Thirty-odd miles out and back was not a long ride for a hired horse in these days over a good turnpike with plenty of time for resting—and he had as many breathing spells as gallops, for Harry’s moods really directed his gait. Once in a while he would give him his head, the reins lying loose, the horse picking his way in a walk. Then the bitterness of his father’s words and how undeserved they were, and how the house of cards his hopes had built up had come tumbling down about his ears at the first point of contact would rush over him, and he would dig his heels into the horse’s flanks and send him at full gallop through the night along the pale ribbon of a road barely discernible in the ghostly dark. When, however, Alec’s sobs smote his ear, or the white face of his mother confronted him, the animal would gradually slacken his pace and drop into a walk.
Dominated by these emotions certain fixed resolutions at last took possession of him: He would see his mother at once, no matter at what cost—even if he defied his father—and then he would find his uncle. Whether he would board the next vessel heaving port and return to his work in the mountains, or whether he would bring his uncle back from Craddock and the two, with his own vigorous youth and new experience of the world, fight it out together as they had once done before, depended on what St. George advised. Now that Kate’s marriage was practically decided upon, one sorrow—and his greatest—was settled forever. Any others that were in store for him he would meet as they came.
With his mind still intent on these plans he rode at last into the open door of the small courtyard of the livery stable and drew rein under a swinging lantern. It was past ten at night, and the place was deserted, except by a young negro who advanced to take his horse. Tossing the bridle aside he slipped to the ground.
“He’s wet,” Harry said, “but he’s all right. Let him cool off gradually, and don’t give him any water until he gets dry. I’ll come in to-morrow and pay your people what I owe them.”
The negro curry-combed his fingers down the horse’s flanks as if to assure himself of his condition, and in the movement brought his face under the glare of the overhead light.
Harry grabbed him by the shoulder and swung him round.
“Todd—you rascal! What are you doing here? Why are you not down on the Eastern Shore?” His astonishment was so intense that for an instant he could not realize he had the right man.
The negro drew back. He was no runaway slave, and he didn’t intend to be taken for one—certainly not by a man as rough and suspicious looking as the one before him.
“How you know my name, man?” He was nervous and scared half out of his wits. More than one negro had been shanghaied in that way and smuggled off to sea.
“Know you! I’d know you among a thousand. Have you, too, deserted your master?” He still held him firmly by the collar of his coat, his voice rising with his wrath. “Why have you left him? Answer me.”