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Between The Hill and The Valley
by [?]

It was one of the moist, pleasantly odorous nights of early spring. There was a chill in the evening air, but the grass was growing green in sheltered spots, and Jeffrey Miller had found purple-petalled violets and pink arbutus on the hill that day. Across a valley filled with beech and fir, there was a sunset afterglow, creamy yellow and pale red, with a new moon swung above it. It was a night for a man to walk alone and dream of his love, which was perhaps why Jeffrey Miller came so loiteringly across the springy hill pasture, with his hands full of the mayflowers.

He was a tall, broad-shouldered man of forty, and looking no younger, with dark grey eyes and a tanned, clean-cut face, clean-shaven save for a drooping moustache. Jeffrey Miller was considered a handsome man, and Bayside people had periodical fits of wondering why he had never married. They pitied him for the lonely life he must lead alone there at the Valley Farm, with only a deaf old housekeeper as a companion, for it did not occur to the Bayside people in general that a couple of shaggy dogs could be called companions, and they did not know that books make very excellent comrades for people who know how to treat them.

One of Jeffrey’s dogs was with him now–the oldest one, with white breast and paws and a tawny coat. He was so old that he was half-blind and rather deaf, but, with one exception, he was the dearest of living creatures to Jeffrey Miller, for Sara Stuart had given him the sprawly, chubby little pup years ago.

They came down the hill together. A group of men were standing on the bridge in the hollow, discussing Colonel Stuart’s funeral of the day before. Jeffrey caught Sara’s name and paused on the outskirts of the group to listen. Sometimes he thought that if he were lying dead under six feet of turf and Sara Stuart’s name were pronounced above him, his heart would give a bound of life.

“Yes, the old kunnel’s gone at last,” Christopher Jackson was saying. “He took his time dyin’, that’s sartain. Must be a kind of relief for Sara–she’s had to wait on him, hand and foot, for years. But no doubt she’ll feel pretty lonesome. Wonder what she’ll do?”

“Is there any particular reason for her to do anything?” asked Alec Churchill.

“Well, she’ll have to leave Pinehurst. The estate’s entailed and goes to her cousin, Charles Stuart.”

There were exclamations of surprise from the other men on hearing this. Jeffrey drew nearer, absently patting his dog’s head. He had not known it either.

“Oh, yes,” said Christopher, enjoying all the importance of exclusive information. “I thought everybody knew that. Pinehurst goes to the oldest male heir. The old kunnel felt it keen that he hadn’t a son. Of course, there’s plenty of money and Sara’ll get that. But I guess she’ll feel pretty bad at leaving her old home. Sara ain’t as young as she used to be, neither. Let me see–she must be thirty-eight. Well, she’s left pretty lonesome.”

“Maybe she’ll stay on at Pinehurst,” said Job Crowe. “It’d only be right for her cousin to give her a home there.”

Christopher shook his head.

“No, I understand they’re not on very good terms. Sara don’t like Charles Stuart or his wife–and I don’t blame her. She won’t stay there, not likely. Probably she’ll go and live in town. Strange she never married. She was reckoned handsome, and had plenty of beaus at one time.”

Jeffrey swung out of the group and started homeward with his dog. To stand by and hear Sara Stuart discussed after this fashion was more than he could endure. The men idly watched his tall, erect figure as he went along the valley.

“Queer chap, Jeff,” said Alec Churchill reflectively.

“Jeff’s all right,” said Christopher in a patronizing way. “There ain’t a better man or neighbour alive. I’ve lived next farm to him for thirty years, so I ought to know. But he’s queer sartainly–not like other people–kind of unsociable. He don’t care for a thing ‘cept dogs and reading and mooning round woods and fields. That ain’t natural, you know. But I must say he’s a good farmer. He’s got the best farm in Bayside, and that’s a real nice house he put up on it. Ain’t it an odd thing he never married? Never seemed to have no notion of it. I can’t recollect of Jeff Miller’s ever courting anybody. That’s another unnatural thing about him.”