“Don’t give me up, Kilday!” he cried, trying to rise. “I’ll pay you anything you ask. It was the drink. I didn’t know what I was doing. For the Lord’s sake, don’t give me up! I haven’t long to live at best. I can’t disgrace the family. I—I am the last of the line—last Nelson—” His voice was high and uncontrolled, and his eyes were glassy and fixed.
Sandy stood before him in an agony of indecision. He had fought it out with himself there in his bedroom, and all personal considerations were swept from his mind. All he wanted now was to do right. But what was right? He groped blindly about in the darkness of his soul, and no guiding light showed him the way.
With a groan, he knotted his fingers together and prayed the first real prayer his heart had ever uttered. It was wordless and formless, just an inarticulate cry for help in the hour of need.
The answer came when he looked again at Carter. Something in the frenzied face brought a sudden recollection to his mind.
“We can’t judge him by usual standards; he’s bearing the sins of his fathers. We have to look on men like that as we do on the insane.” They were the judge’s own words.
Sandy jumped to his feet, and, helping and half supporting Carter, persuaded him to go out to the buggy, promising that he would not give him up.
At the Willowvale gate he led the horse into the avenue, then turned and ran at full speed into town. As he came into the square he found only a few groups shivering about the court-house steps, discussing the events of the day.
“Where’s the crowd?” he cried breathless. “Aren’t they going to start from here?”
An old negro pulled off his cap and grinned.
“Dey been gone purty near an hour, Mist’ Sandy. I ‘spec’ dey’s got dat low-down rascal hanged by now.”
There was an early tea at Willowvale that evening, and Ruth sat at the big round table alone. Mrs. Nelson always went to bed when the time came for packing, and Carter was late, as usual.
Ruth was glad to be alone. She had passed through too much to be able to banish all trace of the storm. But though her eyes were red from recent tears, they were bright with anticipation. Sandy was coming back. That fact seemed to make everything right.
She leaned her chin on her palm and tried to still the beating of her heart. She knew he would come. Irresponsible, hot-headed, impulsive as he was, he had never failed her. She glanced impatiently at the clock.
“Miss Rufe, was you ever in love?” It was black Rachel who broke in upon her thoughts. She was standing at the foot of the table, her round, good-humored face comically serious.
“No-yes. Why, Rachel?” stammered Ruth.
“I was just axin’,” said Rachel, “’cause if you been in love, you’d know how to read a love-letter, wouldn’t you, Miss Rufe?”