Love and a Wooden Leg

I no not quite know how to begin the telling of this tale, unless I first say who I am. So. I am Ned Stirling, a freeholder, owning near to two hundred tillable acres in fee simple, as the lawyers say out of their hooks, beside some woodland uncleared. I do not make the chance for saying this from any idle vanity, but only because the owning of freehold estates gives weight and value to a man. and also some substance to his opinions in matters of politics and religion. So it may make this tale more simple and clear if it be known beforehand that I who tell it am no mere weaver of romance, hut a man of some position and dignity, and with a love for truth-telling. I doubt not that without such suretyship what I ’shall here set down might be hard of belief.

I know not at all how I shall justify myself for the writing of these things ; for I am now near to two-and-eiglity years old, and have been through all this time a hearty scorner of gossip, and of those habits which lead men to speak lightly of the failures and shortcomings of mankind. Another of my greatest fears is that I may he thought afflicted with that common ailment of old age. — the ailment of talking too freely. So I have held back and delayed the beginning, as when a man stands beside cold water, trying to think of other things and to admire the landscape, putting off the sharp shock of the plunge. But maybe I can do no better than try to forget my fears, and let the tale justify me and itself together.

And so, to let my story move forward with due following of its parts one upon another, I must first tell of William von Stein, who, when I was a lad of seventeen or eighteen years, was made a justice of the peace. As I now remember him, he was a man of very good girth indeed at the waistband, and with fat neck and cheeks, only part way hid by some thin gray beard. His head was quite bald on top, and very shining ; but he had some hair standing upright around his ears and down by the back of his neck, so that his head looked like a good piece of cleared land with a stout hedge fence surrounding it. His eyes were so nestled away in their two fat holes above his cheeks, and so set about with many wrinkles, that they seemed small and unhandy, like pigs’ eyes, until one got to know them ; and then, upon friendly acquaintance, they would come out quite large eyes, clear blue sometimes, and sometimes gray, changing as his humor changed, as when little patches of sky peep through drifting clouds. But they had a kindly straightforwardness in them, which spoke well for the thoughts that directed their glances.

William von Stein did not talk much, even when his opinion was asked, and thereby he was saved no little time and effort of mending his mistakes; for if there be taken away from us those errors which come from our much speaking, but few are left to trouble us. He liked to smoke his long pipe, taking it from his lips only for eating, or for sometimes refreshing himself with brown ale or small beer. His slow wavy about everything got him much respected ; and indeed it went a great way to keep our county people at peace with one another. For after he had heard a case before him, and had listened to all the whys and wherefores, he would always say, moving his pipestem a little bit to make room for the speech : “ For so weighty a matter as this I must have time to think clearly. When I have made up my mind, I will call you into court to have the decision.” Then, so slow was he in getting at a conclusion which satisfied him with its justice that the contentious parties would have repented of their strife with one another, and would have made a peaceful settlement of their difference. But William von Stein got a strong reputation to himself for sagacity, and was so well liked and pleased the people so well that he was chosen over and over again for his office.

And now I think I have told all that need be told about him, except that he had a wooden leg. I beg you not to grow impatient with me for dwelling upon trifles, because you shall see by and by how poorly such impatience becomes you, when you learn all of what is to follow. I know not how he had got his wooden leg, but only that he had it, and that he seemed to take much pride in it, as though he had come by it honorably. It was just a straight stick of dark wood, with a knob of iron upon the lower end, and made fast by straps to his own leg (or to what was left of it) somewhat above where the knee once was. With most men, and surely with those who lack in deportment, such a leg magnifies their awkwardness in walking, giving a hobbling and halting gait ; but it was not so with him ; for, on the contrary, his slow step would have wanted very much of its impressiveness had he gone upon two legs of flesh and bone. It is not easy to say, and so I do not try to say, whether he was more distinguished by his wooden leg or by his high office ; nor did he seem quite clear in which of them he had the greater pride ; and when he sat in his justice’s chair, with a case in law before him, he would attend sometimes to the lawyers, and sometimes to his leg, which he would lift and lay upon the table in front of him, there regarding it with much affection. By rubbing it with his red silk kerchief right often, he had made the wood very shining and polished. Sometimes, when the lawyers were at their subtlest points and most bewildering with their hard words, his head would go nodding, and after that he would draw forth his kerchief from his deep pocket, as though to begin again at the work of rubbing his stick ; and thereupon the lawyers, if they were indeed subtle of thought as well as of speech, would know that it was time for them to say that there was no need for saying more.

But by and by, when I was about fiveand-twenty (three years after I had won my own sweet wife), it came about that the lads and the young men of our part of the county, and indeed from the farthest parts too, came to think of William von Stein with a very fine respect. This was not the same respect which was shown him because of his high position, nor yet because of his wooden leg, but because of his being father to a young and comely daughter. And Katherine von Stein was a daughter fit to make any man respected who might chance to be father to her. She was comely alike in form, which was slight, not like her father’s ; and in face, which was all pink and white, and still less like his; and in spirit, which was honest and straightforward, in which she resembled her sire more than in aught else. She had very beautiful eyes and hair ; and though I had my own dear Ruth, and was in no need of doing so, I grew quite fond, like the rest of the young men, of looking at her when she came my way. But I did not go out of my way to seek her, which reconciled my conscience to looking at her as much as I pleased, at such times as she came nigh me.

William von Stein was right proud of her, as became him. Old mother von Stein was long ago numbered with those who had lived a useful life and gone to get the reward for it; so that the care Katherine’s father showed her was all the care she got, except as the young men cared for her. And not one of them with an honest heart in him but loved her very well indeed.

I have always loved to see a man love a good woman. There is only one thing well worth while and of long endurance in this world, after all, and all a good man’s life shapes itself to this end : I mean, getting and keeping the love of good women. When I hear evil of a man, I like to know, before forming judgment on him, what the woman may be who is loved by him and who loves him. No matter about the rest; life is all very plain and easy for a man when the woman he loves loves him. Then all justice and goodness are easy to him ; and even growing old is easy, as I, who am now old myself, have found it.

Katherine von Stein, being a shy and demure maid, and knowing so little of these things, made no show of liking any of the youths above another, which was very hard upon us ; for what man or woman but loves to know the outcome of love ? She went about her duties in her father’s house, and was a lady to all the young men who looked at her. But if she even so much as guessed that any of them looked at her with any more than the admiration which is always the due reward of comeliness, she failed to show it. She had her place in the gallery which was built for the choir in our church, and I know how well the church prospered in those days, from the way the young men got of coming twice on a Sunday, and being in such form of mind as made them generous toward the money box.

I remember how that once Ruth and I were at dinner at William von Stein’s house; and after the dinner was done, and his daughter had set out some wine and two pipes for her father and me, then, made bold by having my own wife with me to hear, and by the familiarity which comes to a man when he has eaten dinner in another’s house, I said (trying to hide that I said it curiously), “ Some time, Katherine, I doubt not you will be getting a home of your own, with a husband to fill a pipe for.”

But, without the lightest change of color or of feature, she looked at me and at her father before she answered me. Then she said, and said it as quietly as though she spoke of the commonest fowl in her dooryard, “ My husband must be one whom I love better than I love my father.”

And then she laid her light hand upon his bald crown ; and he turned about in his chair, looking at her fondly, taking her small hand in his own big one, and drawing her down to him so that he might kiss her cheek ; and that made me feel as though I had said a thing of which I had no right to be vain. Yet this did not hinder me from keeping my eyes upon her, and upon the young men who loved her; for, as the way is among us, no man ever is at any pains to hide his true love for a maid. But I found it to take much time and patience to observe them all, and to determine in my own mind the one most fitting to be her husband.

There was one who loved her, but who, as I thought, had no right to do so; at least not with the ardor of youth, for he was twice my own age, and whitehaired. Looking at it now, I might have more charity for him ; for I know, and say it without shame, that a man must be even older than I am before he loses the way of loving fair maids. Then, being young, and thinking love youth’s privilege and prerogative, my patience was not strong with the ways of old men, and I felt some hardness of heart and mind toward him. But I find I have not yet said who he was. He was Judge Ravenel, the chiefest judge of these counties, and a man of good and ancient family, and with very great pride in his position. He was stern, and with a strong, bold sense of doing his duty; indeed, he would always talk upon every chance (and even making the chance for it, sometimes) of man’s stern place in this life. In this he was not like William von Stein ; for William von Stein talked little of duty, but did it quite honestly, while Thomas Ravenel, despite his much speaking about it, sometimes went wide of duty.

I do not think that Katherine loved him well, though maybe she had some awe of his position. It was this which I feared most; for a woman is like a man in that matter. I mean that while she lifts her eyes to look upward upon dignities which she covets, she may lose sure sight of the way in which her own feet walk, and so stumble. I do not charge this upon Katherine; she made no sign to him of favor, nor seemed to carry in her fair head any thought save the thought of dutiful affection to her father. But her father gave token of favoring Judge Ravenel; no doubt because he thought it well to have a sonin-law in his own way of life, so that the business of doing justice might be kept in one family. I know that Judge Ravenel paid his court courteously and strongly, and gave time and care to the cultivation of graces of deportment toward William von Stein, as became one with his hopes. He was, moreover, a man of good possessions, living alone in his own big house, with only an old woman for a housekeeper, and some other servants.

Then there came to our county a young man who was a stranger in our parts. He came as a lawyer, and a very poor one (I mean in point of pocket). His dress marked him as a man whose heritage had been little or nothing, or else it had all been spent, for his clothes were poor and mean. But in his face and eyes, and in the firm lines about his mouth, he carried proof of a heritage finer than any other, and I liked him right well. His brow was broad, and set low down over his great dark eyes, in which there were fine thoughts; not to be read clearly, but only guessed at and studied out by little and little, after friendship had deepened. He had a clear, sweet voice, which he could make rise and fall in a way to insure liking in one who loves the softer side of a man’s character. I liked him all, and liked him best of all because he had pride in his poverty, and seemed not able to tell a lie, — which has ever been to me the strongest test of a man’s manhood.

He had been but a little time in our county town, where Katherine lived with her father, before his voice took him too into the choir gallery in our church, where he stood and sang by Katherine’s side. When I listened to them on Sunday, after a long week’s hard work, and most like after a long, slow sermon, I was glad to be there, and found worship of God to come easy. I know now, and knew quite well then, that I had my own thoughts about them. For they two. Katherine and John Smithson, seemed to me to be but the two halves of one whole. When I thought of them thus, I was satisfied in my own mind ; and I do not know any truer test of the righteousness of a man’s thought than that it truly satisfies himself.

When they would sit together in the choir gallery through the length of the sermon, John Smithson, not having much to occupy his mind, would keep his eyes drifting now and again to Katherine’s face. This I was glad to see ; though if Katherine knew it, she knew it by some other way than seeing, for she kept her eyes downcast, as was her wont, or only lifted them sometimes to the parson’s face.

William von Stein did not like John Smithson, and his dislike was built upon the very thing for which I liked him best, — his proud poverty. This was an unjust and unreasoning thing, as I am bound to say, and one to be questioned in a man who was trained to the doing of justice. But (as I have observed in the course of a long life) men of broadest parts are wont sometimes to conceive and bear the narrowest thoughts, if their own notions of dignity or pride be touched upon. For great men are for the most part men of few thoughts, by long dwelling upon which they have grown great; and when a man has but a few thoughts, and those got by hard labor of the intellect, he is unwilling to give one of them up. I say so much to try to justify William von Stein, who was a worthy man, in his faint regard for John Smithson. But, however true the reasons may be which I have given, it is certain that the old man did not like the young one, and made no pains to avoid showing his slight respect. If John Smithson resented this, he failed to show it; he kept his own dignity and lived his own life quietly, holding himself apart, with his manhood about him. This gave me both joy and sorrow; for as my thoughts were upon the young man and the maid, I was sorry ; but as one who loves the quality of upright self-respect in a man, I was glad.

Why it is so I do not try to guess ; nevertheless, I have seen that women’s hearts warm but slowly toward men like John Smithson ; I mean men whose best strength is that which helps them to control their thoughts and deeds, and who live their lives through in such struggle. I know, both from what I have observed and from what Ruth and some other women have told me, that a woman (even the best) can forgive in a man many sins, so that they be but committed ardently and with a warm heart; but that as a man lacks in ardor and impulsiveness of action, so must he also lack in women’s admiration. Perhaps (and I should like to think this to be true) it is because women do not know how much of a man’s strength it takes to keep his nature under the dominion of his will. For so it is, as I know from my own life, that when a man has fought within himself the hard battle which is to make his will the king and ruler over all his other parts, he is too weary to be ardorous. Since I knew this (though not so well then as I know it now), I did not find myself greatly surprised when I saw that Katherine kept toward John Smithson that demeanor which he bore toward her, — a demeanor not cold nor haughty, but only full of the show of respect. Yet sometimes when I would watch him watching her, and while his lips and brow were held in close check as though he found it a hard thing, his eyes would be full of strange light which he could not keep down, any more than the glow can be kept out of the east sky at dawn. And I came to love this man like a brother ; for by the aid of what I had gone through in the time when I first loved Ruth, I knew that love was working its way with him. I was at the pains, also, to get to know him better as a friend, and we were much together.

Another thing which made me think well of him was his likeness to my own ways in many things, and most of all his way of living outdoors and loving the sight of the sky both by day and by night, and his way of thinking softly and fondly of living things. I remember that one day, when we might do it with clear conscience, we lay together in the midst of a bit of woodland near my home, with the broad part of our backs upon deep moss beds and our faces turned upward. It was a way I had of doing, sometimes, when I found myself thinking too long on small things. God, who fashioned me, made me eager and impatient of delays, so that I like to have rewards follow close upon the heels of effort, as the furrow follows the ploughshare ; but the woodland says, “ There is no hurry: have patience.” And so, to heal wounds of folly or anger or any other passion, woodland balm is strong and gentle. When we lay so, that day, he said to me, without any other introduction than his own thoughts, “ I think the best parts of a man’s life are the dreams which he dreams at times like this.” Then, after a little time, and after I had agreed with him, or perhaps had asked him some question, he said again : “But so few of our best dreams come true; though they might, if we would only have it so. Such broad, good lives we would have, if our deeds might be as strong and true as our dreams are pure. If we willed, I think even the dreams our mothers dream over us in our cradles might not fail of coming true.”

And I knew what he thought, and so I said to him, having a purpose in saying it, “ A man must needs have a good woman to help him make his best dreams come out realities, as I have found with my own dear wife.” But when I had said this, I saw that his face, which had been full of soft and free delight, with his lips smiling, now fell away into deep sadness and silence.

While my love and admiration for this man were growing and strengthening, I longed that Katherine might love him. To be sure, she knew her own woman’s heart best, as even I was willing to grant her; but if a woman is privileged to know her own heart, so does a man know his. And my heart beat, to the measure of certainty that John Smithson was the one man in all the world (or in our county, as I ought to say, as that was all the world I knew) who could give her that love whose strength might not be measured, unless by the strength of her own.

I cannot say what joy I felt when by and by — not all at once, but by degrees and with shy half-willingness — sweet Katherine seemed to find herself with her tender heart yielding soft answer to love’s inquiries. For I knew that so it ought to be, being so willed of God, as I believe.

In this, however, she did not please her father, as I knew before she would not. And this was no doubt cause of her slow willingness to love John Smithson (or to show that she loved him), she being dutiful. None the less when, I had seen so much as I have said, I knew that it would end well, for such a love does not stop even at the pleasure of a father.

But John Smithson was an honorable man, even as he was a true lover, and he did his best in all honorable ways to gain the willing respect of the father, as he had gained the willing love of the daughter. This, however, he could not do, William von Stein being stubborn in his nature, and not subject to change ; having so set his mind against it at the first, he would not yield.

Then it happened that one time John Smithson came to tell me of his puzzle of mind, and also of a new circumstance to make him uneasy. For it had become known that William von Stein had got the fashion of late of going quite often to Judge Ravenel’s home, taking strange times for his visits, and telling no one why, and himself grown much into the fault of the intellect called absence of mind. He would sit brooding by himself, so lost to things around him that he would even sometimes let his pipe die out, only half burned. He had got out of his way of sleeping healthily, which Katherine knew by hearing his wooden leg go stumping up and down in his bedchamber in the night. By putting things together, as lovers will, these two had got the fear that William von Stein and Thomas Ravenel were making plot against John Smithson. When he told me this, he told me further how that he and Katherine were persuaded to strangle all chance of accident by going over into the county next to ours to be wedded there in peace and quiet, taking chance of finding peace and quiet after it was done, and might not be undone. And to this John Smithson asked my aid.

I think I must be a very simple fellow, and foolish, too ; which I say by reason of my long experience with myself, because no man can ask me for help and not be sure of getting it. I do not seem to have gathered much skill in finding the false part of a man (maybe because I have not much practiced to look for it) ; for no matter what a man may be, if he do but ask me for help, then I am helpless to help myself, and helpless to keep from helping him. And so, more from force of long habit than from ready willingness, I agreed to help John Smithson and Katherine, even before I knew what they would have me do. It was this: that they should come, one at a time and quietly, to my home, which lay only three miles from the town where they lived, and but five miles from the town of Coleton, which was the next county town, whither they should go in Ruth’s phaeton and be wedded. I was glad to find how light a matter it was, after all, and how little there seemed to be of any chance of failure in it. I do not say that I would not gladly have helped them in anything toward that end for which I longed as well as they, — only that I am of a cautious mind, and like to ponder well before acting; though pondering has never kept me from acting when the time came for it.

The day set for their going came at last, and right soon, they being impatient of delay. A strange day it was, in the midst of a week of rain, with no quick and sudden showers, and then laughter of twinkling sunlight, but only a calm, slow downfall of fine drops which hung heavily upon everything, and a raw coldness which found the inside of a man. But a good day we thought it, after all, and one well fitted for the use they were to make of it; for it seemed unlikely that pursuit would be quick or willing, if they were found out.

More than ever on that day I loved John Smithson, and joyed with him in his strong manhood and in the ending of his perplexities. Of Katherine I can say nothing, though I have tried to think of something which might satisfy me by way of telling of her sweetness and shyness and beauty. Even with Ruth at hand, busy with many light duties of aiding them in their designs, I felt a heavy and dull weight of envy, and found myself wondering what I should do were I in John Smithson’s place.

But by and by they were gone away, wrapped up warmly against the weather, with warm good wishes from Ruth and me, as we stood to see them go.

Then, after we had come back into the house together, and were taking delight in the warmth of the log fire in our big kitchen, and before my breath came regularly and with smoothness, all at once I heard a sound which broke up my breathing worse than before, and made my heart swell until it seemed too large for the place made for it by nature, and it came upward to my throat. The sound I heard was a sound upon the wood floor of our large porch, being a sound I knew very well from long hearing it, namely, the blunt tapping of the end of William von Stein’s wooden leg as he walked up to our door. He came in much uneasiness and haste of mind, as I well knew by the speed of his step. When, upon his knocking at the door, I went to open it for him, he was a sorry sight. He had been dressed in his best clothes, with a long black coat and a yellow waistcoat, and a collar of linen that came high over his short and fat neck, so that it held him by the ears. Over all his clothes, and over himself too, was soft mud of the road, as though he had turned pig and wallowed. So amazed was I that I could not say a word, but only hold the door open, and my mouth and eyes as wide as the door, and let him come halting in, every step dropping mud and water upon our white scoured floor. Nor did he speak, being in such mind that speech seemed to come hard to him, until he had got to the fire, and had turned himself about a time or two and shaken himself like a wet collie. And then when I looked at Ruth, who stood by, I saw at once that she thought not so much of the old man and his sad condition as she thought of Katherine and John Smithson, wondering whether I might be equal to protecting them ; for she knew, better than any other knew, my short way of speaking honest truth (not from virtue, but by habit fastened upon me). As I read this in her eyes, I gave her a little nod of my head for reassurance and to bid her go away, so that if I might be under the need of telling a lie for the sake of Katherine and John she should not be a party to it. But William von Stein did not speak once of Katherine and John ; he only told me, in a brief way, how he had come out on horseback, and how, a little way from our house, his horse had stumbled in the deep mire of the road, so that he, being not much accustomed to being on horseback, had gone head over heels into the mud, finding it hard to get up again, both because of his short roundness and the awkwardness of his wooden leg, and because of his being so shaken in the wits by his fall. And when he did get up, and rub the water and mud out of his eyes, it was only to see his horse many rods away, going back with all speed the way he had come. So, with nothing else to do, he had come on to our house. And now he begged me that I would give him such clothes as I could, and send him on his way by any means of conveyance I had at hand; for he said that it was most peremptory that he should be at Coleton with no waste of time.

I wondered to hear him say nothing of the two young people, he not even asking a question about them. For I thought it most likely that by this time he would have learned from the ways of the lawyers that the best fashion of finding out things is by asking questions. But though I marveled, I thought warily of the matter ; and so I made out in my mind that maybe he knew all he wished to know, without asking. To gain time for thinking at my leisure, I went away to my bedchamber, where I kept my clothes, to find what I could for him. I brought him such as I had, and then helped him to get out of his own garments and into mine. But there was a strange thing, — a thing to laugh at, if I had not had my mind too full of other things for laughing. As I have said, William von Stein was a short man, while I stood a full foot’s length above him ; so that when he was in my clothes, he was no more than a seed in a pod after frost, and likely to lose himself in the deep recesses, even when he had turned back the legs and arms until their white inside showed by many gaping inches. He was much of my way of thinking, as I knew by the way he looked down at himself ruefully, though saying nothing, only bidding me be quick to send him on his way. I made out to tell him (telling nothing but the truth) that I had no way of sending him on, our phaeton being borrowed, and only a heavy wagon left, which could not go over the deep mud of the roads. He was much distressed, so that he seemed to forget the strange sight he made, and walked up and down, shaking his head strongly and making his lips go without speaking. By and by he asked me to send to a neighbor’s for a conveyance, only to make all haste. And so I went out and sent one of my farming men to do as he asked, knowing well that it would be a good half hour before he could return, and grasping at every chance for delay to keep the old man in my house.

When my man had gone, I went back to sit with William von Stein, desiring to learn something from him of what he intended. But here I met with grievous disappointment; for he was not minded to talk at all, but only to think, sitting down before the blaze of the fire, with his feet (or his one foot and the iron knob on his wooden leg) resting upon the fender, to warm himself after his cold and wet encounter. As he sat there, with me sitting a little way off and watching him curiously, I saw that his head began to nod downward toward his breast. Whether from weariness, or the comfort of the fire, or his much losing of sleep of late, I know not, but know only that he had soon gone away into deep slumber, drawing his breath hard through his bent throat, with little sounds as when water trickles from a pump spout into a horse trough. Then there befell that which I do not relish telling, having some shame in it even now, but i cannot help telling to make the tale full, just as it happened. As he slept he went downward in his chair, by the weight of his body, sliding a little at a time, until the end of his wooden leg was gone into the fire. When I saw this I started up to waken and warn him, but then sat down again. For it came upon me like daybreak that here would be one more stay and impediment to his going onward ; and then I remember thinking (trying to justify myself for my unkindness to an old man) that his being so was none of my doing, after all, and that if it might be God’s will that his leg burn off I had no authority to dispute it, any more than any other of the ways of Providence. And so, because of the conflict of my thoughts, I got up and went away, leaving him where he was.

When my farming man came back, not having got what he was sent to get (no carriage being in my neighbor’s barn), I went in to tell William von Stein about it. Upon being waked he started up quickly, but only to fall over with all his weight sharp against my middle, so that the suddenness of it was like to deprive me of the breath of life. The cause of such strange behavior was that the end of his wooden stick leg had been burned short by two inches, leaving the stick charred and sharpened down to a point. I am glad that I can say truthfully, for the saving of my good name for respect for age, that when I saw him so, and found how deeply he grieved at the ruin of that ornament in which he had taken such pride, I was truly sorry for him, and wished that I had been quicker to show sorrow ; for what sorrow, even of the deepest, can mend a wooden leg ? But there he was, and with five good miles between himself and Coleton, where Katherine and John were gone. I thought that now he would not go on because he could not; wherein I was greatly at fault, for despite his plight, both as to clothes and the leg, he was but a little time in saying that he would go on because he must. Though I used what power I had to convince him, he would not listen to me, but drew his hat on his head and went away, without even the courtesy of saying good-day. It is a mystery to me even now, though I have thought of it often, how he was able to walk at all ; for with every step he had to bend himself down until his stump leg might touch the earth, and his clothes (they being mine) were so much in his way to hinder him. As I stood watching him, he hobbled down the roadway and out of my sight.

After he was gone, and I went to find Ruth, so that I might tell her about it, it was only then that I thought to laugh at all that had passed. When it did come, it was with strength to atone for slowness, so that I did nothing for many minutes but tip my body backward and forward, laughing until the taste of salt was in my mouth by reason of my tears running into it from my cheeks. When laughter was done, only small tickles of it coming back now and again, compassion came to me (being tardy, like my laughing), and in this feeling Ruth aided and abetted me. For she said that he was a poor old man, — a nearly helpless one now, —no doubt feeling sorrow and sadness at losing his daughter against his will, and so much of other words like these that, after a little time, she persuaded me to get on my clothes for outdoors and wet weather and go after him, to see that no evil had befallen him. This I did, not so much because of my own will, neither from any fear of what might happen to him, but more because of my way of pleasing Ruth and doing what she told me.

When I had taken to the road, finding it very heavy and deep with mud, I was not long in coming up to William von Stein ; and but that I had laughed all I could before, and as much as was good for me, I must have laughed again. For as he walked, stooping downward with each step on his foreshortened leg, and resting his weight (which was very good weight) upon it each time, the soft mud yielded to it in such measure that it would go down and down, like putting knife into deep meat pie ; and then he would have to bring himself to balance upon his sound foot, and use his greatest strength to pull the stump up again, only to have it serve him in like manner on the next step forward. When I came up to him, and spoke to him as kindly as I might, with offer of help (willing to help him now when I knew it might do no good to stop what was going forward), he was in such shortness of breath, and so weary in muscle and sinew, that he could not answer me, but only lean against me, trembling and panting.

Then while we stood so, and before he had got courage to attempt going on again, all at once I heard the sound of the splashing of a horse’s hoofs upon the wet roadway, coming from around a bend before us ; and as soon as sight could follow hearing, there was Ruth’s phaeton, drawn by my own gray mare, with Katherine and John sitting together, and so engaged with sight of one another that they did not take the pains to see us standing before them, nor anything else before them beyond prospect of love and happiness. I knew that all was well. But the gray mare was not so concerned with her thoughts as they with theirs; for though she was a most sedate animal, when she came within a few yards of us, catching a sudden sight of William von Stein, she set back her ears, with a snort of terror, and went off sideways to the very road’s edge. This aroused Katherine and John to see us, though they were slow about adjusting their sight to know who we were. It was John who first called my name, speaking it with surprise ; but it was Katherine who knew her father, knowing him not by sight, as I believe, but in some strange way given to women. She cried out to him, and then came down out of the phaeton, with her dainty feet in the mud and water, and threw her arms about his neck with so much of impetuous affection that they must both have gone down together had I not stood behind him to support him. It was truly a pretty sight, notwithstanding the oddness of it, to see those two lovers (lovers now more than ever) throw themselves upon his grace and mercy and beg to be forgiven, now that forgiving mercy was the only course open to him. While I listened with all my ears for a burst of rage from the old man at being treated so, and might not have been surprised at any words from him, his face showed nothing beyond an expression of uneasiness and perturbation, such as it had worn from the time of his coming to my house, and all he said to them was: “ Forgive you ! Yes, gladly will I, if you do but go back with Ned afoot, and give me use of the phaeton for going on to Coleton.” When I heard that, my wits went hopelessly straying, and would not come back to me.

Then there was another sound as of approaching horses ; and this time it was one of Judge Ravenel’s horses which came upon us, with his ancient housekeeper sitting in the carriage in lonely state. She would have gone by us unheeding, looking straight before her ; but we so filled the road, with my horse and phaeton and us four standing together, that she could not go by, but must stop. As soon as he saw who it was, William von Stein went all a-tremble, shrinking up into himself weakly, until of all poor plights I ever saw a man in, his was the worst. When he could make out to do it, he cried out piteously, “ Lucy, Lucy ! ” and then went toward her, standing by the carriage and grasping at her skirts with his hand to hold her. And most strange of all, he did call her lover’s names, like “ darling ” and “sweetheart,” and more of that sort, which came from his lips as with the skill of practice. He told her with pleading how his delay was not his fault, but of stern necessity, and neither had his heart turned cold nor his mind relented. Then he begged her to take him up into the carriage by her side, and let them go back together to Coleton.

Now, if those who read this tale are folk of any power of discerning, I have no need to say more. For the old dame by and by let her wrinkled face escape from its sternness, and she smiled upon William von Stein with much show of yellow teeth, and made a place for him by her side ; and then they turned about and went away to their own wedding.

After that there is surely nothing more to be told, except that when, after a time, the news of these happenings came to Judge Ravenel’s hearing, he pondered awhile in silence before he made out to say that it was just as well so ; for had he wedded Katherine, according to his design, then must he have turned son to his own housekeeper, and she his mother, with authority over him, which did not become his dignity.

William R. Lighton.