When Abel gay paid Valancy her first month's wages—which he did promptly, i_ills reeking with the odour of tobacco and whiskey—Valancy went into Deerwoo_nd spent every cent of it. She got a pretty green crêpe dress with a girdl_f crimson beads, at a bargain sale, a pair of silk stockings, to match, and _ittle crinkled green hat with a crimson rose in it. She even bought a foolis_ittle beribboned and belaced nightgown.
She passed the house on Elm Street twice—Valancy never even thought about i_s "home"—but saw no one. No doubt her mother was sitting in the room thi_ovely June evening playing solitaire—and cheating. Valancy knew that Mrs.
Frederick always cheated. She never lost a game. Most of the people Valanc_et looked at her seriously and passed her with a cool nod. Nobody stopped t_peak to her.
Valancy put on her green dress when she got home. Then she took it off again.
She felt so miserably undressed in its low neck and short sleeves. And tha_ow, crimson girdle around the hips seemed positively indecent. She hung it u_n the closet, feeling flatly that she had wasted her money. She would neve_ave the courage to wear that dress. John Foster's arraignment of fear had n_ower to stiffen her against this. In this one thing habit and custom wer_till all-powerful. Yet she sighed as she went down to meet Barney Snaith i_er old snuff-brown silk. That green thing had been very becoming—she had see_o much in her one ashamed glance. Above it her eyes had looked like odd brow_ewels and the girdle had given her flat figure and entirely differen_ppearance. She wished she could have left it on. But there were some thing_ohn Foster did not know.
Every Sunday evening Valancy went to the little Free Methodist church in _alley on the edge of "up back"—a spireless little grey building among th_ines, with a few sunken graves and mossy gravestones in the small, paling- encircled, grass-grown square beside it. She liked the minister who preache_here. He was so simple and sincere. An old man, who lived in Port Lawrenc_nd came out by the lake in a little disappearing propeller boat to give _ree service to the people of the small, stony farms back of the hills, wh_ould otherwise never have heard any gospel message. She liked the simpl_ervice and the fervent singing. She liked to sit by the open window and loo_ut into the pine woods. The congregation was always small. The Fre_ethodists were few in number, poor and generally illiterate. But Valanc_oved those Sunday evenings. For the first time in her life she liked going t_hurch. The rumour reached Deerwood that she had "turned Free Methodist" an_ent Mrs. Frederick to bed for a day. But Valancy had not turned anything. Sh_ent to the church because she liked it and because in some inexplicable wa_t did her good. Old Mr. Towers believed exactly what he preached and someho_t made a tremendous difference.
Oddly enough, Roaring Abel disapproved of her going to the hill church a_trongly as Mrs. Frederick herself could have done. He had "no use for Fre_ethodists. He was a Presbyterian." But Valancy went in spite of him.
"We'll hear something worse than _that_ about her soon," Uncle Benjami_redicted gloomily.
Valancy could not quite explain, even to herself, just why she wanted to go t_hat party. It was a dance "up back" at Chidley Corners; and dances at Chidle_orners were not, as a rule, the sort of assemblies where well-brought-u_oung ladies were found. Valancy knew it was coming off, for Roaring Abel ha_een engaged as one of the fiddlers.
But the idea of going had never occurred to her until Roaring Abel himsel_roached it at supper.
"You come with me to the dance," he ordered. "It'll do you good—put som_olour in your face. You look peaked—you want something to liven you up."
Valancy found herself suddenly wanting to go. She knew nothing at all of wha_ances at Chidley Corners were apt to be like. Her idea of dances had bee_ashioned on the correct affairs that went by that name in Deerwood and Por_awrence. Of course she knew the Corners' dance wouldn't be just like them.
Much more informal, of course. But so much the more interesting. Why shouldn'_he go? Cissy was in a week of apparent health and improvement. She wouldn'_ind staying alone in the least. She entreated Valancy to go if she wanted to.
And Valancy _did_ want to go.
She went to her room to dress. A rage against the snuff-brown silk seized her.
Wear _that_ to a party! Never. She pulled her green crêpe from its hange_nd put in on feverishly. It was nonsense to feel so—so—naked—just because he_eck and arms were bare. That was just her old maidishness. She would not b_idden by it. On went the dress—the slippers.
It was the first time she had worn a pretty dress since the organdies of he_arly teens. And _they_ had never made her look like this.
If she only had a necklace or something. She wouldn't feel so bare then. Sh_an down to the garden. There were clovers there—great crimson things growin_n the long grass. Valancy gathered handfuls of them and strung them on _ord. Fastened above her neck they gave her the comfortable sensation of _ollar and were oddly becoming. Another circlet of them went round her hair, dressed in the low puffs that became her. Excitement brought those faint pin_tains to her face. She flung on her coat and pulled the little, twisty ha_ver her hair.
"You look so nice and—and—different, dear," said Cissy. "Like a green moonbea_ith a gleam of red in it, if there could be such a thing."
Valancy stooped to kiss her.
"I don't feel right about leaving you alone, Cissy."
"Oh, I'll be all right. I feel better tonight than I have for a long while.
I've been feeling badly to see you sticking here so closely on my account. _ope you'll have a nice time. I never was at a party at the Corners, but _sed to go sometimes, long ago, to dances up back. We always had good times.
And you needn't be afraid of Father being drunk tonight. He never drinks whe_e engages to play for a party. But—there may be—liquor. What will you do i_t gets rough?"
"Nobody would molest me."
"Not seriously, I suppose. Father would see to that. But it _might_ be nois_nd—and unpleasant."
"I won't mind. I'm only going as a looker-on. I don't expect to dance. I jus_ant to _see_ what a party up back is like. I've never seen anything excep_ecorous Deerwood."
Cissy smiled rather dubiously. She knew much better than Valancy what a party
"up back" might be like if there should be liquor. But again there mightn'_e.
"I hope you'll enjoy it," she repeated.
Valancy enjoyed the drive there. They went early, for it was twelve miles t_hidley Corners, and they had to go in Abel's old, ragged top-buggy. The roa_as rough and rocky, like most Muskoka roads, but full of the austere charm o_orthern woods. It wound through beautiful, purring pines that were ranks o_nchantment in the June sunset, and over the curious jade-green rivers o_uskoka, fringed by aspens that were always quivering with some supernal joy.
Roaring Abel was excellent company, too. He knew all the stories and legend_f the wild, beautiful "up back," and he told them to Valancy as they drov_long. Valancy had several fits of inward laughter over what Uncle Benjami_nd Aunt Wellington, _et al.,_ would feel and think and say if they saw he_riving with Roaring Abel in that terrible buggy to a dance at Chidle_orners.
At first the dance was quiet enough, and Valancy was amused and entertained.
She even danced twice herself, with a couple of nice "up back" boys who dance_eautifully and told her she did, too.
Another compliment came her way—not a very subtle one, perhaps, but Valanc_ad had too few compliments in her life to be over-nice on that point. Sh_verheard two of the "up back" young men talking about her in the dark "lean- to" behind her.
"Know who that girl in green is?"
"Nope. Guess she's from out front. The Port, maybe. Got a stylish look t_er."
"No beaut but cute-looking, I'll say. 'Jever see such eyes?"
The big room was decorated with pine and fir boughs, and lighted by Chines_anterns. The floor was waxed, and Roaring Abel's fiddle, purring under hi_killed touch, worked magic. The "up back" girls were pretty and prettil_ressed. Valancy thought it the nicest party she had ever attended.
By eleven o'clock she had changed her mind. A new crowd had arrived—a crow_nmistakably drunk. Whiskey began to circulate freely. Very soon almost al_he men were partly drunk. Those in the porch and outside around the doo_egan howling "come-all-ye's" and continued to howl them. The room grew nois_nd reeking. Quarrels started up here and there. Bad language and obscen_ongs were heard. The girls, swung rudely in the dances, became dishevelle_nd tawdry. Valancy, alone in her corner, was feeling disgusted and repentant.
Why had she ever come to such a place? Freedom and independence were all ver_ell, but one should not be a little fool. She might have known what it woul_e like—she might have taken warning from Cissy's guarded sentences. Her hea_as aching—she was sick of the whole thing. But what could she do? She mus_tay to the end. Abel could not leave till then. And that would probably b_ot till three or four in the morning.
The new influx of boys had left the girls far in the minority and partner_ere scarce. Valancy was pestered with invitations to dance. She refused the_ll shortly, and some of her refusals were not well taken. There were muttere_aths and sullen looks. Across the room she saw a group of the stranger_alking together and glancing meaningly at her. What were they plotting?
It was at this moment that she saw Barney Snaith looking in over the heads o_he crowds at the doorway. Valancy had two distinct convictions—one was tha_he was quite safe now; the other was that _this_ was why she had wanted t_ome to the dance. It had been such an absurd hope that she had not recognise_t before, but now she knew she had come because of the possibility tha_arney might be there, too. She thought that perhaps she ought to be ashame_or this, but she wasn't. After her feeling of relief her next feeling was on_f annoyance with Barney for coming there unshaved. Surely he might hav_nough self-respect to groom himself up decently when he went to a party.
There he was, bareheaded, bristly-chinned, in his old trousers and his blu_omespun shirt. Not even a coat. Valancy could have shaken him in her anger.
No wonder people believed everything bad of him.
But she was not afraid any longer. One of the whispering group left hi_omrades and came across the room to her, through the whirling couples tha_ow filled it uncomfortably. He was a tall, broad-shouldered fellow, not ill- dressed or ill-looking but unmistakably half drunk. He asked Valancy to dance.
Valancy declined civilly. His face turned livid. He threw his arm about he_nd pulled her to him. His hot, whiskied breath burned her face.
"We won't have fine-lady airs here, my girl. If you ain't too good to com_ere you ain't too good to dance with us. Me and my pals have been watchin_ou. You're got to give us each a turn and a kiss to boot."
Valancy tried desperately and vainly to free herself. She was being dragge_ut into the maze of shouting, stamping, yelling dancers. The next moment th_an who held her went staggering across the room from a neatly planted blow o_he jaw, knocking down whirling couples as he went. Valancy felt her ar_rasped.
"This way—quick," said Barney Snaith. He swung her out through the open windo_ehind him, vaulted lightly over the sill and caught her hand.
"Quick—we must run for it—they'll be after us."
Valancy ran as she had never run before, clinging tight to Barney's hand, wondering why she did not drop dead in such a mad scamper. Suppose she did!
What a scandal it would make for her poor people. For the first time Valanc_elt a little sorry for them. Also, she felt glad that she had escaped fro_hat horrible row. Also, glad that she was holding tight to Barney's hand. He_eelings were badly mixed and she had never had so many in such a brief tim_n her life.
They finally reached a quiet corner in the pine woods. The pursuit had taken _ifferent direction and the whoops and yells behind them were growing faint.
Valancy, out of breath, with a crazily beating heart, collapsed on the trun_f a fallen pine.
"Thanks," she gasped.
"What a goose you were to come to such a place!" said Barney.
"I—didn't—know—it—would—be like this," protested Valancy.
"You _should_ have known. Chidley Corners!"
"It—was—just—a name—to me."
Valancy knew Barney could not realise how ignorant she was of the regions "u_ack." She had lived in Deerwood all her life and of course he supposed sh_new. He didn't know how she had been brought up. There was no use trying t_xplain.
"When I drifted in at Abel's this evening and Cissy told me you'd come here _as amazed. And downright scared. Cissy told me she was worried about you bu_adn't liked to say anything to dissuade you for fear you'd think she wa_hinking selfishly about herself. So I came on up here instead of going t_eerwood."
Valancy felt a sudden delightful glow irradiating soul and body under the dar_ines. So he had actually come up to look after her.
"As soon as they stop hunting for us we'll sneak around to the Muskoka road. _eft Lady Jane down there. I'll take you home. I suppose you've had enough o_our party."
"Quite," said Valancy meekly. The first half of the way home neither of the_aid anything. It would not have been much use. Lady Jane made so much nois_hey could not have heard each other. Anyway, Valancy did not fee_onversationally inclined. She was ashamed of the whole affair—ashamed of he_olly in going—ashamed of being found in such a place by Barney Snaith. B_arney Snaith, reputed jail-breaker, infidel, forger and defaulter. Valancy'_ips twitched in the darkness as she thought of it. But she _was_ ashamed.
And yet she was enjoying herself—was full of a strange exultation—bumping ove_hat rough road beside Barney Snaith. The big trees shot by them. The tal_ulleins stood up along the road in stiff, orderly ranks like companies o_oldiers. The thistles looked like drunken fairies or tipsy elves as thei_ar-lights passed over them. This was the first time she had even been in _ar. After all, she liked it. She was not in the least afraid, with Barney a_he wheel. Her spirits rose rapidly as they tore along. She ceased to fee_shamed. She ceased to feel anything except that she was part of a come_ushing gloriously through the night of space.
All at once, just where the pine woods frayed out to the scrub barrens, Lad_ane became quiet—too quiet. Lady Jane slowed down quietly—and stopped.
Barney uttered an aghast exclamation. Got out. Investigated. Cam_pologetically back.
"I'm a doddering idiot. Out of gas. I knew I was short when I left home, but _eant to fill up in Deerwood. Then I forgot all about it in my hurry to get t_he Corners."
"What can we do?" asked Valancy coolly.
"I don't know. There's no gas nearer than Deerwood, nine miles away. And _on't dare leave you here alone. There are always tramps on this road—and som_f those crazy fools back at the Corners may come straggling along presently.
There were boys there from the Port. As far as I can see, the best thing to d_s for us just to sit patiently here until some car comes along and lends u_nough gas to get to Roaring Abel's with."
"Well, what's the matter with that?" said Valancy.
"We may have to sit here all night," said Barney.
"I don't mind," said Valancy.
Barney gave a short laugh. "If you don't, I needn't. I haven't any reputatio_o lose."