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Chapter 17 A Double Victory

  • Norman Douglas came to church the first Sunday in November and made all th_ensation he desired. Mr. Meredith shook hands with him absently on the churc_teps and hoped dreamily that Mrs. Douglas was well.
  • "She wasn't very well just before I buried her ten years ago, but I recko_he has better health now," boomed Norman, to the horror and amusement o_very one except Mr. Meredith, who was absorbed in wondering if he had mad_he last head of his sermon as clear as he might have, and hadn't the leas_dea what Norman had said to him or he to Norman.
  • Norman intercepted Faith at the gate.
  • "Kept my word, you see—kept my word, Red Rose. I'm free now till the firs_unday in December. Fine sermon, girl—fine sermon. Your father has more in hi_ead than he carries on his face. But he contradicted himself once—tell him h_ontradicted himself. And tell him I want that brimstone sermon in December.
  • Great way to wind up the old year—with a taste of hell, you know. And what'_he matter with a nice tasty discourse on heaven for New Year's? Though i_ouldn't be half as interesting as hell, girl—not half. Only I'd like to kno_hat your father thinks about heaven—he CAN think—rarest thing in the world—_erson who can think. But he DID contradict himself. Ha, ha! Here's a questio_ou might ask him sometime when he's awake, girl. 'Can God make a stone so bi_e couldn't lift it Himself?' Don't forget now. I want to hear his opinion o_t. I've stumped many a minister with that, girl."
  • Faith was glad to escape him and run home. Dan Reese, standing among th_rowd of boys at the gate,    looked at her and shaped his mouth into "pig-girl," but dared not utter i_loud just there. Next day in school was a different matter. At noon reces_aith encountered Dan in the little spruce plantation behind the school an_an shouted once more,    "Pig-girl! Pig-girl! ROOSTER-GIRL!"
  • Walter Blythe suddenly rose from a mossy cushion behind a little clump o_irs where he had been reading. He was very pale, but his eyes blazed.
  • "You hold your tongue, Dan Reese!" he said.
  • "Oh, hello, Miss Walter," retorted Dan, not at all abashed. He vaulte_irily to the top of the rail fence and chanted insultingly,    "Cowardy, cowardy-custard Stole a pot of mustard, Cowardy, cowardy- custard!"
  • "You are a coincidence!" said Walter scornfully, turning still whiter. H_ad only a very hazy idea what a coincidence was, but Dan had none at all an_hought it must be something peculiarly opprobrious.
  • "Yah! Cowardy!" he yelled gain. "Your mother writes lies—lies— lies! An_aith Meredith is a pig-girl—a—pig-girl—a pig-girl! And she's a rooster-girl—_ooster-girl—a rooster-girl! Yah! Cowardy—cowardy—cust—"
  • Dan got no further. Walter had hurled himself across the intervening spac_nd knocked Dan off the fence backward with one well-directed blow. Dan'_udden inglorious sprawl was greeted with a burst of laughter and a clappin_f hands from Faith. Dan sprang up, purple with rage, and began to climb th_ence. But just then the school-bell rang and Dan knew what happened to boy_ho were late during Mr. Hazard's regime.
  • "We'll fight this out," he howled. "Cowardy!"
  • "Any time you like," said Walter.
  • "Oh, no, no, Walter," protested Faith. "Don't fight him. I don't mind wha_e says—I wouldn't condescend to mind the like of HIM."
  • "He insulted you and he insulted my mother," said Walter, with the sam_eadly calm. "Tonight after school, Dan."
  • "I've got to go right home from school to pick taters after the harrows, dad says," answered Dan sulkily. "But to-morrow night'll do."
  • "All right—here to-morrow night," agreed Walter.
  • "And I'll smash your sissy-face for you," promised Dan.
  • Walter shuddered—not so much from fear of the threat as from repulsion ove_he ugliness and vulgarity of it. But he held his head high and marched int_chool. Faith followed in a conflict of emotions. She hated to think of Walte_ighting that little sneak, but oh, he had been splendid! And he was going t_ight for HER—Faith Meredith—to punish her insulter! Of course he woul_in—such eyes spelled victory.
  • Faith's confidence in her champion had dimmed a little by evening, however.
  • Walter had seemed so very quiet and dull the rest of the day in school.
  • "If it were only Jem," she sighed to Una, as they sat on Hezekiah Pollock'_ombstone in the graveyard. "HE is such a fighter—he could finish Dan off i_o time. But Walter doesn't know much about fighting."
  • "I'm so afraid he'll be hurt," sighed Una, who hated fighting and couldn'_nderstand the subtle, secret exultation she divined in Faith.
  • "He oughtn't to be," said Faith uncomfortably. "He's every bit as big a_an."
  • "But Dan's so much older," said Una. "Why, he's nearly a year older."
  • "Dan hasn't done much fighting when you come to count up," said Faith. "_elieve he's really a coward. He didn't think Walter would fight, or h_ouldn't have called names before him. Oh, if you could just have see_alter's face when he looked at him, Una! It made me shiver—with a nic_hiver. He looked just like Sir Galahad in that poem father read us o_aturday."
  • "I hate the thought of them fighting and I wish it could be stopped," sai_na.
  • "Oh, it's got to go on now," cried Faith. "It's a matter of honour. Don'_ou DARE tell anyone, Una. If you do I'll never tell you secrets again!"
  • "I won't tell," agreed Una. "But I won't stay to-morrow to watch the fight.
  • I'm coming right home."
  • "Oh, all right. I have to be there—it would be mean not to, when Walter i_ighting for me. I'm going to tie my colours on his arm—that's the thing to d_hen he's my knight. How lucky Mrs. Blythe gave me that pretty blue hair- ribbon for my birthday! I've only worn it twice so it will be almost new. Bu_ wish I was sure Walter would win. It will be so—so HUMILIATING if h_oesn't."
  • Faith would have been yet more dubious if she could have seen her champio_ust then. Walter had gone home from school with all his righteous anger at _ow ebb and a very nasty feeling in its place. He had to fight Dan Reese th_ext night—and he didn't want to—he hated the thought of it. And he kep_hinking of it all the time. Not for a minute could he get away from th_hought. Would it hurt much? He was terribly afraid that it would hurt. An_ould he be defeated and shamed?
  • He could not eat any supper worth speaking of. Susan had made a big batc_f his favourite monkey-faces, but he could choke only one down. Jem ate four.
  • Walter wondered how he could. How could ANYBODY eat? And how could they al_alk gaily as they were doing? There was mother, with her shining eyes an_ink cheeks. SHE didn't know her son had to fight next day. Would she be s_ay if she knew, Walter wondered darkly. Jem had taken Susan's picture wit_is new camera and the result was passed around the table and Susan wa_erribly indignant over it.
  • "I am no beauty, Mrs. Dr. dear, and well I know it, and have always know_t," she said in an aggrieved tone, "but that I am as ugly as that pictur_akes me out I will never, no, never believe."
  • Jem laughed over this and Anne laughed again with him. Walter couldn'_ndure it. He got up and fled to his room.
  • "That child has got something on his mind, Mrs. Dr. dear," said Susan. "H_as et next to nothing. Do you suppose he is plotting another poem?"
  • Poor Walter was very far removed in spirit from the starry realms of poes_ust then. He propped his elbow on his open window-sill and leaned his hea_rearily on his hands.
  • "Come on down to the shore, Walter," cried Jem, busting in. "The boys ar_oing to burn the sand-hill grass to-night. Father says we can go. Come on."
  • At any other time Walter would have been delighted. He gloried in th_urning of the sand-hill grass. But now he flatly refused to go, and n_rguments or entreaties could move him. Disappointed Jem, who did not care fo_he long dark walk to Four Winds Point alone, retreated to his museum in th_arret and buried himself in a book. He soon forgot his disappointment, revelling with the heroes of old romance, and pausing occasionally to pictur_imself a famous general, leading his troops to victory on some grea_attlefield.
  • Walter sat at his window until bedtime. Di crept in, hoping to be told wha_as wrong, but Walter could not talk of it, even to Di. Talking of it seeme_o give it a reality from which he shrank. It was torture enough to think o_t. The crisp, withered leaves rustled on the maple trees outside his window.
  • The glow of rose and flame had died out of the hollow, silvery sky, and th_ull moon was rising gloriously over Rainbow Valley. Afar off, a rudd_oodfire was painting a page of glory on the horizon beyond the hills. It wa_ sharp, clear evening when far-away sounds were heard distinctly. A fox wa_arking across the pond; an engine was puffing down at the Glen station; _lue-jay was screaming madly in the maple grove; there was laughter over o_he manse lawn. How could people laugh? How could foxes and blue-jays an_ngines behave as if nothing were going to happen on the morrow?
  • "Oh, I wish it was over," groaned Walter.
  • He slept very little that night and had hard work choking down his porridg_n the morning. Susan WAS rather lavish in her platefuls. Mr. Hazard found hi_n unsatisfactory pupil that day. Faith Meredith's wits seemed to be wool- gathering, too. Dan Reese kept drawing surreptitious pictures of girls, wit_ig or rooster heads, on his slate and holding them up for all to see. Th_ews of the coming battle had leaked out and most of the boys and many of th_irls were in the spruce plantation when Dan and Walter sought it afte_chool. Una had gone home, but Faith was there, having tied her blue ribbo_round Walter's arm. Walter was thankful that neither Jem nor Di nor Nan wer_mong the crowd of spectators. Somehow they had not heard of what was in th_ind and had gone home, too. Walter faced Dan quite undauntedly now. At th_ast moment all his fear had vanished, but he still felt disgust at the ide_f fighting. Dan, it was noted, was really paler under his freckles tha_alter was. One of the older boys gave the word and Dan struck Walter in th_ace.
  • Walter reeled a little. The pain of the blow tingled through all hi_ensitive frame for a moment. Then he felt pain no longer. Something, such a_e had never experienced before, seemed to roll over him like a flood. Hi_ace flushed crimson, his eyes burned like flame. The scholars of Glen St.
  • Mary school had never dreamed that "Miss Walter" could look like that. H_urled himself forward and closed with Dan like a young wildcat.
  • There were no particular rules in the fights of the Glen school boys. I_as catch-as-catch can, and get your blows in anyhow. Walter fought with _avage fury and a joy in the struggle against which Dan could not hold hi_round. It was all over very speedily. Walter had no clear consciousness o_hat he was doing until suddenly the red mist cleared from his sight and h_ound himself kneeling on the body of the prostrate Dan whose nose—oh, horror!—was spouting blood.
  • "Have you had enough?" demanded Walter through his clenched teeth.
  • Dan sulkily admitted that he had.
  • "My mother doesn't write lies?"
  • "No."
  • "Faith Meredith isn't a pig-girl?"
  • "No."
  • "Nor a rooster-girl?"
  • "No."
  • "And I'm not a coward?"
  • "No."
  • Walter had intended to ask, "And you are a liar?" but pity intervened an_e did not humiliate Dan further. Besides, that blood was so horrible.
  • "You can go, then," he said contemptuously.
  • There was a loud clapping from the boys who were perched on the rail fence, but some of the girls were crying. They were frightened. They had see_choolboy fights before, but nothing like Walter as he had grappled with Dan.
  • There had been something terrifying about him. They thought he would kill Dan.
  • Now that all was over they sobbed hysterically—except Faith, who still stoo_ense and crimson cheeked.
  • Walter did not stay for any conqueror's meed. He sprang over the fence an_ushed down the spruce hill to Rainbow Valley. He felt none of the victor'_oy, but he felt a certain calm satisfaction in duty done and honou_venged—mingled with a sickish qualm when he thought of Dan's gory nose. I_ad been so ugly, and Walter hated ugliness.
  • Also, he began to realize that he himself was somewhat sore and battere_p. His lip was cut and swollen and one eye felt very strange. In Rainbo_alley he encountered Mr. Meredith, who was coming home from an afternoon cal_n the Miss Wests. That reverend gentleman looked gravely at him.
  • "It seems to me that you have been fighting, Walter?"
  • "Yes, sir," said Walter, expecting a scolding.
  • "What was it about?"
  • "Dan Reese said my mother wrote lies and that that Faith was a pig-girl,"
  • answered Walter bluntly.
  • "Oh—h! Then you were certainly justified, Walter."
  • "Do you think it's right to fight, sir?" asked Walter curiously.
  • "Not always—and not often—but sometimes—yes, sometimes," said Joh_eredith. "When womenkind are insulted for instance—as in your case. My motto, Walter, is, don't fight till you're sure you ought to, and THEN put ever_unce of you into it. In spite of sundry discolorations I infer that you cam_ff best."
  • "Yes. I made him take it all back."
  • "Very good—very good, indeed. I didn't think you were such a fighter, Walter."
  • "I never fought before—and I didn't want to right up to the last—and then,"
  • said Walter, determined to make a clean breast of it, "I liked it while I wa_t it."
  • The Rev. John's eyes twinkled.
  • "You were—a little frightened—at first?"
  • "I was a whole lot frightened," said honest Walter. "But I'm not going t_e frightened any more, sir. Being frightened of things is worse than th_hings themselves. I'm going to ask father to take me over to Lowbridge to- morrow to get my tooth out."
  • "Right again. 'Fear is more pain than is the pain it fears.' Do you kno_ho wrote that, Walter? It was Shakespeare. Was there any feeling or emotio_r experience of the human heart that that wonderful man did not know? Whe_ou go home tell your mother I am proud of you."
  • Walter did not tell her that, however; but he told her all the rest, an_he sympathized with him and told him she was glad he had stood up for her an_aith, and she anointed his sore spots and rubbed cologne on his aching head.
  • "Are all mothers as nice as you?" asked Walter, hugging her. "You're WORT_tanding up for."
  • Miss Cornelia and Susan were in the living room when Anne came downstairs, and listened to the story with much enjoyment. Susan in particular was highl_ratified.
  • "I am real glad to hear he has had a good fight, Mrs. Dr. dear. Perhaps i_ay knock that poetry nonsense out of him. And I never, no, never could bea_hat little viper of a Dan Reese. Will you not sit nearer to the fire, Mrs.
  • Marshall Elliott? These November evenings are very chilly."
  • "Thank you, Susan, I'm not cold. I called at the manse before I came her_nd got quite warm—though I had to go to the kitchen to do it, for there wa_o fire anywhere else. The kitchen looked as if it had been stirred up with _tick, believe ME. Mr. Meredith wasn't home. I couldn't find out where he was, but I have an idea that he was up at the Wests'. Do you know, Anne dearie, they say he has been going there frequently all the fall and people ar_eginning to think he is going to see Rosemary."
  • "He would get a very charming wife if he married Rosemary," said Anne, piling driftwood on the fire. "She is one of the most delightful girls I'v_ver known—truly one of the race of Joseph."
  • "Ye—s—only she is an Episcopalian," said Miss Cornelia doubtfully. "O_ourse, that is better than if she was a Methodist—but I do think Mr. Meredit_ould find a good enough wife in his own denomination. However, very likel_here is nothing in it. It's only a month ago that I said to him, 'You ough_o marry again, Mr. Meredith.' He looked as shocked as if I had suggeste_omething improper. 'My wife is in her grave, Mrs. Elliott,' he said, in tha_entle, saintly way of his. 'I suppose so,' I said, 'or I wouldn't be advisin_ou to marry again.' Then he looked more shocked than ever. So I doubt i_here is much in this Rosemary story. If a single minister calls twice at _ouse where there is a single woman all the gossips have it he is courtin_er."
  • "It seems to me—if I may presume to say so—that Mr. Meredith is too shy t_o courting a second wife," said Susan solemnly.
  • "He ISN'T shy, believe ME," retorted Miss Cornelia. "Absent-minded,—yes—bu_hy, no. And for all he is so abstracted and dreamy he has a very good opinio_f himself, man-like, and when he is really awake he wouldn't think it much o_ chore to ask any woman to have him. No, the trouble is, he's deludin_imself into believing that his heart is buried, while all the time it'_eating away inside of him just like anybody else's. He may have a notion o_osemary West and he may not. If he has, we must make the best of it. She is _weet girl and a fine housekeeper, and would make a good mother for thos_oor, neglected children. And," concluded Miss Cornelia resignedly, "my ow_randmother was an Episcopalian."