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Chapter 20

  • 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.
  • They did.
  • 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."
  • "Nor I," said Valancy comfortably.