A BEAUTIFUL POSSIBILITY
EDITH FERGUSON BLACK
A BEAUTIFUL POSSIBILITY.
In one of the fairest of the West Indian islands a simple but elegant villa lifted its gabled roofs amidst a bewildering wealth of tropical beauty. Brilliant birds flitted among the foliage, gold and silver fishes darted to and fro in a large stone basin of a fountain which threw its glittering spray over the lawn in front of the house, and on the vine-shaded veranda hammocks hung temptingly, and low wicker chairs invited to repose.
Behind the jalousies of the library the owner of the villa sat at a desk, busily writing. He was a slight, delicate looking man, with an expression of careless good humor upon his face and an easy air of assurance according with the interior of the room which bespoke a cultured taste and the ability to gratify it. Books were everywhere, rare bits of china, curios and exquisitely tinted shells lay in picturesque confusion upon tables and wall brackets of native woods; soft silken draperies fell from the windows and partially screened from view a large alcove where microscopes of different sizes stood upon cabinets whose shelves were filled with a miscellaneous collection of rare plants and beautiful insects, specimens from the agate forest of Arizona, petrified remains from the 'Bad Lands' of Dakota, feathery fronded seaweed, skeletons of birds and strange wild creatures, and all the countless curiosities in which naturalists delight.
Lenox Hildreth when a young man, forced to flee from the rigors of the New England climate by reason of an inherited tendency to pulmonary disease, had chosen Barbadoes as his adopted country, and had never since revisited the land of his birth. From the first, fortune had smiled upon him, and when, some time after his marriage with the daughter of a wealthy planter, she had come into possession of all her father's estates, he had built the house which for fifteen years he had called home. When Evadne, their only daughter, was a little maiden of six, his wife had died, and for nine years father and child had been all the world to each other.
He finished writing at last with a sigh of relief, and folding the letter, together with one addressed to Evadne, he enclosed both in a large envelope which he sealed and addressed to Judge Hildreth, Marlborough, Mass. Then he leaned back in his chair, and, clasping his hands behind his head, looked fixedly at the picture of his fair young wife which hung above his desk.
"A bad job well done, Louise—or a good one. Our little lass isn't very well adapted to making her way among strangers, and the Bohemianism of this life is a poor preparation for the heavy respectability of a New England existence. Lawrence is a good fellow, but that wife of his always put me in mind of iced champagne, sparkling and cold." He sighed heavily, "Poor little Vad! It is a dreary outlook, but it seems my one resource. Lawrence is the only relative I have in the world.
"After all, I may be fighting windmills, and years hence may laugh at this morning's work as an example of the folly of yielding to unnecessary alarm. Danvers is getting childish. All physicians get to be old fogies, I fancy, a natural sequence to a life spent in hunting down germs I suppose. They grow to imagine them where none exist."
He rose, and strolled out on the veranda. As he did so, a negro, whose snow-white hair had earned for him from his master the sobriquet of Methusaleh, came towards the broad front steps. He was a grotesque image as he stood doffing a large palm-leaf hat, and Lenox Hildreth felt an irresistible inclination to laugh, and laughed accordingly. His morning's occupation had been one of the rare instances in which he had run counter to his inclinations. Sky blue cotton trousers showed two brown ankles before his feet hid themselves in a pair of clumsy shoes; a scarlet shirt, ornamented with large brass buttons and fastened at the throat with a cotton handkerchief of vivid corn color, was surmounted by an old nankeen coat, upon whose gaping elbows a careful wife had sewn patches of green cloth; his hands were encased in white cotton gloves three sizes too large, whose finger tips waved in the wind as their wearer flourished his palm-leaf headgear in deprecating obeisance.
"Well, Methusaleh, where are you off to now?" and Lenox Hildreth leaned against a flower wreathed pillar in lazy amusement.
"To camp-meetin', Mass Hildreff. I hez your permission, sah?" and the negro rolled his eyes with a ludicrous expression of humility.
His master laughed with the easy indulgence which made his servants impose upon him.
"You seem to have taken it, you rascal. It is rather late in the day to ask for permission when you and your store clothes are all ready for a start."
"'Scuse me, Mass Hildreff," with another deprecating wave of the palm-leaf hat, "but yer see I knowed yer wouldn't dissapint me of de priv'lege uv goin' ter camp-meetin' nohow."
Lenox Hildreth held his cigar between his slender fingers and watched the tiny wreaths of smoke as they circled about his head.
"So camp-meeting is a privilege, is it?" he said carelessly. "How much more good will it do you to go there than to stay at home and hoe my corn?"
The eyes were rolled up until only the whites were visible.
"Powerful sight more good, Mass Hildreff. De preacher's 'n uncommon relijus man, an' de 'speriences uv de bredren is mighty upliftin'. Yes, sah!"
"Well, see that they don't lift you up so high that you'll forget to come down again. I suppose you have an experience in common with the rest?"
"Yes, Mass Hildreff," and the palm-leaf made another gyration through the air. "I'se got a powerful 'sperience, sah."
"Well, off you go. It would be a pity to deprive the assembly of such an edifying specimen of sanctimoniousness."
"Yes, sah, I'se bery sanktimonyus. I'se 'bliged to you, sah."
With a last obsequious flourish the palm-leaf was restored to its resting-place upon the snowy wool, and the negro shambled away. When he had gone a few yards a sudden thought struck his master and he called,—
"Methusaleh, I say, Methusaleh!"
"Yes, sah," and the servant retraced his steps.
"What about that turkey of mine that you stole last week? You can't go to camp-meeting with that on your conscience. Come, now, better take off your finery and repent in sackcloth and ashes."
For an instant the negro was nonplused, then the palm-leaf was flourished grandiloquently, while its owner said in a voice of withering scorn,—
"Laws! Mass Hildreff, do yer spose I'se goin' ter neglec' de Lawd fer one lil' turkey?"
His master turned on his heel with a low laugh. "Of a piece with the whole of them!" he said bitterly. "Hypocrites and shams!"
"Evadne!" he exclaimed impetuously, as a slight girlish figure came towards him, "never say a single word that you do not mean nor express a sensation that you have not felt. It is the people who neglect this rule who play havoc with themselves and the world."
"Why, dearest, you frighten me!" and the girl slipped her hand through his arm with a low, sweet laugh. "I never saw you look so solemn before."
"Hypocrisy, Vad, is the meanest thing on earth! The pious people at the church yonder call me an unbeliever, but they've got themselves to thank for it. I may be a good-for-nothing but at least I will not preach what I do not practise."
"You are as good as gold, dearest. I won't have you say such horrid things! And you don't need to preach anything. I am sure no one in all the world could be happier than we."
Her father put his hand under her chin, and, lifting her face towards his, looked long and earnestly at the pure brow, about which the brown hair clustered in natural curls, the clear-cut nose, the laughing lips parted over a row of pearls, and the wonderful deep gray eyes.
"Are you happy, little one?" he asked wistfully. "Are you quite sure about that?"
"Happy!" the girl echoed the word with an incredulous smile. "Why, dearest, what has come to you? You never needed to ask me such a question before! Don't you know there isn't a girl in Barbadoes who has been so thoroughly spoiled, and has found the spoiling so sweet? Do I look more than usually mournful to-day that you should think I am pining away with grief?" She looked up at him with a roguish laugh.
He smiled and laid his finger caressingly on the dimpled chin. "Dear little bird!" he said tenderly; "but when this dimple captivates the heart of some one, Vad, you will fly away and leave the poor father in the empty nest."
Her color glowed softly through the olive skin. She threw her arms around his neck and laid her face against his breast. "You know better!" she exclaimed passionately. "You know I wouldn't leave you for all the 'some ones' in the world!"
Her father caught her close. "Poor little lass!" he said with a sigh.
The girl lifted her head and looked at him anxiously. "Dearest, what is the matter? I am sure you are not well! You have been sitting too long at that tiresome writing."
"Yes, that is it, darling," he said with a sudden change of tone. "Writing always does give me the blues. I think the man who invented the art should have been put in a pillory for the rest of his natural life. Blow your whistle for Sam to bring the horses and we will go for a ride along the beach."
Evadne lifted the golden whistle which hung at her girdle and blew the call which the well-trained servant understood. "Fi, dearest!" she said, "if there were no writing there would be no books, and what would become of our beautiful evenings then? But I am glad you do not have to write much, since it tires you so. What has it all been about, dear? Am I never to know?"
"Some day, perhaps, little Vad. But do not indulge in the besetting sin of your sex, or, like the mother of the race, you may find your apple choke you in the chewing."
Evadne shook her finger at him. "Naughty one! As if you were not three times as curious as I! And when it comes to waiting,—you should have named me Patience, sir!"
Her father laughed as he kissed her, then he tied on her hat, threw on his own, and hand-in-hand like two children they ran down the veranda steps to where the groom stood waiting with the horses.
A month full of happy days had flown by when Evadne and her father returned one morning from a long tramp in search of specimens. A delightful afternoon had followed, he in a hammock, she on a low seat beside him, arranging, classifying and preparing their morning's spoil for the microscope. Suddenly she turned towards him with a troubled face.
"Dearest, how pale you look! Are you very tired?"
"It is only the heat," he answered lightly. "We had a pretty stiff walk this morning, you know."
"And I carried you on and on!" she cried reproachfully. "I was so anxious to find this particular crab. Isn't he a pretty fellow?" and she lifted the box that her father might watch the tiny creature's play. "I shall go at once and make you an orange sherbet."
"Let Dinah do it and you stay here with me."
"No indeed! You know you think no one can make them as well as I do. I promise you this one shall be superfine."
"As you will, little one,—only don't stay away too long."
He lay very still after she had left him, looking dreamily through the vines at the silver spray of the fountain. The air had grown oppressively sultry; no breath of wind stirred the heavily drooping leaves, no sound except the rhythmic splash of the fountain and the soft lapping of the waves upon the beach. He closed his eyes while their ceaseless monotone seemed to beat upon his brain.
"Forever! Forever! Forever!"
A spasm of pain crossed his face as Evadne's voice woke the echoes with a merry song. "Poor little lass!" he murmured. Then he smiled as she came towards him, quaffed off the beverage she had prepared with loving skill, and called her the best cook in all the Indies.
"Has it refreshed you, dearest?" she asked anxiously.
"Immensely! Now you shall read me some of Lalla Rookh, and after dinner I will set about making a Mecca for your crab."
Evadne stroked the dainty claws,—
"Poor little chap! So you are a pilgrim like the rest of us. I wish we did not have to go on and on, dearest!" she exclaimed passionately, "why cannot we stand still and enjoy?"
"It would grow monotonous, little Vad. Progress is the law of all being, and seventy years of life is generally enough for the majority. You would not like to live to be an old lady of two hundred and fifty? Think how tired you would be!"
She laid her cheek against his upon the pillow. "I should never grow tired,—with you!"
The evening drew on, hot and breathless. Low growls of distant thunder were heard at intervals, and in the eastern sky the lightning played.
Evadne watched it, sitting on the top step of the veranda, her white muslin dress in happy contrast with the deep green of the vines which clustered thickly about the pillar against which she leaned. On the step below her a young man sat. He too was clad in white and the rich crimson of the silken scarf which he wore about his waist enhanced his Spanish beauty. A zither lay across his knees over which his hands wandered skilfully as he made the air tremble with dreamy music. Mr. Hildreth paced slowly up and down the veranda behind them.
"What is the news from the great world, Geoff? I saw a troop ship signaled this morning. Have you been on board yet?"
"No, sir, I have been looking over the plantation with my father all day, and only got home in time for dinner."
"You chose a cool time for it!" and Mr. Hildreth laughed.
Geoffrey Chittenden shrugged his shoulders. "When Geoffrey Chittenden, Senior, makes up his mind to do anything, he has the most sublime indifference for the thermometer of any one I ever had the honor of knowing. But the ship only brought a small detachment, I believe; she will carry away a larger one. The garrison here is to be reduced, you know."
"Yes, it is a mistake I think. Will Drewson have to go? He has been on this Station longer than any of the others."
"Yes, his company has marching orders for Malta. He told me last night he was coming to take leave of you next week."
"Our nice Captain Drewson going away!" Evadne exclaimed, aghast. "Why, dearest, he is one of our oldest friends!"
"The law of progression, Vad darling."
"How I hate it!" she cried, while her lips trembled. "Why can't we just live on in the old happy way? You will be going next, Geoff, and the Hamiltons and the Vandervoorts. Does nothing last?"
Her voice hushed itself into silence and again Lenox Hildreth heard the soft waves singing,—
"Forever! Forever! Forever!"
"Oh yes, Evadne," Geoffrey said with a laugh: "we are very lasting. It is only the unfortunate people under military rule who prove unreliable. Let me sing you my latest song to cheer your spirits. I only learned it last week."
He struck a few chords and was beginning his song when a low groan made him spring to his feet. Evadne passed him like a flash of light and flew to her father's side. He was leaning heavily against a pillar with his handkerchief, already showing crimson stains, pressed tightly against his lips.
They laid him gently down and summoned help. After that all was like a horrible dream to Evadne. She was dimly conscious that friends came with ready offers of assistance, and that Barbadoes' best physicians were unremitting in their efforts to stop the hemorrhage; while she stood like a statue beside her father's bed. She was absolutely still. When at last the hemorrhage was checked the exhaustion was terrible. Evadne longed to throw herself beside him and pillow the dear head upon her bosom, but Dr. Danvers had whispered,—
"A sudden sound may start the hemorrhage again,—the slightest shock is sure to." After that, not for worlds would she have moved a finger.
The day passed and another night drew on. One of the physicians was constantly in attendance, for the hemorrhage returned at intervals. Just as the rose-tinted dawn looked shyly through the windows, her father spoke, and Evadne bent her head to catch the faint tone of the voice which sounded so far away.
"Vad, darling, I have made an awful mistake! I thought everything a sham. I know better now. Make it the business of your life, little Vad, to find Jesus Christ."
Again the red stream stained his lips, and Dr. Danvers came swiftly forward, but Lenox Hildreth was forever beyond all need of human care.
* * * * *
A week passed, and day after day Evadne sat by her window, speaking no word. Outdoors the fountain still sparkled in the sunshine and the birds sang, but for her the foundations of life had been shaken to their center. Her friends tried in vain to break up her unnatural calm.
"If you would only have a good cry, Evadne," Geoffrey Chittenden said at last, "you would feel better, dear. That is what all girls do, you know."
She turned upon him a pair of solemn eyes, out of which the merry sparkle had faded. "Will crying give me back my father?"
"Why, no, dear. Of course I didn't mean that. But these things are bound to happen to us all, sooner or later, you know. It is the rule of life."
"'The law of progression,'" she said with a dreary laugh. "I wish the world would stop for good!"
When the clergyman came she met him quietly, and he found himself not a little disconcerted by the steady gaze of the mournful grey eyes. He was not accustomed to dealing with such wordless grief, and he found his favorite phrases sadly inadequate to the occasion. There was an awkward pause.
"Dr. Danvers says your father told him some time ago that, in the event of his death, he wished you to make your home with your uncle in America?" he said at length.
"Well, my dear young lady, you will find it in all respects a most desirable home, I feel confident. Judge Hildreth holds a position of great trust in the church, and is universally esteemed as a Christian gentleman of sterling character."
The grey eyes were lifted to his face.
"Shall I find Jesus Christ there?"
"Jesus Christ?" The clergyman echoed her words with a start. "I beg your pardon, my dear. The Lord sitteth upon his throne in the heavens. We must approach him reverently, with humble fear."
"That seems a long way off," said Evadne in a disappointed tone. "There must be some mistake. My father told me to make it the business of my life to find him."
"Your father, my dear! Oh, ah, ahem!"
An indignant flash leaped into the grey eyes. Evadne rose and faced him. "You must excuse me, sir," she said quietly. Then she left the room.
And the tears, which all the kindly sympathy had failed to bring her, at the first breath of censure fell about her like a flood.
Judge Hildreth sat with his family at dinner in the spacious dining-room of one of the finest houses in Marlborough. He was a handsome man, with a stateliness of manner attributable in part to the deferential homage which Marlborough paid to his opinion in all matters of importance. His wife, tall and queenly, sat opposite him. Two daughters and a son completed the family group. Louis Hildreth had his father's dark blue eyes and regular features, but there were weak lines about the mouth which betokened a lack of purpose, and the expression of his face was marred by a cynical smile which was fast becoming habitual with him. Isabelle, the eldest, was tall and fair, except for a chill hauteur which set strangely upon one so young, while her firmly set lips betokened the existence of a strong will which completely dominated her less self-reliant sister. Marion Hildreth was just Evadne's age, with a pink and white beauty and soft eyes which turned deprecatingly at intervals towards Isabelle, as though to ask pardon for imaginary solecisms against Miss Hildreth's code of etiquette.
The covers were being changed for the second course when a servant entered and approached the Judge, bearing a cablegram upon a silver salver. He ran his eyes hastily over its contents, then he leaned back heavily against his chair, while an expression of genuine sorrow settled down upon his face.
"Your Uncle Lenox is dead," he said briefly, as the girls plied him with questions.
"Dead!" Mrs. Hildreth's voice broke the hush which had fallen in the room. "Why, Lawrence, this is very sudden! We have looked upon Lenox as being perfectly well."
"It is not safe to count anyone well, Kate, who carries such a lurking serpent in his bosom. Only forty-three! Just in his prime. Poor Len!" The Judge leaned his head upon his hand, while his thoughts were busy with memories of the gay young brother who had filled the old homestead with his merry nonsense.
"And what will become of Evadne?" Again Mrs. Hildreth's voice broke the silence.
"Evadne?" the Judge looked full in his wife's face. "Why, my dear, there is only one thing to be done. I shall cable immediately to have her come to us." He rose from the table, his dinner all untasted, and left the room.
Louis was the first to speak. "A Barbadoes cousin. How will you like having such a novelty as that, Sis, to introduce among your acquaintance?" He bowed lazily to Mrs. Hildreth. "Let me congratulate you, lady mother. You will have the pleasure of floating another bud into blossom upon the bosom of society."
"I do not see any room for congratulation, Louis," Mrs. Hildreth said discontentedly. "It is a dreadful responsibility. One does not know what the child may be like."
"Hardly a child, mamma," pouted Marion. "Evadne must be as old as I."
"If that is so, Sis, she must have the wisdom of Methusaleh!" and Louis looked at his sister with one of his mocking smiles. "At any rate she will afford scope for your powers of training, Isabelle. It must be depressing to have to waste your eloquence upon an audience of one."
Isabelle tossed her head. "I am not anxious for the opportunity," she said coldly. "Likely the child will be a perfect heathen after running wild among savages all her life."
Louis whistled. "A little less Grundy and a little more geography would be to your advantage, Isabelle! Barbadoes happens to be the creme de la creme of the British Indies. I would not advise you to display your ignorance before Evadne, or your future lecturettes on the conventionalities may prove lacking in vital force."
"Why, Isabelle, my dear, you must be dreaming!" and her mother looked annoyed. "Don't let your father hear you say such a thing, I beg of you! When he visited Barbadoes he was delighted, and he thought Evadne's mother one of the most charming women he had ever met. If she had lived of course Evadne would be all right, but she has been left entirely to her father's guidance, and he had such peculiar ideas."
"When, did she die, mamma?" asked Marion.
"I am sure I cannot remember. Six or seven years ago it must have been. But we rarely heard from them. Your Uncle Lenox was always a wretched correspondent, and since his wife's death he has hardly written at all."
"The house of Hildreth cannot claim to be well posted in the matter of blood relations," said Louis carelessly, as he helped himself to olives.
* * * * *
Upon the deck of one of the Ocean Greyhounds a promiscuous crowd was gathered. Returning tourists in all the glory of field glasses and tweed suits; British officers going home on furlough from the different outposts where they were stationed; merchants from the rich markets of the far East; picturesque foreigners in national costume; and a bishop who paced the deck with a dignity becoming his ecclesiastical rank. There was a continuous hum of conversation, mingled with intermittent ripples of laughter from the different groups which were scattered about the deck. Among the exceptions to the general sociability were the bishop, still pacing up and down with his hands clasped behind him, and a young girl who sat looking far out over the waves, utterly heedless of the noise and confusion around her.
She was absolutely alone. The gentleman under whose care she was traveling made a point of escorting her to meals, after which he invariably secured her a comfortable deck chair, supplied her liberally with rugs and books, and then retired to the smoking-room, with the serene consciousness of duty well performed; and Evadne Hildreth was thankful to be left in peace. She was no longer the buoyant, merry girl. Her vitality seemed crushed. Hour after hour she sat motionless, her hands folded listlessly in her lap, looking out over the dancing waves. She had caught the last glimpse of her beloved island in a grey stupor. Everything was gone,—father and home and friends,—nothing that happened could matter now,—but, oh, the dreary, dreary years! Did the sun shine in far-away New England, and could the water be as blue as her dear Atlantic, with the gay ripple on its bosom and the music of its waves? She looked at the tender sky, as on the far horizon it bent low to kiss the face of the mysterious mighty ocean which stretched "a sea without a shore." That was like her life now. All the beauty ended, yet stretching on and on and on. And she must keep pace with it, against her will. And there was no one to care. She was all alone! No, there was Jesus Christ!
She started to find that the Bishop's lady was speaking to her. Evadne recognized her, for she sat at the next table, and several times she had stood aside to let her pass to her seat. Something about the solitary, pathetic little figure, the hopeless face and mournful grey eyes, had won the compassion of the good lady, for she was a kindly soul.
"My dear, you have a great sorrow?" she said gently. "I hope you have the consolations of our holy religion to help you bear it."
Evadne turned towards her eagerly. Her husband was the head of the church. Surely she would know.
"Can you help me to find him?" she asked abruptly.
"Find whom, my dear? Have you a friend among the passengers?"
"Oh!" The Bishop's lady sat back with the suddenness of the shock, "Are you in earnest, my dear?" she asked with a tinge of severity in her tone. "This is a very serious question, but, if you really mean it, I will lend you my Prayer Book."
Evadne smiled drearily. "Oh, yes, I am terribly in earnest. My father said I was to make it the business of my life."
"Oh, ah, yes, to be sure," said the lady a trifle absently. "That is very proper. Christianity should be the great purpose of our life."
"I do not want Christianity," said Evadne impatiently, "I want Christ."
"My dear, you shock me! The eternal verities of our holy religion must ever be—"
"Do you believe in him?" asked Evadne, interrupting her.
"Believe in him? whom do you mean?"
Aghast, the Bishop's lady crossed herself and began repeating the Apostles' Creed.
"That makes him seem so far away," said Evadne sadly. "I do not want him in heaven if I have to live upon earth. Have you found him?" she asked eagerly. "Are you on intimate terms with him? Is he your friend?"
The Bishop's lady gasped for breath. That she, a member of the Church of the Holy Communion of All Saints should be interrogated in such a fashion as this! "I think you do not quite understand," she said coldly. "I will lend you a treatise on Church Doctrine. You had better study that."
"Charlotte," said her husband when she reached her stateroom, "I have arrived at an important decision this afternoon. I have finally concluded to take the Socinian Heresy as my theme for the noon lectures. The subject will admit of elaborate treatment and afford ample scope for scholarship."
"Heresy!" echoed his wife, who had not yet recovered her equanimity; "why, Bertram, I have just been talking to a young person who asked me if I was on intimate terms with Jesus Christ!"
"Ah, yes," said the Bishop absently, "the radical tendencies of the present day are to be deplored. Have you seen that my vestments are in order, Charlotte? I shall hold Divine service on board to-morrow."
In a neighboring stateroom a lonely soul, bewildered and despairing, struggled through the darkness towards the light.
* * * * *
The last snow of the winter lay in soft beauty upon the streets of Marlborough as Evadne's train drew into the railway station. Instantly all was bustle and confusion throughout the cars. Evadne shrank back in her seat and waited. Instinctively she felt that for her there would be no joyous welcome. Inexpressibly dreary as the journey had been she was sorry it was at an end. An overwhelming embarrassment of shyness seized upon her, and the chill desolation of loneliness seemed to shut down about her like a cloud.
A young man sauntered past her with his hands in his pockets. When he reached the end of the car he turned and surveyed the passengers leisurely, then he came back to her seat. He lifted his hat with lazy politeness.
"Miss Hildreth, I believe?"
Evadne bowed. He shook hands coolly.
"I have the honor of introducing myself as your cousin Louis."
He made no attempt to give her a warmer greeting, and Evadne was glad, but how dreary it was!
Louis led the way out of the station to where a pair of magnificent horses stood, tossing their regal heads impatiently. A colored coachman stood beside them, clad in fur.
"Pompey," he said, "this is Miss Evadne Hildreth from Barbadoes."
The man bent his head low over the little hand which was instantly stretched out to him. "I'se very glad to see Miss 'Vadney," he said with simple fervor. "I was powerful fond of Mass Lennux;" and Evadne felt she had received her warmest welcome.
She nestled down among the soft robes of the sleigh while the silver bells rang merrily through the frosty air. It was all so new and strange. A leaden weight seemed to be settling down upon her heart and she felt as if she were choking, but she threw it off. She dared not let herself think. She began to talk rapidly.
"What splendid horses you have! Surely they must be thoroughbreds? No ordinary horses could ever hold their heads like that."
Louis nodded. "You have a quick eye," he said approvingly. "Most girls would not know a thoroughbred from a draught horse. You have hit upon the surest way to get into my father's good graces. His horses are his hobby."
"What are their names?"
"Brutus and Caesar. The Judge is nothing if not classical."
As they mounted the front steps the faint notes of a guitar sounded from the front room.
"Confound Isabelle and her eternal twanging!" muttered Louis, as he fumbled for his latch-key. "It would be a more orthodox welcome if you found your relations waiting for you with open arms, but the Hildreth family is not given to gush. Isabelle will tell you it is not good form. So we keep our emotions hermetically sealed and stowed away under decorous lock and key, polite society having found them inconvenient things to handle, partaking of the nature of nitroglycerine, you know, and liable to spontaneous combustion."
He opened the door as he spoke and Evadne followed him into the hall. She shivered, although a warm breath of heated air fanned her cheek. The atmosphere was chilly.
Marion, hurried forward to greet her, followed more leisurely by Isabelle and her mother, who touched her lips lightly to her forehead.
"I hope you have had a pleasant journey, my dear, although you must find our climate rather stormy. I think you might as well let the girls take you at once to your room and then we will have dinner."
"Where is the Judge?" inquired Louis.
"Detained again at the office. He has just telephoned not to wait for him. He is killing himself with overwork."
To Evadne the dinner seemed interminable and she found herself contrasting the stiff formality with the genial hospitality of her father's table. She saw again the softly lighted room with its open windows through which the flowers peeped, and heard his gay badinage and his low, sweet laugh. Could she be the same Evadne, or was it all a dream?
Isabelle stood beside her as she began to prepare for the night. She wished she would go away. The burden of loneliness grew every moment more intolerable. Suddenly she turned towards her cousin and cried in desperation,—
"Can you tell me where I shall find Jesus Christ?"
Isabelle started. "My goodness, Evadne, what a strange question! You took my breath away."
"Is it a strange question?" she asked wistfully. "Everyone seems to think so, and yet—my father said I was to make it the business of my life to find him."
"Your father!" cried Isabelle. "Why Uncle Lenox was an——"
Instantly a pair of small hands were held like a vice against her lips. Isabelle threw them off angrily.
"You are polite, I must say! Is this a specimen of West Indian manners?"
"You were going to say something I could not hear," said Evadne quietly, "there was nothing else to do."
Isabelle left the room, and, returning, threw a book carelessly upon the table. "You had better study that," she said. "It will answer your questions better than I can."
"I told you she was a heathen!" she exclaimed, as she rejoined her mother in the sitting-room; "but I did not know that I should have to turn missionary the first night and give her a Bible!"
Upstairs Evadne buried her face among the pillows and the aching heart burst its bonds in one long quivering cry of pain.
A day full of light—warm and brilliant. The sun flooding the wide fields of timothy and clover and fresh young grain with glory; falling with a soft radiance upon the comfortable mansion of the master of Hollywood Farm, with its spacious barns and long stretches of stabling, and throwing loving glances among the leaves of its deep belt of woodland where the river sparkled and soft rugs of moss spread their rich luxuriance over an aesthetic carpet of resinous pine needles.
Near the limits of Hollywood the forest made a sudden curve to the right, and the river, turned from its course, rushed, laughing and eager, over a ridge of rocks which tossed it in the air in sheets of silver spray.
Standing there, leaning upon a gun, a boy of about seventeen looked long at a squirrel whose mangled body was staining the emerald beauty of the moss with crimson. His face was earnest and troubled, while the expression of sorrowful contempt which swept over it, made him seem older than he was. It was a strong face, with deep-set, thoughtful eyes which lit up wondrously when he was interested or pleased. His mouth was sensitive but his chin was firm and his brown hair fell in soft waves over a broad, full brow. People always took it for granted that John Randolph would be as good as his word. They never reasoned about it. They simply expected it of him.
He began to speak, and his voice fell clear and distinct through the silence.
"And you call this sport?" There was no answer save the soft gurgle of the river as it splashed merrily over the stones.
"You are a brute, John Randolph!" And the wind sighed a plaintive echo among the trees.
He was silent while the words which he had read six weeks before and which had been ringing a ceaseless refrain in his heart ever since, obtruded themselves upon his memory.
"It is the privilege of everyone to become an exact copy of Jesus Christ."
"Well, John Randolph, can you picture to yourself Jesus Christ shooting a squirrel for sport?" He tossed aside the weapon he had been leaning upon with a gesture of disgust, and, folding his arms, looked up at the cloud-flecked sky.
"Are you there, Jesus Christ?" he asked wistfully. "Are you looking down on this poor old world, and what do you think of it all? Men made in God's image finding their highest enjoyment in slaughtering his creatures. Game Preserves where they can do it in luxurious leisure; fox hunts with their pack of hunters and hounds in full cry after one poor defenceless fox, and battle-fields where they tear each other limb from limb with Gatling gun and shells; and yet we call ourselves honorable gentlemen, and talk of the delights of the chase and the glories of war! Pshaw! what a mockery it is."
Stooping suddenly he laid the squirrel upon his open palm and gently stroked the long, silky fur. He lifted the tiny paws with their perfect equipment for service and looked remorsefully at the eyes whose light was dimmed, and the mouth which had forever ceased its merry chatter. A great tenderness sprang up in his heart toward all living things and, lifting his right hand to heaven, he exclaimed, "Poor little squirrel, I cannot give you back your happy life, but, I will never take another!"
Then he knelt, and scooping out a grave, laid the little creature to rest at the foot of a tree in whose trunk the remnant of its winter store of nuts was carefully garnered. When at length he turned to leave the spot the tiny grave was marked by a pine slab, on which was pencilled,
"Here lies the germ of a resolve. July 17th, 18—"
He walked slowly along the fragrant wood-path, looking thoughtfully at the shadows as they played hide and seek upon the moss, while through the trees he caught glimpses of the sparkling river which sang as it rolled along.
When he reached the border of the woodland he stood still and his eyes swept over the landscape. Hollywood was the finest stock farm in the country. After his father's death he had come, a little lad, to live with Mr. Hawthorne, and every year which had elapsed since then made it grow more dear. He loved its rolling meadows, its breezy pastures and its fragrant orchards. Its beautifully kept grounds and outbuildings appealed to his innate sense of the fitness of things, while its air of abundant comfort made it difficult to realize that the world was full of hunger and woe. He loved the green road where the wild roses blushed and the honeysuckle drooped its fragrant petals, but most of all he loved the graceful horses and sleek cows which just now were grazing in the fields on either side; and the shy creatures, with the subtle instinct by which all animals test the quality of human friendship, took him into their confidence and came gladly at his call and did his bidding.
When he reached the end of the road he stopped again, and, leaning against the fence adjoining the broad gate which led to the house, gave a low whistle. A thoroughbred Jersey, feeding some distance away, lifted her head and listened. Again he whistled, and with soft, slow tread the cow came towards him and rubbed her nose against his arm. He took her head between his hands, her clover-laden breath fanning his cheeks, and looked at the dark muzzle and the large eyes, almost human in their tenderness.
"Well, Primrose, old lady, you're as dainty as your namesake, and as sweet. Ah, Sylph, you beauty!" he continued, as a calf like a young fawn approached the gate, "you can't rest away from your mammy, can you? Primrose, have you any aspirations, or are you content simply to eat and drink? You have a good time of it now, but what if you were kicked and cuffed and starved? You are sensitive, for I saw you shrink and shiver when Bill Wright,—the scoundrel!—dared to strike you. He'll never do it again, Prim! Have you the taste of an epicure for the juicy grass blades and the clover when it is young,—do you love to hear the birds sing and the brook murmur, and do you enjoy living under the trees and watching the clouds chase the sunbeams as you chew your cud? Do you wonder why the cold winter comes and you have to be shut up in a stall with a different kind of fodder? Do you ever wonder who gave you life and what you are meant to do with it? How I wish you could talk, old lady!"
He vaulted over the gate, and whistling to a fine collie who came bounding to meet him, walked slowly on towards the stables.
"Hulloa, John!" and a boy about two years his junior threw himself off a horse reeking with foam. "Rub Sultan down a bit like a good fellow. There'll be the worst kind of a row if the governor sees him in this pickle."
John Randolph looked indignantly at the handsome horse, as he stood with drooping head and wide distended nostrils, while the white foam dripped over his delicate legs.
"Serve you right if there were!" and his voice was full of scorn. "You're about as fit to handle horseflesh as an Esquimaux."
"Oh, pish! You're a regular old grandmother, John. There's nothing to make such a row about." And Reginald Hawthorne turned upon his heel.
John threw off coat and vest, and, rolling up his sleeves, led the exhausted horse to the currying ground. Reginald followed slowly, his hands in his pockets.
"How did you get him into such a mess?" he asked shortly.
"I don't know, I didn't do anything to him," and Reginald kicked the gravel discontentedly. "I believe he's getting lazy."
"Sultan lazy!" and John laughed incredulously. "That's a good joke! Why, he is the freest horse on the place!"
"Well, I don't know how else to explain it. He's been on the go pretty steadily, but what's a horse good for? Thursday afternoon we had our cross-country run and the ground was horribly stiff. I thought he had sprained his off foreleg for he limped a good deal on the home stretch, but he seemed to limber up all right the last few miles. I was sorry not to let him rest yesterday; would have put him in better trim I suppose for to-day's twenty mile pull,—but Cartwright and Peterson wanted to make up a tandem, and when they asked for Sultan I didn't like to refuse. They are heavy swells, and you know father wants me to get in with that lot. But that shouldn't have hurt him. They only went as far as Brighton. What's fifteen miles to a horse!"
"Fifteen miles means thirty to a horse when he has to travel back the same road," said John drily; "and your heavy swells take the toll out of horseflesh quicker than a London cabby."
"Why, John, what has come to you? You're the last fellow in the world to want me to be churlish."
"That's true, Rege,—but I don't want them to cripple you as they have poor Sultan. What kind of fellows are they?"
"Oh, not a bad sort," said Reginald carelessly. "Lots of the needful, you know, and free with it. Not very fond of the grind, but always up to date when there are any good times going. What do you suppose put Sultan in such a lather, John? I was so afraid father would catch me that I came across the fields, and it was just as much as he could do to take the last fence. I made sure he was going to tumble."
"Well for you he didn't," and John smoothed the delicate limbs with his firm hand, "these knees are too pretty for a scar. Go into the vet room, Rege, and bring me out a roll of bandage."
"Hulloa! That will give me away to the governor with a vengeance! What are you going to bandage him for?"
"He is badly strained, and if I don't his legs will be all puffed by the morning. It will be lucky if it is nothing worse. He looks to me as if he was in for a touch of distemper, but I'll give him a powder and perhaps we can stave it off."
Reginald brought the bandage and then stood moodily striking at a beetle with his riding whip. He was turning away when a hand with a grip of steel was laid on his shoulder and he was forced back to where the beetle lay, a shapeless mass of quivering agony, while a low stern voice exclaimed,—
"Finish your work! Even the cannibals do that."
Reginald wrenched himself free. "Pshaw!" he said contemptuously, "it's only a beetle." But he did as he was told.
Then he stood silently watching as with swift skilfulness John swathed the horse's limbs in flannel. "I guess Sultan misses you, John. Over at the college livery their fingers are all thumbs."
"Poor Sultan!" was all John's answer, as he led the horse into a large paddock thickly strewn with fresh straw.
A night full of stars—silent and sweet. John Randolph leaned on the broad gate which opened into the green road where he had lingered in the afternoon. The thoughts which surged through his brain made sleep impossible, and so, lighting his bull's-eye, he had gone to the stables to see how Sultan was faring, and then wandered on under the mystery of the stars.
The night was warm. A breeze heavy with perfume lifted the hair from his brow. He heard the low breathing of the cattle as they dozed in the fields on either side, and the soft whirr of downy plumage as the great owl which had built its nest among the eaves of the new barn flew past him. Suddenly a warm nose was thrust against his shoulder and, with the assurance of a spoilt beauty, the cow laid her head upon his arm. He lifted his other hand and stroked it gently.
"Hah, Primrose! Are you awake, old lady? What are your views of life now, Prim? Do the shadows make it seem more weird and grand, or does midnight lose its awesomeness when one is upon four legs?"
He looked away to where the stars were throbbing with tender light, crimson and green and gold, and the words of the book which he had been studying every leisure moment for the past six weeks swept across his mental vision.
"'I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.'
"'The light of life,'" he repeated slowly. "Why, to most people life seems all darkness! What is 'the light of life'?"
Still other words came stealing to his memory. 'I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one cometh unto the Father, but by me.' 'Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.' 'This is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus.'
A great light flooded John Randolph's soul.
"'I' and 'me,'" he whispered. "Why, it is a personality. It is Jesus himself! He is the way to the kingdom, the truth of the kingdom and the life of it. The kingdom of heaven, not far away in space, but set up here and now in the hearts of men who live the life hid with Christ in God. I see it all! Jesus Christ is the light of the life which God gives us through his Son."
He stretched his hands up towards the glistening sky.
"Jesus Christ," he cried eagerly, "come into my life and make it light. I take thee for my Master, my Friend. I give myself away to thee. I will follow wherever thou dost lead. Jesus Christ, help me to grow like thee!"
The hush of a great peace fell upon his soul, while through the listening night an angel stooped and traced upon his brow the kingly motto, 'Ich Dien.'
"Don, Don, me's tumin'," and the baby of the farm, a little child with sunny curls and laughing eyes, ran past the great barns of Hollywood.
John Randolph was swinging along the green road with a bridle over his arm, whistling softly. He turned as the childish voice was borne to him on the breeze. "All right, Nansie, wait for me at the gate." Then he sprang over the fence and crossed the field to where a group of horses were feeding.
The child climbed up on the gate beside a saddle which John had placed there and waited patiently. He soon came back, leading a magnificent bay horse, and began to adjust the saddle.
"Now, Nan, I'll give you a ride to the house. Can't go any further to-day, for I have to cross the river."
The child shook her head confidently. "Me 'll go too, Don."
"I'm afraid not, Nan. The river is so deep, we'll have to swim for it. That is why I chose Neptune, you see."
"Me's not 'fraid, wiv 'oo, Don."
"Better wait, Baby, till the river is low. Well, come along then," as the wily schemer drew down her pretty lips into the aggrieved curve which always conquered his big, soft heart. She clapped her hands with glee, as he lifted her in front of him and started Neptune into a brisk trot, and made a bridle for herself out of the horse's silky mane.
"Gee, gee, Nepshun. Nan loves you, dear."
When they reached the fording place John's face grew grave. The river had risen during the night and was rushing along with turbulent strength. There was no house within five miles. His business was imperative. He dared not leave the child until he came back. Crouching upon the saddle, he clasped one arm about her while he twisted his other hand firmly in and out of the horse's mane.
"Are you afraid, Nansie?"
She twined her arms more tightly about his neck until the sunny curls brushed his cheek.
"Me'll do anywhere, wiv 'oo, Don."
Just as the gallant horse reached the opposite bank Reginald galloped down to the ford on his way home for Sunday.
"Upon my word, John, you're a perfect slave to that youngster! What mad thing will you be doing next, I wonder?"
"The next thing will be to go back again," said John with a smile, while Nan clung fast to his neck and peeped shyly through her curls at her brother.
"Where are you off to?"
Reginald turned his horse's head. "I might as well go along. A man's a fool to ride alone when he can have company."
John gave him a swift, comprehensive glance.
"How are things going, Rege? You're not looking very fit."
Reginald yawned and drew his hand across his heavy eyes. "Oh, all right. Oyster suppers and that sort of thing are apt to make a fellow drowsy."
"Don't go too fast, Rege."
"Why not?" said Reginald carelessly. "It suits the governor, and that book you're so fond of says children should obey their parents."
* * * * *
"I declare, John, you're a regular algebraic puzzle!" he exclaimed later in the day, as he stood beside John in the carpenter's shop, watching the curling strips of wood which his plane was tossing off with sweeping strokes. "You put all there is of you into everything you do. You take as much pains over a plough handle as you would over a buggy!"
"Why not? God takes as much pains with a humming-bird as an elephant. Mere size doesn't count."
"Nan loves you, Reggie," and a tiny hand was slipped shyly into her brother's.
"All right, Magpie," he said carelessly. "You had better run home now to mother. Your chatter makes my head ache."
The laughing lips quivered and the child turned away from him to John and hid her face against his knee. He lifted her up on the bench beside him and gave her a handful of shavings to play with.
"I don't see how you accomplish anything with that child everlastingly under your feet!" Reginald continued, "yet you do two men's work and seem to love it into the bargain. I'm sure if I had to cooper up all the things on the farm as you do, I should loathe the very sight of tools."
"I do love it, Rege. Jesus Christ was a carpenter, you know. I get very near to him out here."
"Jesus Christ!" echoed Reginald with a puzzled stare. "What is coming to you, John?"
"It has come, Rege," John said with a great light in his face. "I have found my Master."
"Upon my word, John, you are the queerest fellow! What next, I wonder?"
"The next thing, Rege," and John laid his hand affectionately upon his friend's shoulder, "is for you to find him too."
"So, you're going to turn preacher, John? You'll find me a hard subject. A short life and a merry one is what I am going in for. I've no turn for Christianity."
"It pays, Rege."
"Don't believe it. How can life be worth living when you're drivelling psalm tunes all day long?"
John laughed, and there was a new note of gladness in his voice which Reginald was quick to notice. "I haven't begun to drivel yet, Rege; and life counts for a good deal more when a man has an object than when he is living just to please himself."
"And who should a man please but himself, I should like to know?"
* * * * *
"Upon my word!" said Reginald some weeks later, as he came upon John sitting astride a cobbler's bench busily mending a pair of shoes, while Nan looked on admiringly. "Do you learn a new trade every month?"
John laughed quietly. "I took up this one because there are so many repairs always needed on the harness, and your father thinks all talent should be utilized."
There was a quizzical look about his mouth as he spoke. Reginald caught the look and answered hotly.
"The governor ought to be ashamed of himself! Why don't you strike, John?"
"Why should I? Knowledge is power, Rege."
"Knowledge of shoemaking!" said Reginald contemptuously. "It won't add to your strength much, John."
"Never can tell," said John sententiously. "You remember that lame fellow saved a battle for us by knowing how to shoe the general's horse."
"Next thing you'll be going in for a blacksmith's diploma!"
"I'm thinking of it," said John coolly. "That fellow at the Forks has no more sense than a hen. He pared so much off Neptune's hoof last week that he has been limping ever since. I had to take him this morning and have the shoes removed."
"I wish you'd do some shirking, John, like the rest of us."
"Jesus Christ never shirked, Rege."
"Pshaw! You're so ridiculous!" and Reginald walked discontentedly away.
"Here, John, John, I say," he called, when the time came for him to return to College, "go catch and saddle Sultan for me. You're so fond of work, you might as well have two masters. Be quick now, for I'm in the mischief of a hurry."
John's face flushed. This boy was younger than himself, and his father had been Mr. Hawthorne's friend.
"Do you hear what I say, John?" demanded Reginald. "You're only here as a servant any way, and I'll be master some day, so you might as well learn to obey me now."
John's brow cleared, while the words echoed in his heart with a glad refrain,—
"A servant of Jesus Christ," and "The Lord's servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all ... forbearing." After all, life was a matter between himself and the Lord Jesus. What could Reginald's taunts affect him now?
"All right," he said quietly, and started for the field.
"I declare!" muttered Reginald, as he watched the tall, lithe form cross the field with springing step, "you might as well try to make the fellow mad now, as to storm Gibraltar! What has come to him?"
"Here you are, Sir Reginald," said John good-humoredly, as he led the freshly groomed horse to the riding-block.
Reginald's voice choked. "Shake hands, John," he said huskily. "I am a brute! There must be something in this new fad of yours after all. If you had spoken to me as I did to you just now, I should have knocked you down."
He rode on for a mile or two in moody silence, then he gave his shoulders an impatient shrug.
"I'd like to know what it is about John Randolph that makes me feel so small! I have good times and he is always on the grind. I have all the money I can spend and he has nothing but the pittance the governor gives him, and yet he is three times the better fellow of the two. I envy him his spunk and go. He comes to everything as fresh as a two-year old, and he works everything for all there is in it. To see him climbing that hill yesterday, with the youngster on his shoulder, actually made me feel as if climbing hills was the jolliest thing in life. And it's so with everything he does. Confound it! I don't see why I can't get the same comfort out of things. I don't see where the fellow gets his vim. If I worked as hard as he does, I'd be ready to tumble into bed instead of pegging away at Latin and Mathematics. I'll have to put on a spurt in self-defence or he'll be tripping me up with his questions. He's got the longest head of anyone I know. The idea of the governor daring to set such a fellow as that to cobble shoes!"
"It's queer about the governor," he continued after a pause. "He's always ready to shell out when I ask him for money, but he keeps poor John with his nose to the grindstone all the year round. I suppose he expects me to pay him in glory. He's set his heart on my being a judge,—Judge Hawthorne of Hollywood. Sounds euphonious, and I verily believe the old gentleman has begun to roll it like a sweet morsel under his tongue. Can't say I have a special aptitude for the profession, and certainly the brains are not in evidence, but I suppose the governor thinks money will take their place. He has found it takes the place of most things.
"Sultan, old boy, we seem down on our luck this morning. We had better take a speeder to raise our spirits. It is hardly the thing for Judge Hawthorne of Hollywood to envy John Randolph his humdrum life of mending rakes and shoes," and he urged his horse into a mad gallop.
* * * * *
"I believe I'd like to be poor and work, John," he exclaimed one day. "It gets tiresome having everything laid ready to your hand, with nothing to do but take it. Life must be full of snap when you have to dash your will up against old Dame Fortune and wrest what you want out of her miserly clutches."
"Yes," said John simply, "Jesus Christ was poor."
"Look here, John. If you don't stop that nonsense, people will be dubbing you a crank."
"I am ready!" he cried, and there was a strange, exulting ring in his voice. "They called him mad, you know."
Evadne found herself one morning in Judge Hildreth's roomy coach-house, watching Pompey, as he skilfully groomed her uncle's pets.
It had been decided that after the summer holidays, she should become a member of the fashionable school which Isabelle and Marion attended. In the meantime she was left almost entirely to her own devices. Her uncle was away all day, Louis at College, and her aunt busy with social duties. Her cousins had their own particular friends, who were not slow to vote the silent girl with the mournful grey eyes, full of dumb questioning, a bore; while Evadne, accustomed to being her father's companion in all his scientific researches, found their vapid chatter wearisome in the extreme.
Horses were a passion with her, and she noted with pleased interest Pompey's deft manipulations. She stood for a long time in silence. Pompey had saluted her respectfully then kept on steadily with his work. Dexterously he swept the curry-comb over the shining coats and then drew it through the brush in his left hand with a curious vocal accompaniment, something between a long-drawn whistle and a sigh, and the horses laid their heads against his shoulder affectionately and looked wonderingly at the stranger out of their large, bright eyes.
"Did you really know my father?" she asked at length.
"Laws, yes, Missy!" and Pompey's honest black face grew tender with sympathy. "Mass Lennux stayed with the Jedge 'fore he went ter Barbadoes, an' he spen' powerful sight of his time out here wid me an' de horses. He wuz allers del'cut,—warn't able ter do nothin' in this yere climate,—but he bed sech a sperit! He wouldn't ever let folks know when he wuz a sufferin'. He use ter call me 'Pompous,'" and Pompey chuckled softly. "He say when I git inter my fur coat I look as gran' on de box as de Jedge do inside; an' one day he braided de horses' manes inter a hunderd tails an' tied 'em wid yaller ribbun, 'cause he said de crimps wuz in de fashun an' yaller wuz de Jedge's 'lecshun color. De Jedge wuz powerful angry. He don't like no sech tricks wid his horses. But, laws, he couldn't keep angry wid Mass Lennux! He jes' stood wid his hans on his sides an' larf an' larf, till de Jedge he hev ter larf too, an' he call him a graceless scamp, an' say he send him ter Coventry, an' Mass Lennux he say 'all right ef de Jedge go 'long too, an' take de horses, he couldn't do widout dem nohow.'"
"Were these the horses my father used to ride?"
"Laws, no, Missy. Dey wuz ez black ez night. Mass Lennux use ter call 'em Egyp an' Erybus."
Pompey's face softened.
"When my leetle gal died he jes' put his han' on my shoulder an' sez he,—'Pompous, you jes' go home an' cheer up de Missis, yer don't hev no call to worry 'bout de horses.' An' he tuk care of dem jes' as ef he'd ben a coachman. We'll never fergit it, Dyce an' me."
Evadne's eyes shone. That was just like her father!
"'Specs little Miss is powerful lonesum 'thout Mass Lennux?"
The soft voice was full of a genuine regret. Evadne sank down on a bench which stood near by and burst into tears.
"Oh, Pompey, I wish I could die!"
"'Specs little Miss hez no call ter wish dat," said Pompey gently. "'Specs de Lord Jesus wants her to live fer him."
Evadne opened her eyes in wonder.
"'The Lord Jesus,'" she repeated. "Why, Pompey, do you know him?"
A great joy transfigured the black face.
"He is my Frien'," he said simply.
Evadne leaned forward eagerly. "Oh, Pompey, if that is true, then you can help me find him."
Pompey smiled joyously. "Miss 'Vadney don't need ter go far away fer dat. He is right here."
"Here!" echoed Evadne faintly.
"Lo, I am wid you all de days'" Pompey repeated softly. "De Lord Jesus don't leave no gaps in his promises, Miss 'Vadney. He's allers wid me wherever I is workin', an' when I is up on my box a drivin' troo de streets, he's dere. He's wid me continuous. Dere's nuthin can seprate Pompey from de Lord," he added with a sweet reverence.
"How can you be so sure?" she asked wistfully.
"I hez his word, Missy. You allers b'lieved your father? 'I will not leave you orphuns, I will cum ter you.' I 'specs dat verse is meant speshully fer you, Miss 'Vadney."
"But we can't see him," said Evadne.
"Only wid de eye of faith, Missy. We trusts our friens in de dark. You didn't need ter see your father ter know he wuz in de house?"
"Oh, no!" Evadne's voice trembled.
"It's jes' de same wid my Father, Miss 'Vadney."
"How can you call God so, Pompey?"
A great sweetness came over the homely face.
"'Cause he hez sent his Sperit inter my heart, an' poor black Pompey can look up inter de shinin of his face an' say 'my Father,' 'cause I'se hidden away in his Son. I'se a little branch abidin' in de great Vine. I'se one wid de Lord Jesus."
"I don't know where to look for him!" Evadne cried disconsolately.
Pompey laid aside his curry-comb and brush and folded his toil-worn hands.
"Lord Jesus," he said quietly, "here is thy little lamb. She's out in de dark mountain, an' she's lonesum an' hungry, an' de col' rain of sorrow is beatin' on her head. Lord, thou is de good Shepherd. Let her hear thy voice a callin' her. Carry this little lamb in thy bosom an' giv her de joy of thy love."
* * * * *
Judge Hildreth sat in his library far into the night. He was reading for the twentieth time the letter which Evadne had placed in his hands the morning after her arrival, and as he read, he frowned.
"It is ridiculous, absurd!" he exclaimed impatiently. "Just of a piece with all of Len's quixotic theories. By what possible chance could a child of that age know how to manage money? She would make ducks and drakes of the whole business in less than a year!"
A letter addressed to Evadne lay upon the pile of age-worn papers in an open drawer at his side.
"I enclose herewith a letter to Evadne," his brother had written, "giving full and minute explanations as to her best course in the matter. These she will follow implicitly, under your supervision, and I feel confident the result will be a well-developed character along the lines on which women, through no fault of their own, are so lamentably deficient, namely, the proper conduct of business and management of money."
Judge Hildreth looked again at the envelope with its clear, bold address. "That is not the handwriting of a fool," he muttered. "I wish I could make up my mind what to do."
Through the solemn hush of midnight his good and evil angels contended for his soul. In a strange silence he listened to their voices, the one insidious, tempting, the other urging him to take the upright course. Had his eyes not been holden he would have seen them, the one dark-browed, malignant, clothed in shadows, the other robed in light; while other angels hovered near and looked on pityingly. The white-robed angel spoke first.
"It is not a question to be decided by your judgment. There is no other course left open to you."
Mockingly the other answered. "It is a most unprecedented proceeding. You should have been appointed her guardian, with sole control."
"It is your brother's last will and testament."
"Some wills are made to be broken. This one is against sound reason."
"It is the only honorable thing to do."
"It is unnecessary. The child need not know, and, if she did, would thank you for saving her from care."
"It is your brother's money. He had a right to do as he will with his own."
"If he had known to what straits this year's speculations have brought you, he would be glad to give you a lift. If you do not have money now what are you going to do? This has come just in time, for you know your credit is already strained to its utmost." "Your niece will be anxious to have your advice as to profitable investments. You can borrow the money from her."
"That would be awkward, in case the bottom fell out of the mine. A little capital in hand would give you a chance to water the Panhattan stock and develop a new lead in the Silverwing."
"If you use money that does not belong to you, you will be a thief!"
"If you do not use it, you will be a pauper. You have paper out now to five times the amount of your income. This is an interposition of Providence to save you from ruin."
"What right had you to put yourself in the way of ruin?"
"You did it to advance the interests of your family. The Bible says, 'If any provide not for his own, especially his own kindred, he ... is worse than an infidel.'[Footnote: Marginal rendering A. V.]"
"If you do this thing you will be dishonored in the sight of God."
"If you do not save yourself from this temporary embarrassment, you will be disgraced in the eyes of the world. You owe it to your position in society, and the church, to keep above the waves." The listening spirits heard a low, malicious laugh of triumph and the white-robed angel turned sadly away.
Judge Hildreth had thrust Evadne's letter, with his own, far under the pile of papers, and double-locked the drawer!
* * * * *
Above the coach-house was a large room where Pompey kept a store of hay and grain, and there Evadne often found herself ensconced with Isabelle's Bible, during the long mornings when she was left to amuse herself as best she might. The atmosphere of the house stifled her, and Pompey had loved her father! It was scrupulously clean. Under Pompey's regime spiders and moths found no tolerance, and a magnificent black cat effectually frightened away the audacious rodents which were tempted to depredations by the toothsome cereals in the great bins. In one corner Pompey had improvised for her a luxurious couch of hay and rugs, and in this fragrant retreat Evadne studied her strange new book. She brought to it a mind absolutely untrammeled by creed or circumstance, and in this virgin soil God's truth took root. Slowly the light dawned. Hers was no shallow nature to leap to a hasty conclusion and then forsake it for a later thought. Gradually through the darkness, as God's flowers grow, this human flower lifted itself towards the light.
Sometimes she would sit for hours with the stately cat upon her knee, thinking, thinking, thinking, while Pompey sang his favorite hymns about his work and the mellow strains floated up the stairway and soothed her lonely heart. His childlike faith became to her a tower of refuge, and often, when bewildered by life's inconsistencies, she felt as if the eternal realities were vanishing into mist, she was calmed and comforted by his happy trust.
"I cannot imagine, Evadne," said Isabelle one evening at dinner, "what pleasure you can find in sitting in a stable in company with a negro! It certainly shows a most depraved taste."
"Christ was born in a stable, Isabelle."
"What in the world has that to do with you?"
"I am beginning to think he has everything to do with me," answered her cousin quietly.
"Well," said Isabelle with a toss of her head, "we are known by the company we keep. I should imagine Pompey's curriculum of manners was not on a very elevated plane."
"Pompey! Isabelle," said Judge Hildreth suddenly. "Why, my dear, Pompey is a modern Socrates, bound in ebony. There is no danger to be apprehended from him."
"Well, it is a peculiar companionship for Judge Hildreth's niece, that is all I have to say," said Isabelle coldly, "but chacun a son gout."
"I read this morning in your Bible that God had chosen the base things of the world, and things which are despised, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are. What does that mean, Isabelle?"
"Really, Evadne, we shall have to send you to live with Doctor Jerome!" said her aunt, with a careless laugh. "You are getting to be a regular interrogation point. We are not Bible commentators, child, you cannot expect us to explain all the difficult passages.
"The Embroidery Club meets here tomorrow, Evadne," exclaimed Marion, "and I don't believe you have touched your table scarf since they were here before. What will Celeste Follingsby think? She works so rapidly, and her drawn work is a perfect poem."
"No, I have not," confessed Evadne. "It seems such silly work, to draw threads apart and then sew them together again."
Isabelle elevated her eyebrows with a look of horror.
Louis laughed. "She's a hopeless case, Isabelle. You'll never convert her into an elegant trifler. You might as well throw up the contract."
"It seems to me, Evadne," said his sister icily, "that you might have a little regard for the decorums of society. Don't, I beg of you, give utterance to such heresies before the girls. And I wish you would not call it my Bible. I did not make it."
"That is quite true, Evadne," said Louis gravely. "If she had, there would have been a good deal left out."
Isabella shot an angry glance at him but made no remark. Her brother's sarcasms were always received in silence.
"Eva," she said after a pause, "I intend to call you by that name in future,—your full one is too troublesome."
Evadne shivered. Her father was the only one who had ever abbreviated her name. "I shall not answer to it," she said quietly.
"Because, I suppose, in common with the rest of the lower animals, I have a natural repugnance to being cut in two."
"How tiresome you are!" exclaimed Isabelle with a pout. "I do not object to my first syllable. All the girls at school call me Isa. Mamma, did you remember to order the tulle for our wings? Claude Rivers has finished hers and they are perfectly sweet. She showed them to me this afternoon."
"Wings, Isabelle! What in the world are you up to now?"
"A Butterfly Social, Papa. We must raise money in some way. The church is frightfully in debt."
"That is a deplorable fact, but I did not know butterflies were famed as financiers."
"Oh, of course it is just for the novelty of the thing. The last social we had was a Mother Goose, and we have had Brownie suppers and Pink teas and everything else we could think of. We must have something to attract, you know."
"I wonder if it really pays?" ventured Marion. "It never seems to me there is much left, after you deduct the cost of the preparation. People might as well give the money outright. It would save them a world of trouble."
"Why, you silly child, it is to promote sociability in the church. As to the trouble, of course we do not count that. We must expect to make sacrifices."
"But they do not make the church any more sociable," said Marion boldly, who, having struck for freedom of thought, was following up her advantage. "The same people take part every time and the others are left outside."
"Nonsense!" said Isabelle hotly. "It is only those who cannot afford to take part, and think what a treat it is for them to look on!"
"A sort of half-price theatre," said Louis with a sneer.
"I don't believe they find the looking on such fun as you think," said Marion, who was astonished at herself. "Suppose you try if they wouldn't like to take part and offer your place in the Cantata to Jemima Dobbs."
"Well done, Sis!" and Louis applauded softly.
Isabelle's lip curled. "Upon my word, Marion, you bid fair to become as hot an anarchist as Louise Michel. It is a mystery to me where you find out the Christian names of all the ungainly people in the congregation. The other sopranos would feel complimented to have a prima-donna with a face like a full moon and hands like a blacksmith's foisted upon them! One must have a little regard for appearances," and Isabelle drew her graceful figure up to its full height.
"Jemima Dobbs isn't dynamite, and I have no anarchical tendencies," persisted Marion stoutly,—"but beauty is only skin deep, Isabelle. She supports a sick mother and five children and that is more than any of the rest of us could do," and Marion, frightened at her momentary temerity, shrank back into her shell.
"It is a most unaccountable thing, Lawrence," said Mrs. Hildreth, "why the church should be so heavily encumbered. I am sure you contribute handsomely and the pew rents are high. There is always a large congregation. I cannot understand."
"It is largely composed of transients though, my dear, and they never carry more than a nickel in their pockets, so the weight of the burden falls upon a few. The expenses are very heavy. Jerome wants to make it the most popular church in the city, and the new quartette proves an extravagant luxury."
"Oh, well," said Mrs. Hildreth, "of course one cannot grudge the money for that. Professional singing is such an attraction! The way Madame Rialto took that high C last Sunday was superb."
"Well," said Isabelle, "I don't think there is any doubt that Doctor Jerome is the most popular preacher in the city. He is going to preach next Sunday on the moral progress of social sciences, and next month he commences his series of sermons on the social problems of the day. He does take such an interest in sociology."
"But why doesn't he preach Jesus Christ?" asked Evadne wonderingly.
"You will get to be a regular fanatic, Evadne, if you ring the changes on that subject so often. Doctor Jerome says he wants his people to have an intelligent idea of the progress of events. Of course everyone understands the Bible.
"I do think he is the loveliest man!" she continued rapturously, "he is so sympathetic; and Celeste Follingsby says he is 'perfectly heavenly in affliction.' Her little sister died last week, you know. It is so awkward that it should have happened just now. She will not be able to take any part in the Cantata, and she had the sweetest dress!"
"Very ill-timed of Providence!" said Louis gravely. "What a pity it is, Isabelle, that you couldn't have the regulation of affairs." He yawned and strolled lazily towards the fireplace. When he looked round again, Evadne was the only other occupant of the room.
"Well, coz, what do you think of the situation? I belong to the worldlings, of course, but I confess the idea of Jesus Christ at a Butterfly Social is tremendously incongruous. We have the best of it, Evadne, for we live up to our theories. Give it up, coz. You'll find it a hopeless task to make the Bible and modern Christianity agree."
He looked at his watch.
"I say, Evadne, Jefferson is playing at the Metropolitan in Richard III. to-night. Let us go and hear him."
And Evadne went, and enjoyed it immensely.
"I am going for a long ride into the country, Evadne," said her uncle one morning, "would you like to come with me?"
Evadne gave a glad assent. After her beautiful tropical life, it seemed to her as if she should choke, shut away from the wide expanse of sky which she loved, among monotonous rows of houses and dingy streets.
As they left the city behind them and the road swept out into the open, she gave a long sigh of delight. Her uncle laughed.
"Well, Evadne, does it please you?"
"It is the first time I have felt as if I could breathe," she said.
"So you don't take kindly to Marlborough? Well, I suppose it is a rude awakening from your sunny land, but you will get used to it. We grow accustomed to all life's disagreeable surprises as time rolls on."
Evadne shivered. "I do not think I shall ever grow accustomed to it, Uncle Lawrence."
"Ah, you are young. We grow wiser as our hair turns grey."
"If that is wisdom, I do not care to grow wise."
"Not grow wise, Evadne!" said her uncle quizzically. "In this age, when women claim a surplusage of all the brain power bestowed upon the race! What will you do when you have to attend to business?"
"Business," echoed Evadne, "I have never thought about it, Uncle Lawrence."
"No turn for dollars and cents, eh? Did your father never consult you about his affairs?"
Evadne's lip quivered. "Oh, yes," she said, and her words were a cry of pain, "he consulted me about everything, but I do not think there was ever any mention of money. Does money constitute business, Uncle Lawrence?"
"Wealth gives power, Evadne. Money is one of the greatest things in the world. While we are on the subject I may as well tell you that your father wrote me concerning the disposition of his property. I shall look after your interests carefully, together with my own, and give you the same quarterly allowance that my own girls have. When you are older I will go more into detail, but it is not worth while now to worry your head over columns of uninteresting figures. I shall open an account for you at the National Bank and you can draw on that for your expenses. Your aunt will initiate you into the mysteries of shopping. By the way, you must have gone through that experience in Barbadoes. How did you manage there?"
Evadne turned her head away and clenched her hands tightly as the flood of bitter-sweet memories threatened to engulf her.
"Papa always went with me," she said slowly, "whatever he liked I chose."
Judge Hildreth gave a sigh of relief. He had extricated himself from a difficult position with diplomatic skill. It did not occur to him that a lie which is half the truth is the meanest kind of a lie. He had acquainted his niece with all that was necessary for her to know at present, and at the same time left himself a loophole of escape from the imputation of disregarding his brother's wishes. When she became old enough to assume the responsibility, and he got his affairs straightened out sufficiently to admit of transferring to her care the funds which were so absolutely essential to his present success, he would put Evadne in full possession of her inheritance. Results had proved the wisdom of his decision. By her own acknowledgment his niece had never given a thought to the subject. His brother's plan would be a height of imprudence from which he was bound to shield her.
In Evadne's mind also thought was busy. "Money is one of the greatest things in the world," her uncle had said, and she had read that morning, "tongues shall cease, and knowledge shall be done away, but love never faileth. Now abideth faith, hope, and love; the greatest of these is love." Was Louis right? Did Christians and the Bible not agree? And the business of her life was to find Jesus Christ. Was there any money in that?
When they reached Hollywood, where Judge Hildreth had business with Mr. Hawthorne, Evadne was in an ecstasy of silent rapture. She had never dreamed what a New England farm might be. Its varied beauty, clad in the dazzling robes of early summer, came upon her with the suddenness of a revelation. She begged to be allowed to wait for her uncle out of doors, and wandered slowly on past the great barns to where the wide gate stretched across the green road. When she reached it she stopped and looked with keen delight at the beautiful creatures in the fields on either side. The sunshine fell upon her with loving warmth; in the distance she could hear the whirr of a mowing machine and the shouts of the men at work. A magnificent young horse thrust his head familiarly over the fence near by, and under the shade of a great tree Primrose, with her graceful calf beside her, was lazily chewing her cud.
Everything spoke of contentment and comfort and peace. An unutterable longing seized upon the lonely girl. Here at least she would have God's creatures to love, and his woods and the sky! She laid her head down upon the gate with a smothered cry.
"If I only belonged,—like the cows!"
Startled by the sweet, baby voice, Evadne looked up to find a pair of laughing blue eyes peeping sympathetically at her. The sun-bonnet had fallen back and the golden curls were tossed in luxurious confusion over the little head.
Evadne caught the child in her arms.
"You little darling!"
"Yes, me is," said the child, resting contentedly within Evadne's embrace, as if, with the mysterious telepathy of childhood, she recognized a spiritual affinity which she was bound to help. "Me's very nice. Don says so."
"And who is Don?" asked Evadne.
"Don's my bootiful man. Me's doin' to marry Don when me gets big. Oh, dere he is!" and breaking from Evadne, she rolled herself between the bars of the gate and ran at the top of her speed towards John Randolph, who just then appeared around a bend in the road, one arm thrown lightly over the neck of the horse he had been training.
"Halloo, Nansie!" Evadne heard his cheery greeting, saw him stoop and lift the child on to the horse's back, and was so interested in the pretty scene that she forgot she was a stranger. When she came to herself with a start the little cavalcade had reached the gate and John Randolph stood before her with his hat in his hand.
Evadne bowed. "It is so beautiful!" she said. "I have been waiting for my uncle and lost myself among the harmonies of Nature."
John Randolph's eyes lightened. "It is God's world," he answered with a sweet reverence.
Evadne looked full into the shining face. "Do you know Jesus Christ?" she asked impulsively.
The face softened into a great tenderness. "He is my King."
"And do you love him?"
"With all there is of me."
A servant came just then to say the Judge was waiting.
"I will come at once," Evadne said courteously. Then she turned once more to John. "And what do you think of life?" she cried softly.
"Life!" he said, and there was a strange, exultant ring in his voice. "Life is a beautiful possibility."
There was no time for more, but in the spirit realm of kinship no multitude of words is needed. Only a few moments had passed, yet in that little space two souls had met. What did it matter if the devious turnings of life should lead them far apart, or the barring gate of circumstance forever separate them? They had found each other!
"Pitty lady!—Nan loves oo, dear," and the child whom John held seated on the broad top rail of the gate, held up her rosy lips for a kiss.
Instinctively Evadne held out her hand to John. Spiritual ethics laugh at the conventionalities of time. "Good-bye," she said, "and thank you."
She looked back once to wave her hand to little Nan. John was standing as she had left him, one arm encircling the child who nestled close to him, while over his right shoulder the horse had thrust his handsome head. Always afterward she saw him so. It was a parable of what God had meant man to be.
* * * * *
Long after the sound of the carriage wheels had died away John stood motionless, beholding again as in a vision the earnest face and wonderful grey eyes. Then he stooped for his hat which had fallen to the ground when he had taken her hand in his. As he did so, he saw a dainty bit of lawn lying on the other side of the gate. He put his hand between the bars and caught it just as the breeze was about to blow it away. He looked at the name which was delicately traced in one corner with a strange sense of pleasure: Evadne.
"It fits her," he said to himself. "There's a sweet elusiveness about her. She makes me think of a bird. She'll let you come just so far, until she gets to trust you, and then you'll have all her sweetness."
He drew a long breath which was strangely like a sigh, and, folding the handkerchief carefully, put it in his pocket.
"Pitty lady," murmured little Nan drowsily, and John caught her up and kissed her,—he could not have told why.
* * * * *
"I do think Dorothy Bruce is the kindest creature!" exclaimed Marion one Saturday morning as they lingered with a pleasant sense of leisure over the breakfast table. "She offered to give up the whole of to-day to me. I thought it was lovely when she works so hard all the week."
"Give it up to you. Why, what do you mean, Marion? We never have anything to do with her in school. What could you possibly want of her here?"
"Oh, it is that doleful algebra," sighed Marion. "It is utterly impossible for me to get it into my head, and Dorothy takes to it like a duck to water, and she is a born teacher. Madame Castle says her aptitude for imparting knowledge amounts to genius. You must allow it was kind of her, Isabelle."
Isabelle shrugged her shoulders. "Self-interested, most likely. That sort of people would do anything to obtain a foothold."
"Oh, Isabelle!" cried Evadne. "Do have a little faith in your fellow-man! Why should you set yourself up on a pinnacle and despise everyone who is poor, when the father of us all hoed for a living?"
Louis looked up from the paper he was reading. "There are two things Isabelle has no faith in, Evadne. The Declaration of Independence and the book she loaned you. One says all men are free and equal,—the other that God has made of one blood all the nations of the earth. Her Serene Highness objects to this. She will have the blue blood come in somewhere, though where she gets it from heaven only knows!"
"Louis, I do wish you would not be so radical!" Isabelle said, peevishly. "You must admit there is such a thing as culture and refinement."
"Certainly I admit it. The only thing I object to is that you talk as if you possessed a monopoly of the article, whereas I hold that it is just a question of environment. It is no thanks to you that you were not born a Hottentot or a Choctaw. Give yourself the same ancestors and surroundings as your chimney-sweep and wherein would you be superior to him? And when it comes to ancestry, by the way, probably Miss Bruce can trace back to some of the grand old Highland chiefs who covered themselves with glory long before the lineage of Hildreth had emerged from obscurity."
"I don't know anyone who likes to choose his company better than you!" observed Isabelle sarcastically.
"Certainly I do. Similarity of environment presupposes similarity of tastes. Probably my idea of enjoyment would not accord with the chimney-sweep's, but at the same time I don't look down on the poor beggar because he hasn't been as fortunate as I in getting his bread well buttered. There is a law of cultivation for humanity as well as plants. Surround a succession of generations with all the advantages of wealth, education and travel, and you produce the aristocrat; just as you get the delicate Solanum Wendlandi from the humble potato blossom. Set your aristocrat in the wilderness to earn his living by the sweat of his brow,—let the rain and wind beat upon his delicate skin,—shut him away from all the elevating influences to which he has been accustomed, and, in course of time, what have you? His descendants have retrograded. The Solanum has become a potato again."
"That is all very well," said Isabelle, "but I believe the instinct of culture will be dormant somewhere."
"Then why do you not recognize it in your chimney-sweep? For all you know he may be the descendant of some impecunious sire of a lordly house. Probably plenty of them are."
Louis rose and tossed the paper carelessly to his mother, who had been an amused listener to the discussion. It never occurred to him to do so before. What did women want to know about politics or the turf?
"Jesus Christ never seemed to care about externals," said Evadne softly. "He chose his friends among the common people."
"For pity's sake, Evadne!" cried Isabelle. "When will you learn that the Bible is not to be taken literally?"
"Not to be taken literally!" echoed Evadne in wonderment. "How is it to be taken then?"
"Isabelle means that we have to make allowances," said her aunt. "Christ could do a great many things that you cannot."
Evadne was silent, while the words of Jesus kept ringing in her ears: "For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you." If only she could understand!
"By the way, Evadne," said Mrs. Hildreth, "I beg you will not repeat your mistake of yesterday."
"What do you mean, Aunt Kate?"
"Bringing such a disreputable character into the house. When I came in and found her sitting in the hall and you talking to her I was perfectly paralyzed. Horrible! Why her rags were abominable, and her feet were bare!"
"But she had no shoes, Aunt Kate, and she was just my height. I was so glad that my clothes would fit her."
"A pretty thing to have your clothes paraded through the streets by such a creature! Most likely she would pawn them for gin. I am sure she was an improper character."
"But, Aunt Kate," pleaded Evadne, "Jesus Christ says we must clothe the naked and feed the hungry if we would be his followers. I must do as he tells me for I am going to follow him."
"Your uncle does enough of that for the family," said her aunt coldly. "I do not wish you to try any such experiments again."
Puzzled and chilled, Evadne left the room. Was obeying the commands of Christ only an "experiment" after all?
She crept up to her favorite retreat and threw herself upon her gayly covered couch. "Oh, Jesus Christ!" she cried passionately, "I am glad I did not live in Galilee when you were there! Aunt Kate and Isabelle would have thought it bad form for me to follow you in the crowd where the sinners were. But they can't keep me from doing so now!
"Oh, I wish I were dead! No one would care. Yes, Pompey would be sorry. Louis would call it 'a sable attachment,' but Pompey loved my father. Oh, dearest! dearest!"
She buried her head in her hands while wave after wave of desolation broke over the lonely soul. "A beautiful possibility" her knight of the gate had said. Could life become that to her?
Downstairs Pompey began to sing,—
"Shall we meet beyond the river, Where the surges cease to roll, Where in all the bright forever Sorrow ne'er shall press the soul?"
The rich vibrations rolled up and trembled about her. She held out her arms and her voice broke in a cry of triumphant faith, "Yes, we shall meet, Lord Jesus, face to face!"
"Pompey," said Evadne one morning, "I am going to see your wife."
The black face beamed with satisfaction. "Dyee'll be mighty uplifted, Miss 'Vadney. She think a powerful sight o' Mass Lennux."
Evadne stood watching him as he gave finishing touches to the silver mountings of the handsome harness. "I don't believe there is another harness in Marlborough that shines like yours, Pompey," she said with a laugh. "You are as particular with it as though every day was a special occasion."
"So 'tis, Miss 'Vadney," said Pompey simply. "Can't slight nuthin' when de Lord's lookin' on. Whoa, Brutis! Dere's goin' ter be Holiness to de Lord written on de bells ob de horses bimeby, Missy. I'se got it writ dere now."
"I believe you have, Pompey," said Evadne soberly, "for you do your work just as perfectly whether Uncle Lawrence is going to see it or not. It almost seems as if you were trying to please someone out of sight."
Pompey drew himself up to his full height. "I'se a frien' ob de Lord Jesus, Miss 'Vadney. I'se got ter do everything perfect 'cause ob dat. Couldn't bring no disgrace on my Lord."
"But would that disgrace him?" asked Evadne in wonderment.
"Why, yes, Missy. Ef I wuz a poor, shifles' crittur, only workin' fer de praise o' men, folks would say,—'he's no differen' frum de rest; you've got to keep yer eye on him ef yer want tings done properly. De King's chillen ain't no better dan de worl's chillen be.'
"De Lord Jesus, he say to me,—'Pompey, you must be faithful in de little things as well as in de big. I never slurred nuthin when I wuz a walkin' up and down troo Palestine. I sees you, Pompey; don't make no difference whether de earthly master does or not.' So I does all de little tings to de Lord, Miss 'Vadney, an' de Jedge knows he can depen' on Pompey. Whenever he wants me, I'se here."
"That is lovely!" said Evadne softly. "But don't you get dreadfully tired doing the same work over and over? Every day you have to do exactly the same things. It is as bad as a tread-mill. You just keep on going round and round."
Pompey gave one of his low chuckles. "'Specs dat's de way in dis worl', Miss 'Vadney. We'se got ter keep on eatin', an' we can't sleep enuff one night ter last fer a week,—but I 'low it's jes' one o' de beautiful laws ob de Lord,—de sun an' de moon an' de stars keeps a'goin over de same ground most continuous. So long as we'se doin' his will, Missy, it don't matter much whether we'se goin' roun' an' roun' or straight ahead. Stan' over, Ceesah!" and Pompey gave a final polish to the horse's already immaculate legs.
"Why don't you blacken their hoofs, Pompey? They used to do it in Barbadoes."
Pompey's eyes twinkled. "Dat's a no 'count livery notion, Miss 'Vadney, a coverin' up de cracks an' makin' de horse's hufs look better dan dey is. De King's chillens can't stoop ter any sech decepshuns. De Lord Jesus says, 'Pompey, I is de truff. You's got ter speak de truff an' live de truff ef you belongs ter me.' We ain't got no call ter cover up anything, Miss 'Vadney, ef we'se livin' ez de Lord wants us to. 'Sides, der ain't no 'cashun fer it. Ef we keeps de stable pure an' de food good an' gives de horse de right kind of exercise an' plenty of 'tention, de hufs will take care ob demselves," and he held Caesar's foot up for her inspection.
"Halloo, Evadne, are you taking lessons in farriery? What's the matter, Pompey? Has Caesar got a sand crack?" and Louis sauntered up, the inevitable cigar between his lips.
"I don't 'low my horses ever hez sech things, Mass Louis," said Pompey grandly.
"Ha, ha! what a conceited old beggar you are. But I'll give the devil his due and acknowledge the horses are a credit to you." He held a dollar towards him balanced on his forefinger. "Here, take this and fill your pipe with it."