Part 4 out of 5
She turned toward the house and ran a few steps only to come flying
"I have thought of something--you must go after him! That's what you
must do! He may be wounded. He may need you to help him. Surely you
could fight if you tried. I could, myself! And you will try, dear, I
know you will, for my sake. Come! Run! Run! Let's go to the stable and
get the pony. He goes fast."
Her passionate excitement swept them along, and she and the boy were now
running toward the stable, hand in hand, hardly knowing what they did.
Her head was bare, her white dress and her delicate slippers were very
thin, and the chill of the autumnal night was already coming on. But she
thought of none of these things, felt none of them, and did not stop at
the door of the stable, although she had never entered it before, and it
was now very dark within. But there was nothing for her to fear, she
knew all about the horses, as every girl of the country did, since
riding was a part of the life of the wilderness. Keeping close to
David's side, she followed him to the pony's stall, and when she heard
him take down the saddle and bridle that hung overhead, her hands
eagerly went out in the darkness to help him buckle the girth.
"There! You will ride as fast as you can--I know you will. And you will
help him fight. Make haste. Why didn't we think to get your rifle? Oh,
why! You are very slow. There! Isn't it ready?"
But as the boy started to lead the pony from the stable, a sudden
thought flashed through her mind, and she acted upon it as quickly as
she grasped it.
"Let me have the pony," she gasped. "You can get one of the other horses
for yourself. Make haste! I must have the pony because he is all ready.
Hurry! Hurry! I have just thought--uncle Philip will help us. He can do
anything. He will do anything in the world for me if I can only reach
him. He is nearly always coming to Cedar House about this time. I am
going to meet him. Everything will be safe and right if I can find him
and tell him. Help me up to the saddle, quick! quick!"
They were now out of the stable and could see each other dimly. He
exclaimed in affright, grasping her skirt and holding her back when she
attempted to mount.
"It's my saddle, too, you couldn't ride that!" he cried.
"What difference does the saddle make? I have ridden it many a
time--and many a time without any. If you will not--"
She caught the pommel, and he, seeing how utterly useless it was to
contend further, now held out his hand and she set her foot in his palm.
With a leap and a swift, lithe turn of one knee under the other she was
seated in his saddle as easily and firmly as if it had been her own, and
grasped the reins.
"Follow as quickly as you can," she called back over her shoulder. "I am
going to meet uncle Philip in the buffalo path beyond Anvil Rock."
And then the pony sprang away and was running into the falling night.
UNDER THE HUNTER'S MOON
It was not very dark, and all the cleared country rolling widely away
from Cedar House could be dimly seen. A gusty wind was driving wild
clouds across the stars, and tall cloud mountains rose on the north
covering the great comet; but higher in the dark blue dome of the
firmament the Hunter's Moon swung full and free, casting its wonderful
crystalline light over the darkened earth.
This most marvellous of crystal lamps always appears to be shining by
its own living radiance, and never to be beaming by the merely reflected
glory that gilds the lifeless Harvest Moon. The Hunter's Moon has indeed
no rival among all the lights which heaven lends to the world of night.
It is the whitest, the brightest, the most sparkling that ever falls on
the darkness, and it was in truth the hunter's very own. By its light he
could see how to go on with his hunt hours after the close of the short
November days, and far into the long November nights, and still find his
way home through the deep heart of the mighty wood.
So that even on this dreary November night, when its clearness was
dimmed by the flight of the wind-hunted clouds, it was able to lighten
in a measure the furthest and darkest reaches of this wild new world. It
touched the mystery of the burial mound; it lifted the misty winding
sheet spread by the swamp; it raised the pall laid along the horizon by
the sable tops of the cypress trees; it reached almost to the darkness
hanging over Duff's Fort--that awful and mysterious blackness--which the
noonday sun could never wholly remove.
But the girl's gaze was not following the moonbeams. Looking neither to
the one side nor the other, she gave a single glance ahead. This was
only to see that she was going straight toward Anvil Rock by the
shortest road. And the one look was enough for she knew that the great
shadowy mass glooming in the dark distance must be what she sought. And
then bending forward and low over the pony's neck, she sent him onward
by an unconscious movement of her own body. She had known how to ride
almost as long as she had known how to walk--the one was an easy and as
natural as the other. Instinctively she now bent still lower, and still
farther forward over the pony's neck, as a boy does in riding a race;
for she also was riding a great race, and for the greatest of stakes.
She did not stop to think how great the stake was; she had not yet
realized that it was the life of the man she loved; she had not yet
had time to face the truth, and to know that she loved Paul Colbert. She
only realized that she must reach Anvil Rock before Philip Alston could
pass it on his way to Cedar House, or turn into another path. Raising
her head, she flashed another look into the dark distance, where the
goal was and grew sick with fear, seeing how far off it was. And then
rallying, she began to use her voice as well as the reins, to urge the
pony to greater speed.
[Illustration: "For she also was riding a great race."]
"That's it! Good boy. But faster--faster!"
Thus crying she silently prayed that Philip Alston might be within
hearing of the sound of her voice. She never doubted that he would come
at her first cry. It never once crossed her mind that he could hesitate
to do what she wished in this. He had never in all her life refused her
anything, and she knew of no reason to fear refusal now. The only fear
that she felt was the dread of reaching Anvil Rock too late. She tried
to still the quivering of her nerves by reminding herself that he nearly
always came to Cedar House at this hour, if he had not been there
earlier in the day. But she could not help remembering that there were
times when he did not come. If he should not be on the way now, if she
should fail to meet him, if he should be still at his far-off home, or
have gone elsewhere--But she threw the paralyzing thought from her and
suddenly began to strike the pony again and again, with her soft little
"Faster! You must go faster--you must! Surely you can. Please! It isn't
very far. We must be almost there!"
It would have been hard to tell whether the short, sharp strokes were
blows or caresses, and they ceased almost as abruptly as they had begun.
She was now nearly lying across his straining shoulders, and her soft,
bare arms were around his rough, shaggy neck. She did not know what she
was doing, the boy had taught her to ride so--barebacked in the
fields--when she was a child. And she did not know that the pony's mane
was wet with her tears. There was no sound of weeping or faltering in
the tone with which she urged him on. That rang clear and strong with
the invincible courage and strength which love's miracle gives to the
most timid and the weakest.
She was not holding to the saddle, but was clinging to it as
unconsciously as the mist clung to her skirts. Her long black hair,
fallen away from its fastenings, streamed in the wind; but she gave it
no heed except to toss it out of her eyes so that she might see the
pony's head, and try to look beyond toward Anvil Rock. How far off it
still seemed! Would she never reach it? The night seemed to be growing
darker, and she could not make out the mass glooming through the
darkness as she had seen it at first. But she was not afraid of the
growing blackness. This timid, gentle girl, who had hitherto been afraid
of her own shadow, was now suddenly lost to all sense of fear. She
thought nothing of the wild darkness into which she was thus flying
blindly and alone. She had forgotten the terror of the time, and the
dangers of the wilderness. She was oblivious of the utter silence, which
wrapped the region in awful mystery. She heard nothing but the rush of
the pony's running feet, and felt nothing but the leaping of her own
heart. Her only thought was to reach the goal in time; her only fear was
that she might fail.
Her ceaseless cry was goading the brave little beast like a spur. He
still leapt in response to it; but his every sinew was already strained
to breaking, and he was nearing the end of his endurance. The night had
now become so dark that neither the pony nor the girl could see whither
they were speeding. And then suddenly the Hunter's Moon broke the frail
bars of its cloud prison, and was again free to cast its full splendor
over the blackness. Under this sudden burst of light, Anvil Rock leapt
out of the shadows--vague, black, huge, terrible--and she uttered a cry
startled and relieved at seeing it so near by, when she had thought it
much farther off. But as she looked again to make sure that it was real,
and not some delusion of the mist, the first pang of fear struck back
her leaping heart. She drew up the panting, staggering pony with a
convulsive clutch on the reins--and waited, trembling and scarcely
daring to breathe. Some large dark form moved among the shadows around
the base of Anvil Rock.
Another swirl of the shrieking wind sent the fugitive clouds flying
again across the white face of the moon. But only for an instant, and
once more the darkness fled before the light of the crystal lamp. Yet
its bright beams could not pierce the thick gloom which hung heaviest at
the foot of the dark mass. Something still stood there, large, shadowy,
and motionless. Ruth's trembling hand unconsciously went up and threw
back the wildly blown hair which obscured her vision. As the white
moonlight thus fell full on her face, the dark shape instantly sprang
out of the gloom, and she recognized Paul Colbert almost as soon as he
Neither uttered a cry of surprise or even of relief, for neither felt
any strangeness in this most strange meeting. When two hearts and two
souls and two spirits have rushed together at the first meeting of the
eyes,--as these two had,--no separation of mere flesh and blood can ever
again really keep them apart. These two were now only facing outwardly
the images which they constantly bore within their breasts. He had been
thinking more of her through that wild ride than of the friend whose
life he was perilling his own to save. She had felt his presence at her
side with every step of the pony's flying feet; it was merely his body
which she was striving to find and shield from harm. So that when they
thus suddenly came face to face in the moonlight there was no need for a
cry or a word. He sprang from his horse and leapt to the pony's side;
and she--as silently and as naturally--held out her arms to meet his
But they started apart before touching one another. The distant sound of
horses' beating hoofs came with a gust of wind. It was borne from the
direction of Duff's Fort, and out from among the dark trees there now
rushed into the misty moonlight a score or more of dim shapes, vague and
terrible as phantom horsemen. Nearer and nearer these came rushing
through the wavering mists, with scarcely a sound after that first
warning roar brought by the wind. Paul sprang to regain his horse, but
the animal was startled by the suddenness of the attempt, and frightened
by the rapid approach of the other horses, so that he jerked the bridle
from his master's grasp and reared beyond the reach of his hand. There
was no time to pursue the horse; worse still, there was no chance to
seize the rifle which hung from the pommel of the saddle. Paul had only
one other weapon, the long hunting-knife carried by all the men of the
wilderness. He drew this from his belt and it flashed in the moonlight
as he ran back to the pony's head and stood between Ruth and the dimly
visible danger which was rapidly approaching.
"They are coming the other way, too," she gasped. "I hear them behind
He did not reply and could not turn. She said nothing more and began
sending up silent prayers. They could no longer see even dimly, for
thick clouds again covered the moon. But she heard a fearful clash in
the darkness, and then there followed those awful muffled sounds which
are heard when men close silently in mortal combat. There was no sharp
sound of firing--only the hideous thud of furious flesh against furious
flesh--the one sound that the bravest woman cannot hear in silence.
Ruth's cry for help pierced the very heavens. Again and again her
anguished appeal rang through the night. In the height of her frenzied
fear she heard the galloping of a horse and knew that it was coming
nearer. This must be Philip Alston. The flash of the thought brought a
gleam of hope and sent her louder cry farther into the darkness.
"Uncle Philip, for God's sake, come to me! Quick! quick! It's
Ruth--uncle Philip! Philip Alston!"
Instantly all was still. The invisible conflict which had been waging
with such fury so near by, now ceased as suddenly and as completely as
if it had been ended by an unseen lightning stroke. The assailants
silently drew back and stood motionless; but Ruth could not see what was
taking place, and this sudden, strange stillness falling upon utter
darkness filled her with greater terror. She thought that Paul had been
killed. Alive, he would not leave her alone like this. Not for an
instant would he forget her if he had strength to creep to her side. He
was dead. He would never let these torturing moments pass without
speaking to her if he had breath to speak.
"Uncle Philip! Philip Alston!" she cried again and again. "Don't you
know me? It's Ruth."
"Here, I'm coming!" a man's voice shouted out of the distance. "Where
are you? Speak again. Let me find you by the sound."
"They have killed him!" she shrieked. "I can't find him in the dark."
She was out of the saddle now, bending down and groping with her
shaking, tender little hands on the torn and trampled earth. A wilder
gust of wind brought the beat of rapidly retreating hoofs to her
strained ears. She sprang up with a new fear and cried it aloud high and
far above the shriek of the wind.
"They are taking him away! Will you never come? Is it you--uncle Philip?
Oh--why--don't you come to me? It's Ruth."
"It is I--Father Orin," said the priest near by.
She did not reply, nor even glance at him, although the cloud curtain
was now suddenly lifted again, and she could see clearly. She did not
notice that all the horsemen had vanished. She saw only the motionless
form of the man she loved lying some distance away. It was plain that he
had pressed the assassins as far from her as he could; that his
outstretched arms had fallen in some supreme effort. The hunting-knife
glittered in the moonlight at a distance from his hand. He must have
fought on with his bare hands after his only weapon had been struck from
his grasp. His eyes were closed, and his face was like the face of the
Ruth, dropping to the earth beside him, had taken his head on her lap
before the priest could come up and dismount. She did not reply, nor
even hear his alarmed questioning.
"See if he is living, Father," she said. "Here, put your hand on his
heart--here--where my hand is. Make haste. Why are you so slow?" Then
flashing round on him in her impetuous way: "Why don't you say that you
feel his heart beat? Of course you do! Of course he is alive. How could
he be dead--in a moment--a flash--like this! He is so young. He has only
begun to live. And so strong and brave. Oh, so brave, Father! Dear
Father Orin--if you could have seen how fearlessly he stood, between
them and me--waiting for them to come! Only one, too, against so many.
But I wasn't afraid while I could see him. No, not for a moment, even
against them all. And then when it was dark, and I couldn't see him, and
I could only hear--" she broke down, shuddering and weeping.
While she spoke the priest had been unfastening Paul's collar and was
trying to find the wound. The bosom of his shirt was already darkly dyed
"He is alive; his heart is still beating," said Father Orin, huskily.
This daring, gifted young doctor had come to be like his own son in
their work together for the suffering. He turned back his coat and found
the deep knife-wound in his shoulder, and set about stanching the flow
of blood with the simple knowledge of surgery that the life of the
wilderness taught to all. But it was Ruth who thought of Paul's medical
case which always hung on his saddle. The horse was gone, but the case
was lying not far away, on the ground where it had fallen, and there
were bandages and lint in it, as she hoped there would be. But when they
had done all that they could, he still lay motionless and barely
breathing. She dropped down beside him in fresh alarm, and again took
his head on her lap. Father Orin stood up, looking helplessly through
the moonlight and murmuring something about getting the doctor back to
"We will take him to Cedar House," she said. "There is no one to nurse
him in his own cabin. Oh!" with a smothered scream. "They are coming
She could not suppress that one cry of fright which burst from her lips.
But there was only one, she stilled the others and tried at once to
control the trembling of her knees under his head. The dove will sit
still when a cruel hand comes close to her nest; but no living creature
has the courage of the gentlest woman when the man she loves is
helpless--through no lack of strength or courage in himself--and in
danger. The things which timid women have done then, stand among the
bravest that have ever been set down to the credit of humanity.
Believing that some hideous, unknown peril was sweeping upon them, this
mere slip of a girl now bent quietly over the prone head and spoke close
to the deaf ear without thinking whether or not it could hear.
"There, dear heart, there! Never mind. All is well. Lie still, or your
wound will bleed. We are here, Father Orin and I. We will take care of
you. Only lie still."
Two horsemen were now in sight and they were spurring straight toward
Anvil Rock. While they were yet a long way off, Ruth felt, rather than
saw, that one of them was David. She told the priest who it was, and
they both knew that only a friend could be coming with the boy. Her
whole form relaxed under the relief. If Paul could but open his eyes, if
his breath would but come a little more quickly, and a little less
faintly! Her tears were falling on his still, white face, now that there
was no further need for self-control, or courage. She steadied her
voice, and told the story as clearly as she could, when Father Orin
asked again how she came to be in such a place, and what it was that had
led to the wounding of Paul Colbert.
While she was speaking the horsemen reached them, and they saw that the
man with David was the attorney-general. He hurriedly knelt down by his
friend's side. He did not ask what had happened. He had already gathered
much of the truth from what the boy had told him. He knew that Paul
Colbert lay there, badly wounded, dying perhaps, in his place. He was
too much moved at first to speak.
"He knew that I was coming alone over this road to-night. He suspected a
plot to waylay me, too late to warn me. When he could not do that he
came to share the danger. It was like him," he said when he found voice.
He took the nerveless hand and held it a moment in silence, and then he
laid it gently down and stood up, looking about through the moonlight,
toward the cypress swamp and Duff's Fort.
"But why did the scoundrels run away before finishing their infamous
work? And where is the doctor's horse? Ah! They have stolen that, of
course. Which way did they go? Did you see or hear them, Father?"
"No; Toby and I were too far off," the priest replied. "We were coming
back from a sick call. It was too dark to see. The first and only sound
I heard was Ruth's voice, calling Philip Alston's name."
"Oh!--I begin to understand," said the attorney-general.
He stopped--remembering--and looked down at Ruth. She had not heard
what he said. She was bending closer to Paul's white face and listening
to his laboring breath.
"We must get him home as quickly as possible," the attorney-general went
on. "My duty at Duff's Fort must wait on this. And I am not sacrificing
the state to a friend, or to gratitude. It would be worse than useless
to go on to-night, now that our plans are betrayed. I am very anxious
about my men. They should be here before now. According to our plans,
they should have been within hearing of the first sound of trouble and
ready to come at once. I am afraid they, too, have fallen into a trap;
but I can't do anything now for them, and I must do my best for this
poor fellow, and quickly, too. Come, Father,--come, David,--let us
consult as to the best way to get him home."
The three men drew a little apart and stood talking together in a low
tone, so that Ruth was left for a moment alone with Paul.
"Dear heart!" she breathed, with her cheek against his. "Listen, love.
Can you hear what I say? Try. Try hard. For if you can hear, maybe my
heart will not break. Listen, then," as softly as if her spirit spoke to
his. "Listen. I am yours and you are mine. Can you hear--dear heart? If
you live or if you die--it is just the same--always--to me and to you.
We belong to one another forever."
BALANCING LIFE AND DEATH
While they consulted, several of the attorney-general's men galloped up.
They had been delayed and sent astray by a false message purporting to
come from him. But they had met with no harm and were now in time to
help in lifting the wounded man's helpless weight into the priest's
saddle. This was the best plan that could be devised in haste, and
Father Orin hastily mounted behind the unconscious body, to hold it in
place. He being much the strongest among the men, the duty naturally
fell to him. It was also natural that the double burden should be laid
upon Toby, because the heaviest burdens of life are always laid upon
those who are readiest to bear them.
And Toby appeared to feel his responsibility, for, setting out at a
rapid pace, which seemed to show that he knew the need of haste, he yet
moved with so steady a step that Father Orin did not require the aid of
the other hands which were held out to help him. Nevertheless, every
hand was constantly in readiness, and all kept close together; so that
thus moving through the dim light, the shadowy mounted figures looked
like some fabulous monster of gigantic size and with many arms, all
extended toward a common burden. But the pony kept closest to Toby's
side and in the gloom that followed the going down of the Hunter's Moon,
a trembling little hand stole out now and then, to touch the still, cold
one which swung so pathetically over Father Orin's strong arm.
The stars were paling, and the dark east was growing wan, when Cedar
House rose at last out of the gray shadows. At the first glimpse of it
Ruth suddenly sent the pony forward and urging him to a run, left the
others far behind. Reaching the house, she leapt to the ground and ran
to the front door. It was deeply in shadow, but she did not need sight
to find the latch string, which she had played with as a child, and in
another instant she stood in the great dark room. It was deserted all
the household being asleep, and never dreaming that she also was not
safely in bed. The fire had been covered as it always was at night, but
it blazed when she stirred it, and by the light of the flame she found a
candle on the tall mantelpiece. Holding this to the blaze, it seemed to
her as if it would never catch the flame. When the wick caught she went
running up the stairs with the lighted candle in her hand, arousing the
sleeping household by repeated calls. She did not pause to answer the
alarmed cries that came in response. She heard a scream from Miss
Penelope's room, with, muffled sounds from the widow Broadnax's, and
the disapproving tones of William Pressley's voice. But she was utterly
heedless of everything, except the necessity of getting the room ready
in time, so that there should be no waiting before doing what might be
done. She quivered with terror to think how long the delay had been
already. The servants were too far away to be summoned quickly, so that
there was only herself to do what must be done, and she set about it in
desperate haste. Hers was the only chamber that could be given him.
Every room in Cedar House was occupied, and it was always her room which
was given to a guest, so that she often slept on a couch in Miss
Penelope's chamber. But she did not think of that; there was no thought
of herself, beyond wishing to give him her own room. Had there been ever
so many guest chambers, she would still have wished him to have hers.
But to get it ready in time! To make sure that there should be no
further waiting before doing all that human power could do. Even now it
might be too late. The wood fire had almost burned out, and to kindle a
blaze was the first thing to be done, so that she ran straight to the
hearth and dropped on her knees beside it. There was a little heap of
sticks in the chimney-corner, but her hands trembled so that she could
hardly put them on the dying coals. The breath that she coaxed the flame
with came in gasps, but a blaze quickly sprang up and leapt among the
sticks, and then she flew to prepare the bed. If she might only get it
ready before they came! The thought of that helpless head lying against
Father Orin's shoulder was like a stab at her heart.
Footsteps were rushing up and down stairs, and excited voices were
calling her name all over the house, but she did not pause or turn from
her task. It was Miss Penelope who first found her and clamored to know
what had happened; but she did not stop to answer, and went on turning
back the covers of the bed--the last thing needing to be done--and
listening for the sounds of the horses' hoofs. They could now be heard
approaching with that sad, slow, solemn rhythm--that subdued beat, beat,
beat, of horses' feet--which has fallen on all our bruised hearts as an
awful part of the funeral march. She ran out of the room and downstairs,
drawing her skirt away from Miss Penelope's frightened grasp, and
passing William Pressley, as if his restraining words had been no more
than the gusty wind. She was waiting outside when the three horsemen
drew up at the door. The burden which they bore was still apparently
lifeless, and with a sickening pang of fear she bent over the parted
lips as they lowered him from the saddle, thinking for one despairing
moment that he no longer breathed. But the faint flutter went on, and
she gave way so that he might be borne up the stairs, and running
before, she told them where to lay him down.
William Pressley made one or two efforts to direct what was being done,
and although the girl's passionate excitement swept him aside, he still
did what he could, and offered to furnish a fresh horse for the quicker
fetching of the doctor, when the attorney-general said he would go for
him at once. It was like William Pressley to do this; it would have been
unlike him to neglect any duty that he saw. But the offering of the
horse and the full performance of his own duty did not keep him from
looking at Ruth in severe displeasure. He did not yet know how this
thing had happened, and was far from suspecting that she had been out of
the house that night. Yet it disturbed and angered him to see her flying
here and there, and running to and fro to get things that were wanted,
as though the servants could not be quick enough. With all this in his
tone, he coldly and strongly urged her to join the rest of the family,
pointing out the fact that there was nothing more to be done by any one
till the doctor should come. But she merely shook her head, without
speaking, and slid softly into a seat by the bedside, and there William
Pressley left her, disdaining to contend. She thought that she was
alone--so far as she thought of herself at all--but the boy sat unseen
and forgotten in a shadowed corner of the chamber. He was gazing at her,
but her gaze never once wandered from the still white face on the
The rest of the family were gathered around the hearth in the great room
downstairs. The judge had been summoned from the cabin in which he
slept, and he was now plying Father Orin with questions. There was a cry
of alarmed amazement when the priest told of finding Ruth at Anvil Rock.
Only William Pressley said nothing, and sat perfectly still, with a
sudden stiffening of his bearing. It was not easy for the priest to make
the whole story clear, for he did not understand it quite clearly
himself. But he told as much as he knew of the night's events. And when
he was done, the judge's voice stilled the clamor of the other excited
"How can the child have known what was going on? Where is she? We must
find out at once how she came to do so wild and strange a thing. What
under heaven could she have been doing there--in such a place, at such a
time? Where is she?" But he went on with another thought, without
waiting for an answer. "How can those murderous scoundrels have known
that the attorney-general would ride to Anvil Rock alone? It is plain
enough that they did know. The question is--How? By what means can they
possibly have learned anything about the plan? That's the thing! How did
they find out enough to enable them to set this villanous trap? All
those assassins hidden there in the darkness of the Cypress Swamp,
waiting to spring out on one man!" He turned suddenly to the priest.
"What is your opinion, Father? Have you the slightest idea how they
could have learned anything of our plan?"
Father Orin looked straight at William Pressley.
"Yes, I have an idea," he said quietly, with his gaze still fixed on the
young lawyer. "But it is merely unfounded suspicion. I have no real
reason for my suspicions."
"Well, what are they?" asked the judge, eagerly. "You can hardly be
afraid of doing any injustice to those scoundrels. It would be hard to
suspect such murderous villains of any sneaking treachery that they
wouldn't be guilty of if they could. How do you think they found out?
That's what I want to know."
Father Orin was still looking steadily at William Pressley, who returned
the look just as steadily with one that was easier to read than the
priest's. William Pressley's gaze expressed a large, patient tolerance
for prejudice, slightly touched with calm contempt, and there was no
doubting its entire sincerity.
"I think," said Father Orin, slowly, "that these banded robbers and
murderers must have learned of the plan through some one's inadvertence.
It is my opinion that the plan was betrayed by some one who did not mean
to betray it, and who may not have known what he had done."
William Pressley regarded him with an incredulous smile. "It is hardly
likely that the plan can have been revealed in any such way as you
suggest, sir," he said, with the politeness which is more exasperating
than rudeness. "You are certainly overlooking the fact that only a few
knew what the attorney-general intended to do, and that those who did
know are the ablest and most reliable men in the country. It is
therefore utterly out of the question to assume that any one among them,
any man of their intelligence and standing, could have made such a
blunder. Really, my dear sir, if you will pardon my saying so, the idea
The priest made no reply and his eyes were still fixed on the young
lawyer's face, but as he gazed, the expression of his own face changed.
A half smile lighted it for a moment. The good man's sense of humor was
keen. But this passed quickly and in its stead there came the compassion
which any purely human weakness, however great or small, always awoke in
his truly compassionate breast.
The judge apparently had not heard what his nephew said. He always began
to feel impatient as soon as the young man commenced to speak. And he
now gave his tousled head the old, unconscious toss, like a horse
shaking his mane at the lighting of a persistent fly. And then, paying
no more attention to William Pressley and drawing his chair nearer
Father Orin's, he went on with the grave talk. It was he, however, who
did all the talking now; the priest had suddenly become a passive
listener. He had no more ideas to advance.
The three men turned many anxious looks on the open door. It was still a
framed space of misty gray, filled only with the melancholy mystery of
the wintry dawn. It seemed to the watchers to stay unchanged for a long
time, as it always does to those who watch for its brightening in
trouble and anxiety. Yet while they longed for the light they dreaded to
see it, as the troubled and alarmed always dread, lest it should reveal
something terrible which the darkness has concealed. Their words grew
fewer, also, under this strain of waiting, and they gradually fell into
the tone that night watchers use, when they speak of mysterious things
under the gloomy spell of this sad half-light which is neither night nor
day. In the silences between their hesitating words, they bent forward
and listened. All was still--there was no distant sound of the
attorney-general's return or of the old doctor's coming. In the tense
stillness they could hear only the sad murmur of the river gliding under
the darkness and--now and then--the sudden hurrying of footsteps in the
chamber overhead where the wounded man lay.
And so a long, heavy hour dragged by. The leaden gray framed by the
doorway began to glimmer with a silvery pallor. The quicker breath of
the awakening world sent a heavier shower of leaves from the trees. The
birds still lingering among the cold, bare branches were already awake,
and calling cheerily to one another, as if the higher world in which
they lived was all untouched by the struggle and strife of this lower
human world. The heavy-hearted men in the great room of Cedar House
listened with the vague wistfulness that the happiness of bird voices
always brings to the troubled. They also heard the low trumpeting of the
swans as the breath of the morning swayed the rushes and that, too,
filled them with a deeper longing for peace. But suddenly the far-off
echo of a horse's rapid approach made them forget everything else. The
doctor was coming at last! As one man, the three men sprang to open the
door, and leapt out into the pallid daylight. The horseman was now near
by and in another moment they saw that the rider was not the doctor, nor
yet the attorney-general, but Philip Alston.
The priest shrank back with an uncontrollable recoil and then stood
still and silent, watching every movement of the tall figure which had
reined up and was dismounting with the ease of a boy. The judge and his
nephew had made an exclamation at the sight of him; but they were merely
surprised at the unusual hour of his appearance and he explained this at
"Where is Ruth? What is wrong? Has anything happened?" he asked, turning
in visible agitation from one to another. "What was it that those men
on horseback brought here? I could barely make out something moving this
way. Has anything happened to Ruth? The light was dim, and I was a long
way off. I was coming from the river where I had been attending to the
loading of a boat, and so happened to see that something was going on.
But I wasn't near enough to tell what it was. Of course I came at once
to see if there was any trouble, and to do what I could. Is anything
wrong with Ruth? My horse fell and lamed himself, or I should have been
here much sooner. Tell me instantly! What have you done with the child?
What have you allowed to happen to her? By God, if--"
He demanded this accounting in a tone of passionate fierceness such as
none of those present had ever heard in him, turning first upon William
Pressley and then upon Robert Knox. His face was white, and his eyes
were blazing, and they did not at once resume their natural look when he
had been assured of Ruth's safety. But he said nothing more, and only
Father Orin noted how altered and worn and old he looked, when he
entered the room and the brighter light fell upon him.
He came to the fireside and sat down with the light of a swinging lamp
falling full on his face. His clear blue eyes, growing quiet, now looked
straight into Father Orin's--which were openly searching and
suspicious--during the second telling of the story of the night. It was
not easy for suspicion to stand against such a gaze. The priest's
wavered in spite of its strength. No one could believe evil of Philip
Alston while looking in his noble, open face. He did not speak
immediately after the story was told. When he did, it was to say,
quietly and naturally, precisely what any right-minded man would have
said under the circumstances:--
"This young stranger is certainly a man of courage. He has protected the
attorney-general at the risk of his own life. In doing this, he has done
a great service for all of us--for the whole country. We must now do
what we can for him. Is he badly, hurt? Where is he? Who is with him?"
The priest saw that he flinched for the first time when told that the
wounded man had been taken to Ruth's room.
"That was wrong," said Philip Alston, with a subtle change in his tone.
"Ruth must have nothing further to do with this extraordinary and most
unfortunate affair. She has had far too much to do with it already. That
mooning, foolish boy must have led her into this romantic folly through
some girlish enthusiasm about Joe Daviess, the popular hero of romance.
It is plainly the boy's fault that she was induced to do so dangerous
and unheard-of a thing. She could never have thought of it herself. I
shall see that he keeps his place hereafter. We must look to it,
William," turning upon the young man with more severity than his voice
often expressed. "Where is she? What is she doing? I wish to see her."
It was the judge who told him that she was in her own room, together
with the older ladies, all in attendance upon the injured man. The
priest then saw the second swift darkening of Philip Alston's face.
"I will go up to her room," he said quietly. "I wish to be sure that she
has not been harmed."
As he rose, there was a sound outside. He turned to the open door and
saw two horsemen approaching at a gallop. It was light enough for him to
see and recognize the attorney-general and the doctor. The other men
hurriedly went out to meet them. Philip Alston stood still in a shadowed
corner of the great room, while the rest hastened up the stairway and
into the chamber where Paul Colbert lay. And then he followed them with
his swift, light step, and pausing upon the threshold, looked into the
open room, his gaze first seeking Ruth. She stood on the other side of
the chamber, apart from the group around the bed. But she did not see
him; her eyes and hands and thoughts were on the bandages which she was
hastily preparing. He shrank from what she was doing and turning hastily
away fixed his eyes on the attorney-general. Thus, silently looking and
listening, he presently heard him say how deeply he regretted being
compelled to leave the country before knowing the result of his friend's
wound, adding that he was leaving on the next day for Tippecanoe. Philip
Alston barely glanced at the white face lying against the pillow. He was
disturbed and even shocked to see it there. He felt this stranger's
presence in her chamber to be a desecration. And then the sight of
suffering always made him uncomfortable. He wondered how she could
endure it. The repulsion which the average man feels for any affliction
of mind, body, or estate was so intensified in him that he could not,
with all his intelligence, understand that the very sight of great
suffering nobly borne, does much to win a woman's heart.
THE EAGLE IN THE DOVE'S NEST
The worst hurt that Paul Colbert had received was from a blow on the
head, which had stunned and nearly killed him. But there had been no
lasting injury, even from this, and the knife-wound in his shoulder had
healed rapidly; he was young, and strong, and healthy.
On the morning of the seventh day he awoke and looked at Ruth. He was
feeling almost well, but had no inclination to stir. It was pleasant
enough just to lie there and look at her, and let his gaze wander around
her chamber. This white shrine of maidenhood! He had felt its influence
before he was able to understand, and the reverential awe had grown with
his returning strength. How dainty it was, for all its rough board floor
and rude log walls! Even those were as white as the driven snow. The bed
was like the warm, soft breast of a snow-white swan, and its drawn
curtains like folded wings. There were spotless muslin curtains over the
windows, and the little toilet table also was draped in white and strewn
with bits of carved ivory. The whole room showed the same mingling of
luxury and simplicity that was to be seen in the great room below.
These fine ivory carvings, the rare prints and a painting or two on the
rude walls, the alabaster vase on the rude stand,--filled with fresh,
late-blooming flowers,--the costly white fur rug on the floor, the
delicate work basket with its coquettish bows of riband, contrasted
oddly with the other simple things which had evidently been made in the
wilderness by unskilled hands. Yet even those were tasteful and all
painted white, so that the whole was purity, beauty, and exquisiteness.
Yet his gaze quickly turned from the room to her. He knew that she
believed him to be asleep; but it was so pleasant to watch her that he
did not hasten to let her know that he was awake. She was very busy at
the window, with her back to him, and deeply absorbed in something that
she was doing. Moving lightly and swiftly to and fro across the light,
she was working hard, with no more noise than the sunbeams made in
glancing about her slender form. He lay watching her for some time in
dreamy delight, before he saw what it was that she was doing. But
presently he knew that she was making an aeolian harp. The two fragile
bits of vibrant wood to hold the strings were already in place on either
side of the window, just where the upper and lower sash came together.
She was now engaged in carrying the threads of fine silk floss, which
were to form the strings of this simple wind-harp, from one piece of
wood to the other. Back and forth she wove them across the current of
air, moving with swift, noiseless motions of exquisite grace. As the
last fine fibre thus fell into place and was firmly drawn, a soft,
musical sigh breathed through the shadowed room, the very shadow of
music's sweet self.
[Illustration: "She was making an aeolian harp."]
"Thank you," Paul Colbert said. "What beautiful things you think of,
what lovely things you do!"
She turned quickly with a smile and a blush, and came to the bedside.
"Why--you were not to wake up yet! It's much too early for a sick man to
open his eyes."
"But I am not a sick man any longer. I am almost well. I could get up
now, if I wished," jestingly, "I am getting well as fast as I can, just
to convict the other doctor of a mistaken diagnosis. What a fine old
fellow he is!" with a quick change to earnestness. "How kind he has
been, how untiring in his attention and goodness to me. And so skilful,
too. I am ashamed of my presumption. A mere beginner like myself, to
question his methods in dealing with the Cold Plague! I don't believe he
made the mistakes they said he did. He couldn't!"
It was an unlucky recollection. The thought of this mysterious epidemic
which had grown worse, till it was now devastating the whole country,
made him suddenly restless. His patients were needing him sorely while
he lay here, still bound hand and foot by weakness. He turned his head
miserably on the pillow. It was not the first time that this thought had
troubled him, and she knew the signs. Laying a gentle, soothing hand on
his tossing head, she spoke in the quieting tone that a woman always
uses to soothe and comfort a child or a man whom she loves.
"It will not be long now. You can soon go back to them," she said.
The tone was none the less soothing because a bitter pang went through
her own heart with the words. What should she do when he was gone? And
he was almost strong enough to return to the work which was calling him.
But the aching of a true woman's own heart has nothing to do with the
peace that she gives to those whom she loves. And then it may have been
only the sweet sadness of the spirit harp's sighing that made Ruth's
lips quiver under their bright smile.
"But they need me now," he groaned. "They are dying untended while I lie
helpless here. The old doctor cannot take care of them. He has too many
patients of his own. He is riding day and night. He tries to hide the
truth, but I know it. The Cold Plague grows in violence every day."
He suddenly raised himself on his elbow with a great effort.
"Maybe I can sit up if I try very hard," he gasped. "The will has much
to do with the strength. I am determined--"
"No! no!" cried Ruth in alarm.
But he had already sunk back exhausted. His lids drooped heavily for a
moment through weakness. And then he looked up in her frightened face
with a reassuring smile as she gently pressed his head down upon the
"What strict little mother," he murmured.
She shook her head and drew the counterpane closer about his neck,
carefully lightening the weight over his wounded shoulder. With soft
light touches she smoothed out the smallest wrinkle marring the comfort
of the narrow, bed. When this was done and he lay quiet again, she began
to talk quietly but brightly of other things, hoping to divert his
thoughts. She told him all the innocent gossip of the neighborhood. Most
of this had come to her from the Sisters, for she seldom saw any one
else. There was much to tell of their little charges, and particularly
of the three babies whom he and Father Orin had taken from the deserted,
plague-stricken cabin in the wilderness. She did not say that these
little ones had become her own special care, but caused his smile to
grow brighter by telling how like children the gentle Sisters themselves
were. She repeated what they had said of Tommy Dye's last visit. Their
serious, perplexed account of it was now unconsciously colored by her
own gentle, fine sense of humor which also came so close to pathos that
a lump rose in Paul Colbert's throat as he listened. He could see just
how poor Tommy Dye had looked, but his eyes grew dim while his lips
smiled. And now another and deeper shadow swiftly swept over his face.
"So even poor old Tommy Dye has gone to Tippecanoe. Everybody but me is
gone or going. I alone am left behind. And yet--even if this hadn't
happened--I must still have stood at my post," he said sadly.
Her hand fluttered down upon his like a startled dove. There was a
sudden radiance in her dark blue eyes. She barely breathed the next
words that she spoke:--
"Yes; you must have stayed, anyway. The doctor of the wilderness--the
healer everywhere--can never march with other soldiers. He can never go
shoulder to shoulder with cheering comrades at the roll of drums and the
blare of trumpets under waving banners--to seek glory on the
battle-field while all the world looks on and applauds. No--no--the
doctor of the wilderness--the healer everywhere--is a solitary soldier,
who must always go alone and silently to meet Death single-handed, and
struggle with him, day after day, and night after night, so long as he
may live, fighting ceaselessly for his own life as well as the lives of
There was a quivering silence, filled only with the sighing of the
wind-harp. The young doctor's hand had closed over hers. She went on in
a lower tone:--
"And surely the man who risks his life to save is braver than he who
risks it to slay."
Startled at her own boldness, she drew away when he tried, with the
slight strength that he had, to draw her to him. They had not spoken to
each other of love. He knew little of what had taken place that night at
Anvil Rock when she had believed that his soul and her heart were
parting with all earthly things. He had not heard what she had said
then, and they had not been left alone together since his hurt until
this morning. There had been many constantly coming and going about the
sick bed during the first days, and to him those days were mere blanks
of suffering and blurs of pain. It was only to-day that he had begun to
regain in a measure the power of his mind and will. If he could but have
had for one instant the old power of his body! He did not know whether
this beautiful, tender young creature beside him was still under promise
to marry another man. There had been no opportunity for any confidential
talk. The name of William Pressley had never been mentioned between
them. The thought of him was like a touch of fire to Paul Colbert, so
burning was the contempt which he felt for this conceited dullard whose
blundering had nearly been his own death. But he could not say anything
of this to her--the fact that she had once been engaged to be married to
the man held him silent. It might be that she was still bound, and yet
there was something in her soft eyes that led him to hope that she was
free--something, at least, which seemed to give him leave to wrest
freedom for her from the strongest that might try to hold her against
her sweet will. If only he were not stretched here, a mere burden, a
The look in his sunken eyes,--glowing like coals,--the burning words
which she read on his silent lips, made her slip her hands from his and
move hastily away. She went confusedly over to the window and hailed the
sight of the birds on the sill with sudden relief.
"My little feathered family are all here," she said without looking
round. "Can you see the blue jay? He is on the window-sill trying his
best to peep over it at you."
"I hope he is jealous of me," trying to speak lightly.
"He's a great tyrant. He has driven away all the other birds. He will
not allow them to have one of the crumbs that I put out. Most of them
are sitting in a forlorn little row on the nearest tree. I wonder what
he is saying to them in that rough voice, yet maybe it is better not to
know. It must be something very rude, the redbird's bearing makes me
think so. He is standing very straight and holding his head very high,
but he isn't saying a word--of course. He is too much of a gentleman to
quarrel with a rowdy like the blue jay. Just hear how he is domineering!
These little song sparrows must surely be ladybirds--they are talking
back in such a saucy twitter. Can you hear them? I wish you could see
them. They are turning their pretty heads from side to side as much as
to say, that he can't keep them from speaking their minds if he does
keep them from getting the crumbs. Can you hear the silvery ripple of
their plaints? Nothing could be sweeter. There! I will raise the window
just a hair's breadth. Listen! Isn't it like a chime of fairy bells,
heard in a dream? But I hope you haven't felt any draught. It is much
colder than yesterday."
Dropping the sash she went to the fireplace and laid several sticks on
the blaze. She stood still for a moment, gazing down at the fire and
then she took a low chair beside the hearth. She knew that Paul Colbert
was looking at her, but she did not turn her head to meet his gaze. For
she also knew that he was merely biding his time, merely gathering
strength to speak, merely waiting till he had found words strong and
tender enough. If her eyes were to meet his, she must go to him--she
could not resist--and yet she felt that she must not go while her
plighted word was given to another man. It did not matter that the
promise had been made under persuasion and in ignorance of what love
meant. It made no difference that she was sure that William, too, longed
to be free. The promise had been made, and she was bound by it, until
she could tell William Pressley the truth and ask him to set her free.
Soft and feminine as her nature was, she had nevertheless a singularly
clear, firm sense of honor as most men understand that term--and as few
women do. She had already tried more than once to tell him, but he had
been almost constantly away from home of late. It was to her mind simply
a question of honor. The dread of giving him pain which she had shrunk
from at first, had now wholly passed away. It was so plain that he also
recognized the mistake of this engagement and would be glad to be free,
that the last weight was lifted from her heart. She had been truly
attached to him as she was to almost every one with whom she came in
daily contact, and this affection was not altered. Hers was such a
loving nature that it was as natural for her to love those about her as
for a young vine to cling to everything that it touches. Every instinct
of her heart was a tender, sensitive tendril of affection, and all these
soft and growing tendrils reaching out in the loneliness of her life had
clung even to William Pressley, as a fine young vine will twine round a
hard cold rock when it can reach nothing softer or warmer or higher. Her
own rich, warm, loving nature had indeed so wreathed his coldness and
hardness that she could not see him as he really was. And now--without
any change in either the vine or the rock--everything was wholly
different. It was as if a tropical storm had suddenly lifted all these
clinging tendrils away from the unresponsive rock and had borne them
heavenward into the eager arms of a living oak.
She knew now the difference between the love that a loving nature gives
to all, and the love which a strong nature gives to only one. Her heart
was beating so under this new, deep knowledge of life, that she feared
lest the man whom she loved might hear. Yet she sat still with her
little hands tightly clasped on her lap, as if to hold herself firm, and
she held herself from looking round, though the silence continued
unbroken. William must be told before she might listen to the words
which she so longed to hear from Paul's lips. It was noble of him to
hold them back. Every moment that she had been sitting by the hearth she
had been expecting to hear them. So that she sat now in tense, quivering
suspense, waiting, fearing, longing, dreading, through this strange,
long silence; filled only by the sighing of the wind-harp and the
crackling of the fire. And then, being a true woman, she could endure it
no longer, and turning slightly she gave him a shy, timid glance. As she
looked she cried out in terror.
His head, which had been so eagerly raised a moment before, had fallen;
his eyes, which had been aglow but an instant since, were closed. The
effort, the agitation, had been too great for his slight strength. The
strong spirit, impatient of the weak flesh, was again slipping away from
She thought he was dying, and forgetting everything but her love for
him, she flew to him and fell on her knees by his side. Raising his
heavy head in her arms she held it against her bosom. She did not know
that her lips touched his, she was seeking only to learn if he breathed.
When his eyes opened blankly, she kissed them till they closed again,
because she could not bear to see the dreadful blankness that was in
them. When he moaned she fell to rocking gently back and forth, holding
his head closer against her breast, and presently began to croon softly.
She never once thought of calling for help; it was to her as if there
had been no one but themselves in the whole world. And presently his
faintness passed away, and when his arms, so weakly raised, went round
her, she did not try to escape. After a little he found strength to
speak a part of all that was in his heart, and she told him what she
could of all that was in hers. And both spoke as a great love speaks
when it first turns slowly back from facing death.
"A COMET'S GLARE FORETOLD THIS SAD EVENT"
When the barriers had thus been broken down, she had spoken of the
breach between William and herself. There had not been a bitter word or
a harsh thought in all that she said. It had been merely a mutual
mistake; they had both mistaken the affection which grows out of
familiar association, for the love that instantly draws a man and a
woman together, though they may never before have seen one another, and
holds them forever, away from all the rest of the world.
"I know the difference now," she said several days later, with a deeper
tint in her cheeks and a brighter light in her blue eyes. "And I am sure
that William does, too. It's plain enough that he will be glad to be
free, but he cannot say so, because he is a gentleman. Don't you see?
For that very reason, just because he is so high-minded, I am all the
more bound to do what is right. You do see, don't you?"
He was sitting up for the first time that day, his chair was by the
window and she was sewing beside him.
"I see what you think is right," Paul said smilingly. "And he certainly
should be told at once. But perhaps I might--"
"Oh, no! I must tell him myself. That would only be treating him with
due respect. And William thinks a great deal of respect--much more than
he does of love. But I can't get a chance to speak to him. He is always
coming and going of late, and all the family are present when I do see
him. You must wait; you must not say a word to uncle Robert till I have
told William; it wouldn't be honorable on my part."
"But you are forgetting, little girl, that there may be scruples on my
side, too. If my strength should come back as fast in the next two or
three days, I shall be able to leave Cedar House before the end of the
week. I cannot go away in silence; there must be no sort of secrecy. You
perceive there is a question of honor there, too. I must speak to the
"It isn't any question of secrecy. There is nothing to keep secret," she
protested and coaxed. "I am thinking only of William's feelings, and
trying to spare his pride. I know him best and I am fond of him. Don't
forget that. There has not been the least change in my affection for
him," holding her beautiful head very straight. "Don't think for a
moment that my regard for William has been lessened," suddenly dimpling,
softening, and beaming, "by my falling in love with you. That is an
entirely different thing."
"I should hope so, indeed!" suddenly bending forward and catching her in
his arms with a happy laugh. "You see how strong I am. Well, then, you
needn't expect to have your own way all the time much longer. I yield
only so far as to give you three days--exactly three days from the
moment that I leave this house, and not one moment more. At the end of
that time I shall come to see the judge."
"And uncle Philip. I couldn't be happy without his approval. I have been
longing to tell him. I would have told him at once if I hadn't felt
bound to speak to William first. Dear uncle Philip! He is always happy
over anything that makes me happy. Next to you, dear heart, there is no
one in all the world that I love so much--not half so much. And there is
no one whom he loves as he does me; he thinks only of my happiness."
Her eyes sought his with a wistful look. She felt that he did not like
Philip Alston, and there was distress in the thought that these two,
whom she loved most out of all on earth, should not be the warmest of
"You mustn't think him indifferent because he hasn't been to see you,"
she pleaded. "Please don't think that, for it isn't true. He hasn't come
because he never can bear the sight of suffering. He says it's purely a
physical peculiarity which he cannot control. Anything that makes him
think of violence or cruelty shocks and repulses him. He shrinks from it
as he would from a harsh sound or an evil odor. He says it's because his
refinement is greater than his humanity. But it is really his tender
heart. Some day when you know him better you will find his heart as
tender as I have always found it."
He, knowing what was in her loving heart, could not meet her gaze, and
hastily looked away gazing across the river. His thoughts swiftly
followed his eyes, for he would not have been the man that he was, could
even this great new love which was now filling his heart, and was to
fill all his future life, have made him forget his old love for this
great new state, and the awful crises through which it was passing.
For that was a time of great stress, of deep anxiety, and of almost
intolerable suspense. Those early days and nights of November in the
year eighteen hundred and eleven, were indeed among the most stressful
in the whole stormy history of Kentucky. And through her--since her fate
was to be the fate of the Empire of the West--they were as portentous as
any that the nation has ever known. On that very day in truth, and not
very far off, there had already been enacted one of the mightiest events
that went to the shaping of the national destiny. Over the river on the
banks of its tributary, the Wabash, the battle of Tippecanoe had been
fought and won between the darkness and daylight of that gloomy seventh
of November. The young doctor, like all the people of the country, knew
that the long-dreaded hour had struck, that this last decisive struggle
between the white race and the red must be close at hand; but neither he
nor any one in that region knew that it was already ended. There had not
been a single sign or sound to tell when the conflict was actually going
on. It was said that the roar of the cannon was heard much farther away,
as far even as Monk's Mound, where the Trappists--those most ill-fated
of Kentucky pioneers--had found temporary refuge. But if this be true,
it must have been by reason of the fact that sound carries very far over
vast level prairies, when it cannot cross a much shorter distance which
rises in hills covered with forests, such as shut out every echo of the
battle from Cedar House.
Paul Colbert got up suddenly and began to walk the room, though he
staggered from weakness. He could not sit still under the torture of
such suspense, when he thought of all that was at stake on the outcome
of the conflict which might even then be waging beyond those spectral
trees. The safety of the people living along the river, their homes,
their lives--all these were hanging upon the strength of the soldier's
arm. He knew how small the white army was. If it should be conquered,
the opposite shore might at any instant be red with victorious savages
rushing to the great Shawnee Crossing. And then--he looked at Ruth,
feeling his helplessness as he had not felt the keenest pain of his
wound. She saw the look, and felt its distress, although she did not
understand all that it meant. She gently urged him back to his chair,
frightened to see how weak he was.
"Sit still till I come back. I will run downstairs and see if there is
any news," she coaxed in a soothing tone.
The household was gathered in the great room waiting and watching. The
old ladies by the hearth scarcely noticed one another. The judge sitting
apart half started up at the faint rustle of Ruth's approach, but
finding that it was no messenger bringing news, he sat down again with a
weary sigh, and his gaze went back to the other side of the river. His
appearance told how great his anxiety was. His rugged, homely face was
haggard and unshorn, and his rough dress was even more careless than
common. William Pressley arose and came forward to give Ruth a chair.
There was no visible change in him, his dress was as immaculate as it
always was. His manner was just as coldly implacable as it had been ever
since the quarrel; but then his temper never had anything to do with his
looks or his manners. No degree of uneasiness could ever make him forget
appearances or the smallest form of courtesy; and he would have thought
it a pitiable sort of man who could be moved by emotion to any kind of
irregularity. His way of placing the chair proclaimed that he never
failed to do all that became a gentleman, no matter how neglectful
emotional people might sometimes become.
Philip Alston, coming in just at that moment, saw something of this with
mingled amusement and satisfaction. The candor of William Pressley's
self-consciousness, the sincerity of his self-conceit, the firmness of
his belief in his own infallibility, claimed a measure of real respect,
and Philip Alston gave it in full. He thought none the less of him
because he could not help smiling a little at the solemn progress which
the young lawyer was then making across the great room. To be able to
smile at anything on that day of strain was a boon. And then it was
always pleasing and cheering to see any fresh sign that he had read the
young lawyer's character aright, and he was glad to see again what a
good-looking, well-mannered, right-minded young fellow he was. Nothing
could be said against him. Everything--or almost everything--was to be
said in his praise. The open fact that he thought all this himself would
be nothing against him with Ruth. A man's faith in himself is indeed
often the chief cause of a woman's faith in him. No one knew this better
than Philip Alston. As he looked at William that day, a new feeling of
peace came into his perturbed breast. He was beginning to be
disheartened by unexpected opposition to his plan to have the young
lawyer appointed to the office of attorney-general. Had he been closer
in touch with the governor, he would have known that all his efforts
were useless, for the office was held by appointment in those days, and
not by election as it is now. But it was a long way to the state capital
on horseback, and he had seen no newspapers, so that he knew nothing
positively, and was only beginning to fear. And thinking about the
uncertainty, he was encouraged to feel that even failure in this would
not alter his belief that the marriage was the best Ruth could make.
There was something purely unselfish in the content that he felt. With
clouds lowering around his own head, it comforted him to feel that her
future would be safe whatever came. He smiled at her, shaking his head
when she asked if he had heard any news, and drew her down by his side.
At the first opportunity he must ask about Sister Angela's progress with
the wedding clothes. It was not long now till Christmas Eve, and he
wanted to hear more about the preparations for the marriage. These had
seemed to lag of late.
* * * * *
The blood-red sun went down behind threatening clouds on that terrible
day, and the second morning came in with a wintry storm of icy winds and
swirling snow. Then followed two more gloomy, gray days and two more
wild, black nights. The fifth day dawned still wilder and darker, but
Paul Colbert found strength to go away. On the sixth it seemed to Ruth
that her heart would break with its aching for his absence; and with the
sadness that came from listening to a sobbing wind which sighed
despairingly through the naked forest; and with watching a melancholy
rain which hung a dark curtain between Cedar House and the other side of
the river. And thus the dreadful time dragged on into the seventh
endless day, and still there was no news from Tippecanoe. A courier
could have brought it in a few hours by riding fast through the wide,
trackless wilderness, and swimming broad, unbridged rivers. But no
couriers came toward Cedar House. There was no reason for sending a
special messenger to a corner of one state when the whole nation was
clamoring to hear. So that the couriers were speeding with all possible
haste toward the National Capital, and the people of Cedar House could
only wait and watch like those who were much farther off.
And thus it was that after a whole week had passed, they still did not
know that the battle of Tippecanoe had been fought, and that a precious
victory had been bought at a fearful price. And even now, who knows
whether or not that fearful price need have been paid? It is hard to see
the truth clearly, looking back through the mists of nearly a hundred
years. In the strange story of that famous battle, only one fact stands
out clear beyond all dispute, and that is so incredible as to stagger
belief. It appears at first utterly past belief that the white army,
marching against the red army with the open purpose of attacking it on
the next day, should have lain down almost at the feet of the desperate
foe, and have gone quietly to sleep. Only the recorded word of the
general in command makes this fact credible. He also says, to be sure,
that the soldiers "would have been called in two minutes more;" but he
admits that they had not been called when the red army made the attack,
without waiting till the white army woke of its own accord to begin
fighting at leisure by daylight, without even waiting those two minutes
for the general's convenience. What happened to the helpless sleepers
then, when the waking warriors thus fell upon the sleeping soldiers, may
be most eloquently told in the general's own words. "Such of them as
were awake or easily awakened, seized their arms and took their
stations, others, more tardy, had to contend with the enemy at the doors
of their tents." Turning the yellowed pages of this most amazing report,
the reader can only wonder that the furious tide of battle which set so
overwhelmingly against the soldiers in the beginning, ever could have
been turned by all the brave blood poured out before its turning.
On the eighth anguished day of suspense Ruth went to the door to welcome
Philip Alston, and looking toward the forest path, saw Father Orin and
Toby approaching. There was something in the way they moved that told
they had news, and when they reached Cedar House, the whole household
was breathlessly waiting for them. The white family was gathered inside
the front door, and the black people, running up from the quarters,
crowded round the door on the outside, with ashen faces, for their fear
of the savages was, if possible, greater than the white people's. All
pressed around Toby, and Father Orin told the good news as quickly as he
could, without taking time to dismount; but his voice trembled so that
he could hardly speak, and his eyes were so full of tears that he could
not see. He was not yet able to rejoice over a victory which had cost
the life of a dear friend.
"And Joe Daviess?" asked Philip Alston.
Father Orin silently turned his face toward the river and made the sign
of the cross; but he turned back and patted Ruth's head when she pressed
it against Toby's mane and burst into sobbing.
"It was he who saved the day," the priest said huskily. "He led the
desperate charge that won the battle, when everything seemed lost. He
received his death wound in the charge, but he lived long enough to know
that the victory was ours."
"He was a great man; his name will never be forgotten. His sword has now
carved it imperishably on the key-stone of the new state's triumphal
arch," said Philip Alston.
"And Tommy Dye?" asked Ruth, lifting her wet eyes. "The Sisters are so
"And poor Tommy Dye, also," answered Father Orin.
These two brave men who lived their lives so far apart, had fallen
almost side by side. Joe Daviess, the noble, the fearless, the highly
gifted, the honored, the famous; and Tommy Dye, the kindly, the
reckless, the poorly endowed, the misguided, the obscure,--both had done
all that the noblest could do. The mould and the dead leaves of the
wilderness would cover both their graves. Only the initials of his name
roughly cut on a tree would mark the glorious resting-place of the one.
Only an humble heap of unmarked earth would tell where a noble death had
closed the ignoble life of the other.
LOVE CLAIMS HIS OWN
The tears had been heavy on Ruth's dark lashes when she had fallen
asleep, but she awoke with a smile, radiant and expectant. She could not
remember at first what made her so happy, and a pang touched her heart
at the sudden recollection of the night's sadness. And then suddenly she
began to glow again at the thought of her lover's coming. The week of
his exile was ended on that day, and he would come. She knew just how he
would look when he came with his head held high, and his clear eyes, so
kind, and yet so fearless, looking straight in every face. She could
tell the very moment when he would come, for she had the
happiness--which every woman prizes and few ever know--of loving a man
who kept his word in the letter as well as the spirit. If men could but
know the difference there is to a woman! But they hardly ever do know,
because this is a little thing, and they can never understand that it is
the little things and not the large ones that make the happiness or the
wretchedness of most women.
She exulted in the thought that he would come at the very instant he had
named, no sooner and no later, and this would be precisely at four
o'clock. She looked round with a smile, trying to tell by the mark on
the window-sill what the time was then. But the day was gloomy, and
there was no sunlight to mark the hour. Solitary snowflakes were
drifting irresolutely across the window, as if uncertain whether to go
on earthward or return whence they came. The birds sat on the bare
branches near the window waiting for their breakfast in ruffled
impatience, the blue jay having done his best to call her to the window
earlier. And he said so, in his own way, as she scattered the crumbs
with a cheery good morning.
When she went down to breakfast, the family received her much as the
birds had done. Her coming cheered them also, as if a sunbeam had
entered the dark room. Miss Penelope left off what she was saying about
the calamities that must be expected in consequence of the comet's tail
coming loose from its head. The widow Broadnax relaxed her watch for a
moment, as the fair young figure came toward the hearth and stood by her
chair, resting a hand on her shoulder. The judge brightened, without
knowing what it was that suddenly heartened him, and David came out of
his corner under the stairs, as he never did, unless she was in the
room. Only William held aloof after a formal bow. At the sight of her,
smiling and radiant, the sullen anger within him glowed like a covered
fire under a sudden breeze. She had not been punished enough; her face
was far too bright, her manner far too frank. When she approached him
and tried to speak to him in a tone that no one else could hear, he
arose, and murmuring a stiff apology moved away, just as he had done
every time she had made the attempt. She flushed and lifted her head,
for there was no lack of pride or spirit in her softness. Yet by and by
she could not help looking at him across the table with another soft
appeal in her sweet eyes which plead dumbly for old times' sake. And
after breakfast was over she tried again, knowing that this would be the
last opportunity, and yearning with all her loving heart to win back
some of the old friendliness that she still prized as a precious thing,
which she could not give up for a mere touch of pride. Such soft
persistence is even harder to evade than to resist, and she followed
William to the door as he was going away later in the day, and was
bravely gathering courage while he looked at her in implacable coldness.
He was not softened by the fact that his hopes were high that morning
over what appeared to be the certainty of his receiving the appointment.
There was, he thought, not the slightest doubt if he could manage to
secure the influence of one or two other leading citizens. As it was,
there seemed to be little danger of failure, and when he now saw Philip
Alston coming, he paused and waited for him to come up, so that he
might tell him what he had been doing. He did not know that he was
merely telling Philip Alston how his own orders had been carried out,
and there was nothing in that gentleman's manner to remind him.
William Pressley, accordingly, went on talking with the modest
consciousness of having done all that was possible for any man to do,
and he said, as they were entering the great room, that he considered
his success a mere question of time.
"A mere question of time, and a very short time, too," repeated Philip
Alston, heartily. "I congratulate you. I am proud of you. We are all
proud of him--hey, judge?"
"I hope he knows what he is trying to undertake," the judge said
abruptly, turning a glum look on his nephew. "I trust, William, that you
are realizing the responsibility of this office. Most men would hesitate
to assume it. I should tremble at the thought."
"I think, sir, that I shall be able to do my duty." William Pressley
spoke stiffly, with a touch of condescension and a shade of resentment,
such as he always evinced at any sign that the censer might cease to
"It isn't a simple matter of duty. It's a much more complicated matter
of ability," the judge said sternly.
"Pardon me, sir, but it really does not seem to me such a difficult
place to fill," said William, loftily. "In this, as in any other
position of life, the man who is influenced solely by the profoundest
and most conscientious conviction, and who is firm in following his
convictions, can hardly go far astray."
The judge looked at him over his big spectacles in perplexed, troubled
silence for a moment. So gazing, he gave the old impatient toss of his
tousled head, and the old quizzical look came under his suddenly
"All _right_, William!" he said at last, almost immediately lapsing into
silence, and presently beginning to nod.
Philip Alston scarcely glanced at the judge and his nephew. He was
looking at Ruth, and noting with adoring eyes that her beauty had
blossomed like some rare flower of late. It seemed to him that the roses
on her fair cheeks were of a more exquisite, yet brighter tint, that her
eyes were bluer and brighter and softer than ever. There also appeared
to be a new maturity in the delicate curves of her graceful figure. But
there was no change in the childlike affection of her bearing toward
him. She clung round him just as she had always done, and when she
turned to leave his side to take a chair, he called her back,
unconsciously falling into the tone of fond playfulness that he had used
in her childhood.
"If a little girl about your size were to come and look in her uncle's
pockets, she might find something that she would like--"
Ruth did not wait for him to finish what he was saying, but ran to him
as if she had been the little toddler of other days, needing only the
sight of his dear face, or the sound of his kind voice, to fly into his
outstretched arms. In a moment more her eager hands were swiftly
searching his pockets, and making believe to have great difficulty in
finding the hidden treasure. She knew all the while where it was, but
she also knew that he liked her to be a long time in getting it out. His
worshipping eyes looked down on her hands fluttering like white doves
about his heart,--for it was hard to keep away from that inner breast
pocket--and at last, when she could not wait any longer, she went deep
down in it, and drew out a flat packet. This looked as if it had
travelled a long distance. There were many wrappings around it, and many
seals and foreign marks were stamped upon it. She laid it on his knee,
and pretended to shake him, when he made out that he meant to take time
to untie the cords which bound the wrappings, instead of cutting them.
And when he had cut the cords with his pen-knife, the wrappings fell
off, disclosing a jewel case of white satin richly wrought in gold. At
the quick touch of her fingers the lid of the case flew up, revealing a
long string of large pearls,--great frozen drops of the rainbow, wrapped
in silvery white mist,--treasures that a queen might have coveted.
The girl did not know how wonderful the pearls were and had not the
faintest conception of their value. But she saw their beauty and felt
their charm, for a beautiful woman loves and longs for the jewels that
belong to her beauty, as naturally as the rose loves and longs to gather
and keep the dewdrops in its heart.
"Oh! Oh!" was all that she could say, and she could think of nothing to
do, except stand on tiptoe and touch Philip Alston's cheek with a
butterfly kiss. And then when he had put the string of pearls around her
neck, so that it swung far down over her rounded young bosom, she danced
across the room to the largest mirror. But the corner in which it hung
was always full of shadows and so dark on this gloomy day that she could
not see, and with pretty imperiousness she called for candles to be
lighted and brought to her. William Pressley mechanically got up to
obey, but Philip Alston moved more quickly. Going to the hearth he took
two candles from the mantelpiece, lit them at the fire, and carried them
to her. He expected to have the pleasure of holding them so that she
might see the lovely vision, which he was already looking upon. But she
took them from his hands and raising them high above her head, danced
back to the mirror, and stood gazing at her own image, as artlessly as a
lily bends over its shadow in a crystal pool. And as she thus gazed in
the mirror, it suddenly reflected something which moved her more than
her own likeness. It showed her the opening of the front door, and gave
her a glimpse of her lover standing in the room. She whirled round,
blushing, and with her eyes shining like stars, and cried out:--"See,
Paul! See--was there ever anything so lovely?"
She went swiftly toward him, holding the candles still higher, so that
the pearls caught a rosy lustre from the light that fell on her radiant
face. She was laughing with pure delight at the sight of him, forgetting
the pearls. She did not know that she had called him by his Christian
name but she would have called him so, had she taken time to think. She
had called him so ever since they had known that they loved each other,
and she did not stop to realize that this was the first time they had
met in the presence of others since becoming plighted lovers. She
realized nothing except his presence--that alone filled her whole world
with joy and content. He came straight to meet her, holding out his
hands; but before he could cross the great room, or even had time to
speak, Philip Alston stepped forward and spoke suddenly in clear
"Yes, see the wedding gift! The bridal pearls are here at last; all
ready for Christmas Eve."
Paul Colbert paused. He was an ardent and bold lover, but the words were
like a breath of frost on love's flowering. No ardor, no confidence, can
keep a sensitive man from feeling a chill when he sees the woman he
loves decked in the beautiful things which are beauty's birthright, and
realizes for the first time that he cannot give them to her. With the
painful shock which this feeling brought to the young doctor there was a
greater shock in the sudden thought of the possible source of the riches
which the pearls represented. A feeling of horror rushed over him, as if
he had seen that soft, white throat encircled by a serpent, and he
sprang forward to tear it off.
Ruth had turned her head to look at Philip Alston, with a start of
surprise and a little disquietude, but without fear or distrust. She
could not believe that he would wish her to marry William after he knew
that she loved Paul; such a thought never crossed her mind. Yet, as she
looked, a strange feeling of alarm which she did not comprehend swept
over her, filling her with formless terror. Some instinct made her
shrink, as if this wonderful string of pearls, which she had thought so
beautiful a moment before, had turned into a cruel chain and was binding
her fast. She did not know that many a weaker man has thus bound many a
stronger woman with chains of gold and ropes of pearls. But she felt it,
and her instinct was quicker than her lover's thought. Had her hands
been free she would have thrown the fetters from her, and finding
herself helpless, she turned to Paul Colbert for help.
"Take them off! Quick--quick! They are too heavy," she gasped.
It was Philip Alston who reached her first, and took the pearls from
her neck and the candles from her hands; but she did not look at him,
and went to her lover as if he had called her. Paul's arm going out to
meet her drew her to his side, and then, as the young couple thus stood
close together, the truth was plain enough to every one whose eyes
rested upon them. Philip Alston's face turned very white, and he made a
movement as if he would spring between them and part them by force. But
he checked the impulse, after that uncontrollable start, and stood
still, bearing in enforced silence, and as best he could, as hard a
trial as love ever put before pride. William Pressley also stood still
and silent, suffering bitterer pangs through his wounded self-love than
love itself ever could have inflicted upon him. Judge Knox straightened
up from his doze in bewildered astonishment, and made a displeased
exclamation, but it passed unheard. The old ladies by the hearth were
dumb with amazement. The boy stood unnoticed in his dark corner under
The young doctor now began to speak deliberately, calmly, and clearly,
being fully prepared with every word that he wished to utter. He told
the whole story with the simple directness that was natural to him. He
explained why he had not spoken sooner, and dwelt upon Ruth's scruples
because he wished her position to be fully understood, not because he
felt it necessary to excuse anything upon his own account. When he had
said everything that he thought should be said, and when he had spoken
modestly and proudly of their love for each other, he went on to make
frank mention of his affairs, his family, and his place in life. And
then he turned to the judge:--
"There is, as you see, sir, no reason why I should not ask you to give
her to me," he said with a boyish blush dyeing his handsome young face,
"since I have been so honored, so happy, and so fortunate as to win her
consent. I am ready and eager to tell you anything else that you may
wish to know, sir."
The judge lurched heavily out of his chair and rose unsteadily to his
feet in the sudden, angry excitement that flames out of drink.
"By--! 'Pon my soul, young sir, you are taking a high hand in my house.
Keep your place, sir, keep your place! Who are you that come here
putting your hand on my niece, and ordering the family about? Come to
me, Ruth! Come to me instantly!"
Philip Alston laid a restraining hand on his arm, and even William
Pressley uttered a warning word. In the presence of the girl there must
not be a violent word, much less a violent deed, no matter what the
feelings of the men might be, and no matter what might come after. That
was the first article in the code of chivalry toward women which ruled
these first Kentuckians, as it rules most brave, strong men living
simple, strenuous lives in the open. It ruled the judge also, as soon
as he had time to think, and controlled him through all the fog that
clouded his faculties.
"My dear," he appealed humbly, piteously, bending his rough gray head
before the girl, "I beg your pardon."
She flew to him and ran her arm through his, thus ranging herself on his
side with a fiery air of loyalty, and she turned on her lover with her
soft eyes flashing:--
"How can you, Paul! I am surprised. I wouldn't have believed it of you.
What do you mean by speaking so to my uncle Robert? Don't you see he
isn't well? You must know that when he is well everybody respects and
looks up to him--that the whole county depends on him," she said.
The old judge and the young doctor looked at each other over her head as
men look at one another when women do things as true to their nature as
this was to hers. And then, in spite of themselves, the judge's left
eyebrow went up very high, and a sunny smile brightened the doctor's
grave face. Even Philip Alston smiled and felt a sudden relief. With
such a child as Ruth had just shown herself to be, there must be some
hope of leading her by gentleness and persuasion. There was, at least, a
chance to gain time, and he moved eagerly to seize it. He looked at
William Pressley with an expression of undisguised contempt, seeing him
stand utterly unmoved. He could not help giving a glance of scorn, which
measured him against Paul Colbert. Who could blame the girl?
Nevertheless Philip Alston went to her and took her hand from the
judge's arm, and placed it within his own. Holding it fast against his
side, he turned to the doctor.
"It might be best for all concerned if you would allow us to talk this
matter over quietly among ourselves. We hardly know what to say, having
it sprung in this totally unexpected way. If you would be so kind as to
leave us for the present--"
The doctor had drawn himself up to his full height. He was about to say
that he recognized no right on the part of Philip Alston to interfere,
and to declare that he held himself accountable to no one but the judge.
Yet as this purpose formed, his gaze instinctively sought Ruth's, and he
saw that she was looking up at Philip Alston with love--unmistakable
love--in her face. The sight brought back all the helplessness that he
always felt when forced to realize her fondness for the man. He felt as
he might have done had he seen some deadly thing coiled about her so
closely that he could not strike it without wounding her tender breast.
The trouble had been like that from the first and it was like that
now--perhaps it always would be. He did not know what to do or say, with
her blue eyes appealing from him to Philip Alston. He was glad when
William Pressley broke the silence. The young lawyer had been thinking
hard; he never did anything on mere impulse. He always stopped to
consider how a thing would look, no matter how angry he might be. His
vanity had been slowly swallowing a bitter morsel, and it was now quite
clear to him that he must act promptly in order to escape a still
bitterer humiliation. Moreover, the chief consideration which had kept
him from allowing Ruth to break the engagement sooner, was now removed.
Philip Alston could hardly blame him in view of what had happened; no
one could think ill of him now.
"Just a moment, if you please," he said coldly and bitterly, addressing
all who were present. "There is no cause for delay or hesitation so far
as I can see--certainly there need be none on my account. The engagement
between Ruth and myself was tacitly broken some weeks ago. She has been
over-scrupulous in thinking that anything was due me. She was quite free
from any promise to me. You owe me nothing," turning to her with a bow.
"You have my best wishes."
She went to him, holding out her hand. "William, it hurts me to hear you
speak like that. I did my best to tell you--alone--and earlier. We were
both mistaken--neither was to blame. There surely is no reason for hard
feeling. My affection for you is just the same. William, dear--just for
old time's sake."
He took her hand, not because her loving gentleness won his forgiveness,
but because he thought that no gentleman could refuse a lady's hand. And
when she turned away with a long sigh and quivering lips, he stood firm
and invincible, supported by the conviction that he alone of all those
present had been right in everything. And such a conviction of one's own
infallibility must be a very great support under life's trials and
disappointments. There can hardly be any other armor so nearly
impenetrable to all those barbed doubts and fears which perpetually
assail and wound the unarmored. Think of what it must mean!--never to
feel that you might have been kinder or more just, or more generous or
more merciful than you were; never to have doubts and fears come
knocking, knocking, knocking at your heart till you are compelled to see
your mistakes when it is too late to do what was left undone,
and--saddest and bitterest of all--too late to undo what was done.
But no one except Ruth looked at William Pressley or thought of him.
Philip Alston calmly and courteously repeated his request, and with
Ruth's gaze urging it, Paul Colbert could not refuse to grant it. He
took up his hat and went toward the door with Ruth walking by his side.
And then, with his hand on the latch, he paused and turned, and looking
over her head, gazed steadily and meaningly into the eyes of the three
men. He looked first and longest at Philip Alston; then at William
Pressley, and finally at the judge, with a slight change of expression.
To each one of the three men his look said as plainly as if it had been
put into words, that he held himself ready for anything and everything
that any or all of them might have to say to him--out of her sight and
hearing and knowledge. And they, in turn, understood, for that was the
way of their country, of their time, and their kind; and having done
this he went quietly away.
OLD LOVE'S STRIVING WITH YOUNG LOVE
That night Philip Alston stayed later than usual at Cedar House. He was
waiting for the others to go to bed, so that he might have a quiet talk
with Ruth. On one or two rare occasions they had been left alone
together before the wide hearth, and they both looked back on these
times as among the pleasantest they had ever known. But the
opportunities for privacy are very few where there is only one living
room for an entire family, and the size and publicity of this great room
of Cedar House made them fewer than they could have been in almost any
other household. And Ruth, seeing what he wished, was looking forward
now with even greater delight than she had felt heretofore; the delight
that young love feels at the thought of giving its first confidence to a
loving, sympathetic heart. She looked at him often through the waiting,
with shining eyes, so happy, so eager to ask him to share her happiness
that she could hardly wait till the others were gone. William Pressley
did not tax her patience long and the judge, too, soon went away to his
cabin with David to see that he reached it safely. The old ladies were
slower in going; Miss Penelope had many domestic duties to perform, and
the movements of the widow Broadnax were always governed entirely by
hers. But they, also, went at last with Ruth to assist the stouter lady
in getting up the stairs.
The girl came flying down again, with her eyes dancing and her heart
playing a tune. Philip Alston rose as she approached, and stood awaiting
her with a look on his face that she had never seen before.
"You are tired, dear uncle Philip," she said, taking his hand and
holding it against her cheek as she raised her radiant eyes to his face.
"Come to the fire and take this big chair. I will sit on the footstool
at your knee. There, now! You can rest and be happy. Isn't it sweet to
be alone--just you and I--together like this! I love you so dearly, dear
uncle Philip. It seems as if I had never before really known just how
much I do love you. It seems as if my heart couldn't hold quite all the
happiness that fills it to-night. And the tenderness filling it to the
brim brings a new feeling of your goodness to me."
She had taken the low seat by his side, and now laid her head down on
his knee. He stroked her hair with an unsteady hand; sorely troubled and
not knowing what to say. He suddenly looked very old, and felt more
helpless than ever before in his life. Looking down on this beautiful
head he realized in every sensitive fibre of his soul and body that this
lovely young creature, clinging to his knee, was the one thing in the
whole world that he had ever loved--deeply, truly, purely, and
unselfishly; that her gentle heart was the only heart out of all the
hearts beating on the earth that had ever loved him as the innocent love
the good. Thinking of this he shrank and trembled, feeling that he held
in his grasp a fragile treasure precious beyond all price, which a rude
touch might destroy forever. He knew the evil reputation which rumor had
given him, and he had seen that Paul Colbert believed the worst. There
had been no disguise in the expression of the young doctor's eyes. His
gaze bold and keen as an unhooded falcon's, had frankly proclaimed his
dislike and mistrust, making it only too plain that he asked no favor by
pretending ignorance or on the score of any friendliness that he did not
feel. His look and attitude had indeed been so unmistakable that Philip
Alston now wondered in sudden terror if she had not already observed
them, and he--who had feared nothing in all his life--quailed and
quivered before this sudden fear with abject cowardice. In another
moment he knew that her trust in him had not been shaken; the resting of
her head on his knee told him so much. But how long would it or could it
stand against the doubts of the man she loved? That was the question
which went through Philip Alston's breast like the thrust of a sword.
Her husband's influence would be supreme. A tender, gentle creature, she
would be easily influenced through her affections. The young doctor
might keep silence, seeing her love for himself and respecting her
regard for her foster-father; but he was not the man to hide what he
really thought and felt, and she must divine the truth before long.
Philip Alston had no hope of changing Paul Colbert's opinion of himself;
he knew the world and mankind too well to think for a moment that any
man might hope to live down such charges as those which had been brought
against himself. Ruth must know sooner or later, and, knowing, would she
still love him? There came now a sort of piteous appeal in the touch of
his unsteady hand on her hair. The slightest suspicion must blast the
exquisite flower of her tender love. With his quick, full appreciation
of everything truly noble he had often noted the firm principles, which
lay under her sweet gentleness like fine white marble under soft green
moss. He did not know that this very trait for which he had loved her,
and which now made him afraid, had already been tested again and again;
and that her love for him and trust in him, had stood against every
attack as firmly as great rocks stand against shallow waves. No, he knew
nothing of all this, and he was now in such desperate fear that he
dared not speak or move or do anything but stroke her hair with a
shaking hand, and stare over her head at the fire trying to clear his
mind. She had been silent also, but presently she spoke, putting up her
hand to pat the one that was stroking her hair.
"I am waiting, dear heart," she said softly, "waiting to hear what you
think of my Paul. I have been wanting so long to tell you; it was on
account of William that I waited. But you know now, and I am so glad--so
glad! Tell me what you think of him. There is no one but you who can see
all that he is. And there is no one but him who can see all that you
are. But you two, my dearest, are capable of appreciating each other.
And I am a happy, happy girl."
He was feeling faint and sick under the hopelessness of any struggle
between old love and young love. With every look of her radiant eyes,
with every gentle word that fell from her sweet lips, he was feeling
more and more how utterly useless would be any attempt to come between
her and her lover. And looking at her he could not think of making any
such attempt. When an all-absorbing love has taken complete possession
of an empty and worldly heart, that heart becomes more powerless before
that love, than a fuller and softer heart ever does. He could not speak,
but he murmured something and she went on:--
"How sweet it is to be here alone with you, like this, in the dear,
dark, big, old room. Why, uncle, dear, it seems only yesterday that you
were rocking me in my cradle, over there in the chimney-corner; when you
were already petting and spoiling me, just as you have always done. And
to think that I am talking to you to-night about my Paul! Can you
realize that it's true? Well, it is--the very truest thing in all the
She paused for a moment, but she did not observe that he made no
response, and she began again:--
"You see, dear uncle, I didn't mean to love him. I meant to love William
and I did in a way as I do now. He is such a good man, but I have found
out that goodness, just by itself, is not enough. It may make love last,
but it can't make it begin. Why, I never even thought whether my Paul
was good or not. I must have loved him just the same."
"But you couldn't love a man if you found out that he was bad, after
believing him to be good. It wouldn't be possible for you to do that,
would it?" in strange, agitated haste.
She lifted her head and looked at him wonderingly. "I don't know what
you mean. My Paul is good! Why, he is here in the wilderness solely for
love of humanity, giving his strength, his skill, his time, and all that
he has to the service of his country and his kind, just because he is
good, and for no other reason. There is no better man living, not even
Father Orin, not even you, sir," throwing her arms around his knee and
giving it a loving squeeze. "And you know it, too, you are only laughing
at me. I don't mind at all. I am too happy to care for teasing."
She laid her head back on his knees and fell happily silent, gazing
dreamily into the flames. The wind was rising, and went roaring through
the trees around the house; but she heard it with the peaceful feeling
of shelter and safety that only happiness feels in wild weather.
Presently she asked him if he thought that souls could speak to one
"It was at Anvil Rock," she said as simply as if she had been thinking
aloud. "I had never thought about loving him. He had never told me that
he loved me, but I knew then that he did. Something told me while he was
lying on the ground like a dead man. What do you think it could have
been? What was it?"
Looking up she saw the shrinking in his face, and she thought it came
from his dislike of any mention of painful subjects; but her whole heart
was in this question so that she could not let it go without pressing it
a little further.
"But tell me, dearest, can souls communicate without speech or sign--if
they only love enough?" she urged.
"You are a fanciful, romantic child," he said, trying to smile and to
speak lightly. "Why--the man was an utter stranger then--you didn't know
him at all."
He had taken her chin in his hand, and his eyes were now looking
steadily into hers; but the courage of the moment fled when she
involuntarily drew away. He was alarmed at the effect of this one slight
"Such things are too subtle for an old man, my child, too subtle,
perhaps, for any man either young or old," he said hurriedly and
confusedly. "You women see and feel many things that fly high above our
heads. And then I am duller than usual to-night. I am anxious about
business matters. The river is rising rapidly, there is danger of a
disastrous flood. My boats are not in safe places, and worst of all the
Cold Plague broke out to-day on one of them. The boat is tied up to the
island. I sent it over there immediately so that you, and the rest of
the family, might be in no danger from the spread of the epidemic. But
it worries me, and one of the boatmen is said to be dying."
"Send for my Paul. He can cure him. The plague-stricken hardly ever die
if he can get to them in time."
She said this with a pretty air of pride in her lover, and a gentle lift
of her head. He made no reply, and she turned her eyes from the fire to
his face to see why he was silent so long. He was pale with a strange
gray pallor, and he met her gaze with a startled, alarmed look. It was
the look of a man who blanches and shrinks before some sudden great
temptation. She misread the look, taking it for unwillingness to send
for her lover.
"You mustn't think of sending for Doctor Colbert if you prefer the other
doctor," with swift, fiery jealousy. "But I warn you that if you do, the
man will certainly die."
"Do you know where he is to be found in case I should want to send for
him?" he said after a moment's silence, and with constraint and
"He is riding so much that it is hard to tell; but, uncle, dear,"
melting and putting her arms about him, "I should not be really
offended, of course, if you were to send for the other doctor. You can,
dear, if you want to. I like him ever so much better myself, since he
took such good care of my Paul."
He laughed uneasily and got up, saying that he was going to see about
the trouble on the boat. He saw that he must have a cleared mind and
steadied nerves with time to think. And he could not think in her
presence, he could only feel her blue eyes on his face and her little
hands clasped around his knee or about his arm. He tried not to look at
her, and hurriedly began buttoning his coat before starting on his cold
way home. In drawing his coat closer, his hand came in contact with the
pearls which he had forgotten. He drew them out and hung them again
around her neck. She thanked him with a smile, but he saw that she
scarcely looked at them, that she was thinking only of her love and her
lover, though she held his hand and walked beside him to the front door.
From it they could see dimly and were able to make out the black bulk of
the boat lying far out in the river beside the island. As he looked at
it a feeling of the worthlessness of all that he owned swept over him,
overwhelming him with despair. All the gold that he had gathered, or
ever could gather, would be worthless yellow dust if he might not use it
to give her comfort or pleasure or happiness. He realized suddenly that
this was everything that his riches had meant to him ever since she had
wound herself around his heart. Money could do little for him; he was
weary and old and sad and had come to feel--as every rich man must come
to feel sooner or later--that for himself his riches meant, after all,
only food and clothes. And now he found himself facing the end of the
sole interest and happiness that he could ever hope to find in life.
Henceforth it would be with the utmost that he could do, as it had been
just now with these pearls. He fully recognized the hopelessness of
trying to win her away from her lover. That had grown plainer with every
gentle word that she had said while they had sat before the fire. And he
knew that this proud young fellow, whose glance had met his like the
crossing of swords, would never allow her to touch a penny of his money,
or anything that it could buy, if he could help it. The thought was like
tearing the heart out of his breast, and another thought sprang up again
in defence of all that he held dear. He began to breathe quickly and
heavily, like a man who has been running. He feared that she must feel
the plunging of his heart, for she was leaning against him, looking out
at the wild, windy night. But she heard only the mournful wail of the
wind through the great trees, and the roar of the river rushing under
the misty darkness. There was no moon, but the stars were shining in the
dark dome of the universe.
"I wonder why the stars look so old, while the world looks so new," she
murmured, with her head on his shoulder and her face upturned. "I wonder
why there is such a look of changelessness about the heavens, while the
earth seems changing so fast!"
Her eyes were wandering over the infinite starry spaces with wondering
awe, but he was looking down at her and he started when she cried out in
amazement, touched with alarm. She lifted her hand and pointed, and
following its direction, he saw that the comet had disappeared.
The celestial visitor was gone almost as suddenly and mysteriously as it
THE PASSING OF PHILIP ALSTON
The cold wind died down with the coming of dawn. Going to the window to
call the birds, she found the air grown unseasonably warm and saw that
it was filled with a dull mist. Leaning from the window, she looked up
the forest path, wondering if Paul had ridden along it during the night
on his way to the boat. The low, broad craft was still lying in the same
place beside the island, with no movement about it. She thought of the
sick man with pity, wishing that she could do something for him; but if
Paul had been called in time, all must be well--she had not a doubt of
that; and an unconscious smile of pride touched her anxious face. She
hardly knew why she felt vaguely anxious and uneasy, but thought that it
might be on account of the gloom of the dreary morning, and the strange
look of the swollen river. How gray and dark it was, and how heavily it
ran, almost like molten lead.
As her wandering gaze followed the stream, she saw something which was
still grayer and darker than the troubled waters. She could not tell at
first what it was, for it was a long way off, and far up the river.
With her hands over her eyes, she strained her sight, but the distance
was too great, and the yellow haze too thick. She could make out only a
wide, dark line, wavering down from the woods to the water--a strange,
moving thing without beginning or end--which seemed to be going faster
than the river. The strangeness of the night alarmed her and as she
gazed at it, fascinated, she saw David running toward the house and
waving his arms to call her attention.
"Look! Look up the river!" he shouted as soon as he had come within
hearing. "I was afraid you wouldn't see it. It's an army of squirrels
marching steadily, just like soldiers, millions and millions of them! It
has been like that for hours. I have been watching it since daylight.
The squirrels are trying to cross the river, and thousands and thousands
are already drowned. The water is brown with their bodies."
"The poor little things! What in the world can it mean, David? And look
at the birds! They don't come at all when I call them. What is the
matter with them? I don't see anything to disturb them, yet see how they
look! And hear the waterfowl screaming! And the trees, too. Why do the
leaves droop like that? How can it be so hot in December? It was never
like this before. There isn't a breath of air."
"I have noticed how strange everything seems. The forest is stiller than
I ever saw it, but the wild things that live in it are strangely
restless. I have been watching them all the morning, and I heard them in
"But what does it mean, dear? Surely some dreadful thing must be going
to happen! I wish Paul would come. Have you seen him? He is always
riding, and the woods are dangerous in a storm, and it can't be anything
else. Why don't you answer? I asked if you had seen him."
The boy turned from gazing at the strange, dark line which was still
wavering ceaselessly from the woods to the water.
"Yes, I saw him and Father Orin going home an hour or so ago. They had
been out all night." He said this absently, with his eyes turning back
to the wonderful spectacle.
"My Paul is wanted in many places at once," she said, forgetting her
uneasiness in a woman's pride in the power of the man she loves. "But I
hope he found time to visit the sick man on uncle Philip's boat,"
mindful even then of a woman's wish to draw together the men she loves.
"Can you see any clouds, David? I can't--and yet this strange yellow
vapor that thickens the air is certainly growing heavier every moment.
What can it be? It isn't at all like a fog. I am frightened. Come
indoors. I am coming downstairs. Maybe uncle Robert or William can tell
us what all this means."
But there was nothing to be learned in the great room below. The men of
the family were as helpless as the women. All were waiting and watching
for some nameless calamity, weighed down by that overwhelming,
paralyzing dread of the unknown which unnerves the bravest and makes the
most powerful utterly powerless. The old ladies, trembling and silent,
clung close to the chimney-corner, scarcely looking at one another. The
judge and his nephew were sitting in silence near the front door which
had been opened on account of the sudden heat. They got up hurriedly,
and turned nervously, startled even by the faint rustle of Ruth's skirts
on the stairs. And before they could speak, the strained stillness was
violently torn by a sudden loud, shrill sound, such as none of the
terrified listeners had ever heard before--a long, unearthly shriek,
which seemed to come from neither brute nor human. For a moment not a
cry was uttered, not a word was spoken, and terrified eyes stared
unseeingly into whitening faces. And then the judge, suddenly realizing
what the sound was, broke into shaken, painful laughter.
"It is the whistle of the steamboat--the first steamboat on the Ohio.
How could we have forgotten?" he said. "It is the _Orleans_ passing down
the river. Come to the door. We must see it go by. It doesn't stop here
and none of us should miss seeing it, for the sight of the first steamer
on western waters is something to be stored in memory. Never mind the
signs of the storm. There will be many other storms, but never another
first steamboat down the Ohio. Come out and see it."
"We can get a better view from the river bank," cried Ruth. "Come along,
Holding hands, the girl and the boy ran to the shore, leaving the others
to watch the great spectacle from the doorstep. And thus all stood,
marvelling like every living creature whose eyes followed it down that
long river. But only the judge could partly grasp the greatness of the
event; only he could partly realize what it meant to the West and the
world. Yet every one waited and watched as if spellbound, till the last
of those first victorious banners of blue smoke thus unfurled over the
conquered wilderness, had waved slowly out of sight around the great
river's majestic bend.