ROSE O' PARADISE
GRACE MILLER WHITE
TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY, ETC.
W. J. SHETTSLINE
GROSSET & DUNLAP
COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY
THE H. K. FLY COMPANY
I lovingly dedicate this book
Rose and Will Scott
CHAPTER PAGE I. Father and Daughter 9 II. A White Presence 28 III. Jinnie's Farewell to Molly the Merry 35 IV. Jinnie Travels 42 V. Like Unto Like Attracted 49 VI. Peg's Bark 57 VII. Just a Jew 62 VIII. "Every Hand Shall Do Its Share," Quoth Peg. 70 IX. By the Sweat of Her Brow 79 X. On the Broad Bosom of the "Happy in Spite" 83 XI. What Happened to Jinnie 89 XII. Watching 95 XIII. What Jinnie Found on the Hill 98 XIV. "He's Come to Live With Us, Peggy" 105 XV. "Who Says the Kid Can't Stay?" 110 XVI. Jinnie's Ear Gets a Tweak 116 XVII. Jinnie Discovers Her King's Throne 122 XVIII. Red Roses and Yellow 129 XIX. The Little Fiddler 136 XX. The Cobbler's Secret 145 XXI. The Coming of the Angels 152 XXII. Molly's Discovery 163 XXIII. Nobody's Cat 171 XXIV. "He Might Even Marry Her" 179 XXV. When Theodore Forgot 185 XXVI. Molly Asks to Be Forgiven 192 XXVII. "Haven't You Any Soul?" 196 XXVIII. Jinnie Decides Against Theodore 201 XXIX. Peg's Visit 207 XXX. What the Fiddle Told Theodore 214 XXXI. What Theodore Told His Friend 221 XXXII. Jordan Morse's Plan 227 XXXIII. The Murder 233 XXXIV. The Cobbler's Arrest 240 XXXV. Alone in the Shop 248 XXXVI. Jinnie Explains the Death Chair to Bobbie 253 XXXVII. What the Thunder Storm Brought 262 XXXVIII. The Story of a Bird 268 XXXIX. Jinnie's Visit to Theodore 274 XL. An Appeal to Jinnie's Heart 281 XLI. Jinnie's Plea 285 XLII. Bobbie Takes a Trip 294 XLIII. Theodore Sends for Molly 299 XLIV. Molly Gives an Order to Jinnie 304 XLV. Writing a Letter to Theodore 309 XLVI. "Bust 'Em Out" 316 XLVII. Bobbie's Stars Renew Their Shining 327 XLVIII. For Bobbie's Sake 334 XLIX. Back Home 341 L. "God Made You Mine" 346
Virgina left the farmhouse, carrying her fiddle and the pail of cats, and the blizzard swallowed her up. Frontispiece
"I guess they won't eat much, because Milly Ann catches all kind of live things. I don't like her to do that, but I heard she was born that way and can't help it." 56
"You needn't feel so glad nor look as if you was goin' to tumble over. It ain't no credit to anyone them curtains was on the shelf waitin' to be cut up in a dress for you to fiddle in." 136
"Play for me," Theodore said. "Stand by that big tree so I can look at you." 216
ROSE O' PARADISE
FATHER AND DAUGHTER
On a hill, reared back from a northern lake, stood a weather-beaten farmhouse, creaking in a heavy winter blizzard. It was an old-fashioned, many-pillared structure. The earmarks of hard winters and the fierce suns of summer were upon it. From the main road it was scarcely discernible, settled, as it was, behind a row of pine trees, which in the night wind beat and tossed mournfully.
In the front room, which faced the porch, sat a man,—a tall, thin man, with straight, long jaws, and heavy overhanging brows. With moody eyes he was staring into the grate fire, a fearful expression upon his face.
He straightened his shoulders, got up, and paced the floor back and forth, stopping now and then to listen expectantly. Then again he seated himself to wait. Several times, passionately insistent, he shook his head, and it was as if the refusal were being made to an invisible presence. Suddenly he lifted his face as the sound of a weird, wild wail was borne to him, mingling with the elf-like moaning of the wind. He leaned forward slightly, listening intently. From somewhere above him pleading notes from a violin were making the night even more mournful. A change came over the thin face.
"My God!" he exclaimed aloud. "Who's playing like that?"
He crossed the room and jerked the bell-rope roughly. In a few moments the head of a middle-aged colored woman appeared at the door.
"Did you tell my daughter I wanted to see her?" questioned the man.
"No, sah, I didn't. When you got here she wasn't in. Then she slid to the garret afore I saw 'er. Now she's got to finish her fiddlin' afore I tell 'er you're here. I never bother Miss Jinnie when she's fiddlin', sah." The old woman bowed obsequiously, as if pleading pardon.
The man made a threatening gesture.
"Go immediately and send her to me," said he.
For perhaps twenty minutes he sat there, his ears straining to catch, through the whistling wind, the sounds of that wild, unearthly tune,—a tune different from any he had ever heard. Then at length it stopped, and he sank back into his chair.
He turned expectantly toward the door. Footsteps, bounding with life, with strength, were bearing down upon him. Suddenly a girl's face,—a rosy, lovely face,—with rapturous eyes, was turned up to his. At the sight of her stern father, the girl stopped, bringing her feet together at the heels, and bowed. Then they two,—Thomas Singleton the second and Virginia, his daughter,—looked at each other squarely.
"Ah, come in!" said the man. "I want to talk with you. I believe you're called Virginia."
"Yes, sir; Jinnie, for short, sir," answered the girl, with a slight inclination of her head.
Awkwardly, and with almost an embarrassed manner, she walked in front of the grate to the chair pointed out to her. The man glanced sharply at the strongly-knit young figure, vibrant with that vital thing called "life." He sighed and dropped back limply. There followed a lengthy silence, until at last Thomas Singleton shifted his feet and spoke slowly, with a grim setting of his teeth.
"I have much to say to you. Sit back farther in your chair and don't stare at me so."
His tones were fretful, like those of a man sick of living, yet trying to live. He dropped his chin into the palm of his hand and lapsed into a meditative gloom.
Virginia leaned back, but only in this did she obey, for her eyes were still centered on the man in silent attention. She had little awe of him within her buoyant young soul, but much curiosity lay under the level, penetrating glance she bent upon her father. Here was a man who, according to all the human laws of which Virginia had ever heard, belonged to her, and to her alone. There were no other children and no mother. Yet so little did she know of him that she wouldn't have recognized him had she met him in the road. Singleton's uneasy glance, seeking the yellow, licking flames in the grate, crossed hers.
"I told you not to stare at me so, child!" he repeated.
This time the violet eyes wavered just for an instant, then fastened their gaze once more upon the speaker.
"I don't remember how you look," she stammered, "and I'd like to know. I can't tell if I don't look, can I?"
Her grave words, and possibly the steady, piercing gaze, brought a twitch to the father's lips. Surely his child had spoken the truth. He himself had almost forgotten he had a girl; that she was the only living creature who had a call upon the slender thread of his life. Had he lived differently, the girl in front of him would have been watching him for some other reason than curiosity.
"That's why I'm looking at you, sir," she explained. "If any one on the hills'd say, 'How's your father looking, Jinnie?' if I hadn't looked at you sharp, sir, how'd I know?"
She sighed as her eyes roved the length of the man once more. The ashes in the grate were no grayer than his face.
"You're awful thin and white," she observed.
"I'm sick," replied Singleton in excuse.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" answered Virginia.
"You're quite grown up now," remarked the man presently, with a meditative air.
"Oh, yes, sir!" she agreed. "I'm a woman now. I'm fifteen years old."
"I see! Well, well, you are quite grown up! I heard you playing just now. Where did you ever learn such music?"
Jinnie placed her hand on her heart. "I got it out of here, sir," she replied simply.
Involuntarily Singleton straightened his rounded shoulders, and a smile touched the corners of his mouth. Even his own desperate condition for the moment was erased from his mind in the pride he felt in his daughter. Then over him swept a great regret. He had missed more than he had gained in his travels abroad, in not living with and for the little creature before him.
Her eyes were filled with contemplation; then the lovely face, in its exquisite purity, saddened for a moment.
"Matty isn't going to take me across her knee never any more," she vouchsafed, a smile breaking like a ray of sunshine.
The blouse slipped away from her slender throat, and she made a picture, vivid and beautiful. The fatherhood within Thomas Singleton bounded in appreciation as he contemplated his daughter for a short space, measuring accurately the worth within her. He caught the wonderful appeal in the violet eyes, and wished to live. God, how he wanted to live! He would! He would! It meant gathering his supremest strength, to be put forth in efforts of mere existing. Something out of an unknown somewhere, brought to him through the stormy, wonderful music he had heard, made the longing to live so vehement that it hurt. Then the horror of Virginia's words drifted through his tortured brain.
"What?" he ejaculated.
"Now I'm fifteen," explained the girl, "I get a woman's beating with a strap, you see. A while ago I got one that near killed me, but I never cried a tear. Matty was almost scared to death; she thought I was dead. Matty can lick hard, Matty can."
Virginia sighed in recollection.
"You don't mean to say the nigger whipped you?"
The girl shook her curly head.
"Whipped me! No! Matty don't whip; she just licks with all her muscle.... Matty's muscle's as strong as a tree limb."
Mr. Singleton bowed his head. It had never occurred to him in all those absent years that the child was being abused. How simply she had told her tale of suffering!
"But I'm fifteen now," she repeated gladly, "so I stand up, spread my feet like this"—she rose and suited the action to the words—"and Matty lays her on damn hard, too."
He covered his mouth with one thin hand, choked down a cough, and endeavored to change the subject.
"And school? Have you been to school?"
"Oh, yes!" assured the girl, sitting down again. "I went to school back in the hills. There were only five boys and me. There wasn't any girls. I wish there had been."
"You like girls, I imagine, then," said her father.
"Oh, yes, sir! Yes, indeed, sir! I often walk five miles to play a while with one. None of the mothers around Mottville Corners'll let their girls be with me. You see, this house has a bad name."
A deep crimson dyed the man's ashen skin. He made as if to speak, but Jinnie went on.
"Over in the Willow Creek settlement the kids are awful bad, but I get along with 'em fine, because I love 'em right out of being hellish."
She was gazing straight into her father's face in all sincerity, with no trace of embarrassment.
"You know Mrs. Barker, the housekeeper you left me with?" she demanded a little later. "Well, she died when I was ten. Matty stayed, thinking every day you'd come home. I suppose mebbe I did grow up sort of cussed, and I suppose everybody thinks I'm bad because I've only a nigger to live with, and no mother, not—not even you."
Singleton partly smothered an oath which lengthened itself into a groan, looked long at the slim young figure, then at the piquant face.
"Just lately I've been wanting some one of my own to love," she pursued. "I only had Milly and her cats. Then the letter come saying you'd be here—and I'm very glad."
The smile lighting her face and playing with the dimples in her cheeks made Thomas Singleton feel as if Heaven's breath had touched him.
"Do you care at all for me?" he asked gloomily.
There had come over him a desire that this winsome girl,—winsome in spite of her crudity,—would say she did. Wonder, love, sympathy, were alive in her eyes. Jinnie nodded her head.
"Oh, yes, sir!" she murmured. "Of course I love you! I couldn't tell you how much.... I love—why, I even love Mose. Mose's Matty's man. He stole and et up all our chickens—but I love him just the same. I felt sorry about his killing the hens, because I loved them too."
"I see," sighed the father.
"Now there's Molly—I call her Molly the Merry——"
"Who's Molly the Merry?" interrupted Singleton.
"Old Merriweather's daughter. She's prettier than the summer roses, and they're pretty, believe me. Her smiles're warmer'n the sun."
"Ah, yes! I remember the Merriweathers. Is the old man still alive?"
"Well, yes, but he's as good as dead, though. Ain't walked in three years. And Matty's man, Mose, told Matty, and Matty told me, he's meaner'n forty damn devils."
"So you swear, too?" asked the father, breathing deeply.
Virginia opened wide and wider two sparkling blue eyes.
"Swear, sir?" she protested. "I didn't swear."
"Pardon me," replied Singleton, laconically. "I thought I heard you say 'damn' several times."
Virginia's smile showed two rows of white teeth.
"Oh, so you did!" she laughed, rising. "But 'damn' isn't swearing. You ought to hear me really swear sometimes. Shall I show you how I—I can swear?"
Singleton shook his head.
"I'd rather you wouldn't!... Sit down again, please."
The man at intervals turned a pair of burning bright eyes upon her. They weren't unlike her own eyes, only their expression puzzled Virginia.
She could not understand the rapid changes in her father. He wasn't the man she had mentally known all these years. But then, all she had had by which to visualize him was an old torn picture, turned face to the wall in the garret. He didn't look at all like the painting—he was thinner, older, and instead of the tender expression on the handsome, boyish face, time had placed one of bitterness, anxiety, and dread. He sat, crouched forward, stirring the grate fire, seemingly lost in thought. Virginia remained quiet until he was ready to speak.
"I'm going to die soon,—very soon."
It was only natural that Virginia should show how his statement shocked her. She grew deathly white, and an expression of misery knit the lovely young face.
"How soon?" she shivered, drawing back.
"Perhaps to-night—perhaps not for weeks, but I must tell you something before then."
"All right," agreed Virginia, "all right.... I'm here."
"I haven't been a good father to you," the man began after a pause, "and I'm not sure I could do better if I should stay on here with you. So I might as well go now as any time! Your mother would've done differently if she'd lived. You look some like her."
"I'm sorry I don't remember her," remarked Virginia apologetically.
"She went away when you were too little even to know her. Then I left you, too, though I don't suppose any one but her could have made you happy."
"Oh, I've been happy!" Jinnie asserted. "Old Aunt Matty and the cats're all I need around, and I always have my fiddle. I found it in the garret."
It was easy to believe that she was telling the truth, for to all appearances she looked happy and healthy. However, Mr. Singleton's eyes darkened and saddened under the words. Nothing, perhaps, had ever touched him so deeply.
"It's no life for a girl of fifteen years to live with cats and niggers," he muttered.
One less firmly faithful to conscience would have acquiesced in this truthful statement; not so Virginia.
"Matty's a good nigger!" she insisted, passionately. "She'd do anything she could for me!"
Seemingly the man was not impressed by this, for his strong jaws were set and unyielding upon the unlighted cigar clenched between his teeth.
"I might as well tell you to-night as to-morrow," he concluded, dropping the cigar on the table. "Your mother left you her money and property when she died."
"I know it, sir, and it's a lot, too! Matty told me about it one night along with 'er ghost stories, sir.... Ever heard Matty's ghost stories, sir?"
"No, but I didn't bring you here to talk about Matty. And tell me, what makes you say 'sir' to me all the time?"
His impatient tone, his sharp, rasping voice, didn't change Virginia's respectful attitude. She only bent her head a trifle and replied:
"Anybody must always say 'sir' to another body when she's kind of half afraid of him, sir."
She was composed for a moment, then went on:
"It isn't every day your father comes home, sir, and I've waited a long, long time. I'd be a hell of a kid if I couldn't muster up a 'sir' for you."
Singleton glanced sidewise at his young daughter, bending his brows together in a frown.
"You're a queer sort of a girl, but I suppose it's to be expected when you've only lived with niggers.... Now will you remember something if I tell it to you?"
"Yes, sir," breathed Virginia, drawing back a little from his strong emotion.
"Well, this! Don't ever say 'sir' to any human being living! Don't ever! Do you understand me? What I mean is, when you say 'sir,' it's as if you were—as if you were a servant or afraid—you make yourself menial. Can you remember, child?"
"Yes, sir,—yes, I'll remember.... I think I'll remember."
"If you're going to accomplish anything in the world, don't be afraid of any one."
A dozen explanations, like so many birds, fluttered through Virginia's mind. Before her rose her world of yesterday, and a sudden apology leapt to her lips. She turned on her father a wondering, sober glance.
"I've never said 'sir' or 'ma'am' before in all my life—never!" she remarked.
"So you're afraid of me?"
"A little," she sighed.
"Ah, don't be, child! I'm your father. Will you keep that in mind?"
"I'll try to; I will, sure."
Mr. Singleton shifted uneasily, as if in pain.
"This money is coming to you when you're eighteen years old," explained Mr. Singleton. "My dying will throw you into an ocean of difficulties. I guess the only service I've ever done you has been to keep your Uncle Jordan from you."
"Matty told me about him, too," she offered. "He's a damn bad duffer, isn't he, mister?"
"Yes, and I'm going to ask you not to call me 'mister,' either. Look here!... I'm your father! Can't anything get that into your head?"
"I keep forgetting it," answered the girl sadly. "And you're so big and thin and different from any man I know. You look as weak as a—as a cat."
She stretched forth her two strong legs, but sank back.
"Yes, your Uncle Jordan is bad," proceeded Singleton, presently, "bad enough to want to get us both out of the way, and he wouldn't find much of an obstacle in you."
A clammy chill clutched at Virginia's heart like tightening fingers. The import of his words burned deep within her. She got to her feet—but reseated herself at once at a wave of her father's hand. The thought of death always had a sobering effect upon her—it filled her with longing, yet dread. The beautiful young mother, whose picture hung in the best room, and whose eyes followed her in every direction, was dead. Matty had told her many times just how her mother had gone, and how often the gentle spirit had returned to hover over the beloved young daughter. Now the memory of it was enhanced by the roar of the wind and the dismal moaning of the tall pines. Virginia firmly believed that her mother, among other unearthly visitants, walked in the night when the blizzard kept up its incessant beating. She also believed that the sound through the pines—that roaring, ever-changing, unhuman sound—was not of the wind's making. It was voices,—spirit voices,—voices of the dead, of those who had gone down into the small cemetery beyond the road.
Only the day before Matty had told her how, one night, a tall, wandering white thing had walked in silence across the fields to Jonathan Woggles' house. In the story, Jonathan's grandpa was about to pass away. The glittering spirit stalked around and around the house, waiting for the old man's soul. She was about to relate the tale when her father repeated:
"Your uncle is bad enough to want us out of the way."
The shuddering chill again possessed her. She was torn between horror and eagerness—horror of what might be and eagerness to escape it.
"But he can't get us out, can he?" she questioned.
"Yes, I'm afraid he can and will! Your Uncle Jordan is your mother's stepbrother, no direct relation to you, but the only one left to look after you in the world but me. If you've any desire to live, you must leave here after I've gone, and that's all there is to it!"
Virginia then understood, for the first time, something of the danger menacing her. Her heart beat and pounded like an engine ploughing up hill. From sheer human desire of self-preservation, she partly rose from the chair, with the idea of immediate departure.
"I could go with Matty, couldn't I?" she suggested.
Mr. Singleton made a negative gesture with his head, flinging himself down again.
"Matty? Matty, the nigger? No, of course not. Matty is nothing to any one who hasn't money, and you'll have none to pay her, or any one else, after I'm gone. You must eat and live for three long years. Do you understand that?... Sit back in your chair and don't fidget," he concluded.
The girl obeyed, and a silence fell between them. The thought of the wonderful white presence of which Matty had told her faded from her mind. Her heart lay stone-like below her tightening throat, for her former world and all the dear familiar things it held were to be dashed from her, as a rose jar is broken on a marble floor, by a single decision of the thin, tall father whom yesterday she had not known. She understood that if her uncle succeeded in his wicked plans, she, too, would join that small number of people, dead and buried, under the pines. Her father's words brought the cemetery, with its broken cross and headstones, its low toolhouse, and the restless night spirits, closer than Matty, with her vivid, ghastly tales, had ever done. In the past, Matty had stood between her and her fears; in the future, there would be only a stranger, her uncle, the man her father had just warned her against. At length Mr. Singleton coughed painfully, and spoke with evident effort.
"The doctor told me not long ago I might die at any moment. That's what made me escape—I mean, what drove me home."
He rose and walked nervously up and down the room.
"The doctor made me think of you. I can't live long."
"It's awful bad," answered the girl, sighing. "I wouldn't know where to go if there wasn't any Matty—or—you."
Her voice lowered on the last word, and she continued: "I wish I had my mother. Matty says mothers kiss their girls and make over 'em like Milly Ann does with her kittens—do they? Some of 'em?"
The father glanced curiously into the small, earnest, uplifted face.
"I couldn't help being your girl," pursued Virginia. "I'd have had another father if I could, one who'd 've loved me. Matty says even fathers like their kids sometimes—a little." She paused a minute, a wan, sweet smile passing over her lips. "But I've got Milly Ann and her kittens, and they're soft and warm and wriggley."
What a strange child was this daughter of his! She spoke of cats as if they were babies; of loving as if it were universal. Each moment, in her presence, he realized more and more what he had missed in thus neglecting her. But he had hurried to Mottville from foreign lands to perform one duty, at least,—to save her, if possible. So he returned to his vital subject.
"Your Uncle Jordan's coming, perhaps this week. He's found out I'm here! That's why you must go away."
"Shall I—just go?" queried Virginia. "I don't know of any special place—do you?" and she shivered again as the wind, in a fierce gust, blew out from the slumbering fire a wreath of smoke that encircled the room and hung grey-blue about the ceiling.
"I only know one man," reflected Mr. Singleton, presently, "and you'll have to find him yourself—after I've gone, of course; but if Jordan Morse should come, you'd have to go quickly."
"I'd go faster'n anything," decided the girl, throwing up her head.
"Your mother's father used to have a family in his tenement house on this place, and they were all very fond of her when she was a girl. One of the sons moved to Bellaire. He's the only one left, and would help you, I know."
"Mebbe if you'd talk to my uncle——" Virginia cut in.
An emphatic negative gesture frightened her.
"You don't know him," said Singleton, biting his lips. "He's nearer being a devil than any other human being." It was a feeling of bitterness, of the deadly wrong done him, that forced him to sarcasm. "The great—the good Jordan Morse—bah!" he sneered. "If he's 'good,' so are fiends from perdition."
He sent the last words out between his teeth as if he loathed the idea expressed in them. If they brought a sombre red to the girl's cheeks, it was not because she did not have sympathy with him.
Sudden leaping flames of passion yellowed the man's eyes, and he staggered up.
"May God damn the best in him! May all he loves wither and blight! May black Heaven break his heart——"
Jinnie sprang forward and clutched him fiercely by the arm. "Don't! Don't!" she implored. "That's awful, awful!"
Singleton sank back, brushing his foaming lips with the back of his hand.
"Well," he muttered, "he followed me abroad and did for me over there!"
"Did for you?" Virginia repeated after him, parrot-like, gazing at him in a puzzled way as she sat down again.
"Yes, me! If I'd had any sense, I might have known his game. In the state of his finances he'd no business to come over at all. But I didn't know until he got there how evil he was. Oh, God! I wish I had—but I didn't, and now my only work left is to send you somewhere——Oh, why didn't I know?"
The deep sadness, the longing in his voice brought Virginia to her feet once more. She wanted to do something for the thin, sick man because she loved him—just that! Years of neglect had failed to kill in the young heart the cherished affection for her absent parent, and in some subtle way he now appealed to the mother within her, as all sick men do to all heart-women.
"I'd like to help you if I could, father," she said.
The man, with a quick, spasmodic action, drew her to him. Never had he seen such a pair of eyes! They reminded him of Italian skies under which he had dreamed brave dreams—dreamed dreams which would ever be dreams. The end of them now was the grave.
"Little girl! My little girl!" he murmured, caressing her shoulders. Then he caught himself sharply, crushing the sentiment from his voice.
"Hide yourself; change your name; do anything to keep from your uncle. When you're old enough to handle your own affairs, you can come out of your hiding-place—do you understand me?"
"I think I do," she said, tears gathering under her lids.
"I don't know of any one I could trust in this county. Jordan Morse would get 'em all under his spell. That would be the last of you. For your mother's sake——" His lips quivered, but he went on with a masterful effort to choke down a sob,—"I may honestly say, for your own sake, I want you to live and do well."
There was some strain in his passionate voice that stirred terrific emotion in the girl, awakening new, tumultuous impulses. It gave her a mad desire to do something, something for her father, something for herself. At that moment she loved him very much indeed and was ready to go to any length to help him. He had told her she must leave. Perhaps——
Virginia glanced through the window into the darkness. Through the falling snow she could see a giant pine throw out appealing arms. They were like beckoning, sentient beings to the girl, who loved nature with all the passionate strength of her young being. Yet to-night they filled her with new wonder,—an awe she had never felt before. Despite her onrushing thoughts, she tried to calm her mind, to say with eager emphasis:
"Shall I run to-night—now?"
"No, not to-night; don't leave me yet. Sit down in the chair again; stay until I tell you."
"All right," murmured Virginia, walking away.
The father watched the fire a few minutes.
"I'll give you a letter to Grandoken, Lafe Grandoken," he said presently, looking up. "For your mother's sake he'll take you, and some day you can repay him. You see it's this way: Your mother trusted your uncle more than she did me, or she'd never have given you into his care in case of my death. Well, he's got me, and he'll get you."
With no thought of disobedience, Virginia slipped from the chair to her feet.
"He won't get me if I run now, will he?" she questioned breathlessly; "not if I go to—what'd you say his name was?"
She was all excitement, ready to do whatever she was bidden. Slowly, as she stood there, the tremendous suspense left her.
"Why couldn't we both go, you and me?" she entreated eagerly. "Let's both go to-night. I'll take care of you. I'll see you don't get wet."
Her glance met and held his for a few seconds. The vibrant voice thrilled and stirred the father as if he had been dead and suddenly slipped back to life again. A brave smile, tenderly sweet, broke over Virginia's lips.
"Come," she said, holding out her hands. "Come, I'll get my fiddle and we'll go."
He was struck by the vehemence of her appeal. He allowed himself to listen for a moment—to overbalance all his preconceived plans, but just then his past life, Jordan Morse, his own near approaching end, sank into his mind, and the fire in his eyes went out. There was finality in the shake of his shoulders.
"No, no," he murmured, sinking back. "It's too late for me. I couldn't earn money enough to feed a pup. I'm all to pieces—no more good to any one. No, you'll have to go alone."
"I'm sorry." The girl caught her breath in disappointment. She was crying softly and made no effort to wipe away her tears.
The silent restraint was broken only by the ticking of the shadowy clock on the mantel and Virginia's broken sobs. She stifled them back as her father spoke comfortingly.
"Well, well, there, don't cry! If your mother'd lived, we'd all 've been better."
"I wish she had," gasped the girl, making a dash at her eyes. "I wish she'd stayed so I'd 've had her to love. Perhaps I'd 've had you, too, then."
"There's no telling," answered Singleton, drawing up to his desk and beginning to write.
Virginia watched the pen move over the white page for a space, her mind filled with mixed emotions. Then she turned her eyes from her father to the grate as a whirl of ashes and smoke came out.
Matty's story came back to her mind, and she glanced toward the window, but back to the fire quickly. The blizzard seemed to rage in sympathy with her own riotous thoughts. As another gust of wind rattled the casements and shook down showers of soot from the chimney, Virginia turned back to the writer.
"It's the ghosts of my mother's folks that make that noise," she confided gently.
"Keep quiet!" ordered Singleton, frowning.
After the letters were finished and sealed, Mr. Singleton spoke. "There! I've done the best I can for you under the circumstances. Now on this,"—he held up a piece of paper—"I've written just how you're to reach Grandoken's in Bellaire. These letters you're to give to him. This one let him open and read." Mr. Singleton tapped a letter he held up. "In this one, I've written what your uncle did to me. Give it to Grandoken, telling him I said to let it remain sealed unless Jordan Morse claims you. If you reach eighteen safely, burn the letter."
He paused and took out a pocketbook.
"Money is scarce these days, but take this and it'll get you to Grandoken's. It's all I have, anyway. Now go along to bed."
He handed the envelopes to her, and his hand came in contact with hers. The very touch of it, the warmth and life surging through her, gave a keener edge to his misery.
Virginia took the letters and money. She walked slowly to the door. At the threshold she halted, turning to her father.
"May I take the cats with me?" she called back to him.
She started to explain, but he cut her words off with a fierce ejaculation.
"Hell, yes!" he snapped. "Damn the cats! Get out!"
Once in the hall, Virginia stood and looked back upon the closed door.
"I guess he don't need me to teach him swear words," she told herself in a whisper.
Then she went down to the kitchen, where Matty sat dreaming over a wood fire.
A WHITE PRESENCE
"Does yer pa want me?" grunted Matty, lifting a tousled black head.
Virginia made a gesture of negation.
"No, he told me to get the hell out," she answered. "So I got! He's awful sick! I guess mebbe he'll die!"
Matty nodded meaningly.
"Some folks might better 'a' stayed to hum for the past ten years than be runnin' wild over the country like mad," she observed.
Virginia reached behind the stove and drew Milly Ann from her bed.
"Father"—Jinnie enjoyed using the word and spoke it lingeringly—"says he wishes he'd stayed here now. You know, my Uncle Jordan, Matty——" She hesitated to confide in the negro woman what her father had told her. So she contented herself with:
"He's coming here soon."
Matty rolled her eyes toward the girl.
"I'se sorry for that, honey bunch." Then, without explaining her words, asked: "Want me to finish about Jonathan Woggles' grandpa dyin'?"
But Virginia's mind was traveling in another channel.
"Where's Bellaire, Matty?" she demanded.
"Off south," replied the woman, "right bearin' south."
"Yes, the same's walkin' or flying'," confirmed Matty. "Jest the same."
"Then you can finish the story now, Matty," said Virginia presently.
Matty settled back in her chair, closed her eyes, and began to hum.
"How far'd I tell last night?" she queried, blinking.
"Just to where the white thing was waiting for Grandpa Woggles' spirit," explained Virginia.
"Oh, yas. Well, round and round that house the white shadder swep', keepin' time to the howlin' of other spirits in the pine trees——"
"But there aren't any pine trees at Woggles'," objected Virginia.
"Well, they'd be pines if they wasn't oaks," assured Matty. "Oaks or pines, the spirits live in 'em jest the same."
"I 'spose so," agreed Virginia. "Go on!"
"An' round and round he went, meltin' the snow with his hot feet," mused Matty, sniffing the air. "And in the house Betty Woggles set beside the old man, holdin' his hand, askin' him to promise he wouldn't die.... Hum! As if a human bein' could keep from the stalkin' whiteness beckonin' from the graveyard. 'Tain't in human power."
"Can't anybody keep death away, Matty?" inquired Virginia, an expression of awe clouding her eyes.
She was thinking of the man upstairs whom she but twice had called "father."
"Nope, not after the warnin' comes to him. Now Grandad Woggles had that warnin' as much as three days afore the angel clim' the fence and flopped about his house. But don't keep breakin' in on me, little missy, 'cause I cain't finish if ye do, and I'se jest reachin' the thrillin' part."
"Oh, then hurry," urged Jinnie.
"Well, as I was sayin', Betty set by the ole man, starin' into his yeller face; 'twas as yeller as Milly Ann's back, his face was."
"Some yeller," murmured Virginia, fondling Milly Ann.
"Sure! Everybody dyin' gets yeller," informed Matty.
Virginia thought again of the sick man upstairs. His face was white, not yellow, and her heart bounded with great hope. He might live yet a little while. Yes, he surely would! Matty was an authority when she told of the dead and dying, of the spirits which filled the pine trees, and it seldom occurred to Virginia to doubt the black woman's knowledge. She wanted her father to live! Life seemed so dizzily upset with no Matty, with no Milly Ann, and no—father, somewhere in the world. Matty's next words, spoken in a sepulchral whisper, bore down on her with emphasis.
"Then what do ye think, honey bunch?"
"I don't know!" Virginia leaned forward expectantly.
"Jest as Betty was hangin' fast onto her grandpa's spirit, another ghost, some spots of black on him, come right longside the white one, wavin' his hands's if he was goin' to fly."
Virginia sat up very straight. Two spirits on the scene of Grandpa Woggles' passing made the story more interesting, more thrilling. Her sparkling eyes gave a new impetus to the colored woman's wagging tongue.
"The white spirit, he sez, 'What you hangin' round here fer?'"
Matty rolled her eyes upward. "This he sez to the black one, mind you!"
Virginia nodded comprehendingly, keeping her eyes glued on the shining dark face in front of her. She always dreaded, during the exciting parts of Matty's nightly stories, to see, by chance, the garden, with its trees and the white, silent graveyard beyond. And, although she had no fear of tangible things, she seldom looked out of doors when Matty crooned over her ghost stories.
Just then a bell pealed through the house.
Matty rose heavily.
"It's yer pa," she grumbled. "I'll finish when I git back."
Through the door the woman hobbled, while Virginia bent over Milly Ann, stroking her softly with a new expression of gravity on the young face. Many a day, in fancy, she had dreamed of her father's homecoming. He was very different than her dreams. Still she hoped the doctor might have made a mistake about his dying. A smile came to the corners of her mouth, touched the dimples in her cheek, but did not wipe the tragedy from her eyes. She was planning how tenderly she would care for him, how cheerful he'd be when she played her fiddle for him.
She heard Matty groping up the stairs—heard her pass down the hall and open the door. Then suddenly she caught the sound of hurried steps and the woman coming down again. Matty had crawled up, but was almost falling down in her frantic haste to reach the kitchen. Something unusual had happened. Virginia shoved Milly Ann to the floor and stood up. Matty's appearance, with chattering teeth and bulging eyes, brought Jinnie forward a few steps.
"He's daid! Yer pa's daid!" shivered Matty. "And the house is full of spirits. They're standin' grinnin' in the corners. I'm goin' hum now, little missy. I'm goin' to my ole man. You'd better come along fer to-night."
Jinnie heard the moaning call of the pine trees as the winter's voice swept through them,—the familiar sound she loved, yet at which she trembled. Confused thoughts rolled through her mind; her father's fear for her; his desire that she should seek another home. She could not stay in Mottville Corners; she could not go with Matty. No, of course not! Yet her throat filled with longing sobs, for the old colored woman had been with her many years.
By this time Matty had tied on her scarf, opened the door, and as Virginia saw her disappear, she sank limply to the floor. Milly Ann rubbed her yellow back against her young mistress's dress. Virginia caught her in her arms and drew her close.
"Kitty, kitty," she sobbed, "I've got to go! He said I could take you and your babies, and I will, I will! I won't leave you here with the spirits."
She rose unsteadily to her feet and went to the cupboard, where she found a large pail. Into this she folded a roller towel. She then lifted the kittens from the box behind the stove and placed them in the pail, first pressing her lips lovingly to each warm, wriggley little body. Milly Ann cuddled contentedly with her offspring as the girl covered them up.
Jinnie had suddenly grown older, for a responsibility rested upon her which no one else could assume.
To go forth into the blizzard meant she must wrap up warmly. This she did. Then she wrapped a small brown fiddle in her jacket, took the pail and went to the door. There she stood, considering a moment, with her hand on the knob. With no further hesitancy she placed the kittens and fiddle gently on the floor, and went to the stairs. The thought of the spirits made her shiver. She saw long shadows making lines here and there, and had no doubt but that these were the ghosts Matty had seen. She closed her eyes tightly and began to ascend the stairs, feeling her way along the wall. At the top she opened reluctant lids. The library door stood ajar as Matty had left it, and the room appeared quite the same as it had a few moments before, save for the long figure of a man lying full length before the grate. That eternal period, that awful stop which puts a check on human lives, had settled once and for all the earthly concerns of her father. The space between her and the body seemed peopled with spectral beings, which moved to and fro in the dimly lit room. Her father lay on his back, the flames from the fire making weird red and yellow twisting streaks on his white, upturned face.
The taut muscles grew limp in the girl's body as she staggered forward and stood contemplating the wide-open, staring eyes. Then with a long sigh breathed between quivering lips, she dropped beside the lifeless man. The deadly forces eddying around her were not of her own making. With the going of this person, who was her father by nature, everything else had gone too. All her life's hopes had been dissolved in the crucible of death. She lay, with her hands to her mouth, pressing back the great sobs that came from the depths of her heart. She reached out and tentatively touched her father's cheek; without fear she moved his head a little to what she hoped would be a more comfortable position.
"You told me to go," she whispered brokenly, "and I'm going now. You never liked me much, but I guess one of my kisses won't hurt you."
Saying this, Jinnie pressed her lips twice to those of her dead father, and got to her feet quickly. She dared not leave the lamp burning, so within a short distance of the table she drew a long breath and blew toward the smoking light. The flame flared thrice like a torch, then spat out, leaving the shivering girl to feel her way around the room. To the sensitive young soul the dark was almost maddening. She only wanted to get back to Milly Ann, and she closed the door with no thought for what might become of the man inside. He was dead! A greater danger menaced her. He had warned her and she would heed. As she stumbled down the stairs, her memories came too swiftly to be precise and in order, and the weird moans of the night wind drifted intermittently through the wild maze of her thoughts. She would say good-bye to Molly the Merry, for Molly was the only person in all the country round who had ever spoken a kindly word to her. Their acquaintance had been slight, because Molly lived quite a distance away and the woman had never been to see her, but then of course no one in the neighborhood approved of the house of Singleton.
Later by five minutes, Virginia left the dark farmhouse, carrying her fiddle and the pail of cats, and the blizzard swallowed her up.
JINNIE'S FAREWELL TO MOLLY THE MERRY
Virginia turned into the Merriweather gate, went up the small path to the kitchen, and rapped on the door. There was no response, so she turned the handle and stepped into the room. It was warm and comfortable. A teakettle, singing on the back of the stove, threw out little jets of steam. Jinnie placed the pail on the floor and seated herself in a low chair with her fiddle on her lap. Molly would be back in a minute, she was sure. Just as she was wondering where the woman could be, she heard the sound of voices from the inner room. A swift sensation of coming evil swept over her, and without taking thought of consequences, she slipped under the kitchen table, drawing the pail after her. The long fringe from the red cloth hung down about her in small, even tassels. The dining room door opened and she tried to stifle her swiftly coming breaths. Virginia could see a pair of legs, man's legs, and they weren't country legs either. Following them were the light frillings of a woman's skirts.
"It's warmer here," said Miss Merriweather's voice.
Molly and the man took chairs. From her position Virginia could not see his face.
"Your father's ill," he said in a voice rich and deep.
"Yes," replied Molly. "He's been near death for a long time. We've had to give him the greatest care. That's why I haven't told him anything."
The man bent over until Jinnie could see the point of his chin.
"I see," said he.... "Well, Molly, are you glad to have me back?"
Molly's face came plainly within Jinnie's view. At his question the woman went paler. Then the man leaned over and tried to take one of her hands. But she drew it away again and locked her fingers together in her lap.
"Aren't you glad to see me back again?" he repeated.
Molly's startled eyes came upward to his face.
"I don't know—I can't tell—I'm so surprised and——"
"And glad," laughed the stranger in a deep, mesmeric voice. "Glad to have your husband back once more, eh?"
Virginia's start was followed quickly by an imploration from Molly.
"Hush, hush, please don't speak of it!"
"I certainly shall speak of it; I certainly shall. I came here for no other reason than that. And who would speak of it if I didn't?"
Molly shivered. There was something about the man's low, modulated tones that repelled Virginia. She tried in vain to see his face. She was sure that nowhere in the hills was there such a man.
"You've been gone so long I thought you'd forgotten or—or were dead," breathed Molly, covering her face with her hands.
"Not forgotten, but I wasn't able to get back."
"You could have written me."
The man shrugged himself impatiently.
"But I didn't. Don't rake up old things; please don't. Molly, look at me."
Molly uncovered a pair of unwilling eyes and centered them upon his face.
"What makes you act so? Are you afraid?"
"I did not expect you back, that's all."
"That's not it! Tell me what's on your mind.... Tell me."
Molly's white lids fell, her fingers clenched and unclenched.
"I didn't—I couldn't write," she whispered, "about the baby."
"Baby!" The word burst out like a bomb. The man stood up. "Baby!" he repeated. "You mean my—our baby?"
Molly swallowed and nodded.
"A little boy," she said, in a low voice.
"Where is he?" demanded the man.
"Please, please don't ask me, I beg of you. I want to forget——"
"But you can't forget you're married, that you've been the mother of a child and—and—that I'm its father."
Molly's tears began to flow. Virginia had never seen a woman cry before in all her young life. It was a most distressing sight. Something within her leaped up and thundered at her brain. It ordered her to venture out and aid the pretty woman if she could. Jinnie was not an eavesdropper! She did not wish to hear any more. But fear kept her crouched in her awkward position.
"I just want to forget if I can," Molly sobbed. "I don't know where the baby is. That's why I want to forget. I can't find him."
"Can't find him? What do you mean by 'can't find him'?"
Molly faced about squarely, suddenly.
"I've asked you not to talk about it. I've been terribly unhappy and so miserable.... It's only lately I've begun to be at all reconciled."
"Nevertheless, I will hear," snapped the man angrily. "I will hear! Begin back from the letter you wrote me."
"Asking you to help me?" questioned the girl.
"Yes, asking me to help you, if you want to be blunt. Molly, it won't make you any happier to hatch up old scores. I tell you I've come to make amends—to take you—if you will——"
"And I repeat, I can't go with you!"
"We'll leave that discussion until later. Begin back where I told you to."
Molly's face was very white, and her lids drooped wearily. Virginia wanted so much to help her! She made a little uneasy movement under the table, but Molly's tragic voice was speaking again.
"My father'd kill me if he knew about it, so I never told him or any one."
"Including me," cut in the man sarcastically.
"You didn't care," said Molly with asperity.
"How do you know I didn't care? Did you tell me? Did you? Did I know?"
Molly shook her head.
"Then I insist upon knowing now, this moment!"
"My father would have killed me——"
"Well!" His voice rushed in upon her hesitancy.
"When I couldn't stay home any longer, I went away to visit a cousin of my mother's. At least, my father thought I'd gone there. I only stayed with Bertha a little while and father never knew the truth of it."
"And then after that?"
"I didn't know what to do with my baby. I was afraid people'd say I wasn't married, and then father——"
"Go on from the time you left your cousin's."
Molly thought a minute and proceeded.
"I looked in all the papers to find some one who wanted a baby——"
"So you gave him away? Well, that's easy to overcome. You couldn't give my baby away, you know."
"No, no, indeed! I didn't give him away.... I boarded him out and saved money to pay for him. I even took summer boarders. The woman who had him——"
Molly's long wait prompted the man once more.
"Well?" he said again. "The woman what?"
"The woman began to love the baby very much, and she wasn't very poor, and didn't need the money. Lots of times I went with it to her, and she wouldn't take it."
A thought connected with her story made Molly bury her face in her hands. The man touched her.
"Go on," he said slowly. "Go on. And then?"
"Then once when I went to her she said she was going to take the baby on a little visit to some relatives and would write me as soon as she got back."
"Yes," encouraged the low voice.
"She never wrote or came back. I couldn't find where she'd gone, and father was terribly ill, and I've hoped and hoped——"
"How long since you last saw him?"
Molly considered a moment.
"A long time," she sighed.
"How many years?"
"Then he was almost seven years with the woman?"
"Yes," breathed Molly, and they lapsed into silence.
The man meditated a space and Jinnie heard a low, nervous cough come from his lips.
"Molly," he said presently, "I'm going to have a lot of money soon. It won't be long, and then we'll find him and begin life all over."
"Oh, I'd love to find him," moaned Molly, "but I couldn't begin over with you. It's all hateful and horrible now."
The man leaned over and touched her, not too tenderly. When Molly's face was turned to him, he tilted her chin up.
"You care for some one else?" he said abruptly.
The droop of the girl's head was his answer. He stood up suddenly.
"That's it! That's it! What's his name?"
A shake of her head was all the answer Molly gave him.
"I asked you his name. Get up! Stand up!"
As if to force her to do his will, he took hold of her shoulders sharply and drew her upward.
"What's his name?"
"It doesn't matter."
"What's his name?"
Virginia did not catch Molly's whisper.
A disbelieving grunt fell from the stranger's lips.
"I remember him as a boy. Weren't they one summer at the Mottville Hotel? He's years younger than you."
Molly gathered courage.
"He doesn't know how old I am," she responded, "and his mother loves me, too. They were with me three summers." Then, remembering the man's statement, she added, "Ages don't count nowadays. And I will be happy."
"You'll get happiness with me, not with him," said an angry voice. "Has he ever told you he loved you?"
"No, no, indeed not. But he was here to-day! His mother's ill and wanted me to come as her companion, but I couldn't leave father right now."
"Does he know you love him?"
An emphatic negative ejaculation from Molly brought a sigh of relief from the man.
"Forget him!" said he. "Now I'm going. I shall come back to-night, and remember this. I'll leave no stone unturned to find that boy. I've always longed for one, and I'll move Heaven and earth to find him."
Virginia saw him whirl about, open the door, and stride out.
Molly Merriweather stood for a few minutes in silence, trembling.
"I didn't dare to tell him the baby was blind," she whispered, too low for Jinnie to hear.
Then she slowly glided away, leaving the girl under the table, with her pail full of cats, and the fiddle. Presently Virginia crawled out cautiously, the pail on her arm, and hugging her fiddle, she opened the door swiftly, and disappeared down the road, running under the tall trees.
Virginia took the direction leading to the station. Many a time she had watched the trains rush by on their way to New York, but never in those multitudinous yesterdays had it entered her mind that some day she would go over that same way, to be gone possibly forever. The wind was blowing at such a terrific rate that Jinnie could scarcely walk. There was no fear in her heart, only deep solemnity and a sense of awe at the magnificence of a storm. She had left the farmhouse so suddenly that the loneliness of parting had not then been forced upon her as it was now; the realization was settling slowly upon the clouded young mind.
She was a mere puppet in the hands of an inexorable fate, which had shown her little mercy or benevolence.
Out of sight of the Merriweather homestead, she kept to the path along the highway, now and then shifting the pail from one hand to the other, and clasping the beloved fiddle to her breast. Once she looked down to find Milly Ann peeping above the rim of the pail. Jinnie could see the glint of her greenish eyes. She stopped and, with a tenderly spoken admonition, covered her more closely with the roller towel. When the lighted station-house glimmered through the falling snow, Jinnie sighed with relief.
"I couldn't 've carried you and the fiddle much farther, Milly Ann," she murmured.
At that moment a tall figure, herculean in size, loomed out of the night and advanced hastily. The man's head was bent forward against the storm. Virginia caught a glimpse of his face as he passed in the streak of light thrown out from the station.
He sprang to the platform and disappeared in the doorway. Jinnie saw him plainly when she, too, entered, and her eyes followed him as he went out.
She had never seen him before. Like the man in the Merriweather kitchen, he bore the stamp of the city upon him.
Virginia bought her ticket as her father had directed, and while the pail was still on the floor, she bent to examine Milly Ann and the kittens. The latter were asleep, but the mother-cat lazily opened her eyes to greet, with a purr, the soft touch of Jinnie's fingers. The girl waited inside the room until the shriek of the engine's whistle told her of its approach; then, with the fiddle and the pail, she walked to the platform.
The long, snakelike train was edging the hill, its headlight bearing down the track in one straight, glittering line.
For the first time in her life, Jinnie felt really afraid. In other days, with beating heart, she had hugged close to the roadside as the monster slipped either into the station and stopped, or rushed around the curve. Tonight she was going aboard, over into a strange land among strange people.
She tilted the pail lovingly and hugged a little more tightly the fiddle in her arm. Whatever happened, she had Milly, her little family, and the comforting music. Jinnie could never be quite alone with these. As the train slowed up, the conductor jumped down.
It seemed to Virginia like a dream as she walked toward the steps at the end of the car. As she was about to lift her foot to climb up, she heard a voice say:
"Let me help you, child. Here, I'll take the pail."
Virginia looked upward into the face of a man,—the same face she had seen in the station a few moments before,—and around the handsome mouth was a smile of reassuring kindliness.
She surrendered the pail with a burning blush, and felt, with a strange new thrill, a firm hand upon her arm. The next thing she knew she was in a seat, with the pail on the floor and the fiddle lying beside her.
She gazed around wonderingly. There was no one in sight but the tall man who, across the aisle, was arranging his overcoat on the back of the seat. Jinnie looked at him with interest—he had been so kind to her—and noted his thick, blond hair, which had been cropped close to a massive head. She admired him, too. Suddenly he looked up, and the girl felt a clutch at her heart. Just why that happened she could not tell. Again came the charming smile, the parted lips showing a set of dazzling white teeth.
Jinnie smiled back, responsively. The man came over.
"May I sit beside you?" he asked.
Jinnie moved the fiddle invitingly and huddled herself into the corner. When the man started to move the pail, Jinnie stayed him.
"Oh, don't, please," she protested. "It's only Milly and——"
"Milly and what?" quizzically came the question.
She drew aside the towel and exposed the sleeping family.
A broad smile lit up the man's face.
"Oh, cats! I see! Where're you taking them?"
"Ah, Bellaire; that's where I'm going. We'll have a nice ride together, almost two hours."
"I'm glad." Jinnie leaned back, sighing contentedly.
In those few minutes she had grown to have great faith in this stranger, the third of the puzzling trio that had come into her life that night. First her father, then the man with Molly the Merry, and now this brilliant new friend, who quite took away her breath as she peeped up at him. His smile seemed to be ever ready. It warmed her and made her glow with friendliness. She liked, too, the deep tones in his voice and the sight of his strong hands as they gestured during his speeches.
"Where are you going in Bellaire?" he questioned.
Virginia cogitated for a moment. She couldn't tell the story her father had told her, yet she must answer his kindly question.
At length, "The cats and I are going to live with my uncle," said she.
"He lives in Bellaire?"
"Yes, but I've never seen him. I'll find him, though, when I get there."
It didn't occur to the man to ask the name of her relatives, and Jinnie was glad he did not.
"Perhaps I shall see you some time in the city," he responded to her statement. Jinnie hoped so; oh, how she hoped she might see him again!
"Mebbe," was all she said.
"You see I live there with my mother," continued the man. "Our home is called Kinglaire. My name is King."
Virginia lifted her head with a queer little start.
"I've read about your people," she said. "I've got a book in our garret that tells all about Kings."
"That's very nice," answered Mr. King. "I won't have to explain anything about us, then."
"No, I know," said Jinnie in satisfaction.
At least she thought she knew. Hadn't she read over and over, when seated in the garret, the story of the old and new kings, how they sat on their thrones, and ruled their people sometimes with a rod of iron? Jinnie brought to mind some of the vivid pictures, and shyly lifted a pair of violet eyes to scan the face above her. Surely this King was handsomer than any in the book. She tried to imagine him on his throne, and wondered if he were always smiling as now.
"You're quite different from your relations," she observed presently.
Theodore King laughed aloud. The sound startled the girl into a straighter posture. It rang out so merrily that she laughed too after making up her mind that he was not ridiculing her.
"Really you are!" she exclaimed. "I mean it. You know the picture of the King with a red suit on,—he doesn't look like you. His nose went sort of down over his mouth—I mean, well, yours don't."
She stumbled through the last few words, intuitively realizing that she had been too personal.
"You like to read, I gather," stated Mr. King.
"Yes, but I like to fiddle better," said Jinnie.
"Oh, you play, do you?"
Jinnie's eyes fell upon the instrument standing in the corner of the opposite seat, wrapped in an old jacket. She nodded.
"I play some. I love my fiddle almost as much as I do Milly Ann and her kitties."
"Won't you play for me?" asked Mr. King, gravely putting forth his hand.
Jinnie paused a moment. Then without further hesitancy she took up the violin and unfastened it.
"I'll be glad to fiddle for a king," she said naively.
She did not speak as she turned and twisted the small white keys.
Outside the storm was still roaring over the hills, sweeping the lake into monstrous waves. The shriek of the wind mingled with the snap of the taut strings under the agile fingers of the hill girl. Then Jinnie began to play. Never in all his life had Theodore King seen a picture such as the girl before him made. The wondrous beauty of her, the marvelous fingers traveling over the strings, together with the moaning of the night wind, made an impression upon him he would never forget. Sometimes as her fingers sped on, her eyes were penetrating; sometimes they darkened almost to melancholy. When the last wailing note had finally died away, Jinnie dropped the instrument to her side.
"It's lonely on nights like this when the ghosts howl about," she observed. "They love the fiddle, ghosts do."
Theodore King came back to himself at the girl's words. He drew a long breath.
"Child," he ejaculated, "whoever taught you to play like that?"
"Why, I taught myself," answered Jinnie.
"Please play again," entreated Mr. King, and once more he sat enthralled with the wonder of the girl's melodies. The last few soulful notes Mr. King likened to a sudden prayer, sent out with a sobbing breath.
"It's wonderful," he murmured slowly. "What is the piece you've just played?"
"It hasn't any name yet," replied the girl. "You see I only know pieces that're in my head."
Then all the misery of the past few hours swept over her, and Jinnie began to cry. A burden of doubt had clouded the usually clear young mind. What if the man to whom she was going would not let her and the cats live with him? He might turn them away.
Mr. King spoke softly to her.
"Don't cry," said he. "You won't be lonely when you get to your uncle's."
But she met his smiling glance with a feeling of constraint. He did not know the cause of her tears; she could not tell him. If she only knew,—if she only had one little inkling of the reception she would receive at the painter's home. However, she did cheer up a little when Mr. King, in evident desire to be of some service, began to tell her of the city to which she was going.
In a short time he saw the dark head nodding, and he drew Jinnie down against his arm, whispering:
"Sleep a while, child; I'll wake you up at Bellaire."
LIKE UNTO LIKE ATTRACTED
Jinnie Singleton watched Theodore King leave the train at the little private station situated on his own estate. As she drew nearer the city depot, her heart beat with uncertainty, for that day would decide her fate, her future; she would know by night whether or not she possessed a friend in the world.
For some hours she sat in the station on one of the hard benches, waiting for daylight, at which time she and Milly Ann would steal forth into the city to find Lafe Grandoken, her mother's friend.
A reluctant, stormy dawn was pushing its way from the horizon as she picked up the pail and fiddle and stepped out into the falling snow.
Stopping a moment, she asked the station master about the Grandokens, but as he had only that week arrived in Bellaire, he politely, with admiration in his eyes, told her he could not give her any information. But on the railroad tracks Virginia saw a man standing with his hands thrust deep into his pockets.
"What'd you want of Lafe Grandoken?" asked the fellow in reply to her question.
"I've come to see him," answered Jinnie evasively.
"He's a cobbler and lives down with the shortwood gatherers there on Paradise Road. Littlest shack of the bunch! He ain't far from my folks. My name's Maudlin Bates."
He went very near her.
"Now I've told you, you c'n gimme a kiss," said he.
"I'll give you a bat," flung back Jinnie, walking away.
Some distance off she stood looking down the tracks, her blue eyes noting the row of huts strung along the road and extending toward the hills. At the back of them was a marshland, dense with trees and underbrush.
"My father told me Mr. Grandoken was a painter of houses!" Jinnie ruminated: "But that damn duffer back there says he's changed his work to cobbling. I'll go and see! I hope it won't be long before I'm as warm as can be. Wonder if he'll be glad to see me!"
"It's the smallest house among 'em," she cogitated further, walking very fast. "Well! There ain't any of 'em very big."
She traveled on through heavy snow, glancing at every hut until, coming to a standstill, she read aloud:
"Lafe Grandoken, Cobbler of Folks' and Children's Shoes and Boots."
Jinnie turned and, going down a short flight of steps, hesitated a moment before she knocked timidly on the front door. During the moment of waiting she glanced over what she hoped was to be her future home. It was so small in comparison with the huge, lonely farmhouse she had left the night before that her heart grew warm in anticipation. Then in answer to a man's voice, calling "Come in!" she lifted the latch and opened the door.
The room was small and cheerless, although a fire was struggling for life in a miniature stove. In one corner was a table strewn with papers. Back from the window which faced the tracks was a man, a kit of cobbler's tools, in the disarray of daily use, on the bench beside him. He halted, with his hammer in the air, at the sight of the newcomer.
"Come in and shut the door," said he, and the girl did as she was bidden. "Cold, ain't it?"
"Yes," replied Jinnie, placing the pail and fiddle on the floor.
The girl looked the man over with her steady blue eyes. Then her heart gave one great bound. The grey face had lighted with a sweet, sad smile; the faded eyes, under the bushy brows, twinkled welcome. A sense of wonderful security and friendship rushed over her.
"Well, what's your business? Got some shoes to mend?" asked the man. "Better sit down."
Jinnie took a chair in silence, a passionate wish suffusing her being that this small home might be hers. She was so lonely, so homesick. The little room seemed radiant with the smile of the cobbler. She only felt the wonderful content that flowed from the man on the bench to herself; she wanted to stay with him; never before had she been face to face with a desire so great.
"I've come to live with you," she gulped, at length.
The cobbler gave a quick whack at the little shoe he held in the vise.
"I'm Jinnie Singleton, kid of Thomas Singleton, the second," the girl explained, almost mechanically, "and I haven't any home, so I've come to you."
During this statement the cobbler's hammer rattled to the floor, and he sat eyeing the speaker speechlessly. Then he slowly lifted his arms and held them forth.
"Come here! Lass, come here!" he said huskily. "I'd come to you, but I can't."
In her mental state it took Jinnie a few seconds to gather the import of the cobbler's words. Then she sprang up and went forward with parted, smiling lips, tears trembling thick on her dark lashes. When Jinnie felt a pair of warm, welcoming arms about her strong young shoulders, she shivered in sudden joy. The sensation was delightful, and while a thin hand patted her back, she choked down a hard sob. However, she pressed backward and looked down into Lafe Grandoken's eyes.
"I thought I'd never cry again as long as I lived," she whispered, "but—but I guess it's your loving me that's done it."
It came like a small confession—as a relief to the overburdened little soul.
"I guess I've rode a hundred miles to get here," she went on, half sobbing, "and you're awful glad to see me, ain't you?"
It didn't need Lafe's, "You bet your boots," to satisfy Jinnie. The warmth of his arms, the shining, misty eyes, set her to shivering convulsively and shaking with happiness.
"Set here on the bench," invited the cobbler, softly, "an' tell me about your pa an' ma."
"They're both dead," said Jinnie, sitting down, but she still kept her hand on the cobbler's arm as if she were afraid he would vanish from her sight.
The man made a dash at his eyes with his free hand.
"Both dead!" he repeated with effort, "an' you're their girl!"
"Yes, and I've come to live with you, if you'll let me."
She drew forth the letters written the night before.
"Here's two letters," she ended, handing them over, and sinking down again into the chair.
She sat very quietly as the cobbler stumbled through the finely written sheets.
* * * * *
"Mottville Corners, N. Y.
"Dear Mr. Grandoken," whispered Lafe.
"My girl will bring you this, and, in excuse for sending her, I will briefly state: I'm very near the grave, and she's in great danger. I want to tell you that her Uncle Jordan Morse has conquered me and will her, if she's not looked after. For her mother's sake, I ask you to take her if you can. She will repay you when she's of age, but until then, after I'm gone, she can't get any money unless through her uncle, and that would be too dangerous. When I say that my child's life isn't worth this paper if she is given over to Morse, you'll see the necessity of helping her. I don't know another soul I could trust as I am trusting you. The other letter Virginia will explain. Keep it to use against Morse if you need to.
"I can't tell you whether my girl is good or not, but I hope so. I've woefully neglected her, but now I wish I had a chance to live the past few years over. She'll tell you all she knows, which isn't much. What you do for her will be greatly appreciated by me, and would be by her mother, too, if she could understand her daughter's danger. "Gratefully yours,
"THOMAS G. SINGLETON."
* * * * *
The cobbler put down the paper, and the rattling of it made Jinnie raise her head.
"Come over here again," said the shoemaker, kindly. "Now tell me all about it."
"Didn't the letter tell you?"
"Some of it, yes. But tell me about yourself."
Lafe Grandoken listened as the girl recounted her past life with Matty, and when at the finish she remarked,
"I had to bring Milly Ann——"
Grandoken by a look interrupted her explanation.
"Milly Ann?" he repeated.
Then came the story of the mother-cat and her babies. Jinnie lifted the towel, and the almost smothered kittens scrambled over the top of the pail. Milly Ann stretched her cramped legs, then proceeded vigorously to wash the faces of her numerous children.
"She wouldn't 've had a place to live if I hadn't brought her," explained Jinnie, looking at the kittens. "I guess they won't eat much, because Milly Ann catches all kinds of live things. I don't like 'er to do that, but I heard she was born that way and can't help it."
"I guess she'll find enough to eat around here," he said softly.
"I brought my fiddle, too," Jinnie went on lovingly. "I couldn't live without it any more'n I could without Milly Ann."
The cobbler nodded.
"You play?" he questioned.
"A little," replied the girl.
Mr. Grandoken eyed the instrument on the floor beside the pail.
"You oughter have a box to put it in," he suggested. "It might get wet."
Virginia acquiesced by bowing her head.
"I know it," she assented, "but I carried it in that old wrap.... Did Father tell you about my uncle?"
"Yes," replied the cobbler.
"And that he was made to die for something my uncle did?"
"Yes, an' that he might harm you.... I knew your mother well, lass, when she was young like you."
An expression of sadness pursed Jinnie's pretty mouth.
"I don't remember her, you see," she murmured sadly. "I wish I had her now."
And she heard the cobbler murmur, "What must your uncle be to want to hurt a little, sweet girl like you?"
They did not speak again for a few moments.
"Go call Peg," the cobbler then said.
At a loss, Virginia glanced about.
"Peg's my woman—my wife," explained Lafe. "Go through that door there. Just call Peg an' she'll come."
In answer to the summons a woman appeared, with hands on hips and arms akimbo. Her almost colorless hair, streaked a little with grey, was drawn back from a sallow, thin face out of which gleamed a pair of light blue eyes. Jinnie in one quick glance noted how tall and angular she was. The cobbler looked from his wife to her.
"You've heard me speak about Singleton, who married Miss Virginia Burton in Mottville, Peggy, ain't you?" he asked.
"Yes," answered the woman.
"His kid's come to live with us. She calls herself Jinnie." He threw his eyes with a kindly smile to the girl, standing hesitant, longing for recognition from the tall, gaunt woman. "I guess she'd better go to the other room and warm her hands, eh?"
Mrs. Grandoken, dark-faced, with drooping lips, ordered the girl into the kitchen.
Alone with his wife, Lafe read Singleton's letter aloud.
"I've heard as much of her yarn as I can get," he said, glancing up. "I just wanted to tell you she was here."
"We ain't got a cent to bless ourselves with," grumbled Mrs. Grandoken, "an' times is so hard I can't get more work than what I'm doin'."
A patient, resigned look crossed the cobbler's pain-worn face.
"That's so, Peg, that's so," he agreed heartily. "But there's always to-morrow, an' after that another to-morrow. With every new day there's always a chance. We've got a chance, an' so's the girl."
The woman dropped into a chair, noticing the cobbler's smile, which was born to give her hope.
"There ain't much chance for a bit of a brat like her," she snarled crossly, and the man answered this statement with eagerness, because the rising inflection in his wife's voice made it a question.
"Yes, there is, Peg," he insisted; "yes, there is! Didn't you say there was hope for me when my legs went bad—that I had a chance for a livin'? Now didn't you, Peggy? An' ain't I got the nattiest little shop this side of way up town?"
Peg paused a moment. Then, "That you have, Lafe; you sure have," came slowly.
"An' didn't I make full sixty cents yesterday?"
"You did, Lafe; you sure did."
"An' sixty cents is better'n nothin', ain't it, Peg?"
Mrs. Grandoken arose hastily.
"Course 'tis, Lafe! But don't brag 'cause you made sixty cents. You might a lost your hands same's your feet. 'Tain't no credit to you you didn't. Here, let me wrap you up better! You'll freeze all that's left of your legs, if you don't."
"Them legs ain't much good," sighed the cobbler. "They might as well be off; mightn't they, Peg?"
Peggy wrapped a worn blanket tightly about her husband.
"You oughter be ashamed," she growled darkly. "Ain't you every day sayin' there's always to-morrow?"
This time her voice was toned with finality, and she turned and went out.
Virginia and Lafe Grandoken sat for some time with nothing but the tick-tack of the hammer to break the silence.
"It bein' the first time you've visited us, kid," broke in the man, pausing, "you can't be knowin' just what's made us live this way."
Virginia made a negative gesture and smiled, settling herself hopefully for a story, but Lafe brought a frightened expression quickly to her face by his low, even voice, and the ominous meaning of his words.
"Me an' Peg's awful poor," said he.
"Then mebbe I'd better not stay, Mr. Lafe," faltered Jinnie.
The cobbler threaded his fingers through his hair.
"The shanty's awful small," he interjected, thoughtfully.
"I think it's awful nice, though," offered the girl. Some thought closed her blue eyes, but they flashed open instantly.
"Cobbler," she faltered, "is Mrs. Peggy mad when she grits her teeth and wags her head?"
As if by its own volition the cobbler's hammer stayed itself in the air.
"No," he smiled, "just when she acts the worst is when she's likely to do her best ... I've knowed Peggy this many a year."
"She was a wee little bit cross to me," commented the girl.
"Was she? I didn't hear anything she said."
"I'll tell you, then, Mr. Lafe," said Virginia. "When I was standing by the fire warming my hands, she come bustling out and looked awful mad. She said something about folks keeping their girls to home."
"Well, what after that?" asked the cobbler, as Jinnie hesitated.
"She said she could see me eating my head off, and as long as I had to hide from my uncle, I wouldn't be able to earn my salt."
"Well, that's right," affirmed the cobbler, wagging his head. "You got to keep low for a while. Your Uncle Morse knows a lot of folks in this town."
"But they don't know me," said Virginia.
"That's good," remarked Lafe.
As he said this, Peg opened the door roughly and ordered them in to breakfast.
Virginia sat beside the cobbler at the meager meal. On the table were three bowls of hot mush. As the fragrant odor rose to her nostrils, waves of joy crept slowly through the young body.
"Peggy 'lowed you'd be hungry, kid," said the cobbler, pushing a bowl in front of her.
Mrs. Grandoken interrupted her husband with a growl.
"If I've any mem'ry, you 'lowed it yourself, Lafe Grandoken," she muttered.
A smile deepened on the cobbler's face and a slight flush rose to his forehead.
"I 'lowed it, too, Peggy dear," he said.
"Eat your mush," snapped the woman, "an', Lafe, don't 'Peggy dear' me. I hate it; see?"
Virginia refused to believe the startling words. She would have adored being called "dear." In Lafe's voice, great love rang out; in the woman's, she scarcely knew what. She glanced from one to the other as the cobbler lifted his head. He was always thanking some one in some unknown place for the priceless gift of his woman.
"I'll 'Peggy dear' you whenever I feel like it, wife," he said gravely, "for God knows you're awful dear to me, Peg."
Mrs. Grandoken ignored his speech, but when she returned from the stove, her voice was a little more gentle.
"You can both stuff your innards with hot mush. You can't starve on that.... Here, kid, sit a little nearer!"
So Virginia Singleton, the lame cobbler, and Peggy began their first meal, facing a new day, which to Lafe was yesterday's to-morrow.
A little later Virginia followed the wheel chair into the cobbler's shop. Peggy grumblingly left them to return to her duties in the kitchen.
"Terrible cold day this," Lafe observed, picking up a shoe. "The wind's blowin' forty miles the hour."
Virginia's next remark was quite irrelevant to the wind.
"I'm hoping Mrs. Peggy'll get the money she was talking about."
"Did she tell you she needed some?"
Virginia nodded, and when she spoke again, her tongue was parched and dry.
"She said she had to have money to-night. I hope she gets it; if she doesn't I can't stay and live with you."
"I hope she gets it, too," sighed the cobbler.
Of a sudden a thought seemed to strike him. The girl noticed it and looked a question.
"Peggy's bark's worser'n her bite," Lafe explained in answer. "She's like a lot of them little pups that do a lot of barkin' but wouldn't set their teeth in a biscuit."
"Does that mean," Jinnie asked eagerly, "if she don't get the two dollars to-night, Mrs. Peggy might let me stay?"
"That's just what it means," replied Lafe, making loud whacks on the sole of a shoe. "You'll stay, all right."
The depth of Virginia's gratitude just then could only be estimated by one who had passed through the same fires of deep uncertainty, and in the ardor of it she flung her arms around the cobbler's neck and kissed him.
* * * * *
When Lafe, with useless legs, had been brought home to his wife, she had stoically taken up the burden that had been his. At her husband's suggestion that he should cobble, Mrs. Grandoken had fitted up the little shop, telling him grimly that every hand in the world should do its share. And that was how Lafe Grandoken, laborer and optimist, began his life's great work—of cobbling a ray of comfort to every soul entering the shack. Sometimes he would insist that the sun shone brighter than the day before; then again that the clouds had a cooling effect. But if in the world outside Lafe found no comfort, he always spoke of to-morrow with a ring of hope in his voice.
Hope for another day was all Lafe had save Peggy, and to him these two—hope and the woman—were Heaven's choicest gifts. Now Peggy didn't realize all these things, because the world, with its trials and vicissitudes, gave her a different aspect of life, and she was not in even her ordinary good humor this day as she prepared the midday meal. Her mind was busy with thoughts of the new burden which the morning had brought.
Generally Lafe consulted her about any problem that presented itself before him, but, that day, he had taken a young stranger into their home, and Mrs. Grandoken had used all kinds of arguments to persuade him to send the girl away. Peggy didn't want another mouth to feed. She didn't care for any one in the world but Lafe anyway.
When the dinner was on the table, she grimly brought her husband's wheel chair to the kitchen. Virginia, by the cobbler's invitation, followed.
"Any money paid in to-day?" asked Peggy gruffly, drawing the cobbler to his place at the table.
"No," he said, smiling up at her, "but there'll be a lot to-morrow.... Is there some bread for——for Jinnie, too?"
Peggy replied by sticking her fork into a biscuit and pushing it off on Virginia's plate with her finger.
Virginia acknowledged it with a shy upward glance. Peg's stolid face and quick, insistent movements filled her with vague discomfort. If the woman had tempered her harsh, "Take it, kid," with a smile, the little girl's heart might have ached less.
Lafe nodded to her when his wife left the room for a moment.
"That biscuit's Peg's bite," said he, "so she'll bark a lot the rest of the day, but don't you mind."
JUST A JEW
When the cobbler was at work again, Virginia, after picking up a few nails and tacks scattered on the floor, sat down.
"Would you like to hear something about me and Peggy, lassie?" he inquired, "an' will you take my word for things?"
Jinnie nodded trustfully. She had already grown to love the cobbler, and her affection grew stronger as she stated:
"There isn't anything you'd tell me, cobbler, I wouldn't believe!"
With slow importance Lafe put down his hammer.
"I'm a Israelite," he announced.
"What's that?" asked the girl, immediately interested.
The cobbler looked over his spectacles and smiled.
"A Jew, just a plain Jew."
"I don't know what a Jew is either," confessed Jinnie.
Lafe groped for words to explain his meaning.
"A Jew," he ventured presently, "is one of God's——chosen——folks. I mean one of them chose by Him to believe."
"All that God said would be," explained Lafe, reverently.
"And you believe it, cobbler?"
"Sure, kid; sure."
The shoemaker saw a question mirrored in the depths of the violet eyes.
"And thinking that way makes you happy, eh, Mr. Lafe? Does it make you smile the way you do at girls without homes?"
As she put this question sincerely to him, Jinnie reminded the cobbler of a beautiful flower lifting its proud head to the sun. In his experience with young people, he had never seen a girl like this one.
"It makes me happier'n anything!" he replied, cheerfully. "The wonderful part is I wouldn't know about it if I hadn't lost my legs. I'll tell you about it, lass."
Jinnie settled back contentedly.
"A long time ago," began Mr. Grandoken, "God led a bunch of Jews out of a town where a king was torturin' 'em——"
The listener's eyes darkened in sympathy.
"They was made to do a lot of things that hurt 'em; their babies and women, too."
Jinnie leaned forward and covered the horny hand with her slender fingers.
"Have you ever had any babies, Lafe?" she ventured.
A perceptible shadow crossed the man's face.
"Yes," said he hesitatingly. "Me and Peggy had a boy—a little fellow with curly hair—a Jew baby. Peggy always let me call him a Jew baby, though he was part Irish."
"Oh!" gasped Jinnie, radiantly.
"I was a big fellow then, kid, with fine, strong legs, an' nights, when I'd come home, I'd carry the little chap about."
The cobbler's eyes glistened with the memory, but shadowed almost instantly.
"But one day——" he hesitated.
The pause brought an exclamation from the girl.
"And one day—what?" she demanded.
"He died; that's all," and Lafe gazed unseeingly at the snow-covered tracks.
"And you buried him?" asked Virginia, softly.
"Yes, an' the fault was mostly mine, Jinnie. I ain't had no way to make it up to Peggy, but there's lots of to-morrows."
"You'll make her happy then?" ejaculated the girl.
"Yes," said Lafe, "an' I might a done it then, but I wouldn't listen to the voices."
A look of bewildered surprise crossed the girl's face. Were they spirit voices, the voices in the pines, of which Lafe was speaking? She'd ask him.
"God's voices out of Heaven," said he, in answer to her query. "They come every night, but I wouldn't listen, till one day my boy was took. Then I heard another voice, demandin' me to tell folks what was what about God. But I was afraid an' a—coward."
The cobbler lapsed into serious thought, while Virginia moved a small nail back and forth on the floor with the toe of her shoe. She wouldn't cry again, but something in the low, sad voice made her throat ache. After the man had been quiet for a long time, she pressed him with:
"After that, Lafe, what then?"
"After that," repeated the cobbler, straightening his shoulders, "after that my legs went bad an' then—an' then——"
Virginia, very pale, went to the cobbler, and laid her head against his shoulder.
"An' then, child," he breathed huskily, "I believed, an' I know, as well as I'm livin', God sent his Christ for everybody; that in the lovin' father"—Lafe raised his eyes—"there's no line drawed 'tween Jews an' Gentiles. They're all alike to Him. Only some're goin' one road an' some another to get to Him, that's all."
These were quite new ideas to Virginia. In all her young life no one had ever conversed with her of such things. True, from her hill home on clear Sunday mornings she could hear the church bells ding-dong their hoarse welcome to the farmers, but she had never been inside the church doors. Now she regretted the lost opportunity. She wished to grasp the cobbler's meaning. Noting her tense expression, Grandoken continued:
"It was only a misunderstandin' 'tween a few Jews when they nailed the Christ to the cross. Why, a lot of Israelites back there believed in 'im. I'm one of them believin' Jews, Jinnie."
"I wish I was a Jew, cobbler," sighed Jinnie. "I'd think the same as you then, wouldn't I?"
"Oh, you don't have to be a Jew to believe," returned Lafe. "It's as easy to do as 'tis to roll off'n a log."
This lame man filled her young heart with a deep longing to help him and to have him help her.
"You're going to teach me all about it, ain't you, Lafe?" she entreated presently.
"Sure! Sure! You see, it's this way: Common, everyday folks—them with narrer minds—ain't much use for my kind of Jews. I'm livin' here in a mess of 'em. Most of 'em's shortwood gatherers. When I found out about the man on the cross, I told it right out loud to 'em all. ... You're one of 'em. You're a Gentile, Jinnie."
"I'm sorry," said the girl sadly.
"Oh, you needn't be. Peg's one, too, but she's got God's mark on her soul as big as any of them women belongin' to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob——I ain't sure but it's a mite bigger."
The speaker worked a while, bringing the nails from his lips in rapid, even succession. Peg was the one bright spot that shone out of his wonderful yesterdays. She was the one link that fastened him securely to a useful to-morrow.
Virginia counted the nails mechanically as they were driven into the leather, and as the last one disappeared, she said:
"Are you always happy, Lafe, when you're smiling? Why, you smile—when—even when—" she stammered, caught her breath, and finished, "even when Mrs. Peggy barks."
An amused laugh came from the cobbler's lips.
"That's 'cause I know her, lass," said he. "Why, when I first found out about the good God takin' charge of Jews an' Gentiles alike, I told it to Peg, an', my, how she did hop up an' down, right in the middle of the floor. She said I was meddlin' into things that had took men of brains a million years to fix up.
"But I knew it as well as anything," he continued. "God's love is right in your heart, right there——" He bent over and gently touched the girl.
She looked up surprised.
"I heard He was setting on a great high throne up in Heaven," she whispered, glancing up, "and he scowled dead mad when folks were wicked."