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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesShavings - Chapter 20
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Shavings - Chapter 20 Post by :ndennis Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :2585

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Shavings - Chapter 20

CHAPTER XX

Mr. Gabe Bearse lost another opportunity the next morning. The late bird misses the early worm and, as Gabriel was still slumbering peacefully at six A. M., he missed seeing Ruth Armstrong and her brother emerge from the door of the Winslow house at that hour and walk to the gate together. Charles was carrying a small traveling bag. Ruth's face was white and her eyes were suspiciously damp, but she was evidently trying hard to appear calm and cheerful. As they stood talking by the gate, Jed Winslow emerged from the windmill shop and, crossing the lawn, joined them.

The three talked for a moment and then Charles held out his hand.

"Well, so long, Jed," he said. "If all goes well I shall be back here to-morrow. Wish me luck."

"I'll be wishin' it for you, Charlie, all day and all night with double time after hours and no allowance for meals," replied Jed earnestly. "You think Sam'll get your note all right?"

"Yes, I shall tuck it under the bank door as I go by. If he should ask what the business was which called me to Boston so suddenly, just dodge the question as well as you can, won't you, Jed?"

"Sartin sure. He'll think he's dealin' with that colored man that sticks his head through the sheet over to the Ostable fair, the one the boys heave baseballs at. No, he won't get anything out of me, Charlie. And the other letter; that'll get to--to her?"

The young man nodded gravely. "I shall mail it at the post-office now," he said. "Don't talk about it, please. Well, Sis, good-by-- until to-morrow."

Jed turned his head. When he looked again Phillips was walking rapidly away along the sidewalk. Ruth, leaning over the fence, watched him as long as he was in sight. And Jed watched her anxiously. When she turned he ventured to speak.

"Don't worry," he begged. "Don't. He's doin' the right thing. I know he is."

She wiped her eyes. "Oh, perhaps he is," she said sadly. "I hope he is."

"I know he is. I only wish I could do it, too. . . . I would," he drawled, solemnly, "only for nineteen or twenty reasons, the first one of 'em bein' that they wouldn't let me."

She made no comment on this observation. They walked together back toward the house.

"Jed," she said, after a moment, "it has come at last, hasn't it, the day we have foreseen and that I have dreaded so? Poor Charlie! Think what this means to him."

Jed nodded. "He's puttin' it to the touch, to win or lose it all," he agreed, "same as was in the poem he and I talked about that time. Well, I honestly believe he feels better now that he's made up his mind to do it, better than he has for many a long day."

"Yes, I suppose he does. And he is doing, too, what he has wanted to do ever since he came here. He told me so when he came in from his long interview with you last night. He and I talked until it was almost day and we told each other--many things."

She paused. Jed, looking up, caught her eye. To his surprise she colored and seemed slightly confused.

"He had not said anything before," she went on rather hurriedly, "because he thought I would feel so terribly to have him do it. So I should, and so I do, of course--in one way, but in another I am glad. Glad, and very proud."

"Sartin. He'll make us all proud of him, or I miss my guess. And, as for the rest of it, the big question that counts most of all to him, I hope--yes, I think that's comin' out all right, too. Ruth," he added, "you remember what I told you about Sam's talk with me that afternoon when he came back from Wapatomac. If Maud cares for him as much as all that she ain't goin' to throw him over on account of what happened in Middleford."

"No--no, not if she really cares. But does she care--enough?"

"I hope so. I guess so. But if she doesn't it's better for him to know it, and know it now. . . . Dear, dear!" he added, "how I do fire off opinions, don't I? A body'd think I was loaded up with wisdom same as one of those machine guns is with cartridges. About all I'm loaded with is blanks, I cal'late."

She was not paying attention to this outburst, but, standing with one hand upon the latch of the kitchen door, she seemed to be thinking deeply.

"I think you are right," she said slowly. "Yes, I think you are right. It IS better to know. . . . Jed, suppose--suppose you cared for some one, would the fact that her brother had been in prison make any difference in--in your feeling?"

Jed actually staggered. She was not looking at him, nor did she look at him now.

"Eh?" he cried. "Why--why, Ruth, what--what--?"

She smiled faintly. "And that was a foolish question, too," she said. "Foolish to ask you, of all men. . . . Well, I must go on and get Babbie's breakfast. Poor child, she is going to miss her Uncle Charlie. We shall all miss him. . . . But there, I promised him I would be brave. Good morning, Jed."

"But--but, Ruth, what-what--?"

She had not heard him. The door closed. Jed stood staring at it for some minutes. Then he crossed the lawn to his own little kitchen. The performances he went through during the next hour would have confirmed the opinion of Mr. Bearse and his coterie that "Shavings" Winslow was "next door to loony." He cooked a breakfast, but how he cooked it or of what it consisted he could not have told. The next day he found the stove-lid lifter on a plate in the ice chest. Whatever became of the left-over pork chop which should have been there he had no idea.

Babbie came dancing in at noon on her way home from school. She found her Uncle Jed in a curious mood, a mood which seemed to be a compound of absent-mindedness and silence broken by sudden fits of song and hilarity. He was sitting by the bench when she entered and was holding an oily rag in one hand and a piece of emery paper in the other. He was looking neither at paper nor rag, nor at anything else in particular so far as she could see, and he did not notice her presence at all. Suddenly he began to rub the paper and the rag together and to sing at the top of his voice:


"'He's my lily of the valley,
My bright and mornin' star;
He's the fairest of ten thousand to my soul--Hallelujah!
He's my di-dum-du-dum-di-dum--
Di--'"


Barbara burst out laughing. Mr. Winslow's hallelujah chorus stopped in the middle and he turned.

"Eh?" he exclaimed, looking over his spectacles. "Oh, it's you! Sakes alive, child, how do you get around so quiet? Haven't borrowed the cat's feet to walk, on, have you?"

Babbie laughed again and replied that she guessed the cat wouldn't lend her feet.

"She would want 'em herself, prob'ly, Uncle Jed," she added. "Don't you think so?"

Jed appeared to consider.

"Well," he drawled, "she might, I presume likely, be as selfish and unreasonable as all that. But then again she might . . . hum . . . what was it the cat walked on in that story you and I was readin' together a spell ago? That--er--Sure Enough story--you know. By Kipling, 'twas."

"Oh, I know! It wasn't a Sure Enough story; it was a 'Just So' story. And the name of it was 'The Cat Who Walked by His Wild Lone.'"

Jed looked deeply disappointed. "Sho!" he sighed. "I thought 'twas on his wild lone he walked. I was thinkin' that maybe he'd gone walkin' on that for a spell and had lent you his feet. . . . Hum. . . . Dear, dear!


"'Oh, trust and obey,
For there's no other way
To be de-de-de-di-dum--
But to trust and obey.'"


Here he relapsed into another daydream. After waiting for a moment, Babbie ventured to arouse him.

"Uncle Jed," she asked, "what were you doing with those things in your hand--when I came in, you know? That cloth and that piece of paper. You looked so funny, rubbing them together, that I couldn't help laughing."

Jed regarded her solemnly. "It's emery paper," he said; "like fine sandpaper, you know. And the cloth's got ile in it. I'm cleanin' the rust off this screwdriver. I hadn't used it for more'n a fortni't and it got pretty rusty this damp weather."

The child looked at him wonderingly.

"But, Uncle Jed," she said, "there isn't any screwdriver. Anyhow I don't see any. You were just rubbing the sandpaper and the cloth together and singing. That's why it looked so funny."

Jed inspected first one hand and then the other.

"Hum!" he drawled. "Hu-um! . . . Well, I declare! . . . Now you mention it, there don't seem to be any screwdriver, does there? . . . Here 'tis on the bench. . . . And I was rubbin' the sandpaper with ile, or ilin' the sandpaper with the rag, whichever you like. . . . Hum, ye-es, I should think it might have looked funny. . . . Babbie, if you see me walkin' around without any head some mornin' don't be scared. You'll know that that part of me ain't got out of bed yet, that's all."

Barbara leaned her chin on both small fists and gazed at him. "Uncle Jed," she said, "you've been thinking about something, haven't you?"

"Eh? . . . Why, yes, I--I guess likely maybe I have. How did you know?"

"Oh, 'cause I did. Petunia and I know you ever and ever so well now and we're used to--to the way you do. Mamma says things like forgetting the screwdriver are your ex-eccen-tricks. Is this what you've been thinking about a nice eccen-trick or the other kind?"

Jed slowly shook his head. "I--I don't know," he groaned. "I dasn't believe-- There, there! That's enough of my tricks. How's Petunia's hair curlin' this mornin'?"

After the child left him he tried to prepare his dinner, but it was as unsatisfactory a meal as breakfast had been. He couldn't eat, he couldn't work. He could only think, and thinking meant alternate periods of delirious hope and black depression. He sat down before the little table in his living-room and, opening the drawer, saw Ruth Armstrong's pictured face looking up at him.


"Jed! Oh, Jed!"

It was Maud Hunniwell's voice. She had entered the shop and the living-room without his hearing her and now she was standing behind him with her hand upon his shoulder. He started, turned and looked up into her face. And one glance caused him to forget himself and even the pictured face in the drawer for the time and to think only of her.

"Maud!" he exclaimed. "Maud!"

Her hair, usually so carefully arranged, was disordered; her hat was not adjusted at its usual exact angle; and as for the silver fox, it hung limply backside front. Her eyes were red and she held a handkerchief in one hand and a letter in the other.

"Oh, Jed!" she cried.

Jed put out his hands. "There, there, Maud!" he said. "There, there, little girl."

They had been confidants since her babyhood, these two. She came to him now, and putting her head upon his shoulder, burst into a storm of weeping. Jed stroked her hair.

"There, there, Maud," he said gently. "Don't, girlie, don't. It's goin' to be all right, I know it. . . . And so you came to me, did you? I'm awful glad you did, I am so."

"He asked me to come," she sobbed. "He wrote it--in--in the letter."

Jed led her over to a chair. "Sit down, girlie," he said, "and tell me all about it. You got the letter, then?"

She nodded. "Yes," she said, chokingly; "it--it just came. Oh, I am so glad Father did not come home to dinner to-day. He would have--have seen me and--and--oh, why did he do it, Jed? Why?"

Jed shook his head. "He had to do it, Maud," he answered. "He wanted to do the right thing and the honorable thing. And you would rather have had him do that, wouldn't you?"

"Oh--oh, I don't know. But why didn't he come to me and tell me? Why did he go away and--and write me he had gone to enlist? Why didn't he come to me first? Oh. . . . Oh, Jed, how COULD he treat me so?"

She was sobbing again. Jed took her hand and patted it with his own big one.

"Didn't he tell you in the letter why?" he asked.

"Yes--yes, but--"

"Then let me tell you what he told me, Maud. He and I talked for up'ards of three solid hours last night and I cal'late I understood him pretty well when he finished. Now let me tell you what he said to me."

He told her the substance of his long interview with Phillips. He told also of Charles' coming to Orham, of why and how he took the position in the bank, of his other talks with him--Winslow.

"And so," said Jed, in conclusion, "you see, Maud, what a dreadful load the poor young feller's been carryin' ever since he came and especially since he--well, since he found out how much he was carin' for you. Just stop for a minute and think what a load 'twas. His conscience was troublin' him all the time for keepin' the bank job, for sailin' under false colors in your eyes and your dad's. He was workin' and pinchin' to pay the two thousand to the man in Middleford. He had hangin' over him every minute the practical certainty that some day--some day sure--a person was comin' along who knew his story and then the fat would all be in the fire. And when it went into that fire he wouldn't be the only one to be burnt; there would be his sister and Babbie--and you; most of all, you."

She nodded. "Yes, yes, I know," she cried. "But why--oh, why didn't he come to me and tell me? Why did he go without a word? He must have known I would forgive him, no matter what he had done. It wouldn't have made any difference, his having been in--in prison. And now--now he may be--oh, Jed, he may be killed!"

She was sobbing again. Jed patted her hand. "We won't talk about his bein' killed," he said stoutly. "I know he won't be; I feel it in my bones. But, Maud, can't you see why he didn't come and tell you before he went to enlist? Suppose he had. If you care for him so much--as much as I judge you do--"

She interrupted. "Care for him!" she repeated. "Oh, Jed!"

"Yes, yes, dearie, I know. Well, then, carin' for him like that, you'd have told him just what you told me then; that about his havin' done what he did and havin' been where he's been not makin' any difference. And you'd have begged and coaxed him to stay right along in the bank, maybe? Eh?"

"Yes," defiantly. Of course I would. Why not?"

"And your father, would you have told him?"

She hesitated. "I don't know," she said, but with less assurance. "Perhaps so, later on. It had all been kept a secret so far, all the whole dreadful thing, why not a little longer? Besides-- besides, Father knows how much Charlie means to me. Father and I had a long talk about him one night and I--I think he knows. And he is very fond of Charlie himself; he has said so so many times. He would have forgiven him, too, if I had asked him. He always does what I ask."

"Yes, ye-es, I cal'late that's so. But, to be real honest now, Maud, would you have been satisfied to have it that way? Would you have felt that it was the honorable thing for Charlie to do? Isn't what he has done better? He's undertakin' the biggest and finest job a man can do in this world to-day, as I see it. It's the job he'd have taken on months ago if he'd felt 'twas right to leave Ruth--Mrs. Armstrong--so soon after--after bein' separated from her so long. He's taken on this big job, this man's job, and he says to you: 'Here I am. You know me now. Do you care for me still? If you do will you wait till I come back?' And to your dad, to Sam, he says: 'I ain't workin' for you now. I ain't on your payroll and so I can speak out free and independent. If your daughter'll have me I mean to marry her some day.' Ain't that the better way, Maud? Ain't that how you'd rather have him feel--and do?"

She sighed and shook her head. "I--I suppose so," she admitted. "Oh, I suppose that you and he are right. In his letter he says just that. Would you like to see it; that part of it, I mean?"

Jed took the crumpled and tear-stained letter from her hand.

"I think I ought to tell you, Maud," he said, "that writin' this was his own idea. It was me that suggested his enlistin', although I found he'd been thinkin' of it all along, but I was for havin' him go and enlist and then come back and tell you and Sam. But he says, 'No. I'll tell her in a letter and then when I come back she'll have had time to think it over. She won't say 'yes' then simply because she pities me or because she doesn't realize what it means. No, I'll write her and then when I come back after enlistin' and go to her for my answer, I'll know it's given deliberate.'"

She nodded. "He says that there," she said chokingly. "But he--he must have known. Oh, Jed, how CAN I let him go--to war?"

That portion of the letter which Jed was permitted to read was straightforward and honest and manly. There were no appeals for pity or sympathy. The writer stated his case and left the rest to her, that was all. And Jed, reading between the lines, respected Charles Phillips more than ever.

He and Maud talked for a long time after that. And, at last, they reached a point which Jed had tried his best to avoid. Maud mentioned it first. She had been speaking of his friendship for her lover and for herself.

"I don't see what we should have done without your help, Jed," she said. "And when I think what you have done for Charlie! Why, yes-- and now I know why you pretended to have found the four hundred dollars Father thought he had lost. Pa left it at Wapatomac, after all; you knew that?"

Jed stirred uneasily. He was standing by the window, looking out into the yard.

"Yes, yes," he said hastily, "I know. Don't talk about it, Maud. It makes me feel more like a fool than usual and . . . er . . . don't seem as if that was hardly necessary, does it?"

"But I shall talk about it. When Father came home that night he couldn't talk of anything else. He called it the prize puzzle of the century. You had given him four hundred dollars of your own money and pretended it was his and that you had--had stolen it, Jed. He burst out laughing when he told me that and so did I. The idea of your stealing anything! You!"

Jed smiled, feebly.

"'Twas silly enough, I give in," he admitted. "You see," he added, in an apologetic drawl, "nine-tenths of this town think I'm a prize idiot and sometimes I feel it's my duty to live up--or down--to my reputation. This was one of the times, that's all. I'm awful glad Sam got his own money back, though."

"The money didn't amount to anything. But what you did was the wonderful thing. For now I understand why you did it. You thought--you thought Charlie had taken it to--to pay that horrid man in Middleford. That is what you thought and you--"

Jed broke in. "Don't! Don't put me in mind of it, Maud," he begged. "I'm so ashamed I don't know what to do. You see--you see, Charlie had said how much he needed about that much money and-- and so, bein' a--a woodenhead, I naturally--"

"Oh, don't! Please don't! It was wonderful of you, Jed. You not only gave up your own money, but you were willing to sacrifice your good name; to have Father, your best friend, think you a thief. And you did it all to save Charlie from exposure. How could you, Jed?"

Jed didn't answer. He did not appear to have heard her. He was gazing steadily out into the yard.

"How could you, Jed?" repeated Maud. "It was wonderful! I can't understand. I--"

She stopped at the beginning of the sentence. She was standing beside the little writing-table and the drawer was open. She looked down and there, in that drawer, she saw the framed photograph of Ruth Armstrong. She remembered that Jed had been sitting at that desk and gazing down into that drawer when she entered the room. She looked at him now. He was standing by the window peering out into the yard. Ruth had come from the back door of the little Winslow house and was standing on the step looking up the road, evidently waiting for Barbara to come from school. And Jed was watching her. Maud saw the look upon his face--and she understood.

A few moments later she and Ruth met. Maud had tried to avoid that meeting by leaving Jed's premises by the front door, the door of the outer shop. But Ruth had walked to the gate to see if Babbie was coming and, as Maud emerged from the shop, the two women came face to face. For an instant they did not speak. Maud, excited and overwrought by her experience with the letter and her interview with Jed, was still struggling for self-control, and Ruth, knowing that the other must by this time have received that letter and learned her brother's secret, was inclined to be coldly defiant. She was the first to break the silence. She said "Good afternoon" and passed on. But Maud, after another instant of hesitation, turned back.

"Oh, Mrs. Armstrong," she faltered, "may I speak with you just-- just for a few minutes?"

And now Ruth hesitated. What was it the girl wished to speak about? If it was to reproach her or her brother, or to demand further explanations or apologies, the interview had far better not take place. She was in no mood to listen to reproaches. Charles was, in her eyes, a martyr and a hero and now, largely because of this girl, he was going away to certain danger, perhaps to death. She had tried, for his sake, not to blame Maud Hunniwell because Charles had fallen in love with her, but she was not, just then, inclined toward extreme forbearance. So she hesitated, and Maud spoke again.

"May I speak with you for just a few minutes?" she pleaded. "I have just got his letter and--oh, may I?"

Ruth silently led the way to the door of the little house.

"Come in," she said.

Together they entered the sitting-room. Ruth asked her caller to be seated, but Maud paid no attention.

"I have just got his letter," she faltered. "I--I wanted you to know--to know that it doesn't make any difference. I--I don't care. If he loves me, and--and he says he does--I don't care for anything else. . . . Oh,' PLEASE be nice to me," she begged, holding out her hands. "You are his sister and--and I love him so! And he is going away from both of us."

So Ruth's coldness melted like a fall of snow in early April, and the April showers followed it. She and Maud wept in each other's arms and were femininely happy accordingly. And for at least a half hour thereafter they discussed the surpassing excellencies of Charlie Phillips, the certainty that Captain Hunniwell would forgive him because he could not help it and a variety of kindred and satisfying subjects. And at last Jed Winslow drifted into the conversation.

"And so you have been talking it over with Jed," observed Ruth. "Isn't it odd how we all go to him when we are in trouble or need advice or anything? I always do and Charlie did, and you say that you do, too."

Maud nodded. "He and I have been what Pa calls 'chummies' ever since I can remember," she said simply.

"I don't know why I feel that I can confide in him to such an extent. Somehow I always have. And, do you know, his advice is almost always good? If I had taken it from the first we might, all of us, have avoided a deal of trouble. I have cause to think of Jed Winslow as something sure and safe and trustworthy. Like a nice, kindly old watch dog, you know. A queer one and a funny one, but awfully nice. Babbie idolizes him."

Maud nodded again. She was regarding her companion with an odd expression.

"And when I think," continued Ruth, "of how he was willing to sacrifice his character and his honor and even to risk losing your father's friendship--how he proclaimed himself a thief to save Charlie! When I think of that I scarcely know whether to laugh or cry. I want to do both, of course. It was perfectly characteristic and perfectly adorable--and so absolutely absurd. I love him for it, and as yet I haven't dared thank him for fear I shall cry again, as I did when Captain Hunniwell told us. Yet, when I think of his declaring he took the money to buy a suit of clothes, I feel like laughing. Oh, he IS a dear, isn't he?"

Now, ordinarily, Maud would have found nothing in this speech to arouse resentment. There was the very slight, and in this case quite unintentional, note of patronage in it that every one used when referring to Jed Winslow. She herself almost invariably used that note when speaking of him or even to him. But now her emotions were so deeply stirred and the memories of her recent interview with Jed, of his understanding and his sympathy, were so vivid. And, too, she had just had that glimpse into his most secret soul. So her tone, as she replied to Ruth's speech, was almost sharp.

"He didn't do it for Charlie," she declared. "That is, of course he did, but that wasn't the real reason."

"Why, what do you mean?"

"Don't you know what I mean? Don't you really know?"

"Why, of course I don't. What ARE you talking about? Didn't do it for Charlie? Didn't say that he was a thief and give your father his own money, do you mean? Do you mean he didn't do that for Charlie?"

"Yes. He did it for you."

"For me? For ME?"

"Yes. . . . Oh, can't you understand? It's absurd and foolish and silly and everything, but I know it's true. Jed Winslow is in love with you, Mrs. Armstrong."

Ruth leaned back in her chair and stared at her as if she thought her insane.

"In love with ME?" she repeated. "Jed Winslow! Maud, don't!"

"It's true, I tell you. I didn't know until just now, although if it had been any one but Jed I should have suspected for some time. But to-day when I went in there I saw him sitting before his desk looking down into an open drawer there. He has your photograph in that drawer. And, later on, when you came out into the yard, I saw him watching you; I saw his face and that was enough. . . . Oh, don't you SEE?" impatiently. "It explains everything. You couldn't understand, nor could I, why he should sacrifice himself so for Charlie. But because Charlie was your brother--that is another thing. Think, just think! You and I would have guessed it before if he had been any one else except just Jed. Yes, he is in love with you. . . . It's crazy and it's ridiculous and--and all that, of course it is. But," with a sudden burst of temper, "if you--if you dare to laugh I'll never speak to you again."

But Ruth was not laughing.


It was a cloudy day and Jed's living-room was almost dark when Ruth entered it. Jed, who had been sitting by the desk, rose when she came in.

"Land sakes, Ruth," he exclaimed, "it's you, ain't it? Let me light a lamp. I was settin' here in the dark like a . . . like a hen gone to roost. . . . Eh? Why, it's 'most supper 'time, ain't it? Didn't realize 'twas so late. I'll have a light for you in a jiffy."

He was on his way to the kitchen, but she stopped him.

"No," she said quickly. "Don't get a light. I'd rather not, please. And sit down again, Jed; just as you were. There, by the desk; that's it. You see," she added, "I--I--well, I have something to tell you, and--and I can tell it better in the dark, I think."

Jed looked at her in surprise. He could not see her face plainly, but she seemed oddly confused and embarrassed.

"Sho!" he drawled. "Well, I'm sure I ain't anxious about the light, myself. You know, I've always had a feelin' that the dark was more becomin' to my style of beauty. Take me about twelve o'clock in a foggy night, in a cellar, with the lamp out, and I look pretty nigh handsome--to a blind man. . . . Um-hm."

She made no comment on this confession. Jed, after waiting an instant for her to speak, ventured a reminder.

"Don't mind my talkin' foolishness," he said, apologetically. "I'm feelin' a little more like myself than I have for--for a week or so, and when I feel that way I'm bound to be foolish. Just gettin' back to nature, as the magazine folks tell about, I cal'late 'tis."

She leaned forward and laid a hand on his sleeve.

"Don't!" she begged. "Don't talk about yourself in that way, Jed. When I think what a friend you have been to me and mine I--I can't bear to hear you say such things. I have never thanked you for what you did to save my brother when you thought he had gone wrong again. I can't thank you now--I can't."

Her voice broke. Jed twisted in his seat.

"Now--now, Ruth," he pleaded, "do let's forget that. I've made a fool of myself a good many times in my life--more gettin' back to nature, you see--but I hope I never made myself out quite such a blitherin' numbskull as I did that time. Don't talk about it, don't. I ain't exactly what you'd call proud of it."

"But I am. And so is Charlie. But I won't talk of it if you prefer I shouldn't. . . . Jed--" she hesitated, faltered, and then began again: "Jed," she said, "I told you when I came in that I had something to tell you. I have. I have told no one else, not even Charlie, because he went away before I was--quite sure. But now I am going to tell you because ever since I came here you have been my father confessor, so to speak. You realize that, don't you?"

Jed rubbed his chin.

"W-e-e-ll," he observed, with great deliberation, "I don't know's I'd go as far as to say that. Babbie and I've agreed that I'm her back-step-uncle, but that's as nigh relation as I've ever dast figure I was to the family."

"Don't joke about it. You know what I mean. Well, Jed, this is what I am going to tell you. It is very personal and very confidential and you must promise not to tell any one yet. Will you?"

"Eh? Why, sartin, of course."

"Yes. I hope you may be glad to hear it. It would make you glad to know that I was happy, wouldn't it?"

For the first time Jed did not answer in the instant. The shadows were deep in the little living-room now, but Ruth felt that he was leaning forward and looking at her.

"Yes," he said, after a moment. "Yes . . . but--I don't know as I know exactly what you mean, do I?"

"You don't--yet. But I hope you will be glad when you do. Jed, you like Major Grover, don't you?"

Jed did not move perceptibly, but she heard his chair creak. He was still leaning forward and she knew his gaze was fixed upon her face.

"Yes," he said very slowly. "I like him first-rate."

"I'm glad. Because--well, because I have come to like him so much. Jed, he--he has asked me to be his wife."

There was absolute stillness in the little room. Then, after what seemed to her several long minutes, he spoke.

"Yes . . . yes, I see . . ." he said. "And you? You've . . ."

"At first I could not answer him. My brother's secret was in the way and I could not tell him that. But last night--or this morning--Charlie and I discussed all our affairs and he gave me permission to tell--Leonard. So when he came to-day I told him. He said it made no difference. And--and I am going to marry him, Jed."

Jed's chair creaked again, but that was the only sound. Ruth waited until she felt that she could wait no longer. Then she stretched out a hand toward him in the dark.

"Oh, Jed," she cried, "aren't you going to say anything to me-- anything at all?"

She heard him draw a long breath. Then he spoke.

"Why--why, yes, of course," he said. "I--I--of course I am. I-- you kind of got me by surprise, that's all. . . . I hadn't--hadn't expected it, you see."

"I know. Even Charlie was surprised. But you're glad, for my sake, aren't you, Jed?"

"Eh? . . . Yes, oh, yes! I'm--I'm glad."

"I hope you are. If it were not for poor Charlie's going away and the anxiety about him and his problem I should be very happy-- happier than I believed I ever could be again. You're glad of that, aren't you, Jed?"

"Eh? . . . Yes, yes, of course. . . ."

"And you will congratulate me? You like Major Grover? Please say you do."

Jed rose slowly from his chair. He passed a hand in dazed fashion across his forehead.

"Yes," he said, again. "The major's a fine man. . . . I do congratulate you, ma'am."

"Oh, Jed! Not that way. As if you meant it."

"Eh? . . . I--I do mean it. . . . I hope--I hope you'll be real happy, both of you, ma'am."

"Oh, not that--Ruth."

"Yes--yes, sartin, of course . . . Ruth, I mean."

She left him standing by the writing table. After she had gone he sank slowly down into the chair again. Eight o'clock struck and he was still sitting there. . . . And Fate chose that time to send Captain Sam Hunniwell striding up the walk and storming furiously at the back door.

"Jed!" roared the captain. "Jed Winslow! Jed!"

Jed lifted his head from his hands. He most decidedly did not wish to see Captain Sam or any one else.

"Jed!" roared the captain again.

Jed accepted the inevitable. "Here I am," he groaned, miserably.

The captain did not wait for an invitation to enter. Having ascertained that the owner of the building was within, he pulled the door open and stamped into the kitchen.

"Where are you?" he demanded.

"Here," replied Jed, without moving.

"Here? Where's here? . . . Oh, you're in there, are you? Hidin' there in the dark, eh? Afraid to show me your face, I shouldn't wonder. By the gracious king, I should think you would be! What have you got to say to me, eh?"

Apparently Jed had nothing to say. Captain Sam did not wait.

"And you've called yourself my friend!" he sneered savagely. "Friend--you're a healthy friend, Jed Winslow! What have you got to say to me . . . eh?"

Jed sighed. "Maybe I'd be better able to say it if I knew what you was talkin' about, Sam," he observed, drearily.

"Know! I guess likely you know all right. And according to her you've known all along. What do you mean by lettin' me take that-- that state's prison bird into my bank? And lettin' him associate with my daughter and--and . . . Oh, by gracious king! When I think that you knew what he was all along, I--I--"

His anger choked off the rest of the sentence. Jed rubbed his eyes and sat up in his chair. For the first time since the captain's entrance he realized a little of what the latter said. Before that he had been conscious only of his own dull, aching, hopeless misery.

"Hum. . . . So you've found out, Sam, have you?" he mused.

"Found out! You bet I've found out! I only wish to the Lord I'd found out months ago, that's all."

"Hum. . . . Charlie didn't tell you? . . . No-o, no, he couldn't have got back so soon."

"Back be hanged! I don't know whether he's back or not, blast him. But I ain't a fool ALL the time, Jed Winslow, not all the time I ain't. And when I came home tonight and found Maud cryin' to herself and no reason for it, so far as I could see, I set out to learn that reason. And I did learn it. She told me the whole yarn, the whole of it. And I saw the scamp's letter. And I dragged out of her that you--you had known all the time what he was, and had never told me a word. . . . Oh, how could you, Jed! How could you!"

Jed's voice was a trifle less listless as he answered.

"It was told me in confidence, Sam," he said. "I COULDN'T tell you. And, as time went along and I began to see what a fine boy Charlie really was, I felt sure 'twould all come out right in the end. And it has, as I see it."

"WHAT?"

"Yes, it's come out all right. Charlie's gone to fight, same as every decent young feller wants to do. He thinks the world of Maud and she does of him, but he was honorable enough not to ask her while he worked for you, Sam. He wrote the letter after he'd gone so as to make it easier for her to say no, if she felt like sayin' it. And when he came back from enlistin' he was goin' straight to you to make a clean breast of everything. He's a good boy, Sam. He's had hard luck and he's been in trouble, but he's all right and I know it. And you know it, too, Sam Hunniwell. Down inside you you know it, too. Why, you've told me a hundred times what a fine chap Charlie Phillips was and how much you thought of him, and--"

Captain Hunniwell interrupted. "Shut up!" he commanded. "Don't talk to me that way! Don't you dare to! I did think a lot of him, but that was before I knew what he'd done and where he'd been. Do you cal'late I'll let my daughter marry a man that's been in state's prison?"

"But, Sam, it wan't all his fault, really. And he'll go straight from this on. I know he will."

"Shut up! He can go to the devil from this on, but he shan't take her with him. . . . Why, Jed, you know what Maud is to me. She's all I've got. She's all I've contrived for and worked for in this world. Think of all the plans I've made for her!"

"I know, Sam, I know; but pretty often our plans don't work out just as we make 'em. Sometimes we have to change 'em--or give 'em up. And you want Maud to be happy."

"Happy! I want to be happy myself, don't I? Do you think I'm goin' to give up all my plans and all my happiness just--just because she wants to make a fool of herself? Give 'em up! It's easy for you to say 'give up.' What do you know about it?"

It was the last straw. Jed sprang to his feet so suddenly that his chair fell to the floor.

"Know about it!" he burst forth, with such fierce indignation that the captain actually gasped in astonishment. "Know about it!" repeated Jed. "What do I know about givin' up my own plans and-- and hopes, do you mean? Oh, my Lord above! Ain't I been givin' 'em up and givin' 'em up all my lifelong? When I was a boy didn't I give up the education that might have made me a--a MAN instead of--of a town laughin' stock? While Mother lived was I doin' much but give up myself for her? I ain't sayin' 'twas any more'n right that I should, but I did it, didn't I? And ever since it's been the same way. I tell you, I've come to believe that life for me means one 'give up' after the other and won't mean anything but that till I die. And you--you ask me what I know about it! YOU do!"

Captain Sam was so taken aback that he was almost speechless. In all his long acquaintance with Jed Winslow he had never seen him like this.

"Why--why, Jed!" he stammered. But Jed was not listening. He strode across the room and seized his visitor by the arm.

"You go home, Sam Hunniwell," he ordered. "Go home and think-- THINK, I tell you. All your life you've had just what I haven't. You married the girl you wanted and you and she were happy together. You've been looked up to and respected here in Orham; folks never laughed at you or called you 'town crank.' You've got a daughter and she's a good girl. And the man she wants to marry is a good man, and, if you'll give him a chance and he lives through the war he's goin' into, he'll make you proud of him. You go home, Sam Hunniwell! Go home, and thank God you're what you are and AS you are. . . . No, I won't talk! I don't want to talk! . . . Go HOME."

He had been dragging his friend to the door. Now he actually pushed him across the threshold and slammed the door between them.

"Well, for . . . the Lord . . . sakes!" exclaimed Captain Hunniwell.

The scraping of the key in the lock was his only answer.

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