Dogs and dog-keeper had long since gone the way of most of the old-time Southern manorial largenesses; but the cabin still stood solidly planted in the midst of its overgrown garden patch, with a dense thicket of mountain laurel backgrounding it, and a giant tulip-tree standing sentinel over a gate hanging by one rusted hinge.
This was what Tom saw when he had followed Ardea’s lead up the steep bit of path climbing from the road and the pasture wall, and it evoked memories. Often in the boyhood days, when the Nazarite fit was on, he had climbed to the deserted solitude of the glen to sit on the broad door-stone of the dog-keeper’s cabin as a hermit at large,—monarch for the monastic moment of a kingdom as remote as that of John the Baptist in the Wilderness of Sin.
“I thought of it last night,” said Ardea, nodding toward the cabin. “It is just the place for Nancy, if she can not, or will not, go back to her father. After breakfast, I shall send Dinah and a man up to set things in order, and she can come as soon as she likes. She won’t mind the loneliness?”
Tom shook his head. “I should think not; she has never been used to anything else. I’ll bring her and the youngster over in the buggy any time you telephone.” He had quite forgotten his lesson of the previous evening.
“Indeed, you will do nothing of the kind,” was the quick reply. “Japheth will go after her when we are ready; and if you are prudently wise you will have business in South Tredegar for the next few days.”
The blue-grass, seeded once in the dog-keeper’s dooryard, had spread to the farthest limits of the glen, and the autumn rains had given it a spring-like start. Tom let Saladin crop a dozen mouthfuls unchecked before he said:
“That looks like dodging; and I don’t like to dodge.”
“You will have to do many things you don’t like before you say your ave atque vale,” she remarked. “But you shall be permitted to carry your full share of the burden. I mean to let you give me some money, if you can afford it, and I’ll spend it for you.”
“Charity itself couldn’t be kinder,” he asseverated. “And, luckily, I can afford it. But—”
He was looking at her wistfully, and the old longing for sympathy, for the sympathy which has been quite to the bottom of the well where truth lies, was about to cry out against this riveting of the fetters of misunderstanding and false accusation.
“But you would rather spend it yourself?” she broke in, fancying she had divined his thought. “That cannot be. The one condition on which I shall consent to help is the completest isolation for Nan. You must promise me you will not try to see her. I am hoping against hope that none of the Mountain View Avenue people will find out what you did last night.”
“Oh, confound their gossiping tongues!” he railed; adding hastily: “Not that I care so very much what they say, either.”