Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Pegeen
Author: Brainerd, Eleanor Hoyt
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Pegeen" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



http://www.pgdpcanada.net



                                 PEGEEN


                                   BY
                         ELEANOR HOYT BRAINERD

                               AUTHOR OF
                      MISDEMEANORS OF NANCY, Etc.


                             [Illustration]


                                NEW YORK
                            GROSSET & DUNLAP
                               PUBLISHERS



                          Copyright, 1915, by
                            The Century Co.
                 *        *        *        *        *
                Copyright, 1915, by The Ridgway Company
                 *        *        *        *        *
                       _Published, October, 1915_



                                   TO
                          THE AUTHOR’S MOTHER
              WHO, LIKE PEGEEN, HAS THE NEIGHBORING HEART,
                         THIS BOOK IS LOVINGLY
                               DEDICATED



                                 PEGEEN



                                   I


“Please, sir, I’ve come to see to you,” announced the Very Small Person.

John Archibald turned from his easel, eyed the intruder with amazement,
faintly tinged with alarm, and thought of laughing—but did not laugh.
She was such a mere wisp of a child and so profoundly serious.

“Oh, you have, have you?” the painter remarked feebly. There was a
solemn determination about this invader of his privacy that made him
uncomfortably sure she would do whatever she had come to do.

“Yes, sir, I’m Pegeen O’Neill. I’ll begin in the kitchen. They say it’s
a sight.”

She was taking off her battered straw hat and her wet coat and rubbers,
and rolling up the sleeves of her clean but much patched gingham dress.
The artist liked her better without the hat, though the extraordinary
mass of black tumbled curls was too heavy a frame for the thin,
sensitive, little face.

“I brought cleaning rags with me.” The child had an oddly efficient air.
One understood that she would always bring the needed things with her.
“Men never have such things around. They’re the wastingest creatures.”

“Oh, but I do have rags around—often,” protested Archibald, “only I’m
usually wearing them.”

The weak attempt to meet the situation lightly made no impression upon
her seriousness.

“Never mind. I’ll keep you mended up now,” she said, with an air of
brisk capability.

“B-b-but,” began the painter.

“You go right on with your painting,” she advised kindly but firmly.

“I won’t want to come in here to-day, if that kitchen’s anything like
what they say it is, ’n’ maybe it’ll clear up by to-morrow so that you
can paint outdoors and not be in my way. What time do you have dinner?”

He looked helplessly at the clock. Meals were always a movable feast
with him. He had them when he chanced to think of them, when the light
was poor, when the work went badly, when there happened to be something
in the house to eat.

“Oh, all right,” said the Very Small Person, quite as though he had
explained all this aloud. “But I guess we’ll have our dinner at
half-past twelve. You just go right ahead until then and don’t mind me.”

She went into the kitchen and shut the door gently behind her.

That was how it began.

John Archibald had run away from New York—and from Nadine Ransome. The
two had sapped his strength and dulled his spirit and blurred his
vision. He loved them both—and, in much the same way, loved the beauty
and the power and the indescribable, gripping charm of them; but the
soul of him had run away from them before they had altogether had their
way with it and had carried his fagged brain and struggling heart to a
place where June was busy with a wonderful outdoor world.

There was a little shack on the edge of a wood, with a meadow dropping
away from before the doorstep to join a quiet green valley that wandered
narrowly between two lines of blue hills into dim, purple distances. He
had camped there once, with a fellow artist, and, on a day when the city
world was an ache in his brain and a bitterness in his heart, the
winding, white ribbon of valley road and the upland meadow trail had
called to him, the murmur of pine top seas and the drip of fern-hidden
springs and the silences of green woodland dusks, had promised peace.

So he ran away.

Running away may not be heroic, but at times it is exceedingly wise.

The shack and the land upon which it stood belonged to a colony of
Shakers who lived across the Valley among the heaven-climbing hills, and
they rented it willingly but with mild amazement.

“Thee doesn’t intend to live in it?” asked the gray-clad eldress with
the visioning eyes and the firm chin.

“When it rains,” explained the tenant. “The rest of the time I’ll live
out of doors. I’m a painter.”

“Oh, yea,—an artist!”

Her tones conveyed an understanding that unto artists all forms of
lunacy were possible.

And so the man who had run away took possession of four rooms, a big
stone fireplace, a rusty stove, a table, three rough chairs and a
decrepit pine bureau. He made an expedition to a neighboring town,
bought a comfortable willow chair, some cushions and linen, a few dishes
and cooking utensils, a broom, and a couch hammock. With the broom he
made a clumsy, half-hearted, masculine attack upon the accumulated dirt
of years. He hung the hammock in the living-room where it served in lieu
of bed, knocked up some shelves for books, set an easel by the north
window, built a fire on the hearth, pulled the willow chair up in front
of it, lighted his pipe, and was at home—but not at peace. The place
was haunted by ghosts he had brought with him. Beneath the night noises
of wood and meadow he heard the muffled throb and roar of city streets.
In every corner lurked a shadowy face—an alluring, heartbreaking face,
with lying promises in its eyes and lying smiles on its lips.

In the open, with the sun and wind and trees and sky for comrades, he
could forget; but, when the violet dusk closed in and the friendly,
green-gold world fell a-dreaming and lost itself in faint silver lights
and creeping shadows, the old longing stirred, the old fight began
again. It always ended by his flinging out into the night and tramping
the roads and paths under the still stars or through the storm. It is
hard to be strong within four walls.

He painted in a desultory way and he made friends with shy, wood
creatures who finally accepted him as a harmless and well-meaning
neighbor, and he fished a little and read a little and cooked a little
and roamed the woods and fields a great deal, and June was kind to him
in her bountiful, burgeoning way; but she worked no sudden cure. Nature
does not hurry, even in her healing.

Yet, on the stormy morning when the Very Small Person appeared at the
shack, John Archibald, standing before a window and watching the rain
sweep down the Valley like a gray veil, through which the glooming hills
peered, shadow-like and shivering, had admitted to himself that he was
nearer in tune than he had been in many a day.

The silver flails of the rain, beating against the swaying young
birches, made his fingers itch for a paint brush, the low-hung cloud
masses tangled in the wind-tossed locks of the pines brought a smile to
his lips, a clump of mountain laurel blurred to misty rose by the rain
curtain set his memory groping for some half-forgotten melody. Yes:
there was beauty in the world and he still had eyes for it, and there
were worse things than a leaping fire on a hearth and a summer rain
against the window panes.

He sat down before his easel and went to work with a whistled tune on
his lips. After the Very Small Person had appeared and disappeared, he
took up the work and the tune where he had left off; but when it
occurred to him that he was whistling, he stopped abruptly. No man likes
to admit to himself that he is convalescent from a heart malady he has
believed fatal.

A particularly happy experiment with madder made him forget that he was
a passion-racked soul and set him whistling gaily once more. The Very
Small Person interrupted a carefully executed bit from _Rigoletto_ when
she came in from the kitchen, carrying a tray load much too big for her
and went about setting the table.

Archibald looked up from his sketch, stared at her blankly, remembered,
and laughed.

“Oh, yes,” he said, whirling around on his chair and resting his arms on
its back, “you are seeing to me.”

“Yessir. Dinner’ll be ready in a minute. I couldn’t find a tablecloth,
so I took a paper napkin. S’pose you use them to get out of washing,
don’t you?”

“I do,” acknowledged the painter. “What—if it isn’t intrusive to
ask—are we going to have for dinner?”

“Well, bread ’n’ milk was all you had in the house; but I’d sort of
figured it would be that way, so I stopped at Mrs. Neal’s on my way up.
I knew you got your butter ’n’ eggs, ’n’ milk there, ’n’ I told her you
needed eggs ’n’ butter, ’n’ then, while I was there, I got a slice of
ham—their hams are fine—’n’ some fresh pot cheese ’n’ a jar of
preserves. Mrs. Neal says she’ll be glad to let us have anything she can
spare. I told her to save us a chicken for Sunday. She was real
interested about my doing your work.”

“It _is_ interesting,” agreed Archibald.

“Yessir. She said the folks along the Valley were just downright
troubled about your living so dirty ’n’ accidental when anybody could
see you were used to having things proper. They’d all come up and looked
in through the windows when you were away, so they knew how things were.
Course they understood about you being an artist ’n’ that that was why,
but Mrs. Neal said she’d feel a heap more comfortable, knowing I was
seeing to you.”

“I believe I’ll feel more comfortable, myself, after I get over the
first shock,” confessed the artist, eyeing with approval the ham and
eggs which had just been put upon the table; “but may I ask how you came
to undertake seeing to me?”

“Why, I don’t know. I heard folks talking about how shiftless and
helpless you were, ’n’ that kind of bothered me; ’n’ then she said
yesterday: ‘Pegeen, why don’t you go and take care of that ridikilus
orphan up in the shack?’ ’N’ I said, ‘Why, I don’t know.’ ’N’ she said,
‘You need somebody to take care of, ’n’ he certainly needs somebody to
take care of him, ’n’ it looks to me like a good combination.’ ’N’ I
said, ‘Well, I guess I will.’ So I came, to-day.

“She said she was sure we’d get along finely together. She’s seen you
somewhere; ’n’ she said you looked unhappy and neglected but sort of
nice, ’n’ as if you’d be a credit to me, after a while.”

“Optimistic soul,” laughed Archibald. “Who is She?”

The Very Small Person started for the kitchen after another cup of
coffee.

“Why, she’s the Smiling Lady,” she called back across her shoulder, as
she went.

The words were left hanging on the air, and the little room seemed the
brighter for them. Archibald said them over to himself softly.

“The Smiling Lady!” Had another Mona Lisa come to light in this Peaceful
Valley?

“Pegeen,” he asked as the small girl came with his coffee, “who _is_ the
Smiling Lady?”

She set the full cup down carefully.

“Oh, that’s just a name for her,” she explained. “I made it for her when
she first came, ’n’ it fitted her so well that the others took it up,
’n’ now she’s the Smiling Lady all up ’n’ down the Valley; but her other
name’s Moran.”

“And does she smile prettily, Peggy?”

“It just melts the heart out of you, sir, it does—but she isn’t always
smiling, you know—not with her lips. It’s a sort of a smile that goes
with her like the words to a tune. ’N’ her hair’s all bright ’n’ ripply
’n’ smiley, ’n’ she walks so light, ’n’ she just has a way with her.
When she comes into a room you feel as if birds had begun singing
there.”

Archibald leaned back in his chair and looked at the slip of a girl,
with the thin, expressive face in which now adoration glowed warmly.

“Pegeen,” he said, with conviction, “when you aren’t taking care of
somebody, you write poetry?”

She looked bewildered.

“No, sir. I haven’t ever. I couldn’t.”

“Well, there’s the making of a poet in you. Did you say the Smiling
Lady’s name was Mrs. Moran?”

His voice held a tint of anxiety.

“Miss Moran, it is. She isn’t married.”

“That’s better, much better. Peggy, my child, I _like_ the way you take
care of me.”

And that night the ghosts forgot to walk.



                                   II


Archibald wakened, sniffed incredulously, sat up in his hammock bed, and
sniffed again.

Yes, it certainly was coffee—good coffee, and there was a subdued
rustle and stir beyond the door leading into the kitchen.

Why, of course! He was being “seen to.” Pegeen had come back.

He had not really expected her, but he might have known she was not one
to put her hand to the plow and look back.

Incidentally it might be well for him to arise and shine. The Young
Person who had adopted him had intimated that, if the weather cleared
over night, he would be expected to paint out of doors and let her clean
his quarters. When she got ready to clean she would probably clean, and
he must breakfast and make his escape.

Queer how mad women, even very small women, were about cleaning things.
No man could stand against them when the sacred rage possessed them. He
would not think of attempting it. No more comfortable and unashamed
grubbiness. He was going to be kept clean, whether he would or no. He
had seen it in the gleam of Peggy’s eye. When she saw to people, she saw
to them.

There was a whimsical smile on the face the man turned toward the
kitchen, but his eyes were very kind. On the whole, he was rather glad
he had been taken in hand. He liked the Very Small Person and there was
something pleasant about awakening to an aroma of coffee and a smell of
toast.

He made a hasty toilet and looked into the kitchen.

“You ready?” said Pegeen, briskly. “I forgot to ask you last night when
you wanted breakfast, so I just decided to have it at eight. I’d have
called you, only I heard you moving around. How d’ you like your boiled
eggs?”

“I have a theory that I like them cooked two minutes,” said Archibald,
humbly, “but I’ve never been able to get them that way.”

“Well, you’ll get them now. She likes hers coddled.”

“Oh, does she?”

“Yessir. I’d love to coddle you some.”

“I’ve an idea you’ll coddle me a great deal.”

Pegeen laughed.

“That’s just the way she twists things. I didn’t know anybody else did.
It makes talking lots more fun, don’t it? Most people talk right
straight ahead about sensible things and you’d as leave they’d stop any
time. I like it when sometimes you say what you don’t mean or don’t say
what you mean—not lies, you know, but all twisty, like a guessing
game—’n’ then I like the things that don’t mean things—just sound as
if they did,—snarks and goober snatches and such, you know.

“She read me lots of those when I had measles. Measles was the best time
I’ve ever had. I went and had them right at her house when I was staying
there over Sunday once.”

She flew into the other room, set the table, and came back for the
coffee and toast.

“Now you sit down ’n’ I’ll cook that two-minute egg. We’ll have to fix a
bed for you in the little room where you’ve got your trunk, so I can
come in here and have the table all ready soon as I get here mornings.
It’s kind of messy anyway, sleeping in your dining-room. It’d be nice if
you could afford another hammock for your bedroom. This one helps to
furnish here.”

“I’ll send for another,” said the man who was being seen to.

He got his two-minute egg, and the coffee was delicious, and the toast
was crisp and browned and hot as the toast one sees in hungry dreams.

While he ate, Pegeen went out and came back with her hands full of
maidenhair fern.

“You might send for some vases when you’re ordering the hammock,” she
said happily, as she put the ferns in a glass of water and set them on
the table. “She says it’s wicked to let a room starve for flowers and
green things when you can’t walk a step outdoors without finding
something that would put heart into the very lonesomest, saddest room. I
always did like flowers, but I never realized about ferns and green
things till she showed me, ’n’ now I like them most better ’n flowers.
They’re so cool, ’n’ fresh, ’n’ kind of resting. There’s always flowers
or ferns or pine branches or bayberry or something in her rooms. I guess
that’s why, even when she isn’t in them, they all seem kind of as if she
must have just gone through them, smiling in her eyes, the way she does.
Is that egg all right?”

“Perfect. She must be rather a wonderful Smiling Lady. Where does she
live?”

“Right down the other side of Pine Knob. You can go over or around, but
it’s prettiest over. There’s a spring up on top with pine trees around
it and a place where you can look way out ’n’ out ’n’ out. She goes up
there sometimes to watch the sunset. My, but she does love things.”

“And people?” questioned Archibald, idly.

“Well, I should say! She’s the lovingest thing. Sometimes I think the
Loving Lady’d be a better name than the Smiling Lady, but I guess it’s
all the same thing. Loving makes smiling, don’t it?”

“Not always,” said the man. His voice rang hard, and Pegeen shot a
swift, surprised look at him.

“Well, it ought to,” she said soberly. “That’s what it’s really
for—except when people you love get sick or die—or are bad. ’N’ if
they’re bad that’s because they aren’t loving. She says if you love hard
enough you just naturally make the world smiley—only you have to be
sure it’s the real, right love, the kind of love God has. She’s the
funniest thing. She talks about God right out, as if He were folks, ’n’
as if He and she had beautiful times together—like my measles. ’N’ she
don’t go to church so awfully much either, ’n’ once I saw her sew on
Sunday. That was when they were trying to get some clothes ready for the
Johnston twins that came unexpected. I asked her how she was going to
fix _that_ with God—my mother was a Presbyterian—’n’ she laughed ’n’
said she didn’t have to fix it, ’cause sewing in His name was just as
good as praying in His name, ’n’ loving was a bigger commandment ’n that
one about not doing any work, ’n’ those twins surely would need loving,
with their mother having no back bone ’n’ their father having delirious
tremors.

“It’s nice out of doors now, ’n’ as soon as I wash dishes I’m going to
begin cleaning.”

“I’m off,” laughed Archibald.

“It’ll be over before dinner ’n’ I’ll only do it thorough once a week,”
she called after him encouragingly, as he went away down the sunlit
slope where the daisies made way for him.

Mrs. Neal, his nearest neighbor, who was working in her garden as he
skirted her side yard, dropped her trowel and strolled over to the fence
when she saw him coming.

She was a sociable woman. He had discovered that before and resented it.
Above all things in the world he had wanted to escape from people, to be
left alone with his bruised soul; but, oddly enough, he was not
conscious of bruises this morning, was not even conscious of a soul,
which is quite as things should be on a June morning.

And so, to the waiting woman’s surprise, he took his pipe from his
mouth, bade her a blithe good morning, rested his elbows comfortably on
the top rail of the fence beside her own, and smiled into her broad,
astonished, and kindly face.

“My land,” said the woman. “Was it as bad as all that?”

“It was,” admitted the man.

“And here I was thinking it was a bad disposition. Just goes to show
that you never can tell.”

Mrs. Neal’s tone was self-reproachful. Her face had taken on creases
still more kindly.

“I told Peggy she’d got her work cut out for her; but she said if you
was grouchy you needed seein’ to all the more, and that bein’ grouchy
was, like as not, just not bein’ used to bein’ pleasant; but I didn’t
suppose she’d get you used to bein’ pleasant as quick as this.”

Archibald’s grin held no hurt vanity. He had evidently made an
uncommonly bad first impression, but his neighbor was plainly ready and
willing to reverse her judgment.

“And here all the time you was only lonesome,” Mrs. Neal went on, in her
fat, friendly voice. “Well, Pegeen surely is quite a kid. Now, ain’t
she?”

“She is,” agreed the man emphatically. “Tell me about her.”

The woman draped her bulk more comfortably over the fence, as one who
settles herself for a long social session. She always had time to visit,
and next to the sound of her own voice, she loved best the sound of
another person’s voice, yet she managed to accomplish an astonishing
amount of work between talks.

“Well,” she began, her eyes looking past the listening man and down the
winding road, “Peggy wasn’t born here. She came along one day on a
broken-down cart behind a broken-down horse. A baby thing she was, only
five years old, but she was taking care of folks already. I saw ’em as
they went by here and the youngster was pulling a shawl up tight around
her mother’s throat and shoulders. Broken down worse’n the cart and
horse, the woman was. I never saw anybody more peaked and sad. Why, say,
that woman’s eyes made you _ache_—except when they looked at Peggy. I
don’t know but what they made you ache worse than ever then. The little
smile that came into them looked so sort of pitiful in that face of
hers. You know the kind of face—the kind that’s been pretty once and
fine, but has had the youth and prettiness and fineness all killed out
of it. A face that’s sort of a tombstone telling where everything worth
while in a life has been buried. She’d been clear outside her husband’s
class. It was easy to tell that. Land knows how she ever came to marry
him. Common, drunken brute he was. Might have been handsome in a beefy
sort of a way once, but drink had knocked that out of him, along with
any other decency he might have had. Honest to God, if I’d ’a’ been a
man I’d ’a’ started every day by going down the road and licking that
man O’Neill, just for luck; but his wife wouldn’t have thanked me for
it—nor Peg either. The woman didn’t love him, but she had some queer
idea of duty or pluck or something hidden away in her, and she never
complained and never let any one say hard things about him to her.—Just
hid what she could, and endured what she couldn’t hide.

“I figured it that she’d run away and married a handsome, blarneying,
good-for-nothing Irishman against her family’s wishes and in the face of
all sorts of prophecies about the evil that’d come of it, and seeing as
she’d made her bed she was going to lie on it without whining. I’ll bet
her folks never knew how things went with her.

“She tried to teach Peggy what she could and the youngster was a good
deal like her in some ways—tidy, little mite with pretty ideas about
things and lots of pluck. She ain’t a whiner, no more ’n her mother, but
it ain’t all plain pluck with Peg. She’s got just the one good thing
that her father had to give her, ’n’ that’s cheerfulness. She’s got a
disposition like one of them toy balloons, Peg has, and it’s a good
thing. If it hadn’t been for that she’d ’a’ been dead, with all the
responsibility and want and abuse she’s had to stand.

“She’s too old for her years, of course, and she’s got serious ways and
some awfully grown-up thoughts, but she’ll never die of broken heart and
broken spirit like her mother did. No, sir. You can’t down Peg. That’s
the Irish in her. She’d see something cheerful and encouraging in a
smallpox epidemic—’n’ she’d be out nursing the sick ones too. Well,
there’s no telling what the man was himself before the drink got him. He
was something a fine-souled, big-hearted woman fell in love with, and
maybe a better father might have given Peggy something that wasn’t as
handy to have around as her cheerfulness.”

“What became of the mother?” Archibald asked. There was a very friendly
light in his eyes as he looked into the face beside him. He was going to
like this neighbor.

“Oh, she dragged around, getting weaker and weaker and thinner and
thinner and whiter and whiter. I’ll say one thing for O’Neill. He never
beat her—not even when he was drunk. He didn’t make a living for her
and he didn’t raise a hand to help her, the lazy whelp. Chopped her own
wood, she did, when Peggy didn’t pick it up in the woods. The neighbors
would have helped but they couldn’t do much—didn’t dare. She was so
proud she’d rather starve than take charity. You couldn’t even offer
it—just had to do what you could in a round-about, happen-so way.

“By and by she took to her bed and then Peggy had to do everything that
got done. She surely was a wonder too—waited on her mother hand and
foot, and kept things clean and cooked whenever there was anything to
cook, and got wood to keep them all warm, and looked after O’Neill as if
he was a bad child that she loved even if he was bad.

“Then her mother died about a year ago. That did for O’Neill. He’d been
a brute to the woman, but then he’d been a brute to himself. The drink
did it, and some place back in his rotten old soul I guess there was a
clean spot that loved her. He was too drunk to see her buried and he
kept that way most of the time for two or three months. Lord knows where
he got the money for his whisky. Peggy used to help around at the
neighbors, taking care of babies mostly. She’s a wonderful hand with
babies. Some of the folks offered to take her on and look out for her,
but she wouldn’t leave her father, and what little she made she’d use to
feed him—washed for him, too, and tried to keep his clothes mended. Her
mother had taught her to read and write and spell, and she went to
school sometimes when she could. O’Neill’d be off for two or three days
at a time and then she’d slip down to the schoolhouse. Miss Keyes, the
teacher, says Peg’s the smartest scholar she ever had.”

“Couldn’t some one interfere legally and take her away from her father?”
asked Archibald.

Mrs. Neal smiled indulgently.

“You don’t really know Peg yet,” she said. “We all worried a great deal
and did what we could to help the child, but as for taking her away from
what she thought was her duty—from somebody that was dependent on
her—well, you wait till you know Pegeen O’Neill.

“O’Neill, he settled the business himself by going off on one of his
sprees and not coming back at all. The Lord knows what became of him. I
hope he’s dead and I guess he is, but his mind had sort of been going
for a while before he left and Peggy, she has an idea that he just lost
his memory and didn’t know where he belonged, or else he’d have come
home to her.

“Grieved for him—that youngster did. Not exactly about her being
without him, but about his being without her. She was afraid he was
somewhere crazy and wasn’t being seen to properly.

“Several of us offered to take her in, after that, but what’d she do but
go over to Mrs. Potter’s. She was sick—Mrs. Potter I mean—and had a
little baby, and her husband’s work took him away most of the time.
Poison poor, they were too. Peg she said they sort of needed her and
she’d got the habit of taking care of somebody; so she took on that job
until Mrs. Potter died. Then she took care of the baby until its
mother’s folks came and got it last month. Peg felt real bad about the
baby, but Mrs. Benderby’s husband had died in the winter and she was all
alone and walking down to the village, three miles, early every morning
to get day’s work and walking home, dog tired, at night; so Peg she said
she’d just move over and see to Mrs. Benderby.—Gets up and has fire and
breakfast at half-past six for the woman and tidies up the house and
mends and has a supper waiting for the poor soul when she comes in at
night. That didn’t keep the child busy though; so she took you on.”

“Good heavens!” protested the man. “It’s too much for her.”

“No, it ain’t,”—Mrs. Neal’s smile was reassuring. “It’s just a lark for
her at your place and she’ll have good food up there and make a little
money, and she can fix Mrs. Benderby up, night and morning, all the
same. Peg’s got to take care of something with all her might and it may
as well be you and Mrs. Benderby.”

“Well, perhaps it may,” agreed Mrs. Benderby’s fellow beneficiary,
humbly.

After that there was a little talk of June peas and lettuce and the
vicious propensities of cut worms; and then Mrs. Neal went back to her
gardening, while Archibald swung himself over a stone wall into the
road, over another wall into a clover field, and made his leisurely way
toward the most sketchable of willow-fringed brooks.

For a while he made pretense of working, but even the brook laughed at
the faint-heartedness of his efforts and the drooping willow boughs
quivered with mirth and the sunlight stealing through the green leaves
danced over his canvas and mocked at its futility.

“Work? In June?” sang a bird in the willows and, at the idea, all the
summer world laughed with the brook.

“Smell!” whispered the clover sea, billowing away from the tree shadows
where he sat.

“Feel!” crooned the breeze, touching his cheek with cool, caressing
fingers.

“Look!” shouted the sun, driving shadow-throwing clouds across the low
meadowland and up the far blue hills.

“Listen!” lilted the bird in the branches.

Archibald gave up the struggle. Why dabble with paints? Loafing was more
glorious business.

“You’re quite right about it,” he said cheerfully to the derisive brook.
“I’m a punk painter, but the Lord knew his business when he sketched in
June. Come along and show me more of the canvas.”

He set off across the meadow, the brook chuckling its sunlit way beside
him and together they wandered down the Valley. A companionable brook it
was, full of surprises and whimsies as a woman, running quietly through
brown, sun-warmed shallows, working itself into a fury against solid,
unyielding stones, dreaming under overhanging elders, glooming among
thick clustering pine trees, dashing noisily, recklessly, down steep
slopes.

Winding and wandering, it led its comrade around the base of Pine Knob,
into a bird-enchanted woodland and whirling suddenly around a sharp
corner, swooped out into an open, birch-fringed glade where a host of
Quaker ladies powdered the grass and butter-cups made love to them
brazenly.

“There!” shouted the brook, leaping a mossy stone for sheer love of
splashing, and making rainbows in the sunlight. “What do you think of
June now?” With a gurgle of glee it romped away through the birches, but
Archibald stayed in the glade.

A girl was sitting among the Quaker ladies. Her hair was full of golden
lights. Her eyes were full of laughter. Her lap was full of flowers and
puppies and kittens. A big collie dog stood sentinel at her shoulder. At
her feet on the grass, two fat babies rolled about in a riotous tussle
with a puppy, strayed from the lapful.

A twig cracked under the man’s foot. The dog growled warningly and the
girl, glancing round, saw the intruder standing among the birches.

Apparently she was not startled, and she was as little embarrassed.

“Don’t pay any attention to him. It’s principle with him, not passion,”
she said, laying a quieting hand on the dog’s head.

Archibald and she might have been meeting every day for months. Not a
hint of self-consciousness ruffled her gay serenity. She made no effort
to rise—merely sat there in the sunshine with young life rioting over
her and round her and smiled up at the stranger out of clear, fearless,
brown eyes that were used to greeting friends. There was no room for
doubt. This was Pegeen’s Smiling Lady.

Archibald’s cap was in his hand. Apology was on his lips, but looking
down at the group, he laughed instead of apologizing. Babies, puppies,
kittens—all were staring at him solemnly, uncertainly. The collie was
staring, too, with more dignity and with deeper suspicion.

Only the Smiling Lady accepted him without reserve, had no doubts about
him.

“We came after flowers,” she said. “At least we intended to get flowers,
but there were so many of us, and some of us had such short legs, and
all of us except Sandy had such vagabond, inconsequent souls, that we
just sat down and rolled around in flowers instead of picking them.”

“I’ve been sketching. At least I intended to sketch,” Archibald
paraphrased.

She laughed. The laugh was as satisfactory in its way as the smile.

“Yes, it’s that kind of a day,” she admitted lazily.

She moved a wandering puppy and a kitten or two, to make room for the
man on the grassy bank beside her, but there was no coquetry in the
invitation—merely a matter-of-fact acceptance of another companion less
reliable than the collie perhaps, less amusing than the puppies and
kittens and babies, but doubtless well meaning. There was June joy
enough for all comers, and she was no monopolist. And when Archibald had
stretched himself out on his back beside her, she evidently considered
her responsibility ended, took his well being and content for granted,
and went back to playing with her young things. The young things, after
their first surprise, accepted him in much the same tranquil way. Only
Sandy, the collie, maintained a haughty aloofness, stood manifestly on
guard.

One of the kittens made a tentative excursion along the man’s recumbent
form and curled up in a soft ball on his chest. A puppy of inquiring and
friendly turn of mind chewed two or three of the newcomer’s fingers in
turn, then gamboled awkwardly up to his head and licked his cheek with a
warm, wet tongue. A chubby, laughing baby in sadly faded and much
patched blue rompers filled her hot little hands with Quaker ladies and
scattered them painstakingly over the front of the artist’s flannel
shirt.

“Thank you, Ophelia,” murmured Archibald. “Or perhaps I should say
Hamlet,” he added doubtfully.

The Smiling Lady rescued a kitten from the strangle hold of the other
diminutive being in blue rompers, and cleared up the situation.

“There’s simply no telling in rompers,” she said. “But that’s Rosamond
strewing flowers over you and this is Jeremiah. They’re the Johnston
twins, four years old and very active, thank you. Father Johnston is
religious and Mother Johnston is romantic and each one named a baby, but
I do think Mr. Johnston might have picked out one of the cheerful
prophets. Jerry isn’t a bit of a wailer. Jerry and Rosy aren’t such bad
little names for them, though, are they?”

“Very good little names,” protested Archibald. “But how do you know
which child belongs to which name?”

“You have to go by manners, not by looks,” the Smiling Lady explained.
“Now if Jerry’s attention had been concentrated upon you, he wouldn’t
have strewn flowers over you. He’d probably have bitten your thumb or
poked a finger in your eye. You see, Jerry’s on the way to being a man.”

“A thumb-biting, eye-poking class, I gather?”

“Forceful, let us put it—and yet so helpless, poor things! How is
Pegeen?”

“The connection is obvious,” Archibald confessed. “I am wax in her
hands. Within a week there won’t be a paint brush in the shack that I
can call my own. She’s going to keep me tidy if she has to drive me from
home in order to do it. In fact, she did drive me from home this
morning. She’s cleaning.”

“She’ll take very good care of you,” said the Smiling Lady, “and _how
she will_ love doing it! She’ll mother you as if you were Jerry’s age.
Peggy was born for mothering.”

She had risen as she spoke.

“Sandy and I must take all these babies home before they begin clamoring
for food,” she said lightly, “and I haven’t a doubt but that Peggy is
watching the meadow path for you. Give her my love.”

She took it for granted that he knew her as she knew him. Pegeen was
sure to have talked of her and so why bother with formalities? Yet, in
spite of her frank acceptance of him, Archibald did not offer to walk
home with her.

There was a definite finality about her leave-taking, a door quietly
shut. Evidently this unconventional Young Woman made her own laws and
limitations, and Archibald, being no dullard in feminine psychology,
realized that the man who presumed upon her casual friendliness would be
likely to find the door permanently closed. So he stood quietly and
watched her going away across the sunshiny glade.

She walked as she spoke, as she looked, as she smiled, with a fine
freedom, a blithe assurance; and though the figure that swayed so
lightly as it went away between the birches was girlishly slender, there
was a subtle hint of strength and vigor in its flowing lines.

As Archibald looked, she stooped to one of the babies, and the man drew
a sharp breath of appreciation, noting with an artist’s eye, the
gracious curves of her breast under the clinging muslin blouse, the
rhythmic length of limb, the modeling of the bare forearms, the well-set
head.

When she gathered the child into her arms, tossed it high before
cuddling it close against her shoulder, and went on her way as swiftly
and lightly as though unburdened, the watcher sighed with satisfaction.

He was still thinking of her as he leaped the wall into his own meadow
and swung his cap over his head, in answer to the greeting waved to him
by a little figure in the doorway of the shack.

“Not so much beautiful,” he summed up, “as made up of beauties. She’d
never drive a man mad, but, holy smoke, what a delight she might be to
him in his sane moments.”



                                  III


“Peggy,” said John Archibald, leaning his elbows on the breakfast table,
“sit down and let me talk to you.”

The girl who was headed toward the kitchen turned back promptly and sat
down across the table from him.

Then she waited tranquilly for him to talk to her. What he had to say
might be unimportant. It usually was, but she liked his talk. As she had
already explained to the Smiling Lady, it was “so sort of foolish and
snarky.”

To-day, however, he seemed inclined to seriousness.

“We’ve got to put things on a business basis, child,” he said firmly.

“Yes, sir,”—Pegeen’s tone was docile but vastly indifferent.

“You’ve been seeing to me for a week now and you know the worst about
me. Now the question is, whether you are going to take the job for the
summer.”

The dark blue Irish eyes under Peg’s black lashes flooded with anxiety.

“Don’t I suit, sir?” she asked.

“You suit like an easy shoe, Peggy; but do I?”

The thin, freckled, little face blazed into enthusiasm.

“Why, I think you’re splendid, sir—just splendid. Funny, you know, and
messy, but I don’t mind that. I love cleaning up after folks if they’re
nice, and you’re as nice as can be.”

“Thank you,” said Archibald, gratefully. “Then you think you can keep on
seeing to me?”

“Yessir. I’d love it.”

“And the work isn’t too hard?”

“Hard? Why, it isn’t a bit hard. If anybody isn’t sick or drunk or
anything like that, seeing to him is as easy as anything.”

“I’m feeling fairly healthy,”—Archibald’s voice was grave—“and I’ll
try not to get drunk.”

“Oh, well, then we’ll get along fine, sir. Of course I’d do my best,
even if you did get sick or drunk, but it’s lots harder.”

“I should think it might be. Now the next thing to be settled is, what
your wages are to be.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t expect wages—not real wages, you know. Just enough to
get me some shoes and some aprons. I’d like some big clean-looking
aprons that would hide my dresses. My dresses aren’t so very nice, you
know, but they’d do under aprons.”

“Miss O’Neill,”—Archibald shook a forefinger at her sternly—“I won’t
allow any one to see to me without paying her real wages. I couldn’t be
funny and messy with any comfort at all unless there was a wage earner
to clean up after me. Now I don’t know how wages go in this Valley, but
what would you say to five dollars a week?”

Pegeen stared at him in blank amazement. Then a pitying expression
blotted out the surprise.

“You certainly do need seeing to,” she said gently, in the tone of one
humoring the harmless insane. “Why, you can get real hired help for five
dollars; but, then, a man wouldn’t know.”

“I’ve got more than hired help. I’ve got somebody who does all the work.
I’ve got a cook and a housekeeper and a valet and a companion. Now, for
the services of four experts I don’t consider five dollars an exorbitant
wage. So that’s settled.”

The vivid little face across the table was flushed, excited. It occurred
to the man that if the thin cheeks should take on plumpness and the
sharp little chin should fill out to rounded curves, and the unchildish,
anxious look should quite die out of the great eyes, Pegeen might some
day be amazingly pretty. Even as it was, there was an appealing charm
about her.

“What’ll I ever do with all that money?” she asked breathlessly.

“Buy a coach and four with it,” advised Archibald.

Her imagination was all aflame at the suggestion.

“Black horses and the coach lined with yellow, and we’ll take Miss Moran
and the Johnston twins and Mrs. Neal and Mrs. Benderby and Jimmy Dawes,
and the McKenzie baby and—How many does a coach hold?”

“Well, unless it’s a very large coach, I should say you’ve got it about
full.”

“All right. Can you drive?”

“I can.”

“Then you’ll sit on the front seat with Miss Moran.”

“Hooray!”

“And the rest of us will be behind with red and green umbrellas, and
there’ll be chains that jingle on the horses and Jimmy Dawes will blow a
horn—I saw a coach go by down the road once. It was perfectly splendid.
Now there isn’t anything but automobiles.”

“Maybe you’d rather buy an automobile.”

She laughed happily.

“No, I’d as leave have a sawmill as one of them. An automobile wouldn’t
fit into a fairy story, now would it?”

Archibald visibly made an effort to fit one in and, failing, shook his
head despairingly.

“There I told you. We’ve got to have the coach.”

The sensitive face was lighted from brow to chin with merriment.

Yes. She unquestionably would be pretty. She was pretty even now.

“Oh, you _are_ nice,” she sighed happily.

The man reached across the table and clasped the thin little hands in
his.

It was good to give happiness—almost better than being happy. Maybe it
was the same thing.

“Before we get the coach and four,” he said, “we’ll hire Mrs. Neal’s
horse and buggy and drive to Pittsfield and when we get there we will
buy those shoes and aprons and some dresses to go under the aprons and a
hat—”

“With roses on it,” chanted Pegeen.

“With roses on it,” agreed Archibald.

“And a raincoat for rainy mornings—and stockings—and all sorts of
things,” he ended vaguely.

“But they aren’t to come out of the coach money,” he added hastily. “Not
a bit of it. They are extra. You are going to have five dollars a week
and ‘found.’ ‘Found’ means hats with roses on them.”

Peg’s chin was nestled between her palms. Her eyes were beaming on him.
Suddenly a cloud swept over them.

“If you please, sir,” she began and hesitated. The cloud of anxiety had
drifted over the whole piquant face.

“If you please, sir,” she began again.

“Yes?” encouraged the man across the table.

“Are you sure you can afford it, sir?” It came out with a rush at
last—“I’ve always heard that artists—I don’t really need the things.
I’ve got plenty. I can get along first rate with just the shoes and
aprons.”

Through Archibald’s mind drifted a fleeting memory of the last gift he
had sent to Nadine Ransome. She loved emeralds and many men had given
them to her. A dull flush came into his cheeks.

“I’m quite sure I can afford it. You see I had a father who didn’t paint
pictures.”

“Oh, well, then—” said Peggy, understandingly.

“We’ll go to Pittsfield on Saturday.”

“Pink roses,” stipulated the small girl, as she carried the breakfast
dishes kitchenward.

“Big pink roses,” amended the man.

For a few days after his high-handed adjustment of the wage problem,
Archibald painted with something like his old time fervor. For two
years, eye and hand and brain had been out of tune; but now the beauty
of the world cried out to him again and his brush caught and fixed the
meaning of the cry. Men had prophesied great things for him—men who
knew. He had believed in great things for himself; but all that had been
in the time he could scarcely remember—in the time before he had met
Nadine. Since then he had lost faith in himself and in much beside; but
now, standing before a finished picture and knowing it was good, the
painter admitted to himself that life had its satisfactory moments. Not
that he was sure of himself. He was far from it; but agreeable things
_did_ happen. There was Pegeen and there was the Smiling Lady and there
was June—and he had painted a good picture.

“Peggy,” he said, as the girl passed him on her way to the spring, “God
must have had a mighty contented, comfortable feeling at the end of the
sixth day.”

“Yessir.” She had no idea what he meant, but it was enough for her that
he said a thing. She was willing to swear to it.

He put an affectionate hand upon her shoulder as she came and stood
beside him looking at the picture.

“I understand you’re a wonderful hand with babies, Peg,” he said. “What
do you do with a baby when he’s cross or bad or wants something he
mustn’t have? Spank him, eh?”

Pegeen flushed indignantly.

“Well, I should think not! If that’s all you know about babies! Why, I
just go to work and get the poor little thing awfully interested in
something else.”

Archibald laughed boyishly.

“Peggy child. That must be the answer. You’re getting me awfully
interested in something else.”

“Only you weren’t bad, sir,” protested the small girl, loyally.

A shadow crept over the man’s face.

“Bad enough, Peg—but I might have been worse.”

“Well, you’re good enough for me,” said Peggy, contentedly.

The comforting words rang pleasantly in his ears a half hour later when
he plunged into the woods behind the shack and took the trail leading up
the steep slope of Pine Knob hill.

The day had been hot for June and the dim cool greenness closed around
him deliciously as he made his way through depths of hemlock shadow and
gold-decked shallows of birch-filtered light. There was a faint stir of
wind in the branches, a rustle of light foot and lighter wing in the
hidden places of bough and undergrowth.

Now and then, as he climbed, he caught, through opening among the trees,
sudden glimpses of the Valley where the long shadows of late afternoon
were flinging themselves across the sunlit breast of the meadow land,
and of the range of hills beyond, still gold and green and blue, but
with prophetic splashes of deepening purple creeping in and out among
the ravines and hollows.

He would be in time to see the sunset from the top of Pine Knob and, at
the thought, something Pegeen had said days before flashed into his
mind. There was “a place up there where you could look out and out,” and
the Smiling Lady often went there to watch the sunset.

Archibald told himself that it would be a pleasant thing to find her
there. She was the sort of woman with whom one could watch a miracle.

And so when, pushing aside a screen of thick crowding leaves, he found
her sitting on a mossy stone, elbow on knee, chin in hand, eyes a-dream,
he was not surprised, only glad that the human note could intrude on
Nature’s melody without discord. She fitted in.

“You’re just in time,” she said, looking up at him for an instant in
friendly fashion. Then her eyes went back to the fields and hills and
sky.

She had a curious way of making one feel welcome without bothering to
put the thing into words. Archibald remembered that it had been the same
when he had found her in the birch wood.—There had been the same
undisturbed acceptance of his coming, the same companionable assumption
of his content. There was no aloofness about her mood. Before she had
been absorbed in frolicking with babies. Now she was absorbed in the
sunset. She took his interest in the babies and in the sunset for
granted, shared them with him, and felt that she had fulfilled her duty.
There was something oddly intimate about such a welcome. Archibald
puzzled over it, as he dropped on the moss beside her and ostensibly
gave his undivided attention to the sunset. If she had been startled or
formal or coquettish or resentful—those were the beginnings of
acquaintance between a man and a woman; but this girl’s life and his
might have been running side by side for years. All the futile,
tentative things might have been said so long ago that they could be
forgotten. There was suggestion of a long lane traversed, of barriers
passed, about this taking-for-granted companioning. And yet the splendid
simplicity of it put a man in his place, made him feel humbly grateful,
eager to be found worthy. He wondered whether she met all strangers in
the same way.

As though she had heard his thoughts, the girl turned to him for a
moment, looked at him frankly, appraisingly.

“One knows that you won’t spoil it,” she said, the ripple of light that
was like the soul of a smile running over her face.

So that was it? Archibald felt enormously flattered. To be recognized at
sight by a girl with a smile like that as the sort of man who would not
spoil beautiful things, seemed exceedingly worth while. To be good
enough for Pegeen and to be understanding enough for the Smiling
Lady—honors were coming thick and fast upon him.

And then he justified the girl’s faith in him by quite forgetting her in
the glory of the sunset world.

There was no mad riot of crimson and gold in the west. Above the tops of
the crouching hills masses of rose-lined clouds with flame at their
hearts melted into opal as they dared the sky heights. Bars of palest
turquoise gathered the opaline blues to themselves; and, higher still,
the faint green faded from the blue, leaving an eastern sea of pale pure
azure through which a silver crescent drifted, tangled in foam spume of
delicate pink cloud.

Gradually the color died away. The young moon dropped behind the eastern
hills. Ashen grays and violets and liquid, indefinite, blue blacks
claimed the world.

The Smiling Lady stirred and rose. Archibald joined her and together
they went silently down the sweet, scented ways of the dew-wet dusk.

“You’ll come in,” she said when they reached a small white farmhouse
nestled under great maples. He followed her into a candle-lighted room
where Sandy, the collie, and an elderly woman with a shrewd, homely face
rose from before the open fire to greet them.

“Mr. Archibald will be having tea with me, Ellen,” said the Smiling
Lady, quite as though having tea with her were a life-long habit of the
man’s.

Ellen took one swift, comprehensive look at the visitor as she carried
the girl’s coat from the room. The respectful look of a well-trained
servant it was, yet Archibald had a feeling that he had been catalogued
and the record tucked away in a card index.

“Ellen plays the rôle of a dragon,” Miss Moran explained lightly, “a
non-sulphurous dragon. It seems the most independent young woman must
offer up concessions to tradition in the form of a dragon—and then I
couldn’t get along without Ellen. She was my nurse once upon a time; my
mother’s housekeeper afterward. She would not go away with the
others—will never go away until she makes the long journey. Money has
nothing to do with such service as she gives me. We share what I have
and she’s family and friend and servant all in one.”

“You are fortunate to have her,” the man said gently. She nodded. For an
instant there was no hint of a smile in her face and Archibald felt as
though the candles in the room had suddenly burned out.

“She’s the only one now.”

There was a hurt in her voice, but the next moment she was calling gaily
through the half-open door to Ellen.

“Jam, Ellen! Plum jam, with the scones—plenty of it—and in here,
please.”

And when Ellen had moved a wicker table to a place before the fire,
covered it with the whitest of cloths and set upon it a tray on which a
teapot steamed merrily and a salad nestled temptingly among cresses and
a covered muffin dish made promises and the plum jam glowed colorfully,
the girl in the big wicker chair across the table from Archibald was all
cheerfulness.

“Peggy gives you dinners perhaps?” she queried. “Women folk fall into
picnicing ways when there are no men about the house to be considered,
and I never let meals interfere with sunsets, so I have my tea whenever
I come in. Of course we don’t really need an open fire to-night, but I
love it so and, thank Heaven, even the summer nights are usually cool
enough for it, so I sit here in the evenings and sip and munch and tell
over the day’s doings—and, once in a while, I send a pitying thought
toward all the folk who are eating dinners in rose-and-gilt city
restaurants.”

“Poor wretches,” murmured Archibald, sinking back luxuriously among his
cushions and looking around him at the low ceilinged room with its gay
chintz and wicker and old mahogany, its companioning books and pictures,
its great bowls of June flowers and greenery. A friendly room.

His eyes came back to the mistress of it, and rested there contentedly.

She was busying herself with the tea and he had always liked to watch a
pretty woman pouring tea. Not that this woman was pretty. He discarded
the word fastidiously. She was something better than pretty, something
much more satisfying. Candle light and firelight touched the waves of
her thick rippling hair to something like burnished copper, but it was
deeply auburn in its shadows. Sun and wind had had their way with her
clear skin, had tanned it, had even freckled it—but tenderly, mellowing
white to cream, rose flush to ripened peach, splashing a nose far from
classic with the faintest of brown touches, melting almost invisibly
into the sun warmed tan.

Her mouth was over-large by artist’s canons, but sweetness lurked in its
curves and the generous mobile lips were warmly red. And her
eyes—Archibald puzzled vainly over their color. Hazel, he had thought
them at first sight, but as they looked at him across the tea cups they
looked deeply gray—or were they violet in their shadows?

“My friends—the people who _were_ my friends in my rose-and-gilt
restaurant days—think I am quite mad because I live up here the year
round,” she was saying. “There’s no making them understand that I like
it. I tried at first but they insisted upon being sorry for me and
that’s a great strain on friendship, you know. So now we exchange pity.”

“You’ve lived here a long time?” asked Archibald.

“Five years. I had no idea of staying when I came. This old farm had
come into my father’s hands years before and one summer Mother and I had
fixed it up a bit and spent part of a summer in it. It was one of the
few things that was left after my father’s death. I came away here for
healing,—and I found it—after a time—here among my hills and my own
people.”

“Your own people?” the man echoed.

“Yes; they _are_ mine now. The hills and the sky and the fields and the
woods began my cure—taught me that beauty hadn’t died because I was
unhappy, but it was neighboring that taught me to be happy again. We’re
a selfish lot with our loves, aren’t we? I had been quite contented with
my half dozen out of the world. The rest didn’t count for me. They were
just chorus—merry villagers, you know—quite unimportant except for
stage effect. Then when I was left alone, I found that I needed those
others—and that they needed me. After I learned that lesson, I put away
sorrow. One doesn’t forget, of course. One misses always; but one loves
and helps and is glad. It’s a joyful old world, isn’t it?”

“In spots.” The man’s voice was dubious.

“Wait until you’ve adopted the Valley,” advised the girl, laughingly.
“You’ve made a splendid beginning with Peggy. In the meantime, Ellen’s
bringing hot scones and more plum jam. Who says this is a vale of
tears?”

“It has its smiling moments,” confessed the doubting one.

They talked of many things there beside the flickering fire.

The girl and her father had roamed the world in the days before he left
her.

“We were alone together after Mother died,” she said, “and he was
restless always, though he kept laughter on his lips; so we went here
and there, drifting back to New York now and again. He was the best of
comrades and welcome everywhere. Dear old Dad! All the world made
friends with him. He was Irish. Did I tell you that before? Clever,
irresponsible, adorable Irish. Peggy and I have a bond in our Irish
blood, but I’ve none of the brogue. The pity of it! Father’s was creamy,
always. You should have heard him tell an Irish story—and seen him tell
it! No wonder it’s easy for me to be happy even now that he’s gone from
me. I learned the way of it from him, though all the time he’d the
broken heart over my mother’s going.”

She was talking half to herself now, and smiling into the fire as though
she had forgotten the listening man.

“We were in New York when he went away from me,” she said. “I couldn’t
believe that he was very ill. He had always been so alive—so
splendidly, buoyantly alive. It seemed to me that, in the end, he would
laugh at death and beat it off; but he knew.

“One afternoon he put out his hand to me and laughed—his gay laugh that
I always loved.

“ ‘I’m leaving you little except my blessing, Acushla,’ he said. ‘But
you can’t say I haven’t given you a bully good time for a while.’ Then
he went to sleep smiling, and that was the end of it all.”

She did not tell the thing sadly—had even a tender little laugh for the
characteristic last words of the reckless, merry father she had loved so
dearly; but there was a lump in Archibald’s throat.

She had made him free of something more intimate than her birch glade or
her sunset, and he thanked her for it in his heart.

The talk drifted away from personalities after that. She gave him bits
of Valley history—humorous chiefly, though now and then pathos or
tragedy showed its head, as it will wherever human lives are in
question. She sang to him too, sweet old Irish love songs.

“But you should have heard Daddy sing them,” she said. “He had a voice
made just for love songs.”

She was all aglow with interest and enthusiasm when he told her of the
expedition to Pittsfield.

“Oh, the fun of it,” she crowed jubilantly. “I’ve so longed to get
things for her—loads of things—but I couldn’t. There are so many who
are in worse need of the little I can do. Did she tell you that I did
try to give her a home here when her father disappeared? She wouldn’t
come. It wasn’t that she didn’t love me. She made that very clear; but
she said that, being well and having Ellen, I didn’t need her. She was
ever so much obliged to me but she thought she’d just see to Mrs. Potter
and the babies. The Potters were so shiftless. You may be thankful that
your artist ways earned you a reputation for shiftlessness here in the
Valley. You’d never have had Peggy if you had seemed capable of taking
care of yourself.”

She made a list of things for Pegeen’s outfit—necessaries that began
where dresses and aprons ended, and she tried hard to reconcile
consideration for Archibald’s purse with zeal for Pegeen’s welfare,
conscientiously cutting down first extravagant flights of imagination
regarding underwear and stockings and then soaring recklessly into the
realm of superfluities after a parasol.

“Peg has always been crazy for a parasol,” she explained shamefacedly,
“but of course it isn’t really a necessity.”

“The things one is crazy for are the only necessities,” protested
Archibald.

She beamed upon him.

“There’s Irish in you, somewhere.” Her eyes welcomed him as one of her
blood. “Now most of these New England folk have never even suspected
that great truth. They’ve an idea that being crazy for a thing damns it.
They’ll look upon a pink parasol for Peggy as a folly. Some of them will
look upon it as a sin—but how Peg will adore it! I’d certainly cut down
on something useful and uninteresting and buy her a pink parasol. Not an
expensive one, you know. That would be silly, because it wouldn’t make
her any happier than a cheap one and happiness is the measure of excuse
for folly, isn’t it?”

“I wonder,” said Archibald.

She was blithely sure of it, waved doubts away with a careless hand.

“Real happiness, of course. Not the Sodom’s apple kind. The moment the
apples begin to taste Sodomy, one must quit being foolish for the price
beyond that is too high for defective apples; but as long as folly
really makes us happy we’re wise fools. I’ve bought my pink parasols in
all kinds of markets and never grudged the underwear and stockings they
cost me.”

“You couldn’t drive over to Pittsfield with us,” suggested the man,
tentatively.

She shook her head.

“It’s Peggy’s day. I’d spoil it for her. She’s going off alone with a
fairy prince and with Aladdin’s lamp tucked under the buggy seat and
she’d much better choose foolishly for herself than have some one choose
wisely for her—not that I’d be wise. I’m all for pink parasols myself.”

She looked it. Archibald admitted that to himself as he studied the
laughing face over which the candle light flickered softly.

Incidentally he made a mental note to the effect that Edison should be
pilloried by womankind. Even the rarest of beauties lost charm under an
electric glare, while in candle-light hair and eyes and lips and throat
took on alluring mysteries—little half lights of confession, swift,
fleeting, golden, high lights of revelation. The Smiling Lady’s radiant
serenity dissolved into witchery there in the candle light. A dimple the
man had not noticed before quivered in her left cheek, disappeared, came
back into view. Elusive reservations had crept into the candid eyes. A
_very_ pink parasolish Young Person indeed!

Archibald hastily revised certain impressions having to do with Olympian
detachment Altogether human, this Lady of the Smiles. No Young Goddess,
but half child, half woman, and wholly lovely. It was all wrong that she
should be stranded here at the world’s end, among alien folk, that she
should be alone save for an old servant, shut away in the heyday of her
youth from a world where pink parasols flaunted bravely up and down, gay
winding ways.

Then, oddly enough, a trail of faces drifted through his memory, women’s
faces seen against rose-colored backgrounds on those same gay winding
ways, and following them came a vision of the Smiling Lady, sitting
among flowers and long grasses in a sunlit, woodland glade with young
life tumbling round her. No, it wasn’t possible to pity her. After all,
there were pink parasols—and pink parasols.



                                   IV


Pegeen’s day dawned radiantly, a perfect June day of sun-warmed breezes
and drifting, white clouds against an ardent, azure sky, and the small
girl was as radiant as the day.

“I couldn’t sleep for thinking of it,” she said happily, as she brought
in Archibald’s breakfast.

For a moment she was silent, watching as usual with an anxious little
frown while he broke the shell of the two-minute eggs, but when the
ordeal was past and she once more made sure that fire and water had not
betrayed her, she went on talking. Breakfast was always a conversational
interlude at the shack.

“I dreamed a dreadful dream about you getting over to Pittsfield and not
having any money and I cried so it waked me up, and then I got to
thinking maybe it was a warning or something, so I prayed like fury. Mr.
Colby, the minister down in the village, says we oughtn’t to pray for
what we want, that we ought to pray for grace to want what the Lord
thinks best for us to have, but it seems to me that’s a silly way to
pray. When we’ve got a thing we’ve just got to make the best of it and
that’s all there is to it, but I believe in getting to work early and
praying for something it’ll be easy to make the best of. I told God that
if anything horrid _was_ going to happen I wished to goodness He’d stave
it off till after I had my hat, and I think He will.”

“Nothing horrid is going to happen.” Archibald spoke with the assurance
of one who has inside information.

“We are going to have the time of our young lives, Peggy. Never mind the
dishes this morning. You can do them to-morrow.”

She shook her head.

“No, sir, please. That’s a poor way. I’d rather do them. Like as not, if
I didn’t a greasy plate would pop into my mind just when I was trying on
my hat and spoil things. It’s perfectly terrible to have disagreeable
things jump out at you when everything’s pleasant as can be. I’d lots
rather clean up as I go along.”

“What if you can’t wash your dirty dishes, Peg?”

The man’s tone was queer, though he smiled, and the girl, sensitive to
undercurrents, looked up at him quickly.

“Oh, well,” she said and there was a comforting note in her own voice,
“when I simply can’t, I just put them to soak in soapy water and try to
forget them. It’s wonderful how easy they are to do after a little if
you let them soak while you go off and do something else.”

“Yes—I suppose so.” He was evidently doubtful. “Well, we’re not in a
mad rush, so clean up as you go along. It’s a good habit, but I always
seem to have dirty dishes left over. Come down to Neals’ when you are
ready. I’m going to get the horse.”

A half hour later the two drove down the Valley road, while Mrs. Neal
leaned over her front gate to watch them go.

The old buggy was shabby, the old horse was physically and
temperamentally incapable of anything more spirited than a jog-trot; but
Pegeen could not have been prouder, more rapturous, if she had been
taking the road with the coach and four of her dreams.

Her faded blue dress had been washed and starched to aggressive
crispness. Her heavy mop of black curls was tied with the cherished pink
hair ribbons that had been the Smiling Lady’s last Christmas present.
Under the battered old straw hat whose rose-wreathed successor was
waiting in Pittsfield for Pegeen’s coming, the expressive face was all
aflame with excitement and happiness.

Archibald looked down into the dark blue eyes that were well-springs of
bubbling joy, and felt oddly young himself.

“Isn’t it splendid,” the small girl said breathlessly—“going off on an
adventure this way, just you and me in a buggy. I’ve been twice before,
but in a wagon both times. That was nice too, but a buggy’s so much
eleganter. I do hope they’ll all see us. Mrs. Benderby’s washing at the
Pratts’ to-day. I told her we were going to start at nine, so she’ll be
looking out for us and like as not she’s told everybody else, so they’ll
all be watching. Folks here in the Valley are awfully interested in
things and they’ve been sort of excited about my going up to take care
of you. You see they couldn’t tell how it’d turn out, you being from New
York and an artist and not smiling at anybody, and all that, but now
when they see me driving to Pittsfield with you in a buggy and you
looking so jolly and nice, they’ll know that everything’s come out
beautifully. I knew it would all the time ’n’ Miss Moran said:

“ ‘Peg, everybody knows how to smile at the world, but some people are
dreadfully out of practice.’ She said when you found out there were
other folks in the world beside yourself maybe you’d smile at them, and
now you’re beginning to do it. When you get real well acquainted with
everybody here in the Valley, I shouldn’t wonder if you’d simply grin.
There’s Mrs. Ransom and Sally on their side stoop, watching for us!”

She bounced joyously on the hard leather seat and waved both hands
wildly toward two women, who waved answering salutes.

“Mr. Ransom’s a deacon and he won’t let Sally go anywhere except to
church, or have beaux or anything. Don’t you think it’s a shame—and
she’s pretty as a picture too, and all the boys are perfectly crazy
about her. Her mother’s just like a scared little white rabbit—pale
blue eyes and wrinkly little nose and everything. The neighbors say
she’s afraid to breathe and Sally doesn’t stand up to her father because
he takes it out on her mother and Mrs. Ransom’s so afraid. Miss Moran’s
about the only one that dares to go there much, but she isn’t afraid of
anything and Deacon Ransom can’t be perfectly nasty to her. Nobody can.
Why, even Bill Briggs, that drinks so and swears something awful at
everybody, he’s got to be real friendly with Miss Moran. She hurt her
ankle one day climbing a fence down by the back road and Bill Briggs
happened to come along. He wasn’t so very drunk, but anybody else would
have been scared half to death of him. Miss Moran just upped and called
to him:

“ ‘Oh, Mr. Briggs,’ she said, ‘I’m so glad you came along. I’ve hurt
myself and I’ll have to get you to help me home.’ He told folks that he
cussed once or twice from habit, but she looked so nice and friendly and
so glad he was there and so sure he was going to fix things for her,
that he went over and helped her up and took her home—carried her the
last part of the way—and when they got to the house she made him come
in and have dinner and now he’s sobered up some and he works for her a
good deal, but he doesn’t talk hardly at all when he’s around there. He
can’t talk without swearing and he doesn’t like to swear before her, so
you’d most think he was deaf and dumb when he’s working at her place.”

The drive down the Valley was a continuous performance of waving
greetings, and running commentary. Pegeen did not gossip. She simply
overflowed; and Archibald found the people of whom she talked taking
very definite shape in his mind. He felt distinctly interested in pretty
Sally Ransom and profane Bill Briggs and Ginsy Shalloway, the
seamstress, who went around sewing and knew all about everybody, and
Ezra Watts who wasn’t respectable and was suspected of stealing
everything that disappeared.

Really, the country wasn’t the lonely place Archibald had always
believed it to be. It was full of people and of drama. And though the
man had run away from women and men and vowed himself to misanthropic
seclusion, his Valley neighbors seen through Pegeen’s friendly, tolerant
eyes seemed likable folk. Even Ezra Watts, the not respectable, got the
benefit of Peg’s doubt. “It’s handy to have somebody to lay things on,”
she said. “’N’ I guess Ezra gets credit for lots of things he doesn’t
do—like when Mr. Sanderson was sure his saw and auger had been stolen
and then one day old Granny Sanderson had a dream that they were under
the bed springs and sure enough there they were on the cords, where Mr.
Sanderson had left them himself when he’d been fixing the bed. Ezra’s
got a terrier dog, Bingo, that loves him like everything, and Miss Moran
says when Bingo turns his back on Ezra, she’ll believe the man’s as bad
as he’s painted, but not till then. It’s awfully hard for Miss Moran to
believe anybody’s bad, ’n’ I guess mostly they aren’t.”

On the main street of Pisgah, the little village at the end of the
Valley, Pegeen suddenly bounced higher than usual on the buggy seat.

“Oh—please—there’s Jimmy. Oh, do stop, Mr. Archibald.”

A sturdy, barefooted boy sat on the stone wall under a spreading maple
tree, whittling nonchalantly and with an air of profound indifference to
passersby.

“Jimmy,” called Pegeen eagerly, “Jimmy Dawes.”

The boy looked up from his whittling, showing two merry brown eyes and a
most engaging grin.

“’Lo,” he conceded, trying to look as if he had not been watching for
Pegeen’s triumphal progress.

She leaned out from the buggy, glowing, eager, sure of sympathy, in
spite of the apparent lack of enthusiasm.

“I’m going to Pittsfield, Jimmy. I’m going to have a new hat—with pink
roses!”

Jimmy Dawes’ eyes sought Archibald’s.

“Ain’t girls the limit?” he said genially, as man to brother man.

But Pegeen refused to be suppressed.

“’N’ a new dress ’n’ shoes!” she confided happily.

Jimmy, having asserted the superiority of his sex, like many a male
creature before him, felt that he could afford to humor the inferior
feminine.

“That’s great!” he said with warm friendliness. “You’ll look fine.”

Pegeen beamed upon him. “I knew you’d be glad,” she said. “This is Mr.
Archibald, Jimmy. I’m seeing to him.”

The grin on the boy’s face widened to show more of his white teeth.
There was something refreshingly wholesome about the soundness and
whiteness of those teeth, the amplitude of the grin, the clear frankness
of the eyes, the tanned ruddiness of the skin, the sturdiness of his two
brown legs.

“I guess you’ll get seen to all right, if Peg’s on the job,” he said.

“Come down and see us, Jimmy,” urged Pegeen.

“Yes, do. Come down and go fishing with me,” added Archibald, and then
wondered at himself for having said it. He had never cared for small
boys—nor for small girls. Come to think of it, he had never really
known any.

“All right. I’ll show you some dandy pools.” Jimmy’s acceptance was
prompt and blithe. He was used to comradeship and confident that Peg
wouldn’t vouch for an undesirable.

“He’s the nicest boy,” Archibald’s companion explained as they drove
away. “Mostly they pester, you know, but Jimmy doesn’t. He treats you as
if you were another boy ’n’ when you can’t do things, he sort of
pretends it’s because you don’t want to ’n’ the other boys don’t dare be
horrid when he’s around ’cause he can do most everything better than
they can, and he licked every single one of them—when he first came. He
said he didn’t do it because he was mad, but just to show them and get
it over.”

“He hasn’t always lived here then?” asked Archibald.

“Oh, no. He just stays with his grandfather and grandmother. His father
married again down in New York ’n’ I guess Jimmy missed his mother ’n’
then his father didn’t think cities were good for boys, ’n’ old Mrs.
Dawes adores Jimmy, ’n’ so he’s going to live here for awhile. Mr.
Colby—the minister, you know—teaches him queer things like Latin and
algebra ’n’ some day he’ll have to go away and be educated and rich.”

Her lips drooped woefully at the thought—but reassurances came quickly.
“He says he’s such an awful dub at Latin that he won’t be ready for
college for years ’n’ years. That’s lucky anyway.”

The road left the Valley behind and climbed skyward between lines of
wonderfully built stone walls that had little in common with the
vagabond, straggling stone heaps that marked property confines in the
Valley. Behind the walls orchards clung to the sloping hillsides—old
orchards that gave evidences of early care and training but were lapsing
from grace in their latter days. They had not been able to live up to
the walls that enclosed them, yet the broad spreading trees had a
dignity of their own. They were decaying but they had given bountifully
in their day. One felt that.

“The men who built these walls were in earnest,” Archibald said
reflectively as he eyed the width and height of them, their perfect
alignment, their broad level tops.

Pegeen nodded.

“Shakers,” she explained. “I guess they’re always awfully in earnest,
only they used to build fences ’n’ now they mostly pray. You see there
don’t seem to be many men with them now and women have got to pray when
they’re in earnest. They can’t build walls.”

“That may be one way of building walls.”

She saw what he meant. Pegeen usually saw what people meant. That was
one reason she was such a comforting small person.

“Yes, I know, but it’s sort of nice to leave walls standing up to show
for years ’n’ years. Women bake ’n’ scrub ’n’ wash dishes ’n’ the next
day it’s all gone and has to be done over again. The Shaker women are
working like sixty and they’re perfectly splendid at praying, but the
farms are running down. I do think it’s sort of discouraging being a
woman—but I like it.”

“Bless your heart!” There was a tenderness for more than the child in
Archibald’s eyes as he looked down into the sensitive, glowing face—a
sudden tenderness for all the dear women who found their womanhood
discouraging, yet gloried in it.

Faces looked out through the shining windows of the great brick
buildings as the man and girl drove through the Shaker village—sweet,
kindly faces that smiled in return to Pegeen’s waving hand.

“They’re such dears,” she said enthusiastically. “They wanted me to come
up here when I didn’t have anybody, but I’d rather come sometimes for a
little while and then go away where the folks aren’t so holy and clean
all the time. I love them to death and it’s terribly noble to go off and
not get married and wear scoop bonnets and keep your floors as white as
chalk, but I guess I’m not noble inside—’n’ anyway, if all the women
went off and were holy and clean who’d see to the dirty and unholy
folks?”

“Peggy,” said Archibald, earnestly, urgently, “if you should ever feel
an attack of cleanly holiness coming on—the noble kind—fight it off.
Take something for it. We unholy dirty sinners need you.”

“Don’t worry.” Pegeen’s tone was reassuring. “I’m not going to wear a
scoop bonnet—not while there are hats with pink roses on them—but the
Shakers are darlings all the same. Miss Moran just loves them.”

“She’s a very loving person.” There was an edge of criticism in his
voice.

Pegeen thought it over.

“Yes, she is,” she admitted finally. “She loves most anybody—but then
there are a few she loves _especially_ and that’s quite different. It’s
like being loved by a foreign missionary and being loved by your mother,
you know. I’d lots rather be loved because I was nice than because I was
a human soul, wouldn’t you?”

“I would,” assented Archibald with fervor.

When Susy, the Neal horse, had been intrusted to the tender care of a
livery stable hostler in Pittsfield and the two whom she had brought
from over the hills turned their faces toward Ranson and Kirby’s Dry
Goods Emporium, Pegeen’s feet absolutely refused to conduct themselves
sedately. Skip they would, in spite of all of her ideas of seemly
behavior. Four sedate steps and then a skip was the final compromise,
and in order to achieve that Peg had to anchor to something substantial.

She slipped a small brown hand into her companion’s large one and looked
up at him with dancing eyes.

“If I don’t hold on to something, I’ll go up like a balloon,” she
confided. “I don’t feel as if I weighed anything—especially my feet ’n’
my heart.”

Archibald squeezed the small hand tightly.

“Miss Pegeen O’Neill, if you should let your feet float up and your head
thump down, I should consider you a Young Person unfit to be trusted
with a hat trimmed in pink roses.”

She chuckled gaily.

“But think of the chance the new shoes and stockings would have,” she
urged. “I guess I can stay down though, if you don’t let go.”

So they went into the shop hand in hand. Salesfolk and customers looked
at the pair—and looked again, and smiled—kindly smiles, touched with
curiosity. The two were so oddly mated—the tall lean man with his
clean-cut, homely, clever face, his air of authority, his loose-hanging,
irreproachably-cut, well-worn tweeds, the slim shabby little girl with
happiness flooding her eyes, dimpling her cheeks, playing over her lips.

“Ain’t she a good feeler though!” a blonde at the ribbon counter
remarked to the girl next to her. “Makes you ache to see anybody as
pleased with things as all that.”

“I c’d be sort of pleased with his Nibs myself,” admitted the friend.
“Nobody’s pretty boy but kind of mannish and looks as if he had the
price, and c’d be parted from it if he felt good and like it. Guess he’s
feelin’ like it all right too. Wonder who they are? The kid’s in right.
Anybody c’n see that!”

Archibald, still holding Pegeen’s hand, appealed to a stately and suave
floorwalker.

“I want to do some shopping for this young lady,” he explained—“a good
deal of shopping, and I’m hopelessly incapable. Now you must have some
woman about the place who could take us in hand—sort of advisory
committee, pilot, first-aid rôle, some one with good sense and good
taste. We’re strong on taste ourselves but we’re not so sure of our
sense, eh, Peg?”

She beamed up at him and then transferred the beam to the floorwalker
who melted into a semblance of human interest and enthusiasm.

“Our Miss Carter’s just what you need,” he said. “I’ll send for her.
She’ll be invaluable. I’d go with you myself, only duty—and of course a
woman—”

“Exactly,” agreed Archibald.

Our Miss Carter materialized as a plump little woman with a firm chin, a
pleasant voice, and kindly brown eyes behind eyeglasses. She understood
the situation at once, without fuss, without debate. Archibald gave her
Miss Moran’s list and she read it gravely.

“The hat and the parasol seem to be the most important things,” she said
without hesitation. “Suppose we get them first.”

Pegeen’s hand squeezed Archibald’s ecstatically. Here was a sensible,
intelligent person with a sense of values.

The pink roses were not “large pink roses” after all. Not that a heavily
marcelled and enameled daughter of Israel, under Miss Carter’s stimulus,
did not show the shoppers an uncommonly fine line of enormous pink
roses. She was unflagging in her efforts. She called Pegeen “my dear”
from the start and after the first few hats, bestowed an occasional “my
dear” upon Archibald, in her fine glow of friendly feeling; but there
was a certain mushroom-brimmed little hat, faced in pink and wreathed in
wild roses, to which Pegeen lost her heart utterly, irrevocably, at
first sight.

“They’re so darling and Valleyish,” she explained to Archibald, and he
understood what she meant. Moreover, the piquant little face and the
wild-rose hat rimed in a way to satisfy his artist soul and to
strengthen his growing conviction that Pegeen was headed toward beauty
and already well on the way. The parasol was easily chosen—a pink one
to match the hat—but on the subject of frocks, there was serious
debate. Archibald centered his affections upon a pink linen that Miss
Carter considered impracticable from the point of view of laundering.

“Of course if she could afford to have a great many,” she began. The
artist waved the laundry problem aside.

“We will take the pink one,” he announced firmly, and Pegeen heaved a
sigh of satisfaction, though she had nobly sided with the advisory
committee on the subject of laundering.

“And a couple of white things,” said Archibald,—“and then be as
practical as you please, so long as practical doesn’t mean ugly.” There
were ten frocks in the pile when they called a halt and Pegeen’s
astonished eyes were so widely, darkly blue that they seemed to fill
most of her face. “Now a coat and raincoat,” prompted the Fairy
Godfather,—and when the coats were chosen, he felt in his pockets for
his pipe.

“I’m through,” he said,—“you can run the rest of the show, on your own,
Miss Carter. There’s the list, and you know what a girl her age ought to
have. Get her shoes big enough and buy her everything she needs. Then I
want you to take her somewhere and put her into the pink outfit—whole
business; I’ll be out in front when you get through.”

An hour later, as he sat on a nail-keg in front of the hardware store
next door, a vision appeared to him—a vision in pink—a vision of youth
incarnate, all smiles and blushes, and tremulous hope, and
heart-clutching fear.

Slowly, she turned round before him, once—twice. Then she stood still
and looked at him anxiously from under the rose-wreathed new hat.

“Do you like me?” she asked, her voice high and wobbly from excitement.

“Ye gods!” he murmured feebly. “Is this the young person who is seeing
to me?”

“Yes, sir,” she assured him hastily. “She’s got work clothes too, but
she’s adventuring to-day.”

“My dear,” said Archibald, half seriously, “in a few years, it will be a
very perilous adventure to look as pretty as all that.”

They went in to pay the bill and to thank Miss Carter, who tried in vain
to look as though she had not been watching them through the window and
as though she were not consumed by curiosity about them. Then they
strolled away down Main Street and once more the little brown hand
slipped into the big brown one.

“I don’t feel so skippy,” Pegeen explained, “but my throat’s funny and
I’ve got to squeeze something. I wish I had the Johnston twins here.
They are so fat and soft and nice to hug.”

At the hotel where the two lunched, they apparently created a ripple in
the summer crowd’s sea of dullness. Even the dowagers and spinsters
knitting on the long verandas looked interested and dropped a stitch or
two as the apparition in pink lilted past them; and when Pegeen, seated
at a table in the big dining-room smiled shyly, radiantly, confidingly,
at the world from under the brim of the rose-wreathed hat, the world
smiled back at her without reservation. It was as though the spirit of
eternal youth had passed that way and set even the most scarred
world-worn hearts beating to forgotten tunes.

The child’s eyes were like stars, her cheeks were pinker than her dainty
frock. Happiness—unalloyed, effervescent, illimitable happiness
enveloped her from the most aspiring tendril of the wild rose wreath to
the toe-tips of the shining new shoes. And when she looked across the
table at the Fairy Godfather in prosaic tweed, adoration elbowed rapture
in the look.

“I’ve got my legs twisted around the table leg, so I can’t float up,”
she told him, leaning forward and speaking in confidential tones, out of
consideration for the waiter, “but I wouldn’t be a mite surprised if
something would go bang, and I’d wake up at Mrs. Benderby’s in my old
blue gingham and find out that I’d been dreaming you and the hat and
everything.”

She behaved very prettily in spite of her excitement. Watching her,
Archibald found himself thinking of what Mrs. Neal had said about the
frail, proud, little mother whom love and life had broken. The hint of
race and breeding in Pegeen’s face must have come from her—the dainty
ways of the child too. There was no awkwardness about the small girl’s
manner though this was her first introduction to a hotel menu, a
waiter’s service, a crowd’s scrutiny. Archibald had wondered often at
the purity of her speech, which for all its childish inconsequence held
none of the vulgarisms of the untrained, and now he realized that her
table manners, like her grammar, must have had early and thorough
attention. Poor little mother, how she would love the child now! How she
must have loved the father of the child when she tossed her own world
aside for him!

“You’re looking sorry!” said the girl across the table from him. She was
amazed—reproachful. How was it possible for any one to be sorry on such
a day!

“I was being sorry for all the fairy god-fathers whose godchildren
aren’t exactly like you, Peggy,” the man explained, and she forgave him.

The drive home was quieter than that of the morning. Pegeen was as happy
as she had been, but between the happiness of anticipation and the
happiness of content, the heart travels far. She was satisfied now to
lean against the shabby, leather-covered back of the buggy-seat and
watch the shadows lengthen across the meadows and steal silently up
towards the sun-gilded hilltops.

Once in a while she looked up at Archibald to see if he was contented
too. Their eyes met and then they went back to their thoughts and
dreams. There were snatches of talk, flung out from Pegeen’s drifting
thoughts. She wondered why pink was the happiest color and she wondered
whether the black sheep in a flock was proud or ashamed, and she thought
the father birds must teach the baby birds to fly because it would give
mother birds nervous prostration to do it, and she guessed God didn’t
give you any credit for loving all his works when you were very happy
because it was easy as rolling off a log, and she was quite sure that
people who lived in white houses were happier than people who lived in
gray houses, and she was afraid Miss Moran would think they’d spent too
much money.

“She’s coming up to see things just as soon as we get home. She promised
she would. Maybe she’ll be there when we get there. We’re driving so
slowly and I told her we’d surely be home before six.”

“Why bless my soul, Peg, are we fixed for visitors?” Archibald’s tone
held consternation, but Pegeen treated his doubt with scorn.

“Everything’s as clean as can be, and fresh flowers and a fire laid, and
I told her the key would be under the loose brick, if anything kept us
and she got there first.”

It occurred to the man that there would be something extremely agreeable
about finding the Smiling Lady waiting in the shack when evening brought
him home. He was reconciled to the leisureliness of Susy’s ambling gait,
but Pegeen insisted upon speed. She was afraid that it wouldn’t be light
enough for everybody to see her hat and dress, unless they hurried.

“Of course they’d see it afterwards,” she admitted, “but they’ll be
watching and it would be nice for them to talk about this evening—’n’
then I promised Jimmy.”

So Susy was urged to do her best and the sun was still shining on the
Valley when the returning adventurers turned into Pisgah’s main street
and encountered Jimmy Dawes, still barefoot but painfully scoured and
elegant in a clean shirt and flaming red tie.

Archibald stopped without orders and Pegeen stood up in the buggy to
give her friend the full benefit of her glory. She even raised the pink
parasol to add to the scenic effect.

“Well, by Jingo, would you have thought it!”. Jimmy’s amazement was most
satisfactory. “Ain’t she a peach?” he asked Archibald with that awed
bewilderment with which the masculine always regards feminine
metamorphoses. “Why, Peg, you’re getting good-looking.”

“I’ve got,” said Pegeen, with no undue elation but with deep conviction.
There had been mirrors in Ranson and Kirby’s Emporium and she had
consulted them without prejudice.

“Of course I’m not going to wear these all the time, but I’m not bad
even in the dark gingham ones,” she asserted tranquilly.

“Well, don’t get stuck on yourself, that’s all,” counseled Jimmy.

“Gracious, no. It’s only the clothes,” she explained. “I’m not any
different.”

The Valley was provided with something to talk about that evening. The
fading sunlight rallied and glowed upon the pink frock and the roses, as
Pegeen made her triumphal journey along the white road. An astonishing
number of the Valley folk happened to be leaning over front gates or
sitting on front stoops or standing in front doorways. Peggy waved her
pink parasol at all and to those who came down to the gates, she called
gay greetings and snatches of information about the wonderful happenings
of the day.

“If it wasn’t so late, we’d stop and tell them all about everything,”
she said to Archibald. “It seems almost mean not to. They’d enjoy it so
much, but anyway they’ve seen this dress and my hat and parasol, and
that’s a lot. Ginsy Shalloway could talk about that much for weeks ’n’
weeks. Maybe it’s nicer for them to have things spread out and not know
about the other clothes and dinner at the hotel and the floorwalker and
Miss Carter and everything all at once. I’m going to tell Miss Moran
every single thing, though. I feel as if I’d have to tell it all to
somebody this very night or I’d explode, and she’s the nicest person
possible to tell things to. She always understands exactly how
everything was and how you felt and what you thought. You don’t have to
explain a bit—just tell her things as fast as ever you can ’n’ she
keeps up. Don’t you think the nicest people in the world are the people
you don’t have to explain to?”

“I don’t know but what you are right,”—Archibald thought it over. “Yes;
I’m sure you’re right, Peg. It’s a great thing to have any one
understand when you do explain; and if somebody understands without
having to explain—yes; you’re undoubtedly right.”

“Well, Miss Moran’s like that. You tell her a word or two and she knows
the rest. That’s why she gets on with all kinds of people the way she
does.”

Mrs. Neal was at the gate when Susy stopped before it, and Mr. Neal,
thin, leathery, solemn mannered but twinkling eyed, rose from a chair on
the porch and strolled out to take the horse.

“Land’s sakes, Peg, you’re a treat!”—Mrs. Neal’s fat face was radiant
with delight. “Talk about fine feathers! Why, that’s as tasty a hat as I
ever saw, and as sweet a face under it, I don’t care where the next
comes from.”

Pegeen opened her parasol and turned round and round excitedly before
her admirer.

“’N’ there’s more in boxes,” she announced. “Heaps—’n’ there was
strawberry ice cream ’n’ finger bowls ’n’—We’ve got to go, Miss
Moran’ll be there, but just as soon as I get my breakfast dishes washed
I’ll run down ’n’ tell you all about everything. Oh, Mrs. Neal, it was
perfectly grand. It was better ’n the measles—only, of course I love
Miss Moran best. Anyway I love her just as well. Seems as if I could
love anybody though, when I’ve got this hat and dress ’n’ parasol. I’m
sorry I ever said Benny Crocker was a nasty little toad. He isn’t
really, ’n’ anyway toads are kind of cunning.”

“I guess all the unloving things you ever said wouldn’t make much of a
spot on your pink outfit,”—Mrs. Neal chuckled reassuringly—“and, if
you ask me, it’s the toad you wasn’t fair to when you compared that
Crocker imp to it. I’m partial to toads myself. They’re my best help in
the garden.”

“Good night.” Pegeen stretched two thin arms up, slipped them round the
neck of the woman who stooped to her, and kissed the broad expanse of
cheek. “Maybe you don’t like kissing,” she said apologetically, “but I
couldn’t help it. I hope I won’t meet anybody I oughtn’t to kiss
to-night, ’cause, like as not, I’d up and do it anyway. Good night, Mr.
Neal.”

She gave Susy a love pat.

“You won’t ever be a plain farmhorse any more, Susy,” she said. “You’ve
been part of an adventure.”

“Like’s not she’ll be too upity to plow at all,” drawled Mr. Neal.

“She’ll plow lots better,”—Pegeen was sure of it “She’ll have something
to remember and something to look forward to—’cause anything that’s
happened once could happen again. Things like plowing and washing dishes
are fun if something has happened and something’s going to happen. Good
night, everybody. I s’pose I don’t really need my parasol open but I do
love to carry it that way.”

She and Archibald went away up the meadow path, arms full of packages,
hearts full of content. It had been a good day.

Mrs. Neal listened to the happy, excited voice of the small girl as it
floated back to her on the still evening air.

“Well, Pa,” she said, with smiling satisfaction, “looks as if that
child’s guardian angel’d sat up at last and took notice.”

There were lights in the shack. Archibald and Peggy saw them as soon as
they turned into the meadow.

“She’s there!” the child cried happily. “I knew she’d wait. She’s
splendid about promises. My, isn’t it good to come home!”

To Archibald’s astonishment, it _was_ good to come home. He could not
remember ever having had the feeling before. Involuntarily he quickened
his steps. The end of a happy day and some one waiting, and the lights
of home.

Pegeen ran on ahead, with a shrill shout of greeting, and suddenly a
girl’s figure stood in the doorway, silhouetted grayly ’twixt twilight
and lamplight.

“Welcome, wanderers!” cried a gay voice.

Pegeen was caught in strong, young arms, hugged, kissed, questioned, all
in a breath.

“Was it perfect, Peggy? Not a cloud? Such a duck of a frock, dear! And
the hat! _Oh, sweet!_ The very hat of hats for you. Darling wee roses
and a heavenly pink, and so becoming! Peg, I must hug you again. I
really must.”

Pegeen returned the embrace fervently.

“There isn’t anything like hugging when you feel all bouncy inside,” she
said. “I most did it to Susy.”

“I’ve been overlooked,”—Archibald’s voice was mournful, and the child,
all contrition, flew at him and turned a glowing flower face up for his
kiss.

“I wanted to, something _awful_,” she acknowledged shamelessly, “but I
didn’t dare.” Then she kissed Ellen rapturously, while a young woman in
an enveloping bib apron ducked a respectful courtesy to Archibald.

“Ellen and I hope we’ll suit, sir,” she said demurely. “Miss Pegeen
O’Neill’s our riference. I’m sure she’d be sayin’ a good wur’rd for us,
the way that you’d not be worryin’ over our bein’ alone with your
spoons,—though it’s few spoons we’ve found, to be sure.”

The brogue was rich as cream. The eyes were a bit confusing, the dimples
bereft the man of speech, and the apron—was ever a feminine garment so
bewitching as an apron!

“You’ve been getting supper for us?” Archibald stammered at last.

“We have that—” She was all sweet apology. “Ellen and I’ve been taking
liberties. It was Peggy’s big day, you know. We couldn’t let her come
home and do her work as though it were an ordinary evening, so we put up
a basket of supper—and we’ve cooked some biscuits in your oven—and
you’ll forgive us, won’t you? Sure, you’ve had a whole day of playing
Fairy Godfather. You couldn’t grudge us our wee bit offering at the
quiet end of the day.”

There was nothing he could have grudged her when she looked at him like
that. ’Twas not in the heart of man to deal grudgingly with the Smiling
Lady.

“If you please, miss, the biscuits will be overdone,” warned Ellen, and,
a moment later, Archibald was looking across the table into a face
bewilderingly sweet, while Pegeen, still wearing her beloved hat, though
she had reluctantly furled the pink parasol, sat between her two best
beloveds and beamed impartially, first on one and then on the other.

“Let’s say grace,” she urged. “It’s the graciest supper I ever had ’n’
it seems as if we ought.”

Archibald looked aghast; but the Smiling Lady took the suggestion as a
good one.

“Dear God,” she said,—and she spoke casually, as friend to very present
friend—“make us all very happy and very loving and very grateful on big
days and little days.”

“’Specially little days, ’cause we can do it ourselves on big days,”
amended Pegeen, as she reached for a biscuit.



                                   V


Mrs. Neal saved Pegeen the trouble of keeping her promise to run down
and tell her all about the day in Pittsfield.

The breakfast dishes were washed at the shack, but Pegeen was busily
tidying the living-room, and Archibald was only half-way through his
after-breakfast smoke when the bulky form of their neighbor appeared in
the doorway.

“My soul,” she commented cheerfully. “You folks don’t keep country
hours, do you? Pa and I had breakfast pretty nigh three hours ago. I
might ’a’ known you’d be backwards if I’d stopped to think; but, you
see, I’d got through all my chores and it seemed as if the heft of the
morning was over, so I just ran along up to see Peg’s new clothes. I
allowed the pile was too big for her to bring down to me. I’m some big
myself but I c’n navigate handier than a lot of boxes and bundles can.
You said you was coming down this morning to tell me all about
everything, Peg, but I thought I could see and hear at the same time.
Don’t want to bother you, though. Maybe I’d rather come up later.”

Archibald uttered a prompt protest.

“You’re not bothering anybody, Mrs. Neal. We’re lazy but hospitable. At
least I’m lazy. Peggy’s not; but she’s an indulgent person, so she
doesn’t insist on ramping around very early in the mornings. It isn’t as
if I were farming, you know. I can get at my painting any time I feel
like it, and when I don’t feel like it I don’t do good painting; so
there you are! No merit in my getting up with the early bird; my own
special worm wouldn’t be out.”

Mrs. Neal settled into the chair he had pushed forward to her and
chuckled comfortably.

“Sort of a lazy man’s job, ain’t it?” she said; “but it takes all sorts
of work to keep the world moving and everybody happy. I guess there’s
folks in the cities that like your kind of pictures. They look sort of
daubed up and queer to me, though. Sitting over here, that one on the
painting stand by the window don’t look like anything at all but a mess
of greens.”

Pegeen turned indignant eyes upon the art critic.

“Why, Mrs. Neal! That’s a piece of the woods above Baker’s Spring, ’n’
it’s perfectly lovely. I can most smell the woodsy things growing.”

“Smell nothing!—without its turpentine!” Mrs. Neal was genial but firm
in her opinion. “You ain’t got a call to be mad, Peg. Mr. Archibald
don’t care. Didn’t I say there was folks that’d like his kind of
pictures? I ain’t educated. That’s what’s the matter with me, and I know
it, but there’s no use pretending I don’t like my pictures plain and
clear and neat. You ain’t so awful educated either, but you’re
different. You’ve got imagination to look with. I’ve only got
far-sighted specs—and that young eye doctor over at Pittsfield made a
bad guess on them too.”

“Fire away, Mrs. Neal,” laughed the painter. “I’ve known other people
who didn’t like my pictures. Some day I’ll paint you a nice, clear, tidy
one of your house and garden. I really can, you know.”

The visitor’s broad face beamed delight.

“Say, will you? That’d be fine. Pa and I’d be tickled most to
death—when the flowers along the front walk get going real good, you
know—and maybe Pa and me on the front porch!”

“Anything you say.”

“Well, you’re real kind. I guess Peg’s had you sized up right along, but
it don’t take much to be nice to Peg. When it comes to being nice to a
fat old party like me, you’re proving something. Say, were you figuring
to go off painting somewheres this mornin’?”

Archibald blinked, looked at her thoughtfully, and grinned.

“I can,” he said amiably.

“Oh, don’t you do it, unless you were going anyway, but you most always
do and so they thought it’d be all right and wouldn’t bother you and—”

“Where are they?” Archibald asked comprehendingly.

“Well, they’re sort of waiting around down at my house. I was to wave a
towel or something if you were gone. We didn’t any of us realize about
you not getting up early, and everybody was crazy to see Peg’s dresses
and things. Ginsy Shalloway’s curiosity was boiling so hard when I left
that it most moved her false front up and down like a kettle cover. She
took a mornin’ off from Mrs. Frisbie so as to come down here, but it
don’t make much difference, for Mrs. Frisbie was coming anyway.”

“Save the false front, Mrs. Neal,” Archibald urged. “I’ll take myself
out of the way and Peggy will lend you a towel to wave.”

Mrs. Neal smiled at him in friendly fashion.

“They’d all like first rate to meet you some other time,” she said,
“but, seein’ it’s about clothes and all, I guess things ’ud be freer and
easier without you this mornin’. My apron’ll do to wave, Peg.”

As Archibald climbed the wood trail behind the shack, he looked through
an opening in the leafiness and counted eight feminine figures filing
out of the Neals’ side gate and taking the meadow path.

He laughed, as he stood holding the branches aside, but there was a
pleasant warmth at his heart. Neighbors of his!

He was still feeling neighborly when an hour or two later he wandered
down the western slope of Pine Knob and found himself confronted by the
bars beyond which a crooked lane led through the land of the Smiling
Lady to the white farmhouse under the maples. He glanced at the sun,
then looked at his watch. Eleven o’clock. Time enough for an hour’s
neighboring and a stroll around by the road to his one o’clock dinner.
Morning calls were informal but they seemed to be the accepted thing in
the Happy Valley, and the Smiling Lady would send him away quite frankly
and amiably if he was in the way. He felt sure of that. She would never
allow a man to make a nuisance of himself.

He found her in the vegetable garden and she waved a trowel at him in a
fashion that left no doubt as to his welcome.

“Heaven Sent One!” she hailed, coming toward the fence to meet him. “I
prayed for a man—an able-bodied, obliging man, and behold! I had set my
heart on a morning’s gardening and John had to take the horse to the
blacksmith. It was absolutely necessary. He explained it all to me very
clearly. As a matter of fact, John hates gardening as the devil hates
holy water. He’ll commit any of the venial sins to escape it. I
telephoned for Bill Briggs but he’s been away for two days, so even if I
could put a hand on him he wouldn’t be garden-worthy. The last time he
pulled up all my young spinach and transplanted a lot of very superior
plantain into the lettuce bed—but he gave me a day’s work for nothing
afterward. Bill’s ‘overtaken’ sometimes. He admits it, but he’s a
gentleman. Can you dig?”

The wind had ruffled her hair into wild disorder. The hand that held the
trowel was grubby. The other hand was grubbier. There was a broad streak
of dirt across one cheek and a smudge on her forehead. Her short blue
denim skirt was caked with earth at the knees. A shockingly untidy young
woman, but, as she stood in the sunlight, laughing, Archibald could have
shouted for joy in the free glad life of her. It was good just to be in
the world with anything so young and brave and gay—and so lovely. Yes;
even when wind and gardening had done their worst, so very lovely. Where
was the man who could refuse to dig for her?

“Lead me to a spade,” he urged valiantly.

Two hours later, Ellen coming out in the garden to announce dinner,
found two dirty, tired, but cheerful beings scrambling across freshly
pulverized earth on all fours.

“The saints preserve us!” she exclaimed piously.

“They will, Ellen. That’s their job! But I’m putting in beets and Mr.
Archibald’s planting beans.”

The Smiling Lady sat back on her heels, pushed back her hair with a
grimy hand, and looked up into the disapproving face of the scandalized
personage in spotless blue chambray and white apron and cap.

“You can’t think what a success Mr. Archibald’s been.”

The man at the other end of the garden looked up and grinned his
gratitude for the testimonial, then went back to his absorbing task.

“He’s wasted on painting, Ellen,” the girl went on gaily. “When you
bring artistic genius to bear on a vegetable garden, you’re getting
somewhere; but pictures—Pouff! Who eats pictures? He’s strong, too—and
willing—and very industrious. I don’t see but what our gardening
problem is solved for this summer.”

“If you could be seein’ yourself, Miss Nora!”

Ellen’s voice was dripping with disapproval.

“But I can’t. That’s the beauty of it. And when I go up to make myself
tidy, I sha’n’t look in the mirror until after I’ve washed—so I’ll
never know the worst—and gardening’s no fun at all if one keeps clean.
Look at Mr. Archibald. He was perfectly clean when he came—painfully
clean. Isn’t he splendid now?”

Archibald had finished his row and came toward them, sleeves rolled up,
collar a limp rag, coatless, perspiring, dirt incrusted, radiating
satisfaction.

“There isn’t a bean a twentieth of an inch out of plumb in that row,” he
boasted. “Straight as a string, the whole procession. It’ll be a garden
ornament.

“Funny thing, I never planted a seed before in my life. I can’t believe
the things’ll come up—and I’m likely to perish of joy and pride if they
do. You’ll have to break the news to me gently, Miss Moran. There’s
something about getting down to the soil—”

“Ellen thinks we’ve got down to too much soil,” explained the girl who
had risen to her feet and was futilely brushing at her skirt. “She has
an old-fashioned prejudice in favor of cleanliness and I suppose we’ll
have to humor her by washing before dinner. Stiff?”

“Not a bit.”

“Well, you will be,” she promised encouragingly. “I always am, at first.
Gardening is queer. Every time I finish a day of it, I vow that the game
isn’t worth the candle and that I’ll eat tinned stuff and use wild
flowers for the rest of my life. Then the next morning, I fairly wriggle
with impatience to get out into the garden and go to digging again. It’s
as bad as the cocaine habit. If you aren’t willing to be a slave to it,
you’d better turn your back on it here and now.”

“Too late. I’m a victim—and you’ll have to oversee my digging. It’s the
least you can do when you’ve started me on my downward way. Don’t you
think so, Ellen?”

“Go your ways in and make yourselves decent, the two of you.”

Ellen’s voice was stern but her eyes were merry.

“You’ve made a tremendous hit with her,” the Smiling Lady confided to
him as they went through the hall. “She’s never nice and disrespectful
to anybody unless she likes him enormously.”

He stayed to dinner, after a faint-hearted protest and a murmur of
contrition in regard to Pegeen’s wasted culinary efforts. He voiced the
latter to Ellen when, coming downstairs before his hostess, he met the
woman in the hall.

“Don’t be worryin’ about Peg, sir,” she said reassuringly. “She’s used
to irregular doin’s and she’ll just give you your dinner for supper—the
way that there’ll be nothin’ to do but warm things up and set them on.
It’d be a shame—you to be goin’ and dinner ready here.”

She looked toward the stairway and added, in a low voice:

“And it’s I that’ll be glad to see Miss Nora sittin’ down with one of
her own kind—and her what she is, and everybody crazy about her before,
and all the fine clothes and visitin’ and travelin’ and all—”

“But she’s very happy, here, isn’t she?” the man asked gently.

“Oh, she’s happy. It’s her that has the trick of happiness, but she’s
the lonely days and thinkin’ long’s the weary work. There’s good people
here, but none of them talk her own talk, sir. It’d be well enough for a
bit in the summer, but winter and summer, in and out—it don’t seem
right. If you could have seen how it was in the old days, sir—and now
only that daft John and me to do for her, and she so cheerful and never
a word of regret or wishin’.”

There was sorrow and pride and great love in the plain old Irish face,
and Archibald realized that he was being honored. Ellen was not the
woman to talk of her mistress to any chance comer.

There was a step in the upper hall, and the servant vanished into the
dining-room, while Archibald went forward to meet a vision in white
linen, smooth-haired, immaculate, laughing-eyed.

“Soap and water couldn’t revive my collar,” he said apologetically, “but
my hands and face are approximately clean.”

“You’re very, _very_ beautiful,” said the Smiling Lady. “What’s a
collar, between gardeners!”

He came around to the matter of neighboring again, while they sat at
dinner.

“It’s as new to me as gardening,” he confessed,—“this getting
interested in the people who live round about me and having them take an
interest—approving or otherwise—in me. I can’t quite make up my mind
whether I like it or not. Just at the first jump, I’d say I didn’t.
Theoretically it’s a nuisance. Down in New York, I didn’t care a hoot
whether the chap in the bachelor quarters across the hall from mine
lived or died or drank himself into d-t’s or gave temperance lectures or
wore tweeds or pink velvet tights, and I’d have resented his being
curious about me. But up here—well, everything’s different. I fairly
lap up Peg’s flow of information about the Valley folk and I’m
absorbingly interested in the amount of Mrs. Frisbie’s egg money, and in
Bill Briggs’ habits and in Ezra Watts’ bad reputation. I’m thirsting to
meet Ginsy Shalloway, and I’m Mrs. Neal’s humble admirer. What’s more,
I’ve an amazing desire to make myself solid with them all. Queer, isn’t
it? I suppose it’s mostly Pegeen—Pegeen and you. You two make a
fascinating sort of talisman of human sympathy. Along came gray days and
stupid people. You rub your magic ring—and the world’s an interesting
place, and living in it is glorious business. Makes a chap feel like
humping himself and going shopping for magic rings.”

Nora Moran dimpled at him approvingly across the bowl of June roses that
stood in the center of the table. Spicy pink and white, old-fashioned
garden roses they were. It occurred to Archibald that they rimed with
the face beyond them as no hot-house flowers could have rimed with it.
For one foolish, inconsequent moment he tried to imagine himself buying
orchids for this garden girl. He had bought many orchids. Women liked
them because they were so expensive, but for the Smiling Lady—

He came back from the Fifth Avenue flower shops to the June roses and
the girl beyond them.

“You’re coming on rapidly,” she was saying. “It isn’t every one who
could discover, neighboring and gardening all in one short June. Some
people never discover either of them—poor souls. That’s why the yellow
journals have scandals enough and tragedies enough to keep them going.
But if you’ve got it in you to garden—and to neighbor—Oh, I’ve great
hopes of you. Peggy will make something of you yet.”

“And there aren’t any scandals and tragedies in the country?” he asked
lightly.

A shadow crept into the girl’s smiling eyes.

“But there are—dreadful ones sometimes—and they seem even more
dreadful up here than they do in town because each one stands out so
stark and ugly against the beauty all round about it. I had frightfully
heartachey times when I first began to find the sordid, ugly things
growing along with the loveliness in this quiet country
place—jealousies and feuds and slovenliness and vulgarity and cruelty
and worse—but I worked my way through those heartaches—or at least I
learned to understand and be tolerant The weeds grow with the flowers
everywhere, I guess. And it’s so easy to think too much about your
neighbors’ business when you haven’t anything else to entertain you, and
to magnify little slights and offenses when you haven’t more important
things to occupy your mind. And it’s hard to live up to standards when
there’s no one to appreciate—and natural beauty doesn’t give you much
joy, if you’ve always been doing hard, grinding work in the midst of it.
Gracious! I only wonder that most of the country folk are such plumb
dears as they are.”

“But they garden and neighbor,” prompted Archibald.

“They don’t.” She was too much in earnest to be polite. “You don’t think
raising vegetables and knowing everybody for miles around are gardening
and neighboring, do you? Not a bit of it. You’ve got to put your heart
into the garden and the people if you’re going to do real gardening and
neighboring. When you get around to that, you’ve learned how to be happy
most of the time and contented all of the time. I used to think that
nine tenths of the people I met were uninteresting, but I’ve found out
that, all the time, there weren’t any uninteresting people. There were
only people I hadn’t _got at_.”

Archibald shook his head doubtfully. “Short of using a pickax or an
auger—” he demurred. He was thinking of some of the men and women he
had known.

The girl laughed.

“Aren’t they _awful_—that kind? But there are more of them in town than
in the country. There really are—more in proportion to numbers, I mean.
I don’t mean for a minute that I’ve got at everybody up here in the
Valley but, accidentally or by mainforce, I’ve broken through some such
hard shells and with such surprising results that I’m beginning to have
a comfortable conviction about what’s inside of the very toughest human
crust, if one could only get through to it. Now there’s Ezra Watts. He
lives just a little way from here up the back road—much too near for
the welfare of my chickens and fruit and vegetables. I’ve an idea he
even milks my cows. He’s one of my failures and nobody in the Valley
doubts that he’s bad all the way through. I have awful misgivings myself
sometimes, but in my optimistic moments I still contend that there’s a
decent scrap of soul hidden away somewhere in Ezra—hidden so thoroughly
that even he doesn’t suspect it’s there.”

“I feel strangely drawn to Ezra,” Archibald murmured gravely.

The Smiling Lady flashed back a challenge.

“Why don’t you take him on?” she asked. “I’ve fumbled the thing. Maybe
what he needs is man talk. It’s a long chance, but there’s really
something very sporty about soul hunting.”

There was a mirthful ring even to her sentiment. She talked of souls as
she might have talked of kittens or puppies or marigolds. From that
angle, talk of souls did not seem the indelicate or embarrassing thing
it is taken for by the average person not professionally concerned with
soul culture or soul saving.

“I’m willing to warn you, though,” she conceded generously, “that Ezra
needs disinfecting as much as he needs moral suasion. Nobody will ever
burrow through to his soul until he’s had a bath.”



                                   VI


It was late in the afternoon when Archibald turned up at the shack, and
Pegeen, arrayed in one of the cheapest of the new frocks and very dressy
as to hair ribbons and shoes, came down the path to meet him.

“It was a shame for them to scare you off so you didn’t even come home
to dinner,” she said indignantly, “but you needn’t have been afraid. I
shooed them all away at half-past eleven; they had to go home and get
their own dinners anyway.”

“I wasn’t afraid of my neighbors. I was gardening for one of them.”

For a moment she looked puzzled. Then she knew.

“Miss Moran! Well, if she isn’t the greatest! She could make anybody
garden; was it flowers or vegetables?”

“Beans.”

“Too bad,” said Peg, regretfully. “Of course it’s all nice and exciting
and like helping God with his chores, but flowers seem best. They’re so
perfectly lovely when they come up and blossom—but then, I love string
beans, don’t you? Only they’re just green and I think it’s more fun to
help make something bright colored.”

“Did you ever have a garden of your own?” Archibald asked. They had
reached the shack now and he dropped down on the doorstep and filled his
pipe. Pegeen sat down beside him, after carefully turning up the
abbreviated skirt of her new dress.

“No use dirtying it any faster than I have to,” she explained. “Every
washing takes it out of them even when they aren’t pink. No, I never had
a garden—what you’d call a real garden. We never had much garden.
Sometimes Dad would put in corn or potatoes but mostly he forgot, and if
he didn’t forget them, he did after he’d put them in, and I didn’t have
much time to take care of them. I had some poppies once though,
perfectly wonderful poppies. Miss Moran gave me the seeds. I hadn’t ever
planted any flower seeds at all till one day I was down at her house and
she was working in the flower garden and let me help. I sowed some seed
of those great big blue larkspur—delphiniums she calls them, but I
think larkspur’s nicest, don’t you?—and some poppies too. Poppies have
got the cunningest baby seeds that you don’t dare cover up warm at all
for fear you’ll choke them to death. She let me take some poppy seed
home, and I dug a place right outside Mother’s window. She was sick
then, you know, and after the poppies blossomed, I used to get Mother up
every single day to see them. They were the gladdest, brightest,
danciest things, but they used to make Mother sort of sad sometimes.”

She sat quiet for a few moments, looking out with wistful eyes toward
the far hills, and Archibald laid a large hand over the two small ones
clasped in her lap. The sober little face flashed a quick response.
Happiness was always knocking at the door of Pegeen’s heart even when
sorrow housed there.

“My poppies down at Miss Moran’s were nice too,” she went on, “but I was
awfully disappointed about my larkspur. It didn’t bloom a bit that
summer, and Miss Moran had said it would be blue, and I like blue best
of anything, don’t you? It isn’t so bright as red, but it’s such a
way-deep-down-glad color. Well, that fall, Miss Moran had me move the
larkspur plants over by the lily bed; and one day the next summer, when
I hadn’t been up there for weeks, John came after me with the horse and
said Miss Moran wanted me in a hurry. I was afraid she was sick, but she
wasn’t She just grabbed me when I got there and said:

“ ‘Peggy O’Neill, you’ve been working miracles. Come along quick and see
them.’

“So we held hands and raced to the garden and there were my larkspurs
all blossoming—a great big patch of them with white lilies cuddling up
close to them! Blue? Why, you never saw anything bluer. I looked at them
and my legs went wobbly and I flopped right down and cried. Yes, sir,
honestly I did. I couldn’t stand having helped God make anything so
beautiful. He was used to it but I wasn’t. Isn’t it wonderful that He
could think of so many perfectly splendid things to make in seven days?
There’s no telling what He’d have done, if He’d taken a year to do it.
Did you ever try to think of something more that would have been awfully
nice and that He could have done if He’d taken more time? I’ve tried
lots of times, but I never could. It seems as if He hadn’t forgotten a
thing.

“I’ve never felt the same about myself since I helped Him with those
larkspurs. They bloom every summer, and every time I see them, I feel as
if I’d made a piece of sky. You get Miss Moran to let you plant some
larkspur in her garden. You won’t ever feel real downhearted and
discouraged about yourself afterward. I do think a flower garden’s the
sweetest thing. I wish we had one.”

“Why don’t we have one?” asked Archibald.

Pegeen looked at him doubtfully, saw determination in his face, and
fairly crowed for joy.

“Out in front and along the path! Poppies and bachelor buttons and
marigolds and lots of things that’ll bloom quick—and then larkspur and
phlox and lilies to bloom next summer.”

Her exultant voice suddenly wavered and dropped, and the joy died out of
her.

For a moment the man did not understand. Then he looked ahead and saw
the end of the summer’s trail. Oddly enough he too shrank from the
vision.

“I’m coming back, Peg,” he promised quickly. “I’m surely coming back.
The heart of the world is up here among the hills, I believe, and
there’s nothing to keep me away.”

She smiled again then—but a misty little smile.

“I just thought—all of a sudden—” she explained falteringly. “A
summer’s so short and I’m being so happy—and it’s half-past June
already.”

“That’s why we must hurry with our garden.” There was a sympathetic mist
in the man’s own eyes, but he resolutely dragged the talk away from
sentiment. It’s a way men have.

“We’ll plant all sorts of splendid things and the Smiling Lady will
teach us to work miracles,” he said.

“She’ll give us loads of baby plants. She loves starting new gardens.”
Pegeen was cheerful again now. He had said he would come back and it was
easy for her to believe in happiness.

“To-morrow I’ll dig the beds,” promised Archibald. “Now tell me what the
neighbors thought of your new finery.”

Pegeen was all excitement.

“They couldn’t believe it. They honestly couldn’t. Ginsy Shalloway’ll
talk herself to death about them, and Mrs. Frisbie said that either you
were cracked or just a natural spendthrift, and Mrs. Neal spoke right up
and said you were a big-hearted young gentleman, that’s what you were;
and I hugged her for it and they’re all crazy to know what you get paid
for your pictures, and I said maybe you’d let me take you to see them
only maybe not, because you had lots of painting to do and couldn’t let
visiting interfere. So you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

“But I do want to, Peg. I’m going to garden and to neighbor. I’m
credibly informed that there’s the road to being happy most of the time
and contented all the time. I’m going to send to town for a horse of
mine that’s eating his head off in the stables, and we’ll rent a cart,
and then we can neighbor fast and furiously all up and down the Valley.”

“Oh, my stars!” crooned Pegeen, in ecstasy.

“Can you ride your horse?” she asked suddenly.

“That’s what he’s for, chiefly. Why?”

“Well, I just thought maybe you’d lend him to Miss Moran when you
weren’t neighboring. She loves riding better than anything and she had a
beautiful riding horse when she came, but he hurt himself jumping the
pasture fence and died, and she couldn’t afford to get another. She’s
the loveliest thing on horseback—but, do you know, she rides straddle
just like a boy and she wears breeches and sometimes they show; folks
here thought it was awful at first. They buzzed around to each other’s
houses like a swarm of bees, talking about it, and they thought maybe
Mr. Colby, the minister, ought to take it up. And he wouldn’t. He said
she didn’t go to his church, and that anyway it wasn’t a thing for a
single man to take up with a young lady. So then they thought the
ladies’ aid would have to do something, but they sort of put it off, and
then Mr. Frisbie went to Boston to spend a week with his rich brother
that’s a minister in a big church there. He came back telling that the
parks up there were simply full of ladies riding straddle and that his
brother’s wife said all the richest and properest ladies wore breeches
when they rode and that it was countrified to be shocked. So then
everybody quieted down. Mrs. Neal says Ginsy Shalloway sent for a
pattern for riding breeches, but I don’t believe she’s ever had a call
for it.”

Archibald, who had been chuckling over the Valley’s consternation, had
an inspiration.

“Peggy,” he said, “I wonder if Mrs. Neal could stable two horses for me.
You and I are going to do our neighboring behind a pair—but remember,
Peg, I never heard that the Smiling Lady rode. That extra riding horse
is going to be a lucky accident. Incidentally, I’m going to teach you to
ride him.”

“Oh, my stars!” The small girl crooned it again, from heart fullness.
“And I didn’t even pray for you to come! If I could have thought of
anything as nice as you, I’d have prayed for it, but I couldn’t. So I
just said ‘God bless me’ and I guess He thought that meant sending you.”

“God bless you, Peg,” Archibald said very softly. He couldn’t remember
having asked God to bless any one, since far away bedtimes in which a
very small boy and a very loving mother and a certain little white bed
in a cheerful nursery figured hazily. Come to think of it, he hadn’t
been on speaking terms with God at all, since those old days; but here
in the Happy Valley one met Him at every turn and He seemed very
friendly.

The dinner missed at noon was, according to Nora’s prophecy, warmed up
for supper; and after it was eaten and the dishes had been washed
Archibald walked down to Mrs. Benderby’s with Pegeen, because she was
later than usual and the shadows were black.

As the two passed out of the meadow, they found Mr. and Mrs. Neal
standing in the middle of the road in front of their home, talking
excitedly and looking down toward Pisgah, where a red glow lighted the
sky from behind a crouching black hill.

“What’s up?” Archibald asked. “Oh, I see—fire. What do you think it
is?”

“Another barn, I guess,” Mr. Neal said grimly. “From the looks, I should
say ’twas Frisbie’s. Getting past a joke, this thing is. Makes a man
feel darned uncomfortable when he goes to bed. Something’s got to be
done. That’s the fifth.”

“Fifth what?”

“Fifth barn burning! Set on fire every one of ’em. Nobody suspected at
first, but the fires began coming along too regular to be accidental and
then there were signs of the work found, but they ain’t been able to
catch the fire-bug. He don’t seem to steal anything—crazy, most likely.
Just likes to watch the things burn, but there’s been a big loss and one
house went too, and folks are mighty stirred up about it. I don’t feel
none too easy myself. There’s no telling where the thing’ll hit next.”

“Had detectives on the job, I suppose?” said Archibald.

“Oh, yes, the town got a couple of ’em up here. Ate everything within
sight and looked wise and got nowheres. They sort of suspected Ezra
Watts, but, jumping Jerusha, everybody else had thought of that before
they did. That’s the first rule up here when anything goes wrong.
Suspect Ezra. He’s a good deal of a pill, Ezra is, and I don’t put much
past him in the way of meanness, but I can’t say as I held him
accountable for the drought last year or for my horses having pink eye
this spring. I’ve got a leaning toward proof, and there ain’t a ghost of
proof against Ezra in this barn business—except just his general
cussedness and that he thinks he’s got a grudge against the Valley
folks—but I’m kind of afraid some of the young fellows’ll handle him
rough, without asking for proof, if this barn burning keeps up. When
Nick Bullard and Lem Tollerton and that crowd get a drink or two aboard,
they don’t set much store by law and order. I kind of figure that this
would be a healthy time for Ezra to visit somewheres without waiting to
be invited.”

“You don’t mean that they’d really harm him?” Archibald said
incredulously.

“Well, as I said, there’s just a few of the boys that ain’t strong on
law and order, when they’re full of liquor ’n’ animal spirits ’n’ have
what they’d call a good cause. Of course the rest of us would stop them
if we got wind of their deviltry in time, but we generally don’t and
then when it’s over there’s nobody wants to run them down and jail them
because everybody knows their families and neighbors are with them. Last
time they made trouble they beat up a peddler that had been cheating all
the women. Can’t say he didn’t deserve a licking, but the boys overdid
it and got considerable of a scare themselves. Thought they’d killed the
fellow.

“Ma and I took him in and nursed him up and turned him out all right. He
did talk some about suing for assault and all that, but, shucks, how’d
he know who to sue? The boys wore masks. He was some scared too, and so
he went off as soon as he was able—and glad to go. Glad to have him go,
we were. You’ve got to do you’re duty, but I must say I ain’t strong on
Samaritaning when the hurt party’s as low down a skunk as that peddler
was.

“The boys ain’t been taking any law into their hands since that, but the
whole neighborhood’s so stirred up over this fire-bug—”

“Stop borrowing trouble, Pa,” Mrs. Neal interrupted. “Nice idea of his
neighbors you’ll be giving Mr. Archibald. You’re getting as nervous as a
tadpole over this barn business.”

“Too nervous to put up a pair of horses for me, if I send for them?”
inquired Archibald laughingly, but Mr. Neal’s face was serious as he
answered.

“At your own risk. I’ll be glad to take them but you’d better insure
them.”

Archibald met Mrs. Benderby for the first time that night. She was
sitting on the porch as he and Peg turned in at the gate, and, rising
from her chair, came forward to meet them.

“This is Mr. Archibald,” Pegeen announced with an air of proud
proprietorship.

The woman gave him a thin cold hand. The chill of it made him peer more
closely at her through the starlit gloom, but he could see her face only
in dim outlines. Scanty hair brushed smoothly back from the forehead and
fastened in a tight knob at the back of the head left hollow temples in
view and below them Archibald made out sunken cheeks and the angles of a
sharp chin. But it was the woman’s figure that emphasized most clearly
the chill of the bony hand. Even in the starlight, the sunken chest and
rounded shoulders, the sagging droop of the whole body told their tale
of hard work and physical unfitness and utter weariness.

“I’m glad to meet you,” Mrs. Benderby was saying. “Peg’s told me how
wonderful good you’ve been to her and I think a sight of Peg. I’d ought
to.”

There was weariness in the voice too, yet it strove for a brisk
cheerfulness that was evidently its natural note.

Something tugged suddenly at Archibald’s heartstrings. Life was too hard
for women.

“Yes; you and I couldn’t do without Pegeen,” he said. The friendly
warmth of his voice affected the tired little woman as had the warm
strength of his hand-clasp. There _was_ something about Peg’s Mr.
Archibald, she admitted to herself—something that cheered one up a bit.
That “you and I” had a folksy sort of ring. He wasn’t stuck up if he did
come from New York.

She smiled in the dark and though he could not see the smile he heard it
in her voice.

“When you get used to having Peg around, nothing goes right without
her,” she said. “Seems as if she always knew what you needed or wanted
before you did. She spoils people, Peg does—gets ’em so they can’t live
alone and most of us has to live alone sooner or later—even when
there’s plenty of folks living in the same house with us.”

Archibald nodded. He had lived alone “with plenty of folks” and he knew
what she meant.

“Won’t you sit down, sir?” Mrs. Benderby asked. “We’ll go indoors if you
say, but it’s kind of cool and restful out here in the dark. I like
being in the dark, evenings. You can’t see things you’d ought to get up
and do.”

She had dropped into her rocking chair again and Archibald sat down on a
broken-backed bench, while Pegeen went into the house. He could hear her
bustling about in the kitchen and humming a gay tune as she worked.

“Ain’t she the cheerfulest thing?” Mrs. Benderby said, after a quiet
moment in which she too had been listening to the quick, light steps and
the rollicking tune. “Seems as if, as soon as she’s around, I feel
rested. You just can’t slump down when Peg’s boosting you. Even thinking
about her’s better than medicine. Some days when I ain’t my best and the
work don’t go good, I hang on to the thought of Peg as if ’twas a patent
life-preserver. Funny, ain’t it—a little scrap of a big-eyed thing like
her! She ain’t exactly pretty, Peg ain’t, but I think the angels must be
some like her.”

“I shouldn’t wonder,” Archibald agreed. He could understand why Pegeen
had felt that she must go over and see to Mrs. Benderby. He felt
strongly impelled to see to her himself—and he smiled as it occurred to
him that perhaps he was really neighboring.

“You must put your heart into the gardens and the people,” the Smiling
Lady had said. Well, he seemed to be putting his heart into Mrs.
Benderby. Something ought to be done about her, something even more than
Pegeen was doing. He didn’t like the remembrance of that clammy hand or
the ache of weariness in the voice that held no trace of complaint or
bitterness.

“You and Peg and I will have to look after each other a little,” he said
later as he rose to go. “Of course I know that Peg could see to both of
us competently with one hand tied behind her, but you and I will get
into the game for our own sakes. I’m going to depend upon you to advise
me about the child. Women understand such things better than men.”

“I’d be proud to help,” she said eagerly.

It seemed to him that the hand she gave him in good night had a thrill
of warmth in it and that the bent shoulders had straightened just a
little.

“Good night, Peg,” he called through the open door.

The small girl came running out.

“I was just getting ready for morning,” she explained. “Mrs. Benderby
has to go off real early, and any way I thought it’d be nice for you and
her to get acquainted without me there.

“It was awfully good of you to bring me home. I wasn’t afraid—not
really—only it’s so comfortable not to have to be not afraid. Good
night.”

And as he went through the gate, she called again.

“Good night I’ll be up to you early.”

Archibald walked home with the friendly, childish voice ringing in his
ears and in his heart an unaccountably fervent thankfulness that she
surely would be “up to him early.” Morning—even a June
morning—wouldn’t, be a cheerful thing with Pegeen away.



                                  VII


The next day was a momentous one at the shack. Archibald and Pegeen
started their garden and Wiggles was taken into the family. The garden
came along according to plan but Wiggles was accidental. Peggy brought
him with her when she arrived in the morning and the first intimation of
his presence came to Archibald with a request for an antiseptic bandage.

“I saw you had some in your trunk, and it’s time for you to get up
anyway,” Peggy called through the bedroom door.

“Are you hurt?” he asked in alarm.

“No, I’m all right. It’s a dog. I guess it was an automobile. Anyway its
leg’s hurt.”

The explanation was hardly lucid but Archibald gathered that first aid
measures were being taken for the dog not for the automobile.

“Wait a minute and I’ll help,” he said as he passed a roll of bandage
through the partly opened door.

“It’d only spoil your breakfast.” She was serious but practical. “I can
do it. I’ve done it to lots of things. There’s peroxide on the mantel
and he’s as patient as can be.”

When Archibald, shaven and dressed, left his room a half hour later,
there were no signs of casualty and Pegeen was as serene as usual.

“He’s all fixed,” she said. “It wasn’t so terribly bad, but he couldn’t
walk and of course I couldn’t leave him down there.”

“Of course not,” agreed Archibald.

But after breakfast, as she led him out to see the cripple, a shade of
anxiety crossed her face.

“He isn’t a handsome dog,” she warned—“not exactly handsome, but he’ll
be real cute when I’ve washed him—and he won’t be a bit of trouble to
you. I’ll keep him in the shed and I’ll—”

“Piffle, Peg!” interrupted the man rudely. “We needed a dog.”

The dirty, shaggy little beast lying on a pile of burlap in the shed was
not handsome. Pegeen had spoken within bounds. Mongrel was written large
on him, but a strain of Airedale, albeit with a bar sinister across it,
gave his ugliness a redeeming dash of distinction, and when two
beseeching, friendly brown eyes met Archibald’s and the whole dog from
sniffing nose to frantically wagging tail, wiggled propitiation, the man
took the new-comer into the family with something like enthusiasm.

“He’s _not_ handsome, Peg,” he agreed, “but he’s a jolly little chap.
We’ll call him Wiggles.”

A day or two later, Archibald coming home from a morning’s painting
found Pegeen with something on her mind.

After a little it came out.

“Do you like kittens, Mr. Archibald?” she asked with elaborate
casualness.

“Oh, so-so.” He was absorbed in cleaning his pipe.

“I think it’s awful to drown them, don’t you?”

He caught the note of anxiety in her voice and looked at her quickly.

“Miss Moran does too,” she urged in defense of her position. “Maybe
she’d take it if you don’t want me to have it, but I’d like to doctor
its eyes first. It’ll be lovely when its eyes are well—and the boys had
a piece of fish line and a stone. They thought it was fun. I flew right
at Benny Crocker and slapped him—as hard as ever I could—and he was so
surprised he dropped the kitten and then I grabbed it up—and I always
did want to slap Benny anyway. If I’d been a boy I’d have licked him
long ago and I don’t see why being a girl—only of course long hair’s
handy to pull—but they didn’t get a chance to-day. I can run as fast as
any boy, if I do have skirts. It’s gray with one white paw. I think
you’d like it, if its eyes weren’t sore. I’m putting boric acid in them.
That’s what the doctor gave Mrs. Neal for hers when they were red and
hurt her and she loaned me some.”

“What does Wiggles say about it?” Archibald asked gravely.

Pegeen giggled.

“I wouldn’t dare tell you,” she said. “He swore. Honestly he did—dog
swearing anyhow—but when he found I liked the kitten, he quieted down
and now he just laughs when the spunky little thing spits at him. I do
love a dog that has a long nose so he can laugh, don’t you? I wouldn’t
have one of those snub-nosed, sulky looking dogs for anything—unless it
was sick or something and needed to be taken care of.”

“Oh, Peg, Peg! Are we going to take care of all the halt and maimed and
blind?”

She looked at him thoughtfully. “Well,—they aren’t all likely to come
along our way and anyway I won’t have any more here if you hate it; but
you see I always did—and I can’t leave them alone at Mrs. Benderby’s
all day and so I—but of course we won’t have any more here if it
bothers you—just Wiggles and Spunky. I thought we’d call kitten Spunky.
She’s so little and she stands up to Wiggles as if she were his size. I
sort of think that kitten’s Irish.”

“Bless you, child, I don’t mind running a foundling asylum. Why should
I? I’m one of the foundlings and I’m as grateful to you as Wiggles and
Spunky ever can be.”

She looked at him soberly for a moment and then she smiled. There was
something extra special about Pegeen’s smile. A hint of it was not
always playing about her lips and eyes as the elusive promise of smiles
always lurked in Nora Moran’s face. The child’s sensitive mouth and
great dark blue eyes were profoundly serious much of the time—quietly
happy but serious for all that. When the smiles came, they flashed out
suddenly, radiantly, a surprise, an illumination, a wave of gaiety
rippling from brow to chin and overflowing the whole child. Even her
hair ribbons seemed to quiver with it, her short skirts to swish with
mirth, her slim little feet to move to dance tunes.

To see it once was to want more of it.

“Making you happy is sheer, wanton self-indulgence, Peg,” Archibald said
as he studied her face. “I’ll not acquire merit by anything I do to set
you smiling. That’s sure.”

She did not understand but that made no difference. He often talked over
her head, but words were unimportant. The essential thing was that he
should be pleased with her and he was. She could see that. Moreover, he
wasn’t prejudiced against stray kittens.

“But I won’t show her to you until her eyes are better,” she said
wisely. “A smashed leg like Wiggles’ is sort of interesting when it’s
all bandaged up, but you’ve got to love a thing considerable much not to
mind sore eyes. If I ever get sick and stay sick a long time, I do hope
it’ll be a nice, clean, interesting kind of sickness—but what I’d like
best would be to be sitting out in the sunshine feeling happy and then
just not to be there—like Mr. Benderby. It was hard on Mrs. Benderby,
but wasn’t it perfectly lovely for him? Out under the big apple tree he
was, and it was all in bloom and there were orioles nesting in it. I
think that was wonderful, don’t you? I’d have liked that for
Mother—only it was so lovely for me to have a chance to take care of
her. I guess that’s why God doesn’t let everybody go in beautiful ways.
He knows they’re going to be so happy in a little while that having been
sick won’t count and He lets them go the hard way so that the people who
love them and are going to have to stay on without them can have the
comfort of taking care of them.”

“That’s one way of looking at it,” said Archibald.

They were occupying their favorite seat on the doorstep now. Pegeen’s
elbows were on her knees, her hands cupping her chin, her eyes gazing
out across the Valley.

“What do you think souls look like, Mr. Archibald?” she asked suddenly.

Archibald considered the subject and acknowledged that he had no
theories on it.

“Well, I’ve thought about it lots,” Peg said cheerfully. Her discussions
of life, death, and immortality were always imperturbably cheerful.
Nothing morbid touched her. Life was a fact and death was a fact and
immortality was a fact. They were all vastly interesting. Why not wonder
about them and talk about them?

“I think most people have a horrid idea about souls, don’t you?” she
said. “Sort of foggy, lonesome things that go floating around trying to
be happy when they haven’t got anything to be happy with. Honestly, that
kind of souls would have just about as good a time in heaven as Bill
Briggs does at grange parties. They don’t have liquor and he says he
isn’t built for conversation. I think heaven’s going to be heaps cozier
than the ministers say. I’m counting on having legs and hands and eyes
and nose and everything, just the way I have here, only no aches or
freckles or anything, and only beautiful things to feel and see and
smell—and stacks of little child angels to see to, so that we won’t
miss having the old people and sick people to take care of. I’m
expecting to enjoy heaven and if I do it’ll have to be mighty different
from the way they tell about it.”

“I know a job in heaven that would suit you,” Archibald said, “but
another angel has it. Maybe he’d take you on to help.”

“Tell me,” she urged eagerly.

“Well, it’s in the Japanese heaven; but I suppose we’ll all be talking
the same language when we get over there so that won’t shut you out.
There’s a Japanese angel—Jizo, they call him,—and he puts in his whole
time playing with the souls of the little children that come to heaven,
so that they won’t be lonesome for their mothers.”

“Oh, my stars!” The small girl was all aglow. “What a bee-autiful job!
Wouldn’t it be cunning to see—all those blessed little baby souls
playing around and that big kind angel making up games for them and
seeing to them for God? But one angel couldn’t do it—not possibly.
Maybe he could when the world started and there weren’t many children
going to heaven, but now he’d have to have somebody else. Oh, I do hope
he’ll let me help. That’s the most interesting thing I ever heard about
heaven. Mostly it sounds stupid, but I always did think God would be too
sensible to let us all sit around and rest forever. I wonder if that
Jizo thought up his job for himself and asked for it or if God just gave
it to him. Mr. Frisbie says the Japanese are awfully smart but that
they’re ruining wages—only I don’t suppose they bother about wages in
heaven. I wouldn’t want wages.”

Archibald rose and stretched himself, laughing down at the earnest
little face upturned to him.

“I’m willing to bet your month’s wages here that you’ll be given a
chance to take care of somebody in heaven,” he said. “They say the
seraphim are for adoration and the cherubim are for service. Well, I can
see you chumming with the cherubs.”

Pegeen looked perturbed.

“Miss Moran has pictures of them,” she said doubtfully. “They aren’t
anything but heads and wings.”

“That’s the painters’ fault. They couldn’t imagine anything as beautiful
as a cherub so they gave up before they got fairly started.” The small
girl on the doorstep nodded understanding and relief.

“You need legs and hands if you’re going to do much,” she said, “and if
I don’t set mine going you won’t have any supper.”

Wiggles and Spunky improved so rapidly under expert treatment that
bandages and boric acid were speedily put aside and the two new members
of the household were promoted from obscurity to family intimacy.

A crow with an injured wing, and a squirrel rescued at the eleventh hour
from Wiggles, and two fluffy yellow chickens whose hysterical mother had
tramped on them during a panic over a temporary scarcity of worms, were
at various times added to the family group, but the crow and the
chickens and the squirrel were merely transients. Once repaired, they
went back to the wild life and Mrs. Neal’s chicken yard, though
Peterkin, the crow, came back occasionally to sit on the birch tree by
the kitchen door and caw at Peg; and Jabberwok, the squirrel, had a nest
in a near-by oak from which he threw acorns at Wiggles with unerring
aim.

Boots was a transient too, but he did not need bandaging or doctoring
and he stayed on as a day boarder for a long time.

Archibald almost stumbled over him one day as he came through the
woodshed after an early morning fishing excursion with Jimmy Dawes. He
had brought Jimmy home to breakfast and then came in the back way,
triumphantly waving creditable strings of trout.

A gurgle of appreciation sounded at Archibald’s feet and he stepped
back, hastily looking down into the round staring eyes of a fat baby who
sat comfortably strapped into a pine box and held out chubby hands
toward the shining fish.

“Well, I’ll be—” began the man. Then he remembered Jimmy, and left the
remark hanging in the air unfinished.

“Hello!” commented Jimmy. “Going in for baby farming?”

“Peg!” Archibald’s voice held alarm and protest. It brought Pegeen out
from the kitchen, frying pan in hand.

“Hello, Jimmy! Going to stay for breakfast? My, what a lot of fish!”

Suddenly she saw the question in Archibald’s face and her glance
followed his to the occupant of the box.

“Oh, yes,” she explained. “That’s Boots—Mrs. McKenzie’s Boots. His
mother’s sick and there isn’t anybody except old Granny McKenzie and she
can’t possibly do everything and take care of Boots too. I ran over
there this morning to see how sick Mrs. McKenzie was and everything was
a mess and the poor old lady was most crazy. I’d have stayed, only of
course there’s you; so I helped tidy things up and then I just brought
Boots along with me. I knew you’d want me to. He won’t be a mite of
trouble. I never saw such a good baby. I can look after him here,
daytimes and take him home with me nights. He’s so cunning. Look at him
laugh.”

She dropped on her knees beside the box and waggled her head at the
baby, who discarded his wide-eyed solemnity for a dimpling, gurgling
hilarity that would have disarmed the most confirmed baby hater.

“What d’ you guess Jizo’d think of _him_?” Peg asked enthusiastically.
She was so happy in her new responsibility, so utterly confident of
Archibald’s readiness to share it with her, that the protest faded out
of him. He stooped and experimentally poked at the baby’s ribs with a
fishy forefinger which Boots promptly grabbed, crowing in triumph as he
held fast to it.

Something curious happened to the stooping man. He wasn’t at all sure
what it was but knew that it had to do with the feeling of that tiny
hand curled round his finger. The hand was so absurdly small and soft
and clinging. He had never noticed babies. People had them, but they had
always seemed to him one of the necessary evils, mitigated in his own
class by the existence of vigilant nurses who kept their charges out of
sight and hearing.

He wouldn’t have believed that there could be something extraordinarily
pleasant about having a baby hang fast to one’s forefinger and jump up
and down with pride in the feat.

“Strong little beggar, isn’t he?” he said with a shamefaced glance at
Jimmy that bespoke masculine sympathy for his embarrassment But Jimmy
was used to babies.

“Jolly kid!” he said, swinging his string of fish toward the baby who
abandoned Archibald’s finger to clutch at the slippery prize. “I’ll fix
the trout for you, Peg.”

Archibald straightened up and looked at the boy admiringly. Nothing
disturbed Jimmy’s cheerful nonchalance—but then Jimmy had not a strange
baby deposited, without warning, in his family circle. He would eat his
breakfast and go home, but the baby, apparently, was to stay at the
shack.

“What did you call him, Peg?” the alleged Head of the Family asked
feebly.

“Well, his name’s Bruce,—after the spider man, you know. The McKenzies
are Scotch. But they call him ‘Boots.’ Baby talk’s silly but I do think
Boots is a nice funny little name, don’t you?”

She went back to the kitchen with Jimmy, and Archibald followed, with a
backward glance at the baby who resigned himself philosophically to the
desertion and settled back among the pillows with the evident intention
of going to sleep at once.

“Good old Boots!” murmured the man to whom philosophy had always come
hard.

As he washed his hands at the kitchen pump, he eyed his forefinger with
a whimsical smile. Queer little thing, a baby’s hand. He could imagine
that if the baby happened to be a man’s own—after all, perhaps even
neighboring wasn’t the last word. Human brotherhood was a big thing, but
a man’s own—

“D’ you like them fried in corn meal, Mr. Archibald?” called Pegeen.

He said that he did.



                                  VIII


The horses came from town and, though stabled by Mr. Neal, were in a way
additional members of the shack family.

“For a man who fled to the country to be alone, this is going some,”
Archibald said to himself, as for the first time he rode up the meadow
path, leading a second saddled horse. Pegeen and Wiggles and Spunky and
Boots and Peterkin—who was not yet well enough to respond to the call
of the wild, were all on hand to welcome the new animals, and
Archibald’s eyes twinkled as he viewed the collection.

“This is where you take your first riding lesson, Peg. I’m going to put
you on Zip,” he said gaily. “Will the menagerie break loose if you take
your eye off it? Suppose the baby should choke the pup and the pup
should bite the cat and the cat should eat the crow?”

“They’ll be good,” promised Pegeen comfortably as she loosened the
baby’s strangle-hold on the pup. “Aren’t those horses splendid? I wonder
how Susy feels about them. It’s real hard on her, I think, having them
come into her own barn, putting on city airs, and saying snippy things
about farm horses and farm ways.—I’ll bet they do. They look that
way—sort of proud and finicky and stuck up, but maybe the country’ll do
them lots of good. They’re most certain to like Susy after they really
get to know her. She’s so sensible and nice.”

“Sure thing,” agreed Archibald. “Nothing like living in the country for
giving one a sense of values.”

Peggy’s face was flushed with excitement. Her lips and eyes were
brimming with smiles as she waited to be tossed up to the saddle.

“I’ve been on Susy and on Mr. Frisbie’s Dick,” she said, her voice
trembling a little with eagerness, “but never on a real, prancy riding
horse like Zip.”

“Not afraid?” Archibald asked, noticing the quiver of the voice.

She looked surprised.

“Afraid? Me? Not a bit. Some way or other I always forget to be afraid
of things till afterwards; but I’m so excited that my throat’s all
shirred up in puckers.”

For an hour he taught her the laws of bit and bridle and saddle and
horse nature; and she took to it all, as a duck takes to water, quick,
fearless, bubbling over with joy.

“You’ll make a horsewoman, Peg,” Archibald said, as he lifted her down
from the saddle at last. “I’ll have you jumping fences, before the
summer is over.”

“Miss Moran used to. She’d make her horse jump anything. Mr. Meredith
and she didn’t pay a bit of attention to fences—unless there was
something they didn’t want to trample down.”

Archibald turned to her quickly.

“Meredith? Who’s Meredith?”

Pegeen settled herself comfortably for a bit of gossip. She loved to
tell Archibald about people. He was always so interested.

“Why, he’s the one that’s going to marry Miss Moran,” she explained.
“Anyway, that’s what everybody thinks; but they don’t seem to be in a
very big hurry about it. He’s awfully rich and he goes scooting off to
Europe and around the world and everywhere; but he comes up here every
summer and stays a long while—over in Pittsfield. I guess he couldn’t
stand boarding anywhere around here. He looks as if he’d be real
particular. But he comes over most every day in a motor car, and he and
Miss Moran have perfectly beautiful times. He’s lots older than she
is—only I don’t believe he’s as old as his hair is. It’s gray; but his
face doesn’t match it very well—except his eyes. Sometimes they look
sort of old and sad. He’s real handsome—and nice too; only he’s nice in
a proud way—not a bit like you. I couldn’t ever see to him. I wouldn’t
suit—but he’d buy me anything I needed—if somebody’d tell him I needed
it. I guess most rich people are like that. They want to be kind to poor
folks, but they don’t know how. I don’t see how you ever found out
exactly the right way. It isn’t just giving money. It’s being friends.
Mr. Meredith couldn’t neighbor the way you do, no matter how hard he
tried. Miss Moran takes him around to see folks and he’s as nice and
polite as can be; but everybody knows he’s come just to please her and
that he’ll never come again unless she brings him. He gave the money for
the free library down in Pisgah and he fixed up the schoolhouse, and
when Joe Daniels got hurt last summer Mr. Meredith had a big doctor come
all the way from New York to mend Joe’s back, and when the Potters were
going to be put out of their house and hadn’t a bit of money he paid off
the mortgage and got Mr. Potter a job over in Pittsfield—but he didn’t
do any of it for the Valley. He did it for Miss Moran. I’ll bet he
wouldn’t know Joe Daniels or Mr. Potter if he’d meet them on the road.
So, you see, nobody bothers about being grateful to him. They’re just
grateful to Miss Moran. I suppose she’s grateful to him, and that’s all
he wants; but I’d hate not to get more fun out of doing things for
people than he does. I’d want to see them being happy because I’d done
the things, wouldn’t you? My stars, but I do love to see people being
happy, when it’s my doings.”

“What makes you think Miss Moran is going to marry him?” Archibald
asked. He did not seem as interested in abstract discussions as he
usually did.

“Why, anybody can see that he wants her to.”

“And she?”

Pegeen thought it over.

“Well, I don’t know that she wants to so very hard; but I guess she
doesn’t mind. He’s so awfully good to her and she’s known him for years
and years and her father thought a heap of him—Ellen told me that—and
you know it’s nice and comfortable to have somebody looking out for you
and loving you better than anything. Miss Moran gets lonesome sometimes.
It’s all right about neighboring, but you do need somebody special—only
it seems as if I’d like to be more excited about it, if I were going to
marry anybody—and I’d want him younger. Gray hair’s elegant looking;
but I think a lover ought to have brown hair, don’t you? Yellow wouldn’t
be as bad as gray; but I’d choose brown.”

“Did Ellen tell you anything else about him?” Pegeen shook her head.

“Nothing much. Ellen never does talk much; but I asked her one day
whether Miss Moran had known Mr. Meredith a long time and that’s how she
came to tell me about her father’s thinking so much of him. I don’t
believe Ellen wants them to get married.”

“Why not?” There was a note of eagerness in Archibald’s voice.

“Oh, I don’t know. She said he was a fine man and all; but that
springtime was mating time; and then she folded up her lips the way she
does when she doesn’t like things.”

Archibald dropped the subject, mounted his horse, and took Zip’s bridle
rein.

“I’m going over to see whether Miss Moran feels like riding,” he said
crisply. There was an aggressive air about him as he rode away, and
Pegeen watched him with puzzled eyes until he disappeared around a bend
in the road. Then she seated herself and tried to accommodate Boots and
Wiggles and Spunky in her small gingham lap, all at one time.

“Wiggles,” she said seriously, “I don’t believe he liked it about Mr.
Meredith. No, sir; he didn’t like it one bit. Do you suppose?—Oh, my
stars, Wiggles, wouldn’t it be lovely?” She patted Boots’ back with an
experienced hand until he had traveled far into Slumberland. Then she
turned once more to the pup, who sat waiting with his head on one side
and his intelligent brown eyes fixed on her face.

“Wiggles,” she said, “you can bite Mr. Meredith when he comes. I won’t
care.”

The pup gave an ecstatic lunge and licked her cheek with his wet, red
tongue. She laughed, as she wiped off the kiss.

“I was sure you’d _love_ to bite him,” she said approvingly, “only you’d
better do it when he hasn’t got that white bull terrier of his with him.
Jimmy says it’s a terrible fighter.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

The Smiling Lady felt like riding. She felt so much like it that she
sparkled in the most amazing way at the mere mention of it.

“Such beauties,” she said, leaning across the porch railing to pat the
horses. “And how fine for Peggy to learn to ride! She wasn’t afraid, was
she?”

“Afraid? Peg?” Archibald laughed the idea to scorn.

“Yes; that’s so,” agreed the Smiling Lady. “She’s Irish. We’re the
reckless lot. It’s only ourselves we’ve to fear. Just a few minutes, and
I’ll get my habit.”

She ran upstairs and Archibald, waiting, heard her singing somewhere,
gay lilting snatches of song that told of joy at the heart of her.

In ten minutes a slim boyish figure came out upon the porch. She was all
in brown from the crown of her soft felt hat to the toes of her smart
tan boots. The long coat had been made by a tailor who knew his
business. The soft shirt and stock were eminently correct. She was well
turned out, this young Amazon.

A light pressure of a boot in his hand and she was in the saddle. A
moment more and they were off into the sweet of Summitland.

“I’ll take you along the back road and up Witch Hill,” she said. “It has
the name of names for it, and how that ever happened I can’t imagine.
The loveliest places usually have the worst names. There’s Hog Hill
Road. It’s a dream of loveliness, and how any one ever had the heart to
turn hogs loose on it! Of course they say it’s the hog back shape of the
hill that gave it its name, but when I ride there, even on the
heavenliest day, I fancy I hear gruntings. Now Witch Road is all magic.
It lives up to its name. There’s a tradition that once upon a time an
old witch lived in a little hut that’s crumbling away beside the road at
the hilltop. I’ve an idea she threw a spell over the whole hill and it
lingers. There’s Ezra Watts!”

“Good morning, Mr. Watts!”

A man, standing in the doorway of a dilapidated little house over whose
forlornness a willow wept miserably, muttered an almost inaudible
salutation. His weak, evil face did not lighten even for the Smiling
Lady. Slouching, ragged, dirty, he stood in the sunshine like a blot on
the summer day, and stared out at the riders sullenly from under a
matted thatch of thick, straggling, black hair.

“Pleasant, friendly chap!” Archibald commented lightly.

The Smiling Lady sighed.

And then they forgot him, for they turned from the sunshiny back road,
into an enchanted wood where a wide mossy trail wound gently, gently
upward through shifting light and shade. Moist, pungent wood scents
haunted the air. The gurgle of running water, insistent, mirthful, told
that hidden among the ferns and mosses a brook followed the road
companionably.

“It comes out into the open farther up,” the girl said as she listened,
“but down here it hides just for the fun of the thing.”

“A naiad’s trick,” Archibald suggested. “Probably there are fauns
abroad.”

“No; only the Little People,” she corrected. “I’m all for Irish fairies
myself. The poets and the artists and the mythology classes have taken
the heart out of the Greek ideas, but the Celts—Oh, well, we’ve had our
own troubles with poets, but they haven’t killed and stuffed all our
gods and heroes and Little People yet. Father and I used to spend months
in Ireland every year and I’ve heard such tales there—Oh, such tales!
I’d always the hope of seeing the Little People myself or of stepping
off into the Green World, and finding my way to Tir ’nan Og. Things like
that seem so possible in Ireland, and some way or other Witch Mill is
the same for me. It’s full of shapes I can’t quite see and voices I
can’t quite hear, and I look and listen and wait. I’m always excited up
here. The wonderful thing might happen any moment. There are places like
that, you know!”

She was talking lightly but there were dreams in her eyes.

Archibald’s thoughts ran back to the girl of the puppies and kittens and
babies in the birch wood, to the girl of the fireside confidence and the
Irish love songs, to the gay, grubby girl of the vegetable garden, to
the girl of the June roses and the heart for neighboring. Then he came
back to the girl of the boyish clothes and the dreaming face who rode
beside him up the Witch Way, listening and looking and waiting for the
Wonderful Thing; and he too found it easy to believe in wonders. The
enchanted wood was having its way with him.

Up and up they climbed. The road rose very gradually, winding its
leisurely way through glades and glens, losing itself among pine
shadows, loafing across sunlit clearings; and always at its side was the
brook, whispering and chuckling and hinting at mysteries.

“It comes from a great spring at the very top of the hill beside the
witch’s cottage,” the Smiling Lady said as she leaned to watch the
sunlight playing over smooth brown stones beneath the liquid green of a
fern-fringed pool.

“I usually lunch up there—and by the same token I’ve sandwiches in my
pockets now. Nature worship’s an appetizing thing and Ellen knows it,
but I didn’t give her time to do her best to-day and it’s a nuisance to
carry more than sandwiches anyway. Supper will be waiting when we go
home.”

“You come up here often?” the man asked. Back of the question there was
an eagerness, even a protest. It had occurred to him that Meredith and
she had ridden up this way and lunched beside the Witch’s Well; and
there was something about the idea that he found unpleasant, most
unpleasant.

“Oh, yes, often,” she was saying.—“Or at least I did come when I had my
horse. It’s a long walk and the road isn’t very practicable for driving.
I’ve had beautiful days up here.”

He could not ask with whom she had shared them and he assured himself
stoutly that the matter was of no importance to him anyway—only, of
course, a man whom Peg and Nora didn’t like—Personally, he was
altogether unconcerned. Oh, altogether—still he rather hoped she had
not brought Meredith up Witch Way.

The road found the hilltop at last and wandered off, inconsequently
along the ridge; but the brook and the Girl and the Man stayed behind at
the Witch’s Well.

It lay cool and gleaming among moss-covered rocks. Little ferns and lush
green grasses crept down between the rocks to peer into the water. A
great old tree flung shadows down upon it. Under the tree a mossy
cushion invited, promised.

The Smiling Lady slipped from her saddle before Archibald could reach
her and dropped down beside the well with a sigh of content. When the
man came back from tying the horses in the shade, she was leaning
against the huge tree trunk, her hat thrown on the ground beside her—a
Rosalind in ultra modern doublet and hose and fair enough to justify an
Orlando in hanging verses on all the trees of the enchanted wood.

Pegeen had been quite truthful. “Sometimes they did show.” For an
instant a vision of the polite and embarrassed bachelor clergyman in
Pisgah, of the perturbed ladies’ aid society and the agitated Valley
censors caused Archibald’s lips to twitch nervously, but he smothered
the smile at its birth and stretched himself out luxuriously on the moss
at the neatly booted feet.

Even in riding breeches and boots she was more utterly without
self-consciousness, more simply, adorably feminine than any other woman
in muslin and blue ribbons. It would be blind virtue that could call the
Smiling Lady immodest.

“I could have loved that witch,” he said lazily, closing his eyes the
better to feel the moss beneath his head and the breeze on his cheeks
and to hear the drip, drip of water trickling among the rocks, and then
opening them hastily not to lose sight of the face against the
background of rugged bark.

“I’ve felt that way myself,” the girl confessed.—“A woman who would
come away up here into the quiet places and settle down with the forest
at her back and the spring near her door and the whole Valley spread out
before her eyes!

“It’s a heavenly sweet place to sit on a summer’s day, weaving spells,
isn’t it? They say she was old and ugly, but I think that was only when
she went down among the Valley folk. Up here she must have been young
and beautiful and she smiled a wonderful smile as she worked
enchantment. I’m sure of it.”

“It’s believable,” admitted the man who was watching her face. It was
easy, astonishingly easy, for him to believe in a witch who was young
and beautiful and who sat on a hilltop smiling and working enchantment.

They idled the afternoon away with talk and laughter and drowsy
silences; and being very humanly hungry in the midst of all the glamour,
they finally ate Ellen’s six sandwiches and sighed for more.

“The next time,” said the Smiling Lady, “we will bring a knapsack
luncheon and make tea.”

“The next time!” He liked the promise in it.

She rose to her knees and leaning over the spring cupped her hands and
drank.

“You knew,” she said seriously, looking back across her shoulder at
Archibald, “that it’s the Well at the World’s End?”

“I guessed it,” he said as seriously.

     “And whoso drinks the nine drops shall win his heart’s desire,
     At the Well o’ the World’s End,”

she quoted softly. Then she leaned toward him, laughing, and touched his
lips nine times with the cool wet forefinger of a dripping hand.

For one reckless moment, he was tempted to seize the daring hand, to
hold it fast and kiss it, from pink finger tips to blue veined wrist.
With any other woman he had ever known he would have dared it, with any
other woman the thing would have been a challenge—but he looked into
the laughing face so near him, and buried his hands in the moss beside
him.

She was different. It was too much to risk—this blessed comradeship. He
did not dare.

“Shall win his heart’s desire,” he echoed. “And if he does not know the
desire of his heart?”

“One day he will learn it and then he will be glad of the nine drops
from the Well o’ the World’s End.”

Archibald closed his eyes and lay quiet, but there was tumult in his
thoughts. In May he had been so sure that he knew the face of his
heart’s desire, had been mad with the beauty of it, hungered and
thirsted for it, broken heart and spirit in pursuit of it In May!—Now,
in July, he could feel the cool touch of the nine drops from the Well o’
the World’s End without any stirring of the old longing, any throb of
the old pain. The fever had died quite out of him and the face that
looked at him from that faraway Maytime, was beautiful—but not the face
of his heart’s desire.

The Happy Valley had done it. The Happy Valley and Pegeen and his
Smiling Lady, and he was ashamed to have been so quickly cured, so light
of love, yet glad with the gladness of one who wakens from long illness
and pain and fevered dreams, to consciousness and peace and the face of
a friend.

He opened his eyes and looked up at the Smiling Lady. “The face of a
friend.” The thought did not quite satisfy him. Friendship seemed
lukewarm business for Witch Hill.

“I wonder,” he said, “whether you are as understanding as you seem.”

The laughter died out of her face. She looked at him with quiet eyes and
waited. She was used to confidences, this girl whom the Valley loved and
trusted.

“Could you understand a man’s having made a fool of himself over a
woman—all kinds of a fool—tossing aside his ideals and ambitions and
hopes for love of her, letting her fool him to the limit—and then
crawling away into hiding with his hurt and his bitterness?”

The Smiling Lady nodded gravely.

“Yes,” she said; “I could understand that.”

The man raised himself on his elbow and looked into the quiet eyes.
There were incredulity, wonder, and something that was part shame, part
gladness, and wholly boyish in his face.

“But if the man, after all his struggle and unhappiness, should suddenly
find himself whole, clean quit of the pain and the desire, glad of life
again and eager for happiness—could you understand that? This is a
place for oracles. Read me the riddle. What is a man worth to whom that
thing can happen?”

There was self-contempt in his voice, but pleading in his eyes. Perhaps,
in her merciful heart, this Smiling Lady could find charity for a man
who had wasted himself on a love that had not even the excuse of
greatness.

“He is worthy of what he can win,” the girl said gently.

“Nothing less Delphic than that for a man with the nine drops on his
lips?” Archibald urged. She shook her head.

“There’s no promise that the water will give him whatever he happens to
want,” she said. “He’s to win his heart’s desire; but he must prove that
he knows the one desire of his heart and is worthy of it, before it is
given to him.—That’s the way I’d read the riddle.”

He thought it over and nodded assent.

“That’s fair—but when he has proved it?—”

She sprang to her feet and stood looking out over the Valley.

“Then he will meet the Wonderful Thing,” she said. She laughed as she
said it, striving to put their talk back into the realm of whimsy; but
her eyes were very sweet, and looking down into them the man, who had
risen and stood beside her, had a vague glimpse of the Wonderful Thing
coming to meet him along mysterious, enchanted ways.

They rode home through the sunset, and Archibald stayed for supper in
the house among the maples, but after that moment on the hilltop, their
talk was all of impersonal things. The girl led and the man followed.
They discussed the advisability of draining the east meadow and the
probable effect of spraying the cabbages with kerosene emulsion and the
Valley’s need of a social center. Not for an instant was sentiment
allowed to show its head, yet Archibald went back to the shack with a
singing heart He wakened the next morning with an odd sense of having
journeyed in a far country and come back to a familiar world where all
was not quite as it had been before his going; and, puzzling over the
change, he came face to face with the truth. He was in love with the
Smiling Lady. He had been in love with her ever since his first glimpse
of her; but it had taken Witch Hill magic to clear the fog from his
brain. He sprang from bed hastily, eager to be up and about, in a world
new made; and Pegeen, in the kitchen, heard him whistling gaily as he
dressed. The past clutched at him and he shook it off with a laugh.
Ghosts were foolish, futile things—but his whistle ceased abruptly on a
high note as, looking eagerly into the future, he was confronted by a
man with graying hair and tired eyes. He had forgotten Meredith; and,
for a moment, the thought of him sluiced his warm happiness with
chilling doubt; but he shook it off, too. Hadn’t the nine drops touched
his lips and wasn’t he sure now, sure beyond possibility of mistake,
that he knew his heart’s desire?

His mood of exultant happiness lasted until he met Nora Moran again.
Then its glad certainty wavered and doubts came creeping in; for things,
in the prosaic Valley world, were not as they had been on Witch Hill. In
some mysterious way, his lady had clothed herself in aloofness. It was
not that she was not kind. There was nothing of which he could take
hold, nothing of which he could demand an explanation. She was very
friendly, very gracious, but the old intimacy was lacking and not, by
any force or strategy, could he manage to see her alone. For some
reason, she had gone within herself and gently closed the door; and,
though he rebelled against her withdrawal, he was afraid he understood
it. She had taken alarm, there beside the Witch’s Well, had realized
that he wanted more than friendship, and, being promised to another
man— Yes; that must be it. She was not free and she wanted to warn him
in time, before there could be need of words, before he could give her
face to his heart’s desire and take the wrong road for happiness.

That was like the Smiling Lady. She was no cheap coquette. It was not in
her to deal unfairly. If she had given her love, even if she had given
only her promise to some one else, then she was doing only what a woman
like her would do; and he must accept it as a man she could make her
friend would accept it. Only—there was a chance that he was misreading
her mood, that gossip was wrong, that Meredith was nothing more to her
than an old and dear friend. While there was a doubt, one might fight
against exile.

In his perplexity he turned to Ellen. She had always shown her liking
for him. She would tell him the truth, unless loyalty to her mistress
forbade. One afternoon, when he had ridden up to the house among the
maples only to be told that its lady was out and away somewhere, he
spoke what was in his thought.

“What is it, Ellen?”

The old woman looked at him kindly with her shrewd, far-seeing eyes, but
was noncommittal.

“Sure, there’s nothin’, sir. Herself is away somewhere for a walk. She’s
fair set on roamin’ these days.”

He brushed evasion aside.

“Tell me, Ellen, if you can tell me without betraying confidence; Is
Miss Moran engaged to this Mr. Meredith of whom I hear?”

The homely Irish face softened to sympathy for an instant, then went
back to its reserve.

“She is that, sir.”

There were other questions burning his lips, but he forced them back.
One does not ask a servant whether her mistress loves the man she means
to marry.

“Thank you, Ellen,” he said simply, as he turned away. He was in the
saddle, when the woman who had stood watching him stepped to his side.

“’Twas her father’s doin’, God rest his soul,” she said. Before he could
answer, she had gone swiftly into the house.

Archibald rode away, repeating the words to himself. “’Twas her father’s
doin’.” Now, why had she told him that? Did she mean him to understand
that the girl’s own heart was not in the marriage? Did she think that it
lay in his power to interfere? Did she believe that her mistress cared
more for him than for the man she had promised to marry? For a moment or
two, his heart beat high. Then again it was a leaden weight. The Smiling
Lady was not to be swept off her feet by any lover. Since she had given
her word to Meredith, perhaps to her father too,—No; she would not
listen, if he should plead; and, even if she would, there were things no
fellow could do. He had never believed that all was fair either in love
or in war.

It was Mrs. Neal who brought him word of Meredith’s arrival. She
billowed into the shack one morning to borrow some coffee and settled
into the largest of the chairs to rest and gossip, while Pegeen went
after the coffee.

“Met Miss Moran’s beau yet?” she asked. “No? Well, I guess he just come
yesterday. They went by our house this morning and she stopped to ask
about a ham I’d promised her. Pretty as a picture, she looked. Pinkish,
soft sort of a veil around her head, and her cheeks pinker. They make a
mighty hansome couple. I’ll say that for them, even if he is mite old
for her. I should say he’d make a first-rate husband—kind as any woman
could ask. You can see that in his face and in his ways, only he can’t
help being quiet and a little bit stiff—kind of like a pudding where
you’ve used too much gelatin but got the flavor all right. John, that
works down at Miss Moran’s, told Neal last night that he’d heard they
was going to be married this fall and go off to Egypt or some heathen
place like that for the winter. I tell you, the Valley’ll miss Miss
Moran.”

“Yes; she’ll be missed.” Archibald admitted.

“Peggy,” he said, after their neighbor had gone away, “you’ll have to
keep me hard at my gardening and my neighboring. It isn’t going to be
easy for me to be contented all the time.”

“Yessir.” There was a trace of anxiety in her ready smile. Something was
wrong in his face and voice and she was quick to notice it. “The garden
doesn’t need much now; but neighbors always need a lot. Shall we go and
see the Kelleys this afternoon? He’s up now; but he isn’t well enough to
work and she says he gets awfully lonesome and discouraged.”

In their way to the Kelleys they stopped at the house under the maples.
Archibald proposed it. He wanted to meet the man the Smiling Lady was
going to marry; wanted to meet him and have done with it. When a dream
refused to lie down decently and die of its own accord, the thing to do
with it was to kill it and the sooner, the better.

So he and Pegeen made their call on the Smiling Lady, finding a warm
welcome—and Richard Meredith, which was what Archibald had expected. He
took the measure of the man, as he shook hands with him and,
involuntarily, his hand tightened. This was a man. He liked the quiet
manner, the quiet voice, the air of distinction, the refinement and
strength of the mouth, the kindness in the eyes—but, as he noted the
fine lines about the kind eyes and the gray hair above them, his heart
cried out Ellen’s protest. Springtime was mating time.

The Smiling Lady was quiet, too, that afternoon. She and Archibald
talked together over the teacups, while Pegeen sat in the hammock with
Richard Meredith—at his invitation; and the teacup talk of casual
things was punctuated by gay little peals of laughter from the child and
deeper answering laughter from the man beside her. They seemed to be
getting on famously together, those two.

“Do you know,” Pegeen announced to Archibald, when an hour later they
rode away, “I honestly believe I could see to Mr. Meredith after all. I
never really talked to him before and he isn’t a bit the way I thought
he was. He isn’t proud inside atall; and, if he wasn’t going to marry
Miss Moran, so that he can’t possibly need anything, I’d think he sort
of needed seeing to. There’s a lonesomey look in his eyes.”

“That’s better than a lonesomey feeling in his heart,” Archibald said
with a shade of bitterness in his voice. Meredith was all right; but he
didn’t care to hear Peggy praising him.

They turned into the back road as he spoke; and, far ahead, by the
roadside, he saw a willow tree mourning forlornly over a tumble-down
cottage. A sudden whim seized him.

“Why don’t you take him on?” the Smiling Lady had asked. Perhaps, some
very strenuous neighboring would be good for this bitter mood of his.



                                   IX


“Peg,” Archibald said, “let’s call on Ezra Watts.”

She looked surprised, a bit doubtful, but her sporting blood rose.

“All right,” she agreed promptly. “He won’t let us neighbor and I expect
the dirt’s something terrible; but I’d just as soon.”

As they dismounted in front of the cottage, Ezra’s terrier came running
out of the door. He was barking, but not angrily—urgently rather.

“You’d think he was inviting us in,” Pegeen said, as she watched the dog
run toward the door, come back to bark eagerly, and run forward again.

“More hospitable than his master, I should say,” Archibald commented. “I
wonder if the man is home.”

They reached the door which stood partly open, and rapped on it.

No sound came from within. Archibald rapped again. The terrier ran
through the opening and barked encouragement across his shoulder.

“I believe something’s the matter,” said Pegeen suddenly. “Let’s go in.”

She pushed the door open and before Archibald could stop her stepped
inside. He followed her and they stood in a filthy little room that had
once been the parlor of the house. Moldy paper was hanging from the
walls. Much of the plaster had fallen from the ceiling and lay where it
fell. One or two rickety chairs were the only attempt at furnishing and
the accumulated dirt of years littered the floor.

No one was in sight, but the dog ran on into a back room and from there
the intruder heard a low mumbling voice.

“Stay here, Peg,” Archibald said authoritatively. “He’s drunk.”

But her instinct drove her quickly forward, in spite of his command.

“He’s sick,” she said.

Standing in the second doorway they looked into a room as dirty and
neglected as the first, but they did not notice walls or ceiling or
floor, for on a cot by the farther wall lay Ezra Watts, haggard,
ghastly, purple-faced, unseeing, tossing restlessly on an unspeakably
dirty bed and muttering meaningless things.

With a little cry of pity, Pegeen ran toward him, but Archibald caught
her in his arms and lifting her bodily, carried her into the next room.

“Listen, Peg,” he said quietly, as he put her down. “The man has fever.
There’s no telling what the disease is. I can’t have you taking chances.
You can help most by getting on Zip and riding down to Miss Moran’s to
telephone for Doctor Fullerton. Tell him what’s wrong and that I want
him at once. Then ask Miss Moran for some old linen she can spare and
some soap and bring them to me.”

“But you’re going to stay,” she protested.

“And who’ll take care of me if I get sick unless you keep in shape for
it?”

The argument was overwhelming. She allowed him to lift her to the saddle
and pelted away down the road at a breakneck pace, while Archibald went
back into the house.

He found an old stove in the kitchen and made a fire in it Then he
filled a kettle with fresh water and set it over the fire.

Whatever the doctor’s verdict was, hot water was sure to be needed in
that house.

Pegeen was back in a few minutes.

“Miss Moran and Mr. Meredith have gone motoring,” she said breathlessly,
as Archibald lifted her from the horse, “but Ellen’s coming. John’s
going to bring her over in the cart. I’ve got some sheets and towels and
a blanket and a cake of soap, but she’ll have more linen and scrubbing
brushes and lots of cleaning things. There comes the doctor now. I hear
his car.”

A muddy battered roadster came plunging up the crooked road at reckless
speed and a tall, wiry, competent-looking man sprang out of it.

“Just caught me. I was rolling out of the yard when they yelled after
me. Didn’t even have to crank up. So the germs have downed Ezra at last!
Nature does get back at a man in time. Lord, what a hole!”

He went briskly through the front room, growling anathemas at the
foulness, and bent over the tossing, muttering man on the bed with as
lively an interest as though the patient had not been the black sheep of
the Valley.

A body was a body to Dr. Fullerton, and his business was saving bodies.
The harder the battle, the greater his interest and enjoyment. As to the
value of the salvage to the community—that was the community’s
business.

“I’ll patch up the tenements,” he said to the gentle, nervous, little
Protestant minister in Pisgah. “It’s up to you and Father Rafferty to
see that your people lead decent lives in them.”—But when the little
man or the priest needed backing up with work or money, it was usually
Dr. Fullerton who lent the hand or the dollars.

He was all doctor as he examined Ezra Watts, keen eyed, deft fingered,
intent, but as he straightened himself and looked down at the dirty,
unshaven face, the keenness gave way to kindliness in his eyes.

“Nothing contagious,” he said shortly. “Pneumonia with some
complications. Not much show for him except in his tough constitution.
He never did drink, for all his cussedness; and that’s in his favor now.
Fed himself enough, such as it was and it was plain food with no
knick-knacks. That counts for him too. It’s the high-living, robust
fellows that wink out with pneumonia. Shouldn’t wonder if we’d pull him
through provided we can get him clean without killing him. Got to have a
scrubber and a nurse here and quick about it.”

“How about me?” Archibald asked. “Strong and willing at scrubbing and
nursing but not a professional in either line.”

“Call Peggy,” ordered the doctor. “She’s one of my best nurses; but you
and I’ll have to turn in and give him a bath before we hand him over to
her.”

Archibald found Pegeen fairly dancing with eagerness and impatience on
the doorstep. “Oh, my stars, I’m so glad it isn’t catching,” she said,
darting past him into the sick room. “I couldn’t have stood it not to be
able to see him. There’s such a splendid lot to do. It’s awful when
there isn’t anything you can do but sit around and wait. This is the
very best chance I ever had.”

“Well, you keep the fire roaring in the kitchen,” ordered the doctor,
“and warm some of those towels and the blanket for us and see that
there’s plenty of hot water. Archibald and I are going to give Ezra’s
system the worst shock it has had since childhood. After that’s over,
you can help us clean the front room a bit and move him in there.”

She flew into the kitchen with the towels and blanket, quick, noiseless,
radiant.

Dr. Fullerton grinned as he watched her go.

“Funny what a passion for seeing to people that youngster has,” he said,
“and what a corker she is at it, too. She’s helped me in some tight
places, child as she is. Once it was sewing a man up—bad mowing-machine
accident. His wife couldn’t stand by; but Peg could. White as a sheet,
but never batted an eye until she’d done all I needed. Then she went
away quietly into the yard and keeled over in a faint—but not till her
job was done, mind you. That’s Peg.”

Ellen and John arrived during the progress of the bath, and, within an
hour, the sick man lay between white, lavender-scented sheets in a room
that, while forlorn, was amazingly clean.

“When he comes out of the fever, he’ll think he’s died and gone to
hell,” Dr. Fullerton prophesied. “A clean eternity would be about the
worst future Ezra could figure out. Who’s going to look after him, while
I see to some of my other patients?”

“Me,” announced Peg, making up in enthusiasm what she lacked in grammer.
“Boots is at Mrs. Neal’s and it won’t hurt Wiggles and Spunky and
Peterkin to go without supper once, and Ellen’ll give you some supper,
Mr. Archibald. Won’t you, Ellen?”

“Miss Nora would want me to be staying here,” protested Ellen.

Archibald settled the question.

“Peg and I will stay,” he said, “and maybe Ellen will send John over
with a bite for us. We’ll have provisions in here by to-morrow and the
back room fit to be lived in. He couldn’t be moved, I suppose, Doctor?”

Dr. Fullerton shook his head.

“Finish him,” he said. “I’ll have Miss Kirby down from Albany to-morrow
morning. She’s the only nurse I know who likes cases of this sort—eats
’em up. Can’t be too bad for her. Only thing she balks at is a sick
millionaire. Abnormal woman, but a rattling good nurse.”

“Couldn’t I—” began Pegeen. She looked woefully disappointed.

“You couldn’t.” The doctor was firm. “Not until after he’s over the
ridge one way or the other. Then there’ll be enough for you and anybody
that applies. Just shows what a frost virtue is. I’ve had highly
respectable patients neglected and here’s a spirited contest for the
privilege of taking care of Ezra, who’s as worthless a customer as you’d
find in a day’s journey.”

“Oh, Doctor, he’s so sick!” Pegeen was distressed, shocked.

“But he’s not dead. It’s only after they’re dead that we can’t speak ill
of them. I’m not going to let Ezra die, so I feel perfectly free to tell
the truth about him. There’s the medicine. Nothing much to do at this
stage of the game. I’ll be back in an hour and bring a tank of oxygen
down to have it handy. Don’t you fret, Peggy. He’s going to rob many a
hen-roost yet.”

He went away, driving in utter defiance of the speed laws. John and
Ellen drove off home, and Peg and Archibald sat down in two of the
rickety chairs near the bed upon which the transformed Ezra lay,
breathing heavily.

“This, Miss Pegeen O’Neill, is what comes of neighboring,” said
Archibald.

“Yes; isn’t it splendid?” Peg was important, shiny-eyed.

“Well, come to think of it, I don’t know but what it is,” admitted the
man.

“Doesn’t he look different when he’s clean?”—Pegeen lowered her voice
to sick-room pitch, but she was too excited to keep still and Ezra would
not hear.

“Even so he’s not beautiful,”—Archibald studied the face on the pillow
as he spoke. A weak, evil face it was even now when the man’s spirit did
not look out through his eyes, but Peg’s tender heart could not find
helplessness quite unbeautiful.

“I sort of think he was a good looking little boy,” she said. “His nose
is straight and nice and his mouth could have been real sweet if he
hadn’t spoiled it. I shouldn’t wonder a bit if his mother’d been awfully
proud of him when she got him all fixed up to go somewhere.”

Her face was wistful, sweet with pity for the little boy of the long
ago, whom life had wrecked, and the picture her words had called up made
Archibald look at the sick man with kinder eyes.

“Oh, Peg! Peg!” he murmured softly, “what a friend to sinners and
weaklings you are!”

“They’ve got to have friends,” said Pegeen.

The doctor came back after a while. The Smiling Lady and Richard
Meredith came too, and Mrs. Benderby, after her day of ironing and her
three-mile walk home, toiled up the Back Road to see if there was
anything she could do to help. Mr. Neal rode over and offered to spend
the night, but, in the end, Archibald and the doctor stayed. Pegeen,
protesting stoutly, was carried off home by Miss Moran.

“Nothing you could do to-night, Peggy,” said the doctor. “Save your
ammunition.”

Life and Death stood beside the bed in the little house on the Back Road
that night; but it was Death who turned and went away in the gray of the
morning.

“He’ll do now,” said the doctor, “but it was touch and go for a while.
The oxygen held him. Sometimes I wonder—”

His strong jaw set once more in fighting grimness— “But it isn’t up to
me to wonder. Beating Death, in a catch-as-catch-can, is my end of the
job, and I rather think I’ve downed him this time. What life will do
with the man is another story.”

“I’d like to help tell the story,”—Archibald had never stood by in such
a fight as the doctor had fought that night and the experience had left
him with a humble consciousness of his own uselessness, a strong desire
to play a manlier part.

Dr. Fullerton looked at him sharply from under heavy eyebrows that gave
his face a misleading fierceness.

“Don’t sentimentalize, man,” he said bluntly. “It takes people that way
sometimes—running up against Death and barely slamming the door in his
face—but don’t imagine the close shave will change Ezra any more than
his bath will. He’ll be as mean and as dirty as ever in a few weeks.
We’ve done our damnedest for him to-night, but we’re the ones benefited
by it. Life’s a doubtful blessing to Ezra. Help him if you want to, but
do it with your eyes open and because you want to, not because you
expect to reform him. He isn’t the reforming kind.”

Archibald thought his words over after he had gone. Probably they were
true—but on their heels came other words. “I believe there’s a decent
scrap of Soul hidden away somewhere in Ezra, hidden so deep that he
himself doesn’t suspect it’s there,” Nora Moran had said.

“I shouldn’t wonder a bit if his mother had been awfully proud of him.”
It was Pegeen who had said that.

Who could tell? One needn’t sentimentalize, but one might as well give a
man the benefit of the doubt. That was neighboring.

The nurse from Albany came and ate up the case, according to prophecy,
but in a few days she went away to meet direr needs, and then Pegeen’s
turn came. She was in her element, and Ezra, a limp edition of his
former self, showed a flattering satisfaction in the change from Miss
Kirby’s ministrations to Peggy’s. Surliness was as natural to him as
breathing and he was no angel patient; but it was quite useless to be
surly with Peg. She ignored it, and went her cheerful, tolerant way,
coddling, coaxing, encouraging, tyrannizing, amusing, unmoved by
stubbornness or rudeness or anger or ingratitude, obeying the doctor’s
orders and, where the orders ended, “seeing to” Ezra according to her
own ideas of the way the thing should be done.

Archibald, and Miss Moran, and Mrs. Benderby, stayed with her in turn,
but the case was hers, and Dr. Fullerton always addressed her as “Nurse
O’Neill,” to her profound satisfaction.

Archibald missed her miserably at the shack. Mrs. Benderby was looking
after him. She had called the doctor in as he drove by one evening
during the first week of Ezra’s illness; and after an examination he had
told her kindly but frankly that her days for hard work were over.

“You may live for many years,” he said; “live comfortably, too, but no
more washing and ironing and scrubbing, Mrs. Benderby. We’ll have to
find something easier for you to do.”

He spoke as though finding it would be the simplest matter imaginable
and indeed it proved so; for Archibald, temporarily bereft of Peggy and
robbed of self-reliance through many weeks of being “seen to” by that
young person, was desperately in need of feminine ministrations.

“Just the thing for you,” the doctor said heartily, as he told Mrs.
Benderby of Archibald’s forlorn plight “When Peg gets through with Ezra
we’ll have something else for you.” So there were good meals and
cleanliness at the shack, but oh, the loneliness of the place! Mrs.
Benderby was devoted, she was kind, but she had her limitations. Pegeen,
so it seemed to Archibald as he sighed for her, had none. He was lonely
without her, infernally lonely, and he told her so. She was distressed
about it, but Ezra needed her most and that settled the matter so far as
she was concerned.

“I’m homesick. I’m most crazy to go home,” she confessed, “but I
wouldn’t for anything. Sometimes I think he most likes me; but he’s
dreadfully ashamed of it. He’s dreadfully ashamed of any nice feeling he
has. Isn’t that funny? After he says anything pleasant, he swears right
off quick for fear you’ll think he meant it. I do wish I could get him
used to being nice so it wouldn’t hurt him the way it does.”

Even Pegeen could not quite achieve that—Ezra progressed to the point
of being nice occasionally but it always hurt him, and only to Peggy did
he even make the concession of being very intermittently “nice.”

For Archibald and the doctor and all the rest he wore as lowering a face
and as ungracious a manner as though they had been cruelly abusing him
instead of saving his life and paying his expenses. Archibald found the
thing rather discouraging, but Dr. Fullerton laughed over it
unconcernedly.

“Great Scott, man,” he said, when they talked of it one day after a
visit to the rapidly convalescing invalid, “I don’t pull my patients
through because I expect gratitude. I do it because it’s playing the
game. That’s the only satisfaction that amounts to anything. Pick out a
white man’s game and play it for all there is in you. Then life’s worth
living.”



                                   X


The day came when Ezra was well enough to shift for himself and he gave
every one—including Pegeen—to understand that he was glad to be rid of
intruders.

“It’ll seem mighty good to get back to living as I please,” he said, as
Peg, calmly autocratic to the last, gave him a dose of medicine before
joining the doctor who was waiting to drive her home.

“I’ll bet it doesn’t.” She was amiable but positive. “You’ll hate it and
I’m sorry you’ve got to do it, but I think maybe you’ll take better care
of yourself than you did. Don’t forget your medicine after meals. If you
get into any trouble I’ll come over and see to you.”

Ezra grunted derision, but she held out her hand and smiled up at him so
whole-heartedly that he was surprised into an answering smile.

“You’re a queer one,” he said, “but you’re better than most.” It was
grudging, inadequate, but coming from Ezra it was glowing tribute, and
Peggy went out to the car in high spirits.

“I’m going to miss Ezra,” she said as the doctor tucked her in. “Of
course he isn’t like Mr. Archibald, but I’ve got real fond of him.”

“Holy Smoke!” commented Dr. Fullerton.

“I have,” she insisted, “and I’m sure now that he likes me. He said I
was better than most. That’s a lot for Ezra to say.”

“It’s impassioned eulogy,” said the doctor,—“but, Peg, speaking in cold
blood, as doctor to nurse and without any of Ezra’s overflowing
sentiment, I’ll admit that you _are_ better than most. You really ought
to be trained for a nurse, Peg.”

The small girl’s face flushed with happiness at the praise.

“It’d be lovely,” she said, “but I can’t, because I’m going to be
married and I guess my own children will keep me pretty busy. I do hope
they’ll have measles and whooping cough and all those things early. It’s
so much better, isn’t it? And it’ll take a lot of time for eight of them
to have everything.”

“That’s a fact. It will,” agreed the doctor. “You’re counting on eight?”

She nodded.

“Yes; I guess that’s enough unless you have perfect stacks of money. I
want them all to go to school. School’s so lovely. I’d have liked
awfully to go more, but there was always somebody to see to.”

Dr. Fullerton gave her arm an affectionate little squeeze.

“You know more than any of the rest of us as it is, Peg. Schooling you
would have been ‘gilding refined gold and painting the lily.’ I’ll tell
you what I’ll do. I’ll undertake to see all eight of those children
through whooping cough and measles and any blamed thing they choose to
have and I won’t charge you a cent for it.”

Pegeen looked immeasurably relieved.

“That’ll be perfectly splendid,” she said happily. “Doctor’s bills do
make lots of trouble.”

“They trouble the doctors.”

Dr. Fullerton grinned ruefully as he admitted it. A very large
percentage of his patients showed absolutely no interest in his bills
when he sent them.

Archibald and Wiggles were waiting for Pegeen at the meadow bars and
each welcomed her after his own fashion. Wiggles was the more exuberant
of the two. Only by sheer force was he kept from meeting a sudden and
violent death in his wild effort to climb into the car before it
stopped; and when the small girl finally stood by the roadside, he gave
an exhibition of hysterical affection ill befitting one of his stern
sex. Archibald merely took his pipe from his mouth and came forward to
lift Peg from the car, with a quiet, “Well, here you are, Nurse
O’Neill,” but the satisfaction in his face was good to see, and Dr.
Fullerton chuckled over it as he went spinning on down the Valley.

“That youngster has lit on her feet,” he told himself contentedly.
“Hanging over those bars watching for her, for an hour, I’ll bet. Wonder
how much money the man has anyway.”

Meanwhile the three he had left behind on the roadside were going
happily up the meadow slope to the shack. Archibald and Peg went hand in
hand and, as usual, she accommodated her pace to his long easy stride by
a system of two steps and a skip, while Wiggles gyrated excitedly about
the two, yelping his joy.

“Glad to come home, child?” the man asked.

She squeezed his hand lovingly.

“I’m so glad I’d like to do what Wiggles is doing,” she said. “I feel as
if I’d been away two months instead of two weeks.”

“Make it two years,” he amended. “That’s the length of time I’ve spent
missing you. What did I do before you happened to me, Peg?”

“You needed seeing to. Gracious! You’ve been doing something to the
house!”

He looked just a trifle embarrassed, doubtful.

“See here, Peg,” he said bluntly. “I never did like your trotting back
and forth night and morning and looking after Mrs. Benderby at all sorts
of unearthly hours.”

“That doesn’t hurt me,” she protested.

“Well, it hurt me and things are different now. I didn’t tell you about
Mrs. Benderby because I thought it might worry you, but Dr. Fullerton
says she has to stop going out by the day.—Not seriously ill, you know,
but she’ll have to let up on very hard work.”

“Oh, dear, isn’t that dreadful.” Pegeen’s eyes were flooded with
anxiety. “Isn’t it lucky I’ve got some money? The rent’s seven dollars
and then meals—but I’ll have plenty this summer and then maybe she’ll
be better, and—”

“Bless your dear heart,” Archibald interrupted. “You aren’t going to
spend your money on her. I’ll look out for her—glad to—only it seemed
to me—she’s got used to being up here now and seems to like it and she
could relieve you of the cooking—and I don’t know how you feel about
it, but I thought I’d like to have both of you stay here with me. I had
the carpenter knock up a couple of rooms at the side of the shack.”

She stopped in the path and stared at him, shining eyed, wondering.

“Oh, my stars!” she said in a hushed little voice. “My stars!”

“Don’t you like the idea?” he asked anxiously.

“Like it!” The wonder in her face broke up into little ripples of
delight. “Like it! Why it’s perfectly splendid! It’s the loveliest thing
I ever heard of! I could sit down and cry the way I did when the
larkspur happened—but think of you wanting us—Mrs. Benderby too! And
everybody thought you didn’t like folks at all!”

“I thought so myself,” admitted Archibald; “but you see I hadn’t ever
really known anyone.”

“Well, I’ve got to run. I’ve simply got to. Walking’s no good when you
feel the way I do, and I can’t wait to see the new rooms.”

She scampered off up the path, with Wiggles barking joyously before her,
and when Archibald reached the shack at a more leisurely gait she had
inspected the new rooms and was sitting in the living-room, Wiggles at
her feet, Boots in her lap, and Spunky on her shoulder, while Mrs.
Benderby stood with her hands on her hips looking down adoringly at the
Small Person in the chair.

“I’m home! I’m home! I’m home!” Pegeen was singing to the laughing baby.

“We’re all home now,” Archibald said, as he stood in the doorway and
looked at her. “You _are_ the home, Peggy child.”

Supper that night was a party. The Smiling Lady had sent John over with
a big bunch of glorious blue larkspur. “Peg’s ‘glad’ flower is the
flower for you all, to-night,” said the word that came with it.

And Mrs. Benderby had made a cake with pink icing and an amazing design
in little red candies around the edge of it, and there was ice cream, a
contribution from Mrs. Neal.

“It’s like a birthday—only I never had this kind of a birthday,” said
Pegeen, as she beamed across the blue flowers that, for all their
gladness, were not so glad as her face, while Mrs. Benderby, torn
between her ideal of the solemnity appropriate in waiting on a city
gentleman and her sympathetic joy, hovered round the table with relays
of hot biscuit and fried chicken, and Wiggles, having been
surreptitiously presented with a chicken leg, by Peg—a thing entirely
against her own rules—sat on his haunches and begged for more.

Boots was asleep in the hammock and Spunky, true to feline type, assumed
a profound indifference and sat on the hearth with her front paws folded
cozily under her and a bored look on her little gray face.

“You are going to have this kind of birthdays from now on—only more
so,” Archibald announced. “This is just an unbirthday party. Wait till
you see your birthday party. When _is_ your birthday, Peg?”

“September—the fifteenth. I’m glad I wasn’t born in winter. Spring
would have been nicest. I’d have liked being born along with everything
else.”

Archibald dissented.

“Wouldn’t have done at all,” he said firmly. “You were special—extra
special. Autumn needed you to keep it from being sad.”

Mrs. Benderby wouldn’t allow Pegeen to help with the dishes.

“Other nights, maybe, if you want to, but not to-night,” she insisted.
So, as the afterglow faded and the stars came out to look at a blithe
new moon Archibald and Peg sat once more on their familiar doorstep. For
a time they were both silent, listening to the night noises, watching
the play of moonlight and starlight across the meadow and the clutching
shadows on the wood’s edge.

“I wonder if Ezra took his medicine after supper,” Pegeen said suddenly.
“I’d most forgotten about him. Being terribly happy’s sort of selfish,
isn’t it?”

“Not when you are making other people happy by being happy, and you are
doing that.”

She pressed her cheek against his shoulder for an instant.

“Well, being so happy was what made me remember Ezra. I suppose he
doesn’t know what it feels like. You see, he can’t; because he doesn’t
love anybody. You can’t have the real, soaked-in, choky kind of being
happy unless you love somebody a whole lot and feel sure the somebody
loves you. I tried awfully hard to love Ezra. I did honestly, and I did
get real fond of him, but you can’t exactly love anybody that won’t be
lovable. You can feel sorry and kind and everything like that, but
loving’s different. I guess God’s the only one that can go right ahead
and love everybody no matter what they’re like. It doesn’t make any
difference about sinners. I could love sinners just as quick as scat, if
they were nice sinners that would love back; but I’m afraid God will
have to do the loving with Ezra. I can’t get any further than liking
him, even if he does swear and act ugly. I do hope he’ll take his
medicine and change the sheets.”

“Well, he won’t,” said Archibald encouragingly. “Ezra’s now engaged in
going back to the blanket literally and figuratively, but don’t fret
about him, Peg. We’ll do all we can for him, but you’re back on your old
job now and you’ll have to give your whole time and attention to seeing
to me.”

“And Mrs. Benderby and Boots and Wiggles and Spunky,” added Pegeen.
“Isn’t it a lovely family!—and just think of my having you all right
here together—not having to go away to see Mrs. Benderby or take Boots
home nights or anything. I used to hate leaving you and sometimes I’d
wake up in the night and worry for fear you’d get sick here all alone
with nobody to see to you, and I’d always hurry as fast as I could,
coming up in the morning for fear something had happened.”

“Bless you!” Archibald rumpled the thick black hair with an affectionate
hand. “I hated being left alone myself, not because I was afraid of
anything happening but because the place was forlorn without you. Peggy,
Peggy! How you do creep into hearts and settle down to housekeeping in
them!”



                                   XI


Mrs. Benderby proved herself a most satisfactory addition to the family.
Just at first there was a ripple on the surface because Pegeen jealously
resented any infringement of her rights in the matter of seeing to
Archibald, but the two had that out promptly and satisfactorily.

“It’s this way, Peg,” the man explained seriously. “Mrs. Benderby needs
something to do. She’ll feel dependent and unhappy if she isn’t allowed
to make herself useful, and the only way she can make herself useful is
by cooking and washing dishes. It’s different with you. Cooking and dish
washing were the least of the things you did for me. You did them mighty
well. I can’t deny that, but you’ve fed my heart and washed the cobwebs
out of my eyes, and you can afford to turn the cooking and dish washing
over to somebody else. I want you free to go with me anywhere at any
time. Your job is seeing to my heart and soul, Peggy O’Neill. As long as
you can do that why should you give a hoot who sees to my meals and
dishes?”

“I’m a pig! I’m a horrid little pig,” Peg always repented as
enthusiastically as she did everything else. “I’ll go and tell Mrs.
Benderby so right now. I was perfectly snippy to her about coddling your
eggs this morning, but she can coddle away just as she wants to, as long
as she gets them right. You’ve got to have them _right_ though, and,
please, I’d so much rather plan what you’re going to have for meals. I
can do it better. Honestly I can.”

“I haven’t a doubt of it,” said Archibald. “Plan away—only don’t grudge
Mrs. Benderby the cook stove and the dish pan.”

All went smoothly after that. There was more time for the neighboring
expeditions, for long walks and drives, for picnics, in which Jimmy
Dawes was usually included. He was Pegeen’s humble slave, although he
would have suffered tortures rather than admit it. He haunted the shack;
but, ostensibly, his devotion was for Archibald and the offerings he
laid at that amused young man’s feet were many. He brought Archibald
pailfuls of red raspberries. Pegeen adored red raspberries. He presented
Archibald with bunches of pink roses from Grandmother Dawes’ garden.
Pegeen was daft about pink roses. He caught fish for Archibald’s
breakfast. Fish was the thing Pegeen liked best for breakfast. But to
Peg, herself, the boy was painstakingly off-hand and brusk, giving her
plainly to understand that she was only a girl and must be kept in her
place. She submitted meekly and wound him around her finger, after the
immemorial fashion of girls, even of very small girls.

She wound Archibald around the same slim finger. He was what Peg would
have called “lonesomey” round the heart, during these long summer days,
and Pegeen was good for lonely hearts. A world in which she loved and
petted and companioned and made merry couldn’t be such a very forlorn
place; and making her happy was a consoling and satisfactory occupation.

The child’s thin little face had filled out. The old anxious look had
gone from her eyes. The promise of beauty was fast finding fulfilment.

“Have you noticed how lovely Peggy is, now-a-days?” Nora Moran asked
Archibald one afternoon, when he and she met in the Village store, while
Peg waited outside on Zip.

“She was always lovely.”

The Smiling Lady laughed at his quick protest.

“Always,” she agreed, “but she’s getting lovelier by the minute. One of
these days she will be wonderfully beautiful. There’s an exquisite
delicacy about her.”

“But she’s perfectly strong and well.”

Archibald’s voice held a note of alarm.

“Absolutely. I didn’t mean that she looked frail—but she’ll never be
the buxom, dashing kind. Her beauty won’t jump at you. It will haunt
you. I think that Irish type is the loveliest in the world—the black
hair and the deep blue eyes and the clear skin and the flush that comes
and goes—and when you add the sweetness of Peg’s mouth and the love in
her eyes and the freckles on her impertinent little nose—I rather think
those freckles are fading, though. They’ll soon be gone.”

“I’d miss them,” Archibald said regretfully. “And I hope she won’t be a
raving, tearing beauty. She’d break her heart because she couldn’t see
to all the sighing swains. I’m afraid she _is_ headed that way, though.
I’ve noticed it myself—and she’s better than good to look at. She has a
way with her.”

He talked lightly; but he didn’t believe that the black-haired,
blue-eyed type was the loveliest the world had to show. There was a
certain reddish gold hair that was neither brown nor auburn; and there
were eyes that were sometimes the color of sea water over sand and
sometimes violet and sometimes darkly gray— Still, Pegeen _was_
blooming like a wild rose. There was no doubt about that.

Jimmy noticed it, too. He commented upon it one day when Pegeen and he
had left Archibald smoking lazily, after a picnic lunch, and had gone
off in search of berries for dessert.

“You’re better looking than you used to be, Peg,” he said, staring
critically at her across a blueberry bush from which they were stripping
the fruit.

“Uh-huh,” agreed Pegeen. Her mouth being full of berries, she was
temporarily incapable of more eloquent assent.

Jimmy felt that he ought to snub her, for her soul’s good; but
really—in that pink sun-bonnet— Oh, well girls were funny.

“What are you going to do when Mr. Archibald goes off and gets married?”
he asked abruptly.

Pegeen choked over her mouthful of berries and looked at him, in
wide-eyed dismay.

“Jimmy Dawes, it isn’t so,” she cried.

“Silly!” Jimmy’s tone was kindly contemptuous. Girls always went off
half-cocked. “I didn’t say he was going right off now and get married. I
just asked you what you’d do when he did.”

“Maybe he won’t.” She tried to feel hopeful; but Jimmy wouldn’t allow
it.

“Maybe nothing! Of course he will.”

Peggy sat back on her heels and put her pail down. She had lost all
interest in berrying.

“Oh, Jimmy,” she sighed. “Whatever’d you make me think about that for?
Everything’s so nice just as it is.”

“Yes; but you’ll be getting married yourself some day. Then what’d he
do?”

She thought it over.

“Well, if he’d wait till I grow up he could marry me and then I could go
right on seeing him.”

“Catch him waiting!” Jimmy’s emphasis was scornful. It implied
disrespect for Pegeen’s charms; but she was not offended.

“No; I suppose not,” she agreed. “It’d be an awfully long time and he’d
be as old as anything. Well, anyway, he isn’t keeping company with
anybody now; and when he does go off and get married, I’ll just have to
do the best I can. Let’s go back. My pail’s full.”

As they stood up, side by side, the boy looked down at the girl and a
sudden red warmed the brown of his face.

“I’ll tell you what, Peg,” he said. “You grow up and marry me.”

“I’d love to.”

The cheerful promptness of the consent was most flattering; but, even at
fifteen, the wooer felt that something was lacking. For a moment he
hesitated, looking down into the frank blue eyes. Then he laughed and
took Peg’s pail of berries.

“Well, don’t you forget it. That’s all,” he said with masterful
gruffness, as he turned away to find the trail. He had never carried her
pail before. Somewhere back in Pegeen’s brain a disconcerting idea took
form. Jimmy was growing up. He’d be going away to school next, and Mr.
Archibald would get married and have a wife to see to him.

She followed Jimmy’s sturdy figure down the hill with lagging steps and
her face was very sober when they joined Archibald under the trees.

“Tired?” he asked.

She smiled at him; but the attempt wasn’t altogether successful.

“No, I’m not tired,” she said; “but, someway or other, I feel lonesome.”

He pulled her down on the grass and she curled up comfortably beside
him; but the subdued mood lasted.

“What’s the matter, Peg?” Archibald asked, as they stood in the doorway
of the shack, late that afternoon. He was in his riding clothes and off
to Pisgah to have Zip shod; but he stopped to put a finger under
Pegeen’s chin and turn her face up to his.

“Something’s wrong, dear. Tell me about it.”

Her long black lashes dropped over her woeful eyes, the wild rose flush
came into her cheeks, her lips quivered.

“Why, Peg!”

She hid her face against the front of his riding coat.

“It isn’t anything,” she said with a little sob in her voice. “Honestly,
it isn’t anything—only I’ll be so—l-lonesome, when somebody else sees
to you.”

For a moment he had a helpless sense of being a bungling man. Then he
sat down on the doorstep and pulled her down beside him.

“Now see here, Peg,” he said with simple seriousness. “You are too
sensible to spoil our happiness by worrying over things that may never
happen or over things that aren’t going to happen for a long time. One
of these days you’ll be going away to school. I’m going to attend to
that, and then you’ll be growing up and traveling in Europe and going
out in society and I’ll need somebody to see to me in the off times when
you’re too busy. And then you’ll be falling in love with some fine chap
and getting married and you’d feel mighty bad if you had to go off
knowing that there wasn’t anybody to see to me properly after you were
gone. Now wouldn’t you?”

“Y-y-yess,” faltered Peg. Her eyes were perceptibly more cheerful. The
bits about school and Europe had appealed to her imagination.

“There you are,” Archibald summed up triumphantly. “Of course I don’t
need any one else to see to me now, and I’m not going to have anybody,
and nobody could ever take your place; but when you do go away to school
and to Europe and all that, you’d rather have me married to somebody
than leave me all at loose ends, now wouldn’t you?”

Pegeen performed one of her amazing about-face movements.

“You’d have to be married,” she said firmly. “I wouldn’t budge a step,
unless you were.”

Archibald laughed.

“Well, then, that’s all right; but there’s no use bothering about it as
long as you and I can be together; and there’s small chance of my
marrying at all, Pegeen.”

The laughter had died out of him and he stood looking down the Valley
with eyes that did not see the meadows or the distant hills.

“You see, it’s this way, Peg. I can’t have the girl I want and there’s
no other.”

There was pain in his voice and Pegeen slipped a small hand into his.
Not a word did she say; but the grip of the little brown hand and the
sympathy in the great eyes were comforting things. He shook off the blue
devils and smiled down at her.

“So that’s how it is, Pegeen—and now I’m going to the blacksmith’s.”

Down in Pisgah, he found public opinion, as represented by the men
loafing about the smithy, in a ferment. There had been another barn
burning during the previous night and, though the value of the property
destroyed had been small, the fire seemed to have been the proverbial
last straw. Some of the bolder and younger spirits of the community were
outspoken in their determination to defy the law and take the matter
into their own hands.

“If there ain’t proof, then guesswork’ll have to do,” one of them said
to Archibald when he entered protest against the wild talk; and even the
older and more conservative men in the crowd nodded assent. The camel’s
back was broken. Valley patience had given out. No name was mentioned;
but there was no doubt as to the direction in which the guesswork would
point; and Archibald rode home, puzzling over the degree of his
responsibility for Ezra Watts. He was inclined to think with the rest of
the community, that Ezra was the barn burner; yet, though the suspected
man had been closely watched, nothing had been discovered to connect him
with the fires, except that sometimes he had been seen abroad on the
nights when they occurred. More than that was needed for justification
of rough handling and if the law could not reach Ezra, the best thing
that could happen for both him and the community would be for him to go
away before any violent outbreak could occur. Probably he would be only
too glad to go, if he were warned of the danger and given money to
smooth his way.



                                  XII


Archibald ate his late supper absent-mindedly and spent his evening, as
usual, with Pegeen and Wiggles and his pipe. Mrs. Benderby always dozed
in the kitchen after her supper dishes were washed, and Spunky, like her
big cousins of the jungle, always answered the call to good hunting when
the night closed in; but Pegeen and Wiggles and the man they loved kept
each other company in the living-room or on the doorstep and, whether
they were merry or quiet, all three found content at the day’s end, in
being together.

At their usual early bedtime, Pegeen rose and lighted the bedroom
candles; but, instead of taking his candle, Archibald reached for his
cap which hung beside the door. He had decided to see Ezra before he
slept and send him away from the Valley, if any reasonable amount of
persuasion or money would move him.

“I’m not sleepy, Peg,” he said. “No; nothing wrong. Never felt better.
I’m just wide awake. Go to bed and don’t lie there listening for me.
Wiggles and I are going to prowl.”

The drowsing dog whacked his tail sleepily against the floor, at the
sound of his name, yawned elaborately, opened his eyes, and saw the cap
in his master’s hand. Whereupon he forsook all idea of sleep and
converted himself into a canine battering ram, until finally assured
that he was invited to join in whatever the cap might mean.

The two went out into the warm, star-lit night; and Pegeen stood looking
after them until the shadowy figures melted into the dark.

“I suppose it’s Her,” she said to herself, with a sigh, “but he didn’t
seem so awfully, blue. I’m glad he took Wiggles.”

Wiggles was glad too, exuberantly glad. Night wandering was an unusual
experience for him. In the early evening, he curled up close to his
master or to the small girl who shared his allegiance and no temptation
was strong enough to lure him beyond the sound of their voices or the
touch of their hands. When they went off to bed, responsibility fell
weightily upon him. A watch dog had no right to night roaming and
Wiggles knew it. So, though sometimes his yellow body quivered with
eagerness when distant night noises called him and his sharp nose
sniffled excitedly at the scents that came to him on the night breeze,
he kept faith with the sleepers in the shack and watched over them with
unswerving fidelity as only a yellow mongrel dog knows.

But now he was out and away with a clear conscience and with his master
for companion, and he made the most of the happy chance. Such frantic
following of fresh smelly trails! Such wild yelping at stone walls where
wood-chucks lurked! Such mad pursuit of little furry folk, going about
their night business! Such excited returns to his master and futile
efforts to tell him all about the things that, being only a man, he
could not see or smell or hear!

“Larks, eh, Wiggles?” Archibald said laughingly, as the dog dashed back
to him with the news of most prodigious occurrences further along the
road.

Wiggles leaped up at him joyously, then, lighting on all four feet,
stiffened and listened to something behind them. A moment later, the
man’s duller ears caught the sound of galloping hoofs. He stepped out of
the road, wondering idly that so many riders should be out; and, as a
dozen men swept by him, he peered curiously through the gloom. The night
veiled the men’s faces and they passed too quickly for recognition; but
as they went, a laugh and an oath from one of them gave him a clue. Lem
Tollerton’s voice! It had been loud enough and insistent enough at the
smithy that afternoon to fix itself in Archibald’s memory; and as he
heard it again a suspicion leaped into his brain. What had brought Lem
Tollerton and his crew down the Valley? Ezra? Conviction came on the
heels of the suspicion. Ezra, of course. Just what the night riders
meant to do with the man, he did not know. Lem had talked of tar and
feathers; but men did not carry tar and feathers on horseback. Whipping,
probably. Archibald remembered Mr. Neal’s story of the Jew peddler and
winced at the thought. Perhaps Ezra deserved a thrashing; but there was
a slender chance that he was the wrong man.

With a sudden tightening of the jaw that meant action, Archibald turned
from the road and swung himself over the wall.

“Come on, Wiggles,” he called. There was a little ring of excitement in
his voice. “Maybe we can beat them to it, by the short cut.”

Wiggles was willing—delighted. He did not know just what the new game
was and it interfered with his hunting; but, since his master wanted to
run, run they would, and the meadow turf was softer than the road and
altogether life had become gloriously eventful. He raced along beside
the running man, with occasional side steps, when provocation proved too
strong, and scurrying haste to catch up after each lapse. Together, the
two came to the wall bordering the Back Road, climbed it and found
themselves within sight of Ezra Watts’ cottage, but, just as they
dropped from the wall, the same riders who had passed them ten minutes
before clattered by them again.

Archibald stood still for a moment or two to regain the breath he had
lost in his dash across fields. When he ran down the road, the horsemen
had already stopped before the cottage and one of them was pounding on
the door.

“Come out of that before we smoke you out.” It was Lem Tollerton’s voice
again and the profanity with which he elaborated his command was more
eloquent than decent. The riders were all yelling now, accusing,
cursing, threatening. Drunk, every one of them—Archibald realized it
with a sinking of the heart. Reasoning with drunken men was fruitless
business and he was one man against twelve. Ezra did not count. Still he
pelted on, with Wiggles at his heels. As he joined the group before the
cottage, the door opened and Ezra appeared in the doorway. His face was
livid with fear, and the picture he made in the light of the dark
lantern which one of the riders carried was not one to rouse sympathy.
If ever a criminal, face to face with retribution, looked the part, the
cringing wretch in the doorway looked it.

“What d’ye want?” he snarled, his little ferret eyes searching this way
and that for a chance of escape.

“You,” Lem Tollerton answered tersely. He seized the shrinking figure,
jerked it down the steps, and handed it over to two men with ropes in
their hands. Then, stepping back among the mounted men, he took a heavy
horsewhip from one of them.

Archibald waited no longer.

“See here, men, this sort of thing doesn’t go in a civilized community,”
he said. “You’d better stop feeling and do some thinking.”

The quiet voice was as cheerfully conversational as though the stage had
not been set for melodrama; and the lean, nonchalant intruder to whom
the night had suddenly given birth stood with his hands in his pockets
and a half smile on his lips; but there was a look in his eyes that made
the men nearest him glance apprehensively at the pockets and back away.
Some of them pulled their hats low over their eyes. One or two wheeled
their horses around, as though for flight; but Lem Tollerton was made of
sterner stuff.

“You’ll get along better if you’ll take your own advice and do some
thinking yourself,” he blustered. “We don’t want to do you any harm, Mr.
Archibald, but this is our affair; and, if you don’t want to get hurt,
you’d better not mix up in it. We’re out to give this d—d fire-bug a
dressing down that he’ll remember and see him across the state line, and
we’re going to do it.”

“What has he done?” Archibald asked, still cool, though his fighting
blood was warming.

“Done? You know well enough what he’s done.”

“Where’s your proof?”

“Proof be damned. Get out of my way.”

Tollerton raised his whip as though to enforce his command and
Archibald’s right hand came swiftly out of his pocket. There was no
revolver in it; but as his clenched fist hit Lem Tollerton’s chin, that
hulking worthy dropped as though he had been shot and lay still in the
path. Archibald stooped, caught the whip from his hand, and backed
against the cottage wall, while Wiggles, a ridge of upstanding hair
along his back, his lips curled back angrily from his sharp white teeth,
a low ominous growl sounding in his throat, crouched at his master’s
feet. Archibald had forgotten Wiggles when he had figured that he would
be one against twelve.

“Don’t be fools, boys,” the man against the wall pleaded. “I’ll promise
to get Ezra out of the State for good, to-night. Maybe he’s guilty.
Maybe he isn’t—but twelve to one isn’t a man’s game, any way you look
at it. You’ll be glad you called it off, when morning comes.”

The men wavered uncertainly. Several of them made a threatening move
forward. Archibald clutched the whip in the middle, with its heavy butt
ready for action.

“I’m a friend of yours, boys,” he said grimly, “and I haven’t much use
for Ezra; but I believe in fair play. I can’t lay you all out before you
get me; but I’ll do all the damage I can; and if you don’t beat the life
out of me, God’s my witness, I’ll drag every mother’s son of you into
court and send him up, if it takes the rest of my life and my last penny
to do it. You’d better think it over.”

For a moment, the men stood irresolute. Then one of them dug his heels
into his horse’s flanks and galloped off down the road. The others
followed promptly, only the two dismounted men lingering to look
ruefully down at Lem Tollerton’s prostrate figure. As they hesitated, he
groaned, put a hand to his head, opened his eyes—and closed them again.

“There’s a pump behind the house, Nick,” Archibald said. One of the men
disappeared and came back with a gourd full of water which he dashed in
Tollerton’s face. The treatment worked well. Lem sat up, looked around
him, and staggered groggily to his feet.

“Well, what the—” he began; but his friends took him by the arms, led
him to his horse and helped him to mount.

“Nothing doing, Lem,” Nick Bullard said soothingly. “Mr. Archibald’s
going to take Watts out of the State to-night. That’s good enough. Let’s
fade away.”

Limp, dazed, reeling in his saddle, but sober, Lem Tollerton looked at
the man who still stood on the defensive, his back to the wall and his
dog at his feet.

“That’s some little knockout of yours,” he said with a sheepish grin in
which there was no malice. “Don’t tell _me_ you was trained for a
painter.”

He held out a hand as he spoke and Archibald, laughing, met the hand
half way.

“It’s a useful thing to have a knockout in one’s fist,” he said
genially. “Come over to the shack some evening and I’ll teach it to
you.”

When the last of the riders had disappeared in the darkness, he turned
to Ezra who cowered beside him, still shaking with fear.

“Well, Ezra, the whipping didn’t come off.”

In spite of himself there was contempt mixed with the kindness in his
voice. “But you heard what I said about your leaving the State?”

“Uh,” grunted Ezra. Neither relief nor gratitude could move him to
civility.

“That goes; but I’m willing to give you what money you’ll need for a
month or two. Fifty dollars ought to see you through; and I’m ready to
hand it over when I’ve put you on a train at Pittsfield; but if ever you
show your face here again, the boys may do as they please with you.”

He stopped in astonishment; for the mention of the money had evidently
wakened no interest and Ezra appeared to be listening not to him but to
some sound from within the house. As Archibald leaned forward to see him
more closely, he moved hurriedly toward the door.

“Come in here,” he said. “I want to show you something.”

Archibald stepped into the house and waited while Ezra scratched a match
on the wall and lighted a candle. The flickering tongue of flame left
most of the room in darkness; but it threw its light upon a man who lay
upon the bed—a man in even worse case than Ezra’s when Archibald had
first found his way into the squalid little house—a bleared, bloated,
dirty, unkempt hulk of a man who lay with closed eyes and breathed in
short strangling gasps.

“He’s been like that ever since I found him last night,” Ezra said. “I
was going for you anyway in the morning. Seemed as if something had
orter be done and I didn’t know what.”

“Why didn’t you call Dr. Fullerton?” Archibald asked wonderingly.

“Well, you know how folks feel about the barn burnings and I didn’t know
how Doc’d see his duty; but I thought you—”

“Who is he?”

Ezra looked back at the doors and windows and moved nearer to Archibald.

“It’s Mike O’Neill,” he whispered.

The name meant nothing to Archibald and his face showed it.

“The kid’s father,” Ezra explained.

“Pegeen’s father?” The man’s tone was amazed, unbelieving, protesting;
but Ezra nodded his head.

“Uh huh. He’s been hanging around ever since spring. Crazy as a loon.
Stayed in that old woodchopper’s hut on Bald Pate, daytimes, and went
skulking around nights, stealing enough to live on and burning a barn
now and then just for fun.”

“You’re sure?” Archibald’s heart cried out against the hideous thing.
Peg’s father the barn burner, the petty thief, the miserable, sodden
wreck that lay there on the dirty bed! It was unthinkable and yet Ezra’s
voice and manner carried conviction.

“Oh, yes. I’m sure,” he was saying. “I’ve known ever since the Shaker
fire. I’d suspicioned there was somebody around that nobody knew about;
and one night I’d run into a man when I happened to be coming out of
Miss Moran’s chicken house; but I didn’t see him rightly. I was sort of
busy not being seen myself. Then, the night the Shaker barn burned, I
caught him running away down the road just after the fire broke out. I
knew him the minute I clapped eyes on him. ’Twus bright moonlight, you
know. He ducked into the woods; but I trailed him up Bald Pate and then
I come home and figgered things out. ’Twus plain as the nose on yer face
that he’d been doing the barn burning; and, first off, I thought I’d
tell folks and sort of clear things up for myself. But then I got to
thinking about the kid and how bad she’d feel and there wuzn’t anybody
to be upset be-cuz _I_ was a fire-bug and I didn’t give a damn what
folks believed about me; so I just decided to keep things to myself. I
went up and called turkey to O’Neill, though—told the crazy fool that I
knew all about what he’d been doing and that I could have him hanged but
that I wouldn’t if he’d let up on the barn business. I didn’t care how
much he stole. He seemed to sense what I meant and blubbered around and
said he wouldn’t light any more fires, only they looked so pretty when
they burned and St. Michael had told him to come back here and burn all
the barns, and Michael was his special saint so he didn’t want to
contrary him. I told him I’d fix it up with Michael and then he quieted
down and I come away. Looked as if he wasn’t too batty to keep a
promise, until last night. Then Tibbits’ barn went up; and, as I wuz
sneaking along through the woods so as nobody’d see me and think I’d
been out doing the burning, I stumbled over this here bundle of rags.
Just the way he is now, he wuz. I had a time getting him down here and
then I didn’t know what to do next; but I figgered I’d better go and git
you, in the morning.”

It was a long speech for Ezra. Never, to his own knowledge, had he
strung so many words together at one time; and he stumbled through the
story with a hang-dog air as though mortally ashamed to shift his
vicious reputation to other shoulders.

Archibald listened with knitted brows.

“Poor Peg!” he said softly, under his breath. “Poor little Peg!”

Ezra shifted uneasily from one foot to the other and back again.

“What’s the good of her knowing?” he asked gruffly. Archibald looked at
him in blank surprise.

“Why, she’ll have to know.”

“No, she won’t,” Ezra snapped it out in his most disagreeable manner.
“He’s going to die. If he don’t, he’s too crazy to be left running
around free. If he dies, you and Doc can bury him on the quiet; and, if
he lives, you can chuck him into the asylum. She couldn’t do anything
for him, if she knew. What’s the use bothering her?”

“But you—” Archibald began in bewilderment.

“Oh, I’d be moving along sometime, anyway. What’d I stay for? And what’d
I care if they think they run me out? Kind of tickles me to have ’em
think I burned their barns and stole ’em blind. No use white-washing me.
It wouldn’t stick. I’ll light out; and then you can tell the kid some
sort of fairy story that’ll let her down easy.”

He cleared his throat, sniffed unpleasantly, and drew his sleeve across
his nose.

“She’s better than most,” he said.

Archibald looked into the dirty, repulsive face and humbled himself
before the thing he saw in it.

There _was_ a scrap of decent soul hidden deep down in Ezra Watts, as
the Smiling Lady had said, and Peg had brought it to the surface. Here
was a man capable of love and sacrifice.

“You’re a very good sort, Ezra,” Archibald said slowly. “I’d like to
shake hands with you.”

He held out a friendly hand and Ezra clasped it in a furtive,
embarrassed fashion, but with a look of satisfaction on his ugly face.

“You stood up to ’em fine.” It was his first word of appreciation, and
it came haltingly. “I went out becuz I didn’t want ’em to come in here
and find him; but things looked sort of bad for me until you come
along.”

“You stood up to them better than I did, man.” Archibald’s voice was
husky. Souls were surprising things. “It took more courage to face
another man’s punishment than to fight another man’s battle. Now I’ll go
for Dr. Fullerton. When he comes, we’ll decide what to do about Pegeen.”

“O’Neill’s dying,” the doctor said, as he stood by Michael’s bed, an
hour later. “You must bring Peg. It will be better for her to know that
he is dead than to be always imagining he’s alone and in trouble. And,
in fairness to Ezra, we ought to tell the whole truth!”

He stopped and stood thinking for a moment, then shook his head
decisively.

“No; that’s wrong. It’s fairer to Ezra to let him do the generous thing
for love of Peg. It’d be a pity to let his first fine sentiment be
still-born. Yes; on the whole, I believe we’d better let him go with his
bad reputation intact. God bless him for a thieving, big-hearted,
low-down scallawag!”

And so it was arranged. The doctor drove to Pittsfield with Ezra and put
him on the midnight train.

“Get off when you feel like it,” he said, “and let Archibald or me hear
from you if you’re in a hole so tight that you can’t squirm out of it.
Hang it all, I’m actually glad I saved your life, Ezra.”

Ezra made no reply. His hour of expansiveness had passed and he had sunk
back into his sullen quiet; but there were fifty dollars in cash and a
check for five hundred more in his pocket; and somewhere back in his
mind was an idea of raising chickens instead of stealing them. He had
always liked chickens and now that he was a capitalist, he could indulge
his fancies.

When the doctor reached the cottage on the Back Road once more,
Archibald borrowed the car and went for Pegeen.

“You’ll have to hurry,” Doctor Fullerton said, after a moment’s
examination of the man on the bed who had been given some semblance of
cleanliness and order, and Archibald hurried. A half hour later he was
back again, with a white-faced, great-eyed child who ran past the doctor
and dropped on her knees beside the bed.

“Daddy!” she cried; and the love and yearning in her voice made the two
men behind her bite their lips and look angry as men will when their
hearts are touched.

“Daddy!”

The pleading voice found its way, somehow, to the fog-bound brain and
Michael O’Neill’s soul turned back from its long journey, to look
through sane eyes, into the tender child face, framed in wind-blown,
black curls.

“Why, Pegeen,” he whispered feebly. “My little Peggy, of the curls!—
But ’twas your mother I made the name for, Mary of the Curls! You’ve a
look of her.”

The eyes that had been blue as Pegeen’s own, before the drink blurred
them, closed and the lips that had, on some far-off day, wooed Mary of
the Curls, settled into strange stillness, and Archibald, kneeling
beside Peg, put his arm around her, drew her close and let her cry;
while, stealing in from the outer dark, a lonely and forgotten yellow
pup snuggled up to the sobbing child and nuzzled a cold wet nose into
her hand.



                                  XIII


Pegeen carried a sore heart for many a day after Michael O’Neill’s
funeral.

“He wasn’t a very good father,” she said pitifully to Archibald, “and he
wasn’t very good to Mother, but ’twas the drink that did it; and I think
the drink’s just a sickness, don’t you? Mother had a picture of him, a
little picture that she wore in a locket. He was young in it; and he
looked so brave and glad and lovery. I like to think of him that
way—but I loved him, even after he was—sick. It’s a poor time to stop
loving folks when they’re bad, isn’t it? That’s when they need it the
very most, and Daddy loved back real hard when he was sober.”

In comforting her, Archibald dulled the edge of his own heartache; and
the two neighbored faithfully, even enthusiastically. Sometimes they
drove. More often they rode; and, though Pegeen was not quite her old
gay self, the visits were usually high-hearted adventures. Everything
one did with Peg was more or less of an adventure. There was something
about her that lent spice to the most prosaic of expeditions and
Archibald found himself looking at the Valley through her eyes and
loving it. He had laughed skeptically when the Smiling Lady had said
that there were no uninteresting people, that there were only people one
didn’t get at; but he began to believe that she had been right. There
were delightful folk in the Valley and there were queer folk; but,
delightful or queer, none of them bored him; and, when he remembered how
often and how intolerably he had been bored in the old days, he was
forced to believe that the difference was in him, not in the people
around him. After all, types were much the same. He could cap every
character in the Valley with a corresponding one in New York. Externals
were different; but the inner men and women were the same. So the change
must be in himself; but he doubted whether, thrown on his own resources,
he could walk the new road even now.

“It’s Pegeen,” he said to himself. “She’s a universal solvent. If I had
neighbored without her, I’d never have known these people as I know them
now. She coaxes the best of every one out into the open where I can see
it; and, after that the worst of him can’t fool me. Even the worst of
him doesn’t look bad to me when I see it through Peg’s eyes. Funny,
perhaps, or pitiful, or sad, but not bad. Yes; it’s Pegeen. She’s made
me free of _her_ Valley.”

All of which was modest and, in a degree, true; but, as a matter of
fact, the Valley, having first accepted him on Pegeen’s recommendation,
and looked him over with the tolerance she inspired, liked him for
himself and showed him its friendly side.

“Thee has a pleasant way with thee, Son,” Eldress Martha of the Shakers
said to him when he had sat on one of the straight-backed, rush-bottomed
chairs in her stiff, spotless sitting-room, for an hour one summer
afternoon, holding high converse with the little old lady whose spirit
was so much bigger and stronger than her body.

“I could wish thee were with us and at peace.”

“I’ve been thinking lately that perhaps I’m on the road to peace,
Eldress Martha,” he said gently.

She smiled. When she smiled, the great gray eyes that glowed so
wonderfully in her thin white face melted into sweetness and the hint of
fanaticism died out of her look.

“The roads are many, Son, but there are sign posts along all,” she said.
“It is easy to know whether one is traveling toward the right goal.”

“There are brand new kittens,” announced Pegeen skipping joyously into
the quiet shaded room and bringing a gust of the sunshiny outdoor world
with her, “and the jam is heavenly this year, Eldress Martha. I tried
three kinds, and I saw Sister Jane take honey out of the hives,—only I
didn’t see it as close as I wanted to.”

She dropped down on the floor at the Eldress’ feet and leaned her head
against the gray clad knee.

“I don’t see why bees should want to sting me.” Her voice held a note of
injury. “But they do.”

Eldress Martha laughed. Her laugh was even better than her smile, a
thing surpassingly girlish, and the tenderness in her face, as she laid
her hand lightly on the child’s head and smoothed the shining black
hair, gave Archibald a sudden twinge of heartache. It must be very
lonely sometimes, on the spiritual heights, and this dear woman had
walked there so long. He wondered whether she ever looked back to some
far-away time of youth and counted the cost of the peace she had now.

But Pegeen was contented to take Eldress Martha’s human side without
question. She had never been over-awed by Shaker asceticism. That was
perhaps the reason why the sisters adored her. They were such simple,
friendly folk in spite of their rules and visions.

“Brother Paul came to the garden,” Pegeen rubbed her cheek softly
against the caressing hand, as she spoke, “and he told me a spandy new
poem,—a lovely one. He’d met it coming down through the orchard and it
isn’t a speck religious,—just summery and sweet and all about
butterflies and birds and clouds.”

“And thee doesn’t call _that_ ‘religious’?” asked Eldress Martha.

Pegeen recognized the gentle reproof with a smile.

“Why of course it is, when you stop to think about it—praising God and
all his works and psalmy things like that,—but I meant it wasn’t
anything you’d sing in church.”

“Brother Paul meets many poems that are not for church Worship.” The
Eldress spoke quietly but a shadow of anxiety clouded the serenity of
her face.

“Sometimes I wonder if the beauty of this world is not too much in his
mind and heart,” she added. “Thee sees, child, it is good to love the
beautiful things God has made; but always one must look through them to
the Eternal Beauty.”

“Well, you don’t always have to say it,” Pegeen said comfortably. “I
believe that being chuckfull of love for anything is worshiping God,
even if you don’t think about Him at all when you’re doing it. I just
adore St. Francis. Miss Moran’s Ellen told me about him. She likes St.
Anthony best because he finds things for her when she’s lost them, but I
think St. Francis was a perfect old darling. He did love everything so
hard.”

“But he is a Popish Saint, child.” There was rebuke in the Eldress’
voice, but Pegeen looked up at her serenely.

“I’ll bet the birds and beasts didn’t care _what_ church he belonged
to,” she said, and Eldress Martha laughed once more.

“Thee has small respect for creeds, Peggy,” she said, “but thee has a
great heart.”

The sisters crowded doors and windows to wave good-by as Pegeen and
Archibald rode away down the street and the small girl turned to throw
kisses to them until a bend of the road hid the East Family buildings
from view. Then she settled back into her saddle to talk things over.
They always talked a neighboring visit over. That was one of the best
parts of it.

“Aren’t they the sweetest things?” she said beamingly. “I just wish I
could give every single one of them a nice little baby of her own.”

Archibald gasped.

“Wouldn’t it rather shake up the community?” he asked gravely.

Pegeen considered the proposition. “Well, I suppose it would a
little—not having marrying and giving in marriage in their religion you
know—like Heaven—but shaking up wouldn’t hurt them, and I think it’s
dreadful for so many perfectly darling women to miss having babies—and
it’s a shame for the babies too because somebody else that isn’t half as
nice will have to take them.

“I think it’s the lonesomest thing to go on cooking and sweeping and
dusting and making jam and nobody to do it for but each other and God.
Just think of the fun all those old ladies could have if the top floor
was plumb full of babies growing up into nice Shakers. I guess it’d have
to be grandbabies but then if they had grandbabies they’d have had
babies sometime so that would be all right.

“I told Sister Jane how I felt about it She’s the pretty one with pink
cheeks that tends the bees,—and she said they couldn’t very well have
babies of their own, but that she could find it in her heart to wish
they had a top floor of real cuddly orphan babies. She loves to cuddle
things. That’s one reason why we’re such great friends; and, do you
know, she’s got _twelve_ dresses all as good as can be. They all have to
be gray but there aren’t any two the same shade and she gets a little
change that way. I do love Sister Jane. She and I have splendid times
together and she sort of spills over to me, when she isn’t feeling so
awfully religious. When we went to see the kittens, after Brother Paul
said his poem to us, she told me the Eldress didn’t like his writing
poetry that wasn’t religious, and spending so much time out in the
fields and woods instead of working when he’s the strongest, youngest
man in the family. They were going to call him up about it; but Eldress
Martha said ‘no’ she’d attend to the matter, and that settled it. I tell
you when Eldress Martha says ‘no’ the Elders just pick up their coat
tails and go away on their tippy toes. But Sister Jane says she thinks
Eldress Martha’s worried about Brother Paul herself. She’s terribly fond
of him and he isn’t very frequent in prayer lately and he doesn’t
testify at all—but he certainly does write scrumptious poetry.”

“What was that you said about his meeting a poem in the orchard?”
Archibald asked.

“Oh, that’s the way the Shakers always talk about their poetry. Lots of
them write hymns. Eldress Martha writes lovely ones—and they always say
they met them. They think the Lord gives them the poetry ready made, you
know.”

“Direct inspiration: I see—Poor Brother Paul with his world beauty!”

Archibald looked as if he too were worried about the young poet. Little
by little he was learning that the Happy Valley teemed with drama. This
neighboring with Pegeen was interesting, extraordinarily interesting.

Day by day he grew more dependent upon this child’s companionship.
Whether he rode or tramped or loafed or gardened or neighbored, he
wanted her near. Even when, he painted, she usually sat beside him
dreaming or busy with some quiet work but always ready with smiles and
eager interest if he looked from his canvas to her face or spoke to her;
and it was not possible to feel that the world was an altogether
disappointing and lonely place when one had such a comrade. Wiggles,
too, did his dog best in the line of companion plays and a yellow dog’s
best of worship is a thing to warm the cockles of even the heaviest
heart. There was a curious likeness between the child’s deep blue Irish
eyes and the pup’s liquid brown eyes, during those long August days.
Passionate devotion welling up from child heart and dog heart made the
eyes kin.

The little garden in front of the shack was ablaze with August glory now
and Pegeen’s face, as she bent over the flowers or knelt beside the
borders making war on weeds, was a pleasant thing to see; but a sadness
came into it, whenever she looked at the clumps of perennials striving
lustily in preparation for another year. Archibald had said that he
would come back to watch them bloom; but he had said that before Richard
Meredith’s coming, and back in the darkest pigeonhole of Pegeen’s mind
was a suspicion that she and Wiggles and Spunky and Mrs. Benderby and
the horses and the neighbors and the garden all added together would
never be able to make him happy, with Nora Moran away. She would not
admit to herself in the daytime that the suspicion was there; but
sometimes when she happened to waken in the night, she would take it out
and cry over it a little, very quietly.

She and Archibald rode often to the Shaker village where Eldress Martha
was in her element with work and responsibility, pouring upon her
torrent-wise. Even on her busiest days she had time for Archibald. The
friendship between the two, whose lives had run in grooves so different,
was a real thing and the man went away from his hours with the
tender-hearted, steel-willed old woman with an uplift of spirit. After
all the needs of brave souls were much the same. Whether it was Eldress
Martha with her religious faith and her life of the spirit or Dr.
Fullerton with his agnosticism and bluff materialism, the test of the
soul was its sincerity and courage. The doctor had put it in a nutshell,
the night he had fought for Ezra Watt’s life and won. Playing the game
was the thing. To choose a game in which one believes there was good and
to play it for all there was in it—that was the life worth living. If
love and laughter walked with the player, so much the better. If
not,—still there was the game.

And the more Archibald went the Valley ways, the more he realized that,
in one form or another, neighboring was the great game.—There in the
valley—out beyond—wherever men and women worked and hoped and loved
and suffered, there was call for players stout of heart, strong of will,
great of soul, wise of brain. Once when a baby’s hand had curled round
his finger, he had said to himself that neighboring was not the last
word, that a man’s own meant more; but, during those Summer days when
Pegeen and he went up and down the Valley, knocking at the doors of
hearts and lives, he came to realize dimly that a man’s own reaches out
beyond the doors of his home and that if he follows it to the soul
heights and the love limits, he will find himself, walking there with
the brotherhood of Man.

Ginsy Shalloway, who, by virtue of “sewing around,” had gained a shrewd
knowledge of human nature and was prone to sharp criticism, voiced the
general verdict when she admitted that “the artist man’s friendliness
rang true.

“Seems as if he honestly liked folks and was real set on their liking
him,” she said, when the matter came up for discussion at the ladies’
aid society. “I don’t know as I ever saw a city fellow with as few
trimmings. He’s pleased as can be when he gets an invite to dinner and
he eats so hearty, you’d think he didn’t get the right kind of victuals
at home, if you didn’t know Peg. He was eating dinner up at Nelsons’ the
other day when that big storm came up so sudden; and, if he didn’t pull
off his coat and go out into the hay field with Martin and help to
hustle the hay in. Real good help he was too, Martin says—stronger than
you’d think and quick as a cat. And then the boys got to wrestling out
in the barn; and if he didn’t lay them all out on their backs, as easy
as rolling off a log. They were some surprised and ashamed; but he said
he’d taken lessons of a Japanee and that the Japs beat the world for
wrestling and that, if the boys would like to learn, he’d teach them all
the tricks he knew.

“So now he’s got a sort of class down in an empty loft at Jim Neal’s and
a lot of the boys go there twice a week. Mis’ Dawes says their Jim’s
plumb crazy about it.”

Jimmy wasn’t the only boy who was crazy about the class in the barn
loft. One by one they came trooping in, shyly and awkwardly at first;
but soon with glad confidence and unbounded enthusiasm. Lem Tollerton
dropped in one evening to learn the knock-out that had laid him low,
and, in his wake, the young men of the Valley found their way to the
loft. Archibald added gloves and foils to his equipment; and within a
few weeks, wrestling, boxing, fencing and jiu-jitsu were epidemic.

“It beats all,” Martin Nelson, the father of four husky lads, confided
to Mr. Colby. “My boys are poking and pounding each other all over the
place, the minute they ain’t at work; but I don’t know as I ever saw
them so good-natured. Seems as if they thought being knocked endways was
a treat and they’re always and everlastingly talking about playing fair
and not taking advantage and not losing temper and not poking here or
punching there. I don’t know but what teaching them to fight’s going to
take the fighting out of them. Anyway they ain’t hanging around the
stores every evening cooking up trouble. They do say Lem Tollerton and
his crowd are cutting out booze, because it gets at them and spoils
their fighting.”

Now and again, one of the older men, drawn by curiosity, came to the
class to look on. He seldom went away without having a bout with the
gloves or a wrestling lesson and he usually came again. The crowd soon
outgrew its quarters and Archibald went to Dr. Fullerton with a plan.

“The Valley needs a men’s and boys’ club,” he said. “Where can we have
it and how will we run it? You know this community better than I do.”

“I’m not so popular with it, when it’s healthy,” the doctor said dryly.
“You’re working as hard to make yourself solid as if you were running
for office. Pity not to stand for something, with the pull you’ve got.”
He dropped his banter and laid a friendly hand on the younger man’s
shoulder.

“It’s a bully work, man. You’re doing more to humanize the Valley than
the doves of peace could if they came in flocks. Nothing like beating an
idea of honest sport into a fellow’s head for making a decent citizen of
him. When he’s grasped the idea that there are some things no fellow can
do, he’s got something to work on. I’m inclined to think that boxing
will grip a boy’s soul when Sunday school fails. Now about this club,
How much money will it take?”

“Oh, I’ll put up the money.” Dr. Fullerton shook his head.

“No, you won’t. That would be a mistake. Buy or rent a place if you want
to fix it up; but organize a regular club and put some of your toughest
specimens in as officers. Responsibility’s most as good for a fellow as
boxing. Let the members pay the running expenses out of the dues.
They’ll think more of the club if they have to do some hustling to keep
it going. There’s that old house of Rankins’. It’s been empty ever since
the old man died. Nephew it was left to lives out in Seattle. It’s a
whaling big place, but you wouldn’t need to use it all and I’ve a notion
you could get it for a song.”

Archibald told Pegeen about the club that night. She was all interest
and encouragement; but there was a hint of mental reservation in her
approval, and the man noticed it.

“Well, Peg, out with it!” he commanded. “What’s wrong with the scheme?”

She blushed at discovery and hesitated, then spoke her thought frankly,
as she always did to him.

“There isn’t anything wrong with it. It’s splendid of you to do it and
folks will be perfectly crazy about it—only I was just thinkink how
it’s most always the men and the boys that get things done for them. I
s’pose it’s because they won’t be good all by themselves the way women
and girls will; but I don’t think that’s exactly fair, do you? It’s like
giving prizes to the worst spellers.”

Archibald looked at her with a puzzled frown between his eyes.

“Why, Peg,” he began; then stopped and thought the proposition over.
Suddenly, something that the Smiling Lady had once said to him came back
to him and his face cleared.

“Pegeen, I’m a fool—just a plain, block-headed fool. This Valley
doesn’t need a men’s and boys’ club. It needs a neighborhood house and
you are going to give it one. There can be a men’s club and a boys’ club
and a women’s club and a girls’ club, just for the fun of the thing; but
there’ll be a big get-together club that will take all the others in.
How’s that?”

Pegeen’s face was his answer. It was one rapture from brow to chin.

“It’ll be perfectly wonderful,” she said happily.

Then a shadow drifted across the rapture and she sighed.

“Well?” questioned the man.

“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking.”

“Thinking what?” he insisted.

She looked very uncomfortable, wriggled uneasily in her chair.

“It’s Miss Moran,” she said, at last. “She was always crazy to have a
club, here in the Valley—a neighborhood house she called it just like
you did. She used to talk and talk and plan and plan; but she didn’t
have money enough. I was just thinking how lovely it would have been
if—”

She was on the borderland of unspoken things and afraid to go further;
but Archibald opened her way.

“See here, Peg,” he said abruptly. “You mustn’t make any mistake about
my feeling for Miss Moran. I’m head over heels in love with her. You’re
too clever not to know that and I don’t mind your knowing it; but,
because I can’t marry her, is no reason why you and I shouldn’t talk
about her exactly as we always did. If she’d like this club, there’s one
more big reason for putting it across, and the more she helps with it,
the better I’ll be satisfied; only you are giving the club house to the
Valley. Just remember that. Now we’ll go and talk the thing over with
Miss Moran.”

His frankness cleared the air for himself as well as for the child; and
when they found the Smiling Lady on her veranda and told her about the
plan, the vague chill that had seemed to envelop her melted quite away
before their enthusiasm.

“Splendid!” she cried eagerly. “Splendid! How you _have_ come on with
your neighboring, Mr. Archibald! I prophesied you’d make something of
him, Peggy.”

There was a ring of pride in the jesting voice, a glow of pride in the
smiling face. Richard Meredith, watching her from the hammock, noticed
both. She was glad for the Valley, but there was more gladness beyond
that; gladness and pride and—yes, there was tenderness too. It meant
much to her that her people were to have their neighborhood house; but
it meant even more to her that this one man was to give it to them, that
they had found their way to his heart, and that he was finding his way
to theirs. Meredith’s face gave no sign of anything save civil interest;
but he drew back a little further into the shadow of the vines that
clambered over the veranda trellis, and watched the girl and the man who
leaned toward each other in the white moonlight, talking eagerly and
with an intimate understanding that was new to him but prehistoric to
them.

They altogether forgot him, when they went into the lamp-lighted room to
figure on changes in the club house; but, as he sat there in the shadow,
feeling oddly old and tired, a little figure slipped out through the
French windows and tucked herself cozily into the hammock beside him.

“Which do you think would be nicer to have—a piano or a phonograph?”
Pegeen asked confidentially, gathering him, as a matter of course, into
intimacy of discussion and planning.

The man smiled in the dusk. She was so small and sweet and friendly
and—though that he could not know—so sure he needed seeing to.

“I’ll give you both, for your neighborhood house, Pegeen,” he said—but
added quickly, “if Mr. Archibald doesn’t object.”

“Why, he’d be _glad_,” she insisted stoutly, though back in her own mind
there was a doubt. “That’s perfectly sweet of you. Oh, dear, it does
seem as if God must have been working on that club for years and years.
Everything’s going so beautifully. Only Deacon Ransom’ll have a fit
about the billiard table. He won’t fit hard enough to keep him away
though, and Miss Moran says he’s just got to let Sally come. I wish
she’d get a beau down there and run off with him. Honestly I do. I’d
help—if he’s nice. Do you know, I think a piano and a phonograph’s an
awful lot for you to give. I wouldn’t want anything but the phonograph,
but you see the mothers are so proud if their daughters can play some
pieces and when there’s an entertainment, they always want the girls to
show off; so it seems as if we really did need a piano. I’m going to
tell everybody that you thought it up all by yourself, and Miss Moran
didn’t have a thing to do with it. I shouldn’t wonder if you’d think of
lots of things like that after a while. It isn’t a bit hard, after you
once get started—not if anybody’s nice inside, like you. I guess city
folks have to get new glasses to see country folks right, and some of
them don’t ever bother to do it; but the awfully nice ones, like you and
Miss Moran and Mr. Archibald, do. And then, after they put on the new
glasses, they see so many kind things to do that they work like the very
old Scratch to catch up with themselves.”

Meredith pulled the child’s head down against his shoulder and rumpled
the thick curls with a gentle hand.

“It’s late for me to be changing glasses or ways, Peg,” he said softly;
and his voice matched the gray of his hair. “Do you think I could ever
catch up with myself, if I didn’t have Miss Moran to help me?”

Peggy reached up and gave the hand on her hair a loving little pat.

“Why, it’d be as easy as can be for you,” she assured him. “If you ever
begin neighboring—in earnest, you know—I bet you’ll be perfectly
splendid at it. Of course it’d be lovely to have Miss Moran help—but
she wouldn’t need to. She started Mr. Archibald, but look at him now! I
get jealous of the neighbors sometimes just for a minute; and he’s done
most of it all by himself. Miss Moran hasn’t helped him atall, since you
came.”

“I’ve an idea she has kept right on helping him—in a way,” the man said
slowly,—“and then he’s had you to see to him, Pegeen.”



                                  XIV


A tidal wave of excitement rolled through the Valley when news of the
Neighborhood Club was noised about; and, when, on the evening of
September fourth, the house was thrown open to the public, only the
bedridden stayed away. The doors were open at seven o’clock; and at
eight, the house was full to the eaves.

“They’re perfectly wild about it,” Pegeen confided happily to Archibald
as she passed him in the hall. “Every blessed soul’s doing
something—even Deacon Ransom. He was as snippy as could be, when he
came; and he said the billard table was an invitation to sin, but now
he’s out in the bowling alley in his shirt sleeves, beating Mr. Nelson
all to pieces and as proud as Mr. Neal’s turkey gobbler because he can
do it. And Sallie Ransom is sitting out on the side steps with Joe
Trevor. I sort of think he’s courting. And Mrs. Neal’s dancing with Dr.
Fullerton. You ought to see her. She’s as light on her feet as if she
didn’t weigh more’n I do. And Mr. Colby is playing checkers with Mr.
Frisbie. Mrs. Frisbie thinks it’s worldly for a minister. And Mr.
Meredith is teaching some of the boys billiards and Miss Moran is
cutting cake. We’re going to have refreshments pretty soon, because the
children have to go home early and it’s their club just as much as the
old folks’, isn’t it? They ought to grow up into splendid neighbors,
getting such a lovely start here. It’s the very best time I ever had,
Mr. Archibald. It is really.” She flew on down the hall and Archibald
found his way to the kitchen, where the Smiling Lady with a corps of
willing helpers was making ready to feed the crowd. She was tired but
radiant, and she waved a sticky knife at him as he appeared in the
doorway.

“It isn’t a success. It’s a furor,” she called gaily. “Everybody wants
to join.”

He crossed the room and stood watching her as she worked. They had been
much together, in the weeks of preparation for this night, sharing plans
and hopes and dreams, working, side by side, for the good of the
neighbors they loved, for her own people whom he had made his own people
too. It had been sweet, perilously sweet. There had been times when the
words he must not say had trembled on his lips, times when he had felt a
blessed surety that the closeness meant as much to her as to him; but he
had held fast to his idea of honor. He liked Richard Meredith. The older
man had won his friendship against all the heavy odds. There was
something about him in which one believed, something behind the outward
reserve that gripped and held. He so confidently expected decency that
in his quiet there was a compelling force. One did not fail men like
Meredith—nor women like the Smiling Lady; and so he had fought hard and
kept faith with both of them.

But she was so dear—so unspeakably dear. His heart ached with its
desire as he looked down at her; and, glancing up, as she sent one of
her helpers away with a laden tray she surprised the desperate longing
in his eyes. An answer leaped into her own face. Eyes, lips, cheeks,
were flooded with it. For an instant, they stood so, alone in the crowd.
Then as swiftly as it had come, the revelation faded from the girl’s
face. Only the flush lingered as she turned to her work again; but there
was a curious little thrill in her voice when she tried to greet Jerry
and Rosy Johnston’s demand for chocolate cake, with her usual light
gaiety.

“And you with three pieces of cake apiece tucked away inside of you this
minute!” she protested.

“No toklate,” Jerry assured her solemnly.

“No toklate,” echoed Rosy, with an accent of reproach in her solemnity.
The Smiling Lady swept the two into her arms and kissed both sticky
faces with surprising fervor. The twins endured it. They even hugged her
warmly, though hastily; but they did not, for a moment, lose sight of
the main issue.

“_Now_ toklate!” they chorused hopefully, as they emerged from the
embrace; and, laughing, pink cheeked, shining eyed, she cut them huge
slices of chocolate cake and sent them on their way, smeared, gorged,
but rejoicing.

“It’s all wrong,” she acknowledged shamefacedly. “They’ll be sick, I
suppose; but; they did want it so dreadfully. I couldn’t say ‘no.’ ”

Then, realizing the recklessness of admitting weakness in the face of
great longing, she dropped the cake knife and fled to the pantry,
leaving Archibald exultant but tempest-tossed. He was sure now,
absolutely sure. She loved him, not Meredith. Her face had said it,
beyond shadow of doubt, in the moment when her guard was down. His heart
sang for gladness—and yet he had no right to be glad. It would have
been better if the unhappiness could all have been his. That she loved
him would make no difference in the outcome of things. She would put
away the love and keep her word to the man she had promised to marry. He
was sure of that and though the sacrifice of two lives for one might be
all wrong, though it might not be for the ultimate happiness of even the
one, he knew that he would only hurt her, not shake her resolve, if he
should fight for his own. And then there was Meredith. Meredith and he
were friends now.

The man who could not have _his_ chocolate cake turned and went out
through the kitchen door into the friendly, sheltering dark.

The house was ablaze with lights. Through the open windows came a stream
of sound, laughter, chatter of voices, the click of billiard balls, the
clatter of dishes, the music of the phonograph, the shuffle and tap of
dancing feet. The Valley was neighboring happily, whole-heartedly, as it
never had neighbored before; but, out in the night, beyond reach of the
far-flung light, the man who had brought the thing about leaned his arms
upon the top rail of a fence, hid his face against them and fought hard
against old enemies, against bitterness and discouragement and a
loneliness of which he had almost lost the trick, in months of living
among neighbors.

There was an autumnal chill in the air. The quiet stars looked down
frostily from infinite heights. All the warm, companioning summer had
slipped away.

Archibald straightened his shoulders and moved slowly toward the house.
He had come to the end of summer’s trail.

There were two figures on the side door steps and Archibald caught a few
words in a man’s voice. He veered away hastily, smiling a little, as he
went toward the front door. Joe Trevor was unquestionably “courting”! To
be alone with the one girl and to have the right to speak!—Lucky
Joe!—even though Deacon Ransom was in the offing.

It was long after midnight, before festivities flagged and the older
folk began to talk of homegoing; but Archibald and Nora Moran did not
come within speaking distance again, until the final ebbing surge of the
crowd flung them together in the big assembly room on the main floor.
Good-bys had begun and the two stood side by side, shaking the hands of
crowding neighbors and smiling into the friendly faces. Suddenly a boy’s
voice shouted “Three cheers for Mr. Archibald!” The homegoers turned
back and gave the cheers with a will.

“Speech! Speech!” Dr. Fullerton called. The cry was taken up and echoed
through the house.

Archibald’s face reddened but there was a fine glow of happiness in it.

“I’m no talker, friends,” he said. His voice shook a little as he spoke.
“I’m afraid I couldn’t even paint what I feel. It’s the sort of thing
there’s no way of telling; but there’s one thing I do want to say. The
Valley has given me more than I ever can pay; and, if you like
Neighborhood House, I’m very happy; for I’ve had a hand in it. Miss
Moran and Mr. Meredith and Dr. Fullerton and I have worked together to
make the thing possible; but, though Miss Moran started me on the right
track, it was Peggy O’Neill who taught me to neighbor. Neighborhood
House came out of Pegeen’s heart. If you must thank somebody, thank
her.”

“Pegeen! Pegeen! Peggy! Peg!” The whole crowd was calling—men, boys,
women, girls—calling for Pegeen. Out on the stairs, where, with Richard
Meredith, she had been caught in the crush, the small girl clung to the
baluster, sobbing with excitement.

“Come, Peg. They want you.” Meredith lifted her in his arms, carried her
down the steps and through the close pressing throng to where Archibald
and the Smiling Lady stood, and set her on a chair beside them. Standing
so, she could look over the crowd and be seen by all.

“Peg! Peg! Peg!” The greeting came with a roar.

Pegeen stood, smiling, trembling, her sensitive child face all a-quiver
with feeling.

“Say something to them, Peg,” Archibald urged. She threw out her arms in
a swift, inclusive gesture.

“Oh, I love you all so much!” she cried, in a choked little voice. “I
love every single blessed one of you!”

There was no doubting it. Her face told it even more convincingly than
her voice. She loved them all—and they knew it. No matter whom she
happened to be seeing to, she was the Valley’s Pegeen.

“Three cheers for Peg!” Jimmy Dawes whooped shrilly, and the crowd
responded with deafening enthusiasm, while Pegeen clung to Archibald’s
shoulder and laughed and cried and loved everybody harder than ever.

“Do you know,” she said to Mrs. Benderby that night, after she had knelt
beside her bed for a long time. “I might exactly as well get up. I’m so
terribly happy I can’t think of a single solitary thing to pray for.”

Richard Meredith stayed at the house under the maples on the night of
the club house-warming; and when he came down to breakfast the next
morning, he looked peculiarly tired and worn.

“You didn’t sleep well, Dick,” his hostess said reproachfully, as they
went out to the veranda after breakfast.

“Well, no; not as well as usual. Too much festivity. The thing went off
with a tremendous bang, didn’t it?”

She nodded laughing assent; but he noticed that she too showed signs of
a wakeful night. Her eyes were tired and there were faint, purplish
shadows beneath them.

“Wasn’t Pegeen adorable?” she said. A wave of tenderness swept from
Meredith’s mouth to his eyes and tarried there.

“It’s chronic with Pegeen.” His voice, too, held tenderness. “I wonder
what life will do with that big tender heart of hers.”

“Hurt it.”

It was seldom that the Smiling Lady was pessimistic. Meredith looked at
her quickly and the tenderness in his face was not all for Pegeen.

“Yes,” he agreed, “and she’ll love her way straight through the hurt. I
can’t believe that even life can be unrelentingly hard to Pegeen. Life
isn’t often unrelentingly hard.”

For a moment or two, he stood silent, leaning against a veranda pillar
and twirling a spray of belated honeysuckle bloom nervously in his
fingers. When he spoke again, his voice was even quieter than usual, and
there was nothing more disturbing than grave friendliness in his face.

“I’ve been thinking, dear,” he said. “I’m afraid life’s been a bit hard
for _you_, lately. All the love in the world won’t prevent mistakes; and
I guess we’ve made mistakes—you and I—and your father.”

The girl in the willow chair looked up at him in swift question; but he
went on without allowing her to speak.

“You see, your father was my friend. He believed in me and he couldn’t
die easily, leaving you all alone; so, because he knew I loved you
better than all the world, he planned that I should stand between you
and the world. He meant it for your happiness—and I was glad and
proud—and you were willing—but we were blind, all three of us. We did
not look along the road ahead.”

The girl made a little gesture of protest. He dropped into a chair
beside her, caught the slender brown hands, and held them.

“Look at me, dear,” he begged. “Surely you’re not afraid of me. You’re
afraid of hurting me. That’s it—and you can’t save me from the hurt. I
was afraid of it right at first, after your father went away. You were
very young and I knew that youth called to youth; but so many younger
men came and went away. It was easy to see you didn’t care for any of
them; and, in time, I began to believe that I could make you happy. I
loved you as well as any man could and you loved me—in a way—and
trusted me, and there was no one else. But even then I had sense enough
not to hurry you. So I waited—and then the thing I had almost forgotten
to fear happened.”

The low, steady voice broke, and for a moment fell into silence. Then he
went on:

“I felt, as soon as I came back here this summer, that things were
different; and after a while I began to understand what the difference
was; but I waited to make sure. Last night I knew. Tell me, Nora—We owe
each other frankness—Tell me—there _is_ some one else now?”

She raised her eyes full of tears to meet his that were full of pain.

“Yes,” she said, and there was a sob in the word. “I love you dearly;
but—there is some one else.”

He stooped his head and kissed the hands he held.

“Don’t cry, child. You mustn’t cry. You should have told me long ago,
instead of waiting for my blundering brain to understand. It’s all
right. When I stood on the club house stairs last night and looked at
you and Archibald among your neighbors—you so proud of him and he so
proud of you, and the neighbors so proud of both of you—I realized how
absolutely right it was. It isn’t easy to give you up—but it would be
harder to have you and not make you happy—and I’m not going to drop out
of your life. We’ve been friends too long for that. Don’t worry over
having hurt me. I’m not going to be miserable. I’ve rather a notion to
try my hand at neighboring. Peggy’s flatteringly sure I’d do well at it,
if I could get a good running start. Look happy, dear. I think you are
going to _be_ very happy—but there’s one thing I want from Archibald
and you. I want a share in Pegeen.”

She smiled at him through her tears.

“Daddy always told me you were the finest gentleman in the world,” she
said, “and I think he was right.”

He went away after that, leaving her to the happiness she was too
tender-hearted to show him, and he said good-by cheerfully,
unemotionally; but he went down the road, with white lips and unseeing
eyes, and, when he appeared at the door of the shack, Mrs. Benderby, who
was sitting there, rose in alarm at the sight of his face.

“Mr. Archibald’s away for a walk.”

Meredith made no sign that he had heard.

“Pegeen,” he said unsteadily. “I want Pegeen.”



                                   XV


Archibald’s walk had taken him Witch Hill way. Golden rod and wild
asters were making merry along the roadside; and, in the wood’s heart,
gleams of crimson and gold were glinting through the green. Summer was
gone; but magic lingered; and the old enchantment worked in the man’s
brain and heart. He had never followed that climbing road without the
Smiling Lady at his side and his heart was sick for her, for the eyes
with the sea waves in them, for the sun-kissed hair, and the smiling
lips, and the singing voice, and all the warm gladness of her. He had
known it would be like that; and yet he had come. There were days when
wisdom did not wear the look of a virtue; and this afternoon, when
Pegeen was busy with housework and even Wiggles had wandered away on
important business of his own, the man who had been trying to be
contented gave up trying and set out to keep tryst with memory, beside a
hilltop well, where on a summer day a witch had sat, smiling and weaving
spells.

He was in no hurry. There were mile-stones to count along the way. Here
she had leaned to look into the brook; there she had stooped to mock a
bird’s call. All the little green leaves whispered of her and the red
and gold leaves flamed more warmly, remembering her. Archibald wondered
whether he was sorry he had come—or glad. Glad, he thought; but it was
a sorry gladness.

As he neared the top of the hill, he paused, half inclined to go back,
without facing the empty seat under the old oak tree; but running away
was a habit he had put aside. With a queer smile that was not gay, he
quickened his steps, pushed aside the branches that had grown across the
path, and came out into the open. There was the well. There was the
great tree. And there, on the mossy bank, in the shadow, sat the witch,
smiling and weaving spells!

She sprang to her feet, at sight of him. The smiles fled; but the spells
worked on. The two looked into each other’s eyes, questioning, avowing.
Without telling, other than the glad surrender in her face, the man knew
that the world was changed for them, that the walls were down. All
wonder, and great desire, he opened his arms; and, there in the
enchanted wood, where “anything might happen,” they met “the Wonderful
Thing.”

Pegeen was alone in her garden, when Archibald and the Smiling Lady went
to her. As she saw them coming, the soberness that had hung about her
since Richard Meredith had left her a half hour earlier melted away, and
she ran to meet them with a joyful little cry. It was hard that the two
she loved best must have their happiness at the cost of some one else;
but, after all, it was glorious that they _were_ happy.

“We’ve been talking about you, Peg,” Archibald said, when they three and
Wiggles were comfortably seated on the doorstep—which was quite wide
enough for four, if nobody minded crowding—and nobody did—“How would
you like to go to boarding school this fall?”

Peg’s face clouded.

“It wouldn’t be far away, dear,” the Smiling Lady interposed hastily,
“and we’ll be living in town after Thanksgiving; so you could spend all
your Sundays and holidays with us; and then we’d all be up here together
next summer.”

“It’s awfully sweet of you,” Peg was polite but unconvinced. “I’m ever
so much obliged; but I guess I’ll stay right here and see to Mrs.
Benderby.”

“Oh, I’ll fix Mrs. Benderby up all right,” Archibald promised. “She can
board with the Neals. They want a boarder and I’ll give her an allowance
that will make her comfortable. Then she won’t have to work except when
she feels just like it.”

Pegeen abandoned Mrs. Benderby to a life of idle luxury, but still
thought she would stay in the Valley.

“You won’t need me.” Her voice was wistful as she made the admission.
“Miss Moran will see to you—and I’m not jealous, not really, you know,
only I’m sort of lonesomey. There’s sure to be somebody here in the
Valley that’ll need me and I feel as if I’ve just got to have somebody
to see to.”

“We’ll always need you, Peg—always.” Archibald’s arm went round her and
drew her close. “Even Miss Moran can’t see to me so that I won’t need
you. And there are plenty of people here in the Valley who’d be the
better for having you with them; but there’s something you haven’t
realized yet, dear. The whole world needs seeing to; and there aren’t
many people like you who have a genius for doing it. You mustn’t be
wasted on two or three neighbors, here in the Valley, when outside,
beyond the hills, there are thousands and thousands needing what you
could give them. Don’t you see, Peg? You’ve got to reach those poor
unhappy thousands and help them. Other women are doing it—doing it
wonderfully. Out in Chicago there’s a woman who must have been a girl
with a heart like yours; and now she’s seeing to a whole city and to men
and women and children out beyond that city, all over the world. She’s
only one of the many; and there’s nothing they are doing that you can’t
do, if you’ll work your way to it.

“That’s what Nora and I want to help you to; and school’s the first step
toward it. What do you say, Pegeen?”

The child’s face was rapt, illumined. The great blue eyes were seeing
visions.

“Oh, my stars!” she murmured longingly. “If I could—if I only could!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful?—better than Jizo. Of course I’ll go to
school, I’d love to.”

A flash of recollection swept across the future-searching eyes.

“But I’ve got to have time enough in between to see to Mr. Meredith,”
she stipulated. “He needs me.”

                                THE END



                 *        *        *        *        *
                 *        *        *        *        *
                 =Z A N E   G R E Y ’ S   N O V E L S=
                 *        *        *        *        *
                 *        *        *        *        *
 =May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grossett & Dunlap’s list=
                 *        *        *        *        *
                 *        *        *        *        *

=THE LIGHT OF WESTERN STARS=

Colored frontispiece by W. Herbert Dunton.

Most of the action of this story takes place near the turbulent Mexican
border of the present day. A New York society girl buys a ranch which
becomes the center of frontier warfare. Her loyal cowboys defend her
property from bandits, and her superintendent rescues her when she is
captured by them. A surprising climax brings the story to a delightful
close.

=DESERT GOLD=

Illustrated by Douglas Duer.

Another fascinating story of the Mexican border. Two men, lost in the
desert, discover gold when, overcome by weakness, they can go no
farther. The rest of the story describes the recent uprising along the
border, and ends with the finding of the gold which the two prospectors
had willed to the girl who is the story’s heroine.

=RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE=

Illustrated by Douglas Duer.

A picturesque romance of Utah of some forty years ago when Mormon
authority ruled. In the persecution of Jane Withersteen, a rich ranch
owner, we are permitted to see the methods employed by the invisible
hand of the Mormon Church to break her will.

=THE LAST OF THE PLAINSMEN=

Illustrated with photograph reproductions.

This is the record of a trip which the author took with Buffalo Jones,
known as the preserver of the American bison, across the Arizona desert
and of a hunt in “that wonderful country of yellow crags, deep canons
and giant pines.” It is a fascinating story.

=THE HERITAGE OF THE DESERT=

Jacket in color. Frontispiece.

This big human drama is played in the Painted Desert. A lovely girl, who
has been reared among Mormons, learns to love a young New Englander. The
Mormon religion, however, demands that the girl shall become the second
wife of one of the Mormons—

Well, that’s the problem of this sensational, big selling story.

=BETTY ZANE=

Illustrated by Louis F. Grant.

This story tells of the bravery and heroism of Betty, the beautiful
young sister of old Colonel Zane, one of the bravest pioneers. Life
along the frontier, attacks by Indians, Betty’s heroic defense of the
beleaguered garrison at Wheeling, the burning of the Fort, and Betty’s
final race for life, make up this never-to-be-forgotten story.

                 *        *        *        *        *

                 *        *        *        *        *

G r o s s e t   &   D u n l a p ,   P u b l i s h e r s ,   N e w
 Y o r k

                 *        *        *        *        *

                 *        *        *        *        *



                           TRANSCRIBER NOTES


Mis-spelled words and printer errors have been fixed.

Inconsistency in hyphenation has been retained.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Pegeen" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home