Rage convulsed him. He recovered his self-command slowly, smashing his pipe in the interval; and I, astonished beyond measure, waited for the explanation which he appeared to be disposed to give.
“If I’m what I am,” he said, hoarsely, “an old jack-ass he-hawing ‘Peace! peace! thrift! thrift!’ it is because I must and not because the music pleases me.... And I had not meant to tell you why—for none other suspects it—but my personal honor is at stake. I am in debt to a friend, George, and unless I am left in peace here to collect my tithes and till my fields and run my mills and ship my pearl-ashes, I can never hope to pay a debt of honor incurred—and which I mean to pay, if I live, so help me God!
“Lad, if this house, these farms, these acres were my own, do you think I’d hesitate to polish up that old sword yonder that my father carried when Schenectady went up in flames?... Know me better, George!... Know that this condemnation to inaction is the bitterest trial I have ever known. How easy it would be for me to throw my own property into one balance, my sword into the other, and say, ’Defend the one with the other or be robbed!’ But I can’t throw another man’s lands into the balance. I can’t raise the war-yelp and go careering about after glory when I owe every shilling I possess and thousands more to an honorable and generous gentleman who refused all security for the loan save my own word of honor.
“And now, simple, brave, high-minded as he is, he offers to return me my word of honor, free me from his debt, and leave me unshackled to conduct in this coming war as I see fit.
“But that is more than he can do, George. My word once pledged can only be redeemed by what it stood for, and he is powerless to give it back.
“That is all, sir.... Pray think more kindly of an old fool in future, when you plume yourself upon your liberty to draw sword in the most just cause this world has ever known.”
“It is I who am the fool, Sir Lupus,” I said, in a low voice.
LIGHTS AND SHADOWS
I remember it was the last day of May before I saw my cousin Dorothy again.
Late that afternoon I had taken a fishing-rod and a book, The Poems of Pansard, and had set out for the grist-mill on the stream below the log-bridge; but did not go by road, as the dust was deep, so instead crossed the meadow and entered the cool thicket, making a shorter route to the stream.
Through the woodland, as I passed, I saw violets in hollows and blue innocence starring moist glades with its heavenly color, and in the drier woods those slender-stemmed blue bell-flowers which some call the Venus’s looking-glass.
In my saddened and rebellious heart a more innocent passion stirred and awoke—the tender pleasure I have always found in seeking out those shy people of the forest, the wild blossoms—a harmless pleasure, for it is ever my habit to leave them undisturbed upon their stalks.