“Cheering! It is the only thing on earth that truly and wholly belongs to me. The road divided the land. Father willed everything on the south side to Mother, so she would have the house, and the land on this side was mine. I sold off all I could to Jasper Linn to add to his farm, but he would only buy to within about twenty rods of the ravine. The land was too rocky and poor. So about half a mile of this comprises my earthly possessions.”
“Do you keep up the taxes?” she asked.
“No. I’ve never paid them,” he said carelessly.
“Then don’t be too sure it is yours,” she said. “Someone may have paid them and taken the land. You had better look it up.”
“What for?” he demanded.
“It is beautiful. It is the shadiest, coolest place in town. Having it here doubles the value of your mother’s house across the street. In some way, some day, it might turn out to be worth something.”
“I can’t see how,” he said.
“Some of the trees may become valuable when lumber gets scarcer, as it will when the land grows older. Maybe a stone quarry could be opened up, if the stone runs back as far as you say. A lot of things might make it valuable. If I were you I would go to Hartley, quietly, to-morrow, and examine the records, and if there are back taxes I’d pay them.”
“I’ll look it up, anyway,” he agreed. “You surely have made another place of it. It will be wonderful by spring.”
“I can think of many uses for it,” said Kate. “Here comes your mother to see how we are getting along.”
Instead, she came to hand Kate a letter she had brought from the post office while doing her marketing. Kate took the letter, saw at a glance that it was from Nancy Ellen, and excusing herself, she went to one of the seats they had made, and turning her face so that it could not be seen, she read:
Dear Kate: You can prepare yourself for the surprise of your life. Two Bates men have done something for one of their women. I hope you will survive the shock; it almost finished me and Mother is still speechless. I won’t try to prepare you. I could not. Here it is. Father raged for three days and we got out of his way like scared rabbits. I saw I had to teach, so I said I would, but I had not told Robert, because I couldn’t bear to. Then up came Hiram and offered to take the school for me. Father said no, I couldn’t get out of it that way. Hiram said I had not seen him or sent him any word, and I could prove by mother I hadn’t been away from the house, so Father believed him. He said he wanted the money to add two acres to his land from the Simms place; that would let his stock down to water on the far side of his land where it would be a great convenience and give him a better arrangement of fields so he could make more money. You know Father. He shut up like a clam and only said: “Do what you please.