Read CHAPTER XIV - THE TALKATIVE LEONARD of Bylow Hill, free online book, by George Washington Cable, on

Across the street the father of Leonard and Ruth, already abed, lay thinking of their tribulation and casting about in his mind for some new move that might help to end it happily.  Godfrey had not come.  He had not looked for him to appear with a hop, skip, and a jump, “a man under authority” as he was; but here were five months gone.

“I can’t clamor for him,” thought he, and feared Ruth had written him that the emergency was past.  And so she had, in those days of new hope and new suspense which had followed for a while Arthur’s withdrawal of his resignation.

At the fireside below sat Leonard and Ruth, not hand in hand, like Isabel and her mother, yet conversing on the same theme as they.

Leonard had spent the day at the polls; his party had won an easy victory; and, though not on the ticket, he was now awaiting a telegraphic summons to the state capital.  His fortunes were growing.  Yet that was not a thing to be wordy about, and now, when the murmur of his voice continued so long and steadily that it found even the dulled ear of the aged father in the upper room, that father knew what the topic must be.  On all other matters the son and brother had become more silent than ever,-was being nicknamed far and near, flatteringly and otherwise, for his reticence; but let Ruth sit down with him alone and barely draw near this theme,-this wound,-and his speech bled from him and would not be stanched.

“I can admit I have made the mistake of my life,” he said, “but I cannot and will not, even now, give up and say there is nothing to be saved out of it.  It’s a mistake that has bound me to her, to you, to Godfrey, to him, to all, and demands of me, pinioned and blindfolded as I am, every effort I can make, every device I can contrive, to compel him to free her and you and all of us from this torture.

“He shall not go on eating out our lives.  I have dawdled with him weakly, pitifully, but I did it in my hope to save him.  I tried to save him for his own sake, Ruth, truly,-as truly as for her sake and ours; and I wanted to save his work with him,-his church, his and hers; so much of it is hers.  Oh, Ruth, I love that little bird-box, spite of all its spunky beliefs and twittering complacencies.  I wanted to save it and him; and over and over there has seemed such good ground of hope in him.  It’s been always so unbelievable that he should utterly fail us.  Ruth, if you could have seen his contrition the night I tore up that shameful, servile resignation!  I don’t need to see Isabel to know he is wearing the soul out of her.  You needn’t have answered one of my questions,-which I honor you for answering so unwillingly; Mrs. Morris gave me their answer in five minutes, though we talked only of investments.  And Mrs. Morris needn’t have given it; to see Arthur himself is enough.  All the genuineness has gone out of the man,-out of his words, out of his face, out of his voice.  I wonder it hasn’t gone from all of us, driven out by this smirking masquerade into which he has trapped us.”

“Have you determined what to do?” asked the sister, gazing into the fire.

“Not yet.  But I sha’n’t go back West.  Flight doesn’t avail.  And, Ruth”-

“Yes, brother; you’ve cabled?”

“I have.  He’ll come at once, this time.”  A step on the porch drew the speaker to the door.

The telegram from the capital had come.  But until its bearer had gone again and was out of hearing down the street the young man lingered in the porch.  His mind was wholly on that evening when Isabel had passed with the lantern.  Would she pass now?  From the idle query he turned to go in, when Ruth came out, and they stayed another moment together.  Presently their ear caught a stir at the side of the Morris cottage.

“Hmm,” murmured Ruth half consciously, and, with a playful shudder at the cold, whispered, “Come in, come in!”

But then quickly, lest this should carry a hint of distrust, she tripped in alone, closed the door, and glided to the bright hearth.  There a moment of waiting changed her mind.  She ran again to the door, and began to say as she threw it open, “My brother! you’ll catch your”-

But no brother was there.