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A QUESTION OF VALOR
BY WILL N. HARBEN
WITH PICTURES BY GEORGE B. WALDO
HE young man laid his cumbersome and stood before her somewhat abashed. "I fetched you some bean-poles, Mrs. Turner," he said awkwardly.
"Well! well!" she exclaimed in a pleased voice, as she eyed him from beneath her gingham sunbonnet. "The Lord knows I need 'em bad enough; but, Albert, I would n't 'a' had you go to all that trouble fer anything."
"It was n't one bit o' trouble," he assured her, still flushing under her sympa thetic gaze. "As I come through the woods all the straight poles seemed to step right in front o' me. The sap was runnin', an' I cut 'em down powerful easy. I noticed what a pore out you made last spring tryin' to make yore beans climb corn-stalks that was always too weak to bear up the'r weight."
"I know mighty well who you fetched 'em to, but I don't keer, jest so I git part o' the beans when they are ready fer stringin'." As she spoke, the old woman took one of the poles from the heap, thrust its sharpened butt into the soil at her feet, and leaned on it. "Carrie was standin' thar at the winder when you come up the road. Now I want you to act sensible an' go in whar she is, an' stop yore foolishness, both of you."
"I don't think I'll go about 'er any more, Mrs. Turner." The speaker had paled slightly, and his rough hands quivered nervously. She went a step too fur t' other day. No man wants a woman to call 'im a coward to his face. I don't be lieve I'm any coward, Mrs. Turner."
“I know you ain't," exclaimed the old woman. "I tol' Carrie you was n't afeard o' nothin' 'at walks the earth. She's un
reasonable, Albert Lee. Most gals is; but daughter. I tol' 'er she was crazy to expect you to take up her fuss with Jeff Goodnow, as ef it was anything to you; but the truth is, she's so all-fired mad at him she cayn't see what's right. But do me this one favor. I've been talkin' to 'er. Go right in the house an' see 'er; she cayn't be a fool always, an' it don't seem to me 'at she 's been contented sence yore split-up."
Lee's face was rigid and white, but a faint light of hope gleamed in his fine brown eyes as they swept past her to the near-by mountain-side, against which the low afternoon sun was spreading its golden light.
"Well, I'll try 'er once more," he said, the firmness of a big crisis in his tone. "Mebbe she won't say sech hard things. I--I hope she won't, anyway, 'ca'se ef she does, I won't bother her any more soon."
With that Albert Lee turned and stalked across the garden-patch, and entered the old cottage. The door was open, and he was not obliged to knock for admittance. In the sitting-room, at one of the windows, a girl sat sewing; but she did not look up, even when his familiar step shook the puncheons on which her chair rested. She was well formed, tall, and graceful, and had a pretty face, a proud poise to her head, and luxuriant golden hair. The room was not ceiled, and massive rafters bearing the marks of the broadax and the smoke of half a century spanned the space from wall to wall overhead. Hanging from nails driven into them were bunches of tobacco-leaves, red-pepper pods, and yellow straight-stemmed gourds. In one corner of the room stood a loom for weaving cloth, and beside it a spinning-wheel, the
sharp, polished spindle of which pointed straight at the visitor.
Carrie," he managed to articulate, "I was jest passin' by, an' yore mother thought" He paused, aware that his words were ill chosen. He made one or two efforts to fish something else from the verbal confusion in his brain, but failed utterly.
"I 'lowed it was her work when I seed you comin' in," said the girl, coldly. "I want you to know, Albert Lee, that I did n't tell 'er to send you in here."
Silence fell on them after this. Lee reached for a split-bottomed chair, drew it to him, and sat down clumsily. He rested his elbows on his knees, and stiffly swung his broad-brimmed hat to and fro between his long legs. His face showed both anger and pain.
"Seems like thar won't be much love lost betwixt us, then," sneered Miss Turner, and she held the white sheet which she was hemming up to the dying light falling through the small window-panes, and coolly scanned the stitches she had made.
He caught his breath suddenly. It was as if he had not thought to provoke such severe words. His strong face was wrung with pain. Knowing himself better than she did, he looked upon the present parting as final.
"Well, I'm goin'," he said, after standing before her in tense silence for a moment. 'Good-by."
The girl laughed significantly.
"I would n't go by the big road ef I was in yore place," she said. "Jeff Goodnow passes here about this time o' day, an' he mought take a notion to level his pistol on
"You said some purty hard things t' other you. Busybodies has been tellin' him day," he said tentatively.
"Huh! Do you think so?" The girl tossed her head, and her lip curled. "I did n't know I did. I jest said I had no use fer any man 'at 'u'd let a no-'count feller like Jeff Goodnow run dry-shod over two helpless women, one a widder an' t' other a' orphan. He hired witnesses to swear lies, an' got the court to he'p 'im steal a strip o' land from us when he knowed it was n't hisn. You let 'im do that, an' never call 'im down, even when he drives past here every day jest on pur pose to flaunt us. He could go to his mill by t' other road, but he comes 'long here out o' pure devilment."
"I hain't got nothin' to say about the lawsuit," said Lee, with irritating conciseness. "I jest claim you ort not to try to pull me into yore dispute. Me 'n' Jeff has always been purty good friends, an'—an'—"
"Oh, yo' 're jest afeard of 'im," sneered the girl, white with suppressed fury. "You'd jest as well confess it. You know he's a fightin' man an' would n't let you talk to him without a row. I belong to fightin' stock. Ef pa was alive, ur brother Joe was here, we 'd 'a' had satisfaction ur knowed why. But you-la me!"
Lee rose to his feet.
"You've called me a coward ag'in." He breathed the words from him as if they were driven forth by the anger which filled him. "You said t' other day you would n't marry no coward, an' I would n't marry no woman 'at calls me one."
you've got enough spunk to defend me 'n' ma. I'd stay out o' his way ef I was you."
He tried to think of some retort, but nothing was present in his mind except her proud, flushed beauty and the thought that it and she were lost to him forever. His sole reply was a deep, trembling breath, which only his strong manhood saved from being a sigh. The next moment he was gone; the gathering dusk received his tall form as he strode away. Then her face changed; an expression of great worriment fell upon it. She put down her sewing, started to rise impulsively, but sank back in her chair. There she sat motionless, staring in front of her. Perhaps, after all, Albert Lee would not come back; perhaps he would never forgive her for what she had said.
Half an hour later her mother came in, her coarse dress wet with dew.
"I had to go clean to the woods atter the cow," she said, laying her bonnet on the big square bed. 'My feet 's soakin' wet." She stood before her daughter, her thin arms akimbo, her little gray eyes staring steadily. "I want to know, Carrie, what you done to Albert Lee."
"Nothing, mother. Why-"
"I know better," broke in the woman, brushing back her scant gray hair with a thin brown hand. "You need n't try to fool me. You've hurt his feelin's someway, an' that bad. I seed 'im leave here, an' I never seed a man walk so bent over an'