Nancy Huston Banks.

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linen or richer food. With Paul Colbert seated on the grass at her right
hand, and David at her left, she took what was given her, knowing only
that she was quite content and perfectly happy. She was indeed so happy
that she was less gay than usual, for the greatest happiness makes least
noise. She listened to all that was said, saying almost nothing herself.
Paul's eyes hardly left her face, and he instantly observed that a
shadow suddenly clouded it, the same shadow which had fallen over it on
the evening before. Turning his eyes in the direction of her gaze, he
saw William Pressley standing not far away. He did not know that the
white-haired gentleman who stood beside the young man was Philip Alston,
but he noted that the shadow quickly left Ruth's face at sight of the
older man, when, brightening and smiling, she beckoned the newcomers to
approach. And he also saw what she seemed not to see, that the older man
turned a frowning face on the younger, and said something which was not
cordially received. Had he known William Pressley better, he would have
seen the dignified protest that was in every line of his large
slow-moving figure as he followed Philip Alston across the wide open
space to Ruth's side. To her, William's very step said as plain as words
could have spoken that he was used to being misunderstood, but none the
less sure of having done his whole duty. She looked up with the little
uneasy flutter which this manner of his always caused her. She so craved
love and approval that a dark look made her tender heart ache, even
though she was unconscious of having done anything to deserve it. This
was nearly always the state of feeling between her betrothed and
herself, but up to this moment she had never doubted that her own
shortcomings were wholly to blame. She hurriedly drew her thin skirt
closer about her, nervously trying to make room for him between David
and herself. The boy and doctor rose to their feet as the two men
approached. Ruth sat still on the grass, lifting her blue eyes to
William Pressley's face with a timid, wistful, almost frightened glance.

"You have met Doctor Colbert, William," she said quickly, and then she
turned with a smile that was like a flash of light. "And uncle
Philip - Mr. Alston - this is the doctor."

Paul Colbert in his utter amazement took the hand which Philip Alston
held out. He could not have refused it had there been time to think, for
her eyes were on him, and there was no doubting her affection for Philip
Alston; that shone like sunlight on her face and thrilled in every
tender tone of her voice. The young doctor could scarcely believe the
evidence of his own eyes and ears. This Philip Alston! It was
incredible, impossible; there was certainly some mistake. Nevertheless
he hastily withdrew his hand and Philip Alston noted the haste,
understanding it as well as Paul Colbert himself. His own manner was
quiet and calm, showing none of the irritation which he felt at William
Pressley's negligence. He lost none of his graciousness through seeing
the young doctor's involuntary recoil. His intuitions were unerring; he
knew instantly that this newcomer was already acquainted with the
stories told about himself, but he cared little for that. He was
considering the interference with his plans which might come from the
sudden appearance of a young man of this young doctor's looks and
intelligence. Hardly half a dozen commonplace remarks had been exchanged
between them before he had recognized the unusual power of mind and body
which he might soon have to contend with. He turned and looked at
William Pressley and then back at Paul Colbert with a clouded brow, but
he glanced down with a smile when Ruth touched his arm.

"Dearest uncle Philip," she said, "I am so - so - glad that you have come.
You are just in time to dance with me. You did once, you know, at the
May party, and none of the other girls had so courtly a partner. They
couldn't have because I wouldn't let them have you. I should be jealous
if you were to dance with any one else, and there is no one anywhere
like you."

Looking up with her eyes full of affection she took his hand and pressed
it against her pink cheek. At the sight a stab of pain and a thrill of
fear went through the doctor's perplexed thoughts. He suddenly realized
that the girl's life was closely bound up with this man's. He felt that
any distrust of him must wound her, and although he still knew nothing
of the bond between them, he saw that there could be no question of its
being very close and strong. His first impulse was to try to persuade
himself that the suspicion against Philip Alston might be unfounded; as
it was certainly unproven. And then, finding himself unable to do this,
he felt tempted to put the whole problem of the man's guilt or innocence
aside, as no concern of his own. It is always the lover's temptation to
shut his eyes when he must choose between the neglect of duty and the
wounding of the woman he loves. And alas! this is a choice that comes
sooner or later, in one form or another, to all who love. The woman
sometimes can find an invisible thread leading through the labyrinth of
the feminine conscience which may help her to follow a middle course.
The man never has any such subtle resource and he knows, from first to
last, that he must do what is wrong if he does not do what is right.

Paul Colbert's troubled perplexity grew deeper as he continued to look
at Philip Alston and to listen as he talked. The softness of his voice,
the culture that every word revealed, the intellectual quality of each
thought, the clear, calm, steady gaze of his fine eyes, the noble shape
of his distinguished head - all these things taken together almost made
the young doctor feel that Philip Alston was the victim of monstrous
calumny. And yet some unerring intuition told him that the terrible
things which he had heard were true. His gaze wandered from Philip
Alston to Ruth, and he grew sick. A sudden cold dampness gathered on his
forehead under all the mellow warmth of the sun. He began to wish that
he could get away long enough to clear his mind - to think. It was rather
a relief when Philip Alston suggested that William Pressley should lead
Ruth out for the next dance. Paul Colbert's gaze followed them as they
walked away across the sun-lit grass, but he scarcely knew that he was
looking at them till Philip Alston spoke.

"They are a handsome, well-matched young couple, are they not?" he said
with a smile, and with his eyes on the young doctor's face. "You know,
of course, that they are to be married on Christmas Eve."




XII

THE EVE OF ALL SOULS'


Ruth saw Paul Colbert when he passed Cedar House for the first time
without stopping. He was riding very fast, and she feared that the Cold
Plague must be growing worse. Still, a glance at her chamber window
would not have delayed him, and she wondered why he did not turn his
head. She was almost sure he must know that she always gave the birds
their supper on the window-sill at that hour. She did not know that he
had seen her without looking, and had borne away in his heart a picture
of her slight white form, framed by the sun-lit window, and surrounded
by the fluttering birds. Disappointed, wondering, and vaguely troubled,
she gazed after him as long as he was visible amid the green gloom of
the forest path. And then when he was lost to sight, she turned sharply
on the boldest blue jay.

"Go 'way, you greedy thing! You startled me. I wasn't thinking about any
of you. How tiresome you all are! To teach you better manners, I am
going to throw this down to Trumpeter," leaning forward to see the swan
which stood on the grass below, anxiously watching everything that went
on above. "There! That is the last nice fat crumb."

The day had seemed endlessly long. She went wearily down the stairs
again, as she had done many times since morning. Neither the judge nor
William was at home. Miss Penelope and the widow Broadnax were in their
accustomed places, and matters around the hearth were going forward as
usual. Miss Penelope had asked fiercely in her mildest tone, what
anybody could expect to become of any country, when one of the biggest
towns in it built a theatre before building any kind of a church, as
Louisville had done. The widow Broadnax had replied in her loudest,
roughest voice, that she supposed the people there, as well as
elsewhere, could keep on getting married two or three times, and mixing
up families that otherwise might have lived in peace, just as well
without a church as with one. But the girl listened listlessly and
unsmilingly, hardly hearing what was said. Going out of the room she sat
for a long time on the doorstep, watching the forest path with patient
wistfulness. But there was no sign of the young doctor's coming back and
it was a relief when David came up the river bank. He reminded her that
she had asked him to go with her to the Sisters' house, and she arose
and went indoors to get her bonnet.

"You'd just as well take the orphans one of the biggest fatty gourds of
maple sugar," sighed Miss Penelope. "Ten to one none of us will ever
live to eat much of anything, with that comet a-hanging over us. It's
just as well to get ready as soon as you can, when you've been warned. I
know what to look for when I've dreamt of wading through muddy water
three times a-hand-running. Tell the Sisters that all the maple sugar
that was ever poured into fatty gourds couldn't hurt the children's
teeth now. The poor little things, and all of us, will have mighty
little use for teeth - or stomachs either, for that matter - if things
don't take a turn for the better a good deal sooner than I think they
will. For my part, I don't see what else anybody can expect with that
big black ring round the comet's head a-getting bigger and blacker every
night of our miserable lives."

She called all the small cup-bearers, - for some unknown reason she never
called one or two without calling all, - and sent them running to the
smoke-house to fetch the fatty gourd. She threatened them fiercely in
her dovelike tones, saying what she would do if they loitered, or
stopped to put their little black paws in the sugar. But the cup-bearers
knew Miss Penelope quite as well as she knew them, and when they came
back with the fatty gourd they waited, as a matter of course, till she
gave each one of them a generous handful of the sugar, before handing
the gourd to David.

The Sisters' house was within walking distance, and Ruth and David had
gone about half the way when they met Father Orin and Toby. These
co-workers were not moving with their usual speed on account of an
unwieldy burden. Tied on behind the priest's saddle was a great bag,
containing the weekly mail for the neighborhood. He went to the
postoffice oftener than any one else, and it had become his custom to
fetch the mail to the chapel once a week, and distribute it after
service on Sundays. When possible, he sent the letters of those who were
not of his congregation by some neighbor who was present; but he often
rode miles out of his way to deliver them with his own hand. It was in
carrying the mail on a bitter winter's day, when the earth was a
glittering sheet of ice, that he had fallen and broken his arm. It was a
serious accident, and would have disabled any one else for a long time,
but he was out again and as busy as ever within a few days, though he
had to carry his arm in a sling for several weeks. He now hailed the two
young people with his kind, merry greeting.

"There's a great letter up at the convent," he said, when he came up
beside them. "The Sisters have got it, and they will show it to you. Ask
them to read it to you. That letter will have a place in Kentucky
history. This is where we must turn out. No, Toby, old man, there's no
time for you to be listening and enjoying yourself, nor for nibbling
pea-vine, either. Move on, move on! Good-by, my children. Don't forget
to ask the Sisters to show you the bishop's letter."

Sister Teresa held it in her hand when she came to the door to meet
them. Both the girl and the boy had been her pupils, and she had formed
an attachment for them which had not been weakened by their leaving the
little school. Sister Elizabeth also hastened to receive them most
cordially. Sister Angela merely waved her hand through the window, but
the little faces peeping over the sill, and the tops of the little curly
heads bobbing up and down at her side, told why she could not come with
the others to meet the welcome guests. Sister Teresa did not wait to be
asked to read the letter, she was too much excited over it to forget it
for a moment; its coming was the greatest event that the convent had
ever known.

"This, my dear children," she began almost as soon as they were within
hearing, "is a letter from Bishop Flaget, the first bishop of Kentucky,
the first bishop of the whole northwest. Of course you must know, my
dears, that this is far too important a letter to have been written to
an humble little community like ours, or even to Father Orin, much as he
is esteemed. This is merely a copy of the letter which Bishop Flaget is
sending back to France, and the original was addressed to the French
Association for the Propagation of the Faith. It was written in June of
this year, soon after the arrival of his Reverence in Kentucky, but our
copy has reached us only to-day. Listen! This is what he says about his
coming to Bardstown: 'It was on the 9th of June, 1811, that I made my
entry into this little village, accompanied by two priests, and three
young students for the ecclesiastical state. Not only had I not a cent
in my purse, but I was compelled to borrow nearly two thousand francs in
order to reach my destination. Thus, without money, without a house,
without property, almost without acquaintances, I found myself in the
midst of a diocese, two or three times larger than all France,
containing five large states and two immense territories, and myself
speaking the language, too, very imperfectly. Add to this that almost
all the Catholics were emigrants, but newly settled and poorly
furnished.' Ah, but he was welcomed with all our hearts!" cried Sister
Teresa, with tears springing to her gentle eyes. "Listen to this, from
another letter, telling how he came to St. Stephen's. It is like a
beautiful painting - you can see how it looked! 'The bishop there found
the faithful kneeling on the grass, and singing canticles in English:
the country women were nearly all dressed in white, and many of them
were still fasting, though it was four o'clock in the evening; they
having indulged the hope to be able to assist at his Mass, and receive
the Holy Communion from his hands. An altar had been prepared at the
entrance of the first court under a bower composed of four small trees
which overshadowed it with their foliage. Here the bishop put on his
pontifical robes. After the aspersion of the holy water, he was
conducted to the chapel in procession, with the singing of the Litany of
the Blessed Virgin; and the whole function closed with the prayers and
ceremonies prescribed for the occasion in Roman Pontifical.' Ah, yes; we
did our best for him!"

Sister Teresa's soft eyes were shining now behind her tears.

"And hear this, also written by the same dear friend who sends us the
bishop's letter. The priest, M. Badin, to whom this letter refers, is in
charge of St. Stephen's, so that it was his duty as well as his pleasure
to make preparations for the bishop's coming. This letter says that: 'M.
Badin had for his lodgings one poor log house ... and it was with great
difficulty that he was enabled to build and prepare for his illustrious
friend, and the ecclesiastics who accompanied him, two miserable log
cabins, sixteen feet square: and one of the missionaries was even
compelled to sleep on a mattress in the garret of this strange episcopal
palace, which was whitewashed with lime, and contained no other
furniture than a bed, six chairs, two tables, and a few planks for a
library. Here the bishop still resides, esteeming himself happy to live
thus in the midst of apostolic poverty.'" The Sister broke off suddenly.
"But I must not allow you to stand out here, my dear children. It soon
grows chilly on these late fall evenings. Come indoors at once, my
dears. And then, Ruth, Sister Angela is very anxious to show you the
sewing which she has finished."

"Oh, I know how beautiful it is without seeing it," said Ruth, with a
sudden shrinking; but she added hastily, "There is no such needle-woman
as Sister Angela anywhere."

She followed the Sister into the larger of the two rooms which the house
contained. David bashfully stayed behind, lingering on the threshold,
and keeping man's respectful distance from the mysteries of feminine
wear. But the three white caps and the flower-wreathed bonnet drew close
together over the dainty garments, all a foam of lace and ruffles and
embroidery. David heard the terms rolling and whipping, and felling and
overcasting and hemstitching and herring-boning which were an unknown
tongue to him. Ruth praised everything, till even Sister Angela was
quite satisfied. That pretty young sister was indeed so elated that she
turned to admire Ruth's dress but the Sister Superior gently reminded
her that it was the eve of All Souls', when they and every one should be
thinking of graver things.

"This year the souls and the safety of the living, as well as the repose
of the dead, will need all our prayers," said Sister Teresa. "There
seems no doubt of the war with the Shawnees. Ah me, ah me! And the Cold
Plague growing worse every day!"

"But Doctor Colbert is curing that," said Ruth, eagerly.

"As God wills, my daughter," said the Sister, making the sign of the
cross. "More recover, certainly, since he came. Before, the little ones
always died."

"He told me that three babies were coming to you yesterday. Are they
here? The poor, poor little things! And may I see them, Sister? I should
like to help take care of them, if I might," Ruth said timidly, not
knowing that her pink cheeks bloomed into blush roses.

The Sister led the way into the other room - the first orphan asylum in
the wilderness - and Ruth smiled and talked to the desolate little waifs
of humanity as brightly as she could with dim eyes and quivering lips.
She, herself, and David, also, had been like this. He had followed her
into the room, and was now standing by her side, so that she could clasp
his hand and hold it close.

Walking homeward through the darkening shadows of the forest, she still
held his hand. Both were thinking sadly enough of their own coming into
this wild country, they knew not - whence or how or wherefore - and were
never to know.

"Fathers and mothers must go suddenly when they leave their children
so," said Ruth, musingly. "Ours must have died - "

"Or have been murdered!" David broke out fiercely.

"No, no!" cried Ruth, shrinking closer to his side. "I could not bear to
think that."

But the boy went on, as if speaking thoughts which had long rankled in
bitter silence. "It isn't so bad as to believe that they deserted us, or
died without leaving a word. Fathers and mothers who love their children
well enough to bear them in their arms through hundreds of weary miles
over high mountains and down long rivers, and into the depths of the
wilderness, would never desert them at the hard journey's end. Fathers
and mothers who loved their children so dearly could hardly be taken
away by lightning so quickly that they would not leave behind a single
token of their love. And we have never seen a sign showing that ours
ever lived. There is something wrong - something unaccounted
for - something that we have not been permitted to know!"

"David, dear, dear David!"

"I have always believed it - ever since I have been able to think. As
soon as I am old enough to speak like a man, I mean to demand the truth
from Philip Alston!"

She dropped his hand and drew away from him with a look of wondering
distress. It was the one thing over which they had ever disagreed.

"You must never again say anything of that kind to me, David," she said
firmly. "I beg that you will never say it to any one, never even think
it. For in thinking it, let alone saying it, you are not only unjust,
but ungrateful. What possible object could Philip Alston have in
concealing anything that he might know about you and me? Hasn't he
always been our best friend?"

And then the quick anger which had flashed out of her loyalty turned to
gentle pleading.

"I can't bear a word said against him, dear. And it grieves me to see
you making yourself unhappy over such useless brooding. What does it
matter, after all - our knowing nothing about ourselves, who we are, or
where we came from? We are happy, everybody is kind and good to us."

They started at the sound of a voice calling her name, and they saw
William Pressley come out of the dark shadows beneath the trees, and
stand still, waiting for them to approach.

"It is late, my dear, for you to be roaming about the woods like this,"
he said, when they were near enough.

He used the term of endearment in the tone of calm, moderate reproof
which a justly displeased, but self-controlled husband sometimes uses.
And Ruth felt the resentment that every woman feels at its unconscious
mockery.

"Why, there isn't any danger," she said. "We haven't been out of sight
and hearing from Cedar House."

"I was thinking of seemliness, not of danger," William Pressley replied
coldly. "And then Mr. Alston is waiting for you."

Ruth moved nearer, and laid her hand on his arm, smiling rather timidly,
with conciliatory, upward glances. Her first effort, whenever they met,
was always to make something right - often before she could remember what
it was that she had done or not done to displease him. This feeling was
the natural attitude of a gentle, loving nature toward a harsh, unloving
one, and it was the most natural thing of all that he should mistake her
gentleness for weakness; that he should mistake her fear of giving
offence for a lack of moral courage. This is a common mistake often made
by those who care little for the feelings of others, about those who
care, perhaps, too much. And as the three young people walked along
toward Cedar House, Ruth gave David her left hand, and spoke to him now
and then, just as affectionately and freely as she had done while they
had been alone. William Pressley did not speak to the boy at all or
notice him in any way. He did not dislike him, for he never disliked
anything that was not of some importance. He disapproved of his
impractical, visionary character, and thought that it might have rather
an undesirable influence over Ruth. For this reason he tacitly
discouraged all intimacy between them, but he did not take the trouble
to express it and merely ignored the lad. And David, seeing how it was,
felt instantly and strongly, that being overlooked was harder to bear
than being misused - as most of us are apt to feel.

"We have been at the Sisters' house," said Ruth, shyly, breaking a
strained silence. "They sent for me - to see the sewing that Sister
Angela has been getting ready for Christmas Eve."

William Pressley looked down at her uplifted, blushing face, and smiled,
as the most self-centred and serious of men must do, when the girl who
is to be his wife speaks to him of her wedding clothes.




XIII

SEEING WITH DIFFERENT EYES


It was on the boy's account that they had their first and last serious
quarrel a few hours later. This was by no means the first time that they
had openly disagreed, and had come to rather sharp words. Their views of
many things were too far apart for that to have been the case, but there
had never before been any great or lasting trouble by reason of their
difference of opinion. Ruth, gentle and yielding, was ever most timidly
fearful of being at fault; William, hard and unyielding, was always
perfectly certain of being in the right. It was therefore to be expected
that his opinions should generally rule, and that he should construe her
readiness to yield and her self-distrust, as proofs that he was not
mistaken. Rock-ribbed infallibility could hardly be expected to
comprehend the doubts that assail a sensitive soul.

William, naturally enough, had never noted that in giving way, Ruth had
not turned far or long from anything involving a principle. The truth
was that she had merely evaded his intolerance of any and all difference
of opinion - as a deep stream quietly flows round an immovable
rock - only to turn gently back into its own course as soon as might be.


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