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It had the usual main street lined with low brick or
wooden stores--a street which developed into a road running back up a
wide, sandy valley away from the river. Being a county town, it had a
courthouse in a yard near the center of the town, and a big summer
hotel. The valley was peculiarly picturesque. Curiously shaped and oddly
distributed hills rose out of the valley sand abruptly, forming a sort
of amphitheater in which the village lay. These square-topped hills rose
to a common level, showing that they were not the result of an upheaval,
but were the remains of the original stratification left standing after
the vast scooping action of the post-glacial floods.

The abrupt cliffs and lone huge pillars and peaks rising out of tamarack
swamps here and there showed the original layers of rock unmoved. They
looked like ruined walls of castles ancient as hills, on whose massive
tops time had sown sturdy oaks and cedars. They lent a distinct air of
romance to the valley at all times; but when in summer vines clambered
over their rugged sides and underbrush softened their broken lines, it
was not at all difficult to imagine them the remains of an unrecorded,
very warlike people.

Even now, in winter, with yellow-brown and green cedars standing starkly
upon their summits, the hickories and small ashes blue-black with their
masses of fine bare limbs meshed against the snow, these towers had a
distinct charm. The weather was glorious winter, and in the early
morning when the trees glistened with frost, or at evening when the
white light of the sun was softened and violet shadows lay along the
snow, the whole valley was a delight to the eye, full of distinct and
lasting charm, part of the beautiful and strange Mississippi River
scenery.

In the campaign which Hartley began Albert did his best, and his best
was done unconsciously, for the charm of his manner (all unknown to
himself) was the most potent factor in securing consideration.

"I'm not a book agent," he said to one of the clergymen to whom he first
appealed; "I'm a student trying to sell a good book and make a little
money to help me to complete my course at the university."

He did not go to the back door, but walked up to the front, asked to see
the minister, and placed his case at once before him with a smiling
candor and a leisurely utterance quite the opposites of the brazen
timidity and rapid, parrot-like tone of the professional. He secured
three clergymen of the place to head his list, much to the delight and
admiration of Hartley.

"Good! Now corral the alumni of the place. Work the fraternal racket to
the bitter end. Oh, say! there's a sociable to-morrow night; I guess
we'd better go, hadn't we?"

"Go alone?"

"Alone? No! Take some girls. I'm going to take neighbor Picket's
daughter; she's homely as a hedge fence, but I'll take her--great
scheme!"

"Hartley, you're an infernal fraud!"

"Nothing of the kind--I'm business," ended Hartley, with a laugh.

After supper the following day, as Albert was still lingering at the
table with the girls and Mrs. Welsh, he thought of the sociable, and
said on the impulse:

"Are you going to the sociable?"

"No; I guess not."

"Would you go if I asked you?"

"Try me and see!" answered the girl, with a laugh, her color rising.

"All right. Miss Welsh, will you attend the festivity of the evening
under my guidance and protection?"

"Yes, thank you."

"I'll be ready before you are."

"No doubt; I've got to wash the dishes."

"I'll wash the dishes; you go get ready," said the self-regardless
mother.

Albert felt that he had one of the loveliest girls in the room as he led
Maud down the floor of the vestry of the church, filled with laughing
young people moving about or seated at the long tables. Maud's cheeks
were full of delicate color and her eyes shone with maidenly delight as
they took seats at the table to sip a little coffee and nibble a bit of
cake.

"I suppose they _must_ have my fifteen cents some way," said Albert, in
a low voice, "and I guess we'd better sit down."

Maud introduced him to a number of young people who had been students at
the university. They received him cordially, and in a very short time he
was enjoying himself very well indeed. He was reminded rather
disagreeably of his office, however, by seeing Hartley surrounded by a
laughing crowd of the more frolicsome young people. He winked at Albert,
as much as to say, "Good stroke of business."

The evening passed away with songs, games, and recitations, and it was
nearly eleven o'clock when the young people began to wander off toward
home in pairs. Albert and Maud were among the first of the young folks
to bid the rest good night.

The night was clear and cold, but perfectly still, and the young people,
arm in arm, walked slowly homeward under the bare maples, in delicious
companionship. Albert held her arm close to his side.

"Are you cold?" he asked in a low voice.

"No, thank you; the night is lovely," she replied; then added with a
sigh, "I don't like sociables so well as I used to--they tire me out."

"We stayed too long."

"It wasn't that; I'm getting so they seem kind o' silly."

"Well, I feel a little that way myself," he confessed.

"But there is so little to see here in Tyre at any time--no music, no
theaters. I like theaters, don't you?"

"I can't go half enough."

"But nothing worth seeing ever comes into these little towns--and then
we're all so poor, anyway."

The lamp, turned low, was emitting a terrible odor as they entered the
sitting room.

"My goodness! it's almost twelve o'clock. Good night." She held out her
hand.

"Good night," he said, taking it, and giving it a cordial pressure which
she remembered long.

"Good night," she repeated softly, going up the stairs.

Hartley came in a few moments later, and found Bert sitting thoughtfully
by the fire, with his coat and shoes off, evidently in deep abstraction.

"Well, I got away at last--much as ever. Great scheme, that sociable,
eh? I saw your little girl introducing you right and left."

"Say, Hartley, I wish you'd leave her out of this thing; I don't like
the way you speak of her when----"

"Phew! You don't? Oh, all right! I'm mum as an oyster--only keep it up!
Get in all the church sociables, and all that; there's nothing like it."

Hartley soon had canvassers out along the country roads, and was working
every house in town. The campaign promised to lengthen into a month,
perhaps longer. Albert especially became a great favorite. Every one
declared there had never been such book agents in the town: such
gentlemanly fellows, they didn't press anybody to buy; they didn't rush
about and "poke their noses where they were not wanted." They were more
like merchants with books to sell. The only person who failed to see the
attraction in them was Ed Brann, who was popularly supposed to be
engaged to Maud. He grew daily more sullen and repellent, toward Albert
noticeably so.

One evening about six, after coming in from a long walk about town,
Albert entered his room without lighting his lamp, lay down on the bed,
and fell asleep. He had been out late the night before with Maud at a
party, and slumber came almost instantly.

Maud came in shortly, hearing no response to her knock, and after
hanging some towels on the rack went out without seeing the sleeper. In
the sitting room she met Ed Brann. He was a stalwart young man with
curling black hair, and a heavy face at its best, but set and sullen
now. His first words held a menace:

"Say, Maud, I want t' talk to you."

"Very well; what is it, Ed?" replied the girl quietly.

"I want to know how often you're going to be out till twelve o'clock
with this book agent?"

Perhaps it was the derisive inflection on "book agent" that woke Albert.
Brann's tone was brutal--more brutal even than his words, and the girl
turned pale and her breath quickened.

"Why, Ed, what's the matter?"

"Matter is just this: you ain't got any business goin' around with that
feller with my ring on your finger, that's all." He ended with an
unmistakable threat in his voice.

"Very well," said the girl, after a pause, curiously quiet; "then I
won't; here's your ring."

The man's bluster disappeared instantly. Bert could tell by the change
in his voice, which was incredibly great, as he pleaded:

"Oh, don't do that, Maud; I didn't mean to say that; I was mad--I'm
sorry."

"I'm _glad_ you did it _now_, so I can know you. Take your ring, Ed; I
never'll wear it again."

Albert had heard all this, but he did not know how the girl looked as
she faced the man. In the silence which followed she looked him in the
face, and scornfully passed him and went out into the kitchen. He did
not return at supper.

Young people of this sort are not self-analysts, and Maud did not
examine closely into causes. She was astonished to find herself more
indignant than grieved. She broke into an angry wail as she went to her
mother's bosom:

"Mother! mother!"

"Why, what's the matter, Maudie? Tell me. There, there! don't cry, pet!
Who's been hurtin' my poor little bird?"

"Ed has; he said--he said----"

"There, there! poor child! Have you been quarreling? Never mind; it'll
come out all right."

"No, it won't--not the way you mean," the girl cried, lifting her head;
"I've given him back his ring, and I'll never wear it again."

The mother could not understand with what wounding brutality the man's
tone had fallen upon the girl's spirit, and Maud felt in some way as if
she could not explain sufficiently to justify herself. Mrs. Welsh
consoled herself with the idea that it was only a lovers' quarrel--one
of the little jars sure to come when two natures are settling
together--and that all would be mended in a day or two.

But there was a peculiar set look on the girl's face that promised
little for Brann. Albert, being no more of a self-analyst than Maud,
simply said, "Served him right," and dwelt no more upon it for the time.

At supper, however, he was extravagantly gay, and to himself
unaccountably so.



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