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Treasure Valley
by Marian Keith
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"Won't you tell me what I have done to offend you?" he asked abruptly.

A deeper rose color came to her cheeks. This was just the question she was dreading. "I—I—nothing," she stammered incoherently.

"Then won't you tell me why you treat me so?" His indignation had vanished; his tone was very humble. "I cannot help seeing that you have changed, and I have done nothing, I could do nothing, wittingly, to hurt you."

"You have not done anything to offend me," she said in a low tone, with a slight accent on the pronoun.

"Then what has changed you? We are not good friends any more?" His voice was inquiring.

She would have given much to contradict him, but her nature was essentially honest, and she breathed the low answer, "No."

"I feared it, I knew it; but don't you think you might, at least, tell me the reason?" He was surprised at his own meekness.

The girl looked down into the murmuring, brown Water. Something arose in her throat and threatened to choke her. If he would only not be so humble. If he were haughty and indignant, her task would be much easier. And then, might she not be wrong? Oh, if he would only tell her she was mistaken! She struggled for some words by which she might avoid telling him the truth, but she was a country-bred girl, all unused to the small equivocations of social usage, and the uncompromising integrity of her nature forbade trifling.

"Dr. Allen," she faltered at last, "I—perhaps I have judged you harshly. Please do not ask me the reason. I would rather not talk about it."

"But I do ask you," said Gilbert determinedly. "Is it quite fair to condemn a man unheard?"

"I may have accused you wrongly," she said, the necessity of the case driving her again to speech, "but I—we all"—she plucked a feathery spray of the long-stemmed water-grass and examined it minutely—"everybody thought you so good and kind—and I learned something—accidentally—that disappointed me."

She glanced up with a mute appeal; but his looks were uncompromising. "Well?" he asked quietly.

She looked up and down the shadowy ravine as if seeking help. Why not tell him? There could be no harm to Arabella. He would know soon, anyway, and she need not mention the wedding, and perhaps he might vindicate himself. So, with her eyes on the golden-brown pool at her feet, she told him the story, simply and sorrowfully, and as gently as possible, of Miss Arabella's years of patient waiting, of the blue silk gown laid away so long, of all Martin had suffered from poverty and sickness, unhelped when he needed help so badly; and then of the sequel of the story which he himself had told.

She looked at him when she had ended, and Gilbert could not help seeing that the telling of it had hurt her almost as much as it had hurt him. And how it had stung him! Martin starving in a mining camp while he spent his money on roses and theater tickets for Rosalie Lane! Martin, sick, poor, and struggling to make a home for the woman he loved, while he—the man he had made—spent all upon his own pleasures and ambitions! He was aghast at the far-reaching power of his fault. He had selfishly neglected a man away off in the Klondyke, and had hurt a frail little woman at his door, whom every instinct of his manhood called upon him to protect.

His sorrowful-eyed accuser was looking at him, in the eager hope that he might deny the charge. But he did not attempt the smallest palliation. He scorned to make the paltry plea that, at the eleventh hour, he had paid the debt of so many years' standing. As if he could ever pay Martin!

"I must, at least, thank you for your candor," he said at last, a little unsteadily.

Her eyes grew dark with disappointment. Her suspicions had been only too well founded, then! She spoke no word of blame, there was no righteous indignation in her face, only a cutting disappointment; and there Gilbert felt the greater sting. He had not offended her personally, it seemed; he had merely fallen wofully short of her standard. There was no more to be said. He bade her a courteous good-evening, and she turned slowly and passed up the hill, while he followed the path down the stream. One of old Hughie Cameron's philosophic remarks, which he had heard one evening on the milk-stand, was sounding in his ears: "The Almighty would be laying his bounds about every one of us—the bounds of His righteous laws. We may be dodging them on one side, oh, yes; but they will be catching us up on the other."

The girl climbed slowly up the bank. Her head was bent, and could Gilbert have seen her face he would not have been quite so sure that his shortcoming was to her such an entirely impersonal affair. With her usual self-effacement, she made a brave attempt to put aside her grief. She had promised to spend this last evening with Arabella, and she must be cheerful and comforting. As she neared Mrs. Munn's house, Davy and Tim were sitting on the sidewalk before the gate, talking so volubly that they did not notice her approach.

"Yessir," Mr. Munn was saying, in a voice muffled by a mouthful of chewing-gum, "they're goin' to do that thing—what d'ye call it when two folks that's sparkin' run away?"

"Elope," said the orphan, from the depths of a profound experience of the world.

"Yes, elope. Don't you ever tell, Tim; but I bet that's what Jeannie an' me'll do some day; only I wish she wasn't such an awful girl to laugh!" He sighed deeply, and the orphan grunted disgustedly.

"Aw, g'wan, ye silly duck! Say! le's set up all night an' watch. They'll be goin' 'fore daylight, I bet——"

Elsie Cameron's light footfall sounded on the sidewalk, and the two suddenly fell silent. Their shoulders sagged, and they sat gazing vacantly across the street, as though life were a deadly bore.

The girl regarded the two curved, inscrutable backs in dismay. How on earth had those two scamps penetrated Arabella's secret?

"Oh, boys!" she cried, coming up to them in hurried distress. "Hush! How did you find out? Promise me you won't tell."

The two stood up and looked at her sheepishly. "We ain't tattlers," said the eldest orphan haughtily. "How'd you find out?" he added indignantly.

"Are you sure you've neither of you told anybody?" she asked, fixing her searching eyes upon each in turn.

"Sure! Cross my heart!" declared Tim; and Davy nodded agreement.

The wire door of the doctor's house swung open creakingly, and Mrs. Munn came slowly down the garden path. "Listen," whispered the girl hurriedly, "I'll give you each a quarter to-morrow night if you'll promise faithfully you won't tell, and that you'll do everything you can—everything, mind—to help. Now, you will, won't you, boys?"

It was impossible to resist such an appeal to their chivalry. Tim became a man on the spot. "Don't you worry," he declared with a grand air. "We'll look after things. Me an' Dave here'll not squeak, you bet."

Mrs. Munn opened the gate. "I'm goin' along with you to Arabella's for a minit," she said. "Davy, don't you go away from the house while I'm out, mind ye."

"How long'll ye be?" Inquired her son, in a tone that showed he was prepared to argue the question.

"Jist a minit. If anybody comes for the doctor, jist say he's gone away."

"I know he walked down the holler to see John Cross's kids."

"Hish!" she cried, looking about in alarm, as though the doctor had gone off on a murderous expedition. "You can jist say he won't be home till it's late. I guess there'll be no harm in them knowin' that. Now mind."

Elsie gave a parting glance full of warning, and Tim answered with a solemn wink.

The two boys watched the retreating figures until they disappeared into Miss Arabella's gateway. Instantly Tim's languid air changed to keen alertness.

"Say!" he exclaimed, "Ella Anne must 'a' told her! Lookee here! We've gotter help them to 'lope now, or there's no quarter. What'll we do?"

Davy humped his shoulders rebelliously. "I ain't stuck on helpin' that MacDonald coon to 'lope with nobody," he grumbled. "Don't you mind the time he took after us?"

The orphan chuckled. "Cracky! he did lambaste you, though, didn't he? Sawed-Off told the doc on us, though, the time we took the wheel off his buggy. We've promised, anyhow," he continued righteously.

"Yes, an' I'd have to help Elsie anyhow," added Davy, with an air of crushing responsibility. "Ye see, she's a sort o' a sister, ye know, Tim, 'count o' Jean."

Tim made a horrible grimace. "Well, come on! Let's think o' somethin' good an' awful to do to Sawed-Off!" he cried, anxious to change the subject.

All winter the double wooing of Miss Long had caused great excitement in the village. Folks declared it was scandalous the way Ella Anne carried on with those two fellows of hers, never giving either one more chance than the other, and it would be a caution if she wasn't left again, the way she was when young McQuarry married the squaw.

Ella Anne's conduct caused consternation in the Long family, too. The young lady was suspected of favoring young MacDonald, while her parents strongly encouraged Mr. Wilmott. Sawed-Off was decidedly "well fixed," with his cattle and his cheese factory, while the young fellow from the Highlands was a gay lad, with never an acre to his name, and no match for a girl who had had a year's music lessons, not to speak of all the other attainments of Miss Long.

So far, Davy and Tim had been quite impartial, and had strewn both suitors' paths with such difficulties that the younger man had finally laid violent hands upon them; and Sawed-Off had complained to the respective authorities set over each. The latter treatment had not troubled the mischief-makers much. Mrs. Munn declared that talking always did harm, and talking to boys was worse than useless. Jake and Hannah bewailed their eldest's sudden fall from grace, and wondered if his growing intimacy with John McIntyre was having an evil effect upon the child. And there it ended. The boys still continued their attentions to the rival lovers, and so closely had they watched the proceedings that on the last night of May they were in possession of a secret plot for the morrow, which the lovers fondly believed to be their own.

Hidden behind the Longs' cedar hedge one night, the eldest orphan had overheard some whispers between Ella Anne and the young Lochinvar. They were going to run away, Tim had gathered—have a regular elopement, like Evelina and Daring Dick, in the book he and Davy had just read. "The night before the mill starts," young MacDonald had whispered, "everybody'll be too busy to notice." Well, the mill started to-morrow! And besides that, Davy, who had been on the lookout while his fellow conspirator lay beneath the hedge, had spied Sawed-Off Wilmott come crawling from behind the lilac bushes at the Longs' gate, and go sneaking down the road. So the boys were anticipating high times. Sawed-Off would certainly be along to prevent the elopement, and they had determined to be on the watch, and miss none of the sport. And here, like two chivalrous knights, at the request of a distressed damsel, they had pledged themselves to help the lovers! Elsie was evidently in the plot with Ella Anne, and evidently neither girl guessed at Sawed-Off's perfidy. Tim jumped up in excitement and began to swagger up and down, his hands in his pockets. It was as good as Daring Dick's dilemmas, this situation. Elsie would certainly admire him, and consider him the cleverest young man in the village. They must perform some glorious deed that very night.

"What'll we do?" asked Davy. He was a ready helper when Tim was on the warpath, but the orphan's more fertile brain always supplied the material for their misdeeds.

Tim's eyes grew luminous. "Say! he's scared stiff about the banshee that yells down in the Drowned Lands. He'll be comin' up that way soon's it gets dark. If he seen a ghost there, he'd cut an' run, an' never come back."

Davy's languor dropped from him like a garment. "Come on!" he whispered, his eyes shining. "You scoot home an' git that last year's punkin skin, an' I'll sneak some white duds out o' maw's bureau. Golly! Ella Anne an' her feller'll be back from their weddin' tower 'fore Sawed-Off quits runnin'!"

Meanwhile, in a little house farther up the street, the three people concerned in another runaway match were sitting in the twilight. No one would have guessed that the forlorn, drooping little figure by the window was the bride of the morrow, and the idea of an elopement was as far removed from her as from a Jenny Wren. For, as the crucial moment approached, poor Miss Arabella's small courage had dwindled away. To get married would have been a tremendous undertaking in itself, but to elope! For the first time, she realized the magnitude of the enterprise. To get away from Susan's rule back into the joy of girlhood dreams, had seemed, at first sight, like escaping from prison; but now Susan and her laws seemed her only support, and Martin seemed strange and far away.

"I don't know what makes me feel so queer," she faltered, "but ever since that dress was finished I feel jist as if I'd been finished, too."

"Oh, you're jist nervous, Arabella," said Mrs. Munn, while Elsie patted her hand soothingly. "It ain't no use talkin' about it now, anyhow. It jist makes you feel worse. I tell you," she said, suddenly rising, "let's go over to my place, an' I'll get you a drink o' my last year's alderberry wine. The doctor's away, an' nobody'll see."

Elsie acquiesced, glad to second anything that would distract Arabella's mind from her fears. She would go in with them for a few minutes, and then slip away before Dr. Allen came back.

"No sign o' Davy," sighed Mrs. Munn, as they entered the dark and deserted house. "Well, I s'pose it's no use talkin' to boys, talkin' only makes things worse. Come in, an' I'll get a light."

She groped her way through the parlor, and lit the lamp that stood on a yellow crocheted mat in the middle of the table. "Now, we'll go an' have a drink o' that alderberry," she said cheerfully.

Miss Arabella touched Elsie's arm timidly, "Couldn't we have jist one more look at the dress, first?" she whispered. "I feel as if the sight of it would do me more good than a dose o' medicine. I know I'm an awful goose, Harriet," she faltered.

Mrs. Munn smiled indulgently. "Come along," she said, "we'll go right up now, an' you can slip it home in the dark, an' it'll be ready for to-morrow."

She led the way upstairs, and along the creaking floor to the back hall. As she opened the door of the lumber room a little breeze, bearing the scent of lavender and mint, met them, and made the lamp flare.

"Goodness me!" said Mrs. Munn in surprise, "how on earth did that window come to be opened?"

Miss Arabella uttered a cry. She clutched Elsie's arm and pointed to the wall. Mrs. Munn set the lamp down upon the bare pine table and stared. There was the hook where the dress had so lately hung, in its winding-sheet; there on the floor were great muddy tracks across to it from the doorway, and where—oh, where—— The three women turned and looked at each other in speechless dismay. The room was empty; the wedding gown had eloped!



CHAPTER XVI

THE CALL OF THE BANSHEE

The sunset has faded, there's but a tinge Saffron pale, where a star of white Has tangled itself in the trailing fringe Of the pearl-gray robe of the summer night. —JEAN BLEWETT.

By the time Gilbert had attended to his patients, and was returning along the old corduroy road, the night had long fallen. The bird chorus of the swamp had died away, and only the sweet note of the little screech-owl awoke the echoes of the dark woods. Now and then a gleam of spectral light through the trees showed where lay the waters of the Drowned Lands. The young man tramped moodily along the pathway, following the strip of pale sky between the black lines of trees. He was thinking of Martin's last letter, in answer to the money he had sent. It contained only the humblest thanks, with never a hint of past suffering. He could see before him his old friend's honest, generous face, with no reproach in it, and beside it another face, with its golden-brown eyes full of sorrowful accusation.

He was aroused from his painful reflections by the appearance of a point of light far down the dim roadway. It was not so much the light itself that attracted his attention, as its strange movements. It darted hither and thither, crossing and recrossing the road; now it disappeared among the trees, now reappeared, and swung wildly to and fro. Gilbert was reminded of the ghostly tales of the will-o'-the-wisp, and the banshee, and other terrifying creatures, which, village gossip said, inhabited the Drowned Lands. But he had a more practical explanation of the strange phenomenon.

"If it isn't some other infernal agency," he said to himself grimly, "I'm willing to take my oath that it's Jake Sawyer's eldest orphan that's performing those queer dodges."

As he drew nearer, the light stood still, and he could discern two forms, Tim, of course, and equally of course, his companion in mischief, Davy Munn. They stood in the ring of light and gazed apprehensively toward the approaching figure. "Hello!" called the young man. "What are you two scamps doing down here at this hour of the night?"

The boys' expression of fear changed to relief, and then to sheepish apprehension. "Jist walkin' 'round," replied Davy vaguely, making a poor attempt at his usual leisurely indifference.

"You've got a mighty queer method of taking exercise," said the doctor, coming to a standstill in front of them. "Come, you might as well tell me right out what you're up to."

"We—we lost somethin'," stammered the eldest orphan.

"What is it? Yourselves?"

The boys glanced at each other interrogatively. Should they make a clean breast of their plight and enlist the doctor's help, or would it be quite safe? Davy nodded acquiescence, and Tim burst forth:

"Aw, say! It ain't no joke. Somethin' fearful's happened. Me an' Dave we rigged up a ghost down here to scare Sawed-Off when he was comin' to stop—to see Ella Anne."

"He played lots o' mean tricks on us, you bet," put in Davy, for his own safety.

"He didn't scare, though, worth a cent," complained the orphan, "an' he saw us hidin' behind it, an' put after us"—in spite of his perturbation the boy grinned at the remembrance of the exciting chase—"an' we lost the ghost somewheres 'way back here, an' when we got home, Dave's maw an' old Arabella Winters an' Elsie Cameron was all over to your place, chewin' away like wildcats, 'cause it was Arabella's weddin' dress we'd took for a ghost. Dave's maw'd been makin' it. An' Elsie Cameron said we'd gotter find it, or when Arabella's fella'd come he'd bust up somethin'!"

The doctor uttered a sharp exclamation.

"When is he coming?"

"I dunno," answered Tim wonderingly. "She never told us. Elsie Cameron needn't 'a' got so mad, either," put in Davy aggrievedly. "It was her put us up to it in the first place, 'cause Sawed-Off——"

"Shut up!" hissed his accomplice in his ear. "Don't you go an' blab it all, now."

The culprits were anticipating at least a vigorous shaking for their misdemeanor, and were filled with amazed relief when the doctor grasped the lantern. "You two will end on the gallows yet," was all the censure he vouchsafed. "Come along! We must find it! Now tell me exactly where you started on this idiotic business."

The boys led the way with grateful alacrity. Fortune had indeed taken a wonderful turn.

"My! Elsie Cameron was mad!" complained Davy, encouraged by the doctor's cordial assistance. "An' she needn't 'a' been. It was all her own fault. An' she up an' told maw that me an' Tim knew all about old Arabella goin' to get married, an' that's a whoppin' lie, 'cause——"

"Hold your tongue!" cried the doctor, so fiercely that Davy collapsed in scared silence, and gave his undivided attention to the trail of the lost ghost.

They led the way through the tangle to the stump where the specter had been enthroned. Some matches and a half-burned candle, dropped hastily upon the moss, testified to the correctness of their discovery. Then, taking the lantern, Tim led on through the dense underbrush, past black pools of water, over fallen logs, and back to the road again, whither they had fled from Sawed-Off's swift vengeance.

But the ghost had apparently vanished in true ghost fashion. Gilbert took the lantern and carefully went over the ground again. With the two boys close at his heels, he scrambled about, here and there, pushing through the cedars, clambering over rotten tree-trunks, and leaping pools of black water. They were soon deeper in the yielding swamp than was quite safe, and the leader was forced to suggest returning without their prize. He climbed upon a mossy stump, and swung his lantern in a circle for a last survey. The light flashed far into the wild, tangled wilderness, and revealed a white object hanging over a low cedar. Tim gave a whoop of joy and pounced upon it.

"It's him! It's Mr. Ghost!" he shouted jubilantly. The rustle of silk proclaimed that the specter still contained the wedding gown. The doctor glanced over it in the light of the lantern; it was apparently undamaged, except for a few spots of mud. To the boys' surprise, he rolled it up with great care and bundled it under his arm.

"Come, now, let's get back," he said, with a look of pleased relief. "And look out where you jump. If either of you young Turks tumbles in, I'll leave you for the banshee, and serve you right!"

They were standing for a moment, looking for the best way to retrace their steps, when out of the black silence behind them there came a faint, far-off cry.

Tim clutched the doctor's coat. Davy turned white.

"Wha'—what's that?" they whispered together.

The three stood motionless, listening, and again the sound arose. It came from the far-off edge of the Drowned Lands, faint, and full of agony, like a human voice calling for help.

"The banshee!" whispered Tim in terror.

"Oh, Lord save us!" groaned Davy.

In spite of his concern, Gilbert laughed. "It's somebody caught in the mud, you young idiots!" he cried. "Listen!"

Once more the cry came floating out, terrible in its appeal. "Help, h-e-l-p!" it called faintly.

Davy gave a leap. "That's her! That's the banshee!" he gasped. "Come on! Run! It always calls folks like that—into the Drowned Lands—an' they never come back! Run!"

"Shut up, you fool!" cried Gilbert sharply. "Listen to me. You two get back to the road as quickly as you can. Come! I'll show you out with the light."

"Are—are you goin' after her?" whispered Davy, horror-stricken.

"Of course! Look here! I thought you two fellows had a little more snap in you than to get scared at a man calling for help."

"I'll go with you an' pull him out," cried Tim, stung into valor by this crushing remark.

"Me, too!" cried Davy with a gulp. It was awful to contemplate following that ghostly voice away into the death trap of the Drowned Lands; but it was worse to remain there alone.

"No; you'd likely get mired, and cause more trouble. Get back to the road, quick, and wait for me there. If I need your help, I'll call."

The cry arose again, this time fainter and more agonized. "Hurry!" cried the young man. "Here, Tim! Take this, and don't lose it again, for the life of you!"

He handed the boy the wedding dress, and hurried them forward until they were beyond the perilous area of the swamp. There he left them, and turning, plunged back into the woods.

Through the dense tangle, leaping from moss-clump to fallen log, he forced his way, the lantern, like a swaying will-o'-the-wisp, now casting a red splash on the surface of a pool, now leaving it in blackness, to light up a new circle of vine and stump and riotous undergrowth.

The two left behind stood for a moment gazing after him in terrified dismay. While he was with them his scorn of their fears, and his practical explanation of the dread sound, had acted like a stimulant; but now that they were left alone in the darkness they gave way to their worst apprehensions. He was gone! Gone straight to his doom, at the call of that luring voice, as so many before him had gone! And no one ever came back! Davy sank to the ground in a sobbing heap. Tim, more inured to disaster, stood silent, his small face white and fear-stricken.

Suddenly he flung himself upon his companion and clutched him by the hair. "Le's tell the folks! They'll save him! Le's tell daddy an' Spectacle John an' John McIntyre! They'll come an' bring him back!" He was already tearing up the road in the direction of the village, and all his languor put to flight by his fears, Davy came flying after him. In an incredibly short time they burst upon the Cameron milkstand, gasping out the appalling news that the banshee had got the doctor, and he was being murdered in the Drowned Lands!



CHAPTER XVII

THE DAWN

Then in the darkness came a voice that said, "As thy heart bleedeth so My heart hath bled; As I have need of thee Thou needest me." —FREDERICK GEORGE SCOTT.

All evening John McIntyre had been sitting alone in the doorway. He was to resume work in the mill to-morrow, and as it was his last night at home, he had half expected his boy to spend it with him. But Tim had not come, and as he sat waiting, John McIntyre had picked up the Bible. It was the first time he had opened it of his own accord, and he had intended merely to glance into it to pass the time. But he had read on and on, till now the light had faded from the evening skies, and the bare phantom trees of the Drowned Lands had vanished in the night. The whip-poor-will that all evening had been mourning on the hillside, and the loon that had called across the water, were hushed. The faint stars looked down on the silent blackness of the woods and the gray mists of the water beyond. But in those mists the lonely man at the doorway could discern a picture—a scene the Book had just now revealed to him. It was a weary group of Galilean fishermen approaching the shore, after a night of fruitless toil, while on the sands, shrouded in mists, stood One waiting for them in the dawn. One man in the little boat, straining his eyes to discern that mysterious Figure, suddenly felt his heart awake. He uttered in a thrilling whisper, "It is the Lord!" And without waiting for a word of reply, Peter, the disciple, who had so lately denied that One with curses, flung himself headlong into the sea and swam straight to Him.

John McIntyre's heart swelled. Well he understood the feeling that prompted Peter's act, for there was in his own homesick soul a longing to do the same, to plunge through the sea of loss and disappointment and go back to his denied Master. For this man's long night of storm and stress and fruitless toil was almost over, too. All unknown to himself, he had been slowly nearing the shore. The companionship and artless devotion of the boy—his enemy's child, but his now by all the rights of love—the kindness of the village folk in spite of rebuffs, the young doctor's care, and, above all, the tender message of the Book he had been constrained to read, had combined to guide him to the harbor. Yes, he was nearing the shore, and though he had not yet been able to discern Him through the night mists, there stood One waiting for him just behind the dawn.

Long into the night he sat, filled with a feeling of expectancy. He was half-consciously waiting for something, he knew not what. Supposing that same One had been watching for him to return, all this weary time of sorrow and rebellion? The thought made his breath come quicker. Could it be possible? Could it be that the same Man who stood that morning on the shore of Galilee was waiting for even him—waiting with no rebuke for the curses and the denial, but only with outstretched, crucified hands, and the tender question He had put to that other faithless disciple, "Lovest thou me?"

A tear slipped down John McIntyre's hollow cheek, the first tear he had shed since he and Mary had laid their last baby in its little grave. It fell upon his toil-hardened hand unnoticed, for a resolution was forming in his heart. He arose, stumbled hurriedly indoors, and lit his lamp. He must look once more into that Book. He must find out at once if this wonderful thing could be true, if life and happiness might still be his. With trembling hands he took up the Bible, as though it held for him a sentence of life or death, and turned over the leaves in a groping way. His movements were like those of a man in darkness, fumbling for a door that he hopes will lead him out into light and freedom. He stopped and gazed at the open page with a great wonder in his eyes. Perhaps he had been searching haphazard, or perhaps, under Divine guidance, his fingers, so long familiar with those pages, had gone unerringly to that marvelous story of the Fatherhood of God. For this was the message:

"And while he was yet a great way off his Father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him."

The Book dropped to the floor; John McIntyre sank to his knees beside it, his gray head bowed to the ground. He uttered an inarticulate cry. It was like the sound a babe utters when first it sees its mother's face after a day's absence—a cry that contains both the anguish of their separation and the joy of their reunion. He could form no coherent prayer, but the supreme thought of his homing soul burst from him: "My Father!" he sobbed, "my Father! I've been away! I've been away!" How long he knelt thus he had no idea. But in that meeting with his lost Master he lived through a supreme joy that far outmeasured all the bitterness of the past. He was aroused by the sound of footsteps near his door. Two figures were coming slowly up the pathway. Half dazed, John McIntyre arose and went forward with the lamp. As the light fell upon the two men he uttered an exclamation of concern. Dr. Allen, pale and exhausted, and splashed with mud, was standing there, supporting a staggering, half-drowned man.

"I found an old friend caught in the swamp," faltered the young man weakly. "May I bring him in for a minute, Mr. McIntyre?"

"Yes! yes! Come in! come in!" cried John McIntyre, setting down the lamp and hurrying forward with a chair. "I'll fix up the bed——" He stopped suddenly and gazed stupidly at the stranger. His eyes dilated, his face became overspread with the awe and wonder of some discovery too great to be grasped. The chair fell from his hands with a crash. He uttered a single word, and in it there was a world of unbelieving joy and fear.

"Martin!" he whispered.

The stranger raised his drooping head. He stared in turn at the stooped shoulders, the drawn face, and the white hair of John McIntyre, and his strength seemed suddenly to return. He pushed Gilbert aside as if he had been a child, and caught the man's shoulders in a mighty grip. He held him away from him for a moment, and then broke into a great sob:

"John! My God! old John! Have I found you?"

With a face of deep wonder, Gilbert slipped softly outside, closing the door behind him. And as he looked toward the place where he had so lately had a desperate struggle with death, he saw that the night mists were slowly vanishing. The whole dark earth was awakening in one grand bird-chorus, for the dawn was breaking over the Drowned Lands.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE END OF THE WAITING

Blue on the branch and blue in the sky, And naught between but the breezes high; And naught so blue by the breezes stirred As the deep, deep blue of the indigo bird.

Joy in the branch and joy in the sky, And naught between but the breezes high, And naught so glad on the breezes heard As the gay, gay note of the indigo bird. —ETHELWYN WETHERALD.

Miss Arabella's wedding day was a perfect rose of June as it dawned over the hills and dales of Oro and waked the robins in Treasure Valley to ecstatic song. The date was two weeks later than that set for the elopement, for the bridegroom needed some time to recover from his injudicious attempt to cross the swamp and surprise his little bride by arriving a day earlier.

Then the doctor was in almost as bad a plight, with a wrenched arm and a great gash in his forehead; and in any case, the wedding must needs wait until he could make a respectable appearance as best man. Mrs. Winters, too, declared she must have a few days to recover her breath and get used to the idea of Arabella getting married, not to speak of all the preparations for the grand wedding she had decreed they must have.

And besides, the village needed two weeks, at least, to settle down after the memorable night when they had almost lost their doctor. When the boys arrived with the terrible news that he had been decoyed into the Drowned Lands, every man in the community, and most of the women, too, headed by Susan Winters, set off to his rescue. They found their fears happily disappointed, however, and they carried him home in triumph, and with him the man he had saved at the risk of his own life. And the wonderful discovery that the stranger was Dr. Allen's oldest and dearest friend, and that he was coming, all unknown, to marry Arabella Winters—well! well! it was a caution if the foundations of the village didn't give way altogether, and everything and everybody go toppling over into Treasure Valley!

As if this were not excitement enough for a lifetime, right on top of all that night's adventures came another shock. When the population of Elmbrook returned, after the rescue of the doctor, Sawed-Off Wilmott rushed through the village, wild-eyed, with the astounding news that Ella Anne Long had disappeared with the ne'er-do-weel from Glenoro! Granny Long lifted her voice above the general family bewailment to declare that it was all Si's fault, for taking the spyglass with him when he went to hunt the doctor; for if she had had it, Ella Anne would never have got away without her knowledge—no, not even though it was black midnight!

So there was a runaway match from Elmbrook on the first of June, after all, even though little Miss Arabella was to be married in the proper fashion. She was thankful for all the excitement and the talk and the running to and fro, for they made it possible to keep her own proposed elopement a profound secret. That Arabella should be preparing, all unsuspected, for her wedding day was a surprise, of course, to every one, especially Susan; but deep secrecy in such affairs was the general rule, and caused no especial comment.

These two weeks before her marriage were magic days for the little lilac lady. She found herself in a new atmosphere. From being of no consequence at all to anybody, she had suddenly become the most important member of the family, and she almost lost a sense of her own identity when Susan consulted her as to the number of eggs to be put into the wedding cake.

Susan, indeed, was deeply impressed. For was not Arabella going to marry a rich man, and the doctor's bosom friend, at that? To be sure, she could not help wishing he wouldn't spend so much of his time with that queer old John McIntyre, but there was no denying his wealth, and the way he did spend money was a caution. On the whole, he was quite a wonderful match for Arabella, much better than he had been ten years ago, and almost all Mrs. Winters could have wished for Bella herself. So the wedding must be in keeping with his position, and the preparations for it were put forward on a grand scale.

And through all the bustle and activity Miss Arabella moved in a happy daze, conscious of one thing only, that Martin had come back, and, under the love and appreciation, growing more beautiful every day. The rose tints crept into her cheeks, and her eyes shone like the blue of the June skies. Elsie Cameron took advantage of Susan's relaxation, and puffed out the little bride-elect's pretty hair, and decked her with ribbons and lace, until Martin declared she wasn't a day older than when he went away, and twice as pretty.

Quite irrespective of his wealth, Martin, himself, took the village by storm. The orphans adopted him as their very own, and moved over in a body to the doctor's house whenever he was staying there. The men in the mill stopped work the moment he appeared, and all the women in the place, from Susan Winters down, fell in love with him. Every eye watched him admiringly as he moved about, here and there, during those two weeks. Folks said you could hardly tell whether he thought most of Arabella or the doctor or old John McIntyre. Certainly he spent much of his time with the dark watchman, and it was beautiful to see the light his presence brought to John McIntyre's deep eyes. But he did not by any means neglect Arabella. Two or three times a day he would come rollicking up from the doctor's house, loudly chanting the praises of the "brave Canajen byes" who had met a watery grave; would swing open Miss Arabella's little gate with a force that nearly wrenched it from its hinges, and after teasing Polly into saying all the naughty things her mistress had hoped she had forgotten, he would bid little Annie Laurie put on the faded lilac gown he admired so much, and they would go off for a stroll through the village, the admiration of every one in the place. They always walked down along the green-and-gold floor of Treasure Valley, because Martin said it reminded him of home; and always, before they returned, they went up the willow path to the mill, or down to the shanty at the Drowned Lands, for a visit to John McIntyre.

But while Miss Arabella walked about idly in her radiant dream, Susan was slaving day and night. For the wedding she and her eldest daughter were planning was to be no small affair. Bella wanted her aunt to be married in the church. She knew just how a church wedding should be conducted, and Wes Long had promised to write a piece about it and have it printed in the Lakeview papers. One sentence was already composed, "The happy party then repaired to the house of the bride's brother, where a sumptuous recherche dejeuner was served." Bella was almost alarmed at the high-sounding words, but Wes said they were used in all accounts of high-class weddings. There were two obstacles, however, in the way of a church wedding. One was the bridegroom, and the other the bride's brother. Martin announced that if Bella came any such tall doings as that over her old uncle, he'd kick over the traces, and he and Arabella would elope. Here he winked solemnly, and inquired if she didn't suppose Arabella was just the sort that would run away; and the little lilac lady hung her head and blushed, and Bella wondered why Elsie Cameron should laugh so. Then there was the blacksmith himself. Like most yielding husbands, he was subject to unaccountable fits of stubbornness, and seized this inopportune occasion to indulge in one. He positively refused, he announced dourly, even in the face of Susan's demands, to make an Uncle Tom's Cabin parade of himself and Arabella by going trolloping up the church aisle with her. He regarded the whole scheme as one of the many indications of feminine folly, and confided mournfully to the bridegroom that he might as well give up, for Susan's latest dodge was to make them have their dinner out in the yard, like the pigs. Why folks that had a decent roof over their heads should turn themselves out of house and home to eat like the tinkers, was past his knowledge. But you could never tell what weemen would be up to next. Why, when he was at Neeag'ra Falls——

But while he poured out his complaints his wife went on with her preparations, all unheeding. Though the church parade had to be given up for a house wedding, she saw to it that its grandeur was no whit diminished. The ceremony was to be performed in Arabella's own little parlor, while the grand wedding dinner was to be served—not till two o'clock, the blacksmith learned with dismay—at her brother's house, under the orchard trees.

Only one thing more troubled the mistress of ceremonies. As the doctor was to be best man, and Elsie Cameron bridesmaid, and since the groom was rich, the Winters would have preferred to ask only the more genteel folks of the neighborhood—the minister's family, and a few of their Glenoro relatives. But Martin spoiled it all by asking John McIntyre and Davy Munn and the eldest orphan. Susan tried to object, but Martin declared that Tim and Davy had helped to bring about the wedding; for if they had not been obliging enough to steal Arabella's dress, and lose it in the swamp, he argued, he would be there yet; so the boys deserved all the fun that was going. When the twins heard that an exception had been made in favor of Tim, they raised their voices in shrieking protest, and would have gone to the wedding willy-nilly, had not Mrs. Winters interviewed them, promising them unlimited bride's-cake when the affair was over, if they remained out of sight, and dire retribution should they disobey.

So the matter was finally settled by asking every one, irrespective of social position, and when the evening of Miss Arabella's wedding day came around once again everything was in readiness. Elsie Cameron came over in her white bridesmaid's gown, to see how Arabella liked her, and the doctor dropped in to show Martin how to stand up and behave himself, for once in his life. So when the time came to go home—for Mrs. Winters sent them away early, declaring she couldn't get a hand's turn done in such a crowd—what was more natural than that the groomsman should walk with the bridesmaid? He did not ask if he might; there was no need, for they were very good friends now. When he had returned that night from the rescue of Martin, all mud-splashed and exhausted, he had read, with a glad leap of his heart, the message in her eyes and in her faltering words—he had vindicated himself.

By tacit consent they left the street and followed the path down into Treasure Valley. And as they went, Gilbert told her more fully the story of his relations with Martin; how his friend's heroic silence and his own selfish ambition had made him forget his duty. He did not spare himself; but he could afford to be severe, for Martin had told her everything, and she was full of contrition for her late blame.

They strolled through the rose-tinted mists of the valley, the perfume rising from the scented grasses and flowers at their feet. She looked like a tall June flower herself, Gilbert thought, as she walked ahead of him in the narrow pathway, slender and erect in her clinging white gown, with her delicately poised head like a golden blossom on its stem. As they left the violet-carpeted bank and crossed the white stepping-stones, an oriole, swinging far up on the topmost branch of the elm-tree, just where his golden wing caught the slant rays of the setting sun, suddenly burst into joyous, bubbling song. The ringing notes followed them even after they had climbed the hill and were passing up the shadowy avenue of the orchard. And though they were neither aware of it as yet, he was singing the opening strains of that harmony that was some day to fill their united lives.

"Oh, there's many a man o' the Ca——"

Uncle Hughie came hobbling down the orchard path. His voice had an unusually joyous ring, therefore he reached a tremendous altitude, and the song ended abruptly in a husky shriek.

"Huh! huh! hoots! toots!" he was muttering to himself disgustedly, as he came upon the pair. "Och! hoch! yes! yes! indeed and indeed!" he remarked, with a significant smile that brought the color to Elsie's cheeks. "And is the arm better, doctor?" he asked, stopping, and patting the young man's injured member tenderly.

"Oh, yes; it's nothing. I'm in fine shape for the wedding to-morrow."

"Eh! eh! yes! yes!" The old man's face was alight with joy. "Eh! it takes the Almighty to be managing things, indeed. But, mind ye this! I would be finding out something about how He will be managing." His voice sank to a mysterious whisper. "I would be rastlin' it out last night, an' thinkin' how He'd been workin' an' turnin' an' twistin' things for the good o' the poor McIntyre body, an' the poor bits o' things Jake Sawyer adopted. I would be rastlin' it all out, an' mind ye—listen to this—He wouldn't be doin' it by Himself." His eyes shone like living amber. "Oh, no, indeed. He would be handing over the job to folks—jist folks, mind ye! Eh! eh! wouldn't that be wonderful? An' it will jist be because we are such poor potterin' bodies, that we wouldn't be having the world patched up an' fixed right long ago. Och! it would be a great thing, indeed, that we would be having a hand in making the earth! And some day we will all be learning to do our part, jist as He wants it, and then that will be a fine day for the world, oh, a fine day, I tell you!" He started to move away.

"Where are you going, Uncle Hughie?" asked his niece. "The dew is falling, remember."

"Och! hoch! it is the troublesome lass you will be!" he cried, looking at her fondly. "I will jist be away a meenit. The minister and me would jist be goin' up to the mill for a word with John McIntyre. He's come home again—eh! eh! yes, he's jist come home. The dew! Hoch!"

"Oh, there's many a man o' the Ca——"

He hobbled joyfully away, and the two moved on up the green orchard aisle.

Early the next morning there was a tremendous rushing to and fro between the bride's house and her brother's. Everything in the village took on a holiday aspect. The orphans were up at dawn, and, decked in their best, flew hither and thither, keeping things stirred up and lively. The school children had a holiday, because the Duke had to go to the wedding early, to help Mrs. Winters set the tables. The mill did not exactly stop running, but nobody settled down to work, for Wes Long, who left at ten o'clock to run home and put on his Sunday clothes, came tearing back in his white shirt-sleeves and with his hair all soapy and wet, with the news that Sandy McQuarry was already at Winters', dressed in his Sabbath blacks, and fetching and carrying for the Duke like a trained poodle. Whereupon every man in the mill threw up his job and went down and walked the logs in the pond, and danced, and shoved each other into the water, and behaved in a way that, as Granny Long reported afterward to Sandy, was nothing but defying the Almighty.

When the time set for the ceremony approached, Miss Arabella, arrayed in her blue wedding dress and a long white veil, stood in the little spare bedroom, surveying her trembling image in the mirror, between Red Riding-Hood and Little Bo-peep. She dared not sit down, for Susan said she would crush her flounces, and she stood clinging to the bedpost for support, looking like a little, frightened gray sparrow that had somehow got into a bluebird's feathers. Her bridesmaid stood by her, cheerful and encouraging; Bella was giving pulls and jerks to her aunt's gown and veil, and Susan was hurrying in and out, breathless and anxious. The guests had already begun to crush their way into the parlor, and their subdued voices came through the door.

"There's all Aunt Christena's folks jist drove up, maw," whispered Bella, rustling to the window in her stiff pink silk. "Cousin Martha's got the book with the wedding march under her arm. Goodness! there's the minister! Arabella, are you sure you're ready? An' there's Martin and Dr. Allen comin' down the street!" The bridesmaid came and peeped over her shoulder. "An' there's Marjorie Scott, Elsie! She's got her new blue dress on, and she said she was going to wear her old white! I bet that's because your Malcolm's home!"

The handle of the door rattled loudly. "Arabella!" hissed a deep voice through the keyhole.

"Yes, William?" whispered his sister faintly.

"Here's the preacher. You'd best come on out."

"Hish, William!" commanded his wife, on the other side of the keyhole. "She'll come out when I say so. He's a caution," she continued, straightening up, and looking at the drooping bride as though her brother's untoward conduct were all her fault. Miss Arabella drooped farther. She slipped her arm inside her bridesmaid's.

"Elsie, if anybody else comes, don't—don't let them tell me," she whispered piteously. "It makes me feel awful!"

The bridesmaid took her hand and patted it soothingly. "I won't," she promised cheerily. "Don't listen to a word any one says. I'll tell you when it's time to go out, and there's nothing to be afraid of. Why, you look just lovely! And think how proud Martin will be! You mustn't get nervous, for his sake, you know."

"Arabella!" The keyhole once more gave forth a hissing whisper. "We've all been waiting half an hour."

Mrs. Winters tightened her teeth. "He'll spoil everything!" she declared. "It's awful old-fashioned for the bride to be on time, but you can't knock that into William's head. You might as well go, Arabella; and for pity's sakes, stand up straight, an' don't look so scared!"

She pushed the trembling little blue figure toward the door. "Elsie, you go first, and walk slow; no—wait! Bella, open the door and nod to Cousin Martha to start playin'."

Bella's head shot out and in, the door slammed again, and there arose from the other side of it faint, squeaky sounds from the organ.

"Goodness me! you can hardly hear her!" cried Mrs. Winters. "I told Christena Martha'd spoil it! My sakes! I wish Ella Anne Long hadn't run away so soon! Now open the door, Bella, awful slow. Now, Elsie, go on. Arabella, hang on to your flowers! It's a perfect shame your brother ain't with you! For goodness' sake, stand up straight, an' don't look as if you was goin' to be hung! Go on, Elsie!"

But the bride was clinging desperately to her maid's arm, and refused to let her go. "I—I can't go, Susan!" she whispered.

"Oh, mercy me! Everything's goin' to be spoiled!" wailed her sister-in-law.

"Arabella's going to walk out holding my arm," said Elsie firmly, seeing that the little bride's condition demanded immediate relief.

"Well, go on, then," said Mrs. Winters, with a gesture of despair. "It'll be a fool of a thing, anyhow. Now, Bella, open the door, slow—slow!"

The door swung gradually, but when it was half open Mrs. Winters slammed it again.

"Arabella," she cried, in a panic, "did you shut Polly up?"

The bride stared at her, uncomprehending.

"No, she never, maw," whispered Bella hysterically, "an' she'll be sure to come right out with them swear-words in the middle of everything."

Once more the bridesmaid met the emergency. "It can't be helped now," she said. "Please don't bother her. Open the door, Bella."

The door swung back for the third and last time, and the little blue figure and the tall white one walked slowly up to where Martin and the doctor stood before the minister. The distance from the spare bedroom door to their destination was a matter of about three yards, and Mrs. Winters had overlooked the fact that it was out of all proportion to the wedding march. Cousin Martha from Glenoro, in a panic of nervousness, was laboring hard to get to the end of it, but long after the bridal party was in position the faint, jerky sounds still wavered on, now vanishing altogether in a dumb show, now, just as the people were hopefully thinking the ordeal over, becoming huskily audible. There seemed enough of the thing, Mrs. Long said afterward, to give Arabella time to walk over to the next concession to get married.

The minister put on his glasses, took them off, fumbled with his handkerchief in his coat-tail pocket, and cleared his throat. The groom shifted from one foot to the other. Over in a corner, behind the sofa, Davy Munn and the eldest orphan ducked their heads and giggled. Bella rattled her pink silk nervously; Mrs. Winters frowned at her husband.

Cousin Martha from Glenoro turned another page, the wedding march took a new start, and grew stronger; and the blacksmith's small remnant of patience vanished. He leaned over the heads of half a dozen guests, and said in a loud whisper, "For the Lord's sake, Marthy, hold up a minit an' let 'em get hitched!" The wedding march ceased abruptly; the guests drew a sigh of relief, and the ceremony began.

A deep hush fell over the crowded little room. To several there, besides the bride and groom, this ceremony was especially impressive. The groomsman felt a lump in his throat as he looked at Martin, and thought of all the years his little bride and the blue silk gown had waited, and how he had helped to lengthen the time. And over in a corner, sitting beside Tim, John McIntyre gazed at his old comrade's radiant face, and raised his heart in reverent thankfulness that they had been spared to see this day together.

The ceremony ended in a hushed solemnity, and when the minister pronounced them man and wife, and all bowed in prayer, even Tim, touched by the signs of emotion in John McIntyre's face, was quiet and well behaved. But, unfortunately, the house was too near the Sawyers' household to long enjoy peace and prosperity. Jake and Hannah, of course, were among the guests, and, the evening before, Mrs. Winters had secured a promise from Uncle Hughie Cameron to take the youngest orphan under his care during the wedding, and had wrung from the twins a solemn promise that they would neither be seen nor heard until after the dinner had been served. Faithful to their contract, the two had lain concealed beneath the lilacs, watching Arabella's home, and talking in breathless whispers while the guests were arriving. But when every one had disappeared indoors, and silence settled upon the village, time hung heavily upon the orphans' hands. They crawled out from their ambush, and simultaneously their fertile brains were possessed of a scheme for enlivening the dull hours. They would have a wedding themselves! They had witnessed a ceremony at the Orphans' Home, when one of the maids was married, and knew exactly how it should be conducted. There were Isaac and Rebekah strutting about the back yard; they would serve as the bridal couple, and the twelve tribes would be guests. No sooner said than done; the twins set vigorously to work. The first and most important consideration, of course, was the bride's toilette, and there was that remnant of blue silk Miss Arabella had given them from her gown. The twins ran upstairs for it with screams of delight. It would fit beautifully around Rebekah's shoulders, and the smart tan shoes Nature had bestowed upon her would look perfectly elegant with a blue silk dress. They tore down the little lace curtain from the kitchen window for a bridal veil; and the next thing to be done was to catch Rebekah and dress her.

Now, the Sawyer cat, and the dog, yes, and even the pig, had at various times been arrayed in human apparel, but never yet had Rebekah been forced into the habiliments of civilization. She showed, from the first, a decided distaste for them. The twins struggled and panted, while the unwilling bride dodged and squawked and disarranged her toilet again and again, and the alarmed bridegroom flew hither and thither, with widespread pinions, uttering loud protests.

But in spite of her struggles, Rebekah was at last made ready, and then arose the question of Isaac's dress. The black-haired twin, being the more venturesome of the two, suggested dressing him up in Joey's Sunday suit; but he was even harder to manage than the bride, and as he was just now showing an inclination to be violent, the breathless modistes decided, after the fashion of the day, not to bother about the bridegroom's clothes. So the fair-haired twin held Rebekah in a tight grip while her sister hitched Joshua to Joey's little cart, and placed him ready at the steps, to be used after the ceremony. Next, the black-haired twin took her turn at holding the protesting bride, while the other proceeded to dress up the veranda as a church; for this was to be no common home wedding like Arabella's. The parlor chairs were the pews, the sewing-machine was the organ, and Hannah's best red-and-white bedspread made a beautiful carpet for the aisle. The only thing needed now was a pulpit, and soon Lenora appeared in triumph from the kitchen, dragging an old wash-stand. It had a round opening in the top, in which the wash-basin fitted, and when she climbed up and let herself down into this aperture she looked as like Mr. Scott in his pulpit, her admiring sister declared, as two peas.

When everything was in readiness, and the fair-haired twin was setting out to capture the bridegroom, there arose an unfortunate dispute.

"I bar be the minister," said the black-haired twin.

"No, you don't! It's goin' to be me! I thought of the pulpit!"

"I don't care! I barred it first. You can play the organ."

"I won't! An' I can't, anyhow; somebody's got to hold Rebekah."

"Well, I'm goin' to be Mr. Scoot, so there!"

"Ain't!"

"Are so!"

The two would-be divines made a simultaneous dash for the place of honor, and scrambling upon it, crushed their way, side by side, into the hole, which was scarcely large enough for one. In the struggle Rebekah gained her liberty, and with a loud squawk she leaped down the steps, her blue gown and her bridal veil streaming behind. She flopped right on top of Joshua, who had lain down in his harness, and rudely broke his slumber. Now, Joshua was a wise dog, who knew his own household, and would no more have thought of barking at Rebekah than at Hannah. But when this madly struggling bundle of clothes dashed over his nose he saw in it no smallest resemblance to anything he had ever permitted to pass his gateway. So, hampered though he was by Joey's cart, he made a dash at his disguised friend, and, barking madly, chased her out through the gate. The two rival clergymen, nearly squeezed to death within the narrow confines of the pulpit, screamed, and struggled for liberty, and called on Joshua to come back, but to no purpose. Down the street he clattered, snapping at Rebekah's flying veil. The runaway bride dodged this way and that, and finally darted in at Miss Arabella's gate, Joshua following fiercely. Miss Arabella's door also stood open. Rebekah dashed up the walk and into the house.

All had been very still in the crowded little parlor. The ceremony was over, and the bowed heads had just been raised from prayer, when into the reverent hush there penetrated from the kitchen a loud, complaining voice: "Oh, Lordy! ain't we havin' a slow time!" An electric current quivered through the room, the two boys in the corner writhed in a spasm of giggles, and the minister said sternly, "Hush!" But the next instant the necessity for constraint was over. A tremendous uproar burst from the front doorway, and into the midst of the wedding guests there dashed an astounding pair—a small, turbulent creature, dressed exactly like the bride, in blue silk and a streaming white veil, followed fiercely by a dog, dragging the remnants of a shattered cart. Around the room they leaped in a mad circle, upsetting everything in their way. Then the blue-robed creature, with a scream, rose above the heads of the astonished guests, and landed in the kitchen, with a deafening crash of breaking dishes. The rest of the disturbance followed, barking madly; Tim and Davy arose, and went bounding after them with whoops of joy, and above the din arose Polly's loud squall, in a most unseasonable complaint about the dullness of the times.

Everybody declared afterward that no woman in the county of Simcoe could have brought order out of that chaos except Susan Winters. She drove out the noisy intruders with the broomstick, silenced the two uproarious wedding guests with the same instrument, and brought the hilarious company to something like decorum by ordering them to form in procession for the wedding dinner. A slight delay occurred when it was found that Jake and Hannah Sawyer were missing. Attracted by agonized shrieks from the direction of their home, they left precipitately, and several of the wedding guests, unacquainted with the orphans' ways, followed them in consternation. They soon returned, however. Jake had liberated the twins by sawing the washstand asunder, and the parents brought the two unfortunates with them. Even Mrs. Winters made them welcome when she saw their tearful faces, and they joined the procession, profoundly thankful for the untoward circumstance that had produced such joyful results.

But the little episode had another happy outcome that made the bridegroom's eyes shine with something deeper than even his own joy. Just as the fantastic figure of Rebekah had disappeared into the kitchen, the groomsman touched Martin's arm gently, and whispered, "Look at McIntyre!" The bridegroom turned; his grave, silent friend had been watching the grotesque little creature with a smile slowly breaking over his face, and when Tim arose, with a yell, and bounded after her, John McIntyre threw back his head and laughed. Yes, the repellant, dark-faced watchman laughed, a deep, hearty, joyous laugh, and the sound of it brought a smarting mist to the kindly, watching eyes of his friend.

The procession was soon formed, and it slowly moved out through the front door, across the tiny garden, and down the shady avenue of the orchard. Very proudly the big bridegroom walked with his little bride on his arm. She was no longer drooping and pathetic-looking now, but erect and radiant. Behind came their two attendants, Gilbert's wondering eyes watching the changing bronze and gold of the bridesmaid's hair, as the sunlight and the green shadows alternately played over it. The minister and the triumphant mistress of ceremonies came next, followed by the blacksmith, leading the minister's wife, and growing more cheerful each moment as he neared his dinner. The rest had arranged themselves as best suited their inclinations, and not far down the line moved a happy quartette—Marjorie and Malcolm, oblivious to everything but each other, and behind them Sandy McQuarry and the stately Duke; and a glance at the faces of the four would have puzzled an observer to guess which pair was at that moment experiencing more of the joy of youth and love.

Down the grassy aisle the happy procession passed, through the flecking light and shade, where the long, white tables were laid beneath the apple boughs. And as they moved, a bluebird, swinging far above them in the sunlight, caroled forth a joyous marriage hymn. And down below, the little blue silk gown, of the same shade as his dazzling plumage, covered a heart just as happy.



CHAPTER XIX

THE HERMIT SINGS AGAIN

Then twilight falls with the touch Of a hand that soothes and stills, And a swamp-robin sings into light The lone white star of the hills. Alone in the dusk he sings, And a burden of sorrow and wrong Is lifted up from the earth And carried away in song. —BLISS CARMAN.

John McIntyre, still dressed in the fine black suit Martin had given him for the wedding, was slowly walking up the old swamp road toward the ravine. The festivities of the day, and the gracious manner of the Duke, had so wrought upon Sandy McQuarry that he had, in a moment of reckless extravagance, bidden his watchman take a rest that night, instead of returning to the mill. So Tim and he were going off on an important expedition. They had promised Martin that before he and Arabella returned they would walk down past the Drowned Lands and take a look at the fine new farm he had bought, and which they were all three to work together. And Tim's impatience demanded that they go this evening, for he had already laid great plans for sowing the entire three hundred acres with prize pumpkins, to be raised for the show.

John McIntyre moved along lingeringly, watching for the little, limping figure of his boy. He could see far up the green vista of the ravine, where the shades of evening were gathering. He smiled as he thought of the name the queer Englishman had given it; a Treasure Valley, indeed, the place had proved to him, for here, after long groping in darkness, he had found again the treasure of life.

He turned and looked back, his eyes following the course of the little stream. It wound past his old cabin, lost itself in the green wilderness of the Drowned Lands, and passed on again through the open fields to that rose-colored line on the horizon, where Lake Simcoe smiled responsive to the glow of the western heavens. He gazed at it earnestly, and was struck with the strange feeling that he had seen it all before, long ago. The slow music of a bell from a cow feeding far down the corduroy road echoed musically up the wooded aisle. Far off in a clover meadow a clear "cling-cling" floated up, where young Donald McKitterick stood sharpening his scythe. Some subtle influence seemed to have transported him into the past. He looked at the darkening purple of the woods, on one side, and at the sunny undulations of the fields on the other, and the feeling of familiarity grew stronger. This strange spirit of peace, this sense of tender associations, what was causing it? Then a little breeze, laden with the clean scent of running water, came dancing through the long grass, and all at once John McIntyre understood. In his blindness, he had not noticed it before—it was his old home come back to him! Here at his side ran the river that passed his farm, there was the strip of woodland; and yonder, on the horizon, not Lake Simcoe, but the dazzling stretches of the Bay of Fundy! And how wondrously like it all was, this evening, to that last peaceful night he remembered so well, just before the shadows of distress had begun to gather.

Over there, to the west, the sun was slipping down to the earth, a great fiery ball dropping from an empty sky. It touched the earth, and kindled the fields to a glory of color; the woods took on a deeper purple tone, and the little river ran into its depths, a stream of molten gold. Just at John McIntyre's feet it passed through a bronze fretwork of reeds, and above it the swallows wheeled, flashing, up and up into the amber light.

The man stood, with a rising mist in his eyes obscuring the dear familiarity of the scene. Yes, he was home again truly; and up there beyond the glowing heavens, safer and happier than they had ever been in the home nest among the orchards; they waited for him, Mary and their little ones.

And still he stood, waiting, in the long, scented June grass, with a feeling of further expectancy. This was home truly, but there was something wanting—some subtle touch, half remembered, half forgotten.

And then from the shadowy hush of the woods the answer came. Away in the darkening depths there arose a strain of music, serene as though the spirit of the twilight had taken voice:

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

John McIntyre's heart gave a leap of joy that was almost pain. The hermit thrush! His thrush, singing in the Ontario woods! The song floated out, filling the purple valley, sweet, tender, celestial, speaking perfect peace and tranquillity, and calling to his soul to bow in thankfulness before his Maker. The man took off his hat, and stood with bowed head. Perhaps it was a miracle, part of the miracle of love, that had recreated his old home about him. And why not? For was there anything too wonderful to happen to one who knew that his Father ruled, and was a Being whose very name was Love? Perhaps the hermit thrush had been sent to him, a special messenger to remind him that He was with him still, and would be to the end—that One who had spoken to him out of the dawn mists of the Drowned Lands, the One who would walk with him through the lonely years till he joined Mary in the Home above, the One from whose tender care he could never be separated, either by sorrow or death.

A long, clear call from the hilltop behind, and Tim's little figure came scrambling over the fence. The man did not move, for once more the song arose, and poured forth a strain of purest melody:

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

It died lingeringly away. The woods were dark and silent. John McIntyre turned and went up the hill, smiling, his face to the Light.



THE END

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