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  • 1905
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“Be sure to shut the door, please; it’s rather noisy with it open. Good-bye.” Eugene waved his hand and sank back upon the divan.

Joe went across the street to the “National House.” The sages fell as silent as if he had been Martin Pike. They had just had the pleasure of hearing a telephone monologue by Mr. Brown, the clerk, to which they listened intently: “Yes. This is Brown. Oh–oh, it’s Judge Pike? Yes indeed, Judge, yes indeed, I hear you–ha, ha! Of course, I understand. Yes, Judge, I heard he was in town. No, he hasn’t been here. Not yet, that is, Judge. Yes, I hear. No, I won’t, of course. Certainly not. I will, I will. I hear perfectly, I understand. Yes, sir. Good-bye, Judge.”

Joe had begun to write his name in the register. “My trunk is still at the station,” he said. “I’ll give you my check to send down for it.”

“Excuse me,” said the clerk. “We have no rooms.”

“What!” cried Joe, innocently. “Why, I never knew more than eight people to stay here at the same time in my life.”

“We have no rooms,” repeated the clerk, curtly.

“Is there a convention here?”

“We have no rooms, I say!”

Joe looked up into the condensed eyes of Mr. Brown. “Oh,” he said, “I see.”

Deathly silence followed him to the door, but, as it closed behind him, he heard the outbreak of the sages like a tidal wave striking a dump-heap of tin cans.

Two hours later he descended from an evil ark of a cab at the corral attached to Beaver Beach, and followed the path through the marsh to the crumbling pier. A red-bearded man was seated on a plank by the water edge, fishing.

“Mike,” said Joe, “have you got room for me? Can you take me in for a few days until I find a place in town where they’ll let me stay?”

The red-bearded man rose slowly, pushed back his hat, and stared hard at the wanderer; then he uttered a howl of joy and seized the other’s hands in his and shook them wildly.

“Glory be on high!” he shouted. “It’s Joe Louden come back! We never knew how we
missed ye till ye’d gone! Place fer ye! Can I find it? There ain’t a imp o’ perdition in town, includin’ myself, that wouldn’t kill me if I couldn’t! Ye’ll have old Maggie’s room, my own aunt’s; ye remember how she used to dance! Ha, ha! She’s been burnin’ below these four years! And we’ll have the celebration of yer return this night. There’ll be many of ’em will come when they hear ye’re back in Canaan! Praise God, we’ll all hope ye’re goin’ to stay a while!”

IX

“OUTER DARKNESS”

If any echo of doubt concerning his
undesirable conspicuousness sounded faintly in Joe’s mind, it was silenced
eftsoons. Canaan had not forgotten
him–far from it!–so far that it began pointing him out to strangers on the street the very day of his return. His course of action, likewise that of his friends, permitted him little obscurity, and when the rumors of his finally obtaining lodging at Beaver Beach, and of the celebration of his installation there, were presently confirmed, he stood in the lime-light indeed, as a Mephistopheles upsprung through the trap-door.

The welcoming festivities had not been so discreetly conducted as to accord with the general policy of Beaver Beach. An unfortunate incident caused the arrest of one of the celebrators and the ambulancing to the hospital of another on the homeward way, the ensuing proceedings in court bringing to the whole affair a publicity devoutly unsought for. Mr. Happy Fear (such was the habitual name of the imprisoned gentleman) had to bear a great amount of harsh criticism for injuring a companion within the city limits after daylight, and for failing to observe that three policemen were not too distant from the scene of operations to engage therein.

“Happy, if ye had it in mind to harm him,” said the red-bearded man to Mr. Fear, upon the latter’s return to society, “why didn’t ye do it out here at the Beach?”

“Because,” returned the indiscreet, “he didn’t say what he was goin’ to say till we got in town.”

Extraordinary probing on the part of the prosecutor had developed at the trial that the obnoxious speech had referred to the guest of the evening. The assaulted party, one “Nashville” Cory, was not of Canaan, but a bit of drift-wood haply touching shore for the moment at Beaver Beach; and– strange is this world–he had been introduced to the coterie of Mike’s Place by Happy Fear himself, who had enjoyed a brief acquaintance with him on a day when both had chanced to travel incognito by the same freight. Naturally, Happy had felt responsible for the proper behavior of his protege –was, in fact, bound to enforce it; additionally, Happy had once been saved from a term of imprisonment (at a time when it would have been more than ordinarily inconvenient) by help and advice from Joe, and he was not one to forget. Therefore he was grieved to observe that his own guest seemed to be somewhat jealous of the hero of the occasion and disposed to look coldly upon him. The stranger, however, contented himself with innuendo (mere expressions of the face and other manner of things for which one could not squarely lay hands upon him) until such time as he and his sponsor had come to Main Street in the clear dawn on their way to Happy’s apartment–a variable abode. It may be that the stranger perceived what Happy did not; the three bluecoats in the perspective; at all events, he now put into words of simple strength the unfavorable conception he had formed of Joe. The result was mediaevally immediate, and the period of Mr. Cory’s convalescence in the hospital was almost half that of his sponsor’s detention in the county jail.

It needed nothing to finish Joe with the good people of Canaan; had it needed anything, the trial of Happy Fear would have overspilled the necessity. An item of the testimony was that Joseph Louden had helped to carry one of the ladies present–a Miss Le Roy, who had fainted– to the open air, and had jostled the stranger in passing. After this, the oldest woman in Canaan would not have dared to speak to Joe on the street (even if she wanted to), unless she happened to be very poor or very wicked. The Tocsin printed an adequate account (for there was “a large public interest”), recording in conclusion that Mr. Louden paid the culprit’s fine which was the largest in the power of the presiding judge in his mercy to bestow. Editorially, the Tocsin leaned to the facetious: “Mr. Louden has but recently `returned to our midst.’ We fervently hope that the distinguished Happy Fear will appreciate his patron’s superb generosity. We say `his patron,’ but perhaps we err in this. Were it not better to figure Mr. Louden as the lady in distress, Mr. Fear as the champion in the lists? In the present case, however, contrary to the rules of romance, the champion falls in duress and passes to the dungeon. We merely suggest, en passant, that some of our best citizens might deem it a wonderful and beauteous thing if, in addition to paying the fine, Mr. Louden could serve for the loyal Happy his six months in the Bastile!”

“En passant,” if nothing else, would have revealed to Joe, in this imitation of a better trick, the hand of Eugene. And, little doubt, he would have agreed with Squire Buckalew in the Squire’s answer to the easily expected comment of Mr. Arp.

“Sometimes,” said Eskew, “I think that ‘Gene Bantry is jest a leetle bit spiderier than he is lazy. That’s the first thing he’s written in the Tocsin this month–one of the boys over there told me. He wrote it out of spite against Joe; but he’d ought to of done better. If his spite hadn’t run away with what mind he’s got, he’d of said that both Joe Louden and that tramp Fear ought to of had ten years!”

“‘Gene Bantry didn’t write that out of spite,” answered Buckalew. “He only thought he saw a chance to be kind of funny and please Judge Pike. The Judge has always thought Joe was a no-account–“

“Ain’t he right?” cried Mr. Arp.

“_I_ don’t say he ain’t.” Squire Buckalew cast a glance at Mr. Brown, the clerk, and, perceiving that he was listening, added, “The Judge always IS right!”

“Yes, sir!” said Colonel Flitcroft.

“I can’t stand up for Joe Louden to any extent, but I don’t think he done wrong,” Buckalew went on, recovering, “when he paid this man Fear’s fine.”

“You don’t!” exclaimed Mr. Arp. “Why, haven’t you got gumption enough to see–“

“Look here, Eskew,” interposed his antagonist. “How many friends have you got that hate to hear folks talk bad about you?”

“Not a one!” For once Eskew’s guard was down, and his consistency led him to destruction. “Not a one! It ain’t in human nature. They’re bound to enjoy it!”

“Got any friends that would FIGHT for you?”

Eskew walked straight into this hideous trap. “No! There ain’t a dozen men ever LIVED that had! Caesar was a popular man, but he didn’t have a soul to help him when the crowd lit on him, and I’ll bet old Mark Antony was mighty glad they got him out in the yard before it happened,– HE wouldn’t have lifted a finger without a gang behind him! Why, all Peter himself could do was to cut off an ear that wasn’t no use to anybody. What are you tryin’ to get AT?”

The Squire had him; and paused, and stroked his chin, to make the ruin complete. “Then I reckon you’ll have to admit,” he murmured, “that, while I ain’t defendin’ Joe Louden’s character, it was kind of proper for him to stand by a feller that wouldn’t hear nothin’ against him, and fought for him as soon as he DID hear it!”

Eskew Arp rose from his chair and left the hotel. It was the only morning in all the days of the conclave when he was the first to leave.

Squire Buckalew looked after the retreating figure, total triumph shining brazenly from his spectacles. “I expect,” he explained, modestly, to the others,–“I expect I don’t think any more of Joe Louden than he does, and I’ll be glad when Canaan sees the last of him for good; but sometimes the temptation to argue with Eskew does
lead me on to kind of git the better of him.”

When Happy Fear had suffered–with a give- and-take simplicity of patience–his allotment of months in durance, and was released and sent into the streets and sunshine once more, he knew that his first duty lay in the direction of a general apology to Joe. But the young man was no longer at Beaver Beach; the red-bearded proprietor dwelt alone there, and, receiving Happy with scorn and pity, directed him to retrace his footsteps to the town.

“Ye must have been in the black hole of incarceration indeed, if ye haven’t heard that Mr. Louden has his law-office on the Square, and his livin’-room behind the office. It’s in that little brick buildin’ straight acrost from the sheriff’s door o’ the jail–ye’ve been neighbors this long time! A hard time the boy had, persuadin’ any one to rent to him, but by payin’ double the price he got a place at last. He’s a practisin’ lawyer now, praise the Lord! And all the boys and girls of our acquaintance go to him with their troubles. Ye’ll see him with a murder case to try before long, as sure as ye’re not worth yer salt! But I expect ye can still call him by his name of Joe, all the same!”

It was a bleak and meagre little office into which Mr. Fear ushered himself to offer his amends. The cracked plaster of the walls was bare (save for dust); there were no shelves; the fat brown volumes, most of them fairly new, were piled in regular columns upon a cheap pine table; there was but one window, small-paned and shadeless; an inner door of this sad chamber stood half ajar, permitting the visitor unreserved acquaintance with the domestic economy of the tenant; for it disclosed a second room, smaller than the office, and dependent upon the window of the latter for air and light. Behind a canvas camp-cot, dimly visible in the obscurity of the inner apartment, stood a small gas-stove, surmounted by a stew-pan, from which projected the handle of a big tin spoon, so that it needed no ghost from the dead to whisper that Joseph Louden, attorney-at-law, did his own cooking. Indeed, he looked it!

Upon the threshold of the second room reposed a small, worn, light-brown scrub-brush of a dog, so cosmopolitan in ancestry that his species was almost as undeterminable as the cast-iron dogs of the Pike Mansion. He greeted Mr. Fear hospitably, having been so lately an offcast of the streets himself that his adoption had taught him to lose only his old tremors, not his hopefulness. At the same time Joe rose quickly from the deal table, where he had been working with one hand in his hair, the other splattering ink from a bad pen.

“Good for you, Happy!” he cried, cheerfully. “I hoped you’d come to see me to-day. I’ve been thinking about a job for you.”

“What kind of a job?” asked the visitor, as they shook hands. “I need one bad enough, but you know there ain’t nobody in Canaan would gimme one, Joe.”

Joe pushed him into one of the two chairs which completed the furniture of his office. “Yes, there is. I’ve got an idea–“

“First,” broke in Mr. Fear, fingering his shapeless hat and fixing his eyes upon it with embarrassment,–” first lemme say what I come here to say. I–well–” His embarrassment increased and he paused, rubbing the hat between his hands.

“About this job,” Joe began. “We can fix it so–“

“No,” said Happy. “You lemme go on. I didn’t mean fer to cause you no trouble when I lit on that loud-mouth, `Nashville’; I never thought they’d git me, or you’d be dragged in. But I jest couldn’t stand him no longer. He had me all wore out–all evening long a-hintin’ and sniffin’ and wearin’ that kind of a high-smile ’cause they made so much fuss over you. And then when we got clear in town he come out with it! Said you was too quiet to suit HIM–said he couldn’t see nothin’ TO you! `Well,’ I says to myself, `jest let him go on, jest one more,’ I says, `then he gits it.’ And he did. Said you tromped on his foot on purpose, said he knowed it,–when the Lord-a’mightiest fool on earth knows you never tromped on no one! Said you was one of the po’rest young sports he ever see around a place like the Beach. You see, he thought you was jest one of them fool `Bloods’ that come around raisin’ a rumpus, and didn’t know you was our friend and belonged out there, the same as me or Mike hisself. `Go on,’ I says to myself, `jest one more!’ `HE better go home to his mamma,’ he says; `he’ll git in trouble if he don’t. Somebody ‘ll soak him if he hangs around in MY company. _I_ don’t like his WAYS.’ Then I HAD to do it. There jest wasn’t nothin’ LEFT–but I wouldn’t of done you no harm by it–“

“You didn’t do me any harm, Happy.”

“I mean your repitation.”

“I didn’t have one–so nothing in the world could harm it. About your getting some work, now–“

“I’ll listen,” said Happy, rather suspiciously.

“You see,” Joe went on, growing red, “I need a sort of janitor here–“

“What fer?” Mr. Fear interrupted, with some shortness.

“To look after the place.”

“You mean these two rooms?”

“There’s a stairway, too,” Joe put forth, quickly. “It wouldn’t be any sinecure, Happy. You’d earn your money; don’t be afraid of that!”

Mr. Fear straightened up, his burden of embarrassment gone from him, transferred to the other’s shoulders.

“There always was a yellow streak in you, Joe,” he said, firmly. “You’re no good as a liar except when you’re jokin’. A lot you need a janitor! You had no business to pay my fine; you’d ort of let me worked it out. Do you think my eyes ain’t good enough to see how much you needed the money, most of all right now when you’re tryin’ to git started? If I ever take a cent from you, I hope the hand I hold out fer it ‘ll rot off.”

“Now don’t say that, Happy.”

“I don’t want a job, nohow!” said Mr. Fear, going to the door; “I don’t want to work. There’s plenty ways fer me to git along without that. But I’ve said what I come here to say, and I’ll say one thing more. Don’t you worry about gittin’ law practice. Mike says you’re goin’ to git all you want–and if there ain’t no other way, why, a few of us ‘ll go out and MAKE some fer ye!”

These prophecies and promises, over which Joe chuckled at first, with his head cocked to one side, grew very soon, to his amazement, to wear a supernatural similarity to actual fulfilment. His friends brought him their own friends, such as had sinned against the laws of Canaan, those under the ban of the sheriff, those who had struck in anger, those who had stolen at night, those who owed and could not pay, those who lived by the dice, and to his other titles to notoriety was added that of defender of the poor and wicked. He found his hands full, especially after winning his first important case–on which occasion Canaan thought the jury mad, and was indignant with the puzzled Judge, who could not see just how it had happened.

Joe did not stop at that. He kept on winning cases, clearing the innocent and lightening the burdens of the guilty; he became the most dangerous attorney for the defence in Canaan; his honorable brethren, accepting the popular view of him, held him in personal contempt but feared him
professionally; for he proved that he knew more law than they thought existed; nor could any trick him –failing which, many tempers were lost, but never Joe’s. His practice was not all criminal, as shown by the peevish outburst of the eminent Buckalew (the Squire’s nephew, esteemed the foremost lawyer in Canaan), “Before long, there won’t be any use trying to foreclose a mortgage or collect a note –unless this shyster gets himself in jail!”

The wrath of Judge Martin Pike was august– there was a kind of sublimity in its immenseness– on a day when it befell that the shyster stood betwixt him and money.

That was a monstrous task–to stand between these two and separate them, to hold back the hand of Martin Pike from what it had reached out to grasp. It was in the matter of some tax-titles which the magnate had acquired, and, in court, Joe treated the case with such horrifying simplicity that it seemed almost credible that the great man had counted upon the ignorance and besottedness of Joe’s client–a hard-drinking, disreputable old farmer–to get his land away from him without paying for it. Now, as every one knew such a thing to be ludicrously impossible, it was at once noised abroad in Canaan that Joe had helped to swindle Judge Pike out of a large sum of money–it was notorious that the shyster could bamboozle court and jury with his tricks; and it was felt that Joe Louden was getting into very deep waters indeed. THIS was serious: if the young man did not LOOK OUT, he might find himself in the penitentiary.

The Tocsin paragraphed him with a fine regularity after this, usually opening with a Walrus-and-the-Carpenter gravity: “The time has come when
we must speak of a certain matter frankly,” or, “At last the time has arrived when the demoralization of the bar caused by a certain criminal lawyer must be dealt with as it is and without gloves.” Once when Joe had saved a half-witted negro from “the extreme penalty” for murder, the Tocsin had declared, with great originality: “This is just the kind of thing that causes mobs and justifies them. If we are to continue to permit the worst class of malefactors to escape the consequences of their crimes through the unwholesome dexterities and the shifty manipulations and technicalities of a certain criminal lawyer, the time will come when an outraged citizenry may take the enforcement of the law in its own hands. Let us call a spade a spade. If Canaan’s streets ever echo with the tread of a mob, the fault lies upon the head of Joseph Louden, who has once more brought about a miscarriage of justice. . . .”

Joe did not move into a larger office; he remained in the little room with its one window and its fine view of the jail; his clients were nearly all poor, and many of his fees quite literally nominal. Tatters and rags came up the narrow stairway to his door –tatters and rags and pitiful fineries: the bleared, the sodden, the flaunting and rouged, the furtive and wary, some in rags, some in tags, and some– the sorriest–in velvet gowns. With these, the distressed, the wrong-doers, the drunken, the dirty, and the very poor, his work lay and his days and nights were spent.

Ariel had told Roger Tabor that in time Joe might come to be what the town thought him, if it gave him no other chance. Only its dinginess and evil surrounded him; no respectable house was open to him; the barrooms–except that of the “National House”–welcomed him gratefully and admiringly. Once he went to church, on a pleasant morning when nice girls wear pretty spring dresses; it gave him a thrill of delight to see them, to be near clean, good people once more. Inadvertently, he took a seat by his step-mother, who rose with a slight rustle of silk and moved to another pew; and it happened, additionally, that this was the morning that the minister, fired by the Tocsin’s warnings, had chosen to preach on the subject of Joe himself.

The outcast returned to his own kind. No lady spoke to him upon the street. Mamie Pike had passed him with averted eyes since her first meeting with him, but the shunning and snubbing of a young man by a pretty girl have never yet, if done in a certain way, prevented him from continuing to be in love with her. Mamie did it in the certain way. Joe did not wince, therefore it hurt all the more, for blows from which one cringes lose much of their force.

The town dog had been given a bad name, painted solid black from head to heel. He was a storm centre of scandal; the entrance to his dingy stairway was in square view of the “National House,” and the result is imaginable. How many of Joe’s clients, especially those sorriest of the velvet gowns, were conjectured to ascend his stairs for reasons more convivial than legal! Yes, he lived with his own kind, and, so far as the rest of Canaan was concerned, might as well have worn the scarlet letter on his breast or branded on his forehead.

When he went about the streets he was made to feel his condition by the elaborate avoidance, yet furtive attention, of every respectable person he met; and when he came home to his small rooms and shut the door behind him, he was as one who has been hissed and shamed in public and runs to bury his hot face in his pillow. He petted his mongrel extravagantly (well he might!), and would sit with him in his rooms at night, holding long converse with him, the two alone together. The dog was not his only confidant. There came to be another, a more and more frequent partner to their conversations, at last a familiar spirit. This third came from a brown jug which Joe kept on a shelf in his bedroom, a vessel too frequently replenished. When the day’s work was done he shut himself up, drank alone and drank hard. Sometimes when the jug ran low and the night was late he would go out for a walk with his dog, and would awake in his room the next morning not remembering where he had gone or how he had come home. Once, after such a lapse of memory, he woke amazed to find himself at Beaver Beach, whither, he learned from the red-bearded man, Happy Fear had brought him, having found him wandering dazedly in a field near by. These lapses grew more frequent, until there occurred that which was one of the strange things of his life.

It was a June night, a little more than two years after his return to Canaan, and the Tocsin had that day announced the approaching marriage of Eugene Bantry and his employer’s daughter. Joe ate nothing during the day, and went through his work clumsily, visiting the bedroom shelf at intervals. At ten in the evening he went out to have the jug refilled, but from the moment he left his door and the fresh air struck his face, he had no clear knowledge of what he did or of what went on about him until he woke in his bed the next morning.

And yet, whatever little part of the soul of him remained, that night, still undulled, not numbed, but alive, was in some strange manner lifted out of its pain towards a strange delight. His body was an automaton, his mind in bondage, yet there was a still, small consciousness in him which knew that in his wandering something incredible and unexpected was happening. What this was he did not
know, could not see, though his eyes were open, could not have told himself any more than a baby could tell why it laughs, but it seemed something so beautiful and wonderful that the night became a night of perfume, its breezes bearing the music of harps and violins, while nightingales sang from the maples that bordered the streets of Canaan.

X

THE TRYST

He woke to the light of morning amazed and full of a strange wonder because
he did not know what had amazed
him. For a little while after his eyes opened, he lay quite motionless; then
he lifted his head slightly and shook it with some caution. This had come to be custom. The operation assured him of the worst; the room swam round him, and, with a faint groan, he let his head fall back upon the pillow. But he could not sleep again; pain stung its way through his heart as memory began to come back to him, not of the preceding night–that was all blank,–but realization that the girl of whom he had dreamed so long was to be married. That his dreams had been quite hopeless was no balm to his hurt.

A chime of bells sounded from a church steeple across the Square, ringing out in assured righteousness, summoning the good people who maintained them to come and sit beneath them or be taken to task; and they fell so dismally upon Joe’s ear that he bestirred himself and rose, to the delight of his mongrel, who leaped upon him joyfully. An hour later, or thereabout, the pair emerged from the narrow stairway and stood for a moment, blinking in the fair sunshine, apparently undecided which way to go. The church bells were silent; there was no breeze; the air trembled a little with the deep pipings of the organ across the Square, and, save for that, the town was very quiet. The paths which crossed the Court-house yard were flecked with steady shadow, the strong young foliage of the maples not moving, having the air of observing the Sabbath with propriety. There were benches here and there along the walks, and to one of these Joe crossed, and sat down. The mongrel, at his master’s feet, rolled on his back in morning ecstasy, ceased abruptly to roll and began to scratch his ear with a hind foot intently. A tiny hand stretched to pat his head, and the dog licked it appreciatively. It belonged to a hard-washed young lady of six (in starchy, white frills and new, pink ribbons), who had run ahead of her mother, a belated church-goer; and the mongrel charmed her.

“Will you give me this dog?” she asked, without any tedious formalities.

Involuntarily, she departed before receiving a reply. The mother, a red-faced matron whom Joe recognized as a sister of Mrs. Louden’s, consequently his step-aunt, swooped at the child with a rush and rustle of silk, and bore her on violently to her duty. When they had gone a little way the matron’s voice was heard in sharp reproof; the child, held by one wrist and hurried along on tiptoe, staring back over one shoulder at Joe, her eyes wide, and her mouth the shape of the “O” she was ejaculating.

The dog looked up with wistful inquiry at his master, who cocked an eyebrow at him in return, wearing much the same expression. The mother and child disappeared within the church doors and left the Square to the two. Even the hotel showed no signs of life, for the wise men were not allowed to foregather on Sundays. The organ had ceased to stir the air and all was in quiet, yet a quiet which, for Louden, was not peace. He looked at his watch and, without intending it, spoke the hour aloud: “A quarter past eleven.” The sound of his own voice gave him a little shock; he rose without knowing why, and, as he did so, it seemed to him that he heard close to his ear another voice, a woman’s, troubled and insistent, but clear and sweet, saying:

“REMEMBER! ACROSS MAIN STREET BRIDGE AT NOON!”

It was so distinct that he started and looked round. Then he laughed. “I’ll be seeing circus parades next!” His laughter fled, for, louder than the ringing in his ears, unmistakably came the strains of a far-away brass band which had no existence on land or sea or in the waters under the earth.

“Here!” he said to the mongrel. “We need a walk, I think. Let’s you and me move on before the camels turn the corner!”

The music followed him to the street, where he turned westward toward the river, and presently, as he walked on, fanning himself with his straw hat, it faded and was gone. But the voice he had heard returned.

“REMEMBER! ACROSS MAIN STREET BRIDGE AT NOON!” it said again, close to his ear.

This time he did not start. “All right,” he answered, wiping his forehead; “if you’ll let me alone, I’ll be there.”

At a dingy saloon corner, near the river, a shabby little man greeted him heartily and petted the mongrel. “I’m mighty glad you didn’t go, after all, Joe,” he added, with a brightening face.

“Go where, Happy?”

Mr. Fear looked grave. “Don’t you rec’lect meetin’ me last night?”

Louden shook his head. “No. Did I?”

The other’s jaw fell and his brow corrugated with self-reproach. “Well, if that don’t show what a thick-head I am! I thought ye was all right er I’d gone on with ye. Nobody c’d ‘a’ walked straighter ner talked straighter. Said ye was goin’ to leave Canaan fer good and didn’t want nobody to know it. Said ye was goin’ to take the ‘leven-o’clock through train fer the West, and told me I couldn’t come to the deepo with ye. Said ye’d had enough o’ Canaan, and of everything! I follered ye part way to the deepo, but ye turned and made a motion fer me to go back, and I done it, because ye seemed to be kind of in trouble, and I thought ye’d ruther be by yerself. Well, sir, it’s one on me!”

“Not at all,” said Joe. “I was all right.”

“Was ye?” returned the other. “DO remember, do ye?”

“Almost,” Joe smiled, faintly.

“ALMOST,” echoed Happy, shaking his head seriously. “I tell ye, Joe, ef I was YOU–” he began slowly, then paused and shook his head again. He seemed on the point of delivering some advice, but evidently perceiving the snobbishness of such a proceeding, or else convinced by his own experience of the futility of it, he swerved to cheerfulness:

“I hear the boys is all goin’ to work hard fer the primaries. Mike says ye got some chances ye don’t know about; HE swears ye’ll be the next Mayor of Canaan.”

“Nonsense! Folly and nonsense, Happy! That’s the kind of thing I used to think when I was a boy. But now–pshaw!” Joe broke off with a tired laugh. “Tell them not to waste their time. Are you going out to the Beach this afternoon?”

The little man lowered his eyes moodily. “I’ll be near there,” he said, scraping his patched shoe up and down the curbstone. “That feller’s in town agin.”

“What fellow?”

“`Nashville’ they call him; Ed’s the name he give the hospital: Cory–him that I soaked the night you come back to Canaan. He’s after Claudine to git his evens with me. He’s made a raise somewheres, and plays the spender. And her–well, I reckon she’s tired waitin’ table at the National House; tired o’ me, too. I got a hint that they’re goin’ out to the Beach together this afternoon.”

Joe passed his hand wearily over his aching forehead. “I understand,” he said, “and you’d better try to. Cory’s laying for you, of course. You say he’s after your wife? He must have set about it pretty openly if they’re going to the Beach to-day, for there is always a crowd there on Sundays. Is it hard for you to see why he’s doing it? It’s because he wants to make you jealous. What for? So that you’ll tackle him again. And why does he want that? Because he’s ready for you!”

The other’s eyes suddenly became bloodshot, his nostrils expanding incredibly. “READY, is he? He BETTER be ready. I–“

“That’s enough!” Joe interrupted, swiftly. “We’ll have no talk like that. I’ll settle this for you, myself. You send word to Claudine that I want to see her at my office to-morrow morning, and you–you stay away from the Beach to-day. Give me your word.”

Mr. Fear’s expression softened. “All right, Joe,” he said. “I’ll do whatever you tell me to. Any of us ‘ll do that; we sure know who’s our friend.”

“Keep out of trouble, Happy.” Joe turned to go and they shook hands. “Good day, and–keep out of trouble!”

When he had gone, Mr. Fear’s countenance again gloomed ominously, and, shaking his head, he ruminatively entered an adjacent bar through the alley door.

The Main Street bridge was an old-fashioned, wooden, covered one, dust-colored and very narrow, squarely framing the fair, open country beyond; for the town had never crossed the river. Joe found the cool shadow in the bridge gracious to his hot brow, and through the slender chinks of the worn flooring he caught bright glimpses of running water. When he came out of the other end he felt enough refreshed to light a cigar.

“Well, here I am,” he said. “Across Main Street bridge–and it must be getting on toward noon!” He spoke almost with the aspect of daring, and immediately stood still, listening.
“`REMEMBER,”‘ he ventured to repeat, again daring, “`REMEMBER! ACROSS MAIN STREET BRIDGE AT NOON!’ ” And again he listened. Then he chuckled faintly with relief, for the voice did not return. “Thank God, I’ve got rid of that!” he whispered. “And of the circus band too!”

A dust road turned to the right, following the river and shaded by big sycamores on the bank; the mongrel, intensely preoccupied with this road, scampered away, his nose to the ground. “Good enough,” said the master. “Lead on and I’ll come after you.”

But he had not far to follow. The chase led him to a half-hollow log which lay on a low, grass- grown levee above the stream, where the dog’s interest in the pursuit became vivid; temporarily, however, for after a few minutes of agitated investigation, he was seized with indifference to the whole world; panted briefly; slept. Joe sat upon the log, which was in the shade, and smoked.

“`REMEMBER!’ ” He tried it once more. “`ACROSS MAIN STREET BRIDGE AT NOON!’ ” Safety still; the voice came not. But the sound of his own repetition of the words brought him an eerie tremor; for the mist of a memory came with it; nothing tangible, nothing definite, but something very far away and shadowy, yet just poignant enough to give him a queer feeling that he was really keeping an appointment here. Was it with some water- sprite that would rise from the river? Was it with a dryad of the sycamores? He knew too well that he might expect strange fancies to get hold of him this morning, and, as this one grew uncannily stronger, he moved his head briskly as if to shake it off. The result surprised him; the fancy remained, but his headache and dizziness had left him.

A breeze wandered up the river and touched the leaves and grass to life. Sparrows hopped and chirped in the branches, absurdly surprised; without doubt having concluded in the Sunday stillness that the world would drowse forever; and the mongrel lifted his head, blinked at them, hopelessly wishing they would alight near him, scratched his ear with the manner of one who has neglected such matters overlong; reversed his position; slept again. The young corn, deep green in the bottomland, moved with a staccato flurry, and the dust ghost of a mad whirling dervish sped up the main road to vanish at the bridge in a climax of lunacy. The stirring air brought a smell of blossoms; the distance took on faint lavender hazes which blended the outlines of the fields, lying like square coverlets upon the long slope of rising ground beyond the bottom-land, and empurpled the blue woodland shadows of the groves.

For the first time, it struck Joe that it was a beautiful day, and it came to him that a beautiful day was a thing which nothing except death, sickness, or imprisonment could take from him–not even the ban of Canaan! Unforewarned, music sounded in his ears again; but he did not shrink from it now; this was not the circus band he had heard as he left the Square, but a melody like a far-away serenade at night, as of “the horns of elf-land faintly blowing”; and he closed his eyes with the sweetness of it.

“Go ahead!” he whispered. “Do that all you want to. If you’ll keep it up like this awhile, I’ll follow with `Little Brown Jug, How I Love Thee!’ It seems to pay, after all!”

The welcome strains, however, were but the prelude to a harsher sound which interrupted and annihilated them: the Court-house bell clanging out twelve. “All right,” said Joe. “It ‘s noon and I’m `across Main Street bridge.’ “

He opened his eyes and looked about him whimsically. Then he shook his head again.

A lady had just emerged from the bridge and was coming toward him.

It would be hard to get at Joe’s first impressions of her. We can find conveyance for only the broadest and heaviest. Ancient and modern instances multiply the case of the sleeper who dreams out a long story in accurate color and fine detail, a tale of years, in the opening and shutting of a door. So with Joseph, in the brief space of the lady’s approach. And with him, as with the sleeper, it must have been–in fact it was, in his recollections, later–a blur of emotion.

At first sight of her, perhaps it was pre-eminently the shock of seeing anything so exquisite where he had expected to see nothing at all. For she was exquisite–horrid as have been the uses of the word, its best and truest belong to her; she was that and much more, from the ivory ferrule of the parasol she carried, to the light and slender footprint she left in the dust of the road. Joe knew at once that nothing like her had ever before been seen in Canaan.

He had little knowledge of the millinery arts, and he needed none to see the harmony–harmony like that of the day he had discovered a little while ago. Her dress and hat and gloves and parasol showed a pale lavender overtint like that which he had seen overspreading the western slope. (Afterward, he discovered that the gloves she wore that day were gray, and that her hat was for the most part white.) The charm of fabric and tint belonging to what she wore was no shame to her, not being of primal importance beyond herself; it was but the expression of her daintiness and the adjunct of it. She was tall, but if Joe could have spoken or thought of her as “slender,” he would have been capable of calling her lips “red,” in which case he would not have been Joe, and would have been as far from the truth as her lips were from red, or as her supreme delicateness was from mere slenderness.

Under the summer hat her very dark hair swept back over her temples with something near trimness in the extent to which it was withheld from being fluffy. It may be that this approach to trimness, which was, after all, only a sort of coquetry with trimness, is the true key to the mystery of the vision of the lady who appeared to Joe. Let us say that she suppressed everything that went beyond grace; that the hint of floridity was abhorrent to her. “Trim” is as clumsy as “slender”; she had escaped from the trimness of girlhood as wholly as she had gone through its coltishness. “Exquisite.” Let us go back to Joe’s own blurred first thought of her and be content with that!

She was to pass him–so he thought–and as she drew nearer, his breath came faster.

“REMEMBER! ACROSS MAIN STREET BRIDGE AT NOON!” Was THIS the fay of whom the voice had warned him? With that, there befell him the mystery of last night. He did not remember, but it was as if he lived again, dimly, the highest hour of happiness in a life a thousand years ago; perfume and music, roses, nightingales and plucked harp- strings. Yes; something wonderful was happening to him.

She had stopped directly in front of him; stopped and stood looking at him with her clear eyes. He did not lift his own to hers; he had long experience of the averted gaze of women; but it was not only that; a great shyness beset him. He had risen and removed his hat, trying (ineffectually) not to clear his throat; his every-day sense urging upon him that she was a stranger in Canaan who had lost her way–the preposterousness of any one’s losing the way in Canaan not just now appealing to his every–day sense.

“Can I–can I–” he stammered, blushing miserably, meaning to finish with “direct you,” or “show you the way.”

Then he looked at her again and saw what seemed to him the strangest sight of his life. The lady’s eyes had filled with tears-filled and overfilled. “I’ll sit here on the log with you,” she said. And her voice was the voice which he had heard saying,
“REMEMBER! ACROSS MAIN STREET BRIDGE AT NOON!”

“WHAT!” he gasped.

“You don’t need to dust it!” she went on, tremulously. And even then he did not know who she was.

XI

WHEN HALF-GODS GO

There was a silence, for if the dazzled young man could have spoken at all,
The could have found nothing to say; and, perhaps, the lady would not
trust her own voice just then. His
eyes had fallen again; he was too dazed, and, in truth, too panic-stricken, now, to look at her, though if he had been quite sure that she was part of a wonderful dream he might have dared. She was seated beside him, and had handed him her parasol in a little way which seemed to imply that of course he had reached for it, so that it was to be seen how used she was to have all tiny things done for her, though this was not then of his tremulous observing. He did perceive, however, that he was to furl the dainty thing; he pressed the catch, and let down the top timidly, as if fearing to break or tear it; and, as it closed, held near his face, he caught a very faint, sweet, spicy emanation from it like wild roses and cinnamon.

He did not know her; but his timidity and a strange little choke in his throat, the sudden fright which had seized upon him, were not caused by embarrassment. He had no thought that she was one he had known but could not, for the moment, recall; there was nothing of the awkwardness of that; no, he was overpowered by the miracle of this meeting. And yet, white with marvelling, he felt it to be so much more touchingly a great happiness than he had ever known that at first it was inexpressibly sad.

At last he heard her voice again, shaking a little, as she said:

“I am glad you remembered.”

“Remembered what?” he faltered.

“Then you don’t?” she cried. “And yet you came.”

“Came here, do you mean?”

“Yes–now, at noon.”

“Ah!” he half whispered, unable to speak aloud. “Was it you who said–who said, `Remember! Across–across–“‘

“`Across Main Street bridge at noon!’ ” she finished for him, gently. “Yes.”

He took a deep breath in the wonder of it. “Where was it you said that?” he asked, slowly. “Was it last night?”

“Don’t you even know that you came to meet me?”

“_I_–came to–to meet–you!”

She gave a little pitying cry, very near a sob, seeing his utter bewilderment.

“It was like the strangest dream in the world,” she said. “You were at the station when I came, last night. You don’t remember at all?”

His eyes downcast, his face burning hotly, he could only shake his head.

“Yes,” she continued. “I thought no one would be there, for I had not written to say what train I should take, but when I stepped down from the platform, you were standing there; though you didn’t see me at first, not until I had called your name and ran to you. You said, `I’ve come to meet you,’ but you said it queerly, I thought. And then you called a carriage for me; but you seemed so strange you couldn’t tell how you knew that I was coming, and–and then I–I understood you weren’t yourself. You were very quiet, but I knew, I knew! So I made you get into the carriage–and–and–“

She faltered to a stop, and with that, shame itself brought him courage; he turned and faced her. She had lifted her handkerchief to her eyes, but at his movement she dropped it, and it was not so much the delicate loveliness of her face that he saw then as the tears upon her cheeks.

“Ah, poor boy!” she cried. “I knew! I knew!”

“You–you took me home?”

“You told me where you lived,” she answered. “Yes, I took you home.”

“I don’t understand,” he stammered, huskily. “I don’t understand!”

She leaned toward him slightly, looking at him with great intentness.

“You didn’t know me last night,” she said. “Do you know me now?”

For answer he could only stare at her, dumfounded. He lifted an unsteady hand toward her appealingly. But the manner of the lady, as she saw the truth, underwent an April change. She drew back lightly; he was favored with the most delicious, low laugh he had ever heard, and, by some magic whisk which she accomplished, there was no sign of tears about her.

“Ah! I’m glad you’re the same, Joe!” she said. “You never would or could pretend very well. I’m glad you’re the same, and I’m glad I’ve changed, though that isn’t why you have forgotten me. You’ve forgotten me because you
never thought of me. Perhaps I should not have known you if you had changed a great deal–as I have!”

He started, leaning back from her.

“Ah!” she laughed. “That’s it! That funny little twist of the head you always had, like a– like a–well, you know I must have told you a thousand times that it was like a nice friendly puppy; so why shouldn’t I say so now? And your eyebrows! When you look like that, nobody could ever forget you, Joe!”

He rose from the log, and the mongrel leaped upon him uproariously, thinking they were to go home, belike to food.

The lady laughed again. “Don’t let him spoil my parasol. And I must warn you now: Never, never TREAD ON MY SKIRT! I’m very irritable about such things!”

He had taken three or four uncertain backward steps from her. She sat before him, radiant with laughter, the loveliest creature he had ever seen; but between him and this charming vision there swept, through the warm, scented June air, a veil of snow like a driven fog, and, half obscured in the heart of it, a young girl stood, knee-deep in a drift piled against an old picket gate, her black water- proof and shabby skirt flapping in the blizzard like torn sails, one of her hands out-stretched toward him, her startled eyes fixed on his.

“And, oh, how like you,” said the lady; “how like you and nobody else in the world, Joe, to have a yellow dog!”

“ARIEL TABOR!”

His lips formed the words without sound.

“Isn’t it about time?” she said. “Are strange ladies in the HABIT of descending from trains to take you home?”

Once, upon a white morning long ago, the sensational progress of a certain youth up Main Street had stirred Canaan. But that day was as nothing to this. Mr. Bantry had left temporary paralysis in his wake; but in the case of the two young people who passed slowly along the street to-day it was petrifaction, which seemingly threatened in several instances (most notably that of Mr. Arp) to become permanent.

The lower portion of the street, lined with three and four story buildings of brick and stone, rather grim and hot facades under the mid-day sun, afforded little shade to the church-comers, who were working homeward in processional little groups and clumps, none walking fast, though none with the appearance of great leisure, since neither rate of progress would have been esteemed befitting the day. The growth of Canaan, steady, though never startling, had left almost all of the churches down-town, and Main Street the principal avenue of communication between them and the “residence section.” So, to-day, the intermittent procession stretched along the new cement side- walks from a little below the Square to Upper Main Street, where maples lined the thoroughfare and the mansions of the affluent stood among pleasant lawns and shrubberies. It was late; for this had been a communion Sunday, and those far in advance, who had already reached the pretty and shady part of the street, were members of the churches where services had been shortest; though few in the long parade looked as if they had been attending anything very short, and many heads of families were crisp in their replies to the theological inquiries of their offspring. The men imparted largely a gloom to the itinerant concourse, most of them wearing hot, long black coats and having wilted their collars; the ladies relieving this gloom somewhat by the lighter tints of their garments; the spick-and-span little girls relieving it greatly by their white dresses and their faces, the latter bright with the hope of Sunday ice-cream; while the boys, experiencing some solace in that they were finally out where a person could at least scratch himself if he had to, yet oppressed by the decorous necessities of the day, marched along, furtively planning, behind imperturbably secretive countenances, various means for the later dispersal of an odious monotony.

Usually the conversation of this long string of the homeward-bound was not too frivolous or worldly; nay, it properly inclined to discussion of the sermon; that is, praise of the sermon, with here and there a mild “I-didn’t-like-his-saying” or so; and its lighter aspects were apt to concern the next “Social,” or various pleasurable schemes for the raising of funds to help the heathen, the quite worthy poor, or the church.

This was the serious and seemly parade, the propriety of whose behavior was to-day almost disintegrated when the lady of the bridge walked up the street in the shadow of a lacy, lavender parasol carried by Joseph Louden. The congregation of the church across the Square, that to which Joe’s step-aunt had been late, was just debouching, almost in mass, upon Main Street, when these two went by. It is not quite the truth to say that all except the children came to a dead halt, but it is not very far from it. The air was thick with subdued exclamations and whisperings.

Here is no mystery. Joe was probably the only person of respectable derivation in Canaan who had not known for weeks that Ariel Tabor was on her way home. And the news that she had arrived the night before had been widely disseminated on the way to church, entering church, IN church (even so!), and coming out of church. An account of her house in the Avenue Henri Martin, and of her portrait in the Salon–a mysterious business to many, and not lacking in grandeur for that!–had occupied two columns in the Tocsin, on a day, some months before, when Joe had found himself inimically head- lined on the first page, and had dropped the paper without reading further. Ariel’s name had been in the mouth of Canaan for a long time; unfortunately for Joe, however, not in the mouth of that Canaan which held converse with him.

Joe had not known her. The women recognized her, infallibly, at first glance; even those who had quite forgotten her. And the women told their men. Hence the un-Sunday-like demeanor of the procession, for few towns hold it more unseemly to stand and stare at passers-by, especially on the Sabbath.–BUT Ariel Tabor returned–and walking with–WITH JOE LOUDEN! . . .

A low but increasing murmur followed the two as they proceeded. It ran up the street ahead of them; people turned to look back and paused, so that they had to walk round one or two groups. They had, also, to walk round Norbert Flitcroft, which was very like walking round a group. He was one of the few (he was waddling home alone) who did not identify Miss Tabor, and her effect upon him was extraordinary. His mouth opened and he gazed stodgily, his widening eyes like sun-dogs coming out of a fog. He did not recognize her escort; did not see him at all until they had passed, after which Mr. Flitcroft experienced a few moments of trance; came out of it stricken through and through; felt nervously of his tie; resolutely fell in behind the heeling mongrel and followed, at a distance of some forty paces, determined to learn what household this heavenly visitor honored, and thrilling with the intention to please that same household with his own presence as soon and as often as possible.

Ariel flushed a little when she perceived the extent of their conspicuousness; but it was not the blush that Joe remembered had reddened the tanned skin of old; for her brownness had gone long ago, though it had not left her merely pink and white. This was a delicate rosiness rising from her cheeks to her temples as the earliest dawn rises. If there had been many words left in Joe, he would have called it a divine blush; it fascinated him, and if anything could have deepened the glamour about her, it would have been this blush. He did not understand it, but when he saw it he stumbled.

Those who gaped and stared were for him only blurs in the background; truly, he saw “men as trees walking”; and when it became necessary to step out to the curb in passing some clump of people, it was to him as if Ariel and he, enchantedly alone, were working their way through underbrush in the woods.

He kept trying to realize that this lady of wonder was Ariel Tabor, but he could not; he could not connect the shabby Ariel, whom he had treated as one boy treats another, with this young woman of the world. He had always been embarrassed, himself, and ashamed of her, when anything she did made him remember that, after all, she was a girl; as, on the day he ran away, when she kissed a lock of his hair escaping from the bandage. With that recollection, even his ears grew red: it did not seem probable that it would ever happen again! The next instant he heard himself calling her “Miss Tabor.”

At this she seemed amused. “You ought to have called me that, years ago,” she said, “for all you knew me!”

“I did know her–YOU, I mean!” he answered. “I used to know nearly everything you were going to say before you said it. It seems strange now–“

“Yes,” she interrupted. “It does seem strange now!”

“Somehow,” he went on, “I doubt if now I’d know.”

“Somehow,” she echoed, with fine gravity, “I doubt it, too.”

Although he had so dim a perception of the staring and whispering which greeted and followed them, Ariel, of course, was thoroughly aware of it, though the only sign she gave was the slight blush, which very soon disappeared. That people turned to look at her may have been not altogether a novelty: a girl who had learned to appear unconscious of the Continental stare, the following gaze of the boulevards, the frank glasses of the Costanza in Rome, was not ill equipped to face Main Street, Canaan, even as it was to-day.

Under the sycamores, before they started, they had not talked a great deal; there had been long silences: almost all her questions concerning the period of his runaway absence; she appeared to know and to understand everything which had happened since his return to the town. He had not, in his turn, reached the point where he would begin to question her; he was too breathless in his consciousness of the marvellous present hour. She had told him of the death of Roger Tabor, the year before. “Poor man,” she said, gently, “he lived to see `how the other fellows did it’ at last, and everybody liked him. He was very happy over there.”

After a little while she had said that it was growing close upon lunch-time; she must be going back.

“Then–then–good-bye,” he replied, ruefully.

“Why?”

“I’m afraid you don’t understand. It wouldn’t do for you to be seen with me. Perhaps, though, you do understand. Wasn’t that why you asked me to meet you out here beyond the bridge?”

In answer she looked at him full and straight for three seconds, then threw back her head and closed her eyes tight with laughter. Without a word she took the parasol from him, opened it herself, placed the smooth white coral handle of it in his hand, and lightly took his arm. There was no further demur on the part of the young man. He did not know where she was going; he did not ask.

Soon after Norbert turned to follow them, they came to the shady part of the street, where the town in summer was like a grove. Detachments from the procession had already, here and there, turned in at the various gates. Nobody, however, appeared to have gone in-doors, except for fans, armed with which immediately to return to rockers upon the shaded verandas. As Miss Tabor and Joe went by, the rocking-chairs stopped; the fans poised, motionless; and perspiring old gentlemen, wiping their necks, paused in arrested attitudes.

Once Ariel smiled politely, not at Mr. Louden, and inclined her head twice, with the result that the latter, after thinking for a time of how gracefully she did it and how pretty the top of her hat was, became gradually conscious of a meaning in her action: that she had bowed to some one across the street. He lifted his hat, about four minutes late, and discovered Mamie Pike and Eugene, upon the opposite pavement, walking home from church together. Joe changed color.

There, just over the way, was she who had been, in his first youth, the fairy child, the little princess playing in the palace yard, and always afterward his lady of dreams, his fair unreachable moon! And Joe, seeing her to-day, changed color; that was all! He had passed Mamie in the street only a week before, and she had seemed all that she had always seemed; to-day an incomprehensible and subtle change had befallen her–a change so mystifying to him that for a moment he almost doubted that she was Mamie Pike. It came to him with a breath- taking shock that her face lacked a certain vivacity of meaning; that its sweetness was perhaps too placid; that there would have been a deeper goodness in it had there been any hint of daring. Astonishing questions assailed him, startled him: could it be true that, after all, there might be some day too much of her? Was her amber hair a little too–FLUFFY? Was something the matter with her dress? Everything she wore had always seemed so beautiful. Where had the exquisiteness of it gone? For there was surely no exquisiteness about it now! It was incredible that any one could so greatly alter in the few days elapsed since he had seen her.

Strange matters! Mamie had never looked prettier.

At the sound of Ariel’s voice he emerged from the profundities of his psychic enigma with a leap.

“She is lovelier than ever, isn’t she?”

“Yes, indeed,” he answered, blankly.

“Would you still risk–” she began, smiling, but, apparently thinking better of it, changed her question: “What is the name of your dog, Mr. Louden? You haven’t told me.”

“Oh, he’s just a yellow dog,” he evaded, unskilfully.

“YOUNG MAN!” she said, sharply.

“Well,” he admitted, reluctantly, “I call him Speck for short.”

“And what for long? I want to know his real name.”

“It’s mighty inappropriate, because we’re fond of each other,” said Joe, “but when I picked him up he was so yellow, and so thin, and so creeping, and so scared that I christened him `Respectability.’ “

She broke into light laughter, stopped short in the midst of it, and became grave. “Ah, you’ve grown bitter,” she said, gently.

“No, no,” he protested. “I told you I liked him.”

She did not answer.

They were now opposite the Pike Mansion, and to his surprise she turned, indicating the way by a touch upon his sleeve, and crossed the street toward the gate, which Mamie and Eugene had entered. Mamie, after exchanging a word with Eugene upon the steps, was already hurrying into the house.

Ariel paused at the gate, as if waiting for Joe to open it.

He cocked his head, his higher eyebrow rose, and the distorted smile appeared. “I don’t believe we’d better stop here,” he said. “The last time I tried it I was expunged from the face of the universe.”

“Don’t you know?” she cried. “I’m staying here. Judge Pike has charge of all my property; he was the administrator, or something.” Then seeing him chopfallen and aghast, she went on: “Of course you don’t know! You don’t know anything about me. You haven’t even asked!”

“You’re going to live HERE?” he gasped.

“Will you come to see me?” she laughed. “Will you come this afternoon?”

He grew white. “You know I can’t,” he said.

“You came here once. You risked a good deal then, just to see Mamie dance by a window. Don’t you dare a little for an old friend?”

“All right,” he gulped. “I’ll try.”

Mr. Bantry had come down to the gate and was holding it open, his eyes fixed upon Ariel, within them a rising glow. An impression came to Joe afterward that his step-brother had looked very handsome.

“Possibly you remember me, Miss Tabor?” said Eugene, in a deep and impressive voice, lifting his hat. “We were neighbors, I believe, in the old days.”

She gave him her hand in a fashion somewhat mannerly, favoring him with a bright, negligent smile. “Oh, quite,” she answered, turning again to Joe as she entered the gate. “Then I shall expect you?”

“I’ll try,” said Joe. “I’ll try.”

He stumbled away; Respectability and he, together, interfering alarmingly with the comfort of Mr. Flitcroft, who had stopped in the middle of the pavement to stare glassily at Ariel. Eugene accompanied the latter into the house, and Joe, looking back, understood: Mamie had sent his step- brother to bring Ariel in–and to keep him from following.

“This afternoon!” The thought took away his breath, and he became paler.

The Pike brougham rolled by him, and Sam Warden, from the box, favored his old friend upon the pavement with a liberal display of the whites of his eyes. The Judge, evidently, had been detained after services–without doubt a meeting of the church officials. Mrs. Pike, blinking and frightened, sat at her husband’s side, agreeing feebly with the bull-bass which rumbled out of the open window of the brougham: “I want orthodox preaching in MY church, and, by God, madam, I’ll have it! That fellow has got to go!” Joe took off his hat and wiped his brow.

XII

TO REMAIN ON THE FIELD OF BATTLE IS NOT ALWAYS A VICTORY

Mamie, waiting just inside the door as Ariel and Eugene entered, gave the visitor a pale greeting, and, a moment later, hearing the wheels of the brougham crunch the gravel of the carriage-drive, hurried away, down the broad hall, and disappeared. Ariel dropped her parasol upon a marble-topped table near the door, and, removing her gloves, drifted into a room at the left, where a grand piano found shelter beneath crimson plush. After a moment of contemplation, she pushed back the coverlet, and, seating herself upon the plush-covered piano-stool (to match), let her fingers run up and down the key-board once and fall listlessly in her lap, as she gazed with deep interest at three life-sized colored photographs (in carved gilt frames) upon the wall she was facing: Judge Pike, Mamie, and Mrs. Pike with her rubies.

“Please don’t stop playing, Miss Tabor,” said a voice behind her. She had not observed that Eugene had followed her into the room.

“Very well, if you like,” she answered, looking up to smile absently at him. And she began to play a rakish little air which, composed by some rattle-brain at a cafe table, had lately skipped out of the Moulin Rouge to disport itself over Paris. She played it slowly, in the minor, with elfish pathos; while he leaned upon the piano, his eyes fixed upon her fingers, which bore few rings, none, he observed with an unreasonable pleasure, upon the third finger of the left hand.

“It’s one of those simpler Grieg things, isn’t it?” he said, sighing gently. “I care for Grieg.”

“Would you mind its being Chaminade?” she returned, dropping her eyes to cloak the sin.

“Ah no; I recognize it now,” replied Eugene. “He appeals to me even more than Grieg.”

At this she glanced quickly up at him, but more quickly down again, and hastened the time emphatically, swinging the little air into the major.

“Do you play the `Pilgrim’s Chorus’?”

She shook her head.

“Vous name pas Wagner?” inquired Eugene, leaning toward her.

“Oh yes,” she answered, bending her head far over, so that her face was concealed from him, except the chin, which, he saw with a thrill of in explicable emotion, was trembling slightly. There were some small white flowers upon her hat, and these shook too.

She stopped playing abruptly, rose from the stool and crossed the room to a large mahogany chair, upholstered in red velvet and of hybrid construction, possessing both rockers and legs. She had moved in a way which prevented him from seeing her face, but he was certain of her agitation, and strangely glad, while curious, tremulous half- thoughts, edged with prophecy, bubbled to the surface of his consciousness.

When she turned to him, he was surprised to see that she looked astonishingly happy, almost as if she had been struggling with joy, instead of pain.

“This chair,” she said, sinking into it, “makes me feel at home.”

Naturally he could not understand.

“Because,” she explained, “I once thought I was going to live in it. It has been reupholstered, but I should know it if I met in anywhere in the world!”

“How very odd!” exclaimed Eugene, staring.

“I settled here in pioneer days,” she went on, tapping the arms lightly with her finger-tips. “It was the last dance I went to in Canaan.”

“I fear the town was very provincial at that time,” he returned, having completely forgotten the occasion she mentioned, therefore wishing to shift the subject. “I fear you may still find it so. There is not much here that one is in sympathy with, intellectually–few people really of the world.”

“Few people, I suppose you mean,” she said, softly, with a look that went deep enough into his eyes, “few people who really understand one?”

Eugene had seated himself on the sill of an open window close by. “There has been,” he answered, with the ghost of a sigh, “no one.”

She turned her head slightly away from him, apparently occupied with a loose thread in her sleeve. There were no loose threads; it was an old habit of hers which she retained. “I suppose,” she murmured, in a voice as low as his had been, “that a man of your sort might find Canaan rather lonely and sad.”

“It HAS been!” Whereupon she made him a laughing little bow.

“You are sure you complain of Canaan?”

“Yes!” he exclaimed. “You don’t know what it is to live here–“

“I think I do. I lived here seventeen years.”

“Oh yes,” he began to object, “as a child, but–“

“Have you any recollection,” she interrupted, “of the day before your brother ran away? Of coming home for vacation–I think it was your first year in college–and intervening between your brother and me in a snow-fight?”

For a moment he was genuinely perplexed; then his face cleared. “Certainly,” he said: “I found him bullying you and gave him a good punishing for it.”

“Is that all you remember?”

“Yes,” he replied, honestly. “Wasn’t that all?”

“Quite!” she smiled, her eyes half closed. “Except that I went home immediately afterward.”

“Naturally,” said Eugene. “My step-brother wasn’t very much chevalier sans peur et sans reproche! Ah, I should like to polish up my French a little. Would you mind my asking you to read a bit with me, some little thing of Daudet’s if you care for him, in the original? An hour, now and then, perhaps–“

Mamie appeared in the doorway and Eugene rose swiftly. “I have been trying to persuade Miss Tabor,” he explained, with something too much of laughter, “to play again. You heard that little thing of Chaminade’s–“

Mamie did not appear to hear him; she entered breathlessly, and there was no color in her cheeks. “Ariel,” she exclaimed, “I don’t want you to think I’m a tale-bearer–“

“Oh, my dear!” Ariel said, with a gesture of deprecation.

“No,” Miss Pike went on, all in one breath, “but I’m afraid you will think it, because papa knows and he wants to see you.”

“What is it that he knows?”

“That you were walking with Joseph Louden!” (This was as if she had said, “That you poisoned your mother.”) “I DIDN’T tell him, but when we saw you with him I was troubled, and asked Eugene what I’d better do, because Eugene always knows what is best.” (Mr. Bantry’s expression, despite this tribute, was not happy.) “And he advised me to tell mamma about it and leave it in her hands. But she always tells papa everything–“

“Certainly; that is understood,” said Ariel, slowly, turning to smile at Eugene.

“And she told him this right away,” Mamie finished.

“Why shouldn’t she, if it is of the slightest interest to him?”

The daughter of the house exhibited signs of consternation. “He wants to see you,” she repeated, falteringly. “He’s in the library.”

Having thus discharged her errand, she hastened to the front-door, which had been left open, and out to the steps, evidently with the intention of removing herself as soon and as far as possible from the vicinity of the library.

Eugene, visibly perturbed, followed her to the doorway of the room, and paused.

“Do you know the way?” he inquired, with a note of solemnity.

“Where?” Ariel had not risen.

“To the library.”

“Of course,” she said, beaming upon him. “I was about to ask you if you wouldn’t speak to the Judge for me. This is such a comfortable old friend, this chair.”

“Speak to him for you?” repeated the non- plussed Eugene.

She nodded cheerfully. “If I may trouble you. Tell him, certainly, I shall be glad to see him.”

He threw a piteous glance after Mamie, who was now, as he saw, through the open door, out upon the lawn and beyond easy hailing distance. When he turned again to look at Ariel he discovered that she had shifted the position of her chair slightly, and was gazing out of the window with every appearance of cheerful meditation. She assumed so unmistakably that he had of course gone on her mission that, dismayed and his soul quaking, he could find neither an alternative nor words to explain to this dazzling lady that not he nor any other could bear such a message to Martin Pike.

Eugene went. There was nothing else to do; and he wished with every step that the distance to the portals of the library might have been greater.

In whatever guise he delivered the summons, it was perfectly efficacious. A door slammed, a heavy and rapid tread was heard in the hall, and Ariel, without otherwise moving, turned her head and offered a brilliant smile of greeting.

“It was good of you,” she said, as the doorway filled with red, imperial wrath, “to wish to have a little chat with me. I’m anxious, of course, to go over my affairs with you, and last night, after my journey, I was too tired. But now we might begin; not in detail, of course, just yet. That will do for later, when I’ve learned more about business.”

The great one had stopped on the threshold.

“Madam,” he began, coldly, “when I say my library, I mean my–“

“Oh yes,” she interrupted, with amiable weariness. “I know. You mean you keep all the
papers and books of the estate in there, but I think we’d better put them off for a few days–“

“I’m not talking about the estate!” he exclaimed. “What I want to talk to you about is being seen with Joseph Louden!”

“Yes,” she nodded, brightly. “That’s along the line we must take up first.”

“Yes, it is!” He hurled his bull-bass at her. “You knew everything about him and his standing in this community! I know you did, because Mrs. Pike told me you asked all about him from Mamie after you came last night, and, see here, don’t you–“

“Oh, but I knew before that,” she laughed. “I had a correspondent in Canaan, one who has always taken a great interest in Mr. Louden. I asked Miss Pike only to get her own point of view.”

“I want to tell you, madam,” he shouted, coming toward her, “that no member of my household–“

“That’s another point we must take up to-day. I’m glad you remind me of it,” she said, thoughtfully, yet with so magically compelling an intonation that he stopped his shouting in the middle of a word; stopped with an apoplectic splutter. “We must arrange to put the old house in order at once.”

“We’ll arrange nothing of the sort,” he responded, after a moment of angry silence. “You’re going to stay right here.”

“Ah, I know your hospitality,” she bowed, graciously. “But of course I must not tax it too far. And about Mr. Louden? As I said, I want to speak to you about him.”

“Yes,” he intervened, harshly. “So do I, and I’m going to do it quick! You’ll find–“

Again she mysteriously baffled him. “He’s a dear old friend of mine, you know, and I have made up my mind that we both need his help, you and I.”

“What!”

“Yes,” she continued, calmly, “in a business way I mean. I know you have great interests in a hundred directions, all more important than mine; it isn’t fair that you should bear the whole burden of my affairs, and I think it will be best to retain Mr. Louden as my man of business. He could take all the cares of the estate off your shoulders.”

Martin Pike spoke no word, but he looked at her strangely; and she watched him with sudden keenness, leaning forward in her chair, her gaze alert but quiet, fixed on the dilating pupils of his eyes. He seemed to become dizzy, and the choleric scarlet which had overspread his broad face and big neck faded splotchily.

Still keeping her eyes upon him, she went on: “I haven’t asked him yet, and so I don’t know whether or not he’ll consent, but I think it possible that he may come to see me this afternoon, and if he does we can propose it to him together and go over things a little.”

Judge Pike recovered his voice. “He’ll get a warm welcome,” he promised, huskily, “if he sets foot on my premises!”

“You mean you prefer I shouldn’t receive him here?” She nodded pleasantly. “Then certainly I shall not. Such things are much better for offices; you are quite right.”

“You’ll not see him at all!”

“Ah, Judge Pike,” she lifted her hand with gentle deprecation, “don’t you understand that we can’t quite arrange that? You see, Mr. Louden is even an older friend of mine than you are, and so I must trust his advice about such things more than yours. Of course, if he too should think it better for me not to see him–“

The Judge advanced toward her. “I’m tired of this,” he began, in a loud voice. “I’m–“

She moved as if to rise, but he had come very close, leaning above her, one arm out-stretched and at the end of it a heavy forefinger which he was shaking at her, so that it was difficult to get out of her chair without pushing him away–a feat apparently impossible. Ariel Tabor, in rising, placed her hand upon his out-stretched arm, quite as if he had offered it to assist her; he fell back a step in complete astonishment; she rose quickly, and released his arm.

“Thank you,” she said, beamingly. “It’s quite all my fault that you’re tired. I’ve been thoughtless to keep you so long, and you have been standing, too!” She swept lightly and quickly to the door, where she paused, gathering her skirts. “I shall not detain you another instant! And if Mr. Louden comes, this afternoon, I’ll remember. I’ll not let him come in, of course. It will be perhaps pleasanter to talk over my proposition as we walk!”

There was a very faint, spicy odor like wild roses and cinnamon left in the room where Martin Pike stood alone, staring whitely at the open doorway,

XIII

THE WATCHER AND THE WARDEN

There was a custom of Canaan,
time-worn and seldom honored in
the breach, which put Ariel, that
afternoon, in easy possession of a
coign of vantage commanding the
front gate. The heavy Sunday dinner was finished in silence (on the part of Judge Pike, deafening) about three o’clock, and, soon after, Mamie tossed a number of cushions out upon the stoop between the cast-iron dogs,–Sam Warden having previously covered the steps with a rug and placed several garden chairs near by on the grass. These simple