The Years of the Wicked
MISS HEPZIBAH’S bare foot took on the appearance of a white lily as it dipped cautiously into the shaft of moonlight. The shaft of moonlight streamed in between the cretonne curtains and came to rest in an irregular patch on the rag carpet beside the bed. The bed itself creaked; the utmost stealth of movement notwithstanding, it creaked so loudly in the quiet 2 a.m. that Miss Hepzibah held her breath and listened in sudden panic.
Above the throbbing of her pulses she could hear the breathing of the dog. That was all. She wasn’t worrying about Prinney; for he was pretty well trained and, while he was nose-on to the crack at the bottom of the door with the clothesline that tied him to the bed-post taut as a bow-string, he hadn’t let out a sound.
There was a certain business-like menace in that silence which seemed to substantiate the grim assurance possessing the lines of Miss Peters’ mouth as she tip-toed about the room. Also there was a gun hanging on a rack beside the bed— a doubled-barrelled affair, a muzzle-loading old-timer that had killed many deer in its day. The knife which dangled on the bed-post, where it would be handy for severing the bulldog’s leash in an emergency, was just a plain domestic butcherknife which Miss Hepzibah used for cutting up rhubarb stalks and so forth; but one could have shaved with it quite handily—almost. In fact, Miss Hepzibah Peters was armed—to the teeth !
D EACHING for the gun, she wound ■»A. the dog’s line several times around her wrist and quietly turned the knob of the door. With a flaming red dressinggown wrapped about her meagre form and pale blue woolen bedroom slippers peeping out now and then beneath the hem, she began a cautious advance. On the landing, half way down the stairs, she pulled the dog behind her and craned her thin neck forward till the moonlight, shining through the glass of the front door, bathed her forehead and used her two front curl-papers to make a shadow on the wall that looked like the devil.
There was nobody in the hallway below. The sounds seemed to be coming from the parlor. That was the room which she kept shut up with blinds drawn. One by one, the family had gone to the cemetery from this room. It contained all the family heirlooms, including a melodeon whose yellowed keys nobody ever fingered, mohair chairs upon which nobody ever sat now, a pair of china dogs which nobody ever played with and sundry black walnut frames enclosing crayon portraits which nobody ever looked at except Miss Hepzibah.
For she lived alone now, Miss Hepzibah —very much alone indeed-—and she did not encourage visitors. The few whom Prinney and his mistress did tolerate were content to munch their cookies and sip their raspberry vinegar in the kitchen; certainly the fine rag carpet which
Grandmother had made with her own hands was no place for stains and crumbs.
So the parlor was the room which was kept shut up till the air was musty. And that was where Miss Peters hid a little, old, Japanese urn, of brass—hid it in a dark corner beneath a board that was loose in the flooring. And this urn had money in it—not very much, barely enough for her to live on without selling the old place.
Peeking breathlessly through the crack of the open door, she had just noted that the blinds were all up as far as they would go, admitting a flood of moonlight, when the dog broke away from her abruptly and with a ferocious growl charged into the room as if shot from a catapult.
Followed a hoarse yell, a crash of glass, the black figure of a man diving through the window, the black streak of the bulldog, leaping after—running feet, barking!
Miss Hepzibah had been knocked off her feet by the dog’s sudden plunge. She picked herself up slowly, hobbled over to the window and glanced out. Then she crossed to the dark corner where the carpet was turned back and a black hole yawned in the flooring. The little, old, Japanese urn was lying on its side not far away and, when its owner had finished picking up the scatter, she put it back, replaced the board and drew the carpet over it once more.
On one of the chairs a thirty-two-calibre revolver shone wickedly in the moonlight, evidence of a haste inspired by an over-powering fear of dogs. Miss Hepzibah handled the thing gingerly and tossed it out the broken window.
She went back to her bedroom. There she lit the lamp, laid out her best lustre dress and her ridiculous little black bonnet, rusty with age and use, and proceeded to make a careful toilet. When her front hair was frizzed to her satisfaction and the bonnet ribbons tied to suit her, she hunted up the Grandfather’s worn old carpet bag and descended to the kitchen. Here she lifted a trap door and climbed down carefully into the cellar where a hanging shelf, that was laden with a variety of things, swung to and fro to the touch.
And all this time Miss Peters was as coldly purposeful as she could be. Her thin, sallow face was set in dominant severity; her eyes glittered like bits of metal; her feelings seemed to be all curled up inside her and her outward calm was the deceit of placid surfaces beneath which rage dangerous torrents deep down.
WHEN she came up from the cellar she blew out the lamp, left it on the table with some matches beside it, picked
up the muzzle-loader that had killed many deer in its day and, marching out of the house, deposited it and the carpet-bag on the step while she locked the door behind her. Not till then did she look to see which tree the midnight intruder had chosen.
He had chosen well. The big willow forked about four feet from the ground and lent itself more readily to hasty ascent than any of the others. Leaving the carpet-bag on the doorstep, Miss Hepzibah marched down the graveled walk between the borders of Sweet William and Forget-me-not and struck straight across to the tree at the foot of which the bulldog growled his savage regret. In the bright moonlight her angular form bore down like a Nemesis.
“For heaven’s sake, call off that dog!” called the man hoarsely. “It’s me—your nephew—Dan.”
She stooped to peer upward, squinting her eyes to catch sight of the black shape of him among the shifting moon mottles on the leaves.
“You’ll be a-climbin’ down now,” she commanded.
“Call off that hell-hound, d’you hear me!” he roared.
SHE spoke sharply to the dog, who whimpered and trotted over to her side obediently. Once more she twisted the dragging rope about her wrist.
“You’ll be a-climbin’ down,” she repeated, a trifle louder. And he started downward, laughing shortly, one eye fastened warily on the dog. He paused in the fork of the tree.
“Nice doggie! Nice ol’ feller!”
“He won’t be a-bitin’ you ’less I be a’tellin’ him to. You’ll be a-climbin’ down!"
“Right-o. Down it is.” He jumped and started forward very much at his ease.
“Stop!” shrilled Miss Hepzibah. She raised the gun. “You jest stop where you be or I’ll shoot you!”
“Wh—why, Aunt Zib! Aintcha tumbled to me yet? Don’t you know who I am?” “I know who you be, Danny Larcombe, right well. Turn your back and march straight ahead. We be a-goin’ to the stable to hitch up old Bill.”
“Not so fast!” His eyes had narrowed with quick suspicion. “Not by a darn sight! I don’t mind helpin’ you to hitch up, but I gotter know where you’re goin’.” “When the time comes fer you to know, Danny Larcombe, you’ll know. You be a-comin’ with me. What’s more, I bean’t a-goin’ to stand fer no foolin’ this time.” “This time?” he echoed, scowling angrily. “Say, ol’ girl, you better cut out the funny business an’ talk a little sense! Savvy?”
HE took a threatening step towards her, at which she promptly unwound one loop of the dog’s rope from her wrist. He saw the movement and his heavy jaw dropped. Something very like triumph flashed into Miss Hepzibah’s eyes.
“Some time ago, Danny Larcombe,” she began with quiet determination, “you stole some money fer which you went to jail. You lied to me about it—writ that you didn’t do it—an’ when you broke out an’ come runnin’ fer me I was fooled into helpin’ you to git away from them as was a-lookin’ fer you. I thought mebbe you’d be a-gittin’ a fresh start down there in the States where you said you was agoin’.
“An’ what do I find, Danny Larcombe? I find that you was a-lyin’ all the time— that you was nothin’ but a thief! An’ to prove it I find you back here now—in my house—in the act o’ stealin’ every cent I hev in the world! There be them as be worth their salt, Danny Larcombe,” cried Miss Hepzibah, indignantly, “an’ there be them as ain’t!” She waved her arm toward the stable.
“We go now to hitch up old Bill an’ we’ll jest be a-drivin’ over to the Pen’tentiary you broke out o’ an’ we kin make it nicely by sun-up ef we’re a-gettin’ started to wunst.”
Larcombe swore. He scoffed loudly. Nevertheless his eye was wild as he glanced quickly about him. The dog growled, tugging at the line and whining with desire. Miss Hepzibah let another loop drop from her wrist. The man stared at her intently and for the first time fear crept into his look.
“Aw now, Aunt Zib, you can’t be meanin’ all that,” he objected in a jocular tone. “Why, Aunt Zib—Why, say, I wasn’t tryin’ to swipe your coin. Think Pd do that after the way you’ve always been so good to me? What kind of a nephew d’you take me fer anyway?” He laughed at the very idea. “Honest, Aunt Zib, I wasn’t—”
“Quit lyin’!” snapped Miss Hepzibah, her eyes blazing with sudden wrath. “I beant a-goin’ to wait much longer, Danny Larcombe, fer you to be a-marchin’ to the stable. I’ll be a-turnin’ the dog on you when I count three ’less you be a-movin’ the way I be a-tellin’ you to! Ef the dog don’t git you, I’ll jest be a-shootin’ you!— One!”
“Fer heaven’s sake, Aunt Zib, listen a minute, will you! Have you gone clean dippy? Y’ain’t meanin’—?”
The dog snarled as he felt the rope loosen still another loop. He strained forward eagerly.
“Now look here, Aunt Zib, you hold on a minute! I’m—”
"Goin’, doggonit!” finished Dan Larcombe, savagely.
A BOUT he went, overpoweringly anxious, and started forward with alacrity towards the ramshackle, old stable in the rear of the premises, Miss Hepzibah following grimly and the dog’s drooling jaws within a yard of his heels.
It did not take long to get the harness on the old horse. Larcombe lingered near the lantern, after lighting it, stroking one big hand along the animal’s neck.
“Well Bill, oT boy, I ain’t seen you fer quite some time. Wonder if you’ve fergot me plumb, same as her," he apostrophized. “Eh, oT nag? D’you ’member the little kid you used to ride on your back?” He laid
his head on the old horse’s neck with a show of affection.
“Drop that knife! Drop it, I say!”
The words came like the spilling of marbles on the surface of thick glass, so quick and hard and sharp they were. Miss Hepzibah thrust forward the muzzle of the gun till the black holes of it stared cavernous menace.
“I told you afore I beant a-goin’ to hev no foolin’, Danny Larcombe!”
He stared at her with a new respect as he loosened the clutch of his fingers on the wooden handle of the cobbler’s knife that was stuck in the stable beam, where she had left it one day after mending the harness.
“Y’aint needin’ no specs yet, Aunt Zib,” he conceded.
“I beant a-goin to hev no foolin’,” she repeated with asperity. “Take down that there rope!” He lifted the coil from its peg. “We’ll be a-hitchin’ up now.”
The dusty old democrat stood conveniently near the door and it was with a sudden appreciation of the situation that he guffawed as he backed the horse into the shafts and slipped the tugs over the iron hooks of the whiffle-tree.
T) UT his mirth was short lived. She A-' made him climb into the back of the democrat. She made him stretch himself on his stomach with his arms behind him. When she proceeded to tie his hands together he protested vehemently that he would go peaceably without this indignity. The dog growled ominously.
“‘The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools,’ ” she quoted severely. “Now, roll over! Roll!”
He rolled. She then tied his feet securely, running the rope from his ankles over the dashboard, carrying it back underneath the rig, around the rear axle; in the end of it she fixed a slip-knot and throwing this over his head, drew it taught around his throat with no gentleness.
“Kuk—gug—-gug!” he gurgled. He kicked and the dog promptly grabbed his
She loosened the rope so that he could breathe and released the boot. Then lifting in the dog beside him, she fastened the brute’s rope to the handle of the seat. With the gun between her knees, she jerked on the lines.
“Aunt Zib!” he implored, terrified.
She glanced over her shoulder and saw that Prinney had stretched himself out comfortably upon the prisoner’s stomach.
“He won’t be a-bitin’ you ’less I be a’tellin’ him to,” she reassured. “Or ’less you move vi’lent.”
At the doorstep she pulled up to secure the Grandfather’s old carpet-bag. A moment later they had rolled out into the highway that stretched off in the moonlight, a winding ribbon of white, thick with dust. It promised to be a strange journey.
TAAN LARCOMBE, thug, all-round
' good-for-nothing, convicted of embezzlement and other things, preserved silence for some time. Dan Larcombe, wanted for jail-breaking, was thinking— thinking so hard that hissmall, crafty eyes were almost entirely out of sight be-
neath the fleshy folds of his eye-lids while his heavy mouth was drawn to one side in a smirk of contempt that bared his yellow teeth. The contempt was largely for his own physical cowardice—for the inherent terror of dogs that enabled a thin, old woman to tie up a big bulk of a man like a trussed pig and take him back to the jail from which he had escaped nearly a year before. It was his hoodoo, that terror with which he had been born. If he had had a weapon of any kind—! If he hadn’t left his gun—!
Larcombe cursed himself as emphatically as was possible on his back without unduly agitating his diaphragm. Even so, the pastime provoked a warning growl from the ugly passenger who rode the swell of it—a growl which presented Mr. Larcombe with the unusual and altogether unpleasant sensation of a pipeorgan thundering bass to a congregation composed of a liver, a spleen and sundry giddy nerve centres.
“Aint this joke gone far ’nough, Aunt Zib? Y’aint really meanin’ to hand me over to them fellers yonder?” he ventured at length in such a subdued, meek voice that Miss Peters glanced at him sharply.
“Do it look as ef we be a-goin’ into town to do shoppin’?” she demanded scornfully.
“Have you clean fergot as I’m your own nephew, Aunt Zib?”
“ ‘As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place,’ ” quoted Miss Hepzibah, compressing her lips grimly. “ ‘The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.’ ”
“Aw, cut it!”
“ ‘He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.’ ”
“Guess that’s right, Aunt Zib—if you hand me over. You used to tell me you loved me,” he attempted wistfully. “Them was the days when you made we wear a pink sash. ’Member the time, Aunt Zib, when I run away an’ got the sash all spoiled tryin’ to tie it ’round the ol’ pig’s neck? It was on my—my birthday, Aunt Zib, an’ you was goin’ to give me a party. ’Member?”
“It—it was on your birthday,” nodded Miss Hepzibah sadly.
“Seems like that was a mighty long time back, Aunt Zib.”
“You was six then. You’ll be thirtyfour, come next Friday.”
“Gee! I’d fergot the dates. It ain’t goin’ to be what you might call a—happy birthday, is it, Aunt Zib? ’S my unlucky day, I guess.”
“It aint a-goin’ to be no happy birthday, Danny,” agreed Miss Hepzibah, tremulously.
“You—fergive me fer spoilin’ the sash that time, Aunt Zib,” he suggested craftily.
“I hev fergave you wunst, Danny Larcombe,” sobbed Miss Hepzibah, unable longer to restrain her tears. “I hev fergave you a hunderd times! An’ how hev you repaid that fergiveness?—by cornin’ back to steal from the hand as helped you an’ breakin’ the heart as loved you! Oh how could you do it? How could you do it?”
Continued on Page 82.
Continued from Page 16.
“Listen, Aunt Zib,” he broke out hopefully. “I didn’t mean to— Say, Aunt Zib, I’m sorry fer it. Honest to Gawd, I’m sorry fer it! I didn’t intend to take the
“ ‘The hearin’ ear an’ the seein’ eyt, the Lord hath made even both of ’em.’ ” “Won’t you give a feller another chanst, Aunt Zib?”
“ ‘Chasten thy son while there is hope, an’ let not thy soul spare fer his cryin’!’ ” “Don’t you think I’m handin’ it to you straight now?”
“ ‘The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them: but transgressors shall be taken in their own naughtiness.’ ” “I say, don’t you think I’m on the level ’bout bein’ sorry, Aunt Zib.?”
“ ‘When he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there be seven abominations in his heart.’ ”
“They’ll give me ten years, Aunt Zib. They will, fer a fact! Wouldn’t be much good when I got out, would I?”
“ ‘The fear o’ the Lord prolongeth days : but the years o’ the wicked shall be shortened.’ ”
“Bah ! What’s eatin’ you anyways?”
“ ‘Correction is grievous unto him that fersaketh the way.’ ”
“Br-rer-r-r !” growled the dog.
For a time they rolled on in silence through the still summer night. The moon floated in the sky like a silver chalice, spilling its pallor upon the fat back of the old grey horse, on the oval of the woman’s face, on the dog; it converted the dust behind them into drifting vapor. Occasionally the click of a wheel against a stone obtruded on the chirring monotony of crickets in the dried grasses of the wayside.
'T'HE man’s face was tense with impoItent anger. His bushy brows were drawn in a scowl. For Dan Larcombe knew now that she would keep her word— that she would take him straight to the prison gates. He tried a new tack.
“Spoutin’ scriptur’! — You spoutin’ scriptur’l” He laughed huskily. “Aw, you make me weary! What ’bout poor Uncle Ed, eh? Kin you spout it to fit his case, aunt o’ mine? Nice, fine, Christian sperrit you showed him all right, all right!” He laughed again, contemptuously. “Why, I wouldn’t’ve treated a dumb annymal the way you went an’ treated your own brother an’ I aint pertendin’ to be no church artist, believe me!”
“We won’t be a-discussin’ things as aint none o’ your business, Danny Larcombe,” said Miss Hepzibah severely, a quick look of pain in her eyes.
“Oh, all right. On’y I thought mebbe you’d like to hear how he croaked—died, y’understand.”
“Died!” It was a whisper rather than an exclamation. The lines sagged to the base of the dashboard; the muzzle-loader slid with a clatter to the bottom of the rig. “Edward Peters—dead! I can’t be
a-believin’ that!” She shook her head emphatically.
“Fat lot o’ difference it makes whether you do or whether you don’t. That aint goin’ to fetch him back. What’d you think he was—’nother Methoosluh? Expectin’ him to live ferever, was you? I didn’t tell you before ’cause I didn’t want to hurt your feelin’s, Aunt Zib. He—shot hisself !”
SHE was hanging over the seat, staring down at him with agonized eyes, her worn face wan in the moonlight. He saw that her fingers gripped the back of the seat as if she was on the verge of a collapse and the knowledge that he had found the weapon to wound brought back great satisfaction to Dan Larcombe. He gloated evilly the while he tried to conceal the fact.
“Edward Peeters couldn’t be a-doin’ a thing like that,” she objected faintly. “He couldn’t be a-doin’ a thing like that.” She mumbled it over and over.
“Whatcha talkin’ ’bout? He could do’t if he put a pistol to his head an’ pulled the trigger, couldn’t he? Was you thinkin’ a pistol wouldn’t go off fer Uncle Ed same as other folks?”
“The likes o’ Edward Peters beant a-committin’ suicide!” she persisted passionately.
“Well anyways, he done it, I tell you; fer I seen him !” She flinched as if he had struck her. “What’s more, he told me just why he was doin’ it. He done it ’count o’ the way you treated him!” He laughed brutally.
“Listen to me, Aunt Zib. I wasn’t goin’ to tell you all this; but I guess y’aint sparin’ me none, so I’ll tell you the whole thing. I been a pretty bad sort, but I was a preacher conductin’ a revival to what he become after he left these here parts an’ hit West. Clean to the bad, that’s where poor Uncle Ed went, an’ the night I runs acrost him in a Chinese gamblin’ joint out at Vancouver he was all in. Told me he’d just got out o’ the Provincial Gaol an’ hadn’t been sober sinst— didn’t intend to ever git sober again, he
“He wasn’t so drunk but what he knew what he was sayin’, though, an’ he started to tell me how bad you’d treated him— first the ol’ man kickin’ him out o’ the house an’ then you goin’ back on him. He got all worked up, just tellin’ me of it, an’ I tried to git him to shut up. But he wouldn’t. Sudden he yells out: ‘Tell that pussy-cat sister o’ mine I aint never goin’ to fergive her fer sendin’ me to the devil! Tell her that, Dan!’—An’ first thing I knowed the fool had pulled a gun an’ blowed a hole in his head !
“There was some ructions ’round that joint fer awhile, believe me. I come near bein’ ’cused o’ killin’ him. But ’twas hushed up final an’—”
Miss Hepzibah tilted her nose to the moon and laughed—a shrill, unnatural
laugh. He failed to catch the hysterical note of it.
“Shut up! I aint through yet. Mebbe you’ll believe me when I am!” he cried angrily.
“‘Pussy-cat!’” she tittered. “Edward Peters called me—a ‘pussy-cat!’ ”
“I said mebbe you’d believe me ’fore I git through!” raged Larcombe, so vehemently that the dog’s growl rumbled warningly. “You ’member your row with Uncle Ed was over him not cornin’ home when his father asked fer him on his death bed. When the ol’ man repented fer the way he’d treated his only son an’ implored you to find him so’t he could ask fer his boy’s fergiveness, you was pretty keen fer Uncle Ed to take the first train back. ’Member? You writ him some letters an’ when that didn’t fetch him you telegraphed him. But nary a reply did you git. An’ long after ’twas all over when you did hear from Uncle Ed you was so all-fired mad that you writ him you never wanted to see him again. Oh, you was a wise one all right, all right!” he scoffed. “No explanations fer yours! Nothin’ could excuse him not rushin’ back home an’ that was all there was to it, eh?
“Well listen to your little nephew, Danny, my scriptur’-spoutin’ aunt, an’ see if he can’t tell nothin’ but lies! ’Twas your little nephew Danny’s birthday one time an’ he got pretty sore at you an’ Uncle Ed ’cause you hadn’t time to take poor little Danny into town to see the Dog-an’-Pony cirkis! ’Member the time? It was before Uncle Ed had the row with your dad. Your little nephew swore he’d git even if he had to wait till doomsday an’ that's why Uncle Ed never knew nothin’ ’bout the ol’ man being sick.
“Hmph! Makes you open your eyes, eh? Hold your horses, now! I aint through yet. You give me all them letters to post. It was me you sent to the telegraph operator. You was too busy nursin’ to git out yourself. ’Member? Well— your precious little nephew Danny didn’t go near the post-office ner the telegraph operator. Not on your life! He went down to the ol’ swimmin’-hole with the gang that night an’ used your letter to light the bonfire the boys made on the river-bank.
“Oh yes, indeed ! An’ he watched like a hawk fer any letters what might come through with Uncle Ed’s writin’ on ’em an’ one night when little Danny went fer the mail, there was a fat letter fer you in answer to the one you writ after it was all over. But you didn’t git that one. Little Danny on’y let you git the short one Uncle Ed sent long after that—the one that made you mad at him. Some cirkis, eh?” He laughed cruelly.
FOR he saw that she believed this part of his story at least. He waited eagerly for the fainting-spell that would cause her to fall forward helplessly in her seat. The shock of this revelation as a climax to the revival of poignant memories left Miss Hepzibah trembling from head to foot, weak with the emotions which stifled her till she seemed to gasp for very breath.
The face which she turned upon him was pinched, ghastly. She hung limply to the back of the seat as she looked at
him—looked and looked at him. Only her eyes seemed alive.
He waited. When her head sagged he intended to grab the dog’s rope and before the brute could make a move, throw a loop of it around his neck and choke the life out of him. The rest would be easy. He could leave her by the roadside, drive back to the house, get the money and his revolver and say good-by forever. He
“Danny Larcombe,” she said, her voice hollow in its weakness, “will you tell me what was in that there letter—the first one—the big one I didn’t git—as near as you kin remember?—what Edward Peters said?”
Eyes narrowed, he watched her and decided that he could invent no better knock-out blow than the bare truth itself.
“He said he didn’t even know his father was sick—hadn’t had any word from you for ages. He said he’d come back at once and see you on’y he’d been throwed from a horse on the ranch, bustin’ two or three ribs and one o’ his legs, so’t he was laid up fer some time to come. The rest o’ the letter was just ’bout how bad he felt that he hadn’t known in time ’bout his dad’s sickness; fer he said he’d ’ve come home, even if it was on a stretcher an’ against the doc’s orders. An’ if you’d had any sense, Aunt Zib, you’d ’ve knowed there must be some good reason fer everythin’. Uncle Ed was the whitest feller in the world. Fine way you went an’ treated
T ARCOMBE had not had much difficulty in working his right hand loose from the knot she had tied, for his wrists were strong. He had felt it give as he talked. Stealthily his hand slipped along the bottom of the rig towards the slack of the dog’s rope. His fingers touched it, closed around it, gathered a loop of it.
He eyed the dog. The animal looked comfortable enough, stretched out there with his nose between his paws. The loop would be around his throat before the brute could get into action—Now!
With a snarl the dog buried his teeth in the fleshy part of the man’s arm. Larcombe yelled.
Miss Hepzibah had not fainted. She had merely lowered her head with a low moan till it rested on her arm. She looked up dully. She reached over, struck the dog a sharp tap and pulled him away. She examined the bite and bound it tightly with a strip from his shirt-sleeve.
“We’ll be a-goin’ on now,” she said apathetically.
She picked up the reins and' they ambled along the dusty highway with the summer moon wheeling slowly westward and the crickets chirring monotonously in the dried grasses.
'T'HE sun was climbing above the murk of the city to the east when they reached the prison gates; it flashed upon the rifles of the guards and glared with hard brilliance on the window-panes of the warden’s quarters. The old horse’s pink tongue, lolling frothily from a grassstained corner of his mouth, was eloquent of unaccustomed travel. Covered with dust, Miss Hepzibah climbed down stiffly and told her story. For confirmation there
was Dan Larcombe himself, swearing furiously.
Warden Chadwick was a man of tact and understanding. When Miss Hepzibah had partaken of the breakfast he insisted upon, including a good cup of tea, she felt greatly refreshed. As he listened to her confession of the part she had played in helping Dan Larcombe to make good his escape a year ago, the warden’s eyes twinkled and he nodded sympathetically.
There was a reward of $500 for Larcombe’s capture; hut when he mentioned it Miss Hepzibah’s chin quivered. She would have none of it.
“You can be a-keepin’ it fer Danny when he’s let out again,” she urged. “It’ll give him a fresh start, mebbe.” She reached for the old carpet-bag by her side. Quick tears filled her eyes as she broke the string around a cardboard box and lifted out a layer cake. Just that!
“I baked it the other day, sir,” she explained tremulously, “an’ I jest thought I’d be a-bringin’ it along so ’t you jail folks could be a-givin’ it to Danny, come next Friday. It’ll be his birthday an’ I didn’t want poor Danny thinkin’ I’d fergot him. It’s his fav’rite kind—-with lemon fillin’.”
Be it said to his credit Warden Chadwick did not laugh. Instead he escorted her to her patient old horse with every respect. As she drove off he bowed again.
AT ISS HEPZIBAH headed for a IVA livery barn she knew of in the city close by and while Old Bill was enjoying a well-earned rest and feed, she spent several hours in the shopping district. It was nearly noon before she was on her way home and the sun was dipping behind the hill when her own gate at last came in sight.
As they turned into the lane the dog came to life suddenly. He stood with his forepaws on the dashboard, sniffing the air. He began to bark—excitedly, furiously. Miss Hepzibah chided him in vain. She had him tied to the whip-socket and when they were nearing the house the dog leaped from the rig, taking the socket with him.
In some alarm Miss Hepzibah stood up and watched the excited animal making for the house as hard as he could go. Not till then did she notice that someone was sitting on the verandah—a man—a stranger.
At the top of her voice she called quick warning.
But the dog was upon him—leaping upward at him, thumping around at his feet, wagging his tail and barking as if—
The man was standing up now where she could get a better look at him—a tall figure in a wide felt hat. For one moment Miss Hepzibah stared in palpitation. Then, throwing the lines out of her hands, she too jumped out of the rig and went running for the house.
In a tireless circle, round and round, the dog was tearing with yelps of delight.
Just an instant she hesitated at the picket gate. But it was no mistake. He was coming to meet her — with outstretched arms.
“Ed!” she cried. “Oh, Brother Ed!” she sobbed.