The Foolish Virgin
Part 4 out of 6
"Just studying about something, Kiddo, something
big. I'll tell you sometime, maybe--not now."
Slowly a great fear began to shape itself in her
heart. The real man behind those slumbering eyes she
had never known. Who was he?
While she was yet puzzling over the strange mood of
absorbed brooding into which Jim had fallen, his face
suddenly lighted, and he changed with such rapidity
that her uneasiness was doubled.
They had reached the stretches of deep forest at
the foot of the Black Mountain ranges. The Swannanoa
had become a silver thread of laughing, foaming spray
and deep, still pools beneath the rocks. The fields
were few and small. The little clearings made scarcely
an impression in the towering virgin forests.
"Great guns, Kiddo!" he exclaimed, "this is some
country! By George, I had no idea there was such a
place so close to New York!"
She looked at him with uneasy surprise. What could
be in his mind? The solemn gorge through which they
were passing gave no entrancing views of clouds or sky
or towering peaks. Its wooded cliffs hung
ominously overhead in threatening shadows. The scene
had depressed her after the vast sunlit spaces of sky,
of shining valleys and cloud-capped, sapphire peaks on
which they had turned their backs.
"You like this, Jim?" she asked.
"I thought that waterfall we just passed was very
"I didn't see it. But this is something like it.
You're clean out of the world here--and there ain't a
railroad in twenty miles!"
The deeper the shadows of tree and threatening
crag, the higher Jim's strange spirit seemed to rise.
She watched him with increasing fear. How little
she knew the real man! Could it be possible that this
lonely, unlettered boy of the streets of lower New
York, starved and stunted in childhood, had within him
the soul of a great poet? How else could she explain
the sudden rapture over the threatening silences and
shadows of these mountain gorges which had depressed
her? And yet his utter indifference to the glories of
beautiful waters, his blindness at noon before the most
wonderful panorama of mountains and skies on which she
had ever gazed, contradicted the theory of the poetic
soul. A poet must see beauty where she had seen
it--and a thousand wonders her eyes had not found.
His elation was uncanny. What could it mean?
He was driving now with a skill that was
remarkable, a curious smile playing about his drooping,
Oriental eyelids. A wave of fierce resentment swept
her heart. She was a mere plaything in this man's
life. The real man she had never seen. What was he
thinking about? What grim secret lay behind the
mysterious smile that flickered about the corners of
those eyes? He was not thinking of her. The mood was
new and cold and cynical, for all the laughter he might
put in it.
She asked herself the question of his past, his
people, his real life-history. The only answer was his
baffling, mysterious smile.
A frown suddenly clouded his face.
"Hello! Ye're running right into a man's yard!"
Mary lifted her head with quick surprise.
"Why yes, it's the stopping place for the parties
that climb Mount Mitchell. I remember it. We stayed
all night here, left our rig, and started next morning
at sunrise on horseback to climb the trail."
"Pretty near the jumping-off place, then," he
remarked. "We'll ask the way to Cat-tail Peak."
He stopped the car in front of the low-pitched,
weather-stained frame house and blew the horn.
A mountain woman with three open-eyed, silent
children came slowly to meet them.
She smiled pleasantly, and without embarrassment
spoke in a pleasant drawl:
"Won't you 'light and look at your saddle?"
The expression caught Jim's fancy, and he broke
into a roar of laughter. The woman blushed and laughed
with him. She couldn't understand what was the matter
with the man. Why should he explode over the simple
greeting in which she had expressed her pleasure at
Anyhow, she was an innkeeper's wife, and her
business was to make folks feel at home--so she laughed
again with Jim.
"You know that's the funniest invitation I ever got
in a car," he cried at last. "We fly in these things
sometimes. And when you said, `Won't you 'light,'"--he
paused and turned to his wife--"I could just feel
myself up in the air on that big old racer's back."
"Won't you-all stay all night with us?" the soft
voice drawled again.
"Thank you, not tonight," Mary answered.
She waited for Jim to ask the way.
"No--not tonight," he repeated. "You happen to
know an old woman by the name of Owens who lives up
"That's her name."
"Lord, everybody knows old Nance!" was the smiling
"She ain't got good sense!" the tow-headed boy
"Sh!" the mother warned, boxing his ears.
"She's a little queer, that's all. Everybody knows
her in Buncombe and Yancey counties. Her house is
built across the county line. She eats in Yancey and
sleeps in Buncombe----"
"Yes," broke in the boy joyously, "an' when the
Sheriff o' Yancey comes, she moves back into Buncombe.
She's some punkin's on a green gourd vine, she is--if
she ain't got good sense."
His mother struck at him again, but he dodged the
blow and finished his speech without losing a word.
"Could you tell us the way to her house?"
"Keep right on this road, and you can't miss it."
"How far is it?"
"Oh, not far."
"No; right at the bottom o' the Cat's-tail," the
boy joyfully explained.
"He means the foot o' Cat-tail Peak!" the mother
"How many miles?"
"Just a little ways--ye can't miss it; the third
house you come to on this road."
"You'll be there in three shakes of a sheep's
tail--in that thing!" the boy declared.
Jim waved his thanks, threw in his gear, and the
car shot forward on the level stretch of road beyond
the house. He slowed down when out of sight.
"Gee! I'd love to have that kid in a wood-shed
with a nice shingle all by ourselves for just ten
"The people spoil him," Mary laughed. "The people
who stop there for the Mount Mitchell climb. He was a
baby when I was there six years ago"--she paused and a
rapt look crept into her eyes--"a beautiful little
baby, her first-born, and she was the happiest thing I
ever saw in my life."
Her voice sank to a whisper.
A vision suddenly illumined her own soul, and she
forgot her anxiety over Jim's queer moods.
Deeper and deeper grew the shadows of crag,
gorge, and primeval forest. The speedometer on the
foot-board registered five miles from the Mount
Mitchell house. They had passed two cabins by the way,
and still no sign of the third.
"Why couldn't she tell us how many miles, I'd like
to know?" Jim grumbled.
"It's the way of the mountain folk. They're
noncommittal on distances."
He stopped the car and lighted the lamps.
"Going to be dark in a minute," he said. "But I
like this place," he added.
He picked his way with care over the narrow road.
They crossed the little stream they were trailing, and
the car crawled over the rocks along the banks at a
An owl called from a dead tree-top silhouetted
against an open space of sky ahead.
"Must be a clearing there," Jim muttered.
He stopped the car and listened for the sounds of
life about a house.
A vast, brooding silence filled the world. A wolf
howled from the edge of a distant crag somewhere
"For God's sake!" Jim shivered. "What was that?"
"Only a mountain wolf crying for company."
"Wolves up here?" he asked in surprise.
"A few--harmless, timid, lonesome fellows. It
makes me sorry for them when I hear one."
"Great country! I like it!" Jim responded.
Again she wondered why. What a queer mixture of
strength and mystery--this man she had married!
He started the car, turned a bend in the road, and
squarely in front, not more than a hundred yards away,
gleamed a light in a cabin window--four tiny panes of
"By Geeminy, we come near stopping in the front
yard without knowing it!" he exclaimed. "Didn't we?"
"I'm glad she's at home!" Mary exclaimed. "The
light shines with a friendly glow in these deep
"Afraid, Kiddo?" he asked lightly.
"I don't like these dark places."
"All right when you get used to 'em--safer than
Again her heart beat at his queer speech. She
shivered at the thought of this uncanny trait of
character so suddenly developed today. She made an
effort to throw off her depression. It would vanish
with the sun tomorrow morning.
He picked his way carefully among the trees and
stopped in front of the cabin door. The little house
sat back from the road a hundred feet or more.
He blew his horn twice and waited.
A sudden crash inside, and the light went out. He
waited a moment for it to come back.
Only darkness and dead silence.
"Suppose she dropped dead and kicked over the
lamp?" Jim laughed.
"She probably took the lamp into another room."
"No; it went out too quick--and it went out with a
He blew his horn again.
Still no answer.
"Hello! Hello!" he called loudly.
Someone stirred at the door. Jim's keen ear was
turned toward the house.
"I heard her bar the door, I'll swear it."
"How foolish, Jim!" Mary whispered. "You couldn't
have heard it."
"All the same I did. Here's a pretty kettle of
fish! The old hellion's not even going to let us in."
He seized the lever of his horn and blew one
terrific blast after another, in weird, uncanny
sobs and wails, ending in a shriek like the last
cry of a lost soul.
"Don't, Jim!" Mary cried, shivering. "You'll
frighten her to death."
"I hope so."
"Go up and speak to her--and knock on the door."
He waited again in silence, scrambled out of the
car, and fumbled his way through the shadows to the
dark outlines of the cabin. He found the porch on
which the front door opened.
His light foot touched the log with sure step, and
he walked softly to the cabin wall. The door was not
yet visible in the pitch darkness. His auto lights
were turned the other way and threw their concentrated
rays far down into the deep woods.
He listened intently for a moment and caught the
cat-like tread of the old woman inside.
"I say--hello, in there!" he called.
Again the sound of her quick, furtive step told him
that she was on the alert and determined to defend her
castle against all comers. What if she should slip an
old rifle through a crack and blow his head off?
She might do it, too!
He must make her open the door.
"Say, what's the matter in there?" he asked
A moment's silence, and then a gruff voice slowly
"They ain't nobody at home!"
"The hell they ain't!" Jim laughed.
"Who are you?"
She hesitated and then growled back:
"None o' your business. Who are you?"
"We're strangers up here--lost our way. It's
cold--we got to stop for the night."
"Ye can't--they's nobody home, I tell ye!" she
repeated with sullen emphasis.
Jim broke into a genial laugh.
"Ah! Come on, old girl! Open up and be sociable.
We're not revenue officers or sheriffs. If you've got
any good mountain whiskey, I'll help you drink it."
"Who are ye?" she repeated savagely.
"Ah, just a couple o' gentle, cooing turtle-doves--
a bride and groom. Loosen up, old girl; it's Christmas
Eve--and we're just a couple o' gentle cooin'
Jim kept up his persuasive eloquence until the
light of the candle flashed through the window,
and he heard her slip the heavy bar from the door.
He lost no time in pushing his way inside.
Nance threw a startled look at his enormous, shaggy
fur coat--at the shining aluminum goggles almost
completely masking his face. She gave a low,
breathless scream, hurled the door-bar crashing to the
floor and stared at him like a wild, hunted animal at
bay, her thin hands trembling, the iron-gray hair
tumbling over her forehead.
"Oh, my God!" she wailed, crouching back.
Jim gazed at her in amazement. He had forgotten
his goggles and fur coat.
"What's the matter?" he asked in high-keyed tones
Nance made no answer but crouched lower and
attempted to put the table between them.
"What t'ell Bill ails you--will you tell me?" he
asked with rising wrath.
"I THOUGHT you wuz the devil," the old woman
panted. "Now I KNOW it!"
Jim suddenly remembered his goggles and coat, and
broke into a laugh.
He removed his goggles and cap, threw back his big
coat and squared his shoulders with a smile.
Nance glowered at him with ill-concealed rage,
looked him over from head to foot, and answered with a
"'Tain't much better--ef ye ax ME!"
"Gee! But you're a sociable old wild-cat!" he
exclaimed, starting back as if she had struck him a
His eye caught the dried skin of a young wildcat
hanging on the log wall.
"No wonder you skinned your neighbor and hung her
up to dry," he added moodily.
He took in the room with deliberate insolence while
the old woman stood awkwardly watching him, shifting
her position uneasily from one foot to the other.
In all his miserable life in New York he could not
recall a room more bare of comforts. The rough logs
were chinked with pieces of wood and daubed with red
clay. The door was made of rough boards, the ceiling
of hewn logs with split slabs laid across them. An
old-fashioned, tall spinning wheel, dirty and unused,
sat in the corner. A rough pine table was in the
middle of the floor and a smaller one against the wall.
On this side table sat two rusty flat-irons, and
against it leaned an ironing board. A dirty piece
of turkey-red calico hung on a string for a portiere at
the opening which evidently led into a sort of kitchen
somewhere in the darkness beyond.
The walls were decorated at intervals. A huge
bunch of onions hung on a wooden peg beside the wild-
cat skin. Over the window was slung an old-fashioned
muzzle-loading musket. The sling which held it was
made of a pair of ancient home-made suspenders fastened
to the logs with nails. Beneath the gun hung a cow's
horn, cut and finished for powder, and with it a dirty
game-bag. Strings of red peppers were strung along
each of the walls, with here and there bunches of
popcorn in the ears. A pile of black walnuts lay in
one corner of the cabin and a pile of hickory nuts in
A three-legged wooden stool and a split-bottom
chair stood beside the table, and a haircloth couch,
which looked as if it had been saved from the Ark, was
pushed near the wall beside the door.
Across this couch was thrown a ragged patchwork
quilt, and a pillow covered with calico rested on one
end, with the mark of a head dented deep in the center.
Jim shrugged his shoulders with a look of disgust,
stepped quickly to the door and called:
"Come on in, Kid!"
Nance fumbled her thin hands nervously and spoke
with the faintest suggestion of a sob in her voice.
"I ain't got nothin' for ye to eat----"
"We've had dinner," he answered carelessly.
He stepped to the door and called:
"Bring that little bag from under the seat, Kiddo."
He held the door open, and the light streamed
across the yard to the car. He watched her steadily
while she raised the cushion of the rear seat, lifted
the bag and sprang from the car. His keen eye never
left her for an instant until she placed it in his
"Mercy, but it's heavy!" she panted, as she gave it
He took it without a word and placed it on the
table in the center of the room.
Nance glared at him sullenly.
"There's no place for ye, I tell ye----"
Jim faced her with mock politeness.
"For them kind words--thanks!"
He bowed low and swept the room with a mocking
"There ain't no room for ye," the old woman
Jim raised his voice to a squeaking falsetto with
deliberate purpose to torment her.
"I got ye the first time, darlin'!" he exclaimed,
lifting his hands above her as if to hold her down.
"We must linger awhile for your name--anyhow, we
mustn't forget that. This is Mrs. Nance Owens?"
The old woman started and watched him from beneath
her heavy eyebrows, answering with sullen emphasis:
Again Jim lifted his hands above his head and waved
her to earth.
"Well! Don't blame me! I can't help it, you
He turned to his wife and spoke with jolly good
"It's the place, all right. Set down, Kiddo--take
off your hat and things. Make yourself at home."
Nance flew at him in a sudden frenzy at his
assumption of insolent ownership of her cabin.
"There's no place for ye to sleep!" she fairly
shrieked in his face.
Again Jim's arms were over her head, waving her
"All right, sweetheart! We're from New York. We
don't sleep. We've come all the way down here to the
mountains of North Carolina just to see you. And we're
goin' to sit up all night and look at ye----"
He sat down deliberately, and Nance fumbled her
hands with a nervous movement.
Mary's heart went out in sympathy to the forlorn
old creature in her embarrassment. Her dress was dirty
and ragged, an ill-fitting gingham, the elbows out and
her bare, bony arms showing through. The waist was too
short and always slipping from the belt of wrinkled
cloth beneath which she kept trying to stuff it.
Mary caught her restless eye at last and held it in
a friendly look.
"Please let us stay!" she pleaded. "We can sleep
on the floor--anywhere."
"You bet!" Jim joined in. "Married two weeks--and
I don't care whether it rains or whether it pours or
how long I have to stand outdoors--if I can be with
The old woman hesitated until Mary's smile melted
its way into her heart.
Her lips trembled, and her watery blue eyes
"Well," she began grumblingly, "thar's a little
single bed in that shed-room thar for you--ef he'll
sleep in here on the sofy."
Jim leaped to his feet.
"What do ye think of that? Bully for the old gal!
Kinder slow at first. As the poet sings of the little
bed-bug, she ain't got no wings--but she gets there
just the same!"
He drew the electric torch from his pocket and
advanced on Nance.
"By Golly--I'll have another look at you."
Nance backed in terror at the sight of the
"What's that?" she gasped.
"Just a little Gatlin' gun!" he cried jokingly. He
pressed the button, and the light flashed squarely in
the old woman's eyes.
"God 'lmighty--don't shoot!" she screamed.
Jim doubled with laughter.
"For the love o' Mike!"
Nance leaned against the side table and wiped the
perspiration from her brow.
"Lord! I thought you'd kilt me!" she panted, still
"Ah, don't be foolish!" Jim said persuasively. "It
can't hurt you. Here, take it in your hand--I'll
show you how to work it. It's to nose round dark
places under the buzz-wagon."
He held it out to Nance.
"Here, take it and press the button."
The old woman drew back.
"No--no--I'm skeered! No----"
Jim thrust the torch into her hand and forced her
to hold it.
"Oh, come on, it's easy. Push your finger right
down on the button."
Nance tried it gingerly at first, and then laughed
at the ease with which it could be done. She flashed
it on the floor again and again.
"Why, it's like a big lightnin' bug, ain't it?"
She turned the end of it up to examine more
closely, pushed the button unconsciously, and the light
flashed in her eyes. She jumped and handed it quickly
"Or a jack o' lantern--here, take it," she cried,
Jim threw his hands up with a laugh.
"Can you beat it!"
Backing quickly to the door, Nance called nervously
"I'll get your room ready in a minute, ma'am." She
paused and glanced at Jim.
"And thar's a shed out thar you can put your devil
She slipped through the dirty calico curtains, and
Mary saw her go with wondering pity in her heart.
A LITTLE BLACK BAG
Mary watched Nance, with a quick glance at Jim. Again
he had forgotten that he had a wife. She had studied
this strange absorption with increasing uneasiness.
During the long, beautiful drive of the afternoon
beside laughing waters, through scenes of unparalleled
splendor, through valleys of entrancing peace, the
still, sapphire skies bending above with clear,
Southern Christmas benediction, he had not once pressed
her hand, he had not once bent to kiss her.
Each time the thought had come, she fought back the
tears. She had made excuses for him. He was absorbed
in the memories of his miserable childhood in New York,
perhaps. The approaching meeting with his relatives
had awakened the old hunger for a mother's love that
had been denied him. The scenes through which they
were passing had perhaps stirred the currents of his
And yet why should such memories estrange his
spirit from hers? The effect should be the opposite.
In the remembrance of his loneliness and suffering, he
should instinctively turn to her. The love with which
she had unfolded his life should redeem the past.
He was standing now with his heavy chin silhouetted
against the flickering light of the candle on the
table. His hand closed suddenly on the handle of the
bag with the swift clutch of an eagle's claw. She
started at the ugly picture it made in the dim rays of
What were the thoughts seething behind the mask of
his face? She watched him, spellbound by his complete
surrender to the mood that had dominated him from the
moment he had touched the deep forests of the Black
Mountain range. A grim elation ruled even his
silences. The man standing there rigid, his face a
smiling, twitching mask, was a stranger. This man she
had never known, or loved. And yet they were bound for
life in the tenderest and strongest ties that can hold
the human soul and body.
She tossed her head and threw off the ugly thought.
It was morbid nonsense! She was just hungry for a
kiss, and in his new environment he had forgotten
himself as many thoughtless men had forgotten before
and would forget again.
"Jim!" she whispered tenderly.
He made no answer. His thick lips were drawn in
deep, twisted lines on one side, as if he had suddenly
reached a decision from which there could be no appeal.
She raised her voice slightly.
Not a muscle of his body moved. The drawn lines of
the mouth merely relaxed. His answer was scarcely
She moved toward him wistfully.
"Aren't you forgetting something?"
His square jaw still held its rigid position
silhouetted in sharp profile against the candle's
light. He answered slowly and mechanically.
His indifference was more than the sore heart could
bear. The pent-up tears of the afternoon dashed in
flood against the barriers of her will.
"You--haven't--kissed--me--today," she stammered,
struggling with each word to save a break.
Still he stood immovable. This time his answer was
tinged with the slightest suggestion of amusement.
She staggered against the table beside the door and
gripped its edge desperately.
"Oh--" she gasped. "Don't you love me any more?"
With his sullen head still holding its position of
indifference, his absorption in the idea which
dominated his mind still unbroken, he threw out one
hand in a gesture of irritation.
"Cut it, Kid! Cut it!"
His tones were not only indifferent; they were
With a sob, she sank into the chair and buried her
face in her arms.
"You're tired! I see it now; you've tired of me.
Oh--it's not possible--it's not possible!"
The torrent came at last in a flood of utter
Jim turned, looked at her and threw up his hands in
"Oh, for God's sake!" he muttered, crossing
deliberately to her side. He stood and let her
With a quick change of mood, he drew her to her
feet, swept her swaying form into his arms, crushed her
and covered her lips with kisses.
She smiled through her tears.
"I feel better----"
"For better or worse--`until Death do us part'--
that's what you said, Kid, and you meant it, too,
He seized both of her arms, held them firmly and
gazed into her eyes with steady, stern inquiry.
She looked up with uneasy surprise.
"Of course--I meant it," she answered slowly.
He held her arms gripped close and said:
His hands relaxed, and he turned away, rubbing his
square chin thoughtfully.
She watched him in growing amazement. What could
be the mystery back of this new twist of his elusive
He laid his hand on the black bag again, smiled,
and turned and faced her with expanding good humor.
"Great scheme, this marryin', Kid! And you believe
in it exactly as I do, don't you?"
"How do you mean?" she faltered.
"That it binds and holds both our lives as only
Almighty God can bind and hold?"
"Yes--nothing else IS marriage."
"That's what I say, too!"
He placed his hands on her shoulders.
"Great scheme!" he repeated. "I get a pretty girl
to work for me for nothing for the balance of my life."
He paused and lifted the slender forefinger of his
right hand. "And you pledged your pious soul--I
memorized the words, every one of them: `I, Mary, take
thee, James, to my wedded husband--TO HAVE AND TO HOLD
from this day forward, FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE,
for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to
love, cherish AND OBEY, TIL DEATH DO US PART, ACCORDING
TO GOD'S HOLY ORDINANCE; AND THEREUNTO I GIVE THEE MY
He paused, lifted his head and smiled grimly:
"That's some promise, believe me, Kiddo! `AND OBEY'--you
meant it all, didn't you?"
She would have hedged lightly over that ugly old
word which still survived in the ceremony Craddock had
used, but for the sinister suggestion in his voice back
of the playful banter. He had asked it half in jest,
half in earnest. She had caught by the subtle sixth
sense the tragic idea in that one word that he was
going to hold her to it. The thought was too absurd!
"OBEY--you meant it, didn't you?" he repeated
A smile played about the corners of her mouth as
she answered dreamily:
"That's why I set my head on you from the first--
you're good and sweet--you're the real thing."
Again she caught the sinister suggestion in his
tone and threw him a startled look.
"What has come over you today, Jim?" she asked.
He hesitated and answered carelessly.
"Oh, nothing, Kiddo--just been thinking a little
about business. Got to go to work, you know." He
returned to the table and touched the bag lightly.
"Watch out now for this bag while I put up the
car--and don't forget that curiosity killed the
Quick as a flash, she asked:
"What's in it?"
Jim threw up his hands and laughed.
"Didn't I tell you that curiosity killed a cat?"
He pointed to the skin on the wall. "That's what
stretched that wild-cat's hide up there! She got too
near the old musket!"
"Anyhow, I'm not afraid of her end--what's in it?"
Jim scratched his red head and looked at her
"You asked me that once before today, didn't you?"
"Well, it's a little secret of mine. Take my
advice--put your hand on it, but not in it."
Again the sinister look and tone chilled her.
"I don't like secrets between us, Jim," she said.
She looked at the bag reproachfully, and he watched
her keenly--then laughed.
"I'd as well tell you and be done with it; you'll
go in it anyhow."
She tossed her head with a touch of angry pride.
He took her hand, led her across the room and placed it
on the valise.
"I've got five thousand dollars in gold in that
She drew back, surprised beyond the power of
"And I'm going to give it to this old woman----"
To her--why?" she gasped.
"She's my mother."
"I--I--thought--you told me she was dead."
"No. I said that I didn't know who she was."
He paused, and a queer brooding look crept into his
"I haven't seen her since I was a little duffer
three years old. This room and these wild crags and
trees come back to me now--just a glimpse of them here
and there. I've always remembered them. I thought I'd
"You remember--how wonderful!" she breathed
reverently. She understood now, and the clouds lifted.
"The skunk I called my daddy," Jim went on
thoughtfully, "took me to New York. He said that my
mother deserted me when I was a kid. I believed him at
first. But when he beat me and kicked me into the
streets, I knew he was a liar. When I got grown I
began to think and wonder about her. I hired a lawyer
that knew my daddy, and he found her here----"
With a cry of joy, she seized his arms:
"Tell her quick! Oh, you're big and fine and
generous, Jim--and I knew it! They said that you were
a brute. I knew they lied. Tell her quick!"
He lifted his hand in protest.
"Nope--I'm going to put up a little job on the old
girl--show her the money tonight, get her wild at the
sight of it--and give it to her Christmas morning.
We've only a few hours to wait----"
"Oh, give it to her now--Jim! Give it to her now!"
He shook his head and walked to the door.
"I want to say something to her first and give her
time to think it over. Look out for the bag, and I'll
bring in the things."
He swung the rough board door wide, slammed it and
disappeared in the darkness.
The young wife watched the bag a moment with
consuming curiosity. She had fiercely resented his
insulting insinuations at her curiosity, and yet she
was wild to look at that glowing pile of gold inside
and picture the old woman's joyous surprise.
Her hand touched the lock carelessly and drew back
as if her finger had been burned. She put her hands
behind her and crossed the room.
"I won't be so weak and silly!" she cried fiercely.
She heard Jim cranking the car. It would take him
five minutes more to start it, get it under the shed
and bring in the suit-case and robes.
"Why shouldn't I see it!" she exclaimed. "He
has told me about it." She hesitated and struggled for
a moment, quickly walked back to the bag and touched
the spring. It yielded instantly.
"Why, it's not even locked!" she cried in tones of
surprise at her silly scruples.
Her hand had just touched the gold when Nance
She snapped the bag and smiled at the old woman
carelessly. What a sweet surprise she would have
Nance crossed slowly, glancing once at the girl
wistfully as if she wanted to say something friendly,
and then, alarmed at her presumption, hurried on into
the little shed-room.
Mary waited until she returned.
"Room's all ready in thar, ma'am," she drawled,
passing into the kitchen without a pause.
"All right--thank you," Mary answered.
She quickly opened the bag, thrust her hand into
the gold and withdrew it, holding a costly green-
leather jewelry-case of exquisite workmanship. There
could be no mistake about its value.
With a cry of joy, she started back, staring at the
"Another surprise! And for me! Oh, Jim, man,
you're glorious! My Christmas present, of course! I
mustn't look at it--I won't!"
She pushed the case from her toward the bag and
drew it back again.
"What's the difference? I'll take one little, tiny
She touched the spring and caught her breath. A
string of pearls fit for the neck of a princess lay
shining in its soft depths. She lifted them with a
sigh of delight. Her eye suddenly rested on a stanza
of poetry scrawled on the satin lining in the trembling
hand of an old man she had known.
She dropped the pearls with a cry of terror. Her
face went white, and she gasped for breath. The jewel-
case in her hand she had seen before. It had belonged
to the old gentleman who lived in the front room on the
first floor of her building in the days when it was a
boarding house. The wife he had idolized was long ago
dead. This string of pearls from her neck the old man
had worshiped for years. The stanza from "The Rosary"
he had scrawled in the lining one day in Mary's
presence. He had moved uptown with the landlady. Two
months ago a burglar had entered his room, robbed and
"It's impossible--impossible!" she gasped.
"Oh, dear God--it's impossible! Of course the
burglar pawned them, and Jim bought them without
knowing. Of course! My nerves are on edge today--how
silly of me----"
Jim's footsteps suddenly sounded on the porch, and
she thrust the jewel-case back into the bag with
desperate effort to pull herself together.
For a moment she felt the foundations of the moral and
physical world sinking beneath her feet. Dizziness
swept her senses. She gripped the table, leaning
heavily against it, her eye watching the door with
feverish terror for Jim's appearance.
She had never fainted in her life. It was absurd,
but the room was swimming now in a dim blur. Again she
gripped the table and set her teeth. She simply would
not give up. Why should she leap to the worst possible
explanation of the jewels? The hatred of old Ella for
Jim and the furious antagonism of Jane Anderson had
poisoned her mind, after all. It was infamous that she
could suspect her husband of crime merely because two
silly women didn't like him.
He could explain the jewels. He, of course, asked
no questions of the pawn-broker. They were probably
sold at auction and he bought them.
It seemed an eternity from the time Jim's foot step
echoed on the little porch until he pushed the door
open and hastily entered, his arms piled with lap-
robes, coats and the dress-suit case in his hand.
He walked with quick, firm step, threw the coats
and robes on the couch and placed the suit-case at its
head. He hadn't turned toward her and his face was
still in profile while he removed the gloves from his
pockets, threw them on the robes, and drew the scarlet
woolen neckpiece from his throat.
She was studying him now with new terror-stricken
eyes. Never had she seen his jaw look so big and
brutal. Never had the droop of his eyelids suggested
such menace. Never had the contrast of his slender
hands and feet suggested such hideous possibilities.
"Merciful God! No! No!" she kept repeating in her
soul while her dilated eyes stared at him in sheer
horror of the suggestion which the jewels had roused.
She drew a deep breath and strangled the idea by
"I'll at least be as fair as a jury," she thought
grimly. "I'll not condemn him without a hearing."
Jim suddenly became aware of the menace of her
silence. She had not moved a muscle, spoken or made
the slightest sound since he had entered. He had
merely taken in the room at a glance and had seen her
standing in precisely the same place beside the table.
He saw now that she was leaning heavily against it.
He raised his head and faced her with a sudden,
bold stare, and his voice rang in tones of sharp
She tried to speak and failed. She had not yet
sufficiently mastered her emotions.
"What's the matter?" he growled.
"Jim----" she gasped.
He took a step toward her with set teeth.
"You've been in that bag--Well?"
Her face was white, her voice husky.
"Those jewels, Jim----"
A cunning smile played about his mouth and he shook
"I tried to keep my little secret from you till
Christmas morning; but you're on to my curves now,
Kiddo, and I'll have to 'fess up----"
"You bought them for me?" she asked with trembling
"Who else do you reckon I'd buy 'em for? I was
going to surprise you, too, tomorrow morning. You've
spoiled the fun."
She had slipped close to his side and he could hear
her quick intake of breath.
"That's--so--sweet of you, Jim. I'm sorry--I--
spoiled the surprise--you'd--planned----"
"Oh, what's the difference!" he broke in
carelessly. "It's all the same five minutes after,
anyhow. Well, don't you like 'em? Why don't you say
"They're wonderful, Jim. Where--where--did you buy
He held her gaze in silence for an instant and
"Isn't that a funny question, Kiddo?" he said in
low tones. "I once heard the old man I worked with in
the shop say that you shouldn't look a gift horse in
"I just want to know," she insisted.
"I'm not going to tell you!" he said with a dry
"Because you keep asking."
"You wish to tease me?"
"Why do you want to know? Are you afraid they're
"No, they're beautiful--they're wonderful."
"Well, if you don't want them," he broke in
angrily, "I'll keep them. I'll sell them."
"Don't tease me, Jim!" she begged. "I don't mind
if you bought them at a pawn-shop--if that's why you
won't tell me. That is the reason, isn't it?
Honestly, isn't it?"
She asked the question with eager intensity. She
had persuaded herself that it was so and the horror had
been lifted. She pressed close with smiling, trembling
"I don't mind that, Jim! You got them from a pawn-
broker, of course, didn't you?"
He looked at her with a puzzled expression and
"Didn't you?" she repeated.
"No--I didn't!" was the curt answer.
"You didn't?" she echoed feebly.
With a quick breath she unconsciously drew back and
he glared at her angrily.
"Say, what'ell's the matter with you, anyhow? Have
you gone crazy?"
"You--won't--tell me--where you bought them?" she
He faced her squarely and spoke with deliberate
"It's--none--of your business!"
She held his gaze with steady determination.
"That string of pearls belongs to the man who once
lived in the front room of my old building in New York.
He moved uptown with my landlady. A few months ago a
burglar robbed and shot him----"
She stopped, seized his arm and cried with
"Jim! Jim! Where did you get them?"
"Now I know you've gone crazy! You don't suppose
that's the only string of pearls in the world, do you?
Did you count 'em? Did you weigh 'em?"
"Where did you get them?" she demanded.
"What put it into your head that that string of
pearls belonged to your old boarder?"
"I saw him write the stanza of poetry on the satin
lining of that case. I've heard him recite it over and
over again in his piping voice: `Each bead a pearl--my
rosary!' I KNOW that they belonged to him!"
His mouth twitched angrily and he faced her,
speaking with cold, brutal frankness.
"I might keep on lying to you, Kiddo, and get away
with it. But what's the use? You've got to know.
It's just as well now--I did that job----Yes!"
Her face blanched.
Jim followed her with quick, angry gestures.
"All I wanted was his money! He fought--it was his
life or mine----"
"I just went after his money--I tell you--besides,
he didn't die; he got well. If he'd kept still he
wouldn't have lost his pearls and he wouldn't have been
"And I stood up for you against them all!" she
answered in a dazed whisper. "They told me--Jane
Anderson with brutal frankness, Ella with the heart-
rending, timid confession of her own tragic life--they
told me that you were bad. I said they were liars. I
said that they envied our happiness. I believed that
you were big and brave and fine. I stood by you and
She paused and looked at him steadily. In a rush
of suppressed passion she seized his arm with a
violence that caused his heavy eyelids to lift in
"Oh, Jim--it's not true! It's not true--it's not
true! For God's sake, tell me that you're joking!--
that you're teasing me! You can't mean it! I won't
believe it--I won't believe it!"
Her head sank until it rested piteously against his
breast. He stood with his face turned awkwardly away
and then moved his body until she was forced to stand
He touched her shoulder gently and spoke
"Come, now, Kid, don't take on so. I'll quit the
business when I make my pile."
She drew back instinctively and he followed:
"I'll never touch another penny of yours. There's
blood on it!"
"Rot!" he went on soothingly. "It's good Wall
Street cash--got it exactly like they got theirs--got
it because I was quicker and smarter than the fellow
that had it. I use a jimmy, they use a ticker--that's
all the difference."
She drew her figure to its full height.
His voice rasped like a file against steel.
"Your home's with me."
"I won't live with a thief!"
He stepped squarely before her and spoke with
"Get out of my way!" she cried defiantly.
His big jaw closed with a snap and his figure
became rigid. The candle's yellow light threw a
strange glare on his face, convulsed. The blue flames
of hell were in the glitter of his steel eyes.
Her heart sank in a dull wave of terror. She tried
to gauge the depth of his brutal rage. There was no
standard by which to measure it. She had never seen
that look in his face before. His whole being was
transformed by some sinister power.
She was afraid to move, but her mind was alert in
this moment of supreme trial. She hadn't used her last
weapon yet. The fact that he held her with such
terrible determination was proof of the spell she had
cast over him. She might save him. He couldn't have
been a criminal long. She formed her new battle-line
with quick decision.
How long she gazed into the convulsed face of the man
who had squared himself before her, mattered little
measured by the tick of the watch in her belt. Into
the mental anguish endured a life's agony had been
pressed. It could not have been more than twenty
seconds, and yet it marked the birth of a new being
within the soul of a woman. She had been searching
only for her own happiness. The search had entangled
another in the meshes of her life. Too much had been
lived in the past two weeks to be undone by a word and
forgotten in a day. She had attempted, coward-like, to
She saw now in the consuming flame of a great
sorrow that the man before her had some rights which
the purest woman must reckon with. He might be a
burglar. At least it was her duty to try to save him
from himself. Her surrender of the past weeks was a
tie that would bind them through all eternity.
There was no chemistry of earth or heaven or hell that
could erase its memories. Her life was no longer her
own--this man's was bound with hers. She must face the
facts. She would make one honest, brave effort to save
him. To do this she would give all without
reservation--pride must be cast to the winds.
Her voice suddenly changed to tears.
"Oh, Jim, you do love me, don't you?"
His body slowly relaxed, his eyes shifted, and he
shrugged his square shoulders.
"What'ell did I marry you for?"
"Tell me--do you?" she demanded.
"You know that I love you. What do you ask me such
a fool question for? I love you with a love that can
kill. Do you hear me? That's why you're not going
anywhere without me."
There was no mistaking the depth of his passion.
She trembled to realize its power and yet it was the
lever by which she must move him.
"Then you've got to give this life up. You're
young and brave and strong. You can earn an honest
living. You haven't been in this long--I feel it, I
know it. Have you?"
"Oh, Jim, dear, you must give it up now for my
sake. I'll work with you and work for you. I'll
teach, I'll sew, I'll scrub, I'll slave for you day and
night--if you're only clean and honest."
He turned on her fiercely.
"Cut it, Kid--cut it! I'm out for the stuff now.
I'm going to get rich and I'm going to get rich
QUICK--that's all that's the matter with me!"
"But, Jim," she broke in tenderly--"you did earn an
honest living. Your workshop proves that."
"I've used that to improve my tools and melt the
swag the past year. The shop's all right."
"But you did make a successful invention?"
"You bet I did," he answered savagely, "and that's
why I quit the business. Three years ago I took down a
big automobile and worked out an improvement in the
transmission that settled the question of heavy draft
machines. I took it to a lawyer in Wall Street and he
took it to a man that had money. Between the two of
'em, they didn't do a thing to me! They were going to
put my patent on the market and make me a millionaire.
God, I was crazy----"
He paused and squared his shoulders with a deep
"They put it on the market all right and they made
some millionaires--but I wasn't one of 'em, Kiddo!
They got me to sign a paper that skinned me out of
every dollar as slick as you can pull an eel through
your fingers. I hired another lawyer
and gave him half he could get to beat 'em. He fought
like a tiger and two days before I met you he got his
verdict and they paid it--just ten thousand dollars.
Think of it--ten thousand dollars! And each of them
got a million cash. They sold it outright for two
millions and a half. My lawyer got five thousand
dollars, and I got five thousand dollars. That's mine,
anyhow. It's in that bag there. I'm working on a new
set of tools now in my shop. I'm going to get that
money back from the two thieves who stole it from me by
law. I'll take it by force, the way they took it. If
I can croak them both in the fight--well, there'll be
two thieves less to rob honest men and women, that's
"Oh, Jim!" Mary gasped, lifting a trembling hand to
her throat as if to tear open her collar. "You're mad.
You don't know what you're saying----"
"Don't fool yourself, Kiddo," he interrupted
fiercely. "My eyes are open now, and I've got a
level head back of 'em, too. I've doped it all out.
You ought to 'a' heard that lawyer give me a few
lessons in business when he'd skinned me and salted
my hide. He was good-natured and confidential. He
seemed to love me. `Business is war, sonny,' he piped,
between the puffs of the big Havana cigar he was
smoking--`war! war to the knife! We got you off your
guard and put the knife into you at the right minute--
that's all. Don't take it so hard! Invent something
else and keep your eyes peeled. You ought to love us
for giving you an education in business early in life.
You're young. You won't have to learn your lesson
again. Go to work, sonny, in your shop, and turn out
another new tool for the advancement of trade!'"
He paused and smiled grimly.
"I've done it, too! I've just finished a little
invention that'll crack any safe in New York in twenty
minutes after I touch it."
He broke into a dry laugh, sat down and
deliberately lighted a fresh cigarette.
She studied his face with beating heart. Was he
lost beyond all hope of reformation? Or was this the
boyish bravado of an amateur criminal poisoned by the
consciousness of wrong? She tried to think. She felt
the red blood pounding through her heart and
beating against her brain in suffocating waves
In vivid flashes the scene of her marriage but two
weeks ago, came back in tormenting memories. The
solemn words she had spoken kept ringing like the throb
of a funeral bell far up in the star-lit heavens----
"I, MARY ADAMS, TAKE THEE, JAMES ANTHONY, TO MY
WEDDED HUSBAND, TO HAVE AND TO HOLD . . . FOR BETTER
FOR WORSE, FOR RICHER FOR POORER, IN SICKNESS AND IN
HEALTH, TO LOVE, CHERISH, AND TO OBEY, TILL DEATH DO US
PART, ACCORDING TO GOD'S HOLY ORDINANCE; AND THERETO
I GIVE THEE MY TROTH."
The last solemn prayer kept ringing its deep-toned
message over all----
"GOD THE FATHER, GOD THE SON, GOD THE HOLY GHOST,
BLESS, PRESERVE, AND KEEP YOU; THE LORD MERCIFULLY
WITH HIS FAVOR LOOK UPON YOU, AND FILL YOU WITH ALL
SPIRITUAL BENEDICTION AND GRACE; THAT YE MAY SO LIVE
TOGETHER IN THIS LIFE, THAT IN THE WORLD TO COME
YE MAY HAVE LIFE EVERLASTING. AMEN."
In a sudden rush of desperate pity for herself and
the man to whom she was bound, she dropped on her
knees by his side, slipped her arms about his neck and
clung to him, sobbing.
"Oh, Jim, Jim, man," she whispered hoarsely. "I
can't see you sink into hell like this! Have you no
real love in your heart for the woman who has given
all? Have mercy on me! Have mercy! You can't mean
the hideous things you've just said! You've been
crazed by your losses. You're just a boy yet. Life is
all before you. You're only twenty-four. I'm just
twenty-four. We can both begin anew. I've never lived
until these past weeks--neither have you. You couldn't
drag me down into a life of crime----"
Her head sank and her voice choked into silence.
He made no movement of his hand to soothe her. His
voice was not persuasive. It was hard and cold.
"I'm not asking you to help me on any of my jobs,"
he said. "I'm the financier of the family. You can
say the prayers and keep house."
"Knowing that you are a criminal? That your hands
are stained with human blood?"
"Why not?" he snapped, the blue blaze flashing
again in his eyes. "Suppose you were the wife of the
gentlemanly lawyer-thief who robbed me, using the law
instead of a jimmy--would you bother your little head
about my business? Does his wife ask him where he
got it? Does anybody know or care? He lives on Fifth
Avenue now. He bought a palace up there the day after
he got my money. We passed it on the way to the Park
the day I met you. A line of carriages was standing in
front and finely dressed women were running up the red
carpet that led down the stoop and under the canopy to
the curb. Did any of the gay dames who smiled and
smirked at that thief's wife ask how he got the money
to buy the house? Not much. Would they have cared if
they had known? They'd have called him a shrewd
lawyer--that's all! Do you reckon his wife worries
about such tricks of trade? Why should mine worry?"
She gripped his hand with desperate pleading.
"Oh, Jim, dear, you can't be a criminal at heart!
I wouldn't have loved you if it had been true. I can't
believe it! I won't believe it. You're posing. You
don't mean this. You can't mean it. You're going to
return every dishonest dollar that you've taken."
"You don't know what you're talking about!"
He closed his jaw with a snap and leaned close in
eager, tense excitement.
"Do you know how much junk I've piled into a little
box in my shop the past three months?"
"I don't care--I don't want to know!"
"You've got to care--you've got to know now! It's
worth a hundred thousand dollars, do you hear? A
hundred thousand dollars! It would take me a life-time
to earn that on a salary. In two weeks after we get
back to New York with my new invention that lawyer
advised me to make, I'll go through his house--I'll
open his safe, I'll take every diamond, every pearl and
every scrap of stolen jewelry his wife's wearing. And
I won't leave a fingerprint on the window sill. I've
got two of his servants working for me.
"In six months I'll be worth half a million. In a
year I'll pull off the big haul I'm planning and I'll
be a millionaire. We'll retire from business then--
just like they did. We'll build our marble palace down
at Bay Ridge and our yacht will nod in the harbor.
We'll spend our summers in Europe when we like and
every snob and fool in New York will fall over himself
to meet me. And every woman will envy my wife. I'm
young, Kiddo, but I've cut my eye teeth. You've just
been born. I'm running the business end of this thing.
You think you can reform me. You can--AFTER I'VE MADE
OUR PILE. I'll join the church then and sing
louder than that lawyer. But if you think you're going
to stop my business career at this stage of the
game--forget it, forget it!"
He sprang up with a quick movement of his tense
body and threw her off. She rose and watched his
restless steps as he paced the floor. Her mind was
numb as if from a mortal blow. She brushed the tangled
ringlets of brown hair back from her forehead, drew the
handkerchief from her belt and wiped the perspiration
from her brow.
Before she could gather the strength to speak, he
wheeled suddenly and confronted her:
"I've known from the first, Kiddo, that you're not
the kind to help in this business. I don't expect it.
I don't ask it. I need a ranch like this down here for
storage. I'm going to take the old woman into
partnership with me."
She started back in an instinctive recoil of
She drew a step nearer and peered into his set
"YOU WILL MAKE YOUR OWN MOTHER A CRIMINAL?"
"Sure!" he growled. "That's what I came down here
"She won't do it!"
"She won't, eh?" he sneered. "Look at this hog
He swept the bare, wretched cabin with a gesture of
contempt and shrugged his shoulders.
"Look at the rags she's wearing," he went on
savagely. "When we talk it over tonight with that five
thousand dollars in gold shining in her eyes--I'm going
to show her a lot o' things she never saw before,
Kiddo--take it from me!"
She answered in slow, even tones:
"I can't live with you, Jim."
The blue flames beneath the drooping eyelids were
leaping now in the yellow glare of the candle's rays.
The muscles of his body were knotted. His voice came
from his throat a low growl.
"Do you know who you're fooling with?"
The blood of a clean life flamed in her cheeks and
nerved her with reckless daring. Her figure stiffened
and her voice rang with defiant scorn:
"Yes. I know at last--a thief who would drag his
own mother down to hell with him!"
Not a muscle of his powerful body moved; his face
was a stolid mask. He threw his words slowly through
"Now you listen to me. You're my wife. I didn't
invent this marriage game. I played it as I found
it. And that's the way you're going to play it.
You're good and sweet and clean--I like that kind, and
I won't have no other. You're mine. MINE, do you
hear! Mine for life--body and soul--`FOR BETTER FOR
WORSE, FOR RICHER FOR POORER, IN SICKNESS AND IN
HEALTH, TO LOVE, CHERISH'----"
He paused and thrust his massive jaw squarely into
"`----AND OBEY!'" he hissed, "`UNTIL DEATH DO US
PART, ACCORDING TO GOD'S HOLY ORDINANCE'--you
said it, didn't you?"
She turned from him with sudden aversion:
"I didn't know what you were----"
"Nobody ever knows BEFORE they're married!" he
broke in savagely. "You took your chances. I took
mine--`FOR BETTER FOR WORSE.' We'll just say now
it's for worse and let it go at that!"
The little body stiffened.
"I'll die first!"
He held her gaze without words, searching the
depths of her being with the cold, blue flame in his
drooping eyes. If she were bluffing, it was easy. She
could talk her head off for all he cared. If she meant
it, he might have his hands full unless he
mastered the situation at once and for all time.
There was no sign of yielding to his iron will. An
indomitable soul had risen in her frail body and defied
him. His decision was instantaneous.
"Oh, you'll die sooner than live with me--eh?"
There was something hideous in the cold venom with
which he drawled the words. Her heart fairly stopped
its beating. With the last ounce of courage left, she
held her place and answered:
With the sudden crouch of a tiger he drew his
clenched fist to strike.
She sprang back with terror, her body trembling in
"You snivelling little coward!" he growled.
"Oh, Jim, Jim," she faltered,--"you--you--couldn't
A step nearer and he stood over her, his big, flat
head thrust forward, his eyes gleaming, his muscles
knotted in blind rage.
"No--I won't STRIKE you," he whispered. "I'll
just KILL you--that's all!"
With the leap of an infuriated beast he sprang on
her and his sharp fingers gripped her throat.
The world went black and she felt herself sinking
into a bottomless abyss. With maniac energy she tore
his hands from her throat and the warm blood streamed
from the gash his nails had torn.
Jim! Jim! For God's sake!" she moaned in abject
With a sullen growl, his fingers, sharp as a
leopard's claw, found her neck again and closed with a
grip that sent the blood surging to her brain and her
eyes starting from their sockets.
The one hideous thought that flashed through her
mind was that he was going to plunge his claws into her
eyes and blind her for life. He could hold her his
prisoner then. She made a last desperate struggle for
breath, her hands relaxed, she drooped and sank to the
couch toward which he had hurled her in the first rush
of his assault.
He lifted her and choked the slender neck again to
make sure, loosed his hands and the limp body dropped
on the couch and was still.
He stood watching her in silence, his arms at his
"Damned little fool!" he muttered. "I had to give
you that lesson. The sooner the better!"
He waited with contemptuous indifference until
she slowly recovered consciousness. She lay motionless
for a long time and then slowly opened her eyes.
Thank God! They had not been gouged out as poor
Ella's. She didn't mind the warm blood that soaked her
collar and ran down her neck. If he would only spare
her eyes. Blindness had been her one unspeakable
terror. She closed her eyes again and silently prayed
for strength. Her strength was gone. Wave after wave
of sickening, cowardly terror swept her prostrate soul.
She could feel his sullen presence--his body with its
merciless strength towering above her. She dared not
look. She knew that he was watching her with cruel
indifference. A single cry, a single word and he might
thrust his claw into her eyes and the light of the
world would go out forever.
Her terror was too hideous; she could endure it no
longer. She must move. She must try to save herself.
She lifted her head and caught his steady, venomous
A quick, sliding movement of abject fear and she
was erect, facing him and backing away silently.
He followed with even step, his gaze holding her as
the eyes of a snake its victim. She would not let him
know her terror of blindness. She preferred death
a thousand times. If he would only kill her outright
it was all the mercy she would ask.
"You--won't--kill--me--Jim!" she sobbed. "Please--
please, don't kill me!"
He lifted his sharp finger and followed her toward
the shed-room door, his voice the triumphant cry of an
eagle above his prey.
"`FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE--UNTIL DEATH DO US PART!'"
Her heart gave a bound of cowardly joy. He had
relented. He would not blind her. She could live.
She was young and life was sweet.
She tried to smile her surrender through her tears
as she backed slowly away from his ominous finger.
"Yes, I'll try--Jim. I'll try--`UNTIL DEATH DO
US PART--UNTIL DEATH--UNTIL DEATH----'"
Her voice broke into a flood of tears as she
blindly felt her way through the door and into the
He paused on the threshold, held the creaking board
shutter in his hand and broke into a laugh.
"The world ain't big enough for you to get away
from me, Kiddo. Good night--a good little wife now and
it's all right!"
TO THE NEW GOD
Jim closed the door of the little shed-room with a
bang, and stood listening a moment to the sobs inside.
"`UNTIL DEATH DO US PART,' Kiddo!" he laughed grimly.
He turned back into the room and saw Nance standing
at the opposite entrance between the calico curtains,
an old, battered, flickering lantern in her hand. A
white wool shawl was thrown over the gray head and fell
in long, filmy waves about her thin figure. Her deep-
sunken eyes were exaggerated in the dim light of
lantern and candle. She smiled wanly.
He stopped short at the apparition; a queer shiver
of superstitious fear shook him. The white form of
Death suddenly and noiselessly appearing from the
darkness could not have been more uncanny. He had
wondered vaguely while the quarrel with his wife was
progressing, what had become of his mother. As
the fight had reached its height, he had forgotten her.
She looked at him, blinking her eyes and trying to
"Where the devil have you been, old gal?" he asked nervously.
"Nowhere," she answered evasively.
"You've been mighty quiet on the trip anyhow. I
see you've brought something back from nowhere."
Nance glanced down at the jug she carried in her
left hand and laughed.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Nothin' from nowhere sounds pretty good to me when
I see it in a brown jug on Christmas Eve. You're all
right, old gal! I was just going to ask if you had a
little mountain dew. You're a mind reader. I'll bet
the warehouse you keep that stored in is some snug
"They ain't never found it yit!" she giggled.
"And I'll bet they won't--bully for you!"
She took down a tin cup from a shelf and placed it
beside the jug.
"Another glass, sweetheart----"
The old woman stared at him in surprise, walked to
the shelf and brought another tin cup.
"What do ye want with two?" she asked in surprise.
Jim moved toward the stool beside the table.
"Sure. Let's be sociable. It's Christmas Eve,
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