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Blue-Bird Weather Part 10

His breath came heavily, unevenly; he cleared his eyes with a work-stained hand, fashioned for pens and ledgers.

"You were abroad when I--did what I did. Vyse was merciless. I told him I could put it back if he'd give me the chance. But a thief was a thief to him--particularly when his own pocket was involved. He meant to send me to prison. The judge held him--he was his father-in-law--and he was an old man with a wife and children of his own."

Herold was silent for a moment, and his gaze became vague and remote, then he lifted his head sharply:

"A man makes one slip like that and the world damns him forever. And I tell you, Marche, that I am not dishonest by nature or in my character.

God alone knows why I took those securities, meaning, of course, to return them, as all the poor, damned fools do mean when they do what I did. But Vyse made it a condition that I was to leave the country, and there was no chance of restitution unless I could remain in New York and do what I knew how to do--no chance, Marche--and so fortune ebbed, and my wife died, and the old judge saw me working on the water-front in Norfolk one day, and gave me this place. That is all."

"Why did you feign illness?" asked Marche, in an altered voice.

"You know why."

"You thought I'd discharge you?"

"Of course."

Marche stepped nearer. "Why did you come to me here to-night?"

Herold flushed deeply. "It was your right to know--and my daughter's right--before she broke her heart."

"I see. You naturally suppose that I would scarcely care to marry the daughter of a----" He stopped short, and Herold set his teeth.

"Say it," he said, "and let this end matters for all of us. Except that I have saved seven thousand dollars toward--what I took. I will draw you a check for it now."

He walked steadily to the table, laid out a thin checkbook, and with his fountain-pen wrote out a check for seven thousand dollars on a Norfolk bank.

"There you are, Marche," he said wearily. "I made most of it buying and selling pine timber in this district. It seemed a little like expiation, too, working here for you, unknown to you. I won't stay, now, of course.

I'll try to pay back the rest--little by little--somehow."

"The way to pay it back," said Marche, "is to do the work you are fitted for."

Herold looked up. "How can I?"

"Why not?"

"I could not go back to New York. I have no money to go with, even if I could find a place for myself again."

"Your place is open to you."

Herold stared at him.

Marche repeated the assertion profanely. "Damnation," he said, "if you'd talked this way to me five years ago, I'd never have stood in your way.

All I heard of the matter was what Vyse told me. I'm not associated with him any more; I'll stand for his minding his own affairs. The thing for you to do, Courtney, is to get into the game again and clean up what you owe Vyse. Here's seven thousand; you can borrow the rest from me. And then we'll go into things again and hustle. It was a good combination, Courtney--we'd have been rich men--except for the slip you made. Come on in with me again. Or would you rather continue to inhabit your own private hell?"

"Do you know what you are saying, Marche?" said the other hoarsely.

"Sure, I do. I guess you've done full time for a first offense. Clean off the slate, Courtney. You and Vyse and I know it--nobody else--Gilkins is dead. Come on, man! That boy of yours is a corker! I love him--that little brother, Jim, of mine; and as for--Molly----" His voice broke and he turned sharply aside, saying: "It's certainly blue-bird weather, Courtney, and we all might as well go North. Come out under the stars, and we'll talk it over."

It was almost dawn when they returned. Marche's hand lay lightly on Courtney's shoulder for a moment, as they parted.

Above, as Courtney stood feeling blindly for his door, Molly's door swung softly ajar, and the girl came out in her night-dress.

"Father," she whispered, "is it all right?"

"All right, thank God, little daughter."

"And--I may care for him?"

"Surely--surely, darling, because he is the finest specimen of manhood that walks this merciless earth."

"I knew it," she whispered gaily. "If you'll lend me your wrapper a moment, I'll go to his door and say good-night to him again."

Her father looked at her, picked up his tattered dressing-gown from his bed, and wrapped her in it to the chin, then kissed her forehead.

So she trotted away to Marche's door and tapped softly; and when he came and opened the door, she put her arms around his neck and kissed him.

"Good night," she whispered. "I do love you, and I shall pray all night that I may be everything that you would wish to have me. Good night, once more--dearest of men--good night."

Chapter end

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