“It was my fault that Nan stayed so long,” he said bravely; and he was immensely relieved when Bryerson, making quite sure of his identity, became effusively hospitable.
“Cap’n Gordon’s boy—’f cou’se; didn’t make out to know ye, ‘t firs’. Come awn in the house an’ sit a spell; come in, I say!”
Again, for Nan’s sake, Tom could do no less. It was the final plunge. The boy was come of abstinent stock, which was possibly the reason why the smell of the raw corn liquor with which the cabin reeked gripped him so fiercely. Be that as it may, he could make but a feeble resistance when the tipsy mountaineer pressed him to drink; and the slight barrier went down altogether when he saw the appealing look in Nan’s eyes. Straightway he divined that there would be consequences for her when he was gone if the maudlin devil should be aroused in her father.
So he put the tin cup to his lips and coughed and strangled over a single swallow of the fiery, nauseating stuff; did this for the girl’s sake, and then rose and fled away down the mountain with his heart ablaze and a fearful clamor as of the judgment trumpet sounding in his ears.
For now the sleeping conscience was broad awake and plying its merciless dagger; now, indeed, he knew very well what he had done—what he had been doing since that fatal moment at the barrel-spring when he had fallen under the spell of Nan Bryerson’s beauty; nay, back of that—how the up-bubbling of zeal had been nothing more than wounded vanity; the smoke of a vengeful fire of anger lighted by a desire to strike back at those who had laughed at him.
The next morning he came hollow-eyed to his breakfast, and when the chance offered, besought his father to give him one of the many boy’s jobs in the iron plant during the summer vacation—asked and obtained.
And neither the hotel on the mountain top nor the hovel cabin under the second cliff saw him more the long summer through.
A SISTER OF CHARITY
It was just before the Christmas holidays, in his fourth year of the sectarian school, that Tom Gordon was expelled.
Writing to the Reverend Silas at the moment of Tom’s dismissal, the principal could voice only his regret and disappointment. It was a most singular case. During his first and second years Thomas had set a high mark and had attained to it. On the spiritual side he had been somewhat non-committal, to be sure, but to offset this, he had been deeply interested in the preparatory theological studies, or at least he had appeared to be.
But on his return from his first summer spent at home there was a marked change in him, due, so thought Doctor Tollivar, to his association with the rougher class of workmen in the iron mills. It was as if he had suddenly grown older and harder, and the discipline of the school, admirable as the Reverend Silas knew it to be, was not severe enough to reform him.