"John," said the old mother, from the profound mufflings of the pillow and quilts.
"What?" said the old man. He was tugging at his right boot, and his tone was very irascible.
"I think William's changed a good deal."
"Well, what if he has?" replied the father, in another burst of ill-temper. He was then tugging at his left boot.
"Yes, I'm afraid he's changed a good deal," said the muffled voice from the bed. "He's got a good many fine friends, now, John--folks what put on a good many airs; and he don't care for his home like he did."
"Oh, well, I don't guess he's changed very much," said the old man cheerfully. He was now free of both boots.
She raised herself on an elbow and looked out with a troubled face. "John, I think he likes that girl."
"What girl?" said he.
"What girl? Why, that awful handsome girl you see around--of course."
"Do you think he likes 'er?"
"I'm afraid so--I'm afraid so," murmured the mother mournfully.
"Oh, well," said the old man, without alarm, or grief, or pleasure in his tone.
He turned the lamp's wick very low and carried the lamp to the head of the stairs, where he perched it on the step. When he returned he said, "She's mighty good-look-in'!"
"Well, that ain't everything," she snapped. "How do we know she ain't proud, and selfish, and--everything?"
"How do you know she is?" returned the old man.
"And she may just be leading him on."
"Do him good, then," said he, with impregnable serenity. "Next time he'll know better."
"Well, I'm worried about it," she said, as she sank back on the pillow again. "I think William's changed a good deal. He don't seem to care about--us--like he did."
"Oh, go to sleep!" said the father drowsily.
She was silent for a time, and then she said, "John?"
"Do you think I better speak to him about that girl?"
She grew silent again, but at last she demanded, "Why not?"
"'Cause it's none of your business. Go to sleep, will you?" And presently he did, but the old mother lay blinking wild-eyed into the darkness.
In the morning Hawker did not appear at the early breakfast, eaten when the blue glow of dawn shed its ghostly lights upon the valley. The old mother placed various dishes on the back part of the stove. At ten o'clock he came downstairs. His mother was sweeping busily in the parlour at the time, but she saw him and ran to the back part of the stove. She slid the various dishes on to the table. "Did you oversleep?" she asked.
"Yes. I don't feel very well this morning," he said. He pulled his chair close to the table and sat there staring.
She renewed her sweeping in the parlour. When she returned he sat still staring undeviatingly at nothing.
"Why don't you eat your breakfast?" she said anxiously.
"I tell you, mother, I don't feel very well this morning," he answered quite sharply.
"Well," she said meekly, "drink some coffee and you'll feel better."
Afterward he took his painting machinery and left the house. His younger sister was at the well. She looked at him with a little smile and a little sneer. "Going up to the inn this morning?" she said.
"I don't see how that concerns you, Mary?" he rejoined, with dignity.
"Oh, my!" she said airily.
"But since you are so interested, I don't mind telling you that I'm not going up to the inn this morning."
His sister fixed him with her eye. "She ain't mad at you, is she, Will?"
"I don't know what you mean, Mary." He glared hatefully at her and strode away.
Stanley saw him going through the fields and leaped a fence jubilantly in pursuit. In a wood the light sifted through the foliage and burned with a peculiar reddish lustre on the masses of dead leaves. He frowned at it for a while from different points. Presently he erected his easel and began to paint. After a a time he threw down his brush and swore. Stanley, who had been solemnly staring at the scene as if he too was sketching it, looked up in surprise.
In wandering aimlessly through the fields and the forest Hawker once found himself near the road to Hemlock Inn. He shied away from it quickly as if it were a great snake.
While most of the family were at supper, Mary, the younger sister, came charging breathlessly into the kitchen. "Ma--sister," she cried, "I know why--why Will didn't go to the inn to-day. There's another fellow come. Another fellow."
"Who? Where? What do you mean?" exclaimed her mother and her sister.
"Why, another fellow up at the inn," she shouted, triumphant in her information. "Another fellow come up on the stage this morning. And she went out driving with him this afternoon."
"Well," exclaimed her mother and her sister.
"Yep. And he's an awful good-looking fellow, too. And she--oh, my--she looked as if she thought the world and all of him."
"Well," exclaimed her mother and her sister again.
"Sho!" said the old man. "You wimen leave William alone and quit your gabbling."
The three women made a combined assault upon him. "Well, we ain't a-hurting him, are we, pa? You needn't be so snifty. I guess we ain't a-hurting him much."
"Well," said the old man. And to this argument he added, "Sho!"
They kept him out of the subsequent consultations.
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