Opening a Chestnut Burr
by Edward Payson Roe
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"What does this mean?" she asked, with a quick, startled glance around.

"It means mischief to all concerned," said the man, sullenly.

"This is Miss Walton," said the woman, advancing.

"Yes," exclaimed Annie, and she rushed forward and sobbed out, "save me from your husband; he threatened to take my life."

"'My husband!'" said the woman, with intense bitterness, turning toward the man. "Do you hear that, Vight? Quiet your fears, young lady. Do you remember the sick, weary woman that you found one hot day last summer by the roadside? I was faint, and it seemed to me that I was dying. I often wish to, but when it comes to the point and I look over into the black gulf, I'm afraid—"

"But, woman—" interrupted the man, harshly.

"Be still," she said, imperiously waving her hand.

"Don't rouse a devil you can't control." Then turning to Annie, she continued, "I was afraid then; I was in an agony of terror. I was so weak that I could scarcely do more than look appealingly to you and stretch out my hands. Most ladies would have said, 'She's drunk,' and passed contemptuously on. But you got out of your wagon and took my cold hand. I whispered, 'I'm sick; for God's sake help me.' And you believed me and said, 'I will help you, for God's sake and your own.' Then you went to the carriage, and got some cordial which you said was for another sick person, and gave me some; and when I revived, you half carried me and half lifted me into your nice covered little wagon, that kept the burning sun off my head, and you took me miles out of your way to a little house which I falsely told you was my home. I heard that you afterward came to see me. You spoke kindly. When I could speak I said that I was not fit for you to touch, and you answered that Jesus Christ was glad to help touch any human creature, and that you were not better than He! Then you told me a little about Him, but I was too sick to listen much. God knows I've got down about as low as any woman can. I dare not pray for myself, but since that day I've prayed for you. And mark what I say, Vight," she added, her sad, weird manner changing to sudden fierceness, "not a hair of this lady's head shall be hurt."

"But these two will go and blab on us," said the man, angrily. "At least the girl will. She won't promise to keep her secret. I have no fears for the man; I can keep him quiet."

"Why won't you promise?" asked the woman, gently, but with surprise.

"Because I cannot," said Annie, earnestly, though her voice was still broken by sobs. "When we hide crime, we take part in it."

"And would you rather die than do what you thought wrong?"

"It were better," said Annie.

"Oh that I had had such a spirit in the fatal past!" groaned the woman.

"But won't you protect me still?" exclaimed Annie, seizing her hand. "It would kill my poor old father too, if I should die. I cannot burden my soul with your secrets, but save me—oh, save me, from so dreadful a death!"

"I have said it, Miss Walton. Not a hair of your head shall be hurt."

"What do you advise then, madam?" asked the man, satirically. "Shall we invite Mr. Walton and the sheriff up to-morrow to take a look at the room as it now stands?"

"I advise nothing," said the woman, harshly. "I only say, in a way you understand, not a hair of this girl's head shall be hurt."

"Thank God, oh, thank God," murmured Annie, with a feeling of confidence and inexpressible relief, for there was that in the woman's bearing and tone which gave evidence of unusual power over her associate in crime.

Then Annie added, still clinging to a hand unsanctified by the significant plain ring, "I hope you will keep my companion safe from harm also."

During the scene between Annie and her strange protector, who was evidently a sad wreck of a beautiful and gifted woman, Gregory had sunk into a chair through weakness and shame, and covered his face with his hands.

The woman turned toward him with instinctive antipathy, and asked, "How is it, sir, you have left a young girl to meet this danger alone?"

Gregory's white, drawn face turned scarlet as he answered, "Because I am like you and this man here, and not like Miss Walton, who is an angel of truth and goodness."

"'Like us,' indeed!" said she, disdainfully. "I don't know that you have proved us cowards yet. And could you be bad and mean enough to see this brave maiden slain before your eyes, and go away in silence to save your own miserable self?"

"For aught I know I could," answered he, savagely. "I would like to see what mean, horrible, loathsome thing, this hateful, hated thing I call myself could not do."

Gregory showed, in a way fearful to witness, what intense hostility and loathing a spirit naturally noble can feel toward itself when action and conscience are at war.

"Ah," said the woman, bitterly, "now you speak a language I know well. Why should I fear the judgment-day?" she added, with a gloomy light in her eyes, as if communing with herself. "Nothing worse can be said of me than I will say now. But," she sneered, turning sharply to Gregory, "I do not think I have fallen so low as you."

"Probably not," he replied, with a grim laugh, and a significant shrug which he had learned abroad. "I will not dispute my bad pre-eminence. Come, Vight, or whatever your name is," he continued, rising, "make up your mind quickly what you are going to do. I am a weak man, morally and physically. If you intend to shoot me, or let your dog make a meal of me, let us have it over as soon as possible. Since Miss Walton is safe, I am as well prepared now as I ever shall be."

"I entreat you," pleaded Annie, still clinging to the woman, "don't let any harm come to him."

"What is the use of touching him?" said the man, gruffly. Then turning to Gregory he asked, "Do you still promise not to use your knowledge against me? You might do me more harm in New York than here."

"I have promised once, and that is enough," said Gregory, irritably. "I keep my word for good or evil, though you can't know that, and are fools for trusting me."

"I'll trust neither of you," said the man, with an oath. "Here, Dencie, I must talk with you alone. I'm willing to do anything that's reasonable, but I'm not going to prison again alive, mark" that (with a still more fearful imprecation). "Don't leave this room or I won't answer for the consequences," he said, sternly to Gregory and Annie, at the same time looking significantly at the dog.

Then he and the woman went into the back room, and there was an earnest and somewhat angry consultation.

Gregory sat down and leaned his head on the table in a manner that showed he had passed beyond despondency and fear into despairing indifference as to what became of him. He felt that henceforth he must be simply odious to Miss Walton, that she would only tolerate his presence as long as it was necessary, veiling her contempt by more politeness. In his shame and weakness he would almost rather die than meet her true, honest eyes again.

Annie had the courage of principle and firm resolve, rather than that which is natural and physical. The thought of sudden and violent death appalled her. If her impulsive nature were excited, like that of a soldier in battle, she could forget danger. If in her bed at home she were wasting with disease, she would soon submit to the Divine will with childlike trust. But her whole being shrunk inexpressibly from violent and unnatural death. Never before did life seem so sweet. Never before was there so much to live for. She could have been a martyr in any age and in any horrible form for conscience' sake, but she would have met her fate tremblingly, shrinkingly, and with intense longings for life. And yet with all this instinctive dread, her trust in God and His promises would not fail. But instead of standing calmly erect on her faith, and confronting destiny, it was her nature, in such terrible emergencies, to cling in loving and utter dependence, and obey.

She therefore in no respect shared Gregory's indifference, but was keenly alive to the situation.

At first, with her hand upon her heart to still its wild throbbings, she listened intently, and tried to catch the drift of the fateful conference within. This being vain, her eyes wandered hurriedly around the room. Standing thus, she unconsciously completed a strange picture in that incongruous place, with her dejected companion on one side, and the great dog, eying her savagely, on the other. Gregory's despairing attitude impressed her deeply. In a sudden rash of pity she felt that he was not as cowardly as he had seemed. A woman with difficulty forgives this sin. His harsh condemnation and evident detestation of himself impelled her generous nature instinctively to take the part of his weak and wronged spirit. She had early been taught to pity rather than to condemn those whom evil is destroying. In all his depravity he did not repel her, for, though proud, he had no petty, shallow vanity; and the evident fact that he suffered so deeply disarmed her.

Moreover, companionship in trouble which she felt was partly her fault, drew her toward him, and, stepping to his side, she laid her hand on his shoulder and said, gently, "Cheer up, my friend; I understand you better than you do yourself. God will bring us safely through."

He shrunk from her hand, and said, drearily, "With better reason than younder woman I can say, 'I am not fit for you to touch.' As for God, He has nothing to do with me."

She answered, kindly, "I do not think that either of those things is true. But, Mr. Gregory, what will they do with us? They will not dare—"

She was interrupted by the entrance of the strangely assorted couple into whose crime-stained hands they had so unexpectedly fallen. Both felt that but little trust could be placed in such perverted and passion-swept natures—that they would be guided by their fears, impulses, and interests. Annie's main hope was in the hold she had on the woman's sympathies; but the latter, as she entered, wore a sullen and disappointed look, as if she had not been given her own way. Annie at once stepped to her side and again took her hand, as if she were her best hope of safety. It was evident that her confidence and unshrinking touch affected the poor creature deeply, and her hand closed over Annie's in a way that was reassuring.

"I suppose you would scarcely like to trust yourselves to me or my dog," said the man, with a grim laugh. "What's more, I've no time to bother with you. Since my companion here feels she owes you something, Miss Walton, she can now repay you a hundred-fold. But follow her directions closely, as you value your lives;" and he left the house with the dog. Soon after, they heard in the forest what seemed the note of the whippoorwill repeated three times, but it was so near and importunate that Annie was startled, and the woman's manner indicated that she was not listening to a bird. After a few moments she said, gloomily: "Miss Walton, I promised you should receive no harm, and I will keep my word. I hoped I could send you directly home to-night, but that's impossible. I can do much with Vight, but not everything. He has sworn never to go to prison again alive, and none of our lives would be worth much if they stood in the way of his escape. We meant to leave this region before many months, for troublesome stories are getting around, and now we must go at once. I will take you to a place of safety, from which you can return home to-morrow. Come."

"But father will be wild with anxiety," cried Annie, wringing her hands.

"It is the best I can do," said the woman, sadly. "Come, we have no time to lose."

She put on a woollen hood, and taking a long, slender staff, led the way out into the darkness.

They felt that there was nothing to do but follow, which they did in silence. They did not go back toward their broken wagon, but continued down the wheel-track whereon their accident had occurred. Suddenly the woman left this, taking a path through the woods, and after proceeding with difficulty some distance, stopped, and lighted a small lantern she had carried under her shawl. Even with the aid of this their progress was painful and precarious in the steeply descending rocky path, which had so many intricate windings that both Annie and Gregory felt that they were indeed being led into a terra incognita. Annie was consumed with anxiety as to the issue of their strange adventure, but believed confidence in her guide to be the wisest course. Gregory was too weary and indifferent to care for himself, and stumbled on mechanically.

At last he said, sullenly, "Madam, I can go no further. I may as well die here as anywhere."

"You must go," she said, sharply; "for my sake and Miss Walton's, if not for your own. Besides, it's not much further. What I do to-night must be done rightly."

"Well, then, while there is breath left, Miss Walton shall have the benefit of it."

"May we not rest a few minutes?" asked Annie. "I too am very tired."

"Yes, before long at the place where you must pass the night."

The path soon came out in another wheel-track, which seemed to lead down a deep ravine. Descending this a little way, they reached an opening in which was the dusky outline of a small house.

"Here we part," said their guide, taking Annie's hand, while Gregory sank exhausted on a rock near. "The old woman and her son who live in that house will give you shelter, and to-morrow you must find your best way home. This seems poor return for your kindness, but it's in keeping with my miserable life, which is as dark and wild as the unknown flinty path we came. After all, things have turned out far better than they might have done. Vight was expecting some one, and so had the dog within doors. He would have torn you to pieces had he been without as usual."

"Lead this life no longer. Stay with us, and I will help you to better things," said Annie, earnestly.

The look of intense longing on the woman's face as the light of the flickering lantern fell on it would haunt Annie to her dying day.

"Oh that I might!" she groaned. "Oh that I might! A more fearful bondage never cursed a human soul!"

"And why can you not?" pleaded Annie, putting her hand on the trembling woman's shoulder. "You have seen better days. You were meant for a good and noble life. You can't sin unfeelingly. Then why sin at all? Break these chains, and by and by peace in this life and heaven in the life to come will reward you."

The woman sat down by the roadside, and for a moment her whole frame seemed convulsed with sobs. At last she said, brokenly, "You plead as my good angel did before it left me—but it's no use—it's too late. I have indeed seen better days, pure, happy days; and so has he. We once stood high in the respect of all. But he fell, and I fell in ways I can't explain. You cannot understand, that as love binds with silken cords, so crime may bind with iron chains. No more—say no more. You only torment me," she broke in, harshly, as Annie was about to speak again. "You cannot understand. How could you? We love, hate, and fear each other at the same time, and death only can part us. But that may soon—that may soon;" and she clenched her hands with a dark look.

"But enough of this. I have too much to do to tire myself this way. You must go to that house; I cannot. Old Mrs. Tompkins and her son will give you shelter. I don't wish them to get into trouble. There will be a close investigation into all this. I know what your father's disposition is. And now farewell. The only good thing about me is, I shall still pray for you, the only one who has ever treated me like a woman since—since—since I fell into hell," she said in a low, hoarse tone, and printing a passionate kiss on Annie's hand, she blew out her light, and vanished in the darkness.

It seemed to swallow her up, and become a type of the mystery and fate that enshrouded the forlorn creature. Beyond the bare fact that she took the train the following morning with the man she called "Vight," Annie never heard of her again. Still there was hope for the wretched wanderer. However dark and hidden her paths, the eyes of a merciful God ever followed her, and to that God Annie prayed often in her behalf.

NOTE—This chapter has some historic basis. The man called "Vight" is not altogether an imaginary character, for a desperate and successful counterfeiter dwelt for a time among the mountains on the Hudson, plying his nefarious trade. It is said that he took life more than once to escape detection.



After the departure of their strange guide, who had befriended them as best she could, Gregory at once went to the house and knocked. There was a movement within, and a quavering voice asked, "Who's there?"

"Friends who have lost their way, and need shelter."

"I don't know about lettin' strangers in this time o' night," answered the voice.

"There are only two of us," said Annie. "Perhaps you know who Miss Walton is. I entreat you to let us in."

"Miss Walton, Miss Walton, sartin, I know who she is. But I can't believe she's here."

"Our wagon broke down this afternoon, and we have lost our way," explained Gregory.

Again there was a stir inside, and soon a glimmer of light. After a few moments the door was opened slightly, and a woman's voice asked, apprehensively, "Be you sure it's Miss Walton?"

"Yes," said Annie, "you need have no fears. Hold the light, and see for yourself."

This the woman did, and, apparently satisfied, gave them admittance at once.

She seemed quite aged, and a few gray locks straggled out from under her dingy cap, which suggested anything but a halo around her wrinkled, withered face. A ragged calico wrapper incased her tall, gaunt form, and altogether she did not make a promising hostess.

Before she could ask her unexpected guests any further questions, the cry of a whippoorwill was again heard three times. She listened with a startled, frightened manner. The sounds were repeated, and she seemed satisfied:

"Isn't it rather late in the season for whippoorwills?" asked Annie, uneasily, for this bird's note, now heard again, seemed like a signal.

"I dunno nothin' about whippoorwills," said the woman, stolidly. "The pesky bird kind o' started me at first. Don't like to hear 'em round. They bring bad luck. I can't do much for you, Miss Walton, in this poor place. But such as 'tis you're welcome to stay. My son has been off haulin' wood; guess he won't be back now afore to-morrow."

"When do you think he will come?" asked Annie, anxiously.

"Well, not much afore night, I guess."

"What will my poor father do?" moaned Annie. "He will be out all night looking for us."

"Sure now, will he though?" said the woman, showing some traces of anxiety herself. "Well, miss, you'll have to stay till my son gits back, for it's a long way round through the valley to your house."

There was nothing to do but wait patiently till morning. The woman showed Gregory up into a loft over the one room of the house, saying, "Here's where my son sleeps. It's the best I can do, though I s'pose you ain't used to such beds."

He threw his exhausted form on the wretched couch, and soon found respite in troubled sleep.

Annie dozed away the night in a creaky old rocking-chair, the nearest approach to a thing of comfort that the hovel contained. The old woman had evidently been so "started" that she needed the sedative of a short clay pipe, highly colored indeed, still a connoisseur in meerschaums would scarcely covet it. This she would remove from her mouth now and then, as she crouched on a low stool in the chimney- corner, to shake her head ominously. Perhaps she knew more about whippoorwills than she admitted. At last it seemed that the fumes, which half strangled Annie, had their wonted effect, and she hobbled to her bed and was soon giving discordant evidence of her peace. Annie then noiselessly opened a window, that she too might breathe.

When Gregory waked next morning, it was broad day. He felt so stiff and ill he could scarcely move, and with difficulty made his way to the room below. The old woman was at the stove, frying some sputtering pork, and its rank odor was most repulsive to the fastidious habitue of metropolitan clubs.

"Where is Miss Walton?" he asked, in quick alarm.

"Only gone to the spring after water," replied the woman, shortly. "Why didn't you git up and git it for her?"

"I would if I had known," he muttered, and he escaped from the intolerable air of the room to the door, where he met Annie, fresh and rosy from her morning walk and her toilet at the brook that brawled down the ravine.

"Mr. Gregory, you are certainly ill," she exclaimed. "I am so sorry it has all happened!"

He looked at her wonderingly, and then said, "You appear as if nothing had happened. I am ill, Miss Walton, and I wish I were dead. You can not feel toward me half the contempt I have for myself."

"Now, honestly, Mr. Gregory, I have no contempt for you at all."

He turned away and shook his head dejectedly.

"But I mean what I say," she continued, earnestly.

"Then it is your goodness, and not my desert."

"As I told you last night, so again I sincerely say, I think I understand you better than you do yourself."

"You are mistaken," he answered, with gloomy emphasis. "Your intuitions are quick, I admit. I have never known your equal in that respect. But there are some things I am glad to think you never can understand. You can never know what a proud man suffers when he has utterly lost hope and self-respect. Though I acted so mean a part myself, I can still appreciate your nobleness, courage, and fidelity to conscience. I thought such heroism belonged only to the past."

"Mr. Gregory, I wish I could make you understand me," said Annie, with real distress in her tone. "I am not brave; I was more afraid than you. Indeed, I was in an agony of fear. I refused that man's demand because I was compelled to. If you looked at things as I do, you would have done the same."

"Please say no more, Miss Walton," said he, his face distorted by an expression of intense self-loathing. "Do not try to palliate my course. I would much rather you would call my cowardly selfishness and lack of principle by their right names. The best thing I can do for the world is to get out of it, and from present feelings, this 'good- riddance' will soon occur. Will you excuse me if I sit down?" and he sank upon the door-step in utter weakness.

Annie had placed her pail of water on the door-step and forgotten it in her wish to cheer and help this bitterly wounded spirit.

"Mr. Gregory," she said, earnestly, "you are indeed ill in body and mind, and you take a wrong and morbid view of everything. My heart aches to show you how complete and perfect a remedy there is for all this. It almost seems as if you were dying from thirst with that brook yonder running—"

"There is no remedy for me," interrupted he, almost harshly. Then he added in a weary tone, pressing his hand on his throbbing brow, "Forgive me, Miss Walton; you see what I am. Please waste no more thought on me."

"If yer want any breakfast to-day, yer better bring that water," called the old woman from within.

Annie gave him a troubled, anxious look, and then silently carried in the pail.

"Have you any tea?" she asked, not liking the odor of the coffee.

"Mighty little," was the short answer.

"Please let me have some, and I will send you a pound of our best in its place," said Annie.

"I hain't such a fool as to lose that bargain," and the old woman hobbled with alacrity to a cupboard; but to Annie's dismay the hidden treasure had been hoarded too near the even more prized tobacco, and seemed redolent of the rank odor of some unsavory preparation of that remarkable weed which is conjured into so many and such diverse forms. But she brewed a little as best she could before eating any breakfast herself, and brought it to Gregory as he still sat on the step, leaning against the door-post.

"Please swallow this as medicine," she said.

"Indeed, Miss Walton, I cannot," he replied.

"Please do," she urged, "as a favor to me. I made it myself; and I can't eat any breakfast till I have seen you take this."

He at once complied, though with a wry face.

"There," said she, with a touch of playfulness, "I have seldom received a stronger compliment. After this compliance I think I could venture to ask anything of you."

"The tea is like myself," he answered. "You brought to it skilled hands and pure spring water, and yet, from the nature of the thing itself, it was a villanous compound. Please don't ask me to take any more. Perhaps you have heard an old saying, 'Like dislikes like.'"

She determined that he should not yield to this morbid despondency, but had too much tact to argue with him; therefore she said, kindly, "We never did agree very well, Mr. Gregory, and don't now. But before many hours I hope I can give you a cup of tea and something with it more to your taste. I must admit that I am ready even for this dreadful breakfast, that threatens to destroy my powers of digestion in one fatal hour. You see what a poor subject I am for romance;" and she smilingly turned away to a meal that gave her a glimpse of how the "other half of the world lives."

Before she had finished, the sound of wheels and horses' hoofs coming rapidly up the glen brought her to the door, and with joy she recognized a near neighbor of her father's, a sturdy, kind-hearted farmer, who had joined in the search for the missing ones the moment he learned, in the dawn of that morning, that they had not returned.

He gave a glad shout as he saw Annie's form in the doorway, and to her his broad, honest face was like that of an angel. All are beautiful to those they help.

"Your father is in a dreadful state, Miss Annie," said Farmer Jones; "but I told him if he would only stay at home and wait, I, and a few other neighbors, would soon find you. He was up at the foot of the mountain ever since twelve o'clock last night. Then he came home to see if you hadn't returned some other way. I'm usually out as soon as it's light, so I hailed him as he passed and asked what on earth he was up for at that time of day. He told me his trouble, so I hitched up my light wagon and got to your house as soon as he did. When he found you hadn't come yet, he was for starting right for the mountains, but I saw he wasn't fit, so I says, 'Mr. Walton, you'll just miss 'em. They've taken a wrong road, or the wagon has broken down, but they'll be home before ten o'clock. Now send Jeff up the road you expected them on. I'll send Mr. Harris, who lives just beyond me, out on the road they took first. My horse is fast, and I'll go round up this valley, and in this way we'll soon scour every road;' and so with much coaxing I got him to promise to stay till I returned. So jump in quick, and I'll have you home in little over an hour."

"But we can't leave Mr. Gregory here. Let him go first. He is ill, and needs attention immediately."

"Miss Walton, please return at once to your father," said Gregory, quickly. "It is your duty. I can wait."

"No, Mr. Gregory, it would not be right to leave you here, feeling as you do. As soon as father knows I am safe his mind will be at rest. I am perfectly well, and you have no idea how ill you look."

"Miss Walton," said Gregory, in a tone that was almost harsh in its decisiveness, "I will not return now."

"I am real sorry," said Mr. Jones, "that my wagon is not larger, but I took the best thing that I had for fast driving over rough roads. Come, Miss Walton, your friend has settled it, and if he is sick he had better come more slowly in an easier carriage."

After cordially thanking the old woman for such rude hospitality as she had bestowed, and renewing her promise to send ample recompense, she turned with gentle courtesy to Gregory and assured him that he would not have long to wait.

He gave her a quick, searching look, and said, "Miss Walton, I do not understand how you can speak to me in this way. But go at once. Do not keep your father in suspense any longer."

"I hope we shall find you better when we come for you," she said, kindly.

"It were better if you found me dead," he said, in sudden harshness, but it was toward himself, not her.

So she understood it, and waving her hand encouragingly, was rapidly driven away.

As they rode along she related to Mr. Jones the events already known to the reader, but carefully shielded Gregory from blame. She also satisfied her companion's evident curiosity about the young man by stating so frankly all it was proper for him to know that he had no suspicion of anything concealed. She explained his last and unusual expression by dwelling with truth on the fact that Gregory appeared seriously ill and was deeply depressed in spirits.

Mr. Walton received his daughter with a joy beyond words. She was the idol of his heart—the one object on earth that almost rivalled his "treasures in heaven." His mind had dwelt in agonized suspense on a thousand possibilities of evil during the prolonged hours of her absence, and now that he clasped her again, and was assured of her safety, he lifted his eyes heavenward with overflowing gratitude in his heart.

But Annie's success in keeping up before him was brief. The strain had been a little too severe. She soon gave way to nervous prostration and headache, and was compelled to retire to her room instead of returning for Gregory as she had intended. But he was promptly sent for, Miss Eulie going in her place, and taking every appliance possible for his comfort.

She found him in Mrs. Tompkins's hovel, sitting in the creaky arm- chair that Annie had occupied the night before, and enduring with a white, grim face the increasing suffering of his illness. He seemed to have reached the depths of despair, and, believing the end near, determined to meet it with more than Indian stoicism.

Many, in their suicidal blindness and remorse, pass sentence upon themselves, and weakly deliver their souls into the keeping of that inexorable jailer, Despair, forgetting the possibilities—nay, certainties—of good that ever dwell in God. If man had no better friend than himself, his prospects would be sombre indeed. Many a one has condemned himself and sunk into the apathy of death, but He who came to seek and to save the lost has lifted him with the arms of forgiving love, and helped him back to the safety and happiness of the fold. Satan only, never the Saviour, bids the sinner despair. But poor Gregory was taking advice from his enemy and not from his Friend. During the long hours of pain and almost mortal weakness of that dreary morning, he acknowledged himself vanquished—utterly defeated in the battle of life. As old monkish legends teach, the devil might have carried him off bodily and he would not have resisted. In his prostrated nature, but one element of strength was apparent—a perverted pride that rose like a shattered, blackened shaft, the one prominent relic of seemingly utter ruin.

At first he coldly declined the cordial and nourishment Miss Eulie brought, and said, with a quietness that did not comport with the meaning of his words, that she had better leave him to himself, for he would not make trouble for any one much longer.

Miss Eulie was shocked, finding in these words and in his general appearance proof that he was more seriously ill than she had anticipated.

He was indeed; but his malady was rather that of a morbid mind depressing an enfeebled body than actual disease. But mental distress could speedily kill a man like Gregory.

Miss Eulie soon brought him to terms by saying, "Mr. Gregory, you see I am alone. Mr. Walton was too exhausted to accompany me, and Annie did not send any of the neighbors, as she thought the presence of strangers would be irksome to you."

"She said she would come herself, but she has had time to think and judge me rightly," muttered he, interrupting her.

"No, Mr. Gregory," Miss Eulie hastened to say; "you do her wrong. She was too ill to come, as she intended and wished to do, and so with many anxious charges sent me in her place. I am but a woman, and dependent on your courtesy. I cannot compel you to go with me. But I am sure you will not wrong my brother's hospitality, and make Miss Walton's passing indisposition serious, by refusing to come with me. If you did she would rise from her sick bed and come herself."

Gregory at once rose and said, "I can make no excuse for myself. I seem fated to do and say the worst things possible under the circumstances."

"You are ill," said Miss Eulie, kindly, as if that explained everything.

Declining aid, he tottered to the carriage, into which Jeff, with some curious surmises, helped him.

Miss Eulie made good Annie's promises to Mrs. Tompkins fourfold, and left the shrivelled dame with a large supply of one of the elements of her heaven—tea, and with the means of purchasing the other—tobacco, besides more substantial additions to the old woman's meagre larder.

Gregory was averse to conversation during the long, slow ride. The jolting, even of the easy cushioned carriage, was exceedingly painful, and by the time they reached home he was quite exhausted. Leaning on Mr. Walton's arm he at once went to his room, and at their urgent entreaties forced himself to take a little of the dainty supper that was forthcoming. But their kindly solicitude was courteously but coldly repelled. Acting reluctantly upon his plainly manifested wish, they soon left him to himself, as after his first eager inquiry concerning Miss Walton it seemed a source of pain to him to see or speak to any one.

At first his arm-chair and the cheery wood-fire formed a pale reflection of something like comfort, but every bone in his body ached from the recent cold he had taken. He had just fever enough to increase the distortion of the images of his morbid and excited mind. Hour after hour he sat with grim white face and fixed stare, scourging himself with the triple scorpion-whip of remorse, vain regret, and self-disgust. But an old and terrible enemy was stealing on him to change the nature of his torment—neuralgic headache; and before morning he was walking the floor in agony, a sad type, while the world slept and nature rested, of that large class, all whose relations, physical and moral, are a jangling discord.



Simple remedies and prolonged rest were sufficient to restore Annie after the serious shock and strain she had sustained. She rose even earlier than usual, and hastily dressed that she might resume her wonted place as mistress of her father's household. In view of her recent peril and the remediless loss he might have suffered, she was doubly grateful for the privilege of ministering to his wants and filling his declining years with cheer and comfort.

She had not been awake long before Gregory's irregular steps in the adjoining room aroused her attention and caused anxious surmises. But she was inclined to think that his restlessness resulted from mental distress rather than physical. Still she did not pity him less, but rather more. Though so young, she knew that the "wounded spirit" often inflicts the keener agony. Her strong womanly nature was deeply moved in his behalf. As we have seen, it was her disposition to be helpful and sustaining, rather than clinging and dependent. She had a heart "at leisure from itself, to soothe and sympathize." From the depths of her soul she pitied Gregory and wished to help him out of a state which the psalmist with quaint force describes as "a horrible pit and the miry clay."

She was a very practical reformer, and determined that a dainty breakfast should minister to the outer man before she sought to apply a subtler balm to the inner. Trusting not even to Zibbie's established skill, she prepared with her own hands some inviting delicacies, and soon that which might have tempted the most exacting of epicures was ready.

Mr. Walton shared the delight of the children at seeing Annie bustling round again as the good genius of their home, and Miss Eulie's little sighs of content were as frequent as the ripples on the shore. Miss Eulie could sigh and wipe a tear from the corner of her eye in the most cheerful and hope-inspiring way, for somehow her face shone with an inward radiance, and, even in the midst of sorrow and when wet with tears, reminded one of a lantern on a stormy night, which, covered with rain-drops, still gives light and comfort.

Breakfast was ready, but Gregory did not appear. Hannah, the waitress, was sent to his room, and in response to her quiet knock he said, sharply, "Well?"

"Breakfast is waiting."

"I do not wish any," was the answer, in a tone that seemed resentful, but was only an expression of the intolerable pain he was suffering. Hannah came down with a scared look and said she "guessed something was amiss with Mr. Gregory."

Annie looked significantly at her father, who immediately ascended to his guest's door.

"Mr. Gregory, may I come in?" he asked.

"Do not trouble yourself. I shall be better soon," was the response.

The door was unlocked, and Mr. Walton entered, and saw at once that a gentle but strong will must control the sufferer for his own good. Mental and nervous excitement had driven him close to the line where reason and his own will wavered in their decisions, and his irregular, tottering steps became the type of the whole man. His eyes were wild and bloodshot. A ghastly pallor gave his haggard face the look of death. A damp dullness pervaded the heavy air of the room, which in his unrest he had greatly disordered. The fire had died out, and he had not even tried to kindle it again. His broodings had been so deep and painful during the earlier part of the night that he had been oblivious of his surroundings, and then physical anguish became so sharp that all small elements of discomfort were unnoted.

With fatherly solicitude Mr. Waiton stepped up to his guest, who stood staring at him as if he were an intruder, and taking his cold hand, said, "Mr. Gregory, you must come with me."


"To the sitting-room, where we can take care of you and relieve you. Come, I'm your physician for the time being, and doctors must be obeyed."

Gregory had not undressed the night before, and, wrapped in his rich dressing-gown and with dishevelled hair, he mechanically followed his host to the room below and was placed on the lounge.

"Annie has prepared you a nice little breakfast. Won't you let me bring it to you?" said Mr. Waiton, cheerily.

"No," said Gregory, abruptly, and pressing his hands upon his throbbing temples, "the very thought of eating is horrible. Please leave me. Indeed I cannot endure even your kindly presence."

Mr. Walton looked perplexed and scarcely knew what to do, but after a moment said, "Really, Mr. Gregory, you are very ill. I think I had better send for our physician at once."

"I insist that you do not," said his guest, starting up. "What could a stupid country doctor do for me, with his owl-like examination of my tongue and clammy fingering of my pulse, but drive me mad? I must be alone."

"Father," said Annie, in a firm and quiet voice, "I will be both nurse and physician to Mr. Gregory this morning. If I fail, you may send for a doctor."

Unperceived she had entered, and from Gregory's manner and words understood his condition.

"Miss Waiton," said Gregory, hastily, "I give you warning. I am not even the poor weak self you have known before, and I beg you leave me till this nervous headache passes off, if it ever does. I can't control myself at such times, and this is the worst attack I ever had. I am low enough in your esteem. Do not add to my pain by being present now at the time of my greatest weakness."

"Mr. Gregory," she replied, "you may speak and act your worst, but you shall not escape me this morning. It's woman's place to remove pain, not fly from it. So you must submit with the best grace you can. If after I have done all in my power you prefer the doctor and another nurse, I will give way, but now you have no choice."

Gregory fell back on the sofa with a groan and a muttered oath. At a sign from his daughter, Mr. Walton reluctantly and doubtfully passed through the open door into the parlor, where he was joined by Miss Eulie.

Annie quietly stepped to the hearth and stirred the fire to a cheerful blaze. She then went to the parlor and brought the afghan, and without so much as saying, "by your leave," spread it over his chilled form.

Gregory felt himself helpless, but there was something soothing in this assertion of her strong will, and like a sick child he was better the moment he ceased to chafe and struggle.

She left the room a few moments, and even between the surges of pain he was curious as to what she would do next. He soon learned with a thrill of hope that he was to experience the magnetism of her touch, and to know the power of the hand that had seemed alive in his grasp on the day of their chestnutting expedition. Annie returned with a quaint little bottle of German cologne, and, taking a seat quietly by his side, began bathing his aching temples.

"You treat me like a child," he said, petulantly.

"I hope for a while you will be content to act like one," she replied.

"I may, like a very bad one."

"No matter," she said, with a laugh that was the very antidote of morbidness; "I am accustomed to manage children."

But in a very brief time he had no disposition to shrink from her touch or presence. Her hand upon his brow seemed to communicate her own strong, restful life; his temples throbbed less and less violently. Silent and wondering he lay very still, conscious that by some subtle power she was exorcising the demons of pain. His hurried breathing became regular; his hands unclinched; his form, which had been tense and rigid, relaxed into a position of comfort. He felt that he was under some beneficent spell, and for an hour scarcely moved lest he should break it and his torment return. Annie was equally silent, but with a smile saw the effects of her ministry. At last she looked into his face, and said, with an arch smile, "Shall I send for Doctor Bludgeon and Sairy Gamp to take my place?"

He was very weak and unstrung, and while a tremulous smile hovered about his mouth, his eyes so moistened that he turned toward the wall. After a moment he said, "Miss Walton, I am not worthy of your kindness."

"Nor are you unworthy. But kindness is not a matter of business—so much for so much."

"Why do you waste your time on me?"

"That is a childish question. What a monster I should be if I heedlessly left you to suffer! The farmers' wives around would mob me."

"I am very grateful for the relief you are giving me, even though mere humanity is the motive."

"Mere humanity is not my motive. You are our guest, the son of my father's dearest friend, and for your own sake I am deeply interested in you."

"Miss Walton, I know in the depths of your soul you are disgusted with me. You seek to apply those words to my spirit as you do cologne to my head."

"I beg your pardon. It is not the cologne only that relieves your headache."

"I know that well. It is your touch, which seems magical."

"Well then, you should know from my touch that I am not sitting here telling fibs. If I should bathe your head with a wooden hand, wouldn't you know it?"

"What an odd simile! I cannot understand you." "It is not necessary that you should, but do not wrong me by doubting me again."

"I have done nothing but wrong you, Miss Walton."

"I'm not conscious of it, so you needn't worry, and I assure you I find it a pleasure to do you good."

"Miss Walton, you are the essence of goodness."

"Oh, no, no; why say of a creature what is only true of God? Mr. Gregory, you are very extravagant in your language."

A scowl darkened his face, and he said, moodily, "God seems to me the essence of cruelty."

"'Seems, seems!' An hour since I seemed a torment, and you were driving me away."

"Yes, but you soon proved yourself a kind, helpful, pitiful friend. I once thought my cheek would flame with anger even if I were dying, should I be regarded as an object of pity. But you, better than any one, know that I am one."

"I, better than any one, know that you are not, in the sense you mean."

"Come, Miss Walton, you cannot be sincere now. Do you think I can ever forget the miserable scene of Monday evening, when you placed yourself beside the martyrs and I sank down among the cowards of any age? I reached the bottom of the only perdition I believe in. I have lost my self-respect."

"Which I trust God will help you regain by showing you the only sure and safe ground on which self-respect can be maintained. Much that is called self-respect is nothing but pride. But, Mr. Gregory, injustice to one's self is as wrong as injustice to another. Answer me honestly this question. Did you act that evening only from fear—because you have it not in you to face danger? or did you promise secrecy because you felt the man's crime was none of your business, and supposed I would take the same view?"

Gregory started up and looked at her with a face all aglow with honest, grateful feeling, and said, "God knows the latter is the truth."

"And I know it too. I knew it then."

"But the world could never be made to see it in that light."

"Now pride speaks. Self-respect does not depend upon the opinion of the world. The world has nothing to do with the matter. You certainly do not expect I am going to misrepresent you before it."

He bent a look upon her such as she had never sustained before. It was the look of a man who had discovered something divine and precious beyond words. It was a feeling such as might thrill one who was struggling in darkness, and, as he supposed, sinking in the deep sea, but whose feet touched something which seemed to sustain him. The thought, "I can trust her—she is true," came to him at that time with such a blessed power to inspire hope and give relief that for a moment he could not speak. Then he began, "Miss Walton, I cannot find words—"

"Do not find them," she interrupted, laughingly. "See, your temples are beginning to throb again, and I am a sorry nurse, a true disciple of Mrs. Gamp, to let you excite yourself. Lie down, sir, at once, and let your thoughts dwell the next half-hour on your breakfast. You have much reason for regret that the dainty little tidbits that I first prepared are spoiled by this time. I doubt whether I can do so well again."

"I do not wish any breakfast. Please do not leave me yet."

"It makes no difference what you wish. The idea of an orthodox physician consulting the wishes of his patient! My practical skill sees your need of breakfast."

"Have you had any yourself?" he asked, again starting up, and looking searchingly at her.

"Well, I have had a cup of coffee," she replied, coloring a little.

"What a brute I am!" he groaned.

"In that charge upon yourself you strongly assert the possession of an animal nature, and therefore of course the need of a breakfast."

"May I be choked by the first mouthful if I touch anything before I know you have had your own."

"What an awful abjuration! How can you swear so before a lady, Mr. Gregory?"

"No, it is a solemn vow."

"Then I must take my breakfast with you, for with your disposition to doubt I don't see how you can 'know' anything about it otherwise."

"That is better than I hoped. I will eat anything you bring on those conditions, if it does choke me—and I know it will."

"A fine compliment to my cooking," she retorted and laughingly left the room.

Gregory could not believe himself the haggard wretch that Mr. Walton had found two hours since. Then he was ready to welcome death as a deliverer. Insane man! As if death ever delivered any from evil but the good! But so potent had been the sweet wine of Annie's ministry that his chilled and benumbed heart was beginning to glow with a faint warmth of hope and comfort. Morbidness could no more exist in her presence than shadows on the sunny side of trees. With her full knowledge of the immediate cause of his suffering, and with her unusual tact, she had applied balm to body and spirit at the same time. The sharp, cutting agony in his head had been charmed away. The paroxysm had passed, and the dull ache that remained seemed nothing in comparison—merely the heavy swell of the departed storm.

He forgot himself, the source of all his trouble, in thinking about Miss Walton. The plain girl, as he had at first regarded her, with a weak, untried character that he had expected to topple over by the breath of a little flattery, now seemed divinely beautiful and strong. She reminded him of the graceful, symmetrical elm, which, though bending to the tempest, is rarely broken or uprooted.

He hardly hoped that she would give him credit for the real state of his mind which had led to his ready promise of secrecy. To the counterfeiter's wretched companion he had seemed the weakest and meanest of cowards, and if the story were generally known he would appear in the same light to the world. To his intensely proud nature this would be intolerable. And why should it not be known? If Miss Walton chose to regard his choice as one of cowardice, how could he prove, even to her, that it was not?

Moreover, his low estimate of human nature led him to believe that even Annie would use him as a dark background for her heroism; and he well knew that when such a story is once started, society's strongest tendency is to exaggerate man's pusillanimity and woman's courage. He shuddered as he saw himself growing blacker and meaner in every fireside and street corner narration of the strange tale, till at last his infamy should pass into one of the traditions of the place. A man like Gregory could not long have endured such a prospect. He would have died, either by every physical power speedily giving way under mental anguish, or by his own hand; or, if he had lived, reason would have dropped its sceptre and become the sport of wild thoughts and fancies.

Little wonder that Annie appeared an angel of light when she stood between him and such a future. The ugliest hag would have been glorified and loved in the same position. But when she did this with her own peculiar grace and tact, as a matter of justice, his gratitude and admiration knew no bounds. He was in a fair way to become an idolater and worship the country girl he had once sneered at, as no pictured Madonna was ever revered even in superstitious Italy. Besides placing him under personal obligation, she had, by tests certain and terrible, proved herself true and strong in a world that he believed to be, in the main, utterly false at heart. It is one of our most natural instincts to trust and lean upon something, and Annie Walton seemed one whose friendship he could value above life.

He did not even then realize, in his glad sense of relief, that in escaping the charge of cowardice he fell upon the other horn of the dilemma, namely, lack of principle—that the best explanation of his conduct admitted that he was indifferent to right and wrong, and even to the most serious crime against society, so long as he was not personally and immediately injured. He had acted on the selfish creed that a man is a fool who puts himself to serious trouble to serve the public. The fact that he did not even dream that Annie would make the noble stand she did proves how far selfishness can take a man out of his true course when he throws overboard compass and chart and lets himself drift.

But in the world's code (which was his) cowardice is the one deadly sin. His lack of anything like Christian principle was a familiar fact to him, and did not hurt him among those with whom he associated.

Even Annie, woman-like, could more readily forgive all his faults than a display of that weakness which is most despised in a man. But she too was sufficiently familiar with the world not to be repelled or shocked by a life which, compared with all true, noble standards, was sadly lacking. And yet she was the very last one to be dazzled by a fast, brilliant man of the world. She had been too well educated for that, and had been early taught to distinguish between solid worth and mere tinsel. Her native powers of observation were strong, and her father, and mother also before she died, had given her opportunities for exercising them. Instead of mere assertions as to what was right and wrong and general lecturing on the subject, they had aimed to show her right and wrong embodied in human lives. They made her feel that God wanted her to do right for the same reason that they did, because He loved her. First in Bible narrative told in bedtime stories, then in history and biography, and finally in the experience of those around them, she had been shown the happy contrast of good, God- pleasing life with that which is selfish and wicked. So thorough and practical had been the teaching in this respect, and so impressed was she by the lesson, that she would as soon have planted in her flower- bed the seeds of tender annuals on the eve of autumn frosts, and expected bloom in chill December, as to enter upon a course that God frowns upon, and look for happiness. Her father often said, "A human being opposing God's will is like a ship beating against wind and tide to certain wreck."

An evil life appeared therefore to her a moral madness, under the malign influence of which people were like the mentally deranged who with strange perversity hate their best friends and cunningly watch for chances of self-destruction. While on one hand she shrunk from them with something of the repulsion which many feel toward the unsound in mind, on the other she cherished the deepest pity for them. Knowing how full a remedy ever exists in Him whose word and touch removed humanity's most desperate ills, it was her constant wish and effort to lead as many as possible to this Divine Friend. If she had been like many sincere but selfish religionists, she would have said of Gregory, "He is not congenial. We have nothing in common," and, wrapped in her own spiritual pleasures and pursuits, would have shunned, ignored, and forgotten him. But she chiefly saw his pressing need of help, and said to herself, "If I would be like my Master, I must help him."

Gregory at first had looked upon himself as immeasurably superior to the plain country girl. He little imagined that she at the same time had a profound pity for him, and that this fact would become his best chance for life. She had not forgotten the merciful conspiracy entered into the second evening after his arrival, but was earnestly seeking to carry out its purposes. In order to do this, she was anxious to gain his good-will and confidence, and now saw with gratitude that their adventure on the mountain, that had threatened to end in death, might be the beginning of a new and happy life. She exulted over the hold she had gained upon him, not as the selfish gloat over one within their power, whom they can use for personal ends—not as the coquette smiles when another human victim is laid upon the altar of her vanity, but as the angels of heaven rejoice when there is even a chance of one sinner's repentance.

And yet Annie had no intention of "talking religion" to him in any formal way, save as the subject came up naturally; but she hoped to live it, and suggest it to him in such an attractive form that he would desire it for his own sake.

But her chief hope was in the fact that she prayed for him; and she no more expected to be unheard and unanswered than that her kind father would listen with a stony face to some earnest request of hers.

But Annie was not one to go solemnly to work to compass an event that would cause joy in heaven. She would ask one to be a Christian as she would invite a captive to leave his dungeon, or tell the sick how to be well. She saw that morbid gloom had become almost a disease with Gregory, and she proposed to cure him with sunshine.

And sunshine embodied she seemed to him as she returned, her face glowing with exercise and close acquaintance with the kitchen-range. In each hand she carried a dish, while Hannah followed with a tray on which smoked the most appetizing of breakfasts.

"Your rash vow," she said, "has caused you long waiting. I'm none of your ethereal heroines, but have a craving for solids served in quantity and variety. And while I could have soon got your breakfast it was no bagatelle to get mine."

How fresh and bright she looked saying all this! and he ejaculated, "Deliver me from the ghastly creatures you call 'ethereal heroines.'"

"Indeed, sir," she retorted, "if you can't deliver yourself from them you shall have no help from me. But let us at once enter upon the solemnities, and as you have a spark of gallantry, see to it that you pay my cookery proper compliment."

"Your 'cookery,' forsooth!" said he, with something of her own light tone. "That I should find Miss Walton stealing Zibbie's laurels!"

"Chuckle when you find her doing it. Hannah, who prepared this breakfast?"

"Yourself, miss," answered the woman, with an admiring grin.

"That will do, Hannah; we will wait upon ourselves. Shame on you, sir! You are no connoisseur, since you cannot tell a lady's work from a kitchen-maid's. Moreover, you have shown that wretched doubting disposition again."

Now that they were alone, Gregory said, earnestly, "I shall never doubt you again."

"I hope you never will doubt that I wish to do you good, Mr. Gregory," she replied, passing him a cup of tea.

"You have done me more good in a few brief hours than I ever hoped to receive. Miss Walton, how can I repay you?"

"By being a better friend to yourself. Commence by eating this."

He did not find it very difficult to comply. After a little time he said, "But my conscience condemns me for caring too much for myself." "And no doubt your conscience is right. The idea of being a friend to yourself and going against your conscience!"

"Then I have ever been my own worst enemy."

"I can believe that, and so you'll continue to be if you don't take another piece of toast."

"And yet there has always seemed a fatal necessity for me to do wrong and go wrong. Miss Walton, you are made of different clay from me and most people that I know. It is your nature to be good and noble."

"Nonsense!" said Annie, with a positive frown. "Different clay indeed! I imagine you do wrong for the same reason that I do, because you wish to; and you fail in doing right because you have nothing but your weak human will to keep you up."

"And what keeps you up, pray?"

"Can you even suppose that I or any one can be a Christian without Christ?"

He gave one of his incredulous shrugs.

"Now what may that mean?" she asked.

"Pardon me if I say that I think yours is a pretty and harmless superstition. This world is one of inexorable law and necessity down to the minutest thing. A weed is always a weed. A rose is always a rose. It's my misfortune to be a weed. It's your good fortune to be a rose."

Annie looked as if she might become a briery one at that moment, for this direct style of compliment, though honest, was not agreeable. Conscious of many struggles with evil, it was even painful, for it did her injustice in two aspects of the case. So she said, dryly, "What an automaton you make me out to be!"

"How so?" "If I merely do right as the rose grows, I deserve no credit. I'm but little better than a machine."

"Not at all. I compared you to something that has a beautiful life of its own. But I would willingly be a machine, and a very angular, uncouth one too, if some outside power would only work me right and to some purpose."

"Such talk seems to me idle, Mr. Gregory. I know that I have to try very hard to do right, and I often fail. I do not believe that our very existence begins in a lie, as it were, for from earliest years conscience tells us that we needn't do wrong and ought not to. Honestly now, isn't this true of your conscience?"

"But my reason concludes otherwise, and reason is above conscience— above everything, and one must abide by its decisions."

For a moment Annie did not know how to answer. She was not versed in theology and metaphysics, but she knew he was wrong. Therefore she covered her confusion by quietly pouring him out another cup of tea, and then said, "Even my slight knowledge of the past has taught me how many absurd and monstrous things can be done and said in the name of reason. Religion is a matter of revelation and experience. But it is not contrary to reason, certainly not to mine. If your reason should conclude that this tea is not hot, what difference would that make to me? My religion is a matter of fact, of vivid consciousness."

"Of course it is. It's your life, your nature, just as in my nature there is nothing akin to it. That is why I say you are made of different clay from myself; and I am very glad of it," he added with an air of pleasantry which she saw veiled genuine earnestness, "for I wish you the best of everything now and always."

Annie felt that she could not argue him out of his folly; and while she was annoyed, she could not be angry with him for expressions that were not meant as flattery, but were rather the strong language of his gratitude. "Time will cure him of his delusions," she thought, and she said, lightly, "Mr. Gregory, from certain knowledge of myself which you cannot have I disclaim all your absurd ideas in regard to the new- fangled clay of my composition. I know very well that I am ordinary flesh and blood, a fact that you will soon find out for yourself. As your physician, I pronounce that such wild fancies and extravagant language prove that you are out of your head, and that you need quieting sleep. I am going to read you the dullest book in the library as a sedative."

"No, please, sing rather."

"What! after such a breakfast! Do you suppose that I would ruin the reputation of my voice in one fell moment? Now what kind of clay led to this remark? Do as your doctor says. Recline on the lounge. Close your eyes. Here is a treatise on the Nebular Hypothesis that looks unintelligible enough for our purpose."

"Nebular Hypothesis! Another heavenly experience such as you are ever giving me."

"Come, Mr. Gregory, punning is a very bad symptom. You must go to sleep at once." And soon her mellow voice was finding its way into a labyrinth of hard scientific terms, as a mountain brook might murmur among the stones. After a little time she asked of Gregory, whose eyes remained wide open, "How does it sound?"

"Like the multiplication table set to music."

"Why don't you go to sleep?"

"I'm trying to solve a little nebular hypothesis of my own. I was computing how many million belles such as I know, and how many ages, would be required to condense them into a woman like yourself."

Annie shut the book with a slam, and with an abrupt, half-vexed "good- by," left the room. For a brief time Gregory lay repenting of his disastrous levity, and then slept.



When Gregory awoke, the sun had sunk behind the mountains that he could not even look toward now without a shudder, and the landscape, as seen from the window, was growing obscure in the early dusk of an autumn evening. But had the window opened on a vista in Paradise he would not have looked without, for the one object of all the world most attractive to him was present. Annie sat near the hearth with some light crochet-work in her hands. She had evidently been out for a walk, for she was drying her feet on the fender. How trim and cunning they looked, peeping from under the white edge of her skirt, and what a pretty picture she made sitting there in the firelight! The outline of her figure surely did not suggest the "ethereal heroine," but rather the presiding genius in a happy home, in which the element of comfort abounded. She looked as if she would be a sweet-tempered, helpful companion, in the every-day cares and duties of a busy life:

"A creature not too bright or good For human nature's daily food."

"How dark and lustrous her eyes are in the firelight!" Gregory thought. "It seems as if another and more genial fire were burning in them. What can she be thinking of, that such happy, dreamy smiles are flitting across her face? If I had such a hearth as that, and such a good angel beside it to receive me after the day's work was over, I believe I could become at least a man, if not a Christian;" and he sighed so deeply that Annie looked hastily up, and encountered his wistful gaze.

"What a profound remark you just made!" she said. "What could have led to it?"


"I do not think that I am an object to sigh over. I'm perfectly well, I thank you, and have had my dinner."

"You have no idea what a pretty picture you made."

"Yes, in this poor light, and your disordered imagination. But did you sigh on that account?"

"No, but because to me it is only a picture—one that shall have the chief place in the gallery of my memory. In a few days I shall be in my cheerless bachelor apartments, with nothing but a dusty register in the place of this home-like hearth."

"Come, Mr. Gregory, you are growing sentimental. I will go and see if supper is ready."

"Please stay, and I will talk of the multiplication table."

"No, that led to the 'Nebular Hypothesis.' You had better prepare for supper;" and she vanished.

"It's my fate," he said, rising, "to drive away every good and pleasant thing."

He went to the fire and stood where she had sat, and again thought was busy.

"She seems so real and substantial, and yet so intangible! Her defensive armor is perfect, and I cannot get near or touch her unless she permits it. The sincerest compliment glances off. Out of her kindness she helps me and does me good. She bewitches and sways me by her spells, but I might as well seek to imprison a spirit of the air as to gain any hold upon her. I wonder whom or what she was thinking of, that such dreamy, tender smiles should flit across her face."

How his face would have darkened with wrath and hate, if he had known that his detestation, Hunting, had inspired them!

The tea-bell reminded him how time was passing, and he went to his room with an elastic step that one would suppose impossible after seeing him in the morning. But, as is usual with nervous organizations, he sank or rallied rapidly in accordance with circumstances. When he appeared at the table, Mr. Walton could hardly believe his eyes.

"It is again the result of Miss Walton's witchcraft," explained Gregory. "The moment I felt her hand upon my brow, there came a sense of relief. In Italy they would make a saint of her, and bring out the sick for her to touch."

"And so soon lose their saint by some contagious disease," said Annie, laughing.

"I fear, sir, I was very rude to you this morning, but in truth I was beside myself with pain."

"Annie has a wonderful power of magnetism; I don't know what else to call it," said Miss Eulie. "She can drive away one of my headaches quicker than all other remedies combined."

"You are making out," said Annie, "that my proper calling is that of a nurse. If you don't change the subject, I'll leave you all to take care of yourselves, and go down to Bellevue."

"If you do," laughed Gregory, "I'll break every bone in my body, and be carried into your ward as a homeless stranger."

The supper-hour passed away in light and cheerful conversation. As if by common consent, the scenes on the mountain were not mentioned in the presence of the children, and they evidently had had their curiosity satisfied on the subject.

Annie seemed tired and languid after supper and Miss Eulie volunteered to see the children safely to their rest. Mr. Walton insisted that Annie should take his easy-chair, and Gregory placed a footstool at her feet, and together they "made a baby of her," she said. The old gentleman then took his seat, and seemed to find unbounded content in gazing on his beloved daughter. Their guest appeared restless and began to pace the room. Suddenly he asked Mr. Walton, "Have you heard anything of the fugitives?"

"Not a word beyond the fact that they bought tickets for New York and took the train. I have telegraphed to the City Police Department, and forwarded the description of their persons which Annie gave me. Their dwelling has been examined by a competent person, but evidently he is an old and experienced criminal and knows how to cover up his tracks. I think it extremely providential that they did nothing worse than send you over on the other side of the mountain in order to clear a way for escape. Such desperate people often believe only in the silence of death. They might have caused that dog to tear you to pieces and have appeared blameless themselves. If caught, only your testimony could convict them, though I suspect Mrs. Tompkins and her son. Young Tompkins brought them with their luggage to the depot. He says the man called 'Vight' met him returning from the delivery of a load of wood, and engaged his services. As he often does teaming for people in those back districts his story is plausible; and he swears he knew nothing against the man. But he is a bad drinking fellow, and just the one to become an accomplice in any rascality. I fear they will all escape us, and yet I am profoundly grateful that matters are no worse."

While Mr. Walton was talking, Gregory was looking intently at Annie. She was conscious of his scrutiny, and her color rose under it, but she continued to gaze steadily at the fire.

"And I am going to increase that gratitude a hundred-fold, sir," he said, earnestly.

Annie looked up at him with a startled, deprecatory air. "No, Miss Walton," he said, answering her look, "I will not be silent. While it is due to your generosity that the world does not hear of your heroism as the story would naturally be told, it is your father's right that he should hear it, and know the priceless jewel that he has in his daughter. I know that appearances will be against me. If you can take her view of the matter, sir, I shall be glad, otherwise I cannot help it;" and he related the events as they had actually occurred, softening or palliating his course in not the slightest degree.

Mr. Walton turned ashen pale as he thus for the first time learned the desperate nature of his daughter's peril. Then rising with a sudden impulse of pride and affection he clasped her in his arms.

Gregory was about to leave the room, when Mr. Walton's voice detained him.

"Do not go, sir. You will pardon a father's weakness."

"Father, I give you my word and honor," cried Annie, eagerly, "that Mr. Gregory did not act the part of a coward. He scarcely does himself justice in his story. He did not realize the principle involved, and saw in the promise he gave the readiest way out of an awkward and dangerous predicament. He did not think the man's crime was any of our business—"

"There is no need of pleading Mr. Gregory's cause so earnestly, my dear," interrupted her father. "I think I understand his course fully, and share your view of it. I am too well accustomed to the taking of evidence not to detect the ring of truth."

"I cannot tell you, sir, what a relief it is to me that you and Miss Walton can judge thus correctly of my action. This morning and yesterday I believed that you and all the world would regard me as the meanest of cowards, and the bitterness of death was in the thought."

"No, sir," said Mr. Walton, kindly but gravely; "your course did not result from cowardice. But permit an old man and your father's friend to say that it did result from the lack of high moral principle. Its want in this case might have been fatal, for the world, as you feared, would scarcely do you justice. Let it be a lesson to you, my dear young friend, that only the course which is strictly right is safe, even as far as this world is concerned."

Gregory's face flushed deeply, but he bowed his head in humility at the rebuke.

"At the same time," continued Mr. Walton, "it was manly in you to state the case frankly to me as you have done; for you knew that you might shield yourself behind Annie's silence."

"It was simply your right to know it," said Gregory, in a low tone.

After a few moments of musing silence, Annie said, earnestly, "I do so pity that poor woman!"

"I imagine she is little better than her companion," said Mr. Walton.

"Indeed she is, father," said Annie, eagerly. "I cannot tell you how I feel for her, and I know from her manner and words that her guilty life is a crushing burden. It must be a terrible thing to a woman capable of good (as she is), and wishing to live a true life, to be irrevocably bound to a man utterly bad."

"She is not so bound to him," said her father; "can she not leave him?"

"Ah! there comes in a mystery," she replied, and the subject dropped. Soon after, they separated for the night.

But Gregory had much food for painful thought. After the experience of that day his chief desire was to stand well in Miss Walton's esteem. And yet how did he stand—how could he stand, being what he was? He was not conscious of love for her as yet. He would have been satisfied if she had said, "I will be your friend in the truest sense of the word." He had no small vanity, and understood her kindness. She was trying to do good to him as she would to any one else. She was sorry for him as for the wretched woman who also found an evil life bitter, but she could never think of him as a dear, congenial, trusted friend. Even her father, in her presence, had rebuked his lack of principle, asserting that his nature was like the vile weed; and this had been proved every day of his visit. If she should come to know of his purpose and effort to tempt her into the display of petty weakness and lack of principle herself, would she not regard him as "utterly bad," and shrink with loathing even from the bonds of friendship?

He was learning the lesson that wrong sooner or later will bring its own punishment, and that the little experiment upon which he had entered as a relief from ennui might become the impassable gulf between him and happiness; for he knew that, if their relations ever verged toward mutual confidence, she would ask questions that would render lies his only escape. He could not sink to that resort. It was late before he found in sleep refuge from painful thoughts.

The next day he was much alone. The news of their adventure having got abroad, many because of their sincere regard for Annie, and not a few out of curiosity, called to talk the matter over. After meeting one or two of these parties, and witnessing the modesty and grace with which Annie satisfied and foiled their curiosity at the same time, he was glad to escape further company in a long and solitary ramble. The air was mild, so that he could take rest in sunny nooks, and thus he spent most of the day by himself. His conscience was awakened, and the more pure and beautiful Annie's character grew in his estimation, the more dastardly his attempt upon it seemed. Never before had his evil life appeared so hideous and hateful.

And yet his remorse had nothing in it of true penitence. It was rather a bitter, impotent revolt at what he regarded as cruel necessity. Now that he had been forced to abandon his theory that people are good as they are untempted, he adopted another, which, if it left him in a miserable predicament, exonerated him from blame. He had stated it to Annie when he said, "You are made of different clay from other people." He tried hard to believe this, and partially succeeded. "It is her nature to be good, and mine to be evil," he often said to himself that long and lonely day. "I have had a fatal gravitation toward evil ever since I can remember."

But this was not true. Indeed, it could be proved out of his own memory that he had had as many good and noble impulses as the majority, and that circumstances had not been more adverse to him than to numerous others. He was dimly conscious of these facts, though he tried to shut his eyes to them.

A man finally gets justice at the bar of his own conscience, but it is extorted gradually, reluctantly, with much befogging of the case.

Still this theory would not help him much with Annie Walton, for he knew that she would never entertain it a moment.

Thus he wandered for hours amid old scenes and boyish haunts, utterly oblivious of them, brooding more and more darkly and despondingly over his miserable lot. He tried to throw off the burden of depressing thought by asking, in sudden fierceness, "Well, what is Annie Walton to me? I have only known her a short time, and having lived thus long, can live the rest of my days—probably few—without her."

But it was of no use. His heart would not echo the words, but in its very depths a voice clear and distinct seemed to say, "I want to be with her—to be near her. With her, the hours are winged; away, they are leaden-footed. She awakens hope, she makes it appear possible to be a man."

He remembered her hand upon his aching brow, and groaned aloud in view of the gulf that his own life had placed between them.

"'Neither can they pass to us,'" he said, unconsciously repeating the words of Scripture. "With her nature what I know it to be, she cannot in any way ally it to mine."

As the shadows of evening deepened he sauntered wearily and despondingly to the house. There were still guests in the parlor, and he passed up to his room. For the first time he found it chilly and fireless. It had evidently been forgotten, and he felt himself neglected; and it seemed that he could drop out of existence unnoted and uncared for. In what had been his own home, the place where for so many years he had experienced the most thoughtful tenderness, there came over him a sense of loneliness and desolation such as he had never before known or believed possible. He felt himself orphaned of heaven and earth, of God and man.

But a process had commenced in Annie's mind that would have surprised him much. Unconsciously as yet even to herself, she was disproving his "superior clay" theory. Though carefully trained, and though for years she had prayerfully sought to do right, still she was a true daughter of Eve, and was often betrayed by human weakness. She had not the small, habitual vanity of some pretty women, who take admiration and flattery as their due, and miss it as they do their meals. Still there were pride and vanity in her composition, and the causes that would naturally develop them were now actively at work. She considered herself plain and unattractive personally, and so she was to the careless glance of a stranger, but she speedily became beautiful, or, what was better, fascinating, to those who learned to know her well. All are apt to learn their strong points rather than their weak ones, and Annie had no little confidence in her power to win the attention and then the respect and regard of those whose eyes turned away indifferently after the first perception of her lack of beauty. She did not use this power like a coquette, but still she exulted in it, and was pleased to employ it where she could innocently. She was amused by Gregory's sublime indifference at first, and thought she could soon change that condition of his mind. She did not know that she was successful beyond her expectation or wishes.

But while she rejected and was not affected by the fulsome flattery with which he at first plied her, detecting in it the ring of insincerity, she had noted, with not a little self-gratulation, how speedily she had made him conscious of her existence and developed a growing interest. She knew nothing of his deliberate plot against her, or of its motive. Therefore his manner had often puzzled her, but she explained everything by saying, "He has lived too long in Paris."

Still it is justice to her to say that while, from the natural love of power existing in every breast, she had her own little complacencies, and often times of positive pride and self-glorification, yet she struggled against such tendencies, and in the main she earnestly sought to use for their own good the influence she gained over others.

But of late there had been enough to turn a stronger head than hers. Gregory's homage and admiration were now sincere, and she knew it, and it was no trifling thing to win such unbounded esteem from a man who had seen so much of the world and was so critical. "He may be bad himself, but he well knows what is good and noble," was a thought that often recurred to her. Then, in a moment of sudden and terrible peril, she had been able to master her strong natural timidity, and be true to conscience, and while she thanked God sincerely, she also was more and more inclined to take a great deal of credit to herself. Gregory's words kept repeating themselves, "You are made of different clay from others." While she knew that this was not true as he meant it, still the tempter whispered, "You are naturally superior, and you have so schooled yourself that you are better than many others." Her father's intense look of pride and pleasure when he first learned of her fortitude, and his strong words of thankfulness, she took as incense to herself. Then came a flock of eager, curious, sympathizing people, who continued to feed her aroused pride by making her out a sort of heroine. Chief of all she was complacent in the consciousness of so generously shielding Gregory when, if she had told the whole story, she, in contrast with him, would appear to far greater advantage.

Altogether, her opinion of Annie Walton was rising with dangerous rapidity; and the feeling grew strong within her that, having coped successfully with such temptations, she had little to fear from the future. And this feeling of overweening self-confidence and self- satisfaction was beginning to tinge her manner. Not that she would ever show it offensively, for she was too much of a lady for that. But at the supper-table that evening she gave evident signs of elation and excitement. She talked more than usual, and was often very positive in matters where Gregory knew her to be wrong; and she was also a little dictatorial. At the same time the excitement made her conversation more brilliant and pointed, and as Gregory skilfully drew her out, he was surprised at the force and freshness of her mind.

And yet there was something that jarred unpleasantly, a lack of the sincere simplicity and self-forgetfulness which were her usual characteristics. He had never known her to use the pronoun "I" with such distinctness and emphasis before. Still all this would not have seemed strange to him in another, but it did in her.

She did not notice the cloud upon his brow, or that he spoke only in order to lead her to talk. She was too much preoccupied with herself for her customary quick sympathy with the moods of others. She made no inquiries as to how he had spent the day, and seemingly had forgotten him as completely as he had been absorbed in her. He saw with a deeper regret than he could understand that, except when he awakened her pity by suffering, or entertained her by his conversation as any stranger might, he apparently had no hold upon her thoughts.

After supper, in answer to the children's demand for stories, she said almost petulantly that she was "too tired," and permitted Aunt Eulie to take them with sorrowful faces away to bed earlier than usual.

"I need a little rest and quiet," she said.

Gregory was eager for further conversation in order that he might obtain some idea how mercy would tinge her judgment of him if she should ever come to know the worst, but she suddenly seemed disinclined to talk, or give him any attention at all.

Taking the arm-chair he usually occupied, and leaving the other for her father, she leaned back luxuriously and gazed dreamily into the fire. Mr. Walton politely offered Gregory his. Then Annie, suddenly, as if awakening, rose and said, "Excuse me," and was about to vacate her seat.

But Gregory insisted upon her keeping it, saying, "You need it more than I, after the unusual fatigues of the day. I am no longer an invalid. Even the ache in my bones from my cold has quite disappeared."

She readily yielded to his wish, and again appeared to see something in the fire that quite absorbed her. After receiving a few courteous monosyllables he apparently busied himself with a magazine.

Suddenly she said to her father, "Are you sure the steamer is due to- day?"

He replied with a nod and a smile that Gregory did not understand, and he imagined that she also gave him a quick look of vexed perplexity.

She did, for by that steamer she expected her lover, Mr. Hunting, who had been abroad on a brief business visit, and she hoped that in a day or two he would make his appearance. Conscious of the bitter enmity that Gregory for some unknown reason cherished toward him, she dreaded their meeting. As Gregory watched her furtively, her brow contracted into a positive frown. The following thoughts were the cause: "It will be exceedingly stiff and awkward to have two guests in the house who are scarcely on speaking terms, and unless I can make something like peace, it will be unendurable. Moreover, I don't want any strangers around, much less this one, while Charles is here."

Thus in the secret of her soul Annie's hospitality gave out utterly, and in spirit she had incontinently turned an unwelcome guest out of doors. Now that she had really won a vantage-ground that could be used effectively, all her Christian and kindly purposes were forgotten in the self-absorption that had suddenly mastered her.

The evening was a painful one to Gregory. His sense of loneliness was deepened, and nowhere is such a feeling stronger than at a fireside where one feels that he has no right. Mr. Walton was occupied that evening with some business papers. He had not a thought of discourtesy toward his guest. Indeed, in the perfection of hospitality, he had adopted Gregory so completely into his household that he felt that he could treat him as one of the family. And yet Mr. Walton was also secretly uneasy at the prospect of entertaining hostile guests, and, with his knowledge of the world, was not sure that peace between them could be made in an hour.

The disposition of those around us often creates an atmosphere, nothing tangible but something felt; and the impression on Gregory's mind, that he belonged not to this household, but to the outside world—that the circle of their lives did not embrace him, and that his visit might soon come to an end without much regret on their part —was not without cause. And yet they would have consciously failed in no duty of hospitality had he stayed for weeks.

But never before had Gregory so felt his isolation. He had but few relatives, and they were not congenial. His life abroad, and neglect, had made them comparative strangers. But here, in the home of his childhood, the dearest spot of earth, were those who might become equally loved with it. In a dim, obscure way the impression was growing upon him that his best chance for life and happiness still centred in the place where he had once known true life and happiness. Annie Walton seemed to him the embodiment of life. She was governed and sustained by a principle which he could not understand, and which from his soul he was beginning to covet.

His good father and mother had been like old Mr. Walton. Their voyage of life was nearly over as he remembered them, and they were entering the quiet, placid waters of the harbor. Whether they had reached their haven of rest through storm and temptation, he did not know, but felt that they never could have had his unfortunate experience or been threatened with utter wreck. They belonged to his happier yet vanished past, which could never return.

But Annie unexpectedly awakened hope for the present and future. This eager-eyed, joyous girl, looking forward with almost a child's delight to the life he dreaded—this patient woman already taking up the cares and burdens of her lot with cheerful acceptance—this strong, high- principled maiden, facing and mastering temptation in the spirit of the olden time—this daughter of nature was full of inspiration. Never had he found her society a weariness. On the contrary she had stirred his slow, feeble pulse, and revived his jaded mind, from the first. Her pure, fresh thought and feeling had been like a breath from an oasis to one perishing in the desert. But chiefly had her kindness, delicacy, and generosity, when in his moral and physical weakness he had been completely at her mercy, won his deepest gratitude. Also he felt that in all his after life he could never even think of her touch upon his aching temples without an answering thrill of his whole nature that appeared to have an innate sympathy with hers.

And yet the exasperating mystery of it all! While she was becoming the one source of life and hope for him, while his very soul cried out for her friendship and sisterly regard (as he would then have said), she seemed, in her preoccupation, unconscious of his existence, and he instinctively felt that she would bid him "good-by" on the following day, perhaps, with a sense of relief, and the current of her life flow on as smoothly and brightly as if he had never caused a passing agitation.

With gnawing remorse he inwardly cursed his evil life and unworthy character, for these he believed formed the hopeless gulf that separated them.

"It is the same," he said, in his exaggerating way, "as if a puddle should mirror the star just above it, and, becoming enamored, should wish it to fall and be quenched in its foul depths."

But he did himself great wrong; for in the fact that Annie so attracted him he proved that he possessed large capabilities of good.

He could not bear to see her sitting there so quietly forgetful of him, and so made several vain attempts during the evening to draw her into conversation. Finding her disinclined to talk, he at last ventured to ask her to sing. With something like coldness she replied, "Really, Mr. Gregory, I am not in the mood for it this evening; besides, I am greatly fatigued."

What a careless, indifferent shrug he usually gave when fair ladies denied his requests! Now, for some unaccountable reason, he flushed deeply and a sharp pain came into his heart. But he only said, "Pardon me, Miss Walton, for not seeing this myself. But you know that I am selfishness embodied, and your former good-nature leads me to presume."

Annie gave him a hurried smile, as she answered, "Another time I will try to keep up my character better"; and then she was absorbed again in a picture among the hickory coals.

Like many who live in the country and are much alone, she was given to fits of abstraction and long reveries. She had no idea how the time was passing, and meant to exert herself before the evening was over for the benefit of her father and guest. But her lively imagination could not endure interruption till it had completed some scenes connected with him she hoped so soon to see. Moreover, as we have said, the tendency to self-absorption had been developing rapidly.

After the last rebuff, Gregory was very quiet, and soon rose and excused himself, saying that he had taken longer walks than usual and needed rest.

Annie awakened, as if out of a dream, with a pang of self-reproach, and said, "I have been a wretched hostess this evening. I hope you will forgive me. The fact is, I've been talked out to-day."

"And I had not the wit to entertain and interest you, so I need forgiveness more. Good-night."

Mr. Walton looked up from his business papers and smiled genially over his spectacles and then was as absorbed as before.

Annie sat down with a vague sense of discontent. With their guest, her dreams also had gone, and she became conscious that she had treated him with almost rude neglect, and that he had borne it in a spirit different from that which he usually showed. But she petulantly said to herself, "I can't always be exerting myself for him as if he were a sick child."

But conscience replied, "You have so much to make you happy, and he so little! You are on the eve of a great joy, and you might have given him one more pleasant evening."

But she met these accusations with a harshness all unlike herself. "It's his own fault that he is not happy. He had no business to spoil his life."

"Yes," retorted conscience, "but you have promised and purposed to help him find the true life, and now you wish him out of the way, and have lost one of your best opportunities and perhaps your last; for he will not stay after Hunting comes;" and, self-condemned, she felt that she had spent a very selfish and profitless evening.

For some reason she did not feel like staying to prayers with her father and Miss Eulie, who now came in, but, printing a hasty kiss on Mr. Walton's cheek, said, "Good-night. I'm tired, and going to bed." Even in her own room there was a malign influence at work that made her devotion formal and brief, and she went to sleep, "out of sorts."



The cloud on her brow had not disappeared on the ensuing morning when she came down to breakfast. Unless the causes are removed, the bad moods of one day are apt to follow us into the next.

Annie was now entering upon one of those periods when, in accordance with a common expression, "everything goes wrong," and the world develops a sudden perverseness that distracts and irritates even the patient.

The butcher had neglected to fill the order for breakfast, and Jeff, also under the baleful spell, had killed an ancient hen instead of a spring chicken, to supply the sudden need.

"Couldn't cotch nothin' else," he answered stolidly to Annie's sharp reprimand, so sharp that Gregory, who was walking toward the barn, was surprised.

Zibbie was fuming in the broadest Scotch, and had spoiled her coffee, and altogether it was a sorry breakfast to which they sat down that morning; and Annie's worried, vexed looks did not make it more inviting. Gregory tried to appear unconscious, and directed his conversation chiefly to Mr. Walton and Miss Eulie.

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