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they evidently belonged. That also was long ago. If Rebecca's glance rested on them now, it was only the glance of mingled scorn and pity appropriate to misguided creatures doomed, like the butterflies fluttering in autumn sunshine, to an untimely end. Yet there they remained enthroned, with the sofa and the sign on the door and the clock which never ran down relics of the past, which would not let go.
It was four o'clock, growing dark already. Rebecca wound the clock, — it was Saturday night, threw a fresh log on the smouldering coals, and sat down in the rocker before the hearth, watching the little flames, hissing, and beginning to curl up over their prey. Shadows danced on the walls and ceiling, and red lights on the polished balls of the andirons.
It had all been like a dream, only, unlike a dream, it had not vanished. It was true and Christopher was coming Monday morning.
The beat of Rebecca's heart quickened. It had been as steady in the Squire's office as the Squire's clock, even when he said, 'You're a rich woman, Rebecca.' 'Am I?' Rebecca had said to herself. "What's more,' the Squire went on, ‘and what ain't common, your Uncle Caleb's set it down fair and square in the will,' the Squire's spectacles dropped from his forehead to his nose, "To my niece, Rebecca, in recognition of her sterling qualities."'
Rebecca's lip softened, then straightened. Uncle Caleb had bided his time.
'I've a telegram here somewhere from Christopher.' It was then Rebecca's heart gave its first jump.—'He's coming up from York.' The Squire's fingers fumbled among his papers. 'He's executor. He says, "Tell Rebecca I'll see her Monday."
Recalling this announcement, Rebecca's heart jumped again. She had
Christopher and Rebecca had played together once in the pleasant places by the brook. Christopher was a wonderful playmate. He knew every bird by its note, where it hid its nest, — in tree, in hedge, or meadow, - how many eggs the nest should hold, and of what color. He knew the bait each fish loved best, and could catch the wariest with a bent pin. No colt ever foaled on the hill had unseated him, though he had to cling desperately, bare-back, to the mane. Even the brown Durham bull looked askance at Christopher. As for the dogs, they ran to meet him at the mere sight of the stocky little figure, bare-headed, hands in ragged trousers, sure of adventure.
Where Christopher got his chief possession imagination is a secret untold. It did not grow on hilltop farms, and he was never seen with a book out of school. What tales he could tell! The little flaxen-haired girl listened to them for hours, open-mouthed, eyes bulging with wonder. He confided to her what he was going to do when he was a man. Among other things he was going to find the North Pole. He spoke of the North Pole as if it were a marble in his pocket. Wonderful hours those were, among the buttercups by the brook and, on rainy days, in the haymow! No real person walking the village street was half as real as the phantoms that trod Christopher's stage. Wonderful hours! spiced with the sense of stolen joys-for motherless Christopher was the son of the village ne'erdo-weel, without favor outside of the animal kingdom.
And then, gradually, almost insensibly, Christopher drew away, like a young sapling from its fellows of slower growth, and Rebecca was left behind, alone, clinging to childish toys, dreamland, and all the creations of Christopher's riotous imagination, outgrown and spurned now for the solid things beckoning to manlier ambition. And then, suddenly, leaping out of the dark, came one by one those events over which there is no control - Christopher's disappearance, her father's death, her mother's failing health, closing in on her like the walls of a narrowing room, walking roughshod over the dreams, hardening her hands, putting that fixed, determined look in her eyes; till one by one the actors on Christopher's stage died, its lights went out, and of those splendid hours nothing was left but a few rebellious tears shed in the 'office,' when accounts were done and the fire was very low.
After all, Christopher had run true to life. It was in the natural order of
things that he should disappear, as natural and inevitable as that the sheep should get the foot disease - predestined and foreordained, like blight and frost and potato bugs.
It was quite otherwise with Uncle Caleb. He was a surprise.
Uncle Caleb owned the mills, only four miles away, though it might as well have been a hundred. Once in a while, to be sure, he drove out to the hilltop, and Rebecca was conscious of approving glances in his shrewd gray eyes. They talked a little of the crops. Then he went away. And now he had brought Christopher back-Christopher and money at forty-eight! All the fat worms wiggling to the surface when the ground thawed out for a day could not bring the birds back in winter. Uncle Caleb was only a winter sun, waking to momentary life what would better be left to sleep.
The clock struck five. It was getting near supper-time. She covered the fire, put her desk to rights, and went out, locking the door. The key she kept in her pocket, as if there were secrets in the office to guard.
Her mother looked up as she came in. 'Rebecca, I've been thinking-' 'We can talk of that to-morrow, mother. I am tired to-night.' 'But, Rebecca, to-morrow's the Sabbath.'
'I know it,' said Rebecca grimly.
But just before going to bed, as if the word 'Christopher' was not a bombshell loaded with potentialities, in her most casual manner she let drop the sentence: 'Christopher's coming Monday, Mother.'
'Dear me! how time flies.'
A gleam of humor twinkled in Rebecca's eyes.
'I wonder if he found the North Pole.'
'Nothing. Good-night, mother.'
Rebecca had conquered the major devils on the ride home from the Squire's. They had all slunk away, cowed by that ominous word 'fifty' except one. This latter she slew before going down to breakfast Monday morning. Heroines in the books on the lower shelves behind the diamond panes invariably glanced in their mirrors before facing important interviews. Like Israel of old, Rebecca hardened her heart. Nothing on her bureau-cover would make the slightest difference, had she desired any. There would be only what she had seen hundreds of times woman almost forty-eight, not quite; slim; an oval face, tanned by wind and sun; grayish eyes quick to show certain indescribable danger-signals; the flaxen hair deepened to brown; a mouth, firm, but ready to soften; and a nose nothing the matter with it, only she did not like it. She had no interest in these things. So she went downstairs, ignoring the mirror, thereby missing what had not been seen in it since
casional 'I told you so.' Moreover, success had not spoiled Christopher. It was impossible to spoil him. "Sound as a winter apple,' Uncle Caleb had said to the Squire, when making his will. And here he was, sitting opposite Rebecca, clean-shaven, talking about Ceylon and India and London and Cairo, as familiarly as he used to talk about fairies and giants and the North Pole.
Rebecca listened as the little flaxenhaired girl had listened, her eyes growing brighter, her mouth softer, her heart lighter lighter till suddenly, lighting a cigar and looking straight in her eyes, he said:
But her mother saw, when Rebecca brought the breakfast-tray — and wondered.
Then, without warning, while pouring the coffee, a horse neighed in the yard, and there, at the hitching-post, was Christopher, the Christopher of the brook, only bigger, with the same quick confident gesture, the same compelling voice calling to her in the doorway:
'Hullo, little girl!'
Formality dropped from her like a cloak.
'Hullo, Christopher! Come in.'
Christopher had falsified hill prophecy. Persistent rumor had forced the admission that, instead of going to the bad, he had, as Uncle Caleb predicted, made good. Uncle Caleb was a shrewd old fellow, saying little beyond an oc
'Look here, Rebecca, we have business to talk over. Where shall we go?'
Except for the maid clearing the table, there was no particular reason for going anywhere; but just here the little fox, which had slipped his leash and laid the fire in the office early in the morning before anyone was up, spoke.
'We might go to the office. It's nearer than the brook - and warmer.' 'Just the place!' said Christopher. 'So the brook's still there.'
'Yes, it's still running away, Christopher.'
Not a word had he said about what she had refused to see in the mirror; but now, sitting in the rocker, the pine cones blazing and stars coming and going in the soot of the chimney-brick,
'You're looking fine, Rebecca.'
'Am I? I've got the farm in fine shape.' She parried the amused smile in his blue eyes with "Tell me about yourself, Christopher.'
He began without a moment's hesitation, just as he did in the hay-mow when she said, 'I'm ready - now begin.' Perhaps, in the hay-mow, neither of them wholly believed the things he said; but they both believed in Christopher. That was his glory and charm, his intrepid, nonchalant self-confidence, his faith in himself, serene, without a
trace of vanity. 'Why, it's easy as water running down hill,' he used to say. Listening again, Rebecca could think of nothing but the juggler she had once seen with Uncle Caleb, tossing the balls in dazzling arcs till her eyes blinked. Only now the juggler's balls were realities. Christopher had really killed a real tiger in a real jungle. The gold at the foot of the rainbow was in his pocket. He had actually made the journeys they had taken together on the magical carpet. And, little by little, her spirit kindling at the touch of his, getting the farm in fine shape dwindled to utter insignificance, the cares that worried her and the triumphs that elated her appeared miserable, petty trifles. 'I suppose I could, if I wanted to,' she murmured.
'Rebecca, you must.'
'Must what?' said Rebecca.
'Live! It's easy as rolling off a log. You're a rich woman, Rebecca rich.' She liked the sound of her name amazingly. 'Sell the farm, rent it, give it away. Do you want to spend the rest of your life'
'No, I don't,' she interjected, seeing visions; but there's mother.'
'Bless you, no!' laughed Christopher. She hurried over the thin ice, wildly, strangely happy.
'Nor found the North Pole, I reckon.' He laughed again.
"The North Pole's all right for a maypole, Rebecca, but you and I are getting along to—well, say August. Nothing grows there, no more than in your cowpasture though you have got a lot of stones out of it.'
'Yes, I have,' said Rebecca dreamily. 'Don't talk it over with your mother. Just do it. That's my motto. Do it and it's done. I have my eye on a house for you in 73d Street already.'
The color print of Washington, the clock, the bookcase, and the horsehair sofa were all fading away; the farm itself, substantial, century-old, rooted in the granite hills, dissolving in a rosy mist. She was treading air, drinking at fountains sealed for years. How could she ever have been contented to
'Where do you live, Christopher?' He was standing now beside her, his hand patting her shoulder.
'You don't have to think of me, little woman. I'm looking after you. Say, Rebecca, could you put me up for the
"That's easy. Put the breath of life night? I'd really like to go over the old
It was dazzling, the old spell was sweeping her along with him. But on the horizon hung one black cloud, in the back of her mind one awful question. She summoned all her courage, desperately.
'I suppose you are married, Christopher?'
evil with a check toward lifting the mortgage. Natural, too, was the consultation at the quarry for a monument to mark the resting-place of the ne'erdo-weel-a pyramid overtopping humbler headstones. There was a certain propriety in these retributive proceedings which appealed to Rebecca's sense of justice and humor. Above all, his invasion of the schoolhouse, scandalizing demure Miss Robbins and delighting the children by a vivid recital of former misdemeanors.
Christopher took out his notebook and plunged into figures. Rebecca was familiar with figures. They had plagued her all her life. He drew his chair beside hers and reached for her pencil, checking off the items of Uncle Caleb's inventory with comments — ‘solid — good as gold-nothing better' - while Rebecca's world, as the solid total mounted, melted steadily, ruthlessly away.
All this was exactly like Christopher; but when, after supper, her mother having gone to bed, he proposed a second adjournment to the office, she said: "There's no fire there, Christopher.'
'Well, who always built the fires in the birches, I'd like to know!'
What was the use! There was no withstanding Christopher.
So Christopher built the fire and sat in the rocker, and Rebecca sat at her desk, and the clock stared solemnly at the vacant sofa.
'It may be a wrench at first, Rebecca; the week after I went away, I was miserable for the smell of the fern, and the wild strawberries you remember, don't you? in the wood-lot. But it will be different with you. You'll get over that in no time.'
Oh, yes! Rebecca remembered. But somehow, rolling off a log did not seem quite so easy as it did to Christopher.
'Why not run down with me to-morrow?'
It was like a pistol-shot, and instantly she told the first lie of her life.
'I can't. The inspector's coming tomorrow, to look over the herd.'
'Put him off. Leave it to Hansen.' Nothing ever daunted Christopher. 'I can't,' she repeated helplessly. She was looking Truth in the face, bravely, ready for any number of lies if necessary. What would happen to her immortal soul was of no consequence.
"You see, Rebecca,' said Christopher when she gave him his candle at the foot of the stairs, 'you haven't got to worry about the farm. It cuts no ice anyway. Think it over."
"That's right. And say, Rebecca, don't bother about me. I'm going to catch the early train.' His blue eyes twinkled. 'Just leave a piece of pie on the table. I have n't forgotten. Goodnight, little woman. You'll see straight by morning. There's nothing like a good night's sleep to clear away the fog.' 'No,' said Rebecca. 'Good-bye, Christopher.'
Alone in her room, Rebecca went to the mirror. She was not afraid of it now. The little foxes were as dead as the major devils.
She sat down by her window. A white mist hung over the brook. The tops of the birches were still, like floating islands. But there was no fog in her heart. It was clear as daylight. It was daylight, and sleighbells were jingling in the yard.
In the office Hansen was fumbling his cap. I thought, Miss Rebecca, seeing as how Mr. Christopher talked about selling well—maybe I might like to buy it myself.'
Rebecca did not move a muscle.
'I have n't the least idea of selling. You can see those people to-day about running the wire up from the mill.'