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A Romance of Billy-Goat Hill by Alice Hegan Rice

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on a stand beside him. On his second round he discovered the visitor
whom he sniffed with increasing excitement.

Donald raised a forefinger, and tapped his knee. In an instant Mike
remembered. Lifting his fore-paws, and dropping his head upon them, he
answered the call to prayer.

Two pairs of eyes met involuntarily, and the owners smiled.

"Do put him out, my dear," urged the Doctor, who had stooped to pick
up the scattered sheets of his manuscript. "This is the last volume of
my series, Donald. You remember I was collecting data for it when you
were at the university. I had expected to publish it this spring, but
it will have to be postponed now."

Donald winced. "On account of the bank failure, I suppose?"

"Well, yes. Basil advises a curtailment of all expenditure for the
present. However, it may be just as well to publish in the fall. That
will give me three more months on the revision."

"I hope you were not seriously involved, Doctor?"

"No, no, I imagine not," said the Doctor vaguely as he made a marginal
correction on one of the sheets. "Basil and I have been so much
occupied that we have scarcely had a chance to discuss the matter. He
said I might possibly lose something, but that he would protect my
interests. I trust you are not one of the losers?"

"No," Donald said shortly, "I lost nothing." Then after a pause during
which he stared at the floor, he looked up. "Doctor, I want to consult
you about something. Your standards of right and wrong seem to me a
bit surer than most people's. I'm in trouble and I want your advice."

He was looking at the Doctor as he spoke, but he was acutely conscious
of the slender figure that stood with her back to them before the open
fire.

"You see," he said, plunging into his subject, "a week before the bank
failed I found that I might need a lot of ready money before I got
through with the trial. So I sold all my People's Bank stock."

"That was fortunate."

"But, Doctor! Don't you see? At the time I sold the shares they
weren't worth the paper they were printed on!"

"But you were ignorant of this."

"Of course; but does that alter the fact that I took money for stock
that was worthless?"

The Doctor rubbed his hands together thoughtfully. For once he was not
prepared to give an immediate answer to a question concerning a moral
issue.

"On the spur of the moment I should advise you to refund the money,
but I do not know if such advice is wise. The fact is, neither you nor
I are sufficiently versed in financial matters to know what is
customary in such cases. What does your brother-in-law advise?"

"I have had no conversation with him since the bank failed. He stays
in town nearly every night, and you can imagine what his days are."

"Well, I should put the matter before him, explain my scruples, and
then act unquestioningly on his advice. It has been my rule in life,
when my own judgment did not suffice, to consult the highest available
authority upon that given subject and abide by it. Basil Sequin, in
spite of this unfortunate failure, is undoubtedly our ablest
financier. I can only bid you do as I have done; leave everything
entirely to him."

"I shouldn't!" cried Miss Lady, wheeling about with a return of her
old, childlike, impetuous manner; "I shouldn't leave it to anybody.
I'd buy back the stock, every share of it. I wouldn't keep money for
which I'd given nothing! You ought to see Miss Ferney Foster! She
bought bank stock only last week; gave all the money she'd made on her
pickles for ten years, and when she found the bank had failed, she
went out of her head. I've been there to-day and she didn't know me."

"Who sold her the stock?"

"A broker named Gilson."

"It was my stock," Donald cried "Of course she's got to be paid back!
And all the rest of them. I'll buy back every share of it, if it takes
my last dollar!"

"Will it take all you have?" Miss Lady scanned his face anxiously.

"Yes, and more. I made an investment with some of the money before I
knew the bank was in trouble; then there's the double liability law.
It wouldn't matter so much if it weren't for the trial."

"Your sister, of course, will be ready to help you. Or has she, too,
lost?"

"No," said Donald, his lips tightening, "she hasn't lost. She's had no
stock in the bank for a year. But I shan't call upon her."

"Because she opposed your course so violently? Oh, I see. A point of
honor on which I quite agree with you. But you are not going under,
Donald. We will see to that. I am not a wealthy man, as you know.
There have been times recently when the future looked very dark. But
this little lady has steered us into calmer waters. If you should, in
the course of the next few months, be in need of a reasonable sum, I
am happy to say we will be in a position to accommodate you."

Donald gripped his hand. "I shan't call on you, Doctor. But once I'm
through with this accursed trial, I'll try to justify your belief in
me."

The tall clock in the hall gave a preliminary wheeze, then hiccoughed
nine times violently. The Doctor carefully arranged his voluminous
papers in a shabby, brown portfolio, and rose with an effort.

"You will excuse me now if I bid you good night? My physician has
become rather arbitrary in regulating my hours. Keep up your courage,
my boy; that courage that 'scorns to bend to mean devices for a sordid
end.' I admire the course you have taken, I admire you. Good night to
you both."

They watched him go, with his tall, stooped figure, and his fine,
serious eyes that saw life only through the stultifying medium of
books. Then they looked at each other.

"I'll call Connie," Miss Lady said, moving to the door.

"Just a minute, please."

She came back reluctantly, and stood with her hands clasped on the
back of a chair, breathing quickly.

"Do you remember," Donald asked, standing in front of her and speaking
in a low, tense voice, "the last time we stood in this room, and the
promises I made you? Well, I've kept them. I've fought like the
devil,--You don't know what it means, you can't know. But I've kept
them. Now I want to tell you that I've got to break over. You are
right about the bank-stock money. It's not mine. I'll pay it back to-
morrow. But more money has to come from somewhere to carry on the
trial. There's only one chance I can think of. I've got to enter
Lickety Split for the Derby."

"No, you haven't! There are other ways. You must go to work."

"Work!" he broke out fiercely. "Haven't I been trying to get a
position ever since I came home? Who wants to tie up to me until this
cursed case is decided? I have been trying to write, but my things
come back faster than I can send them out. What am I good for? A game
at billiards, _sixty_ miles an hour in a motor car, a lark with any
idler that happens in the club. Bah! I'm sick of having people
patronize me because I am not in the game, because I've never earned a
penny, except by gambling, in my life!"

"But that's all behind you, Don! You've got the rest of your life to
live differently. When the case is decided--"

"Yes, and suppose it goes against me? It did before, it may again.
Talk about justice and truth! I've failed to find them. I've had
enough of this glorious thing called life; I'm ready to quit."

"You can't quit, Don!" She said it softly, with the firelight flushing
her eager, solicitous face. "Don't you suppose we all want to quit
sometimes? We've just got to take a fresh grip on our courage and
fight it out. I'm in trouble myself, to-night, Don. Will you help me?"

His eyes flew to hers as he half knelt on the chair before her.

"I've sold Thornwood," she went on, her lips trembling. "I can hardly
speak of it, even yet. I feel like a traitor to Daddy, to all the
Carseys who ever lived here, to myself! You know what the place means
to me. I believe I should die if I ever saw any one else living here!
I don't know who bought it, I don't want to know. All I know is that
I've been perfectly wretched every hour since I signed the paper,
until just now when the Doctor offered to lend you the money. Oh! Don,
if I thought selling Thornwood meant that we could help clear your
name, there'd never be another instant of regret! You'll let us help
you?"

He put up his hand as if to ward off a blow: "Don't," he said harshly.
"I can't take your help. I can't even take your friendship, or the
Doctor's. Don't you see that I'm going through hell? Don't you know
that I love you?"

The color left her face, and her eyes wavered a moment, then steadied.

"You must never say that again, Don! You must try not to think of it.
I'll forgive you because I want you to forgive me for something. You
know the letter you sent me from San Francisco? I burned it, unopened,
right there where you are standing now. It was a cowardly thing to do,
even though I thought you were in the wrong. If I had known the truth
I never would have kept silent all those months. It was a great wrong
I did you, Don; can you forgive me?"

He studied her face, as if he would by sheer intensity probe those
luminous eyes that said everything and nothing. At last his head
dropped.

"I was a fool ever to think you cared," he said brokenly; "I knew I
wasn't good enough for you. I knew it from the first, but I tried.
Shall I keep on trying for your sake?"

"No, Don, not for mine. For your own, and for the sake of the girl
you'll some day make your wife. But I want you to remember that I
shall feel responsible for whatever happens to you. If you give up the
fight and go back to the old life, I shall know it was because I
failed you; if you succeed, as I believe you will, I shall be happy
always in knowing that I had a little part in it. Shall we say good
night?"

[Illustration: "It was a great wrong I did you Don, can you forgive
me?"]

He took the hand she offered him and one of those silences followed
which once having passed between a man and woman, is remembered above
all spoken words, a silence in which all barriers fall away, and soul
speaks to soul. It was like a great harmony quivering with beautiful
things unsaid.

He left her standing in the firelight, her eyes shining strangely in
her otherwise passive face. He closed the door resolutely on the light
and warmth of the homelike, cheery room, and passing out to the road,
miserably turned his steps toward the empty grandeur of the big house
whose turreted and gabled roof broke the sky-line at the top of the
Hill.

CHAPTER XXIII

In two of the gloomiest and dirtiest little rooms in the dirtiest and
gloomiest of little streets that dangle at loose ends from the
courthouse yard, Mr. Gooch had his office. It was a small dark place
that suggested nothing so much as an overflowing scrap-basket. Papers
littered the table, and spilled out of every pigeon-hole of the old
secretary; papers lay in stacks along the book-shelves, and bulged
from fat envelopes on the mantel-shelf. Over and above and under all
lay the undisturbed dust of months.

In the corner which was reduced to perpetual twilight by the proximity
of the jail wall adjoining, Noah Wicker sat on his high stool, and by
the assistance of a solitary swinging light, excavated lumps of legal
lore from the mines of wisdom about him. To one who had not seen Noah
since his first days of attorneyship, he presented an unfamiliar
appearance. His feet, still hooked awkwardly under the rung of the
stool, were shod in patent leather shoes of a style so pronounced that
they rendered him slightly pigeon-toed. His clothes were of the most
approved cut, and his hosiery reflected the hue of his tie.

His hair, only, was reminiscent of the country youth who had emerged
from the law school a short time before, in store clothes and creaking
boots. A front lock that has been assiduously urged to stand up for
many years, is not inclined to sit down at the first whim of its
owner. It has reached an age of independence, and is inclined to
insist upon its rights.

Noah, alone in the office one spring day, surreptitiously took from
his desk a small object, which he held in the palm of his broad hand,
and studied minutely. When the rays from the swinging electric
happened to strike it, it sent spots of light dancing on the grimy
ceiling. For Noah was becoming anxious about his pompadour and could
not refrain from examining it at frequent intervals. Every expedient
had been resorted to from surgery to soap, but the stubbly blond lock
defied him. It seemed the last barrier that rose between him and
cosmopolitan life.

A light step on the stairs sent the mirror into the desk, and brought
a look of absorbed concentration to his expansive brow.

"Is Mr. Gooch here?" asked Connie Queerington, thrusting a plumed hat
into his range of vision.

Noah disengaged himself from the stool and came forward eagerly, but
paused when he found that she was not alone.

"Come on in, Gerald," she said hospitably. "You know Mr. Wicker, don't
you? At any rate he knows you. I've told him reams about you, haven't
I, Mr. Wicker?"

Noah bowed gravely, and after bringing forward chairs, retired to his
desk, in a state of outward calm and inward wrath.

Gerald Ivy daintily dusted the chair with his handkerchief, and sat
down, nursing one silk-clad ankle across his knee, in order not to
expose more of his garments than was necessary to the grime of Mr.
Gooch's abode.

"What a nuisance he isn't here!" said Connie. "I could leave Father's
message but I left word for Hat to meet me here. What time do you have
to go, Gerald?"

"Four o'clock," said Gerald, then glancing at the clock, "it's only
three-thirty now."

"The clock is slow," announced Noah unexpectedly from his corner.

Gerald leisurely removed his gloves. "What does half an hour matter
when I can spend it with you? I was just going to meet Mater at the
jail where she has been pinning rosebuds on repentant bosoms. Come,
tell me all about yourself!" He leaned forward with elbows on his
knees, and hands clasped, dropping his voice to a confidential tone,
and bringing the whole battery of his glances to play upon her.

"Why should I?" asked Connie archly. "You haven't been near me since I
went to the country."

"What was the use? You couldn't expect me to compete with a hero, who
is making such a grandstand play as Morley. Giving himself up for an
act he says he didn't commit, refunding money when he doesn't have to,
going to work as a scrub reporter when he has lived like a lord all
his life! I don't see how the theatrical managers have overlooked him!
He is the stuff matinee idols are made of. He's turned the heads of
half the girls in town!"

"He's turned mine all right," said Connie complacently. "I'm crazy
about him. And he isn't doing all those things for effect either. He
is not that kind. Is he, Mr. Wicker?"

Noah, thus suddenly appealed to, was compelled to answer truthfully
that he was not. But he did so with a protesting jerk of the elbow,
that sent an ink-bottle flying to the floor.

Gerald took advantage of the mishap to get Connie over to the window.

"It's beastly lonesome without you," he whispered. "When are you
coming home?"

"Heaven knows!" said Connie, putting her hands behind her for safe-
keeping. "Now that somebody else has rented the College Street house,
and Miss Lady has sold Thornwood, I don't know what's to become of
us."

"Don't you miss me a little bit?" asked Gerald, playing with the
silver purse on her wrist.

"Of course I do, silly. Is my hat on straight? I wish I had a mirror."

Noah kneeling on the floor, mopping up the ink, reached toward the
desk, and then paused.

"I'll be your mirror!" said Gerald, presenting his eyes in a way that
only a very near-sighted person could have taken advantage of.

"City Hall clock's striking four," said Noah grimly.

But Noah's desire to have Connie to himself was not to be gratified.
No sooner had Gerald gone, than Hattie arrived, very slim and angular,
and carrying a prodigious stack of school-books.

"What was the sense of my meeting you here?" she demanded of Connie,
wasting no time on amenities. "You've made me miss the four-two train,
and come out of my way. What did you want with me?"

"I wanted to use your mileage book, dear," said Connie sweetly. "How
long do you suppose it will be, Mr. Wicker, before Mr. Gooch comes
in?"

"Any minute now," said Noah, smoothing down his hair with an inky
finger. "I--I think the clock is a little fast." Then as Connie
laughed, he jerked up the top of his desk and disappeared behind it.

"Stuffy old place!" said Connie, wandering about the room. "If Mr.
Gooch wasn't so stingy he'd have it cleaned up."

"I wouldn't call a man stingy who had given a library to the law
school," Hattie objected.

"Yes, and he's spent the rest of his life saving every penny to pay
himself back for it. He has eaten fifty-two suppers a year at our
house for ten years, that's five hundred and twenty suppers, and he's
never even treated us to a chocolate sundae!"

"I don't think it's stingy to be economical," Hattie said with her
most superior air.

Noah, who was facing the open door, suddenly began making strange
gestures, and violent appeals for silence, but the girls were off on
an old argument and did not see him.

"Besides," Connie was saying conclusively, "he cheats at cards; you
know he does,"

"Only at solitaire. I don't see any reason why he shouldn't cheat
himself if he wants to. He's all right, even if he is queer, and I
think you ought to be ashamed of yourself to talk about him the way
you do!"

"How do you do, Harriet?" said Mr. Gooch dryly, entering from the
outer room and not glancing at Connie. "A message from your father?"

Connie slipped the note into Hattie's hand and took refuge with Noah
behind the desk top.

"Did he hear?" she whispered hysterically. Then not waiting for a
reply she pounced upon an object in the desk. "Is that a mirror?"

Noah shamefacedly produced it.

"Hold it for me," she commanded. "Not so far off. Like that!"

Standing there behind the desk holding his little mirror for her to
powder her nose seemed to Noah the apotheosis of romance.

"Too much?" she asked, tilting her face for inspection. "And is my hat
right? I want to look my best, because you know I _may_ meet Donald
Morley on the steps."

She was evidently not disappointed, for Noah, standing at the window
waiting to catch the last flutter of her feather as she passed up the
street, had to wait five agonizing minutes, at the end of which Don
spoke to him from the door.

"Hello, Wick. Is Mr. Gooch here?"

"He was a minute ago."

"Is he coming back?"

"I don't know, I'm sure."

Noah made the answers in a tone that discouraged further conversation,
and Donald after a sharp glance at him, shrugged his shoulders and
picked up a book. He had not long to wait before Mr. Gooch returned.

"I've been telephoning all over town for you," said the lawyer
testily. "Is this rumor true that you have bought back your bank
stock?"

"It is. It was the only honest thing I could do."

"Not at all," complained Mr. Gooch, who became passionately attached
to the contrary opinion the moment he ascertained yours. "It was a
most quixotic, a most reckless course to take. I suppose you know of
the double liability?"

"Yes, I know," Donald flung out impatiently.

"You are singularly fortunate, Mr. Morley, to be able to indulge these
magnanimous whims. Your resources I presume--"

"My resources consist in a piece of real estate and a couple of race
horses. That's about all that's left."

"The real estate?" Mr. Gooch looked encouraged. "City property?"

"No, it's a farm."

"Where?"

"On the Cane Run Road."

Noah's head appeared above the desk for the first time during the
conversation and he looked surprised, as if he had made a discovery.

"Adjoining your sister's property, I judge?" continued Mr. Gooch.
"That's good, very good. It ought to bring about--?"

"It's not for sale," said Donald shortly.

Mr. Gooch, who had emerged to the rim of his shell, promptly went in
again.

"You see, Mr. Gooch," said Donald, leaning forward and speaking
earnestly, "when you took this case I had no need to think of the
financial end of it. I wanted to get the affair straight, and I didn't
care a hang what it would cost. Since then things have changed. I
think it's only fair to tell you that after I sell my horses and
settle things up, there won't be more than a thousand dollars left.
Will that cover your fee?"

Mr. Gooch was visibly offended. "It is not my custom, sir, to name a
sum in advance. There's a great deal of work on this case, of a very
annoying nature. We might try to come under the amount stipulated, and
in a pinch of course you could sell the real estate."

"No," said Donald, "I shall not sell it. And I've got to know to-day
what your terms will be. I've got work with the _Herald-Post_ as
temporary correspondent at the Capitol. I'm going up there to-morrow,
and will probably stay on until my case is called. I'd like to have
your definite answer at once."

"Well, I didn't want the case in the beginning," said Mr. Gooch. "It's
the sort of thing I don't care for. I might be able to finish it for a
thousand dollars, but I don't know that I'd care to commit myself."

"Very well," said Donald, rising with spirit. "That means that I'll
have to get another lawyer."

"You'll be making a mistake," said Mr. Gooch, twisting his small
features into a hard knot, and watching Donald closely. "It's a great
risk to change lawyers in the middle of a case. There's a great deal
at stake. You oughtn't to stand back on a question of money at a
critical time like this."

"Good Lord, man! I'm not standing back on a question of money! I'd put
up all I had if it was a million. Do you suppose I would have taken a
job in Frankfort for ten dollars a week if I had any money?"

"But you still hold property!"

"I do, Mr. Gooch, and for reasons you could never understand I shall
continue to hold it. Good day."

"Stop a minute!" Noah Wicker unfolded himself in sections, and got to
his feet.

"Suppose you let me take your case."

Donald and Mr. Gooch looked at him with equal amazement.

"I haven't had much experience," Noah went on slowly and grimly. "I
didn't even know a reputable lawyer could throw a case over in the
middle when a client lost his money. I've got a lot to learn. But I do
know this case from end to end, and I know you, Don Morley. If I can't
clear you with or without money, I'd better give up the practice of
law right here and now. Do you think you'd be willing to trust me?"

Donald hesitated for a moment, glancing from Noah's honest, homely
face to Mr. Gooch's sneering one, then he jumped to a decision.

"It's a go, Wick! And the fee--"

Noah extended a hand, the breadth of whose palm has already been
commented upon.

"The fee be damned," he drawled.

CHAPTER XXIV

Donald Morley packed his few belongings and went on his small mission
for the _Herald-Post_ with a determination worthy of a larger cause.
The remuneration was less than he had been in the habit of paying his
stable boy, but failure to secure a position, together with a depleted
bank account, had chastened his spirit, and he was ready to grasp at
anything that would give him a chance to justify the belief of his
friends.

When he first arrived at the sleepy little town where the state
transacted its business, he took two rooms at the hotel. Later he
moved to a boarding-house, and by the end of the third week he was in
a small, bare room in an office building, eating his breakfasts at the
depot, his luncheons at a restaurant, and his dinners at the hotel.
For in his determination to square himself with the world he had
managed to dispose of nearly all he had, excepting a thousand dollars
which he had secretly deposited to Noah's account.

At first poverty was a somewhat diverting novelty; it served to keep
his mind off those pursuing terrors that had filled his horizon. For
the first time in life he was economizing for a purpose. But to make
the usual expenditure of a day extend over a week requires forethought
and judgment, neither of which qualities Donald possessed. He had
counted on augmenting the small sum received from the _Herald-Post_ by
writing feature articles for other papers, but his efforts had met
with small success. In vain he arranged his article after the exact
plan laid down by Cropsie Decker. He clipped, pasted and pinned,
looked up statistics, verified statements and ruthlessly weeded out
every little vagrant fancy that dared intrude on the solemn company of
facts. But his efforts when finished bore the same relation to
Cropsie's that a pile of bricks does to a house.

Only once had he set Cropsie and his lapboard literature aside, and
followed his own impulse. It was after his first call at the
Queeringtons', when the Doctor had advised him to choose a congenial
theme and let his fancy have full rein. A word of encouragement was
all he needed to begin a series of tales that had burned for utterance
ever since he left India. They were the adventures related to him by
his Mohammedan bearer, Khalil Samad, who had sat on his heels many a
night before the young sahib's fire, and spun yarns of marvelous
variety. Donald had only to close his eyes to see the keen, subtle
face surmounted by its huge white turban, and to hear the torrent of
picturesque broken English that poured from the lips of one of the few
Mohammedans in India who could curse the various natives in their own
vernacular from the Khyber Pass to Trichinopoli.

But the story of Khalil's adventures having been launched into unknown
waters, had not yet been heard from, and Donald patiently returned to
his feature articles, holding himself down to the actual and being
bored as only a person with a creative imagination can be bored by the
naked, unadorned truth.

His one consolation these days was in the fact that Miss Lady would
not have to give up Thornwood. Through an agent he had leased the
place to the Queeringtons for the next two years at an absurdly low
sum, and the thought of her in the midst of her beloved surroundings
went far to reconcile him to the meagerness of his own.

His dingy little room boasted only an iron bed and washstand, the rest
of the floor space being principally occupied by his imposing brass-
bound steamer-trunk covered with foreign labels. On the dusty shelf
over the washstand stood an incongruous array of silver-mounted,
monogramed toilet articles; around the wall ran a dado of shoes, while
from the gas-pipe depended a heavy bunch of neckties. The chief
inconvenience in being poor, Donald had decided, was in not knowing
what to do with one's things.

It was not only his things, however, that he found difficulty in
disposing of. For a given number of hours a day a man can hold himself
down to the task of sitting at a small deal table, covering yellow
tablets with words that will probably never be read, but after too
long a stretch nature is apt to rebel. At such times Donald raged like
a pent lion. His mind involuntarily flew to the possibility of this
confinement being but a foretaste of the other that waited for him
should the rehearing not be granted. From the beginning he had refused
to consider the possibility of conviction; he was innocent, he would
be cleared. But as the days dragged on, a shadow began to dog his
steps and to sit on the foot of his bed by night, grinning at him
through bars of iron.

Had there been a friend to whom he could turn during these days he
might have been spared some of the hours of anguish he endured, but
his pride was cut to the quick, and he shrank from seeing any one who
knew him or his family. Cropsie Decker could have helped him, but
Cropsie was in Mexico. To Noah Wicker he had ceased to be an
individual, he had become a client, a first client, and personalities
were swamped in abstractions. The only place where he could have found
sympathy and understanding was at Thornwood, the hospitable door of
which he had resolutely closed with his own hand. If he thought the
depths of loneliness had been sounded out there in the Orient, he had
now to learn that it is only in one's own country, among one's own
people, that the plummet strikes bottom.

The day before the case was to be presented Noah came up from the
city, and once again they went over every tiresome, familiar detail.
By the time evening arrived Donald was in a state of black dejection.
Half a dozen sleepless nights, and the return of several articles did
not tend to brighten the situation, and when Noah accepted an
invitation from the Judge to dine with him, Donald felt that he had
been abandoned to his fate.

Twilight was closing in, the kind that has no beginning and no end, a
damp, gray saturating twilight that smothers the soul in a fog of
gloom and relaxes all the moral fibers. Donald went to his small
window and looked out. The street below was deserted, save for an
occasional shabby surrey, splashing through the mud on its way to the
station. At long intervals an umbrella bobbed past, and once a drove
of cattle lumbered by, driven by a boy astride a mule. Donald jerked
down the shade savagely, and lit the single gas-jet.

In a magazine which he picked up was a graphic article on child labor
in the mines, giving pictures of ragged, emaciated children who spent
their lives underground, breathing foul air and becoming dwarfed in
body and soul. He flung the book from him and dropped his head upon
his arms. Life seemed a great, inexorable machine, setting at naught
human aspiration, human endeavor. What was the good of fighting it?
What was the sense in believing in a divine order, in such infernal
chaos?

Unable to stand his own company any longer, he seized his hat and
started for the hotel. He was in a reckless, hopeless mood, ready to
take diversion wherever he found it, and as is usual in such cases,
diversion met him half way.

The little hotel office was in a spasm of activity, bells were
ringing, doors slamming, and guests arriving. The group of loiterers
who usually sat facing the fire, criticizing the daily proceedings of
the legislature, now stood in a semicircle with their backs to it,
watching the new arrivals.

"It's a theatrical company," explained one of the voluble crowd to
Donald; "the liveliest lay-out we've had for moons. That's the star
talking to the fellow in the checked suit. Some winner, isn't she?"

The object of this remark, having just told a story that elicited a
round of laughter, turned carelessly and swept the room with a
brilliant, experienced glance. The searchlight passed the porter and
bell boys, the obsequious clerk at the desk, the semicircle of
admirers at the fire, and came to an audacious pause when it reached
Donald Morley.

He was lighting a cigarette at the moment, and presented an appearance
of colossal indifference to all stars, terrestrial and celestial. But
when he had tossed the match into the open grate, he nonchalantly
sauntered to the desk and glanced at the register.

There was the dashing signature, the ink still wet on the flourish,

"La Florine."

It was Cropsie Decker's old flame, "The Serpent of the Nile," whom he
had last seen poised on the cork of a champagne bottle on a poster on
Billy-goat Hill! Without looking up he was aware that the same
mischievous eyes which had peeped through the black-gloved fingers on
the poster, were watching him now with the liveliest interest. They
followed him across the room, they laughed at him over the shoulder of
the man in the checked suit, they flung a challenge at his feet, and
dared him pick it up.

Donald watched her with increasing fascination. It was good just to be
near anything so careless, and gay, and irresponsible. He, too, had
once poised tiptoe on the perilous edge of things, and laughed
defiance in the face of Fate. Why shouldn't he do it again? A man
about to be hanged is given a last good dinner, why shouldn't he humor
himself to one more good time before the die was cast on the morrow?

It would only be necessary to present his card and mention Cropsie
Decker, and the rest would be easy. He had just about enough money to
pay for a theater ticket, and a cozy little supper afterward. But what
about flowers?

He thrust his hand eagerly into his pocket on an investigating tour.
As he did so his ringers encountered a small, hard object which he
drew forth and looked at curiously. It was the dried hip of a wild
rose, that had been transferred from pocket to pocket since the day it
dared to bloom before its time, in a cranny of the stone wall that
circled the garden at Thornwood. The touch of it brought back an old
barrel hammock under the lilacs, and the glowing eyes of a girl,
lifted to his with a look of trusting innocence.

Without another glance at "The Serpent of the Nile," he turned up his
coat collar, pulled his hat over his eyes and plunged out into the
wet, dismal street. For hours he tramped, neither knowing nor caring
where he went. He was fighting the hardest fight a man is called on to
fight, the fight against himself with no reward in view.

When he got back to his room, spent and disheveled at nine o'clock, he
found two letters under his door. One, a black-bordered envelope
addressed in Connie's familiar scrawl, he thrust into his pocket,
smiling in spite of himself at the memory of Miss Lady's bargain
stationery. The other, a long, bulky envelope, bearing the device of a
well-known magazine, caused him to sit limply down on his steamer-
trunk and gaze at it miserably.

His cherished story had come back at last! The possibility of its
being accepted had been the one hope he had clung to during many a
desperate hour. In it he had, for the first time, dared to say the
things he felt, to venture boldly into the land of romance which
hitherto he had cautiously skirted. Dozens of other similar tales were
teeming in his brain, only waiting to know the fate of this one. And
it had come back! It was the best he had to offer, and his best was
not good enough! He looked at the shabby, dog-eared sheet, and the
folded enclosure that doubtless set forth the editor's smug regrets,
then with an impatient gesture he flung the envelope and its contents
into the scrap-basket, cursing himself and his conceit in thinking he
could write, and editors and their conceit in thinking they could
judge.

The folded enclosure, meanwhile, that had been in the manuscript
elected to disprove the total depravity of inanimate things, and
instead of falling face downward, fell face upward on the very top of
the heap. Thus it was that Donald Morley, charging desperately about
his limited quarters, suddenly spied a word that made him snatch up
the sheet of paper and rush to the light.

The editor, it appeared, had read the story with genuine pleasure.
Khalil Samad was an entirely new creation, presented with an
originality and humor altogether delightful. The one fault of the
story was its brevity. Of course, the magazine would accept it as it
was, but the opinion of the office was to the effect that if the
author had material for other stories of a similar nature it was a
pity for him not to elaborate it into a book. A novel with Khalil
Samad for a hero, if written with the same charm as this first story,
would be an undoubted success. This was merely a suggestion, of
course, and might not fall in with Mr. Morley's other literary plans.
In any case the editor congratulated him upon the originality of his
story and would look forward to publishing it in one form or the
other.

Donald read the note through twice before he mastered its contents,
then he drew a prodigious breath. Other stories of a similar nature?
Why, he knew dozens of them! Khalil Samad had been his sole companion
for two months, and Khalil's chief occupation had been talking about
himself and his escapades. Donald knew the main incidents of his
dramatic career from the time he had been stolen by a Bengali bandit
and sold into matrimony at the age of ten, to the day he had salaamed
a tearful farewell from the dock at Bombay.

Yes, most certainly, the writing of the novel _did_ fall in with
Mr. Morley's literary plans. But what about his other plans? He caught
himself up suddenly. How did he know what twenty-four hours might
bring forth? What if, through some terrible error, he was not granted
a new hearing? But Noah Wicker was confident. He had discovered a
point in the former trial which was technically inadmissible. A
witness had been permitted to make a statement over Mr. Gooch's
objection, and Noah had succeeded in finding a previous decision that
made him believe a reversal was practically certain.

Somehow since his story was accepted, Donald found it much easier to
share Noah's confidence. Waves of returning courage swept over him.
Perhaps after all, he was going to be able to do something worth while
in the world! He would work like a Trojan, he would begin to-night.

He seized pen and paper, but the desire to share his good news
prompted him to write letters rather than fiction. He wanted to tell
Miss Lady, he wanted to tell the Doctor. He wanted to paralyze Cropsie
Decker! Then he thought of Noah, and ramming the editor's note in his
pocket, he went plunging down the steps and across to the hotel.

Noah had gone to bed, but he was unceremoniously routed out.

"Read that!" shouted Don, thrusting his hand in his pocket and pulling
out an envelope.

"It isn't opened," said Noah, yawning; then recognizing Connie
Queerington's handwriting he suddenly woke up.

"Hang it! That's the wrong one," said Donald, diving for the other
note. "Here it is! Behold a budding author, Wick! I've written some
stuff they say is worth while. They want more!"

Noah read the note, then returned it calmly.

"It's encouraging, I congratulate you," he observed laconically.

Donald's face clouded, then cleared and he stepped forward
impulsively:

"See here, Wick," he said, "you think I'm poaching on your preserves.
I'm not. That's the first letter I have had from Connie for weeks. I
haven't written her a line since I left home, but she likes to keep me
on the string. She just plays with Ivy and me to keep her hand in.
Don't you mind either one of us. Stick to it and win."

"Oh, I'm sticking to it all right," said Noah doggedly, "but I don't
seem to stand much chance with the rest of you."

"Nonsense, man! Think of your head-piece! The Lord started you out
with more brains than most of us end with. The Judge said this morning
that you knew more common law than any young lawyer he could think
of."

"Yes, but knowledge of common law won't win this suit. She'll never
look at me, Donald, except as a last resort. She thinks I am a heavy,
awkward hayseed, and I reckon she's about right."

He towered there in his blue pajamas two sizes too small for him, his
hair on end, and his large hands grasping the chair back. "I don't
know the game," he went on helplessly. "You fellows take the trick
while I am making up my mind what to play. She's too much for me. You
are all too much for me, but I shan't throw down my hand, not yet."

Donald got up from the foot of the bed where he had been sitting, and
took Noah by the shoulders.

"You've been working like a dog on my case, old fellow. Suppose you
let me take charge of yours?"

"How do you mean?"

"You say you don't know the rules of the game. I know them backwards
and forwards and upside down. You let me play this hand for you with
Connie Queerington, and you stand to win."

"But--but you?"

"Heavens, man! Do you suppose if it were anything to me I'd have
forgotten to read her letter all this time? No, I am through with that
sort of thing." He turned his head abruptly and his face darkened.
"There never was but one race for me, that was worth the running and I
got left at the post."

"Perhaps Miss Connie--"

"Likes me? Of course she does. And I like her tremendously. That's how
I am going to help you. Leave it to me, Wick. Let me write her all the
letters I want to. Let me tell her about the stir you are making up
here, about the Judge cottoning to you, and the Governor asking you to
dinner. In short, let me dramatize you, Wick; I'll write her a play in
five acts with you for the hero. All you have to do is to ease up on
your letters and keep out of her sight for a month or so. Tell her
that as long as you can't be anything more to her you will be a good
friend. Connie hates a man to be a friend! She wants him to be either
an acquaintance or a lover. You have gotten out of the first class,
and she will never let you alone until she gets you back into the
third."

Noah rubbed his massive and bewildered brow. "It's too complicated for
me," he said; "I guess I'll have to accept your services."

That night Donald worked until the small hours, eagerly blocking out
the chapters of his new book. So absorbed was he that it was not until
he straightened his tired back, and started to make ready for bed that
he remembered that he had not yet read Connie's letter.

It was a blotted and incoherent scrawl.

"Dear Cousin Don," he read, "I don't see how I am ever going to write,
for my eyes are almost out from crying, but Miss Lady simply
_can't_ do everything, and somebody has to tell the relatives.
Hattie ought to help me, but she thinks she has to write to her
intimate friends first, and she's got about a dozen. You know how
hateful she is.

"Well, he was taken worse last week, Father, I mean. I can't go into
the details for I have told them over to so many people now that I'm
about crazy, and every time I go over them I almost cry myself to
death. He didn't know any of us all last night or this morning, except
once he called for Miss Lady and patted her cheek. At the end he
seemed to get stronger and opened his eyes and asked for his
manuscript. It was the most pitiful thing you ever saw at the last, to
see him trying to turn over the sheets, with his poor eyes staring out
at the wall, not knowing any of us. You'll see about the funeral in
the morning's paper. I don't see how we are ever going through with
it.

"Your loving cousin,

"CONSTANCE QUEERINGTON.

"P. S. Please tell Mr. Wicker--I'd rather die than write another
letter."

CHAPTER XXV

The summer that followed the People's Bank failure was one of those
uncompromising summers that arrive in May and depart only with the
last leaf in October. The river dwindling to a feeble stream staggered
between distant banks, and the countryside lay parched and panting
beneath an unrelenting sun.

In the city Noah Wicker toiled laboriously over his first case which
had been granted a rehearing, and set for November the sixth. At the
Capitol, Donald Morley sat day after day, coatless, collarless, in the
torrid confines of his small bedroom, furiously covering reams of
paper with compact handwriting. At Thornwood Miss Lady, who had been
left in command of a sinking ship, struggled heroically to bring it
into port.

One day early in July, Myrtella Flathers sat just inside the screen
door of the summer kitchen, armed with a fly-spanker and a countenance
of impending gloom. She was evidently rehearsing a speech, for her
lips moved in scornful curves, and her bristling black locks were
tossed in defiance. Mike, venturing out of a shady corner and catching
a glimpse of her face, thought her inaudible remarks were addressed to
him and retired with guilty eyelid and drooping tail to the woodshed.

Myrtella's bitter reflections were interrupted by the appearance of
Miss Lady on the vine-covered porch. She looked absurdly young in her
widow's weeds, in spite of the fact that her color was gone and her
eyes beginning to look too big for her face.

"They've come to stay a week!" she announced, sinking wearily on the
top step and casting a desperate glance at the closed shutters of the
guest room above. "And it's Friday, and Mr. Gooch will be here to
supper. Do you see how we are ever going to hold out?"

"_I_ ain't!" declared Myrtella, spanking a fly into eternity with
deadly precision. "I'm sick and tired of company. There ain't been a
day in the three months since the Doctor died that we ain't had his
kin folks on our hands. It beats my time how half the world gits a
prowlin' fit every summer, and goes pestering them that stays at home.
As to these old maids that come to-day, if they had a eye in their
heads they'd see you was plumb wore out. I wouldn't 'a' ast 'em to
stay."

"But I had to. They are the Doctor's cousins. They said they'd been
coming to see him every summer for years, and they don't want to lose
sight of the children."

"Umph! The children wouldn't mind losing sight of them! Miss Hattie
got sent to bed onct for sassing the thin one that wants special
dishes and all her water boiled. I bet she'll ast you to change her
mattress."

"She has already. That's what I came out to tell you, and she wants
her supper an hour earlier than ours. But that isn't what's troubling
me, Myrtella, I have something much more serious than Cousin Emily to
worry over."

"You ain't no exception," said Myrtella, somewhat defensively.
"Trouble is about the only thing that rich people ain't got a monopoly
on. I've had my share; it's a wonder I got a black hair left in my
head!"

"Has your brother lost his good place?" Miss Lady asked.

"Phineas? No, mam. He's been at Iselin's ever since he left Mrs.
Sequin's, an' to hear him tell it he's runnin' the whole
'stablishment. I must say he's doin' better 'n he ever done before,
but he's as full of airs as a music-box, an' that there Maria, a
paternizing me like I hadn't been payin' her rent all these years. But
I kin get along without them. It's little Chick I'm a worryin' about."

"What's the matter with Chick?"

"Matter with him?" Myrtella turned on her fiercely. "Ever' thing is
the matter with him. What chanct has he got in the world? Picked out
of a ash-barrel, livin' in dirt an' ignorance, drinkin' the beer that
leaks outen the kegs on the freight cars, hangin' 'round the saloons
an' gittin' runtier an' dumber an' more pitifuller every day he lives.
My Lord! Ain't that enough the matter with him?"

Miss Lady's quick, eager sympathy leapt into her face.

"We must do something for Chick. Dr. Wyeth believes he can cure him if
they can ever get him into the Children's Hospital. Why can't we--"
she checked herself, and sat looking off to the hills across the
river.

"Myrtella, I've got to tell you something," she began again
desperately, "I've been trying to tell you all day, but I didn't know
how. You have been so good to us, all through the Doctor's illness,
and before. But I'm afraid after this month we'll have to let you go."

Myrtella had been threatening to give notice for a month, but at this
announcement she looked as if she had been the victim of an
unsuccessful electrocution.

"It's a question of money," went on Miss Lady hurriedly. "You see we
simply haven't any. I've kept account of every cent that comes in and
goes out, just as Mr. Gooch told me to; but it doesn't balance. We'll
just have to keep on cutting down expenses until it does."

"An' you are going to begin on me," said Myrtella furiously, "an' git
in some onery nigger that'll carry home more in a basket than my wages
would come to!"

"No, Myrtella; we are going to try to do the work ourselves."

"You mean _you_ are! An' Miss Connie'll primp herself up an' go
hiking into town after beaux, an' Miss Hattie'll set around with her
nose in a book, an' you'll go on workin' an' slavin' an' wearin'
yourself to the bone fer them, an' their tribe of prowlin' kin.
Where's the money you got for this farm?"

"It went to pay the debts and to carry out the Doctor's wishes."

"'Bout printin' all them books he wrote over again, an' bringin' 'em
out in the same kind of covers?"

"Yes."

"How many was there, in all?"

"Twenty."

Myrtella compressed her lips, and with difficulty refrained from
comment. However freely the Doctor's will had been discussed in
public, no criticism of it was brooked in the presence of Miss Lady.

"As to your leaving," she said, changing the subject, while Myrtella
vented her wrath on the flies, "you know you have wanted to go for
months. It was only your goodness that made you come out here with us
after you had saved money enough to start your boarding-house. We
haven't been paying you enough, I know that, and--and we haven't
enough to go on even as we are."

Myrtella wheeled in the doorway, her face purple with anger:

"If you think I'm a-goin' an' leave you children in this big house,
messin' up yer own food, an' lettin' everybody run over you, you are
mighty mistaken! Miss Hattie 'd be having indigestion inside a week,
an' Bertie 'd git the croup, an' you'd have every female Queerington
that could buy a railroad ticket comin' an' settin' down on you!"

"But what can we do, Myrtella? I tell you the money is giving out!"

"Do? I'll tell you what we can do. We can board the company! We can
fill up the rooms with folks that pay for what they eat, an' there
won't be any room for the free prowlers. You git the boarders an' I'll
manage 'em."

"Why, Mrs. Ivy and Gerald wanted to come that way, but I laughed at
them. Besides I don't know about Gerald--"

"On account of Miss Connie?" asked Myrtella, who had been too much in
charge of the family not to know its secrets. "You let him come. He's
one of them men that's like vanilla extract--you git too much of him
onct, you never want no more!"

"And perhaps Mr. Gooch would come."

"Well it would go kinder hard with him to pay fer anything he's always
got free. But git Miss Hattie to ast him. He'd do it fer her quicker'n
anybody."

The project, under Myrtella's able generalship, developed immediately.
Mr. Gooch and the Ivys gladly availed themselves of the opportunity of
fleeing from the stifling city to the cool shade of Thornwood. Two
former pupils of the Doctor's, who were taking a summer course at the
university, also asked if they might have a room, and at the end of a
week paying guests were in possession and the family relegated to any
nook or corner that was large enough to accommodate a bed.

One problem was unexpectedly solved by the appearance of Uncle
Jimpson, who announced that "he had done come back home to stay." The
distinction of driving forth daily in solitary grandeur to exercise
the Sequins' horses, had palled upon him, and the prospect of
conducting the Queerington boarders back and forth to the station, and
renewing his intimacy with old John and Mike, had proven irresistible.

Aunt Caroline had died in the early spring, and Uncle Jimpson found
even the society of Myrtella a relief after his enforced loneliness.
He listened with bulging eyes and sagging jaw to her accounts of the
latest murders and obeyed her slightest command with a briskness that
would have amazed the old Colonel.

"We's helpin' Miss Lady git a start," he would say proudly again and
again, "an' then maybe she git married some more."

"Married!" Myrtella would flare, "yes, she orter git married to
another widower with three children, and a thousand kin folks.
Besides, who's she going to marry?"

"Ain't no trouble 'bout dat," Uncle Jimpson said wisely; "you jes' let
her peek over de blinds onct, an' you see what gwine happen."

"Well, she ain't going to peek," Myrtella said firmly. "She ain't got
a thought in her head, but gittin' Miss Hattie an' Bertie educated,
an' keepin' Miss Connie straight, an' carryin' out that fool will of
the Doctor's."

"Jest wait," Uncle Jimpson smilingly insisted, "dat chile can't no
more help 'cumulatin' beaux dan a flower kin bees. An' hits de king
bee dat's comin' dis time, shore!"

CHAPTER XXVI

"Where's Connie? Where's Hat?" cried Miss Lady breathlessly, bringing
her foam-flecked horse to a halt in front of the porch where Mrs. Ivy
was sitting in the twilight. "Don Morley has written a book and it's
going to be published this month!"

"A book!" echoed Mrs. Ivy incredulously, then,

"Ah, my dear, do get off that vicious beast; I haven't had a moment's
peace since Mr. Wicker sent him over!"

Miss Lady slipped to the ground and stood with her arm around Prince's
neck, laughing. The thrill of her long ride, the first one in nearly
two years, still surged through her, and the news just received made
her heart dance for joy. Happiness, in spite of her efforts not to
expect it, was beginning to shine across the troubled waters, a dim
and wavering light as yet, but drawing her toward it with irresistible
fascination. It was something to steer by in times of stress and
storm, something to turn to tremulously, in the lonely hours of the
night, when over-taxed muscles refused to relax and her tired brain
ached with the pity and sorrow of the world.

During her long ride this afternoon she had dared for the first time
to give rein to thoughts that had hitherto been held in check. Surely
life was more than the dreary, monotonous, loveless business of the
past summer! With all its problems and perplexities, it was
nevertheless a mysterious, fascinating thing. She did not approve of
it, nor did she altogether trust it, but she was incorrigibly in love
with it--and would be to the end.

"I suppose you know that supper is over," said Mrs. Ivy, with veiled
reproach. "Were there no letters for me?"

"Oh, dear, how stupid of me. I forgot to look through the rest of the
mail. Here it is."

Mrs. Ivy sorted out her own official-looking budget, then peered
closely at the two remaining envelopes.

"As I suspected," she said with a significant lifting of her eyebrows;
"two for Constance, in the same handwriting and both postmarked from
the Capitol."

"But what of it, Mrs. Ivy?"

"My _dear_," Mrs. Ivy breathed, "don't you see they are from Mr.
Morley?"

"Yes; but I have one from him, too; he's telling us about his book."

Mrs. Ivy smiled with sad superiority, "Ah, my dear, you are not a very
sophisticated little chaperon. I have hesitated to speak to you
before, but I really think this young man's attention to Constance
should be stopped. It isn't fair to poor Gerald. You know how she has
always adored my boy, ever since she was in pinafores, and I don't
mind confessing to you that I've encouraged her. Of course Gerald's
artistic temperament has made him susceptible to many forms of beauty,
but he has really been quite devoted of late. I simply can not endure
the thought of that Mr. Morley interfering with the blossoming of
their childhood love."

"But Mrs. Ivy, he--he is her cousin; he looks upon her as a child."

"She is only a year younger than you are, my dear, and much more
worldly wise. I've had my eyes open and I've seen a great deal. She is
getting quite secretive, and she isn't always gracious to Gerald. Mr.
Morley's back of it all, you 'II see."

"I don't think there is any danger," said Miss Lady critically
examining the tip of Prince's nose.

"Ah, my dear girl, you have been too engrossed for the past six months
to notice. Ask Mr. Wicker; he spoke to Gerald about it last spring.
Ask Gerald himself, he's wretchedly unhappy. And now you are helping
her to get ready to go up to the Capitol to visit, and he's sure to
see her every day. I must say that I think it's wretched taste for him
to pay attentions to any girl under the circumstances."

In an instant Miss Lady had wheeled with flashing eyes:

"Donald's friends know that he hasn't done anything to be ashamed of!
I don't believe he thinks of Connie in the way you mean, but if he
does she has every reason to be proud of it!"

And without waiting for an answer she drew the bridle over her arm and
tramped indignantly off to the stable.

Mrs. Ivy sighed, then turned to join Mr. Gooch who had just come out
on the porch.

"Has it ever occurred to you," she said as if enunciating a hitherto
unuttered truth, "how reluctant youth is to learn of age? This dear
little widow that the good Doctor left to our care, is making some
grave mistakes."

"I think she does fairly well," said Mr. Gooch, settling himself
comfortably; "the beef is not always good, but the fowls and the
vegetables are ex-excellent."

Mr. Gooch spoke with unusual warmth. Myrtella's cooking, together with
Miss Lady's graciousness, and the sharp proprietorship that Hattie had
assumed over him, were working a miracle. Even now as the sounds of
music and laughter came forth from the living-room, he paused to
listen. He was surprised to find that "Molly Darlings," and "Nellie
Grays," and other musical girls he'd left behind him, still haunted
the dim corridors of his argumentative mind, and gave him little
thrills of pleasure.

"Ah," purred Mrs. Ivy, continuing the conversation. "Far be it from me
to criticize her. It is against my principles to entertain a critical
attitude toward any one. Besides, I quite adore the dear child. I
consider her a precious gift to a grateful world. But you must
acknowledge, Mr. Gooch, that with all her sweetness, she doesn't
always allow herself to be guided."

"Good Lord, no," said Mr. Gooch testily.

"She'll look you straight in the eye and smile, while you are advising
her, then go straight off and do as she pleases. This matter of the
Doctor's will, for instance. I spent two days arguing with her about
the futility of publishing two dozen volumes that nobody will ever
read."

"But that was his dying request, Mr. Gooch. Only one who has loved and
lost can know the nature of that obligation." Mr. Gooch sniffed
impatiently. Conjugal felicity was a subject that irritated him in
every fiber.

"Then her charities," he went on crustily; "she's got no money to be
throwing away, yet every family on Billy-goat Hill comes to her when
it gets into trouble."

"Yes, and she doesn't hesitate to sit down in those dreadful hovels,
and take those unclean babies in her arms. It has made me frightfully
nervous since we came here. Gerald is so sensitive to germs."

"What is this latest tomfoolery about a kindergarten?"

"Why, she has actually gotten Mrs. Bartrum and Mrs. Horton, and some
of those other society women, to rent the hall over the grocery where
the Cant-Pass-It Saloon used to be. They are going to open a
kindergarten and Margery Sequin is coming home from Europe to take
charge of it. I am afraid the project is built upon the sands. There
is not a church member on the board!"

"Well, they needn't come to me for a contribution," said Mr. Gooch. "I
don't believe in kindergartens."

While this conversation was taking place, quite a different one was in
progress, on the up-stairs side porch which had been converted into a
summer bedroom for Miss Lady and Bertie.

"Do you 'spose," Bert was saying sleepily, "that God 'ud give me a
horn 'stead of a harp when I get to heaven, if I ask him to?"

"I know He will, Bert. Take off your other shoe."

"Why didn't He give Chick something to say?"

"He did, but Chick's throat won't let the words come through. Step out
of your clothes now, hurry up, Buddikin!"

But Bert's feet were firmly planted, and his sleepy eyes fixed in
philosophic musings:

"If He had all kinds of throats I don't see why He didn't give Chick a
good one."

This required elucidation, and Miss Lady attempted to make the matter
clear while extricating the small boy from his clothes.

"Ain't you going to tell me a story?"

"Not to-night, Bert. I'm so tired; all the stories have run out."

Bert crawled into his bed silently, and lay watching the shadows in
the big tree outside.

"I wish Cousin Don was here," he sighed. "He never does run out of
stories. When is he coming back?"

"I don't know, dear. Shut your eyes now, and go to sleep."

He shut his eyes obediently, but continued the conversation drowsily,

"He knows all about whales and tigers, and big ships and elephants.
He's--been--clear--around--the--earth--"

But the Sandman had conquered, and Miss Lady, having slipped on a
dressing-gown and loosened her hair, tiptoed to the far end of the
porch and sitting on the railing gazed fixedly out into the gathering
darkness. For half an hour the dim enchantments of twilight had been
abroad, transforming hill and valley, and merging heaven and earth in
a tender, elusive atmosphere of dreams. But her absorbed, white face,
and tense hands locked about her knees, showed that she was not
concerned with the beauty of the evening.

Mrs. Ivy's words had kindled a bonfire, by the light of which recent
events leapt into view. Connie had been secretive, not only about her
letters but about her engagements as well. She was growing daily more
indifferent to Gerald Ivy, and developing a taste for reading that had
been the cause of much surmising and teasing on the part of the
household.

Twice during the summer Donald had come to Thornwood, and on both
occasions Miss Lady had been seized with an unreasoning fear, not only
of him, but of herself. She had received him under the depressing
chaperonage of Mr. Gooch and Mrs. Ivy, and she remembered now how
Connie had taken possession of him on both occasions. But even if
Connie's transitory affections were temporarily engaged, surely Donald
was not encouraging her!

A low whistle from the path below made her look down. It was Connie
and she was stepping very cautiously as if trying to elude somebody.

"Miss Lady!" she called softly. "Aren't you coming down again?"

"No, I'm going to bed."

"Don't go yet. I'm coming up. I want to tell you something."

A moment later Connie opened the door, and closed it carefully behind
her.

"Is Bertie asleep?"

"Yes."

"It's all over!" she announced tragically. "Gerald and I have had an
awful quarrel, and he swears he'll never live to see another dawn."

"Of course he won't, I doubt if he has ever seen one. What's his
trouble?"

"Everything! He wants me to sit at his feet every hour in the day and
adore him, and how can I adore a man who is afraid of a bumblebee, and
can't drive, and sleeps with an umbrella over his head to shut out the
light? I just simply can't stand him another minute!"

"But, Connie, you were so crazy about him, you wouldn't listen to a
word against him."

"I know it. I've been a perfect little idiot." Connie was sobbing now
on Miss Lady's shoulder. "The first time I saw him he'd just gotten
home from Europe. He was playing at a concert. Everybody said he was a
genius, and his eyes were so wonderful, and I had never seen anybody
like him. The more he snubbed me the crazier I got about him. It
wasn't until Cousin Don came back that I saw him as he really is."

Miss Lady patted the heaving shoulders, but said nothing.

"And the very minute," Connie continued tempestuously, "that I began
to feel differently, Gerald began to like me. He has worked himself up
to a terrible pitch, and doesn't want me out of his sight for a
minute. I feel as if I'd been living on chocolate creams for three
months!"

"Connie!" Miss Lady took the tear-stained face between her hands. "I'm
glad it isn't Gerald. I'm glad from the bottom of my heart, but are
you sure it isn't somebody else?"

Connie's blue eyes, never very steadfast, shifted uneasily, and Miss
Lady went on earnestly:

"Are you quite sure you aren't doing just what you did before, getting
infatuated, and making yourself miserable over some one who doesn't
care for you?"

"But he does!" burst out Connie indignantly; "he cares for me more
than for anybody in the world!"

"How do you know?"

"He's told me so! There--I oughtn't to have told! I swore I wouldn't
until after the trial. But you won't breathe it, Miss Lady? Promise
you won't even ask me to tell you anything more?"

Miss Lady looked at her strangely.

"I know everybody is going to disapprove," Connie went on recklessly,
"and say horrid things about him. But I don't care if you will just
stand by me. And you will, won't you?"

Twice Miss Lady tried to speak before the words would come, then:

"Yes," she whispered almost breathlessly, "yes, I promise to stand by
you,--and by him."

After Connie had gone she went back to her seat on the railing and
stared out into the gathering night. For the first time in her life
the dark immensity terrified her. The beacon lights by which she had
steered were no longer visible. The great lonely sea of life lay about
her, and she had lost her course.

"Daddy!" she whispered in terror, "Daddy help me!"

But only the faint cry of a whippoorwill in the valley below answered
her call. A trembling seized her and feeling her way to the bed where
Bertie lay, she crept in beside him, cuddling the soft, warm little
body close, and checking her sobs that they might not wake him. Long
after the whippoorwill had ceased its plaint, she lay there staring
into the darkness, waiting for the dawn.

CHAPTER XXVII

The autumn sun struggled palely through the windows of the Children's
Hospital, and sent a beam across the high narrow bed where Chick
Flathers lay, suspiciously watching the proceedings of the attendant
nurses. He was not at all sure that he had done right in coming. For
two days he had been made to stay in bed, and this morning he had
suffered his third bath and been deprived of his breakfast. His being
there at all was merely a concession to friendship. Mis' Queerington
had persuaded him. He wouldn't have come for the Other One, the fat
one who smiled and talked about The Willows Awful Home. He wouldn't
even come for Aunt 'Telia, but Mis' Queerington was different; she
understood fellows. She had said that the doctors would fix his throat
so that he could yell louder than any boy on Billy-goat Hill! All the
suppressed yells of a dozen years quivered on his lips at the thought
of it! "Chick, here's a orange and some cookies I brought you." It was
Aunt 'Telia who sat down by the bed and took his hand. "If you ever
get well Aunt 'Tella's going to take you to the circus, or the
seashore, or somewheres."

The seashore presented no concrete idea, so Chick preferred to dwell
upon the circus, but even that alluring prospect could not hold his
attention while so many disturbing things were taking place about him.
One nurse had felt his pulse, another had put a glass tube in his
mouth, and now a third was wheeling in a curious little bed on wheels.

He turned restlessly from the black-browed, anxious face bending over
him to the door where Mrs. Queerington was entering. But he knew by
experience that it would be some time before she reached him. All
those other sick duffers would want her to talk to them, and the
nurses would stop her, and the young house-doctor would claim a flower
for his buttonhole. Chick hated them all indiscriminately. It seemed
an hour before her bright, reassuring face bent over him, and he heard
her say:

"It won't be long, now, Chicky Boy. Dr. Wyeth will be here soon, and
they will give you a ride on this funny little wagon. I wonder what
Skeeter Sheeley is doing about this time? Going to school, I expect."

This diverted Chick marvelously. The thought of Skeeter having to
spend the morning in the schoolroom, made his own lot less hard.

"Is Number Seventeen prepared for the operation?" he heard some one
ask, and at the same moment Aunt 'Tella's fingers closed on his like a
vise.

Then the big doctor, who had brought him there, appeared at the foot
of his bed.

"Ah, Mrs. Queerington!" he was saying, "the very sight of you ought to
hearten up these youngsters. But you are still paler than I like to
see you. Been overdoing again?"

She shook her head. "I'm all right, but what about your patient?"

The doctor stroked his chin and appeared to be interested in the
ceiling. "Some rather grave complications. Very anemic. Very little to
work on. Possibly an even chance. However--" he shrugged his broad
shoulders. "Has he any people?"

"No, except this foster-aunt who supports him. Myrtella!"

But Myrtella had turned her back at sight of the doctor, and refused
to look up.

Chick narrowly watching the two speakers at the foot of the bed, and
trying vainly to understand what they were saying about him, was
relieved when Dr. Wyeth handed Miss Lady a book and said lightly:

"You see that I, like everybody else, have fallen a victim to 'Khalil
Samad.' I understand it is already in its tenth edition. Young Morley
has a career before him, if he gets through this trial. Do you know
when it is set for?"

"November the sixth."

"So soon as that? Well, I don't know the young man, but I hope he'll
be cleared. I want him to write some more books for me to read. I'm
sorry Kinner has charge of the prosecution. He'd rather convict an
innocent man than a guilty one. All right, my boy, I guess we are
ready."

"Don't try to get up!" admonished the nurse to Chick; "I'll lift you
over."

But Chick scorned assistance. Hadn't he only last week valiantly
bucked the center in a football game between the Bean Alley Busters,
and the Shanty Boat Bums, and, covered with mud and blood and glory,
been carried from the field? They needn't think because he was little
and thin and couldn't talk that he was a baby! He got himself on to
the wheeled stretcher, but refused to lie down.

"Let him sit up then," said Mrs. Queerington. "He likes to see where
he is going, don't you, Chick? Here goes our automobile! Honk! Honk!"

The nurse wheeled him through the tall, gloomy halls, while Myrtella
shambled at one side, clinging to his hand, and wiping her eyes. Miss
Lady flitted along on the other, telling him about the new football
that was going to be on his bed when he woke up.

Then they halted, and Myrtella bent over him wildly. "Chick!" she
cried, her face suddenly contorted, "look at me just once more! Tell
me you fergive me, Chicky! Oh, if they kill you--!"

The stretcher was shoved hastily into the elevator and the door closed
on everybody but Chick and the nurse and the orderly.

It was about that time that Chick decided to lie down. Where were they
taking him? What were they going to do with him? What did Aunt 'Tella
mean by those strange words? Where had Mis' Squeerington gone? With
sudden quaking terror he looked at the nurse and broke into hoarse
interrogatory sounds.

"Here we are!" she cried soothingly, as the elevator came to a halt.
"And here's Dr. Wyeth waiting for us."

"Well, my little man," said the large figure in white, taking a small
cold hand in his large strong one, "we are going to put you to sleep
and when you wake up, it will be all over. You are pretty game, aren't
you?"

Chick, trying very hard to keep his knees from shaking the sheet,
nodded emphatically.

"I thought so," lied the doctor cheerfully, looking into the terror-
stricken eyes. "I can almost always tell when a fellow's made out of
the right sort of stuff. You don't wear false teeth, do you?"

Chick's sudden, toothless smile revealed the futility of this
question.

"That's good. No danger of your swallowing them. Now suppose you put
this funnel over your mouth and take a big breath. That's right!
Another one! That's right, once more!"

Chick felt a hot, sweet air rush into his throat, and began to choke.
But the doctor's voice kept saying insistently, "Once more!" "Once
more, my boy!" And the doctor thought he was game.

He shut his eyes and tried not to be afraid, but fearful things were
happening! His skin was leaving his body; and he was going up in the
air; lights danced before his eyes and he was suddenly in a terrible
hurry about something. He had never been in such a hurry before! He
was leaving doctors and nurses far below, he could hear their voices
growing fainter every moment. Then suddenly the lights began to dance
again, and the hurry came back, and all the breath was being squeezed
out of him. No, he couldn't be game any longer! He must fight!
Savagely, blindly, dumbly he struggled against this awful unknown
thing that was mastering him. Then, after a last agonizing effort he
sank helplessly into the abyss of sleep.

Meanwhile, on the floor below, sitting on the cold bare steps beside
the door of the elevator, two white-faced women waited anxiously. All
was silent in the high, narrow corridor except for the footsteps of
passing nurses, and the occasional sharp cry of pain, or groan of
weariness from some suffering patient.

"That's him!" cried Myrtella hysterically as one of these cries
reached her.

"No, no. He is sound asleep by this time. He won't know anything until
it is all over." Then as another cry brought Myrtella to her feet,
Miss Lady added, "Please, Myrtella, don't be so frightened. Those
cries come from the floor below."

Myrtella shook off her hand impatiently. "How long have they been
gone? Why didn't you tell me they was going to keep him hours and
hours?"

"It's only been twenty minutes. I know how anxious you are, but you
must try to be calm. If you aren't they won't let you go in the room
when they bring him down."

"Won't let me in the room!" Myrtella's face blazed with anger. "I'd
like to see 'em stop me! Who's got a better right? The doctor? The
nurse? You? There ain't none of you got the right to him I have. Ain't
I his mother?"

Miss Lady looked at her with amazement, and shrank instinctively from
the desperate, defiant woman.

"That's right!" cried Myrtella, almost beside herself. "Snatch your
hand off my arm, shrink away from me like I was a leper! Tell
everybody, tell the police that I throwed my baby in the ash barrel
and abandoned it! It don't make no difference now, nothin' makes no
difference but Chick. Oh, my God! How long have they been?"

"They will be down very soon now, Myrtella. Don't tear your
handkerchief like that. Here, take mine."

But Myrtella's eyes were too full of terror for tears; she sat with
her hands locked about her knees swaying to and fro.

"I've never told nobody," she went on wildly; "all these years I've
kept it bottled up in my soul 'til it's eat it plumb out. I never done
it to Chick! He wasn't Chick then. He was just somethin' that belonged
to a devil. Then he growed to be Chick, and all my hate turned to
love, and now God's gittin' even, I knowed He would! He wouldn't let
him live now, just to spite me!"

"Myrtella!" Miss Lady's voice commanded indignantly. "Don't you dare
say such things! Who knows but this very minute God's giving Chick
back to you? Perhaps He is taking this way of showing you He forgives
you. Pray to Him, Myrtella! Ask Him to do what's best for Chick,
whatever it may be."

Myrtella's head had sunken on her knees, and her coarse, work-hardened
hands were clinging to Miss Lady's slender ones.

Suddenly they both started. The elevator descended creakingly and
halted beside them. There was a shuffling of feet and the stretcher
was wheeled past with a small, white-sheeted form lying motionless
upon it.

"It's all over," said Dr. Wyeth, following briskly. "He put up a
pretty stiff fight while taking the anesthetic, but we downed him at
last. The conditions were less serious than I anticipated. With care
and good nursing he ought to get well right away now. Hello! Here's
another patient!"

For Myrtella, glaring at him through her steel-rimmed spectacles, had
dropped like a log straight across the corridor and lay unconscious
with her fly-away hat crushed under one ear.

"Loosen her collar," directed Dr. Wyeth, "and bring me some ice water.
There! She'll come around in a minute."

He knelt beside her with his hand on her pulse, looking at her
curiously. Then he turned to Miss Lady:

"Queer how faces come back to you. I attended this woman twelve years
ago, when I was interne in the maternity ward at the City Hospital."

CHAPTER XXVIII

As the sixth of November approached, Donald Morley's friends for the
first time became seriously apprehensive over the result of his final
trial. The fact that he had engaged an unknown, inexperienced lawyer
to cope with the redoubtable Kinner, was looked upon as his crowning
folly. The case, which had always excited considerable local interest
on account of the prominence of the families involved, now became a
matter of much graver significance, concerning, as it did, the author
of "Khalil Samad," the most talked-about book of the hour.

Miss Lady, alone at Thornwood now, except for Bertie and Myrtella,
fought through the days as best she could. Since Connie's confession
she had seen little of her, for after a round of visits in the Blue
Grass region, that restless young person had been with friends in
town, and was still there when the date set for the trial arrived.

Up to this time Miss Lady had conquered in the hourly struggle she was
making with her own heart. Again and again Donald had tried to see
her, but on one pretext or another she had evaded him. She was
puzzled, bewildered, and hopelessly wretched, and she asked herself
repeatedly why her happiness should be sacrificed for that of a
shallow, irresponsible butterfly. For Donald, she had no blame, he had
drifted into this affair with Connie when his need was greatest, and
now that his honor was involved as well as hers, there must be no
turning back.

But when the second day of the trial dawned, and she came down after a
sleepless night to read discouraging news reports of the previous
day's proceedings, she found that something stronger than herself was
taking possession of her. In vain did she try to fulfil her accustomed
tasks. Every atom of her was there in the courthouse beside Donald
Morley, standing trial with him. Twice she flung on her coat and hat,
only to take them off again, and stand at the window impatiently
watching the storm.

For the long summer had finally come to an end. After days of radiant
October sunshine, when winter seemed, like the hereafter, vague and
far off, a wind came rushing out of the north, stripping the trees in
a single night, and leaving them surprised at their sudden nakedness.
Then the sleet came, and, not content with attacking trees and shrubs,
must storm the house itself, invading windows and doors, besieging
every nook and corner, only to waste away at last into icy streams
that went rattling noisily down the gutters.

As the morning wore on Miss Lady grew more and more restless. Suppose
the preposterous should happen, and for the second time twelve honest
men should pronounce an innocent man guilty? Could Connie face the
ignominy of the verdict? Would her fickle, inconstant heart steady to
such a test? Suppose that once again the person on whom Donald Morley
depended, should fail him in a supreme hour?

For the third time Miss Lady threw on her wraps. She could no longer
stand the suspense, she must go to him, in case he needed her.

"'Fore de Lawd!" exclaimed Uncle Jimpson when her intention was made
known to him. "I dunno what ole John'll think of us, takin' him to de
station a day lak dis! 'Sides de noon train's done went."

"Then we'll have to drive to town. Hitch up as quickly as you can!"

"But, Miss Lady, Honey, you fergit de sleet! Ole John 'ud slide 'round
de road lak a fly on a bald spot."

"No matter! I'm going. Hurry!"

Myrtella, who was fashioning a dough man, under the personal
supervision of Bert, looked up indignantly:

"You don't think you are going out in this storm without no lunch, do
you?"

"I can't eat anything, I'm not hungry."

"That's what you said at breakfast. I ain't got a bit of patience with
people that get theirselves sick in bed and be a nuisance to
everybody, just for the pleasure of slopping around in the slush on a
day like this. I'm going to fix you some toast and a egg, while he's
hitchin' up."

"Go on with the story, 'Telia," demanded Bertie, carefully bestowing a
nose on the dough man.

"Well," resumed Myrtella, from the stove, casting an anxious glance at
Miss Lady who stood at the window impatiently tapping the pane,
"everbody was a wonderin' what would be his very first words, an' Dr.
Wyeth he sez, 'Don't pester him to talk, jes' let it come natural.'
One day me an' the nurse, the stuck-up one I was tellin' you 'bout,
was fixin' to spray out his throat, an' he look so curious at all the
little rubber tubes, an' fixin's, that she sez, 'You'll know a lot
when you leave here, Chick.' And what do you think he up an' answered?
Just as smart an' plain as if he'd a been talkin' all his life?"

"What?" demanded Bertie as breathlessly as if he hadn't heard the
story a dozen times.

"'Shucks', sez Chick, 'I knowed a lot when I come!'" Myrtella's pride
in this first articulation of her offspring was so great that it
rendered her oblivious to the fact that the toast was scorching.

"When will you be able to bring Chick home?" asked Miss Lady, gulping
down the hot tea with a watchful eye on the stable door.

"Jes' as soon as the doctor quits foolin' with his throat every day.
He's been gittin' on fine ever' since I took him back to Phineas'.
Maria's gittin' right stuck on him, now she's got to give him up. Says
she always knowed he was smart, but she never dreamed of the things he
had bottled up in his head."

"I haven't forgotten about your house," said Miss Lady absently. "Dr.
Wyeth knows a nice place down on Chestnut Street, and says you can
make a good living letting the rooms to shop girls. It isn't right for
me to keep you out here any longer."

"Well, I ain't goin' 'til spring." Myrtella rattled the pans with
unnecessary vehemence. "Me an' Chick's goin' to stay right here 'til
we git you settled. Now that Mr. Gooch has got a spell of spendin',
an' is sendin' Miss Hattie to college, I guess she's settled fer a
spell. Like as not Miss Connie'll be marryin' some smart-alecky, good-
fer-nothin' fellow, then she'll be settled. But what's goin' to become
of you and Bertie?"

Miss Lady leaned impulsively over the child's back as he knelt in a
chair beside the table, and kissed the bit of neck that showed between
the collar and the curls: "Bert and I?" she repeated with a little
catch in her voice; "why, we'll have to take care of each other, won't
we, Bert?"

CHAPTER XXIX

The Flathers' family was indulging in a birthday party. The table, set
in the bedroom so that Chick might participate, was decorated at one
end by a gorgeous pink cake, bearing a single candle, and at the other
by Loreny herself, blue of eye, and chubby of cheek, who crawled
triumphantly about among the dishes, bestowing equal attention on the
sugar bowl and the molasses jug, only pausing to emit ecstatic screams
when a rough, red head appeared above the table rim.

In the bed, propped on pillows and with throat bandaged, Chick
executed a lively tune with knife and fork on his plate, while Maria
Flathers dedicated herself to the task of preventing Loreny May from
putting her blue-slippered foot in the butter.

Without, the sleet pelted the windows, and the red top of Mr.
Iseling's wagon waiting at the gate. It whistled and rattled down Bean
Alley and converted the telegraph wires into cables of ice. But the
Flathers family, luxuriating in the unusual extravagance of an open
fire, and cheered by the hilarity of the occasion, was happily
oblivious to the storm until a sharp rap at the door brought the
redheaded bear from under the table to answer the summons.

"Well, if it ain't Mis' Squeerington!" cried Phineas Flathers
effusively. "Out in all this storm! But I ain't surprised. Didn't I
tell you, Maria, that I knowed she'd bring the baby a birthday
present? Come up to the fire, mam. Maria git her a rocker."

"No, no!" cried Miss Lady breathlessly. "I can't stay. I must get to
town. My horse broke down in the bridge, and I'm on my way to the
Junction to see if I can't get on the next train when it stops for
water. I want you to go over and help me on."

"Next train don't stop. It's a express. The local ain't due fer a hour
an' a half. You ain't fit to go on yit, mam, nohow. I never seen you
all in like this before! Maria, can't you fix her up a cup of coffee
or somethin'?"

Miss Lady shook her head, and leaned wearily against the mantel.

"I'll be all right. Are you sure about the trains?"

"Sure az the taxes. You're in fer a wait, an' we'll git a nice little
visit out of you. Guess you are 'sprised to see me home this time of
day?"

"I hadn't thought about it."

"Well, you see it's her birthday, an' tor_m_adoes couldn't 'a' kept me
from bringin' her a cake. Ain't she the purties' object you ever set
yer two optics on? Say 'Da-da,' Loreny,--leave off talkin' to her,
Chick. Go on, Loreny, say, 'Da-da' fer de purty lady!"

"He's that silly about her," said Maria Flathers, trying to conceal
her own pride. "He won't leave me put anything but white dresses and
blue shoes on her, an' he works extra time to pay fer 'em. Myrtella
says there ain't no fools like old ones."

"That's all right," said Phineas; "she'll have more to say when I give
Loreny a diamond ring on her next birthday. Iseling'll be givin' me a
raise soon. He's as good as said so. He knows I'm good fer everything
from bossin' a big job to drivin' a wagon; then look at the trade I
command! Why, Mis' Squeerington, them Ladies' Aiders in the Immanuel
Church, follered me solid, an' Mrs. Ivy an' the Anti-Tobacs--Shoo, I
could start out fer myself tomorrow."

"It's one o'clock!" warned Maria, anxious to speed her master on his
way in order that she might come in for a few conversational crumbs.

"One o'clock! Holy Moses! I must be hiking, if I want to hear the rest
of the trial."

"The trial?" repeated Miss Lady instantly alert; "were you at the
courthouse this morning?"

"Yes, mam, I was. Everybody was. Court room packed to the doors. I sez
to Iseling this morning, I sez, 'I'll make the noon delivery all
right, but the rest of the day's my own. It ain't only because of my
former connection with the Sequin family,' sez I; 'it's because Mr.
Don Morley is a personal friend of mine. He's white an' he's square,'
sez I, 'an' the open-handedest young gent I ever done a favor for. If
it's a case of standin' by him in trouble, or losin' my job,' I sez,
'why ta-ta to the job!'"

"But when you left," urged Miss Lady, "what were they doing? How did
people feel about it?"

"Mighty shaky, mam. They ain't got a scrap of good evidence fer him,
an' enough ag'in him to sink a ship. Old man Wicker's son is puttin'
up a stiff fight, but he's up aginst Kinner, an' Kinner could convict
St. Peter hisself!"

"But can't they get the truth out of Sheeley? Can't they force him to
tell what happened?"

Phineas shrugged contemptuously: "Sheeley lost his memory when he lost
his eye. One was put out with lead, an' the other with silver. Says
now he wasn't in the fight at all."

"It's a lie! He wuz!" Chick had risen from his pillow, and was leaning
forward excitedly.

"What do you mean, Chick? How do you know?"

"He _wuz_ in the fight!" he cried huskily. "It was 'tween him an'
the drunk. Sheeley ketched him fakin' a ace, an' he calls Sheeley a
liar, an' they fit all over the floor. The big one wasn't in it! He
kep' tryin' to stop 'em, buttin' in with his whip."

"But how do you know all this, Chick?" cried Miss Lady almost
fiercely; "did the Sheeley boy tell you?"

"Skeeter? Shucks, he don't know nothin' 'ceptin' what his paw tole
him."

"But who told you?"

Chick closed his lips and shook his head: "He'll set the cop on me."

"Who?"

"Skeeter's paw. Fer smashin' the slot machine. But I never took none
of his money, Mis' Squeerington; it was mine!" His lips began to
tremble.

"The cop won't get you, Chick," said Miss Lady, now on her knees
beside him, coaxing out each statement, and trying to keep down her
excitement. "Tell me, quick! How do you know about the shooting?"

"'Cause," said Chick fearfully, "I--I seen it!"

"Well, if that ain't the limit!" said Phineas, while Maria gathered
Loreny up under the impression that Chick had lost his mind, and might
become dangerous.

"I got shut up in the saloon," continued Chick, evidently torn between
the desire to be a hero and the fear of the consequences, "an' it was
night, an' I went to sleep."

"Yes, yes!" pressed Miss Lady; "go on."

"Then they come in an' got to rough-housin' an' I crawl up-stairs an'
lay on me stommick an' peek through the crack. An' Sheeley an' the
Drunk they got to scrappin' like I tole you. An' then while the big
one was tryin' to git Sheeley to quit, the Drunk he come over to the
door right where I was layin' at, an' he steady hisself aginst the
wall an' bang loose at Sheeley with a pistol."

"Would you know the Big One again? Oh, Chick, try to remember what he
looked like!"

Chick shook his head, "Naw, I don't 'member what none of 'em looked
like. But you know which one he was; he gimme the silver knob offen
his whip."

Miss Lady sprang to her feet: "We must get him to the courthouse, Mr.
Flathers. Quick! Help me with his clothes. I'll put on his shoes and
stockings."

"But the train--" began Phineas.

"We can't wait for it!" cried Miss Lady. "You must drive us in the
wagon." In a surprisingly few minutes Chick, bewildered but
interested, was fully clothed. "Give me the blankets off the bed and
help me wrap them around him," said Miss Lady. "There! You carry him
and I'll hold the umbrella. Keep your mouth shut, Chick; don't you
dare open it until I tell you."

[Illustration: "Tell me quick! How do you know about the shooting?"]

The bewildered Chick, encased like a mummy, was rushed out to the
wagon and deposited between two ice-cream freezers, while Miss Lady
knelt beside him, trying to shield him from the wind. Just as Phincas
was driving away there was a call from the cottage.

For the first and only time in her life Maria Flathers had collided
with an idea. In vain she reversed her mental engines and tried to
back off, but the collision was head on, and she and the idea were
firmly welded together.

"Here's the whip han'le!" she called wildly, as the wind caught her
skirts and twisted them about her. "I been usin' it fer a thimble. An'
here's the whip itself--Take'em along! Take'em fer a witness!"

Once again the red-topped wagon got started, this time in earnest.
Through the mud and slush of Bean Alley, past the Dump Heap, across
the Common, the sturdy little mare dashed furiously.

"Don't breathe through your mouth, Chick!" implored Miss Lady. "And
don't be afraid. All you have to do is to tell what you saw. Don't
keep back anything, tell it just as you told it to me."

"'Bout the slot machine?" queried an anxious voice from the blankets.

"About everything. Nobody is going to hurt you, or blame you. You
aren't catching cold, are you? Here put on my gloves, and you mustn't
talk, not another word."

For an interminable time they splashed through the slush of the road,
before they came to the pavements of the city. Looking out of the
wagon, they could see the broad yellow waters of the river with its
long, black coal barges, and the dim outline of Billy-goat Hill,
growing fainter in the distance.

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