Part 4 out of 8
taking his pick between 'em, the Lord help him. As for that young
Blake--well, if I had to choose between him and the devil, I'd
take up with the devil mighty fast, that's all."
"Oh, Brother Bill, he saved the child's life!"
"Well, he didn't do it on purpose; he told me so himself. I tried
to settle that fair and square with him, you know, and he had the
face to tear my check in half and send it back. Oh, I don't like
this thing, I tell you, and I won't have it. I've no doubt it's
at the bottom of all Will's cutting up about school, too. He was
not well enough to go yesterday, he said, and here he's getting
up this morning at daybreak and streaking, heaven knows whar,
with a beggar. You may as well pack his things--I'll ship him off
to-morrow if I'm alive."
"I hope you won't scold him, anyway; he's not strong, you know,
and it's good for him to have a little pleasure. I'm sure I can't
see what you have against the Blakes, as far as that goes. I
remember the old gentleman when I was a child--so fine, and
clean, and pleasant, it was a sight just to see him ride by on
his dappled horse. He always lifted his hat to me, too, when he
passed me in the road, and once he gave me some peaches for
opening the red gate for him. I never could help liking him, and
I was sorry when he lost his money and they had to sell the
Fletcher choked over his coffee and grew purple in the face.
"Hang your puling!" he cried harshly. "I'll not stand it, do you
hear? The old man was a beggarly, cheating spendthrift, and the
young one is a long sight worse. I'd rather wring Will's neck
than have him mixed up with that batch of paupers."
Miss Saidie shrunk back, frightened, behind the silver service.
"Of course you know best, brother," she hastened to acknowledge,
with her unfailing good-humour. "I'm as fond of the child as you
are, I reckon--and of Maria, too, for that matter. Have you seen
this photograph she sent me yesterday, taken at some outlandish
place across the water? I declare, I had no idea she was half so
handsome. She has begun to wear her hair low and has filled out
"Well, there was room for it," commented Fletcher, as he glanced
indifferently at the picture and laid it down. "Get Will's
clothes packed to-day, remember. He starts off tomorrow morning,
rain or shine."
Pushing back his chair, he paused to gulp a last swallow of
coffee, and then stamped heavily from the room.
At dinner Will did not appear, and when at last the supper bell
jangled in the hall and Fletcher strode in to find the boy's
place still empty, the shadow upon his brow grew positively
black. As they rose from the table there were brisk, light steps
along the hall, and Will entered hurriedly, warm and dusty after
the day's hunt. Catching sight of his grandfather, he started
nervously, and the boyish animation he had brought in from the
fields faded quickly from his face, which took on a sly and
"Whar in the devil's name have you been, suh?" demanded Fletcher
The boy hesitated, seeking the inevitable defenses of the weak
pitted against the strong. "I've been teaching my hounds to hunt
rabbits," he replied, after a moment. "Zebbadee was with me."
"So you were too sick to start for school this morning, eh?"
pursued Fletcher, hurt and angry. "Only well enough to go
traipsing through the bushes after a pack of brutes?"
"I had a headache, but it got better. May I go up now to wash my
For an instant Fletcher regarded him in a brooding silence; then,
with that remorseless cruelty which is the strangest
manifestation of wounded love, he loosened upon the boy's head
all the violence of his smothered wrath.
"You'll do nothing of the kind! I ain't done with you yet, and
when I am I reckon you will know it. Mark my words, if you warn't
such a girlish looking chap I'd take my horsewhip to your
shoulders in a jiffy. So this is the return I get, is it, for all
my trouble with you since the day you were born! Tricks and lies
are all the reward I'm to expect, I reckon. Well, you'll learn--
once for all, now--that when you undertake to fool me it's a
clear waste of time. I've found out whar you've been to-day, and
I know you've been sneaking across the county with that darn
The boy looked at him steadily, first with speechless terror,
then with a cowed and sullen rage. The glare in Fletcher's eyes
fascinated him, and he stood motionless on his spot of carpet as
if he were held there in an invisible vise. Weakling as he was,
he had been humoured too long to bear the lash submissively at
last, and beneath the tumult of words that overwhelmed him he
felt his anger flow like an infusion of courage in his veins. The
greater share of love was still on his grandfather's side, and
the knowledge of this lent a sullen defiance to his voice.
"You bluster so I can't hear," he said, blinking fast to shut out
the other's eyes. "If I did go with Christopher Blake, what's the
harm in it? I only lied because you make such a fuss it gives me
"It's the first fuss I ever made with you, I reckon," returned
Fletcher, softening before the accusation. "If I ever fussed with
you before, sonny, you may make mighty certain you deserved it."
"You frighten me half to death when you rage so," persisted the
boy, snatching craftily at his advantage.
"There, there, we'll get it over," said Fletcher, quieting
instantly. "I didn't mean to scare you that way, but the truth is
it put me in a passion to hear of you mixing up with that scamp
Blake. Jest keep clear of him and I'll ask nothing more of you.
You may chase all your rabbits between here and kingdom come for
aught I care, but if I ever see you alongside of Christopher
Blake again, I tell you, I'll lick you until you're black and
blue. And now hurry up and git your supper and go to bed, for you
start to school to-morrow morning at sunrise."
Will flushed, and stood blinking his eyes in the lamplight.
"I don't want to go to school, grandpa," he said persuasively.
"That's a pity, sonny, because you've got to go whether you like
it or not. Your Aunt Saidie has gone and packed your things, and
I'll give you a month's pocket money to start with."
"But I'd rather stay at home and study with Mr. Morrison. Then I
could follow after the hounds in the afternoon and keep out in
the fresh air, as the doctor said I must."
"Now, now, we've had enough of this," said Fletcher decisively.
"You'll do what I say, mind you, and you'll do it quick. No
haggling over it, do you hear?"
Will looked at him sullenly, nerved by that reckless anger which
so often passes for pure daring.
"If you make me go you'll be sorry, grandpa," he said, choking.
Fletcher swallowed an uneasy laugh, strangled over it, and
finally spat it out with a wad of tobacco.
"Why, what blamed maggot have you got in your head, son?" he
inquired, laying his heavy hand on the boy's shoulder. "You
didn't use to hate school so, and, as sure as you're born, you'll
find it first rate sport when you get back. It's this Blake
business, that's what it is--he's gone and stuffed you plum full
of notions. Look here, now, you don't want to grow up to be a
dunce like him, do you?"
He had touched the raw at last, and Will broke out passionately
in revolt, inflamed by a boyish admiration for his own bravado.
"He's got a lot more sense than anybody about here, "he cried,
backing against the door and holding tightly to the handle; "and
if he doesn't know that plaguey Greek it's because he says there
isn't any use in it. Why, he can shoot a bird on the wing over
his shoulder, and mount a horse at full gallop, and tell stories
that make you creep all over. He's not a dunce, grandpa; he's my
friend, and I like him!"
The last words came in a sudden spurt, for, feeling his
artificial courage ooze out of him, the boy had started in a run
from the room. He had barely crossed the threshold, however, when
Fletcher reached out with a strong grip and pulled him back,
swinging him slowly round until the two stood face to face.
"Now, here's one thing flat," said the man in a husky voice, if I
ever see or hear of you opening your mouth to that rascal again,
I'll thrash you until you haven't a sound bone in your body.
You'd better go up now and say your prayers."
As he released his grasp, the boy struck out at him with a
nerveless gesture and then shot like an arrow through the hall
and out into the twilight. At the moment his terror of Fletcher
was forgotten in the paroxysm of his anger. Short sobs broke from
him as he ran, and presently his breath came in pants like those
of an overdriven horse; but still, without slackening his pace,
he sped on to the old ice-pond and then wheeled past the turning
into the sunken road. Not until he had reached the long gate
before the Blake cottage did he stop short suddenly and stand,
grasping his moist shirt collar, in an effort to quiet his
The hounds greeted him with a single bay, and at the noise
Cynthia came out upon the porch and then down into the gravelled
path between the old rose-bushes.
"What do you wish?" she demanded stiffly, standing severe and
erect in her faded silk.
"I must speak to Christopher--I must!" gasped the boy, breathing
hard. "I am going away tomorrow, and this is my last chance."
"Well, he's in the stable, I believe," replied Cynthia coolly.
"If you want him, you must go there to look for him, and be sure
not to make a noise when you pass the house." Then, as he darted
away, her eyes followed him with a weary aversion.
Will passed the kitchen and the woodpile and, turning into a
little path that led from the well, came to the open door of the
rudely built stable. A dim light fell in a square across the
threshold, and looking inside he saw that a lantern was hanging
from a nail above the nearest stall and that within the circle of
its illumination Christopher was busily currying the old gray
At the boy's entrance he paused for an instant, glanced
carelessly over the side of the stall, and then went on with his
"Playing night-owl, eh?" he remarked indifferently. "There's no
rubbing-down for you to do, I reckon."
"There's a darn sight worse," returned the boy, throwing out the
oath with a conscious swagger as he braced himself against the
ladder that ran up to the loft.
His tone arrested Christopher's hand, and, lifting his head, the
young man stood attentively regarding him, one arm lying upon the
broad back of the old mare.
"Why, what's up now?" he questioned with a smile. Some fine
chaff, which he had brought down from the loft, still clung to
his hair and clothes and darkened his upper lip like a mustache.
"Grandpa's found it out and he's hopping," said the boy. "I
always told you he would be, you know, and now it's come. If he
ever catches me with you again he swears he'll give it to me like
hell. He pressed tightly against the ladder and wagged his head
defiantly. "But he needn't think he can bully me like that--not
if I know it!"
"Well, he mustn't catch you again," returned Christopher, not
troubling to soften his scorn of such cheap heroics; "we must
manage better next time. Did you think to remind him, by the way,
that I once took the trouble to save your life?"
"That's a fact, I didn't think of it. What would he have said, I
Christopher raised his eyebrows. "Knocked your front teeth out,
perhaps. He's like that, isn't he?"
"Oh, he's awfully fond of me, you know," protested the boy; "but
it's his meddling ways that I can't stand. What business is it of
his who my friends are? He hasn't got to take up with 'em, has
he? Why, what he hates is for me to want to be with anybody but
himself or Aunt Saidie. He'd like to keep me dangling all day to
his coat tails, but it's not fair, and I won't have it. I'll show
him whether I'm to be kept a kid forever or not!"
"There's spirit for you!" drawled Christopher with a laugh, as he
applied the currycomb to the mare's flank.
"You just wait till you hear the worst," returned the other, with
evident pride in the thunderbolt about to be delivered. "He
swears he's going to send me to school tomorrow at sunrise."
"You don't say so?" ejaculated Christopher.
"Oh, but he'll do it, too--the only way to get around him is to
fall ill, and I can't work that tomorrow. I played the trick last
week and he saw through it. I've got to go, that's certain; but
I'm going to make him sorry enough before he's done. Why couldn't
he let me keep on studying with Mr. Morrison, as the doctor said
I ought to? What's the use of this blamed old Latin and Greek,
anyway? Nobody about here knows them, and why should I set myself
up for a precious numbskull of a scholar? I'd rather be a crack
shot like you any day! I tell you one thing," he finished,
sucking in his breath in a way that had annoyed Christopher from
the first, "I've half a mind to run away or fall ill after I get
Christopher turned suddenly, slapped the mare on the flank, and
came out of the stall, the currycomb still in his hand. His shirt
sleeves were rolled above his elbows, and the muscles of his arms
stood out like cords under the sunburned skin, which showed a
paler bronze from the wrists up. He was flushed from leaning
over, and his clothes smelled strongly of the stable.
"If you do, come to me, " he said lightly, "and I'll hide you in
the barn till the storm blows over. It wouldn't last long, I
"Bless you, no; when he's scared I can do anything with him. Why,
he was as soft as mush after the horses ran away with me, though
he'd threatened to thrash me if I touched the reins. Oh, I say
it's a shame we never had that 'possum hunt!"
Christopher turned down his shirt sleeves and brushed the chaff
from his face.
"What do you say about to-night?" he inquired, with something
like a sneer. "We couldn't go far, of course, and we'd have to
borrow Tom Spade's hounds--mine are tired out--but we might have
a short run about midnight, get a 'possum or so, and be in our
beds before daybreak. Shall we try it?"
The boy wavered, struggling between his desire for the chase and
his fear of Fletcher.
"Of course, if you're afraid--" added Christopher slowly.
"I'm not afraid," broke out Will angrily. "I'm not afraid and you
know it. You be at the store by eleven, and I'll get out of the
window and join you. Grandpa will never know, and if he
does--well, I'll settle him!"
"Then be quick about it," was Christopher's retort, and as the
boy ran out into the darkness he followed him to the door and
stood gazing moodily down upon the yellow circle that his lantern
cast on the bare ground. A massive fatigue oppressed him, and his
hands and feet had become like leaden weights. There was a
heaviness, too, about his head, and his eyeballs burned as if he
had looked too long at a bright light. At the moment he felt like
a man who, being bound upon a wheel, is whirled so rapidly around
that he is dazed by the continuous revolutions. What did it all
mean, anyway--the boy, Fletcher, himself, and the revenge which
he now saw so clearly before him? Was it a great divine judgment
or a great human cruelty?
Question as he would, the wheel still turned, and he knew that
for good or evil he was bound upon it until the end.
CHAPTER X. Powers of Darkness
October dragged slowly along, and Christopher followed his work
upon the farm with the gloomy indifference which had become the
settled expression of his attitude toward life. Since the morning
when he had seen Will drive by to the cross-roads he had heard
nothing of him, and gradually, as the weeks went on, that last
reckless night behind the hounds had ceased to represent a cause
either of rejoicing or of regret. He had not meant to goad the
boy into drinking--of this he was quite sure--and yet when the
hunt was over and the two stood just before dawn in Tom Spade's
room he had felt the devil enter into him and take possession.
The old mad humour of his blood ran high, and as the raw whisky
fired his imagination he was dimly conscious that his talk grew
wilder and that the surrounding objects swam before his gaze as
if seen through a fog. Life, for the time at least, lost its
relative values; the moment loomed larger in his vision than the
years, and he beheld the past and the future dwarfed by the
single radiant instant that was his own. It was as if he could
pay back the score of a lifetime in that one minute.
"Is it possible that what was so difficult yesterday should have
grown so easy to-day?" he asked himself, astonished. "Why have I
never seen so clearly before? Why, until this evening, have I
gone puling about my life as if such things as disgrace and
poverty were sufficient to crush the strength out of a man? Let
me put forth all my courage and nothing is impossible--not even
the attainment of success nor the punishment of Fletcher. It is
only necessary to begin at once--to hasten about one's task--and
in a few short years it will be accomplished and done with. All
will be as I wish, and I shall then be as happy as Tucker."
Following this came the questions, How? When? Where shall I
begin?--but he put them angrily aside and refilled his glass. A
great good-humour possessed him, and, as he drank, all the
unpleasant things of life--loss, unrest, heavy labour--vanished
in the roseate glow that pervaded his thoughts.
What came of it was not quite clear to him next day, and this
caused the uneasiness that lasted for a week. He had a vague
recollection that Tom Spade took the boy home and rolled him
through the window, and that he himself went whistling to his bed
with the glorious sensation that he was riding the crest of a big
wave. With the morning came a severe headache and the ineffectual
effort to remember just how far it had all gone, and then a sharp
anxiety, which vanished when he saw Will pass on his way to
"The boy was none the worse for it," Tom Spade told him later;
"he had a drop too much, to be sure, but his legs were as steady
as mine, an' he slept it off in an hour. He's a ticklish chap,
Mr. Christopher," the storekeeper added after a moment, "an' I'd
keep my hands from meddlin' with him, if I was you. That thing
shan't happen agin at my place, an' it wouldn't have happened
then if I'd been around at the beginnin'. You may tamper with yo'
own salvation as much as you please--that's my gospel, but I'll
be hanged if you've got a right to tamper with anybody else's."
Christopher wheeled suddenly about and gave him a keen glance
from under his lowered eyelids. For the first time he detected a
lack of deference in Tom Spade's tone, and a suspicion shot
through him that the words were meant to veil a reprimand.
"Well, I reckon the boy's got as good a right to drink as I
have," he retorted sneeringly, and a moment afterward went gaily
whistling through the store. At the time he felt a certain
pleasure in defying Tom's opinion--in setting himself so boldly
in opposition to the conventional morality of his neighbours. The
situation gave him several sharp breaths and that dizzy sense of
insecurity in which his mood delighted. It had needed only the
shade of disapproval expressed in the storekeeper's voice to lend
a wonderful piquancy to his enjoyment--to cause him to toy in
imagination with his hatred as a man does with his desire. Before
Tom spoke he had caught himself almost regretting the
affair--wondering, even, if his error were past retrieving--but
with the first mere suggestion of outside criticism his humour
underwent a startling change.
Between Fletcher and himself the account was still open, and the
way in which he meant to settle it concerned himself alone--least
of all did it concern Tom Spade.
He was groping confusedly among these reflections when, one
evening in early November, he went upstairs after a hasty supper
to find Cynthia already awaiting him in his room. At his start of
displeased surprise she came timidly forward and touched his arm.
"Are you sick, Christopher? or has anything happened? You are so
He shook his head impatiently and her hand fell from his sleeve.
It occurred to him all at once, with an aggrieved irritation,
that of late his family had failed him in sympathy--that they had
ceased to value the daily sacrifices he made. Almost with horror
he found himself asking the next instant whether the simple bond
of blood was worth all that he had given--worth his youth, his
manhood, his ambition? Until this moment his course had seemed to
him the one inevitable outcome of circumstances--the one
appointed path for him to tread; but even as he put the question
he saw in a sudden illumination that there might have been
another way--that with the burden of the three women removed he
might have struck out into the world and at least have kept his
own head above water. With his next breath the horror of his
thought held him speechless, and he turned away lest Cynthia
should read his degradation in his eyes.
"Happened! Why, what should have happened?" he inquired with
attempted lightness. "Good Lord! After a day's work like mine you
can hardly expect me to dance a hornpipe. Since sunrise I've done
a turn at fall ploughing, felled and chopped a tree, mended the
pasture fence, brought the water for the washing, tied up some
tobacco leaves, and looked after the cattle and the horses--and
now you find fault because I haven't cut any extra capers!"
"Not find fault, dear," she answered, and the hopeless courage in
her face smote him to the heart. In a bitter revulsion of feeling
he felt that he could not endure her suffering tenderness.
"Find fault with you! Oh, Christopher! It is only that you have
been so different of late, so brooding, and you seem to avoid us
at every instant. Even mother has noticed it, and she imagines
that you are in love."
"In love!" he threw back his head with a loud laugh. "Oh, I'm
tired, Cynthia--dog-tired, that's the matter."
"I know, I know," replied Cynthia, rubbing her eyes hard with the
back of her hand. "And the worst is that there's no help for
it--absolutely none. I think about it sometimes until I wonder
that I don't go mad."
He turned at this from the window through which he had been
gazing and fixed upon her a perplexed and moody stare. The
wistful patience in her face, like the look he had seen in the
eyes of overworked farm animals, aroused in him a desire to prod
her into actual revolt--into any decisive rebellion against fate.
To accept life upon its own terms seemed to him, at the instant,
pure cowardliness--the enforced submission of a weakened will;
and he questioned almost angrily if the hereditary instincts were
alive in her also? Did she, too, have her secret battles and her
silent capitulations? Or was her pious resignation, after all,
only a new form of the old Blake malady--of that fatal apathy
which seized them, like disease, when events demanded strenuous
endeavour? Could the saintly fortitude he had once so envied be,
when all was said, merely the outward expression of the inertia
he himself had felt--of the impulse to drift with the tide, let
it carry one where it would?
"Well, I'm glad it's no worse," said Cynthia, with a sigh of
relief, as she turned toward the door. "Since you are not sick,
dear, things are not so bad as they might be. I'll let mother
fancy you have what she calls 'a secret sentiment.' It amuses
her, at any rate. And now I'm going to stir up some buckwheat
cakes for your breakfast. We've got a jug of black molasses."
"That's pleasant, at least," he returned, laughing; and then as
she reached the door he went toward her and laid his hand
awkwardly upon her shoulder. "Don't worry about me, Cynthia," he
added; "there's a lot of work left in me yet, and a change for
the better may come any day, you know. By next year the price of
tobacco may shoot skyhigh."
Her face brightened and a flush smoothed out all the fine
wrinkles on her brow, but with the pathetic shyness of a woman
who has never been caressed she let his hand fall stiffly from
her arm and went hurriedly from the room.
For a few minutes Christopher stood looking abstractedly at the
closed door. Then shaking his head, as if to rid himself of an
accusing thought, he turned away and began rapidly to undress. He
had thrown off his coat, and was stooping to remove his boots,
when a slight noise at the window startled him, and straightening
himself instantly he awaited attentively a repetition of the
sound. In a moment it came again, and hastily crossing the room
and raising the sash, he looked out into the full moonlight and
saw Will Fletcher standing in the gravelled path below. At the
first glance surprise held him motionless, but as the boy waved
to him he responded to the signal, and, catching up his coat from
the bed, ran down the staircase and out into the yard.
"What in the devil's name--" he exclaimed, aghast.
Will was trembling from exhaustion, and his face glimmered like a
pallid blotch under the shadow of the aspen. When the turkeys
stirred on an overhanging bough above him he started nervously
and sucked in his breath with a hissing sound. He was run to
death; this Christopher saw at the first anxious look.
"Get me something to eat," said the boy; "I'm half starved--but
bring it to the barn, for I'm too dead tired to stand a moment.
Yes, I ran away, of course," he finished irritably. "Do I look as
if I'd come in grandpa's carriage?"
With a last spurt of energy he disappeared into the shadows
behind the house, and Christopher, going into the kitchen, began
searching the tin safe for the chance remains of supper. On the
table was the bowl of buckwheat which Cynthia had been preparing
when she was called away by some imperious demand of her
mother's, and near it he saw the open prayer-book from which she
had been reading. From the adjoining room he heard Tucker's
voice--those rich, pleasant tones that translated into sound the
courageous manliness of the old soldier's face--and for an
instant he yearned toward the cheerful group sitting in the
firelight beyond the whitewashed wall--toward the blind woman in
her old oak chair, listening to the evening chapter from the
Scriptures. Then the feeling passed as quickly as it had come,
and securing a plate of bread and a dried ham-bone, he filled a
glass with fresh milk, and, picking up his lantern, went out of
doors and along the little straggling path to the barn.
The yard was frosted over with moonlight, but when he reached the
rude building where the farm implements and cattle fodder were
sheltered he saw that it was quite dark inside, only a few
scattered moonbeams crawling through the narrow doorway. To his
first call there was no answer, and it was only after he had
lighted his lantern and swung it round in the darkness that he
discovered Will lying fast asleep upon a pile of straw.
As the light struck him full in the face the boy opened his eyes
and sprang up.
"Why, it's you," he said in a relieved voice. "I thought it was
grandpa. If he comes you've got to keep him out, you know!"
He spoke in an excited whisper, and his eyes plunged beyond the
entrance with a look of pitiable and abject terror. Once or twice
he shivered as if from cold, and then, turning away, cowered into
the pile of straw in search of warmth.
For a time Christopher stood gazing uneasily down upon him. "Look
here, man, this can't keep up," he said. "You'd better go
straight home, that's my opinion, and get into a decent bed."
Will started up again. "I won't see him! I won't!" he cried
angrily. "If you bring him here I'll get up and hide. I won't see
him! Why, he almost killed me after that 'possum hunt we had, and
if he found this out so soon he'd kill me outright. There was an
awful rumpus at school. They wrote him and he said he was coming,
so I ran away. It was all his fault, too; he had no business to
send me back again when he knew how I hated it. I told him he'd
"Well, he shan't get in here to-night," returned Christopher
soothingly. I'll keep him out with a shotgun, bless him, if he
shows his face. Come, now, sit up and eat a bit, or there won't
be any fight left in us."
Will took the food obediently, but before it touched his lips the
hand in which he held it dropped limply to the straw.
"I can't eat," he complained, with a gesture of disgust. "I'm too
sick--I've been sick for days. It was all grandpa's doing, too.
When I heard he was coming I went out and got soaking wet, and
then slept in my clothes all night. I knew he'd never make a fuss
if I could only get ill enough, but the next morning I felt all
right, so I came away."
Kneeling upon the floor, Christopher held the glass to his lips,
gently forcing him to drink a few swallows. Then dipping his
handkerchief in the cattle trough outside, he bathed the boy's
face and hands, and, loosening his clothes, made him as
comfortable as he could. "This won't do, you know," he urged
presently, alarmed by Will's difficult breathing. "You are in for
a jolly little spell, and I must get you home. Your grandfather
will never bother you while you're sick."
At the words the boy clung to him deliriously, breaking into
frightened whimpers such as a child makes in the dark. "I won't
go back! I won't go back!" he repeated wildly; "he'll never
believe I'm ill, and I won't go back!"
"All right; that settles it. Lie quiet and I'll fetch you some
bedding from my room. Then I'll fix you a pallet out here, and
we'll put up as best we can till morning."
"Don't stay; don't stay," pleaded Will, as the other, leaving his
lantern on the floor, ran out into the moonlight.
Returning in a quarter of an hour, he threw a small feather-bed
down upon the straw and settled the boy comfortably upon it. Then
he covered him with blankets, and, after closing the door, came
back and stood watching for him to fall asleep. A slight draft
blew from the boarded window, and, taking off his coat, he hung
it carefully across the cracks, shading the lantern with his hand
that its light might not flash in the sleeper's face.
At his step Will gave a stifled moan and looked up in terror.
"I thought you'd left me. Don't go," he begged, stretching out
his hand until it grasped the other's. With the hot, nerveless
clutch upon him, Christopher was conscious of a quick repulsion,
and he remembered the sensation he had felt as a boy when he had
once suddenly brought his palm down on a little green snake that
was basking in the sunshine on an old log. Yet he did not shake
the hand off, and when presently the blanket slipped from Will's
shoulders he stooped and replaced it with a strange gentleness.
The disgust he felt was so evenly mingled with compassion that,
as he stood there, he could not divide the one emotion from the
other. He hated the boy's touch, and yet, almost in spite of
himself, he suffered it.
"Well, I'm not going, so you needn't let that worry you," he
replied. "I'll stretch myself alongside of you in the straw, and
if you happen to want me, just yell out, you know."
The weak fingers closed tightly about his wrist.
"You promise?" asked the boy.
"Oh, I promise," answered the other, raising the lantern for a
last look before he blew it out.
By early daybreak Will's condition was still more alarming, and
leaving him in a feverish stupor upon the pallet, Christopher set
out hurriedly shortly after sunrise to carry news of the boy's
whereabouts to Fletcher.
It was a clear, cold morning, and the old brick house, set midway
of the autumn fields, appeared, as he approached it, to reflect
the golden light that filled the east. Never had the place seemed
to him more desirable than it did as he went slowly toward it
along the desolate November roads. The somber colours of the
landscape, the bared majesty of the old oaks where a few leaves
still clung to the topmost boughs, the deserted garden filled
with wan specters of summer flowers, were all in peculiar harmony
with his own mood as with the stern gray walls wrapped in naked
creepers. That peculiar sense of ownership was strongly with him
as he ascended the broad steps and lifted the old brass knocker,
which still bore the Blake coat of arms.
To his astonishment the door opened instantly and Fletcher
himself appeared upon the threshold. At sight of Christopher he
fell back as if from a blow in the chest, ripping out an oath
with a big downward gesture of his closed fist.
"So you are mixed up in it, are you! Whar's the boy?" From the
dusk of the hall his face shone dead white about the eyes.
"If you want to get anything out of me you'd better curb your
tongue, Bill Fletcher," replied Christopher coolly, feeling an
animal instinct to prolong the torture. "If you think it's any
satisfaction to me to have your young idiot thrown on my hands
you were never more mistaken in your life. I've been up half the
night with him, and the sooner you take him away the better I'll
"Oh, you leave him to me and I'll settle him," responded
Fletcher, reaching for his hat. "Jest show me whar he is and I'll
git even with him befo' sundown. As for you, young man, I'll have
the sheriff after you yit."
"In the meantime, you'd better have the doctor. The boy's ill, I
tell you. He came to me last evening, run to death and with a
high fever. He slept in the barn, and this morning he is
decidedly worse. If you come, bring Doctor Cairn with you, and I
warn you now you've got to use a lot of caution. Your grandson is
mortally afraid of you, and he threatens to run away if I let you
know where he is. He wants me to sit at the door with a shotgun
and keep you off."
He delivered his blows straight out from the shoulder, lingering
over each separate word that he might enjoy to the full its
"This is your doing," repeated Fletcher hoarsely; "it's your
doing, every blamed bit of it."
Christopher laughed shortly. "Well, I'm through with my errand,"
he said, moving toward the steps and pausing with one hand on a
great white column. "The sooner you get him out of my barn the
better riddance it will be. There's one thing certain, though,
and that is that you don't lay eyes on him without the doctor.
He's downright ill, on my oath."
"Oh, it's the same old trick, and I see through it," exclaimed
Fletcher furiously. "It's pure shamming."
"All the same, I've got my gun on hand, and you don't go into
that barn alone." He hung for an instant upon the topmost step,
then descended hurriedly and walked rapidly back along the broad
white walk. It would be an hour, at least, before Fletcher could
follow him with Doctor Cairn, and after he had returned to the
barn and given Will a glass of new milk he fed and watered the
horses and did the numberless small tasks about the house. He was
at the woodpile, chopping some light wood splinters for Cynthia,
when the sound of wheels reached him, and in a little while more
the head of Fletcher's mare appeared around the porch. Doctor
Cairn, a frousy, white-bearded old man, crippled from rheumatism,
held out his hand to Christopher as he descended with some
difficulty between the wheels of the buggy.
Christopher motioned to the barn, and then, taking the reins,
fastened the horse to the branch of a young ailanthus tree which
grew near the woodpile. As he watched the figures of the two men
pass along the little path between the fringes of dead yarrow he
drew an uneasy breath and dug his boot into the rotting mould
upon the ground. The barn door opened and closed; there was a
short silence, and then a sudden despairing cry as of a rabbit
caught in the jaws of a hound. When he heard it he turned
impulsively from the horse's head and went quickly along the path
the men had taken. There was no definite intention in his mind,
but as he reached the barn door it shot open and Fletcher put out
a white face.
"The Doctor wants you, Mr. Christopher," he cried; "Will has gone
Without a word, Christopher pushed by him and went into the great
dusky room, where the boy was struggling like a madman to loosen
the doctor's grasp. He was conscious at the moment that the air
was filled with fine chaff and that he sucked it in when he
At his entrance Will lay quiet for a moment and looked at him
with dazed, questioning eyes.
"Keep them out, Christopher!" he cried, in anguish.
Christopher crossed the room and laid his hand with a protecting
gesture on the boy's head.
"Why, to be sure I will," he said heartily; "the devil himself
won't dare to touch you when I am by, "
CHAPTER I. In Which Tobacco is Hero
On an October afternoon some four years later, at the season of
the year when the whole county was fragrant with the curing
tobacco, Christopher Blake passed along the stretch of old road
which divided his farm from the Weatherbys', and, without
entering the porch, called for Jim from the little walk before
the flat whitewashed steps. In response to his voice, Mrs.
Weatherby, a large, motherly looking woman, appeared upon the
threshold, and after chatting a moment, directed him to the log
tobacco barn, where the recently cut crop was "drying out."
"Jim and Jacob are both over thar," she said; " an' a few others,
for the matter of that, who have been helpin' us press new cider
an' drinkin' the old. I'm sure I don't see why they want to
lounge out thar in all that smoke, but thar's no accountin' for
the taste of a man that ever I heard tell of an' I reckon they
kin fancy pretty easy that they are settin' plum in the bowl of a
pipe. It beats me, though, that it do. Why, one mouthful of it is
enough to start me coughin' for a week, an' those men thar jest
swallow it down for pure pleasure." Clean, kindly, hospitable,
she wandered garrulously on, remembering at intervals to press
the young man to "come inside an' try the cakes an' cider."
"No, I'll look them up out there," said Christopher, resisting
the invitation to enter. "I want to get a pair of horseshoes from
Jim; the gray mare cast hers yesterday, and Dick Boxley is laid
up with a sprained arm. Oh, no, thanks; I must be going back."
With a friendly nod he turned from the steps and went rapidly
along the path which led to the distant barn.
As Mrs. Weatherby had said, the place was like the bowl of a
pipe, and it was a moment before Christopher discovered the
little group gathered about the doorway, where a shutter hung
loosely on wooden hinges.
The ancient custom of curing tobacco with open fires, which had
persisted in Virginia since the days of the early settlers, was
still commonly in use; and it is possible that had one of
Christopher's colonial ancestors appeared at the moment in Jacob
Weatherby's log barn it would have been difficult to convince him
that between his death and his resurrection there was a lapse of
more than two hundred years. He would have found the same square,
pen-like structure, built of straight logs carefully notched at
the corners; the same tier-poles rising at intervals of three
feet to the roof; the same hewn plates to support the rafters;
the same "daubing" of the chinks with red clay; and the same
crude door cut in the south wall. From the roof the tobacco hung
in a fantastic decoration, shading from dull green to deep
bronze, and appearing, when viewed from the ground below, to
resemble a numberless array of small furled flags. On the hard
earth floor there were three parallel rows of "unseasoned" logs
which burned slowly day and night, filling the barn with gray
smoke and the pungent odour of the curing tobacco.
"It takes a heap of lookin' arter, an' no mistake," old Jacob was
remarking, as he surveyed the fine crop with the bland and easy
gaze of ownership. "Why, in a little while them top leaves thar
will be like tinder, an' the first floatin' spark will set it all
afire. That's the way Sol Peterkin lost half a crop last year,
an' it's the way Dick Moss lost his whole one the year before."
At Christopher's entrance he paused and turned his pleasant,
ruddy face from the fresh logs which he had been watching. "So
you want to have a look at my tobaccy, too?" he added, with the
healthful zest of a child. "Well, it's worth seein', if I do say
so; thar hasn't been sech leaves raised in this county within the
memory of man."
"That's so," said Christopher, with an appreciative glance. "I'm
looking for Jim, but he's keeping up the fires, isn't he?" Then
he turned quickly, for Tom Spade, who with young Matthew Field
had been critically weighing the promise of Jacob's crop, broke
out suddenly into a boisterous laugh.
"Why, I declar', Mr. Christopher, if you ain't lost yo' shadow!"
Christopher regarded him blankly for a moment, and then joined
lightly in the general mirth. "Oh, you mean Will Fletcher," he
returned. "There was a pretty girl in the road as we came up, and
I couldn't get him a step beyond her. Heaven knows what's become
of him by now!"
"I bet my right hand that was Molly Peterkin," said Tom. "If
anybody in these parts begins to talk about 'a pretty gal,' you
may be sartain he's meanin' that yaller-headed limb of Satan.
Why, I stopped my Jinnie goin' with her a year ago. Sech women, I
said to her, are fit for nobody but men to keep company with."
"That's so; that's so," agreed old Jacob, in a charitable tone;
"seein' as men have most likely made 'em what they are, an'
oughtn't to be ashamed of thar own handiwork."
"Now, when it comes to yaller hair an' blue eyes," put in Matthew
Field, "she kin hold her own agin any wedded wife that ever made
a man regret the day of his birth. Many's the time of late I've
gone a good half-mile to git out of that gal's way, jest as I
used to cut round old Fletcher's pasture when I was a boy to keep
from passin' by his redheart cherry-tree that overhung the road.
Well, well, they do say that her young man, Fred Turner, went
back on her, an' threw her on her father's hands two days befo'
"It was hard on Sol, now you come to think of it," said Tom. "He
told me himself that he tried to git the three who ought to marry
her to draw straws for the one who was to be the happy man, but
they all backed out an' left her high an' dry an' as pretty as a
peach. Fred Turner would have taken his chance, he said, like an
honest man, an' he was terrible down in the mouth when I saw him,
for he was near daft over the gal."
"Well, he was right," admitted Matthew, after reflection. "Why,
the gal sins so free an' easy you might almost fancy her a man."
He drew back, coughing, for Jim came in with a long green log and
laid it on the smouldering fire, which glowed crimson under the
"Here's Sol," said the young man, settling the log with his foot.
"I told him you were on your way to the house, pa, but he said he
had only a minute, so he came out here."
"Oh, I've jest been to borrow some Jamaica ginger from Mrs.
Weatherby," explained Sol Peterkin, carefully closing the shutter
after his entrance.
"My wife's took so bad that I'm beginnin' to fear she'll turn out
as po' a bargain as the last. It's my luck--I always knew I was
ill-fated--but, Lord a-mercy, how's a man goin' to tell the state
of a woman's innards from the way she looks on top? All the
huggin' in the world won't make her wink an eyelash, an' then
there'll crop out heart disease or dropsy befo' the year is up.
When I think of the trouble I had pickin' that thar woman it
makes me downright sick. It ain't much matter about the colour or
the shape, I said--a freckled face an' a scrawny waist I kin
stand--only let it be the quality that wears. If you believe it,
suh, I chose the very ugliest I could find, thinkin' that the
Lord might be mo' willin' to overlook her--an' now this is what's
come of it. She's my fourth, too, an' I'll begin to be a joke
when I go out lookin' for a fifth. Naw, suh; if Mary dies, pure
shame will keep me a widower to my death."
"Thar ain't but one thing sartain about marriage, in my mind,"
commented Matthew Field, "an' that is that it gits most of its
colour from the distance that comes between. The more your mouth
waters for a woman, the likelier 'tis that 'tain't the woman for
you--that's my way of thinkin'. The woman a man don't git somehow
is always the woman he ought to have had. It's a curious,
mixed-up business, however you look at it."
"That's so," said Tom Spade; "I always noticed it. The woman who
is your wife may be a bouncin' beauty, an' the woman who ain't
may be as ugly as sin, but you'd go twice as far to kiss her all
the same. Thar is always a sight more spice about the woman who
"Jest look at Eliza, now," pursued Matthew, wrapped in the
thought of his own domestic infelicities. "What I could never
understand about Eliza was that John Sales went clean to the dogs
because he couldn't git her. To think of sech a thing happenin',
jest as if I was to blame, when if I'd only known it I could hev
turned about an' taken her sister Lizzie. Thar were five of 'em
in all, an' I settled on Eliza, as it was, with my eyes
blindfold. Poor John--poor John! It was sech a terrible waste of
"Well, it's a thing to stiddy about," said old Jacob, with a
sigh. "They tell me now that that po' young gal of Bill
Fletcher's has found it a thorny bed, to be sho'. Her letters are
all bright an' pleasant enough, they say, filled with fine
clothes an' the names of strange places, but a gentleman who met
her somewhar over thar wrote Fletcher that her husband used her
like a dumb brute."
Christopher started and looked up inquiringly.
"Have you heard anything about that, Jim?" he asked in a queer
"Nothin' more. Fletcher told me he had written to her to come
home, but she answered that she would stick to Wyndham for better
or for worse. It's a great pity--the marriage promised so well,
"Oh, the gal's got a big heart; I could tell it from her eyes,"
said old Jacob. "When you see those dark, solemn eyes, lookin'
out of a pale, peaked face, it means thar's a heart behind 'em,
an' a heart that bodes trouble some day, whether it be in man or
Christopher passed his hand across his brow and stood staring
vacantly at the smouldering logs. He could not tell whether the
news saddened or rejoiced him, but, at least, it brought Maria's
image vividly before his eyes. The spell of her presence was over
him again, and he felt, as he had felt on that last evening, the
mysterious attraction of her womanhood. So intense was the
visionary appeal that it had for the moment almost the effect of
hallucination; it was as if she still entreated him across all
the distance. The brooding habit of his mind had undoubtedly done
much to conserve his emotion, as had the rural isolation in which
he lived. In a city life the four years would probably have
blotted out her memory; but where comparison was impossible, and
lighter distractions almost unheard of, what chance was there for
him to forget the single passionate experience he had known?
Among his primitive neighbours Maria had flitted for a time like
a bewildering vision; then the great distant world had caught her
up into its brightness, and the desolate waste country was become
the guardian of the impression she had left.
"If thar's a man who has had bad luck with his children, it's
Bill Fletcher," old Jacob was saying thoughtfully. "He's been a
hard man an' a mean one, too, an' when he couldn't beg or borrow
it's my opinion that he never hesitated to put forth his hand an'
steal. Thar's a powerful lot of judgment in dumb happenin's, an'
when you see a family waste out an' run to seed like that it
usually means that the good Lord is havin' His way about matters.
It takes a mighty sharp eye to tell the difference between
judgment an' misfortune, an' I've seen enough in this world to
know that, no matter how skilfully you twist up good an' evil,
God Almighty may be a long time in the unravelling, but He'll
straighten 'em out at last. Now as to Bill Fletcher, his sins got
in the bone an' they're workin' out in the blood. Look at his son
Bill--didn't he come out of the army to drink himself to death?
Then his granddaughter Maria has gone an' mismarried a somebody,
an' this boy that he'd set his heart on is goin' to the devil so
precious fast that he ain't got time to look behind him."
"Oh, he's young yet," suggested Tom Spade, solemnly wagging his
head, "an' Fletcher says, you know, that he's all right so long
as he keeps clear of Mr. Christopher. It's Mr. Christopher, he
swears, that's been the ruin of him."
Christopher met this with a sneer. "Why does he let him dog my
footsteps, then?" he inquired with a laugh. "I never go to the
Hall, and yet he's always after me."
"Bless you, suh, it ain't any question of lettin' an' thar never
has been sence the boy first put on breeches. Why, when I refused
to sell him whisky at my sto', what did he do but begin smugglin'
it out from town! Fletcher found it out an' blew him sky-high,
but in less than a month it was all goin' on agin."
"An' the funny part is," said Jim Weatherby, "that you can't
dislike Will Fletcher, however much you try. He's a kindhearted,
jolly fellow, in spite of the devil."
"Or in spite of Mr. Christopher," added Tom, with a guffaw.
Frowning heavily, Christopher turned toward the door.
"Oh, you ask Will Fletcher who is his best friend," he said, "and
let me hear his answer."
With an abrupt nod to Jacob, he went out of the tobacco barn and
along the little path to the road. He had barely reached the
gate, however, when Jim Weatherby ran after him with the
horseshoes, and offered eagerly to come over in the morning and
see that the gray mare was properly shod.
"I'm handy at that kind of thing, you know," he explained, with a
"Well, if you don't mind, I wish you would come," Christopher
replied, "but to save my life I can't see why you are so ready
with other people's jobs."
Then, taking the horseshoes, he opened the gate and started
rapidly toward home. His mind was still absorbed by old Jacob's
news, and upon reaching the house he was about to pass up to his
room, when Cynthia called him from the little platform beyond the
back door, and going out, he found her standing pale and tearful
on the kitchen threshold. Looking beyond her, he saw that Lila
and Tucker were in the room, and from the intense and resolute
expression in the younger sister's face he judged that she was
the central figure in what appeared to be a disturbing scene.
"Christopher, you can't imagine what has happened," Cynthia began
in her beautiful, tragic voice. "Lila went to church yesterday--
with whom, do you suppose?"
Christopher thought for a moment.
"Not with Bill Fletcher?" he gave out at last.
"Come, come, now, it's a long ways better than that, you'll
admit, Cynthia," broke in Tucker, with a peaceful intention. "I
can't help reminding you, my dear, to be thankful that it wasn't
so unlikely a person as Bill Fletcher."
With a decisive gesture such as he had never believed her capable
of, Lila came up to Christopher and stood facing him with beaming
eyes. He had never before seen her so lovely, and he realised at
the instant that it was this she had always needed to complete
her beauty. From something merely white and warm and delicate she
had become suddenly as radiant as a flame.
"I went with Jim Weatherby, Christopher," she said slowly, "and
I'm not ashamed of it."
The admission wrung a short groan from Cynthia, who stood
twisting her gingham apron tightly about her fingers.
"Oh, Lila, who was his grandfather?" she cried. "Well, there's
this thing certain, she doesn't want to marry his grandfather,"
put in Tucker, undaunted by the failure of his former attempts at
peace-making. "Not that I have anything against the old chap, for
that matter; he was an honest, well-behaved old body, and used to
mend my boots for me up to the day of his death. Jim gets his
handy ways from him, I reckon."
Cynthia turned upon him angrily.
"Uncle Tucker, you will drive me mad," she exclaimed, the tears
starting to her lashes. "It does seem to me that you, at least,
might show some consideration for the family name. It's all we've
"And it's a good enough relic in its way," returned Tucker
amicably, "though if you are going to make a business of
sacrificing yourself, for heaven's sake let it be for something
bigger than a relic. A live neighbour is a much better thing to
make sacrifices for than a dead grandfather."
"I don't care one bit what his grandfather was or whether he ever
had any or not!" cried Lila, in an outburst of indignation; "and
more than that, I don't care what mine was, either. I am going to
marry him--I am--I am! Don't look at me like that, Cynthia. Do
you want to spoil my whole life?"
Cynthia threw out her hands with a despairing grasp of the air,
as if she were reaching for the broken remnants of the family
pride. "To marry a Weatherby!" she gasped. "Oh, mother! mother!
Lila, is it possible that you can be so selfish?" But Lila had
won her freedom too dearly to surrender it to an appeal.
"I want to be selfish," she said stubbornly. "I have never been
selfish in my life, and I want to see what it feels like. Oh, you
are cruel, all of you, and you will break my heart."
Christopher's face paled and grew stern.
"We must all think of mother's wishes, Lila," he said gravely.
For the first time the girl lost her high fortitude, and a
babyish quiver shook her lips. Her glance wavered and fell, and
with a pathetic gesture she turned from Christopher to Cynthia
and from Cynthia to Tucker.
"Oh, you can't understand, Christopher!" she cried; "you have
never been in love, nor has Cynthia. None of you can understand
but Uncle Tucker!"
She ran to him sobbing, and he, steadying himself on a single
crutch, folded his arm about her.
"I understand, child, thank God," he said softly.
CHAPTER II. Between Christopher and Will
An hour later Christopher was at work in the stable, when he
heard a careless whistle outside, and Will Fletcher looked in at
the open door.
"I say, Chris, take a turn off and come down to Tom Spade's," he
Christopher, who was descending from the loft with an armful of
straw, paused midway of the ladder and regarded his visitor with
"I can't this evening," he answered; "the light is almost gone,
and I've a good deal to get through with after dark. I'll manage
better to-morrow, if I can. By the way, why didn't you show up at
Will came in and sat down on the edge of a big wooden box which
contained the harness. In the four years he had changed but
little in appearance, though his slim figure had shot up rapidly
in height. His chestnut hair grew in high peaks from his temples
and swept in a single lock above his small, sparkling eyes, which
held an expression of intelligent animation. On the whole, it was
not an unpleasing face, despite the tremulous droop of the mouth,
already darkened by the faint beginning of a brown mustache.
"Oh, Molly Peterkin stopped me in the road," he replied readily.
"I'd caught her eye once or twice before, but this was the first
chance we'd had to speak. I tell you she's a peach, Christopher."
Christopher came down from the ladder and spread the straw evenly
in the horses' stalls.
"So they say," he responded; "but I haven't much of an eye for
women, you know. Now, when it comes to judging a leaf of tobacco,
I'm a match for any man."
"Well, one can't be everything," remarked Will consolingly. He
snatched at a piece of straw that had fallen on the lowest rung
of the ladder and began idly chewing it. "As for me I know a
blamed sight more about women than I do about tobacco," he added,
with a swagger.
Christopher glanced up, and at sight of the boyish figure burst
into a hearty laugh.
"Oh, you're a jolly old sport, I know, and to think that Tom
Spade has been accusing me of leading you astray! Why, you are
already twice the man that I am."
"Pshaw! That's just grandpa's chatter! The old man rails at me
day and night about you until it's a mortal wonder he doesn't
drive me to the dogs outright. I'd like to see another fellow
that would put up with it for a week. Captain Morrison told him,
you know, that I hadn't done a peg of study for a year, and it
brought on a scene that almost shook the roof. Now he swears I'm
to go to the university next fall or hang."
"Well, I'd go, by all means."
"What under heaven could I do there? All those confounded
languages Morrison poured into my head haven't left so much as a
single letter of the alphabet. Ad nauseam is all I learned of
Latin. I tell you I'd rather be a storekeeper any time than a
scholar--books make me sick all over--and, when it comes to that,
I don't believe I know much more to-day than you do."
A smile crossed Christopher's face, leaving it very grim. The
words recalled to him his own earlier ambition--that of the
gentlemanly scholar of the old order--and there flickered before
his eyes the visionary library, suffused with firelight, and the
translation of the "Iliad" he had meant to finish.
"I always told you it wasn't worth anything," he said roughly.
"She'd love you any better if you could spurt Greek?"
Will broke into a pleased laugh, his mind dwelling upon the fancy
the other had conjured up so skilfully.
"Did you ever see such lips in your life?" he inquired.
Christopher shook his head. "I haven't noticed them, but Sol's
have a way of sticking in my memory."
"Oh, you brute! It's a shame that she should have such a father.
He's about the worst I ever met."
"Some think the shame is on the other side, you know."
"That's a lie--she told me so. Fred Turner started the whole
thing because she refused to marry him at the last moment. She
found out suddenly that she wasn't in love with him. Girls are
like that, you see. Why, Maria--" Christopher looked up quickly.
"I've nothing to do with your sister," he observed. "I know that;
but it's true, all the same. Maria couldn't tell her own mind any
better. Why, one day she was declaring that she was over head and
ears in love with Jack, and the next she was wringing her hands
and begging him to go away." "What are you going to do down at
the store?" asked Christopher abruptly. "Oh, nothing in
particular--just lounge, I suppose; there's never anything to do.
By the way, can't we have a hunt to-morrow?" "I'll see about it.
Look here, is your grandfather any worse than usual? He stormed
at me like mad yesterday because I wouldn't turn my team of oxen
out of the road." "It's like blasting rock to get a decent word
out of him. The only time he's been good-humoured for four years
was the week we were away together. He offered me five thousand
dollars down if I'd never speak to you again." "You don't say
so!" exclaimed Christopher. He bent his head and stood looking
thoughtfully at the matted straw under foot. "Well, you had a
chance to turn a pretty penny," he said, in a tone of gentle
raillery. "Oh, hang it! What do you mean?" demanded Will. "Of
course, I wasn't going back on you like that just to please
grandpa. I'd have been a confounded sneak if I had!" "You're a
jolly good chap and no mistake! But the old man would have been
pleased, I reckon?" Will grinned.
"You bet he would! I could twist him round my finger but for you,
Aunt Saidie says." "It will be all the same in the end, though.
The whole thing will come to you some day." "Oh, yes. Maria got
her share, and Wyndham has made ducks and drakes of it." "Your
grandfather's aging, too, isn't he?"
"Rather," returned Will, with a curious mixture of amiable
lightness and cool brutality. "He's gone off at least twenty
years since that time I had pneumonia in your barn. That wrecked
him, Aunt Saidie says, and all because he knew he'd have to put
up with you when the doctor told him to let me have my way. His
temper gets worse, too, all the time. I declare, he sometimes
makes me wish he were dead and buried." "Oh, he'll live long
enough yet, never fear--those wiry, cross-grained people are as
tough as lightwood knots. It's a pity, though, he wants to bully
you like that--it would kill me in a day." A flush mounted to
Will's forehead. "I knew you'd think so," he said, "and it's what
I tell him all the time. He's got no business meddling with me so
much, and I won't stand it." "He ought to get a dog," suggested
Christopher indifferently. "Well, I'm not a dog, and I'll make
him understand it yet. Oh, you think I'm an awful milksop, of
course, but I'll show you otherwise some day. I'd like to know if
you could have done any better in my place?" "Done! Why, I
shouldn't have been in your place long, that's all." "I shan't,
either, for that matter; but I've got to humour him a little, you
see, because he holds the purse-strings." "He'd never go so far
as to kick you out, would he?" "Well, hardly. I'm all he has, you
know. He doesn't like Maria because of her fine airs, much as he
thinks of education. I've got to be a gentleman, he says; but as
for him, he wouldn't give up one of his vulgar habits to save
anybody's soul. His trouble with Maria all came of her reproving
him for drinking out of his saucer. Now, I don't mind that kind
of thing so much, but Maria used to say she'd rather have him
steal, any day, than gulp his coffee. Why are you laughing so?"
"Oh, nothing. Are you going to Tom's now? I've got to work." Will
slid down from the big box and sauntered toward the door, pausing
on the little wooden step to light a cigarette. "Drop in if you
get a chance," he threw back over his shoulder, with a puff of
smoke. In a few moments Christopher finished his work, and,
outside, closed the stable door. Then he walked a few paces along
the little path stopping from time to time to gaze across the
darkening landscape. A light mist was wreathed about the tops of
the old lilac-bushes, where it glimmered so indistinctly that it
seemed as if one might dispel it by a breath; and farther away
the soft evening colours had settled over the great fields,
beyond which a clear yellow line was just visible above the
distant woods. The wind was sharp with an edge of frost, and as
it blew into his face he raised his head and drank long,
invigorating drafts. From the cattle-pen hard by he smelled the
fresh breath of the cows, and around him were those other odours,
vague, familiar, pleasant, which are loosened at twilight in the
open country. The time had been when the mere physical contact
with the air would have filled him with a quiet satisfaction, but
during the last four years he had lost gradually his
sensitiveness to external things--to the changes of the seasons
as to the beauties of an autumn sunrise. A clear morning had
ceased to arouse in him the old buoyant energy, and he had lost
the zest of muscular exertion which had done so much to sweeten
his labour in the fields. It was as if a clog fettered his
simplest no less than his greatest emotion; and his enjoyment of
nature had grown dull and spiritless, like his affection for his
family. With his sisters he was aware that a curious constraint
had become apparent, and it was no longer possible for him to
meet his mother with the gay deference she still exacted. There
were times, even, when he grew almost suspicious of Cynthia's
patience, and at such moments his irritation was manifested in a
sullen reserve. To himself he could give no explanation of his
state of mind; he knew merely that he retreated day by day
farther into the shadow of his loneliness, and that, while in his
heart he still craved human sympathy, an expression of it even
from those he loved was, above all, the thing he most bitterly
resented. A light flashed in the kitchen, and he went on slowly
toward the house. As he reached the back porch he saw that Lila
was sitting at the kitchen window looking wearily out into the
dusk. The firelight scintillated in her eyes, and as she turned
quickly at a sound within the room he noticed with a pang that
the sparkles were caused by teardrops on her lashes. His heart
quickened at the sight of her drooping figure, and an impulse
seized him to go in and comfort her at any cost. Then his severe
constraint laid an icy hold upon him, and he hesitated with his
hand upon the door.
"If I go in and speak to her, what is there for me to say?" he
thought, overcome by his horror of any uncontrolled emotion. "We
will merely go over the old complaints, the endless explanations.
She will probably weep like a child, and I shall feel a brute
when I look on and keep silent. In the first place, if I speak to
her, what is there for me to say? If I simply beg her to stop
crying, or if I rush in and urge her to marry Jim Weatherby
to-morrow, what good can come of either course? She doesn't wait
for my consent to the marriage, for she is as old as I am, and
knows her own heart much better than I know mine. It is true that
she is too beautiful to waste away like this, but how can I
prevent it, or what is there for me to do?"
Again came the impulse to go in and fold her in his arms, but
before he had taken the first step he yielded, as always, to his
strange reserve, and he realised that if he entered it would be
but to assume his customary unconcern, from the shelter of which
he would probably make a few commonplace remarks on trivial
subjects. The emotional situation would be ignored by them all,
he knew; they would treat it absolutely as if it had no
existence, as if its voice was not speaking to them in the
silence, and they would break their bread and drink their coffee
in apparent unconsciousness that supper was not the single thing
that engrossed their thoughts. And all the time they would be
face to face with the knowledge that they had demanded that Lila
should sacrifice her life.
Presently Cynthia came out and called him, and he went in
carelessly and sat down at the table. Lila left the window and
slipped into her place, and when Tucker joined them she cut up
his food as usual and prepared his coffee.
"Uncle Tucker's cup has no handle, Cynthia," she said with
concern. "Let me take this one and give him another."
"Well, I never!" exclaimed Cynthia, bending over to examine the
break with her near-sighted squint. "We'll soon have to begin
using Aunt Susannah's set, if this keeps up. Uncle Boaz, you've
broken another cup to-day."
Her tone was sharp with irritation, and the fine wrinkles caused
by ceaseless small worries appeared instantly between her
eyebrows. Christopher, watching her, remembered that she had worn
the same expression during the scene with Lila, and it annoyed
him unspeakably that she should be able to descend so readily,
and with equal energy, upon so insignificant a grievance as a bit
of broken china.
Uncle Boaz hobbled round the table and peered contemptuously at
the cup which Lila held.
"Dar warn' no use bruckin' dat ar one," he observed, "'caze 'twuz
bruck a'ready." " Oh, there won't be a piece left presently,"
pursued Cynthia indignantly; and Christopher felt suddenly that
there was something contemptible in the passion she expended upon
trifles. He wondered if Tucker noticed how horribly petty it all
was to lament a broken cup when the tears were hardly dried on
Lila's cheeks. Finishing hurriedly, he pushed back his chair and
rose from the table, shaking his head in response to Cynthia's
request that he should go in to see his mother. "Not now," he
said impatiently, with that nervous avoidance of the person he
loved best. "I'll be back in time to carry her to bed, but I've
got to take a half-hour off and look in on Tom Spade." "She
really ought to go to bed before sundown," responded Cynthia,
"but nothing under heaven will persuade her to do so. It's her
wonderful will that keeps her alive, just as it keeps her sitting
bolt upright in that old chair. I don't believe there's another
woman on earth who could have done it for more than twenty
years." Taking down his hat from a big nail in the wall,
Christopher stood for a moment abstractedly fingering the brim.
"Well, I'll be back shortly," he said at last, and went out
hurriedly into the darkness. At the instant he could not tell why
he had so suddenly decided to follow Will Fletcher to the store,
but, as usual, when the impulse came to him he proceeded to act
promptly as it directed. Strangely enough, the boy was the one
human being whom he felt no inclination to avoid, and the least
oppressive moments that he knew were the reckless ones they spent
together. While his daily companion was mentally and morally upon
a lower plane than his own, the association was not without a
balm for his wounded pride; and the knowledge that it was still
possible to assume superiority to Fletcher's heir was, so far as
he himself admitted, the one consolation that his life contained.
As for his feeling toward Will Fletcher as an individual, it was
the outcome of so curious a mixture of attraction and repulsion
that he had long ceased from any attempt to define it as pure
emotion. For the last four years the boy had been, as Tom Spade
put it, "the very shadow on the man's footsteps," and yet at the
end of that time it was almost impossible for Christopher to
acknowledge either his liking or his hatred. He had suffered him
for his own end, that was all, and he had come at last almost to
enjoy the tolerance that he displayed. The hero worship--the
natural imitation of youth-- was at least not unpleasant, and
there had been days during a brief absence of the boy when
Christopher had, to his surprise, become aware of a positive
vacancy in his surroundings. So long as Will made no evident
attempt to rise above him--so long, indeed, as Fletcher's
grandson kept to Fletcher's level, it was possible that the
companionship would continue as harmoniously as it had begun. In
the store he found Tom Spade and his wife--an angular,
strong-featured woman, in purple calico, who carried off the
reputation of a shrew with noisy honours. When he asked for Will,
the storekeeper turned from the cash-drawer which he was emptying
and nodded toward the half-open door of the adjoining room.
"Several of the young fellows are in thar now," he remarked
offhand, "an' I've jest had to go in an' git between Fred Turner
an' Will Fletcher. They came to out an' out blows, an' I had to
shake 'em both by the scuff of thar necks befo' they'd hish
snarlin'. Bless yo' life, all about a woman, too, every last word
of it. Well, well, meanin' no disrespect to you, Susan, it's a
queer thing that a man can't be born, married, or buried without
a woman gittin' herself mixed up in the business. If she ain't
wrappin' you in swaddlin' bands, you may be sho' she's measurin'
off yo' windin'-sheet. Mark my words, Mr. Christopher, I don't
believe thar's ever been a fight fought on this earth--be it a
battle or a plain fisticuff--that it warn't started in the brain
of somebody's mother, wife, or sweetheart an' it's most likely to
have been the sweetheart. It is strange, when you come to study
'bout it, how sech peaceable-lookin' creaturs as women kin have
sech hearty appetites for trouble."
"Well, trouble may be born of a woman, but it generally manages
to take the shape of a man," observed Mrs. Spade from behind the
counter, where she was filling a big glass jar with a fresh
supply of striped peppermint candy. "And as far as that goes,
ever sence the Garden of Eden, men have taken a good deal mo'
pleasure in layin' the blame on thar wives than they do in layin'
blows on the devil. It's a fortunate woman that don't wake up the
day after the weddin' an' find she's married an Adam instid of a
man. However, they are as the Lord made 'em, I reckon," she
finished charitably, "which ain't so much to thar credit as it
sounds, seein' they could have done over sech a po' job with
precious little trouble."
"Oh, I warn't aimin' at you, Susan," Tom hastened to assure her,
aware from experience that he entered an argument only to be
worsted. "You've been a good wife to me, for all yo' sharp
tongue, an' I've never had to git up an' light the fire sence the
day I married you. Yes, you've been a first-rate wife to me, an'
"I'm the last person you need tell that to," was Mrs. Spade's
retort. "I don't reckon I've b'iled inside an' sweated outside
for mo' than twenty years without knowin' it. Lord! Lord! If it
took as hard work to be a Christian as it does to be a wife,
thar'd be mighty few but men in the next world--an' they'd git
thar jest by followin' like sheep arter Adam--"
"I declar', Susan, I didn't mean to rile you," urged Tom,
breaking in upon the flow of words with an appealing effort to
divert its course. "I was merely crackin' a joke with Mr.
Christopher, you know."
"I'm plum sick of these here jokes that's got to have a woman on
the p'int of 'em," returned Mrs. Spade, tightly screwing on the
top of the glass jar. "I've always noticed that thar ain't
nothin' so funny in this world but it gits a long sight funnier
if a man kin turn it on his wife."
"Now, my dear--" helplessly expostulated Tom.
"My name's Susan, Tom Spade, an' I'll have you call me by it or
not at all. If thar's one thing I hate on this earth it's a
'dear' in the mouth of a married man that ought to know better.
I'd every bit as lief you'd shoot a lizard at me, an' you ain't
jest found it out. If you think I'm the kind of person to git any
satisfaction out of improper speeches you were never mo' mistaken
in yo' life; an' I kin p'int out to you right now that I ain't
never heard one of them words yit that I ain't had to pay for it.
A 'dear' the mo' is mighty apt to mean a bucket of water the
less. Oh, you can't turn my head with yo' soft tricks, Tom Spade.
I'm a respectable woman, as my mother was befo' me, an' I don't
want familiar doin's from any man, alive or dead. The woman who
does, whether she be married or single, ain't no better than a
female--that's my opinion!"
She paused to draw breath, and Tom was quick to take advantage of
the intermission. "Good Lord, Mr. Christopher, those darn young
fools are at it agin! " he exclaimed, darting toward the
With a stride, Christopher pushed past him and, opening the door,
stopped uncertainly upon the threshold.
At the first glance he saw that the trouble was between Will and
Fred Turner, and that Will, because of his slighter weight, had
got very much the worst of the encounter. The boy stood now,
trembling with anger and bleeding at the mouth, beside an
overturned table, while Fred--a stout, brawny fellow--was busily
pummelling his shoulders.
"You're a sneakin', puny-livered liar, that's what you are!"
finished Turner with a vengeance.
Christopher walked leisurely across the room.
"And you're another," he observed in a quiet voice--the voice of
his courtly father, which always came to him in moments of white
heat. "You are exactly that--a sneaking, puny-livered liar." His
manner was so courteous that it came as a surprise when he struck
out from the shoulder and felled Fred as easily as he might have
knocked over a wooden tenpin. "You really must learn better
manners," he remarked coolly, looking down upon him.
Then he wiped his brow on his blue shirt-sleeve and called for a
glass of beer.
Chapter III. Mrs. Blake Speaks her Mind on Several Matters
Breakfast was barely over the next morning when Jim Weatherby
appeared at the kitchen door carrying a package of horseshoe
nails and a small hammer.
"I thought perhaps Christopher might want to use the mare early,"
he explained to Cynthia, who was clearing off the table. There
was a pleasant precision in his speech, acquired with much
industry at the little country school, and Cynthia, despite her
rigid disfavour, could not but notice that when he glanced round
the room in search of Lila he displayed the advantage of an
aristocratic profile. Until to-day she could not remember that
she had ever seen him directly, as it were; she had looked around
him and beyond him, much as she might have obliterated from her
vision a familiar shrub that chanced to intrude itself into her
point of view. The immediate result of her examination was the
possibility she dimly acknowledged that a man might exist as a
well-favoured individual and yet belong to an unquestionably
lower class of life.
"Well, I'll go out to the stable," added Jim, after a moment in
which he had patiently submitted to her squinting observation.
"Christopher will be somewhere about, I suppose?"
"Oh, I suppose so," replied Cynthia indifferently, emptying the
coffee-grounds into the kitchen sink. The asperity of her tone
was caused by the entrance of Lila, who came in with a basin of
corn-meal dough tucked under her bared arm, which showed as round
and delicate as a child's beneath her loosely rolled-up sleeve.
"Cynthia, I can't find the hen-house key," she began; and then,
catching sight of Jim, she flushed a clear pink, while the little
brown mole ran a race with the dimple in her check.
"The key is on that nail beside the dried hops," returned Cynthia
sternly. "I found it in the lock last night and brought it in.
It's a mercy that the chickens weren't all stolen."
Without replying, Lila took down the key, strung it on her little
finger, and, going to the door, passed with Jim out into the
autumn sunshine. Her soft laugh pulsed back presently, and
Cynthia, hearing it, set her thin lips tightly as she carefully
rinsed the coffee-pot with soda.
Christopher, who had just come up to the wellbrink, where Tucker
sat feeding the hounds from a plate of scraps, gave an abrupt nod
in the direction of the lovers strolling slowly down the
"It will end that way some day, I reckon," he said with a sigh,
"and you know I'm almost of a mind with Cynthia about it. It does
seem a downright pity. Not that Jim isn't a good chap and all
that, but he's an honest, hard-working farmer and nothing more--
and, good heavens! just look at Lila! Why, she's beautiful enough
to set the world afire."
Smiling broadly, Tucker tossed a scrap of cornbread into Spy's
open jaws; then his gaze travelled leisurely to the hen-house,
which Lila had just unlocked. As she pushed back the door there
was a wild flutter of wings, and the big fowls flew in a swarm
about her feet, one great red-and-black rooster craning his long
neck after the basin she held beneath her arm. While she
scattered the soft dough on the ground she bent her head slightly
sideways, looking up at Jim, who stood regarding her with
"Well, I don't know that much good ever comes of setting anything
afire," answered Tucker with his amiable chuckle; "the danger is
that you're apt to cause a good deal of trouble somewhere, and
it's more than likely you'll get singed yourself in putting out
the flame. You needn't worry about Lila, Christopher; she's the
kind of woman--and they're rare--who doesn't have to have her
happiness made to order; give her any fair amount of the raw
material and she'll soon manage to fit it perfectly to herself.
The stuff is in her, I tell you; the atmosphere is about her-
-can't you feel it--and she's going to be happy, whatever comes.
A woman who can make over a dress the sixth time as cheerfully as
she did the first has the spirit of a Caesar, and doesn't need
your lamentations. If you want to be a Jeremiah, you must go
"Oh, I dare say she'll grow content, but it does seem such a
terrible waste. She's the image of that Saint-Memin portrait of
Aunt Susannah, and if she'd only been born a couple of
generations ago she would probably have been the belle of two
continents. Such women must be scarce anywhere."
"She's pretty enough, certainly, and I think Jim knows it.
There's but one thing I've ever seen that could compare with her
for colour, and that's a damask rose that blooms in May on an old
bush in the front yard. When all is said, however, that young
Weatherby is no clodhopper, you know, and I'm not sure that he
isn't worthier of her than any highsounding somebody across the
water would have been. He can love twice as hard, I'll wager, and
that's the chief thing, after all; it's worth more than big
titles or fine clothes--or even than dead grandfathers, with due
respect to Cynthia. I tell you, Lila may never stir from the
midst of these tobacco fields; she may be buried alive all her
days between these muddy roads that lead heaven knows where, and
yet she may live a lot bigger and fuller life than she might have
done with all London at her feet, as they say it was at your
Greataunt Susannah's. The person who has to have outside props to
keep him straight must have been made mighty crooked at the
start, and Lila's not like that."
Christopher stooped and pulled Spy's ears.
"That's as good a way to look at it as any other, I reckon," he
remarked; "and now I've got to hurry the shoeing of the mare."
He crossed over and joined Lila and Jim before the henhouse door,
where he put the big fowls to noisy flight.
"Well, you're a trusty neighbour, " he cried good-humoredly,
striking Jim a friendly blow that sent him reeling out into the
Lila passed her hand in a sweeping movement round the inside of
the basin and flirted the last drops of dough from her
"A few of your pats will cripple Jim for a week," she observed,
"so you'd better be careful; he's too useful a friend to lose
while there are any jobs to do."
"Why, if I had that muscle I could run a farm with one hand,"
said Jim. "Give a plough a single push, Christopher, and I
believe it would run as long as there was level ground."
Cynthia, standing at the kitchen window with a cuptowel slung
across her arm, watched the three chatting merrily in the
sunshine, and the look of rigid resentment settled like a mask
upon her face. She was still gazing out upon them when Docia
opened the door behind her and informed her in a whisper that
"Ole miss wanted her moughty quick."
"All right, Docia. Is anything the matter?"
"Naw'm, 'tain' nuttin' 'tall de matter. She's des got fidgetty."
"Well, I'll come in a minute. Are you better to-day? How's your
"Lawd, Miss Cynthia, hit's des bruised all over. Ev'y breaf I
draw hits it plum like a hammer. I hyear hit thump, thump, thump
all de blessed time."
"Be careful, then. Tell mother I'm coming at once."
She hung the cup-towel on the rack, and, taking off her blue
checked apron, went along the little platform to the main part of
the house and into the old lady's parlour, where the morning
sunshine fell across the faces of generations of dead Blakes. The
room was still furnished with the old rosewood furniture, and the
old damask curtains hung before the single window, which gave on
the overgrown front yard and the twisted aspen. Though the rest
of the house suggested only the direst poverty, the immediate
surroundings of Mrs. Blake revealed everywhere the lavish ease so
characteristic of the old order which had passed away. The
carving on the desk, on the book-cases, on the slender sofa, was
all wrought by tedious handwork; the delicate damask coverings to
the chairs were still lustrous after almost half a century; and
the few vases scattered here and there and filled with autumn
flowers were, for the most part, rare pieces of old royal
Worcester. While it was yet Indian summer, there was no need of
fires, and the big fireplace was filled with goldenrod, which
shed a yellow dust down on the rude brick hearth.
The old lady, inspired by her indomitable energy, was already
dressed for the day in her black brocade, and sat bolt upright
among the pillows in her great oak chair.
"Some one passed the window whistling, Cynthia. Who was it? The
whistle had a pleasant, cheery sound."
"It must have been Jim Weatherby, I think: old Jacob's son."
"Is he over here?"
"To see Christopher--yes."
"Well, be sure to remind the servants to give him something to
eat in the kitchen before he goes back, and I think, if he's a
decent young man, I should like to have a little talk with him
about his family. His father used to be one of our most
"It would tire you, I fear, mother. Shall I give you your
"You have a most peculiar idea about me, my child. I have not yet
reached my dotage, and I don't think that a little talk with
young Weatherby could possibly be much of an ordeal. Is he an
"No, no, of course not; you shall see him whenever you like. I
was only thinking of you."
"Well, I'm sure I am very grateful for your consideration, my
dear, but there are times, occasionally, you know, when it is
better for one to judge for oneself. I sometimes think that your
only fault, Cynthia, is that you are a little--just a very little
bit, you understand--inclined to manage things too much. Your
poor father used to say that a domineering woman was like a
kicking cow; but this doesn't apply to you, of course."
"Shall I call Jim now, mother?"
"You might as well, dear. Place a chair for him, a good stout
one, and be sure to make him wipe his feet before he comes in.
Does he appear to be clean?"
"I remember his father always was--unusually so for a common
labourer. Those people sometimes smell of cattle, you know; and
besides, my nose has grown extremely sensitive in the years since
I lost my eyesight. Perhaps it would be as well to hand me the
bottle of camphor. I can pretend I have a headache."
"There's no need, really; he isn't a labourer at all, you know,
and he looks quite a gentleman. He is, I believe, considered a
very handsome young man."
Mrs. Blake waved toward the door and the piece of purple glass
flashed in the sunlight. "In that case, I might offer him some
sensible advice," she said. "The Weatherbys, I remember, always
showed a very proper respect for gentle people. I distinctly
recall how well Jacob behaved when on one occasion Micajah
Blair--a dreadful, dissolute character, though of a very old
family and an intimate friend of your father's--took decidedly
too much egg-nog one Christmas when he was visiting us, and
insisted upon biting Jacob's cheek because it looked so like a
winesap. Jacob had come to see your father on business, and I
will say that he displayed a great deal of good sense and
dignity; he said afterward that he didn't mind the bite on his
cheek at all, but that it pained him terribly to see a Virginia
gentleman who couldn't balance a bowl of egg-nog. Well, well,
Micajah was certainly a rake, I fear; and for that matter, so was
his father before him."
"Father had queer friends," observed Cynthia sadly. "I remember
his telling me when I was a little girl that he preferred that
family to any in the county."
"Oh, the family was all right, my dear. I never heard a breath
against the women. Now you may fetch Jacob. Is that his name?"
"Dear me; that's very odd. He certainly should have been called
after his father. I wonder how they could have been so
Cynthia drew forward an armchair, stooped and carefully arranged
the ottoman, and then went with stern determination to look for
He was sitting in the stable doorway, fitting a shoe on the old
mare, while Lila leaned against an overturned barrel in the
sunshine outside. At Cynthia's sudden appearance they both
started and looked up in amazement, the words dying slowly on
"Why, whatever is the matter, Cynthia?" cried Lila, as if in
Cynthia came forward until she stood directly at the mare's head,
where she delivered her message with a gasp:
"Mother insists upon talking to Jim. There's no help for it; he
Weatherby dropped the mare's hoof and raised a breathless
question to Cynthia's face, while Lila asked quickly:
"Does she know?"
"Know what?" demanded Cynthia, turning grimly upon her. "Of
course she knows that Jim is his father's son."
The young man rose and laid the hammer down on the overturned
barrel; then he led the mare back to her stall, and coming out
again, washed his hands in a tub of water by the door.
"Well, I'm ready," he observed quietly. "Shall I go in alone?"
"Oh, we don't ask that of you," said Lila, laughing. "Come; I'll
take you." She slipped her hand under his arm and they went gaily
toward the house, leaving Cynthia to pick up the horseshoe nails
lying loose upon the ground.
Hearing the young man's step on the threshold, Mrs. Blake turned
her head with a smile of pleasant condescension and stretched out
her delicate yellowed hand.
"This is Jim Weatherby, mother," said Lila in her softest voice.
"Cynthia says you want to talk to him."
"I know, my child; I know," returned Mrs. Blake, with an animated
gesture. "Come in, Jim, and don't trouble to stand. Find him a
chair, Lila. I knew your father long before you were born," she
added, turning to the young man, "and I knew only good of him. I
suppose he has often told you of the years he worked for us?"
Jim held her hand for an instant in his own, and then, bending
over, raised it to his lips.
"My father never tires of telling us about the old times, and
about Mr. Blake and yourself," he answered in his precise
English, and with the simple dignity which he never lost. Lila,
watching him, prayed silently that a miracle might open the old
lady's eyes and allow her to see the kind, manly look upon his
Mrs. Blake nodded pleasantly, with evident desire to put him
wholly at his ease.
"Well, his son is becoming quite courtly," she responded,
smiling, "and I know Jacob is proud of you--or he ought to be,
which amounts to the same thing. There's nothing I like better
than to see a good, hard-working family prosper in life and raise
its station. Not that I mean to put ideas into your head, of
course, for it is a ridiculous sight to see a person dissatisfied
with the position in which the good Lord has placed him. That was
what I always liked about your mother, and I remember very well
her refusing to wear some of my old finery when she was married,
on the ground that she was a plain, honest woman, and wanted to
continue so when she was a wife. I hope, by the way, that she is
"Oh, quite. She does not walk much, though; her joints have been
To Lila's surprise, he was not the least embarrassed by the
personal tone of the conversation, and his sparkling blue eyes
held their usual expression of blithe good-humour.
"Indeed!" Mrs. Blake pricked at the subject in her sprightly way.
"Well, you must persuade her to use a liniment of Jamestown weed
steeped in whisky. There is positively nothing like it for
rheumatism. Lila, do we still make it for the servants? If so,
you might send Sarah Weatherby a bottle."
"I'll see about it, mother. Aren't you tired? Shall I take Jim
"Not just yet, child. I am interested in seeing what a promising
young man he has become. How old are you, Jim?"
"Twenty-nine next February. There are two of us, you know--I've a
sister Molly. She married Frank Granger and moved ten miles
"Ah, that brings me to the very point I was driving at. Above all
things, let me caution you most earnestly against the reckless
marriages so common in your station of life. For heaven's sake,
don't marry a woman because she has a pretty face and you cherish
an impracticable sentiment for her. If you take my advice, you
will found your marriage upon mutual respect and industry. Select
a wife who is not afraid of work, and who expects no folderol of
romance. Love-making, I've always maintained, should be the
pastime of the leisure class exclusively."
"I'm not afraid of work myself," replied Jim, laughing as he
looked boldly into the old lady's sightless eyes, "but I'd never
stand it for my wife--not a--a lick of it!"
"Tut, tut! Your mother does it."
Jim nodded. "But I'm not my father," he mildly suggested.
"Well, you're a fine, headstrong young fool, and I like you all
the better for it," declared Mrs. Blake. "You may go now, because
I feel as if I needed a doze; but be sure to come in and see me
the next time you're over here. Lila, put the cat on my knees and
straighten my pillows."
Lila lifted the cat from the rug and placed it in the old lady's
lap; then, as she arranged the soft white pillows, she bent over
suddenly and kissed the piece of purple glass on the fragile
Chapter IV. In Which Christopher Hesitates
Following his impulsive blow in defense of Will Fletcher,
Christopher experienced, almost with his next breath, a reaction
in his feeling for the boy; and meeting him two days later at the
door of the tobacco barn, he fell at once into a tone of
"So you let Fred smash you up, eh?" he observed, with a sneer.
"Oh, you needn't talk like that," he answered; "he's the biggest
man about here except you. By the way, you're a bully friend to a
fellow, you know, and it's not a particle of use pretending you
don't like me, because you can't help hitting back jolly quick
when anybody undertakes to give me a licking."
"Why were you such a fool as to go at him?" inquired Christopher,
glancing up at his evenly hanging rows of tobacco, and then
coming outside to lock the door. "You'll never get a reputation
as a fighter if you are always jumping on men over your own size.
Now, next time I should advise you to try your spirit on Sol
"Oh, it was all about Molly," explained Will frankly. "I told
Fred that he was a big blackguard to use the girl so, and then he
called me a 'white-livered liar.'"
"I heard him," remarked Christopher quietly.
"Well, I don't care what he says--he is a blackguard. I'm glad
you knocked him down, too; it was no more than he deserved."
"I didn't do it on Molly Peterkin's account, you know. Tobacco
takes up quite enough of my time without my entering the lists as
a champion of light women. But if you aren't man enough to fight
your own battles, I suppose I'll have to keep my muscle in proper
Will smarted from the words, and the corners of his mouth took a
"I don't see how you expect me to be a match for Fred Turner," he
"Why, I don't expect it," replied Christopher coolly, as he
turned the key in the padlock, drew it out, and slipped it into
his pocket. "I expect you merely to keep away from him, that's
Will stared at him in perplexity. "What a devil of a humour you
are in!" he exclaimed.
"Am I?" Christopher broke into a laugh. "You are accustomed to
the sunny temper of your grandfather. How is he to-day? In his
usual cheerful vein?"
"Oh, he's awful," answered the boy, relieved at the change of
subject. "If you could only have heard him yesterday! Somebody
told him about the fight at the store, and, as luck would have
it, he found out that Molly Peterkin was at the bottom of it all.
When he called me into his room and locked the door I knew
something was up; and sure enough, we had blood and thunder for
two mortal hours. He threatened to sell the horses and the
hounds, and to put me at the plough, if I ever so much as looked
at the girl again--'gal,' he called her, and a 'brazen wench.'
That is the way he talks, you know."
"I know," Christopher nodded gravely.
"But the funny part is, that the thing that made him hottest was
your knocking over Fred Turner. That he simply couldn't stand.
Why, he'd have paid Fred fifty dollars down to thrash me black
and blue, he said. He called you--Oh, he has a great store of pet
"What?" asked Christopher, for the other caught himself up
"Nothing much--he's always doing it, you know."