felt stirring in his own breast. It was in his nature
to dare risks blindly - to hesitate at no experience
offered him in his narrow life, and there were moments
during this long day when he found himself
questioning if one might not, after all, plunge headlong
into the impossible.
As he rose from the supper table, where he had
pushed his untasted food impatiently away, he
remembered that he had promised in the morning
to meet Will Fletcher at the store, and, lighting his
lantern, he started out to keep the appointment he
had almost forgotten. He found Will overflowing
with his domestic troubles, and it was after ten
o'clock before they both came out upon the road
and turned into opposite ways at the beginning of
Sol Peterkin's lane.
"I'll help you with the ploughing, of course,"
Christopher said, as they lingered together a moment
before parting; "make your mind quite easy about
that. I'll be over at sunrise on Monday and put
in a whole day's job."
Then, as he fell back into his own road, he found
something like satisfaction in the prospect of driving
Will Fletcher's plough. The easy indifference with
which he was accustomed to lend a hand in a
neighbour's difficulty had always marked his
association with the man whose ruin, he still assured
himself, he had wrought.
It was a dark, moonless night, with only a faint,
nebulous whiteness where the clouded stars shone
overhead. His lantern, swinging lightly from his
hand, cast a shining yellow circle on the ground
before him, and it was by this illumination that he
saw presently, as he neared the sunken road into
which he was about to turn, a portion of the shadow
by the ice-pond detach itself from the surrounding
blackness and drift rapidly to meet him. In his
first start of surprise, he raised the lantern quickly
above his head and waited breathlessly while the
advancing shape assumed gradually a woman's form.
The old ghost stories of his childhood thronged
confusedly into his brain, and then, before the
thrilling certainty of the figure before him, he uttered a
single joyous exclamation:
The light flashed full upon Maria's face, which
gave back to him a white and tired look. Her eyes
were heavy, and there was a strange solemnity
about them - something that appealed vaguely to
his religious instinct.
"What in heaven's name has happened?" he
asked, and his voice escaped his control and
trembled with emotion.
With a tired little laugh, she screened her eyes
from the lantern.
"I had a talk with grandfather about Will," she
answered, "and he got so angry that he locked me
out of doors. He had had a worrying day in town,
and I think he hardly knew what he was doing -
but he has put up the bars and turned out the lights,
and there's really no way of getting in."
He thought for a moment. "Will you go on to
your brother's, or is it too far?"
"At first I started there, but that must have been
hours ago, and it was so dark I got lost by the
ice-pond. After all, it would only make matters
worse if I saw Will again; so the question is, Where
am I to sleep?"
"At Tom Spade's, then - or - " he hesitated an
instant, "if you care to come to us, my sister will
gladly find room for you."
She shook her head. "No, no; you are very kind,
but I can't do that. It is best that I shouldn't leave
the place, perhaps, and when the servant comes
over at sunrise I can slip up into my room. If
you'll lend me your lantern I'll make myself some
kind of a bed in the barn. Fortunately, grandfather
forgot to lock the door."
"In the barn?" he echoed, surprised.
"Oh, I went there first, but after I lay down I
suddenly remembered the mice and got up and came
away. I'm mortally afraid of mice in the dark;
but your lantern will keep them off, will it not?"
She smiled at him from the shining circle which
surrounded her like a halo, and for a moment he
forgot her words in the wonderful sense of her
nearness. Around them the night stretched like
a cloak, enclosing them in an emotional intimacy
which had all the warmth of a caress. As she
leaned back against the body of a tree, and he drew
forward that he might hold the lantern above her
head, the situation was resolved, in spite of the effort
that he made, into the eternal problem of the man
and the woman. He was aware that his blood
worked rapidly in his veins, and as her glance reached
upward from the light to meet his in the shadow he
realised with the swiftness of intuition that in her
also the appeal of the silence was faced with a struggle.
They would ignore it, he knew, and yet it shone in
their eyes, quivered in their voices, and trembled
in their divided hands; and to them both its presence
was alive and evident in the space between them.
He saw her bosom rise and fall, her lips part slightly,
and a tremor disturb the high serenity of her
self-control, and there came to him the memory of their
first meeting at the cross-roads and of the mystery
and the rapture of his boyish love. He had found her
then the lady of his dreams, and now, after all the
violence of his revolt against her, she was still to him
as he had first seen her - the woman whose soul
looked at him from her face.
For a breathless moment - for a single heart-beat
- it seemed to him that he had but to lean down and
gather her eyes and lips and hands to his embrace,
to feel her awaken to life within his arms and her
warm blood leap up beneath his mouth. Then the
madness left him as suddenly as it had come, and
she grew strangely white, and distant, and almost
unreal, in the spiritual beauty of her look. He
caught his breath sharply, and lowered his gaze to
the yellow circle that trembled on the ground.
"But you will be afraid even with the light," he
said, in a voice which had grown almost expressionless.
As if awaking suddenly from sleep, she passed
her hand slowly across her eyes.
"No, I shall not be afraid with the light," she
answered, and moved out into the road.
"Then let me hold it for you - the hill is very
She assented silently, and quickened her steps
down the long incline; then, as she stumbled in the
darkness, he threw the lantern over upon her side.
"If you will lean on me I think I can steady you,"
he suggested, waiting until she turned and laid her
hand upon his arm. "That's better now; go slowly
and leave the road to me. How in thunder did
you come over it in the pitch dark?"
"I fell several times," she replied, with a little
unsteady laugh, "and my feet are oh! so hurt and
bruised. To-morrow I shall go on crutches."
"A bad night's work, then."
"But not so bad as it might have been," she
"You mean if I had not found you it would have
been worse. Well, I'm glad that much good has
come out of it. I have spared you a cold - so that
goes down to my credit; otherwise - But what
difference does it make?" he finished impatiently.
"We must have met sooner or later even if I had run
across the world instead of merely across a tobacco
field. After all, the world is no bigger than a
tobacco field, when it comes to destiny."
"To destiny?" she looked up, startled. "Then
there are fatalists even among tobacco-growers?"
He met her question with a laugh. "But I wasn't
always a tobacco-grower, and there were poets before
Homer, who is about the only one I've ever read.
It's true I've tried to lose the little education I ever
had - that I've done my best to come down to the
level of my own cattle; but I'm not an ox, after all,
except in strength, and one has plenty of time to
think when one works in the field all day. Why,
the fancies I've had would positively turn your
"Fancies - about what?"
"About life and death and the things one wants
and can never get. I dream dreams and plot
unimaginable evil - "
"Not evil," she protested.
"Whole crops of it; and harvest them, too."
"For pure pleasure - for sheer beastly love of the
devilment I can't do."
She shook her head, treating his words as a jest.
"There was never evil that held its head so high."
"That's pride, you know."
"Nor that wore so frank a face."
"And that's hypocrisy."
"Nor that dared to be so rude."
He caught up her laugh.
"You have me there, I grant you. What a brute
I must have seemed this morning."
"You were certainly not a Chesterfield - nor a
With a start he looked down upon her. "Then
you, too, are aware of the old chap?" he asked.
"Of Bolivar Blake - why, who isn't? I used to
be taught one of his maxims as a child - 'If you can't
tell a polite lie, don't tell any.' "
"Good manners, but rather bad morality, eh?"
"Unfortunately, the two things seem to run
together," she replied; "which encourages me to
hope that you will prove to be a pattern of virtue."
"Don't hope too hard. I may merely have lost
the one trait without developing the other."
"At least, it does no harm to believe the best,"
she returned in the same careless tone.
Ahead of them, where the great oaks were massed
darkly against the sky, he saw the steep road splotched
into the surrounding blackness. Her soft breathing
came to him from the obscurity at his side, and he
felt his arm burn beneath the light pressure of her
hand. For the first time in his lonely and isolated
life he knew the quickened emotion, the fulness of
experience, which came to him with the touch of
the woman whom, he still told himself, he could
never love. Not to love her had been so long for
him a point of pride as well as of honour that even
while the wonderful glow pervaded his thoughts,
while his pulses drummed madly in his temples, he
held himself doggedly to the illusion that the appeal
she made would vanish with the morning. It was
a delirium of the senses, he still reasoned, and knew
even as the lie was spoken that the charm which
drew him to her was, above all things, the spirit
speaking through the flesh.
"I fear I have been a great bother to you," said
Maria, after a moment, "but you will probably solace
yourself with the reflection that destiny would have
prepared an equal nuisance had you gone along
"Perhaps," he answered, smiling; "but philosophy
sometimes fails a body, doesn't it?"
"It may be. I knew a man once who said he
leaned upon two crutches, philosophy and religion.
When one broke under him he threw his whole
weight on the other - and lo! that gave way."
"Then he went down, I suppose."
"I never heard the end - but if it wasn't quite so
dark, you would find me really covered with confusion.
I have not only brought you a good mile out of your
road, but I am now prepared to rob you of your
light. Can you possibly find your way home in the
As she looked up, the lantern shone in his face,
and she saw that he wore a whimsical smile.
"I have been in the dark all my life," he answered,
"Until now - this very minute. For the first
time for ten years I begin to see my road at
this instant - to see where I have been walking
"And where did it lead you?"
He laughed at the seriousness in her voice.
"Through a muck-heap - in the steps of my own
cattle. I am sunk over the neck in it already."
Her tone caught the lightness of his and carried
it off with gaiety.
"But there is a way out. Have you found it?"
"There is none. I've wallowed so long in the
filth that it has covered me."
"Surely it will rub off," she said.
For a moment the lantern's flash rested upon his
brow and eyes, relieving them against the obscurity
which still enveloped his mouth.
The high-bred lines of his profile stood out clear
and fine as those of an ivory carving, and their very
beauty saddened the look she turned upon him.
Then the light fell suddenly lower and revealed the
coarsened jaw, with the almost insolent strength
of the closed lips. The whole effect was one of
reckless power, and she caught her breath with the
thought that so compelling a force might serve
equally the agencies of good or evil.
They had reached the lawn, and as he responded to
her hurried gesture of silence they passed the house
quickly and entered the great open door of the barn.
Here he hung the lantern from a nail, and then,
pulling down some straw from a pile in one corner,
arranged it into the rude likeness of a pallet.
"I don't think the mice will trouble you," he
said at last, as he turned to go, "but if they do -
why, just call out and I'll come to slaughter - "
"You won't go home, then?" she asked, amazed.
He nodded carelessly.
"Not till daybreak. Remember, if you feel
frightened, that I'm within earshot.'
Then, before she could protest or detain him for an
explanation, he turned from her and went out into
MARIA STANDS ON CHRISTOPHER'S GROUND
A BROAD yellow beam sliding under the door
brought Maria into sudden consciousness, and
rising hastily from the straw, where her figure had
shaped an almost perfect outline, she crossed the
dusky floor smelling of trodden grain and went
out into the early sunshine, which slanted over
the gray fields. A man trundling a wheelbarrow
from the market garden, and a milkmaid crossing
the lawn with a bucket of fresh milk, were the only
moving figures in the landscape, and after a single
hurried glance about her she followed the straight
road to the house and entered the rear door, which
Malindy had unlocked.
Meeting Fletcher a little later at breakfast, she
found, to her surprise, that he accepted her presence
without question and made absolutely no allusion
to the heated conversation of the evening before.
He looked sullen and dirty, as if he had slept all
night in his clothes, and he responded to Maria's few
good-humoured remarks with a single abrupt nod
over his coffee-cup. As she watched him a feeling
of pity for his loneliness moved her heart, and when
he rose hastily at last and strode out into the hall
she followed him and spoke gently while he paused
to take down his hat from one of the old antlers
near the door.
"If I could only be of some use to you,
grandfather," she said; "are you sure there is nothing
I can do?"
With his hand still outstretched, he hesitated an
instant and stood looking down upon her, his heavy
features wrinkling into a grin.
"I've nothing against you as a woman," he responded,
"but when you set up and begin to charge
like a judge, I'll be hanged if I can stand you."
"Then I won't charge any more. I only want to
help you and to do what is best. If you would but
let me make myself of some account."
He laughed not unkindly, and flecked with his
stubby forefinger at some crumbs which had lodged
in the folds of his cravat.
"Then I reckon you'd better mix a batch of dough
and feed the turkeys," he replied, and touching her
shoulder with his hat-brim, he went hurriedly out
When he had disappeared beyond the last clump
of shrubbery bordering the drive, she remembered
the lantern she had left hanging in the barn, and,
going to look for it, carried it upstairs to her room.
In the afternoon, however, it occurred to her that
Christopher would probably need the light by
evening, and swinging the handle over her arm, she
set out across the newly ploughed fields toward the
Blake cottage. The stubborn rustic pride which
would keep him from returning to the Hall aroused
in her a frank, almost tender amusement. She
had long ago wearied of the trivial worldliness of
life; in the last few years the shallowness of passion
had seemed its crowning insult, and over the absolute
sincerity of her own nature the primal emotion she
had heard in Christopher's voice exerted a compelling
charm. The makeshift of a conventional marriage
had failed her utterly; her soul had rejected the
woman's usual cheap compromise with externals;
and in her almost puritan scorn of the vanities by
which she was surrounded she had attained the
moral elevation which comes to those who live by
an inner standard of purity rather than by outward
forms. In the largeness of her nature there had
been small room for regret or for wasted passion,
and until her meeting with Christopher on the day
of her homecoming he had existed in her imagination
only as a bright and impossible memory. Now, as
she went rapidly forward along the little path that
edged the field, she found herself wondering if, after
all, she had worn unconsciously his ideal as an
armour against the petty temptations and the
sudden melancholies of the last six years.
As she neared the fence that divided the two farms
she saw him walking slowly along a newly turned
furrow, and when he looked up she lifted the lantern
and waved it in the air. Quickening his steps, he
swung himself over the rail fence with a single
bound, and came to where she stood amid a dried
fringe of last summer's yarrow.
"So you are none the worse for the night in the
barn?" he asked anxiously.
"Why, I dreamed the most beautiful dreams,"
she replied, "and I had the most perfect sleep in the
"Then the mice kept away?"
"At least they didn't wake me."
"I stayed within call until sunrise," he said
quietly. "You were not afraid?"
Her rare smile shone suddenly upon him, illumining
the delicate pallor of her face. "I knew that
you were there," she answered.
For a moment he gazed steadily into her eyes,
then with a decisive movement he took the lantern
from her hand and turned as though about to go
back to his work.
"It was very kind of you to bring this over," he
said, pausing beside the fence.
"Kind? Why, what did you expect? I knew it
might hang there forever, but you would not come
"No, I should not have come for it," he replied,
swinging the lantern against the rails with such
force that the glass shattered and fell in pieces to
"Why, what a shame!" said Maria; "and it is all
A smile was on his face as he looked at her.
"You are right - it is all your fault," he repeated,
while his gaze dropped to the level of her lips and
hung there for a breathless instant.
With an effort she broke the spell which had fallen
over her, and, turning from him, pointed to the old
Blake graveyard on the little hill.
"Those black cedars have tempted me for days,"
she said. "Will you tell me what dust they guard
He followed her gesture with a frown.
"I will show you, if you like," he answered. "It
is the only spot on earth where I may offer you
"Your people are buried there?"
"For two hundred years. Will you come?"
While she hesitated, he tossed the lantern over
into his field and came closer to her side. "Come,"
he repeated gently, and at his voice a faint flush
spread slowly from her throat to the loosened hair
upon her forehead. The steady glow gave her face
a light, a radiance, that he had never seen there
"Yes, I will come if you wish it," she responded
Together they went slowly up the low, brown
incline over the clods of upturned earth. When
they reached the bricked-up wall, which had crumbled
away in places, he climbed over into the bed of
periwinkle and then held out his hands to assist her
in descending. "Here, step into that hollow," he
said, "and don't jump till I tell you. Ah, that's it;
now, I'm ready."
At his words, she made a sudden spring forward
her dress caught on the wall, and she slipped lightly
into his outstretched arms. For the half of a second
he held her against his breast; then, as she released
herself, he drew back and lifted his eyes to meet the
serene composure of her expression. He was
conscious that his own face flamed red hot, but to all
outward seeming she had not noticed the incident
which had so moved him. The calm distinction of
her bearing struck him as forcibly as it had done at
their first meeting.
"What a solemn place," she said, lowering her
voice as she looked about her.
For answer he drew aside the screening boughs of
a cedar and motioned to the discoloured marble slabs
strewn thickly under the trees.
"Here are my people," he returned gravely.
"And here is my ground."
Pausing, she glanced down on his father's grave,
reading with difficulty the inscription beneath the
dry dust from the cedars.
"He lived to be very old," she said, after a
"Seventy years. He lived exactly ten years too
"Those last ten years wrecked him. Had he died
at sixty he would have died happy."
He turned from her, throwing himself upon the
carpet of periwinkle, and coming to where he lay,
she sat down on a granite slab at his side.
"One must believe that there is a purpose in it,"
she responded, raising a handful of fine dust and
sifting it through her fingers, "or one would go mad
over the mystery of things."
"Well, I dare say the purpose was to make me a
tobacco-grower," he replied grimly, "and if so, it
has fulfilled itself in a precious way. Why, there's
never been a time since I was ten years old when I
wouldn't have changed places, and said 'thank you,'
too, with any one of those old fellows over there.
They were jolly chaps, I tell you, and led jolly lives.
It used to be said of them that they never won a
penny nor missed a kiss."
"Nor learned a lesson, evidently. Well, may they
rest in peace; but I'm not sure that their wisdom
would carry far. There are better things than
gaming and kissing, when all is said."
"Better things? Perhaps."
"Have you not found them?"
"Not yet; but then, I can't judge anything except
tobacco, you know."
For a long pause she looked down into his upturned
"After all, it isn't the way we live nor the work we
do that matters," she said slowly, "but the ideal
we put into it. Is there any work too sordid, too
prosaic, to yield a return of beauty?"
"Do you think so?" he asked, and glanced down
the hill to his ploughshare lying in the ripped-up
field. "But it is not beauty that some of us want,
you see - it's success, action, happiness, call it what
"Surely they are not the same. I have known
many successful people, and the only three perfectly
happy ones I ever met were what the world calls
"Failures?" he echoed, and remembered Tucker.
Her face softened, and she looked beyond him
to the blue sky, shining through the interlacing
branches of bared trees.
"Two were women," she pursued, clasping and
unclasping the quiet hands in her lap, "and one
was a Catholic priest who had been reared in a
foundling asylum and educated by charity.
When I knew him he was on his way to
a leper island in the South Seas, where he would
be buried alive for the remainder of his life. All
he had was an ideal, but it flooded his soul with light.
Another was a Russian Nihilist, a girl in years and
yet an atheist and a revolutionist in thought, and
her unbelief was in its way as beautiful as the religion
of my priest. To return to Russia meant death;
she knew, and yet she went back, devoted and
exalted, to lay down her life for an illusion. So it
seems, when one looks about the world, that faith
and doubt are dry and inanimate forms until we
pour forth our heart's blood, which vivifies them."
She fell silent, and he started and touched softly
the hem of her black skirt.
"And the other?" he asked.
"The other had a stranger and a longer story, but
if you will listen I'll tell it to you. She was an
Italian, of a very old and proud family, and as she
possessed rare loveliness and charm, a marriage was
arranged for her with a wealthy nobleman, who had
fallen in love with her before she left her convent.
She was a rebellious soul, it seems, for the day before
her wedding, just after she had patiently tried on
her veil and orange blossoms, she slipped into the
dress of her waiting-maid and ran off with a
music-teacher - a beggarly fanatic, they told me - a
man of red republican views, who put dangerous ideas
into the heads of the peasantry. From that moment,
they said, her life was over; her family shut their
doors upon her, and she fell finally so low as to be
seen one evening singing in the public streets. Her
story touched me when I heard it: it seemed a
pitiable thing that a woman should be wrecked so
hopelessly by a single moment of mistaken courage;
and after months of searching I at last found the
place she lived in, and went one May evening up the
long winding staircase to her apartment - two clean,
plain rooms which looked on a little balcony where
there were pots of sweet basil and many pigeons.
At my knock the door opened, and I knew her at
once in the beautiful white face and hands of the
woman who stood a little back in the shadow. Her
forty years had not coarsened her as they do most
Italian women, and her eyes still held the unshaken
confidence of extreme youth. Her husband was
sleeping in the next room, she said; he had but a few
days more to live, and he had been steadily dying
for a year. Then, at my gesture of sympathy, she
shook her head and smiled.
" 'I have had twenty years,' she said, 'and I have
been perfectly happy. Think of that when so many
women die without having even a single day of life.
Why, but for the one instant of courage that saved me,
I myself might have known the world only as a
vegetable knows the garden in which it fattens. My soul
has lived, and though I have been hungry and cold
and poorly clad, I have never sunk to the level of
what they would have made me. He is a dreamer,'
she finished gently, 'and though his dreams were
nourished upon air, and never came true except in
our thoughts, still they have touched even the most
common things with beauty.' While she talked,
he awoke and called her, and we went in to see him.
He complained a little fretfully that his feet were cold,
and she knelt down and warmed them in the shawl
upon her bosom. The mark of death was on him,
and I doubt if even in the fulness of his strength he
were worthy of the passion he inspired - but that,
after all, makes little difference. It was a great love,
which is the next best thing to a great faith."
As she ended, he raised his eyes slowly, catching
the fervour of her glance.
"It was more than that - it was a great
deliverance," he said.
Then, as she rose, he followed her from the graveyard,
and they descended the low brown hill together.
THE GROWING LIGHT
BY THE end of the week a long rain had set in, and
while it lasted Christopher took down the tobacco
hanging in the roof of the log barn and laid it in
smooth piles, pressed down by boards on the ground.
The tobacco was still soft from the moist season
when Jim Weatherby, who had sold his earlier in
the year, came over to help pack the large casks for
market, bringing at the same time a piece of news
concerning Bill Fletcher.
"It seems Will met the old man somewhere on
the road and they came to downright blows," he
said. "Fletcher broke a hickory stick over the
Christopher carefully sorted a pile of plants, and
then, selecting the finest six leaves, wrapped them
together by means of a smaller one which he twisted
tightly about the stems.
"Ah, is that so?" he returned, with a troubled
"It's a pretty kettle of fish, sure enough," pursued
Jim. "Of course, Will has made a fool of himself,
and gone to the dogs and all that, but I must say it
does seem a shame, where you think that old Fletcher
can't take his money with him to the next world.
As for pure stinginess, I don't believe he'd find his
match if he scoured the country. Why, they say his
granddaughter barely gets enough to eat. Look
here! What are you putting in that bad leaf for. It's
worm-eaten all over."
"So it is," admitted Christopher, examining it with a
laugh. "My eyesight must be failing me. But what good
under heaven does his money do Fletcher, after all?"
"Oh, he's saving it up to leave to foreign missions, Tom
Spade says. Mr. Carraway is coming down next week to
draw up a new will."
"And his grandchildren come in for nothing?"
"It looks that way - but you can't see through
Bill Fletcher, so nobody knows. The funny part is
that he has taken rather a liking to Mrs. Wyndham,
I hear, and she has even persuaded him to raise the
wages of his hands. It's a pity she can't patch up
a peace with Will - the quarrel seems to distress
her very much."
"You have seen her, then?"
"Yesterday, for a minute. She stopped me near
the store and asked for news of Will. There was
nothing I could tell her except that they dragged
along somehow with Sol Peterkin's help. That's
a fine woman, Fletcher or no Fletcher."
"Well, she can't help that - it's merely a question
of name. There's Cynthia calling us to dinner.
We'll have to fill the hogsheads later on."
But when the meal was over and he was returning
to his work, Cynthia followed him with a message
from his mother.
"She has asked for you all the morning, Christopher;
there's something on her mind, though she
seems quite herself and in a very lively humour. It
is impossible to get her away from the subject of
marriage - she harps on it continually."
He had turned to enter the house at her first words, but
now his face clouded, and he hung back before the door.
"Do you think I'd better go in?" he asked, hesitating.
"There's no getting out of it without making her feel
neglected, and perhaps your visit may divert her thoughts.
I'm sure I don't see what she has left to say on the subject."
"All right, I'll go," he said cheerfully, "but for heaven's
sake, help me drum up some fresh topics."
Mrs. Blake was sitting up in bed, sipping a glass of port
wine, and at Christopher's step she turned her groping gaze
helplessly in his direction.
"What a heavy tramp you have, my son; you must be
almost as large as your father."
Crossing the room as lightly as his rude boots permitted,
Christopher stooped to kiss the cheek she held toward him.
The old lady had wasted gradually to the shadow of herself,
and the firelight from the hearth shone through the
unearthly pallor of her face and hands. Her beautiful white
hair was still arranged, over a high cushion, in an elaborate
fashion, and her gown of fine embroidered linen was pinned
together with a delicate cameo brooch.
"I have been talking very seriously to Lila," she began at
once, as he sat down by the bedside. "My age is great, you
know, and it is hardly probable that the good Lord will see
fit to leave me much
longer to enjoy the pleasures of this world. Now,
what troubles me more than all else is that I am
to die feeling that the family will pass utterly away.
Is it possible that both Lila and yourself persist in
your absurd and selfish determination to remain
"Oh, mother! mother!" groaned Lila from the
"You needn't interrupt me, Lila; you know quite
well that a family is looked at askance when all of
its members remain single. Surely one old maid -
and I am quite reconciled to poor Cynthia's
spinsterhood - is enough to leaven things, as your father
used to say - "
Her memory slipped from her for a moment; she
caught at it painfully, and a peevish expression
crossed her face.
"What was I saying, Lila? I grow so forgetful."
"About father, dear."
"No, no; I remember now - it was about your
marrying. Well, well, as I said before, I fear your
attitude is the result of some sentimental fancies you
have found in books. My child, there was never a
book yet that held a sensible view of love, and I
hope you will pay no attention to what they say.
As for waiting until you can't live without a man
before you marry him - tut-tut! the only necessary
question is to ascertain if you can possibly live with
him. There is a great deal of sentiment talked in
life, my dear, and very little lived - and my experience
of the world has shown me that one man is likely to
make quite as good a husband as another - provided
he remains a gentleman and you don't expect him
to become a saint. I've had a long marriage, my
children, and a happy one. Your father fell in love with
me at his first glance, and he did not hate me at
his last, though the period covered an association of
thirty years. We were an ideal couple, all things
considered, and he was a very devoted husband;
but to this day I have not ceased to be thankful
that he was never placed in the position where he
had to choose between me and his dinner. Honestly,
I may as well confess among us three, it makes me
nervous when I think of the result of such a pass."
"Oh, mother," protested Lila reproachfully, "if
I listened to you I should never want to marry any
"I'm sure I don't see why, my dear. I have
always urged it as a duty, not advised it as a pleasure.
As far as that goes, I hold to this day the highest
opinion of matrimony and of men, though I admit
when I consider the attention they require, I
sometimes feel that women might select a better object.
When the last word is said, a man is not half so
satisfactory a domestic pet as a cat, and far less neat
in his habits. Your poor father would throw his
cigar ashes on the floor to the day of his death, and
I could never persuade him to use an ash-tray,
though I gave him one regularly every Christmas
that he lived. Do you smoke cigars, Christopher?
I detect a strong odour of tobacco about you, and I
hope you haven't let Tucker persuade you into
using anything so vulgar as a pipe. The worst
effect of a war, I am inclined to believe, is the excuse
it offers every man who fought in it to fall into bad
"Oh, it's Uncle Tucker's pipe you smell," replied
Christopher, with a laugh, as he rose from his chair.
"I detest the stuff and always did."
"I suppose I ought to be thankful for it," said
Mrs. Blake, detaining him by a gesture, "but I
can't help recalling a speech of Micajah Blair's, who
said that a woman who didn't flirt and a man who
didn't smoke were unsexed creatures. It is a
commendable eccentricity, I suppose, but an eccentricity,
good or bad, is equally to be deplored. Your
grandfather always said that the man who was better than
his neighbours was quite as unfortunate as the man
who was worse. Who knows but that your dislike
of tobacco and your aversion to marriage may result
from the same peculiar quirk in your brain?"
"Well, it's there and I can't alter it, even to
please you, mother," declared Christopher from the
door. "I've set my face square against them both,
and there it stands."
He went out laughing, and Mrs. Blake resigned
herself with a sigh to her old port.
The rain fell heavily, whipping up foaming puddles
in the muddy road and beating down the old
rosebushes in the yard.
As Christopher paused for a moment in the
doorway before going to the barn he drew with delight
the taste of the dampness into his mouth and the
odour of the moist earth into his nostrils. The world
had taken on a new and appealing beauty, and yet
the colourless landscape was touched with a sadness
which he had never seen in external things until
His ears were now opened suddenly, his eyes
unbandaged, and he heard the rhythmical fall of the
rain and saw the charm of the brown fields with a
vividness that he had never found in his enjoyment
of a summer's day. Human life also moved him to
responsive sympathy, and he felt a great aching
tenderness for his blind mother and for his sisters
with their narrowed and empty lives. His own
share in the world, he realized, was but that of a
small, insignificant failure; he had been crushed
down like a weed in his tobacco field, and for a new
springing-up he found neither place nor purpose.
The facts of his own life were not altered by so
much as a shadow, yet on the outside life that was
not his own he beheld a wonderful illumination.
His powerful figure filled the doorway, and Cynthia
coming up behind him, raised herself on tiptoe to
touch his bared head.
"Your hair is quite wet, Christopher; be sure to
put on your hat and fasten the oilcloth over your
shoulders when you go back to the barn. You are
so reckless that you make me uneasy. Why, the
rain has soaked entirely through your shirt."
"Oh, I'm a pine knot; you needn't worry."
She sighed impatiently and went back to the
kitchen, while his gaze travelled slowly along the wet
gray road to the abandoned ice-pond, and he thought
of his meeting with Maria in the darkness and of the
light of the lantern shining on her face. He remembered
her white hands against her black dress, her
fervent eyes under the grave pallor of her brow, her
passionate, kind voice, and her mouth with the faint
smile which seemed never to fade utterly away.
Love, which is revealed usually as a pleasant
disturbing sentiment resulting from the ordinary
purposes of life, had come to him in the form of a great
regenerating force, destroying but that it might
IN WHICH CARRAWAY SPEAKS THE TRUTH TO MARIA
DURING the first week in April Carraway appeared
at the Hall in answer to an urgent request from
Fletcher that he should, without delay, put the
new will into proper form.
On the morning after his arrival, Carraway had
a long conversation with the old man in his
sitting-room, and when it was over he came out
with an anxious frown upon his brow and went
upstairs to the library which Maria had fitted
up in the spare room next her chamber. It was
the pleasantest spot in the house, he had concluded
last evening, and the impression returned to him
as he entered now and saw the light from the wood
fire falling on the shining floor, which reflected the
stately old furniture, and the cushions, and the
window curtains of faded green. Books were
everywhere, and he noticed at once that they were not
the kind read by the women whom he knew - big
leather volumes on philosophy, yellow-covered French
novels, and curled edges of what he took to be the
classic poets. It was almost with relief that he
noticed a dainty feminine touch here and there - a
work-bag of flowered silk upon the sofa, a bowl of
crocuses among the papers on the old mahogany
desk, and clinging to each bit of well-worn drapery
in the room a faint and delicate fragrance.
Maria was lying drowsily in a low chair before the
fire, and as he entered she looked up with a smile
and motioned to a comfortable seat across the hearth.
A book was on her knees, but she had not been
reading, for her fingers were playing carelessly with
the uncut leaves. Against her soft black dress the
whiteness of her face and hands showed almost too
intense a contrast, and yet there was no hint of
fragility in her appearance. From head to foot she
was abounding with energy, throbbing with life,
and though Carraway would still, perhaps, have
hesitated to call her beautiful, his eyes dwelt with
pleasure on the noble lines of her relaxed figure.
Better than beauty, he admitted the moment
afterward, was the charm that shone for him in her
wonderfully expressive face - a face over which the
experiences of many lives seemed to ripple faintly in
what was hardly more than the shadow of a smile.
She had loved and suffered, he thought, with his gaze
upon her, and from both love and suffering she had
gained that fulness of nature which is the greatest
good that either has to yield.
"So it is serious," she said anxiously, as he sat
"I fear so - at least, where your brother is
concerned. I can't say just what the terms of the will
are, of course, but he made no secret at breakfast of
his determination to leave half of his property -
which the result of recent investments has made
very large - to the cause of foreign missions."
"Yes, he has told me about it."
"Then there's nothing more to be said, unless you
can persuade him for your brother's sake to destroy
the will when his anger has blown over. I used
every argument I could think of, but he simply
wouldn't listen to me - swept my advice aside as if it
was so much wasted breath - "
He paused as Maria bent her ear attentively.
"He is coming upstairs now!" she exclaimed
There was a heavy tread on the staircase, and a
little later Fletcher came in and turned to close the
door carefully behind him. He had recovered for
a moment his air of bluff good-humour, and his face
crinkled into a ruddy smile.
"So you're hatching schemes between you, I
reckon," he observed, and, crossing to the hearth
pushed back a log with the toe of his heavy boot.
"It looks that way, certainly," replied Carraway
with his pleasant laugh. "But I must confess that
I was doing nothing more interesting than admiring
Mrs. Wyndham's taste in books."
Fletcher glanced round indifferently.
"Well, I haven't any secrets," he pursued, still
under the pressure of the thought which had urged
him upstairs, "and as far as that goes, I can tear up
that piece of paper and have it done with any day I
"So I had the honour to advise," remarked
"That's neither here nor thar, I reckon - it's
made now, and so it's likely to stand until I die,
though I don't doubt you'll twist and split it then as
much as you can. However, I reckon the foreign
missions will look arter the part that goes to them,
and if Maria's got the sense I credit her with she'll
look arter hers."
"After mine?" exclaimed Maria, lifting her head
to return his gaze. "Why, I thought you gave me
my share when I married."
"So I did - so I did, and you let it slip like water
through your fingers; but you've grown up, I reckon,
sence you were such a fool as to have your head
turned by Wyndham, and if you don't hold on to
this tighter than you did to the last you deserve to
lose it, that's all. You're a good woman - I ain't
lived a month in the house with you and not found
that out - but if you hadn't had something more than
goodness inside your head you wouldn't have got so
much as a cent out of me again. Saidie's a good
woman and a blamed fool, too, but you're different;
you've got a backbone in your body, and I'll be
hanged if that ain't why I'm leaving the Hall to you."
"The Hall?" echoed Maria, rising impulsively
from her chair and facing him upon the hearthrug.
"The Hall and Saidie and the whole lot," returned
Fletcher, chuckling, "and I may as well tell you now,
that, for all your spendthrift notions about wages,
you're the only woman I ever saw who was fit to
own a foot of land. But I like the quiet way you
manage things, somehow, and, bless my soul, if you
were a man I'd leave you the whole business and let
the missions hang."
"There's time yet," observed Carraway beneath his
"No, no; it's settled now," returned Fletcher,
"and she'll have more than she can handle as it is.
Most likely she'll marry again, being a woman, and
a man will be master here, arter all. If you do,"
he added, turning angrily upon his granddaughter,
"for heaven's sakes, don't let it be another precious
scamp like your first!"
With a shiver Maria caught her breath and bent
toward him with an appealing gesture of her arms.
"But you must not do it, grandfather; it isn't
right. The place was never meant to belong to me."
"Well, it belongs to me, I reckon, and confound
your silly puritanical fancies, I'll leave it where I
please," retorted Fletcher, and strode from the
Throwing herself back into her chair, Maria lay
for a time looking thoughtfully at the hickory log,
which crumbled and threw out a shower of red
sparks. Her face was grave, but there was no hint
of indecision upon it, and it struck Carraway very
forcibly at the instant that she knew her own mind
quite clearly and distinctly upon this as upon most
"It may surprise you," she said presently, speaking
with sudden passion, "but by right the Hall ought not
to be mine, and I do not want it. I have never
loved it because it has never for a moment seemed
home to me, and our people have always appeared
strangers upon the land. How we came here I do
not know, but it has not suited us, and we have only
disfigured a beauty into which we did not fit. Its
very age is a reproach to us, for it shows off our
newness - our lack of any past that we may call our
own. Will might feel himself master here, but I
Carraway took off his glasses and rubbed patiently
at the ridge they had drawn across his nose.
"And yet, why not?" he asked. "The place has
been in your grandfather's possession now for more
than twenty years."
"For more than twenty years," repeated Maria
scornfully, "and before that the Blakes lived here
- how long?"
He met her question squarely. "For more than
Without shifting her steady gaze which she turned
upon his face, she leaned forward, clasping her hands
loosely upon the knees.
"There are things that I want to know, Mr. Carraway,"
she said, "many things, and I believe that you
can tell me. Most of all, I want to know why we
ever came to Blake Hall? Why the Blakes ever
left it? And, above all, why they have hated us so
heartily and so long?"
She paused and sat motionless, while she hung
with suspended breath upon his reply.
For a moment the lawyer hesitated, nervously
twirling his glasses between his thumb and forefinger;
then he slowly shook his head and looked from her
to the fire.
"Twenty years are not as a day, despite your scorn,
my dear young lady, and many facts become overlaid
with fiction in a shorter time."
"But you know something - and you believe still
"God forbid that I should convert you to any
belief of mine."
She put out a protesting hand, her eyes still gravely
insistent. "Tell me all - I demand it. It is my
right; you must see that."
"A right to demolish sand houses - to scatter old
"A right to hear the truth. Surely you will not
withhold it from me?"
"I don't know the truth, so I can't enlighten you.
I know only the stories of both sides, and they
resemble each other merely in that they both center
about the same point of interest."
"Then you will tell them to me - you must," she
said earnestly. "Tell me first, word for word, all
that the Blakes believe of us."
With a laugh, he put on his glasses that he might
bring her troubled face the more clearly before him.
"A high spirit of impartiality, I admit," he
"That I should want to hear the other side?"
"That, being a woman, you should take for granted
the existence of the other side."
She shook her head impatiently. "You can't
evade me by airing camphor-scented views of my
sex," she returned. "What I wish to know - and I
still stick to my point, you see - is the very thing you
are so carefully holding back."
"I am holding back nothing, on my honour," he
assured her. "If you want the impression which
still exists in the county - only an impression - I
must make plain to you at the start (for the events
happened when the State was in the throes of
reconstruction, when each man was busy rebuilding his
own fortunes, and when tragedies occurred without
notice and were hushed up without remark) - if you
want merely an impression, I repeat, then you may
have it, my dear lady, straight from the shoulder."
"Well?" her voice rose inquiringly, for he had
"There is really nothing definite known of the
affair," he resumed after a moment, "even the papers
which would have thrown light into the darkness
were destroyed - burned, it is said, in an old office
which the Federal soldiers fired. It is all mystery
- grim mystery and surmise; and when there is no
chance of either proving or disproving a case I
dare say one man's word answers quite as well as
another's. At all events, we have your grandfather's
testimony as chief actor and eye-witness against
the inherited convictions of our somewhat Homeric
young neighbour. For eighteen years before the
war, Mr. Fletcher was sole agent - a queer selection,
certainly - for old Mr. Blake, who was known to have
grown very careless in the confidence he placed.
When the crash came, about three years after the
war, the old gentleman's mind was much enfeebled,
and it was generally rumoured that his children were
kept in ignorance that the place was passing from
them until it was auctioned off over their heads
and Mr. Fletcher became the purchaser. How this
was, of course, I do not pretend to say, but when
the Hall finally went for the absurd sum of seven
thousand dollars life was at best a hard struggle in
the State, and I imagine there was less surprise at
the sacrifice of the place than at the fact that your
grandfather should have been able to put down the
ready money. The making of a fortune is always,
I suppose, more inexplicable than the losing of one.
The Blakes had always been accounted people of
great wealth and wastefulness, but within five years
from the close of the war they had sunk to the
position in which you find them now - a change, I
dare say, from which it is natural much lingering
bitterness should result. The old man died almost
penniless, and his children were left to struggle
on from day to day as best they could. It is a sad
tale, and I do not wonder that it moves you," he
finished slowly, and looked down to wipe his
"And grandfather?" asked the girl quietly. Her
gaze had not wavered from his face, but her eyes
shone luminous through the tears which filled
"He became rich as suddenly as the Blakes became
poor. Where his money came from no one asked,
and no one cared except the Blakes, who were
helpless. They made some small attempts at law
suits, I believe, but Christopher was only a child
then, and there was nobody with the spirit to push
the case. Then money was needed, and they were
Maria threw out her hands with a gesture of revolt.
"Oh, it is a terrible story," she said, "a terrible
"It is an old one, and belongs to terrible times.
You have drawn it from me for your own purpose,
and be that as it may, I have always believed in
giving a straight answer to a straight question.
Now such things would be impossible," he added
cheerfully; "then, I fear, they were but too probable."
"In your heart you believe that it is true?"
He did not flinch from his response. "In my
heart I believe that there is more in it than
Rising from her chair, she turned from him and
walked rapidly up and down the room, through
the firelight which shimmered over the polished
floor. Once she stopped by the window, and,
drawing the curtains aside, looked out upon the April
sunshine and upon the young green leaves which
tinted the distant woods. Then coming back to the
hearthrug, she stood gazing down upon him with a
serene and resolute expression.
"I am glad now that the Hall will be mine," she
said, "glad even that it wasn't left to Will, for who
knows how he would have looked at it. There is
but one thing to be done: you must see that yourself.
At grandfather's death the place must go back to its
"To its rightful owners?" he repeated in amazement,
and rose to his feet.
"To the Blakes. Oh, don't you see it - can't you
see that there is nothing else to do in common
He shook his head, smiling.
"It is very beautiful, my child, but is it reasonable,
after all?" he asked.
"Reasonable?" The fine scorn he had heard before
in her voice thrilled her from head to foot. "Shall
I stop to ask what is reasonable before doing what
Without looking at her, he drew a handkerchief
from his pocket and shook it slowly out from its
"Well, I'm not sure that you shouldn't," he
"Then I shan't be reasonable. I'll be wise,"
she said; "for surely, if there is any wisdom upon
earth, it is simply to do right. It may be many years
off, and I may be an old woman, but when the Hall
comes to me at grandfather's death I shall return it
to the Blakes."
In the silence which followed he found himself
looking into her ardent face with a wonder not
unmixed with awe. To his rather cynical view of the
Fletchers such an outburst came as little less than
a veritable thunderclap, and for the first time in his
life he felt a need to modify his conservative theories
as to the necessity of blue blood to nourish high
ideals. Maria, indeed, seemed to him as she stood
there, drawn fine and strong against the curtains of
faded green, to hold about her something better than
that aroma of the past which he had felt to be the
intimate charm of all exquisite things, and it was
at the moment the very light and promise of the
future which he saw in the broad intelligence of her
brow. Was it possible, after all, he questioned,
that out of the tragic wreck of old claims and old
customs which he had witnessed there should spring
creatures of even finer fiber than those who had
"So this is your last word?" he inquired helplessly.
"My last word to you - yes. In a moment I am
going out to see the Blakes - to make them
He put out his hand as if to detain her by a feeble
pull at her skirt.
"At least, you will sleep a night upon your
"How can my sleeping alter things? My waking
"And you will sweep the claims of twenty years
aside in an hour?"
"They are swept aside by the claims of two
With a courteous gesture he bent over her hand
and raised it gravely to his lips.
"My dear young friend, you are very lovely and
very unreasonable," he said.
BETWEEN MARIA AND CHRISTOPHER
A LITTLE later, Maria, with a white scarf thrown
over her head, came out of the Hall and passed
swiftly along the road under the young green leaves
which were putting out on the trees. When she
reached the whitewashed gate before the Blake
cottage she saw Christopher ploughing in the field
on the left of the house, and turning into the little
path which trailed through the tall weeds beside the
"worm" fence, she crossed the yard and stood
hesitating at the beginning of the open furrow he had
left behind him. His gaze was bent upon the horses,
and for a moment she watched him in attentive
silence, her eyes dwelling on his massive figure, which
cast a gigantic blue-black shadow across the April
sunbeams. She saw him at the instant with a
distinctness, a clearness of perception, that she had
never been conscious of until to-day, as if each trivial
detail in his appearance was magnified by the pale
yellow sunshine through which she looked upon it.
The abundant wheaten-brown hair, waving from the
moist circle drawn by the hat he had thrown aside,
the strong masculine profile burned to a faint
terracotta shade from wind and sun, and the powerful
hands knotted and roughened by heavy labour, all
stood out vividly in the mental image which remained
with her when she lowered her eyes.
Aroused by a sound from the house, he looked
up and saw her standing on the edge of the ploughed
field, her lace scarf blown softly in the April wind.
After a single minute of breathless surprise he
tossed the long ropes on the ground, and, leaving
the plough, came rapidly across the loose clods
of upturned earth.
"Did you come because I was thinking of you?"
he asked simply, with the natural directness which
had appealed so strongly to her fearless nature.
"Were you thinking of me?" her faint smile
shone on him for an instant; "and were your thoughts
as grave, I wonder, as my reason for coming?"
"So you have a reason, then?"
"Did you think I should dare to come without
The light wind caught her scarf, blowing the long
ends about her head. From the frame of soft white
lace her eyes looked dark and solemn and very
"I had hoped that you had no other reason than -
kindness." He had lost entirely the rustic restraint
he had once felt in her presence, and, as he stood
there in his clothes of dull blue jean, it was easy to
believe in the gallant generations at his back. Was
the fret of their gay adventures in his blood? she
"You will see the kindness in my reason, I hope,"
she answered quietly, while the glow of her sudden
resolution illumined her face, "and at least you will
admit the justice - though belated."
He drew a step nearer. "And it concerns you -
and me?" he asked.
"It concerns you - oh, yes, yes, and me also,
though very slightly. I have just learned - just a
moment ago - what you must have thought I knew
As he fell back she saw that he paled slowly
beneath his sunburn.
"You have just learned - what?" he demanded.
"The truth," she replied; "as much of the truth
as one may learn in an hour: how it came that you
are here and I am there - at the Hall."
"At the Hall?" he repeated, and there was relief
in the quick breath he drew; "I had forgotten the
"Forgotten it? Why, I thought it was your
dream, your longing, your one great memory."
Smiling into her eyes, he shook his head twice
before he answered.
"It was all that - once."
"Then it is not so now?" she asked, disappointed,
"and what I have to tell you will lose half its value."
"So it is about the Hall?"
With one hand she held back the fluttering lace
upon her bosom, while lifting the other she
pointed across the ploughed fields to the old gray
chimneys huddled amid the budding oaks.
"Does it not make you homesick to stand here and
look at it?" she asked. "Think! For more than two
hundred years your people lived there, and there is
not a room within the house, nor a spot upon the
land, that does not hold some sacred association for
those of your name."
Startled by the passion in her words, he turned
from the Hall at which he had been gazing.
"What do you mean?" he demanded imperatively.
"What do you wish to say?"
"Look at the Hall and not at me while I tell you.
It is this - now listen and do not turn from it for
an instant. Blake Hall - I have just found it out -
will come to me at grandfather's death, and when
it does - when it does I shall return it to your family -
the whole of it, every lovely acre. Oh, don't look at
me - look at the Hall!"
But he looked neither at her nor at the Hall, for
his gaze dropped to the ground and hung blankly
upon a clod of dry brown earth. She saw him grow
pale to the lips and dark blue circles come out slowly
about his eyes.
"It is but common justice; you see that," she urged.
At this he raised his head and returned her look.
"And what of Will?" he asked.
Her surprise showed in her face, and at sight of it
he repeated his question with a stubborn insistence:
"But what of Will? What has been done for Will?"
"Oh, I don't know; I don't know. The break is
past mending. But it is not of him that I must speak
to you now - it is of yourself. Don't you see that
the terrible injustice has bowed me to the earth?
What am I better than a dependent - a charity ward
who has lived for years upon your money? My very
education, my little culture, the refinements you see
in me - these even I have no real right to, for they
belong to your family. While you have worked as
a labourer in the field I have been busy squandering
the wealth which was not mine."
His face grew gentle as he looked at her.
"If the Blake money has made you what you are,
then it has not been utterly wasted," he replied.
"Oh, you don't understand - you don't understand,"
she repeated, pressing her hands upon her
bosom, as if to quiet her fluttering breath. "You
have suffered from it all along, but it is I who suffer
most to-day - who suffer most because I am upon the
side of the injustice. I can have no peace until you
tell me that I may still do my poor best to make
amends - that when your home is mine you will
let me give it back to you."
"It is too late," he answered with bitter humour.
"You can't put a field-hand in a fine house and make
him a gentleman. It is too late to undo what was
done twenty years ago. The place can never be
mine again - I have even ceased to want it. Give it
"I couldn't if I wanted to," she replied "but I
don't want to - I don't want to. It must go back to
you and to your sisters. Do you think I could ever be
owner of it now? Even if it comes to me when I am
an old woman, I shall always feel myself a stranger
in the house, though I should live there day and night
for fifty years. No, no; it is impossible that I should
ever keep it for an instant. It must go back to you
and to the Blakes who come after you."
"There will be no Blakes after me," he answered.
"I am the last."
"Then promise me that if the Hall is ever mine
you will take it."
"From you? No; not unless I took it to hand on
to your brother. It is an old score that you have
brought up - one that lasted twenty years before it
was settled. It is too late to stir up matters now."
"It is not too late," she said earnestly. "It is
never too late to try to undo a wrong."
"The wrong was not yours: it must never touch
you," he replied. "If my life was as clean as yours,
it would, perhaps, not be too late for me either.
Ten years ago I might have felt differently about
it, but not now."
He broke off hurriedly, and Maria, with a hopeless
gesture, turned back into the path.
"Then I shall appeal to your sisters when the time
comes," she responded quietly.
Catching the loose ends of her scarf, he drew her
slowly around until she met his eyes. "And I have
said nothing to you - to you," he began, in a
constrained voice, which he tried in vain to steady,
"because it is so hard to say anything and not say
too much. This, at least, you must know - that I
am your servant now and shall be all my life."
She smiled sadly, looking down at the scarf which
was crushed in his hands.
"And yet you will not grant the wish of my heart,"
"How could I? Put me back in the Hall, and I
should be as ignorant and as coarse as I am out
here. A labourer is all I am and all I am fit to be.
I once had a rather bookish ambition, you know, but
that is over - I wanted to read Greek and translate
'The Iliad' and all that - and yet to-day I doubt if
I could write a decent letter to save my soul. It's
partly my fault, of course, but you can't know -
you could never know - the abject bitterness and
despair of those years when I tried to sink myself to
the level of the brutes - tried to forget that I was
any better than the oxen I drove. No, there's no
pulling me up again; such things aren't lived over,
and I'm down for good."
Her tears, which she had held back, broke forth
at his words, and he saw them fall upon her bosom,
where her hands were still tightly clasped.
"And it is all our fault," she said brokenly.
"Not yours, surely."
"It is not too late," she went on passionately,
laying her hand upon his arm and looking up at him
with a misty brightness. "Oh, if you would let me
make amends - let me help you!"
"Is there any help?" he asked, with his eyes on
the hand upon his arm.
"If you will let me, I will find it. We will take
up your study where you broke it off - we will come
up step by step, even to Homer, if you like. I am
fond of books, you know, and I have had my fancy
for Greek, too. Oh, it will be so easy - so easy;
and when the time comes for you to go back to the
Hall, I shall have made you the most learned Blake
of the whole line."
He bent quickly and kissed the hand which trembled
on his sleeve.
"Make of me what you please," he said; "I am at
For the second time he saw the wonderful light -
the fervour - illumine her face, and then fade slowly,
leaving a still, soft radiance of expression.
"Then I may teach you all that you haven't
learned," she said with a happy little laugh. "How
fortunate that I should have been born a bookworm.
Shall we begin with Greek?"
He smiled. "No; let's start with English - and
"Then we'll do both; but where shall it be? Not
at the Hall."
"Hardly. There's a bench, though, down by the
poplar spring that looks as if it were meant to be in
school. Do you know the plan? It's in my pasture
by the meadow brook?"
"I can find it, and I'll bring the books to-morrow
at this hour. Will you come?"
"To-morrow - and every day?"
For an instant he looked at her in perplexity. "I
may as well tell you," he said at last, "that I'm one
of the very biggest rascals on God's earth. I'm not
worth all this, you know; that's honest."
"And so are you," she called back gaily, as she
turned from him and went rapidly along the little
CHRISTOPHER FACES HIMSELF
WHEN she had gone through the gate and across
the little patch of trodden grass into the sunken
road, Christopher took up the ropes and with a quick
jerk of the buried ploughshare began his plodding
walk over the turned-up sod. The furrow was
short, but when he reached the end of it he paused from
sheer exhaustion and stood wiping the heavy moisture
from his brow. The scene through which he had
just passed had left him quivering in every nerve, as
if he had been engaged in some terrible struggle
against physical odds. All at once he became aware
that the afternoon was too oppressive for field work,
and, unhitching the horses from the plough, he led
them slowly back to the stable beyond the house.
As he went, it seemed to him that he had grown
middle-aged within the hour; his youth had departed
as mysteriously as his strength.
A little later, Tucker, who was sitting on the end
of a big log at the woodpile, looked up in surprise
from the ant-hill he was watching.
"Quit work early, eh, Christopher?"
"Yes; I've given out," replied Christopher, stopping
beside him and picking up the axe which lay in a
scattered pile of chips. "It's the spring weather, I
reckon, but I'm not fit for a tougher job than
"Well, I'd leave that off just now, if I were you."
Raising the axe, Christopher swung it lightly over
his shoulder; then, lowering it with a nerveless
movement, he tossed it impatiently on the ground.
"A queer thing happened just now, Uncle Tucker,"
he said, "a thing you'll hardly believe even when
I tell you. I had a visit from Mrs. Wyndham, and
she came to say - " he stammered and broke off
"Mrs. Wyndham?" repeated Tucker. "She's Bill
Fletcher's granddaughter, isn't she?"
"Maria Fletcher - you may have seen her when
she lived here, five or six years ago."
Tucker shook his head.
"Bless your heart, my boy, I haven't seen a
woman except Lucy and the girls for twenty-five
years. But why did she come, I wonder?"
"That's the strange part, and you won't understand
it until you see her. She came because she
had just heard - some one had told her - about
Fletcher's old rascality."
"You don't say so!" exclaimed Tucker beneath
his breath. He gave a long whistle and sat smiling
at the little red ant-hill. "And did she actually
proffer an apology?" he inquired.
"An amendment, rather. The Hall will come to
her at Fletcher's death, and she walked over to say
quite coolly that she wanted to give it back to us.
Think of that! To part with such a home for the
sake of mere right and justice."
"It is something to think about," assented Tucker,
"and to think hard about, too - and yet I cut my
teeth on the theory that women have no sense of
honour. Now, that is pure, foolish, strait-laced
honour, and nothing else."
"Nothing else," repeated Christopher softly; "and
if you'll believe it, she cried - she really cried when I
told her I couldn't take it. Oh, she's wonderful!"
he burst out suddenly, all his awkward reserve
dropping from him. "You can't be with her ten
minutes without feeling how good she is - good all
through, with a big goodness that isn't in the least
like the little prudishness of other women - "
He checked himself hastily, but not before Tucker
had glanced up with his pleasant smile.
"Well, my boy, I don't misunderstand you. I
never knew a man yet to begin a love affair with a
panegyric on virtue. She's an estimable woman, I
dare say, and I presume she's plain."
"Plain!" gasped Christopher. "Why, she's beautiful -
at least, you think so when you see her smile."
"So she smiled through her tears, ah?"
Christopher started angrily. "Can you sit there
on that log and laugh at such a thing?" he demanded.
"Come, come," protested Tucker, "an honest
laugh never turned a sweet deed sour since the world
began - and that was more than sweet; it was fine.
I'd like to know that woman, Christopher."
"You could never know her - no man could.
She's all clear and bright on the surface, but all
"Ah, that's it; you see, there was never a fascinating
woman yet who was easy to understand. Wasn't
it that shrewd old gallant, Bolivar Blake, who said
that in love an ounce of mystery was worth a pound
"It's like him: he said a lot of nonsense,"
commented Christopher. "But to think," he added
after a moment, "that she should be Bill Fletcher's
"Well, I knew her mother," returned Tucker, "and
she was as honest, God-fearing a body as ever trod
this earth. She stood out against Fletcher to the last,
you know, and worked hard for her living while that
scamp, her husband, drank them both to death.
There are some people who are born with a downright
genius for honesty, and this girl may be one of them."
"I don't know - I don't know," said Christopher,
in a voice which had grown spiritless. Then after
an instant in which he stared blankly down at
Tucker's ant-hill, he turned hurriedly away and
followed the little straggling path to the barn door.
From the restlessness that pricked in his limbs
there was no escape, and after entering the barn he
came out again and went down into the pasture to
the long bench beside the poplar spring. Here,
while the faint shadows of the young leaves played
over him, he sat with his head bent forward and his
hands dropped listlessly between his knees.
Around him there was the tender green of the
spring meadows, divided by a little brook where the
willows shone pure silver under the April wind.
Near at hand a catbird sang in short, tripping notes,
and in the clump of briars by the spring a rabbit
sat alert for the first sound. So motionless was
Christopher that he seemed, sitting there by the pale
gray body of a poplar, almost to become a part of
the tree against which he leaned - to lose, for the
time at least, his share in the moving animal life
At first there was mere blankness in his mind - an
absence of light and colour in which his thoughts
were suddenly blotted out; then, as the wind raised
the hair upon his brow, he lifted his eyes from the
ground, and with the movement it seemed as if
his life ran backward to its beginning and he saw himself
not as he was to-day, but as he might have been in a
period of time which had no being.
Before him were his knotted and blistered hands,
his long limbs outstretched in their coarse clothes,
but in the vision beyond the little spring he walked
proudly with his rightful heritage upon him - a Blake
by force of blood and circumstance. The
world lay before him - bright, alluring, a thing of
enchanting promise, and it was as if he looked for the
first time upon the possibilities contained in this
life upon the earth. For an instant the glow lasted
- the beauty dwelt upon the vision, and he beheld,
clear and radiant, the happiness which might have
been his own; then it grew dark again, and he faced
the brutal truth in all its nakedness: he knew himself
for what he was - a man debased by ignorance
and passion to the level of the beasts. He had sold his
birthright for a requital, which had sickened him
even in the moment of fulfilment.
To do him justice, now that the time had come for
an acknowledgment he felt no temptation to evade
the judgment of his own mind, nor to cheat himself
with the belief that the boy was marked for ruin
before he saw him - that Will had worked out, in
vicious weakness, his own end. It was not the
weakness, after all, that he had played upon - it was
rather the excitable passion and the whimpering
fears of the hereditary drunkard. He remembered
now the long days that he had given to his revenge,
the nights when he had tossed sleepless while he
planned a widening of the breach with Fletcher.
That, at, least was his work, and his alone - the bitter
hatred, more cruel than death, with which the two
now stood apart and snarled. It was a human life
that he had taken in his hand - he saw that now in
his first moment of awakening - a life that he had
destroyed as deliberately as if he had struck it dead
before him. Day by day, step by step, silent,
unswerving, devilish, he had kept about his purpose,
and now at the last he had only to sit still and watch
With a sob, he bowed his head in his clasped
hands, and so shut out the light.
THE POPLAR SPRING
THE next day he watched for her anxiously until
she appeared over the low brow of the hill, her arms
filled with books, and Agag trotting at her side. As
she descended slowly into the broad ravine where he
awaited her under the six great poplars that
surrounded the little spring, he saw that she wore a dress
of some soft, creamy stuff and a large white hat that
shaded her brow and eyes. She looked younger,
he noticed, than she had done in her black gown, and
he recalled while she neared him the afternoon more
than six years before when she had come suddenly
upon him while he worked in his tobacco.
"So you are present at the roll-call?" she said,
laughing, as she sat down on the bench beside him
and spread out the books that she had brought.
"Why, I've been sitting here for half an hour," he
"What a shame - that's a whole furrow unploughed,
"Several of them; but I'm not counting furrows
now. I'm getting ready to appal you by my
ignorance." He spoke with a determined, reckless
gaiety that lent a peculiar animation to his face.
"If you are waiting for that, you are going to be
disappointed," she replied, smiling, "for I've put my
heart into the work, and I was born and patterned
for a teacher; I always knew it. We're going to do
English literature and a first book in Latin."
"Are we?" He picked up the Latin grammar and
ran his fingers lightly through the pages. "I went
a little way in this once," he said. "I got as far as
omnia vincit amor and stopped. Tobacco conquered
She caught up his gay laugh. "Well, we'll try it
over again," she returned, and held out the book.
An hour later, when the first lesson was over and
he had gone back to his work, he carried with him a
wonderful exhilaration - a feeling as if he had with
a sudden effort burst the bonds that had held him
to the earth. By the next day the elation vanished
and a great heaviness came in its place, but for a
single afternoon he had known what it was to thrill
in every fiber with a powerful and pure emotion - an
emotion beside which all the cheap sensations of
his life showed stale and colourless. While the
strangeness of this mood was still upon him he
chanced upon Lila and Jim Weatherby standing
together by the gate in the gray dusk, and when
presently the girl came back alone across the yard
he laid his hand upon her arm and drew her over to
Tucker's bench beside the rose-bush.
"Lila, I've changed my mind about it all," he
"About what, dear?"
"About Jim and you. We were all wrong - all of
us except Uncle Tucker - wrong from the very
start. You musn't mind mother; you musn't mind
anybody. Marry Jim and be happy, if he can make
"Oh, Christopher!" gasped Lila, with a long breath,
lifting her lovely, pensive face. "Oh, Christopher!"
"Don't wait; don't put it off; don't listen to any
of us," he urged impatiently. "Good God! If you
love him as you say you do, why have you let all
these years slip away?"
"But you thought it was best, Christopher. You
told me so."
"Best! There's nothing best except to be happy
if you get the chance."
"He wants me to marry him now," said Lila,
lowering her voice. "Mother will never know, he
thinks, her mind grows so feeble; he wants me to
marry him without any getting ready - after church
one Sunday morning."
Putting his arm about her, Christopher held her
for a moment against his side. "Then do it," he
said gravely, as he stooped and kissed her.
And several weeks later, on a bright first Sunday
in May, Lila was married, after morning services, in
the little country church, and Christopher watched
her almost eagerly as she walked home across the
broad meadows powdered white with daisies. To
the reproachful countenance which Cynthia presented
to him upon his return to the house he gave back
a careless and defiant smile.
"So it's all over," he announced gaily, "and Lila's
married at last."
"Then you're satisfied, I hope," rejoined Cynthia
grimly, "now that you've dragged us down to the
level of the Weatherbys and - the Fletchers? There's
nothing more to be said about it, I suppose, and
you may as well come in to dinner."
She held herself stiffly aloof from the subject,
with her head flung back and her chin expressing
an indignant protest. There was a kind of rebellious
scorn in the way in which she carved the shoulder
of bacon and poured the coffee.
"Good Lord! It's such a little thing to make a fuss
about," said Tucker, "when you remember, my
dear, that our levels aren't any bigger than chalk
lines in the eyes of God Almighty."
Cynthia regarded him with squinting displeasure.
"Oh, of course; you have no family pride," she
returned; "but I had thought there was a little
left in Christopher."
Christopher shook his head, smiling indifferently.
"Not enough to want blood sacrifices," he responded,
and fell into a detached and thoughtful silence. The
vision of Lila in her radiant happiness remained with
him like a picture that one has beheld by some rare
chance in a vivid and lovely light; and it was still
before him when he left the house presently and
strolled slowly down to meet Maria by the poplar
The bloom of the meadows filled his nostrils with
a delicate fragrance, and from the bough of an old
apple-tree in the orchard he heard the low afternoon
murmurs of a solitary thrush. May was on the
earth, and it had entered into him as into the piping
birds and the spreading trees. It was at last good
to be alive - to breathe the warm, sweet air, and to
watch the sunshine slanting on the low, green hill.
So closely akin were his moods to those of the
changing seasons that, at the instant, he seemed to
feel the current of his being flow from the earth
beneath his feet - as if his physical nature drew
strength and nourishment from that genial and
When he reached the spring he saw Maria appear
on the brow of the hill, and with a quick, joyous
bound his heart leaped up to meet her. As she
came toward him her white dress swept the tall grass
from her feet, and her shadow flew like a winged
creature straight before her. There was a vivid
softness in her face - a look at once bright and wistful
- which moved him with a new and strange
"I was a little late," she explained, as they met
before the long bench and she laid her books upon
it," and I am very warm. May I have a drink?"
"From a bramble cup?"
"How else?" She took off her hat and tossed
it on the grass at her feet; then, going to the spring,
she waited while he plucked a leaf from the bramble
and bent it into shape. When he filled it and held
it out, she placed her lips to the edge of the leaf and
looked up at him with smiling eyes while she drank
slowly from his hand.
"It holds only a drop, but how delicious!" she
said, seating herself again upon the bench and leaning
back against the great body of a poplar. Then her
eyes fell upon his clothes. "Why, how very much
dressed you look!" she added.
"Oh, there's a reason besides Sunday - I've just
come from a wedding. Lila has married after
twelve years of waiting."
"Your pretty sister! And to whom?"
"To Jim Weatherby - old Jacob's son, you know.
Now, don't tell me that you disapprove. I count
on your good sense to see the wisdom of it."
"So it is your pretty sister," she said slowly, "the
woman I passed in the road the other day and held
my breath as I did before Botticelli's Venus."
"Is that so? Well, she doesn't know much about
pictures, nor does Jim. She has thrown herself
away, Cynthia says, but what could she have waited
for, after all? Nothing had ever come to her, and
she had lived thirty years. Besides, she will be
very happy, and that's a good deal, isn't it?"
"It's everything," said Maria quietly, looking
down into her lap.
"Everything? And if you had been born in her
"I am not in her place and never could be; but
six years ago, if I had been told that I must live
here all my life, I think I should have fretted myself
to death: that would have happened six years ago,
for I was born with a great aching for life, and I
thought then that one could live only in the big
outside world - "
"And now?" he questioned, for she paused and
sat smiling gravely at the book she held.
"Now I know that the fulness of life does not
come from the things outside of us, and that we
ourselves must create the beauty in which we live.
Oh, I have learned so much from misery," she went
on softly, "and worst of all, I have learned what it
is to starve for bread in the midst of sugar-plums."
"And it was worth learning?"
"The knowledge that I gained? Oh, yes, yes; for
it taught me how to be happy. I went down into
hell," she said passionately, "and I came out - clean.
I saw evil such as I had never heard of; I went close
to it, I even touched it, but I always kept my soul
very far away, and I was like a person in a dream.
The more I saw of sin and ugliness the more I
dreamed of peace and beauty. I builded me my
own refuge, I fed on my own strength day and
night - and I am what I am - "
"The loveliest woman on God's earth," he said.
"You do not know me," she answered, and opened
the book before her. "It was the story of the Holy
Grail," she added, "and we left off here. Oh, those
brave days of King Arthur! It was always May
He touched the page lightly with a long blade of
"Read yourself - this once," he pleaded, "and
let me listen."
Leaning a little forward, she looked down and
slowly turned the pages, her head bent over the book,
her long lashes shading the faint flush in her cheeks.
Over her white dress fell a delicate lacework from
the young poplar leaves, flecked here and there with
pale drops of sunshine, which filtered through the
thickly clustered boughs. When the wind passed
in the high tree-tops, the shadows, soft and fine
as cobweb, rippled over her dress, and a loose strand
of her dark hair waved gently about her ear. The
life - the throbbing vitality within her seemed to
vivify the very air she breathed, and he felt all at
once that the glad thrill which stirred his blood was
but a response to the fervent spirit which spoke in
"For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty
month of May," she read, "in something to constrain
him to some manner of thing more in that month than
in any other month - for then all herbs and trees renew
a man and woman, and in likewise lovers call again
to mind old gentleness and old service and many kind
deeds that were forgotten by negligence."
The words went like wine to his head, and he saw
her shadowy figure recede and dissolve suddenly as
in a mist. A lump rose in his throat, his heart leaped,
and he felt his pulses beating madly in his temples.
He drew back, closing his eyes to shut out her face;
but the next instant, as she stirred slightly to hold
down the rippling leaves, he bent forward and laid
his hand upon the one that held the open book.
Her voice fluttered into silence, and, raising her
head, she looked up in tremulous surprise. He saw her
face pale slowly, her lids quiver and droop above her
shining eyes, and her teeth gleam milk white between
her parted lips. A tremor of alarm ran through
her, and she made a swift movement to escape; then,
lifting her eyes again, she looked full into his own,
and, stooping quickly, he kissed her on the mouth.
An instant afterward the book fell to the ground,
and he rose to his feet and stood trembling against
the body of the poplar.
"Forgive me," he said; "forgive me - I have
Standing beside the bench, she watched him with
a still, grave gentleness before which his gaze dropped
slowly to the ground.
"Yes, you have ruined this," she answered,
smiling, "but Latin is still left."
"It's no use," he went on breathlessly. "I can't
do it; it's no use."
His eyes sought hers and held them while he
made a single step forward; then, turning quickly
away, he went from her across the meadow to the
THE ANCIENT LAW
THE ANCIENT LAW
CHRISTOPHER SEEKS AN ESCAPE
A CLUMP of brambles caught at his feet, and,
stumbling like a drunken man, he threw himself
at full length upon the ground, pressing his forehead
on the young, green thorns. A century seemed
to have passed since his flight from the poplar
spring, and yet the soft afternoon sunshine was still
about him and the low murmurs of the thrush
still floated from the old apple-tree. All the violence
of his undisciplined nature had rushed into revolt
against the surrender which he felt must come,
and he was conscious at the instant that he hated
only a little less supremely than he loved. In the
end the greater passion would triumph over him,
he knew; but as he lay there face downward upon
the earth the last evil instincts of his revenge battled
against the remorse which had driven him from
Maria's presence. He saw himself clearly for what
he was: he had learned at last to call his sin by its
right name; and yet he felt that somewhere in the
depths of his being he had not ceased to love the
evil that he had done. He hated Fletcher, he told
himself, as righteously as ever, but between himself
and the face of his enemy a veil had fallen - the old
wrong no longer stood out in a blaze of light. A
woman's smile divided him like a drawn sword from
his brutal past, and he had lost the reckless courage
with which he once might have flung himself upon
Rising presently, he crossed the meadow and
went slowly back to his work in the stables, keeping
his thoughts with an effort upon his accustomed
tasks. A great weariness for the endless daily round
of small things was upon him, and he felt all at once
that the emotion struggling within his heart must
burst forth at last and pervade the visible world.
He was conscious of an impulse to sing, to laugh,
to talk in broken sentences to himself; and any
utterance, however slight and meaningless, seemed
to relieve in a measure the nervous tension of his
In one instant there entered into him a desperate
determination to play the traitor - to desert his post
and strike out boldly and alone into the world.
And with the next breath he saw himself living to
old age as he had lived from boyhood - within reach
of Maria's hand, meeting her fervent eyes, and yet
separated from her by a distance greater than God
or man could bridge. With the thought of her he
saw again her faint smile which lingered always about
her mouth, and his blood stirred at the memory of the
kiss which she had neither resisted nor returned.
Cynthia, searching for him a few minutes later,
found him leaning idly against the mare's stall,
looking down upon a half-finished nest which a
house-wren had begun to build upon his currycomb.
"It's a pity to disturb that, Tucker would say,"
he observed, motioning toward the few wisps of.
straw on the ledge.
"Oh, she can start it somewhere else," replied
Cynthia indifferently. "They have sent for you
from the store, Christopher - it's something about
one of the servants, I believe. They're always
getting into trouble and wanting you to pull them
out." The descendants of the old Blake slaves were
still spoken of by Cynthia as "the servants," though
they had been free men and women for almost
Christopher started from his abstraction and
turned toward her with a gesture of annoyance.
"Well, I'll have to go down, I suppose," he said.
"Has mother asked for me to-day?"
"Only for Jim again - it's always Jim now. I
declare, I believe we might all move away and she'd
never know the difference so long as he was left.
She forgets us entirely sometimes, and fancies that
father is alive again."
"It's a good thing Jim amuses her, at any rate."
An expression of anger drew Cynthia's brows
together. "Oh, I dare say; but it does seem hard
that she should have grown to dislike me after all
I've done for her. There are times when she won't
let me even come in the room - when she's not
herself, you know."
Her words were swallowed in a sob, and he stood
staring at her in an amazement too sudden to be
mixed with pity.
"And you have given up your whole life to her,"
he exclaimed! appalled by the injustice of the god of
Cynthia put up one knotted hand and stroked
back the thin hair upon her temples. "It was all
I had to give," she answered, and went out into
He let her go from him without replying, and before
her pathetic figure had reached the house she was
blotted entirely from his thoughts, for it was a part
of the tragedy of her unselfishness that she had
never existed as a distinct personality even in the
minds of those who knew and loved her.
When presently he passed through the yard on
his way to the store, he saw her taking in the dried
clothes from the old lilac-bushes and called back
carelessly that he would be home to supper. Then
forgetting her lesser miseries in his own greater one,
he fell into his troubled brooding as he swung rapidly
along the road.
At the store the usual group of loungers welcomed
him, and among them he saw to his surprise the
cheerful face of Jim Weatherby, a little clouded by
the important news he was evidently seeking to
"I tried to keep them from sending for you
Christopher," the young man explained. "It is no
business of yours - that is what I said."
"Well, it seems that every thriftless nigger in
the county thinks he's got a claim upon you, sho'
enough," put in Tom Spade. "It warn't mo'n last
week that I had a letter from the grandson of yo'
pa's old blacksmith Buck, sayin' he was to hang
in Philadelphia for somebody's murder, an' that I
must tell Marse Christopher to come an' git him off.
Thar's a good six hunnard of 'em, black an' yaller
an' it's God A'mighty or Marse Christopher to 'em
"What is it now?" asked Christopher a little
wearily, taking off his hat and running his hand
through his thick, fair hair. "If anybody's been
stealing chickens they've got to take the
"Oh, it's not chicken stealin' this time; it's a
blamed sight worse. They want you to send
somebody over to Uncle Isam's - you remember his
little cabin, five miles off in Morse's woods - to help
him bury his children who have died of smallpox.
There are four of 'em dead, it seems, an' the rest are
all down with the disease. Thar's not a morsel of
food in the house, an' not a livin' nigger will go
"Uncle Isam!" repeated Christopher, as if trying
to recall the name. "Why, I haven't laid eyes upon
the man for years."
"Very likely; but he's sent you a message by a
boy who was gathering pine knots at the foot of his
hill. He was to tell Marse Christopher that he had
had nothing to eat for two whole days an' his
children were unburied. Then the boy got scared an'
scampered off, an' that was all."
Christopher's laugh sounded rather brutal.
"So he used to belong to us, did he?" he inquired.
"He was yo' pa's own coachman. I recollect him
plain as day," answered Tom. "I warn't mo'n a
child then, an' he used to flick his whip at my bare
legs whenever he passed me in the road."
"Well, what is to be done?" asked Christopher,
turning suddenly upon him.
"The Lord He knows, suh. Thar's not a nigger
as will go nigh him, an' I'm not blamin' 'em; not I.
Jim's filled his cart with food, an' he's goin' to dump
the things out at the foot of the hill; then maybe
Uncle Isam can crawl down an' drag 'em back.
His wife's down with it, too, they say. She was
workin' here not mo'n six months ago, but she left
her place of a sudden an' went back again."
Christopher glanced carelessly at the little cart
waiting in the road, and then throwing off his coat
tossed it on the seat.
"I'll trouble you to lend me your overalls, Tom,"
he said, "and you can send a boy up to the house
and get mine in exchange. Put what medicines you
have in the cart; I'll take them over to the old fool."
"Good Lord!" said Tom, and mechanically got out
of his blue Jean clothes.
"Now don't be a downright ass, Christopher,"
put in Jim Weatherby. "You've got your mother
on your hands, you know, and what under heaven
have you to do with Uncle Isam? I knew some
foolishness would most likely come of it if they sent
up for you."
"Oh, he used to belong to us, you see," explained
"And he's been an ungrateful, thriftless free
Negro for nearly thirty years - "
"That's just it - for not quite thirty years. Look
here, if you'll drive me over in the cart and leave
the things at the foot of the hill I'll be obliged to
you. I'll probably have to stay out a couple of
weeks - until there's no danger of my bringing back
the disease - so I'll wear Tom's overalls and leave
my clothes somewhere in the woods. Oh, I'll take
care, of course; I'm no fool."
"You're surer of that than I am," returned Jim,
thinking of Lila. "I can't help feeling that there's
some truth in father's saying that a man can't be
a hero without being a bit of a fool as well. For
God's sake, don't, Christopher. You have no
right - "
"No, I have no right," repeated Christopher, as
he got into the cart and took up the hanging reins.
A sudden animation had leaped into his face and
his eyes were shining. It was the old love of a "risk
for the sake of the risk" which to Tucker had always
seemed to lack the moral elements of true courage,
and the careless gaiety with which he spoke robbed
the situation of its underlying somber horror.
Jim swung himself angrily upon the seat and
touched the horse lightly with the whip. "And
there's your mother sitting at home - and Cynthia -
and Lila," he said.
Christopher turned on him a face in whose
expression he found a mystery that he could not solve.
"I can't help it, Jim, to save my life I can't,"
he answered. "It isn't anything heroic; you know
that as well as I. I don't care a straw for Uncle
Isam and his children, but if I didn't go up there
and bury those dead darkies I'd never have a
moment's peace. I've been everything but a
skulking coward, and I can't turn out to be that at the
end. It's the way I'm made."
"Well, I dare say we're made different," responded
Jim rather dryly, for it was his wedding day and he
was going farther from his bride. "But for my part,
I can't help thinking of that poor blind old lady,
and how helpless they all are. Yes, we're made
different. I reckon that's what it means."
The cart jogged on slowly through the fading
sunshine, and when at last it came to the foot of
the hill where Uncle Isam lived Christopher got
out and shouldered a bag of meal.
"You'll run the place, I know, and look after
mother while I'm away," he said.
"Oh, I suppose I'll have to," returned Jim; and
then his ill-humour vanished and he smiled and
held out his hand. "Good-by, old man. God bless
you," he said heartily.
Sitting there in the road, he watched Christopher
pass out of sight under the green leaves, stooping
slightly beneath the bag of meal and whistling a
merry scrap of an old song. At the instant it came
to Jim with the force of a blow that this was the
first cheerful sound he had heard from him for
weeks; and, still pondering, he turned the horse's
head and drove slowly home to his own happiness.
THE MEASURE OF MARIA
WHEN, two weeks later, Christopher reached home
again, he was met by Tucker's gentle banter and
Lila's look of passionate reproach.
"Oh, dear, you might have died!" breathed the
girl with a shudder.
"So might Uncle Tucker when he went into the
war," was his retort. He was a little thinner, a
little graver, and the sunburn upon his face
had faded to a paler shade. After the short absence
his powerful figure struck them as almost gigantic;
physically, he had never appeared more impressive
than he did standing there in the sunlight that filled
the kitchen doorway.
"But that was different," protested Lila, flushing
"and this - this - why, you hardly knew Uncle
Isam when you passed him in the road."
"And half the time forgot to speak to him,"
added Tucker, laughing. His eyes were on the
young man's figure, and they grew a little wistful,
as they always did in the presence of perfect
masculine strength. "Well, I'm glad your search for
adventures didn't end in disaster," he added
To Christopher's surprise, Cynthia was the single
member of the family who showed a sympathy with
his reckless knight errantry. "There was nothing
else for you to do, of course," she said in a resolute
voice, lifting her worn face where the lines had
deepened in his absence; "he used to be father's
coachman before the war."
She had gone from the kitchen as she spoke, and
Christopher, following her, threw an anxious glance
along the little platform to the closed door of the
"And mother, Cynthia?" he asked quickly.
"Her mind still wanders, but at times she seems to
come back to herself for a little while, and only this
morning she awoke from a nap and asked for you
quite clearly. We told her you had gone hunting."
"May I see her now? Who is with her?"
"Jim. He has been so good."
The admission was wrung shortly from her rigid
honesty, and there was no visible softening of her
grim reserve, when, entering the house with Christopher,
she found herself presently beside Jim Weatherby,
who was chatting merrily in Mrs. Blake's room.
The old lady, shrivelled and faded as the dried
goldenrod which filled the great jars on the hearth,
lay half hidden among the pillows in her high white
bed, her vacant eyes fixed upon the sunshine which
fell through the little window. At Christopher's
step her memory flickered back for an instant, and
the change showed in the sudden animation of her
"I was dreaming of your father, my son, and you
have his voice."
"I am like him in other ways, I hope, mother."
"If I could only see you, Christopher - it is so hard
to remember. You had golden curls and wore a
white pinafore. I trimmed it with the embroidery
from my last set of petticoats. And your hands
were dimpled all over; you would suck your thumb:
there was no breaking you, though I wrapped it in a
rag soaked in quinine - "
"That was almost thirty years ago, mother,"
broke in Cynthia, catching her breath sharply." He
is a man now, and big - oh, so big - and his hair has
grown a little darker."
"I know, Cynthia; I know," returned Mrs. Blake,
with a peevish movement of her thin hand, "but
you won't let me remember. I am trying to remember."
She fell to whimpering like a hurt child and
then growing suddenly quiet, reached out until she
touched Christopher's head. "You're a man, I
know," she said, "older than your father was when
his first child was born. There have been two
crosses in my life, Christopher - my blindness and my
never having heard the voices of my grandchildren
playing in the house. Such a roomy old house, too,
with so much space for them to fill with cheerful
noise. I always liked noise, you know, it tells of
life, and never disturbs me so long as it is pleasant.
What I hate is the empty silence that reminds one
of the grave."
She was quite herself now, and, bending over, he
kissed the hand upon the counterpane.
"Oh, mother, mother, if I could only have made
"And you couldn't, Christopher?"
"I couldn't marry, dear; I couldn't."
"There was no one, you mean - no woman whom
you could have loved and who would have given
you children. Surely there are still good and
gentle women left in the world."
"There was none for me."
She sighed hopelessly.
"You have never - never had a low fancy,
"Thank God; it is one thing I could not forgive.
A gentleman may have his follies, your father used
to say, but he must never stoop for them. Let
him keep to his own level, even in his indiscretions.
Ah, your father had his faults, my son, but he never
forgot for one instant in his life that he was born a
gentleman. He was a good husband, too, a good
husband, and I was married to him for nearly forty
years. The greatest trial of my marriage was that
he would throw his cigar ashes on the floor. Women
think so much of little things, you know, and I've
always felt that I should have been a happier woman
if he had learned to use an ash-tray. But he never
would - he never would, though I gave him one
every Christmas for almost forty years."
Falling silent, her hands played fitfully upon the
counterpane, and when next she spoke the present
had slipped from her and her thoughts had gone
back to her early triumphs.
She wandered aimlessly and waveringly on in a
feeble vacancy, and Christopher, after watching
her for an agonised moment, left the room and
went out into the fresh air of the yard. He could
always escape by flight from the slow death-bed;
it was Cynthia who faced hourly the final tragedy
of a long and happy life.
The thought of Will had oppressed him like a
nightmare for the last two weeks, and it was almost
unconsciously that he turned now in the direction of the
store and passed presently into the shaded lane
leading to Sol Peterkin's. His mood was heavy
upon him, and so deep was the abstraction in which
he walked that it was only when he heard his name
called softly from a little distance that he looked
up to find Maria Fletcher approaching him over the
pale gray shadows in the road. Her eyes were
luminous, and she stretched her hand toward him
in a happy gesture.
"Oh, if you only knew how wonderful I think you!"
she cried impulsively.
He held her hand an instant, and then letting it
fall, withdrew his gaze slowly from her exalted look.
The pure heights of her fervour were beyond the
reach of his more earthly level, and as he turned
from her some old words of her own were respoken
in his ears: "Faith and doubt are mere empty
forms until we pour out the heart's blood that
vivifies them." It was her heart's blood that she had
put into her dreams, and it was this, he told himself,
that gave her mystic visions their illusive appearance
of reality. Beauty enveloped her as an atmosphere;
it softened her sternest sacrifice, it coloured her
barest outlook, it transformed daily the common
road in which she walked, and hourly it sustained
and nourished her, as it nourished poor, crippled
Tucker on his old pine bench. The eye of the spirit
was theirs - this Christopher had learned at last; and
he had learned, also, that for him there still remained
only the weak, blurred vision of the flesh.
"You make me feel the veriest hypocrite," he
said at the end of the long pause.
She shook her head. "And that you are surely
"So you still believe in me?"
"It's not belief - I know in you."
"Well, don't praise me; don't admire me; don't
pretend, for God's sake, that I'm anything better
than the brute you see."
"I don't pretend anything better," she protested;
"and when you talk like this it only makes me feel
the more keenly your wonderful courage."
"I haven't any," he burst out almost angrily.
"Not an atom, do you hear? Whatever I may
appear on top, at bottom I am a great skulking
coward, and nothing more. Why, I couldn't even
stay and take my punishment the other day. I
sneaked off like a hound."
"Your punishment?" she faltered, and he saw her
"For the other day - for the afternoon by the
poplar spring. I've been wanting to beg your
pardon on my knees."
Her lashes were raised steadily, and she regarded
him gravely while a slight frown gathered her dark
brows. She was still humanly feminine enough to
find the apology harder to forgive than the offense.
"Oh, I had forgotten," she said a little coldly.
"So that was, after all, why you ran away?"
"It was not the only reason."
"And the other?"
He closed his eyes suddenly and drew back.
"I ran away because I knew if I stayed I should
do it again within two seconds," he replied.
A little blue flower was growing in the red clay
wheel-rut at her feet, and, stooping, she caressed it
gently without plucking it.
"It was very foolish," she said in a quiet voice;
"but I had forgotten it, and you should have let it
rest. Afterward, you did such a brave, splendid
"I did nothing but run from you," he persisted,
losing his head. "If I hadn't gone to Uncle Isam
I'd have done something equally reckless in a different
way. I wanted to get away from you - to escape
you, but I couldn't - I couldn't. You were with
me always, night and day, in those God-forsaken
woods. I never lost you for one instant, never. I
tried to, but I couldn't."
"You couldn't," she repeated, and, rising, faced
him calmly. Then before the look in his eyes her
own wavered and fell slowly to the ground, and he
saw her quiver and grow white as if a rough wind
blew over her. With an effort he steadied himself
and turned away.
"There is but one thing to do," he said, holding
his breath in the pause; "it's a long story, but if
you will listen patiently - and it is very long - I
will tell you all." Following him, she crossed the
carpet of pine needles and sat down upon the end
of a fallen log.
"Tell me nothing that you do not care to," she
answered, and sat waiting.
"It began long ago, when we were both little
children," he went on, and then going back from her
into the lane he stood staring down upon the
little blue flower blooming in the wheel-rut. She
saw his shadow, stretching across the road, blurred
into the pale dusk of the wood, uncertain, somber,
gigantic in its outline. His hat was lying on the
ground at her feet, and, lifting it, she ran her fingers
idly along the brim.
For a time the silence lasted; then coming back
to her, he sat down on the log and dropped his
clasped hands between his knees. She heard his
heavy breathing, and something in the sound drew
her toward him with a sympathetic movement.
"Ah, don't tell me, don't tell me," she entreated.
"You must listen patiently," he returned, without
looking at her, "and not interrupt - above all, not
She bent her head. "I will not speak a word
nor move a finger until the end," she promised; and
leaning a little forward, with his eyes on the ground
and his hands hanging listlessly between his knees,
he began his story.
The air was so still that his voice sounded strangely
harsh in the silence, but presently she heard the
soughing of the pine trees far up above, and while it
lasted it deadened the jarring discord of the human
tones. She sat quite motionless upon the log, not
lifting a finger nor speaking a word, as she had
promised, and her gaze was fixed steadily upon a
bit of dried fern growing between the roots of a dead
"It went on so for five years," he slowly finished,
"and it as from beginning to end deliberate,
devilish revenge. I meant from the first to make
him what he is to-day. I meant to make him hate
his grandfather as he does - I meant to make him
the hopeless drunkard that he is. It is all my work -
every bit of it - as you see it now."
He paused, but her eyes clung to the withered
fern, and so quiet was her figure that it seemed as
if she had not drawn breath since he began. Her
faint smile was still sketched about the corners of
her mouth, and her fingers were closed upon the
brim of his harvest hat.
"For five years I was like that," he went on again.
"I did not know, I did not care - I wanted to be
a beast. Then you came and it was different."
For the first time she turned and looked at him.
"And it was different?" she repeated beneath her
"Oh, there's nothing to say that will make things
better: I know that. If you had not come I should
never have known myself nor what I had been.
It was like a thunderclap - the whole thing; it shook
me off my feet before I saw what it meant -
before I would acknowledge even to myself that - "
"That?" she questioned in a whisper, for he had
bitten back the words.
"That I love you."
As he spoke she slipped suddenly to her knees and
lay with her face hidden on the old log, while her
smothered sobs ran in long shudders through her
body. A murmur reached him presently, and it
seemed to him that she was praying softly in her
clasped hands; but when in a new horror of himself
he made a movement to rise and slip away, she
looked up and gently touched him detainingly on
"Oh, how unhappy - how unhappy you have been!"
"It is not that I mind," he answered. "If I
could take all the misery of it I shouldn't care,
but I have made you suffer, and for the sin that is
For a moment she was silent, breathing quickly
between parted lips; then turning with an impulsive
gesture, she laid her cheek upon the hand hanging
at his side.
"Not yours alone," she said softly, "for it has
become mine, too."
Before the wonder of her words he stared at her
with dazed eyes, while their meaning shook him
slowly to his senses.
"Maria!" he called out sharply in the voice of
one who speaks from a distance.
She met his appeal with a swift outward movement
of her arms, and, bending over, laid her hands
gently upon his head.
"Mine, too, Christopher - mine, too," she repeated,
"for I take the blame of it, and I will share in the
atonement. My dear, my dear, is love so slight
a thing that it would share the joy and leave the
sorrow - that it would take the good and reject the
evil? Why, it is all mine! All! All! What you
have been I was also; what I am to-day you will be.
I have been yours since the first instant you
looked upon me."
With a sob he caught her hands and crushed
them in his own.
"Then this is love, Maria?"
"It has been love - always."
"From the first - as with me?"
"As with you. Beloved, there is not a wrong
on this earth that could come between us now, for
there is no room in my heart where it might enter.
There can be no sin against love which love does not
Falling apart, their hands dropped before them,
and they stood looking at each other in a silence
that went deeper than words. She felt his gaze
enveloping her in warmth from head to foot, but he
still made no movement to draw nearer, for there
are moments when the touch of the flesh grows
meaningless before the mute appeal of the spirit.
In that one speechless instant there passed between
them the pledges and the explanations of years.
Suddenly the light flamed in his face, and opening
his arms, he made a single step toward her; but,
melting into tears, she turned from him and ran out
into the road.
WILL S RUIN
BLINDED by tears, she went swiftly back along the
road into the shadows which thickened beyond
the first short bend. Will must be saved at any
cost, by any sacrifice, she told herself with passionate
insistence. He must be saved though she gave up
her whole life to the work of his redemption, though
she must stand daily and hourly guard against his
weakness. He must be saved, not for his own sake
alone, but because it was the one way in which she
might work out Christopher's salvation. As she
went on, scheme after scheme beckoned and repelled
her; plan after plan was caught at only to be rejected,
and it was at last with a sinking heart, though still
full of high resolves, that she turned from the lane
into a strip of "corduroy road," and so came quickly
to the barren little farm adjoining Sol Peterkin's.
Will was sitting idly on an overturned wheel-barrow
beside the woodpile, and as she approached
him she assumed with an effort a face of cheerful
"Oh, Will, I thought you'd gone to work. You
"Well, I haven't, and there's an end of it," he
returned irritably, chewing hard on a chip he had
picked up from the ground; "and what's more, I
shan't go till I see the use. It's killing me by inches.
I tell you I'm not strong enough to stand a life like
this. Drudge, drudge, drudge; there's nothing else
except the little spirit I get from drink."
"And that ruins you. Oh, don't, don't. I'll go
on my knees to you; I'll work for you like a servant
day and night; I'll sell my very clothes to help you,
if you'll only promise me never to drink again."
"You a servant!" said Will, and laughed shortly
while he looked her over with raised eyebrows.
"Why, your stockings would keep me in cigarettes
for a week."
A flush crossed Maria's face, and she glanced
down guiltily, letting her black skirt fall above the
lace upon her petticoat. "I have bought nothing
since coming home," she responded presently with
quiet dignity; "these belong, with my old luxuries,
to a past life. There were a great many of them,
and it will fortunately take me a long time to wear
"Oh, I don't begrudge them," returned Will, a
little ashamed of his show of temper; "fine clothes
suit you, and I hope you will squeeze them out of
grandpa all you can. It's as good a way for him to
spend his money as any other, and it doesn't hurt
me so long as he'll never let me see the colour of
"But your promise, dear? Will you promise me?"
He lifted his sullen face toward her kind eyes,
then turning away, kicked listlessly at the rotting
"What's the use in promising? I wouldn't keep
it," he replied. "Why, there are times when but
for whisky I'd go mad. It's the life, I tell you,
that's killing me, not drink. If things were different
I shouldn't crave it - I shouldn't miss it, even. Why,
for three months after I married Molly I didn't touch
a single drop, and I'd have kept it up, too, except for
grandpa's devilment. It's his fault; he drove me
back to it as clear as day."
His weak mouth quivered, and he sucked in his
breath in the way he had inherited from Fletcher.
The deep flush across his face faded slowly, and
dropping his restless, bloodshot eyes, he dug his foot
into the mould with spasmodic twitches of his body.
His clothes appeared to have been flung upon him, and
his cravat and loosened collar betrayed the lack of
neatness which had always repelled Maria so strongly
in her grandfather. As she watched him she wondered
with a pang that she had never noticed until
to-day the resemblance he bore to the old man at
"But one must be patient, Will," she said helplessly
after a moment's thought; "there's always
hope of a mending - and as far as that goes,
grandfather may relent to-morrow."
"Relent? Pshaw! I'd like to see him do it
this side of hell. Let him die: that's all I ask of
him. His room is a long sight better than his
company, and you may tell him I said so."
"What good would come of that?"
"I don't want any good to come of it. Why should
I? He's brought me to this pass with his own
"But surely it was partly your fault. He loved
"Nonsense. He wanted a dog to badger, that
was all. Christopher Blake said so."
"Christbpher Blake! Oh, Will, Will, if you could
She turned hopelessly away from him and looked
with despairing eyes over the ploughed fields which
blushed faintly in the sunshine.
"So your spring ploughing is all done," she said
at last, desisting from her attempt to soften his
sullen obduracy, "and you have been working harder
than I knew."
"Oh, it's not I," returned Will promptly, his face
clearing for the first time. "It's all Christopher's
work; he ploughed that field just before he went
away. Do you see that new cover over the well?
He knocked that up the last morning he was here,
and made those steps before the front door at the
same time. Now, he's the kind of friend worth
having, and no mistake. But for him I'd have
landed in the poorhouse long ago."
Maria's gaze left the field and returned to Will's
face, where it lingered wistfully.
"Have you ever heard what it was all about,
Will?" she asked, "the old trouble between him
"Some silly property right, I believe; I can't
remember. Did you ever see anybody yet with
whom grandpa was on decent terms?"
"He used to be with you, Will."
"Only so long as I wore short breeches and he
could whack me over the head whenever he had a
mind to. I tell you I'd rather try to get along with
"Have you ever tried peace-making in earnest,
Twirling a chip between his thumb and forefinger,
he flirted it angrily at a solitary hen scratching
in the mould.
"Why, shortly after my marriage I went over
there and positively wiped up the floor with myself.
I offered him everything under heaven in the shape
of good behaviour, and, by Jove! I meant it, too.
I'd have stopped drinking then; I'd even have given
up Christopher Blake "
"Did you tell him that?"
"Did I ever tell a thunderstorm I'd run indoors?
It was enough to get away with a whole skin - he
left me little more. And the day afterward, by the
way, he sent me the deeds to this rotten farm, and
warned me that he'd shoot me down if I ever set foot
at the Hall."
"And there has been no softening - no wavering
Will shook his head with a brutal laugh. "Oh,
you heard of our meeting in the road and what
came of it. I told him I was starving: he answered
that he wasn't responsible for all the worthless
paupers in the county. Then I cursed him, and he
broke his stick on my shoulders. I say, Maria,"
he wound up desperately, "do you think he'll live
She kept her eyes upon him without answering,
fearing to tell him that by the terms of the new will
he could never come into his share of Fletcher's
"Has he ever seen Molly?" she asked suddenly,
while an unreasonable hope shot through her heart.
"Does he know about the child?"
"He may have seen her - I don't know; but she's
not so much to look at now: she's gone all to pieces
under this awful worry. It isn't my fault, God
knows, but she expected different things when she
married me. She thought we'd live somewhere in
the city and that she'd have pretty clothes to wear."
"I was thinking that when the child came he might
forgive you," broke in Maria almost cheerfully.
"And in the meantime we're to die like rats. Oh,
there's no use talking, it's got to end one way or
another. There's not a cent in the house nor a decent
scrap of food, and Molly is having to see the doctor
every day. I declare, it's enough to drive me clean
"And what good would that do Molly or yourself?
Be a man, Will, and don't let a woman hear you
whine. Now I'm going in to see her, and I'll stay
to help her about supper."
She nodded brightly, and, opening the little door
of the house, passed into the single lower room
which served as kitchen and dining-room in one.
Beyond the disorderly table, from which the remains
of dinner had not yet been cleared away, Molly was
lying on a hard wooden lounge covered with strips
of faded calico. Her abundant flaxen hair hung in
lusterless masses upon her shoulders, and the soiled
cotton wrapper she wore was torn open at the
throat as if she had clutched it in a passion of childish
petulance. At Maria's entrance she started and looked
up angrily from her dejected attitude.
"I can't see any visitors - I'm not fit!" she cried.
Maria drew forward a broken split-bottomed chair
and sat down beside the lounge.
"I'm not a visitor, Molly," she answered; "and
I've come to see if I can't make you a little easier.
Won't you let me fix you comfortably? Why, you
poor child, your hands are as hot as fire!"
"I'm hot all over," returned Molly peevishly;
"and I'm sick - I'm as sick as I can be. Will won't
believe it, but the doctor says so."
"Will does believe it, and it worries him terribly.
Here, sit up and let me bathe your face and hands in
cold water. Doesn't that feel better?"
"A little," admitted Molly, when Maria had
found a towel and dried her hands.
"And now I'm going to comb the tangles out of
your hair. What lovely hair! It is the colour of
A pleased flush brightened Molly's face, and she
resigned herself easily to Maria's willing services.
"There's a comb over there on that shelf under the
mirror," she said. "Will broke half the teeth out of it
the other day, and it pulls my hair out when I use it."
"Then I'll bring you one of mine. You must be
careful of these curls. They're too pretty to treat
roughly. Do I hurt you?"
As she spoke, a bright strand of the girl's hair
twisted about one of her rings, and after hesitating
an instant she drew the circle from her finger and laid
it in Molly's lap.
"There. I haven't any money, so that's to buy
you medicine and food," she said. "It cost a good
deal once, I fancy."
"Diamonds!" gasped Molly, with a cry of rapture.
Her hand closed over the ring with a frantic clutch;
then slipping it on, she lay watching the stone
sparkle in the last sunbeams. A colour had bloomed
suddenly in her face, and her eyes shone with a light
as brilliant as that of the jewel at which she
"And you had - others?" she asked in a kind of
"A great many once - a necklace, and rings, and
brooches, and a silly tiara that made me look a fright.
I never cared for them after the novelty of owning
them wore off. They are evil things, it seems to
me, and should never be the gifts of love, for each
one of those foolish stones stands for greed, and pride,
and selfishness, and maybe crime. That was my way
of looking at them, of course, and whenever I wore
my necklace I used to feel like asking pardon of every
beggar that I passed. 'One link in this chain might
make a man of you,' was what I wanted to say -
but I never did. Well, they are almost all gone
now; some I sold and some I gave away. This
one will buy you medicine, I hope, and then it will
give me more happiness than it has ever done
"Oh, it is beautiful, beautiful," sighed Molly
beneath her breath, and then went to the little
cracked mirror in the corner and held the diamond
first to her ear and then against her hair. "They
suit me," she said at last, opening the bosom of her
wrapper and trying it on her pretty throat; "they
would make me look so splendid. Oh, if I'd only had
a lover who could give me things like this!"
Maria, watching her, felt her heart contract suddenly
with a pang of remembrance. Jewels had been the
one thing which Jack Wyndham had given her, for of
the finer gifts of the spirit he had been beggared
long before she knew him. In the first months of
his infatuation he had showered her with diamonds,
and she had grown presently to see a winking mockery
in each bauble that he tossed her. Before the first
year was ended she had felt her pride broken by the
oppressiveness of the jewels that bedecked her body,
like the mystic princess who was killed at last by
the material weight of the golden crown upon her
"They could never make you happy, Molly. How
could they? Come back and lie down, and let me
put the ring away. Perhaps I'd better take it to
town myself." But Molly would not open her
closed hand on which the diamond shone, and long
after Maria had cooked supper and gone back to the
Hall the girl lay motionless, holding the ring against
the light. When Will came in from milking she
showed it to him with a burst of joy.
"Look! Oh, look! Isn't it like the sun?"
He eyed it critically.
"By Jove! It must have cost cool hundreds! I'll
take it to town to-morrow and bring back the things
you need. It will get the baby clothes, too, so
you won't have to bother about the sewing."
"You shan't! You shan't!" cried Molly in a passion
of sobs. "It's mine. She gave it to me, and you
shan't take it away. I don't want the medicine: it
never does me any good; and I can make the baby
clothes out of my old things. I'll never, never give
For an instant Will stared at her as if she had
lost her senses.
"Well, she was a fool to let you get it," he said,
as he flung himself out of the room.
IN WHICH MRS. BLAKE'S EYES ARE OPENED
BEFORE the beauty of Maria's high magnanimity
Christopher had felt himself thrust further into the
abasement of his self-contempt. Had she met his
confession with reproach, with righteous aversion,
with the horror he had half expected, it is possible
that his heart might have recoiled into a last expression
of defiance. But there had been none of these
things. In his memory her face shone moonlike
from its cloud of dark hair, and he saw upon it only
the look of a great and sorrowful passion. His
wretchedness had drawn her closer, not put her
further away, and he had felt the quiet of her tolerance
not less gratefully than he had felt the fervour
of her love. Her forgiveness had been of the grandeur
of her own nature, and its height and breadth had
appealed, even apart from her emotion, to a mind
that was accustomed to dwell daily on long reaches
of unbroken space. He had been bred on large
things from his birth - large horizons, large stretches
of field and sky, large impulses, and large powers
of hating, and he found now that a woman's presence
filled to overflowing the empty vastness of his
Reaching the yard, he saw Tucker sitting placidly
on his bench, and, crossing the long grass, he flung
himself down beside him with a sigh of pleasure in
the beauty of the scene.
"You're right, Uncle Tucker; it's all wonderful.
I never saw such a sunset in my life."
"Ah, but you haven't seen it yet," said Tucker.
"I've been looking at it since it first caught that pile
of clouds, and it grows more splendid every instant.
I'm not an overreligious body, I reckon, and I've
always held that the best compliment you can pay
God Almighty is to let Him go His own gait and quit
advising Him; but, I declare, as I sat here just now I
couldn't help being impertinent enough to pray that
I might live to see another."
"Well, it's a first-rate one; that's so. It seems to
shake a body out of the muck, somehow."
"I shouldn't wonder if it did; and that's what I
told two young fools who were up here just now
asking me to patch up their first married quarrel.
'For heaven's sake, stop playing with mud and sit
down and watch that sunset,' I said to 'em, and if
you'll believe it, the girl actually dropped her jaws
and replied she had to hurry back to shell her beans
while the light lasted. Beans! Why, they'll make
beans enough of their marriage, and so I told 'em."
Tapping his crutch gently on the ground, he
paused and sat smiling broadly at the sunset.
For a time Christopher watched with him while
the gold-and-crimson glory flamed beyond the twisted
boughs of the old pine; then, turning his troubled
face on Tucker's cheerful one, he asked deliberately:
"Do you sometimes regret that you never married,
"Regret?" repeated Tucker softly. "Why, no. I
haven't time for it - there's too much else to think
about. Regret is a dangerous thing, my boy; you
let a little one no bigger than a mustard seed into
your heart, and before you know it you've hatched
out a whole brood. Why, if I began to regret that,
heaven knows where I should stop. I'd regret my
leg and arm next, the pictures I might have painted,
and the four years' war which we might have won.
No, no. I'd change nothing, I tell you - not a day;
not an hour; not a single sin nor a single virtue.
They're all woven into the pattern of the whole, and
I reckon the Lord knew the figure He had in mind."
"Well, I'd like to pull a thread or two out of it,"
returned Christopher moodily, squinting his eyes at
the approaching form of Susan Spade, who came
from the afterglow through the whitewashed gate.
"Why, what's bringing her, I wonder?" he asked
with evident displeasure.
To this inquiry Susan herself presently made
answer as she walked with her determined tread
across the little yard.
"I've a bit of news for you, Mr. Christopher,
an' I reckon you'd ruther have it from my mouth
than from Bill Fletcher's. His back's up agin, the
Lord knows why, an' he's gone an' moved his pasture
fence so as to take in yo' old field that lies beside it.
He swars it's his, too, but Tom's ready to match
him with a bigger oath that it's yours an' always
"Of course it's mine," said Christopher coolly.
"The meadow brook marks the boundary, and the
field is on this side. I can prove it by Tom or Jacob
"Well, he's took it" rejoined Mrs. Spade flatly.
"He won't keep it long, I reckon, ma'am," said
Tucker, in his pleasant manner; "and I must say
it seems to me that Bill Fletcher is straining at a
gnat. Why, he has near two thousand acres, hasn't
he? And what under heaven does he want with that
old field the sheep have nibbled bare? There's no
sense in it."
"It ain't sense, it's natur," returned Mrs. Spade,
sitting squarely down on the bench from which
Christopher had risen; "an' that's what I've had ag'in
men folks from the start - thar's too much natur
in 'em. You kin sheer it out of a woman, an' you
kin beat it out of a dog, an' thar're times when you
kin even spank it out of a baby, but if you oust it
from a man thar ain't nothin' but skin en' bones left
behind. An' natur's a ticklish thing to handle without
gloves, bless yo' soul, suh. It's like a hive of
bees: you give it a little poke to start it, en' the first
thing you know it's swarmin' all over both yo'
hands. It's a skeery thing, suh, an' Bill Fletcher's
got his share of it, sho's you're born."
"It has its way with him pretty thoroughly, I
think," responded Tucker, chuckling; "but if I were
you, Christopher, I'd stick up for my rights in that
old field. Bill Fletcher may need exercise, but
there's no reason he should get it by trampling
"Oh, I'll throw his fence down, never fear,"
answered Christopher indifferently. "He knew it,
I dare say, when he put it up."
"It's a fuss he wants, suh, an' nothing else,"
declared Mrs. Spade, smoothing down the starched
fold of her gingham apron; "an' if he doesn't git
it, po' creetur, he's goin' to be laid up in bed befo'
the week is out. He's bilin' hot inside, I can see
that in his face, an' if the steam don't work out one
way it will another. When a man ain't got a wife
or child to nag at he's mighty sho' to turn right
round an' begin naggin' at his neighbours, an' that's
why it's the bounder duty of every decent woman
to marry an' save the peace. Why, if Tom hadn't
had me to worry on, I reckon he'd be the biggest
blusterer in this county or the next."
Leaving her still talking, Christopher went from
her into the house, where he lingered an instant
with drawn breath before his mother's door. The
old lady was sleeping tranquilly, and, treading
softly in his heavy boots, he passed out to the friendly
faces of the horses and the cool dusk of the stable.
As the days went on, drawing gradually toward
summer, Mrs. Blake's life began peacefully to flicker
out, like a candle that has burned into the socket.
There were hours when her mind was quite clear,
and at such times she would talk unceasingly in
her old sprightly fashion, with her animated gestures
and her arch and fascinating smile. But following
these sanguine periods there would come whole days
when she lay unconscious and barely taking breath,
while her features grew sharp and wan under the
It was when she had just passed through one of
these states that Lila came out on a Sunday afternoon
to find Christopher at the woodpile, and told
him, with a burst of tears, that she thought the
end had come.
"She's quite herself and wants us all," she said,
sobbing. "And she's even asked for the house
servants, every one - for Phyllis, and Tobias, and so
many of them who have been away for years. It's
just as if she knew that she was dying and wanted
to say good-by."
Throwing the axe hurriedly aside, Christopher
followed her into the house, and then entering the
old lady's room, stopped short beside the threshold
in a grief that was not unmixed with wonder.
The sunshine fell straight through the window
on the high white pillows, and among them Mrs.
Blake was sitting rigidly, her blind eyes sparkling
with the last fitful return of her intelligence. She
was speaking, as he entered, in a natural and lively
tone, which brought back to him his earliest memories
of her engaging brightness.
"Are the servants all there, Cynthia? Then let
them come and stand inside the door - a few at a
"They are here, mother," replied Cynthia, choking;
and Christopher, glancing round, saw several decrepit
Negroes leaning against the wall - Uncle Boaz, Docia
(pressing her weak heart), and blear-eyed Aunt
Polly, already in her dotage.
"I wish to tell you good-by while my mind is clear,"
pursued the old lady in her high, sweet voice. "You
have been good servants to me for a long time, and
I hope you will live many years to serve my children
as faithfully. Always remember, Christopher -
Is Christopher there?"
"I am here, dear mother."
"Always remember that a man's first duty is to
his wife and children, and his second to his slaves.
The Lord has placed them in your hands, and you
must answer to Him how you fulfill the trust. And
now, Boaz - where is Boaz?"
"I'm yer, ole miss; I'm right yer"
"You may shake my hand, Boaz, for it is a long
good-by. I've always promised you your freedom,
and I haven't forgotten it, though you asked for it
almost fifty years ago. You did something that I
praised you for - I can't quite remember what it
was - and when I asked you what you would like
as a reward, you answered: 'Don't give me nothin'
now, ole miss, but let the gift grow and set me free
when you come to die.' It is a long time, Boaz,
fifty years, but I give you your freedom now, as I
promised, though it is very foolish of you to want
it, and I'm sure you'll find it nothing but a burden
and a trouble. Christopher, will you remember that
Boaz is free?"
Christopher crossed the room, and, catching her
hands in his own, sought to force her back upon the
pillows, but with an effort that showed in every
tense line of her face she pushed him from her and
sat erect and unsupported.
"Let me dismiss them first," she said with her
stately manner. "Good-by, Phyllis and Polly - and
- and - all the rest of you. You may go now. I
am a little tired, and I will lie down."
Cynthia put the weeping servants from the room,
and, filling a glass with brandy, held it with a shaking
hand to her mother's lips.
"Take this, dear, and lie down," she said.
Mrs. Blake sipped the brandy obediently, but as
she felt her strength revive from the strong spirit
the animation reawoke in her face, and, turning
toward Christopher, she stretched out her hand
with an appealing gesture.
"There is so much to say and I haven't the space
to say it in, my son. There is so much advice I
want to give you, but the time is short."
"I understand, mother; I understand. Don't let
it trouble you."
"I have had a fortunate life, my child," resumed
the old lady, waving him to silence with a gesture
in which there was still a feeble sprightliness, "and
when one has lived happily far into the seventies
one learns a great deal of wisdom, and there is much
good advice that one ought to leave behind. You
have been an affectionate son to me, Christopher,
and I have not yet given up the hope that you may
live to be a worthy husband to another woman.
If you do marry - and God grant that you may -
remember that the chief consideration should be
family connection, and the next personal attractiveness.
Wealth counts for very little beside good
birth, and after this I regard a small foot and hand
as most essential. They have always been a mark
of our breeding, Christopher, and I should not like
the family to lose through you one of its most
"It is not likely I shall marry, mother. I was cut
out for different ends."
"One never knows, my son, and at least I am
only doing my duty in speaking to you thus. I
am a very old woman, and I am not afraid to die,
for I have never to my knowledge done anything
that was unbecoming in a lady. Remember to be
a gentleman, and you will find that that embraces
all morality and a good deal of religion."
He kissed her hand, watching anxiously the
mounting excitement in her face.
"And if you do marry, Christopher," she went on,
harping fitfully on her favourite string, "remember
that keeping in love is as much the profession for
a man as it is the art for a woman, and that love
feeds on little delicacies rather than on meat and
drink. Don't forget the little things, dear, and the
big ones will take care of themselves. I have seen
much of men and manners in my life, and they have
taught me that it is the small failings, not the big
faults, which are deadliest to love. Why, I've seen
a romantic passion survive shame, and treachery,
and even blows, and another wither out of existence
before the first touch of bad breeding. 'A man's
table manners are a part of his morality,' your
Great-grandfather Bolivar used to say."
She laughed softly while her hand played with
the white fringe on the counterpane.
"I can recall now the sympathy I felt for Matty
Gordon," she pursued, "a great belle and beauty
who ran off and married that scamp, Aleck Douglas.
He turned into a perfect rascal, they said, though
I must admit that he made a very amiable husband,
and never stinted her, even if he stole from other
people. Well, she stuck to him through good and
evil report, and was really from all appearances a
most contented woman. When he died at last,
people said that it was just in time to escape the
penitentiary, but to see Matty you would have
thought she had lost nothing short of pure perfection.
Poor old Bishop Deane, who always would
speak his mind, in the pulpit or out of it, went to
call on her, he told me, and took occasion to reprove
her for such excessive grief over so unworthy an
object. 'He was not an upright man, Matty, and
you know it,' he began quite boldly; 'he was a libertine,
and a gambler, and an open scoffer at religion.'
But Matty went on sobbing harder than ever, and
at last, getting angry, he said sternly: 'And more
than this, ma'am, he was, as you know, a faithless
and disloyal husband!' Then the poor girl drew
out a pocket handkerchief with a three-inch black
border and mopped her pretty blue eyes. 'Ah,
but, Bishop, I had so much to be thankful for!'
she said. 'He never chewed tobacco!' Well
well, she may have been a fool, as the Bishop
insisted, but he was a man, in spite of his cloth,
and could never learn to understand a woman's
She finished, and, turning, touched him gently on
"It is the little things that count in marriage
Christopher," and after a moment she added
thoughtfully: "Promise me that you will always
use an ash-tray."
"Anything, dear mother; I promise anything."
With a contented sigh she closed her eyes, and
still holding his hand, fell into a broken and troubled
sleep, from which she awoke presently in a gentle
delirium. Her lost youth had returned to her, and
with it something of her old gaiety of manner.
Suddenly he felt a strange thrill pass through her,
and raising herself with a last great endeavour, she
sat erect, staring into the blue sky that showed
through the window.
"I am engaged for this set, sir," she said in her
winning voice, while a girlish smile transfigured
her wan face, "but if it pleases you, you may put
your name down for the next."
Rising, he bent quickly over her, but before he
touched her she had fallen back upon the pillows
and lay with her arch smile frozen upon her face.
CHRISTOPHER PLANTS BY MOONLIGHT
AT MIDNIGHT they left him to watch alone in her
chamber, and while he sat in the shadow beside
the tester bed his thoughts encircled the still form
on the white counterpane. On the mantel two
candles burned dimly, and the melted tallow dripped
slowly down into the tall brass candlesticks. The
dimity curtains of the bed fluttered softly in the
breeze that blew through the open window, and in
his nostrils there was the scent of the single rose
standing in a glass vase upon the table. Tucker
had brought her the rose that morning and she had
held it for a pleased moment in her trembling fingers.
Everything in the room around him was ready for
her use - her nightcap lay on the bureau, and in the
china tray beside it he saw her brush and comb, in
which a long strand of white hair was still twisted.
On her hands, folded quietly upon her breast, he
caught the flash of Docia's piece of purple glass,
and he remembered with a throb of pain that she
had asked that her betrothal ring might be buried
"Well, she knows all now," he thought in bitterness.
"She knows the theft of the diamond, and
the deception that lasted nearly thirty years." In
the midst of his sorrow a sudden shame possessed
him, and he felt all at once that his heart was pierced
by the unearthly keenness of the dead eyes. "She
knows all now," he repeated, and there was a
passionate defiance in his acknowledgment. "She
knows all that I have hidden from her, as well as
much that has been hidden from me. Her blind
eyes are open, and she sees at last my failure and
my sin, and the agony that I have known. For
years I have shielded her, but she cannot shield me
now, for all her wider vision. She can avert my
fate no more than I could hold her back from hers.
We are each alone - she, and I, and Maria, and the
boy whom I have ruined - and there is no love that
can keep a man from living and dying to himself."
It seemed to him, sitting there in the shadow, that
he felt - as he had felt before in grave moments -
the revolutions of the wheel on which he was bound.
And with that strange mystic insight which comes
to those who lead brooding and isolated lives close
to Nature, he asked himself if, after all, these things
had not had their beginning in the dawn of his
existence so many million years ago. "Has it not
all happened before as it happens now - my shame
and my degradation, the kiss I placed on Maria's
lips, and the watch I keep by the deathbed of my
mother? It is all familiar to me, and when the end
comes, that will be familiar, too."
A night moth entered, wheeling in dizzy circles
about the candle, but when it went so near as to
scorch its wings he caught it gently in his hollowed
palms and released it into the darkness of the yard.
As he leaned out he saw the light shining clear in
Maria's window, and while he gazed upon it he felt
a curious kinship with the moth that had flown in
from the night and hovered about the flame.
As the days went on, the emptiness in the house
became to him like that of the grave, and he learned
presently that the peevish and exacting old lady who
had not stirred for years from her sick-bed had left
a vacancy larger than all the rest of them could fill.
Cynthia, who had borne most of the burden, began
now to bear, in its place, the heavier share of the
loss. Released from her daily sacrifice and her
patient drudgery, she looked about her with dazed
eyes, like one whose future has been suddenly swept
away. There was nothing for her to do any longer
- no risings in the gray dawn to prepare the day's
stealthy work, no running on aching feet to answer
unreasonable complaints, no numberless small lies
to plan in secret, no stinting of herself that her
mother might have her little luxuries. Her work
was over, and she pined away in the first freedom
of her life. The very fact that deception was no
longer necessary seemed to sweep her accustomed
moorings from beneath her feet. She had lied so
long that lying had become at last a second nature to
her, and to her surprise she found almost an
indecency in the aspect of the naked truth.
"I don't know how it is, Uncle Tucker," she said one
day toward the end of June, when the deadly drought
which had kept back the transplanting of the tobacco
had ended in three days of heavy rain - "I don't know
how it is, but the thing I miss most - and I miss her
every minute - is the lying I had to do. It gave
me something to think about, somehow. I used to
stay awake at night and plan all sorts of pleasant
lies that I could tell about the house and the garden,
and the way the war ended, and the Presidents
of the Confederacy - I made up all their names - and
the fuss with which each one was inaugurated, and
the dresses their wives and daughters wore. It's
all so dull when you have to stop pretending and
begin to face things just as they are. I've lied for
almost thirty years, and I reckon I've lost my taste
for the truth."
"Well, it will come back, dear," responded Tucker
reassuringly; "but I think you need a change if
a woman ever did. What about that week you're to
spend with the Weatherbys?"
"I'm going to-morrow," answered Cynthia shortly.
"Lila is sick with a cold and wants me; but how
you and Christopher will manage to get on is more
than I can say."
"Oh, we'll worry along with Docia, never fear,"
replied Tucker, hobbling into his seat at the supper
table, as Christopher came in from the woods with
the heavy moisture dripping from his clothes.
"It's cleared off fine and there's to be a full moon
to-night," said the young man, hanging up his hat.
"If the rain had come a week later the tobacco
would have been ruined. I've just been taking it
up out of the plant-bed."
"You'll begin setting it out to-morrow, I reckon,
then," observed Tucker, watching Cynthia as she
cut up his food.
"Oh, I'm afraid to wait - the ground dries so
quickly. Jacob Weatherby is going to set his out
to-night, and I think I'll do the same. There's a
fine moon, and I shouldn't wonder if every farmer
in the county was in the fields till daybreak."
He ate his supper hurriedly, and then, taking down
his hat, went out to resume his work. At the door
he had left his big split basket of plants, and, slipping
his arm through the handle, he crossed the yard in
the direction of the field. As he turned into the
little path which trailed in wet grass along the
"worm" fence, Jacob Weatherby came stepping
briskly through the mud in the road and stopped
to ask him if he had got his ground ready for the
setting out. "I've been lookin' for hands myself,"
added the old man in his cheery voice, "for I could
find work for a dozen men to-night, but to save my
life I can't scrape up more'n a nigger here an' thar.
Bill Fletcher has been out ahead of me, it seems."
"Well, I'll be able to help you to-morrow, I think,"
answered Christopher. "I hope to get my own
work done to-night." Then he asked with a trifling
hesitation: "How is Lila's cold?"
A sudden light broke over old Jacob's face, and
he nodded in his genial fashion.
"Ah, bless her pretty eyes, I sometimes think she's
too good to put her foot down on this here common
earth," he said, "an' to think that only this mornin'
she was wantin' to help Sarah wipe the dishes.
Why, I reckon Sarah would ruther work her fingers
to the bone than have that gal take a single dishcloth
in her hand. Oh, we know how to value her,
Mr. Christopher, never fear. Her word's law in
our house, and always will be."
He passed on with his hearty chuckle, and Christopher
followed the wet path and began planting his
tobacco plants in the small holes he bored in the
It was the most solemn hour of day, when the
division between light and darkness seems less a
gradation than a sudden blur. A faint yellow line
still lingered across the western horizon, and against it
the belt of pines rose like an advancing army. The
wind, which blew toward him from the woods, filled
his nostrils with a spicy tang.
Slowly the moon rose higher, flooding the hollows
and the low green hills with light. In the outlying
fields around the Hall he saw Fletcher's planters at
work in the tobacco, each man so closely followed by
his shadow that it was impossible at a little distance to
distinguish the living labourer from his airy double.
All the harsh irregularities of the landscape were
submerged in a general softness of tone, and the
shapes of hill and meadow, of road and tree, of
shrub and rock, were dissolved in a magical and
Several hours had passed, and he had stopped to
rest a moment from his planting, when Maria came
in the moonlight along the road and paused
breathlessly to lean upon the fence beneath the locust tree.
"It is the first time I've been out for two weeks,"
she said, panting softly. "I twisted my ankle, and
the worst part was that I didn't even dare to send
you word. What must you have thought?"
"No harm of you," he answered, and threw down
the fence-rails that she might cross. "Come over
to me, Maria."
Putting her hands in his, she passed over the
lowered fence, and then stood at arm's length looking
into his face, which the moonlight had softened
to a beauty that brought to her mind a carving in
"I still limp a little," she went on, smiling, "and
I had to steal out like a thief and run through the
shadows. To find me with you would be the death
of grandfather, I believe. Something has occurred
to put him in a fresh rage with you."
"It was the field by the pasture," he told her
frankly. "You know it belongs to me, and pure
justice made me throw down his fence; but if you
wish it I will put it up again. I'll do anything
She thought for a moment with that complete
detachment of judgment from emotion which is so
rarely a part of a woman's intellect.
"No, no," she said; "it is right that you should
take it down. I would not have you submit to any
further injustice, not even a little one like that."
"And this will go on forever! Oh, Maria, how
will it end?"
"We must wait and hope, dear; you see that."
"I see nothing but that I love you and am most
miserable," he answered desperately.
A smile curved her lips. "Oh, blind and
faithless, I see only you!"
He was still holding her hands, but, dropping
them as she spoke, he threw his arms wide open and
"Then come to me, my dearest; come to me."
His voice rang out in command rather than
entreaty, and he stood smiling gravely as, hesitating
a breathless instant, she regarded him with eyes
that struggled to be calm. Then slowly the radiance
which was less the warmth of colour than of
expression flooded her face, and she bent toward him as
if impelled by some strong outside force. The next
moment the storm swept her roughly from her feet
and crushed back her pleading hands upon her
bosom; bewildered, flushed, and trembling, she lay
upon his breast while their lips clung together.
"Oh, my friend, my lover," she murmured
He felt her resistance dissolve within his arms
and it was a part of the tragedy of their love that
there should come to him no surprise when
he found her mouth salt from her tears. The
shadow of a great evil, of a secret anguish, still
divided them, and it was this that gave to their
embraces the sorrowful passion which he drew from
her despairing kiss.
"You cannot love me, Maria. How can it be
Releasing herself, she put her hand upon his lips
to silence him.
"You have made your confession," she said
earnestly, with the serene dignity which had impressed
him in the first moment of their meeting, "and now
I will make mine. You must not stop me; you must
not look at me until I finish. Promise."
"I promise to keep silent," he answered, with his
gaze upon her.
She drew away from him, keeping her eyes full on
his, and holding him at arm's length with the tips
of her fingers. He felt that she was still shaken by
his embrace - that she was still in a quiver from his
kisses; but to all outward seeming she had regained
the noble composure of her bearing.
"No, no. Ah, listen, my friend, and do not touch
me. What I must tell you is this, and you
must hear me patiently to the end. I have loved
you always - from the first day; since the beginning.
There has never been any one else, and there has
never been a moment in my life when I would not
have followed you had you lifted a finger - anywhere.
At first I did not know - I did not believe it. It was
but a passing fancy, I thought, that you had murdered.
I taught myself to believe that I was cold,
inhuman, because I did not warm to other men.
Oh, I did not know then that I was not stone, but
ice, which would melt at the first touch of the true
flame - "
"Maria!" he burst out in a cry of anguish.
"Hush! Hush! Remember your promise. It was
not until afterward," she went on in the same quiet
voice; "it was not until my marriage - not until
my soul shuddered back from his embraces and I
dreamed of you, that I began to see - to understand."
"Oh, Maria, my beloved, if I had known!"
She still held him from her with her outstretched
"It was the knowledge of this that made me feel
that I had wronged him - that I had defrauded him
of the soul of love and given him only the poor flesh.
It was this that held me to him all those wretched
Years - that kept me with him till the end, even
through his madness. At last I buried your memory
told myself that I had forgotten."
"We will let the world go, dearest," he said
passionately. "Come to me."
But she shook her head, and, still smiling, held
him at a distance.
"It will never go," she answered, "for it is not
the world's way. But whatever comes to us, there
is one thing you must remember - that you must
never forget for one instant while you live. In
good or evil, in life or death, there is no height so
high nor any depth so low that I will not follow
Then waving him from her with a decisive gesture,
she turned from him and went swiftly home across
the moonlit fields.
TREATS OF THE TRAGEDY WHICH WEARS A COMIC
AS SHE hastened on, Christopher's presence was
still with her - his arm still enveloped her, his voice
still spoke in her ears; and so rapt was the ecstasy
in which she moved that it was with a positive
shock that she found herself presently before the
little area which led into the brick kitchen in the
basement of the Hall. Here from the darkness her
name was spoken in a stifled voice, while a hand
reached out and clutched her by the shoulder.
"I say, Maria, I've been waiting hours to speak
Forcing back the cry upon her lips, she opened
the door and stole softly into the kitchen. Then,
turning, she faced Will with a frightened gesture.
"How reckless - how very reckless!" she
exclaimed in a whisper.
He closed the door that led up into the house,
and coming over to the stove, where the remains of a
fire still smouldered in a deep red glow, stood looking
at her with nervous twitches of his reddened eyelids.
There was a wildness in his face before which she
fell back appalled, and his whole appearance, from
the damp hair lying in streaks upon his forehead to
his restless feet which he shuffled continually as he
talked, betrayed an agitation so extreme as to cause
her a renewed pang of foreboding.
"Oh, Will, you have been drinking again!" she
said, in the same frightened whisper.
"And why not?" he demanded, throwing out his
words between thick breaths. "What business is
it of yours or of anybody else's if I have been? A
pretty sister you are - aren't you? - to let a fellow
rot away on a tobacco farm while you wear diamonds
on your fingers."
She looked at him steadily for a moment, and his
shifting glance fell slowly to the floor.
"If you are in any fresh trouble you may as well
tell me at once," she said. "It is a mere waste of
time and breath to reproach me. You can't possibly
make me angry to-night, for I wear an armour of
which you do not dream, and so little a thing as
abuse does not even touch me. Besides,
grandfather may hear us and come down at any
moment. So speak quickly."
Her coolness sobered him instantly, as if a splash
of ice-water had been thrown into his face, and his
tone lost its aggressiveness and sank into a
It was the same old thing, he went on, only worse
and worse. Molly had been ill again, and the doctor
ordered medicine he couldn't buy. Yes, he had
tried to take the diamond from her, but she flew into
hysterics at the mere mention of selling it. Once
he had dragged it off her finger, and had given it
back again because her wildness frightened him.
"Why on earth did you ever let her have it?" he
"Well, I never imagined she would be quite so
silly," returned Maria, distressed by what she heard.
"But it may be that jewels are really her passion, and
the bravest of us, I suppose, are those who sacrifice
most for their dearest desire. I really don't see what
is to be done, Will. I haven't any money, and I don't
dare ask grandfather, for he makes me keep a strict
account of every cent I spend. Only yesterday
he told me he couldn't allow me but two postage
stamps a week, and yet I believe that he is worth
considerably more than half a million dollars.
Sometimes I think it is nothing short of pure insanity,
he grows so miserly about little things. Aunt Saidie
and I have both noticed that he would rather spend
a hundred dollars - though it is like drawing out an
eyetooth - than keep a pound of fresh butter from
"And yet he likes you?"
"Oh, he tolerates me, as far as that goes; but I
don't believe he likes anything on earth except his
money. It's his great passion, just as Molly's love
of jewelry is hers. There is something so
tremendous about it that one can't help respect it. As
for me, he only bears with my presence so long as I
ask him for absolutely nothing. He knows I have
my little property, and we had a dreadful scene when
I refused to let him keep my check-book. I gave
you all the interest of the last six months, you know,
and the other isn't due until November. If he finds
out that it goes to you, heaven help us!"
"And there's not the faintest hope of his coming
to his senses? Have you spoken of me again?"
"I've mentioned your name twice, that was all.
He rose and stamped out of the room, and didn't
speak for days. Aunt Saidie and I have planned to
bring the baby over when it comes. That may
soften him - especially if it should be a boy."
"Oh, the bottom will drop out of things by that
time," he returned savagely, tearing pieces of straw
from his worn hat-brim. "If this keeps up much
longer, Maria, I warn you now I'll run away. I'll
go off some day on a freight train and hide my
head until he dies; then I'll come back to enjoy his
She sighed, thinking hopelessly of the altered will.
"And Molly?" she questioned, for lack of a more
"I can't stop to think of Molly: it drives me mad.
What use am I to her, anyway, I'd like to know?
She'd be quite as well off without me, for we do
nothing but quarrel now night and day; and yet I
love her - I love her awfully," he added in a drunken
"Oh, Will, Will, be a man for her sake!"
"I can't; I can't," he protested, his voice rising
in anger. "I can't stand the squalor of this life;
it's killing me. Why, look at the way I was brought
up, never stopping an instant to ask whether I could
have a thing I wanted. He had no right to accustom
me to luxuries till I couldn't do without them and
then throw me out upon the world like this!"
"Hush! Hush! Your voice is too loud. It will
bring him down."
"I'll be hanged if I care!" he retorted, but
involuntarily he lowered his tone.
"You mustn't stay here five minutes longer,"
urged Maria. "I'll give you a diamond brooch I still
have left, and you may take it to town yourself and
sell it. Only promise me on your honour that you
will spend the money on the things Molly needs."
"Oh, I promise," he replied roughly. "Where
"In my room. I must get it now. Be perfectly
quiet until I return."
Opening the door and closing it carefully behind
her, she stole noiselessly up the dark staircase,
while Will, twitching nervously, paced restlessly
up and down the brick floor. A pile of walnuts
which Miss Saidie had been shelling for cake lay on
the hearth, and, picking up the heavy old hammer
she had used, he cracked a nut and ate it hurriedly.
Hungry as he was - for he had not been home to
Supper - he found difficulty in swallowing, and, laying
the hammer down upon the bricks, he rose and stood
waiting beside the stove. Though the night was
warm, a shiver ran suddenly through him, and,
stirring the fading embers with a splinter of resinous
pine, he held out his shaking hands to the blaze.
In a moment Maria entered and handed him the
brooch in a little box.
"Try to keep up courage, Will," she said, pushing
him into the area under the back steps; " and above
all things, do not come here again. It is so unsafe."
He promised lightly that he would not, and then
told her good-by with an affectionate pat upon the
"Well, you are a bully good chap, after all," he
added, as he stepped out into the night.
For a while Maria stood looking after him across
the moonlit fields, and then, even as she turned to
enter the house, the last troubled hour was blotted
from her consciousness, and she lived over again the
moment of Christopher's embrace. With that
peculiar power to revive and hold within the
memory an instant's emotion which is possessed by
ardent and imaginative women, she experienced
again all the throbbing exhilaration, all the fulness
of being, which had seemed to crowd the heart-beats
of so many ordinary years into the single minute
that was packed with life. That minute was hers
now for all time; it was a possession of which no
material loss, no untoward fate could defraud her;
and as she felt her steps softly up the dark staircase,
it seemed to her that she saw her way by the light
of the lamp that was burning in her bosom.
To her surprise, as she reached the dining-room
a candle was thrust out before her, and, illuminated
by the trembling flame, she saw the face of Fletcher,
hairy, bloated, sinister, with the shadow of evil
impulses worked into the mouth and eyes. For a
moment he wagged at her in silence, and in the
flickering radiance she saw each swollen vein, each
gloomy furrow, with exaggerated distinctness. He
reminded her vaguely of some hideous gargoyle she
had seen hanging from an early Gothic cathedral.
"So you've taken to gallivanting, like the rest,"
he observed with coarse pleasantry. "I'd thought
you were a staid and sober-minded woman for your
years, but it seems that you are of a bunch with
all the others."
"I've been out in the moonlight," answered
Maria, while a sensation of sickness stole over her.
"It is as bright as day, but I thought you were in
bed long ago."
"Thar's not much sleep for me during tobacco
planting, I kin tell you," rejoined Fletcher; " but
as for you, I reckon thar's more beneath your words
than you like to own to. You've been over to
see that young scamp, ain't you?"
"I saw him, but I did not go out for that purpose."
"It's the truth, I reckon, for I've never known
you to lie, and I'll be hanged if it ain't that I like
about you, after all. You're the only person I kin
spot, man or woman, who speaks the truth jest
for the darn love of it."
"And yet I lived a lie for five years," returned
"Maybe so, maybe so; but it set on you like the
burr on a chestnut, somehow, and when it rolled
off thar you were, as clean as ever. Well, you're
an honest and spunky woman, and I can't help your
traipsing over thar even if I wanted to. But thar's
one thing I tell you now right flat - if that young
rascal wants to keep a whole skin he'd better stay
off this place. I'd shoot him down as soon as I
would a sheep-killing hound."
"Oh, he won't come here," said Maria faintly;
and, going into the dining-room, she dropped into
a chair and lay with her arms outstretched upon the
table. The second shock to her emotional ecstasy
had been too much, and the furniture and Fletcher's
face and the glare of the candle all spun before her
in a sickening confusion.
After looking at her anxiously an instant, Fletcher
poured out a glass of water and begged her to take
a swallow. "Thar, thar, I didn't mean to skeer
you," he said kindly. "You mustn't mind my
rough-and-ready ways, for I'm a plain man, God
knows. If you are sure you feel fainty," he added,
"I'll git you a sip of whisky, but it's a pity to waste
it unless you have a turn."
"Oh, I'm all right," answered Maria, sitting up,
and returning his inquiring gaze with a shake of
the head. "My ankle is still weak, you know, and
I felt a sudden twinge from standing on it. What
were you looking for at this hour?"
"Well, I've been out in the air sense supper, and
I feel kind of gone. I thought I'd like a bite of
something - maybe a scrap of that cold jowl we had
for dinner. But I can't find it. Do you reckon
Saidie is such a blamed fool as to throw the scraps
"There's Malindy, you know; she must eat."
"I'd like to see one nigger eat up half a jowl,"
grumbled Fletcher, rooting among the dishes in the
sideboard. "Thar was a good big hunk of it left,
for you didn't touch it. You don't seem to thrive
on our victuals," he added bluntly, turning to peer
into her face.
"I'm a small eater; it makes little difference."
"Well, we mustn't starve you," he said, as he
went back to his search; "and if it's a matter of a
pound of fresh butter, or a spring chicken, even, I
won't let it stand in your way. Why, what's this,
Ripping out an oath with an angry snort, he
drew forth Miss Saidie's walnut cake and held it
squarely before the candle. "I declar, if she ain't
been making walnut cake agin, and I told her last
week I wan't going to have her wasting all my eggs.
Look at it, will you? If she's beat up one egg in
that cake she's beat up a dozen, to say nothing of
"Don't scold her, grandfather. She has a sweet
tooth, you know, and it's so hard for her not to
"Pish! Tush! I don't reckon her tooth's any
sweeter than mine. I've a powerful taste for trash
myself, and always had since the time I overate
ripe honey-shucks when I was six months old;
but the taste don't make me throw away good money.
I'll have no more of this, I tell you, and I've said
my say. She can bake a bit of cake once a week
if she'll stint herself to an egg or two, but when it
comes to mixing up a dozen at a time, I'll be darned
if I'll allow it."
Lifting the plate in one hand, he stood surveying
the big cake with disapproving yet admiring eyes.
"It would serve her right if I was to eat up every
precious crumb," he remarked at last.
"Suppose you try it," suggested Maria pleasantly.
"It would please Aunt Saidie."
"It ain't to please her," sourly responded Fletcher,
as he drove the knife with a lunge into the yellow
loaf. "She's a thriftless, no-account housekeeper,
and I'll tell her so to-morrow."
Still holding the knife in his clinched fist, he sat
munching the cake with a relish which brought a
smile to Maria's tired eyes.
"Yes, I've a powerful sweet tooth myself," he
added as he cut another slice.
WILL FACES DESPERATION AND STANDS AT BAY
RISING at daybreak next morning, Will's eyes
lighted in his first glance from the window on
Christopher's blue-clad figure commanding the ploughed
field on the left of the house. In the distance
towered the black pines, and against them the solitary
worker was relieved in the slanting sunbeams which
seemed to arrest and hold his majestic outline. The
split basket of plants was on his arm, and he was
busily engaged in "setting out" Will's neglected
crop of tobacco.
Leaving Molly still asleep, Will dressed himself
hurriedly, and, putting the diamond brooch in his
pocket, ran out to where Christopher was standing
midway of the bare field.
"So you're doing my work again," he said, not
"If I didn't I'd like to know who would," responded
Christopher with rough kindliness, as he dropped
a wilted plant into a hole. "You're up early this
morning. Where are you off to?"
Will drew the brooch from his pocket and held
it up with a laugh.
"Maria gave me this," he explained, "and I'm
going to town to turn it into money."
"Well, I'll keep an eye on the place while you
are away," returned Christopher, without looking
at the trinket. "Go about your business, and for
heaven's sake don't stop to drink. Some men can
stand liquor: you can't. It makes a beast of you."
"And not of you, eh?"
"It never gets the chance. I know when to stop.
That's the difference between us."
"Of course that's the difference," rejoined Will
a little doggedly. "I never know when to stop
about anything, I'll be hanged if I do. It's my cursed
luck to go at a headlong gait."
"And some day you'll get your neck broken.
Well, be off now, or you'll most likely miss the stage."
He turned away to sort the young plants in his
basket, while Will started at a brisk pace for the
The planting was tedious work, and it was almost
evening before Christopher reached the end of the
field and started home along the little winding lane.
He had eaten a scant dinner with Molly, who had
worried him by tearful complaints across the turnip
salad. She had never looked prettier than in her
thin white blouse, with her disordered curls
shadowing her blue eyes, and he had never found her
more frankly selfish. Her shallow-rooted nature
awakened in him a feeling that was akin to
repulsion, and he saw in imagination the gallant
resolution with which Maria would have battled
against such sordid miseries. At the first touch
of her heroic spirit they would have been sordid
no longer, for into the most squalid suffering
her golden nature would have shed something of
its sunshine. Beauty would have surrounded her
in Will's cabin as surely as in Blake Hall. And
with the thought there came to him the knowledge,
wrung from experience, that there are souls which
do not yield to events, but bend and shape them into
the likeness of themselves. No favouring
circumstance could have evolved Maria out of Molly,
nor could any crushing one have formed Molly from
Maria's substance. The two women were as far
asunder as the poles, united only by a certain
softness of sex he found in them both.
The sun had dropped behind the pines and a gray
mist was floating slowly across the level landscape.
The fields were still in daylight, while dusk already
enshrouded the leafy road, and it was from out the
gloom that obscured the first short bend that he saw
presently emerge the figure of a man who appeared
to walk unsteadily and with an effort.
For an instant Christopher stopped short in the
lane; then he went forward at a single impetuous
"Will!" he cried in a voice of thunder.
Will looked up with dazed eyes, and, seeing who
had called him, burst into a loud and boisterous
"So you'll begin with your darn preaching," he
For reply, Christopher reached out, and, seizing
him by the shoulder, shook him roughly to his
"What's the meaning of this tomfoolery?" he
demanded. "Do you mean to say you've made
a beast of yourself, after all?"
Partly sobered by the shock, Will gazed back at
him with a dogged misery which gave his face the
colour of extreme old age.
"I'm not so drunk as I look," he responded bitterly.
"I wish to heaven I were! There are worse
things than being drunk, though you won't believe
it. I say," he added, in a sudden, hysterical exclamation,
"you're the only friend I have on earth!"
"Nonsense. What have you been doing?"
"Oh, I couldn't help it - it wasn't my fault, I'll
be blamed if it was! I did sell the breastpin and
get the money, and wrapped it in the list of things
that Molly wanted. I put them in my pocket,"
he finished, touching his coat, "the money and the
"And where is it?"
For a moment Will did not reply, but stood
shaking like a blade of grass in a high wind. Then
removing his hat, he mopped feebly at the beads of sweat
upon his forehead. His eyes had the dumb appeal
of a frightened animal's. "I haven't had a morsel
all day," he whimpered, "and the effect of the
whisky has all worn off."
"Speak up, man," said Christopher kindly. "I
can't eat you."
"Oh, it's not you," returned Will desperately;
"it's Molly. I'm afraid to go home and look Molly
in the face."
"Pish! She doesn't bite."
"She does worse; she cries."
"Then, for God's sake, out with the trouble,"
urged Christopher, losing patience. "You've lost
the money, I take it; but how?"
"There was a fair," groaned Will, his voice breaking.
"I met Fred Turner and a strange man who
owned horses, and they asked me to come and watch
the racing. Then we had drinks and began to bet,
and somehow I always lost after the first time.
Before I knew it the money was all gone, every
single cent, and I owed Fred Turner a hundred and
Christopher's gaze travelled slowly up and down
the slight figure before him and he swore softly
beneath his breath.
"Well, you have made a mess of it!" he exclaimed
with a laugh.
"I knew you'd say so, and you're the only friend
I have on earth. As for Molly - oh, I'm afraid to
go home, that's all. Do you know, I've half a mind
to run away for good?"
"Pshaw! Accidents will happen, and there's nothing
in all this to take the pluck out of a man. I've
been through worse things myself."
"But Fred Turner!" groaned Will. "I promised
him I'd pay him in two days."
"Then you'll do it. I'll undertake to see to that."
"You!" exclaimed the other, with so abject a
reliance upon the spoken word that it brought a
laugh from Christopher's lips. "How will you
manage it ?"
"Oh, somehow - mortgage the farm, I reckon. At
any rate, in two days you shall be clear of your
debt to Fred Turner; there's my word. All I hope
is that you'll learn a lesson from the fright."
"Oh, I will, I will; and by Jove! you are a bully
"Then go home and make your peace with Molly.
Mind you, if you get in liquor again I warn you I
won't lift a hand."
With a last cheery "good night" he swung on
along the road, dismissing the thought of Will to
invoke that of Maria, and meeting again in fancy
the rich promise of her upturned lips. Body and
soul she was his now, flame and clay, true brain
and true heart. "I will follow you, for the lifting
of a finger, anywhere," she had said, and the words
reeled madly in his thoughts. Her impassioned
look returned to him, and he closed his eyes as a man
does in the face of an emotion which proclaims him
When Christopher's footsteps had faded in the
distance, Will, who had been looking wistfully after
him, shook together his dissolving courage and started
with a strengthened purpose to bear the bad news
to Molly. A light streamed through the broken
shutters of her window, and when he laid his hand
upon the door it shot open and she stood before
"So you're back at last," she said sharply; "and
"I couldn't help it," he answered with assumed
indifference, entering and passing quickly under the
fire of her questioning look. "I was kept."
"What kept you?"
"I'd like to know what business you have!" she
retorted querulously; and a minute later: "Have
you brought the medicine?"
He went over to the table and stood looking
gloomily down upon the scattered remains of supper
- upon the sloppy oilcloth, the cracked
earthen-ware tea-pot, and the plate half filled with
sobby bread. "Give me something to eat. I'm almost
starved," he pleaded.
A flash shot from her blue eyes, while the anger
he had feared worked threateningly in the features
of her pretty face. There was no temperateness
about Molly; she was all storm or sunshine, he had
once said in the poetic days of courtship.
"If you've brought the things, where are they?"
she demanded, driving him squarely into a corner
from which there was no escape by subterfuge.
A sullen defiance showed in his aspect, and he
turned upon her with a muttered curse. "I haven't
them, if you want the truth," he snarled. "I meant
to buy them, but Fred Turner got me to drinking
and we bet on the races. I lost the money."
"To Fred Turner!" cried Molly. "Oh, you fool!"
He made an angry movement toward her; then
checking himself, laughed bitterly.
"You're as bad as grandfather," he said, "and
it's like jumping from the frying-pan into the fire.
I'll be hanged if I knew you were a shrew when I
Molly's eyes fairly blazed, and as she shook her
head with an enraged gesture, her hair, tumbling
upon her shoulders, flooded her with light. Even
in the midst of his fury his ready senses responded
to the appeal of her dishevelled loveliness.
"And I'll be - anything if I knew you were a
drunkard!" she retorted, pressing her hand upon
her panting breast.
"Well, you ought to have known it," he sneered,
"for I was one. Christopher Blake could have told
you so. But if I remember rightly, you weren't
so precious particular at the time. You were glad
enough to get anybody, as it happened!"
"How - how dare you?" wailed Molly, in the
helplessness of her rage, and throwing herself upon the
lounge, she beat her hands upon the wooden sides
and burst into despairing sobs. "Why, oh, why did
I marry you?" she moaned between choking gasps.
" Some said it was because Fred Turner threw
you over," returned Will savagely, and having
hurled his last envenomed dart, he seized his hat
and rushed out into the night.
The scene had worked like madness on his nerves,
and in the darkness of the lane, where the trees kept
out the moonbeams, he still saw the flickering lights
that he had left behind him in the room. He had
eaten nothing all day, and his empty stomach
oppressed him with a sensation of nausea. His
head spun like a top, and as he walked the road
rocked in long seesaws beneath his feet. Yet his
one craving was for drink, drink, more drink.
Running rather than walking, he reached the store
at last, and went back to the little smoky room where
Tom Spade was drawing beer from the big keg in
"Give me something to eat, Tom; I'm starving,"
he said; "and whisky. I must have whisky or
"It's my belief that you'll die if you do have it,"
responded Tom. "As for bread and meat, however
Susan will give you a bite an' welcome." Nevertheless,
he poured out the whisky, and, leaving it
upon one of the dirty tables, went hastily out in
search of Mrs. Spade.
Lifting the glass with a shaking hand, Will drained
it at a single swallow, feeling his depleted courage
revive as the raw spirit burned his throat. A sudden
heat invaded him; his eyes saw clearer, and the
tips of his fingers were endowed with a new quality
of touch. As his hands travelled slowly over his
face he became aware that he was looking through
his finger ends, and he noted distinctly his haggard
features and the short growth of beard which made
him appear jaded and unwashed. Then almost
instantly the quickness died out of his perception,
and he felt the old numbness creeping back.
"Another glass - I must have another glass,"
he called out irritably to the empty room. His
hands hung stone dead again at his sides, and his
head dropped limply forward upon his breast. He
had forgotten his quarrel with Molly: he had
forgotten everything except his own miserable bodily
When Susan Spade came in with a plate of bread
and ham, he roused himself with a nervous start
and inhaled quickly the strong odour of the meat,
endeavouring through the sense of smell to reawaken
the pang of hunger he had felt earlier in the evening.
But in place of the gnawing emptiness there had
come now a deadly nausea, and after the first
mouthful or two he pushed the food away and called
hoarsely for more whisky. His head ached in loud,
reverberating throbs, and a queer fancy possessed
him that the sound must be as audible to others as to
himself. With the thought, he glanced about
suspiciously, but Tom Spade was stopping the keg that
he had tapped, and Susan was wiping off the table
with energetic sweeps of her checked apron.
Relieved by their impassiveness, he braced himself
with the determination to drink to the dead-line
of unconsciousness and then lie down somewhere in
the darkness to sleep off the effects.
"Whisky - give me more whisky," he repeated
But Mrs. Spade, true to her nature, saw fit to
intervene between him and destruction.
"Not another drop, Mr. Will," she said decisively.
"Not another drop shall you have in this room if
it's the last mortal word I speak. An' if you'd
had me by you in the beginning, I'm not afeard to
say, things would have helt up a long sight sooner
"Don't you see I'm in downright agony?" groaned
Will, rapping the glass upon the table. "My head
is splitting, I tell you, and I must have it."
"Not another drop, suh," replied Mrs. Spade with
adamantine firmness of tone. "I ain't a weak
woman, thank the Lord, an' as far as that goes, you
might split to pieces inside and out right here befo'
my eyes an' I wouldn't be a party to sendin' you a
step nearer damnation. I ain't afeard of seein'
folks suffer. Tom will tell you that."
"That she ain't, suh," agreed Tom with pride.
"If I do say it who shouldn't, thar never was a woman
who could stand mo' pain in other people than can
Susan. Mo' than that, Mr. Will, she's right, though
I'd be sayin' so even if she wasn't - seein' that the
only rule for makin' a woman think yo' way is always
to think hers. But she's right, and that's the truth.
You've had too much."
"Oh, you're driving me mad between you!"
cried Will in desperation. "I'm in awful trouble,
and there's nothing under heaven will make me
forget it except drink. One glass more - just one.
That can't hurt me."
"May he have one glass, Susan?" asked Tom,
appealing to his wife.
"Not another drop, suh," returned Mrs. Spade,
immovable as a rock.
"Not another drop, she says," repeated the big
storekeeper in a sinking voice. Then he laid his
hand sympathetically on Will's shoulder. "To be
sure, I know you're in trouble," he said, "an' I'll
swear it's an out-an'-out shame, I don't care who
hears me. Yes, I'll stand to it in the very face of
Bill Fletcher himself."
"Oh, he's a devil!" cried Will, stung by the name
"I ain't sayin' you've been all you should have
been," pursued Tom in his friendly tones, "but as I
told Susan yestiddy, a body can't sow wild oats in
one generation without havin' a volunteer crop spring
up in the next. Now, yo' wild oats were sown long
befo' you were born. Ain't that so, Susan?"
Mrs. Spade planted her hands squarely upon her
hips and stood her ground with a solidity which
was as impressive in its way as dignity.
"I've spoken my mind to Bill Fletcher," she
said, "an' I'll speak it again. 'How's that boy goin'
to live, suh?' That's what I asked, an' 'twas after
he told me to shut my mouth, that it was. Right or
wrong, that's what I told him. You've gone an'
made the meanest will this county has ever seen."
"What?" cried Will, springing to his feet, while
the room whirled round him.
"Thar, thar, Susan, you've talked too much,"
interposed Tom, a little frightened. "What she
means is just some foolishness yo' grandpa's been
lettin' out," he added; "but he'll live long enough
yet to change his mind an' his will, too."
"What is it about? Speak louder, will you? My
ears buzz so I can't hear thunder."
Tom coughed reproachfully at Susan.
"Well, he was talkin' down here last night about
havin' changed his will," he said apologetically. "He's
tied it up, it seems, so you can't get it, an' he's gone
an' left the bulk of it to Mrs. Wyndham."
"To Maria!" repeated Will, and saw scarlet.
"That's what he says; but he'll last to change his
mind yet, never fear. Anger doesn't live as long as
a man - eh, Susan?"
But Will had risen and was walking quite steadily
toward the door. His face was dead white, and there
were deep blue circles about his eyes, which sparkled
brilliantly. When he turned for a moment before
going out, he sucked in his under lip with a hissing
"So this was Maria's trick all along," he said
HOW CHRISTOPHER COMES INTO HIS REVENGE
"SO THIS was Maria's trick all along," he repeated,
as he lurched out into the road. "This was what
she had schemed for from the beginning - this was
what her palavering and her protestations meant.
Oh, it had been a deep game from the first, only he
had been too much of a blind fool to see the truth."
A hundred facts arose to drive in the discovery; a
hundred trivial details now bristled with importance.
Why had she been so willing - so eager, even - to give
away her little property, unless she intended to divert
him with the crumbs while she reached for the whole
loaf? Why, again, had she shrunk so from mentioning
him to his grandfather? And why, still further, had
she always fearfully postponed a meeting between
the two? He remembered suddenly that she had
once drawn Molly behind the trees when the old man
passed along the road. Poor, defrauded Molly!
Forgetting his bitter quarrel with her, he was ready
to fall upon her neck in maudlin sympathy.
Yes, it was all plain now - as clear as day. He saw
one by one each devilish move that she had made,
and he meant to pay her back for all before the night
was over. He would tell her what he thought of her,
freely, fully, in words that she would never forget.
The names that he would use, the curses he would
utter, spun deliriously in his head, and as he went on
he found himself speaking his phrases aloud to the
darkness, trying upon the silence the effect of each
The lights of the Hall twinkled presently among
the trees, and, crossing the lawn, he crept into the
little area under the back steps. If Maria was not in
the kitchen, the servant would be, he argued, and he
would send up a peremptory summons which would
bring her down upon the instant. It was not late
enough for her to be in bed, at least, and he chuckled
over the thought of the sleepless night which she
Pushing back the door cautiously on its old, rusty
hinges, he entered on tip-toe and glanced suspiciously
around. The room was empty, but a lamp with a
smoked chimney burned upon the table, and there
were the glimmering embers of a wood fire in the
stove. It was just as he had left it the evening
before, and this aroused in him a feeling of
surprise, so long a stretch appeared to cover the
last twenty-four hours. The same basket of chicken
feathers was in the sagging split-bottomed chair,
the same pile of black walnuts lay on the hearth,
and the rusted hammer was still lying where he had
dropped it upon the bricks. Even the smell was the
same - a mixture of baked bread and burned feathers.
Going to the door that led into the house, he
opened it and looked up the dark staircase; then a
sound reached him from the dining-room, and with
a nervous shiver he turned away and came back to
the stove. A dread paralysed him lest the meeting
with Maria should be delayed until his courage oozed
out of him, and to nerve himself for the encounter he
summoned to mind all the evidence, which gathered
in a cloud of witnesses, to prove her treachery.
Once it occurred to him that after a few minutes
of waiting he might tighten the screw upon his
nerves and so pluck up the audacity, if not the
resolution, to ascend the stair boldly and denounce
her in the presence of his grandfather. But the memory
of Fletcher's face wagged before him, and, quaking
with terror, he huddled with open palms above the
stove. Then, pacing slowly up and down the room,
he set to work frantically to lash himself into the
drunken bravado which he miscalled courage.
Of a sudden his hunger assailed him, violent,
convulsive, and, going over to the tin safe, he rummaged
among the cold scraps he found there, devouring
greedily the food which had been set by for the
hounds. A bottle of Miss Saidie's raspberry vinegar
was hidden in one corner, and he tore the paper label
from the cork and drank like a man who perishes
from thirst. His energy, which had evaporated
from fatigue and hunger, surged back in spasms of
anger, and as he turned away, invigorated, from the
safe, he realised as he had never done before the
full measure of his rage against Maria. At the
moment, had she come in upon him, he felt that he
could have struck her in the face.
But she did not come, and the slow minutes fretted
him in their passage. A flame shot up in the stove,
and, catching a knot of resinous pine, burned steadily,
licking patiently about the fading embers. The
air became charged again with the odour of burned
feathers, and he saw that a handful, with the dried
blood of the fowl still adhering to them, had been
scattered upon the ashes. As he idly noted the colours
of red and black, he remembered with bitterness
that he had raised game-cocks once when he was a
boy at the Hall, and that Maria had smashed a
nestful of his eggs in a fit of passion. The incident
swelled to enormous proportions in his thoughts, and
he determined that he would remind her of it in the
interview that was before them.
The door into the house creaked suddenly behind
him; he wheeled about nervously, and then stood with
hanging jaws staring into the face of Fletcher.
"So it is you, is it?" said the old man, raising the
stick he carried. "So it is you, as I suspected -
you darn rascal!"
But the power of speech had departed from Will
in the presence that he dreaded, and he stood clutching
tightly to his harvest hat, and shaking his head
as if to deny the obvious fact of his own identity.
"I thought it was you," pursued Fletcher, licking
his dry lips. "I heard a noise, and I picked up my
stick, thinking it was you. I'll have no thieving
beggars on my place, I tell you, so the quicker you
git off the better. When were you here last, I'd
like to know?"
"Yesterday," answered Will, speaking the truth
from sheer physical inability to frame a lie. "I came
to see Maria. She's cheated me - she's cheated me
"Then she lied," said Fletcher softly. "Then
she lied and I didn't know it."
"She's cheated me," insisted Will hoarsely. "It's
been all a scheme of hers from the very beginning.
She's cheated me about the will, grandpa; I swear
"Eh? What's that?" responded the old man,
shaking back his heavy eyebrows. "Say your say
right now, for in five minutes you go off this place
with every hound in the pack yelping at your heels.
I'll not have you here - I'll not have you here!"
The words ended in a snarl, and a fleck of foam
dropped on his gray beard.
"But it was all Maria's doing," urged Will
passionately. "She has been against me from the first:
I see that now. She's plotted to oust me from the
"Well, she might have spared herself the trouble,"
was Fletcher's sharp rejoinder.
"Let me explain - let me explain," pleaded the
other, in a desperate effort to gain time; "just a word
or two - I only want a word."
But when his grandfather drew back and stood
glowering upon him in silence, the speech he had
wished to utter withered upon his lips, blighted by
a panic terror, and he stood mumbling incoherently
beneath his breath.
"Give me a word - a word is all I want," he
"Then out with your damned word and begone!"
Will's eyes travelled helplessly around the room,
seeking in vain some inspiration from the objects
his gaze encountered. The tin safe, the basket of
feathers, the pile of walnuts off the hearth, each
arrested his wandering attention for an instant, and
he beheld all the details with amazing vividness.
A mouse came out into the room, gliding like a
shadow along the wall to the pile of walnuts, and his
eyes followed it as if drawn by an invisible thread.
"It's Maria - it's all Maria," he stuttered, and could
think of nothing further. His brain seemed suddenly
paralysed, and he found himself tugging hopelessly
at the most commonplace word which would not come.
All his swaggering bravado had scampered off at
the first wag of the old man's head.
"If that's what you've got to say, you might as
well begone," returned Fletcher, moving toward
him. "I warn you now that the next time I find you
here you won't git off so easy. Maria or no Maria,
you ain't goin' to lounge about this place so long as
my name is Bill Fletcher. The farther you keep
yourself and your yaller-headed huzzy out of my sight
the better. Thar, now, be off or you'll git a licking."
"But I tell you Maria's cheated me - she's cheated
me," returned Will, his voice rising shrilly as he was
goaded into revolt. "She's been scheming to get
the place all along; that's her trick."
"Pish! Tush!" responded Fletcher. "Are you
going or are you not?"
Will's eyes burned like coals, and an observer,
noting the two men as they stood glaring at each
other, would have been struck by their resemblance
in attitude and expression rather than in feature.
Both leaned slightly forward, with their chins thrust
out and their jaws dropped, and there was a ceaseless
twitching of the small muscles in both faces. The
beast in each had sprung violently to the surface
and recognised the likeness at which he snarled.
"You've left me to starve!" cried Will, strangling
a sob of anger. "It's not fair! You have no right.
The money ought to be mine - I swear it ought!"
"Oh, it ought, ought it?" sneered the old man,
with an ugly laugh.
At the sound of the laugh, Will shrank back and
shivered as if from the stroke of a whip. The spirit
of rage worked in his blood like the spirit of
drink, and he felt his disordered nerves respond in
a sudden frenzy.
"It ought to be mine, you devil, and you know
it!" he cried.
"I do, do I?" retorted Fletcher, still cackling.
"Well, jest grin at me a minute longer like that
brazen wench your mother and I'll lay my stick across
your shoulders for good and all. As for my money,
it's mine, I reckon, and, living or dead, I'll look to
it that not one red cent gits to you. Blast you!
Stop your grinning!"
He raised the stick and made a long swerve
sideways, but the other, picking up the hammer from
the hearth, jerked it above his head and stood braced
for the assault. In the silence of the room Will
heard the thumping of his own heart, and the sound
inspired him like the drums of battle. He was in
a quiver from head to foot, but it was a quiver of
rage, not of fear, and a glow of pride possessed him
that he could lift his eyes and look Fletcher squarely
in the face.
"You're a devil - a devil! a devil!" he cried
shrilly, sticking out his tongue like a pert and
vulgar little boy. "Christopher Blake was right -
you're a devil!"
As the name struck him between the eyes the
old man lurched back against the stove; then recovering
himself, he made a swift movement forward
and brought his stick down with all his force on
the boy's shoulder.
"Take that, you lying varmint!" he shouted,
The next instant his weapon had dropped from
his hand, and he reached out blindly, grappling with
the air, for Will had turned upon him with the
spring of a wild beast and sent the hammer crushing
into his temple.
There was a muffled thud, and Fletcher went
down in a hudded heap upon the floor, while the
other stood over him in the weakness which had
succeeded his drunken frenzy.
"I told you to let me alone. I told you I'd do
it," said Will doggedly, and a moment later: "I told
you I'd do it."
The hammer was still in his hand, and, lifting
it, he examined it with a morbid curiosity. A
red fleck stained the iron, and glancing down he
saw that there was a splotch of blood on Fletcher's
temple. "I told him I'd do it," he repeated,
speaking this time to himself.
Then instantly the silence in the room stopped
his heart-beats and set him quaking in a superstitious
terror through every fiber. He heard the stir of the
mouse in the pile of walnuts, the hissing of the
flame above the embers, and the sudden breaking
of the smoked chimney of the lamp. Then as he
leaned down he heard something else - the steady
ticking of the big silver watch in Fletcher's
A horror of great darkness fell over him, and,
turning, he reeled like a drunken man out into the
THE FULFILLING OF THE LAW
CHRISTOPHER had helped Tucker upstairs to bed
and had gone into his own room to undress, when
a sharp and persistent rattle upon the closed shutters
brought him in alarm to his feet. Looking out,
he saw a man's figure outlined in the moonlight on
the walk, and, at once taking it to be Will, he ran
hastily down and unbarred the door.
"Come in quietly," he said. "Uncle Tucker is
asleep upstairs. What in thunder is the trouble
Stepping back, he led the way into what so short
a time ago had been Mrs. Blake's parlour, and then
pausing in the center of the floor, stood waiting
with knitted brows for an explanation of the visit.
But Will, who had shrunk dazzled from the flash
of the lamp, now lingered to put up the bar with
"For God's sake, what is it?" questioned Christopher,
and a start shook through him at sight of the
other's face. "Have you had a fit?"
Closing the parlour door behind him, Will crossed
the room and caught at the mantel for support.
"I told you I'd do it some day - I told you I'd do
it," he said incoherently, in a frantic effort to shift
the burden of responsibility upon stronger shoulders.
"You might have known all along that I'd do it
"Do what?" demanded Christopher, while he felt
the current of his blood grow weak. "Out with
it, now. Speak up. You're as white as a sheet."
"He struck me - he struck me first. The bruise
is here," resumed Will, in the same eager attempt
at self-justification. "Then I hit him on the head
with a hammer and his skull gave way. I didn't
hit hard. I swear it was a little blow; but he's dead.
I left him stone dead in the kitchen."
"My God, man!" exclaimed Christopher, and
touched him on the shoulder.
With a groan, Will put up his hands and covered
his bloodshot eyes. "I didn't mean to do it - I
swear I didn't," he protested. "Who'd have thought
his head would crush in like that at the first little
blow - just a tap with an old hammer? Why, it
would hardly have cracked a walnut! And what
was the hammer doing there, anyway? They have
no business to leave such things lying about on the
hearth. It was all their fault - they ought to have
put the hammer away."
A convulsive shudder ran through him, ending
in his hands and feet, which jerked wildly. His
face was gray and old - so old that he might have
been taken, at the first glance, for a man of eighty,
and in the intervals between his words he sucked
in his breath with a hissing noise. Meeting
Christopher's look, he broke into a spasm of frightened
sobs, whimpering like a child that has been
"I told you not to drink again," said Christopher
sharply as he struggled to collect his thoughts.
"I told you liquor would make a beast of you."
"I'll never touch another drop. I swear I'll never
touch another drop," groaned Will, still sobbing.
"I didn't mean to kill him, I tell you. It wasn't as
if I really meant to kill him; you see that. It was
all the fault of that accursed hammer they left lying
on the hearth. A man must have a lot of courage
to murder anybody, mustn't he?" he added, with
a feeble smile; "and I'm a coward - you know I've
always been a coward; haven't I - haven't I?" he
persisted, and Christopher nodded an agreement.
"You see, I wasn't to blame, after all; but he flew
into such a rage - he always flew into a rage when
he heard your name."
"So you brought my name in?" asked Christopher
"Oh, it was that that did it; it was your name,"
replied Will breathlessly. "I told him you said he
was a devil - you did say so, you know.
'Christopher Blake was right; he called you a devil,' that
was it. Then he ran at me with his stick, and I
jerked up the hammer, and - Oh, my God, they
mustn't hang me!"
"Nonsense!" retorted Christopher roughly, for
the other had dropped upon the floor and was
grovelling in drunken hysterics at his feet. "It makes
me sick to see a man act like an ass."
"Get me out of this and I'll never touch a drop,"
moaned Will. "Take me away from here - hide me
anywhere. I'll go anywhere, I'll promise anything,
only they mustn't find me. If they find me I'll go
mad - I'll go mad in gaol."
"Shut up!" rejoined Christopher, listening with
irritation to the sound of the other's hissing breath.
"Stop your infernal racket a minute and let me
think. Here, get up. Are you too drunk to stand
on your feet?"
"I'm sober - I'm perfectly sober," protested Will,
and, rising obediently, he stood clutching at the
chimney-piece. "Get me out of this - only get me
out of this," he repeated, with a desperate reliance
on the other's power to avert the consequences of
his deed. "I've always been a good friend to you,"
he went on passionately. "The quarrel first started
about you, and I stood up for you to the last. I
never let him say anything against you - I never
"I'm much obliged to you," returned Christopher,
and felt that he might as well have wasted his irony
on a beaten hound. Turning away from the wild
entreaty of Will's eyes, he walked slowly up and
down the room, taking care to step lightly lest the
boards should creak and awaken Tucker.
The parlour was just as Mrs. Blake had left it:
her high-backed Elizabethan chair, filled with
cushions, stood on the hearth; the dried grasses in
the two tall vases shed their ashy pollen down
upon the bricks. Even the yellow cat, grown old
and sluggish, dozed in her favourite spot beside the
On the whitewashed walls the old Blake portraits
still presided, and he found, for the first time, an
artless humour in the formality of the ancestral
attitude - in the splendid pose which they had handed
down like an heirloom through the centuries. Among
them he saw the comely, high-coloured features of
that gallant cynic, Bolivar, the man who had stamped
his beauty upon three generations, and his gaze
lingered with a gentle ridicule on the blithe candour
in the eyes and the characteristic touch of brutality
about the mouth. Then he passed to his father,
portly, impressive, a high liver, a generous young
blood, and then to the classic Saint-Memin profile
of Aunt Susannah, limned delicately against a
background of faded pink. And from her he went
on to his mother's portrait, painted in shimmering
brocade under rose-garlands held by smiling Loves.
He looked at them all steadily for a while, seeking
from the changeless lips of each an answer to the
question which he felt knocking at his own heart.
In every limb, in every feature, in every fiber he
was plainly born to be one of themselves, and yet
from their elegant remoteness they stared down
upon the rustic labourer who was their descendant.
Degraded, coarsened, disinherited, the last Blake
stood before them, with his poverty and ignorance
illumined only at long intervals by the flame of a
soul which, though darkened, was still unquenched.
The night dragged slowly on, while he paced the
floor with his thoughts and Will moaned and tossed,
a shivering heap, upon the sofa.
"Stop your everlasting cackle!" Christopher had
once shouted angrily, forgetting Tucker, and for the
space of a few minutes the other had lain silent,
choking back the strangling sobs. But presently
the shattered nerves revolted against restraint, and
Will burst out afresh into wild crying. The yellow
cat, grown suddenly restless, crossed the room and
jumped upon the sofa, where she stood clawing at
the cover, and he clung to her with a pathetic recognition
of dumb sympathy - the sympathy which he
could not wring from the careless indifference of
"Speak to me - say something," he pleaded at
last, stretching out his hands. "If this keeps up
I'll go mad before morning."
At this Christopher came toward him, and,
stopping in his walk, frowned down upon the sofa.
"You deserve everything you'd get," he said
angrily. "You're as big a fool as ever trod this
earth, and there's no reason under heaven why I
should lift my hand to help you. There's no reason
- there's no reason," he repeated in furious tones.
"But you'll do it - you'll get me out of it!" cried
Will, grasping the other's knees.
"And two weeks later you'd be in another scrape."
"Not a single drop - I'll never touch a drop again.
Before God I swear it!"
"Pshaw! I've heard that oath before."
Strangling a scream, Will caught him by the arm,
dragging himself slowly into a sitting posture. "I'll
hang myself if you let them get me," he urged
hysterically. "I'll hang myself in gaol rather than let
them do it. I can't face it all - I can't - I can't.
It isn't grandpa I mind; I'm not afraid of him.
He was a devil. But it's the rest - the rest."
Roughly shaking him off, Christopher left him
huddled upon the floor and resumed his steady
walk up and down the room. In his ears the
incoherent phrases grew presently fainter, and after a
time he lost entirely their frenzied drift. "A little
blow - just a little blow," ended finally in muffled
sounds of weeping.
The habit of outward composure which always
came to him in moments of swift experience
possessed him so perfectly now that Will, lifting
miserable eyes to his face, lowered them, appalled by
its unfeeling gravity.
"I've been a good friend to you - a deuced good
friend to you," urged the younger man in a last
passionate appeal for the aid whose direction he
had not yet defined.
"What is this thought which I cannot get rid of?"
asked Christopher moodily of himself. "And what
business is it of mine, anyway? What am I to the
boy or the boy to me?" But even with the words
he remembered the morning more than five years ago
when he had gone out to the gate with his bird gun
on his shoulder and found Will Fletcher and the
spotted foxhound puppies awaiting him in the road.
He saw again the boy's face, with the sunlight full
upon it - eager, alert, a little petulant, full of good
impulses readily turned adrift. There had been
no evil upon it then - only weakness and a pathetic
absence of determination. His own damnable
intention was thrust back upon him, and he heard again
the words of Carraway which had reechoed in his
thoughts. "The way to touch the man, then, is
through the boy." So it was the way, after all!
He almost laughed aloud at his prophetic insight.
He had touched the man vitally enough at last, and
it was through the boy. He had murdered Bill
Fletcher, and he had done it through the only thing
Bill Fletcher had ever loved. From this he returned
again to the memory of the deliberate purpose of
that day - to the ribald jests, the coarse profanities
the brutal oaths. Then to the night when he had
forced the first drink down Will's throat, and so
on through the five years of his revenge to the
present moment. Well, his triumph had come at last
the summit was put upon his life's work, and he
was - he must be - content.
Will raised his head and looked at him in reviving
"You're the only friend I have on earth," he
muttered between his teeth.
The first streak of dawn entered suddenly flooding
the room with a thin gray light in which the
familiar objects appeared robbed of all atmospheric
values. With a last feeble flicker the lamp shot
up and went out, and the ashen wash of daybreak
seemed the fit medium for the crude ugliness of life.
Towering almost grotesquely in the pallid dawn,
Christopher came and leaned above the sofa to which
Will had dragged himself again.
"You must get out of this," he said, "and quickly,
for we've wasted the whole night wrangling. Have
you any money?"
Will fumbled in his pocket and brought out a few
cents, which he held in his open palm, while the
other unlocked the drawer of the old secretary and
handed him a roll of banknotes.
"Take this and buy a ticket somewhere. It's
the money I scraped up to pay Fred Turner."
"To pay Fred Turner?" echoed Will, as if in
that lay the significance of the remark.
"Take it and buy a ticket, and when you get where
you're going, sit still and keep your mouth shut. If
you wear a bold face you will go scot-free; remember
that; but everything depends upon your keeping a
stiff front. And now go - through the back door
and past the kitchen to the piece of woods beyond
the pasture. Cut through them to Tanner's Station
and take the train there, mind, for the North."
With a short laugh he held out his big, knotted
"Good-by," he said, "and don't be a damned fool."
"Good-by," answered Will, clinging desperately to
his outstretched arm. Then an ashen pallor
overspread his face, and he slunk nervously toward the
kitchen, for there was the sound of footsteps on the
little porch outside, followed by a brisk rap on the
"Go!" whispered Christopher, hardly taking
breath, and he stood waiting while Will ran along
the wooden platform and past the stable toward
The rap came again, and he turned quickly. "Quit
your racket and let me get on my clothes!" he
shouted, and hesitated a little longer.
As he stood alone there in the center of the room,
his eyes, traversing the walls, fell on the portrait of
Bolivar Blake, and with one of the fantastic tricks
of memory there shot into his head the dying phrase
of that gay sinner: "I may not sit with the saints,
but I shall stand among the gentlemen."
"Precious old ass!" he muttered, and unbarred
As he flung it open the first rays of sunlight splashed
across the threshold, and he was conscious, all at
once, of a strange exhilaration, as if he were
breasting one of the big waves of life.
"This is a pretty way to wake up a fellow who has
been planting tobacco till he's stiff," he grumbled.
"Is that you Tom?" He glanced carelessly round,
nodding with a kind of friendly condescension to
each man of the little group. "How are you,
Matthew? Hello, Fred!"
Tom drew back, coughing, and scraped the heel
of his boot on the topmost step.
"We didn't mean to git you out of bed, Mr.
Christopher,?" he explained apologetically, "but the
truth is we want Will Fletcher an' he ain't at home.
The old man's murdered, suh."
"Murdered, is he?" exclaimed Christopher, with
a long whistle, "and you want Will Fletcher - which
shows what a very pretty sheriff you would make.
Well, if you're so strong on his scent that you can't
turn aside, most likely you'll find him sleeping off
his drunk under my haystack. But if you're looking
for the man who killed Bill Fletcher, then that's
a different matter," he added, taking down his hat,
"and I reckon, boys, I'm about ready to come along."
THE WHEEL OF LIFE
THROUGHOUT the trial he wore the sullen reserve
which closed over him like a visor when he
approached one of the crises of life. He had made
his confession and he stood to it. "I killed Bill
Fletcher" he gave out flatly enough. What he could
not give was an explanation of his unaccountable
presence at the Hall so nearly upon midnight.
When the question was first put to him he sneered
and shrugged his shoulders with the hereditary
gesture of the Blakes. "Why was he there?
Well, why wasn't he there?" That was all. And
Carraway, who had stood by his side since the day
of the arrest, retired at last before an attitude
which he characterised as one of defiant arrogance.
It was this attitude, people said presently, rather
than the murder of Bill Fletcher, which brought him
the sentence he heard with so insolent an indifference.
"Five years wasn't much for killin' a man, maybe,"
Tom Spade observed, "but it was a good deal,
when you come to think of it, for a Blake to pay jest
for gettin' even with a Fletcher. Why, he might
have brained Bill Fletcher an' welcome," the
storekeeper added a little wistfully, "if only he hadn't
put on such a nasty manner afterward."
But it was behind this impregnable reserve that
Christopher retreated as into a walled fortress.
There had been no sentiment in his act, he told
himself; he had not even felt the romantic fervour of
the sacrifice. A certain staunch justice was all he saw
in it, relieved doubtless by a share of his hereditary
love of desperate hopes - of the hot-headed clinging
to that last shifting foothold on which a man might
still make his fight against the power of circumstance.
And so, with that strange mixture of rustic
crudeness and aristocratic arrogance, he turned his
face from his friends and went stubbornly through
the cross-questioning of the court.
From first to last he had not wavered in his refusal
to see Maria, and there had been an angry vehemence
in the resistance he had made to her passionate
entreaty for a meeting. When by the early autumn
he went from the little town gaol to serve his five
years in the State prison, his most vivid memory of
her was as she looked with the moonlight on her face
in the open field. As the months went on, this
gradually grew remote and dim in his remembrance,
like a bright star over which the clouds thicken, and
his thoughts declined, almost without an upward
inspiration, upon the brutal level of his daily life.
Mere physical disgust was his first violent recoil from
what had seemed a curious deadness of his whole
nature, and the awakening of the senses preceded by
many months the final resurrection of the more
spiritual emotions. The sources of health were still
abundant in him, he admitted, if the vile air, the
fetid smells, the closeness as of huddled animals, the
filth, the obscenity, the insufferable bestial humanity
could arouse in him a bodily nausea so nearly
resembling disease. There were moments when he
felt capable of any crime from sheer frenzied loathing
of his surroundings - when for the sake of the clean
space of the tobacco fields and the pure water of the
little spring he would have murdered Bill Fletcher a
dozen times. As for the old man's death in itself, it
had never caused him so much as a quiver of the
conscience. Bill Fletcher deserved to die, and the world
was well rid of him - that was all.
But his own misery! This was with him always,
and there was no escape from the moral wretchedness
which seemed to follow so closely upon crime. Fresh
from the open country and the keen winds that
blow over level spaces, he seemed mentally and
physically to wither in the change of air - to shrink
slowly to the perishing root, like a plant that has been
brought from a rich meadow to the aridity of the
close-packed city. And with the growing of this
strange form of homesickness he would be driven,
at times, into an almost delirious cruelty toward
those who were weaker than himself, for there were
summer nights when he would brutally knock smaller
men from the single window of the cell and cling,
panting for breath, to the iron bars. As the year
went on, his grim silence, too, became for those
around him as the inevitable shadow of the prison,
and he went about his daily work in a churlish
loneliness which caused even the convicts among whom
he lived to shrink back from his presence.
Then with the closing of the second winter his
superb physical strength snapped suddenly like a cord
that has stood too tight a strain, and for weeks he
lingered between life and death in the hospital,
into which he was carried while yet unconscious.
With his returning health, when the abatement of
the fever left him strangely shaken and the unearthly
pallor still clung to his face and hands, he awoke for
the first time to a knowledge that his illness had
altered - for the period of his convalescence, at least
- the vision through which he had grown to regard
A change had come to him, in that mysterious
borderland so near the grave, and the bare places in
his soul had burst suddenly into fulfilment. Sitting
one Sunday morning in the open court of the prison,
with his thin white hands hanging between his knees
and his head, cropped now of its thick, fair hair, raised
to the sunshine, it seemed to him that, like Tucker
on the old bench, he had learned at last how to be
happy. The warm sun in his face, the blue sky
straight overhead, the spouting fountain from which
a sparrow drank, produced in him a recognition,
wholly passionless, of the abundant physical beauty
of the earth - of a beauty in the blue sky and in the
clear sunshine falling upon the prison court.
A month ago he had wondered almost hopefully if
his was to be one of those pathetic sunken graves,
marked for so brief a time by wooden headboards -
the graves of the men who had died within the walls
- and now there pulsed through him, sitting there
alone, a quiet satisfaction in the thought that he might
still breathe the air and look into men's faces and
see the blue sky overhead. The sky in itself! That
was enough to fill one's memory to overflowing,
Tucker had said.
A tall, lean convict, newly released from the
hospital, crossed the court at a stumbling pace and
stood for a moment at his side.
"I reckon you're hankerin'," he remarked. "I
was sent down here from the mountains, an' I hanker
terrible for the sight of the old Humpback Knob."
"And I'd like to see a level sweep - hardly a hill,
just a clean stretch for the wind to blow over the
"You're from the tobaccy belt, then, ain't you?
What are you here for?"
"Killing a man. And you?"
He limped off at his feeble step, and Christopher
rubbed his hands in the warm sunshine and wondered
how it would feel to bask on one of the old logs by
That afternoon Jim Weatherby came to see him,
bringing the news that Lila's baby had come and
that she had named it Christopher. "It's the living
image of you, she says," he added, smiling; "but
I confess I can't quite see it. The funny part is,
you know, that Cynthia is just as crazy about it as
Lila is, and she looks ten years younger since the
little chap came."
"And Uncle Tucker?"
"His old wounds trouble him, but he sent
you word he was waiting to go till you came back
A blur swam before Christopher's eyes, and he saw
in fancy the old soldier waiting for him on the bench
beside the damask rose-bush.
"And the others - and Maria Wyndham?" he
asked, swallowing the lump in his throat.
Jim reached out and laid his hand on the broad
stripes across the other's shoulder.
"She was with Mr. Tucker when he said that,"
he replied; "they are always together now; and she
added: Tell him we shall wait together till he comes."
The tears which had blinded Christopher's eyes
fell down upon his clasped hands.
"My God! Let me live to go back!" he cried out
in his weakness.
From this time the element of hope entered into
his life, and like its shadow there came the brooding
fear that he should not live to see the year of his
release. With his declining health he had been given
lighter work in the prison factory, but the small
tasks seemed to him heavier than the large ones he
remembered. There was no disease, the physician
in the hospital assured him: it was only his unusual
form of homesickness feeding upon his weakened
frame. Let him return once more to the outdoor
life and the fresh air of the tobacco fields and within
six months his old physical hardihood would revive.
It was noticeable at this time that the quiet
tolerance which had grown upon him in his
convalescence drew to him the sympathy which he
had at first repulsed. The interest awakened in the
beginning by some rare force of attraction in his mere
bodily presence became now, when he had fallen
away to what seemed the shadow of himself, a
friendly and almost affectionate curiosity concerning
his earlier history. With this there grew slowly a
rough companionship between him and the men
among whom he lived, and he found presently to
his surprise that there was hardly one of them but
had some soft spot in his character - some particular
virtue which was still alive. The knowledge of good
and evil thrust upon him in these months was not
without effect in developing a certain largeness of
outlook upon humanity - a kind of generous
philosophy which remained with him afterward in the
form of a peculiar mellowness of temperament.
The autumn of his third year was already closing
when, being sent for one morning from the office of
the superintendent, he went in to find Cynthia
awaiting him with his pardon in her hand. "I've
come for you, Christopher," she said, weeping at
sight of his wasted figure. "The whole county has
been working to get you out, and you are free at
"Free at last?" he repeated mechanically, and
was conscious of a disappointment in the fact that he
experienced no elation with the words. What was
this freedom, that had meant so much to him a
"Somebody in Europe wrote back to Maria,"
she added, while her dry sobs rattled in her bosom,
"that the boy had confessed it to a priest who made
him write it home. Oh, Christopher! Christopher!
I can't understand!"
"No, you can't understand," returned Christopher,
shaking his head. They would not understand, he
knew, none of them - neither the world, nor Cynthia,
nor his mother who was dead! nor Maria who was
living. They would not understand, and even to
himself the mystery was still unsolved. He had
acted according to the law of his own nature; this
was all that was clear to him; and the destiny of
character had controlled him from the beginning.
The wheel had turned and he with it, and being as
blind as fate itself he could see nothing further.
Back once more in the familiar country, fresh
from the strong grasp of friendly hands, and driving
at sunset along the red road beneath half-bared
honey-locusts, he was conscious, with a dull throb
of regret, that the placid contentment he felt creeping
over him failed in emotional resemblance to the
happiness he had associated with his return. Had
the sap really gone dry within him, and would he go
on forever with this curious numbness at his heart?
"Maria wanted you to go straight to the Hall,"
said Cynthia, turning suddenly, "but I told her I'd
better take you home and put you to bed at once.
It was she who went to the Governor and got your
pardon," she added after a moment, "but when I
begged her to come with me to take it to you she
would not do it. She would not see you until you
were back in your own place, she said."
He smiled faintly, and, leaning back among the
rugs Cynthia had brought, watched the white mist
creeping over the ploughed fields. The thought of
Maria no longer stirred his pulses, and when presently
they reached the whitewashed cottage, and he sat
with Tucker before the wood fire in his mother's
parlour, he found himself gazing with a dull
impersonal curiosity at the portraits smiling so coldly
down upon the hearth. The memory of his mother
left him as immovable as did the many trivial
associations which thronged through his brain at sight
of the room which had been hers. A little later, lying
in her tester bed, the fall of the acorns on the
shingled roof above sent him into a profound and
With the first sunlight he awoke, and, noiselessly
slipping into his clothes, went out for a daylight
view of the country which had dwelt for so long a
happy vision in his thoughts. The dew was thick
on the grass, and, crossing to the old bench, he sat
down in the pale sunshine beside the damask rosebush,
on which a single flower blossomed out of season.
Beyond the cedars in the graveyard the sunrise flamed
golden upon a violet background, and across the field
of life-everlasting there ran a sparkling path of fire.
The air was strong with autumn scents, and as he
drank it in with deep drafts it seemed to him that
he began to breathe anew the spirit of life. With a
single bound of the heart the sense of freedom came
to him, and with it the happiness that he had missed
the evening before pulsed through his veins. Much
yet remained to him - the earth with its untold
miracles, the sky with its infinity of space, his own
soul - and Maria!
With her name he sprang to his feet in the ardour
of his impatience, and it was then that, looking up, he
saw her coming to him across the sunbeams.