Hugh felt as if she were mocking him, but he yielded, while like a gleam of lightning the shadow of a suspicion flitted across his mind. It was a loud, shrill whistle, penetrating even to the woods, and the instant the old familiar sound fell on Rocket’s ear he went tearing around the house, answering that call with the neigh he had been wont to give when summoned by his master. Utterly speechless, Hugh stood gazing at him as he came up, his neck arched proudly, and his silken mane flowing as gracefully as on the day when he was led away to Colonel Tiffton’s stall.
“Won’t somebody tell me what it means?” Hugh gasped, stretching out his hands toward Rocket, who even attempted to lick them.
At this point Alice stepped forward, and taking Rocket’s bridle, laid it across Hugh’s lap, saying, softly:
“It means that Rocket is yours, purchased by a friend, saved from Harney, for you. Mount him, and see if he rides as easily as ever. I am impatient to be off.”
But had Hugh’s life depended upon it, he could not have mounted Rocket then. He knew the friend was Alice, and the magnitude of the act overpowered him.
“Oh, Miss Johnson,” he cried, “what made you do it? It must not be. I cannot suffer it.”
“Not to please me?” and Alice’s face wore its most winning look. “It’s been my fixed determination ever since I heard of Rocket, and knew how much you loved him. I was never so happy doing an act in my life, and now you must not spoil it all by refusing.”
“As a loan, then, not as a gift,” Hugh whispered. “It shall not be a gift.”
“It need not,” Alice rejoined, as a sudden plan for carrying out another project crossed her mind. “You shall pay for Rocket if you like, and I’ll tell you how on our ride. Shall we go?”
Once out upon the highway, where there were no mud holes to shun, no gates to open and shut, Hugh broached the subject of Rocket again, when Alice told him unhesitatingly how he could, if he would, pay for him and leave her greatly his debtor. The scrap of paper, which Muggins had saved from the letter thrown by Hugh upon the carpet, had been placed by the queer little child in an old envelope, which she called her letter to Miss Alice. Handing it to her that morning with the utmost gravity, she had asked her to read “Mug’s letter,” and Alice had read the brief lines written by ’Lina: “Hugh must send the money, as I told him before. He can sell Mug; Harney likes pretty darkies.” There was a cold, sick feeling at Alice’s heart, a shrinking with horror from ’Lina Worthington, and then she came to a decision. Mug should be hers, and so, as skillfully as she could she brought it around, that having taken a great fancy both to Lulu and Muggins, she wished to buy them both, giving whatever Hugh honestly thought they were worth. Rocket, if he pleased, should be taken as part or whole payment for Mug, and so cease to be a gift.