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The Wishing Moon
by Louise Elizabeth Dutton
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"I will, sir," said Neil deliberately, but very courteously. Then the Colonel disappeared into the private office with his arm about his trusted attorney's shoulders, and the young man for whose sake his attorney had openly defied him for the first time in years began to empty the office waste-baskets.

The winter weeks in the Judge's office passed without even moments of repressed drama like this. There was little to prove that they were the most important weeks of his life to Neil. At first they were lonely weeks. Mr. Burr, unusually prompt, reached the office one crisp September morning in time to find him staring out of the window at a straggling procession passing on its way up the hill to the schoolhouse, hurrying on foot in excited groups, or crowded into equipages of varying sizes and degrees of elegance, properly theirs or pressed into service.

"First day of school," said Neil, and did not need to explain further, even to Mr. Burr. From to-day on new faces would look out of the many-paned windows of the old, white-painted building. New voices would sing in the night on their way home from barge rides and dances. There were to be new occupants of the seats of the mighty; a new crowd would own the town. The door of the country of the young was shut in this boy's face from to-day, and that is always a hard day, but it was peculiarly hard in Green River, where the country of the young was the only unspoiled and safe place to live. And there were signs of a private and more personal hurt in the boy's faraway eyes.

"What's that letter?" said Mr. Burr.

"Seed catalogue."

"Don't she write to you every day?"

"Who?"

"Is she too proud, or did she forget all about you? She'll have time to, away half the summer, and not coming home for vacations. She won't see you till next June."

"If you mean Judith Randall," her late class-mate replied in a carefully expressionless voice, "why should she write to me, and why shouldn't she forget all about me?" There was a faint, reminiscent light in his eyes, as if he were not seriously threatened with the prospect, but it died away quickly, and his face grew very grave.

"I'm a business man now, Theodore."

"You are," said his newest friend, "and we couldn't keep house without you now. You're in a class by yourself."

This was true. Neil did not take his big chance at life as other boys equally in need of it would have done. He did not lose his head. He showed no pride in it. Green River, soon seeing this, rewarded him in various ways, each significant in its own fashion. Nondescript groups round the stove in his uncle's little store ceased to look for signs that he felt superior to them, and welcomed him as before, restoring to him his privilege of listening to talk that was more important than it seemed, public sentiment uncoloured and without reserve, the real voice of the town. Mrs. Saxon, of the old aristocracy of the town, with inborn social prejudices stronger than any acquired from the Everards, broke all her rules and invited him to Sunday-night supper.

"The boy's not spoiled," his old friend Luther Ward said to the Judge approvingly. "He knows his place."

"That's the surest way to climb out of it," said Judge Saxon, advisedly, for it was the Judge who had the closest and most discerning eyes upon Neil Donovan's career. Listlessly at first, because he had looked on at too many uphill and losing fights against the world, but later with interest, forced from him almost against his will, he watched it grow.

To a casual observer the boy would have seemed to be fitting himself not for an ornament to the legal profession, but for the office boy Colonel Everard had called him, but he would have seemed a willing office boy. He spent hours uncomplainingly looking up obscure points of law for some purpose nobody explained to him. He devoted long, sunny afternoons to looking up titles connected with some mortgage loan which nobody gave him the details of, and he seemed satisfied with his occupation, and equally satisfied to devote a morning to plodding through new-fallen snow delivering invitations to some party of Mrs. Saxon's.

When he was actually studying, he lost himself in the Judge's out-of-date reference books, as if they contained some secret as vital as the elixir of youth, and might yield it at any moment. Mr. Burr, at first ridiculing pupil and course of instruction alike, and with some show of reason, began shamefacedly and afterward openly to give him what benefit he could from the more modern education which had been wasted upon him. Between his two teachers the boy arrived at conclusions of his own. Neil was studying law by the old method which evolved so many different men of letters and keen-witted lawyers, a method obsolete as the Judge's clothes, but Neil gave allegiance to it ardently, as if it had been invented for him.

"What do you get out of this?" the Judge demanded, coming upon Neil late one afternoon, poring over the uninspired pages of Mr. Thayer by the fading light. "What do you hope to get?"

"All there is in it," said the boy simply, and without oratorical intent.

"Suppose you do pass your bar examinations. What then? What will you do with it?"

"I'll wait and see then. I had to begin somewhere."

"Why?" said the Judge, and as he asked the question, the answer to it, which he had once known so well and forgotten, looked at him in the boy's pale face and glowing eyes, the great answer not to be silenced, youth, and the wonderful, wasteful urge of youth. "Don't you know this town's sick?" he demanded abruptly. "It's dirty. You can't clean it up. Don't you ever try. Don't you stir things up. Don't you dig in too deep. I suppose you know the town's got no room for you?"

"Yes, sir, I know."

"Where do you expect to end?" the Judge began irritably, "in the poorhouse? You're so damn young," he grumbled. "It's a good thing I didn't know you when I was young. I'd have listened to you then."

"You will now, sir," said the boy, and the Judge did not contradict him, but instead, under shy pretence of groping for the switch of the desk lamp, found the boy's hand and gripped it.

"You're a good boy," he remarked irrelevantly. "Mind what I said, and don't dig in too deep."

The Judge did not explain whose secrets he hoped to protect by this vague warning. Probably he could not have explained. It was one of those instinctive pronouncements which shape themselves in rare moments when two people are close and mean more than either of them know. Certainly if the key to any secret was to be found within the Judge's dingily decorated walls or in his battered safe, or learned from his partner, the boy had exceptional opportunities to unearth it. Theodore Burr's intimacy with Neil developed rapidly. He stuck to it obstinately, in spite of his wife, showing more independence about it than he had in years. The two had tramped and snow-shoed together through long winter hours of intimate talk and more intimate silence, and they found the first Mayflowers of the year together. Only the week before he had committed the crowning indiscretion of giving up a poker game at the Everards' to go shooting with Neil.

The Judge, in the strenuous days of Colonel Everard's summer campaign, had no time to observe the growth of this intimacy or to think much about Neil, but he might have been interested in a snatch of talk in the Brady kitchen one evening, if he could have overheard it, more interested than Mrs. Donovan, who did not remember it long.

Her son was an hour late for supper, but she was used to that, for now that he was on his feet the house revolved around him. She served him, and then sat watching him with her hands folded, and the new dignity that had come with his first bit of success straightening her tired shoulders, and the look of age and pain that had been growing there since Maggie disappeared widening her soft, deep eyes. He had dropped wearily into his chair, and he ate almost in silence, but she was used to that, too.

Outside the short, June twilight was over, and a pattering summer rain had begun to fall. Neil's dark hair was damp with it and clung to his forehead in close curls. Once, passing his chair, she smoothed it with a hand that was work hardened but finely made and could touch him lightly and shyly still. Her son pulled her suddenly close, and hid his face against her.

"What is it?" she asked, softly and not too soon as she stood still and held him. "What's wrong, then? Where have you been?"

"Nothing's wrong. Nothing new. I went round to Theodore Burr's, but I left there at five. I didn't mean to be late home or make work. But I had a hunch to look in at Halloran's. I thought I'd find Charlie there. I did, and I had to get him home."

"Taking your strength," said Mr. Brady's aunt, unfeelingly but truthfully, "a good-for-nothing——"

"That's not the worst thing he does."

"What is, then?"

"Talking."

"He don't mean anything by that."

"Sometimes he does. Sometimes he tells you things that you never suspected and you don't believe him at first, but you find they're true; things that have been locked up in his addled brain so long that they're out of date, and you don't know how to profit by them or handle them, but they're true—all true."

"Neil, you don't half know what you're saying. You're tired."

Mrs. Donovan released herself abruptly to get the tea-pot from the stove. Her son, who had been talking in a low, monotonous voice, more to himself than her, watched her with dazed eyes that slowly cleared.

"I guess you're right," he said. "I didn't mean to frighten you. Charlie was no more loose mouthed to-day than he always is. I got hold of nothing new, but I have hold of more than I can handle, and I'm tired and I'm scared, and there's only one of me."

But Mrs. Donovan preferred her own interpretation of the situation, as most ladies would have. She made it tactfully, keeping her eyes away from him, busy with the tea-pot. "You're young, and it's June. Neil, the children walked round with the Sullivan girl to take home the wash to the Randalls'. They had some talk with Norah there. Judith will be home this week."

She had mentioned the much-debated name in a voice which she kept indifferent, but she flashed a quick, apprehensive glance at him. She was quite unprepared for its effect upon him. He only laughed, and then his face sobered quickly, and his eyes grew lonely and tired again.

"Judith," he said, "you think that's my trouble, mother. Well, I'm not so young as I was last June." Then he began with considerable relish to drink his tea.

"You're contrary and close mouthed, but you're only a boy like all other boys," said Mrs. Donovan, sticking to her point, "and you're a good son to me."

The boy who had made this rare and abortive attempt at confidences only the night before showed no need of repeating it as he gazed out of the Judge's window. He looked quite competent to bear all his own troubles alone, and a generous share of other people's, though somewhat saddened by them. Perhaps his mother's diagnosis of him was correct. He leaned his chin on his hands and stared out of the window like any dreaming boy, as if it was. But the winter that had passed so lightly over Green River had left traces of its own upon him. His profile had a clearer, more sharply outlined look. The lines at the corners of his mouth were firmer though they were no deeper, and the mouth was still a boy's mouth, red-lipped and lightly closed. But the dreaming eyes were a man's, dreaming still, but alert, and ready to banish dreams.

The afternoon light was fading fast. It was not so easy now to read the fine print of Mr. Thayer's notes, and the boy made no further pretence of trying to. He let Mr. Thayer slip to the floor, and stretched himself in his chair with a sigh of relief. The sounds of talk in the Judge's room had grown fainter and more intermittent and finally ceased. The Judge, still deep in conference with them, had left with his guests by the private door. The boy was alone in the office.

Gradually, as he sat there, the bright pageant of the busy little street had dimmed. It made a softer and mellower picture, a blend of delicate colours in the slant mellow light, and it was not so busy now. There were fewer passers-by, and they hurried and did not loiter past. It was almost supper-time. Willard Nash, not joy riding now, but dispatched reluctantly alone on some emergency errand, flashed by in his car, and disappeared up Main Street.

Beyond the double row of shops the upper section of the street was empty. The maples, in full leaf now and delicately green, shadowed the upward slant of smooth road alluringly. Touched with golden afternoon light, and half hidden by the spreading green, the old, solidly built houses planted so heavily in the midst of their well-kept lawns had new and unguessed possibilities. Any one of them just then might have sheltered a fairy princess. The one that did was just within range of the boy's grave, patient eyes, a protruding porch, disproportionately enlarged and ugly, a sweep of vividly green lawn stripped bare of the graceful, dishevelled growth of lilac and syringa bushes that had graced it before Mrs. Randall's day.

Not from that house, but from somewhere beyond it, a car flashed into view and cut smoothly and quickly down through the street, almost deserted now. The boy followed it idly with his eyes. The low-built, graceful lines of it held them. It approached, and slowed down directly under the windows, and the boy leaned forward and looked.

It was stopping there. It was one of the Everard cars, as the trim lines and perfection of detail would have shown without the English chauffeur's familiar, supercilious face. The car had only one occupant, a slender young person in white. She slipped quickly out, and disappeared into the dingy entrance hall below.

She had not seen the boy at the window. He stood still now in his corner, and waited. The tap of her feet was light even on the old creaking stairs, but he heard. She knocked once and a second time, and then threw open the door impatiently, saw who was there, and stopped just inside the door, and looked at him.

Her white dress and big, beflowered hat looked as cool and as new as June itself. They did not make the dingy room look dingier, they made you forget it was dingy. Her soft, befrilled skirts fluffed and flared in the brave and bewildering mode of the moment. Skirts, small shoes that were built to dance, not to walk, the futuristic blend of flowers in her hat, and the girdle, unrelentingly high and futuristic of colour, too, that gave her waist an unbelievably slender look, were all in the dainty and sophisticated taste of a sophisticated young lady, and under the elaborate hat there was a sophisticated young face. It looked smaller and more faintly pink. The small chin was more prominent. But she still had the wide, reproachful eyes of a child. They regarded the boy unwinkingly. One hand went behind her, found the knob of the door, and closed it mechanically, but the eyes did not leave his face.

He stepped uncertainly forward, and stopped.

"Well, Judith," he said, in a voice that held all the authority Judge Saxon's assistant had acquired in the long year of his service and more, "Well?" and then, in a voice that held no authority at all, but was suddenly husky and small: "Oh, Judith, won't you speak to me?"



CHAPTER SIXTEEN

"Judith," Neil said.

Neil's visitor flashed a quick glance round the dim office, empty except for the lean young figure that confronted her. It was a hunted glance, as if she really meant to turn without speaking and pick up her beruffled skirts, and run away down the dusty stairs, but she did not run away. Suddenly quite herself, recovering by tapping some emergency reserve of strength as only ladies can, but as most of them can, even the most amateurish and beruffled of ladies, she crossed the room to him.

She came deliberately, with an impressive flutter of hidden silk. She was smiling a faint half-smile, sweet but indefinably teasing, and holding out a daintily gloved hand. It touched Neil's lightly and impersonally, not like a girl's warm hand at all, but like the hand of a society forever beyond his reach, held out patronizingly to this boy beyond its pale, only to emphasize the distance between them.

"How do you do?" she murmured, formally but sweetly.

"How do you do?" the boy stammered. "Judith, oh, Judith, I——"

He broke off, staring helplessly into her eyes. They were dark and accusing and grave, and a heartache shadowed the depths of them, the lonely and infinite heartache of youth, when you cannot measure your pain or argue it away, but must suffer and suffer instead. But the boy was too miserable just then to read it there.

"Judith," he began, "don't you care any more? Why wouldn't you read my letters? Why wouldn't you let me explain? Won't you let me now? I can, Judith."

Still smiling, not taking the trouble to interrupt him, she waited for him to finish, and as she waited and smiled, he had suddenly nothing more to say. Judith was so slender and white and still as she stood there. All the outraged dignity of an offended schoolgirl was helping to make this overwhelming little effect of hers, and every trick of poise and carriage that she had acquired in a year, and something else, something that shamed and silenced the boy as no tricks could have done, and made her pathetic little show of injured dignity real. A woman's shy soul was reaching out for every defence it had to protect itself; a woman's new-born, bewildered soul looked out of Judith's beautiful, grieved eyes.

It was very still in the office. Outside an automobile horn sounded aggressively, once and again, and Judith gave the boy an amused, apologetic glance.

"Parks is in a hurry," she said. "He ought not to do that. The Colonel wouldn't like it. But I won't keep him waiting. I'm going out to the Camp for supper. Father and mother are there already. I stopped for the Judge, but he doesn't seem to be here. He is walking out to the Camp, I suppose. I'm—glad to have seen you." Her voice choked perilously over this irreproachable sentiment, then steadied and modulated itself according to the instructions of the highly accredited elocution teacher of which she had enjoyed the benefit for a year. "Good-night."

Again she put out her cool little hand, but this time the boy's hand closed on it tight.

"Judith," he began, his words coming fast, the contact seeming to release all that had been storing itself up in his lonely heart for a year. Once released, it came tumbling out incoherently, with the lilting brogue of the ragged little boy that he used to be singing through it, and the breathless catch in his voice that is the supremest eloquence for the kind of words that he had to say. But Judith gave no sign of being moved by it, and while she listened, a hard look, too unrelenting for any eloquence to reach, was growing in her eyes.

"Judith, you're so sweet, so sweet; sweeter than you were last year—sweeter than you ever were before. I didn't know anybody could be sweeter, even you. I was so lonely. I wanted you so, and now you've come. Everything will be all right, now you've come. And you came straight here. You knew I was here, and you came because you knew. You came straight to me."

"I came for the Judge," she corrected him gravely.

"But you knew I was here."

"I knew you were working for the Judge, but I didn't think you'd be here so late in the afternoon. I didn't come to see you. I didn't want to. Why should I? But I'm glad you are doing so well. Good-night, Neil."

"Good-night," he muttered mechanically, checked once more in spite of himself.

But as he spoke, he felt her hands, both in his now, and held tight, tremble and try softly at first, and then in sudden panic, to pull themselves away. Her voice, that had been so grave and cool, with no echo of the excitement that was in his, failed her now, though she kept her wide-open eyes bravely upon him. She was afraid of him, this young lady who was making such elaborate attempts to hide it, this young lady not of his world, and so anxious to prove it to him, this calm stranger with Judith's eyes. She was very much afraid, and she could not hide it any longer.

"Let me go," she tried to say.

"Judith," he dropped her hands obediently, but his arms reached out for her and caught her and held her close, "you didn't come for the Judge. You came to see me."

"No. No."

Her face was hidden against his shoulder. Her voice came muffled and soft. Neil paid no further attention to it. "No," it insisted faintly. "Let me go." Then it insisted no more, and the boy laughed a soft, triumphant little laugh.

"You did come to see me, and you love me. You love me and I love you. You were angry, of course. Of course you sent back my letters. But you're going to listen to me now. You're going to let me explain. I couldn't that night. I couldn't talk any more. I didn't dare. I had to keep hold of myself. I had to get you home. And I did, dear. I turned round and took you home, and I got you home—safe. You're going to listen? And not be angry any more? You won't, will you? You won't—dear?"

Her face was still out of sight, and her white figure was motionless in his arms. She did not relax there, but she did not struggle. She looked very slender and helpless so. Her futuristic hat had slipped from its daring and effective adjustment, and fallen to the Judge's dusty floor, where it lay unregarded. The silvery blond head against his shoulder was changed like the rest of her, a mass of delicately adjusted puffs and curls, but in the fast-fading light he saw only the soft, pale colour of her hair and the tender curve of her throat. He kissed it reverently and lightly, once only, and then his arms let her go.

"You're so sweet," he whispered; "too sweet for me. But you're mine, aren't you? Tell me you are. And you forgive me for—everything? Tell me, Judith."

She seemed in no hurry to tell him. She faced him silently, her white dress whiter than ever in the fading light, and her face big eyed and expressionless. He waited reverently for her answer, and quite confidently, picking up the elaborate hat mechanically, and then smoothing the ribbons tenderly, and pulling at the flowers, as he realized what he held.

"Poor little hat," he said softly, with the brogue coaxing insinuatingly in his voice. "Poor little girl. I didn't mean to frighten you. And I didn't mean to—that night.... Judith!"

It was undoubtedly Judith who confronted him, and no strange lady now. It was as if she had been waiting for some cue from him, and heard it, and sprung into life again, not the strange lady, not even the girl of the year before, but a long-ago Judith, the child who had come to his rescue on a forgotten May night, the child of the moonlit woods, with her shrill voice and flashing eyes. She was that Judith again, but grown to a woman, and now she was not his ally, but his enemy. She snatched the beflowered hat away, and swung it upon her head with the same reckless hand that had swept the lantern to the ground in her childish defence of him. Her eyes defied him.

"That night," she stormed, "that night. Don't you ever speak of that night to me again. I never want to hear you speak again. I never want to see you again. I'll never forgive you as long as I live. I hate you!"

"Judith, listen to me," begged the boy. "Listen. You must."

But the girl who swept past him and turned to confront him at the door was past listening to him. Words that she hardly heard herself, and would not remember, came to her, and she flung them at him in a breathless little burst of speech that hurt and was meant to hurt. The boy took it silently, not trying to interrupt, slow colour reddening his cheeks, his eyes growing angry then sullen. The words that Judith used hardly mattered. They were futile and childish words, but because of the blaze of anger behind them, that had been gathering long and would go on after they were forgotten, they were splendid, too.

"I hate you! I don't belong to you. I don't belong to anybody. I'm not like anybody else. Nobody cares what I do, and I don't care. I don't care. Nobody ever takes care of me or knows when I need it. Well, I can take care of myself. I'm going to now. I never want to belong to anybody. If I did, it wouldn't be you."

"Judith, stop! You'll be sorry for this."

"If I am, it's no business of yours. It's nobody's business but mine."

"You'll be sorry," the boy muttered again, and this time the girl did not contradict him or answer. Her shrill little burst of defiance was over, and with it the sullen resentment that had crimsoned the boy's face as he listened began to die away. He was rebuffed and thrown back upon himself. His heart would not open so easily again. It would be a long time before it opened at all. But he did not resent this. He only looked baffled and puzzled and miserable, and the girl staring mutely at him from the doorway with big, starved eyes, looked miserable, too. She would be angry again. All the hurt pride and anger that had been gathering in her heart for a year was not to be relieved by an unrehearsed burst of speech. It had been sleeping in her heart. It was all awake now, and she would be angrier with the boy and the world than ever before, angrier and more reckless. But just now her anger was blotted out and she was only miserable. In the gloom of the office there was something curiously alike about the two tragic young faces.

The two were alone together there, but they had never been farther apart. There was a whole world between them, a lonely world, where people all speak different languages, and understand each other only by a miracle, and most of them are so used to being alone that they forget they once had a moment of first realizing it. But when it was upon them, it was a bitter moment. These two young creatures were both living through it now. They looked at each other blankly, all antagonism gone.

"You won't listen?" said the boy wonderingly, admitting defeat. "You won't forgive me?"

"No," said Judith pitifully. "I can't."

Neil looked at her forlornly, but did not contest this. He came meekly forward, not trying to touch her again, and opened the door for her.

"Well, good-night," he said. "Good-night, dear."

"Good-bye," Judith said. "Good-bye, Neil."

Then, jerking her flaunting hat into adjustment with trembling fingers, and shaking out her befrilled skirts with a poor little imitation of her earlier airs and graces, she slipped out into the corridor, groped for the dusty stair rail, and clutched at it with a new disregard for her immaculate whiteness, and disappeared down the stairs.

In the street below the last of the afternoon light still lingered, reflected from the polished windows of the bank building, and faintly illuminating the half-deserted square, but the sun was just going down behind the court-house roof, a big, crimson ball of vanishing light. Judith, appearing below in the doorway, stood regarding it deliberately for a minute, ignoring the chauffeur's discreet manifestations of impatience, and then made herself comfortable deliberately in the Colonel's car.

She sat there proudly erect, a dainty, aloof little lady. She seemed to have recovered her high estate upon entering it, and become a princess beyond Neil's reach once more. Watching her gravely from the Judge's window, he could not see the angry tears in her eyes or the reckless light in them.

Little preliminary pants and puffs came from the car, discreetly impatient, as if they voiced all the feelings that the correct Parks repressed. He relieved them with one blatant flourish of sound from the horn, and swung the car grandly across the square, round the corner, and out of sight. Judith was gone, and she had not once looked up at the boy in the window.

She had not even seen another cavalier, who dashed out of a shop and tried to intercept and speak to her, but was just too late; Mr. Willard Nash, thrilled by his first sight of her, ready to return to his old allegiance at a word, and advertising the fact in every line of his forlorn fat figure as he stood alone on the sidewalk gazing wistfully after the vanished car.

The boy at the window did not waste his time in this way. Judith was gone, and with her the spell that had held him mute and helpless, and he was a man of affairs once more. He was not a very cheerful man of affairs to-night. He was not singing or whistling to himself, as he usually did, but he moved competently enough about the room, entering the Judge's private office with its smell of stale tobacco smoke and group of chairs, so confidentially close that they looked capable of carrying on the conference their late occupants had begun without help from them. He rearranged this room, giving just the straightening touches to the jumble of papers on the desk that the Judge permitted, and no more, and putting the outer office in order, too.

By his own desk he paused, fingering Mr. Thayer's thumbed pages absently. He had no attention to spare for them just then, or for the graver questions that had absorbed him just before Judith came. They would soon claim him again. They awaited him now, but out in the gathering dark that he watched from the darkening office something else waited, too.

His heart ached with it, but it beat harder and stronger for it, and new strength to meet old issues came pulsing from it, as if he were awake again after a year of sleep. He was grieved and miserable, but he was awake. For his mother was right: he was only a boy like other boys; he was young and it was June, and whether she was kind or unkind, Judith Randall was back in Green River.

* * * * *

Judith, whirled along the fast-darkening road between close-growing pines, dulling from green to black, and birches, silver against them, looked for the welcoming lights of Camp Everard through a mist of angry tears.

She shed them decorously, even under cover of the dark; she was still a dainty and proud little lady, with nothing about her to advertise conspicuously that she was crying, or why. But her little gloved hands were closing and unclosing themselves, her lips were trembling in spite of her, and there was a hunted look in her eyes as she turned them toward the dark woods, as if her quarrel with Neil were not her only trouble. The tears that she controlled so gallantly were a protest against a world only half understood and full of enemies whose alien presence she was just beginning to feel.

But Neil, as she had just seen him, was enough to occupy the mind of such a young lady, or a much older one. The look in his eyes as he stood holding open the Judge's door for her was a highly irritating one for any lady to meet. He was older and wiser than she was, no matter what she could say or do to hurt him; he was stronger than she was, and patiently waiting to prove it to her; that was what Neil's eyes were saying.

They said it first when he left her at her own door without a good-night on that strange May night a year ago; when she stood looking up at him changed and alien and silent, with the May moon behind him, that had brought her bad fortune instead of good, still dim and alluring with false promises above the shadowy elms in the little street, and they looked down at her just so—Neil's grave, unforgettable, conquering eyes. They were eyes that followed you to-night, when you tried to forget them and look at the dark woods and fields; eyes that looked at you still when you closed your own.

But Judith would not look at them. The eyes were lying to her. Neil was not really wise or kind. He was cruel. He had hurt her and slighted her, and she was through with him.

"Parks, can't you go faster?" she said suddenly, in her clear little voice. "It's so late, and I'm hungry and cold."

"It's bad going through here, Miss," the chauffeur said.

They were turning into a narrow mile or so of road that sloped gradually down through a series of arbitrary curves and bends to the lake and the camp, a changed and elaborate structure now, overweighted with verandas and uncompromisingly lit with new electric lights. But the road was one of the things that the Colonel did not improve when he changed the public camp into a private one. It was unchanged and unspoiled, a mysterious wood road still, alluring now in the gloom.

Judith's own people were waiting for her there at the end of that road. They were all the people she had. Willard and schooltime and playtime were more than a year behind her; they were behind her forever. She could never go back to them. She had never really been part of them. She had forced herself into a place there, but she had lost it now, and it could never be hers again.

These were her people. They were strange to her still, but she had grown up breathing the feverish air that they breathed, and with little whispers of hidden scandal about her. Judith was alone between two worlds: one was closed to her, and she was before the door of another, where she did not know her way. She was really alone, as she had told Neil, more alone than she knew; a lonely and tragic figure, white and small in the corner of the big car.

But she was not crying now. She dabbed expertly at her eyes with an overscented scrap of handkerchief and sat up, looking eagerly down the dark road. She could catch far echoes of a song through the still night air, faint echoes only, but it was a song that she knew, a gay little song, and it came from a place where people were always kind and gay. It was like a hand stretched out to her through the dark, a warm hand, to beckon her nearer, and then draw her close. She leaned forward and listened and looked.

There was the camp, the first glimpse of it, though soon a dip of the road would hide it again. It was an enchanting glimpse, a far, low-lying flicker of light. And there, just by the big, upstanding boulder where the road turned abruptly, she saw something else. She saw it before Parks did, as if she had been watching for it. It was a man's figure that started forward, came to the edge of the road, and waited. The man looked more than his slender height in the shadow, but his light, quick walk was unmistakable. It was Colonel Everard.

"Stop, Parks," Judith said, with new authority in her voice.

He stood waiting for her silently, without any greeting at all, and she slipped her hand into his and stepped out and stood beside him.

"Go on," he said to the chauffeur. "It's too rough here for the car. It's easier on foot. Miss Randall will walk with me."

The car, skilfully manipulated along the steep, zigzag road, but a clumsy thing at best here in the woods, and an artificial and ugly thing, lumbered away, breaking through outreaching branches. Judith watched it out of sight. Then and not till then she turned to her host.

"Aren't you going to speak to me?" the great man inquired respectfully, as if her intentions deserved the most serious consideration.

"Yes," said Judith serenely, unflattered by it.

"What are you going to say?"

"What do you want me to say?"

"I want you to shake hands with me."

A hand touched his lightly. It drew quickly away, but it was a confiding little hand.

"You don't seem surprised to see me."

"I'm not," said Judith.

"But you're glad to see me?"

"Yes."

"It's stuffy inside, and they've got a fire in the billiard room and won't leave it. I wanted——"

Judith laughed and let him draw her hand through his arm as they began to grope their way down the road. "You wanted to meet me."

She made the correction triumphantly and confidently, as she would have made it to Willard. All this was coquetry, as she and Willard understood it, and it was an old game to her, and a childish game, but there was something strangely exciting about the fact that the Colonel understood it, too, and condescended to play at it. It was more exciting than usual to-night.

"Why should I want to meet you?" he said.

"I don't know."

"Why weren't you downstairs last night when I came to see your father?"

"I was tired."

"You weren't running away from me?"

"No."

"And you won't ever run away from me?"

"I don't know."

"You're afraid of me."

"Am I?"

"Aren't you?"

"I don't know," said Judith. "Look, there's the moon."

It was low above the trees, rising solemn and round and slow. It looked reproachful and grave, like Neil's eyes. It was looking straight at Judith. Judith turned her eyes sternly away. What was the Colonel saying? Something that did not sound like Willard at all, or like the Colonel, either. Nobody had ever spoken to her in just that voice before. It was a choked, queer voice. But Judith smiled up at him and listened, tightening the clasp of her hand on his arm.

"Don't be afraid of me. Don't ever be afraid.... You're so sweet to-night."

"No, I won't," said Judith defiantly, straight to the round, accusing moon. "I won't be afraid."



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

"I don't like the look of you," said Mrs. Donovan.

"Then you're hard to please." Neil turned at the foot of the steps to say, trying to smile as he said it. "Harder than I am. I do like the look of you."

The Donovans, mother and son, were both quite sufficiently attractive to the eye at that moment. This was the second day of September, and also the second day of the county fair in Madison, five miles away—the big day of the fair, and Neil's uncle had been up at dawn to escort the younger Bradys there in a borrowed rig, and in the company of at least half Green River in equipages of varied style and state of repair. Neil had slept late, breakfasted sketchily, and dined elaborately alone with his mother. Now the long, still, sunny afternoon was half over, and she stood in the kitchen door, watching him start for town.

The kitchen, newly painted this year, looked empty and unnaturally neat behind her, but friendly and lived in, too, with the old, creaking rocker pulled to an inviting angle at the window overlooking the marsh, and a sofa under the other window, its worn upholstery covered freshly with turkey-red; one splash of clear colour, sketched in boldly, just in the corner where it satisfied the eye. Her neighbours did not take this humble fabric seriously for decorative purposes; indeed, they would not have permitted a sofa in the kitchen at all, but her neighbours were not of her gracious race. They could not wear a plain and necessary white apron like the completing touch to a correct toilette assumed deliberately. Mrs. Donovan could, and she did to-day. Also her brown hair, dulled to a softer, more indefinite brown by its sprinkling of white, rippled softly about her low forehead, and her dress was faded to a tender, vague blue like the blue of her eyes. Her eyes, almost on a level with Neil's as she stood on the step above him, had the charm that was peculiarly their own to-day, cloudy as they were with the faraway look of a race that believes in fairies, but warm and human, too, with an intimate mother look of concern for Neil.

Neil met it steadily, not a sullen boy as he would have been under that questioning a year ago, not resenting it at all, but keeping his secrets deliberately. It had always been hard for her to make him answer questions. It was not even easy for her to ask them now.

"You don't sleep," she began.

"Neither do you, if you've been catching me at it," reasoned her son correctly.

"You work too hard." She had made an accusation that he could not deny, so he only smiled his quick, flashing smile. "You won't even take a day to yourself."

"I'll have the office and most of the town to myself this afternoon. I'll have to go. I've got something special to look into."

"Where's Charlie?" she demanded at once.

"Oh, he's not troubling me to-day. He's safe at Madison with his new mare. He'll break loose there, then come home and repent and stay straight for weeks and make no trouble for me. He's due to break loose. He's been good too long—too good to be true. He was in fine form last night." Mr. Charlie Brady's cousin grinned reminiscently.

"What do you mean?"

"He gave me quite a little side talk on good form in dress and diction. Charlie claims I won't make an orator, and he don't like my taste in ties."

"Who does he think he is?" flashed Mr. Brady's aunt indignantly.

"Who do you think he is?" her son inquired unexpectedly. "For whatever you think, that's me. I'm no better than Charlie."

"Charlie?" Mrs. Donovan gasped, and then plunged into an indignant defence of her son, not pausing to take breath.

"You?" she began. "You that's planted firm on the ladder and right-hand to the Judge already, and him getting older every day, and Theodore Burr just kept on in the office because Everard's after Burr's wife. So he is, and the town knows it, and Theodore'll wake up to it soon. A fine partner Theodore is for the Judge, poor boy, but he's a good boy, too, though none too strong in the head; Lil Burr is a good girl, too, and she'd make a good wife to Theodore if she could be left to herself. She'd make it up with Theodore, as many a girl has done that's got more for her husband to forgive than Lil.

"Poor Lil. Her head's high above me now, but the time was she cried on my shoulder; crying for Charlie, she was, before ever Charlie took up with Maggie and Lil with Theodore; when the four of them were all young together, and the one as good as the other. Young they were, and the hearts of them young—wild, doubtful hearts. Many's the time Lil would come to me then, here in this same kitchen, and go down on her knees, her that was tall and a fine figure of a girl, and cling onto me, crying her heart out; crying she was for all the world like—like——"

Mrs. Donovan checked herself abruptly with shrewd eyes upon her son.

"Like young things do cry, and tell you their troubles in tears, not words." She ended somewhat vaguely, and came quickly back to her main subject again.

"You that can walk into the big rally next week and sit with the men that count, and whisper and talk to them, and hold your head high, with nothing against you, and will be sitting up on the platform soon, with the best of them, and be mayor yet, like Everard's going to be, or governor, maybe—you to compare yourself with Charlie, if he is my half-sister's own son. He's a drunken good-for-nothing. He's got no spirit in him if he'll stay here at all, where he's ashamed himself and make a show of himself. How is it he's able to stay? Where does he get the money he spends? This town don't pay it to him. Who does?"

"What put that into your head?" her son asked sharply.

"There's talk enough of it, and there'll be more. The whole town will be asking soon."

"The town asks a lot of questions it don't dare hear the answers to," said Neil softly, unregarded. His mother returned to her grievance:

"You to be likening yourself to Charlie."

"When Charlie was twenty-five," Neil began slowly, "he was where I will be then, or better. The Judge was a friend to him, too, and the Judge was a better friend then to have. Charlie was setting up for himself, well thought of. My own father trusted him. When I was a boy and not grown, Charlie was a son to him, and more. He was a better spoken lawyer than I'll ever make, quick and smooth with his tongue, and he was fine appearing, and put up a better front than I do. I've gone part of the road that Charlie went. What will stop me from going the whole road? What's beat Charlie is strong enough to beat me.... Don't look so scared, mother. I don't want to scare you. I only want you to be fair to Charlie."

"His heart's broke," she conceded, melting. "He's nothing with Maggie gone."

"His heart's broke, but that's not what beat him," her son stated with authority. "He was beat before."

"When?"

"He was beat," Neil stated deliberately, "when Everard moved to Green River."

This was a sweeping statement, but Neil did not qualify it. He dropped the subject and stood silent, turning absent eyes upon the green expanse of marshy field that had been the starting-place of all his dreams when he was a dream-struck, gazing boy. His mother's eyes followed his, growing cloudier and soft as if even now she could read them there.

"Rests your eyes," Neil said, after a minute; "looks pretty, too, in the sun. It's a pretty green. We'll drain it, perhaps, by the time I'm mayor or governor. It might pay. I'll be going now."

"Neil, when did you see her last?" asked his mother suddenly.

"See who?" he muttered, and then flushed, and straightened himself, and met her eyes bravely.

"I saw Judith yesterday," he said, "on Main Street, and—she cut me."

"Did she walk past you?"

"No, she wouldn't do that. She pretended not to see me, but she saw me, all right. She passed me in an automobile."

"Whose?"

"One of Everard's."

"Was he with her?"

"Yes."

"Neil," his mother began a little breathlessly, "I want to tell you something. I've said hard things to you, and they weren't deserved. I know it now, and I'm sorry. I want to take them all back. I've said hard things about Judith Randall."

She hurried on, afraid of being stopped, but he made no move to stop her. He listened courteously, his face not changing.

"Neil, she's not what I thought. There's no harm in her. There's no pride in her. She's just lonesome. She's just a young, young girl. She's sweet-spoken and sweet-faced. Neil, from all I hear——"

"You didn't hear all this direct from—Judith, then?"

"Judith?" she hesitated, flashing a questioning glance at him. "Is it likely? How would I get the chance? But from all I hear, she's too good for Everard and the like. And she's not safe with them. She needs——"

"What?" interrupted her son gravely, with the air of seeking information on a subject quite strange to him and rather distasteful. But she tried to go on.

"—Judith needs—any one that's fond of her, any one that she's fond of, to be good to her now. I've seen her, and it's in the eyes of her. No man ever knows just what a woman is grieving for, but that's all one if he'll comfort her when she's grieving. She needs——"

Neil's eyes were expressionless. She sighed and put her two hands on his shoulders. "Have it your own way," she said. "I'll say no more."

Neil caught at one of the hands on his shoulders and kissed it.

"For one thing," he said, "Judith or any girl needs a mother with a heart in her—like I've got, but you're the one in the world. I'm going."

But he did not go at once. Standing beside her, suddenly awkward and shy, he first gave her the confidence that she could not force from him, all in one generous breathless burst of words.

"Mother, Charlie's not the only one with his heart broke. But heart-break isn't the worst thing I've got to bear. There's something else. I can't tell you. I'd rather bear it alone. I've got to. Good-bye."

Then he left her standing still in the door, shading her cloudy blue eyes with one small hand and looking after him. He swung into the dusty road and, keeping his head high and his eyes straight ahead, undazzled by the sharp sunlight of mid-afternoon on the long stretch of unshaded way, passed out of sight toward Green River.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Neil turned into Post-office Square just on the stroke of four. The square was as empty and strange to the eye as his mother's kitchen, though this was the rush hour of the day in that business centre upon ordinary days, when the fair had not emptied the town.

A solitary Ford of prehistoric make stood before the post-office, and even that was just cranking up. It lurched dispiritedly off, leaving a cloud of dust behind. A dejected-looking group of children hung about the door of the ice-cream parlour, and appeared to lack the initiative to enter in. Half the shops were shut. In the big show-window of the central section of Ward's Emporium Luther Ward, usually on parade and magnificently in charge of his shop and his staff of employees at this time of day, stood in his shirt sleeves, embracing an abnormally slender lady in a mauve velveteen tailored suit.

At first glance he seemed to be instructing her in the latest dance steps, but on a nearer view the visible part of her proved to be wax, and the suit was ticketed nineteen-fifty. He jerked her into place, turned and saw Neil, and hailed him cheerfully, waving him round to the main entrance door, where he joined him, still wiping his brow.

"If you want a thing well done, do it yourself," he said, explaining his late exertions with the air of believing the explanation was original with him and did credit to his intellect. "What are you here for, brother? Isn't Madison good enough for you?"

"No," Neil said. "Not with the big race called off."

"Called off? How's that?"

"Because you weren't there, Luther."

Mr. Ward gave a gratified laugh at this graceful compliment, and descended to facts.

"I'm too old for horse racing. It's my boy's turn. He went over with Willard Nash's crowd to-day. Why didn't you?" Mr. Ward demanded severely.

"Oh, Willard asked me all right. He's quite strong for me now." Mr. Ward had doubted this, being on the watch for slights to Neil and resenting them, though he never made an effort to prevent them. This was the usual attitude of Neil's more influential friends.

"Willard's a shrimp," said Mr. Ward gruffly. "And I like you," he added in a burst of frankness. "I always did like you, Neil. You've pulled yourself up by your boot-straps, and I hope you hang on to them tight. There's nobody better pleased than I am. Oh, I got a rig and sent all the help from the store over to the fair to-day," he added, turning quickly to impersonal subjects.

"You always do treat them right."

"Well, this wasn't my idea. I got it from the Colonel." A look of harmless but plainly evident pride came into Mr. Ward's open and ruddy countenance as he mentioned the great man's name. It was only the week before that he had received his first dinner invitation from the Everards. It came at the eleventh hour and did not include his wife, but he was dazzled by it still. "You know what he's doing? Closing his house, practically, for all three days of the fair, and sending all the help on the place over there—two touring cars full. It's a fine thing for them. They're high-class help and don't have it any too interesting down here. Anybody that says he's not democratic don't know the Colonel. This town don't half know him yet."

"You're right," Neil put in softly.

"Democratic," declaimed Mr. Ward, "and public spirited. Look at the fountain he's going to put up in the square. Look at the old Grant house going to be fitted up for a library. Look at him running for mayor, when he's been turning down chances at bigger offices for years—willing to stay here and serve for the good of the town. There's talk against him more than ever this year. I know that. It amounts to an indignation meeting when the boys get together at Halloran's. Well, failures hate a successful man, and their talk don't count. It will die down. But I hate to hear of it. For the Colonel's put this town on the map. He's not perfect, but who is? And suppose he does have a good time his own way? We've got a right to—all of us. It's a free country."

Mr. Ward delivered this last sentiment with touching faith in its force and freshness, and waved a plump hand of invitation toward the little private office back of the main section of his store, where he had developed his unfailing eloquence of speech upon subjects of public interest, and liked best to practise it. But Neil, himself listened to with growing deference by the groups that forgathered there, was not to be lured to that sanctum to-day. Speaking hastily and vaguely of work to be done, he escaped from his good friend and across the street to Judge Saxon's office.

He climbed the stairs heavily, and did not linger before the door to picture the sign changed to "Saxon, Burr, and Donovan," as he had done more times than he cared to admit. The office was not a thing to be proud of as a step up in life for him to-day; it was a place to be alone in, as men feel alone and safe in the place that is their own because they have worked there.

Showing this in every move, Neil locked the door, threw off his cap, and dropped into the broken-springed chair at the desk that was nominally Theodore Burr's, but really his. He groped mechanically for the handle of the drawer where he usually rested his feet, found it hard to open, gave up the attempt and, leaning back without its support, stared at Mr. Burr's ornate, brass-mounted blotter with unseeing eyes.

Sitting there, he was no longer the boy who had the privilege of intimate talk with prominent citizens like Mr. Ward and valued it; or the boy who had laughed at his mother's anxiety so bravely. He was not even the boy that he used to be, sullen, but rebellious, too. To-day for the first time he was something worse, a defeated boy. The long minutes dragged like hours, and he sat through them as he would have sat through hours, silent and motionless, losing run of time and acknowledging defeat.

For there was something that this boy wanted, and had always wanted, as he could never want other things, even success or love, as a boy or a man can want one thing only in one lifetime. It was a remote and preposterous dream that he had, a dream that nobody else in Green River was foolhardy enough to cherish long, but this boy belonged to the race of poets and dreamers, the race that must sometimes dream true, because it always dreams. His dream had taken different forms: sometimes he saw himself doing desperate things, setting fire to a house that he knew and hated, striking a blow in the dark for which nobody thanked him, but the issue was always the same, and the dream never left him. He was to find Green River a new master. He was to save the town. That was his dream. It had never left him till now.

He was only a lean, tense boy, crouched over a battered desk and staring out of the window at a country street with absent, beautiful eyes, but he was living through a tragic hour; the terrible hour that poets and dreamers know when they lose hold upon their dreams. Measured by minutes, this hour was not long. Neil passed a hand across his forehead and sat up, reaching for his cap in a dazed way, for he was not to be permitted to hide longer from his trouble here. The plump and personable figure of Mr. Theodore Burr was crossing the square and disappearing into the door below. His unhurried step climbed the stairs. Neil opened the door to him.

"Hello, stranger. Why aren't you at Madison?" Neil said.

"I didn't go," said Mr. Burr lucidly. "Where are you going? I don't want to drive you away from here."

"Oh, just out. I was going anyway."

"You don't invite me. I don't blame you. I'm poor company, and I've got business to attend to here."

"No!"

"Why shouldn't I have business here?" snapped Mr. Burr.

"You should, you should, Theodore. Say"—the question had been troubling Neil subconsciously all the time he sat at the desk—"what's wrong with that lower drawer? I can't open it."

"It's locked."

"What for?"

"That," said Mr. Burr with dignity, "is my private drawer—for private papers."

"Papers!" Mr. Burr's private papers were known to consist chiefly of a file of receipted bills and a larger file of unreceipted bills, both kept with his usual fastidious neatness. "What papers?"

"That's my business. I've got some rights here, if I am a figurehead. I've got some privileges."

"Sure. Don't you feel right to-day, Theodore?"

"That," said Mr. Burr, "is my business, too."

Neil stared at his friend. Mr. Burr was faultlessly groomed, as always, his tie was of the vivid and unique blue that he affected so often, and a very recent close shave had acted upon him as usual, giving him a pink and new-born appearance, but his eyes looked old and tired, as if he had not slept for weeks and had no immediate prospect of sleeping, and there were lines of strain about his weak mouth. He was not himself. Even a boy preoccupied with his own troubles could not ignore it.

"Don't you feel right?" Neil said. "Don't you want me to do something, Theodore?"

"Yes. Get out of here. Leave me alone," Mr. Burr snapped angrily.

"Sure," said Neil soothingly.

Suddenly Mr. Burr gripped Neil's reluctant, shy, boy's hand, kept it in his for a minute in silence, and then abruptly let it go, pushing Neil toward the door.

"Don't begrudge me one locked drawer when you'll own the whole place some day," he said, with all the dignity that his fretful burst of irritation had lacked. "I'd like to see that day. You're a good boy, Donovan."

"You're not right. You've got a grouch. Come with me and walk it off," Neil said uneasily, but he did not press the invitation, and his friend had little more to say. His silence was perhaps the most unusual thing about his behaviour, which was all out of key to-day. Neil remembered afterward that just as he closed the door upon Mr. Burr and his vagaries, shutting them at the same time out of his mind, Mr. Burr, sitting rather heavily down in the broken-springed desk chair, was bending and stretching out a faultlessly manicured, slightly unsteady hand toward the locked drawer of the desk.

Neil stepped out into the street with a cautious eye upon the Emporium across the way, but no portly form was in sight there now, and no hearty voice hailed him. He crossed the square and turned north, walking quickly, soon leaving the larger houses behind, and then the smaller houses above the railroad track, always climbing gradually as he walked. Finally, at the entrance to an overgrown road that led off to his left, and at the highest point of his long and slow ascent, he turned and looked back at the town.

The town that Colonel Everard had put on the map hardly deserved the honour, seen so in a glitter of afternoon light, with the long, sloping hill leading down to it, and the white tower of the church pointing high above it, a cozy huddle of houses at the foot of the hill. It looked unassuming and sheltered and safe, only a group of homes to make a simple and sheltered home in. The boy looked long at it, then turned abruptly and plunged into the road before him.

It led straight across a shallow belt of fields and deep into the woods. Only a cart-track at first, it soon lost itself here in a path, and the path in turn grew fainter and became a brown, alluring ghost of a path. It was hard to trace, but this was ground that Neil knew, a favourite haunt of his, though few other boys ventured to trespass here. The woods were part of the Everard estate.

Neil had found his first May flowers here on the first spring that he was privileged to give them to Judith. Last year she had helped him look for them here. His errand here was not so pleasant to-day. The brown path did not really lead to the heart of the woods as it seemed to. It was not so long as it looked. It was a fairly direct short cut to the Everard house.

The boy followed it quickly, with no eyes for the dim lure of the woods to-day.

"You've beat me," he muttered once to himself; "I'll have a look at you."

Soon the woods were not so thick. They fell away around him, carelessly thinned at first, littered with fallen trees and stumps, but nearer the house combed out accurately by the relentless processes of landscape gardening, and looking orderly and empty. The little path vanished entirely here. Ahead of Neil, through a thin fringe of trees, was the Colonel's rose garden; beyond it, the broad stretch of lawn and the house, bulky and towered and tall.

Neil broke through the trees and stood and looked at it, straight ahead, seen through the frame of the trellised entrance to the garden, upstanding and ugly and arrogant.

"You've beat me," he said to the Colonel's house. "You've beat me; you and him. I hate you!"

His voice had a hollow sound in the empty garden. Garden and lawn and house had the same look that the whole deserted town had caught to-day; the look of suddenly empty rooms where much life has been, a breathless strangeness that holds echoes of what has happened there, and even hints of what is to happen; haunted rooms. It is not best to linger there. Neil turned uneasily toward the path again.

He turned, then he turned back, stood for a tense minute listening, then broke through the rose garden and began to run across the lawn. Very faint and small, so that he could not tell whether it was in a man's voice or a woman's, but echoing clearly across the deserted garden, he had heard a scream from the house.

It came from the house somewhere, though as Neil ran toward it the house still looked tenantless. The veranda was without its usual gay litter of cushions and books and serving trays. At the long windows that opened on it all the curtains were close drawn—or at all but one.

As Neil reached the house he saw that the middle window was thrown high and the long, pale-coloured curtain was dragged from its rod and dangling over the sill. Just then he heard a second scream from the house. It was so choked and faint that he barely heard it. Neil ran up the steps and slipped through the open window into the Everards' library.

Little light came through the curtained windows. The green room, sparsely scattered with furniture in summer covers of light chintz that glimmered pale and forbidding, looked twice its unfriendly length in the gloom. There was a heavy, dead scent of too many flowers in the air. On a table across the room a bowl of hothouse hyacinths, just overturned, crushed the flowers with its weight and dripped water into the sodden rug.

Neil, at the window looking uncertainly into the half-dark room, saw the bowl and the white mass of crushed flowers, and then something else, something that shifted and stirred in a far corner of the room. He saw it dimly at first, a dark, struggling group. There were two men in it.

One was a man who had screamed, but he was not screaming now. It would hardly have been convenient for him to scream, for the other, the smaller and slighter man of the two, was clutching him by the throat, gripping it with a hand that he could not shake off as the two figures swayed back and forth.

"Who's there?" Neil cried.

Nobody answered him. Nobody needed to, for just then the two men who seemed to be fighting swung into the narrow strip of light before the uncurtained window and he could see their faces. He could see, too, that they were not fighting now, though they had seemed to be. The bigger man was choked into submission already. No sound came from him and he hung limp and still in the little man's hold. Just in the centre of the strip of light the little man relaxed his grip, and let him fall. He dropped to the floor in a limp, untidy looking heap, and lay still there, with the light full on his face, closed eyes and grinning mouth. The man was Colonel Everard, the man who stood over him was Charlie Brady.

As Neil looked Brady dropped on his knees beside the Colonel, felt for his heart, and found it. He knelt there, motionless, holding his hand pressed over it and peering intently into his face. Presently he got to his feet deliberately, gave a deep sigh of entire content with himself, and looked about him. Then and not until then he saw Neil. He saw him without surprise, if without much pleasure, it appeared.

"You're late," he remarked.

"You drunken fool," Neil began furiously, then stopped, staring at his cousin. Whatever the meaning of this exhibition was, Charlie was not drunk. The excitement that possessed him was excitement of some other kind. It possessed him entirely, though it was under control for the moment. His muscles twitched with it. His shoulders shifted restlessly. His hands closed and unclosed. His eyes were strangely lit, and there was an absent, exalted look about them. Whatever the excitement, it was strong—stronger than Charlie. Neil, his eyes now used to the half-light, could see no weapon in the room, dropped on the floor or discarded. Mr. Brady, normally a coward in his cups and out of them, had attacked his enemy with his bare hands.

"Charlie, what's got you?" Neil said. "What's come to you?"

"What's come to him, there?" Charlie said, in a voice that was changed, too, and was as remote and as strange as his eyes, a low voice, with the deceptive, terrible calm of gathering hysteria about it.

"Look what's come to him," the voice went on. "Don't he deserve it, and worse? How did I find him to-day when I broke in through the window there? At his old tricks again. There was a woman with him in the library there, when he came out to me. He locked the door. She's there now. Neil, you'd better get away from here. I don't know what you're doing here, but you'd better go, and go quick."

He had given this advice indifferently. He made his next observation indifferently, too, with his furtive, absent eyes on the library door.

"I've killed him."

"What's got you? Are you crazy?"

"No—not now. You'd better go. I want to take a look in there first. The key's in the door."

"Charlie, come back here."

The note of command that he was used to responding to in his young cousin's voice reached and controlled Mr. Brady even now; he obeyed and swung round and stood still, looking at Neil. Neil's dark eyes, just above the level of his own, and so like them, were unrecognizable now. They were dull with anger, and they were angry with him.

"What's the matter?" he quavered. "What's the matter, Neil?"

Between the two cousins, as they stood facing each other, the Colonel lay ominously still. The cruel eyes did not open, and the distorted mouth did not change.

"Look! You can see for yourself. Feel his heart," Mr. Brady offered, but his cousin's dark, disconcerting eyes did not leave his face. "What's the matter, Neil? What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to make you talk out to me," Neil said. "You'll tell me what's got you, and why you did this, which will be the ruin of you and me, too, but first you'll tell me something else. You'll tell me what you've hid from me for a year, you who can tell me the truth when you're drunk and lie out of it when you're sober, till you've worn me out and I'm sick of trying to get the truth from you. I'll be getting it now too late, but I'll get it. Have you or have you not been living on this man's money?"

"Yes."

"Was it hush money?"

"Yes," Mr. Brady said. "Neil, I'll tell you everything. You've guessed most of it, but I'll tell you the rest. I can prove it. I can prove everything I know. I did take hush money. It was dirty money, but I didn't care. I didn't care what happened. I didn't care till to-day."

"To-day?"

"I got—a letter."

"Go on," Neil said.

As he spoke Mr. Brady's face began suddenly to change, lighting again with that strange excitement which had gripped him, revived, and burning through its thin veneer of control. His eyes blazed with it, and his voice shook with it. He waved a trembling hand toward the library door. A sound had come from the library, the faintest of sounds, a low, frightened cry. It was like the ghost of a cry, but he heard. Neil heard it, too, and was at the door before him, trying to unlock it, fumbling with the key.

"She's there yet," Mr. Brady cried; "whoever she is. Well, she'll be the last of them. I had a letter, I tell you, a letter from Maggie. She's coming home, what's left of her—what he's left of her—Everard. I never thought he was to blame. I said he was, but I was talked out of it. If I'd thought so, if I'd suspected it, would I have touched a penny of his dirty money? But she's coming home. Maggie's coming home."

For the moment Neil was not concerned with the fact. Graver revelations might have passed over him unheeded. The key had turned at last. Then Neil felt the door being pushed open from inside. He stepped back and waited. The door opened cautiously for an inch or two, then swung suddenly wide. Standing motionless, framed in the library door, was Judith.



CHAPTER NINETEEN

The two cousins, Mr. Brady shocked into sudden silence, stood with Colonel Everard's unconscious body behind them, unregarded, like any other bulky and motionless shape in the dim room, and stared at the girl who had come from the locked library.

"Not you," Neil's voice said dully. "Not here."

But the girl was Judith.

Bare-headed, slender in soft-falling white, she stood in the library door with both hands behind her, clasping her big, limp hat by its flaring brim. Her lightly poised, blond head was fluffy with small, escaping curls, her clear-coloured cheeks were warmly flushed, and between her red, slightly parted lips her breath came too quickly, but softly, still. A sheer, torn ruffle trailed from her skirt. One rose-coloured bow hung from her girdle awry and crushed, and looked the softer for that, like a crumpled flower.

About her dress and her whole small self there was a drooping and crumpled look. It was the look of a child that has played too hard. Surely the most incongruous and pathetic little figure that had ever appeared from a room where a distressed or designing lady was suspected of hiding, she stood and returned Neil's look, but there was blank panic in her eyes.

They turned from Neil to Mr. Brady, wild eyed and pale beside him, to the disordered room, and back to Neil again, with no change of expression at all. They were wide and dilated and dark, intent still on some picture that they held and could not let go. Judith came an uncertain step or two forward into the room, stiffly, as if she were walking in her sleep, and stood still.

"Neil, what did you come here for?" she said. "I'm glad you came."

Her voice was sweet and expressionless, like her eyes, and though she had called Neil by name, she looked at him as if she had never seen him before. One small hand reached out uncertainly, pulled at his sleeve, and then, as he made no move to take it, dropped again, and began to finger the big hat that she held, and pluck at the flowers on it, but her eyes did not leave his face.

"Will they stand for this?" Mr. Brady was demanding incoherently behind them, "as young as this? Will the town stand it? No. And they won't blame me now. They can't. It was coming to you—you——"

He was in the grip of his own troubles again, and breaking into little mutterings of hysterical speech, which he now addressed directly to Colonel Everard, standing over him and not seeming to feel the need of an answer. It was an uncanny proceeding. The girl and boy did not watch it. They were seeing only each other.

"Judith," Neil began stumblingly, "what were you doing there? What's frightened you so? What you heard out here? That's all that frightened you, isn't it? Isn't it? But what made you come here alone like this? Didn't you know—— Oh, Judith——"

He stopped and looked down at her, saying nothing, but his eyes were troubled and dark with questions that he did not dare to ask. There was no answer to them in Judith's eyes, only blank fear. As Neil looked, the fear in Judith's eyes was reflected in his, creeping into them and taking possession there.

"Oh, Judith," he whispered miserably. "Oh, Judith."

Judith seemed to have heard what he said to her from far away, and to be only faintly puzzled by it, not interested or touched. Her eyes kept their secrets under his questioning eyes. They defied him. She was not like his little lost sweet-heart found again, but a stranger and an enemy, one of the people he hated, people who intrigued and lied, but were out of his reach and above him, and were all his enemies.

The boy's world was upsetting. Nothing that had happened to him in that room or ever had happened to him before had shaken it like that minute of doubt that he lived through in silence, with the strain of it showing in his pale face, and Charlie's voice echoing half heard in his ears. He drew back from Judith slightly as they stood. He was trembling. Judith's face was a blur of white before his eyes, then he could not see it—and then, as suddenly as it had come, his black minute was over.

"Take me away. I don't want to stay where he is any more. Is he dead?" Judith said, and she slipped her hand into Neil's.

Judith's voice was as lifeless and strange as before, and the hand in his was cold, but it was Judith's own little clinging hand, and the boy's hand closed on it tight. He stood still, feeling it in his, and holding it as if the poor little cold hand could give him back all his strength again. He looked round him at the dim room and its motionless owner and Charlie as if he were seeing them clearly for the first time. He was not angry with Charlie any longer. He was not angry at all. He drew a deep, sobbing breath of relief, dropped his dark head suddenly and awkwardly toward Judith's unresponsive hand and kissed it, and then very gently let it go.

"Judith, you're you," he said, "just you, no matter what happens, and nothing else matters; nothing in the world, as long as you are you."

Judith only smiled her faint half smile at him, as if she guessed that some crisis had come and passed, but did not greatly care.

"Take me away," she repeated patiently. "I thought there'd be other people here. He said so. But I've come here alone before, only he was different to-day. He was different."

"Don't tell me. I don't want to know. I won't ever ask you again. I never ought to have asked you. It's all right, dear. It's all right."

"I didn't know people were like that—anybody, ever. I just didn't know——"

"Don't, dear," said Neil sharply. The small, bewildered voice that held more wonder and pain than her words broke off, but her bewildered eyes still wondered and grieved. Neil's arms went out to her suddenly and drew her close, holding her gently, and hiding her small, pathetic face against his shoulder.

"Don't," he whispered. "I'll take care of you. I'm going to take care of you. Nobody's going to hurt you any more."

"Neil, I just didn't know. I didn't know."

"It's all right. I'm going to take you away. Just wait, dear. I'm going to take care of you."

He spoke to her softly, saying the same thing over and over, as if he were quieting a frightened child. She was quiet in his arms like a frightened and tired child in any arms held out to it. One arm had slipped round his neck and clung to him. She drew long choking breaths as if she were too tired to cry. Gradually they stopped, but the arm round his neck only clung tighter.

"Don't leave me," she whispered.

"No, I'm not going to. I'm going to take care of you. You know that, don't you, Judith?"

"Yes. Neil?"

"Yes, dear."

"Neil." Still in his arms, because she felt safe and protected there, Judith lifted her head and looked at him, and into her sweet, dazed eyes, full of a terror that she could not understand, came a faint flash of anger. This boy who held her so safe and comforted was her enemy, too. Long before the ugly accident of what had happened behind the library doors he had been her enemy, and he was her enemy now, though she needed his protection and took it. Their quarrel was not over. "Neil, I don't forgive you. I'm never going to forgive you."

"All right, dear."

"And I hate you. You know that, don't you? I hate you."

"Yes, dear, I know it. We aren't going to talk about that now. Let me go."

Both arms were round him now. Judith let him draw them gently apart and down, and drew back from him. The anger was gone from her eyes. She watched him wide eyed and still, as children watch the incomprehensible activities of grownups, or devoted but jealous dogs watch them.

"Don't leave me," she said. "You're sweet to me." Then she gave a sharp, startled little cry.

"Neil," she begged, "don't touch him. I don't want you to touch him. What are you going to do?"

The light had not had time to dim or shift perceptibly in Colonel Everard's big room while so much was settling itself for Neil and Judith. The Colonel still lay with the pale shaft of afternoon light on his unconscious face. Now the boy was kneeling beside him. He slipped a strong, careful arm under his shoulders, and bent over him, touching him with quick, sure hands. He ignored Mr. Brady, who stood crying out incoherent protests beside him, and finally put a shaking hand on his shoulder.

Neil shook it off, and rose and stood facing his cousin.

"I thought so," he said, with a short laugh. "You had me going at first, Charlie, when I came in here and saw what a pretty picture you made. I believed you. I thought you had killed him. I might have known things like that don't happen in Green River."

Neil put both hands on his cousin's shoulders and looked at him. Mr. Brady was not an attractive sight at that moment. The excitement that had held and swayed him was leaving him now, and he looked shaken and weak. An unhealthy colour purpled his cheeks, and his sullen eyes glared vindictively, but could not meet Neil's eyes.

"Don't laugh at me," he muttered. "Don't you dare to laugh at me."

"Going to beat me up, too?" his cousin inquired. "Poor old Charlie! Let's hope your friend there will laugh at you when he talks this over with you. He'll come out of this all right, but he'll be in a better temper if he has a doctor here. I'll 'phone for one."

"What do you mean? I've killed him. I'm glad I killed him."

His cousin laughed again. "Killed him? The man's no more dead than you are. You've knocked him out, that's all. But you didn't kill him. Is that the 'phone over there?"

A desk telephone on a big Louis Quinze table at one end of the room, the instrument masked by the frilly skirts of a French mannequin, perhaps the only lady who had ever been permitted to be insipid in that room and to stay there long, answered Neil's question by ringing faintly, once and again. Neil started toward it, but did not reach it. Mr. Brady had flung himself suddenly upon him in a last burst of feverish strength, which he dissipated recklessly by shrieking out incoherent things, and striking misdirected blows.

Neil parried them easily, caught his thin arms and held them at his sides. Keeping them so, he forced him against the edge of the flimsy table and held him there and looked at him.

"You shan't answer that 'phone," Mr. Brady cried, in a last futile burst of defiance. "You shan't stop me. You shan't interfere. I'll kill him, I tell you, and you shan't answer that 'phone. You shan't——"

Mr. Brady's voice died away, and he was silent under his cousin's eyes.

"Through?" said Neil presently.

"Yes," he muttered.

"Do you mean it?"

Mr. Brady nodded sullenly.

"You've made a fool of yourself?"

Mr. Brady nodded again.

"Neil," he got out presently, "I can make it up to you. I haven't been square with you, but I can. I will. You don't know——"

"You've done talking enough. Will you go now?"

"Yes."

"You'll quiet down and go to mother's and stay there till I come?"

"Yes."

Neil let him go.

"Maybe I'll finish up your friend for you myself, Charlie, after you leave here," he offered. "I've thought of it often enough. Now I come here and fight for him instead of fighting against him. I fight with you. Poor old Charlie. Murder and sudden death! I tell you, things like that don't happen in Green River."

Neil stopped talking suddenly. The telephone at his elbow had rung again, this time with a sharp, sudden peal, peremptory as an impatient voice speaking. Neil caught it up, jerked off the simpering lady by her audacious hat, and answered.

At once, strangely intimate and near in that room where the three had been shut in for the last half hour alone and away from the rest of the world while it went on as usual or faster, a man's voice spoke to him. It was almost unrecognizable, so excited and hoarse, but it was Luther Ward's.

"Hello," Neil said. "Hello. Yes, this is Everards'. No, he can't come to the 'phone. He—what? What's that?"

Neil stopped and listened breathlessly. Mr. Brady, slinking head down from the room, turned curiously to stare at him, and Judith, slipping across the room like a little white ghost, drew close to him and felt for his hand. Neil took her hand, this time with no response of heart or nerves. He had put down the telephone, replacing the receiver mechanically, but Luther Ward's voice still echoed in his ears.

It had spoken to an uncanny accompaniment of half-heard voices, rattling unintelligibly in the room where Ward was, the prosaic, tobacco-scented room that Neil knew so well.

"Tell Everard to come," Ward's voice had said. "He's to come down here, to Saxon's office. I'm there now. Theodore Burr has shot himself. Yes, shot himself. He won't live through the night. Who's this talking to me? Neil Donovan, it's you. What are you doing at Everard's? Never mind. Come down here yourself. Come straight down. Theodore's conscious, and talking, and he's been asking for you."



CHAPTER TWENTY

Green River was getting ready for the rally in Odd Fellows' Hall. It was six o'clock on the evening of the seventeenth of September, and "Grand rally, Odd Fellows' Hall, September Seventeenth at eight-thirty," had been featured for weeks in the Green River Record, on the list that with a somewhat arrogant suggestion of prophetic powers possessed by the Record was headed "Coming Events." It was always a scanty list, especially in the fall, when ten, twenty, thirty companies began to play larger centres, and church lawn parties and circuses could no longer appear on it. Sometimes not more than six events were to come in a gray and workaday world. But six were enough to announce. Even a true prophet is not expected to see all the future, only to see clearly all that he sees, and the Record did that.

This rally was important enough to be listed all by itself, and it did not need the adjective grand. It was The Rally.

It was Green River's own—a local, almost a family, affair. No out-of-town celebrities were to be imported this time, to be listened to with awe and then wined and dined by the Colonel safe from the curious eyes of the town. This time old Joe Grant was to preside, as he had done as a matter of course on all such occasions when he was the acknowledged head of the town in political and financial matters, in the old days of high-sounding oratory and simpler politics that were gone forever, but were not very long ago. Judge Saxon, an old timer, too, and better loved than the Honourable Joe, had declined the honour of presiding, but had the authentic offer of it, his first distinction of the kind for years.

It was a local but very important occasion. It was Colonel Everard's first official appearance as candidate for mayor. It was to be a very modest appearance. No more time was allotted for his speech than for Luther Ward's. He was putting himself on a level with Luther and the Judge and the Honourable Joe and identifying himself at last with local politics. The evening emphasized the great man's condescension in accepting this humble office and honouring Green River. Even with the scandal of Theodore Burr's suicide unexplained still and only two weeks old, interest centred on the rally. It was a triumph for the town.

Green River was almost ready. Dugan's orchestra was engaged for the evening, instead of a rival organization from Wells, which the Colonel often imported upon private and public occasions. Jerry Dugan was getting old, too, like the Judge and the Honourable Joe. He had not lost the peculiar wail and lilt from his fiddling, but he had made few recent additions to his repertoire. Just now the band concert in front of Odd Fellows' Hall was winding up with his old favourite: "A Day on the Battlefield."

It had the old swing still, contagious as ever. Loafers in front of the hall shuffled their feet in time to it. Moon-struck young persons hanging two by two over the railings of the bridge to gaze at the water straightened themselves and listened. An ambitious soloist lounging against the court-house fence across the square began to whistle it with elaborate variations, at the inspiring moment when "morning in the forest" had bird-called and syncopated itself into silence, and actual fighting, and the martial music of the charge began.

High and lilting and shrill, it hung in the still night air, alive for the hour, challenging the echoes of dead tunes that lingered about the square, only to die away and be one with them at last; band music, old-fashioned band music, blatant and empty and splendid, clear through the still night air, attuned to the night and the town.

"Good old tune. Gets into your feet," Judge Saxon said, while his wife adjusted his tie before the black walnut mirror in their bedroom, but his unusual tribute to the tune was perfunctory to-night, and his wife ignored it, wisely taking this moment of helpfulness to plunge him suddenly and briskly into a series of questions which she had been trying in vain for some time to get the correct answers to.

"Hugh," she said, "why wouldn't you take the chair to-night?"

"You were the only thing I ever tried to take away from Joe Grant and got away with it, Millie," the Judge explained gallantly.

"Don't you think this rally is like old times? Don't you want to see the town stand on its own feet again, instead of being run from outside?"

"I do, Millie."

Mrs. Saxon made her next point triumphantly, connecting it with the point before by some obscure logic known only to ladies.

"Hugh, a father could not do more for Lillian Burr than the Colonel has since poor Theodore went. The house full of flowers, calling there himself every day and twice a day, though she won't see him; but Lillian won't see any one. The Colonel's been ailing himself, too, but he wouldn't put off the rally and disappoint the town. And the new library will open this fall, and there's talk that he's giving an organ to the church. Hugh, don't you think Theodore's death may have sobered him? Don't you think this may be the beginning of better things? Don't you think——"

"I think you're making a butterfly bow. I don't like them," said the Judge, with the ingenuous smile that somehow closed a subject. She sighed, but changed her attack.

"Turn round now. I want to brush you. Hugh, what has happened to Neil Donovan?"

"What do you mean, happened to him?" snapped the Judge, and then added soberly, "I don't know, Millie. I wish I did."

"An Irish boy can get just so far and no farther."

"How far, Millie?"

"Don't be flippant, Hugh. There's something strange about Neil lately. He didn't speak three times at the table last time he came to supper here. He looks at me as if he didn't know who I was when I speak to him on the street sometimes. There's no life in him. He's like Charlie and all the rest of them—giving out just when things are going his way; that's an Irish boy every time."

"When things are going his way? When his best friend has just shot himself?"

"I didn't refer to that, Hugh," said Mrs. Saxon with dignity.

"No?"

"I referred to Neil's family affairs, and the fact that Colonel Everard has taken him up."

"Maggie home and behaving herself and no questions asked, Charlie shipped to Wells, and Neil going shooting twice with the Colonel?"

"Three times, Hugh."

"And that's what you call things going his way."

"Hugh, why should those two spend any time together at all? They hate each other, or I always thought so—that is, if a man like the Colonel could hate a boy like Neil. What does he want of Neil now? What does Neil want of him?"

"They don't tell me, Millie."

"But it's queer. It frightens me, Hugh. It's as queer as——"

"What?"

"Everything," Mrs. Saxon said, goaded into an exaggeration foreign to her placid type, "everything, lately. You refusing to preside to-night. Lillian Burr shutting herself up in this uncanny way. It is uncanny, even if she is in trouble. Minna Randall taking to church work, and sewing for hours at a time, and taking long drives with her husband. They haven't been inside the Colonel's doors for weeks. Their second girl told our Mary that they have refused five invitations there in the last month. It's my idea that he gave that last stag dinner because he couldn't get Minna or Edith there, or any woman. Why should his own circle turn against him, just when he's doing real good to the town? And it's not only his own circle that's against him. I was matching curtains at Ward's when Sebastian came in to-day, and Luther Ward was barely civil to him—the Colonel's own secretary. What's wrong with the town, Hugh? Can't it be grateful to the Colonel, now when he really deserves it?"

"Don't worry about what Everard deserves. He's not likely to get it, Millie."

Again the Judge was closing the subject, and this time his wife had no more to say. She gave his threadbare, scrupulously pressed coat a final pat and jerk of adjustment, and stood off and looked at him.

"You'll do," she said, "now go along. The music's stopping. It won't look well if you're late."

She turned off the flickering gas jet above the marble-topped bureau abruptly, but not before the Judge had caught the gleam of tears in her eyes.

"Why girl," he said, and came close to her and slipped an arm round her plump, comfortable waist. "You're really troubled."

"Yes."

"And vexed with me for not helping you."

"Yes."

He had drawn her toward a front window of the big, square room. The Judge and his wife stood by it quietly, looking down through a triangle of white, starched curtains at the glimmering, sparsely lit length of street below, and straightening out their difficulties in darkness and silence, as all true lovers should, even lovers at fifty, as these two were fortunate enough to be.

"Millie, I don't want to tease you," the Judge said. "I'll tell you anything you want to know."

"I've been so worried," she wept comfortably against his shoulder. "I'm so afraid."

"Why?"

"I feel as if something—anything might happen. I—oh, you'll only laugh. I can't just tell you, Hugh."

"I'll tell you," said the Judge.

He hesitated and then went on slowly, speaking more to himself than to her.

"Women hate change. That makes them dread it, even when it's not coming. You're dreading it, but it's not coming now, dear. There's feeling against Everard. You're right, but you exaggerate it. It's instinctive and unformulated. It hasn't gone far and won't go any farther. He won't let it. The rally and the library and this new democracy stuff, stag dinners to Ward's crowd and all, are part of a campaign to stop it. The campaign will succeed. Everard's own crowd won't quarrel with him. They can't afford to. Everard has pulled through worse times than this. I've helped him myself, and I shall help him again.

"There'll be no change, Millie. Things will go on just the way they are. I've lived the best years of my life believing that it was best they should, and if I'm wrong, I'm too old to change my mind. I've said somebody had to own the town, and it might as well be Everard. I've said the Burrs and Kents and Randalls, and old Joe Grant's young wife with their parties and drinks and silly little love affairs, were playing too hard, but doing no real harm, planting their cheap, fake smart set here in Green River where it don't belong. Now poor Theodore Burr's dead. That don't look like play. Harry Randall's so deep in debt to the bank for what Everard's let him borrow that he has to stay on there at three thousand a year, though he's been offered twice that in Wells. Everard won't let him go. And the best I can say about myself in the years I've worked for Everard is that I've kept my hands clean, if I have had to keep my eyes shut, but I can say that to you, Millie."

"It does look like old times down there," he went on softly, after a minute. "The street and the lights are the same. And it sounds like old times. It was from a rally in the hall that I first went home with you, Millie. Remember? I was just a boy then, but I wish I was half the man I was then, to-night." He heard a murmur of protest, and laughed. "But I do, Millie. I—wouldn't be helping Everard."

"Oh, Hugh!"

"Don't worry. Everard will pull through all right. Look at the Randalls over there, starting for the hall. Leave your windows open, Millie, and you'll soon hear them all cheering for Everard. The moon won't rise till late, but it will be full to-night. Listen, the band's going into the hall now."

The Judge rested his cheek for a moment against his wife's soft, smooth hair, the decorous, satisfying caress of a decorous generation, then he raised his head with a long, tired sigh.

"I wish I was young," he said. "I wish I was young to-night."

* * * * *

"I wish I was young," the Judge had said, with a thrill and hunger that was the soul of youth itself in his voice. At the moment when he said it, a boy who had the privilege that the Judge coveted, and was not enjoying it just then, was leaning against the court-house railing, and watching Green River crowd into Odd Fellows' Hall.

Another boy had pushed his way across the square to his side, and was not heartily welcomed there, but was calmly unconscious of it.

"Some night, Donovan," he remarked.

"Some night, Willard," Neil agreed gravely.

"Going in? Good for three hours of hot air?"

"I'm not going. No."

"Good boy. Say—" Mr. Willard Nash lowered his voice as he made this daring suggestion—"we'll go around to Halloran's, and get into a little game."

His invitation was not accepted.

"Jerry Dugan's not dead yet," observed Willard presently.

Strains of a deservedly popular waltz tune, heard from inside the hall, gave faint but unmistakable proof of this. Willard kept time with his feet as he listened, paying the tune the tribute of silence, a rare one from him. Standing so, the two were sharply contrasted figures, though the flickering lamps in the square threw only faint light here, and showed them darkly outlined against the railing, as they leaned there side by side. Pose, carriage, every movement and turn of the head were different, as different as a bulky and overgrown child is from a boy turning into a man.

"Some night," Willard repeated, unanswered, but unchilled by it, "and some crowd."

The hall had been filling fast. Though the waltz still swung its faint challenge into the night, so much of Green River had responded to it already that now it was arriving only by twos and threes. But the groups still followed each other fast under the big globe of light at the entrance door, gayly shaded with red for the occasion, and up the bare, clattering stairs to the floor above, and the hall.

Willard was right, more right than he knew. There was a crowd up there, a crowd as Willard did not understand the word; a crowd with a tone and temper of its own and a personality of its own. It was subject to laws of its own and could think and feel for itself, and its thoughts and feelings were made up of the brain stuff of every person in it, but different from them all. It was a newly created thing, a new factor in the world, and like all crowds it was born for one evening, to live for that evening only, and do its work and die.

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