“How silly! You are nearly eighteen, now, aren’t you?—and about six feet tall?”
“Both,” he said briefly.
“And all the way along you’ve been meaning to be a minister?”
He gritted his teeth. “That’s all over, now; I reckon it’s been over for a long time.”
“That is more serious. Does your mother know?”
He shook his head.
“She mustn’t, Tom; it will just break her heart.”
“As if I didn’t know!” he said bitterly. “But, Ardea, I haven’t been quite square with you. The way I told it about the cards and the whisky you might think—”
“I know what you are going to say. But it needn’t make any all-the-time difference, need it? You’ve been backsliding—isn’t that what you call it?—but now you are sorry, and—”
“No; that’s the worst of it. I’m not sorry, the way I ought to be. Besides, after what I’ve been these last two years—but you can’t understand; it would just be mockery—mocking God. I told you I wasn’t worth your while.”
She smiled gravely. “You are such a boy, Tom. Don’t you know that all through life you’ll have two kinds of friends: those who will stand by you because they won’t believe anything bad about you, and those who will take you for just what you are and still stand by you?”
He scowled thoughtfully at her. “Say, Ardea; I’d just like to know how old you are, anyhow! You say things every once in a while that make me feel as if I were a little kid in knee-breeches.”
She laughed in his face. “That is the rudest thing you’ve said yet! But I don’t mind telling you—since I’m to be your sister. I’ll be seventeen a little while after you’re eighteen.”
“Haven’t you ever been foolish, like other girls?” he asked.
She laughed again, more heartily than ever. “They say I’m the silliest tomboy in our house, at Carroll. But I have my lucid intervals, I suppose, like other people, and this is one of them. I am going to stand by you to-morrow morning, when you have to tell your father and mother—that is, if you want me to.”
His gratitude was too large for speech, but he tried to look it. Then the porter came to make her section down, and he had to say good night and vanish.
ON JORDAN’S BANK
Ardea saw cause for increasing satisfaction in Thomas Jefferson the next morning, when they sat together in section nine to give the porter a chance to rehabilitate ten and twelve.
He had grown so much surer of himself in the two years, and his manners were gratefully improved. Also, she was constrained to admit—frank glances of the slate-blue eyes appraising him—that he was developing hopefully in the matter of good looks. The dust-colored hair of boyhood had become a sort of viking yellow, and the gray eyes, so they should not be overcast by trouble shadows, were honest and fearless.