THE FOURTH WATCH
H. A. CODY
AUTHOR OF THE FRONTIERSMAN, UNDER SEALED ORDERS, THE LONG PATROL, ETC.
"Messengers, Watchmen and Stewards of the Lord," who have faithfully toiled through Life's long night, and now in their Fourth Watch and Last Watch behold the dawn of a new Life breaking, this book is affectionately dedicated by one but yet in the Second Watch.
I.—The Awakening II.—The Vision III.—Glendow Rectory IV.—The Warder of the Night V.—The Breath of Slander VI.—The Auction VII.—The Farringtons VIII.—The Golden Key IX.—Beating the Devil X.—In Camp XI.—Guarding the Flock XII.—Light and Shadow XIII.—For the Sake of a Child XIV.—The Long Night XV.—Deepening Shadows XVI.—For Sweet Love's Sake XVII.—Hitting Back XVIII.—Wash-Tub Philosophy XIX.—The Sting XX.—The Overseer XXI.—Decision XXII.—In the Deep of the Heart XXIII.—Where Is Dan? XXIV.—The Rush of Doom XXV.—Beneath the Ashes XXVI.—A Rope of Sand XXVII.—In the Toils XXVIII.—Waiting and Serving XXIX.—Rifted Clouds XXX.—Beneath the Surface XXXI.—Light at Eventide
The Fourth Watch
The boy plied his hoe in a listless manner, for his thoughts were elsewhere. Several hundred yards to the right stood the forest, glorious in its brilliant autumn hues. There among those trees the wary partridges were feeding or perching temptingly upon bough, fallen log or ragged stump. To the left the waters of the noble River St. John rippled and sparkled beneath the glowing sun. Over there amidst that long stretch of marshland, in many a cove and reedy creek, the wild ducks were securely hidden. What connection had a rugged, stirring lad with a brown sombre potato patch when the strong insistent voice of the wild was calling him to fields afar? There was no inspiration here—among these straggling rows. Nothing to thrill a boy's heart, or to send the blood surging and tingling through his body. But there—! He sighed as he leaned upon his hoe and looked yearningly around. Down on the shore; in a sheltered cove among the trees, the Scud, a small boat, was idly flapping her dirty patched sail.
"Wonder what dad left it up for?" thought the boy.
"Maybe he's going after more ducks. Wish to goodness he'd help with these potatoes so I could get off, too."
Then his eyes roamed out over the water until they rested upon a white sail away in the distance, bearing steadily down-stream. He watched it carelessly for some time, but noticing the manner in which it drooped under an occasional squall his interest became aroused.
"There's too much canvas, that's sure!" he ejaculated. "Some idiot, I s'pose, who doesn't know 'bout these squalls. Guess he'll learn soon if he isn't careful. Now the Scud, she's all right. I'd risk her any time—My—!" and he almost held his breath as the white sail, much nearer now, swooped to the water like the wing of a gigantic bird. The boat righted herself, however, and sped gracefully forward. Again and again she dipped and careened under each successive squall, winning the lad's unstinted admiration. But even as he looked and wondered, a furious gust caught the white sail as it listed heavily, and drove it with one sweep to the water, overturning the boat as it did so. With a cry of fear the boy dropped his hoe, stared for an instant at the overturned craft, and then sped across the potato field sloping to the shore. He did not wait to go by the path, which led straight up to a little cabin in the valley, but, making a short cut to the left, leaped into a tangled thicket beyond. He crashed his way through the branches and underbrush, not heeding the numerous scratches upon face and hands.
He reached the Scud, tore, rather than untied the painter from an old oak root, and sent the boat reeling backwards from its moorings. The sail flapped wildly in the breeze, which was now growing stronger, and the craft began to drift. Catching up the centre-board, lying near, the boy drove it down into its narrow groove with a resounding thud. Seizing the sheet-line with one hand, and squatting well astern he grasped the tiller with the other. Nobly the boat obeyed her little determined commander. The sail filled, she listed to the left and darted forward, bearing bravely up the wind. Straight ahead the boy could see the distressed boat sinking lower and lower in the water, with a man and a woman clinging desperately to the upturned side. The wind was now whistling around him, and at times threatening to rip away the patched sail. The water was rough, and the angry white-caps were dashing their cold spray over his clothes. But not for an instant did he swerve from his course until quite near the wreck. Then letting go the sheet-line he permitted the boat to fall away a little to the left. In this manner he was able to swing gradually in a half-circle, and by the time he was up again to the teeth of the wind the Scud was lying close to the overturned boat.
So preoccupied had been the boy up to this moment that he had no time to observe closely the shipwrecked pair. Now, however, he cast a curious glance in their direction, as he let go the rudder and sheet-line, and threw out the painter to the man. Eagerly the latter seized the rope, and managed to hold the two boats together.
"Give us yer hand," shouted the boy, "and let her come out first. Be careful now," he continued as the crafts bumped against each other. "There, that's good."
With considerable difficulty the two strangers were rescued from their perilous position, and then the Scud dropped away from the wreck.
"Where do you want to go?" asked the boy, as once again he brought the boat to the wind.
"Over there," responded the man, pointing to the opposite shore. "We can land on that point and get driven home."
Almost mechanically the boy swung the Scud around, and headed her for the place indicated. From the moment he had caught a glimpse of the woman clinging to the boat he had found it hard to turn away his eyes. Her hat was gone, and the wind was blowing her dark-brown hair about her face, which was white as death. But when she turned her large blue eyes filled with gratitude and fear upon her rescuer, a strange feeling of embarrassment swept suddenly over him. Women he had seen before, but none such as this. How quiet she was, too—not a cry or complaint did she make. Her clothes were wet; the water cold, and the wind raw. But she sat there in the boat watching him with those big eyes as he guided the Scud steadily forward.
He looked at her dress, how neat and clean it was. Then he glanced at his own rough togs. How coarse, worn and dirty were they, while his shoes were heavy grey brogans. A flush mantled his sun-browned face. He shifted uneasily, gripped the tiller more firmly, and drove the Scud a point nearer to the wind. What must she think of him? he wondered. Was she comparing him with the well-dressed man at her side, who was looking thoughtfully out over the blue water? A feeling of jealousy stole into his heart. He had never known such a thing before. He knew what it was to be angry—to stamp and shout in his rage. He had engaged in several pitched battles with the boys in the neighbourhood who had made fun of him. But his life—a life of freedom—had satisfied him. To hunt, to trap, to wander over hill, valley and forest was all that he asked for. He had never thought of anything higher, never dreamed of any life but the one his father led, hunting, and trapping in season and making a slight pretence of farming. Now, however, something was stirring within him. He longed to show this woman that though his clothes and shoes were rough, he was almost a man and could do great things.
"What is your name, my boy?"
The words startled him, and he glanced quickly up. The woman was looking at him still, but now she was smiling. Was she laughing at him?
"My name's Dan," was the reply.
"Dan, Dan what?"
"Oh, just old Jim's boy."
"Old Jim, Old Jim!" repeated the woman. "Do you mean Jim Flitter, the trapper?"
"Yep, that's him."
"And do you live over there?"
"Yep. In that shanty up the valley, Dad and I live there alone."
"Have you no mother, Dan?" and the woman's voice was soft and low.
She was about to question further, but noticing the look upon the boy's face she desisted.
"Do you know you've saved our lives?" she remarked after a short silence. "I can never thank you enough for what you have done for us to-day. I don't think I could have clung to that boat much longer."
"I ain't done nuthin'," Dan replied. "But next time you go out don't carry so much sail, specially when it's squally. I mayn't always be handy like I was to-day. But come, we're at the pint, so I'll land you here." Saying which, Dan let the sail go free, and ran the boat gently up the pebbly shore.
"Now, my boy," asked the man, "how much do I owe you?" Dan had stooped and was about to push the Scud from the beach. He looked up quickly at the question, but made no reply.
"How much?" demanded the man, somewhat impatiently.
"What do you mean?" asked the boy.
"What do I mean? Simply this. You've done us a great service, saved us from death, and how much money do you want? How much shall I pay you?"
Dan was standing erect now. His dark eyes fixed full upon the man's face, flashed with anger, while his heart thumped tumultuously beneath his little checkered shirt.
"What! won't take any pay!"
"And why not?"
"Cause I won't. You've no right to ask me. It ain't fair!"
That was all Dan could utter. He could not express his feelings; repugnance filled his heart at the thought of taking money for what he had done. He felt the woman's eyes fixed upon him. What would she think, of him, Dan Flitter, taking money for saving people's lives? He gave one quick glance in her direction, turned, and pushing the boat from the shore, sprang in, leaving the man and the woman upon the beach gazing wonderingly after him.
"Danny, what's the meaning of this?"
Mr. Flitter laid down his paper, took his pipe from his mouth, and looked inquiringly at his son.
Dan was seated at the farther end of the table, cleaning his beloved shot-gun. It had done good work that day, and a fine string of partridges hung in an outer room, ready to go to the store early the next morning. A week had now passed since the rescue on the river, and during the whole of that time he had said nothing about it to his father. There was a reason for this. The latter had been much away from home during the day, only coming in late at night when his son was in bed, so they had little chance for conversation. It was a busy season, and they must make the most of it. So while the one scoured the forest for partridges, the other searched the river for ducks and geese. But Dan did not feel inclined to say anything to his father about what he had done. To him it was not worth mentioning. That he had picked up two shipwrecked people, and set them ashore, in his eyes was a very simple thing. It was made less so by the thought of that woman with the large eyes, beautiful face and sunny smile. How could he describe to his father the new feeling which had come into his breast, the longing for something more than the life he was leading, and the desire to show that woman what he really could do?
His father's sudden question startled him. The mail was carried but once a week to this place, and by the time the paper arrived from the post office it was several days old. Mr. Flitter had come home earlier than usual, having had a fine day's shooting on the river, and was in excellent spirits. Game was in great demand, and he looked hopefully for good sales on the morrow. After their scanty meal he picked up the paper and began to read. Silence reigned in the little dingy shanty for some time, broken only by the short, sharp question.
"Don't you know anything about it, Danny?" insisted Mr. Flitter, noticing the startled and puzzled look upon his son's face.
"What do you mean, dad?"
"Why, about that wreck on the river. This paper says that you saved two people from drowning right off here over a week ago."
Dan's face flushed and his heart beat fast. What! was his name in the paper? Would the people in the big city see it? What would the boys in the neighbourhood think? Would they make fun of him any more? He could show them now that he was somebody, for his name was in the paper! These thoughts drove surgingly through his brain. He rose from his place and stood by his father's side.
"Show me, dad," he whispered; "let me see it."
"There, Danny, look at the heading:—
"'A Boy's Brave Deed.'"
"And is that long piece all about me, dad?"
"Yes, and it states what you did. Why didn't you tell me about it, son?"
"Where's my name, dad?" asked Dan, unheeding his father's question.
"There," and Mr. Flitter, pointing with his finger, spelled out the words, "Daniel Flitter."
"Does it say, dad, who those people were that got swamped?"
"No, their names are not given. It only says that the young man lives in the city. But why didn't you tell me about it, Dan?"
"Thought it wasn't worth while," replied the boy. "But I don't see how they know about it down there to put it in the paper."
"How did it happen, son. Let's have the whole story." Mr. Flitter pulled off his boots, lighted his pipe afresh, and leaned back to listen.
"I wonder who that woman is," he remarked, when Dan had finished his brief account. "I know most people for miles around, and it's strange I don't know her from your description. However, I shall make inquiries and find out."
During the days that followed, Dan lived in a new world. His feet trod the earth, and he trudged for miles the woodland ways. But his mind was in fairyland.
It was an enchanted world through which he moved, and he was master of all. The trees on every side were crowds of admiring people, and the branches were so many outstretched hands pointing to him. His breast swelled with pride. He walked erect, his head held high, while his eyes flashed with a triumphant light. The birds sang his praises; the squirrels chattered one to another, and every brook babbled "Daniel Flitter, Daniel Flitter." His name had appeared in the paper! He was no longer an obscure person, but a hero—a wonder! He kept the clipping carefully wrapped up in his pocket. Often he would sit down in some quiet forest spot, unfold his treasure and look long and proudly upon those two magic words. One day as he sat studying the paper a desire came into his heart to know all of those wonderful words before and after his name. He could not read, never having gone to school. In fact he never wanted to do so. His one aim was to be a mighty hunter and trapper like his father. But now, a longing had entered his soul; a spark from the mysterious fire of life had found a lodging which needed only a little fanning to produce a bright and fervent flame.
"Dad," said he, that night, while eating his supper, "I wish I knew how to read. All the boys in this settlement can read and write. Ain't I old enough to begin?"
"You're old enough, lad, but we live a long way from the schoolhouse, and when you were little it was too far for you to walk. You might go this winter, when there's spare time, if you don't mind the distance."
"I don't mind that, dad, but all the rest will know so much that they'll make fun of me. I only know a few of my letters, and mother taught me them before she died."
"She did, lad, she did, God bless her," and a huskiness came into Mr. Flitter's voice as he spoke. "If she were alive now you would know as much as any boy of your age, for your mother was a smart one, and I guess you take after her, Dan.
"I wish I had her now," and the boy gave a deep eigh. "She'd help me every night, and I wouldn't be stupid any more."
Mr. Flitter made no reply to these words. He finished his supper in silence, and while Dan washed the few dishes he sat thoughtfully smoking his old clay pipe.
"Laddie," he remarked as they were preparing for bed, "I've been having deep thoughts to-night, and I've come to the conclusion that I haven't done right by you. I've neglected you too much."
"In what way, dad?" questioned the boy.
"Oh, in many ways. I've fed and clothed you, though I guess you've earned it all. But I've not thought enough about your mind—your education, I mean. Besides, there are deeper and more serious things in life of which I've told you nothing. I do feel mighty guilty when I think about it all."
"You've been good to me, though," and Dan looked inquiringly into his father's face.
"Yes, in a way. But, then, haven't I been good to our old mare, Queen? I feed and blanket her. But what more have I done for you—and you are my own son? Now look here," he added, after a pause, "I'm willing to teach you at nights how to read, and see if we can't make up for my past neglect."
"Dad! D'you mean it?"
"There now, that'll do. No more talking. Let's off to bed, and we'll have the first lesson to-morrow night."
The days that followed were busy ones for Dan. The shooting season closed, but there was other work to do. The rabbits had to be snared and his regular rounds made to the traps set for the wiry mink, lumbering raccoon, and the wily fox. Each night, the animals brought in during the day had to be skinned, and the pelts carefully stretched. Then when this had been accomplished to his satisfaction he would turn his attention to his studies.
His father was cutting cord-wood for a neighbour, and was able to get home at night. Then the two pored over the mysterious letters and words in the little cabin, the elder doing his best to impart his scanty knowledge to the younger. They were happy times for Dan. He had something to live for now, and throughout the day, as he wandered from trap to trap, the words he had studied the night before kept ringing in his ears.
But, alas! such scenes were to be dispelled all too soon. They were too good to last long. One evening Dan returned home to find an unusual commotion about the place. Men and women were there who had never before entered the building. And the doctor, whom he had often met on the road, what was he doing there? What were they whispering about? and why did they look at him in that way, when he entered the house? Where was his father? Who was that lying on the bed so very still? Could it be dad? He had never seen him like that before. Then the thought flashed upon him: something was wrong! His father was hurt! and with a cry he rushed forward, and bent over the prostrate form. But no word of welcome, no sign of recognition did he receive. Nothing but that vacant stare met his ardent gaze.
Slowly, very slowly, he grasped the meaning of it all, as the sympathetic watchers told the brief story. His father had met with a serious accident. A large birch tree in falling had lodged against another, a sturdy maple. While cutting at the latter the birch had suddenly turned over and swooping to the ground with a resounding crash had buried Mr. Flitter beneath the branches ere he had had time to escape. He had been carried home bruised, broken, and unconscious. The doctor had been hurriedly summoned, and had done all in his power for the injured man. But in vain, for in a short time he had breathed his last.
Dan uttered not a word when the tale had been told. He asked no questions, neither did he make any outcry. He stood like one stricken dumb, dry-eyed and motionless, gazing upon that quiet form lying upon the bed. Gently they led him away, and tried to speak to him. He did not heed them. A weight such as he had never known before pressed upon his heart. He wished to be alone, somewhere in the woods, out there where no one could gaze upon him. His father was dead! For him there was no consolation from the words of the Man of Sorrows. The life beyond had no meaning for him. His mother had taught him to say the little prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep," but that seemed so long ago, and he had not repeated it after her death. He had seen the birds and animals lying dead, but had thought nothing about it then. Now his father was just like them, would never look at him again, would never speak to him any more.
He watched in a dazed manner what took place on the two following days. Neighbours came, spoke to him, stayed awhile and then departed. The day of the funeral arrived. He stood with the rest at the graveside. It was cold, and the wind laden with snow whistled about him. He heard the grey-headed, white-bearded clergyman read the Burial Service. The words of hope had no meaning for him. An awful feeling of desolation filled his heart as he watched the earth thrown into the grave. A shiver passed through his body, caused not by the coldness alone. Several came to speak to him. He did not want to see them. He turned and fled down across the field over the fence to the humble cabin in the valley. This he entered, now so quiet and desolate. He reached the bed—his father's bed—and throwing himself upon it gave vent to his grief. His pent-up feelings at last found an outlet and tears coursed down his tanned cheeks, moistening the pillow beneath his little curly head.
"Are you cold, lad?"
"No," was the brief reply.
Parson John, Rector of Glendow, glanced down at the little muffled figure at his side. He reached over, tucked in the robes more closely about their feet, and spoke one word to Midnight. The horse, noble animal that she was, bounded forward. The ice, glassy and firm, stretched out far ahead. It was a raw, midwinter day and the wind drifting in from the north-east presaged a storm. But the magnificent beast, black as a raven's wing, did not mind it. With head low, tail almost touching the dash-board, and eyes sparkling with animation, she clipped along with great strides.
The parson gave a half-audible chuckle as he settled back in the seat and gripped the reins more firmly.
"What will Nellie say," he thought, "when she sees the lad? Won't she be surprised! She's never tired of talking about that rescue on the river."
Dan thoroughly enjoyed the drive as he nestled by the parson's side. It was very strange to be speeding along in such a luxurious manner, with a horse travelling like the wind, and a big jolly man holding the reins. He said nothing, but kept his eye fixed upon Midnight, his admiration steadily increasing. He would like to own a horse like that, and down in his heart he determined to have one some day—his very own.
"What do you think of Midnight, lad?" asked the parson, noticing Dan's admiring gaze.
"Great!" was the reply.
"Wish to have one like her, eh?"
"You will some day, boy; you will. But get a good one or none at all, and here's a safe rule:
"Round-hoof'd, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long, Broad breast, full eye, small head and nostrils wide, High crest, short ears, straight legs and passing strong. Thin, mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide.
"Now the man who said that, knew what he was talking about."
"What's his name?" asked Dan. "Does he live here?"
"Ho, ho!" and the parson's hearty laugh rang out over the snow. "'Does he live here?' I'm afraid not. Very few in Glendow know old Will Shakespeare, more's the pity."
"I should like to meet him, though," remarked Dan. "He must know a lot about horses."
"Ay, ay, lad, he knows a lot about most things, and you shall know him some day, Dan, when you get older. But here we are right at home. We've made great time."
After Midnight had been carefully stabled and fed, Parson John led his little charge into the Rectory. Scarcely had they crossed the threshold into a brightly-lighted room ere the sound of a sweet voice humming an old familiar tune fell gently upon their ears. Then a heavy tapestry curtain was drawn aside, and a slender girlish form stood before them. Beholding the lad, she gave a start of surprise, while her face, of more than ordinary beauty, flushed with pleasure.
"Ha, ha, Nellie," laughed her father, giving her an affectionate kiss, "I have captured your young hero at last, and I'm glad you recognize him. He's to live with us, to be your honourable bodyguard, your Fidus Achates, in fact."
What a picture this venerable man presented as he stood there. Wrapped in a great-coat, with fur mittens in his hands; a long grey beard sweeping his breast; hair abundant and white, crowning a face of singular strength and refinement, he seemed the very embodiment of health and hearty cheer. No ascetic this, but a man in whose veins flowed the fire of youth, and whose eyes twinkled with quiet, honest laughter as they looked into his daughter's puzzled face.
"I don't exactly understand," Nellie remarked, glancing first at her father and then at Dan.
"No, I know you don't, dear, but I'll tell you all about it later. It's enough now to know that I found him, and we are to give him a home here. So if you'll let us have something to eat, we'll be very glad, won't we, laddie?"
Dan stood as if in a dream during this conversation. His eyes remained fixed upon Nellie's face. Could it be possible that this was the woman he had rescued, and who had spoken so kindly to him? It was the same, there could be no mistake, only now she seemed more beautiful than ever. He felt her soft hand pressing his rough, brown one, and heard her hearty welcome. Words would not come to his lips. He was like a dumb person. But his eyes noted much, especially the dining-room, with the table spread, the white cloth and wonderful dishes. He had never seen anything like them before.
And good reason was there for Dan's wonder. Others too would have looked with admiration upon that scene had they been present. Everything in the room bespoke Nellie's gentle care, from the spotless table-linen to the well-polished, old-fashioned sideboard, a relic of the stirring Loyalist days. Several portraits of distinguished divines adorned the walls, while here and there nature scenes, done in water-colours, by whose hand it was easy to guess, were artistically arranged.
Nellie's devotion to her father was beautiful to behold. Her eyes sparkled with delight as he related several amusing incidents of his visit to a sick parishioner in an outlying district.
"And how did you find Mr. Stickles?" she inquired.
"'Simply joggin', parson, simply joggin,'" came the reply, at which the fair hostess laughed heartily.
"And I suppose Mrs. Stickles is as jolly as ever?"
"Oh, yes. She is just the same. Poor soul! she has her hands full with her sick husband, and a houseful of little ones. Yet she keeps remarkably bright and cheerful. She was much concerned about my welfare, and while she sent Sammy to look after Midnight she bustled around to make me as comfortable as possible."
"'Poor dear man,' she said, 'ye ain't as young as ye used to be, an' I often say to John that the work's tellin' on ye. Ye've got too large a circus, parson, too large a circus.'"
"Dear soul," laughed Nellie. "There isn't a more real person in Glendow than Mrs. Stickles. She's a friend to everyone, and knows everybody's business for miles around."
"Indeed, she does," replied her father. "It was she who told me about our young friend here, and I started off post-haste to capture him. So we have to thank Mrs. Stickles for it all."
Supper ended, Parson John and Dan went into the study, while Nellie cleared away the dishes. A bright fire burned in the large fire-place, giving the room a most genial appearance. The parson brought down a long church-warden pipe, filled and lighted it. Next he drew up a comfortable chair and proceeded to read his mail which had arrived during his absence. Dan, in the meantime, had taken up his position in a cosy-corner nearby. A large picture-book had been given to him, and eagerly his eyes wandered over the wonderful things he found therein. After a while he closed the book and leaned back against the cushions. How comfortable it was. What luxury! He had never experienced anything like it in his life. It seemed like a dream. He watched Parson John for a time as he read his letters and papers. Then he looked about the room, admiring the many things he there beheld. Gradually his eyes closed. He forgot his surroundings, and was soon fast asleep, far away in dreamland.
When Nellie had finished with the dishes, she came into the study, and, seeing Dan, she paused to look upon him. Then she crossed to where her father was sitting, and touched him gently on the shoulder and pointed to the sleeping lad. Together they watched him and in their hearts there welled up a deep love for the orphan boy.
"Poor little fellow," remarked Nellie, in a low voice, taking a seat by her father's side. "I am so glad he is with us to-night. He seemed to be tired out."
"Yes, dear," her father replied, laying down the paper. "We are fortunate in getting him. I wanted a boy for some time. I understand he has a fine character."
"And you said that Mrs. Stickles told you about him?"
"Yes. And what she said was quite true. I found Dan living with the Tragen family. Mr. Tragen has seven children of his own, and could not very well keep another for any length of time. He told me that the day of the funeral he went to the Flitter house, and found Dan all alone, lying on his father's bed, weeping as if his heart would break. With difficulty he had persuaded him to leave and go with him. That was over a week ago and Dan has been with him ever since. Mrs. Tragen, worthy woman that she is, took good care of him and treated him like one of her own. Truly the Lord will reward her. By the way, she told me an interesting thing about the boy."
"What is it?" questioned Nellie.
"It seems he has never been at school, and cannot read or write. He is very anxious to learn, and his father, before his death, was giving him some lessons. We must see that he has every chance to learn while with us."
"But, father, there's no school in the district this winter, a most unusual thing."
"Why not teach him at home, dearie?" and the parson looked into his daughter's face. "Why not have a school here? We can give him a start anyway, and he will not be too far behind the rest when next the public school opens."
"Oh, that will be splendid!" exclaimed Nellie, "and may I be the teacher? I always wanted to do something in that line, and may we begin to-morrow?"
"Any time you like, dearie, and may God bless you, child, for your interest in the boy. You remind me more and more of your dear mother."
"And why should I not take an interest in him, father? He saved my life, and, though I can never repay him, I should like to feel that I am doing something. You know I read to Nora whenever I can, but this need not interfere with that. And, oh, father, Stephen was here this afternoon, and he's in great trouble."
"What's wrong, dearie?" questioned the parson, as Nellie paused and a deep flush suffused her face.
"The Frenelle homestead is to be sold."
"What! do I understand you aright? Peter Frenelle's farm, that fine property which he left free of debt when he died?"
"Yes, it's only too true. You know there has been a heavy mortgage on it for several years, and as the interest has not been paid for some time the mortgage has been foreclosed, and the place is to be sold."
"Dear me, dear me," and the parson leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, as he always did when in deep thought. "It's bad management, that's what it is. Stephen has had a splendid start, and through carelessness he has let everything go to ruin."
"Father, don't blame Stephen too much. He's only young, and had a great responsibility placed upon his shoulders after his father's death."
"Blame him! Blame him! Why should I blame anyone?" and the parson placed his hand to his forehead. "Stephen is as dear to me as my own son—and I love him. But, oh, it is hard to see my old friend's farm go to others. I have talked with Stephen time and time again. But he has not taken the right grip of life. Poor Mrs. Frenelle, her heart must be broken. And Nora, that dear invalid girl, how hard for her."
Nellie made no reply to her father's words. She sat looking into the fire. Tears were in her eyes and her heart was heavy. Everything had seemed so bright but a short time before, and now this dark cloud had arisen. Oh, if Stephen would only bestir himself. They had known each other from childhood. He had always been her hero. As a child her day-dreams and fancies were woven about him. And as years advanced their love for each other had increased. It was the natural blending of two souls which had gradually and silently grown together in the bright sunshine of happy youth.
A knock upon the door at the side of the house startled her. At once she arose to ascertain its meaning, and shortly returned.
"Father," she said, "Billy Fletcher is very sick, and wishes to see you."
"Who brought word, my dear?"
"Hugh Peters. He called to see the old man as he was coming down the road, and found him quite ill."
The effect of this message was quite magical. No longer was Parson John the quiet fireside reader, but the true sympathetic pastor. He laid aside his pipe, and at once arose from his comfortable chair. An expression of loving concern overspread Nellie's face as she assisted him on with his storm coat, and procured his cap, mittens and overshoes. But no word of remonstrance came from her lips, no urging him to put off his visit until the morning. From a child she had been accustomed to these sudden calls to the side of departing parishioners, to read the Word of life and at times to administer the Holy Communion.
Her father's step was slow as of one much wearied, though his voice was cheery and strong as he bade his daughter good-bye, seized the small lantern she had lighted for him, and stepped out into the cold night on his mission of love.
The Warder of the Night
After her father's departure, Nellie sat before the fire engaged upon some needlework. Occasionally her hands rested in her lap, while she gazed thoughtfully into the bright blaze. The soft light from the shaded lamp fell athwart her wealth of dark-brown hair and fair face. Her long lashes drooped as she leaned back in an easy-chair, and let her mind wander to the days when she and Stephen played together as happy children. What bright dreams were theirs, and how many fairy palaces they erected in the far unknown future.
A movement in the cosy-corner roused her from her reverie. She glanced quickly in that direction and saw Dan sitting bolt upright, gazing intently upon her. Nellie smiled as she saw his look of wonder mingled with embarrassment.
"Have you had a nice sleep?" she asked.
"Guess so," came the slow reply. "I dreamed that you and my father were right by my side, but when I woke he was gone and only you are with me."
"I hope you will like it here," Nellie remarked, hardly knowing what to say. "We want to make you happy, and love you just like our own little boy."
"I'm almost a man now," and Dan straightened up his shoulders and proudly threw back his head. "I can hunt and work. See how strong I am," and he placed his right hand upon the muscle of his doubled-up left arm.
"Some day you will be as big as my father, won't you?" replied Nellie, much amused at the sturdy lad.
"Was that your father who brought me here?"
"And what's his name?"
"Mr. Westmore. But most people call him 'Parson John.' You'll call him that, too, won't you? He likes it better."
"Yes; if you want me to, I will. But, say, what's your name?"
"Oh, mine's just Nellie, Nellie Westmore. Not very pretty, is it?"
"I think it is. Do you know that was my mother's name—Nellie, I mean, not the other one."
"And do you remember your mother, Dan?"
"Only a little. She was good and pretty, just like you."
"Tell me about her, will you? I should like to hear."
And there in the quietness of that room Dan's tongue was unloosed, and in his own simple way he told about his mother, her death, and how he and his father had lived together in the little log shanty. Half an hour passed in this quiet talk, and when at length Dan ceased Nellie glanced at the clock.
"Why, I didn't think it was so late! It is time you were in bed. You must be tired. Come, I will show you where you are to sleep to-night, and to-morrow we will fix up a room for your very own."
Going to the kitchen Nellie lighted a small lamp, and with this in her hand she and Dan went up the small winding stairway.
"This is the place," and she opened a door leading to a room at the north of the house. "The pipe from the hall stove comes up there, so it's always quite warm. I do hope you will sleep well."
She went to the window to draw down the blind and as she did so a light fell upon her eyes which gave her a distinct start. It was not from the moon, for the night was dark, but from a burning building, a short distance up the road. The flames were leaping and curling through the roof, sending up blazing cinders in every direction.
Nellie's heart almost stopped beating as she gazed upon the scene. It was Billy Fletcher's house! and what of her father? Was he amidst those flames, or had he escaped?
"Dan, Dan!" she cried, turning to the lad, "Come, quick! I'm afraid that something terrible has happened! Get on your coat and cap as quickly as possible and let's make haste!"
It did not take them long to throw on their wraps, and to hurry forth into the night.
To Nellie the distance seemed never-ending. Would they ever reach the house? How the road had lengthened! and her breath came hard and fast as she staggered forward, trying to keep pace with the more hardy lad. The light of the fire illumined the road for some distance around, and guided their steps. Drawing near they could discover no one about the place. What did it all mean? Here Nellie paused and with wildly beating heart looked at the seething mass before her, and listened to the roar of the flames as they sent up their wild flamboyant tongues into the air. Had her father been entrapped in that terrible furnace? She glanced towards a barn on her right and as she did so her eyes fell upon a sight never to be forgotten. Someone was there, kneeling in the snow with bent head gazing intently upon some object before him. It was her father! and with a cry of joy Nellie rushed forward. She found he was kneeling by Billy Fletcher's side, supporting his head, and carefully wrapping around him his own great-coat. He looked up and an expression of relief came into his face as he saw his daughter standing there.
"I am so glad you have come," he exclaimed. "Poor Billy's in a bad way. We need help. He must be taken to some house. I wish you would hurry up the road for assistance. Dan will go with you. Get his nephew Tom as quickly as possible."
Waiting to hear no more, Nellie, fatigued though she was, started at once for assistance, Dan following close behind. They had gone only a short distance, however, when they met Tom himself running along the road.
"What's wrong?" he gasped.
"Don't you see?" Nellie replied. "The house is burning down."
"And Uncle Billy; is he safe?"
"Yes, he's safe, but almost dead."
"And the box, what about it?"
"The money box; the iron one, where he keeps his papers and gold."
"I know nothing about the box," replied Nellie, while a feeling of great repugnance welled up within her at the heartlessness of the man. He cared little for his uncle, the feeble old body, but only for what he possessed.
By this time they had reached the place where the sick man was lying.
"Is he living?" shouted his nephew.
"Yes," replied the parson, "though I doubt if he can last long. We must get him away to your house as soon as possible."
"But the box, Parson; did you save it?" questioned Tom.
"No, I never thought about it, and, besides, I did not know where it was."
At this Billy opened his faded eyes, and fixed them upon his nephew's face. He tried to speak, but his voice was thick and his words were unintelligible.
"Where's the box?" shouted Tom.
Again the old man endeavoured to say something. Failing in this he made an effort to rise. The struggle was too much for him, and with a cry he sank back upon the snow, dead.
By this time several neighbours had arrived, and stood near with a look of awe upon their rugged faces. Nellie drew her father aside, knowing full well that his care was needed no longer.
"Come," she said, "we had better go home, These men will do the rest. You have done your part."
He followed her along the little path leading to the main road. Reaching this she took him by the arm and supported his steps, which were now over-feeble. Slowly and feelingly, he told the story of the night. He had found the old man in a bad condition, and cold from the lack of a good fire. Filling the stove with a liberal supply of wood, and making Billy as comfortable as the circumstances would permit, he had sat down to watch his charge. Ere long the sick man grew much worse. Then the chimney had caught fire. The bricks must have been loose somewhere, which allowed the flames to pour through into the dry woodwork overhead, which was soon converted into a blazing mass. Seeing that nothing could be done to save the building Mr. Westmore was forced to carry Billy, sick though he was, out of the house. He tried to reach the barn, but his strength failed, so he was forced to lay his burden upon the snow, and wrap his great-coat around the helpless man.
"Poor Billy! poor Billy!" said the parson in conclusion. "He was careless about higher things. I hope the good Lord will not judge him too harshly."
"But he was not always like that, father," Nellie remarked.
"No, no, thank God. He had a happy home when I first came to this parish, long before you were born. I have often told you about the sweet, God-fearing wife he had then. But after she was laid to rest a great change took place in Billy's life. He became very rebellious and never darkened the church door. He acquired a great passion for money, and grew to be most miserly. As the years passed his harshness increased. He waxed sullen and disagreeable. His neighbours shunned him and he looked upon them all with a suspicious eye. His money he never placed in a bank, but kept it in his house in gold coin, in a strong, iron box, so I have been told, and would count it over and over again with feverish delight."
"But, father," remonstrated Nellie, "there must have been something good in poor old Billy. You know how fond he was of Tony Stickles."
"True, very true, dear. I have often wondered about the affection between the two. No one else could live with the old man, except Tony, and he served him like a faithful dog. It is generally believed that Billy confided many things to Tony. He is a peculiar lad, and people have tried in vain to find out what he knew. He will certainly feel badly when he comes out of the woods, where he is now working, and hears about Billy's death. But here we are at home. Oh dear, the journey has greatly tired me," and the parson panted heavily as he entered the house.
During the homeward walk Dan trudged along close by Nellie's side, busy with his own thoughts. He longed for something to happen that he might show her what a man he was. If a robber or a wolf, or some frightful monster, would spring out from the roadside, he would meet it single-handed, kill or drive it away. Then to behold the look of gratitude and admiration upon the woman's face as she looked at him, what bliss that would be! Little did the father and daughter realize, as they slowly walked and conversed, what thoughts and feelings were thrilling the little lad by their side, feelings which in all ages have electrified clods of humanity into heroes, and illuminated life's dull commonplaces with the golden romance of chivalry.
The Breath of Slander
"When a man dies he kicks the dust." Thus pithily wrote Henry Thoreau, the quaint philosopher, in his little shack by the beautiful Walden pool. The truth of this saying was certainly verified in old Billy Fletcher's death, and the people of Glendow were destined to see the dust stirred by his departure, rise in a dense cloud and centre around the venerable parson of Glendow.
The day after the fire was clear and fine. Not a breath of wind stirred the crisp air, and the sun-kissed snow lying smooth and white over all the land sparkled like millions of diamonds.
Near the window in her little cottage, not far from the Rectory, sat Mrs. Larkins, busily knitting. She was a woman of superior qualities and had seen better days. Her toil-worn hands and care-marked face could not disguise the gentle, refined spirit within, which expressed itself in her every word and action. Two little graves in the Churchyard, lying side by side, and marked by a small cross of white marble, told how the silent messenger had entered that home. Often the husband and wife were seen standing by those little mounds, while tears coursed down their rugged, honest cheeks.
"No father could have been kinder than Parson John," she had frequently remarked when speaking about their loss, "and no sister more sympathetic than dear Nellie. They loved our little ones as if they were their very own. On that bright summer day when we laid our lambs to rest the parson's voice faltered as he read the Burial Service, and tears glistened in his eyes."
Since then whatever happened of joy or sorrow at the Rectory was of the deepest interest to the lonely two over the way. So on this bright afternoon as Mrs. Larkins sat by the window her thoughts were busy with the events of the past night.
A knock upon the door broke her reverie. Opening it, what was her surprise to find there a woman, with an old-fashioned shawl about her shoulders, and a bright, jolly face peering forth from a capacious grey hood.
"Mrs. Stickles!" she exclaimed. "Is it really you? Why, I haven't seen you for such a long time! Come in at once, and lay off your wraps, while I make you a cup of tea, for you must be chilled through and through."
"Indeed, I am," Mrs. Stickles replied, bustling into the room, and untying her hood. "Sammy hed to bring the old mare to the blacksmith shop to git shod, an' John, my man, sez to me, 'Mother,' sez he, 'ye jist put on yer duds, an' go along, too. It'll do ye a world o' good.' I hated to leave John, poor soul, he's so poorly. But I couldn't resist the temptation, an' so I come. My, that's good tea!" she ejaculated, leaning back in a big, cosy chair. "Ain't that tumble about old Billy Fletcher, an' him sich a man!"
"You've heard about his death, then?" Mrs. Larkins replied.
"Should think I hed. We stopped fer a minute at the store. I wanted to git some calicer fer the girls, an' while I was thar I heerd Tom Flinders an' Pete Robie talkin' about it. Why, it was awful! An' to think the dear old parson was thar all alone! When Pete told me that I jist held up me hands in horror. 'Him thar with that dyin' man!' sez I. 'Jist think of it!'
"'I guess he didn't mind it,' sez Si Farrington, who was awaitin' upon me. 'He likes jobs of that nater.' I don't know what in the world he meant. I s'pose ye've heerd all about it, Mrs. Larkins?"
"Yes," came the somewhat slow reply. "I've heard too much."
"Ye don't say so now!" and Mrs. Stickles laid down her cup, and brought forth the knitting which she had with her. "Anything serious?"
"Well, you can judge for yourself. John helped to carry Billy to his nephew's house, and then assisted the others in putting out the fire. But search as they might they could not find the box."
"Ye don't say so! Well, I declare."
"No, they searched every portion of the rubbish, ashes and all, but could find no trace of it. That's what's troubling me. I do hope they will find it for the parson's sake."
"Indeed! Ye surprise me," and Mrs. Stickles laid down her knitting. "Wot the parson has to do with that box is more'n I kin understand."
"No, perhaps you don't. But you see after the men had made a thorough search and could not find the box, Tom Fletcher became much excited. He swore like a trooper, declared that there had been foul play, and hinted that the parson had something to do with it. You know that the Fletchers have been waiting a long time for Billy to die in order to get his gold, property and—"
"Yes, yes, I know Tom Fletcher," broke in Mrs. Stickles. "Don't I know 'im, an' wot a mean sneak he is. He's suspicious of everybody, an' is always lookin' fer trouble. An' as to meanness, why he hasn't a heart as big as the smallest chicken. Ye could take a thousand hearts sich as his'n an' stick 'em all to the wall with one tiny pin, an' then they wouldn't be half way up to the head. Mean! Why didn't he once put a twenty-five cent piece inter the kerlection plate by mistake, an' come back the next day to git it, an' gave a cent in its place. If that ain't mean I'd like to know whar ye'd find it," and Mrs. Stickles sniffed contemptuously as her needles whirled and rattled between her nimble fingers.
"Yes," Mrs. Larkins replied, "he carries his meanness into everything. If he even imagines that it was the parson's fault that the house burned down, and the will was destroyed, his anger will burn like fire. He's very revengeful, too, and has an old grudge to pay back. The parson, you know, was the means of making him close up his liquor business some years ago, and he has been waiting ever since for a chance to hit back. I tell you this, Mrs. Stickles, that a man who tries to do his duty is bound to stir up opposition, and sometimes I wonder why such a good man should have to bear with vindictive enemies. I suppose it's for some purpose."
"Indeed it is, Mrs. Larkins. Indeed it is," and Mrs. Stickles' needles clicked faster than ever. "It was only last night I was talkin' to my man John about this very thing. 'John,' sez I, 'd'ye remember them two apple trees in the orchard down by the fence?'
"'Well,' sez he.
"'An' ye recollect,' sez I, 'how one was loaded down with apples, while t'other had nuthin' but leaves?'
"I remember," sez he.
"'Well, then,' sez I, 'One was pelted with sticks an' stones all summer, an' even hed some of its branches broken, while t'other was not teched. Why was that?
"'Cause it hed plenty of good fruit on it,' sez he.
"'Jist so,' sez I. 'Cause it hed good fruit. An' that's why so often the Lord's good people er pelted with vile words cause they're loaded down with good deeds. If they never did nuthin' the devil 'ud leave 'em alone, but jist 'cause they bear good fruit is the reason they're pelted.' John reckoned I was right, an' he's got a purty level head, if I do say it."
"I only hope most of the people in the parish will stand by the parson," replied Mrs. Larkins. "I know some will, but there are others who are easily led, and Tom Fletcher's got a sharp tongue."
"Why wouldn't they stan' by 'im, Mrs. Larkins? Wot hev they agin 'im? Tell me that."
Mrs. Larkins did not answer for a while, but sat gazing out of the window as if she did not hear the remark.
"I'm thinking of the parson's son, Philip," Mrs. Larkins at length replied. "You know about him, of course?"
"Sartin' I do. I've knowed Phillie sense he was a baby, an' held 'im in me arms, too. He was a sweet lamb, that's wot he was. I understan' he's a minin' ingineer out in British Columbia, an' doin' fine from the last account I heerd."
"That was some time ago, Mrs. Stickles, was it not?"
"I believe it was last summer."
"Well, it seems that Philip's in trouble."
"Lan' sake, ye don't tell me!" and Mrs. Stickles dropped her knitting and held up her hands in horror. "I was afeered of it, Mrs. Larkins. It's no place fer man or beast out thar. Hev the Injins hurt 'im, or the bears clawed 'im? I understan' they're thick as flies in summer."
"Oh, no, not that," replied Mrs. Larkins. "You see over a year ago Philip invested in some mining property out there, and the prospects looked so bright that he induced his father to join him in the enterprise. Though the parson's salary has always been small, with strict economy he had laid something by each year for his old age. The whole of this he gave to Philip to be invested. For a time things looked very bright and it seemed as if the mines would produce handsome profits. Unfortunately several claimants for the property suddenly turned up, with the result that the whole affair is now in litigation. The case is to be decided in a few months, and should it go against Philip he and his father will be ruined. Philip manages the matter, and the parson advances what money he can scrape together. Just lately the whole affair has leaked out, and some people, knowing how the parson needs money, may not be slow to impute to him things of which he is entirely ignorant."
Mrs. Stickles was about to speak, when a jingle of bells sounded outside. "Well, I declare!" she exclaimed, "Sammy's back already!" With that, she rose to her feet, and the conversation ended.
The church was crowded the day old Billy was buried, for a funeral in Glendow was always an important event. Parson John was clad in his simple robes of office and read the Burial Service in a resonant, well-modulated voice. Beholding such nobleness, gentleness and dignity of his face and bearing, only the most suspicious could associate him with any underhanded dealing. What connection had such a man with the base things of life? Mounting the pulpit, he gave a short, impressive address. There was no sentiment, or flowery language. He glossed nothing over, but in a few words sketched Billy Fletcher's life, and pointed him out as a warning to those who become careless and indifferent to higher things.
"The parson talked mighty plain to-day," said one man in a low voice to another, as they wended their way to the graveyard. "He didn't put poor Billy in Heaven, that's certain, and perhaps he's right. I guess he hit the Fletchers pretty hard."
"Oh, yes," the other replied. "The parson got his say from the pulpit, hut the Fletchers will have theirs later."
"Why, what have they to say?"
"Oh, you'll see."
"About that box?"
"Tut, tut, man. Why, they haven't a leg to stand on in that matter."
"But they'll make legs. Surely you know Tom Fletcher by this time. He'll stop at nothing when once he gets started, and though he may not be able to do anything definitely, he'll do a lot of talking, and talk tells in Glendow, mark my word."
And this proved only too true. Talk did begin to tell both in the homes and at the stores. One man, who had met the parson on a hurried trip to the city, declared that he was driving like mad, and hardly spoke in passing. Another related that when Tom Fletcher asked Billy about the box, the dying man pointed to the parson, and tried to speak. Though some of the more sensible scoffed at such stories as ridiculous, it made little difference, for they passed from mouth to mouth, increasing in interest and importance according to the imagination of the narrator.
Although this slander with malignant breath was spreading through the parish, it did not for a time reach the Rectory. All unconscious of impending trouble, father and daughter lived their quiet life happy in each other's company.
The day of the auction of the Frenelle homestead dawned mild and clear.
"Don't give Dan too many lessons," laughed Parson John, as he kissed his daughter good-bye and tucked in the robes about his feet.
"No fear, father," was the laughing reply. "Perhaps he will turn the tables upon me. He knows so much about the woods, wild animals and birds that I like to learn from him."
Midnight strode along the road, glad of the run in the fresh air. The sleigh bells sent forth their sweet music, echoing and re-echoing from the neighbouring hills and forest. Everything spoke of peace, and in Parson John's heart dwelt a deeper peace, as he guided Midnight through the gateway and reined her up before the Frenelle door.
Though he was somewhat early, others were earlier still, and a group of men, hardy sons of toil, were standing near the house engaged in earnest conversation. They had come a long distance, for an auction such as this was a most unusual occurrence in Glendow. The Frenelle homestead had belonged to the family from the early Loyalist days, descending from father to son for several generations. Each had contributed something to the improvement of the land, but it remained for Peter Frenelle, Stephen's father, to bring it under an excellent state of cultivation. A clear-headed, hard-working man, he had brought his scientific knowledge, acquired by careful study, to bear upon the soil, until his broad, rich acres, free from stone, became the envy and admiration of the parish.
One quiet evening he was strolling around the farm with Parson John, his firm and faithful counsellor from childhood. Looking across the fields of waving grain, and down upon the long straight rows of corn, standing golden in the setting sun, he paused in his walk, and remained for some time in deep thought. "John," he at length remarked, placing his hand affectionately upon his companion's shoulder, "the Lord has been very good to me all of these years. He has blessed me in house and field; He has given me health and strength, and now in my latter days peace and light at eventide."
His companion was not surprised at these words, for often before had Mr. Frenelle talked in this manner. But early the next morning when he was summoned to his friend's bedside, to receive his final message, and to hold the hand outstretched to him till it was still and cold, the solemn utterance of the previous evening came forcibly to his mind.
For several years after her husband's sudden death, Mrs. Frenelle managed the farm and exhibited remarkable skill in directing the various hired labourers.
But as Stephen, her only son, advanced to manhood she relinquished the responsibility and devoted her time almost entirely to her household affairs. This change was so gradual as to be almost imperceptible. Stephen disliked the drudgery of farm life and left the work to the hired men. So long as he could draw upon his father's careful savings to pay the wages and supply his own needs, he did not worry. The neighbours shook their heads and prophesied trouble as they saw the land producing less each year, and its acres, formerly rich with grain, covered with bushes. Parson John reasoned and remonstrated, though all in vain. Stephen always promised to do better, but in the end continued the same as before. At last the awakening came, sudden and terrible. The bank account had been overdrawn to a considerable extent, and payment was demanded. The only thing to do was to mortgage the farm, and with a heavy heart Mrs. Frenelle signed the pledge of death to the dear homestead. For a time Stephen tried to settle down to steady work, but the old habit of carelessness was too strong upon him, and ere long he drifted back to his former ways. The interest on the mortgage remained unpaid. Foreclosure was the inevitable result, and the farm was accordingly advertised for sale.
At last the day of doom had arrived.
Parson John found Mrs. Frenelle in the cosy sitting-room with her invalid daughter, Nora. The latter was endeavouring to comfort her mother. The girl's face, although worn with care and suffering, was sweet to look upon. She was not what one would call pretty, but it was impossible to be long in her presence without feeling the influence of her strong buoyant disposition. The angel of pain had purged away much of the dross of her nature, leaving the pure gold undimmed. She inherited, too, much of her father's strength of character which seemed to be lacking in her brother.
"What are we to do?" sobbed poor Mrs. Frenelle, as the parson entered the room. "We will be driven from our dear old home, where we have spent so many happy years! We will be penniless!"
"Hush, mother dear," remonstrated her daughter. "Don't get so discouraged. The place may bring more than will cover the mortgage. We will have that to start with again, and in a few years we may be able to pay everything off. Stephen may settle down to hard, steady work and all will be well."
"Nora is right," replied the parson. "The purchaser, whoever he is, will no doubt let you remain here, and give you a fair chance to redeem the place. Our Glendow people, you know, have big hearts."
"Oh, I wish I could see it in that light," and Mrs. Frenelle glanced at the clergyman through her tears. "It is Mr. Farrington I fear. His mind is set upon having this place. He has looked upon it with greedy eyes for a number of years. He has only a little land in connection with his store, and his wife is always complaining that they have not enough room. She has said on several occasions that they would own this farm some day. Then, you see, Farrington is a candidate for the next Councillor election. He has large ambitions, and hopes eventually to run for the Local House. He thinks a place such as this with its fine, old-fashioned house will give him a certain standing which he now lacks. He wants to pose as a country gentleman, and his wife wishes to have the house in which to entertain her distinguished guests, who, as she imagines, will visit them. Oh, to think of Mrs. Farrington living here!" and the poor woman buried her face in her hands.
"But perhaps someone else will outbid him," suggested Mr. Westmore. "I would not lose heart yet."
"There is no one in Glendow able to bid successfully against Mr. Farrington," Nora replied. "We have learned, however, that Mr. Turpin, a real estate man, arrived from the city last night. He wishes to buy the place merely as a speculation, hoping to turn it over to some rich people who wish to come to Canada to settle. But there is the bell!" and she half-started from her invalid's chair, but sank back with a little cry at the pain caused by the sudden movement.
As the day was mild the auction took place in the open where the auctioneer, surrounded by some two dozen men, was mounted on a large box. At first the bidding was general and brisk. Gradually, however, it dwindled down to three or four, and finally to Farrington and Turpin, the real estate man. The former was standing a little apart from the rest, with his eyes intent upon the auctioneer, and unable to repress the eagerness which shone in his face. As the bidding advanced and drew near the three thousand dollar mark, Turpin showed signs of weakening, while his bids came slower and slower. Farrington, noticing this, could not control his pleasure, and when he at length offered the round sum of three thousand dollars Turpin gave up the struggle and, moving back a little, perched himself upon a barrel, and seemed to take no interest in the affair.
A triumphant light gleamed in Farrington's eyes as he observed his vanquished opponent. He glanced towards the house, and, seeing Mrs. Frenelle standing in the doorway, his lips parted in a cruel smile. It was that smile more than anything else which revealed the real nature of the man.
The breathless silence which for a time ensued at this crisis was broken by the harsh cry of the auctioneer:
"Three thousand dollars!" he called. "Going at three thousand dollars! Any advance on three thousand dollars. Going at three thousand dollars. Once— twice—third—and—"
"Three thousand one hundred," came suddenly from Parson John.
An earthquake shock could hardly have startled the men more than this bid from such an unexpected quarter.
Farrington's face reddened, and he moved a step nearer to be sure that he had not been mistaken.
"Did I hear aright?" he gasped. "Did the parson add one hundred to my bid?"
"Three thousand one hundred dollars from Parson Westmore," shouted the auctioneer. "Any advance on three thousand one hundred dollars?"
"Another hundred, then, damn it," and Farrington thrust his hands deeper into his pockets, while his eyes gleamed with an angry light.
"Three thousand five hundred," came the quiet response.
Silence followed this last bid, which plainly proved that Farrington, too, was weakening. He looked around as if uncertain what to do, and his eyes rested upon Mrs. Frenelle. In her eagerness she had moved from the door, and was standing near the group of men with her eyes fixed full upon the clergyman. The expression upon her face was that of a drowning person, who, when all hope has been abandoned, sees a rescuer suddenly at hand. It was this look more than the half-suppressed laugh that passed among the men, which caused him to fling another one hundred dollars at the auctioneer.
"Four thousand," again came strong and clear from Parson John without the slightest hesitation.
The auctioneer waited for Farrington to increase his bid. The men almost held their breath in the excitement of the moment, and Mrs. Frenelle moved a step nearer with her hands firmly clasped before her.
"Four thousand dollars," the auctioneer spoke slowly and impressively now. "Any—advance—on four thousand dollars? Going at four thousand dollars— Once—twice—third—and——last call——, and sold to Parson Westmore for four thousand dollars."
As these words fell from the speaker's lips a deep sigh broke the tense feeling of the little company. They had been stirred more than was their wont by the scene that they had just witnessed. These men knew but little of the rise and fall of ancient kingdoms, the strife of modern nations, the deeds of statesmen, and the affairs of the financial world. And yet in the sale of this farm in an obscure country place the secret springs of life, even though on a small scale, were laid bare. The pathos of a happy home on the verge of destruction, with a loving mother and an invalid child in danger of being cast out upon the cold world, and to see this tragedy so narrowly averted through one staunch champion successfully beating back pride and greed as represented in the person of Silas Farrington—truly it was a miniature of the world's history, which may be found in every town, village or home.
"I trust you understand the conditions of the sale, sir," and the auctioneer looked curiously at the clergyman, who was standing somewhat by himself. "One-third of the amount down, and the balance in half-yearly payments. I only mention this in case you may not know it."
"I understand perfectly well," was the reply. "The whole amount shall be paid at once, and the matter settled without delay."
"Guess the ministry must be a payin' job," sneered Farrington, "when a poor country parson kin fork out four thousand dollars at one slap. I see now why ye're allus dunnin' us fer money. Mebbe ye've got a hot sermon all ready on the subject fer us next Sunday."
Mr. Westmore looked intently at the man for an instant, and his lips parted as if to reply. Instead, however, he turned without a word and moved slowly towards the house.
He reached Nora's side, and took her outstretched hand in his. Tears of joy were in her eyes as she lifted them to her Rector's face, and endeavoured to find adequate words in which to express her gratitude.
"I know we are safe now!" she said. "But we never thought of you buying the place! I cannot understand it at all. Four thousand dollars! What a lot of money!"
"No, my child, you cannot understand it now, but you will some day," and as Mr. Westmore turned his face towards the window a tear might have been detected stealing slowly down his furrowed cheek.
Silas Farrington flung himself out of his sleigh and handed the reins to a young man who had come forth from the store.
"What are ye so slow about?" he snarled. "Here I've been callin' fer the last five minutes. Why don't ye hustle when I call?"
"I was running molasses," came the surly reply, "and how could I leave—"
"There now, no back talk; I never allow it. Put up the horse, an' don't spend all day about it, either."
With these words Farrington made his way to the house, leaving the young man inwardly cursing his unjust master.
"Ye're late, Si," a voice exclaimed, as he opened the door and entered. "We've been waitin' fer ye a full hour or more."
"I couldn't help it," Farrington replied. "I was delayed."
"An' how much did ye pay fer the farm, Si?"
"Farm be—be—hanged! I'm sick of it."
"But didn't ye git it, Si?" his wife persisted.
"Git it? No!"
"I said no!"
"But who did, then?"
"What! Parson John?"
"Certainly. Who else would he fool enough to interfere with me?"
"Well, well!" ejaculated Mrs. Farrington. "Do tell us about it, Si?"
"No, not a word more about it," snapped her husband, "till we git down to dinner. I'm most starved. Is it ready?"
"Dear me, yes. I'd clean fergot about it," and Mrs. Farrington bustled off to the kitchen.
Everything in the dining-room betokened care and industry, from the nicely-papered walls, adorned with pictures, to the large sideboard, with its display of old china and glassware. The table-linen was spotlessly clean, and the food served up was well cooked. But, notwithstanding this, something seemed wrong. An indefinable atmosphere pervaded the place which spoiled the effect of it all. It was not the corrupted English falling from the lips of these people which grated so harshly upon the senses. It was the spirit of pretence which overshadowed everything—the effort to be what they were not. Had old Titbottom been there with his magic spectacles, he would have beheld in Farrington little more than a roll of bills; in his wife the very essence of pretence and ambition; while the daughter Eudora and their son Dick would be labelled "exact samples" of the parents.
Farrington told of the auction in no measured terms. He was annoyed at the unexpected outcome and did not try to conceal his anger. The inserted exclamations of the family told their own tale. They were much disappointed, especially Mrs. Farrington.
"Only think!" she cried, when her husband had ended, "that the parson above all men should interfere in this matter! Him that's allus talkin' about lovin' our neighbours as ourselves, standin' a-tween us an' our natral rights. I hev often told Eudora, heven't I, dear? that we need a better place than this. Now, that Frenelle homestead is jist what we want, an' it seemed as if the Lord intended we should hev it, too. It is so included from all pryin' eyes, an' away from them country people who are so uncongenial. Their manners are so rough an' they know so little about proper equity. The parson knows very well that we are city bred, an' that our descendants hev allus had good blood in their veins, an' that we try to follow their Example by givin' a tone to the community ever sense we came from the city. He knows what we are a-tryin' to do, an' yit he'll serve us in this mean fashion."
"I wonder where he got the spondulicks," broke in her son Richard.
"Richard, Richard! you must not use sech a word as that," and Mrs. Farrington cast a reproving glance at her son. "Ye must hev heerd it from Tom Jones; ye know ye never hear it at home, fer we are allus very pertickeler about our language."
"Well, money, then, ma. I don't care what ye call it."
"Oh, I guess that'll not be hard to account fer," replied Farrington with a knowing laugh. "Tom Fletcher may be able to throw some light upon the subject. It seems to me that the parson has come to the end of his rope. We've borne with 'im fer years, an' it's about time he was makin' a move. He's too old fer the ministry. We need a young man, with fire an' vim. Anyway, the rest may do as they please, but as fer me not another cent do I pay as long as he is in charge."
"Ye've allus paid well, Si," remarked his wife, "an' the parson is not one bit grateful."
"Yes, I reckon I hev," and Farrington gulped down, his tea. "I used to contribute heavily; eight dollars a year, an' a bag of oats at Christmas. Now I give only four sense I've enlarged my bizness an' can't afford so much. Besides, the parson doesn't deal with me as much as he should. He gits too many of his supplies in the city. If he expects me to paternise 'im he must deal with me. I've told 'im so very plainly on several occasions."
"Ye certainly did yer part, Si," Mrs. Farrington replied. "If all in the parish 'ud do as well there'd be no trouble. It is disgraceful that these country people do not pay more to support the Church. It throws sich a burden upon us. Only think of Mrs. Jimmy Brown buyin' a new Bristles carpet, when the old one was quite good enough. An' her last year's hat could hev been made over as well as not. But, no, it would not do. She had to hev another, which cost quite a penny, so I understand."
"An' Vivien Nelson's fur-lined coat, ma," chimed in Eudora, "I know it didn't cost one cent less than seventy-five dollars!"
"These country people are so extravagant, ye know," returned her mother. "They are allus tryin' to imitate their sufferiors. To think of Vivien Nelson, a farmer's daughter, hevin' a fur-lined coat which cost almost as much as Eudora's! It is really disgraceful! I'm sure her father could give more to the Church than he does, an' yit he'll let us hear the brunt of the burden."
"Guess he'll hev to bear mor'n ever now," replied her husband as he rose from the table. "I'm done with the whole bizness, an' I'm mighty glad I heven't paid fer the last year, an' don't intend to now."
As Farrington passed out of the dining-room into the store, his clerk, a young man new to the business, was serving a middle-aged woman at the counter.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Sturgis," the former was saying, "but we are entirely out of it just now. We can order it for you, though, and have it in a few days."
Farrington turned angrily upon his heel as these words fell upon his ears.
"What does she want?" he demanded.
"Number forty, white thread; but we're out of it."
"You stupid blockhead, we're not out of it! We're never out! If you'd use yer eyes half as much as yer tongue ye'd be all right."
"But I can't find it. I've looked everywhere," and the clerk's eyes flashed danger as he turned them upon his master.
"Well, look again. Don't stand thar starin' like an ijut!"
The young man did as he was commanded. He searched and rummaged, but all in vain.
"Oh, come out of that, an' let me thar," and Farrington shoved his way past the clerk, and fumbled excitedly in the box.
"Ah-yes-no-fifty-sixty-Well, I declare! Not thar! Confound it! Why didn't ye tell me we were out before? Why did ye wait till the last spool was gone afore sayin' a word about it?"
"I've only been here a week," replied the clerk, "and how could I know you were out. No one has called for number forty thread since I've been here."
Farrington was beaten, and was forced to swallow his anger as best he could. It was most aggravating to be thus humiliated in the presence of this woman. He strode across the room, and stood with his back to the stove, wondering how he could get even with his clerk. He would discharge him. "No, that wouldn't do. It was hard to get a man to stay with him, and this was a good worker. Anyway, he must be taught his place, and not answer back. He would let him know that he owned the store.
"Give me my mail, please."
Farrington started, and turning, beheld a little lad standing by his side.
"Mail! whose mail?" he demanded, glad of an excuse to give vent to his anger. "What's yer name? I don't know anything about my mail."
"I want Parson John's mail," persisted the boy. Don't you know him?"
"Know 'im! Well, I guess! I know 'im too d—n well. But who are you, and what do ye want with the parson's mail?"
"Oh, I live with him now. I'm Dan, old Jim's boy. Didn't you know I was there?"
"Ha, ha, that's a good one! To think that I should know every brat who comes to the place."
"I'm not a brat! I'm almost a man," and Dan straightened himself up. "Give me my mail, please; Parson John's waiting for it."
"Let 'im wait. I'm not supposed to give out mail to all the riff-raff who comes fer it. Why doesn't he come 'imself?"
"Busy! busy! Yes, I s'pose he is busy, plannin' mischief; wonderin' what to do with Billy Fletcher's gold. How much did he git? I s'pose he gave you some to hold yer tongue."
Farrington had no intention of uttering these last words, but his heart was so full of anger that he hardly knew what he was saying.
Dan's eyes flashed, and his little hands suddenly doubled at his side. He did not comprehend the meaning of these words, but he felt that his friend, the white-headed old man, was being insulted. With him to think was to act, and many a boy larger than himself had felt the lightning blows of those little tense knuckles.
"What do ye mean?" he demanded, looking up into Farrington's face.
"What do I mean? Well, if ye want to know, I mean that Parson John is a rogue, an' that you are nuthin' but a young sucker, an impudent outcast, spongin' fer yer livin' upon others."
Hardly had the words left Farrington's lips, when, with a cry as of a wild animal, Dan leaped full upon him, caught him by the hair with one hand, and with the other rained blow after blow upon his face.
With a howl of mingled pain and rage, Farrington endeavoured to free himself from this human wild-cat. He struggled and fought, and at length succeeded in tearing away that writhing, battering form. With one hand he held him at arm's length and shook him as a terrier shakes a rat. Dan struggled, squirmed and bit, but all in vain; he was held as in a vice. Not satisfied with shaking the lad, Farrington reached over and, seizing a broken barrel stave from the wood-box, brought it down over the lad's shoulder and back with a resounding thud. A cry of pain, the first that he had uttered, fell from Dan's lips, and with a mighty effort he tried to escape. The stick was raised again. It was about to fall, when suddenly it flew into the air, the grip of the boy relaxed, and Farrington staggered back from a furious blow dealt him by the young clerk. Farrington tried to recover, but each time he was hurled to the floor by the stalwart athlete standing before him, his eyes blazing with anger.
"Get up, you coward!" he cried, when at length Farrington remained sprawling upon the floor. "Get up if you can, and dare!"
"Curse you!" snarled the defeated man. "Ye'll pay fer this!"
"We'll see about that later," calmly replied the clerk. "There's to be no more bullying while I'm here, and I won't be here long, for I'm done with you and your outfit."
"Go, go at once, d—n you, or I'll kick ye out!" shouted Farrington.
"Kick me out, if you can," came the reply. "Get up and do it," and the young man laughed scornfully. "No, you know you can't. Now, look here; just a word before we part. I've stood your insolent abuse for a week, without retaliating. But when you laid hands upon that boy it was a different matter."
"But he flew at me like a wild-cat," Farrington growled.
"Yes, and wouldn't anyone with a spark of life in him at all, after he had been insulted by such a thing as you. You like to get a chap such as that in your claws and torture him. You've done it before, I understand. But it's not been such fun this time. No, no, the worm has turned at last. I'm going now—so do what you like. I've no fear of such a thing as you."
He turned, put on his heavy coat and left the building. As he did so Dan slipped out ahead of him, and started up the road as fast as his little feet would carry him.
The Golden Key
"Why, Dan, what's the matter?"
Nellie was sitting before the open fire busily engaged with her needle as the lad entered the room. He stared at her for an instant, and then a sheepish grin crossed his face. His clothes were torn, and his hair tossed in the wildest confusion, while marks of blood spotted his cheeks.
"What in the world have you been doing?" Nellie insisted.
"Nuthin' much," came the slow reply,
"Well, you don't look like it. Have you been fighting?"
"Y'bet!" and Dan smacked his lips. "I swatted him good and hard, that's what I did."
"Swatted him—punched his face, and dug out some of his hair."
"Punched his face and dug out his hair!" Nellie exclaimed. "I don't understand. Sit down, and tell me about it."
Perched upon a chair Dan gave a brief though vivid description of the scene in the store, to which Nellie listened with almost breathless interest.
"And did he say that father took old Billy's gold?" she asked. "Are you sure?"
"Sure's I'm livin'. He said it, and he called him a rogue and me a—a—bad name!" Dan was about to tell what that name was, but the word stuck in his throat, and he found it impossible to bring it forth. "Sucker and sponger!" how those words stung him. How contemptuously his father had always spoken of such people. They rankled in his heart as he sped up the road. A squirrel in an old fir-tree had shouted them at him, while a forlorn crow soaring overhead had looked down and given its hoarse croak of contempt. He was a sucker—a sponger! living upon others! What was he doing to earn his living? Nothing. What would his father think were he alive?
"Dan, I'm sorry you did that," and as Nellie looked into those big brown eyes a deep love for this little lad welled up in her heart.
"Why. I thought you'd be glad," came the astonished reply. "If anybody called my dad bad names when he was alive I'd been glad if someone swatted him."
Nellie remained silent for a while, steadily working away at her sewing.
"Dan," she said at length, "I want you to promise me something, will you?"
"Y'bet. What is it?"
"I want you to promise that you will say nothing about this to my father."
"Why? Wouldn't he like to know how I punched that man?"
"No, no. And besides I don't want him to know what has been said about him. It's a cruel lie, and if father hears of it, it will worry him so much. Will you keep the secret with me?"
"Yes, if you want me to. I'll not say a word, but, oh, I think Parson John would like to know how I punched him," and Dan gave a deep sigh at the thought of losing such pleasure.
"Thank you," Nellie replied. "I know I can trust you. Run away now, change your clothes, and wash your face; then get the wood in, before father comes home."
Long and silently Nellie remained before the fire with her hands resting upon her lap. Her brain was in a tumult, and her heart ached. What else was being said about her father? To whom should she go for information? She thought of Mrs. Larkins, but then she was over at the Hall getting ready for a church sale to be given that very evening by the Ladies' Aid Society. Stephen was coming for her early, as she was to have charge of one of the fancy booths. Afterwards there was to be a quiet dance by the young people, and she had promised Stephen that she would stay for a while, and have her first dance with him.
At length she aroused from her reverie and prepared her father's supper. How weary he looked, she thought, as she sat and watched him, and listened to his casual talk about his afternoon visit and the auction in the morning. A feeling of resentment filled her heart as she recalled what Farrington had said. To think that he should say such things about her father, who was always so patient and loving; who was ever trying to help others, no matter who they were. Tears came to her eyes at the thought. Suddenly she rose, and going to where her father was sitting put her arms around him, and gave him a loving kiss.
"Ho, ho!" came the delighted exclamation. "What ails my little girl to-night? What does she want now?"
"I want you, daddy," she replied. "I want to love you more, and be more help to you."
"Help me more! What could you do more than you do now? There, run away and get ready. I hear bells; Stephen must be coming, and I'm afraid you'll be late. Dan and I will look after the dishes."
That evening in the church hall, when the sale had ended, the fiddler tuned up his instrument, and several made ready for the dance. It was truly a pleasant sight which met the eyes of a number of the older ones as they sat back near the wall. Grouped around the large room the flower and strength of the neighbourhood chatted with one another, while waiting for the dance to begin. They seemed like one large family, these youths and maidens, who had known one another from childhood. Bright and happy were their faces, glowing with health, and the active exercise of daily life.
Somewhat apart from the rest stood Nellie Westmore, engaged in earnest conversation with Vivien Nelson. Presently the former turned partly around and her eyes rested upon Mrs. Larkins sitting quietly in one corner of the room. A bright smile illumined her face as she crossed over and sat down by her side.
"I am glad you stayed, Mrs. Larkins," she began. "I did not think you would care to remain."
"I like to see the young people enjoying themselves," Mrs. Larkins replied, "and I hope you will have a pleasant time, Nellie."
"I generally do," came the slow response; "but to-night my conscience troubles me."
"And in what way?"
"Oh, about my father."
"Why, is he sick?"
"No, not that. He is troubled somewhat in his mind, and I feel I should have stayed at home to cheer him up. I know he needs me to-night, and it was just his love which made him forget himself. He is always like that; thinking about others all the time."
"Don't worry, Nellie. Your father will have his books to occupy his mind."
"Yes, I know that. But he is feeling rather down-cast to-night after that auction this morning. Some cruel things were said about him, and I always know when he is in trouble, though he seldom complains."
Nellie paused, and gazed for a time upon the group in the centre of the room, as if intent on what was taking place there. Then her dark eyes, filled with a questioning look, turned full upon Mrs. Larkins' face.
"I am glad to be with you for a few moments," she whispered, "for I wish to ask you something. I have only spoken of it to Vivien, for she is so true and noble. Have you heard these stories about my father, Mrs. Larkins?"
"In connection with Billy Fletcher's gold?" was the reply.
"Yes, yes, that is what I mean. Oh, it troubles me so much."
"Yes, I have heard some of them, Nellie. But do not give yourself unnecessary concern. Evil-minded people will talk. I said nothing to you, hoping the matter would soon die down. Has your father heard anything?"
"No, not yet, and I trust no one will tell him. He has enough worry now without these. He has that trouble with the mine in British Columbia; then, this morning's annoyance. Oh, he must not know what people are saying!"
"I have heard but little lately," Mrs. Larkins responded in an effort to comfort her. "Let us trust that the talk will not amount to much."
"But Vivien tells me that it is not so. Since the auction the stories have started up again stronger than ever. People cannot understand where father got so much money to pay for the farm. I don't even know myself, for father never told me. Tom Fletcher and others are saying all sorts of things. What shall we do?"
Her bosom heaved as she uttered these words, which somewhat expressed the agitated state of her mind. Before Mrs. Larkins could further reply, the music struck up, and Stephen came for Nellie to claim her for the opening dance.
"How worthy," thought Mrs. Larkins as her eyes followed Nellie as she went forward, "is she of a true man's love. What nobleness and strength of character are there. But what of Stephen? If he would only get the right grip. Such a face as his is surely meant for higher things than a life of carelessness."
She was aroused by Farrington, who had taken the seat by her side which Nellie had recently vacated.