When at last beside the embers of his camp fire, he spread his oilskin and drew a blanket over him, the night sounds of the forest, a-crackle with mystery, became the woodland spirits of King Arthur’s men, blowing their ghostly horns by the light of the moon. Likely the wee folk would come and dance beside the embers of his camp fire.
“By the powers of wildfire!” cried Kenny drowsily, “it is good to be alive!”
In the morning there was mist and rain and Kenny tramped the sodden world in a mood of sadness. Melancholy dripped from the wet white blossoms along the way. The drenched green of the meadows brought tragic thoughts of Erin and her fate. Never a maid peeped over an orchard fence. Kenny bolstered his spirits again and again with some lines of Wordsworth which as a picturesque part of his road equipment he had copied into his notebook.
“I roved o’er many a hill and many a dale, . . . . in heat or cold, Through many a wood, and many an open road, In sunshine and in shade, in wet and fair, Drooping or blithe of heart, as might befall, My best companions now the driving winds, And now the ‘trotting brooks’ and whispering trees— And now the music of my own sad steps, With many a short-lived thought that passed between And disappeared.”
Never before had the words failed to thrill him with the romance of the road. Now as the rainy twilight threatened with never an inn in sight, he lingered on the final lines: “The music of my own sad steps!”
Sad steps indeed that postponed his meeting with Brian! Did he not owe it to his son to travel with all possible speed to the farmhouse instead of plodding belatedly along the highway in rain and gloom and twilight? Had he after all a right to indulge his passion for tramping and footsore penance when already word might have come to the sister with the ink-pool eyes? The runaway was young. His remorse would come the quicker. For every day he, Kenny, lingered in selfish penance on the road, he must pay in a widening of distance between Brian and himself. Kenny quickened his sagging foot-steps. Drenched and hungry, he felt himself better able to see the thing in sane and unpoetic light.
It came to this: Would Brian prefer the rags of romantic loitering to the speed, train or otherwise, of eager affection? Surely not! He must not be selfish. Foot-sore or foot-fresh, his remorse would be the same. With Brian it would be the inner things that counted.
At twilight Kenny found a thrifty farmer who agreed to take him in. He dried his clothes by the kitchen fire, hating the woolly smell of the steam. Later he slept in the haymow and lay awake far into the night, listening in doubt and despair to the drip of the rain on the roof. Nothing ever went quite right. He must read again in Brian’s letter about the Tavern of Stars. Beldame Rain seemed bent upon a housecleaning. Kenny, dreaming, departed from the barn in a flying machine made of lilacs. Its planes, he regretted, seemed merely sheets of rain, specked foolishly with pine-needles.