During the week that followed Cyrus was deeply impressed by the importance of fresh air and exercise. It walked abroad, at all hours of the day. Young Cyrus scoured the six roads that centred in the happy village, hung over fences, scanning the countryside, loitered about the station at train time. Mature Cyrus was genteelly busy in its front garden, tying up rose-bushes and removing (in gloves!) rose-beetles. Young and old alike found much business to be done in the Street. Abram Hanks drove a brisk trade in spools of thread and other small wares. Now and then something unusual was asked for, as when Nelly Chanter wanted some white mull, for a purpose unspecified.
"No, I ain't got any!" Mr. Hanks's tone expressed injury. "I had some, but them folks that was at the hotel last summer bought it all out on me!"
There was a positive run on Cheeseman's candy store; Uncle Ivory was almost annoyed by it. "Look at here, Sty!" he said one morning. "'Pears to me you've eat all the toffee that's likely to agree with you real good. That pan was full yesterday, and now look at it! I can't make it every day, you know. [pg 304] You ask the girls to make you up a pan of molasses at home, if you have to have any more!"
Aristides Chanter did feel that he needed special sustenance in the way of sweets. He knew, in his sixteen-year-old heart, that no one loved Kitty as he did; and now that Bobby was engaged to Melissa—well, Rod was only two years older; he didn't see but he had full as good a right—and anyhow, Rod was at college, and if this fellow was coming, Kitty's friends ought to be on the lookout for him; he might be an impostor, like the Ducal Decoy in that bloodhound yarn. Anyhow, it was awful poky hanging about the station, waiting for every train. Pa wouldn't let a fellow smoke, and a fellow must do something!
There was one person who haunted the station even more persistently than Aristides; this was Wilson Wibird. Wilson had become a rather deplorable figure in these days. He had resented bitterly Kitty's treatment of him on the occasion described in a previous chapter; he had also been badly frightened. Mr. Jordano might be a thought fantastic in certain aspects, but he was not a man to be trifled with; the stern admonition with which he had dismissed Wilson that day still rang in the ears of the rejected lover.
"Keep out of that lady's way-tay-tay, or it will be the worse for you-too-too!"
Wilson cowered under "Italio's" fiery glance, and slunk away, muttering curses that he dared not breathe aloud.
Uncle Marshall had been equally severe, on hearing from his friend of the occurrence. He told his nephew [pg 305] plainly that if ever he heard of his pestering Kitty Ross again he would not only discharge him on the spot, but would flounce (trounce) him till he couldn't tell whether he was a bluenette or a blondin.
Nor were these threats the only ones that rankled in Wilson's mind. Bobby Chanter, now one of the family, disapproved entirely of his manners and customs in the bosom of that family, especially of his bearing toward his sister. Kind soul that Bobby was, he would not make trouble for poor Mrs. Wibird: he knew what mothers were; his blue eyes softened at the thought. He merely intimated to Wilson "on the quiet" that from now on he, Wilson, would be civil and pleasant-spoken to Melissa, and would bring in coal and kindling wood for his mother, or he, Bobby, would know the reason why.
Smarting under these manifold injuries, Wilson sought consolation where—alas! he was in the habit of seeking it; but the cupboard bottle held no exhilaration for him nowadays. He grew more and more sullen, more and more morose, brooding over his wrongs. With limpet tenacity—I beg his pardon! with Iron Will—he still clung to the idea of marriage with Kitty, of the mastership of Ross House; but now he conjured up lurid pictures of the methods by which the conquest was to be obtained. His path might lie through Blood!
"I would wade through seas of it to conquer you, proud woman!" he hissed through his teeth, scowling desperately at the mirror. He thought he looked rather like Lucifer. He saw his uncle and that "dastard [pg 306] scribbler," as he mentally termed Mr. Jordano, lying with faces turned to the sky, a ghastly wound in their temples, from which the life blood welled. As for Billy—Wilson ground his teeth. Billy had "held him up" only that morning: held him by the collar with one hand and searched him with the other, confiscating the pocket-lurking bottle, and dismissing him with a friendly kick and "Better look out! better give up! goin' to the dogs, and no decent pup would look at you!"
The news of the expected advent of the "Duke," coming like a thunderclap, caused Wilson's cup of bitterness to overflow. On hearing it (Lissy came in full of the tidings. Wasn't it wonderful? Kitty deserved everything, of course, though Lissy understood the Aristocracy was commonly small and plain-looking. She didn't believe he would wear a coronet outside his hat, like they said; the idea!), Wilson retired to his room and locked the door. He would have double-locked it, as they did in stories, but did not know how.
This was the end! he intimated to the mirror. To live defeated, disgraced, robbed of his rights, or to pass in blood and flame, perchance not alone! He summoned up the scene. The train dashing into the station (Wilson leaned to the theory of arrival by train), the proud scion of an effete aristocracy alighting to find John Tucker perched on top of a "Tally Ho" with six spanking thoroughbreds tossing their heads and champing the bit. A fair, false face looks out of the coach window; a white, traitress hand waves. At that instant a slender Form springs forward [pg 307] with gesture of command. "Stay! one word—the last! Katrine, farewell! I go, but not alone!"
Two shots ring out. A shriek, a puff of smoke: two forms lie side by side, on the platform, and an agonizing woman flings herself on the bleeding breast of the last Wilson Wimberley Wibird—too late!
It sounds ludicrous: it was tragic. Weak minds can be desperate as well as strong ones, and poor Wilson, between drink and diseased vanity, was very near the edge of mania. So he hung about the station at every train hour; haggard, sodden, miserable; and really, the wonder is that no tragedy came of it. One might so easily have come, had it not been for that blessed rain.
The farmers had been saying for a month that what we wanted now was a nice warm rain. We got it, at the end of this week. It rained, and rained, and rained; one day, two days, three days. Not in showers or spurts, but in a steady, even downpour, without haste and without rest. For the first day, Cyrus held out bravely, tied up its roses and sped on its errands in waterproof and umbrella, hung about the station in mackintosh and rubber boots. The second day, the elders stayed indoors, looking anxiously out of window, listening eagerly for sound of hoofs or wheels; only young Cyrus patrolled the Street, and hung about the station. By evening of the third day, pretty much everybody had abandoned the Quest of the Duke, collective Cyrus expressing the opinion that no duke that ever was hatched was worth spoiling all your clothes and getting pneumonia for. It was on the [pg 308] evening of this third day that John Tucker gave up and took to his bed, his rheumatism taking an inflammatory turn. Kitty, alarmed at his condition, sent Amos Barrell off to Tinkham for Dr. Pettijohn, with rash orders not to come back without him. Amos found the doctor out of town, not to return till nine o'clock; obeyed orders, bestowed Dan in the livery-stable, and went to the "Movies." Briefly, when the 8:30 train was due, it was Kitty and Pilot who met it.
Number 47 was an express train, the pride of the Road; it was making its usual speed, and confidently expected to arrive "on the dot" at Cyrus and every other station on the line; nevertheless, to one passenger on board, Number 47 seemed the very limit of slowness. The tall broad-shouldered young man who sat in the furthest seat forward, elbows on knees, chin in hands, was deep in thought through most of the journey, but as eight o'clock drew near he waxed impatient. Call this an express train? If he ever let an accommodation—or a freight for that matter—crawl at this rate over any road he had anything to do with—good-night! Stopping at every back yard! to pick up the milk cans, he supposed! He fumed, looked at his watch (front and back: the latter seemed to interest him most, though the bright face that smiled at him from a kodak print had little to say about time), then plunged in thought again. Did she look like that now? he wondered. Had she changed much in these three years? Three years! it was a breath—it was an eternity!
[pg 309] "My soul! What if she—what if somebody else——"
He sprang up as if something had stung him; recollected himself, with a startled glance around him; met the interested gaze of a Vassar freshman across the aisle; sat down and with a shrug of his broad shoulders settled into his reverie again. Nonsense! that kind of girl—there was only one of the kind—wouldn't forget in three years, nor in thirteen. That last look she gave him, standing at the gate—he paused, letting the thought of it curl warm about his heart, sent the blood pulsing up into his ears. Beautiful ears, the Vassar freshman thought; they were all she could see now over his coat collar, except the thick crop of hay-colored hair. Kitty used to say that when the Cyrus hay-crop failed they could fall back on Tom's hair, and then she would quote with her own delicious twinkle, "Good hay, sweet hay, hath no fellow!"
If she had changed, Tom told himself severely, it could only be for the better. She was a woman now, his little girl: his little dancing gentlewoman of high quality. He hummed a tune between his teeth; whistled it; hummed it again. A quaint tune, with no special beginning or ending. A gentleman in the seat behind him became restive, shot irritated glances in his direction; was on the point of remonstrating when the tune ceased. The young man, glancing up, had caught a glimpse of himself in a wall mirror. Talk about change! what would Kitty say to him?
He stared straight into the wide-apart gray-blue [pg 310] eyes with their thick short lashes like a black fringe; noted the three deep lines ruled straight across the broad forehead; scrutinized the curious scar on the left cheek. "Well, you are a show!" muttered Tom.
Of course he couldn't help the scar; well, he couldn't help any of it, for that matter; but she might like to know about the scar. They almost got him that time! It was rum, that particular tribe taking a round piece out of an enemy's cheek and stringing 'em on a necklace to hang round the joss's neck. Gee! that was a close shave! His eyes narrowed, seeing strange things through their thick lashes. A camp in a mountain pass, snowbound; food gone, water low. Lowering faces of yellow men, huddled round a fire, casting evil looks at the two, the white man and his faithful "boy," guarding the water skin. Then the rush, five against two; the daggers gleaming, the wild cries, the shots—how the echoes went battering back and forth between the rock walls! then the shriek, the fall—Tom shut his eyes, and drew a quick breath. He was a kindly man. It was an ugly sight, that figure pitching headlong over the edge, its yellow robes fluttering back like the wings of some great swooping bird—bah!
"I had to kill him!" said Tom. "He almost got me, and anyway we couldn't have managed but four. All the same," he added, his eyes still on the bronzed face in the glass, "it is not precisely a ducal countenance that will greet you, Kitty my dear. Will you mind very much? You shall have the silks and satins all right, little girl.
"'And she shall have silks and satins for to wear, And a coach and six for to take the air.'" (I wonder what I shall find at the station: Flanagan,
I suppose, with the 'speed hoss.' I'll walk, if it holds up a bit.)
"'And she shall drive in St. James's Square, And no lady in the city shall with her compare—'" "Oxcuse me, sair!"
Tom started, and turned in his seat, to behold a bearded and spectacled person of studious appearance, quivering with some strong emotion.
"I beg pardon?"
The gentleman's aspect relaxed slightly: Tom's speaking voice was of delightful quality, cordial and musical.
"Oxcuse me, sair!" the bearded one repeated. "I am a musician!"
Tom bowed slightly. "Awfully jolly, I'm sure!" he murmured. "Must be an interesting profession."
"Zat air zat you sing," the gentleman continued, "it is nossing: but nossing at all! it is no composeetion! ça m'agace les nerfs, jusqu' à la frénesie——"
"Mille pardons, Monsieur!"
Tom spoke excellent French. He was extremely sorry to have offended a musical ear; he was humming unconsciously. He explained that the air was an ancient one: an old English folk-song and dance.
"Ah!" the clouded brow cleared instantly. English! that explained itself. A great nation, but unmusical. [pg 312] Still, the song of the people, that revealed the heart; he in return asked a thousand pardons. Let Monsieur, he begged, continue to carol the artless chant of our Saxon neighbor highly respected. He begged, he insisted. Come, then! Let us hear the little air! it might—who knew?—be arranged——
"Tinkham!" shouted the brakeman.
The musician rose precipitately. His station! he was desolated to conclude an acquaintance so auspiciously begun. He gave piano lessons in Tinkham! His card: M. Anatole Beaulieu. Peutêtre——
"Au plaisir, Monsieur!"
Tom sat down laughing. "Five minutes more, and we should have been swearing eternal friendship and singing the 'Marseillaise.' Nice little fellow! give me the Caucasian every time! Only ten minutes now! I wonder if she'll like——"
Mr. Lee cast a surreptitious glance around him. There were very few people in the car now, and nobody was paying any attention to him. (The Vassar freshman had got out, with a backward glance.) He furtively drew from an inside pocket a small case, and inspected its contents. It certainly was a good stone: vieille roche, the Peking jeweler assured him, and he believed it. The setting was good, too; he thought she would like the setting. Of course nothing was good enough for Kitty, but——
Tom started, and looked up to meet the keen, quizzical gaze of a pair of extremely intelligent brown eyes.
"Some ring!" said the conductor. "Likely to give satisfaction, I should judge. Coming events cast their shadows before, what? Getting out at Cyrus, ain't you?"
Blushing absurdly for such a big brown creature, Tom handed over his ticket and pocketed the ring.
"I dare say you know how it is yourself!" he said with a half-laugh.
"Bet your life! married mine last fall. Wish you—suffering Moses! if this isn't Tom Lee, you may toast and butter me and I won't say one word. Well, well, well! you are a stranger! 'Member Bunty Jackson over to Tupham? That's me!"
Amid mutual greetings, friendly reminiscences, laughter and chaff, the train drew into Cyrus station, and Tom was bundled off, rather bewildered, with "Good luck, Tommy! see that you get her, and when you've got her——"
Exit train: manet Thomas Lee, portmanteau in hand, looking about him through a curtain of rain.
It was raining harder than it had all day; the rain came sluicing down in torrents; it flowed like a stream along the gleaming platform: it poured off the sou'-wester of the oil-skin clad figure standing with one hand on the neck of a mighty good horse, Tom observed. No Flanagan there! Flanagan must be dead. "Cab?" he asked. The boy—looked like a boy: might be anything, muffled like that: Flanagan's son, perhaps?—for all reply opened the door of the carryall. Tom was about to step in, when a man, appearing suddenly [pg 314] from nowhere, jostled rudely against him, and tried to thrust past him into the carriage.
"Here!" said Tom Lee. "Get out, will you? Where were you brought up?"
He had a glimpse of a white, furious face, that was somehow familiar; of eyes glaring at him in what looked like insane rage: what had he run into? Next moment his nostrils dilated; he sniffed, inhaling a pungent odor. Whiskey! That explained all.
"Poor devil thinks he's struck the patrol wagon!" he laughed. "Nothing like water to sober up on!" He put out his foot in a certain way he had learned in Japan; the intruder staggered and fell with a loud splash into the rain pool that had formed beside the platform.
"Drive on!" said Tom Lee. "He's all right! Dr. Ross's, please!"
It was a silent drive. Tom, full of his own thoughts, did not care to talk to Flanagan's boy or any other boy; his thoughts flew ahead on bright wings. Yet still his eyes took note through the dusk of rain of familiar objects. The full moon was behind the clouds, and mid-June evenings are never very dark. Here was the Street, empty and silent: who was night-watchman now, he wondered? What pranks he and Bobby Chanter used to play on big Andy Doolan! Bobby was a good sort. Tom hoped he was here still Ah! was that Cheeseman's? "Just wait, Uncle Ivory! I'll be down to-morrow, sure pop! What price molasses peppermints?"
Up the hill now; ah! there was the Common! Tom's [pg 315] heart was beating fast. Those lights, straight across, were hers. Ah! here was his own house, dark and shuttered. Poor mother! dearest mother! she would be glad he was coming home, even if she was not here to welcome him. She loved Kitty like her own daughter. She knew the hope of his heart; it was her own, too, she told him so the night before she went away. The sweet Lady would be pleased, too: the lovely dark-lily lady, his second mother. Everybody would be pleased, he thought; if only Kitty herself could put up with a brown, wrinkled, carved-up anatomy like himself. "Kitty! Kitty, do you hear? I am coming!"
The carriage stopped. The silent figure on the front seat swung lightly to the ground: the door was opened. A trembling voice spoke.
"Will your Grace step out, or shall I bring a foot-stool? Tom! Tom! don't! not in the street, my dear! my dear!"