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- Viola Gwyn - 60/63 -

Don't you give me credit for having a mind of my own? And, mother, I've just got to say it, even if it is insolent,--I will be very much obliged to you if you will allow me to make up my own mind about Kenny. It is not for you or anybody else to say I am in love with him."

"Oh, don't go away angry, Viola," cried Kenneth, distressed. "Let's forget all we've said and--"

"I don't want to forget all we've said," she exclaimed, stamping her foot. "How dare you come over here and tell me you love me and then ask me to forget--Oh, if that's all it amounts to with you, Kenneth, I dare say I can make up my mind right now. I--"

"You will find, Kenneth," broke in her mother drily, "that she has a temper."

"I guess he has found that out before this," said Viola, from the doorstep. "He has had a taste of it. If he doesn't like--"

"I am used to tempers," said he, now lightly. "I have a devil of a temper myself."

"I don't believe it," she cried. "You've got the kindest, sweetest, gentlest nature I've ever--"

"Come and sit down, Viola," interrupted her mother, arising. "I am going in the house myself."

"You needn't, mother. I am going to bed. Good night, Kenny."

"I came to say good-bye," he reminded her.

She paused with her hand on the latch. He heard the little catch in her breath. Then she turned impulsively and came back to him. He was still standing on the ground, several feet below her.

"What a beast I am, Kenny," she murmured contritely. "I waited out here all evening for you to come over so that I could say good-bye and tell you how much I shall miss you,--and to wish you a speedy and safe return. And you paid me a great compliment,--the greatest a girl can have. I don't deserve it. But I will miss you, Kenny,--I will miss you terribly. Now, I MUST go in. If I stay another second longer I'll say something mean and spiteful,--because I AM mean and spiteful, and no one knows it better than I do. Good-bye, Kenneth Gwynne."

"Good-bye, Minda Carter," he said softly, and again raised her hand to his lips. "My little Minda grown up to be the most beautiful queen in all the world."

She turned and fled swiftly into the house. They heard her go racing up the stairs,--then a door open and slam shut again.

"She would be very happy to-night, Kenneth, if it were not for one thing," said Rachel. "I still stand in the way. She cannot give herself to you except at a cost to me. There can be nothing between you until I stand before the world and say there is no reason why you should not be married to each other. Do you wonder that she does not know her own heart?"

"And I would not deserve her love and trust if I were to ask you to pay that price, Rachel Carter," said he steadily.

"Good-bye, Kenneth," she said, after a moment. She held out her hand. "Will you take my hand,--just this once, boy?"

He did not hesitate. He grasped the hard, toil-worn hand firmly in his.

"We can never be friends, Rachel Carter,--but, as God is my witness, I am no longer your enemy," he said, with feeling. "Good-bye."

He was half-way down to the gate when she called to him:

"Wait, Kenneth. Moll has something for you."

He turned back and met Moll Hawk as she came swiftly toward him.

"Here's somethin' fer you to carry in your pocket, Mr. Gwynne," said the girl in her hoarse, low-pitched voice. "No harm c'n ever come to you as long as you got this with you,--in your pocket er anywheres. Hit's a charm an old Injin chief give my Pap when he wuz with the tribe, long before I wuz born. Pap lost it the day before he wuz tooken up by the sheriff, er else he never would ha' had setch bad luck. I found it day before yesterday when I wuz down to the cabin, seein' about movin' our hogs an' chickens an' hosses over to Mis' Gwyn's barn. The only reason the Injun give it to Pap wuz because he wuz over a hundred years old an' didn't want to warn off death no longer. Hit's just a little round stone with somethin' fer all the world like eyes an' nose an' mouth on one side of it,--jest as if hit had been carved out, only hit wuzn't. Hit's jest natural. Hit keeps off sickness an' death an' bad luck, Mr. Gwynne. Pap knowed he wuz goin' to ketch the devil the minute he found out he lost it. I tole Miss Violy I wanted fer you to have it with you while you wuz off fightin' the Injuns, an' she said she'd love me to her dyin' day if I would give you the loan of it. Mebby you don't believe in charms an' signs an' all setch, but it can't hurt you to carry it an'--an' hit's best to be on the safe side. Please keep it, Mr. Gwynne."

It was a round object no bigger than a hickory nut. He had taken it from her and was running his thumb over its surface while she was speaking. He could feel the tiny nose and the little indentations that produced the effect of eyes.

"Thank you, Moll," he said, sincerely touched. "It's mighty good of you. I will bring it back to you, never fear, and I hope that after it has served me faithfully for a little while it may do the same for you till you, too, have seen a hundred and don't want to live any longer. What was it Miss Viola said to you?"

"I guess I hadn't ought to said that," she mumbled. "Anyhow, I ain't goin' to say it over again. Good-bye, Mr. Gwynne,--and take good keer o' yourself."

With that she hurried back to the house, and he, after a glance up at the second story window which he knew to be Viola's, bent his steps homeward.

His saddle-bags were already packed, his pistols cleaned and oiled; the long-barrelled rifle he had borrowed from the tavern keeper was in prime order for the expedition. Zachariah had gotten out his oldest clothes, his thick riding boots, a linsey shirt and the rough but serviceable buckskin cap that old Mr. Price had hobbled over to the office to give him after the first day of drill with the sententious remark that a "plug hat was a perty thing to perade around in but it wasn't a very handy sort of a hat to be buried in."

His lamp burned far into the night. He tried to read but his thoughts would not stay fixed on the printed page. Not once but many times he took up from the table a short, legal-looking document and re-read its contents, which were entirely in his own cramped, scholastic hand save for the names of two witnesses at the end. It was his last will and testament, drawn up that very day. Minda Carter was named therein as his sole legatee,--"Minda Carter, at present known as Viola Gwyn, the daughter of Owen and Rachel Carter." His father had, to all intents and purposes, cut her off without a penny, an injustice which would be righted in case of his own death.

It was near midnight when he blew out the light and threw himself fully dressed upon the bed. Sleep would not come. At last, in desperation, he got up and stole guiltily, self-consciously out into the yard, treading softly lest he should wake the vehement Zachariah in his cubbyhole off the kitchen. Presently he was standing at the fence separating the two yards, his elbows on the top rail, his gloomy, lovelorn gaze fixed upon Viola's darkened window.

The stars were shining. A cool, murky mantle lay over the land. He did not know how long he had been standing there when his ear caught the sound of a gently-closing door. A moment later a dim, shadowy figure appeared at the corner of the house, stood motionless for a few seconds, and then came directly toward him. The blood rushed thunderously to his head. He could not believe his senses. He had been wishing--aye, vainly wishing that by some marvellous enchantment she could be transported through the dark little window into his arms. He rubbed his eyes.

"Viola!" he whispered.

"Oh, Kenny," she faltered, and her voice was low and soft like the sighing of the wind. "I--I am so ashamed. What will you think of me for coming out here like this?"

The god of Love gave him wings. He was over the fence, she was in his arms, and he was straining the warm, pliant body close to his bursting breast. His lips were on hers. He felt her stiffen and then relax in swift surrender. Her heart, stilled at first, began to beat tumultuously against his breast; her free arm stole about his neck and tightened as the urge of a sweet, overwhelming passion swept over her.

At last she released herself from his embrace and stood with bowed head, her hands pressed to her eyes.

"I didn't mean to do it,--I didn't mean to do this," she was murmuring.

"You love me,--you love me," he whispered, his voice trembling with joy. He drew her hands down from her eyes and held them tight in his own. "Say you do, Viola,--speak the words."

"It must be love," she sighed. "What else could make me feel as I do now,--as I did when you were holding me,--and kissing me? Oh,--oh,--yes, I DO love you, Kenny. I know it now. I love you with all my soul." She was in his arms again. "But," she panted a little later, "I swear I didn't know it when I came out here, Kenny,--I swear I didn't."

"Oh, yes, you did," he cried triumphantly. "You've known it all the time, only you didn't understand."

"I wonder," she mused. Then quickly, shyly: "I had no idea it could come like this,--that it would BE like this. I feel so queer. My knees are all trembly,--it's the strangest feeling. Now you must let me go, Kenny. I must not stay out here with you. It is terribly late. I--"

Viola Gwyn - 60/63

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