Sir Jonas was surprised when I came from behind the tree and swung a hard blow to the side of his tender nose; and as I repeated this, he grunted, blew out his breath and turned his head to one side with closed eyes, raising his muzzle aloft in pain. Once more I struck him fair on the muzzle, and this time he bawled loudly in surprise and anguish, and so turned to run. This act of his offered me fair hold upon his tail, and so affixed to him, I followed smiting him upon the back with blows which I think cut through his hide where the pointed knots struck. Thus with loud orders and with a voice which he ought better to have remembered, I brought him to his senses and pursued him entirely out of the orchard, so that he had no mind whatever to return. After which, with what dignity I could summon, I returned to the tree where Grace Sheraton was still perched aloft. Drawing my riding gloves from my pocket I reached up my hands, somewhat soiled with the encounter, and so helped her down to earth once more. And once more her gaze, soft and not easily to be mistaken, rested upon me.
“Tell me, Jack Cowles,” she said, “is there anything in the world you are afraid to do?”
“At least I’m not afraid to give a lesson to any little Sir Jonas that has forgot his manners,” I replied. “But I hope you are not hurt in any way?” She shook her head, smoothing out her gown, and again raised her eyes to mine.
We seated ourselves again upon our fallen apple tree. Her hand fell upon my coat sleeve. We raised our eyes. They met. Our lips met also—I do not know how.
I do not hold myself either guilty or guiltless. I am only a man now. I was only a boy then. But even then I had my notions, right or wrong, as to what a gentleman should be and do. At least this is how Grace Sheraton and I became engaged.
A SAD LOVER
I shall never forget the scene there under the oak of the Sheraton front yard, which met my gaze when Miss Grace and I came about the corner of the house.
Before us, and facing each other, stood my father and Colonel Sheraton, the former standing straight and tall, Colonel Sheraton with tightly clenched hand resting on his stick, his white hair thrown back, his shaggy brows contracted. My mother sat in the low rocker which had been brought to her, and opposite her, leaning forward, was Mrs. Sheraton, tall, thin, her black eyes fixed upon the men. Orme, also standing, his hands behind him, regarded the troubled men intently. Near at hand was the Sheratons’ Jim, his face also fixed upon them; and such was his own emotion that he had tipped his silver tray and dropped one of the Sheraton cut glass julep glasses to the sod.
It was mid-afternoon, or evening, as we call it in Virginia, and the light was still frank and strong, though the wind was softening among the great oaks, and the flowers were sweet all about. It was a scene of peace; but it was not peace which occupied those who made its central figures.