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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesViola Gwyn - Chapter 1. Shelter For The Night
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Viola Gwyn - Chapter 1. Shelter For The Night Post by :catalin Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :1835

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Viola Gwyn - Chapter 1. Shelter For The Night

CHAPTER I. SHELTER FOR THE NIGHT

Night was falling as two horsemen drew rein in front of a cabin at the edge of a clearing in the far-reaching sombre forest. Their approach across the stump-strewn tract had been heralded by the barking of dogs,--two bristling beasts that came out upon the muddy, deep-rutted road to greet them with furious inhospitality. A man stood partially revealed in the doorway. His left arm and shoulder were screened from view by the jamb, his head was bent forward as he peered intently through narrowed eyes at the strangers in the road.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" he called out.

"Friends. How far is it to the tavern at Clark's Point?"

"Clark's Point is three miles back," replied the settler. "I guess you must have passed it without seein' it," he added drily. "If it happened to be rainin' when you come through you'd have missed seein' it fer the raindrops. Where you bound fer?"

"Lafayette. I guess we're off the right road. We took the left turn four or five miles back."

"You'd ought to have kept straight on. Come 'ere, Shep! You, Pete! Down with ye!"

The two dogs, still bristling, slunk off in the direction of the squat log barn. A woman appeared behind the man and stared out over his shoulder. From the tall stone chimney at the back of the cabin rose the blue smoke of the kitchen fire, to be whirled away on the wind that was guiding the storm out of the rumbling north. There was a dull, wavering glow in the room behind her. At one of the two small windows gleamed a candle-light.

"What's takin' you to Clark's Point? There ain't no tavern there. There ain't nothin' there but a hitch-post and a waterin'-trough. Oh, yes, I forgot. Right behind the hitch-post is Jake Stone's store and a couple of ash-hoppers and a town-hall, but you wouldn't notice 'em if you happened to be on the wrong side of the post. Mebby it's Middleton you're lookin' fer."

"I am looking for a place to put up for the night, friend. We met a man back yonder, half an hour ago, who said the nearest tavern was at Clark's Point."

"What fer sort of lookin' man was he?"

"Tall fellow with red whiskers, riding a grey horse."

"That was Jake Stone hisself. Beats all how that feller tries to advertise his town. He says it beats Crawfordsville and Lafayette all to smash, an' it's only three or four months old. Which way was he goin'?"

"I suppose you'd call it south. I've lost my bearings, you see."

"That's it. He was on his way down to Attica to get drunk. They say Attica's goin' to be the biggest town on the Wabash. Did I ask you what your name was, stranger?"

"My name is Gwynne. I left Crawfordsville this morning, hoping to reach Lafayette before night. But the road is so heavy we couldn't---"

"Been rainin' steady for nearly two weeks," interrupted the settler. "Hub-deep everywhere. It's a good twenty-five or thirty mile from Crawfordsville to Lafayette. Looks like more rain, too. I think she'll be on us in about two minutes. I guess mebby we c'n find a place fer you to sleep to-night, and we c'n give you somethin' fer man an' beast. If you'll jest ride around here to the barn, we'll put the hosses up an' feed 'em, and--Eliza, set out a couple more plates, an' double the rations all around." His left arm and hand came into view. "Set this here gun back in the corner, Eliza. I guess I ain't goin' to need it. Gimme my hat, too, will ye?"

As the woman drew back from the door, a third figure came up behind the man and took her place. The horseman down at the roadside, fifty feet away, made out the figure of a woman. She touched the man's arm and he turned as he was in the act of stepping down from the door-log. She spoke to him in a low voice that failed to reach the ears of the travellers.

The man shook his head slowly, and then called out:

"I didn't jist ketch your name, mister. The wind's makin' such a noise I--Say it again, will ye?"

"My name is Kenneth Gwynne. Get it?" shouted the horseman. "And this is my servant, Zachariah."

The man in the door bent his head, without taking his eyes from the horseman, while the woman murmured something in his ear, something that caused him to straighten up suddenly.

"Where do you come from?" he inquired, after a moment's hesitation.

"My home is in Kentucky. I live at---"

"Kentucky, eh? Well, that's a good place to come from. I guess you're all right, stranger." He turned to speak to his companion. A few words passed between them, and then she drew back into the room. The woman called Eliza came up with the man's hat and a lighted lantern. She closed the door after him as he stepped out into the yard.

"'Round this way," he called out, making off toward the corner of the cabin. "Don't mind the dogs. They won't bite, long as I'm here."

The wind was wailing through the stripped trees behind the house,--a sombre, limitless wall of trees that seemed to close in with smothering relentlessness about the lonely cabin and its raw field of stumps. The angry, low-lying clouds and the hastening dusk of an early April day had by this time cast the gloom of semi-darkness over the scene. Spasmodic bursts of lightning laid thin dull, unearthly flares upon the desolate land, and the rumble of apple-carts filled the ear with promise of disaster. The chickens had gone to roost; several cows, confined in a pen surrounded by the customary stockade of poles driven deep into the earth and lashed together with the bark of the sturdy elm, were huddled in front of a rude shed; a number of squealing, grunting pigs nosed the cracks in the rail fence that formed still another pen; three or four pompous turkey gobblers strutted unhurriedly about the barnlot, while some of their less theatrical hens perched stiffly, watchfully on the sides of a clumsy wagon-bed over against the barn. Martins and chimney-swallows darted above the cabin and out-buildings, swirling in mad circles, dipping and careening with incredible swiftness.

The gaunt settler conducted the unexpected guests to the barn, where, after they had dismounted, he assisted in the removal of the well-filled saddle-bags and rolls from the backs of their jaded horses.

"Water?" he inquired briefly.

"No, suh," replied Zachariah, blinking as the other held the lantern up the better to look into his face. Zachariah was a young negro,--as black as night, with gleaming white teeth which he revealed in a broad and friendly grin. "Had all dey could drink, Marster, back yander at de crick."

"You couldn't have forded the Wea this time last week," said the host, addressing Gwynne. "She's gone down considerable the last four-five days. Out of the banks last week an' runnin' all over creation."

"Still pretty high," remarked the other. "Came near to sweeping Zack's mare downstream but--well, she made it and Zack has turned black again."

The settler raised his lantern again at the stable door and looked dubiously at the negro.

"You're from Kentucky, Mr. Gwynne," he said, frowning. "I got to tell you right here an' now that if this here boy is a slave, you can't stop here,--an' what's more, you can't stay in this county. We settled the slavery question in this state quite a spell back, an' we make it purty hot for people who try to smuggle niggers across the border. I got to ask you plain an' straight; is this boy a slave?"

"He is not," replied Gwynne. "He is a free man. If he elects to leave my service to-morrow, he is at liberty to go. My grandfather freed all of his slaves shortly before he died, and that was when Zachariah here was not more than fifteen years of age. He is as free as I am,--or you, sir. He is my servant, not my slave. I know the laws of this state, and I intend to abide by them. I expect to make my home here in Indiana,--in Lafayette, as a matter of fact. This boy's name is Zachariah Button. Ten years ago he was a slave. He has with him, sir, the proper credentials to support my statement,--and his, if he chooses to make one. On at least a dozen occasions, first in Ohio and then in Indiana, I have been obliged to convince official and unofficial inquirers that my--"

"That's all right, Mr. Gwynne," cried the settler heartily. "I take your word for it. If you say he's not a slave, why, he ain't, so that's the end of it. And it ain't necessary for Zachariah to swear to it, neither. We can't offer you much in the way of entertainment, Mr. Gwynne, but what we've got you're welcome to. I came to this country from Ohio seven years ago, an' I learned a whole lot about hospitality durin' the journey. I learned how to treat a stranger in a strange land fer one thing, an' I learned that even a hoss-thief ain't an ongrateful cuss if you give him a night's lodgin' and a meal or two."

"I shall be greatly indebted to you, sir. The time will surely come when I may repay you,--not in money, but in friendship. Pray do not let us discommode you or your household. I will be satisfied to sleep on the floor or in the barn, and as for Zachariah, he--"

"The barn is for the hosses to sleep in," interrupted the host, "and the floor is for the cat. 'Tain't my idee of fairness to allow human bein's to squat on proppety that rightfully belongs to hosses an' cats,--so I guess you'll have to sleep in a bed, Mr. Gwynne." He spoke with a drawl. "Zachariah c'n spread his blankets on the kitchen floor an' make out somehow. Now, if you'll jist step over to the well yander, you'll find a wash pan. Eliza,--I mean Mrs. Striker,--will give you a towel when you're ready. Jest sing out to her. Here, you, Zachariah, carry this plunder over an' put it in the kitchen. Mrs. Striker will show you. Be careful of them rifles of your'n. They go off mighty sudden if you stub your toe. You'll find a comb and lookin' glass in the settin' room, Mr. Gwynne. You'll probably want to put a few extry touches on yourself when I tell you there's an all-fired purty girl spendin' the night with us. Go along, now. I'll put the feed down fer your hosses an' be with you in less'n no time."

"You are very kind, Mr.--Did you say Striker?"

"Phineas Striker, sir,--Phin fer short."

"I am prepared and amply able to pay for lodging and food, Mr. Striker, so do not hesitate to--"

"Save your breath, stranger. I'm as deef as a post. The storm's goin' to bust in two shakes of a dead lamb's tail, so you'd better be a leetle spry if you want to git inside afore she comes."

With that he entered the barn door, leading the horses. Gwynne and his servant hurried through the darkness toward the light in the kitchen window. The former rapped politely on the door. It was opened by Mrs. Striker, a tall, comely woman well under thirty, who favoured the good-looking stranger with a direct and smileless stare. He removed his tall, sorry-looking beaver.

"Madam, your husband has instructed my servant to leave our belongings in your kitchen. I fear they are not overly clean, what with mud and rain, devil-needles and burrs. Your kitchen is as clean as a pin. Shall I instruct him to return with them to the barn and--"

"Bring them in," she said, melting in spite of herself as she looked down from the doorstep into his dark, smiling eyes. His strong, tanned face was beardless, his teeth were white, his abundant brown hair tousled and boyishly awry,--and there were mud splashes on his cheek and chin. He was tall and straight and his figure was shapely, despite the thick blue cape that hung from his shoulders. "I guess they ain't any dirtier than Phin Striker's boots are this time o' the year. Put them over here, boy, 'longside o' that cupboard. Supper'll be ready in ten or fifteen minutes, Mr. Gwynne."

His smile broadened. He sniffed gratefully. A far more exacting woman than Eliza Striker would have forgiven this lack of dignity on his part.

"You will find me ready for it, Mrs. Striker. The smell of side-meat goes straight to my heart, and nothing in all this world could be more wonderful than the coffee you are making."

"Go 'long with you!" she cried, vastly pleased, and turned to her sizzling skillets.

Zachariah deposited the saddle-bags and rolls in the corner and then returned to the door where he received the long blue cape, gloves and the towering beaver from his master's hands. He also received instructions which sent him back to open a bulging saddle-bag and remove therefrom a pair of soft, almost satiny calf-skin boots. As he hurried past Mrs. Striker, he held them up for her inspection, grinning from ear to ear. She gazed in astonishment at the white and silver ornamented tops, such as were affected by only the most fastidious dandies of the day and were so rarely seen in this raw, new land that the beholder could scarce believe her eyes.

"Well, I never!" she exclaimed, and then went to the sitting-room to whisper excitedly to the solitary occupant, who, it so chanced, was at the moment busily and hastily employed in rearranging her brown, wind-blown hair before the round-topped little looking-glass over the fireplace.

"I thought you said you wasn't goin' to see him," observed Mrs. Striker, after imparting her information. "If you ain't, what are you fixin' yourself up fer?"

"I have changed my mind, Eliza," said the young lady, loftily. "In the first place, I am hungry, and in the second place it would not be right for me to put you to any further trouble about supper. I shall have supper with the rest of you and not in the bedroom, after all. How does my hair look?"

"You've got the purtiest hair in all the--"

"How does it look?"

"It would look fine if you NEVER combed it. If I had hair like your'n, I'd be the proudest woman in--"

"Don't be silly. It's terrible, most of the time."

"Well, it's spick an' span now, if that's what you want to know," grumbled Eliza, and vanished, fingering her straight, straw-coloured hair somewhat resentfully.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Gwynne, having divested himself of his dark blue "swallow-tail," was washing his face and hands at the well. The settler approached with the lantern.

"She's comin'," he shouted above the howling wind. "I guess you'd better dry yourself in the kitchen. Hear her whizzin' through the trees? Gosh all hemlock! She's goin' to be a snorter, stranger. Hurry inside!"

They bolted for the door and dashed into the kitchen just as the deluge came. Phineas Striker, leaning his weight against the door, closed it and dropped the bolt.

"Whew! She's a reg'lar harricane, that's what she is. Mighty suddent, too. Been holdin' back fer ten minutes,--an' now she lets loose with all she's got. Gosh! Jest listen to her!"

The hiss of the torrent on the clapboard roof was deafening, the little window panes were streaming; a dark, glistening shadow crept out from the bottom of the door and began to spread; the howling wind shook the very walls of the staunch cabin, while all about them roared the ear-splitting cannonade, the crash of splintered skies, the crackling of musketry, the rending and tearing of all the garments that clothe the universe.

Eliza Striker, hardy frontierswoman though she was, put her fingers to her ears and shrank away from the stove,--for she had been taught that all metal "drew lightning." Her husband busied himself stemming the stream of water that seeped beneath the door with empty grain or coffee bags, snatched from the top of a cupboard where they were stored, evidently for the very purpose to which they were now being put.

Gwynne stood coatless in the centre of the kitchen, rolling down his white shirt-sleeves. Behind him cringed Zachariah, holding his master's boots and coat in his shaking hands, his eyes rolling with terror, his lips mumbling an unheard appeal for mercy.

The sitting-room door opened suddenly and the other guest of the house glided into the kitchen. Her eyes were crinkled up as if with an almost unendurable pain, her fingers were pressed to her temples, her red lips were parted.

"Goodness!" she gasped, with a hysterical laugh, not born of mirth, nor of courage, but of the sheerest dismay.

"Don't be skeered," cried Phineas, looking at her over his shoulder. "She'll soon be over. Long as the roof stays on, we're all right,--an' I guess she'll stay."

Kenneth Gwynne bowed very low to the newcomer. The dim candle-light afforded him a most unsatisfactory glimpse of her features. He took in at a glance, however, her tall, trim figure, the burnished crown of hair, and the surprisingly modish frock she wore. He had seen no other like it since leaving the older, more advanced towns along the Ohio,--not even in the thriving settlements of Wayne and Madison Counties or in the boastful village of Crawfordsville. He was startled. In all his journeyings through the land he had seen no one arrayed like this. It was with difficulty that he overcame a quite natural impulse to stare at her as if she were some fantastic curiosity.

The contrast between this surprising creature and the gingham aproned Eliza was unbelievable. There was but one explanation: She was the mistress of the house, Eliza the servant. And yet, even so, how strangely out-of-place, out-of-keeping she was here in the wilderness.

In some confusion he strode over to lend a hand to Phineas Striker. The rustle of silk behind him and the quick clatter of heels, evidenced the fact that the girl had crossed swiftly to Eliza's side.

Later on he had the opportunity to take in all the details of her costume, and he did so with a practised, sophisticated eye. It was, after all, of a fashion two years old, evidence of the slowness with which the modes reached these outposts of civilization. Here was a perfect fitting blue frock of the then popular changeable gros de zane, the skirt very wide, set on the body in large plaits, one in front, one on each side and two behind. The sleeves also were wide from shoulder to elbow, where they were tightly fitted to the lower arm. The ruffles around the neck, which was open and rather low, and about the wrists were of plain bobinet quilling. Her slippers were black, with cross-straps. He had seen such frocks as this, he was reminded, in fashionable Richmond and New York only a year or so before, but nowhere in the west. Add a Dunstable straw bonnet with its strings of satin and the frilled pelerine, and this strange young woman might have just stepped from her carriage in the most fashionable avenue in the land.

Zachariah, lacking his master's good manners, gazed in open-mouthed wonder at the lady, forgetting for the moment his fear of the tempest's wrath. Only the most hair-raising crash of thunder broke the spell, causing him to close his eyes and resume his supplication.

"Now's your chance to get at the lookin' glass, Mr. Gwynne," said Striker. "Right there in the sittin'-room. Go ahead; I'll manage this."

Muttering a word of thanks, the young man turned to leave the room. He shot a glance at his fellow guest. Her back was toward him, she had her hands to her ears, and something told him that her eyes were tightly closed. A particularly loud crash caused her to draw her pretty shoulders up as if to receive the death-dealing bolt of lightning. He heard her murmur again:

"Goodness--gracious!"

Eliza suddenly put an arm about her waist and drew the slender, shivering figure close. As the girl buried her face upon the older woman's shoulder, the latter cried out:

"Land sakes, child, you'll never get over bein' a baby, will ye?"

To which Phineas Striker added in a great voice: "Nor you, neither, Eliza. Ef we didn't have company here you'd be crawlin' under the table or something. She ain't afraid of wild cats or rattlesnakes or Injins or even spiders," he went on, addressing Gwynne, "but she's skeered to death of lightnin'. An' as fer that young lady there, she wouldn't be afeared to walk from here to Lafayette all alone on the darkest night,--an' look at her now! Skeered out of her boots by a triflin' little thunderstorm. Why, I wouldn't give two--"

"My goodness, Phin Striker," broke in his wife, a new note of alarm in her voice, "I do hope them chickens an' turkeys have got sense enough to get under something in this downpour. If they ain't, the whole kit an' boodle of 'em will be drownded, sure as--"

"I never yet see a hen that liked water," interrupted Phineas. "Er a turkey either. Don't you worry about 'em. You better worry about that side-meat you're fryin'. Ef my nose is what it ort to be, I'd say that piece o' meat was bein' burnt to death,--an' that's a lot wuss than bein' drownded. They say drowndin' is the easiest death--"

"You men clear out o' this kitchen," snapped Eliza. "Out with ye! You too, Phin Striker. I'll call ye when the table's set. Now, you go an' set over there in the corner, away from the window, deary, where the lightnin' can't git at you, an'--You'll find a comb on the mantel-piece, Mr. Gwynne, an' Phineas will git you a boot-jack out o' the bedroom if that darkey is too weak to pull your boots off for you. Don't any of you go trampin' all over the room with your muddy boots. I've got work enough to do without scrubbin' floors after a pack of--My land! I do believe it's scorched. An' the corn-bread must be--"

Phineas, after a doubtful look at the stopped-up door-crack, led the way into the sitting-room. Zachariah came last with his master's boots and coat. He was mumbling with suppressed fervour:

"Oh, Lord, jes' lemme hab one mo' chaince,--jes' one mo' chaince. Good Lord! I been a wicked, ornery nigger,--only jes' gimme jes' one mo' chaince. I been a wicked,--Yassuh, Marster Kenneth, I got your boots. Yassuh. Right heah, suh. Oh, Lordy-Lordy! Yassuh, yassuh!"

Seated in a big wooden rocker before the fireplace, Gwynne stretched out his long legs one after the other; Zachariah tugged at the heavy, mud-caked riding-boots, grunting mightily over a task that gave him sufficient excuse for interjecting sundry irrelevant appeals for mercy and an occasional reference to his own unworthiness as a nigger.

The tempest continued with unabated violence. The big, raw-boned Striker, pulling nervously at his beard, stood near a window which looked out upon the barn and sheds, plainly revealed in the blinding, almost uninterrupted flashes of lightning. Such sentences as these fell from his lips as he turned his face from the bleaching flares before they ended in mighty crashes: "That struck powerful nigh,"--or "I seen that one runnin' along the ground like a ball of fire," or "There goes somethin' near," or "That was a tree jest back o' the barn, you'll see in the mornin'."

"Dere won't never be any mo'nin'," gulped the unhappy Zachariah, bending lower to his task, which now had to do with the boot-straps at the bottoms of his master's trouser-legs. Getting to his feet, he proceeded, with a well-trained dexterity that even his terror failed to divert, to draw on the immaculate calf-skin boots with the gorgeous tops. Then he pulled the trouser-legs down over the boots, obscuring their upper glory; after which he smoothed out the wrinkles and fastened the instep straps. Whereupon, Kenneth arose, stamped severely on the hearth several times to settle his feet in the snug-fitting boots, and turned to the looking-glass. He was wielding the comb with extreme care and precision when his host turned from the window and approached.

"Seems to me you're goin' to a heap o' trouble, friend," he remarked, surveying the tall, graceful figure with a rather disdainful eye. "We don't dress up much in these parts, 'cept on Sunday."

"Please do not consider me vain," said the young man, flushing. He smarted under the implied rebuke,--in fact, he was uncomfortably aware of ridicule. "My riding-boots were filthy. I--I--Yes, I know," he broke in upon himself as Phineas extended one of his own muddy boots for inspection. "I know, but, you see, I am the unbidden guest of yourself and Mrs. Striker. The least I can do in return for your hospitality is to make myself presentable--"

"You'll have to excuse my grinnin', Mr. Gwynne," interrupted the other. "I didn't mean any offence. It's jest that we ain't used to good clothes an' servants to pull our boots off an' on, an'--butternut pants an' so on. We're 'way out here on the edge of the wilderness where bluejeans is as good as broadcloth or doe-skin, an' a chaw of tobacco is as good as the state seal fer bindin' a bargain. Lord bless ye, I don't keer how much you dress up. I guess I might as well tell ye the only men up at Lafayette who wear as good clothes as you do are a couple of gamblers that work up an' down the river, an' Barry Lapelle. I reckon you've heerd of Barry Lapelle. He's known from one end of the state to the other, an' over in Ohio an' Kentucky too."

"I have never heard of him."

Striker looked surprised. He glanced at the closed sitting-room door before continuing.

"Well, he owns a couple steamboats that come up the river. Got 'em when his father died a couple o' years ago. His home used to be in Terry Hut, but he's been livin' at Bob Johnson's tavern for a matter of six months now, workin' up trade fer his boats, I understand. He's as wild as a hawk an'--but you'll run across him if you're goin' to live in Lafayette."

"By the way, what is the population of Lafayette?"

Phineas studied the board ceiling thoughtfully for a moment or two. "Well, 'cordin' to people who live in Attica she's got about five hundred. People who live in Crawfordsville give her seven hundred. Down at Covington an' Williamsport they say she's got about four hundred an' twelve. When you git to Lafayette Bob Johnson an' the rest of 'em will tell you she's over two thousand an' growin' so fast they cain't keep track of her. There's so much lyin' goin' on about Lafayette that it's impossible to tell jest how big she is. Countin' in the dogs, I guess she must have a population of between six hundred and fifty an' three thousand. You see, everybody up there's got a dog, an' some of 'em two er three. One feller I know has got seven. But, on the whole, I guess you'll like the place. It's the head of navigation at high water, an' if they ever build the Wabash an' Erie Canal they're talkin' about she'll be a regular seaport, like New York er Boston. 'Pears to me the worst is over, don't you reckon so?"

Kenneth, having adjusted his stock and white roll-over collar to suit his most exacting eye, slipped his arms into the coat Zachariah was holding for him, settled the shoulders with a shrug or two and a pull at the flaring lapels, smoothed his yellow brocaded waist-coat carefully, and then, spreading his long, shapely legs and at the same time the tails of his coat, took a commanding position with his back to the blazing logs.

"Are you referring to my toilet, Mr. Striker?" he inquired amiably.

"I was talkin' about the storm," explained Phineas hastily. "Take the boots out to the kitchen, Zachariah. Eliza'll git into your wool if she ketches you leavin' 'em in here. Yes, sir, she's certainly lettin' up. Goin' down the river hell-bent. They'll be gettin' her at Attica 'fore long. Are you plannin' to work the farm yourself, Mr. Gwynne, or are you goin' to sell er rent on shares?"

Gwynne looked at him in surprise. "You appear to know who I am, after all, Mr. Striker."

Striker grinned. "I guess everybody in this neck o' the woods has heerd about you. Dan Bugher,--he's the county recorder,--an' Rube Kelsey, John Bishop, Larry Stockton, an' a lot more of the folks up in town, have been lookin' down the Crawfordsville road fer you ever since your father died last August. You 'pear to be a very important cuss fer one who ain't never set foot in Indianny before."

"I see," said the other reflectively. "Were you acquainted with my father, Mr. Striker?"

"Much so as anybody could be. He wasn't much of a hand fer makin' friends. Stuck purty close to the farm, an' made it about the best piece o' propetty in the whole valley. I was jest wonderin' whether you was plannin' to live on the farm er up in town."

"Well, you see, I am a lawyer by profession. I know little or nothing about farming. My plans are not actually made, however. A great deal depends on how I find things. Judge Wylie wishes me to enter into partnership with him, and Providence M. Curry says there is a splendid chance for me in his office at Crawfordsville. I shall do nothing until I have gone thoroughly into the matter. You know the farm, Mr. Striker?"

"Yes. It's not far from here,--five or six mile, I'd say, to the north an' east. Takes in some of the finest land on the Wea Plain,--mostly clear, some fine timber, plenty of water, an' about the best stocked farm anywheres around. Your father was one of the first to edge up this way ten er twelve year ago, an' he got the pick o' the new land. He came from some'eres down the river, 'bout Vincennes er Montezuma er some such place. I reckon you know that he left another passel of land over this way, close to the Wabash, an' some propetty up in Lafayette an' some more down in Crawfordsville."

"I have been so informed," said his guest, rather shortly.

"I bought this sixty acre piece offen him two year ago. All timber when I took hold of it, 'cept seventeen acres out thataway," jerking his thumb, "along the Middleton road." He hesitated a moment. "You see, I worked for your father fer a considerable time, as a hand. That's how he came to sell to me. I got married an' wanted a place of my own. He said he'd sooner sell to me than let some other feller cheat the eye-teeth outen me, me bein' a good deal of fool when it comes to business an' all. Yep, I'd saved up a few dollars, so I sez what's the sense of me workin' my gizzard out fer somebody else an' all that, when land's so cheap an' life so doggoned short. 'Course, there's a small mortgage on the place, but I c'n take keer of that, I reckon."

"Ahem! The mortgage, I fancy, is held by--er--the other heirs to his property." "You're right. His widder holds it, but she ain't the kind to press me. She's purty comfortable, what with this land along the edge o' the plain out here an' a whole section up in the Grand Prairie neighbourhood, besides half a dozen buildin' lots in town an' a two story house to live in up there. To say nothin' of--"

"Come to supper," called out Mrs. Striker from the doorway.

"That's somethin' I'm always ready fer," announced Mr. Striker. "Winter an' summer, spring an' fall. Step right ahead, Mr.--"

"Just a moment, if you please," said the young man, laying his hand on the settler's arm. "You will do me a great favour if you refrain from discussing these matters in the presence of your other guest to-night. My father, as you doubtless know, meant very little in my life. I prefer not to discuss him in the presence of strangers,--especially curious-minded young women."

Phineas looked at him narrowly for an instant, a queer expression lurking in his eyes.

"Jest as you say, Mr. Gwynne. Not a word in front of strangers. I don't know as you know it, but up to the time your father's will was perduced there wasn't a soul in these parts as knowed such a feller as you wuz on earth. He never spoke of a son, er havin' been married before, er bein' a widower, er anything like--"

"I am thoroughly convinced of that, Mr. Striker," said Kenneth, a trifle austerely, and passed on ahead of his host into the kitchen.

"Bring in them two candlesticks, Phin," ordered Mrs. Striker. "We got to be able to see what each other looks like, an' goodness knows we cain't with this taller dip I got out here to cook by. 'Tain't often we have people right out o' the fashion-plates to supper, so let's have all the light we kin."

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Kenneth Gwynne was five years old when his father ran away with Rachel Carter, a widow. This was in the spring of 1812, and in the fall his mother died. His grandparents brought him up to hate Rachel Carter, an evil woman. She was his mother's friend and she had slain her with the viper's tooth. From the day that his questioning intelligence seized upon the truth that had been so carefully withheld from him by his broken-hearted mother and those who spoke behind the hand when he was near,--from that day he hated Rachel Carter with all his hot and
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