“Indeed I am!” agreed the Colonel heartily. “In the old days we would have laughed at the man who could possibly have suggested a quarrel for the Verney twins.”
“Nothing but a cruel war could have done it,” said the girl quietly. “What does it matter now,” she demanded impetuously, “if Daddy did fight for the North and the Major for the South? It’s all so long ago that a quarrel about it is foolish.”
The Colonel cleared his throat. “Yes, it is foolish,” he admitted.
“You see,” Ruth leaned eagerly forward, “I met a man who knew the Major, and he praised him so highly that I lay awake all one night thinking what a pity it was that two such splendid men as Daddy and his brother should still be enemies over an old bygone war. You know, Colonel, they would have been friends ages ago, only each was too proud to make the first advance. Wasn’t it foolish?”
The Colonel nodded, carefully shading his eyes from the fire.
“They were just wasting precious years of companionship,” went on the girl. “That thought came to me as I lay awake in bed, and the very next morning I wrote to the Major. You see, Colonel Fairfax, I feel this way,” she explained. “There’s no North and no South. Daddy and the Major are citizens of the United States.”
The Colonel rose and busied himself about the fire. When he put back the tongs and reseated himself his cheeks were hot from its blazing warmth.
“And that’s what I told Uncle Edward in the letter, and, Colonel, he wrote me such a glorious letter back that I had to show it to Daddy. He was delighted, and he said that any two men who fought over the battles of a dead war were ‘old fools.’”
Colonel Fairfax winced.
“So,” finished the girl with glowing eyes, “Uncle Edward came rushing North in a great state of excitement, and that’s how I came to be down here over Christmas.”
In her impetuous criticism of the war-time quarrel that had separated the Verney twins for more than forty years, and the expression of her broad, impulsive patriotism. Colonel Fairfax had listened to certain truths which had long been subconsciously germinating in his own mind. Before he could recover from the surprise of finding that he agreed with her, Ruth, touched by the lines of care graven upon his fine old face, had caught her breath with a little sob, slipped from her place by the fire, and was kneeling, beside his chair, her eyes starry with light, her lovely face glorified with its tender appeal.
“Colonel,” she cried, a catch in her voice, “I’m going to marry Dick! It was he who praised Uncle Edward so.”
The Colonel’s face grew scarlet; then he laid a trembling hand upon the girl’s bowed head. “Child,” he said, “you—you—” Tears blinded his eyes and he stopped.
In the silence that followed came the sharp sound of a quick footfall. The Colonel looked up. Dick Fairfax stood in the doorway, his eyes burning strangely in the white misery of his face.