Of course, the Stirlings had not left the poor maniac alone all this time o_efrained from heroic efforts to rescue her perishing soul and reputation.
Uncle James, whose lawyer had helped him as little as his doctor, came one da_nd, finding Valancy alone in the kitchen, as he supposed, gave her a terribl_alking to—told her she was breaking her mother's heart and disgracing he_amily.
"But _why_?" said Valancy, not ceasing to scour her porridge pot decently.
"I'm doing honest work for honest pay. What is there in that that i_isgraceful?"
"Don't quibble, Valancy," said Uncle James solemnly. "This is no fit place fo_ou to be, and you know it. Why, I'm told that that jail-bird, Snaith, i_anging around here every evening."
"Not _every_ evening," said Valancy reflectively. "No, not quite ever_vening."
"It's—it's insufferable!" said Uncle James violently. "Valancy, you _must_ome home. We won't judge you harshly. I assure you we won't. We will overloo_ll this."
"Thank you," said Valancy.
"Have you no sense of shame?" demanded Uncle James.
"Oh, yes. But the things _I_ am ashamed of are not the things _you_ ar_shamed of." Valancy proceeded to rinse her dishcloth meticulously.
Still was Uncle James patient. He gripped the sides of his chair and groun_is teeth.
"We know your mind isn't just right. We'll make allowances. But you _must_ome home. You shall not stay here with that drunken, blasphemous ol_coundrel—"
"Were you by any chance referring to _me_ , _Mister_ Stirling?" demande_oaring Abel, suddenly appearing in the doorway of the back verandah where h_ad been smoking a peaceful pipe and listening to "old Jim Stirling's" tirad_ith huge enjoyment. His red beard fairly bristled with indignation and hi_uge eyebrows quivered. But cowardice was not among James Stirling'_hortcomings.
"I was. And, furthermore, I want to tell you that you have acted an iniquitou_art in luring this weak and unfortunate girl away from her home and friends, and I will have you punished yet for it—"
James Stirling got no further. Roaring Abel crossed the kitchen at a bound, caught him by his collar and his trousers, and hurled him through the doorwa_nd over the garden paling with as little apparent effort as he might hav_mployed in whisking a troublesome kitten out of the way.
"The next time you come back here," he bellowed, "I'll throw you through th_indow—and all the better if the window is shut! Coming here, thinkin_ourself God to put the world to rights!"
Valancy candidly and unashamedly owned to herself that she had seen few mor_atisfying sights than Uncle James' coat-tails flying out into the asparagu_ed. She had once been afraid of this man's judgment. Now she saw clearly tha_e was nothing but a rather stupid little village tin-god.
Roaring Abel turned with his great broad laugh.
"He'll think of that for years when he wakes up in the night. The Almight_ade a mistake in making so many Stirlings. But since they are made, we've go_o reckon with them. Too many to kill out. But if they come here bothering yo_'ll shoo 'em off before a cat could lick its ear."
The next time they sent Dr. Stalling. Surely Roaring Abel would not throw hi_nto asparagus beds. Dr. Stalling was not so sure of this and had no grea_iking for the task. He did not believe Valancy Stirling was out of her mind.
She had always been queer. He, Dr. Stalling, had never been able to understan_er. Therefore, beyond doubt, she was queer. She was only just a littl_ueerer than usual now. And Dr. Stalling had his own reasons for dislikin_oaring Abel. When Dr. Stalling had first come to Deerwood he had had a likin_or long hikes around Mistawis and Muskoka. On one of these occasions he ha_ot lost and after much wandering had fallen in with Roaring Abel with his gu_ver his shoulder.
Dr. Stalling had contrived to ask his question in about the most idioti_anner possible. He said, "Can you tell me where I'm going?"
"How the devil should I know where you're going, gosling?" retorted Abe_ontemptuously.
Dr. Stalling was so enraged that he could not speak for a moment or two and i_hat moment Abel had disappeared in the woods. Dr. Stalling had eventuall_ound his way home, but he had never hankered to encounter Abel Gay again.
Nevertheless he came now to do his duty. Valancy greeted him with a sinkin_eart. She had to own to herself that she was terribly afraid of Dr. Stallin_till. She had a miserable conviction that if he shook his long, bony finge_t her and told her to go home, she dared not disobey.
"Mr. Gay," said Dr. Stalling politely and condescendingly, "may I see Mis_tirling alone for a few minutes?" Roaring Abel was a little drunk—just drun_nough to be excessively polite and very cunning. He had been on the point o_oing away when Dr. Stalling arrived, but now he sat down in a corner of th_arlour and folded his arms.
"No, no, mister," he said solemnly. "That wouldn't do—wouldn't do at all. I'v_ot the reputation of my household to keep up. I've got to chaperone thi_oung lady. Can't have any sparkin' going on here behind my back."
Outraged Dr. Stalling looked so terrible that Valancy wondered how Abel coul_ndure his aspect. But Abel was not worried at all.
"D'ye know anything about it, anyway?" he asked genially.
"Sparking," said Abel coolly.
Poor Dr. Stalling, who had never married because he believed in a celibat_lergy, would not notice this ribald remark. He turned his back on Abel an_ddressed himself to Valancy.
"Miss Stirling, I am here in response to your mother's wishes. She begged m_o come. I am charged with some messages from her. Will you"—he wagged hi_orefinger—"will you hear them?"
"Yes," said Valancy faintly, eyeing the forefinger. It had a hypnotic effec_n her.
"The first is this. If you will leave this—this—"
"House," interjected Roaring Abel. "H-o-u-s-e. Troubled with an impediment i_our speech, ain't you, Mister?"
"—this _place_ and return to your home, Mr. James Stirling will himself pa_or a good nurse to come here and wait on Miss Gay."
Back of her terror Valancy smiled in secret. Uncle James must indeed regar_he matter as desperate when he would loosen his purse-strings like that. A_ny rate, her clan no longer despised her or ignored her. She had becom_mportant to them.
"That's _my_ business, Mister," said Abel. "Miss Stirling can go if sh_leases, or stay if she pleases. I made a fair bargain with her, and she'_ree to conclude it when she likes. She gives me meals that stick to my ribs.
She don't forget to put salt in the porridge. She never slams doors, and whe_he has nothing to say she don't talk. That's uncanny in a woman, you know, Mister. I'm satisfied. If she isn't, she's free to go. But no woman comes her_n Jim Stirling's pay. If any one does"—Abel's voice was uncannily bland an_olite—"I'll spatter the road with her brains. Tell him that with A. Gay'_ompliments."
"Dr. Stalling, a nurse is not what Cissy needs," said Valancy earnestly. "Sh_sn't so ill as that, yet. What she wants is companionship—somebody she know_nd likes just to live with her. You can understand that, I'm sure."
"I understand that your motive is quite—ahem—commendable." Dr. Stalling fel_hat he was very broad-minded indeed—especially as in his secret soul he di_ot believe Valancy's motive _was_ commendable. He hadn't the least ide_hat she was up to, but he was sure her motive was not commendable. When h_ould not understand a thing he straightway condemned it. Simplicity itself!
"But your first duty is to your mother. _She_ needs you. She implores you t_ome home—she will forgive everything if you will only come home."
"That's a pretty little thought," remarked Abel meditatively, as he groun_ome tobacco up in his hand.
Dr. Stalling ignored him.
"She entreats, but I, Miss Stirling,"—Dr. Stalling remembered that he was a_mbassador of Jehovah—" _I command._ As your pastor and spiritual guide, _ommand you to come home with me—this very day. Get your hat and coat and com_now_."
Dr. Stalling shook his finger at Valancy. Before that pitiless finger sh_rooped and wilted visibly.
"She's giving in," thought Roaring Abel. "She'll go with him. Beats all, th_ower these preacher fellows have over women."
Valancy _was_ on the point of obeying Dr. Stalling. She must go home wit_im—and give up. She would lapse back to Doss Stirling again and for her fe_emaining days or weeks be the cowed, futile creature she had always been. I_as her fate—typified by that relentless, uplifted forefinger. She could n_ore escape from it than Roaring Abel from his predestination. She eyed it a_he fascinated bird eyes the snake. Another moment—
_"Fear is the original sin,"_ suddenly said a still, small voice awa_ack—back—back of Valancy's consciousness. _"Almost all the evil in the worl_as its origin in the fact that some one is afraid of something."_
Valancy stood up. She was still in the clutches of fear, but her soul was he_wn again. She would not be false to that inner voice.
"Dr. Stalling," she said slowly, "I do not at present owe _any_ duty to m_other. She is quite well; she has all the assistance and companionship sh_equires; she does not need me at all. I _am_ needed here. I am going t_tay here."
"There's spunk for you," said Roaring Abel admiringly.
Dr. Stalling dropped his forefinger. One could not keep on shaking a finge_orever.
"Miss Stirling, is there _nothing_ that can influence you? Do you remembe_our childhood days—"
"Perfectly. And hate them."
"Do you realise what people will say? What they _are_ saying?"
"I can imagine it," said Valancy, with a shrug of her shoulders. She wa_uddenly free of fear again. "I haven't listened to the gossip of Deerwoo_eaparties and sewing circles twenty years for nothing. But, Dr. Stalling, i_oesn't matter in the least to me what they say—not in the least."
Dr. Stalling went away then. A girl who cared nothing for public opinion! Ove_hom sacred family ties had no restraining influence! Who hated her childhoo_emories!
Then Cousin Georgiana came—on her own initiative, for nobody would hav_hought it worth while to send her. She found Valancy alone, weeding th_ittle vegetable garden she had planted, and she made all the platitudinou_leas she could think of. Valancy heard her patiently. Cousin Georgiana wasn'_uch a bad old soul. Then she said:
"And now that you have got all that out of your system, Cousin Georgiana, ca_ou tell me how to make creamed codfish so that it will not be as thick a_orridge and as salt as the Dead Sea?"
* * * * * * * *
"We'll just have to _wait_ ," said Uncle Benjamin. "After all, Cissy Ga_an't live long. Dr. Marsh tells me she may drop off any day."
Mrs. Frederick wept. It would really have been so much easier to bear i_alancy had died. She could have worn mourning then.