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His eyes were closed and he looked the
invalid now.

"I guess you better write to his folks."

"No; don't do that," he said, opening his eyes; "it will only do them
harm an' me no good. I'll be all right in a few days. You needn't waste
your time on me; Hartley'll wait on me."

"Mr. Lohr, how can you say such cruel----"

"Don't mind him now," said Mrs. Welsh. "I'm his mother now, and he's
goin' to do just as I tell him to--ain't you, Albert?"

He dropped his eyelids in assent, and went off in a doze. It was all
very pleasant to be thus treated. Hartley was devotion itself, and the
doctor removed his bandages with the care and deliberation of a man with
a moderate practice; besides, he considered Albert a personal friend.

Hartley, after the doctor had gone, said with some hesitation:

"Well, now, pard, I _ought_ to go out and see a couple o' fellows I
promised t' meet this morning."

"All right, Jim; all right. You go right ahead on business; I'm goin'
t' sleep, anyway, and I'll be all right in a day or two."

"Well, I will; but I'll run in every hour 'r two and see if you don't
want something. You're in good hands, anyway, when I'm gone."

"Won't you read to me?" pleaded Albert in the afternoon, when Maud came
in with her mother to brush up the room. "It's getting rather slow
business layin' here like this. Course I can't ask Jim to stay and read
all the time, and he's a bad reader, anyway; won't you?"

"Shall I, mother?"

"Why, of course, Maud!"

So Maud got a book, and sat down over by the stove, quite distant from
the bed, and read to him from "The Lady of the Lake," while the mother,
like a piece of tireless machinery, moved about the house at the
never-ending succession of petty drudgeries which wear the heart and
soul out of so many wives and mothers, making life to them a pilgrimage
from stove to pantry, from pantry to cellar, and from cellar to
garret--a life that deadens and destroys, coarsens and narrows, till the
flesh and bones are warped to the expression of the wronged and cheated
soul.

Albert's selfishness was in a way excusable. He enjoyed beyond measure
the sound of the girl's soft voice and the sight of her graceful head
bent over the page. He lay, looking and listening dreamily, till the
voice and the sunlit head were lost in his deep, sweet sleep.

The girl sat with closed book, looking at his face as he slept. It was a
curious study to her, a young man--_this_ young man, asleep. His brown
lashes lay on his cheek; his facial lines were as placid as a child's.
As she looked she gained courage to go over softly and peer down on him.
How boyish he seemed! How little to be feared! How innocent, after all!

As she studied him she thought of him the day before, with closed eyes,
a ghastly stream of blood flowing down and soaking her dress. She
shuddered. His hands, clean and strong and white, lay out on the
coverlet, loose and open, the fingers fallen into graceful lines.
Abruptly, a boy outside gave a shout, and she leaped away with a sudden
spring that left her pale and breathless. As she paused in the door and
looked back at the undisturbed sleeper, she smiled, and the pink came
back into her thin face.

Albert's superb young blood began to assert itself, and on the afternoon
of the second day he was able to sit in his rocking chair before the
fire and read a little, though he professed that his eyes were not
strong, in order that Maud should read for him. This she did as often as
she could leave her other work, which was "not half often enough," the
invalid grumbled.

"More than you deserve," she found courage to say.

Hartley let nothing interfere with the book business, and the popular
sympathy for Albert he coined into dollars remorselessly.

"You take it easy," he kept saying to his partner; "don't you
worry--your pay goes on just the same. You're doing well right where you
are. By jinks! biggest piece o' luck," he went on, half in earnest.
"Why, I can't turn around without taking an order--fact! Turned in a
book on the livery bill--that's all right. We'll make a clear hundred
dollars out o' that little bump o' yours."

"Little bump! Say, now, that's----"

"Keep it up--put it on! Don't get up in a hurry. I don't need you to
canvass, and I guess you enjoy this 'bout as well." He ended with a sly
wink and cough.

Yes; the convalescence was delicious; afterward it grew to be one of the
sweetest weeks of his life. Maud reading to him, bringing his food, and
singing for him---- yes; all that marred it was the stream of people who
came to inquire how he was getting along. The sympathy was largely
genuine, as Hartley could attest, but it bored the invalid. He had
rather be left in quiet with Walter Scott and Maud, the drone of the
long descriptive passages being a sure soporific.

He did not say, as an older person might, that she was not to be held
accountable for what she did under the stress and tumult of that day;
but he unconsciously did so regard her actions, led to do so by the
changed conditions. In the light of common day it was hurrying to be a
dream.

At the end of a week he was quite himself again, though he still had
difficulty in wearing his hat. It was not till the second Sunday after
the accident that he appeared in the dining room for the first time,
with a large traveling cap concealing the suggestive bandages. He looked
pale and thin, but his eyes danced with joy.

Maud's eyes dilated with instant solicitude. The rest sprang up in
surprise, with shouts of delight, as hearty as brethren.

"Ginger! I'm glad t' see yeh!" said Troutt, so sincerely that he looked
almost winning to the boy. The rest crowded around, shaking hands.

"Oh, I'm on deck again."

Ed Brann came in a moment later with his brother, and there was a
significant little pause--a pause which grew painful till Albert turned
and saw Brann, and called out:

"Hello, Ed! How are you? Didn't know you were here."

As he held out his hand, Brann, his face purple with shame and
embarrassment, lumbered heavily across the room and took it, muttering
some poor apology.

"Hope y' don't blame me."

"Of course not--fortunes o' war. Nobody to blame; just my
carelessness.--Yes; I'll take turkey," he said to Maud, as he sank into
the seat of honor at the head of the table.

Then the rest laughed and took seats, but Brann remained standing near
Albert's chair. He had not finished yet.

"I'm mighty glad yeh don't lay it up against me, Lohr; an' I want 'o say
the doctor's bill is all right; you un'erstand, it's _all right_."

Albert looked at him a moment in surprise. He knew this, coming from a
man like Brann, meant more than a thousand prayers from a ready
apologist; it was a terrible victory, and he made it as easy for his
rival as possible.

"Oh, all right, Ed; only I'd calculated to cheat him out o' part of
it--that is, turn in a couple o' Blaine's 'Twenty Years' on the bill."

Hartley roared, and the rest joined in, but not even Albert perceived
all that it meant. It meant that the young savage had surrendered his
claim in favor of the man he had all but killed. The struggle had been
prodigious, but he had snatched victory out of defeat; his better nature
had conquered.

No one ever gave him credit for it; and when he went West in the spring,
people said his love for Maud had been superficial. In truth, he had
loved the girl as sincerely as he had hated his rival. That he could
rise out of the barbaric in his love and hate was heroic.

When Albert went to ride again, it was on melting snow, with the
slowest horse Troutt had. Maud was happier than she had been since she
left school, and fuller of color and singing. She dared not let a golden
moment pass now without hearing it ring full, and she did not dare to
think how short this day of happiness might be.


IV.

At the end of the fifth week there was a suspicion of spring in the wind
as it swept the southern exposure of the valley. February was drawing to
a close, and there was more than a suggestion of spring in the rapidly
melting snow which still lay on the hills and under the cedars and
tamaracks in the swamps. Patches of green grass, appearing on the sunny
side of the road where the snow had melted, led to predictions of spring
from the loafers beginning to sun themselves on the salt-barrels and
shoe-boxes outside the stores.

A group sitting about the blacksmith shop were talking it.

"It's an early seedin'--now mark my words," said Troutt, as he threw his
knife into the soft ground at his feet. "The sun is crossing the line
earlier this spring than it did last."

"Yes; an' I heard a crow to-day makin' that kind of a--a spring noise
that kind o'--I d' know what--kind o' goes all through a feller."

"And there's Uncle Sweeney, an' that settles it; spring's comin' sure!"
said Troutt, pointing at an old man much bent, hobbling down the street
like a symbolic figure of the old year.

"When _he_ gits out the frogs ain't fur behind."

"We'll be gittin' on to the ground by next Monday," said Sam Dingley to
a crowd who were seated on the newly painted harrows and seeders which
"Svend & Johnson" had got out ready for the spring trade. "Svend &
Johnson's Agricultural Implement Depot" was on the north side of the
street, and on a spring day the yard was one of the pleasantest loafing
places that could be imagined, especially if one wished company.

Albert wished to be alone. Something in the touch and tone of this
spring afternoon made him restless and full of strange thoughts. He took
his way out along the road which followed the river bank, and in the
outskirts of the village threw himself down on a bank of grass which the
snows had protected, and which had already a tinge of green because of
its wealth of sun.

The willows had thrown out their tiny light green flags, though their
roots were under the ice, and some of the hard-wood twigs were tinged
with red. There was a faint, peculiar but powerful odor of uncovered
earth in the air, and the touch of the wind was like a caress from a
moist magnetic hand.

The boy absorbed the light and heat of the sun as some wild thing
might, his hat over his face, his hands folded on his breast; he lay as
still as a statue.



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