. But I do
say that of us three brothers there’s one who frets and worries over
the thing, and though he’s a poor man, does all he can afford to do, and
more too, to help make it better; and there’s another, young, ambitious,
capable, whose nose is held down to the grindstone, and the best years
of whose life are being miserably spent in a hopeless wrestling with
debt and disaster; and there’s a third brother, the oldest brother,
rich, easy, enjoying all the luxuries of life, who don’t give a damn
about it all! _That’s_ what I say, and if you don’t like it, you
needn’t!”

The silence which ensued was of the kind that can be felt. The two
cigars at the corners of the old curb glowed intermittently in the
darkness. John’s had gone out during his speech, and as he re-lighted
it, the glare of the match showed an excited, indignant face. There was
no room for doubt, after the momentary exhibit which the red light made,
that John was very much in earnest.

Albert was thinking laboriously on his answer. Meantime, he said, to
fill the interval “Do you like the cigar?”

“Yes; a fifteen center, isn’t it?”

Albert had it in his mind to say truthfully that he paid $180 per
thousand, but the fear of invidious comparisons rose before him in time,
and he said “About that, I think.”

He waited a moment, still meditating, and threw out another stop-gap:
“It’s curious how the rhetorical habit grows on a man who writes leading
articles. I noticed that you used three adjectives every time, the
regular cumulative thing, you know.”

“Maybe so; it would be more to the purpose to hear what you think about
the spirit of my oration; the form doesn’t matter so much.”

“Well, I will tell you, John,” said Albert, slowly, still feeling his
way, “to speak frankly, no doubt there’s a good deal in what you say. I
feel that there is. But you ought to consider that it isn’t easy for a
man living in a great city, immersed in business cares, and engrossed in
the labors of his profession, to realise all these things, and see them
as you, who are here on the ground, see them. It’s hardly fair to attack
me as heartless, when you present these facts to me for the first time.”

“For the first time! You ought to have seen them for yourself without
presenting. And then you said Sabrina had often discussed the subject
with you.”

“Oh, but her point of view is always family dignity, the keeping up of
the Fairchilds’ homestead in baronial state, and that sort of thing. You
should have heard her this afternoon, telling me how her fathers name
used to be coupled with Dearborn County, just as Silas Wright’s was with
Dutchess--either Dutchess or Delaware, I forget which she said--but it
was very funny.”

“Sabrina and I haven’t spoken for I don’t know how long, and we’re not
likely to again in a hurry, but for all that I’m bound to say I wish
some others of the family had as much pride as she’s got,” said John.
“Whatever else she may be, she’s as loyal and as faithful to the family
idea, as jealous of the family’s name, as any old Spanish grandee. And
I confess the Silas Wright thing doesn’t seem funny to me at all--any
fellow with the right kind of a heart in him would feel that it was
deucedly pathetic--the poor old maid clinging through the shipwreck to
that one spar of support--the recollection of a time when her father was
bigger than his county. Such things oughtn’t to be laughed at.”

Albert lost his patience. “Confound it, man, do you want to force me
into a quarrel--this night of all others! By George, was there ever such
a brace of brothers! I come out here to get you by yourselves, to talk
over with you some plans that have occurred to me for setting things
right here--and I haven’t had a civil answer yet from either of you.
First it’s the youngster who scowls and snarls at me, and then you read
me lofty lectures on my behavior, and then both together in concerted
condemnation. No wonder I come rarely to the farm! It’s enough to sicken
any man of family ties, to be bullyragged in this way. I’ve a good mind
to tell you you can all go to the devil, and be hanged to you!”

The figure on the bucket rose to its feet with a spring, so
energetically that there seemed a menace in the action. The village
editor restrained this movement with a quiet hand, and a whispered “Keep
cool, Seth.” Then he said with exaggerated calmness of voice:

“Personally, perhaps I shouldn’t mind much if you did. But there are
others to look after, and so, before you do, it might be worth while to
learn what the fine alternative was to have been. It would be a great
pity to not even to hear these noble plans with which you were primed,
you say, when you came out.”

“But you must admit, John, that you and Seth tonight have been enough to
try the patience of a saint.”

“Oh, yes, we admit that. Go on!”

“Well, you’ve made it a little difficult for me to develop my
plans--they were scarcely formed in my mind. In a general way, I wanted
to consult you about freeing the farm, perhaps buying back some of the
original land that has gone, putting the house in shape again, improving
the stock, placing Father and Sabrina beyond the chance of ever being
embarrassed again--and--and--doing something for Seth.”

“Nobody wants you--” began the impatient Seth.

“Youngster, _you_ shut up!” said John, again using the quieting hand.
“Do you really mean all this, Albert?”

“I should scarcely have spoken in detail as I have, otherwise,” answered
the lawyer loftily.

“Well, this--” said John, “this takes a fellow’s breath away.”

“If you hadn’t been in such haste to impute bad motives and convict me
without judge or jury, perhaps the effect of my plans might not have
been so overpowering.”

“Yes, we did you an injustice, Albert, clearly we did. We were full of
the idea that all these troubles rolled off you like water off a duck’s
back. It seems that was our mistake. But--what’s your scheme?”

“Definitely, I have none, except to do all I can, in the way we may
decide will be best all around. I have been thinking some of coming to
live here myself, say from May to November of each year, and taking the
farm into my own hands.”

“H’m--m! That might have its advantages, perhaps--_but_----”

“Oh, I know what you mean. If I do, everybody’s rights shall be
respected. We’ll fix that beyond question, to your satisfaction, before
a thing is done.”

“I don’t care about myself, particularly; you know that: but then
there’s Seth, you know--we’ve always figured on the farm as his. It’s
true he don’t want to be a farmer, that he hates the whole thing, but
still that represents all his capital, so to speak, and--”

“My dear John, that shall all be arranged. I am a childless
man--probably always shall be. As long as Father lives the farm shall
remain in his name. Either his will can be in my favor, or I can manage
the farm as a trustee for all three of us, after he’s gone. In either
case, you shall both be protected in turn by my will--absolutely
protected. Meantime, what do you want me to do for Seth? What does he
want to do?”

“Nothing needs to be done for me,” began Seth, “I can--”

“Now, youngster, _will_ you be quiet!” said John, in mock despair. “I’ll
tell you what you can do for Seth, and do easily. Get him a place on
some decent newspaper, in New York or one of the larger cities of the
State, and let him have money enough to eke out a small salary at first,
so that he can begin at editorial work instead of tramping up through
the reporter’s treadmill, as I had to. That’s all Seth’ll ask, and it
will be the making of him.”

“Begin at editorial work--Seth? Nonsense!”

“No nonsense about it. For two years back Seth has been doing some of
the best work on my paper--work that’s been copied all over the State.”

“Bless my soul, what a literary family we are!” said the lawyer. “Does
Aunt Sabrina write, too? Perhaps those love poems you have on the last
page are hers.”

John continued without noticing the interjection. “Do you remember
that long article on Civil Service Reform we had in the _Banner_ last
January?”

“I don’t think I do, John. To be frank, although we enjoy having you
send us the _Banner_ immensely, occasionally it happens that the stress
of professional duties compels me to miss reading a number.”

“Well that article was reprinted in all the big papers, from Boston to
Chicago. I never knew any other thing from a little village paper to
travel so far, or attract so much attention. I had lots of letters about
it, too. That article was Seth’s--all his own. I didn’t change a word in
it. And he’s hardly seen any thing of the world yet, either.”

The lawyer was heard chuckling, when John’s voice died away in the
darkness. The cigars had long since burned out, and the men could with
difficulty see one another. The two younger brothers waited, the one
surprised, the other increasingly indignant, to learn the cause of
Albert’s hilarity.

“Do you realise, John,” he said at last, with merriment still in his
voice, “what a delightful commentary on Civil Service Reform your words
make. The best article on that doctrine is written by a youngster who
has never left the farm, who doesn’t know the difference between a
Custom House and a letter-box on a lamp-post! Ho, ho, I must tell that
to Chauncey when I see him.”

An hour later, John and Seth still leaned against the mossy curb,
smoking and talking over the words of their elder brother, who sometime
before had gone in to avoid the dew-fall.

“I wonder if we _have_ misjudged him, after all,” said Seth. “I’m almost
ashamed to accept his favors, after the way I pitched into him.”

“I wonder what his scheme really is,” mused the more experienced village
editor.



CHAPTER VIII.--ALBERT’S PLANS.

It became generally known, before Sunday came again, that Albert was to
take the farm, and that Seth was to go to the city--known not only along
the rough, lonesome road leading over the Burfield hills, which had once
been a proud turnpike, with hospitable taverns at every league, and the
rumbling of great coaches and the horn of the Postboy as echoes of its
daily life of bustle and profit, and now was a solitary thoroughfare
to no place in particular, with three or four gaunt old farmhouses,
scowling in isolation, to the mile--not only on this road, and at the
four corners below, but even at Thessaly people learned of the coming
change as if by magic, and discussed it as a prime sensation. It need
not be added that the story grew greatly in telling--grew too ponderous
to remain an entity, and divided itself into several varying and,
ultimately, fiercely conflicting sections.

The Misses Cheesborough had the best authority for saying that Albert
had acted in the most malignant and shameful manner, seizing the farm,
and turning poor Seth out of doors, and it was more than a suspicion in
their minds that the feeble old father would soon be railroaded off to
an asylum.

On the other hand, Miss Tabitha Wilcox, who by superior vigor and
resource held her own very well against the combined Misses Cheesbrough,
knew, absolutely _knew_, that Albert had behaved most handsomely, paying
off all the mortgages, making a will in favor of John and Seth, and
agreeing to send Seth to College, and what was more, Miss Tabitha would
not be surprised, though some others might be, if the public-spirited
Albert erected a new library building in Thessaly as a donation to the
village.

Between these two bold extremes there was room for many shades of
variation in the story, and many original bents of speculation. Down at
the cheese factory they even professed to have heard that a grand coal
deposit had been surreptitiously discovered on the Fairchild farm, and
that Albert was merely the agent of a syndicate of city speculators who
would presently begin buying all the land roundabout. Old Elhanan Pratt
did not credit this, but he did write to his son in Albany, a clerk in
one of the departments, to find out if a charter for a railroad near
Thessaly had been applied for. The worst of it was, neither John nor
Seth would talk, and as for Albert, he had gone back to New York,
leaving his wife behind.

On the farm the fortnight following the funeral passed without event. In
the lull of field labor which precedes haying time, there was not much
for Seth to do. He went down to the river several times on solitary
fishing trips; it seemed to him now that he was saying farewell not only
to the one pastime which never failed him in interest or delight, but to
the valley itself, and the river. How fond he was of the stream, and all
its belongings!

More like home than even the old farmhouse on the hill seemed some of
these haunts to which he now said good-bye--the shadowed pool under the
butternut tree, with its high steep bank of bare clay where, just under
the overhanging cornice of sod, the gypsy swallows had made holes for
their nests, and at the black base of which silly rock bass lay waiting
for worms and hooks; the place further up where the river grew sharply
narrow, and deep dark water sped swiftly under an ancient jam of rotting
logs, and where by creeping cautiously through the alders, and gaining
a foothold on the birch which was the key to the obstructing pile, there
were pike to be had for the throwing, and sometimes exciting struggles
with angry black bass, who made the pole bend like a whip, and had an
evil trick of cutting the line back under the logs; and then the broader
stretch of water below the ruined paper mill’s dam, where the wading
in the thigh-deep rifts was so pleasant, and where the white fish would
bite in the swift water almost as gamely as trout, if one had only the
knack of playing his line rightly in the eddies.

A score of these spots Seth had known and loved from the boyhood of
twine and pin hooks; they seemed almost sacredly familiar now, as he
wandered up and down the stream, dividing his attention between the
lures and wiles of the angler’s art and musings on the vast change of
scene which was so close before him. Ah, how fair were the day dreams
he had idly, fondly built for himself here in these old haunts, with
kingfishers and water rats for sympathizers, and the ceaseless murmur
of the water, the buzz of the locusts in the sun, the croak of the frogs
among the reeds, for a soft inspiring chorus of accompaniment to his
thoughts!

Now these dreams were really to come true; he was actually going to the
city, to wear decent clothes, to mingle as much as he chose with men of
wisdom and refinement, to attain that one aim and vision of his life, a
place on a great paper!

It was only here by the river, rod in hand, that he seemed able to fully
realize the beatitude of the vista. So as often as he could he came, and
if there was a ground note of sorrow at leaving these nooks, this dear
old river, there was also a triumphant song of exaltation in the air,
the water, the sunshine, which he could not hear on the farm.

Partly because these excursions generally led him from the house before
she made her appearance mornings, partly because he felt vaguely that
his own victory over fate involved disappointment for her, Seth did not
see much of Isabel during her husband’s absence. So far as he knew, she
had taken the news of Albert’s determination to move into the country
quietly enough. Neither by word or sign had she discovered to Seth
any distaste for the prospect. But none the less he had a half-guilty
conviction that she did not like it, and that she must blame him, or at
least have some feeling against him, for it. She had spoken so
earnestly to him about the curse of existence in the country; it was not
conceivable to him that she should suddenly accept for herself without
protests or repining, the very life she had thus commiserated with him
about.

Yet it seemed after all that he was mistaken. It was the evening after
Albert’s return, and Annie had come over after supper, ostensibly
to borrow a wrapper-pattern from Isabel, but really, it need not be
doubted, to hear the news.

What news there was to be given out the eldest brother dispensed to the
family circle, after Alvira had cleared away the “tea-things.”

That domestic had a clear idea of making one in the circle, and,
hastening in from the kitchen without her apron, drew up a chair to sit
with the others, and enjoy the revelations which, from Albert’s manner
during supper, all felt to be impending. But the invasion of city
manners, which she and Milton had deplored and ridiculed for a fortnight
back, had an unsuspected bitterness in its train for her. The lawyer
looked at her coolly, as he struck a match on the under side of the
mantel-piece, and asked: “Hadn’t you better go out, Alvira, and see that
the chickens don’t get into the kitchen?”--and she flounced out again,
with nose in air, and black eyes flashing.

Albert lighted his cigar, put an arm chair down near the old rocker in
which his father sat and took his seat. Near the open door, overlooking
the farmyard and the barns, and full in the light from the west, sat
Miss Sabrina, knitting, and Isabel, with a paper. At the latter’s feet,
on a hassock, was Annie, and Seth sat on the doorstep.

“Father,” said Albert, “things have been arranged in New York so that I
can speak, now, about the plans which I hinted of ten days ago.”

The old man nodded his head, and said plaintively, “Whatever yew think
best, Albert, s’long as the boys git a fair shaow.”

“You needn’t worry about that. My business is settled now, I think, so
that I can live here six or eight months in the year, say from March
till October, running down occasionally, perhaps, but making this my
residence. I will take up all the mortgages--perhaps buy back some of
the old farm, may be all of it. There are three or four ways in which
this can be equitably arranged--we’ll talk of those in detail later on,
some day when John can come up. I will have the carpenters here in a few
days, to look over the house, and figure on putting it in first-class
repair. The barns will have to be new throughout. There must be new
machinery, new fences, and a pretty thorough weeding out of the cattle.
We shall want a carriage house--but then its no use of enumerating,
there is so much to be done. We will put some money into horseflesh
down on Long Island, and see if something can’t be done in the way of a
stock-farm. I’m thinking of a trout pond, up beyond the orchard, in the
ravine there, too.”

“Oh, Albert, this is what I’ve be’n prayin’ for this thirty year!” It
was Sabrina who spoke. There were tears of joy in her eyes.

Lemuel Fairchild seemed rather dazed, not to say dismayed, at the
prospect thus bewilderingly unfolded. “It’ll cost a heap o’ money,
Albert,” he said at last, rather dubiously, “an’ I dunnao’ ’baout yer
gittin’ it back agin.”

“That will be _my_ look out,” said the lawyer, confidently. “At any
rate, Isabel and I will make a good home for you and Aunt Sabrina, as
long as you both live. It will be a pleasant change for us both. As for
Seth--”

There was a pause, and Annie nestled closer to Isabel, with a soft “Oh
yes, about Seth.”

“As for Seth, it’s time he saw something of life besides grubbing here
like a farm-hand. We will try and get along without him here. I’ve
talked the matter over with a friend of mine, the proprietor of the
Tecumseh _Chronicle_ and he is willing to give him a start there, under
the most favorable conditions. The salary will be small at first,
of course, but I will supplement it with enough to give him a decent
living, if he is frugal. After that of course it all depends on
himself.”

Seth stood up, as these last words were spoken, and replied,
stammeringly. “You needn’t be afraid of my not trying hard, Albert. I’m
sure I’m very grateful to you. It’s more than I dared expect you would
do for me.” He pushed his way past the women to shake hands with his
brother, and say again “It’s so good of you.”

Albert received these expressions of gratitude benevolently, adding some
words of advice, and concluding with “You had better get ready to start
as early next week as you can. One of the _Chronicle_ men is going on a
vacation, and its Workman’s idea that you would be handy in his absence.
You could go, say, Wednesday, couldn’t you?”

“So far as getting ready is concerned, I don’t know that there is
anything to do which couldn’t be done in a day. But--but--”

“Of course you will need some things. I’ll talk with you about that in
the morning. We’ll drive down to Thessaly day after to-morrow together.”
 Albert rose with this to go out and see Milton, and the family interview
was at an end.

Miss Sabrina hurried out to the kitchen, impatient to begin discussing
with Alvira, as had been her wont for years, this new development in the
affairs of the household.



CHAPTER IX.--AT “M’TILDY’s” BEDSIDE.

Lemuel Fairchild sat still, smoking his wooden pipe, and looking
absently, straight ahead, into the papered wall. This habit of gazing at
nothing was familiar to them all, and when, at Isabel’s suggestion, the
three young people started for a stroll through the orchard path, they
left him entirely without ceremony. This was growing to be the rule; no
one in the family now consulted him, or took the trouble to be polite
to him. He seemed to have become in his own house merely an article of
animated furniture, of not much more importance than the rough-furred
sickly old cat who dozed his life away back of the stove.

He sat thus in solitude for some time, blankly studying the grotesque
patterns in the old-fashioned wall-paper, and drawing mechanically at
the pipe in his mouth, unconscious that no smoke came. Thus Miss Sabrina
found him when, after a more than ordinarily sharp passage at arms with
Alvira, she returned from the Kitchen.

“I swaow! thet girl gits wuss tempered ’n’ more presumin’ ev’ry day o’
her life,” she exclaimed.

“Who--Annie?” asked her brother, rousing himself as if from a nap.

“Annie! nao! who’s talkin’ abaout _her?_”

“Oh nothin’, unly I was thinkin’ ’baout Annie--‘baout her ’n’ Seth,
yeh knaow,” answered Lemuel, apologetically.

“Well, what abaout ’em?” The query was distinctly aggressive in tone.

“Oh, nothin’ much. I was sort o’ thinkin’--well, _you_ knaow S’briny,
haow Sissly used to lot on their makin’ a match of it--’n’ I was kine
o’ wond’rin’ ef this here notion o’ Seth’s goin’ away wouldn’t knock it
all in th’ head.”

“Well?” Miss Sabrina’s monosyllabic comment had so little of sympathy
or acquiescence in it, that Lemuel continued in an injured tone and with
more animation, not to say resolution:

“Well, I’ve hed kine of an idea o’ goin’ over ’n’ talkin’ it over with
M’tildy. Mebbe that’ll be the best thing to dew.”

“Oh _you_ think so, dew yeh? Thet’s all th’ pride _you’ve_ got lef’, is
it? I think I see _my_self goin’ hangin’ raound Matildy Warren, beggin’
her to let her granddaughter marry a Fairchild! I’m ashamed of yeh,
Lemuel.”

“I don’ see, much, what ther’ is to be ashamed on.” He added, with the
faintest shadow of a grin on his face. “’N’ b’twixt you ’n’ me, I
don’t see ’s there’s so blamed much fur me to be praoud abaout, nuther.
‘Tain’t’s if I was goin’ to ask a favor o’ M’tildy, at all. She ’n’
Sissly used to talk ‘baout the thing’s if ’twas settled. ’N’ now’t
she’s gone, ’n’ Seth’s talkin’ o’ quittin’ th’ farm, seems to me it’d
be the sensible thing to kind o’ fine aout ef M’tildy wouldn’t offer th’
young folks her farm, ef they’d stay.”

“_Very_ well, sir. Hev’ yer own way,” answered Miss Sabrina, with stern
formality. “You allus _would_ hev yer own way--and yeh kin go muddle
things up to yer heart’s content, for all o’ me!”

Lemuel watched his sister march to the stairs door and close it
decisively behind her. He was accustomed of old to this proof of her
wrath; as far back as he could remember it had been Sabrina’s habit
to figuratively wash her hands of unpleasant complications on the
ground-floor by slamming this self-same door, and going up to sulk in
her own room. She did it as a young girl, in the first months of her
disagreements with his young wife; it seemed to him a most natural
proceeding now, when they were both old, gray-headed people.

Just now, it was a relief to him that she had gone, for if she had
stayed he might not have had the courage to put his thoughts into
actions. As it was he took his hat from its nail back of the kitchen
door, and started across-lots for the Warren homestead.

*****

There was no danger of not finding Mrs. Warren at home. For seven or
eight years she had scarcely stirred beyond her own door, and for the
past eighteen months she had been bed-ridden. The front door was
opened to Mr. Fairchild by a young slip of a girl, one of the brood of
daughters with which a neighboring poor family was weighted down, and
all of whom had been driven to seek work at any price among the farmers
of the vicinity. It seemed as if there was a Lawton girl in every other
farmhouse the whole length of the Burfield road.

The girl ushered him into the gloomy hall, gloomier than ever now in the
gathering twilight, and unceremoniously left him there, while she went
to announce his presence. He heard through a door ajar at the end of the
hall a thin, querulous voice ask, “Which one of the Fairchilds is it?”
 and the girl’s reply “The old man.”

Then the servant returned to him and with a curt “Come ahead,” led him
to the mistress of the house, who lay in her bed-home, in a recess off
the living room.

Mrs. Matilda Warren had never been what might be called a popular woman
in the neighborhood. She and her husband, the latter dead now for many
years, had come from Massachusetts. They were educated people in a
sense, and had not mingled easily with their rougher neighbors.
The widow Warren had, after her daughter’s escapade, carried this
exclusiveness to a point which the neighborhood found disagreeable.
Gradually she had grown into the recluse habit, and younger generations
on the hillside, eking out the gossip of their elders with fancies of
their own, born of stray glimpses of her tall, gaunt figure and pale
face, came to regard her with much that same awe which, two centuries
before, reputed witches had for children, young and old.

Something of this feeling Lemuel himself was conscious of, as he stood
before her. The coverlet came up close under her arms. She wore a
wrapper-dress of red flannel. As he entered she raised herself, with an
evidently cruel effort, upon her elbow, dragging the pillow down to
aid in supporting her shoulder. She panted with this exertion as she
confronted him. Her scanty white hair was combed tightly back from her
forehead, and bound in place with a black-velvet band; a natural parting
on the side of the hair gave the withered face a suggestion of juvenile
jauntiness, in grotesque, jarring contrast with the pale blue eyes
which glittered from caverns of dark wrinkles, and the sunken, distorted
mouth. She had changed so vastly since their last meeting that Lemuel
stood bewildered and silent, staring at her.

She spoke first. “I’m trying to think--it must be twenty year since
we’ve met, Lemuel Fairchild.”

“Nigh onto that, M’tildy,” he replied, turning his hat in his hands.

“I didn’t expect ever to lay eyes on you again, I couldn’t come to you,
and wouldn’t if I could, and I didn’t dream you would ever show your
face here.” The aged woman said this in a high, sharp voice, speaking
rapidly and with an ungracious tone.

Lemuel fidgetted with his hat and moved his feet uneasily on the
dog-skin rug. “Yeh needn’t be afeered, M’tildy, I wouldn’t hev come naow
ef it hadn’t been somethin’ partikler ’baout Annie.”

The invalid raised her shoulder from the pillow with a sudden movement,
and bent her head forward. “What’s happened to her? Is she hurt? Tell
me, quick!”

“Oh nao, they ain’t nothin’ th’ matter with her. It’s unly ’baout her
’n’ Seth. I kine o’ thought we ought to talk it over ’n’ see haow
the land lay. That’s all.”

“Oh that’s it, is it? _Samantha!_”

Betrayed out of her shrewdness by the suddenness of the summons the
servant girl made her immediate appearance through the hall door.

“Yes, I knew you were listening, you huzzy,” said Mrs. Warren grimly.
“You get along up stairs, go into Annie’s room, an’ make a noise of some
sort on the melodeon till I call you. Not too much noise, mind; jest
enough so I can know you’re up there.” As the girl left the room, the
invalid explained: “What she don’t hear, the rest of the Lawtons won’t
know. That family’s as good as a detective force for the whole county.”
 Then, in a less amiable tone: “You might as well set down. What is it
about my girl an’ Seth?”

As Lemuel awkwardly seated himself near the bedside and prepared to
answer, a wailing, discordant series of sounds came from the floor
above. The knowledge that the girl was creating this melancholy noise
to order, and on his account, confused his thought and he found himself
stating the case much more baldly than he had intended. “The fact is,”
 he said, stroking his hat over his knee, “Seth’s thinkin’ o’ goin’ away
to Tecumsy--Albert’s got him a place there--’n’ so I s’pose it’ll be
all up b’twixt him ’n’ Annie.”

The grandmother never took those light, searching eyes off her visitor’s
face. He felt himself turning uncomfortably red under their malevolent
gaze, I and wished she would speak. But she said nothing. At last he
explained, deferentially:

“I thought it’d only be right to tell yeh. I know Sissly ’n’ you use
to talk abaout th’ thing. Th’ way she use to talk, speshly jis’ ’fore
she died, it ’peared ‘s if you tew hed it all settled. But Albert’s
goin’ to take th’ farm, it seems, ’n’ Seth, he’s fig’rin’ on goin’
away to be a neditor, ’n’ it looks to me’s if th’ hull plan’d fell
threw.”

Still no reply from the bed. He added, helplessly “Don’t it kind o’ seem
so to you, M’tildy?”

The wretched discords from the chamber above mocked him. The witch-like
eyes from the shadows of the recess began to burn him. It was growing
into the dusk, but the eyes had a light of their own, a cold, steely,
fierce light. Would she never speak? How he regretted having come!

“I’ll tell you what seems to me, Lemuel Fairchild,” she said at last,
not speaking so rapidly now, and putting a sharp, finishing edge on each
of her words. “It seems to me that there’s never been but one decent,
honorable, likely human bein’ in your whole family an’ she came into it
by the mistake of marrying you. I blame myself for not remembering the
blood that was in you all, an’ for thinking that this youngest son of
yours was different from the rest. I forgot that he was a Fairchild like
the others, an’ I forgot what I owed that family of men, so mean and
cowardly and selfish that they have to watch each other like so many
hyenas. An’ so you’ve come to tell me that Seth has turned out like his
father, like his uncle, like all of his name, eh? The more fool I, to
need to be told it!”

Lemuel’s impulse was to rise from his chair, and bear himself with
offended dignity, but the glitter in the old woman’s eyes warned him
that the attempt would be a failure. He scowled, put his hat on the
other knee, crossed his legs, pretended to be interested in the antics
of a kitten which was working havoc with a ball of yarn at his feet.
Finally he said:

“You ain’t fair to Seth. He’s a good boy. He ain’t said nothin’ nor done
nothin’ fer yeh to git mad at. Fer that matter, you never was fair to
any of us, ’cept Sissly.”

“Fair! _Fair!_” came the answer promptly, and in a swifter measure.
“Hear the man! Why, Lemuel Fairchild, you know that you cheated your own
brother out of the share in that farm that was his by all rights as much
as yours. You _know_ that your father intended you both to share alike,
that he died too suddenly to make a new will and that you grabbed
everything under a will made when your brother William was thought to be
too sickly to ever raise. You _know_ that you let him grow up an idle,
worthless coot of a fellow, an’ then encouraged him--yes, don’t deny it,
encouraged him I say--to make a fool of my daughter, and run away with
her.

“You knew I wouldn’t look at him as a suitor for Jenny; but you thought
I would be soft enough, once they were married, to give him my farm, an’
you counted on getting it away from him afterwards, just as your father
got the Kennard farm before you. You egged him on into the trouble,
an’ you let him die in it, without help. Oh _I_ know you, Lemuel
Fairchild--I know your breed!

“Your _wife_ was a good woman--a million times better than you deserved.
_She_ knew the wrongs that had been done me, an’ Annie, an’ her poor
ne’er-do-well of a father before her; _she_ was anxious to make them
good, not I. It was she who talked, year after year, when she ran over
here on the sly to visit me, of squaring everything by the young folk’s
marriage. For a long time I didn’t like it. I distrusted the family,
as, God knows, I had reason to. But all that I heard of Seth was in his
favor. He was hardworking, patient, even-tempered, so everyone said.
What little I saw of him I liked. An’ I felt sorry for him, too, knowing
how dear he was to his mother, and yet how helpless she was to give
him advantages, an’ make something besides a farm-drudge out of him.
So little by little, I gave in to the idea, an’ finally it became mine
almost as much as Cecily’s.

“As for Annie, I don’t know how much she has grown to care for him;
I’m afraid she’s known about our talks, and lotted on ’em, though if
anything has passed between them she would have told me. For she’s a
good girl--a _good_ girl--and she’ll stand by me, never fear, and say
as I say now, that it’s good riddance! D’ye mind? Good riddance to bad
rubbish--to your whole miserable, conniving, underhanded family! There
ain’t an honest hair in your head, Lemuel Fairchild, and there never
was. And you can go back to them that sent you, to your old catamaran of
a sister and your young sneak of a son, and tell ’em what I think of
them, and you, and the whole caboodle of you, that ruined and killed my
Jane, and made me a broken old woman before my time, and now tries to
break my grand-daughter’s heart! And the longest day you Jive, don’t
ever let me lay eyes on you again. That’s all!”

Lemuel groped his way out again through the dark hall, to the front
door. The groaning discords from upstairs rose to a triumphant babel of
sound as he knocked against the hat-rack, and fumbled for the latch, as
if to emphasize and gloat over his discomfiture. The cold evening air,
after the sweltering heat of the sick-room, was a physical relief, but
it brought no moral comfort.

Old Lemuel was much pained, and even more confused, by the hard words to
which he had had to listen. They presented a portrait of himself which
he felt to be in no way a likeness, yet he could not say wherein a
single line should be altered. He knew that he was not a bad man;
he felt conscious of having done no special wrong, intentionally, to
anybody; he had always tried to be fair and square and easy-going with
everybody: yet the mischief of it was that all these evil things
which the witchlike M’tildy had piled at his door were of indubitable
substance, and he could not prove, even to himself, much less to her,
that they did not belong there. It was a part of the consistently vile
luck of his life that all these malignant happenings should be charged
up against him, and used to demonstrate his wickedness. He had not
enough mental skill or alertness to sift the unfair from the true in the
indictment she had drawn, or to put himself logically in her place, and
thus trace her mistakes. He only realized that all these events which
she enumerated had served to convince Mrs. Warren that he was a villain.
The idea was a new one to him, and it both surprised and troubled him to
find that, as he thought the matter over he could not see where she was
particularly wrong. Yet a villain he had certainly never intended to
be--never for a moment. Was this not cruelly hard luck?

And then there was this business about Seth. He had meant it all in
the friendliest spirit, all with the best of motives. And how she had
snapped him up before he had a chance to explain, and called him a
scoundrel and his boy a sneak, and driven him from the house! Here was a
muddle for one--and Sabrina had said he would make a muddle of it, as
he had of everything else, all through his life. The lonely, puzzled,
discouraged old man felt wofully like shedding tears, as he approached
his own gate--or no, it was Albert’s gate now--and passed the young
people chatting there, and realized what a feeble old fool they all must
think him.



CHAPTER X.--THE FISHING PARTY.

The young people were arranging, as Lemuel slunk past them in the
dark, a fishing party for the following day. The proposal had been
Isabel’s--she had a fertile mind for pleasure planning--and Annie and
Seth were delighted with it. They would take a basket of food, and make
the tea over a fire in the woods, and the two women could take turns in
playing at fishing with a little rod which Seth had made for himself as
a boy. It would be an ideal way of bidding good-bye to Seth, said
his pretty sister-in-law, and Annie, feeling more deeply both the
significance of saying good-bye and the charm of having a whole day to
herself along the river and in his company, had assented eagerly.

As for Seth, this sudden accession of feminine interest in, and concern
for, him was extremely pleasant and grateful. The very suggestion of the
trip, in his honor, was like a sweet taken in advance from the honeyed
future which he was so soon to realize. Long that night, after he had
walked over to the Warren gate with Annie, and returned to the unlathed
attic where Milton lay already snoring, he thought fondly of the
morrow’s treat.

The morning came, warm but overcast, with a soft tendency of air from
the west. “It couldn’t have been better if it had been made to order,”
 Seth said enthusiastically, when Isabel made her appearance before
breakfast. “It will be good fishing and good walking, not too hot and
not wet.”

Albert smiled a trifle satirically when the project was unfolded to
him--with that _conceited tolerance which people who don’t fish
always extend to those who do_. “You’ll probably get wet and have the
toothache” he said to his wife, but offered no objection.

The lunch was packed, the poles were ready, the bait-can stood outside
the shed door, breakfast was a thing of the past, and Isabel sat with
her sunhat and parasol--but Annie did not come. Seth fidgeted and fumed
as a half-hour went by, then the hour itself. It was so unlike Annie to
be late. He made an errand to the hay-barn, to render the waiting less
tedious, and it was there that Milton found him, rummaging among some
old harness for a strap.

“Annie’s come over,” said Milton, “I heerd her say somethin’ ’baout
not goin’ fishin’, after all. Looks ’sif she’d be’n cryin’ tew. I tole
’em I’d fetch yeh.”

Seth came out into the light, slapping the dust off his hands. “What’s
that you say? Why isn’t she going?”

“I dunnao nothin’ more ’n I’ve told yeh. Ask her yerself. I ’spose
she’s be’n cryin’ at the thought of yer goin’. That’ll be the eend o’
ev’rythin’ atwixt you two, won’t it?”

“Oh, do mind your own business, Milton!” Seth said, and hurried across
the barnyard to where the two young women stood, on the doorstep.
“Why aren’t you going, Annie? What’s the matter?” he called out as he
approached.

Poor Annie looked the picture of despair. Her face bore the marks of
recent tears and she hung her head in silence. Isabel answered for her.

“Going? Of course she is going. It would be ridiculous not to go, now
that everything’s arranged. Get the things together, Seth, and let us
make a start.”

“But Milton said she wasn’t going,” persisted Seth.

“Dear, dear, how downright you are! Don’t I tell you that she _is_
going, that there is nothing the matter, that we are waiting for you?”
 And there was nothing more to be said.

The sun came out before the trio had gone far, but not before they had
begun to forget the cloud at the start. The grass in the pastures was
not quite dry yet, but wet feet were a part of the fun of the thing,
Isabel said gaily. The meadow larks careened in the air about them,
and the bobolinks, swinging on the thistle tops, burst into chorus from
every side as the sunlight spread over the hill-side. There were robins,
too, in the juniper trees beyond the white-flowering buckwheat patch,
Seth pointed out, too greedy to wait till the green berries ripened. A
flock of crows rose from the buckwheat as they passed and who could help
smiling at Isabel’s citified imitation of their strident hawing? They
came upon some strawberries, half-hidden in the tall grass beside the
rail-topped wall, and Isabel would gather them in her handkerchief, to
serve as dessert in their coming _al fresco_ dinner, and Annie helped
her, smiling in spite of herself at the city lady’s extravagant
raptures.

When they stopped to rest, in the fresh-scented shadow of the woods, and
sat on a log along the path, two wee chipmunks came out from the brake
opposite and began a chirping altercation, so comical in its suggestions
of human wrangling that they all laughed outright. The sound scared
away the tiny rodents in a twinkling, and it banished as swiftly the
restraint under which the excursion had begun.

From that moment it was all gayety, jesting, enjoyment. Isabel was the
life of the party; she said the drollest things;--passed the quaintest
comments,--revealed such an inexhaustable store of spirits that she
lifted her companions fairly out of their serious selves. Seth found
himself talking easily, freely, and even Annie now and again made little
jokes, at which they all laughed merrily.

The fisherman’s judgment as to the day was honored in full measure. The
fish had never bitten more sharply, the eddies had never carried the
line better. It seemed so easy, to let the line wander back and forth
between the two currents, to tell when the bait was grabbed underneath,
and to haul out the plunging, flapping beauty, that Isabel was all
eagerness to try it, and Seth rigged the little pole for her, baited the
hook self-sacrificingly with his biggest worm, which he had thought of
in connection with a certain sapient father of all pike further up the
river, and showed her where and how to cast the line.

Alas, it was not so simple, after all, this catching of fish.

First she lost a hook on a root; then it seemed to her that ages
passed in which nothing whatever happened and this was followed by the
discovery that her hook had entirely been stripped of bait without her
suspecting it. At last there came a bite, a deep, determined tug, which
she answered with a hysterical pull, hurling through the air and into
the thistles far back of her a wretched little bull-head which they were
unable to find for a long time, and which miserably stung her thumb with
its fin when she finally did find it.

After this exploit Annie must try, and she promptly twitched her line
into the tree overhead. And so the day went forward, with light-hearted
laughter and merriment, with the perfect happiness which the sunshine
and color and perfume of June can bring alone to the young.

They grew a trifle more serious at dinner time. It was in the narrow
defile where the great jam of logs was, and where the river went down,
black and deep, under the rotting wood with a vicious gurgle. Just above
the jam there was a mound, velvety now with new grass, and comfortably
shaded--a notable spot for dinner and a long rest, and then the girls
could watch to much advantage Seth’s fishing from the logs, of which
great things were prophesied. Here then the cloth was spread on the
grass, the water put on over a fire lighted back of the mound, and the
contents of the basket laid in prandial array. It was in truth a meagre
dinner, but were appetites ever keener or less critical?

Once during the forenoon, when allusion was made to Seth’s coming
departure, Isabel had commanded that nothing be said on that subject all
day long. “Let us not think of it at all,” she had said, “but just
enjoy the hours as if they would never end. That is the only secret of
happiness.” But now she herself traversed the forbidden line.

“How strange it will all seem to you, Seth,” she mused, as she poured
out the tea. “As the time draws near, don’t you almost dread it?”

“What I’ve been thinking most about to-day is your coming to the farm to
live. It can’t be that you are altogether pleased--after what I’ve heard
you say.”

“Oh yes, why not?” said Isabel. “My case is very different from yours. I
shall be just as idle as I like. I shall have horses, you know and a big
conservatory, and a piano, and all that. We shall have lots of people
here all summer long--just think what fishing parties we can make
up!--and whenever it gets stupid we can run down to New York. Oh, I’ve
got quite beyond the reconciled stage now. I am almost enthusiastic over
it. When you come back in a year’s time, you won’t know the place. It
will have been transformed into a centre of fashion and social display.
I may get to have a veritable salon, you know, the envy and despair
of all Dearborn County. Fancy Elhanan Pratt and Sile Thomas in evening
dress, with patent leather pumps and black stockings, scowling at
Leander Crump, with a crushed hat under his arm, whom they suspect of
watering his milk! Oh, we shall be gay, I assure you.”

Seth looked at her attentively, puzzled to know how much of this
was badinage, how much sincerity. She smiled archly at him--what a
remarkably winning smile she had!--and continued:

“Then Annie will be company for me, too. I mean to bring her out, you
know, and make her a leader of society. In a year’s time when you
come back and I introduce you to her, you won’t be able to credit your
senses, her air will be so _distingué_, and her tastes so fastidious.”

She ceased her gay chatter abruptly, for Annie had turned away and they
could see that her eyes were filling with tears.

Seth bethought him of those earlier tears, the signs of which had been
so obvious when they started, and it was natural enough to connect the
two.

“Something _has_ happened, Annie,” he said. “Can’t you tell us what it
is?”

And then he bit his tongue at having made the speech, for Annie turned a
beseeching look at him, then at Isabel, and burst into sobs.

“Isn’t it reason enough that you are going away?” said Isabel. “What
more could you ask?”

“No, it isn’t that alone,” protested Annie through her tears. Her pride
would not brook the assumption. “There is something else; I can hardly
tell you--but--but--my grandmother has suddenly taken a great dislike to
Seth; if she knew where I was she would be very angry: I never deceived
her, even indirectly, before, but I couldn’t bear not to come after I
got to the house, and if I’ve done wrong--”

“Now, now dear” cooed Isabel, leaning over to take Annie’s hands, “what
nonsense to talk of wrong; come now, dry your eyes, and smile at us,
like a good girl. You are nervous and tired out with the task of tending
your grandmother--that’s all--and this day in the woods will do you
a world of good. Don’t let us have even the least little bit of
unhappiness in it.”

Seth watched his sister-in-law caress and coax away Annie’s passing fit
of gloom, with deep enjoyment. The tenderness and beauty of the process
were a revelation to him; it was an attribute of womanhood the existence
of which he had scarcely suspected heretofore, in his untutored, bucolic
state. Annie seemed to forget her grief quickly enough, and became
cheerful again; in quaint docility she smiled through her tears at
Isabel’s command, and the latter was well within the truth when she
cried: “There! You have never looked prettier in your life!”

Seth nodded acquiescence, and returned the smile. But somehow this
grief of Annie’s had bored him, and he felt rather than thought that
his country-cousin, even in this radiant moment, was of slight interest
compared with the city sister-in-law, who not only knew enough not to
cry herself, but could so sweetly charm away tears from others.

Seth tested all the joints of his pole, and changed the hook and baited
it with studious care, before he climbed out on the jam. Gingerly
feeling his way from log to log, he got at last upon the wet mossy
birch which projected like a ledge at the bottom of the pile. The women
watched his progress from the mound, and gave a little concerted shout
of triumph when, at the very first cast of his line into the froth of
the dark eddy, it was caught and dragged swiftly across the stream, and
a handsome pike a moment later paid the penalty.

“That’s by far the biggest yet, isn’t it?” Annie asked.

“Wait, there are bigger yet. Watch this!”

The line, thrown in again, had been sharply jerked and was now being
drawn upstream under the logs. Seth moved down to the end of the birch,
stooping under the jutting heap of logs above, to be able to play the
pole sidewise, and save the fish. It was a difficult position to stand
in; he held the rod far forward with one hand, and grasped a bough above
for support as he leaned out over the stream.

The thing snapped--exactly how it was no one knew--a log released from
its bondage shifted position, a dozen others rolled over it rumbling,
and the women held their breath affrighted as they saw, without moving,
the whole top of the jam tremble, lift a jagged end or two, and then
collapse with a hollow noise. As they found voice to scream, the water
was covered with floating debris, and the air filled with a musty
fungus-like smell.

There was no sign of Seth.

The roar of the falling timber had scarcely died away before Annie had
left the mound, had torn her way through the alders at the bottom, and
stood panting on the wet slimy rocks at the edge of the stream.
She hardly heard the frightened warning which Isabel, pale and
half-fainting, called out to her:

“Keep away from the water, Annie! You’ll surely be drowned!”

She was painfully intent upon another thing, upon the search for
some indication of her cousin. The logs were moving but slowly in the
current, and were heaped so irregularly that no clear survey of the
whole surface could be had. There seemed an eternity of suffering in
every second which she spent thus, scanning the scene. Could the crush
of logs have killed him? Even if he had escaped that, would he not be
drowned by this time? The grinding of the logs against each other, the
swash of the water at her feet, Isabel’s faint moaning on the mound
above, seemed to her dazed terror a sort of death dirge.

Oh, joy! She caught sight of something in cloth between two great
tree-trunks, drenched, covered with the red grime of rotten wood,
motionless; but it was Seth. His face she could not see, nor whether it
was under water or not. She walked boldly into the stream--kneedeep at
the outset, and the slippery rocks shelving off swiftly into unknown
brown-black depths--but there was no hesitation. A halfdozen steps, and
she disappeared suddenly beneath the water. Isabel wrung her hands in
despair, too deep now to find a voice; but Annie had only slipped on the
treacherous slates, and found her footing again. The water came to her
shoulders now, and was growing deeper steadily.

With a strength born of desperation she clambered up on the birch, which
floated nearest her, and pulled herself along its length, swaying as it
rolled in the current under her weight, but managing to keep on top. It
was nothing short of miraculous to Isabel’s eyes, the manner in which
she balanced herself, clambered from log to log, overcame all the
obstacles which lay between her and the inanimate form at the other
side. The distance was not great, and a swimmer would have made nothing
of the feat, but for a girl encumbered with heavy wet skirts, and in
deep water for the first time, it was a real achievement.

At last she reached Seth--her progress had covered three minutes, and
seemed to her hours long--and, throwing herself across both logs, with a
final effort lifted his head upon her shoulder.

“He is alive!” she said to Isabel, feebly now, but with a great sigh of
relief.

The city woman ran down at this, all exultation. At Annie’s suggestion,
she tied their two shawls together, fastened one end to a pole, and
managed to fling the other over to the rescuer; it was easy work after
that to draw the logs to the bank, and then Annie, standing knee-deep
again in the water, made shift to get the heavy dead weight safe on
land. The two women tugged their burden through the alders, and up to
the place where the dinner dishes still lay, with scarcely a word. Then
exhausted, excited, overjoyed, Isabel threw herself in Annie’s arms and
they both found relief in tears.

Seth had been struck on the head and stunned by the first falling log;
how much he had been in the water or how near he had been to drowning
could not be discovered.

He presently opened his eyes, and a smile came almost instantaneously to
his face as he realised that his head was resting in Isabel’s lap, that
he was muffled up in her shawl, and that she was looking down upon him
anxiously, tenderly. A second sufficed to bring the whole thing to his
mind, or at least the facts that he had gone under with the logs and by
some agency had been landed here safe and comfortable, if not dry--and
to bring also the instinctive idea that it would be the intelligent part
to lie still, and be petted and sympathised with.

Isabel scarcely returned his smile. She had not recovered from her
fright.

“Oh, Seth,” she asked earnestly, “Are you hurt? Do you feel any pain?”

“Not a bit” he replied--“only dizzy like. By George! How they did come
down though. I must have had a pretty narrow squeak of it. Funny--I
don’t remember coming out at all.”

She smiled now. “I should think not. You lay perfectly senseless way out
there among the logs. We fished you out, and dragged you up here. I feel
like a heroine in a Crusader’s romance, really!”

It entered Seth’s mind to say something nice in reply, that she looked
like one, or that they were not equal in those benighted ages to
producing such women, or something of that sort; but his tongue did not
seem to frame the words easily and as he looked up at her he grew shy
once again, and felt himself flushing under her smile, and only said
vacuously, “Mightly lucky I wasn’t alone, isn’t it?” Annie appeared
on the scene now, her clothes steaming from the heat of the fire,
over which she had endeavoured to dry them, and her teeth displaying a
spasmodic tendency to knock together between sentences. She too was full
of solicitude as to Seth’s condition, and to satisfy this he reluctantly
sat up, stretched his arms out, felt of the bump on his forehead, beat
his chest, and finally stood erect.

“I’m all right, you see” he said--“only, bo-o-o, I’m cold,” and he made
for the fire, upon which Annie had heaped brushwood, which crackled and
snapped now, giving forth a furious heat.

They stood about the fire for a considerable time. Isabel was opposite
Seth, rather ostentatiously drying sundry damp places in her dress which
had come in contact with the rescued man’s dripping hair and clothes.
He was so interested in watching her, and in thinking half-regret fully,
half-jubilantly, that she had been put to this discomfort in saving his
life, that he failed to notice how completely drenched his cousin had
been. The conversation turned entirely, of course, upon the recent great
event, but it was desultory and broken by long intervals of silence, and
somehow Seth did not get any clear idea of how he was saved, much less
of the parts the two women had respectively played in the rescue.

It would be unfair to say that Isabel purposely misrepresented anything;
it is nearer the truth to describe her as confounding her own anxiety
with her companion’s action. At all events, the narrative to be gleaned
from her scattering descriptions and exclamations had the effect
of creating in Seth’s mind the impression that he could never be
sufficiently grateful to his sister-in-law.

As for Annie, the whole momentous episode had come so swiftly, had been
so imperative, exhaustive in its demands of all her faculties, and then
had so suddenly dwindled to the unromantic conditions of drying wet
clothes at a brush fire, that her thoughts upon it were extremely
confused. She scarcely took part in the conversation. Perhaps she felt
vaguely that her own share in the thing was not made to stand forth with
all the prominence it deserved, but she took it for granted that, in his
first waking moments, while he was alone with Isabel, Seth had been told
the central fact of her going into the water for him, and, if he was
not effusively grateful, why--it was not Seth’s way to be demonstrative.
Besides she said to herself, she did not want to be thanked.

Still, late that night, long hours after Seth had said good-night to her
at the Warren gate, and she had almost guiltily stolen up to her room
without braving her grandmother’s questions, Annie could not go to sleep
for thinking:--

“He might at least have _looked_ some thanks, even if he did not speak
them.”

*****

Three days later, Seth departed for the city. It was not a particularly
impressive ceremony, this leave-taking, not half so much as he had
imagined it would be.

He had risen early, dressed himself in one of the two new, ready-made,
cheap suits Albert had bought for him at Thessaly and packed all his
possessions in the carpet satchel which had been in the family he knew
not how long--and still found, when he descended the stairs, that he was
the first down. It was a dark, rainy morning, and the living room looked
unspeakably desolate, and felt disagreeably cold. He sat for a long time
by a window pondering the last copy of John’s _Banner_, and trying to
thus prepare his mind for that immense ordeal of daily newspaper work,
that struggle of unknown, titanic proportions, now close before him.

Alvira at last came in to lay the breakfast table.

“Hello, you up already?” was all she said; but he felt she was eyeing
him furtively, as if even thus soon he was a stranger in the house of
his birth.

Aunt Sabrina next appeared. “There! I knew it ’d rain,” she exclaimed.
“I told Alviry so last night. When th’ cords on th’ curtains git
limp, yeh can’t fool me ’baout it’s not rainin’. ’N’ Seth, I hope
you’ll go to Church regular whatever else you dew. ’N’ ef yeh could
take a class in th’ Sunday schewl, it’d go a long ways tow’rd keepin’
yeh aout o’ temptation. Will yeh go to th’ Baptist Church, think? Th’
Fairchilds ’v’ allus be’n Baptists.”

The breakfast passed in constrained silence, save for Albert, who
delivered a monologue on the evils of city life, and the political and
ethical debauchery of the press, to which Seth tried dutifully to pay
attention--thinking all the while how to say goodbye to Isabel, how to
invest his words with a fervor the others would not suspect.

When the time came, all this planning proved of no avail. He found
himself shaking hands as perfunctorily with her as with her husband,
and his father and aunt. Only the latter kissed him, and she did it with
awkward formality.

Then he climbed into the buggy where Milton and the carpet bag were
already installed, and, answering in kind a chorus of “Good-byes” drove
out into the rain--and the World.



CHAPTER XI.--ON THE THRESHOLD OF THE WORLD.

Seth’s first impressions of the World, gathered when he found himself
and his valise alone on the sidewalk of one of Tecumseh’s chief streets,
were distinctly gloomy.

Other passengers who had left the train here, and in whose throng he
had been borne along thus far, started off briskly in various directions
once they reached the busy thoroughfare, elbowing their way through the
horde of clamorous hotel porters much as one might push through a clump
of obstructing bushes. He had firmly fixed in his mind the cardinal
rule of traveling countrymen, that these shouting runners were brigands
intent upon robbing him, and he was clear in his resolution to give
them no hold upon him, not even by so much as a civil expression of
countenance. He said “No, thank you!” sternly to at least a dozen
solicitations, so it seemed to him, and walked away steadily, fearful
that their practised eyes had detected in him an utter stranger, and
intent only upon proving to them that he knew where he was going. When
at last it seemed likely that they were no longer watching him, he
stopped, put his bag down in a door way, and looked about.

It was half-past six of a summer afternoon (for a failure to make
connections had prolonged the sixty-mile journey over eight hours), and
the sun, still high, beat down the whole length of the street with an
oppressive glare and heat. The buildings on both sides, as far as
eye could reach, were of brick, flat-topped, irregular in height, and
covered with flaring signs. There was no tree, nor any green thing, in
sight.

Past him in a ceaseless stream, and all in one direction, moved a swarm
of humanity--laborers and artisans with dinner-pails, sprucely dressed
narrow-chested clerks and book-keepers, and bold faced factory-girls in
dowdy clothes and boots run down at the heels--a bewildering, chattering
procession. No one of all this throng glanced at him, or paid the
slightest attention to him, until one merry girl, spying his forlorn
visage, grinned and called out with a humorous drawl “Hop-pick--ers!”
 and then danced off with her laughing companions, one of whom said, “Aw,
come off! You’re rushin’ the season. Hop’s ain’t ripe yet.”

Seth felt deeply humiliated at this. He had been vaguely musing upon the
general impudence of his coming to this strange city to teach its people
daily on all subjects, from government down, while he did not even know
how to gracefully get his bag off the street. This incident added
the element of wounded self-pride to his discomfort--for even casual
passers-by were evidently able to tell by his appearance that he was
a farmer. Strange! neither Albert nor John had told him anything
calculated to serve him in this dilemma. They had warned him plentifully
as to what not to do. Indeed his head was full of negative information,
of pit-falls to avoid, temptations to guard against. But on the
affirmative side it was all a blank. John had, it was true, advised
him to get board with some quiet family, but if there were any
representatives of such quiet families in the crowd surging past, how
was he to know them?

While he tormented himself with this perplexing problem, two clerks
came out of the store next to which he stood, to pull up the awning
and prepare for night. A tall young man, with his hands deep in his
trouser’s pockets, and a flat straw hat much on one side of his head,
sauntered across the street to them, and was greeted familiarly.

“Well, Tom,” shouted one of these clerks, “you just everlastingly gave
it to that snide show to-night. _Wasn’t_ it a scorcher, though?”

The young man with the straw hat put on a satisfied smile: “That’s the
only way to do it,” he said lightly. “The sooner these fakirs understand
that they can’t play Tecumseh people for chumps, the better. If the
_Chronicle_ keeps on pounding ’em, they’ll begin to give us a wide
berth. Their advance agent thought he could fix me by opening a pint
bottle of champagne. That may work in Hornellsville, but when he gets
to-night’s _Chronicle_ I fancy he’ll twig that it doesn’t go down here.”

“Oh, by the way, Tom,” said the other clerk, in a low tone of voice, “my
sister’s engaged to Billy Peters. I don’t know that she wants to have it
given away, that is, names, and everything, but you might kind o’ hint
at it. It would please the old folks, I think--you know father’s taken
the _Chronicle_ for the last twenty years.”

“I know” said Tom, producing an old envelope from a side pocket and
making some dashes on it with a pencil--“the regulation gag: ‘It is
rumored that a rising young hat-dealer will shortly lead to the altar
one of the bright, particular social stars of Brewery street ’ eh?
Something like that?”

“Yes, that’s it. You know how to fix it so that everybody’ll know who is
meant. Be around at Menzel’s to-night?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll look in. The beer’s been fearfully flat there,
though, this last carload. So long, boys!”--and Tom moved down the
street while the clerks re-entered the store.

Seth followed him eagerly, and touched him on the shoulder, saying:

“I beg your pardon, sir, but I heard you mention the _Chronicle_ just
now. I would be much obliged if you could tell me where the office is.”

The young man turned, looked Seth over and said, affably enough:

“Certainly. But you’ll find it shut up. The book-keeper’s gone home.”
 Then he added, as by a happy afterthought: “If you want to pay a weekly
subscription, though, I can take it, just as well as not.”

“No,” answered Seth, “I’ve come to work on the _Chronicle_.”

“Oh--printer? I guess some of the fellows are there still, throwing in
their cases. If you like, I’ll show you.”

Seth replied, with some embarrassment, “No, I’m not a printer. I’ve come
to be--to be--an editor.”

Tom’s manner changed in a twinkling from civility to extreme cordiality.

“Oh--ho! you’re the new man from Thessaly, eh? Jack Fairchild’s brother!
By Jove! How _are_ you, anyway? When did you get in? Where are you
stopping?”

“I’m not stopping anywhere--unless it be this stairway here,” Seth
replied, pointing to his carpetbag with a smile, for his companion’s
cheerfulness was infectious. “I came in half an hour ago, and I scarcely
knew where to go, or what to do first. I gather that you are connected
with the _Chronicle_.”

“Well, I should remark!” said Tom, taking the bag up as he spoke. “Come
along. We’ll have some supper down at Bismarck’s, and leave your grip
there for the evening. We can call for it on our way home. You’ll stop
with me to-night, you know. It ain’t a particularly fly place, but we’ll
manage all right, I guess. And how’s Jack?”

In the delight of finding so genial a colleague, one, too, who had known
and worked with his brother, Seth’s heart rose, as they walked down the
street again. He had been more than a little dismayed at the prospect
of meeting these unknown writers whose genius radiated in the columns
of the _Chronicle_, and in whose company he was henceforth to labor.
Especially had he been nervous lest he should not speak with sufficient
correctness, and should shock their fastidious ears with idioms
insensibly acquired in the back-country. It was a great relief to
find that this gentleman was so easy in his conversation, not to say
colloquial.

They stopped presently at a broad open door, flanked by wide windows, in
which were displayed a variety of bright-tinted play bills, and two huge
pictures of a goat confidently butting a small barrel. There was a steep
pile of these little, dark-colored barrels on the sidewalk at the
curb, from which came a curious smell of resin. As they entered, Seth
discovered that this odor belonged to the whole place.

The interior was dark and, to the country youth’s eyes, unexpectedly
vast. The floor was sprinkled with gray sand. An infinitude of small,
circular oak tables, each surrounded with chairs, stretched out in every
direction into the distant gloom. Away at the farther end of the place,
somebody was banging furiously on a piano. In the middle distance, three
elderly men sat smoking long pipes and playing dominoes, silently, save
for the sharp clatter of the pieces. Nearer, three other men, seated
about a table, were all roaring in German at the top of their lungs,
pounding with their glasses on the resounding wood, and making the most
excited and menacing gestures. While Seth stared at them, expecting
momentarily to see the altercation develop into blows, he felt himself
clutched by the arm, and heard Tom say:

“Bismarck, this is Mr. Fairchild, a new _Chronicle_ man. You must use
him as well as you do me.”

Seth turned and found himself shaking hands with an old German monstrous
in girth, and at once fierce and comical in aspect, with short, upright
gray hair, a huge yellowish-white moustache, and little piggish blue
eyes nearly hidden from view by the wave of fat which rendered his great
purple face as featureless as the bottom of a platter.

“Who effer vas Misder Vott’s frent, den you bed he owens dis whole
houwus,” this stout gentleman wheezed out, smiling warmly, and releasing
Seth’s hand to indicate, with a sweeping gesture of his pudgy paw, the
extent of Seth’s new and figurative possessions.

On the invitation of the host they all took seats, and a lean,
wolfish-faced young man named “Ow-goost,” who shuffled along pushing
his big slippers on the floor, brought three tall foaming glasses
of dark-brown beer. Seth did not care for beer, and had always, in
a general way, avoided saloons and drink, but of course, under these
circumstances, it would be ridiculous not to do as the others did. The
beverage was bitter, but not unpleasant, and with an effort he drank it
half down at a time, as he saw his companions do. Then he looked about,
while they discussed the merits of this new “bock,” Tom speaking with an
air of great authority, and pronouncing it better than the last, but a
bit too cold.

The piano was still jangling, and the dominoes were being rattled around
for a new game. The three noisy old men had grown, if possible, more
violent and boisterous than ever. One of them now sprang to his feet,
lifted his right hand dramatically toward the dusky ceiling, and
bellowed forth sonorously something which Seth thought must be at least
a challenge to immediate combat, while the others hammered their glasses
vehemently, and fairly shrieked dissent.

“I’m afraid those men are going to fight,” he said.

“Fight? Nonsense! They’re rather quieter than usual,” remarked Tom.
“What are they chewing on to-night, Bismarck--the Sigel racket?”

“Yes,” said their host, listening indifferently. “Dot’s Sigel.” Then,
addressing Seth, he explained: “Somedimes it’s Sigel, unt somedimes the
reffolution uff forty-eighd, unt den somedimes der k-vestion of we haf
a vood bafement by Main streed. It all makes no differunce to dem,
vicheffer ding dey shdarts mit, dey git yust so much oxcited. Dot
rooster you see standing up mit der spegtacles, dot Henery Beckstein,
he’s a tailor; he sits mid his legs tvisted all day, den when night
comes he neets some exercises. Efery night for tweluf years he comes
here, unt has his liddle dalk, und de udders, dey alvays pitches into
him. He likes dot better as his dinner. De vurst is, dey all don’t know
vat dey talk aboud. I bleef, so help me Gott, no one of ’em ever laid
eyes by Sigel, unt dey all svear he vas deir dearest frent. Now--hear
dot! Dot Beckstein say uff he didn’t shleep mid him four years in his
dent, in de same bet! How was dot for lies, huh?” The host, pained
and mortified at this mendacity, left his seat and waddled over to
the disputants, shouting as he went, and joined the conversation so
earnestly that his little eyes seemed bursting from his beet-red face.

“Great old man, that,” said Tom, pounding with his glass for the waiter;
“there’s no flies on _him!_ I named him Bismarck three or four years
ago--everybody calls him that now--and it tickled him so, there’s
nothing here too good for me. You like cheese, don’t you?”

“Well, yes, I eat cheese sometimes.”

Seth never _had_ eaten this kind of cheese which Owgoost presently
slapped down before them, along with a mustard cup, a long bulging roll
of black bread, and more beer. It was pale and hard and strong of
scent, was cut in thick slabs, and was to be eaten, he judged from Tom’s
procedure, under a heavy top-dressing of the brown mustard. He liked
it though, and was interested to find how well beer went with it, or it
went with beer. Then they had each a little pickled lambs-tongue,
pink and toothsome, to be eaten with plenty of salt, and it was quite
remarkable how ideally beer seemed to go with this, too. In all, three
large glasses went.

Tom was a delightful companion. It was simply charming to hear him talk,
as he did almost continuously, describing the round of life in Tecumseh,
relating gay little anecdotes of personal experience, and commenting
trenchantly on various men as they came in. To some of these he
introduced Seth. They seemed extremely affable young people, and some
of them who took seats near by invited Tom and him with much fervor and
still greater frequency, to have their glasses filled up. The former
accepted these proffers very freely, but the beer did not taste as
good to Seth as it had during supper, and he kept to his one glass--the
fourth--sipping at it from time to time. Tom was so urgent about it,
though, that he did take a cigar, a dark, able-bodied cigar which
annoyed him by burning up on one side.

The beer-hall presented a brilliant appearance now, with all the lights
flaming, with most of the chairs filled by merry young men, with three
or four white-jacketed waiters flitting about, bearing high in air
both hands full of foaming glasses--a fine contrast to the dingy, bare
interior of the twilight, with only the solitary Owgoost. Above the
ceaseless hum of conversation and laughter, rose, at intervals, the
strains of lively music from the far-off piano, reinforced now by a harp
and a flute.

After a time cards were proposed, and Tom made one of a quartette who
ranged themselves at the table. Seth could not play, and so moved his
chair back, to watch the game. His cigar burned badly and he relighted
it. Then it tasted bitter, and, after some hesitation, he threw it
away. The game, called seven-up, was one he had never seen before; the
ten-spots were invested with a fictitious value which puzzled him. Tom,
over whose shoulder he watched had three of these tens, and silently
indicated to Seth that they were of especial interest. Seth fixed his
eyes upon them, to see how they were to be managed. They were very
curious ten-spots, being made of beer-glasses running over with
lambs-tongues, with lambs chasing them to rescue their lamented members,
and burly “Bismarck” striving in vain to secure order. General Sigel
came to help him, and Tom dealt him a terrific blow. Here _was_ a fight
at last, and John Fairchild stood by, rapidly taking notes. Then it came
bed-time, and--Seth was being shaken into sensibility by Tom, who said
between fits of chuckling:

“Wake up, old boy! Wake up!”

Another great change had taken place in the beer-hall--the lights
were out, the music had ceased, the crowd was gone. A solitary gas-jet
flickered from the chandelier over the table; the game was ended, and
the players were standing ready to depart, and laughing. Fat Bismarck
stood behind him, in the half-shadow, looking very sleepy, and he seemed
to be grinning too.

Seth saw all this first. Then he discovered that he held his collar and
necktie in his hand, and that his coat and waistcoat were on the table.
He dimly began to understand that he had been asleep, and that, in
the operation of his dream, he had commenced undressing. Everybody was
laughing at him, his friend Tom, who now was helping him on with his
coat, most heartily of all.

“I declare,” Seth said, “I must have fallen asleep. I had no idea--I
suppose I was dreaming of getting ready for bed.”

“Oh, dots all right, dots all right,” said Bismarck heartily. “Ve don’d
mind it a bit. You vas only dired owut.”

“Yes, that’s it,” said Tom, “he’d had a hard day of it, traveling all
the way from Thessaly. Are you ready? We’ll get the bag, and trot along
home. Good night, boys!”

Seth responded to the chorus of answering “good nights,” and the twain
started out. Tom not only carried the bag, but took his companion’s
arm--much to Seth’s satisfaction, for he felt very tired, and it seemed
unusually difficult for him to shake off his sleepiness. Tom was more
talkative than ever, and he seemed to be saying extremely clever things,
but Seth somehow did not follow their meaning, and he could think of
nothing to say in reply. They were in a dark side street now.

“Ah, I thought he’d be open!” said Tom, abruptly, stopping before a
place, through the closed shutters of which long horizontal threads of
light gleamed. “Let’s go in and have a night-cap. It’ll set you straight
in a minute.”

The curious reluctance to speak, of which Seth had felt vaguely
conscious all along, now prompted acquiescence as the easiest course,
and he followed Tom into a small, low room, thick with cigar-smoke and
the odor of kerosene, where four or five men, with their hats tilted
over their eyes, were playing cards: there was a pile of money in the
centre of the table, to which each in turn seemed to be adding from a
smaller heap before him. They were so much engrossed in the game that
they only nodded at Tom, and Seth felt relieved at escaping the ordeal
of being introduced to them. At Tom’s suggestion he took a little glass
of brandy--“to do their duty by the National debt,”--what ever that
meant. It was burning, nauseous stuff, which brought the tears to his
eyes, but it made him feel better.

It especially enabled him to talk, which he proceeded to do now with
a fluency that surprised him. Tom was evidently much impressed by his
remarks, saying little, it is true, but gripping his arm more closely.
Thus they walked to Tom’s lodgings--a tall, dark brick house opposite
a long line of coal sheds. The hall was so dark that Seth, in trying to
follow his guide, stumbled over an umbrella-rack, and fell to the floor.
Tom assisted him to rise, with a paternal “steady now, steady; that’s
it, lean on me,” and so helped him up the two flights of steep, narrow
stairs. In all the world, it seemed to Seth, he could not have met a
more amiable or congenial friend than Tom, and he told him so, as they
climbed the stairs, affectionately leaning upon his arm, and making his
phrases as ornate in diction and warm in tone as he could.

“Here we are,” said Tom, opening a door, and lighting a lamp which
revealed a small, scantily furnished room, in extreme disorder. “Make
yourself at home, my boy. Smoke a pipe before you go to bed?”

“Oh, mercy, no. I thinks--do you know, I feel a little dizzy.”

“Oh, you’ll be all right in the morning. Just undress and pile into bed.
I’ll smoke a pipe first.” Half an hour after Seth’s first day in the
World had closed in heavy slumber, Tom looked at him before blowing out
the light, and smiled to himself: “He _is_ about as fresh as they make
’em.”



CHAPTER XII.--THE SANCTUM.

The young men dressed next morning in almost complete silence. Tom was
still sleepy, and seemed much less jovial and attractive than he had
been the previous evening; Seth, accustomed to far earlier rising,
was acutely awake, but his head ached wearily and there was a dreadful
dryness in his mouth and throat. They went through the forms of
breakfast in the basement, too, without much conversation. Seth was
ashamed of the number of cups of coffee he drank, and carried away only
confused recollections of having been introduced to a middle-aged woman
in black who sat at the head of the table, and of having perfunctorily
answered sundry questions about business in Dearborn County, put by a
man who sat next to him.

They were well on their way to the office before Tom’s silent mood wore
away.

“You must brace up!” he said. “Don’t let Workman know that we were out
together last night. He’s a regular crank about beer--that is, when
anybody but himself drinks it. What’s the matter? You look as melancholy
as a man going to be hanged.”

“I suppose I’m nervous about the thing. It’s all going to be so new and
strange at the start.”

“Oh, that’ll be all right. You’ll get the hang of it fast enough. They
are rather decent fellows to work with upstairs, all but Samboye. He’ll
try to sit on you from the start, but if you hold your own with him
you’ll get along with the rest.”

“Samboye--he’s the editor, isn’t he?”

“Yes. You don’t know any of them, I suppose?”

“Not even by name.”

“Well, after Workman, who’s very rightly named, and who runs the thing,
there’s Samboye, who koo-toos to Workman and bullies all the rest. He
puts on more airs than a mowing machine agent at a state fair. He makes
_everybody_ tired. Next to him comes Tyler--Tony Tyler, you’ll like
him--that is, if he takes a fancy to you. He knows about eighteen
hundred times as much as Samboye does, only somehow he hasn’t the
faculty of putting it on paper. Too much whisky. Then there’s Dent--he’s
a Young Man Christian; plays duets on the piano with his sister, you
know, and all that sort of thing--but he’s away now on his vacation. And
then Billy Murtagh--he’s a rattling good fellow, if you don’t let him
borrow money of you. He does part of the telegraph and news. Those are
the only fellows upstairs.”

“But where do you come in?”

“Me? Oh, I’m the City Editor. I and my gang are downstairs. I made
a strike to have you down with me, and put you on police court, but
Workman wouldn’t have it. It’s all poppycock, for they’ve got more men
upstairs now than they know what to do with. However, if Workman thinks
the people want to read editorials on the condition of Macedonia more
than they do local news, he can go ahead. It’s none of my funeral.”

“Do you know what special work I am to do?”

“From all I hear, it would be easier to tell what you’re not to do.
Everyone of them has got a scheme for unloading something on you. First
you’re to do a lot of Dent’s work, like the proofs and Agricultural and
Religious; then Murtagh wants to put State News on you, and Tyler tells
me you’ve got to do the weekly as soon as you get your hand in, and
Art, Music and the Drama is a thing that must go up stairs, now that the
baseball season has begun, for I can’t attend to it. But if they play it
too low down on you, just you make a stout kick to Workman about it.”

While Seth pondered this outlook and advice, they reached the
_Chronicle_ office, and presently, by a succession of dark and devious
stair-ways, he found himself in an ancient cockloft, curiously cut up by
low partitions into compartments like horse-stalls, each with a window
at the end, and was introduced as “the new man” to Mr. Anthony Tyler,
otherwise Tony.

This gentleman bore no outward signs of the excess of spirituous liquor
to which Tom had alluded, and was very cordial and pleasant. He was
extremely dark in hair, beard and eyes, seemed to be not more than
thirty, and sat at a table piled high with books, clippings and the
like, and surrounded by great heaps of papers. Tom glanced over two
or three of these latter, and then went off humming a tune lightly and
calling out to Seth in imitation of a popular air, as he rattled down
stairs “I’ll meet you when the form goes down.”

Among other polite questions Tyler asked Seth where he was stopping.

“Nowhere permanently. I must find some place. I stopped last night with
Mr. Votts.”

“With whom?”

“With Mr. Votts, the gentleman who just left us.”

“Oh, you mean Tom Watts. You’ve got his name wrong.”

“Come to think of it, it was a German who called him that last evening,
and I was misled by his pronunciation.”

Mr. Tyler’s face grew more serious.

“You are a stranger here. Let me give you some advice. Don’t cultivate
Mr. Watts’ German friends. He’s not a bad chap of his sort, but he
drinks altogether too much beer. Who drinks beer, thinks beer, as
Johnson says. Perhaps I can be of use to you in the matter of a boarding
house. Oh, here’s Mur-tagh,” he continued introducing Seth to another
tall, slender young man who had come up the stairs with an arm-full
of papers; “he will take you now, and give you an idea of your work.”
 Whereupon Mr. Tyler turned again to his papers and shears, and Seth
followed the new comer to the farthest stall in the row, which was
henceforth to be his own.

*****

There came a brief quarter of an hour in the afternoon when what seemed
to the novice a state of the wildest excitement reigned in the editorial
room. An inky boy in a huge leather apron dashed from stall to stall
shouting an interrogative “Thirty for you?” His master and patron, the
foreman, also aproned from chin to knees, with shirt-sleeves rolled
to the biceps, followed with the same mysterious question, put in
an injured and indignant tone. A loud, sharp discussion between this
magnate and Tyler, profanely dictatorial on the one side, profanely
satirical on the other, rose suddenly and filled the room with its
clamor. An elderly man, bald as a billiard ball, and dressed like a
clergyman, came bounding up the stairs, pulling out his watch as he
advanced, and demanding fiercely the reason for this delay. There was an
outburst of explanation, in which four or five voices joined, mingling
personal abuse freely with their analysis of the situation. Tom Watts
leaped up the stairs four steps at a time and hurled himself into the
controversy. Seth could distinguish in this babel of exclamations such
phrases as--

“You better get some india-rubber chases!”

“If that fire’s cut down, you might as well not go to press at all!”

“If somebody would get down here in the morning, we could get our matter
up in time.”

“I’m sick and tired of getting out telegraph for these chuckle-headed
printers to throw on the floor!” “That Mayhew matter’s been standing on
the galleys so long already that it’s got grey-headed!”

“By the Lord Harry, I’ll make a rule that the next time we miss the
Wyoming mail it shall be taken out of your wages!”

Here the inky boy galloped through to Seth with a proof-sheet, shouting,
“You’ve got a minute and a half to read this in!” The bald, elderly
gentleman, who seemed to be Mr. Workman, came and stood over Seth, watch
in hand, scowling impatiently. Under this embarrassment the wet letters
danced before his eyes, and he could find no errors, though it turned
out later that he had passed “elephant” for “elopement” and ruined
Watts’ chief sensation. A few minutes later, the clang of the presses
in the basement shook the old building, and the inky boy bustled through
the room again, pitching a paper into each of the stalls. There was a
moment of silence, broken only by the soft rustling of the damp sheets.
Then simultaneously from the several tables rose a chorus of violent
objurgation.

Seth heard the voice which he had learned was Samboye’s roar out,
“What dash-dashed idiot has made me say ‘our martyr President Abraham
Sinclair? ’ Stop the press!” There were other voices: “Here’s two
lines of markets upside down!” “Oh, I say, this is _too_ bad. _Moyen
age_ is ‘mayonaise ’ in my Shylock notice, and it’s Mrs. McCullough
instead of Mr. --------.”

“I’m dashed if the paper looks as if it had been read at all. We can’t
have such proof-reading as this!”

While these comments were still proceeding the noise of the
press suddenly ceased. The silence was terrible to Seth’s guilty
consciousness, for he had heard enough to know that it was his fault.
Mr. Workman entered the room again, and again Sam-boye’s deep voice was
heard, repeating the awful Sinclair-Lincoln error. Seth had looked at
his fresh copy of the _Chronicle_, with some vague hope that the Editor
was mistaken, but alas! it was too true. Mr. Workman came over to his
stall; he had put his watch back in his pocket, but his countenance was
stern and unbending.

“You are Mr. Fairchild, I presume,” he said.

Seth rose to his feet, blushing, and murmured, “Yes, sir.”

“I understood from your brother that you were used to newspaper work.”

“Well, I thought I was. I have been around the _Banner of Liberty_
office a great deal, but it seems so different on a daily.”

“H’m,--yes. Well, I dare say you’ll learn.”

Luckily the press started up again here, and Mr. Workman, looking at his
watch once more, went down stairs.

Seth felt most grievously depressed. Looking back, his first day had
been full of mortification and failure. The use of scissors and mucilage
brush was painfully unfamiliar to his clumsy fingers. The scope and
intention of the various news departments he had been told to take
charge of were unknown to him, and he had watched Murtagh go over the
matter he submitted, striking out page after page, saying curtly, “We’ve
had this,” “This is only worth a line or two,” or “this belongs in
county notes,” with a sinking heart. His duties were so mechanical and
commonplace, after what he had conceived an editor’s functions to be,
that his ineptitude was doubly humiliating.

Then there was this dreadful proof-reading failure. Murtagh had given
him the sample proof-sheet in the back of the dictionary to copy his
marks from--and he had copied them with such scrupulous efforts after
exactness that the printers couldn’t understand them. These printers--he
could see them through the windows opposite, standing pensively over
their tall cases, and moving their right arms between the frames
and their sticks with the monotonous regularity of an engine’s
piston-rod--seemed a very sarcastic and disagreeable body of men, to
judge by the messages of criticism on his system of marking which the
inky boy had delivered for them with such fidelity and enjoyment during
the day. He had eaten nothing since the early breakfast, and felt faint
and tired. The rain outside, beating dismally on the window and the
tin roof beyond, added to his gloom, and the ceaseless drumming of the
presses below increased his headache.

The other men seemed to have nothing to do now save to talk, but he
turned wearily to the great mound of exchanges from which Murtagh had
directed him to extract “Society Jottings” and “Art, Music and the
Drama” after the paper went to press.

He spent a few despairing minutes on the threshold of the task--enough
to see clearly that it was beyond his strength. Society was Syriac
to him, and he had never seen a play acted, beyond an occasional
presentation of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” or “The Octoroon” by strolling
tenth-rate mummers in the tiny hall at Thessaly. How could he
select matter for such departments? He wavered for a time, from a
disinclination to confront men who had just condemned his work so
unsparingly, but at last he got up from the table where he had been
pinned all day, and went over to the further end of the room.

There was a sort of conclave about Tyler’s table. Both he and Samboye
reclined in tipped-back chairs, with their feet upon it; Watts sat on
the table swinging his legs, his straw hat still on the back of his
head, and Murtagh was perched in the window seat. Their conversation,
which had been flowing freely, stopped as Seth approached. He had
expected to be introduced to his Editor, Mr. Samboye, but no one
seemed to think of it, and that gentleman himself relieved him of the
embarrassment by nodding not uncourteously but with formality.

“Mr. Fairchild,” he said, with impressive slowness, “in the pursuit of a
high career you will be powerfully aided by keeping in recollection the
fact that the sixteenth President of the United States was named Lincoln
and not Sinclair. We have a prejudice too, weak as it may seem, in favor
of spelling ‘interval’ with a ‘v’ rather than an ‘n’.”

Seth did not find it so difficult to address this great man as he had
anticipated. He said simply that he was very sorry, but the work was
utterly new to him, it was his first day, he hoped to learn soon, etc.
Emboldened by the sound of his own voice, he added his doubts about
being able to satisfactorily preside over such exacting columns as
“Society Jottings” and “Art, Music and the Drama”--and gave reasons.

“By George!” cried Watts, “I envy you! Just fancy a man who has never
seen anything but ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’--and not even that with real
Siberian bloodhounds. You shall begin going tonight. I’ll take you to
‘Muldoon’s Picnic.’”

“Well, at any rate,” remarked Mr. Tyler, “you can do ‘Agricultural.’ You
must know that right down to the ground.”

“Yes,” assented Seth, “I think I ought to manage that. The truth
is, most of the stuff the papers print for farmers is nonsense--pure
rubbish.”

“I suppose it is. I know that Dent--he is a New York city boy, who
doesn’t know clover from cabbage--once put in a paragraph about the
importance of feeding chickens on rock salt, and an old farmer from
Boltus came in early one morning and whaled the bookkeeper out of his
boots because he had followed the advice and killed all his hens.
There must be some funny man out West somewhere who makes up these bad
agricultural paragraphs, and of course they get copied. How can fellows
like Dent, for instance, tell which are good and which are not? But they
can’t fool you, and that’ll be an advantage. Then there’s Religious. You
can do that easily enough. I should think.”

“Yes,” interposed Murtagh, “all you have to do is to lay for the Obago
_Evening Mercury_. Every Saturday that has a column of religious.
Alec Watson, a fellow in that office, has fifty-two of these columns,
extracts from Thomas à Kempis, and Wesley and Spurgeon and that sort of
thing, which have been running in the _Mercury_ since before the war.
When New Year’s comes he starts ’em going again, round and round.
Nobody knows the difference. Well, their columns are longer than ours,
so each week you can run about half their paragraphs--the shortest
ones--and then fill in with some news notes, statistics, you know, about
how many churches the Moravians have now, and that sort of thing. You
can pick those up during the week, anywhere.”

“Then there ought to be some originality about it too,” said Tom Watts.
“It is just as well to sling in some items of your own, I think, such
as ‘There is a growing desire among the Baptists to have Bishops, like
other people,’ or, ‘It is understood that at the coming Consistory
the Pope will create seven new American Cardinals.’ That last is a
particularly good point. Every once in a while, predict more Cardinals.
It doesn’t hurt anybody, and it makes you solid when the thing does
happen. There’s nothing like original news to show the influence of
journalism. One morning, after the cakes had been bad for a week, heavy,
sour or something else, I said to my landlady that I believed the fault
must be in the buckwheat. She said no, she didn’t think so, for the
flour looked very nice indeed. I put a line in ‘Local Glimpses’ that
day, saying that unfortunately the buckwheat this year was of inferior
quality, and the very next morning she apologised to me: said I was
right; the buckwheat _was_ bad; she had read so in the _Chronicle_. Can
you imagine a nobler illustration of the power of the press?”

Seth looked attentively at the speaker, to see if he was joking, but
there was no more evidence of mirth in his thin face than in the serious
tone of his voice. None of the others laughed.

Mr. Samboye said some of the most remarkable things, at once humorous
and highly original, and put in an elaborate frame of big unusual words.
He was a huge man in frame, with an enormous head, bushy eyebrows, heavy
whiskers, a ponderous manner, a tremendous voice--in fact seemed to Seth
precisely the kind of man from whom delicate wit, and soft shading of
phrases were not to be expected. He happened for the nonce to be in a
complaisant mood, and was relaxing himself in the company of “his
young men,” as he liked to call his colleagues. But ordinarily he was
overbearing and arbitrary, and this had rankled so deeply in their minds
that they listened with apathy, unresponsive, to his choicest sallies,
and Watts even combated him, with scant courtesy it seemed to Seth.

To him this monologue of the Editor’s was a revelation. He had never
heard such brilliant talk, such a wonderful mastery of words, such
delicious humor. He drank it all in eagerly, and laughed aloud at its
broader points--the more heartily, perhaps, because no one else smiled.
This display of appreciation bore fruit after its kind. Before Mr.
Samboye went he spoke some decidedly gracious words to Seth, saying
among other things:

“However harshly we may be tempted by momentary stress of emotion to
speak, always remember that we unitedly feel your fresh bucolic interest
in things, your virginal capacity for admiration, and your pristine
flush of enthusiasm for your work to be distinct acquisitions to the
paper,” which Seth felt to be somewhat nonsensical, but still was
grateful for.

After Mr. Samboye had gone, Tom Watts took occasion to warn him in an
aside:

“Be careful how you appear to curry favor with Samboye before the other
fellows. Oh, I know you didn’t think of it--but don’t laugh at his
jokes. They’ll think you’re trying to climb over them, and they’ll be
unpleasant to you, perhaps.”



CHAPTER XIII.--THIRTEEN MONTHS OF IT.

GROWING familiarity with his work did not restore to Seth the lofty
conceptions of journalism’s duties and delights which he had nourished
on the hill-side farm, and which had been so ingloriously dimmed and
defaced by his first day’s experience.

The tasks set before him, to which he gradually became accustomed,
seemed almost as unintellectual and mechanical as the ploughing and
planting he had forsaken. The rule of condensation, compression,
continually dinned into his ears by his mentors, robbed his labors of
all possible charm. To “boil down” columns of narrative into a few lines
of bald, cold statement; to chronicle day after day in the curtest
form, fires, failures, crimes, disasters, deaths, in a wearying chain of
uninteresting news notes; to throw remorselessly into the journalistic
crucible all the work of imagination, of genius, of deep fine thought
which came into his hands, together with the wordy dross spun out by
the swarm of superficial scribblers, and extract from good and bad alike
only the meaningless, miserable fact--this was a task against which, in
the first weeks of experience, his whole soul revolted.

By the time he had become reconciled to it, and had mastered its tricks,
his dream of journalism as the most exalted of all departments of
activity seemed to him like some far-away fantasy of childhood.

He not only had failed to draw inspiration from his work; it was already
ceasing to interest him. Under pleasanter conditions, he felt that
he would have at least liked the proof-reading portion of the daily
routine; but the printers were so truculent and hostile, and seemed
so pre-determined to treat him as their natural enemy, that this was
irksome, too. There was no relief to the distasteful monotony in
other branches of his work. Even the agricultural column, which he had
promised himself to so vastly improve, yielded no satisfaction. The
floating, valueless stuff from which his predecessors had selected their
store came so easily and naturally to the scissors that after a week or
two he abandoned the idea of preparing original matter: it saved time
and labor, and nobody seemed to know the difference. These words, in
fact, came to describe his mental attitude toward all his work. He
had no pride in it. If he escaped curses for badly-read proofs, and
criticism for missing obvious matters of news, it was enough.

Seth did not arrive at this condition of mind without much inner
protest, or without sundry efforts to break through the crust of
perfunctory drudgery which was encasing him. At the start he bestowed
considerable thought and work upon an effort to brighten and improve,
by careful re-working of materials, one of the departments entrusted to
him, and, just when he expected praise, Tyler told him to stop it. Then
he tried to make his religious column a feature by discarding most
of the ancient matter which revolved so drolly in the Obago _Evening
Mercury_, and picking out eloquent bits from the sermons of great
contemporary preachers; but this elicited denominational protest from
certain pious subscribers, and Mr. Workman commanded a return to the old
rut.

But _the_ cruel humiliation came when Seth took to Mr. Samboye an
editorial paragraph he had written with great care. It was a political
paragraph, and Seth felt confident that it was exactly in the
_Chronicle’s_ line, and good writing as well. The Editor took it, after
regarding the young writer with a stony, half-surprised stare, and read
it over slowly. He delivered judgment upon it, in his habitual pomposity
of phrases: “This is markedly comprehensive in scope and clarified in
expression, Mr. Fairchild.” Then, as Seth’s heart was warming with a
sense of commendation and success, the Editor calmly tore the manuscript
in strips, dropped them in his waste-basket, and turned reflectively to
his newspaper.

Seth’s breath nearly left him: “Then you can’t use it;” he faltered. “I
thought it might do for an editorial paragraph.”

There was the faintest suggestion of a patronising smile on Mr.
Samboye’s broad, ruddy face.

“Oh, I am reminded, Mr. Fairchild,” he answered, with bland irrelevance;
“pray do not allow Porte to pass again with a small p, as you did
yesterday in the proof of my Turkish article. It should be capitalized
invariably.”

The beginner went back to his stall both humiliated and angry. The cool
insolence with which he had been reminded that he was a proof-reader,
and warned away from thoughts of the editorial page, enraged and
depressed him. He passed a bitter hour at his table, looking savagely
through the window at the automatic motions of the printer directly
opposite, but thinking evil thoughts of Samboye, and cursing the fate
which had led him into newspaper work. So uncomfortable did he make
himself by these reflections that it required a real effort to throw off
their effects when Watts came upstairs, and the two left the office for
the day. It was impossible not to relate his grievance.

Tom did not see its tragic side, and refused utterly to concede that
Seth ought to be cast down by it.

“That’s only Samboye’s way,” he said, lightly. “He won’t let any of the
fellows get on to the page, simply because he’s afraid they’ll outwrite
him. He’d rather do it all himself--and he does grind out an immense
load of stuff--than encourage any rivals. Besides, he never loses a
chance to snub youngsters. Don’t let it worry you for a minute. If he
sees that it does, he’ll only pile it on the thicker. In this business
you’ve got to have a hide on you like the behemoth of Holy Writ, or
you’ll keep raw all the while.”

Seth found some consolation in this view, and more still in Tom’s cheery
tone. The two young men spent the evening together--at Bismarck’s.

This came gradually but naturally to be Seth’s habitual evening resort.
It represented to him, indeed, all that was friendly and inviting in
Tecumseh society. He was able to recall dimly some of the notions of
coming social distinction he indulged in the farm days--dreams of a
handsome young editor who was in great request in the most refined and
luxurious home circles, who said the most charming things to beautiful
young ladies at parties and balls, who wavered in his mind between
wedding his employer’s daughter and taking a share in the paper, or
choosing some lowlier but more intellectual maid to wife, and leading
with her a halcyon and exaltedly literary career in a cottage--but they
were as unreal, as indistinct now as the dreams of night before last.
All the social bars seemed drawn against him as a matter of course.

This did not impress him as a hardship, because he was only vaguely
conscious of it, at first, and then grew into the habit of regarding it
as a thing to be grateful for. Tom Watts pointed out to him frequently
the advantage of being a Bohemian, of being free from all the fearsome,
undefined routine and responsibility of making calls, of dressing up
in the evening, and of dangling supine attendance upon girls and their
mammas. This “social racket,” the city editor said, might please some
people; Dent, for instance, seemed to like it. But for his part it
seemed quite the weakest thing a young man could go in for--entirely
incompatible with the robust and masculine character demanded in a
successful journalist.

This presented itself to Seth as an extremely sound position, and he
made it his own so willingly that very soon he began to take credit
to himself in his own eyes for having turned a deaf ear to the social
siren, and having deliberately rejected the advances of fashionable
Tecumseh. He grew, really, to believe that it was by preference, by
a wise resolution to preserve his freedom and individuality, that he
remained outside the mysterious, impalpable regions which were labelled
in his mind as “Society.”

On the other hand, there was no nonsense at Bismarck’s, or at the other
similar beer halls to which Tom introduced him. One dressed as one
chose, and did as one liked; seven-up or penochle provided just the
mental recreation a wearied literary brain demanded; and the fellows one
met there were cheerful, companionable young men, who likewise had no
nonsense about them, who put on no airs of superiority, and who glided
swiftly and jovially through the grades of acquaintanceship to intimacy.

Seth was greatly strengthened in his liking for this refuge from
loneliness in a strange city by what he saw of Arthur Dent, whom
Watts had prepared him to regard as the embodiment of the other and
strait-laced side.

This young man was not at all uncivil, but he was delicate, almost
effeminate in frame, wore eye-glasses, dressed with fastidious neatness,
never made any jokes or laughed heartily at those of others, and rarely
joined the daily lounge and smoke around Tyler’s table after the
paper had gone to press--and in all these things he grated upon Seth’s
sensitiveness. He was the one member of the staff whom Mr. Workman
seemed to like and whom Mr. Samboye never humiliated publicly by his
ponderous ridicule, and these were added grievances. He worked very
steadily and carefully, and was said to do a good deal of heavy reading
at home, evenings, in addition to the slavish routine of high social
duties in which Seth indefinitely understood him to be immersed. His
chief tasks were the book reviews, the editing of correspondence, and
the preparation of minor editorial paragraphs in a smaller type than
Mr. Samboye’s. Seth thought that his style, though correct and neat, was
thin and emasculated, and he came to associate this with his estimate of
the writer, and account for it by his habits and associations--which the
further confirmed him in his judgment as to the right way to live.

But there was something more than this. The first few days after his
return from his vacation, Dent had tried to be courteous and helpful
to the newcomer from the country, in his shy, undemonstrative way, and
Seth, despite his preconceived prejudice, had gone a little way on
the road to friendship. Then one night, as he and Watts were returning
arm-in-arm to their joint lodgings from Bismarck’s, a trifle unsteadily
perhaps, they had encountered Dent walking with a young lady, and Tom
had pleasantly accosted them--at least it seemed pleasantly to Seth--but
Dent had not taken it in the right spirit at the time, and had been
decidedly cool to Seth ever since. This was so unreasonable that the
country boy resented it deeply, and the two barely spoke to each other.

His relations with the others were less strained, but scarcely more
valuable in the way of companionship. Mr. Tyler did not seem to care
much for his company, and never asked him to go to the “Roast Beef”--a
sort of combination of club and saloon where he spent most of his
evenings, where poker was the chief amusement and whisky the principal
drink. From all Seth could learn, it was as well for him that he was not
invited there. As for Murtagh, all his associations outside the office
seemed to be with young men of his own race, who formed a coterie by
themselves, and frequented distinctively Irish resorts. Like most other
American cities Tecumseh had its large Irish and German elements, and
in nothing were ethnographic lines drawn so clearly as in the matter of
amusements. There were enough young Americans holding aloof from both
these foreign circles to constitute a small constituency for the “Roast
Beef,” but a far greater number had developed a liking for the German
places of resort, and drank beer and ate cheese and rye bread as if to
the manner born. Seth found himself in this class on his first step over
the threshold of city life; he enjoyed it, and he saw very little of the
others.

The two most important men on the _Chronicle_, Mr. Workman and Mr.
Samboye, were far removed from the plane upon which all these Bohemian
divisions were traced. They belonged to the Club--the Tuscarora Club.
Seth knew where the club house was--but he felt that this was all he was
ever likely to know about it. The first few days in Tecumseh had taught
him the hopelessness of his dream of associating with his employer.
Socially they were leagues apart at the outset, and if the distance did
not increase as weeks grew into months, at least Seth’s perception of it
did, which amounted to the same thing.

He did not so readily abandon the idea of being made a companion by
Samboye, but at last that vanished too. The Editor held himself very
high, and if he occasionally came down off his mountain top, his return
to those heights only served to emphasize their altitude. There were
conflicting stories about his salary. Among the lesser lights of the
editorial room it was commonly estimated at forty-five dollars a
week, but some of the printers had information that it was at least
fifty--which fatigued the imagination. Seth himself received nine
dollars, which his brother supplemented by five, and he found that he
was regarded as doing remarkably well for a beginner. But between this
condition and the state of Samboye with his great income, his fine house
on one of the best streets, his influential position in the city, and
his luxurious amusements at the Club, an impassable gulf yawned.

There is no pleasure in following further the details of the country
boy’s new life. He lost sight of his disappointment in the consolations
of a phase of city existence which does not show to advantage in
polite-pages. He did not become vicious or depraved.

The relentless treadmill of a daily paper forbade his becoming indolent.
By sheer force of contact his mind expanded, too, more than even he
suspected. But it was a formless, unprofitable expansion, which did not
help him to get out of the rut. He performed his work acceptably--at
least he rarely heard any criticisms upon it--lived a trifle ahead
of his small income, and ceased to even speculate on the chance of
promotion.

When, thirteen months after his advent in Tecumseh, the news came to
him from the farm that his father was dying, he obtained leave to go
home. Mr. Workman remarked to Mr. Samboye that afternoon:

“I shan’t mind much if Fairchild doesn’t come back.”

“Is that so? He seems to get through his work decently and inoffensively
enough. He will never set the North River ablaze, of course, but he is
civil and all that.”

“Yes, but I can’t see that there’s anything in him. Beside, I don’t
like his influence on Watts. I’m told you can find them together at
Bismarck’s every night in the week.”

“Of course, that makes it bad,” said Mr. Samboye.

Then the proprietor and the editor locked up their desks, went over to
the Club, and played pyramid pool till midnight.



CHAPTER XIV.--BACK ON THE FARM.

The farm seemed very little like home to Seth, now that he was back
once more upon it. He could neither fit himself familiarly into such of
the old ways as remained nor altogether appetize the changes which he
felt rather than discerned about him.

Of all these alterations his father’s disappearance was among the least
important. Everybody had grown out of the habit of considering Lemuel
as a factor in any question. Nobody missed him now that he was gone, or
felt that it was specially incumbent to pretend to do so--nobody save
Aunt Sabrina. Those who cared to look closely could see that the old
maid was shaken by her weak brother’s death, and that, though she said
little or nothing about it, an augmented sense of loneliness preyed upon
her mind. For the rest, the event imposed a day or two of solemnity,
some alterations of dress and demeanor, a sombre journey with a few
neighbors to the little burial plot beyond the orchard--and then things
resumed their wonted aspect.

To the young journalist this aspect was strange and curious. The farm
had put on a new guise to his eyes. It was as if some mighty hand and
brush had painted it all over with bright colors. It was not only that
the house had been restored and refurnished, that new spacious buildings
replaced the ancient barns, that the fences had been rebuilt, the farm
yard cleaned up and sodded, the old well-curb and reach removed--the
very grass seemed greener, the bending of the boughs more graceful, the
charm of sky and foliage and verdure far more apparent. The cattle were
plumper and cleaner; there were carriage horses now, with bright harness
and sweeping tails, and a costly black mare for the saddle, fleet as the
wind: the food on the table was more uniformly toothsome, and there were
now the broad silver-plated forks to which Seth had somewhat laboriously
become accustomed in his Tecumseh boardinghouse. He admired all these
changes, in a way, but somehow he could not feel at home among them.
They were attractive, but they were alien to the memories which, in his
crowded, bricked-up city solitude, had grown dear to him.

There were droll changes among the hired people. For one thing, they no
longer all ate at the table with the family. An exception was made in
favor of Milton Squires, who had burst through the overalls chrysalis
of hired-manhood, and had become a sort of superintendent. He had
not learned to eat with a fork, and he still talked loudly and with
boisterous familiarity at the table, reaching for whatever he wanted,
and calling the proprietor “Albert,” and his aunt “Sabriny.” He did not
bear his social and industrial promotion meekly. He bullied the inferior
hired men--Leander had a colleague now, a rough, tow-headed, burly young
fellow named Dana Pills-bury--and snubbed loftily the menials of
the kitchen. This former haunt scarcely knew him more, and his rare
conversations with Alvira were all distinctly framed in condescension.
This was only to be expected, for Milton wore a black suit of
store-clothes every day, with a gold-plated watch chain and a necktie,
and met the farmers round about on terms of practical equality. He was
reputed to be a careful and capable manager; his wrath was feared at
the cheese-factory; his judgment was respected at the corners’ store.
Naturally, such a man would feel himself above kitchen associations.

Of course this defection evoked deep wrath in Alvira’s part of the
house, some overflowings of which came to Seth’s notice before he had
been a day at the farm. Alvira was not specially changed to the young
man’s eyes--indeed her sallow, bilious visage, dark snapping eyes and
furrowed forehead seemed the most familiar things about the homestead,
and her acidulous tones struck a truer note in his chords of memory than
did any other sound.

Aunt Sabrina, wrapped as of old in her red plaid shoulder shawl, but
seemingly less erect and aggressive, spent most of her time in the
kitchen, ostentatiously pretending to pay her board by culinary labor.
Behind her back Alvira was wont to say to her assistant, a slatternly
young slip from the ever-spreading Lawton family tree, that the old
lady only hindered the work, and that her room would be better than
her company. But when Aunt Sabrina was present, Alvira was customarily
civil, sometimes quite friendly. The two were drawn together by
community of grievance.

They both hated Isabel, with her citified notions, her forks and
napkins, and stuck-up airs generally. It had pleased Aunt Sabrina’s mood
to regard herself as included in the edict which ordained that servants
should eat in the kitchen, and only the sharpest words she had ever
heard Albert speak had prevented her acting upon this. She had come to
the family table, then, but always with an air of protest; and she had a
grim pleasure in leaving her napkin unfolded, month after month, and in
keeping everybody waiting while she paraded her inability to eat rapidly
or satisfactorily with the new fangled “split spoon.”

She and Alvira had a never-failing topic of hostile talk in the new
mistress. To judge by their threats, their jibes and their angry
complaints, they were always on the point of leaving the house on her
account. So imminent did an outbreak seem to Seth, when he first heard
their joint budget of woes and bitter resolves, that he was frightened,
but the Lawton girl reassured him. They had talked just like that, she
said, every day since she had been there, which would be “a year come
August,” and she added scornfully: “They go away? You couldn’t chase
’em away with a clothes-pole!”

The two elderly females had another bond of sympathy, of course, in
Milton’s affectation of superiority.

They debated this continually, though as Sabrina had the most to say
about her niece-in-law, with Alvira as a sympathetic commentator, so the
hateful apotheosis of the whilom hired-man was recognized to be Alvira’s
special and personal grievance, in girding at which Sabrina bore only a
helping part.

Seth accounted for this by calling up in recollection an old vague
understanding of his youth that Milton was some time going to marry
Alvira. He could remember having heard this union spoken of as taken
for granted in the family. Doubtless Alvira’s present attitude of ugly
criticism was due to the fear that Milton’s improved prospects would
lead him elsewhere. The Lawton girl indeed hinted rather broadly to him
that there were substantial grounds for Alvira’s rage. “I’d tear his
eyes out if I was her, and he wouldn’t come up to the scratch,” she
said, “after all that’s happened.” Seth understood her suggestion, but
he didn’t believe it. The Lawtons were a low-down race, anyway. He had
seen one of the girls at Tecumseh once, a girl who had gone utterly to
the bad, and this sister of hers seemed a bold, rude huzzy, with a mind
prone to mean suspicions.

It was a relief to go back again to the living-room, where Isabel was,
and he both verbally and mentally justified her gentle hint that the
kitchen was not a good place for young men to spend their time.

“You have no idea,” she said, letting her embroidery fall in her lap
for the moment, “how ruinous to discipline and to household management
generally this country plan of making companions of your servants is. I
had to put a complete stop to it, very soon after I came. There would be
no living with them otherwise. There’s not much comfort in living with
them as it is, for your Aunt sits out in the kitchen all day long,
pretending that she is abused and encouraging them to think that they
are ill-used too. She makes it very hard for me--harping all the time on
my being a Richardson, just as she did with your mother.

“Then there’s Milton. I did not want to make any difference between him
and the other hired people, but your brother insisted on it--on having
him at the table with us, and treating him like an equal. He is as
coarse and rough and horrid as he can be, but it seems that he is very
necessary on the farm, and your brother leaves so much to him and relies
so much on him that I couldn’t help myself. He hasn’t got to calling me
‘Isabel’ yet, but I expect him to begin every day of my life. You can’t
imagine what an infliction it is to see him eat--or rather, to hear him,
for I try not to look.”

Isabel took up her work again, and Seth looked at her more closely than
he had done before. She sat at the window, with the full summer light
on her bright hair and fair, pretty face. Her tone had been melancholy,
almost mournful; looking at her, Seth felt that she was not happy, and
more--for he had never supposed her to be particularly happy--that she
was bitterly disappointed with the result of the farm experiment. She
had not said so, however, and he was in doubt whether it would be wise
for him to assume it in his conversation.

“Albert seems to thrive on country fare,” he said, perhaps unconsciously
suggesting in his remark what was turning in his mind--that she herself
seemed not have thrived. The rounded outlines of her chin and throat
were not so perfect as he remembered them. She looked thin and tired
now, in the strong light, and there was no color to speak of in her
face.

“Oh, yes!” she said, with that falling inflection which is sister to the
sigh, and keeping her eyes bent upon her work, “_he_ grows fat. I
did not imagine that a man who had always been so active, who was
so accustomed to regular office work and intellectual professional
pursuits, could fall into idle ways so easily. But it is always a bore
to him now when he has to go down to New York at term time. Once or
twice he has had a coolness with his partners because he failed to go
at all. I shouldn’t be surprised if he gave New York up altogether.
He talks often of it--of practising at Tecumseh instead. Oh, and that
reminds me. You can tell. What relation does Tecumseh bear to this
place? I know they have some connection in his mind, because he spoke
once of the ‘pull’--whatever that may mean--being a Tecumseh lawyer
would give him here. I know they are not in the same county, for I
looked on the map. Whatever it is, that would be his purpose in going
there, I am curious to learn. You know,” she added, with a smile and
tone pathetic in their sarcasm, “a wife ought to be interested in
whatever concerns her husband.”

“They are in the same Congressional district,” Seth replied. “There are
three counties in the district, Dearborn (where we are now), Jay, which
lies east of us, and then Adams, which is a long, narrow county, and
runs off South of Dearborn. Tecumseh is away at the extreme southern end
of Adams county. Perhaps that is what you have in mind.”

“It is what _he_ has in mind,” she said.

“But how does Albert fill his time here--what does he do?”

“In about equal parts,” she made answer, lifting her eyes again, with
the light of a little smile in them now, “he reads novels here in the
house, and drives about the neighborhood. What time he is not in the
easy-chair upstairs, devouring fiction, he is in his buggy on the road.
He won’t let me have anybody up from New York, even of the few I know,
but he has developed a wonderful taste for striking up acquaintances
here. He must by this time know every farmer for twenty miles around.
First of all, in buying his stock when he took the farm, he spread his
purchases around in the queerest way--getting a cow from this man,
a colt from another, a pig here and a bull there. Milton and he went
together, and they must have driven two hundred miles, I should think,
collecting the various animals.

“I didn’t understand it at first, but I begin to now. He wanted to
establish relations with as many men here as he could. And the farmers
he invites here to dinner--you should see them! Sometimes I think I
shall have to leave the table. It’s all I can do, often, to be decently
civil to them, rough, vulgar men, unwashed and untidy, whom he waylays
out on the road and brings in. He thinks I ought to exert myself to make
them feel at home, and chat with them about their wives and children,
and ugh! call on them and form friendships with them. But I draw the
line there. If he enjoys bringing them here, why I can’t help it; and if
he likes to drive about, and be hail-fellow-well-met with them, that is
his own affair. But----”

She stopped, and Seth felt that the silence was eloquent. He began to
realize that his pretty sister-in-law was in need of sympathy, and to
rank himself, with indignant fervor, on her side.

Annie Fairchild came in. Seth had seen and spoken with her several
times, during the period of his father’s death and funeral, but
hurriedly and in the presence of others. Her appearance now recalled
instantly the day of the fishing trip--a soft and pleasant memory, which
during his year’s exile had at times been truly delicious to him.

The women thought of it too, now, and talked of it, at Seth rather than
to him, and with a playful spirit of badinage. As of old, Isabel did
most of the talking. Annie had become quite a woman, Seth said to
himself, as she took off her hat, tidied her hair before the glass, and
laughingly joined in the conversation. She talked very well, too, but
she seemed always to think over her words, and there appeared to be in
her manner toward him a certain something, intangible, indefinite, which
suggested constraint. He could feel, though he could not explain, it.

During his stay in Tecumseh he had seen almost nothing of the other sex.
There were often some young women at the boarding-house, but he had not
got beyond a speaking acquaintance at the table with any of them, in the
few instances where his shyness had permitted even that. His year in
a city had improved him in many ways. He could wear good clothes now
without awkwardness; he spoke readily among men, and with excellent
choice of language; he knew how to joke without leading the laughter
himself. But he had had no chance to overcome by usage his diffidence
in female company, and he had not been quite at ease in his mind since
Annie came in. She seemed to make a stranger of him.

He thought upon this, and felt piqued at it. He wondered, too if he
was not sitting clumsily in his chair--if it was not impolite in him
to cross his legs. Gradually, however, he grew out of his reserve. It
dawned upon him that Annie was timorous, nervous, about the impression
she was making on him, and that Isabel listened with real respect and
deference to what he had to say. He grew bold, and took the lead of the
conversation, and the two women followed meekly. It was a delightful
sensation. He said to himself: “It is the easiest thing in the world,
once you make the plunge. I could talk with women now in the finest
drawing room in the land.” He sat back in his chair, and told them some
anecdotes about Mr. Samboye, from which somehow they gathered the notion
that he was at the best coordinate in rank with Seth. They were more
than ever proud of their relative, who had so rapidly conquered a high
and commanding position for himself in that mystic, awesome sphere of
journalism. Seth expanded and basked in this admiration.

He had heretofore found the evenings on the farm stupidly tedious. To
sit at the big table till bed time, reading by the light of a single
kerosene lamp, or exchanging dry monosyllables with Albert, offered a
dismal contrast to the cheerful street lamps, the bright store-windows,
the noise and gaiety and life of the places of evening resort in
Tecumseh. But this evening revealed a far more attractive side of
country life than he had known before. Annie stayed after tea, and the
three played dominoes. Albert seemed somewhat out of sorts, but they did
not mind his silence in the least. They chatted gaily over their games,
and time flew so merrily and swiftly, that Seth was surprised when Annie
said she must leave, and he discovered that it was a quarter to ten.

“How pleasantly the evening has passed,” Isabel said, and smiled at him,
and Annie answered, “Hasn’t it! I don’t know when I have enjoyed myself
so much--” and she, too, smiled at him.

The old walk over the fields, down the poplar lane, to see Annie
home--how like the old times it seemed! And yet how far away they were!
Sometimes in these bye-gone walks, as they came up now in Seth’s memory,
he and Annie had been almost like lovers--not indeed, in words, but in
that magnetic language which the moon inspires. It occurred to neither
of them to saunter slowly, now. They walked straight ahead, and there
were no “flashes of eloquent silence.” Their conversation was all of
Isabel.

“Not as happy as she expected!” said Annie, repeating a question of
Seth’s; “you can’t guess how wretched she is! Sometimes it’s all she can
do to keep from breaking down. I am literally the only person she has
to talk to, that she cares about, week in and week out. Albert is away a
great deal. I don’t think he is much company when he _is_ home. She did
try, when she first came, to make some acquaintances round about, among
the well-to-do farmers’ wives. But she couldn’t bear them, and they said
she was stuck up, and so _that_ came to nothing. She doesn’t get on at
all with Aunt Sabrina, either. Poor girl! she is so blue at times that
my heart aches for her. Of course she wouldn’t let you see it. Besides
she has been ever so much more cheerful since you came. I _do_ hope you
will stay as long as you can--just for _her_ sake.”

She added this explanation with what sounded to Seth’s ear like
gratuitous emphasis. The disposition rose swiftly within him to resent
this.

“You are very careful,” he said, “to have me understand that it’s for
her sake you want me to stay.” Then he felt, even while the sound of his
voice was in the air, that he had made a fool of himself.

His cousin did not accept the individual challenge. “No, of course we
are all glad to see you. You know we are. But _she_ specially needs
company; it’s a mercy to her to have somebody to brighten her up a
little. Really, I get anxious about her at times. I try to run over as
much as I can, but then I have grandmother to tend, you know.”

“How is the old lady, by the way? And oh--tell me, Annie, what it was
that all at once set her against me so. You remember--the day before we
went fishing, and Isabel saved my life.”

The answer did not come immediately. In the dim starlight Seth could see
that his cousin’s face was turned away, and he guessed rather than saw
that she was agitated.

“I will tell you,” she said at last, nervously, “why grandmother--or,
no, I will _not_ tell you! You have no right to ask. Don’t come any
further, I am near enough to the house now. Good night.”

She had hurried away from him. He watched her disappear in the darkness,
then turned and walked meditatively home.

He was not so sure as he had been that it was easy to understand women.



CHAPTER XV.--MR. RICHARD ANSDELL.

It was no light task to spend a vacation contentedly on the farm. There
were thousands of city people who did it, and seemed to enjoy it, but
Seth found it difficult to understand how they contrived to occupy
themselves. What work on a farm meant, he knew very well; but the trick
of idling in the country was beyond him. It was too hot, in these July
days, for driving much, and besides, Albert rarely invited him into the
buggy when the grays were brought around to the step. The two brothers
saw little of each other, in fact. It was not precisely a coolness,
but Albert seemed to have other things on his mind beside fraternal
entertainment. The old pastime of fishing, too, failed him. In
the renovation of the house his fine pole and tackle had somehow
disappeared, and he had no money wherewith to replace them. He had
entered upon his vacation unexpectedly, at a time when he happened to be
particularly short of cash--and there was something in Albert’s manner
and tone which rendered it impossible to apply to him, even if pride had
not forbidden it.

There was, it is true, the increasing delight of being in Isabel’s
company, but alongside this delight grew a doubt--a doubt which the
young man shrank from recognizing and debating, but which forced its
presence upon his mind, none the less--a doubt whether it was the part
of wisdom to encourage too much of a friendship with his sister-in-law.
This friendship had already reached a stage where Aunt Sabrina sniffed
at its existence, and she hinted dimly to Seth of the perils which
lurked in the lures of a citified siren, with an expression of face
and a pointedness of emphasis which clearly had a domestic application.
There was nothing in this, of course, but the insensate meddlesomeness
of a disagreeable old maid, Seth said to himself, but still it annoyed
him.

More serious, though, was his suspicion--lying dormant sometimes for
days, then suddenly awakened by a curt word or an intent glance--that
Albert disliked to see him so much with Isabel. Often this rendered him
extremely nervous, for Isabel had no discretion (so the young man put
it to himself) and displayed her pleasure in his society, her liking for
him, quite as freely in her husband’s presence as when they were alone.
There was nothing in this, either, only that it made him uneasy. Hence
it came about that, just when one set of inclinations most urgently
prompted him to stay about the house, another set often prevailed upon
him to absent himself. On these occasions he generally walked over to
Thessaly, and chatted with John.

“John and I have so much to talk about, you know, being both newspaper
men,” he used to say, with a feeling that he owed an explanation of some
sort to Isabel. “And then I can see the daily papers there. That gets to
be a necessity with a journalist--as much so as his breakfast.”

“I scarcely dare to read a paper now,” Isabel once replied. “It drives
me nearly mad with longing to get back among people again. I only read
heavy things, classic poetry and history--and then, thank Heaven, there
is this embroidery.”

It was at John’s, or rather on the way there, that Seth met one day
a man of whom he was in after life accustomed to say, “He altered the
whole bent of my career.” Perhaps this was an exaggerated estimate
of the service Richard Ansdell really rendered Seth; but it is so
difficult, looking back, to truly define the influence upon our fortunes
or minds by any isolated event or acquaintance, and moreover, gratitude
is so wholesome and sweet a thing to contemplate, and the race devotes
so much energy to civilizing it out of young breasts, that I have not
the heart to insist upon any qualification of Seth’s judgment.

Mr. Ansdell at this time was nearly forty years of age, and looked to be
under thirty. He was small, thin-faced, clean-shaven, dark of skin
and hair, with full, clear eyes, that by their calmness of expression
curiously modified the idea of nervousness which his actions and mode
of speech gave forth. He was spending his fortnight’s vacation in the
vicinity, and he was strolling with his friend the school-teacher,
Reuben Tracy, toward the village when Seth overtook them. Seth and
Reuben had been very intimate in the old farm days--and _here_ was
a young man to the latent influence of whose sobriety of mind and
cleanliness of tastes he never fully realized his obligation--but since
his return they had not met. After greetings had been exchanged, they
walked together to the village, and to the _Banner of Liberty_ office.

It was the beginning of the week, and publication day was far enough off
to enable John to devote all his time to his visitors. There was an
hour or more of talk--on politics, county affairs, the news in the city
papers, the humors and trials of conducting a rural newspaper, and so
forth. When they rose to go, John put on his hat, and said he would
“walk a ways” with them. On the street he held Seth back with a
whispered “Let us keep behind a bit, I want to talk to you.” Then he
added, when the others were out of hearing:

“I have got some personal things to say, later on. But--first of
all--has Albert said anything since to you about the farm?”

“Not a word.”

“Well, I have been thinking it all over, trying to see where the
crookedness comes in--for I feel it in my bones that there _is_
something crooked. But I am not lawyer enough to get on to it. I’ve had
a notion of putting the whole case to Ansdell, who’s a mighty bright
lawyer, but then again, it seems to be a sort of family thing that we
ought to keep to ourselves. What do you think?--for after all, it is
mostly your affair.”

“I can’t see that Albert isn’t playing fair. It must be pretty nearly as
he says--that he has put as much money in the farm as it was worth when
he took it. It’s true that father’s will leaves it to him outright--and
that wasn’t quite as Albert gave us to understand it should be--but
Albert pledges us that our rights in it shall be respected, and it seems
to me that that is better than an acknowledged interest in a bankrupt
farm would be, which we hadn’t the capital to work, and which was
worthless without it.”

“Perhaps you are right.” John paused for a moment, then began again in
a graver tone: “There’s something else. How are you getting on on the
_Chronicle?_”

“Oh, well enough; I get through my work without anybody’s finding fault.
I suppose that is the best test. A fellow can’t do any more.”

“That is where you are wrong. ‘A fellow’ can do a great deal more. And
when you went there I, for one, expected you were going to do a deuced
sight more. You have been there now--let’s see--thirteen months. You are
doing what you did when you went there--sawing up miscellany, boiling
down news notes, grinding out a lot of departments which the office boy
might do, if his own work weren’t more important. In a word you’ve just
gone on to the threshold, and you’ve screwed yourself down to the floor
there--and from all I hear you are likely to stay there all your life,
while other fellows climb over your head to get into the real places.”

“From all you _hear?_ What do you mean by that--who’s been telling you
about me?”

“That you shan’t know, my boy. It is enough that I _have_ heard. You
haven’t fulfilled your promise. I thought you had the makings of a big
man in you; I believed that all you needed was the chance, and you would
rise. You were given the chance--put right in on the ground floor, and
there you are, just where you were put. You haven’t risen worth a cent.”

“What do you expect a fellow to do? Get to be editor-in-chief in
thirteen months? What could I do that I haven’t done? There have been no
vacancies, so no one has climbed over my head. I’ve done the work I was
set to do--and done it well, too. What more can you ask?”

Seth spoke in an aggrieved tone, for this attack seemed as unjust as it
had been unexpected.

John replied, “Now keep cool, youngster! Nobody expected you to get to
be editor-in-chief in thirteen months, so don’t talk nonsense. And I
am not blaming you for not getting promotion, when there have been no
vacancies. What I do mean, if you want to know, is that you have failed
to make a good impression. You are not in the line of promotion. Workman
doesn’t say to himself when he thinks of you ‘There’s a smart, steady,
capable young man on whom we can count, who’s able to go as high as we
are able to put him.’ No! instead of that he says--but no, never mind. I
don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

“Oh, you are mighty considerate, all at once,” retorted Seth, angrily.
“Go on! Say what you were going to say! What is it that Workman says,
since you’ve been spying on me behind my back?”

“Now you are talking like a fool,” said the elder brother, keeping his
temper. “I haven’t been spying on you. I have only been commenting on
facts which have come to my knowledge without seeking and which were
brought to me by one who has your interests at heart. I have only been
talking to you as I ought to talk, with the sole idea of benefiting you,
helping you. If you don’t want to hear me, why I can shut up.”

Seth did not reply for a minute or so; then he growled moodily: “Go
ahead! Let’s hear it all.”

“The ‘all’ can be said in a few words. You have been wasting your time.
I grant that you have done your work well enough to escape blame--but
what credit is there in that? a million mechanics do that every day.
Instead of improving yourself, elevating and polishing yourself, by
good reading, by studying the art of writing, above all by choosing
your associates among men who are your superiors, and from whom you can
learn, you have settled down in a Dutch beer saloon, making associates
out of the commonest people in town, and having for your particular chum
that rattle-headed loafer Tom Watts. Do you suppose Mr. Workman doesn’t
know this? Do you suppose he likes it, or that it encourages him to hope
for your future?”

Seth was silent longer than ever, this time. When he spoke it was to
utter something which he instantly regretted: “I haven’t been able to
gather from your old friends that you were altogether a bigot, yourself,
on the subject of beer, when you were my age.”

Fortunately John did not get angry; Seth honestly admired and envied his
elder brother’s good temper as he heard the reply:

“That’s neither here nor there. Perhaps I did a good many things that I
want you to avoid. Besides, there was nothing in me. I am good enough as
far as I go, but if I had worked on a daily paper till my teeth all
fell out, I should never have got any higher than I was. With you it is
different; you can go up to the head of the class if you are a mind to.
But the beer saloon isn’t the way--and Tom Watts isn’t the guide.”

“He is the only friend I have got. What was I to do? It is easy enough
to talk, John, about my knowing good people and all that, but _how?_
That is the question? It isn’t fair to blame me as you do. All the men
like Workman and Samboye--I suppose you mean them--hold themselves miles
above me. Do you suppose I’ve ever seen the inside of their houses or of
their club? Not I! You dump a young countryman in a strange city, new at
his work, without knowing a solitary soul--and then you complain because
he gets lonesome, and makes friends with the only people who show any
disposition to be friendly with him. Do you call that fair play?”

“Well, there’s something in that,” John replied, meditatively. “Some
time I’m going to write a leader on the organized indifference of modern
city society to what becomes of young men who deserve its good offices
and drift into beer saloons because they are not forthcoming. It would
make the _Banner_ immensely solid with orthodox people.”

“You wouldn’t have wanted me to go to the Young Men’s Christian
Association, I suppose?”

“No-o, I don’t know that I would. I don’t know, after all, that you
could have done much differently. But you’ve done enough of it, do you
understand? You have served your time; you have taken your diploma. It
is time now to quit. And I can put you on to a man, now, who will help
you on the other tack. Do you see Ansdell, ahead there?”

“Yes;--is he the man who told you about Workman and me?”

John ignored the question. “Ansdell is one of the cleverest men going;
he’s head and shoulders over anybody else there is in Tecumseh, or in
this part of the State. For you to know him will be a college education
in itself. He is more than a big lawyer, he is a student and thinker;
more than that, he is a reformer; best of all, he is a man of the world,
who has sown more wild oats than would fill Albert’s new bins, and
there’s not an atom of nonsense about him. He knows about you. We’ve
talked you over together. He understands my idea of what you ought to
be, and he can help you more than any other man alive--and what is more
he will.”

“It was he who told you about me, wasn’t it?” Seth persisted.

“If you will know, it was and it wasn’t. All he said was that he had
heard Workman speak of you; that he had got the idea from his tone that
you were not making the most of your opportunities; that he thought this
was a great pity; and that if he could be of any use to you he would be
very glad. That is all--and not even your sulkiness can make anything
but kindness out of it.”

This practically ended the dialogue, for the others had stopped to let
the brothers come up, and John shortly after left the party.

The three men had a long stroll back to the hillside road, with a still
longer lounge on the grass under the elms by the bridge. Seth watched
and listened to this swarthy, boyish-looking mentor who had, so to
speak, thrust himself upon him, very closely, as was natural. Did he
like him? It was hard, he found, to determine. Mr. Ansdell was extremely
opinionated. He seemed to have convictions on almost every subject,
and he clung to them, defended them, expanded them, with almost tearful
earnestness. His voice was as strong and powerful as his figure was
diminutive; he talked now chiefly about the Tariff, which he denounced
with a vibrating intensity of feeling. Seth knew nothing about the
Tariff, or next to nothing, but he admired what Ansdell said, mainly
because it was said so well. But he grew quite enthusiastic in his
endorsement when he heard his Editor, Mr. Samboye, used as a typical
illustration of the dishonesty with which public men treated that
question. After that he felt that it would be easy to make friends with
Mr. Ansdell.



CHAPTER XVI.--DEAR ISABEL.

It was the last day but one of Seth’s vacation on the farm. He was not
sorry, although the last week, by comparison, had been pleasant enough.
He had seen a good deal of Mr. Ansdell, who interested him extremely,
and who had come for him three or four times for long walks in the
fields. He sat now in the living room near Isabel, dividing his
attention between her and his book--one of Albert’s innumerable novels.
The desultory conversation mixed itself up with the unfolding work of
fiction so persistently that he presently gave over the attempt to read,
and drew his chair nearer to his sister-in-law. It was raining outside,
and wet weather always made her want to talk. She said:

“Tell me, Seth, if you have noticed any change in Alvira.”

“No, I can’t say that I have. In fact, she seems to me the one person
about the place who has _not_ altered a bit.”

“See what eyes men have! Why, she has grown ages older. She goes about
now muttering to herself like an old, old woman. And the way she looks
at one, sometimes, it is enough to give one the chills. I tell Albert
often that I am almost afraid to have her in the house.”

Seth chuckled audibly, in good-natured derision. “What a mountain out of
a mole hill! Why Alvira has glared at people that way, with her little
black-bead eyes, ever since I was a boy. She doesn’t mean anything by
it,--not the least in the world. The trouble is, Isabel, that you let
your imagination run away with you. You are desperately lonesome here,
and you amuse yourself by conjuring up all sorts of tragic things. You
will have Aunt Sabrina a professional witch next thing you know, and
Milton a mystic conspirator, and this plain old clap-boarded farm house
a castle of enchantment.”

He had never before assumed even this jocose air of superiority over
his blond sister-in-law, and he closed his sentence in some little
trepidation lest she should resent it. But no, she received it with
meekness, and only protested mildly against the assumption underneath.

“No, I am sure there is something in it. She is brooding about Milton.
Not in any sentimental way, you know, but it used to be understood, I
think, that they were to marry, and now he carries himself way above
her. Why, I can remember, as long ago as when I visited here that
summer, when we were all boys and girls and cousins together, I heard
your mother say they would make a match of it some time. But now he
avoids the kitchen and her. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it, for me to
be speculating in this way about the love affairs of the servants. But
you are driven to it here. You have no idea how grateful one gets to be,
here in the country, for the smallest item of human gossip.”

Seth was still considering whether it was possible for him, in careful
language, to suggest his own--or rather the Lawton girl’s--view of the
Milton-Alvira affair, when Isabel spoke again:

“Speaking of gossip, there is something I have been tempted half a dozen
times to mention to you--something I heard almost every day during the
little time that the women round-about were calling on me. You will
guess what I mean--the talk about you and Annie.”

Seth did not immediately answer, and she continued:

“Of course, you know, Seth, that I wouldn’t speak of it if I thought it
would be distasteful to you. But I know it used to be the idea that you
two were marked for each other. I have heard ever so much about it
since we have lived here. And yet you don’t seem to me to be at all like
lovers--hardly even like affectionate cousins. I think she has rather
avoided the house since you have been here, although that, of course,
may be only imagination. She is such a dear, good girl, and I am _so_
fond of her, but still I can hardly imagine her as your wife. You don’t
mind my speaking about it, do you?”

Seth was still at a loss what to say, or, better, how to say it. While
she had been speaking the contrast between the two young women, which
had been slumbering in his mind for a year, had risen vividly before
him. The smile, half-deprecating, half-inviting, with which she looked
this last question at him, as she laid the everlasting embroidery down,
and leaned slightly forward for a reply, gave the final touch to his
vanishing doubts.

“Mind _your_ speaking about it? No, no, Isabel.” He scarcely knew
his own voice, it was so full of cooing softness. “I am glad you
did--for--for who has a better right? No, there is nothing in the
gossip. Our people--my mother, her grandmother--had it in mind once,
I believe, but Annie and I have never so much as hinted at it between
ourselves. Ever since mother’s death old Mrs. Warren has, however, taken
a deep dislike to me--you remember how she forbade Annie to go with us
on that fishing trip--but even without that----”

“Ah, I shan’t forget that fishing trip,” Isabel whispered, still with
the tender smile.

“Nor I, you may be very sure.” The caressing tone of his voice sounded
natural to him now. “As I was saying, even if we two young people had
once thought of the thing, I fancy it would be different now, anyway.
_Then_, I was going to be a farmer. _Now_, of course, that is all
changed. My career is in the city, in circles where Annie would not be
at home. She is a dear, good girl, as you say: nobody knows that better
than I do. But you must admit she _is_--what shall I say?--rural. Now
that I have got my foot on the ladder, there is no telling how far I may
not climb. It would be simply suicide to marry a wife whom I perhaps
would have to carry up with me, a dead weight.”

The youngster was not in the least conscious of the vicious nonsense
he was talking. In the magnetic penumbra of Isabel’s presence his words
seemed surcharged with wisdom and good feeling. And the young woman,
too, who was four years his senior, and who should have known better,
never suspected the ridiculous aspect of the sentiments to the
expression of which she listened with such sweet-faced sympathy. We
_are_ such fools upon occasion.

“Besides, there is no reason why I should think of marriage at all,
for a long time to come--at least not until I have made my way up in
my profession a bit. When the time does come, it will be because I have
found my ideal--for I have an ideal, you know, a very exalted one.”

He looked at her keenly, blushing as he did so, to discover if she had
caught the purport of his words; then he addressed himself, with an
absence of verbal awkwardness at which he was himself astonished, to
making it more clear.

“I mean, Isabel, that my brother has won a prize which would make
anything less valuable seem altogether worthless in my eyes. If there
is not another woman in the world like my brother Albert’s wife, then I
shall never marry.”

“Brother Albert’s wife” looked up at the speaker for an instant--a
glance which seemed to him to be made of smiles, sadness, delight,
reproach and many other unutterable things; then she bent over her work,
and he fancied that the pretty fingers trembled a little between the
stitches. There was a minute of silence, which seemed a half hour. At
last she spoke:

“Does your brother impress you as being a particularly happy man? I
won’t ask a similar question about his wife.”

Seth found it necessary to stand up, to do this subject justice. “No!”
 he answered. “He doesn’t deserve such a wife. But because one man is
incapable of appreciating a treasure which he has won, it’s no reason
why another man shouldn’t--shouldn’t say to himself ‘I will either marry
that kind of woman or I’ll marry none.’ Now, _is_ it, Isabel?”

“Perhaps this wife is not altogether the treasure you think she is,” the
young woman answered, with the indirection of her sex.

Seth found words entirely inadequate to express his dissent. He could
only smile at her, as if the doubt were too preposterous to be even
suggested, and walk up and down in front of her.

Still intent upon her work, and with her head inclined so that he saw
only a softened angle of face beneath the crown of glowing light-hued
hair, she made answer, speaking more slowly than was usual with her, and
with frequent pauses:

“I don’t think you know all my story, though it is a part of your
family’s history on both sides. You remember my father--a sporting,
horse-racing man of the world, and you know that my mother died
when I was a baby. You knew me here, one summer, as a visiting cousin,
and we played and quarrelled as children do. Now you know me again as
your brother’s wife--but that is all. You know nothing of the rest--of
how my father, proud about me as he was common in other things, kept me
mewed up among governesses and housekeepers in one part of the house,
while his flash companions rioted in another part; of how my wretched,
chafing girlhood was spent among servants and tutors, with not so much
as a glimpse of the world outside, like any Turkish girl; of how, when
your brother, because he was a cousin, did become the one friend of my
father’s who might be invited into the drawing room, and be introduced
to me, and took a fancy that he would like to marry me, I welcomed even
such a chance for emancipation, and almost cried for joy; and of how
I woke up afterward--no, this is what you do not know.” There was a
considerable pause here. “And I do not know why I tell this to you now,
except that I want you to understand.”

“I _do_ understand, Isabel.”

As a matter of fact he did not understand at all, but he thought he did,
which, for present purposes, came to the same thing.

“And you can realize,” she went on, “how I feel at the thought of
staying here the rest of my life--or, even if we go elsewhere--of
having my life mapped out for me without any regard to my wishes and
aspirations, while you are just pluming your wings for soaring, and can
fly as high as you like with no one to gainsay you. Oh, what it must be
to be a man!” She was looking up at him now, with enthusiasm supplanting
the repining in her eyes. “And you love your work, so, too! You are so
clever and capable! You can be anything you like in your profession--and
it is impossible that I should ever be anything that I want to be.”

A month ago, when he first came to the farm, this calm assumption of his
ability to carve whatever part he desired out of the journalistic cake
would have fallen upon Seth like cruel and calculated sarcasm. As
it was, he winced a little under its exaggeration, but the substance
pleased him. He squared his shoulders unconsciously as he answered:

“Well, I am only at the threshold as yet, but if there is any such
thing as doing it, I am going to push my way on. It doesn’t seem so easy
always, when you are right in the thick of the fight, but now, after my
rest here, I feel like an eagle refreshed. I am full of new ideas and
ambitions. I owe a good deal of it to Ansdell, I suppose. You never
saw such a fellow for making everybody believe as he does, and take
an exalted view of things, and long to be doing something great. John
prescribed him to me as a doctor would some medicine, and I took him
more or less under protest, but I feel immensely better already.”

Isabel took only a languid interest in the inspiring qualities of this
prodigy, and reverted to her own grievance:

“Yes, you will go and conquer your position. I will stay here and
count those miserable poplars across the road--did you ever see a more
monotonous row?--and work anti-macassars for no one to see, and mope my
heart out. Why, do you know, I haven’t one single correspondent!”

The full enormity of the situation thus revealed was lost upon Seth, who
had never written more than half-a-dozen letters in his life, and did
not see why people who did not have to write letters should want to do
so. But he said “Indeed!” as compassionately as he could.

“No, not one. I did think you might have taken pity on me, but for all
the year that you have been away, I have never heard a word from you.”

“I wrote once or twice to Albert,” Seth answered, tentatively, to occupy
time until he could turn around in his mind the immense suggestion
involved in this complaint.

“Yes, and I used to hear at the breakfast table--‘Oh, by the way, Aunt
Sabrina, Seth sends his love to you and Isabel--’ only this and nothing
more! What is the good of having a literary man in the family, if he
doesn’t write you long, nice letters?” The vista which had flashed
itself before Seth’s mental vision was filled with dazzling light. He
could not mask the exultation in his voice as he asked:

“Do you really want me to write to you?”

“You ought not to have waited to be asked,” she said, smiling again.
“Yes, you shall write me--and long letters too, mind--as often as you
like.” She added after a moment’s pause, in which both had been turning
over the same idea, “You needn’t be afraid of writing too often. The
bundle from the post office always comes to me in the morning, hours
before _he_ gets downstairs. Dana brings it up when he comes back from
the cheese-factory, and it never goes into any one’s hands but mine.
Beside, henceforth I shall watch for it all the more carefully.”

*****

Next morning Seth prepared once again to leave the homestead, but this
time with a light heart and a gay demeanor. A month’s absence had served
so to remodel his views of the _Chronicle_, that he already felt himself
to be a personage of importance, in its control. He had been constantly
spoken of in the village as “one of the editors” of that journal, and
found so much pleasure in the designation that he had come to use it in
thinking of himself. He felt himself fired, too, with new enthusiasm and
power by his talks with Ansdell, and he believed, not only that he
saw where his past errors had lain, but that he knew now the trick of
success. Above all, he was to write long letters to Isabel, and receive
answers equally long and nice from her, and--this gave him an especial
sense of delight--it was all to be a secret between them.

The sun shone brightly, too, after the rain, as if to be in harmony with
his mood. Albert was more affable than he had been before, and after
breakfast, and while the carriage was being brought around, gave him
some cigars for the journey, and a $20 bill for pocket money. These were
pleasant preludes to a little brotherly conversation.

“I wish you would hurry up and get to have a say on the _Chronicle_ as
soon as you can, Seth,” said the lawyer, holding him by the lappel in
fraternal fashion. “You can help me there, help me very materially. I
am going to be nominated for Congress in this district next year--don’t
whisper about it yet, but I’ve got it solid. I haven’t let any grass
grow under my feet since I moved here, and they can’t beat me in the
Convention. But the _Chronicle_ can do a good deal in the election, and
I look to you for that. I am not going to Washington without knowing my
business after I get there. There is a big thing on hand, big for
me, big for you too. Good-bye now, my boy; I must get upstairs to my
writing. You won’t forget!”

No, Seth promised, very cordially and heartily, he would not forget.

When his traps had been piled again into the carriage, and he said
good-bye to his Aunt and to Alvira, no Isabel was to be seen. She had
been at breakfast, but had subsequently disappeared. Seth went into
the living room--no one was there. He opened the door to the stairs and
called out her name--no answer. As he closed the door again, he heard
the faintest tinkle imaginable from a piano key. He had not thought
of the parlor, which was ordinarily unused, but he hastened to it
now. Isabel stood at the instrument, her head bowed; her finger still
pressing the key. She turned with a dear little exclamation, which might
be either of surprise or satisfied expectancy, and held out her hand.

“So you _wouldn’t_ go, after all, without saying good-bye to me!”

“Why, Isabel, you know better!” answered Seth, still very downright for
his years. He was actually pained at her having fancied him capable of
such a thing, and while he held her hand, he looked at her with mild
reproach in his eyes.

“Oh, do I?” she answered, rather inconsequently. Then she sighed, and
bowed her fair head again. “Have you given it a thought at all--how
lonely it will be after you are gone for--for those who are left behind?
I can’t bear to think of it--I came in here because I couldn’t stand and
see the horses at the door, and the preparations for your going. It
is as if the tomb door were swinging back on me again. I am foolish,
I know--” here the words were much hampered in their flow by incipient
sobs--“but if you could realize my position--the awful desolation of it,
the--the--” She broke down altogether, and, with the disengaged hand,
put her handkerchief to her eyes.

Seth had never seen a young and beautiful woman in tears before, off the
stage, but his racial instincts served him in the emergency. He gently
took her hand down again, holding them both, now, in his. He told her,
again surprising himself by the smoothness and felicity of his words,
how delightful she had made his visit, how deeply he prized her sympathy
and compassionated her lot, and how the pangs of regret at parting were
only solaced by the thought that she had permitted him to write. Then he
kissed her--and hurried out to the carriage.

The handsome, high-bitted grays made short work of the drive to Thessaly
station, where John was waiting to have a parting word, so that Seth
scarcely had time to collect his thoughts and settle accounts with
himself, before the train started. Three hours later when he got off at
Tecumseh, he had progressed no further in his work of striking a moral
balance than:

“After all, she is my cousin as well as my sister-in-law.”



CHAPTER XVII.--AN UPWARD LEAP.

WHAT man of achievement cannot recall some one short period of his life
which seems to transcend in significance and value all the rest of his
career--when great things for which he had only unconsciously waited
came to him without the asking; when the high court of events rendered
its sudden, unexpected verdict of success, without costs to him who had
never made a plea; when the very stars in their courses seemed to
have privily conspired to fight for him? How swift, inexplicable, even
amazing it all was! And yet how simple too! And when the first flush of
astonishment--half delight, half diffidence--had passed, how natural it
all seemed; how mind and manners and methods all expanded to meet the
new requirements; how calmly and as a matter of course the dignity
was worn, the increment appropriated, the mental retina adapted to the
widened focus! How easily, too, he sloughed off his own conviction that
it was all pure luck, and accepted the world’s kind judgment of deserved
success! Who is it that accuses the world, and rails at its hardness of
heart? What man among us all, in the hour of honest introspection, does
not know that he is rated too high, that he is in debt to the credulity,
the generosity, the dear old human tendency to hero-worship, of his
fellows?

This is an extract from a letter which the successful Seth Fairchild
wrote a few months ago. Chronologically, it is dated only a couple of
years after the occurrences with which we are now concerned--but to him
an interval of decades doubtless seemed to separate the periods. Perhaps
the modesty of it is a trifle self-conscious, and the rhetoric is of
a flamboyant kind which he will never, apparently, outgrow, but at all
events it shows a disposition to be fair as between himself and history.
The period of great fortune, to which he alludes, is to be glanced at in
this present chapter--to be limned, though only in outline, more clearly
no doubt than he himself could be trusted to do it. For, though a
man have never so fine a talent for self-analysis, you are safe to be
swamped if you follow him a step beyond your own depth. In cold fact,
Seth could no more tell how it was that, within one short year, he rose
from the very humblest post to become Editor of the _Chronicle_, than
Master Tom here can explain why he has outgrown his last summer’s
knickerbockers while his twin brother hasn’t.

He had been back at his work in Tecumseh only a month when word came to
the office one morning that Mr. Tyler could not come--that he had been
seriously injured in the havoc wrought by a runaway horse. It was too
early for either editor or proprietor to be on the scene, and Arthur
Dent at that hour was the visible head of the staff. He and Seth
had scarcely spoken to each other for months--in fact since that
disagreeable evening encounter--but he walked over now to our young
man’s desk and said:

“Mr. Fairchild, you would better take the News to-day. Tyler has been
badly hurt.”

Marvelling much at the favoritism of the selection, for Dent had not
only passed Murtagh over but had waived his own claims of precedence,
Seth, changed desks. He got through the work well enough, it appeared,
but he mistrusted deeply his ability to hold the place. Mr. Samboye
did not seem to approve his promotion, though he said nothing, and
the manner in which Mr. Workman looked at him in his new chair seemed
distinctly critical.

After the paper had gone to press, and some little routine work against
the next morning’s start was out of the way, he wavered between idling
the remaining two hours away among the exchanges, or attempting an
editorial article for the morrow, such as Mr. Tyler occasionally
contributed. His former experience with Mr. Samboye dismayed him a bit,
but he concluded to try the editorial experiment again. Some things
which Ansdell had said one day on the Silver question remained in
his mind, and he made them the basis of a half-column article. He was
finishing this when the office-boy told him Mr. Workman wished to see
him below. He took his Silver article with him, vaguely hoping, hardly
expecting, to be congratulated on his day’s work, and told to keep the
desk.

Seth’s impressions of his employer were that he was a hard, peremptory
man, and he searched his face now for some sign of softness in vain. Mr.
Workman motioned him to a seat, and said abruptly:

“You were on the News desk to-day. Did you take it yourself, or were you
sent there?”

“Mr. Dent told me to take it, sir.”

“Why didn’t he take it himself, or put Murtagh on?”

Seth had it in mind to explain that Murtagh did not come down early
enough, but he remembered how strenuous the rules were in the matter of
matutinal punctuality, and concluded to say simply that he didn’t know.
Mr. Workman looked at him for a moment, made some arabesque figures with
his pencil on the edge of the blotter, looked at him again, and then
said, in a milder tone than Seth had supposed his voice capable of:

“I may as well be candid with you. I have been very much disappointed
in you so far. You haven’t panned out at all as your brother led me to
expect you would.”

This was a knock-down blow. Poor Seth could only turn his copy about in
his hands and stammer: “I am very sorry. In what way have I failed?”

“It would be hard to tell exactly in what way. I should say it was in a
general failure to be the sort of young man I thought you were going to
be. You have shown no inclination, for example, to write anything--and
yet your brother praised you up to the skies as a writer.”

“But what was the good? I did write a long paragraph when I first came
here, and handed it in to Mr. Samboye, and he tore it up before my eyes!
That would be enough to discourage anybody!”

“Oh, he did that with you too, did he?” Mr. Workman made more arabesques
on his blotter, shading them with great neatness.

Seth thought this was a favorable opportunity to get in his Silver
article, and handed it to the proprietor with a word of explanation. Mr.
Workman read it over carefully and laid it aside without a syllable of
comment. There was nothing in his face to show whether he liked it or
not. He surrounded all his penciled figures with a wavy border, and said
again:

“Then there are your associations. Before ever you came I was
discouraged at the amount of money and time and health my young men were
squandering in saloons. It had become a scandal to the town. I get a
young man in from the country, whose habits are vouched for as perfect,
with an idea that he will influence the rest, and lo and behold! he
becomes the boss guzzler of the lot!”

“There is a good deal of justice in that, Mr. Workman--or there was. But
since I’ve been back this time it has been changed. I have moved into
another boarding house where I have a room to myself, and I have read at
home almost every evening when I was not with Mr. Ansdell. I think I see
the folly of that old way, as clearly as any one can.”

“Ansdell and I had a long talk about you the other day. It was he who
gave me my first idea that there was anything in you. He is something of
a crank on certain subjects, but he knows men like a book. I have been
saying to myself that if he liked you there must be more in you than I
had discovered. If I am right in this, now is your time to show it. It
is a toss up, the doctors say this afternoon, whether poor Tyler lives
or dies. In any case he won’t be about in months. You can keep on at the
desk for a while. We’ll see how you make it go.”

The next afternoon, when the inky boy brought up the damp first copies
from the clanging, roaring region of the press, Seth was transfixed
with bewilderment at seeing his article in the position of honor on the
editorial page. While he still stared at it, amazed and troubled, Mr.
Samboye with an angry snort swung around in his chair to face him:

“Is this Silver thing yours?”

“Yes.”

“And it is your conception of the ethics of journalism, is it, to sneak
leaders into the composing, room without authority?”

“I sneaked nothing in! I gave the copy to Mr. Workman last night. I am
as much surprised to see it the leader as you are.”

Mr. Samboye rose abruptly, and strode through the room to the stairs.
They were ricketty at best and they trembled, the whole floor trembled,
under his wrathful and ponderous tread.

The fat-armed foreman, who was in on his eternal quest for copy, had
heard this dialogue. He grinned as the Editor slammed the door below,
and chuckled out “He’ll get his comb cut now. The boss ordered your
thing to be the leader himself.”

Mr. Samboye presently returned with his broad face glowing crimson,
and seated himself at his work again in gloomy silence. He made more
erasures than usual, and soon gave it up altogether, taking his hat and
stick with an impatient gesture, and stamping his way out.

Time went on. The luckless Mr. Tyler died, and Seth became confirmed in
his place. He had developed more strongly, perhaps, than any other
one trait, the capacity for system, and he was able to so remodel and
expedite the routine work of the News desk that he had a good deal of
time for editorial writing. His matter was never again given the place
of honor, but it came to be and important and regular feature of the
page.

He worked hard on the paper--and almost equally hard, by spells, at home
evenings. He did drop in at Bismarck’s or some like place, for a few
moments now and then, but he was careful to avoid games, or any further
intimacy with habitués. Had it not been for Ansdell and Dent, this
part of his new regimen would have been well nigh impossible, for the
gregarious instinct was strong in him--as it is in any young man worth
his salt--and associations of some sort were as necessary as food
to him. He had discovered, long before this, that Dent was an old
acquaintance of Ansdell’s, and that he, in fact, had told the latter
about Seth and his profitless courses, and interested the lawyer in his
case.

He had learned, too, that this pale “Young Man Christian” as Watts had
called him derisively, had from the first been well-disposed toward
him, and, when the emergency of Tyler’s absence came up, had waived
alike his own claims to preferment and his justifiable personal pique,
and thrust Seth forward into the place because he felt that he needed
some such incentive to make a man of himself. This was very high
conduct, and Seth tried hard to like Dent a great deal in return. He
never quite succeeded. They were too dissimilar in temperament to ever
become close friends. Seth explained it to himself by saying that Dent
was too cold and non-emotional. But Dent himself never seemed conscious
of anything lacking in their relations, and they were certainly cordial
and companionable enough when they met, generally two evenings a week,
at Mr. Ansdell’s chambers.

Nothing less like the bachelor’s den dear to tradition can be imagined.
There were no pipes, for the lawyer smoked cigars and nothing else;
there was no litter of papers, opened books, pamphlets, scraps and
the like, for he was the soul of order; no tumbled clothes, odd boots,
overflowing trunks, etc., for he was the pink of neatness. He used
to like to describe himself in the words with which Evelyn paints his
father, as “of a thriving, neat, silent, methodical genius,” but it was
always with a twinkling eye, for surely no man was ever less silent. He
was a born talker--nervous, eager, fluent, with a delicate sense of the
sound and shading of words, a keen appreciation of all picturesque
and salient points, a rare delight in real humor, and, above all, with
tremendous capabilities of earnestness. Conceive such a man, if you
can--for there will never be another like him--and then endow him in
your mind with a marvelous accumulation of knowledge, with convictions
upon every conceivable subject, and with nothing short of a passion for
enforcing these upon those of whom he was fond--and some idea of the
perfect ascendancy he gained over Seth will have been obtained.

Mr. Ansdell was neither impeccable nor omniscient. There was much in
both his theories and his practice which would not commend itself to the
moral statutes of the age; he attempted no defense, being incredulous
as to the right of criticism upon personal predilections. But he had a
flaming wrath, a consuming, intolerant contempt, for men who were unable
to distinguish between private tastes and public duty. On this subject
of public duty he was so strenuous, so deeply earnest, that often there
seemed but a microscopic line between his attitude and fanaticism. But
this zeal had its magnificent uses. Often it swayed despite themselves
the politicians of his party who had least in common with him, and who
disliked him and vaunted their conventional superiority to him even
while they were being swept along toward nobler purposes than their own
small souls could ever have conceived, in the current of feeling which
his devotion had created.

He took complete possession of Seth’s mind, and he worked wonders
upon it. There is neither room here, nor power, to analyze these
achievements. The young man, heretofore through circumstances slow and
mechanical, revealed under the inspiration of this contact his true
temperament. He became as receptive as a sensitized plate in the camera.
He seemed to take in facts, theories, emotions, prejudices, beliefs,
through the very pores of his skin. He found himself hating one line of
public action, and all its votaries, vividly; he found himself thrilling
with violent enthusiasm for another line, and its exponents--such an
enthusiasm as exiled men tremble under when they hear the national air
of their native land.

He was not always right. Very often indeed he did injustice, in his
mind, and in the types as well, to really well-meaning men who after
their lights were just as patriotic as he was. He condemned with undue
ferocity where he could not unreservedly praise, and, like most men of
three-and-twenty who sit on the tripod of judgment upon their fellow
mortals, he made many mistakes. But his mental and moral advance,
despite these limitations, was tremendously swift, and, in the main,
substantial. No man ever made the world budge an inch ahead who had not
well developed the capacity for indignation at weak and wrong things.
This indignant faculty grew and swelled in Seth’s nature like a strong
vine, spreading upon the tree of his admiration for his ideals.

He had a fair income now--twenty dollars a week--and he lived very well,
having a room in a good house, and taking his meals down town. This
was a condition of life which had always commended itself to his
imagination, and he revelled now in realising it. Of course he saved
no money. Through Ansdell and others he had made the acquaintance of a
number of Tecumseh men of position, and he had been asked a little to
their houses, but he had not gone more than once. This single experience
did not dismay or humiliate him; he flattered himself that he came out
of it with credit. But it did not interest him; it was wofully difficult
to talk to the women he met--to know what to say to them. It was the
easier to come back from this one excursion to his old Bohemian bachelor
notions, and justify them to himself.

The correspondence with Isabel had not been altogether so attractive as
he had anticipated. It had its extremely pleasant side, of course, but
there were drawbacks. She wrote well, but then most of her writing was
about herself, which grew wearisome after a time. It was difficult too,
to find time to answer her letters always when the philandering mood was
upon him, and in this matter he found himself curiously the creature of
his moods. The routine of daily newspaper toil had rendered him largely
independent of them in his ordinary work. He wrote about as well one day
as another. But there were seasons when he could not write to Isabel
at all. Then he would say to himself that the need of doing so was
a nuisance, and in this frame of mind he would generally end by
reproaching himself for even entertaining the idea of a mild flirtation
with his brother’s wife. Not that there was anything wrong in it, of
course; he was quite clear on this point; but it was so useless, such a
gratuitous outlay of time and talent!

But then next day, perhaps, a good dinner, or a chance glimpse of fresh
romance in the exchanges, or some affecting play at the theatre of an
evening, would bring back all the glamour of her pretty, tender face,
the magic of her eyes, the perfume of her tawny hair. And then he could
write, and did write, often with a force of sweet rhetoric, a moving
quality of caressing ardor, which it is difficult to distinguish from
love making.

To him these letters did not mean that at all; they were really abstract
reflections of the sentimental side of his nature, which might have been
evoked by almost any likable, intelligent woman.

But to the wife on the farm they seemed deeply, deliciously, personal.



CHAPTER XVIII.--BOLTING THE TICKET.


It was the year of a great political revival--coming none too soon.

It is a part of the history of human progress that grand moral
movements, once they have fulfilled their immediate purpose, swing
backward to the establishment of some new abuse. The net gain is,
no doubt, century by century, continuous. But to those who look for
episodic interest rather than epochal meaning the march of the race must
often seem crab like--as when a Henry VIII utilizes a reforming
revolt to crush and plunder a vast system of benefaction, and create
a hard-fisted, commercial plutocracy with one hand, while calling into
existence with the other a permanent class of starving poor; or when a
Bonaparte makes the waning impetus of a democratic uprising serve his
imperial ambition, and converts the legions of the Republic into the
guards of a Caesar.

So, in our own time, in our own country, craft and greed had climbed to
the control of a great organization, baptized in the name of Freedom
and excited still with the thoughts of its tremendous achievements, and
diverted its forces to the service of base ends.

This ignoble mastery had not gone unchallenged. More than one revolt
against it had given promise, for a little, of success. But each in its
failure had but repeated the familiar experience of yeomanry against
trained troops, of sporadic, scattering popular impulses against the
cool, consecutive plans of organized power. But it is the fate of
despotisms, whether of a man or of a machine, to by excesses sap their
own foundations. There came a time when the political usurpers who,
through the listlessness of some citizens, the ancient prejudices of
others, the mean lust for profit and place of still a third class, had
attained power, went just a step too far.

As this is a romance, and not a political history, it is permitted to
avoid both dates and any details which might seem to fix a particular
occurrence, and ask the reader to conceive that the crisis grew out of
the manner in which these politicians obtained control of an imaginary
but important Convention--that they bribed delegates, that they
forged telegrams to secure a majority for themselves on the organizing
committee, and that they made drunk the poor tool they had selected for
Chairman and locked him in his hotel room that he might not escape them.
It strains credulity to assume all this, I know, but its acceptance is
essential to the story. Fortunately it is less difficult to credit the
corollary--that the decent people of the State, led by an honest press,
rose _en masse_ and pulverized this machine at the following election.

It was at the outset of this crisis that Seth became Editor of the
Tecumseh _Chronicle_. The young man had been, it need scarcely be said,
deeply interested in the events which led up to it, and when the first
of the party papers came out frankly, the morning after the Convention,
refusing to support its nominations, he was in a tremor of delight. He
scarcely dared hope that the _Chronicle_ would follow their lead, but
still he did hope. Mr. Samboye remained downstairs in consultation
with Mr. Workman longer than usual on that eventful forenoon. They were
settling the policy of the paper, of course, and the young news editor,
perfunctorily weeding out copy for the “first side,” was conscious all
the while of being eagerly anxious to know what this policy was to be.

Mr. Samboye presently came up, took his seat without the ordinary
prelude of conversation, and began writing. He finished his article,
still without a word to any one, and took it down to Mr. Workman. He was
absent but a few moments. On his return Seth asked him:

“Do we bolt the ticket?”

Before he could answer, a telegraph boy came running up the stairs (this
one actually did run) with a dispatch for Mr. Samboye. The editor opened
and read it in a puzzled way at first, then more carefully and with
a light of comprehension on his broad face. He folded the telegram up
carefully, put it into his inner vest pocket and said to Seth:

“No, we occupy a picturesque position on the top rail of the fence.”

The editor did not seem quite himself that day. He stayed about the
editorial room instead of going out to lunch, until the leader proof was
ready, and then he asked to read it himself, instead of letting it go in
the ordinary course to the proof-reader. He made a good many corrections
on it, which was unusual for him. Finally, about half-an-hour before the
paper went to press, he took his departure, saying briefly to Seth that
he would not return that day.

Two hours later the office boy summoned Seth to the counting-room below.
Mr. Workman sat alone at his desk, with the day’s _Chronicle_ spread out
before him, and with the original proof-sheet of the leader in his hand.
He motioned Seth to close the doors, and to take a seat close beside
him.

“You have read this leader?” he asked, after a moment’s silence.

“Yes.”

“What do you think of it?”

“I shouldn’t like to say all that I think of it.”

“Neither should I,” replied Mr. Workman with an iron-clad smile. He
was very pale, and Seth scented a storm in the manner in which the grim
smile faded from his face after an instant of hovering, as a gleam of
wintry sunshine passes off the snow. “There’s a story--a very curious
story--back of this leader. I only know part of it; perhaps you can help
me to get at the rest.”

Not knowing what to say, Seth remained silent. The proprietor continued:
“When this leader left my hands this morning, it bolted the ticket, out
and out. There was no mistake about it. It was squarefooted. As it is
now, it’s neither fish, flesh nor fowl. It condemns the Convention and
the frauds, but it practically says that the result must be accepted.
The worst of it is I didn’t see the paper until the edition had been
worked off. The alterations in the proof here, which make all the
difference between white and black, are in Samboye’s hand. Did he say
anything to you about it? Was anybody up in the editorial room to see
him?”

“No one came up to see him; he said nothing to me except that we were on
the fence. That disgusted me so much that I asked nothing further.”

“Did he say that when he came up from here--or later, after he had gone
over the proof?”

“He said it when--or no, hold on--he received a dispatch just before;”
 and Seth recounted the episode of the telegram.

Mr. Workman was much impressed with this. He covered his blotter thick
with scrolls and geometrical figures while he pondered it. At last he
spoke.

“You don’t know where the telegram came from?--no, of course not. I
think I know about where, and I think I can guess about what it said. It
said that, in this matter of bolting tickets, one day’s delay might make
an immense amount of difference, and that it would be worth his while
to keep the _Chronicle_ non-committal in its first issue by hook or
by crook. Take my word for it, that is what it said in substance. The
fellows who sent it were scared about the _Chronicle_. They knew what an
effect its course would have on the weeklies, most of which go to press
to-morrow. They couldn’t spend money better than in having us accept
the ticket, and not only commit ourselves but the country editors--and
_they’ve bought Samboye!_”

There was a long silence. The two men looked at each other. Finally
Workman said:

“The worst feature of it is, there is no way of getting at the thing--of
proving it. I suppose I could get an order compelling the Company to
produce the telegram, but I am not sure, and then it would be a big
scandal and a big expense.” He lapsed into pencil work again and sighed.

“But is Samboye that kind of man?” asked Seth. “Oh yes, I have no
illusions on that score. I very nearly caught him in a thing of this
sort--on a smaller scale, of course--three years ago.”

“But why then----”

“Why have I kept him? You were going to ask. Well, he is a good man in
his way. He is an immensely clever writer, if you don’t care much for
solid argument, and do care for decorative stuff, with a good deal of
fun, and epigram, and big words. People used to talk about his articles.
I suppose hundreds of people buy the _Chronicle_ just to read them.
Well, we will have to lose those people, and all the others who will
quarrel with us for bolting the ticket. For she’s going to be bolted!
So you better go to bed early to-night, and eat raw meat for breakfast,
for we want a leader to-morrow that will make their hair curl.”

“Do you mean----” began Seth in a flutter of strange excitement.

“Yes, you will have to take hold. Samboye shall never show his face in
that room again. That’s settled! I may get somebody else, later--we’ll
see. But you can carry it along for a time, can’t you?”

“I’ll try--but I am afraid----”

“You needn’t be afraid. In a campaign you simply want straightforward,
red-hot, to-the-point writing. It is the rest of the year, when one must
write general matter, that pulls on a man. Besides, Ansdell will help
you out, if you need him. Oh, yes, and that reminds me--your brother
Albert didn’t show to very good advantage in that Convention. He might
easily have made a better beginning in politics than that. From all
accounts he had the Dearborn County delegates in his pocket, and,
although these other scandals have diverted attention from it, I think
the way they ratted over was about the worst thing in the whole affair.”

“It wasn’t nice, for a fact,” said Seth.

“I haven’t had it mentioned in the paper, mostly on your account. But I
am not so clear about keeping silent next week, when the Congressional
Convention comes up. Your brother, I suppose, has Dearborn County solid
for his own candidacy. But here in Adams County the delegates are for
Ansdell--and of course he is our sort of man. I don’t think much of a
party paper interfering before the nomination is made, but this may be
a case where it will be necessary--especially if Abe Beekman, up in Jay
County, tries any of his funny work. However, it will be time enough
to cross that bridge when we get to it. Meanwhile, say not a word to
anybody, in the office or out of it, about what has happened. Just go
ahead with the work, and pay attention to no one.”

There was no scandal. Mr. Samboye took his punishment quietly, and left
Tecumseh shortly afterward, ostensibly on a long vacation. There was
some little gossip, but no whisper of the actual facts in the case.

Seth surprised himself by the excellence and evenness of his work in the
new position. Probably he will never do better or stronger writing than
he did in this his first campaign. For one thing, it is doubtful if any
political contest can ever again appeal to his enthusiasm, and stir all
his emotions to the glowing point of ardency, as this one did. In one
sense his new position was embarrassing, for a number of the old time
readers of the _Chronicle_ refused to support it now against their
party, and some of them said very disagreeable things about the
youngster rattling about in Samboye’s shoes. But there was another
class, a larger class it seemed to him, who shared his enthusiasm, and,
in their excited admiration for the course of the paper, heaped praises
upon him even beyond his deserts. So he worked on, writing almost the
entire page daily, coming down early in the morning and staying long
after the paper was out, and giving scarcely a thought to the outside
world.

He had barely seen Ansdell since his promotion. He felt an even
greater sense of loss in this than he would have done under ordinary
circumstances, for the tremendous mental outpouring to which he was
daily subjected made him almost famished, at times, for food in the form
of conversation with this man who, of all others, most sympathized with
him.

But there was a difficulty in the way--of which Seth’s sensitiveness
made, no doubt, a great deal too much. The fight for the Congressional
nomination in the district was attracting attention all over the State,
and, as evil luck would have it, Seth’s brother was pitted against
Seth’s dearest friend. It was no ordinary contest, in which a man could
with ease maintain a friendly neutrality. Everywhere the struggle in the
Thirty-sixth District was regarded as a sample conflict, as embodying in
itself all the features of the larger issue between the machine and the
people. Albert Fairchild had identified himself so thoroughly with the
party organization, and had played so prominent a part in the scandals
which provoked the revolt, that his cause was distinctly that of the
politicians; while Ansdell was just as distinctively the representative
of the independent and rebellious element. In no other district of the
State were the lines so clearly drawn.

It was a fortnight or so after Seth’s assumption of the editorship that
the District Convention was held--at the little village of Tyre, some
dozen miles from Thessaly, up in Jay County. The _Chronicle_ had taken
no part in the contest. No one doubted that its sympathies were with
Ansdell, but still it had not said so. The night before the Convention
Mr. Workman advised Seth to write to his brother, warning him that if he
were nominated the _Chronicle_ could not support him.

“So long as we are in the bolting business, we might as well be hanged
for a sheep as a lamb,” said the proprietor.

It was not a pleasant task, but Seth performed it as graciously as he
could.

There was no news from Tyre next day save that Mr. Beekman of Jay was
also a candidate, and that the Convention was in a deadlock. The
second day, along with the news announcement that the Convention, after
seventy-odd fruitless ballots, had adjourned for a week, came a despatch
from Albert begging Seth to visit the farm for a couple of days,
and talk the thing over, before the _Chronicle_ took action. Upon
consultation with Mr. Workman Seth replied that this was impossible,
owing to the necessities of his work.

Then there came a letter from Albert, brief, but very much to the point.

“_DEAR Brother: I am sorry if your work must suffer by your coming to
me, but I think I have a claim upon you superior to even that of the
_Chronicle_. If I have not, I ought to have. I decline to believe that,
if you represent the matter to him as really imperative, my former
friend, Mr. Workman, will place any obstacles in your way. But if he
does I still insist that your choice between him and me must be a final
one. I do not write a word to you about gratitude. I simply say, be here
at the farm on Sunday--or never again._

“_Albert_.”

After this there was nothing to do but for Seth to telegraph that he
would come.



CHAPTER XIX.--THE WELCOME.

When Seth walked over from the Thessaly station, Sunday forenoon, to
the farm, he was not, it may be imagined, in a placid frame of mind.
There lay before him an interview with his brother which could not,
in the nature of things, be pleasant, and which might very easily be
distinctly unpleasant. It was his duty to say sundry things to Albert
which were not in themselves nice, and if Albert was still in the mood
shown forth by his peremptory letter, these remarks would very likely
produce a scene. Seth was in no sense afraid of his brother, nor had the
thrifty thought that this brother was a rich, childless man, to offend
whom would be a gratuitous economic blunder, ever entered his head. The
youngster had no faculty whatever for financial prudence. But he was
grateful--almost ridiculously grateful--by nature. The trait is not a
rare one, even in these days when a new civilization has substituted for
individual patronage and beneficence the thanks-to-nobody trade-unionism
of universal conceit and rivalry, but it was abnormally developed in the
youngest of the Fairchilds.

He said to himself, as he crossed the fields toward the white and red
land-mark of house and barns on the side hill, that he owed everything
in the world to this brother. Whatever there might be in his public
attitude to condemn, however pernicious his politics might be, still it
was his fraternal feeling and generosity which had created the vast
gulf between Seth the plow-yokel and Seth the editor. These reflections
brought no comfort to the young man.

Some perverse agency whispered to him, as he strode along over the
stubble, that after all he had never really liked Albert; and this
liberality of his, too, might it not be a mere cheap mess of pottage,
thrown to Seth to console him for the loss of his rights in the farm?
John had always been incredulous as to Albert’s true goodness in this
matter; might there not be something in these suspicions? Seth tried
manfully to combat these ungenerous doubts, but they forced themselves
upon his mind.

Then there was Albert’s treatment of his wife! Seth had never been clear
as to the exact nature of Isabel’s grievance against her husband. No
specific allegation of cruelty or neglect, much less of infidelity, had
ever been laid by her at Albert’s door in his brother’s hearing. Indeed,
so far as Seth’s observation went, Albert had always appeared to be a
decent enough sort of husband, complaisant even if somewhat indifferent,
and acquiescent to the verge of weakness, in her whims. He seemed to
refuse her nothing, in the matter of having her own way, and if he most
often broke the ruling conjugal dumbness by satirical comments on her
actions and opinions, he at least never seriously attempted to fetter
either. This sounded like the description of a tolerable husband,
as husbands go. But up against it was to be set Isabel’s plaintive,
pitiful, persistent assertion of unhappiness with him. And clearly
she ought to know what her husband was like a good deal better than an
outsider could.

So the arguments did battle in Seth’s mind, as he climbed the last
fence, and felt his feet on ancestral soil. He had now only to cross a
short stretch of pasture land to be at his journey’s end.

Perfect silence rested on the farm. The fat cows lay lazily about him,
comfortably chewing the cud of sweet aftermath; the cluster of bright,
neat buildings fell into picturesque lines of composition before him, in
the soft, hazy sunshine of Indian summer. The background of scarlet and
ochre and deep purple-browns in the woods beyond, of warm mauve hills
and pale, fluffy clouds above; the shaggy old horse, standing in
tranquil bliss, with his head over the fence; the aged shepherd-dog
stretched asleep on the kitchen door-stone in the sunny distance--all
brought to him a sense of content and beauty which warmed his heart and
calmed his thoughts. The spell of the peaceful, restful scene soothed
him. Then, as by magic, the whole picture seemed to take on the charm of
Isabel’s presence. “I am to see her!” he said aloud, almost exultantly.

There had been no special pleasure in this prospect, a few hours before.
Indeed, it had been months since he had been conscious of a genuine
desire to meet his sister-in-law. At times of late it had even seemed
to him that a meeting would be a source of embarrassment, just as the
necessity of keeping up the clandestine correspondence presented itself
often to him in the light of a bore.

But now--yes! she was walking forth swiftly to meet him--coming over
the grass with a gliding haste which had a wealth of welcome in every
motion. The very genius of the mellow, warm-hearted season she seemed
to his eyes as she advanced, clad in some soft, indefinite stuff,
loose-flowing, and that in tint under the red noon sun could be the
shadow on golden grain, or the light on dark puce grapes, or the dim,
violet haze over the distant valley. She was near him now, beaming with
unaffected delight, reaching out her hands in greeting--and his heart
went to meet her.

“Oh, Seth! How good of you to come!”

She had almost thrown herself into his arms, and had stood upon tiptoe
to be kissed. He held himself back from the embrace, but he did kiss
her, and he swung her hands now in his, looking into her glowing eyes
with tender, responsive intentness, and smiling his joy. This reception
did make him very happy, but he had also a great uneasiness lest some of
the folks should be observing them from the windows of the house.

She divined his thoughts, and said, gayly: “They are all at church!”

“What? Albert too?” Seth knew that his brother was not of a religious
turn; but he swiftly bethought himself, and added “Oh, I forgot that
election is coming on.”

“No,” she chirruped, springing along by his side, her arm tight in his,
her walk reflecting exultantly her emotion, “he is in New York. He will
be back to-morrow. He has telegraphed me to have you wait.” She dropped
into a mock-serious tone: “That is, of course, if you would _like_ to
wait?” She looked up archly: “Do you much mind waiting?”

“Do I _mind!_” He could only look his delight. His voice trembled.

She made a tiny skip, and lifted her face to him again, radiant with
happiness. “Do you know,” she said, “I could run and jump like any
little child, I am so wild with joy! It seems such an age since we were
together last! Only letters--but they were very nice, though. You dear
boy, who taught you to write such pretty letters--?”

He pressed her arm closer in his. “Who taught me everything that is
sweet?” he whispered. It was all very delicious, but still it troubled
him.

They entered the house, and he excused himself while he took his
hand-bag up to his old room, and made his toilet after the long hot
walk. As he occupied himself thus, and brushed his novel beard, his
thoughts were much perturbed. It was very far from his ideas to make
love to his brother’s wife. This bald statement of the situation which
framed itself now in his mind, almost for the first time, repelled and
alarmed him. Yet it seemed to sum up the state of affairs fairly. If
there was not lovemaking in every feature of that meeting out on the
lawn, then his conceptions of the tender passion were all at fault.

“By Jove, it mustn’t come to that!” he said to himself. “A fellow ought
to be able to be fond of his sister-in-law, and be pleasant to her, and
sympathize with her and all that, without going beyond the bounds, and
making a scoundrel of himself.”

And it was with a deep resolution to be careful, and watch all his
words, that he descended the stairs. He had taken out of his valise two
front pages of a Sunday newspaper, containing “Jeff Brigg’s Love Story,”
 which he had saved a while before for Isabel, and he gave them now to
her.

“Here is something I cut out for you, Isabel; it is a very pretty story,
and I know you will like it.”

“Oh, how sweet of you! How well you know just what will please me most
of all! And you shall read it to me! The other stories you have sent
me were only moderately nice, because I had to read them by myself, but
this--oh! this will be enchanting!”

She arranged an easy chair--a low, capacious chair with light blue the
dominant color in its covering--close beside the window in the parlor
which overlooked the poplars, and seated herself in it. Seth brought a
hassock for her feet, and then put his own chair along side, where he
could see her, and still get a good light on the print. It was not easy
for him to begin the reading, so great was the fascination of looking
at his companion. The sunlight flared upon the white curtains above her,
and its reflections glowed back again from her crown of golden braids,
luminous against the azure of the chair, and tipped with soft radiance
her rounded profile, in cameo-relief against the deep olive of the
poplars. Isabel was an artist.

He made a beginning at last, and read until the democrat-wagon drove up
in the yard, with its load of church-goers. She made a little mouth at
the interruption.

“I suppose Sabrina will come in now, and dinner will be ready soon. But
afterwards we can be quiet again, for she always reads the Bible in her
own room Sunday afternoons.”

All through the cold dinner, despite the necessity of answering Aunt
Sabrina’s and Milton’s remarks, Seth found his mental vision fixed on
that beautiful profile against the leafy background; especially sweet
was the portrait when the eyes were closed, and the lovely fullness
above the lids, as in the face of a Madonna, was revealed in the
wavering light.

The story was not to be finished that afternoon, for Elhanan Pratt
and his daughter dropped in almost before the meal was finished, and a
little later Annie Fairchild came. There was not even much consolation
in the pretty grimaces expressive of discontent which Isabel from time
to time, when the visitors were not looking, confided to Seth. It was a
very dull afternoon.

The venerable Mr. Pratt, a weazen, verbose little “gentleman-farmer,”
 who wore a huge black satin stock over his high flaring collar opening
behind, and remained clean-shaven, in pious memory of Henry Clay and the
coon campaign, sat on the edge of his chair and droned commonplaces by
the hour. He evidently had an axe to grind by his visit, and he was much
disappointed by Albert’s absence. But if he could not see “the coming
Congressman,” as he called him once or twice, and sound that new
political magnate as to his own renomination for the Assembly, he could
at least enjoy the monopoly of a long conversation with the Editor of
the Tecumseh _Chronicle_, and impress that young man with the breadth
and value of his views. So Seth was forced to spend three dreary hours,
answering as briefly as might be, listening wearily, and stealing stray
glances at the three young women, who made a brighter group on the other
side of the parlor stove. Once or twice he tried tentatively to engraft
himself upon their conversation, and choke old Elhanan off, but the
solemn little bore relentlessly brought him back to the dry bones of
politics. Thus it happened that he had barely had an opportunity of
exchanging a word with his cousin Annie, when she stood up and said, “I
must be going.”

He walked over to her now, and put his hand in a brotherly way on her
shoulder, as he helped her on with her cloak.

“I’ve scarcely had a word with you, Annie,” he said, smiling. “How
is your grandmother? I needn’t ask how _you_ are. You grow prettier
everyday. And how do you get on with your school?”--for the girl was now
teaching in the district school house over the hill.

She answered, “Oh, grandmother is about the same; perhaps a little
weaker, but as bright mentally as ever. You are looking well, Seth, and
quite the man now. Your beard becomes you--doesn’t it, Isabel? We are so
sorry you can’t come to-morrow night. We see so little of you since you
have become a city man.”

“Sorry that I can’t come!” repeated Seth after her.

“Come where?” Isabel interposed with a ready explanation. “There is to
be a husking over at Crump’s to-morrow evening--the first of the season.
There will be a big party of young people, and Crump sent over by
Annie an invitation for us. But I have explained that you are here on
business, which may very likely occupy you to-morrow evening, and that
in any case you would have to write your leaders for the next day’s
paper. We are ever so sorry, Annie,” she added, turning to the
school-teacher now, “but you know this is a terribly busy time with
Seth, and we mustn’t think of letting our little country sociables
interfere with his work. Some time, soon, he will come for a real
vacation, instead of a flying business trip, and then we can monopolize
him--and we will, too, won’t we, Annie?”

Annie smiled, a little faintly, as if her heart were not altogether in
it, and replied, “Yes, to be sure we will.” She added, to Seth, “I won’t
say goodbye. I suppose I shall see you again.”

He assented, and went to the door with her, and stood on the steps
watching her as she walked away in the autumn dusk. Decidedly she _was_
a pretty girl!

The Pratts, father and daughter, consented upon the shadowiest
suggestion of an invitation to stay and partake of the picked-up Sunday
tea, and that involved their spending the evening. Aunt Sabrina came in,
and the talk was dreary and general. So “Jeff Briggs” and his amatory
affairs went over to the morrow.

In the morning Seth walked over to Thessaly and saw John. The interview
depressed him. John had had some idea of following the _Chronicle’s_
lead, and bolting the State ticket, but the county politicians had
bullied him out of the thing by threatening the destruction of the
job-printing business connected with the _Banner of Liberty_, and the
boycotting of the paper itself. All his inclinations, too, were toward
Ansdell in the Congressional race; but Albert had loaned him some money,
and, beside, he couldn’t see his way clear to disregarding, openly at
least, the fraternal tie. He was consequently in a savage mood.

“I’m thinking of taking out the head-line of the paper this week,”
 he growled, with a sardonic humor, “and putting in instead a cut of a
runaway slave, with a bundle over his shoulder, which is in the job-room
here, left over from the days when there was slavery in New York State,
and masters used to advertise in the old paper for fugitives. ‘_Banner
of Liberty_ ’ indeed! By heaven, it ought to be ‘_Banner of Bondage!_”

There was no comfort or profit in discussing the situation, either
general or local, with John. He neither knew nor cared, he swore, what
Albert’s chances were to dissolve the deadlock on the morrow. He might
or he mightn’t; it was all one to him, and apparently to the party, who
were the----!

Seth left John to his bad temper and language, and returned to the farm
in the afternoon. A telegram from Albert awaited him.

_“New York, Oct. 19.--If possible conclude business, home to-night, at
latest to-morrow morning. Wait for me at all hazards.--Albert.”_

To provide against a possible delay over Tuesday, Seth devoted the
afternoon, and the earlier part of the evening, to writing matter for
his paper, which Dana was to convey to Thessaly for the early morning
train, when he went to the cheese-factory. If Albert was coming at all
that night, he would arrive about eight.

Nine o’clock came. Aunt Sabrina, after sitting in stem silence by the
living-room stove for an hour or two, looking at the wall-paper as her
brother Lemuel had been won’t to do, went up to bed with a frigid “good
night.” The farm people had all retired with the chickens, long before.

Scarcely raising his eyes from his writing, Seth remarked:

“How Aunt Sabrina has failed since I left the farm! She grows ever so
much like father. Poor old woman, she was so eager to have Albert come
here, so elated with the idea that the family was to be restored to
social and political dignity again--and now the apples seem to be all
dead-sea fruit to her. I can’t see that she takes the slightest interest
in Albert’s campaign. Odd, isn’t it?”

Isabel was sitting near the stove, around the corner of the table from
him. The reddish radiance reflected down from the shaded lamp fell upon
her rounded chin and her smooth white neck, dainty in tint as the ruffle
in which it lost itself. Above this lace at the back, as she bent over
her embroidery, some stray curling wisps of hair gleamed like gold in
the light. She replied:

“It isn’t that at all. She’s interested enough in the Congress idea, or
would be if she hadn’t something else on her mind. The prying old piece
found out, by quizzing Dana, about our writing to each other. She
has got it into her ridiculous old head, I feel sure, that there is
something between us. Didn’t you notice the way she eyed us at the
dinner table yesterday?”

Seth did not answer. His article was unfinished, but he suddenly found
himself in doubt whether it was not already long enough. He reflected,
or tried to reflect, for a moment, while the soft tones of her voice
murmured in his ears, then added a sentence which might serve as a
conclusion, and scrawled a dash underneath.

“There! I’m through!” he said, and looked up.

Her eyes were fixed upon his face. They were in the shadow of the tinted
lamp-shade, but they had a light of their own--a languorous, alluring
glow. He had never looked into such eyes before; they fascinated him,
and he knew, in a delicious trembling, that his own were answering them
in kind.

“You can read to me now,” she said, the rapt, wistful gaze melting into
a smile. “He will not come to-night.”

Seth took the story, as she gave it to him from her workbox, and
glanced over it to pick up the thread of the narrative where it had been
dropped. As he was still thus engaged, he felt her hand laid upon his,
and, as their eyes met again, heard her low, soft voice murmur:

“Do you know why I declined our invitation for the husking?”

There was a silence, which the young man felt that his face made full of
acquiescent meaning.

She answered her own question: “I wanted you here, all for myself.”

Seth lost himself in an uplifting, floating sensation of ethereal
beatitude. Her hand was in his now, warm and palpitating, and he raised
it to his lips. It was difficult to breathe, but the oppression in his
breast was all delight. He rose to his feet, his arms outstretched,
his heart beating in exultant tumult. He heard her whisper--he could
scarcely see her for the magnetic waving before his eyes--the refrain of
the story: “So strong and yet so gentle!” His lips were formed for the
passionate utterance--already framed in his heart--“My darling!” when
there came the sound of footsteps on the path without, and of a hand
upon the latch.

Seth mechanically took up the manuscript of his article, and turned
toward the door. Beneath an impassive mien, far more composed than
he dared to hope, there was the sensation of being hurled down, down,
through the air, to unwelcome earth.

It was Albert. He looked at the two cursorily but closely, and only
said, as he tossed his bag into a chair:

“Train was late. You go to bed at once, Isabel. I have particular
business with Seth.”



CHAPTER XX.--THE NIGHT: THE BROTHERS.

Albert seemed in an amiable mood as, divesting himself of his outer
garments, he drew up a chair by the fire, offered Seth a cigar from his
case and lighted one himself. He examined Seth’s face by the flame of
the match, as the latter lighted his cigar, and appeared to be satisfied
with the inspection.

“Sit down here,” he said pleasantly. “I want a good long talk with you.
It was too bad to keep you waiting so long, but there was no help for
it. I couldn’t see the people in New York that I wanted to see until
to-day, and it was only by good fortune that I caught the train as it
was. Then we were delayed on the road, of course. If an engineer on this
one-horse line should ever get a train through on time I believe he’d
have a fit, just from the shock of the thing. And then I had to wake
up the man at the livery stable in Thessaly--fancy his being asleep at
eight o’clock!--and he would only bring me as far as the foot of the
hill, because he had been up to a dance all the previous night. But of
course, in my position now, running for office, I couldn’t complain.
Beside, I ought to be used to all these little delights of rural
existence by this time.”

Albert stretched his feet out comfortably on the rail of the stove, and
leaned back in his chair with an air of enjoyment. He had been growing
very stout this past year, Seth noticed, and the bald spot on his crown
had visibly spread. He seemed unwontedly good-natured too--a natural and
proper accompaniment to increasing obesity.

“But all this has nothing to do with my asking you to come here, has it?
Did Workman raise any objections to your coming?”

“No, of course not, after he read your letter.”

The lawyer smiled complacently: “I thought that letter would fetch him.
Of course, my boy, the harshness of the letter was for effect on him,
not on you. It simply gave you a chance to say you had _got_ to come.”

Seth did not find himself wholly clear on this point, but he nodded
assent. Albert looked at him, and seemed a trifle annoyed at having
the conversation all to himself, but he went on after a moment’s pause,
speaking now with good humored gravity:

“First of all, I ought to tell you how proud I have been of your fine
progress on the _Chronicle_. I doubt if there is another young man of
your age in the State who has done so much climbing in so short a time.
I take a real satisfaction in thinking that you are my brother. I can’t
tell you how often I say to myself: ‘Albert Fairchild, the best thing
you ever did in your life, or ever will do, was to give that boy a
chance.’”

This was gall and wormwood to the young man. He had almost succeeded
in regaining the composure so abruptly scattered by Albert’s unexpected
arrival. The fluttering agitation came back now, and brought with it a
painful sense of shame and self-reproach as Albert’s words recalled the
scene which his entrance had interrupted. Seth did not look his brother
in the face, but murmured some commonplace of gratitude. He was glad
that there was a red shade on the lamp; it might conceal his flush of
humiliation.

Albert went on: “But you were not invited here so peremptorily just
to hear this. Brotherly pride and affection are things that don’t need
words--that can be taken for granted--are they not?”

Seth tried to smile, and said, “Yes, of course they are.”

“Well, youngster, I am taking them for granted in your case. Mind, as I
said in my letter, I am not saying a word about gratitude. I don’t want
the thing to be put on that footing at all. Brothers ought to be able
to help each other, and all that, without lugging in the question of
gratitude. I am talking to you as one man should to another who bears
the same name, and was of the same mother. By George! poetry, isn’t it?
Well, the point is this. The time has come when you can help me, help
me immensely. I am not in this fight for myself alone. Personally I
care very little about going to Congress. But I have got the family to
consider, and I am in a position now where I can make a ten-strike for
it. A good deal of it I have created myself. These countrymen up here in
Dearborn County fancy they are shrewd politicians, but it has taken
me, almost a novice in politics, less than two years to get the whole
machinery right under my thumb. It’s in the blood, I tell you! There
wasn’t another manager in this whole section that could hold a candle to
the old Senator, in his day,--and if he could keep track of things now I
imagine he’d admit that his grandson was no slouch.”

Albert chuckled quietly at the slang word, the expressiveness of which
pleased him, and at the vision of the satisfaction of the departed
ancestor which it suggested. He proceeded:

“I can’t tell you all my plans, but I am in a big combination. I have
made use of my large connections as a lawyer in New York to arrange some
things which would open your eyes if you knew them. It is all settled
that I am going on to a Committee which will be worth while, I can tell
you. And then, once started in the thing, with my grandfather’s name
back of me, there is no telling where I may not climb. A name that has
figured in the blue book as ours has is a tremendous power. The Republic
derides heredity, but the public believes in it. It is human nature,
my boy. And in this rehabilitation of the family name you have as much
concern as I have--in fact more than I have--for you will enjoy even
more than I shall the fame and wealth I am going to get out of this
thing, for the family.”

“Where does the wealth come in, Albert? There is no money honestly to be
made in politics.” Seth had forgotten his earlier embarrassment now, and
the spirit of dispute was rising within him.

“My dear fellow,” said the elder brother, comfortably contemplating
the rings of cigar smoke he was making, “to the wise there is money
everywhere. The word ‘honesty’ in politics is a purely relative term,
just as it is in your line, or in law, or in medicine. If we lawyers
strictly graded our charges by the net value of our services to our
clients, if doctors refused to make all calls upon patients that were
not altogether necessary, and based their bills rigidly upon the
actual good they had done--by George! the poor-houses would have to be
enlarged. Take your own business, for instance, or I ought to call it
a profession, too, I suppose. Are editors invariably candid with their
readers, do you think? Do they always tell the disagreeable truth about
people they make their money from? And don’t they have an open hand
behind the back about the same as other folks do? Occasionally, I admit,
an ass like our brother John does drift into the profession, and retains
his childhood belief that the moon is made of green cheese. But I have
noticed that such fellows as he, who run their papers on an exalted
moral plane, generally come around to borrow money from the ungodly,
toward the close of the year, to make their accounts balance. I am
sorry to see that John and Ansdell have filled your head with all this
nonsense. A newspaper man tearing his shirt in defense of financial
fastidiousness in politics presents rather a comical spectacle, if you
only knew it.”

“You have no right at all to say that!” Seth answered hotly. “I believe
firmly that the newspaper men of this country, considering their
influence and the great temptation to make money out of it, are as
honest a body of men as you can find in America. This conventional talk
about their venality is the cruellest kind of libel, and if you knew
them as I do you wouldn’t lend yourself to circulating it.”

“Oh, I am not entirely without acquaintance in this white-winged
profession of yours,” replied the lawyer, smilingly. “I know Mr.
Mortimer Samboye, for example. I could tell you too, you confiding
youngster, just his figure, and where the cheque, made payable to his
wife, was cashed.”

“If you do know about Samboye, you know what I believe to be the one
exception to the rule in the State. I don’t for a moment believe that
there is another editor whom your people could have bought. It is
an odious exception, to be sure, but exceptions prove the rule. If
journalists and journals were in the market, as you and your machine
friends seem to imagine, there would be no such widespread bolt against
your machine ticket to-day.”

“Oh, you think so, do you?”

The lawyer was getting vexed. He stood up, thrust his hands deep into
his trowsers pockets, and spoke with more sharpness than before.

“You think so! Why, man alive, this same d----d _Chronicle_ of yours
has been in the market since before you were born. I bet you to-day that
Workman would rather plank out five thousand dollars from his own pocket
than let me cross-examine him in the witness box on his recollections of
the _Chronicle’s_ record. Why, that is the very last paper in the State
that has a title to throw stones! Do you want to know when this new
reforming zeal of Workman’s was born? I can tell you. It was the day
that another man (Dick Folts, if you wish names), was appointed to the
Territorial Governorship that Workman wanted for his brother. So you
thought it was only high morality and noble patriotic sentiments that
ailed the _Chronicle_, did you? You never suspected that it was simply
a bad case of brother--that it all happened because Samuel M. Workman of
Toboggan was compelled to continue to adorn a private station? You think
the world is run on kid-gloved, scriptural ethics? It reminds me of
a novel I read here awhile ago. It set out to describe An American
Politician--and in almost every scene in the book where he appeared, he
was drinking tea in some lady’s drawing room, declaiming to the fair sex
on how he was going to reform politics. He thought he was a deuce of a
fellow, and so did the women and the author too. This politician was
a good sample of all your reformers. I tell you, the men who go to
afternoon teas in America, exert no more influence on American politics
than--than a hen who was too refined to scratch in the barn-yard for
worms would exert on the question of female suffrage. Now _don’t_ make
a fool of yourself, Seth. Your predecessor, Samboye, was in no way your
equal--some fellow at the club once, I remember, just hit him off in
a phrase which he had hunted up in the dictionary to sling at him: ‘a
nugipolyloquous numbskull ’--but he knew enough to feather his own
nest, and to take men as they are, and not as the Prophet Jeremiah might
think they ought to be. _Don’t_ make me angry with this pharisaical
nonsense! You are very young yet. You will see things differently when
you have rubbed up against the world a while longer.”

Seth also stood up now, with his hands deep in his pockets--a trick of
all the Fairchilds when they were excited.

“I have no desire to make you angry,” he answered, beginning with an
effort at calmness, but soon raising his voice, “and I shouldn’t have
dreamed of inflicting my juvenile views on you if you hadn’t insisted,
even to the point of a threat, on my coming here. I would rather not
argue the thing at all. We regard politics from totally different
standpoints. I believe that your methods and aims--by ‘your’ I mean your
wing of the party--are scandalous, corrupting and ruinous. I believe
that if some check is not put upon the rule of the machine, if the
drift of public acquiescence in debased processes of government is
not stopped, it will soon be too late to save even the form of our
institutions from the dry rot of venality.”

“Seems to me I’ve read all this. Don’t work your old leaders off on me.
Talk sense!” said Albert.

Seth dropped rhetoric: “All this is very real, very big, to me. To you
it is impracticable and meaningless. You don’t at all believe in the
dangers which are so apparent to me. Perhaps if you did you wouldn’t
care. That is all right. I have no desire to convert you, or to debate
the question with you. I simply want to explain that there is no
community of premises, even, between us on this subject. As for your
explanation of the motives underlying the _Chronicle’s_ attitude, I
shan’t contradict you. So far as I am concerned, the matter is not in
argument. It is enough for me that we bolt the State ticket, and occupy
the ground we do. It is no concern of mine by what path we got there.”

Albert had heard his brother through with contemptuous impatience. He
said now, with one foot on the stove hearth, and in a voice which,
by its very coldness of calm, ought to have warned Seth of the temper
underlying it:

“You may bolt the State ticket as much as you d----d please. I don’t
like your doing it, and it will injure you more than any efforts of mine
can make good, but I can’t help it, and it wasn’t for that that I wanted
to see you. But if you bolt _me_, Mr. Seth, or put so much as a straw in
my path, by God! I’ll grind you, and your paper, and everybody
responsible for it, finer than tooth-powder! However--we will exhaust
the other side of the subject first. I’ve had it in mind for a long
while, in fact ever since I first procured you a place there, to buy you
a share in the _Chronicle_. Workman would be glad of the ready money--he
itches for it as much as any living man--and it would be a good thing
for you. Would you like that?”

“You haven’t told me yet what you dragged me up here, away from my work,
for,” said Seth. “You presumably had an object of some sort.”

“Ah, you want to get down to business, do you? You shall have it, in a
nutshell. I want you to see Ansdell, and get him to promise that if I
beat him in the Convention he will support me squarely at the polls; I
want you to get a pledge from Workman that the _Chronicle_ will come out
for me, solid, the day after I am nominated. _That’s_ what I want, and
it is mighty little for _me_ to ask of _you!_ And you may tell Workman
for me that if he and his paper give me the smallest ground for
complaint, and waver in the least in backing me up, I’ll start a paper
in Tecumseh before Christmas that will crush the _Chronicle_ out of
sight. The paper is no good, anyway. I know hundreds of good citizens
who would rejoice to have a decent substitute for it.” The pride of the
editor was wounded. “You seem to worry a good deal about this worthless
paper, at all events,” he said, bitterly.

“Don’t bandy words with me, youngster!” cried Albert, scowling
and pacing the floor. “I want your answer, or the answer of your
employer--yes or no! I’ll have none of your impudence!”

Seth held his temper down. He could not help feeling that his brother,
from the fraternal standpoint at least, had some pretty strong arguments
on his side. He made answer:

“I should have no influence with Ansdell, one way or the other, even if
I talked with him. He knows his own business best, and if he has made up
his mind to a certain course, nothing that I could say would move him.
As for the _Chronicle_ we’ve kept our hands off, thus far, on your
account, and we’ve said nothing at all about your leading the Dearborn
County delegates into the machine camp at the State Convention, although
the whole rest of the State is ringing with it. But I am charged to say
that that is as much as we can do. If you are nominated, we can’t and
won’t support you. It is not a nice thing for me to have to say to you,
but there’s no good mincing matters. Besides, you know--there may be a
way out of it; you may not be nominated to-morrow.”

“All hell can’t prevent it!” The words came forth in an explosion of
wrath. Albert stamped his foot and clenched his fists as Seth had
never seen him do before. He tapped his breast three or four times,
significantly, as if there were something in the pocket to which he was
referring--Seth remembered the gesture long afterward--and repeated that
his nomination was assured. He seemed to dislike his passion, and
strive to restrain it, but the choleric vein between his brows grew more
swollen, and his black, keen eyes flashed more angrily than ever, as he
strode up and down before the stove.

“Yes, and I’ll be elected too! All the white-livered hounds in Adams
County, from my own brother up, shall not stop me! I’ll stump the
district every night and day till election. I’ll speak in Tecumseh--yes,
in Tecumseh, at the biggest meeting money and organisation can get
together--and I’ll handle this whole bolting business so’s to warm the
hearts of honest men all over the State. By God! I’ll shake Workman as a
terrier shakes a rat, in view and hearing of his whole community! Won’t
he squirm though! And won’t the crowd enjoy having him shown up!
And _you_”--there followed some savage personal abuse, profane in
form--“after to-morrow morning, never let me lay eyes on you again!”

“It is not for the pleasure of seeing you that I come here, ever,” Seth
retorted, the words coming quick and fierce. “Be sure I’d never trouble
you again, if you were the only one in this house!”

The lawyer’s eyes sparkled with a sardonic meaning, and Seth, as he
saw it, bit his tongue with impatience at the thoughtless form of his
speech; for he read in this cold, glancing light that nothing had been
lost upon his brother’s perception when he entered the room.

There was a full minute’s silence, in which the two men faced each
other. Albert was busy thinking how to put most effectively the things
he was now moved to say. At last he spoke, coolly, incisively once more,
while Seth, flushed and anxious, pretended to regulate the flame of the
lamp.

“Yes, I have no illusions about the motive of your visits to the farm.
I am not blind; even if I were, others about the house are not. I am not
going to say what you are doubtless expecting. I might point out to you
that a young man who comes to a brother’s house--I will say nothing of
the debt of gratitude he owes him--and steals chances to make love to
that brother’s wife, is a pitiful cur. Stop!”--for Seth had straightened
himself angrily at this epithet, despite his consciousness of
self-reproach.

“I repeat that I _might_ say this--but I will not. I prefer to view it
in another light. I don’t think you are a knave. To be that requires
intelligence. You are a fool,--a conceited, presumptuous, offensive
fool. You set yourself up to judge _me_; you arrogate to yourself airs
of moral superiority, and assume to regulate affairs of State by
the light of your virtue and wisdom--and you have not brains enough
meanwhile to take care of yourself against the cheapest wiles of a silly
woman, who amuses herself with young simpletons just to kill time. You
take upon yourself to lay down the law to a great National party--and
you don’t know enough to see through even so transparent a game as this.
Get out of my sight! I have wasted too much time with you. It annoys me
to think that such an idiot belongs to the family.”

Albert had rightly calculated that he could thus most deeply and surely
wound Seth, but he was mistaken in his estimate of the nature of the
response. If Seth’s vanity was scalded by his brother’s words, he at
least didn’t show it. But he did advance upon Albert with clenched
fists, and gleaming eyes, and shout fiercely at him:

“A man who will speak that way of his wife is a coward and a scoundrel!
And if it is my cousin Isabel he means, he is a liar to boot! If you
were not my brother----”

“If I were not, what then?”

Albert waited a moment for the answer, which the conflict between Seth’s
rage and his half-guilty consciousness choked in the utterance, and then
calmly turned on his heel and left the room, by the same outside door at
which he had entered.

As Seth went upstairs, he heard Isabel’s door close softly. “I wonder
how much of it she heard?” he said to himself.



CHAPTER XXI.--THE NIGHT: MASTER AND MAN.

ALBERT walked across the yard toward the larger of the new stable
buildings. It was a dry, warm, luminous night, radiant overhead with
the glory of a whole studded heaven of stars. The moon, the full,
shining-faced moon of October, would rise in an hour or so, and then
would come pale mists along the valley bottom-lands, and perhaps clouds
in the eastern sky. But one could walk bareheaded in this soft starlight
now, without a fear of cold.

The lawyer paid no sort of attention to the night, but strode across the
grass, swung himself over the stile, and pulled back the great stable
door, creaking shrilly on its rollers, with angry energy. He stopped
upon the threshold of the darkness, through which the shapes of
carriages covered with white sheets vaguely loomed, and called out:

“Milton!”

There was the answering sound of footsteps overhead. A door at the top
of the stairs was opened, and a flood of light illumined the staircase.

“Oh, you’ve got back, ay?” said a voice from the top.

It had been Milton’s idea, when the new buildings were erected,
to achieve complete domestic autonomy by arranging for himself a
residential room above the carriage place. The chamber was high
and commodious. It had been lathed and plastered, and, in lieu of
wall-paper, the sides were decorated with coarsely-colored circus bills,
or pictures from sporting weeklies, all depicting women in tights. There
was a good corded bed in one corner. Two chairs, a stained pine table on
which, beside the lamp, were some newspapers, a little wood stove, and a
mantel-shelf covered with tin-types and cheap photographs, completed the
scene. Milton enjoyed living here greatly. It comported with his
budding ideas of his own personal dignity, and it freed him from the
disagreeable supervision which the elder Miss Fairchild was so prone to
exercise over all who lived in the house. Only the Lawton girl, Melissa,
came across the yard each forenoon, to tidy up the room, and chuckle
over the pictures and the tastes which these, and the few books Milton
from time to time brought home from a sporting-library at Thessaly,
indicated.

“It’s lucky you hadn’t gone to bed,” said the lawyer, curtly, pulling
his hat over his eyes to shade them from the flaring light, and sitting
down. “I was going to wake you up. What’s your news?”

“I’ve been over to Tyre twice to see Beekman, ’n’ no use. Once he
wouldn’t talk at all--jis’ kep his ole lantern-jaws tight shet, ’n’
said ’Ef Albert Fairchild wants to see me, he knaows where I kin be
faound.’ Th’ other time he was more talkative--tried his best to fine
aout what I was drivin’ at, but I couldn’t git no satisfaction aout o’
him. He wouldn’t bine himself to nothin’. He jis’ stood off et arm’s
lenth, ’n’ sized up what I was a sayin’ in that dum sly way o’ his. I
couldn’t make head nor tail of him. He wouldn’t say he would take money,
’n’ he wouldn’t say he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t say yes or nao to th’
post office scheme, or anythin’ else. He jis’ kep’ his big eyes on me,
as much as to say, ‘You ketch a weasel asleep!’ ’n’ listened. Naow yeh
knaow th’ hull of it. If yeh want anythin’ more done, yeh better do it
yerself.”

The lawyer looked attentively at his hired man, and drummed with his
fingers on the-table. “So that’s all, is it? You are no further
ahead with Beek-man than when the Convention adjourned? You’ve got no
proposition from him--no statement as to how he takes my proposals?”

“That’s it, Albert--jest it!”

Something in Milton’s tone seemed to annoy Albert even more than his
confession of failure had done. He rose to his feet abruptly. “Don’t
‘Albert’ me!” he said, raising his voice out of its accustomed calm; “I
don’t like it! You take too much upon yourself. But--I am to blame for
it myself. I’ve let you run things with too free a hand, and trusted
affairs to you that I ought to have kept to myself. It is always my
way,” he went on, in petulant selfcriticism. “I never did trust anybody
who was worth the powder to blow him up. I ought to be used to it by
this time. But to encounter two such fools in one evening--and this
evening of all others, too--by George! it’s enough to make a man strike
his mother!”

“I ain’t no fool, Mister Fairchild”--the hired man was standing up
too, and his harsh tones gave the title an elaborate, almost ridiculous
emphasis--“’n’ I’ll thank yeh to keep yer tongue civil, tew! Ef yeh
don’t like my style, yeh kin git sum’un else to do yer dirty work for
yeh. I’ve no hankerin’ fer it. I’m hired to manage this farm, I am.
Nothin’ was said ’baout my hevin’ to run a Congresshn’l campaign into
th’ bargain. I ain’t sayin’ but what I kin do it’s well’s some other
folks. I ain’t sayin’ that it’s beyon’ me. P’raps I’ve got my pull ’n’
this caounty, ’s well ’s some other people. P’raps ’f I was amine to,
I could knock somebuddy’s game skyhigh, jis’ by liftin’ my little finger
tomorrer. I ain’t sayin’ I’m goin’ to dew it. I ain’t findin’ no fault
with yeh. All I say is I ain’t goin’ to take one ioty o’ slack from you,
or anybody else, about this thing. You hear _me!_”

The hired man had spoken aggressively and loudly, with his thumbs in the
arm-holes of his vest, and his shaggy head well up in the air. He knew
his employer pretty well, and had estimated with some precision the
amount of impudence he would bear. This full measure he was not disposed
to abate one atom. He had failed to buy the Jay County boss, or even to
satisfactorily gauge his intentions, it was true, but that was no reason
why he should submit to being called a fool by Albert Fairchild, who
couldn’t run his farm, let alone his Congressional campaign, without
him. So the mean-figured, slouching countryman, with his cheap,
ill-fitting clothes, frowzy beard, and rough, red hands truculently
spread palm outward on his breast, stood his ground before the city
lawyer and grinned defiance at him.

The lawyer did not immediately reply. He was not ordinarily at a loss
for words or decisions in his dealings with men, but this rude, uncouth
rustic, with his confident air and his fund of primordial cunning,
puzzled him. There was some uneasiness in the feeling, too, for he could
not remember the exact limits of his confidences with Milton. Moreover
he could not afford, at any price, to quarrel with him now on the eve
of the Convention. “After the election we’ll clip your wings, my fine
fellow,” he thought to himself, but he gave the words upon which he
finally decided a kindlier turn.

“Yes, I hear you. Almost anybody on the side-hill could, the way you
are talking. There is no reason why you should lose your temper. If you
couldn’t fix Beekman, why that’s all there is to it. We must go at it
in a different way. I can see through him. He’s standing out for a cash
payment. The old fox wants money down.”

“Well, you’ve got it fur him, hain’t yeh? Go ’n’ give it to him,
straight aout!”

“But that’s it--I wanted you to bring back an idea of his figure.”

“His figger. How much hev yeh got?”

“Never mind that--it’s a d----d sight more than the office is worth;
but when a man gets into a fight of this sort, he’s got to force his way
through, cost or no cost.”

“Air yeh sure it can’t be traced? Wuz yeh careful to raise it so nobuddy
cud spot yeh, and give aout that yeh got so much money together for
purposes o’ bribery?”

“Yes, it is perfectly safe. There is no record.”

“’N’ nobuddy on airth knaows yeh’ve got th’ money?”

“Not a living soul!”

The two men communed together as to the importance of immediate action.
The Convention was to reassemble at Tyre, fifteen miles away, at eleven
the following forenoon. The political master of Jay County, Abe Beekman,
who held in his hands the deciding power, lived near Tyre, but in the
valley some miles further on. The first train from Thessaly in the
morning would be too late, for Beekman would have already arrived on the
ground at Tyre, coming from the opposite direction, and would have begun
work on his own hook. He must be seen at his home, early in the morning.
The question was--how to encompass this.

“You might drive across to-night,” Albert suggested; “it can’t be more
than twenty miles. It’s a bad, up-hill road, but four or five
hours ought to do it, easily enough. By George--I believe I’ll go
myself--start at once, see Beekman about daybreak, and then come back to
Tyre by breakfast time; as if I had just driven over from here. No one
will suspect a thing.”

“Yes, thet’s a fust-rate idee,” assented Milton; “only be keerful ’n’
put yer money in a safe place.”

The lawyer again slapped his breast with a confident “Never fear about
that,” and went to the house to get some wraps for the night ride,
leaving Milton to harness the grays, and drag out the sidebar buggy
with the pole. The hired-man hummed to himself as he moved quietly,
dextrously in the semi-darkness in the performance of this task.

Albert returned, just as the hame straps were being buckled.

“Everybody seems to be asleep in the house,” he said. “If they ask any
questions in the morning, mind you know nothing whatever. That brother
of mine is no friend. Be careful what you say to him. Let him walk to
the depot in the morning. It’ll do him good. Oh yes, by the way, better
let me have one of those revolvers of yours--you have ’em upstairs,
haven’t you--give me the one that strikes fire every time.”

Milton came down and out presently, saying that he just remembered
having lent the weapon. “’Tother’s no good,” he added; “yeh don’t need
no pistol anyway. Th’ moon’ll be up direc’ly.”

Albert gathered up the lines, and drove out slowly toward the road.

“Yeh better save th’ beasts till after yeh git over Tallman’s hill,
’n’ rest ’em there by th’ gulf!” Milton called after him, as a last
injunction.

The hired man stood at the stable door, and watched the buggy pass the
darkened, silent house, turn out on the high-road, and disappear beneath
the poplars. The moon was just coming up, beyond this line of trees, and
it made the gloom of their shadow deeper. His eyes, from following the
vehicle ranged back to the house, which reared itself black against the
whitening sky. There was there no sound, nor any sign of life. He took a
revolver out of his pocket, and examined it in the starlight, cocking it
again and again to make sure that there had been no mistake. Satisfied
with the inspection, he put it back in his side coat-pocket. He went
upstairs, changed his hat, took a drink out of a flat brown bottle in
his cupboard, and spent a minute or two looking at one of the tin-type
portraits on the mantel-shelf. He held the picture to the light, and
grinned as he gazed--then put it in his breast pocket, blew out the
lamp, and felt his way softly down stairs.

A few minutes later he came out from the stable, leading the swift black
mare. She was saddled and bridled, and seemed to understand, as he led
her over the grass, that he wanted no noise made. The man and beast,
throwing long, grotesque shadows on the lawn, in the light of the low
moon, stole past the house, and out upon the road. Milton here climbed
into the saddle, and with an exultant little cluck, started in the
direction his master had gone, still keeping the black mare on the
grass. They, too, disappeared under the poplars.

The moon mounted into the heavens, pushing aside the aspiring clouds
which sought to dispute her passage, then clothing them in her own
livery of light, and drawing them upward after her, in a glittering
train of attendance. All over the hill-side the calm radiance rested.
The gay hues with which autumn’s day brush painted the woods, the hedge
rows, the long stretches of orchard, stubble, and field, sought now
to only hint at their beauty, as they yielded new outlines, mystic
suggestions of form and color, in the soft gray picture of mezzotint.
Thin films of vapor rose to enwrap the feet of the dark firs, nearer to
the sky, and in the valley below the silver of the moonlight lost itself
on the frost-like whiteness of the gathering mist. It was a night for
the young to walk together, and read love’s purest, happiest thoughts in
each other’s eyes--for the old to drink in with thankful confession the
faith that the world was still gracious and good.

Milton was walking the mare now, still on the grass. He could hear the
sound of wheels, just ahead.



CHAPTER XXII.--THE NIGHT: THE LOVERS.

Seth had gone up to his room in a state of wretchedness which, seeming
insupportable at the outset, had grown steadily worse upon reflection.
He said to himself that he had never before in his whole life been so
humiliated and unhappy, and then smiled with pitying contempt for the
inadequacy of such a statement of the case. One’s career must have been
titanic in its tragic experiences to warrant such a comparison. “I have
never known before what suffering was,” he thought, as he paced up
and down his little room, scourging himself with the lash of bitter
reflections.

To try to sleep did not enter his head. He sat for a long time on the
side of the bed, seeking to evolve something like order from the chaos
of his wits, but he could not think. Had he tried to write, to discuss
the thing in a letter, the simple familiar operation of the pen might
have led him out of the _cul de sac_. As it was, whichever turn his mind
sought to take, there rose an impassable barrier of shame, or rage or
self-recrimination. In whatever light he tried to view the situation, it
was all pain. He had been curtly, cruelly thrown off by his brother--the
man to whom he owed everything--and he had had to listen to the most
cutting, insulting language from this brother before they parted.
Then, as he clenched his fists and fumed with impotent anger at the
recollection of this language, there would come to divert this wrath,
and turn it back upon himself, the facts that he had interposed his own
boyish vanity and conceit to balk this brother’s purposes, and had been
caught trembling on the very brink of making love to this brother’s
wife. Did he not richly merit Albert’s scorn? He could remember--should
he ever forget?--the exact words of Albert’s contemptuous
characterization: “A conceited, presumptuous, offensive fool.” Did he
not deserve them all? He owed this brother everything: the honest boy
insisted upon saying this to himself over and over again, as the basis
of all argument on the subject; the opportunity came for him to repay
something of this debt. How had he improved it? By setting himself up
to oppose this brother in the chief object of his life, and, as if this
were not enough, by yielding weakly to the temptation to rob him of his
domestic honor as well! “I must be a villain as well as a fool, must I!”
 the youngster growled between his set teeth, as he threw himself from
the bed, and began the gloomy pacing up and down again.

He had not lighted his lamp. The soft half-darkness of the starlight,
sufficing barely to render objects visible in the room, suited his mood.
He heard the sound of wheels now on the gravel below. Looking out,
he could see that the grays were being driven out; as they turned the
corner of the house, the full moonlight fell upon them and the carriage,
and Seth saw distinctly that it was his brother who was driving, and
that he was wrapped as for an all-night ride.

“He won’t even stay under the same roof with me!” he said half-aloud,
with a fresh bitterness of self-accusation--and then the torment of
reproaching voices began in his breast again.

As he turned from the window he heard a low rapping at his door; a
minute later, he heard Isabel’s voice, almost a whisper:

“Seth! Don’t open the door, but tell me, who was it that went out
with the carriage just now? I heard it, but from my window I could see
nothing. Was it _he?_”

Seth answered, as calmly as he could: “Yes, I am sure of it. I
recognized him.” He stood close to the door, and the thought that only
the thin pine panels divided him from her was uppermost in his mind.

There was a little pause. Once his hand involuntarily moved toward the
latch, but he drew it back. Then she spoke again:

“You had a terrible quarrel, didn’t you, and all for me! I heard your
answer, Seth, way up here. How nobly you spoke! It went straight to my
heart, to hear his brutality rebuked in that manly way. I shan’t forget
it.”

There was a moment’s silence; then she whispered with a lingering
softness, “Good night!” and he heard the faint rustling of her garments
down the hall.

Brief as the interruption was, it had changed the whole spirit of his
thoughts. The vindictive accusing demons had vanished, and left no
more than a numbing sense of past torture in his breast. The anguish of
self-condemnation, the crushing burden of self-humiliation, had passed
away. The moonlight, as it spread over the slope toward Thessaly
village, seemed to bring healing in its peaceful radiance. His own
provocation grew mountain high; his brother’s justification for his
insults and barbarity diminished. “I was doing only my duty in opposing
him,” he said confidently, and there was no voice of dissent now. “Still
more was I right in defending poor Isabel from his unmanly imputations.
If a man is incapable of appreciating such a wife----.”

He did not follow out his thought, but surrendered himself instead
to calling up, and enjoying in detail, the sweet scene which Albert’s
coming had so rudely broken into. How delicious it all was, as fancy now
limned its outlines--yet not all the dainty graces of imagination and
memory could reproduce in its full charm the original. He could think,
and think, until the whole room seemed instinct with her presence, but
how poor a counterfeit it all was, lacking the perfume of her hair and
laces, the deep, languorous glow of her eyes, the thrilling melody of
her low voice. The tender, caressing prolongation of syllables in that
whispered “good night” made soft soul-music still in his ears. The
insane thought--he did not dare ask himself if it were also a hope--that
she might come again, took possession of him, and he stood for a long
time close by the door, listening, waiting.

It was while Seth stood thus, seeing only with the eyes of the mind,
that Milton stole past on the grass below, with the black mare, on his
mission of murder. Had the young man been at the window instead, much
that followed might have been different.

Seth stood at the door for what seemed to him a long time, until
gradually the futility of the action became apparent to him. “Of course
she would not come!” he said, and resumed his pacing once more.

The Faust-like vision began to dance before his eyes again, but with
a witchery now which was uncanny. The calm of waiting had brought him
enough strength of control to feel the presence of the cloven hoof in
it all. The temptation was more urgent, strenuous than ever, but he was
conscious of a deeper, more dogged spirit of resistance within him
than ever, as well. There was no renewal of the savage, chaotic war
of emotions under which he had suffered at the outset, groaning in
the self-infliction of purposeless pain. This was a definite, almost
scientific, struggle between two distinct forces, and though they
fought their battle with all manner of sophistical weapons, and employed
feints, pretended retreats and false advances in highest strategical
form, he was never deceived for a moment as to which was the bad and
which the good.

The issue forced itself upon him, finally, with a demand for decision
which was imperative. He could stay no longer in his room. There was
neither sleep nor rest of any kind there for him.

He went to the door, and opened it. Through the blackness he could see
a faint vertical line of light at the front end of the low hall, as of a
lamp burning, and a door left ajar. The yellow ray gleamed as he looked
at it, and seemed to wave itself in fascinating motions of enticement.
He stood for a moment undecided, all his impulses strongly swaying
towards the temptation, all his resisting reasons growing weaker in
their obstruction, and some even turning coward, and whispering, as they
laid down their arms, “After all, youth has its rights.” Then he squared
his shoulders, with the old gesture of resolution, and walked steadily
away from the line of light, down the stairs, and out of the door,
bareheaded under the stars.

He had walked for a long, long time, before he became conscious that he
had left his hat behind. The night air was exceptionally mild for the
season, but it grew cool enough to bring this fact to his notice. As he
put his hand to his head, and stopped short at the discovery, his whole
mind seemed to clarify itself. He had been walking aimlessly, almost
unconsciously--it must have been for much more than an hour. In a vague
way, he knew where his steps had led him. He had walked through the
orchard to his mother’s grave, and stood for some time by the brier-clad
wall and fence which surrounded it, thinking of his boyhood, and of
her. Then he had struck across through Sir Thomas’s pasture, to the main
road; thence by the way of the school-house, and skirting the hill, to
the Burfield road, at the farthermost end of the line of poplars.

As he stopped here now collecting his thoughts, awakening himself as
it were, the sound of chorussinging reached him, faint at first, then
growing more distinct. A wagon-load of young people were returning from
Leander Crump’s husking, enjoying themselves in the fair moonlight.
From the sounds, they must have been about in front of the Fairchild
homestead, and they were coming rapidly toward Seth. If he remained in
the road, they must pass and recognize him.

There was a division line of thorn hedge, long since grown into tall
young trees, coming to the road here, and a path beside it leading to
a rude stile in the turnpike fence. This path went straight to Mrs.
Warren’s house, as Seth had known from boyhood, but he gave this no
thought as he stepped over the stile, and moved along in the shadow of
the thorns. He walked a score of yards or so, and then stepped closer
into the obscurity of the hedge, to wait till the hay-wagon and its
caroling crew had passed by on the road outside. He was feeling very
cold now, and tired to boot, and said to himself that as soon as the
road was clear he would go home and go to bed.

To his surprise the singing came to an abrupt halt, just as the wagon
approached the end of the hedge.

There was a chorus of merry “whoas!” as the horses drew up, and through
the clear air Seth could hear a confused babel of voices, all jovially
discussing something. One male voice, louder than the rest, called out:

“You’d better let me come along with you!”

There was some giggling audible, out of which rose a clear, fresh
girlish voice which Seth knew:

“No, thanks! I can cut across by this path in less than no time. I’m
not afraid. The tramps are all abed and asleep by this time, like other
honest people.”

With more laughter, and a salvo of “good nights!” the wagon started off
again, and Annie Fairchild, singing lightly to herself the refrain of
the chorus, and holding her face up to catch the full radiance of the
moonlight, came walking briskly down the path.

Despite her valiant confidence the young woman gave a visible start of
alarm as Seth stepped out from the shadows to speak to her. She threw
herself forward as if to run, then looked again, stopped, and then gave
a little tremulous laugh, and cried:

“Why, Seth! is that you. Mercy! How you frightened me!”

He could think of nothing better than a feeble parody of her words:
“Yes, it is time all honest people were abed and asleep.”

He said this with a half-smile, but the girl’s face grew more serious
still as she looked at her cousin. She spoke eagerly:--

“Why, what’s the matter with you to-night? Where is your hat? You look
as white as a ghost! Oh--have you come from our house? Is it something
about grandmother?”

“No, it’s nothing about her. I haven’t been nearer your place than this.
I only stepped in here so as to avoid the wagon. I didn’t want them to
see me like this.”

“But why should you _be_ like this? Now, Seth, I know something _has_
happened. What is it? Am I wanted? Can I do anything?”

“Let me walk with you to your house,” he said, and they turned together
down the path. “Something _has_ happened. I don’t know that I can tell
you what it is, but only to be with you like this rests and comforts
me.”

He was walking in the shadow; the strong light, which only tipped his
shoulder occasionally, enveloped her. He watched her furtively as they
moved along, and, just in proportion as he found relief and solace
in the contemplation of her clear, frank, serene face, he shrank from
confiding his own weak woes to her. But, as he said, it was a comfort to
be with her.

They had walked almost to within sight of the Warren farmhouse before
he broke the silence. She had scarcely looked at him since they started,
but kept her gray eyes straight ahead, as if viewing some fixed, distant
object. Her lips were tightly pressed together--the only sign of emotion
on her face--and this proof that she was hard at work thinking tended
further to embarrass him.

“I truly don’t know how to tell you, Annie,” he said at last. “But
Albert and I have--have had words together; in fact--we’ve quarrelled.”

Her lips quivered a little. She did not turn her face toward him, but
said, nervously: “I have been expecting that.”

Seth did not ask himself the cause of his cousin’s anticipatory
confidence, but went on gloomily: “Well, it has come. We had it out,
this evening, to the very last word. And then, as if that were not
enough, the devil himself got hold of me afterward, and tugged and tore
at me to--but I can’t tell you _that_. I can scarcely realize myself
what I’ve been through this night. Why, I’ve been wandering about here
on the hill-side for hours, not knowing where I was going, or even
what I was thinking of, like a mad man. You can see how my hands
are scratched, and my clothes torn; that is from the berry-bushes, I
suppose, up by mother’s grave. I remember being there. I didn’t even
know that my head was bare, until just before the wagon came up.” Before
this remarkable recital of insane things, Annie was properly silent.

Seth added, after a pause, “But it is all over now. And I can’t tell
you, you can’t begin to guess, how it brings me to my senses, and
soothes and restores me to have met you like this.”

As he paused suddenly, they both turned to listen and look. From the
knoll to the east, where the turnpike ran through a cutting, there came
a curiously muffled sound, like yet unlike the first measured drumming
of a partridge. It swelled a second later into something more definite,
as they saw a dark horse, the rider crouching low over its neck,
galloping like the wind along the high-road toward Thessaly. The pace
was something prodigious--the horse had vanished like an apparition
before they could look twice. But there had been nothing like a
commensurate volume of sound.

“The horse was running on the grass beside the road,” Seth remarked.

“Probably going for a doctor,” was her comment. “I wonder who is ill!”

“It looked to me more like the headless horseman than a sick-messenger.”

As he said this, and they turned to walk again, his face lighted up
once more. The thought seemed to please him, and he smiled on her as he
added:

“Let me be superstitious enough to fancy that the thing which just
flashed by, in a rumble of low thunder, was the demon that has been
torturing me all this while. We will say that he has been defeated,
baffled, and has fled in despair, and that”--he looked still more
smilingly at her--“the fiend has been beaten and driven away by you. Do
you know, Annie, that here in this lovely light you are the very picture
of a good angel? Perhaps angels don’t wear seal-skin cloaks, or have
such red cheeks, but if they knew how becoming they were, they would.”

Annie’s face, which had been immobile in thought, softened a little. She
was accustomed to her cousin’s hyperbole.

“I am delighted if you feel better,” she laughed back. “But it is no
credit specially to me. Contact with any other rational human being
would probably have had the same effect upon you. If I had helped you
in any way, or advised you, perhaps I might own the angelic impeachment.
But I don’t even know the first thing about your trouble, except that
you’ve quarrelled with Albert, and--and had a temptation.”

She had begun gayly enough, but she uttered the last words soberly,
almost gravely. Instinct and observation alike told her that Seth’s
experiences had been of a deeply serious nature.

He sighed heavily, and looked on the ground. How much could he tell
her?--in what words should he put it? Even as he sought in his mind
for safe and suitable phrases, an Idea--a great, luminous, magnificent
Idea--unfolded itself before his mental vision. It was not new to
him--years ago he had often entertained and even nourished it--yet it
had been hidden, dormant so long, and it burst forth now so grandly
transformed and altered, that for an instant he stopped abruptly, and
put his hand to his breast as if to catch his breath. Then he walked
on again, still with his eyes on the ground. He fancied that he was
meditating; instead, he was marvelling at the apotheosized aptness of
the Providence which had sent this Idea at just this time, and swearing
grateful fealty to it with all the earnestness of his being.

He looked up at last, and drew her arm through his. They were near the
house now. “I am going to make a clean breast of it, Annie,” he said.
“If I have not finished when we get to the bars, shall we turn back? I
want you to hear it all.”

“It is pretty late, Seth,” she said, but neither in tone, nor in the
manner in which she allowed her arm to be taken, was there the kind of
refusal which dismays.

There was no need now to seek words. They came fast, keeping pace with
the surge of his thoughts.

“Annie,” he began, “I have been as near the gates of hell to-night as
it is given to a man to go, and bring back his soul. I have fancied
all this while that I was strong because I was successful; that I was
courageous because I happened to be clever. I found myself put to the
test to-night, and I was weak as water. I am afraid of myself. More,
I have been making a fool of myself. I know now the measure of my
weakness. I have the brains, perhaps, but I have no balance-wheel. I fly
off; I do insensate things; I throw myself away. I need a strong, sweet,
wise nature to lean upon, to draw inspiration from. Oh if you could
realize the peace, the happiness your simple presence brought me this
evening! I haven’t said it yet, Annie, but you have guessed it--I want
to pledge myself to you, to swear that you are to be my wife.”

The girl had drawn her arm from his before the last sentence was
finished, and stood facing him. They were within call of the house, but
she did not offer to renew the walk. She answered him with no trace of
excitement, looking him candidly in the face:

“I am not sure just how to answer you, Seth. Hardly any girl would know,
I think, how to treat such a declaration as that. Wait a moment--let me
finish! In the first place, I am in doubt whether I ought to treat it
seriously at all. You are disturbed, excited, to-night; when we first
met you looked and acted like a madman. And then again--understand, I
am trying to talk to you as a friend of all your life, instead of a
mere girl acquaintance--I would not marry any man who I did not firmly
believe loved me. You have not even pretended that you love me. You
have simply complimented me on my disposition, and pledged yourself to a
partnership in which I was to be a balance-wheel.”

“You are laughing at me!”

“No, Seth, my dear cousin, not at all. I am only showing you the exact
situation. You are too excited, or too unpractical, to see it for
yourself. You talk now about being at the gates of hell and expressions
like that--wild words which signify only that you have had trouble
during the evening. I fancy that all men are apt to exaggerate such
things--I _know_ you are. Why, do you even know what trouble is? Have
_I_ had no trouble? Have I not lived a whole life of trial here with a
bed-ridden invalid? And there are other things that--that I might speak
of, if I chose to complain. For instance”--her face brightened as she
spoke, now, and a suggestion of archness twinkled in her eyes--“was it
not a terrible thing that I should have waded into the water, that day
of the fishing party, and got you out all by myself, and then heard the
credit coolly given to another--person, who never got so much as the
soles of her shoes wet?”

Annie had begun seriously enough, but the softness of her real mood
toward her cousin, together with the woman’s natural desire to have
justice done her in affairs of the heart, had led her into a halfplayful
revelation of pique. Seth would have answered here, but she held up her
hand, and went on: “Wait till I am through. You didn’t know the truth
in that matter of the log-jam. I understand that. There are a good many
other things the truth of which you don’t know. You don’t, for
instance, know the real facts about your own mind. You have had trouble
to-night--for all your talk about making a clean breast of it you
haven’t told me yet what it was--and your imagination makes a mountain
out of what was probably a molehill, and you straightway rush off
bareheaded to wander about like a ghost, and frighten people out of
their wits; and then, happening to meet a girl who, by the deceptive
light of the moon, looks as if she had some sense about her, you take
without consideration the most important step a man can take in his
whole life. Isn’t that a fair statement of the case? And, thinking
it all over, don’t you agree with me that you would better tie my
handkerchief about your head and go home and go to bed?”

Seth laughed--a reluctant, in-spite-of-himself laugh. “You always would
make fun of me when I tried to be serious. But if I ever _was_ serious
in my life, it is now. Listen to me, Annie! It is not my fault if I see
you now, truly as you are, for the first time. I have been a fool.
I know it I said so at the start. But a man is the creature of
circumstances, you know. Things have happened tonight which have opened
my eyes. I realize now that you have been closest to my heart all the
while, that I have loved you all----”

Annie stopped him, with her hand upon his arm.

“I don’t want you to finish that to-night. Please don’t, Seth. It would
not be fair to me--or to yourself. Perhaps some other time when you have
thought it over calmly--we will talk about it--that is, if you are of
the same mind. If you are not, why, everything shall be just as it was
before. And more than that, Seth, you--you mustn’t feel in the least
bound by what has been said to-night. You know that I am older than
you--two whole months! That isn’t as much as four years”--the meekest of
her sex could scarcely have foregone that shaft--“but it gives me some
sort of authority over you. And I am going to use it for your good. If
it becomes necessary, I shall treat you like a perverse little boy, who
doesn’t in the least know what is good for him.”

There was no discouragement to Seth in the tones of her speech, however
non-committal its text might be. He put his arm about her and murmured:

“To think that I never _knew_ until now! Ah, you make me very happy,
Annie. And shall you be happy, too, do you think, happier than if we
hadn’t met?”

She smiled as she disengaged herself, and gave him both hands to say
that they must separate: “Happier at least than on the night of the
fishing party. I cried myself to sleep that night.”

Seth found the house wholly dark, upon his return. He had no difficulty
in getting to sleep, and his heavy slumber lasted until long after the
breakfast hour the following forenoon.



CHAPTER XXIII.--THE CONVENTION: THE BOSS.

Tyre had seen better days. In the noble old time of stage coaches it
had been a thriving, almost bustling place, with mills turning out
wares celebrated through all the section, with a starch factory which
literally gave the name of the town to its product as a standard of
excellence, and with taverns which were rarely left with a vacant room
more than a day at a time. In those days it had been a power in politics
too. The old court-house which frowned now upon the village green,
elbowing the more modern brick jail out of public sight, was supposed to
have echoed in its time about the tallest eloquence that any court-house
in the State had heard. From Tyre had come to Albany, and Washington as
well, a whole cluster of strong, shrewd, stalwart-tongued politicians,
who forced their way to speakerships, and judgeships, and even
senatorships, like veritable sons of Anak. It was a Tyre man who had
beaten Aaron Burr in such and such a memorable contest. It was another
Tyre man who, by assuming lead of the distracted Bucktails at a certain
crucial period, had defeated sundry machinations of the Clintonians,
and sounded the death-knell of their hopes. There was a Tyre man in
the Regency, of course, and he is popularly believed, at least in Jay
County, to have held that storied syndicate up by the tail, so to
speak, years after it would otherwise have collapsed. At every State
Convention, in this fine old time, inferior politicians from other
sections dissembled their appetites until Tyre had been fed to satiety.
And in the sowing season of politics, when far-seeing candidates began
arranging for a share in the autumn harvest of offices, no aspirant felt
that his seed had a chance of sprouting until he had paid a pilgrimage
to Tyre, and invoked the mercy, if he could not have the smiles, of the
magnates there.

It was due doubtless to the traditions of these visits, when Judge
Gould, the hero of the great Biggs murder case, would be at the Nedahma
House, and Senator Yates, who unravelled and dragged to the pitiless
light the masonic plot to blow up Mount Vernon, was to be found at the
turnpike tavern, and both would keep pretty well in-doors toward evening
because Colonel De Lancey, who had shot four men before Hamilton’s death
discredited duelling, was in town on private business--it was no doubt
due to these memories that Tyre kept up its political tastes and, in a
faded way, its political prestige, long after its material importance
and interest had vanished. The mills were remembered now only by the
widened reaches in the stream where their dams had once been; the starch
factory was a dismantled ruin, from which what woodwork the lightning
had spared had long since been abstracted for fuel; one of the
taverns was now a private dwelling, and the other two neither profited
themselves nor pleased the wives of the village by their dependence upon
local custom. But the men of Tyre were still intense politicians. Indeed
their known virulence had given to their county sobriquet of Jayhawker
an almost national fame. Nowhere else in the State, proportionately,
were so many weekly partisan papers taken--not tame, dispassionate
prints, but the fire-eaters of both party presses, with incessant
harrowing accounts of peaceful and confiding negroes being massacred
in the South, on the one side, answered regularly on the other by long
imposing tables of the money stolen by notorious criminals in the public
service. This was the meat Tyre fed on, and contending editors could not
serve it out too rank or highly peppered for its taste.

The one excitement of Tyre too--far transcending the county fair, which
had only interested them casually, and which they had seen moved over
to Sidon, on the line of the newly-extended railroad, without a
protest--was a political convention. There would be such a crowd about
the Court House then as scarcely the spectacle of its being consumed
by flames could draw at another time. The freeholders of Tyre paid much
more than their fair share of county taxes; they knew it, and did not
grumble at the injustice. In fact it rather pleased them than otherwise
to see their town rated on the Supervisor’s assessment-rolls according
to its ancient wealth; the amercement was a testimonial to their
dignity. Upstart towns like Sidon might wrangle over a few hundred
dollars, and cheapen their valuation in the public eye by unworthy
tricks; Tyre would have none of such small doings; it would preserve
a genteel exterior, even if it had to eat pork grease on its buckwheat
cakes in domestic seclusion. But if there had been so much as a hint
about holding a county convention anywhere else than in the Tyre Court
House--then, to use Abe Beekman’s homely expression, you would have seen
the fur fly! Other towns might indulge their modern and mercenary tastes
in county fairs, railroads, gas, reservoirs and the like, to their
hearts’ content, but they must keep their hands off political
conventions. He would be a brazen Jayhawker indeed who should question
Tyre’s monopoly of these!

So new generations of county politicians followed precedent without
thought of murmuring, and accepted the discomforts of jolting in crowded
democrat-wagons over the stony, bleak hills to Tyre, of eating cold,
bad dinners in the smoke-dried, draughty barracks which had once been
hotels, of drinking limed well-water with the unspeakable whiskey--as
natural consequences of being interested in the public affairs of the
nation. This resignation of other Jay County towns to the convention
claims of Tyre swelled into a spirit of truculent defence every two
years, when the question of a joint Congressional gathering for all
three counties of the district came up. Precisely what would have
happened if the bigger shires of Dearborn and Adams had combined in
a refusal to come to Tyre, I am not bold enough to guess. The general
feeling would probably have been that a crisis had arisen in which Jay
County could do no less than dissolve her relations with the Federal
Union.

Fortunately no such menace of secession and civil war was ever suffered
to rise glowering on the horizon. Abe Beekman, the boss of Jay County,
always managed to have Tyre designated by the District Committee,
and the politicians from Dearborn and Adams amiably agreed to console
themselves for the nuisances of the trip by getting as much fun out of
it as was possible--which, reduced to details, meant bringing their own
whiskey, sternly avoiding the dangerous local well-water, and throwing
at each other during the dinner scramble such elements of the repast
as failed to attract their metropolitan tastes. This procedure was
not altogether to the liking of the Tyre landlords, who, however,
compensated themselves for the diminution of the bar traffic and the
havoc wrought in the dining room, by quadrupling their accustomed
prices; and the invasion of boisterous aliens had its seamy side for the
women of the place, who found it to the advantage of their dignity to
stop indoors during the day which their husbands and fathers consecrated
to the service of the Republic. But Tyre as a whole was proud and
gratified.

On the morning when the adjourned District Convention was to reassemble,
political interest throbbed with feverish quickness in all the pulses of
Tyre.

The town could remember many a desperate and stirring combat on its
well-worn battle-field, but never such a resolute, prolonged, and
altogether delightful contest as this. The fight had its historic side,
too. Every voter in Tyre could remember, or had been taught in all its
details about, the famous struggle of the wet fall of ’34, when Hiram
Chesney, the Warwick of Jay County then, locked horns with the elder
Seth Fairchild of Dearborn, and, to pursue the local phraseology, they
pawed up more earth in their fierce encounter than would dam the Nedahma
creek. Poor Hiram had finally been worsted, falling ignobly on his
native stamping ground, before the eyes of his own people. He had long
since passed away, as Warwicks should when their king-making sinews have
lost their strength. But another boss, perhaps in some ways a greater
boss, had arisen in Jay County, in the person of Abram K. Beekman,
and now, nearly half a century later, he was to try conclusions with a
second Fairchild of Dearborn--a grandson of the hero of ’34. They had
grappled once, a fortnight before, and had had to separate again, after
an all-day tug, with a fall credited to neither. Now, in a few hours,
they were to confront each other once more. What wonder that Tyre was
excited!

The two gladiators had been the observed of all observers during the
preliminary skirmish. Tyre was almost disposed to fancy the Dearborn
man. In his portly, black-clad figure, his round, close-shaven, aquiline
face, and his professional capacity for oratory, he had recalled
pleasantly the days when the Jay County bar was famous. The local
magnate, Beekman, was not a lawyer; he could not make a speech; he
didn’t even look as if he could make a speech. He had none of the
affable, taking ways which Albert Fairchild used to such purpose,
but was brusque, self-contained, prone to be dogmatic when he was not
taciturn. Thus the balance turned enough in Fairchild’s favor to about
offset Beckman’s claims to local sympathy as a Jayhawker, and put Tyre
people in excellent mental trim to enjoy all the points of the duel.

For in the minds of these practical politicians, it _was_ a duel. There
was a third candidate, named Ansdell, it was true, supported by nearly
all the Adams delegation, but then he was a reformer, and had not even
come to the Convention, and Tyre had no use for him. A county boss who
had got a machine, and purposed doing certain definite things with
it, either to build up himself or crush somebody else, was natural and
comprehensible; but a man who set himself up as a candidate, without
the backing of any recognized political forces, who came supported by
delegates elected in a public and lawless manner without reference
to the wishes of leaders, and who pretended that his sole mission in
politics was to help purify it--who _could_ make head or tail out of
that?

Thus Tyreans talked with one another, as the village began to take on
an air of liveliness after breakfast, and groups slowly formed on
the sidewalks in front of the two hotels. There were many shades of
diverging opinion as to the merits and the prospects of the approaching
contest, but on one matter of belief there was a consensus of agreement.
The fight lay between Beekman and Fairchild, and the third man--it was
interesting to note that ignorance of his name was fashionable--wasn’t
in the race. Steve Chesney, whose right to speak oracularly on politics
was his sole inheritance from the departed Warwick, his father, summed
up the situation very clearly from the standpoint of Tyre when he said,
leaning comfortably against the post office hitching post, and pointing
his arguments in the right places with accurate tobacco juice shots at a
crack in the curb:

“The hull p’int’s this: Dearborn’s got seventeen votes, ain’t
she?--solid for Fairchild. Then he’s got two ’n’ Adams, ain’t
he?--makin’ nineteen ’n’ all. Th’ dude, he’s got what’s left of Adams,
fifteen ’n’ all. Jay County’s only got ten votes, ain’t she? Very
well, they’re solid for Abe. _Now!_ Twenty-three’s a majority of the
convention. Git twenty-three ’n’ that settles it. Th’ reformer, he
needs eight votes. Kin he git ’em? Whair frum? Frum Dearborn? Not
much! Frum Jay? Well, not _this_ evening! Count him out then. Of th’
other two, Fairchild wants four votes, Abe needs thirteen. Thet looks
kind o’ sickly for Abe, mebbe yeh think. But bear in mine thet th’ Adams
men air pledged agin’ Fairchild by th’ same resolution which bines
’em to th’ other chap. Abe wasn’t a candidate then ’n’ he didn’t git
barred out. But they made a dead set agin Fairchild all through Adams,
on ’count of his funny work at th’ State Convention. _So_, Adams kin
go to Abe, ’n’ she can’t go to Fairchild. I tell yeh, Jay can’t be
beat, ef she’s only a mine to think so--thet is, of course, ef Dearborn
fights fair. Ef she don’t, p’raps she may win to-day, but I tell yeh,
in thet case ther won’t be enough left of her candidate come ’lection
night to wad a hoss-pistol with.”

The Jay County delegates had begun to straggle into town, and percolate
aimlessly through the throngs in and about the bar-rooms, listening
to the discussions, and exchanging compliments and small talk with
acquaintances. Pending the appearance of their leader there was nothing
else for them to do. There was a rumor that Abe Beekman was in town,
sending for men as he wanted to see them, one by one, but nobody
professed to be in the secret of his hiding place, and nobody dreamed of
attempting to find out what Abe wished to keep dark.

The Adams County men, delegates and others, came over the hill from the
Spartacus station in a carryall, with four horses, and created a genuine
sensation as they drew up with a great clatter and splashing of mud in
front of the Nedahma House, and descended jauntily from the rear step to
the curb-stone. The natives eyed them all with deep interest, for upon
their action depended the issue of the day, but there was a special
excitement in watching the nine delegates with stove-pipe hats and
gloves, and tight rolled umbrellas, who came from Tecumseh itself.
Tecumseh was the only city in the district, or the whole section, for
that matter, and Jay County people timidly, wistfully dreamed of its
gilded temptations, its wild revels of sumptuous gayety, its dazzling
luxuriance of life, as shepherd boys on the plain of Dura might have
dreamed of the mysteries and marvels of Babylon. It was something, at
least, to touch elbows with men whose daily life was passed in Tecumseh.

Such of the younger Tyreans as had been introduced to these exalted
creatures on their previous visit crowded around them now, to
deferentially renew the acquaintance, and shine before their neighbors
in its reflected light.

Then the news filtered through the groups round about that Ansdell
himself had come up this time, and was the short, wiry little man with
the drab overcoat and the sharp black eyes. This aroused a fleeting
interest, and there was some standing on tip-toe to get a good view of
him, but it could not last long, for Ansdell as a politician was not a
tangible thing on which the tendrils of Tyre’s imagination could get a
real grip.

It was of more importance to learn whether the views of the Adams
delegates had undergone any change--whether a new light had dawned upon
them in the interim. They submitted graciously to the preliminary test
of drinks at the bar, and pretended with easy affability to remember
distinctly the various Tyre men who came up and recalled their
acquaintance of a fortnight ago, but they had nothing to say that was
to the purpose. They were waiting; they would see what turned up; they
would certainly vote for Ansdell on the first ballot; further than that
they couldn’t say, but they saw no reason now why they shouldn’t keep on
voting for him; still, perhaps something might happen--this and nothing
more.

Meanwhile there was an uneasy whisper going the rounds to the effect
that the two Adams men who had previously voted for Fairchild were now
for Ansdell, having succumbed to local pressure during the fortnight.
The story could not be verified, for the two gentlemen in question had
secreted themselves upon their arrival, and the other Adams men only
grinned bland mystery when interrogated on the subject. This worried the
Tyre men a good deal more than they would have liked to admit, but there
was a certain element of pleasure in it, too, for it added piquancy to
the coming fight.

The wooden minute hand of the old clock on the court house cupola had
laboriously twitched along to the zenith of the dial once more, marking
ten o’clock; only half an hour remained now before the time for the
Convention to reassemble, and the Dearborn delegates were still absent.
People began to stroll toward the court house, and casually attach
themselves to the outskirts of the cluster of saturnine, clean-shaven,
thin-featured old villagers, in high black stocks and broad-brimmed
soft hats, who stood on the steps, behind the fluted columns of the
building’s ambitious Grecian front, and chewed tobacco voraciously while
they set up the rival claims of Martin Van Buren and Francis Granger,
or mumblingly wrangled over the life and works of De Witt Clinton. These
old men, by reason of the antiquity and single-heartedness of their
devotion to their country, had two inalienable and confirmed rights:
to sit on the platform close by the speakers when the Declaration of
Independence was read each Fourth of July and to have the first chance
for seats when the doors were opened at a political Convention.

At last the eyes of those who had lingered about the Turnpike Tavern
were gladdened by the sight of the Dearborn crowd, driving furiously up
in three or four vehicles. Milton Squires was in the foremost wagon, and
he was the first to alight.

He trembled and turned around swiftly as a man laid a hand on his
shoulder.

“What d’yeh want?” he demanded, with nervous alertness.

The man whispered in his ear: “Abe Beekman is over in the back settin’
room at Blodgett’s, ’n’ he wants to see your man Fairchile right off.”

Milton had regained his composure. “So do I want to see him. Whair
abaouts is he? I was to meet him here.”

“There ain’t been no sign of him here, this mornin’. Nobuddy ’n Tyre’s
laid eyes on him, so far’s I kin fine aout.”

“Thet’s cur’ous,” said Milton reflectively. “He started to drive over
early enough. We cum by train, expectin’ to fine him here. P’raps he’s
seen Beekman by this time, on th’ quiet.”

“No, he ain’t!” The messenger’s tone was highly positive.

“Then mebbe I’d better go ’n’ see Beekman myself. Whair is
Blodgett’s?”

The man led the way off the main street, to a big, clap-boarded, dingy
white house, fronting nowhere in particular, and stopped at the gate.

“Ain’t you comin’ in?” Milton asked him.

“I dasen’t.”



CHAPTER XXIV.--THE CONVENTION: THE NEWS.

There were two strange men in the low-ceilinged, grimly-furnished
“settin’ room,” as Milton was ushered into the presence of the Boss, but
at a gesture from this magnate they went out; the Boss surveyed the new
comer without a word of greeting or comment.

Mr. Beekman was a tall, angular man, past the prime of life, as was
shown by the gray in his thick hair, curling at the ends, and in the
stiff, projecting ruff of beard under his chin. His face was thin,
hungry, with a plaintive effect of deep lines, and his great blue-black
eyes were often tearful, like a young robin’s, in their intent
watchfulness. He was almost wholly Dutch in parentage--of that silent,
persistent, quietly-masterful race which, despite all the odds, has
still held more than its own in Stuyvesant’s State--and the descent
showed itself in the dusky hue of his skin. He had never been a wealthy
man, though he came of a family decently supplied with substance, and
of long settlement in the county. He had climbed to his present eminence
after a long career in local politics, by that process of exhaustion
which we call the survival of the fittest. Having attained it, his rule
was that of a just despot, rewarding and binding still more closely
to him the faithful, remorselessly crushing all signs of rivalry, and
putting the recalcitrant without pity to fire and sword. He had an
almost supernatural faculty of organizing information, and getting at
the motives of men. He sniffed treachery as a deer in the breeze sniffs
the dog, and he had an oriental way of striking with cruel swiftness,
before anybody but the guilty victim suspected offence. Withal, he was
a kindly man to those who deserved well of him, an upright citizen
according to his lights, and a profound believer in his party.

He sat now chewing an unlighted cigar, with his feet on the hearth
of the stove, and contemplated Milton at his leisure. He did not like
Milton at all, and one of his chief reasons for doubting the real
ability of Albert Fairchild was his choice of such an agent and
confidant. At last he said, curtly:

“It’s you, is it? I’ve got no business with you! Where’s Fairchild?”

There was something in Beekman’s eager, searching way of looking at a
man with those big bright eyes of his which, coupled with the question,
embarrassed Milton, and he fumbled with his hat as he repeated the
explanation he had given to the messenger. He was annoyed with himself
for being thus disturbed.

The Boss looked his visitor out of countenance once more. Then he said:
“Sit daown! Well, what is it to be?”

‘Milton grinned, and leaned forward familiarly in his chair.

“I sh’d ruther think that was fur you to say.”

“Oh, you think so, do yeh? You imagine you’ve got me on the hip, ay?”

“Well, p’raps we’re no jedge, but it sorts o’ looks that way, now, don’t
it?” Milton tipped back his chair, satisfiedly, and put one of his big
feet up on the hearth, to dispute possession with the Boss.

Beekman reflected for a minute: then he began, after glancing at the
clock:

“There’s no time to waste. I might as well talk up ’n’ daown with yeh.
Your man Fairchild makes me tired. Ef he’d set his heart on goin’ to
Congress, why on airth didn’t he come to me in the first place, ’n’
say so? It could ’a’ been arranged, easy’s slidin’ off a log. But no,
instid of that, he must go ’n’ work up th’ thing his own way, ’n’
then come ’n’ buck agin me in my own caounty, ’n’ obleege me to
fight back. D’yeh call that sense? He’s smart enough in his way, I
grant yeh. He’s fixed up a putty fair sort o’ organisation in Dearborn,
although it can’t last long, simply because it’s all built up on money,
’n’ I don’t go a cent on that kind of organising. Still it’s good
enough in its way. _But_, he made his mistake in lettin’ the idea run
away with him that he could skeer me into a conniption fit with his
musharoon organisation. He didn’t knaow me. He never took the trouble
to find aout abaout me. He jest took it fur granted that I’d crawl daown
aout o’ my tree, like Davy Crockett’s coon, as soon’s he pinted his gun
at me. Well, I didn’t come worth a cent. Then, when he faound aout
that he’d struck a snag, ’n’ that Dearborn County wasn’t the hull
deestrick, he turns raoun’ ’n’ aouts with his wallet, ’n’ tries to
hire me to come daown. Fur that’s what you was here for last week, ’n’
you knaow it’s well’s I do.”

Milton tried to get in some words here, of dissent or explanation, but
the Boss would not hear them.

“Lem me go on; ’s no use your lyin’. That was Fairchild’s second
mistake. He thought politics was all money. Ef I was poorer than Job’s
turkey, he couldn’t buy me to so much as wink an eye fur him. I’m not
in politics fur what I kin make aout of it. I’m in because I like it;
because it’s meat ’n’ drink to me; because I git solid, substantial
comfort aout of it. Ther’s satisfaction in carryin’ yer eend; there’s
pretty nigh as much in daownin’ them that’s agin yeh. Jest naow I’m
a thinkin’ a good deal what fun it ’d be to let the floor aout from
under your man altogether, ’n’ nominate this feller from Tecumsy.”

“But,” broke in Milton, “you’re a candidate yer-self, ’n’----”

“Wait till I’m threw, will yeh? I _said_, I’m leanin’ a good deal jest
naow to’rd this man from Tecumsy. I c’d beat him easy ’nough at the
polls, ef he turned cranky, but I daoubt ef it ’d be wuth while. I
ain’t seen him yet, but I’m told he’s here, ’n’ ef I like his looks
durn me ef I ain’t a mine to nominate him. He can’t do no harm, even ef
he tries. These reform spurts don’t winter well. They never last till
spring. The boys lose their breath for a few months. But then they git
daown to work agin, and baounce the reformers to the back seats where
they belong. But it ’d be one thing to elect a high-toned, kid-gloved,
butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-maouth kind o’ man like what’s-his-name,
’n’ a hoss o’ quite another color to ’lect Fairchild. _He’d_ make me
trouble from the word ‘go!’ Understan’, I ain’t afraid of his meddlin’
with me here in Jay caounty; not a bit of it. But he’d use his position
to cripple me in the deestrick. The present Congressman tried that on--
’n’ you ain’t so much as heerd his name mentioned fur a re-nomination.
But it was bother ’nough to squelch him. I ain’t goin’ to hev it to do
all over agin.”

“Right you air, tew!” Milton responded.

The Boss held up his hand to forbid further interruption, while he
looked curiously at his visitor, as if puzzled by his acquiescence. He
went on:

“Ef you was a man of any readin’ you’d hev heerd of a custom among
Europe-ian kentries, when one whips another, of makin’ the under dog in
the fight pull aout his front teeth, like. The beaten kentry has to tear
daown its forts, ’n’ blow up its men-o’-war, ’n’ so on, jest as a
guarantee not to make any more trouble. Well, ef I’d concluded to hev
any dealin’s at all with Fairchild, that’s what I’d hev done with him.
I’d ’a’ made him turn over the appintment of all Dearborn’s men on the
deestrick Committee; ’n’ I’d ’a had a written agreement that half
the Postmasters in Adams ’n’ Dearborn, as well as all in Jay, should
be o’ my namin’. My wife’s brother should hev hed the Thessaly post
office, tew, right under Fairchild’s nose, so’s to keep an eye on him.
It’s the duty of every man to purvide for his own fam’ly.”

“Nothin’ small about _you!_ You only wanted the hull airth!” chuckled
Milton, ingratiatingly.

“No, it was Fairchild who wanted the airth ’n’ thought he’d got it,
’n’ while he was deliberatin’ whether he’d have it braowned on both
sides or not, lo ’n’ behold I went in ’n’ took it away from him
slick ’n’ clean.”

The Boss rose as he was speaking, reached for his overcoat and put it
on. “Time’s up!” he said, sententiously.

Milton had risen too, and placed himself between Beekman and the door.
“There’s seven minutes yit,” he said eagerly, “I’ve got something yeh
can’t afford to miss. Don’t you want th’ nomination yer-self?”

“No. What good’d Washington be to me? New York State’s big enough for
me. If yeh don’t understand that I put my name before the Convention
jest to hold my caounty together, ’n’ block Dearborn, yer a dummed
sight bigger fool than even I took yeh to be.”

“But s’pose Dearborn’s votes cud be thrown to you! They’d nominate yeh!
What’d thet be wuth to yeh?”

“What ’d it be wuth?” mused the Boss, looking intently at Milton.

“Yes! in ready money, here! naow!”

The Boss took up his hat, meditatively, and gazed at his companion
again. “Did you knaow th’ man that brought yeh here?” he asked.

“Yes--’twas Jim Bunner, wa’nt it?”

“That man ’d wade threw fire ’n’ water fer me. Yeh couldn’t tempt
him with a hundred thaousan’ dollars to so much as say an evil word
abaout me, let alone injure me. Yit he’s desprit poor, ’n’ th’ unly
thing I ever did fer him in my life, excep’ givin’ him a day’s work naow
’n’ then, was to help him bury his child decently, ten years ago. But
_I_ know my _men!_ Here Fairchild has took you off a dunghill, where all
yer hull humly, sore-eyed, misrubble fam’ly belong, ’n’ made a man of
yeh, trusted his affairs to yeh, clothed yeh, fed yeh, yes, ’n’
let yeh fatten yerself on the profits of his farm--and naow yeh turn
’raound ’n’ offer to sell him aout. By gum! I was right. Fairchild
hain’t got no sense! ’N’ you, yeh skunk, git aout! Don’t yeh walk on
the same side of the street with me, or I’ll swat the hull top of yer
head off!”

“We’ll nominate Ansdell ’fore you git a chance!” snarled Milton.

*****

The Convention met, depressed by the evident feeling of disappointment
among the spectators, who swarmed on all the high, pewlike seats back
of the bar railing, while the delegates sat in rows of chairs inside the
space reserved in term time for the lawyers. There was ground enough for
this disappointment. Fairchild had not come, and the prospects of a good
speech, or even a bitter personal contest, were fading away. No one had
an explanation for his absence. The Dearborn delegates were more in the
dark than outsiders even, for they had been told to meet him in Tyre,
before the Convention, and that he would breakfast at the Turnpike
Tavern. Milton reassured them for a time by enlarging upon the bad
condition of the roads, but even he ended as they took their seats,
by professing some fear of an accident. “However, I’ll cast th’ solid
vaote, th’ same as before, I suppose?” he said, and the bondsmen nodded
assent.

The proceedings opened tamely. The Chairman was a professor from the
Tecumseh Academy; the other counties each had a secretary. Two written
announcements were handed up to be read, one that Milton Squires was
authorized to cast seventeen votes for Dearborn County, the other naming
a man to perform a similar function for the ten votes of Jay. There
was to be no break yet awhile, apparently, in the two machine counties.
But--what would Adams do?

As this question flashed through the minds of the assemblage, one of the
Adams delegates rose, walked to the bench, gave a paper to the presiding
officer, and then joined the little throng of spectators to one
side. Did this mean that he left the Convention? What _did_ it mean?
Experienced observers began to feel that something startling was coming.

The paper being read, turned out to be an announcement that Abram K.
Beekman had been substituted in the Adams County delegation for the
delegate who had just vacated his seat, and as the words died away the
Boss himself pushed his way down the aisle, threw his long leg over
the bar-rail, and took his seat. The master of Jay County getting
substituted for Adams County--here _was_ a mystery! Did it portend
that Adams had been won for Beekman’s candidature? Yes, it must mean
that--and Tyre’s heart leapt for joy. Or no--it couldn’t mean that. The
Boss would hardly thrust himself forward in that brash way if he were
sure of winning--and Tyre’s heart sank again, sadly.

The Chairman announced that balloting would be resumed; that the
counties would be called in alphabetical order, and that, in the case
of Adams County, which did not signify a desire to vote as a unit, the
names of the delegates would also be called in that order. Before
the words were fairly out of his mouth a hundred shrewd brains had
discovered that this meant Beekman’s being the first name called. But
what was his game?

So perplexed were the men of Tyre with this problem that they almost
forgot to cheer when their man rose to his feet, in response to
his name. It was rarely that one saw Abe Beekman in Conventions; he
preferred to run them from the outside; and no one in the hall had ever
heard him make a speech. Imagine how they listened now!

He spoke with an almost boyish nervousness, resting his hands on
the table before him, and clinging, as it were, with his eyes to the
Chairman for support. What he said was brief, to the point, and worth
repeating here:

“I got substituted, ez p’raps some of yeh hev guessed, because I wanted
a word at the very start. I hev my reasons. I ain’t a’ goin’ to mention
no names--” he darted a swift, significant glance over toward the
Dearborn County men, singling out Milton for a second, then reverting
his troubled gaze to the Chairman--“but I kin feel it in my bones that
things ain’t on the square here. Ther’s a nigger in the fence. Mebbe
it’s no business of mine to yank him aout, but it’s only fair to my
caounty that we shouldn’t let anybody git ahead of us in doin’ what
we want to dew. It’s trew that D. comes ahead o’ J. in the alph’bet,
but”--and there was a momentary relaxation of his eager, sombre face as
he enunciated this undoubted fact--“its jest as trew that A. comes in
front o’ D. Ef any set o’ men--mind, I mention no names, but--ef any set
o’ delegates come here with the idee o’ sellin’ their man aout, or o’
makin’ a combination which’ll put them solid with the next Congressman,
and leave Jay aout in the cold, perhaps ’fore I’m threw they’ll see
thet they bit off more’n their jaws could wag.

“Mr. Cheerman, I don’t want to go to Congress. I never ’v’ hed the
least hankerin’ after it. This State of aours is good enough for me. I
wouldn’t feel like myself ef I had to stan’ ’raoun’ ’n’ see chaps
from Rhode Island or Floridy puttin’ on airs, and pretendin’ to cut as
big a swath as New York did. I’m too much of a State man fer thet.
I’d be itchin’ to jump on ’em all the while. So I want to say that I
withdraw my name----”

The Hon. Elhanan Pratt rose here, his weazen little figure coming up
with a spring like a jack-in-the-box, and squeaked out sharply: “I rise
to a point of order. The Abram K. Beekman whose name is before this
Convention is a Jay County man, nominated by Jay County, and voted
for alone by Jay County. No Adams County man”--there was an elaborate
sarcasm in the tone--“has any right to withdraw that name.”

“The point of order is well taken,” said the Chair.

“Well, in thet case I won’t ask to withdraw my name,” responded Beekman.
“But I don’t think it’ll make much differ’nce. A wink is as good as a
nod to a bline man. P’raps you kin git an idee by this time haow the Jay
caounty cat’s goin’ to jump; p’raps you can’t. I’m-goin’ to vaote fer
Mr. Richard Ansdell, ’n’ I wan’ to say----”

He was interrupted here by a stout, sharp burst of hand-clapping from
the Adams delegates, and the few Adams men in the audience. The Tyre
crowd were taken aback for an instant, and sat bewildered; then the fact
that their man had played his game, and was acting as if he had won,
inspired them to join tumultuously in the applause, though they were in
total darkness as to the nature of the stakes played for.

The Boss went on: “I wan’ to say that I’ve never laid eyes on him but
once, ’n’ never spoke a word with him in my life. But I ain’t lived
all this while ’thaout learnin’ to read somethin’ of a man’s natur’
in his face. I believe he’s honest and straight-aout; I don’t believe
there’s a crookid hair in his head. P’raps he’s got some naotions that
we’d look on as finnickin’ up here in Jay, but I ain’t afeard o’ them.
It’s better to hev a man standin’ so upright thet he bends back’rd, then
to hev---- to hev---- the fact is, Mr. Cheerman, _I_ think I’ve said
’baout enough. Th’ other candidate hain’t showed up today! P’raps it’s
jest as well fur him that he hain’t. I guess he’ll consider that he’s
got abaout threw with deestrick politics--but I don’t want to appear to
be rubbin’ it in. The lawyers hev a Latin sayin’ abaout speakin’ nothin’
but good o’ the dead----”

Beekman stopped short. The Chairman had risen to his feet. Half the
delegates had followed his example, and were gazing intently at one of
the tall, small-paned windows on the right side of the room. The three
reporters who were sitting in the clerk’s desk had begun climbing over
the rails and weaving their way between the chairs toward this same
window. A hum of rising murmurs was running through the audience.
Beekman, finding suddenly that he had no auditors, and disconcerted at
the interruption, looked about the room for a moment, in search of an
explanation. Then he followed the direction of the faces, and saw his
retainer, Jim Bunner, clambering in under the lifted sash, and making
strenuous, almost frantic, efforts meanwhile to attract his attention.

The man was breathless with excitement. He had climbed to the window
from the roof of a low adjoining shed, and he could be heard now, as he
found a footing on the back of a bench, in panting explanation of his
conduct: “I _hed_ to come this way! It’d ’a taken me tew long to’ve
got threw the crowd at th’ door. I’ve got news for th’ Boss that won’t
keep a second!”

He had pushed his way roughly through the throng now, brushing the
reporters aside with especial impatience, and stood whispering, gasping
his tidings in Beekman’s ear. The assemblage, silent now as the midnight
watch, read in the deepening shadows and shocked severity of the Boss’s
face that something far out of the ordinary had happened. Beekman
appeared to be asking some questions, and pondering the whispered
answers with increasing emotion.

The waiting hundreds, all on their feet now, watched him in a tremor of
expectation.

At last he spoke, in a low, changed, yet extremely distinct voice:

“Mr. Cheerman, when I spoke abaout sayin’ nothin’ but good o’ th’ dead,
I spoke unbeknaown to myself like a prophet. My friend here brings some
awful news. Mr. Fairchild o’ Dearborn has jest been faound, stark
’n’ cold, crunched under his hosses ’n’ carriage, at the bottom of
Tallman’s ravine!”



CHAPTER XXV.--“YOU THOUGHT I DID IT!”

WHEN Seth awoke next morning, the position of the shadow cast by the
thick green-paper curtain which covered the upper half of his window,
told his practised faculties that it was very late, and impelled him to
get out of bed, before he began at all to remember the several momentous
events of the previous evening. As he dressed he strove to get these
arranged in their proper order in his mind. Curiously enough there
were certain inchoate recollections of feminine screams, of bursts of
hysterical sobbing, of low but rough and strange male voices, doleful
and haunting, which confusedly struggled for place in his sleepy
thoughts, and seemed now to be a part of the evening’s occurrences, now
to belong to this present morning, and to have come to him while he was
nearing the end of his sleep.

As he passed his Aunt Sabrina’s door on his way to the stairs, he heard
from within this same sound of suppressed weeping. This much at least
of the unlocated recollections must have belonged to the first stages of
his waking. “Another quarrel with Isabel!” he thought, as he descended
the stairs. “Why is it that women must always be rowing it with each
other!” Then his own dispute with Albert came fresh and overpowering
in distinctness of impression across his mind, and the grounds of his
grievance against the temper of the other sex faded away.

The living-room was vacant--the breakfast table still standing in the
disorder of a meal just finished, and the shades down as though the day
had not yet begun, although the clock showed it to be past ten. One of
the folding doors of the parlor was open and he heard Isabel’s voice--it
struck him as being strangely altered toward harshness of fibre--calling
him to enter.

She stood, as he remembered her once before, in front of the piano. In
the dusk of the drawn curtains--how gloomy and distrait everything about
the house was this morning!--her figure was not very clearly visible,
but her face was so pale that it seemed to be independent of any light.
Her eyes had the effect of slight distention, and, in the shadow, were
singularly dark of tint. They were gazing at him with a strange, intent,
troubled look, and the expression of the pallid face went with this to
disturb him vaguely. He said to himself, in the moment of waiting for
her to speak, that he must keep his troth with Annie resolutely in mind,
and, if needs be, not shrink from avowing and standing by it.

Isabel did not offer him her hand, or tender him any greeting whatever;
only looked him through and through with that searching, unaccustomed
gaze.

“I wouldn’t let them call you,” she said at last, speaking slowly, as
if with an effort to both form these words, and repress others. “I knew
that you needed the sleep.”

“I am sorry if I put anybody out by my laziness. But it is such a relief
to be able to sleep like that once in a while, instead of having to get
down to the office by eight.”

“I heard you go out last night. I heard you come in this morning. But
not another soul in the house suspects that you were out; not one!”

The tone was unmistakably solemn, and weighted with deep feeling of some
sort. Seth uneasily felt that a scene was impending, though he could not
foresee its form. He felt, too, that the part he must play in it would
of necessity be an awkward one.

“Yes,” he answered, “the night seemed too fine to stay in doors.
Besides, I was nervous, and it did me good to walk it off. You
can’t imagine how light-hearted I was when I returned, or--for that
matter--how heavy-hearted when I went out.”

“Seth!”

The word came forth like the red flash from clouds which can no longer
retain their pent-up, warring, swelling forces--an interjection of
passion, of dread, of infinite troubling, of doubt wreathed in struggle
with pain. She swayed slightly toward him, her hands clasped and
stretched down and forward with a gesture of excessive perturbation, her
great eyes lustrous with the excitement of this battle of emotions. Seth
fancied that the dominant meaning of the look was reproach. He could not
in the least see his way through the dilemma, or even understand it. He
could only say to himself that the enchantment was ended, and that, come
what might, he would not forget Annie.

The woman glided a step nearer to him. She put one hand to her brow with
a sudden movement, and rested the other upon the piano, as if all
at once conscious of needing support. With a painful little laugh,
hysterically incongruous, she said:

“I am almost beside myself, am I not? I can not speak to you, it seems!
And yet there is so much to say--or no! isn’t silence better still?” Her
voice trembled as she went on: “For what _could_ we say? How meaningless
all our words would be in the face of---- of-----.”

She swept both hands to her eyes, with an impetuous gesture. Her form
seemed to totter for a moment, so that Seth instinctively moved toward
her. Then with a wild outburst of sobs she threw herself upon his
breast, convulsed with incessant paroxysms of passionate weeping.

They stood thus together for some minutes. The young man, moved to
great tenderness by her evident suffering, the cause of which he vaguely
referred to the previous evening’s events, put his arm about her,
whispered gently to her to be comforted, and stroked her hair with a
soft, caressing touch. His hand touched her cheek, and she shuddered at
the contact; then swiftly took the hand in hers, and raised it to her
lips, murmuring between the sobs:

“Ungrateful! was it not done for me? Ah, dear, I shall not shudder
again.”

She kissed the hand repeatedly, and pressed it to her bosom, as she
spoke. She was still trembling like a leaf in his arms.

What could it all mean? he asked himself--and found no answer.

“We must be brave, dear,” she whispered now. “We must be on our guard
every instant! Oh--h! they shall tear my heart out before they learn
anything--so much as a syllable! We must keep our nerves.” She looked
up into his astonished face, with almost a smile in her effort to
strengthen his courage. “We _will_ be brave, won’t we, mine? The test
will come soon now. Perhaps in an hour they will bring--_it!_”

The trembling seized her frame, and shook it with cruel force. She
buried her face in his breast with along, low cry of anguish, and sobbed
there piteously, clinging to his hand still. Once she bent as if to
kiss it again, but stopped, then turned her head aside, groaning “Oh how
terrible! how terrible!”

The mystification now demanded light of some sort.

“What is it that is so terrible, my poor girl?” he asked. “What are they
going to bring in an hour? Tell me, Isabel--my sweet sister--what does
it all mean?”

She looked up into his face, with flickering suggestions of a mechanical
smile at the comers of her pale lips, and with soft reproach in her
eyes:

“Are you going to pretend to _me_, too, dear one? As if it were not all
here in my heart--all, all! Ah, they shan’t get it! They shan’t get the
shadow of a hint. You were home here all the while! You were asleep,
sound asleep! If it be necessary, I could swear that I _knew_ you were
asleep, that--but no, there might be suspicion then. That we mustn’t
have! Don’t fear for me, dear one! I shall be so discreet, so
circumspect, watching, weighing every word! But oh--h--shall we dream of
_it?_ What if we should, and should cry out in our sleep--Oh-h, my God!
my God!”

She sank again, convulsively clutching his hand, and quivering with
feverish sobs upon his breast.

“Upon my soul, I don’t in the least know what you are talking about,
Isabel! Do try and be calm, and tell me what it is!”

“_He_ asks _me!_” she cried, with the same jarring, painful half-laugh
he had heard before.

He held her from him, so that he might look into her face.

“Come, come! You are acting like a tragedy-queen on the stage. Do be
sensible, and tell me what the matter is. You make me out of patience
with you!”

He spoke in the vexed tone of a man needlessly perplexed with foolish
mysteries. To her strained senses the simple expression of impatience
was cruel mockery. She drew herself still further back from him, and
dropped his hand. She was able to speak collectedly now:

“It is _you_ who are the actor. You persist in playing the part--to
_me!_”

“Still in riddles! _What_ part, Isabel?”

“You _will_ have me tell you? You want to hear the thing--in words?”

“Yes, by all means.”

She had never once taken her frightened, fascinated gaze from his face.
“You insist on hearing from my lips that while you were out last night
your brother was murdered----”

“What!”

“Murdered not four miles from here, as he was driving on the road, and
his body thrown down into a ravine. Some boys found it. Fortunately,
everybody thinks it was an accident. The men who brought the news
thought so.”

She had spoken the words coldly, as if they were commonplaces and had
been learnt by rote; but all the passion of her being was flaming in her
eyes, which transfixed him with their stare.

“Mur-dered!” the young man stammered, feeling his senses reeling.
“Albert murdered! Oh-h this must be nonsense! It is too terrible to
think of even! You are out of your mind, Isabel!”

Her lips quivered: “It would be no wonder if I were, after _this!_”

The darkened rooms, the sobbing of his Aunt upstairs, the sounds of
anguish that he knew now had partially awakened him, the crazed demeanor
of Isabel--all these rose around him, like a black fog, to choke and
confound his mind. Her fixed gaze burned him.

“Tell me what you know!” he cried, wildly.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to tell me what _you_ know?” The chilling tone
of the words startled him, as might a sudden contact of warm flesh with
ice, before his bewildered brain had grasped their meaning. Then, like
the crimson, all-pervading outburst of a conflagration, the thing dawned
upon him, and his thoughts seemed blood-red in its hideous light. He
pushed her from him fiercely, returning her piteous look of fright with
a glare, and biting his tongue for words that should be great enough to
fairly overwhelm her. As she cowered, he strode toward her: “You thought
I did it!” he shouted at her.

Her only answer was to bury her face in her hands, and sink weakly at
his knees.

He stood relentlessly glowering down upon her. The bitter, brutal words
that might be heaped upon her, nay, that ought to be, crowded upon his
tongue. It was too great a task to restrain them, to keep silence.

“_You_ thought _I_ did it,” he repeated. “And you didn’t object--you
didn’t shrink from me! Why, I remember--my God!--you kissed my hand! You
said: ‘it was done for me! ’ Oh-h!”

The woman at his feet, her face hidden, had been sobbing violently. She
lifted her eyes now, and strove appealingly to conquer him with their
power. She rose, unaided, to her feet, and confronted him. Terror and
tenderness visibly struggled for the mastery of her facial expression,
as for the mood behind it.

“Don’t, Seth, don’t! Can’t you see how I am suffering? Have you no pity?
How _can_ you have the heart to speak to me like this?”

“_You_ talk about pity--about hearts!”

“How long ago was it that they were on your tongue--that you had your
arms stretched open for me?”

“Don’t recall it!”

“If I were to die this day, this hour, it would be the one thing I
should want to remember, the one thing of my life that I should hug
to my heart. What is changed since then? A man dead?--a man dies every
minute of the day somewhere in the world! Suppose I was wrong! Suppose
it _was_ an accident--yes, we’ll say it was! _Don’t_ you see--how little
that is, how unimportant, compared with--with----”

She finished the sentence by a faltering step toward him, her arms
outstretched, her lips parted, her form offering itself for his embrace
with a sinuous seduction of moving outlines.

The old witchery flamed up for a second in his pulses; then it was
emberless ashes.

Without a word he turned and left her.

*****

Aunt Sabrina opened the door of her room in response to his strenuous
rapping, and wiped her tear-stained face with the end of her
shoulder-shawl as her nephew entered. At his behest, she told all the
tidings that had come to the farm. Its master had been found at the
bottom of Tallman’s ravine, by some boys who had climbed down to see
if the beech-nuts were turning. The whole equipage had pitched off the
narrow road which crossed the gulf at this point, high above. The buggy
was smashed. One of the horses was dead; the other had two of its legs
broken. Half hidden under the carriage and one of the beasts was Albert,
quite lifeless and cold. The men who brought the news believed every
bone in his body must have been broken.

As she concluded the bare recital of facts, the poor old maid began her
sobbing afresh.

“I might uv knaowd it’d ’a’ come to this,” she groaned; “‘pride goeth
before a fall,’ ez Solomon says. I hed my heart tew much sot on his
goin’ to Congress; I was exaltin’ my horn tew high. I was settin’ by
the window, that very minute, watchin’ Sarah Andrews go by perked up in
their democrat wagon, with her injy shawl ’n all her fine feathers on,
’n’ never so much’s turnin’ her head this way, ’n’ I was sayin’ to
myself, ‘M’ lady, you’ll come daown a peg ’r two off ’n your high
hoss when Albert goes to Congress’--’n’ there the men was comin’ in
the gate, thet identical minute, with the news. I tell you!” she roused
herself into indignant declamation here, “men like Zeke Tallman ought to
be hung, who ’re tew shiftless or penurious to fix up their fences on
pieces o’ raoad like thet, sao’s to keep folks from drivin’ off in the
dark, ’n’ killin’ themselves! That’s what they ought!”

“But it wasn’t dark, Aunt Sabrina,” said Seth; “the moon was so bright
all last night, you could have seen to read by it.”

The old lady was too occupied with her own thoughts to even think of
inquiring as to her nephew’s source of information. She only rocked to
and fro, desolately, and said, as if talking to herself:

“Sao much the wuss, Seth. It _was_ to be! Nothin’ could a’ stopped it.
Thet old witch, M’tildy Warren, is right. There’s a cuss on aour fam’ly.
Here, almost inside tew years, Sissly’s gone, ’n’ Lemuel’s gone, ’n’
naow its poor Albert! ’N’ he was gittin’ so like his grandfather,
the Senator, tew, gittin’ to look like him, ’n’ ack like him; I kin
remember my father----”

Seth had left the room, with soft footsteps. He would go at once to the
scene of his brother’s death.

At the outside door, as he opened it, he stood face to face with Annie.
She gave him her hand silently. Her face was paler than he had ever seen
it before, and she looked on the ground, after the first little start of
surprise at the meeting, instead of into his face.

“You have heard?” he whispered.

“Yes. Isn’t it awful?”

“Will you go upstairs and see Aunt Sabrina? She is in her room. I think
the sight of you would do her good.”

“Yes. What a terrible shock it must be to her. And----?”

“The widow? You’ll find her in the parlor. Strange enough, she was
weeping her eyes out when I last saw her.” He could not keep the
bitterness out of his tone.

“Poor woman!” was all that Annie could find it in her heart to murmur,
as Seth passed her on his gloomy errand, and she entered the house of
mourning.



CHAPTER XXVI.--THE CORONER.

THERE was a short cut by which, using a rough back road across the
hill, and then a dimly-marked bridle path down the bed of the creek, one
could get to Tallman’s ravine in less than an hour on foot. Seth saddled
the black mare, and brought her up on the meadow plateau overlooking the
gulf, panting and white on breast and barrel with foam, inside fifteen
minutes. He had galloped furiously, unable to think save in impatient
flashes, and reckless alike of his own neck and the beast’s wind and
limbs. He reined up the plunging mare at the very edge of the ravine,
where some score of farmers and boys were standing clustered under the
trees, watching his excited approach.

As he threw himself from the saddle among them, and looked swiftly from
face to face for the right one to speak to first, the attention of the
elder bystanders concentrated itself upon the mare. They would have
given their foremost thoughts to her anyway, for they were owners of
livestock even before they were neighbors, and her splashed and heated
condition appealed in protest to their deepest feeling--reverential
care for good horseflesh. But there was something more: the mare was
strangely, visibly agitated at the sight of the glen before her, and
reared back with outstretched trembling forelegs, lifted ears, and
distended, frightened eyes.

“By Cracky!” cried Zeke Tallman himself, “don’t it beat natur’! This
’ere mare knaows what’s happened! Look at her! She senses what’s
layin’ down there at the bottom!”

“’N’ it they say dawgs has got more instinck than a hoss!” said a
younger yokel. He kicked a mongrel pup which was lounging around among
the men’s legs, with a fierce “Git aout! yeh whelp, yeh! What d’_you_
knaow abaout it!” to illustrate his contempt for this canine theory.

A third farmer, more practically considerate, took the shivering,
affrighted beast by the bridle, and led it away from the gulf’s edge,
patting its wet neck compassionately as they went.

Meanwhile Seth had found his way through the group to his brother John,
who stood with his back against a beech tree, springing from the very
brink of the gulf, his hands in his pockets, his eyes on the trampled
grass at his feet. A half circle of boys, with one or two girls of the
school age, stretched about him at some distance, like the outer line
of an open fan, mutely eyeing him as the second most important figure in
the tragedy. They separated for Seth to make his way, and made signs to
each other that the interest was doubled by his arrival. The brothers
shook hands silently and scarcely looked at each other.

There came the sound of a pistol shot from the glen below; somebody
said: “There! they’ve killed th’ off-hoss. Ther’ goes th’ best matched
team o’ grays in Dearborn Caounty!”

“Have you been down yet, John?” Seth asked softly, as the low buzz of
conversation began about them once more.

“No, not yet. I suppose I could if I had insisted on it, but when I got
here, twenty minutes or so ago, they told me here that Timms had got his
jury together down there, and forbidden anybody coming down till they
were through. So I’ve stayed here. Not that I care about Timms, but--I
can wait.”

“Let’s go down!” As he spoke, Seth swung himself around the beech,
and began the descent, letting himself swiftly down the steep, mossy
declivity by saplings and roots. His brother followed. One or two
boys started also, but were roughly restrained by their elders, with a
whispered “Stay back, can’t yeh! H’ain’t yeh got no sense. Them’s the
brothers!”

The scene at the bottom was not unlike what Seth’s fancy had painted it,
adding the terrible novelties of the night to a spot he had known from
boyhood. Half-shaded even in the noon sunlight by overhanging branches
from the towering, perpendicular sides of the glen, the miniature valley
lay, a narrow stretch of poor, close-cropped grass, with the spiral,
faded mullein stalks, the soft brown clumps of brake, the straggling,
bloomless thistles, and even some tufts of glowing golden-rod, which
push their way into unfrequented pasture-lands and encompass their
sterility. The stream, which once had been a piscatorial glory of the
section, but now, robbed of its water and its life by distant clearings,
mills and reservoirs, wandered sadly and shallowly on an unnoted course,
divided itself here to skirt each side of the gulf with a contemptible
rivulet--the two coming together abruptly at the mouth of the low stone
culvert, and vanishing into its dark recesses, above which rose, sloping
steeply, the high embankment of the road traversing the ravine.

It was over this embankment that horses, carriage and owner had
precipitately pitched; it was at its base, on the swail and gravel of
the stream’s edge, that the wreck lay, surrounded by a little knot of
men. Vertical gashes in the earth down the bank, with broken branches
and tom roots, marked the awful track of the descent; the waters of the
brook to the right, dammed by the body of the horse killed in the fall,
had overflowed the sands and made muddy rivulets across to the culvert.

The Coroner turned with obvious vexation at the sound of the brothers’
approach. “I thought I give word--” he began; then, recognizing the
newcomers, added, without altering his peremptory, officious tone: “It’s
all right; you can come now, if you want to. The gentlemen of the
jury have completed their labors for the present. I was on the pint of
adjourning the ink-west.”

The brothers joined the jurors, and dumbly surveyed the spectacle at
their feet. One of the grays lay across the rivulet; the other, more
recently dead, was piled awkwardly upon its mate’s neck and shoulders,
in an unnatural heap. The front portions of the buggy, scratched but not
smashed, were curiously reared in the air, by reason of the pole being
driven deep into the soft earth, between the horses; the rear wheels
and the seat, broken off and riven by the violence of the shock, were
imbedded in the marsh underneath. On the higher ground, close in front
of the brothers, lay something decorously covered with horse-blankets,
which they comprehended with a sinking of the heart.

“He lay in theer, part under the hind wheels ’n’ part under the nigh
hoss,” explained the Coroner, with dignity. “The fall was enough to brek
his neck twenty times over, let alone the hosses may’ve kicked him on
the way down. We hev viewed the remains, ’n’ we’ve decided--

“We ain’t decided nothin’!” broke in one of the jurors, a serious,
almost grim-faced farmer, with a bushy collar of gray whiskers framing
his brown square jaw. “How kin we decide till we’ve heerd some evidence,
’n’ before the ink-west is threw with?”

“There’s some men’d kick if they was goin’ to be hung. Did I _say_
we’d arrived at a verdict? What I mean is we’ve agreed to adjourn the
ink-west now till arter the funeral.”

“Well, why daon’t yeh say what yeh mean, then?” rejoined the objecting
juror. “They can’t no cor’ner make up my verdict fur me, ’n’ you’ll
fine it aout, tew.”

“The more fool me fur panelin’ yeh!” was the Coroner’s comment.

The brothers insensibly edged away from this painful altercation. A
little elderly man, in shabby broadcloth which seemed strangely out
of place among the rough tweeds and homespuns of the farmers, detached
himself from the group of jurors, and came over to them, with a subdued
halfsmile of recognition. It was the Thessaly undertaker.

“Tew bad, ain’t it?” he said glibly, “allus some such scrimmage as
thet, on every one of Timms’ juries. He ain’t got no exec’tive ability,
_I_ say. I’d like to see _him_ run a funer’l with eight bearers--all
green han’s! I told him thet once, right to his face! But then of course
yeh knaow _I_ can’t say much. He’s techy, ’n’ ’twouldn’t do fur me
to rile him. We hev a kind o’ ’rangement, you see. I hev to be on hand
any-way, ’n’ he allus puts me on the jury; it helps him ’n’ it helps
me. I kin always sort o’ smooth over things, if any o’ th’ jurors feels
cranky, yeh knaow. They’ll listen to me, cuz they reelize I’ve hed
experience, ’n’ then there’s a good deal in knaowin’ haow to manage
men, in hevin’ what _I_ call exec’tive ability. Of course, this case is
peculiar. They ain’t no question abaout th’ death bein’ accidental. But
this man you heerd kickin’, this Cyrus Ballou, he’s makin’ a dead set to
hev’ Zeke Tallman condemned fur hevin’ his fence up there in bad repair.
He ’n’ Tallman’s a lawin’ of it abaout some o’ his steers thet got
into Tallman’s cabbages, ’n’ thet’s why-----”

“I suppose we can leave this to you!” John broke in, impatience
mastering the solemnity of the scene. “Have you made any arrangements?
You know what ought to be done.”

“Yes, my boy ought to be here by this time with my covered wagon, what I
call my ambulance.”

The brothers turned away from him. The little man remembered something
and hurrying after them laid his hand on John’s arm.

“When I spoke abaout allus bein’ on the jury, you knaow, p’raps I ought
to’ve explained.” He proceeded with an uneasy, deprecating gesture. “You
see, a juror gits a dollar a day, ’n’ sometimes friends of the
remains think I ought to deduck thet f’m my bill, but ef you’ll jest
consider----”

“Oh for God’s sake! leave us alone!”

It was Seth who spoke, and the undertaker joined his fellow-jurors at
the foot of the hill forthwith. The brothers went back, and stood again
in oppressed silence over the blanketed form.

Dr. William Henry Timms meanwhile conversed apart with his panel. He
was a middle-aged, shrewdfaced man, who, like so many thousands of
other Whig babes born in the forties, had been named after the hero
of Tippecanoe. He was more politician than coroner, more coroner than
doctor. He hung by a rather dubious diploma upon the outskirts of his
profession, snubbed by the County Society, contemned by most sensible
Thessaly families as “not fit to doctor a sick cat.” But he had a
powerful “pull” in the politics of the county, and the office could not,
apparently, be wrested from him, no matter how capable his opponent.

In the earlier years of his official service he had been over zealous
in suspecting mysteries, and had twice been reprimanded by the Supreme
Court Judge, and much oftener by the District Attorney, for enveloping
in criminal suspicion cases which, when intelligently examined, were
palpable and blameless casualties. These experiences had sensibly
modified his zeal. He had put the detective habit of mind far away
behind him, and, like a wise official, bent all his energies now to the
more practical labor of dividing each inquest into as many sessions as
possible. Had he been a Federal Deputy Marshal, he could not have been
more skilled in this delicate art of getting eight days’ pay out of
a three hours’ case. A bare suggestion of mystery at the start, to be
almost cleared up, then revived, then exploited carefully, then finally
dissipated, and all so deftly that the District Attorney, who lived at
Octavius, would not be inspired to come over and interfere--this was Dr.
Timms’ conception of a satisfactory inquest. Occasionally there would
be the added zest of an opportunity to formally inflict censure upon
somebody, and if this involved some wealthy or potential person, so much
the better: to withhold the censure meant tangible profit, to sternly
mete it (failing a fair arrangement) meant public credit as a bold,
vigilant official.

Dr. Timms was still turning over in his mind the professional
possibilities involved in Tallman’s bad fence-building, and casually
sounding his jurors as to their private feelings toward the delinquent;
the brothers had followed the jury up to the meadow plateau, and
were standing aloof from yet among their neighbors, answering in
monosyllables, and following mentally the work of the undertakers’
squad down in the bottom; the farmers were beginning to straggle off
reluctantly, the demands of neglected work and long-waiting dinners
conquering their inclination to remain--when a big carry-all from Tyre
drove up on the road outside, and a score of men clambered out and
over the fence to join the group. They had driven post-haste from the
Convention, and among them were Ansdell, Beekman, and Milton Squires.

Mr. Ansdell came straight to the two brothers, giving a hand to each
with a gesture full of tender comprehension. While they talked in low
tones of the tragedy, they were joined by Abe Beekman; upon the normal
eagerness and wistful solemnity of his gaunt face there was engrafted
now a curious suggestion of consuming interest in some masked feature
of the affair. He was so intent upon this, whatever it might be, that
to the sensitive feelings of the other three he seemed to dash into the
subject with wanton brusqueness.

“How air yeh, Fairchild?” he nodded to John, “I want somebody to tell
me this hull thing, while it’s fresh. Who knaows th’ most ’baout it?
Where’s th’ Cor’ner? What’s he done so far?”

Obedient to a word from John, the Coroner dignifiedly came over to
the beech tree, where our little group stood, and listened coldly to a
series of searching questions put by the Jay County magnate. When they
were finished he made lofty answer:

“I ain’t institooted no inquiries yit. That’ll be arranged fur later,
to convenience the family ’n’ the officers of the law. It ain’t
customary, in cases of accident like this, to rush around like a hen
with her head cut off, right at the start. The law takes these things
ca’mly, sir--ca’mly ’n’ quietly.”

“But have you made an examination?--you are a doctor, I think,”
 interposed Ansdell. “Have you satisfied yourself when the death
occurred? Have you learned any of the circumstances of it? Were there
any witnesses?”

The Coroner looked at the questioner, then at the brothers, as if
including them in his pained censure, then back again at Ansdell:

“I don’t know ez it’s any o’ _your_ business,” he said. “Who _air_ yeh,
any way?”

Before anyone else could answer, Beekman spoke: “He’s the next
Congressman from this deestrick--nominated by acclamation over at Tyre
to-day--that’s who _he_ is. But never mind that, what I want to knaow
is--air yeh sure he died from an accident? Kin yeh swear to thet ez a
doctor?”

“Toe be sure I kin!” responded the official, in a friendlier tone. “He
was simply mashed out o’ shape by the fall. He come down forty feet, ef
it was an inch, plum under the horses. They jest rolled over each other,
all the way down.--And so this is Mr. Ansdell, I presewm. I’m proud to
make yer acquaintance, sir. Only by the merest accident I wasn’t at the
Convention to-day, sir.”

The undertaker came up now to announce that the first stage of his
labors was completed and that the ambulance wagon was on the road
outside, ready to start for the Fairchild homestead.

“We went up by t’other side, lower daown the gulf,” he explained;
“’twas easier, ’n’ then there was no shock to yer feelin’s. Ef I
might be ’lowed to s’jest, it ’ud look kine o’ respectful to hev all
these friends of the remains walk two by two, behine the wagon, daown
to the haouse. Yeh might let the carry-all come along arterwards, empty,
yeh knaow, ez a sort o’ token of grief.”

The suggestion was passively accepted as the proper thing under the
circumstances, and the little procession began to shape itself on the
road outside. Seth was moving toward the fence with the others, when the
thought of the black mare he had ridden to the scene occurred to him. A
farm-boy was holding the animal a little way off, near some bars opening
from the meadow to the road. Seth saw Milton getting over the rails--he
had been busy on the outskirts of the assemblage gathering accounts from
those earlier on the ground--and said to him: “Won’t you get the mare,
and ride her home, along with the carry-all. I shall walk--with the
rest.”

The cortege had formed just beyond the fateful narrowing of the road,
where it crossed the gulf, and the men who were to follow Albert to the
homestead, including all the late comers from Tyre and a few neighbors,
had looked down the steep declivity, and noted the new breaking away of
earth on the road’s edge, before they passed on to fall in line behind
the black, shrouded vehicle. The procession had moved some rods when
there came sounds of excitement from the rear; at these some of the
walkers turned, then others, and even the driver of the ambulance drew
up his horses and joined the retrospective gaze.

The black mare was balking again, on the road directly over the gulf,
and was crowding back with her haunches tight against the fencing on the
side opposite to that over which her late master had fallen. It was a
moment of cruel tension to every eye, for the fence was visibly yielding
under the animal’s weight, and another tragedy seemed a matter of
seconds. Milton appeared to have lost all sense, and was simply clinging
to the mare’s neck, in dumb affright. Luckily a farmer ran forward at
this juncture, and contrived to lead the beast forward diagonally away
from the spot. Milton sat up in the saddle again, turned the mare away
from the gulf, and galloped off.

“Dummed cur’ous thet!” whispered Beekman to Seth; “does thet mare ack
thet way often?”

“I never knew her to balk before to-day. She acted like that when I
first brought her up to the ravine. It _is_ curious, as you say. But
animal instinct is a strange, unaccountable thing any way.”

“Hm-m!” answered the Boss of Jay County, knitting his brows in thought,
as the procession moved again.



CHAPTER XXVII.--ANNIE AND ISABEL.

Annie found the living room of the Fairchild homestead unoccupied. She
could hear Alvira talking with the Lawton girl out in the kitchen, and
from the parlor on the other side there came a murmuring sound which she
did not comprehend at once. As she laid her hand upon the stair door,
with the purpose of ascending to Sabrina’s room, this sound rose to
a distinguishable pitch. It was a woman’s weeping. Annie hesitated,
listening for a moment; then she turned, rolled one of the parlor doors
back, and entered.

Isabel lay buried in the blue easy-chair, her face, encircled by one
arm, hidden against its back. The great braids of her yellow hair were
dishevelled and loosened, without being in graceful disorder. Her whole
form trembled with the force of her hysterical sobbing.

At Annie’s touch upon her shoulder she raised her face quickly. It was
tear-stained, haggard, and looked soft with that flabbiness of outline
which trouble may give to the fairest woman’s beauty when it is not
built upon youth; over this face passed a quick look of disappointment
at recognition of Annie.

“Oh, it is you!”

The almost petulant words escaped before Isabel could collect herself.
She sat up now, wiping her eyes, and striving with all her might for
control of her thoughts and tongue.

“Yes, Isabel. I _was_ going up to Sabrina’s room, but I heard you
sobbing here, and I felt that I must come to you. It is all so
terrible--and I do so feel for you!”

“Terrible--yes, it _is_ terrible! It was kind of you to come--very kind.
I--I scarcely realize it all, yet. It was such a shock!”

“I know, poor dear.” Annie laid her hand caressingly on the other’s
brow. She had not come with over-tenderness in her heart, but this
unexpected depth of suffering, so palpably real, touched her keenly. “I
know. Don’t try to talk to me--don’t feel that it is necessary. Only let
me be of use to you. It will be a dreadful time for you all--and perhaps
I can spare you some. I shan’t go to the school to-day. Oughtn’t you to
go up to your room now, Isabel, and lie down, and leave me here to--to
arrange things?”

“No, not yet! Perhaps soon I will. My impulse is to stay down, to spare
myself nothing, to force myself to suffer everything that there is to be
suffered. I’ll see; perhaps that may not be best. But not now! not now!
No--don’t go! Stay with me. I dread to be left alone; my own thoughts
murder me!” She rose to her feet, and began pacing to and from the
piano. “Let me walk--and you talk to me--anything, it doesn’t matter
what--it will help occupy my mind. Oh, yes--were you at Crump’s last
night? I heard them come by, late, singing.”

“Oh, Isabel, how _can_ we talk of such trivial things? Yes, I was there;
I was in the singing party, too. It makes me shudder to think that at
that very minute, perhaps----” The girl paused for a moment, with
parted lips and troubled face, as if pondering some sudden thought; then
exclaimed, “_Oh-h!_ the horse! Could it have been!”

“Could what have been!” Isabel stopped in her caged-panther-like pacing,
and looked deep inquiry.

“But no, of course not! What connection _could_ there have been! You
see, after I left the wagon, to cut across by the path at the end of the
poplars, a horse came galloping like the wind up the road, with some
figure lying low on its back. We were too far away to see distinctly,
though the night was so light”--she had insensibly drifted into the use
of the plural pronoun--“but the thing went by so like a flash that it
seemed an apparition. And come to think of it, there was an effort to
avoid noise. I know I wondered at there being such a muffled sound, and
Seth explained----”

She stopped short, conscious of having said more than she intended.

“Seth was with _you_, then?”

“Yes--he met me, quite unexpectedly, by the thorns. He had been out
walking, he said; the night was too fine to sleep.”

“Yes, I heard him go out, an hour and a half at least before the singers
came by. Did he say anything to you about what had happened, here in the
house, during the evening?” Isabel’s azure eyes took on their darkest
hue now, in the intentness of her gaze into her companion’s face.

“Only that he had had words with Albert--poor boy! how like a knife the
memory of them must be to him now!”

“Did he tell you what the words were about?”

“No.”

“Did he say anything else to you?”

Annie grew restive under this persistent interrogation. The habit of
deference to the older, wiser, more beautiful woman was very strong with
her, but this did seem like an undue strain upon it.

“Why yes, no doubt he did. We talked of a number of things.”

“What were they? What did he say?”

“Well, really, Isabel, I----”

The elder woman gave a little click with her teeth and, after a
searching glance into the other’s face, resumed her walk up and down,
her hands clenched rather than clasped before her, and her movement more
feline than ever. “Well, really you--what?” she said with the faintest
suggestion of a mocking snarl in the intonation.

The girl drew herself up. It was not in human nature to keep her tone
from chilling. “Really, I think I would better go up to Sabrina. I
fancied I might be of some service to you.”

“Annie! Are you going to speak like that to me?--_now_ of all times!”
 The tone was outwardly appealing. Annie’s sense was not skilled enough
to detect the vibration of menace in it.

“No, Isabel, not at all. But you make it hard for me. Can you wonder? I
think to comfort a desolate, stricken woman in her hour of sorrow, and
she responds by peremptory cross-examination as to what a young man may
have said to me, in the moonlight. Is it strange that I am puzzled?”

“Strange! Is not everything strange around and about me! That I should
have married as I did; that I, loathing farm life, should have come
here to live; that I should be waiting here now for them to bring
my husband’s corpse home to me--is it not all strange, unreal? The
conversation ought to be to match, oughtn’t it?”--she spoke with an
unnatural, tremulous vivacity which pained and frightened the girl--“and
so, while we wait, I talk to you about young men, and the moonlight, and
all that. _Can’t_ you see that my mind is tearing itself to pieces,
like a machine in motion with some big rod or other loose, pounding,
crushing, right and left like a flail! We _must_ talk! Tell me what he
said, anything--everything.”

“Why, that isn’t so easy,” Annie replied dubiously, much mistrusting the
sanity of all this conversation, but pushed along with it in spite
of herself. “He said something about a misunderstanding with his poor
brother, and then--then something that I didn’t at all understand about
a temptation, a great temptation leading him to the gates of hell he
called it--but you know how Seth is given to exaggerate everything--and
then----”

“He told you all this, did he. How confiding! How sweet! Go on--what
_else_ did he say to you--in the moonlight.”

Annie felt vaguely that the tone was cruel and hostile. As she paused in
bewildered self-inquiry, Isabel glided forward and confronted her, with
gleaming eyes and a white, drawn face.

“Why do you stop there?” she demanded in a swift, bitter whisper.

“There _are_ things which--a girl doesn’t like to--have dragged from her
in this----”

Even as Annie was forming this halting halfsentence, a change came over
the elder woman. She dropped the hand which had been raised as if to
clutch Annie’s shoulder. The flashing light passed from her eyes, and
something of color, or at least of calm, came back into her face.

“I understand!” she said, simply.

“You can see, Isabel, that this is not a time I should have chosen to
speak of such things to you, if you had not insisted. It seems almost
barbarous to bring my joy forward, at such a time, and appear to
contrast it with your affliction. You _won’t_ think I wanted to do it,
will you?”

The widow of a day was looking contemplatively at her companion; she
had effaced from both expression and voice every trace of her recent
agitation. “Are you sure it is all joy?” she asked calmly.

“I wouldn’t admit it to him. And at first I was not altogether clear
about it in my own mind. Indeed, with this other and terrible thing, I
can scarcely think soberly about it, as it ought to be thought of. But
still--you know, Isabel, we were little children together--and I have
never so much as thought of anybody else.” Annie spoke more confidently,
as she went on; the notion that there had been malevolence in Isabel’s
tone had faded into a foolish fancy: there seemed almost encouragement,
sympathy, in her present expression. “I should have lived and died an
old maid if he had not come to me. And it comforts me, dear, too, to
think that in your great trouble I shall have almost a sister’s right to
be with you, and help you bear it.”

Isabel did not respond to this tender proffer of solace. She still stood
eying her companion reflectively. “You are very certain of being happy,
then?” she mused.

A sense of discordance touched the girl’s heart again--a something
in the restrained, calm tone which seemed to sting. She looked more
searchingly into the speaker’s eyes, and read in their blue depths a
mystery of meaning which froze and silenced her. While Annie looked, in
growing paralysis of thought, Isabel spoke again, slowly:

“Your married life at least won’t be deadly dull, as mine was. There
must be great possibilities of excitement in living with a man who can
propose marriage to a girl--in the moonlight--_on his way home from
having murdered his brother!_”

*****

Young Samantha Lawton, the member of the tribe who served as
maid-of-all-work at the Warren homestead, had a mind at once imaginative
and curious. From an upper window she had caught sight of the mournful
procession from Tallman’s ravine, winding its way down the hill, in the
distance. She stole out from the house, whose bedridden occupant could
at best only yell herself hoarse in calling if she chanced to need
anything during her absence, and walked up the path by the thorns to the
main road, over which the cortege would presently pass. Inside the sharp
angle of shade made at this corner, where the thorns aspiringly joined
the poplars, there was an old board seat between two trees, the relic of
some past and forgotten habit of rendezvous, perhaps whole generations
old. Samantha knew of this seat, and stood on it now; from it, she had a
clear view of the road in front and, through the tangled thorns, of the
meadow-path to the left, while there were branches enough about her to
render her practically invisible. From this coign of vantage Samantha
saw some things which she had not expected to witness.

Annie Fairchild came suddenly across the line of vision, from the
direction of the dead man’s house, and walked straight to the stile
at the edge of the thorn row. There was something so curious in
the expression of her face, as she advanced, that Samantha scented
discovery, and prepared on the instant an exculpatory lie. But Annie
passed the one place where discovery was probable, and the hidden girl
saw now that the strange look had some other explanation. She crossed
the stile, and clung to the fence post, as if for support; glanced up
the road, where now the black front of the nearing procession could be
discerned; then with a shudder turned her face in profile toward
her unsuspected observer, and looked vacantly, piteously up into the
afternoon sky.

Annie’s face, with its straight, firm outlines, was not one which lent
itself to the small facial play of evanescent emotions. Its regular
features habitually expressed an intelligent, self-reliant composure,
not easily responsive to shades of feeling. To see this calm countenance
transfixed now with a helpless stare of anguish was to comprehend that
something terrible had happened.

She stood at the stile, desperately clinging to the rail at first, then
edging into the thorns to be more out of sight, as the ambulance and
the little file of friends moved slowly by. She noted nothing of the
peculiarities of the procession--that most of the silent followers
were strange men, in city dress--but only gazed at Seth, walking along
gravely behind the vehicle, beside his brother John. She saw him with
eyes distended, fixed--as of one following the unfolding of a hideous
nightmare. So long as the party remained in sight, these set, affrighted
eyes followed him. Then they closed, and the sufferer reeled as if in a
swoon.

Samantha’s first and best impulse was to get down and go to the agonized
woman’s aid; her second, and controlling, thought, was to stop where she
was, and see and hear all that was going.

Annie seemed to recover her strength, if not her composure. She wrung
her hands wildly and talked with strange incoherence aloud to herself.
Once she started, as if to cross the stile again and return to the house
of mourning, but drew back. At last, walking straight ahead, like one in
a dream, she moved toward her home.

Samantha followed at a safe distance, marvelling deeply.



CHAPTER XXVIII.--BETWEEN THE BREAD-PAN AND THE CHURN.

WELL, I don’ knaow ’s I go’s fur’s Sabriny, ’n’ say ther’s a cuss
on th’ fam’ly, ’n’ thet M’tildy Warren put it there, fur after all,
three deaths hand-runnin’ in tew years ain’t an onheerd-of thing, but
I don’t blame her fur gittin’ daown-hearted over it. Poor ole creetur,
she’s be’n a carryin’ the hull load o’ grief on her shoulders sence
Sissly died. I shouldn’t wonder if it’d be tew much for her naow.”

Alvira sighed, and let her eyes wander compassionately from the kneading
board and its batch of dough to the old, cushioned arm chair by the
kitchen stove where Aunt Sabrina customarily sat. This last bereavement
had rendered the hired-girl almost sentimental in her attitude toward
the stricken old maid--so much so that when young Samantha Lawton
dropped in, toward evening, and offered to sit down in this chair,
Alvira had sharply warned her to take another.

The girl had brought a note over from Annie to Seth, and was not
a little vexed that Alvira should have taken it from her, and gone
upstairs to deliver it herself, instead of allowing the messenger to
complete her errand. She declined, therefore, to display any interest
in the subject of the aged aunt, and warmed her hands over the glowing
stove-griddles in silence. The elder Lawton girl, Melissa, resting for a
moment from her churning, turned the talk into a more personal channel.

“Fur _my_ part, I think it’s a pesky shame, where there’s three
big strappin’ men ’raoun’ th’ haouse, to make a girl wag this old
chum-dash till her arms are ready to drop off. ’N’ I’ll tell ’em
sao, tew.”

“I sh’d thought Dany’d done it fur yeh” said her younger sister, with
a grin. “He allus seemed to me to be soft enough to do all yer work fur
yeh, ef you’d let him.”

“Not he! Both he ’n’ Leander ain’t so much’s lifted a finger ’raoun’
th’ haouse to-day. They’re off daown to th’ corners, hangin’ raoun’ th’
store, ’n’ swoppin’ yarns ’baout th’ accident. _They_ wouldn’t keer
’f I churned away here till I spit blood. In th’ mornin’ he’ll be
awful sorry, of course, ’n’ swear he furgot all ’baout Wednesday’s
bein’ churnin’ day. Thet’s th’ man of it!”

“’N’ I s’pose Milton never does nothin’ ’baout th’ haouse
naowadays,” remarked Samantha, interrogatively.

“No, siree!” snapped Alvira. “You bet he daon’t! He’s tew high ’n’
mighty fur thet! Prob’ly he’s furgot so much as th’ name of a churn,
even. He might git his broadcloth suit spotted, tew. I wouldn’t dream o’
askin’ _him_. I’d ruther ask Seth any day then I hed Milton. _He_ don’t
put on half so many airs, even if he does git thirty dollars a week in
Tecumseh, ’n’ live ’mong ladies ’n’ gentlemen ev’ry day ’f his
life.”

Melissa rested from her labors again, to say sneeringly: “Pritty ladies
’n’ gentlemen he _use’t_ to travel with, there in Tecumsy, accordin’
to all accaounts!” Alvira paused in turn, with her arms to the elbow in
the floury mixing, and an angry glitter in her little black eyes. “Ef I
was _some_ folks, ’n’ hed _some_ folk’s relations in Tecumsy, ’pears
to me I’d keep my maouth pritty blamed shut ’baout what goes on
there!”

The retort was ample. There was no answering sound, save the muffled
splash and thud of Melissa’s vigorously-resumed churning.

The lull in conversation was beginning to grow oppressive when the young
visitor asked: “Haow does th’ fine lady take it?”

“She seems more opset than anyone’d given her credit fur,” Alvira
answered, sententiously.

Melissa interposed to expand this comment, and rest her arms: “Yes, she
_seems_ opset enough. P’raps she _is_. But then agin, p’raps ef you was
young ’n’ good lookin’, with blew eyes ’n’ a lot o’ yalleh hair thet
was all yer own, ’n’ you hed a hus-ban’ twice as old as you was, ’n’
he sh’d fall daown ’n’ break his neck, ’n’ leave you a rich young
widder, p’raps you’d cry yer eyes aout--when people was lookin’--speshly
if thet husban’ o’ yours left a likely young brother who was soft on
yeh. When you git as old ’s I be, S’manthy, you’ll learn ther’s a good
deal in appear’nces.”

“When she gits as old as you air,” broke in Alvira, sharply, “I hope
she’ll learn better ’n’ to blab everythin’ thet comes into her head!
You’ll let that cream break, ef yeh don’t look aout!”

“I don’t b’lieve its within an ’aour o’ comin’” said Melissa, wearily
resuming her task.

“No, but--reelly,” began Samantha, “_is_ Seth----?”

“Never you mind whether Seth is or whether he isn’t,” answered Alvira.
“A young tadpole of a girl like you’s got no business pryin’ ’raoun’
older folks’ affairs. You better go home! M’tildy may need yeh. Yer
sister’s got her work to dew, ’n’ so ’ve I.”

This plain intimation produced no effect upon Samantha. She continued to
warm her hands, which were already the hue of a red apple with the heat,
and remarked: “No, she don’ want me. Annie said I might stay ’s long
’s I wanted to. She said she wanted to be left alone. She’s abaout the
wuss broke up girl _I_ ever sot eyes on. You ought to see the way _she_
takes on, though. I bet the widder ain’t a succumstance to her. Ef you’d
seen what _I_ saw, ’n’ heern what _I_ heerd this afternoon, I guess
you’d think so tew.”

The girl spoke calmly, with a satisfied conviction that nobody would
tell her to go home again in a hurry.

“What was it?” came simultaneously from the kneading-board and the
churn.

“Oh, I dunnao,--I ain’t much of a han’ to blab everythin’. A young
tadpole of a girl like me, yeh knaow, ain’t got no business----”

“Come naow! _Don’t_ be a _fool_, S’manthy! Ef you’ve got anythin’ to
say, spit it aout!”

Thus adjured by the commanding tones of Alvira, the girl trifled no
more, but related what she had seen, while hidden behind the thorns. She
had a talent for description, and made so much of Annie’s stony face
and strange behavior, that she succeeded in producing an effect of
mystification upon her listeners scarcely second to that under which
she, as an involuntary spectator, had labored. The success of her
recital was not lost upon Samantha, as she went on:

“Et was after th’ undertaker’s waggin ’n’ th’ men--some gallus lookin’
young fellers, f’m Tecumsey I guess, was amongst ’em--et was after
these’d all gone by, thet I heerd her talk. She kind o’ hid herself in
th’ bushes while they was a goin’ by, ’n’ stared at ’em like mad,
ez fur’s she c’d folly ’em. Then she bust aout--not a-cryin’ mind yeh,
fur she never shed a tear--but wringin’ her han’s ’n’ groanin’ ’n’
actin’ ’s ef she was goin’ to faint. I c’d see her jest ez plain ’s I
kin see you stan’in’ there naow, ’n’ heer her, tew. All to onc’t she
up ’n’ said----”

The young girl stopped here in the narrative abruptly, with a fine
disregard for the consuming interest with which her companions were
regarding her; she lifted her nose, and drew two or three leisured
sniffs. Then she bent down at the side of the stove and repeated them.

“Ther’s somethin’ burnin’ in thet oven,” she said at last, confidently.

“Et’s th’ barley. I knowed S’briny’d traipse off ’n’ leave it. She
allus does;” said Alvira, flinging open the oven door, and dragging out
with her apron a smoking pan of scorched grain.

Through the dense, pungent smudge which temporarily filled the room,
Samantha was heard to remark with offensive emphasis: “We allus drink
genu-wine coffee over to M’tildy’s. She’s mean enough ’baout
some things, but she wouldn’t make us swell ourselves aout with no
barley-wash.”

“’N’ sao do we here, tew--all but S’briny!” retorted Alvira,
indignantly. “She got use’ to drinkin’ it in war-times, when yeh
couldn’t git reel coffee fur love n’r money, jes’ ez all th’ other
farm-folks did. On’y she’s more contrary ’n’ th’ rest, ’n’ she
wouldn’t drink nothin’ else naow, not ef yeh poured it into her maouth
with a funnel. But go on ’th yer yarn!”

Samantha had to cough a little, on account of the smoke, and then it
took her some moments to collect the thread of her narrative. But at
last even the spirit of Tantalus could invent no further delay, and she
proceeded:

“Well, she didn’t say much, fer a fact, but they was business in ev’ry
word she did say. Fust she hollered aout--right aout, I tell yeh: ‘_Et’s
a wicked lie! She’s a bad, wicked woman!_ ’ Then she stopped fer
awhile ’n’ put her han’s up to her for’id--like this. Then she shuk
herself, ’n’ commenced to climb back over th’ stile, but she seemed to
think better of it, ’n’ started fer her own haouse, like’s ef she was
a walkin’ in her sleep, ’n’ a groanin’ to herself: ‘_Seth a murd’rer!
Seth a murd’rer!_’ Thet’s what I heerd!”

The girl put both feet up on the stove hearth, and tilted her chair back
in conscious triumph. “Got ’n’ apple handy?” she inquired of Alvira,
carelessly, in the tone of one whose position in life was assured.

To this strange recital, involving such terrible suggestions, there
succeeded a full minute of silence in the kitchen, broken only by the
ponderous clucking of the high wooden clock. Alvira and Melissa looked
at each other dumbly--each for once willing to forego the first word.

“Well, what d’yeh say to _thet?_” finally asked Melissa.

After some reflection, Alvira answered, “I sh’d say S’manthy was a
lyin’.”

“S’elp me die, crisscross, I ain’t!” protested the girl at the stove:
“I’ve told it all, jest’s it happened, straight’s a string. Where’s yer
apples?”

Alvira meditated again for a moment. Then she said to her subordinate:
“Go down ’n’ git that sister o’ yourn a Spitzenberg--’n’ bring up
some cider, yeh might’s well, too.”

When Melissa had gone, Alvira went over to the ‘younger girl, and
gripped her sharply by the shoulder: “Look here, you, is what you’ve
be’n tellin’ us here honest? Don’t lie to _me!_”

“Honest Injun? Alviry! ev’ry word!”

Alvira returned to her dough, and slapped it savagely into a huge,
unnatural pancake. She maintained silence until Melissa had returned,
and not only supplied her sister’s wants, but poured out a cupful of
the new cider for herself, as a proof of her appreciation of the Lawton
family’s supremacy over the existing crisis. Then Alvira spoke:

“I don’t ’tach th’ least ’mportance in th’ world to what S’manthy
heerd. Annie’s a school-teacher, ’n’ she’s be’n workin’ pritty
hard, ’n’ this thing’s kind o’ opset her--what with tendin’ to her
gran’mother, ’n’ then this teachin’, which is narvous, wearin’ kine o’
work. Thet’s th’ trewth o’ th’ matter. _I_ kin un-derstan’ it. She was
jest aout of her senses. But other folks won’t understan’ it as I dew.
Once a hint gits flyin’ amongst outsiders, who knaows where it’ll stop?
Naow, girl ’n’ woman, I’ve be’n in this haouse twenty year ’n’
more. I’m more a Fairchild than I’m anythin’ else. I remember th’ man in
there--layin’ dead in th’ parlor--when he was a youngster, comin’ home
f’m college; I remember Seth when he was a baby. I ain’t got no folks
of my own thet I keer a thaousandth part ‘s much abaout, nur owe a
thaousandth part ’s much tew, ez I dew this Fairchile fam’ly. _Well!_
They’ve hed trouble enough, this las’ tew year, ‘thout havin’ any added
onto it by th’ tattlin’, gossipin’ tongues of outsiders. I ain’t goin’
to _hev_ it! D’yeh understan’! Ef I heer s’ much’s a whisper of this yere
crazy school-teacher’s nonsense reported ‘raound, by th’ Lord above,
I’ll skin yeh both alive!”

“Who’s _b’en_ a gossipin’?” asked Samantha, reproachfully. “I shouldn’t
never said a word, ef you hadn’t insisted, ’n’ called me a fool fur
holdin’ my tongue.”

“I dunnao where you’ll gao to when you die, S’manthy,” said Alvira,
reflectively. “But nao, girls, trewly naow, this mustn’t be mentioned.
Yeh kin see with half ’n eye what a raow it’d stir up. Naow prommus
me, both o’ yeh, thet not a word of it shell pass yer lips. Yeh can see
fer yerself haow foolish it is! Ev’rybody knaows he driv off th’ raoad,
’n’ killed himself ’n’ th’ hosses by th’ fall. It’s ez plain ‘s th’
nose on yer face. Still it’s jest sech cases as this thet people git
talkin’ abaout, once they’re sot goin’--so yeh _will_ promise me, won’t
yeh?”

They promised.

“Hon’r bright, ye’ll never say a word to nao livin’ soul?”

They asseverated solemnly, honor bright, and Samantha had a doughnut as
well as another cup of cider.

*****

The tiresome butter came at last, and the dough passed into a higher
form of existence through the fiery ordeal of the oven; supper was laid
and silently eaten; two neighbors, volunteers for the night-watch with
the dead, came, and were ushered into the gloomy parlor; while apples,
cheese, doughnuts and a pitcher of cider were placed on the table
outside, for their refreshment in the small hours. Night fell upon the
farm.

*****

Melissa Lawton stole out-doors as soon as Alvira retired to her room,
and made her way through the darkness to the barns. As Albert had done
on the fatal previous evening, she opened the sliding door of the big
stable, and called up the stairs to Milton. There was no response, and
investigation showed that he was not in his room, although the lamp was
burning dimly. The girl stopped long enough to look over the familiar
coarse pictures on the walls and the shelf, and then crept down the
steep stairs again.

As she groped her way through the blackness to the stable door she came
suddenly in contact with a person entering, and felt herself rudely
seized and pushed back at arms’ length.

“Who’s here? What d’yeh want?” demanded a harsh voice, which seemed
despite its gruffness to betray great trepidation.

“It’s me--M’lissy!”

“Come along aout here into the light, so I kin see yeh. What a’ yeh
doin’ here, praowlin’ ’raoun’ ’n th’ dark, skeerin’ people fur?”

The Lawton girl’s native assurance all came back to her as she
confronted Milton in the dim starlight outside--which was radiance by
contrast with the stable’s total darkness--and she grinned satirically
at him.

“You’ve got a nerve on you like a maouse, I swaow! You trembled all
over when yeh tuk holt o’ me, in there. What was yeh skeert abaout? I
wouldn’t hurt yeh!”

“I wa’n’t skeert,” the man replied, sullenly. “What was yeh after in
there?”

“I was lookin’ fur you.”

“What fur?” The tone was still uneasily suspicious.

“I got somethin’ to tell yeh.”

“Well?”

“D’yeh knaow, I more’n half b’lieve this thing wa’n’t an accident at
all. What’d yeh say ’f it sh’d turn aout to be a murder?”

Even in this faint light Melissa could see that Milton was much taken
aback by the suggestion. He thrust his hands into his pockets, pulled
them out again, shuffled his feet, stammered, and betrayed by other
signs general among rustics his surprise.

“Pshaw--git aout!” he said at last; “what nonsense! Of caourse ’t was
’n accident. Didn’t th’ Cor’ner say sao? Daon’t ev’rybody knaow it?”

“Annie Fairchile don’t say sao. _She_ don’t knaow it.”

The girl went on to relate the substance of Samantha’s revelations,
adding unconsciously sundry embellishments which tended to throw a
clearer light upon Seth as the chief figure in the mystery.

Milton listened with deep attentiveness. His slow, inefficient brain
worked hard to keep up with the recital, and assimilate its chief
points. When the girl had finished he still thought steadily on this
strange story, with its unforeseen, startling suggestions. Gradually two
items took shape in his mind as most important: that Annie believed Seth
to be the criminal, and hence would be estranged from him; and that if
by any unexpected means people came to suspect foul play, here were the
elements of a ready-made suspicion against Seth. The first of these
was very welcome; it would be time enough to think of the other if a
discovery were made.

“What dew I think?” he said at last, in response to the girl’s repeated
inquiries. “I think thet sister o’ yourn lied, ’n’ I think yeh better
keep yer maouth, ’n’ her’n tew, pritty dum shet, ef yeh don’t want to
git into trouble.”



CHAPTER XXIX.--THE BOSS LOOKS INTO THE MATTER.

COUSIN Seth--_There are reasons why I cannot come to the house again,
even to the funeral; and why I shall not see you again during your stay.
I think you will understand them. If you explain to Aunt Sabrina that
I am ill, it will not be a falsehood. I have been and am
suffering--terribly. But nobody can help me, save by leaving me to
myself. I am trying to forget, too, everything that was said when we
last talked together, and I shall succeed. Never fear, I shall succeed.
A._

It was this note, scrawled in a hand very unlike Miss Annie’s customary
prim, school-teacher’s writing, which Samantha had borne over from the
Warren house. Seth had studied it, perplexedly, for a long time on the
evening of its arrival. He ruminated now again upon it, as he walked
along the road toward Thessaly, the following forenoon. The temptation
to confide the thing to John, who had stayed over night with him at the
homestead, and now was walking silently by his side toward the village,
wavered in his mind. Perhaps John could assist him to comprehend it; but
then, it would be necessary to explain so much to him first. Finally the
arguments in favor of confession triumphed, and with a “Here, old man;
this is a letter from Annie. I want you to help me guess what it means,”
 he made the plunge.

John read the note carefully. “What was it you talked about on this
occasion she refers to, and when was it?” he asked.

“It was night before last, _the_ night, and I asked her to marry me.”

“And what was her answer?--I’ll tell you afterward how glad I am to hear
what you’ve just told me.”

“Well, it wasn’t decisive--but she admitted that it made her very
happy.”

“And you haven’t seen her since?”

“No--or yes! I did. I met her just for a moment yesterday forenoon, as
I was starting out from the house after hearing--the _news_. We only
exchanged a word or two, though.”

“Did she seem angry with you then?”

“Not at all!”

“Well, what can have happened since? Try and think! She has reasons, she
says, which she thinks you will understand. When a woman says she has
‘reasons’ she means that some mischief-maker has told her something
disagreeable. Now----”

“Oh, my God! I see it now!” Seth stopped short in the road, and clenched
his fists.

“Well, what is it?”

“She went into the house, and saw Isabel!” Seth continued, as if talking
to himself.

“What has that got to do with it?”

Seth looked up at his brother with a blanching face, in which fright and
amazement blended. “What is that line of Congreve’s about Hell having no
fury like a woman scorned?” he asked mechanically.

It was John’s turn to stare. Gradually a light began to spread in his
mind, and make things visible whose existence he had not suspected
before. “Well, you _are_ a simpleton!” he said.

“Don’t I know it?” was the pained, contrite response.

The brothers walked on a few yards in silence. Then John said “Of
course, you needn’t tell me any more of this than you want to--but at
least I can ask you--how _much_ of a fool have you made of yourself up
at the farm?”

“That’s hard to say. Just now I’m inclined to think that I am the
champion ass of the world.”

“Well, you’re displaying some sense _now_, anyway. What have you done?”

“I haven’t done anything. That’s the foolish part of it all.”

John stopped in turn, and looked his brother’s face attentively over.
“Go on, now,” he said, “and tell me what there is of it. There’s no use
in my butting my brains out against a stone wall, guessing at such an
inscrutable mess as this seems to be.”

“It’s hard to tell--there isn’t anything specially _to_ tell. I simply
got sort of sentimental about Isabel, you know--she was lonely and
disappointed in life, and my coming to the farm was about the only
chance for company she got, and all that--and then I found the thing
might go too far and so I stopped it--and to clinch the thing, asked
Annie to marry me. That’s what there is of it.”

“That’s good as far as it goes. Go on, youngster; out with the rest of
it!”

“I tell you that _is_ all.”

“Humbug! Annie never wrote this letter on the strength of such
philandering nonsense as that. You say Isabel must have told her
something. What _was_ that something? Do you know?”

“Yes!” The answer was so full of despondent pain, that John’s sympathy
rose above his fraternal censariousness.

“Come, my boy,” he said, “you’d better make a clean breast of it. It
won’t seem half so bad, once you’ve told me. And if I can help you, you
know I will.”

“Well, I _will_ tell you, John. Night before last, Monday night, I had
hard words with Albert, up at the house. You know how he sent for me,
insisted on my coming, and what he wanted. Of course I could only say
no, and we quarreled. Toward the end we raised our voices, and Isabel,
who was upstairs, overheard us. Just then he began about me and her--it
seems he had noticed or heard something--and she, hearing her name, took
it for granted the whole quarrel was about her. I went upstairs, and
presently he drove out of the yard with the grays. I couldn’t sleep, I
was so agitated by the idea of our rupture, and I went out to walk it
off. It was while I was out that I met Annie and had the talk I have
told you about. Then I came home, went to bed, and slept till after
ten--long after everybody else had heard the news. I heard of it first
from Isabel, and she--she----”

He came to an abrupt halt. The duty of saying nothing which should
incriminate the woman rose before him, and fettered his tongue.

“And she--what?” asked John.

“Well, she somehow got the idea that I had followed Albert out
and--and--was responsible for his death! _Now_. you have it all!”

There was a long silence. They were nearing the four corners, and
walking slowly. Finally John, with his eyes on the ground, said: “And so
that’s what she has told Annie, you think?”

“That’s the only way I can explain the note.”

“But Annie couldn’t possibly believe such a thing as that!”

“No--but there’s an explanation for that too. Come to think of it, I
must have said a lot of things to her, that night, which seem now to her
to fit in with this awful theory. Poor girl! I don’t blame her.”

John answered, after a pause, “There’s no use of my saying anything to
show you what a situation you are in, or to scold you for it. I suppose
you realize it fully enough. What’s more to the purpose, we must
consider what is to be done. It is safe enough to assume that if Isabel
thinks this and has said it to one person, either some one else will
think it, or she will hint about it to another. The thing is too
terrible to have even one person, even if she were silent as the grave,
think about it. The obvious thing, I should think, would be to have a
postmortem examination.”

“I thought they always had them at inquests.”

“No, the Coroner can dispense with one if he and the jury agree that it
isn’t necessary. Timms sent me word that he had decided to dispense
with one, in this case, ‘out of consideration for the feelings of the
family.’ That means, of course, that he wants the _Banner_ to help
re-elect him next year. But now out of ‘consideration for the family’
we’ll have to have one. Don’t be so down in the mouth about it, boy; it
will all come right, never fear!”

The brothers had reached the solitary building at the corners--a low,
dingy store, with its sloping roof turned to the road, and a broad
platform and steps stretching along its entire front. A horse and vacant
buggy stood at the hitching-post. John proposed to go in and get some
cigars, if Turner had any fit to smoke.

Their surprise was great at meeting on the steps Mr. Beekman of Jay
County, who was coming out. After terse salutations had been exchanged,
Beekman said:

“Lucky you fellows come daown jest ez yeh did. I come over this mornin’
a-purpose to see yeh, ’n’ yit I didn’t quite like to go up to th’
farm. I’ve got ever so many things I want to ask yeh, ’n’ say to yeh.”
 He led the way over to the farther end of the steps, and, following his
example of sitting down on the platform, they waited curiously for him
to proceed:

“Fust of all, I was daown to Tecumsy last night, ’n’ saw Workman. He
said you”--turning to Seth--“needn’t worry yerself ’baout comin’ back
till yeh was ready. They kin keep th’ paper runnin’ for a week or sao,
while you stay up here ’n’ dew yer duty like a Christian.”

Seth said he was much obliged, and then asked how it happened that
Beekman had posted off to Tecumseh--over seventy miles--and returned so
soon.

“Well, there was some things I wanted to see abaout daown there, ’n’
more thet I’m interested in keepin’ an eye on up here. So I kind o’
humped myself.”

“I’m glad to see you taking such an interest in Ansdell’s campaign,”
 said John.

Mr. Beekman’s gaunt visage relaxed for a second: “So yeh calc’late
_thet’s_ what I’m buzzin’ ’raoun’ th’ State fur, do yeh? Yeh never’s
more mistaken in yer life. I’ve heerd reports circ’latin’ ’raoun’ thet
ther’d be an election a fortni’t or so from naow, ’n’ thet Ansdell
’n’ I was concerned in it, but yeh can’t prove it by _us_. We ain’t s’
much as give a thought to politics sence th’ Convention ended. _We’ve_
got somethin’ else to occupy aour minds with b’sides politics. I got
a telegraph dispatch from him, sent from New York this mornin’, thet I
want to talk to yeh ’baout presently, but fust----”

“Ansdell in New York?” asked Seth, all curiosity-now.

“Yes, he went on daown, while I got off at Te-cumsy, ’n’ I sh’d jedge
from his telegraph thet he’d be’n on the go some sence he got there. But
what I want to ask yeh ’baout is this: Do yeh knaow haow much money
yer brother hed on him night ‘fore last, when he was--when he met his
death?”

The brothers looked at each other, then at, the speaker, “No,” answered
Seth, finally. “We haven’t the least idea. Why do you ask?”

“I’ll come to that bimeby. Naow next, do you knaow where he was th’ day
b’fore th’ Convention?--thet is, Monday.”

“Yes, I can tell you that. He was in New York. He only got back Monday
evening.”

“Pre-cisely. Well, naow, do yeh knaow what he went there for?”

“No. Something connected with politics, I suppose, but I can’t say for
certain. He had business there very often, you know.”

“Yes, I knaow. But he hed very special business this last time. Naow
look at this telegram.”

The two took the oblong sheet, and read:

“_New York--Oct. 21. 942 A.M. Unexpectedly easy sailing. Found clue to
money almost without looking. Fancy now must been sixteen instead ten.
Hope return to-night. Ansdell_.”

“Well, still I am in the dark,” John said, after reading and re-reading
the dispatch. “What is it all about? I suppose you understand it.”

“I’m beginnin’ to see a leetle ways threw th’ millstone, I think,
myself,” replied Beekman. “But it’s all so uncert’n yit, I don’t want to
say nothin’ thet I can’t back up later on.”

Seth too had been busily pondering the dispatch, and he said now, with
a flushing face: “_I_ know what you think! You and Ansdell have got an
idea there was foul play!”

“Well, yes, it ain’t much more’n an idee, _yit_;” assented Beekman.

“What do you base your idea on?” demanded John, full of a nameless,
growing fright lest there _might_ be something further which Seth’s
confession had not revealed.

“Jest you wait one day more,” said the Boss of Jay County, grimly, “one
day more ’ll dew. Then I miss my guess ef we ain’t in shape to tell
yeh. Fust of all, there’s got to be a post-mortem.”

John’s impulse was to say that he and Seth had already agreed upon this,
but a second thought checked his tongue.

“’N’ it’ll hev to be on th’ quiet. Everything depends on thet--on
keepin’ it dark. There’s some folks might get skeered, ’n’ complicate
things, ef it ain’t kep’ mum. ’N’ thet’s what I wanted to ask yeh
’baout. I’ve thought of Dr. Bacon, over at Thessaly, ’n’ Dr. Pierce
daown at the Springs. They’re both good men, ’n’ got level heads on
’em. What d’yeh say to them?”

“I’ve no objection to them in the world, but the Coroner----”

“Oh, I know ’bout him. He’s th’ blamedest fool in th’ caounty. Over
in Jay we wouldn’t elect sech a dumb-head to be hog-reeve. But you ’n’
Ansdell kin fix it with him to-morrow, ’n’ I’ll drive to-day ’n’ see
both doctors, ’n’ put ’em straight. ’N’ naow yeh must prommus me,
both of yeh, thet yeh won’t breathe a word of this to any livin’ soul.”

They promised, and he climbed into his buggy, and gathered up the reins.
“Oh, there’s one thing more,” he said, on reflection. “P’raps you wonder
why I’m takin’ so much on myself. I’ll tell yeh bimeby. I’ve got my
reasons. I’m mixed up in it, more’n you’d think.”

He turned about, and drove off briskly toward Thessaly. The brothers
stood in perplexed silence by the roadside for some minutes. There was
surely enough to think about.

At last, with a frank gesture, John stretched his hand out to Seth:

“Old boy,” he said, “I don’t know how this thing is coming out, but
we’ll see it through together. You go down to the office and wait for
me. You might do some things to fill up the paper this week if you’ve
got nerve enough. I’m going back to the farm.”



CHAPTER XXX.--JOHN’S DELICATE MISSION.

While Seth tried to divert his thoughts at the _Banner_ office by going
over the freshly-arrived batch of morning dailies, and fastening his
attention upon their political editorials and reports of speeches
instead of their displayed and minute reports of the sensational tragedy
in Tallman’s ravine--John Fairchild retraced his steps toward the
farm. He had a definite purpose in his mind--to confront and silence
Isabel--and he strove hard as he went along to plan how this should be
done, and what he should say.

He felt that his dominant emotion was wrath against this sister-in-law
of his, and he said to himself as he strode along that he had never
liked her. He could recall the summer a dozen years before when she came
to the farm as a visiting cousin. He had been civil to her then, even
companionable, for she was bright, spirited, in a word good company,
but it seemed to him now that even then he had suspected the treachery
ingrained in her nature--that he had been instinctively repelled by
those hateful qualities, dormant in her girlhood, which were later to
plot infidelity to one of his brothers, and lure into trouble, shame,
perhaps even crime, the other.

This latter phase of her work was peculiarly abominable in John’s eyes.
He was not going to get up any special indignation on the first count
of the indictment; a bachelor of nearly forty who marries a sentimental
young girl does it at his own risk, John felt, and Albert had invited
just this sort of thing by exiling her to a farm, and forcing her
romantic mind to feed on itself. But that she should have selected
Seth--her own husband’s brother, the Benjamin of the flock, a veritable
child in such matters--to practise her arts upon, was grievously
unpardonable. To be sure, Seth ought to have had more sense. But then
John, habitually thinking of him as “the youngster,” thought he could
see how he had been led on, step by step, never realizing the vicious
tendency of it all, until he had all at once found himself on the brink
of a swift descent. Then, to do the boy justice, he seemed to have
stopped short, turned his back upon the siren, and for the sake of
further security, irrevocably committed himself to Annie. He had been
sadly weak in the earlier stages of the affair, no doubt; but this last
course appeared manly and sensible--and wholly incompatible, too,
with any idea of malice or crime on Seth’s part. What fault there was
belonged-to the woman, and she should be told so, too, straight and
sharp.

Thus John’s thoughts ran as he entered the house, and bade the Lawton
girl tell her mistress he wished to speak with her. He had not
seen Isabel since her husband’s death--she having kept her room
constantly--nor for a long time previous. They had, indeed, scarcely met
more than half-a-dozen times since she came to live at the homestead,
and then with considerable formality on both sides. As he stood by the
stove in the living-room, awaiting her coming, he knitted his brows and
framed some curt, terse words of address.

She entered, clad in the same black and dark-gray wrapper which his
memory associated with his mother’s funeral, and which gave the effect
of height and slender dignity to her figure. Her face was pale and
pathetic in expression, and the ghost of a smile which flitted in
greeting over it for a second accentuated its stamp of suffering. She
offered him her hand, and said, in a low mournful voice:

“It was good of you to come to me, John. I have been expecting, hoping
you would. Won’t you take off your coat and sit down?”

He had shaken hands with her, loosened his overcoat and taken a seat
before he had time to reflect that he ought to have ignored her greeting
and her proffered hand. The sharp words, too, that he had arranged in
his mind seemed too brusque now to utter to a weak, lone woman who was
so evidently suffering.

“Yes,” he said, “I thought I ought to talk things over with you. You’ve
got nobody else.”

“No--not a soul! I couldn’t be more wholly alone if I were at the North
Pole, it has seemed to me this last day. I have eaten nothing; I haven’t
slept an hour. So you must make allowances for me,” she said, with a
weak shadow of a smile, “if I seem nervous or incoherent. My mind goes
all astray, sometimes now, and I seem unequal to the task of controlling
it.”

He had thought at last of a question which might introduce the desired
subject without wounding her feelings. “Do you happen to know,” he
asked, gently, “whether Albert brought a large sum of money with him
from New York Monday?”

“I haven’t the least idea, I am sure. In fact, I only saw him for a
moment after his return. And besides, you know, he never told me a
syllable about his business arrangements. No one could be in more
complete ignorance of his affairs than I have always been.” There was
the tone of resigned regret in her voice which a wife might rightly use.
“I do indeed--there is one exception--know about his will. He told me
that, not by way of confidence, but because it came out--in some words
we once had about property of mine in New York. I might as well tell
you. The will gives everything except my third to you and your
aunt and--your brother. _He_ has the lion’s share. Don’t think I am
complaining, John. I wouldn’t have had it altered if I could. I am more
than independent, you know, apart from right of dower. If I had had the
making of the will, it would have been just the same. It is only right
that his money should go to his family.”

John reflected for some moments before he answered. “I am almost sorry
you told me,” he said then. “It makes me wretched and ashamed to think
of the injustice I have done him in my mind. It sounds brutal, in the
light of what you have told me,--but I am going to confess it to you--I
suspected all along that he intended to come some game over us about
the farm; and now, instead----. Oh, it’s _too_ bad. I wish he could
hear me!” John continued, with a glance toward the folding doors of
the parlor, once more the chamber of death. “I wish he could know how I
despise myself for having wronged him in my mind.”

Isabel said nothing, but her responsive eyes seemed to express
appreciation and sympathy. John lost all sense of wrath toward her as he
went on:

“Yes, from the very start we wronged him. We didn’t understand him.
He was different from us--he was a man of the world, and we were
countrymen, and we thought all the while that he held himself outside
the family. I never gave him credit for good motives when he came to the
farm; neither did Seth. We both thought he was playing his own game, for
himself, and nobody else. And here, by George! he turns out to have had
more brotherly feeling, more family feeling, than we ever had. It makes
me miserable to think of it. It’ll break Seth’s heart, too; he’ll always
torture himself with the thought that the last time he ever saw Albert
alive they parted in anger.”

The words were out before he realized their significance. He stopped
short, and felt himself changing color as he looked at her to see
whether she too was thinking about that terrible night.

She made a motion as if to rise from her chair; then dropped back again
and returned his inquiring glance with a fixed, intent look.

“So you know something about _that_,” she said.

“Did Seth tell you?”

“Yes!” he answered, falteringly. “Seth told me. We had a long talk this
forenoon. I think he told me about every thing there was to tell. In
fact, that is mostly why I’ve come back now to see you.”

She was silent, but her eyes seemed to John to be saying disagreeable
things.

He began again to realize that it was his duty to be indignant in
attitude and peremptory in tone, but he was also conscious of feeling
very sorry for Isabel. The village editor often described himself, and
was uniformly characterized by others, as being “no hand for women.” His
own brief career as a married man--it seemed almost a dream now, and
a very painful dream, with a short period of great happiness, then a
slightly longer season of illness, poverty, debt, despair, and then the
rayless gloom of death in his scarcely established home--had taught him
next to nothing of the sex, and inclined him against learning more.
The impressions of womankind which clustered about the memories of
his girl-wife were, however, all in the direction of gentleness and
softness. As he reflected, it grew increasingly difficult for him to put
on a harsh demeanor toward his sister-in-law. She might deserve it well
enough, but it was not in his heart to speak ugly words to a pretty and
troubled woman at such a time. He stumbled on:

“Yes, the youngster is fearfully cut up about the whole thing, and
he _had_ to talk to somebody. He’s always been used to telling me
everything. He is not a tattler, though, and I’m bound to say he only
told me because I questioned him, and insisted on his making a clean
breast of it. Then I sent him down to the office, and I came back here,
thinking it might be best for all concerned to have a frank talk with
you about it.”

She had a course mapped out now in her mind. “I am sure that your
motives are good, John,” she said, “and that you will be fair and
candid. I confess I don’t see what there is to be gained, specially, but
you no doubt know best. What is it you wanted to talk over?”

“Well, it isn’t easy to state it, off hand. Perhaps I might as well
begin by speaking of motives, as you did. I own that when I came in I
wasn’t so sure that your motives were good, as you say you are about
mine.”

“That is candid, at all events.”

“I want to be perfectly open and above-board with you, Isabel. You seem
to have got into your head yesterday--I won’t say you have it now--some
horrible and ridiculously wild suspicion of Seth----”

“I know what you mean,” she interposed, with nervous haste. “You
mustn’t think of that at all! You mustn’t blame me for it! I was simply
distracted--mad--out of my senses. I don’t know _what_ awful thing my
fancy didn’t conjure up. Don’t pay any attention to that!”

“But the mischief of it is that you seem to have spoken of this
to--to somebody else. It would have been unimportant otherwise. _This_
complicates it badly. Don’t you see it does?”

She made no answer, and kept her eyes on the figures in the carpet.

“Don’t you see it does?” he repeated.

“How do you know that I spoke of it to anybody?” she asked, after a
pause, and still with downcast eyes.

“That has nothing to do with it, Isabel. It’s true, isn’t it, that you
did speak of it?”

To his surprise and embarrassment she began weeping, and hid her face
in her handkerchief. He sat mutely watching her, wishing that she
would stop, and perplexed at encountering on the very threshold of
his inquiries and argument this un-meetable demonstration of a woman’s
resources.

She presently sobbed out, from behind the perfumed cambric: “You _can’t_
hold me accountable for what I did yesterday, or what I said! I was
beside myself! I scarcely know what I thought, or what I said! I acted
like a crazy woman--and felt like one, too! It is easy enough for you to
be cool and collected about the thing. You are a _man!_”

“Yes, I know, Isabel,” he said, kindly, “I understand all that, and I
can make all the allowances in the world for you, in your position. But
still that doesn’t alter the fact that the thing has been said, and the
harm done. To be sure, I suppose, the harm will be only temporary, but
as it stands it affects the prospects of more than one person--of two
persons, in fact, near to us--very materially. You know what I mean?”

“Yes.”

“Well, what can be done to remedy it? That is the question. I am not
going to blame you, but still the fault _was_ yours, and the steps to
set it right ought to be yours, too, oughtn’t they?”

“What do you mean?” She looked up now, forgetting her tears.

“I am not quite sure what I do mean. I haven’t thought over details.
There is simply a given situation, with the question how to get out of
it, and the onus of action on you. I want you to help me think what the
best way will be.”

“How logically you state it! Suppose I disavowed the whole thing,
ignored it, refused to do anything or say anything. What then?”

“I won’t consider that at all. You couldn’t be so unfair as that--so
ungenerous.”

“Unfair! Ungenerous!” Isabel rose to her full height, and frowned down
at her brother-in-law, without a trace of tears in her eyes. “Fine
fairness, distinguished generosity, have been shown to _me_, haven’t
they! There has been so much delicacy in regarding _my_ feelings! I
ought to leap at the opportunity of smoothing over matters between Mr.
Seth and his lady-love. My husband’s awful death, my position here,
alone in the world, the shock and suffering of it all--these are mere
trifles compared with the importance of seeing that their love affairs
are uninterrupted! Perhaps I might get a chance at the funeral to have
them kiss and make up--or would you prefer me to leave my dead now and
go----”

“_Your_ dead!”

The brother had risen also, and taken his hat. The exclamation carried
in its tone all the bitterness with which his mind had stored itself on
his walk back to the farm. Pity for the woman, perhaps something too of
innate susceptibility to beauty and grace, had restrained and covered up
this bitterness, so that he had supposed it gone. It flamed forth now,
in wrathful satire.

As she put her handkerchief up again to her eyes, as a token of more
tears, he went on, in a cold kind of excitement:

“You talk very cleverly--more so than any other woman I ever knew.
But you should pick your strong phrases with more discrimination. For
instance, when you want to produce a really striking effect upon me, it
is unwise to use an expression which recalls to me at once things that
you would rather I didn’t think about. I wouldn’t say ‘_my_ dead ’ if
I were you, especially when you are talking to his brother. It may do
for outsiders, but here in the family it is a bad waste of words.”

Her only answer was a gust of sobs. They failed to move him and he went
on:

“I don’t know that I have any means of forcing you to do anything, or
say anything, against your will. If you take that position, perhaps
it won’t be necessary. The wicked, ridiculous thing you thought, or
pretended to think, and said to that poor girl, can be straightened out
very easily. We can’t prevent the pain it has already caused, but we can
stop its causing more. But if you lisp it to another human being--well,
I don’t know what to threaten you with. It isn’t easy to guess what
considerations will weigh with a woman who has your ideas of wifely
duty, and of her responsibilities towards young and foolish members of
her husband’s family, and----”

“How _can_ you be so cruel, so mean, John? What right have you to talk
to me like that? Everybody attacks me like an enemy. You never have been
decent to me since I was married. Your whole family has treated me like
an outsider, almost a criminal, since I came here. Your old cat of an
aunt never looked at me except to wish me evil. Your brother--yes, if he
could hear me now, from where he lies, I would say it!--never was fond
of me, never tried to make a companion of me, never treated me as a wife
should be treated, or even as his intellectual equal. _You_ avoided me
as if I were poison. The neighborhood disliked me, gossiped about me,
and I hated them. Only one there was of you all who was pleasant with
me, and good to me--and now that you have turned him against me, too,
you come and insult me because I was pleased and grateful for his
friendship. That is _manly_ isn’t it?”

John had listened to the beginning of this impassioned speech with
a callous heart. But he was a just man, and he had in almost unmeted
degree that habit of mind which welcomes statements of both sides of a
controversy. He might have been a wealthier man, and the owner of a more
thriving paper, if he had had more of the partisan spirit. But to
be strictly fair was the rule of his being. He would not criticise
political opponents for doing things which in his heart he approved,
and, on the same principle he would not condemn unheard even this woman,
if she had any justification. As she went on, he began to feel that
there was considerable force in her argument. She certainly had been
most disagreeably situated, connubially and socially, and her definition
of the Seth episode was plausible, if that were all there was of it. He
softened perceptibly in tone as he answered:

“No, I am sorry if you think I wanted to insult you. Perhaps I did speak
too strongly. I apologize for it. But I feel very earnestly on this
subject. I’ve always been a sort of father and big brother combined
to Seth, and the idea of his getting into a mess, or doing foolish or
discreditable things, cuts me to the quick. You can see my position in
the matter. I am anxious not to hurt your feelings, but my first duty is
to him. Perhaps the two need not come into conflict. After all, no real
harm has been done, I fancy, except in this one case of repeating your
hysterical suspicion of him. _That_ was inexcusable; can’t you _see_
that it was? I’m sure that if you’ll think it over calmly, you’ll be
disposed to do what is fair and right. I’m not blaming you particularly
for the other thing. You might have remembered that you were older than
Seth, to be sure, but then I realize that you were not at all pleasantly
placed----”

“Never mind what you realize! We won’t discuss that at all. There is
nothing to discuss. You and your aunt seem bound to make yourselves
ridiculous about me. I won’t demean myself by answering--or no! I _will_
say this much to you. There has never a word passed between Seth and me
that every soul of you might not have heard, and welcome. He was simply
pleasant and friendly to me--and I was grateful to him and fond of him,
as I might be of a brother. Where was the harm? In no decent state of
society would any one ever have dreamed of suspecting wrong. But
_here_--why, people live and breathe suspicion! It is the breath of
their nostrils.”

“I thought you used to correspond,” John said, tentatively.

“Correspond! There it is again! What of it, I should like to know?
Why shouldn’t my cousin, my brother, write to me? I have all the
letters;--you may see them every one. They gave me a great deal of
pleasure. They represented my sole point of contact with civilization,
with fine feelings and pretty thoughts. But you can go over them all, if
you like. You won’t find a single whisper of proof of your aunt’s mean
suspicion. I am almost ashamed of myself for having stooped to defend
myself--but it is just as well to let you know the truth.”

“Yes!” John breathed a sigh which was not altogether of relief, but
carried a fair admixture of bewilderment. This ingenious explanation
did not at all points tally with the inferences drawn from Seth’s
confession. Perhaps it was true enough in the letter, but he felt that
as a revelation of the spirit it left much to be desired. He added:

“Well, I am sorry if I misjudged you. Probably I did. However, even if
Seth had come near getting into a scrape, he’s safe out of it now.”

This complaisant conclusion nettled-the woman. She went on, as if her
explanation had not been interrupted:

“Of course, we had what you might call a community of grievance to talk
about, and draw us together. It wouldn’t be fitting in me to say more
now than that my life here was not congenial: you won’t mind my
saying _that_ much? I had dreamed of a very different kind of married
existence. Seth, too, had his trouble. In his boyhood, when it seemed
assured that he was to remain the farmer of the family, his mother had
planned a marriage for him. It isn’t for me to say a word against Annie.
She is a good enough girl, in her way. But when Seth got out of his
chrysalis, and learned what there really was in him, the thought that he
was committed in a sense to marrying a farm girl made him very gloomy.
He used to talk with me about it, not saying anything against Annie,
mind you, but----”

“That’ll do!” said John, curtly. “We won’t go into that. Evidently there
was no limit to Seth’s asininity. Let that pass. Whatever he said, or
didn’t say, during his vealy period, he’s going to marry Annie now.
There never was a time, and I fear there never will be one, when I would
not call her his superior. The question is: Are you going to retract
before her the false, cruel things you have said?”

“I am going upstairs again,” she said. “I think I will lie down awhile,”
 and moved towards the stair-door.

The brother looked at her, amazed, pained, indignant. She had her hand
on the latch by the time his emotions found words:

“I’ve wasted my time in pitying you. God forbid that any of our family,
young or old, should ever fall in with such a woman as you are again!”
 He pulled on his hat and left the house.



CHAPTER XXXI.--MILTON’S ASPIRATIONS.

The lamps were lighted in the little partitioned-off square which
served as the editorial room of the _Banner_ when John returned. He
found Seth weakly striving to write something for the editorial page,
and in substance laid the situation before him. He was not feeling very
amiably toward his young brother at the moment, and he spoke with cold
distinctness. The tone was lost upon Seth, who said wearily:

“I don’t see that it makes much difference--her refusing. What good
would it have done, if she _had_ gone to Annie? She could only tell her
that she had abandoned such and such ideas. That isn’t what counts. The
fact of importance is that she ever entertained them, that they ever
existed. To my notion, there’s nothing to do but to wait and see what
comes of Beekman’s suspicions. What do you think of them, anyway? I have
been trying to imagine what he is aiming at, but it puzzles me? What do
you think?”

“To tell the truth, I haven’t been thinking of that. My mind has been
occupied with the female aspects of the thing. I’m not impatient.
Evidently Beekman and Ansdell think they have got hold of something.
They are not the men to go off on a wild-goose chase. Very good: I can
wait until they are ready to explain. But what I can’t wait for--or bear
to think about--is poor Annie, suffering as she must be suffering to
have written that letter.”

“Yes, I’ve thought of that, too, but I’m helpless. I can’t think of
anything: I can’t do anything.”

“You don’t seem to be of much use, for a fact,” mused the brother. “I’ll
tell you what I’ll do, if you think best. To-morrow afternoon, after
I’ve seen Ansdell, or before that if he doesn’t come, I will go over and
see Annie myself. I can go over to the school-house by the back
road, and walk home with her. Perhaps by that time, too, I shall have
something tangible to explain to her. Until then, I suppose she must
continue in suspense. It is the penance she ought to do, I dare say--”
 the brother added this in mildly sarcastic rebuke--“for the luxury of
being in love with such a transcendant genius as you are.”

*****

Something like an hour before this, Annie had dismissed her classes and
locked up the school-house for the night. As she did so, she mentally
wondered if she should ever have the strength to walk home.

The day had been one long-drawn out torture from its first waking
moments--indeed there seemed to have been nothing but anguish since her
interview with Isabel the previous day, not even the oblivion of sleep.
Her impulse, and her grandmother’s advice, had been to remain at home;
but she had already left the school unopened on the fatal Tuesday, in
the shock of the news of Albert’s death: to absent herself a second day
might prejudice the trustees against her. Besides, the occupation might
serve to divert her thoughts.

Perhaps the trustees were satisfied, she said to herself now, locking
the door, but there certainly had been no relief in the day’s labor. The
little children had been unwontedly stupid and trying; the older boys,
some of them almost of her own age, had never before seemed so unruly
and loutishly impertinent. Even these experiences alone would have
availed to discourage her; as it was they added the stinging of insects
to her great heartache. With some organizations, the lesser pain
nullifies the other. She seemed to have a capacity for suffering, now,
which took in, and made the most of, every element of agony, great and
small. She turned from the rusty, squat little old building and began
her journey homeward, with hanging head and a deadly sense of weakness,
physical and spiritual, crushing her whole being.

Milton Squires had been watching for her appearance for some time, from
a sheltering ridge of berry-bushes and wall beyond the school, and
he hurried now to overtake her, clumsily professing surprise at the
meeting.

“I jes happened up this way,” he said, “Dunnao _when_ I be’n up here on
this road b’fore. Never dreampt o’ seein’ yeou.”

She made answer of some sort, as unintelligible and meaningless to
herself as to him. She did not know whether it was a relief or otherwise
that he was evidently going to walk home with her. Perhaps, if she let
him do all the talking, the companionship would help her to get over the
ordeal of the return less miserably. But she could not, and she would
not, talk.

“I kind o’ thought mebbe you’d shet up schewl fer a week ’r sao,” he
proceeded, ingratiatingly, “but then agin I said to m’self ‘no siree,
she ain’t thet kine of a gal. Ef she’s got any work to dew, she jes’
does it, rain ’r shine’. Thet’s what I said. Pooty bad business,
wa’n’t it, this death of yer cousin?”

“Dreadful!” she murmured, wishing he would talk of something else.

“Yes, sir, it’s about’s bad’s they make ’em. Some queer things
’baout it tew. I s’pose yeh ain’t heerd no gossup ’baout it, hev
yeh?”

“No,” she whispered with a sinking heart; a real effort was needed to
speak the other words: “What gossip? Is there gossip?”

“Dunnao’s yeh kin call it real gossup. P’raps nobuddy else won’t
’spicion nothin’. But to me they’s some things ’baout it thet
looks darned cur’ous. Of caourse, it ain’t none o’ my business to blab
’baout the thing.”

“No, of course.”

These little words, spoken falteringly, confirmed all that Milton had
wished to learn the truth about. Over night a stupendous scheme had
budded, unfolded, blossomed in his mind. Originally his primitive
intellect had gone no further than the simple idea of committing
homicide under circumstances which would inevitably point to an
accident. The plan was clever in its very nakedness. But through some
row among the women, probably out of jealousy, the hint of murder had
been raised, and coupled with Seth’s name. If this hint ripened into a
suspicion and an inquiry, a new situation would be created, but Milton
could not see any peril in it for him, for Seth would obviously be
involved. But it would be better if no questions of murder were raised
at all, and matters were allowed to stand. This would not only
place Milton’s security beyond peradventure, but it would give him a
tremendous grip upon Annie. It was in this direction that his mind
had been working steadily since he heard of Annie’s suspicions. The
opportunity seemed to have come for placing the cap-stone of acquisition
upon the edifice of desire he had so long and patiently been rearing.

As for the poor girl, she had reasoned herself out of the suspicion of
Seth’s guilt a thousand times, only to find herself hopelessly relapsing
into the quagmire. Milton’s hints came with cruel force to drag her back
now, this time lower than ever. Even he seemed to know of it, but he
proposed to maintain silence. Of course, he _must_ be induced to keep
silent. Oh! the agony of her thoughts!

“You’n’ Seth was allus kine o’ frenly,” he proceeded. “Way back f’m
th’ time yeh was boys ’n’ gals.”

“Yes, we always were.”

“’N’ they used to say, daown to th’ corners, that yeou two was baoun’
to make a match of it.”

“There wasn’t anything in that at all!” She spoke decisively, almost
peremptorily.

“Oh, they wa’n’t, ay?” There was evident jubilation in his tone.
“Never was nothin’ in that talk, ay?”

“No, nothing.”

The pair walked along on the side of the descending road silently for
some moments. A farmer passed them, hauling a load of pumpkins up
the hill, and exchanged a nod of salutation with Milton. This farmer
remarked at his supper-table an hour later, to his wife: “I’d bet a yoke
o’ oxen thet Milton Squires is a’makin’ up to the schewl-teacher. I seed
’em walkin’ togither daown th’ hill to-night, ’n’ he was a lookin’
at her like a bear at a sap-trough. It fairly made me grit my teeth to
see him, with his broadcloth cloze, ’n’ his watch-chain, ’n’ his
on-gainly ways.” To which his helpmeet acidulously responded: “Well, I
dunnao’s she c’d dew much better. She’s gittin’ pooty well along, ’n’
fer all his ongainly ways, I don’t see but what he comes on, ‘baout’s
well’s some o’ them thet runs him daown. A gal can’t jedge much by a
man’s ways haow he’ll turn aout afterwards. _I_ thought _I’d_ got a
prize.” Whereupon the honest yeoman chose silence as the better part.

The red sun was hanging in a purplish haze over the edge of the hill as
the two descended, and the leaves from Farmer Perkins’s maples rustled
softly under their feet. Milton drew near his subject:

“I’ve be’n gittin’ on in th’ world sence yeou fust knew me, hain’t I?”

“Yes, everybody says so.”

“’N’ yit everybody don’t knaow half of it. I ain’t no han’ to tell all
I knaow. Ef some folks c’d guess th’ speckle-ations I be’n in, ‘n’ th’
cash I’ve got aout in mor’giges ’n’ sao on, it’d make ’em open their
eyes. It’s th’ still saow thet gits th’ swill, as my mother use’ to say,
’n’ I’ve be’n still enough abaout it, I guess.”

His coarse chuckle jarred on the girl’s nerves, but the importance of
placating him was uppermost in her mind, and she answered, as pleasantly
as she could:

“I’m sure I’m glad, Milton. You have worked hard all your life, and you
deserve it.”

“Yeh _air_ glad, reely naow?”

“Why yes! Why shouldn’t I be? It always pleases me to hear of people’s
prosperity.”

“But me purtic’ly?” he persisted, earnestly.

“Oh, yes,” she replied, absent-mindedly. Then the odd nature of
the question occurred to her, but she was too distrait to think
consecutively, and she added no comment to her answer.

“Well, it eases me to hear yeh say thet,” he went on, with awkward
deliberation, “fer they’s somethin’ I’ve be’n wantin’ to say to yeh fer
a long time. I don’t s’paose you reelize haow well off I am?” She did
not answer. Her mind seemed to refuse to act, and she heard only the
sound of his words. He took her reply for granted and continued:

“I c’d eena’most buy up thet farm there”--pointing over to the Fairchild
acres on the slope, now within sight--“’n’ I ain’t so all-fired sure
yit thet I won’t, nuther! But what’s th’ good o’ money, on-less yeh kin
git what yeh want with it, ay?”

The impulse of her soul-weariness was to let this aimless question pass
like the other, without reply. But she was reminded of the importance of
being pleasant to this tedious man, and so answered, entirely at random:

“What is it you want, Milton?”

“I dunnao--I’m kind o’ feared o’ puttin’ my foot in it; yeh won’t be mad
ef I tell yeh?”

“Why no, of course not. What is it?”

“Well, then,” he blurted out, “I want _yeou!_” The girl looked dumbly at
him, at first not realizing at all the meaning of his words, then held
as in a vise between the disposition to reply to him as he deserved
and the danger, the terrible danger, of angering him. There fluttered
through her senses, too, a mad kind of yearning to shriek with
laughter--born of the hysterical state of her long-oppressed nerves. She
eventually neither rebuked nor laughed, but said vacuously:

“Want _me?_”

“Ef yeou’ll marry me, I’ll make one o’ th’ fust ladies o’ Dearb’rn
Caounty aout o’ yeh. Yeh need never lay yer finger to a stitch o’ work
agin, no more’n Is’bel did, daown yander.” He spoke eagerly, with more
emotion in his strident voice than she had ever heard there before.

The difficulty of her position crushed her courage. Of course she must
say no, but how do it without affronting him? The idea of reasoning him
gently out of the preposterous wish came to her.

“This is some flying notion in your head, Milton,” she said, civilly.
“You will have forgotten it by next week.”

“Forgott’n it, ay! Yeh think sao? What ’f I told yeh I hain’t thought o’
nothin’ else fur nigh onto ten year?”

His tone was too earnest and excited to render further trifling safe.
He pulled out of an inner pocket and held up before her a little,
irregularly squared tin-type--which she recognized as having been made
in whimsical burlesque of her lineaments by an itinerant photographer
years before.

“How did you come by that?” she asked, to gain time.

“I got it fr’m th’ man thet made it, ’n’ I paid a dollar bill fer it,
tew,” he answered triumphantly, “’n’ I’ve kep it by me ever sence!”

After a pause she said, as calmly as she could: “I never dreamed that
such a thought had entered your head. Of course, it--it can’t be.”

“Why not, I’d like to knaow?” he demanded. “Don’t yeh b’lieve what I’ve
told yeh ’baout my bein’ well off?”

“That hasn’t anything to do with it. There are other reasons--a good
many other reasons.”

“What air they?” His tone was peremptory.

“I don’t know that I can explain them to you. But truly there are
so many of them--and your words took me so wholly by surprise,
that--that----”

“Yeh needn’t mince matters! I _knaow!_ Yeh hev sot yer idees on Seth!
Yeh needn’t tell me yeh hain’t!”

“I won’t talk with you at all if you shout at me in that way, and
contradict me flat when I assure you to the contrary.”

Milton paused for a moment, to consider the situation. They were
approaching the poplars now, along the lonely turnpike, and the
conversation could not be much protracted. What he had to say must
be said without delay. But what was it that he wished to say? A dozen
inchoate plans rose amorphously to the surface of his mind--to cajole
her, to strive further to impress her with his wealth, to entreat her,
to attempt to bully her. This last resource ran best with his mood, but
there were difficulties. Annie was the reverse of a cowardly girl; there
was nothing timid or tremulous about her; if he attempted to intimidate
her, the enterprise would most probably be a ridiculous failure, for
he stood too much in awe of her self-reliance and intelligence to have
confidence in his own mastery.

But stay--she was fearful about Seth. Whether it was true or not that
she had no idea of marrying her cousin, she was evidently solicitous
for his safety. An idea born of this conclusion swiftly engrafted itself
upon the hired man’s general strategy. He lifted his light, shifty eyes
from the grass of the roadside path to her face, once more, and said:

“Well, ef you’re a mine to be mean, I kin be mean tew--meaner ’n’
pussly. Ef yeh think I’m goin’ to stan’ still, ’n’ let yeou ’n’ Seth
hev it all yer aown way, yer mistaken. I’ve only got to open my maouth
to th’ Cor’ner, ’n’ whair’d _he_ be, ’n’ yeou tew?”

There was a certain indefinable suggestion of bravado in his tone which
caught Annie’s attention. It was the barest, most meagre of shadows, but
she grasped at the chance of substance behind it.

“I don’t believe you could say anything, or do anything, which would
injure him,” she said, with more confidence in her words than she felt
in her heart.

“Oh, yeh daon’t, ay!” he growled. “Ef yeh knaowed what I knaow, p’raps
yeh’d change yer teune.”

“What do you know, then? Come now, let us hear it!” She grew defiant,
with an instinctive sense that the inferior being beside her was ready
to retreat, if only she could keep up her boldness of front.

“Never yeou mind what I knaow!” he answered, evasively. “It’ll be
enough, I guess, to cook _his_ geuse, when th’ time comes.”

“Ah, I thought so!” she exclaimed. “You were simply talking to hear
yourself talk--to scare me. Well, you see now that you wasted your
breath.”

“Oh, _did_ I! Well, I won’t waste any more of it, then, till I talk to
th’ Cor’ner. I kin tell him some things ’baout who rid th’ black
mare aout thet night, after Albert’d gone. Guess thet’ll kind ’o’ fix
things!”

His slow imagination, working clumsily in the mazes of falsehood, had
carried Milton a step too far; his simple plan of substituting Seth for
himself in the events of the fatal night miscarried in a way he could
not suspect.

Annie did not answer. An exclamation had risen to her lips, but
something akin to presence of mind checked it there. Her brain seemed to
be working with lightning flashes. The black mare had played a part
in the tragedy, then; Seth had certainly not had the animal out that
evening; the rushing, almost noiseless apparition which had startled
them in the moonlight must have been the mare; it was coming from the
direction of Tallman’s; it had a rider; who could that rider have been?
and how did Milton know about it?--so the swift thoughts ran, in a
chain which seemed luminous in the relief it brought to her. These two
questions she could not answer--in her joy at the apparent exculpation
of Seth it did not seem specially important that they should be
answered--and she had self-possession enough to ask nothing about them.

It was a nice question what she should say to her companion, who was
now, without any distinct suspicions on her part, growing luridly
loathsome and repugnant in her eyes. The fear of angering him had died
away, but a vague sense that mischief might be done by arousing his
curiosity or apprehensions had come to take its place. She spoke
cautiously:

“I hope you won’t do anything rash, that you would regret afterwards.”

“They ain’t nao need o’ my doin’ nothin’, ef yeou’d only hev some sense.
But if yeou’re goin’ to be agin me, ther’s nao tellin’ what I won’t
dew,” he answered with sullen terseness.

They had come to the poplars, and Annie stopped at the stile under the
thorns.

“I shall have to leave you here,” she said.

“Then yeh won’t hev me, ay? Yeh better think twice ’fore yeh say nao!
Yeh won’t git another sich a chance--to live like a lady, ’n’ hev
ev’rything yeh want. ’N’ ef yeh dew say nao, yeh kin rest ’sured yeh
ain’t heerd th’ last of it, ner him nuther.” Milton’s little green-gray
eyes watched her face intently, and he fingered his flaring plated
watch-chain with nervous preoccupation. “What d’yeh say, yes’ ’r nao?”

“I can’t say anything more than I have said--_now_,” she answered, and,
stepping over the stile, left him.

For a long time afterward Annie’s conscience debated the justification
of that final word, the last one she ever addressed to Milton, and which
was obviously intended to keep alive a hope that she knew to be absurdly
without ground or reason. Sometimes even now she has momentary
doubts about it--but she silences cavil by whispering to herself in
unanswerable defence: “I thought then that possibly it might be needed
to help Seth--perhaps even to save him.”

She had little leisure just then, however, to devote to moral
introspection, for Samantha met her, half-way down the thorn-walk, to
excitedly tell her that her grandmother, Mrs. Warren, was very much
worse than usual.



CHAPTER XXXII.--“A WICKED WOMAN!”

When Isabel looked into her mirror next morning, the image shown back
fairly startled her. Day by day during this eventful week the glass
had helped her to grow familiar with reddened eyes, with harsh, ageing
lines, and with a pallor which no devices of the toilet could efface. It
was not so much an added accentuation of these which riveted her gaze,
now, upon the mirror, as the suggestion of a new face--of a stranger’s
countenance, reflecting meanings and thoughts of the uncommon kind.

She studied the face at first with an almost impersonal interest; then
as the brain associated these lineaments with her own, and made their
expression a part of her own spiritual state, she said to this other
self in the glass, audibly:

“Another week of this will make you an old woman.” She added, after a
pause of fascinated yet critical scrutiny: “Yes, and a wicked woman,
too!” There has been what one can only hope is an intelligible
reluctance, from the beginning of this recital, to essay analysis or
portrayal of Isabel’s thoughts and motives. A complex, contradictory
character like hers, striving now to assimilate, now to sway the simple,
straightforward, one-stringed natures with which it is environed, may be
illustrated; it is too great a task to dissect it. Yet for the once we
may venture to look into this troubled mind.

A wicked woman! The phrase which she had addressed aloud to the
mocking image in the glass, in mingled doubt and irony, clung to her
meditations. Had she ever meant to be wicked--ever deliberately, or
even consciously, chosen evil instead of good? No! There was no dubious
reservation in her answer. Yet within the week--oh, the horrible
week!--she had come to occupy a moral position for which hell could not
hold too relentless or fierce a punishment. She had hugged to her heart
thoughts which, when they are linked with acts, go to expiation on the
gallows. She shuddered now at the recollection of them; she could recall
that she had shuddered then, too. Yet all the same these thoughts were a
part of her--belonged to her. She had not repelled them as alien, or as
unwelcome. Even while in terror at their mien, she had embraced them.
Was this not all wickedness?

The reply came, in sophistical self-defense, that no one act or emotion
of a life could be judged by itself. The antecedent circumstances,
leading up to it, must be taken into account. She had been borne
along on the current of a career shaped for her by others. She was not
responsible--she had never fought with her destiny--she had done nothing
but seek to bring some flowers and light and color into the desolate
voyage of life. Was it fair to say that these little innocent,
womanish efforts to soften a sterile existence were the cause of the
shipwreck--that it was these which had brought her so suddenly, dazed
and terrified, into the very breakers on the sinister rocks of crime?
No, the answer came again; surely it could not be fair.

Yet she had hated her husband; she had been overjoyed, even while
she was affrighted, by the news of his death--or at least there was a
tremulous sensation very like joy; she had hailed as her deliverer the
young man whom her wild fancy made responsible for that death--yes, had
even in her frenzy kissed his hand, the hand which she then believed to
have blood upon it, his brother’s blood! her husband’s blood! Were not
these the thoughts and actions of a wicked woman? What difference
was there between her and the vilest murderess confined for life in a
penitentiary?

Or no! What nonsense this was! What single thing had she said or done to
bring on the catastrophe? It was an accident--everybody knew that now.
But even if it had not been an accident, how would she have been to
blame? Was it her fault that she was pleasing in men’s eyes, or that
Seth had been attracted by her, and had been sympathetic to her? How
could she have helped it? Was there any reason why she should have tried
to help it? Was it wrong for her, exiled as she was to this miserable
farm life, to make a friend of her cousin--her husband’s brother? And if
they had grown to be attached to each other, could it be wondered at?

And it had all been so innocent, too! What single compromising word,
even, had ever been spoken! Might not the most blameless of women have
had just such a pretty little romantic friendship, without dream of
harm?

As for the frantic things she had thought and said on that awful
forenoon after the discovery, she strove to put them away from her
memory, as born of a hysterical, wholly irresponsible state.

But they would come back, no matter how often banished.

Then, too--perhaps worst of all, for honest John seemed to lay
particular stress upon it--was the terrible declaration she had made
to Annie. About this there could be no self-deception. She would not
pretend to herself that this had been done through any but revengeful?
spiteful motives--pure cruelty, in fact. But was she to be thus coolly
pushed aside, her romance shattered, her dear day-dream dissipated--and
not to be justified in striking back?

This conceited boy--she was able thus to think of Seth now, in his
absence, and in the light of the affront she felt he had put upon
her--and this country school-teacher, to come billing and cooing in the
very hour of her supreme excitement--did they not deserve just what
they had received? After all, her words had done no permanent harm..
Doubtless by this time they had all been cleared up. And if Miss Annie
_did_ suffer a little, what better was she than other people, to be free
all her life from heartaches?

But then came a mental picture of Annie’s calm, sweet, lightful face
transfixed with speechless horror at the brutal words--and after it,
close and searching, the question: “Why should I have stabbed Annie? She
was always kindness itself to me. Was it not heartless to make that poor
girl suffer?” And there followed in her mind, as an echo of her first
exclamation to the mirror--that had gathered reverberating force from
all the thoughts we have striven to trace--the haunting cry: “A wicked
woman!”

Afternoon came, and the battle still went on. Bitter condemnation of her
own conduct struggled with angry pleas of grievance against others, and
the conflict wearied her into what threatened to be a sick headache.
The idea of getting out into the open air and seeking relief in a walk,
which had been dormantly in her mind all day, finally took form, and led
her outside the homestead for the first time since her husband’s death.

Once outside, she walked aimlessly through the orchard--in preference to
the high road, where she might meet neighbors--toward the little family
graveyard. It was not until she had nearly reached this spot that she
recalled having heard that Seth, too, came here on that terrible night.
The recollection brought an added sense of all the wrongs she held to
have been done her. She stood for a long time by the old board fence,
with its coating of dry, mildew-like moss on the weather-beaten surfaces
turned to the north, and its inhospitable hedging of brown, half-bare
briars, and looked in reverie upon the tombs within the enclosure.

Three generations of the Fairchilds lay here under the straggling mat
of withered strawberry vines. She saw the low blue-slate slabs, nearly
covered now by aspiring weeds and brambles, which modestly pleaded in
antique letters that the original shoemaker, Roger, and his lowly spouse
might not be altogether forgotten. Rising ostentatiously above these
timid, ancient memorials, as if with intent to divert attention from
their humility, was the marble obelisk marking the resting-place of the
family’s greatest man, the Hon. Seth Fairchild. The monument was not so
white or so imposing now as it once had been, and the proud inscription
setting forth how its subject had been “twice Senator of the State of
New York,” was almost illegible from the storm-stains and mould on its
venerable front. There were some other stones, gray and small, tipping
humbly toward the central monolith, as if mutely begging at least a
little share of the Senator’s greatness for his wife and sisters, and
nearer were two plain modern slabs recounting the sole interesting facts
of the colorless lives of Lemuel and Cicely Fair-child--that they had
been alive, and now were dead.

Here still nearer her, almost at her feet, the widow saw some pegs
driven in the ground, with string stretched around them to form a long
rectangle. The sight brought no thrill to her. She was conscious of all
its meaning, but felt herself scarcely interested. In life she had
owed nothing but dislike to the man whose last coming these signs of
preparation betokened. His death had shocked her at first by its fearful
suddenness; it did not especially disturb her now, save at times with a
furtive elation at the accompanying thought that at last she was free.
Her thoughts were with the living--and their relation to those long
since dead.

If these rambling thoughts could have been summarized in words they
would have run in this fashion:

“What has all your family pride brought you, all your planning and
manoeuvring, you dull countrymen? _I_ wasn’t good enough for you,
eh? Your breed must conspire against me, eh? and treat me like an
interloper, an outsider, eh? You thought I was to be brought here too,
did you, when my time arrived, and be snubbed and bullied into some back
corner like the rest of your wives, while my husband, ‘the Congressman,’
had a big monument like this of your old humbug, the Senator? And you
expected to patronize me, or cut me dead, as the living dolts here on
the turnpike have done, did you? Well, you are fooled! I’ve escaped you!
I shall never come here but once again--to bring you your ‘Congressman.’
You can have him and welcome. And that old cat of an aunt of his, she
will come presently, too, and I wish you much joy of _her!_ And perhaps
you will give up your idea, then, that you amount to anything, or ever
will amount to anything. The farm is going to a young man who will sell
it, and who doesn’t care a cent for the whole crowd of you, and who will
live in a city, and eat with his fork, and forget that there ever were
such people as you. And he will forget, too, that----”

She came to a full stop in her meditations. Yes, Seth would forget her,
too. She had no illusions on this point. Perhaps this was too kindly a
view of it, even--he might be compelled to remember her by sheer force
of his bitterness toward her. There could be no doubt, after his cruel
words on the eventful forenoon--their last meeting--that he scorned
and despised her. What an idiot she had been to disclose to him her
thoughts--those mad fancies and beliefs of that frantic morning! She
might have known that the idea of his fighting his brother, on _her_
account, was preposterous. What did he care about her? He had been nice
with her, had written her pretty, graceful letters when she asked him to
do so, and had sent her books to read--that was all. There was nothing
else. She had been a fool to dream that there was anything else. He
would sell the farm, and go back to Tecumseh, and marry Annie--yes,
marry Annie! And they, too, would refer to her now and then, and comment
on her wickedness, and hope that they might never have a daughter like
her. That would be all.

She turned from the little enclosure of graves, without giving them
another thought. The mental picture which she conjured up of the young
couple, contented by a fireside of their own, perhaps with a child, tore
at her heart-strings.

In the farm-yard she was met by Mr. Ansdell, who was evidently watching
for her, and who introduced himself courteously.

“The Coroner is here,” he said, “with some medical gentlemen, and there
are also your late husband’s partner, Mr. Hubbard, who accompanied me
from New York last night, and the District Attorney and some others. In
a couple of hours or so we expect to be able to tell you what brought
us. Meanwhile, we are anxious to spare you any possible intrusion--and
also a possible scene. It is for this that I have waited outside for
you. If you could prolong your walk for that length of time, going to
some friend’s house near by, for instance, without saying that anything
unusual was transpiring here----”

“Yes, I will go,” she answered. “Will two hours be long enough?”

“I hope so,” he said, bowing his thanks.

She walked out through the great swing-gate to the turnpike, and
idly chose the westward turning, along under the poplars. The curious
incident of all these visitors at the house did not excite her
attention. Her mind was too busy torturing itself with that marriage
which was already spoken of as assured.

At the stile by the thorns, the idea of going to the Warren house
suddenly occurred to her. It was a bold, purposeless, almost crazy
thought; perhaps for those very reasons it commended itself to her mood.
She felt herself impelled alike by good and malignant impulses to cross
the stile; she walked down the thorn path, scarcely knowing whether her
purpose was to bless or to curse.

The door was opened by Samantha, whose scared face took on an added
expression of anxiety on recognizing the visitor.

“Go into the parlor, ’n’ I’ll light the stove fer yeh,” she whispered.
“Th’ old lady’s very laow. Soon’s she comes hum from schewl I’ll send
Annie in to see yeh.”



CHAPTER XXXIII.--THE SHERIFF ASSISTS.

While Isabel sat over the stove in the cold, austere parlor of the
Warren house, with its ancient furniture, the never failing photograph
album, and those huge pink shells on the mantle-shelf without which
no rural home used to be complete--waiting for she scarcely knew
what--strange things were going forward in the home of the Fairchilds.

On the forenoon of this same day, Thursday, there had been a gathering
in the office of the Thessaly _Banner of Liberty_. It was the
publication day of the paper, but for once it went to press without
enlisting even the most careless scrutiny, let alone the solicitude, of
its editor-proprietor. He had more serious business on hand. Closeted
with him in the little editorial room, whose limited space had rarely
before been so taxed, were Beekman, Ansdell, the District Attorney,
the Sheriff, and the younger of the dead man’s two New York partners, a
shrewd, silent, long-faced man. Seth had desired to be of the party but
his brother had sent him off, to return after dinner.

These men gravely discussed some subjects with which our readers are
familiar, and some now first brought to light. John had a letter from
Annie, sent by hand the previous evening, detailing the strange things
Milton had said to her about the black mare. Ansdell and Mr. Hubbard,
the partner, recited how they had discovered that Albert Fairchild, on
the preceding Monday, sold $16,000 worth of government bonds, and the
abortive effort he made to so arrange the transfer that it would not be
traced. Beekman recalled how the black mare had balked on the edge of
the gulf the day after the murder--for they all thus characterized it
now. Later, the Coroner came in by appointment, and in the presence of
the dreaded District Attorney was meekness itself. He even heard that
two physicians were to go out with the party, and make an examination,
without taking offence.

After the noon-day dinner the gathering was reinforced by the two
doctors and by Seth, the latter devoured by curiosity and vexed at being
kept so long in the dark. Soon after, all of the party save the Sheriff
made their way to the Fairchild house, driving by twos or threes, and at
intervals, to avoid exciting suspicion. It was after the arrival of the
last division that Ansdell met Isabel, and advised her to stay away from
the house for a time.

The two surgeons and the Coroner went silently into the parlor, and
closed the door behind them. In the living-room Ansdell, Hubbard, John,
and the District Attorney took chairs around the stove, having given
word that Milton, who was off on the other side of the hill, arranging
the sale of some apples, should be sent in to them when he arrived,
which could not be very long now. In the kitchen, opening back from the
living-room as this in turn did from the parlor, Seth and Beekman sat
with the three women of the household.

These latter had been told that something was going on, or rather had
inferred it from being forbidden to leave the room, and were agog with
puzzled excitement. They had no clue, save a vague understanding that
important personages were in the front portions of the house, but Alvira
and Melissa stole unhappy glances toward Seth, in uneasy fear that the
worst suspicions born of Samantha’s recital were to be realized in fact.
Aunt Sabrina, sitting with her shawl wrapped about her gaunt shoulders,
and with her feet on a piece of wood in the oven, did not know of this
story which gave point to the other women’s anxiety, but was in misery
between a deep yearning to learn what had happened, and a pessimistic
conviction that it must be another addition to the Fairchilds’ load of
calamities.

They heard Milton drive up presently, and hail Dana with instructions to
put the horse out, and a query concerning the several strange vehicles
under the shed. Then he came into the kitchen, stamping his feet with
the cold, and walking straight to the stove to warm his hands. It was
growing dark in the low room, and he did not recognize Beekman.

Seth delivered his errand, saying that his brother John wished to see
Milton, as soon as he returned, in the living-room. The hired man
gave the speaker a curious glance, and, after a moment or two of hand
warming, went in to learn what was wanted.

Almost as he closed the door behind him, the Sheriff entered the kitchen
from the outside, and after an interrogative glance toward Beekman,
which the latter answered by a nod, drew up a chair leisurely by the
stove.

“Who’d a thought it ’d a turned out so cold, ‘fore the moon changed?”
 he asked of the company collectively. “Hev yeh got any cider abaout
handy? ’N’ a daoughnut, tew, ef yeh don’t mine.”

While Melissa was in the cellar, the Sheriff, who was a Spartacus man
and a stranger to both Seth and the females, asked of Beekman: “What did
yeh agree on fer a sign?”

“Th’ shakin’ of th’ stove.”

Seth had been annoyed all day at the pains taken by John to keep the
facts of the enterprise now in hand from him, and he displayed so much
of this pique in the glance he now cast from the Sheriff to Beekman,
that the latter felt impelled to speak:

“P’raps you disremember my askin’ yeh ’t’ other day ’baout whether
yer brother had much money on him that night. Well, we’ve settled thet
point. He did hev’--’n’ ’twas a considerable sum tew--‘baout sixteen
thaousan’ dollars.”

“No!” Seth’s exclamation was of incredulous surprise.

“Yes, sixteen thaousan’. We knaow it.”

“Oh! I remember now,” said Seth, searching his impressions of the night.
“I remember that when I said he might fail to be nominated, he slapped
his breast two or three times as if he had something in the pocket. By
George! I wonder----”

“Yeh needn’t waste no more time wond’rin’. Thet was it! ’N’ d’yeh
knaow what he was goin’ to dew with thet money? No, yeh daon’t! He was
agoin’ to buy me! I wouldn’t say this afore aoutsiders; I dunnao’s I’d
say it to yeou ef your paper wa’n’t so dum fond o’ pitchin’ into me fer
a boss, ’n’ a machine man ez yeh call it, ’n’ thet kine o’ thing.
Yer brother hed th’ same idee o’ me thet your paper’s got. He was wrong.
They tell me ther air’ some country caounties in th’ State where money
makes th’ mare gao. But Jay ain’t one of ’em. Yer brother wanted to
git into Congress. Ther was nao chance fer him in New York City. He come
up here ’n’ he worked things pooty fine, I’m baoun’ to say, but he
slipped up on me. Bribes may dew in yer big cities, but they won’t go
daown in Jay. I don’t b’lieve they’s ez much of it done anywhere ez
folks think, nuther.”

“But this money, then, was----”

“Lemme go on! P’raps this ’d never be’n faound aout, ef yer brother
hadn’t made mistake number tew in pickin’ aout the wust ’n’ meanest
cuss in th’ caounty to be his gao-between. I kin tell mean cusses when
I see ’em, ’n’ this feller he had was jest _the_ dirtiest scalawag I
ever did see. I kin stan’ a scoundrel in a way ef he’s bright abaout it,
but this was a reg’lar, natchul born fool. Somehaow in th’ kentry, these
men don’t seem to hev no sense. Ef they’re goin’ to rob a man, or set
his barns afire, or kill him, they dew it in the darnedest, clumsiest
saort o’ way, so they’re sure to git faound aout the minute anybody
looks an inch beyond his nose into th’ thing. It makes a man ashamed to
be a kentry-man to see th’ foolish way these here blockheads git caught,
ev’ry time.”

The women had been listening intently to this monologue. They looked
at one another now, with the light of a strange new suspicion in their
eyes.

“Who is this man? Who are you talking about?” Seth asked eagerly.

At that moment the sound of a stove being shaken vigorously came from
the living-room. The Sheriff rose to his feet, and strode toward the
door of this room.

“I’ll shaow him to yeh in th’ jerk of a lamb’s tail,” he said.

*****

The conversation in the living-room, after Milton entered, had been
trivial for a time, then all at once very interesting. He had been
disagreeably surprised at finding three men with John, but had taken
a seat, his big hands hanging awkwardly over his knees, and had been
reassured somewhat by the explanation that Mr. Hubbard, the dead man’s
partner, was anxious to hear all he could about the sad occurrence. The
District Attorney he did not know by sight, and he did not recognize
Ansdell, who stood looking out of the window, softly drumming on the
panes.

Milton told a lot of details, about Albert’s return, about hitching up
the grays for him, about how the news was received at the Convention and
the like, all recited with verbose indirectness, and at great length.
Once he stopped, his attention being directed to a slight sound in the
parlor, and looked inquiry. John promptly explained that it was the
undertaker, and the hired man went on.

At last the District Attorney, who had hitherto been silent, asked
quietly:

“You went back to the stable--to your own room--after Mr. Fairchild
drove away?”

“Yes, ’n’ went to bed.”

“Did you hear any one enter the stables afterward?”

“No, nary a soul.”

“There is a black mare in the stables, used under the saddle. Was she
taken out that night?”

“Not thet I knaow of. Why?”

“Well, there seems to be a pretty positive story that she was. She was
seen on the road, in fact, late that night, coming from the ravine.
The rider was not recognized, but the mare was. How do you account for
that?”

“Tain’t none o’ my business to ’caount for it.” Milton did not like
the tendency of the conversation.

“No, I know that, but we are interested in finding out. I don’t think
you know me--I am the District Attorney--and I shall take particular
pains to find out.”

A gulf suddenly yawned before Milton’s feet, and he made a prompt, bold
attempt to leap it. “I didn’t like to say nothin’ ’baout it, bein’ as
it’s in th’ fam’ly”--he cast an uneasy glance at John here--“but Seth
Fairchild rides th’ mare a good deal. I did hear somebody saddlin’ th’
mare, but I took it fer granted it was him, ’n’ sao I didn’t git up.
It’d be jes like him, I said to myself, to go ridin’ in th’ moonshine.
He’s thet sort of a feller, naow ain’t he, John?”

The sound of his own voice frightened Milton as he went on, and his
closing appeal to the brother for corroboration carried the nervous
accent of fear. John did not answer, but rose and walked over to join
Ansdell at the window.

“Of caourse,” Milton began, in a lower voice, to which he sought to give
a confidential tone, “I don’t wan’ to say nothin’ agin Seth. Of caourse,
he’s John’s brother, ‘n’----”

The words were cut short by the rolling back of one of the parlor doors,
and the entrance of the three doctors. The Coroner, who came last,
pulled the door shut again. The older of the other two came to the
District Attorney and said, with deliberate distinctness:

“We are both prepared to swear that Mr. Fairchild’s death was caused by
a gunshot wound in the head.”

It was then that John sprang to the stove, and shook its grate
vehemently.

At sight of the Sheriff, who advanced upon him with a directness which
left no ambiguity as to his purpose, Milton rose excitedly from his
chair, cast a swift scared glance around the company, and then, while
the handcuffs were being snapped upon his wrists, began to whimper.

“I didn’t do it! It’s a put-up job! It’s them brothers o’ his thet allus
hankered after his money, ’n’ naow they got it they’re tryin’ to put
the thing on me. ’N’ his wife, tew, thet stuck-up city gal, she----”

“Come naow, yeou better shut up,” said the Sheriff sententiously. “Th’
more yeh say th’ wuss it’ll be fer yeh.”

Most of the men present averted their gaze during the brief period of
alternate threats and cringing, of rough curses and frenzied fawning on
the Sheriff, the District Attorney, and even the Coroner, which ensued;
but Mr. Hubbard watched it all carefully with evident interest.

“That is a very curious type of criminal,” he said, as the Sheriff and
his prisoner left the room; “very curious indeed! I never saw a murderer
before who had so little nerve, and funked so absolutely when he was
confronted with detection. Why, I’ve seen men, guilty as guilty could
be, who would deceive even their own lawyers. But such a simpleton as
that--he’s not worth his rope.”

“That is because you are a city man,” explained the District Attorney.
“You don’t know the kind of murderers we raise here in the country. The
chances are that your city assassin would be tortured by remorse, if
he escaped discovery, and that he committed the deed in a moment of
passion. But the rural murderer (I am speaking of native Americans,
now) plans the thing in cold blood, and goes at it systematically, with
nerves like steel. He generally even mutilates the body, or does some
other horrible thing, which it makes everybody’s blood boil to think of.
And so long as he isn’t found out, he never dreams of remorse. He has no
more moral perspective than a woodchuck. But when detection does
come, it knocks him all in a heap. He blubbers, and tries to lay it on
somebody else, and altogether acts like a cur--just as this fellow ’s
doing now, for instance.”

A hubbub of shrieks and sobs rose from the kitchen as he finished this
sentence, and they with one accord moved toward the door.

The Sheriff, with an eye to his promise to the two men in the kitchen,
had led the livid and slinking wretch out to the centre of the room,
where the dim candles had now been lighted, and, forcing him to hold up
his hands so that the manacles might be fully visible, said to Seth:

“Here yeh air! I said I’d shaow him to yeh! Here is the whelp thet did
th’ mischief. Look at him!”

There was a second of dead silence, as the several listeners took in the
significance of his words, and of the spectacle.

The silence was broken by an inarticulate, indescribable cry from
Aunt Sabrina. Then came with startling swiftness a confusion of moving
bodies, of screams, and the rattling of the handcuffs’ chain, which no
one could follow. When the intervention of the Sheriff and Beekman had
restored quiet, it was discovered that the old lady, with an agility of
which none could have supposed her capable, had snatched a potato
knife from the table, and made a savage attempt to wreak the family’s
vengeance upon Milton. She had not succeeded in inflicting any injury,
save a slight cut on one of his pinioned hands, and Seth now with some
difficulty persuaded her to leave the room.

It fell to Alvira’s lot to bind up the bleeding hand--for Melissa,
undertaking the task, was too nervous and trembling to perform it.

A little dialogue, in hushed whispers, which only imperfectly reached
even the sentinel Sheriff, ensued:

“Sao this is what yeh’ve come tew!”

“It’s all a lie!”

“Oh, don’t tell _me!_ Ef you’d be’n contented with yer lot in life,
’n’ hadn’t tried to swell yerself up like a toad in a puddle, this
wouldn’t a happen’d. But nao, yeh poor fewl, yeh must set yerself up to
_be_ somebody! ’N’ naow where air yeh?”

Words with which to answer rose to Milton’s bloodless lips, but he could
not give them utterance. He could not even look at her, but in a dazed
way stared at the hand, which he held so that she could wind the bandage
in spite of the gyves.

“I didn’t use to think yeh was aout-’n-aout bad,” she continued,
more slowly; “they was a time when yeh might a made a decent man o’
yerself--ef yeh’d kep’ yer word to me.”

This time he did not make an effort to answer.

The task of sustaining the talk alone was too great for her. The tears
came into her eyes, and blinded the last touches to the bandage. As
it was completed, the Sheriff put his hand roughly on the prisoner’s
shoulder. The meaning of this movement spread over her mind, and
appalled her. With a gesture of decision she stood on tiptoe, lifted
her face up to Milton’s, and kissed him. Then, as he was led away, she
turned to the onlookers, and said defiantly, between incipient sobs:

“I daon’t keer! Ef t’ was th’ last thing I ever done in my life, I’d dew
it. We was--engaged--once’t on a time!”



CHAPTER XXXIV.--AT “M’TILDY’S” BEDSIDE AGAIN.

Do you clip over and tell Annie,” John had said to Seth, when the first
excitement of the scene had passed off, and they stood at the kitchen
window, watching the Sheriff’s buggy fade off in the dusk down the hill
toward Thessaly jail. “It’s the thing for you to do--the quicker the
better!”

Annie had been home from her day’s task some minutes, and sat by
her grandmother’s bedside. The patient was in a semi-comatose state,
breathing with unnatural heaviness, and Samantha had been dispatched
with all haste to bring a doctor from Thessaly. It seemed terribly
probable that Mrs. Warren’s last day had come.

Yet as she sat by the curtained recess, holding in her’s the withered
hand which lay inanimate on the high edge of the bed, Annie still
thought very little of the great change impending over her home; she had
faced this death in life so long that its climax did not startle her,
or wear the garb of strangeness. Instead, she was pondering the
unaccountable, unwelcome fact with which Samantha had greeted her on her
return--that Isabel was in the adjoining room, and had asked to see her.

What could it mean? What could Isabel’s purpose be in coming? And ought
she to sacrifice her own feelings to the dictates of politeness, and go
in to see this wicked, cruel woman? Perhaps she had come to retract and
apologize for the fearful words of Tuesday. Perhaps her intention was to
reiterate them, or worse, to recount that now the whole world would know
of them--and gloat over her pain. No, that could scarcely be, for
since her interview with Milton Annie felt satisfied at least of Seth’s
innocence. But still something new might have been disclosed--Isabel
might have evil tidings of some sort with which to overwhelm her afresh.
What should she do?

The parlor door was ajar, and though she could not see her visitor, she
could plainly hear the snapping of the wood fire within, which Samantha
had kindled. Isabel must be perfectly aware of her return, and of her
presence in this sick chamber. Every minute that she hesitated would
only augment the widow’s anger at being thus inhospitably neglected.
Even if she had relented, and had come with kindly intent, this
reception might alter her impulses.

She rose to enter the parlor, but still stood irresolute, holding her
grandmother’s hand, when there came the sound of footsteps in the front
hall--then of a hasty knock on the door opening from the hall into this
room in which she was. She opened the door, and before her, excited and
jubilant, stood her cousin Seth.

“I’ve come to tell you!” he burst out, “It’s all cleared up. There
_was_ a murder. Milton did it! He’s just been arrested! I tried to
ring your bell, but it didn’t seem to work. So I _had_ to come in! And
now----”

He opened his arms with an unmistakable gesture, and they closed fondly
upon an overjoyed maiden, who sobbed upon his breast for very relief.

When she found breath and words, it was to say:

“Oh, you can’t guess what I have suffered these last two days; I thought
I should never live through them! And now it seems as if I should go
wild with joy--as if I couldn’t keep my feet down on the floor!”

“Yes, yes, I know, my darling. But we shall be all the happier for
this spell of wretchedness. Dry your eyes, pet. There shall be no more
thought or talk of tears--much less of dying.”

“O Seth!--I forgot!--my grandmother!”

She lowered her voice, and told him her fears.

Hand in hand, and with his arm about her shoulder, they moved softly to
the bedside of the dying woman. The noise of the talking, or some less
apparent influence, had aroused her from her lethargy. Her pale eyes
were brilliant still, with an unearthly light, it seemed to the awed
young man, and she rested their gaze fixedly upon the couple.

“Who is that?” she asked in a querulous whisper.

“It is Seth, Granny,” the girl answered, relapsing unconsciously into
the familiar form she had not used since childhood.

The aged woman restlessly moved her head, and her eyes snapped with
impatience at her inability to raise herself from the pillow.

“I won’t have him here! Tell him to take his arm away. What’s he doin’
here, anyway? He desarted yeh! His own father told me so! Tell him to go
away! I hate the sight of the hull breed!”

“But he’s come back to me, Granny,” the girl pleaded, while Seth shrank
backward in the shadow of the curtain. “Truly he has, and he’s not to
blame. And I love him very dearly”--a pressure from the young man’s
hand answered the sweetness of this avowal--“and he will be all I shall
have left when--when--” she stopped, unwilling to conclude her thought
in words.

“An’ will he take yeh away, an’ do by yeh ez a husban’ ought to do, or
will he take yeh onto that Fairchild farm, an’ break yer heart out ez
his father did his mother’s, an’ ez his uncle did yer mother’s, an’ ez
his brother, so they tell me, is doin’ with his wife?”

“Oh, mercy!” the girl exclaimed, involuntarily; then she whispered
to Seth, back of the curtains: “What shall I do! I forgot all about
it--Isabel is there in the parlor and she has heard every word we’ve
said.”

The quick ears of the invalid caught the whispered explanation. .

“Isabel!” she said, sharply. “That’s Albert Fairchild’s wife ain’t it?”

“Yes!” the girl answered. She tried in dumb show to convey to Seth that
her grandmother was ignorant of his brother’s death.

“Go an’ fetch her in here,” said Mrs. Warren, with more animation in her
voice than it had shown before. “I want to see her--to talk with her.”

“But, Granny, you ought’nt to see strangers; you know, the doctor----”

“I guess she ain’t much more of a stranger than this young man you’ve
got here. Go an’ fetch her, I say! I won’t hurt her, an’ she won’t hurt
me.”

There was nothing for Annie to do, but go into the parlor, and bow
shamefacedly to Isabel, and say, with embarrassment in every syllable:
“Excuse me for not coming before, but I think my grandmother is dying.
She wants very much to see you. Won’t you come, please?”

Isabel had risen to her feet upon Annie’s entrance. To the latter’s
surprise and increased confusion she held forth her hand with a friendly
gesture. “Yes, I will come with you,” she said, as Annie doubtingly took
the proffered hand, and the two women entered the sick-room.

Isabel did not seem to see Seth, who stood at the head of the bed, among
the drawn curtains, but walked to the bedside and said softly: “I am
Isabel, Mrs. Warren; I am sorry that our first meeting should find you
so low.”

“So you’re Albert’s wife, eh?” The old woman eyed her keenly, for what
seemed a long time. “I’ve heered tell o’ you. Would you mind gettin’
that candle there, on the mantle-piece, an’ holdin’ it, so’t I kin see
yer face?”

Isabel gravely complied with the request, and stood before the invalid
again, with the yellow light glowing upon her throat and lower chin and
nostrils and full, Madonna-like brows. Her face was at its best with
this illumination from below. She would have been a rare beauty close
before the footlights.

“Well,” said Mrs. Warren, after a long inspection, “P’raps it’ll sound
ridiculous to yeh, but yeh don’t look unlike what I did when I was your
age. The farm ain’t had time to tell on yeh yit. But it will! It made
me the skeercrow that you see; it’ll do the same for you. When I was a
girl, I was a Thayer, the best fam’ly in Norton, Massachusetts. We held
our heads high, I kin tell yeh. Why, when I brought my side-saddle
here, stitched with silk, ’twas the fust one they’d ever seen in these
parts. But I married beneath me, an’ I come up here into York State to
live, on this very farm. With us, farmin’ don’t mean a livin’ death.
P’raps we don’t hev sech fine big barns ez yeh build here, but our
houses are better. We don’t git such good crops, but we pay more heed
to education and godly livin’. It’s th’ diff’rence ’twixt folks who
b’lieve there’s somethin’ else in life b’sides eatin’ an’ drinkin’ an’
makin’ money, an’ folks that don’t. Well, I left a good home, an’ I
come here, an’ here I am. Look at me! Look at Lemuel Fairchild’s wife,
Cicely--she was a relation of yours, wasn’t she?--see how the farm made
an ole woman o’ her, an’ broke her down, an’ killed her! You’re young,
an’ you’re good lookin’ yit, but it’ll break yeh, sure’s yer born.
Husban’s on these farms ain’t what they air in the cities, nor even
in the country in New England. I’m told your husban’ don’t treat you
right.”

“Don’t let us talk about that--please!” said Isabel: she stole a swift,
momentary glance toward Seth as she spoke.

The keen eyes in the recess followed this look. “Well, no,” the husky,
whispering voice went on, “p’raps it ain’t none o’ my business. But
tell me about this young man here--yer husband’s brother. I want to know
about him.”

“What about him?” asked Isabel slowly, after a pause.

“Why, is he a likely man? Air his habits good? Could he take this girl
o’ mine--an’ she’s a good girl, Annie is--could he take her to Tecumsy,
an’ make a fit home fer her? An’ _would_ he do it? Would he make her a
good husban’--ez good ez she desarves? I ask you, ’cause you know him.
I leave it to you--would you yerself marry him ef yeh was free, an’ feel
safe about him? Come, now, tell me that!”

Isabel hesitated so long that the old woman, seemingly wandering a
little after her long, laborious concentration of thought, broke in
again:

“Oh, I know ’em! I know ’em! Of all the Fair-childses, there never
was one decent one. They stole my daughter, an’ let her die ’mongst
strangers, an’ they made a broken ole woman o’ me, an’ they slaved
Cicely’s life out o’ her, an’ now they want my Annie----”

“No,” said Isabel here, speaking softly, and putting her hand on the
wasted arm which lay above the coverlet. “I think you wrong Seth.
Whatever the rest may have done, I think he will be a good husband to
Annie. I am _sure_ he will.”

No answer, save a low, incoherent murmuring, came from the recess. The
invalid had lapsed into the lethargy of exhausted nature. As the trio
stood by the bedside even this sound ceased. Nothing was to be heard but
the labored, unnatural breathing.

Isabel placed the candle again upon the shelf. She had not removed her
bonnet and wrap, and she turned now irresolutely toward the door.

Annie went to her, and silently took her hand. “I forgive you,” she
whispered. “Was there anything else? Did you want to speak to me?”

“I don’t know what I wanted when I came. Let me go now. Perhaps if I
said any more, I should hate myself afterward.”

And thus, without a glance at Seth, she went.



CHAPTER XXXV.--“SUCH WOMEN ARE!”


THE story, such as it is, is told.

Before the daily press of the State, which had given great attention
to the tragedy in Dearborn County, became fairly aware that a mystery
attached to it, the wretched Milton had confessed his crime. He had
followed and come up with his employer, who stopped at his call. There
was a conversation--then the killing. The prisoner made a weak effort
to pretend that there was a quarrel first, and that his deed was in
self-defence, but he deceived no one. He had with much difficulty led
the grays off the side of the ravine, the murdered man being first
thrown over, and the horses and buggy purposely hurled down upon him.
There was some angry criticism when it became known that the District
Attorney had agreed to accept a plea of murder in the second degree, and
the popular explanation--that it was done from motives of consideration
for the family--provoked not a few jibes from people who wanted to know
why the Fairchilds were any better than other folk. But the course of
the law was not affected by this comment, nor did the District Attorney
suffer appreciably from it when he came up the succeeding autumn for
re-election. The money was all recovered--and, if you have the influence
requisite to obtain a visiting pass to New York’s forest-girt prison
on the Eastern watershed of the Adirondacks--that terrible subterranean
place of woe from which even Siberian gaolers might get some hints of
new things in anguish--you may still see a thin, bent, evil-faced wretch
dragging out existence in the mines, who once was reckoned a likely man
in Dearborn County, and who cast its united vote at the most famous of
all Tyre’s Conventions.

The funeral of Albert Fairchild will long be remembered in all the
section round. More than one State official attended, and there was a
vast concourse of lesser political lights, who kept a shrewd eye upon
opportunities for profitable discourse with each other, before and after
the services, while they put themselves dignifiedly in evidence before
the public by getting their names in the local papers.

There were no surprises to the inner circle of the family when the will
came to be read. Subject to the widow’s third, the farm was devised
in equal parts to the two brothers, but the major share of the other
property went to Seth. The partner from New York remained at the
homestead long enough to arrange the details by which the widow’s
portion was bought by the brothers, and her leave-taking accomplished.

John Fairchild lives in high contentment on the ancestral farm. He grows
stout now, in the accustomed Fairchild fashion, and though his light
ruddy face and brown beard are hostile to the suggestion, people profess
to see the family likeness in him as he grows older. Aunt Sabrina
especially cherishes this fancy with fondness. She has come to regard
this nephew, whom once she so deeply disliked, with some affection and
vast esteem, and she devotes her hours to dreaming of the great things
he may accomplish as the Fairchild of Dearborn--what time she is not
joining Alvira in prayer that he may not be moved to marry a city woman.
Thus far there are no indications that he thinks of marrying any one,
and his ambitions seem to take no higher form than the re-invigoration
of the _Banner of Liberty_, which he drives over to Thessaly three times
a week to superintend, and which, they say, promises soon to blossom
into a daily.

*****

One closing scene we may glance at--a pretty room, with modern
furniture, and wide, flower-clad windows looking upon one of the best of
Tecum-seh’s residential streets. Annie, grown brighter-faced and yet no
older in looks, despite the nearly four years of married life which have
gone by, stands at the window with a baby in her arms, and laughs as she
tosses the infant forward toward the panes, in greeting to the paternal
parent, who is coming up the front steps. The wife is in gay spirits,
not only because the head of the house has come home to dinner instead
of stopping at the Club, but for another reason, compared with which all
dinners were trivial.

“O Seth, her first tooth has come through!”

“That so? It’s about time, I should-think.”

His reception of the great tidings is so calm, not to say indifferent,
that the beaming wife looks at him in mock surprise. Seth has not
aged specially either, but he wears this evening an unwontedly serious
expression of face, and gets into his dressing-gown and slippers with an
almost moody air.

Baby is brought up in frowning, blinking proximity to her sire and made
by proxy to demand an explanation of this untoward gloom, on an occasion
which ought to be given over to rejoicing.

“Oh, I’m tired,” Seth answers; “and then--then I have a letter which
puzzles and annoys me a little.”

“Is it anything that I know about?” Annie has seated herself beside him
now, and looks sweet inquiry.

“Well, yes. It is a letter from Dent--you know I’ve let him go down to
Washington to get an idea of the place and the men while the session
is on--and along with a letter to the paper, pretty good stuff, too, he
sends me this personal note. Read it for yourself.”

Annie took the letter, and reads steadily along through its neat
chirography:

“Washington, March 7th.

“Dear Fairchild:

“I send a letter going into the Silver question from the standpoint of
some of the Western men I have talked with. They impress me as being
more sincere than sensible on the subject. I think the trip will be of
vast service to me--and also, I trust, to the paper.

“Last evening, I met for the second time since I have been here, an
elderly gentleman from your part of the State, named Beekman. Like
myself, he is down here to look around, and get an idea of things. It is
the first time, I should judge, that he has been so far away from home,
and his comments are extremely droll--often very clever, too. He seems
to know you very well, and asked me to remember him kindly to you, and
express his congratulations upon your purchase of a controlling interest
in the paper. He wanted me to be sure and say to you that while the
experiment of electing Ansdell had worked very well--he seems to admire
Ansdell greatly--you mustn’t allow that to lead you into the habit of
thinking that all bolters are saints and all straight-party men devils.
It seems that since he has been here he has encountered some foolish
and exceptional Southern Congressman who provoked him by saying ‘_Your_
Government’ and _your_ laws’ instead of using the pronoun and that has
made him a great Stalwart again--for the time-being.”

Annie looked up from the sheet. “I must say I don’t see anything in all
this to particularly disturb anybody. This seems just the harmless sort
of letter I should expect your innocuous Mr. Dent to write.”

“Read the rest of it,” was Seth’s reply.

She went on:--

“By the way, I met your sister-in-law among the guests at a reception
the other evening, to which Mr. Ansdell kindly secured me an invitation.
Her residence on K street--she gave me the number, which I have
somewhere--is said to be one of the most charming homes in Washington.
She is very-popular in society here, and I am told that you meet her at
every fashionable gathering. She was certainly very pleasant with me,
when Mr. Ansdell presented me and explained who I was. She especially
asked me if I knew what you had named your baby-girl, but I could not
tell her.

“_I_ could tell her if she asked _me!_” remarked the young wife, grimly.
“The very idea!”

“Go on,” said Seth--“or I shall feel that we ought to have named her
Proscrastinatia instead of Annie; get to the end of the thing.”

Annie got to the end with a single sentence:

“By the way, it may interest you--and I hope you won’t be annoyed at
my mentioning it, and indeed you may very possibly have heard it
already--to learn that everybody here seems to understand that Mr.
Ansdell is shortly to marry your sister-inlaw, and he himself, speaking
to me, referred to her in a way which amounted to a declaration of the
fact.”

“Well, there you have it!” said Seth slowly, after a long pause in which
husband and wife looked at each other. “That _is_ news, isn’t it?”

“I should think so!” Annie spoke deliberately, too, turning the letter
over with a meditative air. “I should think so!”

The gravity of his wife’s tone seemed to Seth to be more profound than
the circumstances altogether demanded.

“I don’t know after all,” he said, in half-apology for his own earlier
confession of gloom, “but that it would be a tolerable match. I don’t
say that they would be happy in the sense that we are happy, my girl;
but she has a great many qualities which would make her a helpful wife
to an ambitious, successful, masterful sort of public man like Ansdell.
Come, now, let’s be fair to her. Dent says that she is very popular in
Washington.”

“Yes,” replied Annie thoughtfully, drawing her daughter closer to her
breast, “she always will be popular with people who are not married to
her. Such women are!”


THE END.





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