“So now,” I resumed, “I have come to you to tell you of all these things, and to decide definitely and finally in regard to our next plans.”
“But you believe me, Jack? You do promise to keep your promise? You do love me?”
“I doubt no woman whom I wed,” I answered. “I shall be gone for two or three weeks. As matters are at this moment it would be folly for either of us to do more than let everything stand precisely as it is until we have had time to think. I shall come back, Miss Grace, and I shall ask your answer.”
“Jack, I’m sure of that,” she murmured. “It is a grand thing for a woman to have the promise of a man who knows what a promise is.”
I winced at this, as I had winced a thousand times at similar thrusts unconsciously delivered by so many. “No,” said I, “I think Orme is right. I am only a very stupid ass.”
She reached out her hand. I felt her fingers close cold and hard on mine, as though loth to let me go. I kissed her fingers and withdrew, myself at least very glad to be away.
I retired presently to my room to arrange my portmanteaus for an early journey. And there, filling up one-half of the greater valise, was a roll of hide, ragged about its edge. I drew it out, and spread it flat upon the bed before me, whitened and roughened with bone, reddened with blood, written on with rude stylus, bearing certain words which all the time, day and night, rang, yes, and sang, in my brain.
“I, John Cowles—I, Ellen Meriwether—take thee, for better, for worse—till death—” I saw her name, E-l-l-e-n.
ELLEN OR GRACE
Presently once more I departed. My mother also ended her visit at Dixiana, preferring to return to the quiet of her two little whitewashed rooms, and the old fireplace, and the sooty pot-hooks which our people’s slaves had used for two generations in the past.
As to what I learned at Huntington, which place I reached after some days of travel, I need say no more than that I began to see fully verified my father’s daring and his foresight. The matter of the coal land speculation was proved perfectly feasible. Indeed, my conference with our agents made it clear that little remained excepting the questions of a partition of interests, or of joint action between Colonel Meriwether and my father’s estate. The right of redemption still remained, and there offered a definite alternative of selling a part of the lands and retaining the remainder clear of incumbrance. We wrote Colonel Meriwether all these facts from Huntington, requesting his immediate attention. After this, I set out for home, not ill-pleased with the outlook of my material affairs.
All these details of surveying and locating lands, of measuring shafts and drifts, and estimating cubic yards in coal, and determining the status of tenures and fees, had occupied me longer than I had anticipated. I had been gone two days beyond a month, when finally, somewhat wearied with stage travel, I pulled up at Wallingford.