THE SHEPHERD OF THE NORTH
BY RICHARD AUMERLE MAHER
Author of "The Heart of a Man," etc.
M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
Set up and electrotyped. Published, March, 1916.
Reprinted March, 1916 June, 1916 October, 1916.
CHAPTER PAGE I THE WHITE HORSE CHAPLAIN 3 II THE CHOIR UNSEEN 35 III GLOW OF DAWN 64 IV THE ANSWER 103 V MON PERE JE ME 'CUSE 137 VI THE BUSINESS OF THE SHEPHERD 174 VII THE INNER CITADEL 210 VIII SEIGNEUR DIEU, WHITHER GO I? 243 IX THE COMING OF THE SHEPHERD 277 X THAT THEY BE NOT AFRAID 311
THE SHEPHERD OF THE NORTH
THE SHEPHERD OF THE NORTH
THE WHITE HORSE CHAPLAIN
The Bishop of Alden was practising his French upon Arsene LaComb. It was undoubtedly good French, this of M'sieur the Bishop, Arsene assured himself. It must be. But it certainly was not any kind of French that had ever been spoken by the folks back in Three Rivers.
Still, what did it matter? If Arsene could not understand all that the Bishop said, it was equally certain that the Bishop could not understand all that Arsene said. And truly the Bishop was a cheery companion for the long road. He took his upsets into six feet of Adirondack snow, as man and Bishop must when the drifts are soft and the road is uncertain.
In the purple dawn they had left Lowville and the railroad behind and had headed into the hills. For thirty miles, with only one stop for a bite of lunch and a change of ponies, they had pounded along up the half-broken, logging roads. Now they were in the high country and there were no roads.
Arsene had come this way yesterday. But a drifting storm had followed him down from Little Tupper, covering the road that he had made and leaving no trace of the way. He had stopped driving and held only a steady, even rein to keep his ponies from stumbling, while he let the tough, willing little Canadian blacks pick their own road.
Twice in the last hour the Bishop and Arsene had been tossed off the single bobsled out into the drifts. It was back-breaking work, sitting all day long on the swaying bumper, with no back rest, feet braced stiffly against the draw bar in front to keep the dizzy balance. But it was the only way that this trip could be made.
The Bishop knew that he should not have let the confirmation in French Village on Little Tupper go to this late date in the season. He had arranged to come a month before. But Father Ponfret's illness had put him back at that time.
Now he was worried. The early December dark was upon them. There was no road. The ponies were tiring. And there were yet twelve bad miles to go.
Still, things might be worse. The cold was not bad. He had the bulkier of his vestments and regalia in his stout leather bag lashed firmly to the sled. They could take no harm. The holy oils and the other sacred essentials were slung securely about his body. And a tumble more or less in the snow was a part of the day's work. They would break their way through somehow.
So, with the occasional interruptions, he was practising his amazing French upon Arsene.
Bishop Joseph Winthrop of Alden was of old Massachusetts stock. He had learned the French that was taught at Harvard in the fifties. Afterwards, after his conversion to the Catholic Church, he had gone to Louvain for his seminary studies. There he had heard French of another kind. But to the day he died he spoke his French just as it was written in the book, and with an aggressive New England accent.
He must speak French to the children in French Village to-morrow, not because the children would understand, but because it would please Father Ponfret and the parents.
They were struggling around the shoulder of Lansing Mountain and the Bishop was rounding out an elegant period to the bewildered admiration of Arsene, when the latter broke in with a sharp:
"Jomp, M'sieur l'Eveque, jomp!"
The Bishop jumped—or was thrown—ten feet into a snow-bank.
While he gathered himself out of the snow and felt carefully his bulging breast pockets to make sure that everything was safe, he saw what had happened.
The star-faced pony on the near side had slipped off the trail and rolled down a little bank, dragging the other pony and Arsene and the sled with him. It looked like a bad jumble of ponies, man and sled at the bottom of a little gully, and as the Bishop floundered through the snow to help he feared that it was serious.
Arsene, his body pinned deep in the snow under the sled, his head just clear of the ponies' heels, was talking wisely and craftily to them in the patois that they understood. He was within inches of having his brains beaten out by the quivering hoofs; he could not, literally, move his head to save his life, and he talked and reasoned with them as quietly as if he stood at their heads.
They kicked and fought each other and the sled, until the influence of the calm voice behind them began to work upon them. Then their own craft came back to them and they remembered the many bitter lessons they had gotten from kicking and fighting in deep snow. They lay still and waited for the voice to come and get them out of this.
As the Bishop tugged sturdily at the sled to release Arsene, he remembered that he had seen men under fire. And he said to himself that he had never seen a cooler or a braver man than this little French-Canadian storekeeper.
The little man rolled out unhurt, the snow had been soft under him, and lunged for the ponies' heads.
"Up, Maje! Easee, Lisette, easee! Now! Ah-a! Bien!"
He had them both by their bridles and dragged them skilfully to their feet and up the bank. With a lurch or two and a scramble they were all safe back on the hard under-footing of the trail.
Arsene now looked around for the Bishop.
"Ba Golly! M'sieur l'Eveque, dat's one fine jomp. You got hurt, you?"
The Bishop declared that he was not in any way the worse from the tumble, and Arsene turned to his team. As the Bishop struggled back up the bank, the little man looked up from his inspection of his harness and said ruefully:
"Dat's bad, M'sieur l'Eveque. She's gone bust."
He held the frayed end of a broken trace in his hand. The trouble was quite evident.
"What can we do?" asked the Bishop. "Have you any rope?"
"No. Dat's how I been one big fool, me. I lef' new rope on de sled las' night on Lowville. Dis morning she's gone. Some t'ief."
"We must get on somehow," said the Bishop, as he unbuckled part of the lashing from his bag and handed the strap to Arsene. "That will hold until we get to the first house where we can get the loan of a trace. We can walk behind. We're both stiff and cold. It will do us good. Is it far?"
"Dat's Long Tom Lansing in de hemlocks, 'bout quarter mile, maybe." The little man looked up from his work long enough to point out a clump of hemlocks that stood out black and sharp against the white world around them. As the Bishop looked, a light peeped out from among the trees, showing where life and a home fought their battle against the desolation of the hills.
"I donno," said Arsene speculatively, as he and the Bishop took up their tramp behind the sled; "Dat Long Tom Lansing; he don' like Canuck. Maybe he don' lend no harness, I donno."
"Oh, yes; he will surely," answered the Bishop easily. "Nobody would refuse a bit of harness in a case like this."
It was full dark when they came to where Tom Lansing's cabin hid itself among the hemlocks. Arsene did not dare trust his team off the road where they had footing, so the Bishop floundered his way through the heavy snow to find the cabin door.
It was a rude, heavy cabin, roughly hewn out of the hemlocks that had stood around it and belonged to a generation already past. But it was still serviceable and tight, and it was a home.
The Bishop halloed and knocked, but there was no response from within. It was strange. For there was every sign of life about the place. After knocking a second time without result, he lifted the heavy wooden latch and pushed quietly into the cabin.
A great fire blazed in the fireplace directly opposite the door. On the hearth stood a big black and white shepherd dog. The dog gave not the slightest heed to the intruder. He stood rigid, his four legs planted squarely under him, his whole body quivering with fear. His nose was pointed upward as though ready for the howl to which he dared not give voice. His great brown eyes rolled in an ecstasy of fright but seemed unable to tear themselves from the side of the room where he was looking.
Along the side of the room ran a long, low couch covered with soft, well worn hides. On it lay a very long man, his limbs stretched out awkwardly and unnaturally, showing that he had been dragged unconscious to where he was. A candle stood on the low window ledge and shone down full into the man's face.
At the head of the couch knelt a young girl, her arm supporting the man's head and shoulder, her wildly tossed hair falling down across his chest.
She was speaking to the man in a voice low and even, but so tense that her whole slim body seemed to vibrate with every word. It was as though her very soul came to the portals of her lips and shouted its message to the man. The power of her voice, the breathless, compelling strength of her soul need seemed to hold everything between heaven and earth, as she pleaded to the man. The Bishop stood spellbound.
"Come back, Daddy Tom! Come back, My Father!" she was saying over and over. "Come back, come back, Daddy Tom! It's not true! God doesn't want you! He doesn't want to take you from Ruth! How could He! It's not never true! A tree couldn't kill my Daddy Tom! Never, never! Why, he's felled whole slopes of trees! Come back, Daddy Tom! Come back!"
For a time which he could not measure the Bishop stood listening to the pleading of the girl's voice. But in reality he was not listening to the sound. The girl was not merely speaking. She was fighting bitterly with death. She was calling all the forces of love and life to aid her in her struggle. She was following the soul of her loved one down to the very door of death. She would pull him back out of the very clutches of the unknown.
And the Bishop found that he was not merely listening to what the girl said. He was going down with her into the dark lane. He was echoing every word of her pleading. The force of her will and her prayer swept him along so that with all the power of his heart and soul he prayed for the man to open his eyes.
Suddenly the girl stopped. A great, terrible fear seemed to grip and crush her, so that she cowered and hid her face against the big, grizzled white head of the man, and cried out and sobbed in terror.
The Bishop crossed the room softly and touched the girl on the head, saying:
"Do not give up yet, child. I once had some skill. Let me try."
The girl turned and looked up blankly at him. She did not question who he was or whence he had come. She turned again and wrapped her arms jealously about the head and shoulders of her father. Plainly she was afraid and resentful of any interference. But the Bishop insisted gently and in the end she gave him place beside her.
He had taken off his cap and overcoat and he knelt quickly to listen at the man's breast.
Life ran very low in the long, bony frame; but there was life, certainly. While the Bishop fumbled through the man's pockets for the knife that he was sure he would find, he questioned the girl quietly.
"It was just a little while ago," she answered, in short, frightened sentences. "My dog came yelping down from the mountain where Father had been all day. He was cutting timber. I ran up there. He was pinned down under a limb. I thought he was dead, but he spoke to me and told me where to cut the limb. I chopped it away with his axe. But it must be I hurt him; he fainted. I can't make him speak. I cut boughs and made a sledge and dragged him down here. But I can't make him speak. Is he?— Is he?— Tell me," she appealed.
The Bishop was cutting skilfully at the arm and shoulder of the man's jacket and shirt.
"You were all alone, child?" he said. "Where could you get the strength for all this? My driver is out on the road," he continued, as he worked on. "Call him and send him for the nearest help."
The girl rose and with a lingering, heart-breaking look back at the man on the couch, went out into the snow.
The Bishop worked away deftly and steadily.
The man's shoulder was crushed hopelessly, but there was nothing there to constitute a fatal injury. It was only when he came to the upper ribs that he saw the real extent of the damage. Several of them were caved in frightfully, and it seemed certain that one or two of them must have been shattered and the splinters driven into the lung on that side.
The cold had driven back the blood, so that the wounds had bled outwardly very little. The Bishop moved the crushed shoulder a little, and something black showed out of a torn muscle under the scapula.
He probed tenderly, and the thing came out in his hand. It was a little black ball of steel.
While the Bishop stood there wondering at the thing in his hand, a long tremor ran through the body on the couch. The man stirred ever so slightly. A gasping moan of pain escaped from his lips. His eyes opened and fixed themselves searchingly upon the Bishop. The Bishop thought it best not to speak, but to give the man time to come back naturally to a realisation of things.
While the man stared eagerly, disbelievingly, and the Bishop stood holding the little black ball between thumb and fore-finger, Ruth Lansing came back into the room.
Seeing her father's eyes open, the girl rushed across the room and was about to throw herself down by the side of the couch when her father's voice, scarcely more than a whisper, but audible and clear, stopped her.
"The White Horse Chaplain!" he said in a voice of slow wonder. "But I always knew he'd come for me sometime. And I suppose it's time."
The Bishop started. He had not heard the name for twenty-five years.
The girl stopped by the table, trembling and frightened. She had heard the tale of the White Horse Chaplain many times. Her sense told her that her father was delirious and raving. But he spoke so calmly and so certainly. He seemed so certain that the man he saw was an apparition that she could not think or reason herself out of her fright.
The Bishop answered easily and quietly:
"Yes, Lansing, I am the Chaplain. But I did not think anybody remembered now."
Tom Lansing's eyes leaped wide with doubt and question. They stared full at the Bishop. Then they turned and saw the table standing in its right place; saw Ruth Lansing standing by the table; saw the dog at the fireplace. The man there was real!
Tom Lansing made a little convulsive struggle to rise, then fell back gasping.
The Bishop put his hand gently under the man's head and eased him to a better position, saying:
"It was just a chance, Lansing. I was driving past and had broken a trace, and came in to borrow one from you. You got a bad blow. But your girl has just sent my driver for help. They will get a doctor somewhere. We cannot tell anything until he comes. It perhaps is not so bad as it looks." But, even as he spoke, the Bishop saw a drop of blood appear at the corner of the man's white mouth; and he knew that it was as bad as the worst.
The man lay quiet for a moment, while his eyes moved again from the Bishop to the girl and the everyday things of the room.
It was evident that his mind was clearing sharply. He had rallied quickly. But the Bishop knew instinctively that it was the last, flashing rally of the forces of life—in the face of the on-crowding darkness. The shock and the internal hemorrhage were doing their work fast. The time was short.
Evidently Tom Lansing realised this, for, with a look, he called the girl to him.
Through the seventeen years of her life, since the night when her mother had laid her in her father's arms and died, Ruth Lansing had hardly ever been beyond the reach of her father's voice. They had grown very close together, these two. They had little need of clumsy words between them.
As the girl dropped to her knees, her eyes, wild, eager, rebellious, seared her father with their terror-stricken, unbelieving question.
But she quickly saw the stab of pain that her wild questioning had given him. She crushed back a great, choking sob, and fought bravely with herself until she was able to force into her eyes a look of understanding and great mothering tenderness.
Her father saw the struggle and the look, and blessed her for it with his eyes. Then he said:
"You'll never blame me, Ruth, girl, will you? I know I'm desertin' you, little comrade, right in the mornin' of your battle with life. But you won't be afraid. I know you won't."
The girl shook her head bravely, but it was clear that she dared not trust herself to speak.
"I'm goin' to ask this man here to look to you. He came here for a sign to me. I see it. I see it plain. I will trust him with your life. And so will you, little comrade. I—I'm droppin' out. He'll take you on.
"He saved my life once. So he gave you your life. It's a sign, my Ruth."
The girl slipped her hands gently under his head and looked deep and long into the glazing eyes.
Her heart quailed, for she knew that she was facing death—and life alone.
Obedient to her father's look, she rose and walked across the room. She saw that he had something to say to this strange man and that the time was short.
In the doorway of the inner room of the cabin she stood, and throwing one arm up against the frame of the door she buried her face in it. She did not cry or sob. Later, there would be plenty of time for that.
The Bishop, reading swiftly, saw that in an instant an irrevocable change had come over her. She had knelt a frightened, wondering, protesting child. A woman, grown, with knowledge of death and its infinite certainty, of life and its infinite chance, had risen from her knees.
As the Bishop leaned over him, Lansing spoke hurriedly:
"I never knew your name, Chaplain; or if I did I forgot it, and it don't matter.
"I'm dying. I don't need any doctor to tell me. I'll be gone before he gets here.
"You remember that day at Fort Fisher, when Curtis' men were cut to pieces in the second charge on the trenches. They left me there, because it was every man for himself.
"A ball in my shoulder and another in my leg. And you came drivin' mad across the field on a big, crazy white horse and slid down beside me where I lay. You threw me across your saddle and walked that wild horse back into our lines.
"Do you remember? Dying men got up on their elbows and cheered you. I lay six weeks in fever, and I never saw you since. Do you remember?"
"I do, now," said the Bishop. "Our troop came back to the Shenandoah, and I never knew what—"
That terrible, unforgettable day rolled back upon him. He was just a few months ordained. He had just been appointed chaplain in the Union army. All unseasoned and unschooled in the ways and business of a battlefield, he had found himself that day in the sand dunes before Fort Fisher. Red, reeking carnage rioted all about him. Hail, fumes, lightning and thunder of battle rolled over him and sickened him. He saw his own Massachusetts troop hurl itself up against the Confederate breastworks, crumple up on itself, and fade away back into the smoke. He lost it, and lost himself in the smoke. He wandered blindly over the field, now stumbling over a dead man, now speaking to a living stricken one: Here straightening a torn body and giving water; there hearing the confession of a Catholic.
Now the smoke cleared, and Curtis' troops came yelling across the flat land. Once, twice they tried the trenches and were driven back into the marshes. A captain was shot off the back of a big white horse. The animal, mad with fright and blood scent, charged down upon him as he bent over a dying man. He grabbed the bridle and fought the horse. Before he realised what he was doing, he was in the saddle riding back and forth across the field. Right up to the trenches the horse carried him.
Within twenty paces of their guns lay a boy, a thin, long-legged boy with a long beardless face. He lay there marking the high tide of the last charge—the farthest of the fallen. The chaplain, tumbling down somehow from his mount, picked up the writhing boy and bundled him across the saddle. Then he started walking back looking for his own lines.
Now here was the boy talking to him across the mists of twenty-five years. And the boy, the man, was dying. He had picked the boy, Tom Lansing, up out of the sand where he would have died from fever bloat or been trampled to death in the succeeding charges. He had given him life. And, as Tom Lansing had said to his daughter, he had given that daughter life. Now he knew what Lansing was going to say.
"I didn't know you then," said Lansing. "I don't know who you are now, Chaplain, or what you are.
"But," he went on slowly, "if I'd agiven you a message that day you'd have taken it on for me, wouldn't you?"
"Of course I would."
"Suppose it had been to my mother, say: You'da risked your life to get it on to her?"
"I hope I would," said the Bishop evenly.
"I believe you would. That's what I think of you," said Tom Lansing.
"I went back South after the war," he began again. "I stole my girl's mother from her grandfather, an old, broken-down Confederate colonel that would have shot me if he ever laid eyes on me. I brought her up here into the hills and she died when the baby was just a few weeks old.
"There ain't a relation in the world that my little girl could go to. I'm goin' to die in half an hour. But what better would she be if I lived? What would I do with her? Keep her here and let her marry some fightin' lumber jack that'd beat her? Or see her break her heart tryin' to make a livin' on one of these rock hills? She'd fret herself to death. She knows more now than I do and she'd soon be wantin' to know more. She's that kind.
"She'd ought to have her chance the way I've seen girls in towns havin' a chance. A chance to study and learn and grow the way she wants to. And now I'm desertin'; goin' out like a smoky lamp.
"It was a crime, a crime!" he groaned, "ever to bring her mother up into this place!"
"You could not think of all that then. No man ever does," said the Bishop calmly. "And I will do my best to see that she gets her chance. I think that's what you want to ask me, isn't it, Lansing?"
"Do you swear it?" gasped Lansing, struggling and choking in an effort to raise his head. "Do you swear to try and see that she gets a chance?"
"God will help me to do the best for her," said the Bishop quietly. "I am the Bishop of Alden. I can do something."
With the definiteness of a man who has heard a final word, Tom Lansing's eyes turned to his daughter.
Obediently she came again and knelt at his side, holding his head.
To the very last, as long as his eyes could see, they saw her smiling bravely and sweetly down into them; giving her sacrament and holding her light of cheering love for the soul out-bound.
When the last twinging tremour had run through the racked body, she leaned over and kissed her father full on the lips.
Then her heart broke. She ran blindly out into the night.
While the Bishop was straightening the body on the couch, a young man and two women came into the room.
They were Jeffrey Whiting and his mother and her sister, neighbours whom Arsene had brought.
The Bishop was much relieved with their coming. He could do nothing more now, and the long night ride was still ahead of him.
He told the young man that the girl, Ruth, had gone out into the cold, and asked him to find her.
Jeffrey Whiting went out quickly. He had played with Ruth Lansing since she was a baby, for they were the only children on Lansing Mountain. He knew where he would find her.
Mrs. Whiting, a keen-faced, capable woman of the hills, where people had to meet their problems and burdens alone, took command at once.
"No, sir," she replied to the Bishop's question, "there's nobody to send for. The Lansings didn't have a relation living that anybody ever heard of, and I knew the old folks, too, Tom Lansing's father and mother. They're buried out there on the hill where he'll be buried.
"There's some old soldiers down the West Slope towards Beaver River. They'll want to take charge, I suppose. The funeral must be on Monday," she went on rapidly, sketching in the programme. "We have a preacher if we can get one. But when we can't my sister Letty here sings something."
"Tom Lansing was a comrade of mine, in a way," said the Bishop slowly. "At least, I was at Fort Fisher with him. I think I should like to—"
"Were you at Fort Fisher?" broke in the sister Letty, speaking for the first time. "And did you see Curtis' colour bearer? He was killed in the first charge. A tall, dark boy, Jay Hamilton, with long, black hair?"
"He had an old scar over his eye-brow." The Bishop supplemented the description out of the memory of that day.
"He got it skating on Beaver Run, thirty-five years ago to-morrow," said the woman trembling. "You saw him die?"
"He was dead when I came to him," said the Bishop quietly, "with the stock of the colour standard still clenched in his hand."
"He was my—my—" Sweetheart, she wanted to say. But the hill women do not say things easily.
"Yes?" said the Bishop gently. "I understand." She was a woman of his people. Clearly as if she had taken an hour to tell it, he could read the years of her faithfulness to the memory of that lean, dark face which he had once seen, with the purple scar above the eye-brow.
Mrs. Whiting put her arm protectingly about her sister.
"Are you—?" she questioned, hesitating strangely. "Are you the White Horse Chaplain?"
"The boys called me that," said the Bishop. "Though it was only a name for a day," he added.
"It was true, then?" she said slowly, as if still unready to believe. "We never half believed our boys when they came home from the war—the ones that did come home—and told about the white horse and the priest riding the field. We thought it was one of the things men see when they're fighting and dying."
Then Jeffrey Whiting came back into the room leading Ruth Lansing by the hand.
The girl was shaking with cold and grief. The Bishop drew her over to the fire.
"I must go now, child," he said. "To-morrow I must be in French Village. Monday I will be here again.
"Our comrade is gone. Did you hear what he said to me, about you?"
The girl looked up slowly, searchingly into the Bishop's face, then nodded her head.
"Then, we must think and pray, child, that we may know how to do what he wanted us to do. God will show us what is the best. That is what he wanted.
"God keep you brave now. Your friends here will see to everything for you. I have to go now."
He crossed the room and laid his hand for a moment on the brow of the dead man, renewing in his heart the promise he had made.
Then, with a hurried word to Mrs. Whiting that he would be back before noon Monday, he went out to where Arsene and his horses were stamping in the snow.
The little man had replaced the broken trace, and the ponies, fretting with the cold and eager to get home, took hungrily to the trail.
But the Bishop forgot to practise his French further upon Arsene. He told him briefly what had happened, then lapsed into silence.
Now the Bishop remembered what Tom Lansing had said about the girl. She knew more now than he did. Not more than Tom Lansing knew now. But more than Tom Lansing had known half an hour ago.
She would want to see the world. She would want to know life and ask her own questions from life and the world. In the broad open space between her eye-brows it was written that she would never take anybody's word for the puzzles of the world. She was marked a seeker; one of those who look unafraid into the face of life, and demand to know what it means. They never find out. But, heart break or sparrow fall, they must go on ever and ever seeking truth in their own way. The world is infinitely the better through them. But their own way is hard and lonely.
She must go out. She must have education. She must have a chance to face life and wrest its lessons from it in her own way. It did not promise happiness for her. But she could go no other way. For hers was the high, stony way of those who demand more than jealous life is ready to give.
The Bishop only knew that he had this night given a promise which had sent a man contentedly on his way. Somehow, God would show him how best to keep that promise.
And when they halloed at Father Ponfret's house in French Village he had gotten no farther than that.
Tom Lansing lay in dignified state upon his couch. Clean white sheets had been draped over the skins of the couch. The afternoon sun looking in through the west window picked out every bare thread of his service coat and glinted on the polished brass buttons. His bayonet was slung into the belt at his side.
Ruth Lansing sat mute in her grief at the head of the couch, listening to the comments and stumbling condolences of neighbours from the high hills and the lower valleys. They were good, kindly people, she knew. But why, why, must every one of them repeat that clumsy, monotonous lie— How natural he looked!
He did not. He did not. He did not look natural. How could her Daddy Tom look natural, when he lay there all still and cold, and would not speak to his Ruth!
He was dead. And what was death— And why? Why?
Who had ordered this? And why?
And still they came with that set, borrowed phrase—the only thing they could think to say—upon their lips.
Out in Tom Lansing's workshop on the horse-barn floor, Jacque Lafitte, the wright, was nailing soft pine boards together.
Ruth could not stand it. Why could they not leave Daddy Tom to her? She wanted to ask him things. She knew that she could make him understand and answer.
She slipped away from the couch and out of the house. At the corner of the house her dog joined her and together they circled away from the horse-barn and up the slope of the hill to where her father had been working yesterday.
She found her father's cap where it had been left in her fright of yesterday, and sat down fondling it in her hands. The dog came and slid his nose along her dress until he managed to snuggle into the cap between her hands.
So Jeffrey Whiting found her when he came following her with her coat and hood.
"You better put these on, Ruth," he said, as he dropped the coat across her shoulder. "It's too cold here."
The girl drew the coat around her obediently, but did not look up at him. She was grateful for his thought of her, but she was not ready to speak to any one.
He sat down quietly beside her on the stump and drew the dog over to him.
After a little he asked timidly:
"What are you going to do, Ruth? You can't stay here. I'll tend your stock and look after the place for you. But you just can't stay here."
"You?" she questioned finally. "You're going to that Albany school next week. You said you were all ready."
"I was all ready. But I ain't going. I'll stay here and work the two farms for you."
"For me?" she said. "And not be a lawyer at all?"
"I—I don't care anything about it any more," he lied. "I told mother this morning that I wasn't going. She said she'd have you come and stay with her till Spring."
"And then?" the girl faced the matter, looking straight and unafraid into his eyes. "And then?"
"Well, then," he hesitated. "You see, then I'll be twenty. And you'll be old enough to marry me," he hurried. "Your father, you know, he always wanted me to take care of you, didn't he?" he pleaded, awkwardly but subtly.
"I know you don't want to talk about it now," he went on hastily. "But you'll come home with mother to-morrow, won't you? You know she wants you, and I—I never had to tell you that I love you. You knew it when you wasn't any higher than Prince here."
"Yes. I always knew it, and I'm glad," the girl answered levelly. "I'm glad now, Jeff. But I can't let you do it. Some day you'd hate me for it."
"Ruth! You know better than that!"
"Oh, you'd never tell me; I know that. You'd do your best to hide it from me. But some day when your chance was gone you'd look back and see what you might have been, 'stead of a humpbacked farmer in the hills. Oh, I know. You've told me all your dreams and plans, how you're going down to the law school, and going to be a great lawyer and go to Albany and maybe to Washington."
"What's it all good for?" said the boy sturdily. "I'd rather stay here with you."
The girl did not answer. In the strain of the night and the day, she had almost forgotten the things that she had heard her father say to the White Horse Chaplain, as she continued to call the Bishop.
Now she remembered those things and tried to tell them.
"That strange man that said he was the Bishop of Alden told my father that he would see that I got a chance. My father called him the White Horse Chaplain and said that he had been sent here just on purpose to look after me. I didn't know there were bishops in this country. I thought it was only in books about Europe."
"What did they say?"
"My father said that I would want to go out and see things and know things; that I mustn't be married to a—a lumber jack. He said it was no place for me in the hills."
"And this man, this bishop, is going to send you away somewhere, to school?" he guessed shrewdly.
"I don't know, I suppose that was it," said the girl slowly. "Yesterday I wanted to go so much. It was just as father said. He had taught me all he knew. And I thought the world outside the hills was full of just the most wonderful things, all ready for me to go and see and pick up. And to-day I don't care."
She looked down at the cap in her hands, at the dog at her feet, and down the hillside to the little cabin in the hemlocks. They were all she had in the world.
The boy, watching her eagerly, saw the look and read it rightly.
He got up and stood before her, saying pleadingly:
"Don't forget to count me, Ruth. You've got me, you know."
Perhaps it was because he had so answered her unspoken thought. Perhaps it was because she was afraid of the bare world. Perhaps it was just the eternal surrender of woman.
When she looked up at him her eyes were full of great, shining tears, the first that they had known since she had kissed Daddy Tom and run out into the night.
He lifted her into his arms, and, together, they faced the white, desolate world all below them and plighted to each other their untried troth.
When Tom Lansing had been laid in the white bosom of the hillside, and the people were dispersing from the house, young Jeffrey Whiting came and stood before the Bishop. The Bishop's sharp old eyes had told him to expect something of what was coming. He liked the look of the boy's clean, stubborn jaw and the steady, level glance of his eyes. They told of dependableness and plenty of undeveloped strength. Here was not a boy, but a man ready to fight for what should be his.
"Ruth told me that you were going to take her away from the hills," he began. "To a school, I suppose."
"I made a promise to her father," said the Bishop, "that I would try to see that she got the chance that she will want in the world."
"But I love her. She's going to marry me in the Spring."
The Bishop was surprised. He had not thought matters had gone so far.
"How old are you?" he asked thoughtfully.
"Twenty in April."
"You have some education?" the Bishop suggested. "You have been at school?"
"Just what Tom Lansing taught me and Ruth. And last Winter at the Academy in Lowville. I was going to Albany to law school next week."
"And you are giving it all up for Ruth," said the Bishop incisively. "Does it hurt?"
The boy winced, but caught himself at once.
"It don't make any difference about that. I want Ruth."
"And Ruth? What does she want?" the Bishop asked. "You are offering to make a sacrifice for her. You are willing to give up your hopes and work yourself to the bone here on these hills for her. And you would be man enough never to let her see that you regretted it. I believe that. But what of her? You find it hard enough to give up your chance, for her, for love.
"Do you know that you are asking her to give up her chance, for nothing, for less than nothing; because in giving up her chance she would know that she had taken away yours, too. She would be a good and loving companion to you through all of a hard life. But, for both your sakes, she would never forgive you. Never."
"You're asking me to give her up. If she went out and got a start, she'd go faster than I could. I know it," said the boy bitterly. "She'd go away above me. I'd lose her."
"I am not asking you to give her up," the Bishop returned steadily. "If you are the man I think you are, you will never give her up. But are you afraid to let her have her chance in the sun? Are you afraid to let her have what you want for yourself? Are you afraid?"
The boy looked steadily into the Bishop's eyes for a moment. Then he turned quickly and walked across the room to where Ruth sat.
"I can't give it up, Ruth," he said gruffly. "I'm going to Albany to school. I can't give it up."
The girl looked up at him, and said quietly:
"You needn't have tried to lie, Jeff; though it's just like you to put the blame on yourself. I know what he said. I must think."
The boy stood watching her eyes closely. He saw them suddenly light up. He knew what that meant. She was seeing the great world with all its wonderful mysteries beckoning her. So he himself had seen it. Now he knew that he had lost.
The Bishop had put on his coat and was ready to go. The day was slipping away and before him there were thirty miles and a train to be caught.
"We must not be hurried, my children," he said, standing by the boy and girl. "The Sacred Heart Academy at Athens is the best school this side of Albany. The Mother Superior will write you in a few days, telling you when and how to come. If you are ready to go, you will go as she directs.
"You have been a good, brave little girl. A soldier's daughter could be no more, nor less. God bless you now, and you, too, my boy," he added.
When he was settled on the sled with Arsene and they were rounding the shoulder of Lansing Mountain, where the pony had broken the trace, he turned to look back at the cabin in the hemlocks.
"To-day," he said to himself, "I have set two ambitious, eager souls upon the high and stony paths of the great world. Should I have left them where they were?
"I shall never know whether I did right or not. Even time will mix things up so that I'll never be able to tell. Maybe some day God will let me see. But why should he? One can only aim right, and trust in Him."
THE CHOIR UNSEEN
Ruth Lansing sat in one of the music rooms of the Sacred Heart convent in Athens thrumming out a finger exercise that a child of six would have been able to do as well as she.
It was a strange, little, closely-crowded world, this, into which she had been suddenly transplanted. It was as different from the great world that she had come out to see as it was from the wild, sweet life of the hills where she had ruled and managed everything within reach. Mainly it was full of girls of her own age whose talk and thoughts were of a range entirely new to her.
She compared herself with them and knew that they were really children in the comparison. Their talk was of dress and manners and society and the thousand little and big things that growing girls look forward to. She knew that in any real test, anything that demanded common sense and action, she was years older than they. But they had things that she did not have.
They talked of things that she knew nothing about. They could walk across waxed floors as though waxed floors were meant to be walked on. They could rise to recite lessons without stammering or choking as she did. They could take reproof jauntily, where she, who had never in her life received a scolding, would have been driven into hysterics. They could wear new dresses just as though all dresses were supposed to be new. She knew that these were not things that they had learned by studying. They just grew up to them, just as she knew how to throw a fishing line and hold a rifle.
But she wanted all those things that they had; wanted them all passionately. She had the sense to know that those were not great things. But they were the things that would make her like these other girls. And she wanted to be like them.
Because she had not grown up with other girls, because she had never even had a girl playmate, she wanted not to miss any of the things that they had and were.
They baffled her, these girls. Her own quick, eager mind sprang at books and fairly tore the lessons from them. She ran away from the girls in anything that could be learned in that way. But when she found herself with two or three of them they talked a language that she did not know. She could not keep up with them. And she was stupid and awkward, and felt it. It was not easy to break into their world and be one of them.
Then there was that other world, touching the world of the girls but infinitely removed from it—the world of the sisters.
That mysterious cloister from which the sisters came and gave their hours of teaching or duty and to which they retreated back again was a world all by itself.
What was there in there behind those doors that never banged? What was there in there that made the sisters all so very much alike? They must once have been as different as every girl is different from every other girl.
How was it that they could carry with them all day long that air of never being tired or fretted or worried? What wonderful presence was there behind the doors of that cloistered house that seemed to come out with them and stay with them all the time? What was the light that shone in their faces?
Was it just because they were always contented and happy? What did they have to be happy about?
Ruth had tried to question the other girls about this. They were Catholics. They ought to know. But Bessie Donnelly had brushed her question aside with a stare:
"Sisters always look like that."
So Ruth did not ask any more. But her mind kept prying at that world of the sisters behind those walls. What did they do in there? Did they laugh and talk and scold each other, like people? Or did they just pray all the time? Or did they see wonderful, starry visions of God and Heaven that they were always talking about? They seemed so familiar with God. They knew just when He was pleased and especially when He was displeased.
She had come down out of her hills where everything was so open, where there were no mysteries, where everything from the bark on the trees to the snow clouds on Marcy, fifty miles away, was as clear as a printed book. Everything up there told its plain lesson. She could read the storm signs and the squirrel tracks. Nothing had been hidden. Nothing in nature or life up there had ever shut itself away from her.
Here were worlds inside of worlds, every one of them closing its door in the face of her sharp, hungry mind.
And there was that other world, enveloping all the other lesser worlds about her—the world of the Catholic Church.
Three weeks ago those two words had meant to her a little green building in French Village where the "Canucks" went to church.
Now her day began and ended with it. It was on all sides of her. The pictures and the images on every wall, the signs on every classroom door. The books she read, the talk she heard was all filled with it. It came and went through every door of life.
All the inherited prejudices of her line of New England fathers were alive and stirring in her against this religion that demanded so much. The untrammelled spirit that the hills had given her fought against it. It was so absolute. It was so sure of everything. She wanted to argue with it, to quarrel with it. She was sure that it must be wrong sometimes.
But just when she was sure that she had found something false, something that she knew was not right in the things they taught her, she was always told that she had not understood. Some one was always ready to tell her, in an easy, patient, amused way, that she had gotten the thing wrong. How could they always be so sure? And what was wrong with her that she could not understand? She could learn everything else faster and more easily than the other girls could.
Suddenly her fingers slipped off the keys and her hands fell nervelessly to her sides. Her eyes were blinded with great, burning tears. A wave of intolerable longing and loneliness swept over her.
The wonderful, enchanting world that she had come out of her hills to conquer was cut down to the four little grey walls that enclosed her. Everything was shut away from her. She did not understand these strange women about her. Would never understand them.
Why? Why had she ever left her hills, where Daddy Tom was near her, where there was love for her, where the people and even the snow and the wild winds were her friends?
She threw herself forward on her arms and gave way utterly, crying in great, heart-breaking, breathless sobs for her Daddy Tom, for her home, for her hills.
At five o'clock Sister Rose, coming to see that the music rooms were aired for the evening use, found Ruth an inert, shapeless little bundle of broken nerves lying across the piano.
She took the girl to her room and sent for the sister infirmarian.
But Ruth was not sick. She begged them only to leave her alone.
The sisters, thinking that it was the fit of homesickness that every new pupil in a boarding school is liable to, sent some of the other girls in during the evening, to cheer Ruth out of it. But she drove them away. She was not cross nor pettish. But her soul was sick for the sweeping freedom of her hills and for people who could understand her.
She rose and dragged her little couch over to the window, where she could look out and up to the friendly stars, the same ones that peeped down upon her in the hills.
She did not know the names that they had in books, but she had framed little pet names for them all out of her baby fancies and the names had clung to them all the years.
She recognised them, although they did not stand in the places where they belonged when she looked at them from the hills.
Out among them somewhere was Heaven. Daddy Tom was there, and her mother whom she had never seen.
Suddenly, out of the night, from Heaven it seemed, there came stealing into her sense a sound. Or was it a sound? It was so delicate, so illusive. It did not stop knocking at the portals of the ear as other sounds must do. It seemed, rather, to steal past the clumsy senses directly into the spirit and the heart.
It was music. Yes. But it was as though the Soul of Music had freed itself of the bondage and the body of sound and notes and came carrying its unutterable message straight to the soul of the world.
It was only the sisters in their chapel gently hymning the Salve of the Compline to their Queen in Heaven.
Ruth Lansing might have heard the same subdued, sweetly poignant evensong on every other night. Other nights, her mind filled with books and its other business, the music had scarcely reached her. To-night her soul was alive. Her every sense was like a nerve laid bare, ready to be thrilled and hurt by the most delicate pressures.
She did not think of the sisters. She saw the deep rose flush of the windows in the dimly lighted chapel across the court, and knew vaguely, perhaps, that the music came from there. But it carried her beyond all thought.
She did not hear the words of the hymn. Would not have understood them if she had heard. But the lifting of hearts to Our Life, our Sweetness and our Hope caught her heart up into a world where words were never needed.
She heard the cry of the Banished children of Eve. The Mourning and weeping in this vale of tears swept into her soul like the flood-tide of all the sorrow of all the world.
On and upwards the music carried her, until she could hear the triumph, until her soul rang with the glory and the victory of The Promises of Christ.
The music ceased. She saw the light fade from the chapel windows, leaving only the one little blood-red spot of light before the altar. She lay there trembling, not daring to move, while the echo of that unseen choir caught her heartstrings and set them ringing to the measure of the heart of the world.
It was not the unembodied cry of the pain and helplessness but the undying hope of the world that she had heard. It was the cry of the little blind ones of all the earth. It was the cry of martyrs on their pyres. It was the cry of strong men and valiant women crushed under the forces of life. And it was the voice of the Catholic Church, which knows what the soul of the world is saying. Ruth Lansing knew this. She realised it as she lay there trembling.
Always, as long as life was in her; always, whether she worked or laughed, cried or played; always that voice would grip her heart and play upon it and lead her whether she would or no.
It would lead her. It would carry her. It would send her.
Through all the long night she fought it. She would not! She would not give up her life, her will, her spirit! Why? Why? Why must she?
It would take her spirit out of the freedom of the hills and make it follow a trodden way. It would take her life out of her hands and maybe ask her to shut herself up, away from the sun and the wind, in a darkened convent. It would take her will, the will of a soldier's daughter, and break it into little pieces to make a path for her to walk upon!
No! No! No! Through all the endless night she moaned her protest. She would not! She would not give in to it.
It would never let her rest. Through all her life that voice of the Choir Unseen would strike the strings of her heart. She knew it.
But she would not. Never would she give in to it.
In the morning, even before the coming of the dawn, the music came again; and it beat upon her worn, ragged nerves, and tore and wrenched at her heart until she could stand it no longer.
The sisters were taking up again the burden and the way of the day.
She could not stand it! She could not stay here! She must go back to her hills, where there was peace for her.
She heard the sister going down to unlock the street door so that Father Tenney could walk in when it was time and go up to the chapel for the sisters' early mass.
That was her chance! The sisters would be in chapel. The girls would be still in their rooms.
She dressed hastily and threw her books into a bag. She would take only these and her money. She had enough to get home on. The rest did not matter.
When she heard the priest's step pass in the hall, she slipped out and down the dim, broad stairs.
The great, heavy door of the convent stood like the gate of the world. It swung slowly, deliberately, on its well-oiled, silent hinges.
She stood in the portal a moment, drinking hungrily the fresh, free air of the morning that had come down from her hills. Then she fled away into the dawn.
The sun was just showing over Lansing mountain as Jeffrey Whiting came out of his mother's house dragging a hair trunk by the handle. His uncle, Cassius Bascom, drove up from the barn with the team and sled. Jeffrey threw his trunk upon the sled and bent to lash it down safe. It was twenty-five miles of half broken road and snowdrifts to Lowville and the railroad.
Jeffrey Whiting was doing what the typical American farm boy has been doing for the last hundred years and what he will probably continue to do as long as we Americans are what we are. He is not always a dreamer, your farm boy, when he starts down from his hills or his cross-roads farm to see the big world and conquer it. More often than you would think, he knows that he is not going to conquer it at all. And he is not, on the other hand, merely running away from the drudgery of the farm. He knows that he will probably have to work harder than he would ever have worked on the farm. But he knows that he has things to sell. And he is going down into the markets of men. He has a good head and a strong body. He has a power of work in him. He has grit and energy.
He is going down into the markets where men pay the price for these things that he has. He is going to fight men for that price which he knows his things are worth.
Jeffrey's mother came out carrying a canvas satchel which she put on the sled under Cassius Bascom's feet.
"Don't kick that, Catty," she warned, "Jeff's lunch is in it. And, Jeff, don't you go and check it with the trunk." There was just a little catch in the laugh with which she said this. She was remembering a day more than twenty years before when she had started, a bride, with big, lumbering, slow-witted, adoring Dan Whiting, Jeffrey's father, on her wedding trip to Niagara Falls, with their lunch in that same satchel. Dan Whiting checked the satchel through from Lowville to Buffalo, and they had nearly starved on the way. It was easy to forgive Dan Whiting his stupidity. But she never quite forgave him for telling it on himself when they got back. It had been a standing joke in the hills all these years.
She was just a typical mother of the hills. She loved her boy. She needed him. She knew that she would never have him again. The boys do not come back from the market place. She knew that she would cry for him through many a lonely night, as she had cried all last night. But she was not crying now.
Her deep grey eyes smiled steadily up into his as she stretched her arms up around the neck of her tall boy and drew his head down to kiss her.
He was not a dull boy. He was quick of heart. He knew his mother very well. So he began with the old, old lie; the lie that we all tried to tell when we were leaving.
"It'll only be a little while, Mother. You won't find the time slipping by, and I'll be back."
She knew it was a lie. All the mothers of boys always knew it was a lie. But she backed him up sturdily:
"Why, of course, Jeff. Don't worry about me. You'll be back in no time."
Miss Letitia Bascom came hurrying out of the house with a dark, oblong object in her hands.
"There now, Jeff Whiting, I know you just tried to forget this on purpose. It's too late to put it in the trunk now; so you'll just have to put it in your overcoat pocket."
Jeffrey groaned in spirit. It was a full-grown brick covered with felt, a foot warmer. Aunt Letty had made him take one with him when he went down to the Academy at Lowville last winter, and he and his brick had furnished much of the winter's amusement there. The memory of his humiliations on account of that brick would last a lifetime. He wondered why maiden aunts could not understand. His mother, now, would have known better. But he dutifully put the thing into the pocket of his big coat—he could drop it into the first snowback—and turned to kiss his aunt.
"I know all about them hall bedrooms in Albany," she lectured. "Make your landlady heat it for you every night."
A noise in the road made them all turn.
Two men in a high-backed, low-set cutter were driving into the yard.
It was evident from the signs that the men had been having a hard time on the road. They must have been out all night, for they could not have started from anywhere early enough to be here now at sunrise.
Their harness had been broken and mended in several places. The cutter had a runner broken. The horses were cut and bloody, where they had kicked themselves and each other in the drifts.
As they drove up beside the group in the yard, one of the men shouted:
"Say, is there any place we can put in here? We've been on that road all night."
"Drive in onto the barn floor, and come in and warm yourselves," said Mrs. Whiting.
"Rogers," said the man who had spoken, addressing the other, "if I ever get into a place that's warm, I'll stay there till spring."
Rogers laid the lines down on the dashboard of the cutter and stepped stiffly out into the snow. He swept the group with a sharp, a praising eye, and asked:
"Who's the one to talk to here?"
Jeffrey Whiting stepped forward naturally and replied with another question.
"What do you want?"
Rogers, a large, square-faced man, with a stubby grey moustache and cold grey eyes, looked the youth over carefully as he spoke.
"I want a man that knows this country and can get around in it in this season. I was brought up in the country, but I never saw anything like this. I wouldn't take a trip like this again for any money. I can't do this sort of thing. I want a man that knows the country and the people and can do it."
"Well, I'm going away now," said Jeffrey slowly, "but Uncle Catty here knows the people and the country better than most and he can go anywhere."
The big man looked doubtfully at the little, oldish man on the sled. Then he turned away decisively. Uncle Cassius, his kindly, ugly old face all withered and puckered to one side, where a splinter of shell from Fort Fisher had taken away his right eye, was evidently not the kind of man that the big man wanted.
"Where are you going?" he asked Jeffrey sharply.
"Albany Law School," said Jeffrey promptly.
"Unstrap the trunk, young man. You're not going. I've got something for you right here at home that'll teach you more than ten law schools. Put both teams into the barn," the big man commanded loudly.
Jeffrey stood still a moment, as though he would oppose the will of this brusque stranger. But he knew that he would not do so. In that moment something told him that he would not go to law school; would never go there; that his life was about to take a twist away from everything that he had ever intended.
Mrs. Whiting broke the pause, saying simply:
"Come into the house."
In the broad, low kitchen, while Letitia Bascom poured boiling tea for the two men, Rogers, cup in hand, stood squarely on the hearth and explained himself. The other man, whose name does not matter, sank into a great wooden chair at the side of the fire and seemed to be ready to make good his threat of staying until spring.
"I represent the U. & M. railroad. We are coming up through here in the spring. All these farms have to be given up. We have eminent domain for this whole section," said Rogers.
"What do you mean?" asked Jeffrey. "The railroad can't run all over the country."
"No. But the road will need the whole strip of hills for timber. They'll cut off what is standing and then they'll stock the whole country with cedar, for ties. That's all the land's good for, anyway."
Jeffrey Whiting's mouth opened for an answer to this, but his mother's sharp, warning glance stopped him. He understood that it was his place to listen and learn. There would be time enough for questions and arguments afterward.
"Now these people here won't understand what eminent domain means," the big man went on. "I'm going to make it clear to you, young man. I know who you are and I know more about you than you think. I'm going to make it clear to you and then I'm going to send you out among them to make them see it. They wouldn't understand me and they wouldn't believe me. You can make them see it."
"How do you know that I'll believe you?" asked Jeffrey.
"You've got brains. You don't have to believe. I can show it to you."
Jeffrey Whiting was a big, strong boy, well accustomed to taking responsibilities upon himself. He had never been afraid of anything and this perhaps had given him more than the average boy's good opinion of himself. Nothing could have appealed to him more subtly than this man's bluff, curt flattery. He was being met man to man by a man of the world. No boy is proof against the compliment that he is a man, to be dealt with as a man and equal of older, more experienced men. Jeffrey was ready to listen.
"Do you know what an option is?" the man began again.
"Of course I do."
"I thought so," said Rogers, in a manner that seemed to confirm his previous judgment of Jeffrey's brains. "Now then, the railroad has got to have all these farms from Beaver River right up to the head of Little Tupper Lake. I say these people won't know what eminent domain means. You're going to tell them. It means that they can sell at the railroad's price or they can hold off and a referee will be appointed to name a price. The railroad will have a big say in appointing those referees. Do you understand me?"
"Yes. I see," said Jeffrey. "But—"
"No buts at all about it, young man," said Rogers, waving his hand. "The people have got to sell. If they give options at once—within thirty days—they'll get more than a fair price for their land. If they don't—if they hold off—their farms will be condemned as forest land. And you know how much that brings.
"You people will be the first. You can ask almost anything for your land. You'll get it. And, what is more, I am able to offer you, Whiting, a very liberal commission on every option you can get me within the time I have said. This is the thing that I can't do. It's the thing that I want you to do.
"You'll do it. I know you will, when you get time to think it over. Here are the options," said the big man, pulling a packet of folded papers out of his pocket. "They cover every farm in the section. All you have to do is to get the people to write their names once. Then your work is done. We'll do the rest and your commissions will be waiting for you. Some better than law school, eh?"
"But say," Jeffrey stammered, "say, that means, why, that means my mother and the folks here, why, they'd have to get out; they'd have to leave their home!"
"Of course," said Rogers easily. "A man like you isn't going to keep his family up on top of this rock very long. Why, young fellow, you'll have the best home in Lowville for them, where they can live in style, in less than six months. Do you think your mother wants to stay here after you're gone. You were going away. Did you think," he said shrewdly, "what life up here would be worth to your mother while you were away. No, you're just like all boys. You wanted to get away yourself. But you never thought what a life this is for her.
"Why, boy, she's a young woman yet. You can take her out and give her a chance to live. Do you hear, a chance to live.
"Think it over."
Jeffrey Whiting thought, harder and faster than he had ever tried to think in his life. But he could make nothing of it.
He thought of the people, old and young, on the hills, suddenly set adrift from their homes. He thought of his mother and Uncle Cassius and Aunt Letitia without their real home to come back to. And he thought of money—illimitable money: money that could do everything.
He did not want to look at his mother for counsel. The man's talk had gone to his head. But, slowly, unwillingly his eyes came to his mother's, and he saw in hers that steady, steadfast look which told him to wait, wait. He caught the meaning and spoke it brusquely:
"All right. Leave the options here. I'll see what we'll do. And I'll write to you next week."
No. That would not do. The big man must have his answer at once. He stormed at Jeffrey. He appealed to Mrs. Whiting. He blandished Miss Letitia. He even attacked Uncle Cassius, but that guileless man led him off into such a discussion of cross grafting and reforestation that he was glad to drop him.
In the end, he saw that, having committed himself, he could do no better than leave the matter to Jeffrey, trusting that, with time for thought, the boy could not refuse his offer.
So the two men, having breakfasted and rested their horses, set out on the down trip to Lowville.
Late that night Jeffrey Whiting and his mother came to a decision.
"It is too big for us, Jeff," she said. "We do not know what it means. Nobody up here can tell us. The man was lying. But we do not know why, or what about.
"There is one man that could tell us. The White Horse Chaplain, do you remember him, Jeffrey?"
"I guess I do. He sent Ruth away from me."
"Only to give her her chance, my son. Do not forget that. He could tell us what this means. I don't care anything about his religion. Your Uncle Catty thinks he was a ghost even that day at Fort Fisher. I don't. He is the Catholic Bishop of Alden. You'll go to him to-morrow. He'll tell you what it means."
* * * * *
Bishop Joseph Winthrop of Alden was very much worried. For the third time he picked up and read a telegram from the Mother Superior of the Sacred Heart Convent at Athens, telling him that Ruth Lansing had left the convent that morning. But the third perusal of the message did not give him any more light on the matter than the two previous readings had done.
Why should the girl have gone away? What could have happened? Only the other day he had received a letter from her telling of her studies and her progress and of every new thing that was interesting her.
The Bishop thought of the lonely hill home where he had found her "Daddy Tom" dying, and where he had buried him on the hillside. Probably the girl would go back and try to live there. And he thought of the boy who had told him of his love and that he wanted to keep Ruth there in the hills.
As he laid down the telegraph form, his secretary came to the door to tell him that the boy, Jeffrey Whiting, was in the waiting room asking to see him and refusing even to indicate the nature of his business to any one but the Bishop himself.
The Bishop was startled. He had understood that the young man was in Albany at school. Now he thought that he would get a very clear light upon Ruth Lansing's disappearance.
"I came to you, sir," said Jeffrey when the Bishop had given him a chair, "because you could tell us what to do."
"You mean you and your—neighbour, Ruth Lansing?"
"Why, no, sir. What about her?" said Jeffrey quickly.
The Bishop gave the boy one keen, searching look, and saw his mistake. The boy knew nothing.
"This," the Bishop answered, as he handed Jeffrey the open telegram.
"But where's she gone? Why did she go?" Jeffrey broke out, as he read the message.
"I thought you were coming to tell me that."
"No," said Jeffrey, reading the Bishop's meaning quickly. "She didn't write to me, not at all. I suppose the sisters wouldn't have it. But she wrote to my mother and she didn't say anything about leaving there."
"I suppose not," said the Bishop. "She seems to have gone away suddenly. But, I am forgetting. You came to talk to me."
"Yes." And Jeffrey went on to tell, clearly and shortly, of the coming of Rogers and his proposition. Though it hurt, he did not fail to tell how he had been carried away by the man's offer and his flattery. He made it plain that it was only his mother's insight and caution that had held him back from accepting the offer on the instant.
The Bishop, listening, was proud of the down-rightness of the young fellow. It was good to hear. When he had heard all he bowed in his old-fashioned, stiff way and said:
"Your mother, young man, is a rare and wise woman. You will convey to her my deepest respect.
"I do not know what it all means," he went on, in another tone. "But I can soon find out."
He rang a bell, and as his secretary opened the door the Bishop said:
"Will you see, please, if General Chandler is in his office across the street. If he is, give him my respects and ask him to step over here a moment."
The secretary bowed, but hesitated a little in the doorway.
"What is it?" asked the Bishop.
"There is a young girl out there, Bishop. She says she must see you, but she will not give a name. She seems to be in trouble, or frightened."
Jeffrey Whiting was on his feet and making for the door.
"Sit down where you were, young man," said the Bishop sharply. If Ruth Lansing were out there—and the Bishop half believed that she was—well, it might be coincidence. But it was too much for the Bishop's credulity.
"Send the girl in here," he said shortly.
Ruth Lansing walked into the room and went straight to the Bishop. She did not see Jeffrey.
"I came straight here all the way," she said, "to tell you, Bishop, that I couldn't stay in the convent any longer. I am going home. I could not stay there."
"I am very glad to see you, Ruth," said the Bishop easily, "and if you'll just turn around, I think you'll see some one who is even more pleased."
Her startled cry of surprise and pleasure at sight of Jeffrey was abundant proof to the Bishop that the coming of these two to his door was indeed a coincidence.
"Now," said the Bishop quickly, "you will both sit down and listen. It concerns both of you deeply. A man is coming here in a moment, General Chandler. You have both heard of him. He is the political power of this part of the State. He can, if he will, tell us just how serious your situation is up there, Jeffrey. Say nothing. Just listen."
Ruth looked from one to the other with surprise and perhaps a little resentment. For hours she had been bracing her courage for this ordeal of meeting the Bishop, and here she was merely told to sit down and listen to something, she did not know what.
The Bishop rose as General Oliver Chandler was ushered into the room and the two veterans saluted each other with the stiffest of military precision.
"These are two young friends of mine from the hills, General," said the Bishop, as he seated his old friend. "They both own farms in the Beaver Run country. They have come to me to find out what the U. & M. Railroad wants with options on all that country. Can you, will you tell them?"
The General plucked for a moment at the empty left sleeve of his coat.
"No, Bishop," he said finally, "I cannot give out what I know of that matter. The interests behind it are too large for me. I would not dare. I do not often have to say that."
"No," said the Bishop slowly, "I never heard you say that before."
"But I can do this, Bishop," said the General, rising. "If you will come over here to the end of the room, I can tell you, privately, what I know. You can then use your own prudence to judge how much you can tell these young people."
The Bishop followed to the window at the other end of the room, where the two men stood and talked in undertones.
"Jeffrey," said Ruth through teeth that gritted with impatience, "if you don't tell me this instant what it's all about, I'll—I'll bite you!"
Jeffrey laughed softly. It took just that little wild outbreak of hers to convince him that the young lady who had swept into the room and faced the Bishop was really his little playmate, his Ruth, after all.
In quick whispers, he told her all he knew.
The Bishop walked to the door with the General, thanking him. From the door the General saluted gravely and stalked away.
"The answer," said the Bishop quietly, as he came back to them, "is one word—Iron."
To Ruth, it seemed that these men were making a mysterious fuss about nothing. But Jeffrey saw the whole matter instantly.
"No one knows how much there is, or how little there is," said the Bishop. "The man lied to you, Jeffrey. The road has no eminent domain. But they can get it if they get the options on a large part of the farms. Then, when they have the right of eminent domain, they will let the options lapse and buy the properties at their own prices."
"I'll start back to warn the people to-night," said Jeffrey, jumping up. "Maybe they made that offer to other people besides me!"
"Wait," said the Bishop, "there is more to think of. The railroad, if you serve it well, will, no doubt, buy your farm for much more than it is worth to you. There is your mother to be considered first. And they will, very likely, give you a chance to make a small fortune in your commissions, if you are faithful to them. If you go to fight them, they will probably crush you all in the end, and you will be left with little or nothing. Better go slowly, young man."
"What?" cried Jeffrey. "Take their bribe! Take their money, for fooling and cheating the other people out of their homes! Why, before I'd do that, I'd leave that farm and everything that's there and go up into the big woods with only my axe, as my grandfather did. And my mother would follow me! You know that! My mother would be glad to go with me, with nothing, nothing in her hands!"
"And so would I!" said Ruth, springing to her feet. "I would! I would!" she chanted defiantly.
"Well, well, well!" said the Bishop, smiling.
"But you are not going up into the big woods, Jeffrey," Ruth said demurely. "You are going back home to fight them. If I could help you I would go back with you. I would not be of any use. So, I'm going back, to the convent, to face my fight."
"But, but," said Jeffrey, "I thought you were running away."
"I did. I was," said Ruth. "Last night I heard the voice of something calling to me. It was such a big thing," she went on, turning to the Bishop; "it seemed such a pitiless, strong thing that I thought it would crush me. It would take my life and make me do what it wanted, not what I wanted. I was afraid of it. I ran away. It was like a Choir Unseen singing to me to follow, and I didn't dare follow.
"But I heard it again, just now when Jeffrey spoke that way. Now I know what it was. It was the call of life to everybody to face life, to take our souls in our hands and go forward. I thought I could turn back. I can't. God, or life won't let us turn back."
"I know what you mean, child. Fear nothing," said the Bishop. "I'm glad you came away, to have it out with yourself. And you will be very glad now to go back."
"As for you, young man," he turned to Jeffrey, "I should say that your mother would be proud to go anywhere, empty-handed with you. Remember that, when you are in the worst of this fight that is before you. When you are tempted, as you will be tempted, remember it. When you are hard pressed, as you will be hard pressed, remember it."
GLOW OF DAWN
Twinkle-tail was gliding up Beaver Run to his breakfast. It was past the middle of June, or, as Twinkle-tail understood the matter, it was the time when the snow water and the water from the spring rains had already gone down to the Big River: Beaver Run was still a fresh, rushing stream of water, but it was falling fast. Soon there would not be enough water in it to make it safe for a trout as large as he. Then he would have to stay down in the low, deep pond of Beaver River, where the saw-dust came to bother him.
He was going up to lie all the morning in the shallow little pond at the very head of Beaver Run, where the hot, sweet sun beat down and drew the flies to the surface of the pond. He was very fond of flies and the pond was his own. He had made it his own now through four seasons, by his speed and his strong teeth. Even the big, greedy, quarrelsome pike that bullied the river down below did not dispute with him this sweet upper stretch of his own stream. No large fish ever came up this way now, and he did not bother with the little ones. He liked flies better.
His pond lay all clean and silvery and a little cool yet, for the sun was not high enough to have heated it through: a beautiful breakfast room at the bottom of the great bowl of green banks that ran away up on every side to the rim of the high hills.
Twinkle-tail was rather early for breakfast. The sun had not yet begun to draw the flies from their hiding places to buzz over the surface of the water. As he shot into the centre of the pool only one fly was in sight. A rather decrepit looking black fly was doddering about a cat-tail stalk at the edge of the pond. One quick flirt of his body, and Twinkle-tail slid out of the water and took the fly in his leap. But that was no breakfast. He would have to settle down by the cat-tails, in the shadows, and wait for the flies to come.
Twinkle-tail missed something from his pond this season. Always, in other years, two people, a boy and a girl, had come and watched him as he ate his breakfast. The girl had called him Twinkle-tail the very first time they had seen him. But Twinkle-tail had no illusions. They were not friends to him. He loved to lie in the shadow of the cat-tails and watch them as they crept along the edge of the bank. But he knew they came to catch him. When they were there the most tempting flies seemed to appear. Some of those flies fell into the water, others just skimmed the surface in the most aggravating and challenging manner. But Twinkle-tail had always stayed in the cat-tails and watched, and if the boy and girl came to his side of the pond, then a lightning twinkle of his tail was all that told them that he had scooted out of the pool and down into the stream. Once the girl had trailed a piece of flashing red flannel across the water, and Twinkle-tail could not resist. He leaped for it. A terrible hook caught him in the side of the mouth! In his fury and terror he dove and fought until he broke the hook. He had never forgotten that lesson.
But he was forgetting a little this season. No one came to his pool. He was growing big and fat, and a little careless.
As he lay there in the warming sand by the cat-tails, the biggest, juiciest green bottle fly that Twinkle-tail had ever seen came skimming down to the very line of the water. It circled once. Twinkle-tail did not move. It circled twice, not an inch from the water!
A single, sinuous flash of his whole body, and Twinkle-tail was out of the water! He had the fly in his mouth.
Then the struggle began.
Ruth Lansing sprang up, pole in hand, from the shoulder of the bank behind which she had been hiding.
The trout dove and started for the stream, the line ripping through the water like a shot.
The girl ran, leaping from rock to rock, her strong, slender, boy-like body giving and swaying cunningly to every tug of the fish.
He turned and shot swiftly back into the pool, throwing her off her balance and down into the water. She rose wet and angry, clinging grimly to the pole, and splashed her way to the other side of the pond. She did not dare to stand and pull against him, for fear of breaking the hook. She could only race around, giving him all the line she could until he should tire a little.
Three times they fought around the circle of the pool, the taut line singing like a wire in the wind. Ruth's hand was cut where she had fallen on the rocks. She was splashed and muddy from head to foot. Her breath came in great, gulping sobs. But she fought on.
Twice he dragged her a hundred yards down the Run, but she headed him back each time to the pond where she could handle him better. She had never before fought so big a fish all alone. Jeffrey or Daddy Tom had always been with her. Now she found herself calling desperately under her breath to Jeffrey to come to help her. She bit back the words and took a new hold on the pole.
The trout was running blindly now from side to side of the pond. He had lost his cunning. He would soon weaken. But Ruth knew that her strength was nearly gone too. She must use her head quickly.
She gathered herself on the bank for one desperate effort. She must catch him as he ran toward her and try to flick him out of the water. It was her only chance. She might break the line or the pole and lose him entirely, but she would try it.
Twinkle-tail came shooting through the water, directly at her. She suddenly threw her strength on the pole. It bent nearly double but it held. And the fish, adding his own blind rush to her strength, was whipped clear out on to the grass. Dropping the pole, she dove desperately at him where he fought on the very edge of the bank. Finally she caught the line a few inches above his mouth, and her prize was secure.
"It's you, Twinkle-tail," she panted, as she held him up for a good look, "sure enough!"
She carried him back to a large stone and despatched him painlessly with a blunt stick. Then she sat down to rest, for she was weak and dizzy from her struggle.
Looking down at Twinkle-tail where he lay, she said aloud:
"I wish Jeffrey was here. He'll never believe it was you unless he sees you."
"Yes, that's him all right," said a voice behind her. "I'd know him in a thousand."
She sprang up and faced Jeffrey Whiting.
"Why, where did you come from? Your mother told me you wouldn't be back till to-morrow."
"Well, I can go back again and stay till to-morrow if you want me to," said Jeffrey, smiling.
"Oh, Jeff, you know I'm glad to see you. I was awfully disappointed when I got home and found that you were away up in the hills. How is your fight going on? And look at Twinkle-tail," she hurried on a little nervously, for Jeffrey had her hand and was drawing her determinedly to him. She reached for the trout and held him up strategically between them.
"Oh, Fish!" said Jeffrey discontentedly as he saw himself beaten by her ruse.
The girl laughed provokingly up into his sullenly handsome face. Then she seemed to relent, and with a friendly little tug at his arm led him over to the edge of the pool and made him sit down.
"Now tell me," she commanded, "all about your battle with the railroad people. Your mother told me some things, but I want it all, from yourself."
But Jeffrey was still unappeased. He looked at her dress and shoes and said with a show of meanness:
"Ruth, you didn't catch Twinkle-tail fair, on your line. You just walked into the pond and got him in a corner and kicked him to death brutally. I know you did. You're always cruel."
Ruth laughed, and showed him the jagged cut in her hand where she had fallen on the rocks.
Instantly he was all interest and contrition. He must wash the hand and dress it! But she made him sit where he was, while she knelt down by the water and bathed the smarting hand and bound it with her handkerchief.
"Now," she said, "tell me."
"Well," he began, when he saw that there was nothing to be gained by delay, "the very night that the Bishop of Alden told me that they had found iron in the hills here and that they were going to try to push us all out of our homes, I started out to warn the people. I found I wasn't the only man that the railroad had tried to buy. They had Rafe Gadbeau, you know he's a kind of a political boss of the French around French Village; and a man named Sayres over on Forked Lake.
"Gadbeau had no farm of his own to sell, but he'd been spending money around free, and I knew the railroad must have given it to him outright. I told him what I had found out, about the iron and what the land would be worth if the farmers held on to it. But I might as well have held my breath. He didn't care anything about the interests of the people that had land. He was getting paid well for every option that he could get. And he was going to get all he could. I will have trouble with that man yet.
"The other man, Sayres, is a big land-owner, and a good man. They had fooled him, just as that man Rogers I told you about fooled me. He had started out in good faith to help the railroad get the properties over on that side of the mountains, thinking it was the best thing for the people to do to sell out at once. When I told him about their finding iron, he saw that they had made a catspaw of him; and he was the maddest man you ever saw.
"He is a big man over that way, and his word was worth ten of mine. He went right out with me to warn every man who had a piece of land not to sign anything.
"Three weeks ago Rogers, who is handling the whole business for the railroad, came up here and had me arrested on charges of extortion and conspiring to intimidate the land-owners. They took me down to Lowville, but Judge Clemmons couldn't find anything in the charges. So I was let go. But they are not through. They will find some way to get me away from here yet."
"How does it stand now?" said Ruth thoughtfully. "Have they actually started to build the railroad?"
"Oh, yes. You know they have the right of way to run the road through. But they wouldn't build it, at least not for years yet, only that they want to get this iron property opened up. Why, the road is to run from Welden to French Village and there is not a single town on the whole line! The road wouldn't have business enough to keep the rust off. They're building the road just the same, so that shows that they intend to get our property some way, no matter what we do. And I suppose they will, somehow," he added sullenly. "They always do, I guess."
"But the people," said Ruth, "can't you get them all to join and agree to sell at a fair price? Wouldn't that be all right?"
"They don't want to buy. They won't buy at any fair price. They only want to get options enough to show the Legislature and the Governor, and then they will be granted eminent domain and they can have the land condemned and can buy it at the price of wild land."
"Oh, yes; I remember now. That's what the Bishop said. Isn't it strange," she went on slowly, "how he seems to come into everything we do. How he saved my Daddy Tom's life that time at Fort Fisher. And how he came here that night when Daddy was hurt. And how he picked us up and turned us around and sent me off to convent. And now how he seems to come into all this.
"Everybody calls him the Shepherd of the North," she went on. "I wonder if he comes into the lives of all the people that way. At the convent everybody seems to think of him as belonging to them personally. I resented it at first, because I thought I had more reason to know him than anybody. But I found that everybody felt the same way."
"He's just like the Catholic Church," said Jeffrey suddenly, and a little sharply; "he comes into everything."
"Why, Jeffrey," said Ruth in surprise, "what do you know about the Church?"
"I know," he answered. "I've read some. And I've had to deal a lot with the French people up toward French Village. And I've talked with their priest up there. You know you have to talk to the priest before it's any use talking to them. That's the way with the Catholic Church. It comes into everything. I don't like it."
He sat looking across the pool for a moment, while Ruth quietly studied the stubborn, settling lines of his face. She saw that a few months had made a big change in the boy and playmate that she had known. He was no longer the bright-faced, clear-eyed boy. His face was turning into a man's face. Sharp, jagged lines of temper and of harshness were coming into it. It showed strength and doggedness and will, along with some of the dour grimness of his fathers. She did not dislike the change altogether. But it began to make her a little timid. She was quick to see from it that there would be certain limits beyond which she could not play with this new man that she found.
"It's all right to be religious," he went on argumentatively. "Mother's religious. And Aunt Letty's just full of it. But it don't interfere with their lives. It's all right to have a preacher for marrying or dying or something like that; and to go to hear him if you want to. But the Catholic Church comes right in to where those people live. It tells them what to do and what to think about everything. They don't dare speak without looking back to it to find out what they must say. I don't like it."
"Why, Jeffrey, I'm a Catholic!"
"I knew it!" he said stubbornly. "I knew it! I knew there was something that had changed you. And I might have known it was that."
"That's funny!" said the girl, breaking in quickly. "When you came I was just wondering to myself why it had not seemed to change me at all. I think I was half disappointed with myself, to think that I had gone through a wonderful experience and it had left me just the same as I was before."
"But it has changed you," he persisted. "And it's going to change you a lot more. I can see it. Please, Ruth," he said, suddenly softening, "you won't let it change you? You won't let it make any difference, with us, I mean?"
The girl looked soberly and steadily up into his face, and said:
"No, Jeffrey. It won't make any difference with us, in the way you mean.
"So long as we are what we are," she said again after a pause, "we will be just the same to each other. If it should make something different out of me than what I am, then, of course, I would not be the same to you. Or if you should change into something else, then you would not be the same to me.
"It's too soon," she continued decisively. "Nothing is clear to me, yet. I've just entered into a great, wonderful world of thought and feeling that I never knew existed. Where it leads to, I do not know. When I do know, Jeffrey dear, I'll tell you."