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- Quill's Window - 4/55 -
Her death wrought a remarkable, enduring change in Windom. He became a silent, brooding man who rarely smiled and whose heart lay up in the little graveyard on the ridge. The gay, larksome light fled from his eyes, his face grew stern and sometimes forbidding. She had taken with her the one great thing she had brought into his life: ineffable buoyancy. He no longer played, for there was no one with whom he would play; he no longer sang, for the music had gone out of his soul; he no longer whistled the merry tunes, for his lips were stiff and unyielding. Only when he looked upon his little daughter did the soft light of love well up into his eyes and the rigid mouth grow tender.
She was like her mother. She was joyous, brave and fair to look upon. She had the same heart of sunshine, the same heart of iron, and the blue in her eyes was like the blue of the darkening skies. She adored the grim, silent man who was her father, and she was the breath of life to him.
And then, when she was nineteen, she broke the heart of David Windom. For two years she had been a student in the University situated but half a score of miles from the place where she was born, a co-educational institution of considerable size and importance. Windom did not believe in women's colleges. He believed in the free school with its broadening influence, its commingling of the sexes in the search for learning, and in the divine right of woman to develop her mind through the channels that lead ultimately and inevitably to superiority of man. He believed that the girl trained and educated in schools devoted exclusively to the finer sex fails to achieve understanding as well as education. The only way to give a girl a practical education,--and he believed that every woman should have one,--was to start her off even with the boy who was training to become her master in all respects.
During her second year at the University she met Edward Crown, a senior. He was the son of a blacksmith in the city, and he was working his way through college with small assistance from his parent, who held to the conviction that a man was far better off if he developed his muscles by hard work and allowed the brain to take care of itself. Young Crown was a good-looking fellow of twenty-three, clean-minded, ambitious, dogged in work and dogged in play. He had "made" the football team in his sophomore year. Customary snobbishness had kept him out of the fraternities and college societies. He may have been a good fellow, a fine student, and a cracking end on the eleven, and all that, but he was not acceptable material for any one of the half dozen fraternities.
When he left college with his hard-earned degree it was to accept a position with a big engineering company, a job which called him out to the far Northwest. Alix Windom was his promised wife. They were deeply, madly in love with each other. Separation seemed unendurable. She was willing to go into the wilderness with him, willing to endure the hardships and the discomforts of life in a construction camp up in the mountains of Montana. She would share his poverty and his trials as she would later share his triumphs. But when they went to David Windom with their beautiful dream, the world fell about their ears.
David Windom, recovering from the shock of surprise, ordered Edward from the house. He would sooner see his child dead than the wife of Nick Crown's son,--Nick Crown, a drunken rascal who had been known to beat his wife,--Nick Crown who was not even fit to lick the feet of the horses he shod!
One dark, rainy night in late June, Alix stole out of the old farmhouse on the ridge and met her lover at the abandoned tollgate half a mile up the road. He waited there with a buggy and a fast team of horses. Out of a ramshackle cupboard built in the wall of the toll-house, they withdrew the bundles surreptitiously placed there by Alix in anticipation of this great and daring event, and made off toward the city at a break-neck, reckless speed. They were married before midnight, and the next day saw them on their way to the Far West. But not before Alix had despatched a messenger to her father, telling him of her act and asking his forgiveness for the sake of the love she bore him. The same courier carried back to the city a brief response from David Windom. In a shaken, sprawling hand he informed her that if she ever decided to return to her home ALONE, he would receive her and forgive her for the sake of the love he bore her, but if she came with the coward who stole her away from him, he would kill him before her eyes.
The summer and fall and part of the winter passed, and in early March Alix came home.
David Windom, then a man of fifty, gaunt and grey and powerful, seldom had left the farm in all these months. He rode about his far-spread estate, grim and silent, his eyes clouded, his voice almost metallic, his manner cold and repellent. His tenants, his labourers, his neighbours, fearing him, rarely broke in upon his reserve. Only his animals loved him and were glad to see him,--his dogs, his horses, even his cattle. He loved them, for they were staunch and faithful. Never had he uttered his daughter's name in all these months, nor was there a soul in the community possessed of the hardihood to inquire about her or to sympathize with him.
It was a fierce, cruel night in March that saw the return of Alix. A fine, biting snow blew across the wide, open farmlands; the beasts of the field were snugly under cover; no man stirred abroad unless driven by necessity; the cold, wind-swept roads were deserted. So no one witnessed the return of Alix Crown and her husband. They came out of the bleak, unfriendly night and knocked at David Windom's door. There were lights in his sitting-room windows; through them they could see the logs blazing in the big fireplace, beside which sat the lonely, brooding figure of Alix's father. It was late,--nearly midnight,--and the house was still. Old Maria Bliss and the one other servant had been in bed for hours. The farmhands slept in a cottage Windom had erected years before, acting upon his wife's suggestion. It stood some two or three hundred yards from the main house.
A dog in the stables barked, first in anger and then with unmistakable joy. David's favourite, a big collie, sprang up from his place on the rug before the fire and looked uneasily toward the door opening onto the hall. Then came a rapping at the front door. The collie growled softly as he moved toward the door. He sniffed the air in the hall and suddenly began to whine joyously, wagging his tail as he bounded back and forth between his master and the door.
David Windom knew then that his daughter had come home.
He sprang to his feet and took two long strides toward the door. Abruptly, as if suddenly turned to stone, he stopped. For a long time he stood immovable in the middle of the room. The rapping was repeated, louder, heavier than before. He turned slowly, retraced his steps to the fireplace and took from its rack in the corner a great iron poker. His face was ashen grey, his eyes were wide and staring and terrible. Then he strode toward the door, absolutely unconscious of the glad, prancing dog at his side.
In the poor shelter of the little porch stood Alix, bent and shivering, and, behind her, Edward Crown, at whose feet rested two huge "telescope satchels." The light from within fell dimly upon the white, upturned face of the girl. She held out her hands to the man who towered above her on the doorstep.
"Daddy! Daddy!" she cried brokenly. "Oh, my daddy! Let me come in--let me,--I--I am freezing."
But David Windom was peering over her head at the indistinct face of the man beyond. He wanted to be sure. Lifting his powerful arm, he struck.
Edward Crown, stiff and numb with cold and weak from an illness of some duration, did not raise an arm to ward off the blow, nor was he even prepared to dodge. The iron rod crashed down upon his head. His legs crumpled up; he dropped in a heap at the top of the steps and rolled heavily to the bottom, sprawling out on the snow-covered brick walk.
The long night wore on. Windom had carried his daughter into the sitting-room, where he placed her on a lounge drawn up before the fire. She had fainted. After an hour he left her and went out into the night. The body of Edward Crown was lying where it had fallen. It was covered by a thin blanket of snow. For a long time he stood gazing down upon the lifeless shape. The snow cut his face, the wind threshed about his coatless figure, but he heeded them not. He was muttering to himself. At last he turned to re-enter the house. His daughter was standing in the open doorway.
"Is--is that Edward down there?" she asked, in weak, lifeless tones. She seemed dull, witless, utterly without realization.
"Go back in the house," he whispered, as he drew back from her in a sort of horror,--horror that had not struck him in the presence of the dead.
"Is that Edward?" she insisted, her voice rising to a queer, monotonous wail.
"I told you to stay in the house," he said. "I told you I would look after him, didn't I? Go back, Alix,--that's a good girl. Your--your daddy will--Oh, my God! Don't look at me like that!"
"Is he dead?" she whispered, still standing very straight in the middle of the doorway. She was not looking at the inert thing on the walk below, but into her father's eyes. He did not, could not answer. He seemed frozen stiff. She went on in the same dull, whispered monotone. "I begged him to let me come alone. I begged him to let me see you first. But he would come. He brought me all the way from the West and he--he was not afraid of you. You have done what you said you would do. You did not give him a chance. And always,--always I have loved you so. You will never know how I longed to come back and have you kiss me, and pet me, and call me those silly names you used--"
"What's done, is done," he broke in heavily. "He is dead. It had to be. I was insane,--mad with all these months of hatred. It is done. Come,--there is nothing you can do. Come back into the house. I will carry him in--and wake somebody. Tomorrow they will come and take me away. They will hang me. I am ready. Let them come. You must not stand there in the cold, my child."
She toppled forward into his arms, and he lifted her as if she were a babe and carried her into the house. The collie was whining in the corner. Windom sat down in the big armchair before the fire, still holding the girl in his arms. She was moaning weakly. Suddenly a great, overwhelming fear seized him,--the fear of being hanged!
A long time afterward,--it was after two,--he arose from his knees
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