"Luke can drive your horse back, and we will see that you and Janey ride home."
So Carey, with a hand to each of her new playmates, led them across the driveway to the rolling stretch of shaded lawn. The lady watched David as he submitted to be driven as a horse by the little girls and then constituted himself driver to his little team of ponies as he called them. Later, when they raced to the meadow, she saw him hold Janey back that Carey might win. Presently the lady was joined by her husband.
"Where is Carey?" he asked.
"She is having great sport with a pretty little girl and a guardian angel of a boy. Here they come!"
They were trooping across the lawn, the little girls adorned with blossom wreaths which David had woven for them.
"May we go down to the woods—the big woods?" asked Carey.
"It's too far for you to walk, dear," remonstrated her mother.
"David says he'll draw me in my little cart."
"Who is it that was afraid to go into the big woods, and thought it was a forest filled with wild beasts and scary things?" demanded Mr. Winthrop.
The earnest eyes fixed on his were not at all abashed.
"With him, with David," she said simply, "I would have no afraidments."
"Afraidments?" he repeated perplexedly. "I am not sure I understand."
"Don't tease, Arthur; it's a very good word," interposed Mrs. Winthrop quickly. "It seems to have a different meaning from fear."
"Come up here, David," bade Mr. Winthrop, "and let me see what there is in you to inspire one with no 'afraidments'."
The boy came up on the steps, and did not falter under the keen but good-humored gaze.
"Do you like to play with little girls, David?"
"I like to play with these little girls," admitted David.
"And what do you like to do besides that?"
"I like to shoot."
"Oh, a hunter?"
"No; I like to shoot at a mark."
"And what else?"
"I like to read, and fish, and swim, and—"
"Eat ice cream!" finished Janey roguishly, showing her dimples.
The man caught her up in his arms.
"You are a darling, and I wish my little girl had such rosy cheeks. David, can you show me where there is good fishing?"
"Uncle Larimy can show you the best places. He knows where the bass live, and how to coax them to bite."
"And will you take me to this wonderful person to-morrow?"
Carey now came out of the hall with her cart, and David drew her across the lawn, Janey dancing by his side. Down through the meadows wound a wheel-tracked road leading to a patch of dense woods which, to a little girl with a big imagination, could easily become a wild forest infested with all sorts of nameless terrors—terrors that make one draw the bedclothes snugly over the head at night. She gave a little frightened cry as they came into the cool, olive depths.
"I am afraid, David. Take me!"
He lifted her to his shoulder, and her soft cheek nestled against his face.
"Now you are not afraid," he said persuasively.
"No; but I would be if you put me down."
They went farther into the oak depths, until they came to a fallen tree where they rested. Janey, investigating the forestry, finally discovered a bush with slender red twigs.
"Oh," she cried, "now David will show you what beautiful things he can make for us."
"I have no pins," demurred David.
"I have," triumphantly producing a paper of the needful from her pocket. "I always carry them now."
David broke up the long twigs into short pieces, from which he skillfully fashioned little chairs and tables, discoursing the while to Carey on the beauty and safety of the woods. Finally Carey acquired courage to hunt for wild flowers, though her hand remained close in David's clasp.
When they returned to the house Carey gave a glowing account of the expedition.
"Sit down on the steps and rest, children," proposed Mrs. Winthrop, "while Lucy prepares a little picnic dinner for you."
"What will we do now, David?" appealed Carey, when they were seated on the porch.
"You mustn't do anything but sit still," admonished her mother. "You've done more now than you are used to doing in one day."
"Davey will tell us a story," suggested Janey.
"Yes, please, David," urged Carey, coming to him and resting her eyes on his inquiringly, while her little hand confidently sought his knee. Instinctively and naturally his fingers closed upon it.
Embarrassed as he was at having a strange audience, he could not resist the child's appeal.
"She'll like the kind that you don't," he said musingly to Janey, "the kind about fairies and princes."
"Yes," rejoined Carey.
So he fashioned a tale, partly from recollections of Andersen but mostly from his own fancy. As his imagination kindled, he forgot where he was. Inspired by the spellbound interest of the dainty little girl with the worshiping eyes, he achieved his masterpiece.
"Upon my word," exclaimed Mr. Winthrop, "you are a veritable Scheherazade! You didn't make up that story yourself?"
"Only part of it," admitted David modestly.
When he and Janey started for home David politely delivered M'ri's message of invitation for Carey to come to the farm on the morrow to play.
"It is going to be lovely here," said the little girl happily. "And we are going to come every summer."
Janey kissed her impulsively. "Good-by, Carey."
"Good-by, Janey. Good-by, David."
"Good-by," he returned cheerily. Looking back, he saw her lips trembling. His gaze turned in perplexity to Mrs. Winthrop, whose eyes were dancing. "She expects you to bid her good-by the way Janey did," she explained.
"Oh!" said David, reddening, as two baby lips of scarlet were lifted naturally and expectantly to his.
As they drove away, the light feet of the horse making but little sound on the smooth road, Mrs. Winthrop's clear treble was wafted after them.
"One can scarcely believe that his father was a convict and his mother a washerwoman."
A lump came into the boy's throat. Janey was very quiet on the way home. When they were alone she said to him, with troubled eyes:
"Davey, is Carey going to be your sweetheart?"
His laugh was reassuring.
"Why, Janey, I am just twice her age."
"She is like a little doll, isn't she, David?"
"No; like a little princess."
The next morning Little Teacher came to show them her present from Joe.
"I am sure he chose a camera so I could take your pictures to send to him," she declared.
"Miss Rhody wants her picture taken in the black silk Joe gave her. If you will take it, she won't have to spend the money he sent her," said the thoughtful David.
Little Teacher was very enthusiastic over this proposition, and offered to accompany him at once to secure the picture. Miss Rhody was greatly excited over the event. Ever since the dress had been finished she had been a devotee at the shrine of two hooks in her closet from which was suspended the long-coveted garment, waiting for an occasion that would warrant its debut. She nervously dressed for the "likeness," for which she assumed her primmest pose. A week later David sent Joe a picture of Miss Rhody standing stiff and straight on her back porch and arrayed, with all the glory of the lilies of the field, in her new silk.
When the hot, close-cropped fields took on their first suggestion of autumn and a fuller note was heard in the requiem of the songbirds, when the twilights were of purple and the morning skies delicately mackereled in gray, David entered the little, red, country schoolhouse. M'ri's tutelage and his sedulous application to Jud's schoolbooks saved him from the ignominy of being classified with the younger children.
When he sat down to the ink-stained, pen-scratched desk that was to be his own, when he made compact piles of his new books and placed in the little groove in front of the inkwell his pen, pencils, and ruler, he turned to Little Teacher such a glowing face of ecstasy that she was quite inspired, and her sympathies and energies were at once enlisted in the cause of David's education.
It was the beginning of a new world for him. He studied with a concentration that made him oblivious to all that occurred about him, and he had to be reminded of calls to recitations by an individual summons. He fairly overwhelmed Little Teacher by his voracity for learning and a perseverance that vanquished all obstacles. He soon outstripped his class, and finally his young instructress was forced to bring forth her own textbooks to satisfy his avidity. He devoured them all speedily, and she then applied to the Judge for fuel from his library to feed her young furnace.
"He takes to learning as naturally as bees to blossoms," she reported.
"He must ease off," warned Barnabas. "Young hickory needs plenty of room for full growth."
"No," disagreed the Judge, "young hickory is as strong as wrought iron. He's going to have a clear, keen mind to argue law cases."
"I think not," said M'ri. "You forget another quality of young hickory. No other wood burns with such brilliancy. David is going to be an author."
"I am afraid," wrote Joe, "that Dave won't be a first-class ranchman. He must be plum locoed with dreams."
This prognostication reached David's ears.
"Without dreams," he argued to Barnabas, "one would be like the pigs."
"Wal, now, Dave, mebby pigs dream. They sartain sleep a hull lot."
David laughed appreciatively.
"Dave," pursued Barnabas, "they're all figgerin' on your futur, and they're a-figgerin' wrong. Joe thinks you'll take to ranchin'. You may—fer a spell. M'ri thinks you may write books. You may do even that—fer a spell. The Jedge counts on yer takin' to the law like a duck does to water. You may, but law larnin', cow punchin', and story writin' 'll jest be steppin' stuns to what I know you air goin' ter be, and what I know is in you ter be."
"What in the world is that, Uncle Barnabas?" asked David in surprise. "A farmer?"
"Farmer, nuthin'!" scoffed Barnabas. "Yer hain't much on farmin', Dave, though I will say yer furrers is allers straight, like everythin' else you do. Yer straight yerself. No! young hickory can bend without breakin', and thar's jest one thing I want fer you to be."
"What?" persisted the boy.
Barnabas whispered something.
The blood of the young country boy went like wine through his veins; his heart leaped with a big and mighty purpose.
"Now, remember, Dave," cautioned Barnabas, "what all work and no play done to Jack. You git yer lessons perfect, and recite them, and read a leetle of an evenin'; the rest of the time I want yer to get out and cerkilate."
November with its call to quiet woods came on, and David was eager to "cerkilate." He became animated with the spirit of sport. Red-letter Saturdays were spent with Uncle Larimy, and the far-away echo of the hunter's bullet and the scudding through the woods of startled game became new, sweet music to his ears. Rifle in hand, with dog shuffling at his heels or plunging ahead in search of game, the world was his. Life was very full and happy, save for the one inevitable sprig of bitter—Jud! The big bully of a boy had learned that David was his equal physically and his superior mentally, but the fear of David and of David's good standing kept him from venturing out in the open; so from cover he sought by all the arts known to craftiness to harass the younger boy, whose patience this test tried most sorely.
One day when Little Teacher had given him a verbose definition of the word "pestiferous," David looked at her comprehendingly. "Like Jud," he murmured.
Many a time his young arms ached to give Jud another thrashing, but his mother's parting injunction restrained him.
"If only," he sighed, "Jud belonged to some one else!"
He vainly sought to find the hair line that divided his sense of gratitude and his protection of self-respect.
Winter followed, and the farm work droned. It was a comfortable, cozy time, with breakfast served in the kitchen on a table spread with a gay, red cloth. Pennyroyal baked griddle-sized cakes, delivering them one at a time direct from the stove to the consumer. The early hour of lamplight made long evenings, which were beguiled by lesson books and story-books, by an occasional skating carnival on the river, a coasting party at Long Hill, or a "surprise" on some hospitable neighbor.
One morning he came into school with face and eyes aglow with something more than the mere delight of living. It meant mischief, pure and simple, but Little Teacher was not always discerning. She gave him a welcoming smile of sheer sympathy with his mood. She didn't smile, later, when the schoolroom was distracted by the sound of raucous laughter, feminine screams, and a fluttering of skirts as the girls scrambled to standing posture in their chairs. Astonished, she looked for the cause. The cause came her way, and the pupils had a fresh example of the miracles wrought by a mouse, for Little Teacher, usually the personification of dignity and repose, screamed lustily and scudded chairward with as much rapidity as that displayed by the scurrying mouse as it chased for the corner and disappeared through a knothole.
As soon as the noiseful glee had subsided, Little Teacher sought to recover her prided self-possession. In a voice resonant with sternness, she commanded silence, gazing wrathfully by chance at little Tim Wiggins.
"'T was David done it," he said in deprecating self-defense, imagining himself accused.
"David Dunne," demanded Little Teacher, "did you bring that mouse to school?"
"He brung it and let it out on purpose," informed Tim eagerly.
Little Teacher never encouraged talebearing, but she was so discomfited by the exposure of the ruling weakness peculiar to her sex that she decided to discipline her favorite pupil upon his acknowledgment of guilt.
"You may bring your books and sit on the platform," she ordered indignantly.
David did not in the least mind his assignment to so prominent a position, but he did mind Little Teacher's attitude toward him throughout the day. He sought to propitiate her by coming to her assistance in many little tasks, but she persistently ignored his overtures. He then ventured to seek enlightenment regarding his studies, but she coldly informed him he could remain after school to ask his questions.
David began to feel troubled, and looked out of the window for an inspiration. He found one in the form of big, brawny, Jim Block—"Teacher's Jim," as the school children all called him.
"There goes Teacher's Jim," sang David, soto voce.
The shot told. For the second time that day Little Teacher showed outward and visible signs of an inward disturbance. With a blush she turned quickly to the window and watched with expressive eyes the stalwart figure striding over the rough-frozen road.
In an instant, however, she had recalled herself to earth, and David's dancing eyes renewed her hostility toward him. Toward the end of the day she began to feel somewhat appeased by his docility and evident repentance. Her manner had perceptibly changed by the time the closing exercise began. This was the writing of words on the blackboard for the pupils to use in sentences. She pointed to the first word, "income."
"Who can make a sentence and use that word correctly?" she asked.
"Do call on Tim," whispered David. "He so loves to be the first to tell anything."
She smiled her appreciation of Tim's prominent characteristic, and looked at the youngster, who was wringing his hand in an agony of eagerness. She gave him the floor, and he jumped to his feet in triumph, yelling:
"In come a mouse!"
This was too much for David's composure, and he gave way to an infectious fit of laughter, in which the pupils joined.
Little Teacher found the allusion personal and uncomfortable. She at once assumed her former distant mien, demanding David's presence after school closed.
"You have no gratitude, David," she stated emphatically.
The boy winced, and his eyes darkened with concern, as he remembered his mother's parting injunction.
Little Teacher softened slightly.
"You are sorry, aren't you, David?" she asked gently.
He looked at her meditatively.
"No, Teacher," he answered quietly.
She flushed angrily.
"David Dunne, you may go home, and you needn't come back to school again until you tell me you are sorry."
David took his books and walked serenely from the room. He went home by the way of Jim Block's farm.
"Hullo, Dave!" called Big Jim, who was in the barnyard.
"Hello, Jim! I came to tell you some good news. You said if you were only sure there was something Teacher was afraid of, you wouldn't feel so scared of her."
"Well," prompted Jim eagerly.
"I thought I'd find out for you, so I took a mouse to school and let it loose."
David then related the occurrences of the morning, not omitting the look in Little Teacher's eyes when she beheld Jim from the window.
"I'll hook up this very night and go to see her," confided Jim.
"Be sure you do, Jim. If you find your courage slipping, just remember that you owe it to me, because she won't let me come back to school unless she knows why I wasn't sorry."
"I give you my word, Dave," said Jim earnestly.
The next morning Little Teacher stopped at the Brumble farm.
"I came this way to walk to school with you and Janey," she said sweetly and significantly to David.
When they reached the road, and Janey had gone back to get her sled, Little Teacher looked up and caught the amused twinkle in David's eye. A wave of conscious red overspread her cheeks.
"Must I say I am sorry now?" he asked.
"David Dunne, there are things you understand which you never learned from books."
Late spring brought preparations for M'ri's wedding. Rhody Crabbe's needle and fingers flew in rapturous speed, and there was likewise engaged a seamstress from Lafferton. Rhody had begged for the making of the wedding gown, and when it was finished David went to fetch it home.
"It's almost done, David, and you tell M'ri the last stitch was a loveknot. It's most a year sence you wuz here afore, a-waitin' fer her blue waist tew be finished. Remember, don't you, David?"
He remembered, and as she stitched he sat silently reviewing that year, the comforts received, the pleasures pursued, and, best of all, the many things he had learned, but the recollection that a year ago his mother had been living brought a rush of sad memories and blotted out happier thoughts.
"I wish yer ma could hev seen Mart and M'ri merried. She was orful disapp'inted when they broke off."
There was no reply. Rhody's sharp little eyes, in upward glance, spied the trickling tear; she looked quickly away and stitched in furious haste.
"But, my!" she continued, as if there had been no pause, "how glad she would be to know 't was you as fetched it around."
David looked up, diverted and inquiring.
"Yes; I learnt it from M'ri. She told me about the flowers you give him. I thought it was jest sweet in you, David. You done good work thar."
"Miss Rhody," said David earnestly, "maybe some day I can get you a sweetheart."
"'T ain't no use, David," she sighed. "No one wants a plain critter like me."
"Lots of them don't marry for looks," argued David sagely. "Besides, you look fine in your black silk, and your hair crimped. Joe thinks your picture is great. He's got it on a shelf over his fireplace at the ranch."
"Most likely some cowboy'll see it and lose his heart," laughed Miss Rhody, "but thar, the weddin' dress is all done. You go home and quit thinkin' about gittin' me a man. I ain't ha'nted by the thought of endin' single."
Great preparations for the wedding progressed at the Brumble farm. For a week Pennyroyal whipped up eggs and sugar, and David ransacked the woods for evergreens and berries with which to decorate the big barn, where the dance after the wedding was to take place.
The old farmhouse was filled to overflowing on the night of the wedding. After the ceremony, Miss Rhody, resplendent in the black silk and waving hair loosed from the crimping pins that had confined it for two days and nights, came up to David.
"My, David, I've got the funniest all over feelin' from seein' Mart and M'ri merried! I was orful afeerd I'd cry."
"Sit down, Miss Rhody," said David, gallantly bringing her a chair.
"Didn't M'ri look perfeckly beyewtiful?" she continued, after accomplishing the pirouette that prevented creases. "And Mart, he looked that proud, and solemn too. It made me think of that gal when she spoke 'Curfew shall not ring tewnight' at the schoolhouse. Every one looks fine. I hain't seen Barnabas so fussed up sence Libby Sukes' funyral. It makes him look real spry. And whoever got Larimer Sasser to perk up and put on a starched shirt!"
"I think," confided David, "that Penny got after him. She had him in a corner when he came, and she tied his necktie so tight I was afraid she would choke him."
"Look at old Miss Pankey, David. She, as rich as they make 'em, and a-wearin' that old silk! It looks as ef it hed bin hung up fer you and Jud to shoot at. Ain't she a-glarin' and a-sniffin' at me, though? Say, David, you write Joe that if M'ri did look the purtiest of any one that my dress cost more'n any one's here, and showed it, too. I hope thar'll be a lot of occasions to wear it to this summer. M'ri is a-goin' to give a reception when she gits back from her tower, and that'll be one thing to wear it at. Ain't Jud got a mean look? He's as crooked as a dog's hind leg. But, say, David, that's a fine suit you're a-wearin'. You look handsome. Thar ain't a stingy hair on Barnabas' head. He's doin' jest as good by you as he is by Jud. Don't little Janey look like an angel in white, and them lovely beads Joe give her? I can't think of nothin' else but that little Eva you read me about. I shouldn't wonder a bit, David, if I come to yer and Janey's weddin' yet!" she said, as Janey came dancing up to them.
A slow flush mounted to his forehead, but Janey laughed merrily.
"I've promised Joe I'd wait for him," she said roguishly.
"She's only foolin' and so wuz he," quickly spoke Miss Rhody, seeing the hurt look in David's eyes. "Barnabas," she asked, stopping him as he passed, "you air a-goin' to miss M'ri turrible. You could never manige if it wa'n't fer Penny. Won't she hev the time of her life cleanin' up after this weddin'? She'll enjoy it more'n she did gettin' ready fer it."
"I hope Penny won't go to gittin' merried—not till Janey's growed up."
"David's a great help to you, too, Barnabas."
"Dave! I don't know how I ever got along afore he came. He's so willin' and so honest. He's as good as gold. Only fault he's got is a quick temper. He's doin' purty fair with it, though. If only Jud—"
He stopped, with a sigh, and Rhody hastened to change the subject.
"You're a-lookin' spry to-night, Barnabas. I hain't seen you look so spruce in a long time."
"You look mighty tasty yerself, Rhody."
This interchange of compliments was interrupted by the announcement of supper.
"I never set down to sech a repast," thought Miss Rhody. "I'm glad I didn't feed much to-day. I don't know whether to take chickin twice, or to try all them meltin', flaky lookin' pies. And jest see them layer cakes!"
After supper adjournment was made to the barn, where the fiddles were already swinging madly. Every one caught the spirit, and even Miss Rhody finally succumbed to Barnabas' insistence. Pennyroyal captured Uncle Larimy, and when Janey whirled away in the arms of a schoolmate, David, who had never learned to dance, stood isolated. He felt lonely and depressed, and recalled the expression in which Joe Forbes had explained life after he had acquired a stepmother. "I was always on the edge of the fireside," he had said.
"Dave," expostulated Uncle Barnabas, as soon as he could get his breath after the last dance, "you'd better eddicate yer heels as well as yer head. It's unnateral fer a colt and a boy not to kick up their heels. You don't never want to be a looker-on at nuthin' excep' from ch'ice. You'd orter be a stand-in on everything that's a-goin' instead of a stand-by. The stand-bys never git nowhar."
David Dunne at eighteen was graduated from the high school in Lafferton after five colorless years in which study and farm work alternated. Throughout this period he had continued to incur the rancor of Jud, whose youthful scrapes had gradually developed into brawls and carousals. The Judge periodically extricated him from serious entanglements, and Barnabas continued optimistic in his expectations of a time when Jud should "settle." On one occasion Jud sneeringly accused David of "working the old man for a share in the farm," and taunted him with the fact that he was big enough and strong enough to hustle for himself without living on charity. David started on a tramp through the woods to face the old issue and decide his fate. He had then one more year before he could finish school and carry out a long-cherished dream of college.
He was at a loss to know just where to turn at the present time for a home where he could work for his board and attend school. The Judge and M'ri had gone abroad; Joe was on his ranch; the farmers needed no additional help.
He had been walking swiftly in unison with his thoughts, and when he came out of the woods into the open he was only a mile downstream from town. Upon the river bank stood Uncle Larimy, skillfully swirling his line.
"Wanter try yer luck, Dave?"
"I have no luck just now, Uncle Larimy," replied the boy sadly.
Uncle Larimy shot him a quick, sidelong glance.
"Then move on, Dave, and chase arter it. Thar's allers luck somewhar. Jest like fishin'. You can't set in one spot and wait for luck tew come to you like old Zeke Foss does. You must keep a-castin'."
"I don't know where to cast, Uncle Larimy."
Uncle Larimy pondered. He knew that Jud was home, and he divined David's trend of thought.
"You can't stick to a plank allers, Dave, ef you wanter amount tew anything. Strike out bold, and swim without any life presarvers. You might jest as well be a sleepy old cat in a corner as to go smoothsailin' through life."
"I feel that I have got to strike out, and at once, Uncle Larimy, but I don't just know where to strike."
"Wal, Dave, it's what we've all got to find out fer ourselves. It's a leap in the dark like, and ef you don't land nowhere, take another leap, and keep a-goin' somewhar."
David wended his way homeward, pondering over Uncle Larimy's philosophy. When he went with Barnabas to do the milking that night he broached the subject of leaving the farm.
"I know how Jud feels about my being here, Uncle Barnabas."
"What did he say to you?" asked the old man anxiously.
"Nothing. I overheard a part of your conversation. He is right. And if I stay here, he will run away to sea. He told the fellows in Lafferton he would."
"You are going to stay, Dave."
"You won't like to think you drove your son away. If he gets into trouble, both you and I will feel we are to blame."
"Dave, I see why the Jedge hez got it all cut out fer you to be a lawyer. You've got the argyin' habit strong. But you can't argue me into what I see is wrong. This is the place fer you to be, and Jud 'll hev to come outen his spell."
"Then let me go away until he does. You must give him every chance."
"Where'll you go?" asked Barnabas curiously.
"I don't know, yet," said the boy, "but I'll think out a plan to-night."
It was Jud, after all, who cut the Gordian knot, and made one of his welcome disappearances, which lasted until David was ready to start in college. His savings, that he had accumulated by field work in the summers and a very successful poultry business for six years, netted him four hundred dollars.
"One hundred dollars for each year," he thought exultantly. "That will be ample with the work I shall find to do."
Then he made known to his friends his long-cherished scheme of working his way through college. The Judge laughed.
"Your four hundred dollars, David, will barely get you through the first year. After that, I shall gladly pay your expenses, for as soon as you are admitted to the bar you are to come into my office, of course."
"I shall work my way through college," he said firmly.
He next told Barnabas of his intention and the Judge's offer which he had declined.
"I'm glad you refused, Dave. You'll only be in his office till you're ripe fer what I kin make you. I've larnt that the law is a good foundation as a sure steppin' stone tew it, so you kin hev a taste of it. But the Jedge ain't a-goin' to pay yer expenses."
"I don't mean that he shall," replied David. "I want to pay my own way."
"I'm a-goin' to send you tew college and send you right. No starvin' and garret plan fer you. I've let Joe and the Jedge do fer you as much as they're a-goin' to, but you're mine from now on. It's what I'd do fer my own son if he cared fer books, and you're as near to me ez ef you were my son."
"It's too much, Uncle Barnabas."
"And, David," he continued, unheeding the interruption, "I hope you'll really be my son some day."
A look of such exquisite happiness came into the young eyes that Barnabas put out his hand silently. In the firm hand-clasp they both understood.
"I am not going to let you help me through college, though, Uncle Barnabas. It has always been my dream to earn my own education. When you pay for anything yourself, it seems so much more your own than when it's a gift."
"Let him, Barnabas," again counseled Uncle Larimy. "Folks must feed diff'rent. Thar's the sweet-fed which must allers hev sugar, but salt's the savor for Dave. He's the kind that flourishes best in the shade."
Janey wrote to Joe of David's plan, and there promptly came a check for one thousand dollars, which David as promptly returned.
A few days before the time set for his departure David set out on a round of farewell visits to the country folk. It was one of those cold, cheerless days that intervene between the first haze of autumn and the golden glow of October. He had never before realized how lonely the shiver of wind through the poplars could sound. Two innovations had been made that day in the country. The rural delivery carrier, in his little house on wheels, had made his first delivery, and a track for the new electric-car line was laid through the sheep meadow. This inroad of progress upon the sanctity of their seclusion seemed sacrilegious to David, who longed to have lived in the olden time of log houses, with their picturesque open fires and candle lights. Following some vague inward call, he went out of his way to ride past the tiny house he had once called home, and which in all his ramblings he had steadfastly avoided. He had heard that the place had passed into the hands of a widow with an only son, and that they had purchased surrounding land for cultivation. He had been glad to hear this, and had liked to fancy the son caring for his mother as he himself would have cared for his mother had she lived.
As he neared the little nutshell of a house his heart beat fast at the sight of a woman pinning clothes to the line. Her fingers, stiff and swollen, moved slowly. The same instinct that had guided him down this road made him dismount and tie his horse. The old woman came slowly down the little path to meet him.
"I am David Dunne," he said gently, "and I used to live here. I wanted to come to see my old home once more."
He thought that the dim eyes gazing into his were the saddest he had ever beheld.
"Yes," she replied, with the slow, German accent, "I know of you. Come in."
He followed her into the little sitting room, which was as barren of furnishings as it had been in the olden days.
"Sit down," she invited.
He took a chair opposite a cheap picture of a youth in uniform. A flag of coarse material was pinned above this portrait, and underneath was a roughly carved bracket on which was a glass filled with goldenrod.
"You lived here with your mother," she said musingly, "and she was taken. I lived here with my son, and—he was taken."
"Oh!" said David. "I did not know—was he—"
His eyes sought the picture on the wall.
"Yes," she replied, answering his unspoken question, as she lifted her eyes to her little shrine, "he enlisted and went to the Philippines. He died there of fever more than a year ago."
David was silent. His brown, boyish hand shaded his eyes. It had been his fault that he had not heard of this old woman and the loss of her son. He had shrunk from all knowledge and mention of this little home and its inmates. The country folk had recognized and respected his reticence, which to people near the soil seems natural. This had been the only issue in his life that he had dodged, and he was bitterly repenting his negligence. In memory of his mother, he should have helped the lonely old woman.
"You were left a poor, helpless boy," she continued, "and I am left a poor, helpless old woman. The very young and the very old meet in their helplessness, yet there is hope for the one—nothing for the other."
"Yes, memories," he suggested softly, "and the pride you feel in his having died as he did."
"There is that," she acknowledged with a sigh, "and if only I could live on here in this little place where we have been so happy! But I must leave it."
"Why?" asked David quickly.
"After my Carl died, things began to happen. When once they do that, there is no stopping. The bank at the Corners failed, and I lost my savings. The turkeys wandered away, the cow died, and now there's the mortgage. It's due to-morrow, and then—the man that holds it will wait no longer. So it is the poorhouse, which I have always dreaded."
David's head lifted, and his eyes shone radiantly as he looked into the tired, hopeless eyes.
"Your mortgage will be paid to-morrow, and—Don't you draw a pension for your son?"
She looked at him in a dazed way.
"No, there is no pension—I—"
"Judge Thorne will get you one," he said optimistically, as he rose, ready for action, "and how much is the mortgage?"
"Three hundred dollars," she said despairingly.
"Almost as much as the place is worth. Who holds the mortgage?"
"You see," said David, trying to speak casually, "I have three hundred dollars lying idle for which I have no use. I'll ride to town now and have the Judge see that the place is clear to you, and he will get you a pension, twelve dollars a month."
The worn, seamed face lifted to his was transfigured by its look of beatitude.
"You mustn't," she implored. "I didn't know about the pension. That will keep me, and I can find another little place somewhere. But the money you offer—no! I have heard how you have been saving to go through school."
"Uncle Barnabas and the Judge are anxious to pay my expenses at college, and—you must let me. I would like to think, don't you see, that you are living here in my old home. It will seem to me as if I were doing it for my mother—as I would want some boy to do for her if she were left—and it's my country's service he died in. I would rather buy this little place for you, and know that you are living here, than to buy anything else in the world."
The old face was quite beautiful now.
"Then I will let you," she said tremulously. "You see, I am a hard-working woman and quite strong, but folks won't believe that, because I am old; so they won't hire me to do their work, and they say I should go to the poorhouse. But to old folks there's nothing like having your own things and your own ways. They get to be a part of you. I was thinking when you rode up that it would kill me not to see the frost on the old poplar, and not to cover up my geraniums on the chill nights."
Something stirred in David's heart like pain. He stooped and kissed her gently. Then he rode away, rejoicing that he had worked to this end. Four hours later he rode back to the little home.
"The Judge has paid over the money to Old Skinflint Prickley," he said blithely, "and the place is all yours. The deacon had compounded the interest, which is against the laws of the state, so here are a few dollars to help tide you over until the Judge gets the pension for you."
"David," she said solemnly, "an old woman's prayers may help you, and some day, when you are a great man, you will do great deeds, but none of them will be as great as that which you have done to-day."
David rode home with the echo of this benediction in his ears. He had asked the Judge to keep the transaction secret, but of course the Judge told Barnabas, who in turn informed Uncle Larimy.
"I told the boy when his ma died," said Uncle Larimy, "that things go 'skew sometimes, but that the sun would shine. The sun will allers be a-shinin' fer him when he does such deeds as this."
The fare to his college town, his books, and his tuition so depleted David's capital of one hundred dollars that he hastened to deposit the balance for an emergency. Then he set about to earn his "keep," as he had done in the country, but there were many students bent on a similar quest and he soon found that the demand for labor was exceeded by the supply.
Before the end of the first week he was able to write home that he had found a nice, quiet lodging in exchange for the care of a furnace in winter and the trimming of a lawn in other seasons, and that he had secured a position as waiter to pay for his meals; also that there was miscellaneous employment to pay for his washing and incidentals.
He didn't go into details and explain that the "nice quiet lodging" was a third-floor rear whose gables gave David's six feet of length but little leeway. It was quiet because the third floor was not heated, and its occupants therefore stayed away as much as possible. His services as waiter were required only at dinner time, in exchange for which he received that meal. His breakfast and luncheon he procured as best he could; sometimes he dispensed with them entirely. Crackers, milk, and fruit, as the cheapest articles of diet, appeared oftenest on his menu. Sometimes he went fishing and surreptitiously smuggled the cream of the catch up to his little abode, for Mrs. Tupps' "rules to roomers," as affixed to the walls, were explicit: "No cooking or washing allowed in rooms." But Mrs. Tupps, like her fires, was nearly always out, for she was a member of the Woman's Relief Corps, Ladies' Aid, Ladies' Guild, Woman's League, Suffragette Society, Pioneer Society, and Eastern Star. At the meetings of these various societies she was constant in attendance, so in her absence her roomers "made hay," as David termed it, cooking their provender and illicitly performing laundry work in the bathtub. Still, there must always be "on guard" duty, for Mrs. Tupps was a stealthy stalker. One saw her not, but now and then there was a faint rustle on the stair. David's eyes and ears, trained to keenness, were patient and vigilant, so he was generally chosen as sentinel, and he acquired new caution, adroitness, and a quietness of movement.
There had been three or four close calls. Once, she had knocked at his door as he was in the act of boiling eggs over the gas jet. In the twinkling of an eye the saucepan was thrust under the bed, and David, sweet and serene of expression, opened the door to the inquisitive-eyed Tupps.
"I came to borrow a pen," she said shamelessly, her eyes penetrating the cracks and crevices of the little room.
David politely regretted that he used an indelible pencil and possessed no pens.
In the act of removing all records and remains of feasts, David became an adept. Neat, unsuspicious looking parcels were made and conveyed, after retiring hours, to a near-by vacant lot, where once had been visible an excavation for a cellar, but this had been filled to street level with tin cans, paper bags, butter bowls, cracker cases, egg shells, and pie plates from the House of Tupps.
His miscellaneous employment, mentioned in his letter, was any sort of work he could find to do.
David became popular with professors by reason of his record in classes and the application and concentration he brought to his studies. His prowess in all sports, his fairness, and the spirit of camaraderie he always maintained with his associates, made him a general favorite. He wore fairly good clothes, was well groomed, and always in good spirits, so of his privations and poverty only one or two of those closest to him were even suspicious. He was entirely reticent on the subject, though open and free in all other discourse, and permitted no encroachment on personal matters. One or two chance offenders intuitively perceived a slight but impassable barrier.
"Dunne has grown a little gaunt-eyed since he first came here," said one of his chosen friends to a classmate one evening. "He's outdoors enough to counteract overstudy. But do you suppose he has enough to eat? So many of these fellows live on next to nothing."
"I shouldn't be surprised if he were on rations. You know he always makes some excuse when we invite him to a spread. He's too proud to accept favors and not reciprocate, I believe."
David overheard these remarks, and a very long walk was required to restore his serenity. During this walk he planned to get some extra work that would insure him compensation requisite to provide a modest spread so that he might allay their suspicions. Upon his return to his lodgings he found an enormous box which had come by express from Lafferton. It contained Pennyroyal's best culinary efforts; also four dozen eggs, a two-pound pat of butter, coffee, and a can of cream.
He propitiated Mrs. Tupps by the proffer of a dozen of the eggs and told her of his desire to entertain his friends. It would be impossible to do this in his room, for when he lay in bed he could touch every piece of furniture with but little effort.
David had become his landlady's confidant and refuge in time of trouble, and she was willing to allow him the privilege of the dining room.
"I am going away to-night for a couple of days, but I would rather you wouldn't mention it to the others. You may have the use of the dining room and the dishes."
David's friends were surprised to receive an off-hand invitation from him to "drop in for a little country spread." They were still more surprised when they beheld the long table with its sumptuous array of edibles,—raised biscuits, golden butter, cold chicken, pickles, jelly, sugared doughnuts, pork cake, gold and silver cake, crullers, mince pie, apple pie, cottage cheese, cider, and coffee.
"It looks like a county fair exhibit, Dunne," said a city-bred chap.
Six healthy young appetites did justice to this repast and insured David's acceptance of five invitations to dine. It took Mrs. Tupps and David fully a week to consume the remnants of this collation. The eggs he bestowed upon an anemic-faced lodger who had been prescribed a milk and egg diet, but with eggs at fifty cents a dozen he had not filled his prescription.
At the end of the college year David went back to the farm, and a snug sense of comfort and a home-longing filled him at the sight of the old farmhouse, its lawn stretching into gardens, its gardens into orchards, orchards into meadows, and meadows into woodlands. Through the long, hot summer he tilled the fields, and invested the proceeds in clothes and books for the ensuing year.
There followed three similar years of a hand-to-mouth existence, the privations of which he endured in silence. There were little occasional oases, such as boxes from Pennyroyal, or extra revenue now and then from tutoring, but there were many, many days when his healthy young appetite clamored in vain for appeasement. On such days came the temptation to borrow from Barnabas the money to finish his course in comfort, but the young conqueror never yielded to this enticement. He grew stronger and sturdier in spirit after each conflict, but lost something from his young buoyancy and elasticity which he could never regain. His struggles added a touch of grimness to his old sense of humor, but when he was admitted to the bar he was a man in courage, strength, and endurance.
It seemed to David, when he was at the farm again, that in his absence time had stood still, except with Janey. She was a slender slip of a girl, gentle voiced and soft hearted. Her eyes were infinitely blue and lovely, and there was a glad little ring in her voice when she greeted "Davey."
M'ri gave a cry of surprised pleasure when she saw her former charge. He was tall, lithe, supple, and hard-muscled. His face was not very expressive in repose, but showed a quiet strength when lighted by the keenness of his serious, brown eyes and the sweetness of his smile. His color was a deep-sea tan.
"It seems so good to be alive, Aunt M'ri. I thought I was weaned away from farm life until I bit into one of those snow apples from the old tree by the south corner of the orchard. Then I knew I was home."
Pennyroyal shed her first visible tear.
"I am glad you are home again, David," she sniffed. "You were always such a clean boy."
"I missed you more'n any one did, David," acknowledged Miss Rhody. "Ef I hed been a Catholic I should a felt as ef the confessional hed been took from me. I ain't hed no one to talk secret like to excep' when Joe comes onct a year. He ain't been fer a couple of years, either, but he sent me anuther black dress the other day—silk, like the last one. To think of little Joe Forbes a-growin' up and keepin' me in silk dresses!"
"I'll buy your next one for you," declared David emphatically.
The next day after his return from college David started his legal labors under the watchful eye of the Judge. He made a leap-frog progress in acquiring an accurate knowledge of legal lore. He worked and waited patiently for the Judge's recognition of his readiness to try his first case, and at last the eventful time came.
"No; there isn't the slightest prospect of his winning it," the Judge told his wife that night.
"The prosecution has strong evidence, and we have nothing—barely a witness of any account."
"Then the poor man will be convicted and David will gain no glory," lamented M'ri. "It means so much to a young lawyer to win his first case."
The Judge smiled.
"Neither of them needs any sympathy. Miggs ought to have been sent over the road long ago. David's got to have experience before he gains glory."
"How did you come to take such a case?" asked M'ri, for the Judge was quite exclusive in his acceptance of clients.
"It was David's doings," said the Judge, with a frown that had a smile lurking behind it.
"Why did he wish you to take the case?" persisted M'ri.
"As near as I can make out," replied the Judge, with a slight softening of his grim features, "it was because Miggs' wife takes in washing when Miggs is celebrating."
M'ri walked quickly to the window, murmuring some unintelligible sound of endearment.
On the day of the summing-up at the trial the court room was crowded. There were the habitual court hangers on, David's country friends en masse, a large filling in at the back of the representatives of the highways and byways, associates of the popular wrongdoer, and the legal lore of the town, with the good-humored patronage usually bestowed by the profession on the newcomer to their ranks.
As the Judge had said, his client was conceded to be slated for conviction. If he had made the argument himself he would have made it in his usual cool, well-poised manner. But David, although he knew Miggs to be a veteran of the toughs, felt sure of his innocence in this case, and he was determined to battle for him, not for the sake of justice alone, but for the sake of the tired-looking washerwoman he had seen bending over the tubs. This was an occupation she had to resort to only in her husband's times of indulgence, for he was a wage earner in his days of soberness.
When David arose to speak it seemed to the people assembled that the coil of evidence, as reviewed by the prosecutor in his argument, was drawn too closely for any power to extricate the victim.
At the first words of the young lawyer, uttered in a voice of winning mellowness, the public forgot the facts in the case. Swayed by the charm of David's personality, a current of new-born sympathy for the prisoner ran through the court room.
David came up close to the jury and, as he addressed them, he seemed to be oblivious of the presence of any one else in the room. It was as though he were telling them, his friends, something he alone knew, and that he was sure of their belief in his statements.
"For all the world," thought M'ri, listening, "as he used to tell stories when he was a boy. He'd fairly make you believe they were true."
To be sure the jury were all his friends; they had known him when he was little "barefoot Dave Dunne." Still, they were captivated by this new oratory, warm, vivid, and inspiring, delivered to the accompaniment of dulcet and seductive tones that transported them into an enchanted world. Their senses were stirred in the same way they would be if a flag were unfurled.
"Sounds kind o' like orgin music," whispered Miss Rhody.
Yet underneath the eloquence was a logical simplicity, a keen sifting of facts, the exposure of flaws in the circumstantial evidence. There was a force back of what he said like the force back of the projectile. About the form of the hardened sinner, Miggs, David drew a circle of innocence that no one ventured to cross. Simply, convincingly, and concisely he summed up, with a forceful appeal to their intelligence, their honor, and their justice.
The reply by the assistant to the prosecutor was perfunctory and ineffective. The charge of the judge was neutral. The jury left the room, and were out eight and one-quarter minutes. As they filed in, the foreman sent a triumphant telepathic message to David before he quietly drawled out:
"Not guilty, yer Honor."
The first movement was from Mrs. Miggs. And she came straight to David, not to the jury.
"David," said the Judge, who had cleared his throat desperately and wiped his glasses carefully, at the look in the eyes of the young lawyer when they had rested on the defendant's wife, "hereafter our office will be the refuge for all the riffraff in the country."
This was his only comment, but the Judge did not hesitate to turn over any case to him thereafter.
When David had added a few more victories to his first one, Jud made one of his periodical diversions by an offense against the law which was far more serious in nature than his previous misdeeds had been. M'ri came out to the farm to discuss the matter.
"Barnabas, Martin thinks you had better let the law take its course this time. He says it's the only procedure left untried to reform Jud. He is sure he can get a light sentence for him—two years."
"M'ri," said Barnabas, in a voice vibrating with reproach, "do you want Jud to go to prison?"
"I want to do what is best for him, Barnabas. Martin thinks it will be a salutary lesson."
"I wonder, M'ri," said Barnabas slowly, "if the Judge had a son of his own, he would try to reform him by putting him behind bars."
"Oh, Barnabas!" protested M'ri, with a burst of tears.
"He's still my boy, if he is wild, M'ri."
"But, Barnabas, Martin's patience is exhausted. He has got him out of trouble so many times—and, oh, Barnabas, he says he won't under any circumstances take the case! He is ashamed to face the court and jury with such a palpably guilty client. I have pleaded with him, but I can't influence him. You know how set he can be!"
"Wal, there are other lawyers," said Barnabas grimly.
David had remained silent and constrained during this conversation, the lines of his young face setting like steel. Suddenly he left the house and paced up and down in the orchard, to wrestle once more with the old problem of his boyhood days. It was different now. Then it had been a question of how much he must stand from Jud for the sake of the benefits bestowed by the offender's father. Now it meant a sacrifice of principle. He had made his boyish boast that he would defend only those who were wrongfully accused. To take this case would be to bring his wagon down from the star. Then suddenly he found himself disposed to arraign himself for selfishly clinging to his ideals.
He went back into the house, where M'ri was still tearfully arguing and protesting. He came up to Barnabas.
"I will clear Jud, if you will trust the case to me, Uncle Barnabas."
Barnabas grasped his hand.
"Bless you, Dave, my boy," he said. "I wanted you to, but Jud has been—wal, I didn't like to ask you."
"David," said M'ri, when they were alone, "Martin said you wouldn't take a case where you were convinced of the guilt of the client."
"I shall take this case," was David's quiet reply.
"Really, David, Martin thinks it will be best for Jud—"
"I don't want to do what is best for Jud, Aunt M'ri, I want to do what is best for Uncle Barnabas. It's the first chance I ever had to do anything for him."
When Judge Thorne found that David was determined to defend Jud, he gave him some advice:
"You must get counter evidence, if you can, David. If you have any lingering idea that you can appeal to the jury on account of Barnabas being Jud's father, root out that idea. There's no chance of rural juries tempering justice with mercy. With them it's an eye for an eye, every time."
David had an infinitely harder task in clearing Jud than he had had in defending Miggs. The evidence was clear, the witnesses sure and wary, and the prisoner universally detested save by his evil-minded companions, but these obstacles brought out in full force all David's indomitable will and alertness. He tipped up and entrapped the prosecution's witnesses with lightning dexterity. One of them chanced to be a man whom David had befriended, and he aided him by replying shrewdly in Jud's favor.
But it was Jud himself who proved to be David's trump card. He was keen, crafty, and quick to seize his lawyer's most subtle suggestions. His memory was accurate, and with David's steering he avoided all traps set for him on cross examination. When David stood before the jury for the most stubborn fight he had yet made, his mother's last piece of advice—all she had to bequeath to him—permeated every effort. He put into his argument all the compelling force within him. There were no ornate sentences this time, but he concentrated his powers of logic and persuasiveness upon his task. The jury was out two hours, during which time Barnabas and Jud sat side by side, pale and anxious, but upheld by David's confident assurance of victory.
He kept his word. Jud was cleared.
"You're a smart lawyer, Dave," commented Uncle Larimy.
David looked at him whimsically.
"I had a smart client, Uncle Larimy."
"That's what you did, Dave, but he's gettin' too dernd smart. You'd a done some of us a favor if you'd let him git sent up."
"Dave," said Barnabas on one memorable day, "the Jedge hez hed his innings trying to make you a lawyer. Now it's my turn."
"All right, Uncle Barnabas, I am ready."
"Hain't you hed enough of law, Dave? You've given it a good trial, and showed what you could do. It'll be a big help to you to know the law, and it'll allers be sumthin' to fall back on when things get slack, but ain't you pinin' fer somethin' a leetle spryer?"
"Yes, I am," was the frank admission. "I like the excitement attending a case, and the fight to win, but it's drudgery between times—like soldiering in time of peace."
"Wal, Dave, I've got a job fer you wuth hevin', and one that starts toward what you air a-goin' to be."
David's breath came quickly.
"What is it?"
"Thar's no reason at all why you can't go to legislatur' and make new laws instead of settin' in the Jedge's office and larnin' to dodge old ones. I'm a-runnin' politics in these parts, and I'm a-goin' to git you nominated. After that, you'll go the hull gamut—so 't will be up the ladder and over the wall fer you, Dave."
So, David, to the astonishment of the Judge, put his foot on the first round of the political ladder as candidate for the legislature. At the same time Janey returned from the school in the East, where she had been "finished," and David's heart beat an inspiring tattoo every time he looked at her, but he was nominated by a speech-loving, speech-demanding district, and he had so many occasions for oratory that only snatches of her companionship were possible throughout the summer.
Joe came on to join in the excitement attending the campaign. It had been some time since his last visit, and he scarcely recognized David when he met him at the Lafferton station.
"Well, Dave," said the ranchman, "if you are as strong and sure as you look, you won't need my help in the campaign."
"I always need you, Joe. But you haven't changed in the least, unless you look more serious than ever, perhaps."
"It's the outdoor life does that. Take a field-bred lad, he always shies a bit at people."
"Your horse does, too, I notice. He arrived safely a week ago, and I put him up at the livery here in Lafferton. I was afraid he would demoralize all the horses at the farm."
"Good! I'll ride out this evening. I have a little business to attend to here in town, and I want to see the Judge and his wife, of course."
When the western sky line gleamed in crimson glory Joe came riding at a long lope up the lane. He sat his spirited horse easily, one leg thrown over the horn of his saddle. As he neared the house, a thrashing machine started up. The desert-bred horse shied, and performed maneuvers terrifying to Janey, but Joe in the saddle was ever a part of the horse. Quietly and impassively he guided the frightened animal until the machine was passed. Then he slid from the horse and came up to Janey and David, who were awaiting his coming.
"This can never be little Janey!" he exclaimed, holding her hand reverently.
"I haven't changed as much as Davey has," she replied, dimpling.
"Oh, yes, you have! You are a woman. David is still a boy, in spite of his six feet."
"You don't know about Davey!" she said breathlessly. "He has won all kinds of law cases, and he is going to the legislature."
"I repeat, he is still a boy."
On the morrow David started forth on a round of speech making, canvassing the entire district. He returned at the wane of October's golden glow for the round-up, as Joe termed the finish of the campaign. The flaunting crimson of the maples, the more sedate tinge of the oaks, the vivid yellow of the birches, the squashes piled up on the farmhouse porches, and the fields filled with pyramidal stacks of cornstalks brought a vague sense of loneliness as he rode out from Lafferton to the farm. He left his horse at the barn and came up to the house through the old orchard as the long, slanting rays of sunlight were making afternoon shadows of all who crossed their path.
He found Janey sitting beneath their favorite tree. An open book lay beside her. She was gazing abstractedly into space, with a new look in her star-like eyes.
David's big, untouched heart gave a quick leap. He took up the book and with an exultant little laugh discovered that it was a book of poems! Janey, who could never abide fairy stories, reading poetry! Surprised and embarrassed, after a shy greeting she hurried toward the house, her cheeks flaming. Something very beautiful and breath-taking came into David's thoughts at that moment.
He was roused from his beatific state by the approach of Barnabas, so he was obliged to concentrate his attention on giving a resume of his tour. Then the Judge telephoned for him to come to his office, and he was unable to finish his business there until dusk. The night was clear and frost touched. He left his horse in the lane and walked up to the house. As he came on to the porch he looked in through the window. The bright fire on the hearth, the soft glow of the shaded lamp, and the fair-haired girl seated by a table, needlework in hand, gave him a hunger for a hearth of his own.
Suddenly the scene shifted. Joe came in from the next room. Janey rose to her feet, a look of love lighting her face as she went to the arms outstretched to receive her.
David went back to Lafferton. The little maid informed him that the Judge and his wife were out for the evening; but there was always a room in readiness for him, so he sat alone by the window, staring into the lighted street, trying to comprehend that Janey was not for him.
It was late the next morning when he came downstairs.
"I am glad, David, you decided to stay here last night," said M'ri, whose eyes were full of a yearning solicitude.
She sat down at the table with him while he drank his coffee.
She spoke in a desperate tone, that caused him to glance keenly at her.
"If you have anything to tell," he said quietly, "it's a good plan to tell it at once."
"Since you have been away Joe and Janey have been together constantly. It seems to have been a case of mutual love. David, they are engaged."
"So," he said gravely, "I am to lose my little sister. Joe is a man in a thousand."
"But, David, I had set my heart on Janey's marrying you, from that very first day when you went to school together and you carried her books. Do you remember?"
"Yes," he replied whimsically, "but even then Joe met us and took her away from me. But I must drive out and congratulate them."
M'ri gazed after him in perplexity as he left the house.
"I wonder," she mused, "if I ever quite understood David!"
Miss Rhody called to David as he was passing her house and bade him come in.
"You've hed a hard trip," she said, with a keen glance into his tired, boyish eyes.
"Very hard, Miss Rhody."
"You have heard about Janey—and Joe?"
"Aunt M'ri just told me," he said, wincing ever so slightly.
"They was all sot on your being her sweetheart, except me and her—and Joe."
"Why not you, Miss Rhody?"
"You ain't never been in love with Janey—not the way you'll love some day. When I was sick last fall Almiry Green come over to read to me and she brung a book of poems. I never keered much for po'try, and Almiry, she didn't nuther, but she hed jest ketched Widower Pankey, and so she thought it was proper to be readin' po'try. She read somethin' about fust love bein' a primrose, and a-fallin' to make way fer the real rose, and I thought to myself: 'That's David. His feelin' fer Janey is jest a primrose.'"
David's eyes were inscrutable, but she continued:
"I knowed she hed allers fancied Joe sence she was a little tot and he give her them beads. When Joe's name was spoke she was allers shy-like. She wuz never shy-like with you."
"No," admitted David wearily, "but I must go on to the farm now, Miss Rhody. I will come in again soon."
When he came into the sitting room of the farmhouse, where he found Joe and Janey, the rare smile that comes with the sweetness of renunciation was on his lips. After he had congratulated them, he asked for Barnabas.
"He just started for the woods," said Joe. "I think he is on his way to Uncle Larimy's."
David hastened to overtake him, and soon caught sight of the bent figure walking slowly over the stubbled field.
"Uncle Barnabas!" he called.
Barnabas turned and waited.
"Did you see Janey and Joe?" he asked, looking keenly into the shadowed eyes.
"Yes; Aunt M'ri had told me."
"This morning. Joe's a man after your own heart, Uncle Barnabas."
"It's you I wanted fer her," said the old man bluntly. "I never dreamt of its bein' enybody else. It's an orful disapp'intment to me, Dave. I'd ruther see you her man than to see you what I told you long ago I meant fer you to be."
"And I, too, Uncle Barnabas," said David, with slow earnestness, "would rather be your son than to be governor of this state!"
"You did care, then, David," said the old man sadly. "It don't seem to be much of a surprise to you."
"Uncle Barnabas, I will tell you something which I want no one else to know. I came back last evening and drove out here. I looked in the window, and saw her as she sat at work. It came into my heart to go in then and ask her to marry me, instead of waiting until after election as I had planned. Then Joe came in and she—went to him. I returned to Lafferton. It was daylight before I had it out with myself."
"Dave! I thought I knew you better than any of them. It's been a purty hard test, but you won't let it spile your life?"
"No, I won't, Uncle Barnabas. I owe it to you, if not to myself, to go straight ahead as you have mapped it out for me."
"Bless you, Dave! You're the right stuff!"
In January David took his seat in the House of Representatives, of which he was the youngest member. It was not intended by that august body that he should take any role but the one tacitly conceded to him of making silver-tongued oratory on the days when the public would crowd the galleries to hear an all-important measure, the "Griggs Bill," discussed. The committee were to give him the facts and the general line of argument, and he was to dress it up in his fantastic way. They were entirely willing that he should have the applause from the public as well as the credit of the victory; all they cared for was the certainty of the passage of the bill.
David's cool, lawyer-like mind saw through all these manipulations and machinations even if he were only a political tenderfoot. As other minor measures came up he voted for or against them as his better judgment dictated, but all his leisure hours were devoted to the investigation and study of the one big bill which was to be rushed through at the end of the session. He pored over the status of the law, found out the policies and opinions of other states on the subject, and listened attentively to all arguments, but he never took part in the discussions and he was very guarded in giving an expression of his views, an attitude which pleased the promoters of the bill until it began to occur to them that his caution came from penetration into their designs and, perhaps, from intent to thwart them.
"He has ketched on," mournfully stated an old-timer from the third district. "I'm allers mistrustful of these young critters. They are sure to balk on the home stretch."
"Well, one good thing," grinned a city member, "it breaks their record, and they don't get another entry."
David had made a few short speeches on some of the bills, and those who had read in the papers of the wonderful powers of oratory of the young member from the eleventh flocked to hear him. They were disappointed. His speeches were brief, forceful, and logical, but entirely barren of rhetorical effect. The promoters of the Griggs Bill began to wonder, but concluded he was saving all his figures of speech to sugarcoat their obnoxious measure. It occurred to them, too, that if by chance he should oppose them his bare-handed way of dealing with subterfuges and his clear presentation of facts would work harm. They counted, however, on being able to convince him that his future status in the life political depended upon his cooperation with them in pushing this bill through.
Finally he was approached, and then the bomb was thrown. He quietly and emphatically told them he should fight the bill, single handed if necessary. Recriminations, arguments, threats, and inducements—all were of no avail.
"Let him hang himself if he wants to," growled one of the committee. "He hasn't influence enough to knock us out. We've got the majority."
The measure was one that would radically affect the future interests of the state, and was being watched and studied by the people, who had not, as yet, however, realized its significance or its far-reaching power. The intent of the promoters of the Griggs Bill was to leave the people unenlightened until it should have become a law.
"Dunne won't do us any harm," argued the father of the bill on the eventful day. "He's been saving all his skyrockets for this celebration. He'll get lots of applause from the women folks," looking up at the solidly packed gallery, "and his speech will be copied in all the papers, and that'll be the reward he's looking for."
When David arose to speak against the Griggs Bill he didn't look the youngster he had been pictured. His tall, lithe, compelling figure was drawn to its full height. His eyes darkened to intensity with the gravity of the task before him; the stern lines of his mouth bespoke a master of the situation and compelled confidence in his knowledge and ability.
The speech delivered in his masterful voice was not so much in opposition to the bill as it was an exposure of it. He bared it ruthlessly and thoroughly, but he didn't use his youthful hypnotic periods of persuasive eloquence that had been wont to sway juries and to creep into campaign speeches. His wits had been sharpened in the last few months, and his keen-edged thrusts, hurled rapier-like, brought a wince to even the most hardened of veteran members. It was a complete enlightenment in plain words to a plain people—a concise and convincing protest.
When he finished there was a tempest of arguments from the other side, but there was not a point he had not foreseen, and as attack only brought out the iniquities of the measure, they let the bill come to ballot. The measure was defeated, and for days the papers were headlined with David Dunne's name, and accounts of how the veterans had been routed by the "tenderfoot from the eleventh."
After his dip into political excitement legal duties became a little irksome to David, especially after the wedding of Joe and Janey had taken place. In the fall occurred the death of the United States senator from the western district of the state. A special session of the legislature was to be convened for the purpose of pushing through an important measure, and the election of a successor to fill the vacancy would take place at the same time. The usual "certain rich man," anxious for a career, aspired, and, as he was backed by the state machine as well as by the covert influence of two or three of the congressmen, his election seemed assured.
There was an opposing candidate, the choice of the people, however, who was gathering strength daily.
"We've got to head off this man Dunne some way," said the manager of the "certain rich man." "He can't beat us, but with him out of the way it would be easy sailing, and all opposition would come over to us on the second ballot."
"Isn't there a way to win him over?" asked a congressman who was present.
The introducer of the memorable measure of the last session shook his head negatively.
"He can't be persuaded, threatened, or bought."
"Then let's get him out of the way."
"Decoy him gently from your path. The consul of a little seaport in South America has resigned, and at a word from me to Senator Hollis, who would pass it on to the President, this appointment could be given to your young bucker, and he'd be out of your way for at least three years."
"That would be too good to be true, but he wouldn't bite at such bait. His aspirations are all in a state line. He's got the usual career mapped out,—state senator, secretary of state, governor—possibly President."
"You can never tell," replied the congressman sagaciously. "A presidential appointment, the alluring word 'consul,' a foreign residence, all sound very enticing and important to a young country man. The Dunne type likes to be the big frog in the puddle. This stripling you are all so afraid of hasn't cut all his wisdom teeth yet. It's worth a try. I'll tackle him."
The morning after this conversation, as David walked down to the Judge's office he felt very lonely—a part of no plan. It was a mood that made him ripe for the purpose of the congressman whom he found awaiting him.
"I've been wanting to meet you for a long time, Mr. Dunne," said the congressman obsequiously, after the Judge had introduced him. "We've heard a great deal about you down in Washington since your defeat of the Griggs Bill, and we are looking for great things from you. Of course, we have to keep our eye on what is going on back here."
The Judge looked his surprise at this speech, and was still more mystified at receiving a knowing wink from David.
After some preliminary talk the congressman finally made known his errand, and tendered David the offer of a consulship in South America.
At this juncture the Judge was summoned to the telephone in another room. When he returned the congressman had taken his departure.
"Behold," grinned David, "the future consul of—I really can't pronounce it. I am going to look it up now in your atlas."
"Where is Gilbert?" asked the Judge.
"Gone to wire Hilliard before I can change my mind. You see, it's a scheme to get me out of the road and I—well I happen to be willing to get out of the road just now. I am not in a fighting mood."
"Consular service," remarked the Judge oracularly, "is generally considered a sort of clearing house for undesirable politicians. The consuls to those little ports are, as a rule, very poor."
"Then a good consul like your junior partner will loom up among so many poor ones."
Barnabas was inwardly disturbed by this move from David, but he philosophically argued that "the boy was young and 't wouldn't harm him to salt down awhile."
"Dave," he counseled in farewell, "I hope you'll come to love some good gal. Every man orter hev a hearth of his own. This stretchin' yer feet afore other folks' firesides is unnateral and lonesome. Thar's no place so snug and safe fer a man as his own home, with a good wife to keep it. But I want you tew make me a promise, Dave. When I see the time's ripe fer pickin' in politics, will you come back?"
"I will, Uncle Barnabas," promised David solemnly.
The heartiest approval came from Joe.
"That's right, Dave, see all you can of the world instead of settling down in a pasture lot at Lafferton."
Gilbert, complacent and affable, returned to Washington accompanied by David. A month later the newly made consul sailed from New York for South America. He landed at a South American seaport that had a fine harbor snugly guarded by jutting cliffs skirting the base of a hill barren and severe in aspect.
As he walked down the narrow, foreign streets thronged with a strange people, and saw the structures with their meaningless signs, he began to feel a wave of homesickness. Then, looking up, he felt that little inner thrill that comes from seeing one's flag in a foreign land.
"And that is why I am here," he thought, "to keep that flag flying."
He resolutely started out on the first day to keep the flag flying in the manner befitting the kind of a consul he meant to be. He maintained a strict watch over the commercial conditions, and his reports of consular news were promptly rendered in concise and instructive form. His native tact and inherent courtesy won him favor with the government, his hospitality and kindly intent conciliated the natives, and he was soon also accorded social privileges. He began to enjoy life. His duties were interesting, and his leisure was devoted to the pursuit of novel pleasures.
Fletcher Wilder, the son of the president of an American mining company, was down there ostensibly to look after his father's interests, but in reality to take out pleasure parties in his trim little yacht, and David soon came to be the most welcome guest that set foot on its deck.
At the end of a year, when his duties had become a matter of routine and his life had lost the charm of novelty, David's ambitions started from their slumbers, though not this time in a political way. Wilder had cruised away, and the young consul was conscious of a sense of aloneness. He spent his evenings on his spacious veranda, from where he could see the moonlight making a rippling road of silver across the black water. The sensuous beauty of the tropical nights brought him back to his early Land of Dreams, and the pastime that he had been forced to relinquish for action now appealed to him with overwhelming force and fascination. But the dreams were a man's dreams, not the fleeting fancies of a boy. They continued to possess and absorb him until one night, when he was looking above the mountains at one lone star that shone brighter than the rest, he was moved for the first time to give material shape and form to his conceptions. The impulse led to execution.
"I must get it out of my system," he explained half apologetically to himself as he began the writing of a novel. To this task, as to everything else he had undertaken, he brought the entire concentration of his mind and energy, until the book soon began to seem real to him—more real than anything he had done. As he was copying the last page for the last time, Fletcher sailed into the harbor for a week of farewell before returning to New York.
"What have you been doing for amusement these last six months, Dunne?" he asked as he dropped into David's house.
"You'd never guess," said David, "what your absence drove me to. I've written a book—a novel."
"Let me take it back to the hotel with me to-night. I haven't been sleeping well lately, and it may—"
"If it serves as a soporific," said David gravely, as he handed him the bulky package, "my labor will not have been in vain."
The next morning Wilder came again into David's office.
"I fear you didn't sleep well, after all," observed David, looking at his visitor's heavy-lidded eyes.
"No, darn you, Dunne. I took up your manuscript and I never laid it down until the first streaks of dawn. Then when I went to bed I lay awake thinking it all over. Why, Dunne, it's the best book I ever read!"
"I wish," David replied with a whimsical smile, "that you were a publisher."
"Speaking of publishers, that's why I didn't bring the manuscript back. I sail in a week, and I want you to let me take it to a publisher I know in New York. He will give it a prompt reading."
"If it wouldn't bother you too much, I wish you would. You see, it would take so long for it to come back here and be sent out again each time it is rejected."
"Rejected!" scoffed Wilder. "You wait and see! Aren't you going to dedicate it?"
David hesitated, his eyes stealing dreamily out across the bay to the horizon line.
"I wonder," he said meditatively, "if the person to whom it is dedicated—every word of it—wouldn't know without the inscription."
"No," objected Fletcher, "you should have it appear out of compliment."
He smiled as he wrote on a piece of paper: "To T. L. P."
"The initials of your sweetheart?" quizzed Fletcher.
"No; when I was a little chap I used to spin yarns. These are the initials of one who was my most absorbed listener."
Wilder raised anchor and sailed back to the states. At the expiration of two months he wrote David that his book had been accepted. In time ten bound copies of his novel, his allotment from the publishers, brought him a thrill of indescribable pleasure. The next mail brought papers with glowing reviews and letters of commendation and congratulations. Next came a good-sized check, and the information that his book was a "best seller."
The night that this information was received he went up to the top of the hill that jutted over the harbor and listened to the song of the waves. Two years in this land of liquid light—a land of burning days and silent, sapphired nights, a land of palms and olives—two years of quiet, dreamy bliss, an idle and unsubstantial time! How evanescent it seemed, by the light of the days at home, when something had always pressed him to action.
"Two years of drifting," he thought. "It is time I, too, raised anchor and sailed home."
The next mail brought a letter that made his heart beat faster than it had yet been able to do in this exotic, lazy land. It was a recall from Barnabas.
"Nothing but a lazy life in a foreign land would have drove a man like you to write a book. The Jedge and M'ri are pleased, but I know you are cut out for something different. I want you to come home in time to run for legislature again. There's goin' to be something doin'. It is time for another senator, and who do you suppose is plugging for it, and opening hogsheads of money? Wilksley. I want for you to come back and head him off. If you've got one speck of your old spirit, and you care anything about your state, you'll do it. I am still running politics for this county at the old stand. Your book has started folks to talking about you agen, so come home while the picking is good. You've dreamt long enough. It is time to get up. Don't write no more books till you git too old to work.
"Yours if you come, "B. B."
The letter brought to David's eyes something that no one in this balmy land had ever seen there. With the look of a fighter belted for battle he went to the telegraph office and cabled Barnabas, "Coming."
On his return to Lafferton David was met at the train by the Judge, M'ri, and Barnabas.
"Your trunks air goin' out to the farm, Dave, ain't they?" asked Barnabas wistfully.
"Of course," replied David, with an emphasis that brought a look of pleasure to the old man.
"Your telegram took a great load offen my mind," he said, as they drove out to the farm. "Miss Rhody told me all along I need hev no fears fer you, that you weren't no dawdler."
"Good for Miss Rhody!" laughed David. "She shall have her reward. I brought her silk enough for two dresses at least."
"David," said M'ri suddenly at the dinner table, "do tell me for whose name those initials in the dedication to your book stand. Is it any one I know?"
"I hardly know the person myself," was the smiling and evasive reply.
"A woman, David?"
"She figured largely in my fairy stories."
"A nickname he had for Janey," she thought with a sigh.
"Uncle Barnabas," said David the next day, "before we settle down to things political tell me if you regret my South American experience."
"Now that you're back and gittin' into harness, I'll overlook anything. You'd earnt a breathing spell, and you look a hull lot older. Your book's kep' your name in the papers, tew, which helps."
"I will show you something that proves the book did more than that," said David, drawing his bank book from his pocket and passing it to the old man, who read it unbelievingly.
"Why, Dave, you're rich!" he exclaimed.
"No; not rich. I shall always have to work for my living. So tell me the situation."
This fully occupied the time it took to drive to town, for Cold Molasses, successor to Old Hundred, kept the pace his name indicated. The day was spent in meeting old friends, and then David settled down to business with his old-time energy. Once more he was nominated for the legislature and took up the work of campaigning for Stephen Hume, opponent to Wilksley. Hume was an ardent, honest, clean-handed politician without money, but he had for manager one Ethan Knowles, a cool-headed, tireless veteran of campaign battles, with David acting as assistant and speech maker.
David was elected, went to the capital, and was honored with the office of speaker by unanimous vote. He had his plans carefully drawn for the election of Hume, who came down on the regular train and established headquarters at one of the hotels, surrounded by a quiet and determined body of men.
Wilksley's supporters, a rollicking lot, had come by special train and were quartered at a club, dispensing champagne and greenbacks promiscuously and freely. There was also a third candidate, whose backers were non-committal, giving no intimation as to where their strength would go in case their candidate did not come in as a dark horse.
When the night of the senatorial contest came the floor, galleries, and lobby of the House were crowded. The Judge, M'ri, and Joe were there, Janey remaining home with her father, who refused to join the party.
"Thar'll be bigger doin's fer me to see Dave officiate at," he prophesied.
The quietly humorous young man wielding the gavel found it difficult to maintain quiet in the midst of such excitement, but he finally evolved order from chaos.
Wilksley was the first candidate nominated, a gentleman from the fourteenth delivering a bombastic oration in pompous periods, accompanied by lofty gestures. He was followed by an understudy, who made an ineffective effort to support his predecessor.
"A ricochet shot," commented Joe. "Wait till Dave hits the bullseye."
The supporting representatives of the dark horse made short, forceful speeches. Then followed a brief intermission, while David called a substitute pro tem to the speaker's desk. He stepped to the platform to make the nominating speech for Hume, the speech for which every one was waiting. There was a hush of expectancy, and M'ri felt little shivers of excitement creeping down her spine as she looked up at David, dauntless, earnest, and compelling, as he towered above them all.
In its simplicity, its ring of truth, and its weight of conviction, his speech was a masterpiece.
"A young Patrick Henry!" murmured the Judge.
M'ri made no comment, for in that flight of a second that intervened between David's speech and the roar of tumultuous applause, she had heard a voice, a young, exquisite voice, murmur with a little indrawn breath, "Oh, David!"
M'ri turned in surprise, and looked into the confused but smiling face of a lovely young girl, who said frankly and impulsively: "I don't know who Mr. Hume may be, but I do hope he wins."
M'ri smiled in sympathy, trying to place the resemblance. Then her gaze wandered to the man beside the young girl.
"You are Carey Winthrop!" she exclaimed.
The man turned, and leaned forward.
"Mrs. Thorne, this is indeed a pleasure," he said, extending his hand.
Joe then swung his chair around into their vision.
"Oh, Joe!" cried the young girl ecstatically. "And where is Janey?"
The balloting was in progress, and there was opportunity for mutual recalling of old times. Then suddenly the sibilant sounds dropped to silence as the result was announced. Wilksley had the most votes, the dark horse the least; Hume enjoyed a happy medium, with fifteen more to his count than forecast by the man behind the button, as Joe designated Knowles.
In the rush of action from the delegates, reporters, clerks, and messengers, the place resembled a beehive. Then came another ballot taking. Hume had gained ten votes from the Wilksley men and fifteen from the dark horse, but still lacked the requisite number.
From the little retreat where Hume's manager was ensconced, with his hand on the throttle, David emerged. He looked confident and determined.
The third ballot resulted in giving Hume the entire added strength of the dark horse, and enough votes to elect. A committee was thereupon appointed to bring the three candidates to the House. When they entered and were escorted to the platform they each made a speech, and then formed a reception line. David stood apart, talking to one of the members. He was beginning to feel the reaction from the long strain he had been under and wished to slip away from the crowd. Suddenly he heard some one say:
"Mr. Speaker, may I congratulate you?"
He turned quickly, his heart thrilling at the charm in the voice, low, yet resonant, and sweet with a lurking suggestion of sadness.
A girl, slender and delicately made, stood before him, a girl with an exquisite grace and a nameless charm—the something that lurks in the fragrance of the violet. Her eyes were not the quiet, solemn eyes of the little princess of his fairy tales, but the deep, fathomless eyes of a maiden.
A reminiscent smile stole over his face.
"The little princess!" he murmured, taking her hand.
The words brought a flush of color to her fair face.
"The prince is a politician now," she replied.
"The prince has to be a politician to fight for his kingdom. Have you been here all the evening?"
"Yes; father and I sat with your party. But you were altogether too absorbed to glance our way."
"Are you visiting in the city? Will you be here long?"
"For to-night only. I've been West with father, and we only stopped off to see what a senatorial fight was like; also, to hear you speak. To-morrow we return East, and then mother and I shall go abroad. Father," calling to Mr. Winthrop, "I am renewing my acquaintance with Mr. Dunne."
"I wish to do the same," he said, extending his hand cordially. "I expect to be able to tell people some day that I used to fish in a country stream with the governor of this state when he was a boy."
After a few moments of general conversation they all left the statehouse together.
"Carey," said Mr. Winthrop, "I am going with the Judge to the club, so I will put you in David's hands. I believe you have no afraidments with him."
"That has come to be a household phrase with us," she laughed; "but you forget, father, that Mr. Dunne has official duties."
"If you only knew," David assured her earnestly, "how thankful I am for a release from them. My task is ended, and I don't wish to celebrate in the usual and political way."
"There is a big military ball at the hotel," informed Joe. "Mrs. Thorne and I thought we would like to go and look on."
"A fine idea, Joe. Maybe you would like to go?" he said to Carey, trying to make his tone urgent.
She laughed at his dismayed expression.
"No; you may walk to the Bradens' with me. We couldn't get in at the hotels, and father met Major Braden on the street. He is instructor or something of the militia of this state, and has gone to the ball with his wife. They supposed that this contest would last far into the night, so they planned to be home before we were."
"We will get a carriage as soon as we are out of the grounds."
"Have you come to carriages?" she asked, laughingly. "You used to say if you couldn't ride horseback, or walk, you would stand still."
"And you agreed with me that carriages were only for the slow, the stupid, and the infirm," he recalled. "It's a glorious night. Would you rather walk, really?"
At the entrance to the grounds they parted from the others and went up one of the many avenues radiating from the square.
The air was full of snowflakes, moving so softly and so slowly they scarcely seemed to fall. The electric lights of the city shone cheerfully through the white mist, and the sound of distant mirthmakers fell pleasantly on the ear.