A blazing afternoon of mid-July lay warmly over the old Carolan house, and over the dusty, neglected gardens that enclosed it. The heavy wooden railing of the porch, half smothered in dry vines, was hot to the touch, as were the brick walks that wound between parched lawns and the ruins of old flowerbeds. The house, despite the charm of its simple, unpretentious lines, looked shabby and desolate. Only the great surrounding trees kept, after long years of neglect, their beauty and dignity.
At the end of one of the winding paths was an old fountain. Its wide stone basin was chipped, and the marble figure above it was discolored by storm and sun. Weeds--such weeds as could catch a foothold in the shallow layer of earth--had grown rank and high where once water had brimmed clear and cool, and great lazy bees boomed among them. Cut in the granite brim, had any one cared to push back the dry leaves and sifted earth that obscured them, might have been found the words:
Over land and water blown,
Come back to find your own.
A stone bench, sunk unevenly in the loose soil, stood near the fountain in the shade of the great elms, and here two women were sitting. One of them was Mary Moore, the doctor's wife, from the village, a charming little figure in her gingham gown and wide hat. The other was Jean Carolan, wife of the estate's owner, and mother of Peter, the last Carolan.
Jean was a beautiful woman, glowing with the bloom of her early thirties. Her eyes were moving contentedly over house and garden. She gave Mrs. Moore's hand a sudden impulsive pressure. "Well, here we are, Mary!" she said, smiling, "just as we always used to plan at St. Mary's--keeping house in the country near each other, and bringing up our children together!"
"I never forgot those plans of ours," said the doctor's wife, her eyes full of pleasant reminiscence. "But here I've been, nearly eleven years, duly keeping house and raising four small babies in a row. And what about you? You've been gadding all over Europe--never a word about coming home to Carolan Hall until this year!"
"I know," said Mrs. Carolan, with a charming air of apology. "Oh, I know! But Sid had to hunt up his references abroad, you know, and then there was that hideous legal delay. I really have been frantic to settle down somewhere, for years. And as for poor Peter! The unfortunate baby has been farmed out in Italy, and boarded in Rome, and flung into English sanitariums, just as need arose! The marvel is he's not utterly ruined. But Peter's unique--you'll love him!"
"Who's he like, Jean?"
"Oh, Sidney! He's Carolan all through." With the careless words a thin veil of shadow fell across her bright face, and there came a long silence.
Carolan Hall! Jean had never seen it before to-day. Looking at the garden, and the trees, and the roof that showed beyond, she felt as if she had not truly seen it until this minute. All its gloomy history, half forgotten, lightly brushed aside, came back to her slowly now. This was the home of her husband's shadowed childhood; it was here that those terrible events had taken place of which he had so seriously told her before their wedding day.
Here old Peter Carolan, her little Peter's great-grandfather, had come with his two dark boys and his silent wife, eighty years before. A cruel, passionate man he must have been, for stories presently crept about the county of the whippings that kept his boys obedient to him. Rumor presently had an explanation of the wife's shadowed life. There had been a third boy, the first-born, whom no whippings could make obedient. That boy was dead.
The day came when old Peter's blooded mare refused him obedience, too, and stood trembling and mutinous before the bars he would have had her take. He presently had his way, and the lovely, frightened creature went bravely over. But after that he rode her at that fence day after day, and sometimes the wood rang for an hour with his shouting and urging before she would essay the leap. While he forced her, Madam Carolan sat at the one library window that gave on the road, and knotted her hands together and waited. She waited, one gusty March evening, until the shouting stopped, and the bewildered mare came trotting riderless into view. Then she and the maids ran to the wood. But even after that she still sat at that window at the end of every day, a familiar figure to all who came and went upon the road.
The sons, Sidney and Laurence, grew up together, passionate, devoted, and widely loved. Sidney married and went away for a few years; but presently he came back to his mother and brother, bringing with him the motherless little Sidney who was Jean's sunny big husband now. This younger Sidney well remembered the day--and had once told his wife of it--when his father and his uncle fell to sudden quarrelling in their boat, during a morning's fishing on the placid river. He remembered, a small watcher on the bank, that the boat upset, and that, when his uncle reached the shore, it was to work unavailingly for hours over his father's silent form, which never moved again. The boy was sent away for a while, but came back to find his uncle a silent, morose shadow, pacing the lonely garden in unassailable solitude, or riding his horse for hours in the great woods. Sometimes the little fellow would sit with his grandmother in the library window, where she watched and waited. Always, as he went about the garden and yards, he would look for her there, and wave his cap to her. He missed her, in his unexpressed little-boy fashion, when she sat there no longer, although she had always been silent and reserved with him. Then came his years of school and travel, and in one of them he learned that the Hall was quite empty now. Sidney meant to go back, just to turn over the old books, and open the old doors, and walk the garden paths again; but, somehow, he had never come until to-day. And now that he had come, he, and Jean, and Peter, too, wanted to stay.
"You knew Madam Carolan, didn't you, Mary?"
"No--no, I didn't," said Mrs. Moore, coloring uneasily. "I've seen her, though, as a small girl, at the window. I used to visit Billy's--my husband's--people when we were both small, you know, and we often came to these woods."
"I've been thinking of the house and its cheerful history," said Jean, with a little shudder. "Sweet heritage for Peterkin!"
"Heritage--nonsense!" said the other woman, hardily. "Every one tells me that your husband is the gentlest and finest of them all-- and his father was before him. I don't believe such things come down, anyway."
"Well," smiled Sidney's wife, a little proudly, "I've never seen the Carolan temper in the nine years we've been married!"
"Exactly. Besides, it's not a temper--just strong will."
"Sidney has will enough," mused Jean.
"Oh, all men have," said the doctor's wife contentedly. "Billy, now! He won't stand a locked door. One night--I never shall forget!--the children locked themselves in the nursery, and Will simply burst the door in. Nobody makes a fuss or worries over that!"
If the illustration was beside the point, neither woman perceived it.
"There, you see!" said Jean, glad to be quite sure of conviction. "It never really worries me," she added, after a moment, "for Peter adores his father, and is only too eager to obey him. If Peter--and it's impossible!--ever did really work himself up to disobedience, why, I suppose he'd get a thrashing,"--she made a wry face,--"and they'd love each other all the more for it."
"Of course they would," agreed the other cheerfully.
"There must have been some way in which Madam Carolan could have managed them," pursued Jean, thoughtfully. "The women of that generation were a poor-spirited lot, I imagine. One isn't quite a child!" There was another little pause in the hot murmuring silence of the garden, and then, with a sudden change of manner, she rose to her feet. "Mary! come and meet Sidney and the kiddy!" she commanded.
"Well, I rather hoped you were going to present them," said Mrs. Moore, rising too, and gathering up sunshade and gloves.
They threaded the silent garden paths again, passed the house, and crossed a neglected stable yard, where a great red motor-car had crushed a path for itself across dry grass and weeds. In the stable itself they found Sidney Carolan, the little Peter, and a couple of servants--the chauffeur with oily hands, and the wrinkled old Italian maid, very gay in scarlet gown and headdress.
Jean's husband had all the Carolan beauty and charm, and was his most gracious and radiant self to-day. His sunny cordiality gave Mary no chance to remember that she had a little feared the writer and critic. But, after the first moment, her eye was irresistibly drawn to the child.
Tawny-haired, erect, and astonishing in the perfection of his childish beauty, Peter Carolan advanced her a bronzed, firm little hand, and gave her with it a smile that seemed all brilliant color-- white teeth, ocean-blue eyes, and poppied cheeks. His square little figure was very boyish in the thin silk shirt and baggy knickerbockers, and a wide hat, slipping from his yellow mane, added a last debonair touch to his picturesque little person. He was flushed, but gracious and at ease.
"You're one of the reasons we came!" he said in a rich little voice- -when his mother's "You've heard me speak of Mrs. Moore, Peter?" had introduced them. "You have boys, too, haven't you?"
"I have three," said Mrs. Moore, in the rational, unhurried tone that only very clever people use to children. "Billy is nine, George seven, Jack is three; and then there's a girl--my Mary."
"I come next to Billy," calculated little Peter, his eyes very eager.
"You and he will like each other, I hope," said Billy's mother.
"I hope we will--I hope so!" he assented vivaciously. "I've been thinking so!"
Mrs. Carolan presently suggested that he go off with Betta to pack the luncheon things in the car, and the three watched his sturdy, erect little figure out of sight. Mrs. Moore heard his gay voice break into ready Italian as they went.
A horde of workmen took possession of Carolan Hall a few days later, and for happy weeks Jean and Mary followed and directed them. The Moore children and Peter Carolan explored every fascinating inch of house and garden. Linen and china were unpacked, old furniture polished, and old paintings restored.
Mrs. Moore, with her two oldest sons frolicking about her like excited puppies, came up to Carolan Hall one exquisite morning a month later. Brush fires were burning in the thinning woods, and the blue, fragrant smoke drifted in thin veils across the sunlight.
A visit to the circus was afoot, and Peter Carolan, seated on the porch steps in the full glory of starched blue linen and tan sandals, leaped up to join his friends in a war-dance of wild anticipation.
Jean came out, also starched and radiant, kissed her guests, piled some wraps into the waiting motor, and engineered the group into the shaded dining-room, where the excited children were somehow to be coaxed into eating their luncheon. Sidney came in late, to smile at them all from the top of the table.
It was rapidly dawning on the adult consciousness that, above every other sound, the voices of the children were really reaching inexcusable heights, when a burst of laughter and a brief struggle between Peter and Billy Moore resulted in an overturned mug, the usual rapidly spreading pool of milk, and the usual reckless mopping. Peter's silver mug fell to the floor, and rolled to the sideboard, where it lay against the carved mahogany base, winking in the sun.
"Peter!" said Jean, severely. "No, don't ring, Sidney! He did that by his own carelessness, and mother can't ask poor, busy Julia to pick up things for boys who are noisy and rude at the table. Go pick up your mug, dear!"
"Yes. Quite right!" approved Sidney, under his breath.
Peter, who had been laughing violently a moment before seemed rather inclined to regard the incident as a tribute to his own brilliancy. He caught his heels in a rung of his chair, raised himself to a standing position, and turned a bright little face to his mother.
"But--but--but what if I don't want to pick it up, mother?" he said gayly.
The little Moore boys, still bubbling, giggled outright, and Peter's cheeks grew pink. He was innocently elated with this new role of clown.
"What do you mean?" said Sidney's big voice, very quietly. There was a pause. Peter slowly turned his eyes toward his father.
"Oh, please, Sidney!" said Jean, a shade impatiently. "He thinks he has some reason." She turned to Peter. "What do you mean, dear?" she asked pleasantly.
Peter looked about the group. He was confused and excited at finding himself so suddenly the centre of attention.
"Well--well--why are you all looking at me?" he asked in his confident little treble, with his baffling smile.
"Dearie, did you hear mother tell you to get quietly down and pick up your mug?" demanded Jean, authoritatively.
"Well--well, you know, I don't want to, mother, because Billy and I were both reaching for that mug," drawled Peter, "and maybe it was Billy who--"
"Now, look here, son!" said his father, controlling his impatience with difficulty, "we've had enough of this! You do it because your mother told you to, and you do it right now!"
"And don't let anything spoil this happy day," pleaded Jean's tender voice.
"Can't I let it stay there, mother?" suggested Peter, brilliantly, "and have my milk in a glass? I don't want my mug! It can just lie there--"
His mother unsmilingly interrupted this pleasantly offered solution.
"Peter! Father and mother are waiting."
"Gee--I'll pick it up!" said Billy Moore, good-naturedly, slipping to the floor.
Sidney reached for the little boy, and brought him to anchor in the curve of his big arm, without once glancing at him.
"Thank you, Billy," he said, "but Peter will pick it up himself. Now, Peter! We don't care who knocked it down, or whose fault it was. Your mother told you to pick up your mug, and we are waiting to have you do it. Don't talk about it any more. Nobody thinks it is at all smart or funny for boys to disobey their mothers!"
"It will take you just one second, dear," interpolated Jean softly, "and then we will all go upstairs and get ready, and forget all about it."
"Just a little too much c-i-r-c-u-s!" spelled Mrs. Moore, in the pause.
"Pick it up, son!" said Sidney, very calm.
Peter stopped smiling. He breathed hard and took a firm hold of his chair.
"Go on. Go ahead!" said his father, briskly, encouragingly.
The child moved his eyes from the mug to his father's face, but did not stir.
"Peter?" said Sidney. A white line had come about his mouth.
For a long moment there was not a sound in the rooms. Julia stood transfixed at the door. Mrs. Moore's eyes were on her plate. Jean's lips were shut tight; she was breathing as if she had been running.
"I won't!" said Peter, simply, with a quick breath.
"Sid!" said Jean, hurriedly. "Sidney!"
"Just a moment, Jean," said her husband, without glancing at her. "You will do it now, or have father punish you to make you do it," he said to the boy. "Father can't have boys here who don't obey, you know. Every one obeys. Soldiers have to, engineers have to, even animals have to. Are you going to do what mother told you to?"
"No," said little Peter. "I said I wouldn't, and now I won't!"
"He is hot and excited now," said Jean, quickly, in French, "but I'll take him upstairs and quiet him down. He'll come to his senses. Leave him to me, dear!"
"Much the wisest thing to do, Sidney," supplemented Mrs. Moore, in the same tongue.
"Certainly!" said his father, coldly. "Give him time. Let him understand that if he doesn't obey, it means no circus. That's reasonable, I think, Jean?"
"Oh, perfectly! Perfectly!" Mrs. Carolan assented nervously. Nothing more was said as she took the boy's hand and led him away. The others heard Peter chatting cheerfully as he mounted the stairway a moment later.
"The boys and I will go down and look at Nellie's puppies," said Mrs. Moore, acutely uncomfortable.
Her host muttered something about closing his mail.
"But are we going to the circus?" fretted little George Moore. His mother hardly heard him.
A moment later, Julia, the maid, appealed to her submissively.
"Shall you pick up the cup?" repeated the doctor's wife. "No. No, indeed, I wouldn't, Julia. Yes, you can clear the table, I think; we've all finished."
She led her sons down to the fascinating realm of dogs and horses, vaguely uneasy, yet unwilling to admit her fears. An endless warm half hour crept by. Then, glancing toward the house, she saw Sidney and Jean deep in conversation on the porch, and a moment later Sidney came to find her.
The boy was obstinate, he told her briefly--adding, with a look in his kind eyes that was quite new to her, that Peter had met his match, and would realize it sooner or later. Mary protested against there being any further talk of the circus that day, but Sidney would not refuse the disappointed eyes of the small Moores. In the end, the doctor's family went off alone in the motor-car.
"Don't worry, Mary," said Sidney, kindly, as he tucked her in comfortably. "Peter's had nothing but women and servants so far. Now he's got to learn to obey!"
"But such a baby, Sidney!" she reminded him.
"He's older than I was, Mary, when my poor father and Uncle Larry--"
"Yes--yes, I know!" she assented hurriedly. "Good-by!"
"Good-by!" repeated a hardy little voice from an upper window. Mary looked up to see Peter, composed and smiling, looking down from the nursery sill.
All the next day, and the next, Mary Moore's thoughts were at the Hall. She told her husband all about it on the afternoon of the second day, for no word or sign had come from Jean, and real anxiety began to haunt her. She and the doctor were roaming about their pretty, shabby garden, Mrs. Moore's little hand, where she loved to have it, in the crook of his big arm. The doctor, stopping occasionally to shake a rose post with his free hand, or to break a dead blossom from its stalk, scowled through the recital, even while contentedly enjoying his wife, his garden, and his pipe.
Before he could make a definite comment, they were interrupted by Sidney himself, who brought his big riding horse up close to the fence and waved his whip with a shout of greeting. The doctor went to meet him, Mary, a little pale, following.
"Good day to you!" said Sidney Carolan, baring his head without a smile. "I'm bound to Barville; my editor is there for a few days, and I may have to dine with him. I stopped to ask if Mary would run in and see Jean this afternoon. She's feeling a little down."
"Of course I will!" said Mary, heartily.
There was a pause.
"Mary's told you that we're having an ugly time with the boy?" said Sidney, then, combing his horse's mane with big gloved fingers.
"Too bad!" said the doctor, shaking his head and pursing his lips.
"No change, Sidney?" Mary asked gravely.
"No. No, I think the little fellow is rather gratified by the stir he's making. He--oh, Lord knows what he thinks!"
"Give him a good licking," suggested the doctor.
"Oh, I'd lick him fast enough, Bill, if that would bring him round!" his father said, scowling. "But suppose I do, and it leaves things just where they are now? That's all I can do, and he knows it. His mother has talked to him; I've talked to him." He looked frowningly at the seam of his glove. "Well, I mustn't bother you. He's a Carolan, I suppose--that's all!"
"And you're a Carolan," said the doctor.
"And I'm a Carolan," assented the other, briefly.
Mary found Jean, serious and composed over her sewing, on the cool north veranda. When they had talked awhile, they went up to see Peter, who was sprawled on the floor, busy with hundreds of leaden soldiers. He was no longer gay; there was rather a strained look about his beautiful babyish eyes. But at Jean's one allusion to the unhappy affair, he flushed and said with nervous decision:
"Please don't, mother! You know I am sorry; you know I just can't!"
"He has all his books and toys?" said Mary when they went downstairs again.
"Oh, yes! Sidney doesn't want him to be sick. He's just to be shut up on bread and milk until he gives in. I must say, I think Sid is very gentle," said Jean, leaning back wearily in her chair, with closed eyes. Her voice dropped perceptibly as she added, "But he says he is going to thrash him to-morrow."
"I think he ought to," said Mary Moore, sturdily. "This isn't excitement or showing off any more; it's sheer naughty obstinacy over a perfectly simple demand!"
"Oh, but I couldn't bear it!" whispered Jean, with a shudder. A moment later she added sensibly, "But he's right, of course; Sidney always is."
Peter was duly whipped the next day. It was no light punishment that Sidney gave his son. Jean's gold-mounted riding-crop had never seen severer service. The maids, with paling cheeks, gathered together in the kitchen when Sidney went slowly upstairs with the whip in his hand; and Betta and her mistress, their hands over their ears, endured a very agony while the little boy's cries rang through the house. Sidney went for a long and lonely walk afterward, and later Jean went to her son.
Mrs. Moore heard of this event from her husband, who stopped at the Hall late that evening, and found Peter asleep, and Jean restless and headachy. He spent a long and almost silent hour pacing the rose terrace with Sidney in the cool dark. Late into the night the doctor and his wife lay wakeful, discussing affairs at the Hall.
After some hesitation, Mrs. Moore went the next day to find Jean. There was no sound as she approached the house, and she stepped timidly into the big hall, listening for voices. Presently she went softly to the dining-room, and stood in the doorway. The room was empty. But Mary's heart rose with a throb of thanksgiving. Peter's silver mug was in its place on the sideboard. She went swiftly to the pantry where Julia was cleaning the silver.
"Julia!" she said eagerly, softly, "I notice that the baby's cup is back. Did he give in?"
The maid, who had started at the interruption, shook her head gravely.
"No'm. Mrs. Carolan picked it up."
"Yes'm. She seemed quite wildlike this morning," went on the maid, with the simple freemasonry of troubled times, "and after Peter went off with Mrs. Butler, she--"
"Oh, he went off? Did his father let him go?" Mary's voice was full of relief. Mrs. Butler was Jean's cousin, a cheery matron who had taken a summer cottage at Broadsands, twenty miles away.
Julia's color rose; she looked uneasy.
"Mr. Carolan had to go to Barville quite early," she evaded uncomfortably, "and when Mrs. Butler asked could she take Peter, his mother said yes, she could."
"Thank you," Mary said pleasantly, but her heart was heavy. She went slowly upstairs to find Jean.
Peter's mother was lying in a darkened bedroom, and the face she turned to the door at Mary's entrance was shockingly white. They exchanged a long pressure of fingers.
"Headache, Jean, dear?"
"Oh, and heartache!" said Jean, with a pitiful smile. "Sid thrashed him yesterday!" she added, with suddenly trembling lips.
"I know." Mary sat down on the edge of the bed and patted Jean's hand.
"I've let him go with Alice," said Jean, defensively. "I had to!" She turned on her elbow, her voice rising. "Mary, I didn't say one word about the whipping, but now--now he threatens to hold him under the stable pump!" she finished, dropping back wearily against her pillows. Mrs. Moore caught her breath.
"Ah!" They eyed each other sombrely.
"Mary, would you permit it?" demanded Mrs. Carolan, miserably.
"Jeanie, dearest, I don't know what I'd do!"
After a long silence, Mary slipped from the bedside and went noiselessly to the door and down the stairs, vague ideas of hot tea in mind. In the dining-room she was surprised to find Sidney, looking white and exhausted, and mixing himself something at the sideboard.
"I'm glad you're with Jean," he said directly. "I'm off to get the boy! The car is to be brought round in a few minutes."
Mrs. Moore went to him, and laid her fingers on his arm.
"Sidney!" she protested sharply, "you must stop this--not for Peter; he's as naughty as he can be, like all other boys his age sometimes; but you don't want to kill Jean!" And, to her self-contempt, she began to cry.
"My dear girl," he said concernedly, "you mustn't take this matter too hard. Jean knows enough of our family history to realize--"
"All that is such nonsense!" she protested angrily. But she saw that he was not listening. He compared his watch with the big dining-room clock, and then, quite as mechanically picked Peter's mug from the group of bowls and flagons on the sideboard, studied the chasing absently for a moment, and, stooping, placed the mug just as it had fallen four days before. Mary watched as if fascinated.
A moment later she ran upstairs, her heart thundering with a sense of her own daring. She entered the dark bedroom hurriedly, and leaned over Jean.
"Jean! Jean, I hate to tell you! But Sidney's going to leave in a few minutes to bring Peter home. He's going after him."
She had to repeat the message before the meaning of it flashed into the heavy eyes so near her own. Then Jean gathered her filmy gown together, and ran to the door.
"He shall not!" she said, panting, and Mary heard her imperative call, "Sidney! Sidney!" as she ran downstairs. Then she heard both their voices.
With an intolerable consciousness of eavesdropping, Mrs. Moore slipped out of the house by the servants' quarters, and crossed the drying lawn at the back of the house, to gain the old grape arbor beyond. She sat there with burning cheeks and a fast-beating heart, and gazed with unseeing eyes down the valley.
Presently she heard the horn and the scraping start of the motor- car, and a moment later it swept into view on the road below. Sidney was its only occupant.
Mrs. Moore sat there thinking a long while. Dull clouds banked themselves in the west, and the rising breeze brought dead leaves about her feet.
She sat there half an hour--an hour. The afternoon was darkening toward dusk when she saw the motorcar again still a mile away. Even at this distance, Mary could see that Peter was sitting beside his father in the tonneau, and that the little figure was as erect and unyielding as the big one.
She rose to her feet and stood watching the car as it curved and turned on the winding road that led to the gates of Carolan Hall. Even when the gates were entered, both figures still faced straight ahead.
Suddenly Sidney leaned toward the chauffeur, and a moment later the car came to a full stop. Mary watched, mystified. Then Sidney got out, and stretched a hand to the boy to help him from his place. The simple little motion, all fatherly, brought the tears to her eyes. A moment later the driver wheeled the car about, to take it to the garage by the rear roadway, and Sidney and his son began to walk slowly toward the house, the child's hand still in his father's. Once or twice they stopped short, and once Mary saw Sidney point toward the house, and saw, from the turn of Peter's head, that his eyes were following his father's. Her heart rose with a wild, unreasoning hope.
When a dip in the road hid them, Mary turned toward the house, not knowing whether to go to Jean or to slip away through the wood. But the instant her eye fell on Madam Carolan's window she knew what had halted Sidney, and a wave of heartsickness made her breath come short.
Jean had taken her place there, to watch and wait. She was keeping the first vigil of her life. Mary could see how the slight figure drooped in the carved chair; she remembered, with a pang, the other patient, drooping figure that had stamped itself upon her childish memory so many years ago. The suffocating tears rose in her throat. A sudden sense of helplessness overwhelmed her.
Obviously, the watcher had not seen Sidney and Peter. Her head was resting on her hand, and her heavy eyes were fixed upon some sombre inner vision that was hers alone.
Mary crossed behind the house, and, as they came up through the shrubbery, met Sidney and his son at the side door. Sidney's face was tired, but radiant with a mysterious content. Peter looked white--awed. He was clinging with both small brown hands to one of his father's firm, big ones.
"I know what you're going to say, Mary," said Sidney, in a tone curiously gentle, and with his oddly bright smile. "I know she's there. But we're going to her now, and it's all right. Peter and I have been talking it over. I saw her there, Mary, and it was like a blow! She's not the one who must suffer for all this. Peter and I are going to start all over again, and settle our troubles without hurting a woman; aren't we, Peter?"
The little boy nodded, with his eyes fixed on his father's.
"So the episode is closed, Mary," said Sidney, simply. "And the next time--if there is a next time!--Peter shall make his own decision, and abide by what it brings. The mug goes back to its place to- night, and--and we're going to tell mother that she never need watch and wait and worry about us again!"
They turned to the steps; but, as the boy ran ahead, Sidney came back to say in a lower tone:
"I--it may be weakness, Mary, but I can't have Jean doing what--what she did, you know! I tried to give the boy some idea, just now, of the responsibility of it. Nobody spared my grandmother, but Jean shall be spared, if I never try to control him or save him from himself again!"
"Ah, Sidney," Mary said, "you have done more, in taking him into your confidence, than any amount of punishing could do!"
"Well, we'll see!" he said, with a weary little shrug. "I must go to Jeanie now."
As he mounted the steps, Peter reappeared in the darkened doorway. The child looked like a little knight, with his tawny loose mop of hair and short tunic, and the uplifted look in his lovely eyes.
"Shall we go to her now, Dad?" said the little treble gallantly. And, as the boy came close to Sidney's side, Mary saw the silver mug glitter in his hand.