Chapter XXVIII
 

As the sixth of November approached, Donald Morley's friends for the first time became seriously apprehensive over the result of his final trial. The fact that he had engaged an unknown, inexperienced lawyer to cope with the redoubtable Kinner, was looked upon as his crowning folly. The case, which had always excited considerable local interest on account of the prominence of the families involved, now became a matter of much graver significance, concerning, as it did, the author of "Khalil Samad," the most talked-about book of the hour.

Miss Lady, alone at Thornwood now, except for Bertie and Myrtella, fought through the days as best she could. Since Connie's confession she had seen little of her, for after a round of visits in the Blue Grass region, that restless young person had been with friends in town, and was still there when the date set for the trial arrived.

Up to this time Miss Lady had conquered in the hourly struggle she was making with her own heart. Again and again Donald had tried to see her, but on one pretext or another she had evaded him. She was puzzled, bewildered, and hopelessly wretched, and she asked herself repeatedly why her happiness should be sacrificed for that of a shallow, irresponsible butterfly. For Donald, she had no blame, he had drifted into this affair with Connie when his need was greatest, and now that his honor was involved as well as hers, there must be no turning back.

But when the second day of the trial dawned, and she came down after a sleepless night to read discouraging news reports of the previous day's proceedings, she found that something stronger than herself was taking possession of her. In vain did she try to fulfil her accustomed tasks. Every atom of her was there in the courthouse beside Donald Morley, standing trial with him. Twice she flung on her coat and hat, only to take them off again, and stand at the window impatiently watching the storm.

For the long summer had finally come to an end. After days of radiant October sunshine, when winter seemed, like the hereafter, vague and far off, a wind came rushing out of the north, stripping the trees in a single night, and leaving them surprised at their sudden nakedness. Then the sleet came, and, not content with attacking trees and shrubs, must storm the house itself, invading windows and doors, besieging every nook and corner, only to waste away at last into icy streams that went rattling noisily down the gutters.

As the morning wore on Miss Lady grew more and more restless. Suppose the preposterous should happen, and for the second time twelve honest men should pronounce an innocent man guilty? Could Connie face the ignominy of the verdict? Would her fickle, inconstant heart steady to such a test? Suppose that once again the person on whom Donald Morley depended, should fail him in a supreme hour?

For the third time Miss Lady threw on her wraps. She could no longer stand the suspense, she must go to him, in case he needed her.

"'Fore de Lawd!" exclaimed Uncle Jimpson when her intention was made known to him. "I dunno what ole John'll think of us, takin' him to de station a day lak dis! 'Sides de noon train's done went."

"Then we'll have to drive to town. Hitch up as quickly as you can!"

"But, Miss Lady, Honey, you fergit de sleet! Ole John 'ud slide 'round de road lak a fly on a bald spot."

"No matter! I'm going. Hurry!"

Myrtella, who was fashioning a dough man, under the personal supervision of Bert, looked up indignantly:

"You don't think you are going out in this storm without no lunch, do you?"

"I can't eat anything, I'm not hungry."

"That's what you said at breakfast. I ain't got a bit of patience with people that get theirselves sick in bed and be a nuisance to everybody, just for the pleasure of slopping around in the slush on a day like this. I'm going to fix you some toast and a egg, while he's hitchin' up."

"Go on with the story, 'Telia," demanded Bertie, carefully bestowing a nose on the dough man.

"Well," resumed Myrtella, from the stove, casting an anxious glance at Miss Lady who stood at the window impatiently tapping the pane, "everbody was a wonderin' what would be his very first words, an' Dr. Wyeth he sez, 'Don't pester him to talk, jes' let it come natural.' One day me an' the nurse, the stuck-up one I was tellin' you 'bout, was fixin' to spray out his throat, an' he look so curious at all the little rubber tubes, an' fixin's, that she sez, 'You'll know a lot when you leave here, Chick.' And what do you think he up an' answered? Just as smart an' plain as if he'd a been talkin' all his life?"

"What?" demanded Bertie as breathlessly as if he hadn't heard the story a dozen times.

"'Shucks', sez Chick, 'I knowed a lot when I come!'" Myrtella's pride in this first articulation of her offspring was so great that it rendered her oblivious to the fact that the toast was scorching.

"When will you be able to bring Chick home?" asked Miss Lady, gulping down the hot tea with a watchful eye on the stable door.

"Jes' as soon as the doctor quits foolin' with his throat every day. He's been gittin' on fine ever' since I took him back to Phineas'. Maria's gittin' right stuck on him, now she's got to give him up. Says she always knowed he was smart, but she never dreamed of the things he had bottled up in his head."

"I haven't forgotten about your house," said Miss Lady absently. "Dr. Wyeth knows a nice place down on Chestnut Street, and says you can make a good living letting the rooms to shop girls. It isn't right for me to keep you out here any longer."

"Well, I ain't goin' 'til spring." Myrtella rattled the pans with unnecessary vehemence. "Me an' Chick's goin' to stay right here 'til we git you settled. Now that Mr. Gooch has got a spell of spendin', an' is sendin' Miss Hattie to college, I guess she's settled fer a spell. Like as not Miss Connie'll be marryin' some smart-alecky, good- fer-nothin' fellow, then she'll be settled. But what's goin' to become of you and Bertie?"

Miss Lady leaned impulsively over the child's back as he knelt in a chair beside the table, and kissed the bit of neck that showed between the collar and the curls: "Bert and I?" she repeated with a little catch in her voice; "why, we'll have to take care of each other, won't we, Bert?"