So as by Fire
“ MY house ’ll be ready by the first snow. But ” —
He was a strongly made, sunburned, vigorous-looking man, not yet thirty, and he stood on a high roll of the prairie, from which he could overlook the waving wealth of a vast field of corn.
His mouth closed suddenly behind the last short word, and a shadow came into his bright dark eyes. They had ceased to study the corn-field, turning rather towards a pair who were riding along its northerly border. They were too far away for him to hear the tall, bearded old man, on the heavy bay horse, remark, —
“ Virginia, thar’s Marsh, standin’ on the rise. Reckon he’s takin’ a look of his corn crap.”
There was no verbal answer, but in another instant the roan mare under his lady companion was curveting spitefully.
“ What on airth did you hit her for ?
She was goin’ well enough. You ain’t safe with a whip.”
She was evidently safe in a saddle, however, and the bay now imitated the roan in a manner which brought them rapidly to the summit of “ the rise.”
“ Mornin’, Marsh. How’s your crap turnin’ out ? Looks prime.”
“ Forty acres cut and shocked. Going in on the shucking to-morrow. I’m counting on sixty bushel to the acre.”
“ Mebbe it ’s thar. Hundred and forty acres of it. You ’re workin’ ahead, Marsh Hayne. Corn’s better ’n wheat, this year.”
“ When are you going to thresh out your yield ? You ’ll have a heap of it.”
“ Best yield I ever harvested, if the market was worth anything. They do say it’s coimin’ up. Jest look at them ricks of mine ! ”
They were a mile and a half due west, but no tree stood between to prevent a view of them, nor did any fence cross the fringe of the open, unbroken prairie. A line of forest arose beyond the ricks, and beyond that, unseen from the knoll, the great plain rolled away, with only a few scattered farms, sixteen miles to the county-seat and “ town.”
“ Your mare’s uneasy, this morning, Miss Crawford. What’s the matter with her ? ”
That was Marshall Hayne’s first discovery of something to say, directly, to Virginia, while her whole attention had seemed to be otherwise absorbed.
“ I’ve spoiled her; let her have her own way too much.”
“ That ’ll never do. I keep a pretty steady hand over everything I ride or drive.”
Every line of his face and every tone of his deep, musical voice seemed to vouch for him. He was speaking of dumb animals, to be sure, but the color deepened in Virginia’s handsome face as she replied, curtly, —
“ So do I ! ”
There was a world of firm decision in the words, and in the sudden compression of the red lips which uttered them. Even the roan mare must have comprehended, for she gave up her petty rebellion, and began to paw the hard, black surface of the prairie road beneath her.
“ Marsh,” remarked old Crawford, “ is n’t your house nigh done ? ”
“ All finished inside. Got a good many things in, too. All the cribs ’ll be up in time to hold the crop.”
“ Gwine to live thar, this winter? ”
It was Marshall Hayne’s turn to color deeply, as he answered, —
“ Can’t say. Reckon old Bitters ’ll have to board me a while.”
“ If I were Celerity,” exclaimed Virginia, with the kind of smile which is no smile at all, “ I would make you paint your house.”
The flush in his face was fiery red, as he suddenly turned to her father : —
“ By the way ! Did you take note of the prairie fire, last night, northeast ? The sky was good and red.”
“’Way beyond the timber? Yes, I saw it. It ’ll burn out whar it is, jest as it allers does. It won’t git across the slough.”
“ Don’t you be too sure of that, now. I’ve a mind to do some back-firing on that side of my farm. A fire ’d go through my standing corn like it was dry grass.”
“Reckon it would. ’T won’t come, though. I’ve lived on this prairie more ’n ten year, and no fire ever come a-nigh me.”
“ I don’t care to have one come too nigh me till my corn’s in crib.”
“ Come along, Virginia. Your mother ’ll be lookin’ for us.”
“ Good-day,” said Marsh.
“Good-morning,” said his two neighbors, almost in the same breath, and Virginia added, “You may tell Celerity Bitters, for me, we ’re going to town tomorrow. If she wants me to get the things she spoke of, she 'd better let me know.”
“I'll tell her. Palm Bitters ’ll be glad of an errand to your house.”
In two seconds more Virginia’s roan mare was fairly dancing along the road, while Marshall Hayne strode fiercely down the slope in the opposite direction. " Virginia,” remarked her father, “why can't you treat Marsh Hayne a leetle more neighborly ? Thar is n't a likelier young feller on this prairie. Thar’s all sorts of real grit and push into him. Look what he’s done with that thar farm ! ”
“ ’Most any man can handle a quarter section.”
“ Not the way he does. I’ve two whole sections now, but he ’ll be ahead of me, ’fore long.”
“ May be so.”
“ He ain’t onsociable, neither. What time’s he got to run around, nowadays, I 'd like to know ? ”
“ Nobody wants him to.”
“ Virginia, how you hev sweated that mare of your’n ! Looks like you’d ridden her twenty miles instid of ten. What’s got into you and her this morning ? ”
She was very busy with her unruly pet just then, and they were drawing near the house, behind which rose the tall ricks of unthrashed wheat. It was a pleasant home, for that day and region. The out-buildings were good. There were even orchards and a garden, and in front of the house an attempt at shrubbery.
The sole heiress of all that comfort, with so many broad acres around it, hardly needed Virginia’s uncommon beauty of face and form to make her the acknowledged “ belle of Crawford’s Prairie.” That she was so, however, and was disposed to assert her supremacy, was known to every living thing or person under or near that hospitable roof, her father and mother excepted.
A somewhat stately, gray-haired dame awaited their coming, in the door-way, with a brief, matronly greeting : — “ Virginny, if you ’re going to town to-morrow, you’ve heaps to do to-day. ’Pears like everybody was a clearin’ out at the same time.”
“ Jest exactly as well, mother,” calmly responded her husband.
“ We can lock the house up.”
“ We jest can. And we can throw the key in the well. Then, if any feller wants to get in, he can crawl through a winder.”
Many a dwelling on the prairie, in those days, was ignorant of lock or key, and well accustomed to take care of itself, but Crawford’s contained more to tempt unlawful intrusion than did some others.
There was a cloud upon Virginia’s face when she followed her mother into the house, although she did not hear her father mutter, —
“ If I was Marsh Hayne, now, I would n’t let any gal that lives treat me the way she’s treated him. He’s a right down good feller. He’s a heap too good for Celerity Bitters.”
Perhaps; but he was delivering Virginia Crawford’s message at that very moment, and she may have guessed as much.
It had sent him to hold a somewhat animated conversation with a young woman who did not at all resemble the belle of Crawford’s Prairie, but who appeared very fully to appreciate her present company. She was not so tall as Virginia, but she was nearly as handsome, in her own way, and her black eyes flashed under her full eyebrows with as clear a warning of a strong will behind them as came from Virginia’s own. In truth, the blue-gray eyes were the softer and the pleasanter to look upon.
“ Going to town, is she ? I 'm obleeged to her for sendin’ me word. Palmer, he ’s a goin’ off down the timber, after dark. I can’t leave home this evening. ’Pears like it was n’t to do me any sort of good to have her go.”
“ Well, never you mind. If you want to send word over, get your errand ready. I ’ll have to ride past Crawford’s by and by, and I ’ll leave it for you.”
“ Will you, now ? I’d like it.”
“ Where’s Palm ? I want him. Where’s the old man ? ”
The long, one-story log-house in front of which they were talking, stood about half a mile beyond the great corn-field, in the middle of which arose the newbuilt, fresh-looking structure which was to be the future home of Marshall Hayne. The logs showed signs of age, but there was barely enough of plowed ground around them to fend off a prairie fire. The Bitters family had not occupied it long, and they were not of the class that open new farms.
“Palm!” shouted the dark-eyed maiden. “ Mr. Hayne wants ye! Wants the old man, too ! ”
A brawny, rugged-looking, and not uncomely six-footer quickly made his appearance around the corner of the house, but he came alone.
“ What’s up, Marsh ? ”
“Well, Palm, it’s just this: I don’t care to be fired out of my corn crop. You take the double team and the breakplow, after dinner, and run two or three furrows along the northeast fence and a little down the east side. The old man can run two or three more, about ten yards out, and we ’ll singe off the grass between ’em.”
“ That ’d stop ’most anything, onless thar was a high wind. Most likely it would then. Awful waste of work, though. Take all day and to-morrer.”
“ Can’t help it, Palm. There were some pretty smart blisters, last year, between this and town. I don’t want any in mine.”
Celerity Bitters had been listening, and she now remarked, —
“ Hank Sanders, he said he ’d be over to see me to-night. I ’ll git him to stop over and help. Thar’s heaps of fun a-fightin’ fire.”
The inability of Celerity Bitters to carry her own errand over to Crawford’s was explained, but Marshall Hayne made no comment on the explanation. Palmer Bitters walked slowly away, leaving his sister to complete her conversation with the energetic young farmer, who at the same time boarded with and employed the Bitters family. They were people whose way in life required them to keep employers and boarders.
“ Gwine to ride by Crawford’s?” There was an inquiring archness in the unflinching black eyes.
“ Reckon so. ’T won’t be out of my way to do your errand for you.”
“Well, no, I s’pose not. You would n’t think of stoppin’ in, now, if Jinny Crawford asked ye ? They do say she does n't make herself the pleasantest kind of company for them she does n’t take to.”
It may not have been said with the intention of sending her own “ company ” off to his work, but she had managed to do it, for he answered her a little promptly : —
“ I ’m putting in my time on my house and my corn just now. Don’t care to have ’em burned up, either. Reckon I ’ll go over and take a look at things.”
He marched away and the black eyes followed him keenly.
“ He’s an awful worker, he is. lie is n’t so bad lookin’, either, sometimes. Hank Sanders could lay him on the broad of his back, any day. Hank ort to be doin’ somethin’ with that thar land of his’n. It’s high time thar was a crap onto it.”
The eastern or any other side of a quarter section of land, United States measure, is half a mile long, and furrows of that length, through virgin prairie sod, call for strong pulling. Marshall Hayne had told no man that he was already the owner of the land upon which Palm Bitters and his father thought they were throwing away their work, that afternoon, and it was hard for them to break “nobody’s land” for some unknown new settler.
Neither Bitters nor Crawford knew of his added claim to the respect of his neighbors, when he mounted his horse, that evening, but either his landed possessions, or Celerity’s errand, or something else, was lying heavy on his mind. He paused for a moment in front of his own new house, and again he said to himself, —
“ It will be ready by the first snow.”
He rode onward, then, with the air of a man who is willing his horse and thoughts should take their own gait, until he neared the house with the ricks behind it.
“Will I go in? Not unless she asks me. If she does, I will! And what then ? Yes, I ’ll do it, sure’s I live ! I can’t stand this any longer.”
It was not from Virginia he received his invitation to come in, but her father, at the gate, said to him, “ What, Marsh? I to tell her all that? Reckon not. I’d miss half on it, sure. You jest ’light down off your horse, and come into the house. I ’ll find her for ye, somewhar. Tell her yourself.”
Marsh obeyed, and in a few minutes more the young people were sitting together in the pleasant little parlor by themselves. To judge by the time required for its delivery and explanation, the message of Celerity Bitters must have been a long one, and very well remembered. It was an uupropitious piece of work for Marshall Hayne, however, if he had meant that any special errand of his own should follow. The very telling Celerity’s words over and over, to make sure of them, brought too vividly to Virginia Crawford’s mental vision a picture of her visitor in close communion with a comely maiden, who smiled upon him unutterable things through a pair of black, brilliant eyes.
She noticed, too, — and a rebellious feeling rose within her as she studied it, — how the willful look of set, determined purpose grew and deepened in the strong face before her. It seemed to look out aggressively and assail her, arousing something desperate and opposing from the hidden depths of her heart. It was a fierce and struggling feeling, and it swelled until she was almost afraid of him. She was angry with herself for that, but her fear grew fast when her eyes told her that his face was getting strangely pale, and her ears gave her to know that his deep, bell-like voice was trembling, and that it seemed to well up from away down, down, — some hidden place whence no voice of man had ever before come to her. She strove not to understand it, and not to know why her heart was beating more quickly, and harder and harder, although as yet he was not talking about anything in particular, — land, and crops, and stock, and his new house, and so forth.
The room was swiftly getting dark, as rooms will at the close of October days, but Virginia could see Marshall Hayne’s face as plainly as before, for some reason. It seemed to stand out of the gloom as if framed in it, white, fixed, determined. At last there came a moment when her heart stopped its hot beating for a pulse or two, and began to swell. She could hardly remember, afterwards, precisely what he had been saying, but when he came to the words, —
“It will be ready by the first snow, Virginia. Will you go into it with me ? ”
“ I ? ”
The questioning exclamation burst from her lips in a great sob, as she sprang to her feet.
“ You will not ? Then I will burn it down ! ”
The first words had a sad and mournful sound, and as if they came from a distance, while the latter were uttered in a harsh, hoarse whisper. She would have given a world for the power to speak again, there in the deepening gloom, into which her backward step had carried her ; but the swelling of her heart forbade it too long, and the next sound she heard was the rapid stroke of the hoofs of Marshall Hayne’s horse upon the road, as he galloped away.
“ Gone ? What did I say ! ”
She sank upon a chair, and the very dusk faded gloomily out of the little parlor. Her struggle against the overmastery of Marshall Hayne’s will had apparently cost her something.
Neither old Mr. Crawford nor his wife knew anything more concerning their young neighbor’s evening call than that it seemed a somewhat shortened one. It had been quite plain that he had had yet another errand " up the road.” They knew that by the rapid gait at which he rode away.
Virginia was well satisfied to spend the following day “ in town,” and even that her father’s business at last compelled them all to remain there over night. When, however, on the next day, they set out for home, she was conscious of a feeling of uneasiness, which increased with every mile they traveled. Her father seemed to share it with her, but she understood that better when he at last remarked, —
They do say the prairie was all afire, hereaway, last night. You can see the smoke of it now. Reckon it didn’t git across the slough. It could n’t, on less thar was a high wind; but then the wind’s risin’, and it’s a-blowin’ the wrong way, to suit me.”
Meantime it had been a great relief to Marshall Hayne to have a large job on his hands, —one he could push along feverishly, “ so we can get at work at the corn shucking.”
There is some excitement in " backfiring,” even when you feel sure the blazes you are kindling cannot get away from you.
There were three broad furrows along the northeast fence, and four more along the outer border of the ten-yard strip of prairie so inclosed, to be burned over. The grass on this, while pretty dry, was nowhere very luxuriant, and before the day was over the work was done, with no harm to anybody, and a fine opportunity given Hank Sanders to “ beat fire ” at the side of Celerity Bitters. An average width of fifty feet of scorched sod and bare earth and a high rail fence now protected the entire easterly front of Marsh Hayne’s farm, and in all other directions it was fairly safe, for other reasons. The scant plowing at Bitters’s could be trusted to guard the log-house and its surroundings.
The night after was a bad one for sleeping, if only because of the strong smell of burning grass continually pouring in through open windows. It grew so terribly pungent by sunrise, that Marshall Hayne exclaimed, as he sprang out of bed, —
“It’s coming ! There’s no mistake about it, this time.”
A little later he remarked,—
“ Wonder if old man Crawford’s got home ! I don’t reckon he has. I won’t wait for breakfast. I ’ll go right over and see about it. She won’t he there. If she is, I ’ll know in time to keep away.”
He did not even wait to saddle a horse, but walked swiftly away from Bitters’s without saying a word to a soul.
On he went, with quickening strides, to and through his own domain. He paused for one moment in front of the neat but as yet unpainted frame dwelling. There was a patch of young fruit trees to the left of it. There were signs around it of more improvements to come, and it had a dumb look of loneliness which seemed to plead for human occupancy.
He shook his head.
“ No. I won't be a fool. It shall stay there, but I ’ll never put my foot over the threshold. They say there are good locations to be had in Kansas. I’d rather go further, — Nevada, now ? Colorado ? ”
On again, until he was near enough to Crawford’s to make sure there was no smoke rising from the kitchen chimney. There was, however, an abundance of smoke now floating down from the north and east, and he muttered, gloomily, —
“ Into the house ? No, I don’t feel like doing that, but I 'll see that the stock is safe. I ’ll tether every horse out in the winter wheat. That’s green enough. The horned critters ’ll run for the timber, and the hogs are there now. I could n’t do much for anything else, and it may not reach the house. No, I reckon I won’t go in.”
It required some little time to empty the stables, and transfer their equine contents to the middle of the wheat field. Virginia Crawford’s pet mare was particularly restive under the kindly hands that led her away. She may have suspected that Marshall Hayne was stealing her.
The haze in the air seemed somehow to have settled upon his soul by the time his self-imposed task was completed. He moved more slowly than at first, and his head drooped forward in a brooding silence. He kept to his purpose, however, about not entering the house, and now, as if it were a neighborhood to escape from, he walked away across the prairie, letting his undirected feet carry him vaguely northward.
The first words he spoke came from him when, after wandering half a mile or so, he found himself in a deep, treebordered, winding hollow, that was almost a ravine : —
“ The slough ? I declare ! I'd no idea it, was dead dry. The rosin weeds, too. Never saw ’em taller. If a fire should once get in here, now, wouldn’t it burn! ”
There could be small doubt of it, for the white gum which exuded from the tall, drying stalks of the weeds, and from their broad foot-leaves, was the very treasure-house of terrible heat.
He did not linger long in the hollow, but the moment he was once more on somewhat higher ground, beyond the trees, he uttered a sharp exclamation : —
“ Wind rising ? I should say it was. The fire has crossed the slough ! Look yonder! It’s making straight for my place. Oh, but ain't I glad I ’m ready for it! ”
ITe stood still for a moment, and looked around him. The scene he was gazing upon was well worth some careful study. The wind was indeed blowing more strongly. The line of the advancing fire was broken and irregular, but if one fact was plainer than another, it was that the great blaze to the eastward had not only broken the feeble barrier of thin forest in its way, but was traveling furiously down along the slough itself. It would surely cut him off from going back by the way he came, and it would be among Crawford’s stubble-fields in ten minutes more, and then among his ricks and stables, and no power could save the homestead.
“ It ’ll be an awful coming back for them,” he muttered ; but his next word was almost a shout: “I 'm penned in! ” His glances were swift and keen. “ It’s making head westerly. It’s got in behind me. The whole prairie ’s afire to the northward. I’ve heard of such things, but I’d no idea I 'd ever be trapped this way, myself. If I had a match I'd set the grass afire here, and burn a place to stand in. Have n’t a one! Have I got to be burned alive?”
That was a serious problem, surely, for a strong man to face, but Marshall Hayne faced it. He had turned deathly white, the night before, in Virginia Crawford’s parlor, but he did not lose a shade of color now. He did but step briskly forward, saying to himself, —
“ Not on this low ground, anyhow. The grass is too thick here, and there are too many weeds. I must go for the highest knoll I can reach, and the thinnest growth. Then, when the fire comes, I ’ll try a rush. Reckon that’s my only chance.”
He walked more swiftly after that thought came to him. Then he even ran, for at some distance before him the prairie arose in a knoll which was almost a knob. The grass would surely be short there, and he would be able to take a wider look about him.
He reached it, and the air on the little summit was easier to breathe in.
Fire, fire, fire, in all directions. It was sweeping vigorously down through the tall blue grass and rosin weeds of the slough away there behind him, but there was too much black smoke from them to guess how near it might be to Crawford’s. It was well for him he had not sought an escape in that direction.
“The north road to town comes in over yonder. The fire has burned along both sides of it, nobody knows for how far. There’s a double buggy, now, coming along, away back. It must be old Crawford’s. No, they’re not in any danger, but then ” —
He paused there, for the blazing line in front of him was drawing nearer. Harder and harder blew the wind, too, and higher leapt the red tongues of the flame.
“I ’ll wait till it strikes into the short grass on the slope. Then for a charge ; but I must go straight across. If I lose my way in the smoke, and run right or left, I’m a dead man.”
His trousers were already tucked into his boots. His coat was carefully buttoned up to his chin, and the collar of it turned up, while his handkerchief was made to cover as much as possible of his neck, and a flap of it was drawn across his mouth. Then his slouched hat was pulled over his forehead, and all was ready.
“ If I’m not suffocated, and if I don’t stumble, I believe I can get through.”
Cool and calm and strong; every nerve was tense and every muscle was utterly ready. And now, sending before it dense clouds of rosin weed smoke, the prairie fire began its fierce charge up the slope, like the English infantry at Inkerman.
“ Now for it! Life or death ! ”
He went forward with a great, staglike bound, and the smoke-cloud closed around him.
He had not been watching the double buggy for some few minutes, but there had been something in it worth watching. The driver was alone on the front seat, with a bag of flour beside him, and he did not turn to look behind as he steadily remarked, —
“ It is n’t of any use, mother. That blaze ’ll reach our place before we do.”
Stern and silent sat old Mrs. Crawford, while her husband was speaking; but a younger and better pair of eyes had been straining their vision upon the smoke wreaths and eddies ahead.
“ Father ! There ’s a man on the hill! He will be burned ! ”
“ God pity him! That’s so ! ”
The buggy had been driven along the prairie road, as closely in the rear of the advancing fire as old Mr. Crawford dared to press his snorting, frightened span of bays, and the distance between them and the knob was not so very great. A gust of wind lifted the smoke from it, just for a moment.
“ Father ! Father ! Can’t you see ? Can we not do something ? Mother, — mother, — mother, — it is Marshall Hayne! ”
The old man shivered from head to foot, and Mrs. Crawford turned suddenly around to look at her daughter. She needed but one look.
“ Virginia ! My poor girl! Oh, I did not know it! ”
Virginia’s lips were parted, and she was staring fixedly at the black pall of vapor which had again hidden the prairie knoll from view. Marshall Hayne was in there, somewhere, she knew, with the fierce fire smiting him.
White, oh how white a face was hers for a mother to gaze upon ! There was no trace of color, even on the lips.
Old Crawford reined in his horses, groaning aloud.
It seemed but a minute more, an eternally long minute of horrified silence, when the staggering form of a man burst through the nearer line of smoke, and a pair of arms were thrown wildly upward, as if their owner mingled a word of thanksgiving with his first gasp of breathable air. He needed more air and fresher, and he once again hurried forward.
The bays were suddenly lashed to a gallop, just as Virginia Crawford faintly muttered, —
“ Is that Marsh ? Oh, mother, is he saved ? ”
“ Jinny ! Keep up ! I ’ll hev him in ten seconds.”
The bays were again reined in, quickly, for there was a man in the road before them.
“ Hold the reins, mother!” shouted old Crawford, as he sprang to the ground. “ Marsh, is it you ? Are you much burned ? Can you speak ? ”
He might well ask him who he was, under the thick dusting of soot and ashes that covered him from head to foot.
At that moment there was a low cry behind old Crawford, and the form of his daughter darted past him.
“ Marsh ? Oh, Marsh, why won’t you speak to me ? ”
Her white hands were on his shoulders, and her streaming eyes were studying his face, but there was color again in her own, now.
“ I’m all right, Virginia, but I’m afraid there’s nothing left of your place.
I took your mare and the other horses out into the wheat field. She’s safe.”
“ You’ve been caring for us ? Risking your life for us ! Oh, Marsh, are you hurt ? ”
“ Not much, I reckon. Burned on my hands a little, — that’s all. Have to get a new pair of boots.”
Yes, and a new hat and coat; and his hair, beard, and eyebrows had suffered; and the Crawfords would find only heaps of ashes where they had left so fair a home. But what of all that! What was any such loss, compared to the treasure which had come to Virginia through that wall of smoke and fire, or to the one Marshall Hayne had found at the end of his desperate rush for life!
“ Git into the buggy, Marsh. He won’t need no help, Jinny. Did you say you ’d saved the critters ? ”
“ Reckon they ’re all right, but I did n’t get anything out of the house. You’d better take the road to mine, at the forks. We put in all day, yesterday, back-firing.”
“ That’s what I ought to have done, ’stead of going to town.”
There was a great deal of silence during the short remainder of that drive ; but old Crawford followed his young neighbor’s advice, for the right-hand road, at the forks, would have led him into a hotter country than his horses would have been willing to travel.
Before long, they could all see the great blaze which went up from house and barns and corn cribs and stacks of wheat.
“ The land won’t burn,” said the brave old man, almost cheerily. “ Glad the stock is safe. That was good of you, Marsh. I don’t owe a cent, and it won’t break me up. Glad your place is n’t hurt; but you had a close call of it yourself.”
He heard a very long breath drawn, at that moment by somebody upon the back seat of the buggy.
At the door of the new house they all got soberly down, and Mrs. Crawford walked straight to the door and through it. Her husband stayed to care for his over-excited team, but Marshall Hayne and Virginia were just a little behind her, when she reached the threshold.
“ Why, dear me ! ” exclaimed the old lady. “It’s nigh a’most furnished! It’s real comfortable ! ”
Perhaps it was mere curiosity that carried her onward so quickly, then, out of hearing, although some experienced women are very wise.
“ Will you go in, Virginia ? ”
“ I ? Marsh ! ”
“ With me, I mean, — Virginia ? ” He passed the threshold as he spoke, and there he stood, holding out both hands, half-welcoming, half pleading.
“ Forever and ever, Marsh ! ”
If, a few moments later, old Mrs. Crawford meant any more than she said, there may have been some reason for the high color in her daughter’s face, for part of the added tint was dusky : —
“ Marsh, you’d better git a clothesbrush and some soap and water. I declare ! Virginny, you a’most look as if you’d been through a fire yourself.”
The further domestic arrangements of Marshall Hayne’s new house were completed a good while before the " first snow,” although the winter set in early that year.
He did not board with the Bitters family another day, but It was only a week or so after the fire had done its work that Celerity remarked to Hank Sanders, —
“ No, sir ! I’m gwine to foller Jinny Crawford. Not till you’ve took some kind of a crap off that land o’ yours, and put a house onto it.”
W. O. Stoddard.