Part 5 out of 8
"You needn't trouble yourself on my account. I'm familiar with
his use of words."
"Oh, he called you 'a crazy pauper who ought to be in gaol.'"
"He did, did he? Well, for once in his life he drew it mild."
Then he gave a long whistle and kicked away a rock in the path. "
"'A crazy pauper who ought to be in gaol.' I've a pretty
good-sized debt to settle with your grandfather, when I come to
think of it."
"Just suppose you were in my place now," insisted Will. "Then I
reckon you'd have cause forswearing, sure enough. I tell you I
couldn't get out of that room yesterday until I promised him I'd
turn over a new leaf--that I'd start in with Mr. Morrison
to-morrow, and dig away at Latin and Greek until I go to the
university next fall."
Christopher turned quickly.
"To-morrow?" he repeated. "Why, that's the day I had planned we'd
go hunting. Make Morrison's Friday."
The boy wavered.
"Can't we go another day?" he asked. "He's so awfully set on
to-morrow. I'd have to be mighty sharp to fool him again."
"Oh, well, but it's the only day I've free. There's a lot of fall
ploughing to do; then the apples are ready to be gathered; and I
must take some corn to the mill before the week's up. I've wasted
too much time with you as it is. It's the only wealth I have, you
"Then I'll go--I'll go," declared Will, jumping to a decision.
"There'll be a terrific fuss if he finds it out, but perhaps he
won't. I'll bring my gun over to the barn to-night, and get
Zebbadee to meet us with the hounds at the bend in the road.
Well, I must get back now. I don't want him to suspect I've seen
He started off at a rapid pace, and Christopher, turning in the
other direction, went to bring the horses from the distant
pasture. It was a mellow afternoon, and a golden haze wrapped the
broad meadow, filled with autumn wild flowers, and the little
bricked-up graveyard on the low, green hill. As he swung himself
over the bars at the end of the path he saw Lila and Jim
Weatherby gathering goldenrod in the center of the field. When
they caught sight of him, Jim laid his handful of blossoms in a
big basket on the ground and came to join him on his way to the
"They are for Mrs. Blake's fireplace," he remarked with a
friendly smile, as he glanced back at Lila standing knee-deep
amid the October flowers.
"It's a queer idea," observed Christopher, finding himself at a
loss for a reply.
Jim strolled on leisurely, snatching at the heads of wild carrot
as he passed.
"There's something I've wanted to tell you, Christopher," he said
after a moment, turning his pleasant, manly face upon the other.
"Is that so?" asked Christopher, with a sudden desire to avert
the impending responsibility. "Oh, but I hardly think I'm the
proper person, " he added, laughing.
Jim met his eyes squarely.
"I'm a plain man," he said slowly, "and though I'm not ashamed of
it, I know, of course, that my family have always been plain
people. As things are, I had no business on earth to fall in love
with your sister, but all the same it's what I've gone and done."
Christopher nodded and walked on.
"Well, I suppose it's what I should have done, too, in your
place," he returned quietly.
"I've reproached myself for it often enough," pursued Jim; "but
when all is said, how can a man prevent a thing like that? I
might as well try to shut my eyes to the sun when it is shining
straight on me. Why, everybody else seems dull and lifeless when
I look at her--and I seem such a brute myself that I hardly dare
touch her hand. All I ask is to be her servant until I die."
It took courage to speak such words, and Christopher, knowing it,
stopped midway of the little path and regarded Jim with the rare
smile which gave a boyish brightness to his face.
"By George, you are a trump!" he said heartily. "And as far as
that goes, you're good enough for Lila or for anybody else. It
isn't that, you see; it's only--"
"I know," finished Jim quietly and without resentment; "it's my
grandfather. Your sister, Cynthia, told me, and I reckon it's all
natural, but somehow I can't make myself ashamed of the old man--
nor is Lila, for that matter. He was an honest, upright body as
ever you saw, and he never did a mean thing in his life, though
he lived to be almost ninety."
"You're right," said Christopher, flushing suddenly; "and as far
as I'm concerned, I'd let Lila marry you to-morrow; but as for
mother, she would simply never consent. The idea would be
impossible to her, and we could never explain things; you must
see that yourself."
"I see," replied Jim readily; "but the main point is that you
yourself would have no objection to our marriage, provided it
"Not a bit; not a bit."
He held out his hand, and Jim shook it warmly before he picked up
his basket and went to rejoin Lila.
Turning in the path, Christopher saw the girl, who was sitting
alone on the lowered bars, rise and wave a spray of goldenrod
above her head. Then, as the lovers met, she laid her hand upon
Jim's arm and lifted her glowing face as if to read his words
before he uttered them. Something in the happy surrender of her
gesture, or in the brooding mystery of the Indian summer, when
one seemed to hear the earth turn in the stillness, touched
Christopher with a sudden melancholy, and it appeared to him when
he went on again that a shadow had fallen over the brightness of
the autumn fields. Disturbed by the unrest which follows any
illuminating vision of ideal beauty, he asked himself almost
angrily, in an effort to divert his thoughts, if it were possible
that he was weakening in his purpose, since he no longer found
the old zest in his hatred of Fletcher. The deadness of his
emotions had then affected this one also--the single feeling
which he had told himself would be eternal; and the old nervous
thrill, so like the thrill of violent love, no longer troubled
him when he chanced to meet his enemy face to face. To-day he
held Will Fletcher absolutely in his hand, he knew; in a few
year's at most his debt to Fletcher would probably be cancelled;
the man and the boy would then be held together by blood ties
like two snarling hounds in the leash--and yet, when all was
said, what would the final outcome yield of satisfaction? As he
put the question he knew that he could meet it only by evasion,
and his inherited apathy enfeebled him even while he demanded an
answer of himself.
As the months went on, his indifference to success or failure
pervaded him like a physical lethargy, and he played his game so
recklessly at last that he sometimes caught himself wondering if
it were, after all, worth a single flicker of the candle. He
still saw Will Fletcher daily; but when the spring came he ceased
consciously, rather from weariness than from any nobler
sentiment, to exert an influence which he felt to be harmful to
the boy. For four years he had wrought tirelessly to compass the
ruin of Fletcher's ambition; and now, when he had but to stretch
forth his arm for the final blow, he admitted impatiently that
what he lacked was the impulsive energy the deed required.
He was still in this mood when, one afternoon in April, as he was
driving his oxen to the store, he met Fletcher in the road behind
the pair of bays. At sight of him the old man's temper slipped
control, and at the end of a few minutes they were quarrelling as
to who should be the one to turn aside.
"Git out of the road, will you?" cried Fletcher, half rising from
his seat and jerking at the reins until the horses reared. "Drive
your brutes into the bushes and let me pass!"
"If you think I'm going to swerve an inch out of my road to
oblige you, Bill Fletcher, you are almost as big a fool as you
are a rascal," replied Christopher in a cool voice, as he brought
his team to a halt and placed himself at the head of it with his
long rawhide whip in his hand.
As he stood there he had the appearance of taking his time as
lightly as did the Olympian deities; and it was clear that he
would wait patiently until the sun set and rose again rather than
yield one jot or tittle of his right upon the muddy road. While
he gazed placidly over Fletcher's head into the golden distance,
he removed his big straw hat and began fanning his heated face.
There followed a noisy upbraiding from Fletcher, which ended by
his driving madly into the underbrush and almost overturning the
heavy carriage. As he passed, he leaned from his seat and slashed
his whip furiously into Christopher's face; then he drove on at a
wild pace, bringing the horses in a shiver, and flecked with
foam, into the gravelled drive before the Hall.
The bright flower-beds and the calm white pillars were all in
sunshine, and Miss Saidie, with a little, green wateringpot in
her hand, was sprinkling a tub of crocuses beside the steps.
"You look flustered, Brother Bill," she observed, as Fletcher
threw the reins to a Negro servant and came up to where she
"Oh, I've just had some words with that darned Blake," returned
Fletcher, chewing the end of his mustache, as he did when he was
in a rage. "I met him as I drove up the road and he had the
impudence to keep his ox-cart standing plumb still while I tore
through the briers. It's the third time this thing has happened,
and I'll be even with him for it yet."
"I'm sure he must be a very rude person," remarked Miss Saidie,
pinching off a withered blossom and putting it in her pocket to
keep from throwing it on the trim grass. "For my part, I've never
been able to see what satisfaction people git out of being
ill-mannered. It takes twice as long as it does to be polite, and
it's not nearly so good for the digestion afterward."
Fletcher listened to her with a scowl. "Well, if you ever get
anything but curses from Christopher Blake, I'd like to hear of
it," he said, with a coarse laugh.
Why, he was really quite civil to me the other day when I passed
him," replied Miss Saidie, facing Fletcher with her hand resting
on the belt of her apron. "I was in the phaeton, and he got down
off his wagon and picked up my whip. I declare, it almost took my
breath away, but when I thanked him he raised his hat and spoke
"Oh, you and your everlasting excuses!" sneered Fletcher, going
up the steps and turning on the porch to look down upon her. "I
tell you I've had as many of 'em as I'm going to stand. This is
my house, and what I say in it has got to be the last word. If
you squirt any more of that blamed water around here the place
will rot to pieces under our very feet."
Miss Saidie placed her watering-pot on the step and lifted to him
the look of amiable wonder which he found more irritating than a
"I forgot to tell you that Susan Spade has been waiting to speak
to you," she remarked, as if their previous conversation had been
of the friendliest nature.
"Oh, drat her! What does she want?"
"She wouldn't tell me--it was for you alone, she said. That was a
good half-hour ago, and she's been waiting in your setting-room
ever sence. She's such a sharp-tongued woman I wonder how Tom
manages to put up with her."
"Well, if he does, I won't," growled Fletcher, as he went in to
meet his visitor.
Mrs. Spade, wearing a severe manner and a freshly starched purple
calico, was sitting straight and stiff on the edge of the
cretonne-covered lounge, and as he entered she rose to receive
him with a visible unbending of her person. She was a lank woman,
with a long, scrawny figure which appeared to have run entirely
to muscle, and very full skirts that always sagged below the
belt-line in the back. Her face was like that of a man--
large-featured, impressive, and not without a ruddy masculine
"It's my duty that's brought me, Mr. Fletcher," she began, as
they shook hands. "You kin see very well yo'self that it's not a
pleasure, as far as that goes, for if it had been I never should
have come-not if I yearned and pined till I was sore. I never saw
a pleasure in my life that didn't lead astray, an' I've got the
eye of suspicion on the most harmless-lookin' one that goes. As I
tell Tom--though he won't believe it--the only way to be sartain
you're followin' yo' duty in this world is to find out the thing
you hate most to do an' then do it with all yo' might. That rule
has taken me through life, suh: it married me to Tom Spade, an'
it's brought me here to-day. 'Don't you go up thar blabbin' on
Will Fletcher,' said Tom, when I was tyin' on my bonnet. 'You
needn't say one word mo' about it,' was my reply. 'I know the
Lord's way, an' I know mine. I've wrastled with this in pra'r,
an' I tell you when the Lord turns anybody's stomach so dead agin
a piece of business, it means most likely that it's the very
thing they've got to swallow down."
"Oh, Will!" gasped Fletcher, dropping suddenly into his armchair.
"Please come to the point at once, ma'am, and let me hear what
the rascal has done last."
"I'm comin', suh; I'm comin'," Mrs. Spade hastened to assure him.
"Yes, Tom an' I hev talked it all down to the very bone, but I
wouldn't trust a man's judgment on morals any mo' than I would on
matchin' calico. Right an' wrong don't look the same to 'em by
lamplight as they do by day, an' if thar conscience ain't set
plum' in the pupils of thar eyes, I don't know whar 'tis, that's
sho'. But, thank heaven, I ain't one of those that's always
findin' an excuse for people--not even if the backslider be my
own husband. Thar's got to be some few folks on the side of
decency, an' I'm one of 'em. Virtue's a slippery thing--that's
how I look at it--an' if you don't git a good grip on it an'
watch it with a mighty stern eye it's precious apt to wriggle
through yo' fingers. I'm an honest woman, Mr. Fletcher, an' I
wouldn't blush to own it in the presence of the King of England
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Fletcher, with a brutal laugh; "do you
mean to tell me the precious young fool has fallen in love with
"Me, suh? If he had, a broomstick an' a spar' rib or so would
have been all you'd ever found of him agin. I've never yit laid
eyes on the man I couldn't settle with a single sweep, an' when a
lone woman comes to wantin' a protector, I've never seen the
husband that could hold a candle to a good stout broom. That's
what I said to Jinnie when she got herself engaged to Fred
Boxley. 'Married or single,' I said, 'gal, wife, or widow, a
broom is yo' best friend.'"
Fletcher twisted impatiently in his chair.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, stop your drivelling," he blurted out at
last, "and tell me in plain language what the boy has done."
"Oh, I don't know what he's done or what he hasn't," rejoined
Mrs. Spade, "but I've watched him courtin' Molly Peterkin till I
told Tom this thing had to stop or I would stop it. If thar's a
p'isonous snake or lizard in this country, suh, it's that
tow-headed huzzy of Sol Peterkin's; an' if thar's a sex on this
earth that I ain't go no patience with, it's the woman sex. A man
may slip an' slide a little because he was made that way, but
when it comes to a woman she's got to w'ar whalebones in her
clothes when I'm aroun'. Lord! Lord! What's the use of bein'
honest if you can't p'int yo' finger at them that ain't? Virtue
gits mighty little in the way of gewgaws in this world, an' I
reckon it's got to make things up in the way it feels when it
looks at them that's gone astray--"
"Molly Peterkin!" gasped Fletcher, striking the arm of his chair
a blow that almost shattered it. "Christopher Blake was bad
enough, and now it's Molly Peterkin! Out of the frying-pan right
spang into the fire. Oh, you did me a good turn in coming, Mrs.
Spade. I'll forgive you the news you brought, and I'll even
forgive you your blasted chatter. How long has this thing been
going on, do you know?"
"That I don't, suh, that I don't; though I've been pryin' an'
peekin' mighty close. All I know is, that every blessed evenin'
for the last two weeks I've seen 'em walkin' together in the lane
that leads to Sol's. This here ain't goin' to keep up one day
mo'; that's what I put my foot down on yestiddy. I'd stop it if I
didn't have nothin' agin that gal but the colour of her hair. I
don' know how 'tis, suh, but I've always had the feelin' that
thar's somethin' indecent about yaller hair, an' if I'd been born
with it I'd have stuck my head into a bowl of pitch befo' I'd
have gone flauntin' those corn-tassels in the eyes of every man I
met. Thar's nothin' in the looks of me that's goin' to make a man
regret he's got a wife if I can help it; an' mark my word, Mr.
Fletcher, if they had dyed Molly Peterkin's hair black she might
have been a self-respectin' woman an' a hater of men this very
day. A light character an' a light head go precious well
together, an' when you set one a good sober colour the other's
pretty apt to follow."
Fletcher rose from his chair and stood gripping the table hard.
"Have you any reason to think--does it look likely--that young
Blake has had a hand in this?" he asked.
"Who? Mr. Christopher? Why, I don't believe he could tell a
petticoat from a pair of breeches to save his soul. He ain't got
no fancy for corn-tassels and blue ribbons, I kin tell you that.
It's good honest women that are the mothers of families that he
takes to, an' even then it ain't no mo' than 'How are you, Mrs.
Spade? A fine mornin'!'"
"Well, thar's one thing you may be sartain of," returned
Fletcher, breaking in upon her, "and that is that this whole
business is as good as settled. I leave here with the boy
to-morrow morning at sunrise, and he doesn't set foot agin in
this county until he's gone straight through the university. I'll
drag him clean across the broad ocean before he shall do it."
Then, as Mrs. Spade took a noisy departure, he stood, without
listening to her, gazing morosely down upon the pattern of the
CHAPTER V. The Happiness of Tucker
Early in the following November, Jim Weatherby, returning from
the cross-roads one rainy afternoon, brought Christopher a long,
wailing letter from Will.
"Oh, I've had to walk a chalk-line, sure enough," he wrote,
"since that awful day we left home in a pouring rain, with
grandpa wearing a whole thunderstorm on his forehead. It has been
cram, cram, cram ever since, I can tell you, and here I am now,
just started at the university, with my head still buzzing with
the noise of those confounded ancients. If grandpa hadn't gone
when he did, I declare I believe he would have ended by driving
me clean crazy. Since he left I've had time to take a look about
me, and I find there's a good deal of fun to be got here, after
all. How I'll manage to mix it in with Greek I don't see, but
luck's with me, you know--I've found that out--so I shan't
"By the way, I wish you would make Molly Peterkin understand how
it was I came away so hastily. Tell her I haven't forgotten her,
and give her the little turquoise pin I'm sending. It just
matches her eyes. Be sure to let me know if she's as pretty as
By the next mail the turquoise brooch arrived, and Christopher,
putting it in his pocket, went over to Sol Peterkin's to bear the
message to the girl. As it happened, she was swinging on the
little sagging gate when he came up the lane, and at sight of him
her eyebrows shot up under her flaxen curls, which hung low upon
her forehead. She was a pretty, soulless little animal, coloured
like peach-blossoms, and with a great deal of that soft
insipidity which is usually found in a boy's ideal of maiden
"Why, I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw you," she said,
arranging her curls over her left shoulder with a conscious
The old Blake gallantry rose to meet her challenging eyes, and he
regarded her smilingly a moment before he answered.
"Well, I could hardly believe mine, you know," he responded
carelessly. "I thought for an instant that a big butterfly had
alighted on the gate."
She pouted prettily.
"Won't you come in?" she asked after a moment, with an
embarrassed air, as she remembered that he was one of the "real
Blakes" for whom her father used to work.
A light retort was on his lips, but while he looked at her a
little weary frown darkened her shallow eyes, and with the
peculiar sympathy for all those oppressed by man or nature which
was but one expression of his many-sided temperament he quickly
changed the tone of his reply. At the instant it seemed to him
that Molly Peterkin and himself stood together defrauded of their
rightful heritage of life; and as his thought broadened he felt
suddenly the pathos of her forlorn little figure, of her foolish
blue eyes, of her trivial vanities, of her girlish beauty, soiled
and worn by common handling. A look very like compassion was in
his face, and the girl, seeing it, reddened angrily and kicked at
a loose pebble in the path. When he went away a moment later he
left a careless message for Sol about the tobacco crop, and the
little white box containing the turquoise brooch was still in his
That afternoon the trinket went back to Will with a curt letter.
"If you take my advice, you'll leave Molly Peterkin alone," he
wrote in his big, unformed hand, "for as far as I can see you are
too good a match to get on well together. She's a fool, you know,
and from the way you're going on just now it looks very much as
if you were one also. At any rate, I'm not your man for
gallantries. I'd rather hunt hares than women, any day--and
game's plentiful just now."
It was a long winter that year, and for the first time since her
terrible illness Mrs. Blake was forced to keep her bed during a
bitter spell of weather, when the raw winds whistled around the
little frame house, entering the cracks at the doors and the
loosened sashes of the windows. Cynthia grew drawn and pinched
with a sickly, frost-bitten look, and even Lila's rare bloom
drooped for a while like that of a delicate plant starving for
the sunshine. Christopher, who, as usual, was belated in his
winter's work, was kept busy hauling and chopping wood,
shovelling the snow away from the porch and the paths that led to
the well, the stable, and the barn. Once a day, most often after
breakfast, Jim Weatherby appeared, smiling gaily beneath his
powdering of snow; and sometimes, in defiance of Cynthia, he
would take Lila for a sleigh-ride, from which she would return
blossoming like a rose.
Mrs. Blake, from her tester bed, complained bitterly of the cold,
and drew from the increasing severity of the winters, which she
declared became more unbearable each year, warrant for her belief
in the gradual "decline of the world as a dwelling-place."
"You may say what you please, Tucker," she remarked one morning
when she had awakened with an appetite to find that her eggs had
frozen in the kitchen, "but you can hardly be so barefaced as to
compliment this weather. I'm sure I never felt anything like it
when I was young."
"Well, at least I have a roof over my head now, and I didn't when
I marched to Romney with old Stonewall," remarked Tucker from the
hearth, where he was roasting an apple before the big logs.
"Many's the morning I waked then with the snow frozen stiff all
over me, and I had to crack through it before I could get up."
The old lady made a peevish gesture.
"It may sound ungrateful," she returned, "but I'm sometimes
tempted to wish that you had never marched to Romney, or that
General Jackson had been considerate enough to choose a milder
spell. I really believe when you come to die you will console
yourself with the recollection of something worse that happened
in the war."
Tucker laughed softly to himself as he watched the apple
revolving in the red heat on its bit of string. "Well, I'm not
sure that I shan't, Lucy," he said.
"Habit's mighty strong, you know, and when you come to think of
it there's some comfort in knowing that you'll never have to face
the worst again. A man doesn't duck his head at the future when
he's learned that, let be what will; it can't be so bad as the
thing he's gone through with and yet come out on top. It gives
him a pretty good feeling, after all, to know that he hasn't
funked the hardest knock that life could give. Well, my birds are
hungry, I reckon, and I'll hobble out and feed 'em while this
apple is roasting to the core."
Raising himself with difficulty, he got upon his crutches and
went to scatter his crumbs from the kitchen window.
By the first of March the thaw came, and the snow melted in a day
beneath the lavish spring sunshine. It was a week later that
Christopher, coming from the woods at midday, saw Tucker sitting
on his old bench by the damask rose-bush, in which the sap was
just beginning to swell. The sun shone full on the dead grass,
and the old soldier, with his chin resting in the crook of his
crutch, was gazing straight down upon the earth. The expression
of his large, kindly face was so radiant with enjoyment that
Christopher quickened his steps and slapped him affectionately
upon the shoulder.
"Is Fletcher dead, Uncle Tucker?" he inquired, laughing.
"No, no; nobody's dead that I've heard of," responded Tucker in
his cheerful voice; "but something better than Bill Fletcher's
death has happened, I can tell you. Why, I'd been sitting out
here an hour or more, longing for the spring to come, when
suddenly I looked down and there was the first dandelion--a
regular miracle--blooming in the mould about that old rose-bush."
"Well, I'll be hanged!" exclaimed Christopher, aghast. "Mark my
words, you'll be in an asylum yet."
The other chuckled softly.
"When you put me there you'll shut up the only wise man in the
county," he returned. "If your sanity doesn't make you happy, I
can tell you it's worth a great deal less than my craziness. Look
at that dandelion, now--it has filled two hours chock full of
thought and colour for me when I might have been puling indoors
and nagging at God Almighty about trifles. The time has been when
I'd have walked right over that little flower and not seen it,
and now it grows yellower each minute that I look at it, and each
minute I see it better than I did the one before. There's nothing
in life, when you come to think of it--not Columbus setting out
to sea nor Napoleon starting on a march--more wonderful than that
brave little blossom putting up the first of all through the
"I can't see anything in a dandelion but a nuisance," observed
Christopher, sitting down on the bench and baring his head to the
sunshine; "but you do manage to get interest out of life, that's
"Interest! Good Lord!" exclaimed Tucker. "If a man can't find
something to interest him in a world like this, he must be a dull
fellow or else have a serious trouble of the liver. So long as I
have my eyes, and there's a different sky over my head each day,
and earth, and trees, and flowers all around me, I don't reckon
I'll begin to whistle to boredom. If I were like Lucy, now, I
sometimes think things would be up with me, and yet Lucy is one
of the very happiest women I've ever known. Her brain is so
filled with pleasant memories that it's never empty for an
Christopher's face softened, as it always did at an allusion to
his mother's blindness.
"You're right," he said; "she is happy."
"To be sure, she's had her life," pursued Tucker, without
noticing him. "She's been a beauty, a belle, a sweetheart, a
wife, and a mother--to say nothing of a very spoiled old woman;
but all the same, I don't think I have her magnificent patience.
Oh, I couldn't sit in the midst of all this and not have eyes to
With a careless smile Christopher glanced about him--at the
bright blue sky seen through the bare trees, at the dried carrot
flowers in the old field across the road, at the great pine
growing on the little knoll.
"I hardly think she misses much," he said, and added after a
moment, "Do you know I'd give twenty--no forty, fifty years of
this for a single year of the big noisy world over there. I'm
dog-tired of stagnation."
"Well, it's natural," admitted Tucker gently. "At your age I
doubtless felt the same. The young want action, and they ought to
have it, because it makes the quiet of middle age seem all the
sweeter. You've missed your duels and your flirtations and your
pomades, and you've been put into breeches and into philosophy at
the same time. Why, one might as well stick a brier pipe in the
mouth of a boy who is crying for his first gun and tell him to go
sit in the chimney-corner and be happy. When I was twenty-five I
travelled all the way to New York for the latest Parisian
waistcoat, but I can't remember that I ever strolled round the
corner to see a peach-tree in full bloom. I'm a lot happier now,
heaven knows, in my homespun coat, than I was then in that
waistcoat of satin brocade, so I sometimes catch myself wishing
that I could see again the people I knew then--the men I
quarrelled with and the women I kissed. I'd like to apologise for
the young fool of thirty years ago."
Christopher stirred restlessly, and, clasping his hands behind
his head, stared at a small white cloud drifting slowly above the
"Well, it's the fool part I envy you, all the same," he remarked.
"You're welcome to it, my boy," answered Tucker; then he paused
abruptly and bent his ear. "Ah, there's the bluebird! Do you hear
him whistling in the meadow? God bless him; he's a hearty fellow
and has spring in his throat."
"I passed one coming up," said Christopher.
"The same, I reckon. He'll be paying me a visit soon, and I've
got my crumbs ready." He smiled brightly and then sat with his
chin on his crutch, looking steadily across the road. "You
haven't had your chance, my boy," he resumed presently; "and a
man ought to have several chances to look round him in this
world, for otherwise the things he misses will always seem to him
the only things worth having. I'm not much of a fellow to preach,
you'll say--a hundred and eighty pounds of flesh that can't dress
itself nor hobble about without crutches that are strapped on-
-but if it's the last word I speak I wouldn't change a day in my
long life, and if it came to going over it again I'd trust it all
in the Lord's hands and start blindfolded. And yet, when I look
back upon it now, I see that it wasn't much of a life as lives
go, and the two things I wanted most in it I never got."
Christopher turned quickly with a question.
"Oh, you think I have always been a contented, prosaic chap,"
pursued Tucker, smiling, "but you were never more mistaken since
you were born. Twice in my life I came mighty near blowing out my
brains--once when I found that I couldn't go to Paris and be an
artist, and the second time when I couldn't get the woman I
wanted for my wife. I wasn't cut out for a farmer, you see, and I
had always meant from the time I was a little boy to go abroad
and study painting. I'd set my heart on it, as people say, but
when the time came my father died and I had to stay at home to
square his debts and run the place. For a single night I was as
clean crazy as a man ever was. It meant the sacrifice of my
career, you know, and a career seemed a much bigger thing to me
then than it does to-day."
"I never heard that," said Christopher, lowering his voice.
"There's a lot we don't know even about the people we live in a
little house with. You never heard, either, I dare say, that I
was so madly in love once that when the woman threw me over for a
better man I shut myself up in a cabin in the woods and did not
speak to a human being for six months. I was a rare devil, sure
enough, though you'd never believe it to see me now. It took two
blows like that, a four years' war, and the surgeon's operating
table to teach me how to be happy."
"It was Miss Matoaca Bolling, I suppose?" suggested Christopher,
with a mild curiosity.
The old soldier broke into his soft, full laugh.
"Matoaca! Bless your soul, no. But to think that Lucy should have
kept a secret for more than thirty years! Never talk to me again
about a woman's letting anything out. If she's got a secret that
it mortifies her to tell it will be buried in the grave with her,
and most likely it will never see the light at judgment Day. Lucy
was always ashamed of my being jilted, you know."
"It's a new story then, is it?"
"Oh, it's as old as the hills by now. What's the funny part,
though, is that Lucy has always tried to persuade herself it was
really Matoaca I cared for. You know, I sometimes think that a
woman can convince herself that black is white if she only keeps
trying hard enough--and it's marvellous that she never sees the
difference between wanting to believe a thing and believing it in
earnest. Now, if Matoaca had been the last woman on this earth,
and I the last man, I could never have fallen in love with her,
though I may as well confess that I had my share of fancies when
I was young. It's no use attempting to explain a man's feelings,
of course. Matoaca was almost as great a belle as Lucy, and she
was the handsomest creature you ever laid eyes on--one of those
big, managing women who are forever improving things around them.
Why, I don't believe she could stay two seconds in a man's arms
without improving the set of his cravat. Some men like that kind
of thing, but I never did, and I often think the reason I went so
mad about the other woman was that she came restful after
Matoaca. She was the comforting kind, who, you might be sure,
always saw you at your best; and no matter the mood you were in,
she never wanted to pat and pull you into shape. Lucy always said
she couldn't hold a candle to Matoaca in looks, and I suppose she
was right; but, pretty or plain, that girl had something about
her that went straight to my heart more than thirty years ago and
stays there still. Strange to say, I've tried to believe that it
was half compassion, for she always reminded me of a little wild
bird that somebody had caught and shut up in a cage, and it used
to seem to me sometimes that I could almost hear the fluttering
of her soul. Well, whatever it was, the feeling was the sort that
is most worth while, though she didn't think so, of course, and
broke her great heart over another man. She married him and had
six children and died a few years ago. He was a fortunate fellow,
I suppose, and yet I can't help fancying that I've had the better
part and the Lord was right. She was not happy, they said, and he
knew it, and yet had to face those eyes of hers every day. It was
like many other marriages, I reckon; he got used to her body and
never caught so much as a single glimpse of her soul. Then she
faded away and died to him, but to me she's just the same as when
I first saw her, and I still believe that if she could come here
and sit on this old bench I should be perfectly happy. It's a
lucky man, I tell you, who can keep the same desire for more than
He shook his head slowly, smiling as he listened to the bluebird
singing in the road. "And now I'll be fetching my crumbs," he
added, struggling to his crutches.
When he had helped Tucker to the house, Christopher came back and
sat down again on the bench, closing his eyes to the sunshine,
the spring sky, and the dandelion blooming in the mould. He was
very tired, and his muscles ached from the strain of heavy
labour, yet as he lingered there in the warm wind it seemed to
him that action was the one thing he desired. The restless season
worked in his blood, and he felt the stir of old impulses that
had revived each year with the quickening sap since the first
pilgrimage man made on earth. He wanted to be up and away while
he was still young, and his heart beat high, and at the moment he
would have found positive delight in any convulsion of the
natural order, in any excuse for a headlong and impetuous plunge
He heard the door open again, and Tucker shuffled out into the
path and began scattering his crumbs upon the gravel. When
Christopher passed a moment later, on his way to the house, the
old soldier was merrily whistling an invitation to a glimpse of
blue in a tree-top by the road.
The spring dragged slowly, and with June came the transplanting
of the young tobacco. This was the busiest season of the year
with Christopher, and so engrossed was he in his work that for a
week at the end of the month he did not go down for the county
news at Tom Spade's store. Fletcher was at home, he knew, but he
had heard nothing of Will, and it was through the storekeeper at
last that he learned definitely of the boy's withdrawal from the
university. Returning from the field one afternoon at sunset, he
saw Tom sitting beside Tucker in the yard, and in response to a
gesture he crossed the grass and stopped beside the long pine
"I say, Mr. Christopher, I've brought you a bit of news," called
the storekeeper at the young man's approach.
"Well, let's have it," returned Christopher, laughing. "If you're
going to tell me that Uncle Tucker has discovered a rare weed,
though, I warn you that I can't support it."
"Oh, I'm not in this, thank heaven," protested Tucker; "but to
tell the truth, I'm downright sorry for the boy--Fletcher or no
"Ah," said Christopher under his breath, "so it's Will Fletcher?"
"He's in a jolly scrape this time, an' no mistake," replied Tom.
"He's been leadin' a wild life at the university, it seems, an'
to-day Fletcher got a telegram saying that the boy had been
caught cheatin' in his examinations. The old man left on the next
train, as mad as a hornet, I can tell you. He swore he'd bring
the young scamp back an' put him to the plough. Well, well, thar
are worse dangers than a pretty gal, though Susan won't believe
"Then he'll bring him home?" asked Christopher, blinking in the
sunlight. At the instant it seemed to him that sky and field
whirled rapidly before his eyes, and a strange noise started in
his ears which he found presently to be the throbbing of his
"Oh, he's been given a hard push down the wrong road," answered
Tom, "an' it's more than likely he'll never pull up till he gits
clean to the bottom."
CHAPTER VI. The Wages of Folly
Two days later Fletcher's big new carriage crawled over the muddy
road, and Christopher, looking up from his work in the field,
caught a glimpse of the sullen face Will turned on the familiar
landscape. The younger Fletcher had come home evidently nursing a
grievance at his heart; his eyes held a look of dogged
resentment, and the hand in which he grasped the end of the linen
dust-robe was closed in an almost convulsive grip. When he met
Christopher's gaze he glanced angrily away without speaking, and
then finding himself face to face with his grandfather's scowl he
jerked impatiently in the opposite direction. It was clear that
the tussle of wills had as yet wrung only an enforced submission
from the younger man.
Lifting his head, Christopher stood idly watching the carriage
until it disappeared between the rows of flowering chestnuts;
then, returning in a half-hearted fashion to his work, he found
himself wondering curiously if Fletcher's wrath and Will's
indiscretions were really so great as public rumour might lead
one to suppose.
An answer to his question came the next evening, when he heard a
light, familiar whistle outside the stable where he was at work,
and a moment afterward Will appeared in the shadow of the
"So it wasn't a cut, after all?" said Christopher with a laugh,
as he held out his hand.
"I'll be hanged if I know what it was," was Will's response,
turning away after a limp grasp and seating himself upon the big
box in the corner. "To tell the truth, grandpa has put me into
such a fluster that I hardly know my head from my heels. There's
one thing certain, though; if he doesn't take his eye off me for
a breathing space he'll send me to the dogs before he knows it."
His face had lost its boyish freshness of complexion and his weak
mouth had settled into lines of sullen discontent. Even his dress
displayed the carelessness which is one of the outward marks of a
disordered mind, and his bright blue tie was loosely knotted in
"What's the trouble now?" demanded Christopher, coming from the
stall and hanging his lantern from a nail beside the ladder,
where the light fell full on Will's face. "Out with it and have
done. I thought yesterday that you had been driving a hard
bargain with the old man on my account."
"Oh, it's not you this time, thank heaven," returned Will. "It's
all about that confounded scrape I got into at the university. I
told him it would mean trouble if he sent me there, but he would
do it whether or no. He dragged me away from here, you remember,
and had me digging at my books with a scatter-brained tutor for a
good six months; then when I knew just about enough to start at
the university he hauled me there with his own hands and kept
watch over me for several weeks. I'm quick at most things like
that, so after he went away I thought I'd have a little fun and
trust luck to make it up to me at the end--but it all went
against me somehow, and then they stirred up that blamed rumpus
about the examinations."
Yawning more in disgust than in drowsiness, he struck a match on
the edge of the box and lighted a cigarette. His flippant manner
was touched with the conscious resentment which still lingered in
his eyes, and from the beginning to the end of his account he
betrayed no hint of a regret for his own shabby part in the
affair. When it was not possible to rest the blame upon his
grandfather, he merely shrugged his shoulders and lightly tossed
the responsibility to fate.
"This is one of the things I daren't do at the house," he
remarked after a moment, inhaling a cloud of smoke and blowing it
in spirals through his nostrils; "the old man won't tolerate
anything more decent than a pipe, unless it happens to be a chew.
Oh, I'm sick to death of the whole business," he burst out
suddenly. "When I woke up this morning I had more than half a
mind to break loose and go abroad to Maria. By the way, Wyndham's
dead, you know; he died last fall just after we went away."
"Ah, is that so!" exclaimed Christopher. "She'll come home, then,
"That's the queer part--she won't, and nobody knows why. Wyndham
turned out to be a regular scamp, of course; he treated her
abominably and all that, but he no sooner died than she turned
about and picked up one of his sisters to nurse and coddle. Oh,
it's all foolishness, but I've half a mind to run away, all the
same. A life like this will drive me crazy in six months, and
I'll be hanged if it is my fault, after all. He knew I never had
a head for books, but he drove me at them as if I were no better
than a black slave. Things have all been against me from the
start, and yet I used to think that I was born to be lucky--"
"What does he mean to do with you now?" inquired Christopher.
"Put me to the plough, he says; but I can't stand it--I haven't
the strength. Why, this morning he made me hang around that
tobacco field in the blazing sun for two mortal hours, minding
those shiftless darkies. If I complain; or even go off to sit
down in a bit of shade, he rushes up and blusters about kicking
me out of doors unless I earn my bread. Oh, his temper is simply
awful, and he gets worse every day. He's growing stingy, too,
and makes us live like beggars. All the vegetables go to market
now, and most of the butter, and this morning he blew Aunt
Saidie's head off because she had spring chickens on the
breakfast table. I don't dare ask him for a penny, and yet he's
rich--one of the richest men in the State, they say."
"Well, it sounds jolly," observed Christopher, smiling.
"Oh, you can't imagine the state of things, and you'd never
believe it if I told you. It's worse than any fuss you ever heard
of or ever saw. I used to be able to twist him round my finger,
you know, and now he hates me worse than he does a snake. He
hasn't spoken a word to me since that scene we had at the
university, except to order me to go out and watch the Negroes
plant tobacco. If he finds out I want a thing he'll move heaven
and earth to keep me from getting it--and then sit by and grin.
He's got a devil in him, that's the truth, and there's nothing to
do except keep out of his way as much as possible. I'm patient,
too--Aunt Saidie knows it--and the only time I ever hit back was
when he jumped on you the other day. Then I got mad and struck
out hard, I tell you."
Christopher leaned over and began buckling and unbuckling a
leather strap in the harness-box.
"Don't get into hot water on my account," he returned; "the more
he abuses me, you know, the better I like it. But it's odd that
after all these years he should want to turn you into an
"Well, he shan't do it; that's certain. It will be a cold day
when he gets me masquerading in the family character. Let him go
just one step too far and I'll shake him off for good, and strike
out on a freight-train. Life couldn't be any worse than it is
now, and it might be a great deal better. As to my hanging round
like this much longer and swearing at a pack of worthless
darkies--well, it's more than I bargain for, that's all."
"There's not much excitement in it, to be sure. I would rather be
a freight-hand myself, I think, when all is said."
"Oh, you needn't joke. You were brought up to it and it doesn't
come so hard."
"Not so hard as it does to me, at any rate. There's got to be
some dash about life, I tell you, to make it suit my taste. I
wasn't born to settle down and count my money and my tobacco from
morning till night. It's spice I want in things, and--hang it! I
don't believe there's a pretty woman in the county."
For a moment Christopher stared silently down at the matted
straw. His face had grown dark, and the reckless lines about his
mouth became suddenly prominent.
"Why, where's Molly Peterkin?" he asked abruptly, with a laugh
that seemed to slip from him against his will.
The other broke into a long whistle and tossed the end of his
cigarette through the doorway.
"You needn't think I've forgotten her," he replied; "she's the
one bright spot I see in this barren hole. By the way, why do you
think her a fool?"
"Because she is one."
"And you're a brute. What does a man want with brains in a woman,
anyway. Maria had them and they didn't keep her from coming to
Christopher reached for the lantern.
"Well, I've got to go now," he broke in, "and you'd better be
trotting home or you'll have the old man and the hounds out after
With the lantern swinging from his hand, he went to the door and
waited for Will; then passing out, he turned the key in the lock,
and with a short "Good-night!" started briskly toward the house.
Will followed him to the kitchen steps, and then keeping to the
path that trailed across the yard, he passed through the
whitewashed gate and went on along the sunken road which led by
the abandoned ice-pond. Here he turned into the avenue of
chestnuts, and with the lighted windows of the Hall before him,
walked slowly toward the impending interview with his
As he entered the house, Miss Saidie looked out from the
dining-room doorway and beckoned in a stealthy fashion with the
"He has been hunting everywhere for you," she whispered, "and I
told him you'd gone for a little stroll along the road."
An expression of anger swept over Will's face, and he made a
helpless gesture of revolt.
"I won't stand it any longer," he answered, with a spurt of
resolution which was exhausted in the feeble speech.
Miss Saidie put up her hand and straightened his necktie with an
"Only for a little while, dear," she urged; "he's in one of his
black humours, and it will blow over, never fear. Things are
never so bad but there's hope of a mending some day. Try to
please him and go to work as he wants you to do. It all came of
the trouble at the university--he had set his heart on your
carrying off the honours."
"It was his fault," said Will stubbornly. "I begged him not to
send me there. It was his fault."
"Well, that can't be helped now," returned the little woman
decisively. "All we can do is to make things as easy as we can,
and if thar's ever to be any peace in this house again you must
try to humour him. I never saw him in such a state before, and
I've known him for sixty years and slept in a trundle-bed with
him as a baby. The queerest thing about it, too, is that he seems
to get closer and closer every day. Just now thar was a big fuss
because I hadn't sent all the fresh butter to market, and I
thought he'd have a fit when he found I was saving some asparagus
for dinner to-morrow."
"Where is he now?" asked Will in a whisper.
"Complaining over some bills in his setting-room; and he actually
told me a while ago, when I went in, that he had been a fool to
give Maria so much money for Wyndham to throw away. Poor Maria!
I'm sure she has had a hard enough time without being abused for
something she couldn't help. But it really is a passion with him,
thar's no use denying it. He spends his whole time adding up the
cost of what we eat."
Then, as the supper-bell rang in the hall, she finished
hurriedly, and assuming a cheerful manner, took her place behind
the silver service.
Fletcher entered with a heavy step, his eyes lowering beneath his
bushy eyebrows. The weight of his years appeared to have fallen
upon him in a night, and he was no longer the hale, ruddy man of
middle age, with his breezy speeches and his occasional touches
of coarse humour. The untidiness of his clothes was still
marked-his coat, his cravat, his fingér nails, all showed the old
lack of neatness.
"Won't you say grace, Brother Bill?" asked Miss Saidie, as he
paused abstractedly beside his chair.
Bending his head, he mumbled a few hurried words, and then cast a
suspicious glance over the long table.
"I told you to use the butter with onions in it," he said,
helping himself and tasting a little on the end of his knife.
"This brings forty cents a pound in market, and I'll not have the
"Oh, Brother Bill, the other is so bad," gasped Miss Saidie
"It's good enough for you and me, I reckon. We wan't brought up
on any better, and what's good enough for us is good enough for
my grandson." Then he turned squarely upon Will. "So you're back,
eh? Whar did you go?" he demanded
Will tried to meet his eyes, failed, and stared gloomily at the
white-and-red border of the tablecloth.
"I went out for a breath of air," he answered in a muffled voice.
"It's been stifling all day."
"You've got to get used to it, I reckon," returned the old man
with a brutal laugh. "I'll have no idlers and no fancy men about
An ugly smile distorted his coarse features, and, laying down his
knife and fork, he sat watching his grandson with his small,
CHAPTER VII. The Toss of a Coin
A fortnight passed before Will came to Christopher's again, and
then he stole over one evening in the shadow of the twilight.
Things were no better, he said; they were even worse than usual;
the work in the tobacco field was simply what he couldn't stand,
and his grandfather was growing more intolerable every day.
Besides this, the very dullness of the life was fast driving him
to distraction. He had smuggled a bottle of whisky from the town,
and last night, after a hot quarrel with the old man, he had
succeeded in drugging himself to sleep. "My nerves have gone all
to pieces," he finished irritably, "and it's nothing on earth but
this everlasting bickering that has done it. It's more than flesh
and blood can be expected to put up with."
His hand shook a little when he lighted a cigarette, and his
face, which was burned red from wind and sun, contracted
nervously as he talked. It was the wildness in his speech,
however, the suppressed excitement which ran in an undercurrent
beneath his words, that caused the other to turn sharply and
regard him for a moment with gathered brows.
"Well, take my advice and don't try that dodge too often,"
remarked Christopher in a careless tone.
"What in the deuce does it matter?" returned Will desperately.
"It was the only quiet night I've had for three weeks: I slept
like a log straight through until the breakfast-bell. Then I was
late, of course, and he threatened to take an hour's time from my
day's wages. By the way, he pays me now, you know, just as he
does the other labourers."
For a time he kept up his rambling complaint, but, breaking off
abruptly at last, made some trivial excuse, and started homeward
across the fields. Christopher, looking after him, was hardly
surprised when he saw him branch off into the shaded lane that
led to Sol Peterkin's.
There followed a month when the two met only at long intervals,
and then with a curious constraint of manner. Sometimes
Christopher, stopping on his way to the pasture, would exchange a
few words over the rail fence with Will, who lounged on the edge
of his grandfather's tobacco crop; but the old intimacy had
ceased suddenly to exist, and it was evident that a newer
interest had distracted the boy's ardent fancy.
It was not until August that the meaning of the change was made
clear to Christopher, when, coming one day to a short turn in a
little woodland road upon his land, he saw Will and Molly
Peterkin sitting side by side on a fallen log. The girl had been
crying, and at the sight of Christopher she gave a frightened sob
and pulled her blue gingham sunbonnet down over her forehead; but
Will, inspired at the instant by some ideal of chivalry, drew her
hand through his arm and came out boldly into the road.
"You know Molly," he said in a brave voice that was not without
pathos, "but you don't know that she has promised to be my wife."
Whatever the purpose of the girl's tears, she had need of them no
longer, for with an embarrassed little laugh she flushed and
dimpled into her pretty smile.
"Your wife?" repeated Christopher blankly. "Why, you're no better
than two children and deserve to be whipped. If I were in your
place, I'd start to catching butterflies, and quit fooling."
He passed on laughing merrily; but before the day was over he
began to wonder seriously if Will could be really sincere in his
intention to marry Molly Peterkin--poor, pretty Molly, whose fame
was blown to the four corners of the county.
By night the question had come to perplex him in earnest, and it
was almost with relief that he heard a familiar rattle on his
window-pane as he undressed, and, looking out, saw Will standing
in the long grass by the porch.
"Well, it's time you turned up," he said, when he had slipped
cautiously down the staircase and joined him in the yard.
"Get your lantern," returned Will, "and come on to the barn.
There's something I must see you about at once," and while the
other went in search of the light, he stood impatiently uprooting
a tuft of grass as he whistled a college song in unsteady tones.
At the end of a minute Christopher reappeared, bearing the
lantern, which he declared was quite unnecessary because of the
"Oh, but I must talk indoors," responded Will; "the night makes
me creepy--it always did."
"So there is something to say, and it's no nonsense? Are the
skies about to fall, or has your grandfather got a grip on his
"Pshaw! It's not that. Wait till we get inside." And when they
had entered the barn, he turned and carefully closed the door,
after flashing the light over the trampled straw in the dusky
corners. In the shed outside a new-born calf bleated plaintively,
and at the sound he started and broke into an apologetic laugh.
"You thought I was joking to-day," he said suddenly.
"So I presumed," he answered, wondering if drink or love or both
together had produced so extreme an agitation.
"Well, I wasn't," declared Will, and, placing the lantern on the
floor, he raised his head to meet the other's look. "I was as
dead in earnest as I am this minute--and if it's the last word I
ever speak, I mean to marry Molly Peterkin."
His excitable nerves were plainly on the rack of some strong
emotion, and as he met the blank amazement in Christopher's face
he turned away with a gesture of angry reproach.
"Then you're a fool," said Christopher, with a shrug of his
Will quivered as if the words struck him like a whip.
"Because she's Sol Peterkin's daughter?" he burst out.
"It's not her father, but her character, that I was thinking of,"
he answered, and the next instant fell back in sheer surprise,
for Will, flinging himself recklessly upon him, struck him
squarely in the mouth.
As they fell breathlessly apart Christopher was conscious that
for the first time in his life he felt something like respect for
Will Fletcher--or at least for that expression of courageous
passion which in the vivid moments of men's lives appears to
raise the strong and the weak alike above the ordinary level of
their surroundings. For a second he stood swallowing down the
anger which the blow aroused in him--an anger as purely physical
as the mounting of the hot blood to his cheek--then he looked
straight into the other's face and spoke in a pleasant voice.
"I beg your pardon; it was all my fault," he said.
"I knew you'd see it," answered Will, appeased at once by the
confession, "and I counted on you to help us; that's why I came."
"To help you?" repeated Christopher, a little startled.
"Well, we've got to be married, you know--there's simply nothing
else to do. All this confounded talk about Molly has come near
killing her, and the poor child is afraid to look anybody in the
face. She's so innocent, you know, that half the time she doesn't
understand what their lies are all about."
"Good God!" said Christopher beneath his breath.
"And besides, what use is there in waiting?" urged Will. "Grandpa
won't be any better fifty years from now than he is to-day, and
by that time we'd be old and gray-haired. This life is more than
I can stand, anyway, and it makes mighty little difference
whether it ends one way or another. Just so I have Molly I don't
care much what happens. "
"But you can't marry--it's simply out of the question. Why,
you're not yet twenty."
"Oh, we can't marry here, of course, but we're going on to
Washington to-morrow--all our plans are made, and that's why I
came to see you. I want to borrow your horses to take us to the
crossroads at midnight. "
Seizing him by the shoulder, Christopher shook him roughly in a
"Wake up," he said impatiently; "you are either drunk or asleep,
and you're going headlong to the devil. If you do this thing
you'll be ashamed of it in two weeks." Then he released him,
laughing as he watched him totter and regain his balance. "But if
you're bent on being an ass, then, for heaven's sake, go and be
one," he added irritably.
A shiver passed through Will, and he stuttered an instant before
he could form his words.
"She told me you'd say that," he replied. "She told me you'd
always hated her."
"Hate her? Nonsense! She isn't worth it. I'd as soon hate a white
kitten. As far as that goes, I've nothing against the girl, and I
don't doubt she'd be a much better wife than most men deserve.
I'm not prating about virtue, mind you; I'm only urging common
sense. You're too young and too big a fool to marry anybody."
"Well, you disapprove of her, at any rate--you're against her,
and that's why I haven't talked about her before. She's the most
beautiful creature alive, I tell you, and I wouldn't give her up
if to keep her meant I'd be a beggar."
"It will mean that, most likely."
Turning away, Will drew a small flask from his pocket and,
unscrewing the stopper, raised the bottle to his lips. "I'd go
mad but for this," he said; "that's why I've carried it about
with me for the last week. It's the only thing that drives away
this horrible depression."
As he drank, Christopher regarded him curiously, noting that the
whisky lent animation to his face and an unnatural luster to his
eyes. The sunburn on his forehead appeared to deepen all at once,
and there was a bright red flush across his cheeks.
"You won't take my advice," said Christopher at last, "but I
can't help telling you that unless you're raving mad you'd better
drop the whole affair as soon as possible."
"Not now--not now, " protested Will gaily, consumed by an
artificial energy. "Don't preach to me while the taste of a drink
is still in my mouth, for there's no heart so strong as the one
whisky puts into a man. When I feel my courage oozing from my
fingers I can reinforce it in less time than it takes to sneak
Growing boisterous, he assumed a ridiculous swagger, and broke
into a fragment of a college song. Until morning he would not
probably become himself again, and, knowing this, Christopher
desisted helplessly from his efforts at persuasion.
"You will lend me the horses?" asked Will, keeping closely to his
"Are you steady enough?"
"Of course--of course, " he stretched out his hands and moved a
pace or two away; "and besides, Dolly drives like old Nick."
"Well, I'll see," said Christopher, and going to the window, he
flung back the rude shutter and looked out into the August night.
The warm air touched his face like a fragrant breath, and from
the darkness a big white moth flew over his shoulder to where the
lantern burned dimly on the floor.
"I may take them?" urged Will again, pulling him by the sleeve.
At the words Christopher turned and walked slowly back across the
"Yes, I'll lend them to you," he answered, without meeting the
"You're a jolly good chap; I always knew it, " cried Will
heartily. "I'll take them out at midnight, when there's a good
moon, and get Jerry Green to drive them back to-morrow. Hurrah!
It's the best night's work you ever did!"
He went out hurriedly, still singing his college song, and
Christopher, without moving from his place, stood watching the
big white moth that circled dizzily about the lantern. At the
instant he regretted that Will had appealed to him--regretted
even that he had promised him the horses. He wished it had all
come about without his knowledge--that Fletcher's punishment and
Will's ruin had been wrought less directly by his own
intervention. Next he told himself that he would have stopped
this thing had it been possible, and then with the thought he
became clearly aware that it was still in his power to prevent
the marriage. He had but to walk across the fields to Fletcher's
door, and before sunrise the foolish pair would be safely home
again. Will would probably be sent off to recover, and Molly
would go back to making butter and to flirting with Fred Turner.
On the other hand, let the marriage but take place--let him keep
silent until the morning--and the revenge of which he had dreamed
since childhood would be accomplished at a single stroke. Bill
Fletcher's many sins would find him out in a night.
The big moth, fluttering aimlessly from the lantern, flew
suddenly in his face, and the touch startled him from his
abstraction. With a laugh he shook the responsibility from his
shoulders, and then, as he hesitated again for a breath, the
racial instinct arose, as usual, to decide the issue.
Taking a dime from his pocket, he tossed it lightly in the air
and waited for it to fall.
"Heads for me, tails for Fletcher."
The coin spun for an instant in the gloom above him and then
dropped noiselessly to the floor. When he lifted the lantern and
bent over it he saw that the head lay uppermost.
CHAPTER VIII. In Which Christopher Triumphs
When he entered the house a little later Cynthia met him in the
kitchen doorway with an anxious frown.
"I heard a noise, Christopher. What was it?"
"A man wanted me about something. How is mother resting?"
"Not well. Her dreams trouble her. She grows weaker every day,
and the few hours she insists upon spending in her chair tire her
"There is nothing that she needs, you say?"
"No; nothing. She has never felt our poverty for an instant."
The furrow between his eyebrows grew deeper.
"And you?" he asked abruptly, regarding her fixedly with his
intent gaze. "What under heaven are you up to at this hour?"
Glancing down at the ironing-board before her, she flushed
painfully through the drawn grayness of her face.
"I had a little ironing to do," she answered, "and I wanted it
all finished to-night. Mother needs me in the day."
Pushing her aside, he seized the iron and ran it in a few hasty
strokes over the rough-dry garment which she had spread on the
board. "Go to bed and leave these things alone," he insisted.
"Oh, Christopher, you'll spoil it!" cried Cynthia, clutching his
He returned the iron to the stand and met her reproachful look
with a gesture of annoyance. "Well, I'm going to sleep, if you
aren't," he said, and treading as lightly as possible in his
heavy boots, went along the little platform and upstairs to his
Once inside, he undressed hastily and flung himself upon the bed,
but his thoughts spun like a top, and wild visions of Will, of
Fletcher, and of Molly Peterkin whirled confusedly through his
brain. When at last he lost consciousness for a time, it was to
dream restlessly of the cry of a hare that the hounds had caught
and mangled. The scream of the creature came to him from a thick
wood, which was intersected by innumerable small green paths, and
when he tried vainly to go to the rescue he lost himself again
and again in the wilderness of trails. Back and forth he turned
in the twilight, crushing down the underbrush and striking in a
frenzy at the forked boughs the trees wrapped about him, while
suddenly the piteous voice became that of a woman in distress.
Then, with a great effort, he fought his way through the wood, to
see the mangled hare change slowly into Maria Fletcher, who
opened her eyes to ask him why he hunted her to death.
He awoke in a cold sweat, and, sitting up in bed, leaned for air
toward the open window. A dull ache gnawed at his heart, and his
lips were parched as if from fever. Again it seemed to him that
Maria entreated him across the distance.
When he came down at sunrise he found Jerry Green awaiting him
with the horses, and learned in answer to his questions that the
lovers had taken a light wagon at the cross-roads and driven on
"They were that bent on gittin' thar that they couldn't even wait
for the stage, " the man told him. "Well, they're a merry pair,
an' I hope good will come of it--seein' as 'tain't no harm to
"Oh, they think so now, at any rate," Christopher replied, as he
turned away to unharness the patient horses.
At breakfast, an hour or two later, he learned that his mother
was in one of her high humours, and that, awaking early and
prattling merrily of the past, she insisted that they should
dress her immediately in her black brocade. When the meal was
over he carried her from her bed to the old oak chair, in which
she managed to keep upright among her pillows. Her gallant spirit
was still youthful and undaunted, and the many infirmities of her
body were powerless to distort the cheerful memories behind her
Leaving her presently, after a careless chat about the foibles of
Bolivar Blake, he took his hoe from an outhouse and went to
"grub" the young weeds from the tobacco, which had now reached
its luxuriant August height. By noon his day's work on the crop
was over, and he was resting for a moment in the shadow of a
locust tree by the fence, when he heard rapid footsteps
approaching in the new road, and Bill Fletcher threw himself over
the crumbling rails and came panting into the strip of shade. At
sight of the man's face Christopher flung his hoe out into the
field, where it bore down a giant plant, and bracing his body
against the tree, prepared himself to withstand the shock of the
first blow; but the other, after glaring at him for a breathless
instant, fell back and rapped out a single thundering oath. "You
hell-hound! This is all your doing!"
Throwing off the words with a gesture of his arm, Christopher
stared coolly into the other's distorted face; then, yielding to
the moment's vindictive impulse, he broke into a sneering laugh.
"So you have heard the good news?" he inquired lightly.
Before the rage in the old man's eyes--before the convulsed
features and the quivering limbs--he felt a savage joy suddenly
take possession of him.
"It's all your doing, every last bit of it," repeated Fletcher
hoarsely, "and I'll live to pay you back if I hang for it in the
"Go ahead, then," retorted Christopher; "you might as well hang
for a sheep as for a lamb, you know."
"Oh, you think I'm fooling?" said the other, wiping a fleck of
foam from his mouth, "but you'll find out better some day, unless
the devil gets you mighty quick. You've made that boy a scamp and
a drunkard, and now you've gone and married him to a--" He
swallowed the words and stood gasping above his loosened collar.
Christopher paled slightly beneath his sunburn; then, as he
recovered his assurance, a brutal smile was sketched about his
"Come, come, go easy," he protested flippantly; "there's such a
thing, you remember, as the pot calling the kettle black."
His gay voice fell strangely on the other's husky tones, and for
the moment, in spite of his earth-stained hands and his clothes
of coarse blue jean, he might have been a man of the world
condescending to a peasant. It was at such times, when a raw
emotion found expression in the primitive lives about him, that
he realised most vividly the gulf between him and his neighbours.
To his superficial unconcern they presented the sincerity of
"You've made the boy what he is," repeated the old man, in a
quiver from head to foot. "You've done your level best to send
him to the devil."
"Well, he had a pretty good start, it seems, before I ever laid
eyes on him."
"You set out to ruin him from the first, and I watched you," went
on Fletcher, choking over each separate word before he uttered
it; "my eye was on your game, and if you were anything but the
biggest villain on earth I could have stopped it. But for you
he'd be a decent chap this very minute."
"And the pattern of his grandfather," sneered Christopher.
Fletcher raised his arm for a blow and then let it fall limply to
his side. "Oh, I'm done with you now, and I'm done with your
gang," he said. "Play your devil's tricks as much as you please;
they won't touch me. If that boy sets foot on my land again I'll
horsewhip him as I would a hound. Let him see who'll feed him now
when he comes to starve."
Catching his breath, Christopher stared at him an instant in
silence; then he spoke in a voice which had grown serious.
"The more fool you, then," he said. "The chap's your grandson,
and he's a better one than you deserve. Whatever he is, I tell
you now, he's a long sight too good for such as you--and so is
Molly Peterkin, for that matter. Heavens above! What are you that
you should become a stickler for honesty in others? Do you think
I've forgotten that you drove my father to his grave, and that
the very land you live on you stole from me? Pshaw! It takes more
than twenty years to bury a thing like that, you fool!"
Fletcher looked helplessly round for a weapon, and catching sight
of the hoe, raised it in his hands; but Christopher, seizing it
roughly from him, tossed it behind him in the little path.
"I'll have none of that," added the young man grimly.
"You're a liar, as your father was before you," burst out
Fletcher, swallowing hard; "and as for that scamp you've gone and
sent to hell, you can let him starve or not, jest as you please.
He has made his choice between us, and he can stick to it till he
rots in the poorhouse. Much good you'll do him in the end, I
"Well, just now it seems he hasn't chosen either of us," remarked
Christopher, cooling rapidly as the other's anger grew red hot.
"It rather looks as if he'd chosen Molly Peterkin."
"Damn you!" gasped Fletcher, putting up a nerveless hand to tear
his collar apart, while a purple flush rose slowly from his
throat to his forehead. "If you name that huzzy to me again I'll
thrash you within an inch of your life!"
"Let's try it," suggested Christopher in an irritating drawl.
"Oh, I'm used to bullies like you," pursued the old man. "I know
the kind of brute that thinks he can knock his way into heaven.
Your father was jest sech another, and if you come to die a crazy
drunkard like him it'll be about the end that you deserve!"
An impatient frown drew Christopher's brows together, and,
picking up the hoe, he walked leisurely out into the field.
"Well, I can't stop to hear your opinion of me," he observed.
"You'll have to keep it until another time," and breaking into a
careless whistle, he strode off between the tobacco furrows on
his way to bring the old mare from the pasture.
A little later, alone with the broad white noon and the stillness
of the meadow, his gay whistle ended abruptly on his lips and the
old sullen frown contracted his heavy brows. It was in vain that
he tried to laugh away the depression of the moment; the white
glare of the fields and the perfume of wild flowers blooming in
hot sunshine produced in him a sensation closely akin to physical
nausea--a disgust of himself and of the life and the humanity
that he had known. What was it all worth, after all? And what of
satisfaction was there to be found in the thing he sought?
Fletcher's face rose suddenly before him, and when he tried to
banish the memory the effort that he made brought but the more
distinctly to his eyes the coarse, bloated features with the
swollen veins across the nose. Trivial recollections returned to
annoy him--the way the man sucked in his breath when he was
angry, and the ceaseless twitching of the small muscles above his
bloodshot eyes. "Pshaw! What business is it of mine?" he
questioned angrily. "What am I to the man, that I cannot escape
the disgust that he arouses? Is it possible that I should be
haunted forever by a face I hate? There are times when I could
kill him simply because of the repulsion that I feel. As for the
boy--let him marry a dozen Molly Peterkins--who cares? Not I,
surely. When he turns upon his grandfather and they fall to
gnawing at each other's bones, the better I shall be pleased." He
shook his head impatiently, but the oppression which in some
vague way he associated with the white heat and the scent of wild
flowers still weighed heavily upon his thoughts. "Is it possible
that after all that has happened I am not yet satisfied?" he
asked, with annoyance.
For awhile he lingered by the little brook in the pasture, and
then slipping the bridle on the old mare, returned slowly to the
house. At the bars he met Sol Peterkin, who had hurried over in
evident consternation to deliver his news.
"Good Lord, Mr. Christopher! What do you think that gal of mine
has gone and done now?"
Christopher slid the topmost bar from its place and lifted his
"Don't tell me that she's divorced already," he returned. "Why,
the last I heard of her she had run off this morning to marry
"That's it, suh; that's it," said Sol. "I'm meanin' the marriage.
Well, well, it does seem that you can't settle down an' begin to
say yo' grace over one trouble befo' a whole batch lights upon
you. To think, arter the way I've sweated an' delved to be
honest, that a gal of mine should tie me hand an' foot to Bill
In spite of his moodiness, the humour of the situation struck
home to Christopher, and throwing back his head he burst into a
"Oh, you needn't poke yo' fun, suh," continued Sol. "Money is a
mighty good thing, but you can't put it in the blood, like you
kin meanness. All Bill Fletcher's riches ain't soaked in him
blood an' bone, but his meanness is, an' that thar meanness goes
a long sight further than his money. Thar ain't much sto' set by
honesty in this here world, suh, an' you kin buy a bigger chaw of
tobaccy with five cents than you kin with all the virtue of Moses
on his Mount; but all the same it's a mighty good thing to rest
yo' head on when you go to bed, an' I ain't sure but it makes
easier lyin' than a linen pillow-slip an' a white goose tick--"
"Oh, I dare say," interrupted Christopher; "but now that it's
over we must make the best of it. She didn't marry Bill Fletcher,
after all, you know--"
He checked himself with a start, and the bridle slipped from his
arm to the ground, for his name was called suddenly in a high
voice from the house, and as he swung himself over the bars Lila
came running barehead across the yard.
"Christopher!" she cried; "we could not find you, and Bill
Fletcher has talked to mother like a madman. Come quickly! She
Before she had finished, he had dashed past her and through the
house into the little parlour, where the old lady sat erect and
unconscious in her Elizabethan chair.
"I found her like this," said Lila, weeping. "We heard loud
voices and then a scream, and when we rushed in the man left, and
she sat looking straight ahead like this--like this."
Throwing himself upon his knees beside the chair, Christopher
caught his mother to his breast and turned angrily upon the
"Has nothing been done? Where is the doctor?" he cried.
"Jim has gone for him. Here, let me take her," said Cynthia,
unclasping his arms. "There, stand back. She is not dead. In a
little while she will come to herself again."
Rising from the floor, he stood motionless in the center of the
room, where the atmosphere was heavy with the fragrance of
camphor and tea-roses. A broad strip of sunshine was at his feet,
and in the twisted aspen beside the window a catbird was singing.
These remained with him for years afterward, and with them the
memory of the blind woman sitting stiffy erect and staring
vacantly into his face.
"He has told her everything," said Cynthia--"after twenty years."
BOOK IV. The Awakening
CHAPTER I. The Unforeseen
The road was steep, and Christopher, descending from the big,
lumbering cart, left the oxen to crawl slowly up the incline. It
was a windy afternoon in March, and he was returning from a trip
to Farrar's mill, which was reached by a lane that branched off a
half-mile or so from the cross-roads. A blue sky shone brightly
through the leafless boughs above him, and along the little
wayside path tufts of dandelion were blooming in the red dust.
The wind, which blew straight toward him from the opening beyond
the strip of wood in which he walked, brought the fresh scent of
the upturned fields and of the swelling buds putting out with the
warm sunshine. In his own veins he felt also that the blood had
stirred, and that strange, quickening impulse, which comes with
the rising sap alike to a man and to a tree, worked restlessly in
his limbs at the touch of spring. Nature was alive again, and he
felt vaguely that in the resurrection surrounding him he must
have his part--that in him as well as in the earth the spirit of
life must move and put forth in gladness. A flock of swallows
passed suddenly like a streak of smoke on the blue sky overhead,
and as his eyes followed them the old roving instinct pulled at
his heart. To be up and away, to drink life to its dregs and come
home for rest, were among the impulses which awoke with the
return of spring.
The oxen moved behind him at a leisurely pace, and outstripping
them in a little while, he had turned at a sudden opening in the
trees into the main road, when, to his surprise, he saw a woman
in black, followed by a small yellow dog, walking in front of him
along the grassy path. As he caught sight of her a strong gust of
wind swept down the road, wrapping her skirt closely about her
and whirling a last year's leaf into her face. For a moment she
paused and, throwing back her head, drank the air like water;
then, holding firmly to her hat, she started on again at her
rapid pace. In the ease with which she moved against the wind, in
the self-possession of her carriage, and most of all in the grace
with which she lifted her long black skirt, made, he could see,
after the fashion of the outside world, he realised at once that
she was a stranger to the neighbourhood. No woman whom he had
known--not even Lila--had this same light yet energetic walk--a
walk in which every line in her body moved in accord with the
buoyant impulse that controlled her step. As he watched her he
recalled instantly the flight of a swallow in the air, for her
passage over the ground was as direct and beautiful as a bird's.
When he neared her she turned suddenly, and, as she flung back
her short veil, he saw to his amazement that he faced Maria
"So you have forgotten me?" she said, with a smile. "Or have I
changed so greatly that my old friends do not know me?"
She held out her hand, and while a tremor ran through him, he
kept her bared palm for an instant in his own.
"You dropped from the sky," he answered, steadying his voice with
an effort. "You have taken my breath away and I cannot speak."
Then letting her hand fall, he stood looking at her in a wonder
that shone in his face, for to the Maria whom he had known the
woman before him now bore only the resemblance that the finished
portrait bears to the charcoal sketch; and the years which had so
changed and softened her had given her girlish figure a nobility
that belonged to the maturity she had not reached. It was not
that she had grown beautiful--when he sought for physical changes
he found only that her cheek was rounder, her bosom fuller; but
if she still lacked the ruddy attraction of mere flesh-and-blood
loveliness, she had gained the deeper fascination which is the
outward accompaniment of a fervent spirit. Her eyes, her voice,
her gestures were all attuned to the inner harmony which he
recognised also in the smile with which she met his words; and
the charm that she irradiated was that rarest of all physical
gifts, the power of the flesh to express the soul that it
The wind or the meeting with himself had brought a faint flush to
her cheek, but without lowering her eyes she stood regarding him
with her warm, grave smile. The pale oval of her face, framed in
the loosened waves of her black hair, had for him all the
remoteness that surrounded her memory; and yet, though he knew it
not, the appeal she made to him now, and had made long ago, was
that he recognised in her, however dumbly, a creature born, like
himself, with the power to experience the fulness of joy or
"So I have taken your breath away," she said; "and you have
"Agag?" he turned with a question and followed her glance in the
direction of the dog. "It is the brute you saved?"
"Only he is not a brute--I have seen many men who were more of
one. Look! He recognises you. He has followed me everywhere, but
he doesn't like Europe, and if you could have seen his joy when
we got out at the cross-roads and he smelt the familiar country!
It was almost as great as mine."
"As yours? Then you no longer hate it?"
"I have learned to love it in the last six years," she answered,
"as I have learned to love many things that I once hated. Oh,
this wind is good when it blows over the ploughed fields, and yet
between city streets it would bring only dust and discomfort."
She threw back her head, looking up into the sky, where a bird
"Will you get into the cart now?" he asked after a moment,
vaguely troubled by the silence and by the gentleness of her
upward look, "or do you wish to walk to the top of the hill?"
She turned and moved quickly on again.
"It is such a little way, let us walk," she replied, and then
with a laugh she offered an explanation of her presence. "I wrote
twice, but I had no answer," she said; "then I decided to come,
and telegraphed, but they handed me my telegram and my last
letter at the cross-roads. Can something have happened, do you
think? or is it merely carelessness that keeps them from sending
for the mail?"
"I hardly know; but they are all alive, at least. You have come
"From abroad. I lived there for six years, first in one place,
then in another--chiefly in Italy. My husband died eighteen
months ago, but I stayed on with his people. It seemed then that
they needed me most, but one can never tell, and I may have made
a mistake in not coming home sooner."
"I think you did," he said quietly, running the end of his long
whip through his fingers.
She flashed a disturbed glance at him.
"Is it possible that you are keeping something from me? Is any
"Not that I have heard of, but I never see any of them, you know,
except your brother."
"And he is married. They told me so at the cross-roads. I can't
understand why they did not let me know."
"It was very sudden--they went to Washington."
"How queer! Who is the girl, I wonder?"
"Her name was Molly Peterkin--old Sol's daughter; you may
She shook her head. "No; I've lived here so little, you see. What
is she like?"
"A beauty, with blue eyes and yellow hair."
"Indeed? And are they happy?" He laughed. "They are in love--or
were, six months ago."
"You are cynical. But do they live at the Hall?"
"Not yet. Your grandfather has not spoken to Will since the
marriage, and that was last August."
"Where, under heaven, do they live, then?"
"On a little farm he has given them adjoining Sol's. I believe he
means that they shall raise tobacco for a living."
She made a gesture of distress. "Oh, I ought to have come home
"What difference would that have made: you could have done
nothing. A thunderbolt falling at his feet doesn't sober a man
when he is in love."
"I might have helped--one never knows. At least I should have
been at my post, for, after all, the ties of blood are the
strongest claims we have."
"Why should they be?" he questioned, with sudden bitterness. "You
are more like that swallow flying up there than you are like any
Fletcher that ever lived."
She smiled. "I thought so once," she answered, "but now I know
better. The likeness must be there, and I am going to find it."
"You will never find it," he insisted, "for there is nothing of
them in you--nothing."
"You don't like them, I remember."
"Nor do you."
A laugh broke from her and humour rippled in her eyes.
"So you still persist in the truth, and in the plain truth!" she
"Then it is so, you confess it?"
"No, no, no," she protested. "Why, I love them all--all, do you
hear, and I love Will more than the rest of them put together."
He looked away from her, and then, turning, waited for the oxen
to reach the summit of the hill.
"You'd better get in now, I think," he said; "there is a long
walk ahead of us, and if my team is slow it is sure also."
As he brought the oxen to a halt, she laid her hand for an
instant on his arm, and, mounting lightly upon the wheel, stepped
into the cart.
"Now give me Agag," she said, and he handed her the little dog
before he took up the ropes and settled himself beside her on the
driver's seat. "You look like one of the disinherited princesses
in the old stories mother tells," he observed.
A puzzled wonder was in her face as she turned toward him.
"Who are you? And what has Blake Hall to do with your family?"
"Only that it was named after us. We used to live there."
"Within your recollection?"
He nodded, with his eyes on the slow oxen.
"Then you have not always been a farmer?"
"Ever since I was ten years old."
"I can't understand, I can't understand," she said, perplexed.
"You are like no one about here; you are like no one I have ever
"Then I must be like you," he returned bluntly.
"Like me? Oh, heavens, no; you would make three of me--body,
brain, and soul. I believe, when I think of it, that you are the
biggest man I've ever known--and by that I don't mean in height--
for I have seen men with a greater number of physical inches.
Inches, somehow, have very little to do with the impression--and
so has muscle, strong as yours is. It is simple bigness that I am
talking about, and it was the first thing I noticed in you--"
"At the cross-roads?" he asked, and instantly regretted his
"No; not at the cross-roads," she answered, smiling. "You have a
good memory; but mine is better. I saw you once on a June
morning, when I was riding along the road with the chestnuts and
you were standing out in the field."
"I did not see you or I should have remembered," he said quietly.
Silence fell between them, and he was conscious in every fiber of
his body--that he had never been so close to her before--had
never felt the touch of her arm upon his own, nor the folds of
her skirt brushing against his knees. A gust of wind whipped the
end of her veil into his face, and when she turned to recapture
it he felt her warm breath on his cheek. The sense of her
nearness pervaded him from head to foot, and an unrest like that
produced by the spring wind troubled his heart. He did not look
at her, and yet he saw her full dark eyes and the curve of her
white throat more distinctly than he beheld the blue sky at which
he gazed. Was it possible that she, too, shared his disquietude?
he wondered, or was the silence that she kept as undisturbed as
her tranquil pose?
"I should not have forgotten it," he repeated presently, turning
to meet her glance.
She started and looked away from the landscape. "You have long
memories in this county, I know," she said. "So few things happen
that it becomes a religion to cherish the little incidents. It
may be that I, too, have inherited something of this, for I
remember very clearly the few months I spent here."
"You remembered them even while you were away?"
"Why not?" she asked. "It is not the moving about, the strange
places one sees, nor the people one meets, that really count in
life, you know."
"What is it?" he questioned abruptly.
She hesitated as if trying to put her thoughts more clearly into
"I think it is the things one learns," she said; "the places in
which we take root and grow, and the people who teach us what is
really worth while--patience, and charity, and the beauty there
is in the simplest and most common lives when they are lived
close to Nature."
"In driving the plough or in picking the suckers from a tobacco
plant," he added scornfully.
"In those things, yes; and in any life that is good, and true,
"Well, I have lived near enough to Nature to hate her with all my
might," he answered, not without bitterness. "Why, there are
times when I'd like to kick every ploughed field I see out into
eternity. Tobacco-growing is one of the natural things, I
suppose, but if you want to see any beauty in it you must watch
it from a shady road. When you get in the midst of it you'll find
it coarse and sticky, and given over generally to worms. I have
spent my whole life working on it, and to this day I never look
at a plant nor smell a pipe without a shiver of disgust. The
things I want are over there," he finished, pointing with his