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- Viola Gwyn - 40/63 -
on his arm. She did not move for many seconds. Then he heard her gasp,--a gasp of actual terror.
"Who are you?" she whispered tensely. "You are not my brother. You are not the real Kenneth Gwynne! Who are you?" She waited for the answer that did not come. Then as she drew farther away from him: "You are an impostor. You have deceived us. You have come here representing yourself to be--to be my brother,--and you are not--you are not! I know it--oh, I know it now. You are--"
This aroused him. "What is that you are saying?" he cried out, fighting to pull his disordered wits together. "Not your brother? Impostor? What are you saying, Viola?"
"I want the truth," she cried. "Are you what you claim to be?"
"Of course I am," he answered, stridently. "I am Kenneth Gwynne. Your brother. Have you lost your senses?"
"Then, why--" she began huskily. "Why did you--Oh, Kenny, I don't know what I am saying," she murmured piteously. "I--I don't know what has come over me. Something--something--Oh, I don't know what made me feel--I mean, what made me say that to you. You are Kenneth Gwynne. You are my half-brother. You are not--" "There, there!" he interrupted, his voice shaking a little. "You were frightened. I came so near to shooting--Yes, that is it. And I was so happy, so relieved that I--I almost ate you alive,--my little sister. God, what a horrible thing it would have been if I had--fired and the bullet had--"
She interrupted him, speaking rapidly, breathlessly in her effort to regain command of herself. "But you didn't--you didn't, you see,--so what is the use of worrying about it now?" She laughed jerkily. "But, my goodness, it is a good lesson for me! I'll never try to scare anybody else again as I did poor Zachariah."
He stooped and, feeling among the weeds, recovered not one but both of the long duelling pistols.
"I was after bigger game than you," he muttered. "Here are my pistols,--all primed and ready for business."
She stretched out her hand and touched one of the weapons. "Ready for what business?" she inquired. "What did you mean by a pack of ruffians?" As he did not answer at once, she went on to explain what had actually occurred, ending with, "I suppose Zachariah ran in and told you that old Black Hawk and his warriors were attacking the town."
"I couldn't get much out of him, he was so excited. But I was mortally afraid they had stolen a march on us, and you were already in their hands. You see, Isaac Stain was to have kept me informed and we were to have laid a trap for them. Oh, Lord!" he exclaimed in sudden consternation. "I am letting the cat out of the bag."
"Will you please tell me what you are talking about, Kenneth Gwynne?" she said impatiently.
He came to a quick decision. "Yes, I will tell you everything. I guess I was a fool not to have told you before,--you and your mother. There is a plot afoot, Viola, to abduct you. Stain got wind of it, through--well, he got wind of it. He came to me with the story. I don't suppose you will believe me,--and you will probably despise me for what I am about to say,--but the man you love and expect to marry is behind the scheme. I mean Barry Lapelle. He--"
"When did you hear of this?" she interrupted quickly. "After the Revere came in?"
"More than a week ago. He came home on the Revere to-day. His plan is to--"
"I know. I saw him. We quarrelled. It is all over between us, Kenny. He was furious. I thought he may have--but you say you knew of this a week ago? I don't--I can't understand it. A week ago there was no heed of--of carrying me off against my will."
"It is all over between you?" he cried, and he could not disguise the joy in his voice. "You have ended it, Viola?"
"Yes,--it is all over," she said stiffly. "I am not going to marry him. I was coming over to tell you. But--go on. What is this cock-and-bull story about abducting me? Goodness, I am beginning to feel like a girl in a story-book."
"It is no laughing matter," he said, a little gruffly. "Does it look like it when I come rushing out here with two loaded pistols and come near to shooting you? Come up to the house. We will talk it all over, and then,--" he hesitated for a moment,--"then I'll go over and see your mother."
He took her arm and led her up to the house. As they entered the front door, Zachariah's groans fell upon their ears. She looked at Kenny in alarm, and for the first time realized that he was without coat or waistcoat. His hair was tousled in evidence of his studious application to the open law books that lay on the floor.
"He must be quite badly hurt," she cried miserably. "Oh, I'm SO sorry."
Kenny went to the kitchen door. "Zachariah! Stop that groaning. You're not hurt. Here! What are you doing with that rifle?"
"Ah was jes' co-comin' out, Marse Kenny, fo' to he'p yo' kill--yas, suh! Ah was--" The remainder was lost as Kenneth deliberately closed the door behind him and walked over to the negro, who was squatting in a corner with a rifle in his hands. Viola, left alone, crossed to the window and looked out. She was pale and anxious. Her wide, alarmed eyes tried to pierce the darkness outside. Suddenly she started back, pressing her hands to her cheeks.
"Oh, my soul!" she murmured. "They could have shot him dead. He could not have seen them." She felt herself turn faint. Then a thrill of exaltation swept over her and she turned quickly toward the kitchen door, her eyes glowing. "And he was not afraid! He ran out to face them alone. He thought they were out there,--he risked being shot to save me from--"
The door opened and Kenneth came swiftly into the room. He stopped short, staring at her radiant face.
"Oh, Kenny, you--you really believed they were out there,--a crowd of them,--trying to carry me off? Why,--why, that was the bravest thing a man--"
"Shucks!" he scoffed. "My tragedy turns out to be the most uproarious farce. I've never seen a funnier one in the theatre. But there is a serious side to it, Viola. Sit down for a minute or two, and I'll tell you. Zachariah is all right. Barked his shins a little, that's all."
At the conclusion of his short, unembellished recital, he said:
"There is nothing for you to be worried about. They cannot carry out the plot. We are all forewarned now. I should have told you all this before, but I was afraid you would think I was trying to blacken Lapelle. I wanted to catch him red-handed, as the saying is. Isaac Stain is coming in to sleep here to-morrow night, and Zachariah, for all his fear of ghosts and lightning, is not afraid of men. We will be ready for them if they come,--so don't you worry."
There was a puzzled frown in her eyes. "I don't see why he should have planned this a week ago, Kenny. I had told him I would marry him. There must be something back of all this."
"Do you know anything about a friend of his who is going to be married soon? He spoke to me about it the other day, and asked if a parent could legally deprive a daughter of a share in her deceased father's--"
"Why,--that's me, Kenny," she cried excitedly. "I told him that mother would disinherit me entirely if I married him without her consent."
A light broke over him. "By jingo!" he cried. "I am beginning to see. Why, it's as plain as day to me now. The beastly scoundrel!"
"What do you mean?"
"Could your mother very well carry out her threat if he made off with you by force and compelled you to marry him, whether or no?"
She stiffened. "I would never,--never consent, Kenny. I would die first."
"I suppose you imagine there could be no worse fate than that?" he said, pity in his eyes.
She looked puzzled for a moment and then grasped his meaning. Her face blanched.
"I said I would die first," she repeated in a low, steady voice.
"Well," he cried, starting up briskly from his chair, "I guess we'd better hurry if we want to catch your mother before she goes to bed. And that reminds me, Viola,--I would like to speak with her alone. You see," he went on lamely, "you see, we're not friends and I don't know how she will receive me."
She nodded her head without speaking and together they left the house.
RACHEL DELIVERS A MESSAGE
Rachel was standing on her porch as they came up the walk. The light through the open door at her back revealed her tall, motionless figure but not her face which was in shadow.
"Kenneth wants to talk to you about something very important," said Viola unevenly, as they drew near.
The woman on the porch did not speak until they paused at the bottom of the steps.
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