“But your neighbors, mother, the Sheratons—”
“Oh, certainly, they asked me to live with them. But I was not moved to do that. You see, I know each rose bush and each apple tree on our old place. I did not like to leave them.
“Besides, as to the Sheratons, Jack,” she began again—“I do not wish to say one word to hurt thy feelings, but Miss Grace—”
“What about Miss Grace?”
“Mr. Orme, the gentleman who once stopped with us a few days—”
“Oh, Orme! Is he here again? He was all through the West with me—I met him everywhere there. Now I meet him here!”
“He returned last summer, and for most of his time has been living at the Sheratons’. He and Colonel Sheraton agree very well. And he and Miss Grace—I do not like to say these things to thee, my son, but they also seem to agree.”
“Go on,” I demanded, bitterly.
“Whether Miss Grace’s fancy has changed, I do not know, but thy mother ought to tell thee this, so that if she should jilt thee, why, then—”
“Yes,” said I, slowly, “it would be hard for me to speak the first word as to a release.”
“But if she does not love thee, surely she will speak that word. So then say good-by to her and set about thy business.”
I could not at that moment find it in my heart to speak further. We rose and walked down to the street of the little town, and at the tavern barn I secured a conveyance which took us both back to what had once been our home. It was my mother’s hands which, at a blackened old fireplace, in a former slave’s cabin, prepared what we ate that evening. Then, as the sun sank in a warm glow beyond the old Blue Ridge, and our little valley lay there warm and peaceful as of old, I drew her to the rude porch of the whitewashed cabin, and we looked out, and talked of things which must be mentioned. I told her—told her all my sad and bitter story, from end to end.
“This, then,” I concluded, more than an hour after I had begun, “is what I have brought back to you—failure, failure, nothing but failure.”
We sat in silence, looking out into the starry night, how long I do not know. Then I heard her pray, openly, as was not the custom of her people. “Lord, this is not my will. Is this Thy will?”
After a time she put her hand upon mine. “My son, now let us reason what is the law. From the law no man may escape. Let us see who is the criminal. And if that be thee, then let my son have his punishment.”
I allowed the edge of her gentle words to bite into my soul, but I could not speak.
“But one thing I know,” she concluded, “thee is John Cowles, the son of my husband, John; and thee at the last will do what is right, what thy heart says to thee is right.”
She kissed me on the cheek and so arose. All that night I felt her prayers.