THE GENTLEMAN FROM INDIANA
By Booth Tarkington
I. THE YOUNG MAN WHO CAME TO STAY II. THE STRANGE LADY III. LONESOMENESS IV. THE WALRUS AND THE CARPENTER V. AT THE PASTURE BARS: ELDER-BUSHES MAY HAVE STINGS VI. JUNE VII. MORNING: "SOME IN RAGS AND SOME IN TAGS AND SOME IN VELVET GOWNS" VIII. GLAD AFTERNOON: THE GIRL BY THE BLUE TENT POLE IX. NIGHT: IT IS BAD LUCK TO SING BEFORE BREAKFAST X. THE COURT-HOUSE BELL XI. JOHN BROWN'S BODY XII. JERRY THE TELLER XIII. JAMES FISBEE XIV. A RESCUE XV. NETTLES XVI. PRETTY MARQUISE XVII. HELEN'S TOAST XVIII. THE TREACHERY OF H. FISBEE XIX. THE GREAT HARKLESS COMES HOME
CHAPTER I. THE YOUNG MAN WHO CAME TO STAY
There is a fertile stretch of flat lands in Indiana where unagrarian Eastern travellers, glancing from car-windows, shudder and return their eyes to interior upholstery, preferring even the swaying caparisons of a Pullman to the monotony without. The landscape lies interminably level: bleak in winter, a desolate plain of mud and snow; hot and dusty in summer, in its flat lonesomeness, miles on miles with not one cool hill slope away from the sun. The persistent tourist who seeks for signs of man in this sad expanse perceives a reckless amount of rail fence; at intervals a large barn; and, here and there, man himself, incurious, patient, slow, looking up from the fields apathetically as the Limited flies by. Widely separated from each other are small frame railway stations—sometimes with no other building in sight, which indicates that somewhere behind the adjacent woods a few shanties and thin cottages are grouped about a couple of brick stores.
On the station platforms there are always two or three wooden packing-boxes, apparently marked for travel, but they are sacred from disturbance and remain on the platform forever; possibly the right train never comes along. They serve to enthrone a few station loafers, who look out from under their hat-brims at the faces in the car-windows with the languid scorn a permanent fixture always has for a transient, and the pity an American feels for a fellow-being who does not live in his town. Now and then the train passes a town built scatteringly about a court-house, with a mill or two humming near the tracks. This is a county-seat, and the inhabitants and the local papers refer to it confidently as "our city." The heart of the flat lands is a central area called Carlow County, and the county-seat of Carlow is a town unhappily named in honor of its first settler, William Platt, who christened it with his blood. Natives of this place have sometimes remarked, easily, that their city had a population of from five to six thousand souls. It is easy to forgive them for such statements; civic pride is a virtue.
The social and business energy of Plattville concentrates on the Square. Here, in summer-time, the gentlemen are wont to lounge from store to store in their shirt sleeves; and here stood the old, red-brick court-house, loosely fenced in a shady grove of maple and elm—"slipp'ry ellum"—called the "Court-House Yard." When the sun grew too hot for the dry-goods box whittlers in front of the stores around the Square and the occupants of the chairs in front of the Palace Hotel on the corner, they would go across and drape themselves over the court-house fence, under the trees, and leisurely carve there initials on the top board. The farmers hitched their teams to the fence, for there were usually loafers energetic enough to shout "Whoa!" if the flies worried the horses beyond patience. In the yard, amongst the weeds and tall, unkept grass, chickens foraged all day long; the fence was so low that the most matronly hen flew over with propriety; and there were gaps that accommodated the passage of itinerant pigs. Most of the latter, however, preferred the cool wallows of the less important street corners. Here and there a big dog lay asleep in the middle of the road, knowing well that the easy-going Samaritan, in his case, would pass by on the other side.
Only one street attained to the dignity of a name—Main Street, which formed the north side of the Square. In Carlow County, descriptive location is usually accomplished by designating the adjacent, as, "Up at Bardlocks'," "Down by Schofields'," "Right where Hibbards live," "Acrost from Sol. Tibbs's," or, "Other side of Jones's field." In winter, Main Street was a series of frozen gorges land hummocks; in fall and spring, a river of mud; in summer, a continuing dust heap; it was the best street in Plattville.
The people lived happily; and, while the world whirled on outside, they were content with their own. It would have moved their surprise as much as their indignation to hear themselves spoken of as a "secluded community"; for they sat up all night to hear the vote of New York, every campaign. Once when the President visited Rouen, seventy miles away, there were only few bankrupts (and not a baby amongst them) left in the deserted homes of Carlow County. Everybody had adventures; almost everybody saw the great man; and everybody was glad to get back home again. It was the longest journey some of them ever set upon, and these, elated as they were over their travels, determined to think twice ere they went that far from home another time.
On Saturdays, the farmers enlivened the commercial atmosphere of Plattville; and Miss Tibbs, the postmaster's sister and clerk, used to make a point of walking up and down Main Street as often as possible, to get a thrill in the realization of some poetical expressions that haunted her pleasingly; phrases she had employed frequently in her poems for the "Carlow County Herald." When thirty or forty country people were scattered along the sidewalks in front of the stores on Main Street, she would walk at nicely calculated angles to the different groups so as to leave as few gaps as possible between the figures, making them appear as near a solid phalanx as she could. Then she would murmur to herself, with the accent of soulful revel, "The thronged city streets," and, "Within the thronged city," or, "Where the thronging crowds were swarming and the great cathedral rose." Although she had never been beyond Carlow and the bordering counties in her life, all her poems were of city streets and bustling multitudes. She was one of those who had been unable to join the excursion to Rouen when the President was there; but she had listened avidly to her friends' descriptions of the crowds. Before that time her muse had been sylvan, speaking of "Flow'rs of May," and hinting at thoughts that overcame her when she roved the woodlands thro'; but now the inspiration was become decidedly municipal and urban, evidently reluctant to depart beyond the retail portions of a metropolis. Her verses beginning, "O, my native city, bride of Hibbard's winding stream,"—Hibbard's Creek runs west of Plattville, except in time of drought—"When thy myriad lights are shining, and thy faces, like a dream, Go flitting down thy sidewalks when their daily toil is done," were pronounced, at the time of their publication, the best poem that had ever appeared in the "Herald."
This unlucky newspaper was a thorn in the side of every patriot of Carlow County. It was a poor paper; everybody knew it was a poor paper; it was so poor that everybody admitted it was a poor paper—worse, the neighboring county of Amo possessed a better paper, the "Amo Gazette." The "Carlow County Herald" was so everlastingly bad that Plattville people bent their heads bitterly and admitted even to citizens of Amo that the "Gazette" was the better paper. The "Herald" was a weekly, issued on Saturday; sometimes it hung fire over Sunday and appeared Monday evening. In their pride, the Carlow people supported the "Herald" loyally and long; but finally subscriptions began to fall off and the "Gazette" gained them. It came to pass that the "Herald" missed fire altogether for several weeks; then it came out feebly, two small advertisements occupying the whole of the fourth page. It was breathing its last. The editor was a clay-colored gentleman with a goatee, whose one surreptitious eye betokened both indolence of disposition and a certain furtive shrewdness. He collected all the outstanding subscriptions he could, on the morning of the issue just mentioned, and, thoughtfully neglecting several items on the other side of the ledger, departed from Plattville forever.
The same afternoon a young man from the East alighted on the platform of the railway station, north of the town, and, entering the rickety omnibus that lingered there, seeking whom it might rattle to deafness, demanded to be driven to the Herald Building. It did not strike the driver that the newcomer was precisely a gay young man when he climbed into the omnibus; but, an hour later, as he stood in the doorway of the edifice he had indicated as his destination, depression seemed to have settled into the marrow of his bones. Plattville was instantly alert to the stranger's presence, and interesting conjectures were hazarded all day long at the back door of Martin's Dry-Goods Emporium, where all the clerks from the stores around the Square came to play checkers or look on at the game. (This was the club during the day; in the evening the club and the game removed to the drug, book, and wall-paper store on the corner.) At supper, the new arrival and his probable purposes were discussed over every table in the town. Upon inquiry, he had informed Judd Bennett, the driver of the omnibus, that he had come to stay. Naturally, such a declaration caused a sensation, as people did not come to Plattville to live, except through the inadvertency of being born there. In addition, the young man's appearance and attire were reported to be extraordinary. Many of the curious, among them most of the marriageable females of the place, took occasion to pass and repass the sign of the "Carlow County Herald" during the evening.
Meanwhile, the stranger was seated in the dingy office upstairs with his head bowed low on his arms. Twilight stole through the dirty window-panes and faded into darkness. Night filled the room. He did not move. The young man from the East had bought the "Herald" from an agent; had bought it without ever having been within a hundred miles of Plattville. He had vastly overpaid for it. Moreover, the price he had paid for it was all the money he had in the world.
The next morning he went bitterly to work. He hired a compositor from Rouen, a young man named Parker, who set type all night long and helped him pursue advertisements all day. The citizens shook their heads pessimistically. They had about given up the idea that the "Herald" could ever amount to anything, and they betrayed an innocent, but caustic, doubt of ability in any stranger.
One day the new editor left a note on his door; "Will return in fifteen minutes."
Mr. Rodney McCune, a politician from the neighboring county of Gaines, happening to be in Plattville on an errand to his henchmen, found the note, and wrote beneath the message the scathing inquiry, "Why?"
When he discovered this addendum, the editor smiled for the first time since his advent, and reported the incident in his next issue, using the rubric, "Why Has the 'Herald' Returned to Life?" as a text for a rousing editorial on "honesty in politics," a subject of which he already knew something. The political district to which Carlow belonged was governed by a limited number of gentlemen whose wealth was ever on the increase; and "honesty in politics" was a startling conception to the minds of the passive and resigned voters, who discussed the editorial on the street corners and in the stores. The next week there was another editorial, personal and local in its application, and thereby it became evident that the new proprietor of the "Herald" was a theorist who believed, in general, that a politician's honor should not be merely of that middling healthy species known as "honor amongst politicians"; and, in particular, that Rodney McCune should not receive the nomination of his party for Congress. Now, Mr. McCune was the undoubted dictator of the district, and his followers laughed at the stranger's fantastic onset.
But the editor was not content with the word of print; he hired a horse and rode about the country, and (to his own surprise) he proved to be an adaptable young man who enjoyed exercise with a pitchfork to the farmer's profit while the farmer talked. He talked little himself, but after listening an hour or so, he would drop a word from the saddle as he left; and then, by some surprising wizardry, the farmer, thinking over the interview, decided there was some sense in what that young fellow said, and grew curious to see what the young fellow had further to say in the "Herald."
Politics is the one subject that goes to the vitals of every rural American; and a Hoosier will talk politics after he is dead.
Everybody read the campaign editorials, and found them interesting, although there was no one who did not perceive the utter absurdity of a young stranger's dropping into Carlow and involving himself in a party fight against the boss of the district. It was entirely a party fight; for, by grace of the last gerrymander, the nomination carried with it the certainty of election. A week before the convention there came a provincial earthquake; the news passed from man to man in awe-struck whispers—McCune had withdrawn his name, making the hollowest of excuses to his cohorts. Nothing was known of the real reason for his disordered retreat, beyond the fact that he had been in Plattville on the morning before his withdrawal and had issued from a visit to the "Herald" office in a state of palsy. Mr. Parker, the Rouen printer, had been present at the close of the interview; but he held his peace at the command of his employer. He had been called into the sanctum, and had found McCune, white and shaking, leaning on the desk.
"Parker," said the editor, exhibiting a bundle of papers he held in his hand, "I want you to witness a verbal contract between Mr. McCune and myself. These papers are an affidavit and copies of some records of a street-car company which obtained a charter while Mr McCune was in the State legislature. They were sent to me by a man I do not know, an anonymous friend of Mr. McCune's; in fact, a friend he seems to have lost. On consideration of our not printing these papers, Mr. McCune agrees to retire from politics for good. You understand, if he ever lifts his head again, politically, We publish them, and the courts will do the rest. Now, in case anything should happen to me——"
"Something will happen to you, all right," broke out McCune. "You can bank on that, you black——"
"Come," the editor interrupted, not unpleasantly "why should there be anything personal, in all this? I don't recognize you as my private enemy—not at all; and I think you are getting off rather easily; aren't you? You stay out of politics, and everything will be comfortable. You ought never to have been in it, you see. It's a mistake not to keep square, because in the long run somebody is sure to give you away—like the fellow who sent me these. You promise to hold to a strictly private life?"
"You're a traitor to the party," groaned the other, "but you only wait——"
The editor smiled sadly. "Wait nothing. Don't threaten, man. Go home to your wife. I'll give you three to one she'll be glad you are out of it."
"I'll give you three to one," said McCune, "that the White Caps will get you if you stay in Carlow. You want to look out for yourself, I tell you, my smart boy!"
"Good-day, Mr. McCune," was the answer. "Let me have your note of withdrawal before you leave town this afternoon." The young man paused a moment, then extended his hand, as he said: "Shake hands, won't you? I—I haven't meant to be too hard on you. I hope things will seem easier and gayer to you before long; and if—if anything should turn up that I can do for you in a private way, I'll be very glad, you know. Good-by."
The sound of the "Herald's" victory went over the State. The paper came out regularly. The townsfolk bought it and the farmers drove in for it. Old subscribers came back. Old advertisers renewed. The "Herald" began to sell in Amo, and Gaines County people subscribed. Carlow folk held up their heads when journalism was mentioned. Presently the "Herald" announced a news connection with Rouen, and with that, and the aid of "patent insides," began an era of three issues a week, appearing on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The Plattville Brass Band serenaded the editor.
During the second month of the new regime of the "Herald," the working force of the paper received an addition. One night the editor found some barroom loafers tormenting a patriarchal old man who had a magnificent head and a grand white beard. He had been thrown out of a saloon, and he was drunk with the drunkenness of three weeks steady pouring. He propped himself against a wall and reproved his tormentors in Latin. "I'm walking your way, Mr. Fisbee," remarked the journalist, hooking his arm into the old man's. "Suppose we leave our friends here and go home?"
Mr. Fisbee was the one inhabitant of the town who had an unknown past; no one knew more about him than that he had been connected with a university somewhere, and had travelled in unheard-of countries before he came to Plattville. A glamour of romance was thrown about him by the gossips, to whom he ever proved a fund of delightful speculation. There was a dark, portentous secret in his life, it was agreed; an opinion not too well confirmed by the old man's appearance. His fine eyes had a pathetic habit of wandering to the horizon in a questioning fashion that had a queer sort of hopelessness in it, as if his quest were one for the Holy Grail, perhaps; and his expression was mild, vague, and sad. He had a look of race and blood; and yet, at the first glance, one saw that he was lost in dreams, and one guessed that the dreams would never be of great practicability in their application. Some such impression of Fisbee was probably what caused the editor of the "Herald" to nickname him (in his own mind) "The White Knight," and to conceive a strong, if whimsical, fancy for him.
Old Fisbee had come (from nobody knew where) to Plattville to teach, and had been principal of the High School for ten years, instructing his pupils after a peculiar fashion of his own, neglecting the ordinary courses of High School instruction to lecture on archaeology to the dumfounded scholars; growing year by year more forgetful and absent, lost in his few books and his own reflections, until, though undeniably a scholar, he had been discharged for incompetency. He was old; he had no money and no way to make money; he could find nothing to do. The blow had seemed to daze him for a time; then he began to drop in at the hotel bar, where Wilkerson, the professional drunkard, favored him with his society. The old man understood; he knew it was the beginning of the end. He sold his books in order to continue his credit at the Palace bar, and once or twice, unable to proceed to his own dwelling, spent the night in a lumber yard, piloted thither by the hardier veteran, Wilkerson.
The morning after the editor took him home, Fisbee appeared at the "Herald" office in a new hat and a decent suit of black. He had received his salary in advance, his books had been repurchased, and he had become the reportorial staff of the "Carlow County Herald"; also, he was to write various treatises for the paper. For the first few evenings, when he started home from the office, his chief walked with him, chatting heartily, until they had passed the Palace bar. But Fisbee's redemption was complete.
The old man had a daughter. When she came to Plattville, he told her what the editor of the "Herald" had done for him.
The journalist kept steadily at his work; and, as time went on, the bitterness his predecessor's swindle had left him passed away. But his loneliness and a sense of defeat grew and deepened. When the vistas of the world had opened to his first youth, he had not thought to spend his life in such a place as Plattville; but he found himself doing it, and it was no great happiness to him that the congressional representative of the district, the gentleman whom the "Herald's" opposition to McCune had sent to Washington, came to depend on his influence for renomination; nor did the realization that the editor of the "Carlow County Herald" had come to be McCune's successor as political dictator produce a perceptibly enlivening effect on the young man. The years drifted very slowly, and to him it seemed they went by while he stood far aside and could not even see them move. He did not consider the life he led an exciting one; but the other citizens of Carlow did when he undertook a war against the "White Caps." The natives were much more afraid of the "White Caps" than he was; they knew more about them and understood them better than he did.
CHAPTER II. THE STRANGE LADY
IT was June. From the patent inner columns of the "Carlow County Herald" might be gleaned the information (enlivened by cuts of duchesses) that the London season had reached a high point of gaiety; and that, although the weather had grown inauspiciously warm, there was sufficient gossip for the thoughtful. To the rapt mind of Miss Selina Tibbs came a delicious moment of comparison: precisely the same conditions prevailed in Plattville.
Not unduly might Miss Selina lay this flattering unction to her soul, and well might the "Herald" declare that "Carlow events were crowding thick and fast." The congressional representative of the district was to deliver a lecture at the court-house; a circus was approaching the county-seat, and its glories would be exhibited "rain or shine"; the court had cleared up the docket by sitting to unseemly hours of the night, even until ten o'clock—one farmer witness had fallen asleep while deposing that he "had knowed this man Hender some eighteen year"—and, as excitements come indeed when they do come, and it seldom rains but it pours, the identical afternoon of the lecture a strange lady descended from the Rouen Accommodation and was greeted on the platform by the wealthiest citizen of the county. Judge Briscoe, and his daughter, Minnie, and (what stirred wonder to an itch almost beyond endurance) Mr. Fisbee! and they then drove through town on the way to the Briscoe mansion, all four, apparently, in a fluster of pleasure and exhilaration, the strange lady engaged in earnest conversation with Mr. Fisbee on the back seat.
Judd Bennett had had the best stare at her, but, as he immediately fell into a dreamy and absent state, little satisfaction could be got from him, merely an exasperating statement that the stranger seemed to have a kind of new look to her. However, by means of Miss Mildy Upton, a domestic of the Briscoe household, the community was given something a little more definite. The lady's name was Sherwood; she lived in Rouen; and she had known Miss Briscoe at the eastern school the latter had attended (to the feverish agitation of Plattville) three years before; but Mildy confessed her inadequacy in the matter of Mr. Fisbee. He had driven up in the buckboard with the others and evidently expected to stay for supper Mr. Tibbs, the postmaster (it was to the postoffice that Miss Upton brought her information) suggested, as a possible explanation, that the lady was so learned that the Briscoes had invited Fisbee on the ground of his being the only person in Plattville they esteemed wise enough to converse with her; but Miss Tibbs wrecked her brother's theory by mentioning the name of Fisbee's chief.
"You see, Solomon," she sagaciously observed, "if that were true, they would have invited him, instead of Mr. Fisbee, and I wish they had. He isn't troubled with malaria, and yet the longer he lives here the sallower-looking and sadder-looking he gets. I think the company of a lovely stranger might be of great cheer to his heart, and it will be interesting to witness the meeting between them. It may be," added the poetess, "that they have already met, on his travels before he settled here. It may be that they are old friends—or even more."
"Then what," returned her brother, "what is he doin' settin' up in his office all afternoon with ink on his forehead, while Fisbee goes out ridin' with her and stays for supper afterwerds?"
Although the problem of Fisbee's attendance remained a mere maze of hopeless speculation, Mildy had been present at the opening of Miss Sherwood's trunk, and here was matter for the keen consideration of the ladies, at least. Thoughtful conversations in regard to hats and linings took place across fences and on corners of the Square that afternoon; and many gentlemen wondered (in wise silence) why their spouses were absent-minded and brooded during the evening meal.
At half-past seven, the Hon. Kedge Halloway of Amo delivered himself of his lecture; "The Past and Present. What we may Glean from Them, and Their Influence on the Future." At seven the court-room was crowded, and Miss Tibbs, seated on the platform (reserved for prominent citizens), viewed the expectant throng with rapture. It is possible that she would have confessed to witnessing a sea of faces, but it is more probable that she viewed the expectant throng. The thermometer stood at eighty-seven degrees and there was a rustle of incessantly moving palm-leaf fans as, row by row, their yellow sides twinkled in the light of eight oil lamps. The stouter ladies wielded their fans with vigor. There were some very pretty faces in Mr. Halloway's audience, but it is a peculiarity of Plattville that most of those females who do not incline to stoutness incline far in the opposite direction, and the lean ladies naturally suffered less from the temperature than their sisters. The shorn lamb is cared for, but often there seems the intention to impart a moral in the refusal of Providence to temper warm weather to the full-bodied.
Old Tom Martin expressed a strong consciousness of such intention when he observed to the shocked Miss Selina, as Mr. Bill Snoddy, the stoutest citizen of the county, waddled abnormally up the aisle: "The Almighty must be gittin" a heap of fun out of Bill Snoddy to-night."
"Oh, Mr. Martin!" exclaimed Miss Tibbs, fluttering at his irreverence.
"Why, you would yourself. Miss Seliny," returned old Tom. Mr. Martin always spoke in one key, never altering the pitch of his high, dry, unctuous drawl, though, when his purpose was more than ordinarily humorous, his voice assumed a shade of melancholy. Now and then he meditatively passed his fingers through his gray beard, which followed the line of his jaw, leaving his upper lip and most of his chin smooth-shaven. "Did you ever reason out why folks laugh so much at fat people?" he continued. "No, ma'am. Neither'd anybody else."
"Why is it, Mr. Martin?" asked Miss Selina.
"It's like the Creator's sayin', 'Let there be light.' He says, 'Let ladies be lovely—'" (Miss Tibbs bowed)—"and 'Let men-folks be honest—sometimes;' and, 'Let fat people be held up to ridicule till they fall off.' You can't tell why it is; it was jest ordained that-a-way."
The room was so crowded that the juvenile portion of the assemblage was ensconced in the windows. Strange to say, the youth of Plattville were not present under protest, as their fellows of a metropolis would have been, lectures being well understood by the young of great cities to have instructive tendencies. The boys came to-night because they insisted upon coming. It was an event. Some of them had made sacrifices to come, enduring even the agony (next to hair-cutting in suffering) of having their ears washed. Conscious of parental eyes, they fronted the public with boyhood's professional expressionlessness, though they communicated with each other aside in a cipher-language of their own, and each group was a hot-bed of furtive gossip and sarcastic comment. Seated in the windows, they kept out what small breath of air might otherwise have stolen in to comfort the audience.
Their elders sat patiently dripping with perspiration, most of the gentlemen undergoing the unusual garniture of stiffly-starched collars, those who had not cultivated chin beards to obviate such arduous necessities of pomp and state, hardly bearing up under the added anxiety of cravats. However, they sat outwardly meek under the yoke; nearly all of them seeking a quiet solace of tobacco—not that they smoked; Heaven and the gallantry of Carlow County forbid—nor were there anywhere visible tokens of the comforting ministrations of nicotine to violate the eye of etiquette. It is an art of Plattville.
Suddenly there was a hum and a stir and a buzz of whispering in the room. Two gray old men and two pretty young women passed up the aisle to the platform. One old man was stalwart and ruddy, with a cordial eye and a handsome, smooth-shaven, big face. The other was bent and trembled slightly; his face was very white; he had a fine high brow, deeply lined, the brow of a scholar, and a grandly flowing white beard that covered his chest, the beard of a patriarch. One of the young women was tall and had the rosy cheeks and pleasant eyes of her father, who preceded her. The other was the strange lady.
A universal perturbation followed her progress up the aisle, if she had known it. She was small and fair, very daintily and beautifully made; a pretty Marquise whose head Greuze should have painted. Mrs. Columbus Landis, wife of the proprietor of the Palace Hotel, conferring with a lady in the next seat, applied an over-burdened adjective: "It ain't so much she's han'some, though she is, that—but don't you notice she's got a kind of smart look to her? Her bein' so teeny, kind of makes it more so, somehow, too." What stunned the gossips of the windows to awed admiration, however, was the unconcerned and stoical fashion in which she wore a long bodkin straight through her head. It seemed a large sacrifice merely to make sure one's hat remained in place.
The party took seats a little to the left and rear of the lecturer's table, and faced the audience. The strange lady chatted gaily with the other three, apparently as unconscious of the multitude of eyes fixed upon her as the gazers were innocent of rude intent. There were pretty young women in Plattville; Minnie Briscoe was the prettiest, and, as the local glass of fashion reflected, "the stylishest"; but this girl was different, somehow, in a way the critics were puzzled to discover—different, from the sparkle of her eyes and the crown of her trim sailor hat, to the edge of her snowy duck skirt.
Judd Bennett sighed a sigh that was heard in every corner of the room. As everybody immediately turned to look at him, he got up and went out.
It had long been a jocose fiction of Mr. Martin, who was a widower of thirty years' standing, that he and the gifted authoress by his side were in a state of courtship. Now he bent his rugged head toward her to whisper: "I never thought to see the day you'd have a rival in my affections. Miss Seliny, but yonder looks like it. I reckon I'll have to go up to Ben Tinkle's and buy that fancy vest he's had in stock this last twelve year or more. Will you take me back when she's left the city again; Miss Seliny?" he drawled. "I expect, maybe, Miss Sherwood is one of these here summer girls. I've heard of 'em but I never see one before. You better take warning and watch me—Fisbee won't have no clear field from now on."
The stranger leaned across to speak to Miss Briscoe and her sleeve touched the left shoulder of the old man with the patriarchal white beard. A moment later he put his right hand to that shoulder and gently moved it up and down with a caressing motion over the shabby black broadcloth her garment had touched.
"Look at that old Fisbee!" exclaimed Mr. Martin, affecting indignation. "Never be 'n half as spruced up and wide awake in all his life. He's prob'ly got her to listen to him on the decorations of Nineveh—it's my belief he was there when it was destroyed. Well, if I can't cut him out we'll get our respected young friend of the 'Herald' to do it."
"Sh!" returned Miss Tibbs. "Here he is."
The seats upon the platform were all occupied, except the two foremost ones in the centre (one on each side of a little table with a lamp, a pitcher of ice-water, and a glass) reserved for the lecturer and the gentleman who was to introduce him. Steps were audible in the hall, and every one turned to watch the door, where the distinguished pair now made their appearance in a hush of expectation over which the beating of the fans alone prevailed. The Hon. Kedge Halloway was one of the gleaners of the flesh-pots, himself, and he marched into the room unostentatiously mopping his shining expanse of brow with a figured handkerchief. He was a person of solemn appearance; a fat gold watch-chain which curved across his ponderous front, adding mysteriously to his gravity. At his side strolled a very tall, thin, rather stooping—though broad-shouldered—rather shabby young man with a sallow, melancholy face and deep-set eyes that looked tired. When they were seated, the orator looked over his audience slowly and with an incomparable calm; then, as is always done, he and the melancholy young man exchanged whispers for a few moments. After this there was a pause, at the end of which the latter rose and announced that it was his pleasure and his privilege to introduce, that evening, a gentleman who needed no introduction to that assemblage. What citizen of Carlow needed an introduction, asked the speaker, to the orator they had applauded in the campaigns of the last twenty years, the statesman author of the Halloway Bill, the most honored citizen of the neighboring and flourishing county and city of Amo? And, the speaker would say, that if there were one thing the citizens of Carlow could be held to envy the citizens of Amo, it was the Honorable Kedge Halloway, the thinker, to whose widely-known paper they were about to have the pleasure and improvement of listening.
The introduction was so vehemently applauded that, had there been present a person connected with the theatrical profession, he might have been nervous for fear the introducer had prepared no encore. "Kedge is too smart to take it all to himself," commented Mr. Martin. "He knows it's half account of the man that said it."
He was not mistaken. Mr. Halloway had learned a certain perceptiveness on the stump. Resting one hand upon his unfolded notes upon the table, he turned toward the melancholy young man (who had subsided into the small of his back in his chair) and, after clearing his throat, observed with sudden vehemence that he must thank his gifted friend for his flattering remarks, but that when he said that Carlow envied Amo a Halloway, it must be replied that Amo grudged no glory to her sister county of Carlow, but, if Amo could find envy in her heart it would be because Carlow possessed a paper so sterling, so upright, so brilliant, so enterprising as the "Carlow County Herald," and a journalist so talented, so gifted, so energetic, so fearless, as its editor.
The gentleman referred to showed very faint appreciation of these ringing compliments. There was a lamp on the table beside him, against which, to the view of Miss Sherwood of Rouen, his face was silhouetted, and very rarely had it been her lot to see a man look less enthusiastic under public and favorable comment of himself. She wondered if he, also, remembered the Muggleton cricket match and the subsequent dinner oratory.
The lecture proceeded. The orator winged away to soary heights with gestures so vigorous as to cause admiration for his pluck in making use of them on such a night; the perspiration streamed down his face, his neck grew purple, and he dared the very face of apoplexy, binding his auditors with a double spell. It is true that long before the peroration the windows were empty and the boys were eating stolen, unripe fruit in the orchards of the listeners. The thieves were sure of an alibi.
The Hon. Mr. Halloway reached a logical conclusion which convinced even the combative and unwilling that the present depends largely upon the past, while the future will be determined, for the most part, by the conditions of the present. "The future," he cried, leaning forward with an expression of solemn warning, "The future is in our own hands, ladies and gentlemen of the city of Plattville. Is it not so? We will find it so. Turn it over in your minds." He leaned backward and folded his hands benevolently on his stomach and said in a searching whisper; "Ponder it." He waited for them to ponder it, and little Mr. Swanter, the druggist and bookseller, who prided himself on his politeness and who was seated directly in front, scratched his head and knit his brows to show that he was pondering it. The stillness was intense; the fans ceased to beat; Mr. Snoddy could be heard breathing dangerously. Mr. Swanter was considering the advisability of drawing a pencil from his pocket and figuring on it upon his cuff, when suddenly, with the energy of a whirlwind, the lecturer threw out his arms to their fullest extent and roared: "It is a fact! It is carven on stone in the gloomy caverns of TIME. It is writ in FIRE on the imperishable walls of Fate!"
After the outburst, his voice sank with startling rapidity to a tone of honeyed confidence, and he wagged an inviting forefinger at Mr. Snoddy, who opened his mouth. "Shall we take an example? Not from the marvellous, my friends; let us seek an illustration from the ordinary. Is that not better? One familiar to the humblest of us. One we can all comprehend. One from our every-day life. One which will interest even the young. Yes. The common house-fly. On a window-sill we place a bit of fly-paper, and contiguous to it, a flower upon which the happy insect likes to feed and rest. The little fly approaches. See, he hovers between the two. One is a fatal trap, an ambuscade, and the other a safe harbor and an innocuous haven. But mystery allures him. He poises, undecided. That is the present. That, my friends, is the Present! What will he do? WHAT will he do? What will he DO? Memories of the past are whispering to him: 'Choose the flower. Light on the posy.' Here we clearly see the influence of the past upon the present. But, to employ a figure of speech, the fly-paper beckons to the insect toothsomely, and, thinks he; 'Shall I give it a try? Shall I? Shall I give it a try?' The future is in his own hands to make or unmake. The past, the voice of Providence, has counselled him: 'Leave it alone, leave it alone, little fly. Go away from there.' Does he heed the warning? Does he heed it, ladies and gentlemen? Does he? Ah, no! He springs into the air, decides between the two attractions, one of them, so deadly to his interests and—drops upon the fly-paper to perish miserably! The future is in his hands no longer. We must lie upon the bed that we have made, nor can Providence change its unalterable decrees."
After the tragedy, the orator took a swallow of water, mopped his brow with the figured handkerchief and announced that a new point herewith presented itself for consideration. The audience sank back with a gasp of release from the strain of attention. Minnie Briscoe, leaning back, breathless like the others, became conscious that a tremor agitated her visitor. Miss Sherwood had bent her head behind the shelter of the judge's broad shoulders; was shaking slightly and had covered her face with her hands.
"What is it, Helen?" whispered Miss Briscoe, anxiously. "What is it? Is something the matter?"
"Nothing. Nothing, dear." She dropped her hands from her face. Her cheeks were deep crimson, and she bit her lip with determination.
"Oh, but there is! Why, you've tears in your eyes. Are you faint? What is it?"
"It is only—only——" Miss Sherwood choked, then cast a swift glance at the profile of the melancholy young man. The perfectly dismal decorum of this gentleman seemed to inspire her to maintain her own gravity. "It is only that it seemed such a pity about that fly," she explained. From where they sat the journalistic silhouette was plainly visible, and both Fisbee and Miss Sherwood looked toward it often, the former with the wistful, apologetic fidelity one sees in the eyes of an old setter watching his master.
When the lecture was over many of the audience pressed forward to shake the Hon. Mr. Halloway's hand. Tom Martin hooked his arm in that of the sallow gentleman and passed out with him.
"Mighty humanizin' view Kedge took of that there insect," remarked Mr. Martin. "I don't recollect I ever heard of no mournfuller error than that'n. I noticed you spoke of Halloway as a 'thinker,' without mentioning what kind. I didn't know, before, that you were as cautious a man as that."
"Does your satire find nothing sacred, Martin?" returned the other, "not even the Honorable Kedge Halloway?"
"I wouldn't presume," replied old Tom, "to make light of the catastrophe that overtook the heedless fly. When Halloway went on to other subjects I was so busy picturin' the last moments of that closin' life, stuck there in the fly-paper, I couldn't listen to him. But there's no use dwellin' on a sorrow we can't help. Look at the moon; it's full enough to cheer us up." They had emerged from the court-house and paused on the street as the stream of townsfolk divided and passed by them to take different routes leading from the Square. Not far away, some people were getting into a buckboard. Fisbee and Miss Sherwood were already on the rear seat.
"Who's with him, to-night, Mr. Fisbee?" asked Judge Briscoe in a low voice.
"No one. He is going directly to the office. To-morrow is Thursday, one of our days of publication."
"Oh, then it's all right. Climb in, Minnie, we're waiting for you." The judge offered his hand to his daughter.
"In a moment, father," she answered. "I'm going to ask him to call," she said to the other girl.
"But won't he—"
Miss Briscoe laughed. "He never comes to see me!" She walked over to where Martin and the young man were looking up at the moon, and addressed the journalist.
"I've been trying to get a chance to speak to you for a week," she said, offering him her hand; "I wanted to tell you I had a friend coming to visit me Won't you come to see us? She's here."
The young man bowed. "Thank you," he answered. "Thank you, very much. I shall be very glad." His tone had the meaningless quality of perfunctory courtesy; Miss Briscoe detected only the courtesy; but the strange lady marked the lack of intention in his words.
"Don't you include me, Minnie?" inquired Mr Martin, plaintively. "I'll try not to be too fascinatin', so as to give our young friend a show. It was love at first sight with me. I give Miss Seliny warning soon as your folks come in and I got a good look at the lady."
As the buckboard drove away, Miss Sherwood, who had been gazing steadfastly at the two figures still standing in the street, the tall ungainly old one, and the taller, loosely-held young one (he had not turned to look at her) withdrew her eyes from them, bent them seriously upon Fisbee, and asked: "What did you mean when you said no one was with him to-night?"
"That no one was watching him," he answered.
"Watching him? I don't understand."
"Yes; he has been shot at from the woods at night and——"
The girl shivered. "But who watches him?"
"The young men of the town. He has a habit of taking long walks after dark, and he is heedless of all remonstrance. He laughs at the idea of curtailing the limit of his strolls or keeping within the town when night has fallen; so the young men have organized a guard for him, and every evening one of them follows him until he goes to the office to work for the night. It is a different young man every evening, and the watcher follows at a distance so that he does not suspect."
"But how many people know of this arrangement?"
"Nearly every one in the county except the Cross-Roads people, though it is not improbable that they have discovered it."
"And has no one told him"
"No; it would annoy him; he would not allow it to continue. He will not even arm himself."
"They follow and watch him night after night, and every one knows and no one tells him? Oh, I must say," cried the girl, "I think these are good people."
The stalwart old man on the front seat shook out the reins and whined the whip over his roans' backs. "They are the people of your State and mine. Miss Sherwood," he said in his hearty voice, "the best people in God's world—and I'm not running for Congress, either!"
"But how about the Six-Cross-Roads people, father?" asked Minnie.
"We'll wipe them clean out some day," answered her father—"possibly judicially, possibly——"
"Surely judiciously?" suggested Miss Sherwood.
"If you care to see what a bad settlement looks like, we'll drive through there to-morrow—by daylight," said Briscoe. "Even the doctor doesn't insist on being in that neighborhood after dark. They are trying their best to get Harkless, and if they do——"
"If they do!" repeated Miss Sherwood. She clasped Fisbee's hand gently. His eyes shone and he touched her fingers with a strange, shy reverence.
"You will meet him to-morrow," he said.
She laughed and pressed his hand. "I'm afraid not. He wasn't even interested enough to look at me."
CHAPTER III. LONESOMENESS
When the rusty hands of the office clock marked half-past four, the editor-in-chief of the "Carlow County Herald" took his hand out of his hair, wiped his pen on his last notice from the White-Caps, put on his coat, swept out the close little entry, and left the sanctum for the bright June afternoon.
He chose the way to the west, strolling thoughtfully out of town by the white, hot, deserted Main Street, and thence onward by the country road into which its proud half-mile of old brick store buildings, tumbled-down frame shops and thinly painted cottages degenerated. The sun was in his face, where the road ran between the summer fields, lying waveless, low, gracious in promise; but, coming to a wood of hickory and beech and walnut that stood beyond, he might turn his down-bent-hat-brim up and hold his head erect. Here the shade fell deep and cool on the green tangle of rag and iron weed and long grass in the corners of the snake fence, although the sun beat upon the road so dose beside. There was no movement in the crisp young leaves overhead; high in the boughs there was a quick flirt of crimson where two robins hopped noiselessly. No insect raised resentment of the lonesomeness: the late afternoon, when the air is quite still, had come; yet there rested—somewhere—on the quiet day, a faint, pleasant, woody smell. It came to the editor of the "Herald" as he climbed to the top rail of the fence for a seat, and he drew a long, deep breath to get the elusive odor more luxuriously—and then it was gone altogether.
"A habit of delicacies," he said aloud, addressing the wide silence complainingly. He drew a faded tobacco-bag and a brier pipe from his coat pocket and filled and lit the pipe. "One taste—and they quit," he finished, gazing solemnly upon the shining little town down the road. He twirled the pouch mechanically about his finger, and then, suddenly regarding it, patted it caressingly. It had been a giddy little bag, long ago, satin, and gay with embroidery in the colors of the editor's university; and although now it was frayed to the verge of tatters, it still bore an air of pristine jauntiness, an air of which its owner in no wise partook. He looked from it over the fields toward the town in the clear distance and sighed softly as he put the pouch back in his pocket, and, resting his arm on his knee and his chin in his hand, sat blowing clouds of smoke out of the shade into the sunshine, absently watching the ghostly shadows dance on the white dust of the road.
A little garter snake crept under the fence beneath him and disappeared in the underbrush; a rabbit progressing timidly on his travels by a series of brilliant dashes and terror-smitten halts, came within a few yards of him, sat up with quivering nose and eyes alight with fearful imaginings—vanished, a flash of fluffy brown and white. Shadows grew longer; the brier pipe sputtered feebly in depletion and was refilled. A cricket chirped and heard answer; there was a woodland stir of breezes; and the pair of robins left the branches overhead in eager flight, vacating before the arrival of a great flock of blackbirds hastening thither ere the eventide should be upon them. The blackbirds came, chattered, gossiped, quarrelled, and beat each other with their wings above the smoker sitting on the top fence rail.
But he had remembered—it was Commencement. To-day, a thousand miles to the east, a company of grave young gentlemen sat in semi-circular rows before a central altar, while above them rose many tiers of mothers and sisters and sweethearts, listening to the final word. He could see it all very clearly: the lines of freshly shaven, boyish faces, the dainty gowns, the flowers and bright eyes above, and the light that filtered in through stained glass to fall softly over them all, with, here and there, a vivid splash of color, Gothic shaped. He could see the throngs of white-clad loungers under the elms without, under-classmen, bored by the Latin addresses and escaped to the sward and breeze of the campus; there were the troops of roistering graduates trotting about arm in arm, and singing; he heard the mandolins on the little balconies play an old refrain and the university cheering afterward; saw the old professor he had cared for most of all, with the thin white hair straggling over his silken hood, following the band in the sparse ranks of his class. And he saw his own Commencement Day—and the station at the junction where he stood the morning after, looking across the valley at the old towers for the last time; saw the broken groups of his class, standing upon the platform on the other side of the tracks, waiting for the south-bound train as he and others waited for the north-bound—and they all sang "Should auld acquaintance be forgot;" and, while they looked across at each other, singing, the shining rails between them wavered and blurred as the engine rushed in and separated them and their lives thenceforth. He filled his pipe again and spoke to the phantoms gliding over the dust—"Seven years!" He was occupied with the realization that there had been a man in his class whose ambition needed no restraint, his promise was so complete—in the strong belief of the university, a belief he could not help knowing—and that seven years to a day from his Commencement this man was sitting on a fence rail in Indiana.
Down the road a buggy came creaking toward him, gray with dust, the top canted permanently to one side, old and frayed, like the fat, shaggy, gray mare that drew it; her unchecked, despondent head lowering before her, while her incongruous tail waved incessantly, like the banner of a storming party. The editor did not hear the flop of the mare's feet nor the sound of the wheels, so deep was his reverie, till the vehicle was nearly opposite him. The red-faced and perspiring driver drew rein, and the journalist looked up and waved a long white hand to him in greeting.
"Howdy' do, Mr. Harkless?" called the man in the buggy. "Soakin' in the weather?" He spoke in shouts, though neither was hard of hearing.
"Yes; just soaking," answered Harkless; "it's such a gypsy day. How is Mr. Bowlder?"
"I'm givin' good satisfaction, thankye, and all at home. She's in town; goin' in after her now."
"Give Mrs. Bowlder my regards," said the journalist, comprehending the symbolism. "How is Hartley?"
The farmer's honest face shaded over, a second. "He's be'n steady ever sence the night you brought him out home; six weeks straight. I'm kind of bothered about to-morrow—It's show-day and he wants to come in town with us, and seems if I hadn't any call to say no. I reckon he'll have to take his chances—and us, too." He raised the reins and clucked to the gray mare; "Well, she'll be mad I ain't there long ago. Ride in with me?"
"No, I thank you. I'll walk in for the sake of my appetite."
"Wouldn't encourage it too much—livin' at the Palace Hotel,'" observed Bowlder. "Sorry ye won't ride." He gathered the loose ends of the reins in his hands, leaned far over the dashboard and struck the mare a hearty thwack; the tattered banner of tail jerked indignantly, but she consented to move down the road. Bowlder thrust his big head through the sun-curtain behind him and continued the conversation: "See the White-Caps ain't got ye yet."
"No, not yet." Harkless laughed.
"Reckon the boys 'druther ye stayed in town after dark," the other called back; then, as the mare stumbled into a trot, "Well, come out and see us—if ye kin spare time from the jedge's." The latter clause seemed to be an afterthought intended with humor, for Bowlder accompanied it with the loud laughter of sylvan timidity, risking a joke. Harkless nodded without the least apprehension of his meaning, and waved farewell as Bowlder finally turned his attention to the mare. When the flop, flop of her hoofs had died out, the journalist realized that the day was silent no longer; it was verging into evening.
He dropped from the fence and turned his face toward town and supper. He felt the light and life about him; heard the clatter of the blackbirds above him; heard the homing bees hum by, and saw the vista of white road and level landscape, framed on two sides by the branches of the grove, a vista of infinitely stretching fields of green, lined here and there with woodlands and flat to the horizon line, the village lying in their lap. No roll of meadow, no rise of pasture land, relieved their serenity nor shouldered up from them to be called a hill. A second great flock of blackbirds was settling down over the Plattville maples. As they hung in the fair dome of the sky below the few white clouds, it occurred to Harkless that some supping god had inadvertently peppered his custard, and now inverted and emptied his gigantic blue dish upon the earth, the innumerable little black dots seeming to poise for a moment, then floating slowly down from the heights.
A farm-bell rang in the distance, a tinkling coming small and mellow from far away, and at the lonesomeness of that sound he heaved a long, mournful sigh. The next instant he broke into laughter, for another bell rang over the fields, the court-house bell in the Square. The first four strokes were given with mechanical regularity, the pride of the custodian who operated the bell being to produce the effect of a clock-work bell such as he had once heard in the court-house at Rouen; but the fifth and sixth strokes were halting achievements, as, after four o'clock, he often lost count on the strain of the effort for precise imitation. There was a pause after the sixth, then a dubious and reluctant stroke—seven—a longer pause, followed by a final ring with desperate decision—eight! Harkless looked at his watch; it was twenty minutes of six.
As he crossed the court-house yard to the Palace Hotel, he stopped to exchange a word with the bell-ringer, who, seated on the steps, was mopping his brow with an air of hard-earned satisfaction.
"Good-evening, Schofields'," he said. "You came in strong on the last stroke, to-night."
"What we need here," responded the bell-ringer, "is more public-spirited men. I ain't kickin' on you, Mr. Harkless, no sir; but we want more men like they got in Rouen; we want men that'll git Main Street paved with block or asphalt; men that'll put in factories, men that'll act and not set round like that ole fool Martin and laugh and polly-woggle and make fun of public sperrit, day in and out. I reckon I do my best for the city."
"Oh, nobody minds Tom Martin," answered Harkless. "It's only half the time he means anything by what he says."
"That's jest what I hate about him," returned the bell-ringer in a tone of high complaint; "you can't never tell which half it is. Look at him now!" Over in front of the hotel Martin was standing, talking to the row of coatless loungers who sat with their chairs tilted back against the props of the wooden awning that projected over the sidewalk. Their faces were turned toward the court-house, and even those lost in meditative whittling had looked up to laugh. Martin, his hands in the pockets of his alpaca coat, his rusty silk hat tilted forward till the wide brim rested almost on the bridge of his nose, was addressing them in his one-keyed voice, the melancholy whine of which, though not the words, penetrated to the court-house steps.
The bell-ringer, whose name was Henry Schofield, but who was known as Schofield's Henry (popularly abbreviated to Schofields') was moved to indignation. "Look at him," he cried. "Look at him! Everlastingly goin' on about my bell! Let him talk, jest let him talk." The supper gong boomed inside the hotel and Harkless bade the bell-ringer good-night. As he moved away the latter called after him: "He don't disturb nobody. Let him talk. Who pays any 'tention to him I'd like to know?" There was a burst of laughter from the whittlers. Schofields' sat in patient silence for a full minute, as one who knew that no official is too lofty to escape the anathemas of envy. Then he sprang to his feet and shook his fist at Martin, who was disappearing within the door of the hotel. "Go to Halifax!" he shouted.
The dining-room of the Palace Hotel was a large, airy apartment, rustling with artistically perforated and slashed pink paper that hung everywhere, at this season of the year, to lend festal effect as well as to palliate the scourge of flies. There were six or seven large tables, all vacant except that at which Columbus Landis, the landlord, sat with his guests, while his wife and children ate in the kitchen by their own preference. Transient trade was light in Plattville; nobody ever came there, except occasional commercial travellers who got out of town the instant it was possible, and who said awful things if, by the exigencies of the railway time-table, they were left over night.
Behind the host's chair stood a red-haired girl in a blue cotton gown; and in her hand she languidly waved a long instrument made of clustered strips of green and white and yellow tissue paper fastened to a wooden wand; with this she amiably amused the flies except at such times as the conversation proved too interesting, when she was apt to rest it on the shoulder of one of the guests. This happened each time the editor of the "Herald" joined in the talk. As the men seated themselves they all nodded to her and said, "G'd evening, Cynthy." Harkless always called her Charmion; no one knew why. When he came in she moved around the table to a chair directly opposite him, and held that station throughout the meal, with her eyes fixed on his face. Mr. Martin noted this manoeuvre—it occurred regularly twice a day—with a stealthy smile at the girl, and her light skin flushed while her lip curled shrewishly at the old gentleman. "Oh, all right, Cynthy," he whispered to her, and chuckled aloud at her angry toss of the head.
"Schofields' seemed to be kind of put out with me this evening," he remarked, addressing himself to the company. "He's the most ungratefullest cuss I ever come up with. I was only oratin' on how proud the city ought to be of him. He fairly keeps Plattville's sportin' spirit on the gog; 'die out, wasn't for him. There's be'n more money laid on him whether he'll strike over and above the hour, or under and below, or whether he'll strike fifteen minutes before time, or twenty after, than—well, sir, we'd all forgit the language if it wasn't for Schofields' bell to keep us talkin'; that's my claim. Dull days, think of the talk he furnishes all over town. Think what he's done to promote conversation. Now, for instance, Anna Belle Bardlock's got a beau, they say"—here old Tom tilted back in his chair and turned an innocent eye upon a youth across the table, young William Todd, who was blushing over his griddle-cakes—"and I hear he's a good deal scared of Anna Belle and not just what you might call brash with her. They say every Sunday night he'll go up to Bardlocks' and call on Anna Belle from half-past six till nine, and when he's got into his chair he sets and looks at the floor and the crayon portraits till about seven; then he opens his tremblin' lips and says, 'Reckon Schofields' must be on his way to the court-house by this time.' And about an hour later, when Schofields' hits four or five, he'll speak up again, 'Say, I reckon he means eight.' 'Long towards nine o'clock, they say he skews around in his chair and says, 'Wonder if he'll strike before time or after,' and Anna Belle answers out loud, 'I hope after,' for politeness; but in her soul she says, 'I pray before'; and then Schofields' hits her up for eighteen or twenty, and Anna Belle's company reaches for his hat. Three Sundays ago he turned around before he went out and said, 'Do you like apple-butter?' but never waited to find out. It's the same programme every Sunday evening, and Jim Bardlock says Anna Belle's so worn out you wouldn't hardly know her for the blithe creature she was last year—the excitement's be'n too much for her!"
Poor William Todd bent his fiery face over the table and suffered the general snicker in helpless silence. Then there was quiet for a space, broken only by the click of knives against the heavy china and the indolent rustle of Cynthia's fly-brush.
"Town so still," observed the landlord, finally, with a complacent glance at the dessert course of prunes to which his guests were helping themselves from a central reservoir, "Town so still, hardly seems like show-day's come round again. Yet there's be'n some shore signs lately: when my shavers come honeyin' up with, 'Say, pa, ain't they no urrands I can go for ye, pa? I like to run 'em for you, pa,'—'relse, 'Oh, pa, ain't they no water I can haul, or nothin', pa?'—'relse, as little Rosina T. says, this morning, 'Pa, I always pray fer you pa,' and pa this and pa that-you can rely either Christmas or show-day's mighty close."
William Todd, taking occasion to prove himself recovered from confusion, remarked casually that there was another token of the near approach of the circus, as ole Wilkerson was drunk again.
"There's a man!" exclaimed Mr. Martin with enthusiasm. "There's the feller for my money! He does his duty as a citizen more discriminatin'ly on public occasions than any man I ever see. There's Wilkerson's celebration when there's a funeral; look at the difference between it and on Fourth of July. Why, sir, it's as melancholy as a hearse-plume, and sympathy ain't the word for it when he looks at the remains, no sir; preacher nor undertaker, either, ain't half as blue and respectful. Then take his circus spree. He come into the store this afternoon, head up, marchin' like a grenadier and shootin' his hand out before his face and drawin' it back again, and hollering out, 'Ta, ta, ta-ra-ta, ta, ta-ta-ra'—why, the dumbest man ever lived could see in a minute show's 'comin' to-morrow and Wilkerson's playin' the trombone. Then he'd snort and goggle like an elephant. Got the biggest sense of appropriateness of any man in the county, Wilkerson has. Folks don't half appreciate him."
As each boarder finished his meal he raided the glass of wooden toothpicks and went away with no standing on the order of his going; but Martin waited for Harkless, who, not having attended to business so concisely as the others, was the last to leave the table, and they stood for a moment under the awning outside, lighting their cigars.
"Call on the judge, to-night?" asked Martin.
"No," said Harkless. "Why?"
"Didn't you see the lady with Minnie and the judge at the lecture?"
"I caught a glimpse of her. That's what Bowlder meant, then."
"I don't know what Bowlder meant, but I guess you better go out there, young man. She might not stay here long."
CHAPTER IV. THE WALRUS AND THE CARPENTER
The Briscoe buckboard rattled along the elastic country-road, the roans setting a sharp pace as they turned eastward on the pike toward home and supper.
"They'll make the eight miles in three-quarters of an hour," said the judge, proudly. He pointed ahead with his whip. "Just beyond that bend we pass through Six-Cross-Roads."
Miss Sherwood leaned forward eagerly. "Can we see 'Mr. Wimby's' house from here?"
"No, it's on the other side, nearer town; we pass it later. It's the only respectable-looking house in this township." They reached the turn of the road, and the judge touched up his colts to a sharper gait. "No need of dallying," he observed quietly. "It always makes me a little sick just to see the place. I'd hate to have a break-down here."
They came in sight of a squalid settlement, built raggedly about a blacksmith's shop and a saloon. Half-a-dozen shanties clustered near the forge, a few roofs scattered through the shiftlessly cultivated fields, four or five barns propped by fence-rails, some sheds with gaping apertures through which the light glanced from side to side, a squad of thin, "razor-back" hogs—now and then worried by gaunt hounds—and some abused-looking hens, groping about disconsolately in the mire, a broken-topped buggy with a twisted wheel settling into the mud of the middle of the road (there was always abundant mud, here, in the dryest summer), a lowering face sneering from a broken window—Six-Cross-Roads was forbidding and forlorn enough by day. The thought of what might issue from it by night was unpleasant, and the legends of the Cross-Roads, together with an unshapen threat, easily fancied in the atmosphere of the place, made Miss Sherwood shiver as though a cold draught had crossed her.
"It is so sinister!" she exclaimed. "And so unspeakably mean! This is where they live, the people who hate him, is it? The 'White-Caps'?"
"They are just a lot of rowdies," replied Briscoe. "You have your rough corners in big cities, and I expect there are mighty few parts of any country that don't have their tough neighborhoods, only Six-Cross-Roads happens to be worse than most. They choose to call themselves 'White-Caps,' but I guess it's just a name they like to give themselves. Usually White-Caps are a vigilance committee going after rascalities the law doesn't reach, or won't reach, but these fellows are not that kind. They got together to wipe out their grudges—and sometimes they didn't need any grudge and let loose their deviltries just for pure orneriness; setting haystacks afire and such like; or, where a farmer had offended them, they would put on their silly toggery and take him out at midnight and whip him and plunder his house and chase the horses and cattle into his corn, maybe. They say the women went with them on their raids."
"And he was the first to try to stop them?"
"Well, you see our folks are pretty long-suffering," Briscoe replied, apologetically. "We'd sort of got used to the meanness of the Cross-Roads. It took a stranger to stir things up—and he did. He sent eight of 'em to the penitentiary, some for twenty years."
As they passed the saloon a man stepped into the doorway and looked at them. He was coatless and clad in garments worn to the color of dust; his bare head was curiously malformed, higher on one side than on the other, and though the buckboard passed rapidly, and at a distance, this singular lopsidedness was plainly visible to the occupants, lending an ugly significance to his meagre, yellow face. He was tall, lean, hard, powerfully built. He eyed the strangers with affected languor, and then, when they had gone by, broke into sudden, loud laughter.
"That was Bob Skillett, the worst of the lot," said the judge. "Harkless sent his son and one brother to prison, and it nearly broke his heart that he couldn't swear to Bob."
When they were beyond the village and in the open road again. Miss Sherwood took a deep breath. "I think I breathe more freely," she said. "That was a hideous laugh he sent after us. I had heard of places like this before—and I don't think I care to see many of them. As I understand it, Six-Cross-Roads is entirely vicious, isn't it; and bears the same relation to the country that the slums do to a city?'"
"That's about it. They make their own whiskey. I presume; and they have their own fights amongst themselves, but they settle 'em themselves, too, and keep their own counsel and hush it up. Lige Willetts, Minnie's friend—I guess she's told you about Lige?—well, Lige Willetts will go anywhere when he's following a covey, though mostly the boys leave this part of the country alone when they're hunting; but Lige got into a thicket back of the forge one morning, and he came on a crowd of buzzards quarrelling over a heap on the ground, and he got out in a hurry. He said he was sure it was a dog; but he ran almost all the way to Plattville."
"Father!" exclaimed his daughter, leaning from the back seat. "Don't tell such stories to Helen; she'll think we're horrible, and you'll frighten her, too."
"Well, it isn't exactly a lady's story," said the judge. He glanced at his guest's face and chuckled. "I guess we won't frighten her much," he went on. "Young lady, I don't believe you'd be afraid of many things, would you? You don't look like it. Besides, the Cross-Roads isn't Plattville, and the White-Caps have been too scared to do anything much, except try to get even with the 'Herald,' for the last two years; ever since it went for them. They're laying for Harkless partly for revenge and partly because they daren't do anything until he's out of the way."
The girl gave a low cry with a sharp intake of breath. "Ah! One grows tired of this everlasting American patience! Why don't the Plattville people do something before they——"
"It's just as I say," Briscoe answered; "our folks are sort of used to them. I expect we do about all we can; the boys look after him nights, and the main trouble is that we can't make him understand he ought to be more afraid of them. If he'd lived here all his life he would be. You know there's an old-time feud between the Cross-Roads and our folks; goes way back into pioneer history and mighty few know anything of it. Old William Platt and the forefathers of the Bardlocks and Tibbses and Briscoes and Schofields moved up here from North Carolina a good deal just to get away from some bad neighbors, mostly Skilletts and Johnsons—one of the Skilletts had killed old William Platt's two sons. But the Skilletts and Johnsons followed all the way to Indiana to join in making the new settlement, and they shot Platt at his cabin door one night, right where the court-house stands to-day. Then the other settlers drove them out for good, and they went seven miles west and set up a still. A band of Indians, on the way to join the Shawnee Prophet at Tippecanoe, came down on the Cross-Roads, and the Cross-Roaders bought them off with bad whiskey and sent them over to Plattville. Nearly all the Plattville men were away, fighting under Harrison, and when they came back there were only a few half-crazy women and children left. They'd hid in the woods.
"The men stopped just long enough to hear how it was, and started for the Cross-Roads; but the Cross-Roads people caught them in an ambush and not many of our folks got back.
"We really never did get even with them, though all the early settlers lived and died still expecting to see the day when Plattville would go over and pay off the score. It's the same now as it was then, good stock with us, bad stock over here; and all the country riff-raff in creation come and live with 'em when other places get too hot to hold them. Only one or two of us old folks know what the original trouble was about; but you ask a Plattville man, to-day, what he thinks of the Cross-Roads and he'll be mighty apt to say, 'I guess we'll all have to go over there some time and wipe those hoodlums out.' It's been coming to that a long time. The work the 'Herald' did has come nearer bringing us even with Six-Cross-Roads than anything else ever has. Queer, too—a man that's only lived in Plattville a few years to be settling such an old score for us. They'll do their best to get him, and if they do there'll be trouble of an illegal nature. I think our people would go over there again, but I expect there wouldn't be any ambush this time; and the pioneers, might rest easier in—" He broke off suddenly and nodded to a little old man in a buckboard, who was turning off from the road into a farm lane which led up to a trim cottage with a honeysuckle vine by the door. "That's Mrs. Wimby's husband," said the judge in an undertone.
Miss Sherwood observed that "Mrs. Wimby's husband" was remarkable for the exceeding plaintiveness of his expression. He was a weazened, blank, pale-eyed little man, with a thin, white mist of neck whisker; his coat was so large for him that the sleeves were rolled up from his wrists with several turns, and, as he climbed painfully to the ground to open the gate of the lane, it needed no perspicuous eye to perceive that his trousers had been made for a much larger man, for, as his uncertain foot left the step of his vehicle, one baggy leg of the garment fell down over his foot, completely concealing his boot and hanging some inches beneath. A faintly vexed expression crossed his face as he endeavored to arrange the disorder, but he looked up and returned Briscoe's bow, sadly, with an air of explaining that he was accustomed to trouble, and that the trousers had behaved no worse than he expected.
No more inoffensive or harmless figure than this feeble little old man could be imagined; yet his was the distinction of having received a terrible visit from his neighbors of the Cross-Roads. Mrs. Wimby was a widow, who owned a comfortable farm, and she had refused every offer of the neighboring ill-eligible bachelors to share it. However, a vagabonding tinker won her heart, and after their marriage she continued to be known as "Mrs. Wimby"; for so complete was the bridegroom's insignificance that it extended to his name, which proved quite unrememberable, and he was usually called "Widder-Woman Wimby's Husband," or, more simply, "Mr. Wimby." The bride supplied the needs of his wardrobe with the garments of her former husband, and, alleging this proceeding as the cause of their anger, the Cross-Roads raiders, clad as "White-Caps," broke into the farmhouse one night, looted it, tore the old man from his bed, and compelling his wife, who was tenderly devoted to him, to watch, they lashed him with sapling shoots till he was near to death. A little yellow cur, that had followed his master on his wanderings, was found licking the old man's wounds, and they deluged the dog with kerosene and then threw the poor animal upon a bonfire they had made, and danced around it in heartiest enjoyment.
The man recovered, but that was no palliation of the offense to the mind of a hot-eyed young man from the East, who was besieging the county authorities for redress and writing brimstone and saltpetre for his paper. The powers of the county proving either lackadaisical or timorous, he appealed to those of the State, and he went every night to sleep at a farmhouse, the owner of which had received a warning from the "White-Caps." And one night it befell that he was rewarded, for the raiders attempted an entrance. He and the farmer and the former's sons beat off the marauders and did a satisfactory amount of damage in return. Two of the "White-Caps" they captured and bound, and others they recognized. Then the State authorities hearkened to the voice of the "Herald" and its owner; there were arrests, and in the course of time there was a trial. Every prisoner proved an alibi, could have proved a dozen; but the editor of the "Herald," after virtually conducting the prosecution, went upon the stand and swore to man after man. Eight men went to the penitentiary on his evidence, five of them for twenty years. The Plattville Brass Band serenaded the editor of the "Herald" again.
There were no more raids, and the Six-Cross-Roads men who were left kept to their hovels, appalled and shaken, but, as time went by and left them unmolested, they recovered a measure of their hardiness and began to think on what they should do to the man who had brought misfortune and terror upon them. For a long time he had been publishing their threatening letters and warnings in a column which he headed: "Humor of the Day."
"Harkless don't understand the Cross-Roads," Briscoe said to Miss Sherwood as they left the Wimby farm behind; "and then he's like most of us; hardly any of us realizes that harm's ever going to come to us. Harkless was anxious enough about other people, but——"
The young lady interrupted him, touching his arm. "Look!" she said, "Didn't you see a child, a little girl, ahead of us on the road?"
"I noticed one a minute ago, but she's not there now," answered Briscoe.
"There was a child walking along the road just ahead, but she turned and saw us coming, and she disappeared in the most curious way; she seemed to melt into the weeds at the roadside, across from the elder-bush yonder."
The judge pulled in the horses by the elder-bush. "No child here, now," he said, "but you're right; there certainly was one, just before you spoke." The young corn was low in the fields, and there was no hiding-place in sight.
"I'm very superstitious; I am sure it was an imp," Miss Sherwood said. "An imp or a very large chameleon; she was exactly the color of the road."
"A Cross-Roads imp," said the judge, lifting the reins, "and in that case we might as well give up. I never set up to be a match for those people, and the children are as mean as their fathers, and smarter."
When the buckboard had rattled on a hundred yards or so, a little figure clad in a tattered cotton gown rose up from the weeds, not ten feet from where the judge had drawn rein, and continued its march down the road toward Plattville, capering in the dust and pursuing the buckboard with malignant gestures till the clatter of the horses was out of hearing, the vehicle out of sight.
Something over two hours later, as Mr. Martin was putting things to rights in his domain, the Dry-Goods Emporium, previous to his departure for the evening's gossip and checkers at the drug-store, he stumbled over something soft, lying on the floor behind a counter. The thing rose, and would have evaded him, but he put out his hands and pinioned it and dragged it to the show-window where the light of the fading day defined his capture. The capture shrieked and squirmed and fought earnestly. Grasped by the shoulder he held a lean, fierce-eyed, undersized girl of fourteen, clad in one ragged cotton garment, unless the coat of dust she wore over all may be esteemed another. Her cheeks were sallow, and her brow was already shrewdly lined, and her eyes were as hypocritical as they were savage. She was very thin and little, but old Tom's brown face grew a shade nearer white when the light fell upon her.
"You're no Plattville girl," he said sharply.
"You lie!" cried the child. "You lie! I am! You leave me go, will you? I'm lookin' fer pap and you're a liar!"
"You crawled in here to sleep, after your seven-mile walk, didn't you?" Martin went on.
"You're a liar," she screamed again.
"Look here," said Martin, slowly, "you go back to Six-Cross-Roads and tell your folks that if anything happens to a hair of Mr. Harkless's head every shanty in your town will burn, and your grandfather and your father and your uncles and your brothers and your cousins and your second-cousins and your third-cousins will never have the good luck to see the penitentiary. Reckon you can remember that message? But before I let you go to carry it, I guess you might as well hand out the paper they sent you over here with."
His prisoner fell into a paroxysm of rage, and struck at him.
"I'll git pap to kill ye," she shrieked. "I don' know nothin' 'bout yer Six-Cross-Roads, ner no papers, ner yer dam Mister Harkels neither, ner you, ye razor-backed ole devil! Pap'll kill ye; leave me go—leave me go!—Pap'll kill ye; I'll git him to kill ye!" Suddenly her struggles ceased; her eyes closed; her tense little muscles relaxed and she drooped toward the floor; the old man shifted his grip to support her, and in an instant she twisted out of his hands and sprang out of reach, her eyes shining with triumph and venom.
"Ya-hay, Mister Razor-back!" she shrilled. "How's that fer hi? Pap'll kill ye, Sunday. You'll be screechin' in hell in a week, an' we 'ull set up an' drink our apple-jack an' laff!" Martin pursued her lumberingly, but she was agile as a monkey, and ran dodging up and down the counters and mocked him, singing "Gran' mammy Tipsy-Toe," till at last she tired of the game and darted out of the door, flinging back a hoarse laugh at him as she went. He followed; but when he reached the street she was a mere shadow flitting under the courthouse trees. He looked after her forebodingly, then turned his eyes toward the Palace Hotel. The editor of the "Herald" was seated under the awning, with his chair tilted back against a post, gazing dreamily at the murky red afterglow in the west.
"What's the use of tryin' to bother him with it?" old Tom asked himself. "He'd only laugh." He noted that young William Todd sat near the editor, whittling absently. Martin chuckled. "William's turn to-night," he muttered. "Well, the boys take mighty good care of him." He locked the doors of the Emporium, tried them, and dropped the keys in his pocket.
As he crossed the Square to the drug-store, where his cronies awaited him, he turned again to look at the figure of the musing journalist. "I hope he'll go out to the judge's," he said, and shook his head, sadly. "I don't reckon Plattville's any too spry for that young man. Five years he's be'n here. Well, it's a good thing for us folks, but I guess it ain't exactly high-life for him." He kicked a stick out of his way impatiently. "Now, where'd that imp run to?" he grumbled.
The imp was lying under the court-house steps. When the sound of Martin's footsteps had passed away, she crept cautiously from her hiding-place and stole through the ungroomed grass to the fence opposite the hotel. Here she stretched herself flat in the weeds and took from underneath the tangled masses of her hair, where it was tied with a string, a rolled-up, crumpled slip of greasy paper. With this in her fingers, she lay peering under the fence, her fierce eyes fixed unwinkingly on Harkless and the youth sitting near him.
The street ran flat and gray in the slowly gathering dusk, straight to the western horizon where the sunset embers were strewn in long, dark-red streaks; the maple trees were clean-cut silhouettes against the pale rose and pearl tints of the sky above, and a tenderness seemed to tremble in the air. Harkless often vowed to himself he would watch no more sunsets in Plattville; he realized that their loveliness lent a too unhappy tone to the imaginings and introspections upon which he was thrown by the loneliness of the environment, and he considered that he had too much time in which to think about himself. For five years his introspections had monotonously hurled one word at him: "Failure; Failure! Failure!" He thought the sunsets were making him morbid. Could he have shared them, that would have been different.
His long, melancholy face grew longer and more melancholy in the twilight, while William Todd patiently whittled near by. Plattville had often discussed the editor's habit of silence, and Mr. Martin had suggested that possibly the reason Mr. Harkless was such a quiet man was that there was nobody for him to talk to. His hearers did not agree, for the population of Carlow County was a thing of pride, being greater than that of several bordering counties. They did agree, however, that Harkless's quiet was not unkind, whatever its cause, and that when it was broken it was usually broken to conspicuous effect. Perhaps it was because he wrote so much that he hated to talk.
A bent figure came slowly down the street, and William hailed it cheerfully: "Evening, Mr. Fisbee."
"A good evening, Mr. Todd," answered the old man, pausing. "Ah, Mr. Harkless, I was looking for you." He had not seemed to be looking for anything beyond the boundaries of his own dreams, but he approached Harkless, tugging nervously at some papers in his pocket. "I have completed my notes for our Saturday edition. It was quite easy; there is much doing."
"Thank you, Mr. Fisbee," said Harkless, as he took the manuscript. "Have you finished your paper on the earlier Christian symbolism? I hope the 'Herald' may have the honor of printing it." This was the form they used.
"I shall be the recipient of honor, sir," returned Fisbee. "Your kind offer will speed my work; but I fear, Mr. Harkless, I very much fear, that your kindness alone prompts it, for, deeply as I desire it, I cannot truthfully say that my essays appear to increase our circulation." He made an odd, troubled gesture as he went on: "They do not seem to read them here, Mr. Harkless, although Mr. Martin assures me that he carefully peruses my article on Chaldean decoration whenever he rearranges his exhibition windows, and I bear in mind the clipping from a Rouen paper you showed me, commenting generously upon the scholarship of the 'Herald.' But for fifteen years I have tried to improve the art feeling in Plattville, and I may say that I have worked in the face of no small discouragement. In fact," (there was a slight quaver in Fisbee's voice), "I cannot remember that I ever received the slightest word or token of encouragement till you came, Mr. Harkless. Since then I have labored with refreshed energy; still, I cannot claim that our architecture shows a change for the better, and I fear the engravings upon the walls of our people exhibit no great progress in selection. And—I—I wish also to say, Mr. Harkless, if you find it necessary to make some alterations in the form of my reportorial items for Saturday's issue, I shall perfectly understand, remembering your explanation that journalism demands it. Good-evening, Mr. Harkless. Good-evening, Mr. Todd." He plodded on a few paces, then turned, irresolutely.
"What is it, Fisbee?" asked Harkless.
Fisbee stood for a moment, as though about to speak, then he smiled faintly, shook his head, and went his way. Harkless stared after him, surprised. It suddenly struck him, with a feeling of irritation, that if Fisbee had spoken it would have been to advise him to call at Judge Briscoe's. He laughed impatiently at the notion, and, drawing his pencil and a pad from his pocket, proceeded to injure his eyes in the waning twilight by the editorial perusal of the items his staff had just left in his hands. When published, the manuscript came under a flaring heading, bequeathed by Harkless's predecessor in the chair of the "Herald," and the alteration of which he felt Plattville would refuse to sanction: "Happenings of Our City." Below, was printed in smaller type: "Improvements in the World of Business," and, beneath that, came the rubric: "Also, the Cradle, the Altar, and the Tomb."
The first of Fisbee's items was thus recorded: "It may be noted that the new sign-board of Mr. H. Miller has been put in place. We cannot but regret that Mr. Miller did not instruct the painter to confine himself to a simpler method of lettering."
"Ah, Fisbee," murmured the editor, reproachfully, "that new sign-board is almost the only improvement in the World of Business Plattville has seen this year. I wonder how many times we have used it from the first, 'It is rumored in business circles that Herve Miller contemplates'—to the exciting, 'Under Way,' and, 'Finishing Touches.' My poor White Knight, are five years of training wasted on you? Sometimes you make me fear it. Here is Plattville panting for our story of the hanging of the sign, and you throw away the climax like that!" He began to write rapidly, bending low over the pad in the half darkness. His narrative was an amplification of the interesting information (already possessed by every inhabitant) that Herve Miller had put up a new sign. After a paragraph of handsome description, "Herve is always enterprising," wrote the editor. "This is a move in the right direction. Herve, keep it up."
He glanced over the other items meditatively, making alterations here and there. The last two Fisbee had written as follows:
"There is noticeable in the new (and somewhat incongruous) portico erected by Solomon Tibbs at the residence of Mr. Henry Tibbs Willetts, an attempt at rococo decoration which cannot fail to sadden the passer-by."
"Miss Sherwood of Rouen, whom Miss Briscoe knew at the Misses Jennings' finishing-school in New York, is a guest of Judge Briscoe's household."
Fisbee's items were written in ink; and there was a blank space beneath the last. At the bottom of the page something had been scribbled in pencil. Harkless tried vainly to decipher it, but the twilight had fallen too deep, and the writing was too faint, so he struck a match and held it close to the paper. The action betokened only a languid interest, but when he caught sight of the first of the four subscribed lines he sat up straight in his chair with an ejaculation. At the bottom of Fisbee's page was written in a dainty, feminine hand, of a type he had not seen for years:
"'The time has come,' the Walrus said, 'To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax— And cabbages—and kings—'"
He put the paper in his pocket, and set off rapidly down the village street.
At his departure William Todd looked up quickly; then he got upon his feet and quietly followed the editor. In the dusk a tattered little figure rose up from the weeds across the way, and stole noiselessly after William. He was in his shirt-sleeves, his waistcoat unbuttoned and loose. On the nearest corner Mr. Todd encountered a fellow-townsman, who had been pacing up and down in front of a cottage, crooning to a protestive baby held in his arms. He had paused in his vigil to stare after Harkless.
"Whereas he bound for, William?" inquired the man with the baby.
"Briscoes'," answered William, pursuing his way.
"I reckoned he would be," commented the other, turning to his wife, who sat on the doorstep, "I reckoned so when I see that lady at the lecture last night."
The woman rose to her feet. "Hi, Bill Todd!" she said. "What you got onto the back of your vest?" William paused, put his hand behind him and encountered a paper pinned to the dangling strap of his waistcoat. The woman ran to him and unpinned the paper. It bore a writing. They took it to where the yellow lamp-light shone through the open door, and read:
"der Sir "FoLer harkls aL yo ples an gaRd him yoR best venagesn is closteR, harkls not Got 3 das to liv "We come in Wite."
"What ye think, William?" asked the man with the baby, anxiously. But the woman gave the youth a sharp push with her hand. "They never dast to do it!" she cried. "Never in the world! You hurry, Bill Todd. Don't you leave him out of your sight one second."
CHAPTER V. AT THE PASTURE BARS: ELDER-BUSHES MAY HAVE STINGS
The street upon which the Palace Hotel fronted formed the south side of the Square and ran west to the edge of the town, where it turned to the south for a quarter of a mile or more, then bent to the west again. Some distance from this second turn, there stood, fronting close on the road, a large brick house, the most pretentious mansion in Carlow County. And yet it was a homelike place, with its red-brick walls embowered in masses of cool Virginia creeper, and a comfortable veranda crossing the broad front, while half a hundred stalwart sentinels of elm and beech and poplar stood guard around it. The front walk was bordered by geraniums and hollyhocks; and honeysuckle climbed the pillars of the porch. Behind the house there was a shady little orchard; and, back of the orchard, an old-fashioned, very fragrant rose-garden, divided by a long grape arbor, extended to the shallow waters of a wandering creek; and on the bank a rustic seat was placed, beneath the sycamores.
From the first bend of the road, where it left the town and became (after some indecision) a country highway—called the pike—rather than a proud city boulevard, a pathway led through the fields to end at some pasture bars opposite the brick house.
John Harkless was leaning on the pasture bars. The stars were wan, and the full moon shone over the fields. Meadows and woodlands lay quiet under the old, sweet marvel of a June night. In the wide monotony of the flat lands, there sometimes comes a feeling that the whole earth is stretched out before one. To-night it seemed to lie so, in the pathos of silent beauty, all passive and still; yet breathing an antique message, sad, mysterious, reassuring. But there had come a divine melody adrift on the air. Through the open windows it floated. Indoors some one struck a peal of silver chords, like a harp touched by a lover, and a woman's voice was lifted. John Harkless leaned on the pasture bars and listened with upraised head and parted lips.
"To thy chamber window roving, love hath led my feet."
The Lord sent manna to the children of Israel in the wilderness. Harkless had been five years in Plattville, and a woman's voice singing Schubert's serenade came to him at last as he stood by the pasture bars of Jones's field and listened and rested his dazzled eyes on the big, white face of the moon.
How long had it been since he had heard a song, or any discourse of music other than that furnished by the Plattville Band—not that he had not taste for a brass band! But music that he loved always gave him an ache of delight and the twinge of reminiscences of old, gay days gone forever. To-night his memory leaped to the last day of a June gone seven years; to a morning when the little estuary waves twinkled in the bright sun about the boat in which he sat, the trim launch that brought a cheery party ashore from their schooner to the Casino landing at Winter Harbor, far up on the Maine coast.