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- Viola Gwyn - 3/63 -
loved your mother very, very much, didn't you? Don't cry, lad,--there, there, now! Be a little man. Now, listen. Somebody stole your mother's husband. She loved him better than anything in the world. She loved him, I guess, even better than she loved you, Kenneth. She just couldn't live without him. Do you see? That is why she died and went away. She is in Heaven now. Now, let me hear you say this after me: My mother died because somebody stole her husband away from her."
"'My mother died because somebody stoled her husband away from her,'" repeated the boy, slowly.
"You will never forget that, will you?"
"Say this: My mother's heart was broken and so she died."
"'My mother's heart was broken and she--and so she died.'"
"You will never forget that either, will you, Kenneth?"
"Now, I am going to tell you who stole your mother's husband away from her. You know who your mother's husband was, don't you?"
"Yes, sir. My Pa."
"One night,--the night before you came up here to live--your Auntie Rachel,--that is what you called her, isn't it? Well, she was not your real aunt. She was your neighbour,--just as Mr. Collins over there is my neighbour,--and she was your mother's friend. Well, that night she stole your Pa from your Ma, and took him away with her,--far, far away, and she never let him come back again. She took him away in the night, away from your mother and you forever and forever. She---"
"But Pa was bigger'n she was," interrupted Kenneth, frowning. "Why didn't he kill her and get away?"
The old Squire was silent for a moment. "It is not fair for me to put all the blame on Rachel Carter. Your father was willing to go. He did not kill Rachel Carter. Together he and Rachel Carter killed your mother. But Rachel Carter was more guilty than he was. She was a woman and she stole what belonged in the sight of God to another woman. She was a bad woman. If she had been a good woman she would not have stolen your father away from your mother. So now you know that your Pa did not go to the war. He went away with Rachel Carter and left your mother to die of a broken heart. He went off into the wilderness with that bad, evil woman. Your mother was unhappy. She died. She is under the ground up in the graveyard, all alone. Rachel Carter put her there, Kenneth. I cannot ask you to hate your father. It would not be right. He is your father in spite of everything. You know what the Good Book says? 'Honour thy father and--' how does the rest of it go, my lad?"
"'Honour thy father and thy mother that thou days may be long upon thou earth,'" murmured Kenneth, bravely.
"When you are a little older you will realize that your father did not honour his father and mother, and then you may understand more than you do now. But you may hate Rachel Carter. You MUST hate her. She killed your mother. She stole your father. She made an orphan of you. She destroyed the home where you used to live. As you grow older I will try to tell you how she did all these things. You would not understand now. There is one of the Ten Commandments that you do not understand,--I mean one in particular. It is enough for you to know the meaning of the one that says 'Thou shalt not steal.' You must not be unhappy over what I have told you. Everything will be all right with you. You will be safe here with granny and me. But you must no longer believe that your father went to the war like other men in the village. If he were MY son, I would---"
"Don't say it, Richard," cried Kenneth's grandma, from the doorway behind them. "Don't ever say that to him."
SHELTER FOR THE NIGHT
Night was falling as two horsemen drew rein in front of a cabin at the edge of a clearing in the far-reaching sombre forest. Their approach across the stump-strewn tract had been heralded by the barking of dogs,--two bristling beasts that came out upon the muddy, deep-rutted road to greet them with furious inhospitality. A man stood partially revealed in the doorway. His left arm and shoulder were screened from view by the jamb, his head was bent forward as he peered intently through narrowed eyes at the strangers in the road.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" he called out.
"Friends. How far is it to the tavern at Clark's Point?"
"Clark's Point is three miles back," replied the settler. "I guess you must have passed it without seein' it," he added drily. "If it happened to be rainin' when you come through you'd have missed seein' it fer the raindrops. Where you bound fer?"
"Lafayette. I guess we're off the right road. We took the left turn four or five miles back."
"You'd ought to have kept straight on. Come 'ere, Shep! You, Pete! Down with ye!"
The two dogs, still bristling, slunk off in the direction of the squat log barn. A woman appeared behind the man and stared out over his shoulder. From the tall stone chimney at the back of the cabin rose the blue smoke of the kitchen fire, to be whirled away on the wind that was guiding the storm out of the rumbling north. There was a dull, wavering glow in the room behind her. At one of the two small windows gleamed a candle-light.
"What's takin' you to Clark's Point? There ain't no tavern there. There ain't nothin' there but a hitch-post and a waterin'-trough. Oh, yes, I forgot. Right behind the hitch-post is Jake Stone's store and a couple of ash-hoppers and a town-hall, but you wouldn't notice 'em if you happened to be on the wrong side of the post. Mebby it's Middleton you're lookin' fer."
"I am looking for a place to put up for the night, friend. We met a man back yonder, half an hour ago, who said the nearest tavern was at Clark's Point."
"What fer sort of lookin' man was he?"
"Tall fellow with red whiskers, riding a grey horse."
"That was Jake Stone hisself. Beats all how that feller tries to advertise his town. He says it beats Crawfordsville and Lafayette all to smash, an' it's only three or four months old. Which way was he goin'?"
"I suppose you'd call it south. I've lost my bearings, you see."
"That's it. He was on his way down to Attica to get drunk. They say Attica's goin' to be the biggest town on the Wabash. Did I ask you what your name was, stranger?"
"My name is Gwynne. I left Crawfordsville this morning, hoping to reach Lafayette before night. But the road is so heavy we couldn't---"
"Been rainin' steady for nearly two weeks," interrupted the settler. "Hub-deep everywhere. It's a good twenty-five or thirty mile from Crawfordsville to Lafayette. Looks like more rain, too. I think she'll be on us in about two minutes. I guess mebby we c'n find a place fer you to sleep to-night, and we c'n give you somethin' fer man an' beast. If you'll jest ride around here to the barn, we'll put the hosses up an' feed 'em, and--Eliza, set out a couple more plates, an' double the rations all around." His left arm and hand came into view. "Set this here gun back in the corner, Eliza. I guess I ain't goin' to need it. Gimme my hat, too, will ye?"
As the woman drew back from the door, a third figure came up behind the man and took her place. The horseman down at the roadside, fifty feet away, made out the figure of a woman. She touched the man's arm and he turned as he was in the act of stepping down from the door-log. She spoke to him in a low voice that failed to reach the ears of the travellers.
The man shook his head slowly, and then called out:
"I didn't jist ketch your name, mister. The wind's makin' such a noise I--Say it again, will ye?"
"My name is Kenneth Gwynne. Get it?" shouted the horseman. "And this is my servant, Zachariah."
The man in the door bent his head, without taking his eyes from the horseman, while the woman murmured something in his ear, something that caused him to straighten up suddenly.
"Where do you come from?" he inquired, after a moment's hesitation.
"My home is in Kentucky. I live at---"
"Kentucky, eh? Well, that's a good place to come from. I guess you're all right, stranger." He turned to speak to his companion. A few words passed between them, and then she drew back into the room. The woman called Eliza came up with the man's hat and a lighted lantern. She closed the door after him as he stepped out into the yard.
"'Round this way," he called out, making off toward the corner of the cabin. "Don't mind the dogs. They won't bite, long as I'm here."
The wind was wailing through the stripped trees behind the house,--a sombre, limitless wall of trees that seemed to close in with smothering relentlessness about the lonely cabin and its raw field of stumps. The angry, low-lying clouds and the hastening dusk of an early April day had by this time cast the gloom of semi-darkness over the scene. Spasmodic bursts of lightning laid thin dull, unearthly flares upon the desolate land, and the rumble of apple-carts filled the ear with promise of disaster. The chickens had gone to roost; several cows, confined in a pen surrounded by the
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