TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY
GRACE MILLER WHITE
Illustrations by Howard Chandler Christy
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers
Made in the United States of America
Copyright, 1909, by W. J. WATT & COMPANY
WITH LOVE AND GRATITUDE I DEDICATE THIS BOOK TO MY FATHER
TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY
One September afternoon, not many years ago, three men sat on the banks of Cayuga Lake cleaning the fish they had caught in their nets the previous night. When they glanced up from their work, and looked beyond the southern borders of the lake, they could see, rising from the mantle of forestry, the towers and spires of Cornell University in Ithaca City. An observer would have noticed a sullen look of hatred pass unconsciously over their faces as their eyes lighted on the distant buildings, for the citizens of Ithaca were the enemies of these squatter fishermen and thought that their presence on the outskirts of the town besmirched its fair fame. Not only did the summer cottages of the townfolk that bordered the lake, look down disdainfully upon their neighbors, the humble shanties of the squatter fishermen, but their owners did all they could to drive the fishermen out of the land. None of the squatters were allowed to have the title of the property upon which their huts stood, yet they clung with death-like tenacity to their homes, holding them through the rights of the squatter-law, which conceded them the use of the land when once they raised a hut upon it. Sterner and sterner the authorities of Ithaca had made the game laws until the fishermen, to get the food upon which they lived, dared only draw their nets by night. In the winter whilst the summer residents were to be found again in the city, Nature herself made harder the lot of these squatters, by sealing the lake with thick ice, but they faced the bitter cold and frozen surroundings with stolid indifference.
A grim silence had reigned during which the three men had worked with feverish haste, driven on by the vicissitudes of their unwholesome lives. Moving his crooked legs upon the hot sand and closing a red lid over one white blind eye, Ben Letts spoke viciously.
"Tess air that cussed," said he, "that she keeps on saying fishes can feel when they gets cut. She air worse than that too."
"And she do say," put in Jake Brewer, grasping a large pickerel and thrusting his blade into its quivering body after removing the scales, "that it hurts her insides to see the critters wriggle under the knife. She air that bad too."
Ben Letts scratched his head tentatively.
"She ain't had no bringin' up," he resumed, again plying the sharp-bladed knife to his scaly victims, "and they do say as how when she air in a tantrum she'll scratch her dad's face, jumpin' on his back like a cat. Orn air a fool, I say."
"So says I too," agreed Brewer; "no wonder his shoulders air humped. But you never hears as much as a grunt from him. He knows he ain't never give her no bringin's up, that's why."
"Some folks has give their kids bringin's up," interposed Ben Letts with a glance at the third man, who was industriously cleaning fish and had not yet spoken. "And they hain't turned out no better than Tessibel will."
At this the industrious one turned.
"I spose ye be a hittin' at my poor Myry, Ben," he muttered. "I spose ye be, but God'll some time let me kill the man, and then ye won't be hittin' at her no more, 'cause there won't be nothin' to hit at. It air dum hard to keep a girl from the wrong way, love her all ye will."
For an instant Ben Letts dropped his head.
"We always wondered who he was, but more wonder has been goin' on why ye ain't made no offer to find the fellow."
"Ain't had no time," said the desperate cleaner of fish; "had to get bread and beans, to say nothin' of bacon."
"But why didn't ye send the brat to the workhouse?" asked Jake.
"Satisfied" Longman, as he was called, shook his head.
"I was satisfied to let it stay," was all he answered.
"My old mammy says," offered Ben Letts, "as how yer son Ezy asked Tessibel Skinner to marry him and as how she slicked him in the face with a dirty dishrag."
He slowly closed the scarlet lids over his crossed eyes, suspending the pickerel in his hand the while.
"Tess ain't had no mother," remonstrated Longman, after a long silence, pausing a moment in his bloody work and allowing his eyes to rest upon the magnificent buildings of the University, rearing above the town, "and Myry says that them what has ought to be satisfied."
Just then a shadow fell upon the shore of the lake near the fishermen.
"There air Tess now," muttered Letts and his two companions eyed a figure clad in rags, with flying copper-colored hair and bare dirty feet, which dropped down beside Longman without asking whether or no.
"Cleanin' fish?" she queried.
"Can't ye see?" growled Ben.
"'Course I can," she answered; "just wondered if ye knowed yerselves."
"Where be yer dad?" queried Longman, smiling as he caught up two long fish, depositing one beside him where it flopped helplessly about upon the hot sand.
"Gone to Ithacy," replied Tessibel, and without change of expression or color caught the floundering fish in her dirty fingers.
"I air a hittin' the little devil on the head with a stone," said she, and with a pointed rock she expertly tapped the fish three times behind the beady eyes and threw him down again motionless.
"Suppose seein' the fish wrigglin' gives Tessibel mollygrubs in her belly," grinned Jake Brewer, but Ben Letts broke in.
"How be yer toad to-day, Tessibel?"
This he said with a malevolent smile, as he took from his pocket a huge hunk of tobacco and munched a generous mouthful therefrom.
"Pretty well," answered Tess pertly, and measuring the blue water with her eye, she sent a flat stone skipping across it. Then with darkening face she wheeled about upon the heavy squatter.
"But air it any of yer business how my toad air, Ben Letts?"
"Naw," laughed Ben, nudging Jake in the ribs with his bare elbow, "only I thought as how he might be dead." Then he whispered to Brewer, "Wait till I get at him."
"Dead—dead, who said as how he air dead? Ye in't been a rubberin' in his hole, have ye, Ben Letts?"
Ben only laughed in reply.
"Ye have, Ben Letts, ye have, damn ye," screamed the girl now glowering above the fishermen with eyes changing to the deep copper of her hair. "Take that, and that, and that."
She had snatched the long fish from his fingers, and with swift swirls slapped it thrice into the fisherman's face. Turning she flashed away, her long shadows giving out the smaller ones of the tatters that hung about her.
"I'll be goldarned," gasped Letts, "and I'll be goldarned twice if I don't get even with her some of these here days. The devil's built his nest in her alright, and if hell fire don't get her, it'll be 'cause she air burned up by her own cussed wickedness."
He rubbed his face frantically with the soiled sleeve of his shirt, spitting out the scales and blood that hat lodged between his dark-colored teeth.
"Ye're always a tormentin' her, Ben," said Longman; "now if ye was only satisfied to let her alone, I air a thinkin' that she wouldn't bother ye. Tess air a good girl, for Myry says as how she can hush the brat when he air a howlin' like a nigger."
"She'll cast a spell over him, that's what she will," muttered Ben Letts. "Her ma could take off warts afore she was knee high to a grasshopper, and so can Tess. Once she whispered ten off from Minister Graves' hand under his very eyes when he was a laughin' at the idee."
"Wish they'd lit on his nose," broke out Jake Brewer, darkly, "he wouldn't be makin' it so hard for us down here. He gets his bread on Sunday if any man does. But they do say as how, when he sees Tess a comin' along, he scoots like a jack-rabbit."
"Sposin' the Dominie don't laugh now, sposin' he don't," put in Longman with a chuckle, "he air lost the ten warts, ain't he? Tess ain't the worst in this here county."
"She can keep the bread-risin' from comin' up," objected Brewer; "she did it with us one day last winter. She scooted by our hut and down dropped the yeast. Wouldn't as much as let her step her foot in my kitchen bakin' day. Air we goin' out again to-night, fellers?"
"Yep," answered Ben Letts. "Sposin' Orn'll go, too. He air in town but he'll get back, Orn will. There ain't no man on the shores of this here lake that can pull a net with a steady hand like Orn Skinner. Pity he has such a gal."
Letts gave another wipe at the scales which still clung to his neck and his eyes glittered evilly as he looked in the direction the girl had taken. He turned when Longman touched his arm. For years it had been the custom of the fishermen to allow the subject of netting to remain undiscussed. They plied their trade, spent a term in prison if detected, and returned to again take up their occupation of catching and selling fish. Ben Letts knew he was venturing upon dangerous ground.
"Broad daylight," he growled, catching the expression upon his companion's face, "and there ain't no one in sight that'll tell."
"Better be satisfied to keep yer mouth shut, Ben Letts," cautioned Longman, "nettin' air bad for the man what gets caught."
"Got any bait out there?" he finished, pointing lakeward to a bobbing box anchored a distance from the shore.
"Not a damn bit," replied Jake Brewer, "don't need it now. Keep the bait cars a floatin' to blind the eyes of some guy that might be a rubberin'. They don't know a minnie from a whale, those city coves don't."
"Ain't that Orn's boat comin' under the shadders of the trees?" queried Longman, rising to his feet and wiping his long jack-knife on his blue-jeans breeches. "Yep, it air him," he added, getting a closer look at the approaching flat-bottomed boat in which sat a big round-shouldered individual working vigorously away at the oars. Orn Skinner was called the "Giant Fisherman," because even in his bare feet he was seven inches above every other man in the settlement. Two enormous humps stood side by side on his shoulders, and a grizzled head lifted and sank with each sweep of the oars. Glancing around to direct his course, Skinner saw the men waiting for him in front of Jake Brewer's hut. With a sharp turn he swung the boat shoreward and a few vigorous strokes sent it grating upon the sand. Jumping out he dragged the boat to a safe mooring, from where the waves could not beat it back into the lake.
In the beginning, it is said, God made the heavens and the earth. He made the seas and all that in them is, with the myriads of fish, the toads, the snakes and afterward man. Then to grace His handiwork, He created the heart of a woman—the loving, suffering, unteachable heart of Eve.
The first tinge of thinking sorrow comes into a woman's heart at the age of fifteen, and this was the beginning of Tessibel's sorrow, as she lifted her feet over the hot sands and sped onward. Tessibel was what most people would call a careless, worthless jade. She shamefully neglected her father, but covered the fact to him by the wild, willful worship which she bestowed upon him. If he uttered a word of disapprobation she would fling herself, like a cat, upon his crooked shoulders and bend back his head until the red of her lips met his—- the pathos in her red-brown eyes quieting his qualms as to the dirt he had to go through to get into bed.
In the mornings, either in summer or winter, he was obliged to tumble the ragged girl from the roped cot he had made for her (when at last she had reached an age too old to sleep with him), and force her, grumbling the while, to eat the bacon and fish he had prepared. But he seemed happy through it all, for the brown-eyed girl brought back to his mind the slip of a fishermaid who had died when Tessibel was born. True, there was more copper in the girl's hair and eyes than there had been in the mother's—more of the bright burnishing like that of a polished old-fashioned kettle hanging over the spigot in a tidy housewife's kitchen. But Tessibel's one room was never tidy nor had she a kettle. In one iron frying pan she cooked the fish and bacon, while a small tin pail held the water for the tea. These were the only cooking utensils of the hut.
Tess could climb to the top of the highest pine tree in the forest yonder; she could squirm through the underbrush with the agility of a rabbit. She loved every crawling, hateful thing, such as all honest people despised, and she once fought with the son of an uphill farmer for robbing a bird's nest, making him give up the eggs and restoring them herself to the top of a pine tree in the fodder lot of Minister Graves.
According to the ideas of all who knew her, save her father and Myra Longman, Tessibel was full of eccentric traits; for who but Tess would feel the "mollygrubs," as Ben Letts had said, at the wriggling of the agonized perch and pickerel, as they flopped painfully upon the sands; or who but Tess would mind the squeaking of the mother-bird calling for her own. It was something of this "mollygrub" feeling that hastened her dirt-caked feet, as she rounded the mud cellar near her father's hut, and sped back of the weeping willow tree hanging in green fringes over the cabin. She dropped quickly upon her knees before a large log, which in some former time the flood-waters had dashed to its place.
Tessibel ran her red, bare arm into the hole in the end of the log. Then she sat up and gazed around.
"He air gone," she said aloud, "he air gone. Ben Letts has took him, damn his dirty hide. He ain't no more good than—"
Something caused her to close her lips. A large high-warted toad sprang into her dirty lap and slipped to the ground through the rent in her skirt. Tenderly she took the reptile in her fingers, for she loved this warted monster who seemed by the turn of his head to reciprocate in some way the devotion the girl showered upon him. She lifted him close to her face, and intently searched his poppy eyes.
"I said, damn his hide, Frederick," she said in a low tone, "'cause I thought he took ye. And ye ain't done nothin' to him, have ye? Ye was just out huntin' flies, wasn't ye, Frederick? Don't never stay long or ye'll git hit with a spear. Ezry Longman don't like ye nuther, 'cause I kisses ye, and 'cause, on my birthday, I hit his mug with a dishrag when he was tryin' to kiss me fifteen times, and was askin' me to marry him. I'd rather kiss—"
Her sentence remained unfinished. She looked up to see a tall boy leaning upon a rake, a boy with pale gray eyes, and an evil face. His short hair looked as if it had passed through the fingers of a prison barber. His blue-jean breeches were held up by a rope fastened in the button holes with small iron nails, and the blue blouse which had been clean that morning was now drenched with perspiration.
"Ain't ye got nothin' better to do than to be kissin' a toad," he expostulated, without waiting for the girl to greet him, although she had risen to her feet, holding fast to her reptile treasure.
"Ain't nothin' to you, air it, what I does as long as Daddy don't care?" she retorted, and sullenly counted one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight long weeping willow leaves which had died that day and had fallen to the ground. She gathered each leaf between her great bare toe and its next-door neighbor, deftly throwing them aside as she counted.
"I care," stolidly said the boy coming nearer, "and ye air a goin' to throw that toad away, does ye see? Ma says as how ye could be made into a woman if ye hadn't got batty with birds and things. She says as how when ye sing to the brat that yer voice sounds like an angel's, and that's why the kid sleeps. He air a cryin' all the time to have ye sing to him."
Tess hadn't expected this. She did love the tiny unwelcome child of Myra Longman, a child without a father, or a place in the world. Tess loved the babe because there was an expression in its eyes that she had once seen in a wounded baby bird's ... a pitiful unborn expression which would go with the brat to its grave.
She stooped down and placed the toad again in his hole, shoving him deep down into his cavity, for the sun was going down and Frederick would sleep as long as there were no flies about.
The boy spoke again.
"Mammy says as how if ye don't stop runnin' wild ye'll be worse than Myry with another—"
Suddenly the clenched fist of the girl flew up and struck the fisherman with a swiftness and force that took him from his feet. Tessibel was standing over him rigidly.
"I hates ye, I hates ye, I'd ruther marry—yep, I'd ruther marry my toad or a man as ugly as him than you, Ezry Longman, does yer hear, does yer hear?"
The lumbering body raised itself from the ground. The squint eyes were almost closed, only a glint of the gray ring that surrounded the pupil showing between the lids.
"Ye think that ye can hide from me what ye be a doin'," burst out Ezra. "Why did ye name that toad after the student of Minister Graves? Just 'cause he wears nice clothes and don't do no honest rakin' of hay, nor catchin' a fish only by trollin'. Ye loves that feller, that's what ye does."
Bewilderment leapt alive in the girl's brown eyes. The shade deepened almost to black as the thought the boy had planted in the sensitive mind took root and grew. Then the dirty young face flooded with crimson which tinted the rounded neck and colored the low forehead, and Tess dropped down beside the log and covered her face with her hands. The fisherman was so surprised that he uttered not a word while the wild storm broke over the girl's heart, dying away in a smothered moan.
Without a glance at the boy, she lifted herself slowly from the earth and walking, erect and tall, into her father's hut, closed the door with a bang. She slipped the leather fastening into its place and dazedly adjusted the iron peg in the opening to hold it. Tessibel's heart had manifested its hitherto unknown burden and the woman lived amid the dirt and squalor of the fisherman's cabin.
Tessibel's peremptory leaving and the hauteur in her face were so foreign to her that Ezra Longman did not dare follow. He leaned upon his rake looking after her, his gray eyes gathered into an incomprehensive squint. Had Tess again cuffed his ears, he would have been secretly delighted; but this manner, so unlike her, seemed to take her as far above him as that flock of black crows yonder, flying to the forest to find shelter for the night.
"Tessibel," he called helplessly, under his breath, but Tessibel did not hear. He limped away not knowing that she had passed as effectually out of his life as if she had not dwelt in the rickety cabin on his right.
Ben Letts rose to his feet after cleaning his jack-knife in the water and took the same path around the mud cellar which Tessibel had taken. The cabin door was closed—Tess nowhere in sight. Ben had intended—Ben didn't know just what his intentions were. He stopped short when his eyes fell upon Frederick's log. It took a long time for a thought to be born in the dense brain of the fisherman, but one was there, for the cross eyes opened and the red tongue licked greedily at the thick chops like that of a wolf when he comes upon prey for which he does not have to fight. Letts looked sneakily at the hut window where hung the remnants of a ragged curtain—all was quiet. He quickly ran his long arm into the opening of the log and with a snap of his teeth drew out the high-backed toad.
Holding the reptile in his hand, he slunk behind the willow tree and stood an instant in abstract hesitation. Suddenly his fiendish face became flooded with the exultation of a plan fully matured. He let the toad fall to the ground, needing both hands to draw the blade of his jack-knife. Frederick hopped vigorously along in the direction of his log, but Ben, gorged with the instincts of an inquisitor, snatched him up as he was about to escape. After divesting Frederick of all the ornaments which nature had given him, the man allowed him to hop about, grinning, as he watched the rapid leaps of the toad. Frederick had forgotten the path to his log, he could only turn around and around as if he had been born to radiate in a circle. Ben could have watched this tumbling toad all night, so great was his joy at the sight, but it was getting dark and soon the call would come for the fishermen to gather for the netting and he would be expected to go.
Taking the toad gingerly up from the earth, he returned it to the hole in the log, and with but a hasty glance at the dirty curtain which hung limp and ugly at the cabin window, sneaked away.
* * * * *
After leaving Ezra Longman, Tessibel stood in the cabin for one single moment with the terrible thought which the boy had planted there, burning in her brain. She had but a few times seen the minister's son who lived in the big house on the hill and not even to herself had she mentioned that he was her ideal of manhood—he was as far above her as the learned minister was above her own squatter father. Her heart seemed to almost stop beating as she sprang headlong into "Daddy's bed" and covered herself with the ragged blanket.
Only when she heard her father pounding at the door did she lift her head. She jumped swiftly from the bed to let him in. No thought of supper for him had entered her mind. He looked his hunger as he noted the absence of a fire, and spoke rather mournfully, but Tess cut him short. The lithe young form bounded squarely upon the bible-back of the fisherman. She drew back his shaggy head, her bright wide eyes shining into Skinner's and a low voice deepened by the first arousal of womanly emotion which had ever come knowingly into the young life, was murmuring to him.
"I loves ye, Daddy, I do. What does ye care for supper when I loves ye like this. Daddy, I could—just bite ye hard, that I could, I love ye so."
"Get off my back, Tess," ordered Skinner, trying to loosen her fingers from his hair. "I air tired, Brat, and there be nettin' to-night. Ye air goin' to Mis' Longman's till we get back."
"Won't get off till ye kisses me square on the bill, Daddy," replied the girl softly, "square where I does my eatin's." And square on "the bill" the girl got the caress—and then eagerly hastened to fry the inevitable fish.
"I air coming after ye to Longman's when the nettin's over," broke in Orn Skinner presently, his mouth full of bread and fish, "and ye'd best duck yer head in the lake, Tess, afore ye go. Yer face has a week's dirt caked on it."
Tessibel allowed her red lips to spread wide in a loving smile.
"Ye air a durn good Daddy, ye air, and I loves ye, if my face be dirty."
She rose quickly and came to his side.
"Daddy," she began, twisting his big head so her eyes met his, "Can't I go nettin' to-night? I air a good helper, ain't I, Daddy?"
Orn Skinner dreaded the wheedling tone in Tessibel's voice and the pleading in the eyes so like her mother's. He dropped his gaze upon his plate and slowly shook his head.
"Nope, Tess, ye air goin' to Longman's. Don't ... now there be a kiss ... sit down and eat ... that air a good brat."
The last ejaculation was brought forth by Tess herself. She had turned back to her place at the table and had complacently begun to eat the crisp, brown fish.
"And ye ain't to stay on the ragged rocks, nuther, Tess," cautioned Skinner, rising from the table. "Ye be a good Tess. Scoot along now."
The fisherman moved lumberingly to the water's edge, pushing his boat into the lake, and stepped in. Thrusting his powerful head down between his shoulders, he pulled lazily away at the oars until he lost sight of the shore on which stood the small silent figure in the fast gathering gloom.
* * * * *
Tess did not fancy netting nights. She always feared that something might happen to her father. But she knew, too, that they could not live, even meagerly, through the long winter unless the nets were used. So this night after she had received many kisses, "square on the bill," she watched her father's bent shoulders, rising and falling with the motion of the oars as long as she could see him, and turning, scudded through the underbrush which grew in profusion near the forest—up to the rugged rocks toward the Longmans' hut. She slid down beside a large stone as she heard the lapping of oars below her on the lake, and knew that "Satisfied" Longman and his son Ezra were going to join the others at Jake Brewer's shanty.
She was alone under the heavens, alone with the eagles and sleepy twittering birds—she could think of what had been forced upon her that day. She bitterly regretted the tears shed before Ezra, and she must never, never again look at the student Graves. She felt that to see his face, even from a distance, would cause her to drop dead before him. Every muscle tingled and her eyes burned with unshed tears. She had never dared to speak even to his sister, the pretty Teola Graves, who fluttered about with pink ribbons among her curls and wore high heels on her shoes.
Suddenly Tess opened her lips and sent ringing over the lake in glorious tones of pathos, the hymn she loved best,
"Rescue the perishin', Care for the dyin'."
* * * * *
Tessibel knew what it meant to almost perish from the cold. She had felt the cruel blasts of the winter winds upon her chilblained feet, for she had never known the luxury of shoes. She had also seen the dying and understood what it meant to turn a longing face toward heaven, with a burning desire to know what was beyond.
Such a voice as Tessibel's had never been heard upon Cayuga lake. Ben Letts said it put him in mind of listening to the wild cry of a lost soul, while Myra Longman could hear only the songs of angels in the exquisite tones which fell, pure and sweet, from the red lips. Tess knew nothing of breath power, nothing of trained trilling tones, but nature had given her both and like the birds of the air she used them.
The girl had not moved from beside the stone near which she had fallen. The night was so strange, so different from any night Tessibel had ever known. Her whole idea of life had been altered that day by the word of a fisherman, and the woman's heart grew larger and larger, until the squatter girl felt that it was going to burst. Something crawled over her bare foot and brought her to her senses. Leaning over she drew to her lap a long, slimy lizard, which she held caressingly in her fingers. She lifted him high up and looked at him through the moonlight.
"Green," she said slowly, "ain't he a dandy. But I don't dare carry him even a little way for fear he'll lose his house. I bet he has a pile of green babies."
Dropping the lizard beside the rock, she sped away.
Just before reaching the Longman cabin, she raised her voice and sang again,
"Rescue the perishin', Care for the dyin'."
Some one opened the door and she bounded in.
"Glad ye come, Tessibel," said Mrs. Longman, a small wizened old woman. "The brat air sick to-day. He does nothin' but squall so that my head air a bustin' the hours through. Give him to Tessibel, Myry."
"After she air rested a spell," replied Myra, who resembled her mother, but was smaller and thinner. "He seems to have a pain, Tess."
"Mebbe he has," responded Tessibel, "give him to me."
The wee boy stopped his tears immediately. His back grew limp and his fists opened out as Tessibel began to sing. This time the song was, "Did ye ever go into an Irishman's shanty?"
The child fell asleep and Tessibel laid him gently in the box prepared for him. Bed room was scarce in the huts of the fishermen and the small members of the family slept on rope beds, let down from the ceiling. But Myra's child, still too tender and always sick, slept in a box which his grandfather, "Satisfied" Longman, had made for him as soon as he was born.
"It air a seemly night for the men to fish," commented Myra when Tessibel had seated herself again. "I air always a hopin' that nothin' will happen to none of them."
"The hull bunch air cute," assured Tessibel, "and Daddy can row faster than any man on this here lake."
"But when them game men gets after 'em with the permit to shoot, that's what I fears," complained Mrs. Longman—and she sighed.
The fisherwoman's life she had led had been harder than most women bore, for Ezra was going a crooked path, while Myra, well—the brat slept in the cradle. Both girls saw her glance toward it and read her thoughts.
Myra's face deepened in color, Tessibel hummed a tune.
"'Taint no use to try to bring up children anywheres decent," the woman broke in sharply, after a silent moment. "God! but to see one's own—"
"Ma," Myra's voice was pleading, "it air over and ye said—"
"I knows I did, and so did yer Daddy. But I ain't thinkin' only of ye to-night, Myra, look at the mess that Ezry's a makin' of things, and just 'cause ye won't marry him, Tessibel."
"I ain't never goin' to marry no one," said Tess sullenly; "goin' to stay with Daddy."
"Yer Daddy won't live allers," interposed Mrs. Longman, "and what's more, yer better off with a man what will look after ye as Ezy will. Be ye a thinkin' of it at all, Tessibel?"
The girl shook her head.
"Nope, 'taint no use; don't like Ezy anyway."
"Ezry ain't the worst boy in the world," defended the mother; "if the right woman gets him, Tess, he'll make her a good man. Ye couldn't think of tryin' him, could ye?"
Tessibel shook her head again. She shuddered perceptibly, and Myra thought she realized the feeling in the girl's heart.
"Don't bother her, ma, don't bother—"
"If ye'd a bothered a little yerself, Myra," broke in the woman pettishly, "we might all been better off. It ain't 'cause of the brat, air it, Tessibel?"
She shot a glance at the infant's box.
"Why 'cause of the brat," asked Tessibel sharply, "why 'cause of the brat?"
"He air a come-be-chance, ye know—"
"That ain't no fault of his'n, air it," demanded Tessibel. "Nope, 'tain't nothin' to do with the brat. I loves him, I does, come-be-chance or no. It don't make no difference to me."
Myra pressed Tessibel's bare toe with hers in loving fellowship.
"Ye allers was a funny gal, Tessibel," ruminated Mrs. Longman. "Now Ezy says that yer takin' a likin' to such things as toads, lizards and snakes, shows as how ye needs some one to help ye. God'll make ye a happy mother if ye'll keep yer nose low in the air, and not think too much of yer betters."
Ezra, then, had told his mother of the student. A frown deepened on the girl's brow. She hated Ezra Longman with an inward fury for what he had said that day.
"Ye might have a come-be-chance, yerself, Tessibel," warned Mrs. Longman as she went to bed, clambering up the long ladder to the loft, leaving the girls alone.
Outside the Longman hut the wind had quickened its pace up the dark lake, but inside there was no sound save the small snore of the infant.
"Don't hurt you and me bein' friends, does it, Myry," broke in Tessibel impetuously, "'cause I can't love Ezry?"
"Nope, I wouldn't love him nuther. Ma don't know all that's to know and I wouldn't a married the brat's pa if I could," and she shivered, for she knew that she had lied to Tess.
This was the first time Myra had mentioned her trouble, that is, in just that confidential manner. Tessibel came closer. Had it not been a mystery since the coming of the brat, who had been responsible for his tiny life?
"It air some un what ye knows, too, Tessibel," Myra said, shifting her eyes from her companion's face to the box where the infant lay, but Tess did not ask the name. Suddenly Myra leaned over and whispered something in the other girl's ear, and Tessibel started as if she had been stung by an adder.
"Nope ... it ain't him," she cried, starting up, "he air bad but not so bad as that."
"It were him," replied Myra, "and he beat me that night on the ragged rocks and that air what broke my arm. Ye remember?"
Tessibel nodded. She had heard a secret that not even Myra's mother knew—she felt intuitively that Myra intended her to keep silent. She did not dare to speak again, fearing the woman above was not asleep. But Myra, with less fear, resumed,
"'Taint no hopin' the brat will live, and if he does he'll get his eatin's alright. What brats don't? But, Tessibel, I telled ye this to keep ye away from the ragged rocks for there air no tellin' what will happen to ye. And yer that pretty—"
Tessibel stared blankly.
"Pretty! pretty!" she gasped, stumbling over the words, "ye say pretty. Me—pretty, Myra Longman?"
"As if ye didn't know it," scoffed Myra, "but yer face air allers so dum dirty that ye can't see nothin' but yer eyes, and yer matty old hair—it air a shame to live like ye do."
Tessibel sat up. This was her first ambitious moment. Never had lips said such things to her, and she had always known Myra Longman. Rising from the chair she disappeared into the outer room, and Myra could hear the splashing of water and the shuffling of feet as Tessibel stood first on one and then the other, washing her dirty face. She mopped the long red hair in and out of the wash-basin, and Myra was not prepared for the vision which Tessibel made in her new state of cleanliness. The impetus of being good-looking by an effort of her own had blackened the copper colored eyes. The long fringed lashes dripped with pearls of water while the skin had reddened from the vigorous rubbing, but it was very, very clean.
"I wants yer comb, Myry Longman," said Tessibel slowly shaking herself like a big dog.
"Ye got too much dirt in your hair yet," said she, "but if ye'll take care of yer mop, I'll be givin' ye a comb to yourself."
Tess did not deny the accusation of her filth. She took the comb and drew it through the wet locks. Myra was regarding her critically. Tessibel—was beautiful. In the last year Ezra's sister had seen the change coming. The complexion had whitened under the perpetual dirt and the long eyes had gathered an expression of knowledge, while their color changed from light to dark with passing emotions.
Myra bent her brows as she examined Tessibel closer. The skin was clean and shone with the glossiness of much soap. The low brow was covered with small wet ringlets, which turned and twisted here and there in luxurious confusion. Over the shoulders, hidden by a soiled calico blouse, the copper colored mass hung in dripping flame-like waves.
"You air pretty," said Myra slowly, "but ye air so dum dirty no one can ever see it. Why ain't you washed up like that every day?"
"Never knowed how before. Didn't see nothin' to keep clean in my face."
As Tessibel spoke she stood before the glass looking at her own image—spying upon the prettiness which Myra said was there.
"This hair air like red snakes," she gasped passionately. "Just like the snakes that eats the little birds in the spring. In the sun their backs air red like this—and this—and this."
She was angrily tearing at the beautiful tightly curled ringlets with but one thought dominating her brain. Students never liked red haired girls with eyes which looked like copper.
"Don't," ordered Myra, catching the rough hands as they pulled at the profusion of redness. "Don't, ye air tearin' it out by the roots, and it looks like—like the sun when it air goin' down in one ball of fire. It air beautiful."
Beautiful! beautiful! Tessibel caught her breath and looked at Myra with a yellowish glint, born of a new emotion in her eyes. Was the brat's mother making fun of her? All her short life had this been Tessibel's portion. Ben Letts had followed her along the ragged rocks over which her bare feet flew with the swiftness of eagle's wings and when he found she could not be induced to stop he would shout in defiance, "Brick top, red head," and such names that went deep into the sensitive little heart. When she reached home she would tear at the curls and cut them fiercely with the knife which her father used to skin his fish and large eels. Yet nature would send more and more of the burnished gold to adorn Tessibel's head, and not until to-night had she ever heard one word in praise of it.
The reformation had begun. Tessibel went again to the soap and water and Myra looking through the crack of the door, saw Tess dragging madly at her hair, sopping it first in the pan and then in the deep bucket which Ezra used to give the pig their swill. Once Myra saw the mass of gold disappear into the pail, and when Tessibel came again to view she was sputtering, coughing, and blowing the cold water from her nose and mouth.
"Won't be much left if ye keeps on at yer hair that way," called Myra grimly, "but the soap air good for cleanin' it. There air other days and nights, too," she went on sarcastically, "and it air almost midnight. Yer Daddy'll be here soon. Wonder if the game warden air out to-night?"
As if in answer to her question they heard the dipping of oars and a little later a boat was dragged to its moorings on the shore. "Satisfied" Longman entered with his son and Ben Letts.
"Daddy were tired and didn't come for me?" asked Tessibel.
"Your Daddy didn't come child," replied the elder Longman, whilst Ben Letts stood with his squint eyes lowered. He had an exquisite feeling within him, longing for the sight of the girl after she had heard their news.
"I air goin' home to Daddy—I ain't afeared to go home alone," she said stoutly and defiantly, for Ben Letts made a move to accompany her. "I ain't afeared of the night things, nor nothin' that crawls nor flies. Ye knows I ain't afeared, Myra."
"Ye ain't goin' home to-night, Tessibel," said Long man, "for yer father ain't there."
At first Tessibel didn't comprehend. She thought of the care which was taken to keep the fish fresh for the market. Daddy was putting the pickerel and numerous eels in the blind fish cars until they could be cleaned. She looked into "Satisfied" Longman's face.
"Air he a carin' for the fish?"
Longman shook his head in the negative.
"Where air he then?"
Tessibel's voice was sharp and penetrating. It awoke Mrs. Longman upstairs and the infant in the box beside the rope cot.
"He air gone to prison," put in Ezra opening and shutting his eyes, and licking his thick lips with his red tongue. "He air where ye won't see him to scratch his face when ye goes into a tantrum. He air in prison."
The bronze eyes widened and lengthened till the very fear in them startled her companions. The tall, slight figure with its weight of rags, swayed to the hut floor—the clean shining face gathered into a painful pucker, while the two fists which had fought many a hard battle, clenched until the nails entered the calloused skin under each finger. Not one word came from the tightened white lips. The dumb agony was worse than a child's frantic scream of fear. Somehow, Ben's mind went back to the toad, when it also had borne its misery dumbly.
"Satisfied" Longman, stooping down, grasped the girl and stood her on her feet. No one had ever seen Tess like this. Ben leered, the sides of his fat cheeks protruding in the joyful emotion he felt at Tessibel's suffering.
"He killed the gamekeeper," he grinned, leaning back against the wall. "He air where ye won't hurt him now."
The tortured Tess could bear no more. She had striven to be brave when she thought of "Daddy" in the small cell which she had heard many times vividly described. She had thought vaguely of months, perhaps a whole year without him, but Ben's words made her father a murderer, and murderers went away sometimes never to return. Her Daddy!—and Ezra had said that she could never scratch his face again. She hurt Daddy? Did every one in the settlement think that? She sank down beside Myra's father and winding her arms about his legs implored him to say that it was only Ben's and Ezra's fun.
"It air fun, only fun, Satisfied, ain't it," she pleaded, "for Daddy, poor old Daddy, never killed no man."
"We all says as how it were a mistake," replied Longman. "Ben says the gun went off in yer Daddy's hands and the warden dropped, and the other gamekeeper took yer Daddy away at the point of his pistol. I were at the north reel and couldn't save him nohow."
Tessibel understood. It was all plain now. She loosened her arms and painfully raised herself. The shock had hurt her flesh, and made her sore and lame. She started dazedly toward the door, "Satisfied" trying to stop her flight, but the strong young body, mad with grief and newly found despair, slipped through the friendly fingers, and the night, Tessibel's night, gathered her into its arms, till she was lost in the long shadows of the pine forest.
A night owl hooted in Tessibel's ear as she ran. A bat whirled into her face—then took himself off. Over the shadowy rocks which cut and bruised her feet, Tessibel flew.
Daddy was home in the shanty; he was in his bed tired from hauling his nets. She remembered Ezra had grinned at her as with one hasty look she had fixed his face in her mind. He had lied to her. Daddy was in the hut, and if he were up waiting for her—there passed through Tessibel's small mind the thought of how joyfully she would hop to the bowed shoulders, and she longed for the kisses she knew would be hers. She halted before the dark hut and waited. Insects whizzed about her ears as though they little feared her. The long branches of the weeping willow dragged themselves across the tin roof with a ghostly sound. This was Tessibel's night of heart experiences—her first day and her first night. Oh! to go back to yesterday, with the hidden fear of the student sleeping soundly in her breast and a Daddy, a dear stooping old Daddy. She slipped open the shanty door, lighted a candle and looked around. The frying pan lay bottom up on the floor where she had dropped it. The tea pail was on the table; a cut loaf of bread lay beside it, covered with a host of small red ants. All this was familiar to Tess. She kicked the pan from her path with her bare foot, and sat down on the three legged stool which her father used at his meals. Portions of fish and plenty of bones were spread about upon the floor, but the littered shanty did not distress her newly found notions of cleanliness.
Daddy might go away to the black place where they had taken the Canadian Indian, who had killed his squaw. Tess remembered hearing how he had been carried to prison, twelve men had found him guilty of the crime and at last—Tessibel started up with a groan—the Canadian Indian had been carried to the place where the rope was.
Daddy Skinner and the Canadian Indian. Tess dared think no longer. She caught a glimpse of herself in the cracked mirror which Skinner used when he plied the pinchers to his beard—and her wild eyed bronzeness caused her to give a startled ejaculation. Daddy was gone; and Frederick the toad, was her all. The thought of the reptile she loved brought her quickly to her feet. Frederick should sleep in the shanty while Daddy was away. Tessibel halted apprehensively in the open doorway.
From the shore willows, hoot owls pierced the inky night with their sonorous cries—while in throaty discord, a million marsh frogs bellowed farewell to summer. The lake shores caught the unceasing waves in eternal laps, the rhythm soothing the ears of the squatter girl as her unfathomable gaze pierced the midnight gloom. But the weight of sorrow and longing on the strong nature, untried by emotion, strangled the rising fear, and Tessibel advanced a step to the pebbly path. Once outside in the darkness, she lifted her voice and repeated as of yore,
"Rescue the perishin' Care for the dyin'."
Never before had the words roused her as now—Daddy Skinner needed that refrain.
She darted around the corner of the mud cellar, and shoving her hand into the familiar hole in the log, Tessibel drew Frederick quickly out. She dropped him into her blouse and retraced her steps to the shanty. She could never be lonely and quite without hope if Frederick were with her. Hadn't she loved him for four long months, and daily fed him his portion of flies? She took him from her bosom, where many times he had sunk into toad dream-land, and without looking at him placed him on the floor.
"It air a bad night for us, Frederick," she said out loud, "it air. But you'll not sleep in the log to-night, but in Daddy's bed. And I'll just pretend ye air Daddy, and when ye croak with the daylight ye can have all the flies lightin' on the sugar, and then we air goin' after Daddy and bring him home to the shanty, Frederick."
Tessibel turned her head and glanced at Frederick. Generally when she spoke he would give an answering grunt. She gazed at him but dared not venture closer. Had she lost her mind like Jake Brewer's sister, when they brought home the body of her drowned husband? Tessibel lighted another candle and then the third—the match burned low between her fingers as she touched it to the fourth. Once more she looked upon the horrid sight—terror striving and struggling for some outlet in her torn young soul. Frederick blinked a pair of beady eyes, filmed with death,—he moved a mutilated body with painful jerks, but there was nothing to show the girl that he felt her presence. The silent awful pulsating of the toad manifested its dumb suffering. A candle flickered as she sought to solve the problem. The night wind flapped the dirty curtain and Tessibel turned her head slowly toward it. A bird's cry from somewhere in the weeping willow, came in through the window. With silent intensity, she dragged her body slowly across the floor toward the flattened reptile—above him she squatted—the gorgeous hair sweeping the filth strewn floor. Tess could mark the places where the beloved warts had been—she knew how many there were even to the tiny ones. With the halting precision of the ignorant, she had counted them singly every day. But the severest heart wrench of all was to come to Tess. The great squat hind legs, which had been her pride, when Frederick jumped through her rounded arms—curled to make a hoop—were gone, and the movements of Frederick's body left a tiny trail of dark blood upon the shanty floor. She couldn't touch that dying thing. In her vehement desire to relieve him of his pain, she burst into song which went upward and outward, ringing over the lake, returning again, only to be sent further and further into the heavens.
"Rescue the perishin' Care for the dyin'."
This was all Tessibel knew of the hymn—over and over she sang it, fearfully watching the toad move grotesquely in the candlelight. Time after time the blinking eyes closed and flew open—again and again Tessibel sent her importunate prayer into the heart of the Great Unknown.
Frederick gave a great deep sob, his fat sides lifted and fell twice, and as the petitionate lips of the girl sent the song once more into the night, he flopped over on his back, straightened out the little wounded stumps, and died.
Daddy Skinner, the Canadian Indian, and Frederick! Tess couldn't separate the three—the prayerful mood died with the toad. She opened her lips and uttered two great piercing shrieks, which sounded and resounded through the rafters of the shanty, out into the darkness and up to the ragged rocks. It was the cry of a wounded human thing, amounting to but little in the great whirling universe. The dying of the scream brought words from her lips.
"Daddy Skinner, Daddy Skinner."
Then twice in equally shrill longing, resounded the name of her dead friend.
"Frederick, aw, aw Frederick!"
Both cries followed the prayer, echoing their agony out through the window—the flapping curtain with its tatters offering no impediment for its outgoing.
Suddenly Tessibel staggered to her feet, for back to her through the window, from somewhere near the mud cellar, came an answering voice, deep-toned and vibrant—
Frederick, the student, stood in the door of the dirty shanty, looking upon an unkempt, copper-eyed girl, and a great squat, dead, wartless toad.
"You called me?"
"You called me?"
The student repeated the words twice, so satisfied was he that his name had been called out in tones of great insistence.
Tessibel was deaf to his words. His presence had filled her completely. Leaning against the post of Daddy's bed, she glued her eyes upon the student's face, the fringed lids sprung to their fullest capacity. The extreme fascination in her gaze held the boy spellbound—then the eyelids quivered and it was over.
Frederick glanced hurriedly about the room, the untidiness of it all striking his sensitiveness. He noted the pungent smell of fried fish mixed with inferior grease, the ant-covered bread, the confusion of ragged bed-clothes, and lastly of all, the other Frederick. Tessibel gasped as the newcomer looked longest upon her dead. She thought she saw him shiver as he stepped back a little.
This brought her grief vividly back to her. The pain, as acute and sharp as the knife which had ended the life of Frederick, entered her already riven soul. The instant before a mingled sensation of shame and embarrassment had swept over her because of the appearance of the hut, and her own bare legs and feet; but the helpless dead sent even that from her.
"He air gone," she said chokingly, coming forward with a totter.
Disgust rested paramount upon the student's face. Surprise followed this as Tessibel threw herself in limp unconcern beside the other Frederick and gathered the stiffened toad into her arms. She rocked to and fro as a mother might who had suddenly discovered that the great White Mystery had robbed her of her child. Tessibel's maternal instinct was being strongly developed in her agony of the hour, and the identity of Frederick the student, was lost in Frederick, the toad, her one little friend, to whom she had told all her sorrows, and had been ruthlessly torn from her. Already she could feel the short front legs growing stiff, and the throat which had so often grunted for its supper, was falling into a curve. The great mutilated back which had lifted and then receded with every breath was still, and Frederick lay like the lump of clay that he was, in the arms of his foster mother. Tessibel's child by adoption would never again gather into his slit of a mouth the flies which favored the sugar. Then Tess, still clasping her dead friend, lifted her head. A stranger had intruded upon her grief. She gathered her bruised, sore feet under the short, ragged girl's skirt, and lifted a woman's soulful face toward the student.
"What do ye want?" she asked sullenly.
"You called me?"
"It were him I wanted," she said hysterically, hugging her little dead burden.
"Yep, he were all I had,—him and Daddy, and—Daddy Skinner air gone too."
Then Tessibel forgot the student, and the forlorn red head with its burden of curls lay relaxed upon the lifeless Frederick, while the child-woman wept in abject loneliness.
Impetuously the second Frederick stepped forward, the movement closing the door with a bang, and causing the candles to lift their smothered flames and flicker smokily. The wind shrieked through the broken window and the cracks between the shanty boards. A storm played with the water, casting its grayness into white capped rollers which beat upon the shore like the restless spirits of an ocean. Still the girl wept on,—wept for Frederick, for Daddy, and once a shuddering thought went through her mind of the Canadian Indian.
"He killed the gamekeeper, Ezy says,—Daddy Skinner," she whimpered.
Suddenly she sat up, her small round face puckered into such lines of pain that the student turned his head away, feeling dangerously near tears. He had always been taught, by his father and by his mother who feared contagion, that of all people in the world, the squatters must be most avoided; they had no hearts; they killed men and broke the laws simply for their own gain. But here was a girl magnetically drawing him toward her. Dirty? Yes, and barefooted, wild-eyed and untaught, but suffering—and such suffering! Frederick Graves, like his father, would teach the Gospel of Christ, of peace and good-will to all mankind,—but the deep burnishing of the beautiful hair as it swept the floor in red curls had much to do with Frederick's sympathy, for man-like, he looked upon Eve in her beauty and pitied.
"Your father is Orn Skinner, who shot the gamekeeper to-night?" he asked presently.
Tess nodded, still looking fearfully into his face.
"He was disobeying the law," replied Frederick gravely.
Again she nodded, for Tess had no spirit to thwart an argument at that moment.
"People who disobey the law," went on the student in his youthful righteousness, "take their life in their hands, and other people's too. Don't you think that the woman left without her husband, the gamekeeper's wife, is weeping for him?"
It was a new thought for Tess, but she would not harbor it. It didn't seem quite just to Daddy. She drew down the red lips at the corners, and helplessly clung closer and closer to the toad.
"What are you going to do?" asked the student. "You lived here with your father, but you can't stay here alone."
"It air my home," she said distrustfully, "and I stays here and hangs to this here shanty till Daddy comes back. Aw, he air comin' back, ain't he? He won't go to that place—?"
She closed her lips, fearing to utter the thought.
Frederick shook his head.
"Poor child," he said, with a fatherly air. "It is a dangerous position."
If the case had been placed before Frederick Graves to decide, yesterday he would have hanged Orn Skinner for the murder of the gamekeeper. But to-night—well, to-night his ideas of men and ... of women, too, had changed.
"But he didn't mean it," went on Tess, casting back the unruly hair which shrouded her face in its new state of cleanliness. "He wouldn't have hurt a fly, Daddy Skinner wouldn't."
A whistle from the outside, heard plainly through the beating of the wind, caused Frederick to fling open the door.
"Yes, father," he said loudly, "I'm here. I missed you on the way. Come in a moment if you will."
Tessibel gathered herself more closely into a small human ball than ever. She had feared the minister since the time she had talked off his warts with the wizard words she had learned from a hag living on the ragged rocks.
"What's this," demanded the Dominie, looking sternly at her, and she dropped her eyes in confusion.
"It's Orn Skinner's girl," replied his son. "Skinner is the man who shot Stebbins to-night. You heard Deacon Hall talking about it at the cottage."
This explanation was superfluous, for the minister well knew the girl and her father.
"It's a nice mess your father's got himself into," he said harshly.
Tessibel lifted her head.
"He didn't mean to do it, sir," she replied, not daring to rise, because of her bare, long legs.
"Didn't, eh?" roared Graves in his wrath, placing his hand on his son's shoulder. "He was right glad to have the chance to use his gun, or why did he take it with him?"
Tessibel raised her eyes to the rafters, and her face flooded with color. The rifle was gone—Daddy Skinner had taken it with him. She was too young to argue with such a man and only wiped her face with her sleeve and sobbed.
"God will see that justice is done, my girl. Your father will hang, do you hear?" shouted Graves. "Hang by the neck till he's dead, and this shanty will be burned with all its filth!"
Frederick clutched his father's arm, his face changing from red to white as he watched Tessibel. She had clambered to her feet, ridiculously tangled in the rags of her dress. The dead Frederick was forgotten, falling with a great thud upon the floor. Her face was so mobile, so glassily white that if the hand of death had smitten her, she could not have looked ghastlier.
Standing before them, the tears drying over the hot blood which rushed in torrents afresh from her heart to her face, Tessibel learned her first lesson in suppressed emotion. She took two steps backward and wound her hands behind the post of Daddy's old-fashioned bed.
Truly it was Tessibel's first day and first night!
"He air to be hanged dead?" she asked, the painful shiftiness of her eyes settling questioningly upon the minister's face. "Aw, he air good, Daddy Skinner air, gooder than ye be, with ye cross and ye crown that ye sing about. Gooder than all ye whole church, if his gun did kill the gamekeeper. We has our rights to live, to eat bread and beans, like ye have, hain't we? If Daddy Skinner air hung, then Tessibel hangs too."
Here the tired young face drooped a little.
"Ye'll hang him will ye? Well! ye won't—cause—cause—"
Her red head flashed back upon the uncovered shoulders—the wild eyes lifted a moment to the rocking rafters in the roof.
"If ye lives in the sky, Jesus, that cares for the dyin', take Daddy Skinner and Tessibel—"
Her eyes dropped to the pan on the floor, against which the stiff body of the toad lay, and she ended,—"And Frederick."
It was a prayer,—a rough prayer, from untaught lips, but through the action which followed, it instantly lost its dignity. Tessibel forgot her lesson—forgot all save the taunting face of the minister. She gave her familiar leap in the air and came down with a cry upon the Dominie's chest.
"Ye'll kill him, will ye? Then I—I air goin' to kill ye," and deep into the face of the minister sunk the ten little toad-tainted fingers.
Frederick loosened her by extreme effort from his father's body and thrust the gasping preacher outside the door. The student placed his hand upon the panting girl's shoulder.
"You're wrong," he said gravely, "Your prayer was good and God heard. There is in the sky a suffering Christ and His cross—and by your prayers you may save your father, and also save—poor little Tessibel Skinner." Then glancing about the filthy room he added, "and cleanliness is next to godliness."
She opened the door proudly—his words had taught her a newer dignity.
"This air my shanty," she said. "I air sorry I hitted yer Daddy's face, cause—cause he air yer Daddy. Scoot now!"
For one short moment after the going of Frederick, Tessibel stood, gapingly, looking out into the darkness. The student had gone and with him her horror of the minister. The steps died away and dazedly she closed the door. She remembered the day she had talked the warts off from Graves' hand—remembered how he had said to her that she was possessed of the devil. Just what that meant the child didn't know, but the darkening frown on the minister's face plainly told her that it was nothing pleasant—since then she had scurried away when the Dominie had appeared.
This was the first time she had heard the student's voice, for he had spent most of his summers away from home, and the fisherman's child had had little chance to see him. He had said that the cross and crown would save her daddy—had said to pray to the God of whom she knew so little, and his words had given birth to a great faith within her.
Tessibel's fingers were stained with Frederick's blood and shudderingly she looked at them in the candle light. Frederick lay where she had dropped him, his fat white belly sunken and misshapened. The very stillness of him made the girl round him in a circle, watching him with an intentness which showed her superstitious fear of the stiffening dead. Then her great love for him overwhelmed her and she darted like a bird toward her friend.
"I were afraid of ye, Frederick," she groaned softly, "but I ain't no more. Ye wouldn't hurt the kid what loves ye so, would ye, if ye air dead."
She turned the great body over and sobbed. Again the words of the student softened her grief, and through Frederick Graves, for the sake of her loved ones, she accepted his mysterious far-away God and His sacrificed Son.
With loving hands she tumbled the toad into a soiled rag and placed him in the corner. There was nothing left for her to do save to rescue Daddy Skinner from the black cap, and she must see him before the rising of the sun. Mother Moll, the settlement witch, would tell her if Daddy Skinner were in danger.
She opened the door and stood for a moment before stepping into the abating storm. Her eyes fell upon a giant pine tree at the edge of the forest, far beyond her father's hut. It was silhouetted against a light streak in the southern sky, its long arms extending straight into the air. The branches of the tree had always made a fantastic figure in Tessibel's eyes. It took the form of a venerable old man and it had been one of her vivid imaginings, since she could remember, that some time the man shaped against the skies would step down in the flesh. Tess had grown to love him in sunshine and in rain—to watch him in silent, mystified longing as he bent toward her day after day. In the nodding head and swaying arms, Tessibel suddenly established Frederick's deity. As a man from the east worships his sun god through a wooden image, so Tessibel directed a prayer to this moving figure in the pine tree. Her pain-drawn lips parted slightly as she stood for a short space of time watching him.
"If ye be a God," she breathed, "help me see my Daddy."
She said this with bowed head, for grief and the student's admonition had made a path for reverence through her soul.
Then she closed the cabin door and started toward the shore. Pushing a flat boat into the lake, which was still turbulent from the storm, she deftly rounded the long fishing dock, rowing to the bobbing little fish car which held Daddy's eels. She pulled out the nail, and holding up the top of the car, ran her hand quickly about inside. Drawing out four huge eels, she threw them into the bottom of the boat, closed the trap door and rowed away toward the shore.
Inside the shanty, she placed the fish upon the wooden table and stood for an instant regarding them. One long eel drew itself into tense half circles, turning over and over until as he neared the edge of the table Tessibel caught him. Longer the girl's eyes rested upon this one. Suddenly she snatched him up—slipping him, wriggling, tail-end first into the water pail, still holding fast to the pointed head.
"God made ye beautiful," she crooned, "ye can stay there and let me pet ye. I air got to have somethin' to love."
Turning back to the table, she contemplated the remaining fish for thirty seconds or so in indecision. Had her own desire ruled, she would have put them all back into the lake—she would not have killed them; but to-night—to-night it was for Daddy's sake—he was more to her than all of nature's creatures. With expert fingers, she sent the life from the twisting eels, and gathering them into a small bag, Tessibel slung them over her arm and broke off into the dark forest, the twigs cracking under her small bare feet as she went. Here and there the curls of red hair would catch in the branches, and the girl would tear them loose, leaving a blazed trail of copper threads marking her path.
Up to the ragged rocks she went, through the gorges and brooks until she came in sight of a small dark hut set deeply in the opposite bank of a ravine, through which water was flowing. To reach the hut the child scaled the deep gorge and clambered up the other side.
The shanty was dark and Tessibel stood long looking intently at it. Over the top, which was covered with tar paper, scraped the branches of a large tree—the wind was dashing a dead vine mournfully against a broken window. Although on friendly terms with Mother Moll, Tess had always stood in awe of her, but the squatter girl had infinite confidence in the future events foretold by the witch. To-night she must see the woman—must ask her news of Daddy Skinner from the fortune pot. The dead fish hanging upon the slender arm were to propitiate the witch's anger for being dragged from her bed in the night.
Tess stepped shivering to the door and knocked. Receiving no answer, she sent another pealing sound through the howling wind, for she knew Mother Moll was there.
Suddenly a voice came from within.
"What in the devil's name do ye want here, at this time of the darkness?"
"It air Tess, Ma Moll. I wants yer fortune pot."
"Go home and come agin to-morry."
"Won't," Tess sent back defiantly, "air goin' to see ye to-night. I air goin' to give ye somethin' for yer luck pot."
A scramble, a hurrying sound from within, and the door was dragged open. Tess stepped into the dark room,—the whizzing of insects overhead coming dimly to her through the rocking of the shanty. One broad-winged clammy night bat whirled close to her, but was gone before she could put up her hand.
"It air a bad night that brought the brat out to me, so it air," growled the hag, "be it the headless man from Hayte's place what air been hauntin' ye, or the Indian squaw with her burnt brat?"
She was feeling about for a match as she croaked out her words. Tess did not answer, but waited until Mother Moll lighted a candle and then dropped her load upon the floor.
"They air for the luck-pot, I says, Ma Moll," said she, opening the bag, and displaying the eels, "I comes to know what air in it for me."
"Air they dead eels what you found on the shore," asked the hag suspiciously, "Maybe them ain't fresh ones."
"I killed them myself but a time ago," responded Tess. "It hurts them to lug them livin' out of the water, but they fills your pot for many a mess."
It was a tempting wage for the hag. She blew the dying grate embers into a blaze over which she hung a small iron pot. The bats had ceased the infernal flapping of their grotesque wings, and were clinging trembling to the rafters above. Tess could mark them through the shadows, as one by one she slowly counted them.
Ma Moll was crooning over the kettle. She was a woman older than any one even dared guess. With a cackling laugh she always answered questions as to her age with the assertion that she was "nigh on to two hundred and a deal more than that," and no one could contradict her, for she was old when Orn Skinner was a small boy.
Tess, taking her eyes from the hanging bats, allowed them to rest upon the hag. The small dwarfed figure was not so tall as her own and the rounded shoulders, drawn down by great age, held a head grizzled and shriveled. A few tufts of gray hair hung over the ragged wrapper-like garment which covered the thin body. Great bunches stood out on the bare feet, while the long fingers stirring the liquid in the pot, were knuckled high on each hand.
"Air it the headless man what I spoke of," Moll asked again peering into the pot, "no—it ain't that ... it air somethin' worse than that."
"Worse than that," echoed Tess coming forward, and sinking down upon her knees beside the hag.
"It air worse than the squaw and her burnt brat ... Aye, worse—"
"Worse—than—what?" faltered Tess, with a sob in her throat.
"It air the shadder of a rope—"
Here the hag moved closer to the bubbling kettle while the red-brown head pushed nearer and nearer.
"And there air a loop in the end," went on Mother Moll.
Tessibel caught her breath. It was the black place—the rope of the Canadian Indian. The awfulness—the loneliness of her despair made her whimper brokenly behind a tattered sleeve. The hag was muttering her incantations and did not heed the girl.
"The rope air a long 'un and a stout 'un," Ma Moll's voice had raised to a shrill cry as she described the instrument of death. Tessibel's head was now close to the hag's. Her wild terror-stricken eyes following the stick as it stirred the contents of the pot.
"Air the loop around a neck, and air there humps under the head what's a hangin'?"
She quivered as she spoke. The thin body of the hag crept nearer to the child—the gray straggling locks mingling with the copper curls, and the youthful shoulders of the fishermaid contrasting strongly with those of the bent old woman.
The hag was searching for the humps—her wild old eyes glaring into the seething mess. A trembling bat loosened its hold upon the rafters above and blinded by the light of the candle, thrashed its zig-zag course about the shanty, banging first the window, then the door, and causing both watchers to lift their heads. They saw him as he fell fluttering to the floor, lifting his body pantingly up and down.
Again they gazed into the pot, and as one thin hand held the whirling stick the hag's bony finger pointed mysteriously to the shadow marking the future.
"Be there humps," persisted Tess, "big round humps standin' out as how the hills stand by the lake?"
The hag replied in a hoarse whisper:
"There be no humps, but there air a dead man."
So thoroughly did Tess believe in the witch's words that she sank back with a cry, upon her wet red feet.
"It ain't daddy," she breathed slowly, hardly daring to utter the name.
"There be no humps," repeated Ma Moll. "There air a storm and a dead man, but his face ain't a showin'. There air another dead one on the shore. He ain't the same kind of one, he air—"
"A gamekeeper," filled in Tess.
The witch wobbled her head in assent, as Tessibel leaned over to follow the long finger defining the shadow.
"There air a shanty," Mother Moll went on, "a child alone, and dead things layin' about and there air a—a—"
The two heads were now bent directly over the pot. Tess caught her breath in a sob. Was Daddy Skinner coming back to the shanty? The dragon blood sputtered, boiling higher and higher, over the heat of the fire, as the witch dug it upward from the bottom of the kettle.
"A prison cell and a man," ended Moll.
"Be there humps?" gasped Tess.
An acquiescent nod came from the gray-grizzled head. Tessibel wound her fingers about the arm-bone of the hag.
"Air there a cross with a Christ hangin' on it?"
The witch looked deeper into the dark mixture, her eyes squinting to narrow slits, and Tess continued:
"A hangin' Christ that air hurt, and be there thorns a-diggin' in Him?"
Deeper and deeper into the sizzling pot stared the faded blue eyes of the hag, the dark wide-spread ones of the girl following every movement of Ma Moll's hand.
"Aye, there air a cross for ye, brat, to carry on yer back—"
"Air there no Christ a bearin' one for Daddy?"
Suddenly the door burst open, and the raging wind flickered out the candle. It had been so sudden that Tess screamed, and the witch muttered a curse. The rain tore its way through the small dirty room; the bats loosened their hold upon the wooden rafters and circled the darkness, first into the open, then into the room—against and away from Tessibel's face, until the girl broke into wild weeping.
Ma Moll had failed to find the cross. The wind forcing the door bespoke evil for Daddy. Without the student's Christ how could she save him?
"Go home, brat," ordered the hag. "Go home, there air a cross with a Christ hangin' to it, and there were a dead man without humps."
Out into the rain the sound of the hag's words ringing in her ears, the whizzing bats for the first time filling her with a strange mysterious fear, Tessibel went. She turned into the dark forest of which she was not afraid, and crossing the gorges again, sought the upper hill which led to the tracks.
Elias Graves was pastor of one of the largest churches in Ithaca. His family consisted of his wife, his son Frederick, and his daughter Teola, a girl of sixteen, and little Babe, the spoiled pet of the family. Besides a beautiful town rectory, he owned the lake farm and held the title to the small piece of property upon which Orn Skinner squatted. That the hut and its filth injured his own magnificent cottage no one denied.
It was true he only spent ten or twelve weeks of the summer in the lake house, but every man desired his own. For several years there had been a continual fight between the pastor and the fisherman—Orn Skinner answering the minister with the squatter law of the state which gave him the use of the few feet of ground upon which his shanty stood.
Still the Dominie insisted that some day he would rid his summer home of the pest and the time had come.
After leaving Tessibel he walked up the long lane leaning on the arm of his son, sputtering against his enemies.
"The very idea of that malicious brat jumping upon me as she did. She ought to have a sound whipping."
Frederick shivered slightly. His heart was full of sympathy for the primitive girl who had so devotedly loved her toad.
"We would be rid of the whole family if we could get that girl away," went on his father, "then I could file a request to take what belongs to me. Hall said only to-night that he would like to see all the squatters gone. We've decided to make a move."
Frederick tried to make a small complaint, but the minister commanded him to silence.
"Get rid of them I will, do you hear?" he shouted, "they have no moral right there whatever the law says. Get rid of them, I will."
When the Dominie reiterated strongly his whole family remained silent, and this time Frederick dared pass no remark. He wondered if it were not for just such people as the Skinners that the Christ had suffered. He felt an incentive rising in his heart to seek guidance from the Book, for although Frederick Graves greatly reverenced his father he would not give up his own opinions without a struggle.
"I've got this Skinner just where I want him after all these years," hurled forth the minister, as they passed the pear orchard, and then added:
"But I don't understand how you came to be in the hut."
"I heard the girl crying," replied Frederick curtly.
"I missed you when we left Hall's," explained the Dominie. "Charlie called me back to ask about the plans for the new church, and if I had not whistled just when I did, you might have been in that hut still, I suppose."
Frederick found himself wishing that his father had not whistled, his mind going back to the girl in the shanty, whom he had left with her living grief—and her dead.
He saw his sister, Teola, standing on the broad porch waiting for them. The girl scented something unusual in the angry tones of her father's voice. She followed Frederick alone into the library which looked out upon Tessibel's hut.
"What's the matter?"
Frederick shrugged his shoulders impatiently.
The brother and sister had grown into a confidential friendship during the past two years. Teola's face dropped as she heard Frederick's halting answer.
"I know better," she retorted decidedly. "You have been having words with father."
"No, not words," replied the boy, "but you see father thinks that no one can have any ideas but himself. It sort of makes me tired, for sometimes I know when a thing is right or wrong."
"What was the matter?" insisted Teola once more.
"The Skinners," replied Frederick slowly.
"You mean the squatters?"
"Aren't they alright where they are?" hesitated Teola.
"Skinner killed the gamekeeper to-night, and the girl is alone in the shanty. Father doesn't seem to realize that they have souls to be saved as well as the rest of the world."
Teola thought an instant before answering.
"They are so dirty," she said at last.
"That's true," Frederick reflected, "but nevertheless they are human."
"Were you in the hut?"
"Yes, with father."
"Whew! What did he say?"
The question was answered by loud words from the minister talking to his wife in the dining room.
"I tell you," said his voice, ringing out so that the two listeners could hear, "those squatters have got to go. I'm not the only one who thinks that way. If they had the instincts of decency I wouldn't say a word, but they haven't. I say it's time to make a move."
"You know," continued the minister, "that their hut is in direct line with our view. There's no buying them off ... I've tried that. Now that Skinner is arrested it won't be hard to frighten the girl away, for she can't stay there alone."
"I'm not so sure," mused Mrs. Graves; "those people are not easily frightened."
"She's afraid of me," shouted the Dominie, "and she will be more so before I get through with her and her father. If Skinner is hanged, she shan't stay there."
Later there was a long discussion between the father and son upon the rights of squatters, which ended in Frederick's going to bed before it was half finished more disgusted and unhappy than he had ever been before. He looked out upon the lake. The wind was still rolling the water into white crested waves, and his eyes could scarcely outline the small hut under the willow tree. Into the boy's life something had come—a new something he could not explain, while out of it another something as hard to define had gone forever.
* * * * *
Two jack rabbits perched on the tracks above the fodder lot of Minister Graves lifted their long ears and listened. Human steps at this time of night were out of the ordinary. The dog at Kennedy's farm beyond the tracks heard them, too, and bayed loudly. Then as they grew more distinct he bounded toward the fence, capering madly about, to scent the intruder. It was but a forlorn little figure, but Pete, the brindle bull, lifting his voice in a pleased howl, crouched close to the fence as a small hand came through to pet him.
"It air only Tess," said a voice in which tears had gathered. "Ye air glad to see Tess, ain't ye?... Tess air glad to see ye, too ... Frederick and Daddy air gone and I must be goin'."
Tessibel placed her face down near the big dog and he shoved out his long red tongue, touching her with delight. The girl hugged the large head with an admonishing appeal that Pete must go back to his kennel—and stepped again to the track—that long, black winding road which she must travel before reaching her destination.
It was raining again, the water falling in steady drops upon the bare head. Frequently the girl wiped the water from her face with a torn calico skirt. Once she sat down and gathered her feet under her wet dress to stop their stinging pain—and here alone under the dark sky, Tessibel offered up her first balanced prayer, for had not Frederick said that God would save Daddy Skinner.
"He do say," and she lifted her eyes upward with a simultaneous wipe at her face, "that there air a God who'll help my Daddy ... I wants to find my Daddy ... for a minute ... a little minute ... be it pleasin' to ye, Goddy?"
Tessibel always put "dy" to Dad to make it more effective—and it was with the same sweet, serious voice, with which she would have pleaded with her own father, that she made familiar with the majesty of heaven. She could make no distinction between Daddy Skinner and Jehovah. Both to her were the reigning powers of the earth. Daddy she had always known, but the other—Frederick had said it was good to pray. She rose stumbling, and at three o'clock in the morning entered the city of Ithaca, walking up State street drabbled and thoroughly wet. She knew the streets that led to the city jail, for many a time when selling greens and berries had she gone steathily to the gray stone building and examined the barred windows.
She crossed Dewitt park, and passed by the churches which surrounded the jail. Around and around the ivy-covered stone structure wandered the rain-soaked, barefooted girl. She could not distinguish one ray of light at first in any of the windows.... Suddenly she stopped and took a long breath. Up near the roof line a faint light flickered ... some one was moving to and fro. Tessibel could distinguish a rounded shadow on the ceiling of the cell, and tears choked her, as she saw cast upon the wall the shadowy outline of a large humpbacked form. It was Daddy—Daddy Skinner, and Tessibel backed from the building, straining her eyes to get a better view of him. Now the image was in sight, again it disappeared—Daddy was walking up and down, but he did not come near enough to the window for her to see his face.
Seven times she counted Daddy's rounded shadow on the wall, and seven times it faded. The eighth—a grizzled head cast its outline distinctly across the bars.
It was only a loving name breathed by a troubled child, but it was caught in its upward flight by the father's ear above. Tess saw the pictured humps pause, and as she whispered the name again, Daddy Skinner came to the iron lattice. She could discern her father plainly through the rain and held her arms up toward him.
"It air lonely in the shanty, in the ... shanty ... without ye, Daddy," she breathed, "and Tessibel ... air sorry ... for all her badness. Come home, Daddy ... dear, good Daddy ... and Tess—"
She stopped, for a sight strange and unusual fell upon her. Daddy Skinner was looking down, clinging to the bars mightily, his under lip shaking, his dark teeth chattering together—the grizzled head making a sharp picture of misery in the barred window. Emotion in her father was new to Tess. A little frightened cry fell from her lips and she clutched hurriedly at the thick creeping ivy which clung to the old gray stone building.
"I air comin', Daddy Skinner," she cried. "I air comin'."
She followed the main body of the ivy on its upward growth, slipping and sliding on the wet creeper as she made her perilous ascent. Daddy Skinner was near the roof and it took Tessibel many torturing minutes to reach him. He knew she was coming by the continual dragging at the ivy, but he dared not speak, for the guard walked outside his door in the hall, and the sound of a voice would bring danger to Tess. Once he strained his face to the bars—saw her climbing frantically, and the sight made him dizzy. He could only wait—wait the interminable time until the red-brown head appeared and the wide eyes stared into his. Skinner quietly drew his child to the stone sill and placed his fingers over her lips to enjoin silence. Tess understood and even drew softer breaths, holding tightly to the beloved hands.
"I comed for kisses on the bill, Daddy," she breathed. "Tess ... air lonely without ye."
The livid, shaking lips met the quivering mouth through the iron rods. A long, long kiss, such as Tess had wanted quieted her suffering a little. It was the same old Daddy whom she was going to save by praying. She had asked to see him only a minute, and the student's God had granted her prayer.
She whispered again, shivering and shaking with the cold.
"Did ye kill the gamekeeper, Daddy?"
The gray head shook the answer, "no."
"If ye did ye didn't mean to, did ye?"
The two negative replies made Tessibel's heart bound. It would be easier for God to help him if he had not committed a crime, and for no instant did she doubt his word. She kissed him again passionately, clinging to his lips with all the young growing emotion in her body.
The squatter clung desperately to the body of his child. He could not let her go, fearing she would fall to the hard stones below, but he knew that she stood in danger of being discovered and dared not detain her.
"Kin ye get down again?" he whispered.
"Yep, Daddy Skinner, and ye ain't goin' to hang, 'cause some one what can, air goin' to help ye."
"Who air he?"
"God ... up there!" and Tessibel motioned with her hand toward the dark sky. "He says as how He helps folks like us ... that a cross was beared for us ... and I says to Him to-night, and I says every day till ye come back to the shanty ... that He lets ye free, Daddy.... I asks the sheriff to-morrow if I can come afternoons to see ye. And, Daddy, I holds the shanty till ye come home."
He kissed her small pinched face again and again—and took his arms away. Tess slipped down the creeper and when she reached the ground called softly:
"I air here, Daddy Skinner."
She saw him pressing against the bars, his lips shaking and his eyes closely shut as if he were stumblingly offering a prayer for the child of his fisherman soul.
The fraternities of Cornell University gave home and social comforts to students, rich and popular enough to be invited to join them. Each fraternity had its own spacious house, with its staff of servants, where the members lived during the college year.
Every first-year man had the ambition to join one, which if he attained assured him a luxurious home during the four years he spent in Ithaca.
One evening, three weeks after Tessibel's secret visit to her father in the city jail, twenty fraternities were preparing all the practical jokes which boyish minds could concoct, with which to initiate their new candidates to full membership. Five new men were to join the "Cranium" fraternity. The house of this society stood high upon the eastern hill above the lake and overlooked the forest-mantled town. The first story of the building contained the smoking, dining, billiard and two drawing rooms. Above were sleeping chambers and private studies for the students, and annexed to the house proper was a small stone structure built purposely for the initiation of the new members.
On this night all interest was centered upon the annex where Frederick Graves, Dan Jordan, Billy Dillon, Oscar Brown and Jimmy Preston were to be taken through the "stunts."
In the afternoon the five young men had been locked in one of the student's rooms, and told that they would receive their dinner during the proceedings that evening. The gravity which had settled upon the upper classmen frightened the three smaller candidates, for Billy, Oscar and Jimmy were miniatures in size compared to Dan Jordan and Frederick Graves.
"Do you think they are going to hurt us," asked Billy Dillon, turning to the two larger students. "I don't want to be hurt—I like the thought of being a fraternity man, but I don't want to go through any business that will injure me."
"Neither do I," put in Oscar Brown. "I promised my mother—"
"It won't be well with you fellows if those chaps downstairs hear you talking that way," cautioned Jordan, "besides the initiation is only fun, and any of us are willing to stand jokes."
After a three-hour wait, a group of sophomores, and the freshmen's tormentors—appeared upon the scene and ordered the candidates to follow them into the dreaded annex. In this "torture chamber" the older members, juniors and seniors, seated on benches placed around the wall, were waiting gravely the arrival of their victims.
The honors of the occasion had been given into the hands of the sophomores, and as they trailed in followed by the quaking applicants, a hush fell over the expectant members of the society.
The five freshmen were ordered to stand in a row, and Richard Hall, the spokesman of the second-year class, came forward, holding up one hand in mock reverence.
"Gentlemen," he began, "I first christen you all in the name of the 'Cranium' Fraternity. I give you, Dillon, the name of 'Swipes.' You, Brown, shall be dubbed 'Shorts'—here he hesitated an instant, perusing a slip of paper which lay on the table beside him—Preston, you may add another 'S' to make a trio—your name shall be 'Spuddy.'"
Hall allowed his eyes to gaze reflectively upon Dan Jordan.
"To a big fellow like you, Jordan," he resumed, "I give 'Captain.'" His voice dropped as if he had either overlooked or forgotten Frederick, and the young fellow waited expectantly.
Suddenly Hall flashed him a glance, then dropped his eyes with twitching lips.
"'Parson' is good enough for you, Graves."
Sweeping the five candidates with his searching gaze, he took up the speech again—
"If at any time your fraternity brothers desire to call you by your new names and you refuse to answer, you shall receive the punishment which goes with disobedience."
"Gentlemen," he said again, dismissing the last subject with a wave of his hand, "it gives us great pleasure to receive you into this fraternity, but before we can give you full membership it is necessary for us to go through a few more formalities."
Hall's eye fell in hesitation upon the ponderous form of Dan Jordan.
"You will all no doubt soon see the value of prompt obedience," his voice rang out, and a smile touched each corner of his lips, but faded instantly.
The three little freshmen moved uneasily—Hall, with a touch of irony in his tones, directed the rest of his instructions to them.
"We have decided," resumed the speaker, "to initiate you fellows all at one time."
Oscar Brown sighed in relief. "Misery loves company," and if the society had any indignities to bestow, he would not be alone.
"We have found it necessary in times past," Hall took up again with a tragic tone in his voice, "to use discipline upon such occasions as this, and if by chance an incoming member becomes obstreperous, we employ a friend to help us—he holds an honored position in our fraternity ... Mr. Manchester, introduce 'Mazuka.'"
The sophomore thus adjured, stepped nimbly to the corner, and lifting from a hook a long vicious-looking carpet beater, brought it toward Hall.
"Handle him with reverence," shouted the spokesman, taking it carefully in his hands and turning it over with a benign smile. "Many a time has 'Mazuka' done good service for this frat! You will understand," the freshmen heard him say, "that an indecorous smile on any of your faces will immediately call for three strokes from 'Mazuka,'" and he waved the carpet beater threateningly, "and for disobedience you will get five. We will now proceed to business. 'Captain' Jordan and 'Parson' Graves, please step forward ... Blindfold the eyes of those two, Frank," Hall ended, addressing one of his classmates near him.
He turned to a group of his companions—and after whispering with them, came back saying aloud—"that's a good one to begin with."
Directing his eyes upon Jordan, he said:
"Down upon the floor and scramble like an egg, Captain."
A titter came from Billy Dillon.
"Duck that fresh chicken for laughing," shouted Hall, "and give him three strokes of the 'Mazuka.'"
A sophomore brought a pail of cold water, and two other students, grasping the little fellow, immersed his curly head in it. They then stood him on his feet and laid the carpet beater three times across his back. Billy almost wished he had not chosen the fraternity life, but the others were suffering with him, which made it easier than if he had been alone.
Meanwhile Dan Jordan was industriously trying to imitate a cooking egg.
"Scramble, Captain, scramble," cried a sophomore, prodding Jordan with a stick.
"Cook the 'Parson,' too," shouted some one, and Frederick was ordered to follow the movements of his friend.
A faint flush mounted to the broad brow of the minister's son and he hesitated.
"Bring the 'Mazuka,'" commanded Hall, and the eager sophomore rushed up with the persuader.
"Scramble, you," he roared, waving the carpet beater dangerously near Frederick's head, and down beside his strapping friend dropped the dignified Frederick—two more long legs, and two more heavy arms were wiggling over the floor.
"Those eggs are burning, give them some grease," suggested a senior from his seat near the wall.
An agile, willing sophomore snatched a bucket of water and emptied its contents over the two floundering giants. As the icy bath submerged the freshmen, Dan Jordan, sputtering and gasping, bounded to his feet.
"Five strokes of the 'Mazuka' for the 'Captain,'" shouted the delighted Manchester waving the carpet beater, "he got up without permission."
Three students held Jordan fast and the little sophomore, dancing with glee, belabored the huge half "scrambled egg," each blow resounding through the room.
"There! I guess that will hold him a while," chuckled the chastiser, putting the carpet beater under his arm, his face reflecting the pleasure of well-performed duty.