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The Wishing Moon
by Louise Elizabeth Dutton
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Upstairs behind closed doors, such a crowd was forming; getting ready to think its own thoughts and act and feel, and so many houses, little and big, had emptied themselves to contribute to it, so many family discussions like the Saxons' had gone on as a prelude to it, that you might fairly say the crowd up there was Green River.

Willard, watching the late arrivals and commenting upon them to Neil, still an uncommunicative audience, was vaguely stirred.

"This gets me," he conceded. "There's something about old Dugan's music that always gets me. For two cents, I'd go in. I sat through a patent medicine show there last week, because I didn't have the sense to stay away. It always gets me when there is anything doing in the hall. And—" he paused, heavily testing his powers of self-analysis, "it gets me," he brought out at length, "more to-night than it ever did before. It—gets me."

"Look, there's Joe Grant," Willard went on. "This is his night, all right. Look at the bulge to that manuscript case, and the shine to his hair. He mixes varnish with his hair dye, all right. I said, look at him."

"I'm looking."

"Well, you don't do much else. What's eating you to-night? Say, will you go in if I will?"

An inarticulate murmur answered him.

"What's that?"

"No."

"All right. Well, what do you know about that? Look there."

"I'm looking."

The latest comers were crowding hurriedly into the entrance hall by this time, and with them, a slender, heavily veiled figure had slipped quickly through the door and out of sight.

"Was that Lil?" Willard said. "Lil Burr?"

"Yes."

"She wouldn't come here; I don't believe it."

"I know it."

"How?"

"She told me."

"What was she doing, talking to you? Why, she won't talk to anybody. She——"

"You'll be late at Hallorans'."

"Aren't you coming?"

"No."

"But you said you would. I don't want to go if you don't. I don't half like to leave you here, you act so queer to-night. What makes you act so? What's eating——"

"Nothing."

Willard detached himself from the railings and regarded his friend, suddenly breathless with surprise, and deeply grieved. Nothing. The word, harmless in itself, had been spoken so that it hit him like an actual blow, straight from the shoulder. Neil, shifting so that the light showed his face, was returning his look with the sudden, unreasoning anger that we feel toward little sounds that beat their slow way into our consciousness at night, to irritate us unendurably at last.

"Go," he urged, "go along to Halloran's. Go anywhere."

"Well, what do you know about that?" began Willard, offended, and then forgave him. There was a look in Neil's pale face that commanded forgiveness. It was pale and strained with a trouble that had nothing to do with Willard, and Willard was respectful and inarticulate before it.

"That's all right," Willard muttered, "that will be all right. I'll go."

Neil took no notice of this promise. Up in the hall the waltz had swelled to a high, light-hearted climax, heady and strained, like the sudden excitements that sweep a crowd. It came clear through the open windows, making one last appeal to the boy below to come up and be part of what was there. And just then a small closed car swept down through the empty square and stopped. Two men stepped out, and paused in the doorway under the red-shaded light.

One was the Colonel's secretary, waiting on the step beyond range of the light, a tall, shadowy figure, and the other, who stood with the light on his face, was Colonel Everard.

He was still pale from his week of illness, but his keen eyes and clear-cut profile were more effective for that. He stood listening to the sounds from upstairs, and he smiled as he listened. He turned at last and looked out across the square as if he could feel Neil's eyes upon him and were returning their look, and then turned away and disappeared up the stairs.

"Neil," Willard was announcing uneasily, "I think a lot of you. I'd do a lot for you. If you're in wrong, any way, if——"

Willard broke off, rebuffed. Neil did not even look at him. He stood staring at the lighted doorway where the Colonel had stood and smiled, as if he could still see him there. He was a creature beyond Willard's world, as he looked, but unaccountably fascinating to Willard. Willard regarded him in awed silence.

Now Dugan's music had stopped. Some one above shut a window with a clatter that echoed disproportionately loud. Then there was silence up there, tense silence, and the call of the silence was harder to resist than the music. The boy by the court-house railing could not resist it. He pushed away Willard's detaining hand, and without a word to him or another glance at him, was across the square and through the red-lighted door, and running up the stairs.

"What do you know about that?" Willard demanded, in vain. "What do you know——"

Willard, certainly, knew nothing, and gave up the attempt to understand, with a sigh.

A little later the vantage point of the court-house fence was unoccupied. Of the two boys who had occupied it, one was making a belated and rather disconsolate way toward Halloran's—the one who would be boasting to-morrow that he had spent the last fifteen minutes with Neil Donovan. The other boy stood listening outside the closed doors of the hall.

* * * * *

It was half an hour later and it had been an important half-hour in Odd Fellows' Hall, that uneventful but vital time when the newly made creature that is the crowd is passive, gathering its forces slowly, getting ready to fling the weight of them into one side of a balance irrevocably, if it has decisions to make; the most important half-hour of the evening if you were interested in the psychology of crowds. The Honourable Joe Grant was not. He would have said that the first speech dragged and the half-hour had been dull. Dull or significant, that half-hour was over, and Green River was waking up. In the listening hush of the hall the big moments of the evening, whatever they were to be, were creeping nearer and nearer. Now they were almost here.

The Honourable Joe had just introduced Luther Ward and heavily resumed his seat. He sat portly and erect and entirely happy behind the thin-legged, inadequate looking table that held a water pitcher, his important looking papers, and his watch. The ornately chased gold watch that had measured so many epoch-making hours for Green River was in public life again, like the Honourable Joe. He fingered it affectionately, wiped his forehead delicately from time to time with a purple silk handkerchief, followed Mr. Ward's remarks with unwavering brown eyes, and smiled his benevolent, public-spirited smile. This was his night indeed.

Behind the Honourable Joe, on the stage in a semicircular row of chairs were the speakers of the evening, and before him was Green River.

The badly proportioned little hall was not at its best to-night. It was too brightly lit and the footlights threw an uncompromising glare upon the tiny stage. Red, white, and blue cheesecloth in crude, sharp colouring draped windows and stage, making gay little splashes of colour that emphasized the dinginess of the room. Only the Grand Army flag, borrowed and draped elaborately above the stage, showed faded and thin against the brightness of the cheesecloth, but kept its dignity and kept up its claim to homage still. And the ugliness of the room was a thing to be discounted and forgotten, like some beautiful, full-blooded woman's tawdry, and ill-chosen clothes, because this room held Green River.

Green River, filling the little room to over-flowing, standing in the rear of the room, crowding every available inch of space on benches, window sills, and an emergency supply of camp chairs, impressive as that much sheer bulk of humanity, crowded between four walls, becomes impressive, and impressive in its own right, too; Green River represented as it was, with all the warring, unreconciled elements that made the town.

For they were all here, Paddy Lane, and the Everard circle, and the intermediate stages of society, the Gaynors and other prosperous farmers and unprosperous farmers and their wives, from the outskirts of the town, and citizens a cut above them both, like the Wards, were all represented here. Mrs. Kent, hatless and evening coated, was elbowed by a lady from Paddy Lane, hatless because she had no presentable hat, and wearing a ragged shawl. These two were side by side, and they had the same look on their faces. There was something of it now on every face in the room. It was a look of listening and waiting.

It was on every face, and it grew more intense every minute that Luther Ward's speech droned on, though it was only a dry, illogical rehash of political issues that could not have called that look into any face. It was as if the audience listened eagerly through it because every word of it was bringing them nearer to something that was to follow. What was it? What did Green River want? What was it waiting for? Green River itself did not know, but it was very near.

Perhaps it was coming now. This might well be the climax of the evening. No more important event was scheduled. Luther Ward, looking discontented with his performance, but relieved to complete it, had sunk into his chair to a scattered echoing of applause, and the next speaker was Colonel Everard.

The Honourable Joe was rising to introduce him. The little introductory speech was a masterpiece, for, though the Colonel had edited every word of it, it was still in the Honourable Joe's best style, flowery and sprinkled with quotations.

"I will not say more," it concluded magnificently, "of one whose life and work among you can best speak for itself, and who will speak for himself now, in his own person. I present to you the Republican candidate for mayor, Colonel Everard."

And now the Honourable Joe had bowed and smiled himself into his seat, and the great man was on his feet, and coming forward to the centre of the stage. The first real applause of the evening greeted him, not very hearty or sustained, but prompt at least. He looked like a very great man indeed, as he stood acknowledging it, his most effective self, a strong man, though so lightly built, erect and pliant of carriage, a man with infinite reserves of power and dignity. He was smiling, and his smile was the same that the boy by the court-house fence had seen, a tantalizing smile of assurance and charm and power, as if he were master of himself and the town.

This was his moment, planned for and led up to for weeks, but Colonel Everard was slow to take advantage of it. He stood still, with his eyes toward the rear of the hall. As he stood so, heads here and there turned and looked where he was looking. Presently all Green River saw what the Colonel saw. A boy was pushing his way toward the front of the hall—a boy who had slipped quietly inside the doors unnoticed fifteen minutes before, and came forward now just as quietly, but held their eyes as he came. Now he had reached the stage, and he broke through the barrier of goldenrod that fenced the short flight of steps, crushing the flowers under his feet, and now he was on the stage confronting Colonel Everard. It was Neil Donovan.

"Sit down," he said to the great man. "They're not going to listen to you. They're going to listen to me."

After that he did not wait to see if the great man took his amazing advice. He came forward alone, and spoke to Green River. He was not an imposing figure as he stood there, only a lean, eager boy, with dark, flashing eyes, and a face that was very pale in the glare of the footlights. He hardly raised his tense, low-pitched voice as he spoke, but Green River heard.

"You're going to listen to me."

And it was true. Green River was going to listen. In the middle of the hall, where the chief delegation from Paddy Lane was massed, a ripple of excitement promised the boy support. It was seconded by a muttering and shuffling of feet on the rear benches, devoted to the youth of the town. From here and there in the hall there were murmurs of protest, too, dying out one by one, and ceasing automatically, like the whispered consultation that went on behind him on the stage.

But the boy did not wait for support or regard interruptions. He did not need to. The audience was his in spite of them, and he knew it and they knew it. Whatever he had to say, important or not, it was what they had been waiting for; that was what the evening had been leading to, and it was here at last. Pale and intent, the boy looked across the footlights at Green River. The audience was his, but he had no pride in the triumph. He began haltingly to speak.

"It will do no good to you or me, but you're going to listen. I've got a word to say about Everard.

"He's sucked your town dry for years and you know it. He's had the pick of your men and used their brains and their youth, and he's had the pick of your women. If there are any of you here that he's got no hold on, it's because you're worth nothing to him. He's got the town. Now he's driven one of your boys to his death.

"'I can't beat him.' That's what Theodore Burr said to me the night he died. 'They won't blame him for this. I want to die because I don't want to live in the world with him, but I'll do no harm to him by dying, only to Lily and me. They won't blame him. You can't beat Everard.'

"Well, you don't blame Everard. He's got you where you don't blame him, whatever he does. You shut your eyes to it. He's got you. You know all this and you shut your eyes. Now I'll tell you some things you don't know. Everard's been trying for weeks to bribe me to keep my mouth shut, like he bribed Charlie for years. He might have saved his breath and his money. I can't hurt him, whether I keep my mouth shut or not. You won't blame him. You'll let him get away with this, too. But you're going to know."

The boy came closer still to the footlights and leaned across them, pausing and deliberately choosing his words. The pause, and the look in his dark, intent eyes as he stood there challenged Green River and dared it to interrupt him. But it was too late to interrupt, too late to stop him now. And behind him in the place of honour in the centre of the row of chairs on the stage, one man at least was powerless to stop him: Colonel Everard, who listened with a set smile on his lips, and a set stare in his eyes.

"He's the man that broke Maggie Brady's life to pieces," Neil's low voice went on. "Everard's the man. He got her away from town. He filled her head with him and set her wild and she had to go. When he was tired of her, he left her in a place he thought she'd be too proud to come back from. She was proud, but he's broken her pride, and she crawled back to us. The prettiest girl in the town, she was, and you all knew that, and my sister and more to me——" he broke off abruptly, and laughed a dry little laugh that echoed strangely in the silent room. His voice sounded dry and hard as he went on.

"He broke Maggie's life, but what's that to you, that give him a chance at your women, knowing well what he is, and leave them to take care of themselves with him, your own women that are yours to take care of, daughters and wives? It's nothing to you, but you're going to know it, and you're going to know this. I had it straight from Theodore Burr the night he died.

"Everard's going to sell you out at the next election, the whole of you—his own crowd, too. He's been planning it for months. He's worked prohibition for all it's worth to him; worked for it till the state went dry, and then he's made money for you that are in it with him, and more for himself, protecting places like Halloran's that sell liquor on the quiet, and the smuggling of liquor into the state. Well, he's made money enough that way, and it's getting risky, and now he sees a way to make more and let nobody in on it. He's going to sell out to the liquor interests and work against prohibition, and the big card he'll use will be exposing Halloran's and the secret traffic in liquor, and all the crowd that's been buying protection from him. There's a big campaign started already, and big money being spent. There'll be big money in it for him. There'll be arrests made here and a public scandal. He's going to sell the town.

"Maybe that interests you some. Maybe it gets you. It won't for long. He'll crawl out of it and lie out of it and talk you and buy you back to him. Well, I know one thing more, and he can't lie or crawl out of it. My father could have put him behind bars any time in twenty years. He's a common thief.

"It was when he was seventeen, and studying law first, back in a town up state that's not on the map or likely to get there, and he was called by a name there that wasn't Everard. He was seventeen, but he was the same then as now; he had the same will to get on and the power to, no matter who he trampled on to get there, and the same charm that got men and women both, though they didn't trust him—got them even when he was trampling on them and they knew it. It got him into trouble there with two girls at once. One was the girl that gave him his start, the chance to go into her uncle's office. He was the biggest man in the town. Older than Everard, this girl was, and teaching in the school he went to, when she fell in love with him and brought him home to her town and gave him his chance. He was tired of her, and she was where it was bound to come out soon how things were with them, and so was the other girl, a girl that he wasn't tired of, the daughter of the woman where he boarded. He tried to get her to go away with him. She wouldn't go and she wouldn't forgive him, but the town was getting too hot for him, and he had to go.

"He had to go quick and make a clean getaway and he wanted a real start this time. He had to have money. That was a dead little town. There was only one place he could get money enough, in the little hotel there. It was the only bank they had. The keeper of it used to cash checks and make loans. Everard was lucky, the same then as now. There was almost five thousand dollars in the safe in the hotel office the night he broke into it, and that was enough for him. He had a fight with the hotel clerk, but he got away with the money, and he got away from the town.

"The clerk was his best friend in town—never trusted him, but fell for him the same as the girls and lent him money and listened to his troubles—and fell for him again when he ran across him again, years later, here in Green River. Everard told him he'd sent the money back, and he kept the secret. He never took hush money for it like Charlie. He said Everard ought to have his chance, and was straight now. But he fell for Everard again, that's what happened. Everard had him, the same as the rest of you.

"The clerk was my father."

The boy's voice broke off. There was dead silence in the hall. Green River had been listening almost in silence, and did not break it now. Presently the boy sighed, shrugged his thin shoulders as if they were throwing off an actual weight, and spoke again, this time in a lifeless voice, with all the colour and drama wiped out of it, a voice that was very tired.

"That's all," he said. "That's back of him, with his fine airs and his far-reaching schemes and his big name in the state. You've stood for a crook. Will you stand for a common criminal, a common thief? Now you know and it's up to you. That's all."

* * * * *

An hour later a boy was hurrying through the dark along the road to the Falls.

He was almost home. Green River lay far behind with its scattered, sparsely strewn lights. The flat fields around him and the unshaded road before him, so bleak by day, were beautiful to-night, far reaching and mysterious. Above them, flat looking and unreal, remote in a coldly clouded sky, hung the yellow September moon.

"I've done for myself," the boy was saying half out loud, as if the faraway moon could hear. "I've lost everything now. I've done for myself."

The boy was sure of this, but could have told little more about the events of the evening. He remembered listening outside the hall doors until he was drawn inside in spite of himself, and listening there until something snapped in his brain, and suddenly the long days of repression, of vainly wondering what to do with his hard-won knowledge, were over, and he was pouring it all out in one jumbled burst of speech. He had no plan and no hope of doing harm to his enemy by speaking. He had to speak.

After he had spoken he remembered getting down from the stage and out of the hall somehow. He remembered the crushed goldenrod, slippery under his feet. Against a background of blurred, unrecognizable faces, he remembered a tall, black-garbed figure that rose to its feet swaying and then steadying itself. It was Lilian Burr. Less clearly he remembered a wave of sound from the hall that followed him as he hurried away across the square. It was not like applause. He did not know or care what it meant. After that, he remembered only the cool dark of the September night as he walked through it aimlessly at first, and then turned toward home.

"I've lost everything," he had said, and it must be true. How could he face the Judge again? How could he go on living in Green River? This was what all his long-cherished dreams had come to; a scene that Charlie might have made, and disgrace in the eyes of the town. He had lost everything.

Yet strangely, as he said it, he knew that it was not true. Whatever he had lost, he had better things left. He had those free and splendid minutes of speaking out his heart. They could not be taken from him. The freedom and relief of them was with him still. And he had the road firm under his feet, and the clean air blowing the fever out of his brain, and the strength of his own young body, clean strength, good to feel as he walked through the night. And along the dark road before him, familiar as it was, and worn so many times by discouraged feet, the white track of moonlight beckoned him, clean and new. It was a way that might lead anywhere—to fairy-land, to success, to the end of the world.

Now the boy made the turn in the road that brought him within sight of home. Faint lights twinkling from it, intimate and warm, invited him as never before. Was his mother waiting up for him? Home itself, lighted and intimate and safe, was enough to find waiting. His heart gave a strange little leap that hurt, but was keen pleasure, too. Almost running, he covered the last bit of road, crossed the grassy front yard and then climbed the creaking front steps, and stood for a minute that was unendurably long, fumbling with the door.

The door was unlocked and gave suddenly, opening wide, and he stood on the threshold of the kitchen. The lights he had seen were in the sitting-room beyond. In this room there was only moonlight. It came through the window that looked out on the marshy field, the fairies' field. Surely there must be fairies there to-night, out in the empty green spaces, flooded with moonlight. But the fairies were not all in the field, there was one in the room. Neil could see it.

The old rocking chair stood in the moonlit window. It was holding two, his mother, and some one else—the fairy, golden haired and white robed and slender, and close in his mother's arms. As he stood and wondered and looked, a board creaked under his feet. It was the faintest of sounds, but a fairy's ears are keen, and the fairy heard, and stirred, and turned in his mother's arms.

Now Neil could see her face. It was flushed and human and warm, and in her eyes, opening grave and deep, was a look that was the shyest but surest of welcomes. The welcome was all for Neil, and the fairy was Judith.



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

A boy and a girl sat on the doorsteps of the Randall house.

It was almost a year since the night of the rally. It was an evening in late May—late, but it was May, and the fairies' month still. There was a pleasant, shivery chill in the air. A far sprinkling of stars made the dark of the still, windless night look darker and warmer and safer to whisper in. The big horse-chestnut tree at the corner of the syringa hedge was only a darker blot against the surrounding dark, and the slope of faintly lit street on the other side of the hedge looked far away, with the dark sweep of lawn between. It was a night for the fairies, or for the girl and boy, and that was quite as it should be, for it was their first together for months.

Judith and Neil sat discreetly erect on the steps, undoing what those months apart had done with little bursts of shy speech, and long, shy silences that helped them more. In the longest and shyest silence their hands had groped for each other once, met as if they had never touched before, and clung together for a minute as if they never meant to let go, but Judith kept firmly to impersonal subjects still.

"You did it all," she said. "Things do happen so fast when they happen. Just think, this time last year he was like a king!"

"Everard?"

"Yes. Do you remember how I used to be cross when you called him that, and wouldn't say Colonel? How childish that was!" Judith patronized her dead self, as a young lady may, with her twentieth birthday almost upon her.

"You weren't childish."

"What was I?"

"Just what you are now."

"What's that?"

"Wonderful." Neil chose his one adequate word, from the tiny vocabulary of youth, small because few words are worthy to voice the infinite dreams of it. "Wonderful."

"No, I'm not wonderful. You are. That dreadful old man, and every one knew he was dreadful and wouldn't do anything about it till you——"

"Bawled him out? That's all I did, you know, really. It was a kid's trick. He lost out because it was coming to him anyway. Poor Theodore saw to that. He turned the town against Everard when he killed himself. It wasn't turning fast, but it was turning. I did give it a shove and make it turn faster, but I didn't even have sense enough to know I had until the day after the rally, when the Judge sent for me and told me. I didn't dare go near him until he sent for me, and I thought he had sent for me to fire me."

"But you broke up the rally. They were dead still in the hall until you left, and then they went crazy, calling for you, and all talking at once, talking against you, some of them, till it really wasn't a rally any more, but just like a mob. Oh, I know. The Judge tells me, every time I go to ride with him, and when he came on to the school last winter and saw me there, he told me all over again. Father has never half told me. He hates to talk about the rally or the Colonel either, but I don't care, he and mother are both so sweet to me lately—just sweet.

"So it was just like a mob, and then poor Mrs. Burr got up and tried to speak, and they got quiet and listened, and she said "Every word the boy says is true and more—more——" just like that, and then she got faint and had to stop, and then the Judge took hold. That's what he says he did, took hold, and he says it was time, because they might have tarred and feathered the Colonel if he hadn't. I don't suppose they would, but I wish I could have seen the Judge take hold. I love him."

"Don't you love anybody else?"

Judith ignored this frivolous interruption, as it deserved.

"And so your work was done, though you didn't know it and ran away. And the Judge says you are a born orator, Neil. That you've got the real gift, the thing that makes an audience yours. I don't know just what he means, but I know you've got it, too. You're going to be a great man, Neil."

"I didn't do anything."

"You're the only man in town who thinks that, then, or has since that night. He—Everard—was done for the minute you stepped on the stage, the Judge says. Only they managed it decently, the Judge and the few that kept their heads. They announced that Colonel Everard was indisposed and couldn't speak, and the Judge took him home. He really was ill next day. There's something wrong with his horrid heart. And that gave him a good excuse not to run for mayor, he gave that up himself. And in a few days the Judge and Luther Ward went to him and told him what else he had to do, and he did it. He had to resign from everything, everything he was in charge of or was trustee of, or had anything to do with, and get out of town. If he'd do that, they wouldn't make any scandal or bother him afterward, but let him start new. And they gave him six months to do all that decently and save his face. Why did he have to do it decently? Why couldn't they tar and feather him? I wish they had. I wish——"

"Wish something else, Judith. Something about us."

"What do you mean by us?"

"You and me."

"Isn't it splendid the Judge is going to be president of the bank?" said Judith hastily.

"Splendid," said a future president of the Green River Bank, who was occupying the step beside her.

"And isn't it nice that poor Mrs. Burr is going to marry Mr. Sebastian, even if she does have to move away from Green River? I like people to be happy, don't you?"

"No. No, I don't. Not other people. I don't care whether they are happy or not, and I don't want to talk about them, only about you and me."

"If you don't like the way I talk, I'll keep still," Judith said, in a severe but small voice, but a small hand groping for his softened the threat, and a soft, sudden laugh as his arm slipped round her atoned for it entirely. Then there was silence on the steps, a long, whispering, wonderful silence. Long before Judith spoke again all the work of the lonely months was undone. And the low whispers that the two exchanged conveyed no further information about Colonel Everard.

But there was no more to tell. The master of Green River was master no longer and the end of all the intricate planning and scheming that had made and kept him master was a story that Judith could tell in a few careless sentences and forget. If she had seen and guessed some things that she could not forget, in the strange little circle that had found a place for her, she would never see them again. That order was gone from the town forever, with the man who had created it, and beside her on the steps was the boy who could make her forget it, and see beyond the long, hard years between. And, as she almost could guess, in these magic minutes when she could dream and dream true, that boy was the future master of Green River.

Judith sighed, and stirred in his arms.

"Are you happier now?" she whispered.

"Yes."

"But you're going to be great. You are, really."

"I am if you want me to. Judith, how long does your father think you and I ought to wait?"

"I don't know. You can ask him. He likes you better than me. He always wanted me to be a boy.... Neil, I want to tell you something. Keep your arm like that, but don't look at me."

"Why?"

"It's about what you don't like me to talk about."

"Everard?"

"Yes, and it's about something dreadful, that day in his library when I was alone with him, and you came. He—frightened me."

"Never mind, dear, now."

"He frightened me but that was—all. I wasn't hurt or anything. I just didn't know he—anybody—could look the way he was looking, or act the way he was acting, and then I felt sick all over. I was afraid. But he was just trying to kiss me, of course, and I wasn't going to let him, the horrid old man. So I think now it was silly to be frightened. Was it?"

"No, it wasn't silly, dear."

"I'm glad. And Neil—I want to tell you something else. It's about—that night—in the buggy, on the old road to Wells, you know, when you were going to elope with me and changed your mind."

"When I frightened you so. Oh, Judith."

"You didn't—frighten me," said a very small voice indeed. "You——"

"What, dear?"

"Made me want you—want to go away with you. I never felt like that before, all waked up and different and—happy. Oh, you didn't frighten me. I wasn't angry because you tried to take me away. It was because you brought me back."

"Don't you know why I brought you back?"

"No."

"Why, because I loved you. I didn't love you till then, not really; not till that minute in the carriage. I know just what minute. When you let me kiss you, and didn't mind any more. Then I knew about—love. I never knew before, but I'll never forget again. It isn't just wanting people, it's taking care of them, and not hurting them. Waiting till you can have things—right. So I wanted to have you right and be fit for you, and after that night I went to work and I wouldn't be stopped, not by anything in this town or the world. Oh, Judith, why don't you speak to me? It isn't much use to talk. You don't understand."

"I—do."

"You're crying!"

She was crying, and she did understand. Before this unexpected, beautiful proof of it, the boy was reverent and half ashamed, as if a woman's tears were a sacred miracle invented for him. He held her hand timidly and pressed it. Presently she drew it away, and suddenly she was not crying, but laughing, a low, full-throated laugh as wonderful to him as her tears.

"I told you, you did it all," she said softly. "Well, you didn't. Neil, there's what did it all. Because, if you only go on believing in things and being sweet and true and not afraid, and—wishing, then everything will come right. It's got to, just because you want it to. So there's what did it all and made us so happy, you and me. I love it. Love it, Neil."

Neil looked where Judith was looking. Above the horse-chestnut tree, so filmy and faint that the stars looked brighter than ever, so pale that it was not akin to the stars, but to the dark beyond, where adventures were, so friendly and sweet that it could make the wish in your heart come true, hung a new-risen silvery crescent of light.

"But it's only the moon," Neil said.

"It's—the wishing moon," said Judith.



* * * * *



Transcriber's Note:

Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note. Some illustrations have been relocated for better flow.

THE END

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