* * * * *
- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
* * * * *
THE WINDY HILL
BY CORNELIA MEIGS
The Pool of Stars Master Simon's Garden The Steadfast Princess The Kingdom of the Winding Road
THE WINDY HILL
BY CORNELIA MEIGS
New York THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 1922
All rights reserved
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped. Published August, 1921.
FERRIS PRINTING COMPANY NEW YORK CITY
I THE BEEMAN 7
II THE SEVEN BROTHERS OF THE SUN 26
III JOHN MASSEY'S LANDLORD 47
IV THE GARDEN WALL 66
V THE GHOST SHIP 77
VI JANET'S ADVENTURE 99
VII THE PORTRAIT OF CICELY 113
VIII THE FIDDLER OF APPLE TREE LANE 127
IX THE FIDDLER OF APPLE TREE LANE (Continued) 145
X A MAN OF STRAW 159
XI THREE COUSINS 173
XII MEDFORD RIVER 195
THE WINDY HILL
The road was a sunny, dusty one, leading upward through Medford Valley, with half-wooded hills on each side whose far outline quivered in the hot, breathless air of mid-June afternoon. Oliver Peyton seemed to have no regard for heat or dust, however, but trudged along with such a determined stride that people passing turned to look after him, and more than one swift motor car curved aside to give him room.
"Want a ride?" inquired one genial farmer, drawing up beside him. "Where are you going?"
Oliver turned to answer the first question, meaning to reply with a relieved "yes," but his square, sunburned face hardened at the second.
"Oh, I am just going down the road—a little way," he replied stiffly, shook his head at the repeated offer of a lift, and tramped on in the dust.
The next man he met seemed also to feel a curiosity as to his errand, for he stopped a very old, shambling horse to lean from his seat and ask point-blank: "Where may you be going in such a hurry on such a hot day?"
Oliver, looking up at the person who addressed him and gauging his close-set, hard gray eyes and his narrow, dark face, conceived an instant dislike and distrust of the stranger. He replied shortly, as he had before, but with less good temper:
"I am going down the road a little way. And, as you say, I am rather in a hurry."
"Oh, are you indeed?" returned the man, measuring the boy up and down with a disagreeable, inquisitive glance. "In too much of a hurry to have your manners with you, even!" He shot him a look of keen and hostile penetration. "It almost looks as though you were running away from something."
He stopped for no further comment but went jingling off in his rattletrap cart, the cloud of dust raised by his old horse's clumsy feet hanging long in the air behind him. Oliver plodded forward, muttering dark threats against the disagreeable stranger, and wishing that he had been sufficiently quick of speech to contradict him.
Yet the random guess was a correct one, and running away was just what Oliver was doing. He had not really meant to when he came out through the pillared gateway of his cousin's place; he had only thought that he would walk down the road toward the station—and see the train come in. Yet the resolve had grown within him as he thought of all that had passed in the last few days, and as he looked forward to what was still to come. As he walked down the road, rattling the money in his pockets, turning over his wrongs in his mind, the thought had come swiftly to him that he need no longer endure things as they were. It was three miles to the railroad station; but, once there, he could be whisked away from all the troubles that had begun to seem unendurable. The inviting whistle of a train seemed to settle the matter finally.
"It isn't as though I were afraid of anything," he reflected, looking back uneasily. "If I thought I were afraid I would never go away and leave Janet behind like this. No, I am only going because I will not be made to do what I hate."
He told himself this several times by way of reassurance, but seemed always to find it necessary to say it again. There were some strange things about the place where he and his younger sister Janet had come to make a visit, things that made him feel, even on the first day, that the whole house was haunted by some vague disquiet of which no one would tell him the cause. His Cousin Jasper had changed greatly since they had last seen him. He had always been a man of quick, brilliant mind but of mild and silent manners, yet now he was nervous, irritable, and impatient, in no sense a genial host.
Janet, Oliver's sister, had already begun to love the place, nor did she seem to notice the uneasiness that appeared to fill the house. She did not remember her cousin as well as did her brother and was thus less conscious of a change. So far, she had been spending her time very happily, being shown by Mrs. Brown, the housekeeper, through the whole of Cousin Jasper's great mansion and inspecting all the treasures that it contained. It was a new house, built only a year ago.
"And a real calamity it was when the work came to an end so soon," Mrs. Brown had said, "for it kept Mr. Peyton interested and happy all the time it was going on. We had hoped the south wing would be building these three months more."
Janet thought the great rooms were very beautiful, but Oliver did not like their vast silence in which the slightest sound seemed so disconcertingly loud. He was not used to such a quiet house, for their own home was a cozy, shabby dwelling, full of the stir and bustle and laughter of happy living. Here the boy found that noises would burst from him in the most unexpected and involuntary manner, noises that the long rooms and passageways seemed to take up and echo and magnify a hundred times. Mrs. Brown was constantly urging him "not to disturb poor Mr. Peyton," and Hotchkiss, the butler, who went about with silent footsteps, always looked pained when Oliver slammed a door or made a clatter on the stairs. He had never seen a butler before, except in the movies, so that he found the presence of Hotchkiss somewhat oppressive.
It was the change in his host, however, that had really spoiled the visit. Jasper Peyton was a cousin of his mother's, younger than she and very fond of her and her children. At their house he was always a much-desired guest, for he had "the fairy-godfather gift," as their mother put it, and was constantly doing delightful things for them. He was tall and spare, with a thin, sensitive face that, so it seemed to Oliver, was always smiling then, but that never smiled now.
The boy had noted a difference on the evening of their arrival, even as they drove up to the house through the warm darkness and the drifting fragrance of the June night.
"I can hardly remember how Cousin Jasper looks, but I think I will like his garden," Janet had observed, sniffing vigorously.
Oliver nodded, but he was not listening. He was looking up at the lighted house where the door stood open, with Hotchkiss waiting, and where he could see, through the long windows facing the terrace, that Cousin Jasper was hurrying through the library to meet them in the hall. Even at that distance their cousin did not look the same; he walked slower, he had lost his erect carriage and his old energy of action. He seemed a thin, high-shouldered ghost of his former self, with all spirit and cheerfulness gone out of him.
Janet and Oliver were paying their first visit without their mother, and, to guests of thirteen and fifteen respectively, such an occasion was no small cause for excitement. For that reason they were very slow to admit that they were not enjoying themselves, but the truth at last could not be denied. Cousin Jasper, preoccupied and anxious, left them almost completely to their own devices, neglected to provide any amusement for them, and seemed, at times, to forget even that they were there.
"You are a great comfort to him, my dears. He seems worried and distracted-like lately," Mrs. Brown had told them. "He does not like to be in this great house alone."
To Oliver it seemed that their presence meant very little, a fact which caused him to puzzle, to chafe and, finally, as was fairly natural, to grow irritated. After he and Janet had explored the house and garden, there seemed nothing left to do for Oliver but to stroll up and down the drive, stare through the tall gates at the motors going by, or to spend hours in the garage, sitting on a box and watching Jennings, the chauffeur, tinker with the big car that was so seldom used. Janet was able to amuse herself better, but her brother, by the third day, had reached a state of disappointed boredom that was almost ready, at any small thing, to flare out into open revolt. The very small thing required was the case of Cousin Eleanor.
They were all walking up and down the terrace on the third evening, directly after dinner, the boy and girl trying to accommodate their quick steps to Cousin Jasper's slower and less vigorous ones. Their host was talking little; Janet, with an effort, was attending politely to what he said, but Oliver was allowing his wits to go frankly woolgathering. It was still light enough to look across the slopes of the green valley and to see the shining silver river and the roofs of one or two big houses like their own, set each in its group of clustering trees. Beyond the stream, with its borders of yellow-green willows, there rose a smooth, round hill, bare of woods, or houses, with only one huge tree at the very top and with what seemed like a tiny cottage clinging to the slope just below the summit.
"Where that river bends at the foot of the hill, there ought to be rapids and good fishing," the boy was thinking. "Perhaps I might get over there to see, some day."
He was suddenly conscious, with a flush of guilt, that Cousin Jasper was asking him a question, but had stopped in the middle of a sentence, realizing that Oliver was not listening.
"So," he interrupted himself, "an old man's talk does not interest you, eh?"
He followed Oliver's glance down to the crooked river, and made an attempt to guess his thought.
"You were looking at that big stone house beyond the stream," he said, "and I suppose you were wondering who lives there."
He seemed to be making an effort to turn the conversation into more interesting channels, so that Oliver immediately gave him his full, but tardy attention.
"A cousin of mine owns the house. We are really all cousins or are related more or less, we who own the land in Medford Valley. But Tom Brighton is of closer kin to me than the others and I am very fond of him. We have both been too busy, just lately, to exchange as many visits as we used to do, but he has a daughter, Eleanor, just about your age, Oliver, a thoroughly nice girl, who would make a good playmate for both of you. I am neglecting your pleasure, I must have you meet her. You should see each other every day."
The suggestion seemed to afford Janet great delight; but, for some reason, it had the opposite effect upon Oliver. Perhaps Cousin Jasper did not know a great deal about younger people, perhaps he had not been taking sufficient note of the ways and feelings of this particular two, for it was quite certain that he had made a mistake. Oliver cared very little for girls, and to have this one thrust upon him unawares as a daily companion was not to his liking.
"It will be very nice for Janet," he remarked ungraciously, "but I—I don't have much to do with girls."
Some pure perversity made him picture his Cousin Eleanor as a prim young person, with sharp elbows and a pinched nose and stringy hair. She would be lifeless and oppressively good-mannered, he felt certain. All the ill success of the last three days seemed to be behind his sudden determination to have none of her. But Cousin Jasper, having once conceived the idea, was not to be gainsaid.
"No, I haven't been doing the proper thing for you. We will have Eleanor over to lunch to-morrow and you two shall go with Jennings in the car to fetch her. Don't protest, it won't be any trouble."
Later, as they went upstairs, Janet pleaded and argued with a thunderously rebellious Oliver who vowed and insisted that he would have no unknown female cousin thrust upon him.
"It is all right for you, Janet," he insisted, "but I won't have Cousin Jasper arranging any such thing for me. When I told him I didn't like girls, he should have listened. No, I don't care if it is wrong, I am going to tell him, to-morrow, just what I think."
Janet shook her brown, curly head in despair.
"I believe you will have to do what he says, in the end," she declared.
The next morning, at breakfast time, Oliver had not relented, for a night haunted by visions of this unknown cousin had in no way added to his peace of mind.
"I have been thinking about that girl you spoke about," he began, looking across the table and over the wide bowl of sweet peas to fix his cousin with a glance of firm determination, "and I don't really care to meet her. Janet can go to fetch her, but—you mustn't expect—I don't know how——"
His defense broke down and Cousin Jasper was ill-advised enough to laugh.
"Stuff and nonsense," he said. "If you are afraid of girls it is time you got over it. I have telephoned Eleanor already, but she couldn't come." Oliver brightened, but relapsed, the next moment, into deeper gloom than ever. "She said that she would be at home later in the afternoon, so you and Janet are to go over and call on her. I have ordered the motor for three o'clock."
It was Janet's suppressed giggle that added the last spark to Oliver's kindling anger. He was fond of his Cousin Jasper, he was troubled concerning him, and disturbed by the haunting feeling that something was wrong in the big house. Yet baffled anxiety often leads to irritation, and irritation, in Oliver's case, was being tactlessly pushed into rage. He said little, for he was a boy of few words, nor, so he told himself, could he really be rude to Cousin Jasper no matter how foolishly obstinate he was.
"But I'll get out of it somehow," he reflected stormily as he gulped down his breakfast and strode out into the garden. "I'll think of a way."
Cudgel his brains as he might, however, he could think of no plausible escape from the difficulty. He had found no excuse by lunch time, and was relieved that Cousin Jasper did not appear, being deep in some task in his study. At half past two Janet went upstairs to dress and Hotchkiss came to Oliver in the library to say:
"The car was to be ready at three o'clock, sir. Is that correct?"
To which Oliver replied desperately:
"Tell Jennings to make it half past three. I am going for a walk."
So he had plunged out through the gates and, once away down the dusty road, he became more and more of a rebel and finally a fugitive.
"I won't go back," he kept saying to himself. "I won't go back."
There was enough money in his pocket to take him home, and there was a train from the junction at three. He could telephone from there, very briefly, that he was going and that Hotchkiss was to send his things. He was beginning to discover some use for a butler, after all.
He trudged on, growing very hot, but feeling more and more relieved at the thought of escape. The way, however, was longer than he had imagined, and three o'clock came, with the station not yet in sight. There was another train at five, he remembered, but thought that it would be better not to spend the intervening time waiting openly on the platform. He would be missed long before then and Jennings and Janet, or perhaps even Cousin Jasper himself, would come to look for him. It would be better for him to cross the nearest meadow and spend the two hours in the woods, or he might settle the question over which he had been wondering, whether there were really fish in that sharp bend of the river.
He climbed a stone wall and dropped knee-deep into a field of hay and daisies. Toward the right, a quarter of a mile away, he could see the house of gray stone standing in the midst of wide, green gardens and approached by an elm-bordered drive. At that very moment he should have been rolling up to the door in Cousin Jasper's big car, to inquire for the much-detested Eleanor Brighton. He made a wry face at the thought and went hurrying down the slope of the hayfield, passed through a grove of oak and maple trees, and reached the river. It was a busy, swift little stream, talking to itself among the tall grasses as the current swept down toward the sea. A rough bridge spanned it just below the bend, and here he could stand and see the fish; for they were there, as he had thought. In the absence of fishing tackle, he could only watch them, but the sound of a car, passing on a road near by, made him hurry on.
Now, he felt, he was away from passers-by indeed! Another stone wall, patterned with lichen, separated him from the briar-filled wilderness of an old, abandoned orchard. Each one of the twisted apple trees looked at least a thousand years of age, so bent, gnarled, and misshapen had it become. Through the straight rows he could look up the slope of the round hill that he had so often watched from Cousin Jasper's garden, he could make out the roof line of the tiny, dilapidated cottage, and could see that the big tree at the summit was an oak. The orchard was a deserted waste and the house seemed uninhabited. Yet just below the summit, the hill was dotted with small, boxlike structures, painted white, that might have been chicken houses, but seemed scarcely large enough. Filled with curiosity, he went forward to investigate, munching, as he went, a yellow June apple that he had picked up in the grass.
A rough lane opened before him, that passed through the orchard and wound up the hill, with its high grass trodden a little as though, after all, people did sometimes pass that way. He had climbed only a little way when he heard voices.
The tumble-down cottage was not empty, as he had thought, for two people were standing in the doorway. He stopped abruptly. The man in worn overalls and the girl beside him, with her bobbed hair, bright eyes, and faded pink gingham apron, did not look like a very forbidding pair. But Oliver's uneasy conscience made him feel that any person he met might guess his plans in some mysterious way and interfere with his escape. Very quietly he turned about and began to hurry down the hill. He had retreated too late, however, for the man had seen him and proceeded to call after him in what seemed a very peremptory tone:
For a moment, Oliver hesitated, uncertain whether to obey or to take to his heels and seek safety in the wood below. Could the man have read his secret, or was the apple in his hand the cause of the summons? Before he could really decide, the girl's voice was raised also—pleading and urgent.
"We need you," she called. "You must help us. Oh, don't go away!"
He turned slowly and went toward them through the tall grass, uncertain, suspicious, afraid even yet that he might fall into some trap that would delay his flight. His uneasiness was not in any way quieted by his seeing that one of the white boxes stood, uncovered, before the two and that it was a beehive.
"You have come just in time," said the man, "if you are willing to help us. It is a difficult business, hiving a swarm of bees at this season, and Polly, here, is no use at all. This is her first day with the bees this year, and she jumps up and down when they sing around her head, and that stops everything."
"I do better usually," the girl confessed humbly, "but I forget, over the winter, how to be quiet and calm when a million bees are buzzing in my ear."
She thrust into Oliver's hand the leather and metal bellows that blows wood smoke into the hive, and her father began giving him directions as unconcernedly as though his helping were a matter of course.
"Just stand beside me, stay very still, and keep blowing smoke; that is right. Don't move and never mind how close the bees come. There is no danger of your being stung."
The square white box was full of wooden frames, hanging one behind another, like the leaves of a book. One by one the man lifted them out, swept off the black curtain of bees that clung to them, and showed the clean, new, sweet-smelling honeycomb.
"When an old hive gets too crowded, and the bees begin to swarm," he explained, "we divide them and put some frames and bees into a new, empty hive. See them going to work already, and look at that piece of comb that has just been built; one would think that the fairies had made it."
Oliver had never seen anything so white and thin and delicate as the frail new cells ready for the fresh honey. He forgot any dread of the myriad creatures buzzing about his head, he forgot even his plan, and his impatience of delay. He bent to peer into the hive, to examine the young bees just hatching, the fat, black, and brown drones and the slim, alert queen bee. The girl, now that the responsibility of helping was off her hands, forgot her own nervousness and pressed forward also to look and ask questions. She must be about thirteen or fourteen years old, was Oliver's vague impression of her; she had dark hair and quick, brown eyes, her cheeks were very pink, and one of them was decorated with a black smudge from the smoke blower. He was too intent to notice her much or to remember his fearful dread of girls. And of course this little thing in the shabby apron was very different from the threatened Cousin Eleanor.
He could not see much of the man's face under the worn straw hat, as they bent over the hive, but he liked the slow, drawling voice that answered his innumerable questions and he found the chuckling laugh irresistibly infectious. The stranger's brown hands moved with steady skill among the horde of crawling insects, until the last frame was set in place, the last puff of smoke blown, and the cover was put down.
"There, young man," said the beekeeper, "that was a good job well done, thanks to you; but you must not go yet. Polly and I always have a little lunch here in the honey house when we have finished, to revive us after our exhausting labor."
Oliver was about to protest that he must go on at once, but the man interrupted him, with a twinkle in his eye.
"There is a spring behind the house where we wash up," he said. "Polly will give you some soap and a towel. Wood smoke smells good, but it is just as black as the soft-coal kind."
When he looked at himself a moment later in the mirror of the spring, Oliver realized that he was scarcely fit to start on a journey, since, in his energetic wielding of the smoker he had smudged his face far worse than even Polly had. He began splashing and scrubbing, but honey and soot and the odd, sticky glue with which bees smear their hives are none of them easy to remove. When he presented himself once more at the door of the cottage, there was a feast spread out on the rough table—buttered and toasted biscuits spread with honey, iced cocoa with whipped cream, and a big square chocolate cake. Quite suddenly he remembered how far he had walked and how hungry he was and with equal suddenness forgot his pressing necessity for setting off again. He sat down on the three-legged stool that the Beeman offered him, sampled the hot biscuit and the cold drink, and breathed a deep, involuntary sigh of content. In the presence of these friendly, shabbily dressed strangers he felt, for the first time since leaving home, really happy and at ease.
It seemed dark and cool within the little cottage after the blazing sunshine outside. The place was evidently no longer used for anything but a storehouse and a shelter for picnics of this kind, but it was a quaint, attractive little dwelling and evidently very old. The main room where they sat had a big-beamed ceiling, deep casement windows, and a door that swung open in two sections, one above the other. The upper half was wide open now, framing a sun-bathed picture of the green slope, the treetops of the orchard, and the rising hills opposite, with a narrow glimpse of sparkling, blue sea. The air was very hot and quiet, with the sleepy peacefulness that belongs to summer afternoons. The round, dense shadow of the oak tree above them was lengthening so that its cool tip just touched the doorstone.
Polly, with hands as brown and skillful as her father's, was still toasting biscuits before the little fire they had built on the rough hearth. The Beeman, having taken off his hat, showed a handsome, cheery face much like his daughter's, except that his big nose was straight, rather than tilted like her small one, and his eyes were gray. Their clothes were even older and shabbier than Oliver had at first observed, but their manners were so easy and cordial that the whole of the little house seemed filled with the pleasant atmosphere of friendliness.
Polly left the fire at last, bringing a plate of hot biscuits, and sat down beside the table.
"Daddy always tells me a story when we have finished with the bees," she began a little shyly. "He said he had one saved up in his head that I would especially like. You won't mind our going on with it, will you?"
Oliver would not mind at all. He felt assured already that he would like anything that the Beeman had to say.
"I suppose you must have it, if your heart is set on it," Polly's father said, "but my tales are usually designed for an audience of only one. This young gentleman may not like our style of stories, my dear."
"I hope he will," replied Polly, "but—oh, daddy, I forgot all about it, didn't we have an engagement some time about now, at home?"
"No," he returned so positively that his daughter, though at first a little puzzled, seemed quite satisfied. "It is quite all right for us to stay here."
He chuckled for a moment, as though over some private joke of his own, then at last laid down his pipe and crossed his legs. Oliver leaned back against the wall and Polly curled up on the bench by the fireplace.
"Are you both quite comfortable?" the Beeman inquired. "Very well, then I'll begin."
THE SEVEN BROTHERS OF THE SUN
Nashola did not live in fairyland, although there were seasons when his country was so beautiful that it might well have belonged to some such enchanted place. He did not know whether he loved it best when the thickets were all in bloom with pink crab apple and the brown, wintry hills had put on their first spring green, or when every valley was scarlet and golden with frost-touched maple trees in the autumn. But to-day it was neither, being hot midsummer, with the wild grass thick and soft on the slope of the hill that he was climbing, and with the heavy foliage of the oak tree on the summit rustling in a hot, fitful breeze. It was high noontide with the sunlight all about him, yet Nashola walked warily and looked back more than once at his comrades who had dared follow him only halfway up the hill. His was no ordinary errand, for, all about him, Nashola felt dangers that he could neither hear nor see. Before him, sitting motionless as a statue, with his back against the trunk of the oak tree and his keen, hawk-like face turned toward the hills and the sky, was Secotan, the sorcerer and medicine man, whom all of Nashola's tribe praised, revered, and dreaded.
None but the full-grown warriors used to venture to have speech with him, and then only as he sat in the door of his lodge, with the men in a half circle before him. They never came alone. Along all the seaboard, the Indians talked of Secotan, the man most potent in spells and charms and prophecies, who was said to talk with strange spirits in his lodge by night and who could call up storms out of the sea at will. This spot at the summit of the hill, where the medicine man sat so often, sometimes muttering spells, sometimes staring straight before him across the valley, was magic forbidden ground, where no one but himself was known to come. Yet the young Nashola, only fifteen years old, and far from being a warrior, had been told that he must consult the medicine man and had been in too much haste to seek him in his own lodge or to wait until he could persuade a comrade to go with him.
Stretched along the river below them was the camp of Nashola's brown-skinned people, where springs gave them fresh water and where the eastern hills of the valley gave shelter from the winter storms that blew in from the sea. Beyond those green hills were rocky slopes, salt swamps, a stretch of yellow sand, and then the great Atlantic rollers, tumbling in upon the beach. The Indians of Nashola's village would go thither sometimes to dig for clams, to fish from the high rocks, and even, on occasions, to swim in the breakers close to shore. But they were land-abiding folk, they feared nothing in the forest, and would launch their canoes in the most headlong rapids of the inland rivers; yet there was dread and awe in their eyes when they looked out upon the sea. Not one of them had ever ventured beyond the island at the mouth of the harbor.
They were a shifting, wandering people, moving here and there with the seasons, as the deer and moose moved their grazing grounds, but their most settled abiding place was this little green valley where they spent a part of every year. Sometimes word would come drifting in, through other tribes, of strange, white-faced men who had landed on their shores, but who always sailed away again, since this was still the time when America was all the Indians' own. What they did not see troubled them little and they went on, undisturbed, hunting and fishing and paying their vows to the spirits and demons that they thought to be masters of their little world.
The old, wrinkled squaw who was Nashola's grandmother was the only one of them all who seemed oppressed with care. The boy, whose parents were dead, was her special charge and was not, as he should be, like other Indian lads. He was slim and swift and was as skillful as his companions with the bow and spear, but he had a strange love for running along the sea beach with the waves snatching at his bare, brown legs, and he was really happy only when he was swimming in the green water. The day he swam to the island and back again, paying no heed to the shouts and warnings of his friends, and declaring, when he landed, that he would have gone farther save that the tide had turned—that day had brought his old grandmother's patience to an end.
"It is not fitting that one of our tribe should be so familiar with the sea," she stormed at him. "We were not born to master that wild salt water; the gods that rule us have said over and over again that the woods and rivers are ours, but that we are to have no dealings with the spirits of the sea. Since I cannot make you listen, you shall talk to some one who will. You shall go to ask the medicine man if what I say is not so."
Nashola had come, therefore, to ask his question, but he found that it needed a bold heart to advance, without quaking, into that silent presence and to speak out with Secotan's black eyes seeming to stare him through and through.
"Is it true," he began, "that men of our tribe should have no trust in the sea? My grandmother says that I should hate it and fear it, but I do not. Must I learn to be afraid?"
Slowly the man nodded.
Most Indians grow old quickly, and are withered like dried-up apples as soon as the later years come upon them. But Secotan, although his hair was gray, had still the clear-cut face with its arched nose and heavy brows of a younger man. Only his eyes, deep, piercing, and very wise, seemed to show how long he had lived and how much he had learned.
"Our fathers and their fathers before them have always known that we must distrust the sea," he said at last. "No matter how blue and smiling it may be it can never be our friend. We may swim near the shore, we may even launch our canoes and journey, if the way be short, from one harbor to another when the sky is clear and the winds are asleep. But always we are to remember that the sea is our enemy and a treacherous enemy in the end."
He turned away to stare at the hills again, but Nashola lingered, not yet satisfied. It was unheard-of boldness to question Secotan's words, yet the boy could not keep his hot protests to himself.
"But is it not wrong to pretend to fear what we do not?" he objected. "Do the spirits of the water actually rise up and tell you that we must keep to the shore? I do not believe it, although my grandmother says so until my ears ring again."
Secotan turned his head quickly, as though to hide the ghost of a smile.
"The voices of the wind and the breakers and of the thunder all cry the same message," he declared, "and wise men have learned that it warns them to hug the land. You must heed your grandmother, even though her words are shrill and often repeated."
He would say no more, so Nashola went away, pondering his answer as he walked down the hill. After all, no harm had come to him from entering the medicine man's presence unbidden, as his comrades had all said. He answered their questions very shortly as they came crowding about him, and to the persistent queries of his grandmother he would say nothing at all. Yet the others noticed that his canoe lay unused in the shelter of a rock on the sandy beach where he had left it, and that he swam in the sea no more.
The days passed, the hot, quiet summer passing with them. One evening, as they all sat about the camp fire, one of the older warriors said quietly:
"The time is near when our medicine man must go from us."
"Why?" questioned Nashola's grandmother, while the boy turned quickly to hear.
"He has not sat upon the hill nor before the door of his lodge for three days, and the venison and corn we have carried to him have lain untouched for all that time. One of us who ventured close heard a cry from within and groaning. It may be that he must die."
"But will no one help him?" cried Nashola. It was not proper that a boy should speak out in the presence of the older warriors, but he could not keep his wonder to himself.
"There is danger to common folk in passing too close to the medicine man's lodge," his grandmother explained quickly. "There are spirits within who are his friends but who might destroy us. And when he is ill unto death and the beings from another world have come to bear his soul away, then must no man go near."
"Sometimes a medicine man has a companion to whom he teaches his wisdom and who takes his place when he is gone," said the man by the fire. "But even that comrade flees away when death is at hand and the spirits begin to stand close about his master. Yes, such a man must die alone."
All through the night Nashola lay awake, thinking of what he had heard. Secotan was, he knew, a man of powerful magic, but he could not forget that there was a look in his eyes and a kindliness in his tone that seemed human, after all. Must he suffer and die there, without help, merely because he was greater and wiser than the rest? Or, when death came close and the host of unearthly beings gathered about him, would he not feel it of comfort to have a living friend by his side? It was long past midnight and in the black darkness that comes before day, before the boy came to final resolution.
He crawled out from under the shelter of his lodge and slipped noiselessly through the sleeping camp. Every rustle in the grass, every stirring leaf in the thicket made him jump and shiver, yet he kept steadily on. The sharp outline of Secotan's pointed lodge poles stood out against the stars, halfway up the shoulder of the hill. The door showed black and open as he came near, but there was no sound from within. The only thing that seemed alive was a dull, glowing coal in the ashes of a fire that was not quite dead. The boy stooped down before the door and spoke in a shaking voice:
"Secotan, Secotan, do you still live?"
A hollow, gasping whisper sounded from the shadows within:
"I am living, but death is very near."
Nashola stood still for a moment. He could picture that gaunt figure lying helpless on the ground, with the darkness all about peopled by strange shapes visible to the sorcerer's eyes alone, crowding spirits come to carry him away to an unknown world. But even as a wave of icy terror swept over him, he remembered how fearful it would be to lie all alone in that haunted darkness, and he bent low and slipped through the door.
"I know that all the spirits of the earth and air and water are with you," he said as he felt his way to the deerskin bed and sat down beside it, "but I thought, among them all, you might wish for a friend beside you who was flesh and blood."
A quivering hand was laid for an instant on his knee.
"There is no man who does not feel terror when he comes to die alone," the medicine man whispered, "and Secotan is less of a man than you."
Through the dragging hours Nashola sat beside him, listening with strained ears to every sound—the soft moving of a snake through the grass before the door, the nibbling of a field mouse at the skin of the tent, the sharp scream of a bird in the wood captured by a marauding owl. The blackness grew thinner at last, showing the lodge poles, the shabby skins of the bed, and finally the sick man's face, drawn and haggard with pain. As the dawn came up over the hills, he opened his eyes and spoke:
"Bring those herbs that hang against the lodge pole and build up the fire. When the stones about it are hot, wrap them in wet blankets and lay them in the tent. The gods may have decreed that I am to live."
Nashola worked frantically all through the day. He filled the lodge with steam from the hot stones, he brewed bitter drafts of herbs and held them to Secotan's lips once in every hour by the sun. After a long time he saw the fever ebb, saw the man's eyes lose their strange glittering, and heard his voice gather strength each time he spoke. For three nights and days the boy nursed him, all alone in the lodge, with men bringing food to leave at the door but with no one willing to come inside. When at last Nashola went back to his own dwelling, Secotan was sitting, by his fire, weak and thin, but fairly on the way to health again.
The friendship that had grown up during that night of suffering and terror seemed to become deeper and deeper as time passed. There was scarcely a day when Nashola did not climb the hill in the late afternoon to sit under the rustling oak tree and talk for a long hour with the medicine man. His companions of his own age looked askance at such a friendship and his grandmother begged and scolded, but without avail.
Almost always, as he sat with his back against the tree, or lay full length in the long grass that was beginning to be dry and yellow with the coming autumn, the boy would fix his eyes upon the hills opposite through which there showed a gleam of sea. Like the picture of some forbidden thing was that glint of blue, framed by the green slopes and the sky above. He could see the whitecaps, the dancing glimmer of the sun, and the gray sea gulls that whirled and hovered and dipped before his longing gaze. He would lift his head to sniff the salt breeze that swept through the cleft in the hills, and to listen for that far-off thunder that could sometimes be heard as the great waves broke on the beach. At last, one day when he had sat so long with his friend that dusk was falling and the stars were coming out, he broke through the silence with a sudden question:
"Secotan, what lies beyond that sea?"
The medicine man shook his head without speaking.
"My grandmother says 'Nothing,'" pursued Nashola, "but I know that cannot be. Is it one of the things that I must not ask and that you may not tell me because you are a sorcerer and I am only a boy?"
Secotan was silent so long that Nashola thought he did not mean to reply at all. Even when he spoke it did not seem to be an answer.
"Do you see those seven stars?" he said, "that are rising from the sea and that march so close together that you keep thinking they are going to melt into one?"
"Yes," answered the boy. "I often lie before our lodge door and watch them go up the sky. There are bigger stars all about them, but somehow I love those the best, they are so small and bright and seem to look down on us with such friendly eyes."
"It is told among the medicine men," Secotan went on slowly, "that many, many moons ago, long before this oak tree grew upon this hill, before its father's father had yet been planted as an acorn, our people came hither across just such a sea as that. Far to the westward it lay, and they came, a mere handful of bold spirits in their canoes, across a wide water from some land that we have utterly forgotten. Some settled down at once upon the shores of the waters they had crossed, but some pressed eastward, little by little, as the generations passed. They filled the land with their children and in the end they came to another sea and went no farther. But the men who had led them were of a different heart than ours; there were always some who were not content to hunt and fish and move only as the deer move or as the seasons change. They wished to press on, ever on, to let nothing stop the progress of their march. It is said that when they came to this sea there were seven brothers who, when their people would no longer follow, launched their canoes and set off once more to the eastward, and never came back.
"They dwell there in the sky, we think, and they shine through those months of autumn that are dearest of all the year to our people, when the days are warm and golden before the winter, when the woods are bare and hunting is easy, when the game is fat from the summer grazing and our yellow corn is ripe. They come back to us in the Hunter's Moon and they watch over us all through the cold winter. We call them the Seven Brothers of the Sun."
Nashola was silent, waiting, for he knew from his friend's voice that there was more that he wished to say.
"Your mother, who is dead, was not of our blood, they tell me. Your father took her from another tribe and they had brought her captive, from the north of us, so that she is no kin of ours. Sometimes I think that there must have run in her veins the blood of those seven brothers and that, in you, their bold spirit lives again. There is no one of your kind who loves the sea as you do, who has no shadow of a fear of it. And you are first, in all my life, who has asked me what lay beyond."
"I should like," said Nashola steadily, still watching the gray water and the gleam of stars above it, "I should like to go and see."
"Often I have wondered," the man went on, his voice growing very earnest, "whether you would not like to come to dwell with me, to learn the lore that makes me a medicine man and to take my place when I must go. I, who was taught by the wisest of us all, have waited long to find some one worthy of that teaching, and able to hold the power that I have. You can be a greater man than I, Nashola; not only your whole tribe will do your bidding and hang upon your words, but the men of our race all up and down the coast will revere you and talk of you as the greatest sorcerer ever known. Will you come to my lodge, will you learn from me, will you follow in my way?"
Nashola tried to speak, choked and tried again.
"I cannot do it," he said huskily.
There was a sharp note of wonder, hurt friendship, even of terror, in the man's voice.
"The people of our village say you are not like other men," said the boy. "They say you can call the friendly spirits of the forest and the hostile gods of the sea, and that you have wisdom learned in another world. But I, who am your friend, think it is not so. I love you dearly, but I know you are a man as I am. I know the sea is only water and that the forest is only trees. I—I do not believe."
He got to his feet, blind with misery, and went stumbling down the hill. The warm September darkness was thick about him, but up on the hill the starlight showed plainly the motionless figure sitting beneath the oak tree, never turning to look after him, uttering no sound of protest or reproach.
As September days passed into October, as the Seven Brothers rode higher in the sky, strange tales, once again, began to come from the south. More white men had been seen in their ships, sailing up and down the coast, trading with the Indians, buying the fish that they had caught and trying to talk to them in an unknown tongue.
"We have heard stories before and will hear them again," said the older warriors incredulously. "Such tales are of the sort that old women tell about the fires on winter nights."
"What does your friend the medicine man say of these rumors, Nashola?" asked one of the boys of his own age, but Nashola did not answer. He went no more up the hill to the big oak tree; he had held no speech for weeks with Secotan. Yet he would suffer no one to ask him why.
A day came when the news could no longer be disbelieved. A boy of the tribe, who had been digging for clams on the beach, came running home with startling tidings.
"The white men—the winged canoes—as big as our lodges——" he gasped. "Come quickly and see!"
Old men and young, squaws and papooses, every one deserted the little settlement by the river and went in wild haste up the eastward hills to look upon this strange wonder. It was a lowering day with overcast skies and water of a sullen gray and with ominously little wind. In speechless wonder the Indians stood gazing, for there indeed were three white-sailed ships, moving slowly before the lazy breeze, stanch little fishing vessels of English build, come to see whether this unexplored stretch of coast would yield them any cargo. As they watched, the largest one got up more sail, veered away upon a new tack, and was followed by the others.
"What can they be? Are they come to destroy us all?" asked a trembling old woman, and no one could answer.
"Hush," said another in a moment, "the medicine man is coming."
Secotan, who so seldom left his own lodge now, and who never mixed with the village folk, was climbing slowly up the hill after them. Nashola noticed that he had begun to look old, that his fierce hawk's face was sunken, and that he walked very slowly, leaning upon his staff. The men and women drew back respectfully as he advanced and stood in a silent, waiting circle, while he shaded his eyes and gazed long at the ships, now growing smaller in the distance.
"Are they friends or enemies, Secotan?" one of the hunters ventured to ask, but the medicine man replied only:
"That must be as the gods decree."
"Then destroy them for us," cried the old squaw, Nashola's grandmother. "Call up a storm that will break their wings and shatter the sides of those giant canoes. Bring wind and rain and thunder and all the spirits of the sea to overwhelm them."
There was a breathless silence as Secotan slowly moved forward and raised his staff. Nashola, standing before the other boys, watched the medicine man's face with eyes that never wavered. Even as the sorcerer moved there came a low mutter of thunder across the gray, level floor of the sea, and a distant streak of darker water showed the coming wind.
"There is the storm! The very winds obey him!"
The cry went up from all the Indians, save only Nashola who stood silent. The medicine man turned to look at him, then hesitated and dropped his eyes.
"Why do you wait? Raise up a hurricane, O greatest of sorcerers," cried a man behind them.
"No," shouted Secotan suddenly. He flung down his staff and held up his empty hands before his face. "I will raise no storm," he cried, "I will call no spirits from the deep—because I cannot. The wind and thunder answer no man's bidding—storms come and go at the will of the Great Spirit alone. There is one soul here that I love, one being whom, in all my life, I have had for a friend. In his eyes I will stand for truth at last, although I had almost learned to believe in my magic myself. I can do none of those things that you think. I am a man without power, like every one of you!"
A roar of anger went up, a dull, savage, guttural sound that died away almost at once into silence, a quiet more ominous than an outcry could have been. Terrified by that strange apparition out yonder upon the waters, the Indians saw themselves deserted by the one person to whom they could look for courage and counsel. Only half understanding, they knew, at least, that Nashola had been the means of their medicine man's downfall. Frenzied hands seized them both and dragged them headlong down toward the water. Visions of the savage tortures that his people wreaked upon their enemies passed through the boy's mind, but he did not struggle or cry out, although Secotan's set face, beside him, turned gray under its coppery skin. Some one had found Nashola's canoe, left long unused upon the beach, and had launched it in the breakers.
"Let him go back to the sea that he loved, this boy who has never been one of us. Let the man perish in the storm that is coming without his call."
Relentless hands flung them into the frail boat and pushed it out through the surf. Nashola crawled to the stern and took up the paddle; a crash of thunder broke over their heads and a wild flare of lightning lit the dark water as he dipped the blade. In a moment, rain was falling in blinding sheets, the wind and spray were roaring in their ears, and the ebbing tide was carrying them away, out of the harbor, past the rocky island, straight to the open, angry sea.
After a long time, Secotan, who had lain inert where he had been thrown into the boat, got to his knees and took up the second paddle. Only by keeping the little boat's bow to the wind could immediate destruction be averted. But the medicine man's strokes were feeble, affording little help, and at last he laid down the blade.
"It is of no use, Nashola," he said. "Death rides on the wind and snatches at us from the black waters. Lay down your paddle and let us die."
"No," the boy answered, "even though death is not an hour away, we will fight it until the very end."
Darkness shut down about them so that they could scarcely see each other as they went on in silence. Although each combing, foam-capped rush of water seemed certain to overwhelm them, there was a strange exhilaration, a mad thrill in rising to every giant wave and shooting down its green side in a cloud of spray. One—two—three—each one seemed the last, and yet there were ever more. Nashola's arms were numb and heavy, his head reeled, but still he struggled on. He wished at last that death would come quickly, to still the terrible aching weariness that possessed his whole being. The worst of the storm had blown, roaring, past them, but the seas were still heavy and nothing—nothing, Nashola thought, could ever bring back the strength to his failing arms.
Suddenly the clouds were torn apart, showing a glimmer of stars and a vague glimpse of the tossing black water all about them.
"Look, look, Nashola," cried the medicine man, pointing upward, "they have come to help us, your kinsmen, the Seven Brothers of the Sun!"
But Nashola was not looking at the sky; his eyes were fixed on a ghostly shape moving close ahead of them and on the fitful gleam of a ship's lantern that tossed and glimmered in the dark. Dropping his paddle he put his hands to his mouth and lifted his voice in a long hail. The light bobbed and swung and an answering shout came through the darkness.
To the weather-beaten English sailors, used to the rough adventures of sailing new and uncharted seas, there was little excitement in picking up two half-drowned Indians, although they had never done such a thing before. They warmed the two with blankets, they revived them with fiery remedies, and they sat about them on the deck, trying to talk to them by means of signs, but with small success.
"It is no common thing to see these natives so far from shore," the mate said to the captain, "for as a rule the Indians distrust the sea. We cannot find out how these came to be adrift in that canoe. The young one tries to make us understand, but the old man merely covers his face and groans. I think he will not believe that we are men like himself."
"Bring the boy to me," the captain ordered. "Perhaps we may be able to understand him."
In the quiet dawn, when calm had followed the night's storm, the ship ran in toward a rocky headland to send a boat ashore. Yet when it had been lowered and Secotan had dropped into it, he turned to see Nashola standing on the deck above, making no move to follow.
"I am not coming, Secotan," he declared steadily. "The chief of these men and I have talked with signs and he wishes to carry me to his home on this strange winged vessel. He promises that he will bring me safe back again. Then I can tell you and all of our tribe what these white men really are. And I have always longed to know what lay beyond this forbidden sea."
Secotan did not protest.
"I have called you friend, I have wished to have you for my brother," he said, "but I must call you master now, since you have dared what I can never dare."
* * * * *
Much has been said of the courage of those white men who crossed the stormy Atlantic in their little vessels to explore an unknown continent. But what of the brave hearts of those Indians who thought the white men were spirits come out of the sea, who did not know what ships were, yet who still dared to set sail with them? For we know that there were such dusky voyagers, that they crossed the sea more than once in the English fishing vessels, and that they brought back to their own people almost unbelievable tales of cities and palaces, or harbors crowded with shipping and of whole countrysides covered with green, tilled fields. With all these wonders, however, they could tell their comrades that these white beings were mere men like themselves, to be neither hated nor dreaded as spirits of another world. Deep dwelling in Nashola was that born leadership that makes real men see through the long-established doubts and terrors of their race, who can distinguish the false from the true, who can go forward through shadowy perils to the clear light of knowledge and success.
It was in recognition of this that old Secotan, half understanding, wholly unable to put his feeling into words, standing alone upon the headland, raised his arms in reverent salute and cried a last good-by to his comrade:
"Farewell and good fortune, O Brother of the Sun!"
JOHN MASSEY'S LANDLORD
The story had come to an end, but the boy and girl still waited as though to hear more.
"But do oak trees grow to be so old?" Oliver inquired at last, looking out at the moving shadow of the great tree that had now covered the doorstone.
"Yes, three hundred years is no impossible age for an oak. All the old grants of land speak of an oak tree on this hill as one of the landmarks."
"How did you know?" began Oliver, and then broke off, with a sudden jerk of recollection: "Oh, I forgot all about it—my train!"
He snatched out his watch and stood regarding it with a rueful face. He had missed the train by more than half an hour.
"Were you going away?" asked Polly sympathetically. "We are always missing trains like that, daddy and I. Won't they be surprised to see you come back!"
"They—they didn't know I was going," returned Oliver. "They are wondering now where I am." He was too much agitated to keep from doing his thinking out loud. "I must be getting back. Thank you for the story. Good-by."
He was gone before they could say more, leaving Polly, in fact, with her mouth open to speak and with the Beeman looking after him with an amused and quizzical grin, as though he recognized the symptoms of an uneasy conscience.
"We never asked him to come again," Polly lamented.
To which her father answered, "I believe he will come, just the same."
The smooth machinery of Cousin Jasper's house must have been thrown out of gear for a moment when the car came round to the door and Oliver failed to appear. It was running quietly and noiselessly again, however, by the time he returned. Janet was curled up in a big armchair in the library, enjoying a book, when he came in. She looked up at him rather curiously, but only said:
"Eleanor Brighton's mother telephoned at half past three that Eleanor had been detained somewhere, she didn't quite know where. She was very apologetic and hoped we would come some other time. I walked down the road to look for you, but you weren't in sight. I met such a strange man, coming in at the gate; he turned all the way around on the seat of his cart to stare at me. I didn't like him."
She did not press Oliver with questions and, as a result, he sat down beside her and told her the whole tale of his afternoon's adventures, with a glowing description of the Beeman and Polly.
"I must take you there to see them," he said, "I can't wait to show you how things look from that hill. And you should see the bees, and the little house, and hear the wind in the big tree. We will go to-morrow."
When Cousin Jasper appeared for dinner, Oliver felt somewhat apprehensive, but to his relief no questions were asked him. Their cousin listened rather absently while Janet explained why the proposed visit had not been made, and he offered no comment. He looked paler even than usual, with deeper lines in his face, and he sat at the end of the long table, saying little and eating less. Afterward he sat with them in the library, still restless and uneasy and speaking only now and then, in jerking sentences that they could scarcely follow. It was an evident relief to all three of them when the time came to say good night.
Oliver looked back anxiously over his shoulder, as their cousin returned to his study and as they, at the other end of the long room, went out into the hall.
"Something has happened to upset him more than usual," he said. "Do you think he could have guessed what I intended to do?"
Janet shook her head emphatically.
"He couldn't have guessed," she declared. "Even now I can hardly believe it of you, myself, Oliver."
Oliver, rather ashamed, was beginning to wonder at himself also.
They had fallen into the habit of going upstairs early to the comfortable sitting room into which their bedrooms opened. It was their own domain, a pleasant, breezy place, with deep wicker chairs, gay chintz curtains, flower boxes, and wide casements opening on a balcony. They had both found some rare treasures among the books downstairs and liked to carry them away for an hour of enjoyment before it was bedtime.
Oliver settled himself comfortably beside a window, opened his book, but did not immediately begin to read. His eyes wandered about the perfectly appointed room, stared out at the moonlit garden, and then came back to his sister.
"Why aren't we happy here, Janet?" he questioned. "It seems as though we had everything to make us so."
"Because he isn't happy," returned his sister, with a gesture toward the study where Cousin Jasper, distraught, worried, and forlorn, must even then be sitting alone.
"But why isn't he happy? There is everything here that he could wish for." Oliver added somewhat bitterly, after a pause: "Why don't grown-up people tell us things? It is miserable to be old enough to notice when affairs go wrong but not to be old enough to have them explained."
"Perhaps," said Janet hopefully, "we will be able to prove that we deserve to know. I think that you will, anyway, and then you can tell me."
It was not only the younger members of the household who were struggling with mystery that night, however. Before they had been reading many minutes, there came a discreet tap at the door and Hotchkiss appeared upon the threshold. Oliver was wondering what a boy unused to butlers was supposed to say or do on the occasion of such a visit, and even Janet, better at guessing the etiquette of such matters, seemed at a loss. And so also was Hotchkiss, as it presently began to be evident.
If the butler had been of the regulation variety, he might perhaps have known how to ask a few respectful questions without a change of his professional countenance and have gained his information without betraying its significance. But as it was, he had for the moment put off the wooden, expressionless face that he was supposed to wear at his work, and was openly anxious and disturbed.
"We're troubled about Mr. Peyton, Mrs. Brown and I," he began, coming frankly to the point at once. "He had a queer visitor to-day, one who has just been coming lately and who always leaves him upset. I wonder if you saw him, a thin man with a brown face and a kind of a way with him, somehow, in spite of his bad clothes."
"Did he drive a shambling old horse?" inquired Oliver, remembering suddenly the person he had noticed on the road, "and a wagon that rattled as though it were twenty years old? Yes, we both saw him."
"Had you ever seen him before?" Hotchkiss asked eagerly, and seemed disappointed when Oliver replied:
"No, we had never laid eyes on him before to-day."
"It is just in the last few weeks that he has been coming here so often," the man went on. "Before that he came rarely and we didn't think so much about him. I can remember the first time I saw him, soon after I had come to Mr. Peyton, a year ago. The fellow rang the bell as bold as anything, but when I saw that rickety outfit drawn up to the steps, I was about to tell him that the other entrance was the place for him. He must have read my eye—he's a sharp one—for he said, 'Your master won't thank you for turning me away, when I'm a member of the family,' and sure enough, there was Mr. Peyton behind me in the hall telling me to bring him in. He was nervous and put out with everybody after the man was gone, and he is more and more upset each time he comes. And the fellow begins to come often. I thought that if he was a member of the family you might know who he was—and how we could get rid of him."
The heat of the last words put an end to any possible thought that the man's questions were prompted by a servant's unwarranted curiosity concerning his master. It was plain that Cousin Jasper was a well-beloved employer and that the two chief persons of his household had been laying their heads together over the mystery of his evident trouble.
Hotchkiss was about to tell them more, when a bell, sounding below, summoned him away. There was an interval during which they tried to return to their books, but found their minds occupied with thoughts of what the butler had said. Who could this man be, whom they had both noticed and both set down as odious, and whose coming seemed to have such an unhappy effect upon Cousin Jasper? A relative? It did not seem possible. Presently Hotchkiss was at the door again, more troubled than ever.
"Mr. Peyton wants the motor, but it's Jennings' evening off and he has gone to town," he said. "Didn't I hear you tell him, Mr. Oliver, that you knew how to drive that make of car?"
Oliver had, indeed, dropped such a hint two days before, hoping that the dullness of his visit might be lightened by his being invited to take the car out for a spin. The statement had fallen on quite unheeding ears in Cousin Jasper's case, but had been treasured up by the butler.
"Yes, I can drive it," agreed Oliver, rather doubting whether Cousin Jasper would really desire him as a chauffeur. He got up and went downstairs, to find his cousin waiting in the hall, so nervous and impatient that he made no other comment than:
"We must make haste."
Oliver hurried out to the garage, backed out the heavy car, paused under the portico for Cousin Jasper to climb in beside him, and sped away down the drive.
"Which way?" he asked, as they came out through the gate, and was directed along the road he had followed that afternoon.
"You may go as fast as you like, I am in a hurry," was Cousin Jasper's unexpected permission, so that Oliver, nothing loath, let out the car to its full speed. It was very dark, for the moon had gone under a cloud. The road, showing vaguely white through the blackness, was nearly empty and the tree trunks flashed by, looking unreal in the glare of the lamps, like the cardboard trees of a scene on the stage. The big car hummed and the wind sang in Oliver's ears, but for only the briefest moment, for they seemed to come immediately to a crossroad, where Cousin Jasper bade him turn. A slower pace was necessary here, for the going was rough and uneven, yet not so difficult as that of the narrower lane in which they presently found themselves. Here the machine lurched among the deep ruts, rustled through high grass and low-hanging trees, and finally came to a stop before a gate.
"No, wait here," directed Cousin Jasper as Oliver made a move to get out. "I shall not be gone very long."
He climbed out and jerked at the gate, which, one hinge being gone, opened reluctantly to let him pass. He stalked away, a tall, awkward figure in the brilliant shaft of light from the lamps, walking with a fierce, determined dignity up the path that disappeared into the dark. Oliver felt a sudden rush of pity for him and of shame that he had so nearly deserted him.
"It must be hard," he thought, "to be so miserable and anxious, and to have no one to talk it over with. And I do wonder what is the matter?"
He waited an hour—and another. He had dimmed his lamps and could see vaguely the outline of a house, with one dull light in a window. A dog barked somewhere beyond the gate, and presently a child began crying. It cried a very long time, then at last was quiet, but still no one came. Oliver fell asleep finally against the comfortable leather cushions, and slumbered he knew not how long before he was aroused by the protesting creak of the broken gate. He thought, as he was waking, that a man's voice, high-pitched with anger, was talking in the dark, but when he had rubbed the sleep from his eyes, he saw no one but Cousin Jasper.
"I had not thought it would be so long," was all his cousin said as he got in, and after that there was no word spoken until they entered their own gate and rolled up to the door.
"You drive well for a boy. Good night," said Cousin Jasper as he climbed out and entered the house. In his hurried, awkward way, he was attempting to express his gratitude, but he had managed to say the wrong thing.
"For a boy, indeed," snorted Oliver, as he guided the car into the door of the garage, and repeated it as he went up the stairs to his room: "For a boy!"
The big clock in the hall was solemnly striking one.
Oliver was wondering, as he came down to breakfast next morning, what his cousin would say in explanation of their midnight expedition, but discovered that Cousin Jasper had adopted the simple expedient of saying nothing at all. The matter was not even referred to until just as they were leaving the table, and then only indirectly.
"I should have thought of it before," their host said, "that it might give you some pleasure to take out the car. Use it every day, if you wish, and take Jennings or not, just as it suits you. I have real confidence in your driving, Oliver."
It was surprising how completely matters were put upon another footing by what he had said. If Cousin Jasper had confidence in him, Oliver thought, he need no longer feel like a neglected outsider, one who was of no use or worth in the household.
"Get your hat, Janet," he urged promptly.
He had not an instant's hesitation in deciding where they would go first.
Just as Cousin Jasper was entering his study he turned back to say:
"Now about your Cousin Eleanor——"
But Oliver either did not or would not hear, as he sped away toward the garage. Perhaps Cousin Jasper understood the smile that Janet gave him, for he smiled himself and said no more.
In the very shortest time possible, Oliver and Janet were bowling along the smooth white road with all the blue and golden sunlight of a cool June morning about them. Oliver laughed when he thought of his dusty progress along that way the day before. There was little danger of his running away now, for the dreaded Cousin Eleanor was quite forgotten and he was certain that the time would not pass slowly since he had acquired this splendid new plaything.
He wondered, as the highway spun away beneath the swift wheels, which of the crossroads that he passed was the one that he had traveled the evening before, but the night had been so dark and their speed so great that he was quite unable to decide. It was only after exploring a good many of Medford Valley's lesser thoroughfares, after awkward turns in narrow byroads that proved to be mere blind alleys, that they began to come closer and closer to the foot of the hill. Not being able to find a direct path, Oliver finally drew up beside the low stone wall and plunged, on foot, through the high grass of the orchard.
"Wait until I see if they are here," he instructed Janet, "and then I will come back for you."
His new acquaintances were sitting on the bench beside the doorway as he came up the hill, Polly in a very trim blue dress and without her apron, but the Beeman in his same dilapidated overalls. The girl had a notebook on her knee and was putting down records at her father's dictation.
"Here is our friend in need, of yesterday," said the Beeman cordially as Oliver came up the path, "but we can't put him to work to-day because we are just about to set off to fetch some new beehives. There are more colonies than I thought that need dividing, and I find I am out of hives."
"Let me get them for you," Oliver offered at once, and explained the presence of his sister in the car below.
"Polly can go with you to show you the way," the Beeman agreed willingly. "John Massey, who makes our hives for us, lives a good many miles away, at the upper end of Medford Valley. I shall be glad to save the time of going myself. Come to the top of the hill, so that I can point out the direction of the road to you."
They took the little path beyond the house, leading upward to the very summit of the hill. In the direction from which Oliver had come, up the gentler incline of the southern slope, the view was narrowed by the woods and the orchard, showing only the long vista that led away toward the high ridge opposite and the blue dip of shining sea. On the eastern face of the hill, however, the ground fell away steeply to a sweep of river and a broad stretch of green farming country. It lays below like a vast sunken garden, with great square fields for lawns and clumps of full-leaved, rounded trees for shrubbery. The yellow-green of wheat and the blue-green of oats stretched out, a smooth expanse that rippled and crinkled as the wind and the sweeping shadow of a cloud went slowly down the valley. There were no country houses of high-walled, steep-roofed magnificence here, only comfortable farm dwellings with wide eaves and generous barns, a few with picturesque, pointed silos and slim, high-towering windmills.
"Most of that farming land belongs to your Cousin Jasper," the Beeman said, while Oliver, too intent upon staring at the view below him, failed to wonder how he happened to know so much of their affairs. "That whole portion of the valley was waste, swampy ground at one time; it was an uncle of Jasper Peyton's who drained the land thirty years ago and built dikes to keep the river back. He arranged to rent it out to tenant farmers, for he said one man should own the whole to keep up the dikes and see that the stream did not come creeping in again. Medford River looks lazy and sleepy enough, but it can be a raging demon when the rains are heavy and the water comes up. Your cousin owns all of it still except for a portion up there at the bend of the stream. That has passed out of his hands lately. It is at the far end, on the last farm, that John Massey lives."
Oliver from this vantage point could pick out the intricate succession of lanes and highroad that he must take to cross the river and reach John Massey's place, showing from here as only a dot of a gray house at the angle of the stream. The sunshine was very clear and hot over the valley below, but the oak tree spread its broad shadow all about them and bowed its lofty head to a fresh, salt-laden wind.
"See how still the trees are along the river," said the Beeman, "but the oak tree is never quiet. The breeze comes past that gap in the hills, yonder where you can look through to the sea, and it seems never to stop blowing. So we call this place the Windy Hill."
The three set off on their errand very gayly in the big car, although Polly and Janet, in the back seat together, were a little shy and silent at the very first. At the end of a mile, however, they were beginning to warm toward each other and had set up a brisk chatter before they had gone three.
"I knew Janet would like Polly," Oliver was thinking. "She is the sort of girl I like myself, not like Cousin Eleanor. The kind that makes you feel that your clothes and your manners are all wrong and that you haven't anything to say—those are the girls I can't stand."
He quite forgot that this harsh judgment of his unknown relative was not based upon any real evidence.
When they reached the floor of the valley they found it as level as a table, with a straight road running from end to end, along which they sped in a whirling cloud of dust. Other cars passed them, driven by prosperous farmers, the growl and clatter of motor tractors sounded from the fields on either hand. Halfway up the valley the character of the places seemed to change, the houses had the look of needing paint, the weeds were taller along the fences, and there were no silos nor tractors to be seen. As they neared John Massey's house, the road came close to the river, with the high, grass-covered bank of earth that was the dike rising at their left as they drove along.
They were obliged to stop where some horses were walking in the road ahead of them and seemed slow in making way. The big gray and brown creatures were dragging huge flat stones, each hooked to the traces with an iron chain, scuffling and scraping along in the dust.
"I'm sorry," said the sunburned man who drove the last team, looking back to where the car waited in the road. "We'll make room in a minute, but the horses are doing all they can."
"We are in no hurry," responded Oliver. "Where are you taking the stones and what are they for?"
"To mend the dike, quite a way downstream. It takes a lot of patching to keep banks like these whole and strong, but they guard some valuable land. The dike looks as though it needed repairs up here at this end, but nobody does much to it. Mr. Peyton has us go over his section of the banks every year."
The horses moved forward, leaving room for them to pass, and the car went on.
John Massey's house was the last one at the end of the road, a little place with a roof that needed new shingles and with sagging steps leading up to the door. Oliver, with some difficulty, squeezed the big car through the gate and followed the rutty driveway to the open space behind the house. There was a stretch of grass, a well, two straggling apple trees, and a row of beehives. An inquisitive cow came to the gate of the barnyard and thrust her head over it to stare at them with the frank curiosity of a country lady who sees little of strangers.
"Here is John Massey," said Polly, as a rather heavy-faced, shabby man with kindly blue eyes came out of one of the barns. "My father gave him some of these beehives and taught him how to make new ones. He is very clever at it, and it means a good deal to him to make ours, for he is very poor. He works very hard on his farm, but it never seems to be much of a success."
The hives were brought out and paid for and stowed in the back of the car. Oliver was just making ready for the somewhat difficult feat of backing the car around in the narrow space between house and barn, when there came a rattling of wheels through the gate and a loud, rasping voice was heard calling for John Massey.
"That's Mr. Anthony Crawford," said the farmer, who had been standing by the car admiring wistfully its shining sides and heavy tires. "He owns this place and he comes up here nearly every day to see how I'm farming it. I don't accomplish much with him always around to give me sharp words and never a dollar for improvements. I've told him a hundred times that the dike ought to be looked after this year or we'll be having a flood, but he always says he guesses it will hold. Yes, sir, I'm coming."
The calls had grown too loud to be disregarded, although it was plain that John Massey was in no haste to obey the summons. In a moment the owner of the voice came jingling and rattling around the corner of the house, the same narrow-faced, gray-eyed man that Oliver had met on the road, driving the same bony, knock-kneed horse.
"Whoa, there, whoa!" cried the driver, for the old white steed had caught sight of the car and was testifying to its dislike of it by grotesque prancings and sidlings that threatened to wreck the ramshackle trap. "Here, get out of my way!" he ordered Oliver, "that is, if you know how to handle that snorting locomotive that you think you're driving."
Red with anger, Oliver started his engine and embarked upon a maneuver that was difficult at best, and, under the present unfavorable circumstances, proved to be nearly impossible. He turned the car half round, collided with a pigsty, backed into the barnyard fence, and narrowly missed taking a wheel off Anthony Crawford's decrepit wagon. That gentleman assisted the process with jeering remarks and criticisms, while Oliver grew redder and redder with fury and embarrassment. At last, however, the car was turned and stood for a moment in the driveway, facing the white horse which seemed to have resigned itself to the presence of the puffing monster and to be very reluctant to move.
"I have got out of your way, now will you be good enough to get out of mine?" said Oliver very slowly, lest the rage within him should break out into open insult.
In spite of his anger he could not help noticing that the man before him moved with a curious easy grace, and that when he smiled, with a white flash of teeth, he was almost attractive. It was impossible to deny that, except for his thin lips and his hard gray eyes, he was handsome.
"He must be about Cousin Jasper's age," Oliver thought as he sat looking at him while the other stared in return.
"I should like to pass," the boy persisted, since the other made no move.
"So you shall, Mr. Oliver Peyton," returned the man, "only don't expect me to move as fast or as gracefully as you did. You wonder how I know your name, I suppose. Well, if that precious Cousin Jasper of yours and mine were a little more outspoken about his affairs, you would know all about me. If you want to know where I live, just look over the back wall of your cousin's garden. Do it some time when he isn't looking, for he doesn't love to think of what lies behind that wall where the fruit trees are trained so prettily and where the trees and shrubs grow so high."
He had made way at last and the car moved forward, but he turned to shout a last bitter word after them.
"If you want to know one of your Cousin Jasper's meanest secrets, look over the wall."
THE GARDEN WALL
It was very early when Oliver rolled out of bed next day, sleepy but determined. He had decided, at first, to pay no attention to Anthony Crawford's suggestion, made evidently with malicious purpose; he had, indeed, almost forgotten it by the time he and Janet reached home. But Janet had remembered, and she had brought up the question that evening as they went up to their own quarters rather later than usual, since Cousin Jasper had been sitting with them in the library and had seemed unwilling that they should leave him.
"There is something very wrong in this house," declared Janet. "Hotchkiss doesn't know what it is, Mrs. Brown doesn't."
"I think the Beeman knows," Oliver volunteered suddenly, although he could give no reason for his guess.
"Anyway," pursued Janet, "some one ought to know, for some one ought to help Cousin Jasper. I am certain that he has no mean secrets, as Anthony Crawford said. And so I think one of us should climb up and look over the wall. It had better be you," she added wisely but regretfully, "because, if we both try it, some one is sure to see us."
It was, therefore, Oliver who was stirring at sunrise, for his investigations must be made before any one else was up. He let himself out of the house very quietly and crossed the empty, silent garden. He had forgotten how beautiful a garden could be in the early morning with the dew shining on every grass tip and with the flowers all radiant in the vividness of color of newly created things. There were gay-colored beds below the terrace and long borders at each side of the house, then a wide stretch of grass behind the garage, and beyond that, back of the shrubs and the fruit trees and the thickly growing vines, was the wall. It was higher than the boundaries at the sides and front of Cousin Jasper's place, perhaps to afford a better surface for the grapevines and pear trees trained against it, perhaps for another reason.
Oliver walked along it slowly, looking up at the smooth bricks and wondering how it was to be climbed. The more difficult it appeared the more determined he became to get to the top. In the middle of the wall behind a summerhouse stood a stout trellis, the support of an exceedingly thorny rose vine. Here, he decided, was the place to scramble up, but he must make haste, for people in the house would be waking and would see him. Carefully he set a foot upon the lowest bar, found that it would hold, and began mounting upward.
There were trees beyond the wall, not the trimmed, well-kept kind that grew in Cousin Jasper's garden, but a scrubby growth of box elder and silver-leaved poplar such as spring up in myriads where the grass is never cut. Hanging over the top of the coping, he could peer through their branches and see a house beyond. He was astonished to see the shingled roof rising so close by, for he had not thought that they had neighbors who dwelt so near.
The house was a square one of yellow stone, with overhanging eaves and small windows and an old-fashioned stoop in front, over which the roof came down in a long sweep. It must have been built a hundred years ago, he thought, and it might have seemed a charming, comfortable old place were it not so unutterably dejected and dingy. Its windows were cracked, the grass grew tall and ragged upon its lawns, a litter of rubbish lay about the back door, and the woodwork, that should have been white, was gray from want of paint.
"It looks as though the people who lived in it just—didn't care," Oliver commented. "It is a nice old house, but it seems worn out and discouraged, somehow, like John Massey's cottage. I wonder who owns it."
An open space between the dwelling and the wall had apparently once been a broad lawn, then had been plowed up for the planting of a patch of grain, and had at last been left as a neglected waste for weeds and brambles to flourish undisturbed. An old scarecrow still stood knee-deep in the tangled green, left there after the field had been abandoned, to drop slowly to pieces in the wind and rain. The grotesque figure, with its outstretched arms and hat set at a rakish angle, looked familiar for some incomprehensible reason. As Oliver clung to the wall, squinted through the leaves, and wondered why that should be, the mystery was suddenly solved. The door of the house opened with a squeak of rusty hinges and somebody came out on the step. It was Anthony Crawford. No wonder the scarecrow looked like its master, for it was wearing his old clothes, garments to which there always cling a vague resemblance to the person who once wore them.
A child with very yellow hair came running out upon the doorstone, laughing aloud at some small joke of his very own. When he saw Anthony Crawford, however, he sobered suddenly and slipped back into the house without a sound. The man stood upon the step and stared, with narrowed, penetrating eyes, over toward the wall. The gables and chimneys of Cousin Jasper's big house must show through the trees from where he stood and, judging by the look with which he regarded them, it seemed that he hated the very roof that sheltered Jasper Peyton. The luxurious mansion was, in truth, a sharp contrast to the unkempt, gone-to-seed yellow farmhouse, although Oliver wondered whether, originally, the old stone dwelling had not been the more attractive of the two.
He leaned forward to see plainer, made an unwise move, and attracted the attention of the man on the step. The boy flushed scarlet as their eyes met, for Anthony Crawford, without making a sound, went through a pantomime of an ecstasy of glee. He had evidently expected to arouse Oliver's curiosity by his suggestion the day before, and was overcome with ill-natured delight to catch him in the very act of satisfying it.
With a mutter of angry words, Oliver dropped back into the garden.
"I wasn't looking just because he told me to—I wasn't!" he kept repeating.
As he walked toward the house he looked back more than once at the high wall, wondering at the things it hid. Here was squalid poverty almost under the windows of the great, handsome house where Cousin Jasper lived with everything that heart could desire. It was the poverty, too, of a member of his own family. Here was jealous enmity also, a hatred that seemed to point ominously to trouble before them, to all the harm that could be accomplished by an angry, unscrupulous man. No wonder Cousin Jasper looked changed, and haunted. What hold did Anthony Crawford have upon his cousin; why should one have so little and the other so much; why did that high wall forbid all intercourse with that strange neighbor? It was plain to Oliver at last that their night ride through lanes and crossroads had been necessary because the wall cut off any direct path, and that the goal of their expedition in the dark had been Anthony Crawford's sagging, one-hinged gate.
The morning sun was rising higher, the cheerful sound of a grass cutter was going up and down the garden, and smoke was mounting from the kitchen chimney. With some care, lest he should be asked the cause of his scratched hands and torn sleeve, Oliver slipped into the house and sought his own room.
He and Janet talked over all that he had seen, but they could make little of it and were, indeed, more mystified than ever. At intervals during the day, they kept coming back to the subject and were still talking of it that evening as they sat in the library with the long windows open upon the terrace and upon the flowering garden. They had come to no conclusion, however, when the study door opened and Cousin Jasper came toward them across the hall. He looked less troubled to-night, and was smiling as though he had been looking forward to this hour they were to spend together. Yet his face changed in a moment at the sound of rattling wheels on the drive, followed by the appearance of a troubled Hotchkiss at the door, with the reluctant question:
"Will you see Mr. Crawford, sir?"
The visitor had not waited, but came pushing in behind him.
"We do not need to stand on ceremony," he said, "when it is all in the same family. These are your two guests, eh? You need not introduce them, we have met before. I saw the boy very recently, in fact; he seems to be an enterprising fellow and was conducting some investigations of his own. Well, well, we won't talk of it now."
Oliver writhed inwardly under his sharp glance, but could muster no appropriate reply. He was thinking again that Anthony Crawford might have been handsome except for those restless gray eyes that were set too near together. Although his host was obviously anxious to lead him away to the study, the visitor planted himself in the middle of the library floor and stood his ground firmly.
"Have you thought over my offer, Jasper?" he said. "Are you ready to give me my share, or shall I take all?"
"I have given up what seemed your share," Jasper Peyton returned steadily, "and rather than quarrel with you further I would gladly give you all. But I believe to shut one's eyes to justice is wrong, even in such a matter as this."
The other's calm broke suddenly under the force of ungovernable anger.
"You will be sorry," he cried. "You will lose more than those fat acres by the river and this fine house where you hoped to live so happily—until I came. You won't give in, will you? Your high principles—or your stubbornness—will still hold you back from giving me what is mine? Then I can tell you that I will drag your good name down where my own stands, I will publish that disgrace of mine that you hushed up to save the family pride. You will have people looking into your own past; they will be saying, 'If one of the family was crooked, why not another?' There is always a pack of gossips and scandalmongers who are only too glad to snap at the heels of any prominent man. I will loose them all upon you, Jasper Peyton, every one."
He stopped, perhaps to draw breath, while Cousin Jasper stood before him, very silent and very white. The man's narrow eyes turned first to Oliver who was bursting with unexpressed rage and then to Janet who was regarding him with astonished and horrified disapproval.
"You do not like my way of talking?" he said to her. "I assure you that all I have said is the truth."
"Then I should not think," she replied bluntly, "that you would have many friends if you often tell them the truth in just that way."
"I have no friends," he declared. "Friends exist only to hurt you; it is my belief that men prosper better alone. Have no illusions, trust nobody, feel that every man's hand is against you, and then you will know where you stand. That is my policy. Your soft-hearted cousin, here—his one mistake is that he trusts every one, he likes everybody. He even trusts me a little, on very small evidence, I can assure you. He would hate me if he could, but, because we are of the same blood, he cannot even bring himself to do that. Eh, Jasper, am I not right?"
"If you think you have said enough to these children," said Cousin Jasper, wincing, but still quiet, "perhaps we had better discuss this business further in some other room."
"Very well," returned the other, quite good-tempered again. "I should be glad enough to have them hear the whole. But of course if there are some things that you do not wish known——"
He walked away toward the study, quite at his ease, humming a tune and casting sharp, appraising glances about him as though the thought of ownership were already in his mind. The door beyond the hall closed behind them.
"What a hateful man!" cried Janet, almost in tears. "Poor Cousin Jasper! And we can't do anything to help him."
Oliver, equally miserable, stood at the window. The moon was coming up behind the trees, a great red moon just past the full, misshapen and lopsided, that seemed to be laughing at them. He stamped his foot in angry impotence.
"And he doesn't seem to me even to believe in himself; it is as though he were playing a part, just showing off." He pointed through the window at the disgraceful cart and dejected old horse standing before the wide white steps.
"I don't think he has to drive that wretched wagon at all. He just does it to make Cousin Jasper ridiculous."
The session in the study was prolonged so late that in the end Janet and Oliver abandoned their sleepy effort to wait until Anthony Crawford should depart, and went dispiritedly upstairs to bed.
"I have made up my mind to one thing," said Oliver firmly, as they reached the top of the stairs, "I am going to ask the Beeman what we ought to do. I feel as though I had known him always and I am sure he can help us."
"But ought we to tell him Cousin Jasper's secrets?" objected Janet doubtfully, "and, by the way, what is his name? You never told me."
"Why—I don't know it," exclaimed Oliver in a tone of complete astonishment. "I never even noticed that I didn't. It doesn't matter, I will ask him to-morrow. And you understand, from the first minute he speaks, that you can trust the Beeman."
He went away to his room where, so it seemed to him, he had been asleep a long time before the rattle of wheels aroused him. He peered drowsily through the window and saw the old white horse with its lean, erect driver move slowly down toward the gate, long-shadowed and unreal in the moonlight, fantastic omens of some unknown mischief that was brewing.
Next morning, as he and Janet left the car beside the orchard wall and climbed the grassy slope of the hill, Oliver's one misgiving was lest the Beeman should not be there. But yes, as they came up the steep path they heard voices and smelled the sharp, pleasant odor of wood smoke drifting down toward them. The wind was high to-day, singing and swooping about the hilltop, slamming the swinging door of the house, and scattering in all directions such bold bees as had ventured out to ride down the boisterous breeze to the honey-filled meadows below.
Janet was as warmly welcomed as Oliver, and they were both bidden to come in and sit down beside the table where Polly was sorting the little wooden boxes in which the bees build the honeycomb.
"We were just going to begin a story," said the Beeman. "Polly has been clamoring for it for half an hour."
"But I wanted to ask you something," broke in Oliver, too much excited for good manners. "Couldn't you wait?"
"I believe," said the Beeman slowly, giving him an odd glance that seemed to carry a message of complete understanding, "I believe that sometimes it is better, when you are troubled about something, to cool off and settle down, and come at an affair slowly. And I think this is one of the times."
Oliver nodded. He felt quite sure that the Beeman was right.
THE GHOST SHIP
Cicely Hallowell sighed deeply as she pushed away the heap of papers before her and brushed back the hair from her aching forehead. She was weary of her task and the room was growing dark and cold. She was beginning, moreover, to be uneasily conscious that the two men at the far end of the long table had forgotten her presence behind the pile of great ledgers and were talking of things that she was not meant to hear.