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XI AT MERRY OAKS TAVERN UPON awaking his first thought was that he had got" into a deucedly uncomfortable fix," and when he stretched out his hand from the bedside the need of fresh clothes appeared less easy to be borne than the more abstract wreck of his career. For the first time he clearly grasped some outline of his future - a future in which a change of linen would become a luxury; and it was with smarting eyes and a nervous tightening of the throat that he glanced about the long room, with its whitewashed walls, and told himself that he had come early to the end of his ambition . In the ill-regulated tenor of his thoughts but a hair's breadth divided assurance from despair. Last night the vaguest hope had seemed to be a certainty; to-day his fat acres and the sturdy slaves upon them had vanished like a dream, and the building of his fortunes had become suddenly a very different matter from the rearing of airy castles along the road. As he lay there, with his strong white hands folded upon the quilt, his eyes went beyond the little lattice at the window, and rested upon the dark gray chain of mountains over which the white clouds sailed like birds. Somewhere nearer those mountains he knew that Chericoke was standing under the clouded 229 23° The Battle-Ground sky, with the half-bared elms knocking night and day upon the windows. He could see the open doors, through which the wind blew steadily, and the crooked stair down which his mother had come in her careless girlhood. It seemed to him, lying there, that in this one hour he had drawn closer into sympathy with his mother, and when he looked up from his pillow, he half expected to see her merry eyes bending over him, and to feel her thin and trembling hand upon his brow. His old worship of her awoke to life, and he suffered over again the moment in his childhood when he had called her and she had not answered, and they had pushed him from the room and told him she was dead. He remembered the clear white of her face, with the violet shadows in the hollows; and he remembered the baby lying as if asleep upon her bosom. For a moment he felt that he had never grown older since that day - that he was still a child grieving for her loss - while all the time she was not dead, but stood beside him and smiled down upon his pillow. Poor mother, with the merry eyes and the bitter mouth. Then as he looked the face grew younger, though the smile did not change, and he saw that it was Betty, after all - Betty with the tenderness in her eyes and the motherly yearning in her outstretched arms. The two women he loved were forever blended in his thoughts,. and he dimly realized that whatever the future made of him, he should be moulded less by events than by the hands of these two women. Events might subdue, but love alone could create the spirit that gave him life. At Merry Oaks Tavern 23 I There was a tap at his door, and when he arose and opened it, Mrs. Hicks handed in a pitcher of hot water and inquired "if he had recollected to knock upon the floor? " He set the water upon the table, and after he had dressed brushed hopelessly, with a trembling hand, at the dust upon his clothes. Then he went to the window and stood gloomily looking down among the great oak trees to the strip of yard where a pig was rooting in the acorns. A small porch ran across the entrance to the inn, and Jack Hicks was already seated on it, with a pipe in his mouth, and his feet upon the railing. His drowsy gaze was turned upon the woodpile hard by, where an old negro slave was chopping aimlessly into a new pine log, and a black urchin gathering chips into a big split basket. At a little distance the Hopeville stage was drawn out under the trees, the empty shafts lying upon the ground, and on the box a red and black rooster stood crowing. Overhead there was a dull gray sky, and the scene, in all its ugliness, showed stripped of the redeeming grace of lights and shadows. Jack Hicks, smoking on...


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