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By Helen Ellsworth Wright

T was six o'clock when the Plitts

ville stage stopped at Bolt's Hollow. Mark Demming, the solitary passenger, clambered from the inside of the coach into the scented twilight.

Seven years counted much, measured on a man's yardstick of life; seven years counted for nothing, measured on the tamaracs, and the river, and on the eternal gray summits, curving towards the East. They looked as if he might have left them yesterday, and yet, between gaped a chasm of time, blackened by disgrace, by unmerited dishonor, and by faithless friends. Even Lisa, his wife, wife, had reproached him, though his soul was as clean as the soul of their child.

The driver drew the mail-bags from under the boot, tossed them to the steps of the road-house and swung himself down behind them.

"How's this weather for Easter, eh?" he called to the driver.

Demming turned his coat collar high, and strained his ears for the voice that should answer.

"It's fair enough," replied unfamiliar tones. "We'll have green corn in less than a month if this keeps on."

Beneath the great-coat, Demming breathed more freely. The former host would have recognized him in spite of the beard and the frost in

He winced, remembering how, on his last stop at the roadhouse for dinner, they had placed him at a side table, with his escort, the deputy-sheriff.

"We can't mix convicts with rents," the landlord had said. "Not that the stripes 'd rub off, if he had 'em on, which he hasn't, but it ain't just policy."

What did it matter anyhow? Demming shook the stoop from his

shoulders. His glance was defiant. He had served four years, unjustly convicted by circumstantial evidence; he had toiled, self-sentenced, for an added three, to make Lisa and the child proud of him again, and now. His eyes grew dim. In his pocket was the product of those last three years a roll of notes and the deed to a farm in the valley. Perhaps he should have written to his wife, but his heart had been sore with her doubt of him, and yesterdays were yesterdays, he argued. To-morrow would be the season for fresh beginnings; they would pass from the shadow into the sun, he and Lisa, and the child.

It was a good hour later when the boy brought the stage from the stables. The driver emerged from the bar, smacking his lips as he came. Climbing to his place, he gathered the reins.

"Want to come up?" he called to Demming.

Then the coach settled herself to the grade, and away to the east hung one white star, over Plittsville, and Lisa.

The azaleas were blooming as they had in springs gone by; in the canyon the river frothed between banks of saxifrage. For the passenger, the sounds and the scents of the mountains had tongues. Their message was of a past redeemed, and an Easter.

"Know any folks in Plittsville?" the driver suddenly asked.

Demming started. He had a vision of a blue-eyed woman and an elfish little girl. "I used to," he responded.

"For instance, who?"

"Well," Demming guardedly answered, "there's Billy Kahn, the fore


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"At the Wild Cat Mine," nodded

the driver.

"Where is he?" Demming inquired.

The driver's tone grew speculative. "Now, that we can't exactly say," he replied. "Billy was a good sort, though, and I reckon he went up. Who else do you know.

The passenger's heart, brimming with the past and the future, reI called the man who had sealed his love and Lisa's. "John Rand, the circuit preacher," he suggested. "Is he there yet?"

"Y-es," the other answered. "He's tucked in his crib up in the graveyard on the hill. We've got a rustler now," he continued. "Tomorrow's the first Easter in the new church, and my wife——— But say," he interrupted himself, "don't you know any live folks? How long have you been away?"

"Seven years," said Demming, and a silence fell.

Over the summit crept a fair spring moon; in its light, the mountain's breast grew pale with dogwood stars. A faint perfume came to him, and he knew that a clump of chemise lilies were blowing near the road. Their perfume reminded him of Lisa; she was like it, rare and sweet, and illusive.

"Seven years," began the driver. "Let's see that must have beenabout the time they trapped Demming!"

His companion fumbled for the rave of the seat, found and grasped it. "About,” he said.

"That was in spring," went on the driver. "I got my run along in the autumn, but I've heard a lot about him, though. He tried to show clean hands, but it didn't go down with our folks," he grinned. "No, sir-ee! I'll bet his heart was as black as a bottle-rock."

The final pull up-grade set the stage to singing on her axles; the driver whistled an accompaniment. After a pause, Demming leaned determinedly forward.

"He left a wife," he said, "anda baby.'

"A girl," corrected the other. "She come four the next March." He unfurled the lash to flick the ears of his leaders. "And she's no more like her mother," he continued, "than a digger pine is like a rhododendron flower. She's her dad over and over again! My wife says so!"

Demming remembered, with a pang, how disappointed Lisa had been that the baby had his hair and eyes. He had wanted her christened "Melissa," but the mother had said she was "swarthy," and they had called her "Joan.'

"As I started to tell you," broke in the driver, "we've got a new church over at Plittsville, and my wife"

But no one listened. Demming was nerving himself for a question. "She'sShe's well?" he asked.

He dared not speak her name lest his voice should betray him.

"Who's well?" snapped the driver. "Huh? . . . Melissy Demming? Why, she's well enough, I guess. As I was sayin' at the church

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"And when he-Demming, you know, when he went away, did she-grieve?" The passenger's

voice was unsteady.

The driver looked at him. "Why, yes, I s'pose so, some," he said. "That's the way with wommin folks. He did his turn, and got out, and when he died

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"Died?" echoed Demming. "Not -died?"

"Yes, died," cried the driver. "I said so, didn't I? We learned he died. It was decent of him, too,” he continued. "And Melissy she did the neat thing by him-she put up a monument with a likely motto on it. It's a good monument," he added. "My wife says so."

A laugh throttled Demming. A monument to his memory! Life was throbbing in his veins; love. was pulsing in his heart. In the pocket of his great-coat were the notes, the

deed to the valley farm, and a string of pink corals for Joan. Already he could see the lights of Plittsville. Behind him the pines

rose dark; before him the river stretched a white ribbon of foam, and the morning would break upon Easter!

He turned glad eyes to the driver. "Do you know Melissa?" he asked. The man stared. "Well, rather!" he chuckled. "I married her two years ago come fall!"

For Demming the

moon went

dark; the road billowed; the river rushed in his ears.

wet with dew, but he scarcely knew it.

At length a drowsy twitter told of an awakening bird. Another answered. A quail whistled in the brush. A lark warbled a voluntary. Demming sat up, gazing with hot eyes ahead of him. To the east was a band of crimson on the forehead of morning. He turned his back upon it. He saw the snowy crowns of the buttes grow pink in reflected glory. A million tiny crystals caught the light and tossed it on to another. The sun had rolled the stone from the sepulcher; the world

"You-married her?" he faltered. vibrated with Easter. "I don't-understand!"

The man buried his face in the grass. Lying so, heart to heart with the earth, he felt a material something against his side. It was the case containing the corals for Joan. there Joan. Demming groaned. The child belonged to him. He wanted. her, he needed her, but the trail of duty lay narrow, clear-cut, ahead. The sin was Lisa's; the sacrifice must be his.

The driver smiled. "Well, you would," he said, "if you could see her a-watchin' for my stage! Why, she knows when them leaders strike Main street! She'll be out there a-waitin' at the gate, as bloomin' as the lowlands in May! And sing! Whew! A brood of young orioles rolled into one can't touch her when- Whoa!" He suddenly set the breaks and leaned towards the passenger. "Say, you'd better get down and crawl inside. Yes, you had!" he insisted. "I know when a man's gettin' 'stage struck!' Why, I had a Cornishman up here last week, and he got as flabber

gasted as a trout hung to a tamarac! It's the altitude and the joggle of

the seat.


Persuasion was useless; he leased the break. "When we get in town," he said hospitably, "you'd better come up to the house, along with me. My wife'll knowStop at the turn? Why, there ain't anything there but the graveyard." Night still brooded over the mountains, and the tamaracs, and Plittsville, but her face was pale with the coming birth of day, and the star-points in her diadem were pale and uncertain. In the burying ground the sleepers faced towards the sunrise, and Demming had stretched himself among them in like direction. His overcoat was

Suddenly, as if by the signal of a great leader, a myriad of birdvoices broke into an anthem; the air throbbed with its music, and through it broke the mellow tones of the church bell.

The anthem was sung; the final echo of the beli melted into the spill of sunshine, and a hush fell on the burying-ground. Then it was that a solo became audible. It was a human voice, a child's voice that quavered on the high notes and flatted a little, and it was very near to him.

Demming sat upright. A clump of "Judas tree" held its shield of magenta bloom not fifty feet away, screening a chancel where a quaint service was being conducted. The words of the singer came to him, distinctly:

"Shall we gather by the river,

Where bright angels' feet have trod,

Gather with the saints at the river

That flows by the throne of God?"
Demming rose to his feet. There

the voice Fotoe

was a familiar ti in spite of its im ing to the brush. Cam to an abrupt stop behind it. Between its arms of bloom he could see a plain wooden shaft, painted white, and on it, in bold, black lettering, he read: "In Memory of Mark Demming. "Though thy sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."

Before it stretched a mound of stones and clumps of clay, half-hidden in dog-wood stars. It was evidently the laborious effort of childish hands. A little girl stood by it. Her frock was outgrown; her straight, dark hair hung elfishly about a face from which peered peered fathomless eyes. Her whole lithe body swayed in a sort of religious ecstasy.

"Yes, we'll gather by the river," she continued.

"The beautiful, the beautiful" A twig snapped under Demming's foot, and the child wheeled upon him.

"Oh," she gasped, with an indrawing of the breath. I didn't s'pose there'd be a-congregation!"

The father heart in Demming cried out for recognition. This was his baby, his Joan! Emerging from behind the Judas tree, he stood looking at her; the pile of earth was between them.

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Her eyes faltered under his gaze. "I-I didn't s'pose ther'd be but one of us," she shyly continued, "but- recovering herself, "I reckon he'd be glad, don't you?" "Who?" Demming's tones were uncertain.

"Why, dad," pointing to the mound. "I made it," she went on. "It looks pretty good, don't it? It took buckets and buckets of stones! Did you know him?" she suddenly asked.

Demming nodded; he could not speak.

"Well, he isn't under there," she said, worry puckering her brows, "and I don't know how the Resur

rection Angel's ever going to find him, but I s'pose he's got a way."

Dropping on her knees, she began tracing some freshly carved characters with the end of a stubby forefinger. The new letters were directly below the old ones. Demming noticing them for the first time, read: "I am the Life."

The child glanced proudly up at him. "That's the motto mother's fixed in the church," she volunteered, "only I didn't put 'resurrection' in 'cause there wasn't room." Suddenly she sprang to her feet; her eyes were passionate, "And it does mean convicts," she cried, "don't it? It means convicts, and poor sick animals, and— You aren't— crying?" She leaned concernedly across the little mound. "My! I thought you was! Let's go on with the singing!"

In flood-tide of a child's confidence she reached out her hands to him. Her father groped for them; he could not see her for the moisture in his eyes.

"We might do the second verse," she suggested. "Are you ready?

"On the margin of that river,' The shrill, childish treble pierced him; he steadied himself by the little hands he held.

"Washing up its silver spray, We shall walk and worship ever, AllHer clasp tightened. "Will saxifrage grow by that river?" she questioned. "Dad liked saxifrage. Mother said so once."

"Yes," Demming answered. He did not know his own voice, but he spoke as one with authority.

"And will there be blue-winged cranes? And spotted lilies in June?"

The father bowed his head. The clinging clasp had strengthened the demand for what was his own. Lisa had her husband; the child was his! He must have her! He would have her!

"Joan! Joan!" he cried. "Joan!" Springing across the little mound, he caught her to him. He covered. her face with kisses, brewed in tears.

"How-did-you guess thatwas my name?" she panted. "Oh, don't cry like that!" Her breast heaved in sympathy. "Therethere" Her petting fingers left grimy paths upon his cheeks. "And we haven't done the chorus," she hinted. "Mother sings that to the babies."

"Babies?" Demming echoed the plural.

The child nodded. "It's twins," she sighed, "and they're girls." The pensive look of a care-laden woman darkened her eyes. "Two's a great many," she said, slowly, "but mother likes 'em, only-sometimes, when it's dark, she hugs me tight and cries. I guess she loves me most, 'cause I'm like dad."

Demming shook himself suddenly free from her. The mother's memory of him, her love for Joan, had

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without a

through time a man without a home, name. Already "the river" seemed running between him and Joan, but Time was limited, Eternity was infinite; he could wait.

With an impulse he drew the corals from his pocket and fastened

them around her neck. "Listen!" he commanded. "Go tell your

mother that a man who saw Mark Demming die brought you these! Do you understand?"

The child nodded. Bewilderment was in her eyes.

"Tell her that 'I am the Life' is for convicts, and that the greatest test of a great love is silence! Go."



O master architect of many mused rhyme,
Who taught me first the music of philosophy,
And bore from temples old the Druid harp to me;
Making me hear and know the wisdom of old time;

How oft through lyric strain or epic swing sublime,
Enchanted by the sacred flame, I've followed thee
Until thou stoodest revealed in fiery majesty
Singing of endless life in far elysian clime!
And listening many a time in bondage sweet and long
To the smooth purling of thy lines, till all my heart
Out-leaped its human loves, dreaming, I bore away
In search of happy isles, hid in the coming day;
And, timing thus my quest to thy harmonious art,
My soul was wrapped in matchless majesty of song.

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