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   Chapter 42 CONCLUSION

The Desired Woman By Will N. Harben Characters: 7955

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Six years passed. It was autumn in the mountains. The air was balmy and crisp. The landscape was gloriously tinted by late wild flowers and the colors of dying leaves. A far-off peak, catching the rays of the afternoon sun, rose above the dun valley like a mound of delicate coral dropped from the cloud-mottled blue overhead.

A stranger, walking from the station at Ridgeville, was nearing the front gate of Saunders's home. He moved with a slow, thoughtful step. He was gray, even to the whiteness of snow. His skin was clear and pink, his eyes were bright and alert. As he opened the gate he became aware of the nearness of two children playing in a vine-clad summer-house on the right of the graveled walk. The older was a handsome boy of four years; his companion was a pretty little girl of two, whom the boy held by the hand quite with the air of manly guardianship.

"Now, see how you have soiled your dress," the boy said, brushing the child's lap with his little hand. "Mama wouldn't like that."

The clicking of the gate-latch attracted the glance of the children; and they stood staring curiously at the man who, with an introductory smile, was drawing near. He bent down and shook hands with them both, first with the little girl and lastly with the boy.

"I have come to see your papa and mama," he said. "Are they at home? I think they are expecting me."

"They are down in the meadow getting flowers," the boy answered. "They are coming right back. You can see them from here. Look, there by the spring!"

The stranger followed the direction indicated by the little hand, and his eyes took on a wistful stare as they fixed upon a couple strolling across the meadow, holding flowers and ferns in their hands. They walked quite close together, those two, and the distance seemed to enfold them with conscious tenderness.

"They are both well, I believe?" the man said to the boy, as the more timid little girl turned and toddled away.

"Yes, thank you," the boy answered, in words which sounded stilted in one so young. "They got your letter. I heard papa say so. You are Mr. Mostyn, a very old friend of theirs. They said I must love you and be good while you are here, because you have no little boy yourself."

"Yes, yes, that's true," Mostyn answered, taking the child's hand in his. "Now you know my name, you must tell me yours."

"Richard," the child said. "I was named for your little boy that died and went up to God. Papa used to love him long, long ago in Atlanta."

Mostyn drew the child along by the hand. The delicate throbbing of the boy's pulse thrilled him through and through. Steps sounded in the hall of the house, and John Webb, not any older in appearance than when last seen, crossed the veranda and came slowly down the steps.

"Well, well, well!" he cried. "Here you are at last. It must be a powerful long trip from Californy. The folks didn't seem to think you'd git here till in the morning. They 'lowed you'd stop for a while in Atlanta."

"I finished my visit there sooner than I expected." Mostyn shook the thick damp hand warmly. "I've been living out in the open so much of late years that Atlanta seemed stuffy and crowded; besides, my sister has moved away, and I have no blood-kin there. I wanted to get into the country as soon as I could, and this seems like home in a way."

"That's what Dolly and Jarvis are goin' to try to make it for you," Webb went on. "Lord, they have been countin' on this for a long time! Seems like they don't talk of much else. I heard 'em say they was goin' to try to break you of your rovin' habit. They've got your room fixed up to a gnat's heel. It is the best one in the house-plenty of air and light. That's what they are out pickin' flowers and evergreens for now. They want it to look cheerful."

"It is very kind of them, I am sure," Mostyn answered, "but I wouldn't like to be in the way very long."

"You won't be in nobody's way here," Webb declared. "If

this ain't an open house there never was one of the old-time sort before the war. Jarvis runs the place like his pa and grandpa did. You never saw the like o' visitors in summer-time. They pile in from all directions, close an' far off. Every friend that comes anywhere nigh has to put up here. Them two live happy, I tell you, if ever a pair did. They've got 'em a fine home in Atlanta, where they spend the winter, but they both love this best. Jarvis is writin' a book about mountain flowers, an' Dolly helps him. They travel about a lot; they take in New York nearly every year, but love to get back home where they say they can be comfortable."

"And the rest of the family?" Mostyn said. "Your sister and Drake, how are they?"

"Fine, first rate. Tom still bosses the plantation. Jarvis tried to git 'im to quit when he married in the family-said he didn't want his daddy-in-law drawin' pay by the month-but Tom had got interested in the work and hung on. He's turned out to be an A1 manager, I tell you. He knows what's what in plantin', an' makes his men move like clockwork from sun-up to sun-down."

"And George and his wife?" Mostyn inquired. "Are they doing well?"

"Fine, fine. Got four likely children-three boys and a girl baby that gave 'er first yell just a month ago. That pair has struck a lively lick hatchin' 'em out, but it is exactly what they like-they say they want just as many crawlers under foot as they can step over without stumblin'."

"And you, yourself-" Mostyn hesitated. "Have you-"

"Oh, me?" Webb's freckled face reddened. "Not on your life. I'll stay like I am till I'm under ground. Not any of it for me. Other folks can do as they like, but not me-no siree! I reckon you hain't never"-Webb hesitated-"married a second time?"

"No," Mostyn answered. "I am still quite alone in the world."

Webb glanced toward the meadow. "I'll walk down there and let 'em know you are here," he said. "They would dilly-dally like that till after dark, an' then come home swingin' hands an' gigglin' an' sayin' fool things to each other. They make me sick sometimes. I believe in love, you understand-I think married folks ought to love each other, in the bounds o' reason, but this mushy business-well, it ain't in my line, that's all!"

He passed through the gate and started toward the meadow. Mostyn leaned on the fence. He saw the couple again. They were standing face to face arranging the flowers.

"I don't think I'd disturb them if I were you," he called after the bachelor. "There is no hurry."

"Oh, they would want to know you are here," Webb answered over his shoulder, as he strode away. "They will come in a trot when they know about it."

Presently Mostyn felt a small hand creep into his. It was the little boy.

"Do you see them?" the child inquired. "I can't look over the fence."

"Yes, let me hold you up." Mostyn lifted the boy in his arms. "Now, now can you see?" he asked, the words sweeping from him in suddenly released tenderness.

"Yes, yes; and they are coming. Let's go to meet them. Will you?"

"Yes, and you must let me carry you. You know I used to love to carry my own little boy like this-just like this."

The child's arm, already on Mostyn's shoulder, slid closer to his neck till it quite encircled it. The soft, warm hand touched Mostyn's chin.

"Mama and papa said I must call you 'Uncle Dick,' but you are not my really, really uncle, are you?"

"No, but I want to be. Will you-would you mind giving your old uncle a hug with-with both your arms?"

The boy complied.

"There, there!" Mostyn said. "Once more-tight-tight! Hug me tight!"

The child obeyed. "Oo-ooh!" he cried, as he relaxed his tense pressure.

"Thank you-thank you!" Mostyn kissed him; then he was silent.

With one hand on Mostyn's cheek the boy leaned forward and peered into his face curiously.

"Why-why," he faltered, his little lips puckered sympathetically, "what is the matter?"


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