BY George Barr McCutcheon
I SHELTER FOR THE NIGHT II THE STRANGE YOUNG WOMAN III SOMETHING ABOUT CLOTHES, AND MEN, AND CATS IV VIOLA GWYN V REFLECTIONS AND AN ENCOUNTER VI BARRY LAPELLE VII THE END OF THE LONG ROAD VIII RACHEL CARTER IX BROTHER AND SISTER X MOTHER AND DAUGHTER XI A ROADSIDE MEETING XII ISAAC STAIN APPEARS BY NIGHT XIII THE GRACIOUS ENEMY XIV A MAN FROM DOWN THE RIVER XV THE LANDING OF THE "PAUL REVERE" XVI CONCERNING TEMPESTS AND INDIANS XVII REVELATIONS XVIII RACHEL DELIVERS A MESSAGE XIX LAPELLE SHOWS HIS TEETH XX THE BLOW XXI THE AFFAIR AT HAWK'S CABIN XXII THE PRISONERS XXIII CHALLENGE AND RETORT XXIV IN AN UPSTAIRS ROOM XXV MINDA CARTER XXVI THE FLIGHT OF MARTIN HAWK XXVII THE TRIAL OF MOLL HAWK XXVIII THE TRYSTING PLACE OF THOUGHTS XXIX THE ENDING
Kenneth Gwynne was five years old when his father ran away with Rachel Carter, a widow. This was in the spring of 1812, and in the fall his mother died. His grandparents brought him up to hate Rachel Carter, an evil woman.
She was his mother's friend and she had slain her with the viper's tooth. From the day that his questioning intelligence seized upon the truth that had been so carefully withheld from him by his broken-hearted mother and those who spoke behind the hand when he was near,—from that day he hated Rachel Carter with all his hot and outraged heart. He came to think of her as the embodiment of all that was evil,—for those were the days when there was no middle-ground for sin and women were either white or scarlet.
He rejoiced in the belief that in good time Rachel Carter would come to roast in the everlasting fires of hell, grovelling and wailing at the feet of Satan, the while his lovely mother looked down upon her in pity,—even then he wondered if such a thing were possible,—from her seat beside God in His Heaven. He had no doubts about this. Hell and heaven were real to him, and all sinners went below. On the other hand, his father would be permitted to repent and would instantly go to heaven. It was inconceivable that his big, strong, well-beloved father should go to the bad place. But Mrs. Carter would! Nothing could save her! God would not pay any attention to her if she tried to repent; He would know it was only "make-believe" if she got down on her knees and prayed for forgiveness. He was convinced that Rachel Carter could not fool God. Besides, would not his mother be there to remind Him in case He could not exactly remember what Rachel Carter had done? And were there not dozens of good, honest people in the village who would probably be in Heaven by that time and ready to stand before the throne and bear witness that she was a bad woman?
No, Rachel Carter could never get into Heaven. He was glad. No matter if the Scriptures did say all that about the sinner who repents, he did not believe that God would let her in. He supported this belief by the profoundly childish contention that if God let EVERYBODY in, then there would be no use having a hell at all. What was the use of being good all your life if the bad people could get into Heaven at the last minute by telling God they were sorry and never would do anything bad again as long as they lived? And was not God the wisest Being in all the world? He knew EVERYTHING! He knew all about Rachel Carter. She would go to the bad place and stay there forever, even after the "resurrection" and the end of the world by fire in 1883, a calamity to which he looked forward with grave concern and no little trepidation at the thoughtful age of six.
At first they told him his father had gone off as a soldier to fight against the Indians and the British. He knew that a war was going on. Men with guns were drilling in the pasture up beyond his grandfather's house, and there was talk of Indian "massacrees," and Simon Girty's warriors, and British red-coats, and the awful things that happened to little boys who disobeyed their elders and went swimming, or berrying, or told even the teeniest kind of fibs. He overheard his grandfather and the neighbours discussing a battle on Lake Erie, and rejoiced with them over the report of a great victory for "our side." Vaguely he had grasped the news of a horrible battle on the Tippecanoe River, far away in the wilderness to the north and west, in which millions of Indians were slain, and he wondered how many of them his father had killed with his rifle,—a weapon so big and long that he came less than half way up the barrel when he stood beside it.
His father was a great shot. Everybody said so. He could kill wild turkeys a million miles away as easy as rolling off a log, and deer, and catamounts, and squirrels, and herons, and everything. So his father must have killed heaps of Indians and red-coats and renegades.
He put this daily question to his mother: "How many do you s'pose Pa has killed by this time, Ma?"
And then, in the fall, his mother went away and left him. They did not tell him she had gone to the war. He would not have believed them if they had, for she was too sick to go. She had been in bed for a long, long time; the doctor came to see her every day, and finally the preacher. He hated both of them, especially the latter, who prayed so loudly and so vehemently that his mother must have been terribly disturbed. Why should every one caution him to be quiet and not make a noise because it disturbed mother, and yet say nothing when that old preacher went right into her room and yelled same as he always did in church? He was very bitter about it, and longed for his father to come home with his rifle and shoot everybody, including his grandfather who had "switched" him severely and unjustly because he threw stones at Parson Hook's saddle horse while the good man was offering up petitions from the sick room.
He went to the "burying," and was more impressed by the fact that nearly all of the men who rode or drove to the graveyard down in the "hollow" carried rifles and pistols than he was by the strange solemnity of the occasion, for, while he realized in a vague, mistrustful way that his mother was to be put under the ground, his trust clung resolutely to God's promise, accepted in its most literal sense, that the dead shall rise again and that "ye shall be born again." That was what the preacher said,—and he had cried a little when the streaming-eyed clergyman took him on his knee and whispered that all was well with his dear mother and that he would meet her one day in that beautiful land beyond the River.
He was very lonely after that. His "granny" tucked him in his big feather bed every night, and listened to his little prayer, but she was not the same as mother. She did not kiss him in the same way, nor did her hand feel like mother's when she smoothed his rumpled hair or buttoned his flannel nightgown about his neck or closed his eyes playfully with her fingers before she went away with the candle. Yet he adored her. She was sweet and gentle, she told such wonderful fairy tales to him, and she always smiled at him. He wondered a great deal. Why was it that she did not FEEL the same as mother? He was deeply puzzled. Was it because her hair was grey?
His grandfather lived in the biggest house in town. It had an "upstairs,"—a real "upstairs,"—not just an attic. And his grandfather was a very important person. Everybody called him "Squire"; sometimes they said "your honour"; most people touched their hats to him. When his father went off to the war, he and his mother came to live at "grandpa's house." The cabin in which he was born was at the other end of the street, fully half-a-mile away, out beyond the grist mill. It had but three rooms and no "upstairs" at all except the place under the roof where they kept the dried apples, and the walnuts and hickory nuts, some old saddle-bags and boxes, and his discarded cradle. You had to climb up a ladder and through a square hole in the ceiling to get into this place, and you would have to be very careful not to stand up straight or you would bump your head,—unless you were exactly in the middle, where the ridge-pole was.
He remembered that it was a very long walk to "grandpa's house"; he used to get very tired and his father would lift him up and place him on his shoulder; from this lofty, even perilous, height he could look down upon the top of his mother's bonnet,—a most astonishing view and one that filled him with glee.
His father was the biggest man in all the world, there could be no doubt about that. Why, he was bigger even than grandpa, or Doctor Flint, or the parson, or Mr. Carter, who lived in the cabin next door and was Minda's father. For the matter of that, he was, himself, a great deal bigger than Minda, who was only two years old and could not say anywhere near as many words as he could say—and did not know her ABC's, or the Golden Rule, or who George Washington was.
And his father was ever so much taller than his mother. He was tall enough to be her father or her grandfather; why, she did not come up to his shoulder when she walked beside him. He was a million times bigger than she was. He was bigger than anybody else in all the world.
The little border town in Kentucky, despite its population of less than a thousand, was the biggest city in the world. There was no doubt about that either in Kenneth's loyal little mind. It was bigger than Philadelphia—(he called it Fil-LEF-ily),—where his mother used to live when she was a little girl, or Massashooshoo, where Minda's father and mother comed from.
He was secretly distressed by the superior physical proportions of his "Auntie" Rachel. There was no denying the fact that she was a great deal taller than his mother. He had an abiding faith, however, that some day his mother would grow up and be lots taller than Minda's mother. He challenged his toddling playmate to deny that his mother would be as big as hers some day, a lofty taunt that left Minda quite unmoved.
Nevertheless, he was very fond of "Auntie" Rachel. She was good to him. She gave him cakes and crullers and spread maple sugar on many a surreptitious piece of bread and butter, and she had a jolly way of laughing, and she never told him to wash his hands or face, no matter how dirty they were. In that one respect, at least, she was much nicer than his mother. He liked Mr. Carter, too. In fact, he liked everybody except old Boose, the tin pedlar, who took little boys out into the woods and left them for the wolves to eat if they were not very, very good.
He was four when they brought Mr. Carter home in a wagon one day. Some men carried him into the house, and Aunt Rachel cried, and his mother went over and stayed a long, long time with her, and his father got on his horse and rode off as fast as he could go for Doctor Flint, and he was not allowed to go outside the house all day,—or old Boose would get him.
Then, one day, he saw "Auntie" Rachel all dressed in black, and he was frightened. He ran away crying. She looked so tall and scary,—-like the witches Biddy Shay whispered about when his grandma was not around,—the witches and hags that flew up to the sky on broomsticks and never came out except at night.
His father did the "chores" for '"Auntie" Rachel for a long time, because Mr. Carter was not there to attend to them.
There came a day when the buds were fresh on the twigs, and the grass was very green, and the birds that had been gone for a long time were singing again in the trees, and it was not raining. So he went down the road to play in Minda's yard. He called to her, but she did not appear. No one appeared. The house was silent. "Auntie" Rachel was not there. Even the dogs were gone, and Mr. Carter's horses and his wagon. He could not understand. Only yesterday he had played in the barn with Minda.
Then his grandma came hurrying through the trees from his own home, where she had been with grandpa and Uncle Fred and Uncle Dan since breakfast time. She took him up in her arms and told him that Minda was gone. He had never seen his grandma look so stern and angry. Biddy Shay had been there all morning too, and several of the neighbours. He wondered if it could be the Sabbath, and yet that did not seem possible, because it was only two days since he went to Sunday school, and yesterday his mother had done the washing. She always washed on Monday and ironed on Tuesday. This must be Tuesday, but maybe he was wrong about that. She was not ironing, so it could not be Tuesday. He was very much bewildered.
His mother was in the bedroom with grandpa and Aunt Hettie, and he was not allowed to go in to see her. Uncle Fred and Uncle Dan were very solemn and scowling so terribly that he was afraid to go near them.
He remembered that his mother had cried while she was cooking breakfast, and sat down a great many times to rest her head on her arms. She had cried a good deal lately, because of the headache, she always said. And right after breakfast she had put on her bonnet and shawl, telling him to stay in the house till she came back from grandpa's. Then she had gone away, leaving him all alone until Biddy Shay came, all out of breath, and began to clear the table and wash the dishes, all the while talking to herself in a way that he was sure God would not like, and probably would send her to the bad place for it when she died.
After a while all of the men went out to the barn-lot, where their horses were tethered. Uncle Fred and Uncle Dan had their rifles. He stood at the kitchen window and watched them with wide, excited eyes. Were they going off to kill Indians, or bears, or cattymunks? They all talked at once, especially his uncles,—and they swore, too. Then his grandpa stood in front of them and spoke very loudly, pointing his finger at them. He heard him say, over and over again:
"Let them go, I say! I tell you, let them go!"
He wondered why his father was not there, if there was any fighting to be done. His father was a great fighter. He was the bestest shot in all the world. He could kill an Injin a million miles away, or a squirrel, or a groundhog. So he asked Biddy Shay.
"Ast me no questions and I'll tell ye no lies," was all the answer he got from Biddy.
The next day he went up to grandpa's with his mother to stay, and Uncle Fred told him that his pa had gone off to the war. He believed this, for were not the rifle, the powder horn and the shot flask missing from the pegs over the fireplace, and was not Bob, the very fastest horse in all the world, gone from the barn? He was vastly thrilled. His father would shoot millions and millions of Injins, and they would have a house full of scalps and tommyhawks and bows and arrers.
But he was troubled about Minda. Uncle Fred, driven to corner by persistent inquiry, finally confessed that Minda also had gone to the war, and at last report had killed several extremely ferocious redskins. Despite this very notable achievement, Kenneth was troubled. In the first place, Minda was a baby, and always screamed when she heard a gun go off; in the second place, she always fell down when she tried to run and squalled like everything if he did not wait for her; in the third place, Injins always beat little girls' heads off against a tree if they caught 'em.
Moreover, Uncle Dan, upon being consulted, declared that a good-sized Injin could swaller Minda in one gulp if he happened to be 'specially hungry,—or in a hurry. Uncle Dan also appeared to be very much surprised when he heard that she had gone off to the war. He said that Uncle Fred ought to be ashamed of himself; and the next time he asked Uncle Fred about Minda he was considerably relieved to hear that his little playmate had given up fighting altogether and was living quite peaceably in a house made of a pumpkin over yonder where the sun went down at night.
It was not until sometime after his mother went away,—after the long-to-be-remembered "fooneral," with its hymns, and weeping, and praying,—that he heard the grown-ups talking about the war being over. The redcoats were thrashed and there was much boasting and bragging among the men of the settlement. Strange men appeared on the street, and other men slapped their backs and shook hands with them and shouted loudly and happily at them. In time, he came to understand that these were the citizens who had gone off to fight in the war and were now home again, all safe and sound. He began to watch for his father. He would know him a million miles off, he was so big, and he had the biggest rifle in the world.
"Do you s'pose Pa will know how to find me, grandma?" he would inquire. "'Cause, you see, I don't live where I used to."
And his grandmother, beset with this and similar questions from one day's end to the other, would become very busy over what she was doing at the time and tell him not to pester her. He did not like to ask his grandfather. He was so stern,—even when he was sitting all alone on the porch and was not busy at all.
Then one day he saw his grandparents talking together on the porch. Aunt Hettie was with them, but she was not talking. She was just looking at him as he played down by the watering trough. He distinctly heard his grandma say:
"I think he ought to be told, Richard. It's a sin to let him go on thinking—-" The rest of the sentence was lost to him when she suddenly lowered her voice. They were all looking at him.
Presently his grandfather called to him, and beckoned with his finger. He marched up to the porch with his little bow and arrow. Grandma turned to go into the house, and Aunt Hettie hurried away.
"Don't be afraid, Granny," he sang out. "I won't shoot you. 'Sides, I've only got one arrer, Aunt Hettie."
His grandfather took him on his knee, and then and there told him the truth about his father. He spoke very slowly and did not say any of those great big words that he always used when he was with grown-up people, or even with the darkies.
"Now, pay strict attention, Kenneth. You must understand everything I say to you. Do you hear? Your father is never coming home. We told you he had gone to the war. We thought it was best to let you think so. It is time for you to know the truth. You are always asking questions about him. After this, when you want to know about your father, you must come to me. I will tell you. Do not bother your grandma. You make her unhappy when you ask questions. You see, your Ma was once her little girl and mine. She used to be as little as you are. Your Pa was her husband. You know what a husband is, don't you?"
"Yes, sir," said Kenneth, wide-eyed. "It's a boy's father."
"You are nearly six years old. Quite a man, my lad." He paused to look searchingly into the child's face, his bushy eyebrows meeting in a frown.
"The devil of it is," he burst out, "you are the living image of your father. You are going to grow up to look like him." He groaned audibly, spat viciously over his shoulder, and went on in a strange, hard voice. "Do you know what it is to steal? It means taking something that belongs to somebody else."
"Yes, sir. 'Thou shalt not steal.' It's in the Bible."
"Well, you know that Indians and gipsies steal little boys, don't you? It is the very worst kind of stealing, because it breaks the boy's mother's heart. It sometimes kills them. Now, suppose that somebody stole a husband. A husband is a boy's father, as you say. Your father was a husband. He was your dear mother's husband. You loved your mother very, very much, didn't you? Don't cry, lad,—there, there, now! Be a little man. Now, listen. Somebody stole your mother's husband. She loved him better than anything in the world. She loved him, I guess, even better than she loved you, Kenneth. She just couldn't live without him. Do you see? That is why she died and went away. She is in Heaven now. Now, let me hear you say this after me: My mother died because somebody stole her husband away from her."
"'My mother died because somebody stoled her husband away from her,'" repeated the boy, slowly.
"You will never forget that, will you?"
"Say this: My mother's heart was broken and so she died."
"'My mother's heart was broken and she—and so she died.'"
"You will never forget that either, will you, Kenneth?"
"Now, I am going to tell you who stole your mother's husband away from her. You know who your mother's husband was, don't you?"
"Yes, sir. My Pa."
"One night,—the night before you came up here to live—your Auntie Rachel,—that is what you called her, isn't it? Well, she was not your real aunt. She was your neighbour,—just as Mr. Collins over there is my neighbour,—and she was your mother's friend. Well, that night she stole your Pa from your Ma, and took him away with her,—far, far away, and she never let him come back again. She took him away in the night, away from your mother and you forever and forever. She—-"
"But Pa was bigger'n she was," interrupted Kenneth, frowning. "Why didn't he kill her and get away?"
The old Squire was silent for a moment. "It is not fair for me to put all the blame on Rachel Carter. Your father was willing to go. He did not kill Rachel Carter. Together he and Rachel Carter killed your mother. But Rachel Carter was more guilty than he was. She was a woman and she stole what belonged in the sight of God to another woman. She was a bad woman. If she had been a good woman she would not have stolen your father away from your mother. So now you know that your Pa did not go to the war. He went away with Rachel Carter and left your mother to die of a broken heart. He went off into the wilderness with that bad, evil woman. Your mother was unhappy. She died. She is under the ground up in the graveyard, all alone. Rachel Carter put her there, Kenneth. I cannot ask you to hate your father. It would not be right. He is your father in spite of everything. You know what the Good Book says? 'Honour thy father and—' how does the rest of it go, my lad?"
"'Honour thy father and thy mother that thou days may be long upon thou earth,'" murmured Kenneth, bravely.
"When you are a little older you will realize that your father did not honour his father and mother, and then you may understand more than you do now. But you may hate Rachel Carter. You MUST hate her. She killed your mother. She stole your father. She made an orphan of you. She destroyed the home where you used to live. As you grow older I will try to tell you how she did all these things. You would not understand now. There is one of the Ten Commandments that you do not understand,—I mean one in particular. It is enough for you to know the meaning of the one that says 'Thou shalt not steal.' You must not be unhappy over what I have told you. Everything will be all right with you. You will be safe here with granny and me. But you must no longer believe that your father went to the war like other men in the village. If he were MY son, I would—-"
"Don't say it, Richard," cried Kenneth's grandma, from the doorway behind them. "Don't ever say that to him."
SHELTER FOR THE NIGHT
Night was falling as two horsemen drew rein in front of a cabin at the edge of a clearing in the far-reaching sombre forest. Their approach across the stump-strewn tract had been heralded by the barking of dogs,—two bristling beasts that came out upon the muddy, deep-rutted road to greet them with furious inhospitality. A man stood partially revealed in the doorway. His left arm and shoulder were screened from view by the jamb, his head was bent forward as he peered intently through narrowed eyes at the strangers in the road.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" he called out.
"Friends. How far is it to the tavern at Clark's Point?"
"Clark's Point is three miles back," replied the settler. "I guess you must have passed it without seein' it," he added drily. "If it happened to be rainin' when you come through you'd have missed seein' it fer the raindrops. Where you bound fer?"
"Lafayette. I guess we're off the right road. We took the left turn four or five miles back."
"You'd ought to have kept straight on. Come 'ere, Shep! You, Pete! Down with ye!"
The two dogs, still bristling, slunk off in the direction of the squat log barn. A woman appeared behind the man and stared out over his shoulder. From the tall stone chimney at the back of the cabin rose the blue smoke of the kitchen fire, to be whirled away on the wind that was guiding the storm out of the rumbling north. There was a dull, wavering glow in the room behind her. At one of the two small windows gleamed a candle-light.
"What's takin' you to Clark's Point? There ain't no tavern there. There ain't nothin' there but a hitch-post and a waterin'-trough. Oh, yes, I forgot. Right behind the hitch-post is Jake Stone's store and a couple of ash-hoppers and a town-hall, but you wouldn't notice 'em if you happened to be on the wrong side of the post. Mebby it's Middleton you're lookin' fer."
"I am looking for a place to put up for the night, friend. We met a man back yonder, half an hour ago, who said the nearest tavern was at Clark's Point."
"What fer sort of lookin' man was he?"
"Tall fellow with red whiskers, riding a grey horse."
"That was Jake Stone hisself. Beats all how that feller tries to advertise his town. He says it beats Crawfordsville and Lafayette all to smash, an' it's only three or four months old. Which way was he goin'?"
"I suppose you'd call it south. I've lost my bearings, you see."
"That's it. He was on his way down to Attica to get drunk. They say Attica's goin' to be the biggest town on the Wabash. Did I ask you what your name was, stranger?"
"My name is Gwynne. I left Crawfordsville this morning, hoping to reach Lafayette before night. But the road is so heavy we couldn't—-"
"Been rainin' steady for nearly two weeks," interrupted the settler. "Hub-deep everywhere. It's a good twenty-five or thirty mile from Crawfordsville to Lafayette. Looks like more rain, too. I think she'll be on us in about two minutes. I guess mebby we c'n find a place fer you to sleep to-night, and we c'n give you somethin' fer man an' beast. If you'll jest ride around here to the barn, we'll put the hosses up an' feed 'em, and—Eliza, set out a couple more plates, an' double the rations all around." His left arm and hand came into view. "Set this here gun back in the corner, Eliza. I guess I ain't goin' to need it. Gimme my hat, too, will ye?"
As the woman drew back from the door, a third figure came up behind the man and took her place. The horseman down at the roadside, fifty feet away, made out the figure of a woman. She touched the man's arm and he turned as he was in the act of stepping down from the door-log. She spoke to him in a low voice that failed to reach the ears of the travellers.
The man shook his head slowly, and then called out:
"I didn't jist ketch your name, mister. The wind's makin' such a noise I—Say it again, will ye?"
"My name is Kenneth Gwynne. Get it?" shouted the horseman. "And this is my servant, Zachariah."
The man in the door bent his head, without taking his eyes from the horseman, while the woman murmured something in his ear, something that caused him to straighten up suddenly.
"Where do you come from?" he inquired, after a moment's hesitation.
"My home is in Kentucky. I live at—-"
"Kentucky, eh? Well, that's a good place to come from. I guess you're all right, stranger." He turned to speak to his companion. A few words passed between them, and then she drew back into the room. The woman called Eliza came up with the man's hat and a lighted lantern. She closed the door after him as he stepped out into the yard.
"'Round this way," he called out, making off toward the corner of the cabin. "Don't mind the dogs. They won't bite, long as I'm here."
The wind was wailing through the stripped trees behind the house,—a sombre, limitless wall of trees that seemed to close in with smothering relentlessness about the lonely cabin and its raw field of stumps. The angry, low-lying clouds and the hastening dusk of an early April day had by this time cast the gloom of semi-darkness over the scene. Spasmodic bursts of lightning laid thin dull, unearthly flares upon the desolate land, and the rumble of apple-carts filled the ear with promise of disaster. The chickens had gone to roost; several cows, confined in a pen surrounded by the customary stockade of poles driven deep into the earth and lashed together with the bark of the sturdy elm, were huddled in front of a rude shed; a number of squealing, grunting pigs nosed the cracks in the rail fence that formed still another pen; three or four pompous turkey gobblers strutted unhurriedly about the barnlot, while some of their less theatrical hens perched stiffly, watchfully on the sides of a clumsy wagon-bed over against the barn. Martins and chimney-swallows darted above the cabin and out-buildings, swirling in mad circles, dipping and careening with incredible swiftness.
The gaunt settler conducted the unexpected guests to the barn, where, after they had dismounted, he assisted in the removal of the well-filled saddle-bags and rolls from the backs of their jaded horses.
"Water?" he inquired briefly.
"No, suh," replied Zachariah, blinking as the other held the lantern up the better to look into his face. Zachariah was a young negro,—as black as night, with gleaming white teeth which he revealed in a broad and friendly grin. "Had all dey could drink, Marster, back yander at de crick."
"You couldn't have forded the Wea this time last week," said the host, addressing Gwynne. "She's gone down considerable the last four-five days. Out of the banks last week an' runnin' all over creation."
"Still pretty high," remarked the other. "Came near to sweeping Zack's mare downstream but—well, she made it and Zack has turned black again."
The settler raised his lantern again at the stable door and looked dubiously at the negro.
"You're from Kentucky, Mr. Gwynne," he said, frowning. "I got to tell you right here an' now that if this here boy is a slave, you can't stop here,—an' what's more, you can't stay in this county. We settled the slavery question in this state quite a spell back, an' we make it purty hot for people who try to smuggle niggers across the border. I got to ask you plain an' straight; is this boy a slave?"
"He is not," replied Gwynne. "He is a free man. If he elects to leave my service to-morrow, he is at liberty to go. My grandfather freed all of his slaves shortly before he died, and that was when Zachariah here was not more than fifteen years of age. He is as free as I am,—or you, sir. He is my servant, not my slave. I know the laws of this state, and I intend to abide by them. I expect to make my home here in Indiana,—in Lafayette, as a matter of fact. This boy's name is Zachariah Button. Ten years ago he was a slave. He has with him, sir, the proper credentials to support my statement,—and his, if he chooses to make one. On at least a dozen occasions, first in Ohio and then in Indiana, I have been obliged to convince official and unofficial inquirers that my—"
"That's all right, Mr. Gwynne," cried the settler heartily. "I take your word for it. If you say he's not a slave, why, he ain't, so that's the end of it. And it ain't necessary for Zachariah to swear to it, neither. We can't offer you much in the way of entertainment, Mr. Gwynne, but what we've got you're welcome to. I came to this country from Ohio seven years ago, an' I learned a whole lot about hospitality durin' the journey. I learned how to treat a stranger in a strange land fer one thing, an' I learned that even a hoss-thief ain't an ongrateful cuss if you give him a night's lodgin' and a meal or two."
"I shall be greatly indebted to you, sir. The time will surely come when I may repay you,—not in money, but in friendship. Pray do not let us discommode you or your household. I will be satisfied to sleep on the floor or in the barn, and as for Zachariah, he—"
"The barn is for the hosses to sleep in," interrupted the host, "and the floor is for the cat. 'Tain't my idee of fairness to allow human bein's to squat on proppety that rightfully belongs to hosses an' cats,—so I guess you'll have to sleep in a bed, Mr. Gwynne." He spoke with a drawl. "Zachariah c'n spread his blankets on the kitchen floor an' make out somehow. Now, if you'll jist step over to the well yander, you'll find a wash pan. Eliza,—I mean Mrs. Striker,—will give you a towel when you're ready. Jest sing out to her. Here, you, Zachariah, carry this plunder over an' put it in the kitchen. Mrs. Striker will show you. Be careful of them rifles of your'n. They go off mighty sudden if you stub your toe. You'll find a comb and lookin' glass in the settin' room, Mr. Gwynne. You'll probably want to put a few extry touches on yourself when I tell you there's an all-fired purty girl spendin' the night with us. Go along, now. I'll put the feed down fer your hosses an' be with you in less'n no time."
"You are very kind, Mr.—Did you say Striker?"
"Phineas Striker, sir,—Phin fer short."
"I am prepared and amply able to pay for lodging and food, Mr. Striker, so do not hesitate to—"
"Save your breath, stranger. I'm as deef as a post. The storm's goin' to bust in two shakes of a dead lamb's tail, so you'd better be a leetle spry if you want to git inside afore she comes."
With that he entered the barn door, leading the horses. Gwynne and his servant hurried through the darkness toward the light in the kitchen window. The former rapped politely on the door. It was opened by Mrs. Striker, a tall, comely woman well under thirty, who favoured the good-looking stranger with a direct and smileless stare. He removed his tall, sorry-looking beaver.
"Madam, your husband has instructed my servant to leave our belongings in your kitchen. I fear they are not overly clean, what with mud and rain, devil-needles and burrs. Your kitchen is as clean as a pin. Shall I instruct him to return with them to the barn and—"
"Bring them in," she said, melting in spite of herself as she looked down from the doorstep into his dark, smiling eyes. His strong, tanned face was beardless, his teeth were white, his abundant brown hair tousled and boyishly awry,—and there were mud splashes on his cheek and chin. He was tall and straight and his figure was shapely, despite the thick blue cape that hung from his shoulders. "I guess they ain't any dirtier than Phin Striker's boots are this time o' the year. Put them over here, boy, 'longside o' that cupboard. Supper'll be ready in ten or fifteen minutes, Mr. Gwynne."
His smile broadened. He sniffed gratefully. A far more exacting woman than Eliza Striker would have forgiven this lack of dignity on his part.
"You will find me ready for it, Mrs. Striker. The smell of side-meat goes straight to my heart, and nothing in all this world could be more wonderful than the coffee you are making."
"Go 'long with you!" she cried, vastly pleased, and turned to her sizzling skillets.
Zachariah deposited the saddle-bags and rolls in the corner and then returned to the door where he received the long blue cape, gloves and the towering beaver from his master's hands. He also received instructions which sent him back to open a bulging saddle-bag and remove therefrom a pair of soft, almost satiny calf-skin boots. As he hurried past Mrs. Striker, he held them up for her inspection, grinning from ear to ear. She gazed in astonishment at the white and silver ornamented tops, such as were affected by only the most fastidious dandies of the day and were so rarely seen in this raw, new land that the beholder could scarce believe her eyes.
"Well, I never!" she exclaimed, and then went to the sitting-room to whisper excitedly to the solitary occupant, who, it so chanced, was at the moment busily and hastily employed in rearranging her brown, wind-blown hair before the round-topped little looking-glass over the fireplace.
"I thought you said you wasn't goin' to see him," observed Mrs. Striker, after imparting her information. "If you ain't, what are you fixin' yourself up fer?"
"I have changed my mind, Eliza," said the young lady, loftily. "In the first place, I am hungry, and in the second place it would not be right for me to put you to any further trouble about supper. I shall have supper with the rest of you and not in the bedroom, after all. How does my hair look?"
"You've got the purtiest hair in all the—"
"How does it look?"
"It would look fine if you NEVER combed it. If I had hair like your'n, I'd be the proudest woman in—"
"Don't be silly. It's terrible, most of the time."
"Well, it's spick an' span now, if that's what you want to know," grumbled Eliza, and vanished, fingering her straight, straw-coloured hair somewhat resentfully.
Meanwhile, Kenneth Gwynne, having divested himself of his dark blue "swallow-tail," was washing his face and hands at the well. The settler approached with the lantern.
"She's comin'," he shouted above the howling wind. "I guess you'd better dry yourself in the kitchen. Hear her whizzin' through the trees? Gosh all hemlock! She's goin' to be a snorter, stranger. Hurry inside!"
They bolted for the door and dashed into the kitchen just as the deluge came. Phineas Striker, leaning his weight against the door, closed it and dropped the bolt.
"Whew! She's a reg'lar harricane, that's what she is. Mighty suddent, too. Been holdin' back fer ten minutes,—an' now she lets loose with all she's got. Gosh! Jest listen to her!"
The hiss of the torrent on the clapboard roof was deafening, the little window panes were streaming; a dark, glistening shadow crept out from the bottom of the door and began to spread; the howling wind shook the very walls of the staunch cabin, while all about them roared the ear-splitting cannonade, the crash of splintered skies, the crackling of musketry, the rending and tearing of all the garments that clothe the universe.
Eliza Striker, hardy frontierswoman though she was, put her fingers to her ears and shrank away from the stove,—for she had been taught that all metal "drew lightning." Her husband busied himself stemming the stream of water that seeped beneath the door with empty grain or coffee bags, snatched from the top of a cupboard where they were stored, evidently for the very purpose to which they were now being put.
Gwynne stood coatless in the centre of the kitchen, rolling down his white shirt-sleeves. Behind him cringed Zachariah, holding his master's boots and coat in his shaking hands, his eyes rolling with terror, his lips mumbling an unheard appeal for mercy.
The sitting-room door opened suddenly and the other guest of the house glided into the kitchen. Her eyes were crinkled up as if with an almost unendurable pain, her fingers were pressed to her temples, her red lips were parted.
"Goodness!" she gasped, with a hysterical laugh, not born of mirth, nor of courage, but of the sheerest dismay.
"Don't be skeered," cried Phineas, looking at her over his shoulder. "She'll soon be over. Long as the roof stays on, we're all right,—an' I guess she'll stay."
Kenneth Gwynne bowed very low to the newcomer. The dim candle-light afforded him a most unsatisfactory glimpse of her features. He took in at a glance, however, her tall, trim figure, the burnished crown of hair, and the surprisingly modish frock she wore. He had seen no other like it since leaving the older, more advanced towns along the Ohio,—not even in the thriving settlements of Wayne and Madison Counties or in the boastful village of Crawfordsville. He was startled. In all his journeyings through the land he had seen no one arrayed like this. It was with difficulty that he overcame a quite natural impulse to stare at her as if she were some fantastic curiosity.
The contrast between this surprising creature and the gingham aproned Eliza was unbelievable. There was but one explanation: She was the mistress of the house, Eliza the servant. And yet, even so, how strangely out-of-place, out-of-keeping she was here in the wilderness.
In some confusion he strode over to lend a hand to Phineas Striker. The rustle of silk behind him and the quick clatter of heels, evidenced the fact that the girl had crossed swiftly to Eliza's side.
Later on he had the opportunity to take in all the details of her costume, and he did so with a practised, sophisticated eye. It was, after all, of a fashion two years old, evidence of the slowness with which the modes reached these outposts of civilization. Here was a perfect fitting blue frock of the then popular changeable gros de zane, the skirt very wide, set on the body in large plaits, one in front, one on each side and two behind. The sleeves also were wide from shoulder to elbow, where they were tightly fitted to the lower arm. The ruffles around the neck, which was open and rather low, and about the wrists were of plain bobinet quilling. Her slippers were black, with cross-straps. He had seen such frocks as this, he was reminded, in fashionable Richmond and New York only a year or so before, but nowhere in the west. Add a Dunstable straw bonnet with its strings of satin and the frilled pelerine, and this strange young woman might have just stepped from her carriage in the most fashionable avenue in the land.
Zachariah, lacking his master's good manners, gazed in open-mouthed wonder at the lady, forgetting for the moment his fear of the tempest's wrath. Only the most hair-raising crash of thunder broke the spell, causing him to close his eyes and resume his supplication.
"Now's your chance to get at the lookin' glass, Mr. Gwynne," said Striker. "Right there in the sittin'-room. Go ahead; I'll manage this."
Muttering a word of thanks, the young man turned to leave the room. He shot a glance at his fellow guest. Her back was toward him, she had her hands to her ears, and something told him that her eyes were tightly closed. A particularly loud crash caused her to draw her pretty shoulders up as if to receive the death-dealing bolt of lightning. He heard her murmur again:
Eliza suddenly put an arm about her waist and drew the slender, shivering figure close. As the girl buried her face upon the older woman's shoulder, the latter cried out:
"Land sakes, child, you'll never get over bein' a baby, will ye?"
To which Phineas Striker added in a great voice: "Nor you, neither, Eliza. Ef we didn't have company here you'd be crawlin' under the table or something. She ain't afraid of wild cats or rattlesnakes or Injins or even spiders," he went on, addressing Gwynne, "but she's skeered to death of lightnin'. An' as fer that young lady there, she wouldn't be afeared to walk from here to Lafayette all alone on the darkest night,—an' look at her now! Skeered out of her boots by a triflin' little thunderstorm. Why, I wouldn't give two—"
"My goodness, Phin Striker," broke in his wife, a new note of alarm in her voice, "I do hope them chickens an' turkeys have got sense enough to get under something in this downpour. If they ain't, the whole kit an' boodle of 'em will be drownded, sure as—"
"I never yet see a hen that liked water," interrupted Phineas. "Er a turkey either. Don't you worry about 'em. You better worry about that side-meat you're fryin'. Ef my nose is what it ort to be, I'd say that piece o' meat was bein' burnt to death,—an' that's a lot wuss than bein' drownded. They say drowndin' is the easiest death—"
"You men clear out o' this kitchen," snapped Eliza. "Out with ye! You too, Phin Striker. I'll call ye when the table's set. Now, you go an' set over there in the corner, away from the window, deary, where the lightnin' can't git at you, an'—You'll find a comb on the mantel-piece, Mr. Gwynne, an' Phineas will git you a boot-jack out o' the bedroom if that darkey is too weak to pull your boots off for you. Don't any of you go trampin' all over the room with your muddy boots. I've got work enough to do without scrubbin' floors after a pack of—My land! I do believe it's scorched. An' the corn-bread must be—"
Phineas, after a doubtful look at the stopped-up door-crack, led the way into the sitting-room. Zachariah came last with his master's boots and coat. He was mumbling with suppressed fervour:
"Oh, Lord, jes' lemme hab one mo' chaince,—jes' one mo' chaince. Good Lord! I been a wicked, ornery nigger,—only jes' gimme jes' one mo' chaince. I been a wicked,—Yassuh, Marster Kenneth, I got your boots. Yassuh. Right heah, suh. Oh, Lordy-Lordy! Yassuh, yassuh!"
Seated in a big wooden rocker before the fireplace, Gwynne stretched out his long legs one after the other; Zachariah tugged at the heavy, mud-caked riding-boots, grunting mightily over a task that gave him sufficient excuse for interjecting sundry irrelevant appeals for mercy and an occasional reference to his own unworthiness as a nigger.
The tempest continued with unabated violence. The big, raw-boned Striker, pulling nervously at his beard, stood near a window which looked out upon the barn and sheds, plainly revealed in the blinding, almost uninterrupted flashes of lightning. Such sentences as these fell from his lips as he turned his face from the bleaching flares before they ended in mighty crashes: "That struck powerful nigh,"—or "I seen that one runnin' along the ground like a ball of fire," or "There goes somethin' near," or "That was a tree jest back o' the barn, you'll see in the mornin'."
"Dere won't never be any mo'nin'," gulped the unhappy Zachariah, bending lower to his task, which now had to do with the boot-straps at the bottoms of his master's trouser-legs. Getting to his feet, he proceeded, with a well-trained dexterity that even his terror failed to divert, to draw on the immaculate calf-skin boots with the gorgeous tops. Then he pulled the trouser-legs down over the boots, obscuring their upper glory; after which he smoothed out the wrinkles and fastened the instep straps. Whereupon, Kenneth arose, stamped severely on the hearth several times to settle his feet in the snug-fitting boots, and turned to the looking-glass. He was wielding the comb with extreme care and precision when his host turned from the window and approached.
"Seems to me you're goin' to a heap o' trouble, friend," he remarked, surveying the tall, graceful figure with a rather disdainful eye. "We don't dress up much in these parts, 'cept on Sunday."
"Please do not consider me vain," said the young man, flushing. He smarted under the implied rebuke,—in fact, he was uncomfortably aware of ridicule. "My riding-boots were filthy. I—I—Yes, I know," he broke in upon himself as Phineas extended one of his own muddy boots for inspection. "I know, but, you see, I am the unbidden guest of yourself and Mrs. Striker. The least I can do in return for your hospitality is to make myself presentable—"
"You'll have to excuse my grinnin', Mr. Gwynne," interrupted the other. "I didn't mean any offence. It's jest that we ain't used to good clothes an' servants to pull our boots off an' on, an'—butternut pants an' so on. We're 'way out here on the edge of the wilderness where bluejeans is as good as broadcloth or doe-skin, an' a chaw of tobacco is as good as the state seal fer bindin' a bargain. Lord bless ye, I don't keer how much you dress up. I guess I might as well tell ye the only men up at Lafayette who wear as good clothes as you do are a couple of gamblers that work up an' down the river, an' Barry Lapelle. I reckon you've heerd of Barry Lapelle. He's known from one end of the state to the other, an' over in Ohio an' Kentucky too."
"I have never heard of him."
Striker looked surprised. He glanced at the closed sitting-room door before continuing.
"Well, he owns a couple steamboats that come up the river. Got 'em when his father died a couple o' years ago. His home used to be in Terry Hut, but he's been livin' at Bob Johnson's tavern for a matter of six months now, workin' up trade fer his boats, I understand. He's as wild as a hawk an'—but you'll run across him if you're goin' to live in Lafayette."
"By the way, what is the population of Lafayette?"
Phineas studied the board ceiling thoughtfully for a moment or two. "Well, 'cordin' to people who live in Attica she's got about five hundred. People who live in Crawfordsville give her seven hundred. Down at Covington an' Williamsport they say she's got about four hundred an' twelve. When you git to Lafayette Bob Johnson an' the rest of 'em will tell you she's over two thousand an' growin' so fast they cain't keep track of her. There's so much lyin' goin' on about Lafayette that it's impossible to tell jest how big she is. Countin' in the dogs, I guess she must have a population of between six hundred and fifty an' three thousand. You see, everybody up there's got a dog, an' some of 'em two er three. One feller I know has got seven. But, on the whole, I guess you'll like the place. It's the head of navigation at high water, an' if they ever build the Wabash an' Erie Canal they're talkin' about she'll be a regular seaport, like New York er Boston. 'Pears to me the worst is over, don't you reckon so?"
Kenneth, having adjusted his stock and white roll-over collar to suit his most exacting eye, slipped his arms into the coat Zachariah was holding for him, settled the shoulders with a shrug or two and a pull at the flaring lapels, smoothed his yellow brocaded waist-coat carefully, and then, spreading his long, shapely legs and at the same time the tails of his coat, took a commanding position with his back to the blazing logs.
"Are you referring to my toilet, Mr. Striker?" he inquired amiably.
"I was talkin' about the storm," explained Phineas hastily. "Take the boots out to the kitchen, Zachariah. Eliza'll git into your wool if she ketches you leavin' 'em in here. Yes, sir, she's certainly lettin' up. Goin' down the river hell-bent. They'll be gettin' her at Attica 'fore long. Are you plannin' to work the farm yourself, Mr. Gwynne, or are you goin' to sell er rent on shares?"
Gwynne looked at him in surprise. "You appear to know who I am, after all, Mr. Striker."
Striker grinned. "I guess everybody in this neck o' the woods has heerd about you. Dan Bugher,—he's the county recorder,—an' Rube Kelsey, John Bishop, Larry Stockton, an' a lot more of the folks up in town, have been lookin' down the Crawfordsville road fer you ever since your father died last August. You 'pear to be a very important cuss fer one who ain't never set foot in Indianny before."
"I see," said the other reflectively. "Were you acquainted with my father, Mr. Striker?"
"Much so as anybody could be. He wasn't much of a hand fer makin' friends. Stuck purty close to the farm, an' made it about the best piece o' propetty in the whole valley. I was jest wonderin' whether you was plannin' to live on the farm er up in town."
"Well, you see, I am a lawyer by profession. I know little or nothing about farming. My plans are not actually made, however. A great deal depends on how I find things. Judge Wylie wishes me to enter into partnership with him, and Providence M. Curry says there is a splendid chance for me in his office at Crawfordsville. I shall do nothing until I have gone thoroughly into the matter. You know the farm, Mr. Striker?"
"Yes. It's not far from here,—five or six mile, I'd say, to the north an' east. Takes in some of the finest land on the Wea Plain,—mostly clear, some fine timber, plenty of water, an' about the best stocked farm anywheres around. Your father was one of the first to edge up this way ten er twelve year ago, an' he got the pick o' the new land. He came from some'eres down the river, 'bout Vincennes er Montezuma er some such place. I reckon you know that he left another passel of land over this way, close to the Wabash, an' some propetty up in Lafayette an' some more down in Crawfordsville."
"I have been so informed," said his guest, rather shortly.
"I bought this sixty acre piece offen him two year ago. All timber when I took hold of it, 'cept seventeen acres out thataway," jerking his thumb, "along the Middleton road." He hesitated a moment. "You see, I worked for your father fer a considerable time, as a hand. That's how he came to sell to me. I got married an' wanted a place of my own. He said he'd sooner sell to me than let some other feller cheat the eye-teeth outen me, me bein' a good deal of fool when it comes to business an' all. Yep, I'd saved up a few dollars, so I sez what's the sense of me workin' my gizzard out fer somebody else an' all that, when land's so cheap an' life so doggoned short. 'Course, there's a small mortgage on the place, but I c'n take keer of that, I reckon."
"Ahem! The mortgage, I fancy, is held by—er—the other heirs to his property." "You're right. His widder holds it, but she ain't the kind to press me. She's purty comfortable, what with this land along the edge o' the plain out here an' a whole section up in the Grand Prairie neighbourhood, besides half a dozen buildin' lots in town an' a two story house to live in up there. To say nothin' of—"
"Come to supper," called out Mrs. Striker from the doorway.
"That's somethin' I'm always ready fer," announced Mr. Striker. "Winter an' summer, spring an' fall. Step right ahead, Mr.—"
"Just a moment, if you please," said the young man, laying his hand on the settler's arm. "You will do me a great favour if you refrain from discussing these matters in the presence of your other guest to-night. My father, as you doubtless know, meant very little in my life. I prefer not to discuss him in the presence of strangers,—especially curious-minded young women."
Phineas looked at him narrowly for an instant, a queer expression lurking in his eyes.
"Jest as you say, Mr. Gwynne. Not a word in front of strangers. I don't know as you know it, but up to the time your father's will was perduced there wasn't a soul in these parts as knowed such a feller as you wuz on earth. He never spoke of a son, er havin' been married before, er bein' a widower, er anything like—"
"I am thoroughly convinced of that, Mr. Striker," said Kenneth, a trifle austerely, and passed on ahead of his host into the kitchen.
"Bring in them two candlesticks, Phin," ordered Mrs. Striker. "We got to be able to see what each other looks like, an' goodness knows we cain't with this taller dip I got out here to cook by. 'Tain't often we have people right out o' the fashion-plates to supper, so let's have all the light we kin."
THE STRANGE YOUNG WOMAN
The tempest by now had subsided to a distant, rumbling murmur, although the rain still beat against the window-panes in fitful gusts, the while it gently played the long roll on the clapboards a scant two feet above the tallest head. Far-off flashes of lightning cast ghastly reminders athwart the windows, fighting the yellow candle glow with a sickly, livid glare.
Kenneth's fellow-guest was standing near the stove, her back toward him as he entered the kitchen. The slant of the "ceiling" brought the crown of her head to within a foot or so of the round, peeled beams that supported the shed-like roof, giving her the appearance of abnormal height. As a matter of fact, she was not as tall as the gaunt Eliza, who, like her husband and the six-foot guest, was obliged to lower her head when passing through the kitchen door to the yard.
The table was set for four, in the middle of the little kitchen; rude hand-made stools, without backs, were in place. A figured red cloth covered the board, its fringe of green hanging down over the edges. The plates, saucers and coffee-cups were thick and clumsy and gaudily decorated with indescribable flowers and vines done entirely in green—a "set," no doubt, selected with great satisfaction in advance of the Striker nuptials. There were black-handled case-knives, huge four-tined forks, and pewter spoons. A blackened coffee-pot, a brass tea-kettle and a couple of shallow skillets stood on the square sheet-iron stove. "Come in and set down, Mr. Gwynne," said Mrs. Striker, pointing to a stool. With the other hand she deftly "flopped" an odorous corn-cake in one of the skillets. There was a far from unpleasant odor of grease.
"I can't help thanking my lucky stars, Mrs. Striker, that I got here ahead of that storm," said he, moving over to his appointed place, where he remained standing. "We were just in time, too. Ten minutes later and we would have been in the thick of it. And here we are, safe and sound and dry as toast, in the presence of a most inviting feast. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your kindness."
"Oh, it's—it's nothing," said she, diffidently. Then to Striker: "Put 'em here on the table, you big lummix. Set down, everybody."
The young lady sat opposite Gwynne. She lowered her head immediately as Phineas began to offer up his established form of grace. The unhappy host got himself into a dire state of confusion when he attempted to vary the habitual prayer by tacking on a few words appertaining to the recent hurricane and God's goodness in preserving them all from destruction as well as the hope that no serious damage had been done to other live-stock and fowls, or to the life and property of his neighbours,—amen!
To which Zachariah, seated on a roll of blankets in the corner, appended a heartfelt amen, and then sank back to watch his betters eat, much as a hungry dog feasts upon anticipation. He knew that he was to have what was left over, and he offered up a silent prayer of his own while wistfully speculating on the prospects.
The two colonial candlesticks stood in the centre of the table, a foot or two apart. When Gwynne lifted his head after "grace," he looked directly between them at his vis-a-vis. For a few seconds he stared as if spell-bound. Then, realizing his rudeness and conscious of an unmistakable resentment in her eyes, he felt the blood rush to his face, and quickly turned to stammer something to his host,—he knew not what it was.
Never had he looked upon a face so beautiful, never had he seen any one so lovely as this strange young woman who shared with him the hospitality of the humble board. He had gazed for a moment full into her deep, violet eyes,—eyes in which there was no smile but rather a cool intentness not far removed from unfriendliness,—and in that moment he forgot himself, his manners and his composure.
The soft light fell upon warm, smooth cheeks; a broad, white brow; red, sensitive lips and a perfect mouth; a round firm chin; a delicate nose,—and the faint shadows of imperishable dimples that even her unsmiling expression failed to disturb.
Not even in his dreams had he conjured up a face so bewilderingly beautiful.
Her hair, which was puffed and waved over her ears, took on the shade of brown spun silk on which the light played in changing tones of bronze. It was worn high on her head, banded a la grecque, with a small knot on the crown from which depended a number of ringlets ornamented with bowknots. Her ears were completely hidden by the soft mass that came down over them in shapely knobs. She wore no earrings,—for which he was acutely grateful, although they were the fashion of the day and cumbersomely hideous,—and her shapely throat was barren of ornament. He judged her to be not more than twenty-two or -three. A second furtive glance caught her looking down at her plate. He marvelled at the long, dark eyelashes.
Who was she? What was she doing here in the humble cot of the Strikers? Certainly she was out of place here. She was a tender, radiant flower set down amongst gross, unlovely weeds. That she was a person of consequence, to whom the Strikers paid a rude sort of deference, softened by the familiarity of long association but in no way suggestive of relationship, he was in no manner of doubt.
He was not slow to remark their failure to present him to her. The omission may have been due to ignorance or uncertainty on their part, but that was not the construction he put upon it. Striker was the free-and-easy type who would have made these strangers known to each other in some bluff, awkward manner,—probably by their Christian names; he would never have overlooked this little formality, no matter how clumsily he may have gone about performing it. It was perfectly plain to Gwynne that it was not an oversight. It was deliberate.
His slight feeling of embarrassment, and perhaps annoyance, evidently was not shared by the young lady; so far as she was concerned the situation was by no means strained. She was as calm and serene and impervious as a princess royal.
She joined in the conversation, addressed herself to him without constraint, smiled amiably (and adorably) upon the busy Eliza and her jovial spouse, and even laughed aloud over the latter's account of Zachariah and the silver-top boots. Gwynne remarked that it was a soft, musical laugh, singularly free from the shrill, boisterous qualities so characteristic of the backwoods-woman. She possessed the poise of refinement. He had seen her counterpart,—barring her radiant beauty,—many a time during his years in the cultured east: in Richmond, in Philadelphia, and in New York, where he had attended college.
He was subtly aware of the lively but carefully guarded interest she was taking in him. He felt rather than knew that she was studying him closely, if furtively, when his face was turned toward the talkative host. Twice he caught her in the act of averting her gaze when he suddenly glanced in her direction, and once he surprised her in a very intense scrutiny,—which, he was gratified to observe, gave way to a swift flush of confusion and the hasty lowering of her eyes. No doubt, he surmised with some satisfaction, she was as vastly puzzled as himself, for he must have appeared equally out-of-place in these surroundings. His thoughts went delightedly to the old, well-beloved story of Cinderella. Was this a Cinderella in the flesh,—and in the morning would he find her in rags and tatters, slaving in the kitchen?
He noticed her hands. They were long and slim and, while browned by exposure to wind and sun, bore no evidence of the grinding toil to which the women and girls of the frontier were subjected. And they were strong, competent hands, at that.
The food was coarse, substantial, plentiful. (Even Zachariah could see that it was plentiful.) Solid food for sturdy people. There were potatoes fried in grease, wide strips of side meat, apple butter, corn-cakes piping hot, boiled turnips, coffee and dried apple pie. The smoky odor of frying grease arose from the skillets and, with the grateful smell of coffee, permeated the tight little kitchen. It was a savoury that consoled rather than offended the appetite of these hardy eaters.
Striker ate largely with his knife, and smacked his lips resoundingly; swigged coffee from his saucer through an overlapping moustache and afterwards hissingly strained the aforesaid obstruction with his nether lip; talked and laughed with his mouth full,—but all with such magnificent zest that his guests overlooked the shocking exhibition. Indeed, the girl seemed quite accustomed to Mr. Striker's table-habits, a circumstance which created in Kenneth's questing mind the conviction that she was not new to these parts, despite the garments and airs of the fastidious East.
They were vastly interested in the account of his journey through the wilderness.
"Nowadays," said Striker, "most people come up the river, 'cept them as hail from Ohio. You must ha' come by way of Wayne an' Madison Counties."
"I did," said his guest. "We found it fairly comfortable travelling through Wayne County. The roads are decent enough and the settlers are numerous. It was after we left Madison County that we encountered hardships. We travelled for a while with a party of emigrants who were heading for the settlement at Strawtown. There were three families of them, including a dozen children. Our progress was slow, as they travelled by wagon. Rumours that the Indians were threatening to go on the warpath caused me to stay close by this slow-moving caravan for many miles, not only for my own safety but for the help I might be able to render them in case of an attack. At Strawtown we learned that the Indians were peaceable and that there was no truth in the stories. So Zachariah and I crossed the White River at that point and struck off alone. We followed the wilderness road,—the old Indian trace, you know,—and we travelled nearly thirty miles without seeing a house. At Brown's Wonder we met a party of men who had been out in this country looking things over. They were so full of enthusiasm about the prairies around here,—the Wea, the Wild Cat and Shawnee prairies,—that I was quite thrilled over the prospect ahead, and no longer regretted the journey which had been so full of privations and hardships and which I had been so loath to undertake in the beginning. Have you been at Thorntown recently?"
"Nope. Not sence I came through there some years ago. It was purty well deserted in those days. Nothin' there but Injin wigwams an' they was mostly run to seed. At that time, Crawfordsville was the only town to speak of between Terry Hut an' Fort Wayne, 'way up above here."
"Well, there are signs of a white settlement there now. Some of the old French settlers are still there and other whites are coming in. I had heard a great deal about the big Indian village at Thorntown, and was vastly disappointed in what I found. I am quite romantic, Miss—ahem!—quite romantic by nature, having read and listened to tales of thrilling adventures among the redskins, as we call them down my way, until I could scarce contain myself. I have always longed for the chance to rescue a beautiful white captive from the clutches of the cruel redskins. My valour—"
"And I suppose you always dreamed of marrying her as they always do in stories?" said she, smiling.
"Invariably," said he. "Alas, if I had rescued all the fair maidens my dreams have placed in jeopardy, I should by this time have as many wives as Solomon. Only, I must say in defence of my ambitions, I should not have had as great a variety. Strange as it may seem, I remained through all my adventures singularly constant to a certain idealistic captive. She looked, I may say, precisely alike in each and every case. Poor old Solomon could not say as much for his thousand wives. Mine, if I had them, would be so much alike in face and form that I could not tell one from the other,—and, now that I am older and wiser,—though not as wise as Solomon,—I am thankful that not one of these daring rescues was ever consummated, for I should be very much distressed now if I found myself married to even the most beautiful of the ladies my feeble imagination conceived."
This subtle touch of gallantry was over the heads of Mr. and Mrs. Striker. As for the girl, she looked momentarily startled, and then as the dimples deepened, a faint flush rose to her cheeks. An instant later, the colour faded, and into her lovely eyes came a cold, unfriendly light. Realizing that he had offended her with this gay compliment,—although he had never before experienced rebuff in like circumstances,—he hastened to resume his narrative.
"We finally came to Sugar River and followed the road along the southern bank. You may know some of the settlers we found along the river. Wisehart and Kinworthy and Dewey? They were among the first to come to this part of the country, I am informed. Fine, brave men, all of them. In Crawfordsville I stopped at the tavern conducted by Major Ristine. While there I consulted with Mr. Elston and Mr. Wilson and others about the advisability of selling my land up here and my building lots in Lafayette. They earnestly advised me not to sell. In their opinion Lafayette is the most promising town on the Wabash, while the farming land in this section is not equalled anywhere else in the world. Of course, I realize that they are financially interested in the town of Lafayette, owning quite a lot of property there, so perhaps I should not be guided solely by their enthusiasm."
"They are the men who bought most of Sam Sargeant's lots some years back," said Striker, "when there wasn't much of anything in the way of a town,—them and Jonathan Powers, I think it was. They paid somethin' like a hundred an' fifty dollars for more'n half of the lots he owned, an' then they started right in to crow about the place. I was workin' down at Crawfordsville at the time. They had plenty of chance to talk, 'cause that town was full of emigrants, land-grabbers, travellers an' setch like. That was before the new county was laid out, you see. Up to that time all the land north of Montgomery County was what was called Wabash County. It run up as fer as Lake Michigan, with the jedges an' courts an' land offices fer the whole district all located in Crawfordsville. Maybe you don't know it, but Tippecanoe County is only about six years old. She was organized by the legislature in 1826. To show you how smart Elston and them other fellers was, they donated a lot of their property up in Lafayette to the county on condition that the commissioners located the county seat there. That's how she come to be the county seat, spite of the claims of Americus up on the east bank of the Wabash.
"Maybe you've heard of Bill Digby. He's the feller that started the town o' Lafayette. Well, a couple o' days after he laid out the town o' Lafayette,—named after a Frenchman you've most likely heerd about,—he up an' sold the whole place to Sam Sargeant fer a couple o' hundred dollars, they say. He kept enough ground fer a ferry landin' an' a twenty-acre piece up above the town fer specolatin' purposes, I understand. He afterwards sold this twenty-acre piece to Sam fer sixty dollars, an' thought he done mighty well. When I first come to the Wea, Lafayette didn't have more'n half a dozen cabins. I went through her once on my way up to the tradin' house at Longlois, couple a mile above. You wouldn't believe a town could grow as fast as Lafayette has in the last couple o' years. If she keeps on she'll be as big as all get-out, an' Crawfordsville won't be nowhere. Tim Horran laid out Fairfield two-three years back, over east o' here. Been a heap o' new towns laid out this summer, all around here. But I guess they won't amount to much. Josiah Halstead and Henry Ristine have jest laid out the town o' Columbia, down near the Montgomery line. Over on Lauramie Crick is a town called Cleveland, an' near that is Monroe, jest laid out by a feller named Major. There's another town called Concord over east o' Columbia. There may be more of 'em, but I ain't heerd of 'em yet. They come up like mushrooms, an' 'fore you know it, why, there they are.
"This land o' yours, Mr. Gwynne, lays 'tween here an' this new settlement o' Columbia, an' I c'n tell you that it ain't to be beat anywheres in the country. I'd say it is the best land your fa—er—ahem!" The speaker was seized with a violent and obviously unnecessary spell of coughing. "Somethin' must ha' gone the wrong way," he explained, lamely. "Feller ort to have more sense'n to try to swaller when he's talkin'."
"Comes of eatin' like a pig," remarked his wife, glaring at him as she poured coffee into Gwynne's empty cup. "Mr. Gwynne'll think you don't know any better. He never eats like this on Sunday," she explained to their male guest.
"I got a week-day style of eatin' an' one strickly held back fer Sunday," said Phineas. "Same as clothes er havin' my boots greased."
Kenneth was watching the face of the girl opposite. She was looking down at her plate. He observed a little frown on her brow. When she raised her eyes to meet his, he saw that they were sullen, almost unpleasantly so. She did not turn away instantly, but continued to regard him with a rather disconcerting intensity. Suddenly she smiled. The cloud vanished from her brow, her eyes sparkled. He was bewildered. There was no mistaking the unfriendliness that had lurked in her eyes the instant before. But in heaven's name, what reason had she for disliking him?
"If you believe all that Phineas says, you will think you have come to Paradise," she said. At no time had she uttered his name, in addressing him, although it was frequently used by the Strikers. She seemed to be deliberately avoiding it.
"It is a present comfort, at least, to believe him," he returned. "I hope I may not see the day when I shall have to take him to task for misleading me in so vital a matter."
"I hope not," said she, quietly.
As he turned to Striker, he caught that worthy gazing at him with a fixed, inquisitive stare. He began to feel annoyed and uncomfortable. It was not the first time he had surprised a similar scrutiny on the part of one or the other of the Strikers. Phineas, on being detected, looked away abruptly and mumbled something about "God's country."
The young man decided it was time to speak. "By the way you all look at me, Mr. Striker, I am led to suspect that you do not believe I am all I represent myself to be. If you have any doubts, pray do not hesitate to express them."
Striker was boisterously reassuring. "I don't doubt you fer a second, Mr. Gwynne. As I said before, the whole county has been expectin' you to turn up. We heerd a few days back that you was in Crawfordsville. If me an' Eliza seem to act queer it's because we knowed your father an'—an', well, I can't help noticin' how much you look like him. When he was your age he must have looked enough like you to be your twin brother. We don't mean no disrespect, an' I hope you'll overlook our nateral curiosity."
Kenneth was relieved. The furtive looks were explained.
"I am glad to hear that you do not look upon me as an outlaw or—"
"Lord bless you," cried Striker, "there ain't nobody as would take you fer an outlaw. You ain't cut out fer a renegade. We know 'em the minute we lay eyes on 'em. Same as we know a Pottawatomy Injin from a Shawnee, er a jack-knife from a Bowie. No, there ain't no doubt in my mind about you bein' your father's son—an' heir, as the sayin' goes. If you turn out to be a scalawag, I'll never trust my eyes ag'in."
The young man laughed. "In any case, you are very good to have taken me in for the night, and I shall not forget your trust or your hospitality. Wolves go about in sheep's clothing, you see, and the smartest of men are sometimes fooled." He turned abruptly to the girl. "Did you know my father, too?"
She started violently and for the moment was speechless, a curious expression in her eyes.
"Yes," she said, at last, looking straight at him: "Yes, I knew your father very well."
"Then, you must have lived in these parts longer than I have suspected," said he. "I should have said you were a newcomer."
Mrs. Striker made a great clatter of pans and skillets at the stove. The girl waited until this kindly noise subsided.
"I have lived in this neighbourhood since I was eight years old," she said, quietly.
Striker hastened to add: "Somethin' like ten or 'leven years,—'leven, I reckon, ain't it?"
"Eleven years," she replied.
Gwynne was secretly astonished and rather skeptical. He would have taken oath that she was twenty-two or -three years old, and not nineteen as computation made her.
"She ain't lived here all the time," volunteered Eliza, somewhat defensively. "She was to school in St. Louis fer two or three years an'—"
The young lady interrupted the speaker coldly. "Please, Eliza!"
Eliza, looking considerably crestfallen, accepted the rebuke meekly. "I jest thought he'd be interested," she murmured.
"She came up the Wabash when she was nothin' but a striplin'," began Striker, not profiting by his wife's experience. He might have gone on at considerable length if he had not met the reproving, violet eye. He changed the subject hastily. "As I was sayin', we've had a powerful lot o' rain lately. Why, by gosh, last week you could have went fishin' in our pertato patch up yander an' got a mess o' sunfish in less'n no time. I never knowed the Wabash to be on setch a rampage. An' as fer the Wild Cat Crick and Tippecanoe River, why, they tell me there ain't been anything like—How's that?"
"Is Wabash an Indian name?" repeated Kenneth.
"That's what they say. Named after a tribe that used to hunt an' fish up an' down her, they say."
"There was once a tribe of Indians in this part of the country," broke in the girl, with sudden zest, "known as the Ouabachi. We know very little about them nowadays, however. They were absorbed by other and stronger tribes far back in the days of the French occupation, I suppose. French trappers and voyageurs are known to have traversed and explored the wilderness below here at least one hundred and fifty years ago. There is an old French fort quite near here,—Ouiatanon."
"She knows purty nigh everything," said Phineas, proudly. "Well, I guess we're about as full as it's safe to be, so now's your chance, Zachariah."
He pushed back his stool noisily and arose. Taking up the two candlesticks, he led the way to the sitting-room, stopping at the door for a word of instruction to the negro. "You c'n put your blankets down here on the kitchen floor when you're ready to go to bed. Mrs. Striker will kick you in the mornin' if you ain't awake when she comes out to start breakfast."
"Yassuh, yassuh," grinned the hungry darkey. "Missus won't need fo' to kick more'n once, suh,—'cause Ise gwine to be hungry all over ag'in 'long about breakfus time,—yas-SUH!"
"Zachariah will wash the dishes and—" began Kenneth, addressing Mrs. Striker, who was already preparing to cleanse and dry her pots and pans. She interrupted him.
"He won't do nothin' of the kind. I don't let nobody wash my dishes but myself. Set down here, Zachariah, an' help yourself. When you're done, you c'n go out an' carry me in a couple of buckets o' water from the well,—an, that's all you CAN do."
"I guess I'll go out an' take a look around the barn an' pens," said Phineas, depositing the candles on the mantelpiece. "See if everything's still there after the storm. No, Mr. Gwynne,—you set down. No need o' you goin' out there an' gettin' them boots o' your'n all muddy."
He took up the lantern and lighted the tallow wick from one of the candles. Then he fished a corncob pipe from his coattail pocket and stuffed it full of tobacco from a small buckskin bag hanging at the end of the mantel.
"He'p yourself to tobaccer if you keer to smoke. There's a couple o' fresh pipes up there,—jest made 'em yesterday,—an' it ain't ag'inst the law to smoke in the house on rainy nights. Used to be a time when we was first married that I had to go out an' git wet to the skin jest because she wouldn't 'low no tobaccer smoke in the house. Many's the time I've sot on the doorstep here enjoyin' a smoke with the rain comin' down so hard it'd wash the tobaccer right out o' the pipe, an' twice er maybe it was three times it biled over an'—What's that you say?"
"I did not say anything, Phineas," said the girl, shaking her head mournfully. "I am wondering, though, where you will go when you die."
"Where I c'n smoke 'thout runnin' the risk o' takin' cold, more'n likely," replied Phineas, winking at the young man. Then he went out into the windy night, closing the door behind him.
SOMETHING ABOUT CLOTHES, AND MEN, AND CATS
Smiling over the settler's whimsical humour, Gwynne turned to his companion, anticipating a responsive smile. Instead he was rewarded by an expression of acute dismay in her dark eyes. He recalled seeing just such a look in the eyes of a cornered deer. She met his gaze for a fleeting instant and then, turning away, walked rapidly over to the little window, where she peered out into the darkness. He waited a few moments for her to recover the composure so inexplicably lost, and then spoke,—not without a trace of coldness in his voice.
"Pray have this chair." He drew the rocking-chair up to the fireplace, setting it down rather sharply upon the strip of rag carpet that fronted the wide rock-made hearth. "You need not be afraid to be left alone with me. I am a most inoffensive person."
He saw her figure straighten. Then she faced him, her chin raised, a flash of indignation in her eyes.
"I am not afraid of you," she said haughtily. "Why should you presume to make such a remark to me?"
"I beg your pardon," he said, bowing. "I am sorry if I have offended you. No doubt, in my stupidity, I have been misled by your manner. Now, will you sit down—and be friendly?"
His smile was so engaging, his humility so genuine, that her manner underwent a swift and agreeable change. She advanced slowly to the fireplace, a shy, abashed smile playing about her lips.
"May I not stand up for a little while?" she pleaded, with mock submissiveness. "I do so want to grow tall."
"To that I can offer no objection," he returned; "although in my humble opinion you would do yourself a very grave injustice if you added so much as the eighth of an inch to your present height."
"I feel quite small beside you, sir," she said, taking her stand at the opposite end of the hearth, from which position she looked up into his admiring eyes.
"I am an overgrown, awkward lummix," he said airily. "The boys called me 'beanpole' at college."
"You are not an awkward lummix, as you call yourself,—though what a lummix is I have not the slightest notion. Mayhap if you stood long enough you might grow shorter. They say men do,—as they become older." She ran a cool, amused eye over his long, well-proportioned figure, taking in the butter-nut coloured trousers, the foppish waistcoat, the high-collared blue coat, and the handsome brown-thatched head that topped the whole creation. He was almost a head taller than she, and yet she was well above medium height.
"How old are you?" she asked, abruptly. Again she was serious, unsmiling.
"Twenty-five," he replied, looking down into her dark, inquiring eyes with something like eagerness in his own. He was saying over and over again to himself that never had he seen any one so lovely as she. "I am six years older than you. Somehow, I feel that I am younger. Rather odd, is it not?"
"Six years," she mused, looking into the fire. The glow of the blazing logs cast changing, throbbing shadows across her face, now soft and dusky, like velvet, under the warm caress of the firelight. "Sometimes I feel much older than nineteen," she went on, shaking her head as if puzzled. "I remember that I was supposed to be very large for my age when I was a little girl. Everybody commented on my size. I used to be ashamed of my great, gawky self. But," she continued, shrugging her pretty shoulders, "that was ages ago."
He drew a step nearer and leaned an elbow on the mantel.
"You say you knew my father," he said, haltingly. "What was he like?"
She raised her eyes quickly and for an instant studied his face curiously, as if searching for something that baffled her understanding.
"He was very tall," she said in a low voice. "As tall as you are."
"I have only a dim recollection of him," he said. "You see, I made my home with my grandparents after I was five years old." He did not offer any further information. "As a tiny lad I remember wishing that I might grow up to be as big as my father. Did you know him well?"
If she heard, she gave no sign as she turned away again. This time she walked over to the cabin door, which she opened wide, letting in a rush of chill, damp air. He felt his choler rise. It was a deliberate, intentional act on her part. She desired to terminate the conversation and took this rude, insolent means of doing so. Never had he been so flagrantly insulted,—and for what reason? He had been courteous, deferential, friendly. What right had she,—this insufferable peacock,—to consider herself his superior? Hot words rushed to his lips, but he checked them. He contented himself with an angry contemplation of her slender, graceful figure as she poised in the open doorway, holding the latch in one hand while the other was pressed against her bare throat for protection against the cold night air. Her ringlets, flouted by the wind, threshed merrily about the crown of her head. He noted the thick coil of hair that capped the shapely white neck. Despite his rancour and the glowering gaze he bent upon her, he was still lamentably conscious of her perfections. He had it in his heart to go over and shake her soundly. It would be a relief to see her break down and whimper. It would teach her not to be rude to gentlemen!
The two dogs came racing up to the threshold. She half-knelt and stroked their heads.
"No, no!" she cried out to them. "You cannot come in! Back with you, Shep! Pete! That's a good dog!"
Then she arose and quickly closed the door.
"The wind is veering to the south," she said calmly, as she advanced to the fireplace. She was shivering. "That means fair weather and warmer. We may even see the sun to-morrow."
She held out her hands to the blaze.
"Won't you have this chair now?" he said stiffly, formally. She was looking down into the fire, but he saw the dimple deepen in her cheek and an almost imperceptible twitching at the corner of her mouth. Confound her, was she laughing at him? Was he a source of amusement to her?
She turned her head and glanced up at him over her shoulder. He caught a strained, appealing gleam in her eyes.
"Please forgive me if I was rude," she said, quite humbly.
He melted a little. He no longer desired to shake her. "I feared I had in some way offended you," he said.
She shook her head and was silent for a moment or two, staring thoughtfully at the flames. A faint sigh escaped her, and then she faced him resolutely, frankly.
"You have succeeded fairly well in concealing your astonishment at seeing me here in this hut, dressed as I am," she said, somewhat hurriedly. "You have been greatly puzzled. I am about to confess something to you. You will see me again,—often perhaps,—if you remain long in this country. It is my wish that you should not know who I am to-night. You will gain nothing by asking questions, either of me or of the Strikers. You will know in the near future, so let that be sufficient. At first I—"
"You have my promise not to disregard your wishes in this or any other matter," he said, bowing gravely. "I shall ask no questions."
"Ah, but you have been asking questions all to yourself ever since you came into this cabin and saw me—in all this finery—and you will continue to ask them," she declared positively. "I do not blame you. I can at least account for my incomprehensible costume. That much you shall have, if no more. This frock is a new one. It has just come up the river from St. Louis. I have never had it on until to-day. Another one, equally as startling, lies in that bedroom over there, and beside it on the bed is the dress I came here in this afternoon. It is a plain black dress, and there is a veil and a hideous black bonnet to go with it." She paused, a bright little gleam of mingled excitement and defiance in her eyes.
"You—you have lost—I mean, you are in mourning for some one?" he exclaimed. The thought rushed into his mind: Was she a widow? This radiantly beautiful girl a widow?
"For my father," she stated succinctly. "He died almost a year ago. I was in school at St. Louis when it happened. I had not seen him for two years. My mother sent for me to come home. Since that time I have worn nothing but black,—plain, horrible black. Do not misjudge me. I am not vain, nor am I as heartless as you may be thinking. I had and still have the greatest respect for my father. He was a good man, a fine man. But in all the years of my life he never spoke a loving word to me, he never caressed me, he never kissed me. He was kindness itself, but—he never looked at me with love in his eyes. I don't suppose you can understand. I was the flesh of his flesh, and yet he never looked at me with love in his eyes.
"As I grew older I began to think that he hated me. That is a terrible thing to say,—and you must think it vile of me to say it to you, a stranger. But I have said it, and I would not take it back. I have seen in his eyes,—they were brooding, thoughtful eyes,—I have seen in them at times a look—Oh, I cannot tell you what it seemed like to me. I can only say that it had something like despair in it,—sadness, unhappiness,—and I could not help feeling that I was the cause of it. When I was a tiny girl he never carried me in his arms. My mother always did that. When I was thirteen years old he hired me out as a servant in a farmer's family and I worked there until I was fourteen. It was not in this neighbourhood. I worked for my board and keep, a thing I could not understand and bitterly resented because he was prosperous. Then my mother fell ill. She was a strong woman, but she broke down in health. He came and got me and took me home. I was a big girl for my age,—as big as I am now,—and strong. I did all the work about the house until my mother was well again. He never gave me a word of appreciation or one of encouragement.