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A Master's Degree by Margaret Hill McCarter

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The Kickapoo Corral, luxuriant with flowers, and springing grass,
and May green foliage, told nothing of the old-time siege and sorrow
of Swift Elk and the Fawn of the Morning Light.

On the night after the storm Professor Burgess stopped at the Saxon House.

"Where is your father, Dennie?" he asked.

"He went up north to help somebody out of the mud and water,
I suppose," Dennie replied. "He is the kindest neighbor,
and he has been trying to--to keep straight. He told me when he left
that this night's work was to be a work of redemption for him.
He may get stronger some time."

In his heart Burgess knew better. He had no faith in the old
man's will power, and the burden of a hidden crime he knew would
but increase its weight with time, and drag Bond down at last.
But Dennie need not suffer now.

"Will you go with me down to the old Corral tomorrow
afternoon, Dennie? I want some plants that grow there.
I'm studying nature along with Greek," he said, smiling.

"Of course, if it is fair," Dennie replied, the pretty color blooming
deeper in her cheeks.

"Oh, we go fair or foul. You remember we fought it out coming home
from there once."

Meanwhile Bond Saxon was hurrying north on his work of redemption.
At the bend in the river he found Tom Gresh sitting on the flat stone slab.
The light was gleaming through the shrubbery of the little cottage,
and the homey sounds of evening and the twitter of late-coming birds
were in the air.

"What are you here for, Gresh?" Bond asked, hoarsely.
"I thought you had left for good."

The villainous-looking outlaw drew a flask from his pocket.

"Have a drink, Saxon. Take the whole bottle," and he thrust it
into the old man's hands.

Bond wavered a moment, then flung it far into the foamy floods
of the Walnut.

"Not any more. You shall not get me drunk again while you rob and kill."

"You did the killing for me once. Won't you do it again?" Gresh snarled.

Bond clinched his fists but did not strike.

"What are you after now?" he asked. "You are through with
the Burleighs; Vic settled you and you know it."

Even with the words the clutch of Vic's fingers on the outlaw's
throat seemed to choke him now.

"If my last Burleigh is gone," he growled with an oath, "I'm not done yet.
There's Elinor Wream. Don't forget that her mother was my adopted sister.
Don't forget that my old foster father cut me off without a cent and gave
her all his money. That's why Nathan Wream married her. He wanted her money
for colleges." The sneer on the man's face was diabolical. "I can hit
the old man through Elinor, and I'll do it some time, and that's not the only
blow that I can strike here, and I am going to finish this thing now."
He pointed toward the cottage where the unprotected woman sat alone.
"Twice I've nerved myself to do it and been fooled each time. One October
day you were here drunk. I could have laid it on you easy, and maybe
fixed Fenneben too, if a little child's voice hadn't scared me stiff.
And the day of the big football game you wouldn't get drunk and she
must go down to that game just to look once at Lloyd Fenneben. I meant
to finish her that day. This is the third and last time now.
There is not even a dog to protect her."

Bond Saxon had been a huge fellow in his best days, and now he summoned
all the powers nature had left to him.

"Tom Gresh," he cried, "in my infernal weakness you made me a drunken
beast, who took the life of an innocent man you wanted out of your way.
You thought, you fool, that she might care for you then.
I've carried the curse of that deed on my soul night and day.
I'll wipe it partly away now by saving her life from you.
So surely as tonight, tomorrow, or ever you try to harm her,
I'll not show you the mercy Vic Burleigh showed you once."

Strange forms the guardian angel takes!

Hence we entertain it unawares.

Of all Lagonda Ledge, old Bond Saxon, standing between
a woman and the peril of her life, looked least angelic.
Gresh understood him and turned first in fawning and tempting
trickery to his adversary. But Saxon stood his ground.
Then the outlaw raged in fury, not daring to strike now,
because he knew Bond's strength. And still the old man was unmoved.
A life saved for the life he had taken was steeling his
soul to courage.

At last in the dim light, Gresh stood motionless a minute,
then he struck his parting blow.

"All right, Bond Saxon, play protector all you want to, but it's
a short game for you. The sheriff is out of town tonight,
but tomorrow afternoon he will get back to Lagonda Ledge.
Tomorrow afternoon I go with all my proofs--Oh, I've got 'em.
And you, Bond Saxon, will be behind the bars for your crime,
done not so many years ago, and your honorable daughter,
disgraced forever by you, can shift for herself.
I've nothing to lose; why should I protect you?"

He leaped down the bank into the swiftly flowing river, and, swimming easily
to the farther side, he disappeared in the underbrush.

The next afternoon, somebody remembered that Bond Saxon had crossed the bridge
and plunged into the overflow of the river around the west end. But Bond
had been drunk much of late and nobody approached him when he was drunk.
How could Lagonda Ledge know the agony of the old man's soul as he splashed
across the Walnut waters and floundered up the narrow glen to the cave?
Or how, for Dennie's sake, he had begged on his knees for mercy that should
save his daughter's name? Or how harder than the stone of the ledges,
that the trickling water through slow-dragging centuries has worn away,
was the stony heart of the creature who denied him? And only Victor Burleigh
had power to picture the struggle that must have followed in that cavern,
and beyond the wall into the blind black passages leading at last to
the bluff above the river, where, clinched in deadly combat, the two men,
fighting still, fell headlong into the Walnut floods.

Down at the shallows Professor Burgess and Dennie had found the waters
too deep to reach the Kickapoo Corral, so they strolled along the bluff
watching the river rippling merrily in the fall of the afternoon sunshine.
And brightly, too, the sunshine fell on Dennie Saxon's rippling hair,
recalling to Vincent Burgess' memory the woodland camp fire and the old
legend told in the October twilight and the flickering flames lighting
Dennie's face and the wavy folds of her sunny hair.

But even as he remembered, a cry up stream came faintly,
once and no more, while, grappling still, two forms were borne
down by the swift current to the bend above the whirlpool.
Dennie and Vincent sprang to the very edge of the bluff,
powerless to save, as Tom Gresh and Bond Saxon were swept
around the curve below the Corral. Across the shallows they
struggled for a footing, but the undertow carried them on toward
the fatal pool.

A shriek from the bank came to Bond Saxon's ears, and he looked
up and saw the two reaching out vain hands to him.

"Your oath, Vincent; your oath!" he cried in agonizing tones.

Then Vincent Burgess put one arm about Dennie Saxon and drew
her close to him and lifted up his right hand high above him
in token to the drowning man of his promise, under heaven,
to keep that oath forever.

A look of joy swept over the old face in the water, his struggling ceased,
and once more tribute was paid to the grim Chieftain of Lagonda's Pool.--------

They said about town the next day that it was the peacefulest face
ever seen below a coffin lid. And, remembering only his many acts
of neighborly kindness, they forgave and forgot his weaknesses,
while to the few who knew his life-tragedy came the assuring hope
that the forgiving mercy of man is but a type of the boundless
mercy of a forgiving God.

CHAPTER XV

THE MASTERY

_And only the Master shall praise us, and only the
Master shall blame,
And no one shall work for money, and no one
shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of working, and each, in his
separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of
Things as They Are_.
--KIPLING

JUNE time in the Walnut Valley, and commencement time at
Sunrise on the limestone ridge! Nor pen nor brush can show
the glory of the radiant prairies, and the deep blue of the
"unscarred heavens," and the bright gleams from rippling waters.
And at the end of a perfect day comes the silvery grandeur
of a moonlit June night.

It was late afternoon of the day before commencement.
Victor Burleigh stood on the stone where four years ago the bull
snake had stretched itself in the lazy sunshine. Only one more
day at Sunrise for him, and the little heartache, unlike any
other sorrow a life can ever know, was his, as he stood there.
In the four years' battle he had come off conqueror until
the symbol above the doorway no longer held any mystery for him.
His character and culture now matched his voice. Before him
was higher learning, an under-professorship at Harvard, and later
on the pulpit for his life work. But now the heartache of parting
was his, and a deeper pain than breaking school ties was his also.
A year of jolly goodfellowship was ending, a happy year,
with Elinor his most frequent companion. And often in this year
he had wondered at Lloyd Fenneben's harsh judgment of her.
Fondness of luxury seemed foreign to her, and womanly
beauty of character made her always "Norrie the beloved."
But Victor was true to Fenneben's demands and willing to try
to live through the years after, if one year of happy association
could be his now. Whatever claims Burgess might assert later,
he could not take from another the claim to happy memories.
But, today, there was the dull steady heartache that he knew
had come to stay.

Presently Elinor joined him.

"May I come down tonight for a goodby stroll, Elinor? There's a
full moon and after tomorrow there are to be no more moons,
nor stars, nor suns, nor lands, nor seas, nor principalities,
nor powers for us at Sunrise."

"I wish you would come, Victor," Elinor said. "Come early.
There's a crowd going out somewhere, and we can join the ranks
of the great ungraduated for the last time."

"Elinor, I'm not hunting a crowd tonight," Vic said in a low voice.

"Well, come, anyway, and we'll hunt the solitude, if we can't
hunt any other game." And they strolled homeward together.

In the early evening Lloyd Fenneben and Elinor sat on the veranda
watching the sunset through the trees beyond the river.

"You are to graduate from Sunrise tomorrow," Dr. Fenneben was saying.
"For a Wream that is the real beginning of life. I have your business matters
entrusted to me, ready to close up as soon as you are `legally graduated'
according to my brother's wishes, but you may as well know them now."

He paused, and Elinor, thinking of the moonlight, maybe,
waited in peaceful silence.

"Norrie, when I finished at the university my brother put a small fortune
into my hands and bade me go West and build a new Harvard. You know
our family hold that that is the only legitimate use for money."

Norrie smiled assent.

"I did not ask whose money it was, for my brother handled
many bequests, and I was a poor business man then.
I came and invested it at last in Sunrise-by-the-Walnut. That
was your mother's money, given by your father to Joshua,
who gave it to me. Joshua did not tell me, and I supposed
some good, old Boston philanthropist had bought an indulgence
for his ignorant soul by endowing this thing so freely.
I found it out on Joshua's deathbed, and only to pacify him would
I consent to keep it until now. Henceforth, it must be yours.
That is why I asked you a year ago to just be a college girl
and drop all thought about marrying. I wanted you to come
into possession of your own property before you bound yourself
by any bonds you could not break."

Elinor sat silent for a while, her dark eyes seeing only the low
golden sunset. She understood now what had grooved that line
of care in Lloyd Fenneben's face when he came home from
the East. But he had conquered, aye, he had won the mastery.

"And you and Sunrise?" she asked at length. ,

"I can sell the college site and buildings to this new manufactory coming
here in August. Added to this, I have acquired sufficient funds of my
own to pay you the entire amount and a good rate of interest with it.
My grief is that for all these years, I have kept you out of your own."

Elinor rose up, white and cold, and put her hand on her uncle's hand.

"Let me think a little, Uncle Lloyd. It is not easy to realize
one's fortune in a minute." Then she left him.

"It makes little difference what passion possesses a man's soul, if it
possesses him he will wrong his fellowmen," Fenneben said to himself.
"In Joshua Wream's craving to endow college claims he robbed
this girl of her inheritance and sent her to me, telling me
she was shallow-minded and wholly given to a love of luxuries,
that I might not see his plans; while Norrie, never knowing,
has proved over and over how false these charges were.
And at last, to still his noisy conscience, he would marry her,
willing or unwilling, to Vincent Burgess. But with all this,
his last hours were full of sorrowful confession.
What do these Masters' Degrees my brother bore avail a man
if he have not the mastery within? Meanwhile, my labors
here must end."

Lonely and crushed, with his life work taken from him,
he sat and faced the sunset. Presently, he saw Elinor and
Victor Burleigh strolling away in the soft evening light.
At the corner, Elinor turned and waved a good-by to him.
Then the memory of his own commencement day came back to him,
and of the happy night before. Oh, that night before!
Can a man ever forget! And now, tonight!

"Don Fonnybone," Bug Buler piped, as he came trudging around the corner.
"I want to confessing."

He came to Fenneben's side and looked up confidently in his face.

"Well, confessing. I've just finished doing that myself," Fenneben said.

"I did a bad, long ago. I want to go and confessing.
Will you go with me?"

"Where shall we go to be shriven, Bug?

"To Pigeon Place," Bug responded. "The Pigeon woman is there now.
I saw her coming, and I must go right away and confessing."

"I'll go with you, Bug. I want to see that woman, anyhow," Fenneben said.

And the two went away in the early twilight of this rare June evening.

Out at Pigeon Place, when Dr. Fenneben and little Bug walked up
the grassy way to the vine-covered porch in the misty twilight,
Mrs. Marian sat in the shadow, unaware of their coming until they
stood before her.

Lloyd Fenneben lifted his hat, and little Bug imitated him.

"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Marian. This little boy wanted to tell
you of something that was troubling him. I think he trespassed
on your property unknowingly."

The gray-haired woman stood motionless in the shadow still.
Her fair face less haggard than of yore, as if some dread had left it,
and only loneliness remained.

"I was here, and you was away, and I peeked in the window.
It was rude and I never did see you to tell you, and I'm sorry and I
won't for--never do it again. Dennie told me to come tonight,
and bring Don Fonnybone." Bug had his part well in hand.

Even as she smiled at him, Dr. Fenneben noticed how her hand
on the lattice shook.

"And I want to thank you, Mrs. Marian, for your bravery
and goodness on the night I was assaulted here."
Fenneben was a gentleman to the core and his courtesy was charming.
"I meant to find you long ago, but my brother's death,
with my own long illness, and your absence, and my many duties--"
He paused with a smile.

"Oh, Lloyd, Lloyd, on an evening like this, why do you come here?"

The woman stood in the light now, a tragic figure of sorrow.
And she was not yet forty.

Dr. Fenneben caught his breath and the light seemed to go out before him.

"Marian, oh, Marian! After all these years, do I find you here?
They said you were dead." He caught her in his arms and held
her close to his breast.

"Lots of folks spoons round the Saxon House, so I went away and lef
'em," Bug explained to Vic once afterward.

And that accounted for little Bug sitting lonely on the flat stone
by the bend in the river where Dennie and Burgess found him later.

"So you have stood between me and that assassin all these years,
even when the lies against me made you doubt my love. Oh, Marian,
the strength of a woman's heart!" Fenneben declared, as, side by side,
black hair and the gray near together, these long-separated lovers
rebuilt their world.

"And this little child brought you here at last.
`A little child shall lead them,' " the woman murmured.

"Yes, Bug is a gift of God." Lloyd Fenneben was bending over her.
"He is Victor Burleigh's nephew, who found him in a deserted place--"

A shriek cut the evening air and she who had been known as Mrs. Marian
lay in a faint at Fenneben's feet.

"Tell me, Marian, what this means."

Lloyd Fenneben had restored her to consciousness and she was resting,
white and trembling, in his arms.

"My little Bug, my baby, Burgess!" she sobbed. "Bond Saxon,
in a drunken fit, killed his father. Then Tom Gresh carried
him away to save him from Bond, too, so Tom declared,
but I did not believe him. Bond never harmed a little child.
Tom said he meant no harm and that Bug was stolen from where
he had left him. It was then that my hair turned white.
Tom tried once, a year ago in December, to make me believe
he could bring Bug back to me if I would care for him--
for that wicked murderer! Oh, Lloyd!"

She nestled close in Dr. Fenneben's protecting arms, and shivered
at the thought.

"And you named him Burgess for your own name. Does Vincent know?"
Fenneben questioned, tenderly smoothing the white hair as Norrie
had so often smoothed his own.

"Is this Vincent my own brother? Will he really own me as his sister?
I've tried to meet him many times. I left his picture on my table that
he might see it if he should ever come. My father separated us years ago.
After we came West he sent me just one letter in which he said Vincent
would never speak to me nor claim me as his sister again. A brother--
a lover--and my baby boy!"

And the lonely woman, overcome with joy, sat white and still
beneath the white moonbeams.

Joy does not kill any more than sorrow. Vincent Burgess and Dennie Saxon,
who came just at the right time, told how they had waited with Bug at the slab
of stone by the bend in the river until they should be needed.

"It was Dennie who planned it all," Vincent said, "and did not even
let me know. Bug told her my picture was on the table in there.
But so long as her father lived, she kept her counsel."

"I tried four years ago to get Dr. Fenneben to come out here," Dennie said.
And the Dean remembered the autumn holiday and Dennie's solicitude for
an unknown woman.

But the joy of this night, crowning all other joys in the Walnut Valley,
was in that sacred moment when Bug Buler walked slowly up to Marian Burleigh,
sister to Vincent Burgess, lost love of Lloyd Fenneben's youth--slowly, and
with big brown eyes glowing with a strange new love light, and, putting up
both his chubby hands to her cheeks, he murmured softly:

"Is you my own mother? Then, I'll love you fornever."

Meantime, on this last moonlit June night, Elinor and Vic were strolling
down the new south cement walk, a favorite place for the young people now.

At the farther end, Vic said:

"Norrie, let's go down across the shallows to the west bluff again.
Can you climb it, or shall we join the crowd down in the Kickapoo Corral?"

"I can climb where you can, Victor," Elinor declared.

"Dennie will never want to come here again. Poor Dennie!"

Vic was helping Elinor across the shallows as he spoke.
Up in the Corral a happy crowd of young people were finishing
their last "picnic spread" for the year. Below the shallows
the whirlpool was glistening all treacherously smooth and level
under the moonbeams.

"Why `poor Dennie,' Victor? Her father had nothing more
for him, here, except disgrace. The tribute paid him
at his funeral would have been forever withheld, if he had
lived a day longer, and he died sure of Dennie's future."
Elinor spoke gently.

"Who told you all this, Elinor?" Victor asked.

"Professor Burgess, when he showed me the diamond ring Dennie
is to wear tomorrow."

"Dennie, a diamond! I'm glad for Dennie. Diamonds are fine
to have," Vic declared.

They had climbed to the top of the west bluff. The silvery prairie
and silver river and mist-wreathed valley, and overhead, the clear,
calm sky, where the moon sailed in magnificent grandeur, were a setting
to make the evening a perfect one. And in this setting was Elinor,
herself the jewel, beautiful, winsome, womanly.

"I have some good news." She turned to the young man beside her.
"You know the Wreams have made a life business of endowing colleges.
Well, I am a Wream by blood, and tomorrow, oh, Victor, tomorrow, I, too,
have the opportunity of a lifetime. I'm going to endow Sunrise."

He looked at her in amazement.

"Oh, it's clear enough," she exclaimed. "It was my money that
built Sunrise. It shall stay here, and Dr. Lloyd Fenneben, Dean
of Sunrise, and acting-Dean Vincent Burgess, A.B., Professor
of Greek, and Victor Burleigh, Valedictorian, who goes East to a
professorship in Harvard, and to the ministry of the gospel later on--
all you mighty men of valor will know how little Norrie Wream cares
for money, except as it can make the world better and happier.
I haven't lived in Lloyd Fenneben's home these four years without
learning something of what is required for a Master's Degree."

"Norrie!" All the music of a soul poured into the music of the deep voice.

"Victor! There is no sacrifice in it. I wish there were,
that I might wear the honors you wear so modestly."

"I, Elinor?"

"I know the whole story. Dennie told me when you had that awful fight,
and Trenchie told me long ago, that you thought I must have money to make
me happy. Why I, more than Dennie, or you, who gave Bug his claim?"

Elinor put up her hands to Victor, who took them both in his,
as he drew her to him and kissed her sweet red lips.
And there was a new heaven and a new earth created that night
in the soft silvery moonlight of the Walnut Valley.

"I'd rather be here with you than over the river with anybody else.
I feel safer here," she murmured, remembering when they had striven
in the darkness and the storm to reach this very height.

But Victor Burleigh could not speak. The mastery for which he had striven
seemed to bring meed of reward too great for him to grasp with words.

THE PARTING

. . . _There is neither East nor West, Border,
nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they
come from the ends of the earth!_
--KIPLING

COMMENCEMENT day at Sunrise was just one golden Kansas June day, when

The heart is so full that a drop overfills it.

Victor Burleigh, late of a claim out beyond the Walnut, Professor-to-be in
Harvard University, and Vincent Burgess, acting-Dean of Sunrise,
only a degree less beloved than Dean Fenneben himself, met on the morning
of commencement day at the campus gate, one to go to the East,
the other to stay in the West. Side by side they walked up the long
avenue to the foot of the slope, together they climbed the broad flight
of steps leading up to the imposing doorway of Sunrise with the big
letter S carved in relief above it. And after pausing a moment to take
in the matchless wonder of the landscape over which old Sunrise keeps watch,
the college portal swung open and the two entered at the same time.
Inside the doorway, under the halo of light from the stained glass
dome with its Kansas motto, wrought in dainty coloring. Elinor Wream,
niece of the Dean of Sunrise, and Dennie Saxon, old Bond Saxon's daughter,
who had earned her college tuition, stood side by side, awaiting them.
And beyond these, on the rotunda stairs, Dr. Lloyd Fenneben was looking
down at the four with keen black eyes. Beside him on the broad stairway
was Marian Burgess Burleigh, the white-haired, young-faced woman
of Pigeon Place, and Bug Buler--everybody's child.

The barriers were down at last: the value of common life,
the power of Strife and Sacrifice and Service, the joy of Supremacy,
the conflict of rich red blood with the thinner blue, the force
of culture against mere physical strength, the power of character
over wealth--these things had been wrought out under the gracious
influence of Dr. Lloyd Fenneben in Sunrise-by-the-Walnut.

"Come up, come up; there is room up here," the Dean called to the group in
the rotunda. "There's an A.B. for all who have conquered the Course of Study,
and a Master's Degree for everyone who has conquered himself."

The common level so impossible on a September day four years ago,
came now to two strong men when the commencement exercises were ended,
and Sunrise became to the outgoing class only a hallowed memory.

The hour is high noon, the good-bys are given, and from the crest
of the limestone ridge the ringing chorus, led by good old Trench,
sounds far and far away along the Walnut Valley:

Rah for Funnybone!
Rah for Funnybone!
Rah for Funnybone!
_Rah!_ RAW RAH!!!

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