"It isn't what a man thinks," stated a surly farmer. "It's what a man can prove."
"Well, he couldn't prove that if he tried till doomsday!" cried another. "That's not Lewis Rand's trade!"
"You're right there, Jim," assented the group. "WHEREAS upon the seventh day of September and on the river road where it is crossed by Indian Run—"
Upon a September afternoon, clear and fair, full of the ripeness and strength of the year, the body of Ludwell Cary was given back to the earth. There was a service at Saint Anne's, after which, carried by faithful slaves and followed by high and low of the county, he was borne to the Cary burial-ground at Greenwood. It crowned a low hill at no great distance from the oaks about the house—a place of peace and quietness, with bird-haunted trees and a tangle of old flowers. Ludwell Cary was laid beside Fauquier Cary, the "Dust to dust" was spoken, and the grave filled in. All mourned who heard the falling earth, and the negroes wailed aloud, but Fairfax Cary stood like a rock. It was over. The throng melted away, leaving only the house servants, two or three old and privileged friends, and the living Cary. The last spoke to the first, thanked them, and sent them away; then, addressing himself to the two Churchills and the old minister, asked that he be left alone. They went, Major Edward turning at once, the others following more slowly He watched them below the hill-top, then sat down beside the grave that was so raw and red for all the masking flowers.
At sunset Eli and Major Edward, grey and anxious, watching from the shadow of the oaks, saw him leave the burying-ground, look back once as he closed the gate, and come slowly down the hill. When he reached the house, and, after going to his own room, came down into the library, it was to find Major Churchill ensconced in an old chair by the western window, with a book in his hand. He looked up with eyes yet keen and dark beneath their shaggybrows. "If you'll allow me, Fair, I'll borrow this Hobbes of yours. It is printed larger than mine, and it has no damned annotation!"
Major Edward spent the night at Greenwood, and the two played chess until very late. The next morning, coming stiffly down at an early hour, he found no host. Fairfax Cary, he discovered on enquiry, had ordered his horse the night before, and as soon as it was light, had ridden off alone. Major Churchill passed the morning as best he might. He looked once from the windows toward the little graveyard on the hill, and thought of going there, then shook his head and pressed his lips together. He was old, and now, when he could, he evaded woe. The young had fibre and nerve to squander; brittle folk must walk lightly. The Major stared at the feathery trees that marked the place. The green became a blur; he stamped his foot upon the floor with violence, said something between his teeth, and turned from the window to a desolate contemplation of the backs of books.
It was after midday when Fairfax Cary returned. He came in, white and steady, apologized for his absence, and ordered dinner. The two ate little, hardly spoke, but drank their wine. As they passed out of the dining-room, the elder said, "You have been—"
"Yes. The river road."
They reentered the library and, at Cary's suggestion, sat down again at the chess-table. They played one game, then fell idle, the young man staring straight before him at some invisible object, the elder watching him covertly but keenly.
"When," said the Major at last,—"when will you come with me, Fair, to Fontenoy?"
The other shook his head. "I do not know. Not now. I must not keep you here, sir."
"I have little to occupy me at home. You will tell me when I can do nothing for you here. You must remember, Fair, that Dick and Nancy and Unity and I and even little Deb want you, very heartily and lovingly want you, with us there. Unity—"
The young man took from his breast a folded note. "I have this from Unity. Read it. It is like her."
He unfolded it and gave it to the Major, who read the line it contained.
FAIRFAX,—I will marry you to-morrow if you wish. I know—I know it is lonely at Greenwood. UNITY.
Major Churchill cleared his throat. "Yes, it is like her. And why not, Fair? Upon my soul, I do advise it! I advise it strongly. Not to-morrow, perhaps, but next day or the next. It can be quietly arranged—there could have been no wiser suggestion! Take her at her word, Fair."
Cary shook his head, thrust the note back in its place, and, rising with a quivering sigh, walked to the window. He stood there for some moments, his brow pressed to the pane, then returned to the table and, standing before the Major, spoke with harsh passion "Is marriage, sir, a thing for me to think of now? No! not even marriage with Unity Dandridge. To marry now—to forget with all possible haste—to lie close and warm and happy and leave him there, cold, alone, and unavenged! No. I'll not do that. Wedding-bells, even slowly rung, would sound strangely, I think, to his ears. And as for that murderer, he might say when he heard them, 'Are the dead so soon forgot? Then up, heart! for this bridegroom will not trouble me.' Major Churchill, I will live alone at Greenwood until I have proof which will convince a judge and jury that my brother was not the only man who spurred from that ford by the river road! Lewis Rand may wind and double, but I'll scotch him yet, there by Indian Run! I'll transfix him there, there on that very strand, and call the world to see the man who murdered Ludwell Cary! When that's done, I'll rest, maybe, and think of happiness."
Major Churchill sat back in the deep old armchair and rested his head upon his hand. The hand was a trembling hand; the old soldier, grey and stark, with his pinned-up sleeve, looked suddenly a beaten soldier, conquered and fugitive. The young man saw the shaking hand. "You need no proof, sir," he said harshly. "I know that you know. You knew there beside the stream, the day we found him."
"And did you not know that I knew?"
"I have not been perfectly certain, but—yes, I believed you to know."
"I will not say that, knowing me,—for until now I have hardly known myself,—but knowing my father, sir, could you look for another course from his son? My brother's blood cries from the ground. There is no rest and no peace for me until his murderer pays!"
"I cannot tell you what my brother was to me. Brother of the flesh and of the spirit too—David—Jonathan. His friends mine and his enemies mine, his honour mine—"
"Yes, Fair. It was so I loved Henry Churchill."
The young man checked his speech, gazed at his guest a moment in silence, and turned away. The quiet held in the old room where bygone Carys looked from the walls, but at last the Major spoke with violence. "Don't think that I do not hate that man! Spare him, in himself, one iota of the penalty—not I! Cheat justice, see the law futile to protect an outraged people, stay the hangman's hand—am I one to will that? No man can accuse me of a forgiving spirit! I, too, loved your brother; I, too, believe in the blood debt! Ask me of this man himself, and I say, 'Right! Let him have it to the hilt—death and shame!' But—but—"
The Major's voice, high and shaking with passion, broke with a gasp. He had sat erect to speak, but now he sank back, and with his chin upon his hand looked again mere grey defeat.
Fairfax Cary turned from the window. "I am sorry," he said coldly and harshly. "In a lesser thing, Major Churchill, that consideration might stop me. It cannot do so, sir, in this."
"I am not asking that it should," answered the other. "I seldom ask too much of this humanity. You will do what you must, and what you will, and I shall comprehend your motive and your act. But I will stand clear of you, Fair. After to-day, you plan without my knowledge, and work without my aid!"
"If it must be so, sir."
"I have called myself," said Major Edward sombrely, "a Spartan and a Stoic. I believe in law and the payment of debts. I believe that a murderer should be tracked down and shown that civilization has no need of him. I loved your brother. And I sit here, a weak old man, and say, 'Not if it strikes through a woman's heart!' What a Stoic the Most High must be!"
"I think that I should know one thing, sir. Is it your belief that he has told your niece?"
The Major grew dark red, and straightened himself with a jerk. "Told my niece? Made her, sir, a confidante of his villainy, leagued her to aid him in cajoling the world? I think not, sir; I trust not! I would not believe even him so universal an enemy. If I thought that, sir,—but no! I have seen my niece Jacqueline twice since—" the Major spoke between his teeth—"since Mr. Rand's return from Richmond." He sat a moment in silence, then continued. "Her grief is deep, as is natural—do we not all grieve? But if I have skill to read a face, she carries in her heart no such black stone as that! Remember, please, that he told her nothing of his plot with Burr. You will oblige me by no longer indulging such an idea."
"Very well, sir. I know that Colonel Churchill has no suspicion. He contends that it was some gypsy demon—will not even have it that some poor white from about the still—says that no man in this county—Well! I, too, would have thought that once."
"My brother Dick has the innocence of a child. But others apparently suspect as little. You and I are alone there. And we have only the moral conviction, Fairfax. They were enemies, and they were in the same county on the same day. That is all you have to go upon. He has somehow made a coil that only the serpent himself can unwind."
"A man can but try, sir. I shall try. If you talk of an inner conviction, I have that conviction that I shall not try in vain."
Major Edward shaded his eyes with his hand. "God forbid that I should wish the murder of Ludwell Cary unavenged! But—but—shame and sorrow—and Henry Churchill's child"—He rose from his chair and stalked across the room. "I am tired of it all," he said, "tired of the world, life, death, pro and con, affections, hatreds, sweets that cloy, bitterness that does not nourish, the gash of events, and the salt with which memory rubs the wound! Man that is born of woman—Pah!" He straightened himself, flung up his grey head, and moved stiffly to a bookcase. "Where's Gascoigne's Steel Glasse? I know you've got a copy—Ludwell told me so."
"It is on the third shelf, the left side. Major Churchill, you understand that, for all that has been said, I must yet go my way?"
"Yes, Fair, I understand," said the other. "Do what you must—and God help us all!"
The December frost lay hard upon the ground, and a pale winter sky gleamed above and between bare limbs of trees. In Vinie Mocket's garden withered and bent stalk showed where had been zinnia and prince's feather, and the grapevine over the porch was but a mass of twisted stems. The sun shone bright, however, on this day, and as there was no wind, it was not hard to imagine it warm out-of-doors and the spring somewhere in keeping. It was the week before Christmas, and the season unwontedly mild.
Vinie, seated upon the doorstep in the sun, a grey shawl around her shoulders and her pink chin in her hand, stared at the Ragged Mountains and wondered when Tom was coming to dinner. A grey cat purred in the sun beside her. Smut the dog, lying in a patch of light upon the porch floor, broke out of a dream, got up, and wagged his tail.
"Who do you hear, Smut?" asked Vinie. "I think it ith Mr. Adam."
Adam came through the gate that had never been mended and up the little, sunny path. He had his gun, and in addition a great armful of holly and mistletoe, and he deposited all alike upon the porch floor. "A green Christmas we're having," he announced cheerfully, "so we might as well make it greener! I thought these would look pretty over your chimney glass."
"They'll be lovely," answered Vinie. "I just somehow didn't think of fixing things up this Christmas. I'll put them all around the parlour, Mr. Adam."
"I'll put them for you," said Adam. "This isn't mistletoe like you get in the big trees south, and it isn't holly such as grows down Williamsburgh way—but it's mistletoe and it's holly."
"Yeth," agreed Vinie listlessly. "I don't know which ith the prettier, the little white waxen berries or the red."
"I like the red," returned the hunter. "That in your hand—bright and quick as blood-drops."
"No," said Vinie, and let the spray drop to the floor. "Blood ith darker than that."
"Not if it's heart's blood—that's bright enough. What is the matter, little partridge?"
"Nothing," Vinie replied, with an effort. "I've been baking cake all morning, and I'm tired. I reckon you couldn't have Christmas without baking and scrubbing and sweeping and dusting and making a whole lot of fuss about nothing—nothing at all." Her voice dragged away.
"You couldn't have it without hanging up mistletoe and holly," quoth Adam. "I've been a month in these parts, and I've come around mighty often to see you and Tom. Why won't you tell me?"
Vinie turned upon him startled eyes. "Tell you?"
"Tell me what ails you. Why, you aren't any more like—Don't you remember that morning, a'most four years ago, when I found you sitting by the blackberry bushes on the Fontenoy road? Yes, you do. The blackberries were in bloom, and you had on a pink sunbonnet, and I broke you a lot of wild cherry for your very same parlour in there. You had been crying that day, too,—oh, I knew!—but you plucked up spirit and put the wild cherry all around the parlour. And now, look at you!—you aren't a partridge any longer, you're a dove without a mate. Well, why don't you cry, little dove?"
"I don't feel like crying," said Vinie. "There isn't anything the matter with me. I'm going to put the green stuff up, and Tom's got ever so many wax candles and two bottles of Madeira, and you'll come to supper—"
"I'll send you a brace of wild turkeys Christmas Eve. I'll shoot them over on Indian Run."
Vinie shrank back. "You look," exclaimed Adam, "as though you were on Indian Run, and I had turned my gun on you! Why did you go white and sick like that?"
He glanced at her again with keen, deep blue eyes. "Now the colour has come back. Were you frightened over there in those woods when you really were a bird? Indian Run! It is more than three months, isn't it, since Mr. Cary's death?"
"December," answered Vinie, in a fluttering voice, "December, November, October, and part of September—yeth, more than three months. Suppose we go now and put the holly up?"
"Let's stay here a little in the sun. The holly won't wither. I don't know a doorstep, East or West, that I like to sit on better than this. There's a variety of log cabins that I'm fond of, and maybe as many as four or five wigwams, but I'd like to grow old sitting in the sun before this little grey house! It isn't going to be long before the sap runs in the sugar trees and it's spring. Then all the pretty flowers will come up again and I'll help you draw cool water from the well. Don't you ever wear that Spanish comb I brought you?"
"I've got it put away. It's lovely."
"It oughtn't to be put away. It ought to be stuck there, dark shell above your yellow hair. You'll wear it, won't you, Christmas Day?"
"Yeth, I'll wear it, Mr. Adam. Who's coming now, Smut?"
"He hears a horse. Wear the Spanish comb, and Tom shall brew us a bowl of punch, and we might get in some gay folk and a fiddle and have a dance. I'd like to stand up with you, little partridge."
Vinie put down her head and began to cry. "It's nothing, nothing! There isn't anything the matter! Don't think it, Mr. Adam. I jutht get tired and cold, and Christmas isn't like it used to be. Now I've stopped—and I'll dance with you with pleasure, Mr. Adam."
"That's right," said Adam. "Now, you dry your eyes, and we'll go into the parlour and I'll make a fire, and we'll put leaves and berries all around. Who is it coming by? Mr. Fairfax Cary."
"Yeth," answered Vinie. "He rides a black horse."
The hunter glanced at her again. "Little bird," he thought, "your voice didn't use to have so many notes." Aloud he said, "He's grown to look like his brother. I met him in the road the other day and we talked awhile. He's too stern and quiet, though. All the time we talked I was thinking of a Cherokee whom I once met following a war party that had killed his wife. Fairfax Cary had just the same air as that Indian—still, like an afternoon on a mountain-top. There's no clue yet as to who shot his brother."
Fairfax Cary, going by on Saladin, lifted his hat to the woman on the porch. "Yes, he's like that Cherokee," repeated Adam. "Where's he riding?—to Fontenoy, I reckon. Now, little partridge, let's go make the parlour look like Christmas."
Vinie rose, and the hunter gathered up the green stuff. She spoke again in the same fluttered voice. "Mr. Adam, do you think—do you think they'll ever find out—"
"Find out who shot Mr. Cary?" asked Gaudylock. "They may—there's no telling. Every day makes a trail like that more overgrown and hard to read. But if Fairfax Cary is truly like my Cherokee, I'd not care to be the murderer, even five years and a thousand miles from here and now. You may be sure the Cherokee got his man. Now you take the mistletoe and I'll take the holly, and we'll make a Christmas bower to dance in." He raised his great armful and went into the house singing,—
"Once I was in old Kentucky, Christmas time, by all that's lucky! Bear meat, deer meat, coon and possum, Apple-jack we did allow some, In Kentucky.
"Roaring logs and whining fiddle, Up one side and down the middle! Two foot snow and ne'er a flower,— But Molly Darke she danced that hour, In Kentucky!"
The hunter's surmise was correct. Fairfax Cary rode slowly on upon the old, familiar way to Fontenoy. All the hills were brown, winter earth and winter air despite the brightness of the sunshine. A blue stream rippled by, pine and cedar made silhouettes against a tranquil sky, and crows were cawing in a stubble-field. Cary rode slowly, plodding on with a thoughtful brow. The few whom he met greeted him respectfully, and he answered them readily enough, then pursued his way, again in a brown study. The Fontenoy gates were reached at last, and he was about to bend from his saddle and lift the heavy latch, when a slim black girl in a checked gown made a sudden appearance in the driveway upon the other side. "I'll open hit, sah! Don' you trouble. Dar now!"
The gate swung open, Cary rode through, and Deb appeared beside Miranda. "We've been walking a mile," she announced. "Down the drive and back again, through the hollow, round the garden, and up to the glass door—that's a mile. Are you going to stay to supper?"
Cary dismounted and walked beside her, his bridle over his arm. "I don't think so, Deb,—not to-night."
"I wish you would," said Deb wistfully. "You used to all the time, and you most never do now. And—and it's Christmas, and we aren't going to decorate, or have a party, or people staying!" Deb's chin trembled. "I don't like houses in mourning."
"Neither do I, Deb."
The colour streamed into his companion's small face. "I didn't mean—I didn't mean—I forgot! Oh, Mr. Fairfax,—"
"Dear Deb, don't mind. I wish you were going to have a Christmas as bright as bright! Won't there be any brightness for you?"
"Why, of course," answered Deb, with bravery. "I am going to have a lovely time. Uncle Dick says I can do what I please with the schoolroom, and Miranda and I and the quarter children—we're going to decorate. Unity's going to show us how, and Scipio's going to put up the wreaths. The quarter's to have its feast just the same, and I'm going to help Unity give out the presents. I expect it will be beautiful!"
The two walked on, Miranda following. Cary took the child's hand. "I expect it will be beautiful too, Deb. Sometimes ever so much brightness in just a little place makes up for the grey all around. Aren't you going to let me see the schoolroom?"
"Oh, would you like to?" cried Deb, brightening. "Certainly, Mr. Fairfax. Christmas is lovely, isn't it? Unity says that maybe she and I will slip down to the quarter and watch them dancing. I'm sure I don't want parties, nor people staying!"
Deb squeezed her companion's hand, and kept silence from the big elm to the lilac-bushes. Then she broke out. "But I don't understand—I don't understand at all—"
Cary, looking down upon her, saw her little pointed chin quiver again, and her brown eyes swim. "What don't you understand, poor little Deb?"
"I don't understand why I can't go to Roselands. I've always gone the day after every Christmas, and it is always like Christmas over again! And now Uncle Dick says, 'Stay at home, chicken, this year,' and Uncle Edward says he needs me to tell him stories, and Unity begged them at first to let me go, but when they wouldn't, she said that she couldn't beg them any more, and that she didn't think the world was going right anyhow." The tears ran over. "And Jacqueline," continued Deb, in a stifled little voice,—"Jacqueline wrote me a letter and said not to come this year if Uncle Dick and Uncle Edward wanted me at home. She told me I must always obey and love them—just as if I didn't anyhow. She said she loved me more than most anything, but I don't think that is loving me—to think I'd better not come to Roselands. She said I was most a woman, and so I am,—I'm more than twelve,—and that I was to love her always and know that she loved me. Of course I shall love Jacqueline always—but I wanted to go to Roselands." Deb felt in her pocket, found a tiny handkerchief, and applied it to her eyes. "It's not like Christmas not to go to Roselands the day after—and I think people are cruel."
"I wouldn't think that of your sister, Deb," said Cary, with gentleness. "Your sister isn't cruel. Don't cry."
"I'm not," answered Deb, and put carefully away a wet ball of handkerchief. "I hope you'll like the schoolroom, Mr. Fairfax. It's all cedar and red berries, and Miranda's and my dolls are sitting in the four corners. It's lovely weather for Christmas—though I wanted it to snow."
Major Edward, seated at an old desk, going over old papers, looked up as Cary entered the library. A fire of hickory crackled and flamed on the hearth, making a light to play over the portrait of Henry Churchill and over the swords crossed beneath. An old hound named Watch slept under the table, the tall clock ticked loudly, and through the glass doors, beyond the leafless trees, showed the long wave of the Blue Ridge.
"Is it you, Fair?" demanded the Major. "Come in—come in! I am merely going over old letters. They can wait. The men who wrote them are all dead." He turned in his chair. "Have you just come in?"
"Unity was here awhile ago. She went through the glass door—down to the quarter, I suppose."
"I will stay here for a while, sir, if I may. Don't let me disturb you. I will take a book."
"You do not disturb me," answered the Major. "I was reading a letter from Hamilton, written long ago—long ago.
"I met Deb in the driveway and we walked to the house together. Poor little maid! She is mightily distressed because she thinks there's a lack of Christmas cheer. I wish, sir, that she might have a merry Christmas."
"We'll do our best, Fair. Unity shall make it bright."
"The servants, too,—I give mine the usual feast at Greenwood, and I'm going down to the quarter for half an hour."
"The Carys make good masters. In that respect all here, too, goes on as usual. As for Deb, the child shall have the happiest day we can give her." He took from a drawer a small morocco case and opened it. "She'll have from Dick a horse and saddle, and I give her this." He held out the case, and Cary praised the small gold watch with D.C. marked in pearls. "The only thing," continued Major Edward wearily, "is that she cannot go to Roselands. She has cried her heart out over that."
"You declined the invitation for her?"
"Yes. I made Dick do so. She is growing into womanhood. It will not answer."
"Then, sir, Colonel Churchill must know—"
"He doesn't 'know,'" said the Major doggedly. "Nobody really knows. We may be all pursuing a spectre. I told Dick enough to make him see that Deb should not be brought into contact—"
There was a silence. Cary studied the fire, and Major Churchill unfolded deftly with his one hand a yellowing paper, glanced over it, and laid it in a separate drawer. "An order from General Washington—the Andre matter. Deb shall not visit Roselands again. Dick and I are not going to have both of Henry's children"—The Major's voice broke. "Pshaw! this damned weather gives a man a cold that Valley Forge itself couldn't give!" He unfolded another paper. "What's this? Benedict Arnold! Faugh!" Rising, he approached the fire and threw the letter in, then turned impatiently upon the younger man. "Well, Fairfax Cary?"
"Is it still," asked Cary slowly, "your opinion that she does not know?"
Major Edward dragged a chair to the corner of the hearth and sat heavily down. He bent forward, a brooding, melancholy figure, a thin old veteran, grey and scarred. The fire-light showed strongly square jaw, hawk nose, and beetle brows. When he spoke, it was in a voice inexpressibly sombre. "I have seen my niece but three times since September. If you ask me now what you asked me then, I shall answer differently. I do not know—I do not know if she knows or not!"
"I think, sir, that I have a clue. The hour when he passed Red Fields—"
Major Churchill put up a shaking hand. "No, sir! Remember our bargain. I'll not hear it. I'll weigh no evidence on this subject. Enough for me to know in my heart of hearts that this man murdered Ludwell Cary, and that he dwells free at Roselands, blackening my niece—that he rides free to town—pleads his cases—does his work—ingratiates himself, and grows, grows in the esteem of his county and his state! That, I say, is enough, sir! If you have your clue, for God's sake don't impart it to me! I've told you I will not make nor meddle." Major Edward began to cough. "Open the window, will you? The room is damned hot. Well, sir, well?"
"I'll say no more, then, sir, as to that," Cary answered from the window. "I wish absolutely to respect your position. It will do no harm, however, to tell you that I am going to Richmond the day after Christmas."
"To Richmond! What are you going to Richmond for?"
"I want," replied the other, with restrained passion,—"I want to ride from Shockoe Hill at three o'clock in the afternoon, with my face to Roselands, and in my heart the knowledge that I have been foiled and thwarted in deep-laid and cherished schemes by the one whom, for no especially good reason, I have singled out of the world to be my enemy! I want to feel the black rage of the Rands in my heart. I want to sleep, the third night, at the Cross Roads Tavern, and I want to go on in the morning by Malplaquet I want to learn at Forrest's forge that Ludwell Cary is on the road before me. Perhaps, by the time I reach the mill and cross the ford, I will remember what it was that I did next, and how I managed to be on two roads at once."
He turned, and took up from a chair his hat and riding-whip "'Tis no easy feat," he said, with grimness, "to put one's self in the place of Lewis Rand. But then, other things are not easy either. I'll not grudge a little straining." He stood before the Major, holding out his hand—a handsome figure in his mourning dress, resolute, quiet, no longer breathing outward grief, ready even, when occasion demanded, to smile or to laugh, but essentially altered and fixed to one point. "I think, sir, I will look now for Unity. There is something I wish to say to her. Good-bye, sir. I shall not come again until after New Year."
Miss Dandridge, mounting the hill from the quarter, and sitting down to rest upon a great, sun-bathed stone beside the foot-path, heard a quick step and looked up to greet her betrothed. "It is so warm and bright," she said, "in this fence-corner that I feel as though summer were on the way. The stone is large—there's room for you, too, here in the sunshine."
He sat down beside her. "You have been making Christmas for the quarter?"
"I've been telling them that Christmas is to be bright. I have not seen you for a week."
He took her hand and pressed it to his lips. "Unity, I have been sitting there at home at Greenwood, thinking, thinking! Page came to see me, but I was such poor company that he did not tarry long. I rode here to-day to say something to you—Unity, don't you think you had better give me up?"
"No! I don't—"
"I do not think it is fair to you. I am not the man you knew—except in loving you I am not the man who sat with you beneath the catalpa. I am bereaved of the better part of me, and I see one object held up before me like a wand. I must reach that wand or all effort is fruitless, and there is no achievement and no harvest in my life. I may be years in reaching it. I love you dearly and deeply, but I am not given over to love. I am given over to reaching that wand. It has seemed to me, sitting there at Greenwood, it has seemed to me after Page's visit, that I should give you freedom—"
"It seems to me, sitting here upon this stone," answered Unity, "that I will not take it! And what under the sun Mr. Page's visit—I will wait until you are at leisure to love me as—as—as you loved me that day under the catalpa when you flung Eloisa to Abelard into the rosebushes! Don't—don't! I like to cry a little."
"I have determined," he said, "to tell you what I am doing. You know that I seek to discover my brother's murderer, but you have not guessed that I know his name. It is Lewis Rand whom I pursue, and it is Lewis Rand whom I will convict of that deed on Indian Run!"
She gave a cry. "Lewis Rand! Fair, Fair, that's impossible!"
"Is it?" he asked sombrely. "Impossible to prove, perhaps, though I'm not prepared to grant that either, but true, Unity, true as many another black 'impossible' has been!"
"But—but—No one thinks—no one suspects. Fair, Fair! are you not mistaken?"
"No. Nor am I quite alone in my conviction. And one day the world that suspects nothing shall know."
There was a silence; then, "But Jacqueline," she whispered, with whitening lips. "Jacqueline"—
"She chose," he answered. "I cannot help it. She took her road and her companion."
"And you mean—you mean—"
"I mean to bring him to justice."
"To break her heart and ruin her life—to bring down wretchedness, misery, disgrace! Oh!" She caught her breath. "And Deb—and Uncle Dick and Uncle Edward—Fair, Fair, leave him alone!"
"You must not ask me that."
"But Ludwell would—Ludwell would have asked it! Oh, do you think he would have endured to bring woe like that upon her! Oh, Fair, Fair,—"
Cary sprang to his feet, walked away, and stood with his back to the great stone and his face toward Greenwood. He saw but one thing there, the graveyard on the hill beneath the leafless trees. When he came back to Unity, he looked as he had looked beside the dead, that day on Indian Run.
"We are alike, Ludwell and I," he said, "but we are not that much alike. I am little now but an avenger of blood. I shall be that until this draws to an end." He came closer and touched her shoulder with his hand. "Take me or leave me as I am, Unity. I shall not change, not even for you."
"But for tenderness," she cried, "for mercy, for consideration of an old house, for Jacqueline whom your brother loved as you love—as once you said you loved—me! For just pity, Fair!"
"On the other side," he answered, "is justice. Don't urge me, Unity. That is something your uncle has not done."
There was a silence; then, "I see now," said Unity slowly. "I haven't understood. I thought—I didn't know what to think. Uncle Edward, too,—oh me! oh me! That is why Deb is not to go to Roselands." She considered through blinding tears a little patch of sere grass. "But Jacqueline," she whispered,—"Jacqueline does not know?"
Cary looked at her. "Do you think that, Unity?"
Unity stared at the grass until the tears all dried. "She knows—she knows! That was a heart-breaking letter to Deb, and I couldn't—I couldn't understand it! She does not ask me there—does not seem to want to meet—I've hardly seen her since—since—And when we meet, she's strange—too gay at first for her, and then too still, with wide eyes she will not let me read. And she talks and talks—she talks now more than I do. She's not truly Jacqueline—she's acting a part. Oh, Jacqueline, Jacqueline!"
"Be very sure," he said, "that I have for her only pity, admiration, yes, and understanding!"
"But you intend—you intend—"
"To bring Lewis Rand to justice. Yes, I intend that."
From the quarter below them came the blowing of the afternoon horn. The short, bright winter day was waning, and though the sun yet dwelt upon the hill-top, the hollow at its base was filled with shadow. Unity rose from the stone. "I must go back to the house. I promised Deb I would read to her." She caught her breath. "It is the Arabian Nights—and he gave it to her, and she's always talking of him. Oh, all of us poor children! Oh, I used to think the world so sweet and gay!"
"What do you think," he said, "of the one who turns it bitter?"
She looked at him with pleading eyes. "Fair, Fair, will you not forego it—forego vengeance?"
"It is not vengeance," he answered. "It is something deeper than that. I don't think that I can explain. It seems to me that it is destiny and all that destiny rests upon." He drew her to him and kissed her twice. "Will you wait for me, wait on no other terms than these? If you will, God bless you! If it is a task beyond your strength, God bless you still. You will do right to give it up. Which, Unity, which? And if you wait for me, you must go no more to that man's house. If you wait for me, my brother is your brother."
"I will never give up Jacqueline!"
"I do not ask it. But you'll go no more to that house, speak no more to the man she most unhappily wedded. That is my right—if you wait for me."
She turned and threw herself into his arms. "Oh, Fair, if it is only he himself—if it is only that dark and wicked man—if you do not ask me to stop loving her, or writing to her, or seeing her when I can—"
"That is all—only to speak no more to that dark and wicked man."
"Then I'll wait—I'll wait till doomsday! Oh, the world! Oh, the thing called love! Don't—don't speak to me until I cry it out."
She wept for a while, then dried her eyes and tried to smile. "That's over. Let us go now and—and read the Arabian Nights. Oh me, oh me, if we are not merry here, what must Christmas be at Roselands!"
The murderer of Ludwell Cary unlocked the green door of the office in Charlottesville, entered, and opened the shutters of the small, square windows. Outside was a tangle of rose-stems, but no leaf or bloom. The January sunshine streamed palely in, whitening the deal floor and striking against a great land map on the wall. Upon the hearth had been thrown an armful of hickory and pine. Rand, kneeling, laid a fire, struck a spark into the tinder, and had speedily a leap and colour of pointed flames. He rose, opened his desk, drew papers out of pigeon-holes and laid them in order upon the wood, then pushed before it his accustomed chair. He did not take the latter; instead, after standing a moment with an indescribable air of weary uncertainty, he turned, went back to the firelit hearth, sat down, and, bending forward, hid his face in his hands.
A cricket began to chirp upon the hearth, then the branch of a sycamore, moved by the wind, struck violently against the low eaves of the house. Rand arose, put his hands to his temples, and moved away.
There were law-books on the shelves, and he took down one and fell to studying statutes that bore upon a case he had in court. He read for a time with a frown of attention, but by degrees all interest flagged. He turned a page, looked at it with vagueness, and turned no more. His chin fell upon his hand, and he sat staring at the patch of sunshine on the floor. It was like light on water—light on Indian Run.
Five minutes more and Mocket came in, soft and quick upon his feet, sandy-haired and freckle-faced, with his quaint, twisted smile, and watery blue eye, that glanced aslant at his friend and partner "Good-morning, Lewis"
Mocket stood by the fire, warming his hands. "If 'twas a mild December, 'tis cold enough now! The wind is icy, and it's blowing hard."
"Is it? I thought the air was still."
As he spoke, Rand arose, replaced the book on the shelf, sat down at his desk, and began to unfold papers. "Work!" he said presently, in a dull voice. "Work! That is the straw at which to catch! Perhaps one might make of it a raft to bear one's weight. I have known the day when in work I have forgotten hunger, thirst, weariness, calamity. I have worked at night and grudged an hour to sleep. What I have done, cannot I do again? But I would work better, Tom, if I could get some sleep."
"I am sorry you have bad nights," said Tom; "but if you slept as deep and innocent as a babe, you couldn't do better work. That was a praising piece about you in the Enquirer."
"Nothing less than eulogy, Tom, nothing less! Well—get to work! Get to work!"
"I've brought the papers on this case that old Berry has been copying." Tom threw more wood on the fire, then moved to his own desk, dragging a chair after him. "By the way, I stopped at the Eagle for a dram to keep out the cold, and who should come riding by but Fairfax Cary—"
"Ah!" said Rand. "Is he home from Richmond?"
"I didn't know that he had been to Richmond."
"Yes. He went two weeks ago."
"I hadn't observed it. Well, whenever he went, he's back again. As I say, I was coming down the steps, buttoning up my coat, and he drew rein—he was riding his brother's horse and he looked like his brother—and he says to me, says he, 'Mr. Mocket,—'"
Tom broke off, turned the papers in his hand, and uttered an exclamation of disgust. "Old Berry is getting to be too poor a copyist! You'll have to give this work somewhere else."
Rand spoke in his measured voice. "What did Fairfax Cary say, Tom?"
"Why, he didn't say much, and I'm sure I didn't get any meaning out of what he did say! His words were, 'Mr. Mocket, I wish I could remember all that, on several occasions, I must have said to you.' Seeing," continued Tom, "that I haven't spoken to him more than a dozen times in my life, I shouldn't consider there would be much difficulty in that, and I told him as much. 'You're mistaken,' he said. 'It is difficult. We all have bad memories. I've been wondering, seeing that I have talked to you of so much, if I ever talked to you of that. On the whole, I don't think that I ever have. Cultivate your memory, Mr. Mocket. Mine is a damnably poor one.' And so," ended Tom, "he rode away and left me staring. I don't know whether his head is turned or not, but he looked strong enough for anything and all a Cary. If you know what he meant, it is more than I do. These reports are all straight enough now. Do you want to look over them?"
"No," said his partner, and stood up, moving back his chair with a grating sound. "I don't know why—I'm restless to-day." Walking across the room, he stopped before the map upon the wall, and stood there a long while in silence.
"How would it do, Tom," he asked at last, in a curiously remote and dreamy voice,—"how would it do to find two or three great white-covered waggons, store them with all a childless family would need, put to them teams sound and strong, procure a horse or two besides, a slave or two, a faithful dog,—then to take the long road—west—south—somewhere—anywhere—past the mountains and away, away"—His voice sank, then gathered strength and went on. "Flood and forest, low hills and endless plains, stillness and a measure of peace! Left behind the demon care, full before the eye the red, descending sun—at night the camp-fire, at dawn the start, and in between mere sleep without a dream! It is conceivable that, after much travel, in some hollow or by some spring, after long days and after sleep, one might stumble on new life." He struck the map with his hand. "Tom, sometimes I think that I will remove from Virginia to the West."
"You'd be a fool to do that now," answered Tom succinctly. "But you won't do it. I don't know what has been the matter with you this winter, but I reckon you still love power. Next year you'll be named for Governor of Virginia."
He fed the fire again, then, going to the window, looked down the street. "The wind has fallen."
"I am going," said Rand's voice behind him, "to ride down the Three-Notched Road. Mrs. Selden sends me word that old Carfax is annoying her again."
"Can't I go for you?"
"No. I do not mind the ride. Get the papers ready for court to-morrow."
Mocket helped him on with his heavy bottle-green riding-coat. "Lewis," spoke the scamp, with a queer note of affection and deprecation, "why don't you see Dr. Gilmer? You're growing thin, and do you know, you're haunted-looking! Tell him you cannot sleep, and make him give you bark or something. I couldn't carry on business without you, you know."
Rand looked at him with dark and sombre eyes. "Couldn't you, poor old Tom? Well, we'll keep it on awhile together. I don't want the doctor. Once, long ago, I might have doctored myself." He laughed. "Now there's no bark in Peru—no balm in Gilead. Well, what we cannot have, we must do without! Look out, will you, and see if Young Isham is there with Selim?"
The Three-Notched Road stretched red and stark between rusty cedars and gaunt trunks of locust trees. It was cold, and overhead the sun was fighting with the clouds. Rand went rapidly, his powerful horse taking the road with a long and easy stride. Few were abroad; the bare and frozen fields stretched on either hand to the hills, the hills rose to the mountains, grey and sullen in the changing light. That meadow, field, and hill had once been mantled with tender verdure, and would be so again, was hard to believe, the land lay so naked and so grim.
Mrs. Selden's small, red brick mansion appeared among the leafless trees. Rand checked Selim slightly, gazing at the place with the weary uncertainty he had before exhibited, then turned for the moment from the task, irksome now as were all tasks, and rode on past Mrs. Jane Selden's to the house in which he had lived with his father and mother, and had lived with Jacqueline.
The place had been rented out since that summer of 1804, but the tenant, failing to make good, was gone, and for some months the house had been vacant. Rand and Selim moved slowly along the old, old familiar way. Every stick, every stone, every fence-corner was known to both. The man let his hand fall upon the brute's neck. "We're going home, Selim," he said. "We're going home."
It was not now the small, clean place, fresh with whitewash and bright with garden flowers, shone upon by the sun and sung about by birds, to which he had brought Jacqueline. The tenant had been dull, and the place was fallen into disrepair. In the winter air and without a leaf or flower, it looked again as it had looked when he and Gideon lived there alone. He dismounted, fastened Selim to the fence, and entered by the gate beneath the mimosa tree.
That the mimosa had ever shown sensitive leaf and mist of rosy bloom ranked now among other impossibilities. He stood for a moment looking at it in silence, then walked up the narrow path, mounted the porch steps, and tried the door. It was locked, but with an effort of all his wasted strength he burst it open and so entered the house.
The rooms were unfurnished and forlorn. He went from one to another, pausing in each in the middle of the floor, and gazing around as if to replace in that empty square the objects of the past. This progress made, he looked for a place to rest, but there was neither chair nor bench. All was bare, unswept, and desolate. He went into the kitchen, for he remembered the old settle there upon the enormous hearth. That they could not have removed, it was too heavy. He found it, took off his riding-coat and made a pillow for his head, then lay down full length upon the time-darkened wood. He had lain so, often and often, a little boy, a larger boy, a long-limbed, brooding youth. It had been his refuge from the fields, though hardly a refuge from his father. Gideon had been always there, lounging in his chair on the other side of the hearth, black pipe in hand, heavy stick beside him, revolving in his slow-moving mind, there in the dusk after the day's work, tobacco—tobacco—tobacco—and how he should keep Lewis from learning. "It had been better if he had succeeded," said Rand aloud.
With Gideon still before his eyes he fell asleep. Grim as was that figure, there was in the vision of it a strange sense of protection. It was his father, and, giddy from want of sleep, he sank slowly into oblivion, much as before now he had travelled there in the other's presence,—travelled with a gloomy mind and a body sore from the latest beating. Now the mind was full of scorpions, and the body stood in deadly need of sleep. It took it with a strange reversion to long gone-by conditions. The thought of Gideon's stick, the feel of his heavy hand upon his shoulder, were with him as of yore. The difference was that the man was comforted by what had been the boy's leaden cross.
Exhausted as he was, he slept at first heavily, and without a dream. This state lasted for some time, but eventually the brain took up its work, and the visions that plagued him recommenced. He turned, flung out his arm, moaned once or twice, lay quiet, then presently gave a cry and started up, pale and trembling, the sweat upon his brow. He wiped it off, drew a long, shuddering breath, and sat staring.
The kitchen windows were small, and half darkened by their wooden shutters. While he slept, the day had rounded into an afternoon, with more of sunshine than the morning had contained. The gold entered the room uncertainly, dimly, filtering in by the small apertures and striking across to the cavernous fireplace.
Rand knew it was but a trick of the light touching here and there in mote-filled shafts,—a trick of the light aiding the vagaries of an overwrought brain. He put forth his arm and found that it was so—there was no chair there and no figure seated in the chair. It was a trick of the light and an effect of imagination, an imagination that was hounded, day by day, from depth to pinnacle, from pinnacle to depth, back and forth like a shuttlecock in giant hands. No chair was there and no seated figure. He sank back on the settle and found that he saw them both.
The first sick leap of the heart was past. What he saw, he knew, was a mere effect of light and shadow and tragically heightened fancy: when he moved in a certain direction, the dim picture faded, broke into pieces, was gone; but lean far back in the settle, look out with eyes of one awakened from a maze of fearful dreams, and there it was again! He had no terror of it; what was it at last but the projection of a face and form with which his mind had long—had long been occupied? It had ousted the vision of his father; and that, too, was not strange, seeing that, day by day, the thought of the one—the one—the one had grown more and yet more insistent. "Cary," said Rand, in a hollow voice, "Cary!"
The light and shadow made no answer. Rand waited, gazing with some fixedness, and imagination at white heat saw the head, the face, the form, the quiet dress, the whole air of the man, the look within his eyes and the smile upon his lips. The figure sat at ease, as of old it had sat upon the Justice's Bench the day of the election, as it had sat beside the bed in the blue room at Fontenoy. Imagination laid Lewis Rand again in that room, showed him the mandarin screen, the sunny, happy morning, the pansies in the bowl. "If," he cried,—"if I had died then, I had not died a wicked man. Cary—Cary—Cary! I am in torment!"
There came no reply. Rand bowed his head. Without, in the afternoon sky, a cloud hid the sun. When the solitary man in the deserted house looked again, there were no shafts of light, no dark between to create illusion; all was even dusk, forbidding, grey, and cold. He rose from the settle and left the room and the house. Selim whinnied at the gate, and his master, coming swiftly down the path and out of the enclosure, unknotted the reins, mounted, and rode off at speed.
Rand's haste did not hold. Remorse does not necessarily break habit, and the habit of his lifetime was attention to detail, system in matters of business, scrupulous response to the call where he acknowledged the right. He drew rein at Mrs. Selden's, dismounted, and lifted the knocker.
Cousin Jane Selden herself met him in the hail. "Lewis! I'm as glad to see you as if you brought the south wind! Come in to the fire, and I'll ring for cake and wine. It is bitter weather even for January. All's well at Roselands?"
They entered the small parlour and sat down before the fire. "I saw Jacqueline," continued Mrs. Selden, "at church last Sunday. I thought her looking very badly pale and absent. I know, Lewis Rand, that you love each other dearly. There has been no quarrel?"
"I don't know," quoth Mrs. Selden, "of which I'm most sensible when it's in the air—an east wind or something amiss. The wind's in the north to-day, but the latter's on my mind. What is wrong, Lewis?"
"My dear old friend, what should be wrong?"
"That is what I asked you."
"Then nothing," he replied, "nothing but the north wind. Now about Carfax—"
Advice given on the subject of all dealings with Carfax, the adviser rose to take his leave. Mrs. Selden removed her spectacles and laid them in her key-basket. It was a sign with her that she was about to speak her mind.
"Lewis," she said, "I was a good friend to you once."
"Do I not know that?" he answered. "The best friend a poor boy ever had."
"No, not quite that—except, perhaps, to help you a little with Jacqueline. Mr. Jefferson was the best friend a poor boy ever had."
Rand winced. "You say true. The best friend a boy could have. Give me another glass of wine, and then I'll go."
"A man like that during youth and a woman like Jacqueline for your manhood—you have had much to prop your life."
"Yes. Very much."
"Then," she said sharply, "don't let it fall. Grow upward, Lewis, like the vine that gave its strength to make this generous wine! If you don't, you'll disappoint your Maker, to say nothing of some poor earthly friends! Don't fall—don't run upon the earth like poison oak. You're meant for noble uses—to help your kind, and to rejoice the heart of the Maker of strong men. Don't you fail and fall, Lewis Rand!"
Rand paused before her. "How should I help my kind, now—now?"
His old friend looked at him a little wonderingly. "Do the simple right, my dear, whatever it is that you see before you."
"The simple right! And to rejoice the heart of my Maker—if I have one?"
"Do the right strongly and surely, Lewis."
"Whatever it is?"
"Whatever it is." Mrs. Jane Selden looked at him thoughtfully, her hands clasped upon her key-basket. "I'm only an old woman—just a camp-follower with an interest in the battle. I wish that you had had a friend of your own age—a man, and your equal in power and grasp. Gaudylock and Mocket and such—they're well enough, but you're high above them, you're a sort of Emperor to them. Could you but have had such a friend, Lewis—a man like the Carys—"
"For God's sake, don't!" cried Rand hoarsely. He poured out a glass of wine, looked at it, and pushed it away. "I will go now, for there is work waiting for me in town, and at home Do as I tell you about Carfax. Good-bye, good-bye!"
Out upon the road, passing through a strip of pine and withered scrub, he raised his hand, and for some moments covered his eyes. When he dropped it, he saw, in the strong purples of the winter evening, again that misty figure, riding this time, riding near him, not in the road, but apparent in the air against and between the tall trunks of pines. "Cary," he said again, "Cary!"
There was no response from the figure in the air. "Cary," cried Rand, "I would we had been friends!"
Selim reached the open country; the pines fell away, the form was gone. Rand touched his horse with the spur and rode fast between brown stubble-fields darkening to the hills and to the evening sky. "Friends," he repeated, "friends! That would be on terms of my doing the simple right—the simple right after the most complicated wrong! Terms! there are no terms."
Leaving the fields, he rode down to a stream, crossed it, and saw the shape against a pale space of evening sky. "Is it to be always thus?" he thought. "I would that I had never been born."
January passed and February passed. Fairfax Cary, riding for the third time since the New Year from Malplaquet toward Greenwood, marked the blue March sky, the pale brown catkins by the brooks, and the white flowers of the bloodroot piercing the far-spread carpet of dead leaves. He rode rapidly, but he paused at Forrest's forge and at the mill below the ford. This also he had done before. Neither the smith nor the men at the mill knew the idea that brought him there, but they may have thought—if they thought at all—that he put strange questions. It was, moreover, matter of regret to them, and of much comment when he had passed, that Mr. Fairfax Cary had lost an old and well-liked way of making a man laugh whether he would or no. He didn't jest any more, he didn't smile and flash out something at them fit to make them hold their sides. He had aged ten years since September, he had the high look of the Carys, but he was even quieter than his brother had been—all the sparkle and play dashed out as by a violent hand. The smith and the men at the mill thought it a great pity, shook their heads as they looked after him, then fell again to work, or to mere happy lounging in the first spring airs.
The lonely horseman crossed the ford below the mill, drew rein beneath the guide-post, and halted there for some minutes, deep in thought. At last, with a shake of the head and an impatient sigh, he spoke to Saladin, and once again they took the main road. "It is the third time," thought the rider. "There is luck in the third time."
The quiet highroad, wide and sunny, seemed to mock him, and the torn white clouds sailing before the March wind might have been a beaten navy, carrying with it a wreck of hope. The gusty air brought a swirl of sere leaves across his path, and the dust rose chokingly. "Caw! caw!" sounded the crows from a nearby field. The dust fell, the wind passed, the road lay quiet and bright. "Never!" said Cary between his teeth. "I will never give up!"
Half an hour's riding, and he came in sight of a small ordinary, its low porch flush with the road, a tall gum tree standing sentinel at the back, and on the porch steps a figure which, on nearer approach, he recognized as that of the innkeeper. He rode up, dismounted, and fastened Saladin to the horse-rack, then walked up to and greeted a weight of drowsy flesh, centre to a cloud of tobacco smoke, and wedded for life to the squat bottle and deep glass adorning the step beside it.
"Good-morning, Mr. Cross."
The innkeeper stirred, removed his pipe, steadied himself by a hand upon the step, and turned a dull red face upon the speaker. "Morning, Mr.—Mr. Cary! Which way did you come, sir? I never heard you."
"I came up from the ford. You were asleep, I think."
Mr. Cross denied the imputation. "Not at this hour, sir, never at this hour—not at ten o'clock in the morning, sir! Later, maybe, when I've had my grog, I'll take my forty winks—"
"It is not ten o'clock. It is nearly twelve, Mr. Cross."
"Well, well!" returned Mr. Cross, whose face, blushing all the time, showed at no particular instant any particular discomfiture. "I must just have dropped off a bit. There's little business nowadays, and a man had better sleep than do worse! What'll you have, sir? I'll call my girl Sally to serve you.
"Nothing at the moment, Mr. Cross." Cary sat down upon the step beside the other. "I stopped here a month ago—"
"You did," answered the innkeeper. "You stopped in January, too, didn't you?"
"Yes. In January."
"I remember plain. You wanted to know this and you wanted to know that, but you certainly treated me handsome, sir, and I'm far from grudging you any information Joe Cross can give!"
"We will go back to the same subject," said Cary. "Any recompense in my power to make I should consider but your due, Mr. Cross, could you tell me—could you tell me what I want to know."
He had spoken at first guardedly, but at last with an irresistible burst of feeling. The innkeeper looked at him with dull wonder. "I'd do anything to oblige ye, Mr. Cary, I certainly would! But when we come to talking about the road, and who goes by, and who doesn't go by, and about the seventh of September, and wasn't I asleep and dreaming just before the big storm broke?—why, I say, sir, No! I don't think I was. 'Tween man and man, Mr. Cary, I don't mind telling your father's son, sir, that 'tis possible I might ha' had a drop more than usual, and ha' been asleep earlier! But I wasn't asleep when the negro spoke to me. 'Hit's gwine ter be an awful storm,' says he, just that way, just as if he were lonesome and frightened. His voice came to me as plain as my hand, and I know the mare he was riding. 'Hit's gwine ter be an awful storm,' says he—"
"The other—the other!" exclaimed Cary impatiently. "It is the other I would know of!"
"I told you before, and I tell you now," replied Mr Cross, "that I don't seem somehow clearly to remember what the other said. I'll take my oath that he said something, for he's one that don't miss speaking to a voter when he finds him! It's just slipped my mind—things act sometimes as though there was a fog, but I wasn't drunk and I wasn't asleep. No, sir! no more than I was just now when you come up and spoke to me—and it don't stand to reason, sir, that I could ha' seen two horses instead of one!"
Cary, sitting moodily attentive, chin in hand, and his eyes upon the sunny road, started violently. "Two horses instead of one," he repeated, with a catch of the breath. In a moment he was upon his feet, and the innkeeper, had he looked up and had he been less blear-eyed and dull, might have seen an approach to the old Fairfax Cary—colour in cheek and light in eye.
"I am your debtor, Mr. Cross. That's it—that's precisely it! You heard it asserted by all around you that he had gone by, and your keen mind arrived at the same conclusion. You saw and heard—in a fog—the negro boy, and later on your strong imagination provided him with a companion. Just that—you thought you saw two where there was but one! I'm your servant, Mr. Cross, your very humble, very obliged servant!"
He drew out his purse, abstracted from it all the gold it contained, and gently slid the pieces into the hand which happened to rest upon the steps in an apt position for their reception. "A trifle of drink-money, Mr. Cross! If I might suggest a toast, I would have you drink to the next Governor of Virginia! Good-day, Mr. Cross, good-day! I think I begin to remember."
He mounted and rode away. "I begin to remember—I begin to remember. The boy and I were not always together upon the main road! Did we part at the guide-post? Then where did we come together again?"
He rode through March wind and sun, by fields where men were ploughing and copses where the bloodroot bloomed, beneath the branches of a great blasted oak, and past a red bank shelving down to the road from the forest above, then on by Red Fields, and so at last into Charlottesville. Here he turned at once to the office of an agent and man of business much respected in Albemarle.
Mr. Smith rubbed his hands and asked what he could do for Mr. Cary—who was looking well, extremely well! "Spring is here, sir, spring is here! We all feel it. On a day like this I cultivate my garden, sir!"
"I also," said Cary. "Mr. Smith, my affair is short. I will thank you to keep it secret also. I want to buy, if possible, a negro boy called Young Isham, who is owned by Lewis Rand. You may offer any price, but my name is not to appear. Manage it skilfully, Mr. Smith, but manage it! I have reasons for wishing to own the boy. You will bear it in mind that my name is not to appear as purchaser."
An hour later, nearing the Greenwood gates, he saw before him another horseman, bent from the saddle and engaged with the fastening. Cary rode up. "Ned Hunter, is it you? Why, man, I have not seen you this long while! Where have you been in hiding?"
"I have visited," answered Mr. Hunter, "New York and the Eastern Shore. You are looking well, Cary; better than you did at Christmas. I was in this quarter, and so I thought I would stop at Greenwood."
The two rode together up the hill, beneath the arching oaks. The servants appeared, the horses were taken, and Cary and his guest entered the quiet old house. A little later, in the drawing-room, over a blazing fire and a bottle of wine, Mr. Hunter laid aside a somewhat quaint air of injured dignity, and condescended to speak of Fontenoy and of how very changed it was since the old days. "Nothing like so bright, sir, nothing like so bright! I have not thought Miss Dandridge looking cheerful for more than a year—and she used to be the gayest thing! always smiling, and with something witty to say every time I came near! I hate changes. This is good wine, Cary."
"Yes. I do not, on the whole, think Fontenoy so changed."
"Don't you? I do. Well, well, it is not the only place that has changed! You've no sign yet, have you, Cary, of the murderer?"
"He still goes free."
"If there's a man in the county that I dislike," remarked Mr. Hunter, "it is Lewis Rand. But if he had taken the river road that day as he said he should, he and your brother might have travelled together, and the two would have been a match for the damned gypsy, or whoever it was, that shot Mr. Cary. Have you ever noticed what little things make all the difference? Shall I pour for you, too?"
"As he said he should. How do you know that he said he should?"
"Why, he and I slept the night of the sixth of September at the Cross Roads Inn—"
"Yes, one gets strange housemates at an inn. Well, after supper I went out on the porch and began calling to the dogs, and he was there sitting on the steps in the dusk. The wind was blowing, and there were fireflies, and the dogs were jumping up and down. 'Down, Rover!' said I, 'Down, Di! Down, Vixen!' And then Rand and I talked a bit, and I said to him, 'The river road's bad, but it's much the shortest.'"
"What," demanded Cary, in a strained voice,—"what did he answer?"
"He answered, 'I shall take the river road.'"
Mr. Hunter helped himself to wine. "I was tired, and he was tired, and I didn't like him anyway, and wasn't interested, so I went on calling to the dogs, and we didn't speak again. He and his negro boy went on at dawn, and he took, after all, the main road. He isn't," finished Mr. Hunter, "the kind of person you think of as changeable, and it's a thousand pities he didn't hold to his first idea! Things might have been different."
Cary rose from the table. "Would you swear, Hunter, to what he said?"
"Why, certainly—before all the justices in Virginia. I don't believe," said Mr. Hunter, "that my parents could have had good memories, for somehow things slip away from me—but when I do remember, Cary, I remember for all time!" He drank his wine and looked around him. "I haven't been in this room, I don't believe, for five years! That was before it was all done over like this. What a lot of Carys you've got hanging on the walls—and just one left to sit and look at them! You haven't a portrait of your brother?"
"No. Not upon the walls. If you're not fatigued, would you object to riding with me to West Hill? That's the nearest justice."
"I'm not at all fatigued. But I can't see what you want it taken down for—"
"Perhaps not," answered Cary patiently, "but you'll swear to it, all the same?"
"Why," said Mr Hunter, "I can have no possible objection to seeing my words in black and white. I'll take another glass, and then I'll ride with you wherever you like."
At sundown Fairfax Cary, returning to Greenwood alone, gave his horse to Eli, and presently entered the library. It was a dim old room, unrenewed and unimproved, but the two brothers had loved and frequented it. Now, in the March sunset, with the fire upon the hearth, with the dogs that had entered with the master, the shadowy corners, and many books, it had an aspect both rough and gracious. It was a room in which to remember, and it had an air favourable to resolve.
The last of the Greenwood Carys walked to the western window and stood looking out and up. He looked from a hill-top, but the summit upon which lay the Cary burying-ground was higher yet. The flat stones did not show, nor the wild tangle of dark vine, but the trees stood sharp and black against the vivid sky. Cary stood motionless, a hand on either side of the window frame. The colour faded from the sky, and there set in the iron grey of twilight. He left the window, called for candles, and when they had been brought, sat down at the heavy table and began to draw a map of the country between the ford and Red Fields.
Three days later he rode into Charlottesville and stopped at the office of Mr. Smith, whom he found at the back of the house, watching from a chair planted in the sunshine the springing of a line of bulbs. "You see, sir," quoth the agent, "I cultivate my garden! Tulips here, crocus there, yonder hyacinths. Red Chalice has been up two days, and my white Amazon peeped out of the earth yesterday. King Midas and Sulphur and Madame Mere are on the way. Well, Mr. Cary, I tried my level best with that commission of yours, and I failed! The boy is not for sale."
"Ah!" said Cary, and stooped to examine the white Amazon. "I hardly expected, Mr. Smith, that he would be for sale. At no price, I presume?"
"At no price. He is one of the house servants, and his master is attached to him. I am very sorry, sir."
His client rose from the contemplation of the springing hyacinth. "Give yourself no uneasiness, Mr. Smith. I am not disappointed. There are reasons, no doubt, why Mr. Rand declines to part with him. Let us put it out of mind. What a bright little garden you will have, sir, when tulip, crocus, and hyacinth are all in bloom!"
He took his leave, and rode homeward through the keen March weather. "I am beginning to remember quite plainly," he said. "Presently I'll know it like an old refrain—every word, Saladin, every word, every word, down to the last black one."
THE SIMPLE RIGHT
An important case in a neighbouring county called Lewis Rand from home, and kept him an April week in the court room or in a small town's untidy tavern. It was his habit, known and deferred to, never to accept at such times the hospitality sure to be pressed upon him. The prominent men of his party urged him home with them, but accepted his refusal with a nod of understanding, and rode on strong in the conviction that a man so absorbed, so given over to watching and guarding his client's interests, was assuredly a man to be relied upon in any litigation. A great lawyer was like a great general—headquarters on the field. As for Lewis Rand and the next election—if he wanted to be Governor of Virginia, men who heard him in the court room were not the ones to say him nay! To a rational man his genius vindicated his birth. If he wanted the post, and if it was to the interest of the state, in God's name let him have it—old Gideon to the contrary!
Rand won the case, and turned Selim's head toward Albemarle. There had been a weary half day of thanks and protestations, and he was conscious of a dull relief when the last house was left behind, when the cultivated fields fell away, and the Virginian forest, still so dominant in the landscape, opened its dark arms and drew him in.
He rode slowly now, with drooping head. Young Isham, some yards behind, almost went to sleep in his saddle, so dragging was the tread the mare must follow. The dark aisle of the forest led presently through a gorge where the woods were in effect primeval. Upon the one hand rose a bank, thick with delicate moss and fern and shaded by birch and ash; on the other the ravine fell precipitously to hidden water, and was choked by towering pine and hemlock. The air was heavy, cool, and dank, the sunshine entering sparsely. The place was, however, a haunt of birds, and now a wood robin answered its mate.
Rand rode more and more slowly. The way was narrow, but here and there, between it and the bank, appeared grey boulders sunk in all the fairy growth of early spring. He drew rein, bared his head, and looked about him, then dismounted and spoke to Young Isham, coming up behind. "I will sit here a little and rest, Young Isham. Take Selim with you around the turn and wait for me there. I'm tired, tired, tired!"
The negro obeyed, and the master was left alone Beside the road, beneath the mossy bank, lay a great fallen rock Rand flung himself down upon this, and as he did so, he remembered a river-bank, a sycamore, and a rock upon which a boy of fourteen had lain and watched, coming over the hill-top, distinct against the sunset sky, the god from the machine It was such a stone as this, and it was seventeen years ago "Seventeen years. And a thousand years in Thy sight—"
The past weeks had seen a change in the condition of his brain. He was yet all but sleepless, and the physical strain had weakened his frame and sharpened his features, but the sheer force of the man, asserting itself, had put down the first wild inner tumult. Imagination was not now whipped to giddy heights, it kept a full, dark level. When, at long intervals, he slept, it was to dream, but not so dreadfully. He had no more visions such as had haunted him in January. The thought of Cary was with him, full and deep, a clean and bitter agony, but he saw him no more save with the eye of the mind. He was as rational as a sleepless man with a murder on his soul might well be, and he suffered as he had hardly suffered before.
With his face buried in his arms he lay very still upon the rock. He lay in shadow, but the sunlight was on the treetops above him. The wood robin yet uttered its bell-like note, the moist wind brought down the bank the fragrance of the fringe tree to blend with the deeper odour of the pine and hemlock. Rand lay without moving, the fingers of one outstretched hand clenched upon the edges of the rock. "A thousand years in Thy sight—and my day is as a thousand years. Oh, my God!"
The minutes passed, deep and grave, slow and full, with the sense of afternoon, of solemn and trackless woods, unbreathed air, silence and high heaven, then the April wind swept up the gorge and brought the sound of water. Rand sat up, resting his head upon his hands, and stared down the shadowy steep. There were flowers growing close to him, violets and anemones, and on a ledge of rock above, the maiden-hair fern. His eyes falling upon them, they brought to his mind, suddenly and sadly enough, Deb and her flower ladies, all in a ring beneath the cedars—Faith and Hope and Charity, Ruth and Esther and the Shulamite.
The recollection of that morning was followed by a thought of the night before—of the Fontenoy drawing-room and of all who had been gathered there. He saw the place again, and he saw every figure within it—the two Churchills, the two Carys, Unity, Jacqueline. "There is not one," he thought, "to whom I've worked no harm. All that I have touched, I have withered."
The wind again rushed up the gorge, a great stir of air that swayed the trees, and filled the ravine with a sound like the sea. Rand listened dully, staring down the steeps of pine and hemlock, giant trees that had dwelt there long. A desolation came upon him. The air appeared to darken and grow cold, the wind passed, and the gorge lay very still. Rand bowed himself together, and at last, with a dull and heavy throb, his heart spoke. "What shall I do," it asked, "O God?"
The Absolute within him made answer. "The simple right."
The wind returned, and the trees of the forest shook to the blast. The simple right! Where was the simple right in so complex a wrong? Step forward, backward, to either side—harm and misery every way! And pride, and ambition, and love, and human company—to close the door, to close the door on all! "No," said Rand, and set his teeth. "No, no!"
The afternoon deepened in the gorge of the Blue Ridge. Now the wind swept it and now the wind was still. The sunlight touched the treetops, or fell through in shafts upon the early flowers. From the mould of a million generations stalk and leaf arose for their brief hour of light and life. When it was spent, they would rest for aeon, then stir again. In the silence was heard the fall of the pine cone.
Rand lay, face down, upon the rock. In his mind there was now no thought of Cary, no thought of Jacqueline, nor of Fairfax Cary, nor of any other of the dead and living. It was the valley of the shadow of death, and his soul was at grips with Apollyon.
He lay there until all the sunlight was withdrawn from the gorge, and until Young Isham, frightened into disobedience, came and touched him upon the shoulder. He lifted a grey and twisted face. "Yes, yes, Young Isham, it is late! Go back, and I will come in a moment."
The negro went, and Rand arose from the rock, crossed the road, and stood looking down toward the hidden water. From somewhere out of the green gloom sounded the bird's throbbing note, then all again was quiet, dank, and still. He raised his arms, resting them and his face upon them against the red bark of a giant pine. The thought of death in the pool below came to him, but he shook his head. The door was open, truly, but it led nowhere. His soul looked at the chasm it must cross, shuddered, and crossed it. His arms dropped from the tree and he raised his eyes to the blue above. He was yet in a land of effort and anguish, but the god within him saw the light.
M. DE PINCORNET
Malplaquet was a Cary place, leagued in friendship as in blood with Greenwood. For seven months it had esteemed itself in mourning for the kinsman who had ridden from its gates to a violent death. But there were young girls in the house, and now, in the bright May weather, it was hard not to put forth leaf and bud and be gay once more. Actual gayety would not do, the place felt that, and very heartily; but pleasure that was also education, pleasure well within bounds, and education insisted upon, this might now be temperately indulged in. There seemed no good reason why, in mid-spring, the dancing class should not be held at Malplaquet, since it was the most convenient house to a large neighbourhood, and there were in the family three young girls.
The age esteemed dancing a highly necessary accomplishment, and its acquisition meant work, and hard work, no less than delightful play. Half a dozen young people came to stay three days at the house; half a score more drove or rode over in the afternoons, going home after ten by moonlight or by starlight Their elders came with them, it was a business of minuets and contra-dances, painstakingly performed and solicitously watched A large old parlour gave its waxed floor, Mr Pincornet's violin furnished the music, and Mr Pincornet himself, lately returned to Albemarle from his season in Richmond, imparted instruction and directed the dance. The house was full from garret to cellar, neighbours' horses in the stables, neighbours' servants in the quarter. The long, low brick office standing under the big oaks in the yard made, according to custom, a barracks for the young men who, high of mettle, bold, and gay, rode in from twenty miles around, ready to dance from dusk till dawn, and then, in a bright garden and May weather, to pursue some bits of muslin throughout a morning. Malplaquet was in a state of sober glee when, inconveniently enough, the one Cary whose mourning had not lightened chanced, in ignorance of the dancing class, to ride through the gates and up the hill.
It was his intention, it appeared, to spend the night which was fast falling, and to ride back to Charlottesville in the morning. The head of the Malplaquet Carys met him with affection and apology. "Young people will be young, Fair, and Molly and I thought it best to humour them in this no great thing! It's a mere lesson they're having. But I'm sorry, cousin—"
"You need not be, sir," said the other. "Ludwell would have been the last man on earth to wish their spirit less, or their pleasure less. It's time and the weather, sir,—Malplaquet feels it with all the world. You must not be troubled, and you must not disturb my cousins. I might ride on—"
"No, no, Fair! No, no!"
"Then I won't. Give me a room in the office—I see the house is full—and let Remus bring me supper there. If you'll come over later, sir, we'll talk Embargo, and I'll give you the up-county news. I'll to bed early, I think."
"I wish I could come! By George, it would be a relief to get away from all the bowing and scraping! You're sure you aren't hurt, Fair?"
"Quite sure," answered the other, with his old smile. "I'll go now to the office, if I may. No need even to tell them I am here."
Not to tell them was a thing more easily said than done. Time was when Fairfax Cary would have been hailed delightedly, drawn at once to the centre of things, and kept there by the quick glances of young women, the emulative gaze of neighbourhood gallants, and the approving consideration of the elder folk. His presence was wont to make itself felt. Now, when the news spread that he was at Malplaquet, there was a break in the dance, a pause, a hush. "What shall we do?" asked in distress the daughters of the house.
"Go on dancing," was the reply. "He'll have no difference made. But when the lesson's over, you'll remember, one and all, that he is here."
In the far room of the office, quiet, and with a porch of its own, Cary got rid of the dust of the road, then ate the supper, bountiful and delicate, brought by Remus and presided over by the mistress of the house, who talked to him of Greenwood and of his father. "The best dancer, Fair, and, after Henry Churchill, the handsomest man,—with the air, you know, and always brave and gay and true as steel! They said he was a good hater, and I know he was a good friend. You take after him, Fair."
"Yes, I know, I know—but you the most. Ludwell had much from your mother—that strength and patience and grace were Lucy Meade's. Well, well, I cry when I think of it, so I'll not think! Is there nothing more you'll have? Remus is to wait upon you—you hear, Remus? And now, Fair, I'll go back to the children"
Cary kissed her. "Give them all three my love, and tell little Anne to mind her steps. I've got a book to read, and I'll go to bed early."
He sat over his book until nearly ten, then extinguished his candles and stepped out upon the small, moonlit porch. From the house, a hundred yards away, came the sound of the violin, and of laughter, subdued but genuine. Cary drew a chair to the porch railing and sat down, resting his elbow upon the wood, his cheek upon his hand. The violin brought the thought of Unity. The laughter did not grate upon him. His nature was large, and the mirth at Malplaquet did no unkindness as it meant none. He sat there quietly until the music stopped and the lesson came to an end. The pupils not staying overnight went away, as testified the sound of wheel and stamp of hoof, the laughing voices and lingering good-byes, audible from the front of the house. This noise died, then, after an interval, lights appeared in upper windows. Slender arms and hands, put far out, drew to the wooden shutters; clear, girlish voices said good-night, and were answered by fervent and deeper tones below.
The quiet proper to the hour drew on, the lighted windows darkened one by one, and presently there appeared at the office the master of the house, accompanied by two or three young men. These greeted Cary soberly, but with much kindness. "We've put," said the host, "all the talkative rattlepates away in the house, and given you three sensible men! Mr. Bland has the room at the other end, Jack Minor and Nelson the one next to him, and in the little room beside yours, Fair, we'll stow Mr. Pincornet. They've all danced themselves tired, and the whole place is to have a quiet night." The three sensible men went, after a little, to their several quarters, and the kinsman continued: "The class ends to-night, Fair. To-morrow morning all go away except the Blands and the Morrises and George Harvie's little Dorothea. The house will be quiet, and you are not to ride away from us in the morning! Good-night—God bless you!"
Cary, left alone, watched the lights go out in the rooms of Mr. Bland, Mr. Minor, and Mr. Nelson. He thought, "I will go to bed and go to sleep"; then, so bright was the moonlight, so sweet and fragrant and now silent the night, that he stayed on upon the little porch, his arms against the railing, his eyes now on the moon, now on the quiet great house and the shadowy clumps of trees. Presently Mr. Pincornet, the moon whitening his old brocade and his curled wig, came from the house, crossed the grass, and mounted to the porch upon which his small room opened.
He started as he saw the figure by the railing. "Who is it?" he demanded, in his high, cracked voice; then, "Ah, I see, I see! A thousand pardons, Mr. Cary,—"
"We are to be neighbours to-night," said Cary. "It has been long since we met, Mr. Pincornet. I am glad to see you again."
"I have been in Richmond," said the dancing master, "since—since September."
Cary touched a chair near him with a gesture of invitation. "Won't you sit down? It is too beautiful a night to go early to bed, and I do not think we will disturb the others' slumbers. But perhaps you are tired—"
"The practice of my art does not tire me," answered Mr. Pincornet. "I will watch the moon with you for as long as you please. We had nights such as this near Aire, when I was young"
He sat down, leaning his chin upon his beruffled hand. The light falling full on his companion showed the dark dress and above it the quiet, much altered face. Mr. Pincornet sighed, and tapped nervously upon the railing with the fingers of his other hand. "Mr Cary, I have not seen you since—Pray accept my profound condolences, my sympathy, and my admiration."
His old pupil thanked him. "All my brother's friends and mine are most kind. I should guess that you have yourself seen many sorrows, Mr. Pincornet."
The Frenchman's face twitched. "Many, sir, many. I have experienced the curse of fortune. Eh bien! one pays, and all is said! I have grieved with you, sir, I beg you to believe it. I admired your brother."
"He was worthy of admiration."
"In the south, near Mauleon, I lost such an one—brother not in blood but in friendship, a friendship pure as the flowers of spring and strong as the vintage of autumn. His own troops turned Jacobin and scoundrel, mutinied, shot him down—Ha!" Mr. Pincornet drew out his box and took snuff with trembling fingers. "Well! the King's side was uppermost for a while down there, and we had our revenge—we had our revenge—we had our revenge! But," he ended sadly, "it could not bring back my poor Charles."
"Did you think of it as revenge?"
"No. I thought of it as justice. It was that, sir. Those soldiers paid, but they owed the debt—every sou they owed it! He was," continued Mr. Pincornet, "gallant and brave, a great lover, a great fighter. He was to my heart, though not of my blood—"
"The man that I have lost," said Cary, "was of my blood and to my heart. I am left alone of an old house. And I pursue justice, Mr. Pincornet, I pursue justice, I pursue justice."
Mr. Pincornet looked at the face opposite him. "I think, sir, you will capture that to which you give chase. I have been in town, away from the country, but I hear the talk, and sometimes I read the papers. You have not taken the murderer?"
"It is strange!" exclaimed the other. "And no one suspected?"
"I suspect," answered Cary sternly, "but the world in general does not, or suspects wrongly. You were not at the inquest which was held?"
The dancing master shook his head. "In your sorrow, sir, such matters were, naturally, not brought to your notice. I fell ill, in the first days of September, at Red Fields, of a cold upon the lungs. I gave up my art and lay at death's door. My head was light; I heard and I thought of nothing but the faces and the voices around about Aire where I was young. I recovered, and, in the stage, I went to Richmond. To ask who is it you suspect would be a question indiscreet—"
Cary sat with his eyes upon the dark azure above the treetops. "Not yet," he said, in a brooding voice; "I have him not yet. Did you, Mr. Pincornet, have any scruple when you took vengeance, near Mauleon?"
"None, sir! I served justice. Soldiers are not levied to murder at once their faith and their officers. No more scruple than is yours in hunting down the wild beast that killed your brother! You have my wishes there for a good hunting!"