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- Viola Gwyn - 30/63 -
jest tell you to go to hell, an' that'd be the end of it as fer as you're concarned. Course, he'd give up the plan, but he'd make it his business to find out how you got wind of it. Next thing we'd know, Moll Hawk would have her throat slit er somethin',--an' I reckon that wouldn't be jest what most people would call fair, Mr. Gwynne. I guess we'd better let things slide along as they air an' ketch Mart an' his crowd in the act. You don't reckon that Barry is goin' to take a active part in this here kidnappin' job, do you? Not much! He won't be anywheres near when it happens. He's too cute fer that. You won't be able to fasten anything on him till it's too late to do anything."
Kenneth was properly humbled. "You are right, Stain. If you hear of anybody who wants to have some wood chopped, free of charge, I wish you'd let me know."
"Well," began the laconic Mr. Stain, "it takes considerable practice to get to be even a fair to middlin' woodchopper."
THE GRACIOUS ENEMY
Bright and early the next morning Kenneth gave orders to have his new home put in order for immediate occupancy. Having made up his mind to remain in Lafayette and face the consequences that had seemed insurmountable the night before, he lost no time in committing himself to the final resolve. Zachariah was despatched with instructions to lay in the necessary supplies, while two women were engaged to sweep, scrub and furbish up the long uninhabited house. He had decided to move in that very afternoon.
Meanwhile he rented an "office" on the north side of the public square, a small room at the back of a furniture store, pending the completion of the two story brick block on the south side. With commendable enterprise he lost no time in outfitting the temporary office from the furniture dealer's stock. His scanty library of law books,--a half dozen volumes in all,--Coke, Kent and Chitty, among them,--had been packed with other things in the cumbersome saddle bags, coming all the way from Kentucky with him.
Of necessity he had travelled light, but he had come well provided with the means to purchase all that was required in the event that he decided to make Lafayette his abiding place.
As he was hurrying away from the tavern shortly after breakfast, he encountered Lapelle coming up from the stable-yard. The young Louisianian appeared to be none the worse for his night's dissipation. In fact, he was in a singularly amiable frame of mind.
"Hello," he called out. Kenneth stopped and waited for him to come up. "I'm off pretty soon for my place below town. Would you care to come along? It's only about eight miles. I want to arrange with Martin Hawk for a duck shooting trip the end of the week. He looks after my lean-to down there, and he is the keenest duck hunter in these parts. Better come along."
"Sorry I can't make it," returned Kenneth. "I am moving into my house to-day and that's going to keep me pretty busy."
"Well, how would you like to go out with us a little later on for ducks?"
"I'd like to, very much. That is, after I've got thoroughly settled in my new office, shingles painted, and so forth. Mighty good of you to ask me."
Barry was regarding him somewhat narrowly.
"So you are moving up to your house to-day, are you? That will be news to Viola. She's got the whim that you don't intend to live there."
"I was rather undecided about it myself,--at least for the present. I am quite comfortable here at Mr. Johnson's."
"It isn't bad here,--and he certainly sets a good table. Say, I guess I owe you a sort of apology, Kenny. I hope you will overlook the way I spoke last night when you said you couldn't go to Jack Trentman's. I guess I was a--well, a little sarcastic, wasn't I?"
There was nothing apologetic in his voice or bearing. On the contrary, he spoke in a lofty, casual manner, quite as if this perfunctory concession to the civilities were a matter of form, and was to be so regarded by Gwynne.
"I make it a rule to overlook, if possible, anything a man may say when he is drinking," said Kenneth, smiling.
Barry's pallid cheeks took on a faint red tinge; his hard eyes seemed suddenly to become even harder than before.
"Meaning, I suppose, that you considered me a trifle tipsy, eh?" he said, the corner of his mouth going up in mirthless simulation of a grin.
"Well, you had taken something aboard, hadn't you?"
"A drink or two, that was all," said the other, shrugging his shoulders. "Anyhow, I have apologized for jeering at you, Gwynne, so I've done all that a sober man should be expected to do," he went on carelessly. "You missed it by not going down there with me last night. I cleaned 'em out."
"You did, eh?"
"A cool two thousand," said the other, with a satisfaction that bordered on exultation. "By the way, changing the subject, I'd like to ask you a question. Has a mother the legal right to disinherit a son in case said son marries contrary to her wishes?"
Kenneth looked at him sharply. Could it be possible that Lapelle's mother objected to his marriage with Viola, and was prepared to take drastic action in case he did so?
"Different states have different laws," he answered. "I should have to look it up in the statutes, Barry."
"Well, what is your own opinion?" insisted the other, impatiently. "You fellows always have to look things up in a book before you can say one thing or another."
"Well, it would depend largely on circumstances," said Kenneth, judicially. "A parent can disinherit a child if he so desires, provided there is satisfactory cause for doing so. I doubt whether a will would stand in case a parent attempted to deprive a child of his or her share of an estate descending from another parent who was deceased. For example, if your father left his estate to his widow in its entirety, I don't believe she would have the right to dispose of it in her will without leaving you your full and legal share under the statutes of this or any other state. Of course, you understand, there is nothing to prevent her making such a will. But you could contest it and break it, I am sure."
"That's all I want to know," said the other, drawing a deep breath as of relief. "A close friend of mine is likely to be mixed up in just that sort of unpleasantness, and I was a little curious to find out whether such a will would stand the test."
"Your friend should consult his own lawyer, if he has one, Lapelle. That is to say, he should go to some one who knows all the circumstances. If you want my advice, there it is. Don't take my word for it. It is too serious a matter to be settled off-hand,--and my opinion in the premises may be absolutely worthless."
"I was only asking for my own satisfaction, Gwynne. No doubt my friend has already consulted a lawyer and has been advised. I must be off. Sorry you can't come with me."
Kenneth would have been surprised and disturbed if he could have known all that lay behind these casual questions. But it was not for him to know that Viola had repeated Mrs. Gwyn's threat to her impatient, arrogant lover, nor was it for him to connect a simple question of law with the ugly plot that had been revealed to Isaac Stain by Moll Hawk.
After two nights of troubled thought, Barry Lapelle had hit upon an extraordinary means to circumvent Rachel Gwyn. With Machiavellian cunning he had devised a way to make Viola his wife without jeopardizing her or his own prospects for the future. No mother, he argued, could be so unreasonable as to disinherit a daughter who had been carried away by force and was compelled to wed her captor rather than submit to a more sinister alternative.
Shortly after the noon meal, Kenneth rode up to the old Gwyn house. He found Zachariah beaming on the front door step.
"Yas, suh,--yas, suh!" was the servant's greeting. "Right aroun' dis way, Marse Kenny. Watch out, suh, ailse yo' scrape yo' hat off on dem branches."
He grasped the bit, after his master had dismounted in the weed-covered little roadway at the side of the house, and ceremoniously waved his hand toward the open door.
"Step right in, suh,--yas, suh,--an' make yo'self to home, suh. Sit right down front of de fiah, Marse Kenny. Ah won't be more'n two shakes, suh, stablin'--yas, suh! Come on hyar, yo' Brandy Boy! Ise gwine show yo' whar yo's gwine to be de happies' hoss in--yas, suh,--yas, suh!"
The young man looked long and searchingly through the trees before entering the house, but saw no sign of his neighbours. He thought he detected a slight movement of a curtain in one of the windows,--the parlor window, if his memory served him right.
It was late in the afternoon before he saw either of his relatives. He had had occasional glimpses of the negro servant-girl and also of a gaunt stable-man, both of whom favoured his partially obscured abode with frank interest and curiosity. A clumsy, silent hound came up to the intervening fence several times during the afternoon and inspected the newcomers with seeming indifference, an attitude which misled Zachariah into making advances that were received with alarming ill-temper.
Kenneth was on his front doorstep, contemplating with secret despair
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