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Treasure Valley
by Marian Keith
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Ella Anne Long remarked, between stitches, that his house was a sight to behold, and no mistake.

"Did you see into it with the spyglass?" inquired Mrs. Winters, from the other end of the quilt, glad to get a slap at the mischievous instrument.

"No, I didn't!" said Miss Long indignantly. "It was when Arabella and me were down there, pickin' strawberries in the old clearin'. You can ask Arabella, there, if you don't believe me."

Miss Arabella, with an apologetic glance at her sister-in-law, corroborated the statement. They had seen inside the door that day quite by accident, and the place was a dreary sight: a broken-down old table, and only a piece of a log for a seat, and a heap of rags and straw in an old bunk for a bed.

"Eh, poor man! poor buddy!" cried old lady Cameron pityingly. "An' him with such a fine Hielan' name, too!"

Mrs. Winters suggested that they make a raid upon the place some evening after he had left for the mill, and scrub and clean up. It was a disgrace to the village to have such conditions not a mile from your very door!

But old lady Cameron did not quite sanction such extreme measures. A man's home was his castle, her brother Hughie always said, and no one had any right to enter without his permission. So the quilting-bee ended in a great deal of talk, and John McIntyre's condition remained unbettered.

The Elmbrook Temperance League next took him up. Spectacle John Cross was president of the society, and was assured that it was drink that ailed John McIntyre. No one had ever seen him overcome with liquor, neither had he ever been known to go to Lakeview, where was the nearest point at which it could be obtained. But Spectacle John said you could never tell. He might run a private still in that old place away back in the swamp, and he just looked like the kind that could carry a gallon and yet walk steady. Spectacle John had met that sort often on his temperance campaigns.

So they sent invitations to John McIntyre to join their ranks, all of which he emphatically refused. Spectacle John received little encouragement from the milkstand. Old Hughie Cameron was of the opinion, having rastled it out one evening to the tune of "The Cameron Men," that to ask that poor buddy to join his bit of a society was like asking the folks at a funeral to come and play hop-scotch. Likely, the man never touched liquor; and, anyway, his trouble was a sad one, whatever it was, and needed a remedy that would go deeper.

While the village thus pondered over John McIntyre's case, there was one person who was slowly, but surely, piercing his armor of reserve. Ever since his first visit, the eldest orphan had felt the fascination of the wicked watchman growing, and gradually he fell into the habit of paying him a short visit every evening. He had various reasons for going. First, he really felt a strange affinity for this outcast. John McIntyre was very bad, he hated good people and law and order, and Tim was convinced that he also was the enemy of all such. Then, too, when the boys at school learned that he was McIntyre's intimate it threw an evil glamor over him. He added to it by dark hints of the plots he and the watchman were hatching; the breaking of the dam and the burning of the mill being among the smallest. Then there was that wonderful engine he was free to examine. And last of all, Tim noticed a strange and delightful circumstance that often attended his visits to McIntyre. When he had been spending an evening at the mill, old Hughie Cameron was often on the bridge as he came down the willow path; and he never failed to pat him on the head and slip a cent into his hand.

At first, Jake and Hannah were greatly exercised over the growing intimacy between their boy and the wicked man who had defied the minister. They even had horrible visions of resorting to Mrs. Winters' extreme measures once more to keep their eldest away from the mill; but old Hughie Cameron allayed their fears. John McIntyre would never harm a child, he declared firmly. So, much relieved, the Sawyers let the boy have his way.

At first the man merely tolerated the child's presence in silence; but as he grew accustomed to it he sometimes caught himself glancing down the willow-bordered path to see if the little, hobbling figure, in the scant trousers and the big straw hat, were yet in sight. All conversation remained, for a time, one-sided. It consisted chiefly of a string of questions on the boy's part, interspersed with reluctant answers from the man. Sometimes, weary of seeking information unsuccessfully, Tim would deliver it himself, and would talk all evening about his past hard life. After some of its sad disclosures he noticed that his companion was less taciturn, and he seized such opportunities for wringing from him something of his views on religion.

"Who made this pond?" he asked one night, when the water was a radiance of golden ripples.

"I don't know," answered his companion shortly.

"But who d'ye s'pose made it?"

"I suppose it was Sandy McQuarry, when he put the mill here."

"How did he do it?"

"He dammed the creek."

"Oh, and who made the crick?"

"It was always there."

"Yes, but who made it in the first place?"

No answer.

"Was it God?"

"I—I suppose so."

"Oh, ain't you dead sure? Who could it 'a' been, then?"

Still silence.

"Was it God?"

"Yes."

Tim looked surprised. "Miss Scott, she says God made everything, but she never knew ole Mother Cummins, or she'd never 'a' said that. She don't know much, though," he added, with a sigh for the narrow experience of his Sunday-school teacher. "You don't s'pose God would 'a' let anybody like ole Mother Cummins live if He bothered much about things, do you?"

The man flashed a look of sympathy into the child's old, pinched face. This boy's problem was his. How could the Almighty care, and yet permit such things to be? John McIntyre had answered that question for himself by saying that the Almighty—if there were an Almighty—did not care; but when he looked into the child's hungry, questioning eyes his unbelief seemed inadequate.

"D'ye think He would?" persisted the boy.

John McIntyre hesitated. For the first time he recoiled from expressing his contempt for God and humanity. "Most people are bad, but——" He paused. Then, to his own surprise, he added: "There's your new father and mother, you know."

"Yes, God must 'a' made them, all right," agreed Tim emphatically. "Mebby he couldn't help folks like ole Mis' Cummins an' Spectacle John. Ole Hughie Cameron said Spectacle John was a son of Belial, an' I bet that's right, 'cause he won't let us go near daddy's mill. Say"—he looked up, and put the question in an awed whisper—"are you a son o' Belial, too? Silas Long said you was."

There was no reply to this, and the boy sat regarding John McIntyre thoughtfully. He was beginning to fear he was not so gloriously wicked as the village believed.

"Say, you ain't a—a infiddle, after all, are you?" he added, in a disappointed tone. And John McIntyre did not deny the charge.

Little by little, the man was inveigled into conversation. At first, his few remarks were merely about the engine or the lumber, as the boy followed him on his rounds through the mill. But the field gradually widened, until one night he was led to speak of his past—those days of love and peace, now separated from him by years of bitter sorrow. It was a little bird that opened the door into those golden days. The two incongruous figures were sitting, as usual, in the wide, dark doorway. In front lay the shining water, in its feathery willow frame, and still rosy with the last faint radiance of the sunset. As the pond slowly paled to a mirror-like crystal, the moon, round and golden, rose up from the darkness of the Drowned Lands. It sent a silver shaft down into the shadowy ravine, and a gleam from the brook answered. Just as its light came stealing on through the willowy fringe to touch the waters of the pond there arose, from the dark grove opposite the mill, a rapturous song.

"What's that?" cried Tim, in startled joy.

"A catbird," answered John McIntyre.

"Oh, say! That's the little beggar that was meyowing jist now, ain't it?"

"Yes."

"Billy Winters always said it was a wildcat, and was scarder'n a rabbit. Hello! There he goes again! Say! ain't he a little corker, though? Did you ever hear him before?"

"Yes."

"Any other place than here?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

"Far away."

"Where you uster live 'fore you came here?"

"Yes."

"Were there Canada birds an' blue jays there, too?"

"Yes."

"Any other kinds?"

"Yes."

"What were they?"

The man's face betokened a deep pain and reluctance. He sat for a moment, staring ahead, and then answered in a hushed tone, "There was one they called the hermit thrush."

"The hermit thrush," repeated Tim. "I've never sawn him. What does he say?"

"He says," began the man dreamily, "he says—'Oh'——" He stopped, as though afraid of what he had done. "I—I forget what he said," he added confusedly.

"Do you?" The boy's tone was disappointed. "Mebby if you think hard you'll remember it," he added encouragingly. "What color was it?"

"Brown."

"Did it sing like a robin?"

"No."

"Can't you remember one little, teenty speck of it?" incredulously.

"No."

"Aw, think hard. That's what the Dook tells me in school, and then it comes to me. Ole Mother Cummins uster lambaste me with a stick when I forgot things, but she jist walloped it all out of me. The Dook gives me a whackin' sometimes, too, but she can't lick for sour apples 'longside o' ole Mother Cummins. What did ye say was the bird's name?"

"The hermit thrush."

"Doesn't it ever sing here?"

"I don't think so, I've never heard it."

"If you could mind what it sings like I could listen for it."

The remark was broadly insinuating, but elicited no response.

"Where did you hear it?"

"Far away from here."

"In another country?"

"I guess so—yes."

"In Nova Scotia?"

The man turned sharply. "What made you say that?" he cried.

"I—we came from there," whispered the boy; "but you won't tell, will you?"

"No."

"Only Daddy an' Mammy Sawyer knows. Our father he was a bad man, so we don't tell. The kids don't mind him, but I do. He wasn't bad to us, but he done somethin' awful, an' then he ran away, an' our mother died, an' he sent us miles an' miles away to a city, an' we lived with old Mother Cummins. But I mind the ocean—it smelt like—ok, it smelt awful good! Did you ever smell the ocean?"

The man was supporting his head on his hand; his face was turned away.

"Oh, say! it's bully! It's somethin' like the smell o' the crick, jist below the falls, on a hot day—only—only different. That's why I play hookey so often down in the holler, 'cause it smells like the ocean."

Tim made his statement proudly. It was a wonderful privilege to boast of how bad you were, and be sure you would be unreproved.

"We had good times when we lived there, but when ole Mother Cummins got us it was different. She wasn't so awful bad at first, 'cause our father uster send money; but he stopped. I guess he must 'a' died, or run away farther. An' after that, say! didn't our ole woman uster hammer us? She'd get drunk an' sleep on the floor, an' I uster pinch her black an' blue an' stick pins into her for poundin' Joey!" His small, withered face was fierce, his old eyes were cruel. "An' one day she cut Lorry's head open with her stick; so we all lit out. I carried Joey for miles an' miles, an' then some folks took us to the Home, an' then Daddy an' Mammy Sawyer came. Do you s'pose God sent them for us? Miss Scott said He did. Did He? Eh?"

"I—I suppose so."

"You ain't dead sure about anything God does, are you?" asked Tim sympathetically. "Ain't you remembered about the harmless thrush yet?"

John McIntyre did not answer. He sat still so long, with his face in his hands, that the boy grew weary, and rising, hobbled homeward.

The man's gray head sank lower. His thin hands, hard, and worn with heavy toil, were trembling violently. His stooped shoulders, in their poor, thread-bare covering, heaved convulsively. For the first time in years he had dared to look back into the blossom-strewn past, and the sight had been too much for his strength.

His misfortunes had come upon him in a way that, at first, had left him no time to reflect. His home had gone, and then his friend, just at the time when he needed his help. Then had come greater trials. Sickness stalked hand in hand with poverty. One by one his children were laid away in the earth; and then toil and want and grief had at last taken her, his best beloved, and in her grave John McIntyre had buried happiness and hope and faith.

What had he left in life? His home, his loved ones, were gone—even Martin must be dead, or he would have come to him long ago. Nothing remained but misery, and distrust of his fellow-men—and hatred—hatred of the man who had defrauded him, and who was now, no doubt, living in wealth and prosperity.

And what had he done to deserve it all? That had always been John McIntyre's cry. Why must he and his be singled out for such suffering? Why should his innocent loved ones be the victims of a villain's rapacity?

And how he had worked to save them from want! Oh, God! how he had toiled, until his back was bent and his health broken! And it had all been of no use—no use!

He clenched his shaking hands, striving to gain control of himself. In the early days of his misfortunes the necessity for straining every effort had kept him from brooding upon his losses, and finally a numbness of despair had seized him. But to-night the child's artless talk had brought back vividly the old home scene. He could see it now, as he had seen it so often in the light of a summer evening. The sparkling sea, with the tang of salt water wafted up over his fields; the rippling stream, winding like a thread of gold down to the Bay of Fundy; his cozy home peeping from its orchard nest, and Mary at the doorway, singing their baby's lullaby; Martin's gay voice passing down the road; and in the purpling woods the tender song of the hermit thrush:

"O hear all! O hear all! O holy, holy!"

A wave of desperate longing for the old days swept over him; a very passion of loneliness and homesickness shook his desolate soul.

Why should he struggle against it? he asked himself. Why live on in misery, only to die in misery at the end? Why not end it now? There was no God, at least none that cared; and as for the future—he had laughed when the minister mentioned hell. What profounder wretchedness could it hold than all he had already endured?

He rose to his feet stealthily. His eyes were burning in his white face. He stepped cautiously along the bank of the pond to a place where the water was deep. He glanced about fearfully. His only feeling was one of dread lest he be intercepted. He slipped into the shadow of a pile of logs, then crept to the edge of the dark water. Suddenly he paused, startled. Something had rustled in the willows. It was only a muskrat; but as he stood, listening, another sound fell upon his ear, the sound of a voice singing a familiar hymn. There was something in the singer's tone, a compelling sweetness, that made John McIntyre pause on the brink of death to listen.



CHAPTER IX

THE SONG IN THE NIGHT

Though strife, ill fortune and harsh human need Beat down the soul, at moments blind and dumb With agony; yet, patience—there shall come Many great voices from life's outer sea, Hours of strange triumph, and, when few men heed, Murmurs and glimpses of eternity. —ABCHIBALD LAMPMAN.

Miss Ella Anne Long was busy "reddin' up" the parlor, for to-night the young people of the village who were musically inclined—and, for that matter, who wasn't?—were to hold a final practice for the Temperance Society's concert.

The Longs' home was the musical center of the village, the organ being kept as busy as the telescope, and Miss Long was the leading musician. Even Elsie Cameron could not compete with her, for Ella Anne was organist in the church, and had a voice that, when she wished, could drown out all the rest of the choir. Every one in Elmbrook was musically inclined, irrespective of talent. To "play a piece" or sing a solo at a public gathering was the great ambition of every young lady in the place. Masculine performance on any instrument, except a mouth-organ or a fiddle, which last was distinctly worldly, was regarded as rather inclining to effeminacy. But the men all sang, for, of course, it went without saying that every one could sing bass. Tenors were scarce, there being only one at present—a young Englishman who had come out to learn farming at Sandy McQuarry's, and who suffered from chronic huskiness.

Each of the sopranos had an attendant swain in the basses. That was a necessity to any smallest hope of enjoyment when the choir went abroad. To have a sweetheart who could sing alone in public was to be distinguished far above one's fellow-songstresses. Bella Winters once sang "The Larboard Watch" with Wes Long at the Glenoro Dominion Day picnic, and until this was transcended she was the envy of one and all. Ella Anne Long, of course, was the one who achieved even greater heights. She and Mack McQuarry sang "The Larboard Watch" at the next Elmbrook harvest home, while at one and the same time she played the accompaniment. No one had ever before conceived of such a triple triumph, and it was felt by all that Ella Anne would surely experience some disciplining misfortune to balance things. So, every one nodded her head and said, "I told you so," when Mack went off to Athabasca, or some such out-of-the-way corner of Canada, and married a half-breed, when Ella Anne had her wedding clothes all ready. And now she was no longer quite one of the young people of the village, and, besides, was receiving attentions from Sawed-Off Wilmott, a little widower, who ran the cheese factory, and who could not have sung even bass if he had had all his teeth.

Nevertheless, as Miss Long went about her duties she was watching eagerly for Mr. Wilmott's buggy. It was not for the reasons why a maiden usually looks for her lover, but because Davy Munn and the oldest orphan were sitting on the sidewalk at the doctor's gate, with mischievous designs upon her middle-aged admirer. As she stood on the porch, shading her eyes from the slanting rays of the sun, Sawed-Off's buggy came whizzing down the street, and Miss Long modestly withdrew. Two or three of the earliest arrivals had already entered by the store door, and Mr. Wilmott soon joined them. He had safely passed Scylla and Charybdis at the doctor's gate, but a worse fate awaited him, for the Sawyer twins were there, and his youthful spirits proved so attractive that they appropriated him as their own, and kept him from even speaking to Ella Anne all evening.

On practice nights the whole village gathered at the Longs', the company dividing itself into three parts. Ella Anne's friends assembled in the parlor, Mrs. Long received the mothers in the kitchen, and Silas entertained on the store veranda.

The Elmbrook kitchen was a fine place to receive one's friends; it was not the tiny workshop now in fashion, but a big, roomy place, where the homemaker sacrificed to the household gods, with the stove a sort of shining high altar in the center, and the incense from the merry kettle curling up to the ceiling.

The frequenters of the milkstand got on the nail-kegs and packing-boxes of the veranda, and discussed astronomy and enjoyed the music. It was a fine situation for studying the stars, for the house stood at the end of the village, opposite the school, and commanded a view of the pond and the valley and a great stretch of sky.

The planet Mars, and its possible inhabitants, was under discussion when Spectacle John Cross came up the steps with a bundle of hymn-books under his arm.

"Ye see," Silas was explaining, "it ain't one o' yer ordinary stars. Lord love ye! it's a 'igh sight better'n that. It's a planet, that's wot it is, like our own world, an' it keeps a-spinnin' 'round the sun like our earth, too." He ended up with a descriptive sweep of his arm, and gazed triumphantly at his enemy.

"Did ye ever hear the likes o' such balderdash?" sneered Spectacle John, appealing to Jake Sawyer.

Jake passed his hands, in some perplexity, over the youngest orphan's curls. "Most folks'll tell ye the same, John," he said, regarding his partner doubtfully. "The doctor, there, now—look at the eddication he's had!—an' he says the same."

"It's my opinion," said the miller, "that the more book learnin' a man crams into his head the more common sense gets squeezed out. It stands to reason that there couldn't be room for everything unless his head was to swell like a punkin."

"Huh!" cried Sandy McQuarry impatiently. "Ony fool can see the world's round; but when folks go far enough to tell a body that pin-points like yon are as big as this world, that's jist clean ridic'l'us."

"Well," exclaimed Spectacle John, "if ye once get it fixed in yer head that this world's bumpin' 'round through the air like a football, there isn't anny fool yarn you're not ready to believe." He stopped suddenly. The Duke of Wellington was coming up the steps, and his remarks trailed off into coughs and incoherent murmurs about the weather. Spectacle John knew better than to air his scientific theories before the Duke. She gave a contemptuous sniff and passed into the parlor.

Silas Long chuckled. "John knows w'en to shut his mouth, don't ee, now, John?" he asked facetiously.

Sandy McQuarry grunted scornfully. "Losh! afore Ah'd be scared by a wumman!" he exclaimed witheringly.

Spectacle John looked sheepish. "There's weemin an' weemin," he announced meaningly. "I'm no more afraid of the ordinary run o' them than you, Sandy. I got a wife that can hold her own with annybody, and my word's law at home. But I'm not ashamed to say that woman's one too many for me. I've been a trustee," he ended up feelingly.

"Sandy thinks he's a mighty hand at managin' folks," put in William Winters, happy to second any one who lived in fear of the gentler sex. "But I'm willin' to make a bet right here that if he was to run again' the Dook she'd come out ahead."

"Ah'm willin' to take ye ony day, Weeliam. Ah'd like to see the wumman that'd get the upper hand o' me. Jist name yer bet, man."

"Hoots! toots!" cried Uncle Hughie in his stateliest manner. "Indeed, it is surely not making a bet on a lady you will be, whatever!"

"I'll tell ye!" cried Spectacle John, his eyes twinkling. "If you an' the Dook gets to argifyin', or gets into any difference, an' she gets the best o' the bargain, you'll promise William and all of us here that you'll go back to church and tell the minister you was a darn fool for the way you acted."

Sandy McQuarry's bristling brows came together, "Ah'll take ye!" he cried, slapping his knee fiercely. "Ah'd be a fool onyway, if Ah let a wumman scare me the way you did, John. Ah, ha! Here's his reverence now, comin' to tell ye about Muskoky, very like. Ah'll jist be biddin' ye a good-evenin'." He tramped down the steps as the tall form of the minister came into the ring of light.

"Fine night," remarked each of the company in turn.

"We would jist be talkin' about the play-net Mars a minute ago, indeed," said Uncle Hughie Cameron, striving to cover Sandy's retreat.

"Yes, yes," said the minister with a sigh. "Astronomy's a wonderful subject—wonderful. The more we learn of the Creator's works, the more we wonder at His greatness and goodness."

"Eh! eh! it will jist be fearsome, indeed!" cried Uncle Hughie. "How far, now, would you be saying the sun is from us, Silas—ninety—now what would it be?"

"Ninety-five million mile!" declared the astronomer impressively. "There's a fine day's walk for ye!"

"Ninety-five million!" cried the blacksmith, astounded. "Are ye sure it's not feet ye mean, Si?" he asked hopefully.

"No—miles," was the inexorable answer. "Lord love ye, man! it's a good thing. If she was any nearer she'd burn us all to a frazzle!"

"Eh, now, ain't that a caution!" cried Jake Sawyer, with the air of one who has just had a narrow escape from destruction.

"Astronomy's a orful subject," continued Silas. "I sometimes wish I 'adn't meddled with the thing. It makes me feel like nothing—like a worm o' the dust."

"'When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers,'" quoted the minister, "'the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained, what is man, that Thou art mindful of him or the son of man that Thou visitest him?'"

"That's it! that's jist it!" cried Silas. "The Psalmist knew! 'E must 'a' 'ad a telescope. D'ye think 'e 'ad?"

"Hoots!" cried Uncle Hughie. "How could the buddie? an' he would be livin' away back in the times when nobody even knew"—he added in a loud tone—"that the world was round." But Spectacle John had disappeared indoors, and the minister added:

"Yes, we have a great many advantages that the Psalmist never had, and the greatest is the knowledge that we need not be afraid. For He became flesh and dwelt among us, you know, Silas." A reverent silence fell over the little group.

At the farther end of the veranda a door led into the lamp-lit parlor. It was open, and from it now burst the opening notes of a rousing chorus. In Elmbrook there were fashions in songs, just as there were in the sopranos' hats. The former varied, not with the season, but with the sentiments of the people. One winter the Methodists held revival meetings for two months in the schoolhouse, and for nearly a year after it was considered very worldly to sing anything but hymns. The other extreme was reached one fall when Hank Winters came home for a visit from the States, and set all the village singing "coon songs."

This spring, and during the past winter, the rousing, Salvation Army variety of hymn was greatly in vogue. The opening chorus for the concert was of this kind, a stirring sort of semi-religious song, called "The King's Highway." It was with this the chorus now burst forth into tumultuous harmony:

"Wherever you may be, Whatever you may see, That would lead you into evil, Say you nay, say you nay, Be sure you take no heed, They're trying to mislead; Just keep along the middle Of the King's highway!"

The verse was no extraordinary feat, but in the chorus the bass singers had a part calling for marvelous dexterity and tremendous speed. For, while the ladies sang leisurely, "Just keep along the middle of the King's Highway," the gentlemen were expected to get over about four times the space in the same time. They had to repeat the self-same warning a half dozen times, with sundry advices and variations concerning the turning to the right of the King's Highway and the left of the King's Highway, so many, and so complicated, that they arrived at the end gasping for breath. Spectacle John warned the sopranos again and again to go slowly, so as to admit of their overworked followers getting in all their parts about the middle, left and right. But Ella Anne Long was the real leader, and would wait for no man. She hastened along the King's Highway at such a pace that it was beyond the powers of human breath to keep up with her. Pete McQuarry declared that it kept a fellow puffing just to stay anywheres on the King's Highway, without bothering about the middle; and Davy Munn did not even attempt the feat, but sang the air an octave lower.

They were scampering through the song for the third time when there was a stir at the door, and a group of four entered: Elsie Cameron and her brother Malcolm, with the minister's daughter and—actually—the busy doctor himself. It was the first time Elsie had attended one of the musical gatherings since her return, but she took her old place as simply and naturally as though she had never left it. Malcolm went over to the corner where the husky young Englishman stood, alone and unheard, and gave him some assistance with the tenor, while the doctor joined the other young men, and sang bass like a native.

They weathered through "The King's Highway" again, and sang a temperance anthem, and several other choruses, and then they all sat around the room, on the red and green plush chairs, and took a rest while Ella Anne and her mother passed around raspberry vinegar and layer-cake.

Spectacle John was just calling them all to order again for another chorus when the minister put his head in at the door. Marjorie was to get her hat, as they must be going in a moment, he announced, happily unconscious of the scorching glance from the region of the tenors, and would Elsie sing "Abide With Me" before he left?

The girl arose and went to the organ. Since her home-coming she had been regarded with some disapproval in Elmbrook social circles because of the promptness with which she answered an invitation to sing. It was considered much more genteel and modest to at first disclaim positively all musical ability, and to yield only after much importuning. Every one felt that, though Elsie had been away in the city, she ought to show a little backwardness.

"Abide with me! fast falls the eventide, The darkness deepens. Lord, with me abide."

She sang, as she always did, with her heart as well as her voice. The song hushed the gay chatter in the room; it passed out to the group on the veranda, and their conversation ceased; it floated through the open windows and rang across the darkly luminous water of the pond. And there it reached the ear of a man with whom only despair and loss had been abiding, and who was fighting a losing battle with these dark companions. The sound of the old hymn, that had been his children's lullaby, arrested John McIntyre on the brink of self-destruction:

"Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day, Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away, Change and decay in all around I see, O Thou, who changest not, abide with me!"

A trembling weakness seized him. He shrank back against the heap of logs. He seemed to have no power against the imperative sweetness of that voice. It called him away, it called him up. He clutched the rough bark of a log, and stood listening till the song swept on to its triumphant ending:

"Heaven's morning breaks and earth's vain shadows flee, In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!"

The last echo died away in the shadow of the willows. John McIntyre stood a moment, dazed by the glimpse into the depths to which his despair had brought him. He glanced down at the dark water and shuddered, then staggered weakly to his old place at the mill door, and sank in the sawdust. Something, not a prayer, but nearer it than anything he had uttered for years, burst from him—the name of his Maker, spoken unwittingly, in an abandon of weakness. "My God!" he whispered shakingly. The strength of desperation which had driven him on was gone, but his despair remained. And so he lay, spent and weak, in utter blackness of soul, not knowing that the prayer of the song had been answered, and that, though he knew Him not in the darkness, his Father was abiding with him still.



CHAPTER X

THE SECRET OF THE BLUE SILK GOWN

O love, can the tree lure the summer bird Again to the bough where it used to sing, When never a throat in the autumn is heard, And never the glint of a vagrant wing? —ARTHUR STRINGER.

The autumn days came, and all the landscape within the range of Granny Long's telescope turned golden with its wealth of harvest. The apples dropped, rosy-cheeked, from the orchard trees, the corn and the pumpkins ripened in the garden. All day the binder sang in the yellow fields, and at night a great harvest moon hung alone in the violet heavens. As soon as the first blue haze of autumn settled over the ravine the mill closed, and the men scattered to work in the fields, or at threshing-bees, or went farther north to the winter lumber camps.

John McIntyre did not leave, as people had expected. He remained in his old shanty by the Drowned Lands, harvesting his little crop of potatoes, or laying up his stock of winter wood from the adjacent swamp. The village saw him only on the rare occasions when he came up to the flour-mill or store for provisions. But he did not live a solitary life, for the eldest Sawyer orphan had now become his chum and confidant, and would have gone down to visit him almost every evening, even if old Hughie Cameron had reversed proceedings and paid him to stay away.

When the silent, dark man was removed from the village, and there was no likelihood of encountering him on the street in the evening, Dr. Gilbert Allen experienced a feeling of relief. Every time he met the man's disdainful gaze, the remembrance of his accusation returned, and with it a feeling of self-abasement. He longed to vindicate himself, to put it beyond the range of possibility that any man could say he had been dishonest. But that meant a great sacrifice, one that Gilbert was not yet prepared to make.

When the first chill of the waning year came the doctor had a new patient. All summer Miss Arabella Winters' health had been steadily failing. She never complained, nor did she seem to have any disease, but just pined quietly away. Susan scolded and petted and doctored her, and made her wear flannel on her chest, but all to no avail. Miss Arabella, in her gentle, unobtrusive fashion, grew steadily worse. She seemed to have lost not only the power, but the desire, to get better.

Elsie Cameron had long noted the change in her friend, and strove in every way to arouse her. One day she organized a nutting party down into Treasure Valley, a still, smoky autumn day, when the rainbow leaves floated down and rested lightly upon the earth with a fairy touch. The orphans came, of course, and they flew up and down the hill, gathering hazelnuts and red berries and scarlet leaves, while Miss Arabella strayed here and there, her arms full of purple asters, until the look of hopelessness left her eyes and her face took on a pretty pink flush. But the twins strayed away, and before they were found the amethyst mists of the autumn evening were filling the valley. Miss Arabella took a severe cold, and the next day she went to bed.

Mrs. Winters scolded the whole picnic party, Arabella most of all; and having used all her medical skill upon her to no avail, she grew alarmed, and called in Dr. Allen.

He came to see the quiet, patient little woman nearly every day for a week, and at the end of that time was forced to confess that she was growing steadily worse, and that there was something wrong with her that quite baffled his skill.

He left her house one afternoon, and went slowly down the walk with a very grave face. Polly called after him from the veranda that times were still very slow, but he did not hear, and he almost stumbled against Elsie Cameron as she came through the gateway carrying a covered bowl.

"Ah, you are the very person I want to consult," he said, his face brightening. "I wish you would do something for my patient in there."

"Is her cold worse?"

"No, it isn't a cold that ails her; I confess I don't know what it is. There seems to be some secret trouble weighing on her mind. I wish you could discover what it is, and see if you can help her. I am doing her no good, and there's no doubt that she is steadily growing weaker."

His manner was very serious, and Elsie entered the little house with a foreboding at her heart. He was right. Some strange trouble had been pressing upon Arabella's mind all summer, she felt sure. She passed through the house and placed the bowl on the kitchen table.

Mrs. Winters was there, and the place was dazzlingly clean. "There!" she exclaimed, with a sigh of satisfaction, "I've polished the stove and scrubbed the floor, an' put up five quarts o' pickled pears, an' to-morrow I'm goin' to house-clean the front part. Arabella always kept things kind of in order, but she was never anything of a manager. If you were thinkin' o' stayin' a little, Elsie, I'd run over an' look after my bread, an' then give Hannah a hand with her sewing. It's a caution how them twins get through their clothes. They ought to be well whipped for it. Now, that soup's just awful nice, Elsie. It was good of your ma to send it, an' it's only slops like that Arabella'll take. No, she ain't a bit better, the doctor says; an' I say it jist looks like as if she was too stubborn to quit bein' sick, now she's started. If yous folks hadn't gone gallivantin' off down the crick that day this would never 'a' happened. Arabella's too old for such foolishness, anyhow. Well, I'll run home. Tell her I'll be back in an hour or so an' shake out the mats."

Elsie went into the spare bedroom, where Miss Arabella lay, propped up on pillows. Her little, wan face brightened at the sight of her visitor.

"Oh, Elsie, is it you? It's good o' you to come." She looked anxiously past her. "Where's Susan?"

"She's gone home, and I'm going to sit with you till she comes back."

Miss Arabella tried not to look relieved. "D'ye think it would hurt me much to have the curtains put back, Elsie? I'd love to see out."

"Of course not. You shall have the window taken right out if you want it." The girl rolled up the green paper blind, pushed back the stiff lace curtains, and opened the window from the top. It was a perfect October day, and Miss Arabella felt the gentle breeze, and saw the sumach at her gate, a patch of vivid scarlet against the deep blue of the sky. At a corner of the window the boughs of an old apple-tree, still green, looked in and nodded in a friendly manner. The invalid looked bright and interested for a few minutes, then sighed and grew wan and listless again.

Elsie pulled her chair up close to the bedside.

"Arabella, dear," she said earnestly, "what is the matter with you?"

"I—I—guess it's jist that cold I caught, hangin' on. Susan says it is."

"Dr. Allen doesn't think so. He says he doesn't know what is making you ill, and Susan doesn't know, and I don't know. But you do, Arabella, and, oh, I wish you'd tell me!"

She put her two strong, young hands over the thin little one lying on the coverlid. Her deep eyes were full of sympathy. A slow flush rose into Miss Arabella's face. She turned away from the girl's steady gaze.

"Elsie," she whispered, "he's right. There—there is something the matter with me, and I—I think—I'm pretty sure—I'm going to die."

"No, no, Arabella! You mustn't say that—you really mustn't!"

The invalid was perfectly calm. "I think I am, though," she said quietly. "It's about the best thing I can do now, since——" She paused and turned away her head again.

Elsie slipped to her knees by the bedside. "Won't you tell me what is wrong, Arabella?" she whispered. "Something's been troubling you all summer. I've noticed it ever since I came home."

"Yes, it's jist about that time. But it can't be helped now. And it won't be long till it's all over. And, Elsie"—she glanced around, as though fearful of being overheard—"I'm goin' to leave you something!"

"Oh, Arabella! don't!" cried the girl, tears rising to her eyes. "I can't bear to hear you talk like that. You'll be better in a day or two."

Miss Arabella shook her head firmly. "No, Susan says I've got stubborn, an' I guess she's right; because I don't seem to want to bother about getting better. But I'd like you to have something to remember me by, Elsie. You were always different from the other girls, an' never acted as if I was old an' queer, an' I'm goin' to leave you—something."

She lay still for a few moments while her companion regarded her with sorrow-filled eyes. "Elsie," she whispered suddenly, "if I tell you something—something awful, mind you, will you promise never, never to tell it to a living soul? Not even after I'm gone?"

Elsie looked at her half alarmed. "Oh, Arabella!" she stammered, "of course I wouldn't tell—if you—that is if you'd really like to tell me."

Miss Arabella's cheeks were growing pale. "Yes, I'd better tell you. I'll have to if I—I leave it to you. Run out an' lock the door, Elsie—the back door, too, and bring Polly in. Somebody might come in an' see it."

Elsie obeyed, with a feeling of growing apprehension. She had evidently stirred up depths of which she had never dreamed. When she returned the invalid was half sitting up in bed, flushed with excitement. She pointed to the gay Red Riding-Hood upon the dresser. "There's a key behind her, just inside the wolf," she whispered. "It unlocks that bottom drawer, an' you hand me out what's there."

Elsie opened the drawer and took out a large parcel, done up in brown paper. Miss Arabella took it tenderly, and for a few moments lay smoothing it gently. Then, slowly and tremblingly, she untied the string and let a billow of sky-blue silk roll out upon the bed.

Elsie gave a little exclamation of admiration. "Oh, Arabella, what a lovely thing! It looks as though it had been intended for an old-fashioned wedding dress."

"That's just what it was for," whispered Arabella, with drooping head.

The girl looked at her for a moment, and then, with a woman's intuition, she divined the secret. She sank upon her knees again and put her arms about the shrinking little figure.

"Yours, Arabella?" she whispered. "Was it intended for you?"

Miss Arabella nodded. Her head went down on her friend's shoulder. The girl patted her lovingly, as though she had been a hurt child. "There, there, dear," she said soothingly, "tell me all about it. I won't tell, you know I won't."

"Do you promise, sure and certain, Elsie?" came the frightened whisper.

"Yes, sure and certain."

"I don't think I could stand it if Susan an' Bella were to know. Even after I'm gone I'd like it kept a secret. I guess I'm foolish, an' Susan says there's no fool like an old fool, but I jist can't help it."

She lay back again on her pillow, her thin fingers passing caressingly up and down the shining folds of silk. She was silent for some minutes, and at last, with much halting, she began the story of the blue silk gown. She told in a shy whisper of the lover of her girlhood days. She had met him a long time ago, while on a visit to an aunt, away over in Bruce County. He was foreman in the mill there, and he was—well, she couldn't exactly tell what he was like, he was so awful nice. Through the sentences Elsie Cameron could make out a picture of him: big, handsome, honest, whole-hearted, and as tender as a woman with his shy little sweetheart; but in Miss Arabella's worshiping eyes he was a very demigod.

His home was down in Nova Scotia, the story went on, his father and mother lived there alone on the home farm, and some day he was to take her there. And then she had come home, and her mother had helped her make her clothes for her wedding day. And once he had come to Elmbrook and had taken her to a circus at Lakeview, and they had seen this piece of silk in a store window. He had said it was just the color of her eyes—Miss Arabella blushed and hung her head at this confession—and he had gone right in and bought it, in spite of her. He was just that kind, always giving other folks everything. He had given her Polly, too, had sent her all the way from Halifax after he went back. He had taught her to say "Annie Laurie"—that was the name he always called her. But he had not taught Polly that other dreadful thing she said; she learned that from the men on the ship.

It was while he was still working over in Bruce County that the day was set for their wedding, and she and her mother were planning how she should have the blue silk made, when he wrote that he had had an accident. He had been almost killed by the saw in the mill, and he would have died only that a boy who worked there saved his life. "Bert" was the boy's name; she did not remember his last one. He set a great store by that boy after that, and helped to send him to school, and to put him through college to make him a doctor. That took a lot of money, of course, and she said they had better wait until the boy was old enough to help himself. Martin didn't want to, but Susan said they must; and while they were waiting he went back to Nova Scotia to take care of the old folks. Then they both died, and he found that his father didn't own a cent; everything belonging to him was gone. A man had cheated the old people out of it. So now he had nothing to offer her, he said, and so he started away West to make a new home. He had wanted her to come with him then, but her mother had died the summer before, and Susan managed her affairs. And Susan said no, she was not strong enough to go away out West and rough it, and she had bidden Arabella write him a letter saying she would wait till he had a proper home ready. Susan was always a great manager. Here Miss Arabella sighed deeply. So she had let him go away alone, and for a long time she heard from him regularly; then only at long intervals, and at last not at all. He had taken up land in Alberta, but everything seemed to go against him. The crops were frozen the first year and the next year his cattle died. Then just about this time he heard that his best and oldest friend, away down in Nova Scotia—old John, he always called him—was in great trouble, had lost everything through the same man that had got his own property. Old John had left the place and gone away, no one knew where, and he was writing here and there hunting him. At last he got word that his friend had gone to the Klondyke. He thought he would be far more likely to make money there, so he sold his ranch and went away north to find John and make a fortune for her. That was five years ago last spring, and she had never heard from him since. But she had never quite given up hope until this last summer. She had always kept the blue silk, hoping that she might even yet wear it some day. But last May she had noticed it had begun to ravel; see—she held it up to the light—that was a sure sign. Something told her, the minute she saw it, she would never wear it. Likely he was dead; and she was going to die very soon herself. Yes, she was; and she knew Dr. Allen thought so, too.

She stopped, and closed her eyes to hide the rising tears. A secret of so many years' growth could not be uprooted without some pain.

There was a moment's silence. Polly craned her neck to see into the room, and murmured, "Oh, Annie Laurie! Annie Laurie!" in a melancholy tone.

Elsie drew a deep breath. "How long ago is it since you first met him, Arabella?" she whispered.

"Fifteen years, an' I never told a soul I was waitin' all this time. Susan never said anything about him, and everybody thought he was dead."

"And this boy that he educated, Arabella—what about him? Didn't he help when his friend needed it so badly?"

"No; he kind of forgot about it, I guess. Young folks is often like that, you know. You see, he jist put him through high school an' helped him some, at first, in college, an' learnin' doctorin' seems to take an awful long time. But I guess the boy must 'a' forgot about him, or he'd 'a' been able to come back before this. You won't ever tell, Elsie, will you?"

"No, no, Arabella! Never!"

"Mebby I'm foolish, but I can't bear to think o' Susan knowin' I was waitin' all this time, an' Bella would laugh, an' William, too. But I told you, 'cause when I die I want you to have this dress to wear on your wedding day. I intended to give it to you, anyway, jist as soon as I found out I wasn't ever goin' to wear it."

"Oh, Arabella!" There was a choking lump in Elsie's throat. "You must not talk like that! You must not! You don't know that he's dead. He may be on the way home now, for all you know. No! no!" she added, pressing the blue silk back into the owner's hands, "I won't take it! I just won't! You just cheer up, and wait a little longer, dear, and who knows but you may hear any day that he's coming?" She was growing radiantly hopeful.

Miss Arabella looked up with hopeful eyes, but shook her head. "No, it's no use, Elsie. It's awful good o' you, and I used to feel like that, too; but I've waited too long. I guess I'm jist tired," she added pathetically.

"Arabella," whispered the girl, with heightening color, "have you—don't you ever pray about it?"

"I used to, but lately—ever since that dress gave way—I—I kind o' gave way, too. An' it seemed wicked, anyhow—like prayin' for dead folks, the way Catholics does, and I knew Mr. Scott would think it was awful of me."

The beautiful eyes looked at her despairingly.

"Oh, Arabella! Don't you care about me? Think how lonesome I'll be without you—— What's that?"

She was interrupted by a scrambling, tearing noise in the region of the old apple-tree. For an instant a strange object outside darkened the window, there was a shriek, a splintering crash, and down from the apple boughs, breaking a window-pane in its head-long descent, and landing upon the veranda floor with a terrible bang, came the black-haired twin of the Sawyer orphans!

Miss Arabella sat up with a cry of alarm. Polly gave a long squall, and shouted out that times were very slow indeed, and Elsie sprang up, and, unlocking the door, ran to the rescue.

The black-haired twin was scratched and torn and disheveled, and was howling lustily, but the young lady who picked her up showed her small sympathy. "Lorena Sawyer," she demanded solemnly, "where did you drop from?"

"I was sittin' up in the apple-tree," roared the fallen one, "an' the mean ole thing busted, an' I—I—tu-m-bled!"

"You were up at the window, listening to what Arabella and I were saying! You know you were!"

The child nodded. "O' course," she answered innocently. "An' say, Elsie"—she began to wipe away her tears—"if Arabella's fellah doesn't come back, will you give me an' Lenny a bit o' the silk for our dolls' dresses?"

Elsie caught her by the arm and shook her.

"Hush!" she cried, glancing toward the open window in dismay. "Arabella'll hear you, and if you tell—if you breathe a word of it, she'll get sick and die; do you understand?"

"But will y' give us some of the blue silk?" asked the black-haired twin, with orphan-like persistence.

"Elsie!" It was Miss Arabella's voice. "Elsie, come here quick!"

With a parting warning to the culprit, the girl ran back to the bedroom in deep concern. Surely this shock would be too much for the invalid, and now she certainly would die.

"Arabella!" she cried in amazement, as she reached the bedroom door, "what are you doing?"

For the sick woman was sitting on the edge of the bed, dressing herself in trembling haste. She turned upon the alarmed girl, the fire of resolution in her eyes.

"I'm going to get up," she answered firmly. "I ain't going to die. That child heard every word I said."

"But, Arabella," began the bewildered nurse, "I——" She stopped, unable to divine the connection between Lorry's eavesdropping and this sudden determination to live. "Don't be frightened. I'll make her promise she won't tell."

"She might keep her word, an' she mightn't; an' if Susan an' Bella was to find out I'd died because he never came back an' left me an old maid, I couldn't rest in my grave. I jist couldn't! An' she might let it out, Elsie, now mightn't she?"

Elsie paused a moment. She was about to reassure her, but checked herself. Evidently soothing was not what the invalid needed.

"Yes, Arabella," she said honestly, "she might."



CHAPTER XI

THE COMING OF ROSALIE

Silvery soft by the forest side, Wine-red, yellow and rose, The Wizard of Autumn, faint-blue eyed, Swinging his censer, goes. —ABCHIBALD LAMPMAN.

As the tenth of October approached, there was but one subject of interest in the township of Oro—the Elmbrook fall fair. "The show," it was called, the name indicating that there could be only one. It was as much a social as an agricultural function. Oro was largely a Scottish township, and on show day there was a gathering of the clans from far and near. Old friends who never saw each other between fairs, met on that day, and had a grand review, both in Gaelic and English, of the year's doings, and the alien who did not "have" the former language missed half the benefit of the institution.

On the evening before the fair, Gilbert was surprised by a visit from Malcolm Cameron. The boy had left for college only two weeks before, but, like many other sons of Oro, he had come back for "the show."

"Say," he began, balancing himself on the corner of the doctor's desk, "I'm going to ask you a most awfully big favor."

"Ask away," said the other, smiling; "it's granted, if I can do it."

"Oh, say, you're the best chap in the country. Elsie would kill me if she knew, but you won't let on, will you? I've got to take her to the show in our single buggy. Jim's taking mother and Uncle Hughie in the double rig, and all our truck has to come home in it, and you know—well—Marjorie's going with her father and mother, and I might drive her home if Elsie had some one to go with, and I thought—if you hadn't made any other arrangements, I thought, perhaps——"

"That Miss Cameron might come home with me?" interposed Gilbert, coming to his aid. "Why, I'd be delighted; that is, if she wouldn't mind."

"Oh, Elsie'd be tickled to death!" cried Elsie's brother, growing reckless in his gratitude. "Say, doctor, it's awfully decent of you. You see, I won't see Marjorie again till Christmas, likely—and—you know——"

"Yes, yes, I understand," said Gilbert sympathetically. "I wonder if I might ask to take your sister there, and you'd have two drives with Miss Scott," he added, with wonderful generosity.

"I thought of that myself," said Malcolm ingenuously, "but mother wouldn't let Elsie do that, and it would just be like Mrs. Scott to object, too; but they won't say anything about just driving home. You'll ask Elsie at the show, will you? You're a brick; and don't give it away, or she'd pull all my hair out when we got home."

The Elmbrook fair was held in the Agricultural Hall, about two miles from the village. Those who had no horses started off on the happy means of transportation called "chancing it." This consisted in walking along the highway for a short distance, on the sure chance of being picked up by some passing vehicle, for an Oro buggy was like a city street car, and always held one more.

Gilbert started out alone, and overtook Hannah and Jake Sawyer straying along the dusty roadside, early for once in their lives, having been spurred to the unusual achievement by the energy of the orphans.

Little Joey trotted between them, but Tim had gone to the show in the morning, with Keturah, the cow, and Isaac and Rebekah and the pumpkins; and the twins were far ahead, their parents knew not where. Gilbert took Hannah and Joey in with him, and they joined the long line of vehicles that had already formed and was winding swiftly down the highway.

Overhead the sky was deeply brilliant, and near the horizon a tender, misty blue. The golden landscape was lit with patches of gay woodland, and here and there by the roadside a scarlet maple, a clump of flaming sumach, or the blood-red vine of the woodbine. High up on the top of a dead tree-trunk, in the center of a smoky hollow, a flicker was shouting out derisively, "Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut!" in scorn of all this frivolous humanity gone a-fairing.

The procession crossed the railroad track just as the afternoon express went thundering past. The conductor caught sight of the doctor's buggy, and blew him a salute that set all the horses upon their hind legs in indignant alarm.

A smart vehicle dashed past in a cloud of dust. It was Miss Long, driving her own horse, with Sawed-Off Wilmott by her side, his chestnut driver having been sent on ahead in charge of a friend.

"Ella Anne's goin' to show her horse," said Hannah admiringly. "She's took first prize every year for ever so long. She's a wonderful driver."

"Dere's Lorry!" screamed Joey, pointing to a little tousled black head peeping from between Malcolm Cameron and his sister, just a little in advance.

"Elsie's awful good to her," said Hannah gratefully. "Her an' Arabella Winters jist makes a pet o' that child. Lorry says they've got a secret, the three o' them, and she feels that big about it you never saw the likes! Why, that's Lenny's voice, ain't it?"

From a buggy a little farther down the line greetings were being shrieked back to the black-haired twin. Hannah drew a deep sigh of content.

"Well, now, there's every single one o' them settled," she exclaimed happily. "If Jake jist gets a chance, now, an' Timmy gets a prize for his pumpkins, we jist won't have anythin' more to ask."

The Elmbrook fair ground was a long field, with a big, barn-like building at one end. Gilbert had often passed the place before, and found it silent and grass-grown; but now it was thronged with people, and resounding with a joyous bedlam of all the noises that all the farms in Oro, joined together, could produce. Horses neighed, cattle bawled, sheep bleated, hens cackled, babies cried and boys shouted. A merry-go-round, that charged only five cents for a horseback ride, was whirling giddily to the tune of "The Maple Leaf Forever." As the doctor guided his horse carefully through the thronged gateway Joey spied the twins, already mounted astride the largest team, and spinning around with joyous shrieks. A man with a wheel of fortune was shouting to the passers-by to come and take a turn, and make money enough to buy a farm. A row of tents, each with its roaring proprietor in front, held all sorts of wonderful spectacles, from a three-headed pig to a panorama of Queen Victoria's Jubilee. In front of a large tent, set off in one corner, a solemn, stout man, wrapped in a white winding-sheet, was marching to and fro, ringing a funereal bell, and calling out in melancholy tones that this was the last chance for dinner.

But above all the various clamor one sound arose, penetrating, triumphant, the sound that was the true voice of the Elmbrook fair, and without which it would surely have died away in silence—the high, thrilling skirl of the bagpipes. The piper, splendid in kilt and plaid and bare knees, was marching magnificently from the hall to the racing track. Lesser beings had to push and jostle through the throng, but he had a long lane sacred to his own footsteps, and no matter what new attraction appeared, he always had his following of gaping admirers.

Young ladies, with their attendant swains, in holiday attire, wandered about arm in arm, eating peanuts. Some lovers, of the old-fashioned type, who plainly knew very little of the requirements of fashion, went about hand in hand, and were the object of many witty remarks on the part of those who followed the more up-to-date method. Farmers with long beards, their backs bent with honest toil, collected around the show horses, or sat in the high buggies, round-shouldered and content, and smoked and chewed and spat, and were, withal, supremely happy. Whole family circles, the young father proudly carrying the baby, the mother holding as many as possible by the hand, revolved in an aimless but joyous orbit. Old women in plaid shawls gathered in groups near the piper's avenue, and talked a continuous stream of Gaelic.

The hall, containing the product of the women's deft fingers, stood near the gates. At one side was a long shed devoted to the display of farm produce, and the homely place was beautiful with scarlet apples, golden pumpkins, cabbages opening like great, pale-green roses, and heaps of purple grapes and plums. Opposite this, in a corner, the cattle and sheep, and other farm stock, were herded, each living creature lifting up its voice in protest against the sudden disturbance of its hitherto even and well-ordered life. At the end of the field, opposite the gate, a rocky and uneven road, in the shape of an ellipse, served as the race track. A grand-stand, formed by nature from a grassy knoll, covered with sweet-smelling pines, rose at one side, and made a convenient and delightful resting place.

Having handed Hannah and Joey over to Jake, who arrived in a neighbor's buggy, just behind them, Gilbert tied his horse and wandered about, shaking hands and looking at the prizes. He was captured by Tim and Davy, the former in a state of wild excitement, because his pumpkins had taken first prize, and Davy's only second. On the other hand, Keturah, his cow, had taken only third; but old Sandy McKitterick had said that Spectacle John was judge, and that he didn't know a cow from a giraffe. And Isaac and Rebekah had taken first, anyhow, and the doctor must come and see the red tickets on them. Gilbert started off through the crowd, but fell a captive by the way. As he passed a Gaelic-speaking group of checked shawls he was grasped violently by the sleeve and forced into the circle.

"There she will be now. Jist be takin' a look at her, whatefer. Och, hoch! this is what you would be doing!" And the young doctor smiled radiantly and blushed like a schoolboy, for there was Mrs. McKitterick herself, surrounded by an admiring crowd, and enjoying her first show in ten years! The hero was petted and praised in two languages, and clapped on the back and admired, until he was overwhelmed with confusion. He was rescued from his embarrassment by the impatient orphan and dragged off to witness the triumph of Isaac and Rebekah. When the geese had been sufficiently admired, and even poor Keturah's small achievement duly noted, the doctor escaped, and making a wide detour of the tartan shawls, found his way to the grand-stand. Here, seated on the dry pine-needles, under a spreading tree, was a group of three: Malcolm Cameron, with his sister and the minister's daughter.

"Hello, doctor!" cried the boy joyfully. "I've been looking all over for you. Come along. We're going to the hall."

"What's to be seen there?" asked Gilbert, helping the ladies to rise.

"Well, for one thing, there's your new mitts."

"Hush, Malcolm!" cried his sister. "Mrs. McKitterick wanted it kept a secret."

"Great Caesar! Would you let a pair of shackles like that be sprung on an innocent man without a moment's warning?"

"What's this?" asked Gilbert, in the alarm that the name of old Mrs. McKitterick always raised in his breast. "What's going to happen now?"

"It's only a pair of mittens, Dr. Allen," said Miss Marjorie. "Mrs. McKitterick knit them, and if they take first prize they are to be given to you."

"It was too bad to tell," said Elsie.

"No, it wasn't!" cried her brother. "They're to be presented to him at Christmas, and he'll need three months to get resigned. Come along and see them."

As they threaded their way toward the hall Malcolm glanced at the other young man significantly. Gilbert understood.

"Miss Cameron," he said, "I am all alone in my buggy. Won't you drive home with me?"

She glanced up at him with one of her swift, searching looks. "Did Malcolm ask you to relieve him?" she whispered. This strong, grave girl did not often laugh, Gilbert had noticed, but when she was amused her eyes danced. They were sparklingly radiant now.

He felt his face growing hot. "I—I——" he began.

"Oh, never mind," she cried, and this time she permitted her lips to join her eyes in a smile. "Don't apologize. I know why he did it. He's so transparent, poor lad. I knew last night, when he went over to see you, that he had some tremendous scheme on foot."

"But you are not going to punish me for his sins, surely?" said Gilbert, recovering. "If you knew with how much pleasure I grasped the opportunity you would come. Won't you?"

"Oh, yes," she answered frankly. "It would be too bad to spoil poor Malc's happy day; and besides," she added, with a return of her grave dignity, "I am sure I shall enjoy the drive, thank you."

Gilbert felt strangely grateful. The girl always made him feel as though she were immeasurably above him. "Because she really is, I suppose," he concluded, as he watched her, and thought of all she was sacrificing, silently, for the careless, happy boy walking so gaily ahead. Yes, she was very noble, he confessed. And then he sighed, he did not know why.

They squeezed their way into the building and passed slowly around. The long tables were piled with every sort of work that a woman's needle might encompass, and while the two girls examined each exhibit minutely, going into raptures over this or that, the two young men gazed vacantly about in weary bewilderment. There were doilies and tidies and pillow-covers of all patterns, crocheted lace and knitted lace and lace made every other way. There was painting on china and satin and velvet and silk and every other known fabric, and the walls were hung with homespun blankets, quilts and floor rugs.

Notwithstanding the growing display and keen competition that each successive fair brought, there were those who had been winners of first prizes ever since the Elmbrook show was instituted, and would probably always be. The Elmbrook prize-list was a stable institution, and if any one but Ella Anne Long should have taken first for managing a horse, or Bella Winters for painting apple blossoms on white velvet, or old Miss McQuarry for bread and butter, all Oro would have felt uneasy, and folks would have begun to doubt the stability of the British Empire.

For example, there was Mrs. Spectacle John Cross's quilt. It had taken first prize for the last ten years, and was likely to do so for as many more. It hung resplendent now, like a triumphal banner, the conqueror of yet one more campaign. It was a remarkable quilt, to be sure, and no wonder all competitors faded before it. It was composed entirely of small pieces of silk and velvet, sewed together in that style known as crazy patchwork. Nevertheless, there was nothing haphazard about their arrangement. The colors were put together so as to represent a landscape. A large round sun, of pumpkin-colored silk, with rays of red satin flying from it, arose from behind a mountain of green velvet. The sky was of blue silk, with white plush clouds, and in the foreground bloomed a flower garden of such various colors that the eye grew dazzled in contemplation.

"Here's your Minjekahwun, doctor," whispered Malcolm, grasping Gilbert's arm. "Ain't they lurid? Oh, crickey! they've got first prize! You're in for it! You'll look like the prize quilt when you get inside 'em."

The future owner of the mittens surveyed them in some dismay. They were long and roomy, even for his brawny hands, and of many and vivid colors. He looked around appealingly. Elsie Cameron's face was grave, but her eyes were laughing, while little Miss Scott was in a fit of merriment.

"Cheer up," cried Malcolm encouragingly. "They're the very thing to catch the public. You've got the purple and the orange, and that'll suit Spectacle John's crowd; and the green'll appeal to the Catholics over on the flats; and the whole thing looks like Highland tartan. Why, there isn't a nationality in Oro that'll be able to resist you when you wear them."

They emerged from the crowded building into the brilliant light of outdoors, and Gilbert had just helped his companion down the steep, rickety steps, when a new sound arose above the babel of the fair, and quenched for a moment even the scream of the bagpipes. It came from the highway, a hoarse "honk, honk," strange, and yet, to Gilbert, familiar. An astonished stillness fell over the group around the gate. The whole show, in fact, stood wide-eyed and agape with wonder, for what should be coming up the road, moving entirely of its own accord, without horse or other visible means of locomotion, but a huge red double buggy, with wheels like a stone-crusher, and the appearance of a threshing-machine! It paused at the gate, and a clear, gay voice called, "Good-afternoon, Dr. Allen!"

With a hasty word of apology, only half uttered, Gilbert was down the steps and standing by the motor-car. When the best thing possible happens to a man, the thing far too good to be dreamed of, it is at first unbelievable. But there she was, surely, Rosalie, her very self, in a long tan motoring coat, with a filmy scarf tied under her dimpling chin, her cheeks pink, her blue eyes dancing!

"Oh!" cried Gilbert, too overcome with joy for coherent speech, "it can't be you!"

"Yes, it's me," trilled Rosalie, laughing at her own lapse of English. "Here's Aunt Eleanor, and Maud, and all the rest of us!"

He greeted them in a half-dazed manner. He could see no one but Rosalie, could realize nothing but the dazzling joy of her coming.

He scarcely listened even to her explanation of their appearance. They had started north on a short tour, but had never dreamed of going so far. They had spent the night at a friend's in Lakeview, and thought they must run out here and see him and his practice in their primitive state. Would they come in? Why, of course they would! She wanted to get nearer to that gorgeous piper, not to speak of the hens and ducks and pigs. And did he raise geese and turkeys himself? And had he taken a prize?

Gilbert helped the ladies to alight. He was well acquainted with Rosalie's aunt and sister, and shook hands with the elder woman warmly. She had ever been a good friend to him, and had helped him many a time when Rosalie had contrived to make him miserable. The two young men he had met before. He recognized the owner of the car as an old rival, and looked at him with dark suspicion. His name had been coupled with Rosalie's during the past season oftener than he liked.

As the party of strangers entered the grounds they caused more excitement than the piper and the merry-go-round combined. Such a piece of mechanism as a motor-car had never before come within the range of Granny Long's telescope. Folks who had been fortunate enough to attend the Toronto Exhibition came home with great tales of having seen just such machines shooting around the city streets without any aid, and Bella Winters and Wes Long had even had their pictures taken together in one for twenty-five cents. But to most people this great red monster, looking, for all the world, as Spectacle John said, like a live threshing-mill, was an astounding sight. When the party left, a crowd of men gathered about it, keeping carefully out of its track, for William Winters had seen one at Niagara Falls that ran backward as well as forward, and you could never tell when such uncanny things might shoot off in any direction. The women were more interested in the rustling silks and veils of the ladies of the party, and formed a silent and admiring lane for them as they passed to the pine knoll.

As Gilbert walked by Rosalie's side his tumultuous joy gradually became mingled with other feelings. He wanted, more than anything else in the world, to get a word with her alone, and Blackburn was walking at her other side, with a maddening air of proprietorship. He was a genial, harmless sort of young man, but he was wealthy, and the sight of his prosperous complacency made the impecunious young doctor long to do him some bodily injury. And all the while Rosalie laughed and chatted as though every one in the world was as happy as herself. She went into fits of merriment over young Blackburn's facetious remarks, for, as they walked through the crowds, that gentleman was making presumably witty comments upon all he saw, from Piper Angus down, and Gilbert wondered drearily if even he, himself, thought he was saying anything funny.

"I say, Allen!" he cried, "you've got a fine collection for the zoo here. If Barnum had only lived to see this day! I—oh, I say! Look there!" He stood still, and gazed ahead of him in genuine admiration. "Say, there's somebody that doesn't look as if she belonged to this menagerie. The Queen of Sheba, all right. Who is her royal highness? Know her, Allen?"

Gilbert looked in the same direction, and became possessed of an unreasoning anger. Elsie Cameron was standing by her brother's side, under a spreading pine. Her trim, dark-green dress and hat, the soft rose-leaf tints of her face, and the rich bronze gold of her hair, made a picture so perfect that he might easily have excused the stranger's outburst. But he longed, more than ever, to knock him down.

"Yes," he answered shortly, "I know her."

"You do! Oh, come, now! You've simply got to introduce us. Hasn't he, Mrs. Windale? Do make him."

"I should like to meet the young lady," said Rosalie's aunt graciously. "She is very beautiful. Don't you think so, Rose?"

"Oh, yes, I suppose so, rather," said Rosalie dryly. "But it's the piper I want to meet."

"Mrs. Windale and I will go up to the throne and present ourselves, if you don't, Allen," Blackburn cried.

"Dr. Allen," exclaimed Rosalie's sister, with laughing impatience, "do introduce us. Guy will rave about her all the way home, and bore us to death, if he doesn't get his own way."

Without a word, Gilbert led his party up to the pine knoll and presented them to his three friends.

He was conscious of a feeling of relief that they were such as could not possibly provoke the visitors' mirth. As he introduced Blackburn he was forcibly impressed by the sudden change in the young man's manner. His flippant gaiety vanished before Miss Cameron's stately candor, and he addressed her with the greatest deference.

Now was Gilbert's chance. He turned from the group for a word alone with Rosalie. She seemed quite eager for it herself. She had such heaps to tell him, she declared, that she never had time to put into a letter. She had had the most gorgeous summer at the seaside, and had been on two motoring tours since her return, and they were planning for the gayest winter. She chatted away, but with never a word for him; not a question as to his welfare or his work, and though she spoke to him alone, her eyes kept darting annoyed glances toward the two under the pines.

Gilbert's heart sank. "And where do I come in, Rosalie?" he asked pleadingly.

"You," she said, pouting, "you simply refuse to come in. Why don't you leave this dreadful place and come to the city? It must be like living in a graveyard to exist here."

"I have told you often that I can't yet, Rosalie," he said humbly. "But you promised not to forget me in the meantime, don't you remember, dear?"

She turned away that he might not see her eyes, for her better self—the real woman that cared for him, and knew his true worth—was looking from them just then. And there was another Rosalie that cared, oh, so much, for wealth and social position.

"You know—I—I've told you," she said tremulously, "what I want you to do."

"I know, and I will settle in Toronto just as soon as I possibly can. You have my promise. But I cannot come just now."

"When, then?"

"Perhaps at the beginning of the new year. If I——"

A frightened look came into her eyes, and she interrupted him.

"If you don't come at the beginning of the year it will be too late," she said breathlessly.

"Rosalie! What do you mean?"

"Hush! I—oh, I can't tell you," glancing apprehensively toward Blackburn. "We are going on through Elmbrook when we leave," she whispered hurriedly, "and you may drive me as far as the village, and we can talk over—things."

Gilbert felt a chill at his heart. Here, indeed, was the irony of fate.

"I—oh, I'm so sorry," he stammered, in blank dismay. "I've promised to drive some one else back." The confession was out before he thought.

"It's that Miss Cameron with the red hair!" cried Rosalie, with startling suddenness.

Gilbert's face grew hot. "Well, and what of that?" he asked reasonably.

Rosalie held her pretty head high. "Tell her you must take me," she said firmly.

"Rosalie!" cried Gilbert, "you couldn't ask me to do that. Miss Cameron is a lady, and she is proud, and——wait. Come for a little drive now. We can be back before the others are ready to leave."

"I will, if you promise me you will not drive her home afterward."

"Surely," he cried in dismay, "you wouldn't want me to be rude to her?"

Rosalie stood for a moment looking searchingly at him. He was changed. He was not the boy who for three years had been ready to do her slightest bidding, no matter what the consequences. Just because she had condescended to become engaged to him he was assuming airs of authority. Well, their engagement was a secret yet—she had insisted upon that—and she could soon find a way to frighten him into submission.

"It's the only favor I've asked of you for six months," she said coldly, "and if you do not want to grant it I shall never humiliate myself by asking another."

"Rosalie!" cried Gilbert desperately, "if you only understood——"

"I understand only too well," she flashed back. "Are you coming, or are you not?"

"I am very sorry," said Gilbert, politely but stubbornly, "but I cannot be rude to a lady even for your sake."

She turned her back upon him without another word, and walking straight up to Elsie Cameron, began to talk to her in the friendliest manner. Gilbert stood watching her, puzzled and dismayed, and wondering desperately what he should do, when the attention of all was called by a singular proceeding on the race track.

An interesting display, the chief number on the program, had just closed—the exhibition of ladies' horsemanship, and, as usual, Ella Anne Long had carried off the palm. After the prizes were awarded it was the custom for the winners to drive around the ring several times, each lady bearing with her some highly-favored youth, somewhat as the conquering Romans attached their most distinguished captives to their triumphal car. While Miss Long, flushed with victory, was holding her horse till the judge fastened the ticket to his tossing head, Sawed-Off Wilmott stepped forward, feeling sure that the place of honor by Ella Anne's side would certainly be his. But just as he came sidling up, with a boyish step, a stalwart young farmer, one of the Highland Scotch giants from the Glenoro hills, elbowed his way up to the buggy. He had been casting admiring glances at Miss Long all afternoon, and now, without permission or apology, he sprang into the seat beside her.

"Thanks, awful much!" he cried jovially. Then in a lower tone, half humble, half daring, "You're going to take me around, ain't you?"

Miss Long cast him a disdainful side glance. "Well, you are a cool one!" she exclaimed haughtily. Nevertheless, she did not order him out, but touched her horse with the whip, and away they sped.

Poor Sawed-Off stood for an instant, glaring after them; then, at a laugh from the bystanders, he turned swiftly and leaped into his own conveyance. His horse was all ready to go on for the next exhibit, and a few of the men were already ambling around the ring in their two-wheeled vehicles. Mr. Wilmott gave his steed a cut with the whip and dashed fiercely into the ring after his faithless lady and her impudent Lochinvar. He would pass them, and humiliate her before the whole crowd. He came thundering down the track, his feet spread out, one on each side of his horse's flanks, his little two-wheeled sulky bobbing up and down over the rough road, his coat-tails flying, his whiskers parted by the breeze and streaming behind, and a forgotten bundle of hay, he had brought to feed his horse, sticking out rakishly from under his seat.

Sawed-Off was a caution of a driver, every one admitted, and in a few minutes he had all but overtaken the truant pair. Miss Long turned and took in the situation. She sat just a shade straighter, grasped her whip more firmly, and urged her horse to the utmost. Around and around the ring flew the runaways, and around and around behind them, gaining at every leap, bounced the sulky, the hay, and the angry pursuer.

They had just passed the grand-stand for the second time, and the crowd was beginning to cheer, when a third competitor joined the swift procession. The eldest Sawyer orphan had been herding his third-prize cow in an ignominious corner, which properly belonged to the pigs and sheep; but growing weary of his task, he had given Davy Munn half a liquorice stick and three walnuts to whack [Transcriber's note: watch?] Keturah just long enough to admit of his taking one ride on the merry-go-round. Davy had consented; but as the orphan had remained away long enough to ride through all the money Jake Sawyer had upon his person, Mr. Munn calmly left Keturah to her own devices and swaggered leisurely away. The cow wandered off, and making her way behind the pine grove, arrived at the race course just as the bundle of hay in Sawed-Off's sulky shot past. Whether Keturah saw a good meal disappearing, and wisely made after it, or whether the enraged shriek of her young master, who just then discovered her position, frightened the gentle animal into flight, no one will ever know. Whatever the cause, Keturah threw up her horns, her tail and her heels, and with her third-prize ticket dangling in view of the whole township, she scampered into the ring in the wake of Sawed-Off's flying coattails; while after her, mad with rage that she should have dared to advertise her shame, and shrieking most un-orphan-like anathemas, came her young keeper.

Now, poor Sawed-Off Wilmott, being only a maker of cheese, was naturally considered slightly beneath his farmer neighbors in the social scale. His employment had a touch of effeminacy about it, and gave a man the air of being merely an assistant to the cow. And now, at the sight of this animal pursuing him relentlessly, as though to claim him for her own, the whole of Elmbrook fair burst into a thunderous roar of laughter. Sawed-Off glanced back to see the cause, just as his horse's head passed the front wheel of his lady's buggy. With a start of chagrin he realized his ignominious position. To go around the track again in the face of that jeering crowd, with the cow close at his heels, was impossible. He pulled up sharply, jerked his horse aside, and drove off behind the sheds. Miss Long and Lochinvar made one more triumphant circuit, and disappeared in another direction. Tim succeeded at last in forcing Keturah to dodge into a path that led to her corner, and the unique race ended.

Gilbert's visitors were laughing heartily; Rosalie had completely forgotten her ill-temper, and danced about consumed with merriment.

"Oh, I say!" cried Blackburn, leaning weakly against a tree, "that's better than the king's plate!"

"Oh, if Piper Angus had only got in behind the kid!" cried Malcolm Cameron. "There's never anything in this world so good but it might be a little better."

"Well, this comes as near perfection as anything I ever saw," said Blackburn's friend. "Come, ladies, this makes a splendid finale; we must be getting on our way."

Gilbert walked by Rosalie's side to the car. She was radiantly good-humored now, but not a word could he get from her of the subject nearest his heart. Of course she forgave him, she declared, choking back her laughter to say it, but oh! oh! did he ever see anything so frantically funny as that outrageous cow and that mad youngster after her? Gilbert felt almost as much resentment against Keturah as poor Sawed-Off must have experienced. Fate had always used him thus in his dealings with Rosalie. Whenever he wanted her especially to be serious, then something invariably occurred to set her laughing; but how charming she was, to be sure, when she laughed, with her little head thrown back, and the tears in her dancing eyes!

He tried to join her, with poor success. He was consumed with anxiety to know what the secret was she had intended to confide in him, and had almost made up his mind to obey her, and offend Miss Cameron and Malcolm and everybody. What did it matter when it meant Rosalie's favor? But she gave him no second chance. She sprang gaily into the car by Blackburn's side, and waved her hand in farewell. She was still laughing as they moved off, and he could hear her saying between ripples, "Oh! oh! and to think I didn't want to come, and I might have missed that race!"



CHAPTER XII.

A RUSH FOR THE GOAL

The shorelark soars to his topmost flight, Sings at the height where morning springs, What though his voice be lost in the light? The light comes dropping from his wings.

Mount, my soul, and sing at the height Of thy clear flight in the light and the air, Heard or unheard in the night, in the light, Sing there! Sing there! —DUNCAN CAMPBELL SCOTT.

Elmbrook felt keenly disappointed that the red threshing-machine did not pass through the village on its return journey. Though no one guessed it, Dr. Allen was the most deeply disappointed of all. Indeed, such was the effect upon him, that he packed his suitcase the next day, Davy Munn hung his mother's sunbonnet upon the top of the stable, and the doctor boarded the train at the back lane and went to Toronto.

Elmbrook literally sat up nights, speculating as to the possible reasons for his sudden departure. Mrs. Munn hadn't the faintest idea. She even wasn't sure of his destination, had forgotten whether he took many clothes or not, and was perfectly at sea in regard to his possible return. Her son was more explicit, if more imaginative. He bet that the doctor had gone to see the swell young lady that came in the threshing-mill; he was quite sure he would get drunk and show people a few things when he came back, for he was a very wild and fierce young man, and nobody in the place, except Mr. Munn, knew just what awful things he could do.

Fortunately, people paid no heed to Davy, and when the doctor returned the following day, looking his usual self, no one suspected him of riotous conduct. Mrs. Munn kept her own counsel, of course, but she wondered secretly what had happened to make him so quiet, and why he did not run up the stairs three steps at a time, whistling loudly, as he used to do.

And yet, according to his own view, there was really no reason why Gilbert should have been less happy. Everything had turned out just as he had wanted. First, Rosalie had forgiven him—that was just like Rosalie, he reflected fondly—and, moreover, had promised—yes, promised faithfully this time—that if he would come down to her New Year's party she would that day announce their engagement. There was another provision attached, however; he must, yes, must, come to the city in the spring; no, not a month later. There was no use in his thinking she would live anywhere else, because she simply would die; and if he wanted to kill her, why, she would just marry Guy Blackburn, and go motoring over a precipice. Surely, when he saw that she was giving up so much for his sake, he might make a little sacrifice for her. And Gilbert had declared, with a rush of gratitude, that he would do anything she asked.

So there was surely no good reason for his apparent lack of spirits. There was every prospect of his being successful in Toronto, and Harwood, his old college chum, had assured him there would be a fine opening in the spring. Nevertheless, Gilbert Allen was not as glad at heart as might have been expected. For Rosalie had been right in her judgment; he was changed. Several influences had been at work to make a new man of him. Hitherto his life had been unconsciously selfish. It had been all getting, and no giving. That had seemed inevitable in his college days; but when they were over, self-interest had still remained the strongest force. To attain, to gain what he desired most for himself, had brought him to this country practice, and for a while he was in danger of quenching finally the generous impulses that were a part of his nature. But until Gilbert Allen had almost reached man's estate there had been a good mother in his home, one who had never failed, day and night, to lay her boy's highest welfare before her God. So it was impossible that he should go very far astray, and now, all unknowing, he was turning into the path where that mother had always desired he should walk. He had set himself the task of reaching the shining mark of success, all for his own ends; but he found the road to it so absorbing, the daily duty demanding so strenuously the obliteration of self, that, little by little, he was losing sight of his own interests and living primarily for the people that needed his help. He smiled at himself in surprise one day, when, after an unusually busy fortnight, he found that he had forgotten to keep any account of the money owing him. That was not the Gilbert Allen who had sat down, in the first days of his career as a physician, to calculate carefully just how much each mile would bring. He found it was hard for a true physician to be selfish.

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