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
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,
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,
“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
“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
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
“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
“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,
“Why, some one,” said old man Jocelyn, with an indescribable
sneer—“some real mean man has been and shot out them swales along Brier
“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
“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
Jocelyn wheeled around like a flash. “Who told you that?” he demanded,
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
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
“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
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
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
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
“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
“Do you understand?” said Gordon, sharply.
“Well, what’s the trouble now—” began Jocelyn, but Gordon cut him
“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!” 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,
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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
“There was a promise broken,” she said, gravely.
“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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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.”