The Prodigal Judge Part 70

The Prodigal Judge -

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"I am to be missed, too, am I, Betty?" he inquired, leaning toward her.

"You, Bruce?--Oh, I shall miss you, too--dreadfully--but then, perhaps in five years, when you come back--"

"Five years!" cried Carrington, but he understood, something of what was pa.s.sing in her mind, and laughed shortly. "Five years, Betty?" he repeated, dwelling on the numeral.

Betty hesitated and looked thoughtful. Presently she stole a surrept.i.tious glance at Carrington from under her long lashes, and went on slowly, as though she were making careful choice of her words.

"When you come back in three years, Bruce--"

Carrington still regarded her fixedly. There was a light in his black eyes that seemed to penetrate to the most secret recesses of her heart and soul.

"Three years, Betty?" he repeated again.

Betty, her eyes cast down, twisted her rein nervously between her slim, white fingers, but Carrington's steady glance never left her sweet face, framed by its halo of bright hair. She stole another look at him from beneath her dark lashes.

"Three years, Betty?" he prompted.

"Bruce, don't stare at me that way, it makes me forget what I was going to say! When you come, back--next year--" and then she lifted her eyes to his and he saw that they were full of sudden tears. "Bruce, don't go away--don't go away at all--"

Carrington slipped from the saddle and stood at her side.

"Do you mean that, Betty?" he asked. He took her hands loosely in his and relentlessly considered her crimsoned face. "I reckon it will always be right hard to refuse you anything--here is one settler the Purchase will never get!" and he laughed softly.

"It was the Purchase--you were going there!" she cried.

"No, I wasn't, Betty; that notion died its natural death long ago. When we are sure you will be safe at Belle Plain with just the Cavendishes, I am going into Raleigh to wait as best I can until spring." He spoke so gravely, that she asked in quick alarm.

"And then, Bruce--what?"

"And then--Oh, Betty, I'm starving--" All in a moment he lifted her slender figure in his arms, gathering her close to him. "And then, this--and this--and this, sweetheart--and more--and--oh, Betty! Betty!"

When Murrell was brought to trial his lawyers were able to produce a host of witnesses whose sworn testimony showed that so simple a thing as perjury had no terrors for them. His fight for liberty was waged in and out of court with incredible bitterness, and, as judge and jury were only human, the outlaw escaped with the relatively light sentence of twelve years' imprisonment; he died, however, before the expiration of his term.

The judge, where he returned to Raleigh, resumed his own name of Turberville, and he allowed it to be known that he would not be offended by the prefix of General. During his absence he had acc.u.mulated a wealth of evidence of undoubted authenticity, with the result that his claim against the Fentress estate was sustained by the courts, and when The Oaks with its stock and slaves was offered for sale, he, as the creditor, was able to buy it in.

One of his first acts after taking possession of the property was to have Mahaffy reinterred in the grove of oaks below his bedroom windows, and he marked the spot with a great square of granite. The judge, visibly shaken by his emotions, saw the ma.s.sive boulder go into place.

"Harsh and rugged like the nature of him who lies beneath it--but enduring, too, as he was," he murmured. He turned to Yancy and Hannibal, and added,

"You will lay me beside him when I die."

Then when the bitter struggle came and he was wrenched and tortured by longings, his strength was in remembering his promise to the dead man, and it was his custom to go out under the oaks and pace to and fro beside Mahaffy's grave until he had gained the mastery of himself. Only Yancy and Hannibal knew how fierce the conflict was he waged, yet in the end he won that best earned of all victories, the victory over himself.

"My salvation has been a costly thing; it was bought with the blood of my friend," he told Yancy.

It was Hannibal's privilege to give Cavendish out of the vast Quintard tract such a farm as the earl had never dreamed of owning even in his most fervid moments of imagining; and he abandoned all idea of going to England to claim his t.i.tle. At the judge's suggestion he named the place Earl's Court. He and Polly were entirely satisfied with their surroundings, and never ceased to congratulate themselves that they had left Lincoln County. They felt that their friends the Carringtons at Belle Plain, though unt.i.tled people, were still of an equal rank with themselves; while as for the judge, they doubted if royalty itself laid it any over him.

Mr. Yancy accepted his changed fortunes with philosophic composure.

Technically he filled the position of overseer at The Oaks, but the judge's activity was so great that this position was largely a sinecure.

The most arduous work he performed was spending his wages.

Certain trifling peculiarities survived with the judge even after he had entered what he had once been to call the Portal of Hope; for while his charity was very great and he lived with the splendid air of plenty that belonged to an older order, it required tact, patience, and persistence to transact business with him; and his creditors, of whom there were always a respectable number, discovered that he esteemed them as they were aggressive and determined. He explained to Yancy that too great certainty detracted from the charm of living, for, after all, life was a game--a gamble--he desired to be reminded of this. Yet he was held in great respect for his wisdom and learning, which was no more questioned that his courage.

Thus surrounded by his friends, who were devoted to him, he began Hannibal's education and the preparation of his memoirs, intended primarily for the instruction of his grandson, and which he modestly decided to call The History of My Own Times, which clearly showed the magnificence of his mind and its outlook.

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