The Market Hunter

by Robert W. Chambers

A WARM October was followed by a muggy, wet November. The elm leaves turned yellow but did not fall; the ash-trees lighted up the woods like gigantic lanterns set in amber; single branches among the maples slowly crimsoned. As yet the dropping of acorns rarely broke the forest silence in Sagamore County, although the blue-jays screamed in the alders and crows were already gathering for their annual caucus.

Because there had been as yet no frost the partridges still lurked deep in the swamps, and the woodcock skulked, shunning the white birches until the ice-storms in the north should set their comrades moving southward.

There was little doing in the feathered world. Of course the swallows had long since departed, and with the advent of the blue-jays and golden-winged wood peckers a few heavy-pinioned hawks had appeared, wheeling all day over the pine-woods, calling querulously.

Then one still night the frost silvered the land, and the raccoons whistled from the beach-woods on the ridges, and old man Jocelyn’s daughter crept from her chilly bed to the window which framed a staring, frosty moon.

Through the silence she heard a whisper like the discreet rustle of silken hangings. It was the sound of leaves falling through the darkness. She peered into the night, where, unseen, the delicate fingers of the frost were touching a million leaves, and as each little leaf was summoned she heard it go, whispering obedience.

Now the moonlight seemed to saturate her torn, thin night-gown and lie like frost on her body; and she crept to the door of her room, shivering, and called, “Father!”

He answered heavily, and the bed in the next room creaked.

“There is a frost,” she said; “shall I load the cartridges?”

She could hear him stumble out of bed and grope for the window.

Presently he yawned loudly and she heard him tumble back into bed.

“There won’t be no flight to-night,” he said; “the birds won’t move for twenty-four hours. Go to bed, Jess.”

“But there are sure to be a few droppers in to-night,” she protested.

“Go to bed,” he said, shortly.

After a moment she began again: “I don’t mind loading a dozen shells, dad.”

“What for?” he said. “It’s my fault I ain’t ready. I didn’t want you foolin’ with candles around powder and shot.”

“But I want you to have a good time to-morrow,” she urged, with teeth chattering. “You know,” and she laughed a mirthless laugh, “it’s Thanksgiving Day, and two woodcock are as good as a turkey.”

What he said was, “Turkey be darned!” but, nevertheless, she knew he was pleased, so she said no more.

There was a candle on her bureau; she lighted it with stiff fingers, then trotted about over the carpetless floor, gathering up the loading-tools and flimsy paper shells, the latter carefully hoarded after having already served.

Sitting there at the bedside, bare feet wrapped in a ragged quilt, and a shawl around her shoulders, she picked out the first shell and placed it in the block. With one tap she forced out the old primer, inserted a new one, and drove it in. Next she plunged the rusty measuring-cup into the black powder and poured the glistening grains into the shell, three drams and a half. On this she drove in two wads. Now the shell was ready for an ounce and an eighth of number nine shot, and she measured it and poured it in with practised hand. Then came the last wad, a quick twirl of the crimper, and the first shell lay loaded on the pillow.

Before she finished her hands were numb and her little feet like frozen marble. But at last two dozen cartridges were ready, and she gathered them up in the skirt of her night-gown and carried them to her father’s door.

“Here they are,” she said, rolling them in a heap on the floor; and, happy at his sleepy protest, she crept back to bed again, chilled to the knees.

At dawn the cold was intense, but old man Jocelyn, descending the dark stairway gun in hand, found his daughter lifting the coffee-pot from the stove.

“You’re a good girl, Jess,” he said. Then he began to unwind the flannel cover from his gun. In the frosty twilight outside a raccoon whistled from the alders.

When he had unrolled and wiped his gun he drew a shaky chair to the pine table and sat down. His daughter watched him, and when he bent his gray head she covered her eyes with one delicate hand.

“Lord,” he said, “it being Thanksgiving, I do hereby give Thee a few extry thanks.” And “Amen” they said together.

Jess stood warming herself with her back to the stove, watching her father busy with his bread and coffee. Her childish face was not a sad one, yet in her rare smile there was a certain beauty which sorrow alone brings to young lips and eyes.

Old man Jocelyn stirred his sugarless coffee and broke off a lump of bread.

“One of young Gordon’s keepers was here yesterday,” he said, abruptly.

His daughter slowly raised her head and twisted her dishevelled hair into a great, soft knot. “What did Mr. Gordon’s keeper want?” she asked, indifferently.

“Why, some one,” said old man Jocelyn, with an indescribable sneer—“some real mean man has been and shot out them swales along Brier Brook.”

“Did you do it?” asked the girl.

“Why, come to think, I guess I did,” said her father, grinning.

“It is your right,” said his daughter, quietly; “the Brier Brook swales were yours.”

“Before young Gordon’s pa swindled me out o’ them,” observed Jocelyn, tearing off more bread. “And,” he added, “even old Gordon never dared post his land in them days. If he had he’d been tarred ’n’ feathered.”

His daughter looked grave, then a smile touched her eyes, and she said: “I hear, daddy, that young Gordon gives you cattle and seeds and ploughs.”

Jocelyn wheeled around like a flash. “Who told you that?” he demanded, sharply.

The incredulous smile in her eyes died out. She stared at him blankly.

“Why, of course it wasn’t true,” she said.

“Who told you?” he cried, angrily.

“Murphy told me,” she stammered. “Of course it is a lie! of course he lied, father! I told him he lied—”

With horror in her eyes she stared at her father, but Jocelyn sat sullenly brooding over his coffee-cup and tearing bit after bit from the crust in his fist.

“Has young Gordon ever said that to you?” he demanded, at length.

“I have never spoken to him in all my life,” answered the girl, with a dry sob. “If I had known that he gave things to—to—us—I should have died—”

Jocelyn’s eyes were averted. “How dare he!” she went on, trembling. “We are not beggars! If we have nothing, it is his father’s shame—and his shame! Oh, father, father! I never thought—I never for one instant thought—”

“Don’t, Jess!” said Jocelyn, hoarsely.

Then he rose and laid a heavy hand on the table. “I took his cows and his ploughs and his seed. What of it? He owes me more! I took them for your sake—to try to find a living in this bit of flint and sand—for you. Birds are scarce. They’ve passed a law against market-shooting. Every barrel of birds I send out may mean prison. I’ve lived my life as a market-hunter; I ain’t fitted for farming. But you were growing, and you need schooling, and between the game-warden and young Gordon I couldn’t keep you decent—so I took his damned cattle and I dug in the ground. What of it!” he ended, violently. And, as she did not speak, he gave voice to the sullen rage within him—“I took his cattle and his ploughs as I take his birds. They ain’t his to give; they’re mine to take—the birds are. I guess when God set the first hen partridge on her nest in Sagamore woods he wasn’t thinking particularly about breeding them for young Gordon!”

He picked up his gun and started heavily for the door. His eyes met the eyes of his daughter as she drew the frosty latch for him. There was a pause, then he pulled his cap over his eyes with a long grunt.

“Dear dad,” she said, under her breath.

“I guess,” he observed unsteadily, “you’re ashamed of me, Jess.”

She put both arms around his neck and laid her head against his.

“I think as you do,” she said; “God did not create the partridges for Mr. Gordon—but, darling dad, you will never, never again take even one grain of buckwheat from him, will you?”

“His father robbed mine,” said Jocelyn, with a surly shrug. But she was content with his answer and his rough kiss, and when he had gone out into the gray morning, calling his mongrel setter from its kennel, she went back up the stairs and threw herself on her icy bed. But her little face was hot with tearless shame, and misery numbed her limbs, and she cried out in her heart for God to punish old Gordon’s sin from generation to generation—meaning that young Gordon should suffer for the sins of his father. Yet through her torture and the burning anger of her prayer ran a silent undercurrent, a voiceless call for mercy upon her and upon all she loved, her father and—young Gordon.

After a while she fell asleep dreaming of young Gordon. She had never seen him except Sundays in church, but now she dreamed he came into her pew and offered her a hymn-book of ivory and silver; and she dreamed they sang from it together until the church thrilled with their united voices. But the song they sang seemed to pain her, and her voice hurt her throat. His voice, too, grew harsh and piercing, and—she awoke with the sun in her eyes and the strident cries of the blue-jays in her ears.

Under her window she heard somebody moving. It was her father, already returned, and he stood by the door, drawing and plucking half a dozen woodcock.

When she had bathed and dressed, she found the birds on the kitchen-table ready for the oven, and she set about her household duties with a glance through the window where Jocelyn, crouching on the bank of the dark stream, was examining his set-lines one by one.

The sun hung above the forest, sending fierce streams of light over the flaming, frost-ripened foliage. A belt of cloud choked the mountain gorge in the north; the alders were smoking with chilly haze.

As she passed across the yard towards the spring, bucket in hand, her father called out: “I guess we’ll keep Thanksgiving, Jess, after all. I’ve got a five-pounder here!”

He held up a slim, gold-and-green pickerel, then flung the fish on the ground with the laugh of a boy. It was always so; the forest and the pursuit of wild creatures renewed his life. He was born for it; he had lived a hunter and a roamer of the woods; he bade fair to die a poacher—which, perhaps, is no sin in the eyes of Him who designed the pattern of the partridge’s wings and gave two coats to the northern hare.

His daughter watched him with a strained smile. In her bitterness against Gordon, now again in the ascendant, she found no peace of mind.

“Dad,” she said, “I set six deadfalls yesterday. I guess I’ll go and look at them.”

“If you line them too plainly, Gordon’s keepers will save you your trouble,” said Jocelyn.

“Well, then, I think I’ll go now,” said the girl. Her eyes began to sparkle and the wings of her delicate nostrils quivered as she looked at the forest on the hill.

Jocelyn watched her. He noted the finely moulded head, the dainty nose, the clear, fearless eyes. It was the sensitive head of a free woman—a maid of windy hill-sides and of silent forests. He saw the faint quiver of the nostril, and he thought of the tremor that twitches the dainty muzzles of thoroughbred dogs afield. It was in her, the mystery and passion of the forest, and he saw it and dropped his eyes to the fish swinging from his hand.

“Your mother was different,” he said, slowly.

Instinctively they both turned towards the shanty. Beside the doorstep rose a granite headstone.

After a while Jocelyn drew out his jack-knife and laid the fish on the dead grass, and the girl carried the bucket of water back to the house. She reappeared a moment later, wearing her father’s shooting-jacket and cap, and with a quiet “good-bye” to Jocelyn she started across the hill-side towards the woods above.

Jocelyn watched her out of sight, then turning the pickerel over, he slit the firm, white belly from vent to gill.

About that time, just over the scrubby hill to the north, young Gordon was walking, knee deep in the bronzed sweet fern, gun cocked, eyes alert. His two beautiful dogs were working close, quartering the birch-dotted hill-side in perfect form. But they made no points; no dropping woodcock whistled up from the shelter of birch or alder; no partridge blundered away from bramble covert or willow fringe. Only the blue-jays screamed at him as he passed; only the heavy hawks, sailing, watched him with bright eyes.

He was a dark-eyed, spare young man, with well-shaped head and a good mouth. He wore his canvas shooting-clothes like a soldier, and handled his gun and his dogs with a careless ease that might have appeared slovenly had the results been less precise. But even an amateur could see how thoroughly the ground was covered by those silent dogs. Gordon never spoke to them; a motion of his hand was enough.

Once a scared rabbit scuttled out of the sweet fern and bounded away, displaying the piteous flag of truce, and Gordon smiled to himself when his perfectly trained dogs crossed the alluring trail without a tremor, swerving not an inch for bunny and his antics.

But what could good dogs do, even if well handled, when there had been no flight from the north? So Gordon signalled the dogs and walked on.

That part of his property which he had avoided for years he now came in sight of from the hill, and he halted, gun under his arm. There was the fringe of alders, mirrored in Rat’s Run; there was Jocelyn’s shanty, the one plague-spot in his estate; there, too, was old man Jocelyn, on his knees beside the stream, fussing with something that glistened, probably a fish.

The young man on the hill-top tossed his gun over his shoulder and called his two silvery-coated dogs to heel; then he started to descend the slope, the November sunlight dancing on the polished gun-barrels. Down through the scrubby thickets he strode; burr and thorn scraped his canvas jacket, blackberry-vines caught at elbow and knee. With an unfeigned scowl he kept his eyes on Jocelyn, who was still pottering on the stream’s bank, but when Jocelyn heard him come crackling through the stubble and looked up the scowl faded, leaving Gordon’s face unpleasantly placid.

“Good-morning, Jocelyn,” said the young man, stepping briskly to the bank of the stream; “I want a word or two with you.”

“Words are cheap,” said Jocelyn, sitting up on his haunches; “how many will you have, Mr. Gordon?”

“I want you,” said Gordon, slowly emphasizing each word, “to stop your depredations on my property, once and for all.”

Squatting there on the dead grass, Jocelyn eyed him sullenly without replying.

“Do you understand?” said Gordon, sharply.

“Well, what’s the trouble now—” began Jocelyn, but Gordon cut him short.

“Trouble! You’ve shot out every swale along Brier Brook! There isn’t a partridge left between here and the lake! And it’s a shabby business, Jocelyn—a shabby business.”

He flung his fowling-piece into the hollow of his left arm and began to walk up and down the bank.

“This is my land,” he said, “and I want no tenants. There were a dozen farms on the property when it came to me; I gave every tenant a year’s lease, rent free, and when they moved out I gave them their houses to take down and rebuild outside of my boundary-lines. Do you know any other man who would do as much?”

Jocelyn was silent.

“As for you,” continued Gordon, “you were left in that house because your wife’s grave is there at your very threshold. You have your house free, you pay no rent for the land, you cut your wood without payment. My gardener has supplied you with seed, but you never cultivate the land; my manager has sent you cows, but you sell them.”

“One died,” muttered Jocelyn.

“Yes—with a cut throat,” replied Gordon. “See here, Jocelyn, I don’t expect gratitude or civility from you, but I do expect you to stop robbing me!”

“Robbing!” repeated Jocelyn, angrily, rising to his feet.

“Yes, robbing! My land is posted, warning people not to shoot or fish or cut trees. The land, the game, and the forests are mine, and you have no more right to kill a bird or cut a tree on my property than I have to enter your house and steal your shoes!”

Gordon’s face was flushed now, and he came and stood squarely in front of Jocelyn. “You rob me,” he said, “and you break not only my own private rules, but also the State laws. You shoot for the market, and it’s a dirty, contemptible thing to do!”

Jocelyn glared at him, but Gordon looked him straight in the eye and went on, calmly: “You are a law-breaker, and you know it! You snare my trout, you cover the streams with set-lines and gang-hooks, you get more partridges with winter grapes and deadfalls than you do with powder and shot. As long as your cursed poaching served to fill your own stomach I stood it, but now that you’ve started wholesale game slaughter for the market I am going to stop the whole thing.”

The two men faced each other in silence for a moment; then Jocelyn said: “Are you going to tear down my house?”

Gordon did not answer. It was what he wanted to do, but he looked at the gaunt, granite headstone in the door-yard, then dropped the butt of his gun to the dead sod again. “Can’t you be decent, Jocelyn?” he asked, harshly.

Jocelyn was silent.

“I don’t want to turn you out,” said Gordon. “Can’t you let my game alone? Come, let’s start again; shall we? I’ll send Banks down to-morrow with a couple of cows and a crate or two of chickens, and Murphy shall bring you what seeds you want for late planting—”

“To hell with your seeds!” roared Jocelyn, in a burst of fury. “To hell with your cows and your Murphys and your money and yourself, you loafing millionaire! Do you think I want to dig turnips any more than you do? I was born free in a free land before you were born at all! I hunted these swales and fished these streams while you were squalling for your pap!”

With blazing eyes the ragged fellow shook his fist at Gordon, cursing him fiercely, then with a violent gesture he pointed at the ground under his feet: “Let those whose calling is to dig, dig!” he snarled. “I’ve turned my last sod!”

Except that Gordon’s handsome face had grown a little white under the heavy coat of tan, he betrayed no emotion as he said: “You are welcome to live as you please—under the law. But if you fire one more shot on this land I shall be obliged to ask you to go elsewhere.”

“Keep your ears open, then!” shouted Jocelyn, “for I’ll knock a pillowful of feathers out of the first partridge I run over!”

“Better not,” said Gordon, gravely.

Jocelyn hitched up his weather-stained trousers and drew his leather belt tighter. “I told you just now,” he said, “that I’d never turn another sod. I’ll take that back.”

“I am glad to hear it,” said Gordon, pleasantly.

“Yes,” continued Jocelyn, with a grim gesture, “I’ll take it back. You see, I buried my wife yonder, and I guess I’m free to dig up what I planted. And I’ll do it.”

After a pause he added: “Tear the house down. I’m done with it. I guess I can find room somewhere underground for her, and a few inches on top of the ground for me to sit down on.”

“Don’t talk like that,” said Gordon, reddening to the roots of his hair. “You are welcome to the house and the land, and you know it. I only ask you to let my game alone.”

“Your game?” retorted Jocelyn. “They’re wild creatures, put there by Him who fashioned them.”

“Nonsense!” said Gordon, dryly. “My land is my own. Would you shoot the poultry in my barn-yard?”

“If I did,” cried Jocelyn, with eyes ablaze, “I’d not be in your debt, young man. You are walking on my father’s land. Ask your father why! Yes, go back to the city and hunt him up at his millionaire’s club and ask him why you are driving Tom Jocelyn off of his old land!”

“My father died three years ago,” said Gordon, between his set teeth. “What do you mean?”

Jocelyn looked at him blankly.

“What do you mean?” repeated Gordon, with narrowing eyes.

Jocelyn stood quite still. Presently he looked down at the fish on the ground and moved it with his foot. Then Gordon asked him for the third time what he meant, and Jocelyn, raising his eyes, answered him: “With the dead all quarrels die.”

“That is not enough!” said Gordon, harshly. “Do you believe my father wronged you?”

“He’s dead,” said Jocelyn, as though speaking to himself.

Presently he picked up the fish and walked towards his house, gray head bent between his shoulders.

For a moment Gordon hesitated, then he threw his gun smartly over his shoulder and motioned his dogs to heel. But his step had lost something of its elasticity, and he climbed the hill slowly, following with troubled eyes his own shadow, which led him on over the dead grass.

The edge of the woods was warm in the sunshine. Faint perfumes of the vanished summer lingered in fern and bramble.

He did not enter the woods. There was a fallen log, rotten and fragrant, half buried in the briers, and on it he found a seat, calling his dogs to his feet.

In the silence of morning he could hear the pine-borers at work in the log he was sitting on, scra-ape! scra-ape! scr-r-rape! deep in the soft, dry pulp under the bark. There were no insects abroad except the white-faced pine hornets, crawling stiffly across the moss. He noticed no birds, either, at first, until, glancing up, he saw a great drab butcher-bird staring at him from a dead pine.

At first that inert oppression which always came when the memory of his father returned to him touched his fine lips with a gravity too deep for his years. No man had ever said that his father had dealt unfairly with men, yet for years now his son had accumulated impressions, vague and indefinable at first, but clearer as he grew older, and the impressions had already left the faintest tracery of a line between his eyebrows. He had known his father as a hard man; he knew that the world had found him hard and shrewd. And now, as he grew older and understood what the tribute of honest men was worth, even to the dead, he waited to hear one word. But he never heard it. He had heard other things, however, but always veiled, like the menacing outbreak of old man Jocelyn—nothing tangible, nothing that he could answer or refute. At times he became morbid, believing he could read reproach in men’s eyes, detect sarcasm in friendly voices. Then for months he would shun men, as he was doing now, living alone month after month in the great, silent house where his father and his grandfather’s father had been born. Yet even here among the Sagamore Hills he had found it—that haunting hint that honor had been moulded to fit occasions when old Gordon dealt with his fellow-men.

He glanced up again at the butcher-bird, and rose to his feet. The bird’s cruel eyes regarded him steadily.

“You wholesale murderer,” thought Gordon, “I’ll just give you a charge of shot.”

But before he could raise his gun, the shrike, to his amazement, burst into an exquisite song, sweet and pure as a thrush’s melody, and, spreading its slaty wings, it sailed off through the sunshine.

“That’s a new trick to me,” said Gordon, aloud, wondering to hear such music from the fierce feathered criminal. But he let it go for the sake of its song, and, lowering his gun again, he pushed into the underbrush.

The yellow beech leaves illuminated the woods above and under foot; he smelled the scent of ripened foliage, he saw the purple gentians wistfully raising their buds which neither sun nor frost could ever unseal.

In a glade where brambles covered a tiny stream, creeping through layers of jewel-weed and mint, the white setter in the lead swung suddenly west, quartered, wheeled, crept forward and stiffened to a point. Behind him his mate froze into a silvery statue. But Gordon walked on, gun under his arm, and the covey rose with a roar of heavy wings, driving blindly through the tangle deep into the dim wood’s depths.

Gordon was not in a killing mood that morning.

When the puzzled dogs had come wagging in and had been quietly motioned to heel, Gordon stood still and looked around at the mottled tree-trunks glimmering above the underbrush. The first beechnuts had dropped; a few dainty sweet acorns lay under the white oaks. Somewhere above a squirrel scolded incessantly.

As he was on the point of moving forward, stooping to avoid an ozier, something on the edge of the thicket caught his eye. It was a twig, freshly broken, hanging downward by a film of bark.

After he had examined it he looked around cautiously, peering into the thicket until, a few yards to the right, he discovered another twig, freshly broken, hanging by its film of bark.

An ugly flush stained his forehead; he set his lips together and moved on noiselessly. Other twigs hung dangling every few yards, yet it took an expert’s eye to detect them among the tangles and clustering branches. But he knew what he was to find at the end of the blind trail, and in a few minutes he found it. It was a deadfall, set, and baited with winter grapes.

Noiselessly he destroyed it, setting the heavy stone on the moss without a sound; then he searched the thicket for the next “line,” and in a few moments he discovered another broken twig leading to the left.

He had been on the trail for some time, losing it again and again before the suspicion flashed over him that there was somebody ahead who had either seen or heard him and who was deliberately leading him astray with false “lines” that would end in nothing. He listened; there was no sound either of steps or of cracking twigs, but both dogs had begun growling and staring into the demi-light ahead. He motioned them on and followed. A moment later both dogs barked sharply.

As he stepped out of the thicket on one side, a young girl, standing in the more open and heavier timber, raised her head and looked at him with grave, brown eyes. Her hands were on the silky heads of his dogs; from her belt hung a great, fluffy cock-partridge, outspread wings still limber.

He knew her in an instant; he had seen her often in church. Perplexed and astonished, he took off his cap in silence, finding absolutely nothing to say, although the dead partridge at her belt furnished a text on which he had often displayed biting eloquence.

After a moment he smiled, partly at the situation, partly to put her at her ease.

“If I had known it was you,” he said, “I should not have followed those very inviting twigs I saw dangling from the oziers and moose-vines.”

“Lined deadfalls are thoroughfares to woodsmen,” she answered, defiantly. “You are as free as I am in these woods—but not more free.”

The defiance, instead of irritating him, touched him. In it he felt a strange pathos—the proud protest of a heart that beat as free as the thudding wings of the wild birds he sometimes silenced with a shot.

“It is quite true,” he said, gently; “you are perfectly free in these woods.”

“But not by your leave!” she said, and the quick color stung her cheeks.

“It is not necessary to ask it,” he replied.

“I mean,” she said, desperately, “that neither I nor my father recognize your right to these woods.”

“Your father?” he repeated, puzzled.

“Don’t you know who I am?” she said, in surprise.

“I know you sing very beautifully in church,” he said, smiling.

“My name,” she said, quietly, “is the name of your father’s old neighbor. I am Jessie Jocelyn.”

His face was troubled, even in his surprise. The line between his eyes deepened. “I did not know you were Mr. Jocelyn’s daughter,” he said, at last.

Neither spoke for a moment. Presently Gordon raised his head and found her brown eyes on him.

“I wish,” he said, wistfully, “that you would let me walk with you a little way. I want to ask your advice. Will you?”

“I am going home,” she said, coldly.

She turned away, moving two or three paces, then the next step was less hasty, and the next was slower still. As he joined her she looked up a trifle startled, then bent her head.

“Miss Jocelyn,” he said, abruptly, “have you ever heard your father say that my father treated him harshly?”

She stopped short beside him. “Have you?” he repeated, firmly.

“I think,” she said, scornfully, “your father can answer that question.”

“If he could,” said Gordon, “I would ask him. He is dead.”

She was listening to him with face half averted, but now she turned around and met his eyes again.

“Will you answer my question?” he said.

“No,” she replied, slowly; “not if he is dead.”

Young Gordon’s face was painfully white. “I beg you, Miss Jocelyn, to answer me,” he said. “I beg you will answer for your father’s sake and—in justice to my father’s son.”

“What do you care—” she began, but stopped short. To her surprise her own bitterness seemed forced. She saw he did care. Suddenly she pitied him.

“There was a promise broken,” she said, gravely.

“What else?”

“A man’s spirit.”

They walked on, he clasping his gun with nerveless hands, she breaking the sapless twigs as she passed, with delicate, idle fingers.

Presently he said, as though speaking to himself: “He had no quarrel with the dead, nor has the dead with him—now. What my father would now wish I can do—I can do even yet—”

Under her deep lashes her brown eyes rested on him pitifully. But at his slightest motion she turned away, walking in silence.

As they reached the edge of the woods in a burst of sunshine he looked up at her and she stopped. Below them the smoke curled from her weather-racked house. “Will you have me for a guest?” he said, suddenly.

“A guest!” she faltered.

A new mood was on him; he was smiling now.

“Yes, a guest. It is Thanksgiving Day, Miss Jocelyn. Will you and your father forget old quarrels—and perhaps forgive?”

Again she rested her slender hands on his dogs’ heads, looking out over the valley.

“Will you forgive?” he asked, in a low voice.

“I? Yes,” she said, startled.

“Then,” he went on, smiling, “you must invite me to be your guest. When I look at that partridge, Miss Jocelyn, hunger makes me shameless. I want a second-joint—indeed I do!”

Her sensitive lips trembled into a smile, but she could not meet his eyes yet.

“Our Thanksgiving dinner would horrify you,” she said—“a pickerel taken on a gang-hook, woodcock shot in Brier Brook swales, and this partridge—” She hesitated.

“And that partridge a victim to his own rash passion for winter grapes,” added Gordon, laughing.

The laugh did them both good.

“I could make a chestnut stuffing,” she said, timidly.

“Splendid! Splendid!” murmured Gordon.

“Are you really coming?” she asked.

Something in her eyes held his, then he answered with heightened color, “I am very serious, Miss Jocelyn. May I come?”

She said “Yes” under her breath. There was color enough in her lips and cheeks now.

So young Gordon went away across the hills, whistling his dogs cheerily on, the sunlight glimmering on the slanting barrels of his gun. They looked back twice. The third time she looked he was gone beyond the brown hill’s crest.

She came to her own door all of a tremble. Old man Jocelyn sat sunning his gray head on the south porch, lean hands folded over his stomach, pipe between his teeth.

“Daddy,” she said, “look!” and she held up the partridge. Jocelyn smiled.

All the afternoon she was busy in the kitchen, and when the early evening shadows lengthened across the purple hills she stood at the door, brown eyes searching the northern slope.

The early dusk fell over the alder swales; the brawling brook was sheeted with vapor.

Up-stairs she heard her father dressing in his ancient suit of rusty black and pulling on his obsolete boots. She stole into the dining-room and looked at the table. Three covers were laid.

She had dressed in her graduating gown—a fluffy bit of white and ribbon. Her dark soft hair was gathered simply; a bunch of blue gentian glimmered at her belt.

Suddenly, as she lingered over the table, she heard Gordon’s step on the porch, and the next instant her father came down the dark stairway into the dining-room just as Gordon entered.

The old man halted, eyes ablaze. But Gordon came forward gravely, saying, “I asked Miss Jocelyn if I might come as your guest to-night. It would have been a lonely Thanksgiving at home.”

Jocelyn turned to his daughter in silence. Then the three places laid at table and the three chairs caught his eye.

“I hope,” said Gordon, “that old quarrels will be forgotten and old scores wiped out. I am sorry I spoke as I did this morning. You are quite right, Mr. Jocelyn; the land is yours and has always been yours. It is from you I must ask permission to shoot.”

Jocelyn eyed him grimly.

“Don’t make it hard for me,” said Gordon. “The land is yours, and that also which you lost with it will be returned. It is what my father wishes—now.”

He held out his hand. Jocelyn took it as though stunned.

Gordon, still holding his hard hand, drew him outside to the porch.

“How much did you have in the Sagamore & Wyandotte Railway before our system bought it?” asked Gordon.

“All I had—seven thousand dollars—” Suddenly the old man’s hand began to tremble. He raised his gray head and looked up at the stars.

“That is yours still,” said Gordon, gently, “with interest. My father wishes it.”

Old man Jocelyn looked up at the stars. They seemed to swim in silver streaks through the darkness.

“Come,” said Gordon, gayly, “we are brother sportsmen now—and that sky means a black frost and a flight. Will you invite me to shoot over Brier Brook swales to-morrow?”

As he spoke, high in the starlight a dark shadow passed, coming in from the north, beating the still air with rapid wings. It was a woodcock, the first flight bird from the north.

“Come to dinner, young man,” said Jocelyn, excited; “the flight is on and we must be on Brier Brook by daybreak.”

In the blaze of a kerosene-lamp they sat down at table. Gordon looked across at Jocelyn’s daughter; her eyes met his, and they smiled.

Then old man Jocelyn bent his head on his hard clasped hands.

“Lord,” he said, tremulously, “it being Thanksgiving, I gave Thee extry thanks this A.M. It being now P.M., I do hereby double them extry thanks”—his mind wandered a little—“with interest to date. Amen.”