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- The Rose in the Ring - 1/73 -


[Illustration: His audience was fairly hanging on his words]

THE ROSE IN THE RING

By GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON

WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLOR BY A. I. KELLER

CONTENTS

BOOK ONE

I THE FUGITIVE

II IN THE DRESSING TENT

III DAVID ENTERS THE SAWDUST RING

IV A STRANGER APPEARS ON THE SCENE

V SOMETHING ABOUT THE BRADDOCKS

VI DAVID JENISON'S STORY

VII THE BROTHERS CRONK

VIII AN INVITATION TO SUPPER

IX A THIEF IN THE NIGHT

X LOVE WINGS A TIMID DART

XI ARTFUL DICK GOES VISITING

XII IN WHICH MANY THINGS HAPPEN

XIII THE SALE

BOOK TWO

I THE DAUGHTER OF COLONEL GRAND

II THE STRANGER AT THE HALL

III THE MAN WHO SERVED HIS TIME

IV THE DELIVERY OF A TELEGRAM

V THE LOVE THAT WAS STAUNCH

VI DOOR-STEPS

VII TOM BRADDOCK'S PROMISE

VIII COLONEL GRAND AND THE CLONKS

IX IN THE LITTLE TRIANGULAR "SQUARE"

X THE BLACK HEADLINES

ILLUSTRATIONS

His audience was fairly hanging on his words.. _Frontispiece_

"It is my money!" cried David

Her lips parted in amazement, tremulously struggling into a smile of wonder and unbelief.

"This is the one, great, solitary hour in your life."

BOOK ONE

CHAPTER I

THE FUGITIVE

The gaunt man led the way. At his heels, doggedly, came the two short ones, fagged, yet uncomplaining; all of them drenched to the skin by the chill rain that swirled through the Gap, down into the night- ridden valley below. Sky was never so black. Days of incessant storm had left it impenetrably overcast.

These men trudged--or stumbled--along the slippery road which skirted the mountain's base. Soggy, unseen farm lands and gardens to their left, Stygian forests above and to their right. Ahead, the far-distant will-o-the-wisp flicker of many lights, blinking in the foggy shroud. Three or four miles lay between the sullen travelers and the town that cradled itself in the lower end of the valley.

Night had stolen early upon the dour spring day. The tall man who led carried a rickety, ill-smelling lantern that sent its feeble rays no farther ahead than a dozen paces; it served best to reveal the face of the huge silver watch which frequently was drawn from its owner's coat pocket.

Eight o'clock,--no more,--and yet it seemed to these men that they had plowed forever through the blackness of this evil night, through a hundred villainous shadows by unpointed paths. Mile after mile, they had traversed almost impassable roads, unwavering persistence in command of their strength, heavy stoicism their burden. Few were the words that had passed between them during all those weary miles. An occasional oath, muffled but impressive, fell from the lips of one or the other of those who followed close behind the silent, imperturbable leader. The tall man was as silent as the unspeakable night itself.

It was impossible to distinguish the faces of these dogged night- farers. The collars of their coats were turned up, their throats were muffled, and the broad rims of their rain-soaked hats were far down over the eyes. There was that about them which suggested the unresented pressure of firearms inside the dry breast-pockets of long coats.

This was an evening in the spring of 1875, and these men were forging their way along a treacherous mountain road in Southwestern Virginia. A word in passing may explain the exigency which forced the travelers to the present undertaking. The washing away of a bridge ten miles farther down the valley had put an end to all thought of progress by rail, for the night, at least. Rigid necessity compelled them to proceed in the face of the direst hardships. Their mission was one which could not be stayed so long as they possessed legs and stout hearts. Checked by the misfortune at the bridge, there was nothing left for them but to make the best of the situation: they set forth on foot across the mountain, following the short but more arduous route from the lower to the upper valley. Since three o'clock in the afternoon they had been struggling along their way, at times by narrow wagon roads, not infrequently by trails and foot paths that made for economy in distance.

The tall man strode onward with never decreasing strength and confidence; his companions, on the contrary, were faint and sore and scowling. They were not to the mountains born; they came from the gentle lowlands by the sea,--from broad plantations and pleasant byways, from the tidewater country. He was the leader on this ugly night, and yet they were the masters; they followed, but he led at their bidding. They had known him for less than six hours, and yet they put their lives in his hands; another sunrise would doubtless see him pass out of their thoughts forever. He served the purpose of a single night. They did not know his name--nor he theirs, for that matter; they took him on faith and for what he was worth--five dollars.

"Are those the lights of the town?" panted one of the masters, a throb of hope in his breast. The tall man paused; the others came up beside him. He stretched a long arm in the direction of the twinkling lights, far ahead.

"Yas, 'r," was all that he said.

"How far?" demanded the other laboriously.

"'Bout fo'h mile."

"Road get any better?"

"Yas, 'r."

"Can we make it by nine, think?"

"Yas, 'r."

"We'd better be moving along. It's half-past seven now."

"Yas, 'r."

Once more they set forward, descending the slope into the less hazardous road that wound its way into the town of S----, then, as now, a thriving place in the uplands. The ending of a deadly war not more than ten years prior to the opening of this tale had left this part of fair Virginia gasping for breath, yet too proud to cry for help. Virginia, the richest and fairest and proudest of all the seceding states, was but now finding her first moments of real hope and relief. Her fortunes had gone for the cause; her hopes had sunk with it.

Both were now rising together from the slough into which they had been driven by the ruthless Juggernaut of Conquest. The panic of '73 meant little to the people of this fair commonwealth; they had so little then to lose, and they had lost so much. The town of S---, toward


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