Page images

"Pizarro," I supplemented, commiseratingly.

"The Inca dines to-night at Caxamalca." Silvia was catching the gray gauze in a confident four-square knot under her chin. "And do you, Tony, see that there is game."

"You remember Atahualpa left the Spaniards' castle by way of the gibbet? Does your policy include some such measures toward Uncle Eben?" I interrogated respectfully.

"It won't be necessary," assured Silvia, complacently, "a dash in the Crimson Joy and a chicken pie will secure me a safe passport into

[ocr errors]

"Cuzco," with my most obliging bow and smile.

So, nothing doubting, Silvia set off, billows of gray floating about her like the draperies of the Hours in Guido Reni's "Aurora."

"I'll bring back the Inca and all his household to dinner," she called back gaily.

In truth, I was considerably cut up over our unpropitious advent to Idlemead this year. The long, hot summer had been spent on Chautauqua platforms, with Silvia loyally in the front rows to start the applause in the right places.

Jt was late September before Our breathing spell came. The old world rustled her vari-colored dress and enticed to the simple life with her mellow Indiansummer smile. The lure of the woods was upon us, and the game law was "out." Idlemead outlined itself in our desires surrounded by the halo of past happy summers. But had it not been for the Crimson Joy, I think we would not have achieved Idlemead and the animosity of our neighbors that year. For many smoke-grimed, cinder-filled miles circling through a series of dingy by-stations, each exacting its pound of flesh in hours of tedious waiting, loomed between. And our courage, already wilted by the summer's ordeal, would not have been equal to it.

But to mount the smooth-gliding car, that had recently come into the possession of Silvia through the indulgence of an opulent, doting bachelor uncle, and spin along the river road, was in itself a nerve tonic, and of a piece with the pastoral calm of Idlemead.

After a few hours' joyous riding, filled with ozone and keyed to the last pitch of exhilaration, we turned into the broad, smooth road skirting the fruitful acres of Eben Peru. The approach to Idlemead was level and unobstructed from here on. Then there entered into Silvia the little demon that urges womankind to the spectacular. Her new toy must be displayed in all its impressiveness to the simple country folk.

"Speed up, Tony," she urged. "Let's wake up Uncle Eben's, and let them know some one is coming."

Nothing loath, I threw open the highspeed gauge, responding as much to the lure of the open road as to her request. The Crimson Joy gave one gasolinescented cough, and took the road like a comet. In a trice a blurr in the landscape resolved itself into the Peru homestead nestled among its cherry and plum trees. A vivid imagination could construe the Millet-like patches of light and shade on the front porch into the forms of woSilvia zealously flapped a tiny square of white linen as a symbol that we came in peace and not in war.


"What the dick!" I ejaculated the next minute, throwing my eyes ahead to see a brown object lunging into the path of the machine.

There was a momentary flashlight of an old man with sleeves rolled up brandishing a stool of the one-legged variety in one hand and a pail in the other, while the air in the vicinity of his mouth was bluer than the blood of the first families of Virginia. I swung all my force onto lever, pedal and wheel, but it was too late. Brownie lay by the roadside breathing her last, and Eben Peru's opinion of automobiles and their idiot drivers was going on record at the rate of one hundred forceful words a minute.

The next day I stood beseechingly in Eben Peru's cow-shed, my hat in one hand and my spurned gold in the other. The patriarch of the fertile acres towered above me, implacable. All the sang froid of the lecture platform left me. I became a blushing school boy caught in a puerile prank.

My retrospection was cut short by the return of Silvia. The Joy crept up at a Dobbin pace. Silvia's gauze draperies

hung limp like sails in a dead calm. The air about her was charged with dejection.

"The Inca scents the trap of the palefaced stranger and comes not to Caxamalca," quoth I, as she stepped from the car, defeat weighting down every youthful curve of her.

"Tony," one last remnant of reserve spirit flared up fitfully-"you forget the pump." It was the law of Idlemead that any one posing as intellectual should go under the pump.

"Yes, ma'am," falling back on my Uriah Heap inflection, I steered the car toward the antiquated granary which had been converted into a garage.

Coming back, I found Silvia again on the stoop. It took both hands now to support her crestfallen chin. The rays of the setting sun brought out the gold tints in her hair, which was at last released from its diaphanous gray prison.

"Do you know, Tony," she began, "I don't believe it is the Joy or Brownie at all. That is only a pretext. I tell you, Tony, there is a family skeleton stalking through the house of Peru and 'we-all' are intruders." She sat erect with most owl-like expression and waited for applause from the pit.

I ostentatiously took off my cap before her superior wisdom, and looked up hungrily for more crumbs. But with all due regard for woman's intuition, I was making mental reservations, remembering certain fierce anti-motor car sentiments of Eben Peru's freely expressed at the village post-office in times past, and his reputation for being "sot" in his opinions.

"When I approached the house," she went on, "Bessie dropped her apple paring and disappeared like a scared rabbit. In the big, homey living room, where I had always been so comfy, I sat on the edge of my chair, while Aunt Sarah, looking so sad and a bit flurried-I believe she had hidden something in the big work basket-waited for me to make my errand known. Directly Uncle Eben stalked in like a lion protecting his lair."

"And your next move, ma'am?"—now what there was about that pacific question to send Silvia post-haste into the house with that ridiculous little nose of hers putting on aeroplane airs, is beyond the grasp of mere man.

Another day passed, and the domain of Peru lay distant and impenetrable, though only the orchard intervened. Trot, Uncle Eben's dog, refused to recognize the ban under which Idlemead lay. Morning, noon and night found him on our doorstep licking his chops and wagging his tail in a most insinuating manner. Silvia fed him choice tidbits in a conscienceless endeavor to alienate his affections.

It was Trot who first announced the arrival of reinforcements. The isolation of our lives must have already taken hold on us, for at the first bristling bark Silvia and I sprang to the doorway with country-side curiosity.

A phaeton drawn by two beauties of ponies was entering our gateway. A lady with a wealth of pale-gold hair held the ribbons.

"Almagro with fresh horse," I breathed softly, for Silvia's ear alone.

But Silvia pushed me aside and rushed down the gravel path. "Natalie! Natalie! Natalie!" coming back to me in ecstatic crescendo.

Then I knew at last I was beholding in the flesh that paragon of paragons, Mrs. Natalie Grayson Shipman, whose graces and virtues had been dinned into my ears for the past twenty-five years. But "How? When? What? Why?" I advanced, my mind one animated bundle of interrogations.

But I began to get the lay of the land. out of an avalanche of exclamations and explanations shot through with introductions and directions for the care of the ponies. Out of the heterogeneous mass, I learned that John Winthrop Shipman, D. D., had been called unexpectedly to the presidency of an aspiring college in the vicinity of Idlemead. By mere chance his wife learned that what Silvia had been pleased, in her private correspondence, to call our country villa, was not far distant. By a more remarkable chance, she had learned that we were at Idlemead at the present minute, et cetera, et cetera.

The chatter of the re-united friends was exasperatingly overwhelming. I felt distinctly out of it. So I shouldered my gun and took to the woods, Trot following close at my heels.

I had not expected to be needed excruciatingly at the cottage that day. And

was a little surprised, on my return, to find Silvia waiting for me all on impatient tiptoes. I had just deposited my stuffed game-sack on the garage floor when she came winging on Mercury sandals, palpitating with the greatness of her message.

"Oh, Tony," she panted, "you were so long." Then dropping her voice to almost a whisper, "it is a skeleton, Tony. They are married." Her four hours' desertion cropped out in the injured tone of the next, "I couldn't find you anywhere." Then shifting again from the complainant to the informant, she finished in one grand elucidating burst, "It's Roy Fleming, Tony. He's at Caxton College. He has told Natalie everything. And oh, Tony, what are we going to do about it? Her grandparents don't know,"-Silvia sank on the granary floor with clasped hands, a mute statue of appeal.

"Now, Mrs. Enfield," I suggested, as I overturned a bushel measure and made ready to strip the feathers from a bird, "if you would begin at the beginning and follow a consecutive train of thought, much more logical conclusions could be drawn." But this was entirely beyond the excited Silvia. She would rush from peroration to exordium and mix sixthly and thirdly sadly. However, the synthetical. mind of her husband could gather up the fragments and patch up respectable whole.

It was the old story. A feud divided the houses of Montague and Capulet. The third generation produced its Romeo and Juliet. But a hard-headed Peru and a hot-headed Fleming would permit no Veronese romance. Uncle George whisked Roy off to a military school and Grandfather Peru kept Bessie immured on the farm.

But when did ever old and wise heads overmatch red-corpuscled youth. Under cover of the mid-winter holidays, Roy had stolen back, and they were married in the country school-house in the gray of Christmas morning by a strolling evangelist who, at that time, was holding a "series of meetings" in the neighborhood. Only Mattie Cromwell, aged seventeen, witnessed the ceremony.

After a few days, Roy dutifully returned to his school. His presence in the neigh

[ocr errors]

borhood not even having been suspected by the lynx-eyed Eben Peru. And Bessie took up the difficult double role of wife and maid. Now, Roy had broken completely with his uncle and was at Caxton. He wanted his wife, and had sent Mrs. Shipman with a habeas corpus, as it were, to fetch her.

While my mind was wrestling with these facts, a crashing of brush brought us to the door in time to see Eben Peru vault the orchard fence. vault the orchard fence. I had just time to drop, sotto voce, "The Inca comes to Caxamalca," when he reached the granary door in a sprint that would have done credit to an international.

"Get out your gasoline buggy," he ordered peremptorily. "Screw it up to its best licks."

"Yes, sir"-Silvia's training clung in moments of stress-I wiped my hands on a grain sack and turned to the Crimson Joy without delay or question.

"Go to Sarah!" was his next command. This was leveled at Silvia, who still stood by with dilated eyes and parted lips.

She needed no second bidding. Signaling Natalie, who had come out on the back stoop, the two of them rolled under the orchard fence like school girls, and sped straight into Cuzco.

"The shortest route to Caxton Center," was Eben Peru's brief order, when seated by my side in the Crimson Joy. "Never mind the speed limits-I'll see to the fines. We're racing with life to-day, young man."

The Joy gathered her forces and flung us onward on the wings of the wind. A level open country stretched before us, and we ate up green-bordered ribbon of a road with a silent insatiable greed. Eben Peru leaned forward, his brawny arms stretched along his angular limbs, his sun-browned, gnarled hands working convulsively on his knobbed knees. "Oh, Lord!" he mumbled, as if in prayer, "this thing must not come to my house. We've been a hard lot, but shame has never smutched the name of Peru."

"They're married, Uncle Eben," I hazarded, not knowing whether I was holding out a straw, or shaking a red rag, or striking wild of the apropos.

"Married!" he snorted, bringing his seasoned, powerful-limbed body erect with

[ocr errors]

a jerk. "Don't you know, young man, that marriage is a sacred institution? Can a defaulting bank clerk, hiding his guilt under a preacher's coat, unite hearts and hands for time and eternity?"

I could only gasp my comprehension and give my attention to the machine. He did not seem to expect a reply, and was leaning forward again deep in thought. "Say, young fellow," he straightened suddenly and pierced me with his steely blue eye, "how did you know the children thought they were married? Has everybody known that but me?"

"I only learned it to-day. man "I began.

Mrs. Ship

"And I only learned it to-day." He took the words quickly and fiercely out of my mouth. "And they say a woman can't keep a secret. She can, if she's a Peru." He snapped his lips together in a mixture of pride and contrition.

"But when Mattie Cromwell got home to-day, just in the nick of time, it didn't take long to get the truth out of her. Say, young man, can't you whip up this sorrel horse a bit?" We were making about a mile a minute. He slid to the edge of the seat and sat erect, an image of impatient haste.

But before he had quite "bust his biler," as Jake Whatcomb would have said, we were at Caxton Center. A swirl into the college campus among the gaping students; a rush toward a young man, leaning languidly against a tree, who came quickly to life at the sight of Eben Peru; a dash up the steps and a quicker run down them, with a gentleman in clerical garb in tow; a stowing away of the passengers in the Crimson Joy, and we were away again with a great honking like a flock of wild geese winging due north.

When I had time to take in the situation, I knew that no less a personage than President John Winthrop Shipman, D. D., occupied the seat with me, while Eben Peru and Roy Fleming sat in the tonneau, heads together in earnest, anxious confab.

Eben Peru raised his head just once as we left the college behind to say: "Home, young man, with all the git she's got."

That was a ride to go down in song. The Joy settled to her work with a steadfastness that was almost intelligence. We

shot through the dust like a flashing arm. of the aurora borealis, leaving plunging horses, shrieking women and profane men in our wake. There were no fatalities that I ever heard of.

When we sighted the Peru homestead, Silvia was in the roadway signaling frantically to us. Eben Peru chewed a straw savagely, bounced about on the cushions and called the singing Joy a spavined old skate, in his eagerness to annihilate the distance between us and the home wire. But his complaints were scarce given to the air before the Joy was slowing down within his own yard and Silvia was running alongside expressing her relief that we were there.

"Are we in time?" implored Eben Peru, in labored breath, as if he himself had been making the Joy's record.

But Silvia only responded: "Quick, quick," and led the way into the house.

"Come on, Enfield," called President Shipman, "we may need you for a witness.'

[ocr errors]

Presently we found ourselves in a small white bedroom where Bessie lay with a frightened, pained look in her gentle eyes.

"Tie the knot without a kink this time, doctor," directed Eben Peru.

We witnessed a brief, impressive marriage ceremony. Then Silvia with nervous flapping hands waved us all out of the room. Only the young bridegroom was given time to kiss the fair, fragile little bride.

In less than an hour Silvia's radiant face peeped in at the granary door. "It's a boy, Tony," she rippled, dimples chasing each other down into her very neck. "They are going to call him Eben George." Then she crossed over to the dust-begrimed Joy and caressed its sleek red sides as if it were a sentient thing. "Thanks to you, my beauty," she cooed, "he was born in lawful wedlock."

The next morning as I was polishing the Joy, the shadow of an old straw hat fell athwart my sunshine, and I knew, without looking up, that Eben Peru had "happened over" with the old time neighborliness.

"What does one of these here contraptions cost?" he remarked with characteristic directness. "Reckon I'll be a-gettin' one for Bessie's weddin' present so Roy

kin finish his school an' board at home. gradgerates in June, you know. How long was we a-makin' that forty-mile run yesterday ?"

"About fifty-six minutes," I answered promptly. I had been proud of the Joy.

"That was good work. There was never a Peru with a stain on his birth." Uncle Eben sat down on an inverted bushel measure, and I knew the Cordilleras no longer lay between Idlemead and the Peru homestead.



Dark is the night, my child,
Dark is the night;

The pale moon for an instant emerges,
Then as quickly is hidden from sight;
And the roar and the boom of the surges
On the rocks, fill mine ear with affright,
As they knell out the mariners' dirges.

Pile on the chips, my child,
Pile on the chips;

The red embers through ashes are staring,
And the heaven continually drips,
All unheeding, it seems, and not caring
For the fate of the boats and the ships.
In the billowy darkness now faring.

Ours was a bark, my child,
Ours was a bark;

All the fishermen's pride and devotion,
And she sailed o'er the waters, a lark,

In the heavens reflected in ocean;

But I fear she'll go down in the dark
In the wind's and the water's commotion.

Dipping the shoal, my child,
Dipping the shoal

From the emerald sea in the glorious weather,
We were nearing the beautiful haven, the goal
We had toiled for so long, but I doubt me now whether
He will help me deal out what remains of the dole,
For I fear that no more we shall journey together.

Drifting alone, my child,
Drifting alone;

I shall watch the pale day in the Western wave dying,
And the sound of the waters will mix with the moan
Of my heart, and the desolate doves that are flying

To the nest where the fledglings forever are flown,
Like the hopes of my youth where the dead leaves are lying.
Wait till the day, my child,

Wait till the day,

Till the sun o'er the waters in splendor is shining,
And the sails are adrift by the shore of the bay;

For serene is the heaven beyond all divining

When the clouds and the tempest have lifted away,
To reveal our lost bark and to set our hearts pining!

« PreviousContinue »