Part 3 out of 8
"They never chase anything that keeps off my farm," he replied
coolly. "There's not so well trained a pack anywhere in the
county. No other dogs around here could have been beaten back at
"I fear that doesn't afford me the gratification you seem to
feel--particularly as the death you allude to would have been
mine. I suppose I ought to be overpowered with gratitude for the
whole thing, but unfortunately I'm not. I have had a very
unpleasant experience and I can't help feeling that I owe it to
"You're welcome to feel about it anyway you please," he
responded, as Maria, tucking the dog under her arm, started down
the road to the Hall, the tattered parasol held straight above
At the house she carried Agag to her room, where she spent the
afternoon in the big chair by the window. Miss Saidie, coming in
with her dinner, inquired if she were sick, and then picked up
the torn dress from the bed.
"Why, Maria, how on earth did you do it?"
"Some hounds jumped on me in the road."
"Well, I never! They were those dreadful Blake beasts, I know. I
declare, I'll go right down and speak to Brother Bill about 'em."
"For heaven's sake, don't," protested the girl. "We've had
quarrelling enough as it is--and, tell me, Aunt Saidie, have you
ever known what it was all about?"
Miss Saidie was examining the rent with an eye to a possible
mending, and she did not look up as she answered. "I never
understood exactly myself, but your grandpa says they squandered
all their money and then got mad because they had to sell the
place. That's about the truth of it, I reckon."
"The Hall belonged to them once, didn't it?"
"Oh, a long time ago, when they were rich. Sakes alive, Maria,
what's the matter with your face?"
"I struck it getting away from the hounds. It's too bad, isn't
it? And Jack coming so soon, too. Do I look very ugly?"
"You're a perfect fright now, but I'll fix you a liniment to draw
the bruise away. It will be all right in a day or two. I declare,
if you haven't gone and brought a little po'-folksy yellow dog
into the house." Maria was feeding Agag with bits of chicken from
her plate, bending over him as he huddled against her dress.
"I found him in the road," she returned, "and I'm going to keep
him. I saved him from the hounds."
"Well, it seems to me you might have got a prettier one,"
remarked Miss Saidie, as she went down to mix the liniment.
It was several mornings after this that Fletcher, coming into the
dining-room where Maria sat at a late breakfast, handed her a
telegram, and stood waiting while she tore it open.
"Jim Weatherby brought it over from the crossroads," he said. "It
got there last night."
"I hope there's nobody dead, child," observed Miss Saidie, from
the serving-table, where she was peeling tomatoes.
"More likely it points to a marriage, eh, daughter?" chuckled
The girl folded the paper and replaced it carefully in the
envelope. "It's from Jack Wyndham," she said, "and he comes this
evening. May I take the horses to the crossroads, grandpa?"
"Well, I did have a use for them," responded Fletcher, in high
good-nature, "but, seeing as your young fellow doesn't come every
day, I reckon I'll let you have 'em out."
Maria flinched at his speech; and then as the clear pink spread
evenly in her cheeks, she spoke in her composed tones. "I may as
well tell you, grandpa, that we shall marry almost immediately,"
CHAPTER III. Fletcher's Move and Christopher's Counterstroke
Not until September, when he lounged one day with a glass of beer
in the little room behind Tom Spade's country store, did
Christopher hear the news of Maria's approaching marriage. It was
Sol Peterkin who delivered it, hiccoughing in the enveloping
smoke from several pipes, as he sat astride an overturned flour
barrel in one corner.
"I jest passed a wagonload of finery on the way to the Hall," he
said, bulging with importance. "It's for the gal's weddin', I
reckon; an' they do say she's a regular Jezebel as far as clothes
go. I met her yestiddy with her young man that is to be, an' the
way she was dressed up wasn't a sight for modest eyes. Not that
she beguiled me, suh, though the devil himself might have been
excused for mistakin' her for the scarlet woman--but I'm past the
time of life when a man wants a woman jest to set aroun' an' look
at. I tell you a good workin' pair of hands goes to my heart a
long ways sooner than the blackest eyes that ever oggled."
"Well, my daughter Jinnie has been up thar sewin' for a month,"
put in Tom Spade, a big, greasy man, who looked as if he had
lived on cabbage from his infancy, "an' she says that sech a
sight of lace she never laid eyes on. Why, her very stockin's
have got lace let in 'em, Jinnie says."
"Now, that's what I call hardly decent," remarked Sol, as he spat
upon the dirty floor. "Them's the enticin' kind of women that a
fool hovers near an' a wise man fights shy of. Lace in her
stockin's! Well, did anybody ever?"
"She's got a pretty ankle, you may be sho'," observed Matthew
Field, a long wisp of a man who had married too early to repent
it too late, "an' I must say, if it kills me, that I always had a
sharp eye for ankles."
"It's a pity you didn't look as far up as the hand," returned Tom
Spade, with boisterous mirth. "I have heard that Eliza lays hers
on right heavy."
"That's so, suh, that's so," admitted Matthew, puffing smoke like
a shifting engine, "but that's the fault of the marriage service,
an' I'll stand to it at the Judgment Day yes, suh, in the very
presence of Providence who made it. I tell you, 'twill I led that
woman to the altar she was the meekest-mouthed creetur that ever
wiggled away from a kiss. Why, when I stepped on her train jest
as I swung her up the aisle, if you believe me, all she said was,
'I hope you didn't hurt yo' foot'; an', bless my boots, ten
minutes later, comin' out of church, she whispered in my year,
'You white-livered, hulkin' hound, you, get off my veil!' Well,
well, it's sad how the ceremony can change a woman's heart."
"That makes it safer always to choose a widow," commented Sol.
"Now, they do say that this is a fine weddin' up at the Hall--
but I have my doubts. Them lace let in stockin's ain't to my
"What's the rich young gentleman like?" inquired Tom Spade, with
interest. "Jinnie says he's the kind of man that makes kissin'
come natural--but I can't say that that conveys much to the
father of a family."
"Oh, he's the sort that looks as if God Almighty had put the
finishin' touches an' forgot to make the man," replied Sol. "He's
got a mustache that you would say went to bed every night in curl
Christopher pushed back his chair and drained his glass standing,
then with a curt nod to Tom Spade he went out into the road.
It was the walk of a mile from the store to his house, and as he
went on he fell to examining the tobacco, which appeared to ripen
hour by hour in the warm, moist season. There was no danger of
frost as yet, and though a little of Fletcher's crop had already
been cut, the others had left theirs to mature in the favourable
weather. From a clear emerald the landscape had changed to a
yellowish green, and the huge leaves had crinkled at the edges
like shirred silk. Here and there pale-brown splotches on a plant
showed that it had too quickly ripened, or small perforations
revealed the destructive presence of a hidden tobacco worm.
As Christopher neared the house the hounds greeted him with a
single bay, and the cry brought Cynthia hastily out upon the
porch and along the little path. At the gate she met him, and
slipping her hand under his arm, drew him across the road to the
rail fence that bordered the old field. At sight of her tearless
pallor his ever-present fear shot up, and without waiting for her
words he cried out quickly: "Is mother ill?"
"No, no," she answered, "oh, no; but, Christopher, it is the next
He thought for a breath. "Then she has found out?"
"It's not that either," she shook her head. "Oh, Christopher,
"It's Fletcher! What in thunder have we to do with Fletcher?"
"You remember the deed of trust on the place--the three hundred
dollars we borrowed when mother was sick. Fletcher has bought it
from Tom Spade and he means to foreclose it in a week. He has
advertised the farm at the cross-roads."
He paled with anger. "Why, I saw Tom about it three days ago," he
said, striking the rotten fence rail until it broke and fell
apart; "he told me it could run on at the same interest."
"It's since then that Fletcher has bought it. He meant it as a
surprise, of course, to drive us out whether or no, but Sam
Murray came straight up to tell you."
He stood thinking hard, his eyes on the waving goldenrod in the
"I'll sell the horses," he said at last.
"And starve? Besides, they wouldn't bring the money."
"Then we'll sell the furniture--every last stick! We'll sell the
clothes from our backs--I'll sell myself into slavery before
Fletcher shall beat me now!"
"We've sold all we've got," said Cynthia; "the old furniture is
too heavy--all that's left; nobody about here wants it."
"I tell you I'll find those three hundred dollars if I have to
steal them. I'd rather go to prison than have Fletcher get the
"Then he'd leave it in the end," remarked Cynthia hopelessly;
adding after a pause, "I've thought it all out, dear, and we must
steal the money--we must steal it from mother."
"From mother!" he echoed, touched to the quick.
"You know her big diamond," sobbed the woman, "the one in her
engagement ring, that she never used to take off, even at night,
till her fingers got so thin."
"Oh, I couldn't!" he protested.
"There's no other way," pursued Cynthia, without noticing him.
"Surely, it is better than having her turned out in her old
age--surely, anything is better than that. We can take the ring
to-night after she goes to bed, and pry the diamond from the
setting; it is held only by gold claws, you know. Then we will
put in it the piece of purple glass from Docia's wedding
ring--the shape is the same; and she will never find it out. Oh,
"I can't, "returned Christopher stubbornly; "it is like robbing
her, and she so blind and helpless. I cannot do it."
"Then I will," said Cynthia quietly, and, turning from him, she
walked rapidly to the house.
Later that night, when he had gone up to his little garret loft,
she came to him with the two rings in her outstretched hand--the
superb white diamond and the common purple setting in Docia's
"Lend me your knife," she said, kneeling beside the smoky oil
lamp; and without a word he drew his claspknife from his pocket,
opened the blade, and held the handle toward her. She took it
from him, and then knelt motionless for an instant looking at the
diamond, which shone like a star in her hollowed palm. Presently
she stooped and kissed it, and then taking the fine point of the
blade, carefully pried the gold claws back from the imprisoned
"She has worn it for fifty years," she said softly, seeing the
jewel contract and give out a deeper flame to her misty eyes.
"It is robbery," he protested.
"It is robbery for her sake!" she flashed out angrily.
"All the same, it seems bitterly cruel."
With deft fingers she removed the bit of purple glass from
Docia's ring and inserted it between the gold claws, which she
pressed securely down. "To the touch there is no difference," she
said, closing her eyes. "She will never know."
Rising from her knees, she gazed steadily at the loosened diamond
lying in her hand; then, wrapping it in cotton, she placed it in
a little wooden box from a jeweller of fifty years ago. "You must
get up to-morrow and take it to town," she went on. "Carry it to
Mr. Withers--he knows us. There is no other way," she added
"There is no other way, I know," he repeated, as he held out his
"And you'll be back after sundown."
"Not until night. I shall walk over from the cross-roads."
For a time they were both silent, and he, walking to the narrow
window, looked out into the moist darkness. The smell of the oil
lamp oppressed the atmosphere inside, and the damp wind in his
face revived in a measure his lowered spirits. He seemed suddenly
able to cope with life--and with Fletcher.
Far away there was a faint glimmer among the trees, now shining
clear, now almost lost in mist, and he knew it to be a lighted
window at Blake Hall. The thought of Maria's lace stockings came
to him all at once, and he was seized with a rage that was
ludicrously large for so small a cause. Confused questions
whirled in his brain, struggling for recognition: "I am here and
she is there, and what is the meaning of it all? I know in spite
of everything I might have loved her, and yet I know still better
that it is not love, but hate I now feel. What is the difference,
after all? And why this eternal bother of possibilities?" He
turned presently and spoke:
"And you got this without her suspecting it?"
"She was sleeping like a child, and Lila was in the little bed in
her chamber. Often she is restless, disturbed by her dreams, but
to-night she lies very quiet, and she smiled once as if she were
"And to-morrow she will wear the ring with its setting of purple
"She will never know--see, it fits perfectly. I have fastened it
carefully. After all, what does it matter to her--the ring is
still the same, and the value of it was for her in the
association." Again he looked out of the window, and the distant
glimmer gathered radiance and shone brightly among the trees. "I
am here and she is there, and what is the meaning of it all?"
CHAPTER IV. A Gallant Deed that Leads to Evil
Two days later Christopher met Fletcher in the little room behind
the store and paid down the three hundred dollars in the presence
of Sam Murray. Several loungers, who had been seasoning their
drinks with leisurely stories, hastily drained their glasses and
withdrew at Fletcher's entrance, and when the three men came
together to settle the affair of the mortgage they were alone in
the presence of the tobacco-stained walls, the square pine table
with its dirty glasses, and the bills of notice posted beside the
door. Among them Christopher had seen the public advertisement of
his farm--a rambling statement in large letters, signifying that
the place would be sold for debt on Monday, the twenty-fifth of
September, at twelve o'clock. "I want the money right flat down.
Are you sure you've got it?" were Fletcher's first words after
his start of angry surprise. For answer Christopher drew the roll
of bills from his pocket and counted them out upon the table.
"Here it is," he said, "and I am done with you for good and
all--with you and your rascally cheating ways," "Come, come,
let's go easy," warned Sam Murray, a fat, well-to-do farmer, who
was accustomed to act the part of a lawyer in small transactions.
Fletcher flushed purple and threw off his rage in a sneering
guffaw. "Now that sounds well from him, doesn't it?" he inquired
"when everybody knows he hasn't a beggarly stitch on earth but
that strip of land he thinks so much of." "And whose fault is
that, Bill Fletcher?" demanded the young man, throwing the last
note down. "Oh, well, I don't bear you any grudge," responded
Fletcher, with an abrupt assumption of goodnatured tolerance;
"and to show I'm a well-meaning man in spite of abuse, I'll let
the debt run on two years longer at the same interest if you
Christopher laughed shortly. "That's all right, Sam," he said,
without replying directly to the offer. "I owe him too much
already to hope to pay it back in a single lifetime." "Well,
you're a cantankerous, hard-headed fool, that's all I've got to
say," burst out Fletcher, swallowing hard, and the sooner you get
to the poorhouse along your own road the better it'll be for the
rest of us." "You may be sure I'll take care not to go along
yours. I'll have honest men about me, at any rate." "Then it's
more than you've got a right to expect."
Christopher grew pale to the lips. "What do you mean, you
scoundrel?" he cried, taking a single step forward. "Come, come,
let's go easy," said Sam Murray persuasively, rising from his
chair at the table. "Now that this little business is all settled
there's no need for another word. I haven't much opinion of words
myself, anyhow. They're apt to set fire to a dry tongue, that's
what I say." "What do you mean?" repeated Christopher, without
swerving from his steady gaze. Tom Spade glanced in at the open
door, and, catching Fletcher's eye, hurriedly retreated. A small
boy with a greasy face came in and gathered up the glasses with a
clanking noise. "What do you mean, you coward?" demanded
Christopher for the third time. He had not moved an inch from the
position he had first assumed, but the circle about his mouth
showed blue against the sunburn on his face. Fletcher raised his
hand and spoke suddenly with a snort. "Oh, you needn't kick so
about swallowing it," he said. "Everybody knows that your
grandfather never paid a debt he owed, and your father was mighty
little better. He was only saved from becoming a thief by being a
drunkard." He choked over the last word, for Christopher, with an
easy, almost leisurely movement, had struck him full in the
mouth. The young man's arm was raised again, but before it fell
Sam Murray caught it back. "I say, Tom, there's the devil to pay
here!" he shouted, and Tom Spade rushed hurriedly through the
doorway. "Now, now, that'll never do, Mr. Christopher," he
reasoned, with a deference he would never have wasted upon
Fletcher. "Why, he's old enough to be yo' pa twice over."
A white fleck was on Fletcher's beard, and as he wiped it away he
spoke huskily. "It's a clear case of assault and I'll have the
law on him," he said. "Sam Murray, you saw him hit me square in
"Bless your life, I wasn't looking, suh," responded Sam
pleasantly. "I miss a lot in this life by always happening to
look the other way."
"I'll have the law on you," cried Fletcher again, shaking back
his heavy eyebrows.
"You're welcome to have every skulking hound in the county on
me," Christopher replied, loosening Sam Murray's restraining
grasp. "If I can settle you I reckon I can settle them; but the
day you open your lying mouth to me again I'll shoot you down as
I would a mad dog--and wash my hands clean afterward!"
He looked round for his harvest hat, picked it up from the floor
where it had fallen, and walked slowly out of the room.
In the broad noon outside he staggered an instant, dazzled by the
"Had a drop too much, ain't you, Mr. Christopher?" a voice
inquired at his side, and, looking down, he saw Sol Peterkin
sitting on a big wooden box just outside the store.
"Not too much to mind my own business," was his curt reply.
"Oh, no harm's meant, suh, an' I hope none's taken," responded
the little man good-naturedly. "I saw you walk kinder crooked,
that was all, an'it came to me that you might be needin' an arm
toward home. Young gentlemen will be gentlemen, that's the truth,
suh, an' in my day I reckon I've steadied the legs of mo' young
beaux than you could count on your ten fingers. Good Lord, when
it comes to thinkin' of those Christmas Eve frolics that we had
befo' the war! Why, they use to say that you couldn't get to the
Hall unless you swam your way through apple toddy. Jest to think!
an' here I've been settin' an' countin' the bundles goin' up
"I'm looking for a box, Tom," said a clear voice at Christopher's
back, "a big paper hat-box that ought to have come by express--"
He turned quickly and saw Maria Fletcher in a little cart in the
road, with a strange young man holding the reins. As Christopher
swung round, she nodded pleasantly, but with a cool stare he
passed down the steps and out into the road, carrying with him a
distasteful impression of the strange young man. Yet from that
first hurried glimpse he had brought away only the picture of a
"By George, I'd like to see that fellow in the prize ring," he
heard the stranger remark as he went by. "Do they have knock-outs
around here, I wonder?"
"Oh, I dare say he'd oblige you with one if you took the trouble
to tread on his preserves," was the girl's laughing rejoinder.
A massive repulsion swept over Christopher, pervading his entire
body--repulsion that was but a recoil from his exhausted rage. In
this new emotion there were both weariness and self-pity, and to
his mental vision there showed clearly, with an impersonal
detachment, his own figure in relation to the scenes among which
he moved. "That is I yonder," he might have said had he been able
to disentangle thought from sensation, "plodding along there
through the red mud in the road. Look at the coarse clothes,
smelling of axle-grease, the hands knotted by toil and stained
with tobacco juice, the face soiled with sweat and clay. That is
I, who was born with the love of ease and the weakness to
temptation in my blood, with the love, too, of delicate food, of
rare wines, and of beautiful women. Once I craved these things;
now the thought of them troubles me no longer, for I work in the
sun all day and go home to enjoy my coarse food. Is it because I
have been broken to this life as a young horse is broken to the
plough, or have all the desires I have known been swallowed up in
a single hatred--a hatred as jealous and as strong as love?"
It was his nightly habit, lying upon his narrow bed in the little
loft, to yield some moments before sleeping to his idle dreams of
vengeance--to plan exquisite punishments and impossible
retaliations. In imagination he had so often seen Fletcher drop
dead before him, had so often struck the man down with his own
hand, that there were hours when he almost believed the deed to
have been done--when something like madness gripped him, and his
hallucinations took the shape and colour of life itself. At such
times he was conscious of the exhilaration that comes in the
instants of swift action, when events move quickly, and one rises
beyond the ordinary level of experience. When the real moment
came--the supreme chance--he wondered if he would meet it as
triumphantly as he met his dreams? Now, plodding along the rocky
road, he went over again all the old schemes for the great
The small cart whirled past him, scattering dried mud drops in
his face, and he caught the sound of bright girlish laughter.
Looking after it, he saw the flutter of cherry-coloured ribbons
coiling outward in the wind, and he remembered, watching the gay
streamers, that the only woman he had ever kissed was eating
cherries at the moment. Trivial as the recollection was, it
started other associations, and he followed the escaping memory
of that boyish romance, blithe and short-lived, which was killed
at last by a single yielded kiss. At sixteen it had seemed to him
that when he caught the girl of the cherries in his arms he
should hold veritable happiness; and yet afterward there was only
a great heaviness and something of the repulsion that he felt
to-day. Happiness was not to be found on a woman's lips he had
learned this in his boyhood; and then even as the knowledge
returned to him he found himself savagely regretting that he had
not kissed Maria Fletcher the day he found her on his land--a
kiss of anger, not of love, which she would have loathed all her
life--and have remembered! To have her utterly forget him--pass
on serenely into her marriage, hardly remembering that he hated
her--this was the bitterest thing he had to face; but with the
brutal wish, he softened in recalling the tremor of her lip as
she turned away--the indignant quiver of her eyelashes. Again
came the thought: "I know in spite of everything I might have
loved her, and yet I know still better that it is not love, but
hate I now feel." Her fragrance, floating in the sunshine, filled
his nostrils, and involuntarily he glanced over his shoulder,
half expecting to find a dropped handkerchief in the road. None
was there--only a scattered swarm of butterflies drifting like
yellow rose-leaves on the wind.
Upon reaching the house he found that his mother had asked for
him, and running hastily up to change his clothes, he came down
and bent over the upright Elizabethan chair. "I have been
worrying a good deal about you, my son," she said, with a
sprightly gesture in which the piece of purple glass struck the
dominant note. "Are you quite sure that you are feeling perfectly
well? No palpitations of the heart when you go upstairs? and no
particular heaviness after meals? I dreamed about you all night
long, and though there's not a woman in the world freer from
superstition, I can't help feeling uneasy." Taking her hand, he
gently caressed the slender fingers. "Why, I'm a regular ox,
mother," he returned, laughing, --my muscle is like iron, and I
assure you I'm ready for my meals day or night. There's no use
worrying about me, so you'd as well give it up." "I can't
understand it, I really can't," protested Mrs. Blake, still
unconvinced. "I am an old woman, you know, and I am anxious to
have you settled in life before I die--but there seems to be a
most extraordinary humour in the family with regard to marriage.
I'm sure your poor father would turn in his grave at the very
idea of his having no grand-children to come after him." "Well,
there's time yet, mother; give us breathing space." "There's not
time in my day, Christopher, for I am very old, and half dead as
it is--but it does seem hard that I am never to be present at the
marriage of a child. As for Cynthia, she is out of the question,
of course, which is a great pity. I have very little patience
with an unmarried woman--no, not if she were Queen Elizabeth
herself though I do know that they are sometimes found very
useful in the dairy or the spinning-room. As for an old bachelor,
I have never seen the spot on earth--and I've lived to a great
age--where he wasn't an encumbrance. They really ought to be
taught some useful occupation, such as skimming milk or carding
wool." "I hardly think either of those pursuits would be to my
taste," protested Christopher, "but I give you leave to try your
hand on Uncle Tucker." "Tucker has been a hero, my son," rejoined
the old lady in a stately voice, "and the privilege of having
once been a hero is that nobody expects you to exert yourself
again. A man who has taken the enemy's guns single-handed, or
figured prominently in a society scandal, is comfortably settled
in his position and may slouch pleasantly for the remainder of
his life. But for an ordinary gentleman it is quite different,
and as we are not likely to have another war, you really ought to
marry. You are preparing to go through life too peacefully, my
son." "Good Lord!" exclaimed Christopher, "are you hankering
after squabbles? Well, you shan't drag me into them, at any cost.
There's Uncle Tucker to your hand, as I said before." "I'm sure
Tucker might have married several times had he cared about it,"
replied Mrs. Blake reprovingly. "Miss Matoaca Bolling always had
a sentiment for him, I am certain, and even after his misfortune
she went so far as to present him with a most elaborate slipper
of red velvet ornamented with steel beads. I remember well her
consulting me as to whether it would be better to seem
unsympathetic and give him two or to appear indelicate and offer
him one. I suggested that she should make both for the same
foot, which, I believe, she finally decided to do." "Well,
well, this is all very interesting, mother," said Christopher,
rising from his seat, "but I've promised old Jacob Weatherby to
pass my word on his tobacco. On the way down, however, I'll cast
my eyes about for a wife." "Between here and the Weatherbys'
farm? Why, Christopher!" "That's all right, but unless you expect
me to pick up one on the roadside I don't see how we'll manage.
I'll do anything to oblige you, you know, even marry, if you'll
find me a good, sensible woman." The old lady's eyelids dropped
over her piercing black eyes, which seemed always to regard some
far-off, ecstatic vision. Three small furrows ran straight up and
down her forehead, and she lifted one delicate white hand to rub
them out. "I don't like joking on so serious a subject, my son,"
she said. "I'm sure Providence expects every man to do his duty,
and to remain unmarried seems like putting one's personal
inclination before the intentions of the Creator. Your
grandfather Corbin used to say he had so high an opinion of
marriage that if his fourth wife --and she was very sickly--were
to die at once, he'd marry his fifth within the year. I remember
that Bishop Deane remarked it was one of the most beautiful
tributes ever paid the marriage state--especially as it was no
idle boast, for, as it happened, his wife died shortly afterward,
and he married Miss Polly Blair before six months were up." "What
a precious old fool he was!" laughed the young man, as he reached
the door, passing out with a horrified "What, Christopher! Your
own grandfather?" ringing in his ears. In the yard he found
Cynthia drawing water at the well, and he took the heavy bucket
from her and carried it into the kitchen. "You'd better change
your clothes," she remarked, eyeing him narrowly, "if you're
back to the field." "But I'm not going back; the axe handle has
broken again and I'll have to borrow Jim Weatherby's. There's no
use trying to mend that old handle any more. It'll have to lie
over till after tobacco cutting, when I can make a new one." "Oh,
you might as well keep Jim's altogether," returned Cynthia
irritably, loath to receive favours from her neighbours. "The
first thing we know he will be running this entire place." "I
reckon he'd make a much better job of it," replied Christopher,
as he swung out into the road. On the whitewashed porch of the
Weatherbys' house he found old Jacob--a hale, clearly old man
with cheeks like frosted winter apples--gazing thoughtfully over
his fine field of tobacco, which had grown almost to his
threshold. "The weather's going to have a big drop to-night," he
said reflectively; "I smell it on the wind. Lord! Lord! I reckon
I'd better begin on that thar tobaccy about sunup--and yet
another day or so of sun and September dew would sweeten it
consider'ble. How about yours, Mr. Christopher?" "I'll cut my
ripest plants to-morrow," answered Christopher, sniffing the air.
"A big drop's coming, sure enough, but I don't scent frost as
yet--the pines don't smell that way." They discussed the tobacco
for a time--the rosy, genial old man, whom age had mellowed
without souring--listening with a touching deference to his
visitor's casual words; and when at last Christopher, with the
axe on his shoulder, started leisurely homeward, "the drop" was
already beginning, and the wind blew cool and crisp across the
misty fields, beyond which a round, red sun was slowly setting.
Level, vast and dark, the tobacco swept clear to the horizon.
Between Weatherby's and the little store there was an abrupt bend
in the road, where it shot aside from a steep descent in the
ground; and Christopher had reached this point when he saw
suddenly ahead of him a farm wagon driven forward at a reckless
pace. As it neared him he heard the wheels thunder on the rocky
bed of the road, and saw that the driver's seat was vacant, the
man evidently having been thrown some distance back. The
horses--a young pair he had never seen before--held the bits in
their mouths; and it was with a hopelessness of checking their
terrible speed that he stepped out of the road to give them room.
The next instant he saw that they were making straight for the
declivity from which the road shot back, seeing in the same
breath that the driver of the wagon, not falling clear, had
entangled himself in the long reins and was being dragged rapidly
beneath the wheels. Tossing his axe aside, he sprang instantly at
the horses' heads, hanging with his whole powerful weight upon
their mouths. Life or death was nothing to him at the moment, and
he seemed to have only an impersonal interest in the multiplied
sensations. What followed was a sense of incalculable swiftness,
a near glimpse of blue sky, the falling of stars around him in
the road, and after these things a great darkness.
When he came to himself he was lying in a patch of short grass,
with a little knot of men about him, among whom he recognised Jim
Weatherby. "I brought them in, didn't I?" he asked, struggling
up; and then he saw that his coat sleeves were rent from the
armholes, leaving his arms bare beneath his torn blue shirt.
Cynthia's warning returned to him, and he laughed shortly. "Well,
I reckon you could bring the devil in if you put all your grip on
him," was Jim's reply; "as it is, you're pretty sore, ain't you?"
"Oh, rather, but I wish I hadn't spoiled my coat." He was still
thinking of Cynthia. "God alive, man, it's a mercy you didn't
spoil your life. Why, another second and the horses would have
been over that bank yonder, with you and young Fletcher under the
Christopher rose slowly from the ground and stood erect.
"With me--and who under the wagon?--and who?" he asked in a
Jim Weatherby whistled. "Why, to think you didn't know all
along!" he exclaimed. "It was Fletcher's boy; he made Zebbadee
let him take the reins. Fletcher saw it all and he was clean mad
when he got here--it took three men to hold him. He thinks more
of that boy than he does of his own soul. What's the matter, man,
are you hurt?"
Christopher had gone dead white, and the blue circle came out
slowly around his mouth. "And I saved him!" he gasped. "I saved
him! Isn't there some mistake? Maybe he's dead anyway!"
"Bless you, no," responded Jim, a trifle disconcerted. "The
doctor's here and he says it's a case of a broken leg instead of
a broken neck, that's all."
Looking about him, Christopher saw that there was another group
of men at a little distance, gathered around something that lay
still and straight on the grass. The sound of a hoarse groan
reached him suddenly--an inarticulate cry of distress--and he
felt with a savage joy that it was from Fletcher. He looked down,
drawing together his tattered sleeves. For a time he was silent,
and when he spoke it was with a sneering laugh.
"Well, I've been a fool, that's all," was what he said.
CHAPTER V. The Glimpse of a Bride
The next morning he awoke with stiffened limbs and confusion in
his head, and for a time he lay idly looking at his little
window-panes, beyond which the dawn hung like a curtain. Then, as
a long finger of sunlight pointed through the glass, he rose with
an effort and, dressing himself hastily, went downstairs to
breakfast. Here he found that Zebbadee Blake, who had promised to
help him cut his crop, had not yet appeared, owing probably to
the excitement of Fletcher's runaway. The man's absence annoyed
him at first; and then, as the day broke clear and cold, he
succumbed to his ever present fear of frost and, taking his
pruning-knife from the kitchen mantelpiece, went out alone to
begin work on his ripest plants.
The sun had already tempered the morning chill in the air, and
the slanting beams stretched over the tobacco, which, as the dew
dried, showed a vivid green but faintly tinged with yellow--a
colour that even in the sparkling sunlight appeared always
slightly shadowed. To attempt alone the cutting of his crop,
small as it was, seemed, with his stiffened limbs, a particularly
trying task, and for a moment he stood gazing wearily across the
field. Presently, with a deliberate movement as if he were
stooping to shoulder a fresh burden, he slit the first ripe stalk
from its flaunting top to within a hand's-breadth of the ground;
then, cutting it half through near the roots, he let it fall to
one side, where it hung, slowly wilting, on the earth. Gradually,
as he applied himself to the work, the old zest of healthful
labour returned to him, and he passed buoyantly through the
narrow aisle, leaving a devastated furrow on either side. It was
a cheerful picture he presented, when Tucker, dragging himself
heavily from the house, came to the ragged edge of the field and
sat down on an old moss-grown stump. "Where's Zebbadee,
Christopher?" " He didn't turn up. It was that affair of the
accident, probably. Fletcher berated him, I reckon." "So you've
got to cut it all yourself. Well, it's a first-rate crop--the
very primings ought to be as good as some top leaves." "The
all right," responded Christopher, as his knife passed with a
ripping noise down the juicy stalk. "You know I made a fool of
myself yesterday, Uncle Tucker," he said suddenly, drawing back
when the plant fell slowly across the furrow, "and I'm so stiff
in the joints this morning I can hardly move. I met one of
Fletcher's farm wagons running away, with his boy dragged by the
reins, and--I stopped it." Tucker turned his mild blue eyes upon
him. Since the news of Appomattox nothing had surprised him, and
he was not surprised now--he was merely interested. "You couldn't
have helped it, I suspect," he remarked.
"I didn't know whose it was, you see," answered Christopher; "the
horses were new." "You'd have done it anyway, I reckon. At such
moments it's a man's mettle that counts, you know, and not his
emotions. You might have hated Fletcher ten times worse, but
you'd have risked your life to stop the horses all the same--
because, after all, what a man is is something different from how
he feels about things. It's in your blood to dare everything
whenever a chance offers, as it was in your father's before you.
Why, I've seen him stop on the way to a ball, pull off his coat,
and go up a burning ladder to save a woman's pet canary, and
then, when the crowd hurrahed him, I've laughed because I knew he
deserved nothing of the kind. With him it wasn't courage so much
as his inborn love of violent action--it cleared his head, he
used to say." Christopher stopped cutting, straightened himself,
and held his knife loosely in his hand. "That's about it, I
reckon," he returned. "I know I'm not a bit of a hero--if I'd
been in your place I'd have shown up long ago for a skulking
coward--but it's the excitement of the moment that I like. Why,
there's nothing in life I'd enjoy so much as knocking Fletcher
down--it's one of the things I look forward to that makes it all
worth while." Tucker laughed softly. It was a peculiarity of his
never to disapprove. That's a good savage instinct," he said,
with a humorous tremor of his nostrils, "and it's a saying of
mine, you know, that a man is never really--civilised until he
has turned fifty. We're all born mighty near to the wolf and
mighty far from the dog, and it takes a good many years to coax
the wild beast to lie quiet by the fireside. It's the struggle
that the Lord wants, I reckon; and anyhow, He makes it easier for
us as the years go on. When a man gets along past his fiftieth
year, he begins to understand that there are few things worth
bothering about, and the sins of his fellow mortals are not among
'em." " Bless my soul!" exclaimed Christopher in disgust, rapping
his palm smartly with the flat blade of his knife. "Do you mean
to tell me you've actually gone and forgiven Bill Fletcher?"
"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to water the grass on his grave,
"answered Tucker, still smiling, "but I've not the slightest
objection to his eating, sleeping, and moving on the surface of
the earth. There's room enough for us both, even in this little
county, and so long as he keeps out of my sight, as far as I am
concerned he absolutely doesn't exist. I never think of him
except when you happen to call his name. If a man steals my
money, that's his affair. I can't afford to let him steal my
peace of mind as well." With a groan Christopher went back to his
work. "It may be sense you're talking," he observed, "but it
sounds to me like pure craziness. It's just as well, either way,
I reckon, that I'm not in your place and you in mine--for if that
were so Fletcher would most likely go scot free." Tucker rose
unsteadily from the stump. "Why, if we stood in each other's
boots, "he said, with a gentle chuckle, "or, to be exact, if I
stood in your two boots and you in my one, as sure as fate, you'd
be thinking my way and I yours. Well, I wish I could help you,
but as I can't I'll be moving slowly back."
He shuffled off on his crutches, painfully swinging himself a
step at a time, and Christopher, after a moment's puzzled stare
at his pathetic figure, returned diligently to his work.
His passage along the green aisle was very slow, and when at last
he reached the extreme end by the little beaten path and felled
the last stalk on his left side he straightened himself for a
moment's rest, and stood, bareheaded, gazing over the broad
field, which looked as if a windstorm had blown in an even line
along the edge, scattering the outside plants upon the ground.
The thought of his work engrossed him at the instant, and it was
with something of a start that he became conscious presently of
Maria Fletcher's voice at his back. Wheeling about dizzily, he
found her leaning on the old rail fence, regarding him with
shining eyes in which the tears seemed hardly dried.
"I have just left Will," she said; "the doctor has set his leg
and he is sleeping. It was my last chance--I am going away
to-morrow--and I wanted to tell you--I wanted so to tell you how
grateful we feel."
The knife dropped from his hand, and he came slowly along the
little path to the fence.
"I fear you've got an entirely wrong idea about me, "he answered.
"It was nothing in the world to make a fuss over--and I swear to
you if it were the last word I ever spoke--I did not know it was
"As if that mattered!" she exclaimed, and he remembered vaguely
that he had heard her use the words before. "You risked your life
to save his life, we know that. Grandpa saw it all--and the
horses dragged you, too. You would have been killed if the others
hadn't run up when they did. And you tell me--as if that made it
any the less brave that you didn't know it was Will."
"I didn't, "he repeated stubbornly. "I didn't."
"Well, he does, " she responded, smiling; "and he wants to thank
you himself when he is well enough."
"If you wish to do me a kindness, for heaven's sake tell him not
to," he said irritably. "I hate all such foolishness it makes me
out a hypocrite!"
"I knew you'd hate it; I told them so," tranquilly responded the
girl. "Aunt Saidie wanted to rush right over last night, but I
wouldn't let her. All brave men dislike to have a fuss made over
them, I know."
"Good Lord!" ejaculated Christopher, and stopped short,
impatiently desisting before the admiration illumining her eyes.
>From her former disdain he had evidently risen to a height in
her regard that was romantic in its ardour. It was in vain that
he told himself he cared for one emotion as little as for the
other--in spite of his words, the innocent fervour in her face
swept over the barrier of his sullen pride.
"So you are going away to-morrow, "he said at last; "and for
"For good, yes. I go abroad very unexpectedly for perhaps five
years. My things aren't half ready, but business is of more
importance than a woman's clothes."
"Will you be alone?"
"Who goes with you?" he insisted bluntly.
As she reddened, he watched the colour spread slowly to her
throat and ear.
"I am to be married, you know," she answered, with her accustomed
composure of tone.
His lack of gallantry was churlish.
"To that dummy with the brown mustache?" he inquired.
A little hysterical laugh broke from her, and she made a hopeless
gesture of reproof. "Your manners are really elementary," she
remarked, adding immediately: "I assure you he isn't in the least
a dummy--he is considered a most delightful talker."
He swept the jest impatiently aside.
"Why do you do it?" he demanded.
"You know what I mean. Why do you marry him?"
Again she bit back a laugh. It was all very primitive, very
savage, she told herself; it was, above all, different from any
of the life that she had known, and yet, in a mysterious way, it
was familiar, as if the unrestrained emotion in his voice stirred
some racial memory within her brain.
"Why do I marry him?" She drew a step away, looking at sky and
field. "Why do I marry him?" She hesitated slightly, "Oh, for
many reasons, and all good ones--but most of all because I love
"You do not love him."
"I beg your pardon, but I do."
For the first time in her life, as her eyes swept over the
landscape, she was conscious of a peculiar charm in the wildness
of the country, in the absence of all civilising influences--in
the open sky, the red road, the luxuriant tobacco, the coarse
sprays of yarrow blooming against the fence; in the homely tasks,
drawing one close to the soil, and the harvesting of the ripened
crops, the milking of the mild-eyed cows, and in the long still
days, followed by the long still nights.
Their eyes met, and for a time both were silent. She felt again
the old vague trouble at his presence, the appeal of the rustic
tradition, the rustic temperament; of all the multiplied
inheritances of the centuries, which her education had not
"Well, I hope you'll live to regret it," he said suddenly, with
The words startled her, and she caught her breath with a tremor.
"What an awful wish!" she exclaimed lightly.
"It's an honest one."
"I'm not sure I shouldn't prefer a little polite lying."
"You won't get it from me. I hope you'll live to regret it. Why
"Oh, you might at least be decently human. If you hadn't been so
brave yesterday, I might almost think you a savage to-day."
"I didn't do that on purpose, I told you," he returned angrily.
"You can't make me believe that--it's no use trying."
"I shan't try--though it's the gospel truth--and you'll find it
out some day."
"Oh, when the time comes, that's all."
"You speak in riddles," she said, "and I always hated guessing."
Then she held out her hand with a pleasant, conventional smile.
"I am grateful to you in spite of everything," she said; "and now
His arms hung at his side. "No, I won't shake hands," he
answered. "What's the use?"
"As you please--only, it's the usual thing at parting."
"All the same, I won't do it," he said stubbornly. "My hands are
not clean." He held them out, soiled with earth and the stains
from the tobacco.
For an instant her eyes dwelt upon him very kindly.
"Oh, I shan't mind the traces of honest toil," she said; but as
he still hung back, she gave a friendly nod and went quickly
homeward along the road. As her figure vanished among the trees,
a great bitterness oppressed him, and, picking up his knife, he
went back doggedly to his work.
In the kitchen, when he returned to dinner some hours later, he
found Cynthia squinting heavily over the torn coat.
"I must say you ruined this yesterday," she remarked, looking up
from her needle, "and if you'd listened to me you could have
stopped those horses just as well in your old jean clothes. I had
a feeling that something was going to happen, when I saw you with
"I don't doubt it," he responded, woefully eyeing the garment
spread on her knees, "and I may as well admit right now that I
made a mess of the whole thing. To think of my wasting the only
decent suit I had on a Fletcher--after saving up a year to buy
Cynthia twitched the coat inside out and placed a square patch
over the ragged edges of the rent. "I suppose I ought to be
thankful you saved the boy's life," she observed, "but I can't
say that I feel particularly jubilant when I look at these
armholes. Of course, when I first heard of it the coat seemed a
mere trifle, but when I come to the mending I begin to wish you'd
been heroic in your everyday clothes. There'll have to be a patch
right here, but I don't reckon it will show much. Do you mind?"
"I'd rather wear a mustard plaster than a patch any time," he
replied gravely; "but as long as there's no help for it, lay them
on--don't slight the job a bit because of my feelings. I can
stand pretty well having my jean clothes darned and mended, but I
do object to dressing up on Sundays in a bedquilt."
"Well, you'll have to, that's all," was Cynthia's reassuring
rejoinder. "It's the price you pay for being a hero when you
can't afford it."
CHAPTER VI. Shows Fletcher in a New Light
Responding to a much-distracted telegram from Fletcher, Carraway
arrived at the Hall early on the morning of Maria's marriage, to
arrange for the transfer to the girl of her smaller share in her
grandfather's wealth. In the reaction following the hysterical
excitement over the accident, Fletcher had grown doubly
solicitous about the future of the boy--feeling, apparently, that
the value of his heir was increased by his having so nearly lost
him. When Carraway found him he was bustling noisily about the
sick-room, walking on tiptoe with a tramp that shook the floor,
while Will lay gazing wearily at the sunlight which filtered
through the bright green shutters. Somewhere in the house a
canary was trilling joyously, and the cheerful sound lent a
pleasant animation to the otherwise depressing atmosphere. On his
way upstairs Carraway had met Maria running from the boy's room,
with her hair loose upon her shoulders, and she had stopped long
enough to show a smiling face on the subject of her marriage.
There were to be only Fletcher, Miss Saidie and himself as
witnesses, he gathered, Wyndham's parents having held somewhat
aloof from the connection--and within three hours at the most it
would be over and the bridal pair beginning their long journey.
Looking down from the next landing, he had further assurance of
the sincerity of Maria's smile when he saw the lovers meet and
embrace within the shadow of the staircase; and the sight stirred
within his heart something of that wistful pity with which those
who have learned how little emotion counts in life watch the
first exuberance of young passion. A bright beginning whatever be
the ending, he thought a little sadly, as he turned the handle of
the sick-room door.
The boy's fever had risen and he tossed his arms restlessly upon
the counterpane. "Stand out of my sunshine, grandpa," he said
fretfully, as the lawyer sat down by his bedside.
Fletcher shuffled hastily from before the window, and it struck
Carraway almost ludicrously that in all the surroundings in which
he had ever seen him the man had never appeared so hopelessly out
of place--not even when he had watched him at prayer one Sunday
in the little country church.
"There, you're in it again," complained the boy in his peevish
Fletcher lifted a cup from the table and brought it over to the
"Maybe you'd like a sip of this beef tea now," he suggested
persuasively. "It's most time for your medicine, you know, so
jest a little taste of this beforehand."
"I don't like it, grandpa; it's too salt."
"Thar, now, that's jest like Saidie," blurted Fletcher angrily.
"Saidie, you've gone and made his beef tea too salt."
Miss Saidie appeared instantly at the door of the adjoining room,
and without seeking to diminish the importance of her offense,
mildly offered to prepare a fresh bowl of the broth.
"I'm packing Maria's clothes now," she said, "but I'll be through
in a jiffy, and then I'll make the soup. I've jest fixed up the
parlour for the marriage. Maria insists on having a footstool to
kneel on--she ain't satisfied with jest standing with jined hands
before the preacher, like her pa and ma did before she was born."
"Well, drat Maria's whims," retorted Fletcher impatiently; "they
can wait, I reckon, and Will's got to have his tea, so you'd
better fetch it."
"But I don't want it, grandpa," protested the boy, flushed and
troubled. "You worry me so, that's all. Please stop fooling with
those curtains. I like the sunshine."
"A nap is what he needs, I suspect," observed Carraway, touched,
in spite of himself, by the lumbering misery of the man.
"Ah, that's it," agreed Fletcher, catching readily at the
suggestion. "You jest turn right over and take yo' nap, and when
you wake up well, I'll give you anything you want. Here, swallow
this stuff down quick and you'll sleep easy."
He brought the medicine glass to the bedside, and, slipping his
great hairy hand under the pillow, gently raised the boy's head.
"I reckon you'd like a brand new saddle when you git up," he
remarked in a coaxing voice.
"I'd rather have a squirrel gun, grandpa; I want to go hunting."
Fletcher's face clouded.
"I'm afraid you'd git shot, sonny."
With his lips to the glass, Will paused to haggle over the price
of his obedience.
"But I want it," he insisted; "and I want a pack of hounds, too,
to chase rabbits."
"Bless my boots! You ain't going to bring any driveling beasts on
the place, air you?"
"Yes, I am, grandpa. I won't swallow this unless you say I may."
"Oh, you hurry up and git well, and then we'll see--we'll see,"
was Fletcher's answer. "Gulp this stuff right down now and turn
The boy still hesitated.
"Then I may have the hounds," he said; "that new litter of
puppies Tom Spade has, and I'll get Christopher Blake to train
'em for me."
The pillow shook under his head, and as he opened his mouth to
drink, a few drops of the liquid spilled upon the bedclothes.
"I reckon Zebbadee's a better man for hounds," suggested
Fletcher, setting down the glass.
"Oh, Zebbadee's aren't worth a cent--they can't tell a rabbit
from a watering-pot. I want Christopher Blake to train 'em, and I
want to see him about it to-day. Tell him to come, grandpa."
"I can't, sonny--I can't; you git your hounds and we'll find a
better man. Why, thar's Jim Weatherby; he'll do first rate."
"His dogs are setters," fretted Will. "I don't want him; I want
Christopher Blake--he saved my life, you know."
"So he did, so he did," admitted Fletcher; "and he shan't be a
loser by that, suh," he added, turning to Carraway. "When you go
over thar, you can carry my check along for five hundred
The lawyer smiled. "Oh, I'll take it," he answered, "and I'll
very likely bring it back."
The boy looked at Carraway. "You tell him to come, sir," he
pleaded. His eyes were so like Fletcher's--small, sparkling,
changing from blue to brown--that the lawyer's glance lingered
upon the other's features, seeking some resemblance in them,
also. To his surprise he found absolutely none, the high,
blue-veined forehead beneath the chestnut hair, the straight,
delicate nose; the sensitive, almost effeminate curve of the
mouth, must have descended from the "worthless drab" whom he had
beheld in the severe white light of Fletcher's scorn. For the
first time it occurred to Carraway that the illumination had been
"I'll tell him, certainly," he said quietly after a moment; "but
I don't promise that he'll come, you understand."
"Oh, I won't thank him," cried the boy eagerly. "It isn't for
that I want him--tell him so. Maria says he hates a fuss."
"I'll deliver your message word for word," responded the lawyer.
"Not only that, I'll add my own persuasion to it, though I fear I
have little influence with your neighbour."
"Tell him I beg him to come," insisted the boy, and the urgent
voice remained with Carraway throughout the day.
It was not until the afternoon, however, when he had tossed his
farewell handful of rice at the departing carriage and met
Maria's last disturbed look at the Hall, that he found time to
carry Will's request and Fletcher's check to Christopher Blake.
The girl had shown her single trace of emotion over the boy's
pillow, where she had shed a few furtive tears, and the thought
of this was with Carraway as he walked meditatively along the red
clay road, down the long curves of which he saw the carriage
rolling leisurely ahead of him. As a bride, Maria puzzled him no
less than she had done at their first meeting, and the riddle of
her personality he felt to be still hopelessly unsolved. Was it
merely repression of manner that annoyed him in her he
questioned, or was it, as he had once believed, the simple lack
of emotional power? Her studied speech, her conventional
courtesy, seemed to confirm the first impression she had made;
then her dark, troubled gaze and the sullen droop of her mouth
returned to give the lie to what he could but feel to be a
possible misjudgment. In the end, he concluded wisely enough
that, like the most of us, she was probably but plastic matter
for the mark of circumstance--that her development would be,
after all, according to the events she was called upon to face.
The possibility that Destiny, which is temperament, should have
already selected her as one of those who come into their
spiritual heritage only through defeat, did not enter into the
half-humorous consideration with which he now regarded her.
Turning presently into the sunken road by the ice-pond, he came
in a little while to the overgrown fence surrounding the Blake
farm. In the tobacco field beyond the garden he saw Christopher's
blue-clad figure rising from a blur of green, and, following the
ragged path amid the yarrow, he joined the young man where he
stood at work.
As the lawyer reached his side Christopher glanced up
indifferently to give a nod of welcome. His crop had all been
cut, and be was now engaged in hanging the wilting plants from
long rails supported by forked poles. At his feet there were
little green piles of tobacco, and around him from the sunbaked
earth rose a headless army of bruised and bleeding stubble.
So thriftless were the antiquated methods he followed that the
lawyer, as he watched him, could barely repress a smile. Two
hundred years ago the same crop was probably raised, cut and
cured on the same soil in the same careless and primitive
fashion. Beneath all the seeming indifference to success or
failure Carraway discerned something of that blind reliance upon
chance which is apt to be the religious expression of a rural and
"Yes, I'll leave it out awhile, I reckon, unless the weather
changes," replied Christopher, in answer to the lawyer's inquiry.
"Well, it promises fair enough," returned Carraway pleasantly.
"They tell me, by the way, that the yellow, sun-cured leaf is
coming into favour in the market. You don't try that, eh?"
Christopher shook his head, and, kneeling on the ground,
carelessly sorted his pile of plants. "I learned to cure it
indoors," he answered, and I reckon I'll keep to the old way. The
dark leaf is what the people about here like--it makes the
sweeter chew, they think. As for me, I hate the very smell of
it." "That's odd, and I'll wager you're the only man in the
county who neither smokes nor chews." "Oh, I handle it, you see.
The smell and the stain of it are well soaked in. I sometimes
wonder if all the water in the river of Jordan could wash away
the blood of the tobacco worm." With a laugh in which there was
more bitterness than mirth, he stretched out his big bronzed
hands, and Carraway saw that the nails and finger-tips were dyed
bright green. "It does leave its mark," observed the lawyer, and
felt instantly that the speech was inane. Christopher went on
quietly with his work, gathering up the plants and hanging the
slit stalks over the long poles, while the peculiar heavy odour
of the freshly cut crop floated unpleasantly about them. For a
time Carraway watched him in silence, his eyes dwelling soberly
upon the stalwart figure. In spite of himself, the mere beauty of
outline touched him with a feeling of sadness, and when he spoke
at last it was in a lowered tone. "You have, perhaps, surmised
that my call is not entirely one of pleasure," he began
awkwardly; "that I am, above all, the bearer of a message from
Mr. Fletcher." "From Fletcher?" repeated Christopher coolly.
"Well, I never heard a message of his yet that wasn't better left
undelivered." "I am sure I am correct in saying," Carraway went
on steadily and not without definite purpose, "that he hopes you
will be generous enough to let bygones be bygones." Christopher
nodded. "He feels, of course," pursued the lawyer, "that his
obligation to you is greater than he can hope to repay. Indeed, I
think if you knew the true state of the case your judgment of him
would be softened. The boy--who so nearly lost his life is the
one human being whom Fletcher loves better than himself--better
than his own soul, I had almost said."
Christopher looked up attentively. "Who'd have thought it," he
muttered beneath his breath. Judging that he had at last made a
beginning at the plastering over of old scars, Carraway went on
as if the other had not spoken. "So jealous is his affection in
this instance, that I believe his granddaughter's marriage is
something of a relief to him. He is positively impatient of any
influence over the boy except his own--and that, I fear, is
hardly for good." Picking up a clod of earth, Christopher
crumbled it slowly to dust. "So the little chap comes in for all
this, does he?" he asked, as his gaze swept over the wide fields
in the distance. "He comes in for all that is mine by right, and
Fletcher's intention is, I dare say, that he'll reflect honour
upon the theft?" "That he'll reflect honour upon the name--yes.
It is the ambition of his grandfather, I believe, that the lad
should grow up to be respected in the county--to stand for
something more than he himself has done." "Well, he'll hardly
stand for more of a rascal," remarked Christopher quietly; and
then, as his eyes rested on the landscape, he appeared to follow
moodily some suggestion which had half escaped him. "Then the way
to touch the man is through the boy, I presume," he said
Arrested by the words, the lawyer looked down quickly, but the
other, still kneeling upon the ground, was fingering a plant he
had just picked up. "Fine leaves, eh?" was the remark that met
Carraway's sudden start.
"To touch him, yes," replied the lawyer thoughtfully. "Whatever
heart he has is given to his grandson, and when you saved the
lad's life the other day you placed Fletcher in your debt for
good. Of his gratitude I am absolutely sure, and as a slight
expression of it he asked me to hand you this."
He drew the check from his pocket, and leaning over, held it out
to Christopher. To his surprise, the young man took it from him,
but the next moment he had torn it roughly in two and handed it
back again. "So you may as well return it to him," he said, and,
rising slowly from the ground, he stood pushing the loose plants
together with his foot.
"I feared as much," observed Carraway, placing the torn slip of
paper in his pocket. "Your grudge is of too long standing to mend
in a day. Be that as it may, I have a request to make of you from
the boy himself which I hope you will not refuse. He has taken a
liking to you, it appears, and as he will probably be ill for
some weeks, he begs that you will come back with me to see him."
He finished a little wistfully, and stood looking up at the young
man who towered a good head and shoulders above him.
"I may as well tell you once for all," returned Christopher,
choking over the words, "that you've given me as much of Fletcher
as I can stand and a long sight more than I want. If anybody but
you had brought me that piece of paper with Bill Fletcher's name
tagged to it I'd have rammed it down his throat before this. As
it is, you may tell him from me that when I have paid him to the
last drop what I owe him--and not till then--will I listen to any
message he chooses to send me. I hate him, and that's my affair;
I mean to be even with him some day, and I reckon that's my
affair, too. One thing I'm pretty sure of, and that is that it's
not yours. Is your visit over, or will you come into the house?"
"I'll be going back now," replied the lawyer, shrinking from the
outburst, "but if I may have the pleasure, I'll call upon your
mother in the morning."
Christopher shook the hand which he held out, and then spoke
again in the same muffled voice. "You may tell him one thing
more," he pursued, "and that is, that it's the gospel truth I
didn't know it was his grandson in the wagon. Why, man, there's
not a Fletcher on this earth whose neck I'd lift my little finger
Then, as Carraway passed slowly along the ragged path to the
sunken road, he stood looking after him with a heavy frown upon
his brow. His rage was at white heat within him, and, deny it as
he would, he knew now that within the last few weeks his hatred
had been strengthened by the force of a newer passion which had
recoiled upon itself. Since his parting with Maria Fletcher the
day before, he had not escaped for a breath from her haunting
presence. She was in his eyes and in the air he breathed; the
smell of flowers brought her sweetness to him, and the very
sunshine lying upon the September fields thrilled him like the
warmth of her rare smile. He found himself fleeing like a hunted
animal from the memory which he could not put away, and despite
the almost frenzied haste with which he presently fell to work,
he saw always the light and gracious figure which had come to him
along the red clay road. The fervour which had shone suddenly in
her eyes, the quiver of her mouth as she turned away, the poise
of her head, the gentle, outstretched hand he had repulsed, the
delicate curve of her wrist beneath the falling sleeve, the very
lace on her bosom fluttering in the still weather as if a light
wind were blowing--these things returned to torture him like the
delirium of fever. Appealing as the memory was, it aroused in his
distorted mind all the violence of his old fury, and he felt
again the desire for revenge working like madness in his blood.
It was as if every emotion of his life swept on, to empty itself
at last into the wide sea of his hatred.
VII. In Which Hero and Villain Appear as One
A month later Christopher's conversation with Carraway returned
to him, when, coming one morning from the house with his dogs at
his heels and his squirrel gun on his shoulder, he found Will
Fletcher and a troop of spotted foxhound puppies awaiting him
outside the whitewashed gate.
"I want to speak to you a moment, Mr. Blake," began the boy, in
the assured tones of the rich man to the poor. The Blake hounds
made a sudden rush at the puppies, to be roughly ordered to heel
by their master.
"Well, fire away," returned the young man coolly. "But I may as
well warn you that it's more than likely it will be a clear waste
of breath. I'll have nothing to do with you or your sort." He
leaned on his gun and looked indifferently over the misty fields,
where the autumn's crop of lifeeverlasting shone silver in the
"I don't see why you hate me so," said the boy wonderingly,
checking the too frolicsome adventures of the puppies in the
direction of the hounds. "I've always liked you, you know, even
before you saved my life--because you're the straightest shot and
the best trainer of hounds about here. Grandpa says I mustn't
have anything to do with you, but I will anyway, if I please."
"Oh, you will, will you?" was Christopher's rejoinder, as he
surveyed him with the humorous contempt which the strong so often
feel for the weak of the same sex. "Well, I suppose I'll have my
say in the matter, and strangely enough I'm on your grandfather's
side. The clearer you keep of me the better it will be for you,
"That's just like grandpa all over again," protested the boy; and
when it comes to that, he needn't know anything about it--he
doesn't know half that I do, anyway; he blusters so about
Christopher's gaze returned slowly from the landscape and rested
inquiringly upon the youthful features before him, seeking in
them some definite promise of the future. The girlish look of the
mouth irritated him ludicrously, and half-forgotten words of
Carraway's awoke within his memory.
"Fletcher loves but one thing on this earth, and his ambition is
that the boy shall be respected in the county." A Fletcher
respected in the very stronghold of a Blake! He laughed aloud,
and then spoke hurriedly as if to explain the surprising mirth in
"So you came to pay a visit to your nearest neighbour and are
afraid your grandfather will find it out? Then you'll get a
spanking, I dare say."
Will blushed furiously, and stood awkwardly scraping up a pile of
sand with the sole of his boot. "I'm not a baby," he blurted out
at last, "and I'll go where I like, whatever he says."
"He keeps a pretty close watch over you, I reckon. Perhaps he's
afraid you'll become a man and step into his shoes before he
"Oh, he can't find me out, all the same," said the boy slyly. "He
thinks I've gone over to Mr. Morrison's now to do my Greek--he's
crazy about my learning Greek, and I hate it--and, you bet your
life, he'll be hopping mad if he finds I've given him the slip."
"He will, will he?" remarked Christopher, and the thought
appeared to afford him a peculiar satisfaction. For the first
time the frown left his brow and his tone lost its insolent
contempt. Then he came forward suddenly and laid his hand upon
the gate. "Well, I can't waste my morning," he said. "You'd
better run back home and play the piano. I'm off."
"I don't play the piano--I'm not a girl," declared the boy; "and
what I want is to get you to train my hounds for me. I'd like to
go hunting with you to-day."
"Oh, I can't be bothered with babies," sneered Christopher in
reply. "You'd fall down, most likely, and scratch your knees on
the briers, and then you'd run straight home to blab to
"I won't!" cried Will angrily. "I'll never blab. He'd be too mad,
I tell you, if he found it out."
"Well, I don't want you anyhow, so get out of my way. You'd
better look sharp after your pups or the hounds will chew them
The boy stood midway of the road, kicking the dust impatiently
ahead of him. His lips quivered with disappointment, and the
expression gave them a singularly wistful beauty. "I'll give you
all my pocket money if you'll take me with you," he pleaded
suddenly, stretching out a handful of silver.
With a snarl Christopher pushed his arm roughly aside. "Put up
your money, you fool," he said; "I don't want it."
"Oh, you don't, don't you?" taunted the other, raging with
wounded pride. "Why, grandpa says you're as poor as Job's turkey
after it was plucked."
It was an old joke of Fletcher's, who, in giving utterance to it,
little thought of the purpose it would finally be made to serve,
for Christopher, halting suddenly at the words, swung round in
the cloud of dust and stood regarding the grandson of his enemy
with a thoughtful and troubled look. The lawyer's words sounded
so distinctly in his ears that he glanced at the boy with a
start, fearing that they had been spoken aloud: "His grandson is
the sole living thing that Fletcher loves." Again the
recollection brought a laugh from him, which he carelessly threw
off upon the frolics of the puppies. Then the frown settled
slowly back upon his brow, and the brutal look, which Carraway
had found so disfiguring, crept out about his mouth.
"I tell you honestly," he said gruffly, "that if you knew what
was good for you, you'd scoot back along that road a good deal
faster than you came. If you're such a headstrong fool as to want
to come with me, however, I reckon you may do it. One thing,
though, I'll have no puling ways."
The boy jumped with pleasure. "Why, I knew all the time I'd get
around you," he answered.
"I always do when I try; and may I shoot some with your shotgun?"
"I'll teach you, perhaps."
"When? Shall we start now? Call the dogs together--they're nosing
in the ditch."
Without taking the trouble to reply, Christopher strode off
briskly along the road, and after waiting a moment to assemble
his scattered puppies, Will caught up with him and broke into a
running pace at his side. As they swung onward the two shadows--
the long one and the short one--stretched straight and black
behind them in the sunlight.
"You're the biggest man about here, aren't you?" the boy asked
suddenly, glancing upward with frank admiration.
"I dare say. What of it?"
"Oh, nothing; and your father was the biggest man of his time,
Sol Peterkin says; and Aunt Mehitable remembers your grandfather,
and he was the tallest man alive in his day. Who'll be the
biggest when you die, I wonder? And, I say, isn't it a pity that
such tall men had to live in such a little old house--I don't see
how they ever got in the doors without stooping. Do you have to
stoop when you go in and out?"
"Well, I shouldn't like that," pursued Will; "and I'm glad I
don't live in such a little place. Now, the doors at the Hall are
so high that I could stand on your shoulders and go in without
bending my head. Let's try it some day. Grandpa wouldn't know."
Christopher turned and looked at him suddenly. "What would you
say to going 'possum hunting one night?" he asked in a queer
"Whoopee!" cried the boy, tossing his hat in the air. "Will you
"Well, it's hard work, you know," went on the other thoughtfully.
"You'd have to get up in the middle of the night and steal out of
the window without your grandfather's knowing it."
"I should say so!"
"We'd tramp till morning, probably, with the hounds, and Tom
Spade would come along to bring his lanterns. Then when it was
over we'd wind up for drinks at his store. It's great sport, I
tell you, but it takes a man to stand it."
"Oh, I'm man enough by now."
"Not according to your grandfather's thinking."
"What does he know about it? He's just an old fogy himself."
"We'll see, we'll see. If he wants to keep you tied to nurse's
strings too long, we must play him a trick. Why, when I was
fourteen I could shoot with any man about here--and drink with
him, too, for that matter. Nobody kept me back, you see."
The boy looked up at Christopher with sparkling eyes, in which
the eternal hero-worship of youth was already kindled.
"Oh, you're splendid!" he exclaimed, "and I'm going to be just
like you. Grandpa shan't keep me a baby any longer, I can tell
you. All this Greek, now--he's crazy about my learning it--and I
hate it. Do you know Greek?"
Christopher laughed shortly. "Where does he live?" he inquired
For a moment the boy looked at him perplexed. "It's a language,"
he replied gravely; "and grandpa says it comes handy in a
bargain, but I won't learn it. I hate school, anyway, and he
swears he's going to send me back in two weeks. I hope I'll fall
ill, and then he can't."
"In two weeks," repeated the other reflectively; "well, a good
deal may happen, I reckon, in two weeks."
"Oh, lots!" agreed the boy with enthusiasm; "you'll let me chase
rabbits with you every day--won't you? and teach me to shoot? and
we'll go 'possum hunting one night and not get home till morning.
It will be easy enough to fool grandpa. I'll take care of that,
and if Aunt Saidie finds it out she'll never tell him--she never
does tell on me. Here, let me take the gun awhile, will you?"
Christopher handed him the gun, and they went on rapidly along
the old road under the honey locusts that grew beyond the bend.
They were nearing the place where Christopher, as a child of
twelve, had waited with his birdgun in the bushes to shoot
Fletcher when he came in sight, and now as the recollection
returned to him he unconsciously slackened his pace and cast his
eyes about for the spot where he had stood. It was all there just
as it had been that morning--the red clumps of sumach covered
with gray dust, the dried underbrush piled along the fence, and
the brown honeyshucks strewn in the sunny road. For the first
time in his life he was glad at this instant that he had not
killed Fletcher then--that his hand had been stayed that day to
fall the heavier, it might be, at the appointed time. The boy
still chatted eagerly, and when presently the hounds scented a
rabbit in the sassafras beyond the fence, he started with a shout
at the heels of the pursuing pack. Swinging himself over the
brushwood, Christopher followed slowly across the waste of
lifeeverlasting, tearing impatiently through the flowering net
which the wild potato vine cast about his feet.
Through the brilliant October day they hunted over the ragged
fields, resting at noon to eat the slices of bread and bacon
which Christopher had brought in his pocket. As they lay at full
length in the sunshine upon the lifeeverlasting, the young man's
gaze flew like a bird across the landscape--where the gaily
decorated autumn fallows broke in upon the bare tobacco fields
like gaudy patches on a homely garment--to rest upon the far-off
huddled chimneys of Blake Hall. For a time he looked steadily
upon them; then, turning on his side, he drew his harvest hat
over his eyes and began a story of his early adventures behind
the hounds, speaking in half-gay, half-bitter tones.
In the mild autumn weather a faint haze overhung the landscape,
changing from violet to gray as the shadows rose or fell. Around
them the unploughed wasteland swept clear to the distant road,
which wound like a muddy river beside the naked tobacco fields.
Lying within the slight depression of a hilltop, the two were
buried deep amid the lifeeverlasting, which shed its soft dust
upon them and filled their nostrils with its ghostly fragrance.
As he went on, Christopher found a savage delight in mocking the
refinements of the boy's language, in tossing him coarse
expressions and brutal oaths much as he tossed scraps to the
hounds, in touching with vulgar scorn all the conventional ideals
of the household--obedience, duty, family affection, religion
even. While he sank still lower in that defiant self-respect to
which he had always clung doggedly until to-day, there was a
fierce satisfaction in the knowledge that as he fell he dragged
Will Fletcher with him--that he had sold himself to the devil and
got his price.
This unholy joy was still possessing him when at nightfall,
exhausted, dirty, brier-scratched, and bearing their strings of
game, they reached Tom Spade's, and Christopher demanded raw
whisky in the little room behind the store. Sol Peterkin was
there, astride his barrel, and as they entered he gave breath to
a low whistle of astonishment.
"Why, your grandpa's been sweepin' up the county for you!" he
exclaimed to Will.
"So he's found out I wasn't at the Morrisons'," said the boy a
little nervously. "I'd better be going home, I reckon, and get it
Christopher drained his glass of whisky, and then, refilling it,
pushed it across the table.
"What! Aren't you man enough to swallow a thimbleful?" he asked,
with a laugh. His face was flushed, and the dust of the roads
showed in streaks upon his forehead, where the crown of his straw
hat had drawn a circle around his moist fair hair. The hand with
which he touched the glass trembled slightly, and his eyes were
so reckless that, after an instants' frightened silence. Peterkin
cried out in alarm: "For the Lord's sake, Mr. Christopher, you're
not yourself--it's the way his father went, you know!"
"What of it?" demanded Christopher, turning his dangerous look
upon the little man. "If there's a merrier way to go, I'd like to
Peterkin drew over to the table and laid a restraining hold on
the boy's arm. "Put that down, sonny," he said. "I couldn't stand
it, and you may be sure it'll do you no good. It will turn your
stomach clean inside out."
"He took it," replied the boy stubbornly, "and I'll drink it if
he says so." He lifted the glass and stood looking inquiringly at
the man across from him. "Shall I drink it?" he asked, and waited
with a boyish swagger.
Christopher gave a short nod. "Oh, not if you're afraid of it,"
he responded roughly; and then, as Will threw back his head and
the whisky touched his lips, the other struck out suddenly and
sent the glass shivering to the floor. "Go home, you fool!" he
cried, "and keep clear of me for good and all."
A moment afterward he had passed from the room, through the
store, and was out upon the road.
CHAPTER VIII. Between the Devil and the Deep Sea
There was a cheerful blaze in the old lady's parlour, and she was
sitting placidly in her Elizabethan chair, the yellow cat dozing
at her footstool. Lila paced slowly up and down the room, her
head bent a little sideways, as she listened to Tucker's cheerful
voice reading the evening chapter from the family Bible. His
crutch, still strapped to his right shoulder, trailed behind him
on the floor, and the smoky oil lamp threw his eccentric shadow
on the whitewashed wall, where it hung grimacing like a grotesque
from early Gothic art.
"Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown
it," he read in his even tones; "if a man would give all the
substance of his house for love, it would utterly be condemned."
The old lady tapped the arm of her chair and turned her sightless
eyes upon the Bible, as if Solomon in person stood there awaiting
"I always liked that verse, brother," she remarked, "though I am
not sure that I consider it entirely proper reading for the
young. Aren't you tired walking, Lila?"
"Oh, no, mother."
"Well, we mustn't take the Scriptures literally, you know, my
child; if we did, I fear a great deal of trouble would come of
it--and surely it is a pity to magnify the passion of love when
so very many estimable persons get along quite comfortably
without it. You remember my remarking how happy Miss Belinda
Morrison always appeared to be, and so far as I know she never
had a suitor in her life, though she lived to be upward of
"Oh, mother! and yet you were so madly in love with father--you
remember the fancy ball."
"The fancy ball occupied only one night, my dear, and I've had
almost seventy years. I married for love, as you certainly
know--at my age, I suppose I might as well admit it--but the
marriage happened to be also entirely suitable, and I hope that I
should never have been guilty of anything so indelicate as to
fall in love with a gentleman who wasn't a desirable match."
Lila flushed and bit her lip.
"I don't care about stations in life, nor blood, nor anything
like that," she protested.
The old lady sighed. "We won't have any more of Solomon, Tucker,
"she observed. "I fear he will put notions into the child's head.
Not care about blood, indeed! What are we coming to, I wonder?
Well, well, I suppose it is what I deserve for allowing myself to
fall so madly in love with your father. When I look back now it
seems to me that I could have achieved quite as much with a great
deal less expenditure of emotion."
"Now, now, Lucy, " said Tucker, closing the gilt clasps of the
Bible, "you're not yet seventy, and by the time you reach eighty
you will see things clearer. I'm a good deal younger than you,
but I'm two-thirds in the grave already, which makes a
difference. My life's been long and pleasant as it is, but when I
glance back upon it now I tell you the things I regret least in
it are my youthful follies. A man must be very far in his dotage,
indeed, when he begins to wear a long face over the sharp breaths
that he drew in youth. I came very near ruining myself for a
woman once, and the fact that I was ready to do it--even though I
didn't--is what in the past I like best to recall to-day. It
makes it all easier and better, somehow, and it seems to put a
zest into the hours I spend now on my old bench. To have had one
emotion that was bigger than you or your universe is to have had
life, my dear."
The old lady wiped her eyes. "It may be so, brother, it may be
so," she admitted; "but not before Lila. Is that you,
The young man came in and crossed slowly to the fire, bending for
an instant over her chair. He was conscious suddenly that his
clothes smelled of the fields and that the cold water of the well
had not cleansed his face and hands. All at once it came to him
with something of a shock that this bare, refined poverty was
beyond his level--that about himself there was a coarseness, a
brutality even, that made him shrink from contact with these
others--with his mother, with Lila, with poor, maimed Tucker in
his cotton suit. Was it only a distinction in manner, he wondered
resentfully, or did the difference lie still deeper in some
unlikeness of soul? For the first time in his life he felt ill at
ease in the presence of those he loved, and as his eyes dwelt
moodily on Lila's graceful figure--upon the swell of her low
bosom, her swaying hips, and the free movement of her limbs--he
asked himself bitterly if he had aught in common with so delicate
and rare a thing? And she? Was her blithe acquiescence, after
all, but an assumed virtue, to whose outward rags she clung? Was
it possible that there was here no inward rebellion, none of that
warfare against Destiny which at once inspirited and embittered
His face grew dark, and Uncle Boaz, coming in to stir the fire,
glanced up at him and sighed.
"You sho' do look down in de mouf, Marse Chris," he observed.
Christopher started and then laughed blankly. "Well, I'm not
proof against troubles, I reckon," he returned. "They're things
none of us can keep clear of, you know."
Uncle Boaz chuckled under his breath. "Go 'way f'om yer, Marse
Chris; w'at you know 'bout trouble--you ain' even mah'ed yet."
"Now, now, Boaz, don't be putting any ideas against marriage in
his head," broke in the old lady. "He has remained single too
long as it is, for, as dear old Bishop Deane used to say, it is
surely the duty of every gentleman to take upon himself the
provision of at least one helpless female. Not that I wish you to
enter into marriage hastily, my son, or for any merely
sentimental reasons; but I am sure, as things are, I believe one
may have a great many trials even if one remains single, and
though I know, of course, that I've had my share of trouble,
still I never blamed your poor father one instant--not even for
the loss of my six children, which certainly would not have
happened if I had not married him. But, as I've often told you,
my dear, I think marriage should be rightly regarded more as a
duty than as a pleasure. Your Aunt Susannah always said it was
like choosing a partner at a ball; for my part, I think it
resembles more the selecting of a brand of flour."
"And to think that she once cried herself sick because
Christopher went hunting during the honeymoon!" exclaimed Tucker,
with his pleasant laugh.
"Ah, life is long, and one's honeymoon is only a month, brother,"
retorted the old lady; "and I'm not saying anything against love,
you know, when it comes to that. Properly conducted, it is a very
pleasant form of entertainment. I've enjoyed it mightily myself;
but I'm nearing seventy, and the years of love seem very small
when I look back. There are many interesting things in a long
life, and love for a man is only one among them; which brings me,
after all, to the conclusion that the substance of anybody's
house is a large price to pay for a single feeling."
Christopher leaned over her and held out his arms.
"It is your bedtime, mother--shall I carry you across?" he asked;
and as the old lady nodded, he lifted her as if she were a child
and held her closely against his breast, feeling his tenderness
revive at the clasp of her fragile hands. When he placed her upon
her bed, he kissed her good-night and went up the narrow
staircase, stooping carefully to avoid the whitewashed ceiling
Once in his room, he threw off his coat and sat down upon the
side of his narrow bed, glancing contemptuously at his bare brown
arms, which showed through the openings in his blue shirt
sleeves. He was still smarting from the memory of the sudden
selfconsciousness he had felt downstairs, and a pricking
sensitiveness took possession of him, piercing like needles
through the boorish indifference he had worn. All at once he
realised that he was ashamed of himself--ashamed of his
ignorance, his awkwardness, his brutality--and with the shame
there awoke the slow anger of a sullen beast. Fate had driven him
like a whipped hound to the kennel, but he could still snarl back
his defiance from the shadow of his obscurity. The strong
masculine beauty of his face--the beauty, as Cynthia had said, of
the young David--confronted him in the little greenish mirror
above the bureau, and in the dull misery of the eyes he read
those higher possibilities, which even to-day he could not regard
without a positive pang. What he might have been seemed forever
struggling in his look with what he was, like the Scriptural
wrestle between the angel of the Lord and the brute. The soul,
distorted, bruised, defeated, still lived within him, and it was
this that brought upon him those hours of mortal anguish which he
had so vainly tried to drown in his glass. From the mirror his
gaze passed to his red and knotted hand, with its blunted nails,
and the straight furrow grew deeper between his eyebrows. He
remembered suddenly that his earliest ambition--the ambition of
his childhood--had been that of a gentlemanly scholar of the old
order. He had meant to sit in a library and read Horace, or to
complete the laborious translation of the "Iliad" which his
father had left unfinished. Then his studies had ended abruptly
with the Greek alphabet, and from the library he had passed out
to the plough. In the years of severe physical labour which
followed he had felt the spirit of the student go out of him
forever, and after a few winter nights, when he fell asleep over
his books, he had sunk slowly to the level of the small tobacco
growers among whom he lived. With him also was the curse of
apathy--that hereditary instinct to let the single throw decide
the issue, so characteristic of the reckless Blakes. For more
than two hundred years his people had been gay and careless
livers on this very soil; among them all he knew of not one who
had gone without the smallest of his desires, nor of one who had
permitted his left hand to learn what his right one cast away.
Big, blithe, mettlesome, they passed before him in a long, comely
line, flushed with the pleasant follies which had helped to sap
the courage in their descendants' veins.
At first he had made a pitiable attempt to remain "within his
class," but gradually, as time went on, this, too, had left him,
and in the end he had grown to feel a certain pride in the
ignorance he had formerly despised--a clownish scorn of anything
above the rustic details of his daily life. There were days even
when he took a positive pleasure in the degree of his abasement,
when but for his blind mother he would have gone dirty, spoken in
dialect, and eaten with the hounds. What he dreaded most now were
the rare moments of illumination in which he beheld his
degradation by a blaze of light--moments such as this when he
seemed to stand alone upon the edge of the world, with the devil
awaiting him when he should turn at last. Years ago he had
escaped these periods by strong physical exertion, working
sometimes in the fields until he dropped upon the earth and lay
like a log for hours. Later, he had yielded to drink when the
darkness closed over him, and upon several occasions he had sat
all night with a bottle of whisky in Tom Spade's store. Both
methods he felt now to be ineffectual; fatigue could not deaden
nor could whisky drown the bitterness of his soul. One thing
remained, and that was to glut his hatred until it should lie
quiet like a gorged beast.
Steps sounded all at once upon the staircase, and after a moment
the door opened and Cynthia entered.
"Did you see Fletcher's boy, Christopher?" she asked. "His
grandfather was over here looking for him."
"Fletcher over here? Well, of all the impudence!"
"He was very uneasy, but he stopped long enough to ask me to
persuade you to part with the farm. He'd give three thousand
dollars down for it, he said."
She dusted the bureau abstractedly with her checked apron and
then stood looking wistfully into the mirror.
"Is that so? If he'd give me three million I wouldn't take it,"
"It seems a mistake, dear," said Cynthia softly; "of course, I'd
hate to oblige Fletcher, too, but we are so poor, and the money
would mean so much to us. I used to feel as you do, but somehow I
seem all worn out now--soul as well as body. I haven't the
strength left to hate."
"Well, I have," returned Christopher shortly, "and I'll have it
when I'm gasping over my last breath. You needn't bother about
that business, Cynthia; I can keep up the family record on my own
account. What's the proverb about us--'a Blake can hate twice as
long as most men can love'--that's my way, you know."
"You didn't finish it," said Cynthia, turning from the bureau;
"it's all downstairs in the 'Life of Bolivar Blake'; you remember
Colonel Byrd got it off in a toast at a wedding breakfast, and
Great-grandfather Bolivar was so proud of it he had it carved
above his library door."
"High and mighty old chap, wasn't he? But what's the rest?"
"What he really said was: 'A Blake can hate twice as long as most
men can love, and love twice as long as most men can live.'"
Christopher looked down suddenly at his great bronzed hands. "Oh,
he needn't have stuck the tail of it on," he remarked carelessly;
"but the first part has a bully sound."
When Cynthia had gone, he undressed and threw himself on the bed,
but there was a queer stinging sensation in his veins, and he
could not sleep. Rising presently, he opened the window, and in
the frosty October air stood looking through the darkness to the
light that twinkled in the direction of Blake Hall. Faint stars
were shining overhead, and against the indistinct horizon
something obscure and black was dimly outlined--perhaps the great
clump of oaks that surrounded the old brick walls. Somewhere by
that glimmer of light he knew that Fletcher sat hugging his
ambition like a miser, gloating over the grandson who would grow
up to redeem his name. For the weak, foolish-mouthed boy
Christopher at this moment knew neither tolerance nor compassion;
and if he stooped to touch him, he felt that it was merely as he
would grasp a stick which Fletcher had taken for his own defense.
The boy himself might live or die, prosper or fail, it made
little difference. The main thing was that in the end Bill
Fletcher should be hated by his grandson as he was hated by the
man whom he had wronged.
CHAPTER IX. As the Twig is Bent
It was two weeks after this that Fletcher, looking up from his
coffee and cakes one morning, demanded querulously "Whar's Will,
Saidie? It seems to me he sleeps late these days."
"Oh, he was up hours ago," responded Miss Saidie, from behind the
florid silver service. "I believe he has gone rabbit hunting with
that young Blake. "
Fletcher laid down his knife and fork and glowered suspiciously
upon his sister, the syrup from his last mouthful hanging in
drops on his coarse gray beard.
"With young Blake! Why, what's the meaning of that?" he inquired.
"It's only that Will's taken to him, I think. Thar's no harm in
this hunting rabbits that I can see, and it keeps the child out
of doors, anyway. Fresh air is what the doctor said he needed,
"I don't like it; I don't like it," protested Fletcher; "those
Blakes are as mad as bulldogs, and they've been so as far back as
I can remember. The sooner a stop's put to this thing the better
it'll be. How long has it been going on, I wonder?" "About ten
days, I believe, and it does seem to give the boy such an
interest. I can't help feeling it's a pity to break it up."
"Oh, bother you and your feelings!" was Fletcher's retort. "If
you'd had the sense you ought to have had, it never would have
started; but you've always had a mushy heart, and I ought to have
allowed for it, I reckon. Thar're two kind of women in this
world, the mulish and the pulish, an' when it comes to a man's