Round Anvil Rock
Nancy Huston Banks
Part 3 out of 5
any distrust of him must wound her, and although he still knew nothing
of the bond between them, he saw that there could be no question of its
being very close and strong. His first impulse was to try to persuade
himself that the suspicion against Philip Alston might be unfounded; as
it was certainly unproven. And then, finding himself unable to do this,
he felt tempted to put the whole problem of the man's guilt or innocence
aside, as no concern of his own. It is always the lover's temptation to
shut his eyes when he must choose between the neglect of duty and the
wounding of the woman he loves. And alas! this is a choice that comes
sooner or later, in one form or another, to all who love. The woman
sometimes can find an invisible thread leading through the labyrinth of
the feminine conscience which may help her to follow a middle course.
The man never has any such subtle resource and he knows, from first to
last, that he must do what is wrong if he does not do what is right.
Paul Colbert's troubled perplexity grew deeper as he continued to look
at Philip Alston and to listen as he talked. The softness of his voice,
the culture that every word revealed, the intellectual quality of each
thought, the clear, calm, steady gaze of his fine eyes, the noble shape
of his distinguished head--all these things taken together almost made
the young doctor feel that Philip Alston was the victim of monstrous
calumny. And yet some unerring intuition told him that the terrible
things which he had heard were true. His gaze wandered from Philip
Alston to Ruth, and he grew sick. A sudden cold dampness gathered on his
forehead under all the mellow warmth of the sun. He began to wish that
he could get away long enough to clear his mind--to think. It was rather
a relief when Philip Alston suggested that William Pressley should lead
Ruth out for the next dance. Paul Colbert's gaze followed them as they
walked away across the sun-lit grass, but he scarcely knew that he was
looking at them till Philip Alston spoke.
"They are a handsome, well-matched young couple, are they not?" he said
with a smile, and with his eyes on the young doctor's face. "You know,
of course, that they are to be married on Christmas Eve."
THE EVE OF ALL SOULS'
Ruth saw Paul Colbert when he passed Cedar House for the first time
without stopping. He was riding very fast, and she feared that the Cold
Plague must be growing worse. Still, a glance at her chamber window
would not have delayed him, and she wondered why he did not turn his
head. She was almost sure he must know that she always gave the birds
their supper on the window-sill at that hour. She did not know that he
had seen her without looking, and had borne away in his heart a picture
of her slight white form, framed by the sun-lit window, and surrounded
by the fluttering birds. Disappointed, wondering, and vaguely troubled,
she gazed after him as long as he was visible amid the green gloom of
the forest path. And then when he was lost to sight, she turned sharply
on the boldest blue jay.
"Go 'way, you greedy thing! You startled me. I wasn't thinking about any
of you. How tiresome you all are! To teach you better manners, I am
going to throw this down to Trumpeter," leaning forward to see the swan
which stood on the grass below, anxiously watching everything that went
on above. "There! That is the last nice fat crumb."
The day had seemed endlessly long. She went wearily down the stairs
again, as she had done many times since morning. Neither the judge nor
William was at home. Miss Penelope and the widow Broadnax were in their
accustomed places, and matters around the hearth were going forward as
usual. Miss Penelope had asked fiercely in her mildest tone, what
anybody could expect to become of any country, when one of the biggest
towns in it built a theatre before building any kind of a church, as
Louisville had done. The widow Broadnax had replied in her loudest,
roughest voice, that she supposed the people there, as well as
elsewhere, could keep on getting married two or three times, and mixing
up families that otherwise might have lived in peace, just as well
without a church as with one. But the girl listened listlessly and
unsmilingly, hardly hearing what was said. Going out of the room she sat
for a long time on the doorstep, watching the forest path with patient
wistfulness. But there was no sign of the young doctor's coming back and
it was a relief when David came up the river bank. He reminded her that
she had asked him to go with her to the Sisters' house, and she arose
and went indoors to get her bonnet.
"You'd just as well take the orphans one of the biggest fatty gourds of
maple sugar," sighed Miss Penelope. "Ten to one none of us will ever
live to eat much of anything, with that comet a-hanging over us. It's
just as well to get ready as soon as you can, when you've been warned. I
know what to look for when I've dreamt of wading through muddy water
three times a-hand-running. Tell the Sisters that all the maple sugar
that was ever poured into fatty gourds couldn't hurt the children's
teeth now. The poor little things, and all of us, will have mighty
little use for teeth--or stomachs either, for that matter--if things
don't take a turn for the better a good deal sooner than I think they
will. For my part, I don't see what else anybody can expect with that
big black ring round the comet's head a-getting bigger and blacker every
night of our miserable lives."
She called all the small cup-bearers,--for some unknown reason she never
called one or two without calling all,--and sent them running to the
smoke-house to fetch the fatty gourd. She threatened them fiercely in
her dovelike tones, saying what she would do if they loitered, or
stopped to put their little black paws in the sugar. But the cup-bearers
knew Miss Penelope quite as well as she knew them, and when they came
back with the fatty gourd they waited, as a matter of course, till she
gave each one of them a generous handful of the sugar, before handing
the gourd to David.
The Sisters' house was within walking distance, and Ruth and David had
gone about half the way when they met Father Orin and Toby. These
co-workers were not moving with their usual speed on account of an
unwieldy burden. Tied on behind the priest's saddle was a great bag,
containing the weekly mail for the neighborhood. He went to the
postoffice oftener than any one else, and it had become his custom to
fetch the mail to the chapel once a week, and distribute it after
service on Sundays. When possible, he sent the letters of those who were
not of his congregation by some neighbor who was present; but he often
rode miles out of his way to deliver them with his own hand. It was in
carrying the mail on a bitter winter's day, when the earth was a
glittering sheet of ice, that he had fallen and broken his arm. It was a
serious accident, and would have disabled any one else for a long time,
but he was out again and as busy as ever within a few days, though he
had to carry his arm in a sling for several weeks. He now hailed the two
young people with his kind, merry greeting.
"There's a great letter up at the convent," he said, when he came up
beside them. "The Sisters have got it, and they will show it to you. Ask
them to read it to you. That letter will have a place in Kentucky
history. This is where we must turn out. No, Toby, old man, there's no
time for you to be listening and enjoying yourself, nor for nibbling
pea-vine, either. Move on, move on! Good-by, my children. Don't forget
to ask the Sisters to show you the bishop's letter."
Sister Teresa held it in her hand when she came to the door to meet
them. Both the girl and the boy had been her pupils, and she had formed
an attachment for them which had not been weakened by their leaving the
little school. Sister Elizabeth also hastened to receive them most
cordially. Sister Angela merely waved her hand through the window, but
the little faces peeping over the sill, and the tops of the little curly
heads bobbing up and down at her side, told why she could not come with
the others to meet the welcome guests. Sister Teresa did not wait to be
asked to read the letter, she was too much excited over it to forget it
for a moment; its coming was the greatest event that the convent had
"This, my dear children," she began almost as soon as they were within
hearing, "is a letter from Bishop Flaget, the first bishop of Kentucky,
the first bishop of the whole northwest. Of course you must know, my
dears, that this is far too important a letter to have been written to
an humble little community like ours, or even to Father Orin, much as he
is esteemed. This is merely a copy of the letter which Bishop Flaget is
sending back to France, and the original was addressed to the French
Association for the Propagation of the Faith. It was written in June of
this year, soon after the arrival of his Reverence in Kentucky, but our
copy has reached us only to-day. Listen! This is what he says about his
coming to Bardstown: 'It was on the 9th of June, 1811, that I made my
entry into this little village, accompanied by two priests, and three
young students for the ecclesiastical state. Not only had I not a cent
in my purse, but I was compelled to borrow nearly two thousand francs in
order to reach my destination. Thus, without money, without a house,
without property, almost without acquaintances, I found myself in the
midst of a diocese, two or three times larger than all France,
containing five large states and two immense territories, and myself
speaking the language, too, very imperfectly. Add to this that almost
all the Catholics were emigrants, but newly settled and poorly
furnished.' Ah, but he was welcomed with all our hearts!" cried Sister
Teresa, with tears springing to her gentle eyes. "Listen to this, from
another letter, telling how he came to St. Stephen's. It is like a
beautiful painting--you can see how it looked! 'The bishop there found
the faithful kneeling on the grass, and singing canticles in English:
the country women were nearly all dressed in white, and many of them
were still fasting, though it was four o'clock in the evening; they
having indulged the hope to be able to assist at his Mass, and receive
the Holy Communion from his hands. An altar had been prepared at the
entrance of the first court under a bower composed of four small trees
which overshadowed it with their foliage. Here the bishop put on his
pontifical robes. After the aspersion of the holy water, he was
conducted to the chapel in procession, with the singing of the Litany of
the Blessed Virgin; and the whole function closed with the prayers and
ceremonies prescribed for the occasion in Roman Pontifical.' Ah, yes; we
did our best for him!"
Sister Teresa's soft eyes were shining now behind her tears.
"And hear this, also written by the same dear friend who sends us the
bishop's letter. The priest, M. Badin, to whom this letter refers, is in
charge of St. Stephen's, so that it was his duty as well as his pleasure
to make preparations for the bishop's coming. This letter says that: 'M.
Badin had for his lodgings one poor log house ... and it was with great
difficulty that he was enabled to build and prepare for his illustrious
friend, and the ecclesiastics who accompanied him, two miserable log
cabins, sixteen feet square: and one of the missionaries was even
compelled to sleep on a mattress in the garret of this strange episcopal
palace, which was whitewashed with lime, and contained no other
furniture than a bed, six chairs, two tables, and a few planks for a
library. Here the bishop still resides, esteeming himself happy to live
thus in the midst of apostolic poverty.'" The Sister broke off suddenly.
"But I must not allow you to stand out here, my dear children. It soon
grows chilly on these late fall evenings. Come indoors at once, my
dears. And then, Ruth, Sister Angela is very anxious to show you the
sewing which she has finished."
"Oh, I know how beautiful it is without seeing it," said Ruth, with a
sudden shrinking; but she added hastily, "There is no such needle-woman
as Sister Angela anywhere."
She followed the Sister into the larger of the two rooms which the house
contained. David bashfully stayed behind, lingering on the threshold,
and keeping man's respectful distance from the mysteries of feminine
wear. But the three white caps and the flower-wreathed bonnet drew close
together over the dainty garments, all a foam of lace and ruffles and
embroidery. David heard the terms rolling and whipping, and felling and
overcasting and hemstitching and herring-boning which were an unknown
tongue to him. Ruth praised everything, till even Sister Angela was
quite satisfied. That pretty young sister was indeed so elated that she
turned to admire Ruth's dress but the Sister Superior gently reminded
her that it was the eve of All Souls', when they and every one should be
thinking of graver things.
"This year the souls and the safety of the living, as well as the repose
of the dead, will need all our prayers," said Sister Teresa. "There
seems no doubt of the war with the Shawnees. Ah me, ah me! And the Cold
Plague growing worse every day!"
"But Doctor Colbert is curing that," said Ruth, eagerly.
"As God wills, my daughter," said the Sister, making the sign of the
cross. "More recover, certainly, since he came. Before, the little ones
"He told me that three babies were coming to you yesterday. Are they
here? The poor, poor little things! And may I see them, Sister? I should
like to help take care of them, if I might," Ruth said timidly, not
knowing that her pink cheeks bloomed into blush roses.
The Sister led the way into the other room--the first orphan asylum in
the wilderness--and Ruth smiled and talked to the desolate little waifs
of humanity as brightly as she could with dim eyes and quivering lips.
She, herself, and David, also, had been like this. He had followed her
into the room, and was now standing by her side, so that she could clasp
his hand and hold it close.
Walking homeward through the darkening shadows of the forest, she still
held his hand. Both were thinking sadly enough of their own coming into
this wild country, they knew not--whence or how or wherefore--and were
never to know.
"Fathers and mothers must go suddenly when they leave their children
so," said Ruth, musingly. "Ours must have died--"
"Or have been murdered!" David broke out fiercely.
"No, no!" cried Ruth, shrinking closer to his side. "I could not bear to
But the boy went on, as if speaking thoughts which had long rankled in
bitter silence. "It isn't so bad as to believe that they deserted us, or
died without leaving a word. Fathers and mothers who love their children
well enough to bear them in their arms through hundreds of weary miles
over high mountains and down long rivers, and into the depths of the
wilderness, would never desert them at the hard journey's end. Fathers
and mothers who loved their children so dearly could hardly be taken
away by lightning so quickly that they would not leave behind a single
token of their love. And we have never seen a sign showing that ours
ever lived. There is something wrong--something unaccounted
for--something that we have not been permitted to know!"
"David, dear, dear David!"
"I have always believed it--ever since I have been able to think. As
soon as I am old enough to speak like a man, I mean to demand the truth
from Philip Alston!"
She dropped his hand and drew away from him with a look of wondering
distress. It was the one thing over which they had ever disagreed.
"You must never again say anything of that kind to me, David," she said
firmly. "I beg that you will never say it to any one, never even think
it. For in thinking it, let alone saying it, you are not only unjust,
but ungrateful. What possible object could Philip Alston have in
concealing anything that he might know about you and me? Hasn't he
always been our best friend?"
And then the quick anger which had flashed out of her loyalty turned to
"I can't bear a word said against him, dear. And it grieves me to see
you making yourself unhappy over such useless brooding. What does it
matter, after all--our knowing nothing about ourselves, who we are, or
where we came from? We are happy, everybody is kind and good to us."
They started at the sound of a voice calling her name, and they saw
William Pressley come out of the dark shadows beneath the trees, and
stand still, waiting for them to approach.
"It is late, my dear, for you to be roaming about the woods like this,"
he said, when they were near enough.
He used the term of endearment in the tone of calm, moderate reproof
which a justly displeased, but self-controlled husband sometimes uses.
And Ruth felt the resentment that every woman feels at its unconscious
"Why, there isn't any danger," she said. "We haven't been out of sight
and hearing from Cedar House."
"I was thinking of seemliness, not of danger," William Pressley replied
coldly. "And then Mr. Alston is waiting for you."
Ruth moved nearer, and laid her hand on his arm, smiling rather timidly,
with conciliatory, upward glances. Her first effort, whenever they met,
was always to make something right--often before she could remember what
it was that she had done or not done to displease him. This feeling was
the natural attitude of a gentle, loving nature toward a harsh, unloving
one, and it was the most natural thing of all that he should mistake her
gentleness for weakness; that he should mistake her fear of giving
offence for a lack of moral courage. This is a common mistake often made
by those who care little for the feelings of others, about those who
care, perhaps, too much. And as the three young people walked along
toward Cedar House, Ruth gave David her left hand, and spoke to him now
and then, just as affectionately and freely as she had done while they
had been alone. William Pressley did not speak to the boy at all or
notice him in any way. He did not dislike him, for he never disliked
anything that was not of some importance. He disapproved of his
impractical, visionary character, and thought that it might have rather
an undesirable influence over Ruth. For this reason he tacitly
discouraged all intimacy between them, but he did not take the trouble
to express it and merely ignored the lad. And David, seeing how it was,
felt instantly and strongly, that being overlooked was harder to bear
than being misused--as most of us are apt to feel.
"We have been at the Sisters' house," said Ruth, shyly, breaking a
strained silence. "They sent for me--to see the sewing that Sister
Angela has been getting ready for Christmas Eve."
William Pressley looked down at her uplifted, blushing face, and smiled,
as the most self-centred and serious of men must do, when the girl who
is to be his wife speaks to him of her wedding clothes.
SEEING WITH DIFFERENT EYES
It was on the boy's account that they had their first and last serious
quarrel a few hours later. This was by no means the first time that they
had openly disagreed, and had come to rather sharp words. Their views of
many things were too far apart for that to have been the case, but there
had never before been any great or lasting trouble by reason of their
difference of opinion. Ruth, gentle and yielding, was ever most timidly
fearful of being at fault; William, hard and unyielding, was always
perfectly certain of being in the right. It was therefore to be expected
that his opinions should generally rule, and that he should construe her
readiness to yield and her self-distrust, as proofs that he was not
mistaken. Rock-ribbed infallibility could hardly be expected to
comprehend the doubts that assail a sensitive soul.
William, naturally enough, had never noted that in giving way, Ruth had
not turned far or long from anything involving a principle. The truth
was that she had merely evaded his intolerance of any and all difference
of opinion--as a deep stream quietly flows round an immovable
rock--only to turn gently back into its own course as soon as might be.
And even in doing this, she had put aside only her own opinions and
feelings and rights, never those of any one else. But this present
dispute over David was wholly unlike any that had gone before. This
concerned the boy's feelings and rights, so that she suddenly found
herself forced to take a firm stand--affection, justice, and even mercy,
now forbidding her to yield. Yet it was, nevertheless, just as clear to
her in this as in everything else, that William sincerely thought he was
right. That was the trouble. That is always the trouble with people like
William Pressley, who are often harder to deal with and sometimes harder
to live with, than those who knowingly do wrong.
The three had scarcely entered the great room of Cedar House that
evening, when the judge asked the boy to go on an errand to a
neighbor's. This was to take some seed wheat which the judge had
promised to send for the fall sowing. The growing of wheat was still an
interesting and important experiment which was exciting the whole
country. There had been good corn in abundance from the first; on those
deep, rich, river-bottom lands the grains had but to reach the fertile
earth to produce an hundred bushels to the acre. But the settlers were
tired of eating corn-bread; their wives and children were pining for the
delicate white loaves made from the sweet fine wheat which they had
eaten in their old Virginia homes. So that the culture of the best wheat
had lately become a vital question, and this new seed was making a stir
of eager interest throughout the region. Philip Alston had given it to
the judge, and he, in turn, was dividing it among the neighbors. Each
grain was accordingly treasured and valued like a grain of gold, and the
judge cautioned the boy to be careful in tying the bag; wheat in the
grain is a slippery thing to handle, and he wished none of this to be
"You must have a good, strong string--one that can't slip," said Ruth,
in her thoughtful, housewifely way. "Let me think--what kind would be
"Here!" the judge drew out his wallet, and took off the string that
bound it. "You may use this, David, but take care not to lose it. This
is the strongest, finest strip of doeskin--"
Ruth's sweet laughter chimed in, "It looks like minkskin--it's so
black!" touching it gingerly with the tips of her fingers.
The judge laughed, too. Everything that she said and did pleased him.
But he cautioned the boy again not to lose the string, and to be careful
to bring it back. William Pressley looked on in grave, indifferent
silence. A slight frown gathered on his brow when he saw Ruth trying the
knot, to make sure of its firmness, after the bag was tied. His gaze
darkened somewhat and followed her when she went to the door to see the
boy set out; and he watched her stand looking after him, with her hands
raised to shield her eyes from the rays of the setting sun. It
displeased William to see her show such regard for any one of so little
importance--the personality of the boy did not enter into the matter.
While gazing at her in this cold disapproval, he noted with increased
annoyance that she then turned and looked long and wistfully toward the
forest path. It did not occur to him that she might be expecting or
wishing to see some one riding along the path. He was merely irritated
at what seemed to him an indication of unseemly restlessness and
empty-mindedness. To his mind the unusual and the unseemly were always
one and the same. And it was eminently unseemly in his eyes that the
woman who was to be his wife should wish to look away from the spot in
which he was sitting. And then, his displeasure turned to anger when
Ruth, after standing still and gazing up the forest path, till he felt
that he must go out to her and utter the reproof that was on his lips,
did not come back to her seat by his side, but began instead to play
with the swan.
He sat motionless and silent, calmly biding his time to express the
disapproval which such childish behavior made incumbent upon him. Cold,
hard anger like his can always wait; and waiting only makes it colder
and harder; there is never heat enough in it to melt its merciless ice.
A sudden darkening of the sky sent her into the house at last, and even
then she did not return to her proper place by his side. She did not
even look at him, but spoke to the judge who was just leaving the great
room to go to the cabin which he used as his bedroom and office. Ruth
begged him not to start out, saying that the storm seemed so near that
it might break before he could reach the cabin. But he went on with a
smiling shake of his head, after a glance at the dark clouds which were
gathering blackly on the other side of the river behind the spectral
cottonwoods, now bare of leaves and ghostly white.
"Did David have to go through the big deadening, William?" she asked
suddenly, speaking over her shoulder, without leaving her anxious post
in the doorway, though the wind was whipping her skirts about her
slender figure and loosing her long, black hair. "I wish he would come.
He should be back by this time. I am afraid--the great trees fall so in
a storm. Father Orin and the doctor, too, often ride through there. And
it is such a dangerous place when the wind blows. Oh!" with a cry of
relief, "there's David now! Here he comes. David, David dear--I am so
She sprang down the steps and ran to meet the boy. The rush of the
rising storm kept from hearing William Pressley's call for her to come
back. He stood still for a moment, hesitating, and then, seeing that she
flew on, he followed and overtook her just as she reached David, who was
getting down from the pony and taking the empty bag from the saddle. The
wind was now very violent, and the darkened air was thick with the dead
leaves of the forest swirling into the river which was already lashed
into waves and dashing against the shore. Waterfowl flew landward with
frightened cries; a low, dark cloud was being drawn up the stream over
the ashen face of the water--a strange, thick, terrible black curtain,
shaken by the tempest and bordered by the lightning--pressed onward by
the resistless powers of the air.
There was a lull just as William Pressley reached Ruth's side. It was
one of those tense spaces which are among the greatest terrors of a
storm by reason of their suddenness, their stillness, and their
suspense. He grasped her hand, and she clung to his as she would have
clung to anything that she chanced to touch in her fright. He said
rather sternly that she must come to the house at once, and she turned
obediently, following the motion of his hand rather than the meaning of
his words. He spoke to David also, without looking at the boy, but she
was clinging to him and hiding her face on his arm whenever the
lightning flashed, and did not notice what he had said until he repeated
"You have of course brought back the doeskin string."
Ruth suddenly lifted her face from his arm, loosed her grasp upon it and
stood away from him. Yet in that first dazed instant she could not
believe that she had heard aright. It was impossible for her, being what
she was, to understand that he had never in all his life done anything
more true to his nature, more thoroughly characteristic, than to ask
this question at such a time. She forgot the lightning while she waited
till he asked it for the third time. And then, straining her incredulous
ears again, she heard the boy murmur something, and she saw him
hurriedly and confusedly searching his pockets for the string.
"I can't find it," he stammered. "I must have dropped it when I poured
out the wheat. I am so sorry--I will go to-morrow--"
"You will go now;" said William, calmly. "The string will be lost by
to-morrow. And then," judicially, "you will remember a needed lesson
better if you go at once."
"William!" burst out Ruth almost with a scream. "You can't mean what you
say. Listen to the roar of the coming storm. It's almost here. Surely
you don't know what you are saying. Send David through the deadening in
the very teeth of a tempest like this, for a bit of string!"
"Come to the house, my dear. It is beginning to rain. I am afraid you
will take cold. You, sir, will go back at once," turning to the boy.
"You know, of course, that the string itself is of no importance in this
matter. It is absurd to speak of such a thing. But it is my duty to
teach you, as far as I can, to perform yours. I tell you again to go at
once. That is all I have to say, I believe, concerning this matter.
Come, Ruth, it is beginning to rain."
She shrunk away from his hand as if its touch horrified her. Her tears
were falling faster than the heavy, isolated drops that fell on her bare
head. But her courage was rising at need, as it always rose, and she was
not too much blinded by tears to see that the boy was getting on the
pony again. She ran to him and caught his sleeve, and turned upon
William Pressley with the reckless fierceness of a gentle creature made
daring in defence of what it loves.
"You are cruel," she said, speaking calmly, steadied by the very
extremity of her excitement and distress. "You have no more heart than a
stone. You feel nothing that does not touch yourself. You have always
been unkind to David. But you shall not do this. I will prevent
you--defy you. You shall not send him to his death for some narrow,
tyrannical notion. He is like my brother. I love him as if he were. And
I wouldn't allow you to treat a stranger so. It's inhuman! It shall not
be!" panting, and clinging to the boy.
William Pressley stared at her as if he thought she had suddenly lost
her senses. Could this be Ruth speaking like that--and to himself?
Instinctively he threw into his voice the whole weight of his heavy,
cold rage, which had never yet failed to crush all life and spirit out
of her most fiery resistance.
"This is truly shocking. I scarcely know what to say. I am merely trying
to do my unpleasant duty in a perfectly simple matter. If I didn't try
to do it, I should always think less well of myself--"
"Think less well of yourself!" she cried. "Nothing in the world could
ever make you do that! Nothing! Whatever you think and say and do is
always right; whatever anybody else thinks or says or does is always
wrong. I have given up in almost everything because I loved peace more
than my own way, and because I am not often sure that I know best. But I
will not give up in this!" shrinking and quivering at a peal of thunder,
but clinging closer to the boy's arm.
William Pressley came nearer and laid his hand on her shoulder.
"Come to the house, my dear," he said quietly. "It is beginning to rain
harder. You will certainly take cold. Come at once. When you have time
to think, you will see how childish and foolish all this is. We will say
no more about it. You, sir, know what is right for you to do. You know
as well as I do what the judge's positive orders were. You have
"But uncle Robert never meant anything like this," she said. "He is
kind and tender-hearted. I will call him. He would not--"
The boy had turned proudly and silently, meaning to get back in the
saddle, but she would not loose her hold on his arm. And then came the
first furious blast of the tempest, and the greatest trees--the
mightiest giants of the ancient forest--bent and crouched before it,
bracing themselves for the fierce conflict with the elements in which
they must gain or lose centuries of life. The rain now began to fall
heavily, and William abruptly told the boy to come in the house till the
storm was over. In yielding thus far, he was not influenced by Ruth's
threat to appeal to his uncle. He had scarcely heard what she said, and
he was never in awe of the judge's opinion, and never looked for
opposition from any source, because he could not anticipate an opinion
different from his own. He merely dropped the argument for the moment
because he saw the urgent necessity of bringing an undignified scene to
a speedy close, and could not see any other or better way of doing it.
When they had gone indoors and had gathered around the fire, so that
their damp clothes might dry, he was by far the most composed of the
three. The boy was deeply agitated and suffering as only the
supersensitive can suffer from harshness, whether merited or not. Ruth
was still quivering with excitement and distress, and very soon her
tender conscience also was aching. She could not recall very distinctly
all that she had said, but she knew how bitter her words must have been,
and was already wondering how she ever could have uttered them. How they
came in her mind and heart she could not comprehend. She had always
thought William a good man, and worthy of all respect, and she now felt
that there had been much truth in what he had said. David was a dreamer,
poor boy, and it would be well if he could be taught to remember, to be
practical and useful like other people. She still could not think it
right for him to have been forced to go back through the storm to
correct an error; but she now thought that William had not really
intended to send him. It seemed suddenly plain that William's sole
intention must have been to impress him with the necessity of doing what
he was told to do. She had scolded the boy herself about that very thing
many a time. The fault was hers, she had been too hasty, too excitable,
too impetuous. Ah, yes, that was always her fault! She looked at William
with everything that she thought and felt clearly to be seen on her
transparent face. But a ray of comfort shone through the cloud which
darkened her spirits. Surely this and everything else would be well when
she had told him how sorry she was, and how plainly she saw her mistake.
They had been such good friends as far back as she could remember; the
bond between them had been such a close and strong one that it
certainly could not be broken or even strained by a few hasty,
passionate words, repented at once. Her lovely eyes were already seeking
his face and silently appealing to this old and faithful affection.
But William's gaze did not meet hers. He was looking into the fire and
seeing what had occurred with wholly different eyes. To him everything
was altered, and nothing could ever make the relation between them what
it had been. No tenderness of affection, no length of association, no
faithfulness of service, could stand for an instant against a single one
of the many blows that his morbid self-love had received. For self-love
like his is an incurable disease of sensibility, a spreading canker
which poisons the whole character, as an unsound spot in the flesh
poisons the whole body. To those who have not come in close contact with
this form of morbidity, it may seem impossible that William Pressley's
love for Ruth, which had been real so far as it went, should have
hardened into dislike almost as soon as the words that wounded it had
left her lips. Yet that was precisely what had taken place, quite
naturally and even inevitably. He had loved her as much as he was
capable of loving, mainly because of the deep gratification which he
found in her great esteem for himself. No one else had ever come so near
granting his self-love all that it demanded. Her sweet presence, always
looking up to him, had been like the perpetual swinging of a censer
perpetually giving the fragrant incense that his vanity craved. And now
all this was changed. The gentle acolyte was gone, the censer no longer
swung, and instead there was a keen critic armed with words as hard as
stones. No, there was nothing strange in the fact that, when William
Pressley finally turned his gaze on Ruth, he looked at her as if she had
been a stranger whom he had never seen before; an utter stranger, and
one moreover whose presence was so utterly antagonistic to him that
there was not the remotest possibility of any liking between them. But
he said nothing, and gave no indication of what he felt. No feeling was
ever strong enough to cause him to say or do an unconsidered thing. In
this, as in all things, he waited to be sure that he was doing what
would place himself in the best possible light. While he had never a
moment's doubt of being wholly in the right, he thought it best to wait
and consider his own appearance in the matter. And then, just at that
time, political affairs were claiming his first attention, for that was
a period of intense public stress.
A SPIRITUAL CENTAUR
The whole wilderness, the whole country, the whole heart of the nation,
was now aflame over the coming conflict at Tippecanoe.
Father Orin, like every one else, was thinking of this, a day or so
later, as he rode along the forest path. There was a heavy weight in his
merciful breast as he looked across the river. Over there, beyond those
spectral cottonwoods and on the banks of its tributary, the Wabash, the
white and the red races were about to meet in a supreme struggle now
close at hand. He had just been told that Joe Daviess had offered his
sword, and the news had brought the public trouble home to his own
heart, for he loved the man.
And thus it was that, seeing Tommy Dye riding toward him, he had only a
grave word of greeting, without any of the merry banter that the
adventurer had come to expect. He stopped, however, feeling that Tommy
had something to say, but he listened in rather abstracted silence, till
Tommy spoke of having been to see the Sisters in order to tell them
"For I am going to Tippecanoe, too. I leave to-night. The general can't
go. It looks like the wound from that infernal duel with Dickinson never
would get well. But I like to be where things are stirring, and I am
going, anyhow. So is Joe Daviess."
"Yes, I know," said Father Orin, sadly. "Good men as well as bad must
go, I suppose, if wars must be fought."
Tommy Dye looked hard at him for a moment, and taking off his hat,
rubbed his red hair the wrong way till it stood on end. His stare
gradually turned to a sort of sheepish embarrassment before he spoke;--
"I'll swear some of the babies up yonder ain't much bigger than my
fist!" he finally blurted out. "I took the Sisters the wad I won on the
last chicken fight. 'Twasn't much, but there ain't any use taking it
over the river for the red devils to get, if they get me--and maybe they
will--for they say the Prophet is a fighter. If the Shawnees don't get
me, I can make plenty more, so it's just as broad as it's long. Anyhow,
the Sisters will know what to do with the wad. Say! I wish it had been
bigger. They took me into the room where the youngsters stay," he said
huskily, rubbing his head harder than ever. "They said--them real ladies
said--that they would raise up the children to love me, and pray for me.
When I come away they cried--them real ladies--about me, old Tommy Dye,
that ain't even a heretic."
"You are kind, my friend; you have a good heart, and you are generous,"
said Father Orin; "but I wish you could earn your money in another and a
better way. Somehow it grates--"
"Now, look here!" cried Tommy Dye, bristling at once, and jamming his
hat back on his red head. He was always cowed at the very sight of the
gentle Sisters; but as man to man--even though one be a priest--he was
up again at once, and quite ready to hold his own. "Every man to his own
notion," he blustered and swaggered. "I've got mine and you've got
yours. That's my way of making a living, and I dare anybody to say it
ain't honest. Just let any man come out flat foot and tell me so, face
to face. I play fair, and I bet as square as the next one. I take my
chances the same as the other man. I may fight rough and tumble, but I
always give warning, and I never gouge. If any man's got anything to say
against my honesty or fairness, he's only got to come on and say it."
"Come, come!" said Father Orin, too sad to be amused at the outburst, as
he might have been at another time. "I beg your pardon if I have
offended you. I had no thought of doing that. But I wish I could induce
you to think before you go into danger. All who go over yonder will not
come back. The Shawnees have been getting ready for this test of
strength for a long time. There is great danger. I beg you, my friend,
to think. Will you come back with me to the chapel? Just for a little
while. There is no one there, and we can have a quiet talk."
"Now, what's the use of raking all that up again? We've gone over all
that--and more than once--haven't we? You thought one way and I another,
when we had it out the other day. And we've both got the same right now
that we had then, to think as we like about something that neither of us
knows the first blamed thing about, haven't we? Well, I think just the
same now that I did then, and I reckon you do, too. I haven't seen any
reason to change, have you? I haven't had any fresh news from up
yonder"--pointing heavenward--"and I don't suppose you have either. So
you see one of us is bound to be most damnable mistaken--"
"Shut up," shouted Father Orin, "you unmannerly rascal! I have a great
mind to jump down and pull you off that horse and give you a thrashing
to teach you some respect for religion, and how to keep a civil tongue
in your head. And you know I could do it, too!"
They looked fiercely at each other for a moment. Father Orin was of a
fiery spirit, and all his goodness could not always subdue it. Tommy Dye
was a ready and a good fighter, but he paused now, and silently
regarded the priest. He looked at his large, sturdy form, at his brawny
shoulders, at his deep chest and his long arms, remembering suddenly
that he had seen him roll, with his own hands, the largest logs in the
little chapel which no one else could move.
"I reckon you could," Tommy Dye finally conceded frankly.
Father Orin burst into his good-humored, chuckling laugh, and Tommy Dye
grinned, but their faces sobered instantly. The pity of it touched and
moved the priest through his sense of humor. The gambler was softened
and ashamed, he hardly knew why. With one simultaneous impulse they sent
their horses forward, and coming closer together clasped hands.
"God bless and guard you, my friend," said Father Orin. "You can't keep
me from saying that, and you can't help my praying for your safety,"
trying to smile.
Tommy Dye found nothing more to say and, laughing very loud, he put
spurs to his horse and galloped away through the darkening forest.
Father Orin and Toby stood still looking after him till he had passed
out of sight. And then they turned to go on their way. They went along
in silence for a while, and at last Father Orin began the conversation
with a heavy sigh. "Well, old man, there's another bad failure that we
have got to set down in our book--you and me. That was another of the
times when we didn't know what to do. That is to say, I didn't. I
suppose you did--you always do. You never make mistakes and lose your
temper like I do nearly every day. If I could do my part as well as you
do yours, we wouldn't fail so often, would we, old man?"
Toby quickly turned his head with a friendly, encouraging whinny, as if
he saw his co-worker's trouble and wanted to give him what comfort he
could. He always seemed to know as well when his friend needed
encouragement as when he required to be kept up to his duty. It is a
wonderful, wonderful thing, this bond between the good rider and the
good horse! It is so wonderfully close and strong; the closest and
strongest binding the human being to his brute brother. It is infinitely
more subtle too, than that which binds any other, even the kindest
master to the most faithful dog; for the man and his horse are not
merely master and servant, they are friends and even equals in a way.
Neither is nearly so complete or powerful without the other; but
together--with body and spirit coming in living, throbbing contact--they
form the mightiest force in flesh and blood. Along the marvellous
electric currents of life there flashes from the man to the horse,
intelligence, feeling, purpose, even thought perhaps, so that to the
true horseman the centaur can never be wholly a fabulous creature.
One of the greatest things about this wonderful bond is that it reaches
all classes of riders and horses. Every good rider and every good horse
may rely upon it, no matter which of the many roads through life they
may travel together: all may trustingly rely upon it till one or both
shall have breasted "Sleep's dreamy hill." The horse of the fox-hunter,
of the race-rider, of the mounted soldier--every one of these noble
beasts has the fullest understanding of his rider's calling, and gives
it his completest sympathy with the greatest assistance in his power.
Who that has known the horse at his best can have failed to observe and
recognize and be moved by this fact? We have all seen that the hunter
hardly needs the touch of his rider's knee to be off like the wind and
to go without urging from whip or spur on to the end of the chase; never
flagging, no matter how long or hard it may be; never flinching at the
deepest ditch nor fouling at the highest fence; straining every sinew to
the last, for his rider's defeat is his own failure, his rider's success
his own victory. And we have all seen the gallant response of the
race-horse to every movement of his rider's body--a loyal gallantry that
ennobles even the merely mercenary; and the sight of these two--now
one--flying toward the goal, always makes the heart beat faster and grow
warm with its brave showing of this magical bond. And above all, we have
seen the trooper's horse, which comes closer to him than the comrade
fighting by his side; for it is to his horse more than to his sword that
the soldier must owe any glory that he may hope to win; and when
strength and courage can no longer serve, it is his horse that often
gives his own body to shield his rider from death.
And if all this be true, as all horsemen know it to be--even when the
bond is strained by cruelty and tainted by gain and stained by
blood--how much closer and stronger must have been the tie between this
priest of the wilderness and his friend. Toby's loyalty was never tried
like the hunter's by seeing some dumb brother tortured and slain--and
that the hunter feels the test keenly, no one can doubt after seeing the
horror in his eloquent eyes. Toby never had to suffer from a broken
heart because of a lost race, or because he shared the disgrace of his
rider's dishonesty, and many noble beasts have seemed to suffer
something strangely like this. Toby never had to lend his strength to
the taking of human life, like the trooper's horse; and the soldier's
horse does not need the power of speech to tell that he suffers almost
as much in the spirit as in the flesh from the horrors of the
battle-field. Toby and his friend worked together solely for peace,
kindness, and mercy, for the relief of suffering, and the saving of
bodies and souls; all and always, solely for the good of the world, of
their fellow-creatures, and the glory of God.
Think of what it was that Father Orin and his partner did! They had
ecclesiastical jurisdiction over a strip of country which was more than
fifty miles wide and little less than four hundred miles long. This lay
on both sides of the Ohio River, much of it being the trackless forest,
so that Father Orin and Toby used the Shawnee Crossing oftener than the
Shawnees themselves. They went unharmed, too, where no other pioneers
ever dared go. Some mysterious power seemed to protect them, as the rude
cross drawn on a cabin door is said to have saved the inmates from the
savages. Father Orin and Toby thus travelled about two hundred miles
each week all the year through, without stopping for heat or cold. There
was only one church when they first began their labors, and this was the
little log chapel; but the members of that small and widely scattered
congregation were served with the offices of their religion by the
priest at many private houses which were far apart and called
"stations." There were about thirty of these in Kentucky, several in
Indiana and Illinois, and one or two in Tennessee, and Father Orin and
Toby visited them all, some as often as once a month and the others as
often as possible. To say Mass and to preach constituted but a part of
the duty which called them from place to place. They went wherever the
priest was needed to administer baptism to infants or older persons;
they went wherever any one, old or young, required instruction in
religion; they went wherever the priest was needed to hear confession;
they went far and wide, so that the priest might solemnize marriage for
Protestants as well as Catholics; they visited the sick, no matter how
distant, in summer and in winter alike, and Toy day or by night; they
went at any summons to bury the dead; and they tried to go again, so
that the priest might do what he could to comfort the living. Yet with
all this untiring zeal for the soul's welfare, there was also a
ceaseless care for the body's welfare, and a divine disregard of any
narrow line of faith; for wherever Toby carried Father Orin that good
man's heart was always moved by compassion for any distress of mind,
body, or estate, always overflowing with a deep, wide pity infinitely
greater and more Christian than any creed.
It is not strange, then, that the good man and the good horse had become
almost one in mind and body, and that they were quite one in spirit. It
is not in the least strange, certainly, that Toby came to know the
nature of their errand almost as well and nearly as quickly as Father
Orin himself. He easily knew a sick call by the haste with which they
set out, and he knew its urgency by their going with the messenger. He
seemed to be able to tell unerringly when they were bearing the
Viaticum, and it was plain that he felt the responsibility thus resting
upon his speed and sureness of foot. Then it was that he would go like
the wind, through utter darkness, through storm and flood and over an
icy earth, without a pause or a misstep. Many a time, after such a
struggle as this, has Toby turned his head, as if trying to see why
Father Orin was slow in doing his part when the rain, freezing as it
fell, had frozen the priest's poor overcoat to the saddle, and his
ragged leggins were heavy and clumsy with icicles. But the apologetic
tone in which Father Orin always said, "Well, here we are, old man," and
the explanatory pat that he always gave Toby's neck, after going through
the respectful form of hitching him, never failed to make this right.
And when the priest came out of the house, he always had something in
his pocket for Toby, if any one had remembered to give himself anything
But their errands were not all so sad as this. Sometimes there were
weddings to attend, and Toby entered into the happy spirit of that
lively business quite as heartily as Father Orin. The only thing that
Toby was strict about then, was that his friend should not forget to
wear his best clothes, which he was too apt to do, even if he had not
given them away, and that there should not be a speck of mud on his own
coat, which had to be neglected in more urgent cases. Father Orin used
to declare that Toby eyed him from top to toe when he knew they were
going to a wedding; and that if there were a spot on his cassock, or a
hole in it, Toby's eye never failed to find it. At such leisurely times
he was indeed so exacting as to his own proper appearance that he would
not budge until the last "witch's stirrup" had been combed out of his
mane and tail. He was only a degree less particular when he knew they
were going to the christening of an infant. It was then plainly Toby's
opinion that, while they might not take quite so much time to christen
as to marry, there was still no need to rush off with the priest's
vestments out of order and his own fetlocks weighted with mire. The two
had many friendly contests on these occasions, but Toby's will was the
stronger, and his temper was not quite so mild; and as it is always the
less amiable who wins, it was commonly he who won, in the long run.
Whenever the way before them was not quite clear, Father Orin would let
Toby lead, and only once in all their long pilgrimage together did he
ever fail to lead aright. It was on a wild winter's night, and neither
could see either heaven or earth; yet on against the bitter wind went
the priest and his horse, Toby stretching his fullest length at the top
of his speed, and Father Orin bending low to escape the boughs of unseen
trees; and thus they sped through the stormy blackness. Faster still
they went, up hill and down hill, leaping fallen trees, flying across
the hollows made by the uptorn roots, swimming swollen streams, while
the priest knelt on the saddle, holding the Viaticum high above the
rushing water which dashed over his knees. At last they stopped,
utterly exhausted, only to find that they were lost in the icy, dark
wilderness; and they went on groping blindly for any kind of shelter
under which to wait for the first glimmer of dawn. They finally came
upon a ruined cabin, and although the whole front of it was gone, some
of the roof and a part of the walls were left, and Father Orin led Toby
into the driest, corner. Taking off the wet saddle and the soaked,
half-frozen blanket, he laid them on the ground. He patted Toby as he
did this, and Toby's responsive whinny said it was all right, just as
plain as if he had been able to talk. But Father Orin was not quite
satisfied, and moving a little farther over in the corner, where it was
so dark that even Toby could not see what he was doing, he pulled off
his poor old overcoat, from which the water was dripping, but which was
still warm and partly dry on the inside. Stealing back to Toby, he laid
the coat over his shivering shoulders, chuckling to think that Toby
would never know that it was not the saddle-blanket. Feeling now that he
had done his best for his friend, he buttoned his cassock closer and
laid down on the freezing ground, with the frozen saddle for a pillow,
and tried to get what rest and sleep he could.
At times like this--and they were not a few--it was hard for Father Orin
to believe that Toby had no soul. It was indeed so hard now and then,
as on that night, that he could not believe it; that he could not think
there would be no reward of any kind for such service as Toby was giving
the Faith. It was service as faithful as his own; he could not have
given his without Toby's help. Looking upward toward his own reward,
even this bitter, black winter's night became as nothing; but Toby--what
was there for Toby? He did not remember that he often gave Toby the food
which he needed himself, as he had just given him the warmth from his
own shivering body. He thought only of the things that Toby did for him
and for the Faith. And so thinking, very strange fancies about Toby
would now and then come to him with the profoundest reverence. And on
that dreary night, when their dauntless spirits seemed to touch, while
their exhausted bodies thus dozed side by side, a pleasant vision
vaguely blended Father Orin's half-conscious dreams with his perplexed
Of a sudden, all was bright and warm, and he felt himself going up, up,
up, through flawless blue space. He thought he had no wings, but he did
not miss them, nor even think about them; he was missing and thinking
about Toby, and wondering, where he was, and what he was doing. But ah!
there he was all ready and waiting close to the gate of paradise. Yes,
there was Toby after all! There he was, standing by a celestial manger
overflowing with ambrosia, already blanketed with softest zephyrs,
saddled with shining clouds, and bitted with sunbeams--quite ready and
only waiting for the touch of his friend's hand on the bridle--to canter
up the radiant highway walled with jasper and paved with stars.
THE WEB THAT SEEMED TO BE WOVEN
The fancy pleased Father Orin, and he spoke jestingly to Toby about it,
reminding him, however, seriously enough, that it was only in visions
that there could be any such direct passing from earth to heaven.
"For you see, old man, there's a place on the way where most of us must
tarry a while. Maybe you might be able to pass by and go straight on. I
am afraid there wouldn't be much of a chance for me."
But they were both still far from their long, hard journey's end on that
gloomy November evening. They were merely turning a little aside from
their usual broad path for a still wider service to humanity. They had
not seen the doctor that day, and there was always reason to fear that
he might at any moment fall a victim to the epidemic which he was
ceaselessly fighting, so that they were now going in some anxiety to see
what had kept him away from the places in which they were used to seeing
him. They were both very tired, yet Toby, nevertheless, quickened his
weary pace at a gentle hint from Father Orin, and they got to the
doctor's house just as the sun went down behind the cottonwoods on the
The cabin stood near the river bank. It was a single room of logs, rough
without and bare within. The doctor was not very poor, as poverty and
riches were considered in the wilderness, having inherited a modest
fortune. But he was generous and charitable, and had gone from Virginia
into Kentucky with an earnest wish to serve his kind. And then his
acquaintance with Father Orin had brought him in close contact with want
as well as suffering, and would have given him good uses for larger
means than his own. Yet rude and empty as the cabin was, there were
traces of refinement here and there, as there always must be wherever
true refinement dwells. A miniature of his mother, whom he could not
remember, hung against the logs at the head of his bed. There were a few
good books on a rough shelf, and a spray of autumn leaves lay on the
table. The beauty of the leaves had drawn him to break the spray from
the bough and bring it home. But he had forgotten it as soon as he had
laid it down on the table, and the leaves were withering as he sat
beside them with his head bowed upon his hands.
The man of conscience, who cares for the bodies of his kind, bears
almost as heavy a burden as he who cares for their souls. He must
everywhere, and unrestingly, fight ignorance and prejudice with one
hand, while he strives to heal with the other, and this double strife
was fiercer in the wilderness, just at that time, than almost anywhere
else within the furthest reach of science. On first coming he had found
more people being killed by calomel and jalap than by the plague. At
every turn he encountered this bane of the country which was called
callomy-jallopy, and at that moment he was utterly worn out, body and
soul, by a struggle to save the life of a man who had ignorantly
poisoned himself by drinking some acid after taking the dose. This was
not his first experience of the kind; but he had met the other trials
with the high courage of a light heart and a free mind. It was only
within the last two days that he had been weighed down by
discouragement, by heaviness of heart, and depression of mind. He was so
weary and absorbed now in disheartened thought, that he did not hear
Toby's approach, and he was startled when Father Orin appeared in the
open door. He greeted him with a warmly outstretched hand, but did not
say that he was glad to see him; they were too good friends for empty
phrases, such good friends that they sat down silently, neither needing
a word to know the other's sadness. It was the priest who finally broke
"You are troubled, my son," he said, quietly and gently. "I see there is
something besides the trouble which touches us all--this terror of what
is coming on the other side of the river. I see that there is something
else--some closer trouble of your own. If you wish to tell me about it,
I will do what I can to help you; but you know this without being told."
He had spoken at the right moment, for there are moments in the lives of
the most reserved and self-reliant when the heart must speak to ease the
mind. Paul Colbert was a Protestant, and so firm and strong in his faith
that he was ready at all times to defend it, to fight for it; yet this
moment, which has nothing to do with any creed, had come to him, and he
spoke as one man speaks to another whom he trusts and knows to be his
friend. He told what he was suffering, and the cause of his
wretchedness. He spoke of his first meeting with Ruth, and of the love
for her that had leapt up in his heart at the first glimpse of her face,
before he had heard her voice, before he knew her name. He said how
happy he was when chance put her in his arms through that wild night's
ride. He described his visit to her on the next day, and said how far he
was from suspecting that William Pressley was more than a member of the
same family. He went on to speak of the other visits which he had paid
to Ruth, telling how fast his love had grown with every meeting. He
ended with the revelation at the dance in the woods.
"But it wouldn't have made any difference had I known sooner. It
couldn't have made any difference in my loving her," he said. "I must
have loved her just the same no matter when or how we might have met.
Nothing ever could have altered that. I am afraid that I couldn't have
helped loving her had she been another man's wife. I am keeping nothing
back, you see, Father. I am telling you the whole truth. But perhaps it
wouldn't have been quite so hard to bear, had I known at the very first.
It can hardly be so hard to give up happiness when we have never dared
long for it. And I knew no reason why I might not try to make her love
me. As it is, from this time on, every thought of her must be like
constantly trying to kill some suffering thing that can never die!"
He dropped his head on his arm which lay on the table. The priest gently
laid his hand on the thick, brown hair.
"My son," he murmured.
"If the man that she is to marry were only different," Paul groaned. "If
he were only more worthy, if I could only think that she would be
He did not know that he was merely saying what every unfortunate lover
has thought since love and the world began; and it was a sad smile that
touched the sympathy of Father Orin's face.
"William Pressley is not a bad young fellow," the priest said. "He means
well. He lives uprightly according to his dull, narrow ideas of right.
And none of us can do any better than to live up to our own ideals.
It's a good deal more than most of us do. I am afraid he is selfish,"
with the hesitation which he always felt in pronouncing judgment upon
any one; "but then most of us men are, and maybe he will not be selfish
toward her, for he must be fond of her. Everybody loves the child."
"But about her--is she fond of him? How can she be?"
"I can't answer for that. There's no telling about a girl's fancy; in
fact, I have never given the engagement a thought. It was all settled;
it seemed a good, suitable arrangement--"
"Arrangement!" groaned Paul.
Father Orin shook his head. "It was most likely Philip Alston who
brought it about. He doubtless thought it a wise choice for both the
young people. He certainly never would have consented if he had not
believed it to be for Ruth's happiness--that always comes first with him
Paul Colbert sat up suddenly, throwing back his hair, and looked at the
priest with a clearing gaze. All the questions which he had been wishing
to ask now rushed to his lips. What was Ruth's relation to Philip
Alston? What right had he to choose her husband? What was his influence
over William Pressley? What was his hold upon Judge Knox? What was this
power that he wielded over the whole family of Cedar House?
"He is no relation to her, is he? He isn't even her guardian. And
William Pressley is an honest man, isn't he, even though such a solemn,
pompous prig? He can hardly be a confederate of counterfeiters, forgers,
robbers, and murderers. And a single look at the judge's face shows him
to be the most upright of men; his open, unswerving honesty of thought
and deed, cannot be doubted. How is it, then, that Philip Alston can
move all these honorable and intelligent people to suit his villanous
purposes, as if they were pawns in a game of chess?"
"Ah, you don't know much about Philip Alston. You have met him only
once--yet that must have made you feel the wonderful charm of the man,
his singular power. You have seen how he looks," laughing at some
recollection. "Sometimes when he has talked to me, looking me straight
in the face with his clear, soft, gentle, blue eyes, I have doubted
everything that I ever had heard against him. Things that I know to a
moral certainty to be true seemed a monstrous slander. You must have
felt something of this, though you have seen him but once; and the more
frequently you meet him the more you will feel it. The power of the man
is past words and past understanding. Did you know that he once held a
high office under Spain? Oh, yes, for years he controlled the arrogant,
treacherous, local government of Spain as absolutely as he controls the
simple family of Cedar House. He was living in Natchez then, and was
apparently a very devout Catholic, too, about this time. But the church
which he attended was mysteriously robbed; its altar was stripped of
everything precious,--gold, jewels, paintings,--when none but himself
had had access to the church unobserved. That is the story. I do not
vouch for its truth. There was no evidence against him--only suspicions
in this as in everything else. It was shortly afterward that he suddenly
appeared in this country a stanch Protestant; and then almost
immediately the present reign of crime began. Yet he has never been seen
in the company of any known law-breakers. Many mysterious visitors are
said to come to his house over the Wilderness Road, and to go as
mysteriously as they come. But no one claims to know who or what they
are, where they come from, or where they go. It is said that these men
who carry out his orders hardly know him by sight, that he sees only the
leaders, and that they never dare go to his house unless they are sent
for. It is believed that he rarely goes into detail, and does not wish
to know what they do in carrying out his wishes. It is said that he is
sickened by the slightest mention of bloodshed or cruelty, like any
delicate, sensitive woman, but is perfectly indifferent to all sorts of
atrocity that go on out of his sight and knowledge. There is, indeed, a
general opinion that he actually does not know half of the time what
his tools are guilty of; that he purposely avoids knowing. I have heard
it said that the boldest of the band would no more venture to tell him
of the crimes they commit while executing orders, than he would put his
head in a lion's mouth. It is understood that Alston simply points to a
thing when he wants it done, leaving all shocking details to his tools.
But this is mere hearsay. No one really knows anything about him; that
is to say, no one outside his band--if he actually has one. It is very
generally believed, however, that he has only to blow a single blast on
a horn at any hour of the day or night, and that from fifty to a hundred
armed men will instantly appear, as if they had sprung out of the earth.
It is also generally believed that he makes all the fine counterfeit
money with which this country is flooded, and that he does the work with
his own delicate, white hands. Yet not a dollar has ever been traced to
him, although its regular sale goes steadily on at a fixed rate of
sixteen bad dollars for one good dollar. It is generally believed, too,
that he keeps his money, both the good and the bad, buried somewhere in
the forest near his house, presumably for the double purpose of guarding
against robbery by his tools and against surprise by the officers of the
law. This, of course, is also mere speculation; nobody really knows
anything about what he does. I only know that his house is a bare log
hut, which is singular enough, seeing what a fine gentleman he is, and
what luxury he has surrounded the girl with. But I know that to be true,
because accident once took me to his house, and greater courtesy I never
found anywhere, though I was not invited to come again. It is known that
he owns a fleet of flatboats, and one of them is usually seen waiting
near Duff's Fort when horses are stolen, and it is always gone before
the dawn of the next day; but there is no proof of this, either. Boats
belonging to other people have a hard time getting past Duff's Fort.
More often than not, they are never seen or heard of after reaching that
fatal point, and the passengers vanish off the face of the earth. That
is what happened to Ruth's parents, as nearly as any one but Alston
knows. Most likely he knows nothing more."
"And knowing this, she loves him, and the judge and his nephew trust
"The child doesn't know anything about it. Who would tell her? He is
like her father--he could not have been more tender of her had she been
his own child. There is nothing strange in her loving him; it would be
far more strange if she did not. She is a gentle, loving nature, and he
has done everything to win her love, and you know what he is."
"How can any creature in human form be so utterly unnatural--so wholly
a monster? How can he endure to see her, much less profess fondness for
her, knowing what he has done?"
"I have thought a good deal about that, and I have never been able to
make up my mind. You see we don't know that he has done anything wrong.
Yet it may be an unconscious expiation. Who knows? The human heart is a
mysterious thing. But it is most likely that he simply began to love her
when she was a baby, just because she was so lovely that he couldn't
help it. She won all hearts in her cradle--the little witch. I remember
very well how she used to keep me from my work, by curling her rose leaf
of a hand around one of my rough fingers, before she could talk."
"But why--loving her--should he wish to marry her against her will?"
"We do not know that it is against her will. That is to say, I know
nothing of the kind, and I have no reason even to think it."
There was a silence after this. Paul Colbert was suddenly realizing that
he also had no reason to think her unwilling; but this did not comfort
him or change his feeling. It is the delight and misery of love never to
have anything to do with reason.
"It is not likely that Alston would approve anything that he did not
believe was for her happiness," Father Orin went on after a brief
silence. "But there may have been other inducements. With the judge's
nephew under his thumb, he need not have much fear of the law or the
court. That was the reason most generally assigned for his patronage of
William Pressley in the first place, before there was any engagement
between the young man and Ruth. But that will, as a matter of course,
bind him closer to Alston's interests, through her fondness for him. And
on yesterday I heard of a scheme to put Pressley in Joe Daviess' place.
It has been kept quiet, but is said to be well on foot, and I should not
be surprised if it were true. Pressley is politically ambitious above
anything, so that there are several reasons why he and Alston should
hold together. In the event of Pressley's securing the appointment,
there would not be much danger of the law's interference with any
unlawful plans that Alston might have. Mind you, I don't say that he has
any. I don't know that he has, and I am not even sure that I am right in
telling you these things, which are merely rumor, after all. Well, at
all events he has his good points. He is very generous, and always
ready, open-handed, to help any good work of the Sisters. I have had
scruples about letting them accept his gifts, but I have hesitated to
speak for they know nothing against him, and there is always danger of
doing injustice. We have no right to accuse anyone of anything that we
Paul was not listening to his friend's scruples. He had risen from his
chair, and was walking up and down the room. Presently he paused and
faced the priest with the air of a man who sees his way and has made up
his mind. His voice rang clear with decision.
"Then this is the net that has been woven about her--the innocent,
helpless little thing! She is to be made a victim through her tenderest
and most natural affections. It's like seething a kid in its mother's
milk. And how utterly unprotected she is! Think of her father! Look at
the judge--for all his kindness! What is there to expect from him? And
Philip Alston, who pretends to love her? He is using her affection for
himself to bring about this marriage, so that she may bind this dull
tool--this pompous fool, Pressley--to the service of an organized band
of robbers and assassins."
"You are rushing to conclusions, my son. There is no reason, is there,
to think that she doesn't love the young man? We haven't the slightest
right to assume that. I certainly have not--have you?"
Father Orin spoke with a keen look at the pale, agitated young face,
which flushed painfully. Seeing this the priest went on more gently
without waiting for any reply.
"And I must again remind you that we do not know that Philip Alston has
anything to do with the lawlessness of the country,--we merely suspect
him. Suspicion and evidence are different things; so widely different,
indeed, that I may have done grave wrong in even mentioning the first to
"Then we must try to find out the truth--try to lay our hand on the
evidence which will prove Alston's innocence or his guilt. Doing that
cannot harm her--if she is happy in this engagement," with a strong
effort, "and it may help her--if she is not."
The priest shook his head. "You forget that many able men have already
tried hard to do what you suggest, and that every attempt has failed."
"That hasn't a straw's weight with me. I shall not fail, because I am
going to try harder than any one else ever can have tried," with the
confidence and courage that belong to love. "I think I can do something
to aid the officers in gathering evidence. My work, carrying me over the
whole region where these villains do theirs, gives me opportunities to
know what is going on. I shall speak to the attorney-general early
to-morrow morning. Every honest man owes it to the state to give such
help as he can in this extremity."
"Take care," said Father Orin, gently. "I am doubting more and more the
wisdom and right of having told you these stories about Philip Alston.
Remember, they are merely rumors, widespread and generally believed, it
is true, yet still wholly unsupported by evidence. We must be careful.
There is a bare possibility that we may be wrong, that we may be doing
a terrible injustice to an innocent man. I do not believe that anything
can be long believed by a great many honest people unless there is some
truth underneath for it to rest upon; and this about Philip Alston has
been believed by the best men of this country for a good many years. But
the fact that it hasn't been proven remains, nevertheless. There has
never been a shadow of real evidence, and we, as fair-minded men, are
bound to remember that." He hesitated for a moment, and looked at the
young doctor as if uncertain whether to say something else that was in
his kind, wise thoughts. "There is another thing that you would do well
to bear in mind, my son. Any one bringing any charges, supported or
unsupported, against Philip Alston, will break that little girl's heart.
She would never credit the strongest proof. A woman like that,--a
tender, soft, clinging, unreasoning little thing,--who is all affection
and trust, could not be reached by testimony that would convince any
jury. That is one of the merciful dispensations; that is one of the
reasons why men get so much more mercy here below than they deserve.
This gentle girl not only would never believe, but she would never,
never forgive you for breathing a word against Philip Alston. That is
the way with women of her kind. And you would not wish to hurt her, even
"And then you must not forget that the young man whom she is to marry
is also more or less involved. And you must remember that he is
essentially an upright, well-meaning, well-trained young fellow. There
is no reason to think she doesn't love him. His conceit is the only
thing against him, and she may not mind that. A gentle, yielding nature
like hers is often attracted by a dominant, overbearing one like his. I
have often noticed it. Maybe it is intended by nature and providence to
keep the balance of things. What would become of the world if all the
strong ones or all the good ones were to come together, and leave all
the weak ones or all the bad ones by themselves? You can see at once
that that would never do--everything would be at once unbalanced. It's
hard on the good and the strong; but then, many of nature's provisions
are hard on the individual, and yet they all work for the welfare of
He said this with a smile and a chuckle, hoping to win his friend to the
half-earnest, half-jesting talk with which they sometimes tried to
lighten the heavy burdens that both were constantly bearing. But he saw
that Paul could not respond, and he went back at once to the grave
sympathy with which he had been speaking.
"At all events, this young couple have chosen one another for better or
worse, and we, as honest men, and Christians, cannot allow ourselves to
discuss, or even think of anything else. I wish I could help you, my
son, but I can only beg you to hold to your own road in life, to press
straight on upward as steadily and as bravely as you can. And you must
put all thought of Philip Alston, too, out of your mind. You and I must
work for the saving of men's bodies and souls--we have nothing to do
with their punishment. Work, my son! Work, work for others, that is the
secret of happiness! And if we work hard enough for the help and the
healing of others, it may be that after a while we will be allowed to
find help and healing for ourselves."
And the young man looking sadly in the face of the old man promised that
he would try--that he would do his best.
Ruth, meantime, was still waiting and watching the forest path, and
wondering why he did not come back. He nearly always passed Cedar House
more than once during the day, but he did not return now, although she
waited and watched from early morning till the sun went down. She was
tired of hearing the old ladies wrangling over the hearth, and going
outside the door she had played with the swan, and had grown tired of
that. Looking listlessly about for something else to do, she caught
sight of David sitting alone under the willows on the river bank. He
thought himself safely hidden for the reading of his book, but the
foliage was thinner now on the slender golden wands; some of them were
quite bare, and hung like long silken fringes of shining yellow. The
first frost had touched them on the night before; the soft breeze was
freighted with drifting leaves, and there was a fresh sparkle in the
She had put on a long coat of dove-colored cloth--one of the fine
garments that Philip Alston was always finding for her--on account of
the cool weather, and she was wearing her gypsy bonnet tied down with
its three-cornered handkerchief of white lace, so that she was all ready
for going further from the house. In another moment she was skimming
down the river bank toward the boy. He saw her coming; but she moved so
like a darting swallow that he barely had time to hide his book under
the mossy log on which he was sitting before she fluttered into a seat
beside him, nestling against his arm.
"There now!" she sighed, smoothing down her skirts. "Now we can have a
nice long talk about love."
The boy moved with the uneasiness that every boy feels at any abstract
approach to the great topic. The girl went straight on, with all the
serenity of the least experienced of her sex. Her big blue eyes were
gravely fixed on his reddened face. Her own was quite calm, and very
serious indeed. Her soft lips were set as firmly as one rose leaf may be
folded against another. The tips of her little fingers met in wisdom's
"Listen, David, dear. Listen well, and think hard. I have been thinking
a great deal about love lately. It is right, you know, that all young
people should. I will tell you everything that I have thought, and then
you must tell me what you think. For there are some things that I can't
find out by myself, though I have tried and tried. And boys ought to
know more than girls about love. But I don't believe they do!"
The blue eyes gazed at him rather severely from under the gypsy hat. It
was the woman arraigning the man with the eternal challenge. The boy
looked down at the ground, and tried not to feel guilty, as the
challenged always do. Ruth saw how it was, and relented, as the woman
always does. She ran her arm through David's, and gave it an
affectionate teasing little squeeze.
"You can't help not knowing anything, can you, poor dear?" she said,
with sweet laughter. "Well, then, never mind. We will try to find out
together. There are only three things that I really must know--that I
can't possibly do without knowing."
The smile faded. She sat silently gazing across the wide, quiet river.
"Only three really very, very important things," she presently went on.
"The first is this: How may a girl tell what people call 'true love'
from every other kind of love? You see, dear, there are so many kinds of
love, and they are all true, too. When a girl like me has loved every
one ever since she could remember--because every one has always been so
good and loving to her that she couldn't help it--she knows, of course,
when another kind of love comes; but she doesn't know whether it is
truer than all the rest. How can she tell? That is one of the things I
want to find out--the first of the three really important things that I
most wish to know," checking it off on her small forefinger.
Resting her elbow on her knee, and her chin in the palm of her hand, she
fell suddenly silent again, and sat gazing across the river. Her blue
eyes seemed to be wistfully seeking the secret of love among the rosy
mists which the sunset had left beneath the shadowy trees. She did not
observe that the boy made no reply. Her lovely head was intently bent to
the other side, as if listening to hear some whisper from her own heart.
When she spoke, it was in a low, absent tone, as though she were
whispering to herself, or thinking only half aloud.
"And what are the signs of true love? That is the next thing. What are
the sure signs that true love may be known by, so that there can be no
danger of making a mistake, no risk of taking one kind of love for
another? That is the question. How do the signs of true love look? How
do they feel, I wonder? Can it be one of the sure signs of true love to
feel at the first sight of a face that it is the one you have most
wanted to see all your life? Can it be one of the sure signs of true
love to have your heart leap at the first sound of a voice, so that you
are glad to be alive--glad--glad as you never were before, although you
have always been happy? I wonder--I wonder! And can it be another of the
sure signs of true love to feel utter content in one presence, to feel
that, walled in with it forever away from all the rest of the world,
there would be nothing left outside on the whole, wide earth to wish
for? Do you think so, David? I wonder if it can be. And then can it be
yet another of true love's sure signs to have a warm, sweet glow come
around the heart, as it never did before, and to have something tell you
that it will grow warmer and sweeter and brighter as long as you live? I
wonder--wonder--wonder. And could it be the surest sign of all, that you
don't know why any of all these things are so; that you only know that
everything some one is and says and thinks and does--satisfies and
delights your eyes and mind and heart and soul."
Two heavy tears, like sudden drops from a summer shower, fell on her
clasped hands, although her lips were smiling and she was still softly
"And yet there is another kind of love--quite, quite different from
this--and that, too, must be true. A feeling that you have had ever
since you could remember must be true, surely. And you are always
thinking about this one--always arguing with yourself about how right
and reasonable it is. There isn't any trouble in finding one the reasons
for this love. The only trouble about this kind of love is in your own
unworthiness. It's somehow disheartening and tiring to be always looking
up, higher than you can see, as though you stood all the time on your
tiptoes. And then when you are always feeling how unwise and childish
you are, it is hard to love wisdom and dignity as they deserve to be
Saying this, Ruth turned suddenly upon David. Her soft eyes were
flashing through her tears.
"Why do you sit there like a stone and never say a word!" she demanded.
"I knew you didn't know the first earthly thing about love, but I didn't
know you were dumb. Why don't you speak? Can't you say what a fine
fellow William is? You know it, just as well as I do! Everybody knows
it. Everybody respects William and looks up to him. Everybody is bound
to do it. He always does what is right and sensible. He isn't forever
doing and saying things that he has to be sorry for, as I am. He always
goes steadily straight ahead. He isn't moved by every heart-beat and
swayed by every fancy like you and me. Why even uncle Robert defers to
William, because he is so dignified and right-minded. He always knows
just what to do and say. Uncle Philip often speaks of it. _He_
appreciates William. _He_ never criticises him for being serious when
other people are joking. And I've seen you do it many a time, when you
didn't know I was looking. Yes, and uncle Robert, too. I've seen his
eyebrow go up when he didn't know that it did. And I won't have it! Do
you hear? I won't have people laughing at William, just because he
never laughs. I like him all the better for it. I think all the more
highly of him because he never understands my silly, light little ways.
I do--I tell you I do!"
She sprang up and stamped her foot, and then, sitting down again, burst
into helpless sobbing, and laid her head on the boy's shoulder. He could
only draw her closer, and hold her in silent tenderness, having no words
that he dared utter. After a time her sobs ceased, and lifting her head,
she looked round, dimpling and smiling through the tears which were
still heavy on her dark lashes.
"Well, then, since you don't know anything about love, sir, look and see
what your silly old book says. Oh, you needn't pretend that you haven't
got it," she said gayly. "If it isn't in your hand, it is in your
pocket, or you have hidden it. Get it instantly," pretending to shake
The boy bashfully drew the book from beneath the log, while Ruth
bantered him with sweet, bubbling laughter that made him think of
awakening birds and blossoming orchards. He turned the leaves in
"I don't find anything about love," he stammered. "But here is something
"As if they weren't one and the same!" cried Ruth. "Read it. Let's hear
what it says. Read every word carefully and distinctly."
David then read aloud what the Knight of the Oracle said to the Most
"They are truly married that have with united hearts plighted promise of
perpetual friendship, electing one another by true love and not by
outward ceremony; for where true love is not there can be no perfect
marriage, though the outward ceremony be never so well performed."
"As if everybody didn't know that already!" scouted Ruth. "Any gosling
of a girl knows that without having to be told. There isn't a single
word there to tell what true love is, and what its signs are. If I
didn't love you so dearly, David, I couldn't love you at all when you
are so dull. What do you mean by reading anything so tiresome out of
that foolish book? I think worse of it than ever."
Her smiles vanished like watery sunbeams. David trembled for fear she
might begin crying again. But she looked fondly up in his face, and
beamed brightly when she saw how frightened he was.
"But you know I do love you, David, dear. You know that you are all I
have, of my very own," she said. "I am unreasonable--I know that well
enough; but I couldn't help being hurt at your injustice to William.
Could I, dear?"
"Oh, no! No indeed!" responded the boy, with vague eagerness.
"Well, then, I will forgive you if you promise never to do it again.
And do you know any more about birds than you do about love, you poor
dear? Look at that one flying over the river. Why do they always cross
the stream in a slanting direction? Why do they never fly straight
across? And why do birds sing so seldom in the depths of the forest? And
is it true that none of the singing birds were here till the settlers
came? It is said that they came with the settlers. I've heard many
persons state that as a fact. But how does anybody know? Did any bird
say so? Those paroquets could tell if they would; but they never will.
They only chatter to scold one another. Just listen! I am sure they
could tell lots of things if they liked. They are not so green as they
look--not half so green as you, my dear. I shall have to ask Mr. Audubon
if there were any birds here before the settlers came. He will know; he
doesn't go round all the time with his head in the clouds, as you do.
You don't even know how old a snow-goose has to be before it turns from
gray to white. And you really ought to know that, because you are a
goose yourself. I saw a pure white snow-goose the other day on the pond
back of Cedar House, and when the snow-goose comes, then winter is here,
and it isn't long till Christmas."
She suddenly stood up shivering, and said she was cold; but it was the
thought of Christmas Eve, not the frost in the air, that sent the chill
to her heart.
THE ONCOMING OF THE STORM
On entering the great room of Cedar House they found the rest of the
family in a most unusual state of excitement. The lamps and candles had
not been lighted, as it was not yet quite dark, but the firelight was
bright, and they could plainly see the anxiety on every face.
Miss Penelope was in her accustomed place, which she could no more get
away from than a planet could leave its orbit. But her attention was
wandering, as it rarely did, and she was silently casting uneasy glances
at the judge and his nephew who sat on the other side of the room,
talking to each other in a loud, excited tone. The widow Broadnax, also,
was in her usual seat in the chimney-corner, yet looking now and then at
the two men; and the mere fact that she thus allowed her gaze to stray
for a moment from what her half-sister was doing, indicated the uncommon
disturbance of her mind.
Ruth and David hardly knew the judge as he looked and spoke now, for it
was he who was speaking as they came in. He had just motioned his
nephew to silence with a sternness which was not to be disobeyed. His
voice rang with a decision and severity, such as none of the household
had ever heard from him, who was commonly so carelessly mild and
"No one shall, with my consent, or even my knowledge, go from my house
to Duff's Fort on any account whatever."
"Pardon me, sir," began William, stiffly.
He was keeping his self-control with the air of one who does it under
great provocation, and who has scant respect for those who lose it; but
his face was flushed, and his eyes were angry. The strained coldness of
his tone and manner were like oil to the flame of his uncle's wrath. The
judge's hand went out in a gesture that had almost the force of a blow.
"Stop!" he shouted. "I refuse even to discuss the matter. It is enough
for me to tell you again that no one shall go from under my roof to the
place where robbers and cutthroats congregate. It's a disgrace that I
haven't been able to break up their den. I have done my best, and I am
still doing it, but the reproach of this band's existence, here at my
very door, nevertheless rests on me more than on any one else. I am the
representative of the law--the law, good God! with the country in the
murderous clutches of that lawless gang! Keep away, I tell you! And I
will ask Alston what he means by even seeming to give countenance to
those scoundrels by going nigh them. Business! What business can he or
any other decent man have with the nest of rattlesnakes that we can't
drag out from under that bluff?"
"It is a very simple matter, sir, if you would permit me to explain,"
William said more coldly and deliberately than ever. "Mr. Alston is
merely making a trade for a boatload of horses, and simply asked me, as
his attorney, to meet him at Duff's Fort to draw up the contract with
Mason and Sturtevant."
The judge stared blankly for a moment, so overwhelmed by surprise that
he forgot his anger. "Mason and Sturtevant," he repeated. "Do you mean
to tell me that a man of half Alston's intelligence doesn't know that
those men never have a horse that they haven't stolen?"
William Pressley said nothing more; he suspected that his uncle had been
drinking a little more heavily than common. Moreover, it scarcely seemed
worth while to argue with blind prejudice, drunk or sober.
"Then if you've got nothing more to say, it's with Alston that I will
settle this matter. But all the same, I forbid you to go near Duff's
Fort. I have a right to forbid you, as a member of my household. I have
a right to forbid any one belonging to my family to do anything that
touches my own honor, my good name. And this touches both to the quick."
"Very well, sir. I shall tell Mr. Alston what you say. I must, of
course, give some reason for breaking a professional engagement," said
"I shall tell him a few things myself," stormed the judge. "It's all
very well for him to put on his high-and-mighty tolerant air about the
state of things hereabouts, and to keep on saying, soothingly, that
everything will come right after a while, as it does in all new
countries; but neither he nor any honest man can afford to handle pitch.
It sticks to the cleanest hands. See that you keep yours out of it.
Nobody belonging to me shall be smirched--and just now, too, when we are
going to cleanse the whole country of it at last, thank God! We have
only been waiting for a chance to carry out the plan which was arranged
while General Jackson was here. Joe Daviess has now found the
opportunity, and our campaign has already begun. He is determined to put
it in motion before he leaves for Tippecanoe--"
"Then he is really going?" broke in William, quickly, with a marked
change of tone and manner.
The judge paid no attention to the question. He seldom noticed what his
nephew said, and his thoughts were now solely of the undertaking which
absorbed him heart and soul. After thinking deeply in silence for a few
moments, he spoke of the plan more fully, even freely, as he was in the
habit of speaking in the bosom of his own family. There was no one else
present; even the servants were gone out of the room. Moreover, he had
been drinking, as his nephew suspected, and the stimulant, together with
the excitement, carried him beyond all prudence. He did not even lower
"Yes, we begin the good work this very night. We've got the chance we
have been waiting for--the chance to catch those cutthroats red-handed!
We had news yesterday that three men were coming over the Wilderness
Road, bringing a large sum of money to buy land. The negotiation has
been under way for weeks. We have learned that this fact, and the time
when these men are expected to pass through here, are both as well known
at Duff's Fort as they are to us. We have also had news of the coming of
a large flatboat with a rich cargo, which is due to pass down the river
by Duff's Fort some time during to-morrow night. Those hungry demons are
said to be ready and waiting for the travellers by land and water--and
we are ready and waiting for them! Just let them lift a hand to rob or
murder, and we will be on hand, too! The attorney-general has sent a
large posse of picked men down the river to come up overland on the
further side of the fort. Another posse has gone round by the swamp to
guard that quarter, and there is a boat in readiness on the other side
of the river, well armed and fully manned. Yes, we've got the scoundrels
safe enough this time! We've run them to earth at last. There is only
one loophole, and the attorney-general himself is to guard that--the
path round Anvil Rock. That is the band's highway. The rock is their
rallying-point and we couldn't see at first how we were to watch it
without putting the scoundrels on their guard. To send any number of
men, even two or three, in that direction, would have been to give the
alarm at once--as the moon is about full. After consultation, it was
decided that the attorney-general alone should attend to this delicate
part of the plan. It was his own suggestion that he should go to Anvil
Rock immediately after dark to-morrow night, and wait there in the
shadow--watching everything that passes--till his men join him, after
beating the bushes and going over the country with a drag-net. It's a
dangerous task that he has taken on himself, notwithstanding that the
posse guarding the swamp should be in hearing of his voice by the time
he reaches Anvil Rock. I told him so; but he said that it must be done
by some one man, since more than one would defeat our whole undertaking,
and that it was the duty of no one but himself. However, he has ordered
all his men--the different posses sent out in various directions--to
draw in toward Anvil Rock, so that he will not be there long alone, and
not at any time beyond the hearing of his men, should he find it
necessary to call for help. Anyway, I couldn't dissuade him from going
alone. It was no more than General Jackson had done, he declared, when I
protested; and he also thought that being alone made it unlikely that he
would be observed. The main object was for him to be near by when his
men should need him, and that purpose would be best served by his
waiting in the shadow of Anvil Rock. I said what I could, and urged him
to let me go with him, but he stuck to it that only one man must go."
The judge spoke anxiously, wearily now, all anger forgotten. "And he
will be there. He never knew what fear was, in doing his duty; he would
walk straight into the devil's den and attack him single-handed, without
the quiver of a nerve."
"Allow me to congratulate you, sir," William Pressley said distantly,
with an air of polite concession to somewhat foolish enthusiasm. "I
think you have perhaps been rather more troubled over certain outbreaks
of lawlessness than you need have been. They are to be expected, I
suppose, in all new countries, and they gradually disappear before the
advance of civilization, as Mr. Alston says. All that is in the natural
order of human events. However, since you have been so much disturbed, I
am truly pleased that you are so soon to be relieved of all uneasiness
from this source. May I ask, sir, if you can tell me the precise date of
the attorney-general's departure--for the seat of war, I mean--for
The judge shook his head, hardly hearing the inquiry. The agitation
which had shaken him was leaving him greatly spent. The old look of
abstraction came back, quickly dulling his gaze, and, sinking down in
his chair, he very soon began to nod and doze.
"With your permission, sir," William went on with a touch of sarcasm in
his cool, slow voice, "I should like to call upon Mr. Alston to-morrow.
You have, I presume, no objection to my going to see him in his own
house. It is impossible to drop a matter of business without a word of
explanation. And if you have no objection, I will mention to him the
matters of which you have just been speaking. No one has a deeper
interest in the public welfare, and certainly no one could be more
eminently discreet. However, I shall, of course, speak in the strictest
The judge bent his head, but it was in nodding not in assent, for he had
not heard a word that his nephew said. And William saw nothing but the
nod with a sidewise glance of aversion at the signs of his uncle's
It was the boy who heard and saw everything, and remembered and weighed
it, with a feeling of alarm that he knew no reason for, and could not
explain to himself. It was his instinct to dislike anything that William
Pressley said or did, and to distrust everything in which Philip Alston
was concerned. He looked round at Ruth to see if she shared his
feeling, and saw that she was gazing at William Pressley with troubled
They had scarcely exchanged a word since their quarrel, although she had
made many timid advances toward a reconciliation. It was conscience and
not love which had moved her in all that she had done, but this fact was
not yet clear to her own mind. She was beginning to see it, but she
tried to shut her eyes to the truth, being a loyal soul, and firm in her
high regard for the man whom she had promised to marry. There had been
no opportunity to tell him what she felt; and she was still more
distressed to see that he avoided seeing her alone. It was of this cloud
between them that she was thinking now, and it was that which shadowed
her face. She had not noted very keenly what was going forward about
her. She had shrunk from the judge's excitement and agitation, as she
always did from all violence; but the meaning of his words had not
impressed her deeply or even clearly. Her gentle nature and her tranquil
life were too far from strife, cruelty, and crime for her to grasp the
full purport of the story. She had heard William Pressley speak of
telling Philip Alston, without giving the matter a thought. It was right
in her eyes that he should be told everything. The mention of his name
caused her to think that it would be well to tell him of her quarrel
with William and of her regret and self-reproach. He was wise and kind,
and would know what was right and best to do. Perhaps he might even see
some way by which the engagement could be broken without wrong or hurt
to William's feelings. A measure of peace came with the hope, and she
was presently gazing into the fire, dreaming more than thinking, and
feeling assured that the doctor would stop when he went by on the next
The boy saw how absorbed she was, and felt that there was no use in
waiting to speak to her, to tell her of the vague alarm which had seized
him. And then what was there to tell her or any one? He would only be
laughed at for fancying things, as he often had been before, and
remembering this, he crept off to his own cabin and went to bed. But he
could not go to sleep for a long time, and when he awoke at dawn the
formless dread was still dark in his mind, like some fearsome shape
behind an impenetrable curtain. And there it stayed all the day through,
never quite coming out into the light, but growing steadily larger and
darker and more terrible as the long heavy hours wore on. When--at
last--the dusk began to creep down the river, he grew so restless in his
nameless misery that he wandered into the forest, and there met the
doctor riding along the path on the way to his lonely cabin.
Paul's face brightened at the sight of the boy; he had always liked
him, and had been drawn to him before knowing of Ruth's existence. Still
the thought of her was now foremost in his mind as he looked at David.
We are all glad to see those who are near the one whom we love; we are
even eager to seek those whom we would otherwise avoid when they are
near our beloved from whom we are parted. This eagerness was in Paul
Colbert's face as he looked at the boy and asked with some hesitation if
he was in haste.
"If you are not," he said, "I should like to have a little talk with
you. Let's sit down on that fallen tree."
Dismounting, he led his horse along the path, with the boy following in
silence. They sat down side by side on the tree-trunk, the doctor
holding his horse by the bridle. There were new lines in his face which
did not belong to youth, and which had not been graven by his fierce
struggle with the Cold Plague. The boy noticed them and knew that they
had not been there when he had last seen the doctor's face. Its look of
gloom also had come back. That had lifted at the moment of meeting, but
it was too deep to go so suddenly, and it had now returned. He turned to
the boy uncertainly, for there had been no clear purpose in his speaking
to the lad. He had spoken on an irresistible impulse to learn something
of Ruth, blindly clutching at a possible bond between her and himself.
It seemed years rather than days since he had heard from her. But in a
single glance his trained eyes saw that David was in trouble, and by
asking a few adroit questions he brought out all that the boy knew. The
doctor sat so still for an instant after hearing what had passed between
the judge and William Pressley, that David looked up in surprise to see
what was the matter. Paul Colbert was very pale, and his eyes were
glancing round, searching the deepening shadows of the forest. He made a
gesture, warning the boy to speak lower, and his own voice was scarcely
above a whisper.
"What time to-day did Pressley leave Cedar House? Had he come back when
you came away? Tell me again just what he said about telling Philip
Alston. Try to remember every word--a valuable life may hang upon it.
Keep as cool as you can--and be careful, don't be alarmed, but be quick.
Every word now--once more."
The boy repeated everything as accurately as he could. While he was
speaking, the doctor, rising to his feet, gathered up the bridle-reins,
and hastily bending down, was tightening the girth. When the last item
of information had been gathered, he vaulted into the saddle.
"There isn't any time for our talk. I must gallop home for a fresh
horse. This one is too tired for the speed we need." He saw the surprise
and, the alarm in the boy's gaze, and leaning over, took his trembling
hand. "Don't be troubled. You are in no way to blame, whatever happens.
You have done the very best thing possible in telling me this. It may
not be too late. I shall try. I am going at once to do all that I can to
warn or to guard a great man's life. The delay in getting the fresh
horse is the worst; but," hastily grasping his hand again, "if I am too
late, if I fail and never come back, tell Ruth that I did my best. Tell
her that I have done my best ever since I have known. I have kept away
from Cedar House--have only seen her far off, feeding the birds. But
that was all I could do. I couldn't help thinking of her, I couldn't
help what I felt. You will remember--and tell her?"
He looked down in the boy's frightened face with a strange smile, and
then touching his horse with the spur, he flashed out of sight among the
THE GENTLEST ARE THE BRAVEST
The boy stood staring after him in dazed alarm. He could not comprehend
the cause of his friend's sudden agitation and abrupt departure, but
they filled him with vague, helpless terror. He did not know what to do
till he suddenly felt the urgency of the message to Ruth, and the
thought of her made him turn and start running back to Cedar House.
As he went, he instinctively tried to calm himself; he was fast learning
to hide the emotion which was always shaking him. On reaching the door
he paused for a moment, and strove hard to control his panting breath.
He almost hoped that this might prove to be merely one of the fancies
which were constantly swaying him. And then there was an instinctive
feeling that it would be best not to tell any one except Ruth what had
occurred. The meaning of the message to her was not yet clear to him,
but he nevertheless felt it to be something which she might not wish
others to hear. He did not remember that the message was not to be given
her unless Paul failed to come back. There had not been time for Paul
to impress this upon him, and it was natural enough that the boy,
startled and frightened, should not have noted all that was said.
His one aim now was to get a word alone with Ruth, and hastily looking
round the room, he saw her sitting near the hearth. But there was no
chance to approach her, or to speak without being overheard by the whole
family. Every member of the household was present, it being the evening
hour when all households come closest together around the fireside. The
supper-table was laid, and a servant moved about lighting the lamps and
candles. William Pressley was sitting near Ruth, but it was she who had
last taken a seat and he was silent, save as some timid advance from her
compelled him to make a coldly civil reply. His resentment was as
implacable as ever; the wound to his self-love had only grown deeper
with nursing, as it always does with a nature like his. The breaking of
the engagement was with him, now, merely a question of timeliness, of
discretion and expediency. In these matters he was not considering
Ruth's feelings as she was considering his, despite her own most eager
wish to be free. He was thinking first of the light in which he,
himself, would be placed. After this he was considering Philip Alston's
view of his conduct. Knowing that he wished the marriage to take place,
William Pressley felt reasonably sure that Philip Alston would be
displeased at any breach, and that he would make his displeasure felt,
should the first movement toward the breaking of the engagement come
from himself. The displeasure of Philip Alston was not a thing to be
lightly incurred at any time. No one knew this better than William
Pressley, and he saw it to be particularly undesirable to displease him
and possibly incur his enmity, just at the moment when his good-will
might be useful in the matter of the appointment. William Pressley did
not believe Philip Alston's influence to be at all essential--merit was
in his opinion the only essential. Still it seemed best, under the
circumstances, to let the engagement stand till a time more auspicious
for breaking it. And then his sore self-love found some balm in the
girl's self-reproach, which he saw plainly enough, without understanding
it in the least. It was like him to consider the effect which the
breaking of the engagement might have on his political prospects, and to
postpone it on the bare chance of its affecting them adversely. But it
was still more like him merely to postpone it with an immovable
determination in his mind, utterly unaffected by all the girl's winning
gentleness and open regret. And it was most of all like him never for an
instant to allow any thought of Philip Alston's fortune to make him
waver. All the gold in the world could have done nothing to make William
Pressley forget, or forgive, the wound which his self-love had received.
She continued for a while in her shy, gentle efforts to win him back to
something like the old friendliness, which had existed between them
before they had become engaged to be married. It was this which she
longed to have restored, with her craving for affection and her dread of
hard feeling. But despairing at last, she arose with a sigh and went to
the hearth, and began talking to the two old ladies, who left off
quarrelling when she came, as they nearly always did. From the hearth
she turned to the supper-table, to give it the delicate finishing
touches, and then there was a general movement as the family settled
into their places.
It seemed to David that the meal would never end, that he should never
be able to tell Ruth. As he sat looking down at his untasted food, and
had time to think, he came gradually to understand something of the
meaning of the young doctor's sudden agitation, his solemn message, and
his hurried departure. The boy could not keep his distress out of his
face, and Ruth saw it in her first glance at him across the table. In
the shadows of the room she had not seen him distinctly until now, and
the sight of his trouble touched her as it never failed to do even when
she believed it to be imaginary. As soon as possible she left the table
and went to the door, glancing at him over her shoulder. He followed
instantly and, passing her swiftly as she stood in the doorway, he
beckoned her to come outside.
"What is it?" she asked, running to him.
She grasped his arm and turned white and began to tremble, not knowing
what she feared. There was something in his look, and something in her
own heart, which told her that this was no boyish whim or fancy, such as
she was often called to comfort and beguile for him. She could not see
his face distinctly enough to gather anything from looking at him; they
were standing beyond the broad band of light streaming from the open
door. But there was no need for sight; he poured out the story almost in
a breath, ending with Paul's message to her. And she understood more
than he had said, far more than he could ever say or understand, before
the words had fairly left his lips. The divination of a woman's
love--that marvellous white light--flashed the whole truth, and she
uttered a smothered cry as she saw it. So crying out, she shrank away
from him, and threw off his hand and struck at him fiercely, like some
soft little wild thing suddenly hurt.
"How could you? Why did you tell him?" she cried. "I hate you. I'll hate
you for this as long as I live. You have sent him to his death--you
meddler, you simpleton! And you don't even know what you have done. You
have sent him to his death, I tell you! Yes, that's what you have done,
and I will never forgive you while I breathe. He has gone to warn the
attorney-general, and he will be killed, too. You heard what uncle said
about the danger. What are the robbers or the country to me--beside him?
What do I care about what happens to the attorney-general? I wouldn't
care if every other man in the world was lying dead, this minute, if I
could know that he was safe. Oh! Oh! And you knew that he and the
attorney-general were friends. You knew he would go to help him. And yet
you told him--and he is gone--"
She broke into a helpless passion of weeping so pitiful that the boy
could do nothing but go to her and take her in his arms. She did not
resist; her anger was instantly melted in grief. Her arms went round his
neck, and she sobbingly implored his pardon.
"Forgive me--forgive me. I didn't know--I don't know what I am saying.
Oh! my heart is breaking, David! Help me--help me to think! We must do
something--we mustn't stand here crying like this. Think! Think! Help me
to think what we can do."
She pushed him away and stood pressing her trembling hands hard against
her temples, trying desperately to clear her thoughts. The thought of
calling on any one in the house did not cross her mind. There was
nothing to expect from the judge; he had fallen asleep in his chair at
the table. William Pressley would not believe there was any danger. He
never believed in any trouble or agitation. It would only annoy him.
Indeed, she scarcely thought of him at all. She caught the boy's arm
wildly, with her tears suddenly dried.
"Why don't you say something--do something!" she cried bitterly, "You
are no better than, a girl yourself."
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