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VI THE MEETING IN THE TURNPIKE ON a late September afternoon Dan rode leisurely homeward along the turnpike. He had reached New York some days before, but instead of hurrying on with Champe, he had sent a careless apology to his expectant grandparents while he waited over to look up a missing trunk. "Oh, what difference does a day make?" he had urged in reply to Champe's remonstrances, " and after going all the way to Paris, I can't afford to lose my clothes, you know. I'm not a Leander, my boy, and there's no Hero awaiting me. You can't expect a fellow to sacrifice the proprieties for his grandmother." "Well, I'm going, that's all," rejoined Champe, and Dan heartily responded, " God be with you," as he shook his hand. Now, as he rode slowly up the turnpike on a hired horse, he was beginning to regret, with an impatient self-reproach, the three tiresome days he had stolen from his grandfather's delight. It was characteristic of him at the age of twenty-one that he began to regret what appeared to be a pleasure only after it had proved to be a disappointment. Had the New York days been gay instead of dull, it is probable that he would have ridden home with 162 The Meeting in the Turnpike 163 an easy conscience and a lordly belief that there was something generous in the spirit of his coming back at all. A damp wind was blowing straight along the turnpike, and the autumn fields, brilliant with golden-rod and sumach, stretched under a sky which had clouded over so suddenly that the last rays of sun were still shining upon the mountains. He had left Uplands a mile behind, throwing, as he passed, a wistful glance between the silver poplars . A pink dress had fluttered for an instant beyond the Doric columns, and he had wondered idly if it meant Virginia, and if she were still the pretty little simpleton of six months ago. At the thought of her he threw back his head and whistled gayly into the threatening sky, so gayly that a bluebird flying across the road hovered round him in the air. The joy of living possessed him at the moment, a mere physical delight in the circulation of his blood, in the healthy beating of his pulses. Old things which he had half forgotten appealed to him suddenly with all the force of fresh impressions. The beauty of the September fields, the long curve in the white road where the tuft of cedars grew, the falling valley which went down between the hills, stood out for him as if bathed in a new and tender light. The youth in him was looking through his eyes. And the thought of Virginia went merrily with his mood. What a pretty little simpleton she was, by George, and what a dull world this would be were it not for the pretty simpletons in pink dresses! Why, in that case one might as well sit in The Battle-Ground a library and read Horace and wear red flannel. One might as well - a drop of rain fell in his face and he lowered his head. When he did so he saw that Betty was coming along the turnpike, and that she wore a dress of blue dimity. In a flash of light his first wonder was that he should ever have preferred pink to blue; his second that a girl in a dimity gown and a white chip bonnet should be fleeing from a storm along the turnpike . As he jumped from his horse he faced her a little anxiously. "There's a hard shower coming, and you'll be wet," he said. "And my bonnet!" cried Betty, breathlessly. She untied the blue strings and swung them over her arm. There was a flush in her cheeks, and as he drew nearer she fell back quickly. " You - you came so suddenly," she stammered . He laughed aloud. "Doesn't the Prince always come suddenly?" he asked. " You are like the wandering princess in the fairy tale - all in blue upon a lonely road; but this isn't just the place for loitering, you know. Come up behind me and I'll carry you to shelter in Aunt Ailsey's cabin; it isn't the first time I've run away with you, remember ." He lifted her upon the horse, and started at...


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