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- The Re-Creation of Brian Kent - 10/41 -
trembling, now, with eagerness and anxiety.
"I'm plumb sorry, Auntie Sue, but I didn't. You see, we were so busy on this job, I clean forgot about stopping here; and, besides, we might have caught our man before we got this far, you see."
"Of course," returned Auntie Sue, "I should have thought of that; but I have been rather anxious about an important letter that seems to have been delayed. Some of the neighbors will probably be going to the office to-day, though. Good-bye! You know you are always welcome, Sheriff; and you, too, Mr. Ross, if you should ever happen to be in this part of the country again."
"A wonderful old woman, Ross," commented Sheriff Knox as they were riding away. And the quiet, business-looking detective, whose life had been spent in combating crime and deception, answered, as he waved farewell to Auntie Sue, who watched them from the door of the little log house by the river, "A very wonderful woman, indeed,-- the loveliest old lady I have ever met,--and the most remarkable."
THAT WHICH IS GREATER THAN THE LAW.
When she had watched Sheriff Knox and his two companions ride out of sight, Auntie Sue turned slowly back into the house to face Judy, who stood accusingly in the kitchen doorway.
For what seemed a long time, the old gentlewoman and the deformed mountain girl stood silently looking at each other. Then Auntie Sue nervously crossed the room to lay the newspaper, which the Sheriff had given her, on the table beside her basket of sewing.
Without speaking, Judy followed her, watching every movement intently.
Turning to face her companion again, Auntie Sue stood, still speechless, clasping and unclasping her thin old hands.
Judy spoke in her shrill, drawling monotone: "You-all have sure fixed hit this here time, hain't you? Can't you-all see what a hell of a hole you've done got us inter?"
When Auntie Sue apparently could not reply, Judy continued: "Just as if hit wasn't more 'n enough for you-all ter go an' wear yourself plumb out a-takin' keer of that there ornery, no-'count feller, what I never ought ter dragged out of the river nohow. An', now, you-all got ter go an' just naturally lie like you did ter the Sheriff an' that there deteckertive man. I was plumb scared to death a-listenin' ter you through the crack in the kitchen door. I 'lowed every minute they'd ketch you, sure. My Lord-A'mighty! ma'm, can't you-all figger what'll happen ter weuns if they ever finds out that weuns done had him hid right here in this here house all the time? I never heard tell of such dad burned, fool doin's in all my born days! I sure wish ter God that there old John-boat had a-tuck him off down the river an' smashed him up agin Elbow Rock, like hit ort, an' not a-fetched him ter our door ter git weuns in jail for savin' his worthless, no-'count hide,--I sure do!"
"But, Judy, I never in all my life did such a thing before," said Auntie Sue in a tremulous whisper, too overwrought to speak aloud.
"You-all ain't a-needin' ter do hit but onct, neither. Onct is sure a heap plenty for that there big Sheriff man. Just look what he did ter my pap! He's jailed pap seven times, that I kin rec'lect. God-A'mighty knows how many times he ketched him 'fore I was borned. An' pap, he didn't do so mighty much ary time, neither."
"I just had to do it, Judy, dear," protested Auntie Sue. "It seemed as if I simply could not tell the truth: something wouldn't let me."
Judy, unheeding her companion's agitation, continued reviewing the situation: "An' just look at all the money you-all done lost!"
"Money?" questioned Auntie Sue.
"Yep, 'money:'--that there reward what they'd a-paid you-all if you-all hadn't a-lied like you did. I reckon as how there'd a-been as much, maybe, as what was in that there letter you-all done sent ter the bank an' ain't never heard tell of since. Hit's most likely clean gone by now, an' here you done gone an' throw'd this other away,--plumb throw'd hit away!"
At this, Auntie Sue's spirit suddenly flashed into fiery indignation.
"Judith Taylor," she said sharply, "how can you suggest such a wicked thing? Why, I would--I would--DIE before I would accept a penny for doing such a thing!"
And it was Judy, now, who stood silent and abashed before the aroused Auntie Sue.
"Don't ever speak of such a thing again!" continued the old lady. "And remember, we must be more careful than ever, now, not to let any one--not a soul--know that Mr.--Mr.--Burns is in the house, or that we ever saw him!"
"That there deteckertive man said as how the feller's name was Brian Kent, didn't be?" muttered the sullen Judy.
"I don't care what the detective man said!" retorted Auntie Sue. "I am telling you that his name is Brian Burns, and you had better remember it! You had better remember, too, that if anybody ever finds out the truth about him, you and I will go right along to jail with him!"
"Yes, ma'm; I sure ain't aimin' ter forgit that," replied the humbled Judy; and she slouched away to the kitchen.
Auntie Sue went to the door of Brian Kent's room. But, with her hand outstretched toward the latch, she hesitated. Had he heard? The Sheriff's voice had been so loud. She feared to enter, yet she knew that she must. At last, she knocked timidly, and, when there was no answer, knocked again, louder. Cautiously, she opened the door.
The man lay with his face to the wall,--to all appearances fast asleep.
She tiptoed to the bed, and stood looking down upon the stranger for whom, without a shadow of reason,--one would have said,--she had violated one of the most deeply rooted principles of her seventy years.
To Auntie Sue, daughter of New England Puritanism, and religious to the deeps of her being, a lie was abhorrent,--and she had lied,-- deliberately, carefully, and with painstaking skill she had lied. She had not merely evaded the truth; she had lied,--and that to save a man of whom she knew nothing except that he was a fugitive from the law. And the strangest thing about it was this, that she was glad. She could not feel one twinge of regret for her sin. She could not even feel that she had, indeed, sinned. She had even a feeling of pride and triumph that she had lied so successfully. She was troubled, though, about this new and wholly unexpected development in her life. It had been so easy for her. She had lied so naturally, so instinctively.
She remembered how she had spoken to Brian Kent of the river and of life. She saw, now, that the river symbolized not only life as a whole, with its many ever-changing conditions and currents, amid which the individual must live;--the river symbolized, as truly, the individual life, with its ever-changing moods and motives,--its ever-varying and often-conflicting currents of instinct and training,--its infinite variety of intellectual deeps and shallows,--its gentle places of spiritual calm,--and its wild and turbulent rapids of dangerous passion.
"What hitherto unsuspected currents in her life-river," she asked herself, "had carried her so easily into falsehood? What strange forces were these," she wondered, "that had set her so suddenly against honesty and truthfulness and law and justice? And this stranger,--this wretched, haggard-faced, drunken creature, who had been brought by the mysterious currents of life to her door,--what was there in him that so compelled her protecting interest? What was it within him, deeply hidden under the repellent exterior of his being, that had so awakened in her that strange feeling of possession,--of motherhood?"
It was not strange that, in her mental and spiritual extremity, the dear old gentlewoman's life-long habit should lead her to kneel beside the stranger's bed and pray for understanding and guidance. It was significant that she did not ask her God to forgive the lie.
And, presently, as she prayed, she felt the man on the bed move. Then a hand lightly touched her hair. She remained very still for a little,--her head still bowed. The hand that touched so reverently the silvery gray hair trembled a little. Slowly, the old teacher raised her face to look at him; and the Irish blue eyes of Brian Kent were wide with wondering awe and glowing with a light that warmed her heart and strengthened her.
"Why did you do it?" he asked. "You wonderful, wonderful woman! Why did you do it?"
Slowly, she rose from her knees to sit beside him on the bed. "You heard?"
He nodded his head, not trusting himself to speak.
"I was afraid the Sheriff talked too loud," she said.
"But, why did you do it?" he persisted.
"I think it was because I couldn't do anything else," she answered, with her little chuckling laugh. Then she added, seriously: "How could I let them take you away? Are you not mine? Did not the river bring you to me?"
"I must tell you," he answered, sadly, "that what the detective told you about me is true."
"Yes?" she answered, smiling.
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