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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

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“Blessin’? Good gracious!” he grunted, his effusiveness dried up. “That
went clean out ‘n my mind. But a body that’s tuk his meals on a tin plate
in a row o’ fellers waitin’ fer the’r turn four years hand-runnin’,
ain’t expected to - ”

He went no further, seeming to realize that the picture he was drawing
was tending to widen the distance between him and the uncompromising
figure opposite him. He folded his hands so that his arms formed a frame
for his plate, and said in a mellow bass voice: “Good Lord, make us duly
thankful fer the bounteous repast that Thy angels has seed fit to spread
before us to-night. Cause each of us to inculcate sech a frame of mind
as will not let us harbor ill will ag’in our neighbors, an’ finally,
when this shadowy abode is dispersed by the light of Thy glory, receive
us all into Thy grace. This we beg in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.”

He ended in some confusion. A red spot hovered over each of his
cheek-bones. “I clean forgot that part about good crops an’ fair
weather,” he said to Lucinda. “But you see it’s been four yeer sence
I said it over, an’ a man o’ my age oughtn’t to be expected to know a
thing like a younger person.”

“Help yorese’f to the meat an’ pass the dish to Marty.” replied Miss
Dykes. “Ef I was you, I’d not be continually a-bringin’ up things about
the last four yeer.”

He made a hurried but bounteous choice of the parts of meat on the dish,
and then gave it over into the outstretched hands of Lucinda. Marty was
pouring out the coffee. She passed the old-fashioned mustache-cup to
her sister, and that lady transferred it to Wakeman. He sipped from it
lingeringly.

“My Lord!” he cried, impulsively. “I tell you the God’s truth; sech good
coffee as this hain’t been in a mile o’ my lips sence I went - sence I
was heer,” he corrected, as Lucinda’s warning stare bore down on him.

After that the meal proceeded in silence. When he had finished, Dick
went back to his chair in the chimney-corner near the battered woodbox.
After putting away the dishes and removing the cloth from the table,
Lucinda came and sat down near him. Mrs. Wake-man, casting occasional
furtive glances toward the front door, appropriated her share of the
general silence in a seat where the firelight faded. Richard wore an
unsettled air, as if getting into old harness came as awkward as putting
on the new had come when he married, years before. After a few minutes
he became a little drowsy, and began to act naturally, as if by force of
returning habit. He unlaced his shoes, took them off, rubbed the bottoms
of his feet, thrust those members toward the fire, and worked his toes.
He also took a chew of tobacco. Profound silence was in the room; the
thoughts of three minds percolated through it. Marty picked up the
_Christian Advocate_ and pretended to read, but she dropped it in her
lap and cast another look toward the door.

The rustling of the paper attracted Richard’s gaze.

“Is she expectin’ - is anybody a-comin’?” He directed the question to
Lucinda.

“I wouldn’t be much surprised,” was the answer. “It’s Jeff Goardley’s
night.”

“You don’t say!” Each of the words had a separate little jerk, and the
questioning stare of the convict’s eyes pierced the space intervening
between him and his divorced wife. He spat into the fire, wiped his
mouth with an unsteady hand, and caught his breath.

Silence again. Lucinda broke it.

“You hain’t never told us how you happened to git yore pardon,” she
ventured.

“By a streak o’ luck,” Wakeman said, the languid largeness of his eyes
showing that he was still struggling against the inclination to sleep.
“T’other day the governor sent word to our superintendent that he was
comin’ to see fer hisse’f how we wus treated. The minute I heerd it, I
said to myself, I did, ‘Wakeman, you must have a talk with that man.’ So
the mornin’ he got thar we wus all give a sort of vacation an’ stood up
in rowslike fer inspection. When I seed ‘im a-comin’ towards me I jest
gazed at ‘im with all my might an’ he got to lookin’ at me. When he got
nigh me he stopped short an’ said:

“‘Looky’ heer, my man,’ said he; ‘yore face seems mighty familiar to me.
Have I ever seed you before?’

“‘Not unless you remember me a-throwin’ up my hat in front o’ the
stan’ an’ yellin’ when you wus stump-speakin’ in Murray jest ‘fore yore
‘lection,’ said I.

“Then he laughed kinder good-natured like, an’ said: ‘I’m sorry to see a
voter o’ mine in a fix like yo’r ‘n. What can I do fer you?’

“‘I want to have a talk with you, yore Honor, an’ that bad,’ said I.

“‘I am at yore disposal,’ said he. ‘That’s what I’m heer fer. I ‘ll ax
the superintendent to call you in a moment. What is yore name?’

“‘Richard Wakeman, yore Honor,’ said I. “‘An’ one o’ the best men we
ever had,’ said the superintendent.

“Well, they passed on, an’ in a few minutes I was ordered to come to
the superintendent’s office, an’ thar I found the governor tilted back
smokin’ a fine cigar.

“‘You wanted to have some ‘n’ to say to me, Wakeman?’ said he.

“I eased my ball an’ chain down on the skin of a big-eyed varmint o’
some sort, an’ stood up straight.

“‘I did, yore Honor, an’ that bad,’ said I.

“‘What is it?’ said he.

“‘I want to put my case before you, yore Honor,’ said I. ‘An’ I’m not
a-goin’ to begin, as every convict does, by sayin’ he ain’t guilty, fer
I know you’ve heerd that tale tell yo’ ‘re heartily sick of it.’

“‘But are you guilty?’ said the governor. ‘I _have_ seed men sent up fer
crimes they never committed.’

“‘Yore Honor,’ said I, ‘I didn’t no more intend to steal that hoss o’
Pike Williams’s than you did - not a bit. Gittin’ on a spree about once
a year is my main fault, an’ it was Christmas, an’ all of us was full o’
devilment. It was at the Springplace bar, an’ Alf Moreland struck me a
whack across the face with his whip, an’ bein’ astraddle of a fine nag
he made off. Pike’s nag was hitched at the rack nigh me, an’, without
hardly knowin’ what I was doin’, I jumped on it an’ spurred off after
Alf. I run ‘im nip an’ tuck fer about seven mile, an’ then me an’ him
rid on fer more whisky down the valley. The next day I was arrested,
so drunk they had to haul me to jail in a wagon. They tried me before a
jury o’ men that never did like me, an’ I got five yeer.’

“When I stopped thar to draw a fresh breath the governor axed, ‘Is that
what you wanted to say, Wakeman?’

“‘Not a word of it, yore Honor,’ said I. ‘I jest wanted to put a
straight question to you about the law. Ef you knowed that a man was
a-sufferin’ a sight more on account of imprisonment than his sentence
called fer, would that be right?’

“The governor studied a minute, then he kinder smiled at the
superintendent, an’ said:

“‘That’s a question fer the conscience. Ef a man is imprisoned fer a
crime, an’ jail life breaks his health down, an’ is killin’ ‘im, then he
ort to be pardoned out.’

“Then I had ‘im right whar I wanted ‘im, an’ I up an’ told ‘im that
I had a wife that was all the world to me, an’ that durin’ my term
mischievous folks had lied ag’in me an’ persuaded ‘er to git a divorce,
an’ that a oily-tongued scamp was a-tryin’ to marry ‘er fer what little
land she had. I reminded ‘im that I was put in fer stealin’, an that I
had worked four yeer o’ my sentence, an’ that it looked like a good deal
o’ punishment fer jest one spree, but that I wouldn’t complain, bein’ as
I was cured of the liquor habit an’ never intended to put the neck of a
bottle to my mouth ag’in, but that I did kinder want to hurry back home
‘fore too much damage was done.

“Well, I’m not lyin’ when I say the governor’s eyes was wet. All of a
sudden he helt out his han’ to me an’ said:

“‘I feel shore you never intended to steal that hoss, Wakeman.’

“‘My wife never has believed it fer one instant,’ said the
superintendent. ‘An’ it takes a woman to ferret out guilt.’

“The governor tuk a sheet o’ paper an’ a pen an’ said:

“‘Wakeman, I’m a-goin’ to pardon you, an’ what’s more, I inten’ to send
a statement to all the newspapers that I’m convinced you are a wronged
man. I’ve done wuss than you was accused of in my young days, an’ had
the cheek to run fer the office of governor.’” Then the superintendent’s
wife come in an’ stood up thar an’ cried, an’ axed to be allowed to
unlock my manacles. She got out my old suit - this un heer - an’ breshed
it ‘erself, an’ kept on a-cryin’ an’ a-laughin’ at the same time The
last words that she said to me was:

“‘Wakeman, go home an’ make up with yore wife; she won’t turn ag’in you
when you git back to the old place whar you an’ her has lived together
so long, an’ whar yore child’s grave is.’”

The speaker paused. For a man so coarse in appearance, his tone had
grown remarkably tender. Lucinda was staring wide-eyed, with a fixed
aspect of features, as if she were half frightened at the unwonted
commotion within herself and the danger of its appearing on the surface.
Finally she took refuge in the act of raising her apron to her eyes.

Mrs. Wakeman had excellent command over herself, drawing upon a vast
fund of offended pride, the interest of which had compounded within the
last four years. Just at this crisis the steady beat of a horse’s hoofs
broke into the hushed stillness of the room. Lucinda lowered her apron
with wrists that seemed jointless bone, and stared at her sister.

“Are you a-goin’ to let that feller stick his head inside that door
to-night?”

The question was ill-timed, for it produced only a haughty, contemptuous
shrug in the woman from whom it rebounded. Wakeman did not take his eyes
from the fire. They heard the gate-latch click, and then a heavy-booted
and spurred foot fell on the entry step. The next instant the door was
unceremoniously opened and a tall, lank mountaineer entered. He was at
the fag-end of bachelorhood, had sharp, thin features, a small mustache
dyed black, and reddish locks which were long and curling. He wore a
heavy gray shawl over his shoulders. At first he did not see Wakeman,
for his eyes had found employment in trying to discover why Marty had
not risen as he came in. He glanced inquiringly at Lucinda, and then he
recognized Richard.

“My Lord!” he muttered. “I had no idee you - I ‘lowed you - ”

“I didn’t nuther,” Richard sneered, the red firelight revealing strange
flashes in his eyes.

For some instants the visitor stood on the hearth awkwardly disrobing
his sinewy hands. Finally, unheeding Lucinda’s admonitory glances toward
the door, and the prayerful current from her eyes to his, he sat down
near Marty. Ten minutes by the clock on the mantelpiece passed, in which
time nothing was heard except the lowing of the cattle in the cow-lot
and the sizzling of the coals when Richard spat. At last a portion of
Wakeman’s wandering self-confidence resettled upon him, and it became
him well. He crossed his legs easily, dropped his quid of tobacco into
the fire, and with a determined gaze began to prod his squirming rival.

“Lookye heer,” he said, suddenly. “What did you come heer fur, anyhow?”

Goardley leaned forward and spat between his linked hands. He
accomplished it with no slight effort, for the inactivity of his mouth,
which was not chewing anything, had produced a hot dryness.

“I don’t know,” he managed to say. “I jest thought I’d come around.”

“Ride?”

“Yes, hoss-back.”

“Do you know whar you hitched?” Goardley hesitated and glanced
helplessly at Marty, who, stern-faced, inflexible, was looking at the
paper in her lap.

“I hitched under the cherry-tree out thar,” he answered, with scarcely a
touch of self-confidence in his tone.

“Well, go unhitch an’ git astraddle of yore animal.”

Goardley blinked, but did not rise.

“I didn’t have the least idee you had got free, Dick, an’ - ”

“Well, you know it now, so git out to that hoss, ur by all that’s
holy - ”

Mrs. Wakeman drew herself erect and crumpled the paper in her bony hand.

“This is my house,” she said, “an’ I ain’t no married woman.”

The white fixity of Goardley’s countenance relaxed in a slow grin.
An automatic affair it was, but as he took in the situation it was a
recognition of the aid which had arrived at the last minute.

Wakeman stood up in his stockinged feet. He was still unruffled. “That’s
a fact; the place is her ‘n,” he admitted. “But I ‘ll tell you one article
that ain’t. It’s that thar shootin’-iron on them deer-horns up thar, an’
ef you don’t git out ‘n heer forthwith it ‘ll make the fust hole in meat
that it’s made in four yeer. Maybe me ‘n Marty _ain’t_ man an’ wife,
but when we wuz married the preacher said, ‘What the Lord has j’ined
together let no man put asunder,’ an’ I ain’t a-goin’ to set still an’
see a dirty, oily-tongued scamp like you try to undo the Lord’s work.
You know the way out, an’ I was too late fer hog-killin’. I went into
the penitentiary fer jest one spree, but I ‘ll go in fer manslaughter
next time an’ serve my term more cheerful - I mought say with Christian
fortitude.”

Cowardice produced the dominant expression in Goardley’s face. He rose
and backed from the room. The convict thumped across the resounding
floor to the door and looked out after the departing man.

“Run like a skeered dog,” he laughed, impulsively, as he turned back
into the room. And then he waxed serious as he entered the atmosphere
circling about Marty, who, with a stormy brow, sat immovable, her eyes
downcast.

“I couldn’t help it, to save me,” he began, apologetically, to her
profile. “But I reckon you an’ me can manage to git along like we used
to, an’ I never would ‘a’ had any respect fer myself ef I had a-let that
scamp set heer an’ think he was a-courtin’ of you right before my eyes.”

Marty made no reply. A flush of suppressed emotion had risen in her
cheeks and was taking on a deeper tinge. Richard grunted, stepped
half-way back to his chimney-corner, and looked at her again. Seeing
her eyes still averted, he grunted aloud, and went to his chair and
sat down. Several minutes passed. Then Lucinda’s prayerful eyes saw his
hand, now quivering, reach behind him and draw his shoes in front of
him. He put them on, but did not tie the strings.

“Somehow,” he said, rising, “somehow, now that I come to think of it, I
don’t feel exactly right - exactly as I used to - an’ I reckon, maybe, I
ort to go some’rs else. I reckon, as you said jest now, that in the eyes
o’ some folks you ain’t no married woman, an’ I have been makin’ purty
free fer a jail-bird. Old Uncle Billy Hodkins won’t set his dogs on me,
an’ I ‘ll go over thar tonight. After that the Lord only knows whar I
will head fer. Uncle Billy never did believe I was guilty; he’s writ me
that a dozen times.”

As he moved toward the door, in a clattering, slipshod fashion, Lucinda
fixed Marty with a fierce stare.

“Are you a-goin’ to set thar an’ let Dick leave us fer good?” she hurled
at her fiercely.

Marty made no reply save that which was embodied in a would-be defiant
shrug, but the flow of blood had receded from her face.

“Ef you do, you ain’t no Christian woman, that’s all,” was Lucinda’s
half-sobbing, half-shrieked accusation. “Yo’ ‘re a purty thing to set
up an’ drink the sacrament with a heart in you that the Old Nick’s fire
couldn’t melt.”

The convict smiled back at his defender from the threshold; then they
heard him cross the entry and step down on the gravel walk. He had
passed the bars and was turning up the side of a little hill, on the
brow of which a few gravestones shimmered in the moonlight, when he
heard his name called from the entry. It was Lucinda’s voice; she came
to him, her hair flying in the wind.

“I ‘lowed,” he said, sheepishly, as she paused to catch her breath, “I
jest ‘lowed I’d go up thar an’ see ef the water had been washin’ out
round Annie’s grave. The last time I looked at it the foot-rock was a
little sagged to one side.”

“Come back in the house, Dick,” cried the old maid. “Marty has
completely broke down. She’s cryin’ like a baby. She has been actin’
stubborn beca’se she was proud an’ afeerd folks would think she was a
fool about you. As soon as I told ‘er you didn’t say that about bein’
willin’ to go to jail to git out ‘n reach o’ ‘er tongue, she axed me to
run after you. She’s consented to make it up ef we will send over fer
the justice an’ have the marryin’ done to-night.”

“Are you a-tellin’ me the truth, Lucinda?”

“As the Lord is my witness.”

He stared at the farmhouse a moment; then he said:

“Well, you an’ her git everything ready, an’ I ‘ll git Squire Dow an’ the
license. I ‘ll be back as soon as I kin.”




A RURAL VISITOR


I

|Lucinda Gibbs stood in the corner of the rail fence behind her cottage.
Her face was damp with perspiration, and her heavy iron-gray hair had
become disarranged and hung down her back below the skirt of her gingham
sun-bonnet. She was raking the decayed leaves and dead weeds from her
tender strawberry sprouts and mentally calculating on an abundant crop
of the luscious fruit later in the spring.

“The trouble is I won’t git to eat none of ‘em,” she sighed, as she
looked up and addressed the woman on the other side of the fence.

“You don’t mean that you are actually a-goin’ shore ‘nough, Mis’ Gibbs?”
exclaimed Betsey Lowry, as she leaned heavily on the top rail.

The widow reversed her rake and began to pull out the leaves which were
packed between the metal teeth, her face reddening gradually, as if she
were slightly irritated.

“I’d like to know ef thar’s anything strange about my goin’,” she said,
coldly. “You said you’d feed my cat an’ chickens an’ attend to the cow
fer what she’d give.”

“Oh, it ain’t because I have the least objection to keepin’ my word
about them things,” said the old maid, quickly. “Goodness knows, me an’
Joel needs the milk an’ butter bad enough, an’ it ain’t one speck o’
trouble jest to throw scraps to the cat, an’ meal-dough to the chickens,
but somehow it skeers me to think of a lone woman like you a-goin’ all
the way to New York by yorese’f.” Mrs. Gibbs leaned the rake against the
fence. The flush died out of her face, giving place to a sweet, wistful
expression.

“Betsey,” she said, tremulously, “tell me the truth. Do you think I
ought to stay at home?”

The old maid turned to look through the orchard of leafless trees to her
own house not far away. She had reddened slightly.

“Ef you push me fer a answer, Mis’ Gibbs, I ‘ll have to tell you I don’t
think you ought to go away up thar all alone.”

“You feel that-a-way, Betsey, because you hain’t never had no child an’
been separated from it like I have. When Amos married up thar an’ went
to housekeepin’ it mighty nigh killed me. An’ then I begun to live on
the bare hope that he’d come South on a visit, but he hain’t done it,
an’ thar ain’t no prospect of the like. He says he cayn’t git away frum
his business without dead loss, an’ they want me to come. I’ve said many
a time that I’d never leave my home, but, Betsey, it seems to me that
I cayn’t live another week without seein’ how Amos looks. The Lord only
knows how lonely I am mighty nigh all the time. Ef Susie had lived,
she’d never ‘a’ left me, married or not, but it’s different with a man.
Sometimes I wonder why the Lord tuk ‘em both frum me.”

Betsey’s kindly face softened. The intervening fence kept her from
putting a consoling arm around her neighbor.

“I hain’t been blind - nur Brother Joel hain’t nuther - to yore lonely way
o’ livin’,” she said, sympathetically. “Thar’s hardly a night that
me an’ him don’t look out ‘fore we go to bed to see ef you are still
a-sittin’ up readin’ by yore lamp. I kin always tell when you are
a-thinkin’ about Susie more ‘n common; it’s always when you git back frum
‘er grave that you set up latest. I believe in layin’ on o’ flowers an’
plantin’ shrubs that ‘ll keep sech a precious spot green, but when
it seems to make a body brood-like, then I think it ought not to be
indulged in to any great extent.”

“It’s raily a sort of comfort to go to the graveyard,” faltered Mrs.
Gibbs; and she raised her apron to her mouth.

“How long do you intend to stay with Amos an’ his wife?” asked Betsey,
to divert the widow’s thoughts. She looked over her shoulder, and saw
her brother Joel, a tall, strong-looking man about fifty-five years
of age, approaching from the direction of his store, down at the
cross-roads.

“Three months, I reckon,” replied the widow. “I know in reason that I
won’t want to leave Amos a bit sooner. You see, it may be a long time
before I lay eyes on ‘im again. They say the baby is doin’ fine, an’ I
want to see it an’ nuss it.”

“So you are raily goin’?” cried Joel Lowry, as he leaned on the fence
beside his sister.

“Yes, I’m a-goin’ to make the trip, Joel.”

“It’s a long ways,” returned the storekeeper, “an’ I don’t see how you
are a-goin’ by yorese’f. Ef it was jest a few weeks later, now, I might
pull up an’ go along. I’ve always believed ef I went to New York to lay
in stock that I could save enough on my goods to defray my expenses thar
an’ back.”

The eyes of the widow flashed eagerly. She took a long, trembling
breath.

“I wisht to goodness you would,” she said. “I don’t know one thing about
trains, an’ I am powerful afraid I ‘ll make a bobble of the whole thing
from start to finish. Ef I was to git on the wrong car - but what is
the use to cross a bridge ‘fore you git to it? Mebby I ‘ll git thar all
right.”

“I hate mightily to have you try it,” replied Joel, reflectively, as he
stroked his short gray beard. “I jest wish you would think better of it.
I’m a leetle grain older ‘n you, Mis’ Gibbs, an’ I’ve been about some.”

Mrs. Gibbs drew her rake after her as she turned toward her cottage.
“I don’t want to change my mind,” she said, emphatically. “I’m bent on
seein’ Amos, an’ I’m a-goin’ to do it. I’d better go in now. I’ve got a
lot o’ packin’ to do.”

Joel went back toward his store across a field of decaying corn-stubble
without looking round, and Betsey climbed over the fence and went into
the cottage with her neighbor.

“I never hated to see a body go so in all my born days,” she sighed.

Mrs. Gibbs opened the front door and preceded Betsey into the room on
the right of the little hall.

“You mustn’t mind how things looks in heer,” she apologized. “I left my
trunk open right spank in the middle of the room, so whenever I see a
thing that ought to go in I kin jest fling it at the trunk an’ put it
away when I have time.”

Betsey stood over the little hair trunk and looked down dolefully.

“What on earth is that I smell?” she asked. “Sassafras, as I’m alive!”

“Yes, I dug it yesterday. Amos likes sassafras-root tea; he used to
drink a power of it to thin his blood in the spring; he writ that he
hain’t had a taste of it sence he left heer. Shorely, it’s come to a
purty pass if a body cayn’t get sech as that in a big city like New
York.”

“Seems to me,” remarked the old maid, “that you’ve got a sight more
truck here than you ‘ll have any need fer. What’s this greasy mess
wrapped up?”

“That’s mutton suet,” was the enthusiastic reply. “It’s the whitest cake
I ever laid eyes on. They ‘ll need it fer chapped hands an’ lips. Amos
says it’s a sight colder up thar. That’s ginger-cake in that paper box,
an’ I’ve made him an’ Sally some wool socks an’ stockin’s.”

“Are you shore you are a-goin’ to be away three months?” asked Betsey,


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