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A Hoosier Chronicle by Meredith Nicholson

Only the lights of the sailboat were visible now


"Bassett's

nothing to me," he said roughly.

"He seems to me the loneliest soul I ever knew," replied Sylvia quietly.

"He deserves it; he's brought himself to that."

"I don't believe he's altogether evil. There must be good in him."

"It's because he's so evil that you pity him; it's because of that that I'm sorry for him. It's because we know that he must be broken upon the wheel before he realizes the vile use he has made of his power that we are sorry for him. Why, Sylvia, he's the worst foe we have--all of us who want to do what we call the great things--ease the burdens of the poor, make government honest, catch the gleam we seek! Even poor Allen, when he stands on the Monument steps at midnight and spouts to me about the Great Experiment, feels what Morton Bassett can't be made to feel."

"But he may yet see it; even he may come to see it," murmured Sylvia.

"He's a hard, stubborn brute; it's in the lines of his back--I was studying him on the boat this evening, and my eyes followed him up the steps after they dropped him at his dock. It's in those strong, iron hands of his. I tell you, what we feel for him is only the kind of pity we have for those we know to be doomed by the gods to an ignominious end. He's not worth our pity. He asks no mercy and he won't get any."

justify;">He was at once ashamed of the temper to which he had yielded, and angry at himself for having broken the calm of the night with these discordant notes. Sylvia's hand touched the water caressingly, waking tiny ripples.

"Sylvia," he said when he was calm again, "I want you to marry me."

"I have told you, Dan, that I can never marry any one; and that must be the end of it."

"But your work can go on--" he began, ready for another assault upon that barrier.

A sailboat loitering in the light wind had stolen close upon them, and passed hardly a paddle's length away. Dan, without changing his position, drove the canoe toward the shore with a few strokes of the paddle, then steadied himself to speak again. Sylvia's eyes watched the sails vanishing like ghosts into the dark.

"That won't do, Sylvia: that isn't enough. You haven't said that you don't care for me; you haven't said that you don't love me! And I can't believe that your ambitions alone are in the way. Believe me, that I respect them; I should never interfere with them. There must be some other reason. I can't take no for an answer; this night was made for us; no other night will ever be just like this. Please, dear, if there are other reasons than my own poor spirit and the little I can offer, let me know it. If you don't care, it will be kinder to say it now! If that is the reason--even if there's some other man--let me know it now. Tell me what it is, Sylvia!"

It was true that she had not said she did not care. Her silence now at the direct question stirred new fears to life in his breast, like the beat of startled wings from a thicket in November.

Only the lights of the sailboat were visible now, but suddenly a girl's voice rose clear and sweet, singing to the accompaniment of guitar and mandolin. The guitar throbbed; and on its deep chords the mandolin wove its melody. The voice seemed to steal out of the heart of the night and float over the still waters. The unseen singer never knew the mockery of the song she sang. It was an old song and the air was one familiar the world round. And it bore the answer to Dan's question which Sylvia had carried long in her heart, but could not speak. She did not speak it then; it was ordained that she should never speak it. And Dan knew and understood.


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