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The longing uneasiness of the boy had given place to
another unrest--the unrest of the man who must face the world in earnest
now, planning for food and shelter; and all plans included Maud.

To go back to school was out of the question. To expect help from his
father, overworked and burdened with debt, was impossible. He must go
to work, and go to work to aid _her_. A living must be wrung from this
town. All the home and all the property Mrs. Welsh had were here, and
wherever Maud went the mother must follow; she could not live without
her.

He was in the midst of the turmoil when Hartley came in, humming the
"Mulligan Guards."

"In the dark, hey?"

"Completely in the dark."

"Well, light up, light up!"

"I'm trying to."

"What the deuce do you mean by that tone? What's been going on here
since my absence?"

Albert did not reply, and Hartley shuffled about after a match, lighted
the lamp, threw his coat and hat in the corner, and then said:

"Well, I've got everything straightened up. Been freezing out old
Daggett; the old skeesix has been promisin' f'r a week, and I just said,
'Old man, I'll camp right down with you here till you fork over,' and he
did. By the way, everybody I talked with to-day about leaving said,
'What's Lohr going to do with that girl?' I told 'em I didn't know; do
you? It seems you've been thicker'n I supposed."

"I'm going to marry her," said Albert calmly, but his voice sounded
strangely alien.

"What's that?" yelled Hartley.

"Sh! don't raise the neighbors. I'm going to marry her." He spoke
quietly, but there was a peculiar numbness creeping over him.

"Well, by jinks! When? Say, looky here! Well, I swanny!" exclaimed
Hartley helplessly. "When?"

"Right away; some time this summer--June, maybe."

Hartley thrust his hands into his trousers pockets, stretched out his
legs, and stared at his friend in vast amaze.

"You're givin' me guff!"

"I'm in dead earnest."

"I thought you was going through college all so fast?"

"Well, I've made up my mind it ain't much use to try," replied Albert
listlessly.

"What y' goin' t' do here, or are y' goin' t' take the girl away with
yeh?"

"She can't leave her mother. We'll run this boarding house for the
present. I'll try for the principalship of the school here. Raff is
going to resign, he says; if I can't get that, I'll get into a law
office here. Don't worry about me."

"But why go into this so quick? Why not put it off fifteen or twenty
years?" asked Hartley, trying to get back to cheerful voice.

"What would be the use? At the end of a year I'd be just about as poor
as I am now."

"Can't y'r father step in and help you?"

"No. There are three boys and two girls, all younger than I, to be
looked out for, and he has all he can carry. Besides, _she_ needs me
right here and right now. Two delicate women struggling along; suppose
one of 'em should fall sick? I tell you they need me, and if I can do
anything to make life easy, or easier, I'm going t' do it. Besides," he
ended in a peculiar tone, "we don't feel as if we could live apart much
longer."

"But, great Scott! man, you can't----"

"Now, hold on, Jim! I've thought this thing all over, and I've made up
my mind. It ain't any use to go on talking about it. What good would it
do me to go to school another year, come out without a dollar, and no
more fitted for earning a living for her than I am now? And, besides all
that, I couldn't draw a free breath thinking of her here workin' away to
keep things moving, liable at any minute to break down."

Hartley gazed at him in despair, and with something like awe. It was a
tremendous transformation in the young, ambitious student. He felt in a
way responsible for the calamity, and that he ought to use every effort
to bring the boy to his senses.

Like most men in America, and especially Western men, he still clung to
the idea that a man was entirely responsible for his success or failure
in life. He had not admitted that conditions of society might be so
adverse that only men of most exceptional endowments, and willing and
able to master many of the best and deepest and most sacred of their
inspirations and impulses, could succeed.

Of the score of specially promising young fellows who had been with him
at school, seventeen had dropped out and down. Most of them had married
and gone back to farming, or to earn a precarious living in the small,
dull towns where farmers trade and traders farm. Conditions were too
adverse; they simply weakened and slipped slowly back into dullness and
an oxlike or else a fretful patience. Thinking of these men, and
thinking their failure due to themselves alone, Hartley could not endure
the idea of his friend adding one more to the list of failures. He
sprang up at last.

"Say, Bert, you might just as well hang y'rself, and done with it! Why,
it's suicide! I can't allow it. I started in at college bravely, and
failed because I'd let it go too long. I couldn't study--couldn't get
down to it; but you--why, old man, I'd _bet_ on you!" He had a tremor in
his voice. "I hate like thunder to see you give up your plans. Say, you
can't afford to do this; it's too much to pay."

"No, it ain't."

"I say it is. What do you get, in----"

"I think so much o' her that----"

"Oh, nonsense! You'd get over this in a week."

"Jim!" called Albert warningly, sharply.

"All right," said Jim, in the tone of a man who felt that it was all
wrong--"all right; but the time'll come when you'll wish I'd--You ain't
doin' the girl enough good to make up for the harm you're doin'
yourself." He broke off again, and said in a tone of peculiar meaning:
"I'm done. I'm all through, and I c'n see you're through with Jim
Hartley. Why, Bert, look here--No? All right!"

"Darn curious," he muttered to himself, "that boy should get caught just
at this time, and not with some one o' those girls in Marion. Well, it's
none o' my funeral," he ended, with a sigh; for it had stirred him to
the bottom of his sunny nature, after all. A dozen times, as he lay
there beside his equally sleepless companion, he started to say
something more in deprecation of the step, but each time stifled the
opening word into a groan.

It would not be true to say that love had come to Albert Lohr as a
relaxing influence, but it had changed the direction of his energies so
radically as to make his whole life seem weaker and lower. As long as
his love-dreams went out toward a vague and ideal woman, supposedly
higher and grander than himself, he was spurred on to face the terrible
sheer escarpment of social eminence; but when he met, by accident, the
actual woman who was to inspire his future efforts, the difficulties he
faced took on solid reality.

His aspirations fell to the earth, their wings clipped, and became,
perforce, submissive beasts at the plow. The force that moved so much
of his thought was transformed into other energy. Whether it were a wise
step or not he did not know; he certainly knew it was right.

The table was very gay at dinner next day. Maud was standing at the
highest point of her girlhood dreams. Her flushed face and shining eyes
made her seem almost a child, and Hartley wondered at her, and relented
a little in the face of such happiness. Her face was turned to Albert in
an unconscious, beautiful way; she had nothing to conceal now.

Mrs. Welsh was happy, too, but a little tearful in an unobtrusive way.
Troutt had his jokes, of course, not very delicate, but of good
intention. In fact, they were as flags and trumpets to the young people.
Mrs. Welsh had confided in him, telling him to be secret; but the
finesse of his joking could not fail to reveal everything he knew.

But Maud cared little. She was filled with a sort of tender boldness;
and Albert, in the delight of the hour, gave himself up wholly to a
trust in the future and to the fragrance and music of love.

"They're gay as larks now," thought Hartley to himself, as he joined in
the laughter; "but that won't help 'em any, ten years from now."

He could hardly speak next day as he shook hands at the station with his
friend.

"Good-by, ol' man; I hope it'll come out all right, but I'm afraid--But
there! I promised not to say anything about it. Good-by till we meet in
Congress," he ended in a lamentable attempt at being funny.

"Can't you come to the wedding, Jim? We've decided on June. You see,
they need a man around the house, so we--You'll come, won't you, old
fellow? And don't mind my being a little crusty last night."

"Oh, yes; I'll come," Jim said, in a tone which concealed a desire to
utter one more protest.

"It's no use; that ends him, sure's I'm a thief. He's jumped into a hole
and pulled the hole in after him. A man can't marry a family like that
at his age, and pull out of it. He _may_, but I doubt it. Well, as I
remarked before, it's none o' my funeral so long as _he's_ satisfied."

But he said it with a painful lump in his throat, and he could not bring
himself to feel that Albert's course was right, and felt himself to be
somehow culpable in the case.




AN ALIEN IN THE PINES.

I.


A man and a woman were pacing up and down the wintry station platform,
waiting for a train. On every side the snow lay a stained and crumpled
blanket, with here and there a light or a chimney to show the village
sleeping beneath.

The sky was a purple-black hemisphere, out of which the stars glittered
almost white. The wind came out of the west, cold but amiable; the
cracked bell of a switch engine gurgled querulously at intervals,
followed by the bumping of coupling freight cars; roosters were crowing,
and sleepy train men were assembling in sullen silence.

The couple walked with arms locked like lovers, but the tones of their
voices had the quality which comes after marriage. They were man and
wife.

The woman's clear voice arose. "O Ed, isn't this delicious? What one
misses by not getting up early!"

"Sleep, for instance," laughed her husband.

"Don't drag me down. You know what I mean. Let's get up early every
morning while we're up here in the woods."

"Shouldn't wonder if we had to.



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