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His heart expanded as he saw, above the brush, a gleam of yellow hair, mottled by the pattern of sunshine and shadow projected from the trees overhead. It was Ellen Shawn, seated on the maple log, and when he cried out her name, she sprang up and faced him.
"It him itself!" cried the girl. "And with me waiting here and him late!"
His ears were caressed by the strange music of her speech. She did not talk as he talked, and although he had been familiar, from the Irish boatmen, with her way of speech since he had first been able to understand spoken words, he had come to feel the charm of it only from Ellen's lips.
He took her small hands, covering them completely with his own.
"You saw me, did n't you?" he asked. "You saw me when I made the turn at the woods? I was afraid; father would n't let me run the horses. I was afraid you might have come earlier and be gone already. I had to put the horses up. I ran all the way."
"And it was destroyed you 'd been if you'd missed me, David?"
The youth nodded earnestly.
"I'd have been ready to swim down the canal until I caught up with you," he declared seriously.
"I'd have come back to these locks in a few days, for father is only after going as far as Philadelphia on this trip."
The boy smiled, looking into Ellen's face. Although his gaze did not wander, it suggested, nevertheless, a quality of embarrassment. Ellen was standing a little outside the shadow of the trees, and the sun struck down upon her in a clear beam; but her own spirit seemed more whitely incandes
cent than the sunshine: she emanated the rays of a joyous vitality. It was this glowing flame of the joy of life in her that at once drew and abashed David. He had been taught to distrust life; his own folk practised a philosophy of negation. To him Ellen came like a new law; hers was the lyric word.
He heard her laughing.
"You do wrong to be looking so solemn, David," she told him. "It's the life of a young man to be smiling and the day as bright as it is. Did you miss me, David, the while I was away on this trip?"
He nodded earnestly.
"Yes, I missed you, Ellen. I wish I could get away from the locks. In two years I'll be of age, and then father can't keep me here against my will. He won't keep me here long when I'm of age, I 'll tell you that, Ellen.” "What is it you 'll be after doing then, David?”
"To begin with," answered the youth, his voice solemn with conviction, "I'll go on the canal. I guess I can get your father to let me make my first trips with him. Sooner or later I'll own my own boat. Do you know what I'll call it?"
"How would it be called?" "Ellen!"
The girl's happy lips were widely curved, and the tips of her teeth gleamed nacreously.
"That would n't be the end," continued David in tones of firm assurance. "I intend to run a fleet of boats on these canals. You and I will make trips in all of them. When I had the money, I'd put on new boats as fast as old man Culp could build them. I'll own the biggest fleets and make the longest runs."
Ellen gazed at him with eyes of frank admiration. To her mind David's future enlargement and their own ceaseless companionship were facts accomplished. The dream was to both of them the assured parent of reality. But for Ellen, vital with an instant joy, there was also this moment. It was better than any other moment. Her blue eyes left David's face and followed the sinuous turnings of the creek. Then a brief cry of pleasure passed her lips.
"May-apple flowers, surely!" she exclaimed.
She stooped, and her small hands searched among the umbrella-like leaves. She turned them aside and found the odorous, waxy blossoms. One must handle them delicately, and David was charmed at her gentle deftness in placing them in her hair. She stood up laughing, her head studded with the large flowers. One of them came away; it dropped to her shoulder, and the petals were shattered like sheer glass; they fell at her feet.
With parted lips she began softly to sing a song that David had never heard. Her voice was at once vital and frail. Then there came to the boy a sense of permanent youth. At last he was able, like Ellen, to accept all things joyously. There was shown to him the vision of a wider way of life, charged, like Ellen's hair, with moments of wanton blossom. He felt himself uniquely strong, and he saw that nothing could thwart his hopes; they were sweet and imperishable.
Ellen was still singing. David David stepped toward her, and then an impulse, an instinct, prompted him to turn his head. With one foot advanced, he looked over his shoulder.
Standing just outside the fringe of
briers, near the fallen maple log, was his father.
A coldness came to David, a sudden lethargy of the blood. Then his father had seen him as he had run down the hill behind the barn! The elder Stauffer was not looking at his son, but kept his stern eyes upon the girl, who had not yet observed him and was still singing.
David heard his father's voice issuing out hollowly from his black beard, like a judgment.
"Girl," he demanded, "do you know what day this is?"
The soft swaying of Ellen's body ceased. Her lips remained parted, but no longer delicately curved with song. Her hands dropped stiffly at her sides, and she stood motionless, as if spelled into immobility by the abrupt sound of this stern, unknown voice.
"Take those flowers from your hair!" commanded Stauffer. "Go back to your father and tell him, if he can, to teach you shame. Tell him to teach you not to profane the day of the Lord!"
He turned to his son.
"David," he said, "the Lord will punish you for coming from His house to this place. He 'll punish you as He sees fit for profaning His day. Come with me!"
For a moment the youth credited his father's words. He believed again in the harsh simplicities, the negations and withdrawals, that had surrounded him all the days of his life. Then his eyes wandered to Ellen's white face, into which a flush was creeping. As he looked at her, it became at once incredible that she, this flower-decked presence, could be an instrument of evil. No; nor did he see any evil in her laughter and her sweet, frail singing.
Her lips were trembling. His rebellious heart demanded of him that he comfort her. He put out his hands. With a little cry, life and mobility returned to her. She ran rapidly toward the bushes, showering the waxy petals from her hair, and in another moment
she was gone.
David found himself walking at his father's side toward the house. The elder Stauffer was speaking to him about the sin of his deception. There seemed again nothing strange or exaggerated to the boy in his father's words. He had been taught that the lives of the men and women who went up and down on the canal were lived wantonly. He had been taught to distrust the laughter and words of the Irish boatmen. Much of the austere faith of his people remained in his blood. But rising above the power of this teaching was the superior strength of rebellion. He felt that he had erred; but, perversely, he willed to do wrong! He was walking so close to his father now that their coat-sleeves touched. But the contact was only physical; in spirit the man and youth were remote, widely separate.
Dinner was waiting when they reached the house. David sat at the table with his mother and father and bowed his head as the long grace was said. His eyes stared down at the gleaming, immaculate napery of the table. His fingers played, beneath the shadow of the cloth, with the roughened edges of his chair. The nervous fingertips recognized each separate indentation. The sound of his father's voice, solemn in petition, and all that was in this room, were old, familiar impressions. They were the intimacies of his life, and yet he discovered himself estranged from them.
It seemed to the lad that a separation impended. It was a thing almost palpable, a part of the solemn air of this familiar room. Vague, fantastic vistas of a wider life trembled in his mind on the verge of revelation. He felt his heart beating with a strange excitement. He ate in silence.
When the meal was over, he walked to the front of the house. He opened the door and stepped out into the sunshine. He passed down the pebbled walk and out through the gate. Then, eagerly, his eyes sought the train of clumsy boats waiting at the locks.
It was no longer there; the Rose McCrae had gone on.
Then David knew that he had been frustrated, and understood the unspoken purpose that had come into his mind.
Had Thomas Shawn's boat been still at the locks, he would have gone to Ellen's father and begged to be taken as a hand on the boat. He would have gone then, that afternoon, without a word to any one. But, as a matter of fact, was the chance lost? It would be a simple matter for a lad, by fast running and walking, to overtake the Rose McCrae. Even now she might be detained at the next locks, two miles below. David's eyes widened; then he slowly shook his head. The stronger tie was reaffirmed. He turned back toward the house.
During the next few days he did his work in the store in a way so absent that he provoked more than one rebuke from his father. The clerks laughed at him; David was indifferent. He was living through hours of curious suspense, and nothing of the moment had any significance. Ellen had told him that Thomas Shawn was going no
farther than Philadelphia on that trip. Any day he could expect the Rose McCrae again at the locks. And he knew what he would do at once when he sighted the boat. It would not matter where he was. He might be working in the store under his father's
eyes. He would run out and down to the locks and go aboard to Ellen. He would plead with her not to be hurt by the words his father had spoken. He would deny utterly his own belief in those words. Ellen would forgive him; she would wear May-apple blossoms in her hair for him again.
On the evening of the fourth day, after David had eaten his supper, he crossed the road to the store. It was time for him to relieve young Latshaw from duty. When David entered, he was surprised at the earnestness with which a group of canal men, gathered about the far counter, were talking. Latshaw and the other clerk were leaning across the counter with their mouths open. No one noticed David as he came in.
"They tied her up at the lower locks," said a big man in a dirty blue shirt, "and then Squire Rhinehart took charge."
"And it's himself that 's staying there now, and her tied up at the lower locks?" demanded a nervous little Irishman.
"You mean the squire? Sure he 's staying there. What do you think? Would he let them sneak on maybe and come up here to the village? Oh, they 've got it all right. It's the smallpox all right. When I was down, they 'd just got Dr. Dietterich from Kenilworth. He would n't go aboard!"
"He would n't go aboard? It 's hard set they'll be then, surely."
"I don't blame him none," declared
the big man in the dirty blue shirt. "I guess he got enough of a scare out of that case up at Kenilworth. I guess he 's willing to be shut of such cases. He left some medicine to be handed on, and he talked to Tom from the side of the boat."
David touched Latshaw's arm. "What boat is it in quarantine at the lower locks?" he asked.
"The Rose McCrae," answered Latshaw. "Tom Shawn's girl has been took with the epidemic."
David was scarcely aware of his own volition as he turned, running, from the store. He seemed under the urge of a nameless, exterior compulsion. He found himself running along the tow-path, stumbling now and then over the clods torn loose by the sharp hoofs of the mules. A pain, lance-like, stabbed at his heart, but he ran on. The sun had already gone down. The canal wound like a broad, crimson ribbon between banks of deepening purple.
He was panting through parched lips when he saw, in the dusk, the machinery of the lower locks. glance passed to the back-water, and there he made out, a flat shadow above darker water, the Rose McCrae.
Near-by, on the bank, a man was walking slowly up and down.
David stopped running. Gasping, with his head thrown back a trifle, he pressed his hands urgently against his aching sides. After a moment he felt that he could go on. He was still swallowing deep gulps of the evening air. He approached the watcher on the bank. When closer, he recognized the squire.
"Good evening, David," said Squire Rhinehart.
"It 's true, then?" he whispered. The squire jerked his head toward the Rose McCrae.
"You mean there? Yes, it's true. And we 're going to watch. Updegrove will be down here to take my place in about half an hour."
David stood for a moment fingering the rough seams of his trousers; then he raised his face.
"I want to go aboard," he said.
He swam slowly, scarcely kicking his legs for fear of a betraying splash. He knew that if he could pass the squire and gain the farther shadow of Thomas Shawn's boat, he could clamber aboard unobserved. Lying on his side, clawing at the water with his hands, he watched the bank. When he saw the bulky shadow of the squire, David submerged his face. He held his breath and drifted. His heart pounded, and he felt his head throb
"How's that?" he asked in an in- bing. With an involuntary gasp he credulous voice.
threw up his head for air. He could no
"I want to go aboard," repeated longer see Squire Rhinehart. He was David.
Squire Rhinehart put out his large hand and gripped the boy's shoulder. "Look here, David," he said, "you go back to your father, and don't let nobody else come down here from the village to bother us. Understand? There ain't nobody going aboard, and we 're not crazy enough to let nobody either."
For an instant the youth hesitated. Instinctively he measured the broad shoulders of the squire and tried to discount the strength of the hand that rested on his shoulder. No, he whispered to himself, it could n't be done that way. Without a word he walked off into the darkness.
David returned along the tow-path until the machinery of the locks and the flat shadow of the boat were scarcely distinguishable. Then, hastily, he dropped on one knee and began to unlace his shoes. He drew off his shoes, and put them in the tall grass beyond the tow-path. Then, quickly, he slid down the bank and into the water. He walked toward the middle of the canal, and when the water lapped about his shoulders, he threw himself forward and began to swim.
alongside the Rose McCrae.
Painfully, David clambered up the side, clinging precariously to the gir dling wooden cross-ribs. His wet trousers and shirt were astonishingly heavy, but he pulled himself aboard and crouched in the shadow of the cabin. He crawled toward the door, and blinking his eyes in the light of a hanging lamp, he hastily entered.
Near a small, battered table Thomas Shawn was standing, staring at him. "It 's David!" he cried. The boy nodded.
"How is she?" he asked.
The Irishman began to speak in a moaning voice. He held his hands against his face, and his shoulders swayed a little.
"It 's hard sick she is, David, and her mother there in the room with her. She has n't her right head with her after saying crazy words over and over. How did the like of her get the sickness? The old woman is in there with her, and after praying to the Almighty God to keep her with us. Surely we'd be destitute without her, David, and I'd sell the Rose McCrae to save her, yes, and more if it was mine; for, David, what is the price of all the