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  • 1905
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preparations concluded, Eugene sprawled comfortably upon the rug, and Mamie seated herself near him, while Ariel wandered with apparent aimlessness about the lawn, followed by the gaze of Mr. Bantry, until Miss Pike begged her, a little petulantly, to join them.

She came, looking about her dreamily, and touching to her lips, now and then, with an absent air, a clover blossom she had found in the longer grass against the fence. She stopped to pat the neck of one of the cast-iron deer, and with grave eyes proffered the clover-top first for inspection, then as food. There were those in the world who, seeing her, might have wondered that the deer did not play Galatea and come to life.

“No?” she said, aloud, to the steadfast head. “You won’t? What a mistake to be made of cast- iron!” She smiled and nodded to a clump of lilac- bushes near a cedar-tree, and to nothing else–so far as Eugene and Mamie could see,–then walked thoughtfully to the steps.

“Who in the world were you speaking to?” asked Mamie, curiously.

“That deer.”

“But you bowed to some one.”

“Oh, that,” Ariel lifted her eyebrows,–“that was your father. Didn’t you see him?”

“No.”

“I believe you can’t from here, after all,” said Ariel, slowly. “He is sitting upon a rustic bench between the bushes and the cedar-tree, quite near the gate. No, you couldn’t see him from here; you’d have to go as far as the deer, at least, and even then you might not notice him, unless you looked for him. He has a book–a Bible, I think– but I don’t think he is reading.”

“He usually takes a nap on Sunday afternoons,” said Mamie.

“I don’t think he will, to-day.” Ariel looked at Eugene, who avoided her clear gaze. “He has the air of having settled himself to stay for a long time, perhaps until evening.”

She had put on her hat after dinner, and Mamie now inquired if she would not prefer to remove it, offering to carry it in-doors for her, to Ariel’s room, to insure its safety. “You look so sort of temporary, wearing it,” she urged, “as if you were only here for a little while. It’s the loveliest hat I ever saw, and so fragile, too, but I’ll take care–“

Ariel laughed, leaned over, and touched the other’s hand lightly. “It isn’t that, dear.”

“What is it, then?” Mamie beamed out into a joyful smile. She had felt sure that she could not understand Ariel; was, indeed, afraid of her; and she found herself astonishingly pleased to be called “dear,” and delighted with the little familiarity of the hand-tap. Her feeling toward the visitor (who was, so her father had announced, to become a permanent member of the household) had been, until now, undefined. She had been on her guard, watching for some sign of conscious “superiority” in this lady who had been so long over-seas, not knowing what to make of her; though thrown, by the contents of her trunks, into a wistfulness which would have had something of rapture in it had she been sure that she was going to like Ariel. She had gone to the latter’s room before church, and had perceived uneasily that it had become, even by the process of unpacking, the prettiest room she had ever seen. Mrs. Warden, wife of Sam, and handmaiden of the mansion, was assisting, alternately faint and vociferous with marvelling. Mamie feared that Ariel might be a little overpowering.

With the word “dear” (that is, of course, with the way it was spoken), and with the touch upon the hand, it was all suddenly settled; she would not understand Ariel always–that was clear–but they would like each other.

“I am wearing my hat,” answered Ariel, “because at any moment I may decide to go for a long walk!”

“Oh, I hope not,” said Mamie. “There are sure to be people: a few still come, even though I’m an engaged girl. I expect that’s just to console me, though,” she added, smiling over this worn quip of the betrothed, and shaking her head at Eugene, who grew red and coughed. “There’ll be plenty to-day, but they won’t be here to see me. It’s you, Ariel, and they’d be terribly disappointed if you weren’t here. I shouldn’t wonder if the whole town came; it’s curious enough about you!”

Canaan (at least that part of it which Mamie meant when she said “the whole town”) already offered testimony to her truthfulness. Two gentlemen, aged nine and eleven, and clad in white
“sailor suits,” were at that moment grooving their cheeks between the round pickets of the gate. They had come from the house across the street, evidently stimulated by the conversation at their own recent dinner-table (they wore a few deposits such as are left by chocolate-cake), and the motive of their conduct became obvious when, upon being joined by a person from next door (a starched and frilled person of the opposite sex but sympathetic age), one of them waggled a forefinger through the gate at Ariel, and a voice was heard in explanation:

“THAT’S HER.”

There was a rustle in the lilac-bushes near the cedar-tree; the three small heads turned simultaneously in that direction; something terrific was evidently seen, and with a horrified “OOOH!” the trio skedaddled headlong.

They were but the gay vanguard of the life which the street, quite dead through the Sunday dinner-hour, presently took on. Young couples with their progeny began to appear, returning from the weekly reunion Sunday dinner with relatives; young people meditative (until they reached the Pike Mansion), the wives fanning themselves or shooing the tots-able-to-walk ahead of them, while the husbands, wearing long coats, satin ties, and showing dust upon their blazing shoes, invariably pushed the perambulators. Most of these passers-by exchanged greetings with Mamie and Eugene, and all of them looked hard at Ariel as long as it was possible.

And now the young men of the town, laboriously arranged as to apparel, began to appear on the street in small squads, making their Sunday rounds; the youngest working in phalanxes of threes and fours, those somewhat older inclining to move in pairs; the eldest, such as were now beginning to be considered middle-aged beaux, or (by the extremely youthful) “old bachelors,” evidently considered it advantageous to travel alone. Of all these, there were few who did not, before evening fell, turn in at the gate of the Pike Mansion. Consciously, shyly or confidently, according to the condition of their souls, they made their way between the cast-iron deer to be presented to the visitor.

Ariel sat at the top of the steps, and, looking amiably over their heads, talked with such as could get near her. There were many who could not, and Mamie, occupying the bench below, was surrounded by the overflow. The difficulty of reaching and maintaining a position near Miss Tabor was increased by the attitude and behavior of Mr. Flitcroft, who that day cooled the feeling of friendship which several of his fellow-townsmen had hitherto entertained for him. He had been the first to arrive, coming alone, though that was not his custom, and he established himself at Ariel’s right, upon the step just below her, so disposing the great body and the ponderous arms and legs the gods had given him, that no one could mount above him to sit beside her, or approach her from that direction within conversational distance. Once established, he was not to be dislodged, and the only satisfaction for those in this manner debarred from the society of the beautiful stranger was obtained when they were presented to her and when they took their departure. On these occasions it was necessary by custom for them to shake her hand, a ceremony they accomplished by leaning across Mr. Flitcroft, which was a long way to lean, and the fat back and shoulders were sore that night because of what had been surreptitiously done to them by revengeful elbows and knees.

Norbert, not ordinarily talkative, had nothing to say; he seemed to find sufficient occupation in keeping the place he had gained; and from this close vantage he fastened his small eyes immovably upon Ariel’s profile. Eugene, also apparently determined not to move, sat throughout the afternoon at her left, but as he was thin, others, who came and went, were able to approach upon that side and hold speech with her.

She was a stranger to these young people, most of whom had grown up together in a nickname intimacy. Few of them had more than a very imperfect recollection of her as she was before Roger Tabor and she had departed out of Canaan. She had lived her girlhood only upon their borderland, with no intimates save her grandfather and Joe; and she returned to her native town “a revelation and a dream,” as young Mr. Bradbury told his incredulous grandmother that night.

The conversation of the gallants consisted, for the greater part, of witticisms at one another’s expense, which, though evoked for Ariel’s benefit (all eyes furtively reverting to her as each shaft was loosed), she found more or less enigmatical. The young men, however, laughed at each other loudly, and seemed content if now and then she smiled. “You must be frightfully ennuied with all this,” Eugene said to her. “You see how provincial we still are.”

She did not answer; she had not heard him. The shadows were stretching themselves over the grass, long and attenuated; the sunlight upon the trees and houses was like a thin, rosy pigment; black birds were calling each other home to beech and elm; and Ariel’s eyes were fixed upon the western distance of the street where gold-dust was beginning to quiver in the air. She did not hear Eugene, but she started, a moment later, when the name “Joe Louden” was pronounced by a young man, the poetic Bradbury, on the step below Eugene. Some one immediately said “‘SH!” But she leaned over and addressed Mr. Bradbury, who, shut out, not only from the group about her, but from the other centring upon Miss Pike, as well, was holding a private conversation with a friend in like misfortune.

“What were you saying of Mr. Louden?” she asked, smiling down upon the young man. (It was this smile which inspired his description of her as “a revelation and a dream.”)

“Oh, nothing particular,” was his embarrassed reply. “I only mentioned I’d heard there was some talk among the–” He paused awkwardly, remembering that Ariel had walked with Joseph Louden in the face of Canaan that very day. “That is, I mean to say, there’s some talk of his running for Mayor.”

“WHAT?”

There was a general exclamation, followed by an uncomfortable moment or two of silence. No one present was unaware of that noon walk, though there was prevalent a pleasing notion that it would not happen again, founded on the idea that Ariel, having only arrived the previous evening, had probably met Joe on the street by accident, and, remembering him as a playmate of her childhood and uninformed as to his reputation, had, naturally enough, permitted him to walk home with her.

Mr. Flitcroft broke the silence, rushing into words with a derisive laugh: “Yes, he’s `talked of’ for Mayor–by the saloon people and the niggers! I expect the Beaver Beach crowd would be for him, and if tramps could vote he might–“

“What is Beaver Beach?” asked Ariel, not turning.

“What is Beaver Beach?” he repeated, and cast his eyes to the sky, shaking his head awesomely. “It’s a Place,” he said, with abysmal solemnity, –“a Place I shouldn’t have mentioned in your presence, Miss Tabor.”

“What has it to do with Mr. Louden?”

The predestined Norbert conceived the present to be a heaven-sent opportunity to enlighten her concerning Joe’s character, since the Pikes appeared to have been derelict in the performance of this kindness.

“He goes there!” he proceeded heavily. “He lived there for a while when he first came back from running away, and he’s a friend of Mike Sheehan’s that runs it; he’s a friend of all the riff- raff that hang around there.”

“How do you know he goes there?”

“Why, it was in the paper the day after he came back!” He appealed for corroboration. “Wasn’t it, Eugene?”

“No, no!” she persisted. “Newspapers are sometimes mistaken, aren’t they?” Laughing a little, she swept across the bulbous face beside her a swift regard that was like a search-light. “How do you KNOW, Mr. Flitcroft,” she went on very rapidly, raising her voice,–“how do you KNOW that Mr. Louden is familiar with this place? The newspapers may have been falsely informed; you must admit that? Then how do you KNOW?
Have you ever MET any one who has seen him there?”

“I’ve seen him there myself!” The words skipped out of Norbert’s mouth like so many little devils, the instant he opened it. She had spoken so quickly and with such vehemence, looking him full in the eye, that he had forgotten everything in the world except making the point to which her insistence had led him.

Mamie looked horrified; there was a sound of smothered laughter, and Norbert, overwhelmed by the treachery of his own mouth, sat gasping.

“It can’t be such a terrific place, then, after all,” said Ariel, gently, and turning to Eugene, “Have you ever been there, Mr. Bantry?” she asked.

He changed color, but answered with enough glibness: “No.”

Several of the young men rose; the wretched Flitcroft, however, evading Mamie’s eye–in which there was a distinct hint,–sat where he was until all of them, except Eugene, had taken a reluctant departure, one group after another, leaving in the order of their arrival.

The rosy pigment which had colored the trees faded; the gold-dust of the western distance danced itself pale and departed; dusk stalked into the town from the east; and still the watcher upon the steps and the warden of the gate (he of the lilac- bushes and the Bible) held their places and waited –waited, alas! in vain. . . . Ah! Joe, is THIS the mettle of your daring? Did you not say you would “try”? Was your courage so frail a vessel that it could not carry you even to the gate yonder? Surely you knew that if you had striven so far, there you would have been met! Perhaps you foresaw that not one, but two, would meet you at the gate, both the warden and the watcher. What of that? What of that, O faint heart? What was there to fear? Listen! The gate clicks. Ah, have you come at last?

Ariel started to her feet, but the bent figure, coming up the walk in the darkness, was that of Eskew Arp. He bowed gloomily to Mamie, and in response to her inquiry if he wished to see her father, answered no; he had come to talk with the granddaughter of his old friend Roger Tabor.

“Mr. Arp!” called Ariel. “I am so very glad!” She ran down to him and gave him her hand. “We’ll sit here on the bench, sha’n’t we?”

Mamie had risen, and skirting Norbert frostily, touched Eugene upon the shoulder as she went up the steps. He understood that he was to follow her in-doors, and, after a deep look at the bench where Ariel had seated herself beside Mr. Arp, he obeyed. Norbert was left a lonely ruin between the cold, twin dogs. He had wrought desolation this afternoon, and that sweet verdure, his good name, so long in the planting, so carefully tended, was now a dreary waste; yet he contemplated this not so much as his present aspect of splendid isolation. Frozen by the daughter of the house, forgotten by the visitor, whose conversation with Mr. Arp was carried on in tones so low that he could not understand it, the fat one, though heart- breakingly loath to take himself away, began to comprehend that his hour had struck. He rose, descended the steps to the bench, and seated himself unexpectedly upon the cement walk at Ariel’s feet. “Leg’s gone to sleep,” he explained, in response to her startled exclamation; but, like a great soul, ignoring the accident of his position as well as the presence of Mr. Arp, he immediately proceeded: “Will you go riding with me to-morrow afternoon?”

“Aren’t you very good-natured, Mr. Flitcroft?” she asked, with an odd intonation.

“I’m imposed on, often enough,” he replied, rubbing his leg, “by people who think I am! Why?”

“It is only that your sitting so abruptly upon the ground reminded me of something that happened long ago, before I left Canaan, the last time I met you.”

“I don’t think I knew you before you went away. You haven’t said if you’ll go riding with me to-morrow. Please–“

“Get up,” interrupted Mr. Arp, acidly. “Somebody ‘ll fall over you if you stay there.”

Such a catastrophe in truth loomed imminent. Judge Pike was rapidly approaching on his way to the house, Bible in hand–far better in hand than was his temper, for it is an enraging thing to wait five hours in ambush for a man who does not come. In the darkness a desecration occurred, and Norbert perfected to the last detail whatever had been left incomplete of his own destruction. He began lumberingly to rise, talking at the same time, urging upon Ariel the charms of the roadside; wild flowers were in blossom, he said,
recounting the benefits she might derive through acceptance of his invitation; and having, thus busily, risen to his knees, became aware that some one was passing near him. This some one Mr. Flitcroft, absorbed in artful persuasions, may have been betrayed by the darkness to mistake for Eugene. Reaching out for assistance, he mechanically seized upon the skirts of a coat, which he put to the uses of a rope, coming up hand-over-hand with such noble weight and energy that he brought himself to his feet and the owner of the coat to the ground simultaneously. The latter, hideously astonished, went down with an objurgation so outrageous in venom that Mr. Arp jumped with the shock. Judge Pike got to his feet quickly, but not so quickly as the piteous Flitcroft betook himself into the deep shadows of the street. Only a word, hoarse and horror-stricken, was left quivering on the night breeze by this accursed, whom the gods, intent upon his ruin, had early in the day, at his first sight of Ariel, in good truth, made mad: “MURDER!”

“Can I help you brush off, Judge?” asked Eskew, rising painfully.

Either Martin Pike was beyond words, or the courtesy proposed by the feeble old fellow (for Eskew was now very far along in years, and looked his age) emphasized too bitterly the indignity which had been put upon him: whatever the case, he went his way in-doors, leaving the cynic’s offer unacknowledged. Eskew sank back upon the bench, with the little rusty sounds, suggestions of creaks and sighs, which accompany the movement of antiques. “I’ve always thought,” he said, “that the Judge had spells when he was hard of hearing.”

Oblongs of light abruptly dropped from the windows confronting them, one, falling across the bench, appropriately touching with lemon the acrid, withered face and trembling hands of the veteran. “You are younger than you were nine years ago, Mr. Arp,” said Ariel, gayly. “I caught a glimpse of you upon the street, to-day, and I thought so then. Now I see that I was right.”

“Me–YOUNGER!” he groaned. “No, ma’am! I’m mighty near through with this fool world–and I’d be glad of it, if I didn’t expect that if there IS another one afterwards, it would be jest as ornery!”

She laughed, leaning forward, resting her elbows on her knee, and her chin in her hand, so that the shadow of her hat shielded her eyes from the light. “I thought you looked surprised when you saw me to day.”

“I reckon I did!” he exclaimed. “Who wouldn’t of been?”

“Why?”

“Why?” he repeated, confounded by her simplicity. “Why?”

“Yes,” she laughed. “That’s what I’m anxious to know.”

“Wasn’t the whole town the same way?” he demanded. “Did you meet anybody that didn’t look surprised?”

“But why should they?”

“Good Lord Admighty!” he broke out. “Ain’t you got any lookin’-glasses?”

“I think almost all I have are still in the customs warehouse.”

“Then use Mamie Pike’s,” responded the old man. “The town never dreamed you were goin’ to turn out pretty at all, let alone the WAY you’ve turned out pretty! The Tocsin had a good deal about your looks and so forth in it once, in a letter from Paris, but the folks that remembered you kind of set that down to the way papers talk about anybody with money, and nobody was prepared for it when they saw you. You don’t need to drop no curtseys to ME.” He set his mouth grimly, in response to the bow she made him. “_I_ think female beauty is like all other human furbelows, and as holler as heaven will be if only the good people are let in! But yet I did stop to look at you when you went past me to-day, and I kept on lookin’, long as you were in sight. I reckon I always will, when I git the chance, too–only shows what human nature IS! But that wasn’t all that folks were starin’ at to-day. It was your walkin’ with Joe Louden that really finished ’em, and I can say it upset me more than anything I’ve seen for a good many years.”

“Upset you, Mr. Arp?” she cried. “I don’t quite see.”

The old man shook his head deploringly. “After what I’d written you about that boy–“

“Ah,” she said, softly, touching his sleeve with her fingers, “I haven’t thanked you for that.”

“You needn’t,” he returned, sharply. “It was a pleasure. Do you remember how easy and quick I promised you?”

“I remember that you were very kind.”

“Kind!” He gave forth an acid and chilling laugh. “It was about two months after Louden ran away, and before you and Roger left Canaan, and you asked me to promise to write to you whenever word of that outcast came–“

“I didn’t put it so, Mr. Arp.”

“No, but you’d ought of! You asked me to write you whatever news of him should come, and if he came back to tell you how and when and all about it. And I did it, and kept you sharp on his record ever since he landed here again. Do you know why I’ve done it? Do you know why I promised so quick and easy I WOULD do it?”

“Out of the kindness of your heart, I think.”

The acid laugh was repeated. “NO, ma ‘am! You couldn’t of guessed colder. I promised, and I kept my promise, because I knew there would never be anything good to tell! AND THERE NEVER WAS!”

“Nothing at all?” she insisted, gravely.

“Never! I leave it to you if I’ve written one good word of him.”

“You’ve written of the treatment he has received here,” she began, “and I’ve been able to see what he has borne–and bears!”

“But have I written one word to show that he didn’t deserve it all? Haven’t I told you everything, of his associates, his–“

“Indeed you have!”

“Then do you wonder that I was more surprised than most when I saw you walking with him to- day? Because I knew you did it in cold blood and knowledge aforethought! Other folks thought it was because you hadn’t been here long enough to hear his reputation, but I KNEW!”

“Tell me,” she said, “if you were disappointed when you saw me with him.”

“Yes,” he snapped. “I was!”

“I thought so. I saw the consternation in your face! You APPROVED, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Yes, you do! I know it bothers you to have me read you between the lines, but for this once you must let me. You are so consistent that you are never disappointed when things turn out badly, or people are wicked or foolish, are you?”

“No, certainly not. I expect it.”

“And you were disappointed in me to-day. Therefore, it must be that I was doing something you knew was right and good. You see?” She leaned a little closer to him, smiling angelically. “Ah, Mr. Arp,” she cried, “I know your secret: you ADMIRE me!”

He rose, confused and incoherent, as full of denial as a detected pickpocket. “I DON’T! Me ADMIRE? WHAT? It’s an ornery world,” he protested. “I don’t admire any human that ever lived!”

“Yes, you do,” she persisted. “I’ve just proved it! But that is the least of your secret; the great thing is this: YOU ADMIRE MR. LOUDEN!”

“I never heard such nonsense,” he continued to protest, at the same time moving down the walk toward the gate, leaning heavily on his stick. “Nothin’ of the kind. There ain’t any LOGIC to that kind of an argument, nor no REASON!”

“You see, I understand you,” she called after him. “I’m sorry you go away in the bitterness of being found out.”

“Found out!” His stick ceased for a moment to tap the cement. “Pooh!” he ejaculated, uneasily. There was a pause, followed by a malevolent chuckle. “At any rate,” he said, with joy in the afterthought, “you’ll never go walkin’ with him AGAIN!”

He waited for the answer, which came, after a time, sadly. “Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I shall not.”

“Ha, I thought so! Good-night.”

“Good-night, Mr. Arp.”

She turned toward the lighted house. Through the windows nearest her she could see Mamie, seated in the familiar chair, following with happy and tender eyes the figure of Eugene, who was pacing up and down the room. The town was deadly quiet: Ariel could hear the sound of footsteps perhaps a block away. She went to the gate and gazed a long time into the empty street, watching the yellow grains of light, sieved through the maples from the arc lights on the corner, moving to and fro in the deep shadow as the lamp swung slightly in the night air. Somewhere, not far away, the peace was broken by the screams of a “parlor organ,” which honked and wailed in pious agonies (the intention was hymnal), interminably protracting each spasm. Presently a woman’s voice outdid the organ, a voice which made vivid the picture of the woman who owned it, and the ploughed forehead of her, above the nose-glasses, when the “grace-notes” were proudly given birth. “Rescue the Perishing” was the startlingly appropriate selection, rendered with inconceivable lingering upon each syllable: “Roos- cyoo the Poor-oosh-oong!” At unexpected intervals two male voices, evidently belonging to
men who had contracted the habit of holding tin in their mouths, joined the lady in a thorough search for the Lost Chord.

That was the last of silence in Canaan for an hour or so. The organ was merely inaugural: across the street a piano sounded; firm, emphatic, determined, vocal competition with the instrument here also; “Rock of Ages” the incentive. Another piano presently followed suit, in a neighboring house: “Precious Jewels.” More distant, a second organ was heard; other pianos, other organs, took up other themes; and as a wakeful puppy’s barking will go over a village at night, stirring first the nearer dogs to give voice, these in turn stimulating those farther away to join, one passing the excitement on to another, until hounds in farm- yards far beyond the town contribute to the long- distance conversation, even so did “Rescue the Perishing” enliven the greater part of Canaan.

It was this that made Ariel realize a thing of which hitherto she had not been able to convince herself: that she was actually once more in the town where she had spent her long-ago girlhood; now grown to seem the girlhood of some other person. It was true: her foot was on her native heath and her name was Ariel Tabor–the very name of the girl who had shared the town’s disapproval with Joe Louden! “Rescue the Perishing” brought it all back to her; and she listened to these sharply familiar rites of the Canaanite Sabbath evening with a shiver of pain.

She turned from the gate to go into the house, heard Eugene’s voice at the door, and paused. He was saying good-night to Mamie.

“And please say `au revoir’ to Miss Tabor for me,” he added, peering out under his hand. “I don’t know where she can have gone.”

“Probably she came in and went to her room,” said Mamie.

“Don’t forget to tell her `au revoir.’ “

“I won’t, dear. Good-night. “

“Good-night.” She lifted her face and he kissed her perfunctorily. Then he came down the steps and went slowly toward the gate, looking about him into the darkness as if searching for something; but Ariel had fled away from the path of light that led from the open door.

She skimmed noiselessly across the lawn and paused at the side of the house, leaning against the veranda, where, on a night long past, a boy had hid and a girl had wept. A small creaking sound fell upon her ear, and she made out an ungainly figure approaching, wheeling something of curious shape.

“Is that you, Sam?” she said.

Mr. Warden stopped, close by. “Yes’m,” he replied. “I’m a-gittin’ out de hose to lay de dus’ yonnah.” He stretched an arm along the cross- bar of the reel, relaxing himself, apparently, for conversation. “Y’all done change consid’able, Miss Airil,” he continued, with the directness of one sure of privilege.

“You think so, Sam?”

“Yes’m. Ev’ybody think so, _I_ reckon. Be’n a tai’ble lot o’ talkum ’bout you to-day. Dun’no’ how all dem oth’ young ladies goin’ take it!” He laughed with immoderate delight, yet, as to the volume of mere sound, discreetly, with an eye to open windows. “You got ’em all beat, Miss Airil! Dey ain’ be’n no one ‘roun’ dis town evah got in a thousum mile o’ you! Fer looks, an’ de way you walk an’ ca’y yo’self; an’ as fer de clo’es–name o’ de good lan’, honey, dey ain’ nevah SEE style befo’! My ole woman say you got mo’ fixin’s in a minute dan de whole res’ of ’em got in a yeah. She say when she helpin’ you onpack she must ‘a’ see mo’n a hunerd paihs o’ slippahs alone! An’ de good Man knows I ‘membuh w’en you runnin’ roun’ back-yods an’ up de alley rompin’ ‘ith Joe Louden, same you’s a boy!”

“Do you ever see Mr. Louden, nowadays?” she asked.

His laugh was repeated with the same discreet violence. “Ain’ I seen him dis ve’y day, fur up de street at de gate yonnah, stan’in’ ‘ith you, w’en I drivin’ de Judge?”

“You–you didn’t happen to see him anywhere this–this afternoon?”

“No’m, I ain’ SEE him.” Sam’s laughter vanished and his lowered voice became serious. “I ain’ SEE him, but I hearn about him.”

“What did you hear?”

“Dey be ‘n consid’able stir on de aidge o ‘ town, I reckon,” he answered, gravely, “an’ dey be’n havin’ some trouble out at de Beach–“

“Beaver Beach, do you mean?”

“Yes’m. Dey be’n some shootin’ goin’ on out dat way.”

She sprang forward and caught at his arm without speaking.

“Joe Louden all right,” he said, reassuringly. “Ain’ nuffum happen to him! Nigh as I kin mek out f’m de TALK, dat Happy Fear gone on de ramPAGE ag’in, an’ dey hatta sent fer Mist’ Louden to come in a hurry.”

XIV

WHITE ROSES IN A LAW-OFFICE

As upon a world canopied with storm,
hung with mourning purple and habited in black, did Mr. Flitcroft turn
his morning face at eight o’clock
antemeridian Monday, as he hied
himself to his daily duty at the Washington National Bank. Yet more than the merely funereal gloomed out from the hillocky area of his countenance. Was there not, i’faith, a glow, a Vesuvian shimmer, beneath the murk of that darkling eye? Was here one, think you, to turn the other cheek? Little has he learned of Norbert Flitcroft who conceives that this fiery spirit was easily to be quenched! Look upon the jowl of him, and let him who dares maintain that people–even the very Pikes themselves–were to grind beneath their brougham wheels a prostrate Norbert and ride on scatheless! In this his own metaphor is nearly touched “I guess not! They don’t run over ME! Martin Pike better look out how he tries it!”

So Mother Nature at her kindly tasks, good Norbert, uses for her unguent our own perfect inconsistency: and often when we are stabbed deep in the breast she distracts us by thin scratches in other parts, that in the itch of these we may forget the greater hurt till it be healed. Thus, the remembrance of last night, when you undisguisedly ran from the wrath of a Pike, with a pretty girl looking on (to say nothing of the acrid Arp, who will fling the legend on a thousand winds), might well agonize you now, as, in less hasty moments and at a safe distance, you brood upon the piteous figure you cut. On the contrary, behold: you see no blood crimsoning the edges of the horrid gash in your panoply of self-esteem: you but smart and scratch the scratches, forgetting your wound in the hot itch for vengeance. It is an itch which will last (for in such matters your temper shall be steadfast), and let the great Goliath in the mean time beware of you! You ran, last night. You ran–of course you ran. Why not? You ran to fight another day!

A bank clerk sometimes has opportunities.

The stricken fat one could not understand how it came about that he had blurted out the damning confession that he had visited Beaver Beach. When he tried to solve the puzzle, his mind refused the strain, became foggy and the terrors of his position acute. Was he, like Joe Louden, to endure the ban of Canaan, and like him stand excommunicate beyond the pale because of Martin Pike’s displeasure? For Norbert saw with perfect clearness to-day what the Judge had done for Joe. Now that he stood in danger of a fate identical, this came home to him. How many others, he wondered, would do as Mamie had done and write notes such as he had received by the hand of Sam Warden, late last night?

“DEAR SIR.” (This from Mamie, who, in the Canaanitish way, had been wont to address him as “Norb”!)– “My father wishes me to state that after your remark yesterday afternoon on the steps which was overheard by my mother who happened to be standing in the hall behind you and your BEHAVIOR to himself later on–he considers it impossible to allow you to call any more or to speak to any member of his household.
“Yours respectfully,
“MAMIE PIKE.”

Erasures and restorations bore witness to a considerable doubt in Mamie’s mind concerning “Yours respectfully,” but she had finally let it stand, evidently convinced that the plain signature, without preface, savored of an intimacy denied by the context.

“`DEAR SIR’!” repeated Norbert, between set teeth. “`IMPOSSIBLE TO ALLOW YOU TO CALL any more’!” These and other terms of his dismissal recurred to him during the morning, and ever and anon he looked up from his desk, his lips moving to the tune of those horrid phrases, and stared out at the street. Basilisk glaring this, with no Christian softness in it, not even when it fell upon his own grandfather, sitting among the sages within easy eye-shot from the big window at Norbert’s elbow. However, Colonel Flitcroft was not disturbed by the gaze of his descendant, being, in fact, quite unaware of it. The aged men were having a busy morning.

The conclave was not what it had been. [See Arp and all his works.] There had come, as the years went by, a few recruits; but faces were missing: the two Tabors had gone, and Uncle Joe Davey could no longer lay claim to the patriarchship; he had laid it down with a half-sigh and gone his way. Eskew himself was now the oldest of the conscript fathers, the Colonel and Squire Buckalew pressing him closely, with Peter Bradbury no great time behind.

To-day they did not plant their feet upon the brass rail inside the hotel windows, but courted the genial weather out-doors, and, as their summer custom was, tilted back their chairs in the shade of the western wall of the building.

“And who could of dreamed,” Mr. Bradbury was saying, with a side-glance of expectancy at Eskew, “that Jonas Tabor would ever turn out to have a niece like that!”

Mr. Arp ceased to fan himself with his wide straw hat and said grimly:

“I don’t see as Jonas HAS `turned out’–not in particular! If he’s turned at all, lately, I reckon it’s in his grave, and I’ll bet he HAS if he had any way of hearin’ how much she must of spent for clothes!”

“I believe,” Squire Buckalew began, “that young folks’ memories are short.”

“They’re lucky!” interjected Eskew. “The shorter your memory the less meanness you know.”

“I meant young folks don’t remember as well as older people do,” continued the Squire. “I don’t see what’s so remarkable in her comin’ back and walkin’ up-street with Joe Louden. She used to go kitin’ round with him all the time, before she left here. And yet everybody talks as if they never HEARD of sech a thing!”

“It seems to me,” said Colonel Flitcroft, hesitatingly, “that she did right. I know it sounds kind of a queer thing to say, and I stirred up a good deal of opposition at home, yesterday evening, by sort of mentioning something of the kind. Nobody seemed to agree with me, except Norbert, and he didn’t SAY much, but–“

He was interrupted by an uncontrollable cackle which issued from the mouth of Mr. Arp. The Colonel turned upon him with a frown, inquiring the cause of his mirth.

“It put me in mind,” Mr. Arp began promptly, “of something that happened last night.”

“What was it?”

Eskew’s mouth was open to tell, but he remembered, just in time, that the grandfather of Norbert was not the audience properly to be selected for this recital, choked a half-born word, coughed loudly, realizing that he must withhold the story of the felling of Martin Pike until the Colonel had taken his departure, and replied:

“Nothin’ to speak of. Go on with your argument.”

“I’ve finished,” said the Colonel. “I only wanted to say that it seems to me a good action for a young lady like that to come back here and stick to her old friend and playmate.”

“STICK to him!” echoed Mr. Arp. “She walked up Main Street with him yesterday. Do you call that stickin’ to him? She’s been away a good while; she’s forgotten what Canaan IS. You wait till she sees for herself jest what his standing in this com–“

“I agree with Eskew for once,” interrupted Peter Bradbury. “I agree because–“

“Then you better wait,” cried Eskew, allowing him to proceed no farther, “till you hear what you’re agreein’ to! I say: you take a young lady like that, pretty and rich and all cultured up, and it stands to reason that she won’t–“

“No, it don’t,” exclaimed Buckalew, impatiently. “Nothing of the sort! I tell you–“

Eskew rose to his feet and pounded the pavement with his stick. “It stands to reason that she won’t stick to a man no other decent woman will speak to, a feller that’s been the mark for every stone throwed in the town, ever since he was a boy, an outcast with a reputation as black as a preacher’s shoes on Sunday! I don’t care if he’s her oldest friend on EARTH, she won’t stick to him! She walked with him yesterday, but you can mark my words: his goose is cooked!” The old man’s voice rose, shrill and high. “It ain’t in human nature fer her to do it! You hear what I say: you’ll never see her with Joe Louden again in this livin’ world, and she as good as told me so, herself, last night. You can take your oath she’s quit him already! Don’t–“

Eskew paused abruptly, his eyes widening behind his spectacles; his jaw fell; his stick, raised to hammer the pavement, remained suspended in the air. A sudden color rushed over his face, and he dropped speechless in his chair. The others, after staring at him in momentary alarm, followed the direction of his gaze.

Just across Main Street, and in plain view, was the entrance to the stairway which led to Joe’s office. Ariel Tabor, all in cool gray, carrying a big bunch of white roses in her white-gloved hands, had just crossed the sidewalk from a carriage and was ascending the dark stairway. A moment later she came down again, empty-handed, got into the carriage, and drove away.

“She missed him,” said Squire Buckalew. “I saw him go out half an hour ago. BUT,” he added, and, exercising a self-restraint close upon the saintly, did not even glance toward the heap which was Mr. Arp, “I notice she left her flowers!”

Ariel was not the only one who climbed the dingy stairs that day and read the pencilled script upon Joe’s door: “Will not return until evening. J. Louden.” Many others came, all exceedingly unlike the first visitor: some were quick and watchful, dodging into the narrow entrance furtively; some smiled contemptuously as long as they were in view of the street, drooping wanly as they reached the stairs: some were brazen and amused; and some were thin and troubled. Not all of them read the message, for not all could read, but all looked curiously through the half-opened door at the many roses which lifted their heads delicately from a water-pitcher on Joe’s desk to scent that dusty place with their cool breath.

Most of these clients, after a grunt of disappointment, turned and went away; though there were a few, either unable to read the message or so pressed by anxiety that they disregarded it, who entered the room and sat down to wait for the absentee. [There were plenty of chairs in the office now, bookcases also, and a big steel safe.] But when evening came and the final gray of twilight had vanished from the window-panes, all
had gone except one, a woman who sat patiently, her eyes upon the floor, and her hands folded in her lap, until the footsteps of the last of the others to depart had ceased to sound upon the pavement below. Then, with a wordless exclamation, she sprang to her feet, pulled the window-shade carefully down to the sill, and, when she had done that, struck a match on the heel of her shoe–a soiled white canvas shoe, not a small one–and applied the flame to a gas jet. The yellow light flared up; and she began to pace the room haggardly.

The court-house bell rang nine, and as the tremors following the last stroke pulsed themselves into silence, she heard a footfall on the stairs and immediately relapsed into a chair, folding her hands again in her lap, her expression composing itself to passivity, for the step was very much lighter than Joe’s.

A lady beautifully dressed in white dimity appeared in the doorway. She hesitated at the threshold, not, apparently, because of any timidity (her expression being too thoughtfully assured for that), but almost immediately she came in and seated herself near the desk, acknowledging the other’s presence by a slight inclination of the head.

This grave courtesy caused a strong, deep flush to spread itself under the rouge which unevenly covered the woman’s cheeks, as she bowed elaborately in return. Then, furtively, during a protracted silence, she took stock of the new-comer, from the tip of her white suede shoes to the filmy lace and pink roses upon her wide white hat; and the sidelong gaze lingered marvellingly upon the quiet, delicate hands, slender and finely expressive, in their white gloves.

Her own hands, unlike the lady’s, began to fidget confusedly, and, the silence continuing, she coughed several times, to effect the preface required by her sense of fitness, before she felt it proper to observe, with a polite titter:

“Mr. Louden seems to be a good while comin’.”

“Have you been waiting very long?” asked the lady.

“Ever since six o’clock!”

“Yes,” said the other. “That is very long.”

“Yes, ma’am, it cert’nly is.” The ice thus broken, she felt free to use her eyes more directly, and, after a long, frank stare, exclaimed:

“Why, you must be Miss Ariel Tabor, ain’t you?”

“Yes.” Ariel touched one of the roses upon Joe’s desk with her finger-tips. “I am Miss Tabor.”

“Well, excuse me fer asking; I’m sure it ain’t any business of mine,” said the other, remembering the manners due one lady from another. “But I thought it must be. I expect,” she added, with loud, inconsequent laughter, “there’s not many in Canaan ain’t heard you’ve come back.” She paused, laughed again, nervously, and again, less loudly, to take off the edge of her abruptness: gradually tittering herself down to a pause, to fill which she put forth: “Right nice weather we be’n havin’.”

“Yes,” said Ariel.

“It was rainy, first of last week, though. _I_ don’t mind rain so much”–this with more laughter,– “I stay in the house when it rains. Some people don’t know enough to, they say! You’ve heard that saying, ain’t you, Miss Tabor?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I tell YOU,” she exclaimed, noisily, “there’s plenty ladies and gen’lemen in this town that’s like that!”

Her laughter did not cease; it became louder and shriller. It had been, until now, a mere lubrication of the conversation, helping to make her easier in Miss Tabor’s presence, but as it increased in shrillness, she seemed to be losing control of herself, as if her laughter were getting away with her; she was not far from hysteria, when it stopped with a gasp, and she sat up straight in her chair, white and rigid.

“THERE!” she said, listening intently. “Ain’t that him?” Steps sounded upon the pavement below; paused for a second at the foot of the stairs; there was the snap of a match; then the steps sounded again, retreating. She sank back in her chair limply. “It was only some one stoppin’ to light his cigar in the entry. It wasn’t Joe Louden’s step, anyway.”

“You know his step?” Ariel’s eyes were bent upon the woman wonderingly.

“I’d know it to-night,” was the answer, delivered with a sharp and painful giggle. “I got plenty reason to!”

Ariel did not respond. She leaned a little closer to the roses upon the desk, letting them touch her face, and breathing deeply of their fragrance to neutralize a perfume which pervaded the room; an odor as heavy and cheap-sweet as the face of the woman who had saturated her handkerchief with it, a scent which went with her perfectly and made her unhappily definite; suited to her clumsily dyed hair, to her soiled white shoes, to the hot red hat smothered in plumage, to the restless stub- fingered hands, to the fat, plated rings, of which she wore a great quantity, though, surprisingly enough, the large diamonds in her ears were pure, and of a very clear water.

It was she who broke the silence once more. “Well,” she drawled, coughing genteelly at the same time, “better late than never, as the saying is. I wonder who it is gits up all them comical sayings?” Apparently she had no genuine desire for light upon this mystery, as she continued, immediately: “I have a gen’leman friend that’s always gittin’ ’em off. `Well,’ he says, `the best of friends must part,’ and, `Thou strikest me to the heart’–all kinds of cracks like that. He’s real comical. And yet, “she went on in an altered voice, “I don’t like him much. I’d be glad if I’d never seen him.”

The change of tone was so marked that Ariel looked at her keenly, to find herself surprised into pitying this strange client of Joe’s; for tears had sprung to the woman’s eyes and slid along the lids, where she tried vainly to restrain them. Her face had altered too, like her voice, haggard lines suddenly appearing about the eyes and mouth as if they had just been pencilled there: the truth issuing from beneath her pinchbeck simulations, like a tragic mask revealed by the displacement of a tawdry covering.

“I expect you think I’m real foolish,” she said, “but I be’n waitin’ so awful long–and I got a good deal of worry on my mind till I see Mr. Louden.”

“I am sorry,” Ariel turned from the roses, and faced her and the heavy perfume. “I hope he will come soon.”

“I hope so,” said the other. “It’s something to do with me that keeps him away, and the longer he is the more it scares me.” She shivered and set her teeth together. “It’s kind of hard, waitin’. I cert’nly got my share of troubles.”

“Don’t you think that Mr. Louden will be able to take care of them for you?”

“Oh, I HOPE so, Miss Tabor! If he can’t, nobody can.” She was crying openly now, wiping her eyes with her musk-soaked handkerchief. “We had to send fer him yesterday afternoon–“

“To come to Beaver Beach, do you mean?” asked Ariel, leaning forward.

“Yes, ma’am. It all begun out there,–least- ways it begun before that with me. It was all my fault. I deserve all that’s comin’ to me, I guess. I done wrong–I done wrong! I’d oughtn’t never to of went out there yesterday.”

She checked herself sharply, but, after a moment’s pause, continued, encouraged by the grave kindliness of the delicate face in the shadow of the wide white hat. “I’d oughtn’t to of went,” she repeated. “Oh, I reckon I’ll never, never learn enough to keep out o’ trouble, even when I see it comin’! But that gentleman friend of mine–Mr. Nashville Cory’s his name–he kind o’ coaxed me into it, and he’s right comical when he’s with ladies, and he’s good company–and he says, `Claudine, we’ll dance the light fantastic,’ he says, and I kind o’ wanted something cheerful–I’d be’n workin’ steady quite a spell, and it looked like he wanted to show me a good time, so I went, and that’s what started it.” Now that she had begun, she babbled on with her story, at times incoherently; full of excuses, made to herself more than to Ariel, pitifully endeavoring to convince herself that the responsibility for the muddle she had made was not hers.

“Mr. Cory told me my husband was drinkin’ and wouldn’t know about it, and, `Besides,’ he says, `what’s the odds?’ Of course I knowed there was trouble between him and Mr. Fear–that’s my husband –a good while ago, when Mr. Fear up and laid him out. That was before me and Mr. Fear got married; I hadn’t even be’n to Canaan then; I was on the stage. I was on the stage quite a while in Chicago before I got acquainted with my husband.”

“You were on the stage?” Ariel exclaimed, involuntarily.

“Yes, ma’am. Livin’ pitchers at Goldberg’s Rat’skeller, and amunchoor nights I nearly always done a sketch with a gen’leman friend. That’s the way I met Mr. Fear; he seemed to be real struck with me right away, and soon as I got through my turn he ast me to order whatever I wanted. He’s always gen’lemanlike when he ain’t had too much, and even then he vurry, vurry seldom acks rough unless he’s jealous. That was the trouble yesterday. I never would of gone to the Beach if I’d dreamed what was comin’! When we got there I saw Mike–that’s the gen’leman that runs the Beach–lookin’ at my company and me kind of anxious, and pretty soon he got me away from Mr. Cory and told me what’s what. Seems this Cory only wanted me to go with him to make my husband mad, and he’d took good care that Mr. Fear heard I’d be there with him! And he’d be’n hangin’ around me, every time he struck town, jest to make Mr. Fear mad–the fresh thing! You see he wanted to make my husband start something again, this Mr. Cory did, and he was fixed for it.”

“I don’t understand,” said Ariel.

“It’s this way: if Mr. Fear attacted Mr. Cory, why, Mr. Cory could shoot him down and claim self- defence. You see, it would be easy for Mr. Cory, because Mr Fear nearly killed him when they had their first trouble, and that would give Mr. Cory a good excuse to shoot if Mr. Fear jest only pushed him. That’s the way it is with the law. Mr. Cory could wipe out their old score and git off scot-free.”

“Surely not!”

“Yes, ma’am, that’s the way it would be. And when Mike told me that Mr. Cory had got me out there jest to provoke my husband I went straight up to him and begun to give him a piece of my mind. I didn’t talk loud, because I never was one to make a disturbance and start trouble the way SOME do; and right while I was talkin’ we both see my husband pass the window. Mr. Cory give a kind of yelling laugh and put his arm round me jest as Mr. Fear come in the door. And then it all happened so quick that you could hardly tell what WAS goin’ on. Mr. Fear, we found afterwards, had promised Mr. Louden that he wouldn’t come out there, but he took too much–you could see that by the look of him–and fergot his promise; fergot everything but me and Cory, I guess.

“He come right up to us, where I was tryin’ to git away from Cory’s arm–it was the left one he had around me, and the other behind his back–and neither of ’em said a word. Cory kept on laughin’ loud as he could, and Mr. Fear struck him in the mouth. He’s little, but he can hit awful hard, and Mr. Cory let out a screech, and I see his gun go off– right in Mr. Fear’s face, I thought, but it wasn’t; it only scorched him. Most of the other gen’lemen had run, but Mike made a dive and managed to knock the gun to one side, jest barely in time. Then Mike and three or four others that come out from behind things separated ’em–both of ’em fightin’ to git at each other. They locked Mr. Cory up in Mike’s room, and took Mr. Fear over to where they hitch the horses. Then Mike sent fer Mr. Louden to come out to talk to my husband and take care of him–he’s the only one can do anything with him when he’s like that–but before Mr. Louden could git there, Mr. Fear broke loose and run through a corn-field and got away; at least they couldn’t find him. And Mr. Cory jumped through a window and slid down into one of Mike’s boats, so they’d both gone. When Mr. Louden come, he only stayed long enough to hear what had happened and started out to find Happy–that’s my husband. He’s bound to keep them apart, but he hasn’t found Mr. Fear yet or he’d be here.”

Ariel had sunk back in her chair. “Why should your husband hide?” she asked, in a low voice.

“Waitin’ fer his chance at Cory,” the woman answered, huskily. “I expect he’s afraid the cops are after him, too, on account of the trouble, and he doesn’t want to git locked up till he’s met Cory again. They ain’t after him, but he may not know it. They haven’t heard of the trouble, I reckon, or they’d of run Cory in. HE’S around town to-day, drinkin’ heavy, and I guess he’s lookin’ fer Mr. Fear about as hard as Mr. Louden is.” She rose to her feet, lifted her coarse hands, and dropped them despairingly. “Oh, I’m scared!” she said. “Mr. Fear’s be’n mighty good to me.”

A slow and tired footstep was heard upon the stairs, and Joe’s dog ran into the room droopingly, wagged his tail with no energy, and crept under the desk. Mrs. Fear wheeled toward the door and stood, rigid, her hands clenched tight, her whole body still, except her breast, which rose and fell with her tumultuous breathing. She could not wait till the laggard step reached the landing.

“MR. LOUDEN!” she called, suddenly.

Joe’s voice came from the stairway. “It’s all right, Claudine. It’s all fixed up. Don’t worry.”

Mrs. Fear gave a thick cry of relief and sank back in her chair as Joe entered the room. He came in shamblingly, with his hand over his eyes as if they were very tired and the light hurt them, so that, for a moment or two, he did not perceive the second visitor. Then he let his hand fall, revealing a face very white and worn.

“It’s all right, Claudine,” he repeated. “It’s all right.”

He was moving to lay his hat on the desk when his eye caught first the roses, then fell upon Ariel, and he stopped stock-still with one arm outstretched, remaining for perhaps ten seconds in that attitude, while she, her lips parted, her eyes lustrous, returned his gaze with a look that was as inscrutable as it was kind.

“Yes,” she said, as if in answer to a question, “I have come here twice to-day.” She nodded slightly toward Mrs. Fear. “I can wait. I am very glad you bring good news.”

Joe turned dazedly toward the other. “Claudine,” he said, “you’ve been telling Miss Tabor.”

“I cert’nly have!” Mrs. Fear’s expression had cleared and her tone was cheerful. “I don’t see no harm in that! I’m sure she’s a good friend of YOURS, Mr. Louden.”

Joe glanced at Ariel with a faint, troubled smile, and turned again to Mrs. Fear. “I’ve had a long talk with Happy.”

“I’m awful glad. Is he ready to listen to reason? she asked, with a titter.

“He’s waiting for you.”

“Where?” She rose quickly.

“Stop,” said Joe, sharply. “You must be very careful with him–“

“Don’t you s’pose I’m goin’ to be?” she interrupted, with a catch in her voice. “Don’t you s’pose I’ve had trouble enough?”

“No,” said Joe, deliberately and impersonally, “I don’t. Unless you keep remembering to be careful all the time, you’ll follow the first impulse you have, as you did yesterday, and your excuse will be that you never thought any harm would come of it. He’s in a queer mood; but he will forgive you if you ask him–“

“Well, ain’t that what I WANT to do!” she exclaimed.

“I know, I know,” he said, dropping into the desk-chair and passing his hand over his eyes with a gesture of infinite weariness. “But you must be very careful. I hunted for him most of the night and all day. He was trying to keep out of my way because he didn’t want me to find him until he had met this fellow Nashville. Happy is a hard man to come at when he doesn’t care to be found, and he kept shifting from place to place until I ran him down. Then I got him in a corner and told him that you hadn’t meant any harm–which is always true of you, poor woman!–and I didn’t leave him till he had promised me to forgive you if you would come and ask him. And you must keep him out of Cory’s way until I can arrange to have him–Cory, I mean–sent out of town. Will you?”

“Why, cert’nly,” she answered, smiling. “That Nashville’s the vurry last person I ever want to see again–the fresh thing!” Mrs. Fear’s burden had fallen; her relief was perfect and she beamed vapidly; but Joe marked her renewed irresponsibility with an anxious eye.

“You mustn’t make any mistakes,” he said, rising stiffly with fatigue.

“Not ME! _I_ don’t take no more chances,” she responded, tittering happily. “Not after yesterday. MY! but it’s a load off my shoulders! I do hate it to have gen’lemen quarrelling over me, especially Mr. Fear. I never DID like to START anything; I like to see people laugh and be friendly, and I’m mighty glad it’s all blown over. I kind o’ thought it would, all along. PSHO!” She burst into genuine, noisy laughter. “I don’t expect either of ’em meant no real harm to each other, after they got cooled off a little! If they’d met to-day, they’d probably both run! Now, Mr. Louden, where’s Happy?”

Joe went to the door with her. He waited a moment, perplexed, then his brow cleared and he said in a low voice: “You know the alley beyond Vent Miller’s pool-room? Go down the alley till you come to the second gate. Go in, and you’ll see a basement door opening into a little room under Miller’s bar. The door won’t be locked, and Happy’s in there waiting for you. But remember–“

“Oh, don’t you worry,” she cut him off, loudly. “I know HIM! Inside of an hour I’ll have him LAUGHIN’ over all this. You’ll see!”

When she had gone, he stood upon the landing looking thoughtfully after her. “Perhaps, after all, that is the best mood to let her meet him in,” he murmured.

Then, with a deep breath, he turned. The heavy perfume had gone; the air was clear and sweet, and Ariel was pressing her face into the roses again. As he saw how like them she was, he was shaken with a profound and mysterious sigh, like that which moves in the breast of one who listens in the dark to his dearest music.

XV

HAPPY FEAR GIVES HIMSELF UP

“I know how tired you are,” said Ariel, as he came back into the room. “I
shall not keep you long.”

“Ah, please do!” he returned,
quickly, beginning to fumble with
the shade of a student-lamp at one end of the desk.

“Let me do that,” she said. “Sit down.” He obeyed at once, and watched her as she lit the lamp, and, stretching upon tiptoe, turned out the gas. “No,” she continued, seated again and looking across the desk at him, “I wanted to see you at the first possible opportunity, but what I have to say–“

“Wait,” he interrupted. “Let me tell you why I did not come yesterday.”

“You need not tell me. I know.” She glanced at the chair which had been occupied by Mrs. Fear. “I knew last night that they had sent for you.”

“You did?” he exclaimed. “Ah, I understand. Sam Warden must have told you.”

“Yes,” she said. “It was he; and I have been wondering ever since how he heard of it. He knew last night, but there was nothing in the papers this morning; and until I came here I heard no one else speak of it; yet Canaan is not large.”

Joe laughed. “It wouldn’t seem strange if you lived with the Canaan that I do. Sam had been down-town during the afternoon and had met friends; the colored people are a good deal like a freemasonry, you know. A great many knew last night all about what had happened, and had their theories about what might happen to-day in case the two men met. Still, you see, those who knew, also knew just what people not to tell. The Tocsin is the only newspaper worth the name here; but even if the Tocsin had known of the trouble, it wouldn’t have been likely to mention it. That’s a thing I don’t understand.” He frowned and rubbed the back of his head. “There’s something underneath it. For more than a year the Tocsin hasn’t spoken of Beaver Beach. I’d like to know why.”

“Joe,” she said, slowly, “tell me something truly. A man said to me yesterday that he found life here insufferable. Do you find it so?”

“Why, no!” he answered, surprised.

“Do you hate Canaan?”

“Certainly not.”

“You don’t find it dull, provincial, unsympathetic?”

He laughed cheerily. “Well, there’s this,” he explained: “I have an advantage over your friend. I see a more interesting side of things probably. The people I live among are pretty thorough cosmopolites in a way, and the life I lead–“

“I think I begin to understand a little about the life you lead,” she interrupted. “Then you don’t complain of Canaan?”

“Of course not.”

She threw him a quick, bright, happy look, then glanced again at the chair in which Mrs. Fear had sat. “Joe,” she said, “last night I heard the people singing in the houses, the old Sunday-evening way. It `took me back so’!”

“Yes, it would. And something else: there’s one hymn they sing more than any other; it’s Canaan’s favorite. Do you know what it is?”

“Is it `Rescue the Perishing’?”

“That’s it. `Rescue the Perishing’!” he cried, and repeating the words again, gave forth a peal of laughter so hearty that it brought tears to his eyes. “`RESCUE THE PERISHING’!”

At first she did not understand his laughter, but, after a moment, she did, and joined her own to it, though with a certain tremulousness.

“It IS funny, isn’t it?” said Joe, wiping the moisture from his eyes. Then all trace of mirth left him. “Is it really YOU, sitting here and laughing with me, Ariel?”

“It seems to be,” she answered, in a low voice. “I’m not at all sure.”

“You didn’t think, yesterday afternoon,” he began, almost in a whisper,–” you didn’t think that I had failed to come because I–” He grew very red, and shifted the sentence awkwardly: “I was afraid you might think that I was–that I didn’t come because I might have been the same way again that I was when–when I met you at the station?”

“Oh no!” she answered, gently. “No. I knew better.”

“And do you know,” he faltered, “that that is all over? That it can never happen again?”

“Yes, I know it,” she returned, quickly.

“Then you know a little of what I owe you.”

“No, no,” she protested.

“Yes,” he said. “You’ve made that change in me already. It wasn’t hard–it won’t be–though it might have been if–if you hadn’t come soon.”

“Tell me something,” she demanded. “If these people had not sent for you yesterday, would you have come to Judge Pike’s house to see me? You said you would try.” She laughed a little, and looked away from him. “I want to know if you would have come.”

There was a silence, and in spite of her averted glance she knew that he was looking at her steadily. Finally, “Don’t you know?” he said.

She shook her head and blushed faintly.

“Don’t you know?” he repeated.

She looked up and met his eyes, and thereupon both became very grave. “Yes, I do,” she answered. “You would have come. When you left me at the gate and went away, you were afraid. But you would have come.”

“Yes,–I’d have come. You are right. I was afraid at first; but I knew,” he went on, rapidly, “that you would have come to the gate to meet me.”

“You understood that?” she cried, her eyes sparkling and her face flushing happily.

“Yes. I knew that you wouldn’t have asked me to come,” he said, with a catch in his voice which was half chuckle, half groan, “if you hadn’t meant to take care of me! And it came to me that you would know how to do it.”

She leaned back in her chair, and again they laughed together, but only for a moment, becoming serious and very quiet almost instantly.

“I haven’t thanked you for the roses,” he said.

“Oh yes, you did. When you first looked at them!”

“So I did,” he whispered. “I’m glad you saw. To find them here took my breath away–and to find you with them–“

“I brought them this morning, you know.”

“Would you have come if you had not understood why I failed yesterday?”

“Oh yes, I think so,” she returned, the fine edge of a smile upon her lips. “For a time last evening, before I heard what had happened, I thought you were too frightened a friend to bother about.”

He made a little ejaculation, partly joyful, partly sad.

“And yet,” she went on, “I think that I should have come this morning, after all, even if you had a poorer excuse for your absence, because, you see, I came on business.”

“You did?”

“That’s why I’ve come again. That makes it respectable for me to be here now, doesn’t it?–for me to have come out alone after dark without their knowing it? I’m here as your client, Joe.”

“Why?” he asked.

She did not answer at once, but picked up a pen from beneath her hand on the desk, and turning it, meditatively felt its point with her forefinger before she said slowly, “Are most men careful of other people’s–well, of other people’s money?”

“You mean Martin Pike?” he asked.

“Yes. I want you to take charge of everything I have for me.”

He bent a frowning regard upon the lamp- shade. “You ought to look after your own property,” he said. “You surely have plenty of time.”

“You mean–you mean you won’t help me?” she returned, with intentional pathos.

“Ariel!” he laughed, shortly, in answer; then asked, “What makes you think Judge Pike isn’t trustworthy?”

“Nothing very definite perhaps, unless it was his look when I told him that I meant to ask you to take charge of things for me.”

“He’s been rather hard pressed this year, I think,” said Joe. “You might be right–if he could have found a way. I hope he hasn’t.”

“I’m afraid,” she began, gayly, “that I know very little of my own affairs. He sent me a draft every three months, with receipts and other things to sign and return to him. I haven’t the faintest notion of what I own–except the old house and some money from the income that I hadn’t used and brought with me. Judge Pike has all the papers–everything.”

Joe looked troubled. “And Roger Tabor, did he–“

“The dear man!” She shook her head. “He was just the same. To him poor Uncle Jonas’s money seemed to come from heaven through the hands of Judge Pike–“

“And there’s a handsome roundabout way!” said Joe.

“Wasn’t it!” she agreed, cheerfully. “And he trusted the Judge absolutely. I don’t, you see.”

He gave her a thoughtful look and nodded. “No, he isn’t a good man,” he said, “not even according to his lights; but I doubt if he could have managed to get away with anything of consequence after he became the administrator. He
wouldn’t have tried it, probably, unless he was more desperately pushed than I think he has been. It would have been too dangerous. Suppose you wait a week or so and think it over.”

“But there’s something I want you to do for me immediately, Joe.”

“What’s that?”

“I want the old house put in order. I’m going to live there.”

“Alone?”

“I’m almost twenty-seven, and that’s being enough of an old maid for me to risk Canaan’s thinking me eccentric, isn’t it?”

“It will think anything you do is all right.”

“And once,” she cried, “it thought everything I did all wrong!”

“Yes. That’s the difference.”

“You mean it will commend me because I’m thought rich?”

“No, no,” he said, meditatively, “it isn’t that. It’s because everybody will be in love with you.”

“Quite everybody!” she asked.

“Certainly,” he replied. “Anybody who didn’t would be absurd.”

“Ah, Joe!” she laughed. “You always were the nicest boy in the world, my dear!”

At that he turned toward her with a sudden movement and his lips parted, but not to speak. She had rested one arm upon the desk, and her cheek upon her hand; the pen she had picked up, still absently held in her fingers, touching her lips; and it was given to him to know that he would always keep that pen, though he would never write with it again. The soft lamplight fell across the lower part of her face, leaving her eyes, which were lowered thoughtfully, in the shadow of her hat. The room was blotted out in darkness behind her. Like the background of an antique portrait, the office, with its dusty corners and shelves and hideous safe, had vanished, leaving the charming and thoughtful face revealed against an even, spacious brownness. Only Ariel and the roses and the lamp were clear; and a strange, small pain moved from Joe’s heart to his throat, as he thought that this ugly office, always before so harsh and grim and lonely–loneliest for him when it had been most crowded,–was now transfigured into something very, very different from an office; that this place where he sat, with a lamp and flowers on a desk between him and a woman who called him “my dear,” must be like–like something that people called “home.”

And then he leaned across the desk toward her, as he said again what he had said a little while before,–and his voice trembled:

“Ariel, it IS you?”

She looked at him and smiled.

“You’ll be here always, won’t you? You’re not going away from Canaan again?”

For a moment it seemed that she had not heard him. Then her bright glance at him wavered and fell. She rose, turning slightly away from him, but not so far that he could not see the sudden agitation in her face.

“Ah!” he cried, rising too, “I don’t want you to think I don’t understand, or that I meant _I_ should ever ask you to stay here! I couldn’t mean that; you know I couldn’t, don’t you? You know I understand that it’s all just your beautiful friendliness, don’t you?”

“It isn’t beautiful; it’s just ME, Joe,” she said. “It couldn’t be any other way.”

“It’s enough that you should be here now,” he went on, bravely, his voice steady, though his hand shook. “Nothing so wonderful as your staying could ever actually happen. It’s just a light coming into a dark room and out again. One day, long ago–I never forgot it–some apple-blossoms blew by me as I passed an orchard; and it’s like that, too. But, oh, my dear, when you go you’ll leave a fragrance in my heart that will last!”

She turned toward him, her face suffused with a rosy light. “You’d rather have died than have said that to me once,” she cried. “I’m glad you’re weak enough now to confess it!”

He sank down again into his chair and his arms fell heavily on the desk. “Confess it!” he cried, despairingly. “And you don’t deny that you’re going away again–so it’s true! I wish I hadn’t realized it so soon. I think I’d rather have tried to fool myself about it a little longer!”

“Joe,” she cried, in a voice of great pain, “you mustn’t feel like that! How do you know I’m going away again? Why should I want the old house put in order unless I mean to stay? And if I went, you know that I could never change; you know how I’ve always cared for you–“

“Yes,” he said, “I do know how. It was always the same and it always will be, won’t it?”

“I’ve shown that,” she returned, quickly.

“Yes. You say I know how you’ve cared for me–and I do. I know HOW. It’s just in one certain way–Jonathan and David–“

“Isn’t that a pretty good way, Joe?”

“Never fear that I don’t understand!” He got to his feet again and looked at her steadily.

“Thank you, Joe.” She wiped sudden tears from her eyes.

“Don’t you be sorry for me,” he said. “Do you think that `passing the love of women’ isn’t enough for me?”

“No,” she answered, humbly.

“I’ll have people at work on the old house to- morrow,” he began. “And for the–“

“I’ve kept you so long!” she interrupted, helped to a meek sort of gayety by his matter-of-fact tone. “Good-night, Joe.” She gave him her hand. “I don’t want you to come with me. It isn’t very late and this is Canaan.”

“I want to come with you, however,” he said, picking up his hat. “You can’t go alone.”

“But you are so tired, you–“

She was interrupted. There were muffled, flying footsteps on the stairs, and a shabby little man ran furtively into the room, shut the door behind him, and set his back against it. His face was mottled like a colored map, thick lines of perspiration shining across the splotches.

“Joe,” he panted, “I’ve got Nashville good, and he’s got me good, too;–I got to clear out. He’s fixed me good, damn him! but he won’t trouble nobody–“

Joe was across the room like a flying shadow.

“QUIET!” His voice rang like a shot, and on the instant his hand fell sharply across the speaker’s mouth. “In THERE, Happy!”

He threw an arm across the little man’s shoulders and swung him toward the door of the other room.

Happy Fear looked up from beneath the down- bent brim of his black slouch hat; his eyes followed an imperious gesture toward Ariel, gave her a brief, ghastly stare, and stumbled into the inner chamber.

“Wait!” Joe said, cavalierly, to Ariel. He went in quickly after Mr. Fear and closed the door.

This was Joseph Louden, Attorney-at-Law; and to Ariel it was like a new face seen in a flash-light –not at all the face of Joe. The sense of his strangeness, his unfamiliarity in this electrical aspect, overcame her. She was possessed by astonishment: Did she know him so well, after all? The strange client had burst in, shaken beyond belief with some passion unknown to her, but Joe, alert, and masterful beyond denial, had controlled him instantly; had swept him into the other room as with a broom. Could it be that Joe sometimes did other things in the same sweeping fashion?

She heard a match struck in the next room, and the voices of the two men: Joe’s, then the other’s, the latter at first broken and protestive, but soon