“The little Midge!” murmured Lon. “I’ll never steal ag’in—never! And I’ll jest fish and work fer my little woman—my pretty woman!”
Vandecar rose and went to the squatter.
“Lon,” he said, placing a hand upon the rough jacket, “will you bring your little—” He was about to say daughter, but changed the word to “Midge,” and continued, “Will you bring Midge to my car and come to Tarrytown with us?”
Cronk stared vacantly.
“Nope,” he drawled; “I’ll stay here in the hut with Midge. It’s dark, and she’s afraid of ghosts. I’ll never steal ag’in, Mister, so I can’t get pinched.”
Vandecar still insisted:
“But won’t you let your little girl come back and get her clothes? And you, too, can come to our home, for—for a visit.” His face crimsoned as he prevaricated.
But Lon still shook his head.
“A squatter woman’s place be in her home with her man,” he said.
Vandecar turned helplessly upon Katherine.
“You persuade him,” he entreated in an undertone.
Katherine whispered her desire in her father’s ear.
“We’ll go only for a few days,” she promised.
“And ye’ll come back here?” he demanded.
The girl glanced toward Governor Vandecar, and caught the slight inclination of his head.
“Yes,” she promised; “yes, we’ll come back, if you are quite well.”
Cronk stooped down and pressed his lips to hers.
“I’d a gone with ye, Midge, ‘cause I couldn’t say no to nothin’ ye asked me.” But he halted, as they tried to lead him through the door.
“I don’t like the dark,” he muttered, drawing back.
Fledra eyed him in consternation. Never before had she known him to express fear of anything, much less of the elements which seemed but a part of his own stormy nature. Never had she seen the great head bowed or the shoulders stooped in timidity. Katherine had Cronk’s hand in hers, and she gently drew him forward.
“Come, come!” she breathed softly.
“I’m afraid,” Lon whined again. “I want to stay here, Midge.” He looked back, and, encountering Vandecar’s eyes, made appeal to him.
“Cronk,” the governor said, “do you believe that I am your friend?”
The squatter flung about, facing the other.
“Yep,” he answered slowly, “I know ye be my friend. If ye’ll let me walk with my hand in yer’n, I’ll go.” He said it simply, as a child to a parent. He held out his crooked fingers, and Vandecar seized them. Katherine took up her position on the other side of her father, and the three stepped out into the night and began slowly to ascend the hill.
To Horace Shellington it seemed many hours before the small, jerky train that ran between Auburn and Ithaca drew into the latter city. In his eagerness to reach the squatter settlement without loss of time, he hastened from the car into the station. He knew that it would be far into the night before he reached Lon Cronk’s, and, with his whole soul, he hoped he would be in time to save Fledra from harm. At the little window in the station he hurriedly demanded of the agent a mode of conveyance to take him to the spot nearest the squatter’s home.