He would force himself to a solitary day at times, and go out into the country with dog and gun, and tramp for miles, and wonder at himself. He had all sorts of fancies. He thought of his wickedness and his wasted time, and compared himself with the great men in the books who had been in similar evil straits,—with Marc Antony, with King Arthur in Gwendolen’s enchanted castle, and with Geraint the strong but slothful,—rather far-fetched this last comparison,—and of all the rest. It was a grotesque variety, but amid it all he really suffered. And he would make good resolves and, for the moment, firm ones, and return to town when the dew was falling and the moonlight coming, and the tale was but retold. And the woman was wise, as women are, and conscienceless, yet suffering a little, too.
She had found more than a summer’s toy, and she had grown to fear the great boy in his moods, and to want to keep him, and to doubt the measure of her art. This must be a hard thing, too, for such splendid pirates to bear. They may not even scuttle all the craft they capture.
And the root of all evil is sometimes the root of all good. The dollar pulls all ways. Harlson must earn his way. One day his father dropped a chance word regarding some one, miles in the country, who wanted a fence built inclosing a tract out of the wood. It was isolated work, a task of a month or two for a strong man, a mere laborer. Young Harlson became interested.
“Why shouldn’t I try it?” he asked.
His father laughed.
“It’s work for a toughened man, my boy. You have softened with six years of only study.”
The boy laughed as well.
“You needn’t fear,” he said. “All strength is not attained upon a farm, and I want to swing an ax and maul again.”
And that day he set out afoot for the home of the man who needed a fence. He told Mrs. Rolfston briefly. She paled a trifle, but made no objection. He said he would make visits to the town.
The building of the fence.
An ax, a maul, a yoke of oxen; these are the great requisites for him who would build a rail fence through a forest. Grant Harlson made the bargain for the work, hired a yoke of oxen, as you may do in the country, and secured the right to eat plain food three times a day at the cabin of a laborer. A bed he could not have, but the right to sleep in a barn back in the field, and there also to house his oxen for the night, was given him. He slept upon the hay-mow. He went into the forest and began his work. The wood was dense, and what is known all through the region as a black ash swale, lowland which once reclaimed from nature makes, with its rich deposits, a wondrous meadow-land. He “lined” the fence’s course and cleared the way rudely through the forest, a work of days, and then he made the maul.