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- A Romance of Billy-Goat Hill - 40/51 -


judge and jury, Donald's victory was almost assured, when the rumor of the People's Bank failure swept the court room. In the instant wave of suspicion that rose against Basil Sequin, Donald's cause was lost. Half the men on the jury were directly, or indirectly, involved. The case was summarily disposed of and the smaller matter swallowed up in the larger.

Humiliated and chagrined as Donald was over his own position, he was equally concerned about the bank. The papers were full of disturbing innuendoes; people avoided speaking of it in his presence; distrust and suspicion lurked around the corners.

Donald paused at the end of the terrace and looked up at the dark massive pile of masonry above him. In every leering gargoyle and carved coping, he read the ruin of some humble home.

At the first hint of impending trouble, Mrs. Sequin had taken Margery and fled to Europe, leaving Mr. Sequin fighting with his back to the wall to meet the difficulties into which her extravagance had plunged him. "I have no fear for Basil," she assured her friends on leaving. "He'll straighten things out. Of course he'll be talked about, clever people always are, and the directors have been rather nasty. But he'll control the situation yet, you'll see."

And Mrs. Sequin's confidence was being justified. Basil Sequin was controlling the situation. He had emerged from the ruin with his finances less affected than his reputation.

Each time that Donald turned at the end of the long terrace, his eyes involuntarily sought a light that gleamed far below through the bare trunks of the trees. It was the light from Thornwood that once more threw its familiar beams across the Cane Run Road and up the gentle slope of Billy-goat Hill. He rested his arms on the balustrade and stood looking out into the night. There was a softness in the air, a smell of upturned earth, a faint whispering among the newly budded treetops that hinted of things about to be revealed.

Suddenly there was a strange fluttering in the air above him, a tremulous, expectant thrill. Looking up he saw a flock of birds, wheeling and circling above him, making ready to light. Night after night they had traveled, over forests and across dark rivers, valiantly beating their frail wings against the gale, one purpose urging them on, straight as an arrow through the silent air,--the longing to find their old haunts under the friendly shelter of the Hill, and there to keep their love trysts in the place called home.

Donald's throat contracted sharply. Never in those tumultuous days in Japan, nor in those desperate ones in Singapore had he wanted Miss Lady as he wanted her now. It was not her youth or her beauty that he was thinking of; it was the firm confident clasp of her hand, the unfaltering courage of her eyes, her words, "I do believe in you, Don, with all my heart and soul." He was like a starving man who must have bread even if it belongs to another. Before he knew it he was plunging down the footpath to the road.

Connie would be his excuse, although he had been rather conscience- stricken about Connie of late. She had developed a taste for exploring that beguiling land of Flirtation where the boundary lines have never been defined, and dangers are known to lurk beyond the borders. As an old and experienced adventurer he felt that he had already accompanied her too far.

As he reached Thornwood's big colonial gateway, he found some one alighting from a buggy.

"Hello, Wick!" he said. "Wait, I'll open it for you. I thought you were staying in town!" Noah removed a pair of unmistakably new tan gloves and opened the gate for himself.

"I am staying in town," he said distantly "Are you coming in here?"

"Yes, I think I will drop in for a little while, unless you have an engagement?"

Noah's pause was even longer than usual. "No," he drawled presently. "I can't say I have. Will you get in?"

Donald could not suppress a smile as he got in beside him, and noticed the grandeur of his toilet.

"You are getting awfully dressy these days, old chap. Who's the girl?"

"You know who it is."

"You surely don't mean Connie Queerington! Now, Wick, you want to go slow and not trifle with that girl. The first thing you know she will be falling in love with you.",

Noah's lip stiffened. "If you would leave her alone perhaps she might."

"What am I doing?"

"The same thing you've always done. Going with a girl just long enough to spoil her for every other fellow, then going off and forgetting all about her."

Donald looked in amazement at the angry face beside him.

"What in thunder do you mean by that, Wick?"

"What I say. I guess it hasn't been so long ago that we've both forgotten another instance." "See here, Wick," said Donald, his anger rising, "you'd better drop this. You don't know what you are talking about."

"I know you spoiled my chances once and you are not going to spoil them again. You've got to leave Miss Connie alone. You've got to promise me--"

"I promise you nothing."

They had reached the hitching block and Donald got out of the buggy and, not waiting for his companion, went up the walk to the house. The peace of the old place wrapped him round like the folds of a warm garment He forgot Noah, and the pursuing troubles; he forgot everything except that Thornwood, with all its memories and traditions, was for the present his, held in sacred trust until that time when he could give it back to the one who loved it best.

"Why, it's Cousin Don!" cried Connie who had heard the wheels and come to investigate. "I never was so glad to see anybody in my life. I thought it was Mr. Wicker!"

"Cheer up! He's hitching his horse at the block now."

"How tiresome! I thought we left him in town yesterday. I don't believe you are a bit glad to have us for a neighbor. Why didn't you come over last night? I haven't seen you for four days!"

"You haven't missed anything, Connie. I've been down and out."

"Everybody has! It's too stupid for words. Since the trial and the bank failure I haven't been able to get a smile out of anybody! I hope the Turtle won't be grumpy."

"Who is the Turtle?"

"Mr. Wicker. Hat calls him that, because he never lets go 'til it thunders. Aren't you coming in the parlor?"

"No, I'll give Wick the field to-night. I want to see your Father on business."

"That sounds interesting!" said Connie audaciously. "You might have spoken to me first!"

The Doctor was preparing to go up to bed when Donald entered the sitting-room, but he put down his candle and greeted him warmly.

"A phenix rising from his ashes!" he said. "I am glad to see that you have survived the trials of the past ten days. It is very kind of you to come over in the midst of your trouble to welcome us to our new quarters. You are not going to leave us, my dear?" this to Miss Lady who had risen at Donald's entrance.

"I was going to get your beef-tea."

"Oh, to be sure. I can't begin to tell you, Donald, how much I regret the decision in your case. How did it happen?"

Donald, whose hungry eyes were devouring every familiar detail of the homely fire-lit room, shrugged his shoulders. "Eleven jury-men were for acquittal, I am told, and the twelfth, a fellow named Jock Hibben talked them over."

"Jock Hibben? I know the man. A radical Socialist who has been giving us some trouble at the university. Quite an orator, I believe, but a fanatic. You have made a motion for a new trial?"

"It has been refused."

"Indeed! And you appeal it, of course?"

"Yes."

"The decision is bound to be reversed," the Doctor assured him, "and the second trial will go in your favor. I have never doubted the ultimate outcome. What is that scratching noise?"

Miss Lady, who was just entering, paused to listen, then she suddenly set the cup she carried on the table, and flung open the door.

A long, shaggy, disheveled dog, with small, sad eyes, and a stub of a tail, hurled himself upon her, and began rapturously to lick her hands.

"It's Mike," she cried joyously, sitting on the floor and gathering her muddy visitor into her arms. "I knew he'd find out we were home. Oh! you blessed, blessed dog!"

Mike, unable to restrain his transports, made a mad tour of the room, upsetting the stack of manuscript that the Doctor had neatly arranged on a stand beside him. On his second round he discovered the visitor whom he sniffed with increasing excitement.

Donald raised a forefinger, and tapped his knee. In an instant Mike remembered. Lifting his fore-paws, and dropping his head upon them, he answered the call to prayer.


A Romance of Billy-Goat Hill - 40/51

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