The mysterious disappearances of Cal, college-graduate apprentice of the Stake farm, and of Annie Frawdie, the school teacher, baffle Gander Stake and fill him with a disquieting sense of impending ill. He takes his worries to Jo. Burge, the girl who was his champion in the disturbing days of school, and finds in her womanly sympathy and wise counsel a peace he has not known for years.
CAL'S arrival proved to be but the beginning of changes on the Stake farm. Cal had a perfect
mania for changes. After his day’s work was done in the fields, and he should have been content to rest and smoke, he was busy piling up the firewood that lay in a heap in front of the house, hauling gravel to fill mud holes in the yard, straightening into neat rows the farm implements and vehicles.
He even dragged the pig pen from its convenient location near the well out on to a sod knoll behind the farm buildings. With the aid of a team and skids he lined up the two portable granaries and the blacksmith shop, making a sort of street, which Gander
and Grit appropriately christened “Beach Boulevard.” In all these operations Cal had the active support of the little boy Reed, and sometimes of Hamilton, but Gander and Grit held aloof. They regarded these changes with suspicion. That an ignorant, college-bred man, who knew not so much as how to hitch a team when he came to the farm less than two weeks before, should take such liberties was nothing short of presumption. Gander would have told him so with engaging frankness, but it was evident that Cal had the advantage of the knowledge and consent of Jackson Stake, who never before had been known to care whether the buildings were in line or out of line-, or whether the wood was piled or left where it fell from the saw, or whether the water trough slopped over and made little ponds in the yard for the convenience of the ducks and geese and the family sow.
“I tell you, it’s a mystery,” said Grit. “I said that all along. Wait till we see what we see next.”
Gander tried to keep his annoyance within bounds, and the ache which he carried in his heart—the double ache, now; one for Jo Clause and one for Jerry Chansley —made it no easier. It was plain that he was being ousted out of the premier position on his own father’s farm and supplanted by this mysterious man and boy who had come over-night from nowhere. He had heard his father boasting of Cal to Fraser Fyfe, and he had surprised his mother sitting in “the room” with Reed on her knee, singing to him one of the lullabies she had sung to Gander twenty years before. His Adam’s apple had seemed to swell until it almost choked him at that sight. It tugged at something in his throat and whisked Joey Burge into his vision for a moment or two. Still, he didn’t mind Reed; he liked Reed. But Cal!
The man was always genial and good humored; he gave no occasion for a quarrel, but he was deep, deep. There was something behind all this.
On Sunday—the Sunday after his walk with Jerry Chansley—Gander had a hint of what that something might be. Minnie was home for the week-end, and in the sunny morning she spoke with Gander in the yard.
“Well, that’s a change,” she remarked, with undisguised approval.
“Begins to look civilized.”
“Oho!” said Gander to himself, recalling how often Minnie had protested against the haphazard methods of the farm. He had set it down to something in her which he called pride —a reprehensible kind of pride, which concerned itself with appearances, and with what people might think. This fellow Cal was like that, too; shaving in the middle of the week, and washing before every meal. And Cal had brought Minnie out from town the night before in his rickety Ford. The two were as thick as thieves already
But Gander’s attention, for the time at any rate, was almost immediately demanded by another and more surprising development. His missing brother came home!
As unheralded as he had gone, young Jackson Stake returned one Saturday morning in June. He had caught a ride from Plainville as far as the road which led into the Stake homestead ; then he turned in along the trail through the poplar groves, following twists and turns unchanged through all the years of his absence. Only, the trees were taller, the dapple of leaf-shadows on the trail was darker, the ruts were a little deeper than when, as a youth of eighteen, he last had walked along that road. When he entered the farmyard he was struck with a sense of neat-
ness and prosperity; the new car, the portable granaries, the orderly arrangement of the machinery and vehicles arrested his attention.
“Looks as if they had struggled along without me, after a fashion,” Jackie commented to himself as he took in the surroundings. “Wonder if the old man’ll fall on my neck, and kick me.”
Gander was tinkering with something about the pump under the windmill when he saw a stranger approaching; a tall, dark man of thirty or thereabouts, stouter than Gander and dressed in a suit that still gave signs of good material. He wore a celluloid collar and a tie pierced with a cheap
but resplendent pin. Over his arm hung a rain coat, but apparently he was unburdened by any other baggage.
“Lookin’ for a job, or a hand-out,” Gander remarked to himself. Then, aloud, and politely enough—
“Well, how’s she goin’?”
The stranger regarded him for a moment without reply. He had picked up some local information from his driver on the way from Plainville, and had no doubt that this tall young man was Gander, the direct descendant of his little brother Bill. He took a chance:
“Well, Gander, I see you don’t know me. I’m the prodigal son.”
Gander studied him with narrowing eyes. “So you’re
Jackie,” he said, at length. “I thought you had been killed in the war.”
“That was a good idea,” said Jackie. “A fine idea. But, you see, it didn’t happen—to either of us.”
The tone in which he said “To either of us” did not escape Gander’s notice, but he had no immediate answer.
“Well, here I am,” Jackie continued. “Your long-lost brother, and what are we going to do about it?” “You can settle that with Dad,” said Gander, curtly. “I didn’ know he had sent for you.”
‘Oh, you didn’t? Well, neither did he. But—we’ll see,” and he went off toward the house.
TpHE return of Jackie was the last A thing Gander had expected, and for a number of reasons it annoyed him. It demolished the subterfuge behind which his self-respect had taken some protection, that the firstborn of the family had been a sacrifice to the war. He resented the ready sneer which Jackie had thrown at his own neglect to become a wartime casualty. Besides, he disliked Jackie. In childhood Gander had been the younger son, to be cuffed and ordered about by his big brother and it was against his nature to take orders. And he was deeply attached to his father. Now Jackie would try to worm in between—
“He’ll come back now an’ sponge on Dad,” said Gander, bitterly. “Try to get into his good graces, but it was me that stuck to him when he needed help. Dad’ll not forget that.”
He took some comfort from the confident hope that his father would be true to him against the devices of his elder brother. In that moment the possible rivalry of Calvin Beach became a very secondary matter. Jackie was his own flesh and blood.
his father’s natural heir. A different matter altogether.
The inheritance of the farm, until that moment, never had crossed Gander’s mind. He looked upon the farm as the common possession of his father and himself, with Hamilton, Minnie, and his mother holding secondary interests. That his father would one day die was a contingency upon which he never had dwelt. Jackie’s unexpected return put a new face on the whole situation. For the first time Gander began to realize that his father was growing old. It might not be so many years—
The bitterness of these reflections, and of the sinister motives which he attributed to Jackie, so enveloped Gander that he found it hard to treat his brother with any degree of civility, and there were times when he was near bringing disgrace upon the family by a physical outburst. He held his young blood in check on his father’s account.
There was one ray of hope. Jackson, senior, had laid down the law that if Jackie remained he must do his share of work on the farm.
During the summer season work was not pressing, and was left mainly to Grit and Cal, but harvest would be a time of hard labor and long hours, with Jackson, senior, playing no favorites. Gander looked forward with some confidence to his brother’s disappearance about the time the stooking would commence.
He was puzzled, however, by a friendship which had sprung up between Cal and Jackie.
They often were together, and once or twice he had surprised them in deep conversation.
Jackie also seemed to have taken a fancy to Reed. As he thought these things over Gander came to the conclusion that these three had somewhere known each other before. There was something behind all this. Perhaps their meeting on the Stake farm was not such a chance affair as it seemed.
Although he suspected the two of being involved in something that was not apparent on the surface, Gander’s attitude toward Cal was much more friendly than toward his brother.
Cal had recently become self-absorbed and less genial than in the early days of his apprenticeship on the farm, but his goodwill toward Gander was too obvious to be doubted. Perhaps this was a reflection of his growing intimacy with Minnie, but in any case it made him easy of approach on the matter that was uppermost in Gander’s mind. Disturbingly so, too.
He seized the opportunity one evening after supper as Cal hunted for a chain to attach to his plough, now that he was busy with the summer-fallow. Gander helped him explore among the weeds for some minutes, then suddenly shot a question at him.
“How’re you hittin’ it off with this big brother o’ mine?” he asked. “I see you an’ him together quite a bit.”
It may have been his imagination, but Gander was quite sure that Cal was startled by that question. His answer did not come so readily as usual, and when he spoke he kept on hunting among the weeds, instead of looking Gander in the face.
“Oh, all right,” he said. “I really haven’t seen very much of him.”
Gander put that down against him. If it wasn’t quite a lie, it wasn’t quite the truth. He had seen them together too much for that. It was plain that Cal was holding something back.
“Ever see him before?” Gander persisted.
“No—never.” There was no hesitation about this answer, and it left Gander more mystified than before. He decided on a new tack.
“Jackie seems quite taken up with Reed, too,” he remarked.
Cal’s interest could not be feigned. He stopped his hunting and looked Gander sharply in the face. “Do you see any sign of that?” he demanded.
“Oh, see ’em around together now an’ then.”
Then Cal came partly out of his shell. “I wish, Gander, you’d try and keep Reed away from him, as much as you can, without saying anything about it. Will you do that for me, like a good fellow? And don’t say anything about it, to anybody?”
More mystified than ever, Gander gave his promise.
“Sure, I’ll do that, if I can. I like Reed. Fine kid. You know, Cal, you’ve never told us about Reed. Who he is, or anythin’?”
“Haven’t I?” said Cal, and again Gander doubted his sincerity. “Oh, I guess it was Minnie I told. Well, there isn’t much to say about it. He’s my sister’s son. She’s dead, and I’ve raised him since he was a little baby.”
“Father dead, too?” Gander persisted.
Cal’s answer did not seem to come quite so readily. “Killed in the war,” he said, shortly.
Gander turned these things over in his mind for a minute or two. Then—
“But Reed would be quite a chunk of a boy before the war, and you say you raised him since he was a little
Cal turned on him, almost angrily. “So I did. Gander, why are you grilling me like this? Do you think I’m lying to you?”
“Oh, no. Nothin’. Jus’ was wonderin’ about the boy,” said Gander, but the incident left him more puzzled than ever.
SO PASSED the days and weeks on the Stake farm;
outwardly tranquil, while the warm earth suckled the young crops, and Cal’s black parallelogram of summerfallow widened with every day’s labor. But underneath was a sense of unrest, like a storm brooding in the heat of a still afternoon. Suddenly the storm broke, lashing the fields, but without clearing the atmosphere.
It was a Saturday morning, again, when Gander, feed-
You might as well be engaged to a telegram-pole as to a man that’s nutty about RADIOS”-MARGE
And that’s not all this new and boisterous feminine sage has to say about it. When you open your copy of the October 15 MacLean s, be sure that your funny bone is in place before turning to
“The Radio-hound’s Bride”
CONSTANCE TRAVERS SWEATMAN
ing his horses in the stable, noticed that Cal’s team had been unattended. Big Jim was whinnying in disgust and surprise before his empty manger.
“Ho, Grit!” he called. “Seen anythin’ o’ Cal?”
“No, I ain’t,” said Grit, as he came up and helped Gander and Big Jim contemplate the absence of hay and oats.
“Never been late before,” said Gander.
“Nope. He was out buzzin’ somewhere las’ night in that fly-trap o’ his, him an’ the boy. Maybe slep’ in.”
“Well, let him sleep,” said Gander, generously. “Grit, you feed up his horses.”
“Where’s Cal an’ Reed?” said Mrs. Stake, when their places were vacant at the breakfast table.
All present looked at each other. “Saturday mornin’,” said Jackson Stake, with sudden inspiration. “No school, an’ Reed’s sleepin’ in.”
“That don’t account for Cal,” said Jackie.
“Sleepin’ in, too, an’ I don’ blame him,” the farmer retorted. “He does more work in a day than you’ve done since you ‘returned to the parental roof,’ as the Plainville Progress had it.”
But Mrs. Stake was not so readily satisfied. “Maybe he’s sick,” she said. “He ain’t been lookin’ jus’ the best lately, nor eatin’ hearty at all. Gander, go out an see.”
Gander gulped the few remaining spoonfuls of his porridge and then did as he was directed. It was high morning, seven o’clock under a cloudless sky, and if Gander had known Browning’s great apostrophe it would have stirred in his soul as he strode across the yard to Cal’s granary. But Gander’s feelings had no outlet in poetry, and his reflections were to the effect that there was but one cure for Cal’s kind of sickness. “In Plainville last night, I guess,” he commented. “Up till all hours with Minnie.”
Finding the door of the granary closed, Gander confidently addressed the wooden panels.
“Cal! Oh, Cal!” he shouted. “Seven o’clock. Horraw!”
N o answer.
Gander raised his voice. “Cal, you’ve slep’ in! Roll out! It’s seven o’clock!” But there was neither voice nor sound from within.
With a sudden foreboding Gander opened the door. It revealed the room, stark empty. Everything was gone except a little table Cal had built, a lamp which he had borrowed from the house, and one or two trinkets not worth moving.
Gander beheld the scene as though it were a tomb. Then, suddenly recalling that he had not noticed the Ford in the yard, he rushed out into the open air. The old car was gone.
It took him a moment to realize the situation. Ca gone! Reed gone! The old Ford gone! Without a word! I sudden thought that perhaps the car had broken down and they had not returned from Plainville, had to be a suddenly dismissed. The complete clearance of thei effects from the granary showed premeditation. H started toward the house, then turned again to the gran ary. Perhaps he would find a clue.
He did. Secured under the lamp was an envelop addressed to Jackson Stake, Sr. Without compunctioi Gander tore it open. It contained a small sum of money but not a word.
Gander replaced the money, folded the torn end of th envelope, and slowly retraced his way to the house.
“Well, I guess we got a real mystery on our hand now,” he announced, as he stood silhouette* against the sunlight in the door. “They’r gone. Both of ’em.”
“Gone!” The voices around the table joinei in chorus. But Mrs. Stake repeated, in a ton in which incredulity mingled with alarm “Gone! Not gone? Reed’s not gone?”
It was young Jackson Stake who sudden!; broke out in laughter. “Gone? Of cours they’re gone. Birds of passage. What did yoi expect?”
His father silenced him with a bang of hi great fist on the table.
“They’re not gone!”he shouted. “Brok down, or somethin’. We’ll be hearin’ from Ca on the ’phone any minute. Gander, get the ca ready to go out for him.”
“Well, my guess is as good as yours,” sail Jackie, “and I guess the next time you hea Cal there’ll be wings on him.”-
The old farmer opened his mouth as thoug! to answer violently, then suddenly droppe' into a tone of wheedling curiosity.
“Say, you seem to know a lot about this,' he addressed Jackie. “Let us all into th secret.”
“No secret,” Jackie replied. “Simp! enough. Cal got out when the gettin’ wa good.”
For a moment Gander attached no signifi canee to Jackie’s remark; then suddenly hi backbone tingled and the blood went rushin to his head. His hand fell on Jackie’s collar. “Look here, you—you—” he hissed. “If yo mean what I think you mean I’ll knock you so far it’' cost you a dollar to send a postcard home.”
“Oh, I heard that speech years ago,” said Jackit “You’ll have to brush up on your bright sayings, Gander.
“Here, cut it out!” said the farmer, who, for all hi amiability, had the rigidity of Gibraltar in a pinch. “Cu it out. I tell you they’ve broke down somewhere an’ come buzzin’ in here one o’ these minutes draggin’ tha peradventure o’ theirs behind ’em.”
Gander had now cooled down enough for reason. ‘T like to believe it, Dad,” he said, “but the facts is agains you. Everythin’s gone out o’ the grainary, clean as you plate. But he left this.”
He handed his father the envelope, and the old ma counted the money slowly, as though working his wa; out of a puzzle.
“Well, I guess he’s gone,” he said at length, in a sort c stunned voice. “I had paid him in advance a little on hi wages, an’ this looks like the difference. I guess he’ gone. There ain’t nothin’ missin’?”
In the same breath he apologized for that reflection o: Cal’s honesty. “Of course not,”' he answered himseli “Nothin’ crooked about Cal. If there was he wouldn’t ha left the change . . . But why did he go, without word?”
Mrs Stake, grimly pácing between the table and th stove, was almost in tears. “My little boy, my poor littl boy!” she kept repeating.
“I’ll let you into a secret,” said her husband. “Cal an Minnie had come to an understandin’. He spoke to m about it, an’ I wasn’t makin’ no kick—”
“Do you call that a secret?” Jackie interrupted “Everybody knew that.”
His father fixed him in a gaze of scorn. “Oh, did they Say, you seem to know so much, why not tell us all abou it?”
“Well, I suggested one answer. Perhaps—”
But Gander had had an idea, and was struggling wit! his Adam’s apple.
“What you doin’, Gander?” Jackson Stake asked him “Swallowin’ a tonsil?”
“I’m goin’ to Plainville,” said Gander, with decision “Right off. But everybody leave the telephone alone. W don’ want this peddled over the country until we knov the facts.”
“That’s good sense,” his father agreed. “No ’phonin’ An’ you beat it into town an’ see what Minnie know about it.”
“If he can find her.” young Jackson added.
FOR all his confidence in Minnie, Gander had been seized with sudden misgivings. In spite of its repugnance—or, perhaps, because of it—Jackie’s suggestion was infecting his thought. Suppose— He refused to suppose. With his mind in a turmoil he rushed the car into the yard, down the trail which wound through the poplar groves, and away, dragging a cloud of dust along the highroad, to Plainville. Into the sleepy prairie town he swept in d-sregard of the printed notice winch threatened vengeance on all who exceeded fifteen miles per hour, and brought his car up in front of the office of Bradshaw & Tonnerfeldt. Without knocking he flung open the door and found Minnie taking dictation from Mr. Bradshaw.
“Why, Gander! What’s wrong?” the girl cried, caught by her brother’s excited appearance.
So she was here, anyway. She knew nothing about it. That might be good—or bad.
“Maybe nothin’,” he answered her, trying to control his agitation. “Maybe a good deal. Can I talk to you a minute, Minn?”
Mr. Bradshaw sent them into his private office, and there Gander told her of Cal’s disappearance.
Minnie went white with the impact of the news. “Oh, Gander, it can’t be!” she cried. “Surely-—he must have gone only on some little trip; he’ll be back by night; perhaps he’s back now. He wouldn’t go—he couldn’t go— altogether—without leaving a word!”
The girl’s limbs were trembling under her as she sank slowly into a chair. Gander was not reassured by his sister’s distress, but his loyalty to her revived in her presence. He essayed some clumsy words of comfort, while an unanswered question was battering at his heart.
Presently Mr. Bradshaw announced through the door that Miss Stake was wanted on the telephone. She pulled herself together and hurried to her desk. “This will be news,” she had said to Gander.
It was. It was young Jackson on the line, with the information that Annie Frawdie the school teacher at Willow Green, also had disappeared. It seemed Cal had been visiting at Ernton’s, where Annie boarded, the
previous evening. That much had been established. Annie had told Mrs. Ernton she expected friends to call for her in the night. In the morning she was gone. Straight case—
“I don’t believe-—I don’t believe—” was all Minnie could fight back into the telephone. Then suddenly the room swam, something smashed, and the next she knew was the feel of water on her face.
“She’s coming to; she’ll be all right,” she heard Mr. Bradshaw’s reassuring voice. Then she began to know that she was lying across a desk, with her head downwards, resting on a chair. She struggled into a more dignified position.
“I’m all right,” she protested. “I’m all right. Gander, what has happened? Oh!” With a stab, consciousness came back upon her.
“I don’t believe it,” she murmured again. She walked over to a window, and for a moment her eyes fled across the undulating prairies, now rich in the midsummer green of their growing crops. She did not believe that Cal had deserted her. There would be an explanation; she would hear from him soon. And in any case she must play the game. Minnie had quality in her; she was a Stake. Her fair skin, her bronze hair, the curves of her lovely figure, were not all she had inherited from her father’s side. She had his amiability, his cheerfulness of disposition, but also she had that rigidity of Gibraltar in the face of storm.
Without seeing the prairies, heaving green into their absorption with the infinite blue beyond, Minnie feasted upon them and restored her soul. Presently she walked with steady step back to her desk, and took up her note book and pencil.
“I am ready, Mr. Bradshaw,” she said. “Thank you, Gander, for coming in. You’re a dear boy. And give them all my love at home.”
Her composure, now that the shock was over, did much to set Gander at ease, and, as there was nothing else to do, he withdrew from the office of Bradshaw & Tonnerfeldt and drove, more soberly, home again.
But before leaving the town, from force of habit he
called at the post office for the mail. There were one or two papers, a circular offering a bargain in farm paint, and a little envelope. He was in the act of stuffing all into his pocket when the address on the envelope caught his attention. “Mr. Gander Stake,” it read, “Plainville, Manitoba.”
Gander spelled it out, over and over again, driving slowly as he held the envelope between his thumb and the steering-wheel. A letter was an unheard-of incident in his life. His first impulse was to connect it with Cal, but his instinct gave him better guidance. This letter was not from Cal.
He drove until he was well out of town; then, in a spot where there was little traffic on the road, he stopped. He opened the envelope carefully with his knife, as though afraid he might hurt something inside, and drew forth a single folded sheet of note paper. The hand was fine and regular, and even Gander found it not very hard to read:
“Dear Gander—You were very rude, and I should not write to you at all, but I just want you to know that my offer stands. When you begin to feel how much you need—all I told you about—come, and bring this letter. It will put you in line for a job.—-J.C.”
J.C.—Jo Claus! The name darted into Gander’s consciousness. Strange he had not noticed the coincidence before!
“Well, I ain’t out of a job,” he said, tossing the letter from the car. But a hundred yards further on he stopped, went back, and picked it up again. A second time he read it, thinking how wonderful it must be to be able to write so much like a copybook. He noticed now a faint perfume from the sheet. After all, it was the first real letter ever he had had. Feeling foolish and guilty he tucked it away in the inside pocket of his coat.
When he was almost home Gander delivered himself of a reflecton. “Old Bill was right,” he said. “You have to treat ’em rough.”
WHEN Gander reached home it was to report that Minnie had known nothing at all of Cal’s disappearance. It had been a blow to her, but she had pulled herself
together and gone back to work. “Minnie’s a brick,” said Gander. “She’s got as much sand in her as a stucco house.”
The theory advanced by Jackie that Cal had gone away with Annie Frawdie, the school teacher, was not readily accepted, and as the day drew to a close evidence accumulated against it. True, there had been some indications of friendship between Annie and Cal, but Annie was known to be somewhat prodigal with her affections. It also was true that Cal had been at Ernton’s the night before, and had sat late with Annie in the maple grove which protects the buildings from the west, while Reed and Jimmie Ernton played that they were Indians encamped about the smudge-fire in the yard. But Jimmie was quite positive in his testimony that Cal had, later, called
the boy from his play,”saying they must go back home.
That evening Gander determined to drive over to Ernton’s and make some inquiries on his own account, but where the Ernton road turns in from the highway his intention weakened, and he continued on a purposeless course through the farming district to the south-east of Willow Green. The long twilight was full of the odor of growing wheat; the tinkle of a cow-bell, or the sound of voices, came up from amazing distances as though it were near at hand. Mother Wild Duck piloting her fluffy brood paused on the white surface of a prairie pond to watch the car speed by.
But Gander had no thought for any of these things. He was concerned about Cal, and about Minnie. He was concerned about that intangible sense of ill-omen which had brooded over the Stake homestead, and of which to-day’s events had been the first fruition. How much did Jackie know? There was something between them. And Reed? He remembered his mother’s pacing up and down, with a cry of bereavement on her lips, “My little boy—my little boy.”
There was also the letter to think about. He had been telling himself that he had forgotten Jerry Chansley. He had lost his head over her for a little while, but he had “taken it out on her”-—that was how he justified his outrageous behavior—and it was all over. And now came the letter, to stir within him again something he did not understand. At first he had been disposed to resent the idea of being offered a “job” by a girl. But as he wound over the still prairies in the light of the long summer evening he realized that it was more than that.
“She wants me near her,” he said at last. “That’s it.”
And even as he reached this comfortable conclusion his thoughts would turn again to Josephine Burge. Since her marriage to Dick he really had been trying to dismiss her from his mind; Gander belonged to the old school to whom marriage still is marriage. Only—she wouldn’t go! He told himself he was through with Jo; told himself so definitely that he avoided her apparent offers of conversation when they met at Willow Green. No use keeping the old fire burning when its heat gave torture instead of warmth. And he had told himself that the flame was stamped out, only in a moment like this to find it burst up again within him. It is in the hour of crisis that we return to our fundamentals.
The long twilight had settled into summer darkness when Gander turned his car toward home. He was humming along the country roads, solacing his soul with the pleasant purr of machinery, and as his engine humhummed he thought of Jo—a little—as he had done in the days gone by. He wondered how she was getting along with Dick, and whether she was, really, as happy as she seemed. It was neighborhood news that Dick was in a bad way with his lungs. Gander had heard the opinion casually expressed that another winter would finish Dick, but never had stopped to think just what significance that fact might have for him. He sometimes wondered how, in his precarious health, Dick kept the farm going at ail.
“I might run over an’ give him a few days’ work, now that we ain’t so busy,” said Gander to himself, and the thought came out of a heart clean of any ulterior motive.
“Ought to give him a hand, I guess. He’s like he is—on my account.”
It was the first time Gander had admitted so much. Never until to-night had he held himself to answer for doing less than his share in the great struggle that had made of Dick a piece of wreckage and had sent Tommy Burge and Walter Peters and a million others headlong into the unknown. If it were true that they had
“Bade the world Good Morning’ When the world had said ‘Good Night’ ” Gander knew nothing of it; all he knew was they were dead. But that seemed not so very dreadful now; not so very, very dreadful. It was, at least, a way of escape. What was the use of living without—without—
“Yes, I’ll have to go over an’ give him a lift,” said Gander.
“Should ha’ done it long agoPoor old Dick.”
He felt better for this resolution and was almost happy again. Suddenly his headlights cut across the figure of a woman on the road. She stepped aside to let him pass, but not quite out of the circle of light. It limned her face against the darkness, and he saw—Jo Claus!
Gander brought his car to a stop a few feet beyond her. “Come on, Jo; have a lift?” he called back.
“Oh, it’s you, Gander?” he heard her say. He had backed up; he had opened the door; she was stepping in beside him.
“Thanks, Gander; that’s good of you,” she said. “But what’s the matter? You’re out of your beat a little, are you not, to-night?”
He could not see her so well, now that she was seated beside him, but her voice was the same, only there was a sadness in it, a sort of resignation, which he had not known before. It touched his pity. Things were not so good with Jo. Her appearance of happiness at Willow Green was only a mask, a camouflage, then, after all—
“Oh, jus’ rovin’ around,” he tried to explain. “Nowhere in partic’lar. In fact —where am I?”
“About half way between Martin Burge’s and the place that I call home,” she told him.
Yes, Gander had his bearings, now. He had not been lost. He knew the country so well that he travelled it subconsciously.
Now why had she said, “The place that I call home?”
“I was just walking across,” she continued, “when you happened along.” He knew that she had turned to look at him in the darkness.
They could not be more than a few hundred yards from her door. They would be there in a minute.
' nder reach a quick res,, tion.
“Jo,” he said, “will you go for a ride with me? I want to talk to you.”
She hesitated. “Not far, Gander,” she conceded. “Dick will be expecting me.”
“I’ll come back whenever you say,” he promised, ai took a cross-road running south.
For some distance they spun along without speec Gander was conscious of a thrill of adventure; a sense impropriety that was very enticing, especially as he kne' and Jo knew, that it was quite all right. Jo trusted hit after all, Jo trusted him. That was what made him so vei happy. But what would she think if she knew—abo that other J.C.?
“Haven’ seen much of you, lately, Jo,” he venture when it became apparent that she would not speak firs “No. Often wished you would come over, Gand« Dick would be glad to see you.”
“Strange thing, Jo,”—he was laughing now, wi happiness—“strange thing, but I was jus’ thinkin’ that, when I caught up on you, there. Had jus’ said myself; ‘Must go over an’ give Dick a few days’ help wi a team.’ ”
Her hand found his arm, and although the pressu was but a featherweight it went tingling to his finger-tip “That would be very kind of you,” she said. “Only, don’t know— Dick might not like it. No”—she seemi at once to have sensed his recoil—“not that. But Di is proud. He won’t admit defeat. Oh, Gander, you ha no idea of the bravery of that boy!”
This was not exactly what he had expected. “He has good booster in his little wife,” he remarked.
“He should have. He’s a good boy. Fighting away the farm, when he should be in bed, or away somewhe on a holiday, camping out, perhaps, under the grei boughs-— Oh, I know what he needs. Gander. And can’t give it to him.”
Gander’s inherent generosity surged within him. “J can I help? I’m not much of a cashier, but Dad’s g some kale, an’ he’d come through if I asked him.”
The pressure of her hand tightened a little. “Thai kind of you again. Very kind, indeed, Gander, afterafter all—” She hesitated, and he knew what was in h mind. “But, you see, that would be like helping with t! team. He wouldn’t have it. He would call that defea and he won’t admit defeat.”
They ran on in silence, each busy with thoughts whi remained unexpressed. Presently she motioned that thi turn toward home. “Dick will be waiting for me,” si said.
It was not until he had turned his car that the day events in the Stake household crushed back into Gander mind. For half an hour the stimulating presence of Burge had swept him clear of that perplexing probier Should he tell Jo? Yes! She must learn of it, anywa; why not from his own lips? So he told her briefly of Cal disappearance.
“I don’ know what to make of it, Jo,” he' conclude“We always used Cal well, and there ain’t any reasonthere shouldn’t be any reason—for this.”
“I wouldn’t worry,” said Jo, and he was struck by tl maturity with which she spoke. This was no longer tl child of his school days, the girl of his adolescence; thi beside him, was a woman, schooled in the responsibiliti
of the world; accu tomed to facing difl culties without pani She seemed to moth him now. “I wouldn worry,” she sai“He’s likely one these rovers; he rove in, and he roved oi again. After a don’t you think, Gai der, they are the wi¡ people? Here we ar you and I, tied dow to our farms; it ma not a jot how sic we get of it, there the unending routin But Cal! He kisses b fingers to it, and fli away in the night! ’ She sighed, ar Gander took an ui premeditated plung “Would you — f! away like that, too Jo, if you could?” “If I could, perhap But I can’t. I’ve gDick. He needs m Oh, Gander, you"' no idea how much 1 needs me! So, yc see, I can’t.”
She answered Î though Gander hs been urging such course upon her. Ac
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he'hadn’t. He had merely asked a question. Was it her own heart she was answering? Gander wondered, but had not the courage to inquire. He reverted to the other matter in his mind.
“I’d like to believe what you say about Cal, but I’m not so sure. The fact is, Jo, he an’ Minnie have been pretty good friends. I guess they were plannin’ to make a match of it. He told Dad as much. An’ now he lights out without a word to Minn; she knew nothin’ of it.” “Oh, I’m so sorry!” said Jo. “Minnie’s a fine girl, and this will hit her hard. But she’ll get over it. We all do. Over everything.”
“Yes.” She said the word with finality, as though all things were settled.
They were nearing Jo’s home, and Gander felt he had not made clear his real misgivings. But how to make them clearer he did not know.
“So you think there’s nothin’ strange about Cal lightin’ out?” he blundered. “Jus’ get engaged to a girl an’ then beat it? You think there’s nothin’-—nothin’— suspicious—about that?”
“Suspicious? It’s not things that are suspicious, Gander, nor actions; it’s people. And that depends on the kind of person you are. Now, I’m not suspicious. If I were perhaps I wouldn’t have gone with you for a drive, Gander. A suspicious person might—”
“I know what you’re thinkin. You’re thinkin’ about what a—what a fool I made o’ myself, that day. Jo, I’m awful sorry. I’ve been sorry ever since.”
“I know.” Her words were tender and quiet, as though nothing now could make any difference between them. “And for awhile I was frightened of you, but I’m not—any more. And I wouldn’t worry over Cal and Minnie. Perhaps he got engaged without intending to; just sort o’ stumbled into it, and took the first chance to stumble out again. It’s not very heroic, but it’s quite natural. And maybe, after he’s thought it over for a few days, he’ll change his mind again. We do that kind of thing, Gander. Look out you don’t find Cal back, Ford and boy and all, in your farmyard one of these mornings!”
They were now stopped at Jo’s gate, and there seemed nothing more to be said.
“Won’t you come in?” she asked him, when they had sat a minute or two in silence. “Dick will be glad to see you.” “No, not to-night, I guess. Maybe some other time.”
“All right, Gander. Any time. And thanks so much for the ride-—and the conversation.”
She gave him her hand, and he held it a moment, as an old friend. Then she disappeared up the path that led to her house.
Gander drove slowly home, a mixture of emotions. Jo had changed so much, and yet, in some ways, not at all. She had taken on responsibilities, with her invalid husband and all the work of the farm. He had noticed that her hand was as hard as his; not like Minnie’s, or Jerry’s. But how wise she was! She had set his mind at rest, and filled his heart with a peace it had not known for years.
“And she’s so good to Dick,” Gander commented, as he rehearsed their conversation while he guided his car along the prairie trails back to the Stake homestead. “She’s a reg’lar mother to him.”
A mother! Y es, that was what she was. Caring for her sick boy. But a wife? Gander wondered!
To be Continued