The great doors stood wide open and lanterns were hung from the beams, lighting the space between the mows where a dance was set, with youths and maidens in two long rows. The fiddlers sat on barrel-heads near the door; a lantern hanging just behind projected their shadows across the square of light on the trodden space in front, where they executed a grotesque pantomime, keeping time to the music with spectral wavings and noddings. The dancers were Dorothy's young neighbors, whom she had known, and yet not known, all her life, but they had the strangeness of familiar faces seen suddenly in some fantastic dream.
Surely that was Nancy Slocum in the bright pink gown heading the line of girls, and that was Luke Jordan's sunburnt profile leaning from his place to pluck a straw from the mow behind him. They were marching, and the measured tramp of feet keeping solid time to the fiddles set a strange tumult vibrating in Dorothy's blood; and now it stopped, with a thrill, as she recognized that Evesham was there, marching with the young men, and that his peer was not among them. The perception of his difference came to her with a vivid shock. He was coming forward now with his light, firm step, formidable in evening dress and with a smile of subtle triumph in his eyes, to meet Nancy Slocum in the bright pink gown. Dorothy felt she hated pink of all the colors her faith had abjured. She could see, in spite of the obnoxious gown, that Nancy was very pretty. He was taking her first by the right hand, then by the left, and turning her gayly about; and now they were meeting again for the fourth or fifth time in the centre of the barn, with all eyes upon them, and the music lingered while Nancy, holding out her pink petticoats, coyly revolved around him. Then began a mysterious turning and clasping of hands, and weaving of Nancy's pink frock and Evesham's dark blue coat and white breeches in and out of the line of figures, until they met at the door, and, taking each other by both hands, swept with a joyous measure to the head of the barn. Dorothy gave a little choking sigh.
What a senseless whirl it was. She was thrilling with a new and strange excitement, too near the edge of pain to be long endured as a pleasure. If this were the influence of dancing she did not wonder so much at her father's scruples, and yet it held her like a spell.
All hands were lifted now, making an arch through which Evesham, holding Nancy by the hands, raced, stooping and laughing. As they emerged at the door, Evesham threw up his head to shake a brown lock back. He looked flushed and boyishly gay, and his hazel eye searched the darkness with that subtle ray of triumph in it which made Dorothy afraid. She drew back behind the tree and pressed her hot cheek to the cool, rough bark. She longed for the stillness of the starlit meadow, and the dim lane with its faint perfumes and whispering leaves.
But now suddenly the music stopped and the dance broke up in a tumult of voices. Dorothy stole backward in the shadow of the tree-trunk, until it joined the darkness of the meadow, and then fled, stumbling along with blinded eyes, the music still vibrating in her ears. Then came a quick rush of footsteps behind her, swishing through the long grass. She did not look back, but quickened her pace, struggling to reach the gate. Evesham was there before her. He had swung the gate to and was leaning with his back against it, laughing and panting.
"I've caught you, Dorothy, you little deceiver! You'll not get rid of me to-night with any of your tricks. I'm going to take you home to your mother and tell her you were peeping at the dancing."
"Mother knows that I came; I asked her," said Dorothy. Her knees were trembling and her heart almost choked her with its throbbing.
"I'm so glad you don't dance, Dorothy. This is much nicer than the barn, and the katydids are better fiddlers than old Darby and his son. I'll open the gate if you will put your hand in mine, so that I can be sure of you, you little runaway."
"I will stay here all night, first," said Dorothy, in a low, quivering voice.
"As you choose. I shall be happy as long as you are here."
Dead silence, while the katydids seemed to keep time to their heart-beats; the fiddles began tuning for another reel, and the horses, tethered near, stretched out their necks with low, inquiring whinnies.
"Dorothy," said Evesham softly, leaning toward her and trying to see her face in the darkness, "are you angry with me? Don't you think you deserve a little punishment for the trick you played me at the mill-head?"
"It was all thy fault for insisting." Dorothy was too excited and angry to cry, but she was as miserable as she had ever been in her life before. "I didn't want thee to stay. People that force themselves where they are not wanted must take what they get."
"What did you say, Dorothy?"
"I say I didn't want thee then. I do not want thee now. Thee may go back to thy fiddling and dancing. I'd rather have one of those dumb brutes for company to-night than thee, Walter Evesham."
"Very well; the reel has begun," said Evesham. "Fanny Jordan is waiting to dance it with me, or if she isn't she ought to be. Shall I open the gate for you?"
She passed out in silence, and the gate swung to with a heavy jar. She made good speed down the lane and then waited outside the fence till her breath came more quietly.
"Is that thee, Dorothy?" Rachel's voice called from the porch. She came out to meet her daughter and they went along the walk together. "How damp thy forehead is, child. Is the night so warm?" They sat down on the low steps and Dorothy slid her arm under her mother's and laid her soft palm against the one less soft by twenty years of toil for others. "Thee's not been long, dear; was it as much as thee expected?"
"Mother, it was dreadful! I never wish to hear a fiddle again as long as I live."
Rachel opened the way for Dorothy to speak further; she was not without some mild stirrings of curiosity on the subject herself, but Dorothy had no more to say.
They went into the house soon after, and as they separated for the night Dorothy clung to her mother with a little nervous laugh.
"Mother, what is that text about Ephraim?"
"Ephraim is joined to idols?" Rachel suggested.
"Yes, Ephraim is joined to his idols," said Dorothy, lifting her head. "Let him go!"
"Let him alone," corrected Rachel.
"Let him alone!" Dorothy repeated. "That is better yet."
"What's thee thinking of, dear?"
"Oh, I'm thinking about the dance in the barn."
"I'm glad thee looks at it in that light," said Rachel calmly.
* * * * *
Dorothy knelt by her bed in the low chamber under the eaves, crying to herself that she was not the child of her mother any more.
She felt that she had lost something, that in truth had never been hers. It was but the unconscious poise of her unawakened girlhood which had been stirred; she had mistaken it for that abiding peace which is not lost or won in a day.
Dorothy could no more stifle the spring thrills in her blood than she could crush the color out of her cheek or brush the ripples out of her bright hair, but she longed for the cool grays and the still waters. She prayed that the "grave and beautiful damsel called Discretion" might take her by the hand and lead her to that "upper chamber, whose name is Peace." She lay awake listening to the music from the barn, and waiting through breathless silences for it to begin again. She wondered if Fanny Jordan had grown any prettier since she had seen her as a half-grown girl, and then she despised herself for the thought. The katydids seemed to beat their wings upon her brain, and all the noises of the night, far and near, came to her strained senses as if her silent chamber were a whispering gallery. The clock struck twelve, and in the silence that followed she missed the music; but voices talking and laughing were coming down the lane. There was the clink of a horse's hoof on the stones: now it was lost on the turf, and now they were all trooping noisily past the house. She buried her head in her pillow and tried to bury with it the consciousness that she was wondering if Evesham were there laughing with the rest.
Yes, Evesham was there. He walked with Farmer Jordan, behind the young men and girls, and discussed with him, somewhat absently, the war news and the prices of grain.
As they passed the dark old house, spreading its wide roofs like a hen gathering her chickens under her wing, he became suddenly silent. A white curtain flapped in and out of an upper window. Evesham looked up and slightly raised his hat, but his instinct failed him there,—it was the window of the boys' room.
"Queer kinks them old Friend preachers gits into their heads sometimes," said Farmer Jordan, as they passed the empty mill. "Now what do you s'pose took Uncle Tommy Barton off right on top of plantin', leavin' his wife 'n' critters 'n' child'en to look after themselves? Mighty good preachin' it ought to be to make up for such practicin'. Wonderful set ag'in the war, Uncle Tommy is. He's a-preachin' up peace now. But Lord! all the preachin' sense Moses won't keep men from fightin' when their blood's up and there's ter'tory in it."
"It makes saints of the women," said Evesham shortly.
"Wal, yes. Saints in heaven before their time, some of 'em. There's Dorothy, now. She'll hoe her row with any saint in the kingdom or out of it. I never see a hulsomer-lookin' gal. My Luke, he run the furrers in her corn-patch last May. Said it made him sick to see a gal like that a-staggerin' after a plough. She wouldn't more 'n half let him. She's a proud little piece. They're all proud, Quakers is. I never could see no 'poorness of spirit,' come to git at 'em. And they're wonderful clannish, too. My Luke, he'd a notion he'd like to run the hull concern, Dorothy 'n' all; but I told him he might's well p'int off. Them Quaker gals don't never marry out o' meetin'. Besides, the farm's too poor."
"Good-night, Mr. Jordan," said Evesham suddenly. "I'm off across lots." He leaped the fence, crashed through the alder hedgerow, and disappeared in the dusky meadow.
Evesham was by no means satisfied with his experiments in planetary distances. Somewhere, he felt sure, either in his orbit or hers, there must be a point where Dorothy would be less insensible to the attraction of atoms in the mass. Thus far she had reversed the laws of the spheres, and the greater had followed the less. When she had first begun to hold a permanent place in his thoughts he had invested her with something of that atmosphere of peace and cool passivity which hedges in the women of her faith. It had been like a thin, clear glass, revealing her loveliness, but cutting off the magnetic currents. A young man is not long satisfied with the mystery his thoughts have woven around the woman who is their object. Evesham had grown impatient; he had broken the spell of her sweet remoteness. He had touched her and found her human, deliciously, distractingly human, but with a streak of that obduracy which history has attributed to the Quakers under persecution. In vain he haunted the mill-dam, and bribed the boys with traps and pop-guns, and lingered at the well-curb to ask Dorothy for water that did not reach his thirst. She was there in the flesh, with her arms aloft balancing the well-sweep, while he stooped with his lips at the bucket; but in spirit she was unapproachable. He felt, with disgust at his own persistence, that she even grudged him the water. He grew savage and restless, and fretted over the subtle changes that he counted in Dorothy as the summer waned. She was thinner and paler; perhaps with the heats of harvest, which had not, indeed, been burdensome from its abundance. Her eyes were darker and shyer, and her voice more languid. Was she wearing down with all this work and care? A fierce disgust possessed him that this sweet life should be cast into the breach between faith and works.
He did not see that Rachel Barton had changed, too, with a change that meant more, at her age, than Dorothy's flushings and palings. He did not miss the mother's bent form from the garden, or the bench by the kitchen door where she had been used to wash the milk-things.
Dorothy washed the milk-things now, and the mother spent her days in the sunny east room, between her bed and the easy-chair, where she sat and mused for hours over the five letters that she had received from her husband in as many months. The boys had, in a measure, justified their father's faith in them, since Rachel's illness, and Dorothy was released from much of her out-door work; but the silence of the kitchen, when she was there alone with her ironing and dish washing, was a heavier burden than she had yet known.
Nature sometimes strikes in upon the hopeless monotony of life in remote farmhouses with one of her phenomenal moods. They come like besoms of destruction, but they scatter the web of stifling routine; they fling into the stiffening pool the stone which jars the atoms into crystal.
The storms, that had ambushed in the lurid August skies and circled ominously round the horizon during the first weeks of September, broke at last in an equinoctial which was long remembered in the mill-house. It took its place in the family calendar of momentous dates with the hard winter of 1800, with the late frost that had coated the incipient apples with ice and frozen the new potatoes in the ground in the spring of '97, and with the year the typhus had visited the valley.
The rain had been falling a night and a day; it had been welcomed with thanksgiving, but it had worn out its welcome some hours since, and now the early darkness was coming on without a lull in the storm. Dorothy and the two older boys had made the rounds of the farm-buildings, seeing all safe for the second night. The barns and mill stood on high ground, while the house occupied the sheltered hollow between. Little streams from the hills were washing in turbid currents across the lower levels; the waste-weir roared as in early spring, the garden was inundated, and the meadow a shallow pond. The sheep had been driven into the upper barn floor: the chickens were in the corn-bin; and old John and the cows had been transferred from the stable, that stood low, to the weighing floor of the mill. A gloomy echoing and gurgling sounded from the dark wheel-chamber where the water was rushing under the wheel and jarring it with its tumult. At eight o'clock the woodshed was flooded and water began to creep under the kitchen door. Dorothy and the boys carried armfuls of wood and stacked them in the passage to the sitting-room, two steps higher up. At nine o'clock the boys were sent protesting to bed, and Dorothy, looking out of their window as she fumbled about in the dark for a pair of Shep's trousers that needed mending, saw a lantern flickering up the road. It was Evesham on his way to the mill-dams. The light glimmered on his oilskin coat as he climbed the stile behind the well-curb.
"He raised the flood-gates at noon," Dorothy said to herself. "I wonder if he is anxious about the dams." She resolved to watch for his return, but she was busy settling her mother for the night when she heard his footsteps on the porch. The roar of water from the hills startled Dorothy as she opened the door; it had increased in violence within an hour. A gust of wind and rain followed Evesham into the entry.
"Come in," she said, running lightly across the sitting-room to close the door of her mother's room.
He stood opposite her on the hearth-rug and looked into her eyes, across the estrangement of the summer. It was not Dorothy of the mill-head, or of Slocum's meadow, or the cold maid of the well; it was a very anxious, lonely little girl in a crumbling old house, with a foot of water in the cellar and a sick mother in the next room. She had forgotten about Ephraim and his idols; she picked up Shep's trousers from the rug, where she had dropped them, and, looking intently at her thimble finger, told him she was very glad that he had come.
"Did you think I would not come?" said he. "I'm going to take you home with me, Dorothy,—you and your mother and the boys. It's not fit for you to be here alone."
"Does thee know of any danger?"
"I know of none, but water's a thing you can't depend on. It's an ugly rain; older men than your father remember nothing like it."
"I shall be glad to have mother go, and Jimmy; the house is very damp. It's an awful night for her to be out, though."
"She must go!" said Evesham. "You must all go. I'll be back in half an hour"—
"I shall not go," Dorothy said; "the boys and I must stay and look after the stock."
"What's that?" Evesham was listening to a trickling of water outside the door.
"Oh! it's from the kitchen. The door has blown open, I guess."
Dorothy looked out into the passage; a strong wind was blowing in from the kitchen, where the water covered the floor and washed against the chimney.
"This is a nice state of things! What's all this wood here for?"
"The woodshed's under water."
"You must get yourself ready, Dorothy. I'll come for your mother first in the chaise."
"I cannot go," she said. "I don't believe there is any danger. This old house has stood for eighty years; it's not likely this is the first big rain in all that time." Dorothy's spirits had risen. "Besides, I have a family of orphans to take care of. See here," she said, stooping over a basket in the shadow of the chimney. It was the "hospital tent," and as she uncovered it, a brood of belated chickens stretched out their thin necks with plaintive peeps.
Dorothy covered them with her hands and they nestled with comfortable twitterings into silence.
"You're a kind of special providence, aren't you, Dorothy? But I've no sympathy with chickens who will be born just in time for the equinoctial."
"I didn't want them," said Dorothy, anxious to defend her management. "The old hen stole her nest and she left them the day before the rain. She's making herself comfortable now in the corn-bin."
"She ought to be made an example of; that's the way of the world, however,—retribution doesn't fall always on the right shoulders. I must go now. We'll take your mother and Jimmy first, and then, if you won't come, you shall let me stay with you. The mill is safe enough, anyhow."
Evesham returned with the chaise and a man, who, he insisted, should drive away old John and the cows, so that Dorothy should have less care. The mother was packed into the chaise with a vast collection of wraps, which almost obliterated Jimmy. As they started, Dorothy ran out in the rain with her mother's spectacles and the five letters, which always lay in a box on the table by her bed. Evesham took her gently by the arms and lifted her back across the puddles to the stoop.
As the chaise drove off, she went back into the sitting-room and crouched on the rug, her wet hair shining in the firelight. She took out her chickens one by one and held them under her chin, with tender words and finger-touches. If September chickens have feelings as susceptible as their bodies, Dorothy's orphans must have been imperiled by her caresses.
"Look here, Dorothy! Where's my trousers?" cried Shep, opening the door at the foot of the stairs.
Reuby was behind him, fully arrayed in his own garment aforesaid, and carrying the bedroom candle.
"Here they are—with a needle in them," said Dorothy. "What are you getting up in the middle of the night for?"
"Well, I guess it's time somebody's up. Who's that man driving off our cows?"
"Goosey! It's Walter Evesham's man. He came for mother and all of us, and he's taken old John and the cows to save us so much foddering."
"Ain't we going too?"
"I don't see why we should, just because there happens to be a little water in the kitchen. I've often seen it come in there before."
"Well, thee never saw anything like this before—nor anybody else, either," said Shep.
"I don't care," said Reuby, "I wish there'd come a reg'lar flood. We could climb up in the mill-loft and go sailin' down over Jordan's meadows. Wouldn't Luke Jordan open that big mouth of his to see us heave in sight about cock-crow, wing and wing, and the old tackle a-swingin'!"
"Do hush!" said Dorothy. "We may have to try it yet."
"There's an awful roarin' from our window," said Shep. "Thee can't half hear it down here. Come out on the stoop. The old ponds have got their dander up this time."
They opened the door and listened, standing together on the low step. There was, indeed, a hoarse murmur from the hills, which grew louder as they listened.
"Now she's comin'! There goes the stable-door. There was only one hinge left, anyway," said Reuby. "Mighty! Look at that wave!"
It crashed through the gate, swept across the garden and broke at their feet, sending a thin sheet of water over the floor of the porch.
"Now it's gone into the entry. Why didn't thee shut the door, Shep?"
"Well, I think we'd better clear out, anyhow. Let's go over to the mill. Say, Dorothy, shan't we?"
"Wait. There comes another wave."
The second onset was not so violent; but they hastened to gather together a few blankets, and the boys filled their pockets with cookies, with a delightful sense of unusualness and peril almost equal to a shipwreck or an attack by Indians. Dorothy took her unlucky chickens under her cloak, and they made a rush all together across the road and up the slope to the mill.
"Why didn't we think to bring a lantern?" said Dorothy, as they huddled together on the platform of the scale. "Will thee go back after one, Shep?"
"If Reuby'll go, too."
"Well, my legs are wet enough now. What's the use of a lantern? Mighty Moses! What's that?"
"The old mill's got under way," cried Shep. "She's going to tune up for Kingdom Come."
A furious head of water was rushing along the race; the great wheel creaked and swung over, and with a shudder the old mill awoke from its long sleep. The cogs clenched their teeth, the shafting shook and rattled, the stones whirled merrily round.
"Now she goes it!" cried Shep, as the humming increased to a tremor, and the tremor to a wild, unsteady din, till the timbers shook and the bolts and windows rattled. "I just wish father could hear them old stones hum."
"Oh, this is awful!" said Dorothy. She was shivering and sick with terror at this unseemly midnight revelry of her grandfather's old mill. It was as if it had awakened in a fit of delirium, and given itself up to a wild travesty of its years of peaceful work.
Shep was creeping about in the darkness.
"Look here! We've got to stop this clatter somehow. The stones are hot now. The whole thing'll burn up like tinder if we can't chock her wheels."
"Shep! Does thee mean it?"
"Thee'll see if I don't. Thee won't need any lantern either."
"Can't we break away the race?"
"Oh, there's a way to stop it. There's the tip-trough, but it's downstairs and we can't reach the pole."
"I'll go," said Dorothy.
"It's outside, thee knows. Thee'll get awful wet, Dorothy."
"Well, I'd just as soon be drowned as burned up. Come with me to the head of the stairs."
They felt their way hand in hand in the darkness, and Dorothy went down alone. She had forgotten about the "tip-trough," but she understood its significance. In a few moments a cascade shot out over the wheel, sending the water far into the garden.
"Right over my chrysanthemum bed," sighed Dorothy.
The wheel swung slower and slower, the mocking tumult subsided, and the old mill sank into sleep again.
There was nothing now to drown the roaring of the floods and the steady drive of the storm.
"There's a lantern," Shep called from the door. He had opened the upper half and was shielding himself behind it. "I guess it's Evesham coming back for us. He's a pretty good sort of a fellow after all; don't thee think so, Dorothy? He owes us something for drowning us out at the sheep-washing."
"What does all this mean?" said Dorothy, as Evesham swung himself over the half-door and his lantern showed them to each other in their various phases of wetness.
"There's a big leak in the lower dam; I've been afraid of it all along; there's something wrong in the principle of the thing."
Dorothy felt as if he had called her grandfather a fraud, and her father a delusion and a snare. She had grown up in the belief that the mill-dams were part of Nature's original plan in laying the foundations of the hills; but it was no time to be resentful, and the facts were against her.
"Dorothy," said Evesham, as he tucked the buffalo about her, "this is the second time I've tried to save you from drowning, but you never will wait. I'm all ready to be a hero, but you won't be a heroine."
"I'm too practical for a heroine," said Dorothy. "There! I've forgotten my chickens."
"I'm glad of it. Those chickens were a mistake. They oughtn't to be perpetuated."
Youth and happiness can stand a great deal of cold water; but it was not to be expected that Rachel Barton would be especially benefited by her night journey through the floods. Evesham waited in the hall when he heard the door of her room open next morning. Dorothy came slowly down the stairs; he knew by her lingering-step and the softly closed door that she was not happy.
"Mother is very sick," she answered his inquiry. "It is like the turn of inflammation and rheumatism she had once before. It will be very slow,—and oh, it is such suffering! Why do the best women in the world have to suffer so?"
"Will you let me talk things over with you after breakfast, Dorothy?"
"Oh yes," she said, "there is so much to do and think about. I wish father would come home!"
The tears came into Dorothy's eyes as she looked at him. Rest, such as she had never known or felt the need of till now, and strength immeasurable, since it would multiply her own by an unknown quantity, stood within reach of her hand, but she might not put it out.
Evesham was dizzy with the struggle between longing and resolution. He had braced his nerves for a long and hungry waiting, but fate had yielded suddenly; the floods had brought her to him,—his flotsam and jetsam more precious than all the guarded treasures of the earth. She had come, with all her girlish, unconscious beguilements, and all her womanly cares and anxieties too. He must strive against her sweetness, while he helped her to bear her burdens.
"Now about the boys, Dorothy," he said, two hours later, as they stood together by the fire in the low, oak-finished room, which was his office and book-room. The door was ajar so that Dorothy might hear her mother's bell. "Don't you think they had better be sent to school somewhere?"
"Yes," said Dorothy, "they ought to go to school,—but—well, I may as well tell thee the truth. There's very little to do it with. We've had a poor summer. I suppose I've managed badly, and mother has been sick a good while."
"You've forgotten about the pond-rent, Dorothy."
"No," she said, with a quick flush, "I hadn't forgotten it, but I couldn't ask thee for it."
"I spoke to your father about monthly payments, but he said better leave it to accumulate for emergencies. Shouldn't you call this an 'emergency,' Dorothy?"
"But does thee think we ought to ask rent for a pond that has all leaked away?"
"Oh, there's pond enough left, and I've used it a dozen times over this summer. I should be ashamed to tell you, Dorothy, how my horn has been exalted in your father's absence. However, retribution has overtaken me at last; I'm responsible, you know, for all the damage last night. It was in the agreement that I should keep up the dams."
"Oh!" said Dorothy; "is thee sure?"
"If your father was like any other man, Dorothy, he'd make me 'sure,' when he gets home. I will defend myself to this extent; I've patched and propped them all summer, after every rain, and tried to provide for the fall storms; but there's a flaw in the original plan"—
"Thee said that once before," said Dorothy. "I wish thee wouldn't say it again."
"Because I love those old mill-dams. I've trotted over them ever since I could walk alone."
"You shall trot over them still. We will make them as strong as the everlasting hills. They shall outlast our time, Dorothy."
"Well, about the rent," said Dorothy. "I'm afraid it will not take us through the winter, unless there is something I can do. Mother couldn't possibly be moved now; and if she could, it will be months before the house is fit to live in. But we cannot stay here in comfort, unless thy mother will let me make up in some way. Mother will not need me all the time, and I know thy mother hires women to spin."
"She'll let you do all you like if it will make you any happier. But you don't know how much money is coming to you. Come, let us look over the figures."
He lowered the lid of the black mahogany secretary, placed a chair for Dorothy and opened a great ledger before her, bending down, with one hand on the back of the chair, the other turning the leaves of the ledger. Considering the index and the position of the letter B in the alphabet, he was a long time finding his place. Dorothy looked out of the window over the tops of the yellowing woods to the gray and turbid river below. Where the hemlocks darkened the channel of the glen she heard the angry floods rushing down. The formless rain mists hung low and hid the opposite shore.
"See!" said Evesham, his finger wandering rather vaguely down the page. "Your father went away on the 3d of May. The first month's rent came due on the 3d of June. That was the day I opened the gate and let the water down on you, Dorothy. I'm responsible for everything, you see,—even for the old ewe that was drowned."
His words came in a dream as he bent over her, resting his unsteady hand heavily on the ledger.
Dorothy laid her cheek on the date that she could not see and burst into tears.
"Don't,—please don't!" he said, straightening himself and locking his hands behind him. "I am human, Dorothy."
The weeks of Rachel's sickness that followed were perhaps the best discipline Evesham's life had ever known. He held the perfect flower of his bliss unclosing in his hand; yet he might barely permit himself to breathe its fragrance. His mother had been a strong and prosperous woman; there had been little he had ever been able to do for her. It was well for him to feel the weight of helpless infirmity in his arms as he lifted Dorothy's mother from side to side of her bed, while Dorothy's hands smoothed the coverings. It was well for him to see the patient endurance of suffering, such as his youth and strength defied. It was bliss to wait on Dorothy and follow her with little watchful homages, received with a shy wonder which was delicious to him; for Dorothy's nineteen years had been too full of service to others to leave much room for dreams of a kingdom of her own. Her silent presence in her mother's sick-room awed him. Her gentle, decisive voice and ways, her composure and unshaken endurance through nights of watching and days of anxious confinement and toil, gave him a new reverence for the powers and mysteries of her unfathomable womanhood.
The time of Friend Barton's return drew near. It must be confessed that Dorothy welcomed it with something of dread, and that Evesham did not welcome it at all. On the contrary, the thought of it roused all his latent obstinacy and aggressiveness. The first day or two after the momentous arrival wore a good deal upon every member of the family, except Margaret Evesham, who was provided with a philosophy of her own, that amounted almost to a gentle obtuseness and made her a comfortable non-conductor, preventing more electric souls from shocking each other.
On the morning of the fourth day, Dorothy came out of her mother's room with a tray of empty dishes in her hands. She saw Evesham at the stair-head and hovered about in the shadowy part of the hall till he should go down.
"Dorothy," he said, "I'm waiting for you." He took the tray from her and rested it on the banisters. "Your father and I have talked over all the business. He's got the impression that I'm one of the most generous fellows in the world. I intend to leave him in that delusion for the present. Now may I speak to him about something else, Dorothy? Have I not waited long enough for my heart's desire?"
"Take care," said Dorothy softly,—"thee'll upset the tea-cups."
"Confound the tea-cups!" He stooped to place the irrelevant tray on the floor, but now Dorothy was halfway down the staircase. He caught her on the landing, and taking both her hands drew her down on the step beside him.
"Dorothy, this is the second time you've taken advantage of my trusting nature. This time you shall be punished. You needn't try to hide your face, you little traitor. There's no repentance in you!"
"If I'm to be punished there's no need of repentance."
"Oh, is that your Quaker doctrine? Dorothy, do you know, I've never heard you speak my name, except once, and then you were angry with me."
"When was that?"
"The night I caught you at the gate. You said, 'I had rather have one of those dumb brutes for company than thee, Walter Evesham.' You said it in the fiercest little voice. Even the 'thee' sounded as if you hated me."
"I did," said Dorothy promptly. "I had reason to."
"Do you hate me now, Dorothy?"
"Not so much as I did then."
"What an implacable little Quaker you are."
"A tyrant is always hated," said Dorothy, trying to release her hands.
"If you will look in my eyes, Dorothy, and call me by my name, just once, I'll let 'thee' go."
"Walter Evesham," said Dorothy, with great firmness and decision.
"No, that won't do! You must look at me, and say it softly, in a little sentence, Dorothy."
"Will thee please let me go, Walter?"
Walter Evesham was a man of his word, but as Dorothy sped away, he looked as if he wished that he was not.
The next evening Friend Barton sat by his wife's easy-chair drawn into the circle of firelight, with his elbows on his knees and his head between his hands.
The worn spot on the top of his head had widened considerably during the summer, but Rachel looked stronger and brighter than she had done for many a day. There was even a little flush on her cheek, but this might have come from the excitement of a long talk with her husband.
"I'm sorry thee takes it so hard, Thomas. I was afraid thee would. But the way didn't seem to open for me to do much. I can see now that Dorothy's inclinations have been turning this way for some time; though it's not likely she would own it, poor child; and Walter Evesham's not one who is easily gainsaid. If thee could only feel differently about it, I can't say but that it would make me very happy to see Dorothy's heart satisfied. Can't thee bring thyself into unity with it, father? He's a nice young man. They're nice folks. Thee can't complain of the blood. Margaret Evesham tells me a cousin of hers married one of the Lawrences, so we are kind of kin after all."
"I don't complain of the blood; they're well enough placed, as far as the world is concerned. But their ways are not our ways, Rachel; their faith is not our faith."
"Well, I can't see such a very great difference, come to live among them. 'By their fruits ye shall know them.' To comfort the widow and the fatherless, and keep ourselves unspotted from the world;—thee's always preached that, father. I really can't see any more worldliness here than among many households with us; and I'm sure if we haven't been the widow and the fatherless this summer, we've been next to it."
Friend Barton raised his head: "Rachel," he said, "look at that!" He pointed upward to an ancient sword with belt and trappings which gleamed on the paneled chimney-piece, crossed by an old queen's-arm. Evesham had given up his large, sunny room to Dorothy's mother, but he had not removed all his lares and penates.
"Yes, dear; that's his grandfather's sword—Colonel Evesham, who was killed at Saratoga."
"Why does he hang up that thing of abomination for a light and a guide to his footsteps, if his way be not far from ours?"
"Why, father! Colonel Evesham was a good man. I dare say he fought for the same reason that thee preaches, because he felt it to be his duty."
"I find no fault with him, Rachel. Doubtless he followed his light, as thee says, but he followed it in better ways too. He cleared land and built a homestead and a meeting-house. Why doesn't his grandson hang up his old broadaxe and plowshare and worship them, if he must have idols, instead of that symbol of strife and bloodshed. Does thee want our Dorothy's children to grow up under the shadow of the sword?"
There was a stern light of prophecy in the old man's eyes.
"May be Walter Evesham would take it down," said Rachel simply, leaning back and closing her eyes. "I never was much of a hand to argue, even if I had the strength for it; but it would hurt me a good deal—I must say it—if thee should deny Dorothy in this matter, Thomas. It's a very serious thing for old folks to try to turn young hearts the way they think they ought to go. I remember now,—I was thinking about it last night, and it all came back as fresh—I don't know that I ever told thee about that young Friend who visited me before I heard thee preach at Stony Valley? Well, father, he was wonderful pleased with him, but I didn't feel any drawing that way. He urged me a good deal, more than was pleasant for either of us. He wasn't at all reconciled to thee, Thomas, if thee remembers."
"I remember," said Thomas Barton. "It was an anxious time."
"Well, dear, if father had insisted and had sent thee away, I can't say but life would have been a very different thing to me."
"I thank thee for saying it, Rachel." Friend Barton's head drooped. "Thee has suffered much through me; thee's had a hard life, but thee's been well beloved."
The flames leaped and flickered in the chimney; they touched the wrinkled hands whose only beauty was in their deeds; they crossed the room and lit the pillows where, for three generations, young heads had dreamed and gray heads had watched and wearied; then they mounted to the chimney and struck a gleam from the sword.
"Well, father," said Rachel, "what answer is thee going to give Walter Evesham?"
"I shall say no more, my dear. Let the young folks have their way. There's strife and contention enough in the world without my stirring up more. And it may be I'm resisting the Master's will. I left her in his care; this may be his way of dealing with her."
Walter Evesham did not take down his grandfather's sword. Fifty years later another went up beside it, the sword of a young Evesham who never left the field of Shiloh; and beneath them both hangs the portrait of the Quaker grandmother, Dorothy Evesham, at the age of sixty-nine.
The golden ripples, silver now, are hidden under a "round-eared cap;" the quick flush has faded in her cheek, and fold upon fold of snowy gauze and creamy silk are crossed over the bosom that once thrilled to the fiddles of Slocum's barn. She has found the cool grays and the still waters; but on Dorothy's children rests the "Shadow of the Sword."
THE STORY OF THE ALCAZAR.
It was told by Captain John to a boy from the mainland who was spending the summer on the Island, as they sat together one August evening at sunset, on a broken bowsprit which had once been a part of the Alcazar.
It was dead low water in Southwest Harbor, a land-locked inlet that nearly cut the Island in two, and was the gateway through which the fishing-craft from the village at the harbor head found their way out into the great Penobscot Bay. There were many days during the stern winter and bleak spring months when the gate was blocked with ice or veiled in fog, but nature relented a little toward the Island folk in the fall and sent them sunny days for their late, scant harvesting, and steady winds for the mackerel-fishing, to give them a little hope before the winter set in sharp with the equinoctial. Now, at low tide, the bright gateway shone wide open, as if to let out the waters that rise and fall ten feet in the inlet. You could look far out, beyond the lighthouse on Creenlaw's Neck and the islands that throng the mouth of the harbor, to the red spot of flame the sunset had kindled below the rack of smoke-gray clouds. The color burned in a dull gleam upon the water, broken by the dark shapes of shadowy islands; the sail-boats at anchor in the muddy, glistening flats leaned over disconsolately on their sides, in despair of ever again feeling the thrill of the returning waters beneath their keels; and the gray, weather-beaten houses crowded together on the brink of the cliff above the beach, looking like a group of hooded old women watching for a belated sail, seemed to have caught the expression of their inmates' lives. At high tide the hulk of the Alcazar had been full of water, which was now pouring out through a hole in the planking of her side in a continuous, murmurous stream, like the voice of a persistent talker in a silent company. The old ship looked much too big for her narrow grave at the foot of the green cliff, in which her anchor was deeply sunk and half overgrown with thistles. Her blunt bow and the ragged stump of the figure-head rose, dark and high, above the wet beach where Captain John sat with his absorbed listener. There were rifts about her rail where the red sunset looked through. Her naked sides, that for years had been moistened only by the perennial rains and snows, showed rough and scaly like the armor of some fabled sea-monster. She was tethered to the cliff by her rusty anchor-chain that swung across the space between, serving as a clothes-line for the draggled driftweed left by the receding tide to dry.
"She was a big ship for these parts," Captain John was saying. "There wan't one like her ever come into these waters before. Lord! folks come down from the Neck, and from Green's Landin', and Nor'east Harbor, and I don't know but they come from the main, to see her when she was fust towed in. And such work as they made of her name! Some called it one way and some another. It's a kind of a Cubian name, they say. I expect there ain't anybody round here that can call it right. However 'twas, old Cap'n Green took and pried it off her starboard quarter, and somebody got hold of it and nailed it up over the blacksmith's shop; and there you can see it now. The old cap'n named her the Stranger when he had her refitted. May be you could make out the tail of an S on her stern if you could git around there. That name's been gone these forty year; seem's if she never owned to it, and it didn't stick to her. She was never called anythin' but the Alcazar, long as ever I knew her, and I expect I know full's much about her as anybody round here. 'Twas a-settin' here on this very beach at low water, just's we be now, that the old man told me fust how he picked her up. It took a wonderful holt on him, there's no doubt about that. He told it to me more 'n once before the time come when he was to put the finish on to it; but in a gen'ral way the cap'n wan't much of a talker, and he was shy of this partic'lar business, for reasons that I expect nobody knows much about. But a man most always likes to talk to somebody, no matter how close-mouthed he may be. 'Twas just about this time o' year, fall of '27, the year Parson Flavor was ordained, Cap'n Green had gone a-mack'rel-fishin' with his two boys off Isle au Haut, and they did think o' cruisin' out into Frenchman's Bay if the weather hel' steady. They was havin' fair luck, hangin' round the island off and on for a matter of a week, when it thickened up a little and set in foggy, and for two days they didn't see the shore. The second evenin' the wind freshened from the south'ard and east'ard and drove the fog in shore a bit, and the sun, just before he set, looked like a big yellow ball through the fog and made a sickly kind of a glimmer over the water. They was a-lyin' at anchor, and all of a sudden, right to the wind'ard of 'em, this old ship loomed up, driftin' in with the wind and flood-tide. They couldn't make her out, and I guess for a minute the old cap'n didn't know but it was the Flyin' Dutchman; but she hadn't a rag o' sail on her, and as she got nearer they could see there wan't a man on board. The cap'n didn't like the looks of her, but he knew she wan't no phantom, and he and one of his boys down with the punt and went alongside. 'Twan't more 'n a quarter of a mile to her. They hailed and couldn't git no answer. They knew she was a furriner by her build, and she must 'a' been a long time at sea by her havin' barnacles on her nigh as big's a mack'rel kit. Finally, they pulled up to her fore—chains and clum aboard of her. I never see a ship abandoned at sea, myself, but I ain't no doubt but what it made 'em feel kind o' shivery when they looked aft along her decks, and not a soul in sight, and every-thin' bleached, and gray, and iron-rusted, and the riggin' all slack and white's though it had been chawed, and nothin' left of her sails but some old rags flappin' like a last year's scarecrow. They went and looked in the fo'k'sel: there wan't nothin' there but some chists, men's chists, with a little old beddin' left in the bunks. They went down the companion-way: cabin-door unlocked, everything in there as nat'ral's though it had just been left, only 'twas kind o' mouldy-smellin'. I expect the cap'n give a kind of a start as he looked around. 'Twan't no old greasy whaler's cabin, nor no packet-ship neither. There wan't many craft like her on the seas in them days. She was fixed up inside more like a gentleman's yacht is now. Merchantmen in them days didn't have their Turkey carpets and their colored wine-glasses jinglin' in the racks. While they was explorin' round in there, movin' round kind o' cautious, the door of the cap'n's stateroom swung open with a creak, just's though somebody was a-shovin' it slow like, and the ship give a kind of a stir and a rustlin', moanin' sound, as if she was a-comin' to life. The old man never made no secret but what he was scairt when he went through her that night. 'Twan't so much what he said as the way he looked when he told it. I expect he thought he'd seen enough, about the time that door blew open. He said he knowed 'twas nothin' but a puff o' wind struck her, and that he'd better be a-gittin' on to his own craft before he lost her in the fog. So he went back and got under weigh, and sent a line aboard of the stranger and took her in tow, and all that night with a good southeast wind they kept a-movin' toward home. The old man was kind o' res'less and wakeful, walkin' the decks and lookin' over the stern at the big ship follerin' him like a ghost. The moonlight was a little dull with fog, but he could see her, plain, a-comin' on before the wind with her white riggin' and bare poles, and hear the water sousin' under her bows. He said 'twas in his mind more 'n a dozen times to cut her adrift. You see he had his misgivin's about her from the fust, though he never let on what they was; but he hung on to her as a man will, sometimes, agin feelin's that have more sense in 'em than reason, like as not. He knew everybody at the Harbor would laugh at him for lettin' go such a prize as that just for a notion, and it wan't his way, you may be sure; he didn't need no one to tell him what she was wuth. Anyhow he hung to her, and next day they beached her at high water, right over there by the old ship-yard. He took Deacon S'lvine and his brother-in-law, Cap'n Purse—Pierce they call it nowadays, but in the cap'n's time 'twas Purse. That sounds kind o' broad and comfortable, like the cap'n's wescoat; but the family's thinnin' down a good deal lately and gettin' kind o' sharp and lean, and may be Pierce is more suitable. But 's I was sayin', Cap'n Green took them two—cheerful, loud-talkin' men they was both of 'em—aboard of her to go through her, for he hadn't no notion o' goin' into that cap'n's stateroom alone, even in broad daylight; but 'twan't there the secret of her lay; there wan't nothin' in there to scare anybody. She was trimmed up, I tell you, just elegant. Real mahogany, none of your veneerin', but the real stuff; lace curt'ins to the berth, lace on the pillows, and a satin coverlid, rumpled up as though the cap'n had just turned out; and there was his slippers handy—the greatest-lookin' slippers for a man you ever saw. They wouldn't 'a' been too big for the neatest-footed woman in the Harbor. But Land! they was just thick with mould, and so was everythin' in the place, even to an old gittar with the strings most rotted off of it, and the picters of fur-rin-lookin' women on the walls,—trinin'-lookin' creeturs most of 'em. They hunted all through his desk, but couldn't find no log. 'Twas plain enough that whoever'd left that ship had took pains that she shouldn't tell no tales, and 'twan't long before they found out the reason.
"When they come to go below,—there was considerable of a crowd on deck by that time, standin' round while they knocked out the keys and took off the fore-hatch,—Cap'n Green called on Cap'n Purse and the deacon to go down with him; but they didn't 'pear to be very anxious, and the old man wan't goin' to hang back for company with everybody lookin' at him, so he lit a candle and went down, and the folks crowded round and waited for him. I was there myself, 's close to him as I be to that fish barrel, when he come up, his face white 's a sheet and the candle shakin' in his hand, and sot down on the hatch-combin'.
"'Give me room!' says he, kind o' leanin' back on the crowd. 'Give me air, can't you? She's full o' dead niggers. She's a slaver.'
"Now, 'twas the talk pretty gen'rally that the cap'n had had a hand in that business himself in his early days, and that it set uncomfortable on him afterwards. It never was known how he'd got his money. He didn't have any to begin with. He was always a kind of a lone bird and dug his way along up somehow. Nobody knows what was workin' on him while he sot there; he looked awful sick. It was kind of quiet for a minute, but them that couldn't see him kep' pushin' for'ards and callin' out: 'What d'you see? What's down there?' And them close by wanted to know, all talkin' to once, why he thought she was a slaver, and how long the niggers had been dead. Lord! what a fuss there was. Everybody askin' the foolishest questions, and crowdin' and squeezin', and them in front pushin' back away from the hatchway, as if they expected the dead would rise and walk out o' that black hole where they'd laid so long. They couldn't get much out o' the old man, except that there was skel'tons scattered all over the after hold, and that he knew she was a slaver by the way she was fixed up. 'How'd he know?' folks asked amongst themselves; but nobody liked to ask the cap'n. As for how long them Africans had been dead, they had to find that out for themselves,—all they ever did find out,—for the cap'n wouldn't talk about it, and he wouldn't go down in her again. It 'peared's if he was satisfied.
"Wal, it made a terrible stir in the place. As I tell you, they come from fifty mile around to see her. They had it all in the papers. Some had one idee and some another about the way she come to be abandoned, all in good shape and them human bein's in her hold. Some said ship-fever, some said mutiny; but when they come to look her over and found there wan't a water-cask aboard of her that hadn't s'runk up and gone to pieces, they settled down on the notion that she was a Spanish or a Cubian slaver, or may be a Portagee, got short o' water in the horse-latitudes; cap'n and crew left her in the boats, and the niggers—Lord! it makes a body sick to think o' them. That was always my the'ry 'bout her—short o' water; but some folks wan't satisfied 'thout somethin' more ex-citin'. 'Twan't enough for 'em to have all them creeturs dyin' down there by inches. They stuck to it about some blood-stains on the linin' in her hold, but I tell you the difference between old blood-stains and rust that's may be ten or fifteen years old's might' hard to tell.
"Nobody knows what the old cap'n was thinkin' about in them days. 'Twas full three month or more 'fore he went aboard of her ag'in. He let it be known about that he wanted to sell her, but he couldn't git an offer even; nobody seemed to want to take hold of her. Winter set in early and the ice blocked her in, and there she lay, the lonesomest thing in sight. You never see no child'n climbin' 'round on her, and there was a story that queer noises like moanin' and clankin' of chains come out of her on windy nights; but it might 'a' been the ice, crowdin' as she careened over and back with the risin' and fallin' tide. But when spring opened, folks used to see the old cap'n hangin' round the ship-yard and lookin' her over at low tide, where the ice had cut the barnacles off of her.
"One night in the store he figgered up how much lumber she'd carry from Bangor, and 'twan't long 'fore he had a gang o' men at work on her. It seemed's though he was kind of infatuated with her. He was 'fraid of her, but he couldn't let her alone. And she was a mighty well-built craft. Floridy pine and live-oak and mahogany from the Mosquito coast; built in Cadiz, most likely. Look at her now—she don't look to home here, does she? She never did. She's as much like our harbor craft as one o' them big, yallow-eyed, bare-necked buzzards is to one o' these here little sand-peeps. But she was a handsome vessel. Them live-oak ribs'll outlast your time, if you was to live to be old."
The two faces looked up at the hulk of the Alcazar,—the blanched, wave-worn messenger sent by the tropic seas into the far North with a tale that the living had never dared to tell, and that had perished on the lips of the dead. Its shadow, spreading broad upon the beach, made the gathering twilight deeper. Out on the harbor the pale saffron light lingered, long after the red had faded. How many tides had ebbed and flowed since the old ship, chained at the foot of the cliff, had warmed in the waters of the Gulf her bare, corrugated sides, warped by the frosts, stabbed by the ice of pitiless Northern winters! Where were the sallow, dark-bearded faces that had watched from her high poop the brief twilights die on that "unshadowed main," which a century ago was the scene of some of the wildest romances and blackest crimes in maritime history—the bright, restless bosom that warmed into life a thousand serpents whose trail could be traced through the hot, flower-scented Southern plazas and courts into the peaceful white villages of the North!
"Sho! I'd no idee 'twas a-gittin' on so late," said Captain John. "There ain't anybody watchin' out for me. I kin put my family under my hat, but I don' know what your folks'll think's come o' you.
"Wal, the rest on 'twon't take long to tell. The old man had her fitted up in good shape by the time the ice was out of the river, and run her up to Bangor in ballast, and loaded her there for New York. He had an ugly trip down the coast: lost his deck load and three men overboard in a southeaster off Nantucket Shoals. It made the whole ship's company feel pretty solemn, but the old man took it the hardest of any of 'em, and from that time seems as if he lost his grip; the old scare settled back on him blacker 'n ever. There wan't a man aboard of her that liked her. They all knew her story, that she was the Alcazar from nobody knows where, instead of the Stranger from Newburyport. The cap'n had Newburyport put on to her because he was a Newburyport man and all his vessels was built there. But she hadn't more 'n touched the dock in New York before every one on 'em left her, even to the cook. 'I'm leery o' this 'ere ship,' says one big Cornishman. 'No better than a floatin' coffin, anyway,' was what they all said of her; and I guess the cap'n would 'a' left her right there himself if it hadn't been for the money he'd put into her. I expect he was a little too fond of money, may be; but I've knowed others just as sharp's the old cap'n that didn't seem to have his luck. The mate saw him two or three times while he was a-lyin' in New York, and noticed he was drinkin' more 'n usual. He come home light and anchored off the bar, just as a southeaster was a-comin' on. It wouldn't 'a' been no trouble for him to have laid there, if he'd had good ground-gear; but there 'twas ag'in, he'd been a leetle too savin'. He'd used the old cables he found in her. The new mate didn't know nothin' about her, and he put out one anchor. The cap'n had taken a kag o' New England rum aboard and been drawin' on it pretty reg'lar all the way up, and as the gale come on he got kind o' wild and went at it harder 'n ever. About midnight the cable parted. They let go the other anchor, but it didn't snub her for a minute, and she swung, broadside to, on to the bar. The men clum into the riggin' before she struck, but the old cap'n was staggerin' 'round decks, kind o' dazed and dumb-like, not tryin' to do anythin' to save himself. The mate tried to git him into the riggin', seein' he wan't in no condition to look out for himself; but the old man struck loose from his holt and cried out to him through the noise:—
"'Let me alone! I've got to go with her. I tell ye I've got to go with her!'
"The mate just had time to swing himself back into the mizzen-shrouds before the sea broke over her and left the decks bare. The old ship pounded over the bar in an hour or so, and drifted up here on to the beach where she is now. Every man on board was saved except the cap'n. He 'went with her,' sure enough.
"There was talk enough about that thing before they got done with it to 'a' made the old man roll in his grave. They raked up all the stories about his cruisin' on the Spanish main when he was a young man. They wan't stories he'd ever told; he wan't much of a hand to talk about what he'd seen and done on his v'yages. They never let him rest till 'twas pretty much the gen'ral belief, and is to this day, that he knew more about that slaver from the first than he ever owned to.
"I never had much to say about it, but 'twas plain enough to me. I had my suspicions the mornin' he towed her in. He looked terrible shattered. It 'peared to me he wan't ever the same man afterwards.
"'I've got to go with her!' Them was his last words. He knew that ship and him belonged together, same as a man and his sins. He knew she'd been a-huntin' him up and down the western ocean for twenty year, with them dead o' his'n in her hold,—and she'd hunted him down at last."
Captain John paused with this peroration: he dug a hole in the wet sand with the toe of his boot, and watched it slowly fill.
"'Twas a bait most any one would 'a' smelt of, a six-hundred-ton ship and every timber in her sound; but you'd 'a' thought he'd been more cautious, knowin' what he did of her. She was bound to have him, though."
"Captain John," said the boy, a little hoarse from his long silence, "what do you suppose it was he did? Anything except just leave them—the negroes, I mean?"
"Lord! Wan't that enough? To steal 'em, and then leave 'em there—battened down like rats in the hold! However, I expect there ain't anybody that can tell you the whole of that story. It's one of them mysteries that rests with the dead.
"The new mate—the young fellow he brought on from New York—he married the cap'n's daughter. None o' the Harbor boys ever seemed to jibe in with her. I always had a notion that she was a touch above most of 'em, but she and her mother was as good as a providence to them shipwrecked men when they was throwed ashore, strangers in the place and no money; and it ended in Rachel's takin' up with the mate and the whole family's leavin' the place. It was long after all the talk died away that the widow come back and lived here in the same quiet way she always had, till she was laid alongside the old cap'n. There wan't a better woman ever walked this earth than Mary Green, that was Mary Spofford."
Captain John rose from the bowsprit and rubbed his cramped knees before climbing the hill. He parted with his young listener at the top and took a lonely path across the shore-pasture to a little cabin, where no light shone, built like the nest of a sea-bird on the edge of high-water mark.
On the gray beach below, a small, dingy yawl, with one sail loosely bundled over the thwarts, leaned toward the door-latch as if listening for its click. It had an almost human expression of patient though wistful waiting. It was the poorest boat in the Harbor; it had no name painted on its stern, but Captain John, in the solitude of his watery wanderings among the islands and channels of the bay, always called her the Mary Spofford. The boy from the main went home slowly along the village street toward the many-windowed house in which his mother and sisters were boarding. There were voices, calling and singing abroad on the night air, reflected from the motionless, glimmering sheet of dark water below as from a sounding-board. Cow-bells tinkled away among the winding paths along the low, dim shores. The night-call of the heron from the muddy flats struck sharply across the stillness, and from the outer bay came the murmur of the old ground-swell, which never rests, even in the calmest weather.
A CLOUD ON THE MOUNTAIN.
Ruth Mary stood on the high river bank, looking along the beach below to see if her small brother Tommy was lurking anywhere under the willows with his fishing-pole. He had been sent half an hour before to the earth cellar for potatoes, and Ruth Mary's father, Mr. Tully, was waiting for his dinner.
She did not see Tommy; but while she lingered, looking at the river hurrying down the shoot between the hills and curling up over the pebbles of the bar, she saw a team of bay horses and a red-wheeled wagon come rattling down the stony slope of the opposite shore. In the wagon she counted four men. Three of them wore white, helmet-shaped hats that made brilliant spots of light against the bank. The horses were driven half their length into the stream and allowed to drink, as well as they could for the swiftness of the current, while the men seemed to consult together, the two on the front seat turning back to speak with the two behind, and pointing across the river.
Ruth Mary watched them with much interest, for travelers such as these seemed to be seldom came as far up Bear River valley as the Tullys' cattle range. The visitors who came to them were mostly cow-boys looking up stray cattle, or miners on their way to the "Banner district," or packers with mule trains going over the mountains, to return in three weeks, or three months, as their journey prospered. Fishermen and hunters came up into the hills in the season of trout and deer, but they came as a rule on horseback, and at a distance were hardly to be distinguished from the cow-boys and the miners.
The men in the wagon were evidently strangers to that locality. They had seen Ruth Mary watching them from the hill, and now one of them rose up in the wagon and shouted across to her, pointing to the river.
She could not hear his words for the noise of the ripple and of the wind which blew freshly down-stream, but she understood that he was inquiring about the ford. She motioned up the river and called to him, though she knew her words could not reach him, to keep on the edge of the ripple. Her gestures, however, aided by the driver's knowledge of fords, were sufficient; he turned his horses up-stream and they took water at the place she had tried to indicate. The wagon sank to the wheel-hubs; the horses kept their feet well, though the current was strong; the sun shone brightly on the white hats and laughing faces of the men, on the guns in their hands, on the red paint of the wagon and the warm backs of the horses breasting the stream. When they were halfway across, one of the men tossed a small, reluctant black dog over the wheel into the river, and all the company, with the exception of the driver, who was giving his attention to his horses, broke into hilarious shouts of encouragement to the swimmer in his struggle with the current. It was carrying him down and would have landed him, without effort of his own, on a strip of white sand beach under the willows above the bend; but now the unhappy little object, merely a black nose and two blinking anxious eyes above the water, had drifted into an eddy, from which he cast forlorn glances toward his faithless friends in the wagon. The dog was in no real peril, but Ruth Mary did not know this, and her heart swelled with indignant pity. Only shyness kept her from wading to his rescue. Now one of the laughing young men, thinking the joke had gone far enough perhaps, and reckless of a wetting, leaped out into the water, and, plunging along in his high boots, soon had the terrier by the scruff of his neck, and waded ashore with his sleek, quivering little body nestled in the bosom of his flannel hunting shirt.
A deep cut in the bank, through which the wagon was dragged, was screened by willows. When the fording party had arrived at the top, Ruth Mary was nowhere to be seen. "Where's that girl got to all of a sudden?" one of the men demanded. They had intended to ask her several questions; but she was gone, and the road before them plainly led to the low-roofed cabin, and loosely built barn with straw and daylight showing through its cracks, the newly planted poplar-trees above the thatched earth cellar, and all the signs of a tentative home in this solitude of the hills.
They drove on slowly, the young man who had waded ashore, whom his comrades addressed as Kirkwood or Kirk, walking behind the wagon with the dog in his arms, responding to his whimpering claims for attention with teasing caresses. The dog, it seemed, was the butt as well as the pet of the party. As they approached the house he scrambled out of Kirkwood's arms and lingered to take a roll in the sandy path, coming up a moment afterward to be received with blighting sarcasms upon his appearance. After his ignominious wetting he was quite unable to bear up under them, and slunk to the rear with deprecatory blinks and waggings of his tail whenever one of the men looked back.
Ruth Mary had run home quickly to tell her father, who was sitting in the sun by the wood-pile, of the arrival of strangers from across the river. Mr. Tully rose up deliberately and went to meet his guests, keeping between his teeth the sliver of pine he had been chewing while waiting for his dinner. It helped to bear him out in that appearance of indifference he thought it well to assume, as if such arrivals were an every-day occurrence.
"Hasn't Tommy got back yet, mother?" Ruth Mary asked as she entered the house. Mrs. Tully was a stout, low-browed woman, with grayish yellow hair of that dry and lifeless texture which shows declining health or want of care. Her blue eyes looked faded in the setting of her tanned complexion. She sat in a low chair, her knees wide apart, defined by her limp calico draperies, rocking a child of two years, a fat little girl with flushed cheeks and flaxen hair braided into tight knots on her forehead, who was asleep in the large cushioned rocking-chair in the middle of the room. The room was somewhat bare, for the shed-room outside was evidently the more used part of the house. The cook stove was there in the inclosed corner, and beside it a table and shelf with a tin hand-basin hanging beneath, while the crannies of the logs on each side of the doorway were utilized as shelves for all the household articles in frequent requisition that were not hanging from nails driven into the logs, or from the projecting roof-poles against the light.
Tommy had not returned, and Mrs. Tully suggested as a reason for his delay that he had stopped somewhere to catch grasshoppers for bait.
"I should think he had enough of 'em in that bottle of his," Ruth Mary said, "to last him till the 'hoppers come again. Some strange men forded the river just now. Father's gone to speak to them. I guess he'll ask 'em to stop to dinner."
Mrs. Tully got up heavily and went to the door. "Here, Angy,"—she addressed a girl of eight or ten years who sat on the flat boulder that was the cabin doorstep;—"you go get them taters; that's a good girl," she added coaxingly, as Angy did not stir. "If your foot hurts you, you can walk on your heel."
Angy, who was complaining of a stone-bruise, got up and limped away, upsetting from her lap as she rose two kittens of tender years, who tumbled over each other before getting their legs under them, and staggered off, steering themselves jerkily with their tails.
"Oh, Angy!" Ruth Mary remonstrated, but she could not stay to comfort the kittens. She ran up the short, crooked stairs leading to the garret bedroom which she shared with Angy, hastily to put on her shoes and stockings and brace her pretty figure, under the blue calico waist she wore, with her first pair of stays, an important purchase made on her last visit to the town in the valley, and to be worn now, if ever. It was hot at noon in the bedroom under the roof, and by the time Ruth Mary had fortified herself to meet the eyes of strangers she was uncomfortably flushed, and short of breath besides from the pressure of the new stays. She went slowly down the uneven stairs, wishing that she could walk as softly in her shoes as she could barefoot.
Her father was talking to the strangers in the shed-room. They seemed tall and formidable, under the low roof, against the flat glare of the sun on the hard-swept ground in front of the shed. She waited inside until her mother reminded her of the dinner half cooked on the stove; then she went out shyly, the light falling on her downcast face and full white eyelids, on her yellow hair, sun-faded and meekly parted over her forehead, which was low like her mother's, but smooth as one of the white stones of the river beach. Her fair skin was burned to a clear, light red tint, and her blonde eyebrows and lashes showed silvery against it, but her chin was very white underneath, and there was a white space behind each of her little ears where her hair was knotted tightly away from her neck.
"This is my daughter," Mr. Tully said briefly; and then he gave some hospitable orders about dinner which the strangers interrupted, saying that they had brought a lunch with them and would not trouble the family until supper-time.
They gathered up their hunting gear, and lifting their hats to Ruth Mary, followed Mr. Tully, who had offered to show them the best fishing on that part of the river.
Mr. Tully explained to his wife and daughter, as the latter placed the dinner on the table, that three of the strangers were the engineers from the railroad camp at Moor's Bridge, and the fourth was a packer and teamster from the same camp; that they were all going up the river to look at timber, and wanted a little sport by the way. They had expected to keep on the other side of the river, but seeing the ranch on the opposite shore, with wheel-tracks going down to the water, they had concluded to try the ford and the fishing and ask for a night's accommodation.
"They don't want we should put ourselves out any. They're used to roughin' it, they say. If you can git together somethin' to feed 'em on, mother, they say they'd as soon sleep on the straw in the barn as anywheres else."
"There's plenty to eat, such as it is, but Ruth Mary'll have it all to do. I can't be on my feet." Mrs. Tully spoke in a depressed tone, but to her no less than to her husband was this little break welcome in the monotony of their life in the hills, even though it brought with it a more vivid consciousness of the family circumstances, and a review of them in the light of former standards of comfort and gentility: for Mrs. Tully had been a woman of some social pretensions, in the small Eastern village where she was born. To all that to her guests made the unique charm of her present home she had grown callous, if she had ever felt it at all, while dwelling with an incurable regret upon the neatly painted houses and fenced door-yards, the gatherings of women in their best clothes in primly furnished parlors on summer afternoons, the church-going, the passing in the street, and, more than all, the housekeeping conveniences she had been used to, accumulated through many years' occupancy of the same house.
"Seems as though I hadn't any ambition left," she often complained to her daughter. "There's nothin' here to do with, and nobody to do for. The most of the folks we ever see wouldn't know sour-dough bread from salt-risin', and as for dressin' up, I might keep the same clothes on from Fourth July till Christmas—your father'd never know."
But Ruth Mary was haunted by no fleshpots of the past. As she dressed the chickens and mixed the biscuit for supper, she paused often in her work and looked towards the high pastures with the pale brown lights and purple shadows on them, rolling away and rising towards the great timbered ridges, and these lifting here and there along their profiles a treeless peak or bare divide into the regions above vegetation. She had no misgivings about her home. Fences would not have improved her father's vast lawn, to her mind, or white paint the low-browed front of his dwelling; nor did she feel the want of a stair-carpet and a parlor-organ. She was sure that they, the strangers, had never seen anything more lovely than her beloved river dancing down between the hills, tripping over rapids, wrinkling over sand-bars of its own spreading, and letting out its speed down the long reaches where the channel was deep.
About four o'clock she found leisure to stroll along the shore with Tommy, whose competitive energies as a fisherman had been stimulated by the advent of strange craftsmen with scientific-looking tackle. Tommy must forthwith show what native skill could do with a willow pole and grasshoppers for bait. But Ruth Mary's sense of propriety would by no means tolerate Tommy's intruding his company upon the strangers, and to frustrate any rash, gregarious impulses on his part she judged it best to keep him in sight.
Tommy knew of a deep pool under the willows which he could whip, unseen, in the shady hours of the afternoon. Thither he led Ruth Mary, leaving her seated upon the bank above him lest she should be tempted to talk, and so interfere with his sport. The moments went by in silence, broken only by the river; Ruth Mary happy on the high bank in the sun, Tommy happy by the shady pool below, and now and then slapping a lively trout upon the stones. Across the river two Chinamen were washing gravel in a rude miner's cradle, paddling about on the river's brink, and anon staggering down from the gravel bank above, with large square kerosene cans filled with pay dirt balanced on either end of a pole across their meagre shoulders. Bare-headed, in their loose garments, with their pottering movements and wrinkled faces shining with heat, they looked like two weird, unrevered old women working out some dismal penance. High up in the sky the great black buzzards sailed and sailed on slanting wing; the wood doves coo-oo-ed from the willow thickets that gathered the sunlight close to the water's edge. A few horses and cattle moved like specks upon the sides of the hills, cropping the bunchgrass, but the greater herds had been driven up into the high pastures where the snow falls early; and all these lower hills were bare of life, unless one might fancy that the far-off processions of pines against the sky, marching up the northern sides of the divides, had a solemn personality, going up like priests to a sacrifice, or that the restless river, flowing through the midst of all and bearing the light of the white noonday sky deep into the bosom of the darkest hills, had a soul as well as a voice. In its sparkle and ever-changing motion it was like a child among its elders at play. The hills seemed to watch it, and the great cloud-heads as they looked down between the parting summits, and the three tall pines, standing about a young bird's flight from each other by the shore and mingling their fitful crooning with the river's babble.
It is pleasant to think of Ruth Mary, sitting high above the river, in the peaceful afternoon, surrounded by the inanimate life that to her brought the fullness of companionship and left no room for vain cravings; the shadow creeping upward over her hands folded in her lap, the light resting on her girlish face and meek, smooth hair. For this was during that unquestioning time of content which may not always last, even in a life as safe and as easily predicted as hers. But even now this silent communion was interrupted by the appearance of one of Tommy's rivals. It was the young man whose comrades called him Kirk, who came along the shore, stooping under the willow boughs and scattering all their shadows lightly traced on the stones below. He held his fishing-rod, couched like a lance, in one hand, and a string of gleaming fish in the other.
Tommy, with practiced eye, rapidly counted them and saw with chagrin that he was outnumbered, but another look satisfied him that the stranger's catch was nearly all "white-fish" instead of trout. He caressed his own dappled beauties complacently.
Kirkwood stopped and looked at them; he was evidently impressed by Tommy's superior luck.
"Those are big fellows," he said; "did you catch them?"
"You don't suppose she did?" said Tommy, with a jerk of his head towards Ruth Mary.
Kirkwood looked up and smiled, seeing the young girl on her sunny perch. The smile lingered pleasantly in his eyes as he seated himself on the stones,—deliberately, as if he meant to stay.
Tommy watched him while he made himself comfortable, taking from his pocket a short briar-wood pipe and a bag of tobacco, leisurely filling the pipe and lighting it with a wax match held in the hollow of his hands—apparently from habit, for there was no wind. He did not seem to mind in the least that his legs were wet and that his trout were nearly all white-fish. He was evidently a person of happy resources, and a joy-compelling temperament that could find virtue in white-fish if it couldn't get trout. He began to talk to Tommy, not without an amused consciousness of Tommy's silent partner on the bank above, nor without an occasional glance up at the maidenly head serenely exalted in the sunlight. Nor did Ruth Mary fail to respond, with her down-bent looks, as simply and unawares as the clouds turning their bright side to the sun.
Tommy, on his part, was stoutly withholding, in words, the admiration his eyes could not help showing, of the strange fisherman's tools. He cautiously felt the weight of the ringed and polished rod, and snapped it lightly over the water; he was permitted to examine the book of flies and to handle the reel, things in themselves fascinating, but to Tommy's mind merely a hindrance and a snare to the understanding in the real business of catching fish. Still, he admitted, where a man could take a whole day all to himself like that, without fear of being called off at any moment by the women on some frivolous household errand, he might afford to potter with such things. Tommy kept the conservative attitude of native experience and skill towards foreign innovation.
"If Joe Enselman was here," he said, "I bet he could ketch more fish in half 'n hour, with a pole like this o' mine and a han'ful o' 'hoppers, than any of you can in a whole week o' fishing with them fancy things."
"Oh, Tommy!" Ruth Mary expostulated, looking distressed.
"Who is this famous fisherman?" Kirkwood asked, smiling at Tommy's boast.
"Oh, he's a feller I know. He's a packer, and he owns ha'f o' father's stock. He's goin' to marry our Sis soon's he gits back from Sheep Mountain, and then he'll be my brother." Tommy had been a little reckless in his desire for the distinction of a personal claim on the hero of his boyish heart. He was even conscious of this himself, as he glanced up at his sister.
Kirkwood's eyes involuntarily followed Tommy's. He withdrew them at once, but not before he saw the troubled blush that reddened the girl's averted face. It struck him, though he was not deeply versed in blushes, that it was not quite the expression of happy, maidenly consciousness, when the name of a lover is unexpectedly spoken.
It was the first time in her life that Ruth Mary had ever blushed at the name of Joe Enselman. She could not understand why it should pain her to have this young stranger hear of him in his relation to herself.
Before her blush had faded, Kirkwood had dismissed the subject of Ruth Mary's engagement, with the careless reflection that Enselman was probably not the right man, but that the primitive laws which decide such haphazard unions doubtless provided the necessary hardihood of temperament wherewith to meet their exigencies. She was a nice little girl, but possibly she was not so sensitive as she looked.
His pipe had gone out, and after relighting it, he showed Tommy the gayly pictured paper match-box from Havana, which opened with a spring, and disclosed the matches lying in a little drawer within. Tommy's wistful eyes, as he returned the box, prompted Kirkwood to make prudent search in his pockets for a second box of matches before presenting Tommy with the one his eyes coveted. Finding himself secure against want in the immediate future, he gave himself up to the mild amusement of watching Tommy with his new acquisition.
Tommy could not resist lighting one of the little tapers, which burned in the sunlight with a still, clear flame like a fairy candle. Then a second one was sacrificed. By this time the attraction had proved strong enough to bring Ruth Mary down from her high seat in the sun. She looked scarcely less a child than Tommy, as, with her face close to his, she watched the pale flame flower wasting its waxen stem. Then she must needs light one herself and hold it, with a little fixed smile on her face, till the flame crept down and warmed her finger-tips.
"There," she said, putting it out with a breath, "don't let us burn any more. It's too bad to waste 'em in the daylight."
"We will burn one more," said Kirkwood, "not for amusement, but for information." And while he whittled a piece of driftwood into the shape of a boat, he told Ruth Mary how the Hindoo maidens set their lighted lamps afloat at night on the Ganges, and watch them perilously voyaging, to learn, by the fate of the traveling flame, the safety of their absent lovers.
He told it simply and gravely, as he might have described some fact in natural history, for he rightly guessed that this little seed of sentiment fell on virgin soil. According to Tommy, Ruth Mary was betrothed and soon to be a wife, but Kirkwood was curiously sure that as yet she knew not love, nor even fancy. Nor had he any deliberate intention of tampering with her inexperience. He spoke of the lamps on the Ganges because they came into his mind while Ruth Mary was bending over the wasting match flame; any hesitation he might have had about introducing so delicate a topic was conquered by an idle fancy that he would like to observe its effect upon her almost pathetic innocence.
While he talked, interrupting himself as his whittling absorbed him, but always conscious of her eyes upon his face, the boat took shape in his hands. Tommy had failed to catch the connection between Hindoo girls and boat-making, but was satisfied with watching Kirkwood's skillful fingers, without paying much heed to his words. The stranger had, too, a wonderful knife, with tools concealed in its handle, with one of which he bored a hole for the mast. In the top of the mast he fixed a wax taper upright and steady for the voyage.
Ruth Mary's cheeks grew red, as she suddenly perceived the intention of Kirkwood's whittling.
"Now," he said, steadying the boat on the shallow ripple, "before we light our beacon you must think of some one you care for, who is away. Perhaps Tommy's friend, on Sheep Mountain?" he ventured softly, glancing at Ruth Mary.
The color in her cheeks deepened, and again Kirkwood fancied it was not a happy confusion that covered her downcast face.
"No?" he questioned, as Ruth Mary did not speak; "that is too serious, perhaps. Well, then, make a little wish, and if the light is still alive when the boat passes that rock—the flat one with two stones on top—the wish will come true. But you must have faith, you know."
Ruth Mary looked at Kirkwood, the picture of faith in her sweet seriousness. His heart smote him a little, but he met her wide-eyed gaze with a gravity equal to her own.
"I would rather not wish for myself," she said, "but I will wish something for you, if you want me to."
"That is very kind of you. Am I to know what it is to be?"
"Oh yes. You must tell me what to wish."
"That is easily done," said Kirkwood gayly. "Wish that I may come back some other day, and sit here with you and Tommy by the river."
It was impossible not to see that Ruth Mary was blushing again. But she answered him with a gentle courtesy that rebuked the foolish blush: "That will be wishing for us all."
"Shall we light up then, and set her afloat?"
"I've made a wish," shouted Tommy; "I've wished Joe Enselman would bring me an Injun pony: a good one that won't buck!"
"You must keep your wish for the next trip. This ship is freighted deep enough already. Off she goes then, and good luck to the wish," said Kirkwood, as the current took the boat, with the light at its peak burning clearly, and swept it away. The pretty plaything dipped and danced a moment, while the light wavered but still lived. Then a breath of wind shook the willows, and the light was gone.
"Now it's my turn," Tommy exclaimed, wasting no sentiment on another's failure. He rushed down the bank and into the shallow water to catch the wishing-boat before it drifted away.
"All the same I'm coming back again," said Kirkwood, looking at Ruth Mary.
Tommy's wish fared no better than his sister's, but he bore up briskly, declaring it was "all foolishness anyway," and accused Kirkwood of having "just made it up for fun."
Kirkwood only laughed, and, ignoring Tommy, said to Ruth Mary, "The game was hardly worth the candle, was it?"
"Was it a game?" she asked. "I thought you meant it for true."
"Oh no," he said; "when we try it in earnest we must find a smoother river and a stronger light. Besides, you know, I'm coming back."
Ruth Mary kept her eyes upon his face, still questioning his seriousness, but its quick changes of expression baffled while fascinating her. She could not have told whether she thought him handsome or not, but she had a desire to look at him all the time.
Suddenly her household duties recurred to her, and, refusing the help of Kirkwood's hand, she sprang up the bank and hurried back to the house. Kirkwood could see her head above the wild-rose thickets as she went along the high path by the shore. He was more sure than ever that Enselman was not the right man.
At supper Ruth Mary waited on the strangers in silence, while Angy kept the cats and dogs "corraled," as her father called it, in the shed, that their impetuous appetites might not disturb the feast.
Mr. Tully stood in the doorway and talked with his guests while they ate, and Mrs. Tully, with the little two-year-old in her lap, rocked in the large rocking-chair and sighed apologetically between her promptings of Ruth Mary's attendance on the table.
Tommy hung about in a state of complete infatuation with the person and conversation of his former rival. He was even beginning to waver in his allegiance to his absent hero, especially as the wish about the Indian pony had not come true.
During the family meal the young men sat outside in the shed-room, and smoked and lazily talked together. Their words reached the silent group at the table. Kirkwood's companions were deriding him as a recreant sportsman. He puffed his short-stemmed pipe and looked at them tranquilly. He was not dissatisfied with his share of the day's pleasure.
When Mr. Tully had finished his supper, he took the young men down to the beach to look at his boat. Kirkwood had pointed it out to his comrades, where it lay moored under the bank, and ventured the opinion of a boating man that it had not been built in the mountains. But there he had generalized too rashly.
"I built her myself," said Mr. Tully; "rip-sawed the lumber up here. My young ones are as handy with her!" he boasted cheerfully, warmed by the admiration his work called forth. "You'd never believe, to see 'em knocking about in her, they hadn't the first one of 'em ever smelt salt water. Ruth Mary now, the oldest of 'em, is as much to home in that boat as she is on a hoss—and that's sayin' enough. She looks quiet, but she's got as firm a seat and as light a hand as any cow-boy that ever put leg over a cayuse."
Mr. Tully, on being questioned, admitted willingly that he was an Eastern man,—a Down-East lumberman and boat-builder. He couldn't say just why he'd come West. Got restless, and his wife's health was always poor back there. He had mined it some and had had considerable luck,—cleaned up several thousands, the summer of '63, at Junction Bar. Put it in a sawmill and got burned out. Then he took up this cattle range and went into stock, in partnership with a young fellow from Montana, named Enselman. They expected to make a good thing of it, but it was a long ways from anywheres; and for months of the year they couldn't do any teaming. Had no way out except by the horseback trail. The women found it lonesome. In winter no team could get up that grade in the canon they call the "freeze-out," even if they could cross the river, on account of the ice; and from April to August the river was up so you couldn't ford.
All this in the intervals of business, for Mr. Tully, in his circuitous way, was agreeing to build a boat for the engineers, after the model of his own. He would have to go down to the camp at Moor's Bridge to build it, he said, for suitable lumber could not be procured so far up the river, except at great expense. It would take him better'n a month, anyhow, and he didn't know what his women-folks would say to having him so long away. He would see about it.
The four men sauntered up the path from the shore, Tommy bringing up the rear with the little black-and-tan terrier. In default of a word from his master, Tommy tried to make friends with the dog, but the latter, wide awake and suspicious after dozing under the wagon all the afternoon, would none of him. Possibly he divined that Tommy's attentions were not wholly disinterested.
The family assembled for the evening in the shed-room. The women were silent, for the talk was confined to masculine topics, such as the quality of the placer claims up the river, the timber, the hunting, the progress and prospects of the new railroad. Tommy, keeping himself forcibly awake, was seeing two Kirkwoods where there was but one. The terrier had taken shelter between Kirkwood's knees, after trying conclusions with the mother of the kittens,—a cat of large experience and a reserved disposition, with only one ear, but in full possession of her faculties.
Betimes the young men arose and said good-night. Mr. Tully was loath to have the evening, with its rare opportunity for conversation, brought to a close, but he was too modest a host to press his company upon his guests. He went with them to their bed, on the clean straw in the barn, and if good wishes could soften pillows the travelers would have slept sumptuously. They did not know, in fact, how they slept, but woke, strong and joyous over the beauty of the morning on the hills, and the prospect of continuing their journey.