Chapter 13. Rowdy Finds Happiness.
 

Miss Conroy was rather listlessly endeavoring to persuade the First Reader class that "catch" should not be pronounced "ketch," when she saw Rowdy ride past the window. Intuition of something amiss sent her to the door before he reached it.

"Can't you give the kids a day off?" he began, without preface. "I've got such a lot to talk about--and I don't come very often." He thought that his tone was perfectly natural; but all the same she turned white. He rode on to a little tree and tied his horse--not that it was necessary to tie him, but to avoid questions.

Miss Conroy went in and dismissed the children, although it was only fifteen minutes after nine. They gathered up their lunch-pails and straggled out reluctantly, round-eyed, and curious. Rowdy waited until the last one had gone before he went in. Miss Conroy sat in her chair on the platform, and she was still white; otherwise she seemed to have herself well in hand.

"It's about Harry," she asserted, rather sharply.

"Have they--caught him?"

Rowdy stopped half-way down the aisle and stared. "How did you know they were--after him?"

"He came to me night before last, and--told me." She bit her lip, took firm hold on her honesty and her courage, and went on steadily. "He came because he--wanted money. I've wanted to see you since, to tell you that--I misjudged you. I know all about your--trouble, and I want you to know that I think you are--that you did quite right. You are to understand that I cannot honestly uphold--Harry. He is--not the kind of brother--I thought."

Rowdy went clanking forward till only the table stood between. "Did he tell you?" he demanded, in a curious, breathless fashion.

"No, he did not. He denied everything. It was Pink. He told me long ago--that evening, just after you--the last time I saw you. I told him he--lied. I tried not to believe it, but I did. Pink knew I would; he said so. The other night I asked Harry about--those things he did to you. He lied to me. I'd have forgiven him--but he lied. I--can't forgive that. I--"

"Hush!" Rowdy threw out a gloved hand quickly. He could not bear to let her go on like that.

She looked up at him, and all at once she was shaking. "There's something--tell me!"

"They didn't take him," he said slowly, weighing each word and looking down at her pityingly "They never will. He--had an accident. A horse--fell with him--and--he was dead when they picked him up." It was as merciful a version as he could make it, but the words choked him, even then. "Girlie!" He went around and knelt, with his arms holding her close.

After a long while he spoke again, smoothing her hair absently, and never noticing that he had not taken off his gloves. His gray hat was pushed aslant as his head rested against hers.

"Perhaps, girlie, it's for the best. We couldn't have saved him from--the other; and that would have been worse, don't you think? We'll forget all but the good in him"--he could not help thinking that there would not be much to remember--"and I'll get a little home ready, and come back and get you before snow flies--and--you'll be kind of happy, won't you?

"Maybe you haven't heard--but Eagle Creek has made me foreman of his outfit that's going to Canada. It's a good position. I can make you comfortable, girlie--and happy. Anyway, I'll try, mighty hard. You'll be ready for me when I come--won't you, girlie?"

Miss Conroy raised her face, all tear-stained, but, with the light of happiness fighting the sorrow in her eyes, nodded just enough to make the movement perceptible, and settled her head to a more comfortable nestling-place on his shoulder.