The Evasion of Florida Lusk

Alice MacGowan September 1 1911

The Evasion of Florida Lusk

Alice MacGowan September 1 1911

The Evasion of Florida Lusk

Alice MacGowan

I.

LIGHT flashed out from the cabin: Aunt Zarepta had set all in order there, and lit the fire. Hearne Lusk lifted his seventeen-year-old, stolen bride down over the wagon-wheel and drove on to the small log shed, to put up his team. Florida hesitated shyly at the gate where she had been left, childishly timid lest the old woman linger still in the house. But, the horses fed, Hearne came running to her, eagerly, swiftly, on a bridegroom’s light feet, and caught her up in an impetuous clasp. His struggle for this girl had been desperate and embittering. The Sterretts, with all their kith and kin, cherished an age-long feud against the tribe of Lusk and its dependencies and hangers-on. There were numerous killings to the credit—or discredit—of both sides. To-day, the vendetta was a sleeping one, that might at a touch break forth, and Hearne Lusk had risked his life for the girl in his arms, risked it for the mere sight of her often during that secret courtship. He had walked to the settlement once to have a bullet cut out of his shoulder; he had cheerfully taken a shot at Florida’s elder brother when that zealous guardian waylaid him on another occasion; and, with all the tremulous triumph of this moment he knew that his risks were not over.

Florida liked Carter Broyles well enough till Hearne broke up that affair —why, they had the girl almost wedded to the fellow; they came as near putting compulsion on her to bring about the match as a mountain family ever does; yet the charm of Hearne Lusk’s dark, passionate eyes, and bold though clandes-

tine wooing, took her away from them all. He had married her and brought her to the little cabin which he had builded and furnished for her, mostly with his own hands, a habitation far removed from the Sterrett settlement, and with but one neighbor near it, an old kinswoman of his own, Zarepta Fulgham. Now, as he kissed her and walked with his arm about her toward their own door, the dangers still to be thought of presented themselves, despite his love and ardor, and the triumphant joy of the moment.

The history of the Croffuts came darkly to his mind. Twenty years ago, Lusk Croffut, Hearne’s cousin, had run away with and married Lissy Mably, a connection of these same sterretts. The pair lived together less than five years, and the Sterretts never let Croffut speak to his children after the wife stole them and returned to her tribe. Grimmer still was the story of Buck Tamplin. Buck would have the Willett girl, with whose people his own were at feud. The Willets made up with Susy afterward, and used to come about the place when her husband was away. Presently the young couple quarreled. And then one morning a neighbor found Buck’s cabin with its door swinging wide, the hounds howling in the front yard, his wife fled home to her people, and Buck himself lying across the threshold with a knife stickng in his back. Oh, yes—that was feud work. All through the long drive over in the jolting wagon, the rapture of possession had surged strong in Hearne Lusk’s veins. It throbbed no iess exultantly still.

“We’re home, Floridy — we’re home, darlin’. Yo’ mine now,” he whispered, holding her close. Then, as his sinister

recollections yet obtruded upon the hour’s consummation, he suddenly swung the girl around in front of him with a masterful arm that lifted her almost off her feet, and his hand on her shoulder, pushed her back a little, to stare into her upraised countenance, where the two stood in the broad, flickering fire and lampshine.

“ ‘For this cause shall a man forsake father and mother’—and that means a woman, too, Floridy—that means you, as well as me. If you ain’t ready to forsake them Sterretts, each and every, right now”—he named them over fiercely, her family and kin—“and never speak word to one of ’em again, you’d better tell me before you step foot in that house.”

The girl in his grasp flung back her head and returned his gaze with eyes blue like wild gentians, long-fringed and adoring, a child’s eyes, shaded by a flying thatch of bronze-brown hair. And the smile that answered his look was adoring too. She met his demand with no hint of demur or unwillingness.

“I don’t care if I never put eyes on one of ’em again, Hearne,” she declared swiftly, exultantly, in that eager voice which had but lately dealt with such matters as a doll’s frock, the swapping of quilt pieces, or the negotiating of “a turrible hard word” in the blue-backed speller. “I’ve got you—you, darlin—and that’s all I want in this world.” She laughed out suddenly. “You needn’t trouble yourself so greatly, neither,” she told him. “Pappy has done give the word that he’ll settle with any one of the fambly that dares speak to. me. Ain’t no danger that I’ll go back to my folks when you an’ me falls out, honey.”

Fall out ! Hearne Lusk hugged the slim, pliant, warm young figure hard to his heart, and, lifting her so, ran with her up the path to the cabin, and carried her across the threshold.

When he had set her down, she was silent a moment, looking about her. Then the wild gentian eyes filled slowly with sweet tears, lingering on the mute evidences of Hearne’s love and care. There on the wall beside the hearth were shelves, rough, but ample and convenient; there was the kitchen table, and beside it the churn-dash and lid, while below sat the four-gallon stone-ware jar that

was the churn. Ranged in their places were the maple"“bowl for mixing bread, the stirring-spoon and spurtle of whittled cedar—all made by his own hands.

“Oh, Hearne—oh, Hearne—It’s just beautiful!” she whispered, turning to him passionately. “And you done it all for me—for me!” She caught the big man around the neck and hid her face on his breast. “Looks like they oughtn’t to be nothing — nothing on earth — I wouldn’t give up for yo’ sake.”

“You an’ me is agoin’ to be mighty happy here,” he told her again and again, his lips against her hair. “They ain’t but one thing we could fall out over, and that would be ef you should ever speak to one of yo’ daddy’s fambly. Hit’s war betwixt me an’ the Sterretts. You’re a Lusk now, honey girl. Hit’s obliged to be the same with you. ILit’d be all over betwixt us time you begun to have dealin’s with any Sterrett, an’ you needn’t never doubt it.” Thus he strove to hedge and wall his little croft of happiness, the field of his heart, hoping to reap therein, in years to come, its guarded harvest of love and peace. And Florida was zealous in acquiescence.

The months went past swift-footed to the two in the cabin that hung like a nest in Chestnut Creek Gap. It was in December that Hearne had brought his bride home. At first he contrived many little improvements and conveniences about the place. As the winter wore away, he plowed, and harrowed, and made ready the truck patch, and he put in a bit of corn and some other small crops.

But in avoiding the Sterrett neighborhood, and cutting himself off from his own people—only less alienated than Florida’s—Lusk had built the nest for his love far from the source of supply for their simple daily life. Their little hoard of savings, buried in a tin baking-powder box beneath the hearth, was getting low. The conviction grew upon Hearne that, unless he left Florida and went out with his team to earn some ready money, the approach of the next winter would find them without enough to go through comfortably. And so one evening in April, when they sat in the twilight on the front door-stone, Florida’s head with its bright hair leaned against her husband’s arm, he looked for a long time off towards the

West, where a thin new moon hung just over a sunset, clear, tranquil, lemon-colored. A whippoorwill raised its plaintive importunity down by the creek. Then it was silent for a moment; and dubiously, haltingly, Hearne brought forward the suggestion of tan-bark hauling.

“Looks like I’ve got obliged to do somethin’, an’ that pretty soon. I don’t know anything that’d make as much— not right now—as tan-bark haulin’ ”— watching her face as well as he could in the dusk; “but hit’d take me away from you. Hit’d shore leave you mighty lonesome, I’m afeared.”

Keyed to close sympathy with the girl beside him, he seemed to feel a curious quality in the moment’s silence which followed. Florida raised her head a bit and gazed about her, then shot a swift enigmatic glance at him, before she answered meekly:

“You’ bound to know what’s best, Hearne. Do as you think well.”

“I’d shore come home every Sa’day night,” he told her eagerly, anxious to reassure her, if she doubted that it was hard for him to go away.

“I know you would—if you could,” Florida assented. “An’ I’ll be a-watchin’ for you, come Sa’day. But any time you needed to stay, or the weather kept you, you have no call to be frettin’ about me. I’ve got my work, and if I need he’p I can go over to Aunt Zarepty’s, and call her in.”

So it was arranged. Lusk took his team of the lean mountain horses, whose performance is so far in excess of what their appearance would seem to promise, and hauled tan-bark for The Company, down where, eight miles below the Gap and the little cabin, Chestnut Creek rolls into the river. He and his outfit made a link in the train of tan-bark wagons, each with its dark cubic mass swaying in its high frame, the drivers atop calling news or jests back and forth to one another, brakes screaming all the way down the Side. Sometimes the men sang by twos, or yodeled through the valley, as they brought the empty wagons back in the evening. But no slim figure stood in the doorway to welcome! Hearne, the sun striking upon a bright head; and he was often a prey to anxiety when he considered Florida’s lonely life there in the Gap.

And Florida? She filled her solitary days with an endless round of little tasks and duties. There was Spotty, the gentle, under-sized, resourceful mountain cow that Hearne had brought from the home place. Spotty had a calf in April. With what pride Florida went out to the milking gap at evening with her pail, and laid down the bars and called; with what pride she carried in the milk, and cared for it, and skimmed, and churned, and worked the butter! And there was the pig to look after, and a few hens with their broods—it wouldn’t be long before she could give Hearne fried chicken when he came home. There was her garden— her truck-patch, that Hearne had made so well—she tended it faithfully. By the direct or indirect aid of old Zarepta, once each week — sometimes twice — her little store of butter and the choicest of the vegetables, and presently a squawking “fryer” or so, found their way to the distant settlement, and the small sums that came back in payment were carefully hoarded. She loved to be out in the June of the mountains, with its wonderful purple distances, its flying shadows of summer clouds; its silver skeins of rain, and fragrant damps in the forest. And in early June waves of laurel and purple rhododendron began billowing up the steep sides of the gulch. The long, long, exquisite, silent, dreaming days followed each other, .rain washed, sun filled, drenched with a still intense beauty and sweetness. Full to the brim, too, for Florida, with homely tasks and enterprises. She had always a long itemized account of undertaking and accomplishment for her man’s return ; and she came to him with it, hurrying, eager, like an anxious, approbative child. Yet Hearne’s stay down in Lower Chestnut began almost immediately to be plagued with reports of Florida’s attending play-parties— play-parties—she, a married woman!

He asked her about the first one : he had missed getting home for two Saturdays and so had not seen her for three weeks. She answered, with a little catch of the breath, but an entirely unmoved countenanced, that she had gone over to help the Dease girls out with supper.

“Wasn’t that a mighty long trip for you, honey child, alone, in the night?” questioned Hearne, in surprise.

“Yes, hit would ’a’ been a sorter far ja’nt,” assented Florida; “but Aunt Zarepty, she was agoin’ over to take ’em some truck she’d cooked, and so we went together. Do ye know, Hearne,” she added sagely, “hit looks curious to me that folks can pleasure theirselves with such as that? Hit made me reel right funny to think that less’n a year ago I used to go to play-parties myse’f.”

Reassuring words; yet two weeks later old Lige Groner stopped to tell Hearne that he’d better look after that woman of his’n—she was gettin’ a heap too gay.

“My gals tells me that Floridy’s been to two play-parties in the last week,” the old mischief-rnaker related, with gusto, bending over his horse’s neck to switch its forelegs free of flies. “Floridy Sterrett was the sightliest gal on Caney Fork. Her and Cyarter Broyles was mighty nigh wedded when you come along an’ grabbed the gal, an’ ef you go off and leave her to run her own machine like you’re a-doin’, I don’t blame her for hikin’ out to play-parties an’ sech, where Cyarter’s at—darned if I do!” he ended with a wheezy laugh. But Hearne Lusk turned on him a look so black that he hastily thumped his heels into the old sorrel’s ribs and ambled on without more words.

Carter Broyles ! That evening, when ' work was done, Hearne went over to the pay-shed and stated briefly that he was obliged to go home, though it was but Friday. The man behind the rough desk looked up and laughed at him goodnaturedly. To Hearne, who was seeing red, hidden mockery sounded in the laugh.

“I reckon you want to get off for the dance at Ventner’s” the paymaster said as he counted out the money.

Hearne growled an unintelligible answer. Yet, once mounted on his wagon-seat, facing the red light of an evening sky, the suggestion wrought in his mind. Andy Ventner’s place was not so much out of his way, and—well, he would see. The trip was a long one, and by the time he approached the vicinity of Ventner’s farm it was late—nearly nine o’clock—and those who were for the dance had already arrived ; he had the green silence of the woods-road to himself. Chin on breast, he brooded. Surely he had loved Florida. He went back

over his own conduct, and decided that, if there were any fault, he had loved her too well. That was it—he had given her too much of himself, and she had tired of him, and turned to an earlier lover.. The thought was fire.

Tethering his horses in a little glade, he stole through the grove toward the lights and sounds that told of merrymaking He would watch to-night. He would not go in to the dance and confront her there,, as he first intended. He would'

watch outside, and then-. He never

completed that sentence in his own mind. There were three cabins on the slope; and the window and door of each sent forth long streams of ruddy shine; while from one sounded the thin, jigging staccato of the countryman’s fiddle. Hearne listened to the thud and stamp of feet on the floor, dancing to the tune of Muskrat; and stole nearer to see if he could identify any of the figures that crossed the light as Florida—or Carter Broyles. While he watched fruitlessly the dancers within, suddenly Florida came slipping past a doorway outside, looking back over her shoulder, her fluttering calico dress caught close around her. It was Florida —there was no mistaking the set of the graceful head on the slim neck, the burden of bright hair. An indistinct figure in the shadow of the house joined her, and they sat down together, apparently to talk.

The man in the grove stood there long, fighting with himself, trying hard to get where he dared to go forward and speak to his wife. To kill Carter Broyles now would not give him back Florida—little Florida—as she had been. He must think what he ought to do. The jiggling fiddler changed to “Citieo,” and then the dancers called for “Old Joe Clark.” To Hearne Lusk, hidden in the grove, the bright glare of the interior, the heavy stamping, that swift movement, and the loud, gay, calling, encouraging, protesting, exclaiming voices, all were but a dim background to what was going on there in the shadowed angle outside. When he won at last to sufficient calmness, and strode up to the bench by the wall, it was empty.

“Hello, Hearne!” shouted somebody from the door. “You here?”

“Yes,” returned Lusk, raising a ghastly face to his host’s gaze. “I was passing along—going by, you see—and I ’lowed I’d stop in and git my wife.”

Old man Ventner came out effusively —quite too effusively, Ilearne thought.

“Floridy?” he said doubtfully (uneasily, it seemed to Lusk), “Well, now, as it chances, Floridy was here early this evening. She never come to the dance ; but she happened in, like—same as you did, mebbe. She’s gone home, I reckon. Won’t ye stay, Hearne—now yo’ here? Come in—come in and have a drink, anyhow.”

But Hearne was on fire to be gone. If the old man was lying to him, if Florida was still in the house, with that—whoever it was—that she had been talking to on the bench by the door, he wanted to get home and find it out. If what Ventner said was the truth, he would face her the sooner, and know it. He stumbled back to his team, tore them loose from the branches where he had tied them, and started off through the woods by a short cut, difficult to find even in daylight.

The short cut, after the manner of its kind, delayed and befooled him. He was fumbling about for its dim trace, when the joyous clamor of a coon-hunt came to him far ahead and to his left. While he still hesitated, at fault, the rout streamed athwart his course, hounds yelping eagerly, four or five young fellows whooping, skylarking, and cheering on each his dog by name. For that one moment when they plunged across the open track, the tall forest stood illumined, every wayside bush was distinct, and Hearne’s road was clear to him. Yet instead of whipping up and hastening ahead, his arm involuntarily dragged the horses back almost to their haunches. For of these laughing young faces, danced upon by the ruddy shine of the pine torches, he could have sworn that one was that of Carter Broyles.

The hunt, with its trail of dim light, its whooping men and baying dogs, bore off to his right. Presently Hearne relaxed his arm and drove slowly ahead. Well, whether that was Carter Broyles or not, the only thing to do Avas to get home and see how Florida looked and what she said. When he reached his oAvn

cabin it was midnight. In a daze of uncertainty, he put the horses up, and approached his dwelling with a heart that labored high in his throat. Florida answered his hail, opening the door just as she had apparently risen from her bed. She was plainly amazed to see her husband, and, it seemed to him, uneasy.

“W’y—Av’y, Hearne, honey!” she cried. “I never looked for ye to—is anything the matter at-?”

“I come a-past Ventner’s—the dance

-” he broke in upon her, and then

could have bitten his tongue off for speaking before there Avas any light by Avhich he might see and study her face. But he got the quick gasp with which she received his news—he made the most he could of that.

“Did ye—did ye see me thar?” she faltered finally. She Avas kneeling on the hearth to bloAv the coals bright, that she might light a candle. “I went over to take Miz’ Ventner some carpet chain I been dyeing for her” — holding up small, yellow-stained fin-

gers to shoAv that they had been in the dye-pot. “I—I never studied ’bout hit bein’ the evenin’ of the dance. I wished I hadn’t Avent, after I found that out.”

Hearne looked at her dumbly. He had parted his lips to ask her who it was that she sat talking Avith on the bench in the shadoAv of the door. Suddenly he closed them and turned away. What was the use? If a woman aimed to deceive you, she could lie. The dark thought came to him that he could learn more by keeping his OAvn counsel and appearing satisfied Avith her explanations.

All through the night that brought nrt sleep to him, the Avhisper was in Hearne Lusk’s ear that Florida was a Sterrett after all. Yes, he saw it noAv ; she had been good and Avilling to have him take work at a distance. She had always let him go without complaint or repining ; the spells of depression and Aveeping which he had at first—fond fool !—accounted for with his absence, Avere indeed dispelled by them. Had not his wife eA^en seemed to anticipate his departure with an excited joy Avhich plainly looked beyond to something desirable that she could not share Avith him? Had he not always found her refreshed and cheerful AAdien he re-

turned? Writhing in soul beneath these sinister suggestions, he yet forced himself to lie silent and motionless. He knew that at last Florida slept ; but for him the night wore away in wakeful torment. About dawn a thought came to him—a test—and he rose ready to apply it.

“Floridy,” he began slowly at the breakfast-table, fixing his brooding dark eyes upon the face opposite him, “the Company has done offered me a stiddy job over at Far Cove.”

“That’s good,” said his wife absently. Her blue eyes were on something outside window, and she smiled to herself. “I reckon you’ll take it, won’t ye, Hearne?”

Lusk looked at her and drew his breath sharply. Where was the loving, tender, childlike bride he had brought home to his cabin but a few months ago — the clinging sweetheart he had carried across its threshold, her arms close around his neck? He swallowed once convulsively before he spoke. It seemed impossible to reach this girl. He felt miles away from the soul of her.

“I reckon I will,” he said. “Could you be ready to move, come Wednesday?”

Florida looked around at him with a frightened stare. Her young face crimsoned, then abruptly bleached to startling pallor.

“To move?” she whispered after him. “I cain’t go away from here, Hearne. Sure enough, I cain't. Oh. you won't ask me to go away from—here—will ye? I ll be so good, honey. I'll do anything you ask me to—but that. How long you goin’ to be workin’ at the far end of the Cove, Hearne?”

“About six months,” he told her sullenly. “What’s the matter with you on the subject of movin'? Other men’s wives go to whar the work is. What’s the matter with you?”

“Nothin’—nothin’, Hearne.” she hastened to assure him. “It’s just that we’ve got sech a good truck-patch planted here ; and there’s my little chicken-house you made me. And Spotty, she’s used to this range now; she’d hate mighty bad to change. And the Seb’m Stars is agoin’ down at dark, Hearne—hit’d be a mighty bad time—to—Hearne, there ain’t nobody—nobody in the neighborhood that I hate to leave, of course—you'd know it wasn’t that-”

She broke off on a wavering note that had no conviction in it. Lusk—ashamed to look at her—sat and eyed the floor.

“Well”—he got to his feet heavily— “hit's a pretty bad business when a man’s wife won't go with him where he has obliged to go to earn the livin’,” he said finally. “But bein’ as them’s yo’ ruthers, I’ll work down to the Far Cove by my lonesome, and when you want me you kin send word for me—do vou understand that. Floridy?”

“Hearne”—she came fawning about him, with her palms out and her piteous eyes raised—“don’t you go and git mad at me. I—just leave me stay here till

you come back, an’ I'll have everything fixed up so pretty you’ll be glad you let me do my way.”

The man turned that dark face, lit by its passionate eyes, full upon her; the little, slim, weak-looking thing, so pretty and childish—a Sterrett, and already following her own secret devices. She didn’t want to come with him. His nostril twitched; his breast had a weight like lead in it. Be glad? Should he ever be glad of anything concerning her again?

II.

There was no need for Hearne Lusk to take the job at Far Cove, but he took it. lie told himself he would stay away till Florida sent for him. Too proud, too near to some sort of ultimate trust in her, to make actual inquiries among the other workmen, his neighbors, in whose faces lie sometimes fancied a hidden knowledge of his affairs, and whose glances seemed to him occasionally to hold sympathy— though, at least, none of them brought him, stories now of Florida's unseemly attendance at play-parties—finally he came, through long brooding, to the resolve to make an unexpected return from his self-imposed absence, and find for himself what Florida Lusk was hiding from him. His people are slow in hate, as in love, and he nursed this project several months before a strange little misspelled letter from his wife hardened it into resolution.

Der Hearne :—I getting along well. No needs for you to hurry yourself in coming back here. I neaded some money and taken two

dollars out of the box. I never taken but two dollars and I wont touch any more but you will know and will not be mad at me when you come back. But dont come no sooner than you aimed to, becos I dont want you to hafto werry about me.

Your wife, FLORIDA LUSK.

That was the note that Hearne—never much of a scholar—studied out slowly. He stood staring at it in his hand long after he had mastered its contents, then lifted his head and looked about dumbly at the familiar woods. He went to the boss for his money and his time, and drove the horses home at a pace which as-

tonished those sedate, well-cared-for beasts.

As his sinking heart had foretold, the cabin looked deserted from the first glimpse he got of it, far down the road. The pied branches of a young maple were tapping against its windows; golden and russet and crimson leaves were dancing in

the breeze about it; the sourwood at its corner was one rosy flame, for the frosts of September had visited the forests of the Cumberlands and left them clad in splendor. He drove his team into the yard, leaped down, and ran to shake the locked door, thundering on it with his whip-stock. Then he drew back, jeering

at himself for the empty rage that bullied a vacant house. His blows rang hollow. They brought no face to window or door, no answering voice to his hail. Of course she was gone; she had gone (where, oh, where? with whom?) when she sent him that letter—a shudder took him yet when he thought of it—warning him not to hasten his return. He bent back with a halfchoked curse and looked up at the chimney. No hint of smoke against the sky. They had a long start of him—but he would hunt them down. Thought of the quest steadied him. He drew a hand across his eyes, then turned to assure the comfort of his horses. He stabled and fed them before he made an entry into the house.

It had been plainly unoccupied for some time ; yet the departure of its inmate had been orderly: everything was in

place, sorted, put away as Florida took pride in haring it. Only her clothing was gone—it was empty only of her and her own personal belongings, this little nest he had made for her. He looked about upon it, and a swimming was in his head. Then suddenly he found himself in the middle of the floor with Florida’s little footstool in his hands, the stool that he had made to raise her feet from the floor above the draughts. In those first days, she had been used to sit on it by his knee, her head leaned against him. And now—oh, God ! He was breaking the little stool into splinters before he knew what his intention. Then, lest idiot rage lead him further, he strode out of the house and took the path across the gulch to Zarepta Fulgham’s. He tore open the rickety gate and cried out to the old woman, in her front yard, shaking and sorting something in her gingham apron.

“Whar’s my wife? Whar’s Floridy gone?”

She retreated to the door-stone : it might almost be said that she seemed to flee before him. stopping there under pretense of blowing the chaff from the cowpease in her apron, and apparently barring his way.

“Ain’t you goin’ to bid me in?” he demanded briefly. “Who’s in thar you don’t want me to see?”

The veins in Hearne Lusk’s neck began to swell. His black eyes looked danger-

ous. Zarepta, thus put to it, opened the door noisily, and only wide enough for herself to enter. The man crowding after her thought he got a glimpse of someone who fled him, heard a closing door at the back of the room.

“Is Floridy here?” he halted on the threshold to ask; but his tone meant a thorough sifting of the matter.

Old Zarepta dropped her apronful of pease with a rattle to the floor. She whimpered and clung to his arm.

“Yes, she is, Hearne,” came the final admission. “But don’t you get to r’arin’ round here. They’s somebody in the

room with her that you’ll be mad about, I reckon—somebody I never aimed for you to know of nor see on this place. Wait, Hearne. I want to tell ye-”

Silently, Hearne flung the old woman behind him with a turn of the wrist, and made for the door. Here was something definite to strike. His hand was almost at the knob when from the silence of that other room pricked out a keen little sound, the thin, shrill wail that is like no other. Hearne staggered and put his hands before his eyes.

“Floridy !” he whispered, shaking from head to foot.

The old woman, very brave now, opened the door and pushed him hastily into the room. He heard his wife’s voice calling his name. She lay very white on a bed in the corner.

“Hearne—oh. Hearne! Darlin’!” she called out weakly to him. “Did you hear about it and come already? See!” She drew aside the coverings and showed a little silky head on her arm. a tiny countenance which puckered itself amazingly and sent forth once more that querulous cry.

Hearne fell on his knees beside the bed and hid his face in the covers, torn by long, dry sobs. Florida reached out a trembling hand and put it on his bowed, dark head.

But something stirred beyond the bed, some one knelt there half hid.

“Oh. law!” whispered Florida, her blue eyes clouding with anxiety; “I aimed to be safe back in our house before you come home, Hearne. You ain’t mad about me seein’ Mommie and haring her with me, air ye, honey?” she inquired timidly. “Look like when I knew the

baby was to come, I jest couldn’t do without my mother. Hear ne”—with a little break that was almost like laughter in her voice—“honey, I went to every play-party and dance I could hear of, beca’se Mommie sent me word she’d do the same, and we’d meet at them places and talk. Hit mighty nigh killed me to have you away from me so much; and yet, look like a gal’s obliged to have her mother at such a time.” Her voice quavered pleadingly.

“But I remembered what I’d promised you, and I was scared. Hearne, honey, if you was to be mad at me, I’d shore die!”

And, looking closer, he recognized the gray-haired little old woman who crouched away from him at the bed-head, the gallant of poor Florida’s innocent trysts.

“Mother Sterrett,” he said huskily, reaching a hand across to her, “we-all’ll have to raise this here chap so he’ll mend the feud.”