Part 6 out of 6
"You-all asked me to let ye go through and find that nickel ore, and ye
brung it out in a pasteboard box; but this here is what it was in on the
day your Uncle Pros fetched hit here, and I thought maybe you'd take a
interest in having the handkercher that your fortune come down the
"Yes, indeed, Aunt Mavity," said Johnnie, taking the bandanna into her
"Pap, he's gone," the poor woman went on tremulously, "an' the evil what
he done--or wanted to do--is a thing that I reckon you can afford to
forget. You're a mighty happy woman, Johnnie Consadine; the Lord knows
you deserve to be."
She stood looking after the girl as she went out into the twilit street.
Johnnie was dressed as she chose now, not as she must, and her clothing
showed itself to be of the best. Anything that might be had in Wautaga
was within her means; and the tall, graceful figure passing so quietly
down the street would never have been taken for other than a member of
what we are learning to call the "leisure class." When the shadows at
the end of the block swallowed her up, Mavity turned, wiping her eyes,
and addressed herself to her tasks.
"I reckon Lou would 'a' been just like that if she'd 'a' lived," she
said to Mandy Meacham, with the tender fatuity of mothers. "Johnnie
seems like a daughter to me--an' I know in my soul no daughter could be
kinder. Look at her makin' me keep every cent Pap had in the bank, when
Laurelly could have claimed it all and kep' it."
"Yes, an' addin' somethin' to it," put in Mandy. "I do love 'em
both--Johnnie an' Deanie. Ef I ever was so fortunate as to get a man and
be wedded and have chaps o' my own, I know mighty well and good I
couldn't love any one of 'em any better than I do Deanie. An' yet
Johnnie's quare. I always will say that Johnnie Consadine is quare. What
in the nation does she want to go chasin' off to Yurrup for, when she's
got everything that heart could desire or mind think of right here in
That same question was being put even more searchingly to Johnnie by
somebody else at the instant when Mandy enunciated it. She had found
Gray waiting for her at the gate of her home.
"Let's walk here a little while before we go in," he suggested. "I went
up to the house and found you were out. The air is delightful, and I've
got something I want to say to you."
He had put his arm under hers, and they strolled together down the long
walk that led to the front of the lawn. The evening air was pure and
keen, tingling with the breath of the wakening season.
"Sweetheart," Gray broke out suddenly, "I've been thinking day and night
since we last talked together about this year abroad that you're
planning. I certainly don't want to put my preferences before yours. I
only want to be very sure that I know what your real preferences are,"
and he turned and searched her face with a pair of ardent eyes.
"I think I ought to go," the girl said in a very low voice, her head
drooped, her own eyes bent toward the path at her feet.
"Why?" whispered her lover.
"I--oh, Gray--you know. If we should ever be married--well, then," in
answer to a swift, impatient exclamation, "when we are married, if you
should show that you were ashamed of me--I think it would kill me. No,
don't say there's not any danger. You might have plenty of reason. And
I--I want to be safe, Gray--safe, if I can."
Gray regarded the beautiful, anxious face long and thoughtfully. Yes, of
course it was possible for her to feel that way. Assurance was so deep
and perfect in his own heart, that he had not reflected what it might
lack in hers.
"Dear girl," he said, pausing and making her look at him, "how little
you do know of me, after all! Do I care so much for what people say?
Aren't you always having to reprove me because I so persistently like
what I like, without reference to the opinions of the world? Besides,
you're a beauty," with tender brusqueness, "and a charmer that steals
the hearts of men. If you don't know all this, it isn't from lack of
telling. Moreover, I can keep on informing you. A year of European
travel could not make you any more beautiful, Johnnie--or sweeter. You
may not believe me, but there's little the 'European capitals' could add
to your native bearing--you must have learned that simple dignity from
these mountains of yours. Of course, if you wanted to go for pleasure--"
His head a little on one side, he regarded her with a tender,
half-quizzical smile, hoping he had sounded the note that would bring
him swift surrender.
"It isn't altogether for myself--there are the others," Johnnie told
him, lifting honest eyes to his in the dim moonlight. "They're all I had
in the world, Gray, till you came into my life, and I must keep my own.
I belong to a people who never give up anything they love."
Stoddard dropped an arm about his beloved, and turned her that she might
face the windows of the house behind them, bending to set his cheek
against hers and direct her gaze.
"Look there," he whispered, laughingly.
She looked and saw her mother, clad in such wear as Laurella's taste
could select and Laurella's beauty make effective. The slight, dark
little woman was coming in from the dining room with her children all
about her, a noble group.
"Your mother is much more the fine lady than you'll ever be, Johnnie
Stoddard," Gray said, giving her the name that always brought the blood
to the girl's cheek and made her dumb before him. "You know your Uncle
Pros and I are warmly attached to each other.
"What is it you'd be waiting for, girl? Why, Johnnie, a man has just so
long to live on this earth, and the years in which he has loved are the
only years that count--would you be throwing one of these away? A
year--twelve months--three hundred and sixty-five days--cast to the
void. You reckless creature!"
He cupped his hands about her beautiful, fair face and lifted it,
"Johnnie--Johnnie--Johnnie Stoddard; the one woman out of all the world
for me," he murmured, his deep voice dropping to a wooing cadence. "I
couldn't love you better--I shall never love you less. Don't let us
foolishly throw away a year out of the days which will be vouchsafed us
together. Don't do it, darling--it's folly."
Hard-pressed, Johnnie made only a sort of inarticulate response.
"Come, love, sit a moment with me, here," pleaded Gray, indicating a
small bench hidden among the evergreens and shrubs at the end of the
path. "Sit down, and let's reason this thing out."
"Reasoning with you," began Johnnie, helplessly, "isn't--it isn't
"It is," he told her, in that deep, masterful tone which, like a true
woman, she both loved and dreaded. "It's the height of reasonableness.
Why, dear, the great primal reason of all things speaks through me. And
I won't let you throw away a year of our love. Johnnie, it isn't as
though we'd been neighbours, and grown up side by side. I came from the
ends of the earth to find you, darling--and I knew my own as soon as
I saw you."
He put out his arms and gathered her into a close embrace.
For a space they rested so, murmuring question and reply, checked or
answered by swift, sweet kisses.
"The first time I ever saw you, love...."
"Oh, in thoze dusty old shoes and a sunbonnet! Could you love me then,
"The same as at this moment, sweetheart. Shoes and sunbonnets--I'm
ashamed of you now, Johnnie, in earnest. What do such things matter?"
"And that morning on the mountain, when we got the moccasin flowers,"
the girl's voice took up the theme. "I--it was sweet to be with you--and
bitter, too. I could not dream then that you were for me. And
afterward--the long, black, dreadful time when you seemed so utterly
lost to me--"
At the mention of those months, Gray stopped her words with a kiss.
"Mine," he whispered with his lips against hers, "Out of all the