Yo Espero


YO ESPERO

By Robert W. Chambers

I

"GOOD-MORNING!" said the young fellow, lifting his cap.

"Good-morning!" said the girl.

It was the third time they had met; they had never before spoken. The young fellow buttoned his tweed jacket to the throat, glanced over the wooden railing of the foot-bridge, and then looked up at the sky. The sky was pale blue, fleckless and untroubled, save for a shred of filmy vapor suspended in the zenith; that was all, except the gilt incandescent disk of the sun—all, except a speck, high in the scintillating vault, that circled slowly, slowly southward, and vanished in mid-air.

The speck was a buzzard.

The young fellow turned from the glimmering water and looked diffidently at the girl. She bent her gray eyes upon the stream.

"Would you mind telling me whether there are trout in this river?" he asked, moving a step toward her.

She raised her head instantly, smiling.

"Gay Brook was a famous trout-stream—once," she answered.

"Then I suppose there are still a few left in it?" he asked, also smiling.

"But," continued the girl, "that was very, very long ago." She was looking again at the water, pensively.

"How long ago?" he persisted, drawing a little nearer.

"About seventy-five years ago," she replied, without raising her head "Buck Gordon says so. Do you know Buck Gordon? His boys are the telegraph agents at the station above. I don't know the Gordon boys; I have spoken twice with old man Gordon. I do not suppose," she continued, reflectively, "that there has been a trout in Gay Brook for fifty years. Do you know why?"

"No," he said; "but I should be glad to know."

He had drawn a little nearer, and now leaned on the wooden railing of the bridge, his back to the water, his hands in his pockets. A leather rod-case was slung over his shoulders. The Southern sun crisped the edges of his short hair and shorter mustache.

"The reason," said the girl, gazing dreamily into the stream again—"the reason is because they cut off so much timber in the mountain notch yonder that now the freshets come every spring and last for weeks, and the water is nothing but yellow mud. Trout can't live in mud."

After a silence he said: "And so there are no more trout."

She shook her head. The sun burnished her dark hair and tinged the delicate contour of cheek and throat with a warmer flush. Her white cambric sun-bonnet swung from her wrist by both strings. Presently she put it on and turned toward him, holding the tips of the strings between the forefinger and thumb of her left hand. Her right hand lay indolently along the gray railing of the bridge. It was dimpled and tanned to a creamy tint.

"I have seen you three times here at the bridge," she observed.

"And I have seen you." he said. "I wish I had spoken before."

She tore a tiny splinter from the sun-bleached railing and dropped it into the water.

"I wondered why you came to fish in Gay Brook," she went on. "I might have told you that there are nothing but minnows here. I nearly did tell you."

"I wish I had asked the first time we—saw you," he said; "it would have saved me no end of disappointment. Why did you not tell me?"

"Because—you didn't ask me. I might have, anyway, if I had not seen that you were from the North."

"You dislike Northern people?"

"I? Oh, no—I don't know any."

"But you say that if——"

"I mean that I do not understand Northern strangers."

The young fellow looked at her curiously.

"Why I thought you also were from the North," he said; "you do not speak with a Southern accent."

"I am from Texas; but I have lived here in North Carolina nearly all of my life. The season that I do not speak with a Southern accent is because my uncle is from the North and I have lived alone with him ever since I can remember."

"Here?"

"Yes. I am very glad you spoke to me. When do you go away to the North again?"

The young fellow touched his short mustache and gave her a sharp glance. His sunburnt cheeks were tinged with a faint color.

"I am very glad, too," he said; "I find it a bit lonely at the hotel."

"The hotel," she repeated; "there are two hundred people there!"

"And I am lonely," he said, simply.

"You can't be—how can you be?" she persisted, raising her gray eyes to his.

"Because," he replied, "I haven't anything in common with any of them."

"I don't understand," she insisted. "It seems to me that if I had the happiness of being with a great many people, I should have all in the world that I long for. I have nobody—except my uncle."

"You have your friends," he said.

"No, nobody except my uncle. I do not count Zeke and the boys."

"Zeke?"

"Zeke Chace."

"Oh,"he said. "I've heard of him. He runs the blockade, doesn't he?"

"Does he?" she asked, demurely.

He laughed and rested his head on his wrist, looking into her face. Her face was half hidden in the shadow of her sun-bonnet, so she met his gaze placidly.

"Doesn't Zeke Chace run the blockade?" he repeated.

"What blockade?" she asked. Her gray eyes were very round and innocent.

"Have you never heard of blockade whiskey?" he demanded.

She had to laugh.

"I might have heard something about it," she admitted.

His pleasant, serious face questioned hers, and her lips parted in the merriest laugh again.

"How silly!" she cried; "everybody has heard of blockade whiskey."

"Oh," he said. "I have often asked, but the people around here won't talk about it."

"Perhaps they take you for a revenue office," she ventured, gravely.

"Very probably," he answered.

At this she laughed outright. It occurred to him that she was making fun of him, and he glanced at her again sharply.

"How do you know that I am not a revenue officer?" he asked.

Her laughing eyes met his.

"Can you tell a coon from a 'possum?" she asked, in return.

"I? Of course."

"So can I," she said, trying hard to look serious. After a moment they both laughed outright.

"You have teased me unmercifully," he said; "don't you think you ought to tell me where I can catch a trout or two?"

"Then I will," she answered, impulsively moving a step nearer. "But Zeke won't like it. There are trout in the Buzzard Run."

"The Buzzard Run?"

"It's yonder, behind Mist Mountain. Zeke won't like it," she repeated.

"Why? Does Zeke fish, too?"

"Zeke? H'm! Not exactly. Never mind—I shall tell Zeke about you and nobody will bother you. But you must be a little careful; there are snakes on Mist Mountain."

"Not dangerous snakes—are there?"

"I don't know what kind you are used to," she said; "there are rattlers in the rocks on Mist Mountain."

After a pause he asked her if there were many rattlesnakes there.

"Sometimes one sees two or three, sometimes none at all," she answered. "They give you warning; they run if you let them. It might be better if you kept to the path. There is a path all the way."

"Then I'll stick to it," he said, lightly. "I suppose it's too late to go to-day?" He looked at his watch and raised his eyebrows. "Why, it's twelve o'clock!" he exclaimed.

She refused to believe it and bent her dainty head over his shoulder to see.

"Dear me," she cried. "Uncle will question me!"

They stood looking at each other with new-born awkwardness. She took one short step backward.

"Are you going?" he asked, scarcely conscious of what he said.

"Why, yes—I must."

He leaned over the bridge railing and looked at ripples. After awhile she also bent over, resting her elbows on the railing. A brilliant green tiger-beetle ran across the bleached board, halted, spread its burnished wings and buzzed away across the stream. A small fluffy honey-wasp alighted between her elbows and crept quickly into a hole in the splintering plank.

She repeated: "I must go."

"I should like to see you again," he said.

"Really? Oh, I suppose I shall pass the bridge again before you go."

"How do you know? Suppose I should go to-morrow?"

"You said you were going fishing to-morrow—didn't you?"

"Why, no, I didn't say so," he said, eagerly; "I would rather talk with you."

"Why don't you go fishing?"

"I would rather talk to you," he repeated.

"What shall we talk of—blockade whiskey?"

They laughed. He had moved up beside her once more.

"I want to see you again," she said. "I think you know that I do. I could come to the bridge to-morrow. My uncle has forbidden me to speak to anybody except Zeke and the boys. When I was a child I did not feel very lonely; now I have the greatest longing to know people—girls of my own age. I dare not."

"Have you no girl friends at all?"

"No. I should like to know older women, too. At night, in bed, I often cry and cry—there! I should not tell you such things."

"Tell me," he said, soberly.

But she only smiled faintly and shook her head, saying: "It is lonely at Yo Espero."

He looked into her gray eyes; they troubled him.

"I dare not wait any longer," she said; "good-by, will you come to-morrow?"

"Here? Yes. Shall I come early?"

"Oh, yes."

"At seven?"

"Yes."

He offered her his hand, but she did not take it.

"Wait," she said. "I do not know your name—no, don't tell me now—let me think a little of what I have done. If I come to-morrow, then you may tell me."

He watched her hurry away up the woodland path that led to Yo Espero. When she was gone he stood still, idly tearing dried splinters from the bridge railing.


II

The piazzas of the Diamond Spring Hotel were empty; the guests came trooping through the wide square hall and into the big dining-room to be fed.

Young Edgeworth arrived late and silently took his seat, bowing civilly to his neighbors.

There were fifteen people at his table—including the Reverend Dr. Beezeley, who presided, flanked by his wife, his progeny, and a bottle of Diamond Spring water. Near to the Reverend Orlando Beezeley sat another minister, a little pink gentleman with bulging eyes. His name was Samuel Meeke, and he looked it. But he wasn't.

Now the Reverend Orlando Beezeley and Dr. Samuel Meeke were both of a stripe, differing on one or two obscure questions. One reverend gentleman was a pillar of the "Pure People's League;" the other wore the badge of the "Charity Band." And they squabbled.

For their Leagues, their Bands, and their squabbles, Edgeworth cared nothing. He believed that all people should be allowed to worship God in their own fashion, even by squabbling, if they chose. He was disposed to be pleasant and courteous to the two ministers and their wives and young. It was difficult, however, partly because they were inquisitive, partly on account of the Reverend Orlando's personal habits, which were maddening. He put his fingers into everything, including his mouth; they were always greasy; and this, combined with cuffs that came too far over his knuckles, oppressed Edgeworth. The Reverend Orlando's fingers were obtrusive. When he walked they spread out—perhaps to stem the downward avalanche of cuff. He also twiddled them when he had no other use for them; and Heaven knows he put them to uses for which they were never intended.

All this interfered with Edgeworth's appetite, and he shunned the Reverend Orlando Beezeley when possible. Once, at the table, the minister asked him why he didn't go to the Sunday services which he. Dr. Beezeley, held in the hotel parlors; and when Edgeworth said it was because he didn't want to, the Reverend Orlando sniffed offensively. For a week the atmosphere was surcharged with unpleasantness; but one day Dr. Beezeley asked Edgeworth what he did for a living, and Edgeworth pleasantly told him that it was none of his business. The atmosphere at once cleared up and the Reverend Orlando became irksomely affable. This was because he was afraid of Edgeworth and disliked him.

Therefore, when Edgeworth entered the dining-room and slipped quietly into his chair. Dr. Beezeley said: "Hey! been a fishin'?"

"No," said Edgeworth.

"Where you been, then?" urged Mrs. Beezeley, devoured by curiosity. She had contracted this disease in the little Boston suburb where she lived, and she had inoculated her whole family.

"I have been out," said Edgeworth, pleasantly.

Dr. Samuel Meeke, who had pricked up his ears, relapsed into a dull contemplation of Mrs. Dill again.

But Mrs. Beezeley was not defeated. She turned to the pallid lady beside her, Mrs. Dill, and said, in a thin high voice, "Pass the trout to Mr. Edgeworth; he can't seem to catch any—even off the old foot-bridge."

Edgeworth was intensely annoyed, for it was plain that some of the Beezeley brood had been spying. He looked at Master Ballington Beezeley, who grinned at him impertinently.

His father was busy feeding himself with mashed potato, but he observed his heir's impudence and was not displeased.

"I seen you," cried the youthful Beezeley, writhing with the pressure of untold secrets; "you was mashin' a country girl, Mister Edgeworth; I seen you!"

"Te-he!" tittered Mrs. Dill.

"I saw you, would perhaps be more correct," said Edgeworth; "unless perhaps your parents have instructed you to the contrary."

"Ballington!" cried Mrs. Beezeley, turning red, "how dare you use such grammar?"

Edgeworth surveyed the defeat of the Beezeleys without any particular emotion.

Mrs. Dill attempted to save the day, but choked on an olive and was assisted from the room by Dr. Samuel Meeke. Then the Beezeleys made Mrs. Meeke wretched with significant looks and smiles and half-suppressed coughs, until she rose to find out why Mrs. Dill and her husband did not return. Poor little woman! Her bosom friend, Mrs. Beezeley, had long ago quenched for her what little comfort in life she ever knew.

When the Reverend Orlando Beezeley had fed to repletion, he removed the napkin from his chin, cleared his throat, picked his teeth, and finally took himself off to the piazza.

"I can't stand this tableful much longer," muttered Edgeworth to himself; and he called to the head-waiter, a majestic personage of color and also a Baptist deacon.

"Deacon," said he, "give me a place at another table to-night; can you?"

"Sho'ly, sho'ly, Mistuh Edgewurf," said the majestic one; "might you prefer to be seated at Mis' Weldon's table, Mistuh Edgewurf?"

Edgeworth looked across at Mrs. Weldon and then at her pretty daughter, Claire.

"Go over and ask Mrs. Weldon whether she objects," he said.

Mrs. Weldon did not object and neither did Claire, so Edgeworth walked over and said some polite things which he forgot a minute afterward. So did Mrs. Weldon, I am not sure about Claire.

When Edgeworth went out on the veranda to smoke his pipe, a young fellow in white flannels who was sitting astride the railing said, "Hello, Jim! it's all over the hotel that you're sweet on some country girl."

"Tommy," said Edgeworth, in a low, pleasant voice, "go to the deuce!"

Tommy O'Hara smiled serenely.

"I suppose it's that Beezeley whelp; eh, Jim?"

"I fancy it is. A fellow can't brush his hair but it's reported in Diamond Spring."

"Oh, there's truth in it, then," laughed O'Hara.

"That," observed Edgeworth, "is none of your business;" and they strolled off together, arm in arm, smoking furiously.

"These Beezeleys," said O'Hara, "are blights on the landscape. They ought to be exterminated with Paris green."

"Or drowned in tubs," said Edgeworth.

"Like diseased kittens," added O'Hara.

"Come," said Jim Edgeworth, "what was that yarn you wanted to spin for me this morning?"

"Yarn? 'Tis no yarn, my boy," said O'Hara; "it's the truth and it troubles me. Sit down here on the grass till I tell you. Look at the veranda. Jim; it's like a circus with the band playing."

"The girls' frocks are very pretty; I like lots of color," said Edgeworth.

"There's plenty in Claire Weldon's cheeks," observed O'Hara, gloomily.

"It's natural," said Jim.

"It was before you came. Now she puts more on in your honor; confound it, man, can't you see the lass is forever making eyes at you?—and, Jim, it's death to me!"

Edgeworth stared at him.

"Oh, you're blinder than the white bat of Drumgilt!" said O'Hara; "you've eyes in your head, but there're only there for ornament. Don't you know I am in love with Claire Weldon, now?"

"Why, no," said Edgeworth; "are you really, Tommy?"

"Am I really, Tommy? Faith, I thought even the fish in Gay Brook knew it."

"Well," laughed Edgeworth, "go in and win, old chap!"

"Do you mean it?" said Tommy, gravely.

"Mean it? My dear fellow, why shouldn't I?"

O'Hara beamed on him and grasped his hand. "There!" he cried, "I knew it! I've told her ye didn't care tuppence for any lass, and if she didn't take me she'd be doing herself but ill service."

Edgeworth burst into fits of laughter. "Is that the way you woo a girl, Tom O'Hara?"

"There are ways and ways," said O'Hara, doggedly.

"How about Sir Brian?" asked Jim, checking his mirth.

Sir Brian was Tommy's father. The several thousand miles that separated father and son did not lessen Tommy's uneasiness concerning his father's approval.

"I can't help it," said Tom; "if he disowns me I'll go to work. That I will! and Claire knows it."

"They say," said Edgeworth, "that the O'Hara's always get what they want."

"They do. My grandfather loved a lass who died, so he blew out his brains and caught her in heaven."

"H'm!" coughed Edgeworth.

"Do you know to the contrary?" demanded O'Hara.

"No," said Jim; "I'll have to wait a bit to verify this story. Have you any tobacco? Thanks—my pipe's out. Look at the sky, Tom; it's pretty, isn't it?"

They sprawled on their backs and kicked up their heels—two bronzed young athletes, as trim a pair as one might see anywhere betwixt the poles of this planet.

"Hark," said Edgeworth, "hear Beezeley and Meeke squabbling over their Maker. Do you suppose He hears them? He is so very far away. Hark how they wrangle over their future blessedness. I should think they would be ashamed to have God hear them."

"Beezeley says he believes in hell but doesn't want to go there," said O'Hara, lazily.

"There's no hell," said Edgeworth. He hadn't lived long enough to know; he was nineteen.

O'Hara raised himself on one elbow and looked at him.

"No hell?" he asked.

"No."

If he had seen the lines in O'Hara's face, the faint marks about the eyes and mouth, he might have answered differently.

The afternoon sunlight lay warm across the level meadow. The locust-trees were in full bloom, deep laden with heavy drooping clusters of white blossoms. Every wandering breeze bore the penetrating sweetness of the locusts and the delicate odor of hemlock and pine. Great scarlet trumpet-flowers swayed in the May wind; from the nearer forest came the scent of dogwood and azalia. Over the greensward butterflies fluttered—little white ones, chasing each other among the dandelions; great swallow-tailed butterflies, yellow and black, flopping around the phlox, or pursuing a capricious course along the river-bank. There were others, too; gay comma-butterflies, delicate violet or blue swallow-tailed butterflies, and now and then a rare shy comrade of theirs, pale sulphur and gray, striped like a zebra, that darted across the flower-beds and flitted away to its dusky haunts among the shrub-oak and holly of the mountain-sides. An oriole, gorgeous in orange and black, uttered a sweet call from the lower branches of an oak. A blue-bird dropped into the longer grass under the bushes. Then a cat-bird began to sing and trill and warble until the whole air rippled with melody.

"’Tis a nightingale, or I'm in Drumgilt!" said. O'Hara, sitting up.

"It's a male cat-bird," said Edgeworth, rising; "come on, Tom!"

O'Hara picked himself up from the grass, scraped out his pipe, ran a grass-stem through it, and looked at the sun.

"We have loafed the whole afternoon away," he said.

"I was anxious to kill time," said Edgeworth. He was thinking of the girl at the bridge.

"Kill time! Kill time!" said O'Hara, impatiently, "why, man, 'tis time that kills us! I'm going to find Miss Weldon, and I'd be obliged to ye to stay away."

"Bosh!" said Edgeworth, "you're worth twenty like me."

"That I am!" said Tom; "but I'll be saying good-night, lad! And for the love of me, stay away from Claire Weldon. You don't want my curse?"

"Oh, no," laughed Edgeworth; "but I'm going to dine at their table. I asked the Deacon to fix it. I can't stand the holy alliance any longer."

"All right," said O'Hara; "when a girl has to see a man eat three times a day, she loses her illusions concerning him."

"What's that?" demanded Edgeworth.

But O'Hara swung off across the clover, whistling "Terry Bowen" and buttoning his cricket jacket with an irritating air of self-satisfaction.

"The mischief take Tom and his girls!" said Edgeworth to himself; but he looked after Tom and smiled, for he thought the world revolved about O'Hara. Still, he began to be lonely again, now that O'Hara had gone.

"Why the deuce can't he spend a half-hour now and then with me?" he muttered to himself; "what can he find to talk about all day to one girl?"


III

That night after dinner he found himself joining the procession upon the veranda, walking with a pretty girl whom he did not remember meeting, but from whose conversation he knew he must have danced attendance on somewhere or other.

In the half light of the mellow Japanese lanterns he caught glimpses of familiar faces in the throng. Dr. Beezeley, unctious and sticky-fingered; the faded Mrs. Dill with Dr. Samuel Meeke; poor little Mrs. Meeke, anxiously smiling when she caught the protruding eyes of her husband; Mrs. Weldon, gracious and serene, walking with some tall, heavy- whiskered Southerner; Tommy O'Hara conducting Miss Claire Weldon with something of the determination that one notices in troopers who convoy treasure-trains. In and out of the lights they passed him, vague impressions of filmy draperies and lantern-lit faces, with now and then a shadowy gesture or a sparkle of eyes in the twilight. Beyond, the dark foliage of sycamore and maple loomed, motionless, with never a wind to stir the tender leaves, but the locust-trees, where the grape-like bunches of white blossoms hung, were all hazy with the quivering wings of dusk-moths. Slender sphinx-moths darted and turned and hovered over the phlox, gray wraiths of dead humming-birds, poised above phantom flowers. Below the fountain spray, drifting fine as a veil of mist across the shadowy blossoms of white iris, a hidden tree-frog quavered a sweet treble, and on every twig-tip gauzy-winged creatures scraped resonant accompaniment.

"Of what are you thinking, Mr. Edgeworth?" asked the girl beside him.

He started slightly; he had quite forgotten her. He was thinking of the girl at the bridge and the tryst next morning, but he said: "I was listening to the tree-frog. It means rain to-morrow."

"I am very sorry," said the girl. "I was going to Painted Mountain on horseback. Shall we sit here a moment?" She shook out her skirts and seated herself, and he found a place on the veranda railing beside her.

"Painted Mountain?" he asked; "that is beyond Yo Espero, isn't it?"

"Yo Espero is on the southern slope. I heard such an interesting story about Yo Espero to-day; shall I tell you?"

He looked at her sharply, then nodded, saying: "Tell me first what Yo Espero means. It's Spanish, isn't it?"

"I don't know, I suppose so. The village—there's only one house, you know—was named Yo Espero by the only inhabitant. They say he took the name from the label on the lid of an old cigar-box that he found among the rocks."

"Very unromantic and intensely American," said Edgeworth, laughing.

"Ah, but wait; there's more to come. The man who lives at Yo Espero has a niece, a beauty they say, and would you believe it, the man, her uncle, named her also Yo Espero!"

"Oh," said Edgeworth, musingly.

"Poor girl, named from a cigar brand! It is wicked, don't you think so, Mr. Edgeworth?"

"Yo Espero," he repeated, softly. "I don't know—Yo Espero."

"Her uncle calls her Io for short when he does not call her Yo Espero. He must be a brute. They say he knows things about the blockade too."

Edgeworth became interested.

"I have never seen the girl," she continued, "but Mrs. Weldon has, and she says the girl is simply a raving beauty. Dr. Beezeley tried to call on the uncle, but was shown the door without ceremony. They say the man is well educated and from the North, but he won't allow anybody to enter his house or speak to his niece."

"Do you know his name?" asked Edgeworth.

"Mrs. Beezeley says it is Clyde. He is some broken-down Northern man of good family who has sunk low enough to mix himself up with the blockade. People say the revenue officers are after him and will get him, sooner or later. I wonder what the girl will do then?"

"I wonder," repeated Edgeworth, under his breath. "Hello! here's Tommy O'Hara, the pride of Drumgilt!"

"And the Pride has had a fall," said O'Hara, sentimentally. "Did—did you notice if Miss Weldon was passing this way, Jim? Ah, did you see her pass, Miss Marwood? With Colonel Scarborough? Oh, the mischief!"

"Come," laughed Miss Marwood, "we'll go and find them. Mr. Edgeworth doesn't care—he likes solitude——"

Edgeworth attempted to protest, but was bidden to go with them or stay, as he pleased. And he stayed—to smoke and muse and ponder on the long, dim porch, while the dew dripped from the perfumed vines, and the great stars spangled the sky, and the million voices of the night sang of summers past and summers to come, and the burden of the song was always the same—Yo Espero, Yo Espero.

At seven o'clock next morning Edgeworth stood on the little foot-bridge leaning both elbows upon the wooden railing. Between his elbows was a fresh white cut in the weather-stained plank, from which a shaving of wood had recently been planed, and on this white space was printed, in pencil:

"I shall not see you again."

He never doubted that the message was for him. He leaned idly upon the rail, reading and re-reading it. A fine warm rain, scarcely more than a mist, was falling through the calm air. The tiny globules powdered his cap and coat, shining like frost dust.

Presently he fumbled in his pocket, found a jack-knife, opened it, and deliberately shaved the writing from the plank. Then in his turn he wrote:

"If you will not see me I shall go to-morrow."

"Let the Beezeley whelp read that and make the most of it," he muttered, turning away with an unaccustomed feeling of wistfulness.

What he longed for he did not know; perhaps for a little of O'Hara's society, so he lighted his pipe and started toward the hotel, his hands deep in his pockets, his tanned cheeks glistening with the fine rain.

After a few moments it occurred to him that he had put it rather strongly; in fact it was an unwarranted and idiotic thing to write. Why in the world should he leave Diamond Spring because a girl, whom he had met three times and spoken to once, refused to meet him again? He hesitated, mused a little, and finally resumed his course. Let it stay as it was; it mattered nothing to him anyway. He would leave the hotel; he would leave the State, too, for that matter; for he was sick and weary of the Carolinas, and of the big hotels filled with invalids who sat in hot baths and drank nasty bottles full of "waters." Would O'Hara go with him? He thought of Claire Weldon and frowned.

"She's spoiled O'Hara, that's what she's done!" he thought, bitterly.

When he came in sight of the hotel he saw Dr. Beezeley pottering about the croquet-ground. When the reverend gentleman walked, his flat feet scraped the gravel and lapped over each other in front, like the toes of a Shanghai rooster.

"Hey," said Dr. Beezeley, "been a-walkin'?"

Edgeworth nodded.

"Want to play croquet?" asked Beezeley, looking at him over his glasses; "it ain't goin' to rain much more."

Edgeworth said he never played croquet.

Beezeley straightened a wicket, hammered a painted stake, and sniffed.

His face, with the bunchy chop-whiskers cut a little close, reminded Edgeworth of the countenance of some big rabbit. The reverend gentleman also had other peculiarities of the species, such as a perpetual appetite and a prehensile lip.

O'Hara hailed Edgeworth from the tennis-courts and he went over, puffing his pipe moodily. But when he found that Tommy intended to invite two girls to make up doubles, Edgeworth flatly refused to play.

"Confound it, Tommy," he said, "you are good enough company for me and I ought to be for you. What's the use of lugging in strangers every minute?"

"Ladies are never strangers," said Tom, airily. "One of them is Miss Weldon."

"That's all right," said Edgeworth, savagely, "but she can't play tennis. Is it a kindergarten you're setting up, Tom O'Hara?"

"Listen to the lad," said O'Hara. "Why, man, I'll go with you where you like, and I'll do what you like—only," he added, "I have an appointment to ride at ten with Miss Weldon."

"Ride then," said Edgeworth, with a scowl, and turned on his heel, leaving O'Hara a sadly puzzled man.

"What the mischief is the matter with me, anyhow?" muttered Edgeworth, striding wrathfully away across the meadow. "Why can't I let Tommy alone with his girl? I'm making a nuisance of myself, I fancy."

The restlessness which possessed him he did not even attempt to analyze. That it was caused by something or somebody outside of himself he was convinced.

"These people here," he thought, "are empty-headed, fashionable dolls—when they're not sanctimonious and vulgar. I'll be hanged if I'm going to spend the time talking platitudes to girls in golf-gowns."

Of course it was their fault that he felt irritable and bored. He thought of his book, "The Origin of the Cherokee Indian," but the prospect of shutting himself in his room to drive a pen over reams of foolscap, had small attraction for him. The rain had ceased, the heavy perfumed air, vague with vapor, oppressed him, and he looked up at the mountains half veiled in mist. But climbing was out of the question—he didn't know exactly why—but it was clearly out of the question. He would not go fishing either; neither would he read. What was there left to do? Nothing—except to go back to the foot-bridge.

So when at last, by the highways and byways of cogitation, he had completed the circle, and had arrived at the point from which he started, he found that his legs had secured the precedence of his brain, for already they were landing him at the foot-bridge.

He was really a little surprised when he found himself there. He stepped to the railing to find his inscription. Somebody had shaved it off with a knife, and in its place was written:

"Good-by."

It was then that Jim Edgeworth experienced a most amazing, not to say painful sensation. It started in the region of the heart, and, before he was aware, it began to affect his throat.

"Good-by."

He looked stupidly at the word, repeating it aloud once or twice. Presently he pulled out his knife and hacked away the writing with a misty idea that it might bother him less when it was obliterated. On the contrary it bothered him more than ever. A desire possessed him to go away; but when he pictured himself in a train rushing northward, the prospect was not as alluring as he felt it should be. Perhaps it was because he knew O'Hara would not go with him.

"The devil take Tom O'Hara!" he blurted out.

The effect of this outburst did not soothe him; it did, however, frighten a small hedge-sparrow nearly to death.

He looked up at the sun-warped sign-post on the end of the bridge. It bore the following valuable information:

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Hog Mountain 6 miles.
Buzzard Run 10 {{{1}}}

Red Rock 1 mile.
Yo Espero 3 miles.

"Yo Espero!" he repeated aloud.

There was a step on the creaking planks behind him—a light step—but he heard it.

They faced each other for a moment in silence. The sun shone out of the mist above and tinged the edges of his hair with a mellow radiance.

"Come, "she said, "we can't stay here!"

"Where—then?"

Their eyes met. Her lips were slightly parted; perhaps she had walked fast, for her breast rose and fell irregularly. In that silent exchange of glances each read for one brief second a line in the book of fate; each read—but whether they understood or not God knows, for they smiled at each other and turned away, side by side, into the forest.


IV

"Yo Espero, Yo Espero!"

Asleep, awake, the words haunted him, night and day they rang in his ears; "Yo Espero, Yo Espero." The brooks sang it; in the hot mid-day the cadence of the meadow creatures took it up; the orioles repeated it across the fields, the thrushes hymn was for her alone—"Yo Espero, Yo Espero."

Days dawned and vanished, brief as the flash of a firefly wing—for him. The locust-trees powdered the greensward with white blossoms; the laurel, dainty and conventional, spread its flowered cambric out to dry, and the dogwood leaves drifted through the forest like snow-flakes.

O'Hara, the triumphant affianced of Claire, provoked the wrath of all unaffianced gods and men. He simply mooned. Guests arrived and guests left the Diamond Spring Hotel, but the Beezeley's stayed on forever. There were captains and colonels and generals from the South; the names of Fairfax and Marmaduke and Carter and Stuart were heard in corridor and card-room. There were Rittenhouses and Appletons and Van Burens, too, and the flat bleat of Philadelphia echoed the colorless jargon of Boston and the semi-civilized accent of New York.

It was the middle of May. The cat-birds had ceased their music and now haunted the garden, mewing from every thicket, A blue-jay, ominous prophet of distant autumn, screamed viciously at the great belted kingfishers, but wisely avoided these dagger-billed birds, and also the occasional cock-of-the-woods that flew into the oak grove and tapped all day on the loose bark.

Edgeworth loved all these creatures. A few weeks previous he hadn't cared twopence for them. But now it was different; he felt at home with all the world; he smiled knowingly at the thrushes, he nodded gayly to the great blue heron, and laughed when that dignified but snobbish biped cut him dead. Flowers, too, he was on good terms with; he haunted the woods, now all ablaze with azalias, he sat among blue and violet larkspurs and felt that he was among friends. The little wood-violets peeped up at him fearlessly; they knew he would never pick them; the big orange lady-slippers arranged themselves neatly two by two as he passed, but he laughingly disregarded their offers. True, the girl at his side—for he never rambled alone—was worthy of such self-sacrifice on the part of any lady-slipper, orange or maroon.

The girl at his side was Yo Espero.

"Io," he said, as they lay in the forest on the heights above Diamond Spring, "can you realize it all? I scarcely can. Was it yesterday, was it last week—was it years ago that I said good-morning to you there on our bridge?"

"Jim, I don't know."

Her hair had fallen down and she flung it like a glistening veil from her face. She lay full length across the soft pine-needles, her scarlet lips parted, tearing bits of flame-colored azalia blossoms from a cluster at her belt.

"See the lizards," said Edgeworth, sitting up beside her, "see them race over the dry leaves! There! They've run up a tree! Look, Io."

"I see," she said. But she was looking up at him.

He bent over her and kissed her, both hands clasped in hers.

"You didn't look at all," he said.

"Didn't I?" whispered Yo Espero.

It was true that she had not looked. When her eyes were not fastened upon his face they were closed.

So he sat smiling down at her, with her slim fingers twisted in his; and that shadow of wistfulness that ever hovers close to happiness fell over his eyes. And he said: "Do you ever regret—anything—Io?"

She smiled faintly.

"No—nothing, dear."

"Nothing?"

"Nothing."

"Then you are happy?"

"Yes."

What had she to regret? She loved him. To him she came, sick at heart for the companionship which she had never known. He had delivered her from her loneliness. First she listened to him with the fierce happiness of the lonely; then she idolized him; then she loved him. Love was all she had to give; and she gave it, even before he asked—gave it without thought or regret.

"Do you know," he said, "that you have the prettiest hands in the world?"

"Have I?"

"Don't you know it?"

She raised one hand indolently and placed the fingers across his lips.

"What do I care?" she said.

"But I care," he whispered; "to think that you—all, all of you, with your beautiful eyes and your neck and your lips and these two little hands, are mine—all mine!"

"And that brown hair above me—is mine—isn't it?" murmured the girl; "I never asked you before, but don't—don't I own some of you, too? I have given you all of myself."

It was little to ask; the question was a new one though, and he suddenly began to wonder how much of him she did own. He looked at her curiously as she lay there, her innocent face upturned, her young figure flung across the pine-needle matting of the forest. Her eyes told him she loved him; every line and curve of her sweet body solemnized the vow.

"Io," he said, "all of me that is worth owning you own."

"This hand?" she asked, locking her fingers in his.

"Both," he said.

"Everything? All—all?"

"All, Yo Espero."

"You never said so—before."

"I say it now; all! all! all!"

"We will go to Silver Mine Creek," said Yo Espero, "and we will fish there for a little fish. There are bass in the French Broad, and you shall catch them from the rifts below Deepwater Bridge. We will gallop on horseback to Painted Sands, and we will go to Bubbling Spring. All this will take time, you know; but you are never going away, are you? Hush! I could not live until sunrise. Then, in the fall, we will go across to the little Hurricane, where there are deer. You shall shoot a great wild-turkey, also! Dear me! What can a man ask for more? And then there are teal and mallard on the French Broad before the ice has bridged the Little Red Horse. You will love the South."

"Yes, dear," he answered, soberly—but his eyes were turned to the North.

"I know lots of springs in the forest," she said, watching his face.

"And blockade stills?" he smiled.

She laughed outright and sat up, gathering her heavy hair into a twist.

"There is one within a few steps of where we sit; you could never find it," she said, tauntingly.

"Oho!" he exclaimed, "whose?"

"Zeke's," said the girl, "I could go to it in two minutes. Hark! was that a gun-shot from the valley?"

"I think it was," he said; "it came from that way," and he pointed to the west.

"From Painted Mountain! Did it sound like a rifle, Jim?"

Her eyes were bright. Two red spots glowed on either cheek.

"I don't know, dear, why?"

As he spoke he rose and stepped back two paces. And as he took the second step there came a whirr, a girl's scream, and a rattlesnake struck him twice above the ankle.

For one second the forest swam before his eyes; then a cold sweat started from the roots of his hair, and he bent and picked up a stick, shaking in every limb. It was over in a moment; the snake lay dead, shuddering and twisting among the rocks, but it was Yo Espero who had crushed it, and now she turned to him a face as bloodless as his own.

"Wait!" she panted, "there's whiskey at Zeke's!" and she sprang across the mountain-side and vanished among the thickets.

He bent over and tore down his stocking; then his head whirled and he sank trembling upon the ground.

As he lay there great throbs of pain swept through him in waves, succeeded by momentary numbness; and through the mist of faintness, and the delirium of pain he heard the dead snake thumping among the leaves. Then all was one great thrill of agony; but, as his senses reeled again, a touch fell upon his arm and he heard her voice:

"Drink—quickly—all—all you can!"

And he did, blindly, guided by her arm. She held the demijohn until his head fell back.

The girl knelt, ripped her own sleeve from wrist to shoulder and stared at her round white arm. Two blue marks, close together, capped the summit of a terrible swelling, and she cried out once for help. Then with all the strength that remained she dragged the demijohn to her mouth and stretched out on the ground, the crystal clear liquor running between her teeth. She tried hard to swallow. Once she murmured: "I knew there was not enough for both—I guess there isn't much left; I guess—it's—too late——"

After a minute or two she wandered in her delirium, but still she swallowed desperately until the demijohn rolled away from her nerveless grasp and she seemed to lose consciousness. With the last spark of understanding left in her numbed brain, she turned over and stretched out, her lips against his face.

Zeke found them. Whether it was the smell of blockade whiskey, coupled with the absence of his demijohn, or whether it was Providence, cannot be successfully argued here. But he found them, and he carried them into his ramshackle cabin and laid them side by side across his mattress.

After he had looked at them for half an hour's absolute silence he spat the remains of a hard chewed quid into a corner, picked up his gun and wended his way down the mountainside to the Diamond Spring Hotel.

Here he was promptly arrested by two pale-faced revenue officers, and here, for the first time, he learned that Clyde, the tenant of Yo Espero on Painted Mountain, had been shot dead, two hours before, for resisting arrest at the hands of United States officers.

The hotel was in commotion, but when Zeke drawled out his story, panic reigned supreme, and the Beezeleys started in a body for Zeke's hut. How they got lost on the mountain and were frightened by snakes, and how Dr. Samuel Meeke headed a rescue party in their behalf, has no place in this story—nor, I imagine, in any story. O'Hara went on Zeke's bond, and Zeke, followed by O'Hara and the proprietor of the Diamond Spring Hotel, started for the blockader's burrow. The proprietor's name was Eph Doom, but, unlike his namesake, nothing about him was sealed, not even his lips, and he chattered continually until Zeke drawled out: "Shet up yew damfool mewl of misery!"

Once O'Hara spoke:

"You left them both lying across your bed, Zeke?"

"’Bout a foot apart," drawled Zeke.

But when O'Hara burst into the cabin, he cried: "Thank God!" For they were in each other's arms.

And that is all there is to say.

Eph Doom recounts a great deal more; he tells how those two striplings, dazed by alcohol and numbed with poison, clung together blindly; he tells how he, personally, drove a shoal of Beezeleys and Meekes and Dills from the door of the cabin, and he relates with fire how young Edgeworth sat up—giddy, pale, trembling—and demanded that he, Ephraim Doom, should, as a Justice of the Peace, then and there instantly unite in holy wedlock James Edgeworth and Yo Espero Clyde. Which he did not do, because O'Hara whispered: "Wait till he's sober." How Zeke escaped the clutches of the law needs a story by itself.

How Dr. Samuel Meeke and Mrs. Dill—but that is scandal.

How Yo Espero and Edgeworth loved is all that concerns this story.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.


The author died in 1933, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.