At the wistaria ladder Kenny sighed.
“Must you?” he asked. “I mean, Joan, can’t you steal in by the door?”
“It’s better not,” said Joan, one hand already on the vine. “Hughie would scold if he knew. For the wood is lonely. And he would talk so much of rain and snow. Now I can come and go as I please.”
She caught her cloak up and fastened it to insure the freedom of both her hands.
“Good night, Kenny,” she said shyly. “I hope you find your star.”
“I did,” said Kenny. “’Twas hiding in a cabin. Good night, dear.”
Hughie met him at the door.
“He’s been askin’ for you, Mr. O’Neill,” he said. “And he hasn’t drank a drop all evening.”
“I shan’t go,” said Kenny. “Depend upon it, Hughie, it’s another trick.”
“I don’t know,” said Hughie hopelessly. “It may be. It’s not for me to deny, with all you take from him.” Hughie looked ashamed of himself. “I—I’m sorry for him.”
Kenny groaned and set his teeth.
“I think,” said Hughie, “he wants to apologize. He wrote you a note this morning and tore it up. And when I put his brandy bottle on his chair to-night he flung it at my head.”
“I’ll go this once,” said Kenny. “But, so help me Heaven, I’ll never go again!”
He went dully up the stair, cursing the blossom storm. Its monotonous patter on the roof had inspired Adam Craig to his first plea of loneliness; it had left Kenny himself with a haunting memory of drab solitude, pain and melancholy that seeped with a dripping sound into his very marrow; and it had begun for him the singular thraldom, inspired by pity, that he could not bring himself to understand.
Hughie had left the door of Adam’s room ajar. The invalid sat by the table in his wheelchair, a book upon his knees, likely one of the pirate tales in which he reveled. His face was drawn and haggard, his eyes closed. With the wine of his excitement gone, he seemed but a huddled heap of skin and bone. A death’s-head! Kenny shuddered. Unspeakable pity made him kind. The old man yonder was off his guard; he had pride and spirit that compelled respect.
Kenny softly closed the door and rapped.
“Come in!” said Adam Craig. Almost Kenny could see him chirking up into insolence and the pertness of a bird. It was precisely as he had expected. When the door swung back, Adam was erect in his wheel-chair, electric with challenge. His eyes were once more bright and sharp.
“Kenny,” he demanded with asperity, “where have you been?”
Kenny glanced at the faded books stacked upon the bookshelves; and with the cabin uppermost in his mind he swung back dangerously to the hostile mood of the night before. Adam Craig was a miser, cruel and selfish. He had driven Joan and Donald to a refuge in the pines.