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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGordon Keith - Chapter 36. The Old Ideal
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Gordon Keith - Chapter 36. The Old Ideal Post by :welshbeef Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas Nelson Page Date :May 2012 Read :1166

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Gordon Keith - Chapter 36. The Old Ideal

CHAPTER XXXVI. THE OLD IDEAL

One evening they sat on deck. Alice Lancaster had never appeared so sweet. It happened that Mrs. Rhodes had a headache and was down below, and Rhodes declared that he had some writing to do. So Mrs. Lancaster and Keith had the deck to themselves.

They had been sailing for weeks among emerald isles and through waters as blue as heaven. Even the "still-vex'd Bermoothes" had lent them their gentlest airs.

They had left the Indies and were now approaching the American shore. Their cruise was almost at an end, and possibly a little sadness had crept over them both. As she had learned more and more of his life and more and more of his character, she had found herself ready to give up everything for him if he only gave her what she craved. But one thing had made itself plain to Alice: Keith was not in love with her as she knew he could be in love. If he were in love, it was with an ideal. And her woman's intuition told her that she was not that ideal.

This evening she was unusually pensive. She had never looked lovelier or been more gracious and charming, and as Keith thought of the past and of the future,--the long past in which they had been friends, the long future in which he would live alone,--his thought took the form of resolve. Why should they not always be together? She knew that he liked her, so he had not much to do to go further. The moon was just above the horizon, making a broad golden pathway to them. The soft lapping of the waves against the boat seemed to be a lullaby suited to the peacefulness of the scene; and the lovely form before him, clad in soft raiment that set it off; the fair face and gentle voice, appeared to fill everything with graciousness. Keith had more than once, in the past few weeks, considered how he would bring the subject up, and what he would say if he ever addressed her. He did not, however, go about it in the way he had planned. It seemed to him to come up spontaneously. Under the spell of the Summer night they had drifted into talking of old times, and they both softened as their memory went back to their youth and their friendship that had begun among the Southern woods and had lasted so many years.

She had spoken of the influence his opinions had had with her.

"Do you know," he said presently, "I think you have exerted more influence on my life than any one else I ever knew after I grew up?"

She smiled, and her face was softer than usual.

"I should be very glad to think that, for I think there are few men who set out in life with such ideals as you had and afterwards realize them."

Keith thought of his father and of how steadily that old man had held to his ideals through everything. "I have not realized them," he said firmly. "I fear I have lost most of them. I set out in life with high ideals, which I got from my father; but, somehow, I seem to have changed them."

She shook her head, with a pleasant light in her eyes.

"I do not think you have. Do you remember what you said to me once about your ideal?"

He turned and faced her. There was an expression of such softness and such sweetness in her face that a kind of anticipatory happiness fell on him.

"Yes; and I have always been in love with that ideal," he said gravely.

She said gently: "Yes, I knew it."

"Did you?" asked Keith, in some surprise. "I scarcely knew it myself, though I believe I have been for some time."

"Yes?" she said. "I knew that too."

Keith bent over her and took both her hands in his. "I love and want love in return--more than I can ever tell you."

A change came over her face, and she drew in her breath suddenly, glanced at him for a second, and then looked away, her eyes resting at last on the distance where a ship lay, her sails hanging idly in the dim haze. It might have been a dream-ship. At Keith's words a picture came to her out of the past. A young man was seated on the ground, with a fresh-budding bush behind him. Spring was all about them. He was young and slender and sun-browned, with deep-burning eyes and close-drawn mouth, with the future before him; whatever befell, with the hope and the courage to conquer. He had conquered, as he then said he would to the young girl seated beside him.

"When I love," he was saying, "she must fill full the measure of my dreams. She must uplift me. She must have beauty and sweetness; she must choose the truth as that bird chooses the flowers. And to such an one I will give worship without end."

Years after, she had come across the phrase again in a poem. And at the words the same picture had come to her, and a sudden hunger for love, for such love,--the love she had missed in life,--had seized her. But it was then too late. She had taken in its place respect and companionship, a great establishment and social prominence.

For a moment her mother, sitting calm and calculating in the little room at Ridgely, foretelling her future and teaching, with commercial exactness, the advantages of such a union, flashed before her; and then once more for a moment came the heart-hunger for what she had missed.

Why should she not take the gift thus held out to her? She liked him and he liked her. She trusted him. It was the best chance of happiness she would ever have. Besides, she could help him. He had powers, and she could give him the opportunity to develop them. Love would come. Who could tell? Perhaps, the other happiness might yet be hers. Why should she throw it away? Would not life bring the old dream yet? Could it bring it? Here was this man whom she had known all her life, who filled almost the measure of her old dream, at her feet again. But was this love? Was this the "worship with out end"? As her heart asked the question, and she lifted her eyes to his face, the answer came with it: No. He was too cool, too calm. This was but friendship and respect, that same "safe foundation" she had tried. This might do for some, but not for him. She had seen him, and she knew what he could feel. She had caught a glimpse of him that evening when Ferdy Wickersham was so attentive to the little Huntington girl. She had seen him that night in the theatre when the fire occurred. He was in love; but it was with Lois Huntington, and happiness might yet be his.

The next moment Alice's better nature reasserted itself. The picture of the young girl sitting with her serious face and her trustful eyes came back to her. Lois, moved by her sympathy and friendship, had given her a glimpse of her true heart, which she knew she would have died before she would have shown another. She had confided in her absolutely. She heard the tones of her voice:

"Why, Mrs. Lancaster, I dream of him. He seems to me so real, so true. For such a man I could--I could worship him!" Then came the sudden lifting of the veil; the straight, confiding, appealing glance, the opening of the soul, and the rush to her knees as she appealed for him.

It all passed through Mrs. Lancaster's mind as she looked far away over the slumbering sea, while Keith waited for her answer.

When she glanced up at Keith he was leaning over the rail, looking far away, his face calm and serious. What was he thinking of? Certainly not of her.

"No, you are not--not in love with me," she said firmly.

Keith started, and looked down on her with a changed expression.

She raised her hand with a gesture of protest, rose and stood beside him, facing him frankly.

"You are in love, but not with me."

Keith took her hand. She did not take it from him; indeed, she caught his hand with a firm clasp.

"Oh, no; you are not," she smiled. "I have had men in love with me--"

"You have had one, I know--" he began.

"Yes, once, a long time ago--and I know the difference. I told you once that I was not what you thought me."

"And I told you--" began Keith; but she did not pause.

"I am still less so now. I am not in the least what you think me--or you are not what I think you."

"You are just what I think you," began Keith. "You are the most charming woman in the world--you are my--" He hesitated as she looked straight into his eyes and shook her head.

"What? No, I am not. I am a worldly, world-worn woman. Oh, yes, I am," as dissent spoke in his face. "I know the world and am a part of it and depend upon it. Yes, I am. I am not so far gone that I cannot recognize and admire what is better, higher, and nobler than the world of which I speak; but I am bound to the wheel--Is not that the illustration you wrote me once? I thought then it was absurd. I know now how true it is."

"I do not think you are," declared Keith. "If you were, I would claim the right to release you--to save you for--yourself and--"

She shook her head.

"No, no. I have become accustomed to my Sybarite's couch of which you used to tell me. Would you be willing to give up all you have striven for and won--your life--the honors you have won and hope to win?"

"They are nothing--those I have won! Those I hope to win, I would win for us both. You should help me. They would be for you, Alice." His eyes were deep in hers.

She fetched a long sigh.

"No, no; once, perhaps, I might have--but now it is too late. I chose my path and must follow it. You would not like to give up all you--hope for--and become like--some we know?"

"God forbid!"

"And I say, 'Amen.' And if you would, I would not be willing to have you do it. You are too much to me--I honor you too much," she corrected quickly, as she caught the expression in his face. "I could not let you sink into a--society man--like--some of those I sit next to and dance with and drive with and--enjoy and despise. Do I not know that if you loved me you would have convinced me of it in a moment? You have not convinced me. You are in love,--as you said just now,--but not with me. You are in love with Lois Huntington."

Keith almost staggered. It was so direct and so exactly what his thought had been just now. But he said:

"Oh, nonsense! Lois Huntington considers me old enough to be her grandfather. Why, she--she is engaged to or in love with Dr. Locaman."

"She is not," said Mrs. Lancaster, firmly, "and she never will be. If you go about it right she will marry you." She added calmly: "I hope she will, with all my heart."

"Marry me! Lois Huntington! Why--"

"She considers me her grandmother, perhaps; but not you her grandfather. She thinks you are much too young for me. She thinks you are the most wonderful and the best and most charming man in the world."

"Oh, nonsense!"

"I do not know where she got such an idea--unless you told her so yourself," she said, with a smile.

"I would like her to think it," said Keith, smiling; "but I have studiously avoided divulging myself in my real and fatal character."

"Then she must have got it from the only other person who knows you in your true character."

"And that is--?"

She looked into his eyes with so amused and so friendly a light in her own that Keith lifted her hand to his lips.

"I do not deserve such friendship."

"Yes, you do; you taught it to me."

He sat back in his chair, trying to think. But all he could think of was how immeasurably he was below both these women.

"Will you forgive me?" he said suddenly, almost miserably. He meant to say more, but she rose, and at the moment he heard a step behind him. He thought her hand touched his head for a second, and that he heard her answer, "Yes"; but he was not sure, for just then Mrs. Rhodes spoke to them, and they all three had to pretend that they thought nothing unusual had been going on.

They received their mail next day, and were all busy reading letters, when Mrs. Rhodes gave an exclamation of surprise.

"Oh, just hear this! Little Miss Huntington's old aunt is dead."

There was an exclamation from every one.

"Yes," she went on reading, with a faint little conventional tone of sympathy in her voice; "she died ten days ago--very suddenly, of heart-disease."

"Oh, poor little Lois! I am so sorry for her!" It was Alice Lancaster's voice.

But Keith did not hear any more. His heart was aching, and he was back among the shrubbery of The Lawns. All that he knew was that Rhodes and Mrs. Rhodes were expressing sympathy, and that Mrs. Lancaster, who had not said a word after the first exclamation, excused herself and left the saloon. Keith made up his mind promptly. He went up on deck. Mrs. Lancaster was sitting alone far aft in the shadow. Her back was toward him, and her hand was to her eyes. He went up to her. She did not look up; but Keith felt that she knew it was he.

"You must go to her," she said.

"Yes," said Keith. "I shall. I wish you would come."

"Oh, I wish I could! Poor little thing!" she sighed.

Two days after that Keith walked into the hotel at Brookford. The clerk recognized him as he appeared, and greeted him cordially. Something in Keith's look or manner, perhaps, recalled his former association with the family at The Lawns, for, as Keith signed his name, he said:

"Sad thing, that, up on the hill."

"What?" said Keith, absently.

"The old lady's death and the breaking up of the old place," he said.

"Oh!--yes, it is," said Keith; and then, thinking that he could learn if Miss Huntington were there without appearing to do so, except casually, he said:

"Who is there now?"

"There is not any one there at all, I believe."

Keith ordered a room, and a half-hour later went out.

Instead of taking a carriage, he walked There had been a change in the weather. The snow covered everything, and the grounds looked wintry and deserted. The gate was unlocked, but had not been opened lately, and Keith had hard work to open it wide enough to let himself through. He tramped along through the snow, and turning the curve in the road, was in front of the house. It was shut up. Every shutter was closed, as well as the door, and a sudden chill struck him. Still he went on; climbed the wide, unswept steps, crossed the portico, and rang the bell, and finally knocked. The sound made him start. How lonesome it seemed! He knocked again, but no one came. Only the snowbirds on the portico stopped and looked at him curiously. Finally, he thought he heard some one in the snow. He turned as a man came around the house. It was the old coachman and factotum. He seemed glad enough to see Keith, and Keith was, at least, glad to see him.

"It's a bad business, it is, Mr. Kathe," he said sadly.

"Yes, it is, John. Where is Miss Huntington?"

"Gone, sir," said John, with surprise in his voice that Keith should not know.

"Gone where?"

"An' that no one knows," said John.

"What! What do you mean?"

"Just that, sir," said the old fellow. "She went away two days after the funeral, an' not a worrd of her since."

"But she's at some relative's?" said Keith, seeking information at the same time he gave it.

"No, sir; not a relative in the world she has, except Mr. Wentworth in New York, and she has not been there."

Keith learned, in the conversation which followed, that Miss Abigail had died very suddenly, and that two days after the funeral Miss Lois had had the house shut up, and taking only a small trunk, had left by train for New York. They had expected to hear from her, though she had said they would not do so for some time; and when no letter had come they had sent to New York, but had failed to find her. This all seemed natural enough. Lois was abundantly able to take care of herself, and, no doubt, desired for the present to be in some place of retirement. Keith decided, therefore, that he would simply go to the city and ascertain where she was. He thought of going to see Dr. Locaman, but something restrained him. The snow was deep, and he was anxious to find Lois; so he went straight down to the city that evening. The next day he discovered that it was not quite so easy to find one who wished to be lost. Norman knew nothing of her.

Norman and his wife were now living with old Mrs. Wentworth, and they had all invited her to come to them; but she had declined. Keith was much disturbed.

Lois, however, was nearer than Keith dreamed.

Her aunt's death had stricken Lois deeply. She could not bear to go to New York. It stood to her only for hardness and isolation.

Just then a letter came from Dr. Balsam. She must come to him, he said. He was sick, or he would come for her. An impulse seized her to go to him. She would go back to the scenes of her childhood: the memories of her father drew her; the memory also of her aunt in some way urged her. Dr. Balsam appeared just then nearer to her than any one else. She could help him. It seemed a haven of refuge to her.

Twenty-four hours later the old Doctor was sitting in his room. He looked worn and old and dispirited. The death of an old friend had left a void in his life.

There was a light step outside and a rap at the door.

"It's the servant," thought the Doctor, and called somewhat gruffly, "Come in."

When the door opened it was not the servant. For a moment the old man scarcely took in who it was. She seemed to be almost a vision. He had never thought of Lois in black. She was so like a girl he had known long, long ago.

Then she ran forward, and as the old man rose to his feet she threw her arms about his neck, and the world suddenly changed for him--changed as much as if it had been new-created.

From New York Keith went down to the old plantation to see his father. The old gentleman was renewing his youth among his books. He was much interested in Keith's account of his yachting-trip. While there Keith got word of important business which required his presence in New Leeds immediately. Ferdy Wickersham had returned, and had brought suit against his company, claiming title to all the lands they had bought from Adam Rawson.

On his arrival at New Leeds, Keith learned that Wickersham had been there just long enough to institute his suit, the papers in which had been already prepared before he came. There was much excitement in the place. Wickersham had boasted that he had made a great deal of money in South America.

"He claims now," said Keith's informant, Captain Turley, "that he owns all of Squire Rawson's lands. He says you knew it was all his when you sold it to them Englishmen, and that Mr. Rhodes, the president of the company, knew it was his, and he has been defrauded."

"Well, we will see about that," said Keith, grimly.

"That's what old Squire Rawson said. The old man came up as soon as he heard he was here; but Wickersham didn't stay but one night. He had lighted out."

"What did the squire come for?" inquired Keith, moved by his old friend's expression.

"He said he came to kill him. And he'd have done it. If Wickersham's got any friends they'd better keep him out of his way." His face testified his earnestness.

Keith had a curious feeling. Wickersham's return meant that he was desperate. In some way, too, Keith felt that Lois Huntington was concerned in his movements. He was glad to think that she was abroad.

But Lois was being drawn again into his life in a way that he little knew.

In the seclusion and quietude of Ridgely at that season, Lois soon felt as if she had reached, at last, a safe harbor. The care of the old Doctor gave her employment, and her mind, after a while, began to recover its healthy tone. She knew that the happiness of which she had once dreamed would never be hers; but she was sustained by the reflection that she had tried to do her duty: she had sacrificed herself for others. She spent her time trying to help those about her. She had made friends with Squire Rawson, and the old man found much comfort in talking to her of Phrony.

Sometimes, in the afternoon, when she was lonely, she climbed the hill and looked after the little plot in which lay the grave of her father. She remembered her mother but vaguely: as a beautiful vision, blurred by the years; but her father was clear in her memory. His smile, his cheeriness, his devotion to her remained with her. And the memory of him who had been her friend in her childhood came to her sometimes, saddening her, till she would arouse herself and by an effort banish him from her thoughts.

Often when she went up to the cemetery she would see others there: women in black, with a fresher sorrow than hers; and sometimes the squire, who was beginning now to grow feeble and shaky with age, would be sitting on a bench among the shrubbery beside a grave on which he had placed flowers. The grave was Phrony's. Once he spoke to her of Wickersham. He had brought a suit against the old man, claiming that he had a title to all of the latter's property. The old fellow was greatly stirred up by it. He denounced him furiously.

"He has robbed me of her," he said "Let him beware. If he ever comes across my path I shall kill him."

So the Winter passed, and Spring was beginning to come. Its harbingers, in their livery of red and green, were already showing on the hillsides. The redbud was burning on the Southern slopes; the turf was springing, fresh and green; dandelions were dappling the grass like golden coins sown by a prodigal; violets were beginning to peep from the shelter of leaves caught along the fence-rows; and some favored peach-trees were blushing into pink.

For some reason the season made Lois sad. Was it that it was Nature's season for mating; the season for Youth to burst its restraining bonds and blossom into love? She tried to fight the feeling, but it clung to her. Dr Balsam, watching her with quickened eyes, grew graver, and prescribed a tonic. Once he had spoken to her of Keith, and she had told him that he was to marry Mrs. Lancaster. But the old man had made a discovery. And he never spoke to her of him again.

Lois, to her surprise and indignation, received one morning a letter from Wickersham asking her to make an appointment with him on a matter of mutual interest. He wished, he said, to make friends with old Mr. Rawson and she could help him. He mentioned Keith and casually spoke of his engagement. She took no notice of this letter; but one afternoon she was lonelier than usual, and she went up the hill to her father's grave. Adam Rawson's horse was tied to the fence, and across the lots she saw him among the rose-bushes at Phrony's grave. She sat down and gave herself up to reflection. Gradually the whole of her life in New York passed before her: its unhappiness; its promise of joy for a moment; and then the shutting of it out, as if the windows of her soul had been closed.

She heard the gate click, and presently heard a step behind her. As it approached she turned and faced Ferdy Wickersham. She seemed to be almost in a dream. He had aged somewhat, and his dark face had hardened. Otherwise he had not changed. He was still very handsome. She felt as if a chill blast had struck her. She caught his eye on her, and knew that he had recognized her. As he came up the path toward her, she rose and moved away; but he cut across to intercept her, and she heard him speak her name.

She took no notice, but walked on.

"Miss Huntington." He stepped in front of her.

Her head went up, and she looked him in the eyes with a scorn in hers that stung him. "Move, if you please."

His face flushed, then paled again.

"I heard you were here, and I have come to see you, to talk with you," he began. "I wish to be friends with you."

She waved him aside.

"Let me pass, if you please."

"Not until you have heard what I have to say. You have done me a great injustice; but I put that by. I have been robbed by persons you know, persons who are no friends of yours, whom I understand you have influence with, and you can help to right matters. It will be worth your while to do it."

She attempted to pass around him; but he stepped before her.

"You might as well listen; for I have come here to talk to you, and I mean to do it. I can show you how important it is for you to aid me--to advise your friends to settle. Now, will you listen?"

"No." She looked him straight in the eyes.

"Oh, I guess you will," he sneered. "It concerns your friend, Mr. Keith, whom you thought so much of. Your friend Keith has placed himself in a very equivocal position. I will have him behind bars before I am done. Wait until I have shown that when he got all that money from the English people he knew that that land was mine, and that he had run the lines falsely on which he got the money."

"Let me pass," said Lois. With her head held high she started again to walk by him; but he seized her by the wrist.

"This is not Central Park. You shall hear me."

"Let me go, Mr. Wickersham," she said imperiously. But he held her firmly.

At that moment she heard an oath behind her, and a voice exclaimed:

"It is you, at last! And still troubling women!"

Wickersham's countenance suddenly changed. He released her wrist and fell back a step, his face blanching. The next second, as she turned quickly, old Adam Rawson's bulky figure was before her. He was hurrying toward her: the very apotheosis of wrath. His face was purple; his eyes blazed; his massive form was erect, and quivering with fury. His heavy stick was gripped in his left hand, and with the other he was drawing a pistol from his pocket.

"I have waited for you, you dog, and you have come at last!" he cried.

Wickersham, falling back before his advance, was trying, as Lois looked, to get out a pistol. His face was as white as death. Lois had no time for thought. It was simply instinct. Old Rawson's pistol was already levelled. With a cry she threw herself between them; but it was too late.

She was only conscious of a roar and blinding smoke in her eyes and of something like a hot iron at her side; then, as she sank down, of Squire Rawson's stepping over her. Her sacrifice was in vain, for the old man was not to be turned from his revenge. As he had sworn, so he performed. And the next moment Wickersham, with two bullets in his body, had paid to him his long-piled-up debt.

When Lois came to, she was in bed, and Dr. Balsam was leaning over her with a white, set face.

"I am all right," she said, with a faint smile. "Was he hurt?"

"Don't talk now," said the Doctor, quietly. "Thank God, you are not hurt much."

Keith was sitting in his office in New Leeds alone that afternoon. He had just received a telegram from Dave Dennison that Wickersham had left New York. Dennison had learned that he was going to Ridgely to try to make up with old Rawson. Just then the paper from Ridgely was brought in. Keith's eye fell on the head-lines of the first column, and he almost fell from his chair as he read the words:


DOUBLE TRAGEDY--FATAL SHOOTING

F.C. WICKERSHAM SHOOTS MISS LOIS HUNTINGTON AND
IS KILLED BY SQUIRE RAWSON


The account of the shooting was in accordance with the heading, and was followed by the story of the Wickersham-Rawson trouble.

Keith snatched out his watch, and the next second was dashing down the street on his way to the station. A train was to start for the east in five minutes. He caught it as it ran out of the station, and swung himself up to the rear platform.

Curiously enough, in his confused thoughts of Lois Huntington and what she had meant to him was mingled the constant recollection of old Tim Gilsey and his lumbering stage running through the pass.

It was late in the evening when he reached Ridgely; but he hastened at once to Dr. Balsam's office. The moon was shining, and it brought back to him the evenings on the verandah at Gates's so long ago. But it seemed to him that it was Lois Huntington who had been there among the pillows; that it was Lois Huntington who had always been there in his memory. He wondered if she would be as she was then, as she lay dead. And once or twice he wondered if he could be losing his wits; then he gripped himself and cleared his mind.

In ten minutes he was in Dr. Balsam's office. The Doctor greeted him with more coldness than he had ever shown him. Keith felt his suspicion.

"Where is Lois--Miss Lois Huntington? Is she--?" He could not frame the question.

"She is doing very well."

Keith's heart gave a bound of hope. The blood surged back and forth in his veins. Life seemed to revive for him.

"Is she alive? Will she live?" he faltered.

"Yes. Who says she will not?" demanded the Doctor, testily.

"The paper--the despatch."

"No thanks to you that she does!" He faced Keith, and suddenly flamed out: "I want to tell you that I think you have acted like a damned rascal!"

Keith's jaw dropped, and he actually staggered with amazement. "What! What do you mean? I do not understand!"

"You are not a bit better than that dog that you turned her over to, who got his deserts yesterday."

"But I do not understand!" gasped Keith, white and hot.

"Then I will tell you. You led that innocent girl to believe that you were in love with her, and then when she was fool enough to believe you and let herself become--interested, you left her to run, like a little puppy, after a rich woman."

"Where did you hear this?" asked Keith, still amazed, but recovering himself. "What have you heard? Who told you?"

"Not from her." He was blazing with wrath.

"No; but from whom?"

"Never mind. From some one who knew the facts. It is the truth."

"But it is not the truth. I have been in love with Lois Huntington since I first met her."

"Then why in the name of heaven did you treat her so?"

"How? I did not tell her so because I heard she was in love with some one else--and engaged to him. God knows I have suffered enough over it. I would die for her." His expression left no room for doubt as to his sincerity.

The old man's face gradually relaxed, and presently something that was almost a smile came into his eyes. He held out his hand.

"I owe you an apology. You are a d----d fool!"

"Can I see her?" asked Keith.

"I don't know that you can see anything. But I could, if I were in your place. She is on the side verandah at my hospital--where Gates's tavern stood. She is not much hurt, though it was a close thing. The ball struck a button and glanced around. She is sitting up. I shall bring her home as soon as she can be moved."

Keith paused and reflected a moment, then held out his hand.

"Doctor, if I win her will you make our house your home?"

The old man's face softened, and he held out his hand again.

"You will have to come and see me sometimes."

Five minutes later Keith turned up the walk that led to the side verandah of the building that Dr. Balsam had put up for his sanatorium on the site of Gates's hotel. The moon was slowly sinking toward the western mountain-tops, flooding with soft light the valley below, and touching to silver the fleecy clouds that, shepherded by the gentle wind, wreathed the highest peaks beyond. How well Keith remembered it all: the old house with its long verandah; the moonlight flooding it; the white figure reclining there; and the boy that talked of his ideal of loveliness and love. She was there now; it seemed to him that she had been there always, and the rest was merely a dream. He walked up on the turf, but strode rapidly. He could not wait. As he mounted the steps, he took off his hat.

"Good evening." He spoke as if she must expect him.

She had not heard him before. She was reclining among pillows, and her face was turned toward the western sky. Her black dress gave him a pang. He had never thought of her in black, except as a little girl. And such she almost seemed to him now.

She turned toward him and gave a gasp.

"Mr. Keith!"

"Lois--I have come--" he began, and stopped.

She held out her hand and tried to sit up. Keith took her hand softly, as if it were a rose, and closing his firmly over it, fell on one knee beside her chair.

"Don't try to sit up," he said gently. "I went to Brookford as soon as I heard of it--" he began, and then placed his other hand on hers, covering it with his firm grasp.

"I thought you would," she said simply.

Keith lifted her hand and held it against his cheek. He was silent a moment. What should he say to her? Not only all other women, but all the rest of the world, had disappeared.

"I have come, and I shall not go away again until you go with me."

For answer she hid her face and began to cry softly. Keith knelt with her hand to his lips, murmuring his love.

"I am so glad you have come. I don't know what to do," she said presently.

"You do not have to know. I know. It is decided. I love you--I have always loved you. And no one shall ever come between us. You are mine--mine only." He went on pouring out his soul to her.

(Illustration: "Lois--I have come"--he began)

"My old Doctor--?" she began presently, and looked up at him with eyes "like stars half-quenched in mists of silver dew."

"He agrees. We will make him live with us."

"Your father-?"

"Him, too. You shall be their daughter."

She gave him her hands.

"Well, on that condition."

* * * * *

The first person Keith sought to tell of his new happiness was his father. The old gentleman was sitting on the porch at Elphinstone in the sun, enjoying the physical sensation of warmth that means so much to extreme youth and extreme age. He held a copy of Virgil in his hand, but he was not reading; he was repeating passages of it by heart. They related to the quiet life. His son heard him saying softly:


"'O Fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint,
Agricolas!'"


His mind was possibly far back in the past.

His placid face lit up with the smile that always shone there when his son appeared.

"Well, what's the news?" he asked. "I know it must be good."

"It is," smiled Keith. "I am engaged to be married."

The old gentleman's book fell to the floor.

"You don't say so! Ah, that's very good! Very good! I am glad of that; every young man ought to marry. There is no happiness like it in this world, whatever there may be in the next.

"'Interea dulces pendent circum oscula nati.'

"I will come and see you," he smiled.

"Come and see me!"

"But I am not very much at home in New York," he pursued rather wistfully; "it is too noisy for me. I am too old-fashioned for it."

"New York? But I'm not going to live in New York!"

A slight shadow swept over the General's face.

"Well, you must live where she will be happiest," he said thoughtfully. "A gentleman owes that to his wife.--Do you think she will be willing to live elsewhere?"

"Who do you think it is, sir!"

"Mrs. Lancaster, isn't it?"

"Why, no; it is Lois Huntington. I am engaged to her. She has promised to marry me."

"To her!--to Lois Huntington--my little girl!" The old gentleman rose to his feet, his face alight with absolute joy. "That is something like it! Where is she? When is it to be? I will come and live with you."

"Of course, you must. It is on that condition that she agrees to marry me," said Keith, smiling with new happiness at his pleasure.

"'In her tongue is the law of kindness,'" quoted the old gentleman. "God bless you both. 'Her price is far above rubies.'" And after a pause he added gently: "I hope your mother knows of this. I think she must: she seems so close to me to-day."


(THE END)
Thomas Nelson Page's Novel: Gordon Keith

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