Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Purchase Price by Emerson Hough

Part 6 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"I will not say that!" he burst out. "I will not admit it, not
confess it. It is all right for me, because I'm a man. I can
stand it. But you--you ought to have ease, luxury, all your life.
Now look what you have done!"

There came a sudden knock at the door, and without much pause.
Hector entered, somewhat excited.

"Monsieur,--Madame!" he exclaimed. "One comes!"

"Who is it?" demanded Dunwody, frowning.

"_Mon pere_! He is come but now from Tallwoods, Monsieur."

"What is wrong out there? Tell him to come in."

"I go."

A moment later, Dunwody left the room, to meet old Eleazar, who
made such response as he could to the hurried queries. "Monsieur,"
said he, "I have ridden down from the hills. There is trouble. In
the neighborhood are some who are angry because their negroes have
disappear'. They accuse Monsieur Dunwodee of being the cause, and
say that he is traitor, a turncoat. This very night a band are
said to plan an attack upon the house of monsieur! I have met
above there Monsieur Clayton, Monsieur Bill Jones, Monsieur le
Docteur Jamieson, and others, who ride to the assistance of
Monsieur Dunwodee. It is this very night, and I--there being no
other to come--have come to advise. Believing that monsieur might
desire to carry with him certain friends, I have brought the large
carriage. It is here!"

"Thank God!" said Dunwody, "they don't vote with me, but they ride
with me still--they're my neighbors, my friends, even yet!

"Hector," he exclaimed suddenly,--"come here!" Then, as they both
listened, he went on: "Tell the people there can not be a meeting,
after all. I am going back to my house, to see what is on up
yonder. Hector, can you get a fresh horse? And are there any
friends who would go with you?"

The sturdy young cooper did not lack in courage, and his response
was instant. "Assuredly I have a horse, Monsieur," was his reply.
"Assuredly we have friends. Six, ten, seven, h'eight person shall
go with us within the hour! But I must tell--"

Jeanne was at his elbow, catching scent of something of this,
guessing at possible danger. She broke out now into loud
expostulations at this rashness of her spouse, parent of this
progeny of theirs, thus undertaking to expose himself to midnight
dangers. Hector, none the less, shook his head.

"It is necessary that one go armed," commented Eleazar calmly. He
patted with affection the long barreled piece which lay over his
own arm.

Much of this conversation, loud and excited as it was, could not
fail to reach the ears of Josephine, who presently had joined them,
and who now heard the story of the old man, so fully confirming all
Dunwody said.

"There is trouble! There is trouble!" she said, with her usual
prompt decision. "There is room for me in the coach. I am going

"You--what in the world do you mean? You'll do nothing of the
sort!" rejoined Dunwody. "It's going to be no place for women, up
there. It's a _fight_, this time!"

"Perhaps not for Jeanne or Hector's mother, or for many women; but
for me it is the very place where I belong! _I_ made that trouble
yonder. It was I, not you, who caused that disaffection among the
blacks. Your neighbors ought to blame me, not you--I will explain
it all to them in a moment, in an instant. Surely, they will
listen to me. Yes, I am going."

Dunwody looked at her in grave contemplation for an instant.

"In God's name, my dear girl, how can you find it in your heart to
see that place again? But do you find it? Will you go? If you
insist, we'll take care of you."

"Of course! Of course!" she replied, and even then was busy
hunting for her wraps. "Get ready! Let us start."

"Have cushions and blankets for the carriage, Eleazar," said
Dunwody quietly. "Better get a little lunch of some sort to take
along. Go down to the barn yonder and get fresh horses. I don't
think this team could stand it all the way back."



The travel-stained figures of Doctor Jamieson, Judge Clayton and
the Honorable William Jones met the Dunwody coach just as it was
leaving at the upper end of St. Genevieve's main street. They also
had found fresh horses, and in the belief of Dunwody it was quite
as well that they rode horseback, in common with the followers of
Hector, who presently came trooping after him. The interior of the
coach seemed to him more fittingly reserved for this lady and
himself. None the less, the Honorable William had abated none of
his native curiosity. It was his head which presently intruded at
the coach window.

"Ah, ha!" exclaimed he. "What? Again? This time there is no
concealment, Dunwody! Come, confess!"

"I will confess now as much as I ever had to confess," retorted
Dunwody angrily. "If you do not know yet of this lady, I will
introduce you once more. She is the Countess St. Auban, formerly
of Europe, and now of any place that suits her. It is no business
of yours or of mine why she was once there, or cares to go there
again; but she is going along with us out to Tallwoods."

Judge Clayton made salutation .more in keeping with good courtesy
than had his inquisitive friend. "I have been following the
fortunes of this lady somewhat attentively of late," he said, at
length. "At least, she has not been idle!"

"Precisely!" ventured Josephine, leaning out the window. "That is
why I am coming to-night. I understand there has been trouble down
here,--that it came out of the work of our Colonization Society--"

"Rather!" said Clayton grimly.

"I was back of that. But, believe me, as I told Mr. Dunwody, I was
not in the least responsible for the running off of negroes in this
neighborhood. I thought, if I should go out there and tell these
other gentlemen, that they would understand."

"That's mighty nice of you," ventured the Honorable William Jones.
"But if we don't git there before midnight, they'll be so full of
whisky and devilment that _I_ don't think they'll listen even to
you, Ma'am."

"It is pretty bad, I'm afraid," said Judge Clayton. "What with one
thing and another, this country of ours has been in a literal state
of anarchy for the last year or two. What the end is going to be,
I'm sure I don't see.

"And the immediate cause of all this sort of thing, my dear Madam,"
he continued, as he rode alongside, "why, it seems to be just that
girl Lily, that we had all the trouble about last year. By the
way, what's become of that girl? Too bad--she was more than half

[Illustration: By the way, what's become of that girl?]

"Yes, it is all about that girl Lily," said Josephine slowly,
restraining in her own soul the impulse to cry out the truth to
him, to tell him why this girl was almost white, why she had
features like his own. "That is the trouble, I am afraid,--that
girl Lily, and her problem! If we could understand all of that,
perhaps we could see the reason for this anarchy!"

The group broke apart, as the exigencies of the road traveled
required. Now and again some conversation passed between the
occupants of the carriage and the horsemen who loosely grouped
about it as they advanced. The great coach swayed its way on up
through the woods into the hills, over a road never too good and
now worse than usual. They had thirty miles or more to drive, most
of it after dark. Could they make that distance in time?

Dunwody, moody, silent, yet tense, keyed to the highest point, now
made little comment. Even when left alone, he ventured upon no
intimate theme with his companion in the coach; nor did she in turn
speak upon any subject which admitted argument. Once she
congratulated him upon his recovery from what had seemed so
dangerous a hurt.

"But that is nothing now," he said. "I got off better than I had
any right,--limp a little, maybe, but they say that even that is
mostly a matter of habit now. Jamieson says his fiddle string may
have slipped a little! And you?"

"Oh, perfectly well," she answered. "I even think I may be
happy--you know, I must start my French and English classes before

Silent now in part as to matters present, wholly silent as to
matters past, these two went on into the night, neither loosing the
tight rein on self. Swaying and jolting its way upward and outward
into the wilder country, the coach at last had so far plunged into
the night that they were almost within touch of the valley in which
lay the Dunwody lands. Eleazar, the trapper, rode on the box with
the negro driver who had been impressed into service. It was the
old trapper who at length called for a halt.

"Listen!" said he. "What is that?"

Dunwody heard him, and as the coach pulled up, thrust his head out
of the window. The sound was repeated.

"I hear it!" cried he. "Rifle firing! I'm afraid we're going to
be too late. Drive on, there, fast!"

Finally they reached the point in the road just below the shut-in,
where the hills fell back in the approach to the little circular
valley. Dunwody's gaze was bent eagerly out and ahead. "My God!"
he exclaimed, at length. "We are too late! Look!"

At the same moment there came excited cries from the horsemen who
followed. Easily visible now against the black background of the
night, there showed a flower of light, rising and falling,

"Drive!" cried Dunwody; and now the sting of the lash urged on the
weary team. They swung around the turn of the shut-in, and came at
full speed into the approach across the valley. Before them lay
the great Tallwoods mansion house. It stood before them a pillar
of fire, prophetic, it might be repeated, of a vast and cleansing
catastrophe soon to come to that state and this nation; a
catastrophe which alone could lay the specter in our nation's house.

They were in time to see the last of the disaster, but too late to
offer remedy. By the time the coach had pulled up at the head of
the gravel way, before the yet more rapid horsemen had flung
themselves from their saddles, the end easily was to be guessed.
The house had been fired in a half score places. At the rear, even
now, the long streaks of flame were reaching up to the cornice,
casting all the front portion of the house, and the lawn which lay
before it, into deep shadow. The shrubbery and trees thus outlined
showed black and grim.

The men of the Tallwoods party dashed here and there among the
covering of trees back of the house. There were shots, hastily
exchanged, glimpses of forms slinking away across the fields. But
the attacking party had done their work; and now, alarmed by the
sudden appearance of a resistance stronger than they had expected,
were making their escape. Once in a while there was heard a loud
derisive shout, now and again the crack of a spiteful rifle,
resounding in echoes against the hillsides.

Dunwody was among the first to disappear, in search of these
besiegers. For an instant Josephine was left alone, undecided,
alarmed, in front of the great doors. Eleazar, to save the
plunging team, had now wheeled the vehicle back, and was seeking a
place for it lower down the lawn. It was as she stood thus
hesitant that there approached her from some point in the bushes a
disheveled figure. Turning, she recognized none other than old
Sally, her former jailer and sometime friend.

"Sally," she cried; "Sally! What is it? Who has done this? Where
are they? What is it all about? Can't anything be done?"

But Sally, terrified beyond reason, could exclaim only one word:
"Whah is he? Whah's Mr. Dunwody? Quick!" An instant later, she
too was gone.

At the same moment, Dunwody, weapon in hand, dashed around the
corner of the house and up on the front gallery. Apparently he was
searching for some one whom he did not find. Here he was soon
discovered by the old negro woman, who began an excited harangue,
with wild gesticulations. To Josephine it seemed that Sally
pointed toward the interior of the house, as though she beckoned,
explained. She heard his deep-voiced cry.

By this time the names had taken firm hold upon the entire
structure. Smoke tinged with red lines poured through the great
double doors of the mansion house. Yet even as she met the act
with an exclamation of horror, Josephine saw Dunwody fling away his
weapons, run to the great doors and crash through them, apparently
bent upon reaching some point deep in the interior.

Others saw this, and joined in her cry of terror. The interior of
the hall, thus disclosed by the opening of the doors, seemed but a
mass of flames. An instant later, Dunwody staggered back, his arm
across his face. His hair was smoking, the mustaches half burned
from his lips. He gasped for breath, but, revived by air, drew his
coat across his mouth and once again dashed back. Josephine,
standing with hands clasped, her eyes filled with terror, expected
never to see him emerge alive.

He was scarcely more than alive when once more he came back,
blinded and staggering. This time arms reached out to him,
steadied him, dragged him from the gallery, through the enshrouding
smoke, to a place of safety.

He bore something shielded, concealed in his arms--something, which
now he carried tenderly and placed down away from the sight of
others, behind the shade of a protecting clump of shrubbery. His
breath, labored, sobbing, showed his distress. They caught him
again when he staggered back, dragged him to a point somewhat
removed, upon the lawn. All the time he struggled, as though once
more to dash back into the flames, or as though to find his
weapons. He was sobbing, half crazed, horribly burned, but
seemingly unmindful of his hurts.

The fire went on steadily with its work, the more rapidly now that
the opening of the front doors had admitted air to the interior.
The construction of the house, with a wide central hall, and
stairways leading up almost to the roof, made an admirable
arrangement for a conflagration. No living being, even though
armed with the best of fire fighting apparatus, could have survived
in that blazing interior. All they could do, since even a bucket
brigade was out of the question here, was to stand and watch for
the end. Some called for ladders, but by accident or design, no
ladders were found where they should have been. Men ran about like
ants. None knew anything of time's passing. No impression
remained on their minds save the fascinating picture of this tall
pillar of the fire.

Dunwody ceased to struggle with those who restrained him. He
walked apart, near to the little clump of shrubs. He dropped to
the ground, his face in his hands.

"What do you reckon that thah was he brung out in his arms, that
time?" demanded Mr. William Jones, after a time, of a neighbor who
met him a little apart. "Say, you reckon that was _folks_?
Anybody _in_ there? Anybody over--thah? Was that a bed--folded up
like--'bout like a crib, say? I'm skeered to go look, somehow."

"God knows!" was the reply. "This here house has had mighty
strange goings on of late times. There was always something
strange about it,--something strange about Dunwody too! There
ain't no doubt about that. But I'm skeered, too--him a-settin'

"But _who_ was she, or it, whatever it was? How come--in--in
there? How long has it been there? What kind of goings on do you
think there has been; in this here place, after all?" Mr. Jones
was not satisfied. They passed apart, muttering, exclaiming,

An hour later, Tallwoods mansion house was no more. The last of
cornice and pillar and corner post and beam had fallen into a
smoldering mass. In front of one long window a part of the heavy
brick foundation remained. Some bent and warped iron bars appeared
across a window.

Unable to do anything, these who had witnessed such scenes, scarce
found it possible to depart. They stood about, whispering, or
remaining silent, some regarding the smouldering ruin. Once in a
while a head was turned over shoulder toward a bowed form which sat
close under a sheltering tree upon the lawn.

"He is taking it mighty hard," said this or that neighbor. "Lost
nigh about everything he had in the world." But still his bowed
form, stern in its sentinelship, guarded the something concealed
behind the shadows. And still they dared not go closer.

So, while Dunwody was taking that which had come to him, as human
beings must, the gray of the dawn crawled up, up over the eastern
edge of this little Ozark Valley. After a time the day would come
again, would look with franker eyes upon this scene of horror. As
the light grew stronger, though yet cold and gray, Dunwody,
sighing, raised his head from his hands and turned. There was a
figure seated close to him--a woman, who reached out a hand to take
his scarred and burned ones in her own,--a woman, moreover, who
asked him no questions.

"Oh! Oh God!" he began, for the first time breaking silence, his
burned lips twitching. "And you,--why don't you go away? What
made you come?"

She was silent for a time. "Am I not your friend?" she asked, at

Now he could look at her. "My friend!" said he bitterly. "As if
all the world had a friend for me! How could there be? But you saw

She made no answer, but only drew a trifle nearer, seeing him for
the first time unnerved and unstrung. "I saw something, I could
not tell what--when you came out. I supposed--"

"Well, then," said he, with a supreme effort which demanded all his
courage, as he turned toward her; "it all had to come out, somehow.
It is the end, now."

She had brought with her a cup of water. Now she handed it to him
without comment. His hand trembled as he took it.

"You saw that--?" He nodded toward the ruins. All she did was to
nod, in silence. "Yes, I saw you come out--with--that--in your

"Who--what--do you suppose it was?"

"I don't know." Then, suddenly,--"Tell me. Tell me! _Was it

"Send them away!" he said to her after a time. She turned, and
those who stood about seemed to catch the wish upon her face. They
fell back for a space, silent, or talking in low tones.

"Come," he said.

He led her a pace or so, about the scanty wall of shrubbery. He
pulled back a bit of old and faded silk, a woman's garment of years
ago, from the face of that something which lay there, on a tiny
cot, scarce larger than a child's bed.

It was the face of a woman grown, yet of a strangely vague and
childlike look. The figure, never very large, was thin and
shrunken unbelievably. The features, waxy-white, were mercifully
spared by the flames which had licked at the shielding hands and
arms that had borne her hither. Yet they seemed even more thin,
more wax-like, more unreal, than had their pallor come by merciful
death. Death? Ah, here was written death through years. Life,
full, red-blooded, abounding, luxuriant, riotous, never had
animated this pallid form, or else had long years since abandoned
it. This was but the husk of a human being, clinging beyond its
appointed time to this world, so cruel and so kind.

They stood and gazed, solemnly, for a time. The hands of Josephine
St. Auban were raised in the sign of her religion. Her lips moved
in some swift prayer. She could hear the short, hard breathing of
the man who stood near her, grimed, blistered, disfigured, in his
effort to bring away into the light for a time at least this
specter, so long set apart from all the usual ways of life.

"She has been there for years," he said, at last, thickly. "We
kept her, I kept her, here for her sake. In this country it would
be a sort of disgrace for any--any--feeble--person, you know, to go
to an institution. Those are our graves over yonder in the yard.
You see them? Well, here was our asylum. We kept our secrets.

"She was this way for more than ten years. She was hurt in an
accident--her spine. She withered away. Her mind was gone--she
was like a child. She had toys, like a child. She wept, she cried
out like a child. Very often I was obliged to play--Ah! my God!
My God!"

"This was one of your family. It was that which we heard--which we
_felt_--about the place--?" Her voice was very clear, though low.

"My wife! Now you know." He dropped back, his face once more
between his hands, and again she fell into silence.

"How long--was this?" at length she asked quietly.

He turned a scorched and half-blinded face toward her. "Ever since
I was a boy, you might say," said he. "Even before my father and
mother died. We kept our own counsel. We ran away, we two
children. They counseled me against it. My people didn't like the
match, but I wouldn't listen. It came like some sort of judgment.
Not long after we were married it came--the dreadful accident, with
a run-away team--and we saw,--we knew--in a little while--that she
simply lived like a child--a plant--That was ten years ago, ten
centuries!--ten thousand years of torture. But I kept her. I
shielded her the best I knew how. That was her place yonder, where
the bars were--you see. Nobody knew any more. It's all alone,
back in here. Some said there was a funeral, out here. Jamieson
didn't deny it, I did not deny it. But she lived--there! Sally
took care of her. Sometimes she or the others were careless. You
heard once or twice. Well, anyway, I couldn't tell you. It didn't
seem right--to her. And you were big enough not to ask. I thank
you! Now you know."

Still she was silent. They dropped down, now weary, side by side,
on the grass.

"Now you see into one bit of a human heart, don't you?" said he
bitterly. The gray dawn showed his distorted and wounded face,
scarred, blackened, burned, as at length he tried to look at her.

"I did the best I knew. I knew it wasn't right to feel as I did
toward you--to talk as I did--but I couldn't help it, I tell you, I
just couldn't help it! I can't help it now. But I don't think
it's wrong now, even--here. I was starved. When I saw you,--well,
you know the rest. I have got nothing to say. It would be no use
for me to explain. I make no excuses for myself. I have got to
take my medicine. Anyhow, part of it--part of it is wiped out."

"It is wiped out," she repeated simply. "The walls that stood
there--all of them--are gone. It is the act of fate, of God! I
had not known how awful a thing is life. It is all--wiped away by
fire. Those walls--"

"But not my sins, not my selfishness, not the wrong I have done!
Even all that has happened to me, or may happen to me, wouldn't be
punishment enough for that. Now you asked me if you were not my
friend? Of course you are not. How could you be?"

"It would be easier now than ever before," she said. But he shook
his head from side to side, slowly, dully, monotonously.

"No, no," he said, "it would not be right,--I would not allow it."

"I remember now," she said slowly, "how you hesitated. It must
have been agony for you. I knew there was something, all the time.
Of course, I could not tell what. But it must have been agony for
you to offer to tell me--of this."

"Oh, I might have told you then. Perhaps it would have been braver
if I had. I tried it a dozen times, but couldn't. I don't pretend
to say whether it was selfishness or cowardice, or just kindness
to--her. If I ever loved her, it was so faint and far away--but it
isn't right to say that, now."

"No. Do not. Do not."

"I don't know. There are a heap of things I don't know. But I
knew I loved you. It was for ever. That was what was meant to be.
It seemed to me I owed debts on every hand--to the world--to you: I
tried--tried to pay--to pay you fair, ache for ache, if I could,
for the hurts I'd given you. And you wouldn't let me. You were
wonderful. Before the throne of God--here--now, I'll say it: I
love you! But now it's over."

"It is easier now," she said again. "You must not give way. You
are strong. You must not be beaten. You must keep your courage."

"Give me a moment," he said. "Give me a chance to get on my feet
again. I want to be game as I can."

"You have courage--the large courage," she answered quietly.
"Haven't you been showing it, by your very silence? You will be
brave. You are just beginning. You have changed many things in
your life of late. You were silent. You did not boast to me.
Sometimes things seem to be changed for us, without our

"Isn't it true?" he exclaimed, turning to her quickly; "isn't it
the truth? Why, look at me. I met you a year ago. Here I sit
now. Two different men, eh? No chance, either time. No chance."

"Maybe two different women," said she.

"No, we are not different," he went on suddenly. "We are something
just the same,--for my part, at least, I have never changed very
much in some ways."

"You have suffered a great deal," she said simply "You have lost
very much. You are no longer a boy. You are a man, now. You've
changed because you are a man. And it wasn't--well, it wasn't done
for--for any reward."

"No, maybe not. In some ways I don't think just the way I used to.
But the savage--the brute--in me is there just the same. I don't
want to do what is right. I don't want to know what is right. I
only want to do what I want to do. What I covet, I covet. What I
love, I love. What I want, I want. That is all. And yet, just a
minute ago you were telling me you would be a friend! Not to a man
like that! It wouldn't be right."

She made no answer. The faces of both were now turned toward the
gray dawn beyond the hills. It was some moments before once more
he turned to her.

"But you and I--just you and I, together, thinking the way we both
do, seeing what we both see--the splendid sadness and the glory of
living and loving--and being what we both are! Oh, it all comes
back to me, I tell you; and I say I have not changed. I shall
always call your hair 'dark as the night of disunion and
separation'--isn't that what the oriental poet called it?--and your
face, to me, always, always, always, will be 'fair as the days of
union and delight.' No you've not changed. You're still just a
tall flower, in the blades of grass--that are cut down. But
wasted! What is in my mind now, when maybe it ought not to be
here, is just this: What couldn't you and I have done together?
Ah! Nothing could have stopped us!"

"What could we not have done?" she repeated slowly. "I've done so
little--in the world--alone."

Something in her tone caught his ear, his senses, overstrung,
vibrating in exquisite susceptibility, capable almost of hearing
thought that dared not be thought. He turned his blackened face,
bent toward her, looking into her face with an intensity which
almost annihilated the human limitations of flesh and blood. It
was as though his soul heard something in hers, and turned to
answer it, to demand its repetition.

"Did you say, _could_ have done?" he demanded. "Tell me, did you
say that?"

She did not answer, and he went on. "Listen!" he said in his old,
imperious way. "What couldn't we do together an the world, for the
world--even now?"

For a long time there was silence. At last, a light hand fell upon
the brown and blistered one which he had thrust out.

"Do you think so?" he heard a gentle voice reply.

Book of the day: